Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Democracy & Tobin
I uploaded a new version (just full version) of Democracy earlier. still need to do the RegNow and Plimus uploads. It fixes a bug, some minor slowdowns, and it adds a 'mid-term elections' feature to the American level. Basically you can lose control of the senate or house of representatives which slows down new policies.

Tobin is back at the RSPCA. We tried very slowly to introduce him to jadzia over the last month, but they never got on. twice when we failed to intervene in time they ended up in horrible screaming clawing fights, with fur and cat crap flying everywhere.
It became clear on Sunday that Tobin won't share the house with another cat, and Jadzia is terrified.
It's pretty sad news, but I took him back to the rescue center we got him from today. Looks like Jadzia will remain our only cat.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Adverts in Games
I will never ever ever ever ever do this with my games. People play games to escape from their lives, not to be sold cars and mobile phones.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Democracy, and article writing!
Bejesus, what a busy guy. I actually added a feature to Democracy today, its unfinished so I'll blog on it once it's done. I also wrote:
I'm just so keen...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I added pre-requisites for events into the new game (Milo) today. I've added lots of other stuff, fixed bugs yada yada. The pre-requisites is the new design thing though. Basically it means you need something before a certain social option is available. Say, inviting people round for a meal. You can't do that now unless you have some minimal cooking skills. Ideally I'll set things up so that the success of the event is partly based on those skills too. This assumes that even if you are a dork, and have nothing in common with anyone you know, if you happen to be a prize-winning chef, people will still enjoy a dinner party at your place.
There is a part of me that worries that the game will be massively middle class and English, and it's appeal will be limited, but theres another part of me that thinks you should 'write about what you know*'. And there are lots of middle class English people. Maybe if 1% of them bought the game (lets say theres 5 million), thats 50,000 sales, which is good.
So with that in mind, I'm going to code a little mini-game where you talk about house prices to people.
I keep dirthering about writing some articles. I must do that...

*I guess I'm still middle class even though I'm an unemployed drifter, as I have a conservatory and 2 cats.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I just updated the milo web page very briefly
Getting lot's done, the layout of the games data is beginning to feel a lot like the way 'Democracy' loaded in data from Excel spreadsheets (csv files actually, even simpler) Which is good because I am on familiar ground.
I've been concentrating on the socialising side of the game quite a bit, I need to flesh out the career side too, which needs quite a bit of design, and then come to some decisions about how to handle money. I might just have a 'disposable income' bit based on milos career, or I might have him pay out rent etc etc.
I'm determined for the game to have plenty of scope for the darker and weirder side of things, I'm still deciding whether Milo should be able to take drugs. Clearly he could lower his stress level that way, and I was originally planning on having a 'paranoia' level that would go up with drug use and cause problems. It's a bit of a minefield. Maybe milo should just have a bath instead?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I bought Poser yesterday, a proper 3D modelling package for characters. This is my way of avoiding employing lots of artists to do the friend pictures for Milo. It's not trivial to use that danged tool, but the results are great. I've been at it a day, but I'm already happy with the quality of the images, the game doesn't need super quality graphics, but this is already better than the games I've done before:

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ok, so now its done I can say what it was:
I did a blue sky research project for The Sims Division at EA, basically doing a gameplay prorotype for what I think could be done with the Sims franchise. It was great fun, and working with Maxis/EA was pretty flawless. I'm really proud of what I managed to get done in the timescale I had.
But back to Earth, and Milo:
Got some major gameplay stuff in today, quite happy about the drag-drop stuff for inviting people out places. One thing that's quite cool is that I don't need an interface to 'uninvite' people, as that just matches real life. You can't still go to the resturant after you call dull buddy #3 and tell him its cancelled.
I'm quite motivated about the possibilities for the game right now, and I have a new possible title for it, 'Milo' isn't exactly a cool name for a mass market game.
And my Dominos Pizza shares rose VERY slightly. phear my skillz.
Is it geeky to slice a jacket potato with a klingon dagger? I often think that a batleth is exactly the right shape to slice pizza.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Not me, but Milo. he can have a good or a bad day, and this now affects his mood. Milo will bring other people down if he socialises when he is miserable, and although his friends may cheer him, he might upset them.
This is one of the balancing acts in the game. Your friend invites you out (via email - new feature) to the bar with his cool and popular buddy, but you are in such a bad mood, do you risk going out anyway and making a bad imrpession, or pass up the opportunity to hang out with famous dude #1 because the waiter job you took to pay the bills has given you a hard time?
I'm quite motivatd about the games possibilities right now.
I also bought shares in Dominos pizza today. A stock to watch, they are doing well. BUY! BUY!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Big Picture
I'm making some progress with the 'big picture' design for Milo. Just updated a new mini-screenshot. Lots to implement. I experimented a bit with a drag and drop style interface today, but I'm not convinced by it.
I might drop the stuff about what milo is interested in. Milo can pretend to be interested in whatever his friends like. It will still matter if you invite people who hate football to watch a football match, but milo won't care what he thinks about football. It was an unhelpful complication to have the player worry about that, on top of personalities, friends interests, and milos mental state.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Personality Time
I updated the skimpy milo website today
This is it
Not much there still, but I added some text about my current design issue. I need about 5 characteristics that determine personality. I'm going with the theory that 'birds of a feather flock together' rather than 'opposites attract', because I'm not concerned about romance in Milo, just social relationships. So I'm presuming that an extroverted, chaotic, optimist will not get on so well with a shy, organised, and methodical pessimist.
The plan is the game will either give you a random personality, or generate one from a personality test at the start. These characteristics will then determine how well you get on with the various people you meet.
I've coded in a number of randomly chosen characteristics, and basic code to make matches good, and mismatches bad. I'm also hoping that these can be referenced elsewhere in the sim. So some activities (like parachute jumping) arent going to appeal to cautious people and so on.
Ideally I'd keep that data hidden, and have people make common sense judgements about which of their friends they invite parachute jumping, and which they invite to dinner parties.
The cats fought horribly at the weekend. Im trying to gradually get them used to each other.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

"Not many companies can do this you see"
In a previous job, I worked for a London based games company called 'Elixir'. They did Republic : the revolution, and 'Evil Genius'. At one point, they started work on a kind of people management sim style game. One of the guys working there explained to me that "everyone is trying to do a game like the sims. It's such a big hit. But its horribly difficult. The things is, WE can do it. Not many companies can do this you see.."
I'm beginning to see why. It's not a matter of code. Code is easy once you've done a few big games. It's partly a matter of Design, and partly a matter of risk.
The design bit comes in because unlike a simple shooter, RTS, or RPG, a life sim games has this big 'elephant in the room', which is the thought of ' Who cares?'
Now clearly the answer is 'Lots of people', because the sims was HUGE. But why? what's attractive about a life sim game? I know that I love them, but I can't really explain why.
I think the scariest question you can ask yourself about anything creative you work on is 'Who cares?'. Its a question tht makes you step back and evaluate the big picture.

The design for 'Milo' is very fuzzy (Milo is my life sim game). I'm finding myself coding bits of simulation, living with them for a bit and seeing what I like, and what I don't like. I quite like the rough 'look' of the game, but I'm still flailing a bit design wise. This is one of the strengths of doing a game on your own. With a big 100 man company, you can't do it like that. (In fact, you can, and I worked somewhere where they did, but it wastes MILLIONS of dollars that way)

Now I see why people clone Zuma or Quake. It must be much easier design wise, and feel a lot safer. The problem is, I'm pretty sure 'safe' does not equals sales. Democracy taught me that,
Here's to beating the sims sales figures :D I really do NOT want to have to go get some boring job doing database programming.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

And there was lots of staring, calm, then hissing and a quick fight, but most importantly, our older cat (Jadzia) did a lot of TALKING.
I'm not meaning 'meow' here, or 'hiss' or 'purrr'. She actually TALKS. If I played you a tape, you'd assume it was a human baby trying to talk. it's actually VERY weird. Does anyone else have this with their cat? or is my cat actually possessed?

Milo - day six friendships, once lost...
I spent a lot of time today fiddling with the process for gaining and losing friends. Basically if you hang out with jack, and he brings bob with him, you can become bobs friend too. Bob then forgets about jack effectively (for game purposes). That's fine, but if you then don't hang out with Bob, I was trying to get him to go back to being 'that friend of jack', which is fine, but you have to dump all of the new 'friends of bob' but give him back his friendship with jack, and it all got a bit horrid.
So now, when you lose a friend, you lose em for good. I can work on it, and make that better once I have all the other stuff up and running.

I'm going to need a lot of faces for the game. I'm torn between

a) getting people to submit a legal release and a picture (inconsistant visually, but good PR)
b) getting an artists to knock them up, either one-offs or using a kind of identity-kit method
c) Buying some face modeling package and using that.

I'm no idea how practical c) would be. I think its important enough that if it's a few hundred dollars that would be ok. anyone know any?

I'm toying with the idea of finding a male model to be Milo. I could get some photos of him looking exactly the way I wanted, maybe different expressions to reflect milos mood, with some extra PR stuff for adverts etc etc. This is the kind of stupid thoughts I have when I don't actually have to do it yet. I've always planned on having his face really obviously in the games GUI (as in the latest screenshot ->)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

GMail To the rescue
I used to use spamcop, but it's not free, and not as good as it could be. Today I successfully set up my mail to route into gmail and out again, stripping out all the spam as it does so. This seems to work fantastically so far.
Codewise I have been concentrating on social events, specifically allowing Milo's friends to take the initiative to invite him places. That will also take up all of tommorow (at least).
Is it me or is 'Lost' just a cliche-ridden sub spielberg embarrasment?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Milo - day four- Friends who know each other
My best friends wife is my wifes best friend. This may not be that unusual, but in interface and game terms it just doesn't help.
I've decided not to worry about it, at least at this stage. Your friends will have distinct groups of friends, and you can make their friends (who I refer to as acquaintances) your friends if you hang out with them enough.
So if Steve has a mate called Dave, I can't invite Dave out, but if I go out with Steve, I'll spend time with Dave, and Eventually Dave might become my friend in his own right. I could then punch Steve in the face if I wanted :D
What I'm aiming for is a 'I'm only friends with him because he has some cool friends' phenomena.
The game is still both conceptually and code-wise a bit of a jumbled mess. But that's always the way at the start of a project.
I have basic stuff running, so (for example) you can spend your eveings reading a book, and over time become more educated. Obviously it needs to depend what book, and you also need to become lonely, and maybe even dull as a result, but you get the idea.
Right now Milos life consists of going to the cinema, reading a book and drinking beer. I have thus already simulated 99% of human existance.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Milo - Day Three
I got some retail interest in democracy for UK/USA but the royalty rate is way too low. I think that might be the last time I even worry about retail again. The amount the developer gets just isn't worth doing it.
Back in Milo-land. Things are going along at a nice rate, because I'm trying to get something up and running quick. I'll try and update my dev screenshots daily.
I have split Milos daily choices into two main options now, he can socialise. or he can do something on his own. They are branches of the same thing code-wise.
So a social event would be a cinema trip, where he can choose who to invite, and a solo thing might be to read a book, watch TV etc. There will be an element of 'self-improvement' too. Milo might spend the evening doing press-ups, which won't exactly relax him, but it will improve his fitness, maybe his physical attractiveness, and indirectly, will increase his happiness.
This is similar to the design for Democracy, where different choices had numerous 'chaos-theory' style effects all over the place. Originally I started coding milo the same way, but I've retreated from that slightly for this initial coding stage.
That reminds me, that I'm planning on spending some time this week on promoting modding for Democracy. Its so cool to be able to do that and not need 'permission' from another department to support modders!
My new cat (Tobin) has not met the old cat (Jadzia) yet. I plan to introduce them this week...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Milo - Day two
Not much to report at the moment, agonising over some early design stuff to do with the extent to which the game is purely about milos relationships, and the amount of modeling I will do for the rest of his life, such as his career and financial situation.
Also already had a long philosophical talk about the nature of enjoyment and how it is calculated.
What determines whether you have fun when you socialise?

Lets say for simplicity it's 3 things:
A)Who turns up and what you think of them
B)If you like the chosen activity (example: cinema)
C)If the activity was good (good movie?)

lets say we score these like so:
25% (didnt like people) 65% (love films) 99% (great film)

So how do we decide how good it was?
is it
(A*0.33) + (B * 0.33) + (C * 0.33)


(A * B * C)

It makes a HUGE difference. Can one bad factor ruin a night out? Will I have a bad time whoever comes out if the film is so dire? or will I always have a minimal good time if I'm with my best friends? Is that choice itself dependent on my personality? Does it matter what kind of activity it was? (A bad movie wrecks the evening, but if the beers poor in a bar with friends, who cares?)
This is the stuff game designers have to think about. and it's nowhere near as simple as people think...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Milo - Day One
Ok. So its day one of the big new game, hopefully a game that sells like Democracy (it needs to!).
Milo is a very vaguely designed game. It's about one person (by default a man named milo in his twenties) and his life, the people he knows, and more specifically the relationships he has with friends.
It's a strategy game, probably turn based, set in the modern day real world. Everyone who milo knows will be simulated, and people whom they know are similarly modelled. The 'aim' of the game is very fuzzy, but generally it's to make milo happy, sociable and popular. Milo will be able to socialise with his friends, and his choice of where, how and who-with are going to become very important indeed. Ideally milo will spend his time at flash restaurants getting along famously with wealthy, popular celebrities from all walks of life. At the start, he will probably sit in a seedy bar chatting with work colleagues who barely tolerate him.
It's basically a game of building relationships. Part of me suspects it might be a popular game with older gamers, and with women gamers. Basically, people who are bored with shooting at NPCs, and fancy having a beer with them instead.
Coding this game will be easy, I have no worries there, I can code simulation games with my feet now. The real problem is designing it. Designing games is hard. Designing original games with no template to work from is MUCH harder. I guess the Sims is the nearest game to handling this, but they have a 3D world and a real time interface. I'm turn based and 2D.
Of course, it's only day 1, so I'm still bolting together bits of library code, but I put a screenshot (so far) up on Milos page. I'm going to plan on updating this screenshot page very often so people should be able to follow the games progress visually.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Site Changes and End of 3rd Party stuff
Today I finally sent off the finished product for the 3rd party thing I've worked on for two months. So until I hear back from them, I'm presuming I'm now free to work on Positech Stuff. I'll write up a description of what that entails tommorow.
I made some trivial website changes today. I added the '2005 sim game of the year' tag to Democracy's description, plus I changed the company 'motto' from:
Small,Fun,Downloadable games
Original,Fun,Downloadable games
I think originality is more valued than download size these days. In fact, I no longer consider download size below 30MB to be any kind of worry on an indie game, and full versions can be up to 100MB without worry I reckon.
Sales are still pretty good. I just hope it lasts... I have so many silly annoying expenses coming up like MOT, Car Tax yada yada,

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The slashdot effect is still bringing in some nice sales (combined with some hefty advertising that I planned for now anyway). Tommorow is the last day of mystery 3rd party game so then its secret project all the way.
We have a new cat. As our current cat is called Jadzia, we named this one Tobin. He's male, black and a bit feisty looking. Here is his first pic:

He is still confined to one (smelly) room right now, eventually it will be time to introduce the Dax hosts.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Good Reviews and Good Sales
Which is a good way to start the year. Due to being in GameTunnels Top 10 Games of the year, and the award being mentioned on slashdot, my traffic has lept from 5-600MB / day to around 5000 MB/day and there has been a big sales spike. This is great.
In other news, Democracy got 4/5 in PC4War magazine, which only gave Black & White 2 3.5, so that's a good score. I have a copy of the magazine here, and theres a lovely 2 page review

I also added a new game (motorama) to my website front page. Check it out, it's extremely good.

I start work on the top secret MILO game very soon.