Saturday, February 28, 2015

To Catch A Hat

So in my last entry I hinted at a little game design project I've been working on for the last couple of months (since around last Christmas, I think, 'cos I remember using my week off to prototype it up properly). And now the Escapist have announced it, so I can confirm that it's this. HATFALL, a game for browsers and tablets based on Zero Punctuation.

When the opportunity to make a ZP game came up, I blew it off at first. I couldn't immediately see how it could be done. But then, out of nowhere, an idea started to grow. ZP is based on a fast pace, minimalist style, and a stream-of-consciousness barrage of nonsense, and so the game should correspondingly be built around a fast, minimalist core gameplay, which I could then use as a platform for as much silliness as I could come up with. And then I realised that I'd thought about it too much and I had no choice but to make it. After all, ZP is my own personal stream of consciousness, I couldn't trust anyone else to recreate the same spirit.

It's going to be free to play and out sooner rather than later, so watch this space (and this one) for the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Various Updates Update

Alright, sit up straight, stop eating that pie. Here comes the minimum necessary effort required to be able to call this a 'biannually updated blog'. Although I do actually have some stuff to report: most notably that I am as of very recently being represented by the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, I've got a new book in the works, we're going to be pushing forward on that in the new year and it's all jolly exciting.

Secondly, we're coming up on a whole year of weekly Let's Drown Out videos, which seems as good a time as any to announce that the series is going on hiatus for a bit. I think there's a feeling between Gabriel and I that we were repeating ourselves, so we'll be back probably in a couple of weeks either with a retooled format or maybe one of those prerecorded adventure game playthroughs we used to do. Either way, no need to panic or start crying because your free entertainment went away just yet.

Also, Consuming Shadow. Still working on it. I had to do a bit of overhauling after some testing, so it's a good thing I'm not the kind of person who commits to release dates. Actually development's on hold for a bit while I work on a smaller game design opportunity that came up and which I should be able to be less enigmatic about sooner rather than later. See, when it comes to game development, I'm a grower, not a shower. I'm like a cougar in the long grass in that when I'm quiet and out of sight then that's when you need to be wary that I might suddenly POUNCE at any time and sink my big fangs into your soft, tasty neck.

Yes, it's been a time of bountiful opportunities lately. Also also, Zero Punctuation continues to run weekly on the Escapist, as does my follow-up column, Extra Punctuation. But I always think it's a bit silly to plug those on this blog since this blog gets considerably less views than the Escapist does. Still, if you need a reminder, I do tend to plug the videos on my Twitter most weeks; it's @YahtzeeCroshaw in case you didn't know.

Right, I think that's everything, go back to your pie.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some Things To Consume

Believe it or not Gabriel and I have actually managed to keep Let's Drown Out going on a weekly basis ever since it started. Probably because it basically just entails us hanging out and playing a game, which we would probably do if we weren't recording it. I haven't been posting them here every week because then updates would lose their precious rarity, so here's a link to the playlist with them all on.

In other news, The Consuming Shadow. I'm still hard at work at the eventual full version (in between being hard at work at all my other jobs). All the feedback from the free release has been very helpful and I'm still tweaking away. I thought I'd take the opportunity to remind you it still exists and fill you in on some new features I've got in there now.

Firstly, music. The big news is that Mark J. Hadley, of Parsec Productions and Slender: The 8 Pages fame, has very kindly created some ambient audio and music for the game, and I'm personally very happy with how much it's added to the atmosphere. At this point you can't do much more than take my word for that, but I'm going to put a trailer and gameplay video together at some point, and you'll get a listen of the sort of mood his work has added then.

Secondly: Revamped levelling/upgrade system! (click images for big)

Instead of levelling-up providing dry 'upgrade tokens', each level grants you a new birth star. At the start of each run-through, you place this iteration of the character's birth stars in the night sky, granting upgrades based on their proximity to certain constellations. I just thought it was a more fun way of bringing it across.

Thirdly: day-night cycle!

Instead of all-pervading darkness throughout the clock, there's a cold light of day that gradually fades down and up as night comes and goes.

You can see here that whether you do a dungeon in the day or night makes a difference to the visibility.

Fourthly: Unlockable documents!

I thought about what kind of things motivate me, personally, to shoot for 100 percent, and one of them was ancilliary world-building fiction. So I wrote a story expanding on the game's background and you find pages from it in dungeons. Also, each monster now has a bestiary profile, which is gradually decrypted a little more each time you encounter one. Collect 'em all!

The other thing I find works for me is new unlockable gameplay modes. Taking another cue from FTL, I'm thinking in terms of alternative player characters with different gameplay styles (and slightly different constellations in their star maps) that are unlocked as you complete specific tasks. One additional character is in already, I'm shooting for getting at least 2 more in there. Also it might be fun to have some kind of 'tower mode' where you just go through dungeons back-to-back that get increasingly hard. Shouldn't be difficult to implement.

Besides that, the gameplay's been tweaked, as well as animations and controls to make movement less clunky across the board, and there're new monsters, bosses, random events while driving, dungeon goals, dungeon appearances, and the all-important final boss fight. I'm not being feature-creepy here, most of this is done already. New playable characters are the only really big job left, besides testing.

I'm just wondering what to do after it's all done, in terms of distribution. I am resolved to try to sell it for money somewhere, because I've come to realise that if you work on something creative and give it away for free, you're not just devaluing yourself, but the work of everyone else trying to make a living as a creative (thanks @forexposure_txt).

I thought about doing a Steam Greenlight page, but I don't know. I feel like I'd need another wide-range beta test of the full version, first. But I don't want to put the whole thing out for free again. I thought about going with Desura, using their tools to see if I can get a closed beta going, but I don't know how well that works. Ah well - these bridges to be crossed merely glimmer on the horizon still.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Raving and drowning

So let's take a break from those Consuming Shadow updates to talk about a couple of videos I put up on Youtube lately. It's a new vaguely Let's Play-related thing I've been doing with Gabriel that we call Let's Drown Out. We did a video on Quake 2 first and then we did one on Blue Stinger. Here they are.

The idea was, there's a lot of LPs where a couple of guys pretend to be LPing a game when actually the game's just kind of there, and they're not discussing it but mainly wittering on about whatever comes to mind instead. Why do that, we wondered, when we could do precisely the same thing as that but be completely up-front about it. So we play a really boring game, with no intention of actually finishing the thing, and then when we can't think of anything to say about it, we pick from a list of newsworthy podcast topics to discuss instead. Is it an LP or a podcast? It's neither. It's Let's Drown Out. Enjoy it before we got bored of the concept.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yet Another Consuming Shadow Update

One more version of the Consuming Shadow beta to fix the last few major issues. Not that I want to give the impression of being fussy or anything. I've uploaded it as a .zip this time because the installer was a bit crap (the uninstall had a tendency to delete everything in the same directory) Download it from the usual page, and here's the list of changes for

Bug fixes:

- Fixed an error that crashed the game if you tried to get equipment when all equipment has been acquired
- Fixed that darn 'spawning trapped inside a wall' bug
- Fixed flying insect monsters getting stuck outside the room
- Fixed loot items dropped by monsters ending up outside the room
- Fixed an error wherein the Ministry kept sending the same gameplay tip over and over
- Fixed the thing where arriving in a town with an injured passenger prevents quest events from occurring
- Fixed lockpicking icon not appearing on east/west doors when player has zero picks

Gameplay changes:

 - Tweaks to safe town jobs:
    - Job payment is now partially based on distance to town
    - Jobs screen now shows distance and vague direction to town
    - New job: Single monster fights (similar to combat encounters on the road)
    - You must now complete dungeon jobs before you can receive payment
- Texts and encounters that interrupt car journeys now resume journey automatically when resolved (except when a new quest begins or your position is changed)
- Lockpicking now shows percentage chance of success
- You no longer lose sanity for fleeing from hunter enemies (because you're supposed to)
- Rooms with unrecovered loot now show up yellow on the minimap
- Added couple more tutorial messages to clarify new controls
- Enemies now only start making noise when they're close enough

- When possessing multiple special injuries, hospitals will now treat severe bleeding FIRST
- 'Shoot yourself' trap now only appears when sanity falls below 75%
- Removed wall runes from endgame dungeon; they had a tendency to flat out give away the invading god's rune
- Raised pitch on sounds made by the smaller puker to differentiate it from the bigger, stronger puker
- A few tweaks to monster behaviour

Save files and score data from old versions won't carry over to this one, I'm afraid: had to change some file names and shit.

Also, a number of users who were playing it under Windows 8.1 reported a weird graphical problem where everything looked completely messed up with art assets where they shouldn't be all over the place. I took this up with the Game Maker people, and they assured me that this was a known error that has now been fixed in the latest version, and now I've compiled the game in a fully updated version of GM, it should be fixed.

I swear this will be the last beta release, 'cos I'm going to concentrate on the full version now, with more events, dungeon types, characters, alternate text, etc. Actually, you know what occurred to me after I released it, like the mother in Home Alone sitting bolt upright on the plane and screaming 'KEVIN'? Final boss fight. That was literally what I did, sat bolt upright and screamed 'FINAL BOSS FIGHT!'. Seems a shame you don't actually have to face off the Ancient after you cast the banishment ritual. So I'm gonna rustle something up in that sort of direction for starters.

Thanks again to everyone for the feedback and bug reports. I haven't been able to reply to your emails because there's just too many, but I read every single one and made use of the data, so rest assured you all made a difference to this lonely Englishman and his silly hobbies.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thy Shadow Updated

Thanks to all the feedback that has come in on The Consuming Shadow so far. A couple of large issues came to light, so I've uploaded a version that takes care of them. I won't make a habit of putting out new versions regularly; like I said, I plan to put out a much fuller version further down the line. This is only to handle some big issues that may spoil the enjoyment of the beta and get in the way of assessing the game as a whole.

You can download version from the same page as before. Here's a complete list of changes:

New features:

- Added the much-requested keyboard controls

Originally I only had mouse-controlled movement 'cos I like the idea of a single-button game. It's nice to have a hand free to drink with, and the possibility of a future tablet version has crossed my mind. But on reflection I didn't see any reason not to also have the option of keyboard controls if a keyboard is available.

So you can now use WASD or cursor keys to walk, holding down SHIFT to run, and the number keys 1-3 can be used to switch ammunition types. You can also press ESC to either flee the dungeon or to quit out of the Magic menu without casting a spell, which was another annoyance.

- You can now pistol-whip by right-clicking, as well as by left-clicking within melee range and left-clicking anywhere with an empty gun

Game-breaking bug fixes:

- Fixed the game crashing when you try to attack the Tall Man

Silly me: the damage checking script was trying to check the Tall Man's health variable, when the Tall Man doesn't have a health variable because he can't die. Incidentally, gameplay tip: stay the fuck away from the Tall Man.

- Fixed the ladder disappearing in the endgame dungeon

Minor bug fixes:

- Clicking to dispel a message while your mouse is still over the bottom-centre button no longer presses the button again.
- The Pentagram Necklace is no longer overpowered

Instead of eliminating sanity loss from spellcasting, now it only halves it, so you can't just cast Mass Death and Restoration infinitely. (The effect stacks if you also have the Rosary equipped)

- Fixed inscribed runes sometimes hanging around outside the casting menu
- The Fat Man no longer respawns infinitely during hunter escapes
- Fixed being able to cast magic infinitely while under the effects of drugs

See, what happened here was that there's the raw Sanity stat and there's the Trip stat, which is the amount of sanity the drugs have added. Previously, casting magic only reduced the raw Sanity, but now if there's no raw Sanity left it takes away from Trip instead.

Cosmetic changes and other tweaks:

- Hunters now fade in when appearing in a new room, rather than popping into existence at the door

That's about it. Please download and install the newer version if you intend to keep playing and testing - save files and score data from the previous version should still work. I learned my lesson not to use Game Maker's built-in save function after Poacher.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thy Shadow Consumed

I did threaten that I might be working on another game, and here it is. May I introduce you to The Consuming Shadow (Beta).

Those of you who remember my Chzo Mythos series of adventure games may appreciate that I'm coming back to Lovecraftian horror with this one, but this isn't a point-and-click adventure. I like to think of it as a 'Survival Horror Roguelike'.

The idea came to me almost exactly a year ago, during my Christmas break from ZP. I'd been playing a lot of FTL: Faster Than Light at the time, which is a game I quite enjoy. I like the sense of being a small thing up against massive odds, having to prepare yourself with the constant threat of your pursuer hanging over you. It occurred to me that that sort of gameplay would fit a Lovecraftian setting very well, and thus were the seeds planted for Consuming Shadow. I've been working on it pretty solidly since then.

You have 72 hours to travel from town to town, resolving randomly-generated dungeons in cursed towns and restocking supplies in safe ones, beset by random events and encounters all the way. Ultimately, you must find information on the Banishment Ritual, a sequence of four runes that must be incanted at a specific location to stop an evil ancient god from re-entering the world and slaughtering humanity.

But there's also a puzzle aspect. One of the four runes of the ritual will be the rune of the god you mean to banish. There are three gods exerting influence upon the world, but only one of those is attempting to invade. If you piece together the ritual but banish the wrong god, then you have failed at the final hurdle. You also need to gather enough clues as to the gods' identities to be able to make, at the very least, an educated guess.

In the grand tradition of Roguelikes, if you die, then everything will be lost: ammo, equipment, information, everything. You must go back to square one with everything re-randomized: the dungeons, the ritual, the invading god, and all the facts relating to the gods. However, with each death you are awarded XP based on how much progress you made, and each level you attain adds an upgrade you can apply at the start of each life. The game is intended to be obscure and challenging at first; you're not expected to pass it on your first attempt, but to use each life to learn a bit more about how things work and how to handle the minions of the shadow.

Finally, bear in mind that Consuming Shadow is very much a beta, and I'm looking to get feedback on it that can be applied to future, bigger versions. A full version would certainly have a wider range of random dungeons, monsters and events; as it stands it's probably going to repeat itself a fair bit. Other features I have in mind for a full version include collectible world-building documents, monster profiles, and different unlockable playable characters with different gameplay styles. Suggestions welcome.

With all that in mind, here's the page with the download link. Let me know how y'all go with it. Bonus points if you record yourself playing for Youtube, 'cos that's as good as a focus test.