31 December 2009

Yappy New Year

In 2009:
Wuchagott says, "Oh, is back there somewhere."
In 2010:
Wuchagott says, "Oh, your iron helmet is back there somewhere."
What a tremendously satisfying way to end the year. Here's wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year.

30 December 2009

Another bug hunt

Is this going to be a stand up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?
Another day spent tracking down the storage description bug. I am confident that I found the cause; I am able to patch in code that suppresses the bug. However, I am not confident that the patch is the cure. Am I treating illness or just the symptoms?

Once storage gets resolved, I shall then move onto the scripts that support Awaria. There have been concerns that Awaria is an inefficient trainer, and if this is true, then this needs to be addressed. I have a calculator, a pad of paper and a box of tissues on my desk, because I'll be doing a lot of multiplying, dividing and crying.

This is the weird bit: as aggravating and as thankless debugging is, I thrive on it. I really enjoy doing it. But I say this before having to untangle Awaria!

(I will award a Yo-Prize – a Yappy No-Prize – to anyone who can identify the source of the "bug hunt" quote without Googling the answer.)

29 December 2009

One bug closer to being squashed

One of the commonly reported bugs is regarding storage. This may seem sadly familiar:
Wuchagott says, "We've got ."
Wuchagott is occasionally vague on describing items in storage, and I believe that I am very close to resolving this issue. Unfortunately I don't have a deep understanding of template data, so I will need the assistance from those who have this knowledge. The problem appears to lie within a function called to describe an item, and the function is habitually returning an empty string on specific items.

At least I was able to track the cause of the bug, and that's usually the big time sink. Patching the bug should be a snap.

28 December 2009


Today I spent the better part of the afternoon reviewing, organizing and cataloging bug reports. Some were easy to fix and I did so right away (like bad masking or bad images), and some of the reports will need a little more research (exactly how did Mallyra escape to the ocean?).

Please continue to bug anything that you think is wrong, or ideas to make the game better. They are reviewed and it's greatly appreciated.

27 December 2009

Still Under Construction

I make a good faith effort to read reasonable suggestions provided that the poster makes a good faith effort to present a reasonable view. I don't mind criticism – even stinging criticism – as long as it is accompanied with reasonable proposals for solutions.

We all have ideas on how to make the game better. Some ideas are spot-on and get added to the list. Sometimes the suggestions are great in theory but are unlikely to ever happen (using vector graphics instead of bitmap graphics was one such suggestion). Some ideas are great but fall into SACWAG territory.

What amazes me is that after ten year we still have discussions on how to improve this game.

26 December 2009

Outsourcing ideas

I use other people's ideas and suggestions. Sometimes it's a suggestion read on the Sentinel, sometimes it's a suggestion sent to me by email. A lot of the time these ideas do not come in the form of suggestions at all: many ideas are inspired through player's actions in game.

One example is a soon-to-be-implemented quest that was inspired by a local scoundrel pirate. This individual said something in-character that caught my attention. "Oh, that would be a cool quest," I thought and added it to the list. What's cool about this quest is that I would not have thought of it had I not been inspired by the in-character banter.

The GMs listen to the player's comments and suggestions, but it's the player's actions that often get the most attention, especially if they're involved in a compelling storyline.

25 December 2009

Day Off

I hope that everyone who celebrates Christmas has had an enjoyable day. We'll see you tomorrow.

23 December 2009

Missed it by that much

Nuts.  I've been very good about adding an entry every day, and I missed today's entry. Or should I say yesterday's entry.  December 23rd's entry.

I spent the day modifying some scripts to support some new types of quests, and then I got sidetracked with the update.  Overall it was a very productive day, and I'm pleased with the progress that I made today.  I just wish that bugs were a little more obvious; the ones that log an error are easy to find, but it's the "why is my script doing that instead of what it's supposed to do" kind of bugs that drive me batty.

[Edit] ...and thanks to the magic of backdating, I can travel back in time 13 minutes and meet my daily deadline!  This entry now counts as the 23rd.

22 December 2009

Clan Lord and the art of Impressionism

The Great and Powerful Oz said it best when he said to ignore the man behind the curtain.

Looking behind the curtain in Clan Lord is a lot like learning the technique behind an impressive magic trick: all of the charming mystery is taken away and, in my opinion, spoils the fun of the illusion.  I still play regularly, but I view events within the game for their mechanics and technique, not for the sleight-of-hand.  I miss the days where, as a player, I would wonder about a quest or a puzzle.  Now I can just look at the answer, and I find that it's a lot less satisfying having the answer so readily accessible.  I'm training myself to stop spoiling my own fun.

I'm trying to censure what I log here in this journal: how much do I say?  And when I say something, will it spoil the fun of Clan Lord?  I don't mind sharing my thoughts on design, but I try to paint my thought using broad, vague strokes.  And, sticking with the painting analogy, Clan Lord is kind of like a Monet painting: it's better enjoyed from a casual distance rather than scrutinized up close.

21 December 2009

Twelve Days of Yappy

On the Twelfth Day of Clanning,
Ol' Slarty said to me:

Please – go outside.

An update from yesterday's script problem: UpdateGM noticed that my supporting script was missing and created a placeholder stub for me.  I was able to replace the stub with the actual script, so we're looking good for V630.  I am relieved that this was resolved.

I will spend today penciling out some ideas for new quests.  I should take Slarty's suggestion and go outside.  Actually, Slarty never said that.  He wants me to stay inside and work on quests.  He didn't say that either, but that's what I'm saying he said.

20 December 2009

Led Zeppelin said it best

I submitted a couple of new items for the V630 update, but held off on submitting the script that runs them as I chased down a bug.  The window for V630 submissions has apparently closed and I am now unable to submit the supporting script.  This means that my new items will not work for this update.

Oops.  There's always V633.  As the old Led Zeppelin song goes...

19 December 2009


One of the many ongoing discussions on the Sentinel concerns redesigning the gossamer icon.  There have been several pieces art that players have uploaded for discussion, and a couple of polls have evolved from these discussions.  One individual uploaded numerous images onto a poll and prefaced his proposals with "I would like to remind everyone that I am (at best) a novice at graphic design."

Here we have a member of the player base who was frank about his skills in design, yet in spite of this he made a good faith effort in participating in the discussion.  He created some images, and then expanded upon his ideas by offering some variations on his images.  When I voiced a minor concern about how the images would display in the player window, he then proceeded to create images reduced in size for each of his proposals and shared those for discussion.  He put a lot of work into revising his pictures and in participating on the topic.

The quality of his images are irrelevant; I am more impressed by his initiative, enthusiasm and participation in the discussion.  Somebody asked "can we make a better picture" and this individual reacted with a positive, proactive response.  When I see a player get excited about a topic and participates constructively, then I get excited too.  It's infectious.

What I find most impressive is that this infection still exists in a game that's over ten years old.

18 December 2009

Time flies...

It's been a little while since I've designed an area.  I had forgotten how much fun it was.  I lost track of time while working on a new area and was more than a little shocked when I saw that it was 6:30 in the morning.

It's going to be a multi-cup-of-coffee day.  I can feel it.

[Edit]: I should have titled this entry "Time passes..." which was the common response to the command "wait" in the old Infocom text games.  Frotz.

17 December 2009

A Quest for the Holy Grail... again?

GOD: Right! Arthur, King of the Britons -- your Knights of the Round Table shall have a task to make them an example in these dark times.
ARTHUR: Good idea, oh Lord!
GOD: 'Course it's a good idea! Behold! Arthur, this is the Holy Grail. Look well, Arthur, for it is your sacred task to seek this Grail. That is your purpose, Arthur -- the Quest for the Holy Grail.
ARTHUR: But I just completed that Quest last week!

16 December 2009


I am very excited about an upcoming documentary that premiers at PAX East next March.  The film is titled GET LAMP, and it covers the subject of interactive fiction.

In the age of Wii and accelerated graphics cards, it is easy to overlook (or forget, or ignore) a time when computer gaming was done entirely in text, running on machines that boasted 48k of memory (that's kilobytes, folks).  Interactive fiction, or text adventures as they were then called, were a mix of storytelling and puzzle solving.  These games did not use graphics nor joysticks; these were text-only games and required cunning and imagination from its players.  A well written game would draw the player into a world as seamlessly as a well written book, and you – the player – were the protagonist.

I spent many hours playing many of these games, and I was inspired to write my own interaction fiction.  I would stay up late and design puzzles, create stories and draw lots and lots of maps with dreams of one day writing them in BASIC.  I guess the only thing that has changed for me over the years is that I now dream of writing games in Socks.

It will be interesting to hear the development stories of such IF giants as Adams, Blank and Lebling, and Meretzky.  Did their mom tell them to shut off the computer and come to dinner as often as mine did?

15 December 2009

Audio attaboys

One of the admirable features of Quake Live are the audio achievements given to players.  Fragging two opponents within two seconds earns you an audio award which is a resonant voice intoning the word "excellent."  Two successful consecutive shots with the rail gun (a sniper weapon requiring some good hand/eye coordination) earns you the audio award "impressive."  The coolest audio award in the game is bestowed upon the player that prevents the pending capture of the team's flag.  It's a phrase which I shall not publish here, but suffice to say it's stronger than "good golly!"

These awards don't impact the game.  They're not power-ups that bestow special abilities nor do they boost existing abilities.  Collecting them does not improve game play.  They're just attaboys: an audio pat on the back for demonstrating good game play.

I would love to see these types of achievement awards within Clan Lord.  Perhaps a unique horn sound is played for the chainer who dodges X number of monsters while chaining Y number of fallens, or perhaps another unique horn sound is played for the healer that heals X amount of fallens in Y amount of time.  These awards are separate from experience rewards; they are not the same as bravery and compassion experience, or skinning experience.  These would not involve experience.  No experience.  None.  These would be simple recognitions for good game play.

An obvious issue is that Clan Lord is a very different game from Quake Live.  CL has such an emphasis on hoarding – collect experience! Collect coins! Collect good karma! – that I wonder if there is any point in issuing meaningless audio awards that do not translate into some form of in-game currency.  I may be entering SACWAG territory.

But still, who doesn't appreciate the occasional attaboy?

14 December 2009

Pathfinding, pathlosing and poetry

A reoccurring bug report filed by players is one regarding the pathfinding skill: players can open a path on one day and are unable to open the same path on another day.  I thought that it would be beneficial to review the pathfinding script so that I may better understand it, and perhaps one day improve upon it.  It didn't take me long to realize that I would have an easier time reading and understanding Dostoyevsky.

The script is actually a series of large, thoughtful, complex scripts with large, complex supporting files.  Each component of this script is like a crafted pane of stained glass window.  It is art that, when assembled with other panes of glass, glows luminously.  The GM who wrote this script is clearly gifted and well educated.  And here I am thinking that I could improve this stained glass window with just a bottle of window cleaner and a roll of scratchy paper towel.

This information does nothing to ease the frustration of losing a path, but I will say this: every time you encounter a pathfinding path, you're really encountering poetry.

13 December 2009

Torn between to lovers

I have been asked to provide a quest for V630. The quest itself is not the problem, but I must decide between two very different engines to run the quest.

My first choice is to use a script called itemless_quest.npc.  This script utilizes a simple way of conducting quests which involves bumping a number of NPCs in a specific order.  I like these quests because they're light and breezy and, as the name implies, there is no reliance on items.  No worries about managing inventory space!

I have a soft spot in my heart for this script because it is one of the first scripts that I studied in earnest.  I loved the script for its simplicity and I wanted to expand its capabilities and apply some back-end improvements.  I had a lot of help and guidance from the other GMs on bringing this script up to code (ha ha).  This is a script that I know.

My other choice for a quest engine is a simple little script called sayinitstring.  Unlike itemless_quest.npc, this script was not written to handle quests, but instead it behaves like a parrot: you supply the NPC with some words to say, and it spouts this text when a player bumps into it.  As a young GM I was advised to use this script for everything because it did everything.  I took this advice to mean "it does everything like make your NPCs talk, whisper and provide fancy action boxes."  Using this script for quests never entered my mind because I had never seen examples of it used that way.  It was just a parrot-script.

And then New Ash Island opened, and my jaw dropped.

The quest scripter for New Ash took this common parrot-script and demonstrated that NPCs could give sophisticated, conditional responses to individual players.  And that the NPCs could conditionally give and accept items.  And conditionally manipulate player data. And conditionally issue rewards.  I no longer saw sayinitstring as a parrot-script: this was a quest genie!  And what really blows my mind is that these robust Ash NPCs share the very same script that runs simple-spoken Joe in Puddleby's jailhouse.  Unbelievable.

I will need to make my decision soon.  I love itemless_quest.npc, but I also love sayinitstring.  I'm torn between to lovers, feeling like a fool.

12 December 2009


Clan Lord is a multi-player game.  It was designed for multiple people to fill multiple roles: fighter, healer and advisor.  Sometimes a role doesn't need filling, such as a when ranger hunts alone for coins in a low-risk area.  The ranger doesn't really need the assistance of a healer, especially if the ranger has a high-troilus morph.  Clan Lord enables this form of single-player gaming, but it wasn't designed for it.

A trend that is rising in popularity is multi-solo play, where a solo player uses multiple accounts to fill the roles of a hunt.  The fighter on one account hunts a risky area while the healer on another account idles in a safe area.  Clan Lord enables this form of play, but it wasn't designed for it.

This style of playing Clan Lord troubles me, and I have struggled articulating why.  I think the heart of the problem is that multi-soloing reduces the fun for other players.  I compare this to being invited over to a friend's home to play a multi-player X-box game with the expectation of being a participant, but instead being reduced to the role of spectator as the friend uses both joysticks to play the game.  It may be fun and challenging and rewarding for the friend, but it's not a lot of fun for me.

From a design viewpoint, the challenge is to encourage social play while de-emphasizing solo play.  This is more of a social issue; how do we get players want to play together?  We can't force people to play together, so surrounding the multi-soloist with technical limitations and restrictions won't change anything.  Writing a cybercop script to patrol the lands for botting healers is not, in my opinion, the correct approach.  This is a design problem and it needs a design solution.  However, when I see a slave fighter, a slave healer and a slave tagger multi-soloing, I still shake my head in despondent disbelief.

This is what I think about at night while waiting for sleep.

11 December 2009

Math, my nemeses

I had always felt that using proper grammar was a personal challenge (I don't speak too good), but after encountering a scripting problem, I find myself facing an old ghost: math.

I have allowed my advanced math skills to atrophy over the years.  "I'll never need algebra or geometry to balance a check book," I would joke, and I am pleased to report that, on this particular point, I have been correct.  Shielded by smug confidence of never needing to calculate the angles of a triangle, I have allowed my advanced math skills to reduce to vague, unpleasant memories associated with school.

And now I need that knowledge, which means that I am (again) a timid student of math, but this time I have an older man's appreciation for the simplistic beauty of equations like Thales' theorem.  If I had been told in school "someday you'll need this knowledge for scripting video games," then I would have geometric equations memorized and as readily accessible as Monty Python quotes.

It's true that other GMs have already scripted these equations.  Their routines are easily copied-and-pasted, but copy-and-paste will never make me a better math student.

10 December 2009

Scripting is fun, if you know what you're doing.

It's too bad that I don't know what I'm doing.  But it's still fun.

I've been asked to develop an item for the next update (V630).  The problem is that my knowledge of items is shaky.  I can add features and functionality to existing items easily, but creating items?  There are so many functions and fields that I know I don't know, even though I have a list of them in front of me.

This is where I take the advice of Pengy: if you're trying to achieve an effect and you don't know how to do it, then think of an item that does something similar and copy it.  Or in my case, plagiarize it.  This advice has been tremendously helpful and has minimized a lot of aggravation.

And the item? You won't get one if you're on Santa's naughty list.