I'm a Christian, one of the "crazy fundamentalist" ones perhaps, depending on what language you speak. As an engineer by trade, and an artist, computer wizard, and musician in the off hours, I keep pretty busy. Plus I'm married with kids. Life is good, even when it is hard.
People tell me that I think too much, but I can't think of how that's a bad thing. People also tell me I'm scary. Occasionally they tell me to stop singing so loudly.
If you really want to contact me, you can try e-mailing dudecon on my old fashioned Hotmail account. Or tweet dudecon on twitter. Or come to my house some time. I'm sure you can find me if you keep trying.
Terestrial plants grow from seeds. A seed is a concentrated bit of building materials, energy, and instructions that is missing one thing… water. In fact, water is the critical component which allows seeds to flourish. There are also factors such as temperature, air, and light.
In keeping with the simplified nature of Uplift, this process is simplified as well. A plant has three primary resources it keeps track of (alongside the structural and thermal ones that are inherent to all blocks in Uplift): Nutrients, Energy, and Water. In addition, there are three primary structural components: Leaves, Stem, and Roots. Continue reading →
Uplift is a toy-box. Each of the components can be thought of as a toy from a compatible set. But it is also software, and some things rely on other things in order to function. Trees, for instance, need water to live. If you tried to play with trees without the concept of water, you wouldn’t get very far.
Tada! … Maybe it’s still not obvious what is going on here? Yeah, I don’t really know either.
In order to simultaneously provide toy-box freedom alongside robust dependency visualization, while staying true to the nested voxel presentation, I decided to structure the component dependencies such that they form a voxel structure. Each block relies on all of the blocks beneath it.
I appreciate Keith Burgun’s work on defining the word “game” (See this post for a good outline. To summarize, KB defines games in terms of the layered context “Toy, Puzzle, Contest, Game” where each successive element is a sub-set of the last) but I have arrived at a slightly different objective space and corresponding terminology. I’ve addressed this topic informally already, (and the topic of the definition of game even more informally) but it bears a more thorough look.
In short: Games are active models designed to allow the user to cheaply learn important information about costly systems.
Minecraft is a proven product. Fledgeling is a distant dream. Somewhere between Fledgeling and Minecraft, Uplift juts, jaggedly jousting juxtaposition.
How much can be accomplished in a breath? A day? A lifetime? What can be done with a grain of sand, a brick, or a mountain? What is it like to be a tuft of grass, a bug, a crystal, or an avalanche? Could intelligent rabbits build a civilization? All these questions and more, I intend to explore in Uplift.
If none of that interests you, you should probably stop here. But if it intrigues you, please read on. Continue reading →
In the case of the people talking, it seems that the surrounding nodes would need to broadcast their shatter conditions so that the node’s currently being simulated know what factors to calculate… Perhaps even, the only factors that need to be simulated are those that relate to shatter points of surrounding nodes… Like sarcasm, its not even thought about (thus not simulated) amongst those who don’t care. Has this been thought about already?
You raise an interesting point, and one I think bears examination.The idea of simulating only the bare minimum required by circumstances is a sound one. It avoids many of the problems of creating masses of extraneous information, and transmitting this information between characters. On the other hand, one of the core ideas in Fledgeling is that of imperfect perception, either by way of being incomplete, incorrect, or deluded. And, in real life, one of the characteristics of shatter points is that you rarely know where they are until you reach them. In other words, they are very difficult to perceive. Continue reading →
We’ve talked about how not to do graphics, how to not make them overly complex or deceptive. But visuals are important to games, especially as a communication channel. Here are some examples of what we expect the visuals to look like in Fledgeling.
A simplified motorcycle model, displaying the primary functional groups.
NOTE: The following is a dialog between a couple of friends of mine. I’ve talked with “A” extensively on the topic of Fledgeling, and he’s probably the world’s leading expert at this point (Certainly above me. I may be a “visionary”, but half the time I can’t concoct two clauses to rub against each-other). Participant “Q” is also an old friend, and a vetran of industry-critical software development, as well as high traffic web design. The dialogue has been edited for clarity, and I have inserted notes where appropriate to offer clarification. On the whole, I find this discussion fascinating and enlightening, and I hope you do as well. Enjoy!
Q: Do you think the whole “glorified social experience” is just a sort of fad that might pass? Or do you think games will continually develop that way?
A: Both yes and no. An interesting phenomenon to which crowd sourced funding and increased availability to starving developers has given rise is the rise of new, usually-single player, original game experiences. Things like Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program and Dwarf Fortress. At this point they’re generally focused on exploring an idea. Minecraft is basically “will people play a game that isn’t really a game?” in a java app. KSP is “will people play a game where the only rules are Newtonian physics?” Dwarf Fortress is “will people value integrity in a simulation over presentation?” Continue reading →
My dad is a salesman, and works from home fairly frequently. When we were little, he used to walk by while we were watching movies, on his way to or from his home office. We had a fairly small library of shows, so we re-watched them with fair regularity. I recall him asking with alacrity, “How’s it going to end this time?” It became a running joke.
Fledgeling will likely have an “unconscious layer” of information. Things the player can not view or directly change, but nevertheless influences the player character’s actions. Unlike most games, the player’s control over their character will be tenuous at best. Most of the necessary functions required for efficient functioning are trivial and unimportant for conscious decision. The player controls the character, by which we mean the character’s major decisions. But for everything else the character relies, to a great degree, on the subconcious.
Now, before you point it out, yes, I am fully aware that “unconscious” and “subconscious” mean two different things. Fortunately I intend to ignore both formal definitions. What I mean is basically anything that you don’t make a decisive choice about. Continue reading →
The perception layer (in my terminology (which is what I use to communicate)) is an intermediary between reality and memory. It models the fact that, when you perceive something, your perception doesn’t always match what’s really there. In fact, it never matches it perfectly. Occasionally, perception and reality are far divergent.
I think of the perception layer as a piece of glass. If it is smooth and clean, you can look through it easily. If the glass is clouded, painted, or covered in dirt, your perception is going to be obstructed. Even worse, if the glass is uneven, warped, or otherwise malformed it can give a clear but distorted view of the other side.
Not precisely your language, unfortunately. On the other hand, no one speaks anyone else’s language precisely. From an early age we both conform to others linguistic oddities and invent them ourselves. Thus arise “dialects” and “slang” and a host of other linguistic structures which continue to concern both young and old (though, usually, in different capacities) Continue reading →
On the topic of AAA games and visuals. I really like the image of building a monolith of cash and setting it on fire. It works on so many levels. I don’t even resent people doing this. It’s their money, they’re free to do what they like with it. What I resent is being told that watching a pretty currency bonfire is a life-changing experience and everyone should show up. It’s the kind of lie that, as was said, has blatant disregard for the intellect of the audience. Continue reading →
My daughter came up to me with a book. It’s one of those “books” with four pages, entirely fabricated from impact rated cardboard and primary color paint. Within is depicted a house (Along with what seems to be a completely random assortment of other objects. A dog, a tire, a pond, what is this? It should be titled “A Child’s Guide to Pastoral Free Association”… But I digress.) with a front door, a couple windows, a roof. Common fare.
But it is not common to her. To her, this house is a place of infinite mystery. Continue reading →
If you do A and B then you can try doing C. Oh, but you have to do A and B every time you want to do C. No, you can’t skip those parts. It’s core gameplay!
Seriously, what’s the deal with this? Can’t I prove to you that I’m capable of these tasks? I mean, collect some statistics on my performance or something. Even degrade it by 10%, or 50% for that matter, just let me use MY performance for the “auto calculate” instead of the developer’s expectations or the AI’s abilities.
I’ve already written on this topic before. Hopefully this article will offer another angle of approach to the concept of not wasting the player’s time. Continue reading →
You are going to need some imagination to enjoy Fledgeling. It won’t be all in your head (or will it?) but just like a lot of other games the presentation and interface only tell you enough to get you started. You have to (get to?) fill in the blanks yourself.
But this is the norm. A certain amount of imagination is required for any activity. Continue reading →
A game can not be (and indeed should not be) a perfect copy of real life. Some things are different (fantasy), but most are simplified. This is good. We play games, in part, to escape from the complexity of normal life and focus on a few relevant details. We desire to fit the whole problem in our heads, and most of us have heads too small for the real world.
And one can only do so much. Ideally game designers could include everything in the world, but our minds are not yet broad enough (nor our game systems powerful enough) to do this. So, since some form of simplification is both desired and required, we must ask, “What do we simplify?” Continue reading →
I love a beautiful expression. Many others prefer a beautiful experience. Both are necessary.
Expression is moving something inside outward, pouring out what is already in the soul. Experience is drawing something outside inward, lapping up the un-self into the self.
Of course, rarely does one exist without the other. We experience our own expressions, and modify them even as they are pronounced. We respond to our own experiences, and express our reactions even during the event. Experience and expression each chase the other. One leads, and then doubles back, chasing the first; This recursive cycle feeds on both the other and the self, and can quickly lead to surprising places. Continue reading →
Fledgeling is not what you expect, nor what you are familiar with. Fledgeling is not like some other game you’ve played before. It is not generic. (Just a note, I’ll be talking about what “Fledgeling is” in the definitive existential sense, despite the fact that it has certainly not been implemented yet (except to the extent that it is a mimicry of the real world and the mind, both of which seem to have been implemented quite handily (but not by us)). This is mostly for clarity and simplicity. If it bothers you, simply replace each occurrence of “Fledgeling is” with “we haven’t quite figured out what we’re doing yet, but by the time we’re finished it’s quite possible that Fledgeling is going to be”. My intention is to communicate, rather than offer prophecy or misleading present tense declarations.)
Fledgeling is not Minecraft, or COD, or MOO2, or Starflight, or Dungeon Siege, or Missile Command, or Spacechem, or Trine. It draws from these (and many others) as a source of inspiration. It is not really like these at all. Continue reading →
This is one of those older games. We played it quite a bit (my brothers, friends, and myself) when we were younger. It’s a “classic 4X” turn based game with a good bit of depth and variation. I haven’t played it in years (and years) now, but here’s what I recall.
Nostalgia Warning! My memories of the game may depart vastly from the game itself. This game may actually be much less interesting and enjoyable than I recall.
Things Master of Orion 2 does right:
Interesting tightly woven systems. The race choice (along with a powerful race customization tool) and research options play tightly together. Both directly and strongly influence space combat and planetary colonization choices. There are very few “dud” options, but the choices you make early on can come back later in the game. The no-back-tracking science research acts like a modern skill tree, requiring your entire race to make decisions about trade-offs between different abilities. Continue reading →
Your mind is a complicated set of interconnected ideas, which are themselves interconnected ideas. As far as you know these ideas are insulated from “reality” and have no direct bearing on anything that “actually exists”.
Your mind gets new ideas through experiences, either internal (reflection, thinking, intuition, etc) or external (sensations, sight, smell, pain, etc). Most of the internal experiences seem to have to do with the brain somehow, and nearly all of the external ones appear to be additionally mediated by the rest of your body. Continue reading →
One of the most frustrating things about computer games is the common focus on graphic fidelity without matching high fidelity mechanics, interface, and characters. There’s a good overview of the problem over there. I’d like to add a few points.
Graphics are like paint. A good coat of paint does wonders for a project. Paint can really solidify a design, whether code or concrete, into something stunning. Paint takes “machined” parts and turns them into “finished” ones, ready for assembly. Paint can turn a car into a statement, an expression!
Why create Fledgeling? What is so special about this concept? And why this and not something else? Why take time from my friends and family and invest in idea which, truth be told, will likely never succeed?
We all believe we understand the world, more or less. But there are also mysteries. For me, the mystery is pretty much everything. I’m not able to confidently predict all of it. I’m curious. I want to know if I understand things properly. Creating is a way to check that, to compare the internal world with the external one. Fledgeling is a model of the whole world. I’m curious how accurate it is.
A Game Master, in a free-form role playing game, fulfills a variety of roles. The players in such a game “play the role” of variously limited creatures, usually individuals. One could sum up the GM’s role as “the Game Master plays the role of God”… but that’s too easy! What does God do? What are God’s duties?
Authority and agency, consistency and novelty, growth and challenge. These three pairs of attributes form the core of God’s being and thus the focus of a GM’s efforts. Continue reading →
Puns get a bad rap. I’ve seen a lot of people disparage the humble pun as being unworthy of attention, or even admiration. This may not seem like a big deal, but here’s why I think it matters a lot. Continue reading →
Things come in different sizes. That’s the premise here. A given. Most games deal at least a little with scale imbalance. Fledgeling will deal with objects and organizations on vastly different scales.
But what does it mean that something is bigger or smaller? Does size really matter as much as we think? Can a difference in size amount to a difference in kind? I would say, respectively: Larger things are more difficult to work with, but also more useful. Not really. No. A single set of flexible rules should be able to account for the behavior of large and small alike.
What does scale mean? Like any distinction, scale means relative motion along several gradients. Here are five to get you thinking. Continue reading →
No wait, let me explain! I like my games iconic and clean. I don’t want a cinematic experience, I want to be challenged. If you love the fancy eye feast offered by modern games, that’s great… and you should probably skip this article. Chess and Dwarf Fortress are more my style. So, that’s where I’m coming from; That’s also where I’m going.
Graphics should clearly present the game state and indicate the player’s options. Visuals which lend a sense of place, atmosphere, and proper gravity to a game world are admirable. When I say “‘Good Graphics’ are bad” I’m talking about facet count, normal projection, specularity maps, lens flares, and pre-rendered cutscenes. That stuff is great in movies. But games don’t need it. Games don’t need “good graphics” to be good games. Continue reading →
Everyone thinks that their ideas are the best. No one thinks they are crazy. Yes, we can all admit we were wrong from time to time, but people don’t actively hold beliefs they know are false. We have (and must have) a confidence in our own ability to reliably perceive and interpret the universe.
Do not abuse language. If you try to bend language too much, it will just delaminate from the hearer’s consciousness, and inhabit a separate space from their perception of reality. You won’t be talking about anything your audience knows or cares about. You’ll just be talking to yourself. Continue reading →
Some games are fully chance based. Some games are fully skill based.
But some games are both, and life is like this too.
The problem is when one is disguised as the other. Often chance is disguised as skill, to make the player try to figure out how to do better. The other case, where skill is disguised as chance, is far rarer.
Most games involve both chance and skill. A game that is totally based on luck is merely a lottery. However, even games where luck and ability are mixed can be deceptive. Most often, chance is disguised as skill, but it can go the other way as well. Continue reading →
Fledgeling is a numeric role playing framework with integrated Simulated Intelligence and nested fractal structure.
Fledgeling is a computer game. Sort of. It is also a game engine.The TableTop RPG analogy is probably the best. Fledgeling is an attempt to fabricate a computer program that can act as both mediator and storyteller, with the ability to adapt to player actions. So basically we’re trying to make an AI DM.
Games are all about conflict. Whether it is conflict between separate players, or between players and the game’s rules, there is a tension of desires. Someone wants what they do not have. Often, it is something that someone else has (see all zero sum games). Without conflict of some sort, there is no game. Even the most peaceful and creative of games embody this axiom.
A conflict is all about understanding yourself and your opponent, using your strengths against the opponent’s weakness, and maintaining the will to win even after sustaining injuries. Lest this description sound too martial, allow me to give a “peaceful” example. Building a block tower is a conflict. It is the player (the builder) against the game (physics and gravity). Continue reading →
Materials vary. Situations vary. History, performance, results may vary. Whenever you know something, or see something, or remember something, or do something you’re experiencing a bit of slop. Nothing is mathematically certain.
This is one of the reasons games of chance are so attractive to us. We deal with small randomness all the time, and bringing it out into the open and freely admitting “I have no idea how this will turn out” is satisfying in a way. We hide and ignore the randomness in so many other situations that letting it out feels right. “It’s about time” we seem to say.
But chance isn’t everything. In fact, chance is only the lack of control on top of our skill. If there were no intent, no goal, there would be no chance. Continue reading →
Fledgeling is, at its core, a game about your mind.
No, not the character’s mind, the player’s mind.
The mind that is reading this sentence right now.
Your mind is dumb. I want to build you a better one. Construct something new with the rubble that is left, once you have seen what I have seen.
Oh? Your “sanity” is strong? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it will withstand the blows, the rocking shift beneath your feet, as the soil turns to sea. Can your philosophy survive at twenty thousand feet underwater? Perhaps it will.
You may be blind to the implications. Perhaps, both unseeing and unhearing (or lashed upon the mast) you will sail past the sirens. You could come, unaltered, to familiar soil, and eat the same bread you ate before.
But then, if Fledgeling does not change you, why would you play at all?
We long, with good reason, for things to make sense.
I recall my frustration with Fable when, upon finally reaching Snowspire Village, everyone speaks a totally understandable language. Plus, even though they have been out of contact with everyone else for “a long time” it’s no big deal when a foreigner arrives and re-opens the Cullis Gate. And where have they been getting food all this time? And clothes? Why haven’t they all starved to death? It just made no sense at all.
Let’s talk about “The Metaverse”. What is it? Why is it desirable? Who cares? Sure, you can look it up on Wikipedia, but here’s the digested version.
Basically, the Metaverse is a shared artificial computer-based world. It’s like an MMO, the Internet, and Sim Everything all rolled into one. Throw in a bit of Science Fiction and a dash of the Matrix and you’ve got the Metaverse. Let’s break this down a bit: Continue reading →
… which means that games are based on reality. Well, okay, someone’s imagination of reality.
A game (computer games included) is a way to explore experience. What is it like to lead an army? Chess can answer that, to a point. A game is a kind of metaphor. It is a tool to find the ways in which complicated things can be made simple, and simple things made complex.
But people’s imaginations interfere with both their experience and their memory of reality. Continue reading →
I really can’t say enough good things about this game. I’ve already written about the experience elsewhere, so I’ll try to stick to seeing SpaceChem from the game designer’s perspective.
Things SpaceChem does right:
Player freedom: The story stays out of the way and lets the game go. You can even ignore the story entirely, and just play the “puzzle” part of the game. The puzzles let you solve the challenge any way you want. There is no “right” solution (though some are better than others). SpaceChem never forces you to take time out of gameplay to experience the story. It’s totally optional. Continue reading →
Travel is a common mechanic in nearly every game. Moving pieces in space is a powerful symbol for changing the state of a system. Walking is a familiar experience, and draws us into the game world.
However, computer games commonly enforce a strict method of transit, with the player’s experience lasting as long as the character’s. Say you want to walk to the doughnut shop. You’ve got to walk down the drive way, go a ways through the neighborhood, travel a few blocks through the commercial sector, and finally walk through the parking lot (maybe you should have driven your car!) to the doughnut shop. Maybe it’s fun the first time… Continue reading →
Don’t make the player do busywork. Anything the player can do easily but can’t avoid is busywork. Our subconscious takes care of these tasks in real life. Build a subconscious into your game for crying out loud!
What if there were a “Turning the key” minigame every time you start a car in GTA. Absurd? What about lock picking? Busywork shows up all over the place; Players largely put up with it; They shouldn’t.
Why do we get busywork in the first place?
Tutorial: It has to be long and boring!? People are forced to complete worksheets at school, but this usually requires the threat of actual physical pain. Games do not have this luxury. Make your tutorial enjoyable, and let the player quit when they get the idea. Continue reading →
If the AI is better at this game than I am, why don’t I just let the AI play on my team? Oh, right, because it’s supposed to be “fun” to do this myself. The thing is, I’d love to delegate stuff to the computer. Maybe not everything, but, well, here are some examples.
Minecraft: All about mining and crafting right? Okay, so I know the computer can do pathfinding (the mobs do it) so why can’t I just tell my character to “go home”? I know the computer can do combat too, so I should be able to tell my character to “go fight”. This is super easy stuff, why doesn’t the game help me out? The AI exists, all I want is access to it. I want my character to be at least as smart as the zombies. But no, it’s all manual. Continue reading →
Dwarf Fortress is an amazing game. When I first began playing, it fulfilled many long-nascent desires (desires later scratched in a different way by Minecraft). After a while, I grew tired of its idiosyncratic foibles (and I discovered Minecraft). Here are my thoughts. Keep in mind that DF is still in development, and could use your support. Consider downloading the game and donating a meal or two worth of cash to the talented Tarn Adams.
What DF does right:
The interface is really dense. Sure, when you first look at it it appears that the Quadratic Formula exploded but after a while it grows on you. The interface exposes a ton of information that would normally remain hidden in sub-menus. The keystroke oriented input also makes it easy to automate tasks. A whole set of AutoHotkey scripts are available, which would be impossible if not for the input oriented interface. Continue reading →
Some credits up front, most of the ideas that Fledgeling was drawn from are not my own. Many have been drawn from other computer games, or things other people have said. Mostly, however, the ideas have come from God’s creation (which is to say, from experience of the world) or from God’s word (which is to say, the Bible). In recognition, here’s a short psalm.
in his name, from the seat of his personality
for what you have known, the things proceeding from your understanding
right things, the firm knowledge
give glory to the origin, ascribe to Him the just Honor!
when doubt assails you, when your hope grows dim
then make your foundations firm, search out the sound basis
with Him is the right way, in Him can be found the sure path
though you may have good ideas, your reasoning understandable and convincing
all good things come from His hand, the free gifts flow without bounds
take from the Glorious One, receive the good things without shame
rejoice in firmness and health, and make good use of your powers
without Him we are nothing, lacking the Source all streams dry up
continue in His mercies, make sport in the good paths
It doesn’t do Him justice, but I hope it does Him proud. Thanks to all of you who have helped through the years. I really appreciate it.
What does this have to do with Fledgeling? Well, the philosophy of the designer works its way into everything that a game is. It affects what is put in and (more subtle) what is left out. I believe that God made the world good, and understandable. It’s going to come out in anything I do, and especially an everything-sim like Fledgeling. If you want to make a nihilistic ode to destruction, go visit some other series. I serve a different spirit, one that has blessed creation.
I’m going to say up front that I can be sloppy with terminology. I re-define words mid-argument and occasionally use words as their antonyms. It should therefore come to no surprise that, on a blog almost entirely focused on computer games, I use the term “computer games” with a bit of latitude.
There is a real and useful distinction between games and toys, and I intend to ignore it. The term “game” is used to denote an activity with a clear win condition. A toy is just something you play with. One could hardly call Minecraft a game; It’s more of a toy really. Yet, no one refers to Minecraft as a “computer toy”. That makes it sound like a pink plastic fake laptop that plays children’s songs when you press any one of the six oversize keys. But, “computer toys” (like Minecraft) are important, and employ many of the same design principles as games. So, throughout this website, I’ll be using the term “game” in all its permutations (computer game, game design, etc) to refer both to computerized games, and computerized toys.
This article was originally written as a guest article for Jay Barnson’s blog. This version is slightly edited, but supports the same core concept.
Traditional storytelling has no place in games.
Tall order? Okay, here goes. Why are a lot of “story games” these days just Simon Says with cut-scenes? Why is a good DM more engaging than fully animated AAA graphics? Why do we keep getting so many stupid stories in otherwise well executed games? The answer lies in the nature of storytelling and games. Continue reading →
Here is where you can start learning about what Fledgeling is, and how it has driven me partially crazy. I trust these ideas about what games (and computer games in particular) can be (and will become) shall so astound you that you will become a bit crazy as well. Don’t be afraid, “crazy” is what normal people call genius before they understand it. Of course, it’s also what you call someone who has lost touch with reality. You’ll have to judge between those yourself (you always do).
Okay, what am I talking about? I’m talking about the Metaverse, the Ultimate Game, the first Simulated Intelligence. Too abstract? Well, browse some of our articles. There are articles about games, and philosophy, and even a few about Fledgeling itself. If you don’t find what you are looking for, leave comments right here on this post. I’ll be happy to write new articles explaining things. Totally confused? Questions are good too. There’s just so much to say!