Posts Tagged ‘beta’

The Pirate 101 Beta NDA has been officially dropped!  (OK, it dropped last month… I’ve been busy.  Still.)

Consequently, I can show off some of the screenshots I’ve been able to get while I was tinkering with the beta.  I’m a fan of Wizard 101, and it’s been fun to see where King’s Isle has expanded on their multiverse they call the Spiral, and their art and game design has stepped up a notch.

And, well… combat in Pirate 101 is tactical, sort of a Pirate Tactics Lite, as it were.  I like tactical games.  I even made one.  (Yes, Zomblobs! still needs work, yes, I’m still working on it, yes, I’ve been busy… I’ve only played a little of this Pirate 101 beta.)  Wizard 101‘s card combat system is quirky but solid, and I’m a fan… but tactical grid combat?  Yes, please!

The Pirate 101 combat engine is pretty good, from what I’ve seen.  I’m a little disappointed with the Musketeer “line attack” special moves, but overall, it’s a very solid light tactical system.  (Musketeers function like artillery in most tactical games, namely move OR shoot, which is generally fine, but their special moves place higher importance on position, so it’s harder to make use of them.  Melee and magic characters have much more useful special attacks.)  You place your units on a square-based grid, and try to knock out the enemies before they defeat you, occasionally dealing with an optional or side target.

It’s worth noting that characters can attack and move diagonally on the grid, something that isn’t common in square-based grid games I’m familiar with.  This does make choke points a bit more vulnerable, or even impossible to set up, so you can’t count on one solid melee unit holding the line while ranged units blast the foes.  You can certainly do some of that, and such is just smart tactics, but it’s not as easy to use positioning against enemies as it would be without diagonal options.  That’s neither good nor bad, just a difference from, say, Final Fantasy Tactics.

Pirate 101 also gives you a ship pretty quickly (a dozen or so quests into the game), and a wealth of cosmetic customization options for your character and ship.  I love this decision to give players their own ships early.  That’s one aspect where I think Allods Online really dropped the ball, as they made ships endgame toys.  Puzzle Pirates (another great game) gives you access to ships fairly early as well, but Pirate 101 is even faster, and it’s a wonderful thing, giving a great sense of exploration and freedom.  Ship to ship combat isn’t quite as awesome as that in Pirates! Live the Life!, but it’s still nice and smooth, plenty of fun to play.

I haven’t seen a lot of the game, nor have I played all the classes with much depth (I focused on the Musketeer in the beta), but Pirate 101 is a great game from what I can see.  It will share the Crowns microcurrency with Wizard 101, and I presume it will have a similar setup for buying bits and bobs of content.  I am happy with this system.

I’m looking forward to spending some more time in the Spiral, and I hope that the game does well.  Once the beta phase is over and I nail down a permanent pirate name, I’ll add it to my roster of characters, if you feel like stopping by and saying hello.  I may well be hanging around this fascinating little shantytown:

Crazy Ship Architecture

Fair winds!

Oh, and for more perusal, here’s my Picasa album of the screenshots I’ve collected thus far.  It’s a bit of a mess, but there are some gems in there.

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Zomblobs! is finally in a playable state!   It’s a tabletop tactical wargame, played on a map with hexagonal cells, miniatures (folded paper for this version) and six-sided dice.  It’s the beta, so it’s not yet precisely balanced or perfectly presentable, but it’s playable!  (If you print out the PDF and prepare some paper, anyway.)


I’ve worked long enough in the game industry to believe that game testers are the last line of defense between a working game and a broken one.  There’s definitely more polishing I want to do before I call Zomblobs! an alpha-release-worthy product, but it’s in a state where the game will benefit greatly from playtesting and experimentation.

Polishing can be pretty prickly

If you all have the time to at least read through the rules and give me some feedback, I’d greatly appreciate it.  If you have time to print out the game and play it for a while, I’d really love to hear what you think of it.

Many thanks for your interest!  I’ll be writing more articles on the game, especially if there’s something important to address that I haven’t yet covered in my previous articles.

Consume or be consumed!

For Science!


Now, in convenient just-under-19 MB size!  It’s a bit JPEGgy, but that’s just how the Zomblob crumbles.

Zomblobs Rules Beta Smaller

…and, because commenter “ironshield” down there has a very good point on printing, here’s the exact same data split into a “text” file and an “extras” file, just in case you want them that way.

Zomblobs Rules Beta Text

Zomblobs Rules Beta Extras (unit tokens, maps, map widgets, templates, that sort of thing)

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I’ve nailed down the ruleset for Zomblobs!, and I’m making some final touches to the files so I can present it as a PDF file that anyone can print out and play with.  This means making a few maps, and a few map features for variety.  As it will be a public beta of the game, it will inevitably need a little tuning and a lot of playtesting, so I’m hoping to get it out to as many people as possible.  I’ll be making a big announcement about it here in a bit, once I get the presentation polished.

In the meantime, though, I’m left to think a little bit about filling the gaps.

Have you ever played the license plate game?  There are probably a few different ones, but the one I play involves looking at license plate on cars as you pass by them and try to make a word out of the letters that are on the plates.  It’s a bit of a cross between a literary Rorschach test and a vocabulary test.  Something like the following on a plate might produce a variety of results.

498 MNM

The first thing I thought of was Mmrnmhrm… showing my 90s gamer roots.  If I had a craving for chocolate, I might fudge the rules a little and think of M&Ms.  If I were a psychologist, I might think of monomaniacal.  If I were a monomaniac, I might think the rules don’t apply to me, and think of Mini Me.  If I were a Star Wars geek, I might think that license plates don’t apply to a galaxy long ago and far away and think of Mon Mothma.  If I were a historian, I might think of monuments.  If I were an anthropologist, I might think of manmade.  If I were a mathmetician, I might think of minimizing something.  If I were a zookeeper I might think of monotremes.

Whatever my background, whatever my vocabulary, it would inform my selection.  With minimal information to start with, and a few simple rules, there are a lot of paths to try.

That’s what I’m angling for with Zomblobs!  Some simple rules, some simple actions, some relatively simple units, some simple state tracking, all brewing up a nice storm of gameplay options to make tactics interesting.  Time and testing will tell if I manage it well, but that’s my goal.  It may well require players to bring something of their own to the table, or at least, the willingness to read the rules and try things out.  They may need to fill in the gaps a little bit and play nice when the rules don’t quite cover all possible corner cases.

Maybe I’m just making excuses, but then, even the most tenured of tabletop wargames have disclaimers in their rulebooks that suggest players use their own judgement when the rules prove insufficient to curious situations.  I have tried diligently to compose a playable ruleset that should answer most questions, but I simply don’t know all the weird things that can happen as players try to break the rules.

It’s actually a good thing for the players to try to break the game.  That’s the point of beta testing.  I’m relying on testing situations to fill in the gaps where I just didn’t foresee everything.  I’ve mapped things out as well as I can, but exploration is necessary for the rest.

So thank you for your interest!  I still have a lot of things going on at the moment, but the light at the end of the pre-beta tunnel is getting brighter.

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I know, I know, that’s a terrible pun.  I do that sometimes.  English just lends itself well to such… malleability.

I played in the Allods Online closed beta a little while back.  (They are having another one, too, so if you’re interested, go sign up!)  As always, I didn’t get a lot of time in the game, but what I did see at least has me looking forward to playing it a bit when it gets a full release.

The Massively preview that I referenced last time I wrote about Allods Online has perhaps more than I really have to offer, so I would suggest that as a starting point.  I do have some screenshots that I wanted to chime in about (out of 173… I take a lot of shots).

Before I get to that, though, a few thoughts (noting that this time, I can’t remember where I read these things, and what inaccuracies exist about the lore are entirely my fault):

One, what exactly is an “Allod”, anyway?  It turns out that an Allod is a chunk of habitable terrain floating around in this sort of… space… Etherium-like… thing.  (The Etherium is Treasure Planet’s “outer space”… which is a strange sort of space with breathable atmosphere and unidirectional gravity… unless there’s a spatial distortion or baby black hole.  Treasure Planet isn’t a terrible movie, but the physics are just so… WRONG.)  Apparently, people used to be constrained to their local Allod, whilst the mage priesthood maintained the means to travel between them… until someone went and discovered that you could just go sail around in space, looking for other Allods.

So, we have some sort of power hungry magehood (the mage version of a priesthood, of course) conspiring for population control, rebels trying to set everyone free, power struggles between the Empire and the League (I’m not sure who is closer to the mages, or if they are a third faction that nobody likes), and Gibberlings.  These guys are sort of like a cross between Gnomes, Ewoks and Gremlins that are born in triplets and fight as a trio.  Yes, they are player characters as well as NPCs.  It’s a lot of fun to play as Gibberlings for me, but then, I wasn’t traumatized by Teddy Ruxpin or Tickle Me Elmo.  Player response to these guys will be varied, methinketh.

Oh, and ships.  Did I mention ships?  Apparently, ship combat is meant to be the “endgame”, or at least a significant part of the non-noob experience.  At some point, you can get your own ship and sail around between Allods, complete with combat and crew cooperation.  As in, you may need other players to man your ship.

I can’t shake the Puzzle Pirates feel of that.  In PP, you can solo a lot of things, and have a lot of fun playing alone, even on your own little sloop (and I hope Allods Online lets you solo ships), but the really crazy (fun) and rewarding stuff is done on ships with other players.  If the ship combat (including manning separate stations) in Allods Online can be even partially as fun as PP (but in 3D, wooooo), it’ll be worth digging into.  PP has PvP and PvE on these group ships, and both can be a lot of fun.  I lean more to the cooperative PvE (the PP equivalent to raiding, I suppose), but PvP can be a thrill at times, too.  PP is player skill based, though, which is, as always, significant when it comes to game design.  We’ll see how much player skill means in Allods Online.  I’ve never considered outleveling someone else to really be a “skill” when it comes to PvP.

Of course, the land-based DIKU standard MMO fare will appeal to some, and the ship combat will appeal to others.  I haven’t read anything on raids, but perhaps that’s still in the pipeline.  The DIKU combat doesn’t have an “autoattack + hotkeys”, rather, it’s all hotkeys.  You need to trigger your basic attack.  This can be good or bad, depending on how you play.  I had fun with it, but I’ll admit, I miss the old brainless autopilot combat sometimes (and I want more involved combat sometimes, too).  Either way, it’s something a bit different than the gorilla standard, while still being accessible.  Time will tell if that’s a good idea.  (I lean more to DDO if I want more involved combat, but hey, to each their own.)

OK, so… pictures.  I’m hiding them behind the More link for cleanliness’ sake, and for anyone who happens to be tuning in via dialup.  There are plenty of pictures after the break, for better or worse.

Bottom line, I’ll be playing this in the next beta, and I look forward to playing once it’s live.  It may not be my permanent MMO home, but it bears investigation.  I do heartily recommend it to anyone interested in MMOs, if only to see what the Russians are up to in game development.  (Apparently, there are some solid game studios in Russia.  I welcome this, since “Western” and Japanese games could use some competition.)

Pictures after the link: (more…)

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Gatheryn has sent out a wave of beta invites, as Ysharros notes over at her place.  I commented there that I’ve received an invite to the beta… but had to turn it down.  See, there’s this little clause in the Terms of Service when setting up an account that prohibits anyone working for a different game company from playing in the beta.

…the beta that ostensibly is about finding and fixing bugs.

…bugs that industry insiders may well know a thing or two about, diagnosing them and even suggesting fixes.


I can understand not wanting competitors getting wind of things, but it’s exactly this sort of insular mentality that has MMO design in a rut, with everyone making DIKU flavors of the month, as Chris notes over at his place.

Of course, that’s assuming that beta is actually about making the game better.  If it’s a glorified PR release with some minor back end stress testing, then the nature of the beast is a bit different.  Also, there are those who aren’t currently employed in the industry who can contribute as well, so it’s not like they really *need* game insiders like me.  It just seems a touch paranoid and insular to me.  As I’ve noted before, game testing is a very different animal from game playing, so I can only hope that the Gatheryn guys have some internal testing going on with those who know what they are doing.

Still, it seems to me that having experienced eyes would be valuable.  Then again, this industry does reinvent the wheel the vast majority of the time, so it’s no surprise.  It doesn’t put me off of the game either; I’ll check it out when it goes live.

If you’re wondering why the state of the art of game design doesn’t progress very rapidly, this is one reason.  In a world where IP is protected fiercely, to the point of whining about secondary sales on the market, a paranoid design sensibility fits quite naturally.  It’s not exactly healthy, but it’s understandable.

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Data Mining

On the heels of my Alpha Hex paper beta announcement, I’ve been digging again into data mining.  That’s a big part of why I made the paper beta, to get people playing so that I could pick their brains about the game.  That’s why games even have beta periods to start with.  (And why testing is so vital to game design, as I write about now and then.)

MMOs, of course, are a bit of a different animal, since they are more or less constantly being tweaked.  Mining data is always hugely important, but when you’re always mucking around in the game design, it’s your lifeblood.  You must have data from which to work, or else you’re just as likely to cause problems as you are to solve them.

Chris over on IHasPC noted a great little data mining blog over here:

A New Favorite Data Blog

And Mike Darga has a fantastic series of articles on data mining that he’s in the middle of at the moment:

Designing a Black Box Part 1

Designing a Black Box Part 2

Data Mining (with a link to the same blog Chris pointed out as well as another great one)

This is the sort of data that I love to poke around in, teasing out game design applications.  I’d be a design theorycrafter, given the spare time.  (As if I didn’t already do more than my fair share already, I’d love to geek out and dig into this data.)  I think that such is vital to understanding how games work, and how to improve them.

…which is my cue to plug the Alpha Hex paper beta again.  🙂

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