Finland censored pirate bay

Today, I read from the news that Finnish court decided that ISPs should use censorship. They are saying that I cannot access pirate bay no longer.

There’s couple of things that I feel are worrying with this system.

First of all, here’s how piracy impacts jobs:

Secondly: If some folks don’t wanna give you money for the stuff you did, then they don’t. No amount of DRM & blocks will ever change that.

Thirdly, they cannot block access to pirate bay. It’s impossible.

Fourthly, now they also need to block access to 791 million other torrent/magnet sites that do the same stuff. And Google too.

Fifthly, is there a way to sue some organisation for stupidity? I’m pretty certain they are wasting my tax money to handle this legal stuff.

Rant over.

Some of my #7dfps ideas, explained in bit greater detail

There’s a really cool brainstorming & developing going on around twitter hashtag #7DFPS (stands for “7 day first person shooter”).

Since twitter has character limitation, I’ll go through some of ideas in bit greater detail.

Find the hidden human
Online multiplayer. In this game, there’s one zombie player who has bird’s eye view (bit like RTS), and then there’s any number of humans (from 1 to 10 for example). Human players wear bloody clothes and must mimic zombie movement. Their job is for example to go through zombie infested zone in such manner that “zombie commander” doesn’t spot them.

Human players have actions: move and then some animated activities. Humans won’t eat dead bodies though… Humans play the game in first person mode.

There’s 30 individuals in the game zone. Zombie commander doesn’t know who are player characters are (their names are not shown, and they look similar to zombies), but he must look at how zombies (real or fake) act, move and try spot humans from AI bots. Zombie player can mark any character as target, which causes nearby zombies to attack him (50% chance).

Traitor among us
Somewhat similar to previous zombie idea, but this time there’s all human controller characters, for example 20 in the game. Each player has been assigned a target. You have been told to shoot one of the players, and you can only know who he is (but you don’t who will try shoot you).

Level is a square with no walls, if you go too near the edge then anyone can push you over the edge. Your goal is to kill your target by pushing him over the edge or by shooting at him. You can only damage your target, not anyone else. You also will get killed if you push wrong person over the edge. The only vulnerable place is target’s back – shooting any other area makes no damage.

Additionally, you have just one clip of ammo.

Saboteur in the nazi house
Requires at least 2 players: one nazi guard, one saboteur. Bit similar to previous 2 ideas, but this time there’s at least one player (nazi guard) who must try find the saboteur (or saboteurs). In addition to human players, there’s 10-20 AI controlled bots in the level. If there’s more than 2 players, then additional players will become part either nazi or saboteur team (as evenly as possible).

The nazi mansion is filled with 20ish nazis and nazi guests. Nazi guards need to investigate and talk to guest and find the saboteur, while the saboteur tries remain undetected.

Nazi guards walk in FPS mode, and can command any target to halt. AI bots will do as asked, and human player must try fake and look as normal as possible to avoid detection…

In case nazi guard wants, he can ask for a passport (saboteur doesn’t have one in the beginning, and 3-4 guests also have forgotten to carry it with them…). During course of game, saboteur can try steal passport from one of the guests.

Nazi guard can also fully investigate any character, this takes longer time (30-60 seconds) but reveals if the person is carrying anything suspicious (like detonator).

Saboteur must find hidden items (like detonator) and make the place explode.

(This idea is similar to Spy Party game, although major differences are that both teams have first person mode and that there can be more than 2 players in the game. In addition, there can be way that saboteur gets rid of nazi guard – which gives him extra time – this way also nazi guards need to try pretend they are AI bots…)

King of the hill – with a gun
Yet another multiplayer, but this time there’s just one gun in the level. Everybody else carries a crowbar. Round lasts 10 minutes. You get 1 point per second you carry the gun.

When person with the gun dies, he drops the weapon.

Everybody except person with the gun is invisible.

Two makes a team
Again multiplayer. This time there’s at least 2 players (coop mode) against bots or 4, 6, 8, etc players against each other (against other teams mode).

In each team, one has gun, other has ammo. Gunman is the only one that can shoot, and the ammo man is the only one who can handle reloads.

If either one dies, then the team loses.

Lead the blind
Multiplayer for 2 teams (or 1 team against bots). Each character is blind (or alternatively, each player can see everything except other team characters), except the team lead.

Team leader has vision, but carries no gun. The leader can place markers on the field that are visible to his team. If team leader is killed, team loses. If anyone else is killed, he is out of the game (alternatively respawns after 30 secs)

The challenge is for team lead to try spot enemy units and place markers, so that other players in his team can shoot.

Make a choice
Everybody versus Everybody multiplayer. When you spawn in the game, you must choose to have either “melee weapon + vision” OR “gun + blindness”. If you choose gun, then you cannot see anything. If you pick melee weapon, you get also vision.

Levels are simple (for example, storage place with 2 levels… and couple of stairs and boxes)

Hit me, I’m blind
Yet another blind multiplayer. This time everybody is blind. When you get hit, you take damage, but don’t die (you have 100 hitpoints and guns do 5-15 damage). As you get hit you gain vision for 2 seconds.

That’s it. Which one you liked most? If you have your own idea, please feel free to share (either here or as #7dfps tweet)

Multiplayer gaming gone cloud

I’ve been so focussed on my card game (now waiting arrival…) that I didn’t know what’s been going on in the multiplayer side of things. And boy, it’s a new world out there.

The first that got my attention was Photon server/cloud. Exit Games has a nice system that gets rid of tons of headache (packet sending, connections and whatnot). Their system is worth checking, and it integrates nicely with Unity (comes with demos too).

Second thing that got my attention was PubNut. It’s a darn simple & fast messaging system. I checked the Monkey demo using pubnut and got it up and running, sending messages back and forth in minutes.

When I first tested developing UDP framework around 2001, I can assure, it wasn’t minutes. Also around 2007 when I knew what I was doing… it wasn’t minutes. Sure, there’s of course many things that you still gotta figure out (authorative servers, what you actually send, persistent data and such), but it’s nice that there’s services that take away some pain in online multiplayer gaming.

I’ve barely checked out what’s out there, so any comments & suggestions for resources is most welcome.

Why finishing games is tough…

Earlier, I drew this as a joke (and shared in twitter)… but it’s not funny.

It’s so easy to get into mindset of doing “just one more change”, “just one more thing”. And that prevents game from getting done. The last playtests I did, made me think that I need to change one card. Gameplay already worked just fine, but somehow I didn’t like how the one card worked, so decided to change it.

That’s it, I say to myself. But this small change means I gotta go through more testing to ensure things are balanced.

I’m already proud of what I’ve done, and even though I keep getting more ideas for more items, more specialties and more everything… I decided to do folder called “expansion” and put the ideas on that folder. When I get new ideas, I know where they go.

That way I feel that my ideas are waiting there, not gone in vain – but also that I get sensible progress.

And, finally I can start say that this card game of mine – it’s near the finish line. I have bunch of tasks on my list. Cannot wait to get them done.

What about you – are you feature creep? Where do you draw the line between “polishing” and “creep”?

Click here to gain some experience points

I recently draw this image that points out a small challenge in game design:

Naturally this isn’t a problem if you happen to have tons of time and enjoy grinding and that sort of stuff.

But for me… this is bit of an issue. In Fallout, it was issue since I prefer to enjoy the story. Random encounters, even some really small sidequests where bit of grinding type of stuff for me that I didn’t like. All I wanted was to get to do a meaningful big scale decision that affects the outcome of the story, not shoot some monsters somewhere in a desert.

Don’t get me wrong – Fallout is great game, and I totally enjoyed the experience and almost everything it offers. But there were times when I stopped progressing main story or fun side quests, and did smaller stuff instead, just to level up.

Let’s take another game: Witcher. I played it briefly, but quickly it started to feel like I’m just getting better skills for the sake of getting better skills, and story for me wasn’t progressing in sane way. I liked the world, the cut-scenes, parts of story and unlock stuff… but it all was wrapped in a big box of repetitive play, which unfortunately I don’t have time to do. Sure, it was different (I wasn’t just killing spawning rats over and over in one place), but doing the same thing in every single side quest (go to place A, kill something, go place B, get reward – over and over) smells grindish to me.

Again, I’m not saying that Witcher is bad. I’m just saying that the gameplay is somewhat repetitive in such way that I perhaps didn’t like so much. It was the main story that kept me playing.

Combat and fighting can be fun. They can provide meaningful choices in them, but when combat is about 100% victory against a spawning enemy with some reward for the sake of leveling up… then we are approaching bad design.

Why bother with battles that players are certain to win and must repetitively do for the sake of leveling up?

It’s pretty much the same as if you’d give player button “click here to gain experience”.

Somewhat lengthy post about lessons on creating a board game

I’ve been working on a card game for about two years now. Here’s some pointers for those who seek to develop a physical board (or card) game.

One gotta learn much about game mechanics
I think it’s natural for board games to be somewhat less immersive than video games. In video games, you can actually create a game around a simple mechanics, and let player be immersed by the story and visuals. You can have simple mechanics too in board games, but telling a story is slightly more difficult. It can happen, but most of the games I play I can “see” what’s going on better, and can focus more on the mechanics.

This point is hard to explain, but let’s put it this way:

If you do a shooter (FPS), you pretty much have game mechanics designed for you. The real job is doing art, weapons, storyline… everything related to other stuff than mechanics.

If you do a “shooter” board game, it’s totally different. You gotta start ponder how much strategy will be involved, how the game is won, whether to use dice or not, all sorts of stuff that goes into having an enjoyable gaming.

With board games, you gotta have a solid mechanism there, and you have to really understand what makes it fun.

Design for co-op experience is a pretty good idea, but has flaws too
My game evolved to be for 1-4 players. It can be played either cooperatively or competitively. Main portion of testing has been me alone, only some with groups of 3-4 people. It’s difficult to design competitive system for more than 1, since you are the only one testing it.

If you make sure there’s cooperative mode where 1 player can play the game, then it’s easier to scale to 4.

But scaling doesn’t happen automatically. In my game, I barely could beat 1 player game, but when playing with 4 we easily beated it in one version. Later, I have added rules that balance the game better.

…but if doing cooperative, why do board game at all?
The flaw with “designing for 1 player experience too” is that, then you start asking yourself: “why do this as physical board game? why not do digital video game instead?”

That’s a damn good question. Main reason for me for doing a board game were these:

  • It’s my dream to make a card game and see it in stores.
  • Physical card games have better UI than for example ios card games. There’s something great about being able to touch and move cards.
  • 4 player multiplayer around real people in real world is just differently fun experience that computer games cannot ever reach. Occasionally, it’s fun to see real people… and play with them around the same table

Nevertheless, one should still consider whether to do physical board games or not. There are same drawbacks that I’ll list in the next point.

Drawbacks of doing physical games
Unless you are skilled with papernotes, pencil and scissors and can live with these… at some point you want to have cooler looking art, real cards and such stuff to test with. To me, it made a huge difference to actually have proper cards with game art in there. And this leads to following cons:

  • You would do good to invest in a good laser printer. I was consider this several times, but decided to simply use card making service instead. Anyways, a good laser printer is needed.
  • If you need other than cards, well, take them from other board games you have or buy some plastic soldier toys or anything from stores. My game is cards only, much for this reason.
  • Shipping takes time. I use Artscow (multi purpose cards rectangle to be exact) for my cards. Their card quality has increased during the 2 years and they always have some sort of “free shipping” or similar coupons available. Remember to have some sort of “bleed” there too.
  • Getting assets in game takes time. I created a “text to art” software that bakes text files and image files together and makes nice stuff that I can use in games. If you are interested about this, you can try pester me via email. It requires bit of manual work but has certainly helped me a lot.
  • Playtesting takes time: this was perhaps the most unexpected thing for me. I have a gaming group, but also 2 kids… so group playtesting sessions can have weeks of gaps.

So, creating a card game isn’t necessarily “a simpler thing” than what I first thought when I started making this game!

What took most of my time
Two things:

  • Game mechanics
  • Balancing

These two things by far have taken my time. It took me time to get mechanics “right”. Now I know they are good and work, and the last months have been about balancing. There has been cards that are way too powerful, and therefore needed tweaking.

One of the biggest positive lessons has been…
The fact that my game mechanics understanding has been improved. I pay much more attention to “core” of the games and how they work. I have needed to dive into the “fun” and really try understand it better. I think all video game developers would do good to design one card game, for the sake of learning more about game mechanics and how they contribute to fun gaming.

Some recommended reading
Here’s stuff I found handy:

There’s plenty of more, but these would be fine starting points.

What’s next?
I’ll polish my game, do final testing, have small self-pulish print run (like 50 copies via the Game Crafter to cater to those who want – but not more, in order not to scary any publishers away) and then knock on publisher doors.

Thoughts about Grimrock style game development

Grimrock is a damn cool game. Damn good looking. Damn “old” core mechanics (Dungeon Master 1987). And it sells like hotcakes.

Why?

Because they put together a dedicated 4-man team who is passionate about this sort of game. The game isn’t stuck in the 20+ year old mechanics, but offers various new twists and makes the genre take a big leap forward. Not too big though, as it seems that everybody buying the game is saying “how they loved this type of games back then…” – for nostalgic reasons too.

I’m 110% confident no publisher would ever have taken this type of game. Because “it’s old stuff, nobody plays those anymore”.

Grimrock sold already more than what development costs were, so they are doing already pretty good.

Smells like the success formula:

“good old mechanic” + “add your own passion” + “boil with some new ingredients” = tasty gaming meal is prepared.

Emergent goal seeking AI for RPGs

Computer RPGs I’ve learned to play rely heavily on combat as the way to gain experience. Couple of previous post discussed about alternatives to combat, and Matt’s comment made me thinking about a bit different type of way to perhaps create emergent play in RPGs. No idea if this would work, but here goes.

Imagine there’s bunch of goblins guarding a treasure cave. Each goblin would have motivations, such as these:

  • Need for food (avoiding hunger)
  • Shelter (avoid rain for example)
  • Being safe (for example, sticking with a bigger group or perhaps running away)

And so on…

Now, our hero arrives near the treasure cave and thinks for a moment about the situation. In our typical RPG, you’d usually draw your sword and hack’n'slash em.

But what if we could instead have AI that reacts to different stuff. For example, hero could leave food near and make noises that attract goblins to check out the noises. When goblins go check noises (that would be programmed in a common “guarding behavior” AI), they would see food… and hungry goblins would remain there to eat the food. Others might instead return. If there wasn’t any food, all goblins would return back.

Or what if hero uses a rain spell: it starts rain and it causes goblins to scatter: some go find shelter at nearby trees… some perhaps would go back to cave.

These type of motivational goals, combined with behaviors such as guarding might create interesting or different options for players, without need for custom scripting for every single event. Instead of focusing scripting events, you would focus on creating new goals and behaviors.

Here’s some more motivational goals for creatures:

  • Ensure safety of your child (works for bears as well as humans)
  • Greed (wants gold)
  • Item collector (wants to collect for example different swords or beast claws or whatever)

Et cetera. By adding more and more of these motivational layers, and then with behaviors/intelligence on top of that, we might be onto something.

You could add there some scripting or random events: perhaps somebody else approaches the cave and goblins immediately attack that guy… leaving our hero to sneak past the goblins. Or perhaps hero decided to hire somebody to “ride near this cave the next midnight”.

Experience might be rewarded from trying different options, if there would be some sensible algorithm for that. Or, experience might be based on finding items or visiting locations, not killing creatures between you and the treasure.

Thoughts?