Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 13, 2014
I really haven’t weighed in very much about the whole “Flappy Bird” flap. I never played it. My familiarity with the game came entirely from reading news about it over the last two weeks. Here’s what I learned, in the order that I’d obtained the kowledge, plus my thoughts, at the time, in parenthesis:
1. Flappy Bird was earning over $50,000 a day with purely ad-revenue based monetization. (Wow! Go … whatever game that is that I’d never heard of! Woot!)
2. Flappy Bird may have used bots to cheat the rankings after it had been languishing for months. (Boo! Hiss! If true, that’s cheating. But… how do you either prevent that, or avoid the appearance of evil?)
3. Flappy Bird was created in only three days by the creator. (Oh, hey, if that’s true, and if he didn’t cheat, good for him! But regardless of how he got up to the top of the rankings, it seems he tapped into something with a very simple game. That’s impressive.)
4. Flappy Bird ripped off Mario graphics from Nintendo! (“Bullcrap!” I said when I looked at the comparisons. Apparently even Nintendo agreed with my assessment. The offending major website has now apologized for making such a headline claim, admitted it was wrong, and changed the headline.)
5. Flappy Bird was taken off the market. (Suspicious? What would make someone walk away from $50k a day?)
6. All the Flappy Bird hate was because of RACISM! (WTF?!?!?)
7. The developer removed Flappy Bird because he thought it was too addictive and hurting people’s lives. (Ordinarily, I’d also call BS on this, but after seeing a bunch of his tweets from several weeks ago expressing so much concern that people were playing his game too much, I’m actually inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt here. A lot of it.)
All-in-all, I’m really not sure what to think, though I am somewhat disappointed in the “indie community” (whatever that means). From my perspective, the only possible wrongdoing was #2, and there wasn’t clear-cut evidence of this happening. We’ll probably never know. So if we assume he’s innocent, we’re left with a case where a young (I assume young, but I really know nothing about creator Dong Nguyen) game developer was buried in what I can only consider petty jealousy and nerd rage. And trolls and haters. All it took was a whiff of possible wrongdoing for that to become toxic.
It’s tough for game devs out there. Recently, Sophie Houlden tweeted that with all her efforts last year, she made an average of $6 per day as an indie game developer. As for me, I don’t think Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon will make $50,000 during it’s entire lifetime, and it took me years to make the game.
Them’s the breaks. That’s true of every industry, every field. Stephen King can ramble for an hour at a microphone and make a million bucks, while other writers have been at it for years and have to work a second job to pay the rent. Life ain’t fair, and I’m not exactly sure how you’d even define “fair.” Fairness can mean a lot of things, and some of those meanings are pretty incompatible with each other. No matter how hard we work at it, there’s always an element of luck. Just like D&D, sometimes someone is going to roll a nat-20 or a nat-1 which may throw expectations. That’s life.
Several years ago I adopted a philosophy that you cannot hate other people’s success if you wish to achieve it yourself. Otherwise, won’t you subconsciously avoid achieving what you hate? So I prefer to celebrate other people’s successes. Sure, I can’t say I am enlightened and spiritual enough to avoid feeling at least a reflexive twinge of jealousy (or at least frustration) once in a while.
We need to do better, as gamers and game developers. We can’t devour our own like this. Sure, I think Jeff Vogel is probably right, haters gonna hate and all that. But that doesn’t mean the adult voices can’t come out and denounce the trolls, add support, and try to be part of the ten supportive voices that it takes to offset the pain of a single hateful one. While the “top dogs” might be worthy of criticism, let’s not pile on to attack them just because they are on top.
Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 6 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 12, 2014
This isn’t really an update on Frayed Knights 2 status. I’m overdue to give you one, I know. This is more of a general-purpose post about game development, but of course my point of reference is Frayed Knights 2. It naturally looms large in my mind and consumes a good deal of my focus.
One big advantage of using Unity (and there are many) is that there are tons of third-party add-ons for the engine that can make the life of a game developer easier. Nowhere is this more apparent than NGUI. Unity’s built-in UI tools are pretty primitive, but NGUI is a relatively inexpensive add-on that provides an awesome UI library and tools to the Unity editor. While nothing is perfect, it’s pretty sweet. Now – I understand they are working on a whole new set of UI tools for the engine which may make NGUI obsolete soon, which is a whole ‘nother issue. But for now – NGUI is well worth the money and takes Unity to a new level of value as a game engine. And it’s not alone. For me, hitting the Unity Asset Store is a little like being a kid in candy store.
This is all wonderful stuff. But there are problems…
#1 – Compatibility of the add-ons with each other. This hasn’t proved much of a problem for me, but it is something I have to look out for, especially when dependencies come into play.
#2 – Updates for Unity. Unity changes. Sometimes this causes compatibility issues, normally in the form of warnings rather than errors as some functions get deprecated. Sometimes this requires massive code changes, and for a big project like Frayed Knights, an update to a .0 or .5 version of Unity might take a few hours to get things back up to snuff and working correctly. Sometimes the authors of the assets will update their stuff to keep pace with Unity, but not always. It may mean having to go in and change somebody else’s code. Or, if you wait long enough, the author may update it himself / herself. Which leads to another problem…
#3 – Updates to the add-ons. Sometimes the add-ons don’t update cleanly, and leave cruft in your directory which will cause compile warnings and errors. Weeding all that out can be a pain. Deleting the directories (assuming the asset installs in a clean, compartmentalized manner) and re-installing from scratch can work, but I’m finding it can also lead to other headaches as the editor goes a little crazy dealing with links that no longer work while you are transitioning. And then – as is the case for me transitioning to a newer version of NGUI – the add-on may change, deprecate functions, or completely modify how they do things, requiring a ton of rework.
It’s the ton of rework in #3 than I’m finding myself in right now, but for now I think it’s worth it.
Eventually – usually when I go beta – I stick a stake in the ground and say “This is the version I’m going with, no more changes.” Unless I really, really need the update, in which case it may necessitate a cascade of changes. That’s not a lot of fun when you are trying to make your game as stable as possible and lower your bug count, but sometimes the reward outweighs the risk.
I don’t want to oversell the problems – they are the right kinds of problems, IMO. They are the problems of using a living, popular, and thriving tool with strong third-party support. The advantages don’t come completely free.
If you are curious, some of the add-ons I am using (besides NGUI) include ProBuilder, ProGrids, “Shuriken Magic”, and a few content packs (which I gues Shuriken Magic counts as, although a lot of it is scripting and behaviors for particle effects). There are some others that I’ve picked up because they looked interesting or were temporarily useful (or they were on sale and looked like they could be used on another project) but may not make it in the final game. The Ultimate Rope Editor is one that I will probably find several uses for, but haven’t needed it yet in the game.
Filed Under: Game Development, Programming - Comments: 4 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 11, 2014
Okay, I normally don’t like to report on games that are this early in development, but I make plenty of exceptions. In this case, it’s because creator John Mabbot… well, he asked. So here it is. The game is called Subterranea, and it’s another one of these games that, on paper anyway, sounds like it was custom-designed for my personal enjoyment.
First of all – it’s a party-based western-style RPG with turn-based combat. Those used to be an incredible rarity. Fortunately, indies have been stepping up to the plate.
Secondly – it’s incorporating the Open Gaming License for the ruleset. We saw this in Knights of the Chalice, and it worked pretty well in a turn-based game. In fact, Knights of the Chalice remains one of my favorite RPGs, period, occupying something of a similar tier as Pool of Radiance and its sequels in my heart, so hearing that another game is delving into that territory makes me happy.
In fact, John tells me that Pool of Radiance is a major inspiration for this game. He says, “I’ve always imagined that game, with the classic D&D turn-based tactical combat, exploration, political intrigue via the council and storytelling in an engine with modern graphics and physics.”
Okay. Do you think that’s a tease? Try this: “(I’m) looking to introduce PnP-type non-combat gameplay experiences, like feigning death, cutting rope bridges, physics-based traps that cause random chaos, heavier use of ‘exploration spells’, puzzles, etc.”
Elements like natural cover and positioning, physics-based puzzles and environmental challenges are planned. Expect rolling barrels, swinging rope-bridges (as seen in the video), and all other kinds of fun stuff.
Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 10, 2014
I am as much of a sucker for the big-name RPGs as anybody else. Yes, marketing works on me, too, go figure. But I still love to check out the unsung, relatively unknown little indie games. Sometimes they do a better job of scratching the itch. Sometimes not.
Dungeon Fray is one that I hadn’t heard of until it was bundled with Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon a few months ago. It’s a very quick-playing roguelike in the same vein as Desktop Dungeons. Now, I haven’t played Desktop Dungeons in a long time (since it was still in free, pre-beta stages), so I’m not sure how much the two have diverged – but core gameplay is pretty similar between the two.
In a nutshell, you have a dungeon that starts out mostly hidden with black squares that gradually gets revealed as you move. The dungeon is filled with monsters, treasures, and “orbs.” There are also locked treasure chests and blue orbs that have a highly rendom effect – including hurting your character half the time. Monsters of different kinds of have special abilities and resistances, and are clearly labeled with their level – which you compare against your own character’s level for an idea of their difficulty (and is how much experience points you’ll get for slaying them). Most of the time, you’ll be facing monsters higher level than yourself.
The monsters are stationary, until you attack them. Then they’ll follow you. By bumping into the monster, you automatically make a normal attack. You can also use any of nine spells to assist you, or drink potions to heal damage or remove debilitating states. Hitting and damaging a monster is somewhat random, especially if the enemy is much higher level than yourself, so there are no guarantees when you engage an enemy. Having some potions and spells in your inventory for a back-up plan against a more powerful enemy is key.
Unlike Desktop Dungeons – but more like most roguelikes – you do not automatically heal as you move around or reveal new parts of the dungeon. You heal when you level up, when you touch a green orb, or drink a healing potion. There is also a wizard in each level who can grant you a favor – one of which is regeneration for the first three rounds of your next combat. Your character can be of one of three classes in the game – Fighter, Mage, and Rogue. All have different advantages and disadvantages, and each has three spells (of nine, total) which will work better for them than for the other classes.
Besides gaining levels, you can also improve your character through activating blue orbs (although that’s random and sometimes debilitating), or by purchasing upgrades with your gold. I really like this aspect of the game – it certainly makes loot-gathering a critical element of the game. Gold can be used to buy potions, spell uses, and upgrades to your character’s attack, defense, and hit points. Items have a fixed cost, but upgrades cost progressively more with each improvement.
Once you defeat all the monsters on a level, you can descend to the next level, and keep on going. I understand there’s an end to the levels where you can “win” (level 8?), but I’ve not gotten past level 4. Death is permanent, however you can earn achievements and perks with your characters which can then give an advantage to future characters.
And that’s pretty much the game. It’s not a phenomenal roleplaying experience or a super-deep roguelike or anything like that. It’s a straight up mechanical dungeon crawl where you manage risk, reward, and resources. Sometimes, that’s all I need for a “quick fix.” If you only have ten minutes to play, it might be just what you need. And if you manage to survive the dungeon that long, you can always quit and save.
Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 7, 2014
I love digging out the old quotes about video games from the 80s and 90s. So much has changed, and so much seems quaint in retrospect, but the fundamental truths are usually still there once you strip out the technology and assumptions of the era. This one comes from the 1996 Computer Game Developers’ Conference (before it changed its name to GDC).
“The difference between home and coin-op games is simple, but it is critical to understand, because it overshadows everything else there is to say about this subject. It won’t really matter how many polygons your hardware can generate, how much (or little) blood you splash, how beautiful your cabinet packaging is, nor how much you spend on advertising- the bottom line always comes down to fun. (Coupled with proper tuning, of course.) In the home game world, many purchases are the result of advertising which leads the consumer to believe the game will be fun to play. In coin-op, where only extensive repeat play can justify the game’s existence, the appeal of the game must speak for itself. When a home game is sale is made, the customer hands over $50, whether or not s/he ends up enjoying the game. When a coin-op sale is made the customer puts up 50 cents. If s/he didn’t have fun, that’s all the money you are going to get from him / her. Operators will not, cannot, buy games which earn this poorly. And news on how games earn always gets around in this business.
“And what’s more, the customer must begin having fun immediately, without consulting any rules – sensing what to do intuitively. He cannot be made to feel intimidated or frustrated, and must want to pay to continue after playing for only 2 or 3 minutes. The challenge offered by the game must increase as the player’s skill increases, constantly balancing on the fine edge between frustrating him by killing him too quickly, and allowing him to live too long on a credit, which will reduce the game’s earning power. It is challenging, expensive, and extremely risky, but also potentially rewarding beyond measure to be a coin-op video game developer.” — Jeff S. Brown, CGDC, 1996
To be honest, I really don’t know Mr. Brown’s credentials. He seemed knowledgeable about the business, though. I don’t know if he realized just how badly the coin-op arcade game business was drying up (although he did mention how 7-Eleven had recently announced it would no longer have arcade machines in their stores).
But aside from being a snapshot of history, there are some pieces that are still very true – particularly in markets where the “race to the bottom” in terms of pricing has now become a wasteland of free games begging for small change once you play them. But even above that fray, there’s still a lot less emphasis on up-front purchases. I think this situation may have some parallels to the old coin-op industry, except you have an even tougher time getting noticed. The same may apply to those of us doing the traditional demo / full version model.
Even the whole “living too long on a credit” idea, sadly, has a parallel in the “pay to win” side of the game monetization fence. I think the arcade games handled it a bit more honestly, but that’s just me.
The key points I pulled out, though, may sometimes be difficult to apply to certain genres (like RPGs), but still entirely valid goals for a designer to pursue:
1. Players need to be able to play without reading instructions. (*sigh*)
2. Players need to start having fun immediately – at least by the time 2-3 minutes have elapsed
3. Prevent players from feeling frustrated or intimidated by the game.
4. Make a game that keeps a player entertained and challenged for every minute of play, so that if it *were* a coin-op, people wouldn’t ever want to quit pumping quarters into it. While it’s okay to have logical break-points where the player can save their game and come back tomorrow, designers should endeavor to keep the minute-by-minute gameplay fun, challenging, and varied.
Filed Under: Quote of the Week - Comments: 6 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 6, 2014
When I complained about “Early Access” games a month ago – games that are released (and sold) to the public in an unfinished state, I neglected one of the critical aspects of gaming that it impacts.
The only thing I can figure, like the reviewer, is updating the review to match the development of the game. But who has time for this? Especially if it wasn’t fun on initial release. There are gazillions of new games released every week, and they can all use reviews. I don’t want reviewers stuck re-reviewing the same game every two months.
In theory, I think early releases are a great thing. Customers may have to deal with software being less stable and mature, but in return get to help drive development, and (hopefully) get it at a discounted price. Win / win right? And the software gets treated – at least for a while – as “live” development, constantly being improved. I’m used to regular updates of Windows, Unity, Blender, and other software. That’s a decent way for software to work, right?
To be fair, I think that’s how many (if not most) game developers honestly think of it, too.
But in practice, too often this system gets abused. It’s an opportunity to crank up the old “release it broken, and patch it later” cycle to eleven. But now – a studio without much of a reputation to risk can collect half the revenue for a game up-front with only 25% of the work. All you need is some clever marketing, pretty pictures, and something a little cooler than a tech demo. (Oh, did I just describe the majority of Kickstarter game projects as well?) Maybe they even go into it with good intentions, but as the pre-order revenue dries up and they realize they aren’t going to make the kind of money they’d expected for this game, it becomes easier just to quietly taper off development, rename the studio, and move on to bigger and better things.
I think if we could solve the review problem, it would help. It would behoove studios to make sure that what they release is worthy of a good review. It would probably encourage studios to release a game only when it was far closer to completion, and has received some major polish efforts.
Some guidelines I’d like to suggest to reviewers:
1. Having “Early Access” reviews specially marked as “Work in Progress” (WIP) reviews might help – an obvious, impossible-to-miss visual indicator. This would at least clue in readers that there’s a difference – and risk – when comparing a commercially available work-in-progress to an actual “released” game. Obviously, both may undergo changes, but part of the rating / recommendation for the WIP would be based on its potential and promise, as opposed to what’s actually there. The former is a guess – the latter is far harder to deliver (and easier to criticize) and should count for more, if only by differentiation.
But really – an “early access” WIP games request a different set of standards than a finished game – always adding the caveat that it’s still in full development and may improve substantially over time. I think reviews need to acknowledge that, and make it very clear that they are operating under much softer standards than a full release.
2. While doing constant updates to a review for an early access / commercially available work-in-progress, minor updates – a “delta” to show how things are going – could be in order. If things seem to be really improving, maybe a “+” or “++” could be appended to the score. If things do not seem to be improving over time, a “-” could be appended – again, with potential comments. In my view, a game that hasn’t been updated (or only received a “token” update) in three months should earn an automatic “–” suffix. Exceptions may be granted , but it seems like a game that is still “in development” and ready enough to be sold to people should be able to have updates once a quarter.
3. Possibly provide two scores or recommendations for WIP games. One would be for the game as it stands at the time of the review, and the other would be the guess as to likely deliverable value. The first one would be more important, as it is what the player might be stuck with should the developer stop development and never produce another update (always a possibility).
My biggest concern overall is that we’re going to end up with a barren indie wasteland of incomplete games, and customers suspicious of indies who never finish their jobs.
On the flip side, I think developers who continually update and improve their products after their official “release” deserve plenty of praise. It’s easy to come down on them and say, “You should have fixed this before release,” but I think most of us are tech-savvy enough to understand that there’s no such thing as perfect software, and every release has its share of surprises – sometimes bad. But the ones that keep fixing and improving their software – for free – deserve praise.
Ultimately, I guess what I am calling for is sticky reputations for developers. A dev with a good rep deserves the benefit of the doubt with early releases, crowd-funding efforts, and so forth. A developer without any track record should be viewed with suspicion. And any developer who has screwed up in the past and not made a good faith effort to make things right by their customers should have a lot of repentance to do in order to escape their reputation. And really – game journalism is where these kinds of reputations (or lack thereof) can be applied.
Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 8 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 5, 2014
I’m trying to come up with some kind of “unified field theory” about exploration in games (particularly, but not exclusively, for RPGs). Some games are really good at it – from the early days of Elite and Frontier, to the sandbox play of the Grand Theft Auto series, to Bethesda’s exploration-centric role-playing games.
particularly as it can be applied to randomized worlds. My basic premise is this:
1. Diablo had little exploration component. Or at least, what it had was so boring as to not be worth calling it that.
2. Minecraft does.
If you accept that, you can start looking at the differences between the worlds, which are both dynamically generated. What makes one far more interesting to “explore” than others? What makes other games, without dynamically generated terrain, interesting to explore?
I just think of some of my more fond moments exploring in other games.
1. Interactivity. If the world is largely “look but don’t touch,” I lose interest in a hurry. There needs to be more to exploration than just finding a path. Naturally, in Minecraft, almost everything can be interacted with – you gather it up, move it, reshape it, make stuff out of it. This is a reason I really didn’t warm up to Dear Esther like I thought I would. It felt more like looking at somebody else’s photographs. (That, and… there wasn’t much deviation allowed from the path. See point 4.)
2. Novelty / Discovery. Being able to discover stuff you’ve never quite seen before. This is tough in dynamic worlds, because eventually you’ve enough permutations that it fails to thrill. But finding new objects, or new configurations of old objects that could be interesting to interact with, keep things exciting. But this is a key bit – it’s all about discovery. It can’t be just more of the same, with doors on different wall.
This is a point where dynamic content either really needs to be supplemented with handcrafted awesomeness for special occasions, or (as in the case of Minecraft) the world generator really needs to be up to the task of creating some really nifty combinations of elements to make something cool.
One of my favorite moments of exploration in a game was flying up the Grand Canyon in Falcon 3.0 and discovering a giant water faucet was the source of the river.
3. Reward or Purpose. There should be some benefit to exploration, even if it’s largely self-directed. In Minecraft, it’s fairly intrinsic. The world is your reward – you are master of all you survey, and it’s all ripe for your exploitation – or simply exploration. In Diablo-likes, unexplored territory is more likely to contain something of value, or a key object / enemy that you are seeking. Is that too fine of a point? Maybe.
Many people think exploration should be it’s own reward – a fully intrinsic benefit to the player. For me, it’s like the motivation of a character in a story. It may not be key, or all that important, but without a strong motivation the whole thing falls flat. I’m a little bit goal-directed as a player most times, so I want to know that at least sometimes I’ll be able to tell myself that I’ve benefited from time spent off the rails. Note that knowledge can be power – the purpose or reward doesn’t have to be an actual in-game “item” or experience point bump or anything like that, but simply an improved understanding of the game or the world, or discovery (there’s that word again!) of secrets.
4. Optionality. Is that even a word? In a nutshell – if you are forced to travel along this path in order to succeed in the game, it’s not exploration. It’s simply plowing through the world. The fun for me lies with knowing I’m going off the beaten path and exploring places that not every player will see.
5. Safety. I don’t mean in-game safety – it’s always more fun if there’s the possibility of danger lurking behind every corner. I mean meta-game safety – that as a player, you don’t have to worry about “breaking the game” if you wander off and start doing your own thing. This isn’t a problem in most modern games, but especially with indies, it’s still something to occasionally be worried about. This is one reason I’m not a big proponent of eliminating manual saves from a game – they allow the player a safety net and some freedom to go nuts and explore.
As a final note, exploration doesn’t necessarily have to be of physical space and terrain. It could be any kind of experimentation. It could be about testing any kind of limits in the game rules or the game world. It could be about discovering what kind of amusing responses to weird commands might be built into an adventure game. It could be about trying to find the fastest possible path from point A to point B in a speed run. In my view, whenever a game encourages a player to ask a question that starts with the words, “What happens if I…?”, then the game is doing it right.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 18 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 4, 2014
“Indinera Falls”, the person in charge of Aldorlea Games, has made more commercial computer RPGs in his career than just about anybody. You can check out the self-published section of the website if you have doubts. Or this post. If there are people who have matched or exceeded this count, they are few in number. I only wish I could be as prolific. The quality of the games have definitely improved over time as well, as you’d expect.
These are very much in the vein of classic 16-bit console RPGs, which I know are not to everybody’s liking here. That’s okay. However, one of Aldorlea’s more popular series, Millennium, has finally come to a conclusion with episode 5, and is now in the midst of a Steam Greenlight drive.
So if you feel charitable (or interested in the games, especially), go upvote the series on Steam.
(Oh, and if you haven’t already… Frayed Knights is still awaiting your upvote as well…)
I probably do more effort linking other people’s Steam Greenlight campaigns than my own, but I did want to mention the drive, both to help him out, and also for my own benefit. See, we made a deal. The upshot is that once his games are accepted on Steam, I get to mock him mercilessly. Like me, his games were turned down originally by Steam just before Greenlight. He’s doubtful his games will be greenlit regardless of placement. If he’s proven wrong, I get to to give him a big “I told you so.” Otherwise, he gets to mock me, instead. Since I’m sure I’m right, I’m enthusiastic about making sure he has that opportunity to be proven wrong. He’ll be crying all the way to the bank, I’m sure, but that’s just the kind of guy I am.
It’s getting up there to the top of the list for Greenlight, so it probably won’t take long if he gets a good push. Another month, maybe.
To further sweeten the pot, until the end of the week, the first game in the series is on sale at a 70% discount. This was for newsletter-subscribers to know about, but I have permission to let folks know about it here. It’s at 70% off for the next couple of days. To get the discount, you only need to go to the Millennium 1 page and click “buy now.” The discount will appear in your shopping cart. No special code word necessary. Secret discounts. That’s why you come to this blog, right?
Okay, maybe not. To be honest, I don’t know why you keep coming, but you do. Both Aldorlea and I figure we suck at this whole marketing / networking thing, and aren’t any good at playing the games that have been played to get games greenlit on Steam. Wrong kind of games, I guess. But maybe this could be worth the few extra votes to take him over the edge.
And then, who knows? Maybe Frayed Knights won’t be too long after? (Although like I said, I’m terrible at it, and still too focused on FK2…)
Filed Under: Deals - Comments: 3 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 3, 2014
This is a little project that started out as simply a little internal exercise for me to learn GameMaker Studio. I figured it would also count as my One Game a Month entry. When the whole Candy / Saga trademark thing hit, I figured I’d re-theme it and submit it for the CandyJam as well. Now, if I had more time (and skill), I wanted to have the background change gradually from a serene green landscape with candy forests on the horizon to a blasted wasteland. But… for a throw-away game, it was already getting to take up too much time.
As an exercise to learn GameMaker Studio, it succeeded quite well. While I am sure I don’t have a clue as to the more interesting details of bigger projects, I think I have the basics down. At some point in the near future, I may post little bits of my code from this game, but there are far better tutorials out there to learn how to use GameMaker.
As a parody / commentary … well, I had fun with it. Every time you lose (and it’s an arcade-style game where you will always, eventually, lose), the lawyers send a Cease & Desist for some reason or another, causing the game to change it’s title or instructions to something (temporarily) non-objectionable. Eventually, half the words in the game have been replaced with generic words or [REDACTED]. I had a lot of fun with that part. That took almost as much time to develop as the actual arcade game, if you don’t include the time I spent making the sprites. The sprites were a lot of fun. The lawyers COULD just be pointing in the air, for all you know… but I think most people will see it the way I see it.
The best version of the game is a Windows download, which you can obtain from itch.io (which hosts the Candy Jam… and which incidentally looks like it might be an interesting cheap-and-dirty alternative to Kongregate which includes downloadable games…). This is a single executable, no installer… just download and run. Since the file is unlikely to see much circulation, virus scanners will probably whine that they’ve never heard of it before, which makes it scawy or something.
You can also play the HTML 5 version, but it seems like this version has some broken sound effects. I guess Game Maker’s exporter isn’t 100% awesome yet. However, it’s cool that it could build both an executable for Windows and as a web-game. I guess if you are running on a non-windows, this will be the way to go:
There’s no mouse support – it’s all arrow keys and the space bar.
So… what’s your high score? Since the last version I built, mine is 4570, and I haven’t been able to beat level 5…
Filed Under: Free Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 31, 2014
This week’s quote comes from Ernest Adam’s 2013 “Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie” column:
“The constant buying and selling in CRPGs harms their heroic quest feel, so the least you can do is make this more efficient so that the player doesn’t have to waste a lot of time on it. It’s not fun to have to click the sell button 100 times to get rid of 100 Vegetable Peelers of Unusual Bluntness looted from hapless kobolds. Stéphane Bessette suggested a set of qualities that a good loot-selling interface should have:
- Players need a way to be able to buy stuff back that they’ve sold by accident, at least within the context of the current transaction. The opportunity doesn’t need to last forever, just long enough to be able to correct clicking on the wrong thing.
- They need a way to lock items so they can’t sell them unintentionally.
- It’s nice to be able to get rid of low-level junk without having to schlep it all the way back to the surface. Torchlight offers this.
- Let players buy one item, a specific quantity of items, or a stack of items.
- It would be good to be able to sell quantities of identical items that don’t stack.”
A lot of the GD quotes of the week are pretty general-purpose, but this one’s pretty specific. It assumes a game with a large number of items — something common enough with modern mainstream western RPGs and MMORPGs, but not necessarily the case with many indie games with far more limited inventories.
I might one more suggestion that if an item is currently “locked” (manually, or because it is currently equipped and the game doesn’t allow you to sell equipped items), that it be possible to unlock them from within the loot-selling interface. It’s annoying to have to leave the merchant screen, make changes, and go back – which is a problem that often does plague smaller, indie-style RPGs. Just ‘cuz the old 16-bit console RPGs made you do it doesn’t make it right…
Filed Under: Quote of the Week - Comments: 8 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 30, 2014
The first Utah Indie meet-up for 2014 was held at the Wahoo / NinjaBee offices. This is the first time I’ve been able to attend at their offices since they moved to new ones. (Long-time readers may remember that I used to work for them).
Spencer Buchanan started out the evening (once pizza was obtained) with a talk on mHealth and games. He – and other game developers – have been teaming up with doctors and nurse practitioners to create games to help people learn about and cope with serious health problems. It’s a pretty interesting new way to partner up with an industry, gain distribution opportunities, and help people, all at once. He talked about the benefits as well as the pitfalls, particularly working with some doctors who know a lot about medicine but not a lot about game design, other than having grown up playing video games.
It was a great talk, not that I’m considering making games for the healthcare industry, but for other elements it brought to light, and suggesting some areas where gaming can go to provide education as well as entertainment, and how partnering with industry partners can increase distribution and visibility.
And that underscored what may have been two themes I heard repeatedly over the evening from various attendees:
1. Discoverability is now king
2. Kickstarter FEVAH!
We had lots of discussion about some other things, like VR technology, SteamOS, the Ouya, etc. But those two themes kept popping up. In a nutshell – the whole report about how the cost of acquiring new users in mobile gaming exceeding the amount they will ever pay has really shaken up the biz. Mobile gaming is desperately overcrowded now, and the quality of the game now has very little to do with its popularity. And on the crowdfunding front – it seems everybody and their cousin has plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign now. It’s The Thing.
I should note that the contrarian in me sez that when this has happened, the boom is fixin’ to bust.
I showed my WIP (which should be done in another evening or so) for the One Game a Month and Candy Jam entry. It’s dumb but amusing. It was really a tiny project I used to learn Game Maker which I actually turned into a complete and themed game. It’s not going to set the world on fire.
I played Califer Games new puzzle-based title, Spirits of Elduurn, which was a very interesting twist on the ideas and universe of Siphon Spirit. It’s kind of a yin / yang thing… you control dual linked spirits with the same controls, but they have different abilities and respond to the environment differently. The first minute I played, I was thinking, “WTF?” The next minute, I was thinking, “Oh, this is kinda clever.” The next several minutes I had totally fallen out of critical thinking mode and was trying to figure out how to beat each level. I think it may be the most intriguing game Peter Anderson and Curtis Mirci have done yet.
The only other game I played (and I played a lot of it) was Eric Wiggins’ “Saga Heroes,” based on the world of Saga (which I worked on back when I worked at NinjaBee). Eric has actually been maintaining that MMORTS solo for the last several years, and knows what he’s doing. And yes, he’s planning a Kickstarter. And yes, in spite of my Kickstarter grumbling, he’s an old friend and coworker with a track record, so *yes* I will be talking about it. While the game is currently a little rough around the edges, it’s kinda of a Zelda-Meets-Diablo thing which is really kinda cool. And it’s for the Ouya, which needs more good games.
Most of my night was spent just chatting and chillin’ with friends new and old, talking about games (and TV shows), swapping stories, sharing advice, etc. Even as some of the discussion revolved around how much harder it is to get noticed and sell games, it was pretty motivational for me. Sometimes that feels like the truest benefit of these meet-ups: You get motivated to make your game ‘ready to show’ for indie night, and then you come away with an enthusiasm to work harder and make great games.
Filed Under: Utah Indie Game Night - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 29, 2014
Courtesy of a Steam Sale, I found myself in possession of GameMaker Studio Pro edition for the bargain price of 25 bucks a few weeks ago. I’d actually considered taking a good, hard look at it after some comments on game development after considering some comments on one of the posts here (I think it was this one – about 3D), and the software came up for sale either that night or a day or so later.
The issue is – for me – a concern that beginners need an easier path to get started in game development. I knew that GameMaker began life as an educational tool for use in teaching students game development, and a lot of cool commercial games have been made with it. I’d heard plenty of reports but never had first-hand experience making a game with it. So I tried it, and made a game out of it (my One Game a Month entry, and also my Candy Jam entry), so I could give a more informed opinion about it. I’ll be sharing the details of learning the system – as well as the game – in a few days (although the experience may make up a few posts over the course of several days).
Going through this learning process yet again with a new “engine,” with an eye towards recommending it for beginners, drove a few points home for me. I will probably comment on several, but here’s a biggie:
I can’t think like a beginner anymore.
One of the complaints about my “Game in a Week” article many years ago was that sure, it was a game in a week, following years of experience as a game developer. While I recognized that was an issue, I didn’t think it was a big one. After all, I was learning to use a completely new game development “engine” (well, library).
This time around, however, particularly with the multi-featured, fairly complex beast that Game Maker Studio is, I recognized how I was learning to use the game system. Even though it was a completely different engine and suite of tools than I had used before (and I have worked with many in my career, including several custom in-house game engines), I was taking all kinds of shortcuts to learn and use the system. I relied on very few tutorials. With a brief introduction to the overall architecture (not a whole lot more than the introduction and overview in the documentation), I had a pretty good idea for how it worked, and had my head around things. A little bit of fiddling around to learn how to create events and actions, and I was up and running.
From that point on, I was able to take an educated guess as to what I needed, and then hunt it down in the docs pretty quickly. I knew what I needed – from collision handling to spawning an instance of an object, to drawing a sprite with the built-in editor. There have been a few questions that I had to look up on the Internet or ask one of my buddies who is experienced with the software, but things started coming together, and I was able to cobble up a simple game with it. I probably did some things “wrong” but they work.
This is totally NOT how a beginner would approach it. I was making assumptions and jumping to conclusions that more often than not turned out to be correct. I knew what I was looking for. A beginner would have no basis to make those assumptions in the first place. Really, the only way I’d see doing it would be starting out with some simple tutorials (yeah, I know, BORING) and working their way up to more complex ones.
Here’s another issue I ran into:
I have a programmer’s perspective to game development, not that of an artist or a designer.
When I think of how I learned to make a game, I think of the old days of programming in Basic. I think of using abstract graphics to represent balls and walls and aliens, and that the first stages of making a game should be the equivalent of writing a “Hello World” in four lines of code or less. I think of… well, Moosader’s SDL tutorials. While she can do many things, she’s also got the mind and approach of a programmer.
Now, I believe that experienced game developers of all stripes eventually converge on some levels of commonality. Even though my mindset is more on the problem-solving and step-by-step approach of programming, I’m always thinking about the art pipeline and quality, design issues, and so forth. But I’m still rooted in that programmer mentality. When I come across a problem, I tend to immediately think of how to solve it with code before considering other options, like just hiding the problem with art, or changing the game design to make the problem go away.
So with my programmer bias trying to imagine learning to make games, I immediately think of having easy access to stand-in content, being able to get at everything via code very quickly, having simple functions to initialize and get things running very quickly, and also having a very rich, deep library of additional functions to go beyond the basics when those are no longer adequate. I want great documentation and example code, lots of tutorials covering every aspect of using the engine, and very useful debugging / scripting tools to help me find and root out the problems. But when I think of how I get things in the game to interact, I think in terms of code…
Coming at game development as a beginner from a programmer’s mindset is probably pretty different from that of an artist. As an artist, I would probably be first concerned with creating graphical content and getting it to display and move inside the game. Ease of the content pipeline would be paramount. I would look at avoiding code as much as possible until I was ready, and would prefer off-the-shelf behaviors that I could just plug in and set loose to see how things look.
As a designer – well, designers are always a weird bunch. Who knows what they want? I have my own bias – I imagine that as a kid, I started as a designer, with big ideas, and I learned to program to make those things happen. So “design” was really more of my gateway drug. But I jokingly refer to designers as people who aren’t good at either coding or art yet, but who are passionate about making games. From that perspective, I imagine a rich toolset is key, with plenty of stand-in content (which the programmers like) and canned behaviors (which the artists like).
And then when you get past the learning stage and want to use the engine for actual, commercial-quality game construction, you have a ton of additional needs. And this is everybody. You get worried about content pipelines, content / code versioning, workflow, ease of creating builds, multi-platform development, localization, integration with additional third-party libraries, monetization, the quality of support for the product (you don’t want to be in late alpha and discover a game-wrecking bug inherent in the engine which cannot / will not be fixed), metrics / statistics / profiling, debugging tools, licensing costs, and a whole lot more.
Unfortunately, the real game engines that cater to all these approaches have the side-effect that they are pretty daunting and complex. It’s the cost of providing all this stuff that everybody needs. So I guess this whole post is an excuse to explain why I am not the best judge of a game engine / studio as an introductory tool for beginners. I have some ideas of what they would need, but the very feature-rich nature of any tool that would provide all of that might make it overwhelming. I’m still of the belief that you’d want something small and simple to get you started… but that isn’t something that would “grow with you” as you learn your chops.
There are a lot of options out there. It’s a little overwhelming. I imagine a true beginner, aspiring to make great games, might be a little befuddled about where to start.
But I guess, compared to what we had back in the 8-bit era when we not only had no clue but also not many options, these are the right kinds of problems to have.
Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 10 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 28, 2014
Looks like Wizardry Online didn’t last long. At least not in North America. Sony Online Entertainment is shuttering four MMOs this year, and that’s one of them…
It was a pretty hardcore online game featuring permadeath, no auto-healing, and server-wide PVP. While my own history comes from somewhat more hardcore role-playing games, this always sounded a bit much for me to get interested in, so I never got that interested. On top of that, the videos showed that it was very manga-style (which isn’t a problem in my book, just a major disconnect from what really “feels” like Wizardry in my book) and … very action hack-and-slashy.
So, while it’s demise is still a ways off… when I think “hardcore MMORPG”, PVP and permadeath isn’t what I usually think of. I’m sure that’s what it means for some folk, especially those who played a bunch of MMOS in the late 90s and early 2000s. And of course, the hardcore roguelike players will definitely be comfortable with permadeath. But for me – and I freely admit I’m not nearly as much of a hardcore gamer as I was in my younger years (when you kinda had to be) – I think of something totally different. I think more in terms of a deep rule set, admittedly difficult progression, and challenging combat (generally turn-based).
Arguably, that’s already been done, and can be used to describe several games already out on the market – especially the deep rule sets. Turn-based is a bit more rare, but there are smaller MMOs that use it.
So if you were to identify the pieces that make up a “hardcore” MMORPG, what would they be? Would permadeath be part of it?
Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 4 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 27, 2014
So you know how King.com was claiming that their efforts to trademark (and monopolize) the words “Candy” and “Saga” for videogames were supposedly to protect themselves from evil cloners just trying to cash in on their IP rights?
Well, they weren’t wrong. There are some unethical, despicable douchebags who will blatantly do that, and worse, daring any other company to call them on it. Like…
The story is pretty bad, if you didn’t check out the link. When a potential partner pulled their game to go with another partner, King.com just out-and-out copied their game, only with far more blatantly “borrowed” content from Pac-Man.
Of course, since this announcement came out, and in light of the furor over their “trademark-trolling,” King.com has now removed their cloned game, “Pac-Avoid,” from their virtual arcade, in a lame attempt to either hide the evidence or demonstrate their newfound respect for IP rights. Or both.
And then there’s the whole “The Banner Saga” thing. Remember how their PR claimed that they weren’t trying to prevent The Banner Saga from using the name, and also explaining that no, they aren’t making any claim that Stoic was trying to horn in on their IP or capitalize on their success?
Well, um, about that…
Especially when it claims that the title is “deceptively similar” their own.
Like I said last week – these folks (and people like them) are evil. I don’t know another word for it. I know – these days, that’s a word we tend to reserve exclusively for scenery-chewing movie villains, mass murderers, and politicians we disagree with. But if I were to open up the ol’ D&D books and pick an alignment for ‘em, it would have to be somewhere in the “evil” third of the chart. They unethically, immorally, and arguably illegally flaunted their ability to get away with abusing others (and their customers, IMO, but that’s just me). Then, once they built up enough of an empire doing so, they turned around and attempted to subvert the law they so often violated (in spirit if not in letter, but certainly outside the bounds of enforcement for those without money) and stomp on the freedom of other game makers. Those with less money but more scruples are the worst hurt.
I am definitely in favor of protecting IP rights (although I do recognize that perhaps the laws in most countries granting those protections are… weird, difficult to enforce, and too often subverted to favor the moneyed). Those who craft with words, images, music, etc. deserve the same kind of protection – and the ability to make a living from their labors – as those who build with metal, wood, plastic, silicon, and so forth. But when copyright is too weak and unenforceable to offer much protection for anybody, and trademark can be applied so broadly by those with deep pockets, I think the existing body of law is failing in the digital age.
Filed Under: Biz, Politics - Comments: 8 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 24, 2014
Why? Good question. I have a zillion games now, and don’t have time to play them all. So why pick up a couple of mediocre-sounding titles?
Well, in the case of the indie RPG… I like to support the indie RPG community. And I like to at least “graze” the crop of indie RPGs to get an idea of what other people are coming out with. I can’t even come close to playing them all, let alone playing them to “completion”. In the case of the shooter – it was really cheap. The kinda money I’d put into an arcade machine back in the day in a single afternoon (before adjusting for inflation). I’ll do that, but it’s kind of random. If I get an hour of fun out of it over the course of a month, I consider it money well spent.
But I may be a little bit of an aberration.
Sometimes these games turn out to be gems. They look like nothing special on the outside – sometimes because the developer just doesn’t know how to market their games – and it turns out to have some really cool ideas, or a really compelling story. But usually, no, it’s “just another” genre game – a “me, too” product that may still be interesting enough to play it for a while, but doesn’t really have anything special to recommend it.
Sometimes they are just novice works, freshman or sophomore releases from new developers still learning their chops. It makes me happy to support these guys. They’ve got big dreams, big ideas, but their games end up kind of … mediocre. Or worse. And there’s not only sympathy / empathy at work there, ‘cuz I know that I’m far, FAR from perfect myself, and I have to struggle to exceed mediocrity (or worse) in everything I do.
Sometimes, it is really is just a potboiler. And yeah, the indie world is full of ‘em, just as much as the AAA mainstream gaming industry. As much as “indie” now has the faintest trappings of being “hip” or “cool,” (can you believe that?!?!? I can’t), there’s still an awful lot of Pablum crap out there being foisted off on the public, no matter how well-funded or mainstream the developers are. More than ever, in fact. That means that even more potential gems are getting lost in the crowd.
I hope developers – even first-time devs – can try harder to avoid creating “just another” RPG, or adventure game. The true indies – the ones putting their heart and soul into a game because they love it, not because they’re just milking the formula on iPhone or Facebook – are putting their hearts and souls into a game. They may lack the skills (and, certainly, the budgets) to really make the final product as awesome as they originally envisioned. That’s okay.
But guys and gals – and I’ve said this many times before – don’t be average. Don’t be “just another” genre game. Don’t be normal. There’s got to be something more than, “Cool, we’re making an RPG!” that gets you excited about it. Magnify whatever it is that makes your game stand out in your minds and your hearts, and make it blindingly obvious to your potential customers. Make it pop. No matter your experience or budget, you can do something really cool and interesting that can set your game apart at least from the masses of competitors. It’s not enough to be an “old-school style RPG” anymore…. that’s almost everything these days. Even graphic adventure games – once all but buried – have been making a fantastic comeback to the point of things actually feeling crowded there again. It’s awesome, but it means you cannot just appeal to nostalgia and rarity anymore.
I’m still going to pick up the occasional “just another” indie game, especially RPGs, because I’m one of those guys. I may even play them beyond the first half-hour. But I’m not normal. You owe it to your game to really find the “heart” of the thing, and make it special, and help your audience see it.
* * *
(Just a note on the pics – these are from some of the stand-out indie RPGs that stood out a lot in my mind – three of many that I could have included. The Real Texas, with its unusual style, setting, and characters; Drox Operative - a space-combat action-roguelike with the fantastic real-time / evolving storylines that are hallmarks for Soldak’s games, and the upcoming Age of Decadence, with an incredible focus on freedom of choice and alternatives … not to mention a very interesting world that is based more on ancient Rome than medieval Europe. While their non-generic focus may mean that they don’t appeal to everybody, they are interesting and seem relatively unique).
Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 4 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 23, 2014
From a bunch of excellent advice from the article, “What Triple-A Developers Could Learn From Indies“:
“With such a great track record of repeated successful titles, the most common question that I get is ‘What is your formula?’ Really it is very simple. Pick a target market that you know well. Understand what they are interested in or what excites them. Then come up with a title that focuses on ONLY those things eliminating as much ‘noise’ as possible. By doing this we are able to make products very cheaply that our fans love. In addition, the things that ARE important we can spend lots of energy focusing on.” – Thomas Steinke, DigitalDNA Games
I have a quote on my wall in my office from Antoine de Saint-Exupery that reads, “Perfect is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” I learned it from Steve Taylor of NinjaBee / Wahoo Games. It’s a great quote, and one that I should heed more often. It’s not perfectly aligned with Steinke’s quote, but there’s a lot there to consider. It’s not as easy to take out the unimportant stuff as it sounds, sometimes. For one thing, we may not even think of it as being a separable feature anymore – it’s so ingrained into our understanding of the game style. It can require some forced out-of-the-box thinking. For another thing – for every “unimportant” feature you want to rip out, there will be a contingent of your target audience for whom that really is a major feature. Each part you rip out may potentially shrink your target audience. Will you rip out so much that there’s not much audience left? Or will the people who value that feature still be happy with your game in spite of that? While it’s not as easy to follow that simple “formula” as it might sound, it’s good advice. It’s all about focus.
Filed Under: Quote of the Week - Comments: 5 Comments to Read
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