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someone asked me to post something i wrote in an area outside of a hidden forum, so here. it was in response to a guy who felt that a game isn't worth making if it's similar to other games, who was attacking another tigsource member for making a generic game. my posts were in that context.

*

to me the thing is, how does someone expect to make a new genre of game and invent something that works until they've made a traditional game? you can't be experimental until you've learned the basics. everyone's first few games should be clones or covers. there will be time for experimenting and advancing the bounds of game design or whatever later, but at the start you are just learning how to make fun things that people enjoy and the best way to do that is to make games within a traditional genre similar to other games that you enjoyed

i mean, imagine if an artist just started painting, and was told to jump right into impressionism or something, without learning how to paint still life first. even picasso knew how to paint in the traditional fashion and started out that way. if someone spends 20 years just cloning the same game over and over then there might be reason for concern, but if someone's first or third game is a clone that is a good thing, not a bad thing

*

i think, in order to keep on growing and keep things fresh, each game should preferably challenge its developer, they should try something personally new to them with each game

but that doesn't mean it has to be new to *everyone*, something that has never been done before, just something that developer hasn't done before (e.g. "i never made a platformer before so i want to make one now" or "i want to try making a game similar to my last one, but with multiple characters")

if you constantly compare what you are doing with every game that has ever been made, you'll wind up with the icycalm position that a game has to compete with the best games ever made in order to be worth making, and that consequently even a game like cave story wasn't worth making because it's inferior to games like super metroid. while that attitude is sometimes appropriate to a critic, since their job is to compare different games and determine which are the most worth playing, that's not appropriate to a game developer

game developers should not be concerned with whether their game is the best in its genre or not, because there are always going to be people who already played the best games in a genre are are looking for something new in that genre. for example, i doubt any rpg an indie makes is going to equal something like ff6, but i've already played ff6, i don't want to play it again for the 20th time, so i'd play any new rpg which looks fun
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someone in the greenlight forums asked why people are / became indie game developers, this was my reply. i figure it's worth re-posting here:

*

mainly because i'm often unsatisfied with the games i play, and am always seeing ways that they could easily have been a lot better, at least for me. almost nobody is really making the type of games i like to play any more. they are still making games with game elements i like, but rarely are all the game elements that i like together in one package.

for instance, the two most important things to me about a game is (a) that it allow for user creativity or customization and have non-linear exploration of a large world, and that (b) have an interesting story. (a) and (b) both exist in games today, but rarely together. for instance, la mulana and dark souls and torchlight 2 had aspect (a), but not (b). persona 3 and catherine and planescape torment and xenogears had aspect (b), but not (a). and even in games that do have both (a) and (b), like fallout 3, they are often lacking in another aspect i like, (c) challenge -- fallout 3 started off challenging but got way too easy way too quickly. so i have a set of very specific tastes that games very rarely meet. some games that have met all three of those conditions: alpha centauri, baldur's gate 2, and guardian legend (although the story in that last game was very simple, it was good for its time, under NES limitations).

so basically there aren't very many games that appeal to my interests. i try to make games that i would like, and that people who like similar games to me would like. i don't know how common it is to value customization/non-linearity, great stories, and a high level of challenge all in one game, but it's what i value, and what my games aim for.

of course the elements may even work against each other in some ways. it's hard to make a game that is both customizable and challenging, because if you figure out the right "build" or whatever, the game becomes much easier. and it's often hard to have a great story when the game is non-linear, because the writer can't control the flow of the game as well (since the events don't have to happen in any particular order). so it's hard to make the types of games i like, but not impossible, and i usually wind up with a game that i feel i'd love even if i didn't make it.

i also feel that games are an important part of people's lives, and it's a great responsibility to be a good influence, especially on younger players. i feel as if a lot of games waste that responsibility and just aim for shallow fun or giving people more of what they liked rather than attempt to improve the player as a person. i also aim to do that with my games. in other words if games are like food for the mind i want to avoid empty calories that taste good but have no nutritional value. a couple of the games i played in my youth strongly influenced me and improved me as a person, so i want to return that favor for even a very small part of another generation.

by that i don't mean boring educational stuff or aesop-like morality, what i mean is showing a vision of life as exciting, showing characters the player might want to be more like, people who creatively overcome challenges, and allowing them to play as those characters, to feel as if they are those people, living an exciting life. i want them to take away that adventure and excitement and going on quests and overcoming challenges creatively isn't restricted just to videogames.
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new game by the team that made persona, for ps3 and xbox360; supposedly it's a sexual-themed rpg or something, but the trailer looks great
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top 20 playstation 1 games list, made for eva so she knows what to play; she was born too late to play playstation one (!)

20. front mission 3
19. parasite eve
18. chrono cross
17. metal gear solid
16. castlevania: sotn
15. persona 2 (both parts)
14. blood omen: legacy of kain
13. kartia
12. megaman legends 1 & 2
11. parappa the rapper
10. resident evil games (1 & 2 & 3)
9. silent hill
8. kagero: deception 2
7. wild arms
6. lunar 1 and lunar 2 (both work together sorta)
5. final fantasy tactics
4. einhander
3. vanguard bandits
2. xenogears
1. suikoden 1 & 2

dragon age

Jul. 17th, 2010 04:52 am
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dragon age was on sale on steam over their summer sale, and since i liked rpgs i thought i'd buy it and try it out. it felt a lot like baldur's gate, but with some elements taken from world of warcraft. and it had "zombies" -- the primary enemies were zombie-like creatures (not reanimated dead, but similar in actions and appearance). it also used blood and dried blood decoratively; they were the most prolific decorative element, used on everything from status screens to maps to books to the title screen, which is kind of an odd choice.

i liked how much content it had, possibly the most content-full game i've ever seen short of an mmorpg. content tends to be underestimated when evaluating games, with the idea that quality matters more than quantity. which is true a lot of the time, but quantity still matters: the relation is multiplicative. the total value of something equals quantity*quality. so theoretically, if you double quantity and maintain the same quality, you double the value of a game; if you double the quality and maintain the same quantity, you also double the value of a game.

(i also like long books for this reason. i'm happy that i read through all of romance of the three kingdoms, an unabridged english translation -- an about 3200 page long novel, and i enjoyed all of it, i never got bored.)

i also like that western developers are at least occasionally making party-based rpgs as opposed to only mmorpgs and single-player (and often one-person party, with at most a secondary helper) fps-rpgs like fallout 3. the genre's somewhat weak right now. maybe i should make a game in that genre one day to help it along, the way i did with ID and tower defense (i've noticed that a lot of TD's after ID made use of some of its innovations, such as very short levels, which i'm happy about).

what i mean by rpgs being weak is not that there aren't still great ones, just that they aren't being made with the same frequency as in the snes era, and aren't changing very much. dragon age didn't really try much new, it just did old things pretty well, and combined a bunch of ideas from various games into a whole (like "gambits" from ff12 so you can make your own AI for your party members, and armors set bonuses like in diablo 2, and a draggable activation bar on the bottom of the screen like in WoW, etc.)

one thing that did impress me was that there were romance options and sex scenes (albeit in underwear). it wasn't the focus of the game and except for one part near the ending not really related to the story itself, but at least it had something. most rpgs and rpg stories completely ignore that stuff, except for the obligatory love interest between the main characters which is always perfect and always has to go a certain way. the game even allows homosexuality. unfortunately the game doesn't seem to allow multiple romances at once once they reach a certain number near 100% love (so no polyamory), but one step at a time i guess.

i also liked most of the characterizations, but i felt some were a bit weak or not as interesting as they could have been. but i think its story was more pleasant to me than any western rpg i've played.

i liked that it was somewhat non-linear, but (as usual) i thought it was like a series of non-linear lines -- there were four major things you had to do to reach the end sequence, but each of those four things had to be done in a roughly linear fashion within themselves. you could take breaks from one and try another, but you couldn't really accomplish any one of those four things non-linearly within itself; so it was basically like if you could choose the order of the first four chapters in dragon warrior 4.

exploration of the maps though was pleasantly free. however, and i also had this problem with fallout 3, i felt that the beginning of the game was more interesting than later in the game, because (and starmaker mentioned this once) eventually you reach a point where you've figured out the "system" a game works by, and you stop getting surprised at things, because you don't really need to learn any more rules, just new content.

so at the start of the game i had a lot of fun just learning how everything works (and there was a lot to figure out) but by the end that factor wore off. and eventually i became more aware of the programmatic elements holding the game together than lost in a new world: when i talked to someone i didn't really feel like i was talking to them anymore, but navigating through a predictable and known dialogue tree. battles also went from interesting to easy over time, as i learned exactly how to win them. they didn't get easier objectively, i just got so good at them that they no longer posed any challenge.

although i didn't take away any particular ideas from this game to apply to SD, one thing was that it did reaffirm the need to change the rules a bit as you go through the game, and to add not just variations on things they've seen before but totally new things that they haven't seen before, as if it were a new game suddenly rather than just more of the old game. i can't really think of any examples of games that did that particularly well offhand, though i'll try to think of a few examples:

- in dragon quest 7, you didn't get the ability to change classes until around 30 hours into the game, which suddenly breathed a lot more life into the game
- in xenogears, varying between playing as humans and as gears, and in the large difference between the storytelling format between the first and second CD's of the game
- in ocarina of time, becoming an adult about halfway into the game, which plays very differently than when you're a child
- zelda 1 was also very good at this, each new item you got opened up many new areas and could reveal secrets in old areas

in SD, there will be few things like that; ring caves (if i code that), hostile mode for creatures (after i code that), and gaining new ship functions, and gaining new characters (and their corresponding abilities / conversations in camp mode, after i code that). but i wonder if those will be enough to constantly make the game renew itself. will see.
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someone asked why i didn't like portal in irc, so i mentioned that i answered in an (as of yet) unpublished gamasutra interview with patrick dugan; i'm reposting his question and my answer on that particular issue here (i'll take it down if he wants me to though, or post the rest of the interview if he allows me)

*

> How does being wierd create a designer's style? Speak as personally or as
> generally as you feel qualified.

The main thing is that less weird people tend to design games based on
what they believe to be 'best game design practices' -- a balanced
difficulty curve, and basic things that people tell them all games
"should" have, instead of what they personally want to put in a game.
Portal is a perfect example of this type of game: it does everything
right, and in doing everything right from that standpoint it does
everything wrong from another. Portal was a theoretical "best game",
with perfectly tested everything and perfect polished everything, with
everything in the right place, but wasn't anyone's "dream game", the
way that, say, Ico was; Portal followed all the game design rules to
the letter, whereas Ico broke most of them, and still worked out okay.
So even if I knew nothing about the developers of each game, I could
pretty confidently say that the people who made Ico are weirder than
the people who made Portal.
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someone asked about the advantages of game maker in the tigsource forums and i wrote the following post; probably it's worth saving

*

a) resource handling. it has an easy way to add and take away graphical and audio resources, and an automatic system for keeping track of them (automatic enumerations). same thing for rooms, paths, timelines, and all kinds of other non-data resources. same thing for fonts. just being able to select a font from all your installed fonts and have it turned into a bunch of bitmap images automatically and then embedded into the game file and ready to be used in the game is convenient. i remember having to manually build images of letters in c and qbasic in the 90s if i didn't want to use the default dos font and it wasn't fun, nobody should have to go through that much work just to add a new font to their game.

b) it has a similar thing for object handling. instead of requiring you to make your own array of every instance of a particular object, it does it for you, and you can just do something like with(obj_goomba) instance_destroy(); to kill all the goombas. this is very effective and important, the with() statement was the major thing i missed when i tried to learn AS3. requiring that the programmer manually keep track of every instance in the game by adding each one to their own arrays is just cruel when it could so easily be automated. basically with() does 'take an object, and inside every instance of that type of object, perform the following code'. i haven't found any way to do that in any other language as easily. with() is like the crown jewel of gml.

c) in-built level editor. it's not the best level editor, but most game libraries like allegro and pygame and flixel and such don't include a level editor at all. so you'd either have to code your own or do without. sometimes the gm level editor isn't sufficient and often people build their own level editors in GM itself for their games (i've done this a few times) but it's still an important way to start creation on a game, a way to make the levels in a game until you code your own level editor, which is important when in the very early stages of making a game.

d) there are other things included that you don't have to code your own or find your own libraries for: particle system, collision handling, basic physics like gravity and friction and speed and direction, a* pathfinding, and so on. of course finding those each on your own is more customizable, but there's an advantage in just having a collection of such things ready to use. libraries like flixel include some of these things, but not all -- i don't *think* (i haven't used it in a while) flixel has a particle system or physics or pathfinding. you'd have to find libraries for those separately; gm covers the functionality of probably 20-30 libraries that you'd have to find on your own.

e) i think this is also true of flash and python (so isn't an advantage over them), but it's an interpreted language, which has some advantages and disadvantages: it's slower, but you can execute code while in the game itself: i can just press f11 in my game and type in some code, using actual function names and variables that i'd use anywhere else in the game code to create the game with, which has come in useful countless time. and it also makes it easier to debug when what's being run is the code itself rather than machine code
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i found a zelda forum and a funny thread about people's top 10 characters from the zelda series, so for fun i wrote my own. probably only komera will enjoy this entry (since she's a fan of the zelda games too) but here it is:

10 - error (for the reasons mentioned in this thread)
9 - skullkid (he has a funny voice)
8 - gaspra (the court astrologer from zelda's adventure, and is cool looking and begins the only game where you play as zelda)
7 - young ruto from ocarina of time (fun to throw around)
6 - zelda's horse storm (best horse)
5 - prince facade (hilarious how zelda almost falls in love with him)
4 - link's shadow (cooler than link)
3 - gwonam (the guy with the magic carpet in the faces of evil, since he's cool-looking and has a great accent)
2 - the witch of walls (most mysterious character -- why does she live in a wall?)
1 - the old man who gives you the sword at the beginning of zelda 1 (cause he starts the series off)
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i've been playing the sc2 beta. if anyone has it, my username there is:

rinkuhero@gmail.com (by email)
rinkuhero.rinkuhero (by username)

i'm on the US server, if you are too add me and we can play

so far it's pretty easy, i've beaten everyone i've faced in the 'novice' and 'placement' brackets, except one that i lost intentionally, and got placed into gold. i lost one intentionally because i didn't want to get placed into platinum, because i'm not a platinum player.
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just wrote these up since game maker doesn't have them yet; hopefully they work

// bit_get(value, bit position (0001 = 0, 0010 = 1, 0100 = 2, 1000 = 3, etc.))
// returns the value (1 or 0) of a bit at a given position

return(!!(argument0 & (1 << argument1)));

*

//bit_set(value, bit position(0001=0, 0010 = 1, 0100 = 2, 1000 = 3, etc.), bit (1 or 0));
// returns a new value by taking the value and setting an individual bit in it

if (argument2)
then return(argument0 | (1 << argument1)); //sets to 1
else return(argument0 & ~(1 << argument1)); //sets to 0 / clears

*

they seem to work okay in my tests, which weren't exhaustive.

anyway, posting them here in case any other gm users need them.
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just thought i'd share this, a comment i got on my site today :)

"just so all game makers know people hate 2 DIMENCHINAL GAMES.becouse honestly we have had 3 dimenchinal games since ps1 and that has gone extinct.AND YOUR STILL MAKING 2 DIMENCHINAL GAMES LIKE ASTRO BOY AND SPIDER MAN WEB OF SHADOWS(amazing allies edition).so coming from a 10 year old boy PLESASE STOP MAKING 2 DIMENCHINAL GAMES.oh and just so you know 2 dimenchinal games are games were you can onley go left and right while 3 dimenchinal games let you go in all directions.so please please please stop makiing crapy 2 dimenchina games.PLEASE!"
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to continue my last month's entry, these are the best 11 games i completed (or played till the equivalent of the end of) in february:

- 1. planet mule
- 2. houkaimura
- 3. halfbrick echoes
- 4. minecraft
- 5. jforce's avatar game
- 6. shoot 1up
- 7. where we remain
- 8. coptra
- 9. umbrella adventure
- 10. telepath psy arena 2
- 11. chains

ask me for details on specific games if curious
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someone on tigsource asked what the justification could be for ignoring criticism of your game. i wrote this:

*

the main justification to me is that trying to please everyone leads to bland and uninteresting games that everyone likes but nobody loves.

i think feedback and criticism is important, but only for non-design issues. criticism shouldn't make you change fundamental things about how the game works, it should just point out minor things that can be improved. i'd say 90% or so of suggestions people give you for your game should be ignored; you have to be very selective, or else you aren't making a game for yourself, you're making someone else's game for them.

i think eva's point is that "hobbyist indies" make games for themselves, "mainstream indies" make games for a larger audience and try to make the game to please people rather than making their own personal dream game; and she did say "(not that it bad)" which i think means that she recognizes that neither approach is better than the other.

i also think that, especially true of game developers, they have a vision in their head of what games "should" be like or "should" try to do, and that type of criticism is always bad. and that unfortunately makes up most of the criticism of games. following that criticism won't make your game better, it'll just make it more standard.

like, imagine if vasily zotov or whatever his name is took criticism. or mdickie. their games would suck even more than they do now if they tried to make games as they should be made according to other game devs. what value their games how now is the charm of playing someone's dream game, of playing a game that's really "theirs", that has their personality etched into it.

for a particularly interesting examples of this, a lot of indie game developers start out making *very* unique games, but their latter games are more standard than the games previous. think of the progression: knytt -> knytt stories -> saira. each one more standard than the game before, more "game designy", and less unique. i think that happens because he's taking the criticism his games get too seriously, and following too many well-meaning suggestions.

summary: i think it's arguably worse to make a personality-less but good game than a personality-full but bad game. for instance, i prefer ken's labyrinth to portal.

it also depends on what your goals are personally. if your goal is artistic expression or having fun making your kind of game or developing your style, most criticism is less useful. if your goal is to sell games or even to make a very popular freeware game that a lot of people love and which gets downloaded a ton of times, criticism is useful.
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from a post i wrote on tigsource in response to someone asking me how i handle difficulty curves in my games:

i don't really believe in difficulty curves; there are a variety of things that seem like empty game design jargon to me, and difficulty curves are one of them. i don't believe it's possible or desirable to make a set difficulty such that it's easy and rises, because different people have different playstyles and learning styles and will get stuck or frustrated at different points and find different things too easy.

usually what i do is to make the difficulty level selectable, very selectable (immortal defense had 10 levels of difficulty, alphasix had i think like eight), and have the difficulty that's challenging for me be near, but not at, the top of that scale. i also always include an easy way to skip a level if the player desires it (usually a cheat code that i mention in the game's official faq). difficulty levels usually not only change the HP/strength of enemies, but also reduce enemy ai, and some abilities which enemies use at higher difficulties they don't use at lower ones. the highest difficulty and the lowest are special; the highest is almost impossible to win (even for me) and the lowest almost impossible to lose (even for someone really bad at games). it's important that this difficulty level be selectable even from within the game (you can change it between levels in immortal defense, not just chosen at the start of the game). it's also usually a good idea to give greater rewards for doing things at higher difficulty levels (in immortal defense enemies gave more cache when you killed them at a higher difficulty, which carried on to later stages).

alternatively, for games that this is possible, i prefer making the challenges skippable. if you've played braid, you'll remember how most of the harder puzzles are optional, you can just walk past them if you like. i do something similar in saturated dreamers: you can just go a different way or skip an area if you can't friend the creatures in a particular area. and they can come back and try again later at their leisure. this is especially useful for puzzles that don't really fit into a difficulty level scheme (puzzles that it's impossible to make easier by simply reducing hp levels or something).

i also use a trick taken from metal gear solid and some other games, where if you fail at a particular challenge (usually die on it), it's easier (slightly) the next time you try it.

a lot of people will call this approach of letting the player decide on their difficulty or decide which challenges to do and which to skip lazy, but i see it as putting more power in the hands of the player, and making it more of a game that they can challenge themselves with, and less of a game that challenges them.
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because i sort of made it a goal this year to play a lot of games for research (particularly games i bought during the steam xmas sale and for xbox360) i thought i'd create a monthly list of the best games i finished each month. vvvvvv would be on it, but i played the beta back in november, so my replaying of the finished version of the game doesn't count.

1. blueberry garden for pc
2. gears of war 2 for xbox360
3. an invitation to neverwhere for pc
4. vandal hearts: flames of judgement for xbla
5. gears of war for xbox360
6. warriors oroshi 2 for xbox360
7. pac man: championship edition for xbla
8. mario3hr_arena_better_than_podunkians_gam (yes, that's the name of the game) for pc
9. echoes+ for xblig
10. geometry wars 2 for xbla

if anyone would like more info or further thoughts on a particular game, let me know
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coming soon, i'm proofreading it for orchard now

in preparation, play the fedora series if you haven't, this game will make more sense if you've finished them first:

http://studioeres.com/games/fedora
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another top 10 list, inspired by charbile

top 10 games with the best level design

1. earthworm jim 1
2. xenosaga series
3. secret of evermore
4. glum buster
5. earthworm jim 2
6. yume nikki
7. castlevania 4
8. shoot the bullet
9. lemmings
10. braid
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played blueberry garden today, i had bought it awhile back but never tried it out

i like its ecosystem; a lot of people are saying the ecosystem is just cosmetic, and largely that's true, but considering that you can plant fruit to grow new trees and that fruit give you abilities, i think it's pretty important to the game

i wish its creatures were a little more important to the game, though -- there are like 3 creature types, and as far as i can tell they're cosmetic; they reproduce and hop around and are cute, but they don't do anything

overall i think it feels like a level of a larger game rather than a game itself, there's a lot of stuff that could have been done with what was there (a working ecosystem, various interesting fruit abilities) but it's just about an hour long

i think this is a common issue in indie games in general though, most of them don't feel like real games, but more like tech demos or experiments rather than realized visions. me and teegee talked about this once. for me, indie games which feel like real games are rare, but include games like aquaria, exit fate, barkley shut up and jam, iji, uplink, and a few others.

also, it was the igf winner of 2009, for those who don't know

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Paul Eres

March 2015

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