Tag Archives: gaming

general update.

So, here’s where it’s at with Scout’s Journey development as of now. I apologize in advance for the wall of text. I hope it is worth reading. A better format may be forthcoming.

General situation

Game development has been continuous from 2012 until today and is still going strong, with a recent milestone reached in that the plot is completely written. Money is an issue, but that has always been the case and is no blocker. My health is not optimal, and something is being done about that. Also no real blocker, but bothersome and has definitely impacted the pace of development in the last 3 years. However, progress is made all the time.

A major problem is just sheer loneliness; few people in the indie game scene are doing what I am doing, although reports keep popping up of people finishing games after near-decade-long development etc., so others are out there. But day-to-day exchange with similar projects is rare because they almost don’t exist. People from a modding or general indie background often flat out don’t understand what the project is: A standalone story-based first person 3D game with combat, stealth and exploration mechanics. Such a thing is incredibly rare in the indie game world.

Timeline

  • Game started out as a collection of ideas during work on Remake Quake, a Quake mod, from 2007 to 2012. Lots of these ideas didn’t fit the Quake mold.
  • SJ became its own project in the summer of 2012, running on a variety of idtech-based engines (RMQengine, Warsow engine, FTE, Darkplaces etc). Tests were also done on Unity relatively early.
  • Main asset development is in Blender.
  • A dedicated codebase (gamecode) existed for the game while it ran on the idtech engines, and was developed relatively far, especially the RPG aspects (interactive GUI, novel gameplay mechanics, custom all-original NPC dialogue parsing etc were all functional).
  • Lots of assets were developed, including two full levels of a scale much bigger than Quake (later divided into sublevels for performance), two more gigantic locations that were leftovers from RMQ, a full weapon lineup, props etc.
  • Levels were converted from BSP to mesh with meshcollision relatively early.
  • Terrain modelling methods were tested and refined.
  • The game went to combination lightmaps/realtime lights pretty early.
  • Character modelling has begun but was put on hold when it turned out that the story side of the game was a mess. (Also, that is hard.)

Changes

The idtech engines were abandoned along the way simply because I deemed them not reliable/ rugged enough for this type of project. I still believe that was the right decision. Unreal is the goal, but from the end of 2013 and the spring of 2014 onward, most work was done on the storyline, with art and music on the side. I simply needed to bring up the rear, instead of blindly marching on with levels and assets, although those have not been abandoned.

It is simply the case that level design needs to proceed in accordance with the story. If the plot says “Scout goes from here to there”, the levels need to be laid out in the same manner. And if the script says, “Scourge Martyrs attack”, then concept art needs to be made and gameplay mechanics and weapons need to be developed for that enemy type.

This is why the script needs to be in place BEFORE levels and monsters etc. are finalized. And lots of game projects don’t understand this in time. I believe Rhianna Pratchett has mentioned this – you cannot graft a story onto a mostly finished game, it has to be done story first.

Mechanics

A game design document was compiled from roughly 2012 to 2015, ever changing especially in the core gameplay department. Broadly speaking, the game turned from a first person shooter into more of a stealth and exploration game with combat largely optional.

The quake-style encounter design was completely removed and a dynamic runtime-based patrol and AI group system was substituted. In plain English: The levels are populated with patrols and checkpoints etc. by the program during runtime, and enemies can dynamically call for reinforcements or do a tactical retreat. This suits the stealthy gameplay much better. Fundamentals of this were actually implemented in QuakeC already, with the AI controller being nicknamed “Mother” after the computer from the Alien movies. Large influences were the ALife system from Stalker and some work done in RMQ on randomized monster placement.

Writing

Writing is incredibly hard to master. (Most people have probably heard of the 10,000 hour rule.) Here’s a chronological breakdown:

  • End of 2012, a loose plot emerged from the sequence of locations.
  • During 2013, a cast of supporting characters developed.
  • Factions and their relations developed in the game world.
  • 2014-15, I started to get a grip on the entire writing thing.
  • Lots of feedback was received from “beta readers”.
  • Consequently, a lot of rewriting happened.
  • 2016 – 17 was a time of constant gradual improvements.
  • Two (!) artificial languages were developed.
  • Some holes in the plot were incredibly hard to fill.
  • The protag, Scout, was a difficult character to write.

Only recently did everything line up. The format of the script changed several times, because there really is no standard in game writing. This is uncharted territory. The beta readers and writing buddies were incredibly helpful here.

Would the real Scout please stand up?

As for Scout herself, she originally was supposed to be a female version of Ranger, the Quake protagonist. Then the entire Quake mod thing fell apart. Suddenly, Scout became a person.

She wanted to talk. She started to take on a life of her own. So did other characters. Scout does some outrageous things in the story, such as coming back to life (twice), meeting the gods, having a near death experience, travel between worlds and outside of them, encounter her childhood self, and set off a number of conflicts among the various factions, turning friends to enemies and vice versa.

In the beginning, she was overly passive and lacked agency. Getting her behind the wheel, and having her be an active protagonist and a moving force, was a piece of work. Getting in her head and understanding what makes her special was incredibly difficult. She is different from the usual game protagonist. Even her ingame interface is different from other games. Even the controls differ (WASD is still there, but using tools and weapons is done differently).

Scout carries the entire game though, mechanically and plot wise, so she needed to be rock solid. I’m not sure there is any other game protagonist quite like her.

Transcending

Over the course of writing, it became clear that not only Scout transcends video game (and human) standards, but the game itself transcends the shooter and stealth genres. Antagonists can be stabbed and slashed, obstacles can be overcome, but Scout’s major personal problem can neither be dodged nor shot to pieces. The end of the script also obliterates the difference between interactive and noninteractive content. It doesn’t even matter anymore.

Current status

I’m deeply wondering about how we can really tell stories in games. What the narrative structure can be. How interactive and cinematic toolkits can be combined in this medium.

Practically speaking, it is hard to overstate the importance of the recent milestone. A few things have to be plugged from the synopsis into the main script yet, and some dialogue has to be written out, that kind of stuff. But we’re really on top of things here. We have climbed the mountain. I still have a hard time believing that. It was such a slog. I keep expecting the next sheer cliff face, but I’m not seeing any. I feel like I’m going back to art and asset production soon-ish.

Some other stuff has been accomplished besides writing, namely music work and some mechanics polish as well as research and experimentation. For instance, I have a concept for loot boxes that work, giving you the excitement of opening surprise boxes but without the bullshit monetisation schemes attached. I’m very closely watching things like that.

I’ve been thinking about making videos for a while. I realize walls of text are hard to read. Bear with me.

Please note:

Help is always welcome. I’m having to cope with a lot of isolation. I barely have people to talk this stuff over with. If you want to read some of the script, look at some of the mechanics, need some qc code, want to talk level design, donate old hardware, man, I would be glad to oblige you.

 

Advertisements

Masters of Puppets

Let’s play a mobile game, shall we? One of the top rated ones, preferably, one that promises light-hearted entertainment for the weary traveler, all for the price of watching an advertisement now and again. That seems like a fair deal. A no-brainer, right?

How about that zombie shooter with all the exalted reviews. Best zombie shooter ever made, they say. Best graphics. Looks like a console game. This could be on PlayStation 4, they say. All the cool kids are playing this, they say.

OK, that sounds slightly unrealistic for a mobile game, to the point where your mum would notice it, but let’s not be a party pooper. Maybe the game developers are just really good, right. Right? Don’t look at me like that.

The hook

First off, you get hit over the head with some jizztastic graphic shenanigans powered by Latest Fashionable Game Engine, Improved Shininess. Fire! Smoke! Exploding helicopters! What a show. Looks awesome, almost to good to be true for a mobile game, you think.

Until the first level is over, which happens suspiciously quickly, and you’re dropped in the real game. The hook has been deployed. The façade is ditched quickly. The scripted explosions and bombastic particle effects have faded.

The world turns into the blocky, repetitive sequence of boxes that it actually is. The shine dims into a tasteless, worldwide fake cubemap reflection. The pretense falls by the wayside until you can’t help but notice that fan made Quake levels look better than this pseudo-shiny console-quality wannabe contender.

The vicious circle

The basic gameplay seems surprisingly adequate for a mobile shooter, which these days is good enough to serve as part of the lure, until you realize that it isn’t terribly challenging.

Challenge is merely simulated by turning the basic zombies into bullet sponges over time in order to force you to upgrade your guns, which is otherwise completely pointless because the upgrades don’t actually do anything new. You see, the challenge is a lie.

The game just creates an endless grinding cycle of weapon upgrades that not only cost ingame money (read: your time) but also require you to upgrade the gunsmith first, which requires you to upgrade the tech level first, which requires both extra money and extra time, UNTIL you may then finally upgrade your pea shooter, which makes you wait for another 24 hours.

Bitch.

As if that wasn’t enough, the game will force video ads down your throat while you grind through the merciless slog that will make your gun’s damage output keep up with the ballooning hitpoint count of the common lead pipe zombie. Congratulations, mindless victim, you have been turned into a drooling button pusher while the game developers are laughing all the way to the bank.

But rejoice, there is a way to avoid all that: Paying real money.

The special offer

For just a couple quid, you can have enough gold to buy that upgrade now! Hey, what’s a couple quid, asks the hapless victim as he pulls out his parents’ credit card, tapping blindly down the downward spiral carefully prepared for him.

Hey, says the game, while you have your credit card out, why not buy a premium-only GOLDEN AK 47 for just 50 quid? Your friends will be impressed!

But here’s the thing.

The alternative

Once upon a time, games used to hand you all the cool stuff. You’d get a better, more impressive gun after simply playing for a while. No grinding, no paying for extra premium currency packs. The game would simply give you the rocket launcher, or the grenade launcher, or the crossbow, or the magic wand that freezes enemies so you can shatter them into a thousand pieces with one shot of your immense fertility dispenser.

Just like that.

And enemies would actually behave in more interesting ways the longer you played instead of simply having a variable increased whenever the developers felt they needed to wring some more dollars out of an audience of mindless MasterCard equipped teenage puppets.

And you’d only have to pay once. Up front.

And the best part: These miracle games are still around.

You see, when you can get classic games such as Quake, Half-Life 2, Crysis, or Left4Dead for under ten bucks, and play forever, spending fifty quid on a golden AK-47 in some ripoff mobile shooter looks about as attractive as a can of cold jizz.

And when you can play Team Fortress for free online, or download STALKER : Shadow of Chernobyl as a free, completely playable alpha version from the developer’s website, then spending real money on a premium currency pack for Zombie Money Laundry 2.5 seems to be something only a demented weasel would ever seriously consider.

Don’t fall for it

Here, says the game, with a desperate toothpaste smile, have a free slot machine to win some premium currency! Don’t have enough gold? No problem, ten gold just 3,99! Special offer!

Aw shuddup.

 


The righteous suffering of the enlightened few

1024px-PSX-DualShock-Controller

DOOM is near.

And some people get so riled up about it, you could think the world was at stake.

id Software’s new shooter title is getting slammed by PC gamers for not delivering whatever it was they wanted. It’s dumb and sluggish because it was made for consoles! For casual gamers! The developer is ignoring the splendid marketing opportunity that is PC gaming! They’re practically throwing away money! You can only carry two guns at a time and it’s all geared towards newbies! All that massive skill PC gamers built up since the 90s goes to waste because any gamepad wielding console kiddie can just pick up the demon spawn and blow everyone away! Imagine that, it’s practically socialism! Real players use a mouse and keyboard and have a gaming rig instead of some shitty console! In my day, we didn’t have everything handed to us! Everything has gone to hell.

At the same time, Playstation and xbox gamers seem to like it well enough. How come?

Gamepad vs mouse

I’m of the opinion that, for gaming, a gamepad is generally the most comfortable controller. I don’t like it if both my hands have to be glued to stationary input devices (keyboard and mouse) for an extended amount of time. That feels like work. I like sitting back and having some freedom to physically move around and change position. A gamepad allows me to do that. I’ve always loved gamepads since I first used one for this reason alone. Ergonomics. I’m not chained to a certain position and my fingers can easily reach all controls. It’s successful for a reason.

Good games are good games by design, not by virtue of the input device they are made for. There are tons of great console games to prove it. Heck, great mobile games too.

Keyboard-and-mouse does allow for more precision when it comes to quick turns and aiming, but it is hopelessly outdated as a default input method for games because it’s uncomfortable and most games don’t require the extra precision. 90s games used it because that was what people had. Twenty years later, people have USB gamepads and Xboxes / Playstations so that’s what games get made for.  The gamepad won because it’s the better, more ergonomic, more comfortable option in 99% of all cases. The other 1% (twitchy shooters, esports) are a niche market.

Consoles vs PCs

It’s not that “consoles are bad”. Consoles are great at delivering affordable, easy to control gaming systems to millions of households. Gamepads are great for the aforementioned reasons.  It’s just that the people complaining about the lack of PC-exclusive mouse-driven twitch shooters are finding themselves a minority and not liking it. To a degree, I can understand that. I grew up with keyboard and mouse driven games, too. But very soon, I was spending the majority of my gaming time on my Playstation with such classics as Final Fantasy, Vagrant Story, Metal Gear Solid, and Tomb Raider. And I loved it. Doom and Quake were cool, but where I’m concerned, the original Playstation’s roster of famous games was as cool. And the gamepad seemed so much more stress free.

It’s not that “console ports suck.” Console ports are an attempt to bring the most popular games to a platform that’s typically not geared towards gaming. Yes, some people have “gaming rigs”. But the majority of PC users don’t, the majority of PCs are home office systems and laptops, and that makes the majority of PCs less suited to play games on than game consoles. Incidentally, that’s why consoles sell like hotcakes. Consoles won because they’re easy-to-use dedicated gaming systems for the people.

Masochistic 90s trip

All the major games are coming to consoles first and foremost these days. We remaining dinosaurs of the keyboard-and-mouse age, those of us that don’t participate in esports anyway, should probably buy consoles and just enjoy the ride. We need to come down from our masochistic 90s trip. And our equally masochistic internet hissy fit whenever another game is released only to disappoint us. Ah, it feels so good to endure the righteous suffering of the enlightened few! Or does it? Is self-inflicted ordeal your thing? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just that we have become snarky, entitled assholes without noticing. “Everything has gone to shit” is our war cry. I fall for it myself sometimes. But it’s really not healthy.

Maybe it’s us who need porting, not the games.

Now get off my lawn.


Cross your edges, Blender

cerp_wheel

Damn, Blender. You made me spend hours breaking my head about how to merge edges at their intersection.  And then I find out you can’t do it. How is this not part of the standard functionality? I’m surprised. You made me jump through hoops, old friend.

I had to do that switch wheel in two parts because all the control edges would create ridges in the outer ring. So I decided to chop it up and sort of do the middle part as a floater. This is all going to get baked down anyway. I’m a bit rusty on the high poly modelling side!

cerp_wip1

The CERP rifle got a make-over in GIMP. I decided that the shoulder stock is movable. A magazine will have to fit in there somehow – perhaps remove the stock, or rotate it somehow, to exchange the magazine.


My stance on Let’s Plays

In reference to this:

I like Let’s Plays. But when a game only sells 15,000 copies and its Let’s Play videos on Youtube have millions of hits, and youtubers make a profit off of that while the developers get nothing, there’s an imbalance.

Yes, there is fair use. An honest review would be fair use of the developer’s content because both parties get something out of it. You take something, and you give something back. However, putting large amounts of content on Youtube with very little effort spent on commentary by the youtuber, or just trashing someone’s content in a derogatory way for effect, to amuse your audience, is a bit much, especially if the youtuber makes good money off of it.

It has to meet a certain level of fairness. The question is, then, where the line should be drawn.

Look at the term “fair use.” See, there’s the word “fair” in it. Could we use that as a guideline to determine when we’re going too far?

When you’re a youtuber whose videos regularly get millions of hits, or you have millions of subscribers, and the maker of the game is an individual or a small indie developer who sells a couple thousand copies at most (and no, this is not “easy to accomplish” for an indie game), then you’re in a much stronger position. You’ll typically use other people’s content to become even more famous and make even more money. You’ll even trash that developer’s game just because your viewers love to see you do that. It might not even be about the content, it’s probably about you, the youtube celebrity, and your career, and your army of subscribers, and your expensive shampoo, for fuck’s sake.

That stretches the “fair use” thing a little, especially if the other guy spent five years making that game in a dirty cellar eating mouldy bread and then didn’t see a penny for it because his investor, his publisher and Steam took it all. You know, that even makes me a little angry.

And it doesn’t matter what kind of game content it is. An exploration game is not worse than a shooter or a strategy game or an MMO. Exploration IS a game mechanic. It is not somehow “more OK” to rip off a “walking simulator” or a “casual game.” That would be sitting on a very high horse. Content is content. Fair is fair.

I would be OK with a treshold-based model. Giving a cut (10%?) of game video profits (ad revenue) to the content maker if the youtuber has more than 100,000 subscribers or the video gets more than 250,000 hits. Something like that. And put a mandatory link to the game’s website in the description out of fairness. This would allow hobbyists to “fly under the radar” while taxing those pampered youtube celebrities just a little.

Fair? I think so.


Classic Game Stories

Can you say which is which?

  1. Plumber loves princess who is abducted by a turtle dragon.
  2. Scientists accidentally create a portal to hell (on Mars)
  3. Shiny aliens and tentacle aliens compete with humans for planets at the ass of the universe. Dude’s girlfriend is abducted by tentacle aliens and turns evil, breaking dude’s heart.
  4. Trigger-happy adventurer is hired by posh businesswoman who is actually the queen of Atlantis and (surprise) wants to breed an army of monsters but lost her ancient artifact which is now in a cave in Egypt.
  5. Ancient Evil sends horde of monsters to ravage village in the middle of nowhere whose village elder and bishop are somehow missing. Protagonist enters the evil church and kills Ancient Evil but chooses to jam its soulstone into his own head. Also, cows.
  6. Dude, his girlfriend and grandpa are abducted by aliens. After grandpa dies unceremoniously, dude hooks up with scantily clad alien priestess to save the universe, kills his girlfriend who turned into a monster, kills the evil alien queen and, supposedly, lives happily ever after with scantily clad alien priestess.
  7. Scientists messed up again and something explodes elaborately and aliens are now everywhere. Also zombies. And protagonist now actually is a scientist.
  8. You live in a city and steal cars and kill people as much as you want to because you’re doing jobs for some gang or other. (This one made millions.)
  9. Scientists’ teleporter experiment went wrong and actually gated in monsters whose mother is Tentacle-Blob. Collect the magical runes to kill Tentacle-Blob with a spiky thing that is actually a teleporter.
  10. Scientists messed up AGAIN and gave the job to kill the Strelok to the Strelok himself, who lost his memory. Also, Chernobyl exploded again and happily created an army of mutants.
  11. You make your plane crash into the ocean next to a GIGANTIC LIGHTHOUSE (hint) and kill your father who rules an underwater city after losing your memory but you were actually manipulated into doing it. Also, creepy little girls.
  12. Aliens crashed into a tropical island and ‘Murica has to fight North Korea which is somehow a superpower.
  13. Protagonist is a child of Bhaal, the god of murder, who is no longer with us but needs a successor. Protagonist is sort of happy with the situation but other bhaal-spawn aren’t.
  14. Purple-haired girl goes up againt evil magic-hating empire in an airship with her mentally troubled friends.
  15. Protagonist is haunted by his cannibalistic brother who stole an army of clones, and a creepy little girl who turns out to be the mother of both.
  16. Protagonist has to save the president’s daughter from cultists whose heads often explode to reveal monstrous parasites.
  17. Protagonist is betrayed by god of war into killing his family, then goes on a killing spree and becomes the new god of war.
  18. Protagonist goes to retrieve some random artifact for their god but have to take it up with Vlad the Impaler and Rodney the wizard as well as the four riders of the apocalypse, of all things, before finally an angelic choir sings and they are bathed in radiance unless YASD happens. DYWYPI?
  19. Protagonist is trapped in an experimental obstacle course (or a spaceship full of aliens) and needs to fight an evil computer who wants to kill her (him).
  20. Aliens invade and ‘Murica (or somebody) has to fight them. In space, ideally.

It’s probably a treasure trove for psychologists. Can’t help to notice how half the time, someone’s mother or father or girlfriend is abducted by aliens or is evil and needs to be rescued or killed. Oh well. Also scientists are breaking the universe and letting monsters or aliens in. And gods (or evil corporations) meddle and leave the mess for humans to clean up.

We’re all poor victims of nasty circumstances.


Do video games create violence? Wrong question

The question should be, is violence really the best thing to do with video games as a medium?

Errant Signal claimed in one of his videos that violence is the easiest thing to do within a spatial simulation (which video games are), and that’s why video games are so violent. I’m sorry, that argument just doesn’t fly. The easiest things to do with a spatial simulation are a) movement and b) exploration. None of those even require the implementation of any sort of combat system. Conversely, a combat system needs both movement (eg for dodging) and exploration (eg for acquiring ammo and health) PLUS weapon models, cover, sound effects, weapon switch, reloading, dying animations, particles, explosions, and so forth. Combat is harder to implement than the other two.

Consequently, I’m sure “Gone Home” (mainly exploration) was easier to implement than the current incarnation of “Call of Duty” (mainly combat.) It follows that Errant Signal was wrong about this.

Point-and-click

It is true, though, that after movement and exploration, point-and-click is the third easiest gameplay mechanic to implement. That’s because the computer already does it for you. If shooting is your intention, then the mouse already IS the gun. So basic combat technically isn’t far off, but neither are other point-and-click mechanics.

This alone still doesn’t explain why combat is FAR more popular than either movement or exploration, which are both easier to implement (if you have movement, you basically get exploration for free.) So it can’t have a purely technical reason – it must be a cultural one (dudebro approach, gun cult, blowing shit up, and all that.)

Both producers and “gamers” seem to have accepted violence as THE main gameplay mechanic. If you search Google or Youtube, you find a lot of people talking about how video game violence isn’t that bad. But practically no one questions the dominance of violence as the base of video games anymore. I guess if something just happens long enough, people will take it for normal.

Lack of verbs

Something that has been drowned in the noise is the fact that point-and-click doesn’t have to mean “attack.”

It can also mean: take, examine, interact. Throw, catch, place, search, collect, create, manipulate, enter, direct, build, repair, help, manage, summon, open a portal, and more.

“Left mouse button = shoot” is a rut that games are stuck in, and it’s apparently so deep that it prevents most developers from looking outside.

Lack of market penetration

There’s evidently a world of other possibilities for “spatial simulations” than just point-and-shoot. By not exploring and not demanding them, and instead perpetuating the click-to-kill thing, developers, publishers and players are providing only so much rope as to hang themselves with. Killing games will never achieve full market penetration, because older people / people with a higher education will not want to stoop so low.

But it seems that companies are content with their current slice of the pie, namely the customers who buy “Call of Duty” and things like action-RPGs or MMOs. Does it not occur to them that the pie is bigger?