Archive for category: Project Updates

The (Not So) Final Countdown

17 Mar
March 17, 2015

Countdown

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m busy spicing up the beginning sequence of System Crash, making sure there is an early conflict to motivate the player and drive the gameplay forward.

Making the early game interesting is important for convincing folks that it’s worth buying the demo to see what happens next. 😉

Paying Miriam the Loan Shark her money back before time runs out is the driving factor in the early narrative. But that new plot device, of you needing to pay her back in 30 days, added a complication – namely, that System Crash doesn’t track game time at all.

It would feel fairly limp, slapping the player with a big “You’ve got 30 days, go go go!” narrative and then failing to actually exert any genuine time pressure. We’ve all played games like that, right? The world is in desperate peril! But oh, you want to do 30 or 40 side quests and pick some herbs before tackling the Evil Necromancer? Sure, no problem bro, the Undead Hordes will wait patiently over here…

No, that won’t do. So I thought about adding some sort of actual time tracking mechanic, before remembering that I’ve been working on this game for over 3 years now and fuck that. So instead I (mostly) used the systems that I’ve already built, creating a simple script variable that tracks the countdown toward Miriam’s deadline, and adding a little bit of code to be able to display dynamic script vars in the objective/mission text strings.

And, to keep things simple, I’ve made it that doing a mission, any mission, ticks the counter down by 1 day. Easy to setup in the XML scripting system I’ve built, and viola, genuine time pressure.

(From this point on there will be spoilers for this early section of the game, don’t read if you want to go into System Crash completely fresh.)

But that brought up a different problem. I have intentionally designed System Crash to be fairly ‘casual’. By casual I don’t mean simple, I mean that it’s something you can play casually, here and there. Pick the game up, play for 20 minutes, unlock a new card or two, try a new deck and progress the narrative a few beats.

What I specifically don’t want is for a player to play for a while only to realize that they’ve screwed their campaign progression because of some decision they made 10 missions ago, unknowingly. I want missions to challenge players, but I don’t them to get really stuck. And that includes losing the game because they fail to gather Miriam’s money by the deadline.

So what I’ve done instead is added a little branching. You can fail that objective. In fact, you can simply refuse to pay up, even if you have the money. The game won’t stop. Instead, Miriam sends her goons after you. Wave after wave of them. And, at a certain point in the storyline, you won’t be able to progress in the main plot arc until you deal with them.

But you can deal with them. The fights aren’t very rewarding, in that they don’t drop much in the way of rewards (you may still enjoy the battle, regardless. I don’t want to make them dull). But if you beat enough of your attackers, Miriam eventually decides that this whole endeavor is proving too costly and calls off her dogs. And you can carry on playing the main arc again.

So those are your options. Either pay the money, or beat a number of optional fights. Pay some of your in-game currency, or pay with your time.

You might be asking, at this point, “well, why would I ever pay her, then?”

Well, I’m not going to actually tell you (outside this blog) that you can ignore her threats. So some people will do it just because it seems like it’s the game’s designated path. Or because they want to skip the goon fights and progress the story quicker. And for those who refuse/fail to pay, it might be kinda cool to see that the game responds to that, you don’t just hit a game over screen.

I think it’s kinda cool, personally. If I had the time and resources, I’d flesh out the rest of the campaign with interesting branching choices and long-term consequences. But, as I said, I’ve already sunk a huge amount of time into SC, so I’m holding those ideas in check for expansions/sequels/new games built using these systems. With the core tech built, expansions will focus more on doing interesting things with content and fleshing out the world/characters in System Crash.

Something I’m really looking forward to. 🙂

Screenshot Sunday

15 Mar
March 15, 2015

Oh, that Miriam. What a charmer.

Miriam

Where’s The Conflict?

10 Mar
March 10, 2015

Stories are, at their core, all about conflict.

And by ‘conflict’, I don’t mean just dudes biffing each other. I mean conflict in the more general meaning of the word – Struggle, opposition, friction.

Whether internal to the characters or external, ratcheting conflict is what builds tension in a narrative, pulling the audience along through the story. Building up the pressure until it peaks, then releasing it in a final, (hopefully) satisfying climax.

So a lot like sex, then. And like sex, fumbling the beginning can kill the mood.

This feedback on the SC beta leads me to suspect that the latest version of SC’s storyline is a bit of a failure to launch. Luckily, like sex, writing is a skill that can be practiced, and stories can be refined.

Now, that forum comment is just one person’s opinion, I know. And you can’t necessarily take any single individual’s feedback as objective truth, everyone brings their own subjective tastes to the mix. But this comment rang true, down in my gut. And I’ve learned to trust that feeling, it’s rarely led me wrong.

As Maximillion says, he found it odd because the previous iteration of the story hooked him. Not that strange, if you examine both intros with an eye toward the underlying conflict. Here’s the last beta’s intro:

In the aftermath of The Great Collapse, the world teetered on the verge of chaos.

Starvation and rioting spread across the globe like wildfire, nation-states dissolved into anarchy, and militaries clashed over ever-dwindling resources.

The spectre of global war loomed once again.

Strained to breaking-point and facing populations in open revolt, western governments took desperate measures.

New legislation was passed outsourcing the management and security of entire cities to private corporations.

Though politically controversial, the transfer of city governance into corporate hands was extremely successful.

Armies of privately-funded security contractors re-established control of troubled urban centres, putting down rebellion with ruthless efficiency.

The new corporate enclaves were beacons of stability and prosperity in a world wracked by turmoil, and other nations soon followed suite.

Order was restored, but the balance of power had shifted permanently.

Megacorporations are the new global Superpowers.

There are some who reject the new corporate order.

Operating in the shadows cast by the gleaming towers of glass and steel, they follow their own code, surviving by taking on the dangerous, illegal jobs that the rich and powerful cannot be seen to be involved in.

They call themselves Runners.

I took inspiration from the opening of Blade Runner there, introducing the dystopian futuristic setting in a little text sequence, trying to squeeze the maximum amount of expository and thematic efficiency out of those few lines. If you’re unfamiliar with cyberpunk genre tropes, that was intended to get you up to speed.

But where’s the conflict?

Sure, it suggests some larger themes of conflict in the overall setting. But where is the direct, personal conflict for the player? There isn’t any. Not good, not good. You have to touch your audience in the right places, if you want to get them excited. 😉

(Try not to picture these sexual metaphors, you’ll creep yourself out. Or, perhaps, get yourself excited. You pervert.)

Now, I’m not going to replicate the old intro for comparison, because it was 7 pages long, a lot to read before getting into the game proper. One of the things I’ve had to practice is brevity. But I will share the new intro I’ve been working on, or at least what I have at the moment (it may get a few more edits). It cannibalizes and repurposes plot elements from the old intro, which some of you may recognize. No use wasting good words, after all.

The sprawling San Angeles Metroplex rises around you, brightly lit towers thrusting up through the smog to rake the sky, neon ad boards jostling for your attention.

You take a deep breath, almost smiling at the foul, familiar taste of the air. It’s been more than a year since you were on the West Coast. You’re glad to be done with Europe and its miserable winters. The assassins didn’t help, either.

The job in Berlin, the one Jackson promised would be a piece of cake, was anything but. Things had gotten real messy, real fast, and you’d had to leave Berlin in a hurry, hired assassins hot on your trail. If you’d known you would be tangling with the Syndicate, you’d never have accepted Jackson’s offer.

No use holding a grudge, now. Jackson died in Amsterdam when the hunters ambushed your team in a small cafe. He and Summers were torn apart in the initial burst of gunfire, you barely made it out of there alive. You had to pay a black market body shop a small fortune to graft you a new hand to replace the one you lost to a grenade. A rush job, the colour doesn’t quite match.

The team split up after Amsterdam, those that were left figuring that travelling alone would be less conspicuous than in a group.

Six months you traveled the globe, staying one step ahead of the killers looking to collect the Syndicate’s bounty. Six months before you were convinced they’d lost your trail.

And now you’re back in San Angeles. Your first order of business was getting a new deck, you’d had to abandon your old rig in Amsterdam. And the kind of deck you need, they don’t sell those at the mall. Black market cyberware is expensive and you’d burned most of your credits getting out of Berlin. A bank loan was out of the question, the background check would poke holes in the fake ID you’re using.

That had left only one option – a loan shark.

Miriam had a reputation for ruthlessness, but she was the only one whose terms you’d found even slightly palatable. She’d agreed to lend you the 25 thousand credits you needed for a new Hijati, on condition that you paid her back 50. You’d had little choice but to accept her terms. You can’t buy a deck without credits, and without a deck you can’t work to earn the creds.

You have 3 months to pay back the debt. After that, Miriam will send her goons to collect your organs.

That’s better. Gives you a nice, clear conflict for the player character, a reason to be doing the game’s missions. And I’m introducing a some scripting and missions involving Miriam, the loan shark, in the early game. The push to earn enough money to pay her back before she comes to collect your kidneys will carry players through into the primary storyline involving…well, you’ll have to wait and see. 😉

WIP
_1kaltSml

So that’s what I’m currently doing on System Crash. Painting Miriam, prepping her dialogue and scripting, cutting and chopping the mission flow and storyline a bit to accommodate that. If I do it well enough, new players won’t even be able to see the stitches where I performed my script surgery. 😉

HQ Relocated

10 Feb
February 10, 2015

terran-liftoff03

It’s been about a week or so since I released the new SC beta and I’m getting some good feedback from folks trying out the build. So thanks, everyone who took the time!

Overall, the impression seems to be pretty positive, which is gratifying. I’m happy with how the game stands right now, myself, but it’s easy to lose perspective on these things. So it’s good to know that people are enjoying playing it and I’m not deluding myself. There are a few things that still need tweaking, but overall it’s onward toward final release!

I was hoping I’d manage to get the next build out this week. But that’s not looking like it’s going to be possible, as I’m in the middle of moving out of my old flat and in with my girlfriend. It’s a big step, one we’re both excited about, a new chapter in our lives and so on. Buuuutt it does leave me with a million and one things to get done in a fairly short space of time. Game dev, at least for a week or so, has to take a back seat.

A little frustrating, any delay, when the finish line is so very close now. But you have to make some allowances for life, don’t you? 😉

I’ll leave you with a shot of the view out the window, from my new desk location. It’s rather pretty, up here on the 7th floor.

20150210_084720

Beta 1.1.1.0 Released!

28 Jan
January 28, 2015

Whew, it’s been more than a year since the last beta release. Crazy! Looking back, I should probably have called those releases Alpha rather than Beta, given that I went on to change much of the game after that round of feedback. I was a bit too confident that I had the design locked down, methinks.

Anyway, regardless, here we go! Beta 1.1.1.0. If you’re so inclined, give it a whirl!

Link

And please, I’d love to get your feedback! I’ve set up this here survey…

Survey Link

…and I’d also be happy to hear your general feedback, comments, whatever. Either by mail (admin at roguemoonstudios dot com) or on the forums.

I’d also greatly appreciate it if you could email me your save game (to the above email address). It now logs a bunch of metrics about your play experience that will help me in tweaking the game balance.

You can find your save file in (Install Directory)\System Crash_Data\Gameplay\Profiles\(Profile Name).prof

If you’re curious to see how you did, go ahead and open the file in any editor that reads XML and look for the “Metrics” section. And yes, if you edit that file you can hack your save game, give yourself infinite money or cards or something. 😉

One last note, I’ve left the tester campaign in the game along with the main story campaign (Neon Noir). If you’re interested in experiencing the full range of SC cards, try the Tester campaign. If you’re willing to help me balance test, I’d appreciate you loading up those showcase decks, which represent basic archetypes, and just having a go tackling the other archetype decks. I need data for multiple battles between decks of the same type, to build up enough statistics to be able to identify unbalanced cards/strategies. You can make your own custom decks and test them, too, but please name them something unique and identifiable from the showcase decks.

Thank you, and I hope you all enjoy it!

(A reminder, if you want to be automatically notified of new System Crash releases, you can sign up for the newsletter. I won’t spam you.)

Screenshot Saturday

24 Jan
January 24, 2015

My life right now revolves around testing and tweaking AI deck builds.

DeckEditing

Looking back on 2014.

20 Jan
January 20, 2015

I think you’re supposed to write these kinds of retrospective pieces at the end of the year they’re relevant to, at least by about New Years. Not halfway through January. But fuck your rules, man, I’m a free spirit.

Twenty fourteen. It sounds like some science fiction date. It almost is. To write about it in the past tense is somewhat surreal. And to think that it marks the third year of working on System Crash, even stranger. I quit my job and took the plunge into indie game development just yesterday, didn’t I?

No, no. that me was heavier in the wallet and lighter around the waist.

Making things is harder than dreaming about making things. An obvious truth, but that doesn’t mean you don’t learn it all over again when you actually get down to doing a thing. You learn it in the same way that Sisyphus learned that ruddy great boulders are heavy. A truth plucked from the realm of the abstract into painful, grinding reality. You learn it your bones, your sinews, down in your water. Shit be tough, yo.

And the worst part of it all is the gnawing uncertainty. Is this the right choice? Am I going in the right direction? Maybe I should have forked left instead of right. Is this finished, or does it need more time to bake? Others can light the way, those who’ve already made the trip, but you can never walk exactly the same path. At the end of the day, it’s really down to you and your gut. You just have to hope that your instincts are good.

Twenty fourteen. The days of future past. How I look back on two oh fourteen depends on my mood, really.

If I’m feeling tired and glum, 2014 feels like a bit of a failure. A difficult year of struggling to juggle a mentally-intensive day job and a mentally-intensive side project. Along with my personal relationships and physical health. A struggle that has turned into a gruelling slog. It’s a year where I repeatedly spent time and effort building UIs and game systems that I then chucked out. A year where I failed to really get my act together when it came to marketing System Crash effectively. Which creates the gnawing fear that I’m going to release SC to a resounding silence. Eek.

Of course, I have a tendency toward self-flagellation.

When I’m well rested and feeling positive, I see 2014 differently. I’m working for a great company that helped me get back on my feet, financially, one which encourages my game development efforts. And I have a wonderful girlfriend who is incredibly supportive of my dreams.

The decision to iterate and improve aspects of System Crash has resulted in a marked improvement to the game. The presentation of the story and world is far more engaging and interactive, and there’s a lot more content. I managed to write 21k words of story and dialogue in total, about the length of a short story. And my revitalized finances have allowed me to commission new, world-class background illustrations that flesh out some of the areas that I felt were lacking, bringing the world of System Crash to rich, vibrant life.

(Click for larger)

MapCompare

StoryCompare

The game is almost done. It’ll be out shortly, for real this time, and by this time next year, I’ll be writing about my progress on Game 2! And I’m bursting with ideas for what comes next! Really, I have a document full of ideas for new game projects.

I’m right on the verge of achieving something I’ve dreamed about my entire life, releasing my own commercial game, one completely of my own design! I’m proud of what I built, and excited for what comes next!

And sucking at marketing is something you can improve, it’s not like people not having heard of your game is a terminal condition. You can fix that. It’s something I can work on and improve at, over time. This first game is about learning, more than anything, and the areas where I make the biggest mistakes are the areas where I can learn the most.

Most importantly, I’ve learned how to wrestle with the doubt, anxiety and weariness that beset anyone doing anything creative. Resilience, the ability to persevere in the face of hardship and doubt, the thing that psychologists call ‘grit’, is one of the most important traits to develop. I’m building that endurance! Again, it comes back to doing, rather than thinking about doing.

2014. The third year of my adventure. What a year it was. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings.

Law and Order

27 Nov
November 27, 2014

“Imagine a boot stamping on a human face . . . forever” – George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

MetroSec Tac

I didn’t have enough money to build in different sets/colours/what have you into System Crash (For comparison, Magic: The Gathering had around 300 cards when it shipped, SC has less than 100), so I instead of hard divisions I try to create “affinities” along certain thematic elements/mechanics. Which basically boil down to cards that work well together, that synergize.

An example of this is MetroSec (Metropolitan Security Forces) cards, ie The Law. MetroSec cards are designed to buff each other, such as in the case of the Tac Squad, above, who get stronger and tougher when other Law type cards are in play. This ties into the theme of authoritarian forces that gain in strength as they gain in numbers, and squad tactics and so on. They also synergize with Mech cards, reflecting MetroSec’s use of mechanized weapon platforms to keep the peace.

As I said, the number of cards in SC isn’t as high as I would like it, but I’m hoping to flesh out each affinity group via expansion content and new cards. If there’s interest, I’ve got big plans!

Screenshot Saturday

01 Nov
November 1, 2014

Hanging out at the 9th Circle Club.

9thCircle

Screenshot Saturday

25 Oct
October 25, 2014

Well now, ain’t that a pretty sight?

MapIcons2