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What Nobody Tells You About Being a Game Dev 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the internet-people-curse-your-mother dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Alex Norton is the man behind Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox, an upcoming indie action-RPG. What makes Malevolence interesting is that it's infinite. It uses procedural generation to create a world that's actually endless. Norton jumped into this project without having worked at any big gaming studios, and in this article he shares what he's learned as an independent game developer. Quoting: "A large, loud portion of the public will openly hate you regardless of what you do. Learn to live with it. No-one will ever take your project as seriously as you, or fully realize what you're going through. ... The odds of you making money out of it are slim. If you want to succeed, you'll likely have to sell out. Just how MUCH you sell out is up to you.' He also suggests new game devs avoid RPGs for their first titles, making a thorough plan before you begin (i.e. game concepts explained well enough that a non-gamer could understand), and considering carefully whether the game will benefit from a public development process."
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What Nobody Tells You About Being a Game Dev

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  • Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:17PM (#42083053)

    People didn't know this?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:19PM (#42083067)

    I fully agree about not making the first project an RPG. A good RPG needs good story, graphics, game balance, hopefully multiplayer and there are a lot of "gotchas" to be found. Plus any good-sized RPG will end up being huge. Almost any other type of game is probably easier for a single-developer studio to create.

    • Easier, sure, but who ever had fun doing easy things? I've been the lone developer on an MMO RPG for about 3 years now, and we've just started releasing previews to small groups of our followers.

      If you can keep at it, do it. If you can't, try something different. The only necessity is to finish: Anything finished is better than anything not finished.

      • by godrik (1287354)

        I guess one of the point of being a game developer is to make money out of it. If you are doing it for fun, then sure, you can spend 3 years on your pet project. If you are planning to make money, how do you eat for 3 years?

        • by mypalmike (454265)

          AFAICT, if you're like many indie game devs, mom and dad feed you.

        • by preaction (1526109) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @10:41PM (#42084773)

          You get a Real Job (tm). At my Real Job I make enough money to pay some contractors at my game company, and I spend my nights and weekends coding for the game.

          No, I don't have a spouse or a social life to speak of, why do you ask?

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          I guess one of the point of being a game developer is to make money out of it. If you are doing it for fun, then sure, you can spend 3 years on your pet project. If you are planning to make money, how do you eat for 3 years?

          Get an intellectually undemanding part time job in the same way that budding actors or musicians have to.

        • by Xest (935314)

          This is what anyone starting their own business deals with. Either you have a business plan that allows you to make enough money to live from it, or, if you don't, you start your business alongside a job and grow it until it's making enough money to quit your full time job.

          I started writing a game 2 years ago, I started at christmas, and had 2 weeks off over that period. During this time, as well as learning XNA I managed to build a full blown world editor for manipulating terrain, placing entities, setting

    • by Cinder6 (894572)

      Multiplayer? Outside of MMOs, I can't think of any (popular) RPGs that support more than one player. The Tales series comes close, but you can only have more than one player during combat.

  • Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:32PM (#42083127)
    In the article he claims that it would take three weeks to walk across one segment of the map, even with noclip enabled, and then it would just create a new segment.
    I just am wondering who would play a game that much that they would even care? Few people are going to really "complete" even Skyrim much less an "infinite" world.
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by arth1 (260657) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:41PM (#42083185) Homepage Journal

      In the article he claims that it would take three weeks to walk across one segment of the map, even with noclip enabled, and then it would just create a new segment.
      I just am wondering who would play a game that much that they would even care?

      For an MMORPG, it would matter a great deal. Being able to find a pristine area for yourself that 14 year old Kevin and gold farmer Deng Wu are statistically unlikely to ever find would be great.

      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by loneDreamer (1502073) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:58PM (#42083269)
        Why are you playing an MMORPG if you prefer not to interact with other players? You would probably be better with a plain old RPG.
        • I keep saying this over and over and over.

          Real life is the biggest MMO out there, and strangely enough, I like to do things by myself sometimes. So why shouldn't I be allowed to do stuff by myself in MMO's occasionally. I've played far to many MMO's where you have to be in a group to wipe your ass for crying out loud.

          Just because a game has multi-player in the title does NOT mean I should HAVE to be in a group to accomplish every little thing.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          You don't see how it would enhance MMORPGs to be able to have a bigger world, so that players could create locations you're unlikely to stumble upon by accident?

          • by Tackhead (54550)

            You don't see how it would enhance MMORPGs to be able to have a bigger world, so that players could create locations you're unlikely to stumble upon by accident?

            Back in the day, SWG actually had that feature - you could buy certain scriptable items and set up a player-driven quest/event. IIRC you could even arrange a event coordinator (a human-controlled NPC working on behalf of the game company) to show up for 5-10 minutes as Vader, Solo, Leia, etc...

            The problem is that if you give MMORPG players too

        • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by vux984 (928602) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @07:15PM (#42083959)

          Why are you playing an MMORPG if you prefer not to interact with other players?

          I'm happy to interact with other players. Doesn't mean I want to interact with every single asshole in the game.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          Why are you playing an MMORPG if you prefer not to interact with other players? You would probably be better with a plain old RPG.

          I could turn your question around at you and say why do you play in an MMORPG at all if all you want to do is interact? Why not have a dogpile party where ALL you do is interact?

          It's really simple. Wanting to be alone some of the time does not imply wanting to be alone all of the time.

          Nor does wanting to avoid 14 year old Kevins and Chinese gold farmers imply that you do not want to play with a trusted group of people. You may want the latter without the former.

          Instancing doesn't solve the problem - it i

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gl4ss (559668)

      well.. daggerfall, an older game in the elder scrolls series, is actually much bigger than skyrim(iirc about the size of england in real life), because it uses generated content. which on that days graphics and level complexity worked pretty nice.

      also there's of course frontier which gives you an entire galaxy(albeit only a smallish portion near sol of it is populated).

      the point though with it is that it gives you a sense of being an explorer - but the novelty gets ruined if there's no special places to fin

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bfandreas (603438) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @12:15AM (#42085069)

        well.. daggerfall, an older game in the elder scrolls series, is actually much bigger than skyrim(iirc about the size of england in real life), because it uses generated content. which on that days graphics and level complexity worked pretty nice.

        No, it didn't. The generated dungeons very often had unreachable segments that contained the McGuffin you had to find for the mages guild. It was a soulless game all in all. I wouldn't call it a successful application of procedurally generated content but rather a cautionary tale.

        TES has had a rightfully deserved reputation of shallowness. Especially RPGs live and die by carefully crafted worlds. Given the choice between Planescape: Torment and Daggerfall I know which one I'd choose.
        Of course there is the other extreme of RPG where you are basically on rails and you are basically relegated to the position of spectator. Or the game isn't about the world but constant repitition of the same old. MMOs and ARPGs fall into the latter category.

    • I would, but I have an especial interest in infinite game worlds. I'm finally getting around to "Dear Esther" which is not infinite, but the aim of the game is to travel and experience the game's narrative. I've always liked exploring game environments for the sake of appreciating the virtual world. Grand Theft Auto Vice City and games like Midtown Madness and Test Drive remain favorites for that reason. I wouldn't even call the activity meta gaming as I might for my activities in EVE Online where I enjoy e

  • Infinite (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arth1 (260657) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:34PM (#42083143) Homepage Journal

    Ok, so how do you create an infinite world with procedural generation?
    You can't limit yourself to, say, a 64-bit int, cause that's not infinite. You could, presumably, use linked lists, but then you'd run into speed issues. Arbitrary length BCD (or similar)? Yeah, but the procedural generation routines have to be able to handle them. The memory required quickly grows towards infinity too.

    Also, a procedural generation based on coordinates (which, when all comes to all, just is a seed number) has to be robust enough to not repeat as the seed becomes arbitrarily large. A simple PRNG won't do, or someone may find out that the world repeats if going flaxtythree billion miles in either direction.

    Too bad there are no details in just how this is done, because that's clearly the interesting part.

    • Re:Infinite (Score:5, Funny)

      by arth1 (260657) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:37PM (#42083157) Homepage Journal

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    • by Anonymous Coward

      Your pedantry is noted. However, from a mortal human's perspective, 64-bit is infinite. Nobody cares if it repeats at a distance that you could never reach if you started the game today and left the "move forward" button mashed down until your death.

      • by arth1 (260657)

        However, from a mortal human's perspective, 64-bit is infinite.

        Computers don't have a human perspective. Yet.

        Nobody cares if it repeats at a distance that you could never reach if you started the game today and left the "move forward" button mashed down until your death.

        You're presuming that you'll be limited to walking or other slow means of transportation. And that there are no bots involved.

        • Re:Infinite (Score:5, Informative)

          by nabsltd (1313397) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @05:27PM (#42083433)

          However, from a mortal human's perspective, 64-bit is infinite.

          You're presuming that you'll be limited to walking or other slow means of transportation. And that there are no bots involved.

          Actually, no, he isn't.

          Let's just say that you have millimeter precision in a 64-bit integer, which would make the world 18,446,744,073,709,551 meters across. Even at the speed of light, it would take 61,531,714 seconds to traverse that distance, or nearly two years. Got that...we're talking about a world that is two light years across.

          So, as long as you limit travel to some reasonable speed (e.g., 300km/sec, or nearly 10 times faster than anything man-made has ever travelled), the world is infinite for all practical purposes, even with a "faster time passage" UI. Likewise, teleportation could have a limited distance (even thousands of miles) and not be a problem unless it took literally zero time to complete.

          And, this is assuming that the 64-bit number is used to directly map each millimeter. If, instead, it is a more granular area and the sub-areas are procedurally generated (which is what TFA says), then perhaps the resolution is a somewhere between 1 and 100 meters. This increases the world size to anywhere from 2,000 to 200,000 light years.

          I bet even with a world as big as the Milky Way galaxy, there will be people who complain that the game is overpriced.

          • by arth1 (260657)

            Let's just say that you have millimeter precision in a 64-bit integer, which would make the world 18,446,744,073,709,551 meters across. Even at the speed of light, it would take 61,531,714 seconds to traverse that distance, or nearly two years. Got that...we're talking about a world that is two light years across.

            The standard mode of long distance transportation in MMOS and even some SPRPGs is teleportation. Travel speed doesn't enter the equation.
            And I'm sure it was unintentional, but at your speed of light, time becomes irrelevant too. Any travel at the speed of light in vacuum becomes teleportation in the time frame of the traveler.

            (And not that it matters if you have teleportation, but even at sub-light speeds, relativism enters the equation - at 99.95% of c, going your two light years would only take 22.5 day

            • by nabsltd (1313397)

              The standard mode of long distance transportation in MMOS and even some SPRPGs is teleportation. Travel speed doesn't enter the equation.

              Sure it does, unless the teleport can go anywhere (as I stated, which I guess you didn't read). If you limit the distance, then even an enormous limit won't allow full exploration in a timely manner. Likewise, no system I know of allows infinite use of such powers as teleportation. The spell/effect takes time to cast, plus you must have the manna/energy/whatever to perform it, and collection of that takes time.

              And I'm sure it was unintentional, but at your speed of light, time becomes irrelevant too. Any travel at the speed of light in vacuum becomes teleportation in the time frame of the traveler.

              Not in the physics of my game. See what I did there?

              That said, even if the game follows this,

    • If the game is offline, it could just as easily unload portions of the map that are outside of line-of-sight, or a given radius from the character. Events taking place in the unloaded areas that impact the visible ones may be abstracted away to use less memory, with terrain and mob states saved and loaded as the player approaches them again. That should take care of repetition as well as keeping the memory use constant.

    • by romiz (757548)
      Just implement the calculation of any irrational number. If I remember well, you get an infinite string of digits, non-repeating, in any base you take.
      • by arth1 (260657)

        Just implement the calculation of any irrational number. If I remember well, you get an infinite string of digits, non-repeating, in any base you take.

        Yes, but doesn't that become more and more time consuming as the number grows? Isn't this why no one does things like "the encryption key starts at the 10^175102457341-th decimals of e"?

    • Pretty easily actually. Giant endless featureless flat plane... don't even need the character's current coordinates, because they are irrelevant, as nothing noticeably changes as you move around the plane. Only if you demand that the environment cannot repeat do you require infinite memory, but infinite itself does not require that restriction.
      • Re:Infinite (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Nationless (2123580) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @05:21PM (#42083403)

        In fact surely by definition an infinite world will repeat itself due to it being infinite and therefore an infinite amount of repetition?

        Isn't it like saying the second full rendition of Shakespeare that was just created is a bug and the infinite monkeys will be adjusted accordingly?

        • Re:Infinite (Score:5, Insightful)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @05:45PM (#42083529) Journal

          In fact surely by definition an infinite world will repeat itself due to it being infinite and therefore an infinite amount of repetition?

          The set of integers is infinite; but has no repeated elements. There isn't anything forbidding an infinite world from being repetitive; but infinite size does not require repetition.

        • Imagine a world with trees radiating from a central point that are mysteriously shaped like numerals. The central point, where you start, has a tree that looks like a 3. You find the universe is symmetric but non-repeating. Going out from the center, is 1, then 4, then 1, then 5, then 9...

          • by KrimZon (912441)

            Pi still contains local repetitions - after about 200,000 trees, you reach a tree that looks like a 3, then a 1, then a 4, then a 1, then a 5 then a 9 (but the next one is a 7.)

            Identical repetition isn't that much of a problem compared to everything just looking kind of similar. Same sort of trees, same sort of hills, and so on.

      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        Yep, in fact if the environment is truly infinite, some portion of it (for an arbitrarily large, but non-infinite "some") will end up repeating, it's unavoidable. The only thing you can do is make the portion so small over a given segment of the space that no human will ever notice the repetition.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you can't walk to the end of this thing within a human lifespan then that's perfectly good enough to call it infinite in the context of a game. It's impossible to make it actually infinite and non-repeating because you have to store something about the surroundings. There has to be a limit to what you can store since a computer has limited memory, so you can store at most N bits to describe the current state of the game for some N. If you walk in one direction for long enough, you'll have exhausted the 2

      • If you walk in one direction for long enough, you'll have exhausted the 2^N possible states that those bits can be in, and after that point there must be a repeat of the state of the game, which means that for all intents and purposes you are now back to where you were before so it isn't actually infinite.

        This is exactly what would happen on a real, approximately spherical, planet (ignoring inconveniences like oceans).

        I don't see why people, particularly the GP, are making such a fuss.

    • Re:Infinite (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Baloroth (2370816) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @06:07PM (#42083639)

      There is a slight disconnect of what is meant by calling something "infinite". Technically, it means "without boundary", which in this context simply means I can walk in one direction and never reach an end. You don't need to generate the whole thing or store it in memory all at once (that would be absolutely impossible), you just need to be able to generate as much as would ever be needed. That is still a technical challenge. I'm guessing that if you really expanded far enough, your computer would run out of memory. Either that or he destroys segments of the world that aren't in use. There is literally no other option. As others have pointed out, the world can and probably will repeat over some segment, that isn't actually a problem or a qualification for infinite at all.

      You can never generate something that is actually infinite, it will always have some boundary. You can, however, extend that boundary as far as your physical limitations (computer memory, in this case), will allow. In that sense, it is infinite (indefinite in size is a better word and is what he actually means).

    • They only said infinite; they did not say non-repeating infinite. An infinite plane with the same region tiled over and over again is still infinite.
    • by wrp103 (583277)

      Ok, so how do you create an infinite world with procedural generation? You can't limit yourself to, say, a 64-bit int, cause that's not infinite. You could, presumably, use linked lists, but then you'd run into speed issues.

      You seem to be assume the use of integers to identify the rooms. And there are many alternatives to linked lists.

      A simple method would be to generate a pair of unique strings for each entrance/exit of a room. The first string would identify the current room / board, and the second string could represent the destination room. If you want to get really interesting, you can have one-way doorways, or even a different destination based on various factors. A simple hash table or an indexed database table c

      • by arth1 (260657)

        You seem to be assume the use of integers to identify the rooms.

        You seem to have stopped reading right before my "Arbitrary length BCD (or similar)?"

        Thing is, though, that no matter what the unique identifier (or identifiers), you somehow want to use it to select the path your generating algorithm takes. The simplest way of doing this is through some kind of data type you can count with.

        And there are many alternatives to linked lists.

        A simple method would be to generate a pair of unique strings for each entrance/exit of a room.

        Um, that is a linked list, by any other name.

  • however if you are experienced and have a good game idea, how would this advice apply?
    • by Dunge (922521)
      "A large, loud portion of the public will openly hate you regardless of what you do. Learn to live with it. No-one will ever take your project as seriously as you, or fully realize what you're going through. ... The odds of you making money out of it are slim. If you want to succeed, you'll likely have to sell out. Just how MUCH you sell out is up to you.' This apply to every games. From indie title to AAA games.
  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:43PM (#42083195)

    What Nobody Tells You About Being a Game Dev

    Unless you follow Slashdot and all the stories about the Game Dev Surfs and the sweatshops they work in... How many times a year? 5 or 6 or 10?

    Poor, poor Game Devs... One really hurts for these people working in servitude...

  • by blogagog (1223986) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:44PM (#42083201)
    " If you want to succeed, you'll likely have to sell out." I'm fine with that. What are the steps required to sell out? Count me in.
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday November 24, 2012 @04:47PM (#42083225)

      " If you want to succeed, you'll likely have to sell out." I'm fine with that. What are the steps required to sell out? Count me in.

      Seriously. I don't live in mom's basement, I've got a mortgage to pay. Where is the line to "sell out"? Are they playing Green Day in the background?

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      " If you want to succeed, you'll likely have to sell out." I'm fine with that. What are the steps required to sell out? Count me in.

      Step one: Launch successful or semi-successful company(i.e. origin, bullfrog, maxis, bioware, etc)
      Step two: Create and sell a series of unique or gound breaking products
      Step three: Get semi-rich
      Step four: Become deluded when mega-conglomerate comes along and tells you, you'll retain your "artistic integrity and nothing will change" then sellout
      Step five: Leave the company after a string of failures because your new overlord has destroyed your once beautiful reputation

      • Allow me to amplify "sellout", just in case anyone doesn't fully understand.

        If your name, reputation, education, or whatever is seemingly worth anything, they'll want your endorsement. They want to slap your name on some product, report, or even just an idea. It might even be a good thing that you'd want to be associated with, but it is far more likely they are trying to take a shortcut and think that your name will help polish a turd. They may not even bother with the formality of asking for your perm

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @05:44PM (#42083521) Journal
      "Selling out" means half your idea is good. Then someone tells you the rest of your idea sucks, and if you listen to them and make it better, it's "selling out."

      So start by coming up with a half-good idea.
      • by Waccoon (1186667)

        I thought selling out usually resulted in people telling you to take out what you thought was good.

        Apparently (if folklore is true) there are ways to deal with this [wikipedia.org]

        • I thought selling out usually resulted in people telling you to take out what you thought was good.

          Yeap. The disconnect there is people don't realize that things they like aren't always good.

    • by sco08y (615665)

      " If you want to succeed, you'll likely have to sell out."

      I'm fine with that. What are the steps required to sell out? Count me in.

      So, first, you do something that a handful of people like, and they hardly buy any merchandise or CDs because they're broke moochers. But they tell some other people how cool they are that they listen to you.

      Over time you refine your act so that a lot of people now like it and they buy a lot of your merchandise and CDs. The original handful of fans assume that because they were your fans first that they own you. When they start to see that other people like you, they demand that you never alter your product

  • "You can read 1000 praising comments, but if just one of them is bad, it will ruin your whole day.

    The fact that I was trying to do something new with my game was evidently a horrible crime to many people and I would get utterly horrible comments ranging from put-downs to persanal abuse that would get them arrested if said in person&#8230; Even one or two death threats. It&rsquo;s a sad fact of life that people who are too scared to follow their own dreams will often try to talk you out of following
  • ... always look like crap and gives bad gameplay
  • by griego (1108909) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @05:48PM (#42083549)

    If I were a game developer and nobody hated my game, I might be worried about that. If all the public does is collectively shrug its shoulders at your work, you might be in trouble.

  • by Runesabre (732910) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @06:12PM (#42083665) Homepage

    After reading through the first couple paragraphs, the tone of his whole article feels sensationalist and stereotyped to the point I really didn't care what he had to say. While it's fun to spout of hyperbole like "my computer illiterate producer who's only game play experience is Bejeweled" as if it represents what one thinks a whole industry is like regardless of reality, it's not very useful or constructive except for generating page hits.

    I've spent 18 years in the game development industry (LoL, UO, TR, SWG, LOTRO, DDO) and while there are those occasional low points, it's not the norm.

    One piece of advice he has which all budding indie game developers need to take to heart is do it for love and passion and don't expect to make any money out of it. If you do it for love and passion, players will notice and provide the greatest possible path to financial gain if your product is worth it. Regardless of financial world, you will have something that you created with that's genuinely yours and can leverage to land you bigger and better paying game gigs down the road. The key is to create something you love.

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>After reading through the first couple paragraphs, the tone of his whole article feels sensationalist and stereotyped to the point I really didn't care what he had to say.

      I more took out of it that he was bragging that he could create a procedural world THAT WAS BIGGER THAN SKYRIM to "the disbelief" of nay-sayers.

      Well, yeah, great. Procedural worlds can be infinitely large. The actual size doesn't matter, but how much interesting content there is. Which is why there is less Daggerfall-esque generati

  • by leaen (987954) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @06:45PM (#42083831)
    should be What Internet Nobody Tells You About Being A Game Dev
  • If you want to get a feel for what it's like to be an independent game developer, check out the movie Indie Game [wikipedia.org]. Quite interesting and a bit frightening in some ways, particularly in how emotionally invested these guys are in their games.
  • This drives me crazy.

    First, everyone tells me this about being a game dev. Everyone. Oh, and how it's not glamorous and some companies (read: most of them) treat you poorly.
    But once a week, we get a "what nobody tells you" about game devs article here or on Extra Credits or the Escapist or wherever.

    Stop it.

    Second, there is nothing interesting about procedurally generated anything any more. Diablo did this. The first one. In 1996. It can be a nice feature, but it's not noteworthy any more. The move fr

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