Tales of the Avatar: The Law of Virtue

It has been over four years since our Lord British’s expedition set forth into the underworld, never to be seen again. With our sovereign gone and The Avatar having returned triumphant to his home world, you, the people of Britannia, seems to have lost your way.

We were once proud of our town-states being places where you could conduct business safely and live a tranquil daily life, but now you steal and deceive each other continuously, seeking to build up your personal riches instead of striving for equality by giving to those in need. As this inequality grows, gangs of bandits roam the land, but you now cowardly refuse to join the ranks of the royal army to keep our cities safe from rogues and monsters.

Crime spreads throughout the land, and we have to double down in our efforts to upkeep the virtues as a way of living. But in our crusade for the good, we met with an unexpected reality: you are unwilling to contribute your resources to our difficult enterprise. You disgrace your taken oaths, challenging and distrusting the will of your superiors and following your own primal instincts instead.

Britannians have forgotten the sanctity of virtue. You now take pride in your self-imposed ideals as individuals, neglecting following the wisdom of your rulers.

It is in these dark times, when our Britannian society is on its direst need, that I have to proclaim the Law of Virtue. Under this law, Britannia will flourish again as the great virtuous society that it once was. We have gathered together a new council of the greatest thinkers and philosophers of the realm, who have contributed their experience and knowledge into a set of rules and actions that will bring us back to the way of the Avatar.

As a critical measure to put this new law into action, the current heads of our bastions will be removed from their post, replaced with three virtuous individuals of my utmost trust.

Lord Faulinei is to replace Lord Shalineth as the head of the Lycaeum and to act as the new Royal Chancellor. His main task will be ensuring our judiciary system can upkeep with the rising tide of crime, modernizing the laws and providing our inquisitorial prosecutors with all the tools they need to clean our lands from vices that corrupt it. Whoever opposes our law will be dealt with swift, relentless justice.

Lady Nosfentor will replace Lord Malone as commander of Serpent’s Hold, As Captain of the Army and Admiral of the Navy, she has been entrusted with bringing safety back to our realm. May the hordes of bandits and vicious rogues and outlaws fear our swords for they will soon perish along with their vices. Also, until noted otherwise, a curfew is in effect and all individuals roaming the cities during nighttime will be subject to being engaged in the name of the virtues by our royal knights and the newly created order of the Defenders of Virtue.

Finally, Lord Asteroth will replace Lord Michael as Empath Abbey. He will be given the daunting task of redistributing the riches of our land ensuring that no single individual owns more than he needs. You, people of Britannia, need to leave aside your greed and contribute to the work our institutions do to create and upkeep a better society. Eventually, all farmland will be redistributed and every Britannian family will have the means to strive through hard and loving work.

The mayors of all cities have also willingly removed themselves from their posts; their duties will be fulfilled by local committees of virtue, whose members will be revealed on each town as part of their re-educational programs.

Britannia counts with your submission into this new law. Help us make a better world for you and your children, or suffer our wrath.

Walk in the path of Virtue.

 

Always vigilant, your humble servant.

Lord Blackthorn
Regent of Britannia

Interaction++ 2018.4 and some indie dev marketing tips

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Interaction” is a video game development meetup. They organize conferences in Medellín (my hometown) where they invite local developers to share their experience with both fellow and wannabe developers.

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They are now an official Unity User Group, and they are planning to create bigger and better events. Interaction++ 2018.4 was the first of these events, where they had three talks instead of a single one as usual.

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The first talk, “Introduction to Indie Marketing”, was given by Jorge Castaño of Amazing Soul games. It was an ambitious talk and it went well over its time limit, but it was pretty interesting.

Its first topic, foundations of marketing, gave an overview of some elements involved in the marketing of the game along with some useful  tips:

  • Create a compelling synopsis/summary to convert visits into installs.
  • Have at hand your Unique Selling Points: What makes your game different. This may help change a first negative / neutral perception and make the player give a second chance to your game.
  • The biggest markets like Steam, Play Store and AppStore are extremely competitive and it’s extremely hard to be noticed, smaller stores can even provide help with marketing.
  • China is a very attractive market for mobile but the AppStore and Play Store are dead there. Tencent is the biggest store, but rules are different.
  • A clear target market is a must to create an effective marketing campaign.
  • Set a target to be in the top 200 of the store (it’s impossible to get to top 10 without +100.000USD daily marketing or a lot of luck)
  • A great target for a small company is 5000 USD / day for 1 month. It should cover the investment in the game.

They also dug into some of the tasks of a publisher:

  • Localization (not only language but also cultural) can drive a lot of installs. For example, Games in China must be properly localized, and including Dragons as enemies into the game may be perceived as offensive. For Japan, 80% of the players will only play the game if it’s in Japanese.
  • Customer Care: Retention, especially important for freemium games in mobile. Some publishers provide a  support team.
  • Acquisition: It’s only part of the publisher task. Invest money to get more players.
  • Marketing: Material such as trailers, icons, screenshots, they often have a specialized team.
  • QA / Testing
  • Monetization: Make the game make money.

They also had some recommendations for Indie Publishers:

  • Tiny Build
  • Indie Fund
  • Adult Swim Games
  • Devolver

Publishers will normally take 30% to 60% of revenue, and it’s currently hard for them to give money upfront.

Some advantages of using a Publisher:

  • Better distribution channels
  • They have useful contacts with the industry
  • Higher visibility
  • Cross promotion, they will leverage players in existing games.
  • They assume part of the risk of investment
  • Years of experience.

If you don’t have a publisher, you must cover all the above by yourself to a certain degree.

This includes creating a marketing campaign to generate interest of the game even before it is launched.

Some things that help here:

  • Create a plan for your campaign with weekly goals and channels to be used every week.
  • Use analytics to update your plan. What is working and what is not.
  • Make a list of the websites, streamers or youtubers you want to cover your game. Start with the smaller ones, that will eventually bring interest to the mid-sized and the bigger ones if you are lucky.
  • Create a presentation template to get in contact with writers

Sucess doesn’t depend on money alone, being aware of all the different tools at hand helps greatly.

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In the second talk the guys from Dreamhouse Studios shared their experiences building three VR products:

  • A training program for the Colombian Army FLIR program. (Infrared scanning)
  • A multiplayer tower defense Halloween game.
  • A training program for the local tram system

They mentioned their second game has provided them with some cash flow by renting it to be used in malls and events in the city. They shared some details of their development process.

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Finally, the third talk was about the upcoming optimizations to appear on Unity to leverage on its Entity Component System to increase its performance greatly. This, in order to allow Unity games to run in lower-end devices, as well as extending its capabilities to manage a LOT of objects moving and interacting on screen.

All in all, I recommend their conferences especially to students or people looking forward to starting into the video game development industry.

Ananias introspection: Content Creation and Balance

This new series of blog posts will be based on /r/roguelikedev FAQ Fridays, a long standing series of discussions where roguelike developers share their techniques and experiences around a single topic.

FAQ Fridays Revisited # 6 Content Creation and Balance (original)

How do you decide what mobs/items/abilities/terrain/etc to add to your game? In any good roguelike content creation is inseparable from the concept of balance, so your methods of balancing content are certainly within the scope of this discussion.

Ananias has a fairly static collections of monster races. They were first added based on the original rogue monsters and with a single criteria on mind: each race should have an unique feature or ability.

Sometimes implementing an ability is costly and there’s the temptation of parameterizing it so it can be reused with slight variations, but I think it gives more character to the monsters having their distinctive skills. This means Ananias doesn’t have Ice, Fire, Water, Earth and Thunder dragons whose only distinction is the “type” of their attacks, I’d rather have a single Dragon monster distinguished by a strong ranged attack.

The uniqueness of an enemy race is not defined only by their active skills, their stats are also put in consideration. In this case they are assigned relative values first (i.e. orcs have high attack and medium hp, Lizardmen have extreme high attack and low hp). This is balanced so that races without cool active skills get some advantage stats-wise.

The dungeon is then split into 5 areas with increasing difficulty. Mob races are grouped thematically on these areas and then assigned final values for their stats by scaling their relative values to the difficulty level of the group they are in. In order to do this, I do a projection of the average stats for the player on each one of these areas and then I apply some simple general rules (for example, a strong monster may kill the player in 5 hits, a monster with low HP should be killed by the player in a single attack). These define ranges within which the stats of the final monster will be placed.

Items follow a similar model. For weapons and armor I started with a list of preexisting graphics (the artist made them on advance for a different game using his own creative criteria) then based on they appearance I assigned them relative values (high/mid/low) for damage and integrity (how likely they are to break), and then I grouped them on power tiers to define their final stats. They also get assigned a generation weight representing how likely they are to be added to the levels, this value is used in level generation along with the power tier to select the items to be added.

Player abilities are guided by the same principles of uniqueness. Ananias is strongly classed, and each class has unique passive skills that guide players into adapting different playstyles for each one. The process for player classes is similar as with the monster races, they are balanced based on their skills and relative values for their stats. (Except for the shepherd ;)).

On a final note, I’d like to say that while seeking to balance the different stats is worthwhile (to prevent your game from being utterly broken), it’s also to some point a futile exercise, since the variability of the game and the player’s choices create a lot of unpredictability, specially as journeys progress in games which provide long and open experiences. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and a little bit of unbalance is not always harmless since it allows the players to find strategies and challenges within the game.

 

End of the century

End of the century… misery! can it be?
Chaos… who’s the boss? Suffering, great loss..
Man, woman, child, no longer exist…
Only the good ones will be missed.
 
Life, love, cherish it all.
Who will be left to conquer all?
The end is coming, don’t start running,
there’s nowhere to run… don’t grab a gun!
 
All over the land hear this roar.
No one knows what’s to store.
Look for the star, he’s on his way
No one knows when or what day.
 
Love yourself and all around,
in a blink of an eye you won’t hear a sound.
Your heart is pounding at rapid speed.
Man will always feel the need for greed.
 
Let’s go for it! For now you can’t miss!
Although this was the beginning,
Beware because the end is here
 
The sky is falling, eyes are balling.
You had your chance to make your stance.
Love is a must, life don’t lust.
No time to fuss, people start to cuss.
 
Cry out.. who’s going to care?
Have no doubt, have no fear.
Believe in me… I’ll show you the way!
 
Some people think the year 2K
is so scary, let wait and see.
The world will shut down, bots will quit,
People’ll go crazy, people can’t fit.
 
Fire breaks out, there’s one way to stop,
Play hip hop non-stop-stop!
Remember these words and what I said,
you just might wake up brain dead!
 
Some just say the world is changing,
many people will agree…
Many changes we are seeing,
I just say it’s the end of the century.

Leonardo: The Inventor

Back on 1996, “multimedia” computers appeared in my city. It was the SoundBlaster craze, and it was not easy to have one at home (specially if your family was not particularly rich). An aunt of mine used to take me to the local library, were they had set up a room with these amazing machines.

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They had a bunch of software, mostly interactive children stories, but one of them was of special importance to me… it made me realise these machines could be used to transport people into virtual worlds for them to explore.

It was a multimedia package about Leonardo DaVinci. I remember it had a lot of neat content (and probably made me become even more interested on engineering), but what I remembered the most was two games that came bundled with it.

One of them, the one that dug into my soul, was about exploring a fortress, solving some puzzles in order to escape. This one defined many things on my game development life: computers could simulate a lone adventurer, exploring closed quarters on his own. I am a single player games kind of guy, I like the intimacy between the game world and the player.

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Exploring Leonardo’s Fortress

The other one was about flying around the world with mechanical wings, dodging stuff in your way. The music was forever burned in my head… I could remember it perfectly, even after so many years of not playing the game. This game was hard, I could never win it when I was younger.

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God wants to strike me down 😦

So, last month, over one of these nights where I cannot sleep, I decided to look for it. It was not easy… I didn’t remember the name! I just remembered it was about Leonardo DaVinci, and that it was a multimedia thing…

After lots of websurfing, I found some videos on youtube: they were the encyclopaedic part about some of Leonardo’s discoveries.. I never found videos with gameplay from the games, but I was sure this was it!

Some more digging around, and I was able to find it on Amazon. Instaorder.

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Since I was unable to find any interesting information about it on Internet, I decided to do a video including the unboxing as well some gameplay of it. I hope you enjoy it!!!

It was not easy to get it running… It’s a 16bits Windows program, which means it cannot run on 64bit OS (like my noisy windows 7 box). After trying my luck with Wine (unsuccessfully), I went for a full Windows XP VM using VirtualBox. It took some tweaking but I was finally able to get it going!

At long last, after 20 years, I was able to beat the Icarus game! It took a lot of learning, but in the end I managed to do it…  It’s not in the video, since it took me about 1 hour (or more?) of trying, but after dodging cannonballs, planes, more Eiffel towers and even tornados, I found a dragon (!) which I swiftly dodged to get to the finish line 🙂

Now I’m curious… this is version 2.0. May be I should also get version 1, and play around with it… I wonder if it also includes the games…

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Here are some more pics for the curious

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WinXP going crazy!
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Gallery of Leonardo’s inventions
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The main menu, there’s a LOT of great quality content!
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Walking around the fortress
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Finally! I did it after 20 years!! THERE WAS A DRAGON THERE :O
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One of the Fortress rooms
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Walking from the central tower to the middle ring

 

Behind the scenes… the suboptimal process I followed to record this video. I am fully aware iMovie is not meant for this, but that’s the tool I have at hand 🙂

Intro and unboxing (on my macbook)

  • Record myself for the intro using Quicktime Player, using a handsfree earbuds microphone to reduce noise.
  • Put a checkered tablecloth over my glass desk.
  • Put the macbook in an awkward position so that the built-in camera looks almost down.
  • Record myself opening the box.

On the Windows box (running Win7 64bits + Virtualbox with a WinXP 32bits VM)

  • Record videoclips from VirtualBox (stored in webm format)
  • Record audio from Audacity (using Windows WASAPI loopback thing)

Back on my macbook

  • Convert videoclips from webm to m4v using VLC
  • Sync each videoclip with its audio using iMovie
    • It was as fun as it sounds…. the format conversion messed the framerates and I had to split the audio tracks and try to match as best as possible
  • Exporting each videoclip (now with audio)
  • Create the full vid joining all exported videoclips

I could have saved myself a LOT of time if I had set up VirtualBox on my Macbook… I was just lazy to get an external CD drive or fetch the ISOs from some place and take my time to set it up. Then I could have recorded directly with Quicktime Player + Sound Flower, probably to a much better quality. :/

Age of Storms – Finished!

After doing lots of tweaks and reviewing, I managed to finish my short story: Age of Storms, which is based on the events of the Hearth of Britannia: Lifeblood of the Hearth event.

I also removed the images since I didn’t feel they didn’t fit well (I think the only thing that would fit there would be illustrations by Denis Loubet 😛 )

Some major changes were introduced from the first edition, so take a look 🙂

Page: The Age of Storms