A Game That I Am Making


In July of 2013, I became a solo indie game developer. Though I wasn’t able to make a lot of progress for the first few months due to a relocation and other mundane life happenings, I’ve now been plugging away at a game thing, and it’s probably past due that I start talking about it.

In my yet-to-be-named game, you are a medieval merchant. You make long treks across a vast desert with your camel caravan, managing resources and the morale of your fellow crew and passengers, so that you can bring treasures and precious necessities back to your homeland.

Placeholder Merchant and his trusty Placeholder Camel

Placeholder Merchant and his trusty Placeholder Camel

That’s all I’m going to say for now. My intention with this blog is that in future updates, I’ll show, rather than tell, what my game is shaping up to be. Also, quite importantly, it’s early days, and there’s still a lot I need to discover about the game. Lots of assumptions that remain to be tested, and many concrete ideas I have about the game will likely change before I’m done. However, I can tell you why this is the game I’ve chosen to make.

So, when you’ve set yourself to make an indie game, one common piece of advice is not to make an RPG. Make something simple. A puzzle game, or an arcade action game. I decided to make an RPG, kinda.

I had originally intended to heed that advice and start with an indie platformer. I really do love platformers and, around that time, I had been pretty into Pixeljunk Eden. Controlling your little “grimp” is so expressive and such a satisfying thing to master, and I had an idea to create something like it, but ideally less punitive and with more obliging level design. However, this idea was a relatively new, amorphous one, and several others had been simmering longer in my mind, and it was those that would occupy my thoughts and get me fired up. Despite my love for platformers, I was also more interested in seeing more indie RPGs than another entry in the crowded indie platformer market. So hey, since I already quit a steady job for this, why not follow my passion rather than the more conservative path?

I should perhaps say up-front that, when I say RPG, my touchstones aren’t Final Fantasy or Baldur’s Gate. Think more along the lines of Sid Meier’s Pirates! or Papers, Please. You may disagree that these games are RPGs at all, and that’s fine — genres, especially that of the RPG, are fairly meaningless constructs anyway. Those two games do, however, underscore what I most enjoy about RPGs: using consistent systematized rulesets to interact with and explore deeply considered worlds/settings. My ideal RPG would be relatively light on prescribed, special-case content (long dialogue dumps or cutscenes) and heavy on systemic interactions that alter the world state (conquering a port in Pirates!, detaining or denying certain NPCs in Papers, Please).

I’m also interested in exploring non-violent gameplay. As I think back on my favorite moments from RPGs past, they’re very rarely about violently dominating NPCs, and if they are, it’s because I did it in some clever, systemically transgressive way. Yet in most RPGs, it is a foregone conclusion that you will have slain dozens of beings by the game’s completion. I recognize that most game violence is just an abstraction, but I do feel it important that we expand the vocabulary with which games can speak by learning to abstract other verbs.

Finally, the roguelike-like thing. I guess that being a roguelike-like just means that the player’s actions have consequences, and that you procedurally shuffle your content. Meaningful consequences is just good game design, so sure, I want to do that. “Randomizing” content is an invaluable trick to an indie with limited sources, helping to keep a set amount of content fresher for longer.

Those three ambitions probably offer good insight into how I arrived at this idea. Who’s a cool person you can be in an RPG world that doesn’t kill hundreds of dudes? How about the road-wise traveling merchant? In bartering, haggling, and parleying, the player can systemically affect change upon the world state. In traveling across hostile landscapes and visiting settlements at differing times, “randomized” encounters can be offered up.

Thanks for reading!

How I Spent My Winter Gamecation

Courtesy of my girlfriend, Rose, my holiday vacation is captured, for posterity.

For clarification, I’ve been playing Mass Effect 2 on the PC, thankyouverymuch.

Welcome to!

Wow, long time no see, huh?  Yeah, it’s certainly been a while, and a lot of things have changed.  I suppose I might as well start there.

For one, I am no longer an energetic modding lad looking for that open door.  Indeed, circa July 2008, an open door did present itself, and I clambered through eagerly, if a bit clumsily (I nearly knocked over a small table).  I am now gainfully employed at a lovely game studio called Three Rings, based in San Francisco.  We’re mostly known for Puzzle Pirates, which is kind of funny if you look at my portfolio; I don’t think anybody would have expected me to find a fit here.  I fit here rather nicely though, I think, working away on our top secret unannounced game.  In fact, I have difficulty thinking of it any other way at this point in time.

That also means that I’m living in San Francisco now.  Packed up my existence  and left on a jet plane.  This has arguably been the more momentous change; life in San Francisco bears little resemblance to life in Indiana… but I’ll not go into all of that here and now.  It’s amazing though, and like I said, momentous change, most of it for the better, but I also left some good habits back in Indiana.  For instance, I had a massive mp3 collection back there, and was pretty aggressive on exploring new music.  Somehow, that harddrive didn’t survive the move, and my music-listening habits may never be quite what they were.  The more relevant good habit I lost, however, was that of blogging, or any sort of writing.  The exercise of writing is an immensely beneficial process for me — it’s the laboratory where my scattered thoughts are examined, challenged, and hopefully refined down into something that can be usefully communicated.  Its absence has been as though a part of my inner dialogue has been missing.

That brings me to this post, and this blog.  I intend to start posting here again.  I have no Mission Statement, and only a vague idea of what manner of content I’ll fill this space with.  I start from the idea that I will be posting here for selfish reasons.  As I said above, writing is an immensely beneficial process for me, and my writing here will be chiefly for my own benefit.  I hope not to devolve too greatly into frivolous bullshit, but I’d probably not be staying true to myself if I tried to do the serious every-post-is-an-essay sort of thing.  I also have no delusion that I have terribly original thoughts to share, so I’ll try to avoid covering ground that has been well-trodden by greater minds than my own. We’ll see.

One thing that’s certain is that I won’t be your go-to guy for the hottest new games.  My playing schedule often has about a five year lag — to wit, my current big undertakings are Final Fantasy XII (that’s twelve), the first STALKER, and Dragon Quest V on the DS.  I’m not completely lost to the past, mind you, but I don’t feel terribly compelled to be a part of the immediate, contemporaneous game discussion, especially for the AAA blockbusters.  This all means that I’ll have pretty unsatisfying GotY posts, I’m sure.

So, with that, I’ll see you around, you handsome devils.

Yeah, hectic like a sloth — w, wait, no

Long time no see, ol’ weblog, ol’ pal!

I hope you’ve not been worrying after me, weblog, as I’ve been perfectly fine. Things have merely been busy and hectic lately, is all. Some months ago I was fancifully working on my first FPS map, for Team Fortress 2, and considering dabbling with the Python programming language. This all was swept to the side though when some opportunities arose. Things really came together all at once last week, when I was suddenly very popular, and within a small handful of days, a number of people contacted me to express interest not only in my past work, but also potential future work. I do mean to eventually return to the TF2 map and to the newbie programming, but for now, I’m seeing where these new rabbit holes will lead me.

Aside from these new rabbit holes, I don’t think I have a lot to talk about. I’ve been on a bit of a WoW kick lately — though I dare not actually re-subscribe to the game (not quite yet anyway)! I’ve got to stay productive, after all. This WoW kick, then, has found form mostly in reading forums and listening to whatever listenable WoW podcasts I can find.

Speaking of MMOs, the main pre-release Warhammer Online community held a career (class) poll, which has received nearly 4000 respondants thus far. Of course, this really only reflects the hardcore enthusiasts, so the Greenskins are probably overrepresented and the more vanilla ‘good’ races underrepresented. Interesting trends though: the tank and healer classes are much more popular than one might expect. I look forward to seeing if this trend continues post-launch, when the most offensively potent options tend to be the most popular.

For the record, I voted for the Knight of the Blazing Sun, one of the poll’s least popular classes. It’s a little ironic, since Warcraft’s humans are, to me, that game’s least attractive option, but what can I say? It’s probably the historically authentic armor that gets me; I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.

I’m sure I’ll try everything at least once though, being the altaholic I am.

A post I meant to write two days ago

This image has nothing to do with this post, but I found it rather lolsome. I unfortunately have no idea whom to attribute it to.

WiiWare went live on Monday! Six games were released, and if you’re interested in reading more about them, Wired has good coverage.

It seems like a strong beginning, and it’ll be interesting seeing how WiiWare pans out. Will it give developers an opportunity to ‘test the waters’ of Wii development, as a space for proof of concept ideas? Will it attract indie developers working on quirkier, somewhat riskier games? Will WiiWare even develop a audience? I think that’s a fair question, given the reputation the Wii has for appealing to very casual players, who presumably don’t seek out game information themselves.


I just listened to this segment on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show on New York’s video game industry… or rather, lack thereof. When I started really looking at where the development studios are, I noticed that there’s really not much in New York — which was pretty surprising. There are a lot of publishers, but not a lot of the production gets done in NY, outside of slightly more niche segments of the industry, like casual and mobile.

It’s not a terribly in-depth discussion, more of a 20 minute fluff piece really, positing that New York is developing a video game industry…. maybe? The most interesting discussion comes when a couple developers discuss the difference between development on the west coast versus New York. According to them, on the west coast, investors have a higher risk-tolerance and are more adventurous when it comes to new ideas and putting money into startups. Incidentally, I have heard in the past that, in the games industry, the further east you go, the more… progressive game design becomes. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the exact quote and source, but that was a stereotype that I carried with me for a while. Knowing what I know today though, I doubt that experimental design knows geographic boundaries.


Another interesting (but not game related) story I heard on Public Radio, this time NPR’s Talk of the Nation: America’s most overrated product is the bachelor’s degree. That’s what Marty Nemko says in this article anyway. The jist is that far too many kids charge headlong into college thinking that it’s some manner of magic bullet, that it’s a guarantor of salary X. In reality, according to this guy, a great many undergraduate programs are woefully inadequate, not only not guarenteeing salary X, but not even guarenteeing basic adequacy for expected performance in the work force. To quote from the article:

“A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below “proficient” levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.”

I myself opted not to attend college, but I don’t mean this to be my vindicative “I told ya so”. Yes, it’s directly relevant to my own life decisions, but it’s also relevant to questions many of my peers face, as well as my two younger brothers. Societal pressures still insist that college is a must, but more and more, I feel that it’s entirely acceptable to ask, “does the cost-benefit ratio for college make sense for me?” or even, “is college right for me?” I know of several people for whom a trade school or career college would likely be a much wiser choice.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go stir fry some noodles. Warrior needs food badly.


The portfolio page for my Indoril mask/helmet is up. Good to finally have that out of the way.

Big ups for Indiana for last night, by the way! It was very much an exciting primary, so much so that I spent a handful of hours F5ing certain websites and checking in on the cable news networks. It’s extremely gratifying to feel that your vote is truly meaningful, which isn’t always the case at the national level in Indiana — traditionally a pretty solidly red state. This voting thing is working out pretty well for me; in 2006, I was lucky enough to live in a contested congressional district, and we exchanged a Republican representative for a Democrat. Yes, those two-year elections do occasionally count for something!

The gorgeous trailer of Mirror’s Edge

I’d not heard of this game before. I post it mainly for the beautiful art direction — pristine white spaces accented by shapes of bold, vibrant color. Hopefully the game chiefly sticks to these sort of visuals, and doesn’t spend too much time in the murky dark green color palette we see a flash of in the trailer.

The player movement is remniscent of Assassin’s Creed, but in the first-person. The Wikipedia article includes a quote saying that, “principally, this is an action adventure. We’re not positioning this as a shooter – the focus isn’t on the gun, it’s on the person.”

Mirror’s Edge is developed by Digital Illusions CE, DICE, mostly known for the Battlefield Series, due out “Late 2008” on PS3, 360, and PC.

Under sun and sky, outlander

I’ve taken some time out of the project I was working on —an earnest attempt at a custom Team Fortress 2 map— to work on what you see to the right.

It may look familiar to anyone who enjoyed Morrowind; these are the masks worn by the Ordinators of the city of Vivec, though obviously reimagined for the higher-res game art of today. This is actually something I started way back with my original Oblivion mod-work, but I never went beyond a basic high-poly model. I decided to revisit it to help remedy two weaknesses in my portfolio: a lack of human faces (important for a character artist) and a lack of Zbrush work. Because I already had the base established, I figured I could take this to completion fairly quickly. I wasn’t intending to take it to in-game implementation, but once I had done the full texture job, it was a matter of hey, why not?

Here are some further in-game shots: 1 2 3 4. The plume needs some work — it looks fine in 3dsMax, but there are some transparency issues in Oblivion itself. Also, you may notice in the profile shots, he is lacking ears! I’ve yet to fully explore how best to address this.

That said… here’s some stuff!

● I noticed shortly ago that Gamers With Jobs finally got their new site design up. I mention it, because the design was done by none other than my friend Eric Carl, web designer extraordinnaire! It’s a huge upgrade for them, much more professional than their old design, which I felt didn’t do justice to the thoughtfulness of their content. I mean, let’s face it, people absolutely do judge websites by their cover —er, design. I admit that I do.

● I finally got around to checking out Black Isle’s leaked VanBuren alpha, ONCE KNOWN AS FALLOUT THREE. There’s not, unfortunately, a lot to comment on. It’s very true to the first two Fallouts, and I will admit feeling a pang of bittersweet nostalgia that Fallout will not be revisiting the isometric turn-based style any time soon. However, one can’t help but wonder what might have happened, had this game seen release? I suspect it would have been another obscure and underappreciated gem, a fine game —possibly a great game— but only a modest market success, and likely not enough to, at the time, save Interplay, or ensure the Fallout franchise a bright future.

In any case, I note with some irony that Black Isle’s Fallout 3 was to start the player off as a prisoner… which happens to be the same way that every main entry in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series has begun.


Tom Chick interviews Brian Reynolds of Big Huge Games. It’s mostly a look back at Rise of Legends, but also strays into more general questions. I’m really looking forward to what these guys do for their next games.

Over at 1Up, the question of just how personal game-playing can be is mulled over. Games as wish fulfillment, games as a mirror. I wish they’d try to distill it a little more, and deliver a firmer judgement on what exactly inspires personal involvement though.

RPS interviews Rod Humble, of EA Maxis. Humble is an interesting figure, both a part of EA, crusher of foes, vanquisher of dreams (I kid, I kid), and a producer of small art games. The interview mainly centers around Humble giggling at the various cruelties one can enact upon Sims.

Richard Bartle, co-author of the first MUD, has some harsh words for the anti-videogame figures of today.

● I’ll end with something I’ve dabbled in the past couple weeks: two MMOs — the free trials for Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2. Apropos of nothing in particular, I asked a friend who had never played an MMO before if she’d like to try LotRO out with me. She agreed, fortunately, because these games are always more fun with friends. We set aside a night to jump in together and check it out, but when the time came, Turbine’s account services were down, and she was unable to start the trial (I had accidentally started it the night before). That put a bit of a damper on our appetite for the game. We played the next night though and had a pretty good time, though not good enough to entice either of us back in. Though we had seven days, it was the only night either of us spent much time playing.

This post is already long enough, so if you want to read more about my brief flirtation with Everquest 2 and LotRO… well, there’s more after the jump.

A little-known indie project you may not have heard of

I really love this new UK GTA IV ad.

One. It’s all in-engine footage. It shows confidence in their product that they’re giving it to you straight. It also shows confidence in their audience, I think, that they don’t try to play tricks with hired actors or pre-rendered CG bits. As far as I can recall, Rockstar has always done this, so props to them for it.

Two. They keep it relevant. You’ve got Niko, the main character, walking through a multitude of locations that I, the player, will experience. Also important, the world is happening around the player character, and that living world simulation is basically THE big thing the GTA series offers.

Three. The style, direction, and that slick LCD Soundsystem track. As someone who’s obviously very invested in games, I greatly appreciate it when gamers aren’t spoken to or presented as a bunch of manbabies who desire, above all else, ham-handed ego-stroking and wish fulfillment. Rockstar makes games for adults and it treats its audience as such.

It’d be nice if the ad ended by simply cutting to a black logo screen rather than the obnoxious HAY BUY A 360, but oh well. I’ll blame that one on Microsoft.

Quick news from the Neverwinter front

NWN2 now has a beholder, and an extremely professional-looking one at that! It’s the work of Jonny Ree (that’s what he goes by in forums). He seems to be pretty committed to NWN2, so he’s one to keep your eyes on, if you’re into the NWN2 thang.

Jonny Ree's NWN2 Beholder

Right out of the monster manual, it looks like. It makes me wish I had cause at the moment to pick up Zbrush and, well, put it to use. I imagine that it’s a lot of fun to sculpt out these gross, lumpy characters.

Anyway, it’s really great to see another completely custom creature for NWN2. Along with WhoKilledKubrick’s Kuo-toa model, my golem was one of the first and, as far as I know, only custom creatures to be released for NWN2, and I was despairing a bit that NWN2’s custom content scene was stagnating pretty badly.

Unrelated, but sad, Games for Windows magazine is shutting down. Here’s Editor-in-Chief Jeff Green’s eulogy over on 1up. A twenty seven year history — older than me. All four editors are staying on, and will be concentrating on online content for, though the magazine’s two-person art team unfortunately lost their jobs. The podcast won’t be going anywhere either, thankfully.