Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Early Monthly Update: Delibergamed

Usually, I'm scatterbrained, and worked on 10,000 projects at once (hence the name of the blog, hahaI'msoclever).  This means that often a project will start, stop, and stutter.

The appropriate response to the blog title pun.
To combat this, for the month of March, I've decided to squeeze the number of projects I'm working on down to two (four, if you include my job search and restarting a diet, which I do).

I'll continue to work on my Facebook Timeline Adventure, although by posting only once or twice a day, it won't take much time each day.

So the majority of the month will actually be spent on a brand new project that will take exactly the full month of March and nothing more (hence why this update is one post early):

I'm going to create a single DOOM level, from start to finish, with the final product being the last post of the month.  Every post in March will be dedicated to this level.

I'll post screenshots along the way, and cap it off with the .wad being available for download.  I'll also make a video playthrough for people who can't play the game.

If, for some reason, I simply MUST post something else, I'll post it on Thursday, so that every Tuesday and Friday post is still dedicated to the DOOM level.

The level will be simple and short, and this exercise is more of a test in completing a short term project (if you notice, all of my dev logs are for bigger projects), and an exercise in concentration, than anything else.  Let's see if I can stop being so scatterbrained for a month.

All the creatures of the animal kingdom think "Scattergamed" is a terrible name.
However, because every post will be a dev log, that means for all of March, there will be no reviews, articles, deconstructions, or dev logs of other projects (January Engine, Vortex, Sacrifice).

After seeing how well this works, I'll find out if I want to continue the blog in that kind of manner, or bounce back and forth between them (one month will be a bit of everything, the next month will be devoted to one project).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Development Log: Facebook Timeline Adventure

I've always been one of those guys that always complains about Facebook's minor changes, on Facebook.

When the new Timeline was announced (that it would become mandatory), I got infuriated.  'At least I have a G+ account', I thought, 'and I will start using that as my primary social network.'

A news feed on my news feed?  What will they think of next?!
Then G+ started making minor changes just to annoy me, so this time I've decided it's not just a Facebook thing, but it's the way social networks work.

Rather than grunting in disapproval, adopting the new thing only when forced, and complaining that 'Facebook's lost it, man, and they should go back to the way it was in 2004 when I joined, because that's when it was GOOD, man,' I've decided instead to become proactive and grab the Timeline by the horns.

I added the Timeline, deleted everything pre-2008, and added a cover picture of my dog, with a Character Sheet to the side.

She comes equipped with her own Bag of Holding.
Instead of giving the intimate details of a completely fictional biography involving time travel (which was my original plan), I've decided instead to write a gamebook in the timeline.

The player will take on a quest to find a Pendant of Immortality, with a white puppy companion to help you along the way.  The player should keep track of his/her health, attack, and defense stats, as well as the dog's sight, hearing, and sniffing stats.  The player rolls dice when instructed to do battle or perform other tasks.

Like a more traditional choose-your-own-adventure book, the player will also get to make big decisions that don't rely on stats and the luck of the dice, such as choosing where to go or what activity to perform (set up camp, etc.)

Each choice the player makes asks the player to go to a specific date on the timeline to find out what happens, making the dates act like pages in a book.

Probably should add pictures too sometime.
This development log will most likely be the only development log I make until the book is complete (which, by the time it is, Facebook will probably have changed things again, breaking the game).  But if I do finish it, my only other dev log will be to say it's complete.  All updates should be public, so anyone can play the game.

I also noticed one thing that doesn't annoy me so much as will annoy my friends: when I back post something in my timeline, it ends up in my friends' news feeds.  So when I post a random 'page' it will look completely confusing and clog up their news feeds.

So what I've decided to do is only make one or two posts on day on it (or, if I get really backed up, toss a ton up at once when Facebook isn't busy).

This has the disadvantage of not getting it done fast, so it will annoy people who decide to play before it's over.  Annoy friends or annoy players?  Since my players basically are my friends, because it's on freakin' Facebook, I'd say the lesser of two evils is to keep the player coming back for more.

Since it's public, whether you're a friend or not, you should be able to play it at https://www.facebook.com/craighellsworth Edit: I no longer have a Facebook account.

*PS: It appears that when I "view as public" I cannot view past 2004, which is weird considering I have triple-checked to make sure the Timeline Adventure posts are public.  Maybe it's only a problem with their "View as" feature.  If you are not my friend and try to play it, but can't see the posts, leave a comment here (unless someone already has and said they can't view it), and I'll see what else I can do to fix the problem.  If it works for you, hooray!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #8 - Streamlining

The creepy vibe I'm going for.

I've rearranged the steps for each round to simplify the rules.

I originally had this thought that a change of location was logically the best place to start a new round, but that meant that there was an extra third of a round at the beginning of the game, which seemed odd.

It also feels odd to me to start a round in a place other than a location change, but it feels slightly less odd than the extra third of a round, so I took the lesser of two evils.

For clarity, I also changed "Vortex cards" to "Location cards" because that's what they really are, and the term Vortex is now no longer being used to describe to completely separate things (Location cards and the pile for dead devotees and other used cards).

I've also created placemats for first time players so they can get used to the number of piles and have a more visual representation of how to place cards on the table, instead of having to imagine my terrible instructions.
At the most, there will be this much in front of each player.
And then there's this bonus mat somewhere else.
I've also added a few easy or "house rules" for beginners, such as playing without Rogations, using only the Location cards that don't have special rules on them, and if you're playing with less than four players, don't pick Red.

Red is being picky to me.  The current rules say that Red gets and additional 1/2 point at the end of the game for every non-Red devotee in the Vortex at the end of the game.  This evens things out in a four player game (I think), but doesn't work nearly as well in a two player game.  I may have to adjust the rules so the number of points Red gets changes depends on the number of players, or find some fraction that works in all cases, or change the winning condition.

I am also considering adding a few more cards of each type, if I can come up with enough new and interesting rules.  Sometimes I look at the current cards and think that the mechanics are too simple and obvious, and need a little more variety.

Just a tad simple to me.
Although I do know, from playing other card games, that too much on a card is far too difficult to remember or read at a glance, so I need to strike the right balance of innovation and conciseness.

Part of me wants to create resource cards (like Magic: The Gathering lands), to allow me to make better cards that are more expensive, but another part of me thinks that's copying other games far too much.  I liked the idea of creating a card game where all cards are equally valuable, or useful in different situations.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Flash Game Mini Review: Cursed Treasure: Don't Touch My Gems!

While I stated in my last review that I hate Tower Defense games, there is an exception to every rule, and for me that exception is Cursed Treasure: Don't Touch My Gems!

You do not play the guy in the middle.
Much like Villainous, you take the role of the "bad guy", but in this instance the gameplay is that of a traditional Tower Defense game.  You place towers along the edges of a road while waves of units come in to reach your stash of gems.  However, the units are heroes, warriors, and the like, and your towers are Orc dens, Ghoul crypts, etc.

There are only three basic kinds of towers, which you upgrade through the course of level.  Each of the three towers can be upgraded into two more kinds of towers, for a total of six.  Still a simple amount compared to other games.

Like Villainous, you also have a few spells which you can use to stop enemy units.

The most interesting aspect of this Tower Defense game, however, is that each type of tower can only be placed on certain terrain, so Orc dens can only be placed on grass, Ghoul crypts on ice, etc.

There are also pedestals that allow for any tower type, and also give the advantage of "High Ground", which allows tower projectiles to reach further.

Cursed Treasure also takes from traditional RTSs in a way that I have not seen from a Tower Defense: you have to cut down trees to make room for your towers.  Cutting down wood is one of your three spells, so you have to think about whether to unleash a meteor storm or open up an extra space to protect yourself with.

As the saying goes: you can't protect your gems without annoying a few hippies.
Once again, like Villainous, the units for both towers and enemies are graphically clear and unique, so you are never confused.  You never wonder what is going on; you never have to take more than a quick glance at the screen.

Even after completing a level, you may want to go back to it to get a better medal, or even just for the fun of it.  This game simply doesn't get boring, no matter how challenging.

And if that's not enough, there is a level pack that's even better than the original.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Flash Game Mini Review: Villainous

As a general rule, I despise Tower Defense games.  It was a cute casual game spinoff of traditional Warcraft-type RTSs, but has overstayed its welcome, and far, far too many have been made.

So it comes as a welcome relief when a new take is put on this tired subgenre, making it fresh again.

Villainous is an anti-Tower Defense game: instead of placing towers, you control the waves of enemies that are coming in to raze the town.

Each level, you decide which of your forces you want to walk the line, and you have a few spells to help you through, which allow you to heal your army and disable towers.

As you progress, the money you gain for sacking the villages goes toward upgrading various aspects of your army and abilities.  The genius of the upgrade system is its visuals.  Rather than giving you some abstract list, the upgrades are placed on a castle, so as you upgrade your army, your castle gets larger.

Similarly, unlocked achievements have a visual component, where each completed achievement adds a detail to your throne room.

The skill of the game comes in two varieties: deciding ahead of time what the makeup of your waves are going to be, and using your spells in the moment.  You only make money by razing towns with the standard, simplest unit, Goblins, and all other units act as support to keep your Goblins alive.

The game is paced so that you enjoy the challenge of each level without getting overwhelmed and frustrated, nor bored.

Harder than it looks.
Two of the most endearing aspects of this game is its graphics and its humor.

The graphics are exceedingly well-done: you can spot the differences between your units, as well as the tower units, from a mile away.  Each unit is made to look completely unique, from shape to color scheme.

The humor is great for any fans of fantasy games or movies, with references to Lord of the Rings and other famous works.  But even if you don't get those, there is also other irreverent humor thrown in to make you giggle.

Its length is just long enough so the novelty doesn't get old, and you don't get bored before completing the game.  It's not so short as to be a demo or make you crave more, nor is it too long to overstay its welcome.

Villainous can be found here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Article: A Non-Gamer Plays Halo: Reach

I got to catch a wild non-gamer and put him in captivity where all he got to do was play Halo: Reach.  It was a fascinating look into the behavior patterns of a non-gamer thrust into a strange environment.  I only wish I took notes.

Basically, I have a friend who was once a gamer back from Sega Genesis era and earlier, and lost interest over time until he stopped playing altogether.  Now, games seem intimidating to him, but he wants to get back into them.

Back in his day, football games were side-scrolling.
We had long conversations about gaming, from the differences between PC and console gaming, to the online social component, to the control schemes.

He told me that he'd tried a Halo game once before, in multiplayer, and he sucked so bad at it that the other players made a game of seeing if they could kill him only by sneaking up with melee.  The people he was playing against were also quite unsportsmanlike in their dialogue, so it all-around made him feel like games today are full of jerks who have mastered games and don't give the time of day to people interested in getting into games.

We also discussed how modern controllers seem too complicated, and he'd be happy to go back to the two big red buttons on an NES.  He asked me if any game ever uses the two sticks on an Xbox 360 controller for different functions, and what they could possibly be.

I told him he might like the Wii, because you can use the virtual console and because you can often turn the Wiimote sideways to act like an old-fashioned controller, but his response was that "all the good games are for Xbox."

So we popped in Halo: Reach, and the first thing that came up was an update.  He skipped it.  Then came the character customization screen.  And I quote: "What the hell is this?  Just let me play!"  He skipped it.  Then two cutscenes.  He skipped them.

He wanted to get to the shooting part of the first person shooter.
Finally, the game.  A very slow-paced opening, with perhaps ten minutes or more of wandering around, before he got to shoot an enemy.

He had a difficult time aiming.  He had a difficult time figuring out any controls that weren't shown to him on screen, like crouching.  He had a difficult time driving vehicles.  He ran out of ammo way too often, and was forced to pick up crappy weapons that he didn't enjoy using for the latter half of every level.

He was also on easy mode.

The first time he died, he did so because he thought he had no other choice but to kill himself and restart.

He was at a point where he had to pick up some object which he thought was a crappy-looking gun, and he didn't want to pick it up, because he was holding a nicer-looking gun.  But the game wouldn't continue until he picked it up.  So he finally relented after I insisted he pick the gun up, since he kept trying to wander away and continue for five minutes.

He picked up the gun, then immediately dropped it, swapping it for the gun he had just put down, then continued.  He passed through a door, and the door locked behind him.  It was now impossible for him to go back and get it if he needed it.

He had a battle, and he couldn't seem to kill three of the enemies.  They simply had no weakness.  All of his AI teammates died, and he was left with three immortal aliens on his heels.  I thought that perhaps the only way to kill them was to use the gun he refused to use.

In my head I also thought this had to be terribly poor design if he was a dead man walking.  He tried to go back and get to the gun again, but his way was blocked off.  Finally, he ran into the enemy and got killed, just so he could restart.

But he restarted this side of the locked door, and still couldn't get the weapon.

So instead he just went in, guns blazing, and stuck some grenades in the beasts, and they went down in one hit.  I am still not sure if the game recognized the error and made the creatures vulnerable, or if he just happened to stick the grenades in a small chink in their armor.  Either way, the same battle that had once taken twenty minutes was over in one.

A similar moment would occur later, but we'll get to that.

Next, battle, cutscene, battle, cutscene, battle, cutscene.  He tried watching one of the cutscenes but couldn't follow it, so he skipped the cutscenes and just blasted ahead.  Every time he skipped the cutscene, he would say his new catchphrase: "I just want to play."

He wanted to get to the shooting part of the... oh, nevermind.
He thought that perhaps he'd follow it better if he had played Halo 1, 2, and 3 first.  I'm not even sure of that.

At another point, he reached space, and he got to fly a fighter spaceship.  When he began flying, up was up and down was down, which is the opposite of most flight sims, so I told him to try pausing and seeing if he could invert the controls.  He found the option soon enough, but then discovered he didn't just invert the up and down, he reversed what the two sticks did.

He groaned, but said "Whatever, if up and down is right, I'll get used to this."

The first volley of enemy fighters came up, he switched to missiles, and painted some happy explosions.  When the second volley of enemy fighters came in, he didn't trash them so quickly.  They had shields, and the text and voices on screen suggested he needed to use "cannon fire" to destroy their shields, then missiles when their shields were down.

He didn't have cannons.  He had missiles, and machine guns.  He guessed they meant machine guns.

It took him twenty minutes to kill one enemy.  He was happy to be done with that when he finally got all three.

Then a third volley.

He couldn't wait to get back on the ground.

Although the same kinds of shielded fighters came in, they were much easier to destroy this time.  I figured this must be the second time the game needed to go easier on him.

Now, let me pause here and give my friend a few credentials.  He's a Marine, having served in Iraq.  So as you can imagine he's fired a gun.  His job was transport, so he knows how to drive a military vehicle.  He also trained as a pilot, so he knows how to fly a plane.

He said doing all of those things in real life was easier than doing them in Halo.

After finally getting to touch down on a spaceship, he played a bit longer to get the taste of the flying out of his mouth (and, mind you, he likes flight sims; he liked Ace Combat 4 for the PS2, Starfox for the SNES, Top Gun for the NES, and F-15 Strike Eagle II for the Genesis), and finally quit.

He considered that perhaps he would like Modern Warfare better than Halo, but either way, he was not impressed.

The reason he decided to play Halo in the first place is because he's considering buying and Xbox 360 and wanted to be sure he was making the right decision.

He was also considering buying a Kinect with it, but decided it's too expensive to buy a system and a Kinect.  We talked for a bit about how gaming consoles and games themselves are much too expensive, and that's one of the reasons he stopped playing games in the first place: he couldn't afford it.

Now, he says, the only people that play games are people that make them their life, and so they get too good at it, and call him a noob as they destroy him online.  And we were back to that conversation again.

After all this, I find it's amazing just how many barriers there are to games.  The fact that he has a hard time grokking the controls is one thing, but to add to that his frustration with other gamers, his stereotypes about them, and the money factor all add up to a wall of separation between a non-gamer and some games.

If he wants to play a sport, he learns the rules, gets some friends, and plays.  But he is completely turned off by the idea of playing a sports videogame because he doesn't know the first thing to do with it, and it intimidates him.

A Marine is intimidated by a controller.  Let that sink in for a moment.

He's my age, but has the same problems getting into games as my father does.  They both played games when they were younger (my dad loves to relive his glory days mastering Q-Bert), but now games are far too complicated and expensive to bother with.

Anyone can watch a movie.  Anyone who's literate can read a book.  Anyone who wants to have a fun time with some friends can learn to bowl, to play pool, to play darts; even if you suck at them, even if they are intimidating at first glance, you can learn quickly with a circle of friends that are encouraging and won't kick your ass intentionally for an ego boost.  And they are cheap experiences.

Why is this so much more difficult with videogames?  Publishers and advertisers and businessmen and designers alike are always asking the question: how do we get more people into videogames?

Sure, we can claim we're making great strides with casual games, family games and party games, but these don't solve other core issues getting new (or one-time) gamers into hardcore games.  And I don't mean getting your grandma to play Halo, I mean getting people who want to play those games.

4 out of 5 twenty-somethings recommend getting gas for a month instead of a PS3.
Do me a favor and try this experiment for yourself:  find a friend who seems like the kind of person who should be into hardcore videogames, and if you can, find someone who wants to get into videogames, and have a direct conversation about why they aren't into them.  Then have them play a hardcore game and watch, but don't say a word.

It's eye-opening.

Don't forget to take notes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Development Log: Vortex #7 - Back on Track

So I've decided to pick my card game The Vortex back up and give it a few playtests to see if it's mechanically interesting.

The main thing I'm doing now is swiping some images off the internets to act as placeholder art.  (In other words, I'm taking my own advice from an article I wrote five months ago.)

For example.
I also previously had made the various attack and defend symbols be very abstract (as can be seen from the card above), as a carryover from an old idea that didn't pan out, so I'll be replacing them with more conventional icons.

Can you tell which four correlate to the symbols on the card above?  Turns out, the octopus ain't one of them.
Once all this busywork is done, I'll be able to report further on how it goes.  But with nearly 200 unique cards, it may be a while.  Oof.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Monthly Update

Well, I made one video and I gave a bunch of first impressions reviews, so I suppose I kept half of my new year's resolutions.  The only thing I haven't done is regular January Engine updates.  Imagine that: no January Engine in January! Har har har.

Thanks, folks; I'll be here all week.
Actually, I've been working on it, but there is nothing to report in terms of new features or a demo.  What I've been doing instead is recoding portions of it, both to clean it up, and also to allow the functionality for a user to create their own cards.  I've already had the level layouts made this way, but it's much tougher to make the battle system as user-friendly.

I think I may end up redesigning the battle system.  It will still be card-based, but I think I may change it from the RPG 1-to-1 to something more akin to a collectible card game like Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!, so as to give it more depth.

If I do end up doing this, I'll have to recode the battle system again, so I may put it off for a little while to get other pieces working, and so I can post something where the end product has actually changed, rather than just the code.

As for other features:

I've still got a bunch of games to give first impressions of, but I'm kind of hunting around until I can find one that I actually enjoy (all of my first impressions have been downers so far, so I want to post at least one positive review so I don't seem like a grumpy old fogey).

As far as videos go, I'll try to get out another one this month.  If I do a video on the second level of DOOM, it'll necessarily be longer than the first.  Hopefully I'll also improve my editing, so the video may take more time to make than the first.

Lastly, The Glitchers story may or may not be a fluke, although I am considering adding more fiction to the site, be in short stories or more game scripts.  Carnival is feelin' awful lonely.  Either way, they'll naturally be game related.

Well, about as much as this is.