Monday, August 19, 2013

Little Inferno: A Review

Recently, I have been working my way through the pile of Humble Indie Bundles I have accumulated over the past year. I promised myself that I would give every game a chance but maybe I am just getting impatient or jaded. Games that I would have played years ago I discarded for the slightest offense; even games that hooked me could not hold me. Thomas Was Alone – seems like it has the potential to be a great puzzler but I gave up after I had to re-solve the puzzle for getting up a single step on every step of a staircase. Atom Zombie Smasher – seems like it would be a great game but I gave up with the feeling I have played it before. (But don’t let me dissuade you from playing them. They are both good games)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Avoiding the “Out of Gold” Trap

Your basic video game economy is a collection of sources, which effectively print money,
and sinks which destroy it. Multiplayer games will have some circulating currency but it is the rate of the sources vs. rate of the sinks that determine if the game economy is inflating or deflating.  Now, take WoW for example: if a player’s sword breaks and the player is unable to afford to repair it then the player is stuck unless another player gives some. So, how do we avoid this?

First, lets look at a players spending and how it leads to being stuck.  Purchases come in two categories: needs and wants. A need is something the player has no choice but to spend money on it. If the player is out of cash, then they are stuck. A want is what motivates the player to keep earning cash. Unfortunately, just like in the real world, players with low future-time orientation will spend themselves into the poorhouse at first opportunity by buying every want is it presents itself. It is bad for society and bad for your game because players with an in game spending problem probably also has a real-world spending problem and you want them spending on your masterpiece instead of the latest turd from Zynga.

So how do we get rid of the “out of gold” trap? We redesign to eliminate need spending. For WoW Classic (the only version of WoW I’m an expert on), this means changes to armor repairs and the food and drink system plus free abilities and free basic mounts (say, via quest).  Only the first two affect gameplay in any way and they are easy things to fix.  Armor damage serves as a death penalty so either switch to free slowly regenerating armor or a system of stacking weakness counters. The purpose of the food and drink system seems to be a pacing mechanism. If you fight more enemies simultaneously, which helps you kill stuff faster, you will require more food and drink, which will slow you back down again.  Replacing this with a simple rest ability keeps the game in balance. The Economy, on the other hand, is going to need some work.

Without all the basic need sinks the game will have massive inflation, which is bad for new players who’s earnings are limited by in-game sources that aren’t inflation adjusted. Which means increasing the in-game sinks. An increase auction house fees would work, but people will switch to trade chat in response so there is an upper bound to how much you can raise it. Increasing enchantment prices is a subtle way of making wants more expensive; when people impulse buy new equipment they will then have to buy new enchantments, which sinks even more gold.  To tax end game players, who are the biggest sources of excess gold, increase the cost of the existing system of expensive battle flasks, which high-end content requires. Alternatively, you could add spiral knights style dungeon keys, which are single use, expensive, and the only way to get some of the best gear.

Ultimately, the “out of gold” trap is a relic of older game systems. By simply repurposing gold as a reward mechanism instead of a generic currency, players can enjoy all the benefits of a gold-based system without the risk of getting stuck. Besides, who ever decided that players worrying about how they are going to pay for food is a good mechanic anyway? Video games are about escapism, right?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Elemental Resistances

A map from Karnov.
Final Fantasy uses a simple system for calculating elemental resistance and weakness. It packs eight 1-bit resistance flags into one byte and eight 1-bit weakness flags into a second byte. Storing two bits per element, it can store four possible states but uses only three: normal, weak, resistant, and normal (when weak + resist cancel out). It would not be hard to create a fourth state, say absorption, in the same space. You can just pack four elements as 2-bit codes into one byte, and the other four in the other. However, there is one catch: how do we combine the bonuses granted from multiple items? We can no longer just and or or them together any more.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Game Economies with No Required Spending

Most video game economies do not have a circulating currency. Instead, games use a model of sources and sinks. A source is anything that creates money (killing a monster and it drops gold) and a sink is anything that destroys money (repair costs, buying items from NPCs). One issue with this design of economy is that as time goes on, the money supply keeps growing, which means trade prices between players will rise, which makes it harder to new players to get started because prices are too high compared to the money sources available at the time.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My New Blog Side Project

Lately the work I have been doing on my game has been less design and more grind. While I am glad to be making progress, it means fewer ideas for blog topics. Fortunately, I have been on a New Years inspired self-improvement kick, which is a great source of inspiration. To keep my writing habit active, I have started a new blog on the side for self-improvement/life-hacking topics. You can read it here:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Liars and Outliers: A Review

Recently, Bruce Schneier offered a discounted copy of his latest book “Liars and Outliers” in exchange for a review. Because I am a fan of his, I jumped at the opportunity. Bruce is known for is work in the field of cryptography, but cryptography systems have improved to the point that they often are no longer the weak link in the system. People are. Because of this, he has been studying psychology and human behavior. Liars and Outliers is the latest of his books in this area.

Right off the bat, this book opens with a revelation.

Adventures in Porting to a Mac

I have switched my main computing platform to OSX, and this past weekend I decided to try to move my development workflow over from my windows machine. I figured this should be easy enough considering my whole development stack is open source: Eclipse, GCC, OpenGL, and CVS. As always things are never as simple as they should be.