I was fortunate enough to have the misfortune of finding Space Unity for Unity. First, this is one of the most bad-ass systems I’ve seen. Second, I’m sad that I don’t (YET!) have the money to buy it. Third, I say “misfortune” because it got me dreaming about my original concept for Project Universe, in which the player is a cargo ship, and the mission is nothing more exciting than building a financial empire by personally buying low and selling high (actually, there’s a lot more to it than that). Naturally, after seeing Space Unity in action, I couldn’t stop thinking about using it for this original purpose, which lead down a rabbit hole of system concepts, including resource availability and acquisition.
The sad thing is, I couldn’t stop thinking about EVE Online as a reference base. Sad, because I realized that I was thinking about this theoretical game as a re-built EVE. Specifically, I was hung up on resources, because a huge part of EVE is that players acquire and sell and use resources in a player driven economy. There’s little reason (or opportunity) to buy usable items from NPC vendors in EVE, as it’s mostly commodity crap that’s only good for new players to cut their teeth on trading. Everything else in the game starts off in a ship’s cargo hold.
And that’s where I got thinking: what if EVE ran out of raw materials? I mean, these materials come mostly from asteroids. Asteroids aren’t infinite; they are the remains of interstellar bodies, and planets and moons aren’t spontaneously detonating all over New Eden, right? So when a corporation mines the hell out of a belt, that belt should vanish! Or at least, be devoid of further materials. Logically. I understand that space is vast and contains infinite wonders and blah blah blah the chance of strip-mining the universe is really remote and etc I get it. This is a thought exercise, not a recommendation so don’t go looking for an argument.
So then what? People know that the resources are finite, and start hoarding materials, driving up the price on the market, allowing groups to control the flow of resources, bringing production to a halt, allowing a few corporations to corner markets and set prices. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? That would certainly drive many players away, as it would end up being prohibitive for new or less established players to replace ships and ammo, which leads to fewer people for players to engage. Boom! Implosion. So it’s a stupid idea, sure. Unless…
What if the system allowed you to turn scrap (I know it already exists in the game) back into usable resources? When you destroy a ship, you can collect the debris and refine it to a lesser amount/lesser quality raw material that can be used to make a new ship, or new ammo, or other components. Maybe you can sell scrap and earn a fortune. People are always going to be blowing things up in EVE, so there’ll be a never-ending cycle of raw materials to products to scrap to materials. I thought about how BattleTech used to work in regards to the lore, where humanity got so stupid that they couldn’t invent new ‘mechs, only salvage and repair and cobble together parts into existing designs.
Then I thought, what if each generation of salvage decreased the quality? So on the 20th salvage, the quality of the materials are so low that the structural integrity oft he ship/ammo/component is so paper-thin that a single jump tears it apart. This is EVE; players are used to the brutality anyway, so this should be right up their alley! But it would extend the life-cycle of the resource pool, possibly forever, but could give the illusion that some day, the universe won’t be able to make any more anything.
This whole thing came about when I was thinking about markets, moving resources around, and providing resource spigots for players, and how they seem to be never-ending. With unlimited resources, the value drops; with resource scarcity, the value skyrockets. Somewhere in between is a balance, and in EVE‘s case, I think it’s time. It takes a long time and a lot of effort for a single person to mine enough materials to be worthwhile (add in PI and you’ve got a whole lot more to worry about as well). You won’t see a flooded market because when you have dozens of people working together, chances are good they’re looking to USE those materials. When you have a single harvester, chances are he or she is going to flip the results.
You never really have an appreciation for a system until you try and consider changing it, I guess.
I am not a game developer, although I have tried to develop games. In Ye Olden Tymes (the 1980′s), I used to write programs in BASIC on the Commodore 64, including games. Since becoming a developer of Non Game Things, I’ve turned my spare attention to XNA and, more recently, Unity. In between, I’ve tried some of the off-the-shelf game design packages that claim to allow you to make great games with as little sweat as possible.
Thing is, sweat is a necessary evil because unless you have a Team, or are stupidly gifted to the point of freakishness, you will have a very demarcated division between developers and designers. Developers make things work; designers make things look good. The kicker is that anyone can be a developer. I mean, look at me! I have no formal training, am entirely self-taught, and I currently work as a full time, in-house web and application developer. So anyone can learn to develop, but design is another matter entirely. It’s art. It’s recognizing and replicating proportions, understanding how what your eye sees isn’t what it really sees, but you have to understand it as your eye thinks it sees…see? Splines, vertices, textures, meshes, UV…I have a better time trying to decipher tax codes than I do in trying to wrap my head around 3D modeling and all that it entails. Even when UI understand the book-stuff, actually doing the thing is another matter entirely.
So with that rambling pre-amble out of the way, I want to talk about Axis Game Factory.
This is a project in the throes of it’s own Kickstarter. Don’t let that dissuade you. The project is moving along, and I know this because the fine folks at Heavy Water have opened their builds to anyone who backs the project, not just those at the nose-bleed tiers. I’ve been playing around with it, and I’m enjoying it so far (inasmuch as I can, being that it’s a very early stage in development and is lacking a lot of usability features and polish).
What does it do? Well, it’s one of those off-the-shelf game builders I mentioned in the intro. Using assets from a warehouse, you throw down art, arrange it just so, set some parameters, and press play. No seriously. That’s what you do, which makes it’s stupidly easy to make a side-scroller or a platformer, or an action/adventure game. You can share your creation with other players, or collaborate with friends and compatriots to build and link zones, making a huge game world (so say the Kickstarter pitch materials). And just recently, Heavy Water announced a partnership with Exit Games to bring Photon Server support for multiplayer games. I’ve tried Photon, and I like it a lot, so this is some pretty swanky news.
But queuing the Sara McLachlan music, the KS campaign isn’t doing so hot right now (theoretical projections only, and not for gambling purposes), and I’m at a loss for why, so I’m going to chalk it up to a lack of exposure. Kickstarter, as we all know, can be a dumping ground, and finding meaningful projects can be difficult. AGF, I think, is one of those projects that is unfairly buried because it is moving along nicely — I’ve got the app on my desktop to prove it! — and could really use the boost in visibility.
But why AGF and not something else new, or more established? Remember in my intro, how I went on and on about how I’m a developer and not a designer? That wasn’t just my usual busy-talk; It was to set the stage for explaining that AGF is focusing heavily on getting assets into the hands of AGF users. Hit up any hobbyist game developer forum, and there will be loads of developers, but only a few designers, and those designers are literally the belles of the ball. Must be nice. But they can’t handle all the requests, and even if they could, not all hobbyists could afford to “rent a designer”. Heavy Water is providing asset packs for purchase that can be used in AGF to create a soup-to-nuts vidja game. Hell, you don’t even need to know how to develop to produce something this time around! Sure, Unity Proper has an asset store, but with the assets provided by Heavy Water, you get consistency, ensuring that your product has a uniform aesthetic that you can’t get by cobbling together assets from different artists.
If you’ve got a hankerin’ to make some kind of game, or better yet, if you have children (or are an educator, because they’ve got a deal for you!), and want to get them on the path towards creating, consider getting involved with Axis Game Factory‘s funding campaign.
(In an attempt to ward off troll-bait, I am not affiliated with Heavy Water or Axis Game Factory. As a backer, I do have a stake in seeing the project receive it’s funding though, though, so I’m pimping this of my own volition. End of line.)
Just an aside: It’s been a while since I’ve updated WordPress here, and the version number is creeping upwards, which means at some point I’ll be out of code for any plugins I have or may want, so I’ll have to bite the bullet and update.
Last time I did this, the whole site was screwed up, so I’m crossing my fingers. But if the site goes to hell…it’s been nice knowing you all!
[Update] Looks like everything went A-OK!
So, I took out the crazy suit yesterday and laid down some sweet wish list about the kind of “game” I’d like to have. Not really a game, per se, but basically a toolset which uses company-created assets that I could buy in order to create my own adventures, which other people could jump in and play.
The results seem to be a bit more “adventure-y” than I had envisioned, and the characters seem more skewed towards the “iOS trend” of making avatars heads bigger than their bodies, but holy hell! I ‘m not going to look a gift wish in the…mouth, I guess.
In what can only be considered to be a “perfect storm” of concurrent blog posting, I’m going to call this post the end-cap of the last two posts here at LC. First, there was my dissertation on how developers should cut armchair designers some slack, as they’re only wishing out loud for what they’d like to pay money for. Second, there was the opinion on what might be an opportunity for the MMO genre to diversify as an alternative to die out. Now, thanks in part to Scott’s comments in the second post, I’m going to take advantage of my soapbox to “design a game” which won’t solve the MMO genre’s problems…but it’s not designed to. So without further ado…the disclaimer:
I’m sure that there’s a lot of details that aren’t fully realized in this idea. I am a lone person, mainly a consumer of games, but also a developer (web and desktop) so while I have some sympathy for people who say “how hard can it be do do X?”, I got so friggin excited over the idea of having this product that I‘m sure I scared some people on the road as I swore out loud and hammered on the steering wheel, knowing that there’s no chance in hell I’ll ever get this as a real product. Also, I started to degrade into stream of consciousness at the end of this post so, feel free to leave comments for clarification if desired.
Heavy Is The Head That Plays The MMO
So last post, I talked about how the MMO genre is “stagnant” because MMOs are one-trick ponies relying on combat and taking years to make, meaning that they’re obsolete as soon as they hit the design stage. Diversification might be the answer: move BEYOND combat, and let people play how they want to play. Scott’s comments kicked off a flurry of other ideas, but in the end, it’s the players that need to find faith in the genre in order to save it. They can only do that if they feel that they’re getting something that they feel deserves their faith. It’s difficult for the genre producers to pull that off, since it takes millions of dollars to put these games together, and investors are skittish about backing untested ideas. So, stalemate.
Lay Down Your Burdens
Scott said one thing in the comments that set me off: Neverinter Nights. NWN was a great game that brought CRPGs back to prominence after they kind of died out, but it was mostly a single player game. It could be multiplayer, but it certainly wasn’t massive. What really gave the game legs, though, was the Aurora Toolkit. Many people created several great modules for the community, including a faithful remake of Pools of Radiance. People even tried to create massive, persistent server modules, which worked OK, but the game wasn’t designed to support it.
Despite the fact that there were expansions, they were technically unnecessary since the community was pumping out expansions every month. Some were good, some were not so good, but there were a lot of excellent designers, developers, and storytellers out there that made it worthwhile to wade into the community.
Get To The Damn Point
MMOs haven’t actually evolved since the early days. I don’t know the stats for what could be considered an “evolution”, but considering how fast the video game industry has grown, I’d expect that we’d be long past the DIKU model at this point. That means if MMOs were to evolve now, it probably wouldn’t look anything like an incremental change; it’ll be a massive leap into a form we might not associate with the modern MMO. That may be a good thing.
So, let’s say “massively” is dead. Having to be all things to all people at all points in time is helping to strangle the genre because it leads to nothing more than a baseline experience that can be shared by everyone, yet special to no one. However, we still want to have the “multiplayer”, because we’ve had years of playing alone, and now that we’ve been able to play with friends, we can’t possibly go back.
So let’s bring the idea of the Aurora Toolset into the MMO age.
There are a lot of armchair developers out there. A lot of people have “ideas”, but lack the skills or the tools, or the resources like cash or time or other talent. NWN was a godsend for folks like that, as are tools like the Foundry in Star Trek Online or the Architect in City of Heroes. They’re easy for non-professional developers to use, even when it comes to scripting, and gives the creators enough power to make something deep and engaging without having to worry about asset pipelines and audio production.
The creation tools for this concept would be available to everyone for a nominal fee. The creator package would be IP agnostic, allowing for anyone to create a game with either an open source RPG system, or a suitably generic system of the toolset developer’s design. The package would consist of the creation engine and a set of assets – like “Fantasy Village Pack 01”, consisting of 5 town buildings, props (trees, a well, barrels and flowers), 5 NPCs and 3 monsters. A complete adventure could be constructed out of this package, but for those who are more ambitious, creators could buy additional asset packages: Fantasy Village 02, 03, and 04 – but also Modern City 01, Steampunk 01, or Wild West 01. Having more than just a single setting tied to a rigid IP allows for more stories and more variation in the content created.
The modules created could be uploaded to the servers operated by the toolset creators who run “the service”. There would be an achievement system in place for creators, possibly with perks like unlocking some “bonus assets” not available in the normal packs. They would also have their own dedicated community and wiki for sharing design and development ideas. Once there, the modules are available for online play by…
People who have no interest in creating can download the gameplay client for free, but pay a subscription model price to access the service – $9.99 per month.
The rationale: People who play MMOs are used to paying $15 per month for a single game world. It’s the same character, same lore, same game month after month. People who are used to buying single player games spend anywhere between $9.99 for sale items up to $60 for release day titles. Assuming a dedicated player can get through a single player game in about a month, the next month needs a second game, also between $9.99 and $60.
For a $9.99 subscription fee, a player can access dozens to hundreds of solo or multiplayer games spanning several genres. Some may take hours, some may take days. Some may be stand alone, and some may form a series. The opportunities to pick a new game from this buffet would be near endless, and compared to buying a single player game or paying a traditional MMO monthly fee, $9.99 is entirely reasonable.
Players will naturally have the opportunity to rate and comment on the modules that they play, and the more participation the players engage in, the more opportunity they have to earn achievements of their own.
The role of the “developer” in this would be to create the toolset, the server architecture, the hosting structure, the web front-end, the client, and to furnish an ongoing asset stream for creators to purchase. Having a dedicated team of asset producers ensures that a single, unified vision can be followed between packs in the same series.
Other Stuff I Didn’t Have A Header For
The reason behind the tenacity of this idea is that I’m not sure that “massive” is the next step in the MMO. Maybe it can be smaller scale, but with more opportunity to play with others in varying environments. Although this idea would be more akin to “instancing”, it’s more along the lines of what you’d get in a co-op game like Borderlands or Magicka, where you can jump in, play a while, and then return to at another time.
The key is that this concept puts the onus of adventure creation into the hands of the people who bitch about it the most. Armchair developers are vocal about what they want, so this system is designed to let them put their money where their mouths are. The good thing is that everyone benefits: creators get to create games using professionally created assets and professional yet easy to use tools. Players get a wealth of original and expanding content at their fingertips. The operators provide the assets and keep the lights on, and can incentivize players and creators to switch places and to expand their experience on both sides of the divide. Part of the central purpose of this design (beyond what just installing NWN can offer at this point) is the hosting and server operation. Having the modules be available for everyone at every point is critical for this to be considered as an inheritor of the MMO legacy.
So this would be where the “boring” but most critical elements come into play. How would this get started? How much would it cost? What’s considered “profitable”, and could the monetization concept above actually be enough to sustain the ongoing maintenance and asset pipeline? Would these be downloadable tools, or could they be online using something like Unity (I would say yes)? Billions of more questions would need to be asked and answered for this to even approach even a concept stage.
I know there’s an iceburg’s worth of details that could most certainly stop this concept cold, but I really wish a dedicated content creation/content consumption/hosted solution product like this existed. I’m terribly sad that I doubt it’ll ever actually occur, at least not the broad satisfaction of being able to offer a wide range of genre assets and relatively low cost of ownership supported by an asset pipeline cash shop on one side, and an ongoing subscription revenue stream on the other.
Maybe it’s because it’s lunchtime here, but this is making me hungry. GameSalad is a rapid development platform originally available on the Mac to create games for iOS and Android. They’re now making the platform available on Windows, with the opportunity to publish to HTML5 through their own GameSalad Arcade (publishing to Android or iOS requires a $299 license, and iOS still requires a Mac).
GameSalad appears to be a decent way to create some simple 2D action games. Everything is drag and drop, and all interaction is handled through linking “cause and effect” behaviors. I created a game called “Mouse Move” which is really nothing more than pushing a mouse around the screen using WASD, but it was created in less than five minutes. I’m not entirely sure how deep of a game that can be created with GameSalad, but I’ll give it a shot once I have more free time.
Scratch that. I’m looking through the other games that people have made, and they’ve got some full-on mobile-trope games in there, complete with “PLAY” button splash screens, level select with padlock memes, and – of course – Angry Bird clones-slash-blatant rip-offs. So I guess you can actually use this software for…holy crap. The Secret of Grisly Manor is on here. Huh. So this is a real-deal development platform, it seems. Makes Mouse Move look like total shit. Thanks for making me look stupid, guys! Sheesh.