Hit & Myth

Now that E3 is over, I can finally talk about my game. It’s called Hit & Myth, and it’s the brainchild of two talented people I’m working with.

The first is Ryan Clark, who created the basic engine for the game and also came up with a technique that allows us to get some realistic-looking lighting very cheaply. It allows us to get content in the game quickly, and you can read all about the technique at his webpage, Zarria.net.

The second is Wynne McLaughlin, the lead designer, who has been writing for games and TV for years. He got this job by creating a couple of very good Neverwinter Nights modules. Wynne is adding a really funny, sarcastic sense to the game, as evidenced by this screenshot.

Me? I’m the secondary coder (and we also have one more coder/designer named John Sripan). We also have a bunch of great artists on the project (as the screenshots should attest).

The game uses Robotron/Smash TV mechanics – the left pad moves your character and the right buttons control the fire direction. There’s tons of weapon pickups that make you more powerful, and you can cast spells (we have a nice spellcasting mechanic that allows you to cast spells very quickly once you get used to it). Basically, you run through the levels, shooting everything that moves, until you get to the boss, which says something snarky and then tries to eat you. So you kill the boss, too.

Now, I’m fully aware that I’m not working on a Game of the Year here. I’m also aware that the platform the game is for is new and shaky and has a lot of competition. But in the end, the game is going to be a whole lot of cheap, blasty fun and I hope that the people who do buy it get a kick out of it (and oddly enough, Ryan recently said almost exactly the same thing to me).

My Latest Project

Okay, purely for my own edification, I intend to write an RPG in 40 hours.

I was, of course, inspired by this blog post, and also by the fact that I really, really wanted to participate in the most recent Ludum Dare challenge, but couldn’t. So I’m sort of doing it on my own. Now you know why I was researching Roguelikes; 40 hours is too short to do just about anything graphical. Text mode will allow me to get the most out of my time.

Here’s the rules:

1. This will be a project created in Visual Studio .NET, using C++. It will be a console application, and it should run on both Win2K and Win9x.

2. The timer starts when I first create the project (which I haven’t yet).

3. Since I am a father of three and employed full-time, I can’t do something stupid like work on this for 40 hours straight. Instead, I will work on it whenever I have time, rigorously keeping track of my time. When the 40 hours is up, I will post whatever I’ve got, even if it’s not playable (though I will do my best to make sure that it is).

4. Time designing, coding and creating content counts against my 40 hours; time thinking about the project and writing blog entries about its progress do not. Thus, I can do some “mental preproduction” work on it as long as I don’t code anything or write any design down.

5. Failsafe. I have 40 hours to do this project, and I can spread them as thin as I want, but if the project is not done within 30 days (that is, it is not done by midnight, June 18th, 2005) the rest of my time is forfeited and I must post what I have.

Currently my thinking is that I will break the project up into two 20-hour chunks – one for coding the engine and one for creating content that runs on the engine. This should (note the word “should”) ensure that I ship something a bit more robust than just a hack & slash engine. My fears are that I will either overestimate the difficulty of the project and set my sights too low, resulting in a completed game so simplictic that no one wants to play it, or that I will conversely bite off far more than I can chew, resulting in no functioning game at all.

Oooh, this is going to be fun. I think.

Roguelikes

I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with Roguelikes. (Quick definition if you don’t want to follow that link: a Roguelike is a turn-based RPG with a map that is usually constructed from the ASCII character set. They derive their name from Rogue, the first game of this type on record.) The thing is, now that I’ve thought about it, most of the advantages of a Roguelike are inherent, and most of the things I don’t like about them are a part of how they’ve been constructed.

The main advantage of Roguelikes is that while they do have a map, they are not rigorously representational. They inherit this from text adventures. If you want the player to be attacked by a gorgeous bird with a six-foot wingspan, a pearl beak, feathers that shift colors as it moves, and glowing white eyes, you can simply put a B on the screen (or whatever letter or symbol you decide represents “birds”) and say, “You see a gorgeous bird with a six-foot wingspan, a pearl beak, feathers that shift colors as it moves, and glowing white eyes.” This takes all of 30 seconds, unlike the two weeks actually creating such a bird in a 3D game would take.

This also means that you can code tons of interactions that can only exist in text. Sure, let the player wield lockpicks or dead monster bodies as weapons! Let the player drink from fountains, fill canteens from fountains, dip swords from fountains, kick fountains! Let them wear hats on their feet! It’s all just text! You’re not required for it to make any visual sense!

Another way Roguelikes aren’t rigorously representational is that the player is not bound to any sort of normal walking speed. A square on a Roguelike map typically represents six to ten square feet, and you move by jumping from one square to another (and typically you can move as fast as you can press a key). Thus, it doesn’t take long to get places in a Roguelike.

So Roguelikes can avoid lots of the annoyances of modern RPGs and stimulate the imagination, at the cost of a lack of visual…impact. What are the downsides?

Like I said, most of the downsides of Roguelikes I’ve played stem from how they are implemented, not the style itself. Roguelikes are typically arbitrary, difficult and frustrating, but that’s only because that’s how they’ve been programmed. One true downside of Roguelikes is that the user will have to constantly refer back to the manual or a cheatsheet to figure out exactly what symbol means what on the screen, but this can, perhaps, be minimized.

So why exactly am I analyzing Roguelikes? Ah, see the next post.

E3 Crunch

Well, the E3 crunch is over. We shipped a very solid demo of our game (which I’ll be able to tell you all about once E3 actually starts). I worked about 80 hours last week, which is the longest work week I’ve had in years.

Here’s the thing about crunch. Yes, it sucks…except…well…

You get to put yourself into the Zone Cubed. Everything else fades away. You don’t spend enough time away from your work to forget what you were doing, which means you never really get out of the Zone. Thus, despite the Common Knowledge that Crunch Never Helps, I found myself incredibly productive last week. I worked about 80 hours. Did I get 80 hours of work actually DONE? I’d say…yeah, damn near.

You get to know everybody better. You work together, you eat together, you spend what little free time you have together (our crunch was at one point suspended while we all made a run to Wal-Mart to buy Nerf guns). And these guys are great – real gamers, really passionate about making great games. The sense of camaraderie is wonderful.

When you come out the other side and you’ve shipped and you know you did a good job and everything is going to be all right now…it’s like shipping high times a hundred. I have never been prouder of what I’ve been working on.

Note: The rest of this post is rated PG-13.

I’ve witnessed how usage of the term “porn” has branched out away from sex to mean “anything that gives you a vicarious thrill”. We’ve got food porn, gun porn, aircraft porn, etc. I’ve actually done this myself; I typically describe the game Command & Conquer: Generals to friends as “explosion porn” (which it is).

If you know me, you also know that I like to watch game development presentations, and I love listening to good movie commentary tracks. I’ve watched the “Making of Spirited Away” special that comes on the DVD about fifty times. I bought the special editions of both Age of Mythology and World of Warcraft because they both came with “making of” DVD specials. I’ve come to realize that in its way, that stuff was my porn. Call it “accomplishment porn”. I was vicariously living through these people who had accomplished the kind of thing I wanted to accomplish.

Well, now I’ve accomplished, at least in a minor sense. In the end, real sex is always better than porn…is real accomplishment better than accomplishment porn?

Bet your ass it is.

Wow…

It has recently begun to really sink in that the game I am working on is going to be shown at E3. In a real booth. In the main hall, not Kentia Hall. That’s very exciting and very scary. Heck, since I’m doing the main menu, my stuff will be the first stuff players see!