Monthly Archives: March 2011

Ossuary Status: Steady, Sinful

a preview screenshot from Ossuary showing some stylized people standing around in a dim museumEarly in March, I previewed my next game, “Ossuary.” It’s coming along nicely, although the screenshots are still rather boring. I’m focusing on getting the puzzles together before fleshing out the art and writing. I’ve got a whole lot of content in already, though. Some numbers:

  • 15 puzzles done out of a projected 30
  • 49 NPCs; the final game may have over 75
  • 248 lines of dialogue out of perhaps 400 or more

This is sort of what I was talking about a month and a half ago with respect to the cost of content. I’ve done very little in-depth programming on this game. Most of the time has been spent writing dialogue and hooking up the logic between the various NPCs. To be sure, this is still coding, and it can be interesting and tricky, but it feels a bit daunting.

“Ossuary” has no procedural content, so every minute of playtime the player experiences is the result of ten or thirty or sixty minutes of my development time. There’s a concept in film called cutting ratio that measures how much footage is filmed compared to how much ends up in the final movie. A cutting ratio of ten-to-one is perfectly acceptable. In game development, even if you never discard any code, there’s still an incredible concentration of developer time into player time.

The Fall of Stronghold

An image of an unfinished RPG terrain board with some miniatures, walls, and craft toolsIn tabletop roleplaying games, it’s often tough to provide backstory and broader setting information to the players. Reciting a summary or printing handouts is seldom effective; even if players pay attention, they’re less likely to remember events in which they did not participate. In the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition campaign I’m currently running, I ran into this problem, and addressed it with the Cutscene technique.
Continue reading The Fall of Stronghold

TASOAE: 048

Campus beautification was the event where clubs and other campus groups were encouraged to help out with planting flowers, trimming bushes, and other activities.

I’m not sure the joke in this comic comes across. Cthulhu’s idea of “beauty” is to install something the human mind cannot comprehend.

Ludus Novus 021: Tin Medals

In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I discuss achievements and how there are a lot more aspects to them than are immediately apparent.

The music for this episode is “The Temple” by Out of Orion and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike License.

This podcast is certainly not a complete discussion of the topic, so please leave any input or feedback in the comments section.

TASOAE: 047

Assassin(s) (also called Killer or Paranoia, according to Wikipedia) is a game that the Residence Hall Association organized every year. It’s sort of a complicated version of Tag. Participants were assigned a “victim,” and had to then “kill” that victim by tagging them and saying a code phrase (I believe it was “RHA Assassination!”). Apparently, this sort of game has become more popular over the years (this comic was drawn in 2005), with a current variant being Humans vs. Zombies, which turns the game team-based and has an interesting escalation-of-danger mechanic. I can just imagine how stressful it would be to be one of the last humans “alive.”

Joining the Knights of the Five-Sided Temple

A fragment from an imaginary walkthrough to my current work-in-progress, “Ossuary:”

2. Fortitude

2.1: Joining the Knights of the Five-Sided Temple

In order to gain access to the temple, you will need to get past the outer gate. Speak to the outer gatekeeper and tell him you are a FRIEND. He will let you through.

Speak to the Recruitment Officer in the western tower and ask him about himself (“ABOUT YOU”). He will mention that he doesn’t want to be greedy about getting a better position. Sounds like a way in, but we’re not yet corrupted by Greed.

Speak to the inner gatekeeper. He doesn’t want to let you in, but it sounds like he’s a bit overworked. Corrupt him with the sin of Sloth. He’ll sit down to rest and let you in.

Speak to the Lieutenant on the west side of the keep. He’ll say he’s happy, but keep asking him “REALLY?” until he confesses that he wants the commander’s position. You’re now corrupted with the sin of Greed. Go back to the Recruitment Officer and corrupt him with Greed. He’ll admit that he’s always wanted to be a drill sergeant, and ask you to speak with the commander on his behalf.

The commander is in the center of the south wall of the keep. Talk to him about the RECRUITER, and he’ll ask that you check with the Temple Clerk about the recruiter’s experience. Go to the Temple Clerk and talk to him. He sure doesn’t seem to appreciate the effort that the Recruitment Officer puts in! If only you had a sin that made people understand the viewpoints of others.

Corrupt the Temple Clerk with the sin of Envy. He’ll admit that he’s envious of the Recruitment Officer’s experience in his job, and that he deserves a promotion. Inform the Commander, who will ask you to inform the Recruitment Officer. Return to him, and he’ll enlist you as his final act in his old job.

What do you think? Too convoluted? Not convoluted enough? Any suggestions?

Welcoming the Player to the Game Space

For many of us, games occupy a special space. We play games to escape, or be entertained, or to feel things that are hard to get from everyday life: terror, brain-bending challenge, or victory over an opponent. Because games represent a different world, it can enhance our experience to emphasize that separation. Some gamers have a special spot in the living room where they game, or a pair of headphones that only get used for games. Maybe you turn off the lights, or have a certain dice bag that represents the transition into the gaming space.

Burnout Paradise

Recently, I’ve resumed playing Criterion Games’s Burnout Paradise, an open-world car stunt and racing game. When you start a game of Burnout Paradise, you’re greeted at the pre-menu loading screen with the opening bars of Guns N’ Roses’s song “Paradise City.” This song plays through the menu experience, and continues to play even when you start the game. The song always plays once when you start, and then the game’s background music proceeds to whatever selection it’s picking from.

“Paradise City” serves as a theme song, marking the transition from the “real world” to “game space.” Because you hear the song every time you play, it serves as an almost Pavlovian trigger. The song becomes associated with the fun and the action of the game, so it helps to put you in the mood for the game as soon as you start it up.

Alan Wake

Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake has a structure that also lends itself to a transition into the game space. Instead of levels or sections, Alan Wake is divided into “episodes.” Each episode ends with a large “end of episode” message, a credits song, and usually a cliffhanger. The next episode then starts with a “last time on Alan Wake” montage, reviewing the story so far. This helps keep the player up-to-date on the (somewhat convoluted) plot and helps to break up the game.

This technique would be even more effective if it were incorporated into the game’s start-up experience. When an episode ends, it presents a natural stopping point, but the player is instead sent directly into the next episode. Instead, the developers should have returned the player to the main menu, to view the new episode-related main menu background and manually start the next episode. This way, the end of an episode would encourage the player to transition back to the real world, and it would be more natural to resume the game before the review montage instead of just afterward.

Tales of Monkey Island

It would be especially effective if Alan Wake dynamically generated a review montage every time the game started, showing the current episode’s intro and then short clips of what had been accomplished so far. Telltale Games’s Tales of Monkey Island episodic game series does this in text form; the game greets you with a short review of the story so far to welcome you to the game experience. With Alan Wake‘s greater development time and budget, it could have contained a video form of the same idea.

Too often, games make the start-up process and menu system an afterthought. While a game might be stylistically excellent, the initial user experience is frequently marred by long unskippable sponsor logos or simple, dull menus. It can be jarring to move from a spartan main menu into a rich game world. Instead, games should take a lesson from Burnout Paradise, Tales of Monkey Island, and Alan Wake: welcome the player into the game space from the moment the application starts, and make the menu experience one that facilitates the transition into the world of the game.

TASOAE: 046

Rose had a series of mailing lists for e-mail, based on each dorm, each major, each class year, and so on. The most dangerous of these was all.campus. All.campus was delivered to all of campus. Faculty, staff, students, maybe even people who lived nearby. I believe there were rudimentary posting restrictions, but I’m pretty sure that any faculty or staff could post to the list without moderation required.

So when someone announced on all.campus that there were free kittens in the Japanese Garden, and then quickly retracted the offer (were the kittens too young to be separated from their mother? I forget.), it was sent to everyone. When they sent a second message to make sure, it was sent to everyone. And when a professor replied in order to tell the original sender not to send an e-mail to everyone, it was sent to everyone.

The list probably should have been more heavily moderated.