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Charlied Dog Games Title
Systems And Game play
I’m going to continuing with my musing on game play and how I’d like my next game to play. I talked about democracy in the last post, in this one I’m going to talk about systems. There are broadly two ways to make a game
Start making the game and code a whole load of specialized routines to handle each event, like this game:
Think of the game in terms of interconnected systems and build puzzles up from those, like this game.
The second option has a lot to commend it but it takes longer to get something working. In the old days it was a mammoth task to make systemic games, these days it’s a bit easier to do because we have good physics engines and plenty of spare processing power. The maths for systemic game-play can get a bit complex and you need some CPU grunt to do it in a reasonably flexible way.
Some specific examples probably help to make this clearer. For example say I have a jet pack in the game, I could make a number of different jet-packs each with different qualities all of which are coded differently, or I could make a single jet-pack which has two values, fuel capacity and thrust. Then we allow the player to upgrade each of those stats by finding appropriate extra parts for the pack in the game. The second option is easier for the player to understand, they see the fuel tank, see the bigger nozzles and can choose which to add. We can make it even more realistic by giving each of these new parts a physical representation in the game so they make the jet-pack more bulky and so makes it harder for the player to move about and heavier too. Now we have a system the player can experiment with and exploit.
Another example is none player character NPC behavior. Lets take a really simple example where we have a NPC which moves left and right on a flat surface between predefined boundaries. We could limit it’s movement using some hidden data which the designer sets up in the level editor. This is easy to do but each enemy needs setting up after it’s placed and there is a risk that the behavior will seem arbitrary to the player. A better way would be to have the NPC move until it hits something or the platform ends or maybe it sees the player, then have it turn. The latter is systemic and a bit harder to code but more flexible in the long run, easier for the player to understand and less open to abuse by designers.
In general I think systemic gameplay is harder to set up, which is why it probably doesn’t get used as much as it should, but in the long run it provides for more interesting and believable games. Mine craft and the like are the ultimate result of this trend in games.
So my next game is going to be as systemic as possible but not to the extent of mine craft.
Systems and Democracy, next I’ll go back to talking about procedural generation and how that will be used to make content. Then I guess I should finish something and release it on my site!
I’ve been playing the Stanley Parable which is receiving a lot of press. I like it, it’s funny for the first half hour and it has some interesting things to say about game design and stories in games.
A lot of the people I talk to about it think it’s really clever but I don’t think it’s quite as unique as they believe. I remember playing adventure games which satirized earlier games way back in the 80s. Many games have used established game design tropes as a source of humor. The Stanley Parable does the same thing, only with better graphics and a more contemporary twist, and it does it well enough, but it’s hardly new.
Also, personally I don’t think it’s worth the asking price at the moment so I recommend looking it up but waiting till it’s in the sales.
Democractic Game Design
I’m busy coming up with ideas for the new game and wanted some basic tenants to underpin the design.
Good democracy strikes me as having a lot of similarities to good game design. Some of my readers are living in democracies, and if the stats are anything to go by, a rapidly increasing number aren’t. I think a working democracy is a great thing to strive for but what makes one?
1. Freedom of choice: Pretty obvious. People need to be able to choose what government governs them and what they do for their to be a democracy. Games are the same. Players need to be able to make choices. Simple as that
2. Choices need to be meaningful: A little less obvious this one. But I’ll give you an example. Two months ago Australians got to vote between a number of parties. But pretty clearly one of the two main parties, The liberals and Labor, where going to win. Yet when you look at their policies you realize that neither party really represents the views of the bulk of the population and both are well right of center in terms of politics. Once the government got in the policies they have followed don’t align to the views of the bulk of Australians and there is no way for the public to direct the government on a daily or even monthly basis. Is this really democracy? That’s a politically charged question and I am sure a lot of people disagree with me but many western democracies don’t really give power to the people to make the choices that matter to them. Many games are the same. If you come to a branch in a passage and left takes you down a dangerous but short cut and right takes you a long but easier route, that’s an important decision for the player to make, but if the only choice you have is between two routes which are almost the same, that’s not much of a choice. Many games do this either literally in their level design or through offering the player a choice of many different types of object, weapons for example, many of which do almost exactly the same thing.
3. Choices need to be informed: Probably the hardest to understand and get right for most democracies. If the people don’t have access to the information they need to make informed choices then whatever choice they make is meaningless. In the case where the government is in control of the media they can and deliberately obfuscating the truth or just downright lie. The public will think they have freedom of speech but really they are just puppets, democracy is a sham in those countries. I think this is the greatest threat to democracy in the west. Much of the information which is getting out to the people is ill informed or deliberately censured by people who have large amount of power or money or both. Games are are the same. If I offer you a choice of going left or right at a branch in the passage but I offer no hint as to what is down the branches, or worse, deliberately misinform you as to what you might find down them, the choice is meaningless. Many games do this. RPG in particular offer the player a multitude of possible options with regards to how to equip their characters, upgrade their characters etc but often do not tell the player what they are likely to encounter in the game.
I Intend to use the above to inform decisions I make about my new game.
More to follow…
Puzzle Solving is a great joy
There is a good article over on Gamasutra about what makes a good adventure game
I used to love adventure games back in the 80s and I have raved about my experiences in other posts. But text adventures have been superseded with graphics adventures and action adventures. I myself dabbled with them in the 80s and my first game Quest is a mix of fairly classic adventure game puzzles and action elements. Here is a map of the entire game, the whole thing was crammed into 16K of memory including all the code and data.
I am watching with interest Double fines endeavors in this regards and I wish them well. But I think it’s a stretch to say the genre is dead and they are reviving it. Hidden object games have matured into something very similar to the old adventure games, if you don’t believe me then you should have a go at some of the more recent better ones. They combine story, hidden object puzzles with much more varied mechanical puzzles. the only thing they are missing in most cases is inventory. There are many puzzle solving elements in some of today’s FPS and third person games too.
I’m making a new game with some friends. it’s a puzzle/action game which I hope will capture the essence of the games I made back in the 80s but with up to date graphics and game play.
Watch this space…
Old Leather Face
And we are back! After seven days in internet limbo the site is back up. I’m not particularly happy with my host Cheap domains, who seem to have been particularly tardy when it comes to fixing issues and more importantly letting me know what was going on. But at least the site is up again now.
Uncharitable people would say that may face is quite leathery at the best of times but take it from me that in this picture I am wearing a mask. It was taken at the annual AIE Halloween party. I won the staff prize for best costume I don’t think I’ve ever won anything like this before. It is a real chainsawy but I replaced the bar and chain with a piece of wood which I made up to look like a saw then painted. Chainsaw aficionados will realize that the shape of the teeth on the saw are not realistic but they do look much better like this!
I’ve been thinking about stability a bit recently. Turns out it’s a pretty difficult thing to achieve. The problems with early manned flight for example where mostly to do with stability rather than power to weight. Making a machine which would support the weight of a man is not difficult but making one which is stable and controllable is much harder.
Helicopters are even harder to make stable. Putting power to a rotating blade fairly easy compared to making a helicopter which can be controlled and won’t buck erratically around the sky and kill it’s pilot, the flybar was a brilliant solution to the problem although these days fly by wire systems have pretty much taken over. Even the lowly family car has stability carefully built in the form of castor angles on the wheels. But there is a downside to stability. Stability typically makes machines less responsive and that can be a bad thing. Aerobatic aircraft for example are almost neutrally stable so that the pilot can execute incredibly fast maneuvers but pilots in these aircraft are highly skilled and flights are typically short. that’s the trade off I think, stability is good for day to day use but bad for fast response. This doesn’t have much to do with games I’m afraid. Although we come up against problems with stability in physics engines and AI both of which can easily exhibit oscillation if not set up carefully but that’s not what’s inspired me to write this. By this time tomorrow a very unstable period of Australian politics will be over and we’ll have a different government. It might be Labor but will probably be coalition but it won’t be the same one we have now. I think we are all a bit sick of a hung parliament, the bickering and back stabbing. But I hope the next government isn’t too stable, countries needs governments who can respond quickly and appropriately to the opportunities and threats the world present and too much stability and reliance on tradition is bad IMO.
The Coldest Place
Scientists used to believe that the coldest temperature you could get was by mixing water ice with salt. That’s zero degrees in the Fahrenheit scale (or -17.77C for none Americans). Of course now we know that there are many colder things than that. The surface of Mars for example gets down to -128C. Pluto is much colder still at -232C. In deep space temperature gets close to absolute zero which is minus at -273C and the point at which molecules cease to vibrate. It was long believed that this was the coldest that things could get get. But there is actually a colder place and it is our bathroom at 6.00AM on a winters morning. Pools of liquid liquid nitrogen, which have spontaneously condensed out of the air, steam on the floor. When I tried to straighten up after shaving this morning there was a cracking noise from my pyjama pants, it was the sound of my testicles snapping off because they had frozen solid. We live in Australia and people who don’t live here think it is warm all year round, that is the fiction the Australian tourist board would like everyone to believe. But it is not so. There is a reason why Kangaroos are covered in thick dense fur and it is not to stop them getting sun burnt.
OK I admit I exaggerate a bit, but not much. Each year, at about this time, I complain about the cold Canberra weather and my wife says something like “Cheer up darling, more than halfway through the winter now”. To which I reply, “not true, the end of July and beginning of August are always the coldest weeks and we are less than half way through”. and she tells me to shut up and not be so negative (if you don’t know Australia very well click on the link then zoom out and be amazed at how incredibly big and empty Australia is).
But I’m not negative, I’m positive, positive that these next few weeks will be fucking freezing because the statistics tell me they always are. You see there is a difference between having a positive outlook on life and believing that everything will just work out hunky dory just because you really, really want it to. One is a pleasant way to get through life (like seeing the positive side to today’s long but relatively painless dental treatment for example which is unpleasant but necessary), the other is delusional and usually results in financial or relational pain, a prolonged period of incarceration or medication, or all of these.
Our society has become obsessed with the whole positivity thing. The cult of positive thinking. This guy says it better than me and he obviously has a bit more time to rant. But the underlying message is one I agree with. Positive thinking is great but ultimately it’s not going to get your everything you want. Simple common sense should tell us all that. For example it doesn’t matter how positive you are that you are going to be an international rock star the probability is that it just ain’t going to happen. For the vast majority of people mediocrity and anonymity are the likely outcomes if they measure themselves by those standards. I myself have fallen into that trap. Measuring my success in the games industry against people who have sold and made millions of dollars from their games. If all that’s needed is to believe in yourself, and one really believes in oneself and still fails, what does that say about me? It says I’m a great big fucking loser.
So don’t fall into the positive thinking trap. Positive thinking is important but it’s not a solution to most problems. Try hard to achieve the things that are important to you but if you can’t achieve them then accept it and move on. I’ve said this before in another post, my games have bought pleasure to thousands of people even if I have failed to make a fortune making them, but by far the most important thing to me in my life is my family. In that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and, this is going to sound incredibly cheesy but it is true, it is their love that has kept me warm during my long winter of self doubt.
Go Ollie live on IOS
One of my PC games Go Ollie has been converted to IOS by good friends of mine Tweeler games. It’s really cool that it’s getting a second lease of life. It plays really well on the IPad, Joseph a lot of fun playing the pre-release version. If you have an Iphone or an Ipad please download it and have a go. My other games will all appear on IOS soon so keep your eyes peeled!
My new WASP X3V helicopter
I bought myself a new helicopter last week and it arrived on Wednesday. It is a WASP X3V and I got it from these guys.
I bought it because I’ve had a lot of fun with a really cheap helicopter which I got in the sales at a local electronics store. This one was a bit more expensive but still very reasonable for what it is. It’s flybarless (which means it’s more maneuverable and a bit more clever) has a belt drive to the tail rotor and comes with a programmable transmitter. Initial impressions where mixed. The canopy is very cheap and was already cracked, the instructions very difficult to understand and very long but it looks quite nice. My main problem was that the transmitter was set up with the throttle on the right which is not what I am used to so I had to change it to the left stick which proved really tricky.
The first flight was a disaster because I had the transmitter programmed wrong (I blame the bad instructions) but after carefully reading the instructions and spending some time setting up the transmitter I got it flying nicely. It is pretty fragile, which is not a good thing for a helicopter as they do take a bit of a battering, quite a few things have needed fixing as I’ve gone on and I haven’t had any serious crashes yet. The battery charger has already stopped working but fortunately I have a spare one which works just as well. I’ve had 5 flights with it now, all of about 5 minutes each with no major incident. I haven’t tried anything clever yet, just hovering nose out and moving it around the house yard a bit to get used to the controls, but it feels nice in the air and looks and sounds great.
So if you have flown a single rotor radio controlled helicopter before and know how programmable transmitters work then this is a good buy. It is capable of full aerobatics, loops, rolls, inverted flight etc, but it will be a while before I do any of that, if ever!
The things you can do with maths…
I’ve been experimenting with procedural generated worlds again. Seb and I have a really cool idea for a new game and I want to build the world using procedural techniques as much as possible.
Here are some screen shots from my engine:
The image above show three different levels, each is about 1000 meters across in world scale so are pretty big. They are true 3D models but are built on a plane, the game we want to make is 2.5D. All three levels where generated using the same code but with different level creation parameters. There is no pre-built level data or artist made models involved, it’s all made using mathematical models. I’m very pleased with the results and think the game will be very interesting. So the next step is to get the texturing working and tidy up some performance bugs. Once I get that done then I’m going to start working on the game. Seb is making asset to dress the game with and once it has those in it I think it will start to look really cool. I think it’s important to get a game of some kind of early playable prototype otherwise projects like this can start to wander a bit of course.
The game design we have is really cool and I’m looking forward to getting something working. Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have a playable demo. I’ll keep you posted!