Michael ' thegamedesigner' Todd's Blog

24 OCTOBER 2008

Just a quick post, as it is quite late (er.. early). Canzine was great, and the indie games produced in Toronto continue to be awesome.

Check out Night of the Cephalopods! Miguel Sternberg is a very cool local game designer.



I just got back from Austin GDC, which was very cool. Engine of War won first place in the IndieGameShowcase, so I flew down there and spent two days on the Expo floor next to the computer that my game was being displayed on.

I got to show it off to Raph Koster, which was cool. This guy is a game design genius, and it is well worth reading his book, or going to one of his speeches.

I was at the RGN booth, which is a very cool company. They are releasing (in the next month or so) a website for indie game designers. You make a game, and you set up an account with them. Then you can upload the game, very easy, just like uploading a youtube video.

Then your game is placed in the store, marketed, linked to other games, and set up for fans to comment on. This is going to make game publishing very easy.

I know that I am going to take a week off sometime, make a game just for fun, and upload it. Because it is just that easy. Make, Upload, Done. I don't need to set up a store for it on my own. I don't need to worry so much about ads, marketing, etc. Now, I already have an online store, a website, an ads accout, an online bank account, etc, but I wish this had been around a year ago.
This is going to be a great help to all the new indies just making their first game.

Another site that is awesome is, which I love posting on. You make a game in under seven days, and then post it free online. Other designers give feedback and vote on it.

With both of these sites, why are you still reading this? Get going on a small
game, fun to make, fun to play!


14 JULY 2008

I found a really good paper on generating procedural cities, or rather Chris at Introversion found it and blogged about it. link. I have also been reading about emergent gameplay & user created content in a couple of books I have. This has resulted in new information mixing with old ideas, and becoming my newest prototype project, 'Electric Zen'.

First, a disclaimer. What follows is not a promise, or a finished game. It has no promised date or timeline. It is a game idea, and might become a finished prototype. No whining when the idea is dumped because
of some yet-unseen-flaw. :)

Electric Zen is based on three main concepts. The circuit system, user created content, and its art style, which is very Tron / Introversion.

Basicly, Electric Zen can do things that no other game can do, because of these three ideas working together.

I can only really do full user created content because the art style is so simple. Because I can do user created content, I can allow the players to make their own circuit parts, and design objects in the world (doors, guns, vehicles), each with their own circuits. This allows far more then a normal editor, this allows for emergent gameplay. Also, because the game is so based around user created content, I get to use the sales model that Mount & Blade has been using, and release the game very soon, at version 0.10 or something, and then work on it openly.

The idea is pure single-player, and that is because of both the lower amount of work on my end (due to the small team size) and because it again makes user created content easier for the player. It will be massively single player, like Spore. Each time the game is updated on the site, more user content can be included.

Like spore, the content will be small in file size, but large in scope, because it is only made out of text and numbers. Well, and a few small picture files, but life is not perfect. :P

That spiky thing is a vehicle, which the player is inside right now. The far-off green vehicle is a helecopter/pod-racer sort of thing. And yes, that is a WOW-esk quest marker.

Yes, those are asteroids.

I may also use a static-clouds sky, or a black/gray background.


2 JULY 2008

I arrived in Halifax today, and met up with some old friends. Left Halifax after a 48 hour D&D marathon. We took turns passing the DM hat around, while others drew up more dungeons in the back. Patrick is a good DM, and the encounter with the giant squid, in the dark, gasping for breath, was awesome.

Good to try out being a nerd again, after the last couple of years.


7JUNE 2008

I went to the TOjam arcade party yesterday, and it was great. I ended up in Chinatown at 2am, with Shawn and Jon, chatting game design and making bad jokes. That place had great noodles. That was also very cool because I had not really had a chance to chat with Jon since GDC, and he is pure, crazy, game designer. If you have not already, check out Everyday shooter.

At the party itself, all the games made during TOjam were screened, using a combination of projectors and laptops. This was fun, and really allowed me to circle and play all the games I had missed last time.

I love going to parties full of game designers. Nowhere else can you watch slightly-drunk designers make new rules for a pool table, based on a TBS/RTS model. I got in conversations about multi-threading and Romero, about sales models and storytelling, Duke Nukem and Doritos, girls and computers.

I also got to meet Mare Sheppard and Raigan Burns, makers of N+. Learned a little about working with Microsoft on Xbox live from them, and it sounds better then I would have thought. Very cool.


13 MAY 2008

I just got back from TOjam, a wonderful Toronto-based game jam. There were almost 150 people divided into small teams. The team I was on was 'The Scourge',
it included myself, the artist Craig Adams (Youtube), and our sound floater, Arthur Zaragoza.

The game we made can be found here, it is a small horror zombie game designed with a interactive story line, and level-designed to match the flow of the music. It's fun, 300 seconds long, and free, so there is little reason not to give it a try.
Also, I am not kidding at all when I say the best way to play it is in a dark room. We have made several people physically jump this way.
Oh, and if you suffer from heart problems, warning: Play at own risk.

However, this blog post is not really about the game jam, it is about what I learned while at the game jam. Basically, I learned two main things, One: That there are lots of indie game designers, of the same type (more or less) as myself, and Two: That there are game designers that are better then me.

Now, of course I knew both these facts before I went to TOjam, but I have been spending most of my time for the last eight months in my small white room, my apartment, making Engine of War. I had forgotten about other people except as those who sold me stuff in stores, and those who I saw in the distance as I walked around the city. I have become some sort of crazy game design hermit.


15 APRIL 2008

The circuit concept in Engine of War was first dreamed up around a year ago, while recovering from a really bad cold. I stayed at home for a week, watching star trek and brainstorming game ideas. I ended up banging out a rapid prototype for a game called 'Trek', which mixed three concepts, one of which was the circuit system.

The circuit system was based on circuit panels scattered through a large spaceship, which were then interconnected. The idea being you could upgrade, repair, booby trap or loot a spaceship using the circuits. The hand-held weapons could be modded using the circuit system (phasers are electric after all), and locked doors could be hacked by opening up the circuit panel and fiddling around until the door opened.

However, 'Trek' was huge, and I knew it when I designed it. It was a wierd little FPS, but it required a much larger team then I could field. When I finished the prototype & full game doc, I filed it away and began work on a smaller concept to show off the circuit system. I worked my way through 'Mech' (A third person non-linear RPG) to 'Micro-Mech', which took 'Mech' to a even smaller level. 'Micro-Mech' was just a work name, and I released the beta of it under the name 'Mech Builder', which was then switched to Engine of War for marketing reasons.

However, this is all a good thing. Engine of War was a big project for a two-man team, and through all this, the circuit system was re-written and re-tested. Can you belive that I used to have players using a chart to figure out the proper resistor? Ha.

And even the system in Engine of War is old now, I designed a version for 'Racing Gears', which is a mass-appeal style that is designed with kids/casual gamers in mind. It has as many possibilities as the old system, but is far easier to use.

30 MAR 2008

'Engine of War' work is going full tilt, and it looks like the release date should be mid-to late-April.

For those of you who played Mech Builder, Engine of War is not a sequel, but a replacement. When I sat down a few weeks ago to plan my next project, I ended up thinking that I would do some big thing with Mech Builder. I had all sorts of cool things on the table, including multiplayer Mech Builder, and turning Mech Builder into a isometric non-linear RPG.

The thing is, whatever Mech Builder project I did, it was going to be the last for quite a while, as I had quit my job about a month ago, and I needed to start looking towards earning some rent money.

However, after some brainstorming, I thought that I could turn what started as a project for my resume, into a game that could be sold. I planned out a better tutorial, some copy protection, a more reasonable amount of levels, and removed the use of the word 'Mech' from the game (which is copyrighted). Hence, Engine of War was born.

Engine of War, as I said above, is not a sequel, but a replacement. It contains some of the levels from Mech Builder, and adds a few new parts. Most of the changes are towards making it more user friendly, such as clicking and dragging parts of the menus, or having weapons just automatically pick which arm to mount on. The game will have several difficulty levels, and upgraded/cleaner/clearer systems all across the board. However, in order to keep the many new levels fresh, several new monsters have been added, including monster nests, death tanks, tank trains and invisible monsters. These cause the existing parts to be used in new ways.

The main bonus of this, is that if it can earn even a small amount of money, then I can delay job hunting for a while, and start making more parts, major upgrades or start working on some really cool projects.

24 FEB 2008

I have just returned from GDC, which for those of you who do not know, is a large Game Developers Conference, held in San Francisco. I learned a huge amount, and was inspired by the crazy passion of the indie game developers there.

2D boy's Kyle Gabler was especially cool, and I even got to chat with him for a short time. He left EA and started his own company, but instead of making a few boring-but-safe games first, he has decided to go for the gusto and make the crazy-awsome-hope-it-works game that he really wants to make. You can check out his site here. Be sure to watch the world of goo trailer!

Also, Jon Mak, creator of Everyday shooter, who was speaking at the Indie Summit. I got to chat with him a couple of times, and unfortunately the last time I was high on adrenaline and rather nervous, having just come from a very hard interview with Valve, so I am sure he remembers me as 'that dork'. Anyway, he gave me some great advice, which most indies have heard before in one form or another, but it is always good to hear it again.
"Do what you love to do" - Jonathan Mak

I also got to hang out with the creator of 'Battleships Forever', Sean "th15" Chan from Singapore and also Finnish art-game designer, Pekko Koskinen of LudoCraft.

Over supper one night we chatted about the concept of fun and about playing old games to new rules. It was great to chat with fellow indie game designers.

To sum up, GDC was awsome.




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