Best Games - The Fighting Fantasy Book Series
You ever play a roguelike? A game where you have one run through a gauntlet of obstacles. When your character dies you go back to the start and try again, using what you learned on previous runs to get further and further each time. Imagine that, but a book.
A few short years after the creation of the first Choose Your Own Adventure books and the game Dungeons and Dragons, a couple of industrious writers decided to mix the two together. The result, rather than being a dungeon crawling choose your own adventure, turned out to be more like a story based roguelike. You had one shot to optimise your randomly rolled characters progress through the story. If they died or you chose poorly and got a bad ending you had to scrap your character sheet and start over at the beginning.
Of course no one ever played through the books like that. When the quickload system is as easy as putting a finger in between the pages and then flipping back if a choice or combat outcome turned out negatively, you fudge the numbers until you got all the endings. At least for me, it was only after I had ‘beat’ the book that I decided to see if I could make a run through to the end playing strictly by the rules. Most of the time I didn’t make it. A few of the books required some pretty lucky dice rolls to succeed.
Really though, when everything is considered, the fighting fantasy series didn’t do anything earthshakingly inventive. They were neat, and of their time, and that’s about it. It’s really only when you combine the infocom text adventures like Zork, the tabletop collaborative narrative games like Dungeons and Dragons, and systems based computer games like Rogue that were all being made in the late 70s and early 80s that you can see the profound impact they will collectively make on games over the next decades. Games went from being strictly intellectual or gambling based pastimes, to being a medium that could tell a story. Games became the only medium where you could not only be the audience for that story but a collaborator in its telling. Very early on the Fighting Fantasy series of books were out front and testing those waters.
The Fighting Fantasy book series deserves to be amoung the best games.
This weekend was Ludem Dare 45. Ludem Dare is a long running series of semi-annual game jams. I did the same thing that I do every time Ludem Dare rolls around. I forgot it was happening. It wasn’t until quite late on friday night that I noticed that the theme had been announced. I thought about it for a bit, started a new Godot Project, made a GitHub repository, and then thought maybe I would attempt to make the thing I was thinking about on Saturday. Maybe.
Start with nothing. That was the theme. I happened to have an experiment rattling around my brain I have wanted to try for a long time. It is the sort of thing that fit the theme “Start with nothing” and it was a small, strange idea that fit perfectly into the schedule of a jam. Really I just needed an excuse to try it out.
For a while now the kids and I have been messing around with Godot as an excuse to teach them to code in a way that might be more fun than tutorials and “learn to code” apps. Game engines, I think, are uniquely suited to the task of learning. Turn around time from having an idea to testing it to seeing the results is very short for most things when using a game engine. An awful lot of the work is handled for you. You don’t really need to be concerned about how to draw a pixel to the screen. The engine deals with that. You can worry about higher level stuff. I know that the absolute fastest code learning loop is probably learning html but that is pretty dull stuff. Compare changing the border on a div to creating a stack of boxes and knocking them over with cannon shots in a 3d game engine. The second one might take a bit longer, but honestly, which one would you rather make.
That time spent working with my kids in Godot led me to believe that creating a simple experiment wouldn’t be that difficult. Of course I was completely wrong. I certainly didn’t spend global game jam type hours on this project. I sort of dipped into it from time to time over Saturday and Sunday morning. Still, Godot fought me the entire way.
Seemingly small things like moving an object from one place to another smoothly devolved into a marathon of frustration. I spent no small amount of Saturday detangling the fact that Godot deals with 2D and 3D graphics very differently. The built in tween functions are either broken or so convoluted that they might as well be broken, at least on the 3D side of the fence. The documentation is succinct, but not particularly helpful. If there are examples they don’t tend to be ones that deal with common problems, like moving an object smoothly from place to place. I’m also not very familiar with the python-like GDscript that you have to use if you want to make a Godot project that runs under HTML5. Not being able to use C# caused some headaches.
At the end of it all though, I did manage to make a very simple version of what I was going for. It’s missing some of the more interesting exploration style features that I had planned, but like all Jam games, success is when it runs at all.
Anything is running over at https://eturnip.itch.io/anything
Try it out. Make something from nothing.
did some work over here. Only a very small amount of changes got into the actual story. I wrote 2 scenes that happen nearer they end, but I haven't written any of the stuff in between so I opted to leave it out. As always, this story is in development so it won't make much sense if you try to read it right now. Still, you know, if you want to, click that link and read away.
If there is one thing I am truly terrible at (I know, I know, it’s more than one thing) It’s self promotion. I will, from time to time, point at a sign or logo while out in the world and say to whoever I’m with “hey I made that”, but that’s about the depths of my braggadocio. I have had animations I made in TV commercials and up on billboards. I never saved any of them for a demo reel. I have made logos and designs for products and companies. None of them are in my portfolio. I don’t really even have a proper portfolio right now. There are a few videos of me making some old models and doing some quick paintings, but that is about it. I should probably look at changing that.
I would like to start now, if even in a small way. For the few dozen people who read this (I get the metrics. On very rare occasions readership leaps all the way into the low hundreds!) I invite you to stop reading and head over to
Neon Noodles is an open ended puzzle game being developed by Radu Muresan. I have been contributing on the art side. I happen to think it’s shaping up into a pretty cool game. A writer for Forbes seemed to think so too
so that’s a nice bit of outside validation.
If you use Steam to buy games, please add Neon Noodles to your wish list and consider giving it a look when it releases later this year. If you don’t use Steam to buy games, tell someone you know who does. If you are better at promotion than me, go shout it from the rooftops. It might take me awhile to do any proper promotion. I’m still learning how.
During the last weeks of their summer vacation, my kids and I started up a small game dev experiment. I described it as an extended Game Jam. We only worked on in a couple hours a day at most. The project is on a small hiatus while they got back into the regular rhythm of school again, but we still talk about how to solve certain problems and what we still need to do on the game.
Rather than teach them how to use Unity, I figured it would be more interesting if we all learned something we were unfamiliar with. We are using the open source Godot engine and writing all the code in the python-like GDscript. The only python experience I have is writing a few automation scripts for Blender, so I wasn’t coming to this with any sort of head start.
The project is based off a concept I had a long time ago for a simple 3 Lane endless runner type game. The hook would be that rather than be about dodging items in your path, this game would be about holding up traffic and not letting it squeeze past you.
So far we have gotten a player character into the game and we have set up controls for it. You can use the keyboard or gamepad to move your little person around. We have set up and used trigger objects to detect the position of the ‘people’ trying to make their way past you. We have messed around with the Godot physics engine to drop items from the sky and shoot them toward the player at variable speed. We have messed with the camera, but not yet done anything with lighting and shading. We have set up an object spawning system to create the objects we need when we need them and a culling system to remove objects when they are out of view.
There is still a long way to go before I would call this project an actual game, but the kids have created some concepts for new characters along with their traits, and we have a decent plan on how to use what we have learned to add more structure to the game.
Some of our ideas won’t work out, and I have been pretty clear with them that this is what happens every time you make something as large and ungainly as a game. Some things just don’t work and some things do, but either way you learn something new.
I don’t feel like I am any more comfortable with python, but I think I understand some of the basic concepts of the Godot engine. I think that it is a very simple and elegant system, but one that can lead to a lot of clutter if not wrangled properly. When Godot can easily build to more platforms it will likely be a very viable game engine for indie devs.
This past weekend we didn’t do any work on our project, but I plan to rectify that next weekend and we can all come back to it with fresh eyes and new ideas ready to be tested.
Small bits of movement have been going on over here. I don't have much to say about it other than I am slowly, steadily moving toward a story that might be good for people to read, but as before, that time is probably not now. I mean I took out a half chapter chunk and haven't filled it back in yet. Not the sort of thing that makes for enjoyable reading. Anyway if you choose to follow that link, you do it with my warning.
Best Games - Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution DS
Sometimes constraints can drive the best designs. Necessity being the mother of invention or whatever. I am here today to argue that not only is Civ Rev on the Nintendo DS a good port of the game, I’m going to say that it is one of the best Civ games in the series.
Ridiculous? Blasphemous? Not a real Gamer™? Maybe, but just hear me out. If you can get ahold of Civ Rev for DS, just play it. You’ll thank me in a day or two when you finally blink.
I’ll admit, I haven’t played every game in the Civ series, but I have put in the hours with a lot of them to know how the games tick. More than that, a few years ago I tried to examine what made the core loop of the Civilizations games so addictive. In other words, what made them good.
You might think that the magnetic effect of the Civilization series is the simulation of a world spanning fanciful take on human history. A ludic examination of everything that it took to get us to where we are. That ain’t it. Civ games are slot machines that payout tiny rewards continuously for five hours. Microscopic prizes at a metronomic pace. Everytime you press a button in a Civ game something happens, and often it is something you knew would happen, but you didn’t know when. You press a button and a city spawns a new settler. You press a button and discover a friendly village. You press a button and a wonder you had forgotten you were building springs into existence. You press a button and you conquer France.
Of course you are rewarded for planning ahead and strategically micromanaging your many towns and peoples. There is an element of skill to the game. You can make too many poor choices and end up with revolts and invasions decimating everything you have spent centuries building. But that isn’t what makes anyone play one more turn at 3:45 in the morning. It’s that casino game ‘Ka-ching’ of pressing a button and having a brand new rifleman appear in one of your cities.
Since every Civ game works this way, you might be wondering what makes the DS version so special. What would elevate that particular version to the rank of best games. Typically, as a game marches down the technological ladder they get worse not better.
Civ games are packed right full of all sorts of stuff. There is a technology tree spanning millennia, there is a civilopedia that includes actual historical information along with what amounts to the games manual. There are a variety of units, both military and civilian, you can use to explore, settle, defend, and conquer the world. All cool, but none of that makes the game a better game.
When they crunched all of Civilization down into Civ Rev for the DS they condensed everything. The pace, the scope, the complexity, the reward cycle. There is a possible version of Civ Rev DS where the reward cycle is exploitative, where playing the game takes a backseat to flashing lights and binging alarms. That isn’t what happened at all. Civ Rev is every bit a Civ game only smaller. Tighter. Quicker. More nimble. It takes the best parts of Civ and squashes them down into a bite sized package.
Is Civ Rev DS the best game in the series. No, probably not. But it is one of the best games on the DS platform, and it succeeds in ways no one would expect of a ‘down port’. No concessions, no exceptions, it’s just a great game.
Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution is one of the best games.