Hollow Earth

The Only Game: Perceptions and DotA2

I like to think that I have a diverse taste in games. True, when I started, I focused primarily on the Myst franchise. However, after getting introduced to the Orange Box I opened my gaming life into things like FPS games and the like. Now I have a large backlog of games and several games that I play consistently and routinely. They span everything from Kerbal Space Program to Skyrim to Toki Tori and onwards.

But one game that hasn’t featured in my games up until lately was a little game named “DotA2”. I played the game some years back. I played a few games and hated my whole experience. Every game I’d get stomped and my team would votekick me out. That event was particularly clear, in all the games my team would be crushed or, more often, I would be kicked at the start of the match The game was horrible, and I couldn’t handle that toxic of a community. So I left it sit, and even uninstalled it recently to free up space.

Except none of that was true.

I recently got interested in DotA2 again, thanks in part to the video Free to Play, which follows the teams of the 2011 International DotA2 tournament, and of course the International, a professional DotA2 competition, that was held this year. So I reinstalled it. Upon launching it again, I was greeted with my total games played: 1. My total playtime was 54 minutes, enough for one, maybe two quick games. My memories of those dozens of horrible experiences were the result of my perception of a single, horrible experience. Playing more, the game has been very fun. I think about this in regards to expectations and perceptions. While a company or group can manage perceptions to a point, isolated events can ruin a game for the player. No real point to this post, just something that struck me.

Filed under: Learning from Others, , ,

Development: Bimevi

Bimevi is another Age, like Sholek’s Temple, that was created as part of a contest. In this case, the Rapid Age Development contest. The Age was my first stab at making an Age grounded in D’ni lore and my first Age that really had a core story. Since release, Bimevi’s concept has evolved so that its story is now tied to a much larger one.

Bimevi started as a top-down drawing of a small pit. The concept had all the elements seen in the final version with a few key exceptions. For one thing, the plants and flowers were much more prevalent. This was changed both in acknowledgement of Bimevi’s history, but also because it would have been a pain to try and get such a lush area to look visually appealing (Uru’s transparency issues being the way they are). Another change was in the memorial area. In initial concepts, the area was a simple pair of feathers attached to a rod extended out of the wall. When I began modeling this, however, it became obvious to me that this kind of memorial was too “tribal” for a D’ni, even one as progressive as Neereth.

Filed under: Ages, Development, , , ,

Development: Fens

Fens was my second Age, coming about the same time as the new version of PyPRP was developed. Fens was the first Age I made with a specific purpose in mind and a theme in which to display that purpose. The purpose was to make a swamp Age. The theme would be “as natural as possible.” The Age, like my others, served as a testbed for new concepts as well as an environment in which I could experiment.

I was inspired by a piece of Cyan concept art I had seen titled “Glades.” I knew I wanted people to wade around in the Age and feel like they were slogging through a bog (I planned to perhaps have some areas where the land dropped off and your avatar momentarily went into the goop before swimming back up, but that wasn’t in my skillset at the time). Another thing I wanted was an island. All of the Myst Ages had at least one island and I wanted to have a single island and let the player explore out into the rest of the marsh (where things might happen over time, obscured by the fog). I also wanted the Age to be dynamic, changing frequently. While I haven’t done much recently, I do want to keep it somewhat up-to-date. Finally, I knew I wanted to have the Age be “fan-run” in that I wouldn’t provide any of the information about what the plants/animals were, I’d encourage explorers to write up what they thought and include it in an in-Age journal. The possibility of inclusion in an Age was something I saw as necessary for Uru to live (after all, if the only real avenue for involvement is in making Ages, how will people who can’t/won’t make Ages get involved?).

Fens in many ways embodies many of the challenges most designers face in creating beleivable areas in games. One such challenge was getting an acceptable amount of detail into a model without overwhelming the computer rendering it. Most of my models were very low-poly, like the semi-circle plants. The one exception to this was the model for the trees, which used many faces in the lower half of the tree. This was because I built the trees by taking a single cylinder and connecting it to a series of twisted “roots” cylinders.

Another challenge was in limiting the space in a believable way. My first concept of the Age was an unending series of small islands the player could start exploring, but eventually end at some variation of an invisible wall.Once the first island was designed, however, I decided that even a small series of islands would get repetitive and the invisible wall would inevitably seem arbitrary.I decided instead to place the island inside a basin in the fog. The basin realistically limited the area the player could explore while providing an area where the player’s imagination could go wild. Originally, the basin top was going to be lined with the same style of trees as the tall mangrove-like “fengroves” in the swamp. This was scrapped when testing showed players weren’t sure how those aquatic trees could grow above the basin without compromising the basin’s integrity. Instead, the basin was lined with more traditional deciduous trees similar to Eder Tsogahl to show that the upper level of the basin was drier. “What’s over that edge?” or “what’s in the fog?” were questions I wanted to always put in the player’s mind.

Creating a diverse set of flora while preventing repetition was another key challenge. In early designs there were many more “fengroves”. Because the “fengrove” trees are all duplicates of the one on the initial island, this led to the swamp seeming repetitive and it was easy for players to get lost in the forest. Later on I added bulbous flowers that were essentially trunkless “fengroves.” Even though they used different models, different textures, and had a distinctive sillouhette, their elevated roots were still too similar to those of the “fengroves” and the flowers seemed too fake. Similarly, earlier releases featured fully-modeled grass similar to the grass seen in the Cleft. These 3D blades were removed because they were all unlit and were not visually-attractive. There were also more small mushrooms in previous versions of the Age. These were placed to create an appearance like the beta shots of Teledahn’s shroom forest. Unfortunately the mushrooms seemed too repetitive and testers got lost in them so I reduced their numbers and replaced many of them with the semi-circle plants. One organism that has stayed throughout all iterations isthe blue parasite blobs. These were designed to be relatively-high-poly sacks that would flop naturally from whatever surface they were placed on and would connect to the surface via very low-poly “roots”. The design of this organism made it so that it was easy for me to naturally distribute them without a lot of work. The “roots” were simple to stretch to a surface and the high-poly blob was easy to shape to look naturally affected by gravity. I positioned them i nthe world so that players would naturally attribute them with decay. The dead tree has many of them on it while the listing tree has a few more than a regular tree does, giving the impression that they both come along with decay and also cause it.

The listing tree was the second tree actually put into the Age and was the first major landmark outside of the link-in island. It was designed to be at least partially climbable and future ideas for this tree was to have it act as a natural foundation for a treehouse. These ideas were incorporated into the home on the side of the rock statue.

The dead tree came later as I began emphasizing natural landmarks players could use to navigate the Age. The tree was made to be a kind of natural observation post while also showing the Age in decay. In initial designs, the tree was going to be a natural bridge up to the basin top, but this was discarded when I decided opening the basin lip would push the release date back too far.

The house was a last-minute idea to serve as a location for the Age journal and credits booklet.The original design was going to incorporate geothernal energy tapped by the large connection tubes. While the house turned out smaller than that, the tubes remained. Overall, the house may one day be scrapped for a larger “forest lodge” style house.

In the future, I’d like to add animals to the Age beyond the distant birds. Numerous concepts for other creatures have come and gone, however. Regionally-triggered animal appearances similar to “shroomie” in Teledahn are an ultimate goal, however this seems a long way off. The next major update will be releasing a beach area and the tunnel to it from the main basin. The beach area would incorporate new techniques for limiting player movement and reveal the Age’s ocean and nearby locations.

As always, I hope you have fun exploring and I encourage you to send in your contributions for the Age journal and try your hand at classifying the flora and fauna. I would like to get a wiki set up (perhaps using the DZS) where people could submit their ideas for the plants and animals. Regardless, I hope you have as much fun exploring this Age as I had creating it.

Filed under: Ages, Development, , , , ,

The Impact of Let’s Plays

This topic has been on my mind for a long time now. Dinnerbone wrote about it and reddit’s been discussing it. So I’m finally finishing the post I started nearly a year ago. Mother of God. Anyhow, what is the role of a fan’s Let’s Play (LP) series and what makes a series beneficial to a game? Let’s start with the results of the poll I did all-too-long-ago:

  • 40% said their interest in a game increased by watching LPs.
  • 40% said they didn’t watch LPs.
  • 15% said LPs did not increase their interest and they already knew what game they wanted.
  • 5% said they did watch and LPs showed best practices for the game
  • No one said a LP decreased their interest in a game.

I would argue that all the responses are, in practice, true. LPs have a value in showcasing the game for both new and existing players. Depending on the player’s exposure to the game, they may or may not watch a LP (for example, if you already know what game you’re buying, you may not be curious in a LP about that game).

Before we get into the responses, it’s important to discuss what a good LP involves. Here are the core traits all good LPs seem to share:

  • Engaging presenter
  • Interest in game
  • Humor
  • Dedication to game

The presenter is key. In fact, you’ll notice the traits listed are purely presenter traits. I would argue that most people watch LPs for the presenter, not the game. While viewers may watch for information on the game, they can get that information anywhere. What people look for in LPs is watching someone else playing the game. To that end, an engaging presenter is important. LP presenters like Kurtjmac and Etho keep people interested because of their engaging personality. Often, the person can be totally disconnected from the series they are known for and still garner attention because the game is not what people come for.

Notice that seriousness is not on that list. That’s important because often LPs that do not take the game so seriously are often more enjoyable to watch (compare a LP where the presenter yells and vents about his in-game death versus a LP where the presenter falls to his death laughing because he was pushed off a cliff by a chicken). Chinchilla Dave, and Star are examples of entertaining LP presenters that do not take themselves or the games they play too seriously.

Now let’s look at the effects a LP can have:

  • Increase Interest
  • Show Best Practices
  • Decrease Interest

Let’s Plays increase interest: Overall, this is how my experience has gone with Let’s Plays. Watching Coe’s Quest was a big factor in my purchase of Minecraft. The fact that it was cheap was also important, but seeing another person go through the game’s world made it a lot easier to see myself in that world too and thus become more engaged and more willing to purchase the game. Similarly, I’ve recently started watching Chinchilla Dave’s Skyrim videos. While these are not full “start to finish” Let’s Plays and more “funny videos of gameplay” it shows the game world, some of its quirks, and general mechanics (combat, puzzles, inventory space… and how cheese can fill said inventory space…). Skyrim is an interesting game when it comes to the impact of Let’s Plays and I’ll come back to it later.

Let’s Plays show best practices: Most Let’s Plays will have spoilers of some kind since a “start to finish” Let’s Play will go from the beginning to the end linearly, the viewer is expected to keep up with the story or be watching after they have completed that section of the game. Again, Coe’s Let’s Plays are a good example of this. Early videos (and later videos after important updates) served as a way to educate new players on Minecraft’s game elements, crafting recipes, and combat. Similarly, Let’s Plays of RPGs may help showcase alternate quest lines, hidden easter eggs, or tactics in combat that are useful for newer players.

Let’s Plays decrease interest: No one responded that they were actually put off from a game thanks to a Let’s Play and I wouldn’t have spent much time on this response but for one Let’s Play in particular. When Skyrim first came out, I was interested in looking up some Let’s Plays to check out the game and see if it lived up to the hype. I found a Let’s Play (whose name has been blessedly lost to me, else I’d be ranting about it all day) which seemed good enough. After several episodes, however, it devolved into this whiny kid complaining about dying to enemies clearly too strong to take on. A few more and the main quest is done and he’s complaining about how short the game is (Skyrim. Short. Mother of God.). Had I continued with that Let’s Play, there’s a good chance it would have put me off the game.

Let’s Plays are interesting things and they come in many flavors. I believe more creative games such as Minecraft are more conducive to Lets Plays because there is more than just the storyline to spend time on (when you’ve seen someone complete Skyrim’s main quest once you’ve pretty much seen them all). Still, it would be a mistake to say that Let’s Plays have to follow the same pattern. Far Lands or Bust is what I would consider a Let’s Play, but it’s not the traditional style like Etho’s Lab or Coe’s Quest. Let’s Plays are an evolving creative medium and people are always coming up with new ways to entertain.

But those are just my thoughts. What do you think of Let’s Plays?

Filed under: Gaming, , , , , ,

Question for a future post

I’m curious about the influence of Let’s Plays on someone’s decision whether or not to buy a game. If you have the time, please answer the following poll.

Filed under: Gaming, ,

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