Jamais vu, a synaptic misfire of creativity and the quiet churn

I’ve been quiet lately because I’ve been working hard on my games. I talk a bit about Kung Fu Chronicles, a burst of creativity, and my board game.

Work on my projects has been quiet lately, not because I haven’t been doing anything, but more because I have. I’ve got a good foundation down for the game/simulation side of Kung Fu Chronicles in terms of game objects and the supporting framework. I’m now in a weird position in that I’m really happy with that framework but don’t have the experience with such a thing to dive right in, even though I designed it. I tend to learn by iterated imitation until I feel confident I’ve mastered it. But since the game engine is so new to me and so specialized to the task it needs to do, I’m a little hesitant. Dumb, I know, but that’s how it is.

I’ve been a little entranced with Kingdom of Loathing recently, and had an idea for a cyberpunk, conspiracy-theory-laden browser-based game. The chief gimmick was that you’re a hacker and your base measure of power is your aggregate MIPS across all your computers, electronic devices and “borrowed” machines. I even had a good name for it (Synaptic) with a few hooks and ideas. But I need another game project like I need a punch in the groin. I wrote down all my ideas and I might revisit them in a few years’ time.

My board game The Day After is coming along nicely. If you weren’t sure what this was about, it’s a board game about a city recently struck with a terrible catastrophe. People have gone insane and are killing each other left, right and center. You are part of a band of Survivors who need to survive in the city until rescue comes. Survivors have their own hidden agendas, so survival isn’t just about combat – it’s about compromise.

Early in development The Day After felt like a sack of misshapen cogs and sprockets, but now the different components are slotting together and everything feels much tighter. I still need to iterate the card design to get the right balance of information on cards and rules. I’m finding the different mechanics work best when a hard strategy has a soft counter (kinda how they balanced Team Fortress 2). For example, the base goal for a team is to be rescued. This requires certain tasks to be fulfilled in a coordinated manner, and you need all the people you can get. But some characters can have success conditions if they set up shelter, skip the rescue and try to live out the apocalypse. Both have their risks, but there’s a strong asymmetry in how you try to achieve them.

Another one that I really like but I’m having a little trouble getting perfect is The Truth. The apocalypse didn’t just happen. Perhaps an enemy superpower launched a bioweapon into the city. Perhaps a meteorite hit and brought an alien virus. Perhaps it’s a government conspiracy gone awry. If you’re the Hacker character, you have to try to uncover The Truth. If you’re the Spy character, you have to try your best to suppress The Truth getting out… using any means necessary.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll try to get the game printed and published through The Game Crafter. While they suck for international shipping, they are pretty awesome for everything else. By the way, if you or someone you know is a good artist and would like to make some money doing some artwork for the game, let me know.

Re-engineering the world

I discuss my design iterations for the game entity system for Kung Fu Legends.

Dev work on Kung Fu Legends has been chugging along. I’ve got the engine into a state where it’s not finished, but the important components are there. Sound, input, the user interface system and basic graphics are all implemented. You can work on the engine for the rest of your life, adding more bells and whistles, and polishing it all to a lustrous shine. But I need a game. I’ve put the game engine on hold until I get more done on the game itself.

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What’s in a name?

Two stories about crazy coincidences and the titles of my projects.

A few years ago I was in Brisbane doing research for my novel Breathe whilst ostensibly on holidays. What better thing to do whilst on holidays but browse a bookstore? During my familiar circuit of favourite sections, I came across this gigantic blue sign for An Important New Book. The new book was Tim Winton’s Breath. The blood drained from my face. In my fanciful moments I dreamed of being published and my books being found in the W part of Australian Fiction, right next to Tim Winton. But now he had a book out with a name dangerously close to mine. And he had a last name close to mine. The most salient difference was that he was published and famous, and I was just some guy standing in front of a sign in a bookstore, feeling outraged.

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The Player-Character Divide

The tension at my end of the table was incredible. Here I was, for once the only party member who had an inside scoop on what was going on, but I faced that one make-or-break question from the DM: “Well, dude, you made a decision how you’re gonna play this?”

Rewind a little. Our adventuring party had struck out to explore the kingdom neighbouring ours. A travelling merchant had disappeared and there was no word of what had happened. We hit a tower and there was no-one there. Everyone had decided simultaneously to up and go. We figured the capital would have some answers so I as the party’s Ranger led them down the mountains towards the city. On our trip we saw nothing. My wolf was uneasy.

We decided not to risk travelling at night so we hung out in an abandoned farmhouse. Being on the lookout for zombies (because there were lots of human tracks and a weird smell in the air), we mostly ignored the DM’s talk of a poster in a child’s room and went to sleep. And then, just when night hit, the raven familiar of our Witch Morgana spluttered out, “Look! Look!” In the distance were hundreds of people, distorted people. No, not hundreds, but thousands. And they were sprinting towards our shelter. We were screwed. With no time to prepare, we got ready to make a bolt for it. In no time zombies swarmed the house. Our illustrious warrior leader Jope and the Arcane Trickster (mage-thief) Switch barged through the crowd. I hung back. Something wasn’t right. Only when a huge, bulbous zombie vomited bile over my two companions did it become clear – our game had taken an unexpected left turn into Left 4 Dead 2. And though it came a little later, I had to make the decision: “Do I clue the other guys in, or do we have fun?”

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Art is hard

I talk about the art design in Kung Fu Legends and show some alpha 3D sketches.

Progress on Kung Fu Legends is slow because of my need for art. I want to be able to work on having 3D models to put into the game. I want 3D models to be able to mock up some artwork for the website. Unfortunately, I’m no artist, and my wallet is no fund for artists. I’m also in a design phase where I have an art style in my head that I want to work towards, but I don’t have the sketching or art-language skills to convey this to a proper artist. Nevertheless, I’ve given some of the art design a go.

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Yep, we have a pulse!

News on where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to.

Sorry for the delay in posts. I’ve been madly applying for jobs or being overseas. The upside of the latter bit is that I’ve had time to think about Kung Fu Legends and my board game, The Day After. I’m very close to having a prototype for the latter. Kung Fu Legends has stalled a little because I wanted to get some minor artwork done. I have a strong idea about the art style I want to try, so it was a matter of implementing it in a 3D program (which I have to do because my drawing skills aren’t great). My two options were Blender 3D or Animation:Master. Blender has the benefit that it is free and has a more active support and development community. Too bad the interface sucks the proverbial monkey’s. I don’t care how able you can be in 3 years, I want to get up and running now. It’s such a break from every other control scheme that you have to mentally change gears whenever you get into the Blender window.

Animation:Master has the opposite problem: very intuitive tools for modelling, although the community is much smaller and there’s less support for it. I’m also already versed in it from my undergrad days of fooling around in 3D animation. I’ll sort something out, but it’s a pain.

The Day After is getting more solid. I have a set of rules, which are much more simplified than the implied rules I had when I was messing about with ideas. There are some balance issues that I have to think about (I need a nice way for the game to scale with the number of players). I tried to do some Monte Carlo modelling of the game but ran into issues with things that rely on intelligence or emotion. For example, you are a bunch of survivors waiting for rescue. You need to achieve a few goals before rescue arrives, and when it does, you have to be there waiting for it. Monte Carlo simulations are fine when you can just randomly do stuff, but I needed to model a game being played in its entirety. Not sure whether I should push on with the model, or just try it out on willing victims friends.

For the maths folks who visit, I’ve almost got the next installment in my thesis ready for publication. I just need to clean it up.

Week off wrap-up

Taking last week off worked out pretty well. While the results weren’t particularly pyrotechnic, it was a good way to get the majority of my Kung Fu Legends game engine out of the way. I managed to get the splashscreen working (even with multiple pictures, fade-to-black transitions and skip-ahead-on-keyboard-mash). MyGUI is a reasonably good GUI library. Sure some of the source code comments are in Russian and certain whole class hierarchies are only in the documentation if you know about them already, but all-in-all I got it working and it’s neat. Beats the hell out of programming all that stuff yourself. I also got to work on the details of the actual game Kung Fu Legends. Nothing to show for it yet but steady as she goes.

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