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Kris Schnee

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About Kris Schnee

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  1. Kris Schnee

    The Angry Vendor Idea

    I've been thinking about a similar problem. My first plan was to have a trading-themed game that would avoid what you call "space trucker syndrome," the gameplay of going to a port, unloading goods, buying new goods, then heading for some other activity because the trading itself isn't fun. (Eg., in "Wing Commander Privateer," isn't trading a dull, ignored activity versus combat missions?) So, I thought about the concept of a "potlatch," in which tribal chieftains competed to outdo each other with lavish gifts. My system would involve a balance between getting a good deal, and intentionally giving yourself a bad deal so as to improve your reputation. Traders would remember how generous you were and give you better deals in future, and members of their tribe/guild/whatever would be more inclined to help you in other ways. I built a barter system (screenshot) where there were no explicit values for items, only hidden values in the NPC traders' minds that varied by location and kept in two copies: one for what the trader valued, and one for what they thought you valued. If you offered lots of an item, the trader would think you valued it less. There was some fun in that traders would comment on your actions, eg. "Oh, you don't want Fish after all?" My low-tech tribal theme evolved into more of a Renaissance theme, as I moved away from plain barter towards having standard coins among the tradeable items. Okay, I thought, that'll be fun; I can do guild and national politics. I just have to make the NPCs interesting by giving them a personality... and having a detailed world for them to interact with... and a detailed economic AI... and a detailed world generator... which quickly became an absurdly ambitious project. Worse, I played my own demo of a barter session and didn't find it all that fun, somehow! (Also, although the two-sets-of-values idea was possibly unique, the "innovative" interface I came up with looked pretty much like the one in Fallout now that I've finally played that.) What I'm thinking of doing now is expanding on a little gameplay mechanic I had lying around from another project: a sailing minigame. The original demo I did of that was fun enough that I caught myself voicing sound effects while playing it. If I can build some solid gameplay there and have a minimal, generic trading system at the ports, I can then expand on the trading aspect and not worry about not yet having anything fun to do in the game. In other words I'm not planning to focus on the social aspect for now, after all. I like some of the above discussion about social contact networks, though some of the crime, smuggling and unique artifact stuff sounds too much like a different kind of game than a straightforward trading game. The networking concept does lend itself to complex social behavior in the game, with neat potential mechanics like dealing with rival guilds, but the danger of trying to build that concept is that it might very well either be boringly shallow or so complex that it's hard to make. In any case, it could to a large extent be added after the basic mechanics are working and proved fun. I've been wanting to tie the act of trading in with other activities so that it's not just a matter of "buy X, sell Y" when I visit a port. A simple way of doing that is to have ship upgrades be among the trade goods, so that I might want to buy cannons, mount them for use, then sell them at the destination. Some more ambitious methods would be to have a colony growing under your care, encouraging you to make favorable deals with it to increase its future production; to have different kinds of ports from pirate havens with illegal goods, to heavily policed ports that tax you just to enter; merchants who offer information on regional needs or hazards if they like you ("stay out of North Bay this month; it's kraken season!"); the ability to rescue or attack a guild's ships at sea and have the guild react; letters of marque; individual crew with names and bonuses (versus crew being treated as hit points in Star Control 2); and the ability to fund civic projects like mad inventors or gardens. You'd be able to see the game world improving due to your efforts, not just a bank account rising, and NPCs would notice that and react.
  2. Kris Schnee

    Trade Game: Feedback Requested

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Switching between ports: Hit Escape. That takes you back to the map. Since each port has one or two items obviously in great supply and low price, you should be able to profit. I agree that it'd be good to implement having different qualities of ship, partly because that's a tangible way to measure your success -- can you trade up to a big, fancy, well-defended ship and do well enough to pay its upkeep? Taking that idea far enough would even let the player have a kind of trophy room to show off just how rich they are. Having variable city events for supply/demand would also be good, and would require some kind of news system. What about the core mechanic of doing the haggling, though? If that's not fun in its own right, then I'm basically just recreating Wing Commander: Privateer with a different setting and minus combat, or any other trading game where the act of buying and selling is just a spreadsheet activity. All the stuff about pirates, disease outbreaks and ship upgrades is built around that key activity, so I really want that core to be fun. I could see having an abstract puzzle like those in Puzzle Pirates, but then the game would be more about the puzzle than the idea of trading; the idea doesn't satisfy me. About having "desired items get removed," do you mean that traders should sometimes take the initiative to accept offers before you do? That'd make sense and be interesting. The idea of traders having different personalities in terms of, say, numbers of offers before they get frustrated and leave could be useful. More flavor text would be good. I'm worried about screen real estate, though! As the screenshot shows, I've divided the screen into "you" and "them" with the "trading mat" in the bottom-center. I think the portraits are important for making the experience less spreadsheet-like, even though I'm just using one piece of art at the moment; don't you? How can I squeeze as much useful info as possible onto this screen and still be able to do flavor text? You may have seen the text already overflowing the box. Maybe have a dialog box for text appear and disappear after each action, to free space for a "mood meter" or something? My inspiration here is the amazing city-screen interface from some versions of the Civilization games. Maybe something can be done with the social aspect of gift-giving, as part of the act of trading? If it's just "I offer X for your Y" maybe that's too simple.
  3. Screenshot I've built a simple game in which you travel to various ports, engaging in barter. The idea behind it is that a typical RPG shop is basically a dull vending machine, not interesting in its own right. In contrast there's a conversation in Neil Stephenson's "Quicksilver" in which two 17th-century traders have to haggle over even the value of the coins they're using. What if trading itself -- outside such acts as picking a destination or surviving pirate attacks -- could be made fun? What I'd like advice on is in actually making the activity fun! In this system you make an offer, the trader makes a counteroffer, and you accept it or modify your offer. Each trader has an internal estimate of how much he values each item, and how much he thinks you value each item, so it's possible to arrange a deal such that both of you can profit. (Unadvertised feature: Hit "N" while trading to look at a value estimate.) The demo is kind of frustrating because although you can indicate that you do/don't want particular goods, you're still likely to (say) have a trader keep trying to offer you back the bricks you just sold him. Also, there's a social aspect missing here; I was thinking of a "potlatch" system such that you gain some sort of social status by making a deal that the other side perceives as generous. Unlike other projects, I've focused this one completely on a single game mechanic. This could be built into a more elaborate game where you try to trade up to a bigger ship so that you can carry more stuff, or given full RPG mechanics so that you're exploring dungeons and fighting pirates between trading runs, but before I try any such thing I want to know that the basic idea of these trading sessions is enjoyable, and that's an elusive thing to achieve. Do you have any thoughts on how to do that? Windows EXE Source version (Python; requires Pygame)
  4. Kris Schnee

    The Single Fast Unit Space Empire Game

    About time-dilation for near-lightspeed travel: I'd once thought of a variant of the general idea here. You play as one human who travels with some friends on a single ship, maybe FTL (or with cryonics) but subject to time dilation. So, the effect would be very different than for a typical 4X game. You plant a colony, jet off to another star, then get a radio broadcast reporting that there's now a flourishing civilization there. Or a ruin! The gameplay would be in deciding how to make contact with the seed colonies you've planted, and get their cooperation to help you expand further. I also like the idea of the living starship, but don't see how it'd work in gameplay.
  5. I like this general idea. Sid Maier's Alpha Centauri offered an early version of it by having a wider range of cultural choices than just your form of government. Still, that game had you playing as an inexplicably immortal god-king with absolute power over your faction. What if you were playing instead as an idea? Imagine that you represent, say, the notion of Freedom, and your goal is not to advance the status of a particular group of cities but the power of the people who believe in you? Over time you might build up one empire, then intentionally destroy it and side with another. (We might say that Ancient Greece is still scoring victory points today!) A challenge here would be to have a decent array of ideas that players might want to play. A variant that might be more workable would be for you to play as an actual god, with the catch that you're innately "content neutral" but your power depends on whatever people think you represent. So at first, there's some tribe that believes in you, and the goal is just to help that tribe, but over time they decide you're the God of War because you keep driving them to attack people... and as a result your influence spreads, and your power starts to depend on how good you are at promoting war and destruction, regardless of what happens to the original tribe. Don't like that status? Start influencing people to build schools and libraries, and eventually you become known as the God of Knowledge instead. This way, your victory conditions would depend on what you as a player seem to consider important, and you're not arbitrarily tied to the fate of a particular group of cities.
  6. Kris Schnee

    Direction to Learn

    From a not-too-skilled coder: Remember that the stereotypical advice here is: Q: "I want to make an MMORPG!" A: "Don't!" ...Partly because it's really hard. You're talking about combining RPG mechanics, 3D graphics, and networking, each of which is tough in its own right. So, it's fine if you think of it as a long-term goal (especially if you're looking at more like 16 players than 16,000), but still, understand that you're picking possibly the most complex type of game out there. Yeah, I think that OpenGL and C++ together will let you do that if you've got the skill. For relative simplicity though you might want to use Ogre3D (which can use OpenGL and automates some tedious tasks), or another engine atop OpenGL. I don't know your current skill level, but if you haven't done so already I suggest trying to make games, period, before you try to make 3D games. Have you got the basic mechanics of a playable game down yet? It'll be really hard to try to learn those things at the same time as OpenGL and C++ and networking.
  7. Kris Schnee

    AI Sandbox

    A while ago I made a little program in Python that displays a field of cubes and pyramids, and allows an external program to communicate with it by the stupidly simple method of reading and writing text files to the same directory as the program. A few people have played with it by hooking it up to chatterbot-type AIs, giving them some kind of context to talk about. Program: http://kschnee.xepher.net/code/070801cubeland.zip Screenshot: http://kschnee.xepher.net/pics/070801cubeland.jpg Since I built a simple scrolling tile engine with sprites and a basic notion of physics (gravity, basic collision, and motion) and sensation (objects have some sensory data that can be pinged only by nearby viewers), there was some version that I'd jury-rigged to be controllable in the same way as the above program. Is that something that anyone would be interested in seeing? It's ugly but would let anyone's AI program do some basic actions in a standard mini-world. Screenshot: http://kschnee.xepher.net/pics/070502tiles.jpg What I want is a sandbox where the interface is accessible easily from any language you want to program your AI in; and where the AI controls a body that has specific, limited senses in relation to a set of physical objects in a simulated world. We could then test AIs with some standard tasks like "bring three related objects to Point A and explain in English what their relationship is," and have the AI be doing more than making abstract reasoning in a vacuum. Because there's a lot of research going on already about navigation, I don't much care about that topic and would avoid making it hard for a character to get around the world.
  8. Kris Schnee

    Text based rpg Game

    I suggest Python for a language, because it's easy to learn and use; simpler than C++; free; open-source if you care about that; and cross-platform. You'll want the (free) program Py2EXE to make actual EXEs though (there's an equivalent program for Macs). If you then want to progress from text to graphics, try adding Pygame, which is a free library of graphics/sound/event-control/etc. code for Python. If you're confused about how the programming techniques you've learned relate to actually making a game, then start by making a stupidly simple game: the computer picks a number between 0 and 100, and you get 7 guesses to find it, being told whether you're too low or too high each time. If you can make that game, you'll know the basics of how to communicate with the player in a way that uses stored information and a calculation about whether the player's choices succeed. The thing to realize here is that with code, the act of describing something in enough detail creates it! If you can break the game's series of events down into a set of mechanical steps, you have your game. Once you're confident enough to try an RPG, start by looking at a few small parts of a stereotypical one like an old-school Final Fantasy, one at a time. What information do you need to store, what calculations do you need to do, and what input do you need from the player, to simulate a little battle where life is measured in hit points? Try drawing a flow chart on paper for the loop of logic you'll need. Other things you might look at are a transaction in a shop, moving around on a grid-based world where any step might randomly trigger a battle, and awarding the player with experience and gold after a battle. Let us know how you do!
  9. Kris Schnee

    Non-boring combat in 3D space game

    This question got me to pull out one of Steve Gallacci's "Albedo" comics. In that setting, ships seem to operate in something like a naval combat style, putting a screen of small vehicles and warheads between them and the enemy. From Issue 2 (2005 Mar): "Autonomous Combat Vehicle. Taking the roles of the individual fighter craft, attack or reconnaissance drone, or bombardment weapon, these fusion-powered-craft... are usually fitted with either a warhead, beam weapon, or smaller missiles... With on board AI, it can manage its own tactics..." For a realistic sim then, I'd expect slower-than-light flight with heavy reliance on scouts that reach the enemy before your actual ship. If fuel is limited, then ships should rely on "gravity slingshot" techniques within star systems and have poor ability to maneuver in open space. Vernor Vinge's novel "Singularity Sky" points out that if a civilization with this strategy has nanotechnology, they're likely to eat enemy ships. The level of available AI also determines whether you can have a sentient autonomous vehicle the size of a soda can, which makes lumbering battleships less useful. For gameplay purposes, you could have the player control that swarm of ACVs ahead of the crewed ship. Doing that would let the player control stuff with high speeds and lots of explosions (picture a swarm of bullets whipping around a planet and using the last of their fuel to aim at the enemy), which would be more fun than playing a captain twiddling his thumbs aboard the main ship. But if you're doing a game that involves FTL travel, then the feel of combat is going to depend on how you're justifying the FTL. Some technologies like stargates or fixed "jump routes" would encourage ships to travel along predictable paths, making encounters more likely. Hyperspace could have its own physics that just happen to resemble close-in 2D combat with limited speeds. One approach is to figure out what you want the combat to be like, then make up the technology to fit. If you haven't played "Star Control 2" (now freely released as "The Ur-Quan Masters"), then you should definitely do so. Not realistic at all, but very fun.
  10. Kris Schnee

    Good AI Theory Books

    There are a couple of books not mentioned yet that you might find useful. Check out Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies. (About $30.) It's a readable, interesting book that describes his research group's efforts to build creativity into machines, in enough detail to be useful but without getting into the exact code. The book also has discussions and critiques of several other approaches to AI. Hofstadter's Pulitzer-winning Godel, Escher, Bach is partly about AI and a lot of other interesting things, but it's not AI-focused and parts of it are dull math theory. You might also be interested in Chapman's Vision, Instruction and Action, which describes the author's attempt to build an AI demonstrating survival in a Gauntlet-like game world. Too technical to be fun reading, but the parts about the theory behind it are worth reading. Stepping back from AI a bit, I suggest Stephen Pinker's How the Mind Works for some insight on thinking in general. Pinker's work is relevant to AI, and his writing style is admirably clear and entertaining. I also suggest checking out the e-mail list "Robitron," where Hugh Loebner of the Loebner Prize Contest and various contestants talk about AI. The focus there is on the "chatterbot" approach, which I totally disagree with, but there are still some interesting discussions.
  11. Kris Schnee

    Need Ideas For 2D RPG

    Old 2D RPGs with action-based combat, like "Secret of Mana" and "Soulblazer," were certainly fun, so that's a viable option. (Check out "Seiken Densetsu 3" -- Secret of Mana 2 -- and "Terranigma" if you can.) The trouble with that is that you need AI for targeting and avoiding characters in a free-roaming world. If you just want simplicity, a straightforward system like that in most "Final Fantasy" games is best: just start a battle every so often and have characters lined up and swinging at each other, barely animated. The reasons I don't like that option are that it tends to encourage mashing the "Attack" button over and over, and you end up fighting hundreds of pointless, repetitive battles you can't avoid. I like tactical combat games like "Final Fantasy Tactics" and "Disgaea: Hour of Darkness," so it'd be fun to see a battle system like those games'. The trouble with those is that they work best with an isometric display so that you can show heights -- although the "Shining Force" series used pure 2D. I recently built a 2D tactical combat demo without too much trouble. Do you have any special features in mind for this game, or is it meant to closely follow the style of console RPGs? And do you care mostly about the story or the mechanics? For quick, decent-looking sprites (if you scale them up), I suggest this site.
  12. Demo (4.4 MB) I've been working on a game I call "Colony," an RPG-like game in which you have a central base and must build up your own technology and equipment. The original idea was, "What if you and 99-or-so other people woke up in an uninhabited alien world and had to build a camp while exploring for resources and clues to what happened?" Unlike a traditional RPG, if you wanted a sword you'd have to gather the materials and technology to make one. I also thought it'd be cool to include some form of AI by which characters make their own decisions and have interesting events happen. Eg., two people decide on their own that the colony needs cleaning, and they not only contribute to the colony's Health stat but have a chance of meeting up and developing shared skills and friendship that boosts their stats when together. Because I'm not very skilled and wanted a manageable project, I focused on the mechanic of sending teams out on missions to explore and gather resources, leaving aside the aspect of you being directly involved in them. My demo's scenarios (it can load maps, special rules etc.) include a story-based, blatantly unoriginal quest to rescue your friends from a mad scientist by sending teams to Base A, then Base B, etc.; and an open-ended exploration scenario with random characters. (Single-player, turn-based, by the way.) Screenshot 1: You can see your base near the upper left, and the map that's partially revealed as you explore. Screenshot 2: The, uh, special character graphics on a roster screen on which you pick people to go on a mission. I'm now working on a second demo with expanded features, and know several things to improve on, but am questioning the awesomeness of my basic idea. Problem 1: If you're stuck in the colony sending teams out on missions, then even assuming I add the ability to walk around the base, talk to people, and build stuff there -- would it be fun? It'd be beyond "X-Com: UFO Defense" in the amount of stuff to do at home, but one friend joked that without being able to go on the missions yourself, it's like "being Charlie instead of the Angels." But if I do include the missions, am I not setting myself too large a task by having to make a full-blown RPG dungeon-crawl experience in addition to the base-building? I do have some of the necessary code, but not all. (Old screenshot from another project showing a sprite walking around a 2D tiled landscape.) Problem 2: How can I best tell the story, if the game is centered around the colony? In the demo there are one-screen blurbs describing battles and so on when teams get back from their missions, but those don't satisfy even me. On most missions players probably won't want to see the details of exactly who gathered N units of berries, but even if I went to the trouble of building a "Final Fantasy"-style script system for showing people walking and talking, how would I convey what happened in a cool way? My proposed scenarios for the new demo are "Kamikaze Mars," a strategy-driven Mars exploration game with random people, and "Broken World," a story-driven scenario in a traditional fantasy world that needs saving. If developed enough, the basic Colony engine should support other scenarios like a historical Jamestown setting or a space-exploration game like "The Ur-Quan Masters." I want to show off something of that range of potential. I need to make sure the basic gameplay is fun, though! Advice? (By the way, I'm working in Python using Pygame and various free media; thanks especially to lostgarden.com.)
  13. Kris Schnee

    Learning the Business, On the Cheap?

    Quote:You haven't really said what you do. Are you a graphics guy? A programmer? Good point. Writing is my main skill, and I know enough of coding to have some neat experimental game ideas implemented, so -- writing and design would be my main interests, coding third. I've been working mostly in Python for code, so I'm a lightweight in that respect, and I don't particularly do graphics.
  14. I've decided to change career directions, and am considering game development. I sent in an application to the school Full Sail for one of their programs, but the estimated cost is nearly $70K even before housing! I've already got student loans to pay off, so this program seems impractical. No income for its 21-month length plus uncertain job prospects after that makes it seem a bad bargain. As I see it, the little game demos I do for fun and skill-building on my own are not enough to land a job in the game industry unless they're outstanding, which they're not, and seeking a job in writing for games (something I might have the skill for) is also unlikely to succeed because there are few such jobs. Is there a way to develop the skills (in coding and/or design) and earn the attention of potential employers without becoming extremely broke? Does it make any sense to hit a dozen companies with a small portfolio -- maybe some writing and a CD with an ugly-but-interesting game demo -- or is that a waste of time unless I've got a shiny degree from Full Sail or the like?
  15. Kris Schnee

    Player character personality

    Interesting question. I generally like to have a main character with a defined personality, even if it's a generic goody-two-shoes type. Games that leave the main character as a blank slate tend not to provide much opportunity to define the character, at least not in a satisfying way. In "Deus Ex," JC Denton is a deadpan guy. You can define him by choosing what skills to learn and use -- do you hack the security cameras and sneak past the guards, or kill everyone in sight? -- and through certain dialog choices and actions. For instance, I hazily remember, at one point you come across a firefight between your faction and the enemy. Do you intervene? When you get back to your base, one of two things happens: (1) you get yelled at for gratuitous violence and a soldier brags about how awesome he was, or (2) a soldier tells you he wishes you'd been there, since a lot of men died. "Morrowind" takes a different style to character development: you define your character through race, sex, official class, clothes, and group memberships. Say, my character is a Khajit, Rank X in the Mages' Guild and Y in House Hlalu, and blood-friend to the Skaal Tribe, wearing Ice Armor. That's interesting, but it feels after a while as though I've got multiple rooms stuffed with treasure and there's nothing more to achieve, even though I could join more groups. Neither style of blank-character development fully satisfies me, somehow, which makes me wonder what would. So I'll throw this question back at you: what would you want to do in an RPG to feel like you'd created a unique and interesting character?
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