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Knighthood, Gaming, And Other Employment Matters

Now Playing: Knights Of Pen And Paper.

I still have a bit of a cold, and consequently have largely been aimlessly wasting my time.  To these ends, when Knights Of Pen And Paper +1 went on sale on Steam, I snapped it up and dumped about 6 hours into it.  What fun!
This game is an example of brilliance in simplicity.  At its heart, it's just the RPG grind broken down to its simplest elements:
  • Combat plays out in a turn-based affair where every player character and enemy NPC takes a turn to perform an attack, use a special magical attack, use a potion, flee, whatever.  It's a formula that Final Fantasy popularized decades ago.
  • Because you're also playing the "Game Master's" role for your players, you decide what the party of adventurers is going to encounter at any time.  To these ends, you can put together an encounter of 1-7 monsters at any time.  You're essentially just feeding your party of players experience and gold for their amusement.
  • There's a rudimentary item system involving dragging whatever items recovered or purchased into 4 slots on each character, and these items infer benefits such as boosting health, attack, magic, ect.  The only restriction in each item is the minimum level of the character to equip it, and so you could have one character wear four sets of gloves if you want.
  • There's a rudimentary crafting system involving taking "grindstones" out of mines and dungeons and delivering them to the blacksmith, which levels them up and improves the odds for their successfully upgrading your gear.  Each character class has a unique weapon and armor, and for a nice chunk of gold you can try your luck with the blacksmith to upgrade them to the next item in line.
  • There are quests.  Most of them are rather simple, involving a little flavor text surrounding killing a certain number of monsters or recovering a certain number of items off of dead monsters.  There's also a larger, more elaborate quest that is the central plot of the game.
  • There is a map, and you can travel freely wherever you want.  Granted, different locations have different levels of opponents, so you probably don't want to go to places with monsters that can wipe out your party.
So while playing this game, you're mostly just looking at five party members whacking away at 1-7 monsters of your choosing, earning experience and gold, and sticking the occasional piece of equipment into crude equipment slots.  RPGs don't get much simpler than that.

The main way in with Knights Of Pen And Paper stands up is that the whole thing has a kitschy geek charm to it.   Even the 8-bit graphics have a certain bit of geek nostalgia to it, and all of the flavor text is essentially there to poke referential fun at the idea of tabletop roleplaying.   There's even a lot of references to popular tropes in the locations, such as going to a dungeon and seeing it looks like a Mario game sewer, and the enemies are teenage mutant ninja koopas.  All that, and its tongue is firmly in cheek the whole time through.  It's quite lovable that way, despite being a simple RPG grind at heart.
Koopas and Ninja Turtles together at last.
Aside from its over-simplicity and sparse content, about the only real critique I could level against Knights Of Pen And Paper is that they took their micro-transaction based economy appropriate to a mobile and dragged it straight to the PC platform without so much as a reduction in cost.  You could earn gold by fighting monsters or completing quests, or you could just slip the developers $5 and they'll give you 10,0000 gold on on the spot!  This gold is used for all sorts of things:
  • Buying the aforementioned items, gear, and blacksmith upgrades.
  • Upgrading your Dungeon Master's roleplaying rumpus room with furniture, accessories, and other props - there's five items per category and about 8-10 categories.  All these upgrades confer in-game benefits, such as regenerating health and mana in combat.  That's not how it works in real life (unless your dungeon master is corrupt) but it works as an interesting game mechanic.
  • Buying new players, potentially with new classes to play.  (Classes will unlock as you perform certain quests.)
  • Temporary buffs in the form of snacks and whatnot for the Dungeon Master's rumpus room.
Microtransaction methods like this work by perpetually tempting players to spend real money on gold for the game.  Yet, I didn't bother to spend any real money on the in-game gold (because I happen to like playing games) so maybe the micro-transactions aren't that much of a point against the game.  Maybe it's just an effective application of getting people with more money than time to distribute some of that dosh to the arts of game development.  In a way, it's almost a modern day Robin Hood story.

Though, there is one less-than-altruistic example to bear in mind: it costs gold to resurrect your dead party members.  So lets say you have your entire party wiped out and you have no gold right now?  You can't earn any more gold, when your party is dead the only option the game gives you is to save and quit.  You're trapped, forced to buy gold with real money to resurrect them.  That's borderline evil right there... but, to be fair, there is a less-than-obvious out.  I think gold is shared between games, so what you could do is start a new game on another save slot and earn gold with a whole new party just to have it available to resurrect your fallen one.

Overall, Knights Of Pen And Paper is a pretty fun diversion.  There's far worse ways you could spend $10 on Steam for your PC or $3 on iTunes for your iPad.  However, I do have as hard of a time justifying playing this game as I would Minecraft: so much toil to achieve so little!  As has ever been the case, I should really be doing something more productive with my free time than playing games, even if it's making one...

Game Development Progress: Negligible.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea of how to simulate a universe inside of GameMaker.  I'm sure it can be done; any game that can be represented in 2D can be done in GameMaker, provided you don't go so completely nuts with your extravagant effects that you slow the engine to a crawl (and newer versions of the engine even feature some 3D capability).  However, GameMaker has one major restriction that is simultaneously its strongest and its weakest point: Rooms.

Every object and background you use in GameMaker must be placed in a "room" to be utilized, and only one room can be active at a time.  You can do a lot of fancy things with rooms, such as set up multiple views in a room so you can essentially have GUI elements made up of a view of different parts of the same room simultaneously (which would be great for a radar view or a split-screen game).  Normally, when you switch between rooms, rooms reset to their default state, but you can actually set them to be persistent and this is important when creating a persistent-state environment (the kind of games I seem to really like).
The room editor looks something like this.
(Source: GameMaker Wiki.  I think this might be from an
earlier version.)

I said rooms are a strong point for GameMaker because anyone can understand the idea of there being a room and stuff you put into it.  Rooms not only neatly organize where content such as objects, enemies, and background tiles will appear in a game, they also keep the very game controls isolated to each room, which prevents a lot of bothersome cross-talk.

How rooms are the weakest point for GameMaker is that they do not actually function unless they are the current room the player is looking at.  There are cross-room manipulation functions, but they suffer a massive handicap in that they seem to be write-based only, you can't read the status of another room.  When a room is not currently the active room, it's essentially dead to the game, nothing happens in it, and there seems to be no functions to utilize the current contents of that room.  But at least you can add things to other rooms (which would be useful for map generation routines), and by setting them to be persistent you can swap between rooms fairly seamlessly... as long as you don't mind that no time has passed since you were last in a room you just returned to.

Consider this thread where a request on how to build a map from room templates largely fell on deaf ears.  It can't be done in GameMaker, at least not directly with the rooms.  You could use a template the exists entirely in crude, script coded form (probably represented by various characters - that's how Derek Yu did Spelunky).

Something that I wanted to be able to do was to have a player character sitting at the controls of a spaceship, that spaceship might be taking damage from an action game going on in a separate room about the travels of that spaceship, and that damage actually occurs on the map that the player character is sitting at, and this influences the performance of the spaceship.  In other words, I'm interested in what's going in both inside and outside of the spaceship simultaneously but, because only one room can be active at a time, GameMaker gives me an uncomfortable choice:
  • Code everything into global variables that regenerate the rooms with the appropriate modifications whenever I switch rooms.
  • Combine both the inside and the outside of the spaceship sub games into a single game that takes place in different views of the same room, and code to avoid all the crosstalk issues that came with it.  
I don't like either option.
  • The approach of regenerating rooms with global variables abandons the idea of simulating what happens to the interior of the ship in a manner of equal accuracy to if both rooms were in scope.  (Not to mention that the resulting interfacing involved in continually reproducing rooms introduces quite a bit of extra work, both for the computer doing the building and for me who has to explain how to do this to the computer.)
  • Combining both rooms into a single room abandons all the advantageous compartmentalization of rooms that GameMaker is rather painstakingly designed to work around.  This means I need to code in such a way as to avoid a lot of bothersome cross-talk.  For example, having characters who should only be seeing walking around on the inside of ships instead walking around in the depths of space outside of the ship (and probably being displayed at the wrong scale). 
Well, it is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.  Fact of the matter is, either solution is completely doable.  I'm essentially balking over whether I want to put my paintbrush in paint, or put the paint on the paintbrush: either way, the illusion of painting will get done.

On the other hand, if it's that hard to do, it might not be worth doing.  That's not laziness talking (at least not necessarily) but rather experience telling me that it's better to revamp the game design to take advantage of the platform than to try to bend the platform to support the design.  This might seem like compromising one's ideals, but the resulting game just plays a whole lot better by virtue of greater compatibility with the platform, and isn't having a great playing game the real goal here?

To some extent, I already have compromised my vision somewhat, but there's such a thing as going too far there, too.  The thing is, I need to have a design I feel excited about to feel motivated to make.  Finding the resulting compromise is sort of where I am right now.

An Upgrade On Geldon's Real Life: Employment Level Up!

So it is that my Fall '13 vacation draws to an uneventful close.  Granted, it wasn't much of a vacation to begin with: it was just the longest number of consecutive days I was not scheduled to work in quite some time, and it certainly felt like a vacation after several 6-day-work-weeks in a row.

As it turns out, that's not going to happen anymore: I've just been promoted from a random hour substitute to being signed up for a sparkly 24-hours a week of consistent work.  That's lovely.  I don't have a wife and kids to support, a frugal-minded bachelor can be expected to live on 24-hours a week fairly well, or so you'd think.

Now, I just need not to blow it.  Fact of the matter is, this position I applied for is actually the highest volume facility of the job, and I expect they'll work me much harder than the fun little satellites I've been in so far.  I'm banking that only being there three days out of the week will give me adequate time to recover from the resulting stress.  I'm also hoping that I do not prove inadequate for their needs.

Well, assuming I cut the mustard, and barring budget cuts, I'll soon have a consistent income.  It's a good feeling after many years of feeling to the contrary.  I hope to never forget how grateful I should be to my employers for offering this opportunity.  Now, about paying off that student loan...

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