Finding the Fun

From time to time, I would like to share with the community my general thoughts anecdotes and observations. Finding the Fun is a short article about that, it describes where in a games life cycle the creation of the game becomes more than the sum of its parts. Like any creative project, at some point a game becomes an organism with a life all its own, and around this point observing developing behaviourisms from seemingly simple code is one of the most interesting moments in a project. For me this has now happened twice on the Frozen Hearth project. The first time was when I observed one of our developers and Boon, the developer/game designer on Runic Rumble conferring on tactics with another of our developers. While they were doing that, I was updating Hydra and the game and checking out the actual changes to scripts and realised that Sam had nerfed my latest exploit (And why exactly were you in MY Hydra, messing with MY balancing…! – Sam). The fun had been found in the game, and it was found during one of our Friday night testing sessions…
… We were playing for about four hours that night and ironing out what we call ‘de-sync’ errors, however the game was at a point where we could legitimately compete against each other and the stakes had apparently become high between the combatants. This was the point when I knew the game had become more than just the fragments of code and textures running through the computer, it had become Fun. We kept working till around 2am, playing and battling, using Spells and Squads, Abilities and Buildings, and if a ‘de-sync’ occurred we looked for the offending section and fixed it. The game was a Game, and resembled the game that we had set out to make – it had come to life and it was brutal. It’s going to be interesting comparing the game we ship to that game back on that day which seemed rough around the edges and all-too deadly and relatively unbalanced. It keeps getting better as we go, but I will enjoy looking over the changes that has occurred since then.
The next time I was surprised was only last week, when we completed part one of our current AI sprint. Watching our AI fight against itself and see one lose and one win was a great moment. They groped around the map like primitive children, taunting each other and getting into fights with only the most rudimentary commands at their disposal. The two teams-of-two had no concept of casting spells, but they formed their squad groups, marched off to capture points, and got in each other’s way.
AI’s are strange beasts, and coding them is a big task. However, once you get something working, regardless of how primitive, you know that you can get there by taking one step at a time. We focused first on Multiplayer and the AI that supports the player’s units; the inherent behaviours that all units require. Next, we focused on making the path-finding good. Finally, we are focusing on the brains of the beast and like Frankenstein’s monster it’s primitive, strong and scary – and it’s going to hurt people in its quest for survival. The emerging behaviours was deeply interesting, and a few of us gathered around to simply watch the AI in its various guises stagger around the map; a tug of war existed between the two sides as they vied for control of points. At one point, one side was losing, and decided to ‘rage quit’ for a while as Sam put it.
This moment of the computer player of the game moving around on its own with limited knowledge was another moment where we knew we had found the fun in the game.