Sunday, March 21, 2010

Foam & Mud game concept

You’ve got your new shiny touchscreen phone, which has an accelerometer feature in it. Apart from throwing dice and choosing keyboard layout this feature can’t do pretty much anything. But you would find it quite awesome to play something relaxing using this feature—you have payed your money for it after all. So here is what I suggest.

This new game is called Foam & Mud. What you see on the screen can be either of them. Let’s say it is mud, because it is black, while the background is white. And let’s get rid of the phone. We don’t need no buttons—this game is all about your cool touchscreen and accelerometer.

Nothing’s changed, as you can see—we’ve only gotten rid of stuff we don’t need right now. So what do you wanna do with all this mud? Right now it looks very random and doesn’t seem to look like anything I’ve ever seen or thought about. Let’s give it some shape. At first we shall tilt the phone slightly left, making the mud fallow and slide to the lower part of the screen.

Next we’ll tilt it forward making mud slide again.

And to the opposite direction just for a moment. We can also move it as many times as we want until we get something like a shape:

So here it is. A head and a tail of something vague. Let’s give this little fellow something to look with.

Wow, look! He’s got eyes now that we have clicked twice on the screen. Now let’s give him a smile so that he doesn’t look so sad and unhealthy.

The moment we made our little monster smile an achievement appeared telling us that this is something we have made good. Next time we may wanna create a robot, a rabbit, an elephant or even Johnny Depp’s portrait if we are good enough. Moreover, as the game’s name suggests, we can also change consistency of the material, switching from mud to foam, which will naturally affect the gameplay.

Here is how the figures are seen by the game and compared to ones in the game’s vector bank.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Top-5 things that won't get you anywhere

I am a game designer, so things I will be talking about stuff that concerns game designers, however, you certainly can try to apply them to your life too, just change games to, say, legal papers or building projects. This list presents your enemies, which will disguise themselves as your friends, and then stab you in the back when you least expect it.

Enemy #5. The Hobby Complex

You have been playing games since you were a little kid. Everybody around you plays them, and later you discuss what happened on arena last night and how cool that guy’s Modern Warfare 2 profile is. Then suddenly you understand that you are no longer a part of this sparkling living small world. You don’t see just how fun games are—instead you start to see how they work. That’s the moment when you become a game designer. But, unfortunately, at the same moment your enemy kicks in—that enemy’s name is the Hobby Complex.

You find yourself reading boring Gamasutra articles and refusing to play just a few more rounds in Left 4 Dead 2. Your friends start to think that you are different from them, and the more your game design education progresses—the less you have time for actual playing. Don’t let this situation fool you. It’s okay to learn. You might try to return to what it’s been before, but that just won’t work like that anymore. Your only option here is to face your first enemy, deal with it and move on.

Enemy #4. Romance

Serious relationships, they call it. You are 19, the chick you’ve been dating for the last two months is 18. Face it, you’re never gonna marry her. You can’t even tell if she’s really into you as much as you are into her (vice versa scenario is also possible). The thing is, what are the odds of this relationship not ending within the next year? You probably have some kind of statistics of your own. Now take the number of 1 year+ relationships you have had by now, divide it by the overall number of girlfriends/boyfriends you had, and you will get the chance that this relationship will develop.

The 2,5% chance doesn’t mean that you have to go on and dump your girlfriend over the phone right away. It just means that you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high, because if you do that, when the time to break up comes, it will be tough. And when it happens, think twice about amounts of time and money you’ve spent while dating. You could be studying and getting successful instead. Just wait a few more years, and your statistics will change, but you certainly don’t want to do this right now. Then again, having sex doesn’t hurt.

Enemy #3. Obsessions

Can you picture Sid Meier watching episodes of South Park one by one and then switching to How I Met Your Mother only to wait until the download of House ends? If you are watching TV shows to learn the language, it is okay, but you gotta catch the moment when this great comprehension exercise turns into a sit-back habit, which will haunt you to the extent when you won’t be able to eat without a new episode of anything.

You have to think harder about your priorities. Maybe it’s time to stop watching and start playing again instead. This will ensure that the Hobby Complex doesn’t return, and help you realize that you were obsessed. This, of course, also applies to collecting stamps, writing anime fanfics and shopping for shoes.

World of Warcraft’s legendary tip about taking everything in moderation (even World of Warcraft itself) was composed by a great samurai, who has obviously worked in Blizzard. Now I challenge you to go and try to beat him, and when you do, you can take his sword and inscribe a message of your own—the opposite statement. Only you won’t, because by that time you will have realized that he was right and you were wrong in the first place.

Enemy #2. Conventional Education

Clearly, not everyone can get a game design degree, and those who can not, go to universities to study stuff they will never get to use. The wide-spread delusion that anything can come in handy some day is a delusion and nothing but that. You will never get to use ecology, biochemistry, automation theory and visual basic programming. In fact, computer sciences students don’t get everything they need to know from classes and have to study on their own anyways. So the obvious choice here is to pick something that is relatively easy for you, will provide a decent level of general knowledge and at the same time won’t interfere with your real education.

You might wanna create at least one game project while you are still a student, and this one project will definitely require some time. Your best friends are Gamasutra, Amazon and your French class.

Your university studies are just something you have to go through in order to get a math, psychology and marketing basis. Not that you can’t learn all that stuff on your own, you just need a degree, really.

Enemy #1. Internets

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Chatroulette, Tumblr, Formspring, Digg, Bebo, Friendster, Delicious, LiveJournal,, Linkedin (no, it won’t help you find a job!), Wordpress, DeviantArt, Blogger. Places you like to chat with your friends, huh? A profile here and there won’t hurt, right? Nothing’s wrong with having an online photo album, ain’t that the truth?

No, it ain’t. Take a dip in the social networking pool, and you will be grabbed by your neck and drowned in the dark waters of empty nothingness. Social networking won’t give you anything. In fact, in most cases neither will usage of IMs. Do have a Google Docs account. Do find out about business models. Do have a profile for your new project. DON’T let the internet consume you. So, following this advice, get the hell out of this blog before you decide to create one of your own!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ricky overview

The main idea of the game is using text instead of most of the game graphics, as well as in the quality of a gameplay element—in plenty of different ways. For example, a character would look like a compilation of letters of his name, turned in a specific way; a bird can be made of letters B (head), I (ii—body and eyes), R (ЯR—wings), D (tail); a comma is a boomerang; an exclamation mark is a rocket (or a sword); and dot is just a stone (or some kind of projectile).

The genre of the game is scroller/puzzle. The player can walk different routes, which can be found on the global map. After the player chooses one of the routes, they are transported onto the level screen. But between levels the player doesn’t have to stare at the global map all the time. For the sake of making the game world more diverse and live, there are also small capital levels, where friendly NPCs will give the main character (let us call him Ricky) different tasks.

Interaction with NPCs is executed the following way: Ricky approaches a character, who has a question mark over his head, then the main character gets an exclamation mark over his. After that the NPC turns to Ricky and explains what happened and what needs to be done within one animated dialog bubble. Then Ricky says “!!!”, the player’s global map gets refreshed, and a new level appears on it—the one on which the mentioned quest can be completed.

Main part of the gameplay in “Ricky” is completing puzzles with words. Puzzles are different tasks about composing words from letters. Letters can be used to build bridges, towers, roads, fieldworks. Moreover, depending on the level, a touch of action can be added via adding monsters, which try to bite the player, spit on them, make them slip or simply crush them. Regular monsters can be killed by shooting punctuation marks at them, while bosses need a special approach.

A boss dies when the player composes his name of letters, previously collected on the level. If the player hasn’t collected enough letters and has already encountered the boss, in order to get those letters, the player has to shoot the boss with their weapons and letters will fall on the ground one by one, where they can be picked up.

During game progress the player will earn a certain amount of points, which will appear on the leaderboard.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More about PoxNora

Yesterday, I wrote about new SOE’s MMO card game being released on Facebook. Well, guess what, I have finally tried it out properly, and now I am quite sure that it is the most sophisticated game for social sites so far. PoxNora is made for competition and multiplayer. There are different types of lobbies for casual, ranked and training games, and you can even observe games. You will compose decks (or battlegroups), collect or buy new runes and try to beat your friend, strangers and even AI.  There aren’t much players in game yet, however, I really think they will come as soon as more social features are implemented. The tutorial is a little bit tiresome, but, on the other hand, how do you expect a person who has never seen a card strategy game before to know how to play it? I can’t yet say anything about balance, but I certainly like the mechanics.

The bottom line is you don't have to play Mafia and Poker anymore—something new and awesome (and competitive too) has arrived. That is not to mention PoxNora has definitely come to stay. Facebook is evolving into a gaming platform after all.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Facebook and the Cradle of Awesomeness

Sony’s new game has been launched in its beta state, and it is already the most awesome game I’ve seen on Facebook. Perhaps it is the first one among those Big titles we will be playing on Facebook for the few years to follow—two of them being of course Brave Arms and Civilization. I’ll be trying it out shortly, but all you really need to know about it right now is that it is a browser-based MMO card game and that you can find it right here:

Monday, March 8, 2010

About Critters & the initial treatment document

Now that I'm finally done with this long and tiresome writing of initial treatment document of Critters, I can talk about fun stuff I had implemented in it and about the very process of writing this document. First of all, what is the initial treatment itself?

I’ve got the idea of writing a portfolio based on these documents from a classic game design book called Game Architecture and Design by Andrew Rollings and Dave Morris (New Riders Publishing). The authors of this book assume that each game needs a first formalized document which will describe its mechanics, interface, graphics, game screens and other stuff. Basically, an initial treatment document is a formalized idea of the game—not a free-form game vision, but not yet a full-scale design document. It ought to give the reader an idea of what the game is supposed to look like by the end of development and help to decide whether or not this game deserves to be developed at all.

You can check out the document at its Google Docs page, so that I don’t have to describe it exhaustively. Instead I would like to focus on the game’s main features and USP’s as well as making clear how the document was written and planned.

Critters is built around one idea—that of an action/RPG based on mounts. It is not extremely different from other action/RPG’s, however, it offers some fresh approach to gameplay. Why move yourself if someone could do it for you? Why cast spells yourself, if your loyal critter will gladly do the job for you? You, on the other hand, will have to find those critters willing to help you, and it is also you who’s job will be to make the critters’ life easier. You control them.

At first I thought that this one mechanic change will not affect this much of the gameplay. I was even thinking of adopting one of existing RP-systems to realities of Critters, when an idea popped into my head—the whole fetish Diablo-like dancing around items and worshiping new enchanted plate mails can be easily replaced in my game. In fact, the inventory itself almost won’t be needed at all. Instead, the whole new perk system should be introduced. Perks can easily replace items if there is a sufficient number of them in the game, not to mention critters themselves, which can be added in great numbers. This way the whole economic model would be reduced to inexistent state and replaced by parts of the RP-system. Therefore, the player will be able to focus on the gameplay and playing the role instead of thinking what to wear and how much gold should be spent on potions.

The next part was making a system which would supply players with new perks and critters. That’s where quests and minigames come in handy. Speaking about quests, I have decided to make rewards dependent on the actions the player does. It is a common approach in self-esteem psychology: each time a first-grader does something that he likes, he gets a compliment exactly for what he has done. This way a player party can complete each quests in up to 10 different ways and each class will get its own reward based on how exactly he acted during this quest. This approach requires some special mechanics and ideas of quests themselves, however, I have composed a few and found out that it seems difficult just for the first 2 or 3 times; then your Blizzardish and BioWarish way of thinking changes and you start thinking variety, which is actually sort of fun.

The same way minigames in Critters require variety. There are two types of them: those for acquiring new critters and competitive ones, which offer a multiplayer- or plot-related challenge. And since there can be up to 4 players in party, it is important to design minigames the appropriate way. In fact, it is quite easy if you start with a singleplayer minigame and then let is evolve and expand, adopting new rules and elements, which would suit different game modes. Obviously, a singleplayer minigame against AI cannot work the same way as a 4 on 4 multiplayer one.

I have introduced two relatively new interface elements into the game: the first being Perk selection and the second—Bestiary. The first one is quite unique mostly because of its intended size and supposed number of minigames in it. The second is basically a spellbook (but a critterbook really) with an important feature in it—each time the player finds information on critter, this information is added in to the Bestiary.

The next fun feature in Critters is the traveling system along with the zone liberation system. Clearly, it was inspired by the game Space Rangers with its captured and free zones. The difference is that in Critters players will be able to travel without predetermined paths like in any MMO game. Making no clear division between zones (also like MMOs) is also a good idea here. Some zones in Critters have their own effects on players’ critters and also influence quests and minigames.

I haven’t really thought about detailed plot yet, but I’m really confident about the setting—dark fairy-tale meets steam-punk medieval. Critters will work best in this kind of setting, not to mention a great variety of unique zones one can think of.

Critters is my second initial treatment document and I could have missed on some important points in it, as well as made some mistakes, so if you decide tor read it, please let me know what you think about it.