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Why no updates?

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Blame twitter.

I started this blog before I became really active on Twitter.  While they aren’t the same thing, Twitter nonetheless provides me with a text-based medium to communicate ideas to my followers.

Funny how 140 characters can replace a whole blog post.

But yeah.

Anyway, this update was prompted because I actually do have a few things I’d like to write about in a long-form way.  So who knows?  Maybe in three or four years there will be another post here.

 

What’s Wrong with Europa Universalis IV

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Virtually nothing, really. It’s a masterful game already at release, and Paradox have proven themselves to be god-kings at supporting their games post-release with extensive patches and expansions/DLC to improve balance and add features.

But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few minor niggles to complain about anyway.

INTERFACE INDIGNATION

  • The treasury indicator in the toolbar at the top of the screen should be clickable, and open your economy panel.
  • Unit movement animation (from province-to-province) still occurs when the game is paused — especially if you’re panning around — which is really confusing. I believe that when the game is paused, units should instantly complete their movement animation.
  • When viewing an army, the tooltip noting the max percentage of cavalry allowed is unclear, making it sound like your Cavalry total should not exceed 50% of your Infantry (e.g. 10k inf and 5k cav), when it’s actually 50% of your total army excluding Artillery (e.g. 10k inf and 10k cav is fine).
  • There should be an alert banner prompting you to spend papal influence, rather than forcing you to check the curia page every few months. I feel that the banner should appear if you have the ability to spend papal influence on a cardinal you do not currently have the most votes with and/or if you are at your cap of banked influence even if you are in the #1 position on all available cardinals.
  • There should be an alert banner prompting you to implement imperial reforms when you have sufficient support.
  • There should be an icon in the outliner to flag armies that are currently sieging (or ships that are blockading). I want to be able to quickly identify truly “idle” armies during a war.

BALANCE BITCHING

  • Attacking Mali every few years to steal thousands of ducats at a time with virtually no diplomatic or military risk feels like a joke. They either need better gold sinks, a nerfed economy, or there should be more substantial diplomatic costs or relationship hits to demanding large sums of gold in peace deals. Maybe the war score and/or diplomatic power cost of gold demands should go up exponentially?
  • I feel that there should be a way to assign a leader to an army while in foreign territory. It’s strange that combining two armies will cause one leader to “teleport” home and be unavailable for re-assignment should the stack split again.  Maybe there should be a token cost in Military Power to change leaders in foreign territory.
  • Given the critical importance of monarch points, I feel that there’s too much luck involved with ruler traits since you have virtually no control over what you get. There’s a certain historical correctness to it, but I think it overplays the influence of the one specific monarch, virtually unmitigated by his/her court.  The difference between a 0-0-0 monarch and a 5-5-5 one is earth-shattering (especially if your monarch refuses to die!)  One way that could feel fun to players might be if rulers with less that “X” total monarch power might have a chance to trigger an event each year to represent the ruler becoming more experienced (granting +1 to a stat). That would mitigate the problem of having a 0-0-0 king rule for 50+ years and put you unrecoverably behind. It would also *feel* good.

 

 

Paradox Declares War on Gamescom

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NEW YORK — August 8, 2013 — Paradox Interactive, a publisher of games and provoker of mythical and historical conflicts, today invited attendees of Gamescom to join them for various exercises in the art of digital war. Paradox will be showing off its upcoming titles, Magicka: Wizard Wars and War of the Vikings, the latter of which will be available for hands-on demonstrations for the first time. Europa Universalis IV will also be shown in a multiplayer game live stream, featuring guest commentator and YouTube personality Quill18.

In Magicka: Wizard Wars, two teams of four wizards each will do unspeakable things to one another in baffling PvP combat, utilizing the celebrated dynamic real-time spellcasting system of Magicka. In true Magicka fashion, friendly fire is in full effect, and hundreds of spell combinations are possible, with victory going to the wizards who can think and act the fastest – and stay out of the way of the explosive lightning bolts.

War of the Vikings, recently announced by Paradox and Fatshark, is an all-new multiplayer game built upon the technology that drives Paradox’s medieval squad combat title War of the Roses. The game features intense close-quarters combat, authentically inspired settings and weaponry, rich customization options, and large-scale 64-player battles, and will be available to try for the first time at Gamescom.

Demos will be shown at the Hyatt Regency Cologne and private appointment slots are still available and will be granted, regardless of robe or beard length, by contacting pr@paradoxplaza.com.

Paradox Interactive is partnering up with ESL to showcase Magicka: Wizard Wars and War of the Vikings to the Gamescom masses from August 21-25. Multiplayer battles from both games will be played and streamed live from the show floor, to be a part of the action head over to Hall 8 and visit the ESL booth for more details on play times.

“Having fan favorites at ESL is always a must, and Magicka Wizard Wars and War of Vikings are just that, two titles that the hundreds of thousands of visitors and millions watching online are eager to see more about,” said Sean Charles, VP Marketing and Publisher Relations at Turtle Entertainment GmbH.

On Thursday, August 22, Paradox Interactive and Paradox Development Studio will broadcast a multiplayer match of Europa Universalis IV, pitting Studio Head Johan Andersson and his dev team against each other in an all out battle for historical supremacy. YouTube personality Quill18 will be in attendance to guest commentate this special match, watch the mayhem unfold at 8:00pm CET / 11am PDT by visiting the official Paradox Interactive TwitchTV channel at twitch.tv/paradoxinteractive.

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Ludum Dare #26: Round 4 Voting Results

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Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 11.04.57 PM

(shorter write-ups this time)

Death Is Good and Every Death Is Meaningful aren’t literally the same, but there’s obviously a lot of room for crossover.  You could use the ideas discussed in Parallel Worlds, where when you die you play on as a ghost.  It could be a game about dogpiling a fortress wall and building a ramp out of bodies.  Or maybe you’re playing as “banelings”, exploding on death. You could also play as Death (the Grim Reaper).

 

You Are Your Enemy…hm. Okay, first thing that comes to mind here is a game that switches back and forth between two modes.  For example, a tower defense game where you first place towers, the you have to spawn enemies in such a way as to overwhelm the towers, then you have to play as the towers in a way to defeat the wave that you just won with, and so on…  I’m not saying this idea is a winner (and it’s way too complicated) — it’s just the sort of thing that comes to mind.  We could go meta and make it a parable about people who pre-order games.

 

Exploration…roguelike / action-RPG? I mean, if I wasn’t trying to do a multiplayer game, I’d just try to design some interesting looking area and hide a bunch of stuff all over.  I suppose that the “eXplore” phase of a 4x space strategy game might be something interesting to play with. And of course, we could probably do a pretty decent space sim based on this theme.

 

Dig Deeper is not ideal, IMHO. Unless you really go for a figurative interpretation, you’re going to get a lot of games that are pretty literally about digging. Those sorts of games aren’t necessarily bad — just lacking in variety. Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, Terraria, and Dig Dug are all sources of possible inspiration.

 

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Ludum Dare #26: Round 1 Voting Results

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Note: This is only the FIRST ROUND of votes.  The top few themes from this will appear in the FINAL ROUND, which decides the actual theme (on Friday).

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 3.27.31 PM

Afterlife made an appearance in the previous few LD votes, and it always seemed a bit dull to me.  It makes me think that we’ll be playing a lot of generic games that happen to be placed in heaven or hell or something. That being said, there are interesting opportunities to draw from a variety of more interesting literally sources and to mine from a large variety of religions and mythoses. Mythosii? Mythosaurus Rex?  Anyway, there’s also the mechanic angle — where the game changes after you die or somehow requires death to progress.  Note that this is different from a game that revolves around things killing themselves to accomplish goals (i.e. Baneling swarms or something).  I’m still having trouble coming up with a specific (and hopefully multiplayer-friendly game).

No Weapons Allowed is, in many ways, what I consider to be a classic Ludum Dare style theme. I think that’s because it reminds of some of the older LD themes, such as “Enemies as Weapons”.  Now, it’s important to remember that this is not a rule of the competition. You could have a game in which you have TONS of weapons, but you’re trying to go into an area protected by metal detectors and x-ray machines. Although, as I type that, all the scenarios I’m imagining are kind of “terrosisty”…so best avoid that.  There’s also the idea that you aren’t allowed to use conventional weapons, but what about fists, or nerf bats, or paint guns, or maybe you’re fighting “grumpikins” by throwing “flowers” at theme.  You could make a classic Quake-style FPS game…but all in bright cheery pastel colours.  I like this theme because it should force creativity.  To me it’s not about making a game that just doesn’t have weapons — it’s about explicitly subverting genres that classically rely on weapons to function. What is a “weapon”? Paint guns feel too weapon-y, but what about snowballs?  Of course, this could be a game about rebuilding after a war so devastating that everyone is trying to come together to build a big peace monument. It could also be a game where you don’t have weapons and are mostly stealthing/running/parkouring away from people who do.

Against the Rules is kind of “meh” to me. So broad and yet so specific. Maybe it’s just a lack of creativity on my part. I guess what starts to come to mind are all the “do not” signs you see in life.  “Wrong Way”. “No Skateboarding”. “No Smoking”. “Employees Only”. A graffiti game? A game about removing tags from mattresses? Actually, the graffiti game might really be fun as a multiplayer game.  Everyone is trying to “tag” as much stuff as possible within a time limit.  Maybe you can’t “tag” something that’s still wet (forcing people to spread out), but after a certain amount of time you can start to overwrite other people’s tags. Okay, I’m starting to like this now.

Dreams. Wow. And I was complaining about other themes being too open-ended? Okay, what comes to mind is the idea that dreams can shift so rapidly on you. One minute you’re running through the jungle and the next you’re walking down and aisle in Walmart. Okay…the art for that would be impossible for me to produce in the allowed time (or ever).  Maybe it’s more that your abilities shift?  One minute you can fly, then you can’t, but you can breath fire, then you can’t and all of a sudden you can’t open a door even though it wasn’t locked a minute ago.  Or, with the door thing in mind, it could just be a totally surreal adventure game where the way to unlock the door is to put the teddy bear in the coffee can.  Well, no, that sounds pretty dumb.  Maybe it’s more of a building game, where you can create physics-defying landscapes?  Gravity could be totally subjective — walk along vertical surfaces — and some areas you just “float” in.   Calvin-ball? You can do something that changes the physics on the fly, to screw over the other team.

Colony. A solid contender in recent LD votes, and certainly something that would align itself with what I — and my viewers — enjoy.  A co-operative survival game. Maybe in space. Maybe on a deserted island.  Maybe in the “new world”.  Heck, maybe you’re a colony of fungus.  Or Ants.  It’s Dwarf Fortress, except YOU are the dwarves. Hard to make in 48 hours? Fuck yes. Epic as hell? Indeed.

Ancient Ruins.  Maybe an exploration game. Find artifacts. Could be done a puzzle game — some variant of Sokoban or Soduku.  Maybe you’re constructing Stone Henge.  Who doesn’t like a good henge?  Or maybe even building the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  Kind of a “prequel” to them becoming ruins.  An E Truly Hollywood story.

Alternative Physics.  The “Dreams” calvin-ball idea certainly fits here!  I don’t know what the single-player version would look like though. AI bots are hard enough in CONVENTIONAL physics.  Maybe the physics change on their own, and you’re trying to “score” as many points as possible in the amount of available time?  There can still be the option of changing things yourself to try to make things easier for you and improve your time — and in multiplayer, it’s a combination of easy for you and hard for the other players.  Maybe your in a “cube” room — you start on one side and have to go to the other. There are obstacles in the way that you can shove away. The catch is that the bottom/left/right/top of the room each has its own gravity — and every time you score you get moved to a different floor.  So when you change the world, you are potentially screwing other player or just yourself on future rounds.  A different, but related idea: “The Enemy Gate is Down”.

Anyway, that’s the last of the positive-voted ideas.  It’s possible that Journey or Chaos or something will still show up in the final round, but in theory the above themes have the best chance to win out of this lot, so they’re the ones to start thinking about.

Round 2 voting should be finishing up soon!

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Ludum Dare is Coming!

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Like a smoker waiting for his lunch break, I am craving the next Ludum Dare. This will be my 5th time participating, and each time just gets more and more fun.

You can read about (and play) my 4 previous entries here.

Why do I love LD so much? It’s a combination of things. Certainly I love making games, but that’s only part of it. Part of what makes it so fun for me is the fact that I livestream the entire process for my relatively large audience. There is something unbelievably gratifying about getting instant reactions about your ideas and massive amounts of feedback as you post hourly builds (most of it complaining about how it’s not a AAA-quality title).  Last LD I peaked at around 600 concurrent viewers. I strongly expect that I’ll pass 1,000 this time (with 5,000+ individuals checking in over the full 48 hours).

For LD #23, I did a multiplayer strategy game (a sort of “Chess meets Starcraft”), which was a great way to bring my audience together. However, because games took a while to play out and because you needed to create a user account, the LD judges often were not able to fully experience the game.  But since then I’ve done a tutorial for multiplayer in Unity 3d on my programming channel — and it’s got me thinking that I’d like to revisit the idea of doing a multiplayer game for LD, but now with instant, automatic matchmaking and much faster and shorter gameplay sessions.

I’m almost certainly going to have to drop a few bucks to acquire a server that can handle the required matchmaking (which is not optional, IMHO) — but I think that the pleasure I’ll derive from having my community play together (destroy each other?) will be priceless.

Tools (may change in a post closer to the actual date): Unity 3d, Photon Unity Networking, Photoshop/GIMP/Paint.Net, Blender, Audacity, BFXR, atrk-bu, SchismTracker.

 

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SimCity Traffic, Under the Hood – Explained

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The offcial SimCity blog just made a post explaining the internals of the traffic routing system:

http://www.simcity.com/en_US/blog/article/under-the-hood-of-simcitys-traffic

It’s pretty simplified, but I suspect that it might still be hard for people to understand so I figured that I would try to distill it even further. I’ve done  work with pathfinding systems in the past, and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been studying D*Lite, which is the pathfinding algorithm used in SimCity, and also playing with road networks and such in Unity (hence the latest tutorial on quill18creates).

There are two ways in which the pathfinding system in SimCity differs from how most people “think” of pathfinding in real life.

  1. The pathfinding system works backwards. It starts from the “goal” and works its way to the “start” location.
  2. The pathfinding system is about intersections, not roads. (NOTE: This doesn’t necessarily mean ACTUAL multi-way intersections — sometimes road segments can get split depending on how they were laid out. You can see this in game when you are upgrading roads or CTRL-bulldozing them. Sometimes only a certain amount will get selected. This will look like a single road, but is actually several road segments.)

Basically, here’s how it works:

When a vehicle is at an intersection, it looks at all other connected intersections and asks: How close are you to (this thing I want).  Each intersection then replies and the car picks the one with the lowest number.

Note that at NO POINT does the vehicle have any idea what the cost of travelling to that next intersection is.

 

 

For example:

 

 

A car leaves the green residential area in the morning, trying to get to work at the yellow industry.

It will turn NORTH onto segment 5, because the north intersection has a lower number than the south intersection.

It will then go NORTH onto segment 6, because the next intersection on that route has a lower number (60) than the one on segment 4 (110). It doesn’t matter how much traffic is on segment 6, because the next intersection Is truly and correctly 60 away from the industry.

 

Now let’s look at the next example, in which segment 6 is split into two by the addition of a little dirt road intersection:

 

 

 

The previous intersection still has a weight of 60 (which is correct). However now, because of the traffic, the mini-intersection in between 6 and 7 has a very high weight, which means that our car will now take segment 4 (I am 110 away from industry) instead of segment 7 (I am 560 away from industry).

Using this information, we can DRAMATICALLY improve our traffic. Again, as mentioned above, this doesn’t mean that we literally need to add intersections (which slow down traffic in their own way) as long as we can force road segments to split.

Expect a video soon!

 

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50k +/- 0.001k

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Why Everyone is Wrong About SimCity (except me.)

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When it comes to SimCity, everyone loves poop — whether it’s flowing through the sewage data layer or being flung at EA.

And generally that’s fine, but there’s one place where people have it wrong: The shortest-path traffic routing does not represent some kind of incompetence on the part of the programmers who worked on the game, nor a failure of quality-assurance, not is it representative that the game has been rushed out. Here’s why:

  • Shortest-path is a game rule that is absolutely clear to the user. You don’t have to guess about what’s going on. Once you understand the rule, you know exactly how the vehicles are going to behave and you can plan accordingly. This is how all games work: Figure out the system, then figure out how to best take advantage of it. The value of this CANNOT be ignored. (Also, people in real-life often don’t have real-time traffic updates and often find themselves driving into traffic jams. Omniscient Sims would actually be unrealistic.)
  • Routing that takes traffic into consideration is not something that it trivial to implement — it has major programming and performance considerations. Non-programmers have no idea how much of a problem this is — they just say: “Just have the car look to see if the road has too much traffic, and if so choose another route”. If it were that simple…don’t you think they would have just done it? Furthermore, as per my previous point it can lead to unclear behavior that the user doesn’t understand. SimCity has always been a game of traffic management. There will *always* be bottlenecks. The key is to make sure that the user understands why the bottleneck is happening and can then work with the system to eliminate them.
  • Finally: “Smarter” traffic routing will not solve the real problem with traffic.

What’s the real problem with traffic? The fact that when vehicles are spawned, they aren’t properly aware of if other vehicles are also going to the same target. This is particularly evident with things like fire trucks (all trucks go to ONE fire while the rest of the city burns down), but it also happens with people leaving work — a ton of cars all go to ONE house, then all the cars (minus whoever fit at the first stop) move to the second house, etc…

That’s what is causing the worst of the bottlenecks and if this were resolved the shortest-route driving would be far less of a problem. And the good news is that this should actually be much easier to solve than “traffic awareness”, while also creating far less of a performance hit because it won’t require constant recomputation — just a check when the vehicle is spawned.  Even if it doesn’t resolve traffic jams completely (although it would help!), it would make emergency vehicles and buses far more effective, which by itself would make cities run a lot more smoothly.

 

 

Also, the poop-flinging about “fudged” population numbers is ludicrous.

 

 

 

 

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Pretty much this.

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Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Read more at http://www.explosm.net/comics/3074/#JeJGH0CAvk0p9e3P.99

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