Progress at last on WAID

So I’ve finally been able to sit down and work on Why Am I Dead, and I’ve gotten it to the point where I can say that I’ve pretty much finished programming it, and can now focus on writing the script and making the art.  There’s a bit of functionality left to code, but it’s very small and very straightforward.  Below is a quick demo of the core game mechanics using place-holder graphics:

I’ve made as much of the game mechanics as I can to be very generic, so actually filling in the content will be wonderfully straightforward.  For instance when I write the script or change the maps, I won’t have to modify any .as files at all, and I’ll be able to edit the content very quickly and see immediate results.  For map editing, I’m using the wonderful free program Tiled to generate the map, and then my game just reads through the resulting file and creates the map.  For script writing, I’m just typing directly in a text editor what I want the dialogues to consist of (plus a few keywords here and there), and the game parses through that and creates the dialogue in OOP form.

So the next part should be pretty fun!

Games for Change Reflections

So, I got back from Manhattan a few days ago and I’ve been letting my experiences at the 9th annual Games for Change festival rattle around my brain for a while.  There were lots of really interesting talks, some of which were truly amazing, and so I have lots of different reactions; more than I could feasibly write down with the hopes of actually maintaining a reader’s attention.

So, instead, I’ll give a general impression that I’m left with.

There’s a lot of room for both optimism and pessimism regarding the Games for Change movement.  On one hand, the amount of attention that it’s getting, and the amount of legitimacy it commands, is rapidly growing.  It’s obviously still small in comparison to commercial pursuits, but its trajectory is decidedly upwards.  The festival’s audience contained just as many (if not more) federal agents and educators as it did game developers, and many of the pre-festival summit talks were directed at federal agents looking to fund game projects.  So, hopefully it can be said that the fact that games can positively transform society is not so controversial.

The room for pessimism comes from what is actually being produced at the moment.  In regards to quality and the actual ‘fun’ of the game, there is a rather large divide between impact games and commercial games, and this is indicative of a faulty perspective.  You can model any dynamics, create anything, do whatever you want with games; and yet, transformational games often simply take rather trite and simplistic game mechanics from the arcade and slap an educational theme on top.  This approach treats games as some sort of passive vehicle you can use to push your message, rather than for what it is: a radically new way to construct your message.  With this approach, maybe with the help of federal agents you can get your game funded, and maybe with the help of educators you can get it into schools, but it will never truly infect the population the way commercial games have been able to.

When I was a kid, this game collected dust.

However, without the faith and goodwill of educators and federal agencies to open the door, I don’t believe transformational games will become a lasting trend in the commercial world, and so while this partnership of disparate occupations is going to result in some serious misunderstandings and lack of unity in direction, I think its end result is going to be a rather radical thing.  So in this sense, I think that there’s much more room for optimism than for pessimism.

I have to admit, though, that I’m still far more interested in impact games that are tied to the commercial market, rather than to federal funding: for instance, Navid Khonsari’s 1979, for which he apparently got accused of being a spy, looks to be an interesting historical narrative turned into a game.

This should be how education looks.

 I’m almost positive that this game will be very problematic in regards to its treatment of history, but it at least tries to turn history into something which can be marketed; which is, after all, the ultimate test of engagement and audience appeal, the two things which education sorely lacks at the moment.

Brief Update

Jeez, I’ve been meaning to update the blog for a while but I’ve been distracted recently.  These distractions mainly fall into three categories:

1 – Driving to see family / Seeing family

2 – Job searching / applications

3 – Diablo 3

So unfortunately I haven’t been able to work much on my poor pet project.  But I’d say at least two of those three diversions are more important than the pet project itself, so hopefully my pet project will forgive me.  I would like to say that I’m now about to really buckle down, put the cliche to the cliche, and finish this thing soon, but I’m actually going to be spending the next 3-4 days attending the 9th annual Games for Changes Festival in New York!

Which I am REALLY excited about.  I had my eye on the last one but wasn’t able to attend due to time/place considerations.  A lot of the speakers that are scheduled have really influenced my outlook on game development.  I’m one of those people that think games will, in the future, pervade society in a much more fundamental way than it does now…and most importantly that this is a good thing.  Anyway, it’s a star-studded festival and I can’t believe that the timing works out so that I can attend!

WAID Progress, and Mandate is Online!

Okay, so first, I’ve missed the rather arbitrary deadline I set for myself on Why Am I Dead.  The reason could be summed up pretty well in this XKCD comic:

XKCD's The General Problem
I spend so much time saving time

Earlier, I just wanted to have something — anything — done in Actionscript.  For that, a week was plenty of time.  But now that I’ve gotten something (anything) done in Actionscript, the programmer in me wants to make everything general, elegant, and reusable; and that takes more time.  For instance, the non-procedural content in Why Am I Dead is 90% dialogue trees; so I thought why not program things so I can simply write all of the dialogue into text files and parse them into Actionscript objects to handle my dialogues?  If I get it right that would mean I could create, for the most part, an entirely different game without touching the code.  I could hand it off to a non-programmer and have them write their own stuff.

Alright, so it might be a bit overzealous of me to try and use data-driven programming on something this abstract, but I want to try it anyway.  A 100% modeling of the data is impossible; I won’t be able to account for everything.  But actually, I’m almost done as it is.  And that’s a major step in completing this game.

But I’ve been doing other things as well.  Part of the delay with WAID is that I’ve also been trying to piece my website together, and tie up a few loose ends on a past project.  That past project is “Mandate”, a senior integrative project that I finished last month.

A screenshot of my last project, Mandate
The seven major factions of the Warring States Period

To sum it up really quickly, Mandate is a historical simulation that takes place in ancient China.  It’s a multi-agent system, meaning that there are lots of AI-driven characters running around independent of any central rules, making decisions that impact the simulation’s strategy.  In addition, it makes use of fuzzy logic to try and emulate the internal politics of the factions at that time.

You can find it available to download here.  Be warned, though, this is not an exercise in commercial game design or UI design; it is first and foremost an academic project.  So its visuals are quite rough and its interface may not be clear to those who are not already familiar with it.

And that’s what I’ve been up to recently!  Now that I’ve tied all of that stuff up, I can concentrate a bit more on Flash.