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Skipping Stones And Silicon Fulfilment

As far as "Game Making" is concerned, things could be going better right now.

So many space games have a silly travel mechanic involving there being such a thing as a "maximum speed" in space when there isn't in real life (outside of the speed of light, and this is a Sci-Fi game so consider that mutable).  So, as part of my interesting ship travel mechanic idea, I basically center on the ship in localized space as it thrusts to and from its destination.  Thus, in Game maker, I plop a ship down in the middle  of localized space map.  Now, I don't want to have to scroll off this map, so I needed a limiting factor.  I started with, "When the player isn't moving, the ship then attempts to return to the middle of the map automatically" as one potential idea of this limiting factor.
What I'm looking at while all this is going on.  Honestly, more progress
could be made in 5 minutes by a 12 year-old, but I'm pickier than that.
Game Maker provides a lot of ways to have a ship move to the center of the map, but I decided that I wanted to use physics and momentum.  Unfortunately, I did not quite master the fundamental maths involved, I was looking for an easy hack for validating the concept.  So, due to my lackluster effort at doing it right, what actually happened was that the ship would thrust towards the center, overshoot, and begin thrusting towards the center again from the other side.  I managed to preserve exactly as much distance in the ship's path on opposite sides of the mid-point, which was cool, because it demonstrated that Game Maker doesn't cut any corners when it came to simulating physics - if I had done this in BYOND, it would have shaved off a lot of floating point information and I'd have ended up with the ship's "orbit" deteriorating over time.

In that brief experiment, I enjoyed messing around with momentum algorithms more than anything else I've done since the last time I did game development.  Gaming development is fun!  Unfortunately, I had to stop.  I knew that all this was just faffing about with something I might not actually need for my game.  As I suspected it would be, having the ship move autonomously without the players' control in order to get to the center of the view is actually quite distracting and annoying to central gameplay. So  I was essentially just wasting some time I would have better invested in designing what would be needed in the game.

Now that's something I've been pondering for a very long time.  Just what the heck do I want to make, anyway?

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

Well, in my researching the problem more thoroughly, I ran across Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.  Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is a derivative of Crawl.  Crawl was inspired by Nethack.  Nethack was inspired by Hack.  Hack was inspired by Rogue.  Okay, so we're basically talking about the current pinnacle of roguelike game evolution when we talk about Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.

The concept of a roguelike game is not all that complicated.  Create a character (usually just by selecting race and class), then make their way to the bottom of a completely randomized dungeon and back.  Death is permanent, and the difficulty is really quite hard.  Regardless the simplicity of the game concept, the games are actually often quite deep, because upon this platform the creator(s) are fairly free to add a great deal of gameplay mechanics with a reasonable context.  Crawl is pretty good along those lines.

Crawl sticks relatively close to Nethack in many fundamental ways, such as kobold meat being poisonous, most things being unidentified until you interact with them to learn their properties, Gods who you can worship, and so on.  I barely even had to look at the help to play, as most of the key bindings I was quite familiar with!  In some ways, Crawl is actually simpler, such as there's no such thing as dipping.  However, there's also a great deal of added detail in places, such as the religion system - it really feels like all of the various gods of the pantheon have unique personalities.

The really interesting thing about Crawl is that the developers (and there are many in open source projects) got their priorities together and focused on making an extremely balanced play experience.  I'm so impressed with their efforts, in fact, I'm including an excerpt from the included "philosophy" section of their manual:
In a nutshell: This game aims to be a tactical fantasy-themed dungeon
crawl. We strive for strategy being a concern, too, and for exquisite
gameplay and interface. However, don't expect plots or quests.

You may ponder about the wisdom of certain design decisions of Crawl. This
section tries to explain some of them. It could also be of interest if you
are used to other roguelikes and want a bit of background on the
differences. Prime mainstays of Crawl development are the following, most
of which are explained in more detail below. Note that many of these date
back to Linley's first versions.

Major design goals
  * challenging and random gameplay, with skill making a real difference
  * meaningful decisions (no no-brainers)
  * avoidance of grinding (no scumming)
  * gameplay supporting painless interface and newbie support

Minor design goals
  * clarity (playability without need for spoilers)
  * internal consistency
  * replayability (using branches, species, playing styles and gods)
  * proper use of out of depth monsters
Then this "philosophy" section of the game documentation goes on to elaborate each point in greater detail.

IT. IS. AWESOME.  I'd have the whole thing tattooed on my back if it wasn't expensive, painful, and ultimately pointless to tattoo illegible words about game philosophy on one's self.  Granted, these are the kinds of thoughts I have all the time, so maybe they're just preaching to the choir, but I'm really impressed with how well they nailed those fundamentals.

That I'm able to still enjoy Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup tells me something about my philosophy in gaming: I think I want to make a roguelike.  That's probably where I should start: this will be the heart of the game.

Granted, that my choice of platform to make this Roguelike in is Game Maker (which I've already paid for) suggests I'd like to be able to make a Roguelike with quality action gameplay mechanics.  Well, why not?   The only thing you really lose is time to think (which can be re-added with a flexible pause option) and you end up making the computer work a bit harder than in a turn-based game.

Oh, but there's much more that I want to do... I've got some really cool ideas lined up that really need to see the light of day, and I hope to be able figure out how to pull that off some time in my lifetime.

My Toys Arrive

After what seems like an eternity of sitting on my hands (more like a week and a half) my Amazon cheap-as-free shipping has delivered both of the cool items I ended up buying with largely-borrowed money.

My CM Storm Trigger feels marvelous under my fingers.  I've qualified to submit a score up to 158 WPM on typerunner with it.

I'm not very used to this keyboard yet, as mu hands have been taught to do terrible things by the "ergonomic" keyboard I had before this.  At first, I hit CAPSLOCK too often, but now I seem to still have an issue with the navigation key block above the cursors that causes me to inexplicably move paragraphs around (thank goodness for undo).

Altogether, though, it's been a great purchase - I feel a lot more confident typing now than I did before.
It might be possible to take a worse, blurrier picture of my HAF XB, but I'd have to work at it.
It looks huge, but it's actually a full-sized tower folded in on itself: drive bays and PSU on
the bottom, motherboard and everything attached to it on the top.
On the other hand, my Cooler Master HAF XB computer case completely blows... and when you're talking about something designed to do air-cooling, that's a good thing!  I've never had a computer case where you can hear the air rushing into the front of it.  I guess this High Air Flow concept works, as I'm seeing a CPU temperature about 10C cooler without even replacing the stock AMD heat sink.  Hopefully that Asus Thermal Monitor won't have to complain about the temperature spiking 65C when under load anymore!  (In a brief test, it topped out at about 59C on quiet fan mode, but this is a relatively cold winter's night so that may be skewing the results.)

However, the reason I bought the case was for sound reduction purposes, and I'm happy to report it does what I wanted to along those lines.  The included 2x120mm fans are louder than my stock AMD heat sink - it sounds like the Vornado I use to keep myself cool is on even when it's not.  But I don't mind the fan noise, as my complaint was all that weird metallic buzzing noise that was being caused by case reverberation.  This stout little case seems quite strong against that, and it might help that the PSU (which was probably the cause of the problem) is in the bottom and back of the case now.   If I replaced the front 2x120mm fan, the stock AMD CPU heat sink, and the PSU, I could probably get a computer so quiet I could hear the hard drives working.

Another good upgrade idea for this case is a modular power supply unit.  I managed to use my old, fully-wired, non-modular supply with this case, but it looks rather ugly as I had to tuck unused wires away into various cracks and crevices.  Well, if I used the supplied cord ties to fasten cords securely to the frame, it would undoubtedly look neater in there, but I'd rather wait until I have a PSU I know I'll be keeping first.

Moving my components from case to case went flawlessly on the very first attempt.  Maybe I'm getting better at this, but Cooler Master deserves a great deal of the credit for some of the idiot-proof innovations they've added to this case.  I read a review on Amazon from some poor guy who managed to plug the power adapter into the hard drive dock incorrectly, frying several 3TB drives in the process.  Well, my power plug would only fit into the hard drive dock one way, so I'm guessing he either brute forced it or has some kind of weird proprietary PSU without a shaped plug.

I've had a fun day or two breaking in my new hardware and reorienting myself with my love of roguelikes, but I need to get back to work again.  I've got eight hours of my substitution job coming up which should keep me relatively busy, but then I'm looking to be off until mid-February, barring emergencies.  That's quite a bit of time for me to do something more productive than the usual aimless browsing, gaming... and blogging.

I really do suspect that the greater bulk of my lack of activity has to do with my physical shape.  I need to diet and exercise more.  I've been hitting the treadmill a bit more often than I have over the past month or two, and if I can push that up to half an hour on most days of the week, who knows what I might be capable of?
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