Monday 24 September 2007

A short hiatus

If it appears that I've been a little quiet recently, its because I've been on my (delayed) honeymoon and have emigrated to Sydney, Australia from London, England.

I'm also in the process of writing a science fiction short story based on Eve Online. You'd think that never having played the game would be a disadvantage, but as it turns out, I'm basing it in a near future featuring Eve Online, as opposed to in the universe of Eve Online. Its inspired by comments made by Hilmar Peterssun in the presentations on Eve Online and online worlds at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival that I attended recently. Its taking shape in a way that I feel is good enough to publish in a real science fiction magazine.

So I'd be interested in any comments on which magazines would be the most interested and whether anyone reading this has any experience submitting unsolicited manuscripts for publication.

Edit: Looks like Interzone has an email submission window coming up.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

Religions in Middle-Earth

One of my esteemed collabourators in Unangband has taken me to task on the implementation of religion in a game currently set in Middle-Earth (And I'll save talking about the risks of doing this, and my transition plan away from Middle-Earth for another time - be assured that its a version 2 item). His original post is here. I'll quote the relevent sections. Its worth noting he's much more more informed about Tolkien's work than me, and that he posts enough information to support the decision to retain priests in Angband, as Nick McConnell notes.

Not that I am a purist, but I wonder, do you know any priests in Middle Earth? Anything close? I guess Numenorean kings, the good and the bad ones, I guess lots of evil men, if you want evil religion, anything else? I seem to remember Silmarillion and other unfinished tales have more magic and more religion in them. In LOTR and Hobbit it is all but absent. Frodo calls Varda, anyting else? I've heard something about a dwarven (secret?) religion, or was it Silmarillion?

I guess the angels (gods) were much easier accessible to the people in Middle Earth. Just over the Sea and often visible, so this may be why there was less rituals and more cooperation (or at least the memory of cooperation). They were better known so it was obvious they cannot be bribed on one hand and do not persecute for lack of worship, on the other hand.

It was obvious they are not The One, so they were not worshiped as autonomous God/Gods, but as servants of The One. It was useless to try to get their help in opposing the justice/song/fate of The One. They didn't try to be self-sufficient, so a worship of one Vala exclusively would be foolish, because every Vala was weak in very many vital areas and strong only in his chosen ones. The One has not shown his face to the people back then, nor revealed himself in any other way than through world and Valar (though some say he was Tom Bombadil, etc., or that he was yet to come to Middle Earth). So it was quite hard, abstract and impersonal to worhip The One (but there are the Numenoreans, I wonder why them of all).
In response, I was trying to put in religions as the priest version of mage schools e.g. an game based element, rather than an attempt to recreate Tolkien's mythology. Think of the Unangband religion implementation more as 'favours' or 'dedications' than religions - I know Tolkien deliberately eschewed mentioning of any formal religions in Middle-Earth. Maybe renaming religions.txt as favours.txt and discussing 'favours from higher powers' as opposed to religions will help in this regard.

Having said that, I'm really not happy with what I've currently done with 'religions' from a game implementation point of view. There's not enough to differentiate the various religion startups. At the moment I have 9 1st level and 9 3rd level priest spells that are viable for the first book. Each religion has 5 of each these in their starting book. And each 3rd level spell has (usually) 1 1st level spell as a pre-requisite.

The intention was that you'd pick a religion to try and sway which spells you ended up getting 'randomly assigned'. Priests, as a game mechanic both in Angband and Unangband, can only choose which prayer book to study - they get gifted a random spell by the gods of all the valid spells that they can learn from that book. That suggests I should probably cut down the number of starting spells per book to 4 1st /4 3rd or even 3 1st / 3 3rd for all or some religions, to allow religion choice to lead to a less random spell selection.

However, there's certain spells that are pretty much mandatory. Like the mage schools, priests need a starting healing spell, and a starting detect creature spell to be playable. This is not a requirement: I could see Tulkas not granting a detect creature spell for instance, but any priest without a starting healing spell is going to die pretty quickly.

The problem is, is that if I go down this path, the religions/favours are going to end up looking like mage schools. In which case, what's the point of distinguishing the two, or having separate priest and mage classes for that matter?

I definitely picked too many religions to start with as well (9) instead of growing the mage schools organically up from 3 to 7.

So I've disabled all the religions except Mandos for the moment, and am going to feel out this one and probably sit on it a little while and let my subconscious digest it.

Probably in the same way I'm going to end up rolling back the MALE | FEMALE changes I just did (which don't really work either and are too hacky).

And that sometimes happens with the way I develop Unangband. I might spend half a day or a day on a feature, only for it not to work out, and have to throw it away. Its a good learning experience, and one I'm taking forward to the next game I'll be developing.

Increasing Challenge in Roguelikes

There is a good article on increasing challenge in roguelikes over at the Temple of the Roguelike. As I've mentioned previously, I've probably gone too far in making Unangband hard and I now need to recruit people in order to play test the deeper levels, as Matthias Rudolf correctly points out. Its probably worth noting that the author, Andrew Grech, aka Roguery, doesn't discuss the difficulty curve of the original Rogue, which errs on the side of making monsters increase in difficulty faster than the player increases in power, as John Harris of @ Play notes.

It looks like the Temple of the Roguelike has got a few more people posting to it as well, as the recent flurry of articles suggests.

Kane & Lynch: The Road to Hollywood

What a surprise! Ian Livingstone's sold himself out, as previously noted, in order to fast track himself to Hollywood via Tango & Cash, I mean, Kane & Lynch: The Movie. The sub-text of his mediocre presentation on character at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival was always 'how to sell your character across lots of merchandising opportunities, because I don't care about the gaming community anymore'.

And the gameplay and footage were decidly average, Ian. I guess one taste of the Hollywood gods via Lara wasn't enough.

[Edit: Maybe he's just talking himself up for the take over bid]

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Unangband 0.6.2-wip6a has been released

For full details, head over to the release notice.

Sunday 2 September 2007

David Gervais' tile sets

One of the unsung heroes of Angband and roguelikes in general is David Gervais, who designed the 32x32 tilesets for AngbandTK originally, and extended these to the 54x54 tilesets which I've adopted in Unangband.

I just ran across a google post that puts a little bit of the history of this development into perspective. I was actually looking for the original copy of his 54x54 tile sets, which were hosted here but the site currently appears down. If you have a copy of the original tiles, please drop me a line - I had them on one of the laptops that was recently stolen.

This came up in discussion about getting a new icon for Unangband. Suggestions and designs are welcome.

Saturday 1 September 2007

Unangband 0.6.2-wip6 has been released

For full details, go to the release notice.