Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

29 July, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Sci-Fi
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:23 PM

I’m going to cheat a bit and steal from a colleague just as all good artists do. ;) Scott Jennings posted a bit about creating Battlestar Galactica online. It’s an interesting look at exploring alternative types of gameplay that could be the focus of an online RPG based on Battlestar Galactica. Highly recommended reading for people who want to think about these things. Although I have been one of the people derailing the discussion to talk about the relative merits of EVE Online. ;) (Sorry, Scott.)

So, this weekend’s challenge is to discuss what would make a good Sci-Fi online RPG, particularly for a licensed world.

My thoughts below.

28 July, 2006

Why Achievers win and Killers lose
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 5:57 PM

I’ve posted this up in other places, but let me explain why DIKU-style games (e.g., EQ and WoW) dominate and why PvP games are doomed to failure. It’s actually very simple once you think about it, and the theories come from the respected Dr. Richard Bartle.

Read on for more insight.

27 July, 2006

Levels of domination
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:07 PM

I made a mildly controversial comment over on Raph’s blog that use-based systems kinda suck for achievers. Levels make it much easier to compare e-peens and see who has more time to spend.

I said:

If I tell you I’m a 24th level Necromancer in EverQuest 2, anyone who has played the game for a while has a decent idea of what the character can do, within certain variations. I’ve described my character in essentially 3 words. Even if you don’t play EQ2, you can guess what a Necromancer is like based on experience from other games.

If I want to talk about a UO character, I have to list out the skills and the skill level. Even if all my skills are at GM, I still have to use at least twice the words. And, if you have never played UO, good luck trying to figure out what some of the skills do.

After Raph disagreed with me and said “Achievers want status, and there’s a lot of ways to grant status.” I replied:

Taking EQ2 as an example: the harvesting system is use based, but you don’t see many people getting all misty-eyed talking about their 150 trapping character. It’s the adventuring and/or crafting classes with experienced-based advancement that takes front stage. Being an effective harvester could gain you some amount of status, but it seems people are much more interested in bragging about the level-based status.

I figured it might be interesting to spend a bit more time to take a closer look at levels, why they dominate, and why they kinda suck. :)

25 July, 2006

The vocal ones
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:31 PM

“What the customer wants is better products for free,” – Dilbert

No, that isn’t an argument using an advertising-based business model in online games. In the Dilbert comic strip, the PHB claims they are going to start listening to the customer, and asks what do customers really want. Dilbert answers with the line quoted above.

In other words, the customer isn’t always right. Shh! Don’t tell them that; it’ll be our little secret.

But, this leads up to a question that most good developers think about: how can you get good feedback from the playerbase?

22 July, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Older games

This isn’t so much a large design challenge as a discussion. If you have an older game, say over 3 years old, and your subscriptions are starting to decline, what can you do to retain players or even attract new ones? What are acceptable actions and unacceptable actions you could take?

My thoughts below.

19 July, 2006

System design for online games
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:55 PM

Online games last a long time. Meridian 59 was launched commercially in 1996, and it’s still kicking. This is quite different when compared to traditional games, where a game has a shelf-life measured in single-digit months in most cases. Because of this, most game systems need to be designed to be extensible and easily maintainable.

What really goes into designing and implementing major systems in an online game? I figured I would talk a bit about this so that people understand why games are designed and implemented the way they are. All decisions are a trade off, and I’ll describe some of the more common ones. I’ll also show some bits of Meridian 59′s code as well. :)

16 July, 2006

The programmer talks about art
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:58 PM

Yeah, let me ramble on about art. I know, I’m a programmer by training so I shouldn’t really talk about art, right? Well, I’m also a designer, so I have to know something about art in order to do a proper design. And, much of game programming is about putting that art on the screen. Although, true, most of my work tends to be implementing gameplay from the designs I wrote. Anyway, I’m still going to talk about art.

This post was inspired by Dan Cook, aka Danc, over at his blog Lost Garden. He does project management these days, but back in the day he was a game developer. He did some art, and you can see an example of his beautiful work in a recent post of his. Danc has a lovely tendency to provide artwork that he has for free to people wanting to develop games, so you can use that beautiful artwork in your own game.

However, in one of one of his more recent posts, he talks about how pixel art’s time has come and gone. He argues that the art was created to fulfill the needs to be fast and cheap to get older games in front of 12-year-olds. The subtext here is that people pining for the old days of pixel art are perhaps a bit silly. He goes on to argue that the cutting edge attitudes can be found in the people playing around with new 3D art and working on pixel shaders. The world of pixel art is dead as technology moved on and gave us something better.

Loyal readers will know that if I’m posting about something, it’s probably to disagree with it. Well, you’re right. :P I’m getting predictable in my old age.

Why should we not count pixel art as completely dead?


15 July, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Ideas that failed
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 9:56 PM

One of the hardest aspects of game development is realizing when you have a terrible idea. Nobody wants to admit their idea sucks, and in an industry with sometimes very fragile egos it’s a dangerous thing to start picking on someone else’s idea too hard, especially your those belonging to your boss. Choosing which features to cut is called “knifing your babies” for a reason.

So, keeping this in mind, let’s talk about some ideas that just didn’t work out. Things where it seemed like a good idea at the time. Give specific details about why the idea seemed like a good one at the time, and why it didn’t work out. Super extra bonus points for developers that own up to their own mistakes. :)


13 July, 2006

I was kidnapped by the Overlord
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:39 AM

So, yeah, I’ve been a bit quiet recently. A few friends started playing EverQuest 2 after getting bored with WoW. They tricked me into playing. Unfortunately, I’ve taken to the game a little too well, especially given the other obligations I should be observing.

Such are the occupational hazards of a game developer. Oh, the misery.

It’s been very interesting playing EQ2 after playing WoW for quite a while previously. Read below to see some of my observations.

8 July, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Paper RPG dice
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 1:24 AM

Randomness is an important element in most games. Paper RPGs (such as D&D, Vampire, etc) rely on dice to add a bit of randomness to the situation. Not every idea works out quite as planned.

The problem with some systems is that the random system feels just too random. Dice aren’t always statistically accurate, and poor rolling can really ruin someone’s entire night. It’s never fun when the fighter who only needs a 5 or better on a d20 never seems able to roll better than a 4. Or when the healer with 10d10 in a skill botches by rolling too many 1′s and kills the person they were trying to save. (Sorry, Chang. ;)

The challenge: create a dice mechanic that reduces the impact of “unfair” (or excessively) random elements.

The main restriction is that you still have to use a random system: going diceless isn’t a solution here. :)

My idea after the break.


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