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Going BYOND

As of late, I’ve been playing with BYOND: the acronym stands for “Build Your Own Net Dream.” On the outside, BYOND is a portal into hundreds of free-to-play games. On the inside, BYOND is essentially a completely free set of game development and hosting tools that make it relatively easy to put together the 2D, tile-based multiplayer game of your dreams. Astoundingly, it’s 100% free to use, with the only apparent supports being donating for an upgraded account and moderate ad space on the official website.

The astounding thing about this suite is that it’s basically a already-completed online game, fully mutable with a friendly GUI to manipulate it at your disposal. Even if you already know how to code, to get where BYOND takes you from scratch would take weeks, perhaps months, of painstaking work. The robust community developer support makes learning using BYOND easier than any other IDE I know, Flash Actionscript included.

At zero lines of code, it’s a functioning chat server. In under 5 minutes of work, you can have a simple tile-based game in which players can perform some interactions. All one has to do is build some simple art assets, tile the maps, and finally perform a few dozen lines of the “DM” coding language (it closely resembles C++ but with easier object oriented syntax and automatic variable type and garbage collection handling) to flesh out their mobs and support the “verbs” – all handled seamlessly by BYOND’s “Dream Maker” component. At that point, BYOND takes care of the rest, and your simple tile-based creation is automatically a fully multiplayer-capable game.

Yet, 5 minutes work would produce a game without much to do, nor anything to set it apart (it would be borrowing a great deal from the core in which you started). The more work you put into BYOND’s Dream Maker IDE, the more unique your game becomes. Any 2D, tile-based game can be made, multiplayer-enabled from the start – you can make it a stand-alone game if you want to distribute the server component. (As of August 2007, there’s even Direct3D and OpenGL support.)

Once your game is built and hosted, it is displayed for all the players on the BYOND network to see and enjoy. While there’s a lot of derivative games (and not a few blatant copyright violations by overzealous kids) there’s also quite a few fabulous examples that really get one excited about what BYOND can do with enough effort.

For example:

SpaceCastle

The simplest to pick up of the games listed here, SpaceCastle plays a bit like a Tower Defense game with a real time strategy twist. Place units, mine diamonds to buy more units and perform technology upgrades, and try to survive against the oncoming scourge of enemies. Tends to crash a bit, unfortunately, even during solo play.

The interesting thing about this game is that it is a completely different use of the interface. BYOND, by default, is a game where you control a single mob, coasting it around with the arrow keys and using a number of predefined verbs. SpaceCastle completely removes this singular focus, putting you in charge of a number of autonomous units with no keyboard movement. This is a testament of the flexibility the BYOND engine gives an adequately motivated developer.

Game URL: http://www.byond.com/games/Abra/SpaceCastle
Instructions: http://avalonentertainments.com/SCguide.html
(Solo play available.)

Dungeon Master

This is essentially an attempt to create a multiplayer version of Dwarf Fortress. Basically, you begin with three members of your chosen race and a wagon, and are free to build a mighty (if imbred) society. This is done through intricate micromanagement, manually directing your creatures to shape each tile of the world, and filling it with useful things.

Dungeon Master is still very much a work in progress, and I’d say its main shortcoming is in lacking most of the automation in the units you can find in Dwarf Fortress. (This isn’t neccessarily a BYOND problem so much as coding that has yet to be done by the creator of Dungeon Master). Without that automation, the game requires nearly each and every task be performed manually and (as I’ve been talking about a lot lately) that can be rather pointlessly monotonous. Consequentially, most of your creatures tend to sit around twiddling their thumbs while one of them (controlled by you) is doing all the work.

Dungeon Master makes up for this to a great extent by being multiplayer. Automatically hewing an extensive settlement in Dwarf Fortress is fun, but it’s a little more meaningful if other players can witness the spoils of your efforts as they can in Dungeon Master. As the game continues to be worked on, hopefully the PCs under the player’s command will be eventually made to perform more tasks autonomously, and the result should be pure gaming gold.

Game URL: http://www.byond.com/games/Ginseng/DungeonMaster
Instructions: http://dungeonmaster.murrawhip.net/forum/index.php?topic=485.0

SpaceStation 13

This game seeks to emulate a functioning space station in which players take on various roles. There’s a great deal of functioning equipment that needs to be properly maintained to prevent the station from going kaput. Consequently, there’s quite a few tools with unique applications, and the tile-based system is well enriched with features such as wiring running under paneling. The attention to detail is staggering, including the ability to track someone down with the fingerprints they left on something.

Of course, simply minding a station wouldn’t be very exciting by itself, so each game mode is a major disaster that occurs on the station, including one where a player is designated a traitor in their midst and must (legitimately for a change) raise some chaos. There’s a great deal of potential for chaos on a space station, something as innocuous as picking up a welder and dismantling an outer station wall has a tenancy to blow everybody out into space, but the most favorite form of sabotage seems to be building plasma bombs which can submerge whole parts of the station in broiling flames. Naturally, it’s the rest of the crews’ job to catch the traitor, but no one knows exactly who it is.

It’s very much a game that’s enhanced through roleplay. Realistic channels of communication are enforced, and player roles include a captain and a space station AI (in control of performing lockdowns and sealing doors). Consequently, this game is quite vulnerable to grief play, and it’s not uncommon for bored players to take it upon themselves to destroy the station and the players within whether or not they are traitors. I think that, had I made this game, I’d probably put the non-traitor players under more rigid mechanics, but the freedom of not being restricted is valuable in itself.

Game URL: http://www.byond.com/games/Exadv1/SpaceStation13
Instructions: http://www.declassified-ss13.com/index.php

Up until playing SpaceStation 13, I figured the BYOND engine is just naturally crashy, but SpaceStation 13 hasn’t crashed in several hours of play.

What each game (especially the later two) have in common is that they’re extremely obtuse to pick up and play. After all, these games were created by players, not necessarily professional game designers, and their ability to develop a GUI that perfect strangers can pick up was (judging by the result) sketchy, at best. I highly recommend checking out the instructions link for either game and having it up and available while you’re playing them until you learn the ropes.

As for me, I’m excited about BYOND because I’ve been contemplating putting together a nice 2D tile-based game for awhile. 2D tile-based games are not neccessarily obsolete technology; There’s a lot of creative game play mechanics you can conceptualize and implement with a tile-based engine that would be very difficult to pull off in a virtual 3D space. For example, mutable terrain. BYOND is absolutely fabulous because (unlike a Neverwinter Nights 2 module) the code is flexible and readily-available enough to easily invent completely new games. The way it rolls multiplayer support into each game is particularly remarkable.

The only downside is that I could probably get even more flexibility if I take the time to get good and reoriented with Java or Flash Actionscript. However, considering I don’t have to build my own tile management engine or multiplayer code, what BYOND offers is a tremendous time saver. (Considering Java or Flash are my alternatives, that BYOND runs through an interpreter doesn’t particularly matter.)

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