Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Snow and websites

I tweaked the code for the snow effect in Kuos 2 today.  I always was unhappy with it, and wanted it to be better in the new game. The snow used to ‘settle’ a bit in K1, but that effect was always a bit poor. In the new game it looks better, plus I also coded a system that lets me adjust the colors of all sorts of interface bits depending on stuff like whether its snowing which makes the game look much more interesting.

As part of doing all this, I reinstalled Deep Space Nine: The Fallen, a game which I remember had awesome snow effects. It’s an old game, but it’s still quite funny to replay it and see just how poor those effects were. Despite using the unreal engine, their snow looks way worse than mine :D.

I also started thinking about the kudos 2 website today. I want a much better website than my earlier games, but I’m not sure I can justify paying a proper pro web designer to do it, and no pre-made templates seem to fit it at all. I knocked up a test page today, but it took me ages, and looks crap as I have zero web design skills. If anyone can recommend a talented and not uber-expensive web designer, just let me know.

Risk Aversion?

It might seem weird for me to worry that I’m too risk Averse. After all, I’m the idiot who bought a bunch of shorted Lead Futures on the stock market without really understanding what it was (up 0.83% today!, still down overall…).

But I think one of my failings as a business person is my risk-aversion. I do not invest a huge amount of my savings into making a game. I *do* spend more on art and sounds and so on than a lot of indie devs I know, but am I *really* doing everything it takes to make the game the best ever? have I spent every penny in the Positech Account on artwork and programming? have I re-mortgaged the house to spend that money on a kick-ass advertising campaign?  Did I have to take out a bank loan to pay for the content creation and professional team of QA and testing staff?

No.

I read a lot of books and stories about businesses that became really successful. It’s amazing how many of them really risked everything to get where they are today. The pattern I often see is that someone is very successful, then rather than cashing the check, they invest it *all* (and then some) into the next level of their business and become stratospherically wealthy.  valve took ALL the money from half Life and invested it in an amazing next gen engine for HL2. George Lucas took ALL his money from American Graffitti (he was a millionaire before SW) and invested it in Star Wars. he then took ALL that and invested it in Empire…

The closest I’ve got to ‘success’ was Democracy & Democracy 2. They both sold pretty well by indie game standards. They made enough for me to work comfortably from home. But did I take all that money and invest it in K2?

No

I *have* spent more on k2 in times and money than any game before now. I *do* plan to spend even more on advertising and QA than ever before, and it is the biggest game-related risk I’ve ever taken, but I won’t be re-mortgaging the house or getting into debt. I even just booked a holiday. Maybe I’m doing the *sensible* thing, but when did sensible ever make someone a millionaire?

Overweight Gaming (The Sisko Dilemma)

I’m having a design quandary about characters who become overweight in Kudos 2. I need to really nail down the game play effects of letting your character become jabba-sized.

There are some effects already, in that a few acting jobs require you to be below a certain weight. I could probably extend that to the police jobs, but beyond that does it really matter? The obvious negative side to being overweight is the health effects, but to be honest most of the activities that increase weight are reducing health, and health is directly used in calculating illness. What I may do, is have a locally used (not shown to the player) calculation for obesity, and use that as an extra accelerator in determining illness. Then you have the age old problem of conveying this data to the player. kudos 1 did lots of clever stuff the player was never told about, and I need to be more aware of that this time around.

The other possible uses in game terms for ‘weight’ are all a bit ‘dodgy’. Should being overweight reduce confdence? Should I reduce your chances of getting a job in general if you are overweight? I might not mind how big people are, but is there a real world prejudice there? and if there is, is it ok to represent it in game? I currently don’t have black avatars (another worrying, but budget-related situation), but if I did, should I give them less chance of a good job to reflect society’s racism? For that matter, should I reduce your chance of romance if you weigh too much? Is that just reflecting society as it is, or is that encouraging prejudice?

I guess I’m half way between Ben Sisko and Kassidy Yates on the whole ‘We shouldn’t pretend the world is better than is’ (Ben) and ‘Lets just enjoy the way it should be’ (Cassidy). I’m glad I’m not programming a holodeck.

What do you think?

“You think with a financial statement like this you can have the duck? “

I’m working on the code for restaurants yesterday and today, specifically how you get into the hip and trendy or expensive ones. This is code from Kudos 1, but I’ll be improving on it.

Great timing then, that last night ‘L.A Story‘ was on TV, which was the inspiration for the idea of hip restaurants in the first game. The best scene in the film is when Steve Martin is trying to book a table at a hip Hollywood restaurant called L’Idiot (pronounced ‘Lidio’). The evil French waiter (played by patrick stewart) is interrogating him to see whether he is the sort of person he wants in his restaurant. He scoffs at Steve Martins job (TV weatherman) and demands to know his bank records, the value of his house and where he takes his holidays, before eventually conceding he can have a table in eight weeks time as long as he only orders the chicken and not the duck.

Even better, is the scene later in the film where someone with an upper class English accent (Richard E Grant) books a table no problem with a 2 minute call. I love that :D

Kudos always had lots of factors that determine if you get to eat at the best places, but I’m really going to town this time. For maximum results, you will need to be a highly cultured french-speaking food critic with bags of cash, a smart suit and designer sunglasses :D. Hey it’s not normal game-fare, but we have slain enough dragons, we need games where the end-level boss is a pompous waiter now.

Blog crash and mega-playthrough

I’ve had database issues on my server which thankfully should now be sorted, and I won’t have to gnaw off my own leg in frenzied frustration every time I try to make a new blog entry now. It was something to do with SQL processing limits or some such. We never used to have these problems with text editors, grumble grumble.

Today, after doing a small bit of classic ‘work’ I did a very long play-through of the game (Kudos 2). The game was originally design to last 10 years, like the original. (With the option possibly to keep playing..maybe..not sure).

The thing is, having done a four year playthrough this afternoon, I’m thinking that’s possibly long enough. One of the things I’m concerned about is the long-term playability and re-playability of the game. The last thing I want is for the game to feel like a chore towards the end. I’ve already made enough changes and design tweaks to it that this is far less of a concern than it was for Kudos 1, but I’m still seriously considering changing it to be five years instead. The thing is, five years sounds weird.  The other option is to do ten years, and double the rate at which time goes by, basically by skipping every other month. Would that seem weird? Or I could change months every 3 days instead of every seven. Decisions…decisions…

BTW I got The Starship Tycoon data off that old disk. i’m going to attempt to tidy up a bit each weekend then release it one day.