Remember Remember the End of November

For me, when it comes to blogging, a promise given is more often than not a promise… forgotten. Not this time. Today you get to see the After that goes with the Before from four weeks ago!

BroadswordToolkitAfter

Hrmm. Well, it’s a little different on the surface. The toolbar has changed a bit, and those little red X’s weren’t there before. But what does it mean?

The problem with posting screenshots is that the first visible step of progress usually looks far more impressive than the following ones. That’s because we usually start with a lot of scaffolding (i.e. buttons and interfaces that give an impression of the final design but don’t really do anything) and then fill in the functionality from there.

In the original screenshot, the grid represented a single flat layer that could be imported and edited. Now we have five layers – three of which can be imported, four of which can be edited, and all of which can be made invisible. The X’s are from the Collision layer, which determines which tiles the player can’t enter.

After playing around with the end results for a bit, it looks like this design won’t quite accommodate this map’s complexity. But more on that for a future post. For now, I claim victory!

Posted in Development, Month in Review, Tainted Sword

NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, BATMAN!

The first of November is here, which means that NaNoWriMo is officially upon us, providing a framework for aspiring authors everywhere to put their toner ink where their mouth is (disclaimer: that was a figure of speech, please don’t do that). But alas, I am a writer of a different sort. How can I participate in all of this ballyhoo?

I’m quite impressed with one friend of mine in particular, who is using NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to design a tabletop wargame. How cool is that? I’ll be watching closely so that I can jump into playtesting at the end of the month, slavering at the mouth like the miniature-soldier-coveting fiend that I am.

In the meantime, I should try to accomplish something visible and tangible myself. I suppose I could shave my whiskers, but it’s also Movember. Hrmm.

I know! Here, take a look at what the map editor for Tainted Sword looks like right now. Lets see if it looks any different 30 days from now.

BroadswordToolkit1

Final question: What do y’all think about the low-brow humour theme we’ve got going with our blog posts? Should I Let It Go, or does it secretly make you LOL?

Posted in Uncategorized

Come What *May*

Mugshot
BlurbProgressCatchphrase

Lewis

Filming on previous project = DONE! Now to relax... or not. Actually time to plan for my next film project going into production in a month... *sigh* I miss the days of having nothing to do.Map design layouts... stillDon't get up, it's only me! :)

Kevin

Kevin is making the Map Editor look beautiful, one JPanel at a time.

The menus are now unified and we're almost able to switch between map sessions.
Map Editor refactoring.Brute force and ignorance.

Peter-chu

Peter-chu couldn't make it to the meeting this week. This is what happened.Saving all the Pokémans.
CHUUUUUUUU!!!!
Posted in Month in Review, News

*March*ing forward

And now for something completely different!  Or maybe its same sort of thing we did, like, two blog posts ago.  Only better.

Here’s what we’re up to this week, along with representative pictures.

Mugshot
BlurbCurrently working onNotable food consumed

Lewis the Great

Lewis is expanding his creative interests in the world of film. Screenplay written, equipment, staff, and locations acquired. Filming begins later this month!Map design layoutsA taco salad using tater tots. Ok, so that's not *that* notable, but it tasted a lot better than I expected...

Peter the Stylish

Peter is waging PvP war in World of Warcraft. I'm also playing Tales of Xillia with my bro. My rivalry in NHL 14 is getting intense!Map design layouts and first drafts and character skills/abilities A three layered cake for a one year old, made by a friend. Frosted frosting included. So goo-SUGARRRR RUSHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Kevin the Pirate

Kevin is improving his Java design practices by using techniques he learned at work. Please post lame coffee jokes in the comments.Map editor refactoringHalf a block of feta. 'Cause there ain't nothin' betta'.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

2013 Year in Review

What, 2014?  It feels like only four “monthly” posts ago that it was the beginning of 2013.

To recap, here’s my report card for the goals I set for myself last year:

Communicate frequently (at least weekly) 13 posts in 52 weeks: D-
Plan our time (also weekly) B-
Read a book every month 20 books read in 12 months: A+
Play a game every month if you include board games: A
Watch something enriching every month A
Exercise weekly F is for Fail
Accomplish something for TS weekly B+

Okay, so the frequent communication bit didn’t work out (when does it ever?), though we did make 13 posts in the year compared with only 5 in 2012..  The rest of the list didn’t do half badly, aside from exercising.

Not that you would know it from all the blog posts we didn’t write, but this was also a very good year for Tainted Sword.  Our game engine is feature-complete, though parts of it need a significant refactor effort and we will have lots of script functions to add as we progress through the game story.  We also landed a contract with a very talented local artist named Angela (deviantart page here), who made us lots of high-quality portraits and user interface elements.  A couple of design-minded friends have been helping us flesh out our combat mechanics and level design.

To top it all off, Lewis and I put our heads together and mapped out all of the work that will need to be done before our first public demo can be released, which means that the end is finally within view.  Suffice to say our next focus is for animated sprites, our map editor tool, and doing quick mock-ups and prototypes for our first few levels.

So will Tainted Sword be released in 2014?  I’ll avoid making any promises, for what should be an obvious reason by now (remember our original release date, Christmas 2012?).  I’m confident enough to at least promise that you’ll see something this year, especially because we have so many great things saved up that we haven’t shown you yet!

Next post, I’ll make my goals for 2014 (I’ll be a little more aggressive and a little more specific this time) and share some musings on perspective.

Posted in Month in Review, News, Personal, Tainted Sword

R.I.P. Warhammer Online

Warhammer OnlineThis post will take a different subject from previous entries, in that I will spend it talking about someone else’s game instead of our own.

As of Wednesday last week, Warhammer Online is no more.  I was one of the first 800,000 players who fought my way across the lands of Warhammer in 2008, and while I didn’t invest as much time as some of my friends (I never even reached max level, for example), I think that my placement in one of the top-ranking guilds from the game launch puts me in a good position to comment on its progression and ultimate fall.

The game captured what should certainly be considered a decent amount of the subscription gamer market share.  Being developed by MMOG veterans Mythic, and funded by the deep coffers of Electronic Arts, it was well-equipped with infrastructure to handle its launch.  The game was technically sound, had many intriguing design elements, and indeed it lasted a total of five years — a respectable amount of time in a competitive marketplace.

Its demise, I can only guess, comes from the fact that it began bleeding subscribers almost immediately after launch.  From the very beginning, there was never a time when servers were not being consolidated in order to keep population high.

Why did the players leave?  I have a few thoughts, unsubstantiated by any evidence, which may still be worthwhile for other game designers to consider:

  1. Until recently, nobody has ever left World of Warcraft for another game.  The evidence of this is seen time and again by examining WoW subscriber numbers following expansion launches.  A certain amount of (perhaps justifiable) hubris follows any MMORPG which presumes to challenge the reigning king while employing the same subscription model.  I highly doubt the majority of the market share can sustain two or more game subscriptions simultaneously for the long term.
  2. The game design was under-serviced by the developer, who did not correct core design issues in a timely fashion (and frustratingly, they didn’t even bother to correct the simple ones first, which were nonetheless highly visible to the players).  I believe that this is because the maintenance team was  gutted shortly after the product launched, and I suspect that they were told to focus on free content updates rather than fixing issues that made certain class specializations nonviable, or fixing balance issues in PVP.
  3. There was less design discipline and testing applied to the end game than to the early game.  After everything was said and done, the end game devolved into a very punishing and repetitive grind towards new equipment.  Even the gameplay itself comes into question:  the skirmish play was excellent, but the the fortress sieges were long and not particularly fun to play.
  4. The game had certain elements of an economy (crafting, an auction house), but in the end there was really nothing worth buying or making.  Some of the consumables looked useful, but did not justify the effort taken to acquire the ingredients or craft.
  5. The loss of subscribers served to compound the issue itself.  Much of the PVP experience (and even the Public Quests through which much of the story and world flavour was delivered) required a relatively large number of players to work, and a constant injection of new players into the lower tiers.  It was a sort of subscriber Pyramid Scheme, where as soon as the population growth became net-negative, the entire game began to suffer.

The above observations can be contrasted for other games, such as Dungeons & Dragons online, Lord of the Rings Online, or even Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, which persist even today.  You will find on close examination that they have each embraced alternative revenue streams, have vibrant (if in some cases small) development teams who maintain a long-term vision for the product, have rewarding endgames, and scale well in terms of population size for solo play.

But for this, Warhammer Online is still the more gone.  The failure is quite tragic if you consider the amount of time and money it takes to build a game of such a scope.  Call me thrifty, but I can barely imagine putting a couple hundred thousand dollars into a game engine which will be used for a single project and thrown away, much less one hundred million dollars on a game which will only last marginally longer.

Furthermore, when I think back on all of the excellent craftsmanship that was exercised in hundreds of characters, quests, and areas in Warhammer Online, I’m staggered by the loss.  Losing games like Warhammer Online is to the game industry as losing early film is to the film industry.  We will never again enjoy them, or have the examples to draw from to inspire our future work.

Posted in Game Design, Personal, Rants

‘Tis the Season

Monthly Progress
Tainted Sword: Potential artist?
Books
Video Games:
Board Games:

Oh boy, aren’t you guys lucky: I could jabber on about the past couple of action-packed months, but I’ve decided that discretion is the better part of valour in this particular instance. Needless to say, Grace and I kicked off the marriage season with style, and there was much rejoicing before and afterwards.

At a series of bachelor parties, I was introduced to a series of inventive card games (including Citadels and Bang! from the list on the right). These will require some more detailed analysis in the future.

On the Tainted Sword side of things, I’m re-focusing my efforts on whittling away at the remaining user stories for the engine. Our code now has everything we need to construct the skeleton of the game, it’s just knitting everything together and prettying it up. The Pareto Principle might suggest that the last 20% of the game features will take 80% of the effort, but I really don’t think that we have that many big coding decisions left to make. It’s really just a matter of consistent (preferably daily!!) effort in order to wrap everything up.

Which brings us back to our other backlog, i.e. art. Lewis and I are meeting tomorrow with an exceptionally talented artist who might be able to help us with a good chunk of our assets. We’re finally putting out money where our mouths are, so we’re quite optimistic. Pray for us!

I was going to bring things down a notch with some stereotypically male low-brow humour, but how about ending on a high note instead?

Posted in Month in Review, News

Official Post for March?

lazboy
You are reading my official post for March… posted on the first of April. April Fools! Or something like that…

So I’m a little behind this month, but it has been a month of transition so I think it is justified. The big thing outside of Über news for me is the job situation. Namely that my previously job contract wrapped up last month and I’ll be embarking on a new and improved situation for April and beyond. That’s pretty exciting; change is always interesting so we’ll see how it goes.

I had a bit of a break at the end of the month which I had intended to spend on Tainted Sword development. Truth be told, I did not spend nearly enough time on it, rather choosing to spend the time reading, catching up on my film backlog, and generally relaxing. I am feeling somewhat refreshed for what’s it worth, but some refocus back on Tainted Sword is definitely needed this month.

Kevin wisely put forward some of his short-term goals in his last post. This strikes me as a good idea so I will do likewise. Here goes:

Creative Director’s Notebook
Working on: Balancing workload on various projects
Seeking art contractors
Reading: The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Aged 37 3/4
Playing: Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder
Experiencing: Requiem for a Dream soundtrack
  • Determine goals for this quarter (April 6)
  • Complete another full edit of all dialogue for Chapter 1 (April 21)
  • Begin negotiation with potential art contractors (April 30)

Having openly posted lists like the one above provide a sort of accountability to actually accomplish the work stated. That’s what I hope will happen here. In addition, Kevin and I plan to meet during the next few days to discuss exactly where we want to be by the end of this quarter, and what it will take to get there. Once we determine that, we will be sharing that with the likes of you as well!

So if you are asking yourself “what can I do to help these ambitious guys out?”, the answer is simple: hold us accountable! If we don’t deliver on a promise, complain loudly and demand an explanation! We’re not merely making this game for ourselves; it’s for all of you potential customers… I mean players! :-)

And that is not an April Fools joke!

Posted in Month in Review, News, Personal, Story, Tainted Sword

March in Review

Finished Last Month
Tainted Sword: Scripting Engine (Woo!)
Books
Video Games: Battle for Wesnoth
Wedding stuff:
  • Apartment found!
  • Honeymoon booked! (thanks Grace)

Well, March was a wash for communication. Sowwy. On the bright side, we’ve had some darn good progress. The scripting engine is implemented and ready to go – it just needs some commands and some scripts to fuel it. We had created a dialogue tree mock-up before going to GDC last year, so our current goal is re-implement it using the nice, generic scripting engine format. After that, we move on to the tutorial area and cut a deep slice out of our feature set while driving towards a distributable demo.

Likewise, my e-reader proved its worth many times over. I’ve reached a sad point in my life where printed books probably can’t be a part of my daily habit any more, but e-books are with me at all times of the day to fill up any spare minutes. If I had some audio books to play while I drive, I could probably double my reading capacity again.

This Month’s Goals
Tainted Sword:
  • Template Map for Placeholders
    (April 3)
  • Script commands for dialog, sound, and combat
    (April 10, April 17)
  • Sample Script integrated
    (April 24)
Books Confessions (St. Augustine)
Board Games (designing): Axis & Allies: Air Force Minis, campaign setting
Wedding stuff:
  • Move into apartment
  • Determine order of ceremony
  • Set up joint accounts

My stats this month are in a slightly different format. Lewis and I met for lunch this week, and we realized that we hadn’t really set any solid goals for the first quarter of 2012 (which can only mean that we have achieved everything that we had hoped for! ;)). So we’re going to be doing some brainstorming together some goals for end of June 2013, and more importantly, scheduling them.

Wedding stuff and moving into my apartment will be taking a further importance this month, so I’m afraid my updates to the website may be sporadic. Sowwy x2.

I think that instead of playing a game this month, I’ll try to design one. I have all these ideas buzzing around in my head for a persistent campaign setting using Axis & Allies: Air Force Miniatures. It may or may not end up sucking, but it’ll be worth a blog post.

Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to a friend of mine. Jessica Kluthe wrote Rosina, the Midwife, which was released last month. The story is deeply personal as well as historical, and possibly one of the bravest stories I have ever seen written. Lots of admiration and respect to Jessica! If you want to support a local author, I highly suggest you check it out.

Okay, that’s enough of the serious stuff. Here’s what you really came for:

Posted in Friday cinema, Month in Review, News, Tainted Sword

Old Stories and New Ideas

Creative Director’s Notebook
Working on: Researching art contract costs
Seeking art contractors
Reading: American Vampire (comic book series)
Playing: Soundless Mountain II
Experiencing: Michael Haneke‘s films

Coming swiftly on the heels of Kevin’s last post is this one. Normally I’d wait a few days to space things out, but I’ve committed to post at least once a month to provide an update on the design/story end of the spectrum. And as I haven’t yet posted in February and this is the last day of the month, this is my last chance to get it out there.

The bulk of the writing for the game has been done for a while, and is primarily waiting on the other aspects of the game to get caught up. This is not a surprise; the essentials of the story were devised long before much of the gameplay dynamics were – in fact, certain story elements helped form the gameplay. However the extra time is useful; it has allowed me to edit, redraft, and reedit plot scenes and dialogue extensively, all of which (I hope) will make a better story experience for the player. A while back I was introduced to the script-writing program Celtx which has proven extremely helpful throughout this process. I’ve used it for Tainted Sword but also as my main tool for my sideline screenplay work.
lightbulb
In the Über Game writing world, I’ve also been formulating another story which I would eventually like to pursue as a future game project. I’m trying to limit my focus on it, as Tainted Sword takes first priority and needs to be brought to completion before any other game project can be seriously considered. However when those ‘idea’ moments strike (all too rare for me I’m afraid), I’ve got to pursue them and at least record them somewhere for later use. And when Tainted Sword is wrapped up and out there being played, I might just be able to see where I can take this new story… assuming the rest of the team buys into it of course. I’m certain they also have great game concepts and story ideas too, which are likely as good or even better than mine. So when the time comes to pick a new project, the team will just have to – as they say in Ogre Battle – Fight It Out! :-)

Posted in Month in Review, News, Story, Tainted Sword