Tag Archives: emergent gameplay

A Dev Blog for Iridescent Crown

New Trailers

Iridescent Crown 1.2 is now out, and here are some trailers for it. 🙂 You can play the game for free in your browser, and you can buy the Windows version.

This is the new official trailer, which runs through World 1.

 

Some gameplay footage with a projectile weapon.

 

Showcasing a few different weapons.

 

Finding a rare weapon, and the implications thereof.

 

Dev Blog for Iridescent Crown

I didn’t chronologue this like I normally do, so this is in no particular order. Most of this final work was done between March 11th and 14th.

 

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Firstly, I made a new logo for my games (and websites in general). It’s inspired by the SEGA logo, as well as the Inuyasha logo. The color purple is a nice mix of royal and feminine. Seeing my first name in katakana is pretty awesome too. Creating a new logo was a small detail, but also a big deal in its own way. I love the sound I picked to go with it – reminds me of starting up the PSX or PS2.

 

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Adding the controls before you begin the game got the most positive feedback from my friends. It’s good to know it’s not too confusing to the eyes.

If you get a strong weapon early enough in the game, nothing beyond that is a challenge. So I made them much more rare in the early levels. The difficulty curve is much smoother now. You’ll have to fight many more enemies to find a weapon worth keeping now, which makes them more valuable.

The large enemies were invincible to close-range attacks, and required projectiles to kill. I realized this was annoying and removed their invulnerability.

 

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I also added a separate room for the shopkeeper. A door allows you to “leave” the room if you don’t like the random weapon you buy, which quickly resets the room. I added several NPCs in this room that give you additional tips to playing the game. I added more lines to the tutorial as well (about the map and radar).

 

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I added a legend to the map on the pause screen, which tells you what the marks mean. Makes it a lot easier to read!

 

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One other big change came at the very end, when I added damage points that visibly appear when you hit or get hit. This really helps with the “feel” of the fighting system.

There was also a glitch you could get by pausing on the game over screen, which I fixed after a friend reminded me about it. 🙂

I experimented with changing the graphics a bit, but when that didn’t work I decided to leave things as they are. I also intended to add a bit more “story” to the game, but in the end this didn’t seem necessary.

 

New Trajectories

I’m still pretty disappointed GMS2 isn’t bringing more tools to the table that I don’t already have. It kills some of the plans I had for extending my current projects – namely adding more features to the music generators.

I was really hoping they would add support for MIDI files (or any music files, really), so I could export the music my games generate. One huge problem is GM is terrible with tempo – even delta_timing isn’t always reliable. I removed the drums from Seraphim Automata to avoid lag issues with running the sequel in HTML5. It sucks because I really like the drum generation system. It may be worth recycling into another desktop game.

One of Iridescent Crown‘s biggest limitations was the 640×480 resolution, which was necessary for HTML5 but awful for the Windows version. It fits the pixel art style, but it’s difficult to appreciate the random level design when the window is so small.

It’s not like I ever had to shrink the window though. The window was small from the start, because 640×480 games were more common when I started this (in 2010). So the game is a bit of a relic in its own way, and begs for a sequel.

I think I’m done with the music generation, sadly. Unless I integrate it into one of the platformers. And I don’t know when I’ll have another platformer underway. If Iridescent Crown gets more feedback, I might feel more confident about the sequel. Either way, I think I’m done with HTML5 versions of my games. It was a nice experiment.

I will probably keep watching how this year unfolds for video games, while I go back to working on music and short stories.

 

Why I Don’t Play New Games

So the new Zelda game is out, as well as Nier: Automata and a ton of other great games. It looks like 2017 is already shaping up to be the best year for gaming since 2004.

I’m not really riding the hype train so much as watching through other’s eyes though, thanks to platforms like twitch and youtube. I have next to no interest in playing these new games, or getting or whatever, when I can just watch other people play the games for me. I don’t really care about the new Switch either (unless I can get my own game on it, of course).

New games aren’t innovative enough to be worth spending my money on. They just seem like higher quality versions of stuff I was playing in the 2000s.

I don’t care about perfect graphics. I care about deep mechanics that allow for more experimentation, and therefore more replayability. The AAA industry, because of its massive time and budget constraints, simply isn’t built for experimentation.

Nowadays you get your standard “open world” game with 30+ hours of side quests. NPC interactions are still very shallow. Too many games are content to crib Minecraft’s crafting system, rather than implement their own unique ideas. Too few have tried to innovate the “gameplay-cutscene-gameplay” problem.

Fandoms allow companies to cash in on the same IP over and over. So they aren’t likely to take a risk to appeal to an “experimental” niche like mine. Why do that, when they can just throw Link into another sandbox game and sell that?

Nier: Automata looks great, but I could also just pop in Kingdom Hearts from 2002. We haven’t progressed that far. The same could be said about the new Zelda vs Wind Waker from 2004. Nintendo and Square Enix don’t need to innovate when they can cash in on their established formulas.

I’ve also noticed a lot of my friends complaining more and more about their massive “backlogs” of games they’ve bought but haven’t played. It makes me wonder if this is how the indiepocalypse will actually unfold. You can finally make your dream game with the right tools – but it doesn’t matter because nobody has time for it.


Algorithm for Angel Wings

Algorithm for Angel Wings

Play it in your browser here (or download it for Windows).

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I decided to make a more user-friendly version of Seraphim Automata, after I finally got it to stop running at 1 frame per second in HTML5. I started this on January 30th, and most of the work was done by the next day.

I went back on February 3rd and added an autoplay feature for the start menu – something I haven’t done since Cosmic Zephyr in 2013. The next day I fixed glitches in the menu, and added a save function for high scores and combos. I also made some new touchscreen buttons in Photoshop. Then I released the game for feedback.

I went back the next day and fixed a few bugs that were pointed out to me. Specifically, you could break the GUI by racking up a massive combo. (I’m still surprised someone got a 44 hit combo on the first day of its release. My own record is 19.)

The very last thing I added was the glove sprite for the mouse, which gives it one little human element.

The touchscreen controls allow this to be played on a mobile device, as well as in a desktop browser. Which is nice. The only reason I haven’t uploaded an Android version is because the export module is currently broken in GMS. I’m hoping this will be fixed in GMS2.

You can select from 12 scales, 12 keys, 10 time signatures, and 13 different instruments. The time signatures are the real key to getting different patterns – it’s automatically set to 12/8 while the scale, key and instrument are randomly chosen. 10/8, 7/8 and 4/4 produce my favorite patterns. 4/4 in particular can create very jovial rhythmic patterns.

 

Flashbacks, From 2010 to Now

When designing a game (or any project, really), you have to decide early on who you are making this for. Are you making it for yourself or for other people? That decision between “passion project” vs “product” will lead you down two very different roads.

I would say my games were passion projects until about 2010. That includes my two oldest surviving games, A Starspangled Zephyr and Deadman’s Dark Scenery Court. I felt no pressure making my early games since I was mostly doing it for myself.

When my cocaine addict of a father was finally removed from the picture in November 2010, mom and I shifted pretty quickly to survival mode. I found myself selling most of my belongings to keep us from going broke. One major reason I abandoned songwriting is because I had to sell almost all my musical instruments. That miserable era lasted for about 19 months.

By the time we lost our home in March 2012, I had shifted to a more workaholic attitude about game design. I wanted to make a polished product I could sell and hopefully get out of poverty. That never really worked, but it definitely affected how I approached the games I made in that era, Cosmic Zephyr and Eden’s Prison.

One major event was being raided by the police in December 2013. Which happened to be four weeks into development on Eden’s Prison. The fall out from that led to a period of inactivity through 2014 and 2015. Another factor was injuring my right arm in August 2014 – it’s still recovering and I’ve only recently begun feeling “normal” again.

I finally returned to game development after leaving a toxic group of old programmers in early 2016. There is no coincidence that I had the best year of my life after leaving them (2016, that is). The new games – Seraphim Automata, Zephyr 3, Iridescent Crown – still suffer a bit from the “product” mentality, but I’m slowly moving back to making strictly passion projects for myself.

My ongoing experiments with music generation are one indication of this. Now that Algorithm for Angel Wings fleshes out the Seraphim engine into something very easily accessible, I feel comfortable moving on from those experiments.

Zephyr 3 also tries to atone for its previous games by offering the source code for free.

It feels bittersweet to release Iridescent Crown over 6 years after I started it (just look at the 640×480 resolution if you need proof of how old it is). The mainstream roguelike genre (or ‘roguelite’ if you prefer) completely blew up and died in that timeframe. Now similar games like Terraria and Spelunky are gathering dust, and there aren’t as many fans around looking for another roguelike or exploration based platformer.

The resulting game is both old and young at the same time – with the former compromising the latter. I’m thinking about revisiting it and releasing a “deluxe” version with a bigger window and other features that the HTML5 version couldn’t handle.

 

Beginning of the End

I’ve boiled my new ideas down to two main projects, plus an extra passion project.

  1. The first idea is of course a horror game. I haven’t made once since 2010, back when I was a very different person. This one will be a 2d platformer, but beyond that I haven’t decided on much. There are multiple concepts and stories I keep bouncing around for this one. I surround myself with horror influences so this idea never really leaves me, it’s just a matter of execution.
  2. The second idea is a sequel to Iridescent Crown, with better graphics and more RPG elements, and hopefully a better name. I would actually argue that in 2017, procedural generation is going out of style for now. Especially after the debacle over No Man’s Sky. So while I want to release a more polished sequel, I’m not sure if it’s really the best time to be working on something like that.
    I could of course scrap the procedural generation and go with … level design. The argument for procedural generation increasing replayability goes out the window when you use it so much that nothing sticks. That’s one problem with Iridescent Crown in its current form. Since all 16 levels are using the same “room”, none of them can be saved and revisited later.
    The other problem is that there is no reason to revisit levels right now. So it needs more collectibles, an EXP system, and perhaps other things.
  3. The last idea is a Sonic fangame, which would be a complete passion project. But it would be a lot more fun to make than my original games, simply because it’s something I always wanted to do. I am looking forward to seeing how Sonic Mania turns out before diving too deep into this one, as I wouldn’t want it to be too similar.

My Favorite Game Postmortems

Myst

This game was confusing as hell to me as a child, but I loved its atmosphere.

 

I think the main takeaways for Myst are:

  • Rand and Robin Miller made a lot of simpler point-and-click games for children before tackling Myst.
  • Dungeons and Dragons was a large inspiration because of the emergent storytelling aspects. Rand actually designed a dungeon which was later used in creating one of Myst’s worlds.
  • The game took its mythic structure from Star Wars, its world-traveling from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and the island setting was inspired by novels by Jules Verne.
  • Myst was created for non-gamers, so they tried to avoid arbitrary puzzles that most adventure games suffered from in the day. They mostly succeeded, though Robin admits there are still a few bad puzzles in the game.
  • The two brothers approached Myst as a passion project strictly for themselves.
  • How long it took to render each image back in the day. Shots took 2-14 hours to render using a StrataVision 3D.
  • They subverted the one-way communication of the story with one-way devices like TVs and books rather than personal encounters.
  • They initially used diegetic music in their games (music that only occurs naturally in the world). When they finally added traditional soundtrack music to Myst, they were surprised how well it fit.
  • Extensive beta testing helped make the game playable to non-gamers.
  • Myst and their previous games were all made on HyperCard.
  • Myst took two years to complete.

 

Also, Phil Fish makes a surprising appearance 51 minutes in. Apparently he started out on HyperCard as well.

 

Diablo

The original ARPG, and one of my favorite games of all time.

 

I think the main takeaways for Diablo are:

  • The interesting meeting between Condor Games (Diablo’s developers) and Silicon & Synapse (Warcraft’s developers). The latter became Blizzard Entertainment. The former became Blizzard North.
  • The tiles in Diablo were borrowed directly from X-COM.
  • How they handled drawing the game with only 256 colors.
  • David Brevik had never coded in C before Diablo.
  • All the interesting bug fixes and work-arounds they had to implement because of the technology at the time.
  • There was a small bidding war between 3DO and Blizzard for Condor Games. Condor went with Blizzard despite 3DO offering twice as much money.
  • Most of the HUD (graphical interface) work was done in the last 3 months, with the help of input from beta testers.
  • They crunched really hard on this game for the better half of a year. Brevik says crunch deserves its bad reputation, but is also a “necessary evil” and not entirely a bad thing. From my own personal experience, I can definitely relate.
  • There’s a spell called “Blood Exchange” they removed from the game. It let you swap your HP with a monster’s HP, making the game really easy to beat.
  • Rogue, NetHack, Moria, Angband, Ultima, Wizardry, Doom, Dark Forces, and X-COM were just some of the influences for Diablo.
  • battle.net ran on one computer! It handled the entire multiplayer side of the game.

 

I also love the Ms. Pac Man and Marble Madness postmortems, but they’re literally so old (arcade era) that the advice isn’t really applicable to modern game design. They’re more like historic documents now. Which may be the biggest takeaway of all…


Trailers for My New Games!

Trailers

I made a few trailers for my newest projects! First, here’s some gameplay footage of Iridescent Crown. I’m waiting until the next update before I record another trailer (though I don’t have much left to change/add).

 

Here’s some footage of Seraphim Automata generating ambient piano music. My computer unfortunately slows down too much when the drums kick in. But the game is generally more pleasant to the ear without drums (as much as I like the random drum code), which is something I’m keeping in mind for the sequel.

Since this game covers jazz music, the sequel will cover a different genre – ambient or perhaps post-rock.

 

This video is shorter, but is also less chaotic and contains a repeating melody.

 

Here’s a video of Celody Life generating some melodies. Again, my computer lags if too much is playing while recording, so the clips are pretty short. I did catch two gliders in this video though.  🙂 It’s cool to see how they can play complex melodies on their own.

 

I also created a trailer for my old horror game, Deadman’s Dark Scenery Court. OBS didn’t completely cooperate with me on this one but I managed to fix it in Videopad.  😛

 

Updates

Planning to update Iridescent Crown sometime next month. I’ve also been working on music, which I hope to share soon.  🙂


Emergent Gameplay #2, No Man’s Sky and Holy Grails

No Man’s Alibi

As far as I can tell, No Man’s Sky does not have emergent gameplay. Nothing exciting is going to happen as a result of combining these procedural generation engines. You won’t even be able to have emergent multiplayer experiences, because Sean Murray and Hello Games have clearly lied about multiplayer being an available feature.

Not only that, but they avoided denying it by saying the odds of meeting someone in the game were virtually impossible due to its sheer size. Two lets players managed to meet up on PS4 the first day the game was released. So that was another lie.

You hear animal noises on planets with no animal life. You cannot terraform the planets in any meaningful capacity. The game frequently crashes. No unique ships. No factions. No intelligent aliens outside of buildings, ever. Reaching the center of the universe, the only real “quest”, is hugely disappointing. 18 quintillion planets of emptiness and sameness. The list of removed features, broken promises and issues have been cataloged on reddit, and it is overwhelming.

But what really kills me is they haven’t learned anything from the current situation. Sean Murray is still actively promising base building and “giant space freighters” in a future update – once they’re done handling customer support and fixing crashes on PS4. They cannot stop getting ahead of themselves. They are still trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Worst of all, they’re still using trailers unrepresentative of the game on Steam and their website in order to sell their product. Steam, for their part, are accepting refunds from users with more than two hours of gameplay. The game’s sales have already dropped by 81% in its second week. Right now, No Man’s Sky looks more like an alpha demo than a finished product.

I definitely think Sean Murray is making similar mistakes to Peter Molyneux, as far as dreaming too much while marketing his game.

 

Emergent Gameplay and Glitches

For now, the Holy Grail of emergent game design is still just a selling point for companies like Hello Games. The promise of truly emergent game design still has not been achieved. Maybe it won’t be for a long time.

However, what we can do right now is look at No Man’s Sky and where it failed, and think about how game developers can do better in the future.

When people go on about the importance of randomness and emergence in video games, they are usually referring to the factor of unpredictability it brings. If your game is highly unpredictable, then you have implemented procedural generation well. However if your game is too predictable then you could argue that the procedural generation could have been implemented better. Sometimes while trying to smooth bugs out of the game, the latter scenario can happen.

A potential paradox here is that glitches are a good source for emergent gameplay. If you completely iron out the glitches in your procedural generation, you could be losing potentially intriguing aspects of the game. The Far Lands in Minecraft is a good example. Glitches occur when you travel to extremely far distances, but you also find unique structures that wouldn’t occur anywhere else. These glitches can add an extra level of replayability.

Of course a distinction should be made between glitches that are difficult to find and exploit, vs bugs that occur on a regular basis and have to be removed for a polished game. Sometimes, especially from a developer’s standpoint, the distinction between the two cannot be all that clear.

The question is does a AAA game have room for that kind of experimentation? In the case of No Man’s Sky, clearly not.

Hopefully in the future, games media will be more pressing about the specifics of game development. I think the media’s “we’ll take your word for it” attitude is partially to blame for the outrage surrounding the game. They report Sean’s non-explanations as explanations and continue defending the game, basically to avoid the wrath of the hostile NMS fanbase.

 

Holy Grails

I first wrote about No Man’s Sky back in January 2015 in an article about emergent gameplay. Replacing pre-written dialogue with chatbot AI, dynamic voice synthesis to create unique voices for NPCs, expressing complex emotions without dialogue, were a few of the ideas I proposed for the potential future of open world games.

When people talk about the Holy Grail of game design, they can be referring to several different ideas. What are the Holy Grails of AI and game design? For a long time it was chess AI, then more complex games like Go, which was only recently conquered by AlphaGo. Infinite, randomly procedurally generated worlds are the current trend in the gaming world. Unlimited replayability is one of the ultimate goals here.

For an idea to qualify as a “Holy Grail”, it has to be an idea easily recognizable to most people but very difficult to attain in practice.

Complete immersion within a video game is considered a Holy Grail to some – a game that never breaks your suspension of disbelief. Highly emergent gameplay with unpredictable outcomes is also regarded as a Holy Grail.

Other realms include the Holy Grail of algorithmic music composition, which has been led by David Cope since 1981. Artificially intelligent replication of famous classical composers has slowly gained popularity in more recent years. On the other side you have programs which compose entirely original music.

Then you have story generator algorithms such as Sheldon Klein’s Novel Writer system from 1973, which generated 2100 word murder stories. Newer algorithms such as MEXICA, BRUTUS, and FABULIST have pioneered increasingly complex methods to generate stories. Algorithms for poetry are still uncommon, but I suspect that will change in the future.

For many, chatbot AI that can pass the Turing test is the Holy Grail.

To many others, the Holy Grail is simply generalized AI. Or more specifically the “singularity” event, where generalized AI begins exponentially acquiring more intelligence.

 

The Outsider

So which Holy Grail am I referring to? I’m referring to David Braben (creator of Elite) and his use of the term in 2005, when talking about a new golden age of gaming. He spoke of storytelling in video games breaking free of their “non-interactive roots”.

In games on the fifth generation, glorious imagery is not a problem. Details like beads of sweat are now expected.

Natural-looking fur can make creatures and people look very real, though non crew-cut hair brings many additional problems if it is not set in place with military strength hair gel, but that is not the point.

This is merely a slight increment over what fourth generation games are doing on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube and is behind the complaints being voiced – the appetite is there for more and we are tired of the car-on-a-train-track spectacle.

Story-telling in games in most cases is little different to the stories of those Harold Lloyd films of the 1920s.

The player is stuck on pre-defined railway lines, forced to follow their character’s pre-determined adventures, much as in a book or a film.

In story-telling terms at least, games have not yet broken free of their non-interactive roots.

The Holy Grail we are looking for in fifth generation gaming is the ability to have freedom, and to have truly open ended stories.

Games that have even hinted at that freedom in the past like Elite and Grand Theft Auto have been hugely successful. This Holy Grail is what will herald the new era for gaming.”

Reading this again, it sounds a lot like Sean Murray gushing over the (unrealized) possibilities of No Man’s Sky, procedurally generating every fiber and atom in the game and so forth. Of course, you have to shoot for the moon if you want to hit the stars.

During that 2005 interview and for a few years afterwards, David kept hyping up Frontier’s game The Outsider as the first true fifth generation game. Wonder why you’ve never heard of it? It was cancelled around January 2011. It seems they had trouble finding a publisher, and EA wanted to turn it into a game for the Bourne franchise.

David re-confirmed the cancellation of the game in 2014. Yet another example of a potentially great game being shelved due to executive decisions, a shifting market, and an unwillingness to take risks. How many executive decisions affected No Man’s Sky development, I wonder? Here is another enlightening interview, discussing innovation and interactive narratives in video games.

So why do you think story hasn’t moved forward as much? Do you think you have the magic bullet that no one else has discovered?

DB: No one has a magic bullet. We’ve been working on it a long time. It’s a risk as well. The reason I mention The Darkness and BioShock is, story’s not a priority in reviewers’ eyes, and I think that’s a sad thing. […] We really need to move forward on story — as one of the fronts. That’s not the only front left. Look at Katamari. A while before that, people were saying there are only so many genres, and then someone comes out with a lovely game. And tomorrow it will be something similar.

[…]

I had an argument with somebody that there were only four types of gameplay, and then out comes Populous. Okay, there are five, then. And usually, it’s an excuse to plagiarize. We all take inspiration from other games, and that’s fine. It’s when we take inspiration and don’t do any more. That’s the sad thing. When you don’t move it forward. And there’s a danger. […] Especially these days, where we’re making fewer games than we used to. We’re essentially being trusted to use the opportunity to do something fantastic, and if we don’t we should get slapped around — which I’m sure we will do. [Laughs.] – Citation

So what point am I trying to make? The point is most game developers are not in an environment that allows for the pursuit of experimental ideas, lofty thoughts, or “Holy Grails”. Trying to break new ground is risky, and scares investors. So the big publishers play it safe and settle for mediocrity. That’s why the overly ambitious No Man’s Sky came from a team of 15 people, and why Minecraft was started by a single person.

For now, it seems that true innovation still has to come from outside the AAA video game industry.