Archive for the ‘ Games ’ Category

ShadowMordorI have to be honest. I did not follow the development of “Shadow of Mordor” at all. As you may recall, after it turned out to be impossible to get a viewing of the game during this year’s E3 despite my hour-long wait, I lost interest in the game altogether.

Now that it has been released, a lot of coverage has been given to one of the game’s innovative features, the so-called “Nemesis Feature,” which creates pseudo-intelligent opponents that follow certain social orders and appear to populate a living and breathing world that gives every entity the player encounters in the game world goals and purpose. Hmmmmh… I thought to myself when I first heard about this. That does sound very familiar to me!

The Nemesis Feature is essentially the same thing as Deathfire’s Psycho Engine!

If you may recall, a year ago we were trying to fund a game project called “Deathfire” through Kickstarter. It was a traditionally-based role-playing game, much in the vein of the award-winning “Realms of Arkania” cRPGs I have been working in the past, with an exceptionally strong focus on characters. Everything in the game was designed around the charcaters in the game and the emotional response you get from their interaction. Not only the player characters, but all the characters in the game world, including your opponents and the monsters. As you may recall, the system we outlined and had begun to develop for the game was called the “Psycho Engine.”

As I explored Mordor’s Nemesis Feature in more detail, it became apparent to me very quickly that in essence it is the same thing as the Psycho Engine I had designed well over a year ago.

Our system was designed to create player and non-player entities/characters that showed behavior along certain personality lines, independently of what the player is doing. By doing so, these characters would not only have appeared visually unique in the game, because their appearance could be tailored to their stats in real-time, but they would also follow individual goals, determined by the Psycho Engine upon tracking and subsequently analyzing the state of the game and the world.

Psycho Engine went even further, giving entities the knowledge when they were inferior, so that they would respond to it by either abandoning their goals, or by pursuing them even more aggressively

If you compare this to the Nemesis Feature, you will see that it is a carbon copy of what is happening in the game “Shadow of Mordor.” Depending on certain randomly determined parameters, the game creates unique orcs that follow a visual appearance and naming guided by the parameters. Once they make an appearance in the game, they will follow certain goals, such as improving their rank within the orc army or to get involved in one of the many spill-over plots and quests the game offers for that purpose. In addition, these orcs have personalities, based on the parameters, giving them a certain set of dialogue lines and behavioral patterns to match their personalities and goals that make them distinctive and seemingly unique—within limits.

In a nutshell, it is exactly what the Psycho Engine outlined.

The Nemesis Feature also tracks events such as the survival of an orc. If he’s been involved in many battles during the game, like the player, he will level up and become stronger, making sure the same orc will match the player’s progress and always remain challenging when encountered. Once again, this is a feature we had outlined in the Psycho Engine. In fact, the Psycho Engine went even further, giving these entities the knowledge when they were inferior, so that they would be able to respond to it by either abandoning their goals, or by pursuing them even more aggressively.

SkeletonWarriorsFrontJust as our Psycho Engine, the tracking of information and data analysis capabilities of the Nemesis Feature go far beyond just these basics, however, and like our Psycho Engine it takes the information it gathers into account to influence the story and the world around the player. In the case of “Deathfire” we had many small story scenarios and side plots in petto, which were lying dormant in the game until the Psycho Engine would awaken them as a result of certain triggers, activated by either the player or some Psycho Engine-controlled entity.

You can observe the same kinds of events in “Shadow of Mordor,” where the actions of orcs seem to trigger relevant, as well as irrelevant, events relating to the overall story and world. You can observe them pursuing virtual careers and following random events that create rather complex goals, almost like their own side plots.

Seeing the Nemesis Feature in action is a bitter sweet pill for me, as you can certainly imagine. On the one hand the fact that it has been hailed by gamers and the media alike as the most important innovation in computer games in many years makes me happy, because it proves to me that I have been on the right track when I devised the Psycho Engine well over a year ago, at a time when no one was working on technology such as this, really. Of course, now that it has been touted as the revelation that it is, everyone will try to implement technology such as this in their future games. Which is definitely cool and all, because it will result in better games. Still, the thought that we were actually on the bleeding edge of this technology, yet will forever be completely unrecognized by gamers and the media alike, feels like a backhanded slap somehow.

“This could have been us!”

The thought that “This could have been us!” just keeps nagging at me, but in the end, it was an inevitable development. Somebody was bound to do it sooner or later, particularly since the idea for the technology has been germinating in my mind for years.

In retrospect, it is clear that at the time when we first laid information about the Psycho Engine open, the public did not appreciate or understand the far-reaching impact this technology would have on gameplay, as evidenced by the fact that “Deathfire” did not find even the modest financial support we required to continue developing and completing the game.

It will be interesting for me to see how future games will evolve this technology and make even better use of it. The capabilities of a system like the Psycho Engine, or the Nemesis Feature for that matter, are endless and are only limited by the granularity of the information a game keeps track of and, perhaps, its ability to spend processing time on the proper analysis of the data. In “Deathfire” the concept was to go pretty deep. Because the game wasn’t nearly as graphics-intensive as AAA-titles, there would have been headroom to dig pretty deep into the system and make use of the Psycho Engine with insane levels of depth. Imagine the possibilities in a real role-playing game, as opposed to what you are glimpsing in an action-oriented game like “Shadow of Mordor” and you will get a sense for what “Deathfire” would have been capable of.

It will be interesting to watch what other games will be doing, but remember, no matter what anyone tells you, you saw it here first! The Psycho Engine was way ahead of the curve, even if other games now claim the laurels!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I thought I’d write today about something that has been bothering me in computer and video games for many years—decades, in fact. Exaggerated idle animations, a problem that plagues even some of the most famous of AAA games.

When was the last time your chest was heaving up and down five inches when you were standing still? Really… try to remember. Or when was the last time you saw someone standing in place with his shoulders bobbing in a constant motion? When was the last time you saw anyone outside the boxing ring stand in a pose with slightly angled knees, forever raising himself up noticeably, only to lower himself back down in an endless dance-like loop? Never, is when you’ve seen this in real life. People don’t do that, and yet it has become one of the most common, and perhaps annoying, tropes in video games.

Idle animations have their origin in the mid 80s, when graphics capabilities of home computers began to improve and with the move towards more realistic imagery, it suddenly became evident that a static sprite of a standing character just didn’t cut it anymore. It looked lifeless and had no personality whatsoever. In response to that, game developers began adding a subtle animation loop to these sprites to suggest the character is breathing. However, “subtle” in those days had a very different meaning than today. Back then a pixel was the size of a Lego brick and with limited technical capabilities, these animations became inherently larger than life. They were about as subtle as a 90-ton steam engine, but we had to make do with them, and we happily did.

But here’s what irks me. It has been 30 years since then, and technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Display resolutions have increased manifold, bringing the size of a pixel down to a mere pinprick, even on the largest of displays. With sub-pixel resolutions in the render pipeline, it is easily possible today to create even the most subtle of movements; movement that is barely hinted at, just the way natural breathing looks like in real life. And yet, video game characters are still routinely huffing worse than a long-distance runner after a 5-hour marathon.

To me it appears as if this is a clear case of “this is how we always did it, so that’s how we continue to do it.” It is strange, but the mentality we typically attribute to people in a rut suddenly makes its presence known in something as “young“ as the games industry? Well, that’s perhaps the second-largest misconception our industry has. It is no longer “young”—hasn’t been in a long time. But that’s a topic for some other time.

Quite evidently, a long time ago, someone proved that a looped idle sprite is more convincing than a static one but it would appear as if no one’s really questioned the validity of it ever since. I wonder how many game developers really spend time thinking about these pumping idle stances in terms of how much is too much. Hasn’t it just become routine to make them big and over the top, because it’s always been that way? Shouldn’t we, perhaps, take a step back some time and reevaluate not only their value but also their aesthetics?

Instead of simply duplicating the same loops we’ve used for years, perhaps animators should begin to question the practice and break the mold. It seems strange to me that the practice still continues, because other animations have matured to such a degree that they have become incredibly realistic and fluid—and yet, the pumping idling breaks your suspense of disbelief every time.

Less is often more in all of the arts and I am firmly convinced that many game characters would benefit from idle animations that were really nothing more than a bit of near-invisible breathing. Especially when you are working in a realistic world depiction it is important to remember that the idea is to give the character life, not to turn it into a spitting cartoon image of itself. And while we’re at it, this may be a good time to get rid of the body-builder idle poses as well. People take on a wide variety of poses when they stand. Take a moment during lunch, sit down in a populated place to eat and just observe.
Take a page from real life instead of simply rehashing those universal animation data from the previous character or game you’ve been working on.

Just take a few minutes to really think about idling and I am certain you could come up with a wealth of realistic-looking animations that are no harder to implement than the cycles that are currently being rehashed ad nauseam.

A character’s hair could blow in the wind if he’s outdoors. No chest heaving necessary—the flying hair alone would give him life. If he’s wearing loose clothing, fluttering clothing would add to it.

Idle animations could even be adaptive to situations in the game. If the character comes out of a battle or has been running, make the idle loop more noticeable while reducing its scale when the character is not exhausted. Find ways to let a character come to life through other means, like the fluttering clothes I mentioned, or perhaps simple huffs of condensing breath in the chilly air.

Note that none of these are fidget animations, which are usually added to break up the monotony. I am strictly referring to the underlying idling, which makes up the majority of what the player is presented with.

I truly believe it is time to challenge the status quo and do away with overly grand idle animations, and make sure the movements of a character standing still are every bit as subtle as the ones you employ or him during the rest of the game.

Your players will thank you for it, I am sure.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Rife with possibilities, %%% % % % this setting should be worth more than it is.

”The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the sense awake and revolt from it.”

Ian Fleming was hardly the first author to use a casino setting in his writing, but he is arguably the most famous. His descriptions of the Monte Carlo Casino in Casino Royale remain to be some of the best – something that writers continue to strive for to this very day.

M-Resort-Casino-Floor-4For all of the publicity that Fleming has brought to casinos, however – not to mention all their reputation as luxurious places for the rich and famous – casinos have hardly been given much notice in the world of video games. Although the world has seen an active online casino gaming industry since the launch of InterCasino in 1996, gameplay has been more or less the same. Casino games are overly simplistic, and there’s not much for players to do other than log onto their accounts and start spending money.

Games like GoldFire’s CasinoRPG have tried to take casino games down a different path, allowing for some degree of customization and socialization. But then, story lines in casino games remain to be quite limited, if not linear. And in a world of free-roam and free-world MMORPGs and games like Grand Theft Auto proving time and again that a world of limitless possibilities can be achieved, the lack of a great story sets casino games up for failure.

Today’s game development scene is unique in that Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing techniques now allow developers to produce less conventional games. Without having to worry about worldwide sales and sponsorships, independent developers are free to experiment with different combinations of genres, resulting in games like Poker Knight being developed. But rather than creating a game that has some elements of casino games integrated into its battles, why not create a game centered around a casino experience?

Developers should take Fleming’s descriptions of the experience of playing in a high-end casino as a challenge, and seek to recreate this experience in a video game. Rendering some of the best, most beautiful casinos into a 3D game, developers should be able to begin setting up the stage for some of the gaming industry’s most intense, emotional scenes. Players should be able to speak to each character in the casino and slowly get to know them, with each NPC having its own back story and personality.

Of course, the player himself should also be interesting, and not just the bland piece of cardboard that most protagonists often end up becoming. As they play along, they discover more about the character they’re controlling, and more of their quest is revealed to them.

Game developers could take things to the next level by creating a game not just set in a casino, but in a city like Las Vegas, where casinos are the star attractions. Moving from casino to casino, players can begin to make a name for themselves, all while following an engaging plot and encountering interesting characters along the way.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

As many of you know, I’ve been a game developer for most of my life, and my career in the industry goes back over 30 years. As such, I have seen trade shows come and go, and I was there when the Electronic Entertainment Expo, now universally known as E3, was first conceived as the industry’s replacement for the Chicago CES show.

Yesterday I went to the Los Angeles Convention Center to visit this year’s E3, but what greeted me was more reminiscent of a visit to Disneyland than a trade show. Let me explain…

For the past two or three years a strange trend has permeated E3, one that is unique to this particular trade show. Exhibitors would take their showcase games and no longer display them on the show floor. Instead they would isolate them in a separate room in the actual booth, allowing only a few people inside to see the game, in the course, forcing people to line up to wait their turn. SquareEnix was probably the first company to do this, years ago, to show off the latest “Final Fantasy” entry and over time other publishers adopted the practice.

Well, this year it took a turn for the extreme, because if you were visiting E3 this year, the odds are you didn’t even see half the games that were on display. Instead you saw theme-park-like waiting lines in virtually every major publisher’s booth. In fact, half the booth space of exhibitors, such as Warner Interactive, consisted of nothing but roped-off waiting lines. Take a look at this picture.

E3_1
The entire length of the booth consisted of people waiting in line to see one of Warner’s top games. Because I was curious I actually decided to get in line to take a look at “Shadow Of Mordor,” the latest “Lord of the Rings” game, waited in line for almost 30 minutes, only to find that my line was cut off four or five guys ahead of me. Unable to get into that presentation I would have had to wait another hour to see the next one! Sorry, folks but that is just ludicrous.

E3_2

Or take a look at the presentation of “Bloodborne” at the Sony booth.

E3_4
The publisher deliberately placed the screen inwards so that you could not see the presentation from the outside. How backwards is that? Do you want people to see the game or not? How hard would it have been turn the booth 180 degrees and allow people walking by to see that game. It would have resulted in tons of additional exposure, but no, it is much more important to have people line up, clutter the rest of the booth and create a traffic block. Well done, guys!

What’s even more ridiculous is that some exhibitors made people line up to even check out games that have been already released. Electronic Arts, for example, forced people to line up, just to get their hands on “Titanfall,” an action shooter that was released three months ago! EA has never been known as a company with a lot of common sense, but this certainly scraped the bottom of the barrel.

This, of course, begs the question, are publishers afraid to show you their games? Not really. The answer is actually much simpler. It is sadly as juvenile as the games most of them make.

It all has to do with the opinion most publishers have of themselves. You have people in their marketing departments whose job it is to create excitement around the games they sell, and you have the executives of these companies whose job it is to turn a profit and make the shareholders happy. When you talk to these people, they all have one thing in common: They all think the games they sell are the best in the world and that the company they work for — which strangely changes very frequently — is the most important and influential player in the industry. In short, they live in this bubble where they make themselves believe the hype they are trying to create.

If you truly believe the success of your company or the sales of your game are determined by the length of the waiting line at E3, I have one word for you: psycho-analysis. Seriously, though, it is frightening to think that publishers are so simple-minded that they believe that bigger crowding in their booth buys them karma points and intimidates their competitors. (In their own minds, I have no doubt, their own crowds will always be the biggest and their lines will always be the longest, just as their company will always be the best.)

E3_3

Therefore, a post-E3 statement at Warner Interactive, might easily sound something like this — “Did you see how long the lines were to see Mortal Kombat X? People really loved that game.”

What’s wrong with this statement? Well, first of all, it completely misses the point, because just because people stood in line doesn’t mean they actually got to see the game, let away, liked it. Since they never got to see the game and stood in line simply based on the assumption that the game might be interesting, to deduce that people liked the game is no more valid than saying that, with its lines and all, the DMV must be the epitome of a happy place.

In the real world, at a really useful trade event, the statement could have been “Did you see the crowd and how excited people were that they could finally see Mortal Kombat X?“

But that would predicate that people actually had the chance to witness the game as an openly accessible presentation in the booth, which was clearly not the case at E3. I didn’t see a single frame of Mortal Combat X, or Shadows of Mordor, or the new Batman: Arkham Asylum, or The Sims 4 and countless other games. And it frustrates me. Not only the fact that I went to a trade show to see the latest games, but also the fact that publisher truly expect me to stand in line for hours to see a video clip for single game, then leave, wait in line for an hour to see a clip of their other game, and so forth.

In their desire to appear to be the show’s hot ticket, they mistake a waiting line for actual enthusiasm. Or then again, they do not mistake it, they are fully aware of the farce, but they are so misguided that they think YOU can’t tell the difference, because the reason they really do it is because in their mind, they believe that these lines, reflect positively on them and the game you’re trying to see. Creating this barrier, the game becomes this intangible, unreachable objective that everyone has to aspire to because if the waiting lines are so long, the game has to be so cool, right.

Boy, oh boy… I saw through that gimmick in first grade when my teacher tried to use gold stars to draw better performances and behavior out of us. It is sad to see that these huge business entities allow the handling of their trade shows to stoop down to the level of first-graders. Gamers are not stupid…

E3_5

As things go in the real world that I roamed in, the real sentiment among visitors at E3 these days is that they are disgruntled because they never even had the chance to see the game. Instead of spending the time talking to colleagues about the cool games we saw, creating real word of mouth interest, conversations around E3 were often taking place about how frustrating it is to get to see anything of interest. To assume that a visitor has an endless amount of time on their hands is completely half-baked and, frankly, stuck-up. Many industry professionals have to squeeze as much in a single day as they can, and there is no room to wait in line for hours on end. Evidently, for people who are working the trade-show booths this is not an issue because to them it is one large three-day event, but for the throngs of visitors it is not.

So, in the end, exhibitors are really shooting themselves in the foot with this practice. I would have been happy to tell people about how great “The Sims 4” looks, how amazing “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” or how cool “Shadow of Mordor” seems to be, but I can’t and I won’t, because I never saw the games, and to me that is a joke. It is a sign for me that the industry has lost all perspective in its self-indulgent make-believe bubble. You either want to show off your product, or you don’t. If the latter is true, you have no place on the trade show floor, and if the number of guards, whose job it is to make sure no one’s jumping lines, outnumbers the number of presenters in your booth, you know that you definitely got something wrong.

E3 is the only trade show I’ve ever seen with this kind of practice. These are not closed door meetings, which have their value and purpose, but public displays that deliberately shun visitors to create the illusion of something special. To me, that is just backfiring. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and, quite honestly, I no longer care if “Shadow of Mordor” is any good or not. I have lost interest… good job!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Look what I found…

While I was going through materials and documents I just stumbled across this 1999 interview with GameWeek Magazine. The magazine is no longer around and folded in 2002.

It’s a bit of nostalgia and one of the interviews I like and remember most coming out of my “Planescape: Torment” era. Since many of you may never have seen this, or may not remember, I thought I’d post this little gem for you.


Click on the image for an enlarged version

It’s always fun to find little things like this one somewhere in your stash. I hope you will enjoy the read.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

If you’ve been following the development of my current game project, “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore,” you may be aware of the fact that we are currently trying to find this project on Kickstarter.

Here is a short trailer for the game, which taken from the full Kickstarter pitch video. Check it out and see if this is something you like.

So far we’ve already raised almost $40k, but it will be a long, hard way to the end, to get the full funding in place for the game, which is necessary to make the Kickstarter succeed.

Fortunately, you can help – even if you’re not into games and even if you don’t care for this one in particular perhaps. Why? Because your friends, relatives or acquaintances might be interested, and all I would ask of you is to share the good news. And to make it really easy for you, I have even prepared a couple of buttons, so that with three simple clicks, you can do a tremendously good deed and support our efforts. Just click on the link below, if you would,and my eternal thanks will be guaranteed. not to mention that your karma will go through the roof!

deathfiregame.com/ks/share/Share.html

As you may recall, “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” is a single-player party-based fantasy role-playing game that combines deep characters and solid storytelling with turn-based combat. One of the really cool things about the project is that we have a great team, consisting of people I have known and worked over the past 25 years or so. Some of our team members go back with me as far as “Shadows over Riva.” How cool is that?

It is a fun project to develop, and we’re trying to make something that truly harkens back to the traditional role-playing games of the Golden Era, when we all glued to our screens playing “Realms of Arkania,” “Wizardry,” “Might&Magic” or “Dungeon Master” and such. Creating the same kind of depth and attachment, but wrapping it in new technology and a beautiful visual presentation, we hope that “Deathfire” will truly speak to people who love classic role-playing games. After all, it’s what we know how to do best.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I know that I have been remiss on this, and I apologize, but we opened the official website for my current game project “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” a little while ago and have transferred all the Development Diary entries over there. Instead of updating both blogs constantly, I think I will stop posting these updates here and will do them on the official site instead.

In case you missed the past update, we released a series of screenshots recently, showing some of the interiors of one of the game’s dungeons. You can find the post here, complete with a bit more background information.

Today, I have also posted a new Development Diary update, talking briefly about a number of new members who have joined the “Deathfire” team recently. Make sure to stop by and check it out, because the post also sports two new screenshots showing off some of the improvements we have been working on in the past weeks, to increase the visual impact and atmosphere of our scenery in Unity.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

While venturing through the catacombs somewhere in the depths of the Ruins of Nethermore the other day, we stumbled across a strange set of notes. They seem to be coming from the pages of a diary. In fact, someone suggested, they might be a diary entry from the great elven wizard Tesselar.

Tesselar

Long and heated discussion broke out over this suggestion here in our offices, but the more we did our research, the more it became evident, that the handwriting does indeed seem to match that of the legendary Tesselar. We also discovered hints in various reports that the elusive wizard-who-walks-the-ages has been seen approaching the Nethermore Mountains some weeks past, shortly after the initial outbreak of the undead plague. Tesselar’s appearance is significant, of course, in many ways, because the wizard magister had not been seen for many years prior, and the only explanation for his presence in the Nethermore region is that he has been following the same goal as ours… to find the source and stop the horrors of the walking dead, just as these mysterious notes indicate.

You are skeptical? Well then, read for yourself…

Tesselar's Diary

Earlier today, I reached an intersection in the tunnels deep beneath the Nethermore Mountains. The stench that lay heavy in the air down here was so overpowering that my knees began to buckle. I had to lean heavily on my staff as bile rose in the back of my throat, triggered by the stench of decay and rot that surrounded me. I was wrestling with the many emotions that flooded over me at the sight that lay before me. So bizarre was it that I have to commit it to paper in detail. No part of it must be lost or forgotten. For some reason, I have a sense that what I’ve been looking at is more important than it may seem just now, and I may need to rely on my notes at some later point.

The path before me was rough. Here, deep beneath the Earth, the bedrock had chiseled its own path, the force and sheer weight of tons of granite forcing itself between the old walls of the catacombs, creating deep rifts, and cracking the overhead structures with ease. I was surrounded by silence, except for reluctant drops of water that echoed in the distance as they dripped to the ground. The soft, shimmering light from my staff struggled to penetrate the darkness before me.

The peaceful silence was deceiving, for I was surrounded by at least one dozen animal carcasses; cadavers that appeared to be clawing at each other even in the moment of death that had caught up with them no more than two days ago. Reluctantly, I stepped toward the rotting flesh, careful not to trip on the brittle ground. Wet and black from the sewage and blood, my rope was steeped up to my ankles. As I looked closer, the light of my staff revealed that these were no animals. At least not ordinary animals. Their rat-like bodies were decidedly humanoid and must have been at least as tall as a man. The cadavers were clad in armor and carried weapons, as far as I could tell from their shredded remains.

As my gaze roved across the floor I noticed another dead creature among them. Amongst the rat-like warriors lay slender, insect-like body parts, their severed heads staring at me with dully facetted, expressionless black eyes. What a massacre… what rage… not a single victim that was left intact.

But then, from the corner of my eyes I noticed a single rat, somewhat separated from the others. Lying partially obscured in the shadows, this one was not humanoid, but instead it was enormous… easily the size of a fully grown Worg. The animal had deep cuts on its head and hideous lacerations along its flanks – wounds far beyond anything that healing powers could salvage, and yet, a last dying spark of life was still glimmering in the eyes of this animal.

I took another step closer and slowly reached out my hand. I could sense the animal’s wealth of emotions. This was clearly no ordinary animal. Its sense of sadness swept over me, so profound that it threatened to bring tears to my eyes. I felt its exhaustion from the battle and the deathly wounds. It was intelligent… comparable to the mind of a child, perhaps, but intelligent nonetheless. And it was dreaming… the feverish hallucinations of a life dwindling away with every heartbeat.

I had to know what had happened here! Especially in light of the fact that I have to continue on this path through these very catacombs. I gently place my hand on the animal’s matted fur, right between its dimming eyes. Only barely did I register the saddle on the animal’s back at that point, because already, its confused memories that wound their way through its dying mind began to appear before my own mind’s eye.

Rat

Giant rats were battling in the ruined halls of some ancient temple. Side by side with their humanoid, armor-clad brethren, the giant rats fought with the desperate ferocity of cornered animals, as wave after wave of their opponents broke upon them. Humans! The images I saw were blurred and out of focus, and I felt the animal was passing quickly now, its heartbeat already slowing to a crawl. Among the carnage I witnessed an opponent’s torso being ripped to pieces, its human body crashing lifelessly to the ground. As it lay there in rivulets of crimson blood, it began to regenerate itself and the corpse rose yet again to continue the fight. As more and more rats fell, the odds became overwhelming, and before this horde of relentless, undead warriors, the surviving rats eventually fled into bottomless pits and uncharted sewer channels to escape the bloodshed.

That is where it all started, I realized! The undead flood. The walking dead. The ancient temple ruins. This is where I will have to go!

Another image appeared before my mind’s eye just then, of another battleground. Dank cave tunnels this time. The rats were tangled up in fighting yet again, only this time without their humanoid brethren by their sides. An emotion came with the vision of the battle scene, a different sensation… hunger. The rats were starving. I witnessed as flitting images of eggs danced before my eyes. Food for the rats, much of the shells cracked and empty. Food aplenty. And there were flashes of weapons! Guards! A number of insectoid creatures, heavily armored in their chitin shells, were pummeling the rats, slowly driving them back, away from the eggs. A froth of saliva shot from the insect creatures’ mouths like projectiles, as they poisoned the rats, paralyzing them and finally capturing them as they lay helplessly on the floor.

As I tried to piece together the fragmented vision that had spun through my mind, it appeared to me that the rats must have been pillaging an insectoid nest for food, when they were surprised by guards defending the nesting grounds.

The rat twitched under my touch, as its heartbeat became irregular. A last series of images flashed before me. The giant rat was fighting once again, but a strange red color tinges everything this time. I recognized the surroundings, the fight was taking place right where I stood… in these primordial catacombs… this very place… but there was more. In horror I observed that the rat was fighting its own humanoid brethren! Movement in the corner of my vision caught my attention and I was able to see her companions, fellow giant rats with fiercely glowing red eyes. Rats with saddles fastened on their backs, carrying the chitin monsters as they sliced the wooden pole arms of the humanoid rats with razor sharp claws. The humanoid rats were fighting back with a vengeance, but their expressions were unmistakable. They were horrified and stunned by the fact that they were facing their own kin in battle.

Insectoids fell dead from their saddled thrones in the slaughter, but driven by some emotionless impetus, the giant rats continued to fight their own brethren tooth and nail. With sharp claws they pulled the humanoid rats to the ground, then ripped their throats with blood-stained teeth. All the while, their brethren fought back vehemently, piercing their attackers’ lungs and stabbing them to death with daggers made from bones. The massacre ended when all humanoid rats lay dead, when most of the chitin monsters had ceased to breathe. The few who lived moved on, down the tunnel to nurse their wounds. Only this lone rat remained, dying…

When the last of its life ebbed from the rat’s body and its skull slowly grew cold under my touch, the enormity of what I had just witnessed jerked me back to my senses. The path that lies ahead of me had just become a whole lot more challenging, for now I know that there is not only the plague of the undead to deal with. The dark tunnels ahead of me hold promise of a violent conflict between two different races. A conflict I do not wish to be dragged into. But I realize that, in time, my hand will be forced and I will have to choose. But what choice will it be?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A few weeks ago we ran a small focus group among Deathfire fans, as you may remember. Many of you have been eager to hear about the results of this focus group and as I had promised, %%% % % % today I want to share with you a closer look at the outcome.

The focus group was designed to help us find a final name for the game. Deathfire has always been a spur-of-the-moment kind of name that we used as a project title for lack of a better alternative. In the time leading up to the focus group, we made lists of other titles that we liked, and began whittling them down. We voted over and over again to slim down the selections, and to get something that we felt represented the game the best.

Then we put together a series of questions that would allow us to gauge people’s response to certain keywords and names we had on our ultimate shortlist. And that is how we entered the focus group…

We asked people to give us impressions on titles such as Deathfire, Nethermancer, Endergast, Realms of the Beyond and Ruins of Nethermore without giving them any explanation what these words might mean in the context of a game. We simply wanted to get people’s reactions and thoughts on those words. The responses were very interesting and, in many ways, reflected our own impressions. But there were also some interesting and unexpected trends evident. For many, for example, “Deathfire” indicated a game that did not sound like a role-playing game at all. We had not expected that, but what was uniquely striking was the fact that almost everyone associated this particular title with an action-oriented game.

In the case of “Nethermancer” many of the participants felt the dark vibe this title gave off. Although many did not know exactly what a Nethermancer is, everyone understood that this is about very dark magic, automatically implying that magic would be the main focus of the game.

“Endergast” was an interesting one. It is the name of one of the villains in the game and we felt the name simply has a certain ring, even if it did not have a meaning per se. Most of the participants did not know what to make of it and responses were all over the place, as people drew from names that were familiar to them and remotely reminded them of the name. This often resulted in associations that had absolutely nothing to do with the game we are actually trying to make.

“Realms of the Beyond” also created associations that went beyond what we are making with the game, obviously giving participants an impression of a plane walker who travels different universes. In addition, it gave participants a sense of an epic adventure, of many worlds and mystical realms to be explored. Not quite what our game is, altogether.

The last option we explored was “Ruins of Nethermore” and, much as expected, it instantly created a classic RPG vibe with most participants. However, exact details fell into two ranks, essentially. One group consistently commented that they would expect a traditional dungeon crawler when they heard of a game with such a title, while the other group referred almost in unison about a mysterious city, lost civilizations and cultures, curses, magic wars and undead remnants. While neither exactly hit the nerve of what we’re doing – “Deathfire” is neither a mere dungeon crawler, nor does it truly explore lost civilizations – it was clear that it definitely hit the traditional fantasy role-playing mark.

At this point the participants still did not know, exactly what these terms/titles meant, so we took them to a poll where we asked them to grade a list of titles. This would give us a base line and also an indication how “popular” certain titles were, regardless of how they relate to the game. Participants had to assign a grade to each of ten titles. Each grade was unique so it was not possible to have multiple favorites. We really wanted participants to commit to which title they liked better than the others.

The titles in question were once again “Deathfire,” “Nethermancer,” “Endergast,” “Realms of the Beyond” and “Ruins of Nethermore,” along with “Neothera,” “The Beyonder,” “Flames of Nithera,” “Bones of Endergast” or any title of their own creation, which they were allowed to write in.

The results were stunning. Honestly. We were glued to our screens in fascination as we watched the results come in. I don’t want to go into too many nitpicky details, but it was clear that there were a few titles our participants were simply rejecting. “Endergast,” “Bones of Endergast, and “The Beyonder” were titles that received universally low ratings, whereas most of the others were a mixed bag. As expected from the comments before, “Ruins of Nethermore” received high grades, as did “Realms of the Beyond,” surprisingly.

Then came the moment of truth. We explained to our participants what all these names and terms meant, and let them grade all the titles once more. With a new understanding of the terms we expected some change in how people would rate the titles, but to our surprise, it became a completely new ball game!

The opinions became much more polarized. Suddenly people either loved or hated a title. A lot of the middle muddle was gone and people now had real opinions. For us that was great news. When looking over the graphs that we made from the grades, we could now instantly eliminate titles such as “Endergast” or “The Beyonder” from our list. They simply did not jive with people. “Neothera” and “Realms of the Beyond” suddenly had a big hump in the center, meaning virtually everyone was ambivalent about them, and “Flames of Nithera” did not fare much better.

But there were also clear winners, and one was “Ruins of Nethermore.” Not quite unexpected after the feedback we had received in the first round. “Nethermancer” suddenly became much more popular as well, but the ratings indicated that people were truly polarized over this. The grades for this title were either really high or really low.

The biggest surprise for us, however, was that suddenly “Deathfire” had become one of the favorites. With very few low grades, a clearly visible uptrend and a solid number of really high grades, the title “Deathfire” had, in fact, become one of the fan favorites.

For us this was every bit as satisfying as it was surprising. For months posters in various RPG forums had been ranting against the title, and the constant dissent over the name had truly raised concern in us. However, if the focus group has shown us anything, it is that one of the key reasons why people do not seem to like the title “Deathfire” is that they do not know what it means. The numbers clearly showed us that once we had explained to everyone that it is the name of a horrific, outlawed spell, suddenly people took a liking to it. And strongly so.

Overall it was very interesting to observe how a little bit of additional information created a real bias within participants, how middle-of-the-road undecidedness became opinion that people expressed. The comments that came with the re-rating of the title, clearly showed that now people felt quite strongly about the names, and in the feedback section that concluded our focus group, it became evident even more so how people felt about the title of the game.

I should also point out that there were some pretty good naming suggestions coming in as well in the “Suggest your own name” part of the grading. One or two of them we really took into consideration but ultimately felt they did not represent the game well enough.

So, where does all of this leave us? Well, with the game’s final title. After reading and interpreting all the result and after taking all those comments and advice to heart, we decided to call the game “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore.”

Logo

We decided to use a two-part name for a number of reasons. For one, it gives the game a more epic scope, indicating that it may be part of a series. While we do not have exact plans for future sequels of the game, there certainly is the possibility, depending on the game’s overall success.

The other reason we decided to use this two-part name was that it allows us to reflect the different aspects of the game. “Deathfire” is the part of the title that suggests a dynamic game, filled with combat and dark powers, while “Ruins of Nethermore” clearly plays up the traditional aspects of the game with a title that conjures up associations with classic computer and pen&paper role playing games.

As you can see from above, we also have a brand new logo for the game. It is a logo that we spent a lot of time tweaking and fine-tuning – and when I say “a lot,” I mean really, A LOT. We feel it nicely incorporates all the elements we think are important to understanding the game, while also having the power to stand on its own, representing the game we are making.

We hope you like the new title and the logo as much as we did and would certainly love to hear your comments, so don’t be shy and let us know.


With nailing down the name and the logo out of the way, now is the time for us to brand the game properly. This means, we need to get the word out into the world big time. And for that we would like to recruit your help once again. Help us spread the word about “Ruins of Nethermore” or “Deathfire,” whichever way you prefer to call the game now. Tweet it up, share the news with your friends, post the logo on your Facebook wall or your blog… just get active and help us tell the world about this exciting project we’re working on.

South Park / SpartacusTo make the deal a little sweeter for you, I’ll be giving away some movies again this time, among all those who help us get the word out. I will be giving away a copy of “South Park: Season 15” to one lucky winner, and a copy of “Spartacus: Season 2” to another lucky winner.

Interested? Well, just make sure you collect entries for the give-away below, and don’t forget, you can obtain more entries every single day for the duration of the give-away, simply by tweeting about Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore. So, now, go out there and post the hell out of it. Spread the logo and the name all over the world!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I recently did a lengthy podcast interview the great folks over at Darkstation and I thought I’d let you all know that the podcast is now live on their site in the “Darkcast” section.

Darkstation Logo

The podcast has the title Making Zombies with Fire and covers a lot of ground. Not only did we talk about my current game project, Deathfire, but also about some of the games and projects I’ve worked before, including a brief discourse into my literary forays with the Jason Dark dime novels.

Interestingly, the discussion also revolved around things such as general game design philosophies and how my approach has changed over the years, as well as other very interesting topics that fans of my games may find interesting. So, waste no more time. Head over to the Darkstation Darkcast and listen for yourself.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail