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I’ve been running a Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition campaign for going on five years, and it feels like we’ve finally figured out how to fix the combat system. D&D 4e is intensely tactical, more so than any other edition, and I find the grid-focused combat quite fun, but it suffers from some severe problems. The biggest of these for us is that combats stretch on too long without enough excitement. Here’s how to solve that.
Continue reading How to Fix D&D 4e Combat
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In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I discuss the decisions we make as game designers and developers and how we are responsible for every aspect of the games we make. I touch on polishing, social justice, and emergent aspects of games.
Continue reading Ludus Novus 024: Decision Point
I’ve set up a Patreon page. If you want to help support the work I do or want to repay me for joy I’ve brought you in the past, you can sign up to give a monthly donation.
Continue reading Support Me On Patreon
In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I discuss the search for the perfect game and the creation of universes.
When I search through my Steam library and I look for that game, that perfect game, the perfect experience that matches the mood that I am in right that moment, I’m playing a game with the entirety of my library: the entirety of games as a medium.
The music for this episode is “Progress” by mystified from the album Fractal Diner 3. It’s available under a ccby2.5 license.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Our unsettling dialogue-focused adventure game Ossuary is coming to Steam. The torturous Greenlight process is over, a bit mysteriously, and now we’ve started the work of preparing all the material we’ll need to be released on the largest video game storefront around.
I’m prone to a sort of postpartum depression around game projects. When I release a new game or finish a major milestone, I often have a flare-up of my chronic depression and find it very hard to motivate and care for myself. I’m definitely experiencing that right now: the Greenlight process for Ossuary took so long and occupied enough emotional space in my brain that its resolution leaves me feeling a bit bereft. I’m managing it pretty well, but it seems ironic that a success, or at least a big step of progress, has brought me so low.
The circumstances around the final approval are weird, but that’s a post for another day.
Lately I’ve played the following small games that stuck out in my mind:
- “Softelevision” by James Shasha of Sundae Month is about music and anticapitalism and being in a place, I guess. I’m a sucker for any game that opens with the sound of waves. This makes me think of Outer Wilds. There’s a place, and you can do things that feel like goals, but there’s not really a challenge or a win condition. And most of the time you just kind of want to hang out for a while. This game reminds me that I need to play Crypt Worlds.
- “MINKOMORA” by Kikopa Games (Joni Kittaka and merritt kopas) is another gentle exploration game. It’s also a gimmick game. I don’t mean that it has some gameplay gimmick like gravity control or slow motion. I mean it’s one of those games that steps outside the normal limits of game. In this case, it comes with an NES-style manual that has background and hints for the game world. The game itself is rather abstract and stylized, but the manual has more representative art that makes the shapes in the game make more sense.
- “Here Is Where I Carve My Heart” by kittyhorrorshow is an architectural Unity game, one of those for which my personal archetype is Richard Perrin‘s Kairo. There’s a structure, usually all of one material (shiny pink, in this case) which you explore with a fairly standard first-person approach that might just be a tweaked version of the example controller code that comes with Unity. That sounds dismissive, but I love this kind of game. “Carve My Heart” uses a very floaty, low-grav approach that means I was bounding through and around the excavated floating pyramid that was built in a cool-looking voxel tool. You’re searching for floating gems that deliver affirmations. The whole time you’re hearing atmospheric music-box tones. It’s a chill and charming game that only took three hours to make.
- “Juxtapose” by zillix is a game for Ludum Dare 30 that I found through Warp Door. It’s a moody, pixelly game with a bunch of multiple endings. It feels like some of the classic Flash artsy games circa 2009. I’ve gotten seven of the 13 (!) endings, and they’re pretty varied. There’s some resource and time management that reminds me a lot of Eyezmaze games.
I created “Concision” for Twiny Jam, a game jam for Twine games of 300 words or fewer. Twine measures mine at 290. It’s a game about architecture, exploration, and sobbing women without faces.
You can play “Concision” at itch.io.
Over at Future Proof Games I blogged about how it feels to have our funny, unsettling satire Ossuary languishing in Steam Greenlight for a year.
It feels like a slow struggle. New games are being added to Greenlight daily. Because the primary measure of progress is “percent of the way to the top 100,” this means that your rank can actually slowly drop as some popular games surpass your vote count. Then, on an unclear schedule, a batch of games is greenlit, chopping the top off of the sample set and raising your rank again. It’s two steps forward, one step back.
You can read the rest at the Future Proof Games devblog and you can always vote “Yes” on Steam Greenlight.
Lately I’ve played the following small games that stuck out in my mind:
- Kittens Game is an idlegame from bloodrizer. It feels like a less horrific A Dark Room and it’s probably bad for you.
- “Saturn V” from Archie Pelago felt like an interactive art gallery, and had the same pleasant ambiguity I experience in actual galleries and museums, where I’m never quite sure where the line is between art and architecture: which of this is exhibit and which is window dressing? I actually suggest playing or downloading it without reading the description/artist’s statement first, like I did, to enhance that sensation. My speculation intensified when I came across the lovingly-rendered beer kegs in the basement.
- I’m glad I didn’t have an Oculus to play the original game-jam game “SightLine”, despite the creators’ recommendation. Early on there’s a set of physics-y bridges that are all wobbly and bouncy, so much so that several times I physics-ed straight through (maybe thanks to the “tunneling” or “bullet-through-paper” issue, maybe due to the elastic rope of the bridge stretching too far). This is weird; genuinely wondrous misdirection and legerdemain, with stuff disappearing, reappearing, and changing when you look away, mixed with some overwrought Stanley-Parable-aping narration and puzzles requiring mindreading. I’m glad they’re making a new game based on the old one’s mechanics. This sort of vision tracking is presumably ideal for VR headsets.
- “The Burrow” by Fewer Words is one of those interactive art pieces where I’m not sure if I’m done at the end of it. The artist statement says, “Every exchange is significant and becomes a part of the narrative.” If so, actions aren’t mechanically significant, from what I can tell. The first two sections of three give you minor camera control but no real agency, and the third is an odd exploration mobility puzzle thing that reminds me of some of the more esoteric Ages of Myst Online.
- “HASTE” by VR-Gamers is a prototype with a really cool concept and style but it feels like a brick wall. “Freerunning and when you go fast time slows down” sounds awesome. “I’m not sure if I can make any of these jumps and if I mess up I have to reload from the beginning of the level” feels really frustrating. The creator says “Be prepared to lose often – this game is for hardcore players only.” But one of the things about games is that they’re teaching devices. A good game teaches you how to use it. This one made me wonder if there was an extra key I didn’t know about that would make me succeed at jumps. There wasn’t. I gave up.
I started a blog post here and decided it belonged on the Future Proof Games devblog. It’s called “On Cultural Appropriation,” and in it I talk about the phenomenon of cultural appropriation, how critics muddy the waters to try and get people to dismiss it as an issue, how we’re complicit in cultural appropriation in our game Exploit: Zero Day, and how we’re working to make sure we behave respectfully.
If I point out that something in a work is problematic, it doesn’t mean I’m condemning the whole work. Critics of social justice often react to concerns about a work by pretending that people are saying the work is unredeemable. Again, this reframes the discussion in such a way that the concerns can be ignored. Avatar is a great show; how could you question the way it uses Inuit cultural elements? You’re saying it’s a terrible show! End of discussion.
Don’t do that.
Read more and comment at the Future Proof Games Development Blog.