Along The Tech Tree's fourth birthday was this week.  If I merge my two columns, this post also marks the 200th entry.  I was told that I should do something special.

What I have chosen is to lower my work load in an effort to improve the column's sustainability.  I will now write BYOND and Within every other week.  That cuts the time I need to write in roughly half and makes the editing easier for the version on my Gamasutra blog.  Happy column anniversary to me!

Of course, this announcement comes when I'm offering the longest list of weekly activity I've had in ages so we'll see how it plays out.  If you'd like to offer your own anniversary present, vote for these two feature requests to depend less on individual volunteers like myself. =)

Todo Review: Nobody has submitted anything, but I've had my eye on The Magic Man's Block Miners for a while due to the concept, art and interface.  Remember that there is a forum where you can make your own submissions and pick on my own.  This post might give you a better understanding of the benefits.

Within BYOND

As promised, Silk Games have released an update for their retro MORPG NEStalgia in lieu of the Black Sanctum expansion.  Along with some fixes, various features have been added for convenience while grouping, managing inventory, changing names and exploring.  Those who experienced outages this week should also be aware that a new host is on the way for the Zenithia and Sosaria servers.

Forum_account has offered a preview of the next iteration of A Miner Adventure.  Career mode will be expanded with more building options and less frequent, more devastating cave-ins. I find it nifty that one of the new tools will be a mine cart accelerated with bombs.  The lighting discussion in the comments caught my eye as well.

After stating that he requires a team, Oasiscircle released the retro action game Toy Tanks and then made two updates with the help of F0lak.  Highlights include new maps, powerups and leaderboards along with audio courtesy of Eksadus.  Up next are graphical variations and an in-game shop.  Go grab a friend to bounce a bullet into.

Falacy has offered a variety of announcements through a new SG Dev News column.  His Celestial Chaos IP is expanding with resumed work on the sequel and conversions of both a fangame and the former Gold Guardians successor.  An interface and macro tutorial was also written.

Nadrew has posted two versions of release notes for the BYOND classic My Life as a Spy, but he now finds himself contemplating a graphical update while lacking an artist.  All profits go to the game's original creator, Skysaw.  Digital goods, such as a BYOND membership and in-game "Gold" subscription, might be all he has to offer.

[Edit: Another update was just released with more benefits for subscribers.  Buy now because prices will be raised on April 1st!]

The tactical fantasy Surreal Dreams is another BYOND classic that has changed hands.  In this case, Kunark created the game and Vexonator offered a bundle of updates.  The latest, and possibly last, update has just been released.  Not even Vexonator knows what it includes.

Darker Emerald has uploaded his theme music for Dead World.  Me likey.  Check out the multiplayer horror and make sure to listen to his other offerings. =)

Last week, Ss4toby released an alpha version of a single-player digging game called simply Dig This.  The game features "Destruction Shapes" that allow the developer to change the shape of walls hit by projectiles on the fly.  More recently, this destruction was incorporated into a map editor.

KhaosParadox has described his team's progress on the MORPG Eternia.  Matt has been creating larger sprites.  Shadowdarke has been hammering out modules for the engine and writing tutorials for those who would like to help.  KhaosParadox himself has begun using the project in a college course where he has to start a business.  I find the work and external motivation promising. =)

Bemoaning his lack of updates, Acebloke has offered a progress report for his procedural MUD Dreamland Universe.  Increased graphical variation is on the way with screenshots expected soon.

Kumorii has begun his first original project.  It's a zombie game where the player stands in the middle while battling enemies that come from the left and right.  Importance is placed on timing.  My own Fused Finale actually started as a similar concept from a top-down perspective so I'm curious to see if the fighting will be better served with the camera change. =)

DivineTraveller has been questioning his motivation to complete the spell customization RPG Mantra.  Fortunately, he planned ahead so all of the source and design details are available online should anyone wish to take over.  A summary for the collaboration has been posted.  Those interested should contact DivineTraveller through email.

The Magic Man is also seeking motivation, but he's doing it by implementing player ideas in his released games.  The turn-based fighter W-BAT could use some weapon suggestions.  Meanwhile, classes in War of Heroes have been rebalanced and he's looking to add five more.

After multiple attempts at full-scale RTS projects, Aaiko now is seeking theme suggestions for a tower defense game.  His original intention was to use some form of era progression.  However, while he has been working on his graphical skills, the amount of resources required makes the implementation unlikely.

Gakumerasara has released a walkthrough video for Terulia Relay Chat.  In addition, the service has become more convenient for players as they are now automatically subscribed to communicate on all TRC-linked projects when they login.  Only developers will have to touch the connected forums.

It is rare that software outside of BYOND catches my eye for a column.  (Okay, fine.  Go check out the HD Invitational.)  However, Tsfreaks has created a way to tie it to his BYOND work.  Those who invest in him will receive assets and profits from Resource Center.  He also offers a penalty fee should he fail to make the money back.

My only concern is that getting all of the money from a single investor seems like a bit of a hurdle.  I'm wondering if using a crowdfunding site might get more results.

I've been working on my 2D BSP library intended to help with procedural generation.  I still need to polish the demo and reference.  I'm thinking of separating my Map Generation library into more useful resources for abstract grids and Prim maze generation.  I've also released a simple Choice Refill library to handle a situation I often face.

Meanwhile, I'm excited about a new design to test my map generation, but how many have I run through now? ;)

Fooldom Come: One subscription. Many games.

Beyond BYOND

  • Congratulations go to Game Developer for their three Maggie Award nominations.  The Maggies are part of a 60-year-old effort by the Western Publishing Association to honor magazines.
  • Indie Games Channel posted an editorial on marketing your indie game.
  • On What Games Are, Tadhg Kelly compared gamers with the magicals and muggles of Harry Potter.  He determined that people are often both in different areas, but games may have more success aiming for just one type.
  • Over on PC Gamer, Tom Francis offers an editorial on how mainstream games butchered themselves and why it’s his fault.  I read it as one more reason linear stories are a frelling waste of time.
  • Fire Hose Games have been posting videos, not just of their latest release, but of the prototypes that led to it.  Like!
  • I'd never win it, but the latest episode of The Ben Heck show offers an Xbox 360 modded to look like an old Atari system with its own monitor.  It begs me to enter the current console generation while remembering that of my childhood.  Want!
  • Tom Vasel is back with video reviews for The Dice Tower.  I wish the Vasel family well.
  • I think I've found my next reviewer.

GAMBIT have been posting videos from their Game Of The Week podcast.  They are a lab that studies gamers, aesthetics, mechanics, business, innovation and technology.  This particular entry refers to a game I've enjoyed myself. =)

Don't settle for a brief mention of activity.  Get games featured!  (Want to review?)

OOO Another game from the people who brought you Fevel? I shall be keeping my eye on that one. Glad to see Eternia is making progress, that's a game that I can't wait to play.
This editorial was contradicting and ridiculous, but I completely agree with the point that he's trying to make. Especially when it comes to single player campaigns.
If some idiot wants to murder all of his companions, then let him ruin the game for himself. The pace of the game should NOT be driven by your incompetent (but luckily immortal) AI buddies. If anything, they should always be waiting on you. I hate when I run up to some scripted door, and then have to stand around for 30 seconds, waiting for some AI to come open it for me. Am I really not capable of turning a freaking door knob by myself?
Movie-like cut-scenes shouldn't exist anymore, or they should go back to fully CG pre-rendered cut-scenes that blow the in-game graphics away, and they should definitely be skip-able & pause-able. If they only use in-game/in-engine cut-scenes, then they should be seamlessly implemented into the gameplay, not some "movie" where control is hijacked from the player.
I don't know that I'd call it contradicting and ridiculous, but I think it misses an obvious point: it's easy to make an environment where the player can freely roam, but it's hard to make npcs in that environment that react accordingly to whatever the player does. The player wants to proceed in a certain way, but because events have to be scripted the game only lets you progress in a finite number of ways. This is what creates the frustration (the player can't play how they want to) and this is probably why sandbox games are so popular - there is no set way to play so the game will let you do whatever you want.
Forum_account wrote:

Practically none of that is true. How is it easy to make a free-roam environment? It should incorporate everything that a linear experience does, while being set in a dynamic open world. Its not difficult to make NPCs react to what the player is doing, its just a few extra routines that most developers must be too lazy to write. Its easy enough to let the player advance any way they want, as long as they get to the desired goal - and games that allow this are usually the best ones. Even sandbox games don't really allow you complete freedom to do whatever you want, not any more than linear games do. There is, however, a big difference between a "linear" game that literally has you walking down a single path with a specific forced way to do everything in order to progress, and a game with even a sliver of freedom.
I guess you didn't understand.

It's easy to make a big world that gives players the freedom to move how they want, but they still can't play however they want because most of the game's content is fixed - the player has to reach predetermined locations or accomplish predetermined tasks.

For example, the player could wander around for a while and find a small town. An npc in the town says they're about to be attacked so you have to gather weapons to arm the townspeople. You can't tell the npc "but I want to defend your town single-handedly" because the game wasn't made to acknowledge that option.

Being able to roam freely gives the player a false sense of open-endedness that the npcs can't offer. You can take thousands of different routes from point A to point B, but once you get there the storyline will advance in one of a small number of ways. It doesn't have to do with the author of the article wanting to skip cutscenes, the technology just doesn't exist to generate this type of content. Games have to force players along a path because in most games that path has to exist. Sandbox games are the case where that path doesn't exist.
Forum_account wrote:
For example, the player could wander around for a while and find a small town. An npc in the town says they're about to be attacked so you have to gather weapons to arm the townspeople. You can't tell the npc "but I want to defend your town single-handedly" because the game wasn't made to acknowledge that option.

Fallout 3 probably has that option, and/or the option to just murder every NPC in that town =P
Surreal Dreams...ahh, haven't played that in forever. Will have to re-favorite and check this bad boy out.
This is why I like games like Halo, Crackdown, and Fallout 3, if you choose to act counter-productively you get punished for it but it doesn't keep you from playing the game. I mean, in Halo (the first game) you can kill an NPC and they'll all shout at you, no big deal right? Kill a few more and they start lighting you up. It's very fun to play on the hardest difficulty and try to defeat your own NPC teammates who have now become enemies because you though a few of them would look good as hood ornaments on your warthog.
Talk about slow... I JUST NOW got the "I'm not old. Two hundred is the new nine" description... XD