Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Development: Rolling Your Own Engine?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 11, 2014

CorvetteEngineThis weekend in the indie game developers group on Facebook, a vocal minority (very much a minority) ventured “opinions” disparaging developers who don’t build their own game engine from scratch. The predictable crapstorm ensued. Mainly it was troll-feeding and simply fun to pile on, as these Internet arguments often go.

Now, ignoring for the moment the fact that any “opinion” used to put others down is really just vanity, I’d like to talk about this for a moment. If you followed my post from last week about GameMaker, you can guess what I’m going to say.

I wrote my own 3D engine for my first commercial indie game. It was a challenge, and it was also fun. It was nifty getting my hands dirty with trying to optimize collision detection, the rendering pipeline, and so forth. As a programmer, it’s awesome. After that experience, however, I realized that I’d rather write games than engines.

As a gamer – I really don’t care how a game was made. Sure, if you showed me the trickery and shortcuts behind the curtain, I might be somewhat disappointed, because the magic is gone. Or, like the sausage factory, I’m a little grossed out realizing what’s in it. But in the end, all that really matters is having an entertaining product.

Amateurs and the self-conscious seek to impress their peers. Professionals seek to impress their audience.

Now, it’s very cool if a developer *can* and *does* write their own game engine. That’s awesome. And there are cases where they probably should. Especially now that we are back to supporting less powerful devices (mobile), a custom engine allows us to make some optimizations that are just not possible in a general-purpose engine. I’ve seen efforts to provide Minecraft-style visuals in Unity, and so far I haven’t seen one that impresses me.

But if you do go back and create an engine of your own “from scratch,” how far back do you go? Is it okay to use a powerful, high-level SDK? Or do you have to go down to the metal yourself, writing your code in machine code? If so, you are unlikely to complete your game before the  platform becomes completely obsolete, but good luck.

Obviously, it gets pretty ridiculous to draw the line too far back. Which, to me, illustrates why the line doesn’t shouldn’t exist at all. If your hobby is creating graphic demos, or writing in assembly, or creating game engines, or writing games for obsolete systems, or any other works of technical prowess, then by all means, go for it! I think it’s cool! But if you are a game developer, making games for a more general audience than just “other developers who appreciate stuff written in assembly,” then you should start at whatever point makes the most sense for their game. If it’s a high-level, genre-specific platform like RPG Maker that lets you do your thing just fine, take it and run with it. If you are making a game for an Atari 2600 emulator just for kicks, you are probably going to have to make friends with machine language.

It’s always all about the audience.





Filed Under: Programming - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

Game Dev Quote of the Week: Little Pieces of Deviation Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 8, 2014

SuperMeatBoyIntro“Breaking your game down into small pieces forces you to analyze and evaluate your ideas on a deeper level. This is essential because you always want to be open to changes, you never want to set yourself into a path that you feel you can in no way deviate from. Deviation from the plan can yield the most interesting parts of a game. It’s a more organic way of developing because you are thinking within the game system and are applying new ideas to ideas that have already formed.”

— Team Meat’s Tommy Refenes, “How do I get started programming games???”


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The Pros and Cons of Making Games with GameMaker

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 7, 2014

title_tntbfPC Gamer’s recent article, “No coding required: How new designers are using GameMaker to create indie smash hits” was pretty enjoyable and seemed reasonably accurate – even if its headline is a bit misleading. Part of the reason I picked up GameMaker several months ago and wrote a little arcade game in it was because I’ve been recommending it to wannabe game developers for a while… and thought I should actually get some first-hand experience if I was to keep doing that.

And yeah, I’ll keep doing that. While I don’t see it in my future as my development platform of choice, I came away reasonably impressed. With GameMaker, and a few of the many, many tutorials available online, it’s a pretty awesome way for a person with dreams but little experience to get their feet wet in the game development world.

But that has always been the case. If anything, I’d say it’s a little harder to use now than when I first encountered it many years ago. Originally it was intended more as a learning tool, but YoYo Games has made it more of a professional tool with each iteration. At least based on my dim recollection circa 2006 or so, it seems like the software has gotten a lot more powerful at the cost of some user (especially newbie) friendliness. That’s to be expected – if nothing else, it’s a major chore to keep things even close. I think the tool deserves praise for retaining it’s ease-of-use for new developers.

For a new developer who is doing a genre-specific title, like a 16-bit style console RPG, I might recommend a more specific tool, like RPG Maker, AGS, etc.  If you aren’t deviating much from the formula, these kinds of tools might offer something close to the “minimal code” ideal. The tools offer a great deal of power and (relative) ease-of-use at the expense of flexibility.

hlm_screen3That’s really the trade-off.  Based on my own limited experience and comments from others, GameMaker has achieved a pretty good balance, probably still erring on the side of catering to inexperienced developers. It has good support, an active community (for getting help or answers when needed), a decent feature set for making 2D games, and is still (relatively) easy to learn. That’s awesome.

It’s also good to see that plenty of indie developers are making popular, successful games with it. In the final analysis, that’s really all that matters: How much did it help you make your game, and how did it help you make it successful?  That means different things to different developers. But if the tool solves your problems, is comfortable to work with, and is capable of handling the kind of game you have in mind, it’s pretty golden. For the brave new indie world littered with 2D and “retro” titles, it seems like a pretty hard-to-beat tool.

So, yeah. I still recommend it. But it’s still not my engine of choice.



Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

Wing Commander III for Free?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 6, 2014

The good news:

Origin is giving away Wing Commander III: The Heart of the Tiger for free today.

The bad news:

It’s a very temporary deal, so if you got here late, it’s already changed.

The ugly news:

It’s EA’s Origin online service.


I dunno. Even though I do have a rarely-used account on Origin, I’d rather pick up Wing Commander III from GOG.COM.

While I personally consider WC3 to be the weakest of the original series (Prophecy, Academy, etc. don’t count) both in gameplay and storytelling, it was still a fun game for its time, the first “true” Wing Commander (meaning: not counting Armada) with actual 3D models for ships, and the first with actual actors doing their best to emote on green screen. And Tom Wilson – well, the guy’s just awesome in general, but he makes a great Maniac.

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Salt City Steamfest 2014

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 5, 2014

SteamfestXchyler2This weekend I donned my top-hat and goggles and went to Salt City Steamfest. This time around, I was a somewhat more active participant – I was involved in two panels with my publisher, Xchyler Publishing, and periodically assisted at the booth selling (and even signing!) books with other authors and editors.

I guess in spite of my software engineering background and heavy geekdom, I’m still kind of a people person. Getting to know (or know better) these folks was a lot of fun. In the picture above / to the right, that’s Candace Thomas (author of Vivatera and Conjectrix (Vivatera) (Volume 2), and also the short story The Hawkweed in Moments in Millennia: A Fantasy Anthology), Sarah Hunter Hyatt (author of the thriller short story Stunner in A Dash of Madness: A Thriller Anthology), myself (Dots, Dashes, and Deceit in Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology), Scott Tarbet – author of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk who can also be found in Terra Mechanica, Alyson Grauer – with an upcoming novel this fall, and with Scott Taylor at the end can be found in Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology).

Whew. Lotsa books and authors. And a lot of fun.

Julie_R2D2_512But we did more than just, you know, work on things. There were things to do… like send a message to Obi-Wan through a Steampunk R2D2, as my wife demonstrated. We also got an authentic tintype photo taken of her.  Complete with the full four-second pose and everything.  That was really cool.  For the kids, there was a carnival – with cotton candy and prizes. And there were mermaids in the hotel pool.

There was plenty of swag in the three dealers’ rooms. If you are looking for a corset, or a dapper hat, goggles, painted nerf guns, books, art, canes, comics, jewelry, picture books about mechanical bustle racing, or just plain weird, cool stuff… there was plenty.

The panels ran the gamut. I was in two panels on writing & getting published  (run by my publisher, of course). My wife told Victorian ghost tales. There were panels on Victorian customs, etiquette, and really scary messed-up traditions and beliefs and culture. I guess that’s why Steampunk is idealized fantasy of the era rather than historical fiction. Again – it’s an alternative to medieval fantasy.

My wife has been dragging me out to do Victorian dancing, and our little group actually got to perform during the ball. That was admittedly kind of fun. And then there was the concern performed by Deus Ex Vapore Machina.  They were a fun experimental string quartet that sounds something like a string quartet mixed with industrial mixed with dubstep. I liked ‘em, but they weren’t too easy to dance to.


We had a little bit of fun the first night when a bunch of us went to an Italian restaurant and when asked what event we were attending, we gave them weird looks and asked, “Event? Tell me, what year is it?” When we finally got them to answer, we’d say, “IT WORKED! We’re in the future!”

Yeah, we’re jerks at heart.

It was a really fun weekend though.

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Utah Indie Night – July 2014

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 4, 2014

The July Utah Indie Night was held at Wahoo / NinjaBee Studios in Orem, Utah. The basement common area / conference room was packed with over 50 attendees overall.

The formal presentation was given by NinjaBee’s PR guy, who spoke on attending trade shows & conventions an an exhibitor. Since my convention experience has (until today) been strictly limited to being an attendee, this was all pretty dang informative. Not everything applied to me having a mini-booth (kiosk) in a group effort at Salt Lake Comic Con in September, but some of it did. It was a very useful talk!

The games were all pretty high quality. Momentum is a game where you tilt a curvy track around to maneuver a ball from the start point to the end point. The levels are twisted and follow a little bit of a Moebius Strip stype. It’s all physics-based, so “dropping” the ball and catching it on another part of the track is a real streategy.  The game was shown several months ago is looking better than ever.

Califer Games was showed off their match three that teaches some basics of the Japanese language, Kana Match. This was built partly as an exercise to learn Unity 3D, but also as a way to put Curtis’s skills as a Japanese language instructor for English speakers to use, as well as his love of game development. What I liked about this game is that it exposes you to some basics of the language that you can’t avoid while playing – which could make learning Japanese easier in the future – it’s incidental to the gameplay. You don’t need to know anything about Japanese when you play, you aren’t forced to learn anything, but if you play it for a while for the fun of it, you can’t help but come away with some

LycanLycan was an interesting FPS-style LAN game where players play werewolves or villagers. The game is short – during day / night cycles that last maybe a minute per cycle, the goal is to transform all of the other side to your side, through biting them (as werewolves) or hitting them with magical potions. What’s interesting is that one side is entirely defensive while the other team “hunts.” And the teams aren’t static – you can change teams with your transformation several times in one game (especially if you suck… like I do).

Script Kiddies is a multiplayer game where you play an 8-bit looking hacker to different computers trying to send a virus to your opponent before he does the same to you. On the computers, you have to hit the right button-pressing sequence to activate the virus. You need to infect your opponent’s computers before he infects yours. I totally sucked at this one, too.

Crashnauts is a 4-player 2D Battle arena game popularized by games like Towerfall and Duck Game. Crashnauts is more sci-fi oriented with plenty of carnage and environmental hazards.

KittensKoboldsKittens & Kobolds was a Game Jam project with — kittens and … kobolds. It was a very experimental game with apparently pretty dynamic rules, about cause and effect, where understanding the point and rules of the game was part of the rules. The devs said something about appearances and preconceptions. I’m just gonna leave it at that.

The latest (and, according to Mike Rimer, the last) DROD (Deadly Rooms of Death) game, DROD: The Second Sky, made its appearance with a number of interesting new features. In the new game, you may need to clear rooms from different directions, and there’s also a temporal / time shifting aspect. DROD: The Second Sky also features more story than in previous games, bringing the entire saga to a close.

FireWarriorI gotta confess to Darius, I’m not thrilled with the title “Flame Warrior.” But Eidolon Games’ turn-based space combat game with space ships, Newtonian physics, firing arcs, and all that cool stuff is really looking pretty awesome. If the tone from the movement tutorial (where you must fly through a maze of asteroids) stays consistent, it’ll be a somewhat amusing, not-too-serious approach to space combat as well. Play the game at the link… the tutorial is actually pretty challenging and fun. I seem to recall Darius mentioning that he wanted to make sure the tutorial felt more like part of the full game, and not just a practice area.

There was also a board game that I can’t remember the name of … sorry!

A couple of people seemed to be playing games on handhelds. If these were games being demoed, I missed them. It was hard to tell if people were playtesting games or just messing with their iPhones.

And as always, for me a lot of the value at these events are networking with people, putting names with faces, and getting to shoot the breeze with people about games and the games industry.

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Games as Services: Will you never be allowed to own a game again?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 31, 2014

Ben Kuchura at Polygon ventures the opinion that – in light of a very obvious trend in the industry right now from certain major publishers / platform holders (particularly EA) – in the future, nobody will own video games anymore. It’ll all be a rental. Or at best, owning a license for indefinite access to a game which is treated as a service, rather than a product. But – like canceled MMOs – the lights will eventually go off and the game will disappear into the mists of time.

We saw hints of it with Diablo III and Sim City. Even playing a game solo, with no intention of interacting with anybody, required logging into a server which might not be there in a few years (and often wasn’t functioning very well at launch). EA Access on the XBox One is a major step in that direction.

It sounds like s a big publisher’s paradise. You lock customers into your particular service pretty much forever. You can force people to play your new, hot games by phasing our their predecessors, without needing to make any major improvements to encourage the migration. You insulate yourself from hit-driven economics… you need the hits to attract new customers and increase retention, but it’s no longer a live-or-die affair. Without having any actual sales, there’s no such thing as royalty rates, which means they are allowed to structure bonuses to hit-making dev teams and studios in a far less open-ended fashion… basically screwing over dev teams without resorting to creative accounting practices or obviously lousy contract points. And, of course, it finally allows them to combat piracy in an effective way.

As a player – or potentially as a third-party developer – there is nothing but depending upon the publishers to be “nice guys” about i. Meanwhile, the publishers can just keep ratcheting down the bar on what constitutes being a “nice guy” to earn that good will.

Furthermore, Kuchura argues that most gamers won’t care. We’re already being programmed that way now, smoothly sliding down that slippery slope. The entirely predictable losses and frustrations won’t happen until we’re too far down the path to turn back. That’s how these things are done. Always.

I want him to be wrong. As a gamer, I desperately want him to be wrong.

But he’s probably not. This depresses me.

Now, as a developer, I admit there are some kinds of games – even primarily single-player games – for which this kind of model makes sense and the ol’ Idea Fairy keeps hitting me with things I’d love to try. So it’s not like I reject the entire concept. Just the idea that there’s a push to stuff all games in that particular box.

After all, I’m a retro-gamer, and I’m still playing games from companies that have long since disappeared. I’ve still got frickin’ floppy discs in my closet (and a drive on my computer to read them!).

All I can say is…  the free market can work wonders, sometimes.

Don’t like it? Vote with your wallet. Support the indie games and publishers that don’t treat you like a wallet with an email account. Buy games direct and download them. If given a choice to buy a game either directly or from a place like GOG.COM that allows you to own and download the product, do that instead of a service that controls your access to the game (*cough*Steam*cough*). Maybe it won’t reverse the trend, but it will help make sure that there will always be alternatives.

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Frayed Knights: Free Strategy Guide, and the Adventurer’s Guild

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 30, 2014

fk_kneecapsThere are still 24 hours left to pick up Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon on Steam at the launch discount.

If you have already played the game and now own the Steam version, if you feel so inclined, please post a review on the Steam page.

Additionally, if you haven’t done so yet, I offer the strategy guide for the game for free. You can grab it here. The page encourages you to register for the (sadly, rare) email newsletter, but that’s entirely optional. Meaning: Please don’t put in a bogus address just to get the strategy guide. It’s yours if you want it, with or without your email.

The strategy guide is not just a walkthrough. I wanted it to really be an accessory to Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon (in addition to the 69-page manual) with some information on the world itself, peeks under the  hood at the game system and content, hints for those who just need a nudge, and a walkthrough for people who really need the help. Which would probably be me, if I was playing, rather than get frustrated by a part of the game.

So if you have the game, grab the strategy guide! Or, hey, grab the strategy guide even if you don’t have the game!

On to a little game-world related topic – the Adventurer’s Guild.

The ‘quest’ of The Skull of S’makh-Daon is to gain entry into the Adventurer’s Guild. The party fails in their first attempt, by getting beaten to the punch by a rival adventuring group. And then the fun really starts. But what is the Adventurer’s Guild?

The guild is sort of a weird idea I came up with long before Frayed Knights. It was me playing with the idea that you could have a world where – like in an MMORPG (or, at the time, a MUD) where you have lots of adventurers running around. In the old-school D&D modules, you were always finding the remains of these guys in dungeons – the group that tried to tackle the dungeon before you. I thought – if there’s enough of these guys running around the world, and the successful ones tend to come back loaded down with cash, wouldn’t a service industry evolve to help them and help relieve them of some of that hard-earned cash?

Thus, the adventurer’s guild.

The guild takes a number of roles in the world of Frayed Knights:

1. It educates adventurers as to “best practices” to survive the threats of a world full of magical and monstrous danger.

2. It informs members of the latest adventuring hot spots, rumors, jobs, etc. (Think Soldier of Fortune magazine).

3. It  can act as banking services for adventurers who don’t want to cart all their cash around with them.

4. It offers something of a primitive form of insurance – as a self-funded bounty for an adventurer’s rescue (or the recovery of their body) should they not return on schedule from an expedition.

5. While not really modeled in the game for the sake of convenience to the player, the guild also takes care of buying, selling, and trading magical gear.

6. The guild offers courier services to members

7. Major guildhalls offer temporary lodging for guild members, with the utmost in security that will not be found in your average inn.

8. Looking for group? The guild helps members keep track of each other – very important in a profession with a high mortality rate – and helping members track groups with openings and members seeking openings in new groups.

In the world of Frayed Knights, the Adventurer’s Guild has become somewhat more exclusive.  I figured this would be a natural development if the adventurers were as quick to “game the system” as gamers are in our world. For example – if a bounty is offered for recovering the bodies of dead adventurers, a group of assassins might specialize in arranging for the deaths of adventurers just to collect the bounty. “Wannabe” groups might underbid on the best jobs, winning contracts, and then failing utterly – taking the reputation of the guild with it. A few embarrassments like this, and the guild would no doubt start making additional requirements for membership, including recommendations by established members in good standing, and proof of competency.

And so we find Arianna, Benjamin, Chloe, and Dirk in the Temple of Pokmor Xang, on an “official” quest from a senior guild member to prove themselves, in order to gain admittance to the guild.





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Computer RPGs and the Game Controller

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 29, 2014

GamingKeyboardI love my keyboard and mouse for gaming.

Before mice were common, I loved the keyboard.

I remember playing Ultima III and IV, where there was a command for almost every key. It seems a silly idea today, but back then, it at least made the game feel like it was incredibly interactive. Look at all the verbs! Okay, so it was kind of kind of redundant at times, and some commands were used so infrequently they didn’t really deserve their own key. But it felt like a rich command set!

I’ve been a PC Gamer ever since. Sure, professionally, I made games for consoles for a living. I was young and needed the money! Okay, seriously, there were times when I was convinced it was the most awesome job of all time. And I learned to love the consoles, especially the original Playstation. But there was a richness in PC gaming that I felt lacking in many console titles. The console gamers might jeer and call them boring, but those of us playing the original X-Com, Daggerfall, Falcon 3.0 (and later 4.0), and Civilization games knew better. Console ports of games like Diablo paled in comparison. Ditto for the console versions of most PC RPGs.

Once upon a time, back when there really was a larger distance between console and computer games, I remember a journalist explaining that the difference was often depth vs. breadth. Console games – like fighting games – tended to go for greater depth of play within a limited breadth of interactions. PC games tended to go for more breadth of interactions. Over time, that has converged a bit, though I do still love having that breadth of interactions.

Nowadays, from a technology standpoint – there’s not such a difference between consoles and computers. As far as what’s going on under the hood, it doesn’t really matter. As Microsoft’s Surface and will-conceived Windows 8 attest, mobile devices are closing the gap as well.  We have HD TVs now that display text almost as well as computer monitors. And the controllers? Well, console controllers from the last couple of generations of systems have been pretty dang interesting. I’ll bet you could eliminate some redundancies, put a few rare controls on a menu, and map the old Ultima controls onto an XBox controller pretty well. While mobile games have diverged a bit in the style of gameplay (mostly owing to small screens and touch interfaces), PC games and console games have converged much more. It’s not always a good thing – I do feel like there’s been a bit of “dumbing down” as a result – but there are good things to be borrowed from both sides.

There’s still something about the keyboard and mouse for me. Especially the mouse. It’s convenient. It’s precise, unlike thumbsticks and touch screens. Even though the world is changing and people are using a dedicated desktop (or laptop) less and less, I’m still a fan. I’m still a PC gamer. I think in those terms.  Sometimes to my own detriment.

But reality intrudes. I have to show my next game, Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath, at Salt Lake Comic Con in about a month, and … well, people really respond better to controllers, especially when faced with a new game. The left stick and right buttons are the first to be experimented with. And – as the adventure games of the 90s illustrated, context-sensitive verbs are a pretty good thing. I really want to hand them a controller, not point them to a keyboard and mouse.

SONY DSCSo now I’m frantically re-thinking my UI in terms of game control input. And it really changes everything. It’s actually a good thing, to a point – because it really forces me to think in terms of simplifying controls for the player. Players of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon and its rather ungainly UI will no doubt appreciate the effort. This doesn’t mean that players of my beloved keyboard and mouse are going to be stuck with something like an emulated console controller… no way, no how.  Keyboard and mouse are still going to be, in my mind, the primary way to play the game. But it does force me to think about economy of movement, careful nesting of what menus are necessary, and – well, simplifying the control of things, even if the stuff going on underneath the hood is still pretty hardcore.

I know it’s the right thing to do. I know it’s the necessary thing to do. I know the game will be better as a result of me streamlining things. I know that I will still be able to play with keyboard and mouse in the way that the gods of PC gaming intended. But there’s still a little part of me that feels guilty about it.

Filed Under: Design, Frayed Knights - Comments: 17 Comments to Read

Frayed Knights Steam Launch Sale Ends Thursday

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 28, 2014

Just a heads-up to anybody planning on picking up the Steam release of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, the launch sale ends Thursday. Just sayin’.


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Frayed Knights: Humor and the Knights

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 25, 2014

fkwebtitle640x333Humor is a pretty subjective thing. It’s also something of a cultural thing. I heard recently that part of the decline in film comedies is that so much of Hollywood’s revenue these days is from international markets (more than half), and comedy does not translate well. The kind that does tends to be the overly broad, silly comedy of the type that I personally don’t enjoy.

So I make a comedy RPG, thereby limiting my potential market yet again. I am so brilliant.

Oh, yeah, and the game –  Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon - is now available on Steam. Have I mentioned that already? :)

As I said, overly broad comedy – if it comes on too strong – leaves me cold. I’ve played a couple of humorous RPGs that I really couldn’t take more than a few minutes of. There’s a certain point where things just get too ridiculous for me to care. For me, it still comes down to the characters – if I don’t care about the characters, especially if I cannot care about them because things are just too over-the-top – then nothing else works, and the humor falls flat.

That’s why the characters in the Frayed Knights series are pre-generated. In my mind, if the characters don’t work, the humor and story doesn’t work. Sure, pus golems and “Power Word: Defenestrate” are amusing, but you can’t build a solid, 20+ hour-long game on that. It’ll get old fast.

That’s another issue. Like tragedy, humor is best served by contrast. You can’t just have goofy after goofy forever. You have to ground things in the serious once in a while for whatever is supposed to be funny to really shine. That’s why one of my favorite story points in the game is actually the least funny part of it of all. Those who have played the game and know what’s under the windmill, you know. Now, I know that my skills as a writer are still evolving. (Shameless plug – check out my short story “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit” in Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology! ) I don’t know if players ever came to care about a certain characters the way I did in my mind. That, and the game plays out for everyone a little bit differently. That’s the interactive medium for you.

fknoframeAnd then I still have my weird setting, D&D-campaign-world-as-envisioned-by-an-inexperienced-but-earnest-14-year-old.  It’s full of things like pus golems, pimple gods, obsessive puzzle-building wizards, paper mache dragons, jaded adventurers, spells with names like “hotfoot,” “Boot to the Head,” and “Power Word: Defenestrate”, and sorceresses with names like “S’makh-Daon.” One thing I tried to do (and I think I’m getting better at it as I go) is to make this world – if not believable – at least somewhat consistent. Part of the joke there is for old-school gamers who recognize all the tropes that get abused in computer and console RPGs as well as dice-and-paper gaming – I wanted to explain, lampshade, or subvert all these classic fantasy bits in the context of the world.

Sometimes it’s a little over the top. Sometimes its subtle. Sometimes… well, there are spots now where I can now tell I was really trying too hard. It happens.

If I were to do it all over again (which, fortunately, I’m kinda doing right now as I’m working on the next game), I’d do more to ground the characters and the world, and give the player access to their back-story. Again, this would be to make the more humorous parts stand out by contrast. And also because it’s just a fun, bizarre little world that these guys inhabit, and there are forces at work in the world with cool plots and plans in mind that – in my mind at least – amusing, but only if the players feel like they care about the world and what’s going on in it.

So yes, I’m saying I’d try to increase the humor level by … increasing the less humorous aspects. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Not to fear, there will be ridiculous trope-subverting plots and a return of the Rats of Nom and everything else players love about the first game. I’m pretty pleased with how Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon turned out.  I’ve heard a lot of great things back from players suggesting that I had more hits than I had misses. But I learned a lot from that game, and hope I can put it to good use in the next one.


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Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon Finally Live on Steam

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 24, 2014

I was not sure this day will ever happen.

I guess after all this time, nothing short of a miracle will make it anything but anticlimactic. But hey, it’s an Event, and it’s Important, and the stress finally started hitting me a few hours ago.

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is finally on Steam.


I’m celebrating on this fine state holiday here in Utah by… working extra hours, ‘cuz deadlines. Being a part-time indie can be even more anticlimactic.

But please – share, spread the news! This is a new version of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, steam-enhanced with achievements and some smaller fixes / tweaks / improvements. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen.

I’ll have the non-steam update for people soon. If you bought the game *BEFORE TODAY* from me directly or through Desura and really want the steam version, email me (jayb) with your purchase information, and we’ll work something out. If you got the game through a bundle, check your bundle page. If you don’t have a code already, it should be up in a few hours.

So — now I get to jump to work with the non-Steam updat, and I’m behind schedule on a milestone for the sequel for a week from today. GAH. Okay. Back to work.

Please spread the word.

And thanks. Really. It’s meant a lot to me.

Oh, and one more thing, I just wanted to say… 0L4L6.  (UPDATE – This was part of a Steam code contest on Twitter… won now! Grats to @Korovoma on that one!)


Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

The Origin of Frayed Knights: Classic CRPGs Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 23, 2014

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon releases TOMORROW on Steam. Assuming all goes well and there’s no surprises. At least no major ones. There are always surprises. Wish me luck. And tell your friends!

I did a series a long time ago called “How CRPGs Warped My Brain.” I could just about revisit that entire series and demonstrate how they influenced Frayed Knights‘ design. But I figured I’d just go into some specifics… maybe five of the most influential games, the ones with a particular vibe I was trying to channel.

Wiz7_dI’d say the biggest influence on the design is a game I never finished – or even got THAT far in playing: Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant. This is a game that is permanently in my “I want to finish some day” list. It’s awesome. It’s deep. It’s huge. It took some risks. It was beautiful – even today. And of course, it was a first-person perspective game with a party of characters, with the additional old-school vibe of having a pedigree going back to one of the earliest commercial computer RPGs.

A lot of the very interesting things it did – like having a faction system with competing parties, diplomacy, and a text parser for conversations – I didn’t really run with in Frayed Knights. But it was a part of why I was in awe of the game when it was released. But it all contributed to making the world feel much more alive, which is something that is important in any CRPG. But perhaps more important was the variety of actions, puzzles, and approaches to problems you could take to move forward in the game, down to which factions you ally with. And of course, there was the classic Wizardry “phase-based” combat system which required some prediction and risk assessment. It wasn’t great, but it was good and challenging.

For me, Wizardry 7 was kind of the standard. Possibly because I hadn’t played much of the  Might & Magic series at the time I started work on Frayed Knights… but that’s another story.

uw1Next – there’s Ultima Underworld. Both games, but particularly the original. This was the first of the “true 3D” first-person RPGs, the predecessor for the Elder Scrolls series. I even went so far, at one point, in creating a control scheme similar to Ultima Underworld‘s for Frayed Knights during the early prototype stage. Then I recognized how terrible it was, and instantly repented.

While Underworld’s gameplay is nothing like Frayed Knights‘, I really liked the more intimate, detailed dungeons, and – like Wizardry 7, it had a world that really came alive a number of ways. It was detailed. The world, the levels, the NPCs all had a solid backstory. There was a plethora of things to do besides just kill monsters. There was again something of a simulationist, open-ended design to some tasks. For example, you could either find the key to a door, or beat the door down. You could negotiate, or take.

But one of the things I most liked about the game was that it felt… fresh and maybe a little bit raw. The designers created it without the type of limitations that frequently infected the other RPGs of the era. It felt a little more like the kind of game they’d make for their table-top gaming group, full of weird ideas that more experienced designers would have nixed in the planning stages because they were too complicated to implement. Not that Paul Neurath was a total newb at this point, but it does feel like they were a little more wild and free with their design. I totally wanted that in Frayed Knights.

eob2_bIn the old classics arena, the Eye of the Beholder series – particularly #2 (the only one I played to completion), was also an influence. Sure, it was derived heavily from Dungeon Master (which I also played, on a friend’s Amiga). I liked how they took the real-time, exploratory, interactive world of Dungeon Master, mixed it with the D&D rules, and gave it some story. And yes, like the other two games, part of my delight was in the interactivity of the world, the variety (to a point) of environmental puzzles and the look of the world.

(And as a side note – when are we going to get that series on GOG.COM? Just askin’….)

Wiz8_bI’d never played Wizardry 8 until I was knee-deep in development of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. I fell in love with it almost immediately. I grew to hate the length of combats, however (I timed them at one point, in the late-game stages, and found myself spending almost an hour in a single fight, even using a hack to speed up the combat animations and spell effects). But it represented almost everything I loved about Wizardry 7. Plus, a true 3D environment. It was too late for it to have a serious influence over my design, but since both drew upon its predecessors for inspiration, I guess it’s unsurprising that there’d be some similarities.

But as so much time had passed since I had played much of Wizardry 7, playing its immediate (if a decade removed) sequel was a great refresher course in what I loved about the series.

MM7Likewise, Might & Magic VII – in fact, the whole Might & Magic series – was a late discovery that I only came to appreciate after Frayed Knights was in development. I’d played a little bit of Might & Magic III way back in the day, but hadn’t gotten into it as much as some of its contemporaries. And I’d read so much about the Xeen games that I knew what to expect, more or less. But really getting into the games for the first time, many years after their creation? What a fun experience. And I couldn’t help but draw upon these as an influence in Frayed Knights.  In particular, the ability to increase your characteristics with objects you find in the game world was something I borrowed -mainly because it was a really fun, rewarding mechanic.

I’d be hard-pressed to find a favorite CRPG that didn’t wasn’t something of an inspiration or influence (if only as an example of what not to do). These are the five games I drew from the most as I was trying to distill all the things I remembered from classic CRPGs that made them so fun.

Perhaps the biggest influence is that, in spite of years of experience, I still thought that somehow with modern technology I could make a stupidly huge RPG with all kinds of cool features with a tiny team and a shoestring budget. While I will be the first to admit that I landed somewhat short of the mark I’d envisioned in my mind’s eye when I started, I’m pretty dang proud of what was accomplished. We learned a lot, we grew a lot, we created something unique and original that still hearkened back to the classics of an earlier era, and which is – most importantly – fun.

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Frayed Knights – Steam Store Page Up, Community Support Needed

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 22, 2014

Okay, folks. I can use some help here.

I know many of you have already played through all or most of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. If you have, I could use some support :

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon on Steam

I could use some reviews, community discussion, support, screen shots, etc. there.

If you previously obtained the game from Rampant Games directly and are willing / interested in writing a review on Steam this week, please let me know via email or twitter PM. The jayb addy works best. I’m trying to get a lot of things done quickly, and I may even push out the release date a few days if I have to, but I can use every bit of support you guys are willing to offer. I’d love the site to have content from people other than me on launch day (or shortly before / after, where possible).

Thank you all for your help – big and small. Even little words of encouragement and optimism (when I felt little, myself) helped a great deal.


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Frayed Knights: Changes to version 1.07

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 21, 2014

fktitle636x358Over the course of the week, I made some changes to Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon that go beyond adding Steam achievements.  This will be version 1.07, and will be made available for non-Steam versions soon.

The changes are small, but (IMO) significant:

* Change to the Search skill. When there is a hidden treasure within range of the skill, you will get a message to that effect even on a failed check – just no indication of range. There is no change to searching for traps.

* Weapons with spell effects on impact (for example, the Spear of Concussion and the Axe of Fiery Microdoom) now may cost additional stamina when the spell effect lands. These are generally pretty low-level spells so the endurance cost isn’t major, but it does help balance out the otherwise quite impressive effects of these weapons.

* The Endurance cost modifier for the Demotivate spell has been increased from 3 to 4.

* Fixed a bug when attempting to cast directly from a scroll onto a friendly party member – the casting dialog would sometimes have scrambled information.

* Some minor dialog changes, mainly for typos.

I suspect that the change to search will be the most well-received, with the average response being something to the effect of, “It’s about time!”


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Ultima IV and Rational Worlds

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 18, 2014

Ultima_IV_boxI’m gonna take a break for the weekend on the Frayed Knights posts (more next week!), and just refer you to a couple of posts by The Digital Antiquarian about a game that’s very near & dear to my heart, Ultima IV.

First, the origin story – and some conjectures about the real history behind it that go beyond the short & sweet “official” story:

Article: The Road to IV

Article: Ultima IV

Now, as much as I like to wax prosaic about Ultima IV, because it really was a pretty landmark game and IMO still a great game to play, it is still a (relatively) simple game with simple mechanics. Although the interesting thing is that while modern games with complex faction systems may be far more sophisticated, the simple rules and ability to check with Hawkwind to monitor your progress may have actually strengthened the focus of the game and increased the verisimilitude than far more murky but “realistic” systems. Go figure.

But maybe a more significant factor – and reason that the game series is so beloved today – is suggested in the second article. Though violated as often as reinforced, a logic and consistency permeated the Ultima games. This was a part of game design as well as the fictional world-building. At least through the middle of the series, the games were far more simulationist than narrativist. The game ran on consistent rules with very little special-case code. The player acquired and learned to use tools to make progress in the game – from finding an artifact to fly over mountains to using a cannon to shoot a door off its hinges.

The magic system tried to follow that same consistency – it seemed to be created of a combination of elements, which included reagents some games, and runes in Ultima Underworld. Likewise, the virtue system was a combination of a handful of base elements. In Ultima VI and VII, crafting and simple economy were introduced much the same way, with a number of basic procedures allowing the creation of items in the game.

Maybe it was the transparency of these systems – and how they permeated the same game – that made players feel like Origin was living up to its motto, “We create worlds.” And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned by game designers (especially RPG designers) about  the art of world-building.

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