A Game of Code

So code development can be remarkably like working out.

When you do it, it’s easier to keep going. The practice becomes self-sustaining, enlightening and enjoyable, making you feel better and better about yourself. But just as with exercise, a halt in your efforts can endure. It’s harder and harder to open the IDE (think studio for developing) and get in a few lines of code.

I hate to admit that I was strangely reluctant to start coding this new project. I had discussed it with Manuel and Andrew for a while, and originally envisioned a collectible card game. Because my friends live in the UK, I suggested that doing a demo on Android could make it easier to play test.

But discussion about the m300px-Demomanarket slowly changed our direction. And although we’ve only added the prefix “digital” to the collectible card game title, ipso facto… we are developing a video game.

After agreeing to it, I began to feel reluctance. Coding is exhausting, a mental strenuous practice of researching API (application programming interfaces) possibilities, reading through how-to guides, trial-and-error approaches to problem solving. There can and certainly will be days you drill down the details and exhaust all possibilities on how to solve some issue, only to arrive at frustrating dead-ends because of inexperience.

Today, I finally cracked my inhibitions and began working. Just some easy User Interface (UI) designs, I admit, but not without a few challenges and making me recognize some of the tools and approaches I will be taking to develop the game. Handling the Java-derived functionality is usually easy. And thus far, the User Interface specifications are either in the scope of my experience or just outside of it and won’t take long to crack. However I have entertained the possibilities of moving beyond the “card game” demeanor and embracing… something classic.

Part of this desire was sparked by a recent sale I’ve been conducting on eBay. I am preparing to move to Arlington, Virginia in a week, so I thought to unburden myself of old items that I no longer need. Mundane things, like clothes and unneeded kitchen goods, found their way to the local GoodWill. But books and old Playstation games were placed on sale, some of which selling quite handsomely despite being nigh twenty years of age.

As I didn’t wish to sell damaged and useless goods to my customers, I went ahead and tested my games against my old PlayStation 1. The majority of titles on sale were from SquareSoft, before its merger to Enix. In those days, Square had exceedingly good programmers and designers, their titles enjoyable and fun, a mix of traditional with the new processing power the console offered them. Some say this approach ended with the release of Final Fantasy VIII, when the focus on art and graphics shifted attention from meaningful innovation of core game play.

Recent indie titles, such as The Banner Saga, Risk of Rain and the renovated ShadowRun series, have proven to me that not only is their a market for old-school gaming, but forgotten fun to be had. And yet these titles did not require warehouses of artists either.

Now to be fair, I am aware that there is a good chance this project may never be finished. A few years back, I looked at documentation for Steam Engine projects on their wiki projects page. Many of them had great ideas but didn’t get off the ground either due to lack of technical talent, time or interest. It’s hard to invest it something like this when one is not getting paid. (Not to be cynical, but being a starving artist carries the downside of actually starving.)

Now I will set aside time once a month to discuss this project. A lot of details keep getting shifted around although we have a core idea that we’re sticking with. But we’ll see what happens next.

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KickStarter Updates and Citadels

I really prefer to post on Tuesday and Thursday. But some weeks, that’s just not possible. Too much going on can keep me from getting my thoughts down. This week it was coding assignments on my other blog, Mad Tech-Priest. I have this new thing where whenever someone challenges me to do a coding test, I put the answer up there just to prove I know my stuff and look really… cool, I guess.

You got me. I don’t know what cool is.

So first the news, and not the boring kind. The Conan board game finished it’s KickStarter round of funding two days ago, and it was a whooping $3.3 million. This makes the game the most successfully funded board game in KickStarter history. Yes, I went ahead and bought a copy of it after the great fun I’ve tried Citadels with friends. As of late, I feel inclined to try something bold and new. And maybe playing games as Conan is just the way to do it.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is closing in on the $1 million, at which point backers can enjoy the extended mini-campaign at the end. It has 4 days left and (as of this post) about $70,000 more to go. The game is fully funded either way, but one can always hope for a little more. This is going to be a close one.

Speaking of close. Project Scissors: NightCrywhich I covered in my previous blog entry, is starting to rally some. It’s too early to call it a comeback just yet, but the jump in funding for the project has put them just under the half way mark. With 9 days left to go, stranger things can happen.

CitadelsSo as of last weekend, I’ve been playing a new (to me) card game called Citadels. The primary goal of the game is just to build a medieval city using gold pieces. But more than a race, other players have the ability to thwart you as they rush to finish their own towns.

Game play revolves around picking one or two (during 2-3 player games) roles with different abilities, with each role ranked to determine play order. Strategy revolves around what role a player chooses (and thus denies to other players), forcing players to build a careful strategy. While there is a tiny element of chance in the game, as players cannot know what city cards they’ll draw, the randomness is mitigated by being able to choose one of two drawn cards. Thus strategy reigns supreme.

The roles vary in value per each round. The King, for example, allows you to have first pick of roles during the next round. The Assassin can wipe a player’s turn out, while the Merchant can net extra gold for each green market district you possess. Bluffing is valuable because if one player grows abusive with a particular role, such as using the Warlord to destroy rival districts, that player might find himself the target of the Assassin. Or the Architect might have his gold stolen by the Thief to keep him from suddenly building three districts.

A final detail is that while getting all 8 districts of your city built gives you extra points, it does not guarantee that you’ll win the game. There are plenty of cheap, low value districts that can speed a player to the finishing line. But it’s the total value and combination of all districts that determines the winner. If one player builds several high value districts while another gets eight lower value ones, that player still might not win. This can make for some interesting back peddling later, forcing the owner of the cheaper citadel to react and increase their value.

Three more things give Citadels great value. First, it can be played for up to 8 players, making it a fantastic party game. Second, I was able to purchase it for $20, which included its expansion set. And third, the game really isn’t difficult to learn, although the rules change slightly depending on the number of players who have joined. So if you’re looking for some fun for the remainder of this winter, check it out.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter

Shadowrun Hong Kong

Shadowrun is going to Hong Kong.

It happened so fast that before I even knew it was up, the Kickstarter was pushing a quarter million in funding. The initial goal of $100,000 was met in under 2 hours, and several other goals has been added and even satisfied. And it still has 34 days to go, with plenty of bonus material to tap.

I have to admit that I’ve surprised myself over the last year. I was originally quite pessimistic about Kickstarters, but in the last few months I’ve lightened up enough that if I see something very promising, I’ll break open the wallet for a “what if” product. This runs contrary to the deluge of initially optimist supporters who have been burned by bad projects and underwhelming goods.

But Hare Brained Schemes has not only delivered what it promised in previous projects, but also goes above and beyond. When Dragonfall transitioned into a full product in with the Director’s Cut, HBS gave those who purchased the DLC the standalone game for free. Hare Brained Schemes is cultivating a reputation for not only treating their fans with honesty and fairness, but with genuine appreciation.

A New Crew

SRHK CrewAs of the time of this blog post, Shadowrun: Hong Kong has four confirmed crew mates for the player, with a fifth promised at the $400k mark. One thing that made me smile was the increase in metahuman crew mates. The Kreuzbasar gang was great, but only Eiger was anything other than human.

This time however, we’re definitely mixing it up. A dwarf sniper and decker. Two orcs, one being a Rat shaman and the other a security specialist. And fresh off the funding goals, a Russian Rigger with his own pet drone.

Two things about the crew’s roles catch my eye. First, once again there is no hermetic mage nor adepts. Magic in crew crafting always tends to take a back burner, often given over to a mixed-purpose support shaman. In this case, Gobbet.

While the possibilities of magic as a storytelling device were explored through Dietrich and… another character in the previous game, I quietly hope that we’ll someday discover the background of a street mage archetype. In terms of game play mechanics, the lack of a hermetic mage also tends to put pressure on the player to develop a magician, as most other roles are provided for.

Second, there is no designated street doctor or combat medic like Glory provided in Berlin. My guess is that decker Is0bel and rigger Racter might take advantage of their high intellect investment to make decent, patchwork healers in the interim. But no one is really designated to that role.

The Possibilities

SRHK FightI can’t express how glad I am that Shadowrun isn’t returning to the United States as a setting just yet. It’s not that I’m disinterested in hearing more about an Awakened North America, but the cultural differences of Berlin in Dragonfall touched a wanderlust in me that I forgot was there. Hong Kong is ripe for exploration, new magic and technology and a new adventure I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

Another hope I have is that every character gets their own side mission. At the moment, the Kickstarter tiers mention personal missions for Gobbet, Is0bel and Gaichu, but nothing yet for Racter or Duncan Wu. Maybe they were already getting their back stories with the completion of the funding goals and core game.

Speak of, perhaps the character who intrigues me the most is Wu. Not because of anything about his past (we know nothing about him), but because of his game play mechanics. Wu can go down a skill set called the Lethal Force Track (pretty self-explanatory), or the Crowd Control Track. That latter set focuses on stunning abilities, such as a shock baton, tear gas or even zip ties to halt foes.

This sets up a intriguing precedent, akin to what the tranquilizer gun did for Metal Gear Solid 2. Since Shadowrun Returns, there have been ways of talking oneself out of a brewing fight or two. And there was already one side mission in Dragonfall where you had to capture an opponent. But will there now be a way to fight without killing? Do I have to kill my foes anymore? Or could I perhaps incapacitate all my enemies throughout my missions?

If so… decisions, decisions.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is due out mid 2015, with a current estimate for August. And I’ve already slapped down 35 shut-up-and-take-my-money dollars. See you in Hong Kong, chummers.

The Coming Year…

Ahh, Merry Christmas everyone. Although I write these words exactly at 12:00 am on December 26th. Well, whatever. So Christmas has come and gone, and the New Year is almost upon us. It’s a good time to talk about the books and games I’m most looking forward to in the coming year.

Gears-Judgement

I had just finished Gears of War 3 for the first time tonight. While it was a damn fine ending to the trilogy, and more than satisfactorily completes Marcus Fenix’s story, I found myself missing some elements that were more prevalent in the first two games. More paths you could choose, the campaign could have been a dash longer either through an additional act, or more portions from Baird and Cole’s point of view, like they did in the first act.

On that note, I’ll certainly be getting more of Cole and Baird soon. Gears of War: Judgment is on its way. That game will probably be second on my most wanted list.

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is yet another one worthy of mention. Unlike most die hard Starcraft lovers, I’m just looking forward to the story and campaign. Multiplayer just isn’t my thing for RTS. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. I’m almost finished playing the first one and I am considering getting the DLC as well. I almost forgot Dead Space 3!

Finally, last and probably best of all, Bioshock: Infinite. I think that needs little explanation. But just in case, take a look at the trailer.

Now, for books I am choosing both previous and to be released books. But on my ‘most looking forward to reading’ list is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. That latter was recommended by C.L. Werner.

Other books of mention include Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe, and Headtaker by David Guymer. Guymer I actually met at the Black Library Weekender. Having published a few short stories, Headtaker will be his first Warhammer novel.

Finally, movies. I’m going to be a bit conservative about this, and mention Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby. Truth be, there are many good sounding movies, like Oblivion, Thor: The Dark Worlds, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Man of Steel, Ender’s Game and Star Trek: Into Darkness. But truth be told, I haven’t seen most of the trailers nor done any research. I’d rather wait until near release to begin looking into them.

So that’s all for next year’s excitement. Stay tuned for my new years resolution, which I will immediately fail to keep.