Sunday 28 March 2010

Knot-Pharmacard Subcondition J

I made a game.

Knot-Pharmacard Subcondition J
(alternate download)

Don't play it if you suffer from epilepsy (it has lots of rapidly flickering colours).
Let me know if it crashes.

The idea behind this came from the theme "bricolage", meaning "a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things". I went through a bunch of unfinished prototypes I had lying around, foetal games that will never see birth, and copied chunks of code out of each of them, pasted them into one file, and stuck some arbitrary interactions between them. There is a victory condition; it doesn't make much sense, but it is possible to reach a "you win" screen. Don't feel compelled to aim for this though, just do whatever.

Edit: The zip was slightly corrupt (3 non-essential files were broken), this has been fixed.
Edit: Updated with very slightly modified version - main difference is that it displays a title screen. Also, the "you win" screen is replaced by just having weird graphical effects then going back to title. (15/9)

Monday 22 March 2010

Alien Oort Cloud Refinery

The Brink of War, the next Race for the Galaxy expansion, is due soon. This is fairly exciting.

The first expansion came with a collection of blank cards (with the same back) so that players can make up new cards, and there have been 'card contests' for the second and third expansions where people can send in card ideas - the prize being having the card in the expansion and a mention in the rulebook.

The winners of the card contest for Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War are:
* Michael Brough for inspiring Alien Oort Cloud Refinery,
* Kester Jarvis for inspiring Golden Age of Terraforming, and
* Ville Halonen and Raine Rönnholm for inspiring Universal Peace Institute.

This is even more exciting.
(The reason it says "for inspiring" is that they take the cards through their full development process to make sure they're balanced and fit the theme.)

The card I submitted was:
(ALIEN?) Rainbow World
Multicolour Windfall
Cost: 0, VP: 1
$: you may not trade goods from this world.
IV: you may consume goods from this world as any colour.
V: you may produce on this world with a "produce on windfall" power of any colour.

And the form it ended up in was:
ALIEN Oort Cloud Refinery
Multicolour Windfall
Cost: 0, VP: 1
$: you may not trade goods from this world.
ANY PHASE / GAME END: choose this world's colour.

So the only mechanical change was that they simplified and strengthened the property of "being any colour" - it does basically the same thing, but it's expressed much more cleanly and has synergy with more different powers (now it applies to cards that score for different coloured worlds, powers that let you draw cards for producing goods of a particular colour, and the new powers on e.g. Golden Age of Terraforming, which allow discarding goods of particular colours to gain discounts on other phases).
I'm really pleased not only that my card made it in, but that it was changed very little, meaning I'd already done a good job of balancing it. I'd actually started it at cost 3, and progressively reduced the cost as we played with it until it had cost 1, then cut it to 0 at the last minute before sending it off.

Sunday 14 March 2010

2 bugs

I've found two Vertex Dispenser bugs in the last two days. In the actual game mechanics, not in the netcode where I already knew there's still some brokenness going on. Nothing game-breaking; probably nothing anyone but would notice, just weird corner-case interactions not working how they should. Still, it bothers me a little because I'd thought everything there was solid.

Another cold has infected me. My immune system seems not to have been performing to specification for a while. I continue to blame the hideous climate. Have spent my time fiddling around with the sound rather than fixing these bugs, and don't have much to show for it. I'm finding it quite hard to generate new sounds that fit with what I've already got but don't mush together in the same frequency range. I guess I probably should try using something a bit more advanced than sin(pitch*time)*volume.

We've been playing quite a bit of multiplayer Vertex Dispenser. The aforementioned brokenness doesn't seem to interfere with what actually happens; it just claims to be out of sync for a frame and then gets back in sync afterwards. I'd like to know why it's happening though.

Something quite entertaining to do is to place a boobytrap next to an opponent's white vertex, after attacking the vertex a few times to weaken it. Then run away, and wait for them to set it off - with any luck, it destroys their white vertex and you'll hear a grunt of rage from across the room. One time I managed to kill both my wife and her last white vertex with this trick.. playing against human beings is a lot more fun than just against AI.

Saturday 13 March 2010


From Dave Sirlin's coverage of GDC:

Day 1: See Rob Pardo's talk, paragraphs 8-9. Basically, players whined about randomness meaning that sometimes unlikely events happened, so they changed it so when you fail, the chance of success increases.

Day 2: See Sid Meier's talk, paragraphs 8-11. Basically, players whined about randomness meaning that sometimes unlikely events happened, so they changed it so when you fail, the chance of success increases.

It's really interesting that these guys independently came up against the same problem and came up with the same solution. I'm in two minds as to what I think about it. My initial reaction is: this is bad, they're dumbing things down, they should leave things done properly. Then I back this up with some solid reasons why it's harmful. But then I'm not sure.

So first, why is this harmful? Games are educational. One of the reasons humans play games is that it fulfils our desire to learn - our brains are built for learning, so we find it pleasurable. And one of the things games are able to teach is HOW PROBABILITY WORKS. Probability isn't intuitive. Sometimes you don't succeed, even when the odds are in your favour. Sometimes exceedingly improbable things do happen. (It's even worse in the infinite case - I've seen people have serious trouble with the idea that an event can have probability 0 and yet still occur, or probability 1 and not definitely occur.) So by twisting the probabilities in your game to line up with human intuition, you're preventing your game from teaching a valuable lesson - and, more importantly, you're potentially teaching a false lesson.

(Here is a slightly related and slightly unrelated article by Tom Lehmann, designer of Race for the Galaxy, just because he's cool.)

But on the other hand, it's not really the case that randomness-where-failure-increases-your-chance-of-success is "fake" randomness. It's still random, just the random events are no longer independent, which is perfectly okay, both from an abstract mathematical perspective (it's still a valid formal system of game rules) and maybe even from a real-world-intuition perspective (plenty of real 'random' events aren't independent).

The popular board game Settlers of Catan suffers from problems with streaks of bad luck - resource generation is determined by a roll of the dice, and it's common for some players to miss out, or for certain resource types not to be generated much, sometimes resulting in a slow and tedious game. A fix for this which some of my friends use is to have instead a deck of cards with numbers in the same proportion as the sum of die rolls. This has essentially the same effect as what Rob and Sid described - if a number doesn't come up, it's more likely to next time, because the deck gets depleted and there are more copies of that numbers left in it. And this I have no problem with, partially because it's fixing a problem with game balance, rather than trying to conform to the intuitions of innumerate players, but also because the mechanics are explicit - you can see the cards being drawn from the deck, you know the card you drew is no longer in there, so you know you're not dealing with independent random variables.

So I guess what it comes down to is how it's communicated in the game. I haven't played either of the games in question, so I don't know how these things are communicated. If the interface gives the impression that the events are independent, but is secretly fiddling with the odds, then this should be considered Harmful. If it's clear that they're dependent, it's fine. For example, in WoW, if you're hunting bears in a forest, some of which have paws, it makes sense if there are a finite number of bears, and then finding a pawless one means that next time you find one there's a higher chance it will have a paw - you're drawing from a deck, not rolling dice. (I'm not sure what the reasoning could be in CivRev.. maybe a public "morale" stat that, counter-intuitively, goes up when you lose battles.)

Of course, videogames can hide their rules under the surface, and it's completely legitimate to say "you don't know what the rules are; a bunch of complicated interdependent systems affect everything that happens and it's up to you to experiment and figure things out". This is teaching something too - the scientific method.

Monday 1 March 2010

371-In-1 Klik & Play Pirate Kart II: Klik Harder

In 2009, 1600 people participated in the Global Game Jam and produced 370 games in 48 hours.

This weekend, 105 people participated in the 371-In-1 Klik & Play Pirate Kart II: Klik Harder and produced 524 games in 48 hours. Glorious Trainwrecks is the clear victor in the QUANTITY WAR.

I had a fairly busy weekend (cocktail party, board games..) so only had time to contribute three games:

No More Lasers is an arena shmup with lots of lasers. Quite pretty, very difficult.

Mah Jong Is Longer Than Ur Dong is a pornographic mahjong game. Because last time I saw a collection of 500 pirate ROMs, about a fifth of them were porn games and about a fifth were mahjong games, and those fifths intersected severely. I have never played mahjong and I have no idea what the rules are, but I found a picture of the tiles. This game is very difficult to work out so I may post the rules later, but the main point was to give an impressionist interpretation of how I felt while attempting to play those mahjong games.

Mah Jong Is Longer Than Any Dong : Hyper Graphic Future Edition is a variation on the previous, only faster and with Minter-esque incomprehensible blurred graphics making it unplayable. Um. Skip it in favour of the previous one if you know what's good for you.

It feels really good to finish making games. The Games Collective is running an inaugural pageant on the theme of Bricolage, so I may contribute something to this as well, provided my computer comes back this week WHICH IT WILL.