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Walls And Text

I apologize if you were hoping this would be a blog entry about me killing Alduin, finally, and putting Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim behind me.  Truth of the matter is, I barely played Skyrim at all this week.

My character is so powerful now that Skyrim has deflated utterly, I have seen the man behind the curtain, and defeating Alduin is nothing more than playing a part in a pointless puppet show.  I actually tried going back to that magic user I mentioned, with the rationale that maybe I could get a balanced experience if I simply leaned completely on magic and avoided using weapons or armor.  Spell magnitude has a hard cap in Skyrim, it cannot be increased by enchantment or smithing, only temporarily by alchemy.
They should have made this part of the wall dynamically update with the player's primary skills.
It practice, it seems Skyrim doesn't know what to do with magic users.  Even Alduin's Wall seems to believe the Dragonborn is going to be a sword and boarding heavy armor user, and it predicted everything else, so why not that?  You try being a pure magic user in Skyrim and most of the point in being a dragon slayer is gone: you don't need their souls because most of the shouts are outperformed and redundant with magic, it's awkward to shout and use magic, you don't need dragonbones for equipment because magic users don't use any, and frankly bringing down dragons with lightning bolts and summoned daedra just does not feel epic.

Skyrim is deeply confused with my magic user.  I seem to be encountering a lack of balance sooner rather than later, with an emphasis on illusion effortlessly mob controlling everything, utterly trivializing each and every fight while laboriously drawing it out because I have to wait around for them to die when a simple application of a weapon would have done the trick.  In these ways and others, to focus on being a magic user is a better choice when it is made to spite Skyrim, to lampoon it, to spit on Alduin's Wall and toy with the populace of Tamriel.  Maybe it is the right choice for me, a repeated Skyrim burnout, but I would not say it improves my enjoyment of the game, a game I would be better off to say I was done with.

Instead of playing Skyrim this week, I mostly focused on my independent game development.  A reddit post I just made summed up how the week went:
I am now so thoroughly on the wagon of development that actually playing games feels meaningless. Virtually all the time spent on the computer was spent coding. But, oh, how I love to overthink things.

I have decided that I am at the point where it would be easy enough to create a character who walks around and does things, but what I really need to do is have them do something of significance. Basically, I have a really high concept of procedural generation, and I need to start working towards that now or I am only going to have to rewrite the whole thing later. So I have been weaning myself off of tweaking the UI under the rationale that I sort of need to know what it is the UI will need to present and a lot of that has been deliberately left up in the air.

As some of you might have read me harping on about before, I want to make a huge world where everything is there for a reason and not just because the RNG said so. While that's all a very lovely ivory tower concept, I have found that it is a bit at odds with reality since I have a player who is sitting at the keyboard who wants to play now and not 5 hours later after the computer has worked out how a bunch of evolved digital animals have gained sentience and went about building a rudimentary civilization. I have seen the Dwarf Fortress model, but I want to do it my way.

Yes, I could define a chunk of tiles as having a specific purpose and then have the procedural generation algorithm know how to build a map of that purpose and then the whole thing is weaved together into a compelling world. Look at Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead or Minecraft, that method works fine. But is that what I want? Will that accomplish the goal of advancing the bar in the kinds of narratives CRPGs are capable of? Because, the thing is, I've played those games to death, and there reaches a point where I ask myself, "What's the point?"

So there's my main goal. I want to add that missing point. Existing examples of open world games often require the player to come up with their own point, to bring it with them and interpret the work as they see fit, like some kind of pretentious modern art installation, where the point of the work is open to anyone with an open checkbook. I am taking more responsibility than that. I want an engine that has a point, or a range of points, or helps the player to find a point. The question was how to go about this? How to explain it in terms a calculator can understand, because that's what programming is, where ideas can become a set of instructions faithfully reproduced by a machine.

Being back at full time work this week was a bit of a boon then, because it offered the opportunity for a lot of navel gazing, instead of just sitting down to code and making whatever.

I like to talk about how CRPGs lack the "narrative", a word that when spoken causes the distant mountains to shake at the booming significance of the word. But what exactly does that mean in terms of what needs to be added to the game? Often it helps to get an outside perspective on this, so I googled "narratives in RPGs" and hit #1 was a lovely academic paper that basically explained that "narrative" practically means, "a series of described events" which is as ambiguous as hell. This is the kind of article one might need to take notes to pierce the academia involved, but I managed to glean from it a certain underscoring of how roleplaying games differ from traditional storytelling because the responsibility of coming up with a narrative is shared, there is no audience, just a story built and shared between the participants. "No duh.", you might be thinking, but this might have ramifications beyond the obvious. The GM might have a scenario in mind, but the players' cooperation ends up shaping how the story goes, often to the point where it's not something the GM planned at all. That's actually pretty magical. It's important.

My idea of a powerful virtual GM object, capable of procedural generating a custom experience to each and every player, crumbled. I busted it down to a simple map generator. The player needs an active role in the storytelling process. This needs to be a cooperative experience. Sleep Is Death might be closer to the goal. I still want to make this a proper roleplaying game with a proper computer-driven virtual GM, but the model has changed a bit. I could have multiple computer GMs, each with their own agenda, like the rulers of nations, or squabbling gods. I could look at key NPCs as participants and give them more power in swaying the story. I had been toying with the idea of giving the player points that can be spent to make arbitrary changes to the world, and I might just end up doing that.

I short, I have barely begun this project, but I am already rapidly and zealously approaching a feature creep nightmare. But, rather than bail out like I always do, I think I am going to have to embrace that to some extent. I need to bring about some order to these thoughts. I need to solidify a plan so I know what I need to code. Damn it to hell, I'm afraid I am going to need to design! It is not nearly as much fun as coding, but there's simply no way around it, or I simply won't know what I am coding for. Such is experimental game development, really, where every new torch reveals more of the dark to be fathomed.
All in all, it was a better investment of my time.  However, I might have to find something to play just to rest my shredded neurons, as this is not an easy undertaking I have chosen.
37" and curved, I'll forgive you for assuming I am compensating for something.
Another thing I did this week was shell out for a refurbished huge widescreen G-sync almost-IPS monitor with unusually low resolution to facilitate a high update speed, a purchase I probably would not have made were it not for what the first adjective did to the price (nearly halved it).   Despite that, this early gift to myself was a frivolous purchase, consumerism gone mad, and I should have held out for Cyber Monday so at least I could have had like company.


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