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  5 Questions? For moi? 05:11 PM -- Thu January 31, 2008  

Some indie guy named Shamus posted his "5 Questions For Indie Game Developers", so I figured I'd answer them! He didn't ask me to, and he probably knows I exist as little as I do him, but the questions are there, so I answer them.

1) RPGs seem really over-represented in indie games. (Or, you could say they are under-represented in mainstream games.) Why do you think indie developers favor RPGs so much?

I think there's a false premise here. There are lots of indie RPGs in the realm of "indie games that indies are talking about", but as a percentage of all indie games being released, I'm sure they are well below 5% (with 95% being match-3). However, given that the RPGs are getting talked about a lot, it's fair to say indies seem to have an interest in RPGs, so I will say something on that.
I love RPGs myself. I'm an indie. So I guess based on those statistics, indies love RPGs, and thus make them. Also, indies are geeky. Great demographic for RPGs. That's about all I've got for you on this one, though there's more to consider like technical issues, storytelling interest, and so on. Whatevz.

2) Naturally indie games have to use older technology, which is less labor intensive and doesn’t require (as much) expensive software. But I don’t think that’s the only reason to do so. Certainly the older graphics - done right - can have a certain stylistic appeal as well. The other reason to aim low on the tech tree is so that you can hit the widest possible base of users instead of just the fanboys with $3,000 computers. If you could use any graphics technology you wanted - from Infocom to Crysis - where would you choose to go?

I don't know what game uses this tech, but I know exactly what I want. It's something that would look just like WoW, but rather than building the world in a 3D modeler, you put it together out of prefab blocks and items (like you do in a 2D tile-based game, just in 3D - and of course, you can make new block types too). And needless to say, the tools for creating it would be dead simple. Click & drag & make up formulas and skills as you wish. Ah, easyness is nice.

3) If you got a million bucks in no-strings-attached funding, how would you use it to make your game more successful?

I wouldn't have even the first piece of the fragmented shards scattered across the land and guarded by big bosses of A Clue. I guess with that kind of money, I could just hire people to do the work for me, and all I'd need to do is come up with ideas! That would sure make for better art! Then I could spend the rest of it on advertising, but again, not a clue how that is done. Hire a PR firm - there, problem solved on that end too! So I guess the answer to this question is "make someone else do it."

4) Amanda Fitch and Jay Barnson have both said in the past something along the lines of, “Making the game is one-third of the job.” Or words to that effect. The idea being that once you finish the game, you’re one-third of the way to having it where someone can buy and play the thing. What is the other 66% of effort required after you finish the game, and is this a challenge unique to indie developers?

I don't agree with that, only because I do so very very little of the remaining 66%. It's a little thing called marketing, and since I spend about half an hour per game doing it, it doesn't come near 66% of the work. But for success, yes you should. And yes, it is unique to indies for the self-evident reason that dependies don't have to market their work at all. They make it, and then the publisher does the rest. I think they only call it 2/3 of the work because it's not something indie-types enjoy or are good at. It definitely doesn't take nearly the time, even for those who actually do it. I know this is true, because games can take a year or more to make. If they also took a year to market, we'd all be playing year-old games rather than super buggy ones that got released before they were done. Of course, marketing's an ongoing thing that never ends. And never fails to bore and confuse me. Go away, question!

5) At the end of the XFire interview the mod asked everyone what their favorite game was. I’ll ask this: What game (any game, new, old, mainstream, whatever) do you wish you could have worked on and taken part in?

I think I would have learned a lot and had some fun workin on the Ratchet & Clank or Sly Cooper series (serieses?). But in the end, I of course don't want to work on some game, however cool. I want to make my games, and my games only, and definitely not under some boss, however nice the boss may be. Indie forever!
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  Vacation! 11:04 AM -- Tue January 29, 2008  

Or not. I'm taking a week off from development, but I'm spending it (well, mostly playing WoW, but when I'm not playing...) working on website stuff and other issues. The things I totally neglect 90% of the time. Got to keep up with all the things that need work! Look for My Downloads to finally come to life this week, along with a Sleepless Hollow patch, new avatar bits, and other little things. I also added some new categories to T.A.G. this morning, so hopefully it will stop repeating the same ones (there are actually several that it's just refused to ever pick). I need to add DumbWords questions too, sadly. That's hard. Anyway, lots of stuff to do.

Oh, and I got called for jury duty next month. Augh! HATE! The worst part of all is that the court is 2 hours away. I'm going to ask them if there is a closer court I can use. In the past, we've both had jury duty, and got through it doing nothing other than calling into an automated system each night for a week. The system tells you if you need to show up tomorrow, and if you don't get called in for the whole week, you are free. That's how it went in the past. But I have a bad feeling this time...
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  A Previously Unrecorded Phenomenon 07:11 PM -- Sun January 27, 2008  

As you may have previously heard, my wife runs a tutoring business. She was doing the books for business and peering over her shoulder, I discovered something interesting. If you are looking for a topic for a sociology or education dissertation, give this one a thought: Almost all the last names of her clients are very uncommon. In fact, except for 3 of them, they're ones I've never even heard before.

That's the data. My hypothesis based on this data, and a very scientific one at that, is that people with rare or strange last names tend to need more schooling. Why? It's simple! Think of the first day of school. The teacher comes around and takes roll, saying each name in turn. She gets them wrong, some more than others. This happens to you year after year, and eventually you stop thinking teachers know so much. You stop paying attention, you lose all interest in school, and bam, you need tutoring! This is science, people. Look it up.
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  Happyponygate London (Ontario) 06:39 PM -- Sat January 26, 2008  

Well, now you know.

The plot is that Happyponygates have opened around London, Ontario (why this happened is in the game, and you will find out when you play!). In case it's somewhat unclear, Happyponygates are rainbow colored happy portals that lead to the dreaded Happy Pony Land With Strawberry Waterfalls And Gumdrop Trees. Happy Ponies and their minions are flooding out and taking over the city, forcing everyone to be happy all the time. The RCMP has set up a perimeter around the city, but nobody can go inside. They are evacuating everyone who was trapped inside, of course.

Conventional weapons are completely useless against the ponies - yes, red hammers included! So what options remain? Does Canada simply lose its finest metropolis?! No, as a last resort, they call up Bouapha. He is of course world-renowned for "handling situations." So, he shows up, and sees what he can do.

The city is completely devoid of humans. They've all been evacuated. So you aren't so much stealing cars as commandeering them. I have an enormous list of different kinds of goals and challenges to do, and I hope lots of them can go in. It's more a wish list than a design plan at this point.
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  AoB3 Progress 04:42 PM -- Thu January 24, 2008  

Obviously, that's shrunken down! But there you have it, the very beginning of the game. It's not all that playable at the moment, mainly I just got the graphics in. You can go and steal the RCMP car, but you can't get out of it if you get into it, and it still steers quite goofily. The mountie looks around, but doesn't interact in any way. As you can see, the Supreme life meter and enemy life meter are onscreen, and the enemy meter is in an odd place, since I upped the resolution to 800x600. There will be new interface elements for this game, those will be replaced. Still not sure actually how life will be - a meter or the ever-popular hearts!
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  Bouapha Update 10:36 AM -- Wed January 23, 2008  

Nothing much has happened since the last update. That's because of planning and considering the prospects of online connectivity. I came up with some awesome ideas that would be really fun and well worth being connected. But they're huge. So it was pretty paralyzing to consider those things. So I've finally made the decision to just go ahead and get something done with the regular offline thing, because the nature of the online stuff I have in mind won't require redoing much of this, it'll just be added on. So I can work on stuff I know how to do now, make good progress, and worry about that stuff later without worrying that it's going to entail undoing all the stuff I've got done.

So my goal is simple: By Feb 1st, I want to have a playable first district. Not full of interesting stuff, but a place you can run around with some monsters and a little bit of the initial stuff. Actually... I probably ought to clarify that goal more. Oh well, point is, I am off to render out the RCMP car and the mountie, and some traffic barriers and trees, and make some road tiles. Because of course, it all begins right there!
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  T.A.G., You're NOT it 10:28 AM -- Tue January 22, 2008  

After having a month or so of seeing the frowning system of T.A.G. in action, I have decided to drop it to only 5 frowns to kick an entry out. No legitimate entry has ever come close to 5 frowns (2 is about the highest), and in fact most egregiously bad entries only get around 4, so it will still not drop a lot. But getting 10 was almost impossible. It only ever happened with ones where the person just typed a single random word, or retyped the acronym itself. So I think 5 will do better, and you might occasionally see an entry kicked out now. This should not have any retroactive effect on the scores.

On another note, saw Cloverfield last night. Don't see it. It's not terrible, it's kinda sorta good (but really pretty stupid). But, 50% of all viewers (out of our sample of 2) literally kept their eyes closed for 95% of the movie to avoid throwing up. It's all shot on handheld camera, and it's way way worse than The Blair Witch Project. It made me feel pretty dizzy and uncomfortable, and it made her totally unable to watch. The theater put up warning signs at the ticket booth, and we really didn't believe it could be that bad, but it was. It's really, really hard to watch. I truly can't understand how this got past test audiences without some kind of digital filtering or something to smooth it out. And it's really not interesting enough to warrant suffering through that.

Here's a tip to future directors: having the cameraman wear a steadicam rig may not be "realistic", but you won't hear complaints about it. As opposed to using real handheld cameras, which will cause vomiting in the aisles. It's not as if the guy always hanging onto his camera through every horrible event is realistic either. We know it's fake, it'd just be nice to be able to see it.

If you need to see it, wait for the DVD - it'll be a lot less sickening on a small screen.
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  La Oficina 09:14 PM -- Sun January 20, 2008  

The Office is very funny!! It doesn't matter how you interpret that sentence, provided you interpret it as the name of a TV show, because it will be true either way.

Warning: It turns out I wrote a million pages of stuff about WoW below. If you don't care, stop reading now. Nothing from here down will be of any interest to you!

It's time for another WoW landmark! Now my Hordies are all level 26, though the Allies remain 24 (I've got 5 of each). It's their turn now. If you search this journal to see when my last WoW landmark occurred, you will discover that I don't waste all that much time on WoW! Well, relatively speaking. I mean, people talk about hitting 60 in a few weeks. It took me a few weeks just to gain 10 levels (2 each for 5 characters), and these levels are a whole lot quicker than the ones at the high end. Then again, maybe I am wasting a lot of time, I'm just really bad at it...

Which brings me to the issue of the classes in WoW. I will tell you that at this point, playing every class to 24/26, I have the following opinions (opinions subject to change pending higher levels):

* Classes I love are Warlock and Hunter. Even on my 3-second delay connection, they are very playable thanks to their handy pets keeping monsters off of them. The Warlock also has the added advantage of relying on damage-over-time spells, rather than having to constantly cast more spells, so that too is easier on my connection. These two classes easily level three times as fast as any other for me, and with virtually no risk of failure (Hunter the fastest and easiest). I can take on 3 guys a couple levels above me without fear, and not even worry much when new things show up in mid-fight with them.
* Classes I also like a lot are Rogue, Druid, and Shaman. They are not as powerful or easy to play as the above, but they do fun things (Rogue: stealth, lockpicking, making poisons, doing massive damage; Druid: shapeshifting, clawing things to bits; Shaman: totems, easy combo of magic and smacking), and have good abilities to save themselves if needed.
* Also pretty fun classes are Warrior and Priest. Warrior is not amazing, but despite what you'd expect, a pretty big variety of different abilities to mix up. And awfully hard to kill. Priest is pretty good... sometimes. Slow to kill things (unlike real life, of course), and a little easier to get killed than it should be, since the whole class is based around healing.
* The classes I don't like are Paladin and Mage. Mage is absolutely impossible to play on my connection. They need a fast connection to get the spells out quickly enough. Of all the classes, Mage is far and away the slowest to level, and I die constantly. It actually has some pretty fun options, but dying nonstop and having to constantly rest and restore mana and life is very tiring. My problems with it have more to do with my connection than the class itself. It's a lot better when I play at the library. On the other hand, Paladin is just boring. Toss out a couple of skills, then wait while you auto-attack for a while. Doesn't die much, just isn't very exciting.

Do you play WoW? What do you think of the classes?
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  P.U., K., 3 S.F.S. 10:10 PM -- Sat January 19, 2008  

purple umbrella, kumquat, 3 small finger sandwiches

We are sitting here watching TV (Netflix) for the evening, as is very very often the case, and I asked my wife what I should blog about today. She said to write a story about the items listed above. Here goes.

One fine August afternoon, I was supping on my favorite lunch - a small selection of finger sandwiches. Today, I had a spicy peppercorn cheese one, a kumquat-butternut squash pate, and a salmon rutabaga melt on rye. But alas, when I was down to my last sandwich (the pate!), the clouds conspired against me. The sky grew dark and in moments drizzle became downpour. I rushed under the shelter of our gazebo, but for shame, the sandwich had been besogged. It was then that I remembered the saying of my dear mother: "Always keep a teensy tiny purple umbrella in your right shoe, snug against your toes!" But not just the saying, no sir! I remembered that I had followed this ever-sage advice each day of my life. I disenshoed my right foot and withdrew the umbrella from its repose. I pushed it to its widest extreme, and beheld its majesty overhead.

Being teensy tiny, it offered too diminutive an arc to ensure my own aridity. But yet, the day could be salvaged! I placed the umbrella into the last remaining finger sandwich's airspace, and thusly could it avoid being further hydrated. With it so covered, I proudly strode forth into the splatter and partook of the slightly damp treat which remained.

Mmmm, Kumquat-butternut squash.

The end. That's what you get. And that's what she gets for suggest such a combination of items.
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  Use The Force-Shaped Parts, Luke! 06:48 PM -- Fri January 18, 2008  

Lego Star Wars II

I've been playing this pretty obsessively for about the past two weeks. I give it Two Dumbs Up. It's a very easy platformer (in fact, you have unlimited lives, and reappear right where you died, so it's impossible to lose!), with a ton of secret stuff to find and collect, and a ton of really funny stuff. It wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining if it wasn't playing off of something that the player is already sure to be extremely familiar with (Star Wars), but since it is, it's just hilarious to see the Lego versions of all the big scenes from the movies. They're not just Lego versions, they make a mockery of every scene with stupid little jokes. For example, when Luke gets his robotic hand installed, it gets loose and runs around clamping on to things.

A couple things to note about the game, from my perspective as a game idea thief:
  • Just like with Ratchet & Clank, blowing things up (and tons of things can be blown up!) results in a huge shower of money items you get to wade through and watch them add up. Very satisfying.
  • Reuse of levels - There are 18 levels that take you through the story of the 3 movies (the 3 that came out first, not the 3 that ruined the very concept of moving pictures). To fit the story, each one makes you play as certain characters. But then you can Free Play each level also, which lets you use anybody you want, and you can get to many places you couldn't in Story mode. It's fun (and economical for the developer!) to see the same place again and get to know it, while expanding on it and finding new facets like the Stormtrooper bathing area. Then they get reused again for special Bounty Hunter missions where you just need to find where someone is hiding. The fact that you have gotten to know the layout is very helpful at this point!
  • It really goes without saying that having hundreds of things to unlock and buy makes me happy. One of the most fun ones here is that you can buy cheats, and when you finally get to afford the useful ones (my favorites are the ones that multiply the money you make...), you are much more powerful, so it's a sideways version of leveling up. And everybody knows I love to level up! The basic game here is trivially easy (like I said above, you literally can't lose), but the goals are set up such that actually earning things isn't. To earn the secret stuff, you need to finish each level with a certain amount of money (among about 12 other sources of secret stuff), and you lose money when you die.
  • Huge variety of characters is fun. A lot of them share abilities, and probably 2/3 of them are plain old "blaster people". But there's a lot of fun to it anyway, and plenty of unique stuff to be found in between, from lightsabers to jetpacks and bombs, to the Imperial Spy that has no attacks and can only chirp into a walkie talkie. You can also build your own character, and which parts you make it out of determines which of the abilities it has.
  • Not something I could steal, but it's really cool that the Lego things the characters build are completely real. You can actually watch every single piece go into place, and if you own the right pieces, you could duplicate them exactly.
Oh, and remember that scene in Empire Strikes Back when Yoda rides around on a tractor, and then they stuff a motorcycle into a washing machine and make it explode, entirely with their minds? I don't either, but it must have been in there, because it's in the game.
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