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Germinating Gamination

Pardon the late entry, as this bizarro weekend I have primarily been enjoying having a cold.  It has been so long since I have been meaningfully sick that I had started to associate lesser bugs as significant illnesses, "Oh no, I'm feeling a bit tired today, I wonder if I have a bug?"  My current ailment would have none of that, it sat me right down and physically put me through most of the symptoms on webmd like it wanted to teach me what a real cold is.  The second day was spent almost entirely in bed, and since then I've been busy dripping or expectorating.

Sadly, this has somewhat derailed my earnest attempts to develop a game of my own in my free time.  I have determined that the platform I am developing on does not mean a whole lot if I cannot even decide what I want to make.  I have a few interesting ideas but, as anyone who has given game development more than a cursory glance can tell you, having ideas is the easy part, the devil is in the details.

Thus, my current game development endeavors seem to be doing like this:
  • Develop a basic design document interesting enough that it is something I am genuinely interested in developing.
  • Jump into Game Maker and take a few fledgling steps towards realizing that game idea.
  • Get so derailed in the process of navigating the integrated development environment that I forgot why I was excited about my game design.
  • Realize it's time to stop getting so entangled in the IDE and shift my brain back to the drawing board again.
  • Repeat until game completion (a hypothetical state).
In a way, it's writer's block; here is a creative endeavor in which motivation is difficult because I am so inherently self-defeatist.  I may not be the pickiest computer gamer in the world, but after some 30 years of computer game experience it's pretty dang hard to find games that excite me.

Honestly, I find motivation easier if I simply tell myself that this is good mental exercise... and it is; using the computer productively in creative endeavors, and programming, is much better mental exercise than the day-to-day normally provides.  At least this motivational focus provides that immediate reward.

In any case, having a cold has been all the excuse I have needed to stop ramming my head against the grindstone of worthwhile endeavor, and instead procrastinate mightily with some pretty decent games.

TOME - Short for Tales of Maj'Eyal, is a "true" roguelike in that it embraces randomly generated maps, a single-character focus, turn-based mechanics, and dying in game means your character is permanently dead.  Except TOME is actually pretty forgiving, as far as roguelikes go.  The equipment has been streamlined to a few easy equipment picks, you get a number of "runes" and "infusions" that are potent enough to restore your character's health completely every few turns, and (on the default "adventure" mode) you actually get extra lives!
TOME has a number of good features.  Full graphical tiles.  A storyline that seems custom-fitted to every class/race combination.  Unique classes that play quite well with a novel skill set mix.  My first character, an "Alchemist," turned out to be a fellow who summons a golem (which can be outfitted with armor/weapons I find), throws alchemical bombs that can be charged with elements, and channels energies through his staff - a very wide variety of gameplay experience for a single character, albeit one of the most advanced in the game.  It is clear that TOME has received a ton of development time, much of it open-source community-based.

Yet, being a picky gamer, it only took me about ten hours to find bits of TOME I would have done differently.  The balance is too loose; I could not help but think I found my experiences in Dungeons of Dredmor to feel a bit more "hardcore," as far as roguelikes go, with a tighter overall balance and feeling of overcoming consistently stacked odds.  Perhaps the bit where it sticks the most in TOME is that it scales: you enter a new dungeon and the mobs are automatically leveled to whatever your character level is when you entered, within reasonable limits, and this does not jive well with my feeling of progress in a roguelike game.  Well, if I am going to be that picky, I should really make my own damn game!
Dungeon Of The Endless is officially out, no longer in "early access," and I am officially putting it on my highest pedestal for solid indy games, shared only with FTL.   Many people encounter this game and are thoroughly confused because they are so used to clones.  To describe this game in terms I used earlier:
To try to describe this game in conventional terms might just confuse you. Yes, it has aspects of roguelike games, real time strategy games, role playing games, tower defense games, and board games. Personally, I think of it as mostly a board game with each "turn" divided into a time before you open another door, which will reveal treasure, a merchant, waves of enemies, blueprints, or something else - you never know! Then it's a mad scramble reminiscent of a real time strategy/tower defensive hybrid to keep everything upright until the next turn. When deciding who to level up or equip with gear, that's where the RPG aspect enters the picture.

This board-game like mechanic can be a good thing because it introduces a lot of interesting choices. If I assign my hero here, will they be able to make it back to where they need to be if enemies appear there? Do I spend my industry points on producing more industry points, producing things I need, or do I try to scimp on points now so I have more available to use on the next map? Do I invest my dust in that great piece of equipment, or is it more important that I power rooms? These choices are clever in that many of them are just compromises; there's often not a "right" choice, just a good guess at what might work out in the long run.

I like a game that makes me think. Yet, Endless Dungeon is rarely ever overwhelming, just rich with important choices to make and requiring you pay attention when your heroes are fighting so they don't get slain needlessly. 
I think that is as apt a description as you are likely to find on the game mechanics.  Cosmetically, Dungeon of the Endless is festooned with gorgeous PC sci-fi pixel art.  Perhaps beauty is in the eye of the bolder, but I absolutely adore this game's style, not only in how it looks, but also the music and sound effects.  The only reason I am not playing it this very minute is because I am supposed to be trying to do something productive with my computer.
Then Transistor hit that magical "50% off" mark that automatically activates my "buy game off of Steam wishlist" reflex, and I had to play that, too.  Bastion was fantastic, this is made by the same people, and Transistor is similar in that it is an isometric-perspective in a fantastically wrought environment whose narrative is galvanized by constant quips of a baritone narrator.  Both games are frequently referenced as masterpieces.

Transitor does not require as much twitch skills as Bastion because you do your best work in the paused strategic planning mode, Turn(), that has you just plotting out what you will do to perfection, then execute it and see it done. Given that kind of power, Transistor is not too hard, but you can activate "Limiters" that boost xp rewards in exchange for raising the difficulty. Things are kept interesting by a clever mixing of various "functions" that each can be slotted as one of your four active skills, a buff to a slotted active skill, or a passive benefit.

Clocking in at about 7 1/2 hours to complete, Transistor is one game whose content does not outlast the appeal of its robust game mechanics. However, there is a "recursion" mode which is basically "New Game+" (start over, with minor differences from the first run, retain everything you gathered during your first run, even gather doubles of the same "functions.") Though, even with recursion mode, you'll eventually run out of challenges and level upgrades, and then there's not a whole lot of point to keep playing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, Transistor keeps things short and sweet.

The music.  Oh, God, the music.  At least as gorgeous as the game itself, especially if you like modernized female vocal jazz.  But the more I say about Transistor, the more I spoil, so lets leave it at that.

Overall, I suppose I managed to play 7-13 hours into each of three games this weekend, watch some videos, browse some boards, and burn through 10,000 labor points in ArcheAge.  Honestly, much of the the last five days have gone by in a cold-addled haze, and I feel just a tad cheated about that.  Better luck next weekend, me.

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