Grappling With Matters Of Sheer Necessity

Though I’m dwindling away the last 2 weeks of it, my academic career lays in burning ruin, just 12 credits from graduation.  It’s back to work for me, right on the cusp of what threatens to be the third great American depression.  At least all that time in the unemployment line will leave a lot of time to think about game design.

I’m not here to mope.  On the menu today is Harvest: Massive Encounter and some minor thoughts on BYOND development.

Harvest: Massive Encounter

I ran across an Indy game by the name of Harvest: Massive Encounter.   It doesn’t look like much, but there’s quite a lot of powerful game design concepts going on under the hood.  Playing through my 60 seconds of allocated demo time, I came face-to-face with two significant things.

First, that here we had an example of a space colony game with energy generation and distribution mechanisms… pretty much exactly like I was creating for BYOND, with differences in the details and scope.  Their method seems to be using placement of energy node facilities which bouncing energy balls intelligently navigate between.  My method is (currently) a bit more manual, I wanted to make it a bit more personal to the players, but I have to admire the elegance of their solution.

Second, here was an excellent example of a tower defense game taken to the next level.  Your average tower defense game has money accumulation and placement in fixed areas.  Harvest: Massive Encounter throws in resource acquisition (placing harvesters which slowly pull credits from rocks) and energy management (solar panel facilities create energy orbs which bounce between the energy node facilities).  There’s a complete open-ended freedom of movement in base construction, rather than the typical fixed location model.

Harvest: Massive Encounter does pretty good for itself for a game with only 5 game pieces (1 upgradable) and their placement.  Therein would be my lead critique – I like to have more toys in my toybox.  Still, for $20, it’s a pretty decent game – it comes with 3 planets and multiple game modes.  I hope the development team well.

Back To BYOND

One day, I hope to support myself bending my skills towards creating my own marketable product.   It seems self-publishing over the Internet is more reliable than corporate America these days.  Thus, despite being distracted by the devil that is my recently installed Comcast cable box (and all the luscious channels existing above the 70 or so it brought with it) I’m now struggling to get the ball rolling in my BYOND development once again.

I might not sell what I make in BYOND, but it’s nonetheless a great first stepping stone for any aspiring game designer.  I haven’t released anything yet, but I’ve built quite a few “go karts”, to use a term I once read out of an excellent article on how to become a game designer.   (Thanks again to Chris Crawford for that.)  In any case, putting together a game (or several games) would certainly pad the portfolio nicely.

I seem to be trying to leverage a RPG into a 4X game, and BYOND is native MMORPG.  A rather daring bit of genre bending for a first time game.  Maybe I should save myself a bit of nerve wracking and simply take some existing game design concepts into the fold.  This conflicts with a desire to try something new.

With the desire to try something new comes great freedom in artistic license.  However, even (or especially) for a creative individual, such freedom can be paralyzing.  So many good choices, many of them equally viable, the difficulty is in deciding.

I do know that the concept of a successful dynamic content central MMORPG, one that the players are given great freedom to alter yet does not self-destruct, would be really cool to pull off.   If I could create a working model, I’m sure it would become the basis of successful MMORPGs to come.  However, just how far to go with the players’ freedom (players are notorious for not respecting their virtual environments) and in what ways to implement dynamic content (dynamic content which is not a meaningful game mechanic is useless) has been a matter of much cognitive dissonance.

Furthermore, I’m rediscovering the importance of an advancement dynamic to a MMORPG.  It’s more than just a grind, it’s something that helps bring purpose to the activities in the game.  It’s not too hard to implement a feeling of meaningful gain, but implementing it in such a way as to be conductive to proper player behavior takes quite a bit of foresight and experimentation.  Carrots need to be dangled responsibly.

It’s been a fun ride.  Not a terribly productive one, alas, but a fun one.  Here’s hoping I have something to show for my efforts by Christmas.  I suspect my progress could be phenominal if I work on design and put the coding on hold for a moment.

9 Responses

  1. Hello

    Thanks for the mention! There will be more Harvest news “soon” 🙂

    // jeb

  2. You are 12 credits from getting your undergrad? So close, why quit now? Can’t give up when you are almost done! You know what happens in recessions: everyone goes back to school 😉

  3. Well, my financial aid has completely fallen through since I fumbled the ball a bit overlong, with no chance of salvaging it or appeal. However, I’m not exactly quitting, so much as I need to take some time off to get employment in order to be able to pay for my own semesters. I am a little depressed, of course: free ride’s over and I’ve only myself to blame.

  4. geldonyetich: Are you Swedish? CSN has been making stabs for my throat a long time now. Got a job in the last minute (not Oxeye… Oxeye doesn’t earn us any money to speak of.)

  5. Thanks for the heads up. Unfortunately, I’m a United States resident. I’m on the cutting edge of worldwide economic recession. 😉

  6. Hehe ok 🙂

    Yeah, Sweden seems to do alright so far. We got similar problems 1992-1994, so our government created a bunch of laws to prevent it from happening again, and maybe it worked…

  7. Obama is looking like he understands that’s the right thing to do. However, there’s a lot of people here who are afraid of government regulation, so it’s hard to say how things are going to turn out.

  8. This Harvest: Massive Encounter game looks fun, I’ll have to give it a whirl.

    Off-topic question: Does anyone know/recommend any good city-building, simulation games? I love the Caesar series… is there anything out anymore? Why are all my favorite genres disappearing ;-(

  9. Hmm, a good city builder, eh? I generally don’t play them much, but I’ve played enough to know what you’re talking about. It’s actually a pretty interesting genre, bridging the gap between big business sims and the more personal focus. It’s actually not too far removed from an Amusement Park sims type game.

    Browsing GameSpot’s list of games by genre, I see that Spore was considered the last big city builder, and we know how that went – it’s not a very authentic claim to the genre anyway. Sim City Societies and City Life did not do well, sadly, and that’s going to cost the genre. There’s some good ones in development such has Cities XL and Tropico 3. Caesar VI was released in 2006, but I’m guessing you’ve played that.

    Have you ever sat down and tried Dwarf Fortress? It takes a bit of time to learn, thanks largely to an obtuse ASCII interface, but once you’re into it you might find it hard to find better. It’s probably the most in-depth city building game of the modern age.

    A game I’ve been meaning to try for awhile on the DS was Lock’s Quest, which is sort of like a quasi City Builder RPG.

    Speaking of which, you might like <a href=”http://store.steampowered.com/app/23600/”>Depths of Peril which is a new SteamPowered PC game that has you play a barbarian protecting and raising a city – it’s actually a cross between a Dungeon Crawler and a City Builder.

    You might want to boot up GameTap and try out some of the classics such as the earlier Tropicos and several amusement park sims.

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