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A good storyteller; excels at thinking on the fly. Jack of all trades, master of none. Mass-media student dabbling in game design. Freelance writer better at organising groups than his own time. Kind of an odd person, in a good sort of way. Always happy to hear from people. Ћао!~

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Open-source game "Naev" developers' interview~

AlexVSharp Blog

As a part-time editor for GamingOnLinux.com I have decided to spend some time exploring the vast world of free open-source games. Like I mentioned in an earlier article, I am a huge fan of such games and do hold them in very high regards, especially those with a lot of thought and effort invested in them. Thus it is with extreme pleasure that I bring to you an interview with the core development team of a very promising game called "Naev". I strongly encourage everyone to head on over to the GoL website and read it; I'm certain it'll prove very insightful:

My apologies for not including it directly. I decided it would be unfair to the original host.

Naev is a 2D space trading and combat game, taking inspiration from the Escape Velocity series, among others.

You pilot a space ship from a top-down perspective, and are more or less free to do what you want. As the genre name implies, you’re able to trade and engage in combat at will. Beyond that, there’s an ever-growing number of storyline missions, equipment, and ships; Even the galaxy itself grows larger with each release. For the literarily-inclined, there are large amounts of lore accompanying everything from planets to equipment.

You can find downloads for the game at SourceForge or on the downloads page. If you’d like to read more about Naev and its universe, be sure to check out the Wiki and their website, or you can always drop by their live IRC channel and ask whatever you want to know; they are a very friendly community and will help whenever possible.

Edit: As of now you can also get the game from Desura itself:

Desura Digital Distribution

Many thanks to the team for agreeing to participate in this interview.
I wish you all pleasant reading, and do remember to comment here or there. Enjoy!

The Hook~

AlexVSharp Blog 2 comments

“Nope. Sorry, that game just never managed to capture my attention...”
“How come? It's exactly the same like those you usually enjoy playing”
“Precisely! There's nothing in there to make it stand out from the rest!”

Anybody noticed how hard it is to find a game that's actually “original” (and I am using that word in the vaguest sense possible). When you think about it, there are an awful lot of titles that extremely resemble one another, even to the extent of using the same box cover scheme... And let's be honest here: this is not the case only with AAA games, but with Indies as well. Is this a problem? Of course not. With hundreds of titles being released every year I imagine it is quite impossible to make something that's a 100% genuine while remaining playable. Yet, how come so many games get criticised as “nothing but clones” and some others actually get recognised as very good and worthwhile experiences. Why is that?

Let's take a look at retro games for a moment. One of the things I noticed is that every time a title really caught my attention it had some distinctive feature the other games lacked. Take, for example, two completely generic scrolling shooters. They both have well done artwork, flashy effects, some unimportant mumbo jumbo storyline, a repetitive easily forgettable soundtrack, tight controls, hordes of enemies... all in all, they are virtually identical as far as such games go. And yet, despite all these similarities, people like playing both. This is because the first has only one type of collectibles that stack, filling up a meter which lets the player decide which weapon type to activate, while the second game has multiple collectable weapons of different types that only stack with their own type.

This is something I call a “hook”, a feature that attracts players to try the other title even if they played a virtually identical one before that. Now I admit that the above example is rather simple, but it definitely helps to understand this concept. One doesn't need to be a businessmen or a developer in order to understand the underlying question; it is common sense, after all:

Smart_people wrote: “Why would someone want to play/buy/look at my game instead of all those others out there?”

Well, obviously because your game is going to offer something else! It'll have some extra feature that other games don't, be it an immensive story with deep characters or an unique gameplay mechanic, it will definitely have something that's at least worth checking out. True that it won't appeal to everybody, but those that do find it interesting will stay with it through the end. Hence it is imperative that your creation doesn't get overshadowed by another title.

In the AAA world this is, apparently, done with huge advertising campaigns and deals worth millions. Down here in the Indie world it is done by pushing the boundaries, and the only way to actually do that is to work on yet unseen, original concepts, steadily developing them to completion. Never forget that, no matter how good a feature is, it is extremely hard to enjoy a game that is only a half-baked cookie.

Additional Notes:
If you haven't done so already, check out the episode about Innovation from Extra Credits on PennyArcade. It's an excellent show for both developers and gamers alike, and gives good insights about the industry.

Update: Coincidentally, Gamieon found a video where a professional game editor, among other useful tips, addresses this issue. Check it out, it's linked in the blog 'Ben Kuchera - "Marketing for Indie Games" Video'

Bad collage impression~

AlexVSharp Blog

Have you ever decided to try a game, begun playing and thought “Dear God, it's like a bad collage!”

First impressions are something that's usually a deciding factor whether we're going to play all the way through a game or not. If we get turned off in those first moments of gameplay then it's safe to assume that very soon we'll be searching for another title. Being fun is the most important factor, yes, however sometimes you can't really get hooked till you're already several hours into the material. This is especially true for those more “complex” games, those that involve management, vast research and slow-paced advancement.

Let's take this to an extreme: Imagine you make a good-looking game with high polygon 3D models and nice dynamic shadows. A real eye-candy. We, the players, look at screenshot, find the look very appealing and want to try it out. We start the game, navigate through a mediocre menu screen, start a new game and then realise that the whole action is happening inside a small square window. The rest of the screen are, in fact, flat black panels with bunch of numbers and confusing colourful buttons. We press on a unit and it gets surrounded by a strong neon glow, while right-clicking it opens a whole list of one-word actions with a scroll...

Although I imagine there are people who would actually spend some time figuring out the ups and downs of such a mess (if you're such a person, I salute you) I hardly believe anyone would find it appealing no matter how enjoyable the rest of the game is. My point is: A good user interface can drastically change our outlook on a game. It has the power to make an average game extremely satisfying and, if done badly, vastly diminish a high-end game's value.

For the record: EVE Online doesn't have it as bad as some other interfaces out there.
It could've still been much better though... Just sayin'

So what makes up a good UI anyway? Dynamic panels? Aesthetic contents? Functionality? It's safe to argue that all of these factors are equally important. It does vary a little depending on which platforms the game is developed for, but the same goals always apply. Making a beautiful yet useless panel is just as jarring as making one with every possible command which makes your eyes bleed whenever it pops up. Not to mention when using those colours that obviously jut out...

Referring to that quotation from the beginning: a good user interface is unnoticeable. It melts into the rest of the game just enough to help the player enjoy the experience and not drive them away. If a blocky panel is the first thing people notice when entering the game for the first time, then you've probably done something wrong. If they didn't notice the panel but spent an hour scouting the screen and still have no idea what to press next, then once again you've botched it. Among other things: keep in mind the variety of display resolutions people will be playing the game on. Nobody likes having half of their screen covered in a panel, nor does anybody like zip-zapping from one side of the monitor to another just to press a single button. Hotkeys are no excuse for a lazy interface design.

All in all, do consider what your user interface looks like. If your game is still in the works, a decent starting interface will help show you're serious about making the game look good. If it's nearly done, ask people to evaluate. It shouldn't be that difficult to come up with a decent UI, right? Just give it some thought.

A helper without a clue~

AlexVSharp Blog

here has always been a part of me that wanted to get involved in the making of some video game, especially if it's FOSS and looks "promising", and to be honest it's becoming harder and harder to resist this urge. So what seems to be the problem? Well even though I really do want to contribute something I'm just blocked by the fact that it has to be something worthwhile...

To get involved, or not to get involved, that is the question.
Well... eh... damn it. I just can't decide...!

Namely it's because I'm a perfectionist of sorts. Once I decide to dedicate myself to a project I find it rather hard to let go until I'm satisfied with the results. The problem here is that I have so many games that I'd like to contribute to that I just can not decide which one to pick, or even what to do about it. It is way too easy for me to get engulfed in such work, thus putting a lot of effort into something that might be completely useless for the big picture. To be precise: I just never seem to have a clear idea what the main developer team is aiming at.

Sure sometimes there are a lot of documents about this issue, but in the long run that is just not enough. To be honest, most of those are usually extremely vaguely written, and the forums are always a huge mess. The more popular the title is the bigger the paperwork pile and with no clear writing form or a good way of sorting the ideas keep flying all over the place. It's probably no problem for people who were on the project from the very beginning, yet when someone new wants to come in and contribute, like myself, he just has no idea where to start. Even doing a keyword search doesn't give a simple answer to "So what are they aiming at?" and "Was this idea rejected and why?"

After a lot of time wasted on how to approach certain projects I have finally realized that the only way to ever contribute something is to not get too involved with them. Thus I've decided on making a single, concentrated site where general ideas for many FOSS games can be shown and shared. This doesn't mean going into details such as how much damage does a certain unit do, or what would be the storyline twist near the end (though in some cases I reckon these will be welcomed as well). No, it's more about the aesthetics, mechanics and presentation - the general overview of a game. And just so I can avoid making it into an unsolvable mess, I plan on having a post template with rules on what an article should looks like.

However, nowadays I'm thinking that there are (probably) other people out there who have a similar problem. So the question now is: Should I proceed with the making of a Blog like I originally intended to, or should I make a group here on Desura dedicated to providing game developers with interesting ideas?

A penny for your thoughts if you'd please?

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