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That Terrible And Compelling World Coming To Your Pocket

I'm sure that putting my personal problems in perspective with the rest of the world is quite humbling.
As I'm writing this, my email feed pops up a reminder of a few more headlines of lesser concern.  I suppose the take away from this is that concern is relative.  No matter what's bothering you, I'm sure we can find something much more worth being bothered about.

So please forgive me if I state that, at the moment, I have decided to be concerned that I had two days off and largely failed to invest them productively.  I suppose I still have another 8 hours or so after I finish mucking about with this blog entry, but the remaining 14 or so waking hours are down the drain and I have only a full stomach, a lowered testosterone level, and a few new articles of clothing to show for it.

Of all the time I wasted this weekend, none of that time was spent playing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim nor The Bureau: X-COM Declassified.  Those are still on my "to play" list, but I apparently did not feel strongly enough about wanting to play them to actually do so when I actually had a day off yesterday.  Forums proved a more effective distraction.  (For that matter, so did this blog entry.)

I did, at least, meet my daily Animal Crossing: New Leaf obligation, but even that lure is not as strong as it used to be considering I've fallen back on clocking in a minimum commitment to each day:
  • If any has grown, shake the fruit from the trees and sell it.  Don't bother with the cheapest fruit.
  • Find the four fossils buried around town for the day, identify them, and sell any that the museum does not want.  If any prove exceptionally hard to find, don't bother, there will be four more tomorrow.
  • Talk to any animals you meet along the way: it pays to be friendly because they might give you free stuff.
  • Collect any valuable bugs or fish you might see along the way, sell them.
  • Visit the stores to see their new daily inventory.   Buy anything you've yet to get in the past expressly so it will populate the catalog.   (I don't bother with the clothing because there's not easy access to double-check the catalog there.)
  • Of what's left of my money, donate half to the public work project.  Spend the other half on expanding my house.  Put the residual amount (not evenly divisible by 10,000 bells) into my bank.
  • Save and quit.  Overall, this routine took about an hour, and I'm done for the day.
There's my daily animal crossing experience, and it's little more than a beefed up tamagotchi in execution: all the skinner's box addiction of acquiring new furniture and whatnot, but ultimately it's just pixels in a box.  I want more.

Animal Crossing with the male eye turned up to 11.
The same character as it actually appears in the game.
In fact, I'm ashamed to admit that, at one point, I actually sought out Animal Crossing rule 34.  It was, almost invariably, completely awful; you have to anthropomorphize these critters a lot (and add a few years to their appearance) before they're all that sexy.

I suppose this is the peril of adults playing kids games: we have adult sensibilities, too.  Part of me realized I could heighten the bland experience of these simple Magic 8-Ball personality animals by letting my imagination, libido and all, get entangled in it.  For that matter, it might be interesting if I dug up one of their bodies instead of a fossil, and a whodunit mystery results that eventually leads to the murderer being lead away in cuffs.  Yes, that's dark, but this is about taking the game to a level of significance more palpable to an adult.

But lets step away from the silly idea that depravity makes a game deeper, because whether there's sex or violence is not the point.  The point is that Animal Crossing's narrative is lacking.  Little of consequence seems to happen in the game because the inhabitants only exist to be friendly with, and it's a very banal kind of friendly.  These are neighbors from which you can expect nothing of greater significance than a game of hide and seek, or perhaps bothering them to see if they own a lost object you found.  Collecting furniture and decorating your home is more interesting than getting to know your neighbors in Animal Crossing, and that's really says something.

It would not take much to improve things.  What if your neighbors could have some kind of minor existential crisis, and helping them get over this would be an ongoing activity that takes several days to resolve?  That would be a definite improvement over what we have.  The closest thing Animal Crossing has to this is one of your neighbors could catch a cold, and you help by giving them medicine every day, but there's no real consequence to this other than they'll eventually repay your kindness by giving you a present.  The conflicts could be much meatier than that.  In fact, there was actually an official Animal Crossing movie that included a few conflicts of greater significance precisely because the developers knew that the narrative is very weak without it  I'd like to play that, but it was a movie, not a game. 
"Game Producer Yashimoto Hirofumi has said that the main theme is 'passionate
love, sweet marriage'," according to Wikipedia.  Sounds like this dude knows what's up.
Is there any game that does this?  I suppose, if I were playing Rune Factory 4 (which is almost released), I could at least go so far as to woo a virtual girl into marriage (and they need significantly less artistic license to find attractive, since anime girls are basically an entire culture's study on producing the ultimate sex object).  Further, there's a lot more coherent dialogue and flavor to the cast of characters, implemented through a string of triggered events (not unlike a dating simulator).  But, as a game, Rune Factory 4 is not really as much of a simulation; it's more of an accumulation-based RPG, even if part of that accumulation comes from farming.

An interesting thing about Animal Crossing and Tamagotchi is, by tying the in-game time to real time, it feels more like an extension of reality (MMORPGs do the same thing).  The Rune Factory games I have played do not do this, time advances at an accelerated rate (about 1 minute per second) while the game runs un-paused, and you can advance to the next day by having your character hit the sack.  (Of course, given several of the mechanics in Rune Factory, a real time model would be problematic, but this is only a few revisions away from fixing.)

Also, procedural generation in the previous Rune Factory games I have played is very limited: most of it is about as scripted as your average Zelda game, the only dynamic content being the pattern in which you choose to plant your farm on the provided farm plots.  Animal Crossing is barely becoming more and more advanced terms of procedural generation mechanisms in every iteration of the game, but even the first game featured a completely randomly-generated town and a random selection of inhabitants and other content (such as clothing and furniture) coming from a large pool of prefab possibilities.

If it seems like I've been ranting in a meandering manner up to this point, let me bring things full-circle:
  • Though the world is a place where I have a lot greater things to be concerned about, I still want to develop games.
  • The main issue is that I'm bad at investing my time properly.  True, I don't have a whole lot of free time, but any mount of free time I had would be wasted unless I can improve how I am going about utilizing it.
  • I find Animal Crossing addicting, but I see its limitations in terms of how far it goes.  Though I've mentioned examples of sex and violence, it does not really need either, what it needs is a deeper, more compelling narrative, the next level of significance.
  • For that matter, thinking back, it seems a lot of prototypes I end up working on tend to be deeply steeped in dynamic content, virtual worlds, and a desire to push the envelope of what it is that computer role playing games simulate in terms of a compelling narrative.
Can you see the connection?  I can, and what it's told me is that I still have a lot to learn about making games.

The trouble is that I have a great deal of high-concept ideas I want to leverage into a game, but I stumble whenever I reach the first level: the interface itself.  In many ways, the interface is the game, it's how you, as a human being, interact with it. 
This is why I like using an IDE like BYOND or GameMaker: the less time I spend mucking around
in the code, the quicker I can get to producing something.  But, if I can't marry concept with
interface, perhaps mucking around in the code is all I'm good for?

This is also the reason why I'm having a hard time getting into Game Maker.  Because it, wisely, forces me to tackle the interface immediately; the interface is the first thing you do when creating a game in Game Maker, then you assign functionality to that interface.

Until I can figure out a way to bridge the gap between these high concepts I have (to push the envelope of a compelling narrative) and an actual game (the interface), then I can hardly do a single thing in Game Maker.  The fact that I have balked so far in doing so is what tells me that I still have a lot to learn about making games, but at least I understand why nothing will be accomplished in creating a clone: because I have yet to construct the soul of the game, so any body I fabricate to contain it is bound not to fit comfortably.


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