Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Gamedesign from Pyhtää

I seem to be a proud owner of an iPad2 - device. I had one of these in the spring, and I didn't like it then. However, that device was school's, not mine, so I didn't dare to abuse it in the ways I'm known to abuse my computing devices usually. I'll do some iOS games-market research with this thing, and explore if I'm able to combine it, its physical keyboard and one of my raspberry pis into an ultimate computing experience. The keyboard feels bloody awful, but unlike last time, it's physical.

But, iPad's not what I'm here to talk about today. Last week I spent in the Pyhtää, trying to shape the MERPG into a profitable form. Boy how it formed: the current idea in my head is to ditch the old manuscript from the http://merpg.webs.com completely, maybe recycle a few of the character designs. I'd still keep the story of Rajol, the one of the two discrete stories I've written into the world of Kanariffa I actually like, unpublished to the masses until I decide it's ready, and the fancier Clojure-techdesigns for a more artsy game in the future, and make this game-designed-for-CambridgeVC to have it's own story, own world, and a set of monsters one can team with to uncover the story.

Why? Because I fear if I go to Cambridge to pitch an interactive movie/technical wankery I've designed the game to be, I'll be laughed out of the island.

But this new game, which is called in-team 'Pröng', but due obvious reasons, is from now on called 'The Game' in-blog. Until someone comes up with a better one, of course. It's very limited visual designs still apply: the style of the graphics is still 2D-highly saturated-pixel or vector -art. How do the mechanics of this game work?

Single player

You begin by customizing your character's sprite, name and base-type. I think it's best to win the secondary type through lottery, but I can imagine implementing the secondary types through Dragon Ageish specialization system. You meet some new team member or NPC that knows this specialization, you ask if they can teach it to you too, and presto, you've become a grass-assassin or something as insane.

Anyway, you start your game, with one or two friends following you. You run around the world, finding and doing quests, uncovering the story. The world is open as in Pokemon, and the difference between in-fight and out-fight is not as huge as in Pokemon. In neutral territory, sometimes based on randomness, sometimes because the maker has decided to put a trigger there, you're attacked by Dragon Ageish wave(s) of enemy. The fighting system is also inspired by DA. You ran around freely in pixel-space (instead of 20px*20px tile-space), use moves (that autolock to the nearest target if you don't pick a target with mouse/touch) and can pause the game as conveniently as in DA. I guess if it will seem better, implementing a Pokemon MDish turn- and tile-based system is a possibility, as the reasons I originally ditched that idea for are unbelievably underspecified.

As I said, the world is open like in Pokemon. There are also closed, randomly generated dungeons, from where you try to find your way through with as little casualties as possible. I'll try to come up with a good generation algorithm, but as I haven't done this kind of a thing ever, I'm open to suggestions of material to learn the theory from.

Not only can you fight NPCs, you can discuss with them, answer their questions in different ways (because, you know, RPG, even though I don't have time to write a true multithreaded story in the week before the Kotka's Warming Game jam), bring items to and from them. They can be led through the random-dungeons, you can fetch items from these dungeons for them, save their friends... there are a million possibilities I'm too tired to come up with currently.

I like the idea of generating monsters teammates randomly, but in Pyhtää I was told that evolution of the teammates is a crucial element in this kind of game. I agree, but it makes the random-generation a bit harder. An idea I've played in my head is to have every monster share the generic baby-teenager-grownup - evolution stages, and do some magic to customize the pre-rendered animations according to a die.

Training teammates can be done outside the storymode too. There will be a random quest generator in the game, a sort of like the pelipper post office in Pokemon MD.

You can save the game any time you want in single player mode. If in a fight, just pause the game and save. You will resume from the exactly same circumstances.


You can trade teammates with your friends, you can fight in a PvP setting against them, there's possibly some sort of chat for those in the game just for the sociality. You can play multiplayer quests co-operatively with your friends too. I don't know wheter these quests form a parallel storyline or are just a series of randomly generated quests.


The game differentiates from the Pokemon games through much better storyline, and at least from the older games, through a better multiplayer. I haven't extensively researched the Wifi-properties of the games >=Diamond. The real time combat is also a differences, but it will probably be disliked by as many pokemon-addicts as liked. One plus for us is that if you haven't yet bought a 3DS and X/Y, and are considering between that and our game, there's a high chance you'd rather buy ours because you don't need another device for it. Statistically speaking, you probably already have one of the following: PC/Mac/iOS/Android/Windows Phone.

How does it differentiate from the Pokemon MD? The combat system isn't turn based, and most of the flaws in the original MDs (friend abandons you after finishing the story, random generated quests are boring, story progresses way too randomly) will be averted. The evolution system is better also, but that doesn't mean it's a good system in our game. It just means evolution is mostly fucked in all MD-games.

How does it diff from the DA games? I dunno, 2D-graphics, happy-happy graphics, a bigger team, more diverse (pokemonish) type/class system... to name a few.

These are the most obvious differences, but why would someone pay for this game? I have no idea! The singleplayer will be free-to-play, because I've been told that's better than selling it for 8€ in app stores. It's possible that I'll publish both ad-crippled, free version, and 8€ ad-free version. I've also toyed with the idea of having a subscription fee to the multiplayer, because running heroku servers isn't exactly free, and it'd be a bit more expensive for those playing the otherwise free game.

Does this sound cool? Am I speaking crazytalk?

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Building MERPG and a Startup

So, I've upgraded my Mac to the Yosemite, changed the Emacs from the emacsforosx-build to the brew's build with Cocoa bindings, broken the cider-eldoc - connection, fixed a couple of bugs on the MERPG's map editor, written the map-save-procedure halfway... and lived through the soft landing of the Cambridge Venture Camp. The last one was especially crazy: by the end of the two-day event I got to actually think about where I'm supposed to make the money from with this game, how am I going to differentiate from all the other pokemon-lookalikes (a phrase I've begun to use with this game, which is fitting considering the idea began as a clone of the Pokemon MD: Blue Rescue Team), and then I had to actually communicate pitch these things successfully. In bloody english.

Next week I'll spend in Pyhtää, a small city near Kotka. Unless I seriously misremember, we're mostly honing the pitches and theorizing about the business model.The evenings will be free to hack the MVP, for I think there's not much else to do in that city. MVP will probably need another blogpost as soon as I've got a base understanding of what kind of tech we'll be building it upon. As I'm not the lone engineer, using Clojure will be a PITA as I can't be arsed to spend half a day to teach my fellow teammates the language and relevant APIs and a year to teach (why this is better) than(this, abomination, of, a, syntax);

Startup world is an interesting mini-economy. The major groups are the devs, the designers and the business guys. Of course any of these can be broken into minor groups, such as back-end-, front-end-, FP-, OO-, and such developers; marketeers, sales(wo)men, and all the subsets of X designers. It's a perfect symbiosis. Most of the designers are absolutely brilliant with the visual aspects of the job, but once one has to bake functionality to the beautiful sketches, they are... well, not useless, but somewhat out of their area of expertiese. Especially salesguys seem to understand customers and what they need, but for the sake of not drowning in techical debt, they must not be left alone near a computer with Microsoft Office. Devs are incapable of interacting with an ordinary human being, be it a customer or a coworker, and for the sake of everyone's eyes they must not be left alone near a photoshop.

This Cambridge-thing will either kill me or make me a more sales-y engineer. When I say sales-y, I am applouding salesguys' ability to make themself a friend of the customer, convince them of the value of their product and usually perform the transaction too. I dread opening my mouth, I don't like it if I have to make sounds approaching human speech, and... blahblahblah. Look at me trying to make the venture camp to kill me. There are other people, yes. Other people are scary, very yes. Speaking to them will make or melt a man, and as the team is still in a fragile state where I'm not entirely certain if the others are as fanatically dedicated to this project as I am, I cannot leave the pitching entirely for others to do.

I do my best thinking with my fingers, so let me transcribe my last-friday 1,5 minute pitch I spent about twice that time writing:

Hello! We're making an epic game!

The genre of this game is RPG. It'll be a Pokemon-lookalike with a hooking token economy and a complex story.

The trading of tokens will hoke the players for generations to come.

Euros will come from paid app, and in the free app from the in-app purchases and one-time price to get to the global multiplayer center.

I have understood that in finland game shops cooperate rather than compete, and market size analyzis is a bit unnecessary, because unlike in regular world, the customer isn't lost to us if they buy another pokemon-lookalike [1]. If they buy such a game, they are in fact in our target group, and more prone to buy ours.

We're the most epic team ever, 2 awesome engineers from Kotka and an artist from Kouvola. [2]

We're asking for monetary investment, as one does have to eat every now and then even when developing epic games.

Thank you dear people. Do you have any questions?

That's the essence of the draft I wrote to support me on the stage. In other words, that's what I tried to say. What's good in it? I was told the abuse of adjectives like 'epic', 'hooking' and such made me sound enthustiac. What's bad in it? For example, I failed to articulate my enthustiasm for the game's story, the only part that's received enough love. Back in the first weekend of September, I was visiting some sort of game-startup-gathering in Kouvola. There I saw this game, called Avenging Angel, 3D-fpsrpgwhatever that takes place in a futuristic steampunk world. I can't recall exact details of its pitch, but I remember on being sold on the idea of the Dark Amber making a game based on this universe Mr. Brandt has created over a 20 year period.

That reminds me of the way I've progressed with the MERPG. While trying to find an artist to share this vision of mine with, I've done a few sketches of the game engine (and a few gazillion sketches of the tilemap editor, and now at last the second clojure-based revision seems to fit in the sweet spot of enough flexibility, effectiveness and a niceness to develop) and built the world by writing loads of prose. I've got around 70 000 words now, and most of it should be useable in the game. The only problem is that while the original manuscript, one designed for the game, and the later prose, designed to expand the game's world, use the same characters in the same world, they are not exactly compatible.

Anyway, another negative on this pitch is the paragraph of finnish game industry cooperating rather than competing. I'm repeating the footnotes, but I have no idea if this is actually how it works. I just heard someone say this in an IGDA Kotka meeting back in May. I dislike saying aloud stuff that has a possibility of being false even more than I dislike saying anything aloud. I don't understand how to analyze the market in the software level of the gaming world, and I'll most probably need to minor in economics in school or find someone who has before anything on this insane scheme has a chance to generate revenue.

And the last & the worst problem: I was asked how I'm planning to differentiate from all the other pokemon clones/lookalikes. I almost made a clown of myself by asking what I'm supposed to differentiate from, but saved myself by mumbling about how to differentiate from the real pokemon games ("Story is a lot more complex[3] than in pokemons, the tokens aren't monsters but the same kind of characters as your original team, blahblahblah"). The truth however is that I played Pokemon MD: Blue Rescue Team back in -11 or -10, wondered what the heck for there was no more such wonderful experiences to play with, and ran off to design and implement MERPG on top of this idea INSTEAD of actually researching the market. That's why it took me a year to understand that the MD-series had gotten a new title already back in -09.

As far as I know, there are no pokemon clones (at least like the one I've spent years designing)(aside from the actual sequels I've missed). Am I wrong or am I seriously wrong?

See you again sometime; now I'm off to bed and to Pyhtää in the morning


  1. I'd love if someone could affirm or refute this paragraph. I have no hard data on the subject.
  2. Outside the academic season, we could possibly have Tässi with us also. He's not bad with photoshop/paint.net, he has drawn everything currently on http://merpg.webs.com, and thus has the best idea of the style I'm after in this game. He also does brialliant job interpreting my thoughts to the regular people and vice versa, and isn't as hopelessly horrible in presenting in english as I am.
  3. Words "complex story" bring shivers of pure joy to anyone that's played Witchers or almost any other RPG on PC, but to the audience of last friday's pitch these words brought negative connotations. Interesting.