student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the month “February, 2011”

An Apology

Sorry for the lack of updates in the last two weeks. I’ve never been especially consistent with this blog, but I was going for a post a week this year, and I have failed. Sorry about that.

Not much has been going on in game development in the last two weeks. My girlfriend fell down our apartment stairs, our daughter got sick (just a cold, but in a three year old that’s less than the most fun ever), my girlfriend and I got engaged, and then I caught our little girl’s cold, but worse. So, I’ve been busy. But I thought I’d go over some news and such, some of it personal, some of it game dev related. Ready?


The biggest news over the last two weeks is that I’m engaged. My girlfriend and I have a friend who has gotten us a room in Vegas over the weekend of the first of April. I’m not much for April Fool’s Day jokes, since April 1 is also my Mom’s birthday, but I mentioned that it would be funny if we claimed to have gotten married while we were in Vegas. We started making a plan about finding a Little Person Elvis Impersonator to stage wedding photos with, and everyone had a good laugh. The conversation moved on to how we really ought to get engaged… and then we were. We started making real wedding plans for that weekend, then thought San Diego Comicon would be better, and then moved the date to next year’s Comicon…

There was no real proposal involved – no one got down on one knee, and no rings were exchanged. And yet, I can’t help but think that, for us, this was the best possible way for things to go down. It was very… us. The engagement was born out of laughter and having a good time. It was a mutual decision reached through discussion. Our immediate ideas involved geeking out the wedding as much as possible. We’re engaged not because one person asked and the other accepted, but because we both, at about the same time, realized it was right.

I personally think that’s romantic, but your mileage may vary.

Elements Development

I’ve more or less finished Part 1 (of about 6, I think) of the new Elements Beta. I haven’t been able to work on it much over the laast two weeks, not just because of the impressive list of events going on in my life, but also because I’ve come across a new form of Writer’s Block that I was heretofore unfamiliar with. I know what I want to say, I have everything planned, and once I get started, I figure Part 2 will take a week or two at most… but I can’t figure out, for the life of me, how to get started. Which brings me to my process and why most of the usual suggestions (move on to something else, start in the middle, et al) won’t work.

I tend to write from beginning to end. I use earlier concepts to build up to later ones, thereby occasionally requiring me to go back and make edits to earlier content. This resulted in a bit of a debacle for 16 Bit Heroes, in case anyone cares to recall (or even noticed – I got it fixed fairly quickly, and I’m not exactly the most read site on the net). Still, it’s how I seem to be able to do things, and it’s always worked well for me in the past. Less so now, apparently.

I may try the skipping ahead technique – Part 2 contains the Elements list, which might be a good place to start. But until I figure out how to get past this roadblock, actually writing down any Elements stuff has slowed to a crawl. My brain is still fairly buzzing with dev stuff, of course, but that’s not doing me much good right now.

In any case, that’s about all for now. I’ll try to get back to an (at a minimum) update-per-week schedule. Who knows – maybe it will stick this time.


The New Elements Dice System

I have been wanting to post for days, but IRL things (mostly, an almost three year old who seems to have gone insane) have been draining all of my time and energy; what energy I have left is usually devoted to continuing work on Elements.

I mentioned before that my work on 16 Bit Heroes has caused me to reconsider some of the things I was doing with Elements. I thought that, since I actually have time and energy today, I would go over some of my thinking, mostly the new resolution system I’ve come up with and why I felt Elements needed the change.

First of all, let me go on record saying that I loved the old system – the collection of special dice applied to a 5d10 roll, with precision increasing the chance of critical success and decreasing the chance of critical failure. It was a fabulous system, and I loved the idea of keeping everything in a box (from 5 to 50). It’s a neat idea, and I may use it for something else, but it doesn’t really fit well with Elements overall for a variety of reasons.

First of all, it’s a bit unwieldy for a system where you stack scores. Combining different scores based on modifying dice gets complicated when you start putting together three or four different things. Another problem was that the whole thing was really on a one to fifteen or so scale (you could only apply fifteen bonus dice to anything) – which is fine if your game has a set genre, but since Elements was ostensibly a universal system (and still is, by the way), it makes using the same system to run both super-heroes and survival horror almost silly on a conceptual level. You’d have to redefine what – in real world terms – four drop dice meant for each genre, and cross-genre play (dark fantasy heroes meet flamboyant space opera, for instance) is essentially impossible. Finally, the biggest problem is that it was almost impossible to tell, at a glance, how good a person is at something. Sure, having five drop dice means a lot… but how does it compare to two drop dice, a bounce die, and two cushion dice? Either way, you’ve got five bonus dice – which is better?


Yay dice ambivilance!

Gaming dice - the Elements system no longer cares which ones you use.

The new dice system is much more flexible, has no upper end cap, and is… how should I put it? Well, as of now, I’m calling it “dice ambivalent”.  Basically, for everything you do, you have a Competence, which is either a single number, or the sum of two numbers, and is expressed as a bonus (something like +32, or +25). Whenever a character performs a Check against something, you can convert some or all of this bonus to whatever sort of dice you like – each die costs half its maximum value in Competence (so you could take a +32 and turn it into 1d20+22, 8d8, 10d6+2, 1d6+2d8+2d20+1 – however you want to break it down). You can just let things ride on the character’s Competence (which gives an immediate and easy way to compare how good one character is at something to another), or try to up to double your Competence by converting to dice, or anything in between.


Criticals are achieved by far exceeding the Difficulty, but you can only get them when rolling dice and if you can potentially fail at what you’re doing (you can only get extraordinary success by going out on a limb, testing your luck, or trying to innovate – just using mastery-level skills the way you’re used to can’t get you amazing results). Critical failure comes by rolling (again, you have to actually roll dice to fail critically) a ways under the Difficulty. Probably – I’m still ironing out the kinks on the Epic Fail end of the spectrum.

Anyway, that’s a brief look at the new Elements dice system. Since it uses flat numbers, comparisons are easy, as are adding bonuses, applying penalties, and modifying character creation costs based on weaknesses. I also can’t think of any system that uses something like it (although it bears a passing resemblance to the current d6 System…), which also makes me happy. Any comments? Questions?

That’s about all for now. Let me know what you think.

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