Design Docs 101

People are scared of design documents. It’s natural; we hear all these stories about people who have invested tons of time into their massive, several hundred page docs, and we quiver – and not with anticipation, either! After reading several folks cite the 1-2 page design doc requirement as a reason for not entering the upcoming Realmcrafter “Game in a Month” contest, I figured I’d see what I could do to remove some of the fear. Continue reading


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A moment of silence…for the GarageGames website.

Well, the new website is up, and GarageGames is being BLASTED TO SMITHEREENS by their community. And rightly so, I believe.

Basically, they took the old site, dismantled or damaged every community-friendly feature they had in place, ripped out the old (yellow = friendly, warm, open) color scheme and plopped in a slick, black and white corporate color pattern.

Great for a sales site. Horrible for a community site.

I think we’re seeing a serious change in direction for GG exemplified by this new site. I have to assume that they understood color theory enough to know what the difference in feel between yellow and black is. Plopping the GG employee blogs on the “What’s New” page – and a handful of community blogs only visible if you scroll at the bottom – and removing EVERYTHING else that made clicking the old Community button such a one-stop-shop, was a horrible move.

But this seems to fit with the new GG mindset. They’re not interested in supporting hobby devs anymore. They’re not really interested in being a friendly community site anymore. They want the slick black corporate look, and just enough “community” features to throw a bone at the thousands of longstanding GG supporters who they are basically kicking to the curb.

Yeah, I’m getting angry about this. The more I post, the more I am, so I’m going to wrap it up here. Crying shame, when a bunch of clueless idiots step into what has been a wonderful, long-standing community and screw it up for everyone.


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Excalibur screenshot

Just a quick screenshot – and still has the old GUI, not the new one we’ll be using for the actual game.  This screenshot shows a great image of night in the game, and some of the chat variety.  Our programmer is busy here talking to himself – he’s actually running all of the clients chatting.  😉

If you read closely, there are some interesting hints about what P.E. has in store, though!
Night Scene

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TGEA is dead… Long live T3D?

Well, not for us.  For the development timeline we have, an engine switch – with all the work to convert the kit over to a new engine that is not even OUT yet, and learning the engine, art pipes, and everything else – it’s just not viable if we want to stay even close to on target.  So we’re sticking with TGEA.

But it sounds like GarageGames is deprecating TGE and TGEA in favor of a new, from scratch engine they’re calling Torque3D, or T3D.  Along with the new engine and new name, it looks like GG is shifting away from their previous stance – and client base – of mostly hobbyist devs, toward a much more intense focus on indie devs.  People who are actively making games and trying to make an indie-level business from that work.

So T3D is going to have a higher pricetag, and with it commeasurately higher expectations.  GG has always gotten away with rather ramshackle customer service because the community has largely been so helpful, and the software so cheap.  I wonder if the former will remain the same, if the latter changes…

I can see their point, though.  Having tens of thousands of Torque users doesn’t help GG market their product further, if 99.9% of those users release no products using the engine.  Much like the boat Realmcrafter is in – an engine needs a steady stream of quality releases to prosper.  RC is missing that, and it’s hurt how seriously the engine is taken as a result.  Torque at least has some releases, but nowhere near what GG would like to see, I think.

I expect we’ll see a lot of nurturing going on from GG toward those small companies they see as ‘serious’ enough to generate good new games.  That will be good for those people.  It remains to be seen if they are going to be able to accomplish that AND still retain the level of support they have always had for hobby devs, though.

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Fallen way behind here, again!  Sorry about that.  I’ll try to keep up better in the future.

Saw an interesting blog article over on today, about a new WordPress branch the author and his coworkers are building called “Onepress”.

Essentially, Onepress takes the WordPress blog system (already something I’m fond of!) and builds it into a CMS system, complete with PHPBB integration, widgit based structure, and enough other doodads that I’ve barely scraped the surface reading about it.

I’ve downloaded the free installation package and plan on playing around with it a bit.  It’s released under GPL, which is quite a gift to the WordPress community – check it out:

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Excalibur what?

Yes, this blog has been quiet for a while now.  It’s been a busy summer and fall, with a new baby, heading back to fulltime school at age 35, and getting a Warhammer Online chapter started with my gaming guild.  The contest that I worked on last year and part of this year is finally over – congrats to the winner, Frayed Knights!  And with that bit of closure, it’s time for me to get back to work on a project again.

Some of you may be wondering what the heck the new header is about, or the sig I am using on some forums now.  Shhhh!  It’s still a secret, but more news will be coming out about what I have planned for the “Excalibur Project” (it’s a codename, not a game name) soon!  A have quite a lot in store, in fact – this project is pretty exciting, and it’s fun to head into it with renewed energy.  Stay tuned!


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Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

Here we are, in the final hours of the Dream Games contest.  Thirteen months has gone by.  Over three dozen games have already dropped out or been eliminated, and the contest is down to the final few.

I’d like to go on record as saying that anyone who made it this far has already won, regardless of what the judges rule over the next few weeks.  Accomplishing a game is a hard task.  It’s something a lot of us shoot for, and most of us fail to achieve.  I almost gave up several times myself, but managed to stay the course.

Looking back over the year, I thought it was worth listing a few key learning points:

1) There is no time like the present.
If I had to name a number one point, this is it.  I think most of us have been guilty at one time or another of putting off for tomorrow what we could be doing today.  There’s always a good reason, of course – if only you could get a coder/artist to join you, or look at that cool engine update/new engine coming out “soon”(TM).  Or whatever else we tell ourselves to validate ourselves.

The fact is, game making is hard work, and it’s work where you’re putting your ego on the line, and it’s work that there is no guarantee at all of a reward at the end.  There’s a certain level of hubris required to say “Yes, this IS worth me putting a thousand hours of my life (or more!) into.”  And so it’s a lot easier to daydream about making your game than to make it.

Stop daydreaming.  Stop waiting for the next engine…or whatever.  There is no time like the present.

2) Make the game your engine and skills can achieve.
Some engines are better at certain tasks than others.  Look at what your engine or codebase does well, and then look at where you think you can go from there given the skills you have available.  In my case, this meant working under some hefty constraints.  I’m not a coder, was working solo, and was hoping that the Gryphon codebase would mature in time.  It didn’t; as a result, I ended up pretty much starting from scratch this January using the Prairie Games Kit.  I almost just dropped out at that point, but I’m glad I didn’t – it’s been an interesting experience.

The PG Kit has some impressive constraints itself.  Essentially, it’s geared toward making an EQ clone – anything more than that requires a pretty substantial amount of work and experience with python.  Instead of adding extra coded features, I’ve opted instead to go the route (which you know if you’ve been reading my blog!) of a gamemastered play experience, where GMs read the activities in the world and add new content as “chapters” of the ongoing story in a manner which will ideally be more like a tabletop RPG game than a traditional MMO.

3) Always store backups of EVERYTHING.
Lost a ton of my art early this winter to a hard drive fiasco.  ALWAYS back up everything.  Multiple places, ideally.  ‘Nuff said.

4) Beware feature creep.
Not once, not twice, but at least four times I have caught myself allowing extra doodads to enter the design.  Keep it Simple has been the mantra allowing me to stay on track.  Get the core in – you can add extra features in later.

That won’t stop you from playing some other game and saying “oh, wouldn’t it be cool if…”  😉  But I’ve manage to resist the urge.  I did a lot of blogging early on about “Simplest Game”, and it’s been an important concept.

I can’t stress how valuable a good design doc is, too.  Having material all written down is a huge benefit.  It operates like a lighthouse, and a quick re-read periodically of the entire document is a great tool for remembering the game you set out to make.  Otherwise, it has a tendency to change over time.  While some change is good, too much change can have you running in circles.

It’s been a long haul.

There’s only a very few of us left.  I see some amazing games still in the competition, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to run with this pack for the last year.  It’s been challenging – staying the course, refusing to quit when things went sour or got frustrating.

I’m under no illusions that my little alpha is some amazing new leap forward in online RPGs.  😉  But it’s a good start on what could be a fun game when it’s done.  And – it’s mine.

The signups for the alpha should be up on the website shortly.  Just a quick little form, and you’ll have an account set up for you there.  I look forward to seeing some of you join me in celebrating the opening of the alpha for The Roleplayer’s World – Role of the Hero.


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