Gamemaking

Gamemaking

Wherein I talk about games I am making

Apr 212015
 

swg player city SolaceOnce upon a time you could drop things on the ground. It’s one of the first things a baby does, one of the most human things to do. You pick something up, drop it somewhere else. You build piles. Piles turn into houses. They turn into furniture. They turn into gathering places, into churches, into seats of civilizations. Dropping stuff on the ground is pretty important to who we are.

In the last post, I talked about the technical underpinnings that allowed us to provide a dynamic environment in SWG. But really, all that was in service of something bigger: having a living society. One of the challenges in creating online worlds is that societies are powerfully shaped by the environment they are in. A static, unchanging world will inevitably give rise to certain sorts of behaviors: spawn camping, for example. Players flow like water around gameplay obstacles; if a game doesn’t offer them the ability to run a shop, they’ll set up their character as a bot and sit online for hours to replace the system — or rather, the standard human social structure — that is commerce.

A lot of MMO design, especially in the last decade, has been about preventing behaviors, rather than enabling them.

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Apr 202015
 

Corellia0023This post is dedicated to the memory of John Roy, lead environment artist on Star Wars Galaxies. Help out his family here.

Let’s do some math. Let’s say that you need to have a pretty big world: sixteen kilometers on a side, and made out of tiles.

A tile needs to know what texture it is. That’s one byte. Not much, right? You only get 256 tiles on a planet, though, which isn’t a lot.

But wait, we can add some variety there, by putting in some colors. We’re in 3d, right, so we can tint the tiles slightly and get variation. It’s normally three bytes to apply a color, but let’s instead just say that each planet has a fixed list of colors, and you can have 256 of them, and that way each tile can look up into a list of colors and we only need one byte.

Oh, and it’s a 3d game heightfield, so we need to know what the elevation of the tile is! We’ll just say that there are only 256 levels of height, and that way we can keep it at a nice conservative three bytes per tile.

Corellia0004That’s good, because we need a lot of tiles. They’re one meter on a side. So that means that for a planet we need 16,384 just to make one edge. We need 16,384×16,384 to lay down the whole world.

That’s 268,435,456 bytes for this world. Of course, we need ten planets, not one. So, that’s more like 2,684,354,560 bytes. Nobody uses bytes, so that’s 2,621,440k. 2,048mb. 2.56 gigabytes, uncompressed.

That’s… not going to fit on a CD. I mean, that doesn’t include any art yet.

DVD drives weren’t yet widespread in 2003. In fact, taking up 2.5 gigs of space just for maps was unheard of.

Endor0040

The solution to that problem didn’t just let us ship Star Wars Galaxies, it also unlocked everything from player housing to crafting to giant Imperial vs Rebel battles.

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Patent disclaimer

Before you read any farther, you should know that Sony Online actually patented some of the technology that I am going to describe. If you are someone who should not be reading technology patents, you should stop now.

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Game talkGamemakingA Jedi Saga

 Posted by (Visited 3242 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: , , , ,
Apr 162015
 

Yoda_TPM_RotSContinuing here with the questions that were sent in by Jason Yates! Yesterday it was the TEF system… today it’s Jedi! Some of this stuff has been told before, but it’s actually kind of hard to find it all in one continuous tale. I have to preface this with a huge huge disclaimer, though: it’s been fifteen years since this particular story started, and a dozen since it ended. My memory may well be faulty on many details.

#2 What were the thoughts on Jedi and why were such drastic changes made in patch 9 to the entire system?

-Jason Yates

Well, my opinion is Jedi are evil. Heh.

You see, Jedi are an immense attractant to players, readers, viewers. As a kid, I too waved around plastic lightsabers (we kept bending them as we struck one another, I am pretty sure my mom got really sick of buying new ones). Who can resist the fantasy of having this awesome sword, effectively magical powers — mind control, telekinesis, telepathy, and more — and of course, the classic Hero’s Journey? I mean, it’s basically an ideal play scenario.

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Apr 152015
 

swgfactionbattleI was sent this list of Star Wars: Galaxies questions by Jason Yates; he had seen this video interview, and didn’t know enough Spanish to be able to follow the answers. I posted up an English translation of the transcript here, but really, the interview didn’t much overlap with the questions he had.

Is there the possibility of you ever giving a question/answer session in relation to SWG, your views on the game development and direction, aspects of the game you felt worked, worked well, didn’t work at all? Like many, I have so many questions about your involvement with SWG and will likely never get all the answers I would enjoy hearing, but it never hurts to ask. ^_^

Well, honestly, for me it has been fifteen years since I started work on SWG, and twelve since I stopped. So a lot of these questions have either been answered before, or I outright don’t know or remember the answers! So I will give it a try. But the first answer turned out to be so damn long that it’s all I have time for today.

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Game talkGamemakingJackpot Trivia

 Posted by (Visited 1107 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: ,
Mar 102015
 

A while back I mentioned a few game announcements coming soon. One was, of course, Crowfall, about which I hope everyone knows at this point. This post is about another one!

A year ago or so I started working with NTN Buzztime as a consultant– these are the folks who provide bar trivia to venues all over the country. You might have seen their stuff if you ever go to a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, for example. They have been doing networked bar trivia for decades now.

I worked with them to revise the core trivia experience. The press release about the resultant game, Jackpot Trivia, went out today. The chief goal was to make playing trivia more of a local multiplayer game, and to get more people to feel good about playing when they’re in a world with terrifying trivia experts. And yet, you still want expertise to come out ahead… so it was a fun design problem. Read on for how we tackled it…

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Game talkGamemakingA Career: GameDay Peru talk

 Posted by (Visited 1148 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: , ,
Feb 042015
 

IMG_3663Long-time blog readers know that I spent a large chunk of my childhood in Peru. It was there, in fact, that I first started to make games. I lived in Lima, in San Isidro, a relatively well-off neighborhood. It was the height of the Shining Path terrorism period: gringo things were blown up with great regularity. The KFC. The Pizza Hut. The local arcade.

The art institute Instituto Toulouse Lautrec is launching the first ever game design program in Peru this year. There are programs for 3d modelers, animators, and programmers there and elsewhere already. There’s a small but thriving work-for-hire community that also does original game development. The time seemed right. When they asked me to come give a talk, it was an emotional moment — and the first time in almost thirty years that I had set foot in Lima.

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GamemakingWorking on Crowfall!

 Posted by (Visited 1541 times)  Gamemaking  Tagged with: ,
Jan 222015
 

Crowfall_CaravanBanner

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me mention that after a couple of years of being fairly quiet, a lot of game announcements would be hitting soon. Well, one of them hit today! I am very happy to be able to tell the world (finally!) that I have been working with Todd Coleman and my other friends at ArtCraft on Crowfall!

I’ve been hopping on Skype every couple of weeks to go over game designs with Todd & crew for almost a year now. It started out as general brainstorming stuff, and as the team grew, we’ve been able to move on to working directly on designs and even picking apart UIs. I’ve helped out on everything from economics and materials design to yeah, dipping my toes into Todd’s bloodthirstiness and the warfare design that is embodied in “play to crush.” :) (If there was any doubt this is Todd’s game, that should be a hefty clue!)

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Game talkGamemakingPrivateer Online

 Posted by (Visited 5078 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: , ,
Jun 192014
 

privateeronline7In the wake of the excitement over No Man’s Sky and its procedural worlds, I thought that it might be a good time to tell some of the story around the version of Privateer Online that I worked on, that never saw the light of day.

After I moved off the UO team, I worked on several MMO concepts for Origin. The mandate was explicitly “come up with something that we can make using the UO server and client pretty much intact, without big changes, because we need it quick.” This limited the possible projects enormously, of course.

So I started developing one-sheet concepts that fit the bill. None of them got farther than a few pages, and the idea was to give execs some choices on what we would go make.

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GamemakingMonkey-X

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May 132014
 

Monkey-X is my current favorite language for doing game prototypes and even full projects. It isn’t at all widely known, and has more than a few rough edges, but I still find it congenial and thought I’d share so that more people will give it a try.

When I went looking for something to code in, I had the following criteria:

  • Get stuff on screen in under an hour. Ideally, under ten minutes.
  • Output to as many platforms as possible.
    • Web, because that is useful for accessibility, Facebook, demos, and more.
    • Desktop, because that’s where midcore and core gamers still live.
    • Mobile, because the whole world is moving to touch.
  • Avoid porting. Porting is tedious and expensive. Yes, you get the advantage of maximizing use of the hardware, but the fact is that there’s a lot of headroom on hardware these days.
  • A community large enough to supply libraries for things I don’t want to write myself. I am no great shakes as a coder, you see.
  • Syntax that doesn’t make my eyes cross (looking at you, Objective C).
  • Garbage collection. Why? Because I always mess it up, and then it gets in the way of being productive.

Monkey-X met these criteria, though the community is still pretty small.

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Game talkGamemakingA vision exercise

 Posted by (Visited 3478 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with:
Jan 152014
 
…the real work is the film, and the tasks that go into the completed film are all parts of the process. To put it bluntly, as long as the film is made, it doesn’t matter what method was used…
– Hayao Miyazaki

A lot of times, we don’t quite know what the game we are actually making is. It doesn’t matter whether we’re working by ourselves or with a team… the problem can still arise. Maybe we have a collection of features we think we want. Or we have requirements from managers or money people. We perhaps have an IP license in the mix. We have a target market. We have a deep burning desire to express something, something personal or something aesthetic or something lofty.

For me, formalizing tools like this is like tying string around a finger. It’s to help me remember.

A lot of time is often lost to working madly on pieces of all this, without knowing what the core points of what we are making actually are. If you have all the time in the world, this can be just fine — after a while, you start cutting back things you put in originally, as the heart of what you are making becomes clearer.

In my experience, teams that can articulate the soul of the game are more likely to be successful than those who aren’t; and teams that have not yet jelled or that are new to gamemaking are the ones least likely to know their game’s soul.

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