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Design commentary

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First off, another good link. One problem I see in games nowadays is a problem of scope. Many products are so wrapped up in the video and the sound that they forget to put in an interesting well-tested game. Here is an article written by the head of Cheapass games (one of the better low-end card-game companies) about scoping. It's not about computer games, but the discussion of focus is excellent.

I like the author's "sculpture" metaphor, but I always had a metaphor of my own that I borrowed from somewhere else. I like to think of my games as either diamonds or balls of mud. Diamonds are perfect --you can't add to or take away from a diamond without having a mess. For example, Sokoban is a diamond. There have been a lot of games (Chip's Challenge, Oxyd) that tried to extend the Sokoban idea, but they were never any better than the original. Balls of mud are amorphous --you can add to or take from a ball of mud, and it'll still be a ball of mud. SimCity is a ball of mud --you can add to it or take away from it without changing it's SimCity-ness. I always try to figure out what kind of game I'm working on when I start making improvements. Adding mud to a diamond never works.

Fixed the high-score stuff on friday. Turned out that the checksum was working --when I converted the buffer to 7-bit, I made a String object out of it, forgetting that I needed a terminating NULL. A buncha garbage characters were being written out along with the buffer, so my checksums were off when I calculated 'em again. As promised, the code's to my Coder class is available here. I probably won't make it available forever, as I wanna spend my time writing end-user stuff over supporting tools. This just seemed to be a very useful tool which probably could help out someone else.

I put the finishing touches on a cute little game called ChessCards. It was certainly a quickie game, as I started it during a bored moment while doing Zap Pod!, and finished it this weekend.

[I'm not averse to quickie games. One of my games, Brain Bones, was written over a four-day weekend around the 4th of July, 1996. Some people tell me that it's the most addictive game in the set. Sometimes things just fall into place.]

Anyway, the biggest problem with ChessCards was that the entire deck is shown as four rows of 13 cards (with no overlapping). With my old card-size of 71x96 pixels, the window would need to be around 950 pixels wide, which doesn't fit my rule of making everything work with 640x480 screens. For this reason, the PlayingCard class now has a "mini" mode, which draws a compressed card of 41x49 pixels (see the link above to see the new mini cards). I still haven't figured out how to make the card backs look good. Fortunately for me, ChessCards has all the cards face-up, so I can put that off for another day :)

I think the next game I do will be a Mancala variant. One of the games from my original pack, Wari, is probably the most popular game I've done. It's undoubtedly the number one game for women (Shelly says it's because the game's actually beatable, and is thus a fine ego boost).

This probably oughta be in my booklist, but Larry Russ sells a very good book called Mancala Games. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a publisher, so he sells photocopies by mail-order. This is the best book on the subject I've seen, with rules for about 150 different games. I was thinking of doing the game Um El Bagara (The Cow Game) from the book, as it's quite a bit different from the one I've already written.
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