Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In Regards to Writing, Fewer Words are Usually More Elegant and Accessible

But the writer needs to draw the line clearly between what they can safely assume the reader already knows and what ideas they still need supplied to them to fully comprehend the point being given. I often encounter writing that fails to draw this line in the proper location, either providing too much information or leaving out some vital concept. I am certain that this blog post itself fails to draw the line properly as well, as any hastily and not-so-hastily scrambled together prose of mine does.

Unfortunately, the problem of drawing the line has no perfect solution, since the audience consists of differing individuals who will require different lines (based either upon their actual knowledge or their initial attention to the piece). Is it then reasonable to find out the average amount of information known and unknown to the general audience, and then base the positioning of the line upon that?


I imagine this concept applies pretty well to video game tutorials, if I need to bring this thought back around to the subject matter of this blog.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Best World Map of All Time

Nope, just kidding, this world map is actually just "okay". It does better suit the game than the previous one I had installed. As I have mentioned previously, I scraped the original world map for a multitude of reasons of questionable validity. After 6 hours of wading through my ugly, messy code I was finally able to augment the system into what it is today. Many tears were involved. Now I have this as a result; it's better than the previous map. Probably. No, definitely.

Maybe there will be a trailer within the next 1000 hours. I do not want to make any wild promises though...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fasting Does Bring Revelation!

After taking a break from playing video games for a while, it hit me that the less time I spend playing games the more I actually like the thought of them. This is probably common sense. A good analogy would be substance abuse. Wait, no, that would be a horrible analogy. A good analogy would be that of a man who loves some food, say, Greek gyros, and decides that because he loves that food it is all he is ever going to eat. But quickly he will get sick of the food; the sensations it brings will no longer be a treat, but rather they will be ordinary. Such is with the case for the man who dedicates too much time to one particular hobby.

Moderation in many things is key, it seems. Again, this common sense is far easier in theory.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sometimes Murdering Children Gets to Me...

Humans suck at quite a few things. They can eat food okay, standing is not too much of an issue for them, and their defecation can come along quite naturally. But when asked to design and then simulate a complex game structure in their minds, they will usually forget a variable here and there. Complete visions of what a finished product might be are great, but they should not be indivisible wholes. The vision of what a game is going to be must be malleable so that new discoveries in science and play testing can inform and improve upon the original concept. Sometimes these improvements are minor; usually, though, they are complete conceptual refurbishments.

The current game I am developing has recently undergone this phase. The systems are magically transformed from theory into software and I get to see every wrong guess on my behalf in regards to how the game plays. For instance, I originally envisioned a rather straightforward narrative commenting on the philosophical notions of hedonism. After all, its a fan game about Pac-Man, one of many selfish video game protagonists; the dude eats up pills and fruit and that is about it. But once I started to actualize the game's AI, I began to realize that the relationship between Pac-Man and the ghosts was far more important and interesting than his relationship with a bunch of poorly sprited dots (hey guys, the joke is that it is impossible to poorly sprite dots; well, kind of).

And with that realization, I decided to change the plot. But ultimately, at least for this title, because it is after all just a stupid fan game, this is a rather minor change. It means I need to redo the opening and closing and perhaps make the writing a tad bit less insufferably self-serious (because one can not take fan games seriously and still expect to be accepted by society). However, I did have to decide to make one big cut to the game, and unfortunately, that cut is going to hurt because not only was the concept one of the reasons I decided to make the game in the first place, but all of the content I am throwing out probably took about 40 hours to create.

I murdered the world map. Its blood stains my casual outer wear. It does make me look a little bit suspicious. Maybe I shouldn't go outside for a while. Or better yet I could put on a fresh set of clothing. No, but really, it is dead. That glorious icon I was going to use to venerate the famous world map from Super Mario World has become just another victim of iconoclasm. Why did I kill it? Well, first, it become quickly apparent to me that the multi-path layout of Super Mario World worked because the levels were large and explorable. It is pretty difficult to place hidden exits in stages that operate on a non-scrolling screen. Any other substitutes I could come up with to finding hidden exits (such as doing a bunch of esoteric rituals or beating the stage under a certain time) were just missing the point.

Second, certain ideas I had in place for different level themes would be impossible to link together on the same map without the result looking absolutely forced. This kept me away from using some of my better ideas and instead had me feeling as if I would have to settle for some really generic level themes. Maybe an actually artist could do it; I cannot.

Finally, I had made too much space for secret levels that would be devoid of meaningful content, would waste the players time, and most importantly, would waste even more of my own development time. I am an indie developer making crap that is put on the Internet for free; replay value is not my first priority. Everything I want the player to experience is to be discovered in the main set of stages, from beginning to end. Beating the game will not simply be a, "Yeah, the horribly written story is complete and you've only played 45% of the game, but it's all cool, if you want to leave now you can do so without feeling bad," moment, but a, "Sup, you beat this game. Seriously, wow, that was crazy impressive. You must be dead or something after that." The game's development should really start to come to close; I do not want to notice that it is December and I still have to create ten extra stages before I can start to wrap things up. A game is done when a game is done; most of the advice speaks against releasing too early, but in my case, I could potentially face the troubles of releasing too late. Look at Duke Nukem Forever. I don't want to be that.

Cutting out the current world map is cutting out content, but that content is fat, and a leaner game is almost always better. The replacement will actually be using most of the same code actually; instead of a large, Super Mario World-esque world map I have opted into creating a level selection system akin to the map from the Game Boy Color version of Super Mario Bros. I just realized I need to desperately stop taking inspiration from the Mario series (it's just too good).

So yeah, I killed a few of my kids. Huh.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Apparently This Blog is Old and An Update on My Cute Fan Game

I decided to look through the archives to have a good laugh at the meager amount of content I put out now compared to back in the past when I zealously made sure that I posted something everyday. But instead of entertaining my present self with my past self's naive dutifulness, I realize that this blog is over a year old. And I missed its birthday by like three months. Oh no, what will I do. Maybe I will do something special for the 100th post for this thing. But maybe not, because of the whole "no one actually reads this blog" thing. Either way, online comic tropes will be employed.

Anyways, remember that one game I was making? The one where out of sheer laziness to develop my own fiction I decided to steal the Pac-Man mythos from Namco instead? Yeah, that is still happening, funnily enough. I have just finished world 7 out of 10 and I am really liking where things are going. The game gets quite difficult in these later stages, but I feel that if I don't challenge the player I am wasting their time. The ironic thing is that I usually prefer to play easier games. Once I have the main set of levels designed and finished I'll make a trailer for the game to show the world what good fan games look like. Awwwwwwwwwwww yeah.

ShootMania is Pretty Cool

Whenever I get an invitation into a private beta for some game I feel like the swellest dude in existence. All of sudden I feel as if this means I am some how important in the industry; as if I am being contracted to make games better with my betterness.

And then reason and logic return after a brief 30 second hiatus of fantasy and remind me that, "Oh yeah, I am just one dude of thousands invited to the beta because I put my email in some database. Huh."

I read on NeoGAF that the beta keys for ShootMania were being sent out and I vaguely remembered signing up to give it a try. I checked my email, found my key, wallowed in irrationality for a brief time span, and then downloaded Nadeo's latest.

TrackMania is one of the greatest things ever. To say it is just some racing game with a track editor is to miss the brilliance of TrackMania. It is a very pure experience and its design is almost of the quality of a good sport. The tracks themselves do not function like race tracks, but are rather intricate obstacle courses that test the player's understanding of technical driving. Each track then turns into a time trial, with up to over a hundred players on a server racing through a track in a set amount of time trying to get the highest placement. While it seems to me that most racing games like to focus on the vehicles, TrackMania stands out by focusing on the tracks (everyone races through a track using the same car; this is a very simple, but quite literally perfect balance). And ultimately, at least personally, tracks are far more interesting and worthy of emphasis. And then you add on to this the easy to use, intuitive track editor, the multitude of community features, the custom server features, the competitive scene, and the globally and locally ranked offline experience. I need to stop talking about TrackMania before this whole article becomes about how great it is.

But what if you had the same thing, but it was like Call of Duty. No, wait, I meant Quake and Unreal Tournament. You know, what if it had guns? What if it was TrackMania, but cool?

Well, then the result would be the inevitable ShootMania. Let me be clear though; saying that ShootMania is TrackMania with guns is doing it a massive disservice. ShootMania, like TrackMania before it, is important not because it whores the values of Web 2.0 (which it does, and gloriously), but rather because it takes a genre of game and tries to purify it. Especially with the onslaught of online shooters with leveling systems, customized weapons and abilities, and free-to-play money making machines of shame, the FPS genre could really use a detox.

In ShootMania, as in Trackmania, every player is on equal standing. There is only one default attack players have at their disposal and they all have only two health points. The orbs players shoot are slower than bullets and are designed to be dodged. There is neither ammo (ammo regenerates) nor health (death's only prevention is to avoid damage) on the field. While these two elements can go a long way in defining the flow of a map, the maps I played in ShootMania seemed to do fine without them. ShootMania very quickly becomes about strafing to defend and aiming to attack. I do wonder whether or not the bare FPS mechanics have as much depth to them as the bare racing game mechanics.

But considering that there is some added complexity in the way of game modes, this consideration is probably not all too important. There is the average death match ordeal, which is exactly what you might expect. Then there is some sort of attack and defend mode, which basically functions like KOTH with two hills, one for each team. I did not play too much of this variation, but what I did try was okay, though I really do not have enough experience to judge it properly. Then finally I tried a map where the game mode involved players rushing to activate a central pole, which created a bubble of death that slowly closed in on the map, forcing the players to tighten up their spacial relations to each other. The last man standing at the end was to be proclaimed the winner.

ShootMania is pretty cool. It reminds me of SRB2 in regards to how it handles combat. Which is a very, very good thing. Everyone seems to complain about the interface in Nadeo games, and while I do not think it is as bad as the hyperbole on the Internet claims, it could use some more clarity and polish. Unfortunately, the launch menu for ManiaPlanet, where one makes the choice between TrackMania 2 or ShootMania, is incredibly unwieldy. I played around with the editor and it is as functional and easy to use as it has always been. Visually I question whether or not the TrackMania art style is suited for a shooter, but I understand the pursuit for consistency. ShootMania is a great idea, which I hope sells well enough to be iterated upon. The industry is stupidly desperate for some freshness in its most popular genre, and ShootMania definitely delivers some fresh.