Various Bits

Okay, it’s time for grab-bag post!

First, I’ve been playing a fair amount of Team Fortress 2 lately. My take: extremely polished and quite fun, even if you don’t have twitch skills any more. My only two caveats are that a) sudden death sucks – I much prefer maps where it isn’t possible and b) the spy appears to be overpowered. I know, I know, learn to play…except that the game is usually so freakin’ chaotic that trying to pick out which of your teammates might be a traitor at the same time gets really hard. Although it’s quite satisfying when you do. “Hey, why’s one of our scouts just hanging arouKILLKILLKILLKILL!” Overall, it’s the first online FPS I’ve played in years and I’m really glad I preordered it so I could get into the beta.

But I am pleased to report that TF2 has not prevented me from working on Planitia. I’m focusing on the AI right now. My computer players can now intelligently flatten the land around their villages so that their mana production increases…now they just need to be able to use god powers and build armies. I’m hoping to have another demo with rudimentary AI this weekend.

And finally, I usually have to pay for entertainment like this.

Name That Game 30!

Time for another Name That Game! Sorry for missing last week. And sorry for the Mac screenshot, but this was the best one I could find. The PC version was basically identical.

Planets with cowboy hats.  Wow...that certainly is iconic.

As is should be pretty obvious, this is a 4X space game, but it’s relatively lesser-known. Its two best features were ease of play (much easier than any of the “heavies” of this genre) and multiplayer.

Name and developer, please! Your reward? Hmmm…okay, the next time we play Soul Calibur II, I’ll totally let you win! Promise!

Kind Exposure, and Stuff My Friends Are Doing

First order of business – Planitia made the front page of Retro Remakes. I was totally not expecting this; I mentioned the demo on the forums there in the hopes of getting more feedback and Oddbob posted about it. Thanks, Bob! Teehee, I’m so excited!

Plus, I’ve got several friends with projects that deserve mentioning.

First, Tom Mauer has a brief but fun demo of the game he’s working on, Warriors of the Shining Star. It’s an action-adventure game that controls in a Robotron-esque fashion. You’ll need to have XNA installed and an Xbox 360 wired controller to play it.

Second
, Ryan Clark has just released a new milestone version of his CrazyBump utility. What does CrazyBump do? Why, it procedurally generates bumpmaps from artwork, of course! What that means I have no idea, but previous versions of the utility got lots of very positive feedback so if you work with mumpbaps you should probably give it a try.

Third, SteelGolem is starting to get some real progress showing on his action/RPG game, ActionRPG. No demo yet, but if you want to watch his progress you can do so here.

And finally, Sol buzzes me about once a week with some new project he’s done and every time I forget to post about it. He’s got videos posted of some of the stuff he did for the demoscene, crazy photoshop filters (including one that makes your pic look like it’s on a ZX Spectrum), a simple 3D engine with source, as well as his video capture API and his text mode rendering engine, etc, etc, etc. Just poke around, he’s got tons of great stuff.

Planitia Update 25: Work-In-Progress Demo .60 Available!

And here it is.

And I’ve included the text of the readme.txt file here for your convenience.


This is a work-in-progress demo of my game Planitia.

Current version is .60.

NOTE: IF YOU GET A MESSAGE SAYING THAT D3D9_**.DLL IS MISSING THEN YOU NEED TO UPDATE YOUR DIRECTX.

Planitia is a real-time strategy game that will (eventually) allow you to both build an army and use god powers to crush your enemies.

In this demo you play Green. In the main window you will see the game world, your general (the large guy with the green cape) and your village.

BASIC CAMERA CONTROLS

Planitia is meant to be played with one hand on the mouse and one hand on the WASD cluster on your keyboard. (Sorry left-handers – I’ll get controls in for you soon!) You use the mouse to interact with the interface. You can also move the camera by pushing the mouse to an edge of the screen, but it’s much easier to move the camera with the WASD cluster. You can rotate the camera using the Q and E keys. You can left-click on your general to select him and move him by right-clicking on the terrain. You cannot select your villagers. They do their thing all on their own.

GOD POWERS

On the right side you will see a GUI display with a minimap. The blue bar below the minimap is your mana. Below that are buttons for the god powers. Only some of the god powers work now, inactive god powers have their buttons greyed out. The working god powers are:

Flatten Land (up/down arrows): Costs 3 mana per second.

Allows you to raise or lower land to village height. Click and hold in the world window on any terrain to affect it. Flattening the land around your village will allow it to grow, and the more villagers you have the faster your mana will regenerate. Villages only grow at certain populations, so your village may not grow immediately even if you’ve flattened the land properly. Just be patient.


Earthquake
(concentric circles): Costs 10 mana.

Drops an earthquake wherever you click in the world window. Be careful not to cast it on your own village. The earthquake prevents enemy villages from growing and forces their gods to use more mana fixing what you’ve done.

Stone Rain (looks like falling rocks): No current mana cost.

Changes the terrain you click on to “ruined” terrain. The terrain must be high enough to be affected (you can’t change beach or land that is underwater into ruined terrain). This will eventually slow down village production, but right now it has no effect so it has no mana cost. You can get rid of it by flattening the terrain with the flatten button.

Volcano: No current mana cost.

Clicking on the terrain will cause it to push up into a volcano shape and the ground to be covered with lava. Has no current effect (other than the terrain morph) so it has no current mana cost. Using multiple volcanoes next to each other causes them to “fight” over the terrain as each one tries to pull the terrain into a different shape.

Lightning Bolt: Costs 5 mana.

Casts a lightning bolt wherever you click. The lightning bolt damages units and throws them into the air. You can even knock them off the game world this way.

Bless: No current mana cost.

Paints “blessed” terrain over the current terrain. The terrain must be high enough to be affected (just like Stone Rain). It currently has no effect so it has no mana cost.

MILITARY UNITS

If you click on the second tab on the GUI (looks like a red general) you will see the military buttons. You will see buttons for archers, barbarians and warriors, along with a display of how many you currently have of each.

Clicking the archer, barbarian or warrior buttons converts a villager into a military unit of that type and adds it to your army. Your army will always follow your general so you don’t have to worry about controlling units individually. Unfortunately, combat is not in this demo – should be soon.

One thing to keep in mind is that once you convert a villager to a military unit it no longer gives you mana.

OPTIONS

If you click on the third tab on the GUI (which is currently blank) you’ll see the exit button. You can also exit the demo by pressing ESC.

If you wish to give me feedback on this demo, you can do so at anthony.salter@gmail.com, or comment on my blog at www.viridiangames.com.

THINGS TO TRY

You can change what color you play as by going into DataOptions.cfg and changing the value for “playernumber”. 0 is green, 1 is red, 2 is blue and 3 is yellow.

You can also change the terrain of the level by going into DataMapsIntro.txt and changing the value for “seed”. It’s currently set to 7777, valid values are from 0 to 65535.

Copyright 2006, 2007 Anthony Salter. All rights reserved.

The Fundamental Disconnect of Computer RPGs

I’ve mentioned earlier that I try to keep negativity off this blog. I also try not to read blogs that I consider overly negative, and yet one of the blogs I do read is Scorpia’s.

Scorpia is the grande dame of adventure/roleplaying. She got her start reviewing adventure and computer roleplaying games for Computer Gaming World decades ago. I always enjoyed reading her reviews, especially when she would gleefully excoriate some piece of crap she’d been forced to play. After CGW dropped her she got a web presence and kept going.

Now, Scorpia’s got two themes that she constantly returns to. The first is that CRPGs today suck compared to those of the past. The second is that CRPGs never seem to turn out as good as the paper-and-pencil RPGs she plays. And while she’s technically right on both counts, in the end complaining about them isn’t particularly useful.

It’s not useful to complain about the first because the first is all perception. In the end, CRPGs today are much better than their older counterparts. The problem is that back in The Day(tm), the genre was still being explored. Games could still surprise us with new methods of pulling us in. Older CRPGs used lots of tricks to suggest that the world didn’t strictly revolve around the player. I recall running across a random fight between a group of bandits and the town guards in Ultima VI and thinking, “Whoa, what is going on in this world that I don’t know about?” Answer: nothing, but the suggestion was there. Did I have the same experience when the same thing happened in Oblivion? Of course not.

Now those tricks can still work, but only on younger players who haven’t Seen It All like us grognards. Which is why, ultimately, complaining about this is futile.

It’s also not useful to complain about the second because of the dirty little secret of computer role-playing games. Which is that there’s no such thing as a computer role-playing game.

There are two aspects to paper-and-pencil role-playing. The first is the numerical aspect – the stats, the skills, the to-hit percentage and the amount of damage done per attack, as well as the improvements to all these numbers as the character progresses. Computers do this scintillatingly well, but in the end this isn’t roleplaying. It’s just character bookkeeping.

The other aspect of paper-and-pencil role-playing is collaborative storytelling between the players and the game master. Computers cannot do this at all and they’ll never be able to ever ever ever ever. Well, at least not until artificial intelligence is perfected and by then we’ll all be too busy running for our lives from the hunter-killer robots.

The best a computer “RPG” can possibly do is to marry a good pre-programmed story with a fun iteration of character bookkeeping. That’s it, and that’s all there will ever be. I guess this doesn’t bother me as much as it does her because I was never able to do as much paper-and-pencil roleplaying as I wanted. When I was growing up I got maybe one real roleplaying session a year, and the rest of the time I’d have to scratch my itch by playing solo RPG adventures like the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Which, goshwow, married good pre-programmed stories with fun iterations of character bookkeeping. So the transition to CRPGs wasn’t a painful one for me.

But this is the root of Scorpia’s dissatisfaction. I think she’d be happier if she either stopped playing them or stopped expecting them to be something they never can.

Okay, I’m Back

Whew, glad that’s over. My wife went out of town to visit a friend and get a much-needed break from the chilluns…of course in order for her to do so, I had to watch them all myself. Thus, my hiatus.

But she’s back safe and sound and had a great time, and I’ve managed to get a full night’s sleep now, so everything is back to normal.

I actually managed to get a surprising amount of work done on Planitia while she was gone. I improved the “painted” terrains, got the lightning bolt finalized, got the earthquake working and did various other tweaks. There will be a demo release this weekend, although I don’t know if all the god powers will be done by then.

Actually…I think I’m just going to start doing releases on a weekly basis. That way you guys can just grab the latest and see what’s new instead of waiting on me. I have been loathe to release something that feels “incomplete” and yet I should be getting as much feedback as possible on how the game plays so I can improve it. I need to just get over it and start releasing on a regular basis…so I will, with the first release being this Saturday.

I also discovered pSX over the weekend, which is an emulator for the original PlayStation. I’d played around with ePSXe (a different emulator) for a while but was ultimately unhappy with how poorly it ran most games. It seemed like ePSXe’s developers were more interested in “improving” the original PlayStation than truly emulating it.

Not so with pSX. The devteam for pSX pride themselves on the accuracy of their emulation, and I was astounded by how well all my old PlayStation games ran. Even Chrono Cross, which uses tons of graphical tricks and pushes the PlayStation to its limit, ran just fine. I also happen to have a PS2-to-USB converter so I could actually play the games with a real PlayStation controller. It was fantastic! If you’ve got old PlayStation games you want to play and you’re not in a position to be able to play them on the family TV any more (possibly because you have three kids), pSX is an excellent solution.