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  Whither Ratchet 4!? 12:46 PM -- Mon February 28, 2005  

So, Ratchet is done. My greatest accomplishment ever! I completed it 100%, all secrets, trophies, bolts, skill points, even the museum, without once looking at a FAQ. Can't remember the last time I did something like that. Feels good, in a "complete waste of time" sort of way.

So guess I'm out of slacking activities. Well, there is sort of one - I'm almost done with a new Supreme patch! It adds a surprising new feature: World Merge. This allows you to take any world and append it onto an existing world. There's a long long list of issues of just what it can handle and such, because of course some things just don't fit together (for instance, it does absolutely nothing about crossing G variables - if both worlds use G0, they'll get mixed up). The real purpose of it is to allow a new type of contest. Instead of making a world, people will just have to make a single level that's really great (lots of limitations, like no global variables, only 40 tiles or whatever, X custom sounds, X custom items, and so on, so that we don't overflow the limits). Then I combine all of them into one world, and people can play them and vote on their favorite, without knowing who made which. We'll see who does the best! Anyway, you can also use this to import old stuff into a new world, but be warned you'll get a lot more than you bargain for, and will have to delete all the extraneous tiles, custom items, and custom sounds you don't really want to use, and test thoroughly to make sure you didn't cross things up in the process.

Hey, maybe we can even offer a Balderdash-style contest - one 'famous' world-builder and a bunch of others (famous or not - anybody who wants to enter) all make levels on a certain theme, and people have to guess which one was made by the specific builder. So all the other people would try to copy the style of that builder in making their level to fool people.

In addition to that, I'm looking at an alternative to CD issues - Discmakers offer an on-demand printing service that's cheap (and with all the pre-existing goodies and color, except the manual, which frankly was never very informative!), and I think Plimus offers warehousing and drop-shipping. Combining those two things makes me pretty much where we are now, only without all the work! And the prices should be not far from where they are, depends on what Plimus charges. Let's hope that works out.
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  Slow Going 06:53 PM -- Fri February 25, 2005  

Ratchet is hard on progress. But I've finished the first run-through, and am about halfway through the second (I've almost saved up enough for the RYNO! But I keep being unable to resist buying Mega weapons along the way... I could've bought it long ago if I hadn't been buying those). It can't distract me too much longer!

Really all I've accomplished on Sol Hunt this week is a lot of thinking, about 20 lines of code, and some specific plans. Specifically, I am going to begin by focusing on the multiplayer Dr. L style play (I'm calling that the "indoor game" as opposed to the "space game"), from which the single-player indoor game will flow, and after which I'll know enough to put together the space game pretty easily. Or decide it's too much work and just have a menu to put the planets together which is the smart thing to do... so I probably won't do it!

Today I listed out a bunch of weapons I'm thinking of, most of which are variations of ideas from the Dumb Idea "Buddy Blast". They should work nicely in a 2D combat environment. It'll be highly team focused since I'm stealing the Buddy Blast ideas (well, let me be clear: that's just what I'm currently thinking! Who knows what will really happen). Each weapon has a normal fire button and a Buddy fire button, which is some special way of shooting that usually incorporates a teammate somehow. Some basic examples (I'm leaving out the details, so no nitpicking please, like "won't that be a little unbalanced"):
  • Circus Cannon - The Buddy Fire sucks up any person or movable item (like a powerup) right in front of you, and the regular fire launches them out. If you suck up an enemy, he can shoot at you without even aiming as long as he is in your cannon. Use it to launch friends long distances or over water, and to launch enemies right into walls or other enemies. Yes, it's sort of inspired by Ratchet, but more inspired by the Grabby Gloves from my Buddy Blast design.
  • Shockinator - Fires a harmless electrical beam that locks onto anybody it hits. Buddy Fire it to pulse that beam briefly, doing damage to to the victim (if an enemy - if it's a friend, it static charges him so he electrocutes nearby enemies for a little while). The real fun is that if you lock it onto a friend, it comes out of that friend's gun (he can continue using his weapon as normal), so he can aim it at someone just by turning, and if he locks it onto a friend, it comes out of that friend's gun, and so on. When you pulse it, the damage is multiplied by how many guys it went through to get there. You can make a chain all across the level!
  • Prism Shield - Reflects enemy shots that hit your front when fire is held. Use Buddy Fire to hold it up on your back instead. In this mode, it doesn't reflect shots at all. Instead, any friendly shots that hit you in the back will split into 5 shots coming out your front in a spread.
As you can see, a well-organized team can really do amazing things with stuff like this. There are several others as well. Teamplay will be at the heart of the game, just like I wanted for Buddy Blast! In addition to weapons, you can also equip a Utility. These all use the same fuel: Plutonium, which you find around the level in very small quantities. They are things like Turrets, Mines, a Shield to become invincible, a Buddybot, the beloved Swapgun, and that sort of thing. Feel free to flood the Sol Hunt forum with your own ideas for weapons, items, and more that would be useful in a very team-oriented multiplayer game (keeping in mind it will play much like Dr. L in terms of perspective and all).
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  Ratchet!! 10:23 PM -- Sat February 19, 2005  

A lazy lazy saturday. The amazing Sol Hunt got me Ratchet 3! So now I have a headache from sitting in front of it for 4 hours. Ick. Such addiction. It gives me Sol Hunt ideas, it's, um... research! Sure!
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  Playtest Party 12:02 AM -- Fri February 18, 2005  

Well, we had a couple over for dinner and game night... Hamumu board game night! We played Arthouse, Art Attack, and Parallel. They loved Arthouse, both thought it was not for them at all (too difficult to think on the fly and make up silly descriptions, or even to draw something in the 1 minute you're given!), until they got a few rounds in and then they really started getting hooked. We all laughed the whole time.

Then we played Parallel. It did not work well. It's too complicated, and 50% of the people involved really weren't into it (interestingly, the two girls were the ones not into this computer-themed game...), although one of them ended up winning, which also shows part of the brokenness, because those of us who were trying our hardest to win were out first! I think there's some salvagable potential in it, but it needs to be simplified and yet given more options at the same time. It may take a fairly radical reworking.

To round out the night, we had our ice cream, and then played Art Attack. This very quickly became their absolute favorite! It went off without a hitch, and they repeatedly said they loved it. They ended up taking home copies of Arthouse and Art Attack to try out on their own. It was almost like a Tupperware party, only I didn't make any money.

I really couldn't see anything that even needed tweaking in the two art games. They just went so well. Well, I'd like to make a few changes to some Art Attack cards, but they were ones I thought I had already made, so I'm wondering if maybe those weren't the most recent cards. Ah yes, I check my files and I see that the cards have been improved since then! I was already ahead of myself. I really think it might be time to pursue publishing on these two. The only trick is... how? They're party games, which is the hardest market to punch into of all. I'm thinking of trying an agent and see what they say. They take a very large portion of the money, but it's not like I'd get very far trying to contact Hasbro or somebody directly.

Anyway, it really was a great experience. Nothing like seeing people laughing until they cry because of your creation! I wish I could get people testing this stuff every week. I've got so many more games I'd love to see played.
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  Sneak Peek: Sol Hunt 09:13 PM -- Wed February 16, 2005  

Well, it doesn't look much like Sol Hunt, does it? But this is the first step! It's an online paint+chat program! By tomorrow it will no longer be a paint program, but I really wanted to do something more than just the chat. So with that under my belt, it's time to move onto real gameplay! But it was very fun to scribble around together. Each player is a different color (well, when this shot was taken there was a bug and two of the people were both green). I would love to make an actual online paint+chat thing (imagine, games like Pictionary and stuff, with people online!), but Sol Hunt is first at least. And I'm so excited about it. Playing stuff online is great! And this thing worked like an absolute charm. It had bugs of course, but it was really amazing to see drawings appear before your eyes, and it worked so much better than I expected. I have high hopes for Sol!

The writer of "Derelict 4-Ever" was of course the developer of Derelict, if you're wondering.
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  Sol Update 01:13 PM -- Tue February 15, 2005  

It's slow slogging getting the first bits going. But yesterday for the first time I popped onto two separate computers and had a chat with myself over the internet! That is such a fundamental step, it's huge. The downside is that I'm now in the process of completely rewriting it all. It wasn't right and needs to be redone to be expandable beyond that. But it's a good start! I'm super excited about the internet play prospect. Really, the trickiest part is making it work in both single and multiplayer without totally separate code. I have some methods going that should work, but yesterday there was a moment when I was thinking about dropping the single player, or make it actually use the internet to connect to itself on your own computer... yeah, I might have been getting a little goofy.

*smoothly changing topics* I really like the middle of the night. Unfortunately, I get super sleepy at around 9pm, so I'm not very familiar with the middle of the night. But when I have seen it, I really enjoy it. It's just so quiet, peaceful, and well, dark. It's just got an empty, open feeling, and if I'm actually up and moving during it, I always feel wide open to big ideas, like I'm on the brink of discovering something wondrous. Too bad I never do. Other programmer types also like the dark, but in a very different way that I've never understood. I'm solar powered, I need warmth and light to feel happy (unless it's the middle of the night, mind you). But lots of programmers seal themselves in with black tape on the windows and stuff like that. I hate that, not just because I don't want to be in the dark, but because frankly, it's blinding to stare into a monitor when the room is dark! I'd rather get glare on my screen than burn out my eyes. Programmers are weird. I'm a game developer, whole different thing. I only program because I have to. And some of the stuff is pretty fun. I don't even drink caffeine (hence the early bedtime!).
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  Conflicting Brainwaves 08:34 PM -- Sun February 13, 2005  

I believe there is a switch in the human brain that pumps out endorphins when you are doing things that your brain thinks are accomplishing stuff. This is probably not so much a weird belief as it is neuroscientific fact backed up legions of books and papers, but I haven't read them. Certainly makes sense though.

This switch exists so that accomplishing things makes you happy, and thus you will accomplish things. The nifty thing is, games can trip this trigger quite easily. MMORPGs are very vicious about it - you're constantly grinding forward, improving your character. Everything you do in an MMO is, as far as your brain is concerned, accomplishing something - it's making you more powerful. It's one of the great draws, causing a constant stream of positive reinforcement, aka homegrown drugs (isn't it weird that your glands can create chemicals that affect your mood? Or stomach acid for that matter? Weird). Lots of other game types employ this as well.

The problem is this: on that one level, my brain is "in the game" and I feel the thrill of accomplishments. But on another level, my brain is outside the game, and I feel time slipping by with me wasting my time playing a stupid game. These two messages conflict, and leave me troubled and frustrated. The real trouble being, the chemical rush makes me want to play the game more (it's way easier to accomplish things in a game than in the real world!), but my smarter parts want me to not waste time doing it (and they are backed up by social pressures, such as people wanting me to finish my latest work, and simply wanting to look less lazy in the eyes of other people). So I have a drive to play games, but I have a disgust with game playing. Disgust is a bit strong, but it's the general idea. That makes playing games compulsive, and yet a little unpleasant. An addiction? Pretty much!

In other conflicting news, Sol Hunt is difficult to design. Just as I know MMOs suck people in with their constant improving and seemingly endless goals, I want to capture that with Sol, giving you upgrades on end to seek out. But I also am very intent on creating a fun and crazy multiplayer shooter, along the lines of a 2D Unreal Tournament. This is very conflicting, because it is not so much fun to play UT against someone with double rocket launchers when you have a water pistol. Further, this conflicts with the Dr. Lunatic-style design goal, because a key part of Dr. Lunatic gameplay is that the level designer has great power to craft their challenges because they dictate exactly what power the player has at any point (the player starts with nothing, and the designer doles out hammers and pants as they so choose - some levels even give you nothing). This rather cleverly manages to conflict with BOTH of the other design goals! What does it all mean? Where will it all go? I have no idea at all.

One simple idea is to keep the Dr. Lunatic play completely like Dr. Lunatic, which means the only upgrading would occur in the space shooter part of the game. This would really solve everything, because it would mean that in the multiplayer everyone would be on equal footing as well. The downside? I really want more things for the player to upgrade! Plus I like the idea of encountering a world you can't really handle, and going to improve yourself on other ones, or needing some special item you haven't yet earned, or going back to a world you've finished with some new ability and finding secrets you couldn't reach before.

Luckily, I haven't even managed to implement a chat program yet, so I guess there's no worries! But boy, that lack of progress eats at my laziness brain issue! Pushing ahead I am!

P.S. - Pumpkin Pop for the Mac is coming soon! Not that you care, you have a PC if you're a regular visitor to this site, but hopefully in time, we'll have some MacBuddies (iPals?) to join in our reindeer games. I am trying to get all the games ported.
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  How Games Are Made 03:18 PM -- Mon February 7, 2005  

I had an epiphany over mac & cheese a little while ago. It's a little convoluted as usual, but let's work it out together, except with you sitting there quietly and me doing all the work. Here's the thing: imagine if someone wanted to make a movie, and this was their initial plan: "Wouldn't it be cool if like, this helicopter exploded, and the guy jumped out just in time, riding on a missile, and crashed it into the enemy base?!"... That would be a stupid movie. Not just because that's a stupid scene, but because you can't make a movie based on "wouldn't it be cool if..." - a good movie takes a very interesting story, and does a very good job of showing the audience that story. A good novel is the same - takes a very interesting story, and gets it across to the reader in a very well-written fashion. Don't worry, I'm not going where you think I'm going.

Games are not made that way. But games aren't supposed to tell stories, so they shouldn't be made that way. If you have a very interesting story, don't put it in a game, because you're undermining both sides - the linear nature of storytelling precludes good gameplay, and the requirement of interactivity precludes good storytelling. The problem is, games are made based on "wouldn't it be cool if..." theory. And it's just as bad of an idea in games as it is in movies. But the tricky thing is, what is the right way to make a game? What is a game? Movies and novels are ways of telling a story, but a game isn't. A game is, I think (this one I'm not positive on), an implementation of an experience. The game designer has an idea of what he wants the player to feel like, what he's simulating (though it may not be a simulation by any means - Pac Man only simulates wandering a maze eating dots, but still, there is some more 'true' notion of a dot-filled maze that Pac Man's creator had in mind, and the end result was the closest he could come).

So that's why games are made so haphazardly and poorly right now, and with such random success, and why our industry is so immature. Movies did that same thing - originally they had no plots, they were just messing around with different shots and ways of showing things. We're still in that "wouldn't it be cool if" phase. Where we need to be is the place the film industry is. Just as a movie says "I will take your story that sounds so intriguing, and film it in this fashion so that it is very engrossing," a game needs to say "I know the experience I want the player to have, the overall feeling of what they should be doing, now I will implement it in just such a way as to make that experience come across very clearly." You see what I mean? It's the difference between "Man, it'd rock if you had a sniper rifle and could like pop guy's heads off from across the map!" and "This game lets the player feel what it's like to be the ultimate ninja assassin - we'll need to provide a variety of lethal stealthy moves to enhance that feeling, along with suitably dumb opponents so you feel like you're much better at fighting than them." ... or whatever. Point is, tossing things in willy nilly is not an art, or a science, it's just screwing around. Coming up with a goal, with a thing (story for a movie, experience for a game), that you want to communicate to the audience, and then implementing it well, that's an art. I don't mean that your game needs to be a good simulation of something. I've never been a fan of realism! It's not about simulating something real accurately, it's about accurately portraying the experience, the sensation and feelings, that are in your head. Your vision!

There, that's what I think the future of game design is. That's where 'formal' game design is supposed to go. To the concept of designing experiences (something Disney workers have been doing for decades, mind you), and making all the rules, graphics, physics, and sounds serve that experience. Just as a movie cuts scenes that don't help tell the story, a game needs to cut elements that don't help the player feel the experience.

But forget that! I like tossing things in at random and seeing what happens. I'm the Jackson Pollack of video game design. Splatter it on!
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  Hamumu HQ 09:47 PM -- Sun February 6, 2005  

Took a picture for a discussion on a game developer forum, and I thought I'd share it with you too! This is my desk setup. I really do keep it mostly this clean... of course, you can't see the stack of books and magazines that are under the black shelf. Sadly, Bonsai didn't get into this shot. It's very hard to corral 3 cats.
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  Blockworld Be Gone 05:28 PM -- Tue February 1, 2005  

Forget it! You know, the game development process is, until you get into the thick of just hammering down the code you have planned, a long series of soul-searching exercises. Well, it is for me, probably not for normal people. That's how I arrived at the idea that I should make another Dr. Lunatic type game - it's fun and easy for me, and it's very well established that my customers like it! And this whole process of messing with the 3D stuff was a part of that. Banging my head on this stuff over and over, and this is my latest conclusion: I'm in this job for the fun of it. And it's not fun to do complicated math. I could get blockworld up and running, but even if I didn't need to make complex optimizations to it, it would greatly complicate the everyday work of making the game. Every aspect of it would be made more difficult by the 3D block setup, nothing would just be straightforward, and in the end I'd be insane(r) and have a huge bloated mass of code that I'd never be able to debug.

I like things simple. So I'm going to make them simple. More fun for me, more games for you, and they'll work on your computer (probably). And you know you like em too! I'll try 3D again someday, I always go back and mess around with it once a year or so. Hopefully someone will have made a nice easy engine for me to use by then.

But you people responding to my poll aren't making it simple for me, by keeping the results almost 50/50! So here's the poll about what to do with this upcoming game, please vote on it and add your comments. As an added bonus, it gives away the answer to what you've been speculating on! Here it is!
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