Sunday, August 1, 2010
Much has happened.
In August of 2009 I moved to Michigan from Oregon to take a position with Muskegon Community College heading up their Interactive Media and Game Design program. Interestingly enough, I have since learned, part of the reason I was selected for this position was my work on Prophesy of Pendor and how I worked with the community members on the TW forums.
Also, needless to say in the last year I have been very busy.
Western Michigan is an interesting place. The culture is not what I am use to from Portland and the silicon forest. It is slower, grounded in blue collar sweat, honest to a fault. What is of keen interest to me is that there are more video game trading stores than grocery stores here.
This is a place of possibilities.
The program I am in the process of creating will have four degree tracks. The first three are designed as transfer programs, and fall under what is termed a Regional Macro Agreement that allows transfer to any four year college in this region. The first three programs are Game Design, Media Arts, and Game Systems Programming. I teach the core classes in Introduction to Game Design, Game Scripting, and the capstone class: Interactive Media.
The last program that I am helping to develop with Dr. Tim Trainor, is a Web Game Entrepreneurial program that combines both the knowledge of interactive media along with key business classes and has ties to local business organizations to assist people who have great ideas, a pathway and help to create their own business and generate those games that they dream about and make a living from it.
Recently I have been given my own 30 minute Television Show that has one program a Month. I am still working on the format for this, and am currently deciding how best to fit this into my overall strategy to make this region of West Michigan, one of the main interactive Media and gaming centers of the United States.
In addition to this, as if this was not enough, I have started a small for-profit development group that is aimed at creating a new type of game. You can get a sneak peak here: http://stariumxcv.freeforums.tv/
This is our development forum and we have secured the domains and are working feverishly to put forth a very unique type of web game.
It has been over 20 years in the design and now it appears that I have the resources and contacts to make this a reality.
Monday, May 25, 2009
About my thoughts, I guess I will start with Mount and Blade since I've been thinking about it recently and the fact that we are on the site. I'm pretty sure lots of people would agree with me when I say that one of Mount and Blade's biggest flaws is its AI. Although the AI itself isn't anything terrible, its just that in a game like this, AI-only opponents, can make the even most emersive combat boring after a while. It eliminates the need for dynamic strategies and makes battles tedious and unrealistic. Although Warbands will include a multiplayer mode I still feel a bit unsatisfied as that doesn't really give any long term gameplay rewards. I don't really know how to get around this but maybe if the AI implements some kind of detection algorithm that will replace their apparently omniscient sight so that they react more like a human and maybe implement a collection of general strategies for them for each kind of situation (outnumbered - try to take on little parts of enemy at a time or hit run, player out numbered - stick together and attack at once or attack enemy from two sides etc...). The AI leader unit's tactics skill level determines how many different strategies they can use and how effectively they can pull them off.
On another matter, I believe that the Mount and Blade combat experience, although innovative and fun, is far from perfect. If the horses behaved better, the combat's experience will be a lot more fun. I was thinking of the horses in assassin's creed which were a blast to just ride (although assassin's creed's combat wasn't fun at all). I think that horse behavior from Assassin's creed combined with mount and blade's ragdoll physics would make the horse combat the most realistic and fun ever introduced in the industry. Also i think that the riding skill shouldn't increase the speed of the horse because that should solely depend on the horse itself but rather, the things the player can do on horseback (more effective attack animations, allow to use more weapons on horseback, more responsive horse and later on, warhorse tricks such as levade). As for unmounted combat, i think that proficiencies should also unlock more effective attack animations (faster swings, lounge attacks, jump attacks etc).
Anyways those are just my ideas to make mount and blade less repetitive and more emersive. I have no idea how possible those features are to implement because I have no experience or knowledge to evaluate the difficulty of those features. They sound pretty feasible (especially horse behavior since its already been done in a mainstream game)
Thanks for opening up this dialogue. I find your insights interesting and insightful and look forward to where this goes.
When we look at a product such as Mount&Blade we have a natural tendency to look how to improve it.
We can list out many issues with the AI, models, strategic elements, story, and dialogue, which the list can go on for pages. This is both the blessing and the curse of being a game designer. When your work becomes your play, playing always then becomes work. We cannot enjoy an experience without at some point engaging our analytical game-designing mind. I digress however, my apologies.
The difficulty with fixing any game is to determine what is important to fix and why.
While I agree that the AI is not at the best it could be… is it the most important thing to address? The answer to that is up to the product owner and what they are trying to do with this product moving forward. This is an undeniable fact in our business, is that the business owners make the decisions on what to do, not the designers. We are given tasks to design out something that someone else has had the vision for. I know that this is depressing, but it is the way of things. For our conversation let us assume that we have the ability to make the overall design and vision decisions.
With this base assumption we have to embrace and understand what is happening in the market place and what is worth doing. This is the business aspect of gaming, which we need to comprehend and with which have some measure of fluency. When we make design decisions on this level we have to understand that if we spend 200K on development, it has to bring back at least 500K in revenue. If we fail at this target, then we have not done our job.
With all this in mind lets address the original intent of your thoughts.
I know that Armagan is going to work on the AI in Warband. This is good and one reason I have stayed completely out of this part of the code. Could the AI be better? Yes, but if I were to stack rank the problems of Mount&Blade, improving the AI would not be near the top. It would be in the top 10 things to do, but not critical.
Technically to your question: it is completely doable and it can be done in side the module system and outside of the game engine for the most part. It is just work to determine what we want to do and make it happen.
Your comment of “Although Warbands will include a multiplayer mode I still feel a bit unsatisfied as that doesn't really give any long term gameplay rewards.”, is your most important insight.
All technology, entertainment experiences, game design, etc always revolves not around the nuts and bolts of technology, but around people and their perceptions. It is about satisfying need. You have to think in terms of providing satisfaction. The question back to you is, does improving the AI, animation and battle improve the offering’s satisfaction level to the point you really want? My feeling is it does not.
In this case, and what I consider the most lacking piece of this offering in it’s native form is lack of context. The wrapping of why we are doing the things we are doing are paper thin and lacks the ability to suspend disbelief. In playing the game at this level, there is a definite lack of what we call immersion.
What happens then is very quickly we have engaged all of the possible enemies, and know what to expect. The game degenerates into a repetition of serial battles in order to “win”. The battles vary in terrain, as well as taking castles and towns, and we have to learn some elementary tactics that is challenging; and it is challenging to learn how to really fight in the game. But in the end, you are right; it is an exercise in repetition.
You are left focusing on the act of the conflict, the battle, since this has become the most salient aspect of the game and it follows then that we start looking to improve this most obvious aspect. The trick and power of the game designer is to see past what is obvious and ask questions about, you likely guessed this, what provides satisfaction.
Again I draw your attention back to your original question. Does improved animation, improved AI solve for this repetition and ultimately provide higher level of satisfaction? The answer I feel is no. It helps, but it does not give us the long-term replay value that we as players want from a product. All it does is make the repetitious battles better repetitious battles. The key is not the visual experience of how you fight, but what, why and the manner in which you fight.
The vast vast majority of games on the market today have this very same problem. Most offerings are much worse than Mount&Blade in this regard which by the way, is one of the reasons that Mount&Blade is so popular with the elite and hard to satisfy customers.
The key, as I mentioned before is a combination of identifying satisfaction factors and envisioning what is not present rather than working on what is already there and improving it.
For example: Imagine a mount&Blade game where you cannot see the entire game map, as only the places you have “mapped” are visible to you. A whole new dimension to the game has been introduced: exploration. Now add a variable where the game map is slightly randomized every game, making each game unique. We have just added strategic variance as well as a factor of uncertainty. Between these two factors and with literally just a few hours of work we have managed to improve the replay value of the game greatly.
I will stop here on this note regarding your initial thoughts. I am fairly certain this was not the expected direction you were looking for when you engaged me so it is ok to redirect the conversation in your reply.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
I thought it worthwhile to add my response here as it is very relevant.
I am very glad you enjoyed and found value in my ramblings. I have been lax in responding to you as I wanted to think about and do some research into, your query regarding mobile gaming.
In my research I found that I had to adjust some of my thinking regarding psychological needs in gaming to account for the mobile casual game scenarios. It was an interesting discovery.
First, the US I believe, lags behind Europe a year or two in regards to the implementation of communication technology. The US does not have a central communication or nationalized communication company. The primary players are Verizon/ALLTELL, AT&T, and Sprint/Nextel. A year ago I was working for a software company positioning their mobile workforce automation software and selling them through the various wireless carriers. There are differences between the various carriers in terms of their market strategy, market focus and what technology is available to 3rd party vendors. For example, Verizon which is the leader in the consumer market, does not allow third party vendors to access the GPS chips in the phones on their network.
I see mobile gaming being developed in three primary forms.
#1: Casual Amusement games: As a casual gaming platform with offerings that provide amusement to the consumer. This is short term Nagara type offering that are designed to provide humor as well as some minor short lived strategy game that takes no more than a few minutes to complete. Competition is against a high score or against other folks score in what I call "Serial competition". There is a "game" and the competition is chalked up in a series of games which provide performance metrics that are compared against the players past performance metrics or against other players performance metrics. The "Serial Competition" becomes the "hook" for this type of offering.
#2: Information Extension of Persistent Games: Imagine playing a MMO where as a guild member or leader you can get information updates and a "light version" of the MMO client where it is possible to make administrative decisions. This would be a secondary client to a game that is played via console, web or PC.
#3 Proximity games. We have not seen this type of offering to my limited knowledge, but this very unique design aspect could trigger a social explosion if it is done correctly. In this concept we blend the proximity of players to each other to create unique interactions that either are scored and stored in a serial global competition and/or give unique tokens that have ramifications to a persistent game world that is played on a global basis. The ramifications of this concept is enormous in terms of the amount of players, psychological hooks, and revenue stream.
The overall conclusion is that Mobile Games fit well into the future and will be with us a very long time. It has untapped potential, that is not being addressed at this time by what I can determine.
The basis for this analysis is that all technology is rushing towards the sovereign individual, which is that state where no matter where a person is, they can work and play using technology. National Borders dissolve and the concept of "web services" that apply to today's enterprise applications will apply to individual people, a "loose coupling" of a persons expertise and services to a larger project.
Monday, April 20, 2009
It has been too long. I have been very busy with the second version of Prophesy of Pendor 2.0 and it should release inside of a few short weeks.
Several important things are happening in the game industry right now.
I will say this: The only constant is change, and in any tech industry, those who embrace change will win over those who refuse to admit that change is happening.
Last month a paradigm shift was introduced into the gaming world. You may not realize it yet, but it changes everything. The name of the company is OnLive.
Think of this as Cable Television except for games. You pay “X” $ per month and receive games to your computer and/or television from the game providers, which right now look to be the bulk of the high end game publishers such as EA among others.
I have talked to several folks, including some game designers, who apparently do not get it. So, let me illuminate the dark shadows for you.
The consumers of games want amazing products, great graphics, total immersion. Blah blah, blah.. You have heard this for dozens of years.
So.. how? How do they get this? For years it was "Computer" or "Console".
Previously it has been either they fork over $150 to $500 for a base system, then spend $59.95 or $49.95 for top games and $29.95 to $39.95 for last years great games or this years “B” list games. So, roughly on the average I am going to pay $500 in a year, for base system and a handful of good games.
I am going to purchase a PC with great graphics (that I will have to replace every 3 to 5 years), low end systems gaming systems are $1200. High end are $3500. Great games are a bit less, as they lose their shelf life quickly. So, figure that the average PC gamer will spend the same $250 a year in games.
In three years, with Option “A” I spend $1000.00 and with Option “B” I spend $2250.00.
Now with On-Live I can spend say $19.95 a month, have better graphics and performance than with any system or box I can purchase, and am not limited to 5 games a year.. but 20 or 30. What I spend in three years? $720.00.
So the value to the player is more games, better performance, and lower cost.
That is just the economic side of the equation. The real question to be answered is “How does the game company or game publisher get paid?” If it is based upon “time spent” or any form of a player usage model, then my friends, the corner in game development will have turned.
As I have talked, seemingly endlessly before, about product and service based game design, the usage model highly favors offerings that are service based. This means that those offerings that are eye candy, quick to grab attention but not hold it for a long period of time will not be cost efficient to produce.
It will take a few years of operation for those people who are making the decisions for game development companies to to come to terms with this concept. By then, it may be too late for them.
The other innovation is creeping up on America from Europe. More and more gamers in the United States are following, (yes following), the lead of gamers in world-wide markets. They are jumping to low cost “free” web based browser games.
They are innovating quicker than the larger established companies. Already they are nearly caught up with good, albeit not great as of yet, graphics. The game play is just a tad lower than most “AAA” titles. However, it is just a matter of time before they hit on the right game formula and then another shift in how games are designed, produced and delivered will take hold. It is almost to the level of critical mass. Again the emphasis is not on quantity of offerings, but on single service based offerings that engage and hold players for years.
Just this week I was out looking at “Free browser based games”, and was stunned to find multiple sites of 100+ entries keeping track of the best and most popular etc.
I predict, and you can quote me back on this, that within 5 years these two forms of gaming will be the predominant methods of how gamers try, consume and pay for their interactive entertainment.
When our children are grown, they will be engaged with interactive entertainment offerings that from start to finish will last years. Purchasing a game for $50.00 will seem absurd, and if it does not offer a free trial for a week then they will not even give it a second glance. Those titles that they engage with will reach across to them no matter where they are or what they are doing. Player Guilds will be similar to fraternities and will be both in and out of game, and will reach to social-cultural, economic and political circles. It will be a lifestyle and a way in which people interact with the world much as we do now, taking our news of local, regional and world events and organize our lives around favored programs on television.
Enough for now.. I am off to enjoy spring.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Much had happened of late that helped keep my mind off Vance, and my grief at his death. I lost my job as part of a sweeping layoff due to the bad economy, and was frantically trying to find work to pay the bills. Christmas was fast approaching. During that time, in accordance with Vance’s last wishes, I created a “Module” for a game called “Mount&Blade” as a way to bring Vance’s story to life.
Vance’s story, and my approach to it as a game, has been well received. I felt that my work on Vance’s legacy was done.
Then, Vance’s sister, Jenny, knocked at my door and dropped a small bombshell on me. Jenny was the executor of her brother’s estate, and, while she was clearing out the house preparatory to selling the property, came across several boxes of notes, interviews, half written manuscripts and drawings. She decided that Vance would want me to have them, and brought them over. I numbly accepted them, said a few lame words of condolence and, after several awkward moments, we said goodbye to one another.
It upset me a bit that Vance had obviously done an amazing amount of work on this project but had never even mentioned it to me. Vance and I were very different in temperament, even though we were good friends. He liked to live in the moment, and was “people smart,” whereas I was what he called “book smart”. I suppose I was berating myself for not knowing my friend as well as I thought I had, and was saddened at knowing him better after his death.
There was a time a few years ago, when Vance disappeared on a business trip for about six months. We never discussed it. He rarely talked about his life, and I had a feeling that he liked to live on the edge, perhaps even a tad nefariously. Even though he often vanished for a week at a time, that extended hiatus, with 20-20 hindsight, sticks in my mind as a turning point. Vance was different after that journey. He seemed slightly more introspective and just “different” after that particular trip. After he returned, I saw him more often.
Recalling my wife’s allergies to mold and her probable reaction to having our living area turned into a storage facility, I began exploring the boxes with an eye to organizing them. In one of the very first boxes I inspected, I found a very thick book with old, cracked leather bindings. The pages were hand hand-written, and very fragile, and reeked of mold. It struck me as interesting, so I opened it and began to read.
I was not prepared for what I found. Pendor was not Vance’s invention. I spent the next two hours reading and re-reading this journal dated 1888, transcribed by someone named Jonas. The more I read, the more confused I became. Jonas had received it from an ex-Benedictine monk, who lived as a hermit in Landes, France.
Jonas had apparently met this hermit regularly, both before and after he left his Order, and had received the story of Pendor, bit by bit, over several years’ time. The initial notes were in French, which Jonas had translated into English. In one entry Jonas wrote that the monk was convinced that he had been “directed” to go to Landes, and to dictate his knowledge to Jonas.
The story itself was fascinating, but seeing my own last name in the journal more than a hundred times set me reeling. I did not know if it was coincidental, but it was certainly unsettling. (Your change is better.) Where had Vance acquired this journal? Why did I end up with it? A prudent man would have taken the boxes, unopened, to the dump without delay, but curiosity overcame my caution.
I put the journal aside, and went through the rest of the boxes, to see what I had. I found maps, drawings and many stories, tantalizing snippets, disjointed pieces of a very large puzzle. I stored all the boxes in my garage, where I spent a great deal of time over the next several weeks. I began piecing the jigsaw puzzle into a timeline, using the unfinished manuscript, which Vance had given me. Had Vance shown me the entire collection at once, I would have thought him insane, and told him so on the spot.
Vance had done a good job on Pendor, and his transcription served me well to determine that most of these manuscripts dealt with events before and after the timeline of the Pendor manuscript. I became more and more drawn to the story of Pendor and want to share with you what I know. I warn you, some of it is unsettling.
I have pieced together only part of the puzzle of love, life, tragedy and sacrifice that made up the history of Pendor, altogether human stories, but alien in many ways. Because of its “other-ness,” some parts of it are difficult to understand. I have transcribed less than half of the story, concentrating on the earliest parts, with an eye to relating the story in a logical progression.
Many years before an event the Pendorian Historians call “The War of the Titans”, humans were organized into tribes and clans, living as hunter/gatherers. There were several elder races, the most prominent being a race that today we call “Elves”. I found vague references to the fact that these beings had come from “elsewhere,” but those references are obscure at best. Apparently, they inhabited a fairly large island far to the Southeast of the lands now called Pendor.
There were other races native to Pendor, Giants, Trolls, Dragons, Furies and Gryphons. These races did not use tools, and their artifacts did not endure as long as those of the Elven race, but they were strong, somehow magical, and very long-lived. Extreme longevity and the use of magic seemed to be the hallmarks of all the elder races. The stories examine the “Elves” to a much greater degree than the other races are described.
These beings lived on an island called Gwythdarian. Their society was organized into Houses, which were ruled by Lords and their families. These houses were both social and political entities; there were five major houses and many minor houses. Their social structure was interesting, as it was divided into distinct social classes. Class was determined early in an elf’s life by a demonstration of personal power, what we would term “Magic.” Elves who demonstrated and could maintain a high level of personal power were called Sindari, and those who failed to do so were called Noldor. The latter lost status in their respective houses and became a servant class. Often members of minor houses would align themselves with the greater houses to provide services and receive a measure of preference. The greater houses were fairly competitive, both amongst themselves and with the lesser houses.
Of particular note is the fact that Elves had children infrequently, so when someone gave birth, the entire House celebrated. For the most part, Elves were scholars and explorers of the use of personal power. Elves did not bother with the race of men, because men did not use Magic, and thus were deemed of lesser status even than the Noldor. This is of interest, as the Sindari often referred to the Noldor as the “invisibles”.
Most of the stories began on Gwythdarian, where there was a disagreement between one of the major Elven Houses, and the rest of the Elven nation. Whilst the event is not explicitly described in my papers and stories, apparently the Sindari of one house did something forbidden with magic power.
At this point, the stories become more detailed. I have paraphrased the hundreds of pages of dialogue and descriptions, which I have uncovered thus far.
The story begins with two young elves born twins, which was exceedingly rare in Elven births. The twins, a boy and a girl, Avaldain and his sister Althea, were unfortunately destined to become Noldor. The Sindari Lord of their house, Lord Gaelrandir crafted a sailing ship and embarked upon a quest to find a reclusive “Oracle” living in the far north. His goal was to seek help to counter the renegade Sindari who were bending their power towards forbidden ends. The twins stowed away on the ship to be close to their father, who was House Under-Steward in the service of Lord Gaelrandir.
After many trials and tribulations they found the “Oracle” and tragically, along the way, the twins’ father, the Under-Steward, died. What happened next is where the story takes strange turns.
At first it seemed that the Oracle was a small Dragon, as this was the form in which the Oracle appeared in its first meeting with Lord Gaelrandir. Later, however, it becomes evident that the Oracle is something altogether different. It lives somewhere else and manifests itself through a pool of water on the island. The Oracle takes control of a nearby willing “host,” which allows the Oracle direct interaction with Pendor. One of its favorite hosts is a small Dragon, which has a general disdain for Elves and an appetite for small white rabbits.
The Oracle decided to help Lord Gaelrandir, but stipulated a steep price for his aid: Althea would have to stay on the island and serve the Oracle for her entire life. Even worse, the Oracle would wipe away all memory of Althea so that no Elf would remember that she had ever existed. There was a heartbreaking account of the good-byes between Avaldain and Althea at the conclusion of this part of the story.
It is also not clear what help, if any, the Oracle gave to Gaelrandir, yet the Elven Lord seemed satisfied and returned to Gwythdarian.
Unknown to Lord Gaelrandir, the Oracle had put Avaldain under a compulsion. He was under a “geas” to return to Gwythdarian, gather together what Noldor he could, and leave Gwythdarian forever.
When the expedition returned to Gwythdarian, the situation had worsened to virtually open warfare. There had been bloodshed, and tensions were strong. No longer was Gwythdarian a haven for the learned, with sweet music floating on the cool breeze. It was a solemn place without sound and the air was heavy with foreboding. Lord Gaelrandir hastened to organize a concerted effort to stop the renegade noble house. He called together the heads of many other houses and held a grand council. He and his allied Sindari were so involved in the struggle before them that they did not notice that Avaldain had gathered several thousand Noldor and sailed for the mainland.
When the Sindari conflict reached its full pinnacle, the fury of magic that was unleashed caused the entire island to sink beneath the sea, killing all the Sindari and forever destroying the magic used by the other elder races. This event led to the eventual extinction of the elder races.
The surviving Noldor roamed Pendor for several months, then finally settled down and built a city next to a lake. Avaldain cloaked the city, having apparently some control over magic, (perhaps granted him by the Oracle, as Noldor had no powers of their own), so that no one could ever find it.
A recurrent theme in the stories is Avaldain’s feeling that something important was missing in his life, and his search for that elusive “something”. Althea often watched Avaldain in his struggles by using the power of the Oracle to scry him. In fact, many of the stories were from the Althea’s perspective and told how she watched her brother’s children, and their children’s children throughout their lives, helping them upon occasion, with no one ever aware she had done so.
Whatever it was that the Sindari had done, a forbidden “something” survived the sinking of Gwythdarian. There were very lengthy dialogues between Althea and the Oracle about countering and defeating this influence in the world and about the sons of Avaldain, who, being part Elf and part Human, had a chance to ultimately put an end to the Sindari influence on the world of Pendor. Further, their victory would ensure that many others, in “other places” would be spared great suffering if the sons of Avaldain were successful. These dialogues gave the general sense that whatever those rogue Sindari had done threatened the existence of the Oracle itself. Additionally, the Kingdom of Pendor was center stage to that conflict. Uniting the Pendorian Kingdom was a prerequisite to countering the remaining Sindari threat.
Madigan, a Prophet of Pendor, who may have been part Elf, made a prophecy recorded by the Pendorian Historians, predicting the coming of a great Warrior/Defender to Pendor. I have found what I think may be the Prophecy, written in Latin by the ex-monk, and never translated.
Verba de futuro:
Multis post annis, ex cearulo, Defensor veho a equus et Pendor sub secreto et sub selentio, fortes et liber. Defensor cognoso non est ad astra mollis e terra via. Defensor insisto quo fas et gloria docunt. Defensor laboro est arduum sane munus. Amicus certus in re incerta cernitor, quod latet anguis in herba.Quam terribilis est haec hora! Vae victis! Nil desperandum, forsan miseros meliora sequentur, pax et bonum, vinculum unitatis. Finis coronat opus, et in hoc signo vincis.
In other stories and recorded conversations between the Oracle and Althea, a very different version of reality was presented to her. I am still digesting the ramifications of these conversations and piecing them together with some of the conversations between the ex-Benedictine Monk and the Oracle that shine an enlightening and disturbing light on our reality.
Here are three short conversations and explanations, between the Oracle and Althea where the former is lecturing to the latter.
These conversations I thought interesting enough to share with you, to wit:
“There is order in the universe, from the rotation of galaxies around a central core to the structure of the smallest particles with charged bits of power orbiting their center. There are definable laws governing how everything interacts. These laws govern speed, weight, resistance, attraction, repulsion, temperature and many other concepts too difficult to explain right now. Everything has a natural law that defines what it is, how it works… except life. Life is only partially governed by natural laws.”
“Elves and Humans, have the spark of creation within them. We have talked about this in the past, and the decisions made to yield that spark to them. Higher orders can reproduce themselves, explore, think, and, most importantly, exercise free will. Free will allows them to dream, to bring incongruent facts together and create something new. That spark of creation reverberates through the weave and unfolds countless alternate possibilities. It is from these possibilities that stepping-stones, where we may walk, are created.“
“Infinity is a concept, not a number, too large to define, beyond the realm of what human and elven minds can hope to comprehend. They thus attempt to define that which cannot be defined, creating a “definition’ that is much more than the definition could be. They scoop up a flagon full of water and call it an ocean.
Yes it is a liquid, yes there are similarities, but does it encapsulate the immensity of an ocean? It falls woefully short does it not?”
There were many other stories, not dealing with Althea, which are narrow windows into the world of Pendor. I will share those with you as time permits.
What becomes really confusing in several of these stories, as transcribed by Jonas, is that the unnamed ex-Benedictine monk often had direct conversations with the “Oracle”, about our own world. For example: Jonas recorded one such conversation where the Oracle discusses with the Monk the importance of building the Eiffel Tower.
Another disturbing reference is to the name of the Elven Island, Gwythdarian, and how its name was wiped away from the “weave.” The term “weave” is often used by the Oracle to describe the nature of his existence. I thought this odd so I decided to run a search on the Internet for “Gwythdarian” using various search engines. To my dismay I could not find any reference to that name at all. Nor could I find substantial references to the name “Gaelrandir”. (The only reference was a player who named his character Gaelrandir in Lord of the Rings Online in December 2007. I wonder why these words are so elusive.)
As I continue piecing the Pendorian puzzle together, it has transformed into an enormous tapestry. In my subsequent accounts of its history, more of Pendor and its fascinating inhabitants will unfold before you.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
It has been a fast and furious month. As most of you know if you have been following this blog, I have jumped into Modding. Specifically a mod entitled "Prophesy of Pendor" for Mount&Blade. Today we are over 14,500 downloads and growing steadily. This is pretty good, way over 5% market penetration within 6 weeks.
Currently I am coordinating a volunteer team of artists, writers, and enthusiasts from six continents and collectively we are producing the next version of this interesting piece of entertainment. The interesting aspect of this exercise is that it has given me a platform to give real examples of the theories I have been discussing for years. The initial piece was to give an example of the entertainment convergence by intentionally blending a game with literature and performance art as well as to sample some rudimentary concepts using chaos theory
The result has been met with a high degree of player acceptance and a thirst for more. The next version we go deeper into the entertainment convergence, so deeply blurring the lines that separate traditional entertainment offerings that our consumers, just in a few pages of literature, feel unsettled and are moved in ways that they did not expect. It is something that they think about when they are not playing, wondering about the nature of the universe and reality and how an act so simple as playing a game, may affect real lives..somewhere else. From a technical standpoint, we will be delving into new areas and evolving some of the basic concepts of game play.
Using chaos theory in an intelligent way it is likely that even the enemies that the player will face during a game will be different in the sense that some games various events will occur, and in others they may not. It will be an example of what we talked about earlier regarding designing for the possibility of something rather than the explicit sense of something happening. I have a feeling that it will be very well received. In addition we are advancing the see-buy-build concept of strategic gaming into one that is dealing more with personalities and skills and loyalty. In most, (all?) games there is a list of components that we can purchase, we know pretty much what those components are and plan accordingly. This new model adds another dimension as we will not control explicitly what options are available to use to build, but rather our steward and his biases and skills will determine what is available at a location to build. This is one of those areas where unless you have seen it, or conceptualized it, it is difficult to explain the model as it is "not like" something else. So we cannot say "It is like Oblivion except this and that".. which gives a frame of reference and an idea which can be conceptualized. Nuff for now.. I will post the next version of the story for everyone to read.
Talk to you all later,
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
It has been 20 days since the release of Prophesy of Pendor, the mod for Mount&Blade. We have over 7500 direct downloads, and over 1850 patch updates. For those of you who do not know, Mount&Blade is an independent game offering from a development house out of Turkey and more information on their offering can be found on past pages.
The success of Prophesy of Pendor, to date, is interesting to me on several levels. It should be interesting to you as well as it helps support some of the design concepts that I have been talking about.
The strength of a game is not measured in how often you play it. It is measured in how much you think about it when you are not playing. To do this effectively you have to keep alive what I like to call the unanswered question. If you think of your favorite television shows, movie franchises and books, you will see that this is a common trend in those that are very successful. Games are the same way.
One of the keys of course is pattern recognition. When we create a game that has identifiable patterns, and we, as the player, know what, when, how, where and who, then the experience becomes redundant. In MMORPG’s this is the point that social interaction and social ties becomes the bonds that keep us playing. No such social bonds exist with single player games. We go out and purchase the next game. In some cases, if we are savvy enough, we delve into the Mods and play those for a while then move on.
Part of the reason that this Mod is enjoying success is that it was designed to keep alive unanswered questions and uses elementary chaos theory to deliver content. This latter piece will be expanded in a later released to drive events in the game world so that no two games will be the same.
Technically I have created a scenario that simulates a heroic journey. This is a key element, luckily inherent in the Mount&Blade engine, is heavily accented in this mod.
The environment is framed in such a way as things in the game world can be identified to larger story elements that form meaning for the players. Meaning is key here, players are able to extrapolate from what they experience in the game and apply it to the story and to characters in and out of the game. It all ties together to form a holistic experience, and drives discovery, answers existing questions and generates more questions.
Most interestingly, and this will be accelerated in the next release, it blurs the line between reality and fantasy to the point that playing the game itself and finishing it has meaning beyond just the game.
The key concepts here are creating meaning, delivering content and events in ways that are not expected, and keeping unanswered questions alive. A game ends for a player when one of these three elements ceases. If there is no meaning, or if the content is delivered in recognizable chunks which is easily definable, or that there are no more questions to ask, the player realizes that they are done, regardless whether they have driven the game to its conclusion or not.
On another topic close to my heart is to talk again about Product vs. Service and why a product oriented approach fails us as gamers. I had a very interesting experience on the Forums of Mount&Blade recently where some players took offense to the idea of a service-based approach to a game offering. My guess is that they just do not understand the ramifications. That is ok, as I fully am aware that new concepts that are outside our experience are very difficult for folks to understand.
So, lets go over this a bit and do this exercise together.
If you owned a game company, how do you make your money? That is simple right? You make a game and sell it to a publisher and they pay you lots of cash right? That is roughly how it works with of course some royalty payments if you are lucky.
Here is the problem. As the owner of the company you have to keep making new games to stay in business and keep the cash flow positive. Thus as the game company you must intentionally, and pay attention here gamers, NOT CREATE A GAME THAT CAN BE PLAYED FOR YEARS AND DELIVER ALL OF THE FEATURES THAT GAMERS WANT.
In short game development shops will never deliver that ultimate gaming experience. Once they do that, you, the gamer, stop buying new games, and they are out of business.
What this means guys, and I am talking to those gamers who were so adamantly against the concept of gaming as a service, is that you will never see a game that delivers the type of experience that you will enjoy and explore for years as long as it is a product. Yes you will see some Mods and yes you will see some minor improvements, but in the end, the only entity who wins from this scenario is the publisher, the distributors and the retailers.
The guy with the short end of the stick is you, the gamer.
The development houses historically have competed like this for many years, and this was not ever an issue as the central theme of generational improvements was based in graphics. Much better graphics, very little improvement on game play and you had a hit. That is what everyone talked about right? That is what the gaming population today is conditioned (and I use this term in the true behaviorist sense), to accept.
Well, we have reached or will shortly reach, that point of realism in our graphics engines that will exceed the capabilities of our eyes and brains to determine a significant difference between generations of graphic improvements.
What happens to the product paradigm then?
Food for thought.