Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This Blog is on the Brink of Death Thanks to the University and Hey Guys I am now on Twitter

Apparently college is hard. So I have had little time to work on game projects and even less time to write anything on this blog.

But here I am.

Here's a quick update kids. This blog will probably not see any activity for the foreseeable future. I would like to spend time writing about games, but at the current moment I need to focus on other things. I also have plans to eventually migrate to my own site where I have a better setup for displaying my ludography. So someday in a bad future this blog might actually be dead, lost forever to the ether that swallows up the deleted files of a server. However, I hope to make sure that day is, erm, postponed a bit.

Also, follow me on Twitter slaves. This statement assumes that people actually read this thing, but hey, I might catch someone through this appeal. I say some cool and some stupid things on there regularly and it's a good way to get a more immediate glimpse of the game development I am engaging in.

That is right here: https://twitter.com/JMRante

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How the Desire for Oneness in the Field of Game Design is Misguided

Here I want to present a quick thought born of my mind through the contemplation of this year's big budget story-driven titles (namely Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us) and the effects I want my own story-driven project to exert on the industry. Much of the discussion surrounding the two games mentioned above involves players questioning whether or not the methods the games use pave a suitable path of progression forward or create an evolutionary dead end (such as what Myst and its contemporaries did). While some critics dismiss both games for only continuing the frustrating tradition of failing to integrate play and story, many have come to their defense because they feel that, in spite of the lack of ludo-narrative harmony, the games are able to convey an effective experience.

The universe is objectively defined, yet subjectively interpreted. This same relation can be applied to a video game. A video game's system is (generally) objectively defined, yet subjectively interpreted. I believe that the most important end result of a player engaging with a game is their own experience. It is the designer's job to create a clearly defined game that, when put through the many subjective lenses of their players, can still be generally interpreted to present the same engaging experience. Therefore, what truly matters in the end is not whether or not the game is designed according to proper tradition, theory, or protocol, but rather that a game is designed to deliver a good experience.

The beauty of the craft and its vast depth is that there exists a practical infinitude of ways to express human existence. Super Mario 64, Knytt, and Morrowind all, through different means, provide the player an experience of mystery and exploratory freedom. Tetris, Flow, and Minecraft all, through different means, provide the player an experience of spacial organization. The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Katamari Damacy all, through different means, provide the player an experience of growth. Fundamentally different systems can provide the same message, though of course, with their own unique little subtleties.

Thus, in game design there truly are multiple ways to heaven, though each way has been given their own share of advantages and disadvantages. There is no One solution that once presented in the CITIZEN KANE OF VIDEO GAMES will then be implemented into all video games until eternity to fix the problem of presenting story, and more importantly, experience (in fact, story is a means to create experience). Such will be the case of the game systems I am currently creating for my own interactive fiction-ish project; they will only be one of many tools to bring about experiences.

I have no way with words; I know deep inside that which I wish to express yet with four paragraphs I feel I still have failed to express it clearly.

Perhaps I can say this; a game's FUNCTION is vastly more important than what a game IS, verb over noun, process over data.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Sloppy Overview for the Nature of the Solution to the Ludo-Narrative Problem that I Came Up With in the Shower

Since three exists as the perfect number, I have used it's dividing properties to segment the solution's overview into digestible parts:

  1. Create a System to Govern Narrative
  2. Blend the Narrative System and the Game System in a Meaningful Way
  3. Define and Represent the Narrative System with Proper Writing and Audio-visuals

Each of these must come into being excellently and holistically in order for the problem to be solved in the game. Success in one area does not lead to a total solution. This means that a project would require the programmers, the designers, the writers, and the artists to all collaborate in contributing what they can to the whole. For most big studios, depending on how they are governed, this is probably a quite challenging route to take. It will probably take examples or archetypes of how this is done, provided by small developers, to give the bigger guys the template they need to all follow in order for big budget games to see leaps in solving the ludo-narrative problem. Or something, who knows.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Recovering from Severe Burnout, I Look Towards Revolution

I have spent the entire past month doing absolutely nothing. The previous semester of school and Crawl had simply killed me. Fair enough though, it is quite advantageous to intimately understand one's own limitations. So I can not regard the experience with regret.

It is time for some existential angst.

My priorities have shifted as a game developer. Originally, my intentions were more to use development not only as a art, but a vehicle for fame, wealth, and love. Such things as I imagine them are ultimately worthless, however. Furthermore, they do not come from just simply creating artwork. Rather, other factors usually play into the attainment of such desires. One must know the right people, play the economic systems in the right ways, interact with others using a right spirit, etc. Plenty of people have enjoyed my creations, and some have even been inspired by them, but this does not lead to what I wanted. For many years, I saw game development as a vehicle for my well-being.

I am an idiot for approaching it that way; my current well-being is far beyond even marginally comfortable standards.

Pursuing a life in game development (amongst other, less honorable factors) has left me without a job and a thriving social life. Essentially, in some sense, this road has led me to the exact opposite of what I wanted. I could quit right now and conform my life to the world's normal path to attain such things.

I can't. I love the craft too much.

My desire now, at least on the most important level, is to focus on others in the best way I can. Focus on others by way of creating games. For awhile, I suffered depression since I felt no one understood or respected this pursuit. I felt like a drug dealer addicted to his own product. In some sense that might be true. But the irrefutable truth is this; an excellent game can bring excellent joy to a person's life. For this purpose, to deliver joy, meaning, and awe to humanity, I create games. This is a noble cause to dedicate one's life to.

Okay, enough with the ridiculous existential musing; I am going to play around with some thoughts I have had regarding the project I discussed before releasing Crawl.

Basically, I want to get "story" right in video games. I have done plenty of reading on the subject and have seen many previous attempts. This does not qualify me to complete the job, but it has motivated me to take a risk in attempting it.

My focus is on allowing the player to explore the characters and world with plot as a sort of dynamic onward pacing of the forward motion of that exploration. I want conversations and meaningful actions/decisions. I do not want quick time events. I want dynamic, not scripted, interactions, and yet I want authorial intent. I do not want role-playing. I want a system generic and powerful enough to be applied well to any literary or game genre; the solution applies as well to a science fiction shooter as it does to a romantic comedy. I do not want a nearly impenetrable ruleset that removes all meaning from decisions for a casual participant.

I am going to write the first prototype in Java using a text based interface. This will not be the final form of the story engine; it is simply a temporary interface to start playing around with the logic systems I have in mind. It will involve two characters, one assigned to the player, the other assigned to the game, and will pit them in a conversation. My current metric of success is surprise. If I myself, the creator, can be continually surprised by what lies within the probability space of the game rules, I will be satisfied with the depth. From there I will implement more characters, events, plotting, etc.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Introducing (And Releasing) "Crawl"; a First Person Adventure/Action RPG

Crawl has occupied most of my development time for the entire past semester. It started as a basic project for a game design course, but I decided that the idea had enough potential to fully flesh it out. Whether or not that potential was indeed realized can be brought into question.

Each time I release a game I always say I am done with Game Maker, and this time, I am super duper serious about it. Really. I will be going out with a bang with this engine, pushing it to its limits in Crawl with complex three-dimensional environments and timing based battle systems.

Though I do have a lot to say about the development of this game, I do not currently have the will to say it; this project, amongst other circumstances, has sucked the life out of me and I would rather not dwell on the experience of its creation for while. Maybe someday in the distant future I will be able to force myself to manifest some sort of postmortem.

Crawl competes with The Pac-Man in scale. It contains 32 large, unique stages, has something like two dozen enemy types, boasts nine "verb" powers, and has a narrated (though awful) script. There quite a few secrets in there as well. The game itself is a first person adventure-action RPG game, if I had to describe it in classical terms. As the title foreshadows, the game takes inspiration from retro dungeon crawling games. However, though it shares the tile-based movement and perspective, Crawl is very much its own game. The final design might have turned out a bit too simplistic, since I tried to cut much of the crap that comes with the RPG genre.

My hope is that at least some people out there will be able to extract some enjoyment out of this. Going forward as a developer, I have a few options in front of me, all of which are looking pretty neat. First, I ordered an Oculus Rift devkit. It might be a while until it arrives, but I have always been super fascinated with virtual reality and I have plenty of ideas of what to do with it. Second, I am going to (for the fourth or fifth time) try to teach myself Blender and hop over on to Unity as my new engine of choice. Having learned much about 3D design from creating Crawl, I feel that I am now ready. Third, there might be a chance I get involved in a mod project of some sorts. I will see about that one. I chose not to take up an internship this summer break because I am a terrible, lazy person and I feel that I do not yet have the software engineering experience to get one. Hopefully these other projects will suffice to keep me from sliding down the slope of sloth.

By the way, here is the horribly recorded and cut trailer for Crawl:


Oh, and of course, the link that allows one to download the game.

Crawl Download: DOWNLOAD CRAWL!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is this? An update? An update that involves a new game?

I believe I underestimated undergraduate work. When was the last time I even posted something on this blog? I could check, but I really don't have the time. This will be brief.

I made a new game. It is called JBan. This time, I used Java. It is Sokoban with a cool color scheme and an included level editor. Nothing horribly special; this is simply a school project I needed to finish in a time span of three days. For my first video game programmed in a real language, it is okay; it certainly works.

Get it here: http://www.indiedb.com/games/jban/downloads

Someday, perhaps when summer manifests, I will further elaborate on the far reaches I have been drenched in for the past several months game stuff wise. Things look bright; the last project I was talking about is on hold, but not dead, and in about a month from now something else pretty big will be released on this site.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

What I Am Doing Is Not New In Theory; But In Practice, It Makes All The Difference In The World

"Theory" is the wrong word to use, but I think it approaches the idea I am trying to convey. I am not proposing any radically different systems as part of my method of implementing character and narrative into a game. Instead, my intentions are to simply change the way designers think about the problem and how far they go to deal with it. Based upon my current thoughts regarding my solution to this, I see that I am taking an element that is rarely thought through and complicated, and extending it into something far more meaningful and sophisticated. I have already mentioned that there are games that do make considerable progress in portraying characters tied into the game itself, and even some of those games allow their pieces to change (though not by the characters development, but rather the player's whim of "free will").

I like to think of what I am developing as analogous to "RPG Elements." What does it mean when it is said that a game has RPG elements? It is a fairly new term and it says that a game uses a complex, dynamically changing and growing statistical/computational number system to determine the outcomes of certain moves. For the layperson, it means that the player levels up with experience and when they shoot things numbers come out of them. But in all honesty, RPG elements in this spirit have in many ways always existed in games. The Legend of Zelda does not count numbers or give the player experience points, but the code still defines enemies as having a certain amount of health, Link's sword as doing a certain amount of damage, and heart containers giving Link more and more power. The Legend of Zelda is has basic RPG elements and does not even know it. The same realizations can be had when observing the code of many shooters and action games.

Just as "RPG elements" can bring out a certain depth in a game's mechanics, what I would think of as "Character elements" can bring out a certain depth in a game's narrative. In that sense, what I propose is not new; it is an extrapolation of what already exists in the most simplest form. Because of this nature, it can be applied to pretty much any game imaginable. I believe that this quality makes this development far more useful and revolutionary than what would simply be a simulation engine for story-telling.

Hopefully I can develop better rhetorical devices to describe the ideas I am reaching at.