Archive for April, 2012

Almost There

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Yeah, I know, Arkeia is taking a bit longer than I’ve previously suggested. It’ll be worth the wait though, and it is getting really close to being testable. I’ve been expanding it a bit over the past couple days, trying to aim for a reasonable gameplay length this time. I’m now up to 60 cities and 70 unit types (20 player ones and 50 enemies). I still feel like there’s room to add more, but I think I’ll wait until I get a bit of feedback first. It’s going to be tight, but I would still like to have a release-worthy build out by the end of the month. Then upload it to FGL no later than the first week of May. Perhaps finish the iPhone version by June, and then I could at last move on to my new bot-building idea. Maybe get that done by September, and who knows where I’ll go from there.

– Peace and flexible deadlines

 

 

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World Building

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the world of Arkeia. The ‘Empires of Arkeia’ game itself takes place in only a small part of it, but I’ll probably use more of this world in future titles. The original, paper version of the map goes way back, perhaps as far back as high school. I rediscovered it about a year ago and proceeded to expand on it. The basic concept is a low magic fantasy world with a concrete foundation in real history. The dominant landmass here is effectively a distorted version of Europe. Lyonia is kinda like Spain, Kelden is Gaul (modern France), Eyren is Celtic Ireland, Strazza is Germany, Hestia is Italy, Helian Isles are Greece, Kemet is Egypt, etc. The fictional cultures within are by no means exact analogues, of course, but their key traits and names are very similar. It could be argued that this way of creating fantasy is terribly unoriginal. Just grabbing a bunch of historical archetypes and slapping on a veneer of magic, instead of coming up with something really unique. And yes, that’s essentially true. But here’s the thing: true originality is effectively impossible. Although you can get pretty close to it. You could invent a culture where people wear colorful hoops around their shoulders and sleep upside down in tree houses. Perhaps they have names like Dkartubbii and Gkirbboo. That sounds pretty original to me. But developing all that out in consistent detail is really hard work. And then your audience will have to work equally hard to learn all that crap, because it’s so different from everything they already know. Even when all that work is done, the audience will probably still find your world strange, implausible and difficult to relate to.

In my own experience, the novels I’ve found to be the most plausible and memorable have always rested on strong historical tropes. The Game of Thrones (aka ASoIaF) series is a prime example. Westeros is basically medieval England, with a touch of mediterranean culture in southern Dorne. In fact, you could safely place the series in the 14th century, judging by their armor and castle building skills. Arguably, that makes it all a touch too familiar, but it does make it easy to get a feel for how the world works. Interestingly, the eastern region in GoT has a much weaker historical basis. It’s more of a mish mash of oriental influences, with some further bits of entirely fictional exotica. There’s definitely touches of Arabia, Persia, India and Babylon in there. Of course the ancient Valyrians are somewhat like the Romans. And the Ghiscari have a bit of a Carthaginian ring to them. But because it’s all such a mish mash, you can’t effectively use pre-existing knowledge to infer unsaid details. Just because they have pyramids doesn’t necessarily mean they have a powerful priesthood and really like mummies. As a result, I’ve heard from a lot of people that they find the eastern cultures shallow and implausible.

The novels of Guy Gavriel Kay are another good example. I’m reading one now called Tigana, which takes place on a peninsula quite similar to renaissance Italy. Except this time its being fought over by two greedy sorcerers from beyond the sea. From what I’ve heard, many of his other books take it even further, going to the point where specific characters are clearly based on historical figures. There’s drawbacks to this approach for sure, but it works especially well for a non-visual medium. If it seems like 16th century Italy, you immediately have a good idea of what clothes, buildings and furniture should look like. Even if you only know because you’ve played Assassin’s Creed 2.

You don’t see this done very often in games, really. Fantasy-set games tend strongly towards some very well worn high fantasy tropes. Some shallow, Arthurian version of medieval Europe with a bit of random geographic and cultural bits thrown in from elsewhere. All of it mythified and mysticalized up the wall, always with an ancient, newly woken evil spreading through the land. It all blurs together for me, honestly. The lore between many of these games is just so interchangeable. Aside from the predictable, medievalish foundation, a major culprit for me is the overuse of magic. What you might call the ‘dragon-out-the-ass-effect.’ Things might start out with a perfectly understandable sequence of events in the lore, with a bunch of kings, armies, betrayals, etc. Then out of the blue a wizard pulls a dragon out of his rear and takes over the land. The rules of the world seem to go right out the window. And you start to wonder, can anyone yank out these dragons? What are the exact limits of anal dragon magic? Rarely are these questions ever answered, with a coherent set of rules provided by which the world is supposed to function. Magic just happens, doing whatever the hell the writer feels like it should.

Skyrim is one of the few examples that does use a specific historical setting to create a more plausible sense of place. It should be commended for it, although the game’s backstory is still little different from the usual gibberish. Really, there needs to be more of this (the setting, not the gibberish). Why is there so much Tolkien-derived, shallow Arthurianism? Why so many orcs, elves and lich kings? Where are the fantasy epics inspired by Aztec society? By the wild west? By ancient Tibet? By the Mali Empire? By bronze age India? History is so full of colorful variations on the human experience, and we seem to be stuck peering at the same narrow slice of it.

There’s a simple answer of course. You may have noticed that I’ve got my own orcs and skeletons too. Why would I do that, if I’ve got such a problem with the old cliches? Because they work. Empires of Arkeia is a small, rather simple game aimed at a casual audience. It needs easily recognizable bad guys. While it does have some Greekness to it, and I’ve written out plenty of history-inspired complexity to the rest of the world, there’s really no room in the game to show it. There are some Greek-inspired names and helmets but that’s about it. Eventually, I’ll get to the epic Tibetan fantasy world we’ve all been waiting for, but I’ve got to start somewhere.

– Peace and well-built worlds

 

 

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The Next Big MMO

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

No, that acronym doesn’t make too much sense, does it? Massively multiplayer online what, you might wonder. Massive multiplayer online skeet shooting, perhaps? Really, MMORPG is just such a mouthful. At one point I just called them ‘morps’ but that doesn’t seem to have caught on. So MMO it’ll have to be.

And what is the next biggie? Guild Wars 2 is the likeliest candidate at this point, according to the hype mill. Pre-purchases of the game just became available today, but apparently a lot of stores started selling them yesterday and are already sold out. I’m not sure if this is necessarily a sign of enormous fan fervor, or if the pre-purchases are strategically very limited in number. To stem the tide of people making their way into beta, perhaps?

Either way, I don’t really care all that much myself. I used to be incredibly hyped for this thing, but a bit of realism has sunk in since then. I’m sure it’ll be a good game, but it’s no revolutionary online eden. I’ll probably even buy it fairly soon after release, but I still think the people spending $150 on the collector’s edition for something that’s still 3-6 months away are a little insane. Although to be fair, if there’s beta access involved, then it’s a bit more understandable. More ‘eccentric’ than ‘deranged loon,’ I would say.

TotalBiscuit’s GW2 videos have given me a pretty grounded view of GW2. Sure, there’s lots of innovation in it, but it’s still using a lot of the same old tracks. Yes, the public quests and organic quest chains look like a great change of pace from static quest hubs. And yes, it does seem like there’s a lot of freedom without strictly level-coded questing zones. So, the facade isn’t quite as thin and tacky as it’s been before. There’s still plenty of cracks showing up though. Some of the public quest battles look little different from a sparkly game of whack-a-mole, with mobs constantly popping out of the ground and dropping from the sky in front of your face.

Actually I’m feeling pretty suspicious about the entire ‘content scaling’ that’s been paraded as one of the key features. Strangely, I can’t remember seeing any negative reactions to that system, so maybe they’ve figured out some way to make it work. I just have trouble imagining such a quest and level scaling mechanic that still maintains a sense of consistency. So, stuff gets harder depending on how many people participate. Sounds like a great idea, right? So let’s say I’m having some trouble with a camp of five bandits, and call four friends over to help out. Then what? Twenty extra bandits magically pop out of the ground? Or the original bandits suddenly have five times more hit points? Might be it’s a bit more subtle than that. Maybe they only get double HP and a couple extra allies that pop in one at a time. Still silly and terribly transparent.

Admittedly, I’m sketchy on the details but I have to wonder: what exactly is the end result of this scaling? Does it really mean that the game can never be really easy or incredibly hard? Must the challenge always be just ‘right’. If I want to explore the Hellmouth of Doom and Dragonfire at level 1, will I scale up accordingly so I can whoop some dragons? Or if I’m an all-conquering, level 80 warlord might I get crushed by a pack of bunnies at the local potato farmer’s field? What do levels even mean if my power is always adjusted according to the content?

– Peace and happy leveling

 

 

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Only Days Remaining

Monday, April 9th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arkeia is almost feature complete. I just implemented saving last night, and then made this new front menu splash graphic. Ain’t she a beauty? So much better than the last one.

The game is basically playable right now, but a couple little things remain. A dialogue system for delivering narrative and tutorial, a few extra environment assets, and some data entry for the various levels. I’d also like to change some sounds and add a couple more units, but those can wait for the testing phase. I should be there in no more than 2-3 days. Now that I’ve finally finished my UBC painting class, I can devote nearly all my time to this thing. Just hope there’s still some kongregate folks looking forward to it, after all this time. I want to give Arkeia a fair bit of polish, so I could definitely use a substantial tester pool this time around.

РPeace and finished projects 

 

 

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Beyond Arkeia

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Now that Arkeia is finally nearing completion, I’ve spent some time thinking about what to do next. In a way it’s perhaps premature, as some things may change depending on how Arkeia does. For instance, if the iPhone version ends up performing way better than the flash one, I may end up exclusively on the iPhone for a while. And if the game as a whole is really successful, I might not be able to resist the urge to do a sequel right away. On the other hand, I do have a number of other ideas I’d like to get to and I’m getting a bit tired of lane-based combat.

For one thing, Scrap Metal Heroes really deserves a sequel of some kind. But definitely one without lanes. At the moment, I’m envisioning a small team (perhaps 4-5) of customized robots, which you can control in typical RTS fashion. Move them, tell them what to attack and trigger special abilities at the right time. There’s an iPhone game called BattleHeart that does this pretty well. The only thing I don’t much like in their system is having nothing more than individual cooldowns on abilities. It means there’s barely ever a reason not to use a ready ability, so you’re constantly clicking between units, just checking cooldown meters and spamming abilities. Either a character-specific or global resource would force you to make some actual choices there.

The robot building would remain pretty similar to SMH. One thing I would like to add is an ability to mix and match different arms, so that you could pair a right-side hammer arm with a left-side plasma cannon, for instance. Then you’d switch between the two in a fight, depending on circumstance. Not sure how useful such flexibility might be, compared to making more specialized bots. Would largely depend on how difficult it is to avoid melee.

Another thing I don’t care for in the original is the power scaling of parts, how so many choices became obsolete by the late game. Just in terms of designing objects and producing graphical assets, it’s quite a pain to make lots of power tiers, each with a healthy selection of parts. And it has a lot of drawbacks for the player as well. The number of parts creates a lot of need for inventory management, and forces players to abandon parts they might really like for aesthetic or thematic reasons. However, a sense of power progression is kinda important too, so I’m considering an upgrade system that lets you improve individual parts. Makes perfect sense given the DIY bot tinkerer setting. Just bolt a couple extra metal plates inside the head and your armor rating goes up. Install better electronics and more of your shots will hit. Lots of potential for customization there.

Another option is a point-buy system where more advanced parts might be more powerful but they’re also more expensive to maintain, so you’re not able to bring as many bots to a fight. Only kinda, sorta makes sense though, and has definite risks of overcomplicating things.

For the between battle bits, I’d love to have some kind of open overworld you can travel through. So much more characterful and immersive than just menus. Also appropriate, given the name of my company. Clear goals and sense of direction, but with a fair number of options on what to do between key story locations. It could be presented as a fairly simple map. Not too different from old-school final fantasy, back in the day when they were still relatively open. And relatively good.

An interesting option for the battle system would be having your bot-maker avatar personally on the battlefield, guiding his creations. He could have his own powerful abilities, but you’d lose the battle as soon as he fell. Pretty similar to a miniature game I’ve recently gotten into called Warmachine. In that your tactics very much revolve around protecting your warcaster leader from being assassinated. Right now I feel there’s too much danger of overcomplication in such a system, but it’s an idea.

 

I have a number of other ideas in the old drawer as well, though this is without doubt the strongest contender. I would still like to do something with the remains of Fortify the Border, my recently abandoned defense game. I’m not sold on the Rise of the Colony style mechanics, but I do like the interface and maps I produced for it. I think some kind of isometric, RTS-style castle building would be an interesting change of pace.

Another concept I have is a gladiator school management game. Buy slaves, recruit trainers, set up a training regimen, expand the school, advertise, equip gladiator teams and enter tournaments. Kinda like the Sims with a lot more blood and slavery. Perhaps not very politically correct, but it strikes me as a pretty original idea. Can’t remember ever seeing a business management game combined with a combat system. Of course there might be good reason for that too. Such a hybrid might end up being a rather small niche. Slavery might also be something of a PR minefield; I’m sure there are some unwritten rules about that. Certainly there are games that feature slaves, but I can’t remember any where you so directly own and control them. In at least some of the Civ games you can enslave foreign workers/populations, but that’s a very abstract representation.

I’ve also been pondering a strategy-RPG hybrid I’d like to make once I move beyond casual games. Unity might be a good place to start for that. Basically, you’re a mercenary captain in a low-magic fantasy world, travelling around the land with a small army, taking on quick contracts. Another overworld plus some Starcraft-scale battles, so a few individual heroes and a couple small squads under your command. Once again, Warmachine has greatly influenced my thinking on this idea. That game does a really good job of giving each unit and robot a unique role to play. It’s not so rock-paper-scissors dominated as Starcraft, nor so predictable as Total War. Warmachine has also gotten me intrigued by probability-based combat systems. Attack skill vs defense to determine chance of hitting, power vs armor to determine chance of causing damage. Makes a lot more sense to me than just hitpoint depletion. Sure, it is a little more complicated but I could see it working in a non-casual PC game.

I’ve actually done quite a lot of background lore on the setting for this game idea; I’ll have to write a bit more about that one day.

– Peace and great ideas

 

 

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