Why are you not creating your dream game?

Are you creating your dream game? The game you’ve always wanted to create?

If not… why not?

I asked about these earlier in twitter and got some replies & sparked some discussion. Here’s some more points regarding this issue:

If visuals/sounds is the problem, why not use existing games and mod them?
For example, Skyrim, Crysis, Source games, upcoming Source 2 (or whatever it’s called)… There’s plenty of game engines that can be used for modding?

Needs more design? Why not more prototyping?
I also heard about reasons saying that game requires more planning or designing first. Why not take 2 weeks to design, and then participate in some weekend prototyping jam & knock the game basics together?

One of the most fun way to get some very fun stuff out is prototyping. I knocked my dwarves prototype together in a week, sold 22 copies (that’s $22!), and it was one of the most rewarding experiences.

I prototyped the core. It would be easy to continue from there if I’d want.

Too big scope or takes too much time
One of the biggest issues I’ve had with my card game development is that, it started as a small game. It went through 3 very huge revisions. Each version was almost totally different. The current final version I have, is totally different than what the game was when I started.

Sure, this is taking “too long”… but they always do. I’m setting my first public release for 12/12/12. At that point I aim to get the first version out, and I do my best effort to finalize the game during these 30 days.

This started as a small project. In a way it still is – it’s the game mechanisms that took most of my time anyway – and has taken a long time.

And the real answer is:
- So what if scope is too big? Either scale down features or just take more time. If you need art assets, then well, mod some existing game. Or make minecraft like graphics.
- DLC. Patching. There’s a reason why those exist. So that we don’t need to put all our ideas in the first version. Sure, I’d like to have 30 different characters in the game, but I just stick with dozen. Why? Because I can add 20 card character pack later if I want. Similarly your cool shooter game doesn’t need 902 weapons in the beginning. Just throw in 4 for the first release and add more later in a patches.

Narrow down scope, get rid of useless features or minor features. Keep the big important features there. And go further. Put less important stuff in your “maybe later” box.

Dream game needs to be 5 year long project
Developing game long doesn’t guarantee it’s better than if development takes short time.

Split schedule into smaller releases.

Rather than doing “one big dream game project”. Do “series of smaller dream game sub projects that all help create the one big dream game project”. Why? Because it’s in every single way the much more rewarding way to do it.

Are you making up excuses?
It’s easy to come up with excuses. “Need more this or that, then I could do it”.

There are limitations. And if you don’t happen to get some sort of funding, you probably have to be bit more creative to figure out how to get development done.

If visual assets is the problem, then you must think whether art is important. Could you replace it with something easier? Could you mod some existing game?

If it “needs more design”, then start prototyping. Prototyping can quickly reveal issues in design. Get others to play your prototypes. Often. Prototypes can be as simple as pen & paper.

Your might need to reduce your project scope in some aspects, but if you think of “what is the experience my game will offer to players”, you will soon realize that certain “must to have” features we think there should be… aren’t so “must to have” after all.

So, how about that.

Could you start creating your dream game?

Unwiring brain

I’m getting my card game in a real good shape, and will be getting some juicy details later on – when I feel I’m ready to share those. Today, I’m sharing tiny lil design thing. I had a problem naming my decks and explaining what they do. Earlier I used words such as “threat” and “zombie”, and then “challenge” pile. I was trying to explain that you must overcome threat difficulty by using cards in your “challenge” pile. So, “threat difficulty” would be compared against “character’s challenge”.

At some point I renamed these to be simply:

Attack and Defense.

Now, zombie Attack is compared against character’s Defense.

And this blog post probably doesn’t do a good job in explaining how important this small change was… but for me, it was a big deal. It is much easier to explain that “these chaps here ATTACK against you and therefore you must put some effort on DEFENSE.” Attack and Defense are two counterparts, which our brain immediately understands. “Difficulty versus Challenge” really didn’t make any sense.

Good thing one of my testers was puzzled about this and helped me make the change.

Sometimes your brain just goes its own way. You give some shitty name to something (can be function, can be attribute) and six months later you realize that you really gotta do some refactoring.

Even in a physical card game design.

What if some caveman would have patented the use of fire?

Imagine situation 4 million years ago. The time when dinosaurs, cavemen and fish co-existed peacefully.

Imagine that one less hairy caveman started thinking that it would be awfully nice to stay warm. Imagine him experiencing this weird dream where monkey gods tell him to start a fire that would keep him warm.

And imagine 17 lawyers appearing out of nowhere when this poor bastards tries to start a fire. First lawyer would tell that use of word “fire” is prohibited, and second one explains how the progress would stop since that word is already reserved. Rest of the lawyers would remind caveman not to use that stick and bow to create fire. No can do, or he must deliver 2 squirrel furs every time he setups a fire that way.

These lawyers also heard about a tribe who would create sparks using stone and shit, and warned the skinny caveman of using that method, since it would be breach of copyright and hurt technological progress of the world and means lost profits. And nobody likes lost profits, right?

In fact, setting up fire would be same as stealing. And nobody should steal right?

The caveman didn’t quite understand everything, but these guys seemed pretty convincing. And they said there was laws, so obviously they must be right.

“So, how can I stay warm?” asked the caveman. Lawyers explained in very long terms that he’d need to buy something. When caveman asked how he would buy, the lawyers continued that actually the caveman happens to be in Region 2, while the fire making tools are only available at Region 1, so unfortunately he cannot setup fire, even when he has 79 squirrel furs to use as payment.

At this point, Caveman look those lawyers once again… and then slowly said the words: “So… if I cannot buy Region 1 stuff since I live in Region 2… and if I setup fire on my own… the progress of the world stops… and, I’m a thief?”

“That’s correct” said the lawyers and went away.

As we can clearly see, the world needs patents and region codes. Otherwise we’d still be playing card with dinosaurs or something.

And as we all know dinosaurs don’t play fair (try whine at T-rex that a set should win his 2 pairs and he’ll eat you).

So let’s get some patent laws to protect our survival and technological progress.

Purchasing dvds is bit like… remember that Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch?

I’ve been finalizing my Infected card game, but also ordered some research material for future projects (and for bit of “just for fun” as well). I happened to spot Survivorman show and learnt there were several seasons of their show “available”. I decided to purchase, and of course since it’s year 2012 you’d think everything would be easy: just push couple of buttons and I could start watching the show, right?

Well, not exactly.

I learnt that Netflix had some survivorman episodes quite likely available. Netflix just arrived to Finland so I tried to signup. I got error “try again later”. I tried like 47 times, but no can do. I don’t know why, but I just could not sign up. Maybe I did something wrong, but well. That attempt failed.

But fear not, I could go to amazon.com and order it, right?

Wrong.

In Amazon.com, there was only Region 1 dvds, not 2. I looked into figuring out if my PS3 could play Region 1 dvds and learnt that quite likely not. Well that sucks a bit then.

Amazon.ca said “not available”.

Amazon.co.uk said “Region 1 import”, so no can do.

I then tried purchasing direct streaming through Amazon.com, just to learn that it was available only in “US store”. Of course. Sorry about trying.

Then I went to Discovery channel official store, where it was “no longer available”.

Then tried one online streaming system which told me to “view from Canada”.

Sucks to be me, I live in Finland.

Play.com could have it? It always has stuff I can buy.

Not today, no.

At this point I went to watch that Monty Python clip. You should watch too:

I then started thinking, that all this region coding requires plenty of work. Region codes didn’t just appear: these need to be programmed in the system. My playstation by default didn’t have region codes, no… those needed to be created.

So what essentially happened here is that:

Publishers put massive amount of work to ensure that I cannot buy the product.

It’s like…

I’m almost speechless.

Seriously.

I have money here that I want to hand over to you. You’ve spent your money to prevent me from buying.

Why?

Can somebody tell me why, because I’d really like to know.

(Oh, and in case you happen to know where or how I could watch – yes, I’m willing to pay – Survivorman full episodes, then please let me know. And no, I’m not buying into that “buy region free dvd player” madness just to watch one show, I have no room for that anyway.)

Valve will introduce a Kickstarter-like service, me thinks

Steam is the place to sell finished games. Greenlight is the way to get existing games to Store. What they are missing is development phase sales.

Kickstarter and different other crowdsourcing systems have created (or changed) market opportunitities.

Steam has all the resources, customer base and everything they’d need to compete in this market area.

If Steam (and greenlight) would be place to:

  • Fund the develop games (let’s call it “Steam Seed”)
  • Find existing projects & games to get to Steam (Steam Greenlight)
  • Then also release & sell games (Steam store)

I think there would be plenty of devs joining that bandwagon.

Not taking stance whether it’s for the good or the bad, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this happening.

Valve will bring a Linux powered Steam Box to market, me thinks

My hunch and some deductive reasoning is telling me, this is going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of modular linux powered “steam box console” on the market in the future.

Valve big boss Gabe Newell says Win 8 to be catastrophe. Earlier it’s been reported that valve is hiring hardware folks.

If we think about the market: Windows 8 creates a more monopolistic approach on software, with the Windows new marketplace (somewhat similar to Apple’s App Store). Of course that’s a big threat to Valve’s steam. That means Valve must adapt & change too.

Also: Valve has announced they are porting their games to linux. Specifically saying in their goals in their blog post:

- getting the Steam client onto Linux with full functionality
- optimizing a version of L4D2 running at a high frame rate with OpenGL
- porting additional Valve titles

Let’s think these for a moment:

  • Newell trashes Win 8 as crap, as it’s not open and aims to destroy their dominance.
  • Valve rumours bringing Steam & Games to Linux
  • Hardware folks being hired

Connect the dots and what you get: A Linux powered Steam box.

There’s couple of major IFs: first they must also get other major players to bring their games to linux. Indies alone won’t probably be sufficient. And also, linux has very many distributions and getting proper video card drivers there might be a challenge too. Valve has resources to make this stuff happen though… and they’ve been working with NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel to improve graphic driver performance on Linux.

Thoughts about balancing games: how to create a really big mess

Balancing games is interesting. It’s hard work. And difficulty of balancing follow the formula that I just invented:

Difficulty of balancing = Links between things ^ 2

For example, if I have a game of rock, paper and scissors. It’s pretty balanced: all of these attacks are equally good (well, of course rock always wins) – only the human factor brings slight variation on what is the best way the win (yes, there’s books written on subject: there’s some amount of skill that can be applied even in game of RPS)

Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s agree that rock, paper and scissors is balanced if we look purely at their powers: each one wins 1, ties 1, loses 1.

Now, if you want to add a shotgun there as the 4st item. That means you gotta think how shotgun relates to 3 other things. But that’s not enough, after you got this figured out… you still need to rethink all 3 other objects that were linked to shotgun AND then also think how these affected objects affect other objects.

So, you cannot just say: “shotgun wins RP but loses S” to create a sensible game.

Since shotgun affects R, P and S, you must then look at these items too:

“okay, if shotgun wins R, should R then create tie with P?”

At this point you wanna use Excel or draw charts as textual description won’t be sufficient.

But the point is: “just adding a feature” immediately leads to following things:

  • Something will mess up
  • That something can be a bug that appears (like said, the more connected the object is the bigger chances there will be bug somewhere. This is one reason why programmers like to minimize the amount of connections between modules. If everything is linked to everything else, one change is a big mess)
  • That something can result in unbalanced stuff somewhere else (as pointed out: it’s not only links between NEW object to OLD objects, it’s also links between OLD object to other OLD objects)

Balancing is interesting and hard work, and requires healthy amount of *thinking*.

I made the decision to reduce the number of cards from 150 to 108, which helps fit cards in a small tuckbox (which reduces shipping costs, makes it more convenient to carry etc), but it also meant I needed to change some links. And the changes of these links caused me the need to change other things. It requires quite a bit of work, and I’m cleaning things one corner at time – and testing over and over.

My game isn’t a mess now, it still works even after link ends were changing. I know what’s going on there. I can see all corners, and I can move things. Just giving people a headsup on balancing: “small change” here might mean big change there.

To put it in other words: don’t even think about doing “minor balancing effort” or “just small feature” and uploading your game without testing it.

Something will break.