What a year. I just managed to wrangle my inbox down to zero, so it's time to attempt to write a retrospective. I did one in 2019, and I'm roughly following it to keep some continuity.
Obviously the big thing was - is - Covid. I didn't get it, and I don't personally know anyone who died from it, though a friend is suffering pretty badly from long Covid, that awful post-viral fatigue thing. Still, it's really changed our lives. We've been very careful to self-isolate, usually going beyond the rather insufficient government rules and recommendations. Switzerland is actually one of the worst-hit countries in the world - it's just small and so the total numbers aren't that big.
So a lot of staying inside, not seeing friends and family, not going on trips. I don't need to describe this, you've had the same experience.
Leaving the pandemic aside somewhat, what did I get up to?
I signed up to the Secret Santa Jam on an impulse. I attempted to do the last two Ludum Dare jams while at home, and it just didn't work. A game jam is kind of an altered state, and to get into that state, it helps when I'm in a different place, surrounded by other jammers. Sitting at home meant I couldn't get into it.
The idea of Secret Santa Jam is that you sign up and make a game for a specific other person who's signed up. It also lasts for a month rather than just days. Having someone specific to make a game for - and to disappoint if I didn't make one - helped me stay on task.
I'm working on an entirely new system for saving and syncing conquest games. It's currently in beta, and it's not certain that it will make it into the game yet, but I thought you might enjoy a dive into the why and how of it.
An Airships Lore Dump
I've just acquired a new graphics tablet, since my old one died after nearly two decades of service. I'm using it as an opportunity to finally do regular drawing practice. Here, I've drawn the Klackons from the Master of Orion series in all their incarnations, plus my own take on them.
Seven years ago, I started working on a simple game about building airships and blowing them up again. Over time, it became definitely not simple, and I'm very proud to announce that it's now sold 100'000 copies!
I've been contributing to compiling a complete list of Swiss games for a few years. It was started by David Javet, and consists of a Google sheet that aims to collect all computer games ever made in Switzerland. We currently have 458 entries going back to 1987.
But there's a weird hole in our data roughly spanning the decade of 1999-2008. In that decade, we only know of 16 games that were released. In the decade before that, 1989-1998, we know of 37 games. We have zero games recorded for the years 1999, 2000, and 2003. And then from 2009 onwards there's a huge increase in games that lasts until the present day.
How big is a tile in a roguelike or similar game? What shape does it have?
I've been playing (and modding) a lot of Caves of Qud, so this is something I'm thinking about again. I'd love to see or make a roguelike where the levels are truly three-dimensional rather than 2D levels connected by staircases. Qud has some nods to three-dimensionality. Brogue has some more. Dwarf Fortress is 3D except that dwarves still don't understand about things like, for example, rooms that are taller than one floor.
So let's define the size and shape of these tiles.
I haven't done much blogging on here, mostly because of the self-reinforcing thing that if you haven't written anything for a while, the next thing you write had better be good - which of course means it dies as a draft, or in my head. So I'm going to intentionally lower the bar quite a lot and write down my thoughts.
My friend David uses a notebook blog for this, but I really don't want to complicate my web presence further, so it's going here.
I've been playing Caves of Qud a lot lately. It's been on my radar for a long time, but I only got it like a week ago. By and large, I'm really enjoying it. I never got very far into Nethack because it's a thematic mess where the devs went "what if we added ninjas/sokoban/cameras?" And other roguelikes are very generic fantasy paste.
Qud is both well-polished and has a coherent but weird and fun world. There's plenty of interactions and things to discover, and I'm getting better at it. I survived to level 19 in the latest playthrough!
As always, when I play a game, I'm thinking about what I'd change and improve:
I just finished playing through Chimera Squad, the spontaneously appeared XCOM spinoff, on Normal/Iron Man. It's... an OK game. The writing is uneven: some of the banter is cringeworthy and your opponents are a bit uninspired. But I love the food ads on the radio.
They're also clearly trying out some new things, which is easier in a spinoff:
Since I made this generator two years ago, it's been used in multiple game projects and pen and paper sessions. There's been a repeated request for the ability to download the image of the planet. I didn't know how to do this, so it took until I was given some code from Efface Studios on GitHub to make this work.
And since I was digging around in the code anyway, I proceeded to make some more additions.
Back nine months ago I wrote an update on the upcoming diplomacy features for Airships. Understandably, you'd like to know how they're getting along. The short version: yes, they're still coming, things just take forever, ugh.
So I'm part of a shared game developer office now, at Swiss Game Hub. I've been talking about game design with Philomena Schwab of Stray Fawn and we decided we'd team up to make a prototype at Global Game Jam 2020.
We ended up completely ignoring the theme (oops) because we had a clear idea of what we wanted to make: a game about a city travelling on the back of a giant turtle.
I was writing notes for Airships' translators, and realised that I was getting quite chatty in some of them. So I decided to go through the world background lines you see in the loading screen and add some comments.
I'm back playing Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. I play a lot of strategy games, but this is the one I've been in love with the longest, despite its flaws.
It's now more than 20 years on, and kind of an abandoned evolutionary side-branch of the Civilization series. The more recent Civ-in-space, Civ:BE, was explicitly not a remake of SMAC. This was probably wise in that any attempt to directly improve upon a cult game would fall short. The problem isn't the game design, the problem is that the game can't make you feel like you're twenty years younger.
To get this out of the way from the start: the crew animation system in Airships is a bit weird. But I'm going to do my best in this article to show you how it works.
My partner and I went to the UK to stay with their family over Christmas. It's been a pleasant and quiet few days, and I've actually managed to not think about work for a few days. That's pretty unusual for me.
This version brings both a large list of bug fixes and some nice new stuff.
In 2019, I organised an exhibition for PlayBern Festival called "Spiele, die anecken". "Uncomfortable games" is a reasonable translation. I've reproduced the list of games and the descriptions as shown in the exhibition.
Ich habe am PlayBern Festival 2019 eine Ausstellung zu "Spielen, die anecken" organisiert. Hier wiedergegeben sind die ausgestellten Spiele und die dazugehörenden Beschreibungen, wie sie in der Ausstellung zu sehen waren.
A few days ago, I challenged Stuff+ to fight a new monster I created: The Shellwalker, a biomechanical monstrosity with a nearly impenetrable bone shield.
Have you ever wanted to worship the monstrous Worm Eye? Penetrate the mysteries of life and death? Summon your own undead Kraken? Well, now's your chance. Select the Worm Eye as your heraldic symbol and get access to a whole new part of the tech tree that lets you recruit cultists and shape your cult.
In honour of the season, I have supplied YouTuber Stuff+, who introduced many of you to Airships, with a new monster.
The Shellwalker, a biomechanical abomination. Once he is able to defeat it, I will add it to the game for everyone to, uh, enjoy.