I wonder if Ubisoft ever thinks about bringing the SSI brand out of retirement.


Homework for people who own Risk

I don't know how many eyes are going to see this, but I've gotten used to never getting any good feedback from play testers. Rather than try and tempt fate and work to get a bunch of people all signed up to test, this time I'm just going throw it out there and ask that somebody please send me back their results at some point.

I'm only testing a particular addition to the game Risk this time, to see if I've accomplished a particular design goal.

Click for full size.

Examine your current Risk board, and make certain it matches the board above in all critical ways. If it differs in how countries connect, or how they're named, take careful note of that. Preferably, use Gimp or Photoshop to go in and change those details for yourself.

Preferably before you actually meet to play, make sure every player has a copy of the board you are working from, and these rules:
Using your preferred method, dole out the starting territory before anything else.
Players will plan out actions to happen at the beginning of their turn while playing the first 15 turns of the game.
There is a maximum of 1 action per turn.
Players are afforded [50/(no. of players) rounded up] units to place according to plan, while a maximum of 3 can be placed per turn.
5 players = 10
4 players = 13
3 players = 17
2 players = 25
Units that are placed on enemy territory automatically invade, while units placed on friendly territory simply reinforce.
Any Territory conquered in this method gives a the player a card towards a second pool of cards. This is considered entirely separate from the usual card, and the successful planned invasion does not count towards their being able to draw a card for their regular pool that turn. The second pool of cards can only be used as part of the pre-written plan.
Actions that can be planned in advance are, the placement of troops, movement of 3 troops one territory, turning in your second pool of cards.
If you do not own territory your trying to move troops to, it becomes an attack. If you do not have the troops there to move, it fails.
If you do not have the cards in the secondary pool to make a set, the action fails.
If you have already lost the game, your plans are considered void from that point forwards.

The Game Crafter

Raph Koster just linked to a service called The Game Crafter which seems to still be in beta in some form. I've made an account on there, and fully plan to release a few games on there. That will be at some point in the future though, after I've finished work on a prototype.


Feeling Good Today

For some reason, I'm in a bright and sun shiny mood. The car is "working as intended" more or less, and pretty soon I'll once again be able to do stuff out in our kitchen area without feeling like an invader. So all of this good will has spilled over onto my thoughts on Blizzard, and I thought I'd say something somewhat hopeful about their next MMO.

My hope is, it'll be the Starcraft to WoW's Warcraft 1/2. However, don't misunderstand, I'm not saying I hope it's a Starcraft MMO. Rather, that it will be the strong variation in principles that a team is willing to stick to, as Starcraft was.

For those who never got a chance to play Warcraft 1, the two sides were rather disgustingly similar. The core game play was still tons of fun, don't get me wrong, but many times it felt like you were playing a recolor army with a whopping 3 different units from your opponent. Warcraft 2 wasn't quite so bad, but the storyline campaign wound up being literally interchangeable between the races. In the end, it often seemed like the core underlying lesson from game play and story is "we're not so different after all!"

Starcraft was different. It had three races, for starters, and even more each of them was fundamentally different from the ground up. The zerg were so iconic in their role of massed units who are individually worthless, it's even bled over into a more common gaming vernacular and isn't uncommon to be heard used by people who probably don't even know what Starcraft is. The Terrans were masters of bread and butter units and tactics, with the siege tanks and nukes to keep them in a sort of "heavy artillery" role. And of course the Protoss with expensive warriors that are pound for pound better than their counterparts, and the only race to have shields giving them a huge boost to defenses.

I'm not going to say this was completely new at the time, I'm pretty sure other people had been using three armies with balancing traits before. However, within their own games, it was a total shift away from Warcraft. The Zerg were not misunderstood, the rise of a formerly human leader didn't calm them into noble savages. Zerg just spread, it was what they did, and it was certain death to anything in their way. The Protoss aren't humans by another name, they have a totally different history, culture and technology. Their war with the zerg however left them ready to go to any length, including purging entire worlds that they considered too far gone. And the Humans are almost always magnificent bastards, but still a diverse bunch with a metric ton of internal division and quarreling.

And when they released their expansion... they kept within the correct feel of each faction while expanding tactical options. The Lurkers provided, somewhat ironically, anti zerg defense to the zerg as well as a mobile defense strategy that formerly would have been exceedingly difficult. The Toss gained access to units that had formerly only been available in storyline, invisible super attackers with paper thin armor that melded together to form a mind controlling sorcerer type. Both fit within the flavor quite well, and each added it's own unique spin on general combat situations. The medic increased the defense of a standard marine squad, while allowing them to stim more often, making them significantly stronger attackers, but also providing an Achilles' heal to the formation and still keeping them rather weak against concentrated damage.

From here it isn't too hard to extrapolate how this could be related in MMO form. Mostly it just means that there needs to be no overlapping classes between races, and each race's classes need to be internally consistent. I was thinking of inelegantly demonstrating a possibility using WoW's classes, but after lining them all up separately they still made more or less equivalent groups.

So let's consider something along these lines:
Race A:
Heavy defense warriors
Not much healing, mostly self heals
Good buffs

Race B:
DPS heavy, but almost entirely made of paper
A HoT based healing class, who is also made of paper
Locational buffs

Race C:
Burst damage heavy, mostly ranged types
A standard healer with some medium armoring
Strong debuffs

I'm not saying this would be a perfect MMO, or my perfect MMO. I just think it would be really nice to see Blizzard do something along those lines again. Also, I think it would be a lot of fun to get back into a PvP system where the combatants were honest to god different from each other. Tactics would need to be worked out on the fly based on who you're fighting. The emphasis would also return largely to tactics, as certain races would be completely decimated if they tried to zerg, while others are probably just going to get picked off one by one if they don't work together.

Still Looking

I'm still on the lookout for a C# coder willing to partner up with me. My primary emphasis being that they be fast.

If you're interested, or know someone who might be, please let me know. Either in a comment here, or at my gmail account, sara.pickell


Interest in Aion


Venting Off Some Steam

I'm so fucking tired of having to teach myself design tools. Earlier tonight I felt like getting some hands on experience with fps level design, since I don't have HL2:EP1, I can't use Hammer, so I reinstalled Unreal Tournament 2K4, spent some time re-aquainting myself with the game's style pace and weapons, then opened UnrealEd. Holy fucking shit people, can you make a program any more intimidating on first opening. What happened to the days of Starcraft map editor where if you just wanted to build something incredibly fucking basic it didn't take a degree in nuclear fucking physics.

Okay so I'm clicking in the workspace and it's just moving the viewport around, grand. I manage to make something... fuck all idea what, but supposedly some sort of terrain object. Well gee, camera tool makes things pan, lets try the vertex editing tool, that way I can grab vertices and drag them around... and queue several minutes of me dragging the camera around to no effect on the fucking object. Greaaaat. So online I go. Atari's forums have an entire section set aside for 2003/4 editing, awesome. Stickies, even more awesome. Every tutorial being a broken link, not awesome.

And I wouldn't fucking care if it wasn't the same damn shit every fucking time. "Hey everybody we have this great new engine," well awesome, I'll check it out and suffer from your incomplete wiki and nonsensical tutorials and shitty code commenting. Fucking awesome. Hey want to move a sprite forward at a speed of .00025 milimeters a second? Well then now's your chance to take a refresher course in trigonometry! Don't have seventeen years of C++ under your belt? That's okay, every scripting on language on Earth throws all those conventions painfully ingrained into your consciousness to the wind and feels just fine making you learn an entirely new syntax to do all the exact same shit.

Better hope you learn well from reading shit on forums, and like asking questions of random forum strangers. Maybe if you're really lucky you'll get to catch them on IRC and deal with them pontificating their opinions on the merit of your present goal without any fucking clue what the hell it is you're trying to make.

*sigh* I'm just tired right now. Physically tired, and tired of fighting the same fucking battle all the time. I'm sure if I just spent more time with any particular sets of tools it'd eventually become as easy to use as Maya is for me now. But god damn, every time I want to start on something it's some new fucking two year project just to get to the point where the fucking tools are usable.

And the Aurora toolkit, which I was finally starting to get, crashes every god damn time as of last patch and they are NEVER going to fix it.


Just linking to a good piece of music.

333 posts, half way to hell

So according to Blogger this should be post number 333. Although somewhat auspicious all on it's own, it's not really what I'm here to write about today.

I've mentioned before that I felt a similarity between game design and music. At the time I didn't really have the words or the experience to describe what I meant exactly. I think I may have gotten a little more under my belt now to be able to define it more clearly.

The first thing I'd recommend is that you find and acquire, my preferred method for such is iTunes, Moonlight Sonata, by Ludwig van Beethoven, Nocturne No.2 in E flat, Opus 9, No. 2, by Frederic Chopin, and Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy. Since I've managed to stumble across all of these, I doubt they're too far down the classical music rabbit hole. Now just listen to each of them, but turn the volume up fairly high, you want it to be comfortable to listen to, but also to be able to hear more than the melody. What you'll probably notice is that there is a subtext to the music, most notably in Chopin's work. For the other two, this subtext is the play of the resonance of the notes, how long you can continue to hear a particular note's influence on the sound.

So here we have subtext, but there is also speed. Depending on performance in the Moonlight Sonata certain notes will be rushed through while another just on it's heels will be drawn out for some time. But each variance in speed creates a different feel to the note, where the same sound let to draw on might be poignant, moving quickly it can be a foundation for a longer phrase that is collectively more effective.

One of the best things about listening to piano music at a higher volume, though, is that you can hear the soul of the instrument. The vibration of the hammers striking the chords and filling the area with a sound that you can feel in your chest. Even if you can't feel it yourself, you can just hear, even through the recording, that it felt like that in the room as they were playing.

And I choose these songs because they are not merely good, they are great. Each one is a communication of the soul of the player into the world. A sort of indescribable truth made for a short while into an almost tangible reality by the composers writing and the performers drive and talents. My concern for games right now is that we have so few who even seek to be great. In MMOs in particular the rallying cry is some sort of need to be a greater commercial success than WoW, and my primary contention is that such success isn't even a worthy goal, and more likely than not self defeating. To be perfectly honest, I have yet to see a major studio aspire to greatness, indeed most of them seem to aim consciously for some level of "just good".

A game designer has the ability to create the sort of powerful performance that catches us so tightly in music. And we see an occasional glimpse of that in games like Iji, Shadow of the Colossus, or Facade, but compared to the power of Beethoven's music even those don't quite make the mark. Which isn't to say we haven't had any designers that were important, or pretty fucking good, just that I haven't seen any that crossed that unspoken line into the realm of truly great. Most importantly though, it's valuable, in and of itself, that we push ourselves to reach those heights.

But for now I have to go back to my spot in the cheap seats and wonder. Is it really so unfair to not care about the next big thing, but want, or better yet demand, greatness. To rail against the state of affairs not because I think it's bad, but because it could be so much more.


Game Dev Concepts: lvl 3 challenge

The prompt for Game Design Concepts: Level 3's challenge. I took on the hardest, black diamond, difficulty, and this is what I have so far.

Green Circle

The theme must relate to World War I. The primary objective of players cannot be territorial control, or capture/destroy.

Blue Square

You cannot use territorial control or capture/destroy as game dynamics. That is, your game is not allowed to contain the concepts of territory or death in any form.

Black Diamond

As above, and the players may not engage in direct conflict, only indirect.

Wartime Reporting
players are reporters - 2 - 4 recommended
players begin with $10 and no fame points and no informant cards
shuffled Common Informant cards are placed in a face down stack to the right
shuffled Command Informant cards are placed in a face down stack to the left of that
shuffled Front Lines Informant cards are placed in a face down stack to the left of that
the deck of event cards in chronological order is placed above those three stacks on the table
Players cut the deck of Command Informant cards, whoever gets the highest value going first. The deck is reshuffled and play then proceeds clockwise from there.
At the beginning of a turn, a player may choose to invest in an informant
To draw from the Common Informant cards costs $10
To draw from the Command Informant cards costs $50 and requires 5 fame
To draw from the Front Lines Informant cards costs $50 and requires 10 fame
In the middle of your turn, you can choose to write a regular story, gaining 1 fame and $5 per star of your current informants
or you can choose to write an exploitation piece, gaining double the worth of one of your informants, but forcing you to discard them.
Players can then end their turn
A set of turns beginning from the first players turn and ending with the last players turn is called a round.
Starting on the first round, an event card is uncovered at the end of every other round. Players gain two extra fame if they can meet the requirements on the card before another event card is turned up.
Event cards begin with "The Resignation of Bismark" (End a turn with $10 and 1 informant), ending in "All's Quiet on the Western Front" (Have at least six Front Lines Informants, or over 80 fame)
Play ends when all event cards have left play.
The winner is the player with the most fame at the end.

20 Common Informant cards - 14 1-star, 6 2-star
18 Command Informant cards - 8 3-star, 5 4-star, 3 5-star, 2 6-star
18 Front Lines Informant cards - 6 3-star, 6 4-star, 4 5-star, 2 6-star
Event Cards (rough)
Resignation of Bismark, The
Germany Breaks Alliance with Russia, Establishes Alliance with Austria
Archduke Franz Ferdinand Assassinated
Austria Declares War on Serbia, Russian Troops Mobilize
German Troops Roll into Belgium
British Expeditionary Force Arrives
The Miracle of the Marne
(Space reserved for several events from Asia)
The Sinking of the Lusitania
The Arab Revolt
Bolshevik's Success Closes Eastern Front
United State's Declares War on Germany
Paris Under Fire
Summer Counter Offensive
Peace Declared
All's Quiet on the Western Front


Tentative Definition

I'm tentatively placing this out for criticism as a definition of "game".

Game - A game is when you place yourself in conflict with an opponent, real or conceptual, within a system of rules.

Game - A game is when you place yourself in conflict with an opponent, real or systemic, within a guiding system of rules.

Donations Are Now Welcome

I've added a gadget off to the side for a Paypal donation button. I'm not exactly expecting anything to come of it, and by all means ignore it if you feel like it. Also know that I don't have any particular use in mind for the money, there's a bunch of various things it can go towards, from food to equipment to freelance work, all depending on just how much exactly winds up coming in.

My only thought is, if you like my design ideas, and want to see some progress moving forwards on them, go ahead and donate. There are options that come with my actually having money that are just nowhere near the table at the moment, and I'm much more motivated to allocate my time into things that consistently bring in some cash over those that aren't.

As I've already said, I don't expect this to bring in much of anything, but hey, couldn't hurt to ask I think.


Of Memories

It's overcast with angry gray storm clouds as the casket is lowered into the ground. A handful of mourners stand around the open grave, though nobody is crying. Two women stand out from the other mourners, closer to the grave than the rest, though on opposite sides of it. The woman on the side away from the rest of the crowd is a blond transsexual in a black three piece suit, while on the side towards the crowd is a slight woman with black hair wearing a long black dress. Each keeps their eyes glued to the coffin.

It's four years ago and three women, the two beside the grave and one more, sit in a coffee shop having a boisterous discussion. And in the present the dirt is being shoveled onto the coffin. Three years ago and the transsexual and the black haired woman are showing the third woman their rings. They finally look at each other over the grave, a hard look, unreadable from the outside. Two years ago, the bottle of Vodka on the table remains half empty.

They walk to the waiting cars, passing a line of protesters waving signs with slogans about not playing god and the sanctity of life. The transsexual stops and stares at the crowd. The closest ones start shouting epithets at her but she calmly continues her appraisal. Finally she says, "I'll see you later," and finishes her trek to the waiting car. She gets in, sitting beside the woman with black hair.

"You seem to be doing well." The transsexual states. It's three years ago and the two are lying on the couch under a blanket as the reflection of a movie plays in the window behind them. "Thanks. I hear you've been keeping busy." It's four years ago, the transsexual is smashing a man's face into the pavement. "Well every time I think of taking a break, I get another reason not to." Four years ago a newspaper slides off the table, headline reading 'Gay Teen Slain', while the transsexual loads a gun. "Maybe you should take a break anyways, it can't be healthy working so hard." Two years ago and the black haired woman is cowering in a corner with the beginnings of a black eye, while the transsexual towers over her holding the half empty bottle of vodka.

"I would have thought you'd have been with her family. Since you two were together." Three years ago, the two are making out on the couch, a giddy excitement in their faces. "It was never like that." Two years ago, a shadow frames itself in the doorway as the black haired woman looks up in horror from the bed she's sharing with the woman from the coffee shop. "What a shame, you two were perfect for each other."

"You aren't going to..." the black haired woman begins. "Of course I am. I don't let personal feelings interfere with my work," the transsexual states. "I still don't understand why," the black haired woman says staring at the reflection of the inside of the car in the window. "Because it needs to be done, it's as simple as that."

It's later that night and a protester is putting away their sign in the closet. Behind them they hear a soft click, they turn around to see the transsexual sitting in a chair facing them, gun pointed squarely at their chest. "Who are you?" he asks, looking around in desperation for some way out. "The ghost of Christmas past. Although I'm sure you have many ghosts in your past." Six years ago the man is swinging a shovel at a young boy. "But more recent events are what bring me here. There was a funeral today, I saw you there. Deep as you are down your movements rabbit hole, I was thinking you'd know some of the people who were responsible for it." A few days ago, and some men are boasting about finding the location of a scientist from the virtual life project. The boasts of what they'd do to her grow more and more violent and graphic, then one suggests they go right then. The whole group moves towards the door. "Thanks, I thought you'd be a big help." She says. "But I didn't say anything," he whimpers. "You didn't have to."

"Are you going to kill me?" he asks. Six years ago he's crying over the broken face of the young boy, filled with horror and disgust for himself. "Yes. Does that frighten you?" she says impassively. "Yes!" he cries. "Good." She pulls the trigger. As she walks out of the building she can't shake the feeling of unease that's been holding onto her since the funeral. The weight still hasn't been balanced, a sin still hasn't been washed clean. Maybe she should buy more bullets on her way home.

Elsewhere the black haired woman is sitting in the private study of her former friend. Papers and print-outs spread across the floor, next to a pile of journals. The mess before her remains indecipherable. Slowly the papers begin to shift, logical order asserting itself on them under her concentration. Her eyes skim the pages, finding keywords and concepts, internalizing and reviewing them. And then her concentration breaks.

Three years ago she sits in the study, watching the mousy scientist go about her work. A paper begins to inch it's way across the table towards her. "Stop that," the scientist chides, grabbing the paper and replacing it in it's former position. "Sorry, I can't help it sometimes." Figures and diagrams paper the walls, research journals and academic journals litter the ground at odd intervals, as though only ever moved when someone needed to actually cross the floor. "You know, not to be too down on you, but have you ever thought they might be right?"

"Who?" the scientist replied without looking up from her computer. "The people who want you to stop, who say scientists aren't meant to play god." The scientist stopped typing but still remained glued to the screen, "and what do you think?" The black haired woman sighed, "I don't know. Making life seems like a good pursuit, but what about the ethics of it, are we sure we're all ready for that?" The scientist turns around in her chair to face the black haired woman, "ready or not, we're here. We've built all of this, society, government, ethics, to advance our own cause, to make ourselves happy. Now we finally have the chance to take part in true altruism, to create life outside ourselves. Who's to say that life should live by our morals or ethics, and is it our role to decide whether or not it gets a chance to live based off only our own flawed wish for 'what's best'."

And her mind refocuses, a particular diagram hanging in the air before her. The heavily altered hard drive schematic makes references to a variety of terms she's only recently seen and barely understands. It's function is entirely opaque to her, but down in the bottom right corner a single word stands out, 'baby'.

In the predawn hours the black haired woman sleeps, the papers around her scattered yet still vaguely neat. The transsexual stands over her, simply watching her breath. Three years ago she sits off to one side, asking her opinion on some domestic matter. The lines of text on one of the monitors caught her eye, a single character repeated over and over again. "What's that?" She asks pointing at the monitor. "An unexpected mutation, it was supposed to be the first to experience sensory input, but it's failed." The scientist's tone is matter of fact. "Well, what's wrong with it?" she asks. "It can only interpret the input as pain."

Her stomach dropped for a moment and she recoiled. "Isn't that torture?" she asks almost breathlessly. "I suppose you could say that, though I'm planning to put it down once I've discovered the cause of the mutation," the scientist responds in a bored tone. A crash sounds as she slams her fist into the computer connected to it. The scientist looks up, "what are you doing?" "Putting it out of it's misery. Like you should have done a long time ago." The scientist gives her a hard stare then finally hisses, "get out." In the present she examines the study again for the first time in three years. But it's the study of a few days ago she watches.

A trio of men, two of whom she recognizes from the protester's memories, break into the room. She watches as they break the equipment, as they mercilessly beat the scientist as she cries. Despite the almost overwhelming desire to turn away, she even watches as they take turns mounting her and forcing themselves into her most private places. Even as they leave, there is no relief, the tortured woman writhes on the floor, spilling blood over the covers of books and journals. Her mouth shapes words that come out as barely a whisper while she reaches towards some point on her desk.

Vertigo overtakes her as she finds herself in the hospital, standing over the broken body of the woman she'd once considered a friend. The words finally took form there, save my baby. The scene melted back into the study as she stood there, trying to access more, to find some other memory that would give the words meaning. But the rest of the memories were opaque, little more than shadows of symbols that held little meaning to her.



The more I try to write lately, the more problems I have. Usually when I'm writing a design blog post I'm trying to sort of fast forward to a point, or make a particular statement. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that isn't really how my mind works. My mind constantly absorbs and filters information, checking new information against old information, comparing the authority of sources and modifying my understanding of that information to match. All of this is then brought together on a somewhat intuitive level and "hyperlinked" together in my mind where one thought leads to another in a never ending chain of arguments, evidences, and references.

Needless to say, making that all fit within a particular structure, and come out with proper support, especially when it's more the intuitive feel that I have a data connection there rather than a set of professional journals, can kind of suck. Then some connection drags me kicking and screaming away from my subject matter and off into a dizzying ether of thoughts and ideas that I often didn't even know I had. After spending a while lost exploring my own mind, I wind up looking up, realizing that nothing is coming to mind to add to the article and hit submit.

On the other hand, it leads to pretty cool revelations in fields like philosophy. For instance, I don't really like being identified as a nihilist, despite the fact that I don't believe in any purpose in the universe. Yeah, I honestly don't believe that there is any particular cosmic reason for our existence. Of course I also don't like it when people say we are just one big cosmic accident either... I prefer the thought of a cosmic inevitability. Either way though, I don't see any particular purpose assigned to our existence.

This is where I could segue into God, and the various rational fallacies there of. Mostly though, I tend to come to the final conclusion that by most standards I am not allowed to be "better" than god, however by the measure of many religions, I am simply and efficiently a better and smarter person than god. Yes, I just used my own narcissism to disprove god's existence. But after all, if I can love better than a loving god, they are not god, so god hating... anybody, disproves god. If god is angry and temperamental but fundamentally just while creating a world of injustice and providing no recourse for true justice, then god is not god. And if god is angry and fundamentally unjust, then there is no point in worshiping such a god anyways, but at least it's logically consistent enough to merit the tiniest percentage of a chance of being true. Oh and if god is perfectly loving... then we're back at not having a point, only now we're pointlessly existing for a god that loves us.

This could be a very depressing concept, a reasonless existence. I don't find it to be so, because when there is no divine purpose for our existence, our own reasons are all that much more valid. If you find reason in life by making zounds of people happy, more power to you, you aren't wrong and we all like to be around you. If you think your reason in life is to blow up the world, well you aren't wrong, but the rest of the world does strongly protest. Or how about you feel your purpose in life is to invent new life, either through genetics or virtual simulation, then hey, more power to you mate.

It's apparently pointless, but beautiful, on the personal and systemic level. That beauty, though, is a point unto itself. Even the struggle of the creation of those systems and our battles against them and growing pains within them are all part of the inherent beauty of life. And that is why I find MMOs fascinating. Brief windows into the processes and crude frameworks representative of that beauty. Of course, we may move on to representing something else, or choose not to represent anything at all, and that too will be pretty cool, though I personally will probably always have a preference for the crude cave drawings of our own existence.