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Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip and come on in to the mothership!

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The Community: Straylight's Future Society

Lately I've been trying to rival Gene Roddenberry here! [lol]

In worldbuilding for Straylight I've been working on how The Community, the future society you start in as a result of the game's timeline (see below), fits together. What's cool is that it suggests some interesting missions and gameplay, which makes the effort a bit of a payoff.

The Community is supposed to be a people who pride themselves on fusing together opposites using technology (AI, nanotech, consciousness sharing). They're part libertarian, part socialist, with an ethical bent toward pacifism-- yet won't hesitate to frustrate threats against them using covert action("viral peace" using volunteers on the other side who agree to share perspectives electronically), misdirection and force if necessary.

Below is my first stab at how they might work:

Direct Democracy

At the highest level, government is divided between elites called Pillars elected every 10 years, and AI that enables popular oversight and direct democracy
Population broken up into hundreds of districts (counties) worldwide
Citizens have dual citizenship: Community (global) citizenship, and citizenship within a district
Districts may reject who they choose, and expel who they choose (but must pay for resettlement)
Majority vote determines laws and mores within a district, as well as rights concerning district laws
Districts may have police but no military
Right to vote in Community affairs granted by military or volunteer service of 3 to 8 years; must also pass election-related civics test
Citizens have the right to move from any neighborhood
Districts rely on technology and basic resource grants, which are determined by population
Districts free to organize however they like so long they don't infringe on Community Law, which includes civil liberties

Federal Global Government Functions

Security (terrorism, intradistrict, interdistrict, external)
Minimal mandatory taxation of and basic resource grants to districts
Intellectual property law enforcement (vital to controlling nanotech, nuclear fusion, cloning and AI development)
Dispute regulation between districts
Group and individual asylum (constitution has right to mobility clause, but no district must accept a group)

Private Enterprise

Economy has shifted away from manufacture to research and services, aided by automation, nanotech and AI
Districts grant companies (called combines) charter on a per district basis
Charters, by Community Law, automatically expire based on the industry (forcing combine to campaign for its continued existence)
Combines can be privately or district owned
To check power, no combine can own another
Regulation, rules and taxation up to each district
Community reserves right to form hypercombines for large scale projects such as colonization and defense (charter subject to periodic per district funding approval) as necessary for human survival
Wealthy elites are those who own patents on nanotech, keeping society in state of artificial scarcity / pre-nanotech revolution

People and society

Jobs: People are either independent contractors, work for districts or work for Community federal bureaucracy or hypercombine projects
Education: Basic digital literacy, schooling free; professional training costs
Law: Citizens must obey Community Law and district laws but can move; conflicts between district and Community law are often resolved by voluntary exile / asylum to another district for the individual or group
Mobility: Citizens have constitutional right to mobility. Community subsidizes global vaccuum train and shuttle networks encourage this, helping to dilute ethnic identity; some, however, may be too poor to exercise this right
Free accomodations per citizen are stark and minimal (often considered low status)
Many districts in the West rise and fall based on individual contractor talents; people are highly mobile between districts
Many districts in East still have strong traditional group ethic, with districts rising and falling on trading ability and organizational skills; district populations are highly static


The Community's Common Culture movement has called for reinventing human society, in part by destroying identity artifacts such as the Pyramids at Giza or Great Wall of China (most people live in armored megacities, so don't care / aren't aware)
Unresolvable conflicts often result in strongly ethnic / nationalist cultures being assisted into expanding into space (gets them off earth, balkanizes them into space habitats, reduces / delays conflict)
Federal government is rumored to have covert peacekeepers who use volunteers to exchange thoughts, creating "viral peace" through shared perspective
Extreme cases of interdistrict conflict may call for The Community to evict both groups into space
Offworld colonies must either accept Community rule or agree to military spending caps and periodic inspections
The Community can and does act with force against rogue powers, nanotech / AI IP violators and militarizing colonies-- but often as a last resort, as the people must approve war


Mass media, data networks privately owned but transmission infrastructure regulated by rules of each district; Community reserves right to censor material for security or IP protection purposes
Freedom of religion exists by Community Law, but religions may not use mass media
Combines may not use mass media (no mass advertising)




Sucking down a 50-gallon drum of reality

"Ahhhh... feel the burn!" Urp!

Last week I got to talk over beer with several veteran indie developers, one a biz guy who started three companies, and a couple of programmers and artists. The biz guy and I talked for over three hours, and I swear I wish I could have simply downloaded his brain and posted it in my journal (would be messy, though. [wink]) (I won't use his name, btw, since he hasn't given me permission).

If I could distill in one nice, clean gutshot what I learned it would be this: Too many indie game developers are working only on games.

Think about it: We work like hell to scrape together enough resources to create a game, many of us can't sustain ourselves on games full time, we do our level best to market it in an already clogged channel or amid publishers who often demand ownership of everything, even the wall textures, we often don't have the talent or even basic interest in good business practices, and in the end, what we work on is a star that shines for but a second. If we're lucky, we may make enough to do it again. But the more common result is that we make little, if anything. Not very motivating.

Our games often are too big, too similar, and focused only on gaming when they need to be focused on being a phenomenon. We think that if we keep refining the design document (!) we'll find the right formula to bring in enough people to do well. But the design doc hardly matters if there isn't a strategy to build the game into a larger something that's part franchise, part mythos.

The example he used was comic books: Look at what Marvel or DC, paired with Hollywood, have been doing with Spiderman, Batman or the X-men. The comic book is only an agent to sell a mythos. Even taking Hollywood out of the picture, how many of us as kids had pens, patches, lunchpails or cereal boxes with our favorite comic book characters? I know I had probably a full metric ton of G.I. Joe paraphenalia (probably worth a fortune today if my mom had't thrown it out!)

My gut reaction to this is rejection, but I'm doing the same thing these days as successful indies who have finished games: Casting about for a way to make the business viable. I heard war story after war story from the biz guy, from personal experience, of damn good dev teams and designs fading into nothing, or limping along because the market is to fractured.

Yes, some of us do transform this to more than a hobby. A Tale In The Desert was a successful MMO made on just over a million (a huge initial chunk self-funded, btw). But GDC and the conversation I had a few days ago keep driving home that damnably few of us make anything sustainable in the long run. (In fact, one more confirmation I got from this biz guy, privvy to publishing deals for indie games, was that there's so little financial information out there about indie development stats because most people don't make any money.)

Now we could crawl into a hole and chant "if we build it they will come." Or we could decide that we're making art or a game just for ourselves and say screw economics. Either might be comforting, but neither I think is viable. As I get older it seems that I'm increasingly sucking down a 50-gallon drum of reality made of one part responsibility and one part hard limits. Even if you're an ascetic bot with neither want nor care for much beyond games, you're still going to either have to divide your time between making your heart's work and paying the bills, or figure out a way that you can pour more of your time into what you want to do. The later requires facing down reality.

I hope that I don't sound disasterously pessimistic. Truly, one the the last things I want to do is try to figure out the psyche of the average consumer so that I can somehow, like a leech, attach my mythos to some region of their brain. It makes me think of jingles. And God, how I hate jingles.

But I take heart by going back to the comic example. Is it demeaning to aspire to create a mythos that's completely bigger than a game? Wouldn't it be fun to think about how other media could carry the weight of the work you're trying to create?

And, hey, wouldn't it boost the ego just a bit to see someone wearing your game's logo? Not because they're some idiot without taste, hypnotized by mass media-- but because they love the mythos you've created and want to paint a small corner of their world with it?

I don't know. Maybe half of accepting a hard situation is finding within it an empowering perspective.

Straylight Update
-The book has SEVERELY gotten in the way of coding, but should be finished in about 2 months.

-I thought long and hard about freezing Straylight and making a few smaller games to have some revenue, but while that's probably the most intelligent decision, damn me for not having the heart for anything else.

-Finally scraped together some more money to invest in Torque tools. I'm looking forward to getting better specs on how characters are developed so that I can formulate needs requirements that can be handed off to artists. (New Torque Shader Engine has some easy techniques for creating O'neil Cylinders! I am PSYCHED!!!!!!!!)

-I've been giving serious thought to how to make the design more "mythos" friendly, in terms of making more memorable characters and settings.

-Doing a lot of brainstorming on how I might conduct low-cost market research to vett some of the premises of the game. How many gamers even play science fiction games? How many people would play a game set in the future that's cooperative? Need to get a sense of this kind of stuff.

-Still using MDA Framework to prototype design elements before coding. As time allows, I'm tackling the task of spicing up being an nanotech engineer.




And some worldbuilding, while on the subject...

Here's the starting future history for the game. I hope the environment suggests either interesting interaction in towering vertical cities, Fallout-style wastelands, or in space.

Straylight Future History

1905 - For reference
Mass TV, radio, telephones unknown; indoor plumbing rare; much of the world is agrarian, even the US; messages can take months to circle the globe

Early nanotech; fusion possible for brief time periods; experiments in using computers to simulate neural activity; first mind-machine interface experiments employing simians

Dwindling reserves of fuel (natural gas and oil) intensify conflicts between China, India, Europe and US

An "Energy Ice Age," caused by inability to match dwindling supply with growing demand, creates lasting waves of global recession; unrest due to unemployment, food shortages and
blackouts begin to become common
Deep winters and droughts caused by climate-change force world population toward more

temperate regions
Quiet "Nanotech Revolution" begins in labs across US and Europe
Alternative energy and crash nuclear fission programs arrest complete collapse in some, but not all First World nations
"Hot" wars erupt for remaining natural gas and oil fields; targeted ethnic plagues emerge, origins unknown; US loses vital proxy war in Venezuela to Chinese, begins withdrawl from world stage

First world consumer economy in shambles; cars, televisions begin to disappear
India, China and Japan increasingly engage in direct air and naval confrontations
US first nation to use remaining resources on restoring national train networks, mass transit; early foundations for vacc train networks that will span the globe

Most nations begin isolationist policies, using last energy resources to enforce civil order at home
Many First World powers balkanize due to war, rebellion, and destruction of civil infrastructure; Federal authority dramatically wanes in US
China and India engage in land conflict, limited nuclear war before splintering
Nanotech recycling, automation and alternative energy arrest complete slide into post-industrial Stone Age
US spits into dozens of regions and micronations, the strongest among them Texas, the Western Alliance and the southern nation of Jubilee
First sentient AI created in prosperous surviving city-states; allows cities to radically expand control over nanotechnology

Acologies (sealed, armored, nanotech-driven megacities) arise to protect against extreme weather, rogue combat nano and genetic plagues; most soon fall under autocratic rule by religious, corporate or military leaders, but attract large populations because of their safety and wealth
Rise of the "Nangineers," individuals skilled in merging with AI to bring nanotech to unprecedented heights; soon become independent order of traveling "miracle workers", healing plagues, restoring seedstock and rejuvinating communities
Surviving powers, under old nationalist / religious banners, increasingly begin fighting as their spheres of control overlap
"Atrocities Against Sentience": Nanotech used to control or disrupt neural activity of unprotected populations; pathological AI created to enhance nanotech attacks, driving millions to acts of mayhem and depravity
Nangineers condemn attacks, but outwardly remain neutral; secretly begin planning with independent AI factions to end atrocities

Emergence of the "I/You Ethic," ethical philosophy based on sharing the experiences and pain of others via mind-machine interface; spread by group of Nangineers and AI; becomes most popular philosophy among youth in arcologies
"Conscience Revolt:" Cabal of nangineers and AI enable popular uprisings, largely lead by young people, to replace corporate, religious and autocratic leaders within many (but not all) arcologies
Newly democratic arcologies reorganize into democratic "Global Reconstruction Authority;" voting privledges and nanotech enhancements are sustained through community or military service; leadership of arcologies expelled into wastelands
Remaining "rogue arcologies" shunned via sanctions until they renounce repression and agree to democratic elections
"Deconstructor Revolution:" Nangineers leverage culture shock over atrocities and history of near total extinction to foster revolutionary sentiments; philosophy emerges focusing on tearing down old cultures and replacing them with a new, global Common Culture
Widescale nanite-based deconstruction of old cities, historical heritage leads to clashes between Common Culture and ethnic / religious powers

Failed radiological bomb forces mass evacuation of Miami Arcology; Jubilee suspected
AI Peacekeepers supress rising ethnic / religious dissent in wastelands around arcologies
Global Reconstruction Authority's power increases to combat terrorism and microwars; charter later expands to cover expansion of human civilization into space
Fusion discovered; several rogue states agree to join Common Culture in exchange for technology
"Stratoscrapers" arise within Common Culture; eventually become "orbitscrapers" tethered by monowire to space stations; vacc train networks begin to link arcologies
Construction of L5, first orbital city
"Colonial Cultural Compromise" reached: Ethnic and religious minded groups agree to expand offworld

"Nanotech Renaissance:" Vacc train networks connect most Common Culture arcologies around the world
The "1 Million Nations" arise, made of sentient human-AI communities within the Common

Culture, united under the goal of expanding human civilization to the stars
Human-machine consciousness transfer; rise of post-human cyborg class
Colonization boom; colonies established on Luna, Mars; asteroid mining begun
Dismantling begun of cultural icons such as the Great Wall of China and Pyramids at Giza; Vatican exports Sistine Chapel and several other artifacts into space

Halo of stations, mostly Common Culture, emerges around Earth
Stations established around Jupiter, Io, Europa
Beginning of H3-based solar economy
Oort Cloud probe discovers alien wormhole artifact

Present day: World is mostly wilderness, deconstructed ruins, desert; 4 billion live in

orbitscrapers; 3 billion in space; surviving 2 billion live in scattered tribal communities continually around the globe




Um... it's a "character interaction worldbuilding game"

I increasingly don't know what the hell to call this game. Although the level of detail and sheer, eye-bleeding volume of material I've been posting in the forums makes everything look out of control, I honestly think I know where I'm going and that this will be doable (famous last words, eh?[wink]). But I increasingly find myself working in the hinterlands of genre. Is this thing an RPG? Is it a strategy game? Is it a life sim?

No, it's a worldbuilding game, whatever the hell that means. It's a "whatever you call a freeform game where you interact with characters to change the course of history over lifetimes" game. Blech!

I get a bit ticked at how easy Grand Theft Auto has it. Driving cars? No problem. Shooting people? No problem. Mix of freeform and mission-based play, plus some Sims-like elements? Bring it on!

Oh well.[rolleyes] Perhaps in one of my frenzied pacing sessions the answer will come to me. In the meantime...

Straylight Update

Did some general worldbuilding today. Worldbuilding can either be a huge waste of time or great brain-teaser for revealing gameplay possibilities and solutions to gameplay problems.

I'm working on how a nanotech society crammed millions high into vertical cities actually works, and if it's possible to make you a citizen with interesting survival and leveling gameplay. If so, I'll have met a major goal of giving you a sense of "living in the future."

I've also been taking a look at some of the Garage Games tools. I'm happy to see that they're finally going to be getting a robust level editor, which should remove a major stumbling block to development.




The Spirit of Mao Is Upon Me

Darnit, I've been meaning to keep this place updated. But I've found that working 8am to 8pm, exercising for 2 hours a day, and trying to write a book takes a bit of time. Oh well, I'm sure the billions of people who read this will forgive me. [rolleyes]

The Long March

So I'm in a rough spot right now. You might even say that I'm screwed, but that kind of talk only leads to defeatism. I've got to get a better job, because for the last few years-- frankly since the dot com crash-- I've been struggling to stay afloat. Although I've got tech skills, I'm really learning that the game industry was a unique, open-minded environment unduplicated elsewhere. Whereas I rose through the ranks in gaming because I could show talent, the business world seems to rely exclusively on connections or credentials. Either you know someone or your school's name gets you in the door.

Unfortunately, what this means is that if I don't want to be doomed to a slew of risky temp jobs (i.e., no insurance / not knowing if you can pay the rent), I've got to finish school. And that means that, now that I know nobody will fund indie game development, that it's going to be even harder to finish Straylight.

Harder, but I refuse the word impossible. It seems to me that the first mistake people make in independent game development (besides biting off more than they can chew, which I plead guilty to) is focusing on externals first. You get the concept artists and work on the engine so that you can show the screenshots. The screenshots create the buzz so that you can recruit volunteers and maybe even paid talent. Everyone asks to see how far you've gotten because nobody wants to be attached to a falling star, and your screenshots prove your progress.

Graphics age far more quickly than code, however. The next multimillion-dollar game is going to raise the bar for everyone, commercial and indie alike. Go back and play Doom 1 if you don't believe me. What I remember as clear, amazingly crisp, stunning detail is now a pixelated mess. How did it change? Our perceptions were radically altered at a fundamental level, and now, save for retro games meant to look old, those graphics aren't good enough.

So if graphics age far more quickly than code, and you have a big job ahead of you, it seems to me that, recruiting be damned, the worst mistake you can make is to start working on graphics. I knew this at a fundamental level, but let some people talk me into walking the "create a website / post artwork / get artists" path. That's only smart if you're going to finish soon, because I guarantee you that most people who sign up with you will quit unless they're compensated. By now, that's the dominant theme I hear in indie game development involving medium or large projects.

So it occurs to me that if a person has the willpower (fanatical, at this point) to keep the dream alive no matter what, then the strategy has to be long range. You keep working as much as possible on the material that won't age until you finally build up enough critical mass to burst through to completion. You keep searching for stylistic graphical representations, such as iconic, mini-game or static graphical representations, that will still be popular. And you save the wow-cool engine stuff for near last (in as much as you can create content / gameplay without an engine, that is).

As I've been exercising for hours each day, the nature of motivation, willpower and limits has become more clear to me. Sure, there are a great many things that we simply can't do; but there are a whole lot of other things that we say we can't do, which are nothing more than competing constructs of the mind. False thoughts, or undermining motives, if you will. I say to myself, half-way through my exercise program, that I can't keep going, but when I focus on something that consumes my attention, time evaporates, and I'm done. Obviously then, the mind lies. [smile]

What the hell does this have to do with completing Straylight? Given everything that's on my plate, it's going to take laser focus and an iron will to keep moving forward. I've got to do school, I've got to find a safer job, and I've got to finish this damned book (that they've asked me to rewrite, by the way). And the mechanism to do so derives, I believe, from motivation.

It's interesting how much energy we can discover within ourselves when we have the proper inspiration. One of the most amazing examples I can think of is from Chinese history: The Long March. Mao Tse-tung somehow managed to march 100k people over 18 mountain ranges to escape defeat. Now, I don't know about you, but I have no idea what it's like to march over even one mountain range, let alone 18. What does that take?

Proper motivation, I'm sure.

Now, yes, I admit it's stretching credulity to even compare the Long March to developing a video game, but I'm only using such an extreme example to show that we can do the impossible when properly motivated.

And I'm very motivated to finish this game.




40th Hour

18 Cups of coffee I think. I refilled the pot about 2 & 1/2 times that I can remember, maybe more before that. Almost half a bag of Splenda and 1/2 a bottle of sugar free syrup ghost.

I've been listening to the same 20 MP3s for the past 10 hours. It's all very odd.

I've just finished the 50% drop on my C++ book. Had to make up a couple of weeks of work because I fell behind (damn GDC :>)Wrote 17,659 words in 3 days. At least that's what MS Word thinks.

What was funny was going outside to get more milk for coffee. No shave in three days + melanin + hoodie = American Taliban. You know somethings up when dogs start barking, moms hustling their kids off the street, and the Terror Alert goes up as soon as you step outside.

I was supposed to start a job today, but I'll have to blow that off. I'm in temp hell these days, anyway, so I'm not exactly risking losing a job with the Donald.

What's I find interesting from a phenomenological standpoint is the change in perception that accompanies sleep deprivation. I seem to be very lucid and aware of multiple things at once. At the same time I had to use a calculator just to add 22, 23, and some other number (heh, left side...it's gone bye-bye for now)

I suppose this is at least more entertaining than those who post while drunk. Marginally.

Straylight Update
Heh. Yeah. Real funny... I'll finish it up real quick, just lemme get more coffee..




It's the stupid little things in life...

I must be ripe and ready for old age, because there are a lot of new things I hate, not for any rational reason, but just because they're new!

Take those fancy multi-media keyboards. Why the hell do you need MORE buttons on your keyboard? What kind of marketing scam is that? Buttons to open My Documents? What kind of rube needs a button to open My Documents?

Well, apparently, I do.

Like an idiot, I spilled water on my keyboard. It was so trashed that no matter how long I dried it out, the buttons still malfunctioned badly. So I had to go get a new one. Of course, the only ergo keyboard I could get on short notice was one of those damn multimedia keyboards!

So I got one.

You know what's funny? Being able to control the volume of streaming music or talk radio in under a second is VERY convenient. Especially when the radio station I listen to kept reporting about a human finger ending up in a serving of Wendy's chili. (There are just some things in life I don't need to know.)

I even press the button to bring up My Documents.[razz]

But what I really want to know is how I'm supposed to grow old and crotchedy when they keep making useful stuff!

Straylight Update: Muy, muy slow this week. I'm jamming to make the milestone for the 50% update for my Visual C++ book.

Floated the survival part of the "Go Anywhere Gameplay" idea in Game Design. It involves 3 character options that play 3 ways:

Pure Human - For the player who wants a sim future life

Health & Energy decline 1 pt every game hour (gone in 3 real hours)
Morale falls 1 pt every game day (gone in roughly 3 real days)

Cyborg - For the hardcore blast 'em up gamer

Fixed health
Energy recharges (like Fatigue in Morrowind) & can be upgraded
Morale - Same as human (you're a brain in box)

Cybrid - Part man, part machine; roll your own gameplay by adding implants that may or may not have to be managed.

Declining health is repaired by eating. Color can be added to the game by creating different effects and costs of food (protein paste vs. Tasty Wheat?). Sleep should have similar strategic considerations. If you hate this stuff, though, you can play cybrid or cyborg.

I'm also working on a personality tech tree, which should affect life events that you draw to you in the game.

I was infected for a very short time with the idea of what it would take to model a futuristic Earth. Ran headfirst into a stone wall a few times to cure myself. Gigs of textures and GPS data. Yeah. I'm much better now.

More later... back to the grind...




Wow! MDA Works!

Earlier I wrote up a piece on the MDA (Mechanics, Design, Aesthetics) Framework Marc Leblanc introduced in the two day Game Design workshop at GDC. I was so impressed with it that I started using it, but really didn't get into it until this week. In my home office, I was able to spread out scissors, paper and glue and start mocking up the core of my design. It was an awesome process!

To make it work you've got to focus on what the core experience will be for your player. I started out with a focus on life experiences and adventure. Then you have to ask yourself, in a way that can be rigorously tested, what the essential nature of your goal is. For me, I asked "What is the fundemental essence of a life in the future?"

The answer inspired the creation of a game grid filled with challenges and opportunities, cards and a character sheet. The sheet holds your resources, the cards emulate events, and the challenge / opportunity squares cause you to draw a card when you land on them.

One so far easy thing to confirm: It's fun to try to stay afloat economically. To simulate the survival portion of the game, you get 20 points of money, and you lose 1 every turn. This really pushes you to try to find opportunities to raise it, and hope that challenges don't wipe you out as you move around the board.

Also saw right off the bat that it's difficult to make regular life gameplay interesting in contrast to epic adventuring. I don't have the gameplay in place for what I call the "gardening" portions of the game, yet (like shopkeeping), so it may just be that I'm abstracting a lot.

I have a bunch of ideas to test out, like adding story cards, adversary chits, and making the playing grid a city. Once I get that playtested, I'll try it out on some friends.

What I really like about MDA is that you don't have to sit around wondering if the mix of your design ideas will work. You can get a rough approximation in only a couple of hours!




Your design's writin' checks reality can't cash

Ahem... with apologies to Top Gun, that is...[grin]

So my new motto is this: "All of life is a problem requiring creativity."

That little gamma ray burst of insight comes courtesy of my forays into neuro-linguistic programming. I'm taking the tact that you've got to find creative solutions to the huge problems of getting a game out there, and the first solution is to manage your morale.

With that in mind, the GDC was good smackdown experience. I attended every business and indie track I could. I now know two things: VC funding isn't an option for games (I was probably dumb to think it was), and even simple games are bloody expensive.

I also learned that publishers take everything, IP-wise. I hadn't expected that they'd want your wall and ground textures. Why on god's green earth they need your wall textures I don't know. I was prepared to give up rights to using Siegers and whatever else I came up with... but for god's sake man, not my wall textures!!!! [grin] Seriously, this makes me rethink the plan of releasing on the internet with the hopes of getting picked up by a publisher for a bit wider coverage. One publisher at a session said, "If you did it once you can do it again." Sure, easy for you to say, bud. But I look at it as starting from scratch. It might be a stupid obsession, especially compared with the hardship imposed by limited 'net circulation, but you really have to think about not just one game, but several, and what might hurt your ability to stay in business, especially when you're thinking of doing a series of games set in similar environments.

Anyways, the good news: The bloom of game programs in schools have eased the way to getting help. I made some great contacts with local universities that may prove useful.

Straylight Update:
Ran the "go anywhere gameplay" idea past a hardcore gaming friend and he barfed. Hmmm... Certainly gives me pause. We extrapolated and playtested a few scenarios, but he still was cool to the idea. I won't change it based on one person's opinion, but he's been a great bellweather in the past, so I've got to look at this more closely.

Had a weird brainstorm involving representing personality using symbols. Oddly enough, it reminded of the UI mechanic Doom used, where the guy's face become more bloodied as you take damage. Not sure how viable or effective it would be (90% gets tossed, it seems [wink]), but I could see certain people striving to evolve a certain "symbolic look."

Then again, could be waaaaay too cerebral.

More later...




I am a walking finite state machine...

in need of much better goal scheduling and pathfinding...

Don't mind that grey fluid leaking out of my ears. It's just the jellied remnants of my brain.

Four AI talks in two days. And I'm a newbie to the subject. Yes, I enjoy pain.

Still, the gnarled, cramped claw of a notetaking hand was worth it. I got to peak under the hood of Halo 2, Fear, Condemned, Tribes 2, S.W.A.T. 4 and Killzone. Though a noob, I was fortunately still able to ask some intelligent questions (always a risk when you're in a room filled with entities several orders of magnitude more skilled than you are).

Now that I've severely curbed my own game development enthusiasm, all I need to do is get that stain out of my jacket...




That's funny, he doesn't look demonic

Some random musings so far on my trip to the GDC:

Dave: That's odd. He doesn't look a thing like all those photoshopped pics.

IDGA + Serious Games + Mobile Gaming = Some serious professionalism. The ratio of geeks to suits has changed in the last few years since I attended. Military types, government types, academics. Yikes! This is not your father's GDC!

Indie Gaming: Okay, where else can you see a game featuring a vegan bull riding a bike through a fully realized city GTA-style while performing missions to rescue animals from cosmetic testing? It's Steer Madness, and it even features a voice acted story with cutscenes (um, not sure if that's good but the quality's there) and music from up and coming indie bands.

Slitherine Strategies put in a great showing with a Roman-themed RPG / RTS called Legion II. You can chose a huge range of special skills and abilities as your people improve (kinda like Gladius meets Rome: Total War). It also has a great tactical planning element and nice engine for zooming in on the fighting by hundreds of units. Nice to see some developers making sales! 100k units, according to Director JD McNeil, but he explained that they've got to deal with lots of small publishers throughout Europe to survive. Internet sales, unfortunately, are still just a drop in the bucket.

Alien Hominid by the Behemoth also looked very nice. Twisted Stitch-like character takes on lantern jaw CIA suits, iron-fisted robots and hordes of other baddies in this quirky, fast paced side scroller. 7k sales on the Internet with no advertising I think the designer said, and already coming out on the GameCube! Now that's some success!

Feet: Oy! Man, you'd think working out twice a day for weeks and weeks would prepare you for all that standing and walking. No such luck. I wonder if any of the booth babes are giving out foot messages...? [rolleyes]

I PROMISE NOT TO CHOKE PEOPLE... But the well dressed, doll-like exec lady who was whining about sci-fi and medieval games at E3... hold me back, fellas!!!! Hold me back! (Lady, you're lucky the readers of GameDev.net are holding me back because... ohh, man!)

The Hotel Westin
28 gram jar of nuts... $10.50
Crappy internet service that repeatedly times out, forces you to rewrite your journal entry twice because of some stupid login-in screen and must be renewed each day... $14.75
Being awakened by the screech of metal from loading trucks at 4 am... Priceless!




An excuse not to update?

Welp, I'll be at the Game Developers Conference all this week, so I won't get much chance to update. However, you can check out the GDC update page (check the link on the front page) for an exciting, action packed recount of events there!




23 Hours Straight - Whew

Just recovered from 23 straight hours of writing. Lovely experience. I fell behind on the C++ book I'm writing and had to turn in 25% this past weekend. But I got it done! Just goes to show what you can do when your mind is in the right place! [smile]

Straylight Progress:

Design - Go Anywhere Gameplay
NAILED this one! [cool] After two midnight to five AM brainstorming sessions.

The plan: use UI to act as a gentle prompt that rewards you for handling the appropriate life area. You influence this UI with items and interactions (with people and the environment). It's a kind of a pushback system-- the UI will tell you you need to handle a life area if you want to improve, and you can take actions to push back. So the game constantly gives you dramatic goals, and you evolve yourself by accepting or rejecting them.

For those interested, there's a wild personality system underneath this that blends real and pop-psych. It's salted with Jungian archetypes, the Zodiac, Myers-Briggs and the Ennegram., (If your response is "whaaaaa?" don't trip. Just trust me.[grin])

This means serving on a starship as a crewmember, or being the captain, or being a cop or being a shopkeeper should work and work well!

Design - Levels
Refined "teleport throughout ships/levels" idea to HOPEFULLY make it acceptable & playable. If this works, could really save on development by not having to architect HUGE structures.

Design - Co-designer
Currently looking for a co-designer to help create some wargame like rule systems for changing universe idea. Not sure I'm ready to wade into Help Wanted just yet, looking locally first.

Business - Biz Plan
* 85% done with creating company objectives, including sales goals
* Created a few distribution strategies
* Still figuring out how to fund this monster

More to come!




No Death But True Death

Lots of time spent writing with the C++ book and looking for work. Not much design time. :(

Did have a great brainstorming session, though, walking around my local park. God I love sunshine!

* Getting some great feedback from folks in the Game Design forum on the possibility of enemies and players who can't be killed. Flesh or steel is just a shell that enhances your true stats, so getting killed is getting deleveled. Segmented "soul recovery" networks, factional fighting and gameplay to absorb enemies makes this rich with possibility.

* Opens up the controversial possibility of removing saves except for exit & autosaves for bugs.

* Solved a major art asset / graphic engine challenge, which may save money & speed up gameplay: Systems of tele-porter doors that have the potential to pack the space of a battleship inside a grain of sand. Need to explore portal issues with Torque engine to see if windows & such are possible, but this could move the focus to modeling rooms rather than massively interconnected geometry. (What a FREAKIN' headache!!!)

* Pods, glyphs and holographic privacy screens may help cut down on killer animation requirements

* VO could be Star Wars / Trek alien mishmash-speak to help cut out some costs for VO

* Level transitions that actually do something for your character MIGHT take some of the sting off of level loads

That's all for now. Back to writing...




There are no problems, only solutions

So it costs astronomical amounts of money to build your game, and even if you went through a publisher you'd only get a fraction of the money back to put into your second one, and it takes a bunch of people who require expensive salaries, and people are loathe to invest in a hit driven business, and publishers won't fund you until you have at least 50% in most cases done, and most games don't sell that much anyway, and...

Doesn't this strike you as a problem requiring extremely creative solutions? It does to me.

Have a book milestone due (25%, ugh!) so I haven't had as much time as I like, but I'm still working on balancing the virtual life elements so that they compliment adventuring.

One interesting challenge is fixed versus mobile property. A car and a starship can be interesting because they're means to get somewhere. If there's driving or navigation, this is an interrim challenge that you enjoy while keeping your eye on your goal.

But what about owning an orbital hacienda? Should it just sit there? What about a small shop? Got some thinking to do.




$100,000 for what?!?!?!?!?!

For three years worth of rent in San Francisco, commercial building, capable of holding a team of about ten. And you usually can't get away with less than 3 years.

I talked yesterday with a commercial real estate rep about rental rates, how much floor space you'd need for 10 - 12 people, and various other things. I can't say I'm surprised, nor happy, but it's good to get a reality check. Sometimes I have the feeling of a man trying to brave rapids with a canoe, a spoon, and blind faith. But whenever I even try the luxury of losing heart I'm reminded of all those glorious, shining desk jobs just waiting for me out there (which I may have to take anyway, if this all crashes [grin]).

Man, this is all a phenomenal life lesson in pursuing your heart's desire...

More on "future life sim" elements, in this case constructs, new crew and children (maybe pets if they fit).

There needs to be gameplay for making a psychological imprint / impression. There are a couple of ways to do this from the standpoint of the NPC: mimickry, positive / negative correction, and rules / policies.

It'd be interesting if your child picked up your bad and good habits, but the game would need to define a few bad and good habits to pick up and match them to the existing grid of moral bearings. I'm not sure how much is enough to make this cool. If you use stim paks all the time, is it enough to see an impressionable crew member or child starting to constantly use them? Dress and anti-dress are definitely good here, which requires a bit of assigning costumes to factions ("Dammit, now my daughter's dressing like those freakin anti-techs!" [smile])

Positive and negative correction are a bit more interesting and potentially controversial. They fall into verbal and physical. Verbal is conversation responses to moral questions the NPC has, or interjections like insults, praise or taunts. Physical correction can be anything from applause to smacking a crewmember, pet or child. For veracity's sake, this needs to go into some sort of matrix of responses, so that if you're kicking your dog in public people might respond, depending on how rough the town is.

The rules / policies thing is a bit sketchy right now. I did a bunch a while back for starship policies, and they conferred benefits at a cost. They set general rules that inhibited or enhanced AI behavior, most of it fortunately behind the scenes (like stealing and gambling) I've got to see if this stretches for the virtual family or the businesses morale / touch-object gameplay.

More on this later...




More on the virtual life stuff:. partners in crime

Straylight update:

Working on design, virtual life elements. The gist is to make the spouse and family no different from crew, which are little different from you. Family have perceived and actual loyalty, morale, personality, moral bearing, skills, reputation, goals and life events. (No "killer AI-in-the-brain" tho)

For the spouse, you do a bunch of sidequests to get him/her. Once gotten, just as with crew, you improve the spouse's morale in order to improve their loyalty. Loyalty is the basis for bonuses like Synergy, which amps up skills between compatible characters / NPCs. The spouse should provide the highest amount of Synergy, and therefore the best boosts possible. They should also auto-manage certain property for you, defend attacks against your reputation, and generate interesting life events which give you a chance to risk resources for some gain.

I think the virtual children might be more interesting in that there's a sort of grooming aspect that's possible: Basically, character creation by responding to life events. What the child excels at, how they view the world and factions therein, and what goals they have will heavily reflected your input.

I should stress that the way Synergy and life events works, you probably won't want to leave the spouse at home all the time. Most Synergy bonuses require the two characters to be on the same level; so your spouse could be your partner in crime, trained like you to fight, stealth or trade their way through the universe. It should be an interesting tradeoff, though, because if they stay home they can improve property, defend your rep and get you contacts / missions.

The life events should take care of those who want meaningful story. The leveling should take care of those who want gameplay.

More later...




Hey, It's My Birthday!

You know, I must be getting old. I'm not into this whole blogging thing. You write thoughts that disappear into the wind, never guaranteed that you'll have an audience. It's a very disconcerting feeling. At least when you post in the forums there's a chance that your thread will be seen and ignored. But with a dev journal, here you're a subset of a subset of thread readers...

The thought actually reminds me of a cool Humanities class I once took that covered ancient Egypt. The invention of writing was thought to have magical powers, whether you could read it or not, and the early Egyptians were very concerned that it endure forever. So throughout Egypt you can find wards on obelisks and other ruins that are as simple as a "No Tresspassing" sign, inscribed into eternity.

Anyways, it's my birthday today! I'm into birthday resolutions, and one of them is to keep a better account of how Straylight is going. If nothing else, it'll keep me accountable.. even if only to the wind.

What's been happening with the project?

Well, first off, not as much as I'd like, but it is still moving forward in fits and starts. I'm going through a crappy period financially and it's kind of tough to focus on creative work when you're worried about whether or not the sheriff is going to throw your stuff out on the front lawn. Actually, that's just gallows humor. It may suck right now, but I'm fine-- just not able to do as much as I'd like.

I'm working on a book right now, as well, to teach beginning programmers C++. You wouldn't know it by the length of my posts on Gamedev, but it's pretty hard to come up with 1,500 to 2,000 words a day! [lol]

I've had two big developments in the past two weeks as far as Straylight goes. The first is that I may have a business mentor to help me create a business plan. He's got a lot of contacts and may know people who can help me create a startup company. I'm going this route because if I don't turn this thing into a serious business effort it's going to become impossible to do in the next few years. I think the graphic expectations alone will just be impossible in 5 years, and game budgets are only going to get bigger.

The other major breakthrough that I'm really psyched about is in design. For the longest time I've wanted to put you in a sci-fi universe and give you lots of freedom. If I had my wish, I'd let you do anything you wanted, but that's of course an engineering impossibility. What I've settled for is trying to give you a mix of "go anywhere gameplay" and dramatic adventure.

The "go anywhere gameplay" is a phrase I use to mean no matter what's on the level / map, you have something fun to do, some goal to work towards. You could be flying your ship, walking around town, sitting in a bar, or in the brig. Doesn't matter, you'd still have some activity that's enough to keep you interested.

The dramatic adventure part involves freeform, unscripted gameplay that I'd like to rival story. THIS one is a large female dog, pardon my French. There are tons of factors like pacing and immersion to worry about. This has been by far the toughest to crack.

It's not detailed enough to, well, go into detail, but here's a sense of what I've come up with:

I think I have a way of tossing you into the game as a nobody while still making you dramatically relevant, if you choose to play along the freefrom storyline.

The setup is that you've got something wrong with your head. And people may be trying to kill you for it. You don't get this right away because you're an immigrant with only enough money to either start a business; get some skills and get a job; or buy a dinky ship and try to make a living that way.

If you follow the story, you'll realize that your quantum soul has been hacked and some shadowy figures have decided that you'll midwife the most powerful AI in the known universe. What happens to your sanity is only an afterthought. Worse yet, those who did it are part of a competing group of secret factions, each of which has done the same to others. These other avatars are now fighting and assimilating each other, and if you're not careful, you'll be on the menu next.

What I think is REALLY cool about this idea is that it doesn't get in the way of you being Joe / Jane Nobody making your fortune in a hostile universe. The plan is to break the freeform story up into chapters which escalate the action. You're the sole trigger of the escalation, though, so if you ignore the story (as I love to do) the other NPC pawns will just keep waging war against each other. They'll come after you according to your visibility in the game world, though, so you'll need to keep this in mind as you build up your personal empires.

Now for the even cooler part: To make the game more freeform I've been trying to put in some "virtual life in the future" aspects. I've wanted you to be able to open a shop and customize it, buy and build up property, or run around GTA-style raising mayhem.

In the past, life sim elements have always ended up being distractions or annoyances. It's hard to manage this stuff when you're trying to adventure, and it always felt like it didn't belong. Now as a part of the whole AI-in-your-head thing, I think I've got a way of making it seamless and natural.

In the coming weeks I hope to talk a bit more about this as I work on it. More later...




My Andy Warhol!

Hey, I'm in a comic!!!

Andy Warhol once said that we all get 15 minutes of fame. Well, since it's the digital age and there are so many of us, this has probably been abbreviated to 15 seconds. Anyways, enjoy!

Hmmm.... maybe those Tolkein-length posts of mine need to be edited down a bit? [grin]

Thanks to boolean for his fine sense of humor!




Why Dream Big?

Greetings! Welcome to the first installment of the journal of Wavinator. I hope you'll enjoy reading about my thoughts on everything from game design to the challenges of building an independent gaming project.

One of the things that has been rattling around inside my head lately is the question of why a person would pursue a dream, especially a big dream, and especially one in a field as miserly and short-lived as game development. What makes the risk worth it, when you consider that there are so many other stable, safe and lucrative avenues? Ernest Adams' 1998 Game Developer's Conference Roadtrip lecture, Some Practical Problems of Immortality, sums up the game developer's situation perfectly: "Our work is as bright and as beautiful as the wildflowers of a Sierra mountain springtime... and just as ephemeral. Our work cannot serve, unaided, as our monument. When we die, we leave nothing to remember us by."

As some of you may know I'm pulling together a team to work on a science fiction role playing game. The working name is Straylight (soon to change in order to avoid a possible trademark dispute). The game's focus is on combat, stealth and trade while running a starship or base. If I can put in everything I want, it will feature freeform adventure in a post-apocalyptic galaxy teaming with struggling empires and hostile life. There will be character and property development, randomized missions, and what I call a Reactive Cosmos--a game environment that responds to the choices you make.

One of the things I'm aiming for is trying to capture the soul of science fiction. I feel that many SF games are more about things than about people--lasers, robots, hull configurations, weapons, etc. In science fiction writing, these are called "gadget stories," and they're the type that writers like Isaac Asimov and Athur C. Clarke were famous for. But while they can be very fulfilling stories, their main drawback is that they never give you a sense of a living, breathing world, a view of the human experience in a future impacted by grand ideas. You never get the ever-famous "sense of wonder" science fiction is supposed to be reknown for.

Some games try to give you a taste of this, but in doing so tie you to a claustrophobic plot. You get a strong sense of character, you may get a sense of the world, but you do so on the designer's terms, when he decides the time is right. Exploring the world in depth is usually impossible. Want to see what the people are like? Better hope its in the script. Want to experience a day in the life? Too bad, you've got mission objectives to fulfill! Want to replay and have a different experience each time? Forget about it!

Well, I don't know about you, but I play games in part to escape the confines of fiction, so that I can make meaningful choices.

What would it be like to stand on the deck of a ship you've built, with a crew of different personalities you've picked, and explore and adventure in the direction you choose? What would it be like to set that ship down on alien worlds and explore, on foot or in a vehicle, environments both strange, lucrative and deadly? What would it be like to be caught up in the intrigues of clashing empires, the destinies of ancient cultures and the challenges of a mystery spanning the entire galaxy?

I've been holding a vision of what this might be like for many years. One of the major reasons why I went into the game industry--and a major reason why I left--was that I wanted to see this vision realized. I grew up playing games like Elite, Starflight and Master of Orion, and have forever wanted to build a unique game that blends elements of all three: The freeform, "pick your own path" gameplay of Elite; the beautiful scope of Starflight's planets and plot; and the turmoil of a changing, growing, thriving galaxy as found in Master of Orion.

A project like this is going to be very difficult to organize and difficult to finish. The challenges in technology and content are formidable. Design, programming, art, management and marketing will all require a potentially exhausting commitment in time and energy.

So why do it? Why even try?

Because it should be done. I think that's the answer to why you should pursue a dream, especially a big one, even one as miserly and short-lived as game development. If it has been in your head long enough, if you've tried to pare it down and make it more safe and traditional and reasonable yet it resists, if it haunts you through wake and sleep, it should be done.

I think the things that we hold inside our thin, fragile skulls are lost forever if we don't give them shape, commit them to form, try to breathe life into them so that they can survive outside of us. I figure that we all have a very limited amount of time on this earth, and I have to ask myself, given this, what it is that is really worth doing. I think that doing something that you really care about, despite the cost and the challenge, no matter how short lived it may be, is worth both the risk and the effort.

At least, at the end of all of this, that's the answer I intend to give.



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