The Horns is a game I started writing - much like Spellrazor - when I felt a little discouraged by progress in BeMuse/Wardenclyffe. What began as a two-week fun project turned into 9 months of the most intense writing I've ever done. I'm also particularly pleased with how the soundtrack turned out.
The game is now available on iOS, with free versions on GameJolt and Itch.io. More details are here on the main game page, together with links to the game itself.
I'm now back making The Project That Will Not Die, when I'm not thinking about other fun things to do!
Let's See What's Out There...
So, I said I'd do this a long time ago and never did. This game has been a weird, squidgy, hard-to-grasp thing for far too long, and getting something out at some point seems necessary to get the darned thing to 'bake'.
Here it is:
It's not a finished game. It's barely begun, really, but I wanted to see if anyone else out there likes the world and the mood, because those things are what I live and breathe for.
Things to be aware of:
- Unity seems to have munged the keyboard controls on some PCs, making movement feel... weighty. This is odd, and wrong.
- The world is not finished. It is far more blank a canvas than it should be right now.
- The Book is too wordy. The intent is for it to become 100% visual.
If you like where this is going, let me know. If you don't, you can let me know, too.
I'm going to take a 'game jam' break from this game for a little bit in order to get a clearer view on what needs to be done with it.
In the meantime, I hope the little cottage fire keeps you warm, and you enjoy the music.
Why Are You Doing This?
My shaders for Wardenclyffe/BeMuse haven't compiled yet. Some of them are really big. As such, I could twiddle my thumbs, or be angry at some bigots on the internet. Instead, I thought that I'd write an opinionated little piece on Fable, what makes it special to me, and what I'd like to see persist in some form if/when a new version is made.
For those who didn't know, I was one of the blokes who started Fable back when it was 'Project Ego', so I've lived in Albion for quite some time. As such, here are my musings, in no particular order:
1) Keep the Charm & Keep it British
Fable was a peculiar game. People may talk about the NPC interaction, the combat, not planting acorns, and the total lack of any challenge, but none of these gave players warm and fuzzies in their tender parts. For that, one needs to realize that we crafted the world's first 'Walking Simulator With a Bit More To Do'.
That lack of challenge gave players the opportunity to wander around aimlessly, absorbing the waving grass, exotic locales, ambient chatter of witless country-folk, permanently moody palette, and Russ's magnificent score, while also casually decapitating chavs holding Stanley knives.
Oh, and if you got that joke then you'll understand the other part of this little screed: keep it British. No, I don't mean the curtain-twitching, finger-pointing, racism-laden-toxic-wasteland of Brexit Britain (or 'Poundland'). I mean something closer to the idyll evoked by the lovely 2012 Olympic ceremony. Admittedly, if we won the Olympics today we'd just have a swarthy-looking wicker man burning in a field.
Britain is filled with a rich variety of folk-customs, dialects and casual violence. Keep that.
2) Folk Tales, Ghost Stories and Weird Fiction, Not Fantasy
Fable was called Fable for a reason: we didn't think Folklore or Folktale were good titles. But, if we could have called it one of those we probably would have.
I read way too much Fantasy (with a capital 'F') in my early years. After a few years all the back-of-the-book blurb started to blur into a melange of similar-sounding nonsense:
"The Wielder of the Dwar'K'N'Giiin must push back the Squigaaar in a desperate attempt to Qwerty the Uiop! Only through gathering his trusty band of violent bigots can he..." etc.
Writers: nobody believes that - in a world where everyone speaks English the entire time - you have things named Dwar'K'N'Giiin. It sounds like someone responding to the question "What's that place over there?" while on an exceedingly large dose of DMT. Do you know the Hebrew for Holy Grail? No. See my point? No? Ah. Well. Um. Think about it.
Fable's influences were Jim Henson's 'The Storyteller', 'The Princess Bride', 'Labyrinth', 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' and 'Legend', as well as a large dose of Terry Pratchett, Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft. You'll notice a distinct lack of traditional Fantasy authors there.
So, if you're making Fable, you're making a Fable, and not High Fantasy. Other people are doing that exceedingly well already and it's probably unwise to assume Fable's audience is exactly the same. It isn't.
3) No Orcs Please. No, Really.
This one is particularly important to me. No orcs. Please. No bloody orcs. Or elves. Or anything else from Tolkien. Why? Because they are trite... oh, and they're Tolkien's.
Note that I didn't write "Please don't use Imperial Stormtroopers or Dementors". People would say: "Huh? Why would you put those in Fable?" Yes! Exactly! They belong to someone else! Why would we add them? Because we are lazy? Inspirationally bankrupt? We wish to bait sizable legal teams? Actually, those are three very good reasons.
In addition, Fable's monsters were monsters, not cultures.
- Hobbes were twisted children, fed unspeakable meat in the dark.
- Hollow men were the tortured souls of the dead, wandering the world animating nearby corpses.
- Balverines were my inability to read a street sign in Wandsworth (no, really). And sort of werewolves.
But why is this important? Well, if you're making monsters so they can be pummeled with a frying-pan, it's probably a good idea not to just make them exotic, inscrutable foreigners. As soon as you make your monsters a people or race with their own civilization, language and values you put the player in the tricky position of being an imperialist with a deadly weapon and a silly hat. A bit like the British were for most of the 19th century.
So. No. Orcs.
4) Keep Things Vague - It's More Realistic
A lot of High Fantasy makes the weird assumption that lore is fixed, known and historically accurate.
"In the third age of Kranbaroon, 3 kings set out..."
"Hang on. Where are you getting this from, Mr Farmer?"
"I... um... I read it in a book."
"Really? So there's widespread literacy in this world, is there?"
"Um. There was a school in Bowers..."
"And you remembered all this stuff about what happened 3000 years ago from school"
"You were 5. You're now 50. Really? I don't believe you."
"Um. Arrrr? Oim a farrrrmerrrrr"
The assumption that anyone in the world knows what happened all that time ago with any accuracy is nonsensical. So, don't give your NPCs an encyclopedic knowledge of the world. In fact, you probably shouldn't give pre-industrial people books at all. We all know that leads to revolution.
Keeping things vague also means your monsters are more mysterious:
"I don't know! I'm scared!"
...is far better than...
"It's a Squigar Hatchling. Level 6 by the looks of it!"
If you take care, your lovely fans will have spaces they can fill with 'reckons'. Plus, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation and embarrassment all round. And how British is that? Very British. See, I added an extra sentence to undermine the joke. Because that's funny. Which leads me to the trickiest point.
5) Don't Take Yourself (Or Humour) Too Seriously
Albion is a silly place. It is full of silly people. But, we didn't set out to make a 'comedy' game, which is why there are very few actual jokes. There are plenty of nods and sniggers into the palm of the hand, but not jokes or punchlines. This is important:
If you make a game designed to be a comedy, you need to be funny at all times or else you are failing.
It's the difference between being a professional stand-up comic and an amusing wit at a party.
One is tortured, drinks too much and wants to die when their audience isn't as good as the previous night... and the other is the comedian.
No, wait. See - that's exactly my point. I decided to turn that into a joke and ruined everything.
Don't do that. With any luck, it's not necessary as your staff are silly enough already.
I don't know for sure if a Fable game is being made somewhere out there. I would very much like to play one without knowing everything about it, tutting my way through thinking "Oooh. We probably should have fixed that."
I hope this mini-screed is received in the spirit with which it was written. In a tooth-grinding frenzy of semi-literate rage while pointing angrily at eggs on Twitter.
See that's also a joke... oh, I give up.
This week has been a preparation for the imminent 'Playable Teaser' version of Wardenclyffe.
No, I'm not joking.
I know it's been a long time.
I have friends playing it and discovering the stupid bugs that only appear when you let someone else play around with your stuff. Yay.
This summer, my wife played my game for a few moments and said:
"Why the hell are you doing this on mobile. That's is stupid."
So, in grand Fluttermind-ey tradition... I... um... rewrote a vast amount of stuff, and made the game a free-roaming, 'bigger' thing than it was before.
BUT! Before you batter your foreheads to jelly with frustration, the good news is that it means I'm actually able to do the thing I wanted right at the beginning, the thing that people have been bugging me for since, ooh, 2013. I can now put out a testbed you can all play with. Soon. Major bugs notwithstanding, in the next week or so.
It's not going to be a finished game, or even much of a game. Most of the rituals I've put together need more work, so there's a lot to be done. But the important thing - getting people to move around my new world and perhaps speculate as to what might be coming - that's entirely possible, and really, really soon.
Speaking in Public
Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about public-speaking. While I am a reasonable practitioner, the level of discomfort and self-doubt it elicits rather stifles any benefits the exercise might produce. So, by and large, I don't do it.
Nevertheless, I was asked to speak at this year's GDC, and after attempting to offer a witty diatribe on my own particular hobby-horse (how to revivify magic in games) and receiving some raised eyebrows, a certain GDC spokesperson convinced me this was far too esoteric a subject for someone who has been in the industry for so long, and has yet spoken so rarely about any aspect of it.
Thus, on Tuesday 28th of February, I shall be giving this lecture in room 2009, at 1:20pm:
I'll be doing it in public. Where there are cameras. May the Goddess be kind and save me from both an untimely embolism and renal failure, live on stage.
Imposter Syndrome vs. Dunning Kruger
People familiar with Impostor Syndrome are familiar with its general effect: the feeling that somehow, somewhere, someone is is going to point out and correctly identify you as a phony, because they suddenly realize (quite accurately) of course, that you're not an embodiment of physical or intellectual perfection.
Dunning-Kruger on the other hand is that strange over-confidence granted to the terminally ignorant - those so ignorant that they have no concept of quite how high their ignorance is on the ignorance scale (which runs from 'Trump' at the highest to 'Hitchens').
How do you work out where to sit on this continuum? At one end, you risk crippling inactivity. On the other, unwarranted braggadocio. And of course, neither is truth, and even if it were, it would be a mutable truth, constantly in flux and flow. I think accepting this muddiness is ultimately the most useful thing to do. Or to ignore it. That works, too.
Either way, I think it's best to understand that one is imperfect, and to simultaneously go out into the world and do something that at the very least least allows time to note your passing.
Wardenclyffe (formerly BeMuse)
BeMuse is no more. Long Live Wardenclyffe!
Same project, though. As ever - I'm regretting ever making this a 3D game. While it does wonders for the visuals (sometimes) and grants me the opportunity for a novel control interface (you can rotate any scene 360 degrees), it also makes things many times more difficult.
The good news is that I now have the Book mechanism in the game, several demons, rituals work, and so on. The bad news is that I'm not happy with the general 'adventure' flow, and need to go back and revise several elements. Making an adventure game (open room, use the 'Quigar' on the 'Woozle', open new room, repeat) is not really natural to me.
When I began this game, the intention was to make it 'a pleasant walk', like Proteus, with an open world, seemingly nothing to do, and many secrets learned while you ambled around.
The problem this poses is that it sets the primary action for the game as 'do nothing'. It turns out I'm not very good at this, as it shifts the game into a 100% experiential mode which makes me deeply uncomfortable. It's also very boring for those who don't 'get' what you're trying to do.
As a result, the game has grown increasingly 'Adventurey'... which solves certain problems while causing others.
Adventure games avoid 'Death By Meandering Boredom' by gating sections. This provides a tension ('how do I get that wheel to turn?') and resolution ('use the oil to remove all rust... unlike real oil'), which is relatively satisfying, but frequently errs into absurdity ('how come I can't use the tire iron to open this door, but I can use a piece of broken pipe' and 'why did that item disappear from my inventory... oh, I guess I never need it again').
Items in Wardenclyffe don't have that weird impermanence. They are multi-functioning, and remain in your inventory unless you use or burn them or Demons do something nasty. If they are lost, they are all re-fillable in some way or other.
Ultimately, though, an 'adventure' game is all about gating flow, and so more of Wardenclyffe's island content is gated than I had originally intended. This works to some extent (a newcomer won't be wondering what the hell to do next, as they are corralled a little more than they were), but I feel that this direction suggests the game is more traditional than intended, and may confuse people ('Hey, what the hell is up with all this ritual magic weirdness? I just want to put oil on rusty wheels!').
Anyhow, I digress. I am currently re-jigging the adventure's order a little, and once that is clarified, I shall continue with my efforts to get this little horror out in a timely manner.
As anyone who knows me will attest, as an artist I have a thing about bunnies. For Lynch it was 'the eye of the duck'. For me, it's twitchy noses and floppy ears. Don't ask me why - I have no idea. Some years ago, I made this piece for my wife, Kara.
It's fairly minimalist, which, for me is critical as I'm an indifferent artist and if I add too many elements, my amateurishness reveals itself like a weird uncle at a children's birthday party.
Speaking of weird, I also discovered this cryptozoological oddity some years ago.
I have no idea why anyone created this. Is it meant to be scary? Funny? What? No idea. Regardless, it's an image that seems to creep into my mind and sit there like an earwig determined to live up to an urban legend.
Some years ago on a visit to San Francisco, I put a coin into a plastic-egg-with-toy vending machine and received a weird plastic rabbit with horns. For some reason it terrified me and I actually had to get rid of it because its strangely impassive eyes and antlered visage seemed more aligned with the infernal than with childhood joy. Nevertheless, horned bunnies have made their impression upon me, like... no I'll spare you more poor similes.
Regal Street Art
In a non-bunny turn of events, I discovered the street artist 'Koralie' in 2009, thanks to the lovely book Pictoplasma. A lot of her work is like this.
For me, there's something wonderfully noble and goddess-like to these images. Her figures are usually in a posture of quiet contemplation, which lends them a calm majesty. When I saw this, I immediately... thought about a bunny variant. Yes, I know, it's a problem. I have pills and they help sometimes.
All these odd bits and pieces finally amalgamated into a bunny-demon thing. It's sat in my head since I started this project years ago. She's finally in the game. Her name is Felorn. This is the waterfall area, where she lives. I hope you like her. She has a key role to play in the game.
All Things Groovy!
Nope. That's not me. I've never been described as such. I also don't live in 1965, so it's not such an impediment to my self-esteem. What *is* groovy is that lots of progress has been made. Movement between regions is working (if a little clunky), the Book is in (and working), and some Demon presentation work has been done (but nowhere near ready to look at just yet.
So, without further ado, I offer a couple of movies to show how things are going. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll get back to you.
That's all for now. I'm not going to show many more environments as I don't want to spoil the game. Next week is dedicated to refining the Demon summoning. It's horribly complicated and requires a lot of cinematic stuff I find a challenge. Wish me luck!
For once, I'm not being figurative. I've spent the last two weeks in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. More accurately, I've spent that time in a car going through those places while staring out of a window. It was very picturesque. And hot. And frequently horribly vertiginous.
While I was away (it may have been while I was fearfully clinging to a tree by the Grand Canyon), I was informed that Spellrazor was Greenlit. This was a considerable surprise to me, as I had assumed the game had pretty much all the attention it was going to get. I actually said, "Huh...?"
This is my first Steam game, which is quite exciting, and it means I get to make a brief return to the world of Spellrazor - not for long, but for long enough to ensure that people who find it on Steam feel it's worthwhile. There are some annoying bugs to fix, and a bunch of integration work before I can call it properly 'ready for launch'.
I'm considering making it free... or $10 at most, just to cover my accountancy costs.
In addition, I have a couple of nice ideas that won't take long to implement which will make the game a little more special for the Steam release. More on that as it is implemented.
What About BeMuse?
BeMuse is still going strong. I've was adding the cottage interior today, up until I got the news that Spellrazor's page was ready to be set up. So, bear with me - BeMuse will be back to full-swing pretty soon.
As a final thing, I plan to try and sort out a GDC Indie Summit talk for GDC 2017. I was planning to do something based on my 'Black Boxes' post a while back, but if anyone thinks there's anything they'd like to hear covered, let me know.
For now, have a good weekend, and I hope to see you on Steam at some point!
What the Hell, Dude? What the hell
To those of you hoping for BeMuse and then smacking your head into a desk with frustration at news of delays or subsequent game-shelving, this blog is for you.
I shelved BeMuse to gain a fresh insight into the game, and to fulfill a small ambition I had to make a creepy, mythos-filled game I'd have loved to see in an arcade back in the '80s (that game was Spellrazor - it's free, so go and download it and see how far down the rabbit hole you can go).
With that past, I took the opportunity to rethink a bunch of things, alter the look, simplify my workflow and so on. I'll quickly run through bits of the process and where they led, and how I got to here. Which is a good place.
Here are the things that went wrong:
- Choosing the wrong technology, with an unclear platform
- A muddle of ideas
- Stubborn insistence on an 'unknowable' magic system.
Tails Wagging Dogs
BeMuse began life as an iPad game. I wanted controls to be simple, but I wanted the game to be in 3D. I really didn't want to create another puzzle-platformer, but I also didn't want it to be top-down, and really didn't want a virtual joystick on screen. As such, I got obsessed with a weird spline-based movement/navigation/rendering system that allowed the player to move in 3D using simple 2D controls.
It led to weird, worm-like landscapes that all looked the same. It led to clunky, unpleasant movement when you moved from one spline to another. It forced interactive elements of the game to be spaced out in order not to interfere with the generated geometry. This meant that it took ages to move from one place to another, which meant speeding up the character, which then made the game feel weirdly hyperactive... which it wasn't.
At the same time, I wasn't totally sure whether the game was primarily going to be on Steam, or the App Store, so I'd solve the problem by adding joystick/keyboard support... and then have to ensure the play experience was the same with a touch screen.
Finally, I lacked any 3D skills. As such, I flip-flopped between platforms, 2D and bits of 3D, making headway in, then hitting a wall, re-routing and then doing the same thing from a different direction. This flip-flopping cost me months. Worse than that, it constantly hid the other issues getting in the way of the gameplay.
Over the last couple of years, I've made about 4 different versions of BeMuse. I made a simple boardgame. I made the weird spline-based PC game. I made a text-based skeleton on an iPad, using the amazing Codea. I made a hybrid of the wormy and iPad-ey game using the same tech I originally created.
They all sucked. In different ways.
The one that sucked least was the text-based iPad game. Although it looked exceedingly primitive, and was brutally hard, it got the idea across enough for people to decide they liked it. At least for a while.
This was mostly due to the fact that the text allowed me to focus on getting the right messages across to my players without having to re-write shaders for the gazillionth time.
I have quite strong thoughts about magic in games. By and large, I hate it. I think it's usually just a convoluted way to introduce guns, or modify movement (Jeff Howard writes about this in his excellent book, here).
George R.R. Martin once said that once magic becomes a force that can be manipulated with any reliability, it becomes science. I feel it's even worse in games, where we're always at pains to make sure people understand *everything* so they can use everything as a tool. For me, this destroys the joy and mystery of magic.
A complex interface for doing something simple isn't magical. It's annoying (see Black and White). A good magic system should give you a basic shape or set of rules, and then allow you to explore them and understand the ramifications. Portal's Portal-guns are better 'magic' than most magic in other games. I can name about 4 games with interesting magic systems; Heavy on the Magick, Hadean Lands, Eternal Darkness, Unreal World. I'm hoping BeMuse becomes a fourth, and I'll go into more detail with more pics in a later post.
BeMuse's magic is a bit different from anything else, because it relies on you understanding the entire world around you. The lighting level, the weather, the time of day, the phase of the moon, the wind-direction, and so on.
You're given a spell-book at the start that tells you how to cast spells. Successfully doing so is another matter entirely, and the Demons in the world add an extra complication.
A New Approach, a New Look
So, this time around, what's going to be different? Well, for starters, I came up with a new look, a new movement system, a new set of shaders and a new attitude. These were the first test pics/palette-tests.
Yup. It's a very 2D looking picture isn't it? But I've not been idle.
I learned to make 3D art. Specifically, I learned to make 3D art that preserves the look of my 2D artwork, without the hamstringing that resulted from mixing 2D and 3D before.
I also rewrote all the shaders from scratch. Previously, when I put an asset in the game the shaders (which were trying to make my 3D stuff look 2D) distorted the colours so much that it became an endless back and forth of pain and misery.
This time around, I got them right first time. And best of all:
It only took me about a month and a bit to get from nothing to where I am now.
Movement is pretty much final (if quite strange). Rituals work. Navigation works. Even my 3D animation works. Here's a couple of little 'slow screenshots' of how the game looks. I hope you like it. There's more to come.
*The Demon's not final, BTW. No complaining just yet.
The post says it all. Spellrazor is now on Steam Greenlight here.
Please give go there and give a friendly 'thumbs up' if you'd like to see continued development of this strange little game.
For those who don't know, version 0.9.14b is now out for free on itch.io and Game Jolt:
Fluttermind’s director, Dene Carter, is a games industry veteran of over 25 years, and co-founder of Big Blue Box Studios, creators of the Fable franchise for the XBox and XBox 360.