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A lot of early game design was based on necessity rather than design. Game developers worked within the confines that the current technology gave them. Games like Final Fantasy and the original Pokemon Red and Blue broke substantial technological barriers in order to deliver ground breaking mechanics, engaging open worlds, and compelling storytelling. This was all a giant leap forward out of the dark ages of game design when we made games harder simply to eat more quarters.

Despite this leap forward, there is always farther to go.

The Pokemon and Final Fantasy series have always been pinnacles of turn based gameplay, but Final Fantasy continues to be less and less turn based while Pokemon has changed very little.

The question is why?

I don’t believe this is an isolated example. None of my friends on Facebook believe that turned based rpgs are dying, but they all admit that they aren’t what they used to be. It is much more likely that turned based mechanics are doing what they have always done. They are enabling weaker hardware, or these days portable systems.

Final Fantasy is becoming more action oriented because it lives on cutting edge hardware. Pokemon lives on the DS. Portable devices get stronger every day, but they will always be weaker than consoles. Players are more accepting of “old school” mechanics on these devices, so it is here that turned based rpgs will thrive.

I have decided to start an experiment of sorts. Every week I am asking a game related question on Facebook. Many of my friends are game designers, testers, and artists. I have had many wonderful conversations with them over the years, and I would like to bring these conversations to my website.

Every week I am going to ask a question relating to video games on Facebook. I get responses from as many people as possible, and then analyze the responses here on my blog. The intention is to get different viewpoints and ideas that I wouldn’t necessarily come up with on my own.

The first question was is Super Mario Bros. 3 Art?

I picked Super Mario Bros. 3 because I thought it would be interesting to hear the opinions on a game that is well loved, but contains less direct art examples like beautiful vistas or traditional story elements. I picked the games as art debate because it is a common argument that I figured would easily drum up debate as the first question.

With that being said, I kind of regret picking this question. I tried to pick a more specific example to avoid the answers I expected, but I think that my friends and I have too common of a viewpoint on this issue. First of all, everyone said yes. Most people gave Tolstoyan explanations of why video games are art, and this is the same argument I usually fall back upon.

Tolstoy has a very broad definition of art. He explains art as being a vehicle through which the artists conveys emotion to the user. Tolstoy wrote extensively on the topic and I’m not about to try and explain his exact thoughts on the matter, but I like to think that Tolstoy was very progressive and would have accepted video games as art.

Many of the people who posted referenced the emotions they felt when playing the game. They talked about being able to think back fondly on the game. It’s almost like it’s a fine wine that has grown great over the years. I have to wonder if everyone would think it so wonderful if it wasn’t for its age. It seems to be a common theme that we love the things that we remember. Are we just trying to validate the time we spent in the past? Were things really that great back then? I always worry that my judgment is clouded by the petty desire for self validation.

I think it is most likely that it is all true. People always want to validate the decisions that they have made, but we don’t just think that video games are art because we are developers. We believe it, because our understanding of art and video games tells us that it is so.

A lot of definitions for the word “fun” have to do with learning patterns and approaching the epic grok state. Raph Koster in his book A Theory of Fun talks about why children enjoy tic-tac-toe, but adults rarely do. He explains that adults quickly discover that there is actually a solution to tic-tac-toe. It is easy to figure out, and once you understand it, you can win or tie every game you play. Children still enjoy the game, because they are still learning the pattern.

The question is then, why do people sometimes enjoy playing the same game over and over again? I’m not just talking about open world RPGs or MMOs. People often replay their favorite first person shooters, racing games, and strategy games. Why do we replay games that unfold in the same way each time?

I have beaten the game Might and Magic VI a half dozen times. Why do I do it? I don’t even change the way I play the game. I make the exact same characters. I usually even name them the same. I use all the same tricks and do all the quests in the same order.

Do I have a super insightful explanation for this? No, not really.

I’m sitting here after a long day at work watching TV and playing video games. I find that when I am tired I have a hard time playing epic RPGs or competitive first person shooters. Sometimes I just want to sit and do the same thing over and over again. Sometimes I don’t really want to think. This doesn’t fully explain the joy of fulfilling the pattern, but I can’t help but feel the connection.

Howdy y’all!

Got your fortress going yet?

No?… how come?

Half your Dwarves died of starvation and the other half went crazy and killed themselves because I never taught you how to farm?

Well in that case I think I will teach you how to do something completely different. Lets learn how to pick a proper start location.

Allow me to start by making it clear that you should be able to create a proper fortress just about anywhere.

BUT!!! properly picking out a starting location that suits your needs will make things much easier. Lets start by looking at the “Choose Fortress Location” screen.

There are three categories of information here.

  1. In the top left is three different views of the world showing the location your dwarves will inhabit.
  2. In the bottom left is an explanation of the controls. Remember that controls in Dwarf Fortress are case sensitive.
  3. The right side contains a description of the area currently selected.

You will generally want a number of parameters

  • A Source of water
    • The only sources of water that you can really ‘see’ are rivers and the ocean (don’t start by the ocean.)  To guarantee yourself a source of water, pick an area with a low temperature that is still above freezing, or just pick a spot with a river. Rivers are the best sources of water.
  • As much stone as possible(grey labeled substrates). (boo to Silt/loam/clay/all the brown substrates)
    • Note that all the substrates in the example image above are gray, thus they are types of stone.
  • Trees
    • Wood is an important resource necessary for the creation of a great number of items.
  • A non radical temperature
    • If it is super hot, then it will never rain, and water sources will be more scarce.
  • Avoid anywhere with an aquifer like the plague
    • Aquifers are layers of water under the ground. There are ways to deal with them, but that is much too complicated to go into right now.
  • Avoid Areas with purple surroundings text. This includes places that are Haunted and Terrifying.
    • I suggest you start off by looking for a place that is either Wilderness, or Calm.

Keep in mind that it may not always be possible to have all these things, and sometimes you may have to just pick a spot and try it out. After picking out a few spots, you should find that you already have some confidence in it.

Oh, and feel free to try out the “find desired location” feature. Unfortunately it doesn’t have nearly enough options. Good Luck and have fun!




Ready to finally  get that fortress going? Well, in that case there are a number of things you need to get used to and understand before you can begin governing your dwarves.

Fact #1:

Dwarf Fortress does not use the mouse. That’s right. This is a keyboard only game. Be prepared to wrap your mind around this concept. It is something you will always be dealing with. To be honest it isn’t really such a big deal. You may have a hard time with it at first, but don’t fret, you will soon get over it.

Fact #2:

Your number one goal at the beginning should be to survive. You may hear about amazing feats of architecture and engineering on magamawiki, but take things slow. Your greatest challenge at the beginning will be food and water, but these simple problems will soon be dwarfed by warring bands of  goblins, engineering failures (be careful not to flood your fortress), and possibly the greatest threat of all Insanity.

Fact #3:

Dwarf Fortress is a two dimensional game taking place in a three dimensional world. What does this mean? When you look at the screen, you can see left, and you can see right. You can’t look up and down. You can only see one plane of depth. In order to adjust what depth, or z-plane you are viewing, you can press the (/) and (*) keys.

It probably comes as no surprise that as Dwarf Fortress is about dwarves, there is a lot of digging involved in the game. Try not to dig too deep too fast. I don’t want to give anything away, but you never know what you might find down there.

Now for some advice on how to start. When you first start a game, all your dwarves will be huddling around a cart they brought with them. This cart contains all the tools, food, and most importantly booze, that your dwarves need to survive. Unfortunately these supplies won’t last forever, so the next thing I will teach you is how to gather additional supplies.

Start off by pressing the (p) key. This key opens the menu that is used for setting stockpiles. You will see on the right presets for designating areas for gathering things such as food, gems, stone, and other items. At this point you should press the (f) key. Move the pointer around with the arrow keys until you find an open spot near where your dwarves have started. Press enter to begin designating an area. Push the right key four times, and then the up key four timse, then press enter. You have now designated a 5x5 area for storing food. Press (Esc) to unpause the game, and you will see your dwarves scurrying around carrying barrels of food to your new food storage location. Repeat this task for wood and refuse so that you have locations for storing those as well.

Now lets designate some actions to fill those spaces. Press the (d) key, and then the (t) key. Designate an area just like when creating a stockpile, except this time do it in an area that contains trees. If you have done it successfully, then all the trees in the area should turn dark as in this picture. After you have done this, a dwarf with the wood cutting skill should soon start cutting down those trees and put them in the wood stockpile.

Next try and designate some area in the side of a hill or mountain to be mined. Try to replicate the set up I created in the image above. note that I essentially have a main hallway leading to the outside with two rooms coming off of it. Note that I made the hallway two spaces wide. This is important in order to prevent congestion.

At this point in the process you still haven’t created food or drink. Unfortunately I don’t have enough time to fit those into this post, so you guys are just going to have to wait until Tuesday to hear about that.

Keep in mind that the secret is mud. What the hell am I talking about. Check back Tuesday to find out.

If you haven’t heard, Dwarf Fortress is the latest and greatest game to be released that looks like it was made on a

Yes this is really what the game looks like.

commodore 64. Yes that is really what the game looks like on the right. No it wasn’t made in the late 80s. We are talking about a game that had its last update only months ago.

Yet, despite its unimaginably terrible interface and graphics, I am here to tell you the Dwarf Fortress is one of the best games ever made.

So, why is this article titled as a “Newb’s Guide”?

Well, the reason why Dwarf Fortress is one of the best games ever made, is because it is one of the most complicated and hardest games to play.

You see that menu system on the right? Yeah that gross list of options with keyboard letterings denoted next to each item is how you play the game, and each of those menu items lead to more menu items, and often many of those options will lead to even more options.

With all that being said, it is important to note that if you are considering playing this great crowning achievement of game design, then you are pretty much without question going to need a comprehensive guide containing everything you will need play the game successfully. This is not that guide. This is the barest of instructions that will help you get the game, install it, have a gist of how it plays, and most importantly this article has important links to additional info and instructions.

STEP 1:

The first thing you need to do is get a copy of the game. This can actually be surprisingly difficult because there are a number of different versions, and there are a large number of places you can get the game for Linux, Mac, and PC. I’m not about to explain how you can compile your own Linux install, so I’ll just explain what to do for the PC copy. Head on over to May Green’s website here. Mike (thank god) combined a large number of tile sets make an actually playable version of the game. Unfortunately the games art is normally done entirely in ASCII. The MayDay pack adds user made art assets.

STEP 2:

The second thing you need to do is to go to MagmaWiki. Keep this web page open. This is going to be your one stop shop for most of the information about the game that you need. You need to learn about farming, then you search for the farming game, you need to learn about combat, then you search for the combat page.

STEP 3:

Start up dwarf fortress. At this point you want to start a Fortress game. Dwarf Fortress also has an adventure mode, but this is far less complete, and it is a whole different animal. After selecting Fortress mode, the first thing you will have to do is generate the world that your fortress will exist in. Stumble over to MagmaWiki’s World Generation Guide here. Note that most of this “guide” is really just troubleshooting. In order to avoid this, and that whole page all together, just select “Creat New World Now”. This process can take some time. It usually takes my computer laptop about 5 minutes to generate a world. After the world creation process is complete, you can review your world, and choose whether to start over or accept the world that you have created.

STEP 4:

Start a new game. Upon starting a new game you will be given a thousand options about outfitting your dwarfs and giving them skills. At this point in your Dwarf Fortress career, you aren’t really qualified to play with these settings, that is why it is great that the MayDay pack comes with a MayDay Universal set up.

STEP 5:

Ok, now for the hard part. Play the game. Yeah its pretty hard, but it is so rewarding. Every time I play the game I learn something new about it.

Next week I will post an article about starting your new fortress. Look for it on Friday. Good luck to all.

Clickteam has released a powerful flash exporter for their delightfully easy to use Multimedia Fusion 2 software. The plugin allows users of MMF2 to export their games and other programs as SWF files.

For those of you unfamiliar with Multimedia Fusion 2, MMF2 is an amazing game creation tool that allows users to make in minutes what would normally take hours. Don’t get too excited though. MMF2 has it’s limitations. It is 2D only, and its graphical scripting system doesn’t allow for the cleanest of code, so you can expect to have simple 2D game that take up a surprising amount of CPU power.

Instead where MMF2 really shines is as a rapid prototyping tool. Not even flash can spit out simple mechanics the way MMF2 can.

It is unfortunate that MMF2 couldn’t quite be used in the mainstay of game development. Now that the flash exporter has been released, maybe this won’t be the case anymore.

Flash games are already terribly inefficient, but they are so easy to access. MMF2 has had a web plugin for years, but unlike flash, it isn’t already installed on hundreds of millions of machines around the world. Perhaps this will be straw that pushes MMF2 into popular use.

Check out the official product page here.

That’s right. You heard it. Halo Reach is going to have yet another Blood Gultch remake. This is the fourth time that an iteration of this map has shown up in a Halo game.

  • Halo 1Blood Gultch
  • Halo 2: Coagulation
  • Halo 3: Valhalla
  • Halo Wars: Blood Gultch

Why?

  1. Blood Gultch is the most widely recognizable Halo Multiplayer map.
  2. Blood Gultch was the setting for much of the popular Red vs. Blue web show.
  3. Blood Gultch has a design that few other maps can match.

What it really comes down to is an excellent design mixed with some great fan service marketing. Blood Gultch was a great map before Red vs. Blue got a hold of it, but after was a whole different story. It’s like having an amazing blockbuster movie with similarly amazing marketing. Blood Gultch got the kind of publicity that most multiplayer maps can only dream of.

The new map has even been touted in a special episode of Red vs. Blue. The video makes it very clear that they are returning to Blood Gultch while explaining that there is lots of new terrain to explore outside the canyon. We will have to wait until later this July to discover what kinds of design changes this means because the video hints “Go outside the canyon Comic-Con 2010”



I just got back from the Montreal International Games Summit.

It was awesome!

I met a lot of interesting people including (but of course not limited to):

Vander Caballero: Creative director at EA Montreal, responsible for games like Boogie, and Army of Two

Ken Rolston: Lead designer on Morrowind and Oblivion, awesome guy who may know too much about how to craft a story

Liza Wood: A Project manager at Artificial Mind and Movement

I got some neat schwag, saw some some great speakers including Yoichi Wada (The president and Ceo of Square Enix). Every time I do an event like this I feel more in tune with the game industry. I feel a little bit closer to where I want to be. Now I have a long journey of processing the information that I got from MIGS. I have many pages of notes to go over, and I need to send out some contact emails wherever I can find an excuse.

Wish me luck.

I’m taking a class right now where a bunch of designers are just working on a bunch of games by themselves. It’s weird, because there are so many unfinished games. I was just playing one of them to help give some feedback. There are lots of problems with it, but you can’t really judge it at this stage, because it isn’t done. This experience makes me realize why game designers don’t like showing off their work early on. When we do get footage of a game, it is leaps and bounds beyond the rest of the game. I played an early version of Wet almost a year before it came out. It was pretty gross, but an interesting experience.

I should find more unfinished games to play.