Gamemaking

Gamemaking

Wherein I talk about games I am making

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 817 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 4673 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 3300 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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GamemakingA little card game prototype

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Sep 052013
 

I have been working on four or five 20130905-144728.jpggame projects at once for the last few months, and they are all at various stages of completion. I had been waiting to do an announcement once I had things like, oh, a company name… but this just arrived in the mail today and I couldn’t wait to share it. Shame on me for blowing the “proper” social media marketing plan, but oh well…

This here is a nicely printed copy of a prototype I have been working on. Given the photo, I can’t keep the name secret, so… it’s currently named Rainbow, obviously.

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Game talkGamemakingThe Ready Player One MMO was Metaplace

 Posted by (Visited 7575 times)  Game talk, Gamemaking  Tagged with: ,
Aug 302013
 


MMORPG.com has an article about a hypothetical Ready Player One MMO.

For those who haven’t read it, Ready Player One is a novel by Ernest Cline that describes a network of virtual spaces running on a common operating system, called OASIS. The story is a fun romp, not too deep, about a kid who is looking for the secret prize hidden in an insane scavenger hunt scenario by the network’s creator.

The book is full of geek references. The skillful playing of Joust is a key point; so is the ability to recite Ferris Bueller’s Day Off from memory. But of course, part of what captivates a gamer is the description of OASIS itself: a giant network of virtual spaces, capable of encompassing pretty much every sort of virtual space you might want.

So the article asks, what about building something like that. Well, we did.

Metaplace predated the novel. But really, the book describes basically what we built, and which is now gone. (The tech survives, within Disney, but isn’t used in this fashion anymore).

I think many MMORPG fans were barely even aware it existed, because really, it got almost no marketing. And while we were around, people were perpetually confused as to what it was. Frankly, I found it too big an idea to wrap up well in a marketing message.

  • a generic server architecture that could handle anything from arcade games to MMOs. Servers ran in the cloud, so it was designed to be really, really scalable. Just keep adding worlds. At the time we closed it, there were tens of thousands of them.
  • the ability for players to own and make their own spaces. You didn’t even need to know how to make stuff in 3d modeling, it imported SketchUp from Google Warehouse even. You didn’t need to host your own art.
  • scriptable to the point where you could make a whole game in it. The scripting used Lua, which was a barrier for people. We had made moves towards letting people snap together behaviors (drag and drop AI onto something in the world, for example) but probably didn’t go far enough.
  • full web connectivity in and out, so that you could have stuff from the real world manifest in the games, or game stuff feed out to the web. Like, an MMO where the mobs are driven by stock quotes was easy to make. Or hooking a Metaplace world up to say Moodle (for education) or having NPCs read their dialogue from external sources. We had one world which performed any Shakespeare play by reading the plays off of a remote server, spawning NPCs for all the parts, and interpreting the stage directions.
  • agnostic as far as client, so you could connect lo-fi or full fancy 3d — in theory. We never got to the 3d, but we had clients running on mobile devices, PCs, and in web browsers. If we were still pursuing it, you can bet we’d be doing an Oculus version right about now. :)
  • worlds connected to one another, and you might change from world to world, but you also had a common identity across all the worlds. You could walk from Pac-Man into Azeroth, so to speak.

I think a lot of people were turned off by the 2d graphics, and a lot were turned off by the fact that there wasn’t a full MMO there to just play, and a lot of people found building too hard. A huge part of why we didn’t succeed is that we were too many things to too many different people, and that split our efforts in far too many directions. The result was a tight but small community that never started to really grow.

But if you were ever wondering why something like the Ready Player One/Snow Crash style world hasn’t been made — well, there it was… open from 2007 to 2009. It saddens me to see it forgotten so quickly, though in many ways it really did end up as just a footnote in virtual world history. I get a lot of “the last thing you did was SWG in 2003″ from people who clearly didn’t know it existed or weren’t interested because it wasn’t a hack n slash gameworld.

I might spend the time to dig through some screenshot archives and post up some examples of what got made. I miss that community a lot.

GamemakingMy first game

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Apr 032013
 

At PAX East, there was a panel where a bunch of devs talked about their first games. They asked me and a few others to send in a video… and this is what I sent them.

The saga of how I managed to make it, though, is a little more intricate, involving copying all my Atari 8-bit floppies to PC. I used the USB SIO2PC interface from Atarimax to connect the floppy drive direct to the PC.  I then captured video directly within Altirra. Some of the disks were dead, alas, but I was able to recover about a half dozen games and partial games that I wrote when I was 14 and 15. Maybe at some point I’ll do posts on them.

You also get to see a glimpse of what was my real bootcamp in game design. It wasn’t the videogames. Frankly, I wasn’t a good enough programmer to make great games, really, and so a lot of the games were clone-like in a lot of ways. A truly ridiculous amount of them consist of nothing more than the title screen. No, it was the boardgames I did as a kid that in retrospect really taught me the basics… I must have made several dozen, and they’d get playtested during recess periods at school. At some point, I will definitely do a post about those. I still have many of them.

Mar 152012
 

This is post #2,342 on this blog (not counting the dozens of articles, snippets, and presentations not in the blog database)… yet more of the over a quarter-million words written here since the site started in 1997 and the blog in 1998. And I have to admit, I tend to take for granted the idea that people have read all the stuff that matters, so they understand me when I throw around terms or assume that they know what my past writing on the topic is. Which is ludicrous, of course.

So I got asked on Twitter for a list of my juiciest game design posts, to serve as a central jumping-off point.

This was hard. But here’s a list of ones that I think are my best. Many of these are actually talks, rather than posts. These are usually in sort of rough reverse chronological order, but there’s plenty of places where they are just in the order I found them in, or random cut & paste order.

Feel free to list your own favorites in the comments. And if you haven’t seen some of these before, well, this is the best way to catch up on my overall beliefs and philosophies on games.

Theory of fun (cognition and games) and game grammar overview. This covers the very highest level structure of the thinking on these two interrelated subjects.

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Jan 262012
 

When I said that narrative was not a game mechanic, but rather a form of feedback, I was getting at the core point that chunks of story are generally doled out as a reward for accomplishing a particular task. And games fundamentally, are about completing tasks — reaching for goals, be they self-imposed (as in all the forms of free-form play or paideia, as Caillois put it in Man, Play and Games) or authorially imposed (or ludus). They are about problem-solving in the sense that hey are about cognitively mastering models of varying complexity.

Some replies used the word “content” to describe the role that narrative plays. But I wouldn’t use the word content to describe varying feedback.

In other words, perverse as it may sound, I wouldn’t generally call chunks of story “game content.” But I would sometimes, and I’ll even offer up a game design here that does so.

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