Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

6 March, 2013

Ask me anything/open thread
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:17 AM
(This post has been viewed 5653 times.)

Been a bit busy with different projects and the "day job". Some potentially exciting things going down with Storybricks, but under serious NDA, unfortunately. Hopefully we can discuss details soon. :)

Anyway, I've got a post I want to write, but at this pace it might take me a few weeks. So, let me solicit questions from you all and have an open thread here. Post what you want to post about. Ask me a question, get my feedback, or just rant about something you don't have space to put anywhere else. Standard caveat applies, anything truly offensive will probably get deleted. But, you'll have to be in excessive bad taste to get to that point.

So... what's on your mind? :)

Also, there's a separate thread over on Google+.

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23 Comments »

  1. I'll start things off with a link to a tabletop RPG I got recently: Tenra Bansho Zero. I supported the Kickstarter campaign, but only for the PDFs. It was originally a Japanese game, drawing heavily from Japanese fan culture, and translated into English. Looks like an interesting setting for a tabletop game. Dunno if I'll get to run it.

    The creators talked a bit about the setting, and some of the problems in translating across cultures, particularly things that we might see as rather sexist or exploitative:
    http://www.gamingaswomen.com/posts/2013/01/rpgs-and-cultural-context-a-conversation-with-andy-kitkowski-about-tenra/
    http://www.gamingaswomen.com/posts/2013/02/thoughtful-game-development-does-not-preclude-awesome/

    Comment by Psychochild — 6 March, 2013 @ 2:22 AM

  2. OK lets talk board games. I'm always on an epic quest to find good board games for my family to play. Games that appeal to teens and adults. Priority goes to games that are easy to learn and difficult to master. Not a fan of reading rules for 30 minutes and still not understanding the game.

    Our current game of choice: Blokus.

    Got any suggestions that might fit the bill for us?

    Comment by Ethic — 6 March, 2013 @ 6:50 AM

  3. When shall we see the arrival of our alien starbeast overlords?

    (Note: This question is mostly rhetorical. I am mostly being silly. I am reacting to gamerage by venting silliness - beats spewing vitriol!)

    OK real question: why do we keep falling for launch daze when we should know better? (Actually, this is probably also rhetorical.)

    Comment by Ysharros — 6 March, 2013 @ 8:29 AM

  4. hey Psychochild, love the blog. I'd like to touch on a topic you have covered before but I love hearing your ideas about. Also I hope this doesn't come too close to StoryBricks.

    I'm curious about your opinion regarding the return of the social element to MMO gaming. In specific I think back to the height of the MUD/MUSH/M** phase of online gaming. I feel that awesome communities were generated around the servers that had the most interest, and that the server communities really drove the popularity. What do you think about the idea of older MMOs being licensed as server technologies to enable communities to once again grow from the servers?

    An example might be, Auto Assault(a personal favorite) a title published by NCSoft died an ignoble death. I think it would be awesome if there were a way to purchase the server side technology and create a world that others could connect to. I imagine the price would be relatively steep, but if the ability to charge people for access were part of the license it could create interesting possibilities. This would also provide a marginal way for the companies who own these technologies to gain addition income off a product that is essentially dead. I imagine there would have to be stipulations regarding the maintenance of the code base, but I just feel that in the era of open source it might be more reasonable for a company to consider this type of arrangement.

    Anyways, I'm curious to hear your thoughts especially as I think this is the type of thing that could help to create stronger social communities again. thanks!

    Comment by el M?ko — 6 March, 2013 @ 8:43 AM

  5. Ethic wrote:
    Got any suggestions that might fit the bill for us?

    Hrm. Board games rely a lot on taste. Let me describe a few I've enjoyed the past few years and you can see if they interest you. I'm including some links to Amazon so you can see the boxes, etc.

    If you have some people who like RPGs, you should check out the D&D board games, including the Castle Ravenloft board game. There's a bit of setup involved, but it plays like 4th edition game without a DM. The thing I really like about it is that it's very flexible, and you can stretch your creative muscles to create new scenarios with the parts that come with the board. There are two boxes that technically work together with this: The Wrath of Ashardalon (which I have played) and The Legend of Drizzt (which I have not played). If your family's not already into D&D, this could be a good gateway drug. Be warned, though, this is a pretty tough game, but it's cooperative so you have people working together. It gets a bit easier as you get more people playing, I think.

    Another fun game is Elder Sign. It's H.P. Lovecraft themed, and a pretty fun cooperative game. You play hapless investigators trying to shut down an elder god. It's a simplified version of the very complex board game Arkham Horror, which I loved but it's definitely a game that takes a lot of time and attention to play. Unlike Elder Sign which you can set up and play in about 30 mins. There's a great iPad and Android single-player version, too, if you think you'd be interested but not your family.

    My last suggestion is a bit of a classic, Settlers of Catan. It's more competitive, but you still have to cooperate with other players to really be effective. Lots of expansions, too, to keep it interesting. You might have already tried this if you're into board games much.

    Also, Cracked.com just did an article on boards games: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-board-games-that-ruined-it-everyone/

    Let me know if you have any other requirements or suggestions, and I'll see what I can do. :)

    Ysharros wrote:
    OK real question: why do we keep falling for launch daze when we should know better? (Actually, this is probably also rhetorical.)

    Because games are a social experience, especially for those of us that write blogs. Not playing an anticipated game is like not watching a hot show; you'll feel like you got left behind if you're not participating and everyone else is talking about it. The SimCity thing is especially frustrating, as some people are able to play fine but others seem stymied. Hell, it got you to write something on your neglected blog. ;)

    el M?ko wrote:
    Anyways, I'm curious to hear your thoughts especially as I think this is the type of thing that could help to create stronger social communities again. thanks!

    Well, to briefly touch upon why you can't buy defunct games, there are many reasons. Large companies don't relish the idea of competitors. And, a lot of times the technology used in one game is recycled into others, which means licensing could be complicated. Plus, there's the reality that if a game is unprofitable enough to shut it down, there's little chance someone else is going to be able to turn more of a profit and make the effort worthwhile to package up the code and license it. When I we Meridian 59, it was clear 3DO was doing us a huge favor and they made certain that we understood we'd get no support from them. But, M59 was never as profitable under NDS as it was under 3DO.

    I think that MMOs are very different beasts than MUDs/MOOs/MUSHes/etc. are. It's easy to set up a text game server and run it, but much harder to get the same thing running when you involve graphics. Even simple graphics take a lot of code to coordinate. There are open source projects out there you could take advantage of if you wanted to run your own MMO: the Nevrax codebase and the Worldforge project are available. But, they're harder to use and edit compared to a text game.

    I think we saw a bit of the old community in the Neverwinter Nights RPG from some years ago. People worked hard to set up persistent servers, and you had some strong communities. But, tools were piecemeal and the interest was ultimately niche. You're right in that some of our concepts for Storybricks might have went down this path, but we're focusing more on working with existing game companies than pursuing our own project for now.

    Hope that addresses your point. Feel free to ask if you want further clarification. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 6 March, 2013 @ 5:42 PM

  6. Tell me one small thing that can make a game much more fun, with example. (Not exactly a question, but I hope you will still answer it, thanks in advance)

    Comment by Vagabond — 7 March, 2013 @ 8:30 AM

  7. Second Q: What do you think about achievements in a game: Must have, nice to have, whatever, lure for idiots, don't ever?

    Comment by Vagabond — 7 March, 2013 @ 8:34 AM

  8. Thanks for the answer Psychochild, I think you are probably correct about the current thinking in game dev companies about not wanting competitors and the technical issues surrounding releasing a product like we are discussing. But, damn it! I am talking about the future where game dev companies become enlightened and understand that giving their fans more control over the game will make stronger communities and better games.

    To the point of the technical issues surrounding dealing with game graphic assets, I look towards the works of the private server communities(e.g. World of Warcraft and Lineage II). They have created great interest and fun communities based around not much more than changing the data behind the game. True there are some minor tweaks to the game assets, but in general they have achieved a substantial ammount by only manipulating the data. I would think there is some market for the game companies to take advantage of with communities like these. Not a huge market mind you, but for a completely dead game some is better than none in my book, at least to the extent that it doesn't cost the company to maintain support.

    You mention Neverwinter Nights and I think that is a great example of a community that continued to create a great experience long after the game itself had lost popular appeal. Do you think it would ever be possible for a company to make an MMO construction kit in the spirit of the great Garry Kitchen's GameMaker?

    Comment by el M?ko — 7 March, 2013 @ 9:56 AM

  9. Speaking of board games and social interaction, I saw from a comment by Warren Spector today that the creator of Diplomacy has died.

    What are the core features that made that game great?

    And if they're not part of the canon for games with a diplomatic element, why aren't they? (Or should they be?)

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 7 March, 2013 @ 12:29 PM

  10. @Bart Stewart

    One of the things that, imo, made Diplomacy popular is it's distinct lack of heavy rules. The mainstay of the game involved talking with the other players, making backroom deals, and eventually having to break promises in the name of the national sovereignty. In the end it became an intense social game, the "rules" as they were mostly defined how to process the players actions and in what order. Diplomacy is a game that is very different from war games that focus on the minutia of 'unit x does action y'.

    For the games we played in high school, they always spiraled into multi-day events where there was much sneaking around and talking to people in-between classes. The level of paranoia and conspiracy that could be generated in a good game were palpable.

    Comment by el Miko — 7 March, 2013 @ 12:40 PM

  11. Vagabond wrote:
    Tell me one small thing that can make a game much more fun, with example.

    Oh, man, if I knew that game designers would either contract me permanently or kill me to prevent competition. I don't think there's any one thing that you can add to any game to make it more fun. Pretty much anything I could name would have a counter-example somewhere.

    At the risk of sounding generic, I'll say that "surprise" is one thing you can add to a game. If you surprise the player, they will usually show more interest in the game for at least a little while. Of course, not all surprises are good....

    What do you think about achievements in a game: Must have, nice to have, whatever, lure for idiots, don't ever?

    I think achievements started out as something interesting. Where you could look at achievements and they'd give you some additional (usually much harder) goals to accomplish in a game that really didn't detract from the main game. It was a neat way to give the game a bit more longevity by letting the serious players figure out some more stuff.

    But, I think more modern achievements are a waste of time. In some Flash games I've played, they have an achievement for "play X minute". Anything I can get by just leaving the game running doesn't feel like an "achievement". Feels like a "feature" that was added to these games because "everyone's adding achievements!" Probably also because when achievements are hard, people will complain about not being able to do them, even if doing them does nothing besides give you a few points.

    el M?ko wrote:
    I am talking about the future where game dev companies become enlightened and understand that giving their fans more control over the game will make stronger communities and better games.

    At the end of the day, game companies are still companies that need to make a profit. How does your WoW server with your custom mods make Blizzard more profit? It doesn't, and worse, it could give one of the five people who have never heard of WoW before a bad impression if you do something they don't like in the game.

    Do you think it would ever be possible for a company to make an MMO construction kit in the spirit of the great Garry Kitchen's GameMaker?

    Someone already did: Build Your Own Net Dream (BYOND) There are some pretty significant technical limitations, though, last I heard about it a few years ago. Check out Nestaliga that used BYOND.

    The problem is developing the MMO is only one part of the equation. The other part is keeping the thing going once you launch it. This is a non-trivial amount of work in most cases, even if hosting is taken care of for you. We already see a bunch of half-finished indie games made by people who are too aggressive with their design scale, now imagine if people had to keep working on a game after launch to support it. I'm sure you'll find a ton of half-finished BYOND games as well.

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 March, 2013 @ 2:30 PM

  12. There have been some other questions asked over on Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/104424702290149874363/posts/ceF6AQTfNa8 A bit more about me as a developer and my career development, such as is has been. ;)

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 March, 2013 @ 2:45 PM

  13. Bart Stewart wrote:
    What are the core features that made [Diplomacy] great?

    I think el Miko summed it up pretty well. The game itself is pretty simple, but it's the social interaction that really drives the game. As the conventional wisdom about MMO PvP goes, players are a great source of renewable, generally unpredictable, content.

    And if they're not part of the canon for games with a diplomatic element, why aren't they?

    If you were to play Family Feud and the question was, "What game has a reputation for destroying friendships?" the #1 answer would be Diplomacy. Usually when people think of the concept of "diplomacy", they think about avoiding incidents rather than starting them. ;)

    Having more rules and randomness to the game allows you to soften the blow and preserve friendships. Consider Axis & Allies, which can be a cutthroat game as well, but you can blame other factors on your success or failure beyond the actions of other people at the table.

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 March, 2013 @ 4:03 PM

  14. For the last year or so, there has been a trend in the blogosphere to talk about the 'death of the themepark'. Bloggers contrast a declining WoW player base and the failure (to meet initial business/shareholder expectations) of several high profile MMOs (SWTOR, TSW) with the continual growth of EvE as evidence that freedom and sandbox tools are more important than any PvE/story content.

    In this context, Storybricks is emphasising PvE dialogue interactions and personal story.

    How important do you feel 'narrative/story' is in MMOs?

    Comment by Bernard — 7 March, 2013 @ 11:37 PM

  15. The themepark vs sandbox game styles brought up by Bernard would be interesting to hear your take on it. I don't believe that sandbox style games are becoming the new trend. WoW's population is dropping, and EVE's population is increasing, that's true, but the numbers still are out of whack. EVE has "only" 500,000 subscribers while WoW still has millions. The players leaving WoW are going to other themeparks like GW2, not to sandbox games.

    TSW's commercial failure was not due to it being a themepark, but rather, I think, that the game was too difficult for most players. TSW through out the model that you will never die doing "on level" quests. TSW kicks your ass, and kicks your ass hard, until you figure out the right combination of success. GW2 is a themepark and did very well, but the game is more of the traditional easy-mode, hand holding style of WoW/Lotro/etc.

    The mass market for games are those which are easy, that practically play themselves, and the player rarely encounters much defeat (and if they do, there is virtually no penalty for being defeated). Sandbox games tend to be further on the difficulty spectrum. No levels means you don't know if youre guaranteed to beat that monster. No classes means you need to figure out how to optimize combat. No quest hub grind means you need to decide what you want to do. Open world PvP, common in sandbox although not required, means a challenge and possible defeat around every corner. These features appeal only to a small segment of the population, and as such, I dont think the sandbox style games like M59, UO, EVE are ever going to dethrone the easy games like WoW/GW2.

    Elder Scrolls Online, assuming it will be sandbox style like its single player games, will be really interesting to follow. If it succeeds, we may see the revival of sandbox games. If it fails, I think sandbox MMOs will remain just indie projects.

    Comment by marthos — 8 March, 2013 @ 6:51 AM

  16. Bernard wrote:
    How important do you feel 'narrative/story' is in MMOs?

    As I've written before, there are 2 main forms of story. One is what the developer writes and puts into the game, the other is what the player experiences through gameplay. The recently "narrative" games, TSW and SW:tOR, focus on the developer story. You play the story that someone else has written, and you have little control how it unfolds. By contrast, everyone creates their own stories in games as the play. You can see it when players talk about "that one time" in a game, when they did some incredible thing.

    The problem has been that the developer-driven narrative has always been a poor fit for games. When you watch a movie, you generally don't want others adding to it (unless you're watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show). But, a game is defined by its interactivity, and passively watching someone else's story goes against that. Worse is when you have "bits of a movie interrupted by bouts of gameplay" as we see in many contemporary games.

    So, I think that developer-driven narrative is becoming less important. However, the player-driven stories are becoming more important. This is what I saw as our focus with Storybricks, where we are trying to give the players an experience that may not feel "epic" in scale, but it was personal to them and meaningful to them. Basically enhancing what was already there in online games.

    marthos wrote:
    The mass market for games are those which are easy, that practically play themselves, and the player rarely encounters much defeat (and if they do, there is virtually no penalty for being defeated).

    That's not a question, but it's an interesting observation. I think we have seen that as gaming has tried to appeal to a larger market, we see games getting "easier". The "Nintendo hard" games are for a small selection of hard-core players, mostly people who played many of those original games that give us that term. :) I don't think this is unique to games, though. Trashy novels and fluffy feel-good movies almost always sell better than "serious literature" or "challenging works"; there are exceptions, but I'd say they prove the rule rather than invalidate it.

    Comment by Psychochild — 8 March, 2013 @ 1:28 PM

  17. These later comments fit into some theories I have about current trends in computer games.

    As gaming goes more mass-market, what the "typical" gamer wants has changed. They don't like ambiguity, or having to think too hard, or to form emotional connections to pixels.

    So as we get more games that offer grindy, signposted, and tightly-controlled play experiences, that is the result of publishers giving consumers exactly what most of them say they want. Thus, Rock Paper Shotgun's review of the new Tomb Raider as a game that is absolutely determined to prevent you from playing it the "wrong" way.

    That, in itself, is not a problem. Most gamers are getting the games-that-play-themselves that they want. That's just good customer service.

    The problem is that the rest of us, who for whatever reason don't fit the profile of today's typical gamer, are being left out. It's getting harder to find the games we enjoy because all the money is being vacuumed out of the pool to go to the highly-directed games.

    So when we want a Nintendo-hard game, or one that rewards relaxed exploration (Proteus), or one that asks for emotional investment (Gone Home), etc., we have to look to indies and Kickstarter, or build our own games. Obviously there's some overlap, but I'm tempted to believe we're seeing a sharp split forming in game development: AAA games-that-play-themselves for the mass market, and independently-funded games for everyone else.

    Is this just games going where films already went?

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 8 March, 2013 @ 3:32 PM

  18. Not quite as intriguing but I must ask!

    When is the next time you'll be on the east coast again? We'd love to see you guys!

    Comment by Ferrel — 8 March, 2013 @ 6:10 PM

  19. Bart Stewart wrote:
    Obviously there's some overlap, but I'm tempted to believe we're seeing a sharp split forming in game development: AAA games-that-play-themselves for the mass market, and independently-funded games for everyone else.

    Is this just games going where films already went?

    Hrm, interesting thought. I don't think you can draw an exact parallel between movies and games, though. An indie movie is a movie made without big-name talent. Yeah, there are some differences: you might get better special effects in the mainstream movie, and you might get a different quality of writing and editing. But, the gear used to make the two types of movies is largely the same.

    Compare this to games, where it reall takes a large group of artists to make a modern 3D game. Indie games have embraced a certain aesthetic that fits well with the lower budgets and smaller team sizes. It works well because these games do often harken back to the games some of us old fogies used to play when we were young. But, if you look at two still frames from a typical indie movie and a big-budget movie, you'd have a harder time telling them apart than two screenshots from the equivalent types of games.

    Ferrel wrote:
    When is the next time you'll be on the east coast again? We'd love to see you guys!

    Sadly, no plans this year. Giving Dragon*Con a pass this year again as I anticipate being really busy. Maybe I'll get some time off for good behavior and get to take some vacation. :) I'll let you know.

    At any rate, drop me a note about having me on your podcast! Would love to do that again.

    Comment by Psychochild — 8 March, 2013 @ 9:16 PM

  20. "Do you think it would ever be possible for a company to make an MMO construction kit in the spirit of the great Garry Kitchen's GameMaker?"

    Like a lot of people i've had that dream mmorpg world design (or a dozen or so) in my head for a long time and have tinkered at bringing them to life but not too seriously as the scale was always obviously too big. One idea i had in the past was to prototype in 2D but even that was too big if you want a big world. However recently i took the simplification idea a stage further and wondered about making one of my mmo worlds as a greatly simplified board game and it's turning out pretty fun.

    It's good seeing all the ideas you had for your world take form even if it's only cardboard, paper, pencils and a d6 and once completed you could use something like BYOND to take it one step further.

    I'd recommend it.

    Comment by bubble — 10 March, 2013 @ 1:28 AM

  21. I was mulling over a question to ask, many things crashing together but finally hit upon one that interests me. And an extra one as I was thinking of how to phrase the first one.

    Firstly: "Aside from the obvious answer (developing a game), what is it you find most important to being a successful game designer/developer?"

    And secondly: "What's an easy way to know if you're overthinking something?"

    Comment by Kereminde — 11 March, 2013 @ 1:03 AM

  22. Kereminde wrote:
    Aside from the obvious answer (developing a game), what is it you find most important to being a successful game designer/developer?

    I don't know. Let me go find a successful game designer. ;)

    Okay, it's a brilliantly good question, and I'm at a bit of a loss at how to answer. I guess I'd say the most important thing is curiosity. If you see something you don't understand, is your first impulse to figure out it out? To find out how it works or why it looks the way it does? Can you look at something and figure out why other people like it? Do you want to learn about everything you can?

    I think that as a designer and a programmer, this is the thing that separates out the wannabes from the real deal. They want to dig in and understand it. Designers want to understand why THAC0 worked in D&D, and programmers want to figure out how you got that cool graphical effect to work.

    What's an easy way to know if you're overthinking something?

    Ask someone else you trust to tell you. :) That's the easiest way I can think of, don't know if it's the most reliable, though. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 March, 2013 @ 4:14 PM

  23. "Designers want to understand why THAC0 worked in D&D, and programmers want to figure out how you got that cool graphical effect to work."

    I found myself more concerned with "why they chose this system over that one" than "why/how it works", and increasingly concerned with the "why did they do it this way?" question every time I play a game. It got me thinking was all.

    Then I remember that I really missed the boat on getting into gaming as anything other than a consumer, and try to be content with merely handling tabletop RPG groups. :)

    Comment by Kereminde — 13 March, 2013 @ 8:07 AM

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