No Man’s Sky: when game developers are worse than politicians

I’m proud how the general public is dealing with this. It means there are still built-in defense mechanics about bullshit and that marketing won’t have such an easy job. But I’m a cynic, so I’m just happy the situation is marginally better than the disaster scenario I usually see.

Quite long but elaborate comments about No Man’s Sky “meta” are these two. Wonderfully written. Both great and complete analysis:

So here I talk exclusively about the “meta” and not about the game’s own merits or demerits.

There are a few explicit things NMS did very wrong:
1- No faithful information about what the game is about. They’ve been deliberately very vague and “mysterious” because they exploited deliberately the hype.
2- No review copies until launch.

This created a situation where no one really knew exactly what the core of the game was about, until launch day.

But beside the final game looking nothing like the official trailers, and features missing that they’ve boasted about at length, the real big issue is that this game is being closely observed by other game developers out there, and they are learning ALL THE WRONG LESSONS.

The first aspect is game developers are directly seeing this as: the hype sells what is being otherwise considered very poor game, see metacritic low scores. It’s hype that sells, let’s make more hype and let’s marketing handle our game presentation for maximum effect. (which is obviously false, the game sells because it has an unique aspect NO ONE else offers)

But while that’s becoming the norm and even if that’s not making it acceptable, what enrages me is a different aspect that comes up only when developers are “sincere”. Meaning almost never. Developers are only sincere when they talk to each other semi-privately, and that’s why I started to spot discussions on twitter among devs I follow and have respect for. Their reaction is LUDICROUS. Here some quotes:

“from now on when a customer complains that we won’t tell them what we’re going to ship, I’ll just link this thread”

“The list of “lies” consists almost entirely of quotes like “maybe we’ll do this,” or “in the current build…”

“the moment you mention “oh, it’d be nice if we could do X”, a flood of rabid hyenas begin preparing to eat your face off if you don’t ship X”

“they didn’t promise things. people interpreted suggestions, ideas, as promises.”

“Wonder why AAA devs have such controlled PR? Candor about anything not utterly locked down gets you these idiots”

“crux of problem being too open/communicative. Candor is a dual edged sword. Silence is safe.”

You see this?

This is being actively spun as “they’ve been TOO SINCERE”. They should have been more silent about what the game was about.

As if not releasing any review copy before the release date, and no review copy AT ALL on PC wasn’t to hide the mess, but just because they didn’t want the players get spoilers. HOW KIND OF THEM.

Now this other perspective is surfacing even more officially, see Kotaku.

Of course due to the nature of game development a lot of original plans have to change when you faceplant on reality. And of course this happens for every game, and features always get cut. THAT’S WHEN it’s most important you inform your playerbase. But nope, it’s okay to talk at length when it comes to build hype, it’s great to stay silent when it comes to inform a feature had to be cut.

How the hell is acceptable that information is shared ONLY when it’s convenient? Is that your idea for being “candid”?

Why it is that if politicians overpromise because it’s convenient for getting votes it’s seen as legitimate when we get angry and expose their lies, but if it’s about hype to sell a game then it’s all tolerated and normal? (and journalists ask questions, instead of the “prescribed way to ask questions about NMS”, as seen in that video)

You talk when it’s convenient to you, but then resent if people hold you accountable about what you said? That’s an example of selfishness, not of candidness.

On a forum someone replied to me with:

Curiously, I had always sort of dreamed of the kind of game that that post describes. But I’d also always figured that there was no way NMS would pull off that kind of game.

And would you give free passes like that even to Star Citizen? Immunity from criticism?

Go with a total scam and eventually just blame the players because they haven’t been cynical enough?

I repeat, what enrages me are not the false trailers, nor the lies in the interviews. What enrages me is that certain devs are blaming the PLAYERS, calling them “idiot, rabid hyenas” because they held developers accountable for what the developers themselves used to hype the game, especially on media that are more generalist, and so to reach out and catch the largest public possible.

It’s a dishonest, perverse twist of what actually happened.

Developers are taking NMS success as a success of the overhype model. Of showing what the game is not because the players are too stupid to be skeptical and will swallow everything you throw at them. This is setting a precedent where what they learn is that a pretty fake trailer SELLS more than an honest one.

On the other hand they use the typical straw man argument, saying: ok, lesson learned, we should never say anything. Let’s leave that stuff to the marketing guys who know how to exploit it properly.

Nope, the simplicity of the issue is that devs love to speak when it’s convenient, but will refuse to speak when it comes to announce features were cut. Because that wounds pride, it doesn’t give a flattering picture. And developers love cult of personality. It’s almost religious. You have to BELIEVE and have FAITH.

The idea I have is that Seam Murray & team aren’t as cynical about doing all this to simply exploit the hype. It’s way more subtle. We don’t have skillful liars, we have instead developers who fell in love with their algorithm and ideas. In order to make people believe that hype, they have to believe it THEMSELVES. The hype poison they fed players is hype poison they swallowed themselves.

This means Sean Murray’s brain is very skilled at painting a flattering picture of his own work. He’s the First Believer. When he “lies” he does because he believes his own bullshit. And you can see that reflected pretty much EVERYWHERE. Read again that letter in the manual, or read the kind of PR that is going on now.

Here’s two examples of how you rewrite facts to paint always a flattering picture no matter what:

1- “Even though less than one per cent of players have raised support issues, we’re going to resolve roughly 70 per cent of them this week”

2- “Thousands of lines of assembly have been rewritten overnight”

About the first, 1% of the players are having technical problems. IT’S A SMASHING SUCCESS, BEST PORT EVER. But we are so committed to deliver a flawless game that we care even about that tiny 1% and will resolve their problems too, even if they are so negligible.

About the second. I seriously doubt they have a mad math genius who can rewrite “thousands of lines of assembly overnight”. If such person exists, AMAZING. But it’s far more likely they changed a flag in the compiler (-msse2) and it is recompiling the game overnight.

Oh, of course they aren’t LYING. Thousands of lines ARE being rewritten. But automatically by a CPU and not by some guy who didn’t go to sleep and is chocking on coffee. And of course they didn’t say only 1% of players are having issues, but just that 1% bothered to report them.

But again this is how you exploit the false perception. It’s not being dishonest, it’s about denying what’s obvious at every step because you can’t deal with it. You live in a bubble of self deception and that bubble is completely impermeable to reality. Your brain will automatically create endless excuses before it will accept an unflattering picture where you are not a hero worthy of worship. True believer of an egomaniac personality.

And, notice how the hype works: the game in general didn’t quite deliver. We learned devs are not to be trusted, BUT… What happens at this point? You drop the ball? You admit defeat of the hype?

Nope! Sean Murray says they will patch this game. He says the game will evolve and content that was promised maybe will make into the game. He’s just about ready to replace that hype with more of it. Expansions, DLCs, content patches. WHATEVER IT TAKES TO KEEP THE HYPE TRAIN GOING. Don’t look at what’s in the game, look at what comes NEXT. Believe!

One Man’s Bullshit

If the previous title was to point out the hype is embedded in the procedural generation tech, as a sort of baggage it carries and continues to be pervasive along the years, this time it’s about very specific and very deliberate bullshitting.

That article is RIPE for misplaced hype and dishonesty, but I’ll just focus on this an an example, not even the most meaningful (the meaningful one is how most of the animal AI seems to be gone in the final game, or never coded and only appearing in a wishlist on the dev studio’s wall):

The physics of every other game—it’s faked,” the chief architect Sean Murray explained. “When you’re on a planet, you’re surrounded by a skybox—a cube that someone has painted stars or clouds onto. If there is a day to night cycle, it happens because they are slowly transitioning between a series of different boxes.” The skybox is also a barrier beyond which the player can never pass. The stars are merely points of light. In No Man’s Sky however, every star is a place that you can go. The universe is infinite. The edges extend out into a lifeless abyss that you can plunge into forever.

“With us,” Murray continued, “when you’re on a planet, you can see as far as the curvature of that planet. If you walked for years, you could walk all the way around it, arriving back exactly where you started. Our day to night cycle is happening because the planet is rotating on its axis as it spins around the sun. There is real physics to that.

Turns out the game has a skybox. The sun doesn’t actually exist, as it’s painted on that skybox.

Also, night/day cycles are disconnected from the planet rotation, they happen in a completely faked way. (it seems the day/night cycle has a fixed duration and the same on every planet or moon)

Planets and moons rotate, but do not orbit anything. (all planets sit statically at one side of the statically painted sun for “ease of travel”, and maybe of screenshotting)

EDIT: Planets do not rotate either. There’s a nice Reddit page that lists all the things announced and missing. It’s as if 75% of the game just isn’t there. I’m fairly sure Frontier, the 2nd Elite, was more advanced as a simulation. That was 23 years ago. Planets orbited and rotated. Now we can look at ugly cartoonish puppets, the myth of the space simulator has been slaughtered for THAT.

“In terms of ecology almost everything is possible.” Oh yeah, you certainty didn’t TRY to sell the game for what it is NOT. Honest.

No Man’s Scam

I’m discussing this on the forums, so I thought I would write something here too. The important thing is that what applies to this game is going to happen again and again.

Here’s a schematic approach to how to judge “No Man’s Sky” and understand the debate going on right now.

1- The “over-hype”. There’s lot of discussion about the hype of this game. Every review will mention this. People will argue endlessly about who’s responsible of this hype and whether the game is good or bad depends strictly on how close it lands to someone’s expectations. As if good or bad depends solely on expectations management.

Answer: the hype doesn’t depend on Sony, or the dev team, or the internet. The hype of this game is caused by the use of “procedural generation”. It’s this piece of tech that carries a baggage of “over-hype” and every future game that heavily relies on procedural generation to build its content will face a similar over-hype. It has embedded the myth: “with just a few rules (or a small team) I can create an almost infinite UNIVERSE that you can have fun to explore endlessly”.

The idea that you can produce a large amount of content with little effort is just plain stupid. It’s the opposite: procedural generation requires MORE work to be good or on par with handcrafted content. Dwarf Fortress is great because it’s been developed non-stop for more than 10 years. There are no shortcuts, there’s no magical formula to produce interesting content.

2- This game uses procedural generation in a very stupid way.

There’s a “good” and “bad” use of procedural generation (tech is not good or bad on its own, it’s the use that matters), and it’s also easy to analyze since it depends on a simple thing. “Good” procedural generation makes the environment dictate gameplay. If the player has a plan, or a list of activities to optimally reach a goal, then for every new game that plan might be followed closely to produce the optimal result. But if you instead “procedurally generate” the environment and make it the center of the experience then it means you force the player to observe and adapt. Not anymore you arrive with a pre-made plan, but your strategy needs to adapt and learn from what you find. Every time the context changes, so every time the experience changes too. This is also the seed for interesting “exploration”. It’s not simply about sightseeing, it’s about making gameplay be shaped by the experience. Changing radically that experience. You transform the environment because you want the environment to transform gameplay (where the best result becomes “emergent”, in those rare cases when the rules are really solid).

But instead this game uses the “bad” kind of procedural generation, which is: cosmetic variations of functionally identical elements. This game is all about stuff looking slightly different but having the exact same function. You travel to a new planet, the previous one had a bluish tinge, this one a greenish one, but what you actually do on every planet is repetitive. You shoot a different looking rock or a plant to obtain the same material. It’s as if every object in this endless world is a box containing the same content, but a different shape on the outside.

It’s the same “sin” in Oblivion: what’s the point of “exploring” and finding a dungeon hidden at the border of the map when the spawn list of what’s inside is always the same? You’re going to find in that far-away dungeon the exact same content because they share the same exact spawn list.

Since this game uses procedural generation mostly for cosmetic reasons, the result is that the gameplay feels “dull”. Not because “there’s not enough to do”, which is what has been discussed for months, but because what you do DOESN’T DEPEND ON WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO FIND. That’s the “sin” of this game, the core of its bad game design. The gameplay function is independent from the procedural generation. There’s a total disconnect between the “exploration” and function. Between what you see and what you use.

Every planet LOOKS different but PLAYS the same. This is bad game design, and a very bad use of procedural generation.

3- Deliberate scamming:

It was one of the most frequent questions whether or not you could meet another player in the game. They always answered vaguely, stating it’s not what a player “should be looking for”. But the question is very precise, did you write that code or not? Can you see another player or not? Turns out you just cannot. No Man’s Sky is entirely single-player. The code is just not there. There’s some indirect information that goes back and forth, so you could see what another player named that planet he discovered, but that’s the limit. It’s not that you cannot see another player because the universe is too vast to meet, which is what they said over and over, you cannot see another player because the networking code just wasn’t written.

And that’s one sign that says that, even if the over-hype is mostly due to a misuse of tech, the devs themselves heavily exploited that over-hype to sell the idea of a game over the actual game. They chose marketing over honesty.

They have a small team, they’ll make tons of money thanks to that hype. The game is a success. But they’ll also deservedly earn a very nice amount of bad reputation because of this, and maybe in the future players will be a bit less gullible to the false magic of procedural generation sprinkled by good programmers turned into bad game designers.

“No Man’s Sky” is a cute piece of tech wrapped around very bad game design.

Disclaimer: most of this was written *before* the game’s release. The point was to determine how to judge between a good and bad use of procedural generation. My comments about the game come from what I read and saw about the game in these first few hours, so you can judge by yourself if what I wrote also holds up as a complete description of the actual game.

Why is this important, why not wait before judging? Because opinions on the internet are entirely worthless. It doesn’t matter what *I* think about the game, it doesn’t matter what *you* think either. What matters and is worth writing and reading is about motivations. It’s about the discussion on the whys and hows. So here you can see my thought process while judging the game. It doesn’t matter if I think its game design is bad, what matters is that I described what, potentially, makes its game design bad. And all that stays valid even if eventually the game turns out differently.

Disclaimer bis: The “scam” of the title refers to the fact no one is actually responsible for the “scam”, or the over-hype, or the chimera. It was all embedded in the misperception and misuse of the procedural generation tech. That the devs have very deliberately and maliciously exploited just to make more money rather than offer an honest image of the game. It’s just intellectual dishonesty, of course. It’s pretty pervasive. I remember at least one occasion commenting on building hype by exploiting false myths. It was Vanguard, or selling the vagueness of an idea so that people’s mind would fill the picture with whatever it is they love.


I found this comment on Diablo-style loot. You know, Blizzard’s secret sauce.

Because it’s more exciting and you always have the feeling that the next item will be better. As opposed to getting a Longsword +3 and knowing that no matter how many enemies you kill, you will never find a better item because that’s the limit of the system.

Also, finding that one perfect (or near perfect) sword or armor feels more fun than finding just another sword you’ve seen 10 times already with exact same stats, name and appearance.

Makes sense, right?

Then I read this reply:

In these type of games, I usually feel the opposite, actually. When I get a decent weapon, I feel that the next 100 or so weapons I will find in the future will be crappy vendor trash. And when I actually find one that is better, it would be only a slight improvement that doesn’t excite me at all. Maybe this is why I don’t get the appeal of these games. I just don’t feel it.

I’ve always felt that more discrete weapons system in normal rpgs make each weapon much more meaningful than the ‘random gear everywhere’ system that loot based games use.

So I was thinking: is that games are like art, making us better.

Or is it that games just exploit our fallacies, the weaknesses.

Feels good man, until you don’t give it too much thought.


(Maybe these aren’t different players liking different things, but just different levels of player’s awareness? Here’s a little insight that probably everyone else forgot: during the World of Warcraft beta Blizzard changed the armor system. They made the numbers much bigger from a patch to the other, without changing the effectiveness. One dev also explained this in a forum post. I remember this because it always sounded like a sort of “fraud” and I’ve never accepted how that explanation could be acceptable. The logic was that in the old system it happened that players would keep a single piece of equipment for a few levels before finding an actual upgrade. You’d find loot, but it was just about the same of what you had equipped already. But by scaling up the numbers they obtained much more granularity in the system. That means that players would find upgrades, albeit smaller, a lot more frequently. You’d find a belt with 107 armor and replace it with one with 110. But the hidden truth behind this was that while before the loot numbers were set in a way that was pertinent to the formulas, in the new system instead those tiny upgrades literally MADE NO DIFFERENCE. They were lost in the formulas due to how approximations worked. Those upgrades are technically just mislead player perception. Manipulation.

The Blizzard guy who come up with this must have felt like a real trickster.)

World of Warcraft and its paid game designers

I suppose the quotes speak for themselves. I’m linking what I was writing on forums in 2014 (but also long before that, I just don’t care enough to dig deeper), and Blizzard, in 2016, finally get that kind of trickle-down insight too.…=1#post3517762…=1#post3517793…=1#post3517939…=1#post3612678

2014 forum discussion.

The faster leveling means that all the quest progression was completely broken. I couldn’t even advance on SINGLE quest line without outleveling it. And if I dared do a dungeon run I’d have to basically skip entirely to a different zone.

Racing through content may be good on paper, but it completely destroys the experience.

Fine, but then don’t say the game loses subs because it’s “old”. It loses subs because it systematically destroyed all the good things it had, without even introducing something new and appealing.

pre-Cataclysm WoW had an excellent balance with quest progression and leveling. Post-Cataclysm this balance was carelessly destroyed in the name of SPEED, NOW, MORE LEVELS. FAST FOODS.

But if they knew they were going to cut so much the leveling times then they should have rebalanced the quests accordingly.

Instead it seems the speed up was an afterthought and no one cared if they broke the perfectly crafted balance and one of the major features of the game. To me it feels like they handed a perfectly crafted thing to some new guy, and this new guy didn’t even remotely understand why the thing worked so well in the first place.

It’s not up to the player to balance this. If the game even lets you then it means there’s something fundamentally broken.

The point here is that pre-Cataclysm WoW was perfectly balanced, and, imo, the real BIG reason why it became hugely successful: WoW’s secret sauce was that the quest flow removed the feel of the grind you’d get in EVERY other MMO those days. But by speeding up so much the leveling process and disrupting all the quest chains and normal progression they simply destroyed their main feature. They TURNED BACK the game into a grind, with most players just burning through content without even looking at quest text or whatnot (or simply do dungeons and bypass all that).

WoTLK was the last good expansion and this is not my personal opinion. It’s just what pretty much everyone agrees with. Game design has taken a nosedive (and this is my opinion), WoW became just an affair for raids, and we know what happens when you specialize to hardcore players while leaving everything else behind. WoW’s leveling pace in now lightning fast, and the experience so bland and shallow, just because it’s all just at the service of the raiding game.

Blizzard 2016. Paid jobs.

Basically, low-level players now plough the game, killing everything easily in unsatisfying combat so they spend comparatively far more time simply running between objectives.

Some of this is down to changes made with the end-game in mind.

“There have been a lot of trickle-down effects from balances changes made to the max-level game. Things that used to be talents we now bake in as passives, we buff abilities, we move things that used to be high-level abilities down to make them available at level 10…”

we made levelling through the prior expansions a bit faster, and a bit faster, and a bit faster, because we didn’t want levelling to be such a barrier to entry.”

you shouldn’t be out-levelling zones before you’ve finished their story. You shouldn’t be doing one dungeon and finding that the zone you’re in is no longer relevant to you at all.”

the levelling-up experience through older zones at lower levels is “pretty broken right now. It’s not really very well tuned.” He added, “It’s not even about difficulty; it’s about pacing.”

But as the Warcraft development team focused on the live game of World of Warcraft, it definitely has shone a light on some deficiencies and areas where the game has been lacking recently, and that’s something we want to do something about.”

Good job? Round of applause?

Building 2D worlds

Nathan Jerpe, the guy who made the astounding Legerdemain roguelike-like (because not randomly generated and not permdying) sent me ALL the maps that build the whole game, in native resolution.

I cannot believe my eyes. I’m not a young lad and I’ve seen a lot in gaming. Especially ambitious stuff. But this is certainly one of the most impressive attempts at pure worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. It’s magnificent and beautiful (and ASCII can be so pretty when you know how to use it).

For the time being I cannot share a thing, though. He asked me to not share those images because he still wants players to discover the game on their own, and exploration is a major factor of this game. I would respect that, of course.

But for the greatness you can spot in games there’s always the seed that creates the desire for “more”. That’s what fuels my idea for the crazy roguelike I’m experimenting with. So I have this very remote idea of “remixing” the stuff here and blend it with some other concepts. For sure it will be a source of endless inspiration.

One aspect I want to bring up is again the idea of the flat, bidimensional world. I explained how in Dwarf Fortress the evolution to a 3D world with z-levels fundamentally changed the concept and removed that abstraction, and what’s important to understand is that it’s an abstraction that has its uses and purpose, even if technology would let you have more.

Exactly the same happened with Doom and following games. Doom still today has an unique charm that will never be replaced, and, more importantly, it has nothing to do with “nostalgia”. Of course the gameplay in Doom is much better than Quake, but this is an aspect that is only indirectly tied to the fact Doom is 2D versus 3D in Quake. Indirectly because the limits of a 3D world didn’t allow Quake to be as expansive as Doom. The same happened with Doom 3: huge improvements on graphical fidelity didn’t allow for the same scale to be maintained. This transformed Quake in a game that was far inferior to Doom in pure gameplay and action, but so much better in environment exploration (and the reason why both Doom and Quake are extremely relevant today and do not overlap).

But this still leaves the 2D abstraction of Doom as an unique style with its own merits, and that cannot be improved or replaced. Because it’s an abstraction that works great. Doom levels are 2D. This means you can bring up a map and it’s a perfect representation of all there is to see. It’s a 3D world, projected in two dimensions, but at no loss. This lack of an actual dimension means you are UNCHAINED in what you can do with just two. It means removing the complexity of one dimension so you can add back that complexity to the rest. It means compressing reality so that you can explode outwardly what you can do. Faster, more easily:


You can reach enormous complexity that otherwise would be unwieldy. It’s a deliberate renunciation, more than building levels in Doom instead of a newer game just for the nostalgia. The point is: no modern game out there can go even close to what Doom does today. Doom 4 will be shamed by this.






Doom, Dwarf Fortress before Z-levels, and roguelikes, in modern times, all share the deliberate choice of removing one dimension (and often graphics, entirely) to stick with 2D. Again not for nostalgia, but because this choice EMPOWERS worldbuilding, pushing it to levels that are unmatched, even in AAA commercial products with huge costs (it’s also interesting to consider that GTA V achieved prettiness by sacrificing quite a bit of complexity compared to IV).

So let’s return to Legerdemain and similar. The game world is visually impressive in a way not unlike those Doom screenshots. Elegant complexity that pushes worldbuilding. I have some gaming myths that I carry with me. One is an RPG called “Fate: Gates of Dawn”. It’s one of the most ambitious and complex classic RPGs ever made. The world is HUGE and reportedly it takes more than 150 hours to complete. This is its game-world:


It’s an actual gameworld, not an abstracted map. Pixel accurate 1:1. This is a game built as a 1st person dungeon crawler, so you move cell by cell. Every single pixel there represents an actual location. If you moved North once, turned East and moved forward again then it means you would have moved two pixels on that map. Of course cities and dungeons are separate, but it still means this gameworld is built by 640×400 cells, for a total of 256.000 locations. Essentially half of it is water, but it’s HUGE nonetheless.

Another impressive attempt at worldbuilding is Wizardry 7, another reportedly huge game that pushed the idea of linking separate maps into an “open-world” that is meant to be explored non-linearly. The wilderness in that game is very big, especially if compared to other dungeon crawlers, but we’re dealing with an overall grid that is close to 200×200 (plus, apparently, another as big to comprise all dungeons and similar locations). So it’s an overall 40.000 cells, and you can see from the map that only a small minority are actually explorable.

The transition to 3D with Wizardry 8 obviously killed the game. But they tried to not downsize the map too much, although the game is still extremely ugly and they didn’t do very much with the 3D itself. The point I’m trying to make is the same: deliberately losing one dimension allows to escalate complexity. It’s a renounce that empowers the wordbuilder to go beyond.

Now Legerdemain. Considering just one set of six dungeons. Each is built on a grid of 189×105. So each is ideally 19.845 cells. And the total of all six is: 119.070. That’s ONE dungeon set. This collection has a total of 68 maps and all locations range from 15.000 to 30.000 cells. Even in this case when looking at dungeons only a fraction of the space is actually explorable, but you can still see how this world isn’t huge, it’s humongous. Unprecedented (and beautifully built, I’ve already said). It took me a number of hours to explore two of them, and they are not even complete since there are a few doors that are locked (and now I can see that one of those doors also opens access to another level bigger than the other two).

I can imagine that Legerdemain’s world might be fairly empty to explore. When you move through the wilderness you move between areas, through forests, hills, mountains, bridges and so on. All beautifully drawn in ASCII or tiles. But cell by cell there’s not much that is specific to see or find. This is an aspect I’m studying, as the cell in a 1st person dungeon crawler isn’t the same as a cell in a top-down roguelike. But why? The question to this answer is what my own game experiment should answer.

Legerdemain does at least some of my ideal goal. In the dungeons you sometime find rooms that contain a “?”. When you step over it, a text message pops-up and it gives you “flavor text”. For example a more detailed description of the room you’re entering. This creates the meaningful distinction. In both 1st person dungeon crawlers and roguelike top-down, you still have a “tileset”. Some basic building blocks with which you build the world. So you look at a map and you know that those rooms are all virtually alike. A maze. They might contain some objects and monsters, traps, doors, but in the end it’s space that contains a variable mix of objects. In 1st person dungeon crawlers the zoomed-in perspective and the high density of encounters lead to smaller worlds that are more packed with stuff. In top-down roguelikes instead you have a more expansive, but emptier environment that you cut through at a much faster speed. More forgettable? My goal is to find a formula and put back classic roleplay flavor into that top-down perspective. A slower pace where the room is unique, with complex textual descriptions that aren’t used simply to add flavor, but that offer various forms of manipulation. Through text. Doing for rooms the same that Torment did with dialogue: not just dialogue text, but description and depth of interaction to do far more than the engine made of sprites on a 2D fixed background would allow. It’s again the deliberate renunciation of a dimension, to allow for far more.

Because in the end I believe we do not have to simply live in our time. If we want we can try traveling through time to rediscover and rebuild what was great, to achieve even greater things. We can put aside nostalgia to retrieve what was actually good. Because, again, modernity doesn’t have to build 100% of what we like, making obsolete and even what isn’t.

Well, map attempt failed

I started to play a roguelike-like called Legerdemain.

Not only because it seems great but also because I wanted to try to map the whole thing into a huge, flat plane. I think the partial “collage” I posted before looks amazing and I want so much to have it complete and use it as a source of endless inspiration.

The problem is that the game is restricted to a very small window, and taking screenshots to then assemble them in a big map is really complicate and time consuming. This is just one dungeon level. Actually it’s the TUTORIAL dungeon and it’s one level of total three (actually it’s just two, I think. My bad, I started a while ago). There’s not so much to find here, but it still takes a whole lot of time to explore fully, and there are still a couple of areas locked behind a door, and I’m not entirely sure if there’s a way to clear the rubble that walls certain other areas…


I’m also not playing fair and save scumming like crazy. I might play a bit recklessly but I died hundreds of times already and I have no idea how one would be able to play properly and restart every time from scratch. I know the game actually has a save system, but I still haven’t found it yet. Monsters aren’t very strong, but at the beginning the combat is very random so depending how the rolls go I can take no damage at all or risk death if I try to push my luck too much. While also needing to keep an eye on consumables like food and torches.

This game does a lot of things that my ideal game would be based on too. The levels might be a little wasteful and the combat bland, but that’s a good reason why this game exist and mine won’t even get close to plausibility.

I’ll keep playing, but obviously it’s not possible to take screenshots to assemble them. This game defies manual mapping, even if it would look amazing.

Let’s make a world

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I just saw this posted on Twitter. If very small it might look as a weird alphabet for some very strange language, but it’s just a collection of the levels in Lode Runner.

Every one of those hides complexity of gameplay. Sets of rules and patterns to solve. Small worlds of sub-creation. Maps and geographies.

What happens if we link them together? We obtain an “open-world”.

When the Dwarf Fortress game was in one of its earlier configurations there were no z-levels, the whole game was played on a surface. That was a wonderful feature that was lost in the quest of complexity. In that earlier version building a fortress was like creating a painting. Every fortress its own story at a glance. Its unique style. One picture that captured and contained everything. A four dimension world that included TIME (as progress was measured from left to right).

One of the ideas I have for my pie-in-the-sky roguelike is that it will have a “world” that exists on a flat surface, with elements of an open-world (but more Dark Souls than Skyrim, as nothing is dynamic or random).

A space to explore and conquer.


(this last image is from this game I’m currently playing)

Nvidia and the bleaker future of GPUs

I should probably spend time doing more worthwhile things rather than writing this. But it seems that no one does otherwise.

As usual when I deal with this stuff, I will be imprecise and simplify A LOT. But in general what I say is going to be practically correct. It means that the big picture is the one I’m describing, without getting lost in the technical details.

The situation is this: in the last couple of generations of GPU, namely the 7xx and the latest 9xx, Nvidia has won the market. They won with hardware that, at the same price level, can output better performance AND consistently better energy efficiency. So it’s a total win-win scenario, where Nvidia wins over AMD in every case you can measure.

The problem is that it turns out this was achieved by removing certain scheduling hardware from the chips, a process that started with the 7xx class and continued with the 9xx. So, putting in the most simplistic way possible, that there’s less “stuff” on the chip, and because of that the chip requires less power to run. Nvidia found out that they were able to improve the performance by moving that specific logic away from the hardware and dealing with it in “software” instead, meaning the drivers. Stripping down and simplifying the hardware allowed Nvidia to create these energy efficient GPUs, also drastically reducing production costs. That’s how they won.

But this summer the first DirectX 12 benchmarks came out, and they showed not only that ATI performed a lot better compared to Nvidia, but that in a few cases NVidia hardware performed WORSE in DX12 than in DX11. Turns out that DX12 implementations rely much more directly on the hardware scheduling that, guess what, is not physically present in the recent Nvidia hardware.

What this reveals is important for both DX11 and DX12 future games, and the likely scenario is that the current 970s and 980s videocards will age VERY quickly and very poorly. The current excellent performance of these GPUs depends critically on Nvidia writing specific game schedulers in the drivers. It means that critical optimization is done directly by Nvidia engineers at the compiler and driver level. Game programmers have NO ACCESS to this level of source code, so they cannot do anything beside calling Nvidia and hope they care enough to allocate their engineer hours to fix certain issues. Right now the 970s and 980s are showing excellent performance because they have full support directly from those engineers, writing these custom schedulers for every big game coming out. These GPUs are crucially dependent on driver optimization because the driver is doing a job that usually is done at the hardware level, in ATI’s case, but Nvidia stripped down the hardware from the new chips, and so does that job in the drivers. And that’s also why new games are coming out that show very poor performance of the 7xx chips compared to the 9xx ones. Because Nvidia engineers focus more and more on the newer cards and less and less effort goes on optimizing and writing drivers for older hardware. Widening the gap over time.

What happens when Nvidia will release new hardware next year, with proper support in hardware for the DX12 features? That everything changes. Nvidia engineers will be focused on optimization for the newer cards, because Nvidia’s job is to sell you new hardware. And because the current GPUs performance is so dependent on active drivers optimization, more than it ever was because the schedulers are written in software, it means that once Nvidia engineers stop putting all their work on that optimization the performance of the current cards will plummet.

The scenario is that while the 970s and 980s are, by far, the best cards right now in the market, in the next months and years we’ll see the scenario completely rewritten. Current cards are going to perform very badly and upgrades will be mandatory if you want to keep up with newer games. There’s going to be a significant step up in hardware requirements, way steeper than what we’ve seen in the least few years.

Yet it’s also not possible to determine if Nvidia has already lost the market battle. Right now ATI hardware is much better future-proof compared to Nvidia, so ATI is better strategically positioned. But the next year marks a shift in technology, a new beginning, and it’s probable that Nvidia will put back in hardware the schedulers, with proper DX12 support instead of emulation. But it’s a new beginning only for Nvidia and who is ready to buy brand new hardware. For everyone else who sticks with Nvidia’s current generation it will only mean that this hardware will quickly be rendered obsolete.

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