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  Sneak Peek: Wee Ninja 07:10 PM -- Sun April 30, 2006  

Well, I finished my entry for the latest Ludum Dare 48-hour contest! Witness it. The theme was Swarms, which shows in the screenshot quite clearly. It'll be available on the Gamelets page in a day or two. It's rather silly and a bit lame, but it's got unlockable Mad Ninja Skillz, which makes it fun. I'm tired and my back hurts. See ya!
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  Busy Weekend 10:35 AM -- Fri April 28, 2006  

First, to comment: Man, Nintendo is setting the internet aflame with slackjawed jabberjawing jackanapes via their naming announcement. Now, to clarify, so as not be a part of the crowd, I'm not commenting on the naming announcement. I'm commenting on the commenting on the naming announcement. Very important distinction. I'm no jackanape! But anyway, if you didn't hear, their upcoming console that was codenamed "Revolution" is officially named now. The actual real name is: Wii (pronounced "wee"). I'll leave the jokes in your hands, but suffice to say that since the announcement is a couple days old, they've all been done thousands of times by now. I just have this comment: if I buy the system or any games for it, I will buy them online, because I'm not going into a store to ask for a Wii. Anyway, my comment was just that they nailed this thing dead-on. It's a horrible name, and thus the internet has exploded with talk. If you look at Qatfish, which links to latest entries of tons of game developer blogs, you'll see that most of them are discussing it - multiple times each (most entries that aren't directly discussing it still mention it... kinda like this one right here)! Well played, Nintendo, well played.

Also, Guild Wars: Factions, the expansion to Guild Wars, is available as of yesterday for folks like me who preordered. So I way played that. But it's funny, it became available at midnight Wednesday, and I joked that I'd stay up to play it right away. I didn't do that, but I woke up at about 2am with massive heartburn, and I don't know about you, but when I have heartburn, I can't lay down. I have to sit up. So from 2am until the sun came up, I was indeed playing it! And then some. So that was like a big event that I have been anticipating a long time and got to 'enjoy' (with my stomach feeling that way, it could've been more fun).

Thirdly, tonight begins yet another Ludum Dare 48 Hour Contest! I will see what I can do! These are always fun, though I seem to be less capable each time.

So that's my busy weekend. Don't forget to check out Dungeon Scroll Gold if you haven't. It's the Guild Wars of word games.
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  Dungeon Scroll Gold! 01:27 PM -- Wed April 26, 2006  

Dungeon Scroll Gold is here! It's not a sequel, it's just a major major update to the game. If you are an existing owner of Dungeon Scroll (who bought it from here!), send me an email letting me know an order number or something I can use to look up your order, and I'll get you a link to download the new version. If you're not an owner of it, download the demo and see what you're missing! It's really a huge improvement. The changes are basically:
  • World map to track progress over 25 dungeons, and even an ending now!
  • Online high scores
  • (my favorite) Bosses give Books Of Lore when beaten, which grant you upgrades that last the rest of the game
  • Difficulty has been rebalanced
  • Many new monsters and bosses, including some with unique and horrible abilities
  • Many new magic tiles, like +20 and x3 damage
  • Regular X, Q, and Z tiles get built-in special properties (it's only fair!)
  • The dictionary's been expanded to recognize more words
It's a lot more fun, and feels much more like an RPG. Go play!
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 06:15 PM -- Tue April 25, 2006  

That's a very odd looking thing, isn't it? Almost all I've done since last time is make sound effects. I've been cranking out new sounds quite a bit in my previously mentioned effort to completely finish up the beginning part of the game. I'm doing some kind of weird sounds... I hope they're good. I'll have to get second opinions soon. The sound when you pause the game is a really cool little guitar ditty, only it sounds forlorn and tremendously at odds with the happenin' swing music playing behind it. Even without that music, it's awfully morose for a Loonyland game. But it sounds cool! I'll have to yank it, I'm pretty sure.

The other thing I did, mostly just design so far, is add a major major new system to the game (as if I needed more things to get done - but this is the kind of design and programming that I enjoy). Now, first of all, the skills are going to be cut back to only 50. One or two will be removed entirely, but most of the missing skills are being moved over to the new feature - Talents. Yes, I got the idea when I sadly looked up some World of Warcraft info to see what I had been missing since I got to play that last. The inspiration led me to think of a set of abilities that are very small percentage boosts for the most part, adding to your main skills, sort of to specialize (just like in WoW). But in Loonyland, they work differently. Skills, as you know, are special abilities that you can upgrade with points you earn by gaining levels. Some are triggered directly, others are passive boosts. Talents, on the other hand, upgrade themselves based on certain criteria, and are all passive boosts (basically, they upgrade as you use them).

Aha, but I tricked you! There are a few Talents that aren't passive at all! They are the former Crafting skills. Now that they are Talents instead of Skills, it's kind of nice, because it means you don't need to invest skill points in them - choosing between becoming stronger, or becoming better at making things that make you stronger. They will just improve if you spend time crafting things.

So the other cool thing about Talents pertains to the picture above. All this time you've been wondering who the little egghead is, and now I shall let the cat out of the bag: that is a Talent Guru. There are 30 of them, since there are 30 Talents, scattered all around the land. Just as with Skills, you need to find your Talents by finding the Gurus that can teach them (I know it makes no sense to teach someone a talent, but they're gurus... it's magic - or possibly motivational speeches). Why is that cool? Because it's another 30 things I get to hide around the game world! Finding stuff is fun. Unlike skills, you get Talents simply by finding the Gurus, there are no quests involved. Once you have a talent, you can begin doing whatever it is you need to to level it up, and up it will go.

Also note that the Guru is levitating - see his feet? That's Guru Power.
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 05:07 PM -- Thu April 20, 2006  

Tired of this shot yet?

A slow work day. The axe shop is finally completely done (but could be polished a lot) and some other odds and ends happened. Shortly thereafter, I went back in to play again, to see what was next, and voila - nothing was! There are no more quests I can complete. So that should mean it's time to add the next round of quests and places to go. But wait! It doesn't!

You see, all this time, the game has had no sound effects. Well, there are sounds, but they're all Loonyland sounds, and frankly I'm really tired of every single enemy making Bonehead sounds. There are also many skills that have no special effects, and other rough edges visually and sonically like that. So instead of moving on, what I'm going to do is finish up the small portion of game I have. I'm going to make all the sounds, put in the effects for all the currently attainable skills, get art in for the potions and other items that lack it, and even put in the music.

And that's where you come in if you want. I'm going to get the music from royalty-free music sites. On these sites, you pay around $30 per song to buy a song, and then you have the right to use that song freely in your game. The only downside is that anybody else can buy it too, so your game may not be unique, but I don't care, as long as it sounds good! That's where the music in Ninja Academy came from as well, and you know that was fun music. So here's the deal: I have decided to go with a very swing/big band/bebop/whatever sound for this game, because it's extremely silly, and it's lively and fun. I don't know exactly what I want to use, and you are free to give your input. All these sites allow you to listen to song samples online, so you can check them out. Here are the sites I'm looking at:

Flying Hands
Fresh Music
Shockwave Sound
Sound Rangers

I'm looking for something slow and easy for the town (I was rather enjoying "Watch Her Walk" from the Flying Hands site, in fact, but I haven't checked out much yet), and more energetic actiony stuff for adventuring. Hear anything you like? What says Loonyland to you? The important thing is swing - I don't want generic RPG fantasy noise. I don't know how many different adventure themes I'll have, maybe 3-4? Not sure where the dividing lines should be on those, but I'll figure something out. Too many songs really fattens up the download, so it is to be avoided on that count. Too few songs drives the player insane, so that's another issue.
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 05:23 PM -- Wed April 19, 2006  

Same picture. I've been developing the game in an interesting way, now that the core of things is pretty much there. I start up a new character and begin playing, until I encounter something that isn't done, or isn't the way it should be. I save, make those changes, and go back to playing until the next issue. It's fun, and it seems to be working well. I've had to tweak a ton of balance things already - making enemies drop more items, fewer potions, less damage, more experience, all kinds of things like that.

There are about 6 or 7 quests fully in now, and I finally completed the one which earns you access to Axes R Us, the one-stop shop for all your axe needs. The quest was to find any five axes to bring to the shopkeeper, since he had been robbed and had no inventory to start from. It took much longer than it should've, resulting in one of the balance changes: axes drop more often now than they did! So today I have mostly been implementing the aforementioned shop. See, I did have several shops already done, but the new inventory system calls for a complete redo of the shops. So I'm working on that. It's fun. I was making up the pricing scheme for items, which will surely undergo major changes over time.

There is now a meter, beneath your Magic meter, which shows how much time remains on your current potion (only shows up if you're "under the influence"). Also, herbs now appear randomly scattered, and finding them is pretty fun. They have different traits. For instance, as a super secret tip for those clever enough to have found this diabolically hidden page, Bubbleweed always grows right next to water. That's why it's called Bubbleweed. Other ones have different rules about where and how they grow.
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  And done it is 05:05 PM -- Wed April 19, 2006  

In less than an hour! That was one of the smoother phpBB upgrades I've done. Very nice. If you were expecting amazing changes, sorry! It's just an upgrade. Fixes, security improvements, you know.

So I have finished another book in my slow and faltering quest to read 15,000 pages this year (at 3,302 so far!): The Reluctant Sorcerer, by Simon Hawke. It was bad. Just really bad. There was one thing, which arguably was also a really bad thing, that I kind of liked for its uniqueness. There was a character who was said to be the most powerful wizard in the land (this book being a comedy fantasy, of course). He was so powerful that he was actually able to hear when the book was talking about him. It was very strange, but certainly a unique angle. All in all, the book is vastly heavy on description (nothing happens for pages at a time as it explains the backstory and description of stuff - I counted 5 pages from the start of one chapter to the first mention of something happening!), full of lame humor, and most punishingly, ends in an abrupt 'cliffhanger'. The air quotes are needed because it's not one. There's no danger at that point, nothing eventful happening (in fact, in the entire book, very little actually happens - the whole thing is really just introduction), the book just ends. The last page is literally an ad for the next book in the series, or as it should be more properly termed, the rest of the book. That's just plain dirty. However, I'm not interested enough to go get it. Bah and away with you, sorcerer.

I have started on my next book, Expiration Date by Tim Powers. I am not very far, but it's looking good.

That business with the narrator reminds me of a movie we just saw too. The Movie Hero. Very strange and unique, and quite entertaining. It's about a guy who believes he's the star of a movie (which technically, he is, since the movie's about him). He talks to the camera, but not in a 'breaking the fourth wall' way - it's part of the movie. People around him think he's crazy, quite appropriately, because he's talking to thin air. His whole goal is to be interesting enough to be a good movie. It has a real 'meta' level to it, since you are actually watching this guy in a movie, and it's almost interactive, because you really are the audience he's talking to, and he does things like leave his audience somewhere, and there you sit, not following him anymore until he comes and picks you up again. It kinda makes you think, but not terribly much. Even messes with your head a little, if you really give it some thought. It's cool and interesting and clever and very funny, and I'm quite sure you haven't heard of it. So see it!
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  Updating PHPBB 03:49 PM -- Wed April 19, 2006  

Yes, I am currently updating the forum, so don't worry, it will be running again in an hour or so!
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  Game Endings 01:57 PM -- Sun April 16, 2006  

I have just finished Pitfall: The Lost Expedition, and I am here to rant to you about game endings. I liked the game, it was all pretty solid. I really liked the way it (much like our own Loonyland!) focused on gradually acquiring new abilities/items that let you travel to places you previously couldn't. I felt like it did a really clever job with that too, the way things were laid out.

But then I got to the end. And my wife said "I hate when you get to the ends of games", because she didn't want to listen to me shouting curses. And it's true! A very large percentage of games have this problem. Here's what I think it is: they know it's the big finish, so they have to pull something out that's really major for two purposes: to challenge you, and to impress you.

There's an obvious problem with the challenge thing - the game's been gradually getting harder all along, if the difficulty is well tuned, so why do I want it to suddenly jump up higher at the very end? Keep the same curve! It works! So many games have you going along comfortably only to slam you up against Mount Kilimanjaro at the very last moment. That's just fundamentally wrong. What if I can't beat the increased challenge? I played all that way only to just miss the ending and break a controller throwing it at the TV? Thanks.

The impressing thing is where the sneakier problem usually lies though. As it did in this game. See, you go along in Pitfall, the whole game, doing complicated platforming - leaping from vines to skinny platforms to the backs of alligators - and punching guys who die in one hit. Even the bosses - every single one - consisted of platforming, figuring out the trick, dodging shots, and then doing some simple action (rinse and repeat, of course). But you get to the end and suddenly it's an all-out fist fight with a flaming demon jaguar (not a spoiler - you find this out in the first minute of the game, which is a nice compelling story element). It requires reflexes, dodging, and unbelievable luck since that thing is insane. The point is, it's a completely different set of skills than the entire rest of the game calls for, and it's very hard. It's like I shut off the game and put in a new one, but started playing the new one at level 25, without having played through the easy levels to learn the concepts.

Both of these things happen in a lot of games (usually these same types of 'play through the story' games, as opposed to arcade type games), and it's a fundamental design mistake. Spyro: A Hero's Tail featured a similar problem (though only the challenge problem, not the new stuff problem). I ranted about that a few weeks ago. So, the game design moral to our story is this:

Make the end of the game just like the rest of the game!

Oh sure, you should definitely pull out some new and exciting visuals and all that. You want to impress the player. But don't make them do things they haven't been doing previously! It doesn't make sense. And it should be a challenge. But don't make it a sudden jump in challenge.

As a side note, that 'final' boss fight was followed by another fight which was much more true to the Pitfall 'rules', and it only took me two tries to win that one (it was still a lame and unfun fight, hampered by an obnoxious camera, but at least it wasn't impossible). The jaguar took me upwards of 20 tries, and a lot of profanity. Luckily, I don't throw controllers.

In fact, you know what? Here's another idea: forget the bosses. Some games have awesome bosses. I love bosses in shooters, they're why I play. I like them in RPGs too. And fighting games. But in a platform game, just forget the boss. They always stand out and are weird gameplay, and just no fun. I'd always rather do the platforming and gem-finding than run in circles around a screaming banshee until it opens its eye for a split second so I can throw in a coconut. I got the game to play the main gameplay it offers 95% of the time, so rest assured that more of that gameplay won't upset me, while something totally different just might.
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 04:58 PM -- Thu April 13, 2006  

Same picture again. I'm going to try to keep this a really active journal of my development rather than holding out on it until I have something interesting enough to take a shot of. So you'll see the same shot repeat many times before you see a new shot, but you'll get a lot more actual information. Knowing I need to tell everybody what I'm doing should also add some nice pressure to actually do something!

So since yesterday, what's new is that I spent an hour or so tracking down an absolutely inconceivable bug. This will make sense even to people who know nothing of programming: There was a line in the code equivalent to "X=3". I used the debugger to step through and watch what was happening, since things weren't working right, and you know what I found? X was 0, then that line executed, and X was still zero. That is impossible. It defies all reason! Computers can't be disobedient! Eventually I 'fixed' it by adding a "#pragma pack(1)" (which doesn't make sense to non-computer people, bear with me), which is also stupid since packing was already set to 1 (oh, and did I mention that the setting of the variable only failed in one particular file? If I moved it to another file, no problem). So anyway, that garbage aside - which was the second time in two days the mysterious ever-changing packing has bit me - here's some new stuff:

The potions are now in, there are 20 of them, although only 2 actually do anything so far. That would be Healenbrau and Magicola that work. You select potions in the spinny magic menu depicted in an earlier sneak peek. Potions can be any of 10 different power levels, with snappy names like "Half-Full" and "Fizzy" (it's up to you to learn which names mean which levels!). The higher power, the more good the potion does, and the longer it lasts. All the potions except the two I've actually implemented are timed ones. You can only have one potion active at a time, something I agonized over a bit, but finally decided it was very important for balance. I looked at the list, and if you had all 20 potions going at level 10 at the same time, it would be quite a sight. I will probably add a meter that pops up to indicate how long the current potion has left. Either that or bubbles will float up from you or something. I don't want to give them all unique visuals since, after all, there are 20 of them, and potions are just supposed to be a little side element of the game.

I've also toned down some of the early monsters, and given them the ability to drop potions. Actually right now, they drop potions at too high of a quality, I need to cut that back. I think there's going to have to be a lot of balancing in this game, with all the drop rates and damage values and everything. That should be kind of fun though. I tried to keep the numbers fairly small for things, so that for example a +1 to damage would be a nice thing to have, but that makes balancing trickier. If I find that 4 damage is too much for something, but 3 is too little, I'm kinda stuck.

Balancing all the skills is going to be the craziest part. The game needs to be decently playable whether you choose to focus on axe combat, throwing axes, or magic (5 different flavors to choose from! Can't max them all), or just choose to spread things around. I also look forward to more specialized builds. For instance, you (and me, for sure!) could make a character who focuses on summoning things to do the fighting for you. That's mostly magic, but there are two skills outside of the magic section that would be a part of that as well (and you'd probably want some other stuff, like extra health and defense, that any character wants). Maybe a lightning-focused character with electrified throwing axes and lightning magic. There are also items that will help with different builds, by boosting the appropriate skills and with other magical bonuses. For instance, a Boney Amulet makes the Boneheads you summon shoot fireballs and regenerate health, in addition to hitting things with swords.

Well, that's enough spoilers for one day.
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