Planitia Update 22: Help From Above

No new screenshots, sorry. But I got a lot of help over the weekend from Sol, which I am very grateful for. He pointed out a couple stupid things I was doing that was keeping my frame rate down and making the camera movement jittery. I’m quite happy to get those problems solved.

Now if I could just fix the fact that the frame rate drops to 1/3 of normal when terrain morphing…

ANYway…I promised you guys a demo at the end of July and I intend to make good on that promise. This demo is mostly going to be god powers; the army stuff isn’t fully implemented yet. And not all the god powers will be implemented either. Hey, it’s a demo.

Now, in return, I’m going to request that you guys give me feedback on how the game looks and plays…you know the drill.

At this point I’m thinking that I’ll probably end up doing three releases.

The first will be skirmish against the computer only.

The second will add the storyline missions.

And the third will add multiplayer. God, just saying that word makes me shudder. It’s going to be such hell and I’ve already gone through so much hell with the 3D stuff…

Frankly, I could see myself working on this game for the rest of the year, easy. I may limit myself to one year of development time, which would mean I’d have to be done with everything by late October.

And to think I originally thought I’d get this out by the end of April…

ANYhoo. Demo later today or early tomorrow. I promise I’ll have at least one Ultimate power implemented for you guys to try out.

Mass Effect

I have never been more torn over a game than I am over Mass Effect.

On the plus side, its conversation system was apparently designed by God.

The main character is engaged by an NPC – always a good start. Notice how you quickly and easily direct the tone of the conversation rather than choosing specific dialogue. I love that – those short phrases are much easier to parse on the fly, which keeps the conversation flowing in a natural fashion. It’s not in this video, but you can also do things like cut people off if they’re annoying you by quickly choosing a hostile response.

And then we’ve got the best dynamic acting I’ve ever seen on a video game character. It’s not just the real-time lipsynching, either. Notice how Wrex looks conspiratorially to the side when he says “Now I hear you’re going after Saren” and shakes his head a little when he says, “I’m not in this for the money.” Good voice acting makes it even better. Frankly, any RPG fan that doesn’t feel funny in the pants after watching this video isn’t really an RPG fan.

So what could possibly ruin this game for me? What could possibly make it so that I don’t know if I want to play it?

Try insipid real-time squad-based combat. With Force Powers thrown in.

Ew. Ew, ew, ew. If that doesn’t look a whole lot better when the game ships…

…okay, I’ll still buy it. But it seems like such a shame to come this close to making the ultimate sci-fi RPG and then trip at the finish line.

Planitia Update 21: Come Together

And it is.

It's almost a game.

The GUI is now nearly complete. In this screenshot you see me using the Flatten Land tool to smooth out the land around my city so it can expand. The three tabs on the GUI work (I’m quite proud of that). The first tab has all the icons for your god powers, of course. The blue bar is your mana bar. The second tab is your army screen, and has buttons that allow you to recruit new archers, warriors and barbarians. It also has a button that allows you to select and zoom to your general. The third tab is the options tab. It will eventually contain most game options but right now it just contains the quit button.

The Flatten Land and Lightning Bolt god powers have basic functionality, and Lightning Bolt throws units around just like it should. I’m very happy with the physics – much happier than anything I got with ODE.

I will be releasing a second demo on July 31. There may not be a “game” in there yet, as I may not be able to get an AI implemented in time, but you will at least be able to run the program, make villages, build your army, get mana and use god powers. I’ll at least put in some enemy villages for you to abuse, since they are autonomous. I’m going to want lots of feedback, specifically on how well the game performs on various systems.

The Indie Thing

Soundly situated in obscurityland
Famous in inverse proportion to how cool I am
And should I ever garner triple-digit fans
You can tell me then there’s someone I ain’t indier than
MC Frontalot, Indier Than Thou

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the indie gaming scene for a while.

The love, of course, comes from appreciating and identifying with people who can make games in their spare time.

The hate comes from…

Well, it’s complicated.

But it’s basically all Steve Pavlina‘s fault.

See, Steve ran Dexterity Software back in The Day(tm). He had forums on his site (like any good small developer who understands that building a community is just as important as making games). Those forums attracted a lot of other people who wanted to follow Steve’s path…thus, they became the unofficial “indie developer” forums.

But then Steve stopped making games and closed the forum down. The indies needed a new forum, so they created one. They named it the Indiegamer Forums.

That was their first mistake.

Why? Because by overtly stating “This board is for indies only” they made it necessary to define what an “indie” is…and there are lots of definitions.

And thus, there has been a lot of heat generated on the board over the years as people do things that “betray the indie code”…as perceived by some of the main posters there. Lots of people have run afoul of this over the years…usually for doing completely prudent things necessary to keep themselves in business.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing good there. That’s not true. But the board has been susceptible to vituperation in the past and that’s why I don’t read it any more, even though I’m allegedly their target audience.

Example? Well, here’s a good one: GameTunnel, the leading indie game review site, recently released their Top 100 Independent Games list. A list like this is always going to be contentious, but there’s one game that absolutely should be on that list and isn’t.

And that game is Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations II.

Why isn’t it? Well, this just goes straight back to their “What is an indie?” problem. Stardock is too “big”. They can get retail deals based on the strength of their past games. They have their own Steam-style system for purchasing and downloading games directly over the internet. Their stuff gets reviewed by all the major gaming sites. Thus they aren’t indie. “Indie” to the denizens of the Indiegamer Forums is one guy in his bedroom making whatever he wants (er…as long as he doesn’t dare make a “casual” game).

Of course, that’s exactly how Stardock started. And Stardock has never sold themselves.

They fulfill my requirements for indie – no one can tell them what to make and no one can tell them when to ship.

It’s pretty obvious to me that Stardock is an indie gaming company that has simply made real good.

And now Retro64 has been purchased by PopCap. Retro64 is owned by Mike Boeh, a consummate indie developer and the creator, maintainer and host of…the Indiegamer Forums. Retro64 also hosts Game Tunnel.

PopCap has long been decried on the Indiegamer Forums as a corporatized clone-making machine; a company that cares only about money and simply steals every good game idea they come across. Go ahead, search for “PopCap” and “Zuma” on the forums and see what you get.

Mike has escaped the white-hot backlash his “selling out” would normally have generated on the forums because he’s the host – and frankly, everybody likes him. He’s a great guy. But lots of people are seeing this as yet another “true indie” swallowed up by the machine. And although Mike has made it clear that the forums and Game Tunnel were not part of the acquisition, some are wondering what their future can possibly be if the company hosting them is now owned by a “corporate clone monster”.

Frankly I think it’s all much ado about nothing. PopCap could not possibly gain from shutting down GameTunnel and the Indiegamer Forums; and if they threatened to do so those sites would simply move.

But then that’s the other aspect of “indie” that they embrace…the idea of the renegade programmer, coming up with radical new ideas that The Man(tm) will eventually either have to steal…or destroy. ‘Cause you know, the indie scene is the only place where true innovation can take place.

Please. Sometimes I feel like yelling, “Just shut up and make your games!” Though frankly I should take my own advice.

Planitia Design Pass: A New Beginning

All right. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think I’ve got my god powers nailed down.

Basically I wanted god powers to be split into different schools which the player would then improve over time. I rejected the “classic four” of earth, fire, air and water since they are beyond cliché at this point; anyone who uses them deserves a quick nun-style whack on the knuckles.

Magic: The Gathering’s five schools of magic are extraordinarily well done, but I didn’t want to rip them off directly. Plus I wanted at least three powers in each school, which would have meant fifteen powers. That would have been hard to do while keeping to my second rule – that each power be distinct.

Populous 2 had six schools, but several of them are weak and all the “good” powers could be easily consolidated down to four schools.

So that’s what I did. There are four schools of magic in Planitia:

Yellow – Earth effects

Red – Fire effects

Blue – Sky effects

Green – Plant/growth effects

Now, let’s get back to the second rule. I wanted each god power to be distinct and have its own role. So I made a list of what god powers can effectively do in Planitia:

Create units

Flatten terrain

Improve terrain

Damage or kill units

Throw units around (important because units take additional damage from falling and can be knocked int water or off the map, plus looks cool)

Uneven terrain (requires the opposing god to smooth it out before it can be used again)

Ruin terrain (requires the opposing god to improve it before it can be used again)

With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:

Yellow School (Earth Effects):
Flatten – Flattens terrain, fixes earthquakes, allows villages to grow
Earthquake – Land unevener, unit thrower

Red (Fire Effects):
Flame Column – Moves around randomly, ruins land, burns building and instakills units – Powerful but uncontrollable

Green (Growth Effects):
Bless – 3×3 cell area – Fixes ruined land, allows villages to grow faster (the bless wears off, but the ruin fix is permanent)
Swamp – Any unit walking into it dies, lasts 1 minute or until it sucks up three people – Area denial

Blue (Sky Effects):
Lightning – Single unit instakiller
Lightning Storm – Area denial – hangs over an area and zaps anyone (FRIEND OR FOE) who comes into it, lasts 1 minute or so

Now we come to the BIG effects, the ones that can end a game quickly. In order to get a major effect, you must max out two neighboring schools of magic.

Yellow + Red = Volcano. Creates a mountain of ruined land, damaging anyone in the affected area over time. The volcano will spew fireballs which create Flame Columns when they hit the ground for one minute, then the volcano will go inactive. The volcano cannot be fixed until it goes inactive. Since an army can quickly run away from it, it’s better used on villages than armies.

Red + Blue = Meteor. A meteor descends from the sky on the targeted area, badly damaging every unit it directly hits and throwing any units nearby a long way. Does not ruin land and does not affect buildings, so it’s better used on armies than villages.

Blue + Green = Healing Rain. Creates a cloud of healing rain that hangs in the air for one minute. Any friendly unit that comes into the affected area is instantly fully healed. Can really take the edge off a meteor or volcano.

Green + Yellow = Golem. A massive earth golem is created that immediately heads for the nearest enemy unit and attacks it by kicking it. When that unit is dead it heads for the next one, etc. One golem can take on an entire army and villagers are pretty much defenseless against it, but once you create it you cannot control it. (It won’t attack your units, though.)

Max All Schools = Armageddon. Clicking this button turns every unit on every side into a Barbarian and causes them to seek out and attack the nearest enemy unit. When the fighting is done the side that still has units is declared the winner of the game. Enemy players can still use god powers, but since army units do not regenerate mana once they run out they won’t get any more. Do NOT cast unless you’re damn sure you not only outnumber the enemy, but that he doesn’t have a Meteor or Golem up his sleeve.

CURRENT PROBLEMS WITH THIS SYSTEM: I’ve only got one fire effect. (Honestly, how many different ways can you burn things?) The two Blue effects are too similar. “Bless” and “Flatten” are absolute necessities so it seems kind of mean to force users to waste their experience points buying them.

Your thoughts?

Planitia Update 20: Who Came Up With Particle Man?

Why, I did, of course.

Making them butterflies was Megan's idea.

All right. Particles, terrain, two hundred units in the world simulation and picking and I’ve still got 70 frames per second. I’m quite happy.

I’ve really only got one more subsystem to implement – the A* pathfinding for the general unit. I’m going to leave the villagers and soldiers pretty stupid…it’s no fun to throw a bunch of swamps down around a village if the villagers then simply expertly navigate around them, is it?

After that…well, I really think that the majority of the game systems will be in place, and it’ll just be a matter of implementing the god powers, tweaking how villages grow and get created, and creating the story sequences and I just might have a game here.

Name That Game 25!

Woohoo! Twenty-five Name That Games! I’m quite surprised that I’ve been able to keep this up for this long.

This week we’ve got a game that I personally bought on the recommendation of a friend…and then absolutely hated. It didn’t run well on my computer and I don’t think I ever fully understood the mechanics of the game.

But I’m sure someone out there played it, enjoyed it and remembers it, so here it is!

Donkey Kong!

Name and developer, please.

Planitia Update 19: It looks exactly the same!

But, thanks to lots of help from Ryan, the frame rate has easily doubled. This should mean that I can go ahead and add particles and god powers and not have to worry about the frame rate any more. Note that I said “should”…

And if you’re an artist or modeller, check out Ryan’s new utility CrazyBump. It “creates normal maps directly from textures”. Not being an artist I don’t know what that means, but lots of people seem to like it.