How many times have I posted this?

Ya ya… I’m a horrible blogger, developer, and procrastinator.  If I can think of any reason to put something off, I will. It’s a horrible trait I picked up a few years ago in an accident, but I’m hoping (again) to get back on track.  I’m gonna try to take some time every day to work on a post and hope to get about 2 or 3 out a week.

Now, ANY suggestions on posts or topics or anything would be fucking great! Every time I write something I feel like I’m just repeating an older post so if you have any idea’s please share em.

I’m also trying to develop more on my free time. I work a mad amount and most of my free time I spend with my gf, but I’m gonna try to also put more time into dev. I have a few friends that are willing to help which will hopefully keep me in line ^^

So, I hope to start development on two games within the next month. Just need to ramp up some lacking PHP skills since I’ve spent the last year in AS3.

Study : Legends of Zork

Hey everyone,

This is a new thing I’m gonna try to do. Not quite a review since I suck at writing reviews ( I’m sorry @buildingbrowsergames – I am really bad at it. I tried to write a few that I never sent because they were bad). So instead I’m going to do something I think I can do a little better – Play a game, study it’s elements, look at what was done well and what wasn’t done so well.

So the first game up is a game I’ve been waiting a few months for and it has finally been released! Legends of Zork.  As I’m sure you can guess the game is based loosely of the old Zork games. Yes, the ones where you type “North” to end north. Good times, eh? Anyways, this games is being result by Jolt and backed by EA so I had pretty high expectations. I don’t know why I expected so much, but I did and I was rather disappointed. But I will explain myself through this study.

Since we need a place to start, we may as well pick the interface since that’s the first thing you see.  The UI for this game is pretty simple with a bar of 5 or so links across the top where when you click one you are brought to a page with more related links. This is pretty standard but works well expect in a few places but I will touch on this later. Next you have your character information on the left and despite the icons being slightly confusing, displays all the info you need for the game. And this is a flaw not because it displays everyone but all it really displays is your health, action points remain, gold and points to next level.  And below that you have your friends list which is pretty useless. With no benefit to having friends or even an easy way to add them it just ends up being a quick link to your friends profile.

After the UI you have the action points (AP) system the game is based on. Wanna move somewhere? 1 point. Wanna attack something? 1 point.  How many points do you get a day? 30.  So you see , you have a pretty simple to use and easy to understand system that has worked for many games before. Currently there a few kinks in the system where if you are out adventuring and view your inventory (This is the UI problem I mentioned earlier is) there is no way other than the back button on the browser to go back to where you were. If you try to use the in game menus you can end up losing 3 or 4 action points. Now, whether this is intentional or not is yet to be seen but they have done something else right with the APs.

In game you can buy coconuts. With these coconuts you can buy APs. But the part they did right was that coconuts are just a few dollars. Low enough that I say “If I don’t get a coffee today I can get extra turns in game”. Too many games charge too much for these perks or make you pay the perks play the game properly. Not Zork.

Let’s now take a look at the combat. Oh, the combat system. Such a corner stone for so many games. It seems though that the game play designers for Zork didn’t consider this so. The combat here the weakest part of the game. You click explore area. You encounter an enemy. And a random number generator does the rest for you. It shows you a lot of meaningless numbers then whether you have won or loss, your loot, the the option to adventure again or head to your base. Yip-ee.

So what can be done to amend this oversight without changing the existing game too much? I think a good solution for this game since it’s attempting to keep simple but would allow for those of us that more some more complexity would be to allow the user at the top of combat to assign 10 combat points to several fields. Fields such as aggression, defense, magic, wait for opening, etc etc. This would allow the players to study their enemies and figure out the best numbers for that enemy depending on their armor/level/class. You could also have a random button or even distribute for players that don’t wish to do the combat this way.

So this concludes my first study. Any suggestions or aspects that I should investigate more please feel free to make them. Also, game suggestions for study’s would be good. I”m just gonna go through all the games I currently play and do studies on them first so expect to see a TornCity and Renaissance Kingdoms study shortly.

An engine – Planning ahead

I have made it clear in the past that I’ m interested in building a game engine and I’ve finally gotten this project underway with the aid of my co-workers. They will be helping me ensure the engine can be easily scalable and adoptable.

Now, this brings me to a few different crossroads. This engine will be written in AS3 and likely deployed using Flex.  And thinking back to a debate we had about whether Flash based games could be called PBBGs, means I may more longer be in that realm for a while. If you ask me, what I hope to build won’t likely be considered a PBBG but will be closer to an MMO.It also pushes on the game play elements I have written about in the past and may very well write about in the future. I’ve been hoping to move the focus of this blog more to the gameplay design part of things anyways, so this may not be a bad thing.

As for the state of the project, it is still in the early stages of planning. We (my workplace) have in the past built a multiplayer flash game using electroserver. We are trying to avoid all the mistakes we made while building that engine to to ensure that this one will be able to be easily adopted to fit our needs. And in the process of trying to ensure this is all well planned out, I have found a piece of software I would like to share with everyone. It’s called StarUML. It is an open source UML platform thingy…. Pretty much you can use it to plan out your class, interfaces, inheritance, etc etc. And depending on the language you are working in, it can create all your classes for you (yes, there is an as3 thing for it).

So there’s an update on where my latest aspirations are in building a game. I’m hoping in the next few months to complete this engine while I simultaneously work on the game play/store with another co-worker. Hopefully it will all work out and you will in the next few months see some progress on the game front from me.

Strategy Game Idea

Hello all. It’s been a while. Hope ya’ll didn’t forget about me or thought I was dead. Just been busy… And outta idea’s. But I’m hoping that will change as I try to design two more games, one which I want to explore in this post.

So, in my usual style, I’m just gonna start typing and we’ll see what I end up with. I have a vague idea in my head of what I want to achieve. And oh, I almost forgot. I think this is the first time I’m actually going to delve into a game I am going to design. So all criticism is welcome and just note, this doesn’t technically fall under a PBBG.

Let’s take a look at the tech that I first want to use to make this game. For interface, I will be using AIR. There are a few reasons I want to use this:

  1. I’m an as3 developer by day and I need more experience in Flex and AIR.
  2. I want this to be a game that constantly at your finger tips. You don’t need to go to a site or check your email. It will always just be a click away.
  3. I think it will be cool

For the server I’m torn. I’m looking at Red5 or Electroserver. I’m torn because I don’t know if the open source Red5 can do what it is I am looking to do when I know the very expensive Electroserver can (I have used ES in the past).

And for the back end stuff I’ll be using PHP/MySQL.

There’s the tech I know to use. Let’s see an overview of the game I want to make before I go into mopre depth of some features.

I want a game that is similar in strategy to that of chess. In chess it all comes down to strategy. You and you’re oppoent are equally matched. You know exactly what you and they can do. You know all their pieces. The only ‘x-factor’ is how far ahead you can see. When I think about it, this is very very similar to a table top miniatures game. You have a number of units you can pick from to build your army, each piece costs an amount, positions are key to victory, and there’s no luck. Unless you consider you’re opponent not being to think ahead as far as you luck.

So, lets get into details.The background doesn’t matter, and since I don’t have one, let’s say I’m going for world war 2.

To start a game, you create one using the tool, and you can pick how many points each person can spend on units, how long each player can take to make a turn, whether the game is public/private, the map and how many players can take part. Once you create a game, or you are joining one, you need to select your army. Each unit you have you will know all of it’s details. It’s hit percent, it’s damage, the abilities (if any), how position affects it, etc. And all units will have the same base values  as units of the same type. So my infantry has the same base stats as my opponents. Now, I’m debated on commander bonuses, but we will discuss that later.

If you have ever played diplomacy (the board game), the turn structure will feel very similar. The idea is though is that each player makes their turn simultaneously. So, when the game creator makes the game, they pick how long a turn phase will be. During that phase you can change your turn movement sheet as much as you want. But you must commit it when you finish or you won’t make any moves. But this way, there is no advantage for second player. Both players are unaware of where their opponent will move or how they will react. If you are playing on a larger map with more than two people you will be able to communicate with that player and possibly work out an agreement, since ranks will be based on scores and game achievements.

Making a move will be similar to other table tops. Each unit will have a speed, dictating how far it can move in a turn. Performing certain actions will limit this number, such as sneak, or snipe or grenade.

Combat will be similar to A&A miniatures for those that have played it. Damage isn’t deal to a unit until both units have applied their actions. So if we you attack the enemy, your enemy returns attack before the damage is actually applied. This means it is possible for both units in an encounter to die.

And because combat will be such an important part of this, after movement turns are complete and the units that are now engaged and  have enough action points left to perform combat maneuvers will be able to do so. These numbers will all be available to the players.  Example; You’re tank has 20 action points (ap) and 1 movement point(mp) costs 2 ap, and one combat point (cp) is 3 ap, moving more than 8 squares would leave this unit unable to attack or defend come end of turn combat engagement.

As you can start to see, planning is crucial to this game. This may be a turn off for a lot of people but games are a labour of love for me.

What, you asked, would happen if a sniper engaged a infantry from max range. Well in this case, since the infantry’s range is not long enough to engage the sniper, the sniper is the only unit that performs combat.

What if, you ask again, I tell my sniper to engage a unit which then moves out of range. In this case, combat would not occur. Since combat occurs at the end of the movement phase, it’s imperative that the unit you wish to engage is still within range. This makes it risky for long range units. Risk moving up when the enemy will move forward and may possibly engage to ensure the combat, or hold back and hope to succeed.

At the end of combat, all units that have received lethal damage are removed and units that have received damage are  displayed to show the penalties they have received for taking damage.

Then it all occurs again, movement, engagement, and damage until the game’s goal is met. This goal may be to hold an area for a number of rounds or to eliminate a percentage of the enemies army, or maybe the first to gain a certain number of points.

The point system will be a large part of the game since there will be a public ladder and clan ladders that are visible to all players. Points will be gain from playing obviously, but how many points gained will change depending on the match type, turn lengths, number of players, number of units destroyed, etc. Points will be lost for losing a round and the number of units lost.

Thar ladder will hopefully promote more play as players try to achieve the top ranks or just to do better than their friends.

And of course, badges and shareable links will exist. I also want to make a system to replay a battle after it has been finished so you can send your friends a link showing them how bad you kicked someone’s ass or to maybe study what you did wrong in a battle and try to improve your skills.

Overall, it’s a fairly large project, but you guys now have a basic gist of what I’m trying to get at I hope.

Limited options or let the players decide?

I am working on a new game design and I have come to a metaphorical branch in the road. On one hand I have the choice to tell the players that they are a member of a certain army, or on the other hand, I can let them form their own armies.  But first let’s give you an idea of what the hell I’m talking about.

The design I’m working on isn’t anything incredible or groundbreaking. It’s meant to help me build a code base and actually get a game 100% made. So the game is pretty simple and boils down to capture and hold the flags for a certain amount of time.

The question is: Do I say make two or three factions and when players sign up they pick their faction and are forced to play for that faction for the round (similar to finalearth) or should players be able to create their own factions?

If I force them into two or three groups I have a better idea of how gameplay will pan out and can build options and events around it. If I let players create their own faction it may make the game lop-sided but gives them the control to do something about it.  Both options are appealing to me and I’m unable to decide and it’s holding me up from finishing my design.

So, what do ya’ll think I should do?

[poll id=”2″]

Happy 2 years and welcome to the new home of OpenBracket!

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been two years since I’ve started writing on this blog.  And to celebrate I have decided to put OpenBracket on it’s own server with a proper URL. There are a number of reasons for this, the main one being I now have a server online so I can put code up. And another big one is I’m hoping this will encourage me to do more blogging on the subject.

So welcome to the new site 🙂 I hope we all like the new home.

All ideas, comments and criticism are encouraged as always.

Oh! And I almost forgot! I would like to share the OpenBracket forums! I know other forums exist for this subject, but I thought I may as well give it a whirl!

http://openbracket.ca/forums/

Gameplay Types – Rounds, sandbox, story

A problem with many games that I have come across is the issue of replayability and length and this issue isn’t limited to PBBGs but has been affecting PC and console games for the last few years. But since this is a blog primarily about PBBGs lets explore this aspect in relation to them.

Many games have a limited story due to the difficulty of constantly producing new content. Many games approach this many having ’rounds’ (SK, NZ,), where after a few months or after a certain in game event happens, the round resets along with all the characters and everyone start new.  Some games don’t have a story and just provide a sandbox world where the players run the show (kind of like TC or RK). And then you have games that have a set story with quests and when you finish you’re character restarts (like KoL) and you start the game quests again with a ‘new’ character, often with some new unlocked content.

So which way is the best way to your game? I really have no idea but lets look at the strengths and weaknesses of each type.

First up, round based. A round based game from my experience works best for strategy game. In a strategy game you have a set goal; Defeat your enemies before they defeat you.  And because there is a set end and the fact that a strategy game can be enumerated on actions, you can make the game challenging by having players try to defeat each other can achieve high scores before the round ends. And with the knowledge of a set end, players know how long they have before they need to start attacking and defending. Through in factions, round persistent leaderboards and round carry overs, and you have a game that with minimal content changes/additions can continue to be fun for a player for several months. Offering round updates and slight changes each round and the chance for players to show off their achievements from past rounds will help retain players for a long time.

With this style of gameplay, you will likely need to split your development time between features and content. Keeping balance is important here, since you want your players to be able to play the game differently each round and see something different or new.

Next is the sandbox style game. If you are unsure what exactly I mean, think of simcity, or gta where your goal isn’t really anything in game but to play and see what you can do. These games can be highly addictive (at least for me anyways) but without regular updates and in game events, they can stagnant quickly.  This is because the game itself doesn’t direct the players but the players direct each other. As you can see, this format can lead to a lot of player activity until most of the content has been viewed or played through. The more freedom and options provided to the player, often, the better this style of game is.

Let`s look at TornCity and Renaissance Kingdoms; both games have open ended play, the players control the game play, both have limited gameplay, but both still exist and gain new players due the high level of player interaction.  This level of player interaction is often difficult to get right in strategy games and even more difficult in quest driven games.  So, if you are planning a game that is a sandbox, keep in mind player interaction should be on the top of your list for features and future development.

And finally we have quests driven games. These games are probably the most difficult to keep players playing. This is mainly because everything is game and content driven. Without constant content development these games can quickly lose there appeal. Many games try to solve this by some form of ‘ascending’, meaning that your character and quests are somehow reset to the beginning and providing you with slightly different content or new avenues you can play. While this can be fun, there is limited playability due to the repetition of content and the lack of player interaction. Sure, many of these games have clans or factions, but much of the time the communication and new elements they add for the player isn’t enough to make up for the lack of content.

So with a quest game, almost constant content development is a most. Feature development isn`t as important because the point of the game isn’t what you can do, but playing the story.

What do you think? These are simply my opinions and views I have gathered through the last number of years playing web games and would be more than happy to debate or be corrected on any of them ^_^

And on a side note: I know itès be ages since my last post. So if anyone has any suggestions for posts or anything they would like to write about let me know. Fire off an email to bardic(dot)knowledge(at)gmail(dot)com or leave a comment.

Thoughts on gameplay for an educational game

My longest title to date I think….

So some of ya’s may know I have been working on a project here at work where we are building a game in flash. This game has given me some thoughts on design and I would like to comment on several thoughts (should only take a minute xD)  and share my experience.

I wasn’t included on the gameplay design meeting, but that’s understandable since I was still new to this company. I’m not bashing the game here, I am merely examining it and trying to see develop a better approach for this style of game so in the future I have some of my thoughts organized.

The game we made/still working on, is an educational game. We have to display large quantities of text and put the player in a role that is related to the content. In this game, you’re a scientist. So what type of gameplay do you present to the player? Do you have them play more of a sim, where they play a project manager, reading text and making decisions with these designs affecting their scores?  Or do you make it more of an RTS where the user can build and upgrade units, facilities, tests, labs, etc? Or is it an RPG where the more you come to understand of the project the more efficiently you can perform tasks affecting your score?

The challenge to keep in mind this isn’t a game you are designing for you. This is a game the client wants to deliver their content. And this makes it tricky, which makes it fun ^_^

The approach we took was the first of the ones I describe, similar to a sim. This method is a good way to deliver content, but the playability and fun to be had is limited in my opinion. What I could have done would have been more of a RTS where the user can upgrade their facilities, teach their workers new skills, and try to reach their goal before time or resources were depleted. This method would allow you to display a large amount of text during upgrade steps.

With our game you have 3 types of workers: Politicians, researchers and workers. To make this an RTS we could make the end goal reachable by several means, such as having your researchers discover 5 steps and the workers complete 2 and the politicians complete 1, or maybe basing completion on a overall score tally from steps completed, which would let the user play several ways. There are a number of ways an RTS could be shaped out of our needs which would have been more engaging I think.

Again, the important thing to remember is that we have to provide the info the client wants.

Looking at the RPG style, we could have each time the player interacts with a NPC to gain information (the content that the client wants displayed) your player gains experience. So the more people they gather info from, the players would increase their stats, allowing them higher percents in succeeding in the game.

And across all 3 styles you have your NPCs requesting you to make decisions for them. This would be the part that would make our player actually read their data instead of just running around to complete the game.

In the end, I would have gone towards more of a RTS style game, to present the data and engage the player. I feel that a sim, with meters and popups a little bland when you are trying to present a large amount of text. You want the player to be engaged enough that they don’t even realize they are learning.

I'm a horrible blogger…

Hey all,

Sorry I haven’t posted anything new in a while… Like a month I think. I’ve been mad busy with work and I can actually show ya’s: http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/project-earth/game/game.html

Please note I had no hand in the play game design. I’m just a coder on this one. But this has given me quite a bit of experience working with a multiplayer server and as3 coding, which (hopefully) will translate into me eventually creating a flash mmo of some sort.

Taking a quick look at all the pbbg’s I’ve tried in the last month: no new development. I’ve seen people boosting unique game play, and I have been let down. All I’m finding are clones and a bunch of games where you click fight, you fight, then you level and actually buy new weapons/armor/etc then do it all again.

Sorry for anyone with a game like that, but that’s not new or inventive.

On the bright side, I have found a blog that I’d liek to share. This guy posts far more often than me and has some interesting stuff.

http://buildingbrowsergames.com/

And I leave ya with a question. Do you think that PBBGs are stagnating? There’s a few really good ones but the majority are clones and poorly done clones at that. We aren’t seeing a huge number of new features being thought of/used. And I’ve seen little to no advancement in gameplay. I may wrong and if I am, someone please show me a game that can prove me wrong ( I know of a few in alpha/betas that aren’t open yet that look really cool.. I’m look at you Cameon).

Open Profiles

This is something I never understood why someone hasn’t done yet (to my knowledge). Part of gaming is showing off how l33t(3l33t,leet,elite 3|_337, etc) you are to your friends. So why don’t games have badges or little banners that players can put on their blogs, in their forum posts?

You first give players a way to show off to their friends their character/account details and second, you get free advertising. Make the images links back to the game and presto; You players get a nifty badge, and you get link backs.

You can also do similar things for alliances/faction/groups in the game. Opening just info even just a little would let the players build apps I’m sure to read this data and track their friends/enemies. I’ve played games (most notable, Earth 2025) where players take raw HTML and use it to keep track of alliance members.

May be interesting. Thoughts?

edit:

RangerSheck has written a nice article on making an igoogle gadget badge. check it @ : http://rangersheck.com/2008/7/24/an-igoogle-gadget-for-your-game