Monday, September 22, 2008

Master Thief

So I got the whole Crypt level plotted out and ready to get fed into the content devourer known as ThiefEd, and I'm feeling good about it. Obviously, it needs some play testing, but I have the whole thing designed so that it confuses me a little with the way it branches and give the illusion of free will. By the way, from a Design standpoint, I think that the illusion of free will is way better that actual free will. With illusion, I have full control over the experience, so I can give (in)appropriate rewards for things, since I can plan for them. Actual free will is a mess from a design standpoint. "Sand Box" games always leave me feeling just a little gypped, especially in terms of rewards. The endings for GTA4 were all like that. "Yeah, I did it. Now what? Story! Oh no, I was wrong. Now I get to use the internet? WTF?" or "Yeah I showed him, now for some closure...that's it? Lame."

-Right, so the real post is this. I've decided to add difficulty settings to 3T. They will work like this:

Normal: Will be just like the game is now. With the damage settings just like they are. I'm thinking (long term here) that this setting will unlock some kind of Petty Thief achievement when you win.

Hard: Will have the damages changed. So when you hit an enemy it deals half the damage it does on Normal, and the Thief takes twice the damage when hit. I will use this mode to playtest to make sure the game isn't too difficult overall. Namely, for enemy pacing. This will maybe unlock the Gentleman Thief achievement.

Perfect: Just like Hard, but with some additions. First, the dolls will net you no extra lives, Second, damage will not regenerate between levels. Third, you only get 1 life and continuing will be disabled. Finally, You cannot save. In other words, getting an S ranking (I think I described that in another post) on Perfect means you are badass, although just finishing this mode will net the Master Thief achievement.

-Totally random, but Master Thief looks like riff on Master Chief. No? I may have to reconsider.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tales from the Crypt

Um, yeah, stupid pun for a title today. So I'm knee deed in the Crypt section of the second level. In game terms it's right after the Cavern and eventually leads outside to the cliffs. So I'm working it out on paper right now (always the best I think. It's cliche, but it is easier to make changes on paper than anything else) and it seems like a mouse maze. So basically, the whole area loops around on itself a few times and is designed from the get go to give a sense of confusion and disorientation, but full to the brim with skelingtons (yes, I know I misspelled it, that's how I say it - sue me).

So with all of that, this is the first area with honest to goodness combat. Yes, the Prison and Warehouse had enemies, but those were crappy level ones that you could literally bash to death by mashing the attack key, or avoid in all but 1 case. So now we get some really interesting things going on, so it's an all new(ish) thing in terms of theme. The next area (the Cliffs) are something that I'm also looking forward to, since I want to encourage, what's the word, trepidation. Where any mishap will, what's the term? Right, a long drop and a sudden, um, stop. But that's later. Right now, I want to confuse and misdirect. I want every screen to have have an, "Is a skellington going to attack me? Oh no! I'm low on life! Woe is me!" What's the word that I really want? Oh yeah, Dread.

-Off topic, got some things cooking in the background, and I'm really excited about that. But don't want to put anything here, since this is The Diary That (almost) Nobody Reads. So, um, mums the word and all that.

-More stuff. So, my background artist has apparently fallen into a hole in the ground where there are no pens, paper or internet access. So I'll keep having Producer Eric send messages, but he seems to be hinting that Designer Eric may have to talk to Graphic Designer Eric about using PSP to do the backgrounds for IGF. He may also want to talk to Writer Eric about his weird talking about himself and all of his jobs he has as if they are totally different people, since they aren't. Either way, this is just a little more pressure for me, from now until 11-1.

-Writer Eric wants to remind Producer Eric that he does that as a coping mechanism.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I got a call back about a job. Not just any random job, but an honest to goodness design job at a local game company. I think this is great, not only do I get to practice some more design skills (in this case, for a card game - which really allows an iterative process to design) but it's not a lead design position. I know, not a lead, how is that good? Well, I am still learning after all, this diary is testament to that. Working as an assistant (or an Associate in this case) designer will really let me flex my creativity while still being under the guidance of a more experienced designer. Plus, as a Card Game designer, you can really get some ideas going and play tested really quick. Unlike say, this project where an idea may take a few days to implement, let alone test and get to work right. All in all, I am feeling really good about this and really think that this could be the thing that really lets me blossom as a designer.

-Yeah, I used the word "blossom."

Right, but there is one more thing, maybe the best thing. I once applied for a very similar job about a year ago, and didn't get it (clearly). The only difference that I have on my resume was this project. In other words, the new design skills and project management that I've learned the hard way are something that employers are looking for in some regard. As far as I am concerned, that is the entire point of all of this. To get this skills and the experience to get the job. This reply, however tentative it is, shows me that I am doing the right thing, that all of this is being noticed by someone out there. So I will continue with this, even if I get this job. Now, this has become more. Now I've worked so hard on this, and made so much measurable progress that I have to finish. I have to make it work and get it finished for IGF. Because clearly, it is the right thing to do.


Totally off topic, especially in terms of the rest of the post, but my rant about happiness last time gave me a bunch of Self Help links in my Google Ad. It's so cute, like Google says, "Aww, you need a hug," or something.

Anyway, on to the real meat. The Cavern level is coming along really well. After the Prison level, which led you through the steps and generally held your hand through the puzzles, the Cavern is the first real level to showcase the puzzle elements of the game. In other words, it's the first time I get to play the game that I want to play. The best part is when I've forgotten the answer to my puzzle and have to figure it out again.
In particular, there is a branching path off the side of the level that goes through a "wicked" area. "Wicked" (other than being candles =P ) means that the area is much more difficult to get through at the stage in the game you are at. So a wicked area in the 2nd stage is probably equal to a 5th stage difficult puzzle, and 5th stage wicked segments are going to be, well, really quite challenging. So I built this section (it leads to one of the collectible dolls/extra lives) and find that when I play it, it's A) totally hard - even when you know the answer and B) totally unforgiving and C) just like I wanted it.

More on that. I am noticing that the game is a little unforgiving in some regards. As in a single misstep can, and probably will, murder. I am okay with this. On the one hand, when a mistake is made, it is clear what happened, so a similar mistake can be avoided in the future. This is not the same as trial and error gameplay, as the puzzle is static. There is no timer and the player can take as much or as little time as they want to figure the puzzle out in advance. Second, the puzzles generally do not murder for an "almost" (well not yet). Meaning, that if a mistake is made, the puzzle will generally allow you to save yourself. I won't do an, "Oh you missed it, now you get the Spikes!" That seems kind of jerkish. A quick player should be able to use the Flip, Wall Jump and Dash to save themselves from a screw up and try again. Of course, completely going off the ranch, well, I can't design for that so death will probably be quick and prejudiced.

Doesn't the word "Prejudiced" look like something you do before you juice a fruit? "I Prejudiced the limes to get more juice out of them." Right...

Friday, September 5, 2008

All Time Lighw

Ever sit back and take a look at where you are? Just, consider you position right now. Are you satisfied? Are you comfortable? Are you Happy? I sit here and I'm thinking about these big questions, and I find the answer to be, well, complicated.
First off, as a graphic designer I find my work to be, well, unfulfilling. There's apparently this "recession" thing going on, regardless of what anybody says. That's right, I said it and a lot of people agree with me. Anyhow, the business that I work for (and don't usually like in the first place) is lets use the word, expanding, our product lines. No big deal right? You have a job right? All decent questions to ask. However, I realized as I photoshopped out the nipples on yet another, um, let's go with "Product," that I realized that I was failing at no fewer than 2 of the questions at the beginning of the post.
Comfortable? Sure, I have the AC on and a bottle of Pepsi close at hand.
Satisfied? Hardly. The work I am doing I simply cannot be proud of. I will at no point open the site and show my Mom. It's like doing the random shadow work of a CIA operative without the danger, excitement or tang. Nobody will ever see the work I did. No one will ever appreciate it.
Happy? Um, no. I find joy in creating. I also, through now fault of my own, I'm sure, define myself by what I do for a living. Right now, I am not liking being that person.

So, what's the deal with the random, and totally misspelled title? Well, I do have good things anyway. The most dangerous thing in the world to long term happiness is being only 2 of the things I listed. Being Happy is the most important I assume, but you can be unhappy and comfortable, but happy with your comfort. This is dangerous as the hours turn to weeks turn to decades, and you realize that you've never been truly happy with yourself and where you life has taken you. In my case, I am unhappy just enough to want more. It's enough to be tolerable, but it is more that enough to make me want to pursue my true passions. To finally be the person that I really want to be.

Maybe that's too much. Maybe that's too much emphasis. But people spend 5 days a week doing a job. Most spend more time doing that than they doing anything else. You aren't a golfer, you aren't a scholar, you aren't a father. At least not in terms of hours. So big picture, I think what what a person does defines what they are. So why shouldn't I define myself as something that makes me happy?

- In game news, I got the Cavern section of the 2nd level drawn out and have a good amount of it input into the system. I find that the more open levels of the Cavern are in deep contrast to the more confined prison levels, and they require a different level of design work. Since the screens will usually connect in multiple ways, I find that the level solutions may be outside the realm of a single screen and I have to be aware of that. For example, the solution I devise may require going up a certain way, but the next screen may give another way that wasn't built into the puzzle. So I have to be aware of pieces that are "off" the board and think in larger, more spacial, terms.
For example. After drawing the level I realized that there was only 2 "Safe" places in the entire level where I could set a check point. Everywhere else was somewhere you could be killed by falling. Due to the nature of the system (it checks your position when you enter the check point screen and saves it) if you fall into the screen and die. It will reload and put you at the top of the screen. Which will probably also be less than survivable.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Rocket Stage 2

Um, yeah. So I missed my milestone. The levels aren't all blocked out. This may be an issue, maybe not. We'll find out. In any event, it occur ed to me that, yes, I do have the 1st level blocked out and yes, I do have some scripting in it, and yes, it does play pretty well and yes, I could polish that one level to perfection for IGF. OR I could move along and skip out on the glass and candy and get some goddamn stages built. I will always have time to add scripting and other fundamentally inconsequential crap to the game. I will not always have time to build levels from scratch. So today the plan is to draw out and begin to lay out the second stage. I already have a rough mock up with a critical path, I just need to finish it and get it into the game so people can play it. At this point, the talky bits are all secondary and I will put them in later. The goal now, like it was before I got sidetracked, is to finish the levels. I can then play test and generally make them all better afterwards, but polishing the Prison level for 2 months will get me nowhere.
-Ah, this morning I crushed a bug. Somehow, Zero would "float" when he would fall if you pressed a movement button. So a lethal fall became less lethal if you pushed a direction. This of course is a fundamental issue, as the distance of a lethal fall is integral to the gameplay and having it be all wishy washy is a little, well, dumb. So it was a Event Order issue, and it's all better now.
-Speaking of talky bits, I think I have an idea. I built a FadeOut function that I like quite a bit, but there is no decent FadeIn function. The one I built doesn't draw the background. I should add that to the function, that would be nice.
-Right, and School. It's the fall again, which means that I get to enjoy the "Student" part of being an "Independent Student Developer." This means 2 things. First, I will have less time to spend on the Project, but still want to keep the same schedule. Hence the, "Stop screwing around and work mentality." I can't waste my limited time on small things. The Second, is that I will have to try harder to make time for the wife. Yes, that is important too. After all, what's the point of a Pyrrhic victory?