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Voxel Quest

#1
Well, seems like the guy behind Voxel Quest is at the point where he is willing to show his game to the fine folks at Kickstarter. The detail of the procedural generation is nothing short of amazing, but the projected development time span (2017...) means that this is very early in development, without any details available in regards to the actual gameplay - it's supposed to be a roguelike, but that's a rather broad genre definition.

Behold:
Voxel Quest Kickstarter

-Hardenberg
Hardenberg was my name
And Terra was my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination
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Re: Voxel Quest

#2
A chance to get a roguelike ultima game? Count me in!
Pledged $30, so I'll have some keys to give away through the LTFC.

I'm a bit curious how he sees giving away the source code though... Unless I misunderstood. But I'm guessing he's not afraid of software patents?

Edit: Also, is it me, or am I reading a disdain for money/wealth coming from him? Or perhaps even a lack of confidence he's trying to hide with (failed attempts at) humour?
Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.
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Re: Voxel Quest

#3
Inspired by Dwarf Fortress? Heck yeah!

The four-year development timespan seems a bit long, and the amount of money he's asking for it is a bit... well, I'm betting it won't be enough. He's off to a rough start. I really hope this gets finished though. I mean, seriously - a procedurally-generated voxel-based roguelike? That's incredible.

I like the comfort statistic, too. Seems original, makes sense.


His kickstarter campaign, though... he needs a PR guy, because the way he's doing things isn't really going to get him huge quantities of donations. :\
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Re: Voxel Quest

#4
Backed it and backed it hard.

The tech is nothing short of stunning, and I think the guy has already made a lot of good technical decisions. I'm really impressed.

The way he's focusing on it as a platform with which people can create games is also an excellent choice IMO!

:clap: :thumbup: :thumbup:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” ~ Henry Ford
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Re: Voxel Quest

#5
From Gavan's game plan summary:
Going beyond this, I have something that I think will make VQ truly stand out: I have come up with a method of abstracting traditional storytelling mechanisms into gameplay mechanics, which is actually mostly a result of the way the AI is setup. A storytelling mechanism is something that writers use to make a story interesting or surprising - even though most are, by nature, cliche, we still have an almost genetic tendency to appreciate them. Some examples are the hero's journey, character growth, overcoming fears, friends become enemies, enemies become friends, etc. Many mechanisms are based on traditional character archetypes. There are no prewritten quests or dialogue, I simply set the stage and the rest is the result of the rules of the world and the circumstances. Fulfilling archetypes, or fighting against the nature of your archetype at that critical moment, are all rewarded and punished appropriately within the game mechanics, making this perhaps one of the first roleplaying games that really forces you to play a role. Please do remain skeptical until I show you my implementation.
Do I hear the patter of flattened fingers approaching? :P
"omg such tech many efficiency WOW" ~ Josh Parnell
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Re: Voxel Quest

#6
Baile nam Fonn wrote:Do I hear the patter of flattened fingers approaching? :P
It's inevitable, Baile nam Fonn. *chuckle*

Well, it was. Until I clumsily wrote, "It's inevitable". ;) :)

The game? Well yes, it does look a bit special, doesn't it? :D
Katorone wrote:A chance to get a roguelike ultima game? Count me in!
Pledged $30, so I'll have some keys to give away through the LTFC.
It seems there will be quite a few keys to give away for this game, Katorone. :thumbup: :angel:

Edit: Only kidding, Flat. :mrgreen:
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Re: Voxel Quest

#7
Baile nam Fonn wrote:Do I hear the patter of flattened fingers approaching? :P
Ha. :P (And no worries, Victor.)

I actually started typing a comment earlier today, then deleted it after reminding myself "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

It's not that I don't like most of the concept. (I'm excluding the technical part; that looks great but it's not The Game.) Here are some features I find extremely appealing:
  • A dynamic, persistent world with few constraints on construction/destruction.
  • A fully functional ecosystem, government, economy, etc.
  • AI / NPCs that can interact and respond with any of the systems in the world, each with their own motivations and behaviors.
  • Emergent stories/plots/quests. The world is a complex set of systems that interacts to create the most convincing interactive storyline possible. No story trees, no prefabricated stories -- everything is created by circumstance.
  • There will be no artificial constraints (although much of the world will be confined to certain abstractions so that the AI can easily process it). The AI can (and will) do everything that you can do, including pursuing artifacts, carrying out quests/tasks, etc.
  • The AI will do more than try to kill you. AI has full emotional profile and temperament, and every character has their own set of motivations. NPCs will lie to you, betray you, fall in love with you, try to steal from you, defend you, and many other things.
All that? Love it. Brilliant.

And then, after saying that his code will generate this deep, reactive, interesting world to explore, what does he do with it?
  • Like most roguelikes, the game is designed for relatively quick playthroughs: level fast, die fast, no grinding.
  • There is a unified skill and trait system that functions not only across combat but professions, dialogue, and more. This system is driven by some common card game mechanics (every skill is basically a card that may or may not be affected by core attributes like strength, intelligence, etc, in addition to other circumstances).
A roguelike. Yet another roguelike. That also copies the physical "cards" metaphor. What, it's not also a platformer-SHMUP-JRPG-Metroidvania? Why on earth are these tropes so popular among developers of games on the PC platform that is capable of so much more?

I fully support game developers making the kind of game they want to make. That's mostly why I didn't comment on this game. But because I was sorta-kinda invited to comment, I will be honest in my reaction, and I will trust that people here can accept it for what it is, which is just one opinion from some random person.

OK, that said: what makes me want to pound my head against the table is when developers lash things together -- for reasons on which I refuse to speculate -- that oppose each other's core playstyle effects.

If I build an amazing voxelicious world filled with cool systems that generate surprising emergent effects, that kind of world is going to attract Explorer-type gamers who love discovering how the world-systems work. Not for advantage (which is an Achiever thing), but simply because understanding is a pleasant and satisfying thing in and of itself. A world filled with dynamic systems, ecological/social simulations, and motivation-rich AI is like catnip for gamers who naturally delight in exploratory play.

So if I build a gameworld that's especially fun for exploration, one thing I don't do is simply copy from any other game some way of exploring that world without considering whether it actively supports exploratory play. In particular I most emphatically do not choose as my core interaction model one whose very nature -- permadeath -- visibly punishes the player for exploring. "I wonder what's around that corne-- oops, that was a risk, I died, game over. You killed me again, Mr. Programmer, aren't you the clever one."

Yes, there may be a system there you can learn about from dying, which helps you on your next game... except that the whole idea of extrinsic knowledge-for-advantage (i.e., not-dying so that you can maybe beat the game next time) has nothing to do with the intrinsic pleasure of discovering the patterns of a highly systemic world.

I'm not opposed to roguelikes. I brought one back from the 1980s myself. (Which actually pre-dates Rogue, but let's not pick nits.)

What I am opposed to is marrying that kind of abruptly terminating gameplay with a complex, deep world. These two components don't support each other.

I didn't finish Don't Starve (which I was given as a gift), and I didn't play Spelunky or FTL, because as an explorer-type gamer I cannot stand getting into an interesting gameworld only to be penalized for trying to see more of it. And lest someone think that Minecraft, with its exploration and survival gameplay, is somehow a counterargument -- it's not, because I can turn on Peaceful mode. (Yes, I can still accidentally kill myself in Minecraft, but that's a very different experience than deliberately designing a game to actively try to exterminate my character.)

Which leads to my two constructive suggestions. First, importing "common card game mechanics" is deeply boring. I would rather see no skills/traits at all than to funnel them through a clunky card metaphor. This is a computer game! Computer programs can have any kind of skill/trait manipulation metaphor you like -- why clone one, and why clone one that's based on physical objects? What about thinking instead of the world of Voxel Quest, and of what will be uniquely interesting about Voxel Quest, and then designing a skills/trait model that snugly fits that game regardless of what other games do?

Second, stop trying to wrap a roguelike shell around the game. If the player's action in a complex, interesting world will be expressed through a character, let go of thinking that killing off that character is cool -- it's not. It's just interruptive (to exploration) and annoying and fun-destroying. If you really want to make a roguelike, cool; you can save yourself a lot of time and money by not bothering with all that voxely, worldy stuff, most of which the players of your repeating murder simulator will never see because they're the kinds of gamers who are fixated on (and good at) driving as quickly as possible to the "win" state of any game. If instead you truly do care most about making a richly interactive world, then stop thinking you need to add "challenge" by frequently extinguishing the player character. Emphasize instead mechanics and an overall theme that encourage and enable players to express insightful perception of systems and creative manipulation of systems. And engineer those mechanics to reward players for imagining and trying new behaviors. Let players win by exploring the world, not surviving it.

I know this will still sound a bit negative, and I'm uncomfortable with that. I have some idea how freakishly hard it is to actually create a good game of any size, so I prefer to encourage developers than to come off sounding like one of those tut-tutting, "it'll never work" cynics. I sincerely wish Gavan Woolery the best of luck in building the game that he's excited to build.

But if I'm being honest, I sure wish he weren't making another roguelike game for the PC. This platform is capable of such vastly more interesting gameplay types, and it's a little frustrating to me to see another opportunity to innovate being squandered, especially when the world part of Voxel Quest sounds so much like something I'd enjoy playing in.

All of which, as usual, is just my opinion. Those who enjoy roguelikes, or card metaphors, or platformers as PC games are free to disagree.
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Re: Voxel Quest

#8
:shock: :clap: That, I think, Flat, qualifies as a ☼Masterwork☼ post.

I think you made a lot of good points there... I almost wish that had its own article somewhere so people could see it, kind of like all the other awesome articles you have a tendency to find. I strongly agree with you especially on the "level fast, die fast" mechanic, and I kind of wish I could get the guy to change the mechanics slightly - "level slowly, die if you're stupid" sounds a lot more appealing in a game like this.

Something I would be curious in hearing more about, however...
  • How you would personally try to "salvage" a game like Voxel Quest, without the developer having to start over from scratch. Would turning on some sort of "peaceful" mode be enough, or would it not be, as the core "card game mechanics" are still there? Maybe using a different mechanics system - but how would you change such a thing?
  • Also, curious - did games like Baldur's Gate and Planescape also count as having "card game mechanics", along with games like D&D? Or are you talking about something different?
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Re: Voxel Quest

#9
I'd like some time to think about those questions. Maybe I can be a little less ranty. ;)

For now, I see that -- as if in rebuttal -- Rock Paper Shotgun have declared this to be Survival Week at their site. All week they'll be presenting articles, interviews and such-like related to survival games.

I welcome this. The level of writing and commenting is usually pretty high at RPS. I think this week's focus could help to explain the points I tried to outline above about the intersection between exploration and roguelikism, and why I think understanding those interests in a design sense matters for maximizing particular kinds of satisfaction in play.

Should be interesting!
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Re: Voxel Quest

#11
MightyMyth wrote:
Katorone wrote:
Edit: Also, is it me, or am I reading a disdain for money/wealth coming from him? Or perhaps even a lack of confidence he's trying to hide with (failed attempts at) humour?
Yeah that seemed very distasteful to me too.
Not everyone can be a Josh Parnell at getting a pitch across, or even a salesman. There's a reason why some people are in sales; they can sell you anything you don't need.
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Early Spring - 1055: Well, I made it to Boatmurdered, and my initial impressions can be set forth in three words: What. The. F*ck.
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Re: Voxel Quest

#12
DWMagus wrote: Not everyone can be a Josh Parnell at getting a pitch across, or even a salesman. There's a reason why some people are in sales; they can sell you anything you don't need.
Of course... But at this point you need enough self knowledge to know when to hire or ask for help.
Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.
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Re: Voxel Quest

#13
Talvieno wrote:How you would personally try to "salvage" a game like Voxel Quest, without the developer having to start over from scratch. Would turning on some sort of "peaceful" mode be enough, or would it not be, as the core "card game mechanics" are still there? Maybe using a different mechanics system - but how would you change such a thing?
On the "auuuggghhh! why would you do that?!" scale, making a very worldy game into a roguelike is at least an 8, while using card-play mechanics is somewhere around a 4. In other words, while I think using a card mechanic is undesirable because it's rather unimaginative, I could live with that. Attracting explorers with a really interesting, dynamically detailed world and then smacking them down through roguelike punishment for being explorers, on the other hand, is a crime against game design.

So while I'll have a word to say about the cards thing, my primary interest here is the roguelike concept. Honestly, as I briefly suggested in my novel above, if I were somehow mistakenly invited to guest design on Voxel Quest, I would -- just as you proposed -- deep-six the notion that it's necessary to kill the player character to create "challenge" or "excitement"; I would nuke the whole idea of a "fast" game in favor of gameplay that moves at the player's preferred pace; and I might possibly take the very idea of having a "win" state at all (except maybe as a kind of alternate play mode) out behind the barn and put a 2x4 between its doe-like eyes. None of those Mechanics-level conventions, as popular as they are in Some Other Games, are necessary or helpful for a game that says it wants to be so amazing at the Simulationist level.

An intricate clockwork world of the kind that the developer of VQ describes begs to be given mechanics that reward players for discovering the systemic rules of the world, not that punish them for failing to memorize and execute the Perfect Way. If you must have progression, why do it through character skills/traits at all? Why not let players earn new ways of manipulating the systems of the game, or to get them to interact with each other in new ways, for demonstrating an understanding of some of the underlying rules? This is not only fun in itself, it creates value for those systemic interactions. It's the Chekov's Gun rule of game design: if the player can perceive it, let them tinker with it, or it doesn't need to be there.

The specifics of those more exploration-oriented mechanics should depend on what voxels can do in VQ (or what they can be extended to do, individually or in particular combinations). For example, if I can bust up a voxel into little voxelets, what are the rules through which that happens? Do I get different results if I use different tools for the busting, or depending on the type of voxel being busted, or where it's busted, or who owns it? If I can figure out those kinds of systemic rules, and demonstrate in some way that I've perceived the connection, maybe that yields a new kind of tool or piece of knowledge about how other voxels might respond to different inputs. (Even better is if the reward includes a hint about some other world-content to explore.)

The point to all this is, as always, that a game is most enjoyable when it's consciously designed so that all of its component parts work together to deliver a unique and coherent play experience. That's not always obvious at the design stage; sometimes you have to fiddle around with various implementations before you realize a better way of expressing a feature. But there are some design-time choices you can make that don't fit together because of their inherent playstyle differences. It's those I counsel avoiding in favor of kinetics and mechanics and dynamics and aesthetics that all deliver the same kinds of playstyle effects.

For more on how to do that, I wrote this. ;)
Talvieno wrote:Also, curious - did games like Baldur's Gate and Planescape also count as having "card game mechanics", along with games like D&D? Or are you talking about something different?
OK, the "card" thing.

While I wasn't part of the Black Isle or BioWare teams, I will hazard a guess that there wasn't anything card-like in their implementation of those AD&D rulesets. Another name for "card game mechanics" is "deck-building," and there wasn't anything like that play genre/mechanic in AD&D character and gameplay design rules.

Again, I'm not going to speculate on why someone would decide to bolt a deckbuilding minigame onto their character model and progression system. Matching cards from a built deck is not inherently a "bad" design trope, exactly; obviously there are a fair few people for whom it scratches a really powerful Manager itch through the combination of strategic deckbuilding and tactical cardplay. Heck, I enjoyed the Pazaak card game from KOTOR so much that I went and obtained a standalone version so I could play it any time.

It's just not always a good fit for every game. Some games just don't need that highly competitive "I win!" thing, and thus don't benefit from mechanics that have been honed to effectively serve such games. I believe a game with a richly detailed and dynamic world is one kind of game for which the competitive matching function of cardplay is not well-suited.

If Voxel Quest truly needs externalized character progression stats -- does it? really? -- then although I don't know much of the internals of VQ, then I have to think there's a better way to represent and manipulate those values than though deckbuilding/cardplay. Surely in such an expressive world, there's another metaphor for structural character information that's more voxelly. Maybe character stat types are themselves voxels, and can be broken down -- as tools break down world-voxels -- into more specific values. What if different voxel-manipulation tools could manipulate character attribute and skill voxels?

It doesn't even have to be voxels. I'm just trying to illustrate my contention that there are other ways of representing character information that, with some thought, are almost certainly a better match for VQ than a generic mechanic that's simply copied.

(Note: Without speculating, I will note that there's one practical reason why some developers decide to implement a "card" metaphor, which is that cards are monetizable. If you're going to sell your game for cheap, or nothing, or expect it to be massively pirated -- which unfortunately is becoming the norm unless you have a shedful of lawyers -- then designing part of the game to be something that's easily bought in small increments for real-world money through online purchases is sometimes an appealing prospect.)

Overall, my gut feeling is that the card thing is mostly a missed opportunity to do something more interesting and supportive of the rest of VQ, but the roguelike choice is really painful. People come to a FTL or Spelunky with the expectation that they're going to get wiped frequently... but those games don't have anything close to the kind of dynamically perky world of Voxel Quest, so they can get away with the greater emphasis on mechanical challenge. I don't believe that will be true for VQ, unless the developer decides to scale back significantly on the world-dynamics. I hope that won't happen, though, and that he's persuadable that a game design based on trying to kill the player character simply isn't necessary.

We'll see. I'll be watching with interest to see where this game goes. Regardless of whether the roguelike thing is retained or not, I wish the developer all the best.
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Re: Voxel Quest

#14
Flatfingers wrote: Quite a lengthy article followed by:

We'll see. I'll be watching with interest to see where this game goes. Regardless of whether the roguelike thing is retained or not, I wish the developer all the best.
Just a suggestion, Flat, but if you feel this passionately about the game why not approach Gavan and give him the benefit of your thoughts concerning his project. :angel:

He strikes me as a very approachable young man who, although stoical by nature, is prepared to converse with backers. Heck, one of his latest updates is titled "Please introduce yourself!" He seems to be genuinely interested in feedback and suggestions. :D
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Re: Voxel Quest

#15
Victor Tombs wrote:Just a suggestion, Flat, but if you feel this passionately about the game why not approach Gavan and give him the benefit of your thoughts concerning his project. :angel:

He strikes me as a very approachable young man who, although stoical by nature, is prepared to converse with backers. Heck, one of his latest updates is titled "Please introduce yourself!" He seems to be genuinely interested in feedback and suggestions. :D
Thanks for the suggestion, Victor. (Really.)

Opining is one thing, but I'm leery of approaching other developers to declare (even if in a nice way) that "You Are Doing It Wrong And It Is So, So Obvious To Me." There's basically no good way to say something like that. If you're brief, you fail to persuade; if you provide details, you're asking the dev to spend a lot of time trying to follow your logic. In both cases, you don't get what you want and you just annoy a developer who's working hard on a labor of love.

It's possible I'm quitting the field too easily, but I've had too many encounters with passionate (often young) developers who just want to argue.

My most effective role would probably be as a paid consultant. If you're giving me money, you're more likely to take my suggestions seriously. But 1) indie devs tend to have not so much money for consultants, and 2) I have no published game credits to my name and should not be paid to consult on anything by anyone.

So with respect, I think I will stick with having explained to you good folks why I object to part of VQ's design and leave it at that.

Oh, and RPS's John Walker -- in his Dos and Don'ts for Survival Games posted today -- had this to say:
DO give me time to explore. It’s vital that I feel a sense of threat, of imminent danger, absolutely. But if you’ve created this world, or indeed if this world is creating itself, then allow a little sliver of realism in and let me pootle about it. As mentioned above, a hearty meal is enough for a good afternoon’s poking around, with some wood collection along the way – give us some time as a reward for not having died yet.
;)

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