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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 10:23 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 10:05 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 08:49 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 06:57 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 09:58 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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  It's work! 10:55 PM -- Mon April 10, 2006  

No longer vacation. Got 2 new Dumb puzzles ready to go today (not putting them up yet! A couple more will join them). One is actually new work, the other was just setting up a puzzle that someone sent in to me. I do enjoy that, feel free to send me some!

Also, Toonyland work. See the Sneak Peek page for the first sneak peek since the Carter administration. Not much of a shot, but of interest if you're the RPG type. It's looking more fun all the time!

That's the latest news. Taxes are finished and submitted, and fingers are crossed that we didn't trigger an IRS death squad (we did our own taxes for the first time). I believe it's mostly random where they send the death squads, but there are some specific triggers as well. The tax system is absolutely absurd. It really needs to go. Why was buying a $70 computer program (that is only valid for the current year) the cheap, do-it-yourself option? The government wants my money, why don't they tell me how much they want? Not that I'd trust them, but that's a separate issue. You know, there's all kinds of issues with a flat tax, issues with a federal sales tax, issues with every possible new kind of tax. But I'll tell you this, there is no tax system that could be as bad as what we have now. So just do something new!! NOW! If taxes were so simple that humans could do them, our economy would be 7853%* more efficient overnight, although the CPA homeless problem would be something to contend with, I suppose.

* precisely!
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland 2: Winter Woods 10:40 PM -- Mon April 10, 2006  

I've redone the entire inventory system. It used to be really abstract and split up, like you'd choose which axe to equip on one page, and look at your other junk on another page. Now it's more like most games - a straightforward grid of all the stuff you've collected, and you can just hit the button to equip stuff and the usual. All quite logical. I like it way better now, although that "<- Equipped" notice is pretty lame looking.

You can't actually equip the log, despite what the help text says. It's one of many 'junk items'. Each different main class of monster drops a different kind of junk. You'll want to collect it because you can sell it, or combine it into wondrous new items. Provided you have the Crafting skill, that is! You can also use it for another purpose which shall remain secret. Oh, and some quests call for collecting some of it. Collecting logs is actually the very first quest you encounter, unless you are too antisocial to talk to the townsfolk.
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  It's a vacation! 04:01 PM -- Sat April 8, 2006  

Yeah, so I'm not very bloggy these days, but I'm not doing work either, so it works out. I'm on vacation! Vacation ends monday. I finished another book, Time Travelers Strictly Cash, by Spider Robinson. All you Pratchett people would probably really like it, since most of it is just all horrific puns. Yuck. But it's a short story collection, so the parts that weren't were sometimes pretty good. It was easy reading for the most part, quite harmless. It included some nonfiction bits, like a book review that was eerily reminiscent of my reviewing at the GameTunnel Monthly Roundup and some speeches. I really enjoyed some of those. One of the speeches was the worst part of the entire book on a level I've never read before... joking so incredibly intensely that every word was a multiple pun. It was unreadable garbage, and I skipped half of it. Very much lounge lizard, ladies-and-germs, is-this-thing-on, take-my-wife-please 'entertainment'. Gak! I don't find much offensive, but humor that bad can do it.

Now be quiet, I am vacationing!
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  The Wonders Of Wireless 06:46 AM -- Fri March 31, 2006  

It's late at night, and I'm in a hotel bed, and I just downloaded 650 emails in about 60 seconds. It was primo! Oh, how I miss broadband. Hotels are great in so many ways, and the advent of wireless access has just made it better still. Whee! Too bad this is the only night of my trip that I get to be in a hotel. Oh well. I will return on Monday to score the Monthly Merge contest and get busy with all the Hamumu business I need to do.

Sadly, I have to get up at what will feel like 5am to me. Yuck. Then it's goodbye hotel. But I'll never forget you, wireless. You'll always be in my heart.
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  Dumb Strikes Back Too 03:38 AM -- Sat March 25, 2006  

Because of some mentions on nice prominent websites, Dumb: The Game has really taken off all of a sudden! I'm actually learning a lot about internet hype. There was, by whatever chance, a mention on one site earlier in the month, which drove in a bunch of new visitors - a big crowd of them, actually. Then from that, it began to get mentions on a lot of sites. It's very much an exponential thing - if only ten people know about your site, what are the odds that one of those ten is going to have the ear of a major "opinion-maker"? But you get that one lucky break, that blossoms into a few thousand visitors, and out of those few thousand, definitely there are some who combine the traits of really-like-it, like-to-share, and are-widely-listened-to (or they have the attention of someone who is!). I think Dumb has gone mildly viral!

It's really great, exceeding my modest expectations, though not nearly reaching my immodest hopes. Now the question is whether the big hit will settle into a nice solid high traffic level, or if it will peter out and return to where it was. It's weird when you think about those simple traffic statistics actually representing the actions of millions of people and how they interact. It's sort of like seeing the numbers floating in front of The Matrix. Oooh. I already have ideas for my next mildly viral site. Actually, one of the ideas I had long before Dumb, but I haven't yet figured out how to make it work. It'd be a really original and unique web game.

Another website idea I had was a site where people trade items. I'd explain the details, but yesterday I discovered that my idea has been implemented almost to the letter at Title Trader (and also SwitchDiscs, Peerflix, and GatorSomethingOrOther, but to lesser degrees and with fees involved). So I guess that's done! Does seem like a cool site, though, so I was smart to come up with it. I'm not actually endorsing it though, I haven't tried it. But I really like the idea a lot.

What I really need is just a page of dancing chihuahuas and polka music that flashes seizuriffically. That'd be all over the web in minutes. Or is the era of that stuff over? I guess nowadays it's all embarrassing videos of kids acting stupid. If only I owned a lightsaber! And a video camera. Uninteresting trivia: in Tony Hawk's Underground 2, there's a semi-hidden parody of the lightsaber kid. Now that's hitting the big time!

Yes, I'm still working on Loonyland 2... but this weekend is the Guild Wars: Factions free preview event! So I'm busy for the moment. I did copy the water effects from Kid Mystic into it though. Much nicer looking than what I had previously. I've been doing a lot of work making background tiles for it, which I just hate doing. Ugh.
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