A game can either have an open world where the player can move freely, or a world that changes as the plot advances. If it has both, the player will miss out on most of the game's content. There are some approaches to deal with this, though...
So I've been thinking about the Skyrim Problem in RPGs.
In Skyrim, pretty much the first thing you find out is that big scary dragons have returned. And the main plot is about the return of these dragons. But there's also hundreds of side-quests you can do at your leisure. Indeed, once I stumbled into the nearest village after my dragon encounter, the first things that happened to me were a quest to deliver a ring, and a nice man who wanted to teach me all about smithing daggers.
But think about your character: would they at this point care about rings or taking up a career in smithing? Might not the whole dragon thing weigh a bit more heavily on their mind?
And indeed, you can play Skyrim like this, actually taking the dragon threat seriously, moving to warn and defend people as quickly as possible. This will also mean you skip most of the game. But you can also do all the side quests, and the dragons will wait politely as you learn how to make daggers or fix people's love lives, only arriving at the maximally plot-convenient time once you decide to take back up the main quest.
Now, some people don't mind this contradiction, but for me and a lot of others, it destroys my suspension of disbelief. It's a role-playing game, yet it wants me to play the role of a weird, endlessly distractable person whose dawdling somehow never matters.
Not all story-driven games are like this, though. Here are three ways to get around this:
Hey look, it's the traditional end of year post thingy!
As is also kind of traditional this year, let me start this off by saying that it was 1. a good year for me personally, and 2. a shitty year for the world. I didn't get negatively affected by Trump and Brexit because I'm far away from them in a bubble of privilege, but plenty of people I know and love have suffered because of them.
So what did I get up to?
A procedural generator for science-fictional planets. Source
So after the initial rapid success of getting conquest multiplayer to work, it was time to see how much the multiplayer really kept in sync. It looked like it was in sync, but not every small divergence would be visible, and those small divergences could spiral into larger ones.
Asteroid Storm is the first game I made and released to the public.
I found the original downloads and am re-releasing it on itch.io for posterity. You will need a classic Mac or install an emulator to get this game to run.
I'm embarking on an attempt to make multiplayer strategic conquest work in Airships.
First off, to be clear, this may well not work. I wrote the strategic conquest code without thought to making it multiplayer, which means I now need to try and refit it for this purpose. It's entirely possible that I can't get it to work consistently, or that performance or UX problems make the experience a terrible one.
Still, lots and lots of people insisted they really wanted this feature, especially cooperative strategic multiplayer, so I'm giving it a try. If, after a few weeks of work, things are still a complete mess, I will shelve the attempt.
I started working on this about three days ago, having formulated an approximate plan:
I recently implemented a combat replay system for Airships: Conquer the Skies. The motivation was to allow players to play back past fights to analyze them or simply enjoy the carnage. I also wanted to make it easier to create GIFs and gameplay videos.
The game uses lockstep multiplayer: the starting state is synced, and then only player commands are exchanged. The game state stays consistent between players because it's deterministic. This makes creating a recording system pretty straightforward: save the starting state and the commands issued, and the fight can be played back.
The cool thing about doing replays like this: because a replay is literally the same combat being played through again, the game can offer the player the option of re-inserting themselves at any time. This works by turning off the replay of stored commands, giving players control of their chosen side, and installing AIs in the opposite one. Which I think is a pretty neat and unique feature. Rewrite history! Could you have won that battle? What was it like from the other side? Would a different tactic have worked better?
EARTH BLOSSOM is a Ludum Dare 40 Compo game about an alien macro-organism on a course to devour Earth. It's inspired by Mushroom 11 and the Zerg.
v9.6 adds a new feature: combat replays. All fights you participate in are automatically recorded. You can play them back, analyzing them, or just glorying in explody victory.
tl;dr: Developers, revoke the Steam keys you supplied to Indie Game Stand!
I'm the developer of a game called Airships: Conquer the Skies. It can be bought through a bunch of platforms, including Steam, and, until it shut down earlier this year, Indie Game Stand.
Today marks the release of Airships dev 9.5. It adds a bunch of new monsters to the game, which is why I picked Halloween has the release date, of course.
To celebrate the release, I've also created a diverting quiz that lets you determine which in-game monster you most resemble. Moreover, if you tweet your monstrous identity and tag me in, you might get a free Airships steam key at the end of the week. (Note: This giveaway has now concluded and the recipients have been chosen.)
Ladies and gentlemen! It's time for the especial Airships: Conquer the Skies Halloween Quiz! Yes, a quiz! So beloved of teenage magazines and clickbait journalism!
And the question is -
I have gone through the vast amount of replies I got to my - intentionally provocatively-worded - question about the game's features. Unsurprisingly, not everyone wants the same thing. There seem to be roughly three groups: strategic conquest players, multiplayer players, and ship designers.
If I stopped development on Airships right now and called it done, what would you be most disappointed about?
Don't panic, I'm not doing that. But I want you to tell me what Airships with its potential fulfilled would look like to you.
On the basis of the questionnaire I sent around last week, the Airships multiplayer hours have been shifted to times that should suit more people. Also, I made a Discord bot to tell people when it happens.
Development on Airships has now progressed enough that I can tell you about my plans for getting to the release.
Version 9.3 is out! The next version will concentrate on some specific usability improvements.
Before Airships: Conquer the Skies, I spent several years working on another project, Space Exploration: Serpens Sector. This was a game about exploration and crew management heavily inspired by the first Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. I put a lot of work into it, but the result wasn't really satisfying because I had neglected to create a good core game design. So I built up a complex UI and complex encounters too early, and each change became a lot of work. Eventually, I rebooted the development and started on a new, simpler prototype that concentrated on the core mechanics.
Then Airships came along, a "side project" that pretty much instantly got more traction and interest than SE:SS. Within a few months, it became my main project. I was tired of going around and around with SE:SS and wanted something else. SE:SS was never exactly cancelled, just put way on the back-burner. This was four years ago.
The other day I re-downloaded the source of the first SE:SS version and got it up and running, and I found myself pleasantly surprised. Yes, the core mechanics are probably ultimately not satisfying. Yes, it's overcomplicated in places. But it runs, it's perfectly pleasant to use, and there's quite a bit of nice content. The pre-rendered graphics look kind of dated, but in a way that can plausibly pass as charming rather than hideous.
So why not release it as is?
After a protracted beta, Airships version 9.2.4 is out, replacing the old multiplayer system.
I recently came across this Mitchell and Webb classic: "Cheesoid", the story of one man attempting to make a robot that can smell things.
Apart from being pretty funny, I think it's a great rapid-fire illustration of a lot of common mistakes in machine learning. That's what Cheesoid is, after all - it's a classifier system for smells.
This post was originally published in 2013, on the previous incarnation of this website.
I just read a pretty neat article that argues for more interesting forms of magic in computer games. One idea I really like (because I'm horrible) is having to pay a permanent price for each spell cast. (The spells, in exchange, being very powerful and useful.)
At around 1 AM, with a solid two hours to go before the jam deadline, I uploaded and published Dryad, my 3rd Ludum Dare entry.
It's a platformer about a forest creature wishing to become human, and, uh, killing a whole bunch of humans in the process. As you become more human, your magical powers wane, and you become slower, weaker, less perceptive, making each successive level harder. You can choose the order in which you lose your powers, and some orders are easier than others.