Great Dane Games

Great Dane Games

Great Dane Games - all things gamerelated

This weblog is the digital playground for Anders Højsted. I'm a philosopher, indie gamedeveloper, writer & all-round renaissance man.

GameEditors: Versatility vs Effectivenes

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Wed, October 21, 2009 16:57
I have a theory about game-editors and gamedevelopment.

Many editors was developed internally in the game-companies as internal development tools and they were usually developed for a specific game or a specific type of games. The best example are the numerous first-person-shooter editors: Crytek's CryEd, Valve's Hammer, Epic UnrealEd. Each of them was developed for a specific type of games - first person shooters (FPS) - and affords for the development of these types of games right down to the options you have with the camera and the way you make levels in them.

They are very effective tools, but the effectiveness comes with a trade-off: they support the development of FPS-games, but are difficult to use for anything else. If you want to use them for a non-FPS-game, you'll either won't have the performance boost from the editor or might even be forced to work against the editor.

I have two examples of this:
A while back we wanted to start a modding group and make a FPS-game with localized, directional gravity, - where specific, small areas in the game had their own gravitational direction. Our programmer examined UnrealEd and discovered that the gravity was set globally for a whole level and was very hard to alter (you had to do modification to the engine code). So we didn't go any futher with it (you can read about the idea here: Eschermod. Feel free to throw a couple of millions at me if you want to fund the development of it, Epic)

Another example (just rumoured) is about a group that wanted to use Valve's Hammer-editor to make a Real Time Strategy game. They turned to camera vertically downward and removed all controls tilting it, so it was fixed downwards; - top down look-style. However, they were unable to remove the sound of footsteeps when the camera moved around. I could probably have come with a hack that could have fixed it, but that just proves my point: I'm working against the purpose of the editor, because the editor doesn't support my type of project.

I suspect that the more specific the editor is toward a given game(-type), the less effective it will be with other types of games; an inverse correlation between effectiveness & versatility. Creators of general purpose game-editor (like Unity3d, Torque, Ogre) has to balance versatility and effectiveness when they make their editors.

The logical consequence is that you shouldn't pick an editor because it is the most widespread or most powerfull editor around, if it doesn't fit your purpose. In fact: all that power might even work against you. You should pick the editor that fits your purpose the best.

(Another logical consequence: if you want to make a game that's completely radical (which happens extremely rarely), an editor might not be a good idea).


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Change of plan

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Wed, October 21, 2009 11:24
"No plan survives the confrontation with reality intact" - me

I was thinking about Apocalypse! yesterday while watching Harry Potter. I've been thinking about making Apocalypse! with GameMaker, but the game is a satire over 1st person shooters and should be made in 3d. However, that is very hard in Gamemaker and would go against the purpose of the editor. It also requires a lot more skills then I currently have; I need to (re-)learn how to do 3d and I need to learn how to use Unity3d.

So I've decided to do Evolution instead. In honor of this decision, I've decided to rename it "Evolution: Fitness" as it is about fitness in the biological sense (as adaptation to an enviroment). There's a lot potential approachs to the ludification of evolution and I won't be covering them all.

So I'll have to do Gamemaker-exercises and papir-prototyping at the same time fun.


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The Plan

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Fri, October 09, 2009 15:12
It's been a while since I've updated the blog and a lot of things have happened - most of them not game- or design-related. I've been unable to find a design-job in the games-industry in Denmark - although I've been to a few interviews - and with companies folding left, right and centre I'm now competing with a lot of experienced people about the positions, so jobhunting haven't gotten easier.

I'll continue to look for jobs inside or outside the industry and have done a few freelancer jobs, but have decided to start making my own games. I talked to Petri Purho (Crayon Physics) and Kyle Gabler (World of Goo) at the Nordic Game conference in may. They did a very entertaining presentation about being an independent game developer and it could be boiled down to one sentence: Just Do It <TM Nike>.

I feel that I know enough already about PR, distribution, production-management, gamedesign, - all the periferal skills. But I lack in production-skills. I can't program, do art or make audio. I have worked with a few editors; made a few levels in CryEd, some demoes in Gamemaker and a movie in Hammer's Faceposer editor. So I've not completely lost.

So all I need now is a plan. I want to use make projects where I use the process to become familiar with an editor, but also end up with a product.

I've have a mindmap - aptly titled X - where I write down my ideas as I come up with them (I use the open source mindmanager program Freemind). Currently there is 9 categories in it (with corresponding amount of ideas): art (3), analog games (4), books (12), RPG Scenarios (6), Magazines (2), Digital Games (27), Drama (11), Scientif Articles (9) and a catch-all category of Weird Stuff (8).

The Digital Games category is subdivided into Mods(3), Transgenerational Games (3), Demo(11), Full Games(11).

The strategy is to analyse these ideas on two criteria: technical innovation & creatity. Technical innovation is hard to perform as I'm not a programmer yet, so I have to focus on the ideas that can be implemented fairly easy (relative to the editor). Creativity is based on the stuff that's out there, - how novel is the idea? (Se Coming Up With Ideas-post to read about my distinction between innovation and creativity).

I'm starting out with GameMaker; - I'n not quite ready to go 3d yet. I have to use the existing interface (keyboard, mouse), so the concepts I'm looking for is 2d games that can be played with a normal interface, but that are novel in one way or other.

This leaves the following list of concepts:
Apocalypse! - I'll start with this.
Two Hearts
Evolution (this needs more work on the concept; I'm probably going to make a boardgame-prototype)

Apocalypse! is satire and doesn't have commercial potential, Two Hearts might be interesting (especially on WiiWare) and I don't know what the potential is in Evolution. Let's see what happens when I get pluggin'.

My developmentmethod will be rapid prototyping with user tests, combined with early stage concept test (ESCT?) based on the methods we developed in our thesis Big Game: Formalizing Test Methods for Computer Game Concepts.

So there you go :)


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Shadows Of Europe

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Fri, July 24, 2009 22:51

The first thing that I do right after making a rule for myself is very often to break it, - you know to get it over and done with. I'm going to break not just one, but two rules in this blogpost. I promised you a while back that I'd post my games in a chronological order and that I'd leave you my pen& paper RPG-stuff. Well, this is post about a pen&paper-RPG that comes before anything else on blog. So there you go.

(BTW: When I write about roleplaying, I'm referring to pen & paper roleplaying. I've only played Live-Action-Roleplaying a couple of times).

I've been a p&p-RPG-player for more the 15 years. My favorite systems have been Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun, Call Of Cthulu & Cyberpunk 2020. I've played others but these are the stables; I'm currently playing Shadowrun (2nd edition; out master had a retro-fit) and mastering Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 (more about this later...maybe).

I joined the Shadowrun forum Dumpshock in 2002 and started debating Shadowrun. One guy in there – Peter ”Synner” Taylor – had this crazy idea: what if we got a group of european writers together and pitched a Shadowrun sourcebook about Europe? With local writers from Europe?

We were 3 danish guys that initially jumped to the idea. One dropped the project for editorial reasons and I ended up doing the actual writing – for the pitch as well as for the published book: Shadows Of Europe.

Working on Shadows Of Europe (SOE) was interesting for a couple of reasons.

The pen & paper-RPG Shadowrun was originally released in 1989. The setting is Earth and a combination of fantasy & cyberpunk (cyberfantasy?). The players play illegal operatives, who perform illegal operations for international cooperations. The jobs are called shadowruns; the operatives are called shadowrunners. The setting started in 2050 and the storyline is advanced every time a new book is released. When we wrote the book in 2004, the storyline was advanced to 2063 and 87 ”canon” books have been published.

The first big challenge with writing SoE was to coordinate our material with these books so we didn't contradict them. Some of the books already dealt with Europe (the London Sourcebook & the Berlin Sourcebook) so we had to pay particular attention to those two. But there was also minor remarks in other books that we had to take into account, - like the mentioning of the ”Copenhagen Accords” in side-remark in one of the books: we had to dig it out, find out what they were about (or make it up) and integrate it in the book. With 87 previous books - some more then a decade old – this was a a daunting task. It was very interesting to experience how people read eash other stuff, comment, fact-checked and helped put it together. I believe we succeded very well.

Secondly, Peter had to coordinate the contributions from all the writers around Europe, so we didn't contradict each other. This was done over the internet via email and forum. Anybody who has done editorial work with writers online can tell you how many issues that can arise from ”bandwidth”-issues with just one writer; Peter had to coordinate 15+ writers, - many of whom was completely inexperienced with writing. He went on to become Shadowrun Product Line Editor for two years and resigned from the position this march. It was a pleasure to work with him and I'd recommend him as editor anytime to anyone.


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Student's Massively (overambitious) Multiplayer Online Game

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Tue, June 23, 2009 15:42
(This post have been migrated from my old blog)

Posted by Anders H Fri, August 29, 2008 12:53:07

Student's Massively Multiplayer Online Game Combat System

Sometimes ambition is a good thing; other times, it's a killer.

When I started at the IT-University(ITU) a group of students (Anne Yvind Thun, Frederik Tang & Thomas R.B. Hansen) had gotten the mad idea of creating a MMORPG as a student project. The ITU supported the idea and sponsored offices and computers for the development of the game. The concept was that students could do bits of the development as school-projects andd have their individual project as parts of the full game. This part of of the project went great; people produced a ton of projects.

Other parts of the project didn't go that well. There was organisational problems, issues with ressources and personal issues. I won't dwell on it, but I might open up if you buy me a beer.

The project was named SMMOG: Students Massively Multiplayer Online Game and was set in in a low-magic fantasy desert setting. I was assisstant project manager and game designer. I very quickly abandoned the assistent project manager position and focused on the design.

The roles on the team wasn't very clearly defined and I was doing design with Thomas Hansen & Stein Llanos (with whom I wrote my master-thesis). Stein and I both have very strong opinions on gamedesign and the discussion had a tendency to get heated. Eventually we decided that he was going to design the magic-system and I was going to do the combat system. We decided to base it on the Interlock-system (among other things used for R.Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk 2020 p&p-rpg), because we both knew the system and had a commen ground there.

The SMMOG-system had a few unique features. I distinguished between organic and designer character developement. Designed character development is the classic version where leveling gives you improvement points and you then allocate them in the desired way. In Organic character development, you answer a series of questions about your character and he's created based on these. In the game, the character are developed based on his actions: if you use your knife a lot, you get better at using it. Organic development is more realistic and less "immersion-breaking", but it's harder to change path during the game; - you basically have to learn something new from scratch.

SMMOG was also meant to be skillbased instead of levelbased; you would pick your skills according to your class, but you'd only advance the skills, - not your "level".

The combat in SMMOG was meant to be social. If you were in a group of players and you'd all designated the same enemy, you'd open up for some special combat options that were only available to groups; - really powerfull, cinematic options

Unfortunaly SMMOG never got off the ground. We bought a license for the Torque Engine and managed to import some of the art into it, but all the aforementioned issues eventually meant that the project died. But hey, it was massively over-ambitious.

I meet some great people on the project and think the combat-document is ok'ish.


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Shadowrun FPS anno 2002

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Tue, June 23, 2009 15:39

(This post have been migrated from my old blog)

Posted by Anders H Tue, August 26, 2008 13:45:24

My first Showcase is very old.

Back in 2002, I was still studying as a philosophy minor at Copenhagen University, but I really wanted to work with games. A friend of mine recommended Richard Rouse III "Game Design: Theory & Practice" and I immidiately set out as a computergamedesigner.

I was (and still is) playing a lot of pen&paper-RPGs (p&p-RPG), so the obvious idea was to base a game in the Shadowrun RPG setting and with the "gameplay" from Shadowrun.

The gameplay in SR is very varied. Character-development are (largely) skillbased, so you have no hardcore classes (like in Dungeons & Dragons or World Of Warcraft). The variety in skills and abilities are also very varied, so the players gets a very varied set of (semi-emergent) interactionspossiblities and a varied set of tactics.


We (me & my friend Rasmus Boldt) made it a requirement for our design that we afforded for these interaction possibilities through the ”3S's-rule”: the player had to be capable of handling the challenges in either in a shooting, stealth or social way.The results was meager (to say the least). We ended up describing one (1!) map and painting another:

Design description for Map 1


We never made it any further with the SRFPS. Other things beckoned. I used the modding group to get into the gamedesign-line at the IT-University in Copenhagen and wrote a chapter for the Shadowrun-antology ”Shadows Of Europe” in 2003.

Microsoft had bought the FASA studios and released a ”Shadowrun”-game in 2007. Almost the entire Shadowrun p&p-RPG community diswowed it. It has very little to do with the Shadowrun p&p-RPG and breaks with many of the conventions of the setting (an example of this is teleportation, which can't be done magically in the Shadowrun p&p-RPG). I really wished that they'd used a developer that knew the Shadowrun-universe and cared to use/respect it; the possiblities are very nice. However, the Shadowrun computergame spawned some brilliant machinima from Rooster Teeth.

Our game would probably be more akin to Deus Ex or Thief; a good mixture of stealth, social interaction and good ol' fun gunplay.


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Updates from now on

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Tue, June 23, 2009 15:37
(This post was migrated from my original weblog)

Posted by Anders H Mon, August 25, 2008 09:39:25

I've been updating the blog rather irregularly (to put it mildly), but I'm going to start updating more often now.

It seems like the only career-choice available to me if I want to make games is as "autéur/art game designer", so I'll start using the blog for communication.

I have a small portfolio of various small games that I'd like to present to you and have an idea for a "14-day game development challenge" for myself later on. More on that when I get to it.

Most of the games that I'd like to showcase in here are either very crude prototypes or design documents in various stages, so don't expect a new Braid or anything like it. The idea with the prototypes is to examine various (semi-)experimental gameplay elements in a Rapid Prototyping way. So use them for inspiration and feel free to comment. The design docs are for projects that never took of.

I'll post the games in chronological order and comment on them. I've also done a ton of pen&paper-rpg design/writing but I'll (probably) leave it out. There's too much and it's to chaotic.


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Coming up with ideas

Game DesignPosted by Anders Højsted Tue, June 23, 2009 15:35
(This post is migrated from my old blog)

Posted by Anders H Tue, January 29, 2008 11:28:00

Brenda Brathwaite has a post (actually two so far) on her website about gamedesign and coming up with ideas: Game Ideas: don't force them

I get my best ideas under the shower or just when I wake up; sometimes it's the same time. My theory is that the mind has a lot of inhibitors that focuses it. When we wake up & get out of bed, the mind instantly start focusing on problem solving: feeding, defecating, getting warm clothes on, - meeting all sorts of physical needs. To focus on solutions, the mind subconsciously activates a series of inhibitors to thinking, so that random association is limited.

But these inhibitors are de-activated when we sleep. Instead the mind cuts of the control of the motorskills, so that the thoughts aren’t activating the body and acting out the dream (I believe that sleepwalkers have a problem with this switch; AFAIK it happens in the higher spinal column).

(As for my showering creativity, - I thinks it’s because I relax under the shower and can’t do anything except be there, so my mind starts wandering).

(Caveat: I make a distinction between creativity and innovation. Creativity is creating something new, innovation is creating new business ideas. Creativity is a component of innovation, but innovation is more than just creativity).

One of the innovation-methods that I’ve worked with is called KUBUS (had a course at Copenhagen Busines School). It’s a black box innovation method, meaning that you don’t understand how the actual innovation takes place. It’s inside the”black box”, KUBUS doesn't describe the psychological & social mechanisms behind innovation, instead it creates a set of conditions that trigger innovation. With KUBUS the conditions are that you are forced to gather immense amounts of knowledge for an extended period, but you’re not allowed to come up with ideas. In essence, you’re forced to stay in the divergent phase of innovation for longer then you would normally do it. This extended period of time is very frustrating (the brain likes to come up with ideas/solutions), so when you’re finally allowed to come up with innovations, they start pouring out. In effect, I think the extended period counter-acts the inhibitors.

Another method of innovation is to frame the innovation as play, using toys or doing it in a playfull environment. Succesful framing has the same effect as sleep, - it’s allows the mind to remove the inhibitors (maybe the innovation rooms should be full of beds?).

And an important part of brainstorming in groups is that you’re not allowed to say “no” in the divergent phase (where you come up with ideas).

(The problem with social innovation (aka in groups) is that there is always a social hierarchy in the group; this is particularly in formal organization (:companies). The boss is still the boss, even if we pretend that we’re all on the level. This can be very detrimental to creativity; - what if the boss doesn’t like my idea? Or my idea is better than his idea? what if the rest of the group like my ideas better than his?)

Yet another not quite healthy way of getting creative is sleep-deprivation, - after 24 hours of staying awake ideas start pouring in (especially if you’ve been working the same concept for the 24 hours). I’ve tried this countless times while doing projects; it’s a good idea to keep audio recorder handy (aka your computer).

(Strangely enough, two of the most creative (not innovative) people I know have both used rather large quantities of drugs in the past. I don’t know about the causality between creativity and drugs, but there seems to be a pattern; however most of the people that I know that do drugs aren’t really that creative. Either way, I won’t recommend it; the mind is a terrible thing to waste).

Either way, I think that it would be a constructive way to examine how you can control the mental inhibitors. So we need to study some psychology.

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