Lucifer’s Hammer

A chance encounter in space led to a conversation which lead to a corporation application, and now I’m happily settling back into life as a miner and producer for Lucifer’s Hammer, part of the A Band Apart alliance. I’ve been in the Hammer before, and really enjoyed my time there, so it’s good to be back “home”. I know in my last post I said I was going to give the solo lifestyle a try, but really, the offer to rejoin Lucifer’s Hammer was too good to pass up. They let me do all of the things I was interested in doing and more, plus they have a wonderful group of players (Starfire Dai in particular has been so supportive and helpful while I find my feet), plus excellent logistics and production programmes.

Propaganda by the insanely talented Rixx Javix
Propaganda by the insanely talented Rixx Javix

So far I’ve moved my relevant ships into their systems, done a little mining, and some Tech I production for their inventors to use. I’ve also accidentally embezzled (and returned!) a billion ISK worth of assets, but the less said about that the better.

It feels good to be back being productive, and in such a supportive environment. Given how the life of the lowly miner is often looked down upon in EVE, Lucifer’s Hammer is well respected within the more (generally) PvP-focused ABA, with Rixx once writing:

I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for those players that choose to be the builders, the traders, the miners, the workers in Eve. It is often a hard choice and one full of its own set of dangers. And excitement. And achievement. Not everything in Eve boils down to killboard stats.

…which I’ve really taken to heart. MMOs work best when you have a good core of folks to experience them with.

Back to New Eden

I logged back into EVE Online after a hiatus of nearly a year and started taking stock of my assets. They were in surprisingly good shape, actually. It only took one short haul in an industrial ship to get all of my belongings concentrated into two spots: my mining barge and industrial blueprints at my top-secret production based somewhere in Amarr Empire space, and everything else at Jita, awaiting a fittings review and moving on to wherever it is I decide to call home.

In the meantime, I played a few rounds of the new Project Discovery mini-game. CCP have teamed up with Reykjavik University to gamify some real-world science. Players identify protein structures in high resolution images of human cells, and in the process, provide valuable metadata for the Human Protein Atlas database (and earn some ISK on the side).

Screenshot 2016-03-31 18.43.25

It’s a pretty fun diversion, and helped pass the time as I flew my industrial across several jumps. I’m not doing too badly at it — I’ve managed to drag my accuracy up to 60% from the 50% it starts out at; each success or failure adjusts it slightly. I don’t see how it’s an actual percentage, given that it starts floating at 50%, rather than being 100% the moment you get the first one right and going from there, but maybe I’m missing some crucial mathematical insight here. The ISK payouts are minimal, but I’m also earning “Analysis Kredits” that might cash out to something useful eventually.

My next step is to work out what I’m going to do, which is largely to take a leaf out of the EVE Hermit‘s playbook and settle down to some solo play. I’m thinking three main goals:

  • Find a quiet-ish highsec base from which to work on corporation standings with an RP-appropriate group and work towards unlocking level 4 missions. I’m considering both Republic Security Services and the Republic Justice Department. I’d like to somehow get my Minmatar embroiled with the Bloody Hand of Matar, and they both seem like a good step in that direction.
  • Continue to mine and do blueprint research. I really like the quiet of a slow session mining, and the income is nice. To spice it up a bit, I also want to take some Expedition and the (new to me) Endurance frigates into dangerous w-space or null territories via wormholes to see what I can get away with ninja-mining.
  • Set up some Planetary Interaction colonies to provide more income and to experiment with creating higher-tier goods.
I love the beta map so much.
I love the beta map so much.

I think that’s more than enough for now. I’m going try and take notes and plenty of screenshots along the way, and hopefully some sort of narrative will arise from my actions; EVE is just ripe for casual RP. It’s been a while since I was last in space but I’m really enjoying being back.

Dungeons made by hand

Towards the end of this year’s 7DRL, I sat down and implemented some AI pathfinding in a new project, which resulted in this screenshot:

Please disregard the hideously clashing red text labelling each tile — concentrate on how cute the girl and the cat are.

While I’m happy that the pathfinding works (see the line of X marks showing the path the cat would take to reach the player), that’s not what I want to talk about; it’s the tiles themselves.

I’ve been using Quale’s Scroll-o-Sprites as my tileset (which I really love). They’re bold and cutesy, easy to recolour, and released under a permissive CC-BY-3.0 licence. I’ve had a lot of fun colouring them up with palettes based on work by Design Seeds:

Much as I like these sprites, for a long time I’ve wondered about using my own hand-drawn tiles in a game. My last game project, Words With Monsters was illustrated with monsters that I drew by hand, and I really like the style I’ve arrived at. I spent a long time drawing and re-drawing monsters, and I’ve got a certain personal style down now.

I wasn’t quite sure how well this style would translate to significantly smaller tiles suitable for a dungeon crawler, though. So, last week I sat down one night and drew a bunch of little tiles while we watched Deep Space Nine, and then scanned them in this weekend. Drawing that small is really hard and I obviously need a lot more practise at it. But after I’d cleaned them up a bit in the GIMP and added some colour, I was pretty pleased with the result when I switched the tilesheets around:

Instagram: experimented today with hand-dtawn tiles for a. Quite like it

Some of them are a little blurry, and the lines could be a little sharper, but that’s something I can experiment with. I drew them at about an inch square and scaled them to 42px square tiles, which seemed like a reasonable size. I tried scanning them at 72DPI and at a higher DPI and scaling down, but it didn’t make any appreciable difference; I suppose once the image is that small, a pixel is either there or it isn’t. There are various things I can do to the scanned images to clean them up and colour them, and figuring out that workflow for turning drawings into usable sprites is going to be a fun process of trial-and-improvement.

#7DRL 2016 wrap-up: Rats, bats and cupcakes

I’ve marked my 2016 Seven Day Roguelike Challenge entry as “complete”, as it fulfils what I consider the bare basics for being a complete game:

  • You can win the game, by finding a cupcake. The longer you play and the further you explore, the more likely it is that you’ll find it in the randomly generated woods.
  • You can lose the game, by being repeatedly defeated in combat and dying.
  • You have a score, and so can try to improve from one game to the next. Your score is half your gold +number of new maps visited + 100 for finding the cupcake.

But is it a roguelike?

Let’s use the sometimes controversial Berlin Interpretation of a roguelike and see how it fares.

High value factors

  • Random environment generation: Yes. A bit too random, rather than procedural, but the maps are randomly generated.
  • Permadeath: Yes.
  • Turn-based: Also yes, though everyone gets an even number of turns, with no scheduling or speed taken into account.
  • Grid-based: Definitely.
  • Non-modal and Complex: The game is way too simple to be truly fun, and the player doesn’t have enough actions available to make modality even a consideration.
  • Resource management: Other than your health, there are no resources to manage.
  • Hack’n’slash: With an albeit incredibly simple combat engine, yes.
  • Exploration and discovery: Sort of. The layout of the woods remains fixed as you explore, and each screen is uniquely generated, though there aren’t enough different building blocks to make exploration feel rewarding.

Low value factors

  • Single player character: Yes. And she’s very cute (thanks to Quale’s sprite sheet!)
  • Monsters are similar to players: Actually, yes. They use the same code and statistics for movement and combat (and that’s all they can do, just like the player).
  • Tactical challenge: There is no tactical challenge, given the overly simplistic nature of the gameplay.
  • ASCII display: I deliberately used a graphical tileset, so no.
  • Dungeons: No. It’s set in a wood rather than a dungeon, and the random rather than procedural generation of the screens rule out any room-like areas.
  • Numbers: All of the numbers are hidden from the player, which was a choice I made deliberately given the very simplistic nature of the game.

Despite being incredibly simple, it scores pretty well for being a roguelike, though the ones it fails on — like complexity and modality are pretty big ones! My main gripes are definitely the lack of complexity and the braindead “AI” for the monsters. I really could have done better with those, but I’d never done pathfinding or even line-of-sight checking before. Around Wednesday night / Thursday morning, I took that as a learning opportunity and started looking into those, and managed to get a pretty decent pathfinding system in place.

…my problem was that by that point the actual 7DRL was pretty feature-complete and I had no desire to go in there and start rewriting chunks of it to take advantage of the pathfinder. This has been my biggest take-home point from the week, I think: It’s been a great project for getting me coding again, but I really hated the deadline and the feeling that it was better to rush something that worked than to plan out neatly from the beginning.

I’ve already started on a new roguelike, using some of lessons learnt from this one. Better procedural map generation using a stem and leaf model. Better objects to encapsulate game entities. Monster AI that actually has some intelligence to it.

But can I play it?

You can play it if you like! It’s super-simple, but it works (more or less). You’ll need a modern desktop browser:

Known bugs

  • Enemies sometimes overwrite background scenery as they move (I was too lazy to update it properly)
  • Can’t close the dialog box when you win or lose (just hit refresh)
  • Sometimes, I think, you can be attacked by a monster as you’re transitioning between map screens. That kind of sucks.
  • The critical path routine is brain dead. Expect the occasional dead-end map (whether or not this is a bug is debatable).

#7DRL 2016: “Leaves Underfoot”

Today is the start of the 2016 Seven Day Roguelike Challenge, which prompts people to try making a roguelike game in seven days — this year I’m giving it a go with a game I’m calling Leaves Underfoot. I’ve tried a #7drl a couple of times before and never quite managed to finish in time, but this year I have a couple of advantages over previous attempts:

  • Before the challenge started, I wrote some handy functions for handling display, input, and some other basic framework stuff — which is not only allowed but encouraged;
  • I have the entire week off work, and a clear schedule to sit and drink tea and code non-stop.
Every RPG needs rats to kill, right?

The player wanders semi-aimlessly around an infinite forest, killing monsters and collecting treasure. There’ll be a score, and an end goal — probably fetching an amulet in true roguelike style, but I haven’t decided yet. It’s very, very simple, but then it will be the first roguelike I’ve ever finished. I have some ideas for a somewhat un-roguelike combat system that should make it a little different, and the graphics (with thanks to Quale’s Scroll-o-Sprites) are adorable enough to make it interesting for a quick play through.

I’m not planning on blogging every day throughout the week, but I am more or less live-tweeting as I go along, and at the very least I’ll do a recap here at the end of the week.


Pre-challenge code written

  • HTML/CSS framework for displaying maps
  • Logging function for displaying basic messages
  • Function to display a graphical tile at a given location in foreground or background
  • Function to display a map based on pre-fetched data
  • jQuery listeners for keyboard input
  • Rudimentary map generation and critical pathing
  • Sprite sheet coloured in (this is the best bit)

Day one recap

  • Finished map generation, including an endlessly frustrating rewrite of the critical path function which chains maps together and gives the player a “guaranteed” route through the woods
  • Maps are saved to server via AJAX/JSON — in theory I could twist this to make the game very un-roguelike and have all the players share the same persistent world map
  • Monsters appear on or near the critical path — just rats for today, but I have tiles for bats, spiders, skeletons, goblins and all kinds of things prepared
  • Rats move according to something so simple I daren’t even call it AI
  • Game recognises when a player/rat or rat/player bump happens to initiate combat
  • Basic launch/front page for the game

FFXIV: A Client Reborn

After the debacle of the original FFXIV Mac client that caused SquareEnix to pull it, I bought a MacBook Pro to replace my previous machine, and that left me unable to continue playing. I could have used BootCamp to dual-boot into Windows, I suppose, but that wasn’t something I wanted to do.

But this week, Square Enix relaunched the Mac client in a bundle with Heavensward and 30 days of subscription time. An opening sale made it 50% off, so it was a bit of a bargain compared to the wallet-gouging I was expecting. As my account didn’t already have Heavensward, it made it very convenient for me to pick it up and register a new platform at a discount.

And… it works! I can have my green-haired Lalafell back! We immediately went fishing to celebrate, on the sunny shores of the Costa Del Sol.

Caught one!

Getting the client up and running was an all day job, sad to say, but I had a couple of days off work at the beginning of the week. It’s a 14GB download, which took about four hours on my connection. Then I discovered to my dismay that it wouldn’t launch. I hadn’t read the small print — there’s a known bug with OSX 10.10.5 that prevents it from launching. Luckily, I was entitled to a free upgrade to 10.11 (“El Capitan”, possibly the dumbest codename for an operating system ever). That was another 6GB download, followed by a very smooth upgrade experience.

With El Cap installed, finally the launcher launched… and proceeded to download another 10GB of patch data. I was kind of losing the will to live at this point, truth be told. But it works.

Still pretty gorgeous, even with things dialled back a little for laptop play

I’m playing it on a 2015 Macbook Pro, despite the warning of “extraordinary heat generated during gameplay“. There isn’t. It gets a bit warm, like it does when playing any game. Anecdotally, I think the way I play Diablo III with all the settings cranked up and at quite a high resolution produces more heat. I’m playing fullscreen at 1440×900, with the graphics set on the “Medium” default as a baseline, but with anti-aliasing turned on. I’m seeing an average of about 40fps, with no stuttering or tearing, so I’m happy with that. I’d much rather have things turned down a little so they’re consistently smooth than crank the pretty up but be hurky-jerky as I’m adventuring.

Since installing, I’ve done dungeons, levequests, a couple of pretty busy FATEs, and it all seems to be working great — my only complaint is that screenshots seem to come out a bit darker than they appear in-game. But that’s such a minor gripe. I was concerned that we were going to end up with another badly written second-citizen client for the Mac, but they seem to have done the work this time.


Do I really have to catch them all?

I usually have two games on the go at the same time: one at home, and one on my phone for playing during my commute. I just got my phone back from being repaired (I actually received a new stock handset, which was nice) so I got myself set up with My Boy! again and installed Pokémon: Leaf Green.

I spent a bit of time last year playing Pokémon: Omega Ruby, and while I really enjoyed it, I found that I really disliked using the 3DS. I didn’t like having a new device to keep charged and on my person. It’s too big to fit in a pocket comfortably, and I don’t always take a bag to work with me. Would you just listen to all these first world problems I’m having here? I want to play videogames.

Luckily, emulated Game Boy Advance Pokémon on my phone neatly solves all these issues, and really turns the game into the perfect mobile game. State saving means you can pick it up and put it down immediately, and the ability to fast-forward means merrily skipping through some of the grind.  Yes, that’s kind of cheating, but I really don’t care. I’m not going to be doing any save scumming, but I will definitely be abusing the fast-forward button.

I’ve named my rival Matt, after my friend Matt, who might be joining me by playing Fire Red, and picked Bulbasaur for my starter, because I have a soft spot for grass-type Pokémon. I’ve walked over to Pewter City, the site of the first Gym, but I haven’t attempted it yet. I think I’ve caught one of everything along the way, though other than a Pikachu that doesn’t really mean much. I honestly don’t know if I’m going to bother with catching ’em all; for now all really want is to get the storyline complete. I’ve played many, many hours of Pokémon across various titles and platforms, and I’ve never finished one — I’m hoping that in this format, I might be able to stick it through to the end.