Wednesday, December 9, 2009


There aren't enough games that favor joystick controls. Sure, some games support them but. . . Hm.
I look at the games on my list of game ideas to develop and there aren't many joystick games there either. Something to think about!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ven Cluster: Black Ops - The Porpoise Engine

I think the first thing I'm going to do here is to deconstruct the Porpoise Engine, as it lies at the heart of Ven Cluster: Black Ops, and hopefully many of the other games I will develop.

The first question to answer is: What is the Porpoise Engine?

The Porpoise Engine is a procedural content generator that creates a story for the player on the fly, as they play. Sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it? It's not really that impressive, actually, it's just a blend of two completely unoriginal ideas - but I've not seen anything like it done before.

To provide a sense of context, let's talk about just what the story is, in VCBO. In the game, the story is that of Noble Houses in a space empire (The Ven Cluster) jockeying for the throne and positions of Imperial Favor. The player figures into this space empire as a mercenary brokerage firm of spies and other kinds of secret agents, from couriers to assassins. Therefore, the player plays a central role in this kind of jockeying, as Houses do all kinds of behind-the-scenes work so as to look relatively peaceful on the surface, for the Emperor. A good frame of reference for this (and one of the leading inspirations for this game) would be Frank Herbert's Dune universe. The story is shown to the player in multiple ways such as a news reports and in-game mail that the player can read, in addition to a diary that chronicles their career.

So the story is, in essence, what the Houses ask the player to do, what of all they ask that the player does, and the results upon the Empire. 

The next question is: What is the procedural content?

Procedural content is a buzzword, and a misleading one at that. The fancy way to describe procedural content is "code that writes code". While that is literally true, that seems to describe a computer as a thinking device, when of course computers can't think. What procedural content is, is a set of options that the computer will randomly choose among, given a set of rules. Procedural content has been around for a long time in computer games, from Hack and Rogue-likes, to the random levels of Diablo, and so on. It's basically just a way to create something random - that makes sense - out of a few smaller parts. What this means in the context of "procedural story generation" in VCBO is that the Porpoise Engine randomly chooses missions to assign the player. Much more simple, huh?

But wait just a minute. I said that the Porpoise Engine takes in TWO unoriginal ideas. So what's the second? 

The second is a slightly newer idea - but not by much. It's a 'faction' system, something like what you can see in any 4x game such as Master of Orion, Galactic Civilizations I & II, Civilization, and even other games like Freelancer. How the Porpoise Engine uses this faction system is as a set of rules of how to assign the missions - so that a Noble House of the Empire will ask the player to assassinate someone at a rival House, or perhaps a minor noble of one House will carry on a secretive romance with a noble at another House in a Romeo & Juliet type storyline, or a House on good terms with another House might ask the player to quietly assess the other House's usefulness to them, or ask them to courier a treaty, and so on. . . There are seventeen mission types that a House can ask a player to perform, so results will be greatly varied.

In result, the Porpoise Engine takes in the player's results and choices from what missions they accept and succeed at (and perhaps aim blame at with!) and uses that to change the universe that the player is playing in and offer them different choices to further their story.

But wait, there's more!

The Porpoise Engine also incorporates a "random event" generator to reinforce the idea of a persistent universe where things happen - and the player isn't god, just another force in the Empire.

And there's even more!

The Porpoise Engine also tracks short term trends for the player - for instance, a series of offensive attacks upon a single star system by the player probably results in a star system takeover by one House over another. Facilitating a Romeo & Juliet romance and then assassinating the leaders of those Houses probably results in an alliance between those two formerly rival Houses.

Add into this mix that each of the agents that the player can hire and use is unique and has their own storyline to play out, and VCBO really does have a different story every time you play it.

As you can see, it uses these two simple ideas - randomized content and faction influence - to quickly create something complex. The tricky part of it for a solo indie developer like me will be to write enough parts that can be pseudo-randomly generated so as to be engaging and not repetitive.

Lastly, why does the Porpoise Engine have it's own name? Well, I intend it to be a piece of reusable code - as you can see from reading the above, it's a pretty complex engine - and I think it's highly reusable.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ven Cluster: Black Ops - Dev Announcement

I've started my next project, titled "Ven Cluster: Black Ops" which is possibly more of a mouthful than it needs to be. It will be freeware, with a tentative release date of late February/Early March.

The first of a series of games to take place in the Ven Cluster, VCBO is a turn-based strategy game with action sequences, in which you will be able to direct a mercenary company of "Black Operations" specialists through the Ven Cluster Star Empire, working for the noble Houses of the Empire.

Features include:
  • Gameplay takes place over 29 star systems and inside the Emperor's Court!

  • The revolutionary new Porpoise engine, which procedurally generates a new story each time you play!

  • 19 different types of missions to embark upon!

  • 40 playable characters, each with their own stories, goals, and special missions!

  • Court intrigues between noble houses for you to meddle in, from secretive, hidden romances to cruel assassinations!

  • Continuity between games - help one noble become Emperor in one game and overthrow him in the next!

  • Unlockable character backgrounds to allow a new beginning each time you play!

Over the next few months as I create the game, I'll detail each feature and the design of the game each week here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Star Tumbler

Star Tumbler

Synopsis: Star Tumbler is a puzzle-action game, with perfect information, no random elements, and “emergent difficulty”. It is also a single-button game. Achieve bronze, silver, and gold stars by beating the time!


Edit: Updated to fix crash errors on Nov 22/2009 - If you got the previous version, please redownload

Can you get under 1 minute on level 30?

Star Tumbler

Goals: The purpose of this game was to test out an idea of “emergent difficulty”. By emergent difficulty, I mean that the game gets as hard as the player wants it, and increases as the player plays.

Result: I'm somewhat satisfied. Star Tumbler does do what my goals intended, but I had imagined it to be more chaotic. It could be more chaotic if it were faster, but I'm not sure that's a direction I wanted to take this game.

Further Thoughts: I think there's a lot more I could've done with this game, and ideas I scrapped. If I come back and make a sequel, I'll be including things like tubes that change the star's speed and other level configurations.