Success

Around the beginning of 2004, I started thinking about how to seriously improve myself. I wasn’t down-and-out or anything. Our financial situation was…adequate, and the job I was at was stable. But there were several aspects of my life that I didn’t feel were measuring up, and I wasn’t happy about them. I was fortunate at around that time to run across several articles on the internet that pointed me in a helpful direction.

Since then, I’ve read several self-help and success books and listened to many recordings. I’ve read The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, Success for Dummies by Zig Ziglar, and I’ve listened to The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale.

They basically all say the same thing.

First, in order to succeed, you must define success for yourself. This smacks of secular humanism, but it’s true: we all define success differently, and our definitions of success are direct reflections of who we are as people. Success is your goal – and your goal must be concrete and measurable. It must be a specific event. Unmeasurable goals are not goals at all and cannot be attained. Most people never specifically set goals for themselves, and then wonder why they feel directionless.

Once you have defined success for yourself, you then create a plan for achieving that success. The plan must consist of several steps or milestones, each of which is a smaller, measurable goal that, when completed, add up to the completion of your overall goal.

Then, having picked a goal and defined a plan, you must make progress along your plan every day.

That’s it.

Well, goshwow, you might be thinking, if it’s that simple, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Two reasons.

One, we’re not taught to do it. While I had very good parents, at no point did they ever sit me down and say, “Anthony, here’s how to ensure you get the most out of your life.” Most parents feel that if they simply ensure their children recieve a good education, they’ve done their job. It’s hard to blame them; they probably weren’t explicitly taught about how to succeed themselves.

Two, because, if you’ll forgive the hokey Matrix reference, it’s far harder to walk the path than it is to know the path. Succeeding takes self-discipline, which most of us don’t have (and again, aren’t taught). I recently watched an episode of Penn & Teller’s excellent show Bullsh*t!, which talked about Alcoholics Anonymous. One thing mentioned during the episode is that just about all professional self-help systems report about a 5% success rate (success being measured by a person staying on the system for a year straight). This matches up with Earl Nightingale’s findings; he found that only 5% of people are financially self-sufficient or better at retirement age. Thus, if you are capable of self-discipline, you have automatically put yourself into the top 5% of people, and it’s difficult for someone with self-discipline to fail.

But what about motivation? How do you keep going when it gets difficult?

This is where things get kind of fuzzy, because just about every major self-help author is a Christian, and he simply says, “Have faith in God! He’ll help you!”

(Yes, I’m violating PSRD a bit here today. You’ll live.)

I’m not big on God. Most people with an engineering mindset find it difficult to believe in something that there’s no physical evidence for. So what do I do? When things are tough, who do I lean on?

Well, the answer has to be me, doesn’t it? And it’s not as silly an answer as you might think; there are many people who aren’t religious and yet have the depths of self-discipline necessary to succeed despite adversity and difficulty.

Now, despite not being particularly religious, I have to express an admiration for Christianity at this point. Christianity is based around two powerful ideas: have faith and treat others as you would like to be treated. (Both of these are commandments from Jesus himself, see Mark 9:23 and Matthew 22:39). This is why Christianity was able to shuck the majority of its tribal, barbaric roots (see the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament for many instructive examples). It moved forward and became something very positive in the lives of its followers.

But if there is a practical difference between a person who succeeded because they believed, “God is helping me” and the person who succeeded because they believed, “I believe in myself”, I don’t know what it is. Hardcore atheists will doubtless say, “Well, the first person believed a lie, and the second believed the truth” but recall that I was asking for a practical difference. In both cases, the person succeeded.

It will be necessary for you to train yourself to stop negative, “I can’t”-style thoughts in their tracks and replace them with positive thoughts. If you’ve thought your plan out and it’s a good one, and you are making daily progress along it, then there really isn’t any reason for you to feel bad about yourself. You have proven that you are in the top 5%, and about the only way for you to fail to eventually reach your goal is for you to abandon your plan. And why would you do that?

Believe and succeed.

[Keanu]Whoa.[/Keanu]

Okay, back in March I wrote an entry here called The Power of the Force, which detailed how my life changed when I finally started moving resolutely towards my goals.

Well, a few days ago Steve Pavlina (who I mentioned in said entry) asked for people to submit stories about how what he had written had helped people. He was going to judge the stories and award the winner with a CD of Earl Nightingale‘s The Strangest Secret. So I posted a link to my story.

And I won. And now there’s an entry on Steve’s blog mentioning me and my story.

Whoa.

Pickled Ginger

“God, I am so sick of this craptank! Day in, day out, same old metal walls, same old glass, two feet thick, keeping the same old stupid water pressure from crushing us like fleas, I need a change!
– Captain Hazel Murphy, Sealab 2021

We’re crunching on Hit & Myth. This is my…uh…sixth? Seventh crunch? I can’t even remember now. And I’m starting to think that the problem with crunching isn’t the amount of work. It’s the fact that I’m getting up every day, going to the same office, working until I’m exhausted, then coming home, going right to bed, and doing the same thing the next day.

When you eat sushi, you’re given a small side of pickled ginger. Once you’re done with one type of sushi, you eat a piece of pickled ginger to cleanse your palate before starting on another type of sushi. This effectively resets your taste buds so that the last type of sushi you ate doesn’t flavor the type you’re eating now.

That’s what I need. I need some pickled ginger. I think tomorrow I’m going to take an hour or two off in the middle of the day and completely change my venue. I’m hoping that will allow me to come back and be more productive, because I can feel myself flagging.

The Non-Update Update

Lots of stuff has happened involving Gizmondo (the company), the Gizmondo hardware platform, Gizmondo Texas, and me personally.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t over, so I can’t really tell it yet.

All I can say is that we’re working hard on Hit & Myth (like we have been for months) and we are planning to submit our first gold candidate sometime next week. I really like how the game ended up – it’s fun and funny, and should be a good time for anyone who buys it.

Deconstructing RPGs

This may be kind of stream-of-consciousness, but I was thinking about how RPGs (especially Japanese console RPGs) are structured.

First, there’s the tutorial area. This area is designed to give the player a chance to get used to the game mechanics. The player usually isn’t in a lot of danger in this area, and typically can’t leave until they’ve accomplished the quests in this area (and the quests are designed to “prove” to the game that the player understands the basic mechanics).

Then the player leaves the tutorial area. Typically, this is when the player encounters the game’s villain for the first time. This is done so that the player can understand the nature of the threat he is up against. Sometimes the player will be forced to fight the villain, and will lose. If this happens, the villain won’t kill the player. Better games find better ways to demonstrate the villain’s power level without putting the player into direct conflict with the villain at this time (Final Fantasy VII’s flashback where the player plays alongside Sephiroth comes to mind).

Once the initial confrontation with the villain is over, the Journey begins. The player cannot go directly to the final confrontation with the villain, typically because the villain does not even exist in the gamespace at this point. Instead, the player travels from area to area in the game world. In each area the player meets new and different people with new and different problems, problems that have typically been caused by the villain. Thus, the player sees the villain’s malice firsthand and tries to undo as much of it as he can. He is rewarded for this with an increase in his power level. The game usually forces the player to explore every area of the game world before allowing him to proceed to the final confrontation with the villain.

In order to defeat the final villain, the player usually needs two things: a “key” object that either allows the player to get to the villain or makes the villain vulnerable, and an appropriate power level so that the player can survive the actual battle. Once the player defeats the villain the game is over, though some games allow the player to continue to play and see how his actions have affected the game world.

That, in a nutshell, is how an RPG’s gameplay is typically structured.

AP

Speaking of turn-based strategy, today I’d like to talk about combat-oriented turn-based strategy games, specifically games that use the action point (AP) system.

In these games, you control a small group of individual units (usually soldiers). Each unit is rated differently in various categories like weapon skill, speed, hitpoints, etc. The players (or the player and the computer) take turns, and on a player’s turn he gets to move all his pieces based on how much AP they have. Typically one AP will move a unit one square or hex on the map, so units with more AP will move across the map faster. They may also be able to make more attacks in combat because each attack typically costs a set amount of AP. Some examples of these games are the Jagged Alliance series of games, the Front Mission series, the Final Fantasy Tactics series, and the X-COM series.

So, where did the AP system come from? Who first invented it?

If you trace the roots of these games, they all come back to the same parent. Readers with a knowledge of game history are probably nodding and saying, “Yep – they all come back to X-COM!” But the roots go deeper than that. While X-COM was the first tactical combat game to be a big hit, it wasn’t the first, by a mile.

You see, several years before Julian Gallop designed X-COM, he designed a little game for the ZX Spectrum called Laser Squad. (Shall I mention yet again how much we missed out because the Spectrum didn’t go over well here in the States?) Anyone who plays Laser Squad will instantly recognize it as an X-COM prototype. So Julian invented the AP system, right?

Nope. Laser Squad was basically just a computerized version of one of Julian’s favorite board games – a game very few people have heard of, called Snapshot. Snapshot (and its sequel, Azhanti High Lightning) were actually boardgame supplements to the Traveller series of science fiction roleplaying games. They were designed to be broken out whenever the party of Traveller adventurers boarded some derelict alien spacecraft, so that any ensuing combat could be played out in boardgame fashion. Julian programmed it in and created some custom scenarios for it and created Laser Squad (and its sequel, Rebelstar). And in doing so he invented the computerized AP-based tactical combat game.

Well, now that I’ve expressed my appreciation and documented some of the history of these games, I’m going to talk about the two biggest problems these games have. The two problems are related, and both stem from the boardgame roots of these games.

The first problem is, what do you do with units that still have AP at the end of their turn?

The second problem is that having one side move all its units, then the other side move all its units brings up some very unrealistic results. In both Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning, if you had a unit with enough AP he could step out from behind a corner, fire his weapon up to three times, and then retreat back behind the corner without any opponents being able to do anything. And guess what, you can sometimes do the same thing in Jagged Alliance 2.

Designers have fought these two problems in various ways. Fallout, for instance, kept the total number of AP you had to spend on a turn very low (ten was the highest, if I remember correctly), and then added the number of unused AP you had at the end of your turn to your armor class, thus making you harder to hit. This wasn’t bad, but in Fallout you only controlled one character. The same system wasn’t as effective when you used it for a whole group, as Fallout Tactics proved.

Both the Front Mission and the Jagged Alliance series fought this problem with interrupts or counterattacks, which were cases under which you could spend your units’ AP on your opponent’s turn. But in both cases, your units needed a lot of AP to be able to interrupt, and in the case of Jagged Alliance they also had to make a perception roll just to get the interrupt.

Most recently, Front Mission 4 tried a different tactic – allowing units to be linked together by the player. Therefore, if one unit attacks, all linked units with AP attack, and if one unit counterattacks, all linked units with AP join in the counterattack. It’s too confusing, and improperly linking your units will cause them to waste AP. But in the end it was just another attempt by designers to find a way to allow all units to use all their AP on every turn.

So what’s the solution?

Well, it doesn’t appear that there is “a” solution. One solution is to allow all units to move in the order of their speed scores. But this has the problem of the double reward – faster units move sooner and get to do more on their move. Okay, then couple it with interrupts…except that this has the effect of making combat feel very choppy; a character will barely get started doing their thing before somebody else gets to butt in. This is realistic, but may not be that playable.

What I’d like to try is creating a system where everyone moves simultaneously. When one of your units needs input, the game pauses, allowing you to give that input – but the input isn’t acted on until the game unpauses, at which point everybody starts moving again. Combat might not be broken up so badly because you could tell a unit, “Run over here to the other side of the map” and that unit won’t require any new orders until he gets there. You could also tell a unit, “Fire at this enemy using aimed headshots until he is dead” and that unit also won’t require additional orders until his situation changes. I’ll need to prototype this to see if I can get it to work.

Basically, although the boardgame roots of this series have served us well, it’s time to discard them and truly use the new medium of the computer to transcend the previous games in this genre.

Iron GameDev

Voiceover: One year ago, a man’s fantasy became reality in a form never seen before: Coding Stadium. The motivation for spending his fortune to create Coding Stadium was to inspire innovation in game development, and observe the making of games which could be called true artistic creations.

To realize his dream, he sent invitations to the top men and women in the field of game development, challenging them to claim the title of Iron GameDev. The challengers have just forty-eight hours to create a complete game from start to finish. Using all their skills, senses and creativity, they are to create games never experienced before!

And if they emerge victorious, they will claim the title of Iron GameDev and receive the people’s ovation and fame forever! Every battle, reputations are on the line, where master game developers pit their artistic creations against each other. The heat will be on!

Chairman Kaga: If I recall correctly, it was just one year ago that, having experienced fifteen years worth of exquisite cuisine, my palate became bored and I turned my attention to that other obsession of my people: video games! My mind began to turn as I imagined how I might be able to do for the development of games what my Kitchen Stadium had done for cuisine, and I realized that a similar format might produce similar results. Thus, this is our first battle in Coding Stadium. The format of the competition is simple – using provided computers and resources, two teams of three developers each will have only forty-eight consecutive hours to produce new games that I have never experienced before.

Now it is time to introduce the teams that will compete for the title of Iron GameDev. I could not be more pleased with the response I received from the game industry, and I have two superb teams today.

I present to you…TEAM ENSEMBLE!

(The curtain rises and smoke billows out, obscuring the forms of three men. They are ROB FERMIER, SANDY PETERSON and LANCE HOKE. They step forward and cross their arms.)

Chairman Kaga: Rob Fermier, programmer on System Shock and lead programmer of Age of Mythology. Sandy Peterson, designer of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, designer on Doom, designer on Quake, and designer on all three of the Age series of games. Lance Hoke, lead artist of Age of Mythology. They will represent Ensemble Studios in this battle. They are worthy warriors, with many excellent games under their belts. They deserve a worthy opponent, and I believe I have found one.

I present…TEAM BLIZZARD!

(The right curtain rises and three men step out of the backlit smoke. They are ANDY BOND, ROB PARDO and SAM DIDIER.)

Chairman Kaga: Andy Bond, programmer on Diablo II, Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft. Rob Pardo, designer on Warcraft II, StarCraft, Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. Sam Didier, the artist who came up with Warcraft’s unique look. These men will represent Blizzard.

Fukui-San: And now let’s introduce today’s judges. In the first chair we have Richard Garriott, founder of Origin Systems and creator of the Ultima series of games.

Richard Garriott: Great to be here.

Fukui-San: In the second chair we have Alex Seropian, one of the founders of Bungie.

Alex Seropian: It’s an honor to be here.

Fukui-San: And in the third we have Chris Taylor, founder of Cavedog and creator of Total Annihilation.

Chris Taylor: I’ve really been looking forward to this.

Fukui-San: Gentlemen, welcome to GameDev Stadium! I’d say there’s just as much talent up here as there is down there; you guys could form a team of your own!

Richard, Alex and Chris: (LAUGHTER)

Fukui-San: And of course, our commentator, Dr. Yukio Hattori.

Hattori-San: Always a pleasure.

Fukui-San: Doc, the change in format here has been dramatic! Since this is our first battle in Coding Stadium, let’s go over what the new competition entails.

Hattori-San: Very well. Instead of choosing a stable of game developers, like he did Iron Chefs, the Chairman has chosen to invite game development companies to send teams of three people each to compete in the stadium. We recommend a mix of one coder, one designer and one artist, but the actual makeup of the team is up to the company.

We have outfitted the stadium with three identical computers for each team, each preloaded with an identical loadout of the most popular compilers, 3D modeling software, image processing software, music creation software and level editors. The developers must use what is on the machines – they are not allowed to bring in anything from the outside. Nor will they be allowed internet access for the duration of the battle.

Since the competition takes so long, we have also provided places for the teams to eat, sleep, watch TV and play video games. Once the competition is over and the winner has been announced, both games, along with their sources, will be available on the internet.

And yes, the teams will be given a theme for their games by the Chairman that they must follow.

Fukui-San: That sounds fantastic, but I gotta ask: with so little time, won’t the developers just come up with derivative games using tried-and-true mechanics?

Hattori-San: Well, that’s always a risk, just like it was in Kitchen Stadium, but the Chairman is hoping that the severe time limit will force developers to boil their games down to their essences, allowing the purest form of the art to shine through – as often happened in Kitchen Stadium. Okay, the Chairman is ready to announce today’s theme.

Chairman Kaga: I thought long and hard about today’s theme. Both of your companies specialize in real-time strategy games, so it was my initial decision to give you something completely unrelated, like first-person shooters. But that would have been…too obvious. I finally decided on a theme related to your specialities, but with its own quirks. Today’s theme is…TURN-BASED STRATEGY!

(DRAMATIC MUSIC plays. The members of both teams look SHOCKED.)

Fukui-San: All right, a definite change of pace in the battle today, the Chairman choosing turn-based strategy as the theme, the teams are in place, let’s get it on!

Chairman Kaga: ALLEZ FONT DES JEUX!

And then I wake up 🙁