Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 2, 2015
It’s my birthday today. If I had a birthday wish it would be… hmm…. you know what? How about a return to that “golden age” of computer RPGs that I like talking about? You know, that wonderful 5-year period or so between 1988(ish) and 1993 where we just had a ton of classic RPGs released, and a ton of not-so-classic ones as well. I mean, it was THE genre (along with adventure games) back then on the PC. The era of the Ultimas (and Ultima Underworlds), the Gold Box D&D games, Might & Magic, Wizardry, Darklands, Lands of Lore, Eye of the Beholder, Realms of Arkania, Magic Candle, and lots more.
More than I could possibly play, even if I could have afforded them all. Actually, a few of ’em I still haven’t played – or played more than an hour or two. It was a time of bounty for the RPG fan. If anything, it felt like too many games (as if that could be a bad thing), and it felt like it would never end.
Yeah, good times, good times. I wish we could do that again.
HEY! GUESS WHAT?!?!? MY WISH CAME TRUE!!!
Yeah, I’m not able to put nearly as many hours into Pillars of Eternity as I would like, but I’m still enjoying it a LOT. Because I was doing “research” I got sucked into Legend of Grimrock 2 for way too long earlier this week. And over the last couple of years, we’ve seen some excellent “big indie” RPGs hit the market like Divity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun, The Banner Saga, Dead State, Lords of Xulima, etc. We’ve had smaller indie releases like Season of the Wolf, Heroes of a Broken Land, Steam Marines, a reboot of the Avernum series, the conclusion of the Eschalon series, Paper Sorcerer, and many others. And on the mainstream side, we’ve had big budget successes like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Risen 3, and Dark Souls 2, as well as smaller but cool productions like Might & Magic X: Legacy. And then there’s a couple of remakes / special editions, like the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale ‘enhanced’ games.
And they keep coming. I guess they are already talking about a sequel to Pillars of Eternity (YES, PLEASE!), Torment: Tides of Numenera, Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, Telepath Tactics, The Banner Saga 2, and the hopefully not-too-distant releases of the next Frayed Knights (PLUG!), Age of Decadence, and Zombacite… to say nothing of the somewhat more distant releases of newly-funded or hopefully soon-to-be-funded games like Underworld Ascendant or Seven Dragon Saga… sadly probably a good deal over the horizon, but still exciting.
Seriously, I can’t keep track. I didn’t even try to list everything here (skipping the jRPGs entirely, I note, which used to make up the bulk of the indie RPGs for PC of the year…) Especially when you include the smaller indie titles, I really have a tough time imagining that 1990 was better than this. Yeah, we have our stinkers… but we did back then, too.
So yeah. I’m taking the opportunity to wax optimistic. You know, I spent too many frickin’ years bemoaning the state of role-playing games (outside of MMORPGs) and wishing things would get better. My own efforts as an indie was in part because I wanted to do something to make things better. I screamed, unheard outside of my own little bubble, that these “old school” sensibilities were not obsolete, not old bathwater, and that I’d bet real money (I should have bet more!) that a competent, quality, low-to-medium-budget game would still find a receptive market by taking a few steps back and embracing those old design ideas, like turn-based combat.
And finally, my wish came true. No, I’ll never be satisfied, and no, there’s no such thing as perfect. But now I’m finding games to point to and say, “THIS!!!! This is exactly what I was talking about!” We’ve got our old games back, after a fashion.
Bottom line… I may have to quit referring the the late 80s / early 90s as the “Golden Age” of PC Role-Playing Games. I think the time is now.
Filed Under: General - Comments: 4 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 1, 2015
In case you haven’t heard… in what is probably the BEST Google April Fool’s Stunt of all time… you can go to Google Maps and play Pac-Man out in the center of your street map. You need a relatively dense selection of streets in your map for it to work, but the tool will generate a somewhat playable Pac-Man board from your map selection.
Okay, for the more detailed instructions (on a computer and web-browser), directly from Google:
- Open Google Maps on your computer.
- Search for a place you think PAC-MAN might be. Get clues now. Or, navigate to a place on the map where you want to start your game.
- If you find a location, click the PAC-MAN pin on the map .
- If no pin is visible, in the bottom left, click PAC-MAN.
Your map will change to a game board, and you can start playing. If you can’t see the PAC-MAN tile, try making your browser window bigger so that there is enough room to play.
How to control PAC-MAN
Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to change PAC-MAN’s direction. You can press two keys at once to move diagonally.
Play more or share your score
After you run out of your 5 lives, you can click Try again to keep playing or an icon under Share your score to tell others.
The controls aren’t perfect, as streets in the real world get funky angles and splits and so forth. Ditto for the gameplay. But really, who cares? If all else fails, click the “Get lucky” link if it fails to generate an adequate game board and see what you get (like I did, below). It’s just… cool.
I want this to be a permanent feature of Google Maps. Hopefully they’ll make it permanently available, but I imagine with licensing limitations this is not likely. But who knows? Enjoy it today… the way the Internet gets on April Fool’s Day, it may be the only value you can get out of being online today.
Filed Under: Free Games, Geek Life - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 31, 2015
You know how they are trying to make a big deal about how crowdfunding like Kickstarter shouldn’t be treated as a pre-order? While that’s always good advice, here’s one that’s pretty much the closest thing you are gonna get.
I wrote a few weeks ago about Mythica: A Quest for Heroes. The bottom line is that it is a surprisingly awesome fantasy movie for such a low-budget flick. If you’ve ever played an RPG, especially tabletop D&D, you’ll want to see the movie. Maybe more than once.
But it was only the first of a planned trilogy (and now I hear that based on the success of the first movie, they are already considering a couple of follow-up films with the same cast). In fact, they were so confident they pulled a “Lord of the Rings” and filmed all three movies at the same time. Now they are working out post-production stuff: high-quality CGI sequences, and all the fun stuff like sound, color balancing, etc. And for that… well, the spice must flow.
While I suspect they do not strictly need it (this film is getting made and finished no matter what), they are offering the chance for backers to become involved once again. I couldn’t wait to sign up, but I’m a geek that way. When I talked to Jason in January, he was really going on about how awesome the second movie will be. It sounded like they got the editing all done, it sounded like, and he’d just recently seen the complete edit in all it’s unfinished glory, and was really, REALLY excited).
The second movie looks to be quite a bit darker than the first one, which is not a bad thing. They hinted (well, more than hinted) that Marek’s special powers were going to be an issue in the first film, but at least within her group she only did it to save lives. It was freaky but in a good cause, and nobody made a big deal out of it. But you know where this is heading. Hopefully it still maintains the good ol’ D&D adventure style appeal of the first, but shows that there’s much more to it (as we gamers know) than the formula.
Anyway – link to Kickstarter!!! Here!
The only exception I’ll take here is about the Kevin Sorbo “starring” in the show. While he’s a headliner, he’s not the star if the first movie is any indication. Maybe he’s got a bigger role in this one (we can hope!), but Melanie Stone did a pretty respectable job as the star of the original. Maybe one day her name will be enough for fundraising purposes, but for now, I guess that’s why they have Sorbo.
In the meantime, you can watch a really cool trailer sandwiched between segments of Kynan Griffin wearing a chain-mail coif.
Filed Under: Movies - Comments: Read the First Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 30, 2015
I’m just gonna cut to the chase and link to it here before commenting further:
Okay. So Age of Fear 2 is a single-player and multiplayer strategy game with RPG elements. Age of Fear 2 does away with hexes or squares, and uses a more organic form of positioning and distance calculations. In campaigns, your units have experience which carries over from battle to battle, allowing them to increase in skill RPG-style. There are random elements, so there are never any guarantees, and you always need to manage your risks. There are TONS of units and spells, and units are varied by strengths and weaknesses, so being prepared to take advantage of those can really make a difference.
The game is 25% off from now until April 3, so enjoy the launch discount.
However, if 25% off doesn’t quite do it for you, how about free? Leszek has donated several free copies for me to distribute. So if you are on Steam, you may have some cool opportunities. Here’s the deal:
#1 – It’s not a requirement, but if you win a free copy, please consider playing it soon and leaving a review on Steam.
#2 – I’m going to offer a few here, and a few on social media (Facebook and Twitter). Now, I suck at the social media thing, so please bear with me. I’ll provide instructions on the respective media, but you’ll want to follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RampantCoyote and “Like” Rampant Games on Facebook.
#3 – Only one free copy per person, please. If you end up somehow getting two (because the contests are going to be going for a few hours), please do the cool thing and let someone else win the second copy.
Okay – for here, I’m just gonna have a drawing for three copies of the game. To qualify, simply post in the comments (if you already have the game and don’t want to be included in the drawing, please note at the beginning of the comment). You can comment on anything, but for the purpose of my own amusement (the most important reason of all!), feel free to respond to the following:
If you had to duel a dragon, what would be your choice of weapons, and why?
The more amusing responses will not get weighted any more heavily than any others, but you’ll definitely gain more cred…
Make sure your email address is valid in case you win, and I’ll be performing the drawing later this evening.
Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 7 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 27, 2015
Okay. So…. there’s this game. It was crowdfunded. Some seasoned vets of making PC RPGs from Obsidian were working on it. It was code-named “Project Eternity,” vaguely reminiscent of the “Infinity Engine” by Bioware that was used for the classic Dungeons & Dragons based RPGs, Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Icewind Dale 1 and 2, and Planescape: Torment. This evolved into Pillars of Eternity, which was promised to be a game in the same style as those classic titles. It promised an isometric view, lush hand-painted backgrounds, party-based adventuring, intricate real-time-with-pause combat, rich world-building and storytelling, and more interesting quests than you can shake a magical two-handed sword at.
I tried to keep my hopes down. After all, it funded for “only” $4 million. That’s not a big budget by today’s standards … or Obsidian’s. Sure, they were able to reduce their budget requirements by adhering to less-than-AAA technology or requirements. And the engine was built on Unity, which made tech development a little bit cheaper. But these days, technology is not the main cost of game development.
A new world, new game system, and an incredible legacy to live up to on a limited budget? Yeah, there’s no sense in setting my expectations too high. I wasn’t even planning on playing it the first day. But I guess I can download 7 gigs worth of data in less time than I thought, and so a few hours after I got home from work, the game was ready to play. With a little fear of disappointment, I started it up.
After a handful of deaths (apparently sneaking past a wild bear takes a bit more skill than my newbie rogue actually possesses), I managed to break the spell and start working on the things I had intended to work on. But all I can say at this point is that if the game continues along the same trajectory that it has established in the first hour or so, then I don’t know if I could have set my expectations high enough.
I feel like I am playing Baldur’s Gate III. No joke. It’s that good. So far, at least. And the game interface, while new, feels right at home for anyone who played the Infinity Engine games. The game system is totally new, but still feels familiar to a Dungeons & Dragons veteran. It’s really everything I would have expected if the game had been entitled Baldur’s Gate 3, minus the licensed parts.
A long time ago, I talked about making character generation really feel like part of the game, part of the world introduction. Some games have taken the tack of burying the character generation, doling it out in pieces during the introductory segments (I’m looking at you, Bethesda), or just skipping it altogether. But I’ve always maintained the belief that a good character creation sequence can actually enhance the game, providing the player with some fantastic background and back-story while they are tinkering with the little 3D object and pile of stats that will be their surrogate in the fantasy world on the other side of the screen.
Pillars of Eternity nails it.
Half the fun was just going through the different races, sub-races (!), classes, and cultures (!!) available and getting some feel for the world into which I’d be thrust. It was just enough that when the opening text and voice-over hit, as alien and new as the world was, I felt like I at least recognized some of the references. And of course, when all else fails, classic pseudo-medieval European background suffices. I don’t have to scratch my head wondering what a crossbow or scale armor is.
The introductory sequence is pretty much pitch-perfect. I mean, for an introductory sequence, which does demand a bit more hand-holding than the rest of the game, although it gradually relinquishes this approach as you wander about hitting your marks. When you finally hit the outdoor map, it feels like the training wheels come off, and you are off to the races. But in the meantime, there’s drama, there’s death, there’s peril, there’s tough decisions to be made, and there’s plenty to learn about in this strange new world. The developers do an excellent job at this point of providing a balance of action, exploration, character development, introduction to the game systems, and exposition.
Although I never did brew myself some tea. I keep thinking I need to do that, still.
Anyway, there’s still a part of me that wants to hold my expectations down so I don’t get disappointed by the final result, although I have heard I have many dozens of hours of play-time to go before I hit that point where I can make such an evaluation. And yeah, I realize that like any good game developer, they’ve put their best foot forward and worked hard to make a great first impression. But … if things keep going like they are… Pillars of Eternity is going to stand out from a crowd of what has already proven to be excellent computer role-playing games over the last couple of years.
Life is good.
Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 26, 2015
Okay, calling all authors… or aspiring authors…
Xchyler Publishing’s fall paranormal anthology has a call for submissions that begins next week and runs through the month of April. The theme is “Losers weepers.” What that means is subject to your own imagination.
For the definition of “Paranormal,” I think you’ll have to look that one up. It’s a matter of some debate among authors and editors who work in the speculative fiction arena. It’s somewhere in that murky realm of fiction taking place in something that could pass for the “real world” (including the future and past) with supernatural / magical / unexplainable elements that don’t stray too far into the horror, fantasy, or science fiction genres.
You’ve got a month. Xchyler isn’t a big publisher, but I’ve really enjoyed working with them. When they say they are like a big family, they aren’t kidding. It’s a great, friendly community of authors and editors. For me, it was not only a kick in the pants to get moving on getting published and improving my writing chops. Once accepted, it’s been like taking an advanced college course on creative writing. Only instead of paying for the privilege, I receive royalties.
It’s a cool opportunity. You can read the details here on their anthology submission page.
And yes, I’m fully aware that by doing this, I’m fostering my own competition for this anthology, as I will be submitting a story. But the part of me that really wants to improve my craft and hone my “A” game says, “BRING IT!” I wanna support that part of me. It’s going places.
Besides, I figure someone – hopefully many someones – in this community here has some really cool stories in ’em, and I’d enjoy reading them. So it’s totally a win/win on my end.
So if you are so inclined, go for it! It’s five to ten thousand words in the paranormal genre. A thousand words a day, and you’ll have your first draft done this time next week, with plenty of time for editing. (By comparison, this blog post is over a third of that length, so it’s very do-able!)
And, as always, have fun!
Filed Under: Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 25, 2015
The latest indie night was held on Tuesday, March 24, at Neumont University in downtown Salt Lake City. I hadn’t been to the new Neumont building before (I’ve missed the last couple of times it was held there), and while I am sad that they’ve moved from basically down the street from where I work, it was kinda cool that their new building is actually just a few doors down from the original Singletrac offices, where I started my game development career *cough*twenty*cough* years ago.
Adam Ames of True PC Gaming was supposed to give the presentation, but came down with the flu. I was going to jump in with an abbreviated version of my little talk at BYU a few months ago, but we had problems with the A/V equipment, and by the time we gave up on it, we had already burned up good game dev meeting time, so we jumped right into the gathering and show-off stages.
As always, there was much cool stuff on display. I played way too much of Eric Wiggin’s little phone-focused shooter called Space Goer. In it, your ship (which you can upgrade with points earned in the game) can move between a handful of lanes dodging enemies and shooting. The trick is that the enemies have different behaviors, and your ship fires at fixed intervals (which can be sped up through grabbing power-ups). It’s a cool idea to marry the idea of a top-down shooter with and endless runner. In practice, it had a lot more endless-runner feel to it than old-school shooter, but it was still fun (and at times, frustrating).
Darius Ouderkirk was showing Flame Warrior, which has been vastly improved even since the last time I saw it. I understand it’s undergoing a name change, as the title doesn’t really match the gameplay or the humorous storyline.
I played an extremely early version of a game tentatively entitled “The Chosen One” which was a little bit like Lemmings or The Incredible Machine meets a jump-puzzle game. Clever idea if they can pull it off – the “runner” is autonomous, but by setting obstacles or tools in the way, he (or she) can use them to navigate the environment. So something like a trampoline getting set to avoid falling to the death.
Loose Cannons, a 2D 4-player competitive shoot-em-up in the style of games like Towerfall, was also on display. I didn’t play this time around, but it had a constant audience. It’s just as fun to watch as to play.
And of course, there was the networking and chatting with fellow indies, getting an idea of what’s going on in the area, offering suggestions or just an ear. Great stuff. I always have a great time.
As things were winding up, we had a special meeting to discuss a potential game development event that we could pull together here in Utah. We have a really great game development community in Utah, between the larger studios, the indies, and the students at all the schools around here. It would be nice to actually add more “community” to the community and take advantage of the wealth of experience around here. Nothing was firmed up during our meeting other than the decision that there’s enough of a need locally for some kind of event, that we should continue to develop the idea. I’m not deliberately being cryptic, the meeting was awesome and full of fantastic ideas, but there’s really nothing yet to talk about.
Filed Under: Utah Indie Game Night - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 24, 2015
I’m a firm believer in iterative design. I don’t practice it as well as I should, but I strongly believe in it. In games, it’s the ‘right thing.’
In my world, I usually start with a “paper prototype” – forcing myself to think about a concept methodically enough to describe it in a paragraph or ten, maybe with some added charts and whatnot. This helps me in lots of ways to focus on how I’d build my first playable prototype. I don’t always do this, but it’s useful.
The next step is the actual gameplay prototype, and from there until “alpha” is usually where I trip up. The idea is to create a minimal game that is playable – but certainly nowhere near “done” – and use that to hone in on the core of your game. You “find the fun” early and make sure it’s solid. You now have a simple but probably ugly and un-user-friendly version of your game.
Once you have that nailed down, you iterate on the design to add content and new ideas to what should be a solid core, turning it into what eventually looks like a game.
Sonny Bone illustrates this process extremely well in his article, “Bringing Your Game to Life in 10 Simple Steps.” His process and the exact steps may vary from project to project (an RTS or an RPG will be vastly different from a simple action game, but the basic idea remains sound), a point which he makes in the article. Seriously, he does such a good job I’d say that if I were running a school for indie game developers, I’d make this article required reading.
The best part is how he includes all 10 stages of the iterative development in a web-based playable game at the beginning of the article. Excellent stuff!
Filed Under: Game Development, Production - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 23, 2015
What did you think I was talking about?
By way of explanation – polish is important. Polish is something that removes the barriers to a player’s enjoyment of the game. It’s a good thing. But there’s also something to be said for a little bit of rawness, a few rough edges that give the game some character.
My favorite go-to example of this is probably not the most popular, and it goes back to some ancient titles – Total Annihilation vs. Starcraft. Both are known as classics, but Starcraft was by far the most popular. It was also clearly the more carefully polished and balanced of the two games. Blizzard took everything they learned from the Warcraft series to that point and honed it into a tightly-tuned machine.
By contrast, Total Annihilation was designed to be something in the vein of Command and Conquer, by experienced game developers who didn’t have experience in the still somewhat new RTS genre. It was more raw, clumsy, and a little bit of a victim of “kitchen sink syndrome” with too many ideas thrown in. In fact, developer Cavedog released a new unit on a weekly (?) basis for a while to expand the game… and often the new unit was designed specifically to counter a “cheap” tactic that players had discovered in the course of regular play that had been missed by the designers. By the time the units and game changes were compiled together in the expansions, the worst of the “cheap” tactics had been removed, but the game was still a maze of wild, squirrely approaches to victory.
And the fans loved it. Those rough edges and tons of units led to a very organic feel of gameplay. It was “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Spock, Lizard” to the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” of most RTS games. Whether intentional or not, there were tons of weird, ‘exploity’ kinds of opportunities for players to turn the tide in what could sometimes be a protracted slugfest. There were all kinds of clever, weird things that you could do. Some – like using your own air transport to pick up an enemy commander – were extremely clever but also considered cheating by most players. Others were often clever ‘spoilers’ for the common, straightforward tactics of other games.
It’s hardly alone. My attraction to the ARMA series partly stems from the same idea. And indies – well, indies sometimes fall into the realm of too little polish, of course. Bugs and unwinnable game states and crap like that never belong. But for me, finding the little imbalances and the quirks of gameplay can be half the fun. For that matter, I often enjoy some weird, experimental gameplay elements that may not always pan out. I want just enough bumps and flaws to let me feel the person or people behind tha game.
I want games with personality.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 4 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 20, 2015
My usual disclaimer about Kickstarter applies here – I’m only drawing attention to it, so don’t consider this a recommendation. There are never any guarantees on these.
BUT… some of the old developers from SSI – makers of the “Gold Box” Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games back in the day… have put together a new company called TSI (Tactical Simulations Interactive) for the express purpose of making a new-generation RPG in the style of the old Gold Box games. Could this be a worthy successor to the legendary series that included Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, etc.?
This ought to be enough to inspire any old-school CRPG fan to at least perk up and take notice. So… I direct your attention to the campaign:
I was a little bit blindsided by this one myself, so I guess maybe their marketing could have used some work. Or maybe I’m just buried too deep in my own stuff to crawl out from under my rock and pay attention. But they have a pedigree. And seriously, I would love a new game in that old style, if only it was clearer to me (beyond turn-based tactical combat) how they’d recapture that flavor.
Ah, well. I opened my wallet to give ’em a vote of confidence. Here’s hoping this thing becomes a thing.
Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 3 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 19, 2015
I can’t say I’m a giant fan of “Metroidvania” games, personally, although I’ve played a decent amount of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (never got *that* good at it, but it was enjoyable). I think my younger self would have enjoyed them a lot more – to the point of near-obsession. As it is… I can appreciate it, but not to that level. But I did like the incorporation of a few RPG-like elements into the platform-game when that sort of thing was still on the unusual side.
Long-time veteran game designer (and Symphony of the Night creator) Koji “IGA” Igarashi recently spoke to Christian Nutt of Gamasutra about what makes those games tick, in his (obviously expert) opinion:
The fascinating part of it for me, as I’m not a huge fan, was getting that perspective to help me wrap my brain around the genre. But there’s another point that he made that expands well beyond that particular niche:
“With games, even if you create an interesting and fun concept, that’s not going to come across if the controls make it impossible for others to realize it. Thus, I think it’s important to remember that the core of any game lies on top of how it’s controlled by gamers.”
This has been a piece I’ve been beating myself up over since the release of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. Or maybe even before. One of the big reasons I’ve loved tabletop RPGs is how it is such a free-form activity. At least that’s how I prefer to play. You can try literally anything, and a human moderator (the DM) tries to make sense of them and convert them into actions that impact the world via rules and judgment.
In a computer RPG – well, we try. But ultimately we’re constrained by the controls. And if we try to ignore that, the game becomes frustrating, confusing, too complicated, etc. Distilling a gazillion possible actions into something humanly navigable is not easy. And for someone trying to draw upon the old tabletop experiences for inspiration as much as classic computer games, it can be downright painful.
I guess that’s why they pay us the big bucks. Oh, wait, no, they don’t…
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 18, 2015
A friend pointed me to this post by Joost van Dongen called “What Many Indies are Doing Wrong.” I liked the article even though I disagree on a few points. But … Joost is a more successful indie than I am, so I’d weight our respective opinions appropriately.
On many points, I completely agree. Now that we are in the “post-indie revolution,” or whatnot… now that indies are now as much the rule as the exception… things haven’t turned out exactly as I envisioned. Yes, the floodgates are open. Yes, there are some amazing gems of games that are making it out to market that never would have during the bad-ol’ days when the big publishers ruled the industry with an iron hand. Yes, we’re experiencing a resurgence of game genres and styles once thought to be on death’s door. Old-school dungeon crawlers. Roguelikes. Point-and-click adventure games. Platformers. Space combat games. It’s all happening, and it’s awesome.
And… we’re deluged with crap product. Or… not even crap. Mediocre. Derivative. Boring. Sad but true.
The thing is… there’s a whole lot of amazing stuff hidden within those mounds of … uninteresting. I know, I’ve seen them. And the point I’d like to make is that they were NOT all made by larger teams with much bigger budgets and higher production qualities, as Joost suggests. Sometimes they stand out enough and get lucky enough to get noticed all by themselves, and they become hits. Sometimes, not so much.
I’m not sure there really is a “right way” or a “wrong way” to be indie. In fact, indie is almost by definition the “wrong way” of doing things – outside the established process and players. It’s really all about being an outsider. The point is being independent of all those voices telling you what you can and cannot do. And I hate to keep bringing up Minecraft, as it was an exception in many ways (you ain’t gonna be the next Minecraft no matter what you do…), but it broke almost all the established indie rules-of-thumb for marketing and selling a game. Java? No Steam distribution? Paypal? An ultra-early (free?!?!) release? Blocky programmer graphics in 3D? Sheesh. Nobody’s gonna buy that.
But just because you whipped up your first game, a mostly functional clone of your favorite Genesis game, don’t expect the world to beat a path to your door. Remember that your game is floating in an ever-growing sea of indie games, many of them indistinguishable at first glance from your own.
My current view on long-term indie success is this:
#1 – You need to achieve a minimum standard of quality. Period.
And yes, the quality bar keeps rising, but it’s not a full-on arms race. But assume that your customer is actively trying to find any excuse to disregard as many games as possible so they can zero in on a few that are worth paying careful attention to. You must not provide them with any of those easy “outs.” Bugs, lack of polish or attention to detail, clunky interfaces, or boring presentation are all great excuses for a potential customer to ignore your game and never give it a second look.
#2 – You need to stand out from the pack
We are overwhelmed with “me, too” games. Every game might be a “special snowflake,” but from the perspective of a guy shoveling his walk, it’s all just mounds of snow. Your game needs to really be special, and able to draw positive attention to itself. There are lots of ways of doing that, and there’s no need to limit your game to just one axis of “special.”
Really blowing the curve on quality or production values is one way. If people look at your game and say, “Wow, is that really an indie game?” then you’ve nailed it. Ditto for making a game with a larger scope. But that was how we got into the whole arms race of production values and mega-hits that led to the giant publishers ruling the industry in the first place, so I reject that as the “one true way” of standing out. It’s just the way where money can make a big difference. Serious originality – at least as far as your customer is concerned (we all stand on the shoulders of giants, after all) – is another way. And yeah, a solid gimmick or hook is another… but there has to be more to your game than that. A unique style or visual approach is another. While it’s more subtle, a unique voice or “personality” is another. Maybe a game should stand out by choosing a totally different way of standing out. The bottom line is that a potential player shouldn’t be able to dismiss it as “just another… <fill in the blank> game.”
#3 – You need to achieve a brand
You could create the ideal, perfect game – the One Game to Rule Them All – and it would still more than likely fail utterly in the marketplace, even with decent marketing in place. Or at least Not Succeed Very Well. Success builds on itself. It’s all about being prolific, consistent, and representing quality – as well as forming a long-term relationship with your audience. And a bunch of games out there all drawing attention to themselves as a group will likely be far more successful in the long run than a lone (non-monster) hit.
Maybe it’s my involvement in the world of indie books now that is influencing my opinion, but I’m seeing an indie career a lot more like a baseball game these days. Sure, the home runs are awesome, but you can’t rely on one or two of those to win the game for you. Winning the game means consistent play, mastering the fundamentals, and scoring consistent base hits.
#4 – Focus on providing a quality experience for the customer first, monetizing second
This is really something that goes into all three of the previous objectives, but it’s worth noting. A big chunk of the sea of indie flotsam out there consists of pretty but vapid attempts to cash in on whatever perceived trends are out there. Many appear to have high production values, but it’s all on the up-front eye candy. This seems especially true in the mobile markets. I’m sure it works in the short-term. But it’s choking the industry in the longer term.
I think for long-term success, indies need to focus less on how they can rake in the cash from the customers, and more on how they can provide quality experiences for the customers. Yes, you can’t ignore the financial aspects, but I’ve played too many games where it’s clear that the latter came first in the design. It shows, and it’s irritating enough once. But three or four games down the line, I begin to feel as if it’s all a carefully orchestrated attempt to empty my wallet with little more to offer me, and I’m ready to swear off an entire genre of games. And – in the long term – I want to avoid that particular developer / publisher.
Focusing on the value you provide to the audience will help you make a better, quality game. It’ll help make your game stand out from the sea of carnival barkers masquerading as games. And they’ll help you establish a better long-term relationship with fans. So it’s all good.
Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 4 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 17, 2015
I’m in a bundle right now – the Indie Royale Mixer 16 Bundle. And it’s ridiculous. I mean… ten games for chump change. The kind of money you find under seat cushions. Like I said earlier, at this point it’s really just marketing for the next Frayed Knights. Get the first game practically free, so you’ll buy the sequel!
So if I rail against bundles a tiny bit here, realize that I’m happy to admit I’m officially part of the problem. But I’m not really railing against them. I’m actually working to get my brain around them and understand the Brave New World in which we as game producers and consumers live.
Last night, I went a little nuts on a few available bundles, and I picked up what I’d once have considered almost a two-year supply of games. 23 titles, in total. Plus DLC. 23 games. Back in the day, I considered myself lucky if I picked up one game a month, on the average.
But I’d play the crap out of that one game.
Not so much nowadays. When I’m getting games in bulk, I may install less than half of them, and might only get around to playing half of those within the next 12 months. I mean, it’s great – I end up trying games in these bundles that I’d have never taken a chance on otherwise. Sometimes I find some gems. Indies get a pittance from me even if I never play their game.
The point of these bundles – what it SHOULD be – is marketing. Just like the old days of PC shareware games, where you could get the first episode of Doom or Duke Nukem or Jill of the Jungle for free, and it acted as an extended advertisement for the other games in the series – which usually cost between $15 and $30 a pop. Buy the whole series, and save $10…
In the Real World of marketing, that’s how it’s done (to my knowledge). You do those big discounts to get people in the door. Get people to know who you are, what your product is, and used to you coming around. You get involved in coupon books or whatnot. But unless your product is way overpriced (and no matter what a tiny but vocal group of complainers on the Internet whine about, video games are nowhere near overpriced), you don’t depend on that as your primary source of income. That’s what you do to prime the pump.
I don’t know about all the indie developers out there (not by a longshot — there’s way too many of us now), but it feels like the bundle idea is turning into something else. It’s a quick hit for cash and something of a dumping ground for games. And… is that it?
One of the challenges of the shareware thing in the 90s was that there were soon “too many” shareware titles (dozens and dozens to choose from – kind of adorable by today’s standards). Another, IMHO, was that they really gave too much away. I mean, if you played to the end, sure, you’d hit a cliffhanger and want to play more. But even then, when players like me played the crap out of our much more meager offerings, that was relatively uncommon.
Of course, as a gamer, I really appreciated that. I mean, I played the shareware version of Doom to death long before I forked over the cash for the whole series. More games, more free stuff to play! PC gamers on a limited budget could be pretty satisfied with the wide assortment of shareware episodes available.
I find that pretty analogous to our situation today. As game developers, we need to find a way to leverage the steep-discount mentality that’s taking over these days and use them for more than just a dumping ground to squeeze a few hundred dollars out of our titles. I guess the “freemium” marketplace is exactly that mentality – going back to giving away the game for free as an attempt to up-sell paid content to the user.
We indie developers just need to get smarter about it.
Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 6 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 16, 2015
I’m back home in Salt Lake City after a mercifully uneventful business trip for The Day Job. And there’s stuff happening!
First of all, RPGWatch has published an interview with my friend and fellow indie RPG developer, Charles Clerc of Olderbytes.com:
I’m really looking forward to the new version of S&S:Underworld. Charles gave me a peek at it when we got together during his visit to the U.S. last year, and even in its earlier state, it was impressive. Still awesome old-school flavor, but enhanced with improved technology and a ton of refinements borne of the lessons he’s learned since the original release.
Also, Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is part of the Indie Royale Mixer 16 Bundle. Ten games with steam keys for … well, practically nothing. It’s all part of my cunning marketing plan (hah!) for the sequel. Not that you need to play the first game to enjoy the sequel (in fact, that’s far less of a thing now than I’d originally planned – the second game will stand on its own pretty well… to the point that I’m thinking of dropping the “2” in the title). But if you were waiting for a chance to get it at ridiculously discounted price, it’s unlikely to ever get better than this. Honestly, this is really to get it out to people who hadn’t heard of it yet, but I just want to make sure regular readers here get informed of the best deals.
And the 7-Day Roguelike Challenge ended yesterday. If I hadn’t been out of town, I’d have been sorely tempted to participate. But… the entries are coming in now, and there are a lot of cool games to check out. I’m intrigued by several of the entries…
And… well, that’s all good stuff for now. It’s good to be home and to catch up on stuff!
Filed Under: General - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 13, 2015
Warren Robinett was the guy who brought forth the first (?) console-based adventure game… still something of a rarity… as well as the first known “Easter Egg” in a video game.
I wish I could have attended this long-overdue post-mortem on Atari’s “Adventure,” but this article’s highlights of the session fill me with warm fuzzies:
While game developers were given an amazing amount of autonomy at Atari back then, two things stood out: they weren’t given credit for their creations, and… well, as has often happened ever since with this kind of game, his superiors were less than supportive.
Yet it became a hit and a classic. Go figure.
Filed Under: Adventure Games, Retro - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 12, 2015
The first video games I played did not “hook” me. I mean, I liked ’em, sure. But they didn’t create the passion in me about the medium. That came later. A year or so later. There are a lot of circumstances that could be blamed, but somehow I caught the vision: Imaginary worlds in a computer. Anything was possible. WOW.
Somehow, that translated almost immediately to the idea of making these games. I dunno, I guess the fun of games always came down to a creative desire in me. But I couldn’t comprehend the process that would go into making a game. Computers still sounded alien and futuristic to me. I imagined describing the look and the behavior of this ships to a computer a la Star Trek, with me correcting miraculous assumptions the computer would make when I tried to explain what the triangular space ship from Asteroids would look like.
The funny thing was, I knew my idea was far-fetched, but even funnier was how on some levels, I wasn’t as far off as I thought.
Back then, the Internet was not an easily accessible place overflowing with good and bad information. Back then, even programmable computers were something of a rarity. The information was out there, but you had to physically hunt for it. Hit bookstores and libraries. Pay some money. Take some missteps.
Today – well, today it’s almost ludicrously easy. Thus the overflowing quantity of video games, actually. Finding the information is easy – and free. The tools you need are likewise cheap to free. The only thing that’s really hard is making the game (and it’s a lot easier than it used to be).
And how do you learn how to make a video game? It sounds like circular logic, but it’s by making video games. It’s a lot like learning to play a musical instrument – you need some basic instruction to get started, and can definitely use help and feedback as you go, but you learn by doing. You start simple, you start rough, and you practice. Plain and simple.
So where do you start? How do you get that initial instruction?
Pick a cheap tool that takes you in the direction you want to go that comes with decent documentation, support, and tutorials, and then follow the tutorials. Seriously. Yeah, this may require some homework on your part to find the game engine / system / API that’s “right” for you. That’s easier than what we had to deal with back then.
Back in the day, we’d just type in the code from our books and magazines and hope everything ran in the end. Nowadays, this is done by following the tutorials. But it’s the same kind of process, and we all went through it. Yeah, all you are doing is repeating someone’s steps to make a game. But that’s how you learn.
From there – you make small changes. Tweaks. Change a few small things, maybe a few big things, and see how it’s done. Then you follow another tutorial. Or you try something different, following the pattern you just learned. Rinse, repeat, until you are finally doing all your own stuff.
That’s how we learn. And yeah, it sounds boring. And yeah, there’s nothing revelatory here. What, did you think my advice would be some bolt of lightning that contracted human nature and learning in all fell swoop? No, it’s boringly traditional, but it’s how things have always worked, even before “high tech” was about making fire.
If you find that the tool you chose isn’t doing what you thought it would — choose another one. Nobody’s chaining you to it. I mean, these days, you can get Game Maker Studio, Unity 3D, Unreal, and a dozen other game engines for frickin’ free, and you can make decent, even commercial games out of any of ’em. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you start down the “wrong” path, you’ve really lost nothing. Not even your time… you are still learning, remember? And the knowledge you’ve gained learning to make games far outweighs the no-longer useful knowledge of the specifics of a particular tool / language / SDK / engine / platform.
Trust me. My brain still has a bunch of information about how to code for the original Sony Playstation, the Commodore 64, the Sega Dreamcast, and DirectX 7. While I doubt those particular skillsets will ever be of direct value again, what I learned making games for those obsolete technologies is a much bigger deal, and is with me still. The principles persist – and improve / grow deeper – even if the details keep shifting around.
So don’t get bogged down in analysis paralysis. Don’t agonize for months over which engine you should go with (in that time, you could have written one game in each of them!). And don’t go out on the game dev forums asking incredibly general “how do I make my game?” questions that really come down to requests for someone else to make your game for you. Nobody else really could even if they wanted to.
It’s all down to you, and you knuckling down and getting to work.
If you really are a game developer at heart, it’ll be some of the most fun you’ll have ‘working’ in your life.
Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: Read the First Comment