Archive for March, 2015

Forests and Sky Whales

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

I’m almost ready with version 2 of my paper prototype. I’ll have four days off this weekend, which should be enough to get that into a pretty reasonable state, while also doing a new character model. The current one is fine as an initial proof of concept, but it’s very much a generic sword dude. And I’ve learned a few things in the process that I can improve on. And there’s definitely ways I want to push the style a bit more. Might even have time to do some animation, which in my initial experiments has not proven quite as easy as expected. It’s no simple matter to plug in someone else’s animation; in most cases it’s actually easier to animate things yourself, and just use the animation pack stuff as a guide. I also need to make a new arena. The current one isn’t terrible, but I want to make a proper 3D one, not just a cube with a texture on it. I also want something more modular, where each tile is its own block. Hopefully that should make it easier to design new arenas.

So, here’s a few interesting things I came across today…

First, a platformer. An all too common indie genre to be sure, but it might just be the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen. Check out some of the art here: LINK

 

Then, I was rather impressed by this concept trailer for Moby Sky Dick (which obviously should be what it’s called):

— Peace, beauty and sky whales

 

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Yet More Tactics

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

This is a little something I came across on the Indie Game Developers FB group — Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire. It’s yet another tactics game, and clearly drawing hefty inspiration from Banner Saga. To be honest, I’m not super keen on all the environment art, but the animation is gorgeous and the setting sounds rather unique. Obviously it’s hard to say much about the gameplay at this point, though these Aussies seem to know what they’re doing.

If this sort of thing happens to strike your fancy, please head on over to the Kickstarter page forthwith: LINK

— Peace and astral echoes

 

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Those Dang Druids

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

I’ve lately started watching a lot of TotalBiscuit’s videos. Mostly his Hearthstone series, but also some of his well known WTF game reviews. And one of these recently caught my eye. A turn-based tactics game in fact, which may or may not come as a surprise. A tactics game featuring druids of all things. And going by the name of ‘A Druid’s Duel’. As luck would have it, my tactics game also had a rather druidic theme for the longest time. Although mine was not about shapeshifting, but rather about summoning golems. And for a long time I called this game concept ‘Iron, Root and Stone,’ or IRAS for short, handily combining the IRA and the IRS into a single super-acronym. Naturally, there were three types of shapers, as I called them, each specialized in summoning golems and obstacles based on their particular domain.

I’ve actually thought about keeping the title, despite my shift to a gladiator theme. There are ways to make it work, though they seem a little ham-fisted. And there are some other issues with this name too. It is a bit wordy, obscure sounding, and commas are not so good for SEO. They also makes the name awkward to mention in a list of game titles. I have another name in mind right now, but I’d rather not draw attention to it until I’ve made up my mind. Branding is absolutely vital in this business, and is absolutely something I have to solidify over the next few months. For starters I’m going to need a name, a logo and preferably some sort of poster boy character, like the big daddies in Bioshock or the raider dude from Borderlands. Ideally, I would start outputting a lot of concept art and screenshots after that, all with consistent presentation and a logo in the corner. That is plenty of work though, so I’m not entirely sure how well I’ll be able to follow best practices. Although concept art is obviously something I have to do anyway. I need some method of figuring out what these gladiators will look like, and drawing is pretty much the only possible starting point. However, my concepts do tend to be fairly quick things. Lighting and color are something I don’t really need to figure out until I go 3D, and the plain grayscale drawings are not necessarily that much to look at. But I think I’ll get around to making a few more rendered concepts even if they’re not obviously useful. Photoshop coloring is a skill I definitely want to improve on in any case.

Anyway, back on to this druid game I was talking about. It’s fairly interesting really, but mechanically pretty distinct from what I have in mind. Very chess-like, where my game is a lot closer to a tabletop war game. Druid’s Duel is also a smaller game, especially with regard to unit types, which is something I always seem to focus my efforts on. I think Arkeia has over fifty unit types, and Scrap Metal Heroes has about 200 different parts. Of course this sort of scope has always come with its own cost, mainly in polish and balance testing.

And by the way, the game looks a little something like this:

— Peace and druidic victories

 

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Besieged

Friday, March 13th, 2015

This game is, hands down, the best investment you can make with seven dollars. I love the graphics, and the endless inventiveness. It’s not all just about catapults and siege towers. It’s surprisingly easy to make helicopters and walking robots too. Of course the classic limitation with sandbox games eventually crops up: it is far more a toy than a game. You poke at it for a while and it does some hugely amusing things, but that only goes so far. Still, for what it does I can’t recall any game doing it better.

 

— Peace and reckless destruction

 

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By the Hearth

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

I’ve been playing a fair bit of Hearthstone recently. Never got super into it back when it first came out, mainly due to the card pool being so tiny compared to MTG. But now things are looking a lot better, with two expansions out and a third one on the way. There are actually a couple things in this game that I prefer to the MTG way. The dependable resources for one are very nice. You never end up getting mana screwed or flooded by unwanted clumps in your deck. The hero powers are quite welcome too. I like always being able to do something, even if I can’t play any cards.

I’ve mainly played the priest and the warlock, which does kinda make sense, since my favorite thing to do in card games is drawing cards (logical, no?). And these two classes are the best at it, I think. The amount of card advantage you can get with the priest’s Northshire Clerics is ridiculous, especially at the lower ranks where people tend to play right into it. Then the warlock of course has the only hero power that draws cards. A very handy thing to have in a pinch. The warlock doesn’t have any synergies as blatant as all the priestly healing shenanigans, but there are some nice plays possible.

Naturally, I’m always looking to other games for good ideas, so it’s definitely worth asking what I can take away from Hearthstone’s mechanics. And the answer is surprisingly little. Really only the broadest concepts between Hearthstone and my gladiator game show any similarity. And those same concepts are found in any number of other games. Honestly, what I would most like to take away from Hearthstone is its relative simplicity, its effective communication, the powerful visual feedback, and its almost toylike nature. I recently played another card game called Duels of Champions, which I’d argue had very little of those things. It might possibly be a deeper game than Hearthstone (and certainly has more cards), but I found it very difficult to approach. Lots of really arcane effects written out in tiny text, and a rather convoluted system of rows and columns to play cards on. As much as I like the idea of grid-based tactics, I’ve never been that into card games that try to shoe-horn grids into them. I haven’t managed to get into Scrolls for the same reason. The art in that game is also a rather mixed bag.

Come to think of it, there really hasn’t been a tactics game that entirely won me over. The old school might & magic model never appealed to me that much. One of the biggest issues I have with those is the variable number of units represented by a single character graphic. That’s just a complete and utter failure in visual communication, in my humble opinion. Why would you draw all the attention to the gloriously rendered models of shiny knights if the tiny numbers at their feet are way more important?

Age of Wonders is one tactics-oriented game I did play quite a lot back in the day. But eventually I got tired of the slow pacing of the combat. You literally spend the vast majority of your time just shuffling dudes around on giant battlefields. Similar to Total War in that regard. Among more modern examples I suppose my favorites would be Hero Academy and Skulls of the Shogun, though both of those games veer a bit too casual. They both have tiny selections of unit types and no real ability to create army builds. Hero Academy also fails in my opinion by having incredibly slow multi-player, and no single-player to speak of. Clearly I have no choice now but to make the game that does everything right. How hard could that be?

— Peace and perfect games¬†

 

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Fully Free

Friday, March 6th, 2015

Finally got around to making Scrap Metal Heroes fully free, which is the only natural solution now that Mochi doesn’t exist anymore. Wasn’t all that much work, really, and I should have gotten to it sooner. But it took a few e-mails from fans to get the ball rolling. I’ve definitely come a long way as a programmer since those days. I can’t fathom now how I ever managed to use Flash Pro as my IDE. It just doesn’t do anything code-wise other displaying it. Countless headaches might have been avoided back in the day if I’d taken the time to learn FlashDevelop, for example. But oh well.

Looking at this game now, almost five years later, it does look rather clunky and amateurish. Though, on the other hand, I can’t claim to have made anything better since. But a better thing is definitely in the pipes, slowly working its way towards the firing chamber. There’s still a lot to learn about Unity and a new workflow to master, but I’m not seeing any major obstacles at the moment. On top of my greater programming experience, I think I’ve also managed to develop a better awareness for good design over these past couple years. Both in terms of visuals and game mechanics. Admittedly there is a limit to how much one guy can do. I can’t claim to be a superb artist, a great designer, or a genius programmer. I’m undoubtedly a jack of all trades, a master of none. And to make something as complex as a game with those limits in mind, there are a few essential keys to keep in mind.

The first key is to find a project that fits into that skill set as smoothly as possible. Within each of those roles it is possible to find a particular slice where I do in fact excel. I would be hopeless at 2D animation, for instance, and also pretty useless at making triple-A shooter character models. But stylized 3D characters that strive to take full advantage of the lifetime I’ve spent drawing various warrior dudes? That is something I think I can do pretty damn well.

The second key is to find good references. There’s a lot of people out there who are better than me at various things, and much of what I want to make has already been done in different forms. So you have to be open to those influences, find what works for you, and break down how other people have done similar things.

The final key would be scope and feedback. Technically that’s more like two keys, but it’s my post and my rules, so bite it. Scope has definitely gotten away from me before, especially on Empires of Arkeia. I really don’t need to have fifty gladiator classes in this thing. In fact it’ll probably be a much stronger game with twenty, or even fifteen, sparing enough time to make sure they all play amazingly. And feedback is another area where I’ve been lacking. It’s easy to believe you know your own game best, but it’s often amazing how that closeness can also make you miss some really obvious things.

Well, it is getting mighty late right about now, so I believe I’ll just awkwardly cut it off right there and bid you all a gentle night.

— Peace and a good set of keys

 

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Unity 5!

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Unity 5 is finally out after seeming eons of hype. There’s actually not that much new in there that’s useful to me. The new lighting stuff is impressive, but will likely not make an appearance in my game. I’m currently pretty happy with the cel-shaded look I have going for myself. But as before, nothing is yet carved in balsa wood, so who knows.

The paper prototype continues to progress with new classes, new tweaks and a new concept for skinny, standing cards to replace the miniatures. It’ll be glorious once I get this prototype into the sort of shape where each side has a real choice of gladiators. And obviously it’ll be ten times more glorious once I get it all running in Unity, hopefully at least resembling what I have whirling about in my head.

— Peace and Unity

 

 

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Prototyping is Key

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

So, I’ve been working on a new paper prototype for the past two days. You’d think I would know better by now, but I honestly did not realize quite how many assumptions would be proven wrong in a very quick prototype match. I actually thought infinite range archer attacks with no LOS restrictions might be a good idea. Turns out they’re really not very interesting, and are OP as hell unless you make the damage trivial. Lessons, lessons. But plenty of progress has been made. I’ve ended up making quite a few key changes to the stamina system, and I finally got rid of armor, but overall I have managed to keep the core concepts in place. I don’t want to give away too much, as things are very far away from being carved in stone (not even carved in balsa wood at this point). But things are starting to look really promising. Even at this early stage with only three gladiator classes defined, I can already tell this is by far the best combat system I’ve come up with. It’s also something I’ve never really seen before, which is always a good thing.

Here’s a quick shot of what the current prototype looks like in action:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— Peace and more prototyping

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