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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Yes, it’s been a while.  Yes, I have a lot of things I could and would like to write about.

For now, though, I’m short on time.  I wanted to show this design, though, for the Dragon Tinker Metal Meeple that I’d like to get made in a Kickstarter project later this year.  The “Dame”, “Fairy” and Top Hat” designs included for scale (the Top Hat gentleman is pretty standard meeple size, at 20mm tall or so, meaning this Dragon would be about 30mm tall, or 1 and 1/6″).  The Dragon has a normal mechanized Dragon side, and an “aged” side, to give it a bit of gravitas.  This also allows me to hint that it would be made of different metals, given that some parts don’t show the aging.

dragondesigns

This is the last design I’ve had in mind for now, though I certainly can come up with others, and there are some Carcassonne expansion meeples that I haven’t had time to work with yet.  They are less popular, though, and possibly less usable out of that game, so we’re sticking with more universal designs for the moment.  Like the Mad Scientist…

madscientistproto02frontback

The Tinkerer…

meepletinkererfproto01

and the Sky Pirate and Rocketeer…

skypiraterocketeer_600

Now, I really would like to get the Tinker Steampunk-flavored Carcassonne tile variant designs done.  They will take a bit more time, of course, and since I can’t really sell them, they will be a back burner “labor of love” sort of thing.

Then there’s the Pantheon Wars game, the Fudging Fates dice and this other game I’m designing, tentatively calling it Shattervale… there’s a lot to do.

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Going through Final Fantasy XII again via this spiffy video reminded me how much I really love the worldbuilding and look of Ivalice. It’s a world that spans multiple games as well, in different RPG subgenres. It has a great sense of place and history. It’s interesting to see a game studio do that sort of thing over the course of several years.
Blizzard has done some similar things with Azeroth, and I think it serves both companies well. A big part of making these games interesting to me is making them believable. Not realistic, not really, but believable as Other Places that are more than just Potemkin Villages.  That’s what I find most unique and appealing about video games; the ability to explore a different world and tinker about within it.  It’s always nice to see thought and craftsmanship involved in the setting rather than just the splashy things like polycount, soft body physics, battle engines, progression schemes and stunt voice casting.
I do have my quibbles with Azeroth and Ivalice, like the character design of Fran and her kin (she’s actually a great character with excellent, memorable voice work, but making her race be literal bunny girls with little modesty is dumb), or the strained two-faction lore of World of Warcraft (OK, maybe I just want a neutral Tauren to play).  FFXII owes a lot to Star Wars, Azeroth leans heavily on Dungeons and Dragons and is unnecessarily goofy at times (pop culture references don’t age well).  They both have somewhat lazy writing at times and weird choices in protagonists (Thrall and Jaina are overplayed, Vaan is a much weaker character than Balthier or Basch), but are endearingly earnest in their devotion to their story.
The thing is, neither game is in my top 10 list of games, but the worlds of Ivalice and Azeroth are high on my list of game worlds that I love to investigate.
I also find that the rather slow, political, story of FFXII is easier for me to follow when it’s all together like this, rather than in cutscenes between hours of grinding in a barely-interactive combat system, all over the space of a year, a few hours here, a few there.  Call it a personal failing, but I found the story much, much more entertaining when I was allowed to get on with it instead of plodding through the game, looking for the next story crumb.  I did actually like the game sometimes, like when I just wanted to zone out and look around, but the story got lost sometimes.

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Has it really been six months since I posted last?  Sorry about that, it’s been somewhat crazy around here.

I do have more Operation Backlog things to write about, and a bit to say about a recent sojourn in World of Warcraft that ended on a sour note, but for today, it’s a quick mention of a new Tinker project that we have up and running over on Kickstarter.  We’re going to get a bunch of these little guys made:

TinkerMeeplesOnDice

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tishtoshtesh/tinker-bits-i-steampunk-metal-meeples

We’re funded already, thanks to some fantastic early adopters, so at this point, we’re just looking for as many people as we can to get these spread far and wide.  I would love to see these little guys all over the place, popping up in different games and locations, always making people happy to have them.

No, things like this aren’t necessities, but there’s just something fun about little bits of treasure like this.  If you’re interested, please check out the campaign, and maybe tell a few others about it.  The more the merrier!

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In a shocking, earth-rattling decision, Blizzard has finally allowed Gnomes to be Hunters.  Maybe.  Possibly.  Probably.  At least, this screenshot swiped from Twitter seems to indicate as much:

GnomeHunter

I guess I need to update my shirts over on Zazzle (based on an idea by the Big Bear Butt himself).

Why Gnomes Can’t Be Hunters

BBBFishCleanGnomes

…oh, and Blizzard?  If you want to make a Fish Tank Gnomish Hunter Pet, I’m very happy to build you one that looks like this.  I’m very familiar with modeling, texturing, rigging and animating video game characters, having worked in the game industry for almost a decade.  I’m also presently open for contract work.

I also find it interesting that this is happening at the same time as a melee-based Hunter spec.  Coincidence or conspiracy?  Dun dun dunnnnn!

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Once upon a time, I designed a small “area control” tile-capture game for a game development exercise.  I called it Alpha Hex, a simple, abstract name for a simple, abstract game.  It has evolved over the years, and I’m looking for ways to bring it to market as a tabletop board game.  Perhaps someday it can be released as a tablet game as well, but for today, it’s a Print and Play game in what I call a “Paper Beta” format.  We would greatly appreciate your help in taking a look at the game and seeing just how well it works, or doesn’t, as the case may be.  It’s been fantastic so far in our experiments and testing.

Please print out the files below and give it a try!  If you will tell your friends about it, all the better!

It’s ready to play, though we are keeping an eye on how well it plays, and we are trying to make sure it has sufficient depth to offer good value.  We have plans to add another wrinkle to this particular game, the Deity Cards, but at the moment, I’d like to get this out into the wild to see what sort of feedback we can gather.  If you have the time and inclination, please take a look at the game, and if you can tell us how it played for you, we’d love to hear it.

Pantheon Wars: The Fall of Ra is an “area control” game played on a 39-cell board.  You can play a shorter game on the 19 cells in the middle, which is how we have done most of our testing to date, but both work well.  Players compete to control the most tiles, with ties decided by control of the Nile river and delta cells on the board.  Tiles played on the board stay where they were played, but control of those tiles shifts as the game proceeds.  Success comes from smart play and careful planning.

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_SmallMap

If you have played Triple Triad, you will probably easily understand the core mechanics, but I’ve tried to keep the rules clean enough and the basic ruleset simple enough that it doesn’t require knowing that game.  Pantheon Wars: The Fall of Ra is designed specifically around being easy to learn, but with enough complexity in play decisions and circumstances that there is room for careful thought and skill testing.  Players find that to be true in testing, and it’s my hope that getting some new people to look at the game will let us refine it further where needed.

I call the game a “beta”, but it’s really one that has been through several cycles of development already.  I’d be happy with the game being released into the wild as-is, since we’ve had a lot of fun with it and so have our testers to date.  Still, there is room for polish, and when we get the Deity Cards polished up, we will need to give them a thorough period of testing as well.

We would love to get this made as a commercial product, too, and I’ve been investigating options for a Kickstarter project to make that happen.  Before we do that, though, testing the game some more is in order, and the more people we can reach to get this tested, the better.  More eyes can also mean a better launch for the game if we do get to take it to Kickstarter.

If you have the time and interest, then, please download the files below and print them out.  It should give you all you need to play the game with 2 to 6 players.  I print the board and tiles on photo paper and then mount them on matboard, then cut them out, to give a better feel to them and more durability, but you should be able to play the game if you just use simple paper on everything.  I’m happy to answer questions about the game, either here or over on our Facebook page:

Project Khopesh

I would also love to ask you questions about how the game worked for you.  If you are willing to let me ask you some questions, or just want to ask some, please contact me at tishtoshtesh@gmail.com with “Fall of Ra” somewhere in your email subject line.

Thank you all!

If you want these all in a single .PDF file, it’s presently hosted over on Dropbox at this link (though the rule text has since been tweaked a little bit for clarity, they function the same way):

Pantheon Wars: The Fall Of Ra Print and Play

Rules

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_Rules_v3

 

Board in 3 parts for printing on 8.5″ by 11″ paper

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_PrintAndPlay_Bottom

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_PrintAndPlay_Middle

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_PrintAndPlay_Top

Board combined for larger format printing

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_PrintAndPlay_fullmap

Tiles and Control Markers (we’ve been using flat marbles instead of  these colored squares, but it’s handy to have these markers in the print and play files, just in case)

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_PrintAndPlay_Page2

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_PrintAndPlay_Page3

PantheonWars_FallOfRa_PrintAndPlay_Page4

 

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A few more points on flight in World of Warcraft that have come up that I wanted to note in a bit more detail since last time:

1.  A “smaller world”.

I’ve written it before, but I consider this to be an inaccurate statement.  Flying doesn’t make the world any smaller, it changes how quickly you travel through it.  That will probably make your world feel smaller if you’re only interested in Point A and Point B, but if that’s all you’re looking for in the first place, the interstitial points (like fights with bad guys or weird pathing issues) are just filler (time sinks) anyway, and the points off of the beaten track are irrelevant to you and how you view or feel  the world.  Flight doesn’t remove any content, it lets you access places that you never could before.  If anything, it makes the playable world, the part you can get to and the sights you can see, much, much larger.

No, a smaller world is one that’s just Potemkin villages and a tight, controlled experience that doesn’t let you explore the world at large.  A smaller world is one where you play the developers’ story and don’t explore the world around it.  The game’s title is World of Warcraft.  It has been lamented before by me and others, but the World part keeps contracting, and I believe it’s a detriment to what the title has to offer.  (Tangentially, Final Fantasy XIII is perhaps the most maligned of the post-SNES era of Final Fantasy games, and that is mostly because it’s a very controlled experience.  Gamers like freedom to explore.  This is not an MMO problem, it’s a game problem, since games are all about player autonomy.  This is a problem that savvy developers leverage instead of fight.  It’s part of why Minecraft is so huge.)

2. Game development costs.

I am not privy to the costs of developing World of Warcraft.  I have, however, worked on Tiger Woods video games and smaller titles that are heavily invested in facades.  It is not a huge time saver or money saver to make them instead of making full 3D worlds.  Designers still have to find ways to curtail player viewlines, which takes time and possibly engine work with programmers.  It takes finesse and massaging to try to keep the boundaries organic instead of arbitrary.

Artists still have to find ways to make all possible views interesting.  They have to make buildings and terrain anyway, and often, it takes more time to go back and prune polygons on the “back” of objects, or to go make more pieces of geometry to be used specifically as facades.  It is often actually faster and easier to have instanced buildings and oddments that look good from different angles and then place them strategically.  The data footprint is smaller since you can reuse objects in more places, and savvy programmers can make use of that bit of savings.  An object that can be viewed from many angles instead of a select few is more useful in the long run.  There are even savings with LOD (Level Of Detail meshes that pop in to save processing cycles by having lower-polycount items on display at certain distances) construction that way, as a building need only have one set of LODs instead of making a variety of buildings with different geometry needs, each with their own LODs.

There is also a larger problem with players being able to see “behind the curtain”.  If devs miss an angle, a place where the facade falls apart, it’s more obvious in a Potemkin village.  Perhaps paradoxically, but entirely in keeping with the mental gymnastics our mind goes through to “fill in the blanks” that make the Uncanny Valley approachable with low fidelity art, the more controlled an experience is, the stronger the distraction effect if something doesn’t look just right.  And yet, on the flipside, if a place in-game is presented as a fully explorable 3D space, some of those distracting little details are often ignored in the sheer amount of information on display and the freedom the user has to look at it from different angles.  In more pithy phrasing, there are no curtains to look behind.  All the warts are out there in the open, or easily discovered, and as such, are instinctively more forgivable.

I say this as an artist who has had to deal with making things look just right, and having parsed a lot of publisher feedback, it’s very interesting to see what people pick up on and what they gloss over.  It’s very, very easy to swallow even big bits of weirdness in large if imperfect presentations, but smaller, more intimate content walks a much tighter line, and it takes time and money to make both styles work.

I’m sure they have crunched numbers to make an argument to the board members, but down in the trenches of development that I’ve seen, the differences aren’t huge.

Also, as a brief aside, speaking again as a 3D artist, I’d much rather players see my work from a variety of angles, rather than make a widget that looks right only in tightly controlled circumstances.  It lets me show off my abilities more when I can make a component that has a more holistic appeal.  This, to me, is the appeal of sculpting (digitally or physically) in the first place.  If I wanted to just show one angle, I’d simply make a painting.

3.  Player costs.

WoW is still a subscription game.  As such, it is in the company’s best interests to make players take as long as possible to get through content.  If they can be strung along for long enough, the next subscription time period ticks over, and the financials look better.  Players trudging through ever-respawning enemies to get anywhere will take more time to play through the developer stories.  I’m cynical enough to think that there’s a bit of calculus involved to discover the best way to string players along so they pay for one or two more months than they might with flight as a travel option.  At least, the players who do the content once, don’t look around much off the beaten trail, and unsubscribe when done with “the story”.

Speaking of content, if players are skipping your content by flying over it, the problem is not the player.  The problem is the content that they do not want to engage in.  Going through yet another rebel/pirate/demon/enemy camp to kill the leader, then muddling back out, fighting every few steps… it’s just not interesting gameplay content to someone who has done it many, many times before (and almost anyone in Draenor is in that position).  That’s a problem with the design, and it’s not going to be solved by making players do more of it.

I firmly believe that the best stories in MMOs come from the unique ability they have to let people interact with each other and with the world.  The sense of place is important to these fictional worlds, or it should be.  Emergent play is important.  Weird nooks and crannies make a place seem more interesting, and they need to be experienced at their own pace.  Players need to be able to take in the sights and get a sense of the world.  Cities offer this, quiet spots offer this, and flight offers this breather space.  If players are constantly being prodded through the narrow “developer experience”, they simply don’t get a sense of what the world has to offer.  They are too busy dealing with the cardboard enemies that are all too often neither interesting nor challenging, merely time sinks.

Those moments when things are different, when something unique happens, those are often the best memory making moments.  A sternly guided experience will have these moments, if done correctly, but there is little room for the sublime accident, the quirky discovery, the quiet moments of awe that come from momentarily buying into the idea of being in a different world and seeing something new.  Those can happen on the ground, certainly, but flight facilitates them both by allowing more angles to see the world from, and more opportunities of quiet reflection.

It’s not the quests or the endless killing that are the best that WoW has to offer.  Blizzard’s work on this sort of content is entertaining enough for a while, but it’s not amazing, and it’s not engrossing, at least, not for long.  Letting players poke around to see what is off the beaten track can help fill in the world, give it context, and breathing room.  If a player has to be on their toes dealing with “danger” all the time, they will not relax, they will not find the world welcoming or worth exploring.  They will burn out faster.

The World of Warcraft has never been high on verisimilitude, and I’m simply not convinced that putting players into ever-more-controlled experiences will help that in any way.  That’s quite apart from flight purely as a mechanic, but as flight is a way for players to take their time and manage their approach to the game, it’s highly relevant.

Developers do have to manage expectations and design a stage for players to play on.  That’s part of game design.  I simply believe that the more controlled an experience, the more a game is like a movie, and less adroit at leveraging the true strengths of games as a medium.  Players want control, otherwise they would be watching a movie or reading a book.  Designers need to ease off the reins and let players play.  Flight has allowed that, and taking it away isn’t going to make WoW better in the long run, not for players.  It will absolutely make it easier for developers to manage the presentation, but I believe that’s missing the point, and players and the World of WoW will be lesser for it.

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Operation: Backlog is still proceeding, I just don’t have tons of time to do any of it, from the playing to the documenting.  Still, it’s good for the very fractured gaming schedule I have.  As usual:

I’m going through my Steam list alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First up is one of the drive-by games:  Batman: Arkham Asylum

This is an excellent game.  I played it to completion and then some on the XBox 360, not on PC, but it’s one I highly Recommend.  It’s not perfect, but it’s great fun, and really nails the feeling of Batman, at least, as I have come to expect it as a fan of the character since the mid-90s.  It has fantastic combat, excellent worldbuilding, really, really good graphics, fun mobility, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and, well, it’s tons of fun to play.

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Second, we have the sequel, Batman: Arkham City.  I’ve only played this one for about 45 minutes, so I don’t know how well the open world nature of the game actually works in the long run.  Catwoman is a bit too skanky and the political setup seems contrived, but it still seems like the core of what made Arkham Asylum works is still present.  It’s a game that I’m leaving installed, and Recommend, though with the usual caveat that I haven’t played all that much of it.

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Third, I did try to play Birth of America, but it flat out refused to work.  So, dump that in the Regret pile.  I don’t have time to wrangle dysfunctional games.

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Fourth, the Blackwell Deception almost ran into the same fate, with some weird tech issues popping up thanks to my dual monitor setup, but the second time I fired it up it behaved.  This one’s a bit tricky, as it’s an adventure game in the vein of the LucasArts classics.

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I did love that era of gaming, for all its quirks, and this game would have fit well in those days.  I consider that to be praise, though it does mean that I just don’t have time to give it a proper playthrough.  I’d like to someday, along with the rest of the Blackwell Bundle that I picked up at GoG.com, but for now, I’m lumping them all together with a Remember rating, noting that I do like adventure games, I just don’t have a lot of time.

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I love that Wadjet Eye Games is making games that feel like classic adventure games.  The voiceover work is adequate, if not stellar, the art and animation is solid, and the writing that I saw was pretty good.  The game plops you into an investigation with little fanfare, effectively dropping you into the deep end, but it’s designed well enough that there’s not much trouble getting up and running.  It’s a well designed first 15 minutes, I think, and it does leave me wanting to play more someday.

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Fifth, Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition.  I picked this one up on deep discount due to my passing interest in the WarHammer tabletop wargame.  I have some of the sourcebooks, but no models and nobody to play with.  I just study the books and dissect the game design.  Blood Bowl isn’t really the same thing, but I’ve heard enough good about the board game incarnation of the title that I figured I’d check out the digital version.  (I still wish there was a digital version of the WarHammer tabletop game so I could play with someone online.  Not a RTS, not a card game, not a shooter, just a literal translation of the tabletop game.  This is one reason why I backed WarMachine Tactics for its Kickstarter campaign, but we’ll dig into that later.)

Without a history with the board game, I hit the learning curve hard in Blood Bowl.  It seems to be well designed and the visual design is solid, if a bit too skanky and “grimdark” for me.  (I have very little interest in any WarHammer 40K titles for the same reason.)  I puttered around a bit with setting up a team, fired up a match and promptly lost horribly.  There are a LOT of options and rules to the game that I’m just not up to speed on.

BloodBowlOptions

That’s not a bad thing, really, so long as the game can be mastered with some honest effort, but I just don’t have the time to make that effort.  This is a failing in my schedule, not the game, though it would be nice to have a bit more guidance for those early learning moments.  Being tossed in the deep end is OK so long as there’s a good learning feedback cycle.  That seems to be a bit obscured in this title, though it is clear that it builds on the board game.  I should see if I can find the rulebook somewhere in a used bookstore, perhaps.

As such, I’m giving it a Remember rating, and maybe I’ll pick it up later.  I don’t dislike the game, I just have to move on and it didn’t really grab me.  There does seem to be a lot of meat to chew on and a fun, snarky sense of humor, though, and that’s promising.

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Sixth, Braid.  I’ve written about this before, I think, having played it years ago, but in a nutshell, it’s a decent little platformer with great art design and solid game design.  The story is pretentious, dreary, and takes itself way too seriously, but the game is fun.  I give it a Recommend rating, if only to see the visuals and design in action, just with the caveat that it’s not really the revolutionary masterpiece that it often gets credit for.  It’s fun, it’s solid, it’s full of itself.  I’m done with it, but I do think it’s worth playing if you haven’t.

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Seventh, Cargo Commander.  I got this one in a bundle, one of those games that just sort of tags along with other games I actually cared about.  (I don’t remember what it was bundled with at the moment, though.  Oops.)  It’s not that Cargo Commander looked bad, just that it seemed a bit too twitchy for me.

It’s a platformer with variable gravity and a ticking clock.  The design is actually pretty solid, I’m just not all that interested in this sort of game any more.  Maybe as a teenager I’d have loved it, but I prefer more thoughtful, careful, tactical games these days.  That’s not a failing of the game, since it does what it sets out to do well.

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You play as a corporate lackey, stuck on a space station in some far off garbage zone, tasked with dragging cargo containers in to crash into your habitat, and then go invade them and grab any valuable salvage before the timer runs out and everything falls apart but your base.  You have to scramble into these other containers, platform through them fighting baddies and the structure, and grab what you can.  It’s fast, frantic and not very forgiving.

The controls are tight, platforming with the keyboard and aiming with the mouse, a bit like A.R.E.S., but much more fluid and fun.  There’s an upgrade system and a “completion” rating, with the ability to replay levels to try to do better.  The visuals are adequate, nothing amazing, but not bad.

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All in all, I give this a Remember rating for myself, but it’s really something that might be worth picking up if you’re into variable gravity direction, crazy quick-on-your-feet action.  It’s a slightly silly premise, but it winds up being pretty fun to play, so long as you’re up for fast paced gaming.

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Eighth, Chains.  This is a light puzzler, very clicky like AVSEQ was, but not quite as fast and much more interesting given its physics and variable levels.  It’s a decent little game, one I give a Remember rating since I remember it in a positive light.  It’s not even close to my favorite puzzle game, but for all its apparent simplicity (the visual style really isn’t all that great), there’s a bit more going on under the hood than screenshots might suggest.

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Ninth, Chime.  This is one I’ve mentioned in passing before.  I really like Chime.  I do wish that I could flip pieces like I can in Puzzle Pirates’ Carpentry puzzle, as that would make it a more complete puzzle game, but for what it is, Chime works well.  It could use more music options, too, but what it has is good in my book.  I give it a Revisit rating, since it’s not as great as others I’d put in the same mental “music/puzzle” game niche, but it really is a good game.

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Tenth, Cogs.  I’m a fan of steampunk design.  Hence the Tinker products I’ve been working with for almost two years now.  (Go visit the shop, please, and spread the word!)  I love old, beat up, lived in machinery, and I love puzzle games.  Cogs scratches all the right places for me.  It has smart puzzle design, great visuals, simple play rules (at heart, it’s just a bunch of sliding tile puzzles with some nice 3D aspects), and it really embraces its own steampunk design ethos.  It’s not arrogant, it’s not silly or trying to be ironic, it’s just a well-themed tinkerer’s box full of puzzles.

Some are easy, some are really tough, and most are somewhere in the middle.  They always feel fair, though, and there are some great uses of the 3D aspects that introduce nice quirks with sliding tile puzzles.  Sadly, when my computer crashed last year, I lost my screenshot collection, but there are some puzzles that I played again and again, just for how fun it was to see the mechanism come together as I solved the puzzle.  I wish I had some of them as real, physical devices.  (These puzzles are later in the list, and I didn’t have time to get to them for this project.)

Cogs earns a hearty Recommend rating from me, as it’s one of my favorite light puzzle games.  It’s available for Android devices, too, which is nice.

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That’s all for this post.  There are plenty more where these came from, the most notable for next time being Dear Esther, Defense Grid and The Dig, one of LucasArts’ finest adventure games.  Until next time, then!

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