Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blender fun and a quick update

I have recently been using Blender. Here is my image that I created this afternoon. I was trying out a few things (transparency, multiple light sources and actually finishing an image). No, it isn't a hint as to any future project, it's just a ray gun of some sort.

Also, I found out how to make really quick games in Blender. I had always thought you needed to use Python and so didn't bother, I have enough to learn as it is!

However, what you can do is use the very simple "Behaviour Editor". While I haven't produced anything meaningful, indeed anything even resembling a game, it does some very cool stuff out of the box. Namely, it has a physics engine complete with rotation, bouncing and friction. Hooking up keyboard input is easy and you can quickly get to grips with the basics.

In the way of Frozen Kangaroo, the real time strategy game that Botworks is currently making (read the articles linked on the right under Frozen Kangaroo Concepts for an overview), progress has been made, but not huge progress. My exams are coming up, and so a lot of my time is devoted to revision etc. However, my laptop should be turning up within the next 2-5 working days. When that happens, I will hopefully be able to spend much more time working on it.

Probably the most signifcant improvement I have made is the terrain engine. Before, each province had an asocitated image file which had all the terrain features in it. However, I have now moved the actual features off the image and in to a seperate file. When I want to place down a clump of trees, I now create a new TerrainFeature, giving it width, height and type of terrain. The engine takes that, tiles the correct image the set number of times, adding some random spacing to give it that natural feeling. It also can be queried to see whether a unit is within it. This will allow for easy checking to allow for speed modification.

It also means it will be easier to update map designs without having to
a) go in to the image file and edit that and
b) recode it to hit test different areas of the map for movement modification (in the original, if I wanted units to slow down when travesering a ceartain type of terrain, I would have to manually set where the terrain was going to be and enter how much I wanted the unit to slow down by).

Finally, there may be a hiatus of posts during my exam period. Hopefully I will get one or two more posts in before, but if I don't, posting will resume on the 11th of June.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Context to the battles

I was listening to Troy Goodfellow's (Flash of Steel) podcast 3 Moves Ahead today (episode 3) and they were discussing Empire: Total War. E:TW was highly criticised by Tom Chick, one of the contributors to the podcast, in his Crispy Gamer review.

What interested me about their discussion was "do the tactical real time battles need the strategic layer". Putting aside the debate of whether the strategy layer is actually good (you can read my other blog, Veteran Gamer, for this type of thing.), I will be looking at whether it is needed and what alternatives exist.

Is it needed?
What does the strategy layer offer? If you assume, for the moment, that the strategy layer is not fun enough to play on its own, why include it? In the case of Total War games, the most impressive element of the game is clearly the real time tactical battles. That is what makes up the adverts and that's where the development money went. So surely people view the campaign as just getting in the way. However, people insist on playing it.

The reason is they give the battles context. This is an example of the strange phenomena of games. People needs rewards. This is completely bizarre when viewed with a purely logical mindset. Gamers play games to have fun (or to escape or whatever), that is the real reward. However, players need something in game too. Achievements are another example. Your gamer score counts for nothing, and yet people insist on playing the game again to get all the achievements. Why do they need the excuse, if they are enjoying the game enough, why can't they just play it again?

I'm not a psychologist, so my answer is simply that humans are illogical and, as game designers, you must cater to this.

Context provides this reward. What is the point of winning the battle on its own, where is the reward? However, if your battle contributes to winning the war, then suddenly it is worth while. Yes, this is ridiculous, what does winning the war grant you; nothing. But it doesn't matter any where near as much, as you don't finish the campaign half as often as you do a mission.

A possible explanation for this need of context is that it helps immersion. In real life, there are no isolated fights, there must be some external purpose, no matter how basic.

OK, so context is needed, but what if you want all of your game to be fun. What alternatives exist to the campaign mode found in Empire and the like? Well obviously you have the traditional linear mission mode. Now sometimes, I think it is very easy to be snob like in your favourite genre. Recently, Resident Evil 5 came out. A lot of people lashed out at the controls. Immediately, Resi fans struck back with "this is how it has always been, you just can't HANDLE the controls". Just because this is how it has always been does not mean it isn't time for change.

I make no such judgements over RTS fanatics, I have played enough to consider myself, at least partly, amongst them. I also freely admit that I don't normally bother with linear campaign missions.

I think part of the attraction with these spiralling campaigns is they make an emergent story line (the best kind of story, in my opinion, when it comes to games). Also, I think with linear missions, some of the immersion, i.e. the point of not just playing the real time element, is lost. You can only win, if you lose, you restart, you will only advance in a set way and you cannot deviate from this. It isn't helped that the stories are usually predictable and unimaginative.

One campaign I did like was Dawn of War 2. I think this excellently combined the two methodologies. It keeps the linear missions, which means you are very rarely distracted from the heart of the game, but keeps a strong sense of context. The whole campaign just feels more real than other real time strategies, including Dawn of War 1 (ignoring Dark Crusade and after, they suffered from a different problem entirely). The use of optional missions which provide optional benefits creates the reward system and interesting decisions for the player. As does war gear and levelling up your troops. True, there is a scripted series of events and you can't lose. The difference is, it feels like you have some control over the story and, because it is the same units with the same names, you get an emergent story that feels unique to you. Does your scout squad get annoyed they are often viewed as cowards? Do you try and balance which units get deployed so they don't get upset?

The campaign is excellent for a number of other reasons which I detailed in my review of the game. However, the key thing is, it doesn't distract from the meat of the game, it just gives the missions context and reward.

Overall, I don't think the campaign mode needs to be as complicated as Dawn of War (and believe me, that isn't complicated) All it needs to do is provide you with a believable back story before you begin the mission, and a reason to finish it other than pure advancement. Other great things include continuity between missions and interesting decisions that don't take hours to have visible effects. It is a real time game, and if your decisions don't have an immediate and obvious impact, then they become a drag and just taking you away from what you want to do. In some ways, I think this is where TW games fail. A turn can take as long as a turn in Civ. In Civ, that's what you want, in TW, it is taking you away from that.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Frozen Kangaroo Concept: Proxy Nations

In a series of posts I intend to explain the more detailed elements of Frozen Kangaroo, the real time strategy game that I am working on. You can read an executive summary here. I hope to make it so that the posts only rely on things explained before them. However, please excuse me if my posts either digress to explain some concept, or don't make any sense because of no digression. If you have any questions, leave a comment (if it is an old post, I would recommend posting it on a newer post) or email me @

As I explained in my summary, Frozen Kangaroo is set in a fictional second Cold War in 2046 (100 years after the start of the first Cold War). A Cold War is one without direct fighting between the two countries involved. At first, this may seem to be quite a crucial element to any war. Or even if it isn't, how do you plan to make an RTS without fighting? In a Cold War, the two countries compete in other ways. For the original Cold War, the Space Race (the race to get a man on the moon) was a significant focus. These non-military competitions will be in Frozen Kangaroo. In this post, however, I will focus on the other main element of a cold war; proxy nations.

Proxy nations in the real Cold War were nations that were in alliance with one of the two super powers. These nations then attacked either other proxy nations allied to the other side, or the other side itself. Through this, direct combat between the two super powers was avoided. Instead, they would advise, supply and help the proxy nation in every other way they could.

In Frozen Kangaroo they will operate slightly different. Naturally, you will control one of the two super powers. Sadly, I do not believe the game would be much fun if all you could do was vaguely boss around some inadequate AI (because, whoever I am, it would end up being inadequate for what a player would want to do with them). Instead, I am going to take a slightly satirical view and give the player complete control of all their proxy nations; well, nearly.

I am hoping to implement a change in game when fighting breaks out between American and Russian troops. However, I am not quite sure what it should be. While in theory the player will have control over where their units come from, this could be incredibly annoying to manage. What I will probably do is restrict diplomacy after this global event. I will be talking about diplomacy in a later post, where I'll explain what the implications for direct confrontation are.

You will have control over your proxies as if they were your own troops... while they like you. If you upset them, they will cease to operate under your orders, and may even join the other side. Likewise, enemy proxies can be converted to your cause. This is done indirectly through your actions.

There are three main elements that effect your standing with the proxy nations. Firstly, there is how well you are doing generally. If you are quite clearly more powerful, then they may wish to join you out of fear. Likewise, they might chuck in their lot with your enemy if it seems he is going to win. If you can't beat them, join them. This does create a design problem - once you start winning, you could become unstoppable. If it becomes too overwhelming, I may swap this round, as people would want to ally against the dominant force to bring back the status quo.

The second factor is more directly tied to the nation. If you use their troops wisely, ie. low casualties for high kills, they will like you more. If, however, you seem to be sending their men in to pointless deaths, they may stop supplying you with troops.

The other modifier is nuclear weapons. Using nuclear weapons is frowned upon by all nations. As I will explain in more details in a later post, you can either use nuclear missiles on provinces, or fire them directly at colonies. While targeting provinces can cripple your opponent, many nations will desert you as you are incredibly evil.

Furthermore, it is possible to take action to reduce damage done by nuclear attack, as I will explain in a future post. If a leader neglects to do this, proxy nations may cease to want to be under your control.

Each proxy nation has a score for both super powers. The proxy nation will ally with whichever score is higher. This means that if your opponent is treating a nation terribly, it will be easy for you to convert them.

However, if both teams treat the country with disregard, the country can invoke sanctions and even withdraw completely to a state of neutrality. If, say, the score falls below 5 for either side, they cease to provide population for the construction of troops even if they are on their side. At 3, they may take away control for existing units, they can even block your troops advancing through their territory.

So, to summarise, most of the fighting in this game is done through proxy nations. For the large part, this has little impact on how you play the game. However, if you are not careful with your allies troops, they might stop being your troops to control, or even your ally.