Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Kits have started shipping from the caster!

Good news; I was just told that 12 models shipped from the caster today, I should have them in a couple of days.

They expect to be able to stay on the revised schedule within a day or two either way. The production manager stated, that although the first few kits took longer than expected, they now have things flowing much smoother and have a system that seems to be keepings things at a good clip.

In anticipation of the arrival and shipping to my customers I have uploaded the Leviathan Crusader instructions to the DFG website and fixed the links for the weapons instructions.

You can view the Crusader instruction by clicking the image below.

Once I recieve the kits I will be working as fast as I can to get them out the door...

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Is the player an artist? - Redux

In case you did not follow the comments on the last blog post with my views on the player as an artist, you might have missed that James Portnow from Extra Credits responded and he and I had a brief exchange. This discussion is now up on the Escapist in case anyone is interested in checking it out:


The articles has lot of interesting responses from the readers. I think I have already said what I have to say, so I will not discuss it further here. However, do feel free to continue the discussion in the comments!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Player - the artist?

In this week's Extra Credits it was argued that we should treat the player of a video game as an artist and co-author of the game. One major point was that other media can be said to be valid without an audience, but not so for videogames. In video games a player is needed for the work to fully come to life. The other point was that players have an artistic role in this co-operative creation and that understanding the feelings that drive an artist can be used to make better video games. You can watch the whole video here:

While I think that Extra Credits is an excellent show, I do not really agree with this. The hypothesis of player-is-artist sound quite plausible at first, but I think that if you take a closer look it does not really hold up. I also think that if we choose to design games with this mindset, we might be missing out on very important things that can be done in the medium.

Why an audience is crucial
Consider the information that a novel transfers to its audience. More than often a few words is all that is given as base for the reader to imagine a scene. It is assumed that the reader is able to fill out large informational gaps, make assumptions and to even retroactively dress earlier scenes as new information comes along. A novel also throws a lot non-trivial concepts at the audience. Just consider something simple as a person being labeled as "depressed". In order for the reader to understand the state of mind of this character, a personal knowledge in human behavior and psychology is necessary. The reader simply cannot understand literature without a certain amount of experience.

What I want to say with this is that books cannot be enjoyed in a void. They have to be processed by a human with a certain amount life experience in order to come alive. An alien would be completely unable to understand any literature even if it could decipher the language. There are just so many prerequisites needed that a deep study of humanity would necessary for full comprehension. And even then it might not be possible for the alien to understand; the very workings of our minds is probably crucial for a proper enjoyment of the work.

Further more, the mental image painted up in our mind is not merely an opinion-based interpretation of the written text. It is a full blown world, populated and maintained by ourselves. We are not just doing a trivial text to sensory input conversion when reading. We are doing an actual simulation, constantly adding and updating details based on the written words of the novel. The book helps us a long on the ride, but at the end the heavy work is done by the audience.

This mental construction work is not passive exercise either. We choose where to read, what to skim, where to put focus, if something should be skipped and so on. This is even more evident in other media. When watching a movie, interactions with other audience members can help shape the experience (a simple example would be laughing during funny moments). When listening to a piece of the music, the settings, our own movements, etc all change the way in which we experience the piece.

Enjoying a work of art is a very human experience and I argue that in this regard videogames are not different from other forms of media. What is so special about video games is that data flows in two directions and that the audience can help shape the output to an extent far beyond any other media. However, that does not mean that experiencing a videogame is totally different kind of activity.

Why players are not artists
Unless a game is incredibly linear (e.g. Dragon's Lair) everybody who play it will come away with their own personal experience. Because of this it is easy to imagine that videogames differ a lot from other media by essentially making the player a story-teller. And as being story-teller is essentially equal to being an artist, it leads to the conclusion that players are artists. I do not think this holds up though.

Consider doing a trek through the woods. Even if several people follow the same route in the same forest, each one will have with very different experiences. Some might take side-tracks, have some unique encounters, do the trekking at a different pace, etc. The possibilities are essentially endless. The person doing the journey shapes his/her experience in a unique way and has a big responsibility in how it all turns out. Still, this is not an artistic endeavor.

That is until the hiker decided to write, paint, talk, etc about the trek. Once a narrative, in whatever media, is created of the personal experience, an artistic process takes place. The art is not in living the journey, the art is in conveying it to other people; to create a work that expresses the very personal sensory input, actions and emotions evoked.

The same is true for videogames. Even though the player posses a great freedom in shaping their path through the virtual world, this does not equal the player to an artist. Likewise, even though readers of books create and simulate complex worlds, this does not make the reader into an artist. It is not until the personal experienced is expressed in some kind of medium, be that a written narrative of a game session or a painting from a scene in a novel, that art is made.

Sure there are videogames that give great opportunities for creating art, Minecraft being an good example. However, this artistic creation is a side thing and is not a requirement. The players can simply just let themselves be one with world, build a shelter, etc. It is not until the player simply sees the game as tool and foundation for their own work when the line between player and artist really blur.

With all this I am not saying that the activity of enjoying art is void of creativity. As explained when discussing how we read books, I made it quite clear that it takes a lot of effort to do it right. However, this does not mean that the act of reading a book is categorically equal to writing one. Instead it is more like the difference between solving a puzzle and creating the puzzle in the first place. Both activities are creative and challenging, yet quite different.

Why this matters
Why even have this discussion? Is it not just a silly debate over semantics? Well in part it is. But if we do not take care and use the words properly they will start to loose meaning. If we would say that the activity that players participate in during play is the same as artistic creation, then I think we simply stretch the concept of artistic endeavors too far, making far less usable.

A more important reason is that the way we see the relationship between players and videogames greatly shape the direction we choose we take the design of videogames. Even though video games have a very different voice from other media, we should not think of the activity of experiencing it as completely different. I fear that if we see players as storytellers and artists, we will miss out on a lot of opportunities at expanding the videogames medium. If the player is an artist, then our focus on game developers will be on creating brushes. This implies a bottom-up design, were short-term effects trump the bigger picture. If we want make games with a deeper meaning this is not the way to go. Instead we must focus on a higher level, something I think the player's role as outlined here greatly encourages.

Also, saying that the player is an artist and storyteller shift the burden in the wrong direction. If we grant the player a large artistic role, we make it easy to blame the player for any lack of meaning in a videogame and discourage the creators from trying to add it. A painting should not require a painter to enjoy it, a play should not require you to act for it to be engaging, and so forth. Like great works of art in other media a videogame can require a lot from the player. However, this does not mean it is up for the player to create meaning and depth, it should instead be there for the player to find and become immersed in.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Playing with poses

I am still deciding on how to approach the prints, do I pose and print the complete mini or print components and pose them afterwards with a combination of traditional sculpting and digital sculpting... So much to consider, perhaps the $$-cost will dictate my decision for me?
While I roll this around in my noggin, here is another test shot with assorted poses. Note the change to the rifle to bring it more in line with an MG42 profile. Back when these were designed in 2001, the whole “Weird War” and greatcoats thing was not so prevalent. I am torn about the design as it seems a bit “been their done that” but I still want to have a core troop set that is easily identifiable as a major, cultural faction, in this case sci-fi Germany. Perhaps I could go a bit nuttier with the heavier armor?

Here is an old sketch with the HALO pack attached.

What’s your thoughts?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

On the bench

The 15mm scale Leviathan Crusader is off to the caster for quote and molds. Likely another week before I have a firm price and the mold work begins.

Next up... I am back to work on 28mm scale infantry. Here are a few test shots of the Eisenkern trooper.
Here is a sneak peek of another vehicle. The Puma II scout walker, still very much a WIP.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Feat: Chakra Strike

Chakra Strike
You sever your opponent's connection to their magical gear
Prerequisites: Critical Focus, monk level 8+
Benefit: On a successful critical hit, you may select one chakra point (belt, body, chest, eyes, feet, hands, head, headband, neck, ring, shoulders or wrist). Any magic item attuned to that location on the opponent becomes suppressed for a number of rounds equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Sales numbers

Bad Golf, since 12/14/2010
Period Statistics
  • Trials: 7417
  • Purchases: 1822
  • Purchase/Trial Ratio: 24.57 %

Battle for Venga Islands, since 5/23/2011

Period Statistics
  • Trials: 3870
  • Purchases: 878
  • Purchase/Trial Ratio: 22.69 % 
Here is a handy little graph that compares launches of Bad Golf (red) and BFVI (blue)...

Battle for Venga Islands v1.1

Within a day or two after BFVI went live, I knew it wasn't up to my standards.

The main problem was that the difficulty was too high... once the map was all filled it, it was very difficult to make forward progress.  And if you did happen to capture a region that extended into enemy territory, it was extremely easy for the enemy to take it back.  This lead to pretty deadlocked maps.

In spite of that, there were some really dedicated players who captured many hundreds (and one of a thousand) regions in the war for their monarch, which was awesome.

So, I put out a patch version 1.1, which had the following changes:

  • Regions were generally made easier to capture.
  • Ocean regions now counted as friendly when calculating difficulty
  • Added a global percentage to show how much land Blue and Red both held
  • Added the ability to change teams once
  • Added anti-hack measures.
  • Made healthballs show up slightly more often, and last longer before despawning
  • Your own name shows up in red on the high score list
 I think that's it.

I had to wait a week after my initial release to even begin Peer Review for the patch.  The Peer Review itself took about two weeks.  So during all that time, people were buying the game and being greeted with a world that was extremely difficult to make any headway in.  I haven't gotten any hate mail, but I feel bad for people who dove in and paid a buck and were unpleasantly surprised.

Finally, last night, I got my final peer review and the game went live.  Through the night and into today, about 30 people have logged in and started capturing territories.  Since the map and high score list started fresh, it's been fun to watch those fill up.  Some enterprising players captured regions in such a way as to make a smiley face, a frowny face, and the worlds "FU" and "LOL".

The leaderboard looks like this:

I'm totally shocked that people are playing the game for hours on end to capture that many regions.  That's really rewarding.

I'm pretty bummed that the changes in 1.1 weren't released initially, since lots of people have bought the game and are no longer playing it, but I hope it's not too little too late, and remains fun for those who are still playing it, as well as the last stragglers who join up before it falls off the New Releases list and into oblivion.

But I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  Unless something goes horribly astray, I'm done.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A bumpy ride: Pre-Orders delayed

Unfortunately, our contract caster is having some problems delivering the pre-orders on time. They had some scheduling issues and material issues that set all their clients orders out from promised delivery dates. We have nailed down the caster to production dates, with assurances that the QC will not suffer.

¼ of the pre-orders will ship within the window given at the time of the pre-orders.
¼ will be shipped 10 days late.

¼ will be shipped 20 days late.
¼ will be shipped 30 days late.

All customers have been contacted and offered a refund if they so choose.

We apologies for the delay and any inconvenience this may cause.
You may contact me with the email address on this blog, or come and join us on the forums to discuss any questions or concerns.

All the best,

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Next Game

I’m in the really one of the best phases of game development: brainstorming the next idea. No boring work, no technical snafus, just fun thinking.

I have a couple of ideas in my head that I’ve been kicking around for a while now.

Restaurant management game
Whenever I go out for sushi, I watch the orders get delivered to the chefs, and watch them plow through their orders. What I wonder about, though, is what happens if a huge order comes in for a big party, and a minute later, a single diner orders a single little tuna roll? Do you take orders as they come in, first come first served, or do you preempt larger jobs with smaller jobs?

I could imagine a game where you make these kinds of decisions on many levels… seating patrons, taking orders, making food, delivering, cleanup, collecting money, but always trying to do so in the most efficient manner.

I like this idea a lot, but it probably won’t get done. My gut says it requires too much custom art.

“Gather, Build, Share”
Like everyone, I’ve been intrigued by the Minecraft phenomenon. I think GBS is really a core psychological touchstone, and making a game that involved gathering resources, some sort of crafting, and then some ability to share what you’ve made would be awesome.

Team Collaboration
I’m really impressed with how well the online persistent world of Battle for Venga Islands worked out. The execution wasn’t perfect, but the core idea worked and worked well. It would be fun to work on something else like that. Lots of people have done “mining” games, so I thought a game about building a tower or pyramid might be fun. Some huge program that no single player could accomplish, but by working as a team with other players, everyone contributes to a greater good.

The downside to this is that it requires online connectivity to be a part of the team. Hard to demo the game in a trial mode. Same issues as Venga Islands, basically.

Puzzle Game
A while back, I made a game for coworkers called “The Game”. It was really just a set of puzzles, loosely tied together with some story about a secret agent. Many of the puzzles were inspired by the game “The Fool’s Errand”, and some involved physically searching around my office. The puzzles were really just various forms of encryption, like morse code, Braille, etc.

My idea was to make some boring sounding game, like “Bingo” or “Slot Machine” or something. But have that surface game be broken, giving up a fake error message. And then somewhere else, on the main menu, have some sort of “debug console” or “developer login”, which would prompt for a password. You’d figure out the password from the error message. One getting into the debug screen, the actual “game” would start, which is actually figuring out all the puzzles hidden inside the game. Again, maybe something about a secret plot that only you can solve.

There are a lot of money-grab trashy games out there that involve hot chicks on the box art. Maybe making a game called “Under the Covers” with a hot chick on the front would be a sneaky way to attract attention without actually intellectually whoring myself out. Or at least, whoring myself out, but in an ironic way. I dunno.

This is probably the most likely candidate. But like I said, just kicking around ideas and seeing what sticks.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

New Video

My boy Graith was kind enough to provide me with some captured multiplayer footage. I really need to invest in a video capture system.

Anyways, this should give some idea of what the online map looks like, as well as the high score list and local multiplayer gameplay.

Thanks Graith!

Venga Islands Review Roundup

Now that the game has been out for a while, it’s fun to hunt around to see what people are saying. There have been a couple of reviews, and they more or less jive with what I already knew. The game isn’t awesome, but it’s decent.

GameMarx: This was kind of frustrating to watch, but enlightening all the same. The players had some problems signing in, and then didn’t really grok the weapons yet. Shooting fireballs at close range is a bad idea. But by the time the trial was up, I think they started getting the hang of it.

The real unfortunate thing is that the main meat of my game is the persistent battle, and you don’t really get that from the trial. I should have added some sort of simulated AI battle for the single player, but I didn’t.

CrushFragDestroy, on the other hand, played the full version: “…Battle for Venga Islands is a fun little game. Watching the map start to fill-up with the color of your kingdom elicits a Pavlovian response, and it makes putting the controller down somewhat difficult. And I’ve never known of a game where that kind of quality was a bad thing.”

ExtraGuy.com says:
“All in all, Battle for Venga Islands is a solid game that’ll most likely keep you playing just to see how much land you can conquer. I’m certain that if some sort of experience-system was included there would be that much more reason to keep playing, but what’s here will keep many around regardless. The game is worth kicking around for awhile. It’s easy enough so that you can throw on some music while playing and the spells are fun to mess around with. Just don’t expect much more than that for your dollar and everything will be gravy.”

“Overall, the game is a pretty standard twin-stick shooter, but the online persistent world is an interesting concept. A frustratingly steep difficulty curve in addition to only having local co-op holds the game back from being a solid thumbs up.”

This is a pretty funny YouTube review from a kind of grumpy reviewer. Skip to around 5:30, or watch the whole thing. It’s funny.