Also known as Vidra joined

David alias Otter - Mod fan and and occasional mod critic, also wannabe game designer.

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The problem with survival games

Otter. Blog

Note: This blog entry contains my personal opinion on survival games in general. As always, I welcome all to join the conversation in the comments.

So, what is the deal with survival games?
Jokes aside, there is a problem that most of you can probably see right away: There are tons of them out there, countless of them in the making and it doesn't seem to stop. It begs the question: Why? The reason I think they are so popular is that they've all been born from the single wish that gamers have been dreaming about for years. The one true RPG game, the true survival, where every little choice matters. And now that technology has come up with this dream, a lot of people stood up to the challenge, flooding the market, trying to make that dream come true, even though I don't think it can be ever fully realised. There is not enough manpower and time to even play these games to their full potential, especially since they are expanding all the time.
Before I get into it, I feel that it's important to note that I don't hate survival games, I spent a lot of hours in them, but they have some minor and major flaws that I wanted to point out. And with that said...
First of all, let me show you a list of some of the (both finished and in-progress) survival games out there (in no particular order):
- Minecraft (obviously)
- Terraria
- DayZ
- Starbound
- Project Zomboid
- 7 days to die
- StarForge
- Sir, you are being hunted
- Rust
- Miasmata
- Dying Light
- How to survive
- ZombiU
- Day One: Garry's Incident
- Star Made
- Sings of Life
- Untold Universe
- State of Decay
- No Man's Sky
(This list was sponsored by the letter: S)

That's a long list, isn't it? And I only scratched the surface. Although I included some games in there that do have an end goal, a lot of them can last as long as you like. Ever since Minecraft's debute the market has been flooded with other survival games and they are getting more grander and ambitious. But they all suffer from the same problems that are true for most of them. Problems like:

  • Engine limitation:
    You can either have good graphics and pseudo-random generation or simple graphics and true random generation. Or at least that seems to be the trend. I think the currently existing game engines can't really handle generating a landscape that is truly random and I'm not really talking about the terrain here, I'm talking about the assets. It's the most noticeable in sci-fi survival games. Isn't it a bit "disappointing" to the see the same kind of tree or the same kind of wildlife you just saw on the last planet? The problem is that hundreds of assets need to be made and coded that it will give out a truly random feel every time I load up a new game and that's currently not possible because of the engines, budget and development team sizes. Although they are trying, which brings us to the second problem.
  • Early access forever:
    Early access games slowly phase out the alphas and betas. It's have it's own set of problems that I don't want to focus on right now, you can watch TotalBiscuit's informative video on the topic if you are interested: (He can probably explain it better than me.) The way this affects survival games that, like early access games, they are in constant development. They are getting new content all the time. That's good, right? Yes, but how long will that last? Minecraft has officially debuted, but still gets updates from time to time. They are fun and all, but Minecraft is probably like Mojang's biggest source of income and that money will run out at one point. The other thing is that they probably don't want to develop Minecraft forever. But than the game won't be true random survival since it will be "missing" a lot of stuff. I know it's more of a philosophical question than one that can be correctly answered. It's the problem with most survival games really: They sell for a fix price, the people who are interested buy it, then the sales will be so low that it's not worth it to develop new content for it. Team Fortress 2 has the advantage that while it's free, you can buy a lot of cosmetic stuff that generates a steady source of income and even if tomorrow the TF2 dev team announce that they won't produce any more content just ship occasional community items we would probably be sad for a while, but the core game is there and finished. Survival games are always expending and what if the developer tries to quit? Well you can check Terraria for example. The main developer stopped updating for a long time (before coming back for Update 1.2), and the community was pretty upset since he promised a lot of content that wasn't in the game yet. So there is almost no real finish for a true survival game, but what are the options? Well Minecraft's planned Modding API is a good start, leave the game for the community. But it's another question of course how long will it last after that.
  • It's boring alone:
    Maybe this is just me and because I'm getting older, but I found playing survival games alone pretty boring after a while. I've got Minecraft for a long time and I'll be totally honest here: I never killed the Ender Dragon the legit way. After a while the whole thing becomes so tedious and monotone. You have no one to talk to, you are alone with no help and that, for me, really kills all the fun, even when I tried to set goals for myself. I feel like "Why bother wasting all this time in pretend survival, when I can just live my real life and do something actually productive." The removal of an end goal doesn't make the whole thing feel like life, since as a game it's way more limited. Don't get me wrong, I still admire when someone or a group creates some fantastic looking architecture in-game, but I personally don't have the patients to do that alone, and believe me I'm a really patient guy. I don't have many people to play with sadly and if I would then setting up a custom server makes the whole process much harder. There is an option, of course, to play with strangers, but that brings up another problem.
  • There isn't any value for player life:
    I noticed this mostly when watching DayZ and Rust. If you have a lot of gear there is really no reason to spare the life of your fellow players who aren't your friends. And why would you? They can backstab you and take your stuff. Since weapons and food can't be crafted only found the game is quickly ruled by the people who have the most. It's a bit better in games where you can craft, since you can more easily restrain yourself from killing strangers, but still the same problems apply. The only way I can think of that could fix this if there would be a skill/class system (like in a MMO) in the multiplayer part of the game, so not everyone can do everything, they are limited by certain skill that they choose or get randomly, and then they would actually forced to work together to create better stuff: One player can only hunt then one can use the meat to cook, the other can use the fur to craft, some would mine, some can guard or fight and so on... But this would require development time to implement and probably a lot of people would feel like it that it takes away from the freedom part of survival.
  • Zombies! (and AI in general):
    This is a minor complaint, but why does it always have to be zombies? From the games I listed above, at least 11 out of 18 have zombies or zombie like creatures in them. It's getting awfully boring. I get that they are a trend and are a cheap, cookie-cutter enemy that can be easily programmed, but that's the problem: They are everywhere and with little variety. There are to many survival games that have these "They come at you and melee hit you for X damage" type of enemies. I want to see something different. Maybe an enemy that can think, that takes cover or work in groups. I want to be surprised by an enemy sometimes, where I can say "Wow, they outsmarted me", because most AI that I see in games are really predictable and move in a certain pattern. I'm not asking for the "Fighter AI" type enemies to be removed, I only ask to add some next to them with some "flavour". But please developer teams, no more zombies! I think we all had enough at this point. Try them again in 5-10 years.

That is all that I can think of now. If you have anything other that bothers you that I didn't listed or disagree with a point I made, feel free to leave a comment. In the meantime, I hope I can kill that freakin' dragon one day. Maybe after I build a proper house and don't get bored doing it. :)

The long forgotten joy of game creation

Otter. Blog 1 comment

So a few days ago it was my brother's birthday. I wasn't exactly sure what to get him. I usually buy him a game he likes on Steam, but he didn't had anything particular that he wanted this year (or at least something that I known of) so my second I idea was to draw him something, some sort of mutual memory or shared experience we had together. You known, about childhood fantasies and characters we invented in our games or such, but honestly, I'm not as good of a drawer as him. Then I had the idea: "We always used to make games with one of the old Clickteam game makers, why don't I make a game for him with that?"
And so I did (with Games Factory 2, to be precise), and it was a lot of fun. I was so invested and wanted to make it enjoyable and have a replay value, but also make it quickly because it was his birthday after all. It was almost like one of those "48 hour game challenges" only this one took me about 12 hours from from concept to the finishing touches.

So what is it about? Well he is studying animation, and they currently work on a stop motion short film that has him busy over the last month or so, and I wanted to make a game about that. The general idea was that there was a central workstation/computer and 4 separate tables namely: Background, Props, Storyboard and Audio, each with its own separate meter. The player controls my brother and the goal is to "work on" these tables and with that fill these meters and then work on the central computer to fill up the main progress bar, within a time limit. If you manage it then you win. The only catch though is that the project changes over time, just like in real life, so the tables degrade and their meters go down. Let them fall too much and the central computer goes offline, so you have to balance the time between running to the tables and working on the main project. Yeah, I'm certain this is not a unique game idea, but I tried to make it personal. Here is a sneak peek from the finished game:
The 12 hour birthday game
Graphics and the UI aren't great, but keep in mind I had to animate, code and playtest this all in half a day.

After getting the meters to degrade just the right amount and setting a time limit I also set some difficulty levels which just basically shortens the the amount of time you have from 250 seconds (Easy) to 200 (Medium) to 180 (Hard), it can all be done. To make it more "replayable" I also implemented a semi-random "global value" that makes it so that when you select the difficulty it also changes the rate the different tables grade, so while in one game you don't have to bother that much with the Audio because it degrades the slowest, in another play its meter gets to zero the fastest so it needs the most work. This also adds the extra challenge that you have to figure out how the different tables degrade over time at the start of each game.

And what was the reaction? Well I got a really humble "This is the best present that I got" and "You really set a high standard for gifts" :) so I was glad that he liked it, and it also reminded me how much I love developing games. I think I soon will get into a bigger project. I have something in mind I can work on. As for this small game, he showed it to his class/work group and teacher and they said that it represent the way the creation process actually is so well (I known how these kind of projects usually work, so this wasn't a huge surprise for me) that they actually wanted to present my game as part of the finished project (this was the surprise part). I, of course, gave them my permission. A little gesture sure can go far. :) I also get the appeal behind the Ludum Dare and similar challenges now.

If you got similar enjoyable or fun game/mod developing moments feel free to share them in the comments. They are always appreciated. :)

Game making - Ideas vs execution

Otter. Blog 4 comments

Don't you just hate it when you want to make a game and you don't know what and/or how?

Well it's most certainly the case with me. I've been looking forward creating a small indie game for a long time, but I can't seem to find the right idea for it. Although finding the right game idea is one thing, making it is another. Sadly I haven't got much experience with game developing. The only engine I used was the earlier version of Games Factory (now Multimedia Fusion) and I really like to get into it more than that. Different design phases, artwork, execution (well maybe not programming, not a huge fan of that.) That's why I want to create a small game that is creative enough to be able to sell and easy enough to make.
Oh, it's not that I don't have ideas. I have loads of ideas that one day would like to make a full game. It's just that they are not possible for me as a single man team , which I'm looking for right now.

Some of my ideas (very briefly because I don't want to be a victim of idea stealing :) )

  • A 2D side-scroller and shooter platform game, set in an alternative steampunk Earth. Its main feature would be the world, the weapons, full voice acting, humour and possibly non-linear gameplay which is still unique for non-rpg 2D games. Also co-op.
  • An X-com style game with a twist. (Although I haven't played X-com yet, only watched a lot of LPs about it, but I really want to try that game.)
  • A futuristic and dark FPS set in an alternate timeline (or alternate world) with mutations as a key gameplay element. Mainly focusing on storytelling and gameplay.
  • The mother of all RTS games (how I humbly like to call it) combining all that is the best of strategy games from city builders (like Stronghold, Settlers, Anno or Pharaoh) to war games (like C&C series, Total war series) to make the most fun game experience, and where no two online matches are the same. 3 distinct worlds with a campaign for each and also a SDK and mod support, because... why not? :)
  • A horror FPS set around World War 2 and more focused on the protagonist's personal journey, story, exploring and gameplay rather then gunfight (although it has gunfights) with different endings.
  • I also had an idea for a fun snowball themed FPS game with cartoony graphics, humour and a funny story a bit mocking the modern FPS games, but I'm not sure if that will ever make a reality, because of it's goofiness .

Also I have some mod/map ideas as well for the Source engine. These were planned as side projects mostly If I would be willing to start learning the engine and possibly get some help with it.

  • A story about a group of Rebels, which doesn't sound original at all, but there won't be a lot of gunfights (if at all). It's more centred around their daily lives, how the world changed, personal development and the meaning of life with a few puzzle elements (think Radiator meets Dear Esther meets Half-Life). It would feature full voice acting.
  • A TF2 themed chess game. Simple as that.
  • Some (hopefully) unique TF2 maps.

Well that's all I can think of from mind right now. Now if I just only had the knowledge to start. I want to apply to another university this year to a "Digital design" department (roughly translated) because my current Uni sucks and I'm not planning a career in it anymore. But there aren't really any "game development" classes or courses I know of and it's really hard for me to start a career in design and gaming without anyone to teach me (let's be honest, learning from the internet by text and video only is hard, if not impossible). But if I get in at least that's a start. Although I really like to have some pre-knowledge. My goal for this year was to make a small game till the end of the summer (because it would be a great starting experience and if it could possibly make me some money that would help my student funding a lot) but I'm really not sure where to start.
I would need an idea, a free engine possibly that is easy to make games on, loads of artwork, a person to program it, a person to make music and sound for it, marketing, the whole funding for all that and I don't even know how taxing works with games that are sold internationally.

Game creating is hard folks, and I haven't even got past square one.

Any personal thoughts/suggestions/lessons/errors are welcome in the comments. Also if anyone is willing to hire a total beginner (to date) for a Source mod project or indie game to teach him and helping out I'm ready to apply. :)

So the end of 2011...

Otter. Blog

Merry Christmas / Newton Day / Hanukkah / etc. everybody!

Have you joined the Steam Holdiay sale's Great Gift Pile? If not, you totally should.
I'm only promoting this because on one of the free achievements (Join the offical holiday group) guess what I got?
I couldn't believe it either...

Portal 2
for free.

First item on my Steam wishlist. The Best Christmas present this year :D (Which would only get better if I get a Dota 2 beta-key)

Thanks Valve!

So I wish you all a happy holiday season, happy new year, good company, good food & drinks, good mods for us next year, Black mesa hopefully (I would like to play that before the end of the world next year, tee-hee) and good luck if you try the achievements on Steam. :)

Also comedy = tragedy + time:

(aka Vidra aka David)

Oh by the way, If anyone wants to play co-op with me feel free to leave a comment and I'll get back to you if I have time. I don't really have people who I can play with sadly :(

My brief time as a 64 bit OS user...

Otter. Blog

The experience:

Well a new year is here already and a few days ago I decided that my laptop needs a Windows reinstall, because it became as slow as molasses going uphill in january... with crutches. Also TF2 was getting constant graphical slowdowns from some reason, even when everything graphical was set to low.

It's frustrating to reinstall everything on the computer, but I knew that this can't wait, but decided that maybe I should try out a 64 bit XP (my laptop is a bit old, although the upgrade advisor program said it can handle Windows 7 I didn't wanted to take the risk)

Everything went fine at first. Drives installed, updated, so now I needed programs that can utilize this new power. A browser first, since IE is not something I would like to be online with. I needed a Firefox 64 bit. The only thing I could find was Namoroka (a the project names of FF 3.x I think) but it also needed a flash plug-in and a java plug-in. The first one was easier, the second was harder, but I find them anyway. All looked well. Now I needed my favourite file organizer Total commander... that is until I realized it's 32 bit and the developer(s) can't make 64 bit version because the program they make it with doesn't have a 64 version either. Luckily I found a nice alternative called Double Commander, it's free, 64 bit and I think it's a bit faster with the more memory it can handle. Then came the video players. I still managed to find some 64x version, but Winamp and Windows Live Messenger didn't and I even needed to get a patch to for the old messenger so it can be installed.

After that I installed steam, because I deleted the whole folder with all my games. It became really large and slow over the years, with a lot of spam downloaded accidentally (ex.: Idiot quake and UT sound for some TF2 servers, which I really, really hate) and I looked into 64 bit games. The list was... disappointing ( - I know it's an old list, but doubt it would have many new names on it since then). Well at least HL2 is there, I could try that out... until I learned when it was being downloaded that the only difference is mainly in the loadtimes and it's not really better in Frames/sec, oh and also Valve completely removed it, because it was buggy and they were lazy. Not only just made it inaccessible or with the "-64bit" launching commands only... No, they completely removed it.

But that was just the first blow. Then I realized Namoroka was not functioning well. It simply couldn't handle embedded videos (here on moddb for example). I could see it, but couldn't click on the play button, it was like a picture. I thought it was the beta flash at first, but it wasn't because it worked perfectly in other browsers. Then the random crashes started. You must know that the most simple reason I prefer Firefox over any other web-browser is because of this: But the crashes became more frequent and I didn't want to give up on that, so I was forced to reinstall the 32 bit version. No problems since then, but it comes with a bit slower speed.

You see, 64 bit OS needs to run an emulation for 32 bit programs and it sometimes comes with noticeable slowdown. I think that's the problem with TF2 right now. It runs on high graphics finally, but it feels slower, more bulky, which is weird... Also my favourite XP skin the Vistamizer doesn't work either...

So is there anything positive?
Well sort of... Adobe CS5 has 64 compatibility and can use it. Premier Pro and After Effects can't be even installed on 32 bit computers any more. I tried Photoshop and feels a bit faster, but not too noticeable yet. Well my laptop has 2 Gb Ram, and 64x can handle much more then the 4 GB limit of 32 bit systems, so it my have to do something with it, but the difference might be more visible later on. Could try with a 3D modelling program, but I usually never use those. (too lazy to learn it)

In conclusion

Although 64 bit operating systems have been around for years, there are really few programs that can use its potential and they are difficult to find. Games are few and not sure if there will be much more around. If Microsoft doesn't announces that Windows 8 will come out as 64 bit only (which I doubt) I don't see a clear future for the 64 bit which is kinda sad.
So I don't recommend installing a 64 bit system, only if you are a person working with a lot of multimedia (3D, digital images, videos, etc.) with the latest software and have a separate computer with a lot of Ram and a good CPU (and possibly a 1-2 Terabyte of HDD)

Please share your experience or opinion about the topic in the comments.

This is how a typical zombie shooter (Source) mod is born...

Otter. Blog 2 comments

I'm really don't know how people always end up here, but I have a theory...

This list represents the thoughts of a beginner mod developer trough time:

Day 0: Wow, I've been seeing and playing all these amazing Source mods. I can do anything I want in Source, I join too and make the best mod eva'!
Day 1: I've got an idea for the most epic mod ever. It's going to have an awesome gameplay, excellent graphics, deep story, lifelike characters with spot-on voice acting and a bit of well placed funny humour. Let's get started!
Day 5: Well, it was harder then I thought, but I hope that this 2-3 concept art for one level and a pistol is enough to get me starting. Time to download Maya or 3Dmax and Photoshop illegally and really get things starting.
Day 6: How do I make this cylinder shape bend again? Man, modelling sucks. Let's get to the mapping, I can always ask for someone to help me out with modelling for free, right? RIGHT?!
Day 8: Nice! I made my first orange room. Progress!
Day 15: Finally I made a copy of my original room and a functioning door between them. I'm really getting the hang of this.
Day 16: Time to make a moddb page and upload some hammer screenshots.
Day 42: Skybox finished finally. Time to put some brushes on my 2 rooms and some objects in it.
Day 85: F*ck this! I'll make a generic zombie shooter mod.

Day 142: Why is everyone hurting me and say my mapping sucks? I hate these people, such trolls. writing this long comments I don't care about. Why can't all just be like that guy who only wrote "Lulz graet modz dud! +1 trackz". That is such more helpful.
Day 160+n: Mod is dead douchebags! Hope you are happy. Man, so much of my time wasted. Time to do something more practical. Like I should go on youtube and write "This is much better than Justin Bieber" and "x people how disliked are Bieber fans" comments under music videos. Yeah, that is quite original!

Any suggestions/errors/personal thoughts are welcome in the comments.

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