Posts archived in game design



I’m sorry to any of my new readers, haven’t exactly been in best foot forward mode lately. This post, probably isn’t going to be a great exception, but it’s just eating away at me inside. Every post, every comment, everything I write is colored by a certain amount of snark over these same underlying issues.

It’s funny, I’ve been working with clay again lately. When I was a kid I worked with clay to relieve stress, you see I never argued with my parents even though I often disagreed with them. In fact I never argued with anyone. I hadn’t started seriously drawing yet, had done some poetry but I didn’t like frustration poetry, I still don’t like my writing when I’m frustrated. So I molded clay, some air dry, some kiln fire, all mixed together into this sort of blue-gray mess that I’d work around in my hands, never really wanting to fix into any one shape too long.

Lately, I’ve had drawing to help me along. I always figured it would help me with my work, and be something I could share. For a while I thought about working in art, but I’m not competitive, just plain not that good. So it’s been subsumed into a greater pursuit. And it is a great pursuit, there are days that all I wish for is that I could let someone else see inside my mind. Then I realize what a jaded misanthrope I’ve become. I’m not sure I’d wish this on anybody.

I’d work with the clay at night in bed. In the dark, just seeing with my hands. I liked people, but I hardly had enough for huge amounts of detail. Legs, torso, I liked working out that big shoulder bone on the back, and the ankle was always interesting. I suppose that’s how I was able to make the skull I made the other day. Hardly what one might call brutally realistic, but understandable, all the right pieces in pretty much the right places.

I was raised to be a problem solver. See the problem, examine the problem, learn what you could about why something worked to begin with and why it wasn’t working now. A broad knowledge base helped, a solution to a problem could come from any number of fields. After coming from Neveron into WoW, I saw my own growing dissatisfaction. Things I didn’t like, things I hated, things that just got to me. Problem found, and better yet a problem in an area I like. Information began to coalesce, forming into a new stream of consciousness merging old, sometimes original sometimes not, settings and mechanics into a new form as I plumbed the depths of my knowledge for working answers.

The funny part about clay is that I use a lot of the skills initially developed in it in Maya. There is one particular shape that has always evaded me in Maya. I’ve only produced even a close facsimile once. The shape of an Angreal’s helmet. I can produce it on paper in an instant, perfect in every detail. Voluminous, three dimensional on the paper, but not in Maya. I’ve been trying for a couple days now to make that helmet in clay. It’s just not coming out, even though it should, it simply is not taking form.

It was August or September of 07 when the final setting emerged, perfect in every detail for a virtual world. In world explanations for immortality, for why the players existed, for why they would not understand or have already been part of the existing lore. Trans-dimensional travel at it’s very core, allowing for every server to have a forward moving timeline, for them to have events that fundamentally change their very nature. And allow server transfers, hell for a while I was thinking it could be as simple as walking through a portal any time you wanted… now I can’t decide yea or nay on that one. One shard, many shards, I’d have a working answer for both, and a working middle ground. Combat made sense, ARMOR made sense instead of being the puddle of half understood garbage that plagues rpgs. It was magic incarnate, and it wasn’t until February of 08 that I penned it into existence for others to see. The final problem stood before me, creation.

The great insoluble problem. I threw myself into design projects, knowing I needed more design know how, more skills before anyone would take me seriously. The knowledge from my early prototypes of Birth were fresh in my mind. A character who’s conceit allows the minimum friction between player and character, because they are a blank slate and don’t have amnesia. I made mercenaries, and it died as nobody play tested it. Too complex, too inaccessible, I could do better.

Of course in the mean time I talked a bit about what I saw in the industry. For instance I stated that anyone who competed with WoW was going to have to handle a max of 500k players. I think Age of Conan and WAR disproved the exact number, but not the idea. They did prove growth in the market though.

So I created a management game. A few bugs, no ending state, but more accessible. It was a toy one could play with, but I never did complete the design… I don’t remember why exactly. I began writing more, drawing more, programming more. I could do all to begin with, but not enough for a project of this size. More, and better, all of them, hour after hour, sometimes in states of mania or utter catharsis. My writing improved, my drawing improved but I lost a key element… my scanner. I no longer had a way to display my hand drawn works, my best works, for people to see or critique. Only those I was making in a brand new medium on my pen tablet. Far too small for drawing, it was more like painting and the bad news was, I knew jack shit about painting. Slight tremor in my hand being magnified far beyond what could ever be seen on paper didn’t help much either.

I went to school again… I’d consistently failed out of all but five classes my first two years. This time was different, straight As in three classes, and then the money ran out. No job, no school, more time to work, and more time to let depression sink in. It’s strange how these days I have so much time, and yet can hardly use any of it because I simply don’t have the energy. Part of me thinks I should be out there job hunting for a part time job, it’s the right thing to do after all, get work, support myself. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Can’t bring myself to come out to a new set of people, not knowing if I’ll get to keep the job. Having just enough money to start thinking about transitioning and putting everything else in life on hold for the next three or four years. Or worse, trying to do it in my parents house and dealing with that stress every day. Watching myself waste every paycheck staving off depression and spending all my free time recharging so I can face dealing with people I don’t know or even like on somebody else’s terms. Dealing with the fact that it is just a delay tactic, that I could easily enough end up like my mom, delaying my whole life away.

School has crossed my thought sometimes. Not the one I went to, god I couldn’t walk into that building and face those people again unless my life depended on it. But school has a cost I can’t ever recoup, the years spent in it. My dream is ahead of the curve now, but I’m already seeing pieces that I put real soul into creating slipping out into the games around me. Chronicles of Spellborn released in Europe last year with only minor differences from my parallel thought based combo system that I finalized last October, but had in rough draft form for several months before. Free Realms took so many of the same questions that founded Shattered World, and simply found different answers for them. Answers for a different target audience. I thought I might still be ahead of the blog-i-verse, but not as certainly anymore. Any more delay and I’m going to have to watch pieces of my dream taunt me from every side for years, maybe decades. I’ve seen that too, in my dad, and I’ve seen what it’s done to him… what it’s doing to me.

And so I have the great dilemma. No route to success, no palatable road to tomorrow. Just a big lump of blue-gray clay all molded up into a lumpy sphere, taunting me with the vision of what it could be… what I should be able to make it. Here I am, though, writing a fucking blog post. Wasting my time pondering how to make an interim project whose prototype was so stunning it spawned complete and utter silence into something that can fund some sort of start up.