I've been trying out A Tale in the Desert lately. Much like any wide open world, I soon found myself traveling in a random direction wondering where the winds of fate would take me.

After a while of this, I started writing down random things and people I came across, so here it is, journal entry for 8/29/08.

Cradle of the Sun
Along a riverbank

Desert Area
Cactus Sap
Small Chest
Large Chest
Traveller's Shrine
Saw map... didn't like it.
Approaching Nile
More mines
Giant Lavender Stonecrop
Golden Pampas Grass
Big Leaf Plant
More mines
Traveling West
River crossing
2 chests
5 mines
Even more mines... joy.
Natural Land Bridge
2 Fields, plant unknown
Lions Grass
More cactii
Common alter
Line of small chests


After my recent successes in importing models into Multiverse I've found myself in something of an architectural quandary. How exactly do I populate a sixty to seventy story tall construct that is meant to function as a literal floating city.

Some are almost a given, the parks towards the front, the operations and maintenance areas down low, and up high, and the inner curve being populated with shops. Even those aren't nailed down in terms of final layout. For most of it though, I'm left with little more than basic concepts of the necessity of schools, hospitals and security.

Anybody out there that knows a bit about architecture willing to give me a hand, or point me in the direction of some good study material?

Something tells me I should probably add some lights.


Do players want something new?

During the latest round of blogs, I've heard a large number of people saying "players don't want something too new anyways." This is hardly a new topic of thought for me, but I thought I'd go into some persuasive hyperbole on the topic.

For starters, I'd like to give you a test. The test consists of three questions, at the end of which I should be able to accurately predict what you want in a marriage.

1) How badly do you miss beating your spouse?
A. Very much
B. Slightly
C. Very little
D. Not at all

2) How many days a week is it acceptable to cheat on your spouse?
A. 7
B. 5
C. 3
D. 1

3) Your potential wife must hold down a steady job.
A. Strongly Agree
B. Agree
C. Disagree
D. Strongly Disagree

Obviously this questionnaire is fundamentally flawed. At every point we make certain assumptions, that the taker is abusive, considers promiscuity acceptable at some level, and that they are marrying a woman. For the majority of takers this will provide a result that is non-applicable, though it will always return a result as there is no condition in which it cannot.

When we come to asking questions as to player's wants, needs, and motivations we tend to fall into similar traps. One of the greatest criticisms of the Bartle Types is simply that the tests assume you fall within those bounds. They will report a final type report, so long as you completed the test, even if you do not have any preference for any of the given activities. But the basic principle extends out to our probing of players for their preferences. For instance we might ask what genre of game they plan to buy next, MMORPG, RTS, FPS, Flight Sim, Racing, Sports, RPG, and completely miss the reality that their next purchase may be Arcade.

Obviously, we can expand the list, but that does little to solve the fundamental problem. Without being able to build a comprehensive list of all genres that have, do and ever will exist the answer will always be flawed. Even having such a list wouldn't be a magic bullet though.

Those doing the asking are not solely faced with this problem, the ones being questioned face a similar dilemma. It is very difficult for a person to think outside of what they know and to extrapolate out a choice that they didn't know themselves to have. To bring it into sharper perspective, few people could have possibly expressed their interest in purchasing first person shooters in 1973, shortly after pong's release. This isn't any sort of criticism of players, either, it is simply the reality that we seldom express interest in options we don't know exist.

A great TED talk by Malcom Galdwell comes to mind. I'll go ahead and embed it so that you can take this opportunity to watch it if you haven't had the pleasure yet.

I've heard some criticism of his talk in that the idea of diversifying product lines is not a new one. That wasn't my take away, though. What I had picked up on was that there had been a segment of their market that they had previously been unable to sell to, simply because they didn't know it existed. MMOs recently went through this, we hadn't known there was a market for relatively speedy leveling, end game raiding and pop references in a setting created within the games industry.

Generally speaking, I don't pretend that the games I wish to make are anything other than niche products. However, I am generally slow to speak as to what exactly the customers of the MMO market want. I feel that, in many ways, we haven't finished growing our market. Because of this, in terms of financial success, it is almost impossible for us to accurately state what is or is not what the players want. And likewise it is impossible for the players to tell us what, if anything, they want outside of the current offerings because they have no frame of reference for those 'other' things.



The cube to the side is a forty story sky scraper.


So the blogosphere has been ablaze.

And strangely enough everyone is talking about something that applies to what I do. Although I'm probably a bit late to the party, sorry for taking the time to get my thoughts in order.

Echoes of Nonsense - Circle Strafe the Moon by Ardua brings up something that really has me piqued. Of course it's not that it's said once, it's that Tobold and a few others seem to be bent on repeating it. Actually now that I think about it, perhaps Sid67 at Serial Ganker said it first.

What they've said is this, "Brent [et all] don't want to play an MMORPG". I'd like to say something along the lines of 'no offense but you're wrong', but instead every time I hear it I want to reach through the internet and slap someone. You see, none of us, Brent, Darren, Adam, I or any of those of our general opinion have any problem with MMOs, we don't even have any problem with MMORPGs. What we have a problem with is MMO dungeon crawls.

There is absolutely nothing revolutionary about creating RPGs that aren't dungeon crawls. Ever heard of the Storytelling Adventure System? Trollbabe? Call of Cthulu?

We've built a whole generation who only knows online multiplayer RPGs as being dungeon crawls. I tend to side with one of Jonathan Blow's recent talks on how games are conflicted when it comes to MMOs. We've built every inch of the gameplay dynamics around one thing, killing foozles to collect xp and loot. Why on Earth SHOULD anyone pay any attention to quest text when we literally reward players for getting through them as fast as possible. There is almost no reward for taking the time to smell the roses as it were, and only the players innate ability to find their own reward in activities seems to propell them towards actually doing anything even remotely resembling role playing.

All of this doesn't add up to make WoW or WAR or any of them bad games... but lets be perfectly honest, we've been dungeon crawling for almost 30 years now. Don't some people have every right to be bored out of their freaking minds.

Rant out of the way, I'm going back to the work I started with the Multiverse engine tonight and tomorrow. Someone clued me in to a great way to implement airships for an idea I was toying around with, so that may be the project I work on while I'm still teamless. All of this discussion has convinced me of one thing though, this project will not have any combat. NONE! We have spent so long developing combat as we move through these dungeon crawls, even if I'm not working on something that will be particularly succesful, I do want to focus on the creation and implementation of the non-combat aspects for a change.

And maybe... I just miss the real magic.


It's Sunday.

And I have so much I want to do, and so little motivation to do it.

How about you all? Anything you want to do, but just can't seem to get the drive up to go for it?


My Perfect MMO

Someone wiser than I once said, few truly great ideas are also truly novel. Today I realized that I don't really have to try so hard to quantify my perfect MMO. Someone already did. Seventeen years before I was born, in fact.

So here it is, put beautifully and succinctly:


Some WAR poetry.

Cry terror in the empty night!
The worst of war approaches,
not the angry mob,
nor the dogs let slip.
Thus approaches the casualties,
our known, our friends,
our mirror in the night.
Cry shame in the angry night!

Whence came the strangers?
Whence came those who cried 'Havoc!',
for thence am I bound.
On their door step shall I cry 'Havoc!'.
On them shall I loose the dogs of war!
Only then am I well found.

Cloying, cancerous, claustrophobic catharsis.
Concerned, calculated, conformist council.
Cool, composed, contemporary casualties.

One night of arting.


One Story

John Montrage:
Odd as it is, I still remember a few strange details from my life as a shitfaced little punk. There were the girls and the beer, but they all kind of blurred together. A few moments tend to stand out though, fuck if I know why.

There was this one time I was in the shitter after an all night bender, nothing new really but for whatever reason I actually looked around. Noticed there were these ants on the floor, a whole fucking line of them leading straight up to the ass end of a fucking Dorito. I don't know why the ants were so set on this one piece of shit chip, and it was in the shitter of all places.

I walked out to the kitchen to take a look around, see if they got into any more shit. Nope, not a single fucking ant in the whole kitchen. Went and had a look in my bedroom since I slept on the floor back then. Not a single fucking ant. So no ants where the food is kept, no ants where I ate the food, but a whole fucking line of ants trying to get at this one fucking chip in the god damn shitter.

Still don't know why the hell they were there of all places.

Maxine Fields:
Why did I decide to be a Veterinarian? Ants. I know, why a vet and not an entomologist? Well I like working with animals, and maybe when you hear the story you'll understand it a bit better.

Back right before I left for college I was in the bathroom one day and happened to look down. There was a whole line of ants, single file, marching very purposefully around the floor mat towards a single point. You see, I was living with siblings who had young children of their own and one of them had left the edge of a cheese chip in the bathroom. It was swarmed with ants, almost looked black from all the ants on it.

Of course, I immediately questioned why they had come to the bathroom in search of this food. You see, I was quite certain from earlier observations that there weren't any ants in the kitchen, and I slept on the floor in my room so I would have known if any were there. So if the major food and garbage sources were left untouched, why here? Of course I began formulating all sorts of theories: maybe their nest was under the room, or they were simply passing through one of the other bedrooms. But the important part is that I asked why.

Over the next few weeks I kept noticing animals doing things and kept asking myself "why?" Eventually that thirst for knowledge dragged me through vet med school. By the second day of hands on I knew I wanted to deal with animals in a useful way. The rest was history.

Maxine Fields (Post Transformation):
I'm not so human anymore. I know it, I know a human wouldn't do what I've done. They wouldn't eat- they just wouldn't.

But I'm still holding on a little, can't quite cut that last tie. Strange it isn't something human, something emotional, that keeps me this side of humanity. It's ants, or rather a memory of ants. Of watching them walk across a bathroom floor and do something trivial, eat at a chip I think, and yet made me ask so much.

My rationality, I guess, that's what keeps me tied down. Maybe we are just rational beings, maybe that is what makes us different. Then again, I'm writing this on tissue paper for fucks sake. I don't know how much longer I'm going to live, two more died last week... at least that is the public information, who knows if it's the real number.

We're such fucking ants, but so are they. I just hope we're in the kitchen here and not dying for the chip.

Jean Gerdie:
Hmm, you're interested in the painting of the ants. Well, what does it mean to you? I see.

Well you're asking the wrong person. Yes, of course I painted it. Doesn't mean I know why they were in the bathroom. Well it's more of a memory than a real creation.

Of course ants can move through bathrooms like that, I saw it. Yes bathrooms. No, they weren't. Well, I don't really care if it's all that logical to you, it's what I saw.

Well I'm pretty sure they weren't under my bed. Because I slept on the floor, that's why, still do in fact. Yes there were black ants where I grew up. Well your source is wrong. I know what I freaking saw asshole.

You know what, get out. Get the fuck out of my studio!

Games can't grow up.

I'm rather with Yahtzee Croshaw's assessment from the Psychonauts review. But I kind of feel the need to take it one step further.

The games industry cannot grow up, since it's customers still have not grown up. I'm not talking about age, I'm talking about being mature and less self centered. I'm sure that quite a few people finding this off GAX or through CoW are quite mature, but those of you who are take a step back and ask yourself if you really are the norm...

How is the games industry supposed to find the room to breathe life into new genres when the self entitled twats their selling too seem to spend all day screaming about useless things. If you have to choose between making people whine with a free system that generally works no matter how many users, or roll the dice on just how many people you need to serve and invest millions in something that will almost certainly fail, the choice is kind of obvious and you would make it too. If it's a matter of nerf a class or watch your game slowly decay from perceptual imbalance you do it. If you can't sell a game for so much as peanuts unless you've spent $20mi in graphics, but don't see any monetary reward for spending more than a pittance on writing, you invest in graphics and tell the writers to bugger off.

There really are a few companies out there that really are trying to do their best by you. Kind of like politicians though, a lot of them apparently don't lie their asses off enough to actually get people to pay them exorbitant amounts for shit and chips.

I'm not saying don't criticise companies. Everyone has the right to criticise and be criticised. However the purpose of criticism is such that people can do things BETTER than they did before. It's not valid to criticsise people for not doing the impossible.


Casualties of War

Credit goes to Ysharros for putting it together.

Isn't it great though?

One Night

The little girl looked at the dark figure, but she couldn't bring herself too. Her focus rested on the piece's of the sheriff that were within view. Years of medical school screamed in her mind that she was going into shock, that she needed to get moving. It was the little girl that brought her back to reality, when she ran up to the dark figure happily screaming, "Daddy!"

She took a step forward only to be propelled backwards by a black tendril slicing through her upper left arm. She finally looked up into it's face... and screamed.

It was a few moments of unbreathing terror while the dark hotel room came into focus. The walls around her were torn up and a burning pain suffused her whole left arm and right hand. Feelings of sliding skin and something hard crawled down her arm and through her hands, before the pain finally subsided.

She worked in silence packing up her few belongings, trying not to look at the destruction she caused in her sleep. For fifteen minutes she worked in silence, feeling stifled and claustrophobic, before finally opening the window and taking a deep breathe of the outside air.

First was the cold tang of the fall air, the sweetness of maple sap carried in it. Then something subtle caught her, something warm and sticky. A second later fire spread through her brain and body, all her muscles screamed to move towards it and the terrible sliding of her skin transforming returned extending to almost her entire body. She leapt out the window, propelled both physically and mentally.

Through the winding streets of the city she ran and jumped. Easily gliding over obstacles and racing over the narrow streets. As she got closer to the smell, the burning grew more and more intense, and more concentrated. The shops and apartment buildings gave way to warehouses, to empty spaces, to dilapidation. Through a broken window, into a near barren warehouse where some tarps and blankets were gathered into a rumpled pile.

A black figure shifted on top of the cloth, the pale, feminine, perfectly human, face starred at her unblinking for a few seconds. Another dark figure broke from the shadows at an entrance across the warehouse. Spines formed on her back and raised up into the air, the rival across the way returned the gesture. The two closed on each other, somewhere deep within her mind she wondered what this woman had been like before. They stopped to circle each other and size each other up, their spines were near the same size, their physiques similar, neither presenting a clear advantage.

Finally the rival moved in for the attack, swiping at her with whip like claws. She dodged most of them, but felt one scrape across her left side. Claws of her own formed and she struck with greater accuracy, ripping open a thigh. The rival charged in, trying to grapple her, but she hung back chipping away at their shoulders. When finally their momentum had curbed, she charged in shoulder first throwing her across the room and puncturing her chest with one of the spines.

A guttural roar welled up inside her, the spines on her back seeming to extend even further than they had before. The one time rival growled back, but retreated none the less, the superior candidate having already been proven. It wasn't until she was sure they were alone that she approached the pitch black female who had drawn her there in the first place.

* * *

Jen stood over the body of the creature they had taken down at the hospital. It's dead tissue would be useless to her studies, but the anatomy of the creature was more than enough to keep her busy for now. Extracting a few segments of what appeared to be black cartilage from the claws had already given them a clue as to their weapons.

The wounds on the creature were numerous, but that hadn't seemed to stop it in life. Bullet wounds had healed on the spot and even lost limbs were replaced almost instantly. One shot had to have killed it, but with all the extraneous damage, it was hard to tell which one.

With a sigh, she picked up a stack of red rods and began mapping the bullet holes.

Layout rework

Let me know if the layout is a bit easier to follow now.


I've been busy

But it still isn't to a working state just yet.

SW Wiki:Program.cs

I'll leave it to your imagination, and the tags, as to what that code is supposed to be.


Some Recent Painting

And in teeny tiny eyestrain-o vision for an avatar.

Defying Age

I was listening to a brilliant TED talk earlier today, Why We Age and How We Can Avoid It, by Aubrey de Grey. In it he discusses the possibilities for how we may manage to overcome age in the future, and possibly even live forever. I recommend you go watch it, but the talk itself isn't really what I want to discuss, but rather what I'm seeing a lot of in the comments.

Let me preface this a little; I don't believe in a god, gods, godlike beings, deity, or anything of the sort. I believe that everything physical can be described by physical science though our current understanding may be incomplete, and that the watchmaker analogy is deeply and fundamentally flawed. It is flawed because it predicates a fundamental set of physical rules and relations, a natural law that is simply on a "divine" layer, which begs the question who designed the layer upon which the designer resides. Even if you could answer that question it would destroy the fundamental concept of most godly theologies because it would imply an infinite chain of gods... including at least one in our layer of natural law. Note though that I don't ascribe to the title atheist. I am simply of the opinion that 99% of religions literally MUST be wrong due to their contradictory nature, and since I can know nothing either way, there is no point at all in worrying about it. (There will be plenty of time to consider god after death, assuming I don't simply stop existing.)

Now that I have that out of the way, lets get to the meat and potatoes of the aging discussions. First and foremost, death is not a primary product of evolution. We were not evolved specifically to die, we simply had no reason to biologically evolve not to once we had a long enough life to reproduce. If we assume that our body will only die of age related complications in the 80-120 year range of life, then for most of our race's collective lifespan we haven't even pushed the edge of what evolution allotted us.

But the evolution discussion brings up another fundamental cross thought. Some make the argument that we should be evolving into optimal beings not staying stagnant at our current place. Natural selection has three requirements however, diversity, selection and replication, which means humans are no longer under it's biological sway. Yes, we are diverse, yes we replicate, however we are no longer biologically selective outside of a very small cross section. At least in the developed world, more people live than die, and almost all diversity can be accepted along side the current mutations. Even the small portion of our population that could have been below the line for possible replication is being pulled up through the medicinal curing of otherwise fatal or sterilizing complications.

It may not be true for the entire world just yet, but we are only moving towards non-selection, not away from it. The reason why is because we have already been gifted with evolutions greatest gift, sentient intelligence. Our intelligence has allowed us to move away from biological limitations and through ideas and tools continue to evolve without hardly any reference to biology. Biology has already created the "optimal" species, a species that can optimize itself, and with good ideas we don't have to wait a hundred thousand generations. If we really are a few decades out from the first steps in increased longevity, then we would have to be very poorly evolved indeed to ignore it.

Secondly, I don't care if you think there is an afterlife and you assume that anyone who doesn't must live in abject fear of death. It's your burden to bear in life that you are such a presumptuous twat. Let me put it quite clearly, I do not fear death just like I don't fear getting the flu. However, if you asked me which I would rather do, have the flu or be healthy, I'd rather be healthy, if you asked me whether I would rather live or die, I would rather live. Why? Because I can do more things that I care about alive than I can dead.

Along the whole afterlife lines, it's great if you're looking forward to dieing and going on that wondrous journey. I'm not. I really would rather live for as long as I possibly can in a healthy state, and if that means forever... great. You can opt out, that's fine, you are allowed to have that choice, if however your not liking the idea of living forever means I can't you can rightly fuck off.

I'm not going to mince words here, I've been suicidal for years and at the end of the day I've never thought of taking anyone else with me. If you feel the need to die at some point of old age, great, but return my favor and don't try and take everyone who wants this stuff with you. Who knows, maybe even you won't want to die right away when you actually have the option.

Finally, the sociological issue. I rather thought that a whole lot of what a bunch of very smart people were plying themselves to was to fix the sociology gaps by raising everyone's standards. If you think that doing that is impossible... you are welcome to your opinion. The rest of us would like to have this option even if it is terribly expensive and hard to get at first. Those are hurdles we can deal with, who knows, maybe you'll get loans to pay for it and your credit score really will be a life or death matter. Still I'm sure we'll have lots of scientists working to make it cheaper and plenty of pressure to make it more available to charity organizations. Also, just because we aren't solving all the worlds problem's today doesn't mean it'll be impossible to in the future, have some hope in your fellow man.

Oh... one last thought on the comments. If the concept is to repair a large amount of the damage aging has done to your cells before they become a pathology, then you won't have to wait 50 years to get reliable test results. In fact it should be as simple as comparing the cells before and after treatment, and maybe a couple years of observation to ensure that the cells are sustaining damage at the same rate as before the therapy.

My personal note on the talk, even if he is being optimistic on the time frame, I am still young enough to probably be in the group to benefit from this research. Kind of makes me wish I had money to help fund it.


Some Sprites

Fond memories of Star General got me motivated to work on some artwork... who knows it may become part of a game sometime in the future.


Star General

The game that started it all for me. No it wasn't my first game, Xargon holds that honor, nor was it the first to really hook me, Jill of the Jungle. Star General was the game that made me sit there and say to myself, "I want to make games!"

Star General was an iteration on SSI's Panzer General series, though I didn't know that at the time. It was hex based space and ground warfare, you would have to move in and wipe out an enemies fleet, then bring in troop transports to conquer the land. It could be pretty punishingly tough at times, but the primary gameplay was always pretty simple. The game drew me in with how the races not only looked different but played different, despite sharing the same basic units across multiple races.

Most of all, just seeing the game in my cd case is enough to bring a smile to my face. A big thanks to allt he great folks at SSI for bothering to make the Panzer General Series.


Design Thoughts

I've tried to sit down and blog about the deeper issues I've seen in game design a fair few times now. Unfortunately, it tends to wind up being a fair bit more difficult than I first anticipate. You see, a game design isn't words or concepts in my mind, it's a motion or a sound.

How do you explain to someone that their problem is that the world isn't evoking enough movement? That their not stepping right or left, but instead sort of shakily swaying from one side to the other. Could you possibly tell them that their idea of progress is flawed because you can't feel the beat or hear the bass in it?

What if their story was good, but too rigid, it didn't bend and sway with the rythme of their design. The main characters don't tango and the enemies don't jive. Or their final boss lacks the heart of a crescendo and carries all the built up tension of a Yankee Doodle Dandee performance.

Sometimes the way the characters move is fundamentally at odds with the design's accomponyment, creating this feeling of watching a slow waltz to swing music. But even more important than the animations, do the characters progress through fights at the right timing? Is a small encounter a couple beats or another note drawn out too long until the voice of the game begins to crack?

Maybe it will get easier some day, when I have a proper taxonomy for what I'm trying to say.


Digital Campfire Episode 0

I've started work on a storytelling podcast. This is episode 0, I'm mostly just working out the format for myself and learning how to edit it all together.

Digital Campfire
Episode 0
(Download MP3)

The Tale of Young Sarii
Original Work by Sara Pickell

Intro and Background Music:
Silent Hill2 Static Aversion OC Remix
by : Children of the Monkey Machine with Steve Pordon

Closing Music:
Bring The Night On
By: Eve 6


Super People Part 2

She dodged a left hook and kicked hard into the left calf. Her target didn't flinch, simply put a palm into her sternum propelling her across the square. A pair of wooden crates broke beneath her, absorbing some of the shock and pressing a thousand splinters into her back and arms.

Watchword simply stood across the square from her, waiting for her to get up. "Do you remember the first time we met, Shandra? Feels like yesterday to me." The former superhero unzipped her motorcycle jacket, letting it slide off to reveal the dark blue tank top underneath.

"I remember being tired, beaten, and praying my ass off for someone with real strength to save me. I thought you were an angel when you showed up. Hell, I thought you were good. Looks like I was wrong." Shandra stood slowly, dusting herself off.

Shandra tried to punch before the blur actually reached her, but the former superhero was simply too fast. Before she could blink she had been pushed into the wall, her breathe knocked out and her limbs trapped in the stronger woman's hold.

"I can't live like this anymore, Shandra." The whisper in her ear seemed like thunder. "They're ready now, they need you now..."

"Who's ready, who needs me? What are you talking about?"

"The world, Shandra. People need a hero, need someone to lead them. I couldn't do that, Shandra, couldn't make them better, couldn't make them strong..."

"That's why you're doing this? Christ Jane, how many people have you killed for this? How could you...?"

"It's nothing compared to what's coming. I can smell it, Shandra, just out of reach, something terrible is coming. It may already be here. It's not something I can save you from. You need more than me, more than just superpowers."

"Why are you telling me this?" Shandra felt the handle of a knife shoved into her hand. She swallowed hard, "you can't be serious."

"I can't stand this Shandra, it needs to end. I... not you. Anyone else, and I'd have done it already. It's amazing how easy even the toughest necks snap... but not yours. My hands won't even move."

She was blinded by tears as she brought the knife up. There wasn't any need to swing blindly, the slightest brush of lips on her neck made finding the unguarded neck all too easy. A hard push to get past the inhumanly strong skin and it was over, though neither moved for a long time.

* * *


A small group of people sat around an old TV set. Though each had their quirks, none would stand out on any city street in the world. One seated on the far left said aloud, "you know, I kind of wanted to be the one to kill her."

"Doesn't matter. Everything is already in place, as soon as Timer returns we move."

"Can't wait," the first speaker replies.


Wax that wane may be.

'Ere we left this wretched land, naught but the vile retained it's use.
Thought I then that I knew of villainy and wretched works.
Thought I then that what had crossed mine eyes was terrible.

Today I stand on once hallowed ground, torn in works most foul.
An affront to what existence means and all that makes life good,
was done in secrecy in this one time land of good and plenty.
There I weep for what that once was, all that was beauty and grace.
Twisted there, in terrible malice, lay what is and all it's black kind.
Took I there the weapon that I had once before claimed,
and thus reclaimed that which once was of my own flesh's claim.

On the morrow march we, those who stand of truth as was.
For this land doth mark our souls with sorrow;
such sorrow that seldom do we now sleep with grace in dreams.
Our mission as apparent be, to cleanse this world of such wretch things.
For this shall our daughters be taught to see,
the way that would lead unto such vileness and villainy.


Do games have to be fun?

I intended to make this a longer, more thoughtful post, but the title seems to say it all.

Do games have to be fun? Do they have to be an enjoyable experience? And to a lesser extent, are we forever resigned to being multimedia's vaudeville?


Horizontal vs. Vertical Game Design

When it comes to game design, we've seen a few interesting aberrations over the years. Especially since the rise of the computer, though many of the more recent oddities predate computers. One of these aberrations is the vertical game design.

In a vertical game design, the core concept is one of linear, upwards growth within the game. In the majority of cases, this growth is conceptualized through the growth of an in-game avatar. As a player plays the game, the goal is to increase themselves to better reach a goal or challenge. Probably the leading characteristic is the significant change in power as a character plays the game, making serious competition between players at different "heights" virtually impossible.

In contrast we have a much older tradition, that of horizontal games. You could probably site Chess as an excellent example of this. The basic idea being that all players are theoretically even on the board, it is the decisions they make and the tools they choose that differentiate them.

So which is the better system? I could beg off responsibility and say there isn't, but that would be unprofessional. The simple fact is that despite their having different strengths, horizontal design is, in my opinion, simply better design. With proper implementation, a horizontal design can be flexible and reactive, light on it's feet, and allows you to focus your time on the game's design, rather than on the content's design.

While the current standing argument is that vertical is more appealing to the masses, I don't particularly subscribe to that. Our teeming masses are still people that play poker, and the occasional game of monopoly or trivial pursuit. What each of those games has in common is that they are all horizontal. Each was designed to be accessible and fun, simply succeeding at those two points will do more towards collecting the masses than making it vertical ever will.

After all, if vertical game play were really that great in and of itself we wouldn't be swimming in an ocean of dead mmos, would we?

Do we really have to choose one or the other though? Personally I rather like what I call pyramidal designs. Designs in which players can either expand their options or power up. Some things that I would consider key to this are, first do not invert the pyramid the bottom should have more options than the top not the other way around, and second, get used to working with graphs, most of your design decisions are going to have to be made in a way more similar to plotting along a graph than feeling it out.

Personal notes aside, as game designers we need to focus on the strength of a core design. Horizontal design lives or dies by how well you design the core system, but because of that it is infintely extensible and scalable. Vertical design has built in hard limits that require your content designers to be the people responsible for making or breaking your game. I don't know about anyone else, but personally I don't feel very comfortable with that.

- Insired by
Tobolds MMO Blog - Horizontal Expansions to Vertical Games
Serial Ganker - Horizontal Expansions
Blogerati - Theorycraft: Horizontal Is Cooler Than Vertical