Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Not Another Video Tutorial!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Cirsova #2 Pre-Order (via Kickstarter)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 6, 2016

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

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

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

Cirsova Heroic Fantasy & Science Fiction Pulp Zine: Issue 2


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Idea Hoarding

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 3, 2016

IdeaFairyWhen first setting out in a creative endeavor, there’s a temptation to hoard ideas. It’s easy enough to do… we’ve probably come into it because we had one or two really awesome ideas stuck inside our head that we think is so incredibly awesome and we absolutely HAVE to see them made into reality. But we worry about using them all up at once. Like these are the coolest ideas we’re ever going to have, and we have to make sure we do a perfect job on them, because once they are done, they will be used up. We have to make them count.

The reality is… most of the time… once you get engaged in a creative endeavor, and really start focusing not only on the current tasks at hand but on potential future projects, the ideas begin to flow. Big time. Often that super-duper idea that motivated you to commit to actually engaging in the first place may start to pale, especially under the cold hard light of implementation reality. ‘Cuz abstract things that only exist in your imagination as a sort of platonic ideal are almost always better than anything in the real world.

But the point is, if you fully intend to engage in a creative career (whether as a main career or a side-career, it makes no difference) and make that part of your lifestyle, the only kind of idea hoarding you need to do is to save all the tons of ideas that are going to have in some kind of file until you are ready to work on them. You will soon have more than you will ever have time to invest into them. And frequently, the more you work on them to turn them into something real, the more you’ll have.

The creative mind is kind of awesome that way.

 

(H/T to TheMeatly for the comic)

 


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Feelin’ Old Yet?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 2, 2016

My youngest (of two) daughters graduated from High School today. Her older sister gets married next month (now that it’s June). Both of my daughters were born in the time that I was making games for SingleTrac.

I guess I should now feel old or something. I dunno. Maybe tomorrow it’ll hit me. Right now, I have two geeky daughters who are hitting milestones in their life. Dunno how they got to be so old when I haven’t changed. Well, okay, I changed a little. I guess I’m not really 25 years old anymore. The original Playstation is no longer the hot new machine anymore. And I don’t dress up in armor and beat people up with padded swords on the weekends anymore. Well, not that often, at least.

But I still haven’t beaten Wizardry 7. So some things haven’t changed.

 


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Utah Indie Night – May 2016 Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 1, 2016

For Indie Night on Tuesday, Katie Stone Perez, senior program manager for ID@Xbox, came out to give us a presentation about the program.

I’m gonna say… maybe if I do more research I’ll feel differently, but I went in a little on the defensive / skeptical side, and came out really, really interested. While it is a bit more of a formal approval process than something like the App Store or Steam (now), it’s how you get your games onto the store for both Windows 10 and the XBox One. There are no exclusivity requirements, so you can also release your game on Steam, on other platforms, whatever. And they are currently even providing free dev kits to approved developers (and free licenses to the Unity exporter for Xbox One).

Katie was very friendly, ultra-supportive of indie developers, and very forthcoming with her best answers to the many, many questions people had. She emphasized how much the program has changed since she came on board… it’s not the same thing it was six months ago, let alone at the launch of the Xbox One two years ago. Now… the flip side may be it may be very different six months from now.

Their emphasis now is on supporting indies, making sure they have the same tools and support as the major publishers (as well as the same marketplace, for a change).  There are no fees for certification (!!!!!). They really sound like they’ve made some major changes for the better, and are now bending over backwards (or at least intend to) for indies.

I would say that if you are an indie considering launch on both platforms, and you have a game in development that is actually a reasonably commercial concept (meaning: you’d be able to pass through a full-on certification process, as opposed to a cobbled-together fart simulator)… I’d suggest checking it out.

You can also check out the web series Katie hosts, Level Up.

As far as the rest of the meeting… I spent all my time yappin’. I mean, networking. Momentum and Siphon Spirit were there, but I didn’t see what else.

ElderStarPosterThe big deal, of course, was the Salt Lake Gaming Con going on this weekend, starting Thursday. Due to scheduling conflicts, I won’t be there this time, unless it’s for a brief visit as a regular attendee (possibly on a panel, but that’s still up in the air!). Deli Interactive will be showing the very awesome We Need to Go Deeper, though, which will be a blast.

Also, the excellent beginner-friendly SHMUP Legacy of the Elder Star is going to be on display, and will be officially launching next week! This is awesome. I have played it a bit while it has been in development, and I’m excited to see the final release.

Overall – an excellent indie game night, with a good crowd, and excellent presenter, and a night packed with good information, pizza, smart people, and games. I’m glad I went.


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The Dark Side of Fandom

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 30, 2016

We geeks are passionate about things. That defines us, really. Games. Fictional characters. Star Trek. Star Wars. You name it. That’s why these conventions are attended in overwhelming numbers. For all our reputation for being introverts, we really do love to get together and find other people who share our same love of geeky things. Finding someone else out there who is just as passionate about those strange, often fictional things that we are is a wonderful thing. And being able to share common experiences with other people makes it real.

This is why, in and of itself, I don’t consider “nerd rage” to be a bad thing. Look, we’re folks who are passionate about a subject. Yeah, someone screws with it, people are bound to get annoyed, or downright pissed. Maybe with reason, maybe with just distrust. The latest announcement that Nick Spencer, with Marvel’s permission, has decided to retcon Captain America’s backstory and make him a Nazi and secretly in league with Hydra has me pretty well infuriated. About as infuriated as I and many other Star Wars fans get when I hear the word, “Midi-Chlorian”. At best, it shows a complete disregard for the source material and the fans on the part of the people now charged with producing the new material for the property, even if said people are the original creators. At worst, it shows contempt. At least that’s the reasonable perception on the part of the fans.

Of course, there are other triggers for “nerd rage” that are, IMO, far less valid. Minor screw-ups. Accidents. Missing a deadline. Nerfing an overpowered character class. I can understand fans getting upset. I expect most to be reasonable, and most are. I understand that a certain tiny but significant portion of the world of fandom lacks the intelligence and emotional stability to be rational about it. For these few people who need a remedial class in being a human being, I direct the following:

Death Threats are NEVER OKAY. Never. I don’t care how badly someone slandered your favorite game in an YouTube video, how how much you were waiting for a game’s release which was just delayed. Or how much time you invested in a particular MMO only to get it nerfed or changed. Or that the CEO of a major publisher decided to cancel a series only because few people besides you were buying it anymore. Yes, even if it’s your favorite game, or your absolutely favorite superhero in the whole world.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about “SWATting.” This is, in my opinion, making good on a death threat. False 911 calls have gotten people killed. So far, nobody to my knowledge has been charged with attempted murder through the false 911 calls. I think they should. Still, it’s a serious crime, and those who are caught and indicted face real jail time. For all the complaints leveled at trigger-happy cops (sometimes by me), I think the fact that so few of these calls have ended in death or serious speaks volumes about the discipline of the police and the care with which they analyze the calls to distinguish the disgusting “pranks” from legitimate alarms.

It’s fine to be filled with the righteous fire of nerd rage, and hey… I’m all for a well-written (and hopefully entertaining) rant on the Internet. But these sort of things cross the line, and are serious problems. It’s the dark side of fandom and must not be tolerated. It’s not acceptable, and shouldn’t be treated with amusement.


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The Pulp Fiction Formula Presentation – Tomorrow!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 27, 2016

SpringIntoBooksAs previously posted, I’ll be at the Spring Into Books event at the Viridian Event Center tomorrow, Saturday May 28th. I’ll be signing books ‘n stuff. So if you happen to be anywhere around West Jordan, Utah… it’s a free event, and there’ll be lots of local authors and presentations on writing. Plus food trucks, a poetry slam, contests, and so forth. It’ll be a party!

I’ll be giving a short presentation called “The Pulp Fiction Formula – Writing Stories that Sell!” at 3:30 in the Parkview Meeting Room 2 (upstairs). If you have no idea what that’s about but are kind of interested… here’s a link to the original text by Lester Dent, AKA Kenneth Robeson, the creator of “Doc Savage.”

The Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Master Plot

WritingPulpFictionCoverI have some firsthand experience with this. I’ve had several stories published now (and, hey, I’m even an award winner!), but I have some other stories that were finding difficulty finding a home. I’m still learning and improving. I’ve known about this methodology for a while, and while it was interesting, it’s a bit loose and archaic. After all, it was published 85 years ago, and at its heart its just a story structure plus writing advice plus a few odds and ends to give it that popular, pulp-style “punch.”

But I was inspired by some of the successes of both the old pulp masters, and more modern authors who had embraced it. I met L. L. Muir in January, and she used it to write (short) novels in 3 days. As had SFF legend Michael Moorcock. Although in both cases, they had their own spin on the system… which is as it should be.

So… I used it, whipped out a cyberpunk short story in a week, sent it in… and it sold within 24 hours. Which probably ruined me for life, as I keep expecting responses in really short time. I tried it again, and that story sold on the first try, too.  That’s definitely not guaranteed with this system, but I’m a convert. I also used it to write the Frayed Knights story, The Thief and the Chalice.

BlackAmazonOfMars

One of the important points is that pulp fiction was pretty much *the* market for genre fiction back in the early to mid 20th century, but while many pulp stories were flavored by that era, a modern “pulp” story doesn’t have to read like Raymond Chandler or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Or have titles like “The Fish Men of Venus” or “Black Amazon of Mars.” Although, hey, all of the above is kind of awesome. Modern pulp should have the trappings that modern audiences expect… good characterization, modern use of language, modern themes and genres, etc.

Ultimately, it’s just plain fun to write a story this way. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on how it works and how I use it. Hopefully other writers will find it useful. If you are interested and can be there, I’ll see ya at 3:30 tomorrow.

 

sib-2016-flyer-final-2


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Now Crowdfunding: Mythica 5: The Godslayer

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 25, 2016

The final chapter of the indie-made Mythica fantasy film series is now in crowdfunding. Like the funding for the previous films, the movie has already been shot. This crowdfunding phase is for post-production goodness: Visual effects, sound, music, that kind of thing.

The upcoming film features Kristian Nairn (Hodor from Game of Thrones), and of course Kevin Sorbo.

Mythica5

If you’ve seen any of the other films, then you probably already know whether or not you are interested in being a backer.

Of course, it’s a little funny backing film 5 when film 4 isn’t technically out yet. I’ve seen it, but I don’t have my copies yet. So far, I still believe that Mythica 3: The Necromancer is the best of the series so far, but of course I’m told this one is going to blow them all away in an epic conclusion.

It’s been interesting to me how the movies have been consistent in character (although, since the first three were filmed at the same time, that makes sense) but have had very different styles. The first movie – A Quest for Heroes – was kind of the cute and very well-done if somewhat generic D&D style fantasy adventure. A quest to save the priestess from some bad guys, battling orcs & ogres & stuff. The second one, The Darkspore, was more epic in scope, and got a little bit darker. It was more of a little indie Lord of the Rings-style quest. The third movie, The Necromancer, was dark, gritty, personal, and a little heartbreaking. The fourth – The Iron Crown – was part comedy. It was a little over-the-top, a rollicking adventure that was fun & lighthearted to balance out the dark angsty  feel that had grown from the last two films. It ends with a tough choice being made. Or maybe a couple of tough choices. And in spite of the lightheartedness, it sets things up to be in a pretty rough place for the final film.

I am very pleased with the series. It’s not for everyone. While it is amazing what they’ve pulled off on such a small budget, these are still small-budget films. There’s some inherent cheesiness. But a lot of my friends – especially the D&D players – have also really enjoyed them. I can’t wait to see the final installment this fall.

So if you are interested in being a backer, getting an early release of the film (maybe signed?), getting your name in the credits, whatever…  here’s your chance:

Kickstarter for Mythica 5: The Godslayer

 


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The Publishers Who Will Destroy Your Career

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 24, 2016

A publisher can be awesome. Even as an “indie” – having someone else manage the crap you don’t want to may be absolutely worth it. Things are changing, and the role of a publisher is changing along with it. And in many cases, a publisher can really make a tremendous, positive difference in your sales and your career.

The best part of all is that a publisher is no longer semi-mandatory. Back in the old days, direct sales sucked, and it was either sign on with a major publisher or almost nothing. There was no other way to get in front of the mass market. Nowadays, a publisher is optional. They know this. You know it. That means you have the freedom to turn down any deal. And many times, you should. While negotiating a contract may be very stressful for a few days, signing a bad contract can screw you up FOREVER.

Some of the big publishers will bring their power and prestige to bear against you, and will try to get you to sign onerous – perhaps even ridiculous – terms. And they CAN BE SNEAKY. Don’t assume that just because they are a big, well-respected company with a long history of working with people just like you that they won’t put some sneaky language into a contract that will wreck not only this deal, but your whole career. Companies aren’t people – they are made of people who constantly change jobs and put their own mark on things. Maybe a new guy in the legal team has a chip on his shoulder. Maybe the new VP in charge of third-party relations has decided to get more aggressive with contracts and you are the first guinea pig. Who knows?

But that doesn’t mean the little companies can’t be even nastier predators. I have heard some fairly hair-raising stories over the years… both about game publishers and book publishers. There are plenty of good ones out there who are a delight to work with. But definitely treat any contract offered to you with an eye towards how it could be used to hurt you.

There’s an old story over at The Digital Antiquarian about how a clause in Origin’s contract with EA allowed EA to play hardball and nearly destroy Origin back in the 1980s. The use of overstock was the sticking point… something a publisher and distributor would be very familiar with, but a small software developer might be clueless about:

“This provision gives EA the ability to crush Origin, accidentally or on purpose, by over-ordering. Origin can honor the order, only to have it all come back to them along with a bill big enough to bury them when EA doesn’t sell it on. Or Origin can refuse to honor the order and get buried under a nasty breach-of-contract lawsuit. Or they can come back to EA hat in hand and ask nicely if both parties can just forget the whole thing ever happened and continue that third year of their agreement as was once planned.”

But this isn’t just ancient history. We have small “publishers” who sound like they might be the kiss of death to a game studio today, as explained in this recent article:

Game Publishers in 2016: How to throw your life’s work away in seconds.

Book publishers are no different. I thought we got away from the bad-ol’-days of the 1990s where publishers liked to create a fiction that an author’s novel was retroactively considered “work for hire” and all the property rights went to the publisher. But no, it can get even worse, even with an established, respected publisher:

Long-Term Thinking: The Non-Compete Clause (Contracts / Dealbreakers)

According to the best-selling and prolific author, Kristine Katheryn Rusch, it’s bad and getting much worse:

“Around 2012, publishers started requiring non-compete clauses in almost all of their contracts, and are making those clauses a deal breaker from the publisher’s side. In other words, the publisher will cancel the deal if you do not sign a non-compete. The choice you are given is this: either you let the publisher control your entire career just because you sold that publisher one book for $5000 or you walk.

“If that’s the choice you’re given, walk. Hell, run.

It’s dangerous out there. Temper your excitement with some well-deserved caution. It’s not paranoia when they really are out to get you. Some of them really are.


Filed Under: Biz, Game Development, Writing - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



The Downsides of the Long Tail

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 23, 2016

The “Long Tail” is a glorious thing in the modern world. Thanks to global markets, digital distribution, and so forth, things don’t really have to retire from the marketplace. Wanna buy a tested, working, good-condition Commodore 64? It’s out there. Want to buy a copy of a book published in the 1930s? There’s a chance a digital version exists, or that someone, somewhere, has a used copy for sale. A copy of a PC game published more than 20 years ago? There are several places you can go. An indie game or book that maybe only sold a few copies several years ago? Hey, if it’s digital, there aren’t many reasons for the author or studio to remove it. Might as well keep it up for the one-a-blue-moon sale.

As a consumer, it’s wonderful, if perhaps a little damaging to my wallet.

As a creator of digital content, it’s mostly awesome. One of the phenomena of the long tail… the “backlist” as the authors call it… is that a new release boosts the sales of older, related titles (titles in the same series, by the same author / studio, etc.). It means older titles continue to generate a trickle of income which may be insignificant on its own, but collectively may be worth a pretty hefty revenue stream.

But there are a couple of downsides to be aware of:

#1 – Long-term support: The advantage of cutting off the long tail is that you don’t have to worry about supporting ancient products. Let’s face it… if MS-DOS 6.x was still for sale, the insignificant amount of income it generated wouldn’t be worth the cost of supporting the product for Microsoft. While an “as-is” clause in the EULA helps, there are still the costs of supporting the purchase page every time there’s a website update, etc.

#2 – Competition Against Older Titles: This is a biggie, and it’s what I preach to all indies who are hell-bent for creating clones of favorite “classic” titles. The bottom line is: In the modern world, you are still competing against that old, classic stuff. Maybe 10 years ago, you could get away with that to a point, because the classic you are imitating wasn’t available. But that’s not the case now. In a very real way, you are competing with EVERY SINGLE SIMILAR PRODUCT EVER CREATED IN THE HISTORY OF FOREVER.  And yes, this means the field gets more and more crowded each month, without the relief the consoles enjoy when they release a brand-new generation of hardware.

Video games have traditionally enjoyed a little bit of an advantage with #2 because they have been so technology-driven. A real-time rendered human character today will probably look and move far, far better than one from 10 years ago. And it probably works on modern systems much better, etc. But especially in the indie realm, this is becoming less true.  Since they avoid the cutting edge, they age much better. And even in the AAA arena, we’ve been hitting the law of diminishing returns for a while now with conventional gaming. It’s taking far more powerful technology and far more content development budget to make a noticeable difference. The tech-curve is flattening… which means we’re back to facing #2.

The bottom line there is that we need to keep making better stuff, and different stuff.  Titles that are not just a “me, too!” imitation. Not only are you competing against the original, but against all the other “me, too!” derivatives that have ever been released. What makes yours stand out?

Neither of these problems are insurmountable or even all that significant in the face of all the advantages of the “long tail” of distribution. But it rewards those who know how to play to its strengths.


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All These Smart Devices Sure Can Act Stupid!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 20, 2016

Chapter 1:

I have a great new gaming laptop. With Windows 10, and a solid state boot drive. With an HDMI cable, it connects to my “Smart” TV if I want to play some games on the big screen (rare, but it happens) or play a video off the computer. It also serves the usual purpose of giving a PowerPoint presentation at a convention (something I find happening surprisingly often these days), or run a game demo with a bigger screen. I even take it with me on a couple of short trips to use it as a DVD player (yes, old school) in a hotel with mediocre WIFI. It has a pretty bad downside, though…  it doesn’t play audio through the HDMI. That’s … weird, but I adapt.

Chapter 2:

My Smart TV automatically (automagically?) updates. Which is nice, as it can now stream from Amazon again.

My laptop also updates (a few times) with new and improved Windows 10. Yay.

Except… suddenly the two no longer connect. Which was extremely frustrating when I was depending on it at the beginning of the month. WHOOPS! Nothing I tried… for an embarrassingly long time of tinkering with people waiting on me… would work.  The computer refused to recognize the TV existed.

Chapter 3:

Cue happy ending! Another update or two later, and suddenly the computer not only interfaces with the TV again, but will play audio over the HDMI cable! Life is good…

… Until I need it again, perhaps.

The Moral of the Story:

Auto-updates are of the devil.

Well, okay. There’s more to it than that. And as a software engineer who understands the true nature of bugs and testing, I recognize that it is a hard problem. Nevertheless, when our technology and our tools become unreliable, there’s a problem. I’m glad the event in Chapter 2 wasn’t a major demo where I’d spent hundreds of dollars on a booth or something. That DOES HAPPEN, sadly.

But when things work one day, and don’t work the next, because of “smart” technology or automatic upgrades, I begin to wonder if how badly those things are named.


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DOOM – then and now. Part 2.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 19, 2016

doom2016coverartSo we get to last week’s release (on Friday the 13th, naturally) of the 2016 version of Doom … AKA “Doom 4“.  It’s been over twenty years since the original’s release, and over 10 years since the release of the last game in the series, Doom 3.

Well, from my perspective, there’s bad news, good news, and indifferent news.

First the bad news, and it’s really bad. Half the time, the game is unplayable on my fairly powerful machine (which is not quite recommended specs, but well above the minimum).  Seriously, I’m talking like one frame per second or less, even in the menu (which makes mouse control really fun). The other half of the time, the game runs awesome – 60+ FPS, and except for the occasional freeze, it’s great… so long as I don’t minimize or alt-tab out or anything (which freezes everything in a black screen). And as long as I don’t die… dying in the game gives me a 75% chance of being frozen in a black load screen that has finally finished loading, but won’t let me play. I can hear sounds, I’ve hit the space bar to start, but no game.

And then there’s checkpoints, instead of being able to save and continue from anywhere. So if I have to curtail my game early – because I’m a father and may only get my gaming in 15-minute sessions – I may lose progress. GAH. What is this, gaming on the PS2?!?!?

So yeah. The game has SERIOUS problems that need to be addressed before I could recommend it to anyone on the PC. I hope the console gamers are having fun with it, at least.

DOOM2016_1But then there are times where – so long as I can avoid dying – I can have an uninterrupted, reasonably lengthy session of hardcore FPS action. Smooth frame rates, really pretty graphics, and… wow. Gore. Lots of gore. This is a game of punching through demon heads, cleaving their bodies in half with a chainsaw, and ripping out juicy, squirting heart-like objects out of disgusting demonic pods.

So during the 2.5+ hours of actual gaming I’ve been able to play the 2016 Doom, what do I think? Does it capture the feel of the original?

Well, like I said yesterday, the original was a lot of different things. The “feel” varied significantly even from level to level. Doom 3 focused on (I thought) more of the horror and jump scares.  This one, I think, focuses on the run-and-gun carnage of the original. Ultra-violence, high speed rushing around splattering monsters.

In the original Doom, all the monsters were on the map at the beginning of the game, and part of the problem-solving was figuring out how they would get revealed. You’d hear their signature sounds and know they were somewhere. Then you’d hit a switch, cross a threshold, or something and a wall panel would pull away or an elevator descend to unleash the hidden monsters. In Doom 3, they did the usual trick of just having lots of unreachable nooks and crannies from which newly-spawned creatures would emerge. In Doom 2016? Screw it. They often just teleport in.

And they teleport in a fight. Behind you. And jump to where you are. Which all works to accentuate the run-and-gun nature of the game. This is not a modern military shooter where you fight from behind cover.  Each area with major combat scripted is something of a gladiatorial arena, with pick-ups, explosive containers, environmental threats like deadly falls and molten metal. There are lots of places to run to, jump to, and temporarily hide behind. But this is a game about high-intensity, high-action combat.

Ammo capacities are tiny to begin with, which means that you can’t rely on a single weapon through a major fight. You’ll have to swap weapons, run to corners to pick up more ammo, and – if you have fuel for it – whip out the chainsaw. The chainsaw acts as an insta-kill on lesser monsters, tearing them open and causing them to explode with pick-ups like a gory piñata of ammunition. It’s… bizarre, highly video-gamey, but it works and is twistedly fun.

DOOM2016_2Encouraging more up-close and personal melee encounters, there are hand-to-hand “glory kills” you can perform once a monster begins to flash. Making a melee attack on the creature at this point treats you to a micro-cut-scene of hyperviolence against the demon. I suspect that the violence of these scenes is what drove the art direction to make the possessed humans seem completely inhuman and demonic. Squishing a ghastly demon-head is much less horrendous than squishing something that resembles a person.

And then there’s the story. Or… well, what passes for a story. I’m still not sure what to make of it. If it’s a reboot of the series, it kinda sounds like a sequel. You are the semi-magical space marine of olden times, locked away in a sarcophagus, with legendary upgrading armor. I guess you’ve been infused with the powers of Hell… or at least of surviving Hell. I dunno. But… like the original game, the story is kept pretty minimal, more often gleaned from the environment than provided in explicit exposition.

And there’s the thing about running around collecting key-cards to gain access to other parts of the map.

So is all that true to the Doom feel? Arguably, sure. Excessive violence? Kinetic combat that requires quick-thinking and changes of approach? Chainsawing the hell out of monsters? Enemies that are, for the most part, derived from their 1990s counterparts? Minimal storytelling? Colored key-cards? Lots of little hidden secrets? Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.

So… it at least embodies part of the flavor of the original games. That’s something, right?

Now, there’s also this thing about upgrading your armor and your weapons that is… well, not Doom-like, but cool. There is something along the lines of a quest journal with a direction marker to help you go in the right direction — definitely not like the original Doom, but at least relatively welcome. This isn’t an open-world RPG we’re talking about, after all. I’d say for the most part, the impure additions really are additions that enhance the gameplay.

It’s not for the squeamish. It is wild and pretty fun. It’s GIGANTIC, taking up somewhere a little south (so far) of 100 gigs on my hard drive. The graphics are very impressive. It feels like a successor to Doom in several ways. It’s not groundbreaking, but it does offer some minor innovations to encourage a particular style of play that has been underrepresented in the genre. It has a crappy checkpoint system. It has difficulty levels that allow for pretty easy, casual play up to (I imagine) ultra-hardcore challenges. I haven’t played Multiplayer, but I can imagine it’d be great fun with friends.

Overall, if the game actually worked right, I’d say the positives outweigh the negatives, at least if you can stomach the gore.

But these days, I rarely pay full price for a new AAA video game. As it stands, DOOM 2016 completely reinforces this behavior. One of the few reasons to play games when they are brand new is to get in on the multiplayer while it’s still popular and you can find people to play with. If I’m not doing that, I’m far better off waiting a couple of years, buying it at a discount price AFTER the game has been patched and stabilized, drivers have been optimized, and I may have upgraded to a machine that is equal or beyond the recommended specs.

Instead, I have a bunch of hard drive space devoted to a game that I’ve decided to give up on for the next few weeks. Since the game was reasonably fun when I have been able to play it, and I shelled out full price for it and I want to get my frickin’ money’s worth out of the thing, I intend to play it to completion (or to utter frustration) eventually.  Hopefully. Assuming Bethesda & id can make sure a pretty standard set of gaming hardware can run the game consistently.

Dang it, I get more far more bang for my buck out of an indie game or two-year-old mainstream title. Cutting-edge graphics are great and all, but not worth this level of frustration.


Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



DOOM – then and now. Part 1.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 18, 2016

wolfenstein_3d_title_screen“Guten Tag!”

If you were a computer game geek back in the early 90s, you remember that one. The greeting heard ’round the DOS gaming world. It was the intro to the boss encounter on the shareware version of Wolfenstein 3D, at least on those PCs equipped with the popular SoundBlaster card. A requirement, for those of us who remembered Muse Software’s original game, much slower paced but with the clumsy playback of actual voices on the old Apple, Atari, and Commodore sound devices.

The game was amazing, and had reportedly come out from a tiny little company of guys who were bypassing the publishers and going straight to shareware. And yet it was technologically amazing. What’s more, it was high-speed, high-action, and “voluntarily rated PC for Profound Carnage” – meaning cartoony blood and viscera on the screen. This was a big deal, because many stores and publishers still considered video games to be something intended for children.

With the design, humor, and violence level that seemed to spring from a frat-house, it probably couldn’t really be labeled as mature, but at the very least, it was clearly not intended for young children.

But Wolf3D was kind of a niche hit. Among the hardcore PC gamer set, it was amazing. It represented the brave, new world of computer gaming. Suddenly the game programming BBS forums and usenet groups (early Internet stuff, kids) were abuzz with the miracle of raycasting – the technique used by Wolfenstein 3D to render its 3D environments so quickly.

Wolf3D‘s success was relatively low-key… but more than enough to keep the tiny team at id Software happy… but afterwards, rumors of a game called DOOM from the same studio began to surface. Details were sketchy and ever-changing. A magazine ad came out that said something to the effect of, “Those of you planning to enjoy your summer… go to Hell!” Things kinda hit a crescendo (at least in the subset of the community I was involved in) in the summer of 1993 with issue #108 of Computer Gaming World: the sneak preview of Doom. It sounded amazing. Sadly, we still had many months to wait. They missed their summer deadline, but the hype was building among the gamers. All the action of Wolfenstein 3D, but with demonic enemies, more realistic environments, cool lighting, and multiplayer! Was all that even possible?!?!  (At the time, there was also supposed to be an in-depth single-player story, Tom Hall’s big focus, but that fell to the wayside).

Doom_cover_artThat December, Doom was released into the world… just hours before the end of that semester of college and I was about to leave for Christmas vacation. The release was legendary… one of those stories I can be all grandpa-gamer about. A friend who managed to acquire it copied the files on multiple 1.4 megabyte floppy disks for me. Yep, that was how we rolled, then. And for the next several months, university and business networks would be inundated with Doom packets. It was the game. While Super Mario Brothers might have been a bigger hit many years earlier and impacted the new generation of gamers more broadly, I always think of Doom’s release as the day video games started going mainstream. It wasn’t all at once, and it was hardly universal, but it seemed that was when things started to change… for better, and for worse.

It really was amazing, and had most of the technological features we expected, and more. It had a little bit of everything. Fast action. Gore. Scares. Creepy horror stuff. Exploration. Puzzles. Secrets. Competitive multiplayer. Freaking cooperative multiplayer! Tons of built-in support for modding.

It’s that variety that can make it a little hard to pin down the “flavor” of Doom. Some emphasized the jump scares and the careful, meticulous exploration of the darkened environment. Others rewarded clever tactics and problem-solving. Others were more about sheer gunslinging frenzy. Or they all but begged you to turn on god mode, arm yourself with the chainsaw, and just hack your way through teeming hordes of enemies.

But regardless of which aspects we hold up as Doom‘s signature feel, the game made a monstrous impact on gaming. Still. And while technologically it has been surpassed in every possible way, it still has big shoes to feel for any game in its genre… especially one claiming lineage.

Which brings us to the release of the newest of the series, just titled “DOOM.” A sequel? A reboot? A… well, I’m still not entirely sure. Continued tomorrow in Part 2.


Filed Under: Impressions, Retro - Comments: Read the First Comment



Revisited: A Twisty Little Maze of Passages, All Different

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 17, 2016

ColossalCaveAdventure> Kill Dragon

WITH WHAT, YOUR BARE HANDS?

I never had to answer that question myself. But that dragon was my first significant exposure to the world of computer games.

I didn’t play the game myself. Instead, I was given a walkthrough by my buddy in fifth grade, Craig Bucher, who had played it over the weekend on some “minicomputer.” I don’t even know if the computer even had a monitor – the game was played on the printer, recording his explorations to be shared later. With the huge printout in hand, he took relish in showing me the most interesting parts. Through his printout, I was able to share in his adventure (which I didn’t realize had the name, “Adventure,” at the time – AKA “Colossal Cave Adventure“). I witnessed him being attacked by nasty axe-throwing dwarves and giant snakes, saw him trying to deal with the “troll bridge,” navigate the twisty little mazes of passages, and witnessed him face down a fierce green dragon sprawled out on a Persian rug.

I don’t know why it was – but the fact that the dragon was on a Persian rug really stuck with me. For the rest of my life, my mental image of a dragon wasn’t lounging Smaug-like on a bed of gold and silver, but rather sprawled out on a large, expensive Persian rug. My parents bought a Persian rug for our home, and I always thought it seemed a bit bare without a fierce green dragon on it.

I don’t know if you could call my career and hobby of making videogames a “life’s calling.” But if you choose to, then you could say that I realized it on that winter morning. I was an avid reader, and here I was reading what looked like a book (or at least a short story) that had been written by the computer in reaction to my friend’s voyages through an imaginary world. I was struck by the possibilities of it all.

I went home that night and wrote up something without the benefit of a computer on several pages of lined notebook paper. It was an adventure, and its format was vaguely reminiscent of a “choose your own adventure” book (I hadn’t yet discovered Dungeons & Dragons). I worked on it for days, and filled several pages with text and options. Much was original, but it also had nasty little dwarves with axes, and the obligatory dragon sitting on a Persian rug.

When I felt all was ready, I ran my brothers through my adventure. I played the part of the computer, reading text according to their choices.

The entire adventure ran maybe five minutes, and that was including the time necessary to give them instructions. I’d apparently underestimated the content requirements by a hair. This is a problem I still struggle with today.

I taught myself to program on my first computer, a Sinclair ZX80, which lacked the capacity to actually run any of these games (one kilobyte of memory is apparently only enough for about a paragraph of text). Later, when we got the Commodore 64, I finally had enough memory (and storage space) to start making my dreams come true. First off, I was finally able to play these adventure games myself, and finally follow in the footsteps of my friend. I finally encountered the fierce green dragon on the Persian rug, the axe-throwing dwarves, and the notorious TWISTY LITTLE MAZE OF PASSAGES for myself. And I was able to explore the Great Underground Empire, gathering the treasures I’d heard so much about. The experiences were satisfying and thrilling, but still a little short of what I’d felt a couple of years earlier.

But the best thing was that I was able to create these experiences. I started perhaps a dozen adventure games, most left incomplete in one form or another. I even collaborated with a schoolmate on one. I wouldn’t go anywhere without my notebook full of maps and notes for my next awesome project. The two adventure games I actually finished, “The Dungeons of Doom” and “The Secret of Red Hill Pass” are long-gone now. And even at the time, I realized their weaknesses (though I thought they were a bit more sophisticated than the original Colossal Cave Adventure or Scott Adams’ adventures). And of course, as I already knew the games intimately well, they weren’t so much fun for me to play.

But it was during the development of these games that I felt the magic of the dragon on the Persian rug the strongest. I still get a taste of it in other games. I think part of the reason I’m still a gamer today is that I hope to recapture a bit of that magic. I haven’t really gotten back into the text adventures / interactive fiction of the modern era so much, although I’ve tried. But I do still catch a shadow of that feeling every once in a while, and that’s enough to continue to drive me to play… and to create.

After all this time, that dragon is still there on that Persian rug. Oh, he’s available in a free download, if anyone feels like challenging him – though I doubt the magic hides there anymore. I don’t think it ever was captured in the bits of data that made up the game. Where he really lived, for me, was in my mind. My imagination. The simplicity and abstraction of the text was what invited me to create him, to give him life, and to even give him some amount of power over me.

That was where the immersiveness came from. That’s something that fantastic shaders and voice-overs cannot reproduce, and may even hinder at times. It’s all about capturing and engaging the imagination. Once that happens, the game – the medium – takes on a life of its own. The player is not just a consumer, an audience, but a participant, and the game becomes much more than the sum of its code and data.

And that’s the power of the dragon.

In spite of all his power, the dragon was actually pathetically easy to slay. That was the whole trick. The key was to think outside of the box. It was to realize that in this new medium, the rules of the “real world” didn’t necessarily apply. Adventurers were confounded, sometimes for weeks, sometimes forever, because they brought with them assumptions and baggage from the outside world with them into this new but familiar one. Because obviously, slaying a dragon is going to have to take something spectacular. Maybe something you haven’t found yet. All the tricks that worked against the other monsters in the world failed utterly before the power of the dragon.

But the solution was both simple and outrageous. It was spectacular by being non-spectacular. It involved nothing that the adventurer didn’t already have with him at the start of the game. For all his intimidating might, the dragon could be defeated by the simplest (but not the most obvious) means possible.

I lied when I said at the beginning of this article that I never had to answer that question myself. Sure, I knew the answer for the Colossal Cave Adventure. But as it set me on my path to making games, to trying to share that little bit of magic with others, particularly as an indie game developer with little resources. I haven’t felt extremely successful at it. The dragon on his Persian rug keeps defeating me, as I find myself having to answer that question over and over again. But I keep trying.

I wonder if the answer is really any different?

> Kill Dragon

WITH WHAT, YOUR BARE HANDS?

> Yes.

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE JUST VANQUISHED A DRAGON WITH YOUR BARE HANDS (UNBELIEVABLE, ISN’T IT?)

 

 

(Note: This is a revision of an article from the earlier, long-gone blog, circa November 2006.)


Filed Under: Adventure Games - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



Crunch mode and Doom!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 16, 2016

The last two weeks have been mostly crunch-mode crunchiness at the day job.  I was able to take some excursions on the side to see a movie and to participate in family activities. But it’s been late nights and weekends. Fortunately, unlike the games biz, this tends to be for short stretches, and not horrendous long-term death-marches.

But… as a result, it’s been tough to find time to do much, including writing blog articles. I’ve got to get a trailer done for Frayed Knights 2 in the next two weeks, and it’s going to be tight.

But – in spite of the time spent in the office – I managed to try a little bit of the new DOOM. I’ll have a quick-take in a couple of days if I can. Lots of gory skull-punching shootiness so far.

In the meantime, I leave you with one of the coolest things you’ll see this week… at least one of the coolest *I* have seen. It’s a music video for “Highway to the Danger Zone” done Star Wars style. IMO, it’s an improvement over the original, which had Kenny Loggins singing in his rumpled hotel room apparently daydreaming about flying fighter jets instead of being a couch potato in a rumpled hotel room.

 

Star Wars – Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins from Weston Wong on Vimeo.


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Be the First to Comment



Spring Into Books – May 28

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 12, 2016

For the Utah peeps – I’ll be at Spring Into Books event at the Viridian Event Center on May 28. I’ll also be giving a short (1/2 hour) presentation at 3:45 on “The Pulp Fiction Formula: How to Write Stories That Sell.”

Yes, believe it or not, I’m getting experience in this area.  And it’s crazy fun!

Even crazier will be the following weekend. Salt Lake Gaming Con! But hey, one thing at a time! I’ll be here, selling & signing books, and making a nuisance of myself.

SpringIntoBooks


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



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