How To Afford That $15 Indie Game
Heh - for your amusement:
How To Afford That $15 Indie Game
Applies fairly well to the $12, $13, $18, $20, $24, and even $25 indie games as well...
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Utah Indie Game Night - January 2010
So we had another quarterly Indie Game Night, this time at ITT Technical Institute.
Indie Game Night = Pizza, soda, presentations, networking, and Lots of Games. Although the pizza isn't necessarily a constant. We've had a Mexican food bar and Panda Express in the past, too.
Okay - this time we actually had two presentations. The night opened with Ontario Britton of Peppergum Games offering a presentation entitled, "What the iPhone Market Means to Your Development." This was a very entertaining, humorous look at how to successfully market an iPhone game. His point was that in spite of all the bellyaching about how crowded the iPhone market is, it's still quite possible to release a new game into the market which does fabulously well (and he's been doing it - as Peppermill has largely turned into an iPhone marketing company).
He explained that there are three "pillars" to successful iPhone game deployment:
1. A good, well-executed app, targeted for the iPhone audience
2. Polish. Lots of polish. iPhone customers expect and demand it.
3. Marketing. Good marketing.
On the last point, he talked about having a viral component to your game, use of advertising (lack of surprise here: Banner ads and other standard paid advertising methods doesn't do much and leads to few direct sales, though its indirect impact may be better), the enormous value of having a popular website review your game, knowing your demographic (hint: most iPhone customers are NOT teenagers), making a game rapidly that matches the constantly changing desires of the market, and so forth.
After that, there was a formal Daz Links presentation. This is a joint project between Daz 3D and local tools studio Mogware to convert the high-resolution Daz 3D Models into game-ready (or nearly game-ready) real-time models. With morphing, lots of polygon decimation options, tons of models and clothing options from Daz 3D, texture-combining down to a single, properly UV-mapped texture, and so forth --- there's a lot of potential here for the tools. On Daz 3D's part, they are going to be making an announcement at GDC time for indie-friendly licensing options on their models for use with Daz Links. Previously, as I understand it, they could be used to create content (movies, renders) but could not be distributed themselves. While I don't think I'm at liberty to discuss it, I can confirm that based on their current plans (which may very well change over the next couple of months), the price will be quite reasonable for budget-conscious indies. As in, well in-line with the other off-the-shelf content in the indie price range.
I'm supposed to have lunch with Brian Howell of Daz 3D, and I may have some more details then.
After the presentation (and pizza!), we had the game presentations. I can't discuss this too much, because I was showing Frayed Knights. Yes, I did get at least one comment along the lines of, "You are still working on that? Didn't you show that ages ago?" Le sigh. I suck. And Mike Rubin and Herb Flower weren't there for me to point fingers at to spread the pain, either.
Curtis and Peter were there showing off Siphon Spirit. He gave me a CD-ROM with the installation on it so I can check it out as soon as I can. I haven't tried it yet, but I'll talk about it here when I do.
We had a discussion about --- well, I can say it's a discussion about how badly I've failed, but really it was about how indie games really need to stay simple. Start simple, get simpler. We have too many games that have expanded to the point of No Longer Capable of Being Finished in a Reasonable Time. It is a lesson I, for one, have to keep learning.
The other big point of discussion was about the Global Game Jam this weekend. We have several teams competing, starting tonight. I intend to drop in tomorrow if I can to be a short distraction for people, but I'm not signed up to participate. I'm kinda already moderately booked for the weekend, but I want to support those guys who are taking the weekend to Do Something Awesome.
UPDATE: Corrected the name for Peppergum Games.
Labels: Indie Game Night
Frayed Knights: Act 1 Not Quite Ready For Prime Time
Of all the updates on the development of the indie RPG with a decidedly goofy mood, Frayed Knights, I have no doubt that this one will prove the latest one to date!
I have discovered that my old and creaky laptop is no longer quite up to snuff for full-on development of Frayed Knights. I think it may barely be able to play the game, but as the game chews up over 300 megs of RAM when the largest level is loaded, it doesn't leave much on an old 512-meg laptop overwhelmed by numerous OS updates, a virus scanner, and development tools. You know performance is gonna suck when, the third time you are transitioning between major areas, you get a warning that you are running low on paging room in virtual memory.
Guess I shouldn't have been running Pandora and checking my stocks in the background too, huh?
The loss of the desktop - and the unexpected business trip to Puerto Rico - definitely slowed development of Frayed Knights a bit this month, but we still made progress. My new desktop should arrive soonishly maybe (it's already a week late, but has apparently been built and is in QC), so that will help give development a kick in the pants. In the meantime, I have been working where I can, and decided last night to give the entire first act a "run-through." At least starting from the "morning after" the events of the pilot. I knew there were some gaping holes remaining in the first act, but it was past time to experience it as a whole - as a player. Some parts haven't been touched since July, so I'd forgotten a lot of what was done and what was still incomplete.
So I jumped in, starting with Benjamin trying to make up with the other Knights. It's a short little dialog - pretty much a transition from the the more restrictive action of the Pokmor Xang pseudo-tutorial to the main storyline and more open-ended gameplay of the full game. He rejoins the party, after a couple of wince-inducing typos, and the adventure is afoot! Woot!
It was kind of a painful experience. Really. Testers keep asking when they get to test the next version - trust me, you don't WANT to test this one. The list of broken NPCs, broken quests, visual problems, missing text, and otherwise not-working things was pretty frickin' long. Act 1 is not "fully playable" at this point. Dang it. And I was already rolling right along to Act 2... (and Kevin is still working on content for Act 3).
Besides what isn't working or what's missing, there's the stand-in content. Stuff that technically works but is kinda butt-ugly (see above screenshot), and generic off-the-shelf creatures filling in for different kinds of monsters, and just plain ol' empty, boring rooms. Lots of work left to do there. I also realized that there is really not enough direction given to a player who might not be sure what to do next. I need to add significantly more dialog and explanatory text.
So that's the bad news. Is there good news?
Well, yeah. Kinda. If you squint hard, you can see a game playing out on the screen. Most of the pieces are in place for Act 1 now, finally. While not "fully playable," I was able to play for over an hour (and that's cheating to breeze through combats quickly) before a bug left the game kinda--- done (and missing Chloe). With a couple of glaring exception, the questions have mostly now gone from being "What needs to be created?" and "What needs to go here?", to "What do I need to fix?", "What do I need to replace with final content" and "How can I improve this part?" Oh, and the occasional, "WTF?" and "I coulda sworn I fixed this! How can it be broken again?!?!?!"
This means lists. I can work lists. It is long, tedious work, but measurable. We're also steaming ahead on Act 2. And Kevin, as mentioned before, is working on Act 3. Assuming my new desktop arrives soon (and in good condition), progress should be resuming previous speed (or faster, please) in short order.
But for now, to reduce my terror I am going to squint really hard...
New / Improved Game Engines Now Available
Greg Squire just sent me this link last night to Enterbrain's new game development tool:
I haven't tried it, but it ends up as popular as Enterbrain's RPG Maker, we could see a flood of indie action games from this. It advertises that you can get a basic game of your chosen genre up and running with a simple wizard.
Well... cool. Yeah, we're going to see a flood of really horrible games from this. But emerging from all the primordial ooze of thrown-together crud I hope and expect to see some real gems emerge from designers who might otherwise never have been able to make use of their latent talents. That's the indie thing. Booyah.
In other news, I spent a little bit of time last night looking at Panda 3D. This little (and free!) 3D game engine - written for professionals and students - is really coming along nicely. In fact, it's looking good enough that I WOULD consider it a candidate for a future project... if one of the sample programs hadn't crashed unceremoniously on my laptop. Oops. Still - I think this engine has some very serious potential.
And finally, I note with some interest that the Ogre 3D crew unleashed a release candidate for Ogre 3D version 1.7.0 on New Year's Eve. Besides being a new, improved version of a very powerful (and now commercially proven) multi-platform 3D engine, it also marks the transition to their very generous MIT licensing.
Good times for indies!
Labels: game development
Cruel and Unusual Punishment? No D&D!
Go to jail, no playing Dungeons & Dragons for YOU!
Game Over: Inmate Can't Play Dungeons & Dragons
Okay - on the one hand, I can understand that jail time shouldn't be an all-expense-paid gaming vacation. Especially in this case, where we're talking about a convicted murderer. So if a justice system decides not to reward inmates with a chance to sling some D20s, that's their prerogative. Fine.
But the justification - saying that playing D&D promotes gang-related activity? Ummm.... okay. I'll give the justice system a sliver of the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that maybe - MAYBE - they have actually observed the use of D&D in prison as a means to facilitate gang-related behavior. I don't have any familiarity with that environment, and really don't aspire to rectify that deficiency in my experience.
But really, my first impression that this is a silly, stupid, unjustified reaction based on leftover anti-D&D hysteria from the early 80s. And that's the part that really honks me off.
UPDATE: A law professor blog weighs in on the subject. And makes an amusing rebuttal to another comment about the potential criminal behavior caused by D&D.
Formula, Innovation, and Compromised Ideals
One part of my desire to create indie RPGs (and indie games in general) has been to do something different. To break the mold, make games that push the comfort zone, do something different, cross arbitrary category boundaries imposed by marketers and journalists, shatter preconceived notions, and really expand the horizons of what games can be.
And then I find myself - and other indies - doing the same ol', same ol'.
This is not really an indictment. But it was bugging me a little a few weeks ago as I was implementing one of those "find the n-part key" quests. In this case, the key is a spell broken into three parts that must be joined together to form an arcane password that... well, you get the idea. What it really amounts to is, "Make sure the player has explored these three locations before letting them move on to the next part of the game."
It's lame. It's trite. It's overused. It may not be completely creatively bankrupt, but it's definitely in need of overdraft protection. But it works, dagnabbit! It's been disguised in many forms, but it comes down to a simple mechanic that's not too far removed from hunting the down the colored keys in Wolfenstein 3D to get to the exit.
A lot of folks (myself included) evangelize the indie game movement as this incredible revolution of innovation and ground-breaking ideas. And this has definitely been the case. Just this last year, there have been some amazing, innovative (and sometimes downright STRANGE) indie titles released that have even questioned the very definition of the term "game." The Path comes to mind.
But that doesn't mean indie games must be constantly running on the ragged edge of innovation. How much "new" does a game have to provide? And what constitutes "new"?
Ultimately - if a game is in any way commercially oriented - it has to be geared to appeal to the audience. That is what must drive innovation, not the other way around. And that is not a simple equation. Sure, players and critics alike claim they desire innovation - something new - but at what cost are they willing to obtain it?
Brian "Psychochild" Green recently wrote about the problems of innovation, and refers to it as a paradox - innovation comes at the expense of other things gamers value, such as high production values, polish, and "perfection" of core game mechanics. And innovation is risk. Almost by definition. If it ain't broke and you try and fix it, somebody's not going to be happy about it.
I don't know if that excuses me from falling back on tried-and-true formula. Or anybody else. It behooves any game designer to question their design choices. But I don't think that picking one's innovation battles and otherwise sticking with a foundation of familiarity for players is necessarily a compromise of one's ideals.
At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Labels: Frayed Knights
Coming Back to the Cold
Well, my business trip to Ponce is now just about at an end. Everything is wrapped up on this end except the drive back to San Juan in a few hours and the flight back. I have gotten used to the heat and humidity, I confess. Knowing how cold and snowy and icky it is back in Utah has only made me enjoy the steamy weather even more.
My students (well, former students now - they all graduated) took me out to lunch today for a traditional modern Puerto Rican lunch at this tiny little restaurant which they pronounced like it should be spelled "cafeteria," but it was nothing like that. It was in the middle of a tightly-packed residential area, and the neighbors next door had chickens. My lunch was brown rice with beans, twice-fried green plantains (with fry sauce), fried pork, and a little lettuce with tomato. It was the best meal I've had in Ponce. By far. As they told me, "bad for the heart, but delicious."
I am really not much of a traveler, I'm afraid. I can't say I actually saw all that much of Ponce. It was a lot of work, and the time away from my family was hard. But --- the folks here have been awesome, and have made it a good visit. I'll miss the weather, the people, and the ocean. It's been a great visit, and I've met some new friends who I would like to see again.
But I'll be glad to be back home. There ain't no place like it...
Favorite Indie RPG of 2009?
Okay folks - today's post is a simple one: What was your favorite indie RPG of 2009, and why?
There were a LOT of contenders. I know I'm missing some:
Avernum 6 (Mac)
Geneforge 5 (Windows)
Knights of the Chalice
Aveyond: Lord of Twilight
Aveyond: Gates of Night
Battle of the Millennium
Cute Knight Kingdom
The Three Musketeers
Eternal Eden 2
Telepath Psy Arena 2 (Not entirely certain it qualifies as an RPG, but WTH)
Millennium 2 - Take Me Higher
Laxius Force 2
3 Stars of Destiny
Dark Souls II
Dark Souls - Kara's Quest
Whisper of a Rose
Spirited Heart (Not sure I'd call this an RPG, but again - why not?)
Bionic Heart (ditto)
Pioneering: Episode One
Okay, yeah, RPG Maker titles do take up a disproportionately large segment of the list. And must we mention But even so - that's a pretty significant list!
Some, but not all, of these games can be found at Rampant Games. Just to see what you might have missed. I've been slow trying to keep up with them all. Quite frankly, I can't. Not physically possible, especially not with a goal to play them all to completion (and for some of the more open-ended games, that's not a possibility, either).
But dang, isn't that an awesome problem to have? 2010 is already poised to be an indie RPG bonanza. But - returning to the past before moving towards the future, I again ask:
Which indie RPGs of 2009 rocked the hardest? Why?
When I was at SingleTrac, Outwars was probably the single largest project we'd ever worked on. And it was PC only. We negotiated the deal with Microsoft - the idea was to make a game that was "two generations removed from Doom." Quake - undoubtedly the "next generation Doom" - was looming on the horizon but we weren't sure exactly when it would be released. We wanted to leapfrog it.
The project was also inspired by an offer to do the videogame based upon the upcoming movie adaptation of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Ultimately, that deal didn't pan out (and I personally thought the movie sucked). And they never revealed to us (well, at least not to me) any of the details about that proposal, to keep us completely untainted. But the idea of doing a game about powered armor with massive vertical movement sounded kinda cool. As research, I re-read the book Starship Troopers, as well as John Steakley's outstanding book Armor.
So the game was about taking a team of soldiers in jetpack-enabled battle-armor and fighting aliens across four different "planets" - though one planet was actually the giant alien mothership. That was basically so we'd have four different environmental "themes."
While we were in development, Looking Glass Studios produced the very under-rated game Terra Nova, which scared the crap out of us briefly because we feared they'd made our game. As usually happens with these things, playing the game revealed that it wasn't actually all that similar. That happens a lot. You hear something about a soon-to-be-released competing game that at first sounds like they bugged your office and beat you to the punch with your own game. But then, upon release, you realize it's not even close.
Although, to be perfectly honest, Terra Nova (which I understood was kind of a flop, too) was closer to the game I wanted to make. While it wasn't ever going to take its place among my all-time favorites, it was more of the combat-jumpsuit-SIMULATOR that I'd had in mind. But I wasn't the guy in charge of the design of the game. One of my many sins was probably pushing the sim-like elements too hard into a game design that hadn't really called for it.
A third of the way into development, we experienced a pretty major rift within SingleTrac. It was a rift that was never healed. It partly came about because we were being sold to GT Interactive (which was, not long afterwards, absorbed by Infogrammes, which then became re-branded as Atari here in the U.S.). ALL of our senior people on our team - all of our leads, our producer, designer, etc - ended up away much of the time (meeting with lawyers, etc), and even when they were there they didn't quite have their head in the game. At least not our game. As one of the lowly peons, I was never quite sure what was going on there. I had (and still have) a lot of respect for those folks, and a dozen years later I bear them some sympathy for what was going on. But at the time, I was pretty annoyed.
During the final third of the project (which by this time, was plunging relentlessly into delayed and over-budget territory), management finally made official what had been going on unofficially for months - our senior people were gone, and the rest of us now had authority to add to our responsibility for making the game fun and getting it out. We did what we could.
But as the sale of our company was done, Outwars was in a strange limbo. As we owned the intellectual property rights on the game, our publisher no longer saw much value in it - it could no longer be turned into a franchise. And GT Interactive was annoyed that we were still contractually obligated to finish a game for their competitors. Both sides were pretty much of the opinion that we should just get the game out the door and meet contractual obligations. At least, that was my own take-away from it.
But while Outwars didn't meet with great marketplace acceptance or critical acclaim (one review called it a "Nightmare in a box"), I still feel some pride in the game. It was wildly ambitious for our company, sort of a mission-impossible thing... and we pulled it off. There were many decisions I wish we could have changed. And I will forever be apologizing for that final alien boss battle - it was (almost) all my fault, and I knew even less about game design than I do now.
Simulator in Ponce
Ponce, Puerto Rico is weird, man.
I mean, instead of a stray cat or dog sniffing around your back porch, you get one of these guys. This sucker was pushing three feet long. He was staring longingly at the swimming pool for a few minutes before dropping down into the bushes.
And then there are the guard towers in the Wal-Mart parking lot. What's up with that? Well, okay, I get what's up with that. The presence of half-a-dozen security personnel patrolling the parking lot (and that's not including the security people manning all the exits) doesn't exactly fill me with a sense of security. But on the flip side, my car was undisturbed, so I really can't complain.
And then there this thing about hanging out at the beach in the middle of January, when it's 80 degrees outside... There's something very wrong about that. In a way that is oh, so right. Gotta admit, I'm not looking forward to returning to Utah's freezing weather.
And then there are all these people being pretty dang nice to me even when I don't speak their language. So I guess it's my kinda weird, and I'm enjoying my trip so far. But it's exhausting.
Today was something of a small madhouse that I was ostensibly responsible for managing and instructing. The simulator installation and first day of training was supposed to be tiny affair. It seemed like half the city of Ponce wanted to visit and get a chance to run our simulators. The picture doesn't capture half the people gathered around the desk and simulator just outside the frame.
We had several experienced crane operators there from the local unions, and they found that it didn't take much time at all to get used to the simulators and apply their real-world skills. This included teaching everybody else - which I was happy to let them do while I trained the crew on the instructor station in the back. Especially since they could instruct in Spanish, and most of our visitors didn't have a very strong command of English. And I ... uh... well, my Junior High Spanish seems a long time ago, indeed.
These guys - the professional crane operators - were blowing away my meager skills, in spite of me being one of the developers for over a year. That was gratifying in a lot of ways, because while I believed *in theory* that our systems provided a fairly accurate simulation of the real-world cranes, it was great seeing this demonstrated by these guys going to town on them this way.
One of the crane operators, at the end of the day, even took me up on my half-joking request to teach me to use my own simulator. I know the mechanics (I programmed a tiny bit of them), and I understand the physics - but this guy has been mastering them for much of his life, and knew how to have just the right touch and movement to make the physics do his bidding instead of fighting it. He didn't speak much English, I don't speak Spanish, but it was a cool lesson.
I get to do this for three more days - hopefully with a smaller group from here on out, since it's heavily "hands-on" training.
Wizardry Series - Sequel, Spin-Off, Start Over, or Stay Dead?
Diehard Gamefan argues over whether or not the classic Wizardry RPG series ought to be revived or not.
Not that it has any bearing on whether that would even be an option. And yes, there is not an insignificant amount of discussion over how the series has been picked up by Japanese game developers and is now enjoying popularity there that we don't even get most of the imports of over here.
The consensus? Half the reviewers would like to see the series continue here in the west, half think it should remain dead. The rationale is the interesting part. Go over and check it out:
"Wizardry - Sequel, Spin-Off, Start Over, or Stay Dead?" at Diehard GameFAN
Me, personally? Oh, heck yeah, I'd love to see a Wizardry 9. The thing is, I pretty much skipped the middle games - I played the Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, and a little bit of the second one (Knight of Diamonds? ) waaaaaay back in the day. And then I played a little bit of the sixth game - Bane of the Cosmic Forge, but just after I started Wizardry 7 came out - Crusaders of the Dark Savant, and I totally gave up on the previous (borrowed) game while me characters were something like zeroth level. Never finished Wiz 7, either, though I have been intending to do so for YEARS. But I chronicled my expedition to victory in Wizardry 8 in quite some detail. The tedium of combat was the only serious blemish on what has become one of my favorite RPGs.
(And I think it's kinda cool how a game can become one of my favorites in spite of being a a half-decade past its prime).
The first game in the series was magical just on account of it being there, where it was, and offering so much in an era when computer games were new. It boldly forged new territory, and it was full of awesome.
Wizardry 8 was likewise full of awesome, but it faced another problem: It was born in an era where hardcore games of its kind could no longer find the mainstream audiences they needed to sustain their development. If the game can't be made for less than four million, and the aggressive sales plan only sees sales potential of three million... well, that's a problem. If there's no way around those two numbers, it clearly means no game.
And yes, I'm totally channeling my earlier blog post.
Bottom line: I would like to see games like Wizardry 8 somehow thrive in the modern era via indie-dom. And I'd like to see the series make a return to development in the west. And Brenda Brathwaite designing them, too. As long as I'm wishing...
Oh, and a hat tip to RPGWatch for the link.
Frayed Knights and 3D Worlds - More Trouble Than They Are Worth?
I keep ranting about the same subject, I guess. I keep re-discovering how painfully slow even fairly simple level / interior creation can be. Even for a simple, low-detail RPG like Frayed Knights. I get really jealous of those tile-based games where an entire map can be put together in hours.
I've gained some speed and, I think, quality as I keep working on things (I'm kinda embarrassed about the Tower of Almost Certain Death now...). But it's still astonishing to have worked on a relatively small part of the map - wall piece by wall piece, basically - and then look at the clock and realize that over TWO HOURS have passed by, On a map I thought I could "whip out" in only six or eight hours, total. Yeah. Time to multiply my estimate by at least four.
And that's not including going back later to make that sucker look GOOD. For flexible definitions of good.
You think I'd learn.
I'm trying to imagine how, in my wildest dreams (which maybe aren't wild enough), this game could possibly turn enough of a profit to even earn minimum wage (and we'll go by minimum wage a couple years ago, not even the new minimum wage now) on the time I've put into it. Let alone the time my fellow team members have put into it. I would love to be surprised and have my world rocked, but in all likelihood - it ain't gonna happen.
We've tried a few things to speed things up - like creating more pre-made pieces - but so far it's just not given us the time and effort savings we hoped for.
There's a reason indie game development is a labor of love. And I really do have a lot of fun doing it. I just wish I could figure out how to get it done... faster.
Game Design: Books to Games...
Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series would make some awesome movies. Just sayin'. I don't know who they'd get to play Miles - though if Peter Jackson can pull off ordinary people playing hobbits, I guess they could get someone semi-normal (in real life) to play hyperactive, genius, dwarf Miles Vorkosigan.
I brought three of Bujold's books to read while I'm in Puerto Rico. Two are finished now. I was gratified to learn that a new book in the series is scheduled to be released this year. I'm growing perilously close to the end. That happened last year with the Harry Dresden novels (which would also make great movies).
While Miles Vorkosigan's adventures would make great movies, they really make me wonder how they'd possibly translate to video games. To be honest, I really don't know. Some parts of the novels could be easily adapted to make vapid, straightforward action games (Space fleet maneuvers! Rescue actions with powered battle-armored Dendarii Mercenaries!) An adventure game might (barely) fit, as Miles is constantly solving puzzles. But it wouldn't do justice to the action of the series. Nor the amount of social interaction (and manipulation) in the books.
It's kind of an interesting thing to mentally gnaw at though. We always talk about adapting movies from books, or games from movies - but what about games from books? We don't see many direct adaptations of games from books - I remember the Shannara computer game and I still have the video game based on the Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (both games came from long-gone Legend Entertainment). Never played the first one, but the second was actually pretty cool (I especially liked the trap-creation system). There have been a few others, particularly in the Infocom era (Shogun & Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy come to mind), though not so many in the last decade or so. Comic books, sure, but novels?
So - let's say you had a license to make an (indie) game of your favorite novel or series of books. How'd you do it? What would be the core gameplay? What would be your model?
Labels: Game Design
Tales From the Table: Mr. Realism
A story of dice & paper RPGing. Lessons to be applied to the computer-game variety are left as an exercise to the reader:
The "Dungeon Master" (we'll call him Derrick) bragged about he played strictly by the rules, and that players just couldn't handle his dungeon. We finally gave him a chance.
He demanded that we very carefully note every item we purchased in town, where it was located, and perform full encumbrance calculations. This wasn't a big deal at first. But then, after we entered the dungeon, he had people slam the door shut behind us and seal it shut. No saves, no checks, we were simply trapped inside. Ah, well, we figured --- it's all part of the game.
The first encounter was pretty typical, against a bunch of kobolds. Then a fight against four goblins left one member of our party at negative hit points, and our cleric had run out of healing spells. Derrick cackled when he told us how many days it would take for someone to recover those hit points naturally, and then asked us how much food and water we'd brought with us. Then he informed us that most people in his dungeon died of thirst. Oh, and what were we going to do for light sources? Especially since our source of Light spells was the guy at negative hit points.
Some of us decided to scout ahead. We found a pit with a rope leading down into it, about twenty feet deep. I said, "I sheath my sword, unsling my pack, and sling my shield over my shoulder. Then I climb down the rope."
Derrick howled with delight. "Since you are trying to climb down the rope one-handed, you fail, and fall twenty feet to take..." he rolled the dice and continued, "seven points of damage!"
That left me at one hit point remaining. "Um, what do you mean left handed?"
"You have a shield, right?"
"You stupidly tried to climb down the rope while holding your shield."
"No, I didn't. I told you I slung my shield over my shoulder after removing my pack."
"I didn't hear it."
I asked the other players to back up my story. Two of them did. Nobody else was paying much attention to the game anymore.
"It doesn't matter," Derrick said, "I didn't hear it. So you tried to climb down with a shield in your hand, and fall."
"Don't I get some kind of roll? Intelligence roll not to do something stupid? Or a strength roll? My strength is 18/82..."
The session ended twenty minutes later. Strangely, nobody in the party felt the urge to continue the adventure in another session.
Labels: Roleplaying Games
Guest Post: Game-In-A-Day Saves The Day
Here's a guest post - Califer (Curtis) offers some insights into the failures - and successes - of an indie game developer:
Hi, my name is Curtis Mirci. I'm fairly new to the indie game scene and haven't actually put anything finished out yet. Within the next month or so (depending on when Jay posts this) I should have my first game out, Siphon Spirit.
My first game, Darkened Dreams, is a bit of a failure. You see, I wasn't even planning on making a game when I started. I just wanted to learn how to do something we learned in class. Instead of using the boring examples from the classroom I made different hero classes to play with. Then I gave them things to do, then added in different things to do and added in monsters and maps and all that.
As a result of my lack of planning, by the time that I was finished with the early main game I never wanted to touch it again. Adding in new maps was beyond a pain, and it was very easy for a small error to lock the player in a location they shouldn't be in, as some of my early players found out. After I cleaned out all the bugs and added a tower to showcase the rest of the monsters I locked it down. Mind, it's still pretty fun to play, there's just no real ending and the story doesn't really start.
That was Darkened Dreams. A while later, while I was working at Sensory Sweep (sat next to Jay - The Rampant Coyote - for a while) I showed the game to a few people. One of those people was Peter Anderson. He said he wanted to do some art for it and I thought that might be nice, but the thought of diving back into that code terrified me. So I decided to start over. I changed the language that I was writing in and decided to make a program that would help make the world. Our original plan was just to remake the original, but with graphics. As things kept going we kept adding more and more to it. Soon, instead of just being a game it was going to come with it's own game-maker so that players could make their own games with it. Needless to say, the game evolved well beyond our original ideas of what we were planning when we started.
Part of that is because this isn't Peter's first attempt to work with a programmer on an indie game. He took the safe route in assuming that the project would just vanish after a little while. Oddly enough, I'm kind of tenacious so I never gave up on it and we've got a lot done on it. It's just taken a LONG time to get there, and we've probably still got a long time left before it's finished. That can get pretty tiring, but we've decided to make another game, this time we'd make it short! We got together to make a Game-In-A-Day. A month later, it's not quite finished, but it is looking awesome. It's also not far from being finished at all. It's called Siphon Spirit.
So what is this post all about? Well, it is mainly a glance inside the life of an indie developer (average? not sure). But it's mostly a warning to anyone planning to make a game. As Peter told me the other day, "Well, we've learned a valuable lesson from working on these game. We are very very busy people." As indie developers that can only work on projects after the work day is done and still have a family to take care of we need to be careful to not only choose fun game concepts to work on but also to make sure that they are short enough that we will be able to finish them before we're old and grey.
In the case that you are interested in playing the original Darkened Dreams, it's available for free at http://www.cs.utah.edu/~mirci/
Labels: game development
Avatar - Not the Ultima One
We saw the movie Avatar Friday night. In 3D. If you are gonna see the movie --- well, you've probably seen it already. But see it in 3D.
This one was a glorious spectacle of CGI. They did such a fantastic job that the graphics were far more realistic and believable than the characters themselves, who were unfortunately pretty two-dimensional stereotypes telling a story with as much depth as a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1970s. Complete with heavy-handed preaching which isn't quite sure of itself.
Dune told the same story, but much better. It's pretty much what you saw if you mixed The Last Samurai, Dances With Wolves, and Fern Gully together.
But you know - sometimes you just have to say "what the hell" and roll with it. It is as breathtaking as the first time I watched Jurassic Park. And like Jurassic Park, it didn't really matter that the story was lame... it was all about the awesomeness of the T-Rex and the true stars of the movie, the velociraptors. But in Avatar, it's all about a lush glow-in-the-dark world pulled right out of a Final Fantasy game. Complete with flying dragon-things and battle mechs and big freaking airships bristling with guns and missiles.
So is this horribly hypocritical of me? If Avatar had been a low-budget indie movie would I have hated it? I don't know.
Off To Puerto Rico
I'm off to Puerto Rico - on business. While the hotel in Ponce says it offers high-speed Internet, I'm not sure how much I'll be online over the next couple of weeks. So if I'm slow getting back to you in emails, the forums, or comments, that may be the reason.
I will probably find some time for blog posts - and I've got a bunch of 'em written and ready to go, though not all scheduled. Alas, only one guest post so far (Thanks Curtis!). I could use some more. So send 'em my way if you feel inspired.
Depths of Peril 50% Off - This Week Only
One of my favorite indie RPGs of *all time* is now 50% off. That's $9.99. The game is WELL WORTH IT. You've heard me gush about it. I'll gush some more in a minute. But here's the links:
Buy Depths of Peril (Windows)
Buy Depths of Peril (Mac)
Okay, in case you haven't heard me gush about the game lately - here's the deal:
Depths of Peril! Take the basic gameplay of Diablo. Several classes, randomized maps, lots of skills, practically infinite equipment, and so forth. That's all cool. And if that's all it was, it would be a competent indie Diablo clone.
But Soldak Entertainment, which is (for the time being) basically one guy by the name of Steven Peeler, decided to use that as just the core of game - the launch-point, not the full design. This guy decided to go about two steps further than that.
First of all, and best of all, he made a dynamic, interactive world where your decisions mattered. Things happen in natural progression, and the world won't wait for you. What may begin as an uprising of monsters out in the forest may - if nobody takes care of it - gradually escalate until eventually a force of trained boss-mobs and their legions launch a full-scale assault on your town. An illness may evolve into a plague if you don't find the cure, and may wipe out several villagers (until they get resurrected - as for the adventurers, death isn't permanent) - including those shopkeepers and quest-givers that you needed.
Or you can complete these quests and reap the benefits.
This little innovation really helps make the world come alive. But there's more to it than that.
In the city of Jovik, you aren't the only adventurer in town. You are the leader of one of several "covenents" - basically bands or clans of adventurers. Each one has a goal of eventually rising to take control of the town. You can do this by a combination of diplomacy, enhancing your prestige through service to the town (mainly adventuring), and out-and-out warfare (either directly, o through manipulation). You may have to compete with the other covenants to recruit the best up-and-coming adventurers and outfit them (and your covenant house) with the best gear. You can even team up with allied covenants and share in the adventuring together.
Depths of Peril - to me - represents what cool stuff indies can do. Note that Depths of Peril isn't for everyone - mainly because the world is cool and everybody has different tastes. It is not even in the same neighborhood as a casual RPG, so it's probably not the best introductory fare. It's a hardcore game for RPG fans. And it's half off.
Get it while the gettin's good.
Labels: Roleplaying Games
VVVVVV - Cooler Than Anticipated
Terry Cavenaugh's newest game, VVVVVV, is a simple, 8-bit-looking platformer with a small twist that really changes the gameplay around: Instead of jumping, you invert gravity.
I like it. It twists your brain, is quite challenging, yet a lot of fun nonetheless. The respawn points are (so far) pretty generous, too, which I like.
You can play the free demo online, which includes two levels:
VVVVVV 2-level Online Demo
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Computer Destruction and Upgrade
My computer is fried.
I'm not exactly sure what happened, or how. But it's dead. Probably the motherboard, possibly the CPU. It's had a tendency to fry video cards since it was new. Maybe it heard me talking to my wife last week about how much longer I was going to put up with it before replacing it. It knew its days were numbered, and committed suicide.
The replacement is ordered. I think the hard drive should be okay, which is important to me, as that's got several days of Frayed Knights development on it which I don't have backed up yet (I was gonna do that Tuesday). Hopefully the replacement will arrive by the time I get back from Puerto Rico.
Ordering the replacement left me musing a bit about gaming PCs. Once upon a time, I built all of my new PCs myself. But these days, the discount gaming PC shops do a pretty reasonable job for really not much more than it would cost to build my own. Plus the old local hardware shops where I used to acquire my parts - and ask questions, since the technology had always changed every time I built a new PC - have largely gone the way of the dodo.
Back in the 90's, I'd get a new machine every three years or so, though I'd perform an intermediate upgrade in-between new systems where I'd swap in a new CPU, maybe add more memory, or whatnot. Back then (we're talking the 1990s, mostly), performance was based heavily on CPU speed, cache, memory speed, and video card (I really liked Matrox cards back in the SVGA era....). The most powerful of all-of-the-above would leave you capable of playing the newest games at reasonable framerates for about two years.
Nowadays, while all that remains important, it's mainly about the video card. Perhaps physics hardware may become a new bottleneck, but not yet. CPU clock speeds have all but hit a wall, and most games do not take advantage of dual-core or quad-core architecture. Having plenty of fast RAM helps, but the extra cores and RAM really helps the most by letting you with background tasks.
My now-deceased machine cost me over $1600 just four years ago, and I was planning on keeping it around another year. It was always a little quirky, having burned out three video cards (the first two were SLI-linked NVidia 6800s) and giving me a few other issues. It wasn't totally bleeding-edge, but it was a solid gaming rig when new. I tried not to think too hard about how machines at half the price could run circles around it only three years later.
Which is how much I'm paying for its replacement.
On a dollars-per-year perspective, buying a machine that costs twice as much that might only give you an extra 18 months of useful service before becoming obsolete isn't a great incredibly efficient. And while we're getting some games that demand cutting-edge machines, it's not like the 90's where you'd get several games each year that totally redefined gaming and demanded near-top-of-the-line hardware. And since I'm such an indie-game and retro-gaming fan, I'm very rarely running into hardware limits as it is. Though maybe I can finally pick up a cheap copy of Crysis and see what that was all about...
I can see the appeal of consoles. A $500 machine every five years is a lot cheaper.
But on the brightest side of all - hopefully the new machine will have no problem running Fallout 3. I could never play it more than about fifteen minutes straight on the old system. And often less than five minutes.
Labels: Geek Life
Um, No, That's the Gas, Not The Brake!
Funny how I can experience elation, thrill, pride, and mortal terror all at the same time. I think it's a combination of a dad thing and a gamer thing.
My daughter had her first driving lesson today in the church parking lot. There were no witnesses. Thankfully. And yes, the words that make up the title of this article did indeed emerge from my lips in a hasty, strained succession as I saw the back wall of the neighboring supermarket grow very close, very quickly.
Daughter and car survived the experience. Her dad is frazzled, but likely to make it through okay.
Frayed Knights - The Adventurer's Guild
Welcome to another installment of dev diary / commentary on Frayed Knights - the unabashedly tongue-in-cheek indie RPG forthcoming from Rampant Games.
This time, I want to talk about the Adventurer's Guild.
Those of you who played the pilot may recognize the Adventurer's Guild as the reason our non-traditional heroes are seeking the Eyes of Pokmor Xang in this "test" adventure. The Adventurer's Guild plays a role in the storyline of the full game. But what is the Adventurer's Guild?
The Adventurer's Guild was started over ten years ago by Argus Stormhammer, a veteran and highly successful treasure hunter / adventurer. His fame came not only from his successes, but also by his tracts which he created to try and help other adventurers. In these pamphlets, Stormhammer noted that he had seen many a fellow adventurer suffer not only loss of life and limb, but failure and insolvency. His writings not only aided fellow adventurers, but inspired many people to take up the the life of an adventurer.
Argus sold the pamphlets through various merchants, but as demand for his writings grew, so did the number of people who came to him requesting personal assistance and training. He had become the guru of fortune-hunting. As the demand for his services and writing threatened to overwhelm him (and left no time for actual adventuring), he decided to delegate.
He created the Adventurer's Guild to be a network of service providers for fortune-hunters all over Kaldera. Not only would they distribute his growing number of tracts and other treasure-hunting self-help books, but they would provide critical services and training to guild members:
1. A clearinghouse for rumors, reports, and opportunities
2. A meetingplace for hiring / partnering with other adventures
3. Contracts (bounties) for rescue should an adventurer or group not return by a certain time. Basically, you pre-pay a reward for people coming to rescue or recover your remains.
4. An adjudication system for conflicts between adventurers
5. Legal assistance for adventurers (who often run afoul of the law or need to have a will drawn up)
6. Appraisal services for rare items of collectible or magical value.
7. Training, training, and more training
8. Sponsored missions
9. Rapid communication between guild houses
10. Member discounts on adventuring equipment (usually used)
Due to some unfortunate circumstances early in the creation of the Adventurer's Guild, membership is no longer open to anybody who calls themselves an adventurer and is willing to pay the dues. A prospective member of the guild must prove themselves with accredited action prior to acceptance in the guild. While some services are available (at a fee) to non-members, the most valuable services are strictly for members only.
Would-be members complain that this Adventurer's Guild members an overwhelming advantage and a jump on any possible opportunities, leaving slim possibilities for the non-guild member to "prove" themselves.
The Adventurer's Guild has responded to this complain in the last year by offering some sponsored "quests" to non-members only, with success resulting in automatic accreditation. Again, this solution is imperfect. Several non-guild adventurers claim that these missions are excessively dangerous without guild training, and many adventuring groups do not survive their "audition." They also complain that these quests are exploitative, paying only a tiny fraction of the value of recovered artifacts that the guild, with its connections throughout Kaldera, can obtain. And finally, while completion of these quests do tend to provide a "fast-track" into guild membership, it is by no means guaranteed. Many contend that this is an unfair policy that exploits non-members that the Guild has no intention of recruiting.
These issues notwithstanding, membership in the Adventurer's Guild seems to make a tremendous difference in the success and survival rates of adventurers throughout the kingdom, so nearly every fortune-hunter aspires to join its ranks.
Labels: Frayed Knights
A bit of indie randomness for your day:
"Voxelstein 3D is a voxel based FPS game in the spirit of Wolfenstein 3D. It uses Ken Silverman's Voxlap engine."
Unlike the original Wolf3D, this game plays in actual 3D, with stairways, jumping, and so forth. But this is certainly an homage to that original game, done with a pretty unique - and rarely seen, nowadays - technology. It needs some serious coats of polish, but it's entertaining and reasonably playable now.
I understand development is continuing, but the public release hasn't been updated in a while. Hmmm, that sounds awkwardly familiar... Besides, now in 2010, the picture of George W. Bush in the Nazi stronghold is now not just silly but dated.
Some background: A voxel is effectively a 3D pixel - so the entire world here is created out of tiny 3D cubes. It was pretty impressive technology back in the early 90's, but when modern 3D cards took hold - and because of patent limitations - it pretty much disappeared. Ken Silverman, the creator of the engine, was the brains behind the engine that fueled Duke Nukem 3D (among other games). Old fart that I am, I actually recognized his name from Ken's Labyrinth, an indie game (back in the day it was called "shareware") he created in response to Wolfenstein 3D. That little project was what got him the job with Apogee / 3D Realms in the first place.
While the beginning of Voxelstein 3D is a bit tedious, I did like how you have to cut your way through the bars of your prison with a knife. That's an interesting use of voxel technology. Hint - you just have to cut a hole in the top and bottom of the bar... the rest will fall away.
While the game is not yet anywhere near what I'd consider a commercially viable release (and the use of the Wolfenstein 3D intellectual property is definitely a no-no), this is one of those examples of indie cleverness that I love to see.
(Hat Tip to IndieGames.com)
Labels: Free Games
100 Gaming Cupcakes
Combining gaming.... and cupcakes! What's not to love?!?!?
100 Games Cupcake Game
Hat tip to Wil Wheaton for this one.
Labels: Geek Life
Strategy Games Are My Bane
I love RPGs. If that's a secret to anybody reading this, then welcome to the blog!
But as embarrassing as it is to realize how much time has actually passed when I'm playing an enthralling RPG, there is a deadlier poison to me. It is the turn-based strategy game. I seriously have to deliberately eschew these things whenever I want to get something done. Games like Civilization, X-Com, Galactic Civilizations, Master of Orion (well, the first two), Slay, Panzer General Allied Assault, and several other indie and mainstream titles have consumed untold months of my life. I am the poster child for the "just one more turn" self-delusion that afflicts those who play these games.
I've harbored this little feeling of guilt for years about calling myself a true PC gamer, because I never played the Heroes of Might & Magic series. Not even one. I took a step to remedy that over the holidays, picking up Heroes of Might & Magic 3 Complete for peanuts at the sale at GOG.COM.
In case you've dwelt in the same cave I have - HOMM is a strategy game where you control a fantasy kingdom. You recruit heroes - who can advance levels just like an RPG - and troops for them to control. And you go around the world whopping on monstrous independent forces, gathering treasure (resources), artifacts, and hero-boosting powers, and most importantly kicking the butt of your competing kingdoms who are doing the same.
I can't help but think it might have been one of the inspirations for the indie game Empires & Dungeons. Which also sucked me in for quite some time, as simple (and mercifully short-campaigned) as it is.
The combat reminds me a lot of the first Master of Orion game. With the stacks of ships of similar type jockeying around a combat screen.
I haven't played HOMM3 much. I still suck at it. And apparently, I have a problem limiting myself to just playing it for twenty minutes as a reward for completing tasks.
I think I need to code up some kind of game alarm clock that runs in the background that gives a ten minute warning, five minute warning, one minute warning, and then starts bug me to end my game when my time is up. Complete with a snooze button. That'd be cool.
Except I'd hate it.
Labels: strategy games
Where's Macho Knight Kingdom?
I have become further impressed with Hanako Games' Cute Knight Kingdom. Duh. As if this should be any surprise to you, after I gushed with surprise love for the original Cute Knight. I miss my first-person perspective dungeon, but otherwise I feel the sequel is a worthy successor to the original.
Now I want to see Macho Knight Kingdom! Just like Cute Knight, but you play a dude! Shovel manure just like the Cute Knight, but in a more manly way! And wear armor just like hers, but with, like, skulls and stuff on it instead. Yeah!
Er, or not. Forget I said anything...
Though I make jokes about the pinks and butterflies that make up some of the cosmetics of the game, at it's heart I think the core gameplay is pretty gender-neutral and universally appealing. The thing that keeps impressing me is the depth of choice. While progress is, in true RPG fashion, slow and incremental, there is always the pressure of knowing that your time is finite (see? Another brilliant exception! Except you can't really define much in this game as 'failure.') and the thrill of wondering where your current path will take you. And the knowledge that the week you spend hunting is a week not spent doing something else important. Something that might give you a leg up in an upcoming event, or... something.
The world (and opportunities) seem bigger. And it also feels like it is easier to miss things. The time element means that it's easier to miss a festival going on because you are out on the shore. There's a lot to explore, and while much of the content is static, there are some time-dependent events as well. As in the original, some opportunities for growth are time-dependent. And there are multiple storylines you can piece together or actively pursue - if you so choose. Most of the time, so far (a game does take longer than the original to complete), I've just been catching snippets of stories and relationships between characters that I assume I could more actively pursue if I chose.
Cute Knight Kingdom focuses entirely on two core aspects of roleplaying games - customized character progression and exploration. Curiously enough - from a designer's perspective - the character progression is handled in a procedural, highly repeatable manner. The trainers are fairly static with specific schedules, the job opportunities (earn while you learn!) are regular, the dungeons are positioned thusly, the random encounters off the main roads appear in a consistent manner (and are avoidable!), etc.
While my initial foray into the kingdom of the Cute Knight consisted mainly of geographical exploration - learning where the different pockets of civilization were (I hesitate to call them "towns"), the dungeons, etc. But, as in the first game, exploration in subsequent games moves to what I guess I could call "gamespace." Storylines, unlocked events and opportunities, the magic system, etc. While 90% of the gameplay might be very similar between play-throughs (and if you've only played through a Cute Knight game once, you've not really played it), it's that exploration of that remaining stuff in the game that can't possibly be discovered in a single (or even in a dozen) play-throughs that makes the game fun. And it's a big part of what would otherwise be a straightforward "sim" game and makes it a role-playing game.
And I think it's delightfully clever how the Cute Knight games (admittedly, borrowing from similar titles like Princess Maker) have shifted the balance around. Most RPGs emphasize the exploration or progress through the game world, with character progression being a critical but secondary aspect (tightly limited and "balanced" to make certain you don't "out-level" the content you are supposed to be consuming). In Cute Knight and Cute Knight Kingdom, the (admittedly simpler) plots and activities open up based significantly on your progression choices. It's not exactly revolutionary or anything like that, but it does change things up a bit.
Now, I don't want to be accused of encouraging clones. And I'm a fan of Hanako Games and don't want anybody ripping her off with lame knock-offs. Simply cloning a game is creatively bankrupt, lame, and contemptible. I'm (mostly) joking with my title searching for a "Macho Knight Kingdom." But personally, I think some of the patterns and ideas of both Cute Knight games are really worthy of being pursued by more games. I think there's some ripe territory there, and Cute Knight Kingdom is only scratching the surface.
I can envision a graphical roguelike packed with some hand-crafted storylines, events, characters, and even locations / levels which go beyond the traditional hack-and-slash gameplay and wrap a simple but compelling story around player choice. I mean, that's kinda-sorta what Cute Knight Kingdom is at its core, if you think about it. And squint really hard.
Think about it. And then think of what Dwarf Fortress was able to do with basic concept of the roguelike, turning it into something else entirely. Once you step away from the belief that everything has to be presented with pixel-perfect animation, ten thousand polygons, and professional voice-overs, there's an amazing depth of possibilities to explore. I think Cute Knight Kingdom is just another step away from the beaten path that I hope indies will further explore.
Oh, and if they do - maybe they could consider including those old first-person dungeons again. I loved that... ;)
If you haven't done so yet, download and try out CKK yourself:
Download Cute Knight Kingdom
Labels: Cute Knight
Am I a Terrible Manager?
I contributed to the distractions of my level-designer tonight. Played 45 minutes of Left 4 Dead with him and a couple other friends. Shame on me.
Somehow I'm not feeling all that guilty. Thanks, Kevin! :)
Labels: Geek Life
More Guest Posts Needed
The Rampant Coyote Needs YOU!
I'm heading off to Puerto Rico next week (business, not pleasure) for a little over a week and a half, and I'm busy writing some blog posts in advance. But I could use help. If you have three to five (or more, it's okay) paragraphs of timeless prose to share to the community about video games and gaming, especially with an indie, RPG, or adventure-gaming slant please submit them to me with your name and website link as you'd like them to appear here.
You can message me the article in the forums, or email them to me. If you don't know how to do that, I'm jayb (or feedback) at good ol' rampantgames.com.
Some bizarro ideas for topics to get you started:
* What "Anne of Green Gables: The RPG" would be like
* My Script for the pilot episode of "Bejeweled: The TV Miniseries"
* My Weirdest Gaming Moment
* Enchanted Weapons We'd Like To See
* An Illustrated History of Orcs Through 30 Years and 30 Video Games...
If you'd like to participate, please send me your article before next week. Thanks!
Grazing on Cheap Games
Hoo boy. Well, a good chunk of my Christmas mulah ended up going to the fine folks at GOG.COM and Valve - and some indie developers - over the holidays. Especially if you count "the holidays" as being from Thanksgiving weekend all through December.
Apparently, I am a sucker for sales. Even at GOG.COM, where a sale-priced game only means three dollars of savings on something that was already cheap. This says something about psychology, I think.
The trick of it is --- I don't have much time to actually play the games due to actually making games in what constitutes 'spare time.' I end up feeling guilty when I do. Sure, I can claim "research" as I'm putting time into Torchlight or The Witcher (definitely NOT retro) or Might & Magic: World of Xeen or Stonekeep (both delightfully retro). But at this point, I'm grazing more than feasting.
One more reason I'm happier to have gotten these games at a discount price, I guess.
So What Does "Old-School" RPG Style Mean?
Kat Bailey comments on efforts to bring back that old-school flavah by mainstream RPGs in 2009:
2009: The Year of the Old-School RPG at 1Up
Dang - I refuse to get a PS3, but Demon's Souls and Valkyria Chronicles are looking pretty cool. But that's besides the point. As an indie game developer and self-proclaimed "indie evangelist," I have to admit to feeling a little defensive at the premise here. Hey, whadayamean mainstream games are going old-school? That's now the indie niche, leave it alone, guys! But really, I'm not exactly seeing a return to the era of Might & Magic, Wizardry, Baldur's Gate, and 16-bit console games here from the mainstream biz.
It sounds a little like on some levels Kat is equating "old-school" with "hard" (and I have heard that Demon's Souls is frickin' punishing), and I don't think that's necessarily the case. Some of my favorite RPGs of yesteryear never struck me as being particularly difficult. Intimidating to newbies to the genre, I may grant you. But difficulty was more of a characteristic of particular series / brands, not the genre in general.
And dropping references to older games and adopting a slightly less action-oriented gameplay doesn't really constitute "old-school feel" to me. But I do welcome these features. It's long been my contention that the trends in modern RPGs that some people call evolution was simply homogenization. Me? I'm for greater diversity. Let's borrow some of those old-school features where they fit (there are a LOT which, as I mentioned earlier this week, which may not be appropriate for all games but could still make for wonderfully entertainment in the right game), take advantage of new-school design elements and sensibilities where they fit, throw in a healthy spoonful of innovation, and see just how ginormously huge this genre can really be!
But the premise of the article also opens up another can of worms. What really constitutes "old-school?" This is a wonderfully subjective question, conjuring up images of our biggest early influences in the genre. But the truth is, "old school" games - while typically more deeply rooted in early Dungeons & Dragons tabletop gaming than their modern descendants - were still a wildly diverse bunch. Especially now that gaming now spans generations of gamers - I still have a tough time thinking of Baldur's Gate or Fallout as "old-school" RPGs, though as they are well over a decade old now, I think it's time I let go and admit that they have joined that fraternity. But compare someone who's biggest influences were games like the Ultima series with someone who grew up playing 8- and 16-bit Japanese console imports, or someone who got their start playing the old D&D "Gold Box" and Eye of the Beholder games, and you will see vastly different opinions on what constitutes "old-school."
(And as an aside, I was playing the action-RPG Gateway to Apshai over a decade before Diablo "invented" that style of game, making that way less modern and "evolved" than some designers and marketers like to claim. That's old-school, baby! Just a few steps removed from Venture!)
So what does "old-school" mean to you? What would be the features you'd look for in a modern game that would speak to your retro-lovin' heart, if any?