grep ‐‐week 13.2018

The theme this week: insert coin to continue.

(After a long hiatus due to life circumstances I’ve been inspired by a combination of recent gamejams, GDC, and old friends to resume this blogging endeavour.  Nothing to see here.)

Exploring the History of Midway Games
Let’s kick off with the highlight of GDC: a preview screening of Josh Tsui’s Midway documentary! Some of the best bits included a discussion about the internal conflict that resulted from putting explicit violence in an arcade game and a story of how my former manager Sheridan Oursler became one of the most popular characters in NBA Jam. Everyone who grew up in the arcade era needs to watch this.
Houdini GDC 2018 Presentations

Another GDC revelation for me was seeing the Houdini procedural tech in action.  No longer just an asset creation tool, Houdini is packed with cool procgen features.  I think it might be suffering from similar issues as Wolfram Alpha — it’s so powerful and so abstract that it’s hard to wrap your head around exactly what you might use it for.  Definitely take a look at Anastasia Opara’s ‘Designing Procedural Systems’ presentation if you’re interested in totally new ways of engaging players with procedural content.

Highlights from Unity Keynote
Every Unity dev, and roguelike devs in particular, should take a look at what’s coming down the Unity pipeline. The new C# Jobs system and the machine learning tools can fundamentally change the way games are developed, and I see the strongest use cases in the areas of massive simulations.

Blockchain Is Games’ New Tech Obsession
Hard to disagree with anything here. Cryptocurrency seems pretty shady at the moment, but hopefully it legitimises itself soon because the potential of blockchain is so massive that I would hate to see the likes of Bitcoin become a noose around its neck. The best comparison right now is probably bittorrent — a really powerful technology whose killer app unfortunately is piracy. From a game developer point of view, the biggest problem is justifying the use of this tech at all; the only meaningful value propositions you can give to a player are incredibly vague and rely heavily on the player having their own understanding of how blockchain works, so it seems like a nonstarter on the business side AND the gameplay side, at least for now. The FOMO here is all hype.

Games Need More Power Fantasies Beyond Beefy Dudes with Big Guns
I really like the angle here, but I think the author misses the larger question: do console gamers (i.e. the target audience of big publishers) have any interest in exploring these alternative power fantasies? It appears as if this decade will be defined by the firm establishment of an echo-chamber culture, and console publishers (not named Nintendo) were some of the earliest adopters (promoters?) of that movement. Their tactics have generated tons of revenue obviously, but I would argue they’ve also created an unsustainable marketplace that has trained its own audience to be highly resistant to change.

“Power fantasies are produced by an industry, and they reflect several parts of that industry. The most important one is money. Our current shooters are seen as a sure bet, the best return on investment for risk-averse publishers. Nihilism sets in. Why would that ever change?” —Cameron Kunzelman

time becomes a loop

Wow, time moves quickly when you’ve got a toddler.  You blink and all of a sudden it’s 7DRL again and you realize you haven’t blogged in a year.

(On the bright side, I guess this obligatory ‘wow I haven’t posted in a while’ post makes me an official game dev blogger.)

Anyways, if you’re going to GDC this year then stop by the Improbable booth and say hi!  I’ll be showing our latest prototype of their SpatialOS technology running on iOS.


The 7DRL challenge is halfway over.  It’s always difficult to find enough time to work on a project like this, but I’ve made some nice progress:

It turns out that I had all kinds of useful working bits of code from my RZG experiments.  I also decided to start from a state of completion and work backwards to fill in the gaps, so I’ve actually had a completely playable game since day 1 — it’s just not very good yet.

Here’s a summary so far:

  • Generate a random dungeon map bounded by walls and surrounded by a bottomless pit;
  • Fill the map with NPCs that wander around, an Amulet that can be picked up, and a portal to escape and end the game;
  • Spawn  the player into the world equipped with the Friendship Bat and the Gun of Supreme Convincing — whack an NPC with the bat or shoot them with the gun and they will become your loyal servant, following you anywhere you go (even into the bottomless pit…);
  • The player character, the amulet and the escape portal are all visible on a minimap which can be toggled on or off;
  • Controls are designed to work best with an Xbox controller, although you can also play with just a keyboard;

Not bad for a few days of effort, but now we venture into the unknown.  Coming up on my list of milestones we have:

  • Knowledge system — All entities in the world are given properties known only to them, but knowledge can be shared via chat, careful observation, or from reading books.  The more knowledge you gain about an item the more useful it becomes, and the more you learn about an NPC the better chance you have of converting them into your follower.
  • Chat system — The default action in the game will be to say ‘hello’ and introduce yourself.  This should lead into some sort of dialogue where you can trade knowledge and items with NPCs.
  • Content — More elaborate dungeons, more items with more functionality, more NPC behaviours… the goal is to create a large enough variety of systems to produce emergent gameplay and a deep roguelike experience.

Ok, enough stalling.  Back to work.


After a short holiday break, it’s time to get rolling once again.  Just in time for this year’s Seven-Day Roguelike Challenge!  This will be the first game jam-like I’ve done in a while, and true to the spirit of 7DRL I’m determined to actually release something.

My entry is inspired by the short story ‘The Library of Babel‘ by Jorge Luis Borges, written in 1941:

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries.”


“Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues. At times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian.”


“Now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing…”

This is a great opportunity to explore some of the concepts I’ve been discussing on this blog:

  • Inspiration from non-video game sources;
  • Alternatives to combat and violence;
  • Group behavior and social phenomenon

Time to put my code where my mouth is.

grep ‐‐week 52

The theme this week is:  null sweat chummers, see you next year.

CD Projekt Red receives grant for procgen research
The lo(ooooooo)ng awaited Cyberpunk 2077 maybe just got a boost towards actual existence, as CDPR takes in a $7mil government grant for research into “the creation of ‘live’, playable in real-time, cities of great scale based on the principles of artificial intelligence and automation,” among other technologies.  Of course they might just pour all of that money into the next Witcher, but we’ll keep hope alive.

ProcJam 2016
Videos of the talks are up from Procedural Generation Jam 2016.  I’ll be following up on this in the next few weeks once I’m home from holiday and have time to digest it all, but you can see this year’s entries there as well.

Procedural Sprites at GenJam 2016
However, I can’t seem to find any write-ups from the newly minted Generative Art Jam in SF, other than this very cool sprite generator.  The author essentially took an open source sprite collection, broke it up into pieces and palettes, and made a paper-doll character generator.

Bad Game Pitch Bot
This also came out of GenJam:  “What if we made a Call of Duty-alike, but with a dynamic romance simulation?”  — that’s what I’ve been talking about!

Everything Procedural 2016
Videos of the talks from the Conference on Procedural Content Generation for Games in the Netherlands last month are also available.

Procedural Personality Generation
More great output from the Moon Hunters team, who are now apparently literally writing the book on procgen.  Repeating the oft-given advice to err on the side of too much transparency in your system, Tanya Short adds an interesting observation:

“Most [procgen systems] expose character traits up-front and then allow the player to observe behaviour and compare their expectations to what the character does and how they appear. I believe this may be a symptom of players’ current relative illiteracy of procedural content, such that designers are under huge pressures to ensure their outcomes appear less ‘random’ and to ensure the systems they build aren’t ‘wasted’ in opacity from the player.” —Tanya Short

7 uses of procedural generation that all developers should study
A repost from earlier this year (as part of Gamasutra’s year in review) covers a wide variety of use cases for procgen.

Magic Leap execs jump ship
This is a bit unexpected.  I had high expectations for Magic Leap to finally open the door for wearable computing (after Google Glass fell on its face), and now practically the first bit of news coming from their secret lair is all bad.  I guess we’ll find out the truth soon enough at the rumored unveiling at CES next month.