Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Cirsova #2 Funds – Celebrates By Making Issue #1 Free This Week

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 28, 2016

cirsova-cover-small2I’ve mentioned the Kickstarter campaign for Cirsova Magazine, issue #2. Well, they’ve cleared the funding minimum (with a week to spare!), and are celebrating by making the first issue free for the rest of the week!

So grab the ebook off of Amazon if you want to check it out.

Pulpy goodness.

Except, you know, purely digital is cheaper than pulp.

(Reminder: I’ve got nothing to do with issues 1 or 2, but I do have a story scheduled for issue 4)

 


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Virtual Reality: The Giggle Chamber

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 27, 2016

ViveAdConsumer-level Virtual Reality (VR) is brand new, and still pretty expensive, which means its still at the “early adopter” stage… bleeding edge, unpolished, and expensive. But it also means that most people haven’t tried it yet, and so said early-adopters get the pleasure of introducing people to it. And yeah, it’s a pleasure. The first minute or so is often accompanied by giggles. Or shrieks, depending on the experience. Maybe both. And lots of comments like, “Wow!” and “This is so cool!”

Hopefully, it’s also accompanied by someone assisting the first-timer so it’s a relatively safe, guided experience. One of the problems with room-based VR is people might bump into walls or fall over. Or they might get feeling “uncomfortable,” to use the euphemism for VR sickness, especially if it’s lower-quality hardware or software. Assuming it’s handled with a modicum of responsibility, it’s great fun for both sides.

The expectation going in seems to be that it’s going to be a new, improved, bigger screen. Which sounds cool – 360 degree visuals! The reality (well, virtual reality) is that this stuff really plays with your brain and your perception of reality. With your audio and visual senses getting fooled, the Matrix pretty much has you. Throw in a bit more presence and haptic stimulation, and the gap closes a little bit more. While we’re still a ways off from the Star Trek holodeck, what we’ve got is still pretty remarkable, and it’s a (hopefully pleasant) shock to the system.

Others have noted that people often refer to VR games as being “in” a place, as opposed to “playing” something. That’s an interesting phenomenon. I don’t know if it will stick going into the future, but at first, it seems like that’s how our brains react to the experience. Is this “messing with our minds” a bad thing? I dunno, but humans are extremely adaptable. Within ten years, maybe this will be as natural and as common to us as watching television or riding in a car.

But for now, it’s fun to watch people experience it for the first time. Maybe not quite as much fun as experiencing it yourself, but close. The giggles are infectious.


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The Steam Summer Sale is Fully On! And Frayed Knights is Half Off!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 24, 2016

fktitle636x358Okay, that’s my quota for clever headlines for the month.

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is half-off at the Steam Summer Sale.

I heartily recommend it, even if the designer is a goober who takes too long getting the sequel out the door.

If you’ve already got it, well, there’s lots and lots of stuff to make your wallet cry out for mercy.


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Mythica and Cirsova – Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns Winding Down

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 23, 2016

I’d posted when these launched, but I thought I’d post a reminder. These aren’t mine… I’m at best peripherally involved.

Mythica5Anyway – first up, the final (?) Mythica movie in the series … Mythica 5: The Godslayer. If you haven’t seen any of the films yet and are a fantasy buff… give the first one a watch. I can’t promise you’ll like it, but it has gained quite a fan following. The final movie has already cleared its original goal by a substantial margin going into its last 2 days, and have already unlocked a stretch goal of development on a board game.

My peripheral involvement is being friends with one of the producers, and previously worked with him on the “Massively Multiplayer RTS”, Saga. Which, BTW, is the same world as Mythica’s setting, I understand. So… there’s that.

Mythica 5: The Godslayer – Kickstarter Campaign

cirsova_num2Next up: Cirsova Magazine, issue 2.  It’s a magazine of heroic fantasy and science fiction, with an emphasis on pulp-era subgenres of Planetary Romance and Sword-and-Planet. Think classic works by Leigh Brackett, Jack Vance, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard.

This is really more of a pre-order and a convenient(ish) way to sell advertising space. It’s quite likely that the only way to get a paper copy of the magazine is via this pre-order (unless it does very well and warrants reprints). I guess that’s how you keep costs down in an era print fiction magazines have become scarce. But there’s just over a week left in the campaign, if you are interested.  They’ve already cleared their initial goal, so it’s a go regardless.

As far as peripheral involvement… I have a story in a later issue of Cirsova. It’s a done deal and has already been paid for it. I just like the magazine so far and want more modern-pulpy goodness in an otherwise scarce (in the modern era) couple of subgenres. I’ve like what I saw enough in the first issue to want to see it continue.


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Why I Am (Still) Excited for No Man’s Sky

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 22, 2016

No Man’s Sky has been pushed back to an August release. This disappointed me, as I was looking forward to its original release date of this week. Like, by today. Reasons for the delay haven’t been announced, although apparently some legal trouble in the UK with the word “Sky” (because a company owns the trademark on software with that word in it, and therefore can, really, take the Sky from us) was a long-standing issue. But that was probably not the only issue. Hopefully they’ve made good use of the extra six weeks of cooking things.

At this point, the hype train for this game has set some kind of a land-speed record. There’s lots of excitement, and hardly anyone has played it, and not a lot of people outside the development team really know what to expect.

To some degree, I get annoyed at the hype. I’ve been playing procedurally-generated world games forever. One of the first RPGs I ever played (and I played it a ton) was Telengard, an early title for my then-new Commodore 64. I played Frontier (AKA Elite 2) in the early 1990s to excess. Same idea. And reminds me that I need to play more Elite: Dangerous.

The thing about these games (and Daggerfall, etc.) is that their procedural world / universe generation is fixed. While events may be dynamically generated, the map is going to be the same everywhere forever, unlike your usual roguelike. This is kinda cool because there’s a feeling of persistence there, and a shared-universe thing with other players, that makes it feel a bit more “real.”

Some of the frustrating hype about No Man’s Sky comes from people who don’t realize this kind of thing has been around forever. The whole “OMG It’s a Whole Universe!” is stupid. Any halfway decent game programmer can do that in a week. A day, if you don’t mind it being a text adventure. The trick is doing it well. And making the game built around it fun. (See all the complaints from some Elite: Dangerous players running out of interesting things to do).

NoMansSkyAs far as the other aspects of the game… there’s not much I’m seeing that seems new here. I’ve played the X series, Elite: Dangerous, Evochron: Mercenary, Galaxy on Fire 2, and a host of other space games with lots of space exploration and trading and fighting going back to Elite.  I’ve got a few in my GOG.COM and Steam accounts I haven’t even played yet. I’ve played Minecraft and Empyrion Galactic Survival and Starforge and some other sandbox survival games.  Once again, there’s nothing new or totally groundbreaking going on here. The trick is, once again, to do it well.

And that’s why I’m still excited about No Man’s Sky. While there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about any one thing they seem to be doing, what we’ve seen so far looks like they are doing a good job of it all. Things so far have seemed to be of very high quality, and so there’s reason to hope the other elements are treated to the same level of quality. Here’s what I’m excited about:

Style and Appearance: Based on the screenshots, videos, and lectures… these guys really worked their butts off to make procedural generation work, and to give the game a consistent and beautiful style. And not just that, but a style that hearkens back to the pulp sci-fi covers I grew up with, by artists like Chris Foss and Stewart Cowley. They’ve clearly taken great pains to make the procedural content generation resemble hand-generated content of an unusual and beautiful style, and it makes me want to play just to take screenshots.

Lore: Besides just letting the software cobble together the universe, they’ve seeded it with some lore, specific alien races, languages, ancient artifacts, and so forth.  I like that the universe looks “lived in,” even though you may play for days at a time without encountering anything seen or touched by another player.  I hope that this helps the game spark the imagination.

Ease of Play: This is only an impression that I get from watching the videos, so it’s a hope. One of the issues with many space sims these days is that they are so delicious complex and details (good) that they are extremely complicated to get into and to learn how to play (not so good). No Man’s Sky looks like they are orienting more towards ease-of-play and a less hardcore experience. They aren’t going to be slowing you down forever for the sake of stretching out their content… ‘cuz really, content quantity isn’t going to be a problem here.

NoMansSky_MonolithContent Density: This is another big deal. Based on the videos, the worlds are pretty packed.  And packed together, within a star system. Completely unrealistically, as if lots of habitable worlds was in any way expected to be realistic in the first place. But the videos and screenshots seem to have worlds teeming with life, cave systems, and items of interest, with space ships flying overhead regularly, stumbling into space battles and stations and so forth as soon as you pop out of the atmosphere, etc. In other words, not a lot of wandering around and waiting to get to something interesting. This is a big deal.

Emphasis on Exploration: While it sounds like you are free to do things like any other space mercenary game (a good thing!), if the Hello Games folks are truly emphasizing exploration – and it seems they are – this hopefully means that they are taking pains to make it as interesting and exciting as possible. That’s a tall order, and I can only say that if they did as good a job on that as they did on the graphics, maybe it will be done right. Exploration in a procedurally generated world can get old fast, but doesn’t have to. And that’s some of my favorite kind of gameplay.

So… there’s a lot of “ifs” there. We won’t know until we play, but I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen. I’ve seen a lot more procedural content generation done wrong than done right, but so far, it looks like Hello Games is working hard to meet or clear the high-water mark on getting it right. Which means I may find myself lost in this game for a while.


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Unity – Full Adam Demo Video

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 20, 2016

When I was a kid, I got the premier issue of a magazine (Discover?) which had this great illustrated article about computer graphics. Maybe that’s one of the things that sucked me into being a game developer. It showed the evolution of 3D computer graphics up until that point, focusing on non-real-time rendered images.

How things have changed! The stuff that took an entire render farm to painstakingly build frame-by-frame back in the 80s and 90s can now be rendered in real-time on one machine. Of course, non-real-time rendering is getting more and more powerful, too, so it’s not a one-sided advantage.

This week, Unity revealed the full-version of its Unity 5 demo, “Adam.” The first part of it was revealed last year. This is rendered in real-time at 1920×1080 on an NVidia GeForce 980 (which is no longer their latest and greatest hardware!). A couple of points I should make here, though:

#1 – This is a non-interactive movie, which is fundamentally different from a game. In a nutshell… you can cheat and optimize a lot easier when have complete control of the camera. So… making a game look this good might be more challenging. For now.

#2 – This is Unity 3D. Free for low-budget indies to use even in commercial projects, and relatively easy to use. It is (and probably always will be) a few steps behind the Unreal engine in terms of raw graphical power, which is Unreal’s forte. (I say this because I can’t imagine Unreal is never going to rest on their laurels long enough to let Unity catch up to them.)

That being said… this is clearly way more impressive visuals than your average indie is going to be able to max out on an indie budget.  Your game will not magically look like this in either Unity or Unreal without a crapload of work. Bottom line: Unless you are really planning on maxing out the photo-realism (and have a plan and budget to do so), it probably doesn’t matter which engine you go with. Go with whatever makes business and development sense for you, and MAKE GAMES! Technology isn’t much of a limitation anymore.


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Book Impressions: Death By Cliché

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 17, 2016

cover_DeathByClicheAs a game developer, it seems that every other week you hear about a new game coming out that sounds exactly like the one you are making. In the 90s, this would strike us with fear, because inevitably the other guys would be beating us to market with something that sounded exactly like our game only tons better.

Inevitably, even if there were similarities, the end result was completely different from what we were making. Our fears were largely unjustified. Years later, I discovered how common that was across the board. Game developers, authors… you can practically give them explicit instructions on what to create, and they will still produce completely different takes on things.

So… a few weeks ago,  I ended up chatting online with Bob Defendi about our respective projects. He’s another role-playing game designer, but more from the dice-and-paper side of things, having worked on Exalted, Spycraft, Shadowforce Archer, Stargate SG1, and Spacemaster. His novel, Death By Cliché, was being published by Curiosity Quills and due for release (at the time) in just a couple of weeks. He’s been busy working on two sequels (He’s writing #3 and editing #2).

I’d read his blog, so I had a vague idea about the book. But as we got chatting and he told me more about it, and I told him about Frayed Knights, we came to the realization that we were drawing our humor from the same well. Granted, it’s also the same territory as covered by The Gamers films, Knights of the Dinner Table, Order of the Stick, Dork Tower, and elsewhere, so it’s not exactly virgin territory. Still, near the end of the conversation, Bob said, “I’m glad I didn’t see yours before I wrote mine, and that we’re past the point where this could get weird.”

Fast forward… the book is out. I’ve read it. I enjoyed it. It’s a fun fantasy story full of in-jokes about role-playing games. If you are a Frayed Knights fan, I think you’ll probably enjoy it, too. Though they both poke fun at RPG tropes, however, their styles are pretty different.

In Death by Clichégame designer Bob Damico is on his way to rescue an RPG demo at a game store run by a really, really bad game master. Unfortunately for Bob, said terrible game master comes from the Annie Wilkes school of fandom, who murders Bob. And then Bob, either dead or dying, finds himself in what is effectively game designer’s version of Hell… stuck in the fantasy RPG world of a very bad game master. Not just any bad game master, but the very one who murdered him. It’s full of all the old D&D-style clichés, ridiculously unrealistic events governed by game design tropes and random dice rolls, and cardboard-thin non-player characters.

If you know nothing of role-playing games or common fantasy tropes, never seen the Princess Bride or read / seen Lord of the Rings, then many of the jokes will go over your head.  I doubt this describes many people who read this blog, however, so if you are reading this, you’re probably part of that niche audience who will get most of the references.

The jokes come fast. The fourth wall is constantly getting pulverized, then papered over just enough to get smashed through again. Instead of Narnia or Wonderland or The Territories, poor Bob Damico gets stuck in the most stupid of all fantasy worlds… the game-world dreamed up by his killer. As a free-willed non-player-character (NPC), his only contact with the “real world” is in-character conversation with the Player Characters, who believe that he’s just a surprisingly interesting character played by their game-master.

However, Bob’s very presence is having an impact on the game world. It’s changing because of his very presence. Becoming more real. And that may be killing him. Er, again. More. Something like that. But in spite of the cost, in spite of it being originally created by the creepy murderer with no imagination, once it starts getting a life of its own, is it now worth saving, in spite of the cost?

For me, sometimes the world-building got a little confusing, because there’s a very real connection between stuff happening in the real-world and what’s happening in the fantasy world, and vice-versa… but we as the audience don’t get to see that connection except through Bob’s eyes and comments from the Player Characters. As a reader, I wasn’t really sure of how those interactions worked, and that got a little confusing. Sometimes they are explained, and other times I’m left wondering. But maybe that’s just me. It would have been a lot of fun to get some flashes back to the “real world” to see the other side of some of those events.

Defendi is clearly emulating the style of greats like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams here, and it mostly works. But there are times when the narrator voice starts to overpower the rest of the story, especially in the first half of the book. But as the story itself gains traction and a life of its own beyond the joke (paralleling the game-world coming to life?), this becomes less of a thing and less necessary of a thing.

Problems aside, as a gamer, game designer, and fantasy fan in general, the story was a hilarious send-up of what these fantasy gaming worlds and player-character behavior would look like from the perspective of a character living there. It’s over-the-top and very funny. I ended the book wanting more, and I can’t wait to read the sequels.


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Frayed Knights 2: Lovingly Hand-Crafted Pits of Despair!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 16, 2016

Nick Lives has been working on content for Frayed Knights 2 (even livestreaming his work, if you want to watch his work in progress). I gotta admit, this is motivational even to me when I see the results. I want to play this game! Which of course means I’ve gotta finish it.

SerpentRoom

This project has altered substantially since I first started. I’ve learned a lot more about Unity since I started… which means it’s a challenge not to rip out old code and replace it on a constant basis. There’s so much that could be done better…  but it would be better still to get this thing done!

The design has also changed a great deal since the first game, and since my original efforts. I was working so hard on tools at the very beginning to make content development go more quickly, which would have ended up with somewhat more generic environments. The focus changed some time ago. With the proliferation of Roguelikes and the flat-level first-person RPGs (which I’m personally thrilled about), having much more custom-designed, detail-packed dungeons seems like the way to go and provide something different.

With the number of dungeon levels in this game (WHY do I do this to myself?), it was crazy trying to rack my brain for ideas on how to make each level stand out and be unique. I try to do that from the get-go, so that even the white-boxed blank levels have a different feel to them. Gameplay – each has a somewhat different focus and flavor. Then Nick comes in and makes sure that every level stands out visually as well, room-by-room and hall-by-hall. It’s fantastic, and a huge motivation boost for me to see things come alive like that.

Of course, we’re using tools to speed our efforts, but there’s a LOT of dungeon-crawling goodness to hand-build. I hope that the emphasis on custom, detailed, hand-crafted dungeons is appreciated and has an audience out there. As much as I like well-made procedural content, to me it still pales to a well-designed human-built level when it comes to dungeon crawling. Hopefully people will agree that this describes the dungeons of Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath.

Serpent2

 

Serpent3


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Movie Impressions: X-Men Apocalypse

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 15, 2016

XMenAWhen I really started getting into comics – as in actively following titles monthly – it was the 1980s. Two of my favorites, The Uncanny X-Men and The New Mutants, were written by comics legend Chris Claremont. At the time I got into the X-Men, they primarily consisted of Cyclops (Scott Summers), Colossus (Peter Rasputin), Rogue, Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner), Storm (Ororo Munroe), Wolverine (Logan), and Sprite (Kitty Pryde). Jean Grey’s recent death cast a long shadow over them all. And then there were some X-Men Alumni making periodic temporary reappearances – Angel, Iceman, and Beast.

Claremont was one of the writers who added a great deal of maturity to the stories during his tenure. While the stories were still largely dominated by overpowered men, monsters, and others causing great damage to the scenery and each other through wild, brightly-drawn powers, Claremont made the stories ultimately about people. Stuff the audience cared about in their own lives: relationships, self-doubt, fitting in, dealing with loss, ethical quandaries, and so forth.

While X-Men Apocalypse didn’t quite capture the the X-Men character and feel exactly as the Claremont-era comics, it did seem to at least be taking Claremont’s lead.  Almost (in my mind) to a fault: The main bad guy was really more of a force of nature with very little personality, and felt more like a catalyst for everyone else to pick a side, based on their own personalities and desires. Like Captain America: Civil War, it pits former and future allies against each other in a super-powered Battle Royale.

Compared to Civil War, it pales. But then, Civil War is one of the best superhero films ever (but one that depends on many previous films to have such a rewarding payoff), so that’s not a very damning comment. I think X-Men Apocalypse suffers a bit from having too many characters, as happens way too often in superhero movies. X-Men starts out by being an ensemble story, but by the time we’re done we’re dealing with something like a dozen significant characters. As much as I would have liked to see all of my 1980s era X-Men introduced, there was no room. So, no Colossus, no Kitty Pryde, no Rogue. But that was okay. There wasn’t enough screen time for most of the characters as it was, but for the most part, the film focuses on Magneto (Erik Lensher), Charles Xavier, Mystique (Raven Darkholme), and Cyclops (Scott Summers). And the bad guy, Apocalypse, but again, he’s kind of an event as much as a character.

In my mind, the real villain – and focus – in this film is Erik Lensher… Magneto. Without giving away any details, the audience can understand exactly why Xavier’s principles ring pretty hollow in Magneto’s ears. It’s also fun seeing Mystique thrust into the role of a heroine, and even a leader. Unfortunately, Jean Grey comes off as mostly an angsty, troubled brat with a lot of emoting, and her critical role in the climax felt a bit forced. There just wasn’t enough camera time for her to enjoy a believable character arc, or to see what she was really fighting against.

So while that’s more than mere nitpicking, we still came out of the film really impressed. It’s only because of the quality of the comic-adapted movies lately where this one comes out as a middle-of-the-road offering. IMO, it stands pretty even with X-Men: First Class, but isn’t quite of the caliber of X-Men: Days of Future Past. For superhero fans, it’s definitely worth watching.

 

 


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The VR War Expands to Consoles?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 14, 2016

SonyVRSony has confirmed a new-and-more-powerful version of the Playstation 4, called the Neo. Fully compatible with PS 4 games and peripherals (and vice versa), the main thrust of the Neo seems to be to support enhanced visuals, gaming on 4K screens, and their upcoming VR system. Considering that 4K screens are so “last year” and haven’t gotten much traction yet (we’re still growing into our 1080ps!), I consider that one to be a little bit more of a hedge and wishful thinking, with the real emphasis being making sure that their VR – coming out in October this year – doesn’t suck.

Microsoft has countered with their own mid-generation upgrade, Project Scorpio. Again, it’ll be fully compatible with the Xbone library, just more powerful. And should work better with their VR solution… quite likely something that evolves out of their partnership with Oculus VR.

This “mid-generation upgrade” is pretty unusual. Sure, we normally get stuff like new peripherals and new form-factors… like Microsoft’s newly-minted Xbox One S. But a major horsepower upgrade is pretty new to me.

But VR is potentially the new thing, and it demands more horsepower.  2016 might be the year of consumer VR, but 2017 or 2018 may be the year it goes mainstream.


Filed Under: Mainstream Games, Virtual Reality - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



2D Game Programming: Why, Y?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 13, 2016

UnityCoordinateSystemI have a problem programming in modern game engines in 2D. It’s weird, it’s embarrassing, and it trips me up constantly even when I think I’m being careful. And I finally figured out why.

My problem is Y.

Now, let me preface this by saying I don’t have this problem when doing 3D coding. It’s because 3D is something else entirely. Depending on what coordinate system you use, X and Y might be on a horizontal plane, and Z is up. Or X and Z are horizontal, and Y is up. Something like that. Although this can trip me up from time to time as I switch between different engines and tools (left-hand versus right-hand coordinate systems). But my brain shifts when I’m doing 3D.

xy1When I’m doing 2D, I always think of positive Y as going down. Which doesn’t make sense, if you have ever graphed on an X, Y plane in school. Unless told otherwise, you always graph in that first quadrant, with X going to the right and Y going up on the paper. Right?

You could include all four quadrants and going into negative numbers. But hey, for our purposes, we’re just confining ourselves to positive values. So, naturally, when you are talking about 2D graphics on a screen, if you want to move an object to the right, you increase its X value. If you want to move it up, you increase its Y value. Easy, right?

Yeah, it is. However, I have a weird dyslexia of the vertical axis. When I’m not paying enough attention (and sometimes even if I am), I’ll make assumptions that positive Y is DOWN. I’ll subtract from Y to try to make an object move up (or check what’s above it on a gridded map). This causes some really weird bugs in my code, sometimes, because I’ll do it right in most of the places and then accidentally invert the sign in some obscure corner of the code.

The reason, once I thought about it, was pretty obvious.

This was how the screenspace memory worked on the Commodore 64:

C64ScreenMap

See how that worked? Every row was an increase in Y value. Y got bigger as you went down. It wasn’t just screenspace. This was how you designed character-mapped graphics (and, for that matter, sprites) on the ol’ C-64:

C64CharacterModeProgramming

This wasn’t limited to the old Commodore 64. This was true in the DOS days and on many computers. In fact, you could look back on the trusty ol’ Atary VCS / 2600 from the 1970s to catch a glimpse of the rationale here. From the book Racing the Beam:

televisionscreen

The Atari 2600 shared a problem with my very first computer – a Sinclair ZX80 – in that there was no “memory mapped video” (AKA frame buffer). Instead, for every scanline of the machine – a horizontal line drawn by the electron gun of the television – the game system had to tell it what to draw with every line. The gun’s beam moved left-to-right, top-to-bottom. So naturally, you drew the stuff at the top of the screen first, and at the bottom last.

I suspect that had televisions been design to do that raster scan bottom-to-top, computer graphics hardware would have evolved to match, and we’d never have had this problem. As I recall, this held true even up to the time when I was directly pushing stuff onto the VGA card.

From a mathematical perspective, this is a weird aberration. Hardware does what hardware has to do. I don’t know how modern hardware works. Maybe it’s the same. But even if it does work this way, unless you are writing drivers (and probably not even then), this is all abstracted out. Now we programmers can work in the relative comfort of mathematical purity. Our X,Y axis is neat and orderly, and Y is up.

Alas, old habits die hard. I learned to program on those old computers, and I made games, dangit. Lots and lots of games. The Commodore 64 was my favorite playground growing up. And in the bad ol’ DOS days of the PC, I was still doing this. It’s pretty ingrained and, these days, pretty useless.

The solution, of course, is to spend a lot more time writing 2D games for modern systems. I may be the only game programmer still afflicted with this ancient habit, because working in 2D isn’t my usual thing.


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How to Stomach the VR Revolution

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 10, 2016

I guess I got my first hint that I wasn’t cut out for a real career as a fighter pilot when, as a teenager, my parents cut me loose at the Hershey Park . Back then we didn’t have cell phones, so it was simply a case of “meet here at 4:00” or something. There I was, at an amusement park, with complete freedom to ride any ride I dang well wanted to without having to go at my parent’s pace. I went on wild ride after wild ride – anything that provided some G-force thrill.

After a little bit, I didn’t feel so well. It took me a while to recognize it, and by then it was too late. I was really motion sick.  The long car ride back home was miserable.

Descent_ScreenSadly, some games caused me motion sickness too, especially in the early days of First Person Shooters. Too much Doom or Duke Nukem 3D in one sitting could leave me feeling a little unpleasant. By far, the worst was the day that Descent came out. I played that game for about two hours straight, multiplayer. I was so sick that I was still feeling it the next morning. I have never played another Descent game ever since (not including the awkwardly-branded Descent: Freespace, which I loved and played a ton of).

However, the improvements in 3D have made those kinds of problems largely go away. I remember getting a little bit motion sick playing some Might & Magic 6 a few years ago, but that might have been something I overcame. I later played some marathon sessions of Might & Magic 7 with no problem, and its graphics were largely the same.

I first started getting interested in the potential of Virtual Reality back … oh, around the same time as the dawn of the first-person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D and Ultima Underworld were big deals, and I was reading lots of cyberpunk novels. I remember fiddling around with some early VR toolkits, which were just waiting for the tech to catch up. It took a long time.

Dactyl-NightmareBut now, finally, consumer VR is here, and everybody’s jumping aboard. And… there’s the motion sickness problem. As with my first experience playing Dactyl Nightmare back in the 1990s, ten minutes with the Oculus Rift DK1 a couple of years ago wasn’t super-pleasant. For me, I think it was largely a case of a disagreement between my visual motion and the rest of my body. It was especially acute in that there were no translation sensors, only rotation.  So as I was leaning and bobbing – something we do just naturally – I was getting warring perceptions. Within ten minutes, I absolutely needed to quit.

The newer versions have proven much better. Then there’s Valve’s HTC Vive, with its emphasis on room-based experiences, is not too bad. But restriction your movements to a few square feet is pretty limiting. My VR fantasies have always involved fast action and extensive exploration. Neither work great for someone with a tendency for motion sickness (or VR sickness).

VoidTempleTen minutes of The Void led to no such ill effects. The tracking was good, and it was all based on our real movement. Maybe an hour of it would have cased problems, but ten or so minutes of adventure went just fine. In my mind, this was what Virtual Reality was supposed to be from the get-go … but it requires a small theater full of sensors and non-consumer-level hardware to work.

My hope is that as I keep playing around with VR, I will adjust. It’s kind of embarrassing for a long-term gamer like me to get sick from playing games, after all. Especially a guy who was all about first-person 3D before it became a thing, and couldn’t be pulled away from flight simulators even when they were made with flat polygons and wireframe planes. But in the meantime, I’m probably a pretty test case for the vomit-inducing potential of a VR experience. If I can go for 20 minutes with little or no ill effects, it should be good enough for almost anyone. If I can’t, things ought to be reconsidered.

VanishingRealmsBetween getting acclimated to VR and the continued advancement of the technology (we are in the weird, wild-west early adopter days of the technology still, after all), I suspect that my giant dungeon-crawling, monster-bashing experiences of my fantasies are still within grasp. A half-hour of Vanishing Realms is sadly still enough to make me ill, but it gives me a glimpse of what the future might hold for VR. It’s pretty dang cool right now, but hopefully within the next 3 years it’ll be both cool and comfortable.


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The Stigma of Game Engines

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 9, 2016

Unreal_LevelEditorImageThese days, the question of whether or not to use an off-the-shelf game engine as a small, indie developer has largely been settled. The flood of games coming out these days has largely settled that. Sure, there are reasons for rolling your own… especially if you’ve already done so, it works, and is both familiar and can make competitive products. And there are reasons for using an off-the-shelf engine. If it does what you want… or can be modified to do what you want at a lower cost than creating your own… it makes sense.

These days, the amount of work required to get a base-level feature-set almost – but doesn’t quite – require a pretty solid set of off-the-shelf functionality if you are starting from scratch and need to get to market in a hurry. Making your own UI system may be a fun intellectual challenge (and if you are doing this as a hobby, and that’s what you are seeking, go for it!), but it’s not trivial to make a business case for doing so.

But then there’s this other bit… a stigma surrounding using a pre-built game engine. Rob Remakes wrote about this stigma recently, and that article is probably more worth reading than whatever I might say about the subject.

Now, there are perception issues. And more-than-perception issues. Earlier game engines were not as general-purpose as they claimed to be. I’ve released a game with one of those engines, and I know that all too well. You’d end up either spending your time fighting the engine and rewriting stuff (and then fixing all the problems your changes inevitably cause), or you go with the flow, and end up with a game that bears a bunch of hallmarks of its origin… warts and all. Yeah, that was a problem. You end up with games that “all look alike” when they come from the engine.

screenshot-rpg-maker-vx-ace-03RPG Maker has that problem now, because it’s not a very general-purpose engine, although it has improved quite a bit over the last decade from what I’ve been able to tell.  So it’s better… but lets be honest. It’s based on a subgenre of games that were remarkably similar to each other to begin with, and they were all custom engines.

So there’s that. And the associated problem that games built with the same off-the-shelf tools and pieces end up looking too much alike. That’s a real problem.  In this world of over-saturated entertainment, your game needs to stand out. If someone looks at your game and says, “Oh, another generic Unreal-based FPS” or “a basic RPG Maker game,” then it’s a problem. That’s probably a more experienced audience – not the ones Rob was talking about – but you don’t want to narrow your audience down to just “inexperienced gamers who don’t know any better.”

From my perspective, I kinda understand the reaction, assuming it’s anything like my own. The problem is that back in the old days, you could perhaps gauge the quality of the game by the quality of the screenshots. If the programmer put together poor netcode, you could guess the rest of the game was likewise junky. If it was a crappy game, the lack of quality was visible throughout. In that way, you could judge a book by the cover.

In this wild, wonderful world of cheap, high-quality game engines, those easy metrics no longer work. A game could look beautiful in screenshots, but only because it’s using all the engine defaults and some quality off-the-shelf content in the screenshots, and the rest of the game is boring, buggy crap. I’ve played those. The game engine branding on the front can act as a warning: “Everything you’ve seen is just a facade. Don’t expect much.”

unityeditorI think what that really means is that we’re losing our shortcuts to judgment, and we should get used to the idea. Game engines are a great equalizer, not quite putting the pro and the newb on equal footing, but raising the lower bar of quality. But so far, nobody’s come out with an engine with a single button that says, “Make my game.” Yeah, some folks are doing horrible hack-jobs trying to sell games that are little more than a “starter kit” with the serial numbers filed off. That’s … not so good.

But aside from that, making a game is still very hard work. The fact that so many more people are doing it because game engines are taking a lot of the scut work out of it? That’s a good thing. Even if it means more crappy games clogging the market. Or being able to be creative and focus on making a game instead of spending all your time working on the engine? That’s also a good thing.

Those who really, really want to do it themselves, from … some facsimile of scratch? Hey, more power to you. I respect that, too. That’s hella fun. But that’s not an automatic mark of superiority. As a developer, I’m kinda interested in how it was made. But from my customer / gamer perspective, I just want something great to play.


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Legacy of the Elder Star – Released

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 8, 2016

ElderStarPosterI wanted to shout out this release from a friend of mine: Legacy of the Elder Star, by Kickbomb Entertainment. It’s a shoot-em-up (“shmup”) intended for more casual players. Those of us who go “oooh, that looks like fun!” when we see a bullet-hell game, and then last a whole 30 seconds in those kinds of games. It is designed specifically to take advantage of the mouse. You control your character – the Cosmonaut – as if he was a mouse cursor. There are plenty of unlocks, environments, boss-battles, and fun stuff. I’ve played various demos over it for a long time, but I was very pleased to buy a copy of the final game last night.

The game offers unlimited continues, but I like to limit myself to just a couple. Which means I don’t get too far. But that’s okay. I have plenty of time to get to the end… 🙂 But it’s a lot of fun, and a great game to just jump into for a quick break on your PC.

If you are interested, it’s on sale at Steam right now for its launch:

Legacy of the Elder Star on Steam

ElderStarSS1

 

If you are unsure, check out the gameplay video:


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Not Another Video Tutorial!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 7, 2016

I get that sharing videos on the Internet is the hot thing. Anybody can do it. It’s got more personality, assuming the person narrating the video has a personality to begin with. But for crying out loud… these days, when I’m looking up how to do something that’s a little technical but not too involved, I’m getting to the point where I am desperate to find the ONE well-written tutorial with some pictures.

While sometimes a video is handy, for something like “how do I do XYZ in Unity”, what I really want is a short article I can read and absorb in 5 minutes, not a 40-minute long video I have to sit through to obtain the same information. SERIOUSLY, folks!

And that’s assuming I found a tutorial that can help me. With a written one, especially an illustrated written one, I can scan it and pretty quickly realize whether or not it’s what I need. This is much harder to do with a video tutorial. And what happens if I need to go back and review ONE STEP? I can find it in seconds in an illustrated tutorial, or I can spend 10 minutes hunting through the video tutorial to find that one spot where the narrator talked about it.

Now, there are times where a video tutorial is exactly what I need. And a written tutorial with smaller embedded videos? And maybe some illustrations too? Okay, now THAT is a lot of work, but the best of all possible worlds.

All I can figure is that anything short of a full-length video is harder to monetize, which is why it’s hardly done anymore. That, or it’s a fad. I dunno. It’s beginning to get to the point where I will scroll through all the video search results in preference for something text based.

 


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Cirsova #2 Pre-Order (via Kickstarter)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 6, 2016

cirsova_num2The second issue of Cirsova Magazine, a magazine for heroic fantasy and science fiction, is now available for pre-order. They are using Kickstarter as their pre-order method, but… this is pretty much in the bag. The stories are paid for, the cover art is done, it’s just getting the issue out the door. (This is also how they are handling advertisements… hey, if it works…)

I’m not in this one… I have a story for issue #4 which they intend to release before the end of the year. I enjoyed the first issue, and I’m really looking forward to this second one (Adrian Cole! An essay by Kristine Katheryn Rusch! And More!)  While I doubt most of the stories fall into this category, I love that they are looking for pulp-style “sword-and-planet” and “planetary romance” stories. John Carter-esque stuff!

Anyway, if you are interested, visit the Kickstarter page to pre-order.

Cirsova Heroic Fantasy & Science Fiction Pulp Zine: Issue 2


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