As previously mentioned, I really enjoy the history blog ACOUP. One of the things it's brought up recently is the difference between strategy, operations, and tactics in war. I want to talk about these in terms of how they map onto computer games, including mine.
I recently - finally - played a bunch of Six Ages: Ride like the Wind. It's a storybook strategy game where you lead a tribe, and the spiritual sequel of the cult game King of Dragon Pass.
It's very much the kind of game I was aiming at with my jam games Annulus and Turtle Town, only realised in much more detail and sophistication. I really like it, but I do feel that it falls short of its potential in some ways, which I want to explore in this post.
2021, second year of the pandemic. As usual, I've collected the various things I got up to this year for a retro post. Once I'd done that, I needed to process the results a bit. It doesn't feel like a year's worth. Maybe half a year. I am angry about the pandemic, about anti-vaxers, cruel politics, and the way I've scrunched up my life into a small thing to help stop the spread of the disease. I could write more on this, but it would just descend into screaming.
So... what have I been up to this year?
A rather verbose postmortem of my Ludum Dare 49 compo game, The Unstable Zone.
I'm now working on the AI for the upcoming diplomacy features. I've already implemented the diplomacy systems themselves: what war and peace mean, the ability to negotiate agreements and send ultimatums, and so on. But of course AI empires need to be able to interact with these systems: responding to players' diplomatic offers and making their own, and also conducting diplomacy between themselves.
Last weekend, I participated in the Stop Waiting For Godot Jam, organised by Terry Cavanagh. The aim of the jam was to try out Godot, an open-source game engine broadly similar to Unity. It's been making great strides over the past few years, and I've been meaning to check it out for a while. A lot of other people have also been stuck in this "I should check it out" state, hence the jam, which ended up with 299 entries.
I decided to make a colourful alien market from 2D pictures arranged in 3D space - a kind of "cardboard stage" aesthetic. Here's how it went.
I mentioned on Twitter that I wanted to write a post comparing Armageddon Empires, a 2007 post-apocalyptic strategy game, with Old World, a freshly released historical strategy game. I bought Old World (OW), tried to play it, and found myself pretty bored, and returned to Armageddon Empires (AE). Why?
Actually writing this post has been a bit of a mess, because I'm trying to extract some game design thoughts from what's ultimately a subjective experience.
I'm an avid reader of the blog A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry (ACOUP), a blog about history, economics, material culture, and speculative fiction.
In a recent series of posts about the game Europa Universalis 4, he refers to the concept of interstate anarchy, a way of describing international relations as being about the need to acquire power to guarantee survival. He then references this when describing the situation of a West African ruler having to respond to the introduction of (improved) firearms by European traders:
Even a good-hearted West African ruler (and like all rulers, many were not so good-hearted) was strategically trapped; refuse to trade enslaved people for guns and you would be defeated and traded by those who did.
This connected to another thing I've been thinking about for a long time: alternate models of how the arrival of advanced aliens might look like. In general, the expectation has been either conquest or enlightenment, sometimes a mixture of the two. These tropes have calcified in our understanding and it can be hard to break out from them. And of course, stories about alien colonisers are often really about colonial history. The point of War of the Worlds was that the world's greatest colonial power at the time was being outmatched and colonised by a foreign force.
What if aliens did to Europe what Europe did to the rest of the world?
It's not as simple as an armed invasion.
I'm concerned about the quality of my tap water, and I don't really trust store-bought water either, so I'm trying to make properly fresh water in my kitchen by combining hydrogen and oxygen in a blender. It starts out OK at first, but then the blender explodes.
Has anyone had any luck making fresh water in their kitchen blender? What brand of blender would you recommend?
Well, looks like you all really enjoyed this years April fools for Airships, which introduced a set of in-game ads for a variety of strange and frightening products and services. While April 1 has passed, by popular request, the ads will resurface occasionally in loading screens.
If you missed them, here's all the ads, plus some commentary:
Airships: Conquer the Skies is now ad-supported, placing tasteful and unobtrusive ads in a variety of carefully chosen locations.
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.