Planitia Non-Update #2

The box still will not draw. I have now spent more time drawing a variable-sized box on the screen than I did implementing and debugging the band selection itself.

I hate 3D. I really do. And I don’t hate it because it’s hard or math-intensive. I hate it because it’s undebuggable. Nothing shows up on the screen. Why? You’ve no idea. All you can do is fiddle, fiddle, fiddle with your numbers until something shows up, which hopefully will allow you to figure out what you were doing wrong and where to go from there. But if nothing ever decides to show up? You’re screwed, and that’s where I am right now.

I should have epic armies clashing right now. Instead I’m hung up on drawing a box on the screen. Gah!

Planitia Non-Update

Well, I got band-selection working in Planitia last night. For the record, that’s where you select multiple units by dragging the mouse to form a box around them. So I really should be posting an update.

But I’m not.

Because I have yet to figure out how to actually draw the box using D3D. I figured out how to do billboarded, “fake 2D with 3D” stuff in OpenGL, but haven’t figured out how to do it in D3D yet. I spent as much time trying and failing to draw the box as I did debugging my band selection code. It’s quite frustrating.

Hopefully I’ll fix it and be able to upload an example video tonight.

Next: Now that all the controls are in, I can finally implement some combat!

Name That Game 14!

Here we go again. If anyone gets this one I’ll be very surprised.

Cold.  Cold and dark.  And it goes on forever.

And if you guess this game because you actually played it, I pity you. Really. I had to play it at Origin because I had to provide hints for it (so there’s a clue for you). Otherwise I’d have never touched it.

So have fun kids!

EDIT: I am so glad nobody got this game (except Ryan, who got it by Googling). The game was Noctropolis, an absolutely terrible graphic adventure released by EA. Noctropolis was supposed to be an “adult” game and it achieved that by being as juvenile as it possibly could. Blood? Yes! Boobs? Yes! Incomprehensible puzzles combined with pixel hunting? Yes!

So I’m going to call Ryan the winner here, but the truth is that by not playing this game, you’re all winners. Go you!

Duck Amuck

Now then…what shall we talk about?

I’ve gotten a little work done on Planitia, but not enough to merit an update. Instead, I’ve been doing two things:

1. Cooking. I recently made duck for the first time. It was also the first time I’d ever eaten duck. I used this recipe, but I didn’t have time to brine the duck. I just steamed it and then pan-seared it.

It was excellent. The meat was a bit tougher than chicken – almost like turkey – but the flavor was stupendous. Especially the skin and the fattier parts of the bird. They were succulent.

Bolstered by my success with the duck, I decided to finally purchase a food processor. I’ve been wanting one for ages but either didn’t have the spare money or couldn’t figure out which one to buy. My restrictions were:

1. 7-10 cup bowl size. My kitchen counters are ridiculous tiny and I don’t have the space for a bigger one.

2. Bottom-mounted motor; direct-drive motor mounting. These are the most reliable and efficient kinds of processors.

3. Exactly two speeds – on and pulse. More buttons than that merely leads to confusion.

4. Price range: $75 to $100.

I’d despaired of finding a processor that met all four of those requirements (especially number 4) until a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond turned up this little number on special for $99.

Now if that looks familiar, it’s because it’s the processor Cuisinart’s been making for decades. Look at the plain white case and the sharp angles on the base – it’s a throwback right to the 70’s, and a few years back Cuisinart stopped making it. They introduced sleek new models with curves and chrome and lots of buttons and people hated them – they took up more counter space, weren’t as reliable and were harder to use.

Thus, the reappearance of the Pro Classic. I got exactly what I wanted – a perfectly usable, reliable food processor for under $100. Go me!

And for its inaugural food I tried to make lemon cheesecake. I completely messed it up; when all was said and done, it was a little done around the edges of the pan but almost completely raw in the middle. So I spooned it into a bowl and now it’s lemon custard. I’m sure it’ll come out better next time.

2. Playing World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. Blizzard did a great job with the starting areas of the two new races and smoothed out lots of the little annoyances of creating a new character. Bags now drop much more often and you’ll usually get a bag or two as a quest reward. The money progression seems to be better since I haven’t run into a case yet where I haven’t had the money to train upon reaching a new level. And you can actually grind the Cooking skill up to about 40 with ingredients you can buy.

The quest lines are also showing some inventiveness. On the Draenei side you will get a quest around level 11 or 12 that will allow you to ride an epic mount for 15 minutes. That’s an excellent way of giving new players a taste of what they’ll get if they stick with their characters. The Blood Elf side has some pretty cool stuff too – I was shocked when I discovered exactly how it became possible for Blood Elves to be Paladins.

And, of course, pretty. Pretty pretty. Silvermoon, the BE city, is particularly gorgeous…I almost wish I lived there.

Of course, once you get a character of either new race to about level 20 you’re thrown out into the rest of Azeroth, which you’re intimately familiar with if you’re a longtime player like me. The two new races and starting areas do not justify the expansion’s $40 price tage by themselves. Nor does Jewelcrafting, which is interesting but in the end is just another crafting skill (and they didn’t even introduce a new gathering skill to go along with it).

No, what would be worth my $40 would be if I could pull my 60 Paladin, Surago, out of retirement.

I mentioned how deeply disappointed I became with World of Warcraft once my character hit 60. The game became a slot machine rather than a linear progression, and I was unlucky enough to choose a profession (blacksmithing) that doesn’t really allow you make a lot of money unless you raid, which I simply do not have time for. If Burning Crusade will allow me to solo from 60 to 70 and use my skills to actually make enough money so I can buy the stuff I need to do my epic mount quest, I’ll consider it $40 well spent.

But I don’t know if it’ll do that yet because I’ve spent almost all my time on my new characters. I have gone to Outland and I know that there are soloable quests in Hellfire Peninsula, the starting zone, but I don’t know if that progresses all the way through Outland. And I’m not sure what raising my blacksmithing and mining to 375 will do for me yet from a monetary perspective.

Oh, but one thing I did truly enjoy was listening to the howls of indignation from people who have played for years only to discover that fairly common drops in Outland were equal or superior in quality to the epic sets they spent months grinding to get. Made me feel justified in not going down that path. Laziness pays off again!

So I don’t have a final verdict on Burning Crusade yet. I need to not let it interfere with Planitia, so I’ll probably just play it on the weekends.

Planitia Update 5

Flee! The barbarian hordes approach!

Run for your lives!

Still no band-selection yet, but otherwise the interface should feel quite familiar to anyone who has ever played a 3D RTS.

To be honest, I kind of psyched myself out with my last post about Planitia’s design, and I did it with two words: world simulation. Planitia will require at least a basic world simulation, but I’ll be darned if I know how to do one, and unfortunately my perusal of the Game Programming Gems books and AI Game Programming Wisdom books have been disappointing When all of these books discuss AI they discuss pathfinding, line-of-sight, group movement – unit-based AI. When they do talk about RTS AI, it’s about creating an AI opponent for the player to fight against (which, granted, may come in handy).

Of course, while I consider what I’m looking for to be “AI”, other game developers may not. What am I looking for?

A world simulation consists of a system composed of interacting subsystems with emergent properties. Oblivion’s world was made of a system like this. So was Ultima VII’s. So was Powermonger’s. Thus you can see that such a system doesn’t require heavy CPU horsepower. It does require one to know where to start coding such a system.

Once again, my friend Tom Mauer comes to my rescue. In college he heard about discrete event simulation, a form of computerized system simulation that is really big in manufacturing and scientific industries but hasn’t really been used for gaming. The basic concept seems simple enough; I’m going to try it out on Planitia. If I get it working I’ll probably write up an article on it.

Burning Crusade vs. Freezing Rain

Every January we have a couple of cold snaps. One occurred over the weekend and is still going on. Northerners like to poke fun at how we Texans freak out over a little freezing rain (and God only knows what would happen if it actually snowed down here). It’s true – it’s just so far out of our normal experience that we don’t know how to handle it.

Of course, Burning Crusade goes on sale at midnight tonight. Not having had the chance to preorder it, I’ll be heading down to my local Wal-Mart around 11 pm tonight, no matter how frozen the roads are. I’m hoping to get supremely lucky and snag at least one Collector’s Edition, but even if I don’t manage that, I’m really looking forward to finally making my Draenei Shaman. And then typing /flirt and /silly over and over again for an hour.

Oh, and sorry…nothing is going to get done on Planitia until my Burning Crusade curiosity is satisfied.

Planitia Design Pass Strikes Back!

Okay, the design for Planitia is firming up in my head.

Planitia is going to consist of a series of levels, each one of which is self-contained.

On each level there will be a village of people running as part of a world simulation. But they have a problem, and because of this problem, the population of the village is trending downward – they will soon cease to exist. They do not have the power to save themselves, and thus they have begun to pray for a supernatural entity to aid them. This summons you. Your job is to help them overcome their problems and begin growing instead of dying. Therefore, the way you win a Planitia level is to get your followers to the point where they no longer need you. Then the current level will end and another group of desperate people will call for your aid which will start the next level.

Your one resource is mana. How fast it generates depends on how many believers you have and how fervently they believe in you. If you have no followers your mana will slowly start to drain. If you ever get to the point where you have no mana and no followers (and thus no mana generation) then you cease to exist and have lost the level.

The problems will be different on each level. It could be as simple as “we can’t grow enough crops to feed ourselves any more” to “another group of more advanced villagers has sworn themselves to our destruction”. In any event, it will be up to you to use your tools to aid your people. Yes, there will be combat, but it won’t be on every level.

The things you can do with your mana:

Direct Intervention: Flames, lighting, rain, terrain movement, etc. These will cost a lot of mana, but they will also generate a lot of belief; nothing like seeing a bolt of lightning coming out of the sky to strike down the enemy general to make you believe in your deity.

Civilization upgrades: You can spend mana to divinely inspire one of your villagers. They will then be able to do certain things more effectively. This requires far less mana than direct intervention, but the change will take a while to propagate through the village. The change will be permanent, however.

Direct villager control: You can actually tell your little guys what to do, but it will cost you mana to do so. (Yes, I know this sounds tetchy, but bear with me – as a god, you cannot do anything in the game world without spending mana.) Basically what this means is that all units under your direct control become a mana drain rather than a mana source. Thus, you want to make sure you’ve got at least one unit back home generating mana for every unit in your army that you are directly controlling. I don’t want to make this too punishing; it’s basically going to be there to prevent people from turtling and creating humongous armies. I mean, yeah, you can create that humongous army, but you can’t tell it to go anywhere. I may also make it so that if you are fighting another god, it costs a lot more mana to send units into land that he controls than normal…but that might make the game too defensive. The whole point of this mechanic will be to cause players to strike a balance between offense and defense.

I may make it so that you gain new abilities as you clear lands…but then that has the whole “why not just give me all the toys up front” problem.

So it’s firming up. It’s not too firm yet. It’s cheesecake, not concrete.