Monday, July 25, 2011

What I'm Working On

I've been working on a few different games lately. All of these projects are being made in Game Maker 8.0.

The first is an adventure rpg. You play as a detective solving a murder. The suspects include a Yakuza group and the violent authoritarian police force. I really like working in this sort of mix between 2d sprites and 3d environments, because I can easily make buildings with very simple walls and textures, rather than having to make sprites which take perspective and stuff like that into consideration. My main obstacle in this project is coming up with interesting gameplay, especially since I'm trying to avoid relying on combat. I've tried out a couple of combat systems, including a turn based system resembling a Final Fantasy game, and also a real time system more similar to a beat em up, but neither system really appeals to me. I enjoy the challenge of making a game which doesn't rely on violence for a change.

The next game is an ambient exploration shooter game. A combination of Knytt, Zelda, and Metal Gear Solid 3. I've been focusing on lighting, graphical effects, and sound design, and I'm quite proud of the results. The only problem is a distinct lack of any sort of gameplay or story, making it more of a tech demo than anything else at this point.

Third is a game I came up with after playing through Mega Man 2 (that game is HARD!) It's a combination of Mega Man and a metroidvania. I came up with a quick engine in a couple of days, but I've hit a roadblock in starting designing levels and powerups. Also, I suck at pixel art.

This is a weird one. It was going to be a sort of Mass Effect demake, combined with a Cactus game. I never really got farther than a basic first person engine and some 8 bit character billboards.

This is another fairly random project. All it does is generate a medieval or fantasy house, of the sort you might see in a Game of Thrones. It doesn't do much more than coming up with a basic family tree which assigns random personality traits to different family members.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you like the look of any of these, or you want to share whatever project you're working on. I'll try and update this blog a little more often, but you can always check my twitter feed for what I've been doing.

Friday, December 31, 2010

What I'll Be Doing in 2011

What Games I'll be Making:
Right now, I'm working on a story centered RPG sort of thing.

It takes place on an artificial island, where powerful, violent Neo-Yakuza factions fight with a corrupt police force. Where a distant war creates a city of criminals and arms dealers. Where the only hope for justice is revolution.

So yeah.

What Games I'll be Playing:
I recently got into Morrowind because of the amazing world. I've been enjoying it quite a bit more than Oblivion, due to the much more subtle use of level scaling, previously mentioned awesome world, better fast travel, and greater variety of factions and items.
I've also gotten amassed a large collection of games I need to play on my DS. This includes the World Ends With You, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor and SMT: Strange Journey, as well as Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. So that should keep me busy.
If I ever get bored of that, then I have both Humble Indie Bundles to play. I'm particularly looking forward to Aquaria, Cortex Command, and Machinarium.

What Music I'll be Listening To:
I got an iPod for Christmas. I've been listening to Franz Ferdinand, Muse, Ennio Morricone, the Cave Story Remix Project, the Spirit Engine 2 OST, the Scott Pilgrim OST (both game and movie), and the Black Mages.

New Years Resolutions?
Not really. I'd like to spend a bit more time practicing Kung Fu, and I suppose I should try and eat less junk food. Other then that, 2010 was not a horrible year. Why fix what ain't broken?

Friday, October 1, 2010


Entity is a game I've been helping the charming Liam Berry out with. He's doing the graphics, music, and design of the whole thing. All I have to do is the programming. It's a platformer, with some elements from metroidvania style design and that game with a story about caves in it. There's robots and stuff, so you will definitely want to play it. For more info, check out Liam's blog post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bytejacker: The Show: The Game: Episode 1

I made an adventure sort of game for Bytejacker's birthday! Download it here:
Made it in about three hours or so. It uses both text and pictures, and took me around 3 hours to make from scratch (although pictures and music were taken from Bytejacker's show).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Putting the Player in Control - Ramble Rant

Plenty of games offer choices of dialog in response to NPCs in an attempt to allow the player to shape the conversation, and even parts of larger segments of the plot. You know, the thing which Bioware has been showing off since Knights of the Old Republic, and is present even now in Mass Effect 2 and games by other developers, like Fallout 3 and Alpha Protocol.

Mass Effect's Branching Dialog System

The key part, and problem, of this system is that, with a few exceptions, it is totally reactive. You walk up to an NPC, the game transitions to a sort of pseudo-cutscene, and with hardly a word of greeting the NPC will immediately ask you to save their cat or something, from which you can choose to help them or butcher their immediate family. You're given a very limited set of options made by the developer, so you can't, say, ask whether you can replace the cat, or whether she might prefer a dog. Of course, you could say it isn't always totally reactive. In the above screen of Mass Effect 1, we can see Commander Shepherd seems to have the option of asking a couple questions, or just blowing the NPC off and leaving. Still, I will guarantee you that this Gianna Parasini was the one who opened up the conversation by introducing herself. You're still in a reactive mode, and the dialog options you have will always guide you towards what the developer wants. You can't ask Parasini to save your cat or cough up her lunch money.

In other games, especially sandbox games such as Grand theft Auto or Saint's Row, you actually do have the option to open up interactions with NPCs on your own terms. Unfortunately, your only real option is shooting them in the face, or driving over them with your car. Not exactly the kind of social interactions you'd want for a friendly, or at least interesting, conversation.

Like I said, there are exceptions. Mass Effect 2 introduced the ability to interrupt NPCs while they're in the middle of saying something. Of course, this really only plays out as a sort of quick time event, as you can only press the interrupt button when an on-screen indicator comes up and tells you to. It is still reactive, the developers are giving you a prompt and you can either follow through or leave it alone. When I first played the game, I was hoping I'd be able to slap an NPC in the middle of conversation whenever I wanted. As it is these interrupt actions server only as rewards if your morality bar is high enough in either the "paragon" or "renegade" direction, and almost never have negative consequences for you.

There are some games which experiment with more emergent systems of giving the player the ability to say whatever they want to any NPC. One example of this, is the system of giving the player a number of keywords which they can learn, like "The Flaming Sword" and "The Orcs of Death Cliff", and then while they are in conversation with an NPC they can bring up any keyword they have previously learned and ask them if they know anything about it.

Shadowrun, a game which incorporates the ability to ask NPCs about specific keywords

Unfortunately, 90% of the time, when you ask an NPC about something they will say something along the lines of "What? I don't understand." This is rather frustrating for the player, and they end up asking every NPC they meet a string of keywords in hope that one of them will trigger the NPC's knowledge of that term. This method of giving the player control does not really accomplish its goal because the player is still activating little triggers put in by the designers when they ask an NPC about a keyword they know something about.

And now for something totally different...


ArmA II is a military sandbox sort of sim. I've only played a little bit of the demo, but the thing which really stuck out to me was your ability to say various things to your squadmates in game. Since the game is a tactical shooter, most of these options are things like "Hold Fire", or "Get in the Hummer!". However, there's a surprising amount of commands you can use. I found this system to be very organic. It's all operated with a system of in game menus, and even while you're choosing an option you can move and look around. This is way different then most other games, which take you into a cutscene sort of view for NPC interactions. Even Fallout 3 and Oblivion do that creepy thing where it zooms into people's faces so you can look into their creepy, soulless eyes. Sometimes, when you talk to an NPC, it doesn't go to a cutscene, but this is usally when talking to an "extra" character, who will only shout a line of dialog at you as you walk by. Since you can't actually respond, it isn't necessary to restrict your movement.

An example of Oblivion's Creepy Dialog Sequence

While I was playing ArmA II, I thought about how interesting it would be to apply the same sort of system to an RPG, or some other sort of game. It would feel a lot more immersive and organic, because you can say whatever you want (within the limits of what the designers think of), to any NPC. Obviously, this would take a lot of work, both in the writing and voice acting departments, especially if you want to avoid the problem I mentioned earlier where 90% of the time people's response to you will be "What?". ArmA II itself "overcame" this problem by stitching the lines together from small segments of audio consisting of little more than a word or number. This creates a very artificial and disjointed voice, which breaks any immersion gained from the system.

Anyway, putting a dialog system in-game instead of restricting it to those cutscene-style sequences may not seem like a big deal, but I would say it's a similar concept to allowing you to kill any NPC you want. Many games make NPCs who are important to the game's plot or story invincible, or just give you a game over if you kill them. Games like Morrowind let you kill anyone, and although killing someone vital to the main quest will make it so you can't progress along the main plot, it works because the main plot is not incredibly important in that style of open world game. Of course if you actually do kill any important characters on purpose, then you are probably a pretty sadistic and twisted person (don't worry, I am too), but having that freedom can still be very immersive and rewarding.

To be continued...?


-ArmA II gameplay footage showing command system (and terrible voice acting):

-An article by Steve Gaynor which does a better job of explaining the different approaches for simulating dialog with AI characters: