Rampant Games - All News
Friday - October 03, 2014
Rampant Games - The Roguelike Conundrum
The Rampant Coyote latest post this week talks about lightweight Roguelike games, and how each game is almost similar to each other on how they play out.
I’ve been playing through a few smaller, lesser-known roguelikes lately – primarily more modern, graphical roguelikes with simplified interfaces. It’s been fun, but while I might truthfully say I’ve “played them to death” (or two or three or eight deaths), I can’t say I’ve really played any of them to the point of truly grokking them.
Some are better than others, some are more complete than others, and many of them feel like they could have been built with a “Roguelike Maker” tool. Just mix in content, stir, and allow to cool before serving. Most have their own little unique quirks, which is good, and interesting to play. But there’s definitely a point when I’ve played several where I wonder in which roguelike I saw something or another. They kinda blur together.
Part of the problem is that these more streamlined, “lightweight” roguelikes are all variations of the common “roguelike” experience and gameplay loop. They don’t have the depth (or complexity) of games like Nethack (pictured above with a graphical front-end) or some of the other cult classics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as they are streamlined and far easier to get started playing. But the downside when the gameplay all feels very similar and the dungeons have similar random-level generation algorithms is that they really need to do something cool to stand out. Just different monsters, items, and skills aren’t quite enough.
Thursday - September 25, 2014
Rampant Games - On Unfinished Games
The Rampant Coyote's latest post gives his opinion on a few games that will remain unfinished, and uses a few cancelled kickstarter games as an example.
I keep grumbling (I try to think positive and to avoid grumbling too much) about people being willing to pay more for a promise of a game than an actual, completed game. I’ve suspected that as we had some high-profile failures in Early Access and crowdfunding games, that this might be tempered somewhat.
We’ve had a couple more major failures this week, but my desire to say, “I told you so!” is itself tempered by the fact that I’m a fan of both creators. This is the sort of thing that can ruin reputations and cause damage to careers.
Wednesday - September 17, 2014
Rampant Games - Is Simplicity Overrated?
The Rampant Coyote gives his opinion on the recent articles that criticize Simplicity on the internet this week. I found it interesting ,and I hope most of you enjoy reading it.
Anyway, all this is really an introduction to a fascinating piece by Craig Stern, “Against the Cult of Simplicity.” He makes a ton of arguments (he’s a lawyer by day, so he’s good at this) that while simplicity may be a virtue, it is not the only virtue. It seems that the indie community is perhaps getting pushed too far in that direction. While it may be a good thing to correct some poor tendencies, what we’re really going for is a balance. Simplicity is not the end-goal for many (or even most) games.
It’s something of a companion piece to his earlier article at indieRPGs.com, “Where are all the RPGs at IGF?” This article illustrated another bias against more complex games – simpler games are faster and easier to “get,” which makes them more likely to get a fair shake from harried judges at these shows. If a game even sounds like it’s going to take more than ten minutes to evaluate, many judges won’t bother even looking at it.
Much of the challenge and delight (I like using that word – it isn’t exactly the same thing as “fun,” but it can encapsulate fun, fascination, admiration, and many other factors) of RPGs is in the interaction of these systems. Even in relatively simple RPGs (think 16-bit-style JRPGs), these systems can get really complex, balancing combat, exploration, some skills, leveling, gear, and expendable items (which represent a cost in gold, replenished through combat and exploration). But this is something that can’t be fully introduced to a player in five or ten minutes. You can touch on it, but it’s still a lot for a player to absorb, let alone gain any kind of mastery.
I think I’m in complete agreement with Craig, here. I believe that the quote attributed to Einstein (whether or not he really said it, it’s a good one) should be applied on a per-game basis, not to games in general. Extremely simple games are awesome, and can be both critically and commercially successful (Flappy Bird, anyone?). But that’s not the be-all, end-all goal of game design.
Monday - September 15, 2014
Rampant Games - Opinion On Voice Acting
The Rampant Coyote talks about his opinion on voice acting in games, and talks about why his Frayed Knight games don't have voiceovers.
Talking to someone at Comic Con last weekend, they recommended fully voiced dialog for my game because they hate to read when playing a game, but they will listen to somebody talk to them “all day.” I mentioned that for me, I’m kind of the opposite. Maybe for the first couple of lines – especially if it’s a major bit of character-revelation or a significant plot development – I’ll listen all the way through. But most of the time, I’ll read through the line of dialog, and then interrupt the voice-over in mid-sentence to jump to the next part. Voice is just too slow.
I love the idea of bringing the Baldur’s Gate style back into vogue – where the first line or paragraph was voiced in any particular scene, so you get the flavor of the character. But in talking to some modern players, they aren’t so keen on that. In short – players don’t want to read when they are playing a game. (I suspect some of them don’t like to read, period, but that’s another story.) I do get that. I find myself in the same boat. When playing a game, certain parts of your brain are active, and get into a rhythm. Going into text-reading mode completely breaks that flow, and engages different parts of your brain. At least, that’s how it feels. It breaks the flow of things. And while gaming is primarily visual, we can be interpret audio information and communication in a way that’s less disruptive then stuff we have to process visually.
So I dunno. Maybe I’m out there on the fringe, wanting a return to the Baldur’s Gate style “samples” in hopes of getting the best of both worlds. Maybe I’m really out to lunch on this. Maybe I’m too far from the “mainstream.” I dunno.
Thursday - August 28, 2014
Rampant Games - RPG Design & Potions
The Rampant Coyote talks about the positive side of potions in RPG games in his latest blog post. So do you guys agree with him, or hate potions in games?
About ten months ago, I wrote about consumable / expendable resources in RPGs. More recently, Matt Barton penned an article about how much he wants to get rid of consumable items altogether in “Down with Pots!”
Well, I’m gonna answer both him and my younger self. At least in part. Actually, I’m gonna write three answers as to why consumable / expendable items are a Good Thing in RPG Design.
Read his blog post for the three reasons.
Thursday - August 21, 2014
Rampant Games - To Swap Game Engines
The Rampant Coyote's latest blog post as him wondering it he should change the engine for Frayed Knights 2. So what do you guys think should he keep the unity engine?
I love Unity. I’m very, very happy about it. My art guys… well, maybe not so much, but I think it’s more of a matter of what they are used to.
But although this article isn’t favorable towards Unity (it’s not really unfavorable, either), it’s an outstanding discussion of the analysis and challenge of switching game engines – and a little bit of why they chose the Unreal 4 engine in the middle of development.
If I were in their shoes, I might make the same decision. And yeah, that’s me, Unity fanboy. The weird thing is, in two years, the analysis might come out completely differently. A year or two ago, it clearly *did* come out differently.
We live in a strange, new world. Engines have become a commodity within the reach of any indie. Grab ‘em off the shelf at indie prices. They compete in price, features, platforms, intended audience, and style. This is a great thing for game developers at all levels. Okay, maybe for us programmers, who historically were on the front-line of awesome creating the technology (and also making us the bottlenecks), it drops our importance down a few pegs. You know what? I’m okay with that. I’ve been okay with games not being tech-driven for many years.
I made the painful and expensive decision to switch to Unity rather than the upgrade of the Torque engine for the sequel to Frayed Knights. This meant having to rewrite a ton of code, and learn a whole new way of doing things. That took time. But I don’t regret that decision, at all. And I’ve had to let a ton of sunk costs go (including about a year of work).
I’m still sticking with Unity for the foreseeable future. Unity 5 is promising some new new features to compete on several fronts, and I’m sure the leading competitors will offer some outstanding improvements to match. It’s a win / win for me.
Friday - August 01, 2014
Rampant Games - Game Controllers and Computer RPGs
The Rampans Coyote has updated his blog with his opion on game controllers and computer RPGs. After a talk about the old days, he goes on to explain how he sees this today:
Nowadays, from a technology standpoint - there's not such a difference between consoles and computers. As far as what's going on under the hood, it doesn't really matter. As Microsoft's Surface and will-conceived Windows 8 attest, mobile devices are closing the gap as well. We have HD TVs now that display text almost as well as computer monitors. And the controllers? Well, console controllers from the last couple of generations of systems have been pretty dang interesting. I'll bet you could eliminate some redundancies, put a few rare controls on a menu, and map the old Ultima controls onto an XBox controller pretty well.
An then, a quote, about how this will affect his new game:
But reality intrudes. I have to show my next game, Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath, at Salt Lake Comic Con in about a month, and ... well, people really respond better to controllers, especially when faced with a new game. The left stick and right buttons are the first to be experimented with. And - as the adventure games of the 90s illustrated, context-sensitive verbs are a pretty good thing. I really want to hand them a controller, not point them to a keyboard and mouse. So now I'm frantically re-thinking my UI in terms of game control input.
Sunday - July 20, 2014
Rampant Games - Ultima IV & Rational Worlds
The Rampant Coyote took a break from posting news about the Steam release of Frayed Knights to talk about Ultima IV in a new blog post on his website.
Ultima IV and Rational Worlds
I’m gonna take a break for the weekend on the Frayed Knights posts (more next week!), and just refer you to a couple of posts by The Digital Antiquarian about a game that’s very near & dear to my heart, Ultima IV.
First, the origin story – and some conjectures about the real history behind it that go beyond the short & sweet “official” story:
Now, as much as I like to wax prosaic about Ultima IV, because it really was a pretty landmark game and IMO still a great game to play, it is still a (relatively) simple game with simple mechanics. Although the interesting thing is that while modern games with complex faction systems may be far more sophisticated, the simple rules and ability to check with Hawkwind to monitor your progress may have actually strengthened the focus of the game and increased the verisimilitude than far more murky but “realistic” systems. Go figure.
But maybe a more significant factor – and reason that the game series is so beloved today – is suggested in the second article. Though violated as often as reinforced, a logic and consistency permeated the Ultima games. This was a part of game design as well as the fictional world-building. At least through the middle of the series, the games were far more simulationist than narrativist. The game ran on consistent rules with very little special-case code. The player acquired and learned to use tools to make progress in the game – from finding an artifact to fly over mountains to using a cannon to shoot a door off its hinges.
The magic system tried to follow that same consistency – it seemed to be created of a combination of elements, which included reagents some games, and runes in Ultima Underworld. Likewise, the virtue system was a combination of a handful of base elements. In Ultima VI and VII, crafting and simple economy were introduced much the same way, with a number of basic procedures allowing the creation of items in the game.
Maybe it was the transparency of these systems – and how they permeated the same game – that made players feel like Origin was living up to its motto, “We create worlds.” And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned by game designers (especially RPG designers) about the art of world-building.
Saturday - June 28, 2014
Rampant Games - Game Design
The Rampant Coyote shares with us what he has learned about game design in 20 years.
When I first started in the video game business (and I’m kind of afraid to mention when that was anymore), I was pretty sure of myself. I knew games. I knew what was fun. I was a frickin’ gaming genius.
That didn’t last long. I blame Dunning-Kruger. The more professional game designers I spoke with, the more I worked on games, the more I really began to study them professionally, the more I realized I didn’t have a clue. And now, with an indie world out there full of bizarre and creative ideas that actually sell (and twenty times more that don’t), the even less clueful I feel. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t understand.
Sure, I’ve got opinions. They’ve changed a bit over the years (releasing your own games and getting feedback from actual customers will do that), but I still hold them. Maybe not as securely as I once did. I still know what *I* like, though I’m no longer certain how similar my own tastes are to that of the general gaming public.
On the one hand, this is probably a good idea. I’m more open to new ideas and willing to “kill my darlings” – my pet ideas. I hope that I’m more able to swallow my pride to make a better game. On the other hand, this can also make me hesitant and indecisive, which is not a good trait in the fast-moving world of indie game development.
Tuesday - June 24, 2014
Rampant Games - Exploration and Side Quests
In his blog Jay discusses what he likes in Catan and makes a link to RPGs in the process.
My favorite mode is one that comes with the Seafarers expansion called “Fog Islands.” It’s got all the fun stuff that comes with the expansion – ships (putting that wood to much more use!), and gold (which allows you to draw a resource of your choice), the pirate (which the AI never uses). It gives players a bit more “elbow room” to explore the map – and create truly lengthy “roads.”
But the biggest factor for me is that something like a third of the map is “fog” – not filled out – and you have to explore to see what you get and find the best places to land. Maybe it’s the whole gambler’s high thing… the thrill of maybe scoring a jackpot this time and discovering a gold square with a high-frequency value. Or a high-frequency stone so you don’t have to rely on other players on paying at a 4:1 ratio to the bank for the stuff.
Sunday - June 22, 2014
Rampant Games - How White Wolf Went Bye-Bye
The Rampant Coyote has another excellent blog post on his website that talks about the fall of White Wolf, and the RPG games we once played.
Man. I must be getting old. I remember when White Wolf Publishing was the hot new concept in the dice & paper gaming community. I had friends who playtested an early version of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Vampire: The Masquerade was the hot new trend in gaming. The rules were clever but imbalanced, the rulebook was so poorly organized you needed to memorize it to remember where everything was. But the text was full of flavory goodness. They sold a setting and a vibe. It was good.
Except for a bit of RPG snobbishness, at least. Which is kinda weird. I mean, seriously? We’re all RPG fans, but you are going to act like you are superior because you play a particularly trendy RPG? No thank you. (I kinda remember a story by Clark Peterson about how they were at GenCon one year playing a good ol’ fashioned D&D game, but it was so crowded they were in one of the halls. A bunch of people dressed goth-y walked by and made disparaging remarks about the kinds of gamers who were still playing Dungeons & Dragons. What said pretentious douches didn’t know is that the people playing D&D were largely White Wolf authors, the people who DESIGNED the game they were acting superior about).
I had high hopes for ‘em when CCP bought them out. The potential of a World of Darkness MMO just sounded so frickin’ cool. When it was canceled, and White Wolf Publishing has pretty much ceased to exist as a functioning entity within CCP. I was really disappointed by the news, and wondered what had happened.
Thursday - June 12, 2014
Rampant Games - Wallflowers of the Steam Age
The Rampant Coyote has posted two new artivles on his website where he talks about computer role-playing games in the Steam Age. Here are the links.
Flash forward to today. Between Steam, Desura, GOG, direct-purchases, and a handful from Gamer’s Gate and Gamestop, I don’t want to think about how many games I have in my “backlog.” That’s becoming true for a lot of PC gamers – we’re deluged with cheap less-recent and indie titles, constant sales and bundle deals. It’s even worse (in some ways) for the less mature but even more saturated mobile market.
In light of Computer RPGS: The Wallflowers of the Steam Age Part 1, are computer role-playing games worse off in the age of cheap, plentiful games than other genres, and if so, why? What inhibits people from starting them, and once they start, what makes them give up long before the game is complete?
From the responses I’ve seen, the seriousness of the problems with RPGs is more acute than other genres for some gamers, but not others. While the responses were largely from RPG fans, and not from the gaming audience in general (many of whom may very well hate the very notion of the role-playing game), my feeling is that there’s nothing truly unique / specific to RPGs that might make players reluctant to start or complete the games.
Wednesday - June 04, 2014
Rampant Games - RPGMaker, Get It Now and a Contest
If you ever thought about making a game with RPG Maker, now would be the time. And there’s only a little over a day left, so do it fast:
Of course, whenever I see something like this, I assume that there’s a brand new version waiting in the wings. But that doesn’t make the deal any worse.
On top of that… there’s a CONTEST! Make a game with RPG Maker this month, and get a chance of winning up to 11 cash prizes, up to $10,000! That’s not too shabby! And… while the contest is being co-sponsored by RPG Maker *and* Humble Bundle, there are no restrictions on genre or engine! I haven’t checked the official rules in detail, but it does have to be something that you worked on only during this month (and May 31). That limits it to small games that can be developed in about a week and change, and then polished like crazy for 2-3 more weeks.
I won’t be participating. Not with the Comic Con deadline looming… But what a fantastic opportunity to break the ice, get your “one game a month” goal rocking, or whatever!
Anyway… there are (as of right now) about 150,000 people who have purchased this bundle. If only 5% of the people who grabbed it make a game with it for public release in the next two years, that is a HECK of a lot of new RPG Maker games. I know what you are thinking. I feel the same knee-jerk reaction. But honestly?
1. There’s always room for more great games.
2. As a developer, don’t be average!
3. As a gamer, be willing to take a risk on an unknown game every once in a while, and share your experiences / opinions.
As always, have fun!
Wednesday - May 21, 2014
Rampant Games - Rolling vs Building Characters
Jay Barnson writes about how RPGs have moved from 'rolling' a character, which usually resulted in being strong in some and weak in other stats, into building your character by assigning stat points, which resulted in characters being somewhat average.
Back in the old days of D&D, that was how your character was created. 3D6 created ability scores, from a range of 3-18, with 10 being defined as “average.” In the most hardcore tradition, you rolled six sets of scores and assigned them to your character in the order in which they appeared, giving you a completely random character. Then you’d pick a class your character might qualify for (with a ‘fighter’ — or ‘fighting-man’ — really having no qualifications necessary) and off you go. If your character was truly pathetic, you might hope to have ‘em die quickly so you could create another character. Creating a new character in old-school D&D took only a few minutes, so it wasn’t a big deal.
At some point, people decided that those who took the adventuring lifestyle ought to be at least somewhat better than your average pig-keeper (never mind that heroic fantasy does have a place for even assistant pig-keepers), and opted for more generous probabilities, and the ability for a player to choose which scores went to which abilities. In the AD&D days, the preferred method was to roll four six-sided dice for each score, but to ignore the value of the lowest die. This still yielded scores in the 3-18 range, but with a higher average, and it was still possible to get a really weak score in one or two abilities.
D&D – and most other game systems – eventually moved away from randomized stats in favor of “point buy” systems. Players no longer needed to fear a bad set of dice rolls! While it sounds great on the surface, the problem is that player characters all end up with very similar sets of stats, min-maxed for their chosen specialty or class (and if it’s a classless system, it’s even worse).
Saturday - April 05, 2014
Ultima 7 - I Wanna Hold Your Hand
The Rampant Coyote has a new post on his site about Ultima 7 finally being sold on GOG, and how his friend he gifted the game to didn't finish it.
Since it’s now for sale again after nearly twenty years via GOG.COM, when a friend told me he had never played Ultima 7, I made a gift of it to him. I was kinda excited to hear what he thought of it, but I was not immune to one noteworthy fear: What if he didn’t like it? Ultima 7 was different even in its day, in an era when RPGs were a bit different from how they are today.
He promises to do a little write-up in the future, but the bottom line is: He got lost, bored, and gave up. While I don’t believe he’s a fan of extensive hand-holding in games, he really felt like he could use a lot more direction in U7. And to be fair – even back in 1992, when I first played, I hit a point where I got lost and bored and put the game on the shelf for a few weeks. Then I came back with a vengeance, finished the rest of the game within a couple of days (including one full where I was stuck at home with a wrenched knee – yes, queue the old Skyrim meme jokes…) It was a mesmerizing, wonderful experience – so much so that only hours after finishing the game, I re-installed Ultima 4 and started playing it just so I could spend more time in Britannia.
This saddens me on a number of levels, because U7 still remains not just a milestone, but still an old favorite. I haven’t played it start-to-finish in a long time, but every time I do jump in – to grab a screenshot or just as a reminder – I find myself sucked in, talking to characters I only vaguely remember (if at all). It’s impossible to completely go back, as after a couple of sentences of dialog I find myself remembering a little bit more about the entire game and what’s supposed to happen next. So I can’t quite join my friend in giving it a clean-slate playthrough.
Friday - March 21, 2014
Rampant Games - Exploring Might & Magic X
The Rampant Coyote has a new post o his website that takes a look at Might & Magic X: Legacy. As usual you won't be disappointed in what he writes.
Sometimes when you say, “Old-school RPG,” I think of games like The Bard’s Tale I, where you would get clobbered by villagers as soon as you left the guild. Or more primitive games that really had simplistic rules and not much by way of gameplay or graphics. On the flip side, you get the endless tutorials, hand-holding, of way too many modern mainstream RPGs. Often it feels like the training wheels never really come off.
Fortunately, I haven’t played many games recently that put you on too much of a ‘bunny slope’ when you start out. That’s a good thing, although it may be simply my own selection as opposed to a change in trends. I just remember a few years ago – probably around the time I was playing Neverwinter Nights 2 and Final Fantasy XII and a couple of minor MMORPGs – that commercial RPGs had become a just another flavor of action-game that started out holding your hand and never quite let it go.
Playing Might & Magic X: Legacy over the last few days (in little morsels of time) has been pretty satisfying. It feels like they strike a good balance between old-school and modern. The earliest combats in MMXL (which is, what, 2040 in Roman numerals?) has you going up against poisonous spiders, forcing you to decide between taking a turn to attack or to consume the (fortunately plentiful) poison cure. My initial thought was, “Are you sure this is a good thing? Hitting the player with the complication of poison as they are first learning combat?” But for me, it was pretty fun.
Wednesday - March 12, 2014
Rampant Games - Stumbling New Consoles?
We've had plenty of articles already on the PC dying as a gaming platform before, but The Rampant Coyote addresses an article from Tech Crunch in which the sales figures of the new consoles are compared to sales figures when the previous consoles were launched. They show a decline and conclude that the console market might be in trouble.
By comparing the technical side of the PC vs consoles, Jay feels that the cost involved to develop for these new console and taking advantage of all its technical abilities doesn't improve the gaming experience much.
I think more than comparison to the PC, the big issue is the comparison to the last generation of hardware. Historically, each hardware generation offered immediate, striking improvements over its predecessor. But each massive leap in technology offered slightly less of an incremental improvement in the overall gameplay experience of the previous one. The jump to 3D helped maintain the progression a little longer, but the law of diminishing returns wasn’t repealed. With the last two generations (Xbox 360 / PS 3 / Wii, and Xbone / PS4 / Wii-U), there has been a greater emphasis on things like online connectivity (awesome, but again catching up to where the PC had been for years), and new control gimmicks. From a raw gaming perspective, the jump to more memory and more triangles per frame with even cooler shaders doesn’t really add that much more to the experience.
Thursday - February 27, 2014
Rampant Games - Roguelikes Vs RPGs
The Rampant Coyote has a new article on his blog where he ponders the difference between Roguelikes & RPGs. Here is a small part of his article.
Lately – probably because they are well within the parameters of indie development and have had some notable success stories – there has been an explosion of roguelikes and roguelike-likes.This makes me happy, mostly. I mean, sure. There are plenty of pretty vanilla roguelikes out there. But there are others that really push the bounds of the genre, or go to great lengths to make the genre more accessible to new players, or strip the gameplay down to its most fundamental roots and really polish that.
Some people have taken issue with the name of the subgenre, and have proposed alternatives. It’s tempting, especially when you start getting into people using the term “roguelike-like.” That’s like “RPG Elements” in other games that really have nothing to do with RPGs. I mean, I am perfectly fine with game genres cross-pollinating. But adding procedural level design to an action game doesn’t make it a roguelike any more than a first-person perspective in Might & Magic X Legacy makes it a first-person shooter (thankfully!). And I kinda dig the term, “Procedural Death Labyrinth,” (PDL) although I think it’s still not very accurate for some of the fascinating directions roguelikes may be going.
Sunday - February 09, 2014
Rampant Games - Journalism & Early Releases
The Rampant Coyote has a new post about Journalism & Early Releases.
When I complained about “Early Access” games a month ago – games that are released (and sold) to the public in an unfinished state, I neglected critical more aspect of gaming that it impacts.
The only thing I can figure, like the reviewer, is updating the review to match the development of the game. But who has time for this? Especially if it wasn’t fun on initial release. There are gazillions of new games released every week, and they can all use reviews. I don’t want reviewers stuck re-reviewing the same game every two months.
In theory, I think early releases are a great thing. Customers may have to deal with software being less stable and mature, but in return get to help drive development, and (hopefully) get it at a discounted price. Win / win right? And the software gets treated – at least for a while – as “live” development, constantly being improved. I’m used to regular updates of Windows, Unity, Blender, and other software. That’s a decent way for software to work, right?
Thursday - February 06, 2014
Rampant Games - What Makes Exploration Fun
The Rampant Coyote talks in his latest blog on what makes exploration fun, using Minecraft as an exmple and raising 5 points that should be addressed in order to make it fun.
3. Reward or Purpose. There should be some benefit to exploration, even if it’s largely self-directed. In Minecraft, it’s fairly intrinsic. The world is your reward – you are master of all you survey, and it’s all ripe for your exploitation – or simply exploration. In Diablo-likes, unexplored territory is more likely to contain something of value, or a key object / enemy that you are seeking. Is that too fine of a point? Maybe.
Many people think exploration should be it’s own reward – a fully intrinsic benefit to the player. For me, it’s like the motivation of a character in a story. It may not be key, or all that important, but without a strong motivation the whole thing falls flat. I’m a little bit goal-directed as a player most times, so I want to know that at least sometimes I’ll be able to tell myself that I’ve benefited from time spent off the rails. Note that knowledge can be power – the purpose or reward doesn’t have to be an actual in-game “item” or experience point bump or anything like that, but simply an improved understanding of the game or the world, or discovery (there’s that word again!) of secrets.
Sunday - January 05, 2014
Rampant Games - What Does “Release” Mean?
The Rampant Coyote has a new post on blog that asks,"What Does “Release” Mean Anymore?" I find myself wondering the same thing nowadays.
I used to be able to keep up with what I thought was a sizable chunk of at least what I considered “major” indie RPG releases in a year. Major meaning … like, not something a kid wrote in a week of owning RPG Maker and “released” via link on some forum post somewhere. Now I’d estimate five times as many releases on just the PC alone as there were five years ago. I could focus all my efforts just keeping track of them all (a task which, thankfully, Craig Stern seems happy to attempt over at IndieRPGs.com).
As 2013 came to an end, I briefly attempted to reconstruct – with some searching – a partial list of games that:
1) Count as an indie release,
2) Count as a role-playing game, and
3) Were released in 2013.
In the words of Doc Emmett Brown dealing with his own comprehension of events occurring in a given timeline, “Great Scott!”
Thursday - December 26, 2013
Rampant Games - The Death of Deathfire
The Rampant Coyote gives his opinion on the cancelled kickstarter Deathfire.
I’m saddened. Guido Henkel and the Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore have officially pulled the plug.
The Deathfire Team: Thanks you for all your support
This crap happens all the time, really. Games get canceled, for many reasons. But in this case – with the failure of the Kickstarter and the episodic alternative – the reason is kind of depressing:
"Not enough people were interested in this kind of game to commit to providing the funding in advance."
This was, sadly, the kind of game I want to play. It was based on the same kinds of games that inspired Frayed Knights. I mean, sheesh, Guido created some of the games that inspired Frayed Knights, at least indirectly.
This really disappoints and worries me. Is there just not enough potential audience large enough to support mid-budget game development (pretty much from $100k – $1m, in my book) for this style of RPG? Is it dead, Jim? After all, we’re talking about a game style (first-person perspective, party-based, cardinal-direction movement, turn-based combat RPG) that had largely exhausted itself by the mid-90s. The audience was getting tired of the parade of low-quality, low-tech dungeon crawlers in that era, and even the giants like SSI were having serious problems. The audience was dwindling then, and I don’t suppose 20 years has done much to improve on that.
Saturday - December 21, 2013
Rampant Games - Declaring Victory
The Rampant Coyote is back with another blog post about RPG design. The topic this time is about declaring vistory in combat. I agree with him he makes a vailid point.
We’re frequently limited by one of the very things we’re so focused on in most RPGs – the simplicity of combat and victory conditions. It’s generally a very binary thing. While there may be opportunities for either side to flee, for the most part it’s kill-or-be-killed, using a single indicator (health, hit points, whatever it is called) as the deciding factor.
In the real world, combat is often more of a means to an end. Two or more sides have a goals that they wish to achieve (or deny to their opponents). In fact, there are generally multiple goals of varying priorities being weighed throughout the battle, as “survival” (or “minimal casualties”) is usually pretty high on the list.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were multiple paths to “victory” in combat… even a case where it would be possible for both sides to declare victory and disengage? By interesting, I mean, “more interesting combat choices.” While utter and complete defeat of the enemy forces in the traditional manner as fast as possible might be a handy brute-force approach to full victory, that may not always be an optimal, necessary, or even possible approach. It gets even more interesting when victory isn’t an all-or-nothing thing, but sides could gain partial victories and losses.
Suddenly, things like battlefield mobility, distractions, prediction, counter-magic, and so forth might become far more useful than massive spell-nukes. At this point, even things like negotiation might be key combat abilities, when you can conserve resources and guarantee key goals by conceding some victory conditions to the enemy. Or vice-versa. If goals aren’t completely mutually exclusive, there may be some real strategy involved (even in an RPG) in losing a battle in order to win the war.
This isn’t completely unprecedented on the RPG front. In modern RPGs, we’ve been confronted with escort or protection missions. While very simple (but sadly, often frustrating), they are perhaps a first step into really creating much more interesting conflicts. The upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera promises something even more interesting with their Crisis System, which makes combat just one part of a larger challenge.
I think there’s a lot of fascinating potential to explore, here. If any other indie RPG developers are looking at ways to push the boundaries of the role-playing experience in something beyond mere graphical pizzazz, this might be something to think about.
Tuesday - December 17, 2013
Rampant Games - My Philosophy of Quest Design
The Rampant Coyote has a short post on his blog about his philosophy of quest design.
Seriously, it sometimes feels like half my writing & design efforts (in the content phase) are focused on justifying just why the player has to do things in such a convoluted manner. But then I volunteered for that when I opted to make a game series that directly deals with the often weird, illogical tropes of fantasy RPGs.
Thursday - December 12, 2013
Rampant Games - The Forgettable Fight
The Rampant Coyote has posted a new article on his blog called, "RPG Design: The Forgettable Fight."
I really need to go back and re-play Ultima 7 to completion. Many people – including me – cite it as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. I’m not sure how much the rose-tinted glasses figure into this. But part of me wants to answer this question:
Is Ultima 7 such an awesome RPG in spite of the fact that the combat system sucks, or because the combat sucks?
Maybe some people might argue the combat system doesn’t suck, but I’ve never heard anyone really defend it. I remember getting to the point where it was somewhat manageable, but for the most part it was a hideous real-time brawl with little control over what was going on. I have faint recollections of a couple of fights, but none of them were memorable. The best that could be said is that due to the real-time nature, they were over with pretty quickly.
That’s actually pretty core to the question. Because combat sucked and over so quickly, it wasn’t central to the game. It wasn’t part of the “main gameplay loop” as it is in most games. It didn’t dominate the gameplay. It was more often an obstacle (and sometimes one to be avoided) – one of many. In effect, the game played much more like an adventure game with stats. It was more about exploration and problem-solving than fighting.
Monday - November 04, 2013
Rampant Games - The Ol’ Kickstarter Shuffle
The Rampant Coyote has a new blog post were he gives his opinion on kickstarters, and indie games.
Seriously, folks – I spent some time chatting with a friend (and a far more successful game developer than me) who is growing despondent over the current situation with indie games. A vaporware project in mid-Kickstarter and a single joke going for it was greenlit on Steam, while entire libraries of quality, decently-selling (by non-Steam standards) games are still ignored. The things that will make a splash and get funded / greenlit are not the same things that make quality games. That doesn’t mean they can’t be combined into the same package. But there are no guarantees.
I guess it’s the same old story: Luck and a good story (or line of B.S.) trumps a good product. At least for a while. But neither is very reliable in the long-term. Please note that I’m not talking about specific KS projects (I’ve backed plenty, and in principle I’m a fan of crowdfunding) – just the tendency for people to be far more willing to throw time and money at a promise than reality.
Tuesday - October 22, 2013
Rampant Games - Selling Incomplete Games
The Rampant Coyote has a new post on his site about a topic that has been in the spotlight many times. The topic of course is selling incomplete games.
Games released in what customers consider an unfinished state is nothing new. Some more picky customers are quick to declare any game with flaws (and that would be… hmmm… all of them) “unfinished” out of some view that imperfection means it wasn’t cooked long enough. However, there are many games that a more reasonable majority of gamers can agree (and, if you catch them later in a truthful mood, the devs and publishers will acknowledge) were released in a less-than-adequately–finished state. Usually, this takes the form of a game that just hadn’t reached an adequate level of bug-free polish. For some reason, the dev or publisher felt compelled to toss it out the door so that it could start making money instead of consuming money.
It’s the way of things. Again, nothing really new here.
With indie games, it’s been another matter. For one thing, they have traditionally not even attempted the level of polish of modern mainstream games, because those high production values cost a boatload of money. Indies usually don’t have access to that. However, as the world has become saturated with indie games, a lot of them are finding that the more expensive production values are what makes a game stand out – which is critical if you want a prayer of actually making money.
And with those same pressures come the same results.
On one hand, you’ve got the emergence of “alpha-funding.” People pay for a game as it is still in development, in exchange for early access, a lower price, and maybe the chance to bend the developer’s ear while it is still getting created. On the surface, I have zero problems with this. It’s a victory of the indie model. There’s no doubt it has enjoyed substantial success. Minecraft, of course, has been the poster child for this model, making millions while it was still in alpha and beta before reaching a stable release (and then continuing to have updates from that point forward). I’ve enjoyed a few games this way, and felt like I helped participate in making the games’ eventual “final” release a success. Yes, we may “pay for the privilege of beta testing” a product, but sometimes that’s actually pretty awesome.
But it’s not all successful. Just as some successfully funded Kickstarter projects never hit completion (or go back to the well for a second dip), some of these alpha-funded projects never do get completed. The devs never (as far as I’ve seen) admit that they’ve dropped the game, of course. Maybe they’re even still deluded into thinking they’ll still finish it one day. But the updates just become fewer and futher between, and then… that’s it. It’s like they hit the point of the long tail for their game, realize they’ve made most the money they’ll ever make on it, and give up. This is frustrating.
Saturday - October 19, 2013
Rampant Games - RPG Design: Expendable!
The Rampant Coyote has a new blog post about RPG design and expendable items.
One of the issues that I face when playing any RPG – computer, dice & paper, whatever – is my tendency to hoard expendable items. Expendable items (AKA consumables) are those things that can get “used up.” Potions, magic items with charges, scrolls, etc. Often, at the end of a game, my level 60 character will retire victorious with an inventory still containing items he acquired back at level 2.
I hold on to these items for the time that I might really need them… only to discover I still have them long after they are no longer very useful. Then I’ll say something like, “Oh, yeah, that wand of magic missiles. You know, that would have been useful in some of those early battles.”
Occasionally I’ll go on binges. I’ll remember I have a bunch of expendable items that really should get used, and I’ll just start blowing through them. This continues until I’ve used up a good selection of my inventory, and I’ll get to hoarding again. Saving up for the next binge or something.
I wonder how much that reflects my behavior in real life… hmmm….
He talks about how he deals with it in his games next.
I’ve seen this in my own game, too. Realizing that the intro dungeon – and the general threat to low-level characters in the game system – could get a little rough for new players, I compensated by providing some really potent, expendable items – in particular, potions of Liquid Sleep, and Chloe’s magic wand of fireballs. My hope was to help train players early in the game to use these resources, and get in the habit of expending them. Between those, plentiful additional potions to be discovered in that dungeon, and an all but guaranteed leveling up in the middle of the dungeon (which automatically restores health and endurance), it seemed like a good plan, and that the dungeon was really not that hard. But people still have trouble with it, and don’t always use these resources. Maybe it’s because it’s too hard to use them, too confusing when players are still learning the basics of the game system. That’s certainly possible. Or maybe the hoarding mentality is not limited to me, and people are reluctant to use these resources, or even think about them. I don’t know.
Friday - October 11, 2013
Rampant Games - The Joys of Crappy AI
Well the Rampant Coyote is back again with another post on his blog this time about game AI, and the importance of obviousness.
As it turns out – and this is an open secret in the game dev community – players often don’t like it. That’s why. A recent article, Artificial Intelligence?, on MMORPG.com, discusses one failed attempt to make more interesting AI in City of Heroes.
My personal feeling is that it kinda comes down to not letting the player know you are letting him or her win. You can have neither incompetent AI, nor AI that’s clearly throwing the game. Players want AI that gives them a run for their money, enough challenge to make things interesting. Most of all, I think players want AI that – for lack of a better word – emotes intelligence, even when it is stupid to do so. It’s not enough to have AI that has very sophisticated problem-solving strategies… it needs to project this decision-making so the player can see it at work, if the end-result doesn’t make it obvious. In other words, the players need feedback to recognize the AI at work – and to therefore predict and adapt to the AI.
And of course, as suggested in the article, players want familiar patterns that are easy to respond to. The power mentioned in the article was – with the attempted AI response – not really a damaging power. It was a control power – it forced AI to respond by moving to range. Which is actually pretty cool, so long as its costs are effectively balanced. But players didn’t like it, according to the article, because it broke existing patterns of gameplay. And that’s certainly true.
Read his blog for the rest.
Wednesday - October 09, 2013
Rampant Games - Deathfire and Optimism
The Rampant Coyote has a new post on his website about Deathfire, and giving his reasons for optimism.
Why is it so awesome? It’s only screenshots and words on paper. Well, here’s the deal: I make the kinds of games I want to play. I chose Frayed Knights when and how I did in no small part as a response to the death of this style of RPG: First-person, party-based, with turn-based combat. I LOVE that this kind of game is now making a comeback. I welcome it. I am thrilled to be a part of it.
While the games may now not be in the AAA big-name release category that they once were, I don’t think there’s any reason they can’t be just as awesome as ever – and more so. While we may not command AAA budgets, even compared to the era (adjusting for inflation), we do have access to tools and technology today – not to mention more profitable distribution systems – to allow us to run leaner & meaner than ever.
Now, nobody’s going to give us a prize for outshining a twenty-year-old game, and nobody’s expecting that. And I am certainly not about to gush too much over Deathfire on the basis of screenshots and some blog posts that say the right kind of things, even for a guy who has Henkel’s history. But after many, many years of what the RPG Codex folks like to call “decline” of the genre, I’m seeing reasons to be optimistic. This game is one of ‘em.
Granted, I’m generally an optimistic guy. I am the kind of poor schmuck who sees his hopes get dashed, repeatedly, yet still keeps hoping. So take my opinion with grain of salt, or a small Siberian salt mine. Whatever. But I’m also the kind of guy who can overlook some flaws in a game and just try and enjoy it for what it is. I’m really looking forward to this one. And I really do hope it sells a million copies. That only means there’ll be sequels and more awesome games like it.
Friday - October 04, 2013
Rampant Games - D&D and Computer RPGs
The title is a bit of a misnomer – it’s more of a story about, “How the Bioware / Obsidian D&D-based RPGs came to be.” Which is just as interesting to a fan, but perhaps doesn’t have much broad appeal.
While not offering new truly new information, I was interested in their take on what caused the ‘death’ of the style of game represented by the Infinity & Aurora Engine games. According to Urquhart, it was the trend towards making cinematic, console-style games. This made the kind of breadth of choice offered in their CRPGs prohibitively expensive. Publishers were no longer interested, instead focused on more linear, lusciously realized game worlds. Or, in my view – the dominance of the third-person action game!
Then there’s the little hint of a promise at the end that these guys would be interested in taking on a D&D licensed product again, and plugs for Project Eternity and the South Park RPG.
As far as the D&D system is concerned – while I’m personally a fan of 3.5 (and an even bigger fan of its spiritual successor, Pathfinder), the last edition of Dungeons & Dragons left me pretty cold. I’ve never been a huge Forgotten Realms fan, either.
Sunday - September 22, 2013
Rampant Games - Fighting the Good Fight
The Rampant Coyote is back with another post this time asking,"Is releasing a game on PC without being guaranteed on Steam a losing proposition?"
This will probably shock and surprise nobody. But for games that are sold as products (instead of as services, like an MMO), Steam’s pretty much the 800 lb gorilla. If submitting and selling games via Steam was as simple as selling a game via Google Play or the App Store, that’d be one thing. You just do it. So long as your title adheres to some minimal standards, no problem. But instead, there’s the massive high-school student council election popularity contest where your game has to compete with vaporware marvels that promise the world.
But hey, after spending all that time and money generating support to get the Greenlight votes, who has anything left to actually finish a game?
As it currently exists… Steam is simultaneously enabling PC gaming on one hand, and choking the life out of it on the other. If I want to make a PC game, but I can’t guarantee a spot on Steam, it’s getting to the point where I would be very reluctant (as an actual business trying to survive making games) to do anything without some kind of prior blessing from the gods of Steam. This puts us in EXACTLY the same place we were in the bad ol’ days of the publishers dominating the landscape. This is exactly what the indie movement was trying to avoid. We didn’t intend to sacrifice a consortium of overlords for one big (if usually benevolent) overlord.
Friday - September 20, 2013
Rampant Games - Serving Two (Or More) Masters
The Rampant Coyote has a new post talking about how developers have to compromise to release games.
Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about Diablo III. It’s just kind of a big-profile example of a problem facing all game developers. The point was brought up in a panel with the Romeros at Salt Lake Comic Con, reiterating a position Brenda Romero has stated on numerous occasions. While it was mostly applicable to “free to play” games, as I recall they mentioned the Diablo III auction house as another example. The problem with these games is that the designers are forced to serve two masters – game design versus maximized revenue stream. Guess which one wins out when the suits run the show?
This is hardly unique to anybody. Any kind of game that is intended to extract money from players as they play – instead of acting as a product that you pay for up front – is going to face exactly this problem. With a product, it’s straightforward – you make the absolute best game possible that players will absolutely love, and they just can’t help themselves but want to buy and tell their friends about.
But when a game is more of a service, a recurring revenue generator, things get… weird. To make the game successful, you have to keep asking the player for money. You have to keep providing them motivation to part with their money. To borrow an analogy from the Comic Con panel, to pay for the free meals at your restaurant, you may have to charge for the plates and utensils – not to mention exorbitant charges to use the restroom! While many of the goals to make the “best game possible” run parallel to making “the most profitable game possible” (after all, if the game sucks, nobody will spend any money on it…), there are points where the two may diverge. Lots.
Friday - September 06, 2013
Rampant Games - An Explosion of Roguelikes
The Rampant Coyote has a new post on his blog talking about roguelike games, and the sudden influx of them lately.
Maybe it’s just my attention bias, as I consider roguelikes to be a subgenre of role-playing games, but it sure seems to me that there’s been an explosion of roguelike indie games lately. For years, it seemed that there were just a dozen or so ASCII-based roguelike codebases making the rounds, but now that it’s proven demonstrably possible to have a commercial indie roguelike succeed in the marketplace – from PC to console to mobile – things have gotten a little bit interesting. Now – again, it could simply be that the indie explosion is a tide that lifts all ships, roguelikes included, and the category isn’t growing significantly more than every other category under the sun in indie-dom. Still, there are more roguelikes out there or in development right now than I can track.
Thursday - August 15, 2013
Rampant Games - The Challenge of an Episodic RPG
The Rampant Coyote talks about episodic gaming for RPG's in his newest post.
I’ve had an idea for an episodic RPG for a long time. A very long time, actually – since before Frayed Knights. I actually put a great deal of time and research into the design. One day, I plan to revisit it – with a vengeance. After Frayed Knights 2 and 3 are out the door.
The kicker is that it would be episodic. This is something that has never been properly solved, though we do have a several examples of larger RPGs broken into serial parts (ahem – Frayed Knights), and games called episodic that were really serial and sequential (like Siege of Avalon).
What I’m talking about here is an honest-to-goodness episodic RPG, loosely connected in perhaps a seasonal story arc. But, except for perhaps the final game of the ‘season,’ the episodes would be relatively stand-alone and playable in any order.
That’s the real trick of it. This is the part that flies in the face of traditional RPG mechanics, which are fundamentally based on character progression.
To really pull it off and to make the episodes really work in any order, a game would have to incorporate the oft-dreaded technique of scaling to the player’s level. This would be (in my old-school, dice-and-paper perspective) the equivalent of a gamemaster customizing an adventure for his existing party. The problem is that level scaling can really rob a game of a lot of any feeling of progression. It enforces the ‘treadmill’ feeling.
Tuesday - August 13, 2013
Rampant Games - The Literary vs. The Cinematic
Rampant Coyote posted a new post a few days ago about,"Old-School vs. New-School – The Literary vs. the Cinematic."
Now, I’m sure there’s an argument to be made that nothing has changed in the modern era – the majority of fantasy movies still suck, but if it weren’t for their appearance on Netflix category lists, I’d never know they existed. But today, we live in an era where our fantasies are informed by the spectacle of cinema. Our modern vision of knights leap around with lightsabers pulling kendo moves. We’ve had the full palette of visual imagery from stop-motion skeletons to CGI dragons – with muppet goblins, latex demons, hand-animated horrors, and everything in-between.
So while there’s no dearth of fantasy literature these days, I think the modern gamer is probably informed far more by cinematic experiences than literary ones. I don’t know if many people would argue with me on this point. Nor would they argue that the two aren’t fundamentally different. While there have been a few excellent movies based on fantasy novels, they are pretty different beasts, and it’s challenging to bridge that gap.
But the odd thought that comes back to me is how this may have impacted game design. Is part of the hard-to-define “feel” of old-school RPGs (the ones that tended to more consciously imitate dice-and-paper gaming) because they were (indirectly) following the lead of print media – to bring literary-inspired fantasies to life.
Wednesday - August 07, 2013
Rampant Games - Whadayamean, “Turn-Based?”
The Rampant Coyote has a new post talking about Turn-based games.
It seems to me that the last couple of years have brought something of a resurgence of turn-based gaming. Now, it was never truly dead or completely niche – Civilization remains one of the best-selling games on the planet, and it has (thankfully!) remained comfortably turn-based for all of this time. Meanwhile, most other “strategy” games and role-playing games went real-time (“action!”) around the mid 90′s and never looked back…
Until now. Mostly driven from the indie front, but also in part from the new XCom: Enemy Unknown (also created by the makers of Civilization). While it’s still a long way from becoming the “norm,” it is at least getting a second look. And, among the indie-set, advertising a game as turn-based can actually be a selling point.
But what does “turn-based” actually mean? At it’s heart, it means players take turns taking their actions. It is normally imagined as the polar opposite of real-time or action-based combat, where the game progresses at a fixed pace and players can issue orders to their avatar or units as quickly as they want (but said units also act at their own pace, and can’t do everything at once).
Turn-based, on the other hand, doesn’t depend upon the player’s reaction speed. The game waits for the player to declare their move(s), as in a game of chess. This provides more thoughtful game pacing, but has a pretty significant downside in a multiplayer setting, as inevitably one player must end up waiting for the other player to complete their move. Even in single-player games, there may be stretches where the player is watching the action unfold rather than actually playing the game, which is not generally considered a good thing.
Tuesday - July 30, 2013
Rampant Games - About Trolls and Fish
This time Jay Barnson's blog is not about a game but on the internet trolls that drove away the indie developer Phil Fish, who created the game Fez. He was someone who loved attention and said some rather controversial things in his time thus stepping on quite some toes, which apparantly makes people think they have the right to take this cause of action.
And it goes both ways! Seriously. Just ‘cuz you are the creator of a game, or just because you’ve got a lot more followers on Twitter, or are the admin on some forum, does not give you some sort of divine right to be a jackass. Treat everybody with respect. Sure, you can ban / block / ignore those within your field of influence if they are perpetual trolls. But the respect needs to go both ways. If nothing else, because you are dealing with human beings (at least we assume so, though there are a minority that refuse to act like one). For another – these people may be ignorant of some of the aspect of game development or game fandom or whatnot, but that does not automatically make their opinion inferior to your own. Treat everybody like they might be your personal hero going incognito until they’ve proven themselves unworthy of such. And at such point, the best way to fight a troll is not to engage them, but to deprive them of oxygen (attention).
I don’t take any joy in seeing Fish’s retreat from online pressure. I really don’t. If anything, I worry that this will embolden the trolls, the bullies. We really don’t need this. We don’t need game developers hiding behind PR walls and ignoring all feedback from their audience because each hateful comment hurts enough to nullify twenty notes of praise. We don’t need toxic communities where those attempting rational discussion get threatened and banned because they are resisting the mob mentality. We don’t need virtual lynchings of developers that result in them losing their jobs over something stupid they said on Twitter. I say stupid things on Twitter all the time, so I’m really sensitive to this!
Thursday - July 25, 2013
Rampant Games - How to Design Puzzles for RPG's
The Rampant Coyote has a new blog post taking about How to Design Puzzles for RPG's.
I love puzzles in my RPGs – except when I hate them. I have a low threshold of tolerance for the kind of frustration they can yield, but I enjoy great satisfaction in solving them. It’s like having a sweet tooth and an allergy to sugar.
When Legend of Grimrock was released, I was ecstatic. I loved the old puzzle-heavy RPGs that LoG was styled after. I found LoG to be even more puzzle-heavy than I expected. It was fine for a few levels. But I’ve yet to finish the game, because at a certain point I just got tired of them – even when I had the option to hunt down a solution if I found myself “stumped.” But I wasn’t so much stumped as tired of memorizing patterns through trial and error. It was really fun up until the point where it wasn’t. Those represent what I’d call the “action puzzles.” These are the puzzles that require you to learn and then execute complicated sequences of actions.
Source: Rampant Games
Tuesday - July 23, 2013
Rampant Games - Dungeon Design Part 2
The Rampant Coyote has posted part two of his Frayed Knights: Dungeon Design Principles.
Many of these guidelines have been with me for a long time. They evolved even when I was designing dungeons on paper for friends to play through. They were certainly inspired by the early dice-and-paper RPG books and computer games I’ve played over the years. Some evolved from advice given to me by others, and many evolved as I developed the first game in the series – from personal experience, and from feedback.
For Frayed Knights 2 and 3, I’m getting a little bit of help designing some dungeons, and so I felt it necessary to put these guidelines down on paper. I jokingly refer to it as my “secret sauce,” but it’s really not secret. While some of it applies only to Frayed Knights, some of it can be applied (or stretched to apply) to other games. In the interest of encouraging discussion – which will hopefully improve the genre as a whole amongst indies – I’ve decided to share this information in the blog, a couple of principles at a time.
I’ve elaborated a little on them and edited them for the blog, but this is largely ‘design doc’ stuff. It’s not about how all RPGs should be made – just what we’re doing for Frayed Knights. Also – as a warning – there are a few minor spoilers for Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon.
Source: Rampant Games
Wednesday - July 17, 2013
Rampant Games - Dungeon Design Principles
During the development of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, I evolved a set of informal philosophies or guidelines towards making adventuring areas (which I’ll just call “dungeons”, though some were outdoors). For the sequel, I actually wrote many of these guidelines down. At the risk of revealing a developing “secret formula” (hah!), but in hopes of helping out other aspiring computer RPG designers, I thought I’d share some of these principles.
Besides, they make it easy to come up with a topic for a blog post.
For the next few weeks, I’ll post articles covering two or three guidelines each, starting with the “general” guidelines and then moving more to the ones that are more specific to the way we build Frayed Knights dungeons. Some of these won’t be new – I have frequently discussed these on the blog before.
Thursday - July 11, 2013
Rampant Games - Dungeon Design
Jay Barnson talks about Dungeons in his latest blog, in Frayed KNights 2 and and that they are on their way back to your Indie RPG.
When working out the “secret sauce” for dungeon design in Frayed Knights 2 for other designers (and myself, so I don’t forget anything), I thought I had less than a full page of notes, hints, and suggestions. It turned out to be seven pages long, and still didn’t include everything that I thought would be important. But the bigger the document, the less likely it was to be read, and I figured to trust the designers to comprehend the rest on their own.
It’s part of why I get so excited about all the indie RPGs coming out these days… and their impact on “mainstream.” For years it seemed that we were trying desperately in CRPGs to get out of the dungeons – because dungeons were easy (or easier) to represent and to design, whereas the wilderness was hard (especially in 3D). Now, it seems like we are re-awakening to the joys of the in-depth dungeon crawl.
Saturday - July 06, 2013
Rampant Games - Various Blog Posts on RPG's
Rampant Coyote has been a bit busy on his blog in the past weeks. I have three posts from his site that might interest you.
Up first we have "Are Publishers Getting Interested in Old-School PC RPGs Again?"
Is this a great thing?
Well, there’s certainly a question of whether it’s really “a thing” or not. At least the publishers are expressing interest and curiosity… and, in the case of Ubisoft, actually putting their money where their mouth is. But publishers always do this. If there’s money to be made in gaming, they’ll try their best to explore it. That’s why they exist. Many times in the past publishers have made less-than-stellar forays into gaming territories outside of their comfort zone, and retreated. This could be one of those times.
But if they really do go there, and return to the fields they abandoned long ago? While I’m personally a little miffed that I’m such a slowpoke and that my “desperately underserved niche” that I was going to try and occupy with very few neighbors is suddenly looking very crowded, I’m otherwise pretty excited. In the words of Bruce Willis in Die Hard, “Welcome to the party, pal!” As a gamer, the idea makes me giddy, even though I already own far more RPGs than I have time to play. As a game developer… I think it opens up a lot of opportunities. I think the upside wins, overall.
Next we have, "Computer RPGs – A New Golden Age, a Boom, or a Bust?"
Anyway, back to the drinking from the firehose thing. We had a great boom in genre in that time, but the boom was accompanied by bigger budgets, bigger scrutiny, and bigger disasters as publishers tried to find ways of economizing or broadening their audience. I actually enjoyed Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse, and I know there were people who really liked Menzoberranzan. So it wasn’t like people weren’t enjoying the perhaps less-than-stellar titles. But the golden age became a plethora, which became a glut, which became – eventually – a bust. If you define a bust as a “correction” back to norms after a boom.
So… on to today. Desura lists five new or majorly updated games in the RPG category in the month of June. If you include Android / iOS titles, things get significantly more crowded. IndieRPGs.com has several new game announcements (not sure how many of ‘em get to market) each week. Throw in the usual trickle of big-budget (or, apparently, some upcoming not-so-big-budget) mainstream publisher titles for PC and consoles, and things are getting pretty busy out there. There are far more games than I have time to play, that’s for certain.
As a parallel from the tabletop “dice & paper” side, I was thrilled with the “Open Gaming License” of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition in 1999-2000. And, to my delight, the marketplace was suddenly overflowing with third-party expansions. Yeah, a lot of ‘em were crap. But there were all kinds of gems to be found out there. There were some nice experimental products, some blasts from the past, and what seemed (for a short time) to be an incredibly healthy, booming market. But then came the steep discounts (as a consumer, also an enjoyable development), and products dried out pretty quickly. The release of the “3.5″ edition of D&D was arguably rushed in order to deal with steep decline in sales that followed the boom.
So now, we’ve got indie games in general, and indie RPGs specifically. Are we heading for a new glut? A new bust? In 2016, are we going to look back on 2012 – 2014 and say, “Wow, those were awesome days to be an RPG fan… so many games. Why don’t people make games like that anymore?”
And finally we have, "The Same, Only Different: Where and How Much Innovation in Video Game Design?"
Is it really important to change up the mechanics from game to game to provide a different experience? We don’t make a major change to the rules of basketball or baseball every season, let alone from game to game. You’d think the audience would get bored after two or three games, right?
So what’s really more important? If you had a choice between two non-optimal alternatives, which would you choose?
A) A game with some really fascinating and innovative new mechanics but with the same old plot and setting (say, sci-fi-industrial) you have seen a million times?
B) The same old mechanics you’ve played for years, but with an exciting new setting, intriguing characters, and a gripping, twisty plot?
Yeah, I want the best of both worlds, too. But if you only had to pick one or the other – new gameplay or new story, or “mechanics vs. context” – which would be more important to you? What might influence your decision?
Sunday - June 23, 2013
Rampant Games - What Does DRM Mean to You?
Rampant Coyote has a new blog post about DRM. Read the blog post and give your opinion in the comment section. As for me I hate it always have.
So when you are talking about “Digital Rights Management,” DRM, the sort of thing that used to be called “copy protection,” there are a lot of arguments out there. While there are “book answers” out there, I’m more curious as to what you guys think / feel. The whole DRM thing (which has been brought to a head recently with Microsoft backing off from their previous, nasty game-sharing restrictions on the Xbone). I’m kinda curious about what the folks ’round these parts think, so I’d like to ask you some questions:
1. When you talk about DRM, what kind of DRM are you referring to? What sort of practices? Is anything at all that prevents you from simply copying a directory to another machine and running it considered “DRM” to you?
2. Are simple license keys DRM?
3. If not, do they become DRM if the game “phones home” to make sure it’s valid? If so, is there any point at which it ceases to be “DRM” in your mind? Like if it’s a common code or password to unlock the game? Or if you have to authorized a service (like Steam) on your machine before the games will run?
4. All that being said, do you prefer to have a big demo download that can be upgraded with a single code or password, or a smaller demo download that must be replaced by downloading a “full version” that doesn’t require any sort of DRM or unlocking mechanism?
5. How important are demo versions of games to you these days? Do you usually try a game before you buy it, or are your decisions mainly determined by watching preview videos / descriptions / reviews / screenshots?
Tuesday - June 04, 2013
Rampant Games - Not So Jaded After All
Rampant Coyote has posted a new article on his webpage. It deals with a problem many of us have, and explains how in the end he is not so jaded after all.
In recent years, I would sometimes worry that the simply joy I used to experience of being completely absorbed by a game for hours at a time – even a “dumb” arcade-style shooter – was something that wasn’t possible anymore.I’d play top console games – the kind that I believe that, as a kid, I would have played obsessively for hours on end. And they just aren’t thrilling me. Maybe it was because I was now a jaded ol’ game developer. I have a tough time playing a game without a critical, analytical eye. Sometimes I wonder if my experience makes that old joy just something I can only experience through memory and nostalgia.
Has anybody else ever feel that way? The games of today just not doing it for you anymore? And you wonder, “Is it them, or is something wrong with me?” Are those years of latent guilt poisoning the well? If anybody suggested I’d “outgrown” games I’d probably feel inclined to punch them. No way – I still loved games, I still appreciated them, I just had doubts as to whether or not I could be as completely absorbed by a game as I once was.
Fortunately, over the last couple of years, I have found I don’t really have to worry about that anymore. I keep discovering that I’m still as much a sucker for a good game as I ever was. It really was them, not me. And once again I have to fight feelings of guilt as I realize my quick twenty-minute trial turned into three whole hours.
Tuesday - May 28, 2013
Rampant Games - Free to Play (You … for a sucker!)
Rampant Coyote has a post from eariler this week that I missed on the topic of F2P games.
Remembering how incredibly boring a few recent flights for The Day Job were, I took that as an opportunity to hunt down the competition and find some entertainment (jussincase) in the process. So I checked out what was shaking in the RPG department for Android.
In five minutes, I was searching for an option to filter out any game that was “free.”
By way of explanation… I hate buying a car. I inevitably buy used, and used car dealerships are generally horrible experiences for me. No matter how much research you do, you are in an inferior position to the person in a cheap suit trying to gauge how much they can gouge you. With one recent exception (where I wisely educated myself as much as possible in advance, and went to a place specializing in low-pressure, no-haggle ‘one fair price’ dealerships), I’ve always felt like I’ve been taken…. but I never really knew by how much. So I’ve always felt like I’ve been played for a sucker.
Wednesday - May 08, 2013
Rampant Games - A Knock At The Door
Jay Barnson has a new blog post on imagination, and how leaving blanks for the player to fill in might actually help storytelling.
I’ve written many times about the inherent conflict between narrative and gameplay. We have to sacrifice the principles of (linear) narrative for the sake of good gameplay, or sacrifice gameplay (often locking out interaction completely to tell stories in cutscenes) for the sake of providing solid narrative. The two don’t work well together, and in an interactive medium – like real-life experiences – good narrative often comes from reorganizing and editing of events after the fact.
But that’s linear storytelling. As Chris Crawford once pointed out in a talk I attended many years ago, it’s quite possible to assemble a story from a series of vignettes or one-sentence events that combine to modify the context. In other words, complex stories can be formed of simple atoms (his example was the sentence, “He kissed her.”) that can be endlessly reused. At the time, Crawford’s efforts were focused more on having the computer tell the story interactively with the player.
But might we find ourselves able to construct more powerful narratives if we let the designer and the player take care of the creative heavy lifting? Let the designer imply connections, let the player form and breathe life to those connections, and let the computer just do it’s thing to provide the tools and mechanics to facilitate this?
Don’t worry – I’m not getting all artsy-fartsy and experimental for the next installment of Frayed Knights. I’m just kinda circling around a handful of concepts for how to think about non-linear storytelling. On a budget. After all, if a closed door is more frightening than anything else in the world, isn’t it a waste of time and money for indies to create what might lurk behind it? Well, yes, but for the fact that this focus makes opening the door the single most important thing a player wants to do when that unexpected knock (or pounding) is heard. We just need better ideas of letting the player’s imagination fill in what might be lacking on the screen or in the dialog.
Monday - April 29, 2013
Rampant Games - Are You Cooler Than A 20+ Year Old Game?
Rampant Coyote has a new post on his website. The topic is about his own games and if they are cooler than older games.
Long-time readers are probably well aware of my fascination with the Ultima series (and spin-offs) up until the mid-90s. And how Ultima Underworld – along with Ultima VII – hold a special place in my heart. The games are now over twenty years old, which kinda boggles my mind. I haven’t really sat down and tried to do a major re-play of these old games in well over a decade, so maybe I’m seeing things through rose-tinted goggles. But I have gone back and replayed chunks of them try and remind myself of both of what was cool about them, and their limitations. There’s plenty in both categories.
So how did I do? Did I match or exceed what Underworld offered over 20 years ago? Happily, it looks like I did. I was somewhat surprised to see some of its limitations – like slopes could only go in the four cardinal directions, and only a limited height change between them. Walls had to be the width of a full tile. The ceiling height never changed (true story! That one surprised me!). And the levels were of the Doom-style “fake” 3D – traversable areas could not cross over each other (though I seem to recall things like bridges – special objects – that allowed special-case exceptions to this rule).
So yeah. Frayed Knights 2 happily demolishes those limitations even before I resort to custom geometry. Booyah! I managed to improve upon game technology that’s over twenty years old!
Okay, I guess that’s not exactly a super brag-worthy achievement. But I still think it’s pretty cool.
Friday - April 26, 2013
Rampant Games - Being Pathetic and Loving It
Rampant Coyote re-played Baldur’s Gate Enhanced. As you can guess the title speaks for itself.
After so many years living in more modern systems, it was kinda fun taking the wayback machine to the 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. It was also a harsh reminder of how brutal those earlier rules were.
How did anyone ever make it to level 4?
Oh, right – combat was not nearly as common in the “real” dice & paper game as in the computer versions, and the computer versions allow saves. But… man. It seemed like every half-hour, combat would begin, and *SPLUTCH*. If you’ve not played Baldur’s Gate, the other members of your party are pretty optional, and can be killed (and, sometimes, brought back) as needed. But if your primary character has his or her hit points dropped to zero (or some other nasty permanent state, like getting petrified), the game is immediately ended.
Thursday - April 18, 2013
Rampant Games - Can we Eliminate the Game Publisher Yet?
Rampant Coyote talks about the role game publishers still have in these days in an article named: Let's Not Eliminate the Game Publishers Just Yet...
As the battle between the titans rises into ever thinning atmosphere, they leave more room at the lower tiers for alternative approaches. Like crowdfunding, self-funding indies, etc. This is the area that excites me, and yes – it’s the area where greater experimentation can be taken, because the risk-to-reward ratio isn’t quite as high.
It’s a fallacy to believe that all the innovation is happening on the indie side, or that AAA can’t take risks (they do by their very creation!). It’s not, they do, and while the innovations on the AAA side may get a little buried in otherwise low-risk conventional gameplay, there are cool new ideas coming out of AAA all the time, too.
Tuesday - April 16, 2013
Rampant Games - Always On DRM
Rampant Coyote shares his views on 'Always On' DRM in an article I completely agree with.
Hey, kids! You know what you call software that goes out on your computer and does stuff without your knowledge, permission, or … let’s be honest … benefit?
Oh, of course, now it’s not “malware” because you gave it permission when you installed the software. Yeah, there are a whole bunch of horrible programs out there that will make your computer run like a 386 and inform every marketer in the world of your bathroom habits that use the same excuse.
The thing is… well, maybe young gamers really are that ignorant, but those who understand the world recognize that games frequently have an online component, even if it’s just updating a leaderboard. No problem. But we also recognize which components are critical to us playing a game. And that’s really limited to playing simultaneously with friends on the Internet, or playing in shared world. Oh, there are minor conveniences or nifty items, like having our saved game in the cloud so we can resume from a different computer (something relatively few gamers actually use, but I occasionally do), or leaderboards, or having the game directly announce news and updates for us. But we recognize that these are not critical to playing the game.
We also recognize that this is nothing more than a control grab by game manufacturers, an attempt to force us to their door so that we can pay for a game like it was a product, but use it only at their discretion as if it was a service. It’s the best of both worlds as a publisher, and the worst of both worlds as a consumer.
Tuesday - April 02, 2013
Rampant Games - Birthday Bash, Get Free Stuff
It's Jay Barnson's Birthday (let's all sing for Jay!!) and he is giving away goodies for the next two weeks. But for starters Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon is on sale.
So, first of all, I’m putting it on sale for the next two weeks. From now until the 16th, Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is 50% off through Desura and BMT Micro. So if you still haven’t played it, this is a golden opportunity.There are no codes, just a 50% discount for a few days. And don’t forget – the strategy guide is still free. And it’s a lot more than a strategy guide. Like the game itself, I kinda went waaaaaay overboard when I wrote it.
And then here is the way to get your hands on some goodies:
Okay, next up: Many of you reading this blog are seasoned veterans of Frayed Knights. In fact, I know some of you (not just the testers!) have played through the complete game several times. You guys are awesome. So for you guys – and for some of the folks who are just CRPG experts in general – I’m going to run some trivia contests over the next couple of weeks. The trivia will usually be about Frayed Knights (especially dealing with points that may have bearing on the sequel), but not always. Prizes will include some free games (some may require that you be on certain services, like Steam or Gamers Gate), or a chance to contribute details to the Frayed Knights sequel.
At the end of the two week period, I’ll be announcing a few more details about Frayed Knights 2 (including its official title… which a couple of you have known for a very long time, like since FK1 was released).
Anyway, it should be fun. I just hope I can keep up…
For the question go here and check out his website in the next two weeks for the other questions.
And here is virtual toast for Jay...... Enjoy!
Tuesday - February 12, 2013
Rampant Games - How Should CRPGs Deal with High Level Gameplay?
Jay Barnson has updated his blog with an entry about how crpgs should handle high-level gameplay. He thinks high-level characters should have the ability to change the rules of the game itself, he gives an an example using an old D&D Module called Necropolis. Apparently, this D&D module is harder than most D&D modules - Jay Barnsom gives an example if a party needs to choose between to doors not knowing what's behind these doors:
At the high-level game, players have access to all kinds of powers that can change the game. This was always by design, from the early days prior to even the first edition D&D rules. Does one door lead to certain death? Okay, well, the players should have all kinds of divination spells to learn what is behind each door. They can cast disintegrate spells on the doors (or the walls next to them) to bypass whatever might be on the doors themselves. They can teleport to where they want to go, bypassing the doors altogether. They could animate an object or summon an extra-dimensional being to do the job for them. Or they could try far more mundane tricks to figure things out. Simply tracking footprints to learn which door has almost all of the traffic could solve the problem. That's exactly how my players operated - with a combination of character abilities and their own personal problem-solving (and trying to see patterns everywhere to give them further clues). I think that's how the high-level game in RPGs should go, in general. At high level, characters should be able to change the rules of the game, to make the unfair reasonable.
Jay Barnson thinks that this should be how CRPGs were made; in able to do so CRPgs
need to live up these 5 things; here # 4:
#4 - An open-ended approach to creating challenges, including a willingness to make them completely unfair against a "brute force" approach, and a willingness to let the player ‘cheat' his way to victory. And no more making ‘boss monsters' impervious to the most debilitating spells!
Friday - January 04, 2013
Rampant Games - RPG Design: Hard or Soft Progression?
Jay Barnson has penned an editorial on progression in games and recognizes four basic mechanisms to accomplish progression, listed in order of "hardness" as he sees a trend towards games becoming more linear and plot-driven.
#3 – Obstacle-based: A part of the game is blocked by a barrier that cannot be removed by brute force, but rather by a not (strictly) story-driven mechanism, such as finding a magical key, learning a mantra / password, or obtaining a means of travel that allows passage. It does allow the player to progress at their own pace, while forcing them to explore other areas to obtain whatever is needed to clear the obstacle. These can also serve as a reward in and of themselves, as it’s kinda fun when a formerly impassible barrier suddenly ceases to be an obstacle. However, frustration can rise when it is unclear how to overcome the obstacle, or when the obstacle fails to make sense in the logic of the game – for example, when characters can destroy dragons with ease, but a simple wooden door acts as an impenetrable barrier.
Examples: The Silver Serpent in Ultima III blocked passage to the island of Exodus unless you used the magic word, “Evocare.” And about half of any Dungeon Master-style game, including the recent indie release Legend of Grimrock, where puzzles and locks make up much of the gameplay.
Saturday - December 08, 2012
Rampant Games - How Fast Should Characters Level Up?
How Fast Should Characters Level Up, asks Jay Barnson:
Back in the (somewhat) earlier dice & paper RPG days, one of the key differences between skill-based RPG systems and class/level based systems (which have now married and have had lots of hybrid babies) was the pace of character progression. In a skill-based system, you typically gained abilities, or points to spend on abilities, after every session / adventure. In the case of point-buy systems, you could often spend the points immediately on small gains, or save them up for more impressive abilities.
Class / Level based systems – of which Dungeons & Dragons was the role-model – were generally slower, with intermediate gains usually in the form of improved equipment. But then you got all of your gains as one package of bonuses, which felt great. In skill-based systems, the incremental improvements were not as noticeable, but suddenly being able to cast 3rd level spells in D&D was huge – on top of extra hit points, better chances of hitting, better saving throws, and more spells overall. Instead of a constant slope, you had a staircase, where each step felt like a significant increase. Unless you were playing a fighter, I guess…
Friday - November 09, 2012
Rampant Games - Randomly Speaking
Reality is Random
I was stupid and not paying attention when driving a few days ago when making a left turn. I nearly got into an accident. It wasn’t a near miss or anything, but I felt really stupid about it. I have no idea how many left-hand turns I’ve made in my life, but it’s a lot. These are not difficult actions. I don’t go into an intersection expecting a 1% chance of failure when I turn on my left blinker. But even trivial acts go wrong sometimes. And sometimes we get lucky and win the lottery. There are so many complicated factors in play with every action and plan, so many uncontrolled variables, that our human minds effectively have to boil things down to chance. And we have to make plans around chance. We buy insurance. We take risks. We play the odds. We create “Plan B.”
I’ve done a bit of simulated combat with fencing weapons, padded swords, martial arts, paintball, and the like. Enough to know that what seems simple and automatic in practice can become devilishly hard when the heat is on. There are plenty of reports on actual gunfights (and a few eerie videos on YouTube) that illustrate how ‘shootouts’ are amazingly… well, random. Guys who can place high in shooting competitions can’t seem to hit the broadside of a barn at point blank range against a deadly opponent shooting back at them. Real fights are fast, frantic, messy affairs, and gamers would be infuriated with probabilities that mirror reality. Actually, older wargames (and D&D) tried to simulate this by claiming that attacks were an abstraction. In older editions of D&D, your hit chance represented the sum total of a number of attacks made during the course of a round, perhaps the one “good” shot that had a real chance of doing damage.
Simulationists (and I have at least one foot in that camp) tend to enjoy the randomness of real life thrown into our games. Though we also like having enough control over the variables to be able to pick and choose our chances.
Thursday - October 11, 2012
Rampant Games - Indie Games: Competition and authorship
Jay Barnson from Rampant Coyte updated his blog discussing this subject. His starting point is the old school Shaker RPG made by Brenda Brathwaite and Tom Hall. He first discusses competition:
It’s true that on a small (but growing) level, we indies are in competition with each other. The economy pretty much still stinks everywhere, and games aren’t quite as “recession-proof” as originally thought. Indie RPGs have gone from being all but unheard-of to being a pretty exciting field that even I have trouble keeping track of – even if I generally focus on PC games. But in my opinion, the zero-sum thing really doesn’t kick in until a market is really saturated. Maybe it is there already on mobile devices, but it certainly isn’t yet in our niche.
Then he discusses authorship:
It’s not so much “celebrity designers” as it is authorship. Authorship is something that has lost a lot of ground (by necessity and by design) in the AAA world. When you have a development team measured in triple digits, it’s going to be very hard for anybody’s contribution – even the lead designer’s – to really exert a powerful influence on the game. Really, it takes a commitment on the part of the studio and publisher to make sure that happens – and to give the responsible parties credit. Publishers have very little motivation to do so, as they can own a property, but they can’t own a designer.
Friday - August 03, 2012
Rampant Games - Want players to finish? Let them quit!
Jay Barnson wades in on an issue peripherally related to game length - Want Players to Finish the Game? Let Them Quit!
There are a lot of important features to an RPG that make the experience really stand out for me. But these days, with my “grown up” schedule, the two most important features for any video game (not just RPG, but I’m focusing on RPGs here) are the following:
1. Make it easy for me to play a short session (~20 minutes. Or less).
2. Make it easy for me to get back to the game after taking a (possibly extended) break.
In other words, make it painless to quit and encouraging to come back to later.
I’m not saying I’ll only play an RPG for 20 minutes at a time – but I have problems starting a game these days that I think I’ll have to commit more time than that in order to get anything out of the play session. Once I get going, sure, I may end up playing for a whole hour or two, but that’s inertia. And taking a hiatus from a game is nothing new to me. I tend to play a lot of games, and even as a kid, I’d often take a break from some of my favorite RPGs to play with something new and shiny, only to come back after a few days / weeks / months and finish the game.
And that’s what it’s really about. I keep hearing game company CEOs talking about how players rarely finish the games, and they really only play for something like 8-15 hours, so why not make 8-15 hour games? The truth is that a lot of gamers – especially RPG fans – love the big ol’ marathon games, too, but we can’t play them like a marathon (anymore) to the exclusion of all other games. But I, for one, am happy to play a larger game in shorter segments over the course of weeks or months, maybe coming back to it after a long break or two. I want games that fit my life, not the other way around, but I do not think that should relegate me to some casual-gaming ghetto.
Wednesday - July 25, 2012
Rampant Games - Impressions from Age of Decadence
Jay Barnson writes about his time with the demo for Age of Decadence, the game made by Iron Tower Studios. A quote about the branching of the quest:
The branching nature of these quests and events is definitely interesting, leading to some cool replayable options. But there are always limitations. One downside of the branching dialog is that the game sometimes assumes a behavior on the part of your character that doesn’t match your intention. Some of this could be prevented by giving your character more limited dialog – not putting words in his or her mouth – but that makes for less compelling dialog. The branching events also mean that as a player, I tend to consume quests pretty quickly. With a couple of failures and some dumb purchase decisions, I soon found myself kind of stymied in one play-through, where the only remaining quests on my list either demanded money I didn’t have, or seemed to not yet be implemented. It’s tough to tell, as the game gives you few hints on some of the later quests as to where to go.
Monday - July 23, 2012
Rampant Games - Games with Messages
Jay Barnson's latest blog post discusses games that carry a message - such as a moral or educational subtext - and whether that can damage the gameplay:
I take a pretty firm stance that video games should be entertaining. Even if a game is supposed to be educational – or rather, especially if it is supposed to be educational – it is only successful at its job if the player finds himself enjoying the exercise. Otherwise, you may as well just be doing plain ol’ rote drills, watching an instructional video, or reading a manual. (I feel the same way about movies – including documentaries. Anything you’d go to a theater or rent a disc to see.)
But even for games where entertainment is the primary focus – a game intended for the masses (or for the hundreds or thousands, for many indie games): Should games have a message? Should games contain controversial themes? If I’m playing a game for entertainment, am I going to be angry if the game also tries to drive home a politically-charged message to me?
For me – the answer is maybe.
Friday - July 13, 2012
Rampant Games - Advancing the Role of Role-Playing
Jay Barnson writes a lengthy piece on the "role" in roleplaying, the difficulty of translating an meaningful persona into a CRPG and some possible steps towards providing that expression:
But those frustrations aside, that’s a big part of the fun of role-playing games. Whether it’s trying on an idealized persona, experimenting with a role, or acting as an interactive author of your character’s story, role-playing for its own sake can be an extra layer of fun on top of the hacking and slashing and looting and coming up with bad puns to make your friends groan.
It is also something that is extremely difficult to translate into computer games. It’s often very difficult to maintain in tabletop games or even LARPS, as well. But once you have the computer acting as both medium and (in multiplayer games) an intermediary between players, it gets even harder to keep that aspect of RPGs going. After all, the game world itself is completely immune to all but the most coarse of interactions – very little more beyond “destroy,” “loot,” and “trade” – so aside from some canned dialog or story options, there’s really no way to express the subtleties of character. You can’t wink at a barmaid to try and catch her attention, or bribe some of the street urchins to tip you with information when they catch site of your rival, sneer at the mayor as he welcomes you to the town, or treat your horse to an extra bit of oats and an apple and a good brushing to reward it for its courage and the hard run it made to bring you back to the town in safety. These are things that might not make much impact in a human-moderated world either, but might at least gain some acknowledgement from the other humans around the table. They’d at least make a mark on their collective history of the game world to register what kind of person your character is.
Computerized game worlds don’t do that. Yet. And probably at no time in the near future. Computers aren’t any good at that.
Monday - July 02, 2012
Rampant Games - On Wandering Monsters and Unplanned Encounters
Jay Barnson returns to the topic of random encounters in RPG design:
Engaging the enemy on your own terms, in your own time, is always easier. That’s the advantage of offense.
Unplanned combat encounters force the player(s) to play defense. And not usually with a nice fortified defensive advantage, either. The player may be caught unprepared. It may disrupt the best-laid plans.
Having played a lot of 3.x edition Dungeons & Dragons, I became fascinated by how the game mechanics made such such a difference between the players attacking a dragon and the players being attacked by a dragon. Given the opportunity for adequate preparation – particularly attacking a dragon in an underground area that inhibited its mobility, and preparing magical defenses against the dragon’s breath weapon attack – a combat with a dragon of the appropriate challenge rating was a difficult venture but not exceptionally dangerous. But the same dragon attacking the party out in the open when they haven’t had time to prepare? Whole ‘nother story, and often one that resulted in one or more characters dead or unconscious by the end.
Friday - June 29, 2012
Rampant Games - Are RPGs Too Long?
In an editorial on his blog, Jay Barnson asks this very question and comes up with a few solutions also.
The quote about his solutions:
#1 – Shorten the game. I do love myself some big ol’ meaty epics, so I don’t want all RPGs to do this, but just as all other media can be made or broken by the quality of the editing, so can games. We need RPGs that can be finished in a week or two (or maybe a single caffeine-fueled weekend).
#2 – Improve the game mechanics to keep things compelling through the end. Maybe the reward structure is too regular, or too irregular. Maybe the challenges are too repetitive, or require such similar decisions on the part of the player that they feel repetitive.
#3 – Punch up the narrative to fix the middle. Note that this may often mean changing the beginning or ending (which in game development can be pretty hard). Maybe it’s flowing at too even of a pace for too long. Things need to be changed up. A reversal needs to happen somewhere in there. Maybe a subplot just isn’t working very well and needs to be removed or changed. Whatever. The story needs fixing.
#4 – Do what Bethesda does and allow the player to go for the end-game at the time of his choosing.
#5 – Break into pieces, as multiple games, episodes, or expansions. Treat each of them as a stand-alone story that simply have a larger arc running between them.
Source: RPG Codex
Thursday - June 28, 2012
Rampant Games - Indie RPG Roundup
The Rampant Coyote has a new indie RPG news roundup, covering a bunch of games we know and others we don't. Here's a snip on the dungeon crawler Dark Delve as an example:
Dark Delve – released in February, this first-person party-based dungeon crawler from Checkmark Games is available at Indievania for… whatever price you want to pay. The campaign is supposed to be only a little over six hours of gameplay, but is supposed to offer replayability in the form of challenge modes and difficulty levels. And, of course, different party composition. It is also available on XBLIG, for those who’d rather play it on the console.
Friday - May 18, 2012
Rampant Games - Capturing More of the Tabletop Experience
Jay Barnson writes about bridging the gap between tabletop and computer RPG experiences in Capturing More of the Tabletop Experience:
Computer RPGs began, in part, as a way for D&D players to enjoy a taste of their game without the difficulty of getting a bunch of people together at the same place and time to game. Been there, done that. If it weren’t for our regular Saturday-night games, It’d be only the occasional Thanksgiving or something where I’d actually have a chance to sling a real D20.
For a (very short) while, there, I wondered if it was worth continuing in light of MUDS and MMORPGs. I was getting online with some of the same friends I was gaming with, and we were having grand adventures – well, at first – just like our dice-and-paper nights. But now we were doing it with cool graphics and sound, and everything! It was a lot closer to what we were imagining when we were slinging the dice next to our rulebooks and character sheets.
I wondered the same thing when we started playing Neverwinter Nights or Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption online. Same deal, only now we had an actual GM / Storyteller designing the adventures and stuff. Could this replace the Saturday Night gaming sessions for us? I mean, it was the same thing, only our miniatures looked a lot cooler, right?
Friday - March 16, 2012
Rampant Games - The New CRPG Heyday...
Jay Barnson dares to be optimistic about the future of the genre in The New CRPG Heyday:
Exhibit B – Mainstream: During much of the last decade, mainstream CRPG fans who preferred single-player experiences – particularly PC gamers – often had a bit of a wait major between releases. The wait has definitely shrunk over the last five years or so. While we can argue over the meaning of role-playing game and how far these mainstream games have moved to being conventional action games and shooters, the mainstream games professing to be RPGs are more plentiful and happily show off their big or bigger budgets. While the purist in me may gripe, they are still plenty of fun (and sell plenty of copies…)
Exhibit C – Expanding Middle Zone: Somewhere between an indie working solo on a game in his basement and the latest EA-owned Bioware release costing eight digits to produce, you’ve got this nebulous, fuzzy zone of games that don’t seem to be truly indie or mainstream. Torchlight. Bastion. The Witcher II. My traditional view of indie is more along the lines of “self-funded, not a large publisher,” but things have gotten more and more complicated as the industry has grown, matured, and started weaning itself from its dependence on the big publishers. But obviously, these guys are also making RPGs, and succeeding at least moderately well at it. And speaking of interesting funding methods…
Thursday - March 15, 2012
Rampant Games - Indie RPG News
Jay Barnson has kicked up a new Indie RPG Roundup, posting on an impressive collection of indie projects. We track a lot of them but there are plenty of other projects - essential reading for indie fans. A snip:
Darklight Dungeon: Eternity – Have I mentioned recently that this game has been released? It’s been out a few weeks. I’m still playing, though I have only gotten a little over a tenth of the way through this 50-level dungeon crawler. And I’ve been slaughtered by Asmodeus. Yeah. That’s old-school. It’s a great little game to just do some hacking and slashing with for fifteen minutes at a time.
Blood Rune – In the style of the old “Gold Box” D&D games, this indie RPG switches from first-person view to an isometric view for combat. It’s taking the approach of using smaller adventure “modules” rather than a single, giant campaign. I like the idea a lot. I’ve considered something like that many a time. I have high hopes that this one will see the light of day.
Tuesday - March 13, 2012
Rampant Games - Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away
Jay Barnson follows up on the recent Joystiq article about the transitioning of the CRPG market with Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away: The Heyday of the CRPG. Jay muses on the reasons CRPGs surged in the years leading up to 1995:
1. The AD&D License. The release of ‘official’ Dungeons & Dragons RPGs (besides some ancient handheld and Intellivision attempts) ignited the enthusiasm of hordes of dice-and-paper gamers who were not already major CRPG enthusiasts, and it had a spillover effect into other games.
2. Technology. PCs were upping the quality of the gaming experience, and technology was finally catching up with the vision. Monsters began to look like monsters, disk drives and on-board RAM were finally large enough to display decent images of monsters, and so forth. And lets not forget the impact of the more visceral experiences of Dungeon Master and Ultima Underworld, which were able to use more powerful modern machines to provide new twists on a familiar experience.
Wednesday - March 07, 2012
Rampant Games - 7 Ways To Fix Boring Quests
Jay Barnson writes about dull FedEx quests and how to make them more palatable:
I understand why they are there. When you are working with scripting code, it’s surprising how so much boils down a few very simple interactions. So much of gameplay ends up being some variant of some very basic interactions. Kill Actor X. Wound Actor X to Level Y. Protect Actor X. Talk to X when Flag Y is set. Use Item Y with Actor X, or when Item Y is in your inventory. The latter is your basic Fed Ex quest element. But using it in something close to its raw, unadulterated form is lame and trite. It’s all about wrapping these basic elements in a dramatic and interesting story, after all – a pregenerated story of the designer’s creation, or one that develops organically that the player creates by his own actions and those of the game world and its inhabitants, or ideally a combination of both.
Friday - March 02, 2012
Rampant Games - Five Things I Love About Modern Mainstream RPGs
Jay Barnson posts Five Things I Unequivocally Love About Modern Mainstream RPGs:
#3 – Emphasis on Story and Characters. Sure, don’t sacrifice my game mechanics and interesting choices on the alter of storyline – I’m still here to play a game, not watch a movie – but story and characters are still what turns a good game into a great and memorable experience. That’s really a focus in most modern RPGs, and I’m pretty happy about that. Really, in many older games, as much as I loved the story, like the graphics it was usually the story in my head that I created as I played that I loved, not so much what was there in the game. I think modern games could do a better job outsourcing some of those critical story elements to the player’s imagination – as the old games had to do – but what’s “on the page” has far more depth to it than almost anything created before the era of Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout. I should probably include jRPGs in that list, too, but you know what they are. Bravo, designers. While missteps have taken place and some games may have been made worse by truly crappy stories, this seems to me to be the right direction.
Tuesday - February 28, 2012
Rampant Games - Technical Dungeons
The Rampant Coyote explores what he calls "technical dungeons":
What I’m talking about is the technical, analytical approach to navigating a dungeon. It’s a point where the dungeons of a game become more than just a setting where the game and story happens, and more than just a path between combat and puzzles. It’s where the dungeon itself is becomes an obstacle, encounter, or character in the game in its own right, offering explicit or implicit clues to its own nature. Where navigation of the dungeon requires a constant weighing of risk and reward. They can be automapped, but the map may actually need to be studied by the player from time to time to determine how to get to where he wants to go, or to figure out its secrets. A technical dungeon is decidedly non-linear, and is not something that will usually be “defeated” in a single session. While any old dungeon may contain combat, traps, puzzles, and secrets, in a technical dungeon these are not stand-alone elements.
Thursday - February 23, 2012
Rampant Games - Variable Encounter Difficulty
Jay Barnson returns to CRPG design in his latest blog post on Variable Encounter Difficulty:
A friend asked the other night about combat encounter difficulty in RPGs – is it better to have the challenge be consistent, or variable? I answered pretty firmly in favor of the latter. I think most people who suffered through the automatic level-scaling in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion would probably agree. But here’s why.
First of all – consistent, linearly-increasing difficulty level in video games is generally recognized as a Bad Thing. It’s predictable, tedious, and causes player fatigue. It’s far more entertaining to have hills and valleys along a generally increasing difficulty level slope. Naturally, the peaks of the hills will often represent boss encounters or other significant events, while the lowest dips will generally follow immediately after as the player is given a ‘breather’ after a major challenge. But a little unpredictability in the pattern helps keep things interesting.
Wednesday - January 25, 2012
Rampant Games - What Would You Update?
In light of the X-COM "re-envisioning" on the way, the Rampant Coyote is asking what classic game youd choose to remake, which I thought was a cool discussion topic:
Me? I’d be terrified about it, but I’m going to pick Ultima 7. Knowing full well that some folks will accuse me of heresy, what I’d like to see changed beyond upgraded technology and UI would be the combat system. Something more like “turn-based with pause” from the Infinity Engine games (Baldur’s Gate, etc) with better AI and a slower pace so things like actually casting spells in combat would have a chance to succeed. Since nobody ever seemed to feel that combat was really that good in the first place in Ultima 7, I don’t think that sort of thing would violate the spirit of the game, or the series. I would also like to see stat-check style mechanics supplement (not entirely replace) the elements of the game that were more twitch-driven… dodging fireballs and that kind of thing. This way even those who prefer a more thoughtful pace in their RPGs wouldn’t get badly penalized for not playing it like a an NES game. And really, what made Ultima 7 work so well was the world and the story, not the RPG mechanics… which to me always felt a little half-baked.
Tuesday - January 17, 2012
Rampant Games - Lousy Choices and Linear Dungeons
Jay Barnson writes about the "evolution" of dungeon design in RPGs from the complex to the strictly linear. Skyrim is the obvious touchstone, with Jay currently playing Bethsoft's latest release:
RPG level design is a funky thing – particularly with good ol’ traditional dungeons. The linear dungeons of Skyrim are awfully convenient, and in all honesty may be a trifle more “realistic” (does that ever matter?) than the sprawling dungeon complexes of many classic games. It’s easy to avoid getting lost in them – the map screen is usually only necessary to see if you missed a corner or closet somewhere where there may be some additional loot.
But they do rub me the wrong way a little. I like my big, sprawling dungeon complexes. And I do like to harp on having choices. However, a choice between a door on the left or a door on the right – or whether you take the left or right branch in a corridor – is a lousy choice. Without some kind of knowledge about the difference between the two (or more) choices, it’s really no choice at all.
Sunday - January 08, 2012
Rampant Games - the Hardcore Gamer's Manifesto
Jay Barnson from Rampant has added some points to the original manifesto created by Cliff Harris in his Bite Size Hardcore Manifesto on his blog. The first 8 points come from Cliff, the last 3 points (from 9-11) come from Jay Barnson.
1) No pandering to casual gaming stereotypes. No gratuitous kittens or ‘cute’ cuddly characters.
2) No time wasting. No splash screens, intros, or FMV. We have 30 minutes tonight for gaming. Ensure all 30 minutes have us interacting with the game.
3) No Grind. We have day jobs. leave the grind to the kids in the F2P MMOs where it belongs. Give me decent, varying content, without filler. And don’t reward grind either, with bonus achievements for time played, or 1,000 low level rats clubbed.
4) No nickel+diming. We have proper jobs and disposable income. If the game is good, we will buy outright. Don’t keep breakign immersion to try and sell us $0.05 worth of magic pixie dust.
5) No oversimplification. We can cope with 2 mouse buttons, maybe even 3, and a wheel. We can cope with right clicking, tech trees, customisable units and mods.
6) No mandatory training levels or tutorials that cover the obvious. This is my 245th first person shooter. I can guess that WSAD moves, the mouse looks, and the mouse shoots. At the very least, let me skip tutorial stuff I don’t need.
7) Don’t patronize us. We shouldn’t get an achievement for hitting the jump key, or told we are awesome soldiers for hitting a tin can. Leave that crap for kids in kindergarten.
8) Be original. We have gamed before. We have fought in many a crate-strewn corridoor, and killed many a rat and returned their hides to someone who is too lazy to do it themselves. We have heard many tales of lost kingdoms and evil wizards. Surprise us. Please.
9) No arbitrary save-game restrictions! With some acceptable exceptions (like in the middle of a combat sequence, for example), I expect to be able to save and exit the game at any time, and then come back and pick up more-or-less where I left off. If for some technical reason your game does have “checkpoints” rather than save-anywhere, EVERY SINGLE FRICKIN’ ONE OF THOSE CHECKPOINTS SHOULD BE A VALID SAVE LOCATION! None of this B.S. about having three or four checkpoints in-between valid save points. You obviously DO have the game state recorded from each check point in memory, so there’s no reason you can’t store it to the disk.
10) Make your PC game as playable as possible WITHOUT a game controller plugged in. It’s fine to port a game from the consoles and note that the game plays “best” with a controller. You optimized it for that input device, that’s fine. But make a friggin’ effort. Not all PC gamers want an XBox controller plugged into their system, but they DO want to play your game, especially as a “casual” diversion between sessions of “serious” work. Ridiculous control schemes that are obviously just brain-dead remappings of controller inputs poorly implemented on the keyboard are not acceptable. And no, players won’t appreciate your attempt to “force” them to use a game controller on their PC.
11) In addition to keeping the cut-scenes short, make them easy to pause, review, or at least check out the summary and critical exposition / explanations revealed in the scene. Because when the wife enters the room and needs to talk, she does like having to wait until the cut-scene is over.
Do you agree with Cliff and Jay?
Monday - January 02, 2012
Rampant Games - Class- and Skill-Based Systems
Jay Barnson has continued his series on class-based and skill-based character systems with posts on each. From Staying Classy:
Enforces Specialization / Role Cohesion: Class-based games can make sure characters are really good at a few things rather than mediocre in a lot of areas. This is desirable in party-based games, especially in multiplayer games where it’s good to have each player feel like they are unique in some way, or at least “the best” at one or two things. It encourages cooperation and keeps any one player from hogging the limelight.
Restricted Content: This is both an advantage and limitation. If characters are missing certain classes and the key skills associated with the class, as a designer you may be forced to choose between denying access to the content, or watering down the specialization. A classic example of this is the rogue / thief class. In old-school D&D, at early levels, if you needed someone to climb a sheer wall, sneakily spy on the enemy, or unlock a door, the thief was your guy. If you had no thief in the party, you might be out of luck entirely (in a CRPG, this would mean being locked out of some content). However, at later levels in D&D, spellcasters had access to spells (levitate and fly, scrying, and door-opening spells) that rendered the thief’s specialization almost useless. This was partially rectified in 1st edition Advanced D&D by giving the high-level thief the oft-forgotten ability to cast spells from scrolls, further watering down specialization but at least giving the thief something useful to do now that his specializations had been trumped.
...and from Skill-Based Systems (what, no headline pun, Jay?):
Skill Combination Imbalance: It’s a lot harder to balance skill-based games, and one of the challenges comes from the difficulty of testing all possible skill combinations. If the game system is “interesting,” meaning that there are several skills that can interact with each other in a course of action, there’s a chance that some “combos” of skills are far more effective than others. If it’s extreme enough, this can cause game balance issues. One example of this is in Dungeons & Dragons 3.0, where the reworked “Haste” spell – which was intended to make higher-level melee characters moderately more deadly in combat - could be used to allow spellcasters to double-cast spells every round, which was an extremely powerful side-effect (and corrected in 3.5). And speaking from personal experience, the challenges of balancing feats like Dual Wield, Speedy, Auto-Fade and the various special attacks in Frayed Knights felt like it was constantly fraught with peril. I still don’t know if I got ‘em all right, but at least they don’t seem terribly broken.
Thursday - December 29, 2011
Rampant Games - Skills or Class?
The latest RPG design post at the Rampant Coyote starts to examine the old question of a Skills versus Class character development system, although this first part primarily lays the options on the table:
D&D 3.x – used in the Neverwinter Nights series, The Temple of Elemental Evil, Icewind Dale 2, etc., is a strong class-based hybrid. While there are plenty of skills (mainly non-combat based) and a common pool of feats that theoretically any character of any class can acquire, and one’s “class” is pretty flexible where class choice can change from level to level, most of the more significant upgrades and choices are dictated by class. While it’s possible for a wizard to pick a bunch of fighter-type abilities, it’s almost always a very poor choice. I’m really looking forward to any games (including the announced MMO) using the Pathfinder system, which is the spiritual sequel to third generation Dungeons & Dragons.
The loose implementations of the Vampire: The Masquerade system in the two CRPGs that drew from the system are, in my opinion, pretty evenly split in terms of class or skill focus. Much of the character dynamics are purely in skill-based territory, but some very key elements of the game are based upon the character’s clan. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines did a fantastic job of making much of the game truly different for some clan choices, particularly the Malkavian or Nosferatu clans.
Tuesday - December 20, 2011
Rampant Games - Easy to learn but not dumbed down?
Jay Barnson expresses some frustration with the commitment required to play many older cRPGs - but also with the unsatisfactory solutions of modern designs. Here's a snip from Can RPGs Be Easy to Learn Without Being 'Dumbed Down'?:
Another issue I think most of us “older gamers” have to deal with is limited time to play games. We love games, but we have to get our gaming in small segments than we could as kids. I find myself going back regularly to a game of Slay, simply because I can play a complete game in fifteen minutes. My gaming time is usually in segments no longer than an hour, often less than forty-five minutes. If that experience ends with my having made little or no progress – due to dying and restarting, or simply wandering around talking to people trying to remember where I’d left off last time I played, or whatever – then I’m a lot less excited to double-click the icon again when I find myself in need of a gaming fix.
Again, the typical industry answer to this problem is hand-holding and linearity. Although the earlier love affair with fixed save points runs directly counter to this, and I find the inability to save and exit abhorrent in a PC game. But a decent “quest journal” and other goal suggestions can help here, without requiring an on-screen icon that tells the player to “walk here.”
Thursday - December 15, 2011
Rampant Games - Choice in Character Development #3
Colter Cookson wraps up his series of posts on character development with discussion of the player "tools" required to make detailed character development work:
For a game to provide all of the benefits of a character development system, the consequences of different choices need to be clear so players can go after the mechanical bonuses, fantasy, and gameplay style they prefer. The amount of information necessary can range from the formulas behind the game’s mechanics to short descriptions of different classes at the start of the game. For example, a game with both a sorcerer and an alchemist might describe the former as “a natural spellcaster that eradicates foes with fire and lightning” and the latter as “a wandering herbalist who brews potions to give allies the strength and speed they need to overcome the toughest foe.” Despite their brevity, these descriptions convey the classes’ theme and gameplay effect (direct damage versus buffing). Armed with this information, players should be able to tell which character-the powerful destroyer or the scholarly buffer–will appeal to them.
Wednesday - December 14, 2011
Rampant Games - Choice in Character Development #2
Most importantly, the character development system needs to matter. A fighter should be able to stand toe-to-toe with a monster that would send the party thief running, an archer should be able to make shots that would put even the nimblest fighter to shame, and a cleric should be able to heal more efficiently than even the most skilled paladin. If the player can’t tell the difference between development choices, they become no more important than picking her character portrait.
To inspire thinking and out-of-game interaction, the character development system needs to involve real tradeoffs. If you want players to think about which weapons to specialize in, axes should be stronger but slower than swords. At the same time, the players need to encounter situations where strength matters more than speed or speed matters than strength. Otherwise, players will quickly discover which choice the game favors and focus on that.
Tuesday - December 13, 2011
Rampant Games - Choice in Character Development
A guest post at Tales of the Rampant Coyote from Colter Cookson argues the advantage of greater choice in character development systems:
Fourth, character development decisions give people a reason to replay the game by providing a way to vary the experience. A party of two fighters, a mage, and a priest will require slightly different tactics than a party with two wizards, one fighter, and one priest and much different tactics than a party with three wizards and a cleric, so players can revisit the game without feeling like they’ve seen everything before. For money-conscious players, this increases the game’s value. For every player, it can provide an opportunity to see how much their skills have improved by pitting them against challenges they once found difficult but now find easy. Players might also discover secrets they missed the first time, notice the nuances and foreshadowing in the game’s dialogue, or otherwise more fully appreciate the developer’s work.
Monday - December 12, 2011
Rampant Games - Matt Chat Interview, Part 4
Matt Barton and Jay Barnson continue their conversation with Part 4 of their Matt Chat interview:
Okay, the last part of my “Matt Chat” interview is up. Watch if you dare. I give a bunch of hints and tips for playing Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, and I talk about the general future of the series. And rats. We talk about rats.
Wednesday - December 07, 2011
Rampant Games - Storytelling and Games
With the Rampant Coyote off in Thailand working, his blog has a guest post from Paul Spooner who argues "traditional storytelling has no place in games":
The story is what happens. The game is also what happens. The writer decides action in the story, but the player decides action in the game. Most games allow these to overlap. This is difficult because the story must encompass all possible player actions and motivations. This is important!
The story must encompass all possible player actions and motivations!
The player and the story must always be in complete harmony. The problem occurs when the game developer writes a story in conflict with the player. If they conflict then either the story wins or the player wins. If the story wins the player is no longer playing. It’s not a game anymore, just a movie, or even a book. If the player wins, then the story makes no sense. It’s not a story anymore, just a stupid sequence of disconnected actions. When they disagree the player either derails the story, or the story derails the play.
Monday - December 05, 2011
Rampant Games - Matt Chat Interview, Part 3
A third part of Matt Barton's interview with Jay Barnson is now available. Here's Jay's description:
I’m in Thailand for the next two weeks, which may cause the blog schedule to get a little erratic if I find myself running behind. We do have some guest posts coming up which I hope you will enjoy. In the meantime, here’s part three of Matt’s interview with me. In this section, we move away from some of the specifics of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, and we talk about some of the realities of being an indie — how to make games “on the cheap” (and how those costs add up), scoping design to match your limitations, dealing with criticism, and so forth.
Monday - November 28, 2011
Rampant Games - Matt Chat Interview, Part 2
The second part of Matt Barton's interview with Jay 'Rampant Coyote' Barnson has been released:
In this segment, we leave behind the action games of the SingleTrac era and start talking mainly classic RPGs. Are modern RPGs “dumbed down?” Why are indie RPGs so cool? Where did I come up with the idea for the “drama stars” in Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon? These and other questions answered.
Tuesday - November 22, 2011
Rampant Games - PC World Interview
Jay Barnson did another interview this week. This time for PC World. They were mostly interested in talking about the good ol' days when he was the senior programmer for SingleTrac. The interview does overlap some of the things discussed with Matt in the Matt Chat from a few days ago, but Jay goes into more detail or different stories from back then. As always it makes for a great read. Jay is always entertaining and willing to discuss his time working in the mainstream gaming industry.
On a personal note, it would have been nice of PC World to have mentioned Jay's latest project, Frayed Knights.
Here's a snippet from the interview:
In the following years, Infogrames, which later became Atari, discontinued the SingleTrac brand and ended all of the non-Sony properties the studio had worked on, while some of the Sony ones, such as Twisted Metal, exist to this day. Did you ever foresee SingleTrac's properties ending up in the way they did while you worked there?
JB: I don't really know what any of us expected at the time. The fact that so many people still remember these games a decade-and-a-half later, and that Twisted Metal is still a major Sony franchise, just amazes me. While game quality is an important ingredient, making a hit game still seems like catching lightning in a bottle. You just do the best you can and make a game that you hope doesn't suck. I think in some ways we were spoiled by the success of all four of our first games. I don't think we fully understood how rare that really is. I think we kind of assumed that it was just what happens when you make a good game.
Titles such as Twisted Metal and Warhawk continue to exist to this day, though they have undergone significant changes in the process. How do you feel about the properties you worked on all those years ago still entertaining audiences today?
JB: I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a tiny bit of jealousy. While I was just one of many who were involved, and my contribution was relatively small in the grand scheme of things, we all felt a lot of pride and some sense of ownership in the final results. And I do get pretty nostalgic seeing Twisted Metal about to make a return on PlayStation 3. But mostly, I'm just honoured to have had a part in creating what has become a strong legacy. It's really awesome to see that legacy continue. With [Eat Sleep Play founders] David Jaffe and Scott Campbell at work on the new Twisted Metal, I feel the game is in good hands. I'm thrilled that modern audiences are able to enjoy them, and that new players can discover the series. It means a lot to me.
Sunday - November 20, 2011
Rampant Games - Matt Chat Interview
Jay Barnson sat down with Matt Barton for a two hour long interview. If you have read Jay's blogs then you know he has many a tale to tell about the gaming industry. I enjoy his behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making some of these games.
The intereview is broken up into thirty minute pieces. This first part is about Jay's background, his work on Twisted Metal and Warhawk and then discusses Frayed Knights.
Monday - October 24, 2011
Rampant Games - Player Skill and Character Skill
Jay Barnson tackles the thorny issue of player and character skills in RPGs:
In my mind, for a game to qualify as an RPG, it has to implement at least some of the player’s commands through the filter of character skill. The canonical example is attacking an enemy. In many kinds of non-RPG games, the player hits if he (or she) has aimed correctly, and does damage based on the weapon. In an RPG, the chance of hitting or the amount of damage that is done, or both, are determined by the character’s skill. The player’s “aim” may or may not be a factor.
But this does NOT mean that an RPG does not require player skill.
The dependence upon character skill and random chance does not remove player skill from the game any more than it removes player skill from Chess and Poker.
Thursday - October 20, 2011
Rampant Games - Guns, Phones & Magic
Jay Barnson has an excellent post about the cultural impact (or lack) of magic in RPGs. The intro:
No, this isn’t a post about mixing guns, phones, and magic in the same fantasy setting. Though as a fan of urban fantasy – I’m 100% for it!
This post is actually about attitudes towards magic in fantasy worlds. Specifically RPGs. It’s something I’ve touched on before, and will again. It’s about the impact of “magic” on a fantasy world and the characters in it.
In most RPGs, magic is fairly mechanical. In many action-RPGs, a spell-casting player character spam-fires so much magic that it makes Tim the Enchanter look positively subtle in his application of the arcane arts. There’s not a whole lot “magical” about that kind of magic, really. Magic is like a gun… you pull the trigger and it goes off, though perhaps not always with perfect accuracy or reliability. And yet this incredible power seems to have little impact on the game world, which seems to just shrug it off and treat it as a tacked-on appendage to the culture. Which I guess it is.
Saturday - July 16, 2011
Rampant Games - Indie RPG Roundup
The Rampant Coyote has a new Indie RPG Roundup, with quite a few things we cover anyway but also some projects out of our scope, such as Magical Diary, Cthulhu Saves the World and Planet Stronghold.
Somewhat related, Sinister Design has a piece titled Reasons to Support Indie RPGs, mostly discussing 2K Marin's attitude to turn-based games:
“Every studio we had wanted to do it and each one had its own spin on it,” Hartmann says of the revival of the XCOM brand. “But the problem was that turn-based strategy games were no longer the hottest thing on planet Earth. But this is not just a commercial thing – strategy games are just not contemporary.” So, it became a first-person affair, even if 2K seems somewhat hesitant to label it a first-person shooter.
Hartmann says the team at 2K Marin are trying to “renew Xcom but in line with what this generation of gamers want.”
My first thought upon reading this was simply “Again?” This is twice now in the span of a month. It seems the mainstream studios just cannot help themselves: they just have to justify their wholesale abandonment of slow-paced cerebral gameplay. And it seems that they all have the same justification: that modern gamers are all Ritalin-popping adrenaline junkies with the collective attention span of a piece of dryer lint.
Monday - July 11, 2011
Rampant Games - What Does "Old School RPG" Mean To You?
The Rampant Coyote asks What Does "Old School RPG" Mean To You?
I kinda tripped over this one working on the manual for Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon this weekend. Frayed Knights was inspired by favorite old-school RPGs, particularly games like the Wizardry, Ultima, and Bard’s Tale series. Oddly, when I first started I think I would have listed Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant was my biggest inspiration. It isn’t a game I actually ever played to completion (yet), nor my favorite of the series (that would be Wizardry 8). But I think I was entranced by the potential of the game even more than its actual implementation, and in many ways it epitomized this style of RPG for me. It represented a particular style of RPG at its height. [...]
But as much as Wizardry VII acted as a representative for “old school RPG” for me, it’s hardly representative of even the games of its immediate era. It’s really hard for me to really put my finger on what characterizes an “old school RPG” because – seriously – the genre was a lot more diverse 20 years ago than it is today (unless you include indies, who are really bringing that back).
Wednesday - July 06, 2011
Rampant Games - Difficulty Levels and RPGs
Should RPGs have difficulty levels?
My knee-jerk response is to say, “Of course!” I generally prefer games with difficulty levels. Especially action-RPGs. Especially for an action-RPG like The Witcher 2, which apparently really wants you to play with a gamepad, when I really want to play with a keyboard and mouse. I have a gamepad. When I get back to playing The Witcher 2, I may use it – much to my annoyance – because “Easy” difficulty was far too easy.
So I’m definitely not opposed to difficulty levels. If done well. But for me, traditional RPGs (and this includes action-RPGs) have inherent difficulty levels built-in. I’ve enjoyed them for years. It’s called “leveling up,” among other things.
Is this encounter too hard? If you are hardcore, you can power your way through it, trying different tactics, and keep going. Or you can wuss out (I often do), get an extra level or two under your belt, get a better suit of armor, buy or quest for that Helmet of Brain Protection to protect you from the encounter’s Brain Burn attack, plus an extra few potions of extra healing, and now the encounter (and everything beyond it) is quite a bit easier. So long as this doesn’t involve hours and hours of senseless grinding, we’re good.
Thursday - June 30, 2011
Rampant Games - Character Skill vs Player Skill
The Rampant Coyote raises an interesting issue - Character Skill vs Player Skill:
The mix of player skill and character skill is a defining element of an RPG. In an RPG, you are playing one or more characters – characters who have defined (but dynamic) abilities and limitations that change over time as you make progress through the game.
If success is principally dictated by your actions and skill as a player, then it’s not an RPG. So if your character is supposed to be a mediocre shot, but as a player you are lining up and endless stream of head-shots for critical hits, then chances are that at least that aspect of the game is really not very RPG-ish. An RPG may blend the two elements by making your hits based on player skill and your damage based on character skill to try and strike a balance, which may satisfy many players. But there has to be some kind of cooperative give-and-take going where the actions (and skills) of the player are filtered by the character’s abilities and limitations.
These days, that’s a really, really fuzzy area, and not much of a dividing line. Are better weapons and armor an attribute of your character? Many games include “RPG elements” including some kind of upgrade mechanic. It’s not a hard-and-fast delineation. It’s a spectrum.
On the flip side, a game can’t be all about character skill either, or it’s not a game. It’s Progress Quest.
Wednesday - June 29, 2011
Rampant Games - Video Games: Protected Expression
I should have posted this yesterday, but Jay Barnson gives his opinion on the landmark decision by the Supreme Court to strike down California's anti-videogame law. His opinion is a bit more unique than a normal gamers due to the fact that these laws would have realworld consequences for the games that he is developing or hope to develop in the future. Here are a few snippets:
I remember the insanity surrounding the “Hot Coffee” scandal, where a lame sex-based mini-game had been disabled from a Grand Theft Auto game but not deleted entirely, and gamers found a way to manipulate the program to re-activate the content. Oh, the uproar! Oh the sudden surge in legislation by politicians looking to capitalize on the scandal to score “family values” points.
And oh, the chilling effect these bills and laws would have had on the industry! Especially on indies, had the laws gained traction.
Now, I’m personally a socially conservative person. I’m a religious guy. I have issues with some of the content in many games. But I don’t consider my mindset to be a political viewpoint, because I feel most of the time it is none of the government’s business. While there are certainly exceptions, in general I feel that this is the role of religion (and philosophy), not the state, brought about by persuasion rather than compulsion. And the ham-handed rules set forth by the attempts at videogame legislation by politicians who didn’t have a clue what they were attempting to regulate universally did for more “collateral damage” than any effect on the games they were specifically targeting.
So I am thrilled by this ruling. Does this mean video games are in the clear? The war is over? A lot of folks are skeptical, and I acknowledge that some people aren’t going to rest until they’ve castrated the medium. Defenders need to remain vigilant. But I think time is on our side.New media and styles inevitably come under attack, and the onslaught against video games is in direct proportion to its growth as a medium. But the longer they survive, the more the culture becomes acclimated to it. I think that most politicians will consider the cost of trying to fight or bypass the Supreme Court decision. As the Nintendo Generation becomes parents and politically active, video games become a harder and harder target. And more of our elected officials have been gamers themselves.
I hope that this decision will have a ripple effect in many other nations. But for here in the U.S., this feels like an incredibly substantial victory, and one less thing to worry about as a gamer or game developer.
*update* As of today Utah state representative Michael Morley has reporedly stopped his efforts to pass a bill targetted against the sale of violent video games.* So he is the first domino to fall. Who's next?
*Gamasutra's Aricle on Utah's Bill
Friday - June 24, 2011
Rampant Games - Rolling Your Own
A recent post at the Rampant Coyote discusses rolling your own character vs other options, a subject I'm sure many of you are passionate about:
Making your own character(s): For some, this is essential to the RPG experience. For others – like me – it’s no big deal. For some, it’s daunting and a reason to avoid playing RPGs altogether.
I remember tournaments back in the glory days of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons where players were assigned pre-generated characters. Or other times when a pre-gen might be in order. Then, as now in CRPGs, there was something more satisfying about making your own character from scratch, giving him or her a unique name, and calling them your own. Back then, I had binders full of characters for various RPG systems – some only played once or twice, some deceased, and even a few that were created for one reason or another but never played.
One character that I’d created but never played ended up getting “loaned” to another player. She hadn’t had time to create a character of the appropriate level for a game, so I handed the sheet to her. She became a regular in the campaign, and the character became her own – and one of her favorites. I didn’t miss the character too much. I ended up marrying that player, so I kept the character in the family or something.
I’ve played and enjoyed a lot of CRPGs where I little or no say in what character I played, and often little control over their progression as they increased in levels. I’ve played CRPGs where I had full control over their stats (even to the point of being able to enter any values I wanted to “import” my D&D character into the game) from the get-go, and even “had” to create an entire party of characters from scratch. Let me tell you, I almost didn’t get started playing Icewind Dale 2 because I was having so much fun making characters!
Tuesday - June 21, 2011
Rampant Games - Indie News Roundup
Jay Barnson has a new indie roundup. There is quite an assortment of RPG and a few JRPG indie games in the list. Here are a few of them:
Alternate Reality – The Remake Project
This is a planned full port of the classic RPGs Alternate Reality: The Dungeon and Alternate Reality: The City to modern systems. I never played ‘em, though I have a friend who speaks very highly of them. You can find more information here.
As mentioned last week, Frayed Knights is now beta. Woot. Testers have been unleashed upon it, and are now filling my inbox with reasons the game is still not quite ready for release. As if my horrid efforts to replace some stand-in monster art wasn’t reason enough.
Soldak’s Untitled Space-RPG
I am a fan of Soldak’s previous RPGs, and so I have a lot of faith in their upcoming space-adventure RPG. The latest blog updates are on components and crew for your roving spaceship.
Saturday - June 18, 2011
Rampant Games - Why Dungeons?
Jay Barnson's latest piece on cRPG design asks Why Dungeons?
A) They make structuring adventures easy
As a designer (pen-and-paper or computer/console game designer), the confining nature of a dungeon makes things a bit easier to structure. Dungeons are not open-ended environments, and form natural barriers requiring predictable navigation. This means designers don’t have to jump through all kinds of contortions to structure an interesting adventure without imposing arbitrary limits on players. Dungeons form natural tree structures (at least well-designed ones do), albeit with loops, which lends itself easily to creating ordered events, choke points, and so forth.
Of course, in many games the players can take some extraordinary measures to bypass them, like spells to pass through walls or teleport. This is very cool if the adventure is structured flexibly enough to tolerate this -it rewards the player for taking initiative. But it’s still an extraordinary event, not the preferred means of navigation. Whereas in an outdoor environment, it’s harder to justify why the player can’t just take a shortcut through the woods to go straight to the next castle.
Wednesday - May 18, 2011
Rampant Games - The Roguelikes Continued
Scavenhorde has another post on Roguelikes at Rampant Coyote, touching on Dungeons of Dredmor, Rogue Survivor and UnrealWorld. The article is titled "Part 3" but my database says we already have three other entries.
Friday - May 13, 2011
Rampant Games - Attrition and Resource Management
The latest CRPG design piece by the Rampant Coyote discusses Attrition and Reource models. It isn't really an opinion piece but he finally concludes both high and low attrition models have a place. On traditional systems:
The traditional model is based on Dungeons & Dragons, which is in turn based on wargaming of the era. In these types of games, attrition is a significant factor, even though the actual loss of characters might be (relatively) uncommon. Health and special abilities (typically spells) don’t automatically regenerate between encounters. If you hit a trap which damages the party in room 1, then they will be wounded going into the battle against the guards in room 2, and they’ll carry the injuries and fatigue with them in the battle against the baron and his thugs in room 3. Expend your best spells sweeping room 2 clean means you won’t have them at your disposal in room 3. You are likely weaker when encountering the final encounter than you were when you started.
Technically unrelated but I thought Rock, Paper, Shotgun's article A Death Is For Life, Not Just For Quickload covered bordering territory:
People often discuss the importance of “immersion”. It’s a pretty silly word. But while we at RPS like to tease those who claim their game will have “more immersion” than others, the core concept makes sense. It’s wonderful to get lost in the moment, carried away by the fiction. To physically dodge as the fireball comes toward you. To groan in pain as you land on a spike. To care when an NPC friend is in danger. And it’s obviously a widespread frustration when that “immersion”, that suspended disbelief, that embracing of unreality – whatever you want to call it – is broken. So I have a question. Why are we so quick to accept death?
Of all the things you’d imagine would break our concentration the most quickly, it would be death and resurrection. We scream in horror when there’s a logical inconsistency, when an NPC walks through a crate, or when the physics AI bugs out and a chair wobbles insanely in the corner of a ceiling. But when we get shot in the face, see the screen go red, and collapse to the ground, dead – meh – hit quickload. I’m the last to campaign for bloody “realism” in games (I find going outside offers me quite astonishing levels of realism), but I do like a notion of congruence in my games, and I think dying might stand out as an unlikely thing to get better from.
But we’re a community of nonchalant Lazaruses, unsurprised at our returning mortality, happy to leap back in time to before our mistake and carry on, slightly the wiser. It strikes me as a tad silly. It has, of course, always been the case. In fact, if anything it was more starkly daft in the early days of gaming, where we had “lives”, a finite number of reincarnations before we’d finally snuff it for good. At least there was some degree of finality back then, I suppose. No more. At a certain point all of gaming entered a cosmic cheat code and added infinite lives to every game ever.
Wednesday - May 11, 2011
Rampant Games - Guest Post: The Roguelikes #3
Skavenhorde is still going strong with his guest articles on roguelikes, with Part 3 now available and focusing on Linley's Dungeon Crawl and Legerdemain:
Linley’s Dungeon Crawl:
Linley’s Dungeon Crawl was started back in 1995 by Linley Henzell. Henzell left four years later when Linley needed to shift focus to his law degree and stopped developing Crawl. However this was not the end. He released the code under the GPL so anyone could work on it and work on it they did. When Linley left the game was up to version 3.30 and now it’s up to 4.0.0 (beta 26) with a few variants floating around the web. Most notably Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, but we’ll talk about that one in a minute. Unfortunately progress on Crawl has seemed to have halted with 4.0.0. The homepage hasn’t posted any news on it since 2004.
Enough history now for the good part. Crawl is a single dungeon roguelike with the main quest being to delve into the depths of the dungeon to retrieve the Orb of Zot and return to the surface. You’ll of course face an assortment of creatures whose only goal is to stop you on this quest.
From most accounts Crawl is a semi-lite roguelike. Easier to understand and jump right into than others like ADOM.
Friday - May 06, 2011
Rampant Games - Balance is Overrated
Jay Barnson writes a design piece titled Game Balance is Overrated:
Now, balance is a good thing in general. It’s important to make sure a games’ challenge doesn’t become so easy it becomes boring, or so difficult it becomes frustrating. It comes in many forms.You’ve got level-scaling, made notorious by The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. You have item restrictions that prevent you from obtaining too-powerful items early in the game which would make combat boringly unchallenging for your current level. You’ve got class balancing to make sure the game isn’t too easy or difficult for a particular class (in single player) and that all classes can compete on reasonably equal footing for slots in groups and raids in multiplayer games. And then there’s the effort that gets put into making sure that the various abilities and powers don’t interact in such a way that they create a serious loophole or exploit that nullifies the game’s challenge.
But taken too far, it makes the game too even, too balanced, and boring. I want a game to have spiky, imbalanced edges. Not something that wrecks the game, obviously, but I’m a believer that not every power should scale equally, and not every encounter should be defeatable at your current level. And finding magic items should be – well, magical. Nothing helps that sense of discovery and anticipation more than knowing that maybe – just maybe – you will find an item that’s truly a game-changer – at least for a while.
Wednesday - May 04, 2011
Rampant Games - Guest Post: The Roguelikes #2
The second part of Skavenhorde's articles on Roguelikes is up at Tales of the Rampant Coyote, discussing Angband and Nethack variants. A small sample:
TinyAngband: From the same author as XAngband. It’s just a shortened Angband. You only need to go down to level 27 and kill the big bad foozle. (Editor’s note: Only 27 now, is it? Piece of cake! Yeesh…)
MAngband: We have for your playing pleasure a multiplayer Angband. I mentioned in the beginning of these articles that I was somewhat new to the joy that are roguelikes, well what I never expected to find was that someone took one of these complex games online.
It’s real-time instead of turnbased and while on your adventure you can meet up with other players. Diablo 2 eat your heart out.
Wednesday - April 27, 2011
Rampant Games - Guest Post: The Roguelikes #1
Our own skavenhorde writes a guest post over at Tales of the Rampant Coyote, with a hefty piece on roguelikes. Some history, opinion, reviews and suggestions are all covered in a sort of roguelikes overview 101. A snip:
ADOM is a whole world with quests, plenty of character building, stories to follow and choices to make. It’s closer to a usual RPG than some of the other roguelikes. I’ve played. The charatcer building alone will keep you coming back for more. It offers ten different races and twenty different classes.
I’ve read that this roguelike is brutal on beginners and while I do agree I don’t think of that as a negative. Like other roguelikes it will also punish you through death. It’s the main way you learn from your mistakes. If you don’t like to read spoilers then you will die and die a lot before you figure out what creatures to be careful of and how to deal with them. Everything you first encounter will be a mystery to you and should be treated with kid gloves until you learn more about them. For me, that is part of the appeal to this roguelike or roguelikes in general. There are creative ways to handle situations. For example: are you low on food? Well try eating that corpse of that monster you just killed, but be aware that meat isn’t just meat in this game. There can be some unexpected consequences or bonuses when trying something for the first time.
What makes ADOM stand apart from the rest are its skill system, quests, an honest to goodness plot, monster behavior and other tiny little things like the random bonus you get when creating your character. There are other little things like a wilderness, talking to NPCs to get information about quests, weather and corruption.
Tuesday - April 26, 2011
Rampant Games - Guest Post: Lessons from Working at BioWare
While Jay Barnson is away, Tales of the Rampant Coyote has a guest post from ex-BioWarian (now indie developer), Dan Fedor. Dan writes Lessons I Learned While Working at BioWare and it's an interesting read:
I also got to see one other game ideation process from a slightly different angle: I pitched a game to BioWare. It was a small game. Less than a man-year of total work. I figured I was still fairly newbish, so smaller would be a safer bet. But, as it turned out…
The thing about studios is, they’re expensive to run. And more to the point, employees are expensive to keep. Employees need salaries, sure. But they also need benefits. And equipment. And space to work in. And support staff. This all adds up, unsurprisingly. A useful “napkin math” figure I learned while in the industry is that your average employee costs twice their salary over a year. Think about that, for a moment. Let’s say your average employee is making $50k per year. That probably means you cost your employer $100k annually. That’s over $8k per month!
So when it came to pitching my small game idea, the question of money inevitably came up. I met with our director of finance, and we started working some numbers. Suffice to say, even a small team over a small time adds up. And that doesn’t include overhead for a product website, marketing, community management, etc. It became pretty evident to me that my barrier to profit was much higher than I realized.
Wednesday - April 20, 2011
Rampant Games - The Impact of Magic on Fantasy Worlds
An interesting thought experiment over at Rampant Coyote with Jay Barnson thinking about how magic would really affect a typical fantasy world:
Fantasy worlds rarely take into consideration the full ramifications of the effect of magic in the game world. It’s probably easiest to take the approach that magic is rare enough (player-run magic users notwithstanding) that the effect is minimal on the fictional world that it might still resemble our own.
But would it? Imagine a few situations – which were actually somewhat real problems in eras where superstition and fear of witchcraft were more prevalent:
#1 – You are a farmer. Your livelihood – in fact, your very survival – is dependent upon your crop yield. Suddenly, half your crops sicken and die of some kind of disease, which has left your neighbors (so far) untouched. Your family may starve as a result. You know witches who have the power to do exactly this. You suspect a few people in your village of having that power. And one of them has a grudge against you.
Friday - April 15, 2011
Rampant Games - Small Choices
Jay Barnson has an excellent post on choices in RPGs, discussing the practical reality of choices impacting the gameworld, the disappointing implementation in many games but how small choices can work when well designed:
As a gamer, we want deeply meaningful decisions that can change the whole course of the story, a la the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. We want big, dramatic decisions with big, dramatic consequences.
Unfortunately, reality dictates that we must usually settle for something less. Too often it’s a lot less, and we get stupid decisions that feel meaningless for all their overwrought set-up. Worse, these decisions are given all kinds of moral gravity – you are required to choose between goody-two-shoes, evil jerkwad psychopath, or Rhett Butler “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” responses that feel forced and doesn’t often match your (or your characters) interpretation of a situation. (Yeah, I’m picking on Bioware again a little here, but it’s not just them).
It’s like the designers want to give us these great big, dramatic decisions, but it ends up being all sound and fury signifying nothing. Or very little. We get the set-up, but not the payoff.
Wednesday - April 13, 2011
Rampant Games - Indie News Roundup
Jay Barnson has a new indie RPG news roundup covering a raft of projects. As usual, we have been following many of them but he also covers several jRPG and online developments so head over for a comprehensive look.
Wednesday - April 06, 2011
Rampant Games - Are Games Becoming More Passive?
Don't all shout "Yes!" at once...the Rampant Coyote (following up on Gareth Fouche) asks if games are moving more towards appeasing that part of the brain that likes passively watching TV:
Gareth Fouche, creator of the Scars of War RPG in development, recently ranted a bit against a trend that may sum up the situation a little better: a trend towards what he calls passive engagement. It’s maybe not quite the same as passive entertainment, like watching a TV show, but more like reading a book. To extend his analogy, a TV show will progress with no action whatsoever on the part of the viewer – I can fall asleep in front of the tube if I want. But a book does require active effort on the part of the reader.
So there are levels of passivity, and reading a book isn’t really all that passive. Modern games, he contends, are tending to engage the player on more passive levels.
Friday - March 18, 2011
Rampant Games - Returning to Base
In his latest RPG design musings, Jay Barnson looks at the "home base" concept:
Many computer role-playing games (CRPGs) have a concept of a “home base” for the player – a safe location to return to in order to rest, heal, trade, advance, acquire and complete quests, and so forth. The actual location may change as the game advances, but these safe spots (which may literally be “save spots” in games with limited save points) get returned to again and again by PCs.
While not universal (especially in modern CRPG design), I’m hard-pressed to think of another genre that commonly features this kind of mechanic.
Friday - March 11, 2011
Rampant Games - Puzzles and RPGs
Jay Barnson discusses puzzles in RPGs, with particular attention to the different types and they can be used without frustrating the player:
The Self-Contained Puzzle: This is a classic puzzle or logic game that requires no external tools to resolve. Worst-case, these may often be resolved by brute force. Some players hate these. Some players think they are kind of fun. Sometimes they take the form of a mini-game. Examples that I’m dredging up from past games might include the riddle-protected chests in Betrayal at Krondor, or a mastermind-style puzzle in Wizardry 7. Or a twisty maze of little passages, all different.
The Sequence Puzzle: Sort of a variation on The Self-Contained Puzzle above, this is a puzzle that requires the player to take actions (often, simply moving) in a specific sequence. Failure may result in having to start over. The key to making these puzzles not suck is twofold: Making sure that there are clues to the correct sequence so that it’s not a pure trial-and-error experience; and making sure that failure is not too punitive. If each stage of an 8-stage sequence takes a full minute to complete, it’s going to piss off players.
Thursday - March 10, 2011
Rampant Games - Indie News Roundup
There's a new indie RPG roundup at Tales of the Rampant Coyote. Avadon, Planet Stronghold, Dungeon Legend, Dungeon Brawl, Din's Curse: Demon War and plenty more all get a mention. As usual, there are quite a few jRPGs but also some other discoveries - here's a snip on Dungeon Legend (and check out the video):
A third-person dungeon-crawler made in Unity for Mac / PC, this game advertises turn-based combat. The video shows very satisfying dice-roll sounds when you search for loot. It’s due this summer, and is currently in alpha testing. This is a pretty exciting little development that looks awesome. Hopefully it will play as well as it looks.
Tuesday - March 01, 2011
Rampant Games - How Much of a CRPG Should Be Optional?
Jay Barnson explores optional content in CRPGs in his latest blog post:
As a game developer, this is a little scary if you are developing any custom content for the optional areas of the game. Why would you spend all that time and effort making something that maybe only 10% of the players will ever see? If game-players were living in a vacuum, that would be a much bigger deal, but we gamers – contrary to how the media likes to portray us – tend to be pretty social. We talk. And we love games that allow us to compare different experiences.
But how much of that experience should be “optional?” The approach even among the classics are pretty widely varied. Even the games we celebrate as being so free-form typically had very little “interesting” content that was completely optional. If you found a dungeon in the game, there was usually some reason you’d have to visit it at some point in the game in your chain of tasks leading to the conclusion. That is, unless you have spoilers handy and are able to bypass certain vital clues / passwords.
Thursday - February 17, 2011
Rampant Games - Why Orcs?
Jay Barnson's latest editorial discusses hurdles in presenting a unique setting to players because they lack the context that comes with familiar settings - but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done:
For me, as a player, I want just enough background at the outset to know why I should care. The rest I can take in as I need it. The world should not be one that requires a massive info-dump at the outset.
Tolkienesque or D&D-style fantasy worlds have had decades to simmer in the popular geek culture’s mythology. That makes it very easy to use as a foundation for a setting and provide shortcuts to the player’s understanding. With just a few visuals or lines of exposition, you can effectively say, “Medieval fantasy world. Elves. Dragons. The orcs are named ‘borks’ but are functionally identical. We’ll tell you more later.” Done. You can then explain the critical importance of the annual Bork Pride Parade in the capital city of Sniffleheim at some point prior to the player needing this information.
It’s really hard to present a really unique fantasy world to players. Quite honestly, we tend to lose interest early on because it’s hard to construct that new mental model of the setting. This is why we keep falling back to variants on this traditional setting.
Friday - February 11, 2011
Rampant Games - 2011 Indies
Indie RPG's I'm Looking forward to in 2011 is a roundup of some interesting indies expected in 2011 over at The Rampant Coyote. The Age of Decadence, Avadon, Darklight Dungeon 2, Demon War, Frayed Knights and more all get a mention.
Wednesday - January 26, 2011
Rampant Games - Indie games: Be More Indie Please
Jay Barnsen from Rampant Games discusses the state of indie gaming. It's an interesting read into some of the problems with indie games:
Don’t Give Me Something I’ve Played Before
I’m enough of both a gaming geek and programming geek to be intimately familiar with the thrill of getting stuff up on the screen that works the way you envision it in your head, or more particularly from another game. Remember: Your job isn’t done there. It’s not enough to emulate your inspiration. If you are trying to appeal to me, as a fan of the original, remember that I’ve already played that game. I don’t want a reskinned, low-budget rehash of a game I loved. I want something familiar but different.
Provide a new twist on the mechanics. Play with concepts that were not taken far enough. Hey, you are an indie on a budget, why don’t you try scaling down the mechanics and distilling the experience into an even tighter core. Maybe your idea is a counter-terrorism version of X-Com. Seize upon that theme and think about what else could be done with that concept to make the gameplay more authentic to the theme and more interesting. IEDs? Hostages? Political twists?
Don’t just clone an older game. Use it for a jumping-off point, not a destination.
Tuesday - January 18, 2011
Rampant Games - Indie News Roundup
Time for a new Indie RPG News Roundup at the Rampant Coyote. There are a number of games we have covered but others include Legerdermain, Inaria, Magical Diary, Driftmoon, the latest Aveyond and Planet Stronghold.
Friday - January 14, 2011
Rampant Games - More on Simplifying
Jay Barnson writes about playing Eye of the Beholder recently and realising the simplicity of the gameplay. The short article actually muses about whether such simplicity could be brought to bear successfully with a modern product but it also opens a can of worms with some of those old classics:
Strip out any economy. Gathering gold – typically a staple of D&D-based RPGs – is outta there.
Strip out NPC interaction outside of combat. Or any idea of “quests” (which hadn’t quite gelled as a regular feature of RPGs at the time anyway).
Story is paper-thin, without much more plotline or background than your run-of-the-mill roguelike. [...]
Though people who claim Diablo isn’t an RPG might be on thin ice maintaining that this game series is, in spite of it being based on the original dice-and-paper role-playing game rule system.
Wednesday - January 05, 2011
Rampant Games - How Do You Roleplay?
If I were to boil it all down, it would come down to this: You use your imagination, and invest yourself into the game. Although as he suggests, a lot of that depends upon how well the game allows you to do that. I might suggest, alternatively, is you get out of it what you put into it, with a multiplier provided by the game. A good game has a high multiplier value. A crappy game approaches zero.
I read Scott McCloud’s acclaimed book, Understanding Comics, a few years ago and it really opened my eyes to things. The most powerful concept I learned was how more abstract art can be more compelling, as it allows the reader / viewer to project themselves onto the page. A detailed, more realistic character comes with baggage. A more abstract, cartoony character is more of a blank slate, compelling the reader to fill in the details – usually on a subconscious level.
I think that applies equally to games. Thus the continued success of the “silent hero” archetype in RPGs.
Thursday - December 09, 2010
Rampant Games - Thoughts on DA vs MM1
Last Monday, Rampant Coyote Jay Barnson posted about playing around with Dragon Age and Might & Magic 1...and finding MM1 more compelling. Today he has expanded on his MM1 thoughts (and added some XCOM for good measure):
Like many PC gamers of the early-to-mid 90s, I fell in love with X-Com: UFO Defense (AKA UFO: Enemy Unknown across the pond). However, there are many games since then that have tried – and failed – to capture my attention the way X-Com did.
You know what would have ruined X-Com for me (or at least weakened its appeal considerably)? If it had a branching storyline with fixed battles (even if I could have chosen to skip some or take them in a a different order). Or if it had a fixed “window” of funding and resource gain throughout the game to make sure things never got too easy or too hard – so that I was always facing an “appropriate” challenge for whatever stage of the game I was in. And if fixed team members that couldn’t perma-die.
Gee, sounds a lot like a few modern RPGs, doesn’t it?
Thanks to Thrasher for also sending this in.
Wednesday - December 08, 2010
Rampant Games - Indie Roundup
Rampant Coyote has his latest indie roundup, featuring Labyrinthica, Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch (interesting name, if nothing else), Magical Diary, Ella's Hope and more. There's also an update on Frayed Knights. As usual, the jRPG brigade is prodigious but indie fans should still take a look.
Friday - December 03, 2010
Rampant Games - Traditional Game Expansions vs DLC
Jay Barnson wades in on the thorny topic of DLC vs traditional expansions:
Then at one point (probably about 0.5 seconds after they decided to create an expansion in the first place), they hit upon the idea of re-releasing the game bundled with all of its expansions. Sometimes they might even throw in an extra new bonus or two, like a band’s “Best Of” album, for the gold / platinum / collector’s edition. New players, after hearing praise for the game for months (or years), could jump in on the bundle deal, and even some veteran players would re-purchase the game with all updates and patches pre-applied, and all the expansions in place.
That era’s not gone by a longshot, but the advent of downloadable content (DLC) sure has changed things a bit. Although DLC often still gets bundled up into a single expansion or deluxe edition (which I hope to see happen with Fallout: New Vegas on the PC), it does seem that the expansion concept has been cranked up to eleven. I have nothing against the theory, but I have found myself taking exception with the particulars that seem common.
Tuesday - November 30, 2010
Rampant Games - The Battle That Rages For Centuries
The Rampant Coyote makes some observations about turn-based combat and battle duration. Cue the forum wars...
I’m a fan of turn-based combat in RPGs. Not to the exclusion of real-time combat, but I love the little tactical mini-game of turn-based combat. I’m one of those people for whom the original X-Com might as well have been brought down from Mount Olympus itself by Promethius (in the hand that wasn’t holding a torch).
But even I have my limits. My number one complain about Wizardry 8 – which was otherwise a stellar RPG that seemed written specifically for me – was the length of its combat. The seemingly interminable final battle in Persona 3 almost (but not quite) spoiled the game for me, especially as I failed so close to victory the first time and had to replay the whole thing – which took me well into the wee hours of the morning. Stupid save-points. And my love of the classic “Gold Box” games – and their signature tactical combat in the style of miniatures-based 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons games – is tempered somewhat by the memory of some really long, drawn-out fights against random encounters. Particularly in the first game, Pool of Radiance.
Tuesday - November 09, 2010
Rampant Games - Weapon Stats in RPGs
The thing is, D&D’s weapon tables kinda-sorta made sense in terms of the abstract, wargame-y combat system from which it was derived. A combat round represented a full minute of fighting and represented multiple attacks. Gygax even suggested that weapon damage might not even represent actual injury so much as “near misses” representing the defender’s luck running out. (The abstraction went even further afield with armor reducing the chance to hit, rather than reducing damage on a hit).
But of course, players usually treated it as literal damage. And later games did the same. And while a big ol’ bastard sword might represent a bigger threat than a dagger over the course of a long fight, an individual hit is a different thing. With any lethal weapon, damage comes down more to being where it hit than the size of the weapon. Whether it’s a .45 bullet or a crowbill hit to the head, the lethality chance is pretty dang high. And then there’s the whole added factor of how people (and animals) can continue to fight or function after being mortally wounded. Even in a life-or-death struggle, it is about taking the fight out of the opponent rather than causing instant death.
Friday - October 22, 2010
Rampant Games - Combat and Kicking Your Butt
Jay Barnson writes an interesting piece about RPG Combat: Good Reasons Why Your Butt Got Kicked. The intro:
I felt like rambling on today a little bit about CRPG combat, and my philosophy on how combat should work in CRPGs. Of course, all CRPG combat systems are different, so it’s very hard find a enough commonality to compare them all. But we can start with the basics. Like getting your butt kicked. So I’ll focus on that.
My belief is that, as a player, you should TOTALLY get your butt kicked in combat from time to time.
Monday - October 11, 2010
Rampant Games - Character-Building Excercise
The Rampant Coyote writes about the move away from full character creation at the start of an RPG so gamers can get to the "fun" stuff quicker:
Modern CRPG design philosophy, at least so far as I can grasp from interviews and games, seems to hold that it is a sin to make a player wade through the character generation process prior to letting them get to “the fun part.” Character generation should be as streamlined as possible, minimized, and preferably delayed until after the adventure started. Players want story and action, not to be confronted with statistics.
Hey, I get it. It makes sense. You are promised on the box a game of adventure and discovery. But it starts out with a screen of numbers and unfamiliar terms that you are somehow expected to assign, balance, and not shoot yourself in the foot by making a magic user with an intelligence so low he can only cast the beginner spells. Oh, and rolling dice to create a character? Letting chance dictate that your character may be underpowered? Extra bad with bad sauce!
Monday - September 27, 2010
Rampant Games - "Old School Goodness" Now Poison?
The Rampant Coyote wades in on the "unplayable" old games issue raised by The Brainy Gamer recently. Jay takes a general approach, rather than focusing on Ultima IV, but makes some good comments:
While it was largely an accident borne of technological limitations, I think that these games demanded a level of investment on the part of the players. You couldn’t just “jump into” the Wizardry dungeon for a quick 15-minute session. You would get lost. You would die. While an experienced player could maybe make a quick foray without adequate preparation, to actually have a prayer of medium-term success you needed to commit to the game. You needed to invest a chunk of yourself into it. You needed to take action outside the pressing of buttons on the keyboard. You needed to grok the manual. You needed to map. You needed to take notes. You needed to plan.
But here’s the thing – I keep calling it an “investment” for a reason. As players, we got out of it what we put into it. Our investment into these games made them “real” in some small ways. We willed them into an existence beyond the monitor and floppy drive when we committed to studying up on flight maneuvers and what all those switches, dials, and gauges in the cockpit meant and how to use them. We gave them life when we drew out our maps on graph paper, and wrote up notes and connections of clues by hand like a real-life mystery. And we didn’t have an Internet full of spoilers to do all the work for us, either.
Thursday - September 09, 2010
Rampant Games - Indie Roundup
Time for a new indie roundup at Rampant Games. As usual, there's a bunch of games we cover regularly, as well as a bunch of RPGMaker, jRPG and other titles we don't. Among the ones we haven't covered is Recettear, which seems to be getting a reaction on various forums to their demo.
Wednesday - September 08, 2010
Rampant Games - The Seven Steps of Retro Gaming
Not specifically RPG related but a fun item at the Rampant Coyote. The Seven Steps of Retro Gaming:
Stage 3: Disappointment
Umm… you know, as much as you try to look past the old graphics, they really are… rough. What is that object really supposed to be? It’s either a sword or a person… Oh, it’s a house. The gameplay is a little more simplistic (in spite of its obtuse interface) than you expected, and there are a lot of things they are doing here that really have been done far better by more modern games. And did we mention ugly graphics?
Stage 4: Acceptance
Hmmm – okay, once you have read the manual and spent an hour or two playing, you kinda get into the rhythm of things. And it’s maybe not that bad. Sure, the graphics are primitive, but after a while you can look past that. But now, at last, you are finally playing, really playing the game. You begin to see the game as they must have seen it back when it was new. It’s not so much of a chore now, at least.
Friday - August 20, 2010
Rampant Games - Indie Roundup
The Rampant Coyote has a new indie roundup, with a mix of games we follow and a couple of new ones. Most notably, I haven't heard of Timelapse Vertigo but it sounds interesting and a video clip is supplied:
This has been chatted about in the forums, and it’s really starting to look like it’s coming together in a cool way. Timelapse Vertigo is an indie RPG set in the far future. Life on the Earth’s surface has long since been made impossible and the remnants of humanity now dwell in the Underrail, a vast system of metro station-states that, it seems, are the last bastions of a fading race.
Monday - July 05, 2010
Rampant Games - Building Character
Jay Barnson writes about character creation and some of the design choices - such as random die rolls vs fixed point-buy:
Except… there’s a little bit of our brain that loves the gamble. Look at random-content games like Diablo. Frankly, the randomized loot is half the fun of the game. It’s the same sort of compulsion that works for me in games that throw some randomness into the character creation process. Do I hit, or stand? Is this current collection of points sufficient for what I need to do? Maybe I was trying to make a wizard, but I just got some great fighter stats I should save off for another party member (in games where you play a party).
For some reason, this also appeals to me as more interesting decision-making than point-buy systems. Maybe it’s because I constrain myself too much to avoid weaknesses, and thus always end up with characters with very similar characteristics.
Tuesday - June 01, 2010
Rampant Games - Why Are RPGs So Hard to Create?
I think the answer is fairly obvious but the Rampant Coyote expands on the difficulties in developing RPGs over other genres. The first reason:
Content Consumption – RPGs are traditionally exploration-based and very content-intensive. The player is always pushing forward to see something new. In addition, older content – enemies, items, etc – quickly becomes obsolete. While there are still many opportunities for repetition of content as found in other genres (combat, usually the core mechanic, offering the most opportunities for repetition – but too much of that and players resent the “grinding”), it’s nothing like, say, an old-school fighting game where you are just changing the backgrounds from level to level. Players want a constant flow of upgrades to their equipment, lots of opportunities to customize their characters, and a constant opening of new areas to explore.
Friday - May 28, 2010
Rampant Games - Devolution Revolution
And then Diablo happened. “Ah-hah!” cried the industry, anxious to cover their collective butts and not to appear as fools when an RPG sold over a million copies after they’d declared the genre dead. “It’s a new paradigm! This is the evolution of RPGs.” See, they weren’t wrong. The old RPGs were dead. Long live the RPG!
Nevermind that Final Fantasy VII and Baldur’s Gate (which admittedly had some Diablo-esque elements) were also making insane amounts of money, too. FF7 pretty much dwarfing Diablo’s success. But it was, you know, a console title. And even Fallout garnered some major critical appeal and financial success, and it was an old-school-style RPG writ LARGE.
So really, what we may call “evolution” is really nothing more than a story of “chasing the almighty buck” and following a narrative provided for by men in suits. So now, the whole “RPGs are dead / dying” thing really rings hollow to me. I’ve lived through it before, and I know how it works. It’s got nothing to do with changing the paradigm. Sure, a lot has to do with appealing to the market’s tastes, but a significant part of that is simply putting out a quality product (and marketing the crap out of it). Quality – and especially innovation – doesn’t always sell, but a lack of either rarely does. And that had been the real problem.
Friday - May 21, 2010
Rampant Games - Making Epic 3D Dungeons #2
Jay has kicked up a second piece on making 3D dungeons, with quite a few Frayed Knights references for fans following that:
Cue Theme Music: Dungeons should have one or more “signature” locations that have a major, specific theme or feature or something stand out more than most. Something that really calls attention to it. These locations should either be at central nodes, or significant end-nodes. These help define the dungeon (“it’s the one with the…<feature name> room”), anchor it in the player’s mind, helps the player navigate the level, and provides strong visual rewards for exploration. For examples in the Frayed Knights pilot, there was the meditation chamber (with the toilet-shaped fountain), the torture / prison room, and the altar room with the statue of the fat, happy version of Pokmor Xang.
Tuesday - May 18, 2010
Rampant Games - The Most Significant Indies
The Rampant Coyote has collected what he considers the most "significant" indie RPGs. It's a personal list and not intended to be absolute. Most of the games are ones we've tracked over the years, from the Exile/Avernum series to Devil Whiskey to Eschalon, although a couple of older titles and RPGMaker JRPG games round out the list.
Wednesday - May 12, 2010
Rampant Games - Making Epic 3D Dungeons
In 1988, I attended a lecture by Tracy Hickman, author of a lot of … well, juvenile fantasy literature back in a time when such a thing hardly existed. He was also the author of the classic D&D module, Ravenloft. The lecture was specifically about adventure creation, and he spoke a few minutes about maps. He commented on how, if you tried to create a 3D model of one of the castles from these classic D&D modules, it would come out very “dumpy” and un-castle-like. That was part of his thinking when he designed the castle in Ravenloft. He tried to make it more realistic. He also discovered how terribly the third dimension tripped up pencil-and-paper gamers. They’d be convinced that some awful teleport trap had happened, when in reality they’d just made a mapping error.
Saturday - May 01, 2010
Rampant Games - Manual Labour
I think in many ways, modern CRPG design has been driven by the need to avoid needing a manual. This means – for many designers – that anything complex enough to require an explanation needs to be eliminated. “Streamlined.” While there are many kinds of games – especially for inexperienced or “casual” players – for which this is a virtue, it’s not a one-size-fits-all universal truth. Many gamers take great pleasure in plumbing the depths of complexity. I tend to find myself somewhere in the middle-range myself. But “interesting” systems – with enough complexity to prove “meaty” to gaming veterans, full of all kinds of exploration and interesting decisions within the rules of the game themselves – can be a lot of fun.
Wednesday - April 21, 2010
Rampant Games - How CRPGs Warped My Brain #3 & #4
Ultima VII- The Black Gate: Uh-oh. So my third experience of an RPG blowing my mind happened the same year as Ultima Underworld. I pretty much worshiped at the altar of Origin after this, until they went and blew it with Ultima VIII. But Ultima VII: The Black Gate (and expansion) remains to this day my all-time favorite RPG. From this game, my holy grail became this combination of open world design, extremely interactive environments, believable “simulated worlds” to explore, and beautiful storylines that were explored by the player rather than told to the player.
Thursday - April 15, 2010
Rampant Games - How CRPGs Warped My Brain #2
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar – This one had everything the Ultima III had, and more. And better. And exceeded. It was a far more satisfying experience that Ultima III. But my mind had already been blown by its predecessor, so my expectations were already high, and I guess I was somewhat inoculated against the full brunt of its awesomeness. But besides reinforcing my experiences with the third game, Ultima IV taught me that conversations with NPCs could be an interesting part of an RPG; that progressing through the game by maxing out virtues could be almost as fun as kicking butt; and that a non-combat conclusion could be just as satisfying as offing a Foozle.
Wednesday - April 14, 2010
Rampant Games - How CRPGs Warped My Brain
A cool title for what is essentially a trip down memory lane, with the Rampant Coyote listing some of the old CRPGs that influence his thinking, with further installments to follow. Here's an excerpt:
Wizardry I (The Most Influential RPG I Never Played) – I never played this game very much, as it didn’t become available for the Commodore 64 until very late. But I read a great deal about it, and eventually got the chance to play this masterpiece on other systems. I don’t think I ever got past level four or five of the dungeon. But while the title of the game was “Wizardry: The Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord“, the name of the game was Exploration and Resource Management. It was a true old-school D&D-style experience. It was the opposite of today’s Diablo-style action RPG hack-and-slashers. There was no rushing down through the levels half-cocked. You planned. You mapped. You measured. You turned back while the getting was good to return to town, knowing you’d have to fight your way back. You had to take your dungeon delving seriously in this game. And for many players, that was more compelling and immersive than any cool modern 3D graphics.
Wednesday - March 03, 2010
Rampant Games - Emulating the Table
Rampant Coyote writes about the ever growing divide between pen-and-paper gaming and modern cRPGs:
And the computer games! Computer games have leapfrogged their tabletop cousins in potential for living out fantasy. I mean, with a Wii controller you can literally swing an air-sword in the air to slay stunningly rendered 3D monsters now... who needs to be rolling dice? There's no need to call out, "I waste him with my crossbow!" and then determine what happened - you just aim and pull the trigger - or press the button. And your average gamer has quite possibly never rolled a twenty-sided die in an honest-to-goodness table-top game of D&D in their life.
So is it finally time for computer RPGs to bid their ancestral home goodbye, to quit trying to be a copy-of-a-poor-copy, let the niche hobby tabletop RPGs do what they do best, and evolve into something greater and different and more *cough*mainstream*cough*? A lot of noted game designers believe so. I probably shouldn't blame them if they do.
Tuesday - February 23, 2010
Rampant Games - Nobody Wants to Be an RPG!
They're just not cool enough, and they don't sell in the millions (for the most part), Jay Barnson Blogs on the RPG avoidance issue.
First it was British game development's biggest mouth, Peter Molyneux, claiming that "Fable 3 isn't an RPG." After years of saying he was going to redefine the genre, he changed his tune to say he's going to abandon it. Kinda.
Now, the exemplar series of Japanese RPGs (jRPGs), Final Fantasy, is apparently abandoning the RPG genre as well. The RPG "template" was just too stifling, and the creators were aiming to go off in new directions without any preconceived expectations and requirements.
At least, that's what they are saying now.
Kat Bailey notes this recent trend in her article, "The Loneliest Genre." Mass Effect 2 (and Mass Effect 1) really look like hybrid FPS / RPGs to me (which, I stress, is cool and all...) While Dragon Age: Origins (which I still haven't played) sounds to be pretty much good ol' RPG on the inside, a lot of the marketing did try and make it feel like... something else.
Sunday - February 21, 2010
Rampant Games - Indie Roundup
In addition to the Frayed Knights update, Rampant Coyote has a new Indie Roundup. In addition to the games we cover, Spirit Engine 2 (now freeware) and RPG Maker jRPGs Vastar and Aveyond: The Lost Orb get mentions.
Tuesday - February 09, 2010
Rampant Games - Indie Roundup
The Rampant Coyote has kicked up a new indie RPG roundup, ranging from news we cover such as Cyclopean and Din's Curse through to indie jRPGs such as Aveyond: The Lost Orb and Planet Stronghold Alpha.
Monday - January 25, 2010
Rampant Games - Favourite Indie of 2009?
You've gotta have a poll at this time of year - or at least, something close. Rampant Coyote has whipped up an impressive list of the indie RPGs released in 2009 to aid discussion. There's a ridiculous number of titles (dominated by RPG Maker anime stuff) but it's worth a look for any indie fan.
Thursday - December 31, 2009
Rampant Games - 7 Things That Really Annoy Me #2
This is a follow up to the post other day, with the Rampant Coyote now discussing modern RPGs. A snip from Seven Things That Annoy Me About Modern RPGs...Sometimes:
3. The Magical Mind-Controlling Monologue: Getting Suckered Into Boss Fights
Okay, I know I'm walking into a big boss fight. I used stealth to peek through the door, dang it. So I prepare my party. I buff up. I position my party carefully in formation. And then... I get a big ol' cut scene that I can't skip through fast enough, and by the time it's done my buffs have almost worn off. Oh, and to top it off, my entire party has now walked into the CENTER of the big bad boss's lair, allowing themselves to be flanked and surrounded. Apparently the villain's monologue had mind-controlling powers that made my whole party turn stupid.
Solutions / Exceptions: Okay, high drama and storytelling aren't well-served when the protagonists do the SMART thing and nuke the villain's lair from orbit (it's the only way to be sure...). But games should try to avoid nullifying all of the player's preparations for the sake of drama. Or at the very least, provide a rational explanation for why the player character allowed herself to be pulled from an excellent sniper position to the center of the evil overlord's throne room, surrounded by guards.
Wednesday - December 30, 2009
Rampant Games - 7 Things That Really Annoy Me
...Except when they don't. Rampant Coyote assembles a list of seven things in old-school RPGs that annoy him - and the exceptions to every rule. Here's number one:
1. Mandatory Food (or other daily maintenance costs)
Ah, food - the great money sink. While it might be somewhat challenging at lower level when money is scarce, it's merely an annoyance at higher levels. And it grows to be a big annoyance over time. Let's just assume that --- like having to excrete wastes as well --- eating is just something that happens "behind the scenes," okay? Unless it's something special - like having a feast with the king or eating an enchanted apple - I don't want to worry about it. I don't want to pay a tax on staying alive.
I shouldn't have to say this, but I will anyway - non-mandatory food (where, for example, an apple gives you a slight health boost) is fine.
Exceptions: If it's a "survival fantasy" kind of game - like Ultima Underworld or Arx Fatalis, where food is not something taken for granted by anyone - then the above doesn't apply. I actually enjoy the verisimilitude. It's no longer an annoyance, but a key part of the narrative. (Hah! I caught a fish!)
Strangely, the cost of staying at an inn (which is functionally equivalent) usually doesn't bug me - especially if there is a "free" alternative somewhere in the game that I can return to if I'm feeling particularly skinflint-y.
Wednesday - December 09, 2009
Rampant Games - Class-based vs Skill-based
The Rampant Coyote's latest post looks at class-based vs skill-based character development and the difficulties in getting the latter right. I feel he misses some obvious examples for the different systems but, as usual, it's an interesting question:
When I "graduated" from Dungeons & Dragons to other dice-and-paper RPGs back in my teens, I became a big fan of skill-based systems. It was The One True Way of RPGs. I dismissed class-based, level-based games as merely quaint but entertaining relics of a bygone era to me. It took a few years before I came back around in my thinking and learned to re-appreciate the strengths of class-based games. I like both styles pretty equally nowadays.
But with computer RPGs, I lean towards class-based systems. This isn't a matter of preference, but practicality. I would love to play some more, well-done skill-based CRPGs, and my hat is off to those developers bold enough to build them. But it's tough to do well. Very tough.
Friday - December 04, 2009
Rampant Games - Game Design: Mazes Suck
Game Design: Seven Ways to Make Mazes Suck Less
Maze (n): A confusing intricate network of passages.
The maze is a popular old-school gaming standard. It's a gameplay device that sounds awesome on paper, especially for adventures and RPGs. It's a navigational challenge, requiring problem-solving and memory skills. It's alternative gameplay to supplement existing mechanics, and most importantly it is EASY to implement! What's not to like?
The first maze appearance in a video game that I'm familiar with was in the original Colossal Cave Adventure by Will Crowther and Don Woods. There were two mazes: the little twisty maze of passages all alike were created by Crowther, and Woods created the maze where all the passages were different. It was then, in the 1970s, that players first began experiencing the joy of mazes in computer games. And I believe it was then, in the 1970s, that players discovered the truth about mazes in computer games:
Wednesday - December 02, 2009
Rampant Games - Indie Round-Up
Rampant Coyote has a new indie RPG roundup with several games we follow here, plus others such as a new post-apoc project PARPG in early development, a new Telepath RPG (you may remember the strategy version we covered a while back), Cute Knight and more.
Thursday - October 22, 2009
Rampant Games - Indie RPG News Round-Up
Rampant Coyote has done a quick round-up of what's been going on in the indie rpg world. In it is news on Knights of the Chalice, Din's Curse, Depths of Peril, Aztaka, The Three Muskateers: The Game, Scars of War, Legie, Cyclopean, The Broken Hourglass, Doublebear's Zombie RPG, Legend, and Eschalon 2.
Wednesday - October 07, 2009
Rampant Games - Character Creation: What's Your Pleasure?
A guest post at Tales of the Rampant Coyote by Greg Tedder talks about his love of character creation and then some favourite games and why creating characters was so fun:
This post may read a bit like a review, but the games here are not in review, their rules engines are. I have trouble playing an RPG and not wondering how exactly each stat effects each one of my actions. It adds an intriguing element, makes me want to try things, tweak, and try again. I have been playing Realms of Arcania lately and loving it again. I spent around 2 to 2 1/2 hours just creating my party. Just to further put myself in perspective, I very rarely get an opportunity to play PnP but when I am waiting on my wife at the book store I enjoy thumbing through the rule books to see how each one works. Interesting stuff. So I want to go through several RPG’s and point out the points that made the rule system fun for me.
Thursday - October 01, 2009
Rampant Games - What is a Roguelike?
Jay Barnson asks an interesting question - what is a roguelike? I suspect this is a bit like defining the term "RPG" - it sounds easy at first but tends to slip of your grasp easily:
What is a "roguelike?" And where can the roguelike genre be taken from here?
I'm not talking about the Wikipedia definition, though it's a good start. I've got a fairly broad definition, myself - a roguelike is an RPG (see my scientifically and syntactically and legally robust definition of an RPG here) with randomly generated geography and other content. But even that definition is awfully squishy.
Wednesday - September 23, 2009
Rampant Games - There's a Reason It's Called Back Story
The Rampant Coyote has some comments on improving game writing - specifically, by allowing gamers to discover the back story as they play, rather than excessive exposition up front:
There's a running gag in dice-and-paper circles about gaming store owners and employees not wanting to hear about customers' characters.
It's amusing because it's traditionally all-too-true. I've never been employed by a gaming store, but on my infrequent visits I, too, have found myself enduring an annoying customer who takes my passing interest in all things RPG as license to launch into a four hour diatribe about their "awesome" character, their back story, and detailed enumerations of everything they have done on every adventure they've had since first level. Unfortunately, offering a polite, "That sounds cool," and hastily walking away from them often only serves to encourage them to follow and continue their exposition.
Game Masters can be just as bad. They can expound upon their world / campaign as lovingly and at such length as if it were their own child. Only a historian or accountant could have such a love for timelines, details, and numbers. They are Cliff Clavins of their own worlds.
Monday - September 14, 2009
Rampant Games - 17 Combat Encounters
Jay Barnson lists 17 different types of combat encounters in the hope of seeing more variation in CRPGs:
14) Non-Lethal Attacks - The enemy launches a quick raid set the party back (and gain treasure) rather than to kill them. It may be a quick robbery to deprive the party of equipment (or the functional equivalent via a Disenchanter or Rust Monster), or an attempt to lure / force the party into a trap, or simply to get them to waste spells, potions, and charges on magical items for an all-out battle that doesn't happen until later. Another example is an entirely illusionary encounter, which again may cost the party resources.
Monday - August 24, 2009
Rampant Games - How Long Should an RPG Be?
A topic that rises from time to time, Jay Barnson muses on the length of RPGs in his latest blog entry:
When I was at Infogrammes (now Atari) , the company head Bruno Bonnell told us that a study had shown what many of us suspected - the majority of players never "finish" their games. They would eventually give up and move on to the next game. Bonnell's contention was that we were wasting half our development efforts if the players were only playing half the game. I don't think the math necessarily applies - you reuse a LOT of code and content in later levels that is needed throughout the game.
While he wasn't speaking specifically of RPGs at the time, but I've little doubt that most copies of RPGs in the 1990s never accessed the "ending sequence" file on the hard drive. Players tend to play until they grow bored or frustrated, and then quit. Those aren't reactions any developer wants to his or her game. But even the most sadistic game designer really wants and expects players to actually see the endgame.
Monday - August 17, 2009
Rampant Games - Positive and Negative Feedback Loops
Jay's current blog entry consists of a fascinating explanation of the use of Positive and Negative feedback loops being incorporated into basic game design and the pitfalls that might be encountered. It's something I'd never considered, but now that I'm aware of it, I'll be more observant in future. Here's a short sample:
Positive feedback reinforces the player's current performance, whether good or bad. It acts as a positive multiplier. Whereas negative feedback tends to push the player towards the middle ground, becoming more challenging for better players and giving a boost to the players who are struggling. It is, in effect, a negative multiplier on the player's efforts and success.
When you have a loop, the positive or negative feedback multiplies itself even further. Poorly performing players might find themselves in a "death spiral" in a positive feedback loop situation, and successful players may find the same game "too easy." On the flip side, negative feedback loops can cause a sense of frustration that their exceptional efforts OR their failures have no effect on the game.
Both can be powerful tools in game design. And powerful weapons to ruin a game if used incorrectly.
So with a positive feedback loop, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The dude who is losing in the RTS has an increasingly more difficult time making a comeback. The guy with the mad skills in a scrolling shooter gets all the power-ups necessary to make the rest of the level even easier for him, while the player who is struggling faces a tougher time of it without the advantages of getting the right power-ups.
Is this desired behavior? Maybe.
Head on over and have a read.
Wednesday - July 15, 2009
Rampant Games - Encounters as Boundaries
A short piece from Tales of the Rampant Coyote on encounters as "soft boundaries":
His philosophy - which I adhere to - is that it is far better for the players to choose to follow the prepared course of the game than to be forced to do so.
More powerful enemies in CRPGs are one example of a (sometimes frustrating) "soft boundary." The player isn't prevented from making a run into the deep end of the pool while still in the early stages of the game, but the difficulty of the encounters may convince her that it's more profitable to go back to an earlier area to pick up some quest threads. But the possibility of heading into more dangerous territory remains open ... maybe to make a mad dash to another town that sells more powerful equipment. Why not? In the past, these kinds of self-initiated quests have proven to be among the highlights of several games I've played.
An essential part of a great RPG, for me.
Wednesday - June 17, 2009
Rampant Games - Extreme Dungeon Makeover
Another excellent post from Jay Barnson with Extreme Makeover Dungeon Edition asking how dungeons can be better designed to make more sense. Here's an early quote:
Ghosts. Forty thieves. Dogs with eyes the size of dinner plates. Secret kingdoms of elves and trolls. Old gods. Witches. Giants. In folk tales, myth, classic literature, the land beneath the world is a place of magic and mystery. And, frequently, monsters.
So it's very natural that they'd be part of a game rooted in myths, legends, folklore, and fantasy literature. In fact, one student of RPG history has suggested that in the original rules for D&D, dungeons were much more like the mythic underworld, and in many ways the very nature of the dungeon itself was hostile towards intruders from the world above.
But there's a small problem with the underlying concept:
Dungeons are kinda stupid.
Friday - June 12, 2009
Rampant Games - Telling the Monster's Story
Another thoughtful piece at Rampant Games with Jay wandering across a few topics but essentially calling for monsters and NPCs to make a little more sense. Like me, I'm sure you've often thought "but why are all these monsters here?" or "why does that monster do as he was told and guard that treasure?" But it doesn't just apply to monsters:
The designer just needs to provide enough dots for the players to connect so that a picture can emerge. I've seen concept art and design documents - there's usually a whole ton of thought that goes into these things that never appears in any form in the game. Why not? It doesn't need to be front-and-center, nor does the player have to be forced to learn it all before cleaning its clock in ten turns or less.
And this isn't limited to monsters. What about that shopkeeper? Yeah, the one you only click on to convert your half-ton of rusty swords and armor into gold. Does he have a story? A dark secret? The rotting corpse of his wife under the floorboards, whom everybody believes left him for a cartwright in another village a year ago? And if you find out, do you turn him in, and lose your easy access to a junk-to-gold converter?
Tuesday - June 02, 2009
Rampant Games - Cursed Items
Jay Barnson's latest RPG design post looks at cursed items and how the concept can be improved:
Most of these cursed items were designed, I believe, as a penalty for greedy players who had memorized the magic item lists of the earlier version of the game. This added to some element of risk to the equation - which makes the game more fun when the risk pays off. But, like the risk of death, it's only fun if the risk is avoided. Or when the annoying player in the group who calls dibs on almost every magic item suddenly falls prey to Boots of Dancing or a -2 cursed longsword.
But for the most part, cursed items sucked. Early attempts to recreate D&D for the computer sometimes included cursed items, but the fact that most games ignore this aspect of old-school role playing games is probably telling. But the concept isn't completely without merit. There are two ways that I can think of that make cursed items an interesting and even enjoyable part of the RPG experience.
Wednesday - May 20, 2009
Rampant Games - In Defence of Hit Points
Another thought-provoking post from Jay Barnson, this time looking at the tradition of "hit points":
Hit points originated as an abstract representation of the ability to absorb attacks by a military unit of organization. When pulled from the wargame world to Dave Arneson's Blackmoore campaign (the origin of Dungeons & Dragons), this arbitrary measure was retained. The value made little sense - while a certain number of damage points might work to measure a ship's seaworthiness or a platoon's ability to take casualties and continue fighting, it was a poor measurement of an individual's health. After all, people don't just keep functioning unhindered while absorbing loads of damage, and then suddenly conk out once an empirical threshold is reached.
Wednesday - May 13, 2009
Rampant Games - The DM's Special
The Rampant Coyote's latest post is on "DM specials" - those monsters designed to catch you off guard, such as the classic mimic. Not my favourite game element but they do add colour to "old school" dungeon designs:
Suddenly - shock and horror! - the chest itself attacks. It is a mimic - a creature which has disguised itself to appear as a treasure chest to lure unsuspecting adventurers to their doom!
Nothing says "Old School RPG" like these kinds of monsters. Ed Greenwood (creator of the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons & Dragons) once used the term "DM's Special" to describe these creatures that seemed designed purely to trip experienced players up. While most monsters in fantasy RPGs require you to not think too hard about their ecology or how they might have possibly evolved, these kinds of creatures went beyond the pale in this respect. These things were predators optimized for a world full of dungeons and a steady supply of treasure-hunting adventurers to eat.
Thursday - May 07, 2009
Rampant Games - You Got Adventure in My RPG!
Another interesting post from the Rampant Coyote on the inclusion of Adventure game elements in RPGs:
I still like a dose of adventure game in my RPGs. Maybe because there's still some old programming in my head that still mixes 'em all together like they did in 1981, but a little bit of the old adventure game puzzle-solving makes the grind go down easier. So long as it's not too much of a head-thumping experience, that is - and with the ease of obtaining hints on the Internet, that's not too much of a problem anymore.
The problem is that the adventure game puzzles can run counter to what I consider good RPG design principles, and that creates a jarring experience.
Wednesday - May 06, 2009
Rampant Games - RPG Design Post
Jay Barnson has a really interesting post on Tales of the Rampant Coyote that raises a number of issues but centres on the place for really difficult scenarios that force unusual or experimental solutions (and not the typical good combat tactics). Using the D&D module Tomb of Horrors as an example:
The result? The most powerful spells in that adventure were not the fireballs and lightning bolts and insect plague spells. In fact, Tomb of Horrors virtually gave away the trick by having very few monster encounters in the entire adventure. No, the "trick" to both of these adventures (well, Necropolis was actually a collection of about eight adventures) was the use of utility spells. And creatively thinking outside the box. And connecting patterns together. Oh, and - if possible - interrogating prisoners (or even interrogating the dead with spells like Speak With Dead).
Things like Divination spells were the chief weapons in a caster's arsenal. The Disintegrate spell, when I ran the adventure, was not used against enemy forces, but was rather used to bypass a really deadly-looking trap. That's right - Disintegrate CAN be used to obliterate stone, wood, and steel too - not just enemies. Or did you forget?
Saturday - April 25, 2009
Rampant Games - Why Indie CRPGs?
Part playlist, part indie evangelism and part a plea to expand the boundaries, Jay Barnson has posted Why Indie CRPGs? at Tales of the Rampant Coyote. It has a bit of a jRPG bent to it but is an interesting ramble:
When I was in junior high, Dungeons & Dragons was all the rage. Non-geeky-types were even experimenting with it, because they'd heard all this scandalous, controversial rumors about it. You wouldn't have to do much to find yourself in a game run by a stranger. Different DMs (the people who ran the game) all held different ideas and approaches to the game. Some of them admittedly just plain sucked, and I still want a refund on those hours of my life I wasted. But many of them provided us with adventures that were just boatloads of fun. The worlds and adventures we shared are pretty much lost in another decade now; I don't know that their creators would accurately remember them now. But these amateur game designers / storytellers would run us through the paces in their imaginary landscapes made "real" by word and interaction, and we had a hell of a good time.
Indie computer RPGs capture this feeling for me. What they may lack in polish and production values, these games often more than make up for in enthusiasm and creativity. The rawness can be an asset, allowing them to explore areas that their more refined mainstream cousins just can't go. The personalities of their creators shine through, reflecting a level of individuality in imagination that often gets filtered out or only revealed in tiny pieces in larger games designed by committee and corporate decree.
Wednesday - March 18, 2009
Rampant Games - Indie RPG Roundup
The Rampant Coyote has a roundup of indie news, mostly covering titles we don't cover (such as jRPGs) but it might be worth a look if your tastes run in those directions. Aveyond 3, Dire Desire, 3 Stars of Destiny, Heritage and Science Girls get a mention. Here's 3 Stars of Destiny:
Ah, it's always nice to talk about indie RPGs that are actually out now and available for download!
By the prolific creator of Laxius Force, 3 Stars of Destiny is a new RPG that features dozens of hours of gameplay, 50 unique quests, and lots of secrets. The game concerns the machinations of an evil god to obtain the "3 stars" - three young people who, between them, possess an "unusual energy."
This is French RPG designer Indinera Falls' seventh RPG. You may recall the interview with him back in November after the release of Laxius Force. As usual for Aldorlea Games' latest releases, the world and cast are extensive. 3 Stars of Destiny also offers three difficulty levels and lets you select the monster encounter rate, so you can customize the experience to your skill and / or patience level.
Monday - March 02, 2009
Rampant Games - Charisma, The Dump Stat
Free of never-ending Wiz8 battles, Jay Barnson has turned his attention back to RPG design issues with Charisma, The Dump Stat. The pieces looks at social skills and the problems with current dialogue design as he sees them:
If we want to make non-combat, social encounters an integral part of a CRPG, we need to shake things up a bit. We probably need to make some fundamental changes to the very idea of how social interactions work. Social interactions need more feedback, twists, bends, and alternate resolution. As always, I think of the one thing that works reasonably well in CRPGs, and that is the combat system. So how could we make conversations reflect the kind of action we get in combat.
Tuesday - January 06, 2009
Rampant Games - Exploring Other Dimensions
Rampant Coyote Jay Barnson muses on exploring other dimensions beyond geography, to make the content creation easier. This is a key point for indies but perhaps it could also allow development time to focus on other interesting aspects:
One of the things that makes RPGs so friggin' difficult to make for indies is the sheer quantity of content required for the traditional exploration-based gameplay that is one of the hallmarks (but, I note, not necessarily a requirement) of computer role-playing games. Indies have a constrained budget, almost by definition - and all that content can be really, really expensive to create.
Besides using higher-level building blocks to create content, another approach I've been fascinated by is to separate "exploration" from geography. Television shows re-use the same sets over and over again. It's usually when they decide to take a road trip to some exotic location that they jump the shark. While television shows aren't exactly a key example of "exploration," they do explore ideas, characters, and issues. While the locations change, the context changes each time. The bridge of the Enterprise may usually be the same (except when it's half-destroyed), but the people, time, and situations change. And those are things that could be equally fun to explore in an RPG.
Monday - December 29, 2008
Rampant Games - Why Online Activation Sucks
The latest entry over at Tales of the Rampant Coyote looks at the 'games as product versus service' argument and the perils of online activation:
...Games are a product, or they are a service.
We have expectations of products. My lawnmower is a product. If it expires after it's warranty period, I expect to be responsible for getting it fixed or replaced. The rights and responsibilities are my own. But I also do not have any obligations to the original manufacturer. I do not need to call Sears for permission each season to use it, or for permission to use it to mow my neighbor's lawn. If I want to loan it to my neighbor, that's my right. If I want to sell it at a yard sale, I also have that right. If my daughter wants to make money during the summer using it to mow other people's lawns, that's also our right. Likewise, beyond the product's suitability for its advertised purpose and some reasonable assurances of safety and quality (though what it "reasonable" has certainly been twisted in the U.S. under the manipulations of the legal profession), there are no obligations on the part of the manufacturer or seller. The implied consumer contract with products is both simple and natural.
A service, on the other hand, is a different animal, and is neither so simple or so natural. But we've made it work. Any "implied" contract is trumped by often confusing written ones, but there are some expectations there, too. We pay for ... well, a service. There are greater obligations for both parties, particularly on the part of the service provider - but in return they get greater control over whatever it is they are offering. For example, services are often non-transferrable. I can't just let my neighbor "borrow" my insurance policy for a trip to the emergency room.
The online activation thing feels to me a lot like a case of a publisher trying to have its cake and eat it too. (Not that I ever really understood that phrase - I guess after you eat it you no longer have it or something.) They want to restrict the consumer rights as if it was a service, but they don't want to take upon themselves the obligations of truly being a service provider...
Sunday - December 07, 2008
Rampant Games - Can't I Be Just a Little Bit Evil?
Jay's latest post at Tales of the Rampant Coyote discusses moral choices in games. The opening:
A friend (Space Bumby) was complaining over the weekend about how her character in Fable 2 had been growing ever more pure because she wasn't eating meat. It annoyed her because not only does she not consider vegetarianism to be any kind of virtue, but her rationale was strictly aesthetic. She thought all that muscle was making her character look fat. Eating vegetarian foods - especially celery - lowered the bulk. Yet the game contributed arbitrary moral value to her actions.
What kind of moral or ethical decision is this? Scoring you because you eating your vegetables?
Monday - November 17, 2008
Rampant Games - D&D and Mudflation
Jay Barnson writes an interesting article about "mudflation" in D&D (described below), based on some work by one Mike Hensley. Here's the intro to the issue:
It makes sense when you think about it. After all, lets say you have a world where the most powerful magic item in existence is a +3 sword. You introduce a new expansion or some brand new content to make your long-standing players happy (the newer players are still fresh enough to enjoy the old stuff). A lot of these players already have +3 swords. Are they going to be happy with the introduction of a new +2.5 sword? Of course not. They are going to want some new, cooler, more awesome items and powers for their characters!
So the new content includes an uber +4 sword! Very awesome! The players cheer! They upgrade! But now there's a whole bunch of now-useless +3 swords that USED to be the awesome sword of the game. But now they are junk. So the high-level players sell / give these swords to all the lower-level players who are struggling to kill vorpal bunnies with rusty knives. So now the vorpal bunnies are no longer a challenge, which means players are able to level up through all these challenges that were never designed for "twinked" characters very quickly.
Repeat this a few times for a mature world, and you get an economy and a power-level that speed of progress that was unimaginable to the original players.
A few months ago, Mike Hensley discovered that this was not limited to online computer games. Performing a simulation across multiple editions of Dungeons & Dragons, he compared the performance of a first level fighter against a series of goblins in one-on-one fights to see how they'd fare.
Thursday - November 06, 2008
Rampant Games - Learning the Scales
Jay Barnson writes on scaling in CRPGs, with examples showing the frustrations of getting it wring but the potential advantages with appropriate use:
I was going to make another post on Wizardry 8 today. I took about a week off from playing it, and jumped back in, only to find the "random" encounters were once again consuming a good deal of my time. I've been running around Rapax Rift for a while now, and found an interesting situation - the random encounters seem to be much harder (and longer) than the "fixed" encounters at my level (pushing level 20).
When I open a door, I'm often faced with four to six monsters at or below my character level. The patrols, on the other hand, consist of eight to sixteen creatures around my level, and I'm frequently running out of spell points by the time the battle is over. So - resting and returning, I'm facing the same encounters again immediately. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's a relief to hit some rooms, because I can fight four or five of these semi-fixed encounters in a row.
Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but it feels like gaining higher levels is actually penalized... things get harder, instead of easier, as you improve.
Wednesday - November 05, 2008
Rampant Games - The Devil is in the Details
Jay Barnson writes about his love for simulation detail and how that sometimes intersects with realism vs fun in games in his latest blog piece:
I discovered while fencing last night that my knee doesn't like my trying to bend it the opposite direction. As I came down badly on a failed lunge, I dropped my foil and collapsed to the floor, but fortunately the damage was minimal and I was able to leave under my own steam. I'm limping around a bit, and I'll no doubt be feeling it in the morning, but it looks like a minor injury.
I guess you could say I made a critical fumble on my attack check.
My opponent was quick to come to my aid and make sure I was okay (a question I didn't know the answer to myself for a couple of minutes). I thought (afterwards) that if this had been a REAL combat, with deadly rapiers instead of sporting foils, my blunder would probably have been lethal. Called shot to the head as I collapsed. Not very dramatic, or fun, but that's just how reality works sometimes.
Tuesday - November 04, 2008
Rampant Games - Indie RPG Roundup
The Rampant Coyote has whipped up a new Indie RPG news roundup, with brief coverage of an indie jRPG called Laxius Force, DROD RPG: Tendry's Tale and other projects we know well.
Wednesday - October 22, 2008
Rampant Games - Planning Obsolescence
The Rampant Coyote tackles an interesting topic in his latest blog piece. I'll let Jay introduce the matter:
One of the problems that has existed since around 1982 (when Wizardry 2 was released) has been the issue of dealing with sequels and character power. Wizardry 2 was the first commercial CRPG I can think of that allowed you to move characters over from a previous game, but it was far from the only one. The problem is that your characters at the end of one game are usually pretty freaking buff, with killer gear and stuff. So what does the sequel offer when your character is already level 1 billion, and wields the Awesome Sword of Awesomeness? Up the level cap to a trillion and provide an Even Awesomer Sword of Epic Awesomeness? Do you drop the player's characters level down to a capped point and strip them of their best gear? And then what do you do with game three?
Wednesday - October 15, 2008
Rampant Games - Reminiscing Ultima
As the title says, Jay Barnson has been reminiscing the Ultima series, trying to express why it was so good:
DGM put the question to me. What made Ultima VII - still my favorite RPG - so awesome for me. My answer sucked. I listed some of the features that really struck me then --- and still do now. But the features alone didn't make the magic that I'd love to recapture. Much of it is probably just in my head (and in my equipped +2 Rose-Tinted Glasses of Nostalgia), but the question really made me think.
Saturday - July 19, 2008
Rampant Games - Hey! You got science fiction in my fantasy!
Rampant Coyote Jay Barnson's latest post muses on the topic of mixed science fiction / fantasy worlds, which - as he points out - used to be more common:
Back at the birth of RPGs (generally acknowledged to be around 1974, the time of the first publication of the D&D rules), science fiction and fantasy were really not very distinct. I mean, Anne McCaffrey insisted that her Dragonriders of Pern series was science fiction, not fantasy. You had the covers of Heavy Metal magazine, which often consisted of a scantily-armored chick with a sword and a blaster. And even the movie Star Wars, possibly the greatest impact science fiction had on our culture, was really as much fantasy as science fiction.
And back in the 70's and early 80's, we seemed cool with that. Well, okay, I was only a kid, and wouldn't have understood the difference much otherwise. But it seemed that Dungeons & Dragons games often had a mix of powered armor, vibro-blades, and laser rifles muddying the waters of homebrewed Middle Earths. On the computer front, the early Ultima games mixed hover cars, space ships, evil computers, and time travel pretty freely.
Somewhere in the mid 80's (subjective time), the dividing line came down. Fantasy, as a genre, began standing on its own on the shelves of the bookstores, instead of being lumped into the anemic "science fiction" shelves. People started drawing a hard line between what constituted fantasy and what was required of science fiction. The term "speculative fiction" had been coined to include both genres, and began coming into vogue sometime after that to prevent the terms for the specific genres from getting misused with broader meanings.
Wednesday - July 02, 2008
Rampant Games - Favourite Abusively Difficult Games
It's unusually quiet so I thought we'd turn off the main road and beat a path to Rampant Coyote's new post, titled Favourite Abusively Difficult Games. While not restricted to RPGs, it's a fun topic:
After our discussion yesterday, numerous (but not all) folk suggested that people who preferred more challenging "do it yourself"-ness in games were in the minority. I admitted that I, too, get frustrated in games, and while I usually do not want to be led by the nose, I often find myself saying, "Okay, I give, what am I supposed to do now?" For me - figuring it out for myself and conquering the tough challenges on my own is a big part of the fun. But there's a fine line between "fun" and "frustration" when it comes to difficulty or confusion level, often related to the quality of the game.
This got me thinking about really hard games. I'm talking the practically abusive games that we love. The ones where you think the designer(s) had some kind of passive-aggressive hatred of players, and wanted to punish them. The kinds of games that seemed to want to bend you over, spank you with a pledge paddle, and make you say, "Thank you sir! May I have another?" [...]
The Bard's Tale
Okay, I'd forgotten about how horribly difficult this one was just to get started on. If you decided to create your own party - one without the bard's starting gear of a magic horn (am I remembering this correctly? Help me out here, guys... it's been a while), you ended up facing some kind of Darwinian "survival of the fittest" thing where the survivors of a dozen failed attempts to get through the first two hours of the game would end up getting together into some kind of "super-party" which actually had a prayer of making it through fifth level or something. Again, the details are sketchy, and I don't remember how easy it was to save or load games. But I imagine the overpowered default starting party came about as a result of playtesting, when the QA guys screamed bloody murder about how they would NEVER see the end of the game.
Wednesday - June 25, 2008
Rampant Games - Breaking Up the Routine
Rampant Coyote posts about the routine encounters we often see in RPGs - with extra points awarded for mentioning my favourite ever TV series:
The party is hired by a village to take out some local bandits. To encourage the bandits to attack, the party disguises itself as poor villagers. The bandits come in search of easy prey, and find that the party is quite capable of defending itself. The bandits are dispatched. The village has a celebration, and offers the party a meager reward for their fine services.
Does this sound like a pretty straightforward - and, dare I suggest, boring - adventure for a party of adventurers? Maybe.
But in "Our Mrs. Reynolds," episode six of the short-lived (but critically acclaimed) science fiction TV series "Firefly", all this - and more - takes place before the opening credits. And then the real story begins.
Sunday - June 15, 2008
Rampant Games - On "Limbo of the Lost" Impact on Indies
Rampant Coyote has made some interesting comments over on his blog on the recent exposure of alleged plagiarism in Majestic Studios' Limbo of the Lost, which we first reported here. RC looks at it from an indie developer standpoint and concludes it's a very bad can of worms to have opened for the indie world:
And here's the extra sucky part: These guys, Majestic Studios, are / were - as far as I can tell - basically indies. I don't know how much (if at all) that Tri Synergy[the publisher] funded the game's development, but these guys have been working on this adventure game since the Amiga days...
So who's to blame? Did Majestic Studios even know about the problem? Or did they get screwed over by a contractor? If the latter, I really, really hope they got a legal document from said contractor stating that it was his original work. Not that it will prevent Majestic from ceasing to exist, and possibly dragging Tri Synergy with it, but at least it might reduce the owners' liability should Eidos, Bethesda, and Tri Synergy get litigious. Which they might.
But it it might not stop there. Tri Synergy is not a major publisher. They are a second- or third-string publisher that gets tiny games like this to market, both at retail and online. This is potentially a pretty monstrous disaster from their perspective. Every publisher's nightmare, I expect...
What sort of ripple effect might this cause among the small publishers and developers? The indies of the world looking for a publishing deal to take their game to retail? I'm foreseeing a lot more paperwork (and expense) going into due diligence, and publishers being a lot more gun-shy about signing on new studios that haven't been around long enough to establish a track record.
Monday - May 19, 2008
Rampant Games - Sick of Saving the World?
It must be RPG design day. Jay Barnson has kicked up a piece called RPG Design: Sick of Saving the World?
I'm tired of saving the world. Saving the world is for wusses.
Lessons From Pen and Paper
I remember my first attempt to run a pen-and-paper game of Vampire the Masquerade. After some really cool character origin sub-plots, we got to the meat of the campaign. I immediately reached for a generic, epic plot of earth-shattering proportions... and found that it was a total dud. It just didn't work. The players were these supernatural creatures of the night who were at the top of one food chain and the bottom of another. Their mortal lives were long gone... and the big, world-saving plots just didn't ring true.
I was stuck for a while, trying to figure out what to do with the campaign. And then, I recalled running and playing an earlier, post-apocalyptic RPG called "Twilight: 2000." It was a "realistic" game of post-nuclear holocaust. High radiation didn't turn you into a mutant - it made your hair fall out and caused you to puke and excrete blood. Your enemies were disease and power-hungry local warlords who'd gotten their hands on a functional tank or two.
Friday - May 16, 2008
Rampant Games - Indie Roundtable #3
Rampant Coyote's Indies of the Round Table again tracks down Thomas Riegsecker, Stevel Peeler, Vince D. Weller, Jason Compton and others and this time asks about emotion in RPGs. Vince's famous sarcasm is on offer for those wanting a laugh but let's take a serious answer from Jason Compton, because we don't get to hear enough about The Broken Hourglass these days (yes, that's a hint ;) ):
Yes, we're certainly looking to evoke emotional responses. There are a number of reasons to play a game through to completion (and then come back and play it again), including dogged determination, curiosity about "what's behind the next corner?", new rules exploits to try, and so forth... but one of the most enduring reasons are characters that players enjoy interacting with and responding to.
We're using a number of devices to that end. We put the PC in a situation where they have to make a crucial decision early on which should provoke an emotional response. We give joinable NPCs a range of motivations and priorities, ways to explore their own stories and in some cases romantic entanglements.
I'm not sure there's any particular emotion we're actively *avoiding*. The real trick is to avoid harping too much on emotional themes of despair and loss. Finding a way to pace humor, friendship, and romance in the midst of death and destruction is hard enough in linear media, considerably moreso when the pace and the sequence of the story are to some extent controlled by the player's whim. So we'll see how well it all works out.
Wednesday - April 09, 2008
Rampant Games - The 15 Minute Adventuring Day
Huh, two mentions of Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord in two newsbits - the world must be about to end or something. Rampant Coyote has raised an excellent topic in a new blog post titled RPG Design: The Fifteen Minute Adventuring Day?. Here's the issue:
One of the complaints which I've heard leveled at Dungeons & Dragons third edition (and 3.5) is the "fifteen minute adventuring day" (among other names I've heard). I hadn't heard of that before third edition, though I suppose it could have been an issue in previous versions. Part of me suspects it came about after MMORPGs became popular. The third edition's emphasis on encounter balance and challenge rating probably exacerbated things, however.
In a nutshell, the problem is this: Many of the players' resources (like magic spells and special powers) are limited to a certain number of uses per day. So they get into a combat or two, blow all their resources, and retreat to rest up, replenish the resources, and fight the next battle or two tomorrow.
This was present in computer RPGs as well. Old-school gamers may recall 1st edition D&D magic-users as one-shot cannons in both pen & paper and computer RPG incarnations, or recall how forays into the Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord or into the wine cellar allowed you to only get to the first door before running back to the nearest inn for rest. More recently, Neverwinter Nights addressed this issue by making it trivially easy to rest up at any time - which in practice meant, "after every combat."
Players and designers bring up this problem as something to be addressed by the upcoming 4th edition D&D game, and Paizo's own upgrade to the system, Pathfinder RPG. Except there are some crazies out there who maintain that this isn't a problem at all. And - with some caveats, I'm among the crazies.
What do you think? Do you prefer to manage your firepower or find a more creative approach? For my money, the system in The Broken Hourglass seems a neat approach.
Wednesday - March 12, 2008
Rampant Coyote - Indie Roundtable #2
Indies of the Round Table #2 is up at Rampant Coyote, with Jeff Vogel, Steven Peeler, Jason Compton and others answering "What Does the Future Hold". The answers are varied, although I expected more optimism than I read. Here's Jason Compton:
I'm sure things will be different in some way, but I don't see any major breakthroughs on the horizon which would make things "easier" or "better". In my view, the amount of reach a true independent developer has into the increasingly preferred gaming platforms is tiny and shrinking. You may know friends whose faces are always glued to Final Fantasy or Golden Sun on their DS, but there's also never going to be an independent market on mainstream handhelds. (Yes, I said "never." I used to think that the industry was due for an early 80s-style crash which would flush out the excess and open things up again, but I think they've managed to dodge that.) Control over the downloadable content markets on consoles is only going to get tighter. And never mind the mobile phone market you'll never get a sniff of as an indie, either.
On the desktop, I expect library aggregators like GameTap to continue building loyalty and depressing prices with vast catalogs of paid-for content (the downside, from the perspective of contemporary creators, of the "long tail" phenomenon.) And even for hardcore desktop gamers, AAA titles on the high end and "hey, look at this funky Flash game I found today!" on the low end will continue to cover most of what's left.
So, no, I don't suggest banking your money now and waiting for the technology to change.
Thursday - March 06, 2008
Rampant Coyote - Why the Quest for Story Will Fail
In some ways, I think game developers are trying too hard. They are over-applying the rules of linear storytelling to a degree that it distracts from the point of a game - to be interactive. The stories need to be interactive, too. Maybe not on the level that Chris Crawford is trying to achieve, but on the level where it invites the player's imagination to participate as a co-author. Instead, the player is too often forced to disengage their active participation so they can be force-fed a cut-scene. The result is a disjointed feeling where the player has two juxtaposed stories he's trying to reconcile - the one he or she is imagining as they play, and another one thrust upon them that may not jibe with how the game is playing out in their mind.
Tuesday - February 19, 2008
Rampant Coyote - Indie Roundup
Rampant Coyote has kicked up another excellent roundup of indie RPG news, including some titles we haven't covered before. While we look them over, head over to read up.
Monday - February 11, 2008
Rampant Coyote - Indie Roundtable #1
Rampant Coyote Jay Barnson has kicked off the first of an ongoing series of roundtables on indie RPGs. The collection of talent gathered is impressive with Jeff Vogel, Vince D. Weller, Thomas Riegsecker and Jason Compton all participating as well as Josh Engebretson (Prairie Games, Minions of Mirth), JRPG specialist Amanda Fitch (Aveyond) and more. The first question is Why Indie?
Question: Why Indie RPGs? The last eighteen months or so have brought gamers plenty of role-playing games and expansions for computer and console from mainstream developers. And there are tons of Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs (MMORPGs) that are 'scratching the itch' for RPG fans and formerly non-gamers alike. And then there are literally thousands of fan-made modules for the Neverwinter Nights games. In this kind of environment, what does a comparatively low-budget indie computer RPG have to offer the player?
Vince D. Weller, Iron Tower Studio ("Age of Decadence"):
I don't understand the question. Maybe if I rephrase it a bit....
Thank God that Mask of the Betrayer and The Witcher were released, because otherwise it would have been the worst eighteen months or so for the RPG community, unless you count all those shitty action games with stats like Dungeon Siege: Broken World and Titan Quest. In unrelated news, the industry is still obsessed with so-called MMORPGs that are scratching the itch to grind and LARP for people who don't have anything better to do. And then there are at least 10 fan-made NWN modules that are worth playing. How do you crazy indie developers deal with all that?
Well, first, I don't think that the market is over-saturated (or even saturated) with RPGs, second, being an RPG fan myself I don't think that there is a such a thing as too many good RPGs.
As for what the indies have to offer, we can offer players things they won't find anywhere else. Mainstream equivalents of games like Geneforge, Avernum, Mount & Blade, Eschalon or Broken Hourglass aren't in development, yet there are people who want to play such games.
Overall, indies offer originality and creativity. I'm not saying that mainstream developers aren't creative. Obsidian is loaded with top quality, mind blowing talent - Avellone, Sawyer, Mitsoda, Saunders, Ziets, and many others and Mask of the Betrayer proves that beyond any reasonable doubts. Unfortunately, the publishers control the industry and at the moment they want MOAR action, like totally next-generation RPGs. So, if you, dear reader, want something different, well, welcome to Club Indie. We hope you'll enjoy your stay.
Wednesday - January 30, 2008
Rampant Coyote - Defining Indie
Rampant Coyote has a good piece that attempts to define the term "indie" through a good examination of the way games are published and distributed. It's a good read if you'd like to better understand the standard developer-publisher-retail relationship:
Okay. Here's how the System works:
The publisher is at the top of the chain. You'll note I have a crown over the publisher. That's because I'm obnoxious. The publisher wants a game made. The publisher either creates the game in-house, or contracts a developer to make the game for them. Let's talk about how the outside developer is handled.
Usually, the outside developer is pretty much told what to make. Something based on a cool movie or TV license, or a sequel / spin-off to a game another studio originally made (after the publisher has happily said to the original developer studio, "Go jump in a lake, we own the property, we don't need you, so NEENER!" or said studio has vowed "We'll never work with you again, you jerks! For definitions of 'never' that include this product cycle!"). Occasionally, the outside developer might have some cool proof-of-concept demo that the publisher is willing to go with, so long as the developer makes all these changes to it (usually converting it into something that is based on a cool movie or TV license, or a sequel / spin-off to a game another studio originally made... okay, you get the idea).
The publisher "funds" the development of said game. By "fund," we really mean, "loans money to the studio for." Because... really... funding is an interest-free advance against future royalties earned by the game. Which, according to modern accounting practice in the games biz, is actually just a myth and never really happens, so the loan almost never gets repaid, so the publishers can act all magnanimous about it. But hey - it's their investment money, and so they get to call the terms when they want to it back two different ways, that's their call.
As always, the fly in the ointment of indie development is the funding to produce the game sans publisher.
Thursday - January 03, 2008
Rampant Coyote - In Defence of the Patch
Rampant Coyote's latest blog entry risks life and limb to argue the case for developers and publishers in defence of the patches we see so often these days:
And it's no longer just PC games, either. Consoles games, now that they have downloadable content, are beginning to show signs of patch fever. Is this a sign that developers are just lazy, and use the fact that there's now means of distributing a patch as a crutch to release games in a buggier state?
Now, I'm probably an official "part of the problem," because I sympathize with the need for patches. And I'm a developer. And I've released patches for my games. So I'm gonna go on a limb here and actually defend this horrible practice of releasing buggy, broken code.
Well, not really. I can't condone that. But I do want to talk about why your favorite game is on its third patch in nearly as many weeks. It's probably not as bad as it sounds, and the publisher probably didn't try just get bored and try to foist off a horrible mess on an unsuspecting public in hopes of getting a quick buck.
Probably. At least not most of the time. I think.
Thems fighting words. ;)
Saturday - December 08, 2007
Rampant Coyote - Indie Releases of 2007
In the second indie item for the day, Rampant Coyote dropped us a line about their roundup of the indie RPG releases this year, along with the observation that its been a pretty good year for the genre:
It's about that time of year again, when most of the magazines and websites begin tallying up what they think were the most-hyped best-marketed best games of the preceding twelve months. It's a little topic guaranteed to stir up about as many heated arguments as talking about politics or religion. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
I wanna play, too!
Now, I'm a game developer who only tinkers with doing reviews or "First Impressions" or whatnot. This isn't a gaming review site, so I tend to avoid doing full reviews of games here. In fact, I actually haven't PLAYED all the indie games that came out this year labeled "RPGs." In fact, I'm pretty certain that I don't even know about all of them. But I'm trying, striving to keep abreast of all of them as best as I can because I do enjoy them, and I like to stay informed.
And that has been quite a challenge this year. It's not like indie games deliberately hide themselves from detection, so much as getting lost in all the noise.
We've covered most of the games mentioned and I've been watching Birth of Shadows, which is due very soon.
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