UPDATE: Alec Meer writes on the dangers of DLC creation and in a far better way than I probably ever will:

The 10 Commandments of DLC

Aww, isn’t that cute, my first RANT ALERT blog post (Tagged as such).

Note: Both videos used here involve raised voices and (Sometimes bleeped) strong language.

“Metal is dead…”

There’s something about this intro sequence to Brutal Legend that touches a part of my brain, a thought lingering deep, deep down. A thought that says the music industry has lost itself, along with the film & television industries, the book industry, radio, etc. We’ve gotten obsessed with demographics, trying to tailor products to audiences and sell and monetise and sell sell sell. We’re not making music, or stories, we’re making product.

Content.

Money.

And on TV/Film/Radio? We’ve got the ‘Talent’. Ugh:

Doesn’t make for pleasant viewing does it.

Yeah, OK, I GET IT, you have to make a profit, businesses aren’t run on charity… (Well, except charity companies but those involve money too.)

It does seem perfectly reasonable for a game development company to have developed a game and find that after release there’re a few developers running around spare with no tasks to do. Rather than fire them, they can be assigned to producing an expansion pack which will (assuming that the completed game sells well) result in additional revenue from sales of the expansion pack.

But just as full games have gotten shorter over the years, with titles such as Portal, Modern Warfare and many other  recent games having 8 or less hours in a single player campaign, so too have the expansion packs, now known as DLC (Expansion packs still happen but they’re getting heavily displaced by DLC now).

DLC being short form for Downloadable Content… Oh dear, there’s one of those words. And honestly, I don’t mind if I feel as though it’s something that the development staff have been working on post release. Lately however there’s been a move towards developing DLC during the development of the full game. Now THAT I’m uncomfortable with. At least with an MMO when I pay twice for a game I know its because I’m paying for server costs like power & maintenance and customer service support should I run into problems with either the game or other players, I’m paying for a service.

DLC released the same day as the game that the DLC is for makes me feel ripped off. It’s not a matter of whether I’m getting an incomplete game or not, it’s the sensation that you’ve denied me content because you want more money, you’ve deliberately chosen to create two tiers of game, the standard game for most people, and the upgraded collectors edition for rich people.

And all this because those big companies allowed game development costs to spiral out of control.

So much for progress.

Meanwhile, and slightly off topic, I was browsing through one of my game design books just a few days back and came upon a discussion about the future of games. Demographics and genre labelling are something that deeply concern me on occasion and the quote in this book helps illustrate why:

“Deer Hunter revealed that people were starving for game styles that the industry hadn’t even considered making. It also showed that people would buy hunting products. Only one of these lessons was learned.” -Owain Bennallack

That quote was from 1999. 10 years later, I still think its a problem.

For some time I wasn’t sure if I was going to be working on the final degree project by myself or with others, I’ve now decided I will be flying solo. Prior to this, I had the following concepts that I was considering flying with, bare in mind that these are very basic and would be expanded over time:

Caveman Night Clubbing
Caveman night clubbing, the whole game is basically a play on a very bad pun. The player goes from cavewoman to cavewoman in the nightclub talking to the different cavewomen. Once the player chooses a cavewoman (by selecting the option to club her and drag her back to the players cave) a black screen with just the word ‘THUNK’ and a story of what happens as a result of the players choice is then displayed, usually with some kind of satirical or comical ending. Perhaps the biggest challenge would be ensuring the game is actually funny.

Conversations consist of voiced caveman speak followed by a translation in brackets, eg
Ug bug, ugga gug ugga? (What do you do in your spare time?)

Archeologist
With two gameplay modes. The main gameplay mode is a 3D representation of a town and surrounding landscape, the player is an archeologist or some kind of explorer looking for various artifacts. When finding something of interest a mini-game puzzle panel is launched which the player has to solve in order to progress in the game.

Outpost
Based on the original outpost, the earth has been struck by a giant meteor & a small number of the earths inhabitants have left the planet and headed into space in an attempt to start a new life on another planet. Its basically a simulation of setting up a colony off the Earth, managing the colony, deciding what to build and how to resource your colony.

The decision

Well, a situation developed where the two chaps I most wanted to work with are being sort of hounded by another student to work with him and I’ve found in very recent experience that if I’m not very careful with my words I might offend him, when something gets on his nerves he is unable to let it drop for an hour or more afterward. The problem is that in order to do what I do I need to be able to open my mouth without fear of the consequences of doing so, plus he seems dead set on using Unreal Engine 3 whilst I’m dead set on using Torque 3D.

Analysing my own strengths and weakness’ I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what, I’m gonna be stretching myself in terms of doing stuff I haven’t really done much before, of the three concepts above the extra-terrestrial colony simulation will be the best choice going forward. I’m not overly confident of my character modelling/animating abilities and I’m concerned about how much time I’m going to be burning up on implementing stuff in Torque Script so by focusing on a game design that has little or no need for animated game characters I take a considerable amount of risk out of flying solo on the final project of my degree.

<Deep Breath>

Ok, so here we go, the original Outpost was released in 1994 and whilst the game did recieve a sequel, that turned out to be more of a real time strategy than some kind of extra-terrestrial colony simulation. I don’t know about you, but I think its about time someone had another go at the concept, though at the moment I can’t be sure if the design I produce will have anywhere near the same level of fidelity or accuracy that the original game had.

Consider this proof of purchase... And age...

Consider this proof of purchase... And age...

Despite this, I can see theres plenty I can do that the original didn’t. For starters, the game could’ve made much better use of the press/news element of the game as information just isn’t presented in an especially strong manner, to be fair this game is 15 years old now so I’m unsurprised that it doesn’t take advantage of the many lessons since learned in interface design.

Anyway, you can always count on the press to call out a person, group of people, company or government when they think that the target of their article is up to no good (Though sometimes it seems as though this is done regardless of whether an article is correct or not) and I think that a colony news service would be a great way of providing a player with what would be effectively a colony advisor. For instance, if the current housing is over crowded there’d be a news article on it, or if crime rates are too high, or there are resource shortages, etc. There’d be different degrees of news story depending on how good or badly you’re doing in a particular area and you could also have an obituary section which informs the player why each colonist has died.

Beyond this, there is (As mentioned above) a certain amount of question as to how detailed a representation of running a colony I’m going to end up doing. Well that’ll depend mostly on how much time I have and how quickly I progress, what I do know is that I’ll start by implementing the most basic aspects first and then as each element becomes complete to a basic extent I’ll be able to move on to the next element or expand an existing one.

I know for the moment that my first tasks will be basic interface implementation and camera control followed by having a bulldozer/builder for clearing a site for the construction of habitation domes, within which buildings can then be constructed (So I’ve already deviated from the design of the original). There are significant challenges here as exhibited by the list of elements listed below, I’ll post more when I’ve made some more decisions over how I’m going to approach all this. Baby steps…

Management of colony morale and all other elements below.

News Service that gives flavour to the setting.

Mines & a system of resource gathering and storage.

Construction of buildings & production of goods.

Balance between birth & death rate.

Agriculture.

Power generation.

Probes & Satellites that provide information such as mine sites, geological information & weather warnings.

Schools/Universities.

Science/Research.

Natural disasters & other emergencies such as plagues.

All the above is before I take into account how time progression works, etc.