Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Rocksmith: The Bands I’m Waiting For (But Not Really)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 12, 2015

RS2_1024x768Time to get away from conventions, Frayed Knights, and even RPGs and indie games for at least one post…

My at-least-a-half-hour-a-day Rocksmith 2014 habit has taken some hits recently, mainly due to preparation for the convention. At a half-hour a day, I find my skills don’t really increase much from week to week (but they don’t atrophy, either). However, if I miss a couple of days in that schedule, it impacts my playing.

Although it’s kinda cool just pulling the unplugged guitar into my lap and just going through scales or practicing some riffs. I can’t say I’m completely comfortable with the guitar or have made it an extension of myself or anything cool and musician-y or anything. But I can say I do have a comfort zone now. It’s not a big one, but I keep trying to push it.

And speed…. yeah. The dreams of my sixteen-year-old self of playing like Yngwie Malmsteen are probably not going to happen. At least not within the next couple of years, at this rate. The whole “rock star” ship sailed off a long time ago. I’m good with that. Now I just wanna have fun, play along with songs, and jam with friends. ‘Sall good.

For their part, Ubisoft has done a very good job of keeping Rocksmith 2014 alive. Seriously, while I have a few wish-list items for improvements and a couple of highly desired features (like being able to put together custom playlists!), they are really just embellishments to a very solid product. At this point, even if the DLC were to be cut off completely and the game retired, I’d probably be playing Rocksmith 2014 well into 2024 with what I’ve got.

But everybody’s got a wish list for songs or bands they like to have in the game. And in the last six months we’ve gotten some pretty awesome additions both obscure and highly desired. While we haven’t gotten any Stray Cats, we got Brian Setzer, and that’s pretty much the same thing. We’ve also gotten The Cars, Tesla, Queensrÿche, Thin Lizzy, Bill Haley and his Comets (!), The Edgar Winter Group, Faith No More, FINALLY a piece by Steve Vai, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Lee Hooker, Ritchie Valens, and even some classic country and fictional (ish) bands Dethklok and Spinal Tap.

At this point, I could probably grab a tab sheet (Neither my ear nor my hands are trained well enough to just play by ear) and at least fake my way through playing along with most songs on the guitar, but naturally I prefer them in Rocksmith. It’s what the game was built for. Sadly, some of these will probably never be licensed. Most of the rights holders have been contacted, but are uninterested or at least uninterested in participating with anything approaching a reasonable license fee.

Still, it happens. I never really expected Jimi Hendrix, but they managed to get a whole slew of his songs in for Christmas last year. In a perfect world, here are bands I’m still waiting for:

  • Dire Straits: They were rumored at one point to be on the short list (like in time for Christmas last year), but this hasn’t happened. While I want my MTV, the real song everyone wants is Sultans of Swing.
  • Chuck Berry: We were kinda surprised that Berry wasn’t included in the recently released 50’s Singles Pack, but there was an indication that people were contacted but it just ain’t happening. At least not yet.
  • Metallica: Yeah. I’m not holding my breath
  • Dragonforce: Since they’ve appeared in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, you’d think it’d be a no-brainer. But in spite of the fact that their solos are beyond human reckoning,
  • Led Zeppelin: Pretty notorious for not licensing their music. Maybe it’s because the real rights owners are often in doubt.
  • Jethro Tull: While I’d like Aqualung and especially Locomotive Breath as much as anyone else, I admit the flute gets the best solos in many of their songs. But something like the acoustic & electric Cold Wind to Valhalla (with some pretty cool bass work, too) would be awesome.
  • ZZ Top: Too many songs to list.
  • .38 Special: Yes, my 80’s fixation…
  • Guns ‘n Roses: Probably ain’t happening, particularly with Slash’s other work now appearing. But hey, at least we have Slash.
  • George Thorogood: Pretty much straight-up blues with a kick – possibly to the point of getting boring – but it’d be fun to play with for a while.
  • Black Sabbath / Ozzy Osbourne: It could happen, right?
  • Van Halen: Ummm…. maybe?
  • Pink Floyd: Another one I won’t hold my breath over. But EVERYONE wants that Comfortably Numb solo…
  • Eagles: Mainly Hotel California, but they’ve got a ton of great music.
  • Journey: A lot of their stuff is more keyboard-driven, but it’s still awesome. My personal favorites would be Stone In Love, Don’t Stop Believing (of course!) and Separate Ways.
  • Yngwie Malmsteen: Another artist who has managed to find their way into Rock Band, but not yet Rocksmith.
  • AC/DC: Yeah. Still waiting. It’s a long way …
  • Golden Earing: Okay, I own one of their albums, but I still can’t name anything other than Radar Love and Twilight Zone. And I think both are more interesting on bass.
  • Molly Hatchet: Probably not an oft-requested group, but Fall of the Peacemakers is one of my all-time favorites. I imagine Flirting With Disaster is the more popular choice.
  • The Outlaws: Green Grass and High Tides, among others. They do a pretty awesome version of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

There are some others that I’m patiently waiting for MORE of (Stevie Ray Vaughn, Rush, CCR, Styx, etc.), but those are the big ones. Some of ’em are just so I can fake it and play along as the idiot brother strumming half the chords, but it’s still fun. Still…. relatively speaking, my list is getting pretty >>small<<.  Now that they’ve released packs and groups representing many of the major styles (Surf, Blues, Rockabilly, many flavors of punk and metal, even country), as a learning tool it’s pretty complete as-is.

And yes, I’ve requested all of these through the request tool. I’m relatively certain that Ubisoft would be happy to include any and all of these if and when they get licensing issues worked out.

And if I’m totally being honest… I have more songs than I can play right now anyway. It’s not like I’ll  outgrow For the Love of God or Cliffs of Dover anytime soon. And I expect I’ll be working on that solo from Rock Around the Clock for several weeks…

 


Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: Be the First to Comment



Another view of Salt Lake Gaming Con

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 11, 2015

SLGC2015_UGGA_650While I’m still recovering from basking in the fading glow of Salt Lake Gaming Con 2015, I thought I’d share a link from Josh Sutphin of Kickbomb Entertainment and co-founder of the Utah Games Guild. He had a somewhat bigger view of the whole event than I did.

Utah Games Guild: Salt Lake Gaming Con 2015 Recap

An excerpt:

Remember how I said our Utah Games Guild info booth was a smashing success? Friday was the day that became the most apparent. We barely had time to man our own booths for most of the day as we were constantly being pulled over to talk to all kinds of interesting potential business partners, investors, and clients. We really didn’t expect to do “business” at a gaming convention, but Friday sure felt an awful lot like GDC in that regard.

In reading another review from an attendees perspective, I think I understand why Thursday was a steady stream of visitors and Friday was more varied. It sounds like there weren’t many events scheduled for Thursday. So people spent a lot of time exploring the vendor booths. This was GREAT for vendors and exhibitors (if I wasn’t selling anything, do I count as a vendor?). On Friday, I think the surges came in-between major events. Saturday had the bulk of the events but also the bulk of the people, so it was just kinda crazy all day.

Here are some videos about the con from the local news. The one about the Utah Games Guild is in segment three. There’s a little bit of Frayed Knights in that segment. The funny part is… both Nick and I were totally oblivious that we were being recorded. I was showing him how a cheat code worked.

KSL – Salt Lake Gaming Con (See segment 3)

 


Filed Under: Events - Comments: Read the First Comment



Frayed Knights Adventures at Salt Lake Gaming Con 2015

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 10, 2015

SLGC2015-Jay_ViaBigbie_640Three days of Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath?  Yeah. It was a party. A three-party that left me exhausted and without a voice, but a party.

Over the weekend, I ran a booth at the inaugural Salt Lake Gaming Con. I was with the Utah Games Guild Arcade, which was really an awesome way to go. They provided standardized equipment so we had kind of a common theme / presence, and handled all kinds of details for us, handled questions and problems, did some marketing, printed fliers, rounded up volunteers to help us, and basically made it so we could focus on the bottom line of demoing our games. But they also recorded interviews with us, mixed with game footage and trailers, and set up a really cool entryway into our space with signage, a big-screen TV showing the video, staffed by a volunteer, and including a table with our cards and handouts.

So, yeah. Major kudos to the Utah Games Guild. They rocked.

SLGC2015_UGGA_650

As far as the overall convention… I didn’t see much of it beyond our booth area much of the time. Surprisingly, Friday seemed to be the lightest day of the three as far as traffic through our area was concerned, but we still kept pretty busy showing off the game and talking to people. Nick Lives of Deli Interactive helped the first two days, and Taylor Eschelman (AKA TishToshTesh) and his wife helped out on Saturday. Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without them. As cool as my little fly-through “attract mode” demo was for the game (and I had the trailer to the first game running on a laptop), the booth attracted more traffic when somebody was playing the game already and people could see it in action. That’s when having someone else there to introduce and explain the game was so helpful.

SLGC2015_Taylor2 The traffic was what I’d consider much “higher quality” than at Comic Con or ToshoCon. People were more often there to play, and there were a lot of people who not only liked the game, but there were some who were actively seeking out a game like Frayed Knights. They were excited, we were excited, and they dragged friends over to check out the game as well. It was awesome.

Not that everyone was totally into the game. And there were a lot of people who passed by with just a quick glance. But it seemed like a lot of people were playing the game and really enjoying it.

On Friday, I was on a panel with several people I have a lot of respect for, talking about “indie game success” or something like that. Besides myself, the panelists were Steve Taylor, Lyle Cox, Josh Sutphin, Roger Altizer, and Adam Ames. It was a great panel. I learned at least as much as I shared, and we had a pretty decent-sized audience.

SLGC2015_Panel_640

Before the con, my wife asked me what I expected to get out of it. Why was I showing Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath while it’s not ready for sale? My answer was three-fold:

#1 – To start generating some talk & buzz about the game. I think I succeeded with this. Not a slam-dunk… it’s not like Wired or The Escapist begged to do a feature article about the game or anything. But people in the press and a lot of potential customers got to see and play an abbreviated version of the first level of the game, and seemed impressed overall.

#2 – To get feedback on the game & controls so we could improve it. We got a lot of that, too. A whole page of changes. *Sigh*

#3 – To sell some copies of Frayed Knights: The Skull of Smak-Daon, to help offset the cost of the booth. Well… so far, I can’t call that one much of a success, but then using a sequel to drive sales of the original? Probably not the best strategy in the world to begin with.

The feedback we received this time around varied, but it was mostly tweaks and polish issues rather than anything really major. We discovered a couple of interesting new ways to break the game (either by getting it stuck in mid-combat when it’s “nobody’s turn”, or getting stuck in geometry and unable to get back).

SLGC2015_Player_640It was really fun to note how different kinds of gamers approached the game. I could tell the veteran FPS gamers and veteran RPG players pretty easily. The FPS fans would carefully enter each room, instantly sweeping to check both corners in case something was waiting to jump them from the side. The veteran RPG fans wouldn’t go up the stairs until they’d carefully visited every room on the lower level, poking at everything that could be poked, and doing their best to leave no stone unturned. It was awesome to watch.

From the people who’d played the original, we received tremendous praise on how much better this game looks compared to the first one. Looks aren’t everything, but there’s no question in my mind that in spite of the pain, switching over to a more modern engine was absolutely the way to go. But it’s more than just the engine that’s going into the changes. A lot comes down to just making the visuals and the interface more consistent and clean.

SLGC2015_JayAndNickAs to the interface – there’s some clean-up to be done with the UI, although many of the suggestions were about the controller. While I’m keeping the controller as an option and will endeavor to keep it a viable and intuitive control device, it’s still secondary to the One True Way to play the game, which remains keyboard + mouse. I was extremely pleased to hear that most of the players at the event felt the same way… the interested players were largely PC gamers who wanted more games “just like this.”

So we’re back to trying to make a game “just like this.” I feel like the changes we made after Salt Lake Comic Con were the right ones. We’re constantly trying to strike a balance between making a good old-school hardcore game for veteran fans, and something that is accessible and fun for newer gamers. After three days of showing the demo, I feel like we’re mostly on the right track. We met a lot of great people, had a lot of fun, and I got to see a portion of my game played by people who enjoyed it (most of the time) many times.

As much work as we’re still facing getting this thing done, I feel good about things. If nothing else, this show was a valuable shot of both progress (over the last six weeks) and motivation. So yeah. It was good. I’m glad I went, as exhausting as it was.

And hey, as a bonus, I discovered my biggest fan hovering over my booth…

SLGC2015_BiggestFan


Filed Under: Events, Frayed Knights - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



Cover Reveal – The Bookminder

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 7, 2015

Aaand time for another book cover reveal! This one is from fellow Xchyler author M. K. Wiseman (@FaublesFables on Twitter). Looking cool!

You can get more information at www.mkwisemanauthor.com.

Bookminder-full-spread-750px

 


Filed Under: Books - Comments: Be the First to Comment



[Archive] Wizardry 8, ep. 18 – Parting Shots

Posted by Rampant Coyote on

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

So my adventures in Wizardry 8, the “last of the (mainstream) old-school RPGs,” has come to an end. It’s a good thing that a game doesn’t have to be new for me to enjoy it. Plus, I no longer need to kick myself for missing out on it.

WizPeeWee-745581One of the many reasons I love RPGs is because, at the end, I don’t feel so much like I’ve won the game so much as I got to live it. At least if its good. Wizardry 8 was definitely one of those experiences. At some points – particularly late-game when the combats seemed interminable – I felt more like I was enduring it than living it. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think I can appreciate a lot more of what the game accomplished.

Now that I have a full play-through of the game behind me, I’ve been pondering some of the design successes and issues. This is mainly an exercise for myself as I’m attempting to improve my own indie game-designer chops. But for the three people who might be interested (and, more importantly, share their own thoughts on it), I thought I’d open up my ruminations to the public (scary!) and see where it takes me.

Introduction
The game starts with your party surviving a crash-landing out in the middle of the boonies next to an old monastery now overrun by monsters. RPGs tend to start one of two ways – you either have the big tutorial in your home village, or you are thrown immediately into the action as a full-fledged adventurer. I really prefer the latter, truth be told. While you do end up killing requisite vermin and some slimes right off the bat, which aren’t exactly foes of heroic proportions, starting in a “bunny slope” dungeon is preferable to starting in school. It feels like you are accomplishing something instead of just churning away at the tutorial.

Combat
Combat is pretty central to most RPGs, and Wizardry 8 is no exception. Wizardry 8 uses turn-based combat, which I generally prefer over the more popular (nowadays) arcade-style combat.

On paper, Wizardy 8‘s combat sounds perfect for me. It is very tactical. Positioning, party formation, facing, and movement is critical. Ranged attacks, terrain, spell resistances along spell ‘school’ lines, buffs, enemy spellcasting, summoning spells, and mixed group of monsters with different strengths and weaknesses promise – and often deliver – a great “thinking man’s” RPG combat experience.

There are, unfortunately, a couple of glaring issues that continued to bug be me with combat:

First of all, the differences between monsters were often not particularly noticeable. Instead of having strengths and weaknesses, at higher level monsters typically had strengths and bigger strengths. This was especially noticeable with upgraded versions of monsters, or different classes of monsters. The defense were relatively predictable, and there wasn’t much of a feeling of “gotchas” or of the enemy working together to form a particularly interesting tactical puzzle most of the time. Boss encounters were an exception, and I felt the earlier stages of the game were better about monsters hitting the party with “signature attacks” than in later levels. It feels like they maybe ran out of ideas later in the game.

Maybe it was simply my own lack of creativity, but that seemed to be a problem for me.

Wiz800013-766826Another issue was that the turn-based combat system did not scale very well for larger combats. Against a half-dozen opponents, the combat system worked great. I didn’t even mind waiting for them to move into position prior to attacking. But when facing a dozen or more opponents (which seemed to be MOST OF THE TIME after leaving the first dungeon), there was simply too much time spent waiting on the enemies to begin their action (there was always a pause, probably to allow for the camera to pan over to them), move, launch their attack animation, and oftentimes wait for the projectile or spell particle effect to arrive. Maybe I spent too much time fighting at range, but 30+ minute long combats soon became the rule, not the exception. Using a cheat program to make the enemies move almost instantaneously into position helped somewhat, but it was still pretty slow. It was particularly bad when the combats lasted long enough that additional wandering monsters joined the fight.

Some possible solutions for this issue would have been:

#1 – Make combat more intense, so that they lasted fewer rounds. Cutting everyone’s hit points in half would have helped.

#2 – Don’t penalize movement so heavily – it encouraged players and AI to stand in position to launch spells and missiles rather than closing to more interesting range.

#3 – Rely less upon large swarms of monsters, instead emphasizing fewer, stronger monsters. This is a valuable thing to consider whenever doing a turn-based game.

#4 – Have enemies attack in “waves” of more manageable numbers rather rather than as a monolithic massed army.

Environment
The world of Wizardy 8 may not be the most elaborate or deeply thought-out world in the history of CRPGs, but it definitely has personality. Many of the locations were extremely distinctive, from the giant tree-city of Trynton to the underwater halls leading to the island of Bayjin, to the Umpani’s mountain fortress and the maze-like castle of the Rapax. (Get it? Minotaurs? Mazes? It does make sense…)

The game starts with a hunt for a long-dead hero named Marten. This was a very clever way to get the player interested in the back-story of the planet. I compare this to the Elder Scrolls games, which bombarded me with backstory which I really tried to be interested in, but it didn’t work. But because the history is tied in with the current quest in Wizardry 8, all that fluff became USEFUL to me – and therefore interesting. Whether accidental or deliberate, I think it was a stroke of game designer genius. And it helped make the world come alive for me.

Quests
The quests in Wizardy 8, like most RPGs, ran the full range from the pedestrian and downright boring, to the outstanding and memorable.

Wiz8TempleDoor-765337One thing I appreciated was how so many of the quests allowed alternative approaches. Even the alliance between the Umpani and T’Rang was completely optional – though extremely satisfying. And I managed to muscle through it without first completing the apparently pre-requisite Al-Sedexus quest. I came back and did it later, just ‘cuz I could… but I liked that the game was flexible enough to allow this.

I also think it’s sad that this is noteworthy. Not that this sort of thing is in notoriously short supply. I think it pretty much made Oblivion for me. But I think we’ve all played those games where objectives must be completed exactly as the designer intended – though sometime with one or two variants, sometimes… usually with lame “total jerk” and “neutral apathetic” options.

I liked the inclusion of a variety of different styles of puzzles and quests – from logic puzzles, to riddles, to adventure-game style inventory puzzles. Sometimes they were infuriating, and I was glad to be living in the age of the Internet to look up the solutions to the ones that stumped me. Like how to get into the retro dungeon.

And admittedly, having your own demonic daughter attack you near the end of the game was something of a first for any game I’ve ever played. Kudos to whomever came up with that optional plotline. And I hope said designer has since received psychiatric help.

Characters
Some of the characters in Wizardry 8 were better fleshed out than others. Vi Dominae, Z’Ant, Yamir, He’Li, Marten (now a ghost), Sparkle, and even the Dark Savant were pretty well done. The Dark Savant’s voice acting sounded more like it was played for comedic effect than being an actual ultimate bad guy. Still, I thought it made him sound a bit more human, so I guess it worked for me.

Another thing I liked was how the party members often had something to say during particular events. One thing I always disliked about older RPGs of this style was that your party members were pretty static collections of stats. It wasn’t much, but giving them some amusing or at least interesting things to say really helped bring them to life.

What worked for me, for the characters mentioned above, is that they all had some kind of “hook” that made them stand out and come alive for me. Probably because that stand-out feature encouraged my brain to attribute all kinds of stereotypical or archetypal features to them that weren’t necessarily part of their script. This is more of an example of “engaging the player” and enlist their aid as a storyteller.

A Belated Farewell to Wizardry!
Wizardry 8 was, in effect, a swan song for an entire style or sub-genre of RPG – a style which Wizardry 1 was in many ways responsible for creating and popularizing. At least as far as mainstream games have gone. However, you don’t have to look very far to see the influence the series (and it’s descendants) have had on computer RPGs since then. And – yes, even console RPGs.

The features of this sub-genre that stand out for me include the turn-based combat, the requirement to use teamwork and complimentary skills between multiple party members, the first-person perspective, and the “old-school” emphasis on puzzles and problem-solving rather than just hitting the required marks to complete a quest. I don’t know if it was all good – there were definitely some moments in the game when I got stumped and frustrated. In the days before the World Wide Web, that might have been enough to make me quit.

It was a more cerebral RPG than we usually get these days. And it definitely put the “hard” in “hardcore.” The extendo-combats were definitely to its detriment from my perspective. Due to my schedule, I rarely had more than 20-30 minutes at a sitting to play games, which made me rule out a Wizardry 8 session on many occasions – especially over the holiday season.

But overall – it was a great game. It is disappointing that the evolution of that style ended with Wizardy 8. I think there was a lot of room to grow and evolve from there. I guess my attitude is unsurprising, since I’m working on a game that’s kinda-sorta in that sub-genre myself as an indie project.

But I’m really I hunted this one down and played it. I think I paid more for it through E-Bay than I would have for a brand-new copy (with documentation!) when it was new. But you know what? It was totally worth it. Good and bad, it was a worthy and significant computer RPG.


Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



[Archive] Wizardry 8, Ep. 17 – Luke, I am your daughter!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 6, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Wizardry 8 was the final episode in one of the longest-running computer RPG series of all time, spanning twenty years from 1981 to 2001. I missed the game when it was initially released, and recently got a chance to play through this classic of “old-school” style role-playing games. This series has been a chronicle of my adventures.

And now it finally comes to an end. Well, mostly.

Pee Wee
Scorpia, after reading my previous report and realizing I was about to hit Ascension Peak, emailed me with a cryptic warning: “Pay the Trynnie; life is easier that way. You’ll know when you get there.” It’s nice to get some helpful hints from other players. I guess that’s one advantage from playing a game that is several years old.

As it turns out, her warning was because said Trynnie had a pet: a level 30 giant-sized stone golem by the name of “Pee Wee.” He extorted what amounted to highway robbery from my party, but I figure he’s trying to recoup his investment — and I don’t imagine anybody traveling up Ascension Peak is going to be that short on cash. He even told me that Pee Wee would aid me in my battles.

WizPeeWee-745581

Wiz8Robot-727871Well, that wasn’t quite the case. As it was, Pee Wee blocked my path, so I HAD to get him involved in a combat just so he’d move out of my way. His combat skills were largely useless – he’d hit maybe one turn in six. When he’d hit, he’d do a respectable amount of damage – but I was seriously considering just getting into a fight with him for bonus XP. He was a wimp.

We made it to some temple, where the robot Altheides appeared and asked us some questions. When we got the answer right, he let us through and we were able to go through a teleporter and place one of the artifacts (the Destinae Dominus) on its pedestal. The room shook, and we took a teleporter out – which took us back to a prior area with some statues.

Meet the Brat
We followed another road, fought some battles, and came to another temple where Altheides appeared again and asked some more questions. We went through the doorway, placed the second artifact (the Chaos Moliri), had another little earthquake, and teleported back to the statues.

On the third path, we met an army of Rapax, led by the Rapax Prince and some demon-gal who resembled the demon-goddess Al-Sedexus. Except this crazy demon-woman’s name was Al-Shakka. I thought that was a pretty cool name. After all, my gadgeteer was named Shakka, kinda close. Yeah, the gadgeteer who ended up… uh… with Al-Sedexus….

Oh. Crap.

Wiz8AlShakka-715859The prince denounced us, and introduced us to his “sister.” Al-Shakka spoke up and removed all doubt that indeed she WAS the love-child of Al-Sedexus and my permanently psychologically scarred gadgeteer, and now she was going to kill us all and stop us from whatever it was that we were doing on Ascension Peak.

Ah, kids. They grow up so fast these days.

Al-Shakka, the prince, about 18 other Rapax (plus six more summoned later), and seven wandering monsters that happened to be in the neighborhood suddenly launched their attack.

This was the most vicious and lengthy battle I’d yet experienced in the game, which is saying something. But in the end, my group killed Shakka’s brat daughter, the Rapax Prince, and everything else within about a half-mile radius, including another group of wandering monsters that jumped into the fight when it was almost over.

Wiz8DSavantPeak-720433The Cosmic Forge
We went through a third temple, answered more of Altheides‘ questions, and placed the third artifact (the Astral Dominae) on its pedestal. Big earthquake, and we left — now what?

After getting lost and wandering around a bit, we followed another path, encountered a bunch of giant monsters, and got to another structure where we found the Dark Savant. He was pissed off at us. He told us we could watch the entire world burn, while he made his way to the Cosmic Circle all by himself to have his revenge. With that, he tried to set off his world-destroying bomb in the tower in Arnika. Yeah, the one we’d disabled. Nothing happened. Now the dude was REALLY annoyed.

The Dark Savant jumped into a convenient teleporter, and a friendly gargoyle, Bela, whom we’d met before egged us on to chase him. We followed, and found ourselves in some mystical platform in outer space. Vi Dominae urged us forward, and we tried to pursue the Dark Savant.

In the meantime, the Savant got to the central circle and found the robot, Altheides, already there. The two argued for a while. The Dark Savant was really annoyed that the other gods – the Cosmic Lords – weren’t there. He wanted his revenge on them. Altheides explained that their time was over, and that they had left. It was time for new gods to step in. Already in a bad mood, the Dark Savant killed Altheides.

By that point, we’d arrived at the scene, and found ourselves in front of the artifacts that control the universe – the Cosmic Forge. In front of us was the book of the entire universe. Whatever was written there – or erased – would come to pass. With it, we could destroy the Dark Savant, and even undo what was already done.

The Dark Savant – Revealed!
We frantically looked for where the Dark Savant’s information was written, and discovered the page of his life…

Wiz8DSRevealed-746579And learned that he was none other than the kind, benevolent god worshipped by all the peaceful and good fuzzy-wuzzy beings in the universe – Phoonzang. For pulling a Prometheus and trying to share the secrets of the universe with mortals, he’d been cast out by his fellow Cosmic Lords and made a mere mortal. For a while, he was a contented old man doing good, but eventually succumbed to anger and frustration so that he “borged out” and became the Dark Savant.

And since Vi Dominae’s family had been the guardians of the artifacts he’d created as Phoonzang, he needed her genetic code to use them to get back to the Cosmic Circle. All he needed was her eye, so he’d plucked it out. That explained her piratey-look in the last couple of games.

The Dark Savant appeared himself to help fill in some of the details. I really appreciate it when the Ultimate Bad Guys begin monologuing.

The Fate of the Universe
So now we had a choice: Join the Dark Savant, because he really deserved to have his revenge; Tear out the pages from the book of the universe where Phoonzang had become banished, became the Dark Savant, and all that; or try to write the Dark Savant out of existence.

I really wasn’t much of a fan of the Dark Savant, so I wasn’t about to join him. As a blogger, I realized that creative writing under so much time pressure (and someone trying to kill me) wasn’t going to result in my best work. So I decided to rip out the pages from the book.

I succeeded. Mostly. The original Phoonzang appeared, before he’d developed anger management issues. But he wasn’t truly there, and the Dark Savant wasn’t totally gone. So we had another fight on our hands. Bella and Vi Dominae joined me in a big fight, and the Dark Savant summoned a bunch of henchman to even things up a bit.

The battle was nowhere near our most difficult. In the end, we kicked his cyborg butt.

Wiz800020-724896So there we were – us, Vi Dominae, Bela, Phoonzang, and the Cosmic Forge. But we had a problem. Tearing out those pages about the Dark Savant also destroyed a good bit of the universe that we’d known.

Oops. Sorry about that.

No matter. Phoonzang said he’d help us out as we restored the universe by writing in the book. And so we got started, pouring out what we knew onto pages and watching them take on reality.

We had become gods. That was pretty cool.

Except for Phoonzang critiquing our writing style. An eternity of THAT could get a little annoying.

Design Notes
I’m going to have a bigger set of notes in another post, since this one is ginormous already.

The Al-Sedexus plotline … with the child of one of my party-members… was a very fun little surprise. Sorry if I spoiled it for you here, but the game is like eight years’ old already (Editorial Note from 2015: Now nearly fourteen) – the statute of limitations on spoilers has to have expired by now. But naming her after my character was a really cool and clever addition that really made things rock.

The final battle against the Dark Savant wasn’t overly difficult, but it was very satisfying. Battles do not need to be overly long, drawn-out, or challenging in order to be fun and satisfying.

But the big win here for this game was this: How many RPGs end with your characters becoming GODS? Only two that I’ve played  (that I can think of) – this one, and Baldur’s Gate II. As rewards for a job well done go, it is a little hard to top that.


Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: Be the First to Comment



Reminder: Frayed Knights 2 at Salt Lake Gaming Con!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 5, 2015

Frayed_cover_finalFor the next three days, my presence on the Interwebz will be limited to maybe early morning and late night, if at all. Because I will be busy showing off the glorious uber-awesomeness that is Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath at Salt Lake Gaming Con!

If you are in the Salt Lake City area and you are a gamer… be there! Tickets are relatively cheap ($25 for all three days, or $15 – $20 for a day pass), and there’s supposed to be a lot going on. A bunch of us local indies will be talking quite frankly at a panel on Friday (unsure of time… either noon or 4:00 PM) on “the roadmap to indie success.” I will only be one voice of many, and not the most experienced by far. :)

FK2AtComicCon1And aside from that, I’ll be with the really cool Utah Games Guild Arcade, showing off tons of awesome locally-made indie games. This was a great experience last year at Salt Lake Comic Con. I expect this event to be much, much better. Unlike Comic Con, folks at this event are  coming to PLAY! At least, that’s the expectation. Beyond getting the chance to check out the local indie game scene, there’ll be tournaments, parties, panels with gaming personalities (voice actors, developers, etc.), TONS of games of all kinds to check out and play, a cosplay competition, and more.

Anyway, it should be a pretty good time. I will probably be half-dead by Saturday night, but it’ll be in a good cause.

If you can make it, please come by and say hi! I’ll be happy to see you there! You can play through (an abbreviated version of) the first part of the game, offer your thoughts, talk about the game, or talk about… other games, if you want. Have fun!

If you can’t, by all means, have fun anyway!

 

SLGC2015_Hours


Filed Under: Events, Frayed Knights - Comments: Be the First to Comment



[Archive] Wizardry 8, ep. 16 – Return of the Demon Goddess

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 4, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Continuing my adventures playing the final game of the classic series, Wizardry. Wizardry 8 was originally released in 2001, but I only acquired it years later via E-Bay. So far, I’ve found it has stood the test of time fairly well. I’ve been blogging my progress throughout the game (which took a pause during the holiday season), and discussing some notes I’ve made on the games’ design, which many consider to be the last “old-school” style mainstream Western RPG. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore… except for the indies.

Once again – I think I’m pretty close to the end of the game, but I’m not quite there yet. But on my way to Ascension Peak and my dark date with destiny, my party took some time to flirt with a topless demon-goddess. We’re such a naughty group of adventurers!

When the Rapax Get Bored with Battle, You KNOW It’s Gone On Too Long…
If you may remember from my last Wizardry 8 post, I’d just mowed through a hundred Rapax Templars to expose the secret plot of the Rapax King, who had allied with the Dark Savant. This was after killing hundreds more Rapax in the Rift and in their own castle. I’d used this information to get the Umpani and T’Rang to ally with each other, and used that combined intelligence and firepower to blow up the Dark Savant’s ship.

Making my way to a previously-discovered path to Ascension Peak for the final showdown, I found that the Rapax had blocked it off with a massive landslide. A bunch of low-level Rapax were patrolling the area, and mocked me with their announcement of how they rocked, I sucked, only they can go to Ascension Peak, nyah-nyah-nyah. I sent them to the Ascension Peak in the sky, and decided to head back to Castle Rapax to see if I could find out how they were planning on making it to the peak after causing the landslide.

Once I got there, it was once again nearly non-stop combat. At one point, I had so many Rapax lined up to fight me (six groups averaging six or seven Rapax each) as they chased me into a dead end that they actually got bored with the fight and left.

I’d maneuvered myself around a corner to reduce my exposure to ranged attacks and spells, but the line to beat on me went all the way around yet another corner. As the saying goes, “Out of fight, out of mind…” – or something like that. Anyway, many of the Rapax at the tail end of the mob got bored and wandered off. They didn’t go far – once the fight was over, I bumped back into them and the conflict resumed.

I decided I’d like a little more RPC (recruitable PC) help, so I teleported back to Arnika to see if Vi Dominae would like to join us. She said she’d love to, and she always enjoyed getting together with “us guys.” That lasted for about ten seconds, until we teleported directly back into the castle. At that point, we discovered that Vi Dominae could really, really gripe and complain in a nearly constant stream. She complained about being there, about always hooking up with losers, etc.

But she was able to materially contribute to the slaughter. She may not have been fighting at her peak, but she proved she was still able to kick some Rapax butt. Eventually, we killed enough Rapax that we could wander about unmolested near the throne room and feast hall area for about three minutes.

Let’s Not Bicker and Argue Over Who Killed Who…
As it turns out, while the Templars now hated me along with all the rest of the Rapax, the offer made to me by the demon goddess Al-Sedexus still stood. I wandered into a Rapax Guard above the throne room who did not attack me – instead, he demanded to know who sent me. He snorted at any answer I gave him. I found another door that he was not protecting, however, and wandered through. Eventually I came to a Rapax named Al-Adryian who asked me if I was ready to become initiates in the church of Al-Sedexus or something.

Wiz8Altar-725067Yeah, sure, why not? I had nothing better to do, except to save the world ‘n stuff, but that could wait.

The initiation was no worse than your average frat-hazing. We had to acquire three pieces of clothing, answer three riddles, and kill a bunch of elementals. Oh, and dress one of our party members – the gadgeteer – in said clothing.

And I’m not sure – but I think he had to have sex with the topless demon-goddess in an altar room when we summoned her. I don’t know for sure – she slipped us something in our drinks or something, and we all fell asleep to ecstatic sounds from Al-Sedexus the Demon Goddess. Afterwards, we found our poor gadgeteer quivering in the corner in the fetal position, refusing to talk about what had happened while the rest of the group was passed out on the floor for hours.

What’s more, he was now under a curse. He couldn’t leave the castle and rift area without suffering constant, slow damage. No magic would undo the curse. On the plus side, all the Rapax in the castle decided to let bygones be bygons and no longer attacked me. Nevermind the entire castle was stinking with the smell of hundreds of dead Rapax that had fallen under our blades – now that we’d let the demon-goddess have her way with our poor gadgeteer, all was forgiven.

A little bit of exploration revealed a portal to Ascension Peak! Huzzah! We went through the portal and arrived on the mountain road. All was well…. except for the gadgeteer, who was now taking constant damage.

Payback Time
This wouldn’t do. Our gadgeteer has finally gotten to the level (after a flirtation with multi-classing that I wish I’d never tried) where he could use some seriously powerful gadgets a couple of times before passing out from exhaustion. We didn’t want to lose him. Besides that, he sucks up some hits in combat that would otherwise hurt our spellcasters. And apparently he makes good bait for demon goddesses. So he’s a valued member of the team that we couldn’t leave gimped like that.

So I set a teleport location there in Ascension Peak and decided to go back to Rapax Rift to have a talk with Al-Sedexus. Unfortunately, this required us to go back through the castle, and Vi Dominae left the party immediately. Since I didn’t want to clear out my other two portal locations for my other two casters (one goes directly to the inn in Arnika, the other to the Umpani fort), I figured I was on my own for a while.

The Rapax were very gracious and nice to me as I walked through their castle into the rift. Once there, it was only a walk around the corner into Al-Sedexus’s temple. The demon goddess was there. I clicked to talk on her, and she told us she’d heard we were planning on leaving her. Since we could only do that feet-first, she immediately attacked us. On her first round, she summoned a bunch of templars to aid her in the fight.

We focused our attacks on her. As tough as the Rapax generally are at over 500 hitpoints each, Al-Sedexus had about twice as many hitpoints. The gal was no pushover, in spite of being armored with nothing more than an occasionally writhing snake. In the end, we triumphed and grabbed the bag of goodies she left in her wake. We hadn’t yet killed any of the templars, and I decided to experiment by running away rather than fighting them to the bitter end.

Mysteriously, the castle is still quite friendly to us. Apparently killing their demon-goddess isn’t all that important to them. So long as I let the templars live, I guess.

With that, I bought and sold some stuff with the blacksmith there at the castle, and teleported out to the Umpani stronghold and to Arnika to pick up supplies (ammunition, mainly) and two of my favorite RPCs – Vi Dominae, and Sparkle the Trynnie Ranger. Upon teleporting back to Ascension Peak, we found Vi Dominae has no problem being with us there. Sparkle, on the other hand, has begun whining. Incessantly. Asking when we could go home. It’s like baby-sitting a whiney-but-cute eight-year old.

An eight-year-old who can insta-kill with arrows at a hundred paces.

Design Notes
Faction systems are an interesting thing in RPGs. Wizardry 8 is no exception. From what I can tell, if I’d have killed the six Rapax Templar guards summoned to aid Al-Sedexus in a remote cave temple with nobody watching, I’d have hurt my faction with the Rapax. But by leaving them alive to tell their story of how I came in and killed their goddess and fought with them, my relationship with the Rapax is unharmed.

Does that make any kind of sense?

I’d really love to see an RPG where faction is handled in a realistic, organic fashion. I realize that this would be difficult to pull off, as most combats in RPGs are to the death, and bodies tend to magically vanish over time. And there seems to be an infinite supply of potential opponents in the world, so it’s not like anybody might notice that their factional population has dropped significantly since the player characters came to town.

I can see the simulated conversation between randomly generated NPCs now:

“Hey Bob, I’ve noticed a pretty high turnover in respawns since the group of adventurers started wandering our zone.”

“Those guys coming towards us right now?”

“Yeah.”

“Interesting observation. Maybe we ought to mention that to someb… ARGH! ICK! My torso! My precious torso!”

Well, okay. Maybe that’s not just something you could drop into an existing game – you’d have to build the game around it. It’d be cool, though, huh?

The initiation quest for the Templars was, unfortunately, not the best. Though answering riddles was kinda fun and different (not for this game – there are a lot of riddles – but it’s not something you see much of anymore). But otherwise it was pretty much just an ordinary run-the-gauntlet, kill-the-guardian-monsters thing.

The most amusing part of this experience is that I clearly did things out-of-order. Fortunately, it didn’t break the game, though it’s unclear to me if I could have found my way through the portal without going through the initiation process.


Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



ToshoCON Postmortem

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 3, 2015

FKFlythroughFriday night, I took the Frayed Knights show on the road to ToshoCON, which is kind of a mini-convention for teens put on by the Viridian Library and Events Center. It was kind of a weird situation, because we weren’t really exhibitors / vendors (they were elsewhere and had to pay for the privilege)… we were actually more like the entertainment.

It apparently went well… we were thanked and invited back next year. So… I guess from the organizer’s perspective, it was a success. Cool. From our perspective… well, my wife asked me going into it, “What do you hope to get out of this?” That was a little more fuzzy. We couldn’t sell. It was really just a chance to watch people play Frayed Knights 2 for the first time and see what worked and what didn’t, so I could maybe make some adjustments. Especially with the planned showing at the “big event” a few days later, at Salt Lake Gaming Con.

Anyway – FRAYED KNIGHTS 2: THE KHAN OF WRATH.

Dang, this game was supposed to have shipped by now, wasn’t it? Oops. Let me tell you something: As I write this, I’m feeling exhaustion creeping in. It’s been a brutal several weeks getting this together. I’m thrilled that so much is done and working, but at the same time there’s still a lot left to be done (particularly on the content front, which I’ve needed help with).

I suspect that talking about the game when I’m exhausted over it is probably not the best PR move. Maybe it’s good practice, though. The latter half of this week is going to be fueled by caffeine and ZipFizz.

So a few thoughts on the demo and how things went:

First of all, we used the level from the Comic Con demo, mainly because it is at the highest level of completion and was designed to be a tiny mini-adventure that could be completed in about five to ten minutes. However, the game (and the level itself) has changed a lot since then. We used the new, full UI this time around, although I disabled lock-picking to avoid complicating the game too much. Actually, what I did was add a new ‘impossible’ lock flag which pops up a message in the case of full-on plot-protected doors. I hope to use them extremely sparingly if at all outside of the demo.

One of the new additions (taken from a lesson learned at Comic Con) was an “attract mode” added to the game. It was inspired somewhat by the menu screen in the original Unreal. It actually worked quite well. Maybe too well… I had a constant stream of players and no chance to take a break the entire night. I’ve included a video of a full ‘cycle’ of the fly-through. It looks better at 60 fps with no compression / streaming artifacts at full resolution, but it should give you the idea.

The players were (mostly) teenagers. About half of the players really didn’t “get it.” They had trouble with the controls, with a first-person perspective, with the style, or the amount of text. About half or one third of the remaining players REALLY seemed to get it. They were laughing at the text, asking great questions, digging into the spell-system, really trying to master the combat options, and so forth.

I don’t know if that was a good or even representative ratio. I told my wife, “I’d rather make a game that a few people really love than a lot of people think is just ‘okay.’ ”  He answered that she wanted me to make games everybody loves, which… well, okay. Yeah, that’d be awesome, but how do you do that?

We added a new spell icon system that worked extremely well. Since spells are all dynamically generated, we needed a way to easily identify what a spell does when you see it, before pulling up the details in the pop-up window. We worked up something of an iconic “language” for the spells, and Nick Lives generated the art. In theory, it seemed like it would work. In practice, they surprised me with how effective they are. Demo players didn’t really have a chance to grok the system too well, but as they were playing the demo, I was able to quickly guide them to promising spells in spite of them being new to me every single time.

We have sound and music in the game now. It’s not perfect or complete yet, and I’m gonna be REALLY sick of the music by next week, but it’s probably better to have that all in now. It’s easy to ignore sound requirements when the entire game is silent, but when most of the sounds are in and certain actions or monsters are silent, it’s hard to ignore.

The new UI is a lot more complete (and complicated) than the super-streamlined version I implemented for Comic Con. You know what? People didn’t seem to have a problem with it. This was a pleasant surprise, but I guess it’s intuitive enough (or rather, it matches other games well enough) that players didn’t have too big of a problem figuring things out. There are a few little problem areas where the UI needs more feedback, but for the most part it seemed to work.

One comment from a player (which was spot-on) was that while this was billed as a comedy, the creatures seemed pretty traditional and kind of scary. Of course, my response is that the comedy tended to be more along the lines of character-based comedy, sitcom style. But if a variant of this level is going to be the first level of the full game (that’s currently the plan), then I may need to work a little harder to set the comedic tone right at the beginning through visuals, not just dialog. Maybe the necromancer farts during his dramatic departure or something.

Combat still needs some adjusting, but it’s a LOT better now. It feels like its paced about right, but there’s a bit of nuance that’s still missing. Some of that is still planned or even implemented already, but just not present in the demo level. We’ll see.

Anyway, I have a short but meaty list of things to fix / change for later this week, on top of promotional activities.  After this weekend, I can’t really slack the pace much, because we’re preparing for a submission for another competition at the end of August. Hopefully what we have (with a few tweaks to help players who don’t have me standing at their elbow explaining things) will be enough.

After that… it’s back to the dungeons with all of us! We’ve still got a lot of dungeon levels to build!

UPDATE: The video is a little dark for two reasons: #1 – I have a very bright monitor, and the brightness levels still need to be balanced for everybody, and #2 – The party carries a light source around with them, so everything is a little bit dark until they get within about 20 feet. I don’t raise the illumination for the fly-through, although I guess I could.

 


Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Sigil of the Wyrm: Cover Reveal

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 1, 2015

There’s a new urban fantasy book coming out on August 25th by one of my fellow authors at Xchyler Publishing,  A.J. Campbell. It’s the first of the “Into the Weirding” series, entitled Sigil of the Wyrm:

SIGIL_of_the_WYRM_full_spread_750

It’s available now for pre-orde from Amazon. Here’s a little reveal video to go with it:

Have fun!


Filed Under: Books - Comments: Be the First to Comment



[Archive] Game Design: Is Freedom Not Fun?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 31, 2015

This is a revised version of a post from the old blog, lost in a security clamp-down last year. Since it’s referenced by one of the Wizardry 8 articles and the topic is still quite worthy of discussion, I thought I’d post it now.

Randy Smith, a lead designer at EA, once wrote about how choice and consequences are out of vogue in today’s game designs. He cites Ultima V as an example – a game that freely let you shoot yourself in the foot, go off the beaten path, make bad choices, and get clobbered by them.

Smith stated, “Today, this sort of thing is considered bad and wrong, and we’ve developed some of our most sophisticated design around preventing it… Why do we do all this? Because games are supposed to be fun, and fun only happens when you are pointed directly towards it, when it’s neither too easy nor too hard to get, and when you’re told ‘good job’ upon acquiring it. We’ve brilliantly succeeded in eliminating the interstitials, stripping away everything but fun.”

Is this a good thing? Is this the right thing? Randy brings up the “games as art” argument, and suggests that being led around onto exactly the right path, rendering our choices irrelevant, might not be the evolutionary Utopia of gaming that we really want. Smith continued, “I worry that in the course of evolution we created a philosophical divide with exploration, choice, and consequence on one side and goals, scores, and balance on the other. I’m not sure the two sides are equally vital for producing unique, relevant works. Are we so hooked on the escapist fantasy of an uncomplicated life, of reverting to the safety of childhood, that no other games should be made? Have we explored alternatives?”

In her commentary article “Hold My Hand,” Scorpia contends that stripping away choice and marking the path for the player every step of the way doesn’t necessarily refine the “fun,” either. “is so much direction really a good thing? Does having to think about the game and what we’re doing somehow take away from the ‘fun’? I certainly enjoyed playing Ultima IV. But it wouldn’t have been as much of a pleasure had Hawkwind (or anyone else) been directing me through the game. ”

Later, in comments, she notes “Funny, when I first started gaming – and with some pretty tough adventure games – I never felt intimidated. And back then, I wasn’t doing it professionally, either.”

Is this just a matter of audience? The games of yesteryear certainly had technical limits as to how much they could “guide” the player – they even had to pack crucial data into manuals for lack of RAM on the system. But in the 1980’s (the era of Ultima IV and V and many text adventures), the gamer was a niche audience. Today, games are mainstream.

Perhaps only a small niche of players like figuring this stuff out for themselves?

I don’t know. I’m sort of a middle-of-the-road gamer. My gaming history is littered with titles that I never completed because I got stuck at some point — stuck, frustrated, and the game ceased to be fun. However, some of the most fun I’ve had in games has come from puzzling my way through challenges. I absolutely loved solving the Babel-Fish puzzle in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have a threshold of pain and confusion where I really do want some hand-holding and some good guidance. But I’m much happier – and having more fun – when I am able to tackle those challenges on my own.

I had way more fun white water rafting as a kid than riding roller coasters, too. Am I just an exception? A niche?

Or should this be the next evolutionary change games take a “helping hand” rather than hand-holding. I think I’d really prefer that. Of course, this assumes that the game is actually made in such a way that it allows players to chart their own course… including going off-course. Many times, due to development costs for content, designers are loathe to create any aspect of the game world that the player isn’t required to see, which enforces a linear design.

Editorial Note from 2015: It feels like today, a few years after this article was originally posted, we’ve really gone two dramatically different ways, without a lot of room in-between: Either tightly scripted and linear, or wildly open-world. In the former case, in some games it feels like we need that hand-holding just to know what the designer had in mind for us to complete the level, although this is usually disguised by the level design. Still sucks that you are really robbed of any options than to do it the designer’s intended way, though.

 


Filed Under: Archive, Design - Comments: 7 Comments to Read



Reminder: Frayed Knights 2 at ToshoCON tomorrow, July 31

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 30, 2015

ToshoLogoTomorrow evening – from at least 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM (though I may be there earlier), I’ll be at ToshoCON at the Viridian Event Center at 8030 S 1825 W, West Jordan, UT.

You can check out the website here: ToshoCON 2015

It’s really geared for teens and anime / cosplay stuff. I expect there won’t be a whole lot of appreciation for the fact that there’s a bunch of locally-developed indie games that have hardly been played by ANYBODY on display. Just based on the experience I had with younger players at Comic Con last year. But regardless, I’m sure I’ll get some useful feedback, and it will help me get prepped for the big event next weekend.

Anyway, I don’t know if I have many readers in this particular audience, but if so, come pay a visit!

On the demo…

It’s funny – I’ve been focused a bit on content development for a while, so having to go back and fix a bunch of bugs I’ve been ignoring for months has been a painful experience. There’s also a bit of stand-in crap still there, especially in the UI, but at least the UI behavior is now a bit more final.

And monsters are falling over again when they are killed. That’s good.

Regeneration is busted again. Gotta fix that before tomorrow.

And… and… and…  Man, getting ready for a demo is a little like getting ready for a release. It is, in a way. Except you can wall off a lot more of the game content / behaviors if they really don’t work. Or, as is sometimes the case for something like this, they just aren’t appropriate for a really short show demo.


Filed Under: Frayed Knights, Game Announcements - Comments: Be the First to Comment



[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 15 – Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 29, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Wizardry 8 was originally published in 2001. It took me several years to get around to it (and a great deal of effort to finally score a copy from EBay), but I’m now reporting on my adventures in the final game of the classic series. And with this fifteenth installment, I feel I’m getting close to the climax. Close measured in lots of combat.

If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em…

After some searching, I found an encampment in the wilderness where the Rapax Templars were staying. I was supposed to join these guys – well, the demon-goddess wanted me to do that. Why I’d want to follow the wishes of a bloodthirsty demon-goddess, I don’t know. As I got to the encampment, however, the templars there warned me to leave. I’m apparently not yet a member of the club.

What do I do to join the club?

Wiz8Templar-766113I don’t know. And at this point, after fighting through tons of combat in the castle, and figuring that sooner or later I’d need to take these guys on anyway, I decided to see if I could break the game by taking these guys out now.

Unfortunately, the front area was swimming in Templars. Tons. A small army. However, since I’d been fighting those kinds of odds in the castle for days, I could take ’em. Plus, I was close to an exit out of the “zone.” Using my l33t “dungeon break-in” skillz honed by years of playing Everquest, I whittled the Rapax down.

Summoned elementals came in very handy. Especially fire elementals, when they weren’t distracted into hurling fireballs of their own. The Rapax are all but immune to fire, so fireballs were nearly useless, especially when they’d throw on an Element Shield spell. But the elemental could punch pretty hard, and would ignore the zillions of fireballs these guys would fling.

And yes, they’d fling the fireballs. That many Rapax meant that, at least at first, I could go on a bathroom break when the combat started, and when I returned there’d still be particle systems hurtling across the landscape towards me while my characters patiently waited their turn.

I gamed the system at this point. I’d go in, and MAYBE take down one or two of the Rapax before being forced to flee. Since most of my damage-causing spells would do next to nothing, once the defensive spells and the summon had been fired, I’d concentrate on insanity and Asphyxiation. Once in a blue moon, out of about two dozen Rapax and about six casts of Asphyxiation (a mass instant-death spell), ONE rapax would get unlucky and die outright. It was a terrible waste of spell points for that 0.5% chance of killing an enemy, but since nothing else was having much effect either, I gave it a shot. After all, they weren’t exactly dying quickly on us as it was.

Once we’d score a kill or two, things would be looking hairy, and we’d be forced to flee. We’d rest up outside the zone, heal up, get spell points back, cast persistent buffs, and jump back in. The remaining Rapax would likewise be healed and have spell points back. Combat would begin almost instantly when we zoned in. By a strange twist of programming logic, if we’d been forced to abandon an elemental there in mid-combat, the elemental would still be there, saving us the casting of a summon spell at the beginning of the fight.

After spending pretty much an entire night doing this, we finally cleared the entryway enough to proceed further into the encampment. We found the King’s tent in short order. Compared to everything else we had fought recently, the king and his two bodyguards were pushovers.

Wiz8Alliance-734565Strange Bedfellows

Several large guard patrols and one remotely-opened gate later, we found a couple of prisoners stuck in cages at the top of a bluff. One was an Umpani named Rodan, and the other was a T’Rang named Drazic. Strangely enough, we got both of them to join our party, and they told us their story. They began as mortal enemies trying to kill each other, even in captivity. But upon learning that the Rapax King was in league with the Dark Savant – making the Savant’s allied forces stronger than anyone else on the planet – they realized that their own causes were doomed unless they could band together against a common enemy.

You see, the Umpani reportedly have a gun that is capable of taking out a starship – like the Dark Savant’s ship. But the Dark Savant’s black ship is cloaked and invisible to Umpani sensors, so they can’t find his ship. The T’Rang have a tracking device which – with the help from my visit to the starport in Arnika and a black box recovered from a wreckage in Bayjin – can track the Dark Savant’s ship. Rodan and Drazic asked us to take them to their respective leaders to make the case for an alliance between the Umpani and T’Rang. Curiously enough, since I’d been playing both sides, my party was in a prime position to give them aid.

Wiz8Missile-774869Even better, we had teleport locations set not too far from the Umpani fort and Marten’s Bluff, the base for the T’Rang. We portaled out of the Rapax Templar encampment, made our way through the swamp to Marten’s Bluff, and met with the T’Rang boss, Z’Ant. He was skeptical, but willing to listen. He gave us an alliance document for the Umpani to sign, and the tracking device.

The Umpani were just as skeptical, but after hearing Rodan and Drazic’s story, they also agreed. And gave us access to their “Big Gun.”

We made our way to the top of Mount Gigas, and found that the “Big Gun” was actually a missile launcher. With a single missile. While there might be spares in some storage room somewhere, it sure did look like we only had one shot at this. Too bad. It would be nice to aim that sucker at the Rapax Castle. I wonder how many experience points I’d net by blowing up the entire castle filled with infinite Rapax?

We placed the tracking device in the computer at the base of the missile. The missile launcher locked onto the black ship in orbit around the planet, moved into position, and fired.

That black ship, she shur blows up pretty! The distant explosion was clearly visible from the mountain top.

Wiz8Boom-760916

The party launched into a self-congratulatory round of discussion and back-patting, and began speculating whether or not the Dark Savant was actually on the ship when it exploded. The consensus seemed to be that no, life is rarely that kind, and we’d probably meet him when we got to the top of Ascension Peak. Which, everyone tells us, should be our next step.

The end is near! Maybe.

Design Notes:

While combat remains tedious, the plot was really kicking into high gear at this point. I HOPE that I have not ruined my game by taking the brute-force approach to dealing with the Rapax Templar encampment. ideally – as is apparently the case in many parts of the game – both approaches should be equally valid.

This is good RPG design. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is how things SHOULD be, in all RPGs. Yes, I mean you, you delightfully linear plot-heavy Japanese-style console RPGs!

If I recall correctly, Richard “Lord British” Garriott once said that he’d make sure there was always at least one good way to achieve any goal in the Ultima series, but that he wouldn’t go out of his way to prevent other approaches from working. If the players figured out a clever alternative, he was fine with that.

While a few more recent games have seemed to at least give nods to this idea (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, and the Fallout series falls into this category as well ) (Editorial Note from 2015 – These were somewhat recent when I originally wrote this… Fallout 3 was still new), it is too often missing in many modern RPGs. While I’ve not played it yet, Shamus Young  excoriated Fable 2‘s plot for gross negligence in this regard, forcing the player into some really bizarre, idiotic, needlessly complicated and punishing paths to accomplish what appears to be otherwise straightforward goals.

And even Oblivion seemed … well, oblivious… to the fact that I’d accomplished one Thieves’ Guild quest without actually killing anyone as I was assumed to have done. Those blind monks never even knew I was there, dang it!

Part of the problem, I suspect, is the script-based approach to handling “quests” or missions. I’ve struggled with the same issues in Frayed Knights. To make things interesting, the entire sub-story and path to accomplish the quest is scripted out in advance, and any alternative approaches have to be similarly designed, tested, debugged, re-written, polished, and perfected.

But is this really necessary? Couldn’t the Lord British approach still be applied to modern games? So you’ve got the glittery orb quest item stuck in some room. Is it really necessary to dictate how the player obtains the orb? Must all events and approaches be deliberately scripted into the game, or is it possible to set up a more generic event system and let things proceed more as a simulation? Would it be just as exciting? Just as interesting?

Yet even as I say this, I loved the hand-scripted resolution to the subplot where I acquired an alliance between the Umpani and T’Rang, and nuked the Black Ship. I’m a junkie for hand-crafted, well-designed plot and story development.

I’m sure I chose the most tedious, least interesting path to freeing the two prisoners, so would I be wrong in criticizing the game for allowing such tedious gameplay? Wouldn’t I have enjoyed the game more following the nicely-scripted path?

Is there a happy medium between these two extremes?


Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 5 Comments to Read



The Little Cube Goes Into Retirement

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 28, 2015

OuyaBrownNot a big surprise, but…

As previously deduced, Razer has purchased Ouya. But it sounds like they only purchased the software assets and the service, not the (somewhat disappointing) hardware. Razer has promised to support legacy systems for at least a full year, and then offer Ouya owners a deal on their own hardware.

Ah, well. Ouya was due for a hardware upgrade anyway.

My fondness for the system was as an underdog. I’d hoped for a little more performance out of the cube. And controllers that didn’t seem to keep cutting out and going wonky on me, although it seemed like it was only one of them that kept having problems. For the most part, it was playable.

This announcement is mostly good news overall for the devs, because the Ouya store was beginning to feel more and more like a dead end. Now the service will (hopefully) hit a much larger audience in the near future. And new, more powerful hardware.

However, that silver lining comes with a pretty dark raincloud for a few developers. Developers on the “free the games” fund have had their contracts canceled, which sucks. While $5,000 or $10,000 may not sound like much, when you’re a tiny developer that has invested that much on the contractual obligation that you’d be receiving payments on the back-end that would help you recoup those expenses, that can leave you in a bad place.

TowerfallSo I’m gonna call this a good news / bad news situation. It’s too bad the exciting beginning of the “microconsole” era wasn’t followed up with a success story at this point. We’ll see how things go with Razer. It may simply be that the Ouya was ahead of its time, and gets a second chance in spirit and possibly in name (for a while). Or it could be that three or four years from now we’ve got an acquisition of Razer in the works, and the story repeats itself. For now, I’ll call it the closing of a chapter, but not the end of the book.

While the nirvana of awesome games never quite arrived, I’ve got a lot of Ouya games that I really enjoy, so it’ll be right up there with the rest of my “outdated” consoles I still play games on. Hopefully I shouldn’t have any problems keeping the games I already have on the system, although I may want to make sure they are all downloaded and archived within the next 12 months…

UPDATE: Razer has announced a deal to try and make good on Ouya’s financial commitments to developers under the “Free the Games” program. It’s a different deal, as they don’t want exclusivity at all, and instead involves giving away a number of free copies of the games. But it works as a marketing tool and fixes things with developers, and demonstrates Razer’s commitment to indies. Stand-up job by Razer’s CEO, Min-Liang Tan.

Polygon: Razer says it will pay what Ouya owes to Indie Devs


Filed Under: Biz, Tech - Comments: Read the First Comment



[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 14: Storming the Castle

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 27, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Here’s a bit of a summary of my continued explorations of the “old-school” RPG, Wizardry 8. It’s a fairly hard-to-find title these days, as the publisher has long since ceased to exist as anything more than a legal entity. But their memory lives on… as do game CDs on a PC. (Editorial Note from 2015: Within the last year or so, it’s become available on popular digital sites like GOG.COM and Steam, so difficulty-of-acquisition is no longer a problem like it was when I first wrote this!)

The Demon Goddess
I made a lot of progress since Part XIII – and somehow thought I’d blogged it all, but evidently I had failed to do so. My bad. And now I have to go from memory.

We used the beckoning stone to summon a gargoyle named El Dorado. He exploded nicely under our combined firepower. Following that, we made our way to the demon-goddess Al-Sedexus. She seemed to debate a bit about what to do with us, but then gave us a quest set our faction so that we would no longer be attacked by Rapax Templars. Go us.

A bit more hunting led us to the courtyard of Castle Rapax.

Storming the Castle
The courtyard started out okay. There were archers along the wall which rained arrows down on us and were hard to kill. That was annoying. Pushing forward a bit more resulted in us getting surrounded by Rapax and attacked by an ever-increasing throng of Rapax.

The main floor of the castle was largely the same story – infuriatingly long combats. Rapax are minotaur-looking beasts which have some of the most infuriatingly boring combat in the known universe. They are – tough. Very tough. Most magic barely touches them. They hit like a ton of bricks. They have hundreds of hit points. And I usually end up fighting them a couple dozen at a time. I blow through most of my magic in each combat. Usually the best spells are buffs, heals, and insanity spells – since if even one or two Rapax berserkers go nuts and begin wailing on their comrades for a couple of rounds, It can shave precious minutes off of an hour-long fight.

The only thing interesting the Rapax have going for them is that they have classes. Which means you have some spellcasters going at it. This usually means putting up an element shield in the first round, as I’ll be sitting through about six to eight fireballs every round, plus the occasional Crush.

After literally hours of practically non-stop combat, I made my way to the upper floors. I embarrassed the prince, who I caught in his harem. He fled, and sicced his concubines on me.

Yes, his concubines. What a total douchenozzle!

Eventually, sheer tedium and frustration made me flee to the upper floors which were much more interesting – though I had left some halls of the main floor unexplored. The upper halls and the cellar had a lot of interesting things going on, and most of the Rapax were not hostile to me. I guess they were aligned with the templars.

An adventure-game-esque sequence followed. I found myself going through a zoo, hitting the cellar and jail areas, participating in a barroom brawl, discovering that the Rapax King and Queen seemed to be running counter to each others’ purposes (in fact, it looks like the King was trying to arrange the death of his dear wife… I do not know whether or not he succeeded). After finding a lot of secret portals and bizarre items with strange uses, I managed to open up a teleporter near the King’s chamber that opened up a portal to the inside of the Dark Savant’s tower back in Arnika.

Dah Bomb
Among other things, the Dark Savant’s tower houses a bomb capable of destroying the entire world. For such a big deal, the tower was kind of a let-down. There wasn’t much there – just robots serving the Dark Savant, and a combination lock to deactivate the bomb.

At this point, I teleported back to the Rapax Castle, and fought a few gazillion more Rapax, before getting bored and leaving back the way I came.

Design Notes:

The castle sequence is a major set-piece to the game, but it is fatally flawed on the main floor by some really tedious combat – not unlike Rapax Rift and the Bayjin Shallows. The designers wisely set it up so that the upper levels (and cellar) were not nearly so bad – but it does make you wonder how you could slaughter something like 400 Rapax on the main floor (and how does the castle HOLD that many???) and almost nobody bats an eye about it one floor up.

But I really did enjoy myself a lot on the upper floor. The combats were few but a little more interesting (the zoo animals were largely creatures I’d fought before, but at least they broke up the monotony a bit). And the locations and notes gave a lot of clues as to what had been going on for the last few years. It helped make the world come alive.

The Savant Tower was something of a letdown. Here’s a hint to game designers: When you introduce something early in the game that’s clearly a major goal for later, you really ought to put some more effort into making it cool. Visually, it was cool, but from a gameplay perspective, there wasn’t much to do there. Unless I totally overlooked something.

I have already whined enough about how boring the Rapax are to fight. But this illustrates something about enemy design at which I have personally failed many times in the past. It is EASY to make a bigger, tougher, harder opponent. Beef up their armor and hitpoints, throw in a solid claw / claw/ bite attack (an old-school D&D reference), crank the magic resistance up to 11, and viola! A super-challenging monster!

And a super-boring one, too. Oh, sure, if used sparingly, they can be fun, and even interesting in their own way. But ultimately, what makes enemies interesting to a player are the same things that make them nightmarish for a programmer – unique behaviors and abilities (or combinations of the same).

If you look at some of the most popular (and feared) monsters in Dungeons & Dragons, they usually fall into this category. Dragons are not only ultra-tough, but also have the classic breath weapon and flying ability (and, often, spells, an aura of fear, and other special abilities). Mind Flayers with their uber-nasty psionic blast and the whole brain-eating thing. Beholders with their ray-shooting eye stalks (and the anti-magic cone from their primary eye). Vampires and specters with the level-draining ability. Medusas (yes, in D&D, Medusa is an entire race, not just an entity) with the gaze that turns adventurers into stone. Mummies with their mummy-rot and fear aura. Dopplegangers who can assume the form and behavior of friends. Harpies with their charm powers. And various kinds of demons with their spell resistance and other special abilities.

Those special abilities are what makes them interesting. Wizardry 8 is no exception. The psionic abilities of the Rynjin were infuriating, but it made them stand out… except for the fact that practically everything in the Bayjin area was also psionic. Nessie – I still haven’t taken HER down yet. But she was not boring. Creatures that swallow my party members whole are rare, scary, but definitely not boring.

Giving the Rapax some character classes and abilities in Wizardry 8 was definitely a step in the right direction. Frankly, after killing hundreds of these things in a row, they’d be getting pretty tiresome no matter how cool their design. Persona 3 did a great job of doling out strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities amongst opponents – and the expansion did an even better job of putting them together in interesting combinations that took some (minor) tactical planning to work through. And those still got pretty boring after a while.

So take my criticism with a grain of salt – or a small Siberian salt mine…


Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Look But Don’t Touch

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 24, 2015

I remember seeing a cool fairy demo for the Matrox 3D cards around 1998 or 1999. I think the demo was either this one, or an earlier version of this one released for the Matrox G400 chipset. Either way, it was cool. The graphics may look embarrassingly primitive today, but they were very competitive with the top 3D games of the era (like Unreal) at the time. Of course, when it’s only a tech demo, you can make lots of optimizations.

Anyway – it was cool. And I remember thinking – as I often did in those early days where they showed off what appeared to be a virtual 3D world – that I wanted to go into those worlds and explore. Just wander around, sit down by the fire and relax for a bit. The worlds seemed amazing.

Naturally, as a game developer, I knew better. I looked forward to playing games that were as beautiful and fully realized as this, and knowing all the while that once they were, just poking around the landscape wasn’t gonna do it for anybody. And that all came to pass very quickly. And we took it for granted, looking forward to even more beautiful, more realistic worlds, ignoring the incredibly interesting details because there are bad guys in need of shooting!

RageScreenshotBut I think there’s more to it than that. It’s not just that we take these beautiful worlds for granted because we’re so used to them. I think we miss these painstakingly-textured details because they are meaningless to us. The pock-marks on the wall, the old posters, the burn-marks… in theory, they help tell the story of the landscape that we’re in. But in reality – it’s all just a soundstage. All that beautiful set dressing is simply to hide the fact that we’re on a linear obstacle course.

And so we’re used to these prettier worlds being of the “look, don’t touch” variety. In fact, we’re pretty accustomed to the idea that the prettier a 3D world is (relative to modern technology), the less interactive it is. All that incredible detail comes at a price, and that is that you can’t move things around and screw things up. There’s nothing behind those doors, and the forest in the background is just a picture.

SkyrimSS8There are some games that buck that trend, of course. Skyrim and the recent Fallout titles are excellent examples, where at the very least, if you see it, you can (generally) visit it. Likewise, many of the “sandbox” games, like the Saint’s Row and Grand Theft Auto series, follow this model in their own style. Still, the kinds of interactions possible in these games are only noteworthy because they make sense in comparison to the “real world,” and not many other (3D) games do anything like it.

But even in that case, it’s a set with a lot of props you can manipulate, or temporary, randomly generated creatures you can kill. But still, that’s awesome. And they are at least a worlds worthy of exploration. If that Matrox demo had a modern analog, something like Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas would be it. Step in, walk around, go anywhere, and take lots of pretty screenshots.

But the idea that captured my imagination even back in the days of vector graphics arcade games and text adventures was of fully realized virtual worlds. It wasn’t even the graphics so much (although high-quality 3D – ever a moving target – always excited me). But it was a world that I could virtually touch. In fact, the text adventure games provided a better illusion of that than many games, including very modern ones. Annoying as the text parsers might be, they always provided the suggestion that your interactions with the world were incredibly open-ended. Nevermind the reality that most of your perfectly reasonable and well-written commands ended up not being recognized.

Minecraft01Really, the best 3D game in recent years that has really managed to fulfill this idea that fired my imagination in the old days has been the indie supergame Minecraft.  Literally every square meter of the gigantic game-worlds, down to the bedrock at the bottom, is fully interactive. Mine it, build it, craft it, destroy it, change it, whatever. I think with all the things people attribute to the game’s success… the emphasis on building, cooperative play, the ease of modding or making YouTube videos, I think the simplest answer of all is simply that it is unbelievably interactive. The world is ready for you to visit it, play in it, and change it as you will.

The interesting thing about a fully interactive environment like this one is that there’s a giant “negative space” for interactions. Every tile you pass near is a choice – do you mine it or not? Do you create a new passage? Do you build something new in that empty space?  In a game like this, those aren’t really trivial decisions. As the song by Rush goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” It’s the potential for meaningful interaction that makes it come alive, even if I don’t choose to act on most of it.

That’s what I want in these virtual worlds. When I’m in Minecraft, I’m experiencing a world like I imagined back in the 1990s (and earlier). It’s as virtually “real” as I had hoped. The interaction is a big deal – knowing that it all has meaning and isn’t just pretty pictures. Now I don’t really need or want the interactivity to the full extent of Minecraft, nor do I think it’s appropriate for all (or even most) types of games. But it’s a nice counterpoint to these pretty, untouchable backdrops we often play in.

Sadly, Minecraft is getting a little long in the tooth, and while there have been a lot of games that have sought to emulate the look and feel and gameplay of that title since its runaway success, I feel like games have been sidestepping this core lesson. It’s not about the mining, or the crafting, or even a gigantic world. It’s about high levels of interactivity. Yeah, high interactivity imposes limitations on graphics – huge limitations – but clearly that’s not an inhibitor of popularity or commercial success.


Filed Under: Design - Comments: 11 Comments to Read



« previous top next »