CGD Podcast Ep. 41 – This summer, being anti-social, and Push the Lane

Hi everyone! It’s been awhile since I made a podcast episode. Today’s episode is just me – no guest, although I do have a long list of guests that I intend to get on soon. In this episode I talk about the crazy summer I had and some major realizations that I’ve had about art and its (at least partially) social purpose, perfectionis, a way for indie game developers to exist, and some specific challenges I’m having with Push the Lane (and their Clockwork solutions) — and a lot more. I hope you enjoy the episode, and thank you so much for listening!

Special thanks to Aaron Oman and Jean-Marc Nielly for supporting me on Patreon, as well as all my other patrons.

This summer, Push the Lane, and “Management”

This summer, specifically the month of July and the first half of August, I decided, “I’m going to make a game”. Many factors in my life had sort of come together at the same time to allow this. My programming abilities and my level of comfort with Unity had both come to a point where “I could make a thing” and where I can get around most problems I encounter (even if that means creating 10 bigger problems for future-me). I think I also felt that because 100 Rogues took two years, Auro took 5-6, and I haven’t put out anything since Auro, I just really needed to get something out the door, desperately.

I think my average time working in July was something like 10 hours a day, most of which I streamed on my Twitch channel. I think my record was around 13 hours which I hit a few times over. The streaming thing was a bit of an experiment for me; I haven’t done much of that except the recent Dinofarm streams. It works well for me though. It keeps me on task, while also being maybe 10% social, just enough to make me feel like I’m not totally isolated. I usually had 1 or 2 viewers, sometimes as many as 5 or 6, and often zero viewers. But if there was even one, it was pretty great. Viewers had a ton of great comments and questions and there have been a lot of good discussions on the stream.

The result of all this work is that I now have a game that’s playable! Here are some of the features that Push the Lane currently has:

  • Four fully-functional characters each with their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses
  • 6-7 different monster types, most of which who have something unique about them
  • Five different zone types which all have their own unique properties
  • Four different zone-bosses which each have their own unique abilities
  • About 15 items that you can buy in the shop, some of which are somewhat interesting
  • An optional deckbuilding system, which allows you to unlock cards, etc
  • Three game modes: Play Mode, which lets you pick characters and build your deck, Quick Play, which gives you a random character and no cards, and Custom, which allows you to do whatever you want
  • Single Player-Elo system, like in Auro.

The game

My original plan was to release Push the Lane at the very end of August, like August 28th or something. I still might do that, but I’m thinking of it in a different way. I will release Push the Lane around that time (maybe not on the 28th itself, we’ll see) as an “Early Access” game on Steam.

What’s been hitting me the last couple days is that what I have here is a framework for a game. I mean, in many ways, it is a game. You can play it, and there are strategies and you can get good at it. I could probably just spend this week polishing this game as it is and then just add more content from here and I think people would think it’s a decent enough single player videogame.

But right now something is missing, and I feel like I know what it is, but I don’t have the full answer yet on how to fix it. But I do feel like I know what the problem is, at least.

 

Management

The entire Clockwork Game Design thing can be worded as a methodology for “avoiding the trap of making a management game”. Most videogames, and many board games, are really just “there’s a lot of things going on. Manage them all in a way that makes you come out on top”. That’s alright, and that kind of “works”.

But without resorting to output randomness or other Skinner-box-like hooks, it’s hard to make a management thing interesting for very long. And I think that’s sort of the problem Push the Lane has right now. I designed it with a core mechanism in mind: lane-pushing. But as I was constructing stuff for the game, I was also constrained by two things: wanting to be accessible, and time limitations.

I want this game to be accessible. Yes, I can pretty easily come up with some semi-abstract designer-board-game-like rules that will totally support that core mechanism of lane-pushing, but videogame players, by and large, will have to learn that stuff, and it’s pretty unappealing for most people. I want Push the Lane to do with League of Legends does: be a videogame first, but sneakily support the core. That’s why there’s a lot of fighting, casting spells, buying items, power growth, and that sort of stuff.

So basically, I had enough time this summer to “make a game”, and I did do that. But I didn’t have enough time to find a slick answer to “making a core-mechanism game that also happens to support the set of rules that videogame players already are comfortable with” – the “videogame rules”, if you will. That’s hard!

I am confident that I will find those answers. I still have a few days left, so maybe something will come to me in that time.

One other thing

But there’s one other factor that I kind of forgot about: I’m a human being! Over the last couple of months I have not been taking care of basic life business, like having social interactions, house chores and so on. I also need to get back to doing freelance work, which is usually my day-job (had a hole in the schedule this summer which I took advantage of).

So, while I maybe could come up with these new gameplay rules and implement them in the next week, it’s probably better if I just clean up what I have and shoot for an “early access” release. One thing that has been really helpful has been player feedback. Special shout-out to Bucky, who also was probably the world’s top 100 Rogues player (and he’s still writing great 100 Rogues guides if anyone’s interested!) So hopefully Early Access can help me get a community excited about this game.

Also I want to say THANK YOU so much to my Patreon supporters who were a big part in allowing me to get this far with this game this quickly. In particular, a special shout-out to Aaron Oman, and Jean-Marc Neilly. Thank you so much, everybody!

Stay tuned, because I will probably have an announcement within a week about Push the Lane! being available for everyone to try out. <3

Interview with Greg Street, Lead Designer at Riot Games

This week, I have an interview with Riot Games lead designer, Greg Street.

A few months ago, the League of Legends YouTube channel posted a “Dev Diary” video. A few people who follow my work alerted me on social media about this video, telling me that it sounded a bit like theory I often advocate was being expressed in the video. I often watch Riot’s dev-diary type stuff, but I had been a bit out of the loop at the time, so I missed it. But once I checked it out, it did feel kind of familiar!

And it’s true that it does sound a lot like me. For reference, when you Google “input randomness” I’m pretty much all of the top results; the only other people talking about it are people referencing my work, with a couple people referencing the Ludology Podcast (which is where I originally got the terms from).

It turns out that Greg was aware of my stuff, so probably that is where he got the terminology, if not the theory. Anyway, I got a chance to chat with Greg about the theory and how it maybe should, or could apply to League. I think it went well! Let me know what you think in the comments, and thanks for listening.

As always, you can support this podcast over at www.patreon.com/keithburgun.

Interview with James Lantz, designer of Invisible, Inc.

Today I interviewed James Lantz, game designer at Klei. Among numerous other games, he was for me most notably a designer on Invisible Inc., a really interesting X-Com-ish tactical strategy game, and Mercury, a small indie Rogue-like game that really boiled down how Rogue-likes really work in the smartest way I’ve ever seen.

(By the way: yes-relation! James is the son of Frank Lantz, who you can hear in my episodes 23 and 24.)

Some topics covered:

  • How James came to work for Klei
  • Our opinions on how to market strategy games
  • A little discussion about League of Legends and last-hitting
  • Game design writing
  • A bit about what growing up as the son of a game designer was like

Thanks for listening! As always, you can support the show on Patreon by going to http://www.patreon.com/keithburgun. Thanks for listening!

 

League of Legends vs. Heroes of the Storm

I’ve got a new video out discussing why I think League of Legends is not only better than Heroes, it’s not even in the same, well, league. For more, check out my article on why I consider League of Legends to be the world’s greatest game. Enjoy!

Special thanks to Aaron Oman for his support. If you would like to support my work, please visit my Patreon page and become a Patron!

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Incremental Complexity

Announcement! In the future, I think I’ll do more articles in “video form”. Very lightly edited videos, mostly a voice over and some pictures/titles/video. I think that video seems to be where more of the conversation is happening these days. Here‘s the first video, on incremental complexity, a new way of thinking about strategy game design (designing them, and teaching them), inspired by Pandemic: Legacy.

Support my work on Patreon here! Special thanks to Patreon Patron Aaron Oman!

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