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It’s alive!


If you’re not following @10x10Room on Twitter, you might not have heard our big news: Conclave is open to the public!

We’ve put a ton of work into the game, and we’re thrilled to finally be able to show it off. We don’t think anyone else has made a game quite like it. A multiplayer RPG set in an original fantasy world that you can play from any web-enabled PC, tablet, or phone? And that you can play whenever you have a few minutes of free time, even if you and your friends have different schedules? Sounds kind of crazy even to us, really.

Since we’re a three-person team and this is still a beta release, expect a few rough edges here and there. We’re opening up the game now because we’d like you to help shape it from here on out, and we need your feedback for that.

But enough talk. Go play, and tell us what you think!

You wouldn’t know it from how little we’ve posted lately, but we’ve been very busy working on our game the past few months.


Same game, new name

The most obvious change, if not the most significant, is that it has a new name: Conclave. For the first year and a half of development its working name was Bastion, but you might have heard about the recent launch of another game by that name. Although we were using the name first, we didn’t think a legal battle would be in anyone’s interest, and it gave us a chance to come up with something better. The word “conclave” refers to an assembly or gathering, and we think that’s fitting for a game designed to bring friends together online. It also has an important in-game meaning, which you’ll hear more about in the future.

Besides the name change, our summer can be summed up in three words: development, development, development. We received a hugely positive response when we demoed the game at the “Made in MA” event on the eve of this year’s PAX East, and since then we’ve been working to complete everything that wasn’t ready then. To make sure we’re staying on the right track, we’ve also invited small groups to playtest our changes. If you haven’t received an invite, don’t worry; we expect to begin an open beta of the game soon.

The improvements we’ve made include:

  • dozens of new character and foe abilities
  • interactive terrain for our combat challenges
  • forks in the story where party members can vote on a course of action based on their skills
  • thoroughly revamped quests and challenges
  • a more responsive and graphical interface

Each of those could be its own post, but right now it’s time to get back to work. It won’t be long before you’ll all be able to see the results.

Come see us at PAX East and Made in MA!

The 10×10 Room team will all be attending PAX East in lovely Boston, Massachusetts this coming weekend. Will you be there? If so, let us know so we can meet you.

We’ll also be demoing Bastion: Call to Arms at Made in MA on Thursday, the night before PAX East opens its doors. This is an event for Massachusetts-based game companies who want to show their wares and meet other folks in the Massachusetts gaming community. We attended last year, and liked the event a lot, and are now proud to be among the exhibitors.

Bastion Runes Brushset

Bastion makes liberal use of free art from many sources (a topic for a future blog post: it’s remarkable what great work one can access for free, and we want to give the folks who have helped us in this way as much exposure as possible). Given how important the free art community is to our game, it’s only fair that we make a small contribution back. With that, here is the Bastion Runes Brushset.

At some point, I’ll make one of those schmancy brushset titles that shows the runes off in the best possible way, but for now, you get this simple image of each of the ten runes in the set. The runes were drawn by our one and only Derek Bruneau, then processed by me to make them appropriate for use as brushes. There are many more runes in the Bastion world than this, so there’s a good chance another brushset will eventually be in the offing.

We use the runes many ways in the game, all of which you’ll see soon. Runes make their way into quest images, battlemaps, and more. Soon, we’ll teach you what each one means (hint: if you download the brushset, each rune has a label). All are free for your noncommercial use. Attributions and linkbacks are much appreciated!

Chrome Web Store: Chasing the short tail

Here at 10×10 Room, we were pretty excited about the recently-released Chrome Web Store, which takes core ideas from the iTunes Store and applies them to distributing web apps. CWS also holds out the promise of getting those same apps immediately in front of Chrome OS users once that operating system starts becoming available. That ought to be great news for web game developers like ourselves, and in fact we spent some time in the developer program for CWS before deciding our release schedule was too different from Google’s to make it worthwhile to launch within CWS.

Unfortunately, the reality of the Chrome Web Store, as it stands, is a little disappointing. The core problem: it’s really hard to find anything beyond a top tier of featured apps. Say, for example, you are interested in finding a new game. You click on Games, and see something like this:

Okay, this looks familiar… very iTunes-like. I think I want an action game. Let’s look at the Arcade & Action section. Well, none the first five games in this section look interesting, so I’ll dig deeper.

Uhm. How do I dig deeper? Where’s the “more” link, or pagination to the next 5 of 322 apps that might be classified as Arcade & Action? The answer: you can’t. The UI will not let you browse.

It gets worse. Say somebody tells me about a game called Lockmaster, but by the time I get home, I can’t for the life of me remember more than that it was “Lock”-something. But hey, there’s a handy search box on the front page of the CWS. Google is good at search, right?

As it turns out, not always. If I type in “Lock”, I get a bunch of results, but none of them are Lockmaster. In fact, the Google folks have stated in the forums that search takes place on whole words only! It looks to see if the search term you entered is in the title of the app, or in the short or long description you supplied. Better hope your game’s name is both really memorable, and easy to spell.

Whatever else is good or bad about the Google Web Store – and there’s plenty more to say on both sides of this one – they made two fundamental errors with their merchandising, both of which are attributable to an odd decision to discount the long tail. First, they made it impossible to browse deep into their store. If we feel like wandering around the store, well, too bad: there are many aisles, but each one is about a foot long. Second, if we have an idea of what we are looking for, and decide to use the search function, it behaves like search from the 1.0 days, incapable of grasping remarkably basic stuff like partial word matches. If we ask an associate to look for something in the warehouse, we’d better have an exact name and spelling ready! These would be important gripes with any web buying experience, but they are difficult to understand coming from Google, given that helping users find what they are looking is Google’s core competency.

The good news is that fixing these problems is nearly trivial, so I have high hopes that we will see fixes soon. It’s a shame they weren’t dealt with before launch, though, as they not only hurt the chances of most games (and apps) getting noticed, but also leave the user with a sense that the store is very shallow, which is surely not what Google has in mind. I hope we see improvement soon.

Execution is marketing

Tadhg Kelly of What Games Are recently posted about the need for games to have a marketing story. While his overall point is a good one, I have to quibble with a comment he made in a follow-up post:

The hard part isn’t execution. […] The hard part is creating and living a marketing story that makes people pay attention, because there is no list to tell you how to do that.

Duke Nukem Forever ... for real this time?

For real this time?

For one thing, execution is hard. Having good tools and developers is necessary but not sufficient; it also requires perseverance, effective communication, and high tolerances for risk, rejection, and criticism. But there’s another reason execution is challenging, and it relates to Tadhg’s second point: your execution is part of your marketing story.

If your execution is poor, you’re effectively marketing only to that subset of your audience willing and able to hear your story amid the cacophony of bad word of mouth. The near-mythical Duke Nukem Forever is one cautionary tale: its story at this point is almost entirely about its troubled execution. You could argue that its execution has been so bad that its story has garnered more attention than a successful game would have, but that’s not a result I’d try to reproduce.

Minecraft: Blocks all the way down

Blocks all the way down

Minecraft, on the other hand, demonstrates how execution can make a positive contribution to a marketing story. Part of what makes its story so compelling is that Notch was a one-man wrecking crew for much of its development; had it been a AAA title produced by a more conventional team, reactions to the game likely wouldn’t have been nearly as strong.

While those are extreme examples, execution matters to nearly any game’s marketing story. It’s not just the choice of indie or not, though our decision to build Bastion: Call to Arms as a three-person, self-funded team certainly influences how we talk about it. It’s that players will also construct their own stories based on their experience with a game. Whatever your intended narrative, players will create competing tales of woe if your game is sufficiently buggy, unbalanced, or user-unfriendly.

Executing well is one way to make it more likely that your game is the hero rather than the villain of those tales. That in turn makes it possible for your own marketing story to be heard, especially if it complements or amplifies the stories of your players.

Battlemap Preview 2, plus tokens

If you haven’t yet seen Battlemap Preview 1, you might want to check that out too.

Last time around, we gave you a look at some of our outdoor battlemaps. Let’s go underground for the next one, then take a look at some of the creature tokens that will be populating the maps.

At a certain point in your Bastion questing, you might learn of problems beneath the Bastion itself. Problems that can only lead to everybody’s favorite place…

…the sewer! But you’ll find that the sewer is far from the bottom of the Bastion underground.

What might you find in a sewer? Probably some rats:
Or perhaps some diseased rats: Or possibly even some unliving rats: Or how about a, well, whatever he is: Ewww. Let’s hope we don’t meet that one.

Battlemap Preview 1

In Bastion, every combat takes place on a battlemap. This will feel familiar to most D&D players, especially in the age of miniatures play, as well as to the folks who enjoy turn-based computer RPGs.

There’s a great deal to be said about the how and what and why of creating battlemaps, and you can expect some posts along those lines soon. For now, though, how about some simple eye candy?

A battlemap set at the site of a recent shipwreck.

This is the wreck of the Seamaid, a ship from the north whose contents might contain certain revelations for the denizens of the Bastion. All that sea means a serious chokepoint at the middle of the thing, for good or bad.

All of the battlemaps are top-down, like this one. We are favoring a pretty realistic look to the graphics, balanced against the need for visual clarity: a map that’s too busy, filled with lots of contrasting bits, can make it hard to tell what’s going on, and we’d rather be overly simple than confusing. This map is among the busiest; it probably represents an outer limit of visual clutter.

Oh, heck, how about another?

A beach landing on a deserted (?) island.

This is from the same side quest, as the characters make their way to a landing on a dangerous island.

Want to see more of these? Let us know in the comments.

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ding

With World of Warcraft, Blizzard continued – and perhaps perfected – a game design they started to really shine at in Diablo 2: the art of always providing positive feedback and an ever-present goal just a few minutes away.

When a player is playing World of Warcraft, they are constantly rewarded for victory. With every normal monster fight, there is a battle, a regular “rotation” of spells/abilities that the player uses to take out the normal monsters, and victory within 5-10 seconds. The monster gives an experience reward as long as the player isn’t max level, and a loot reward regardless. If the player is in the endgame, there’s a high likelihood that the experience reward has been swapped out for a reputation reward with whatever faction is tied to the monster, but the treadmill (if you’re being cynical about it) continues. Monsters are always available, so once you get your little thrill of victory after 5-10 seconds, you look around for the next monster, which takes about 3-5 seconds, and start again. And on, and on, and on. My lizard brain reward neurons are firing just writing about this stuff.

Then, layered on top of the pure combat grind, there are the quests. One is almost never simply killing mobs in a vacuum of XP or rep grinding. Every monster killed is killed for a reason. Either you need to kill a certain number of them for a quest, or they sometimes (sometimes very rarely) drop an item you need for a quest, or they are in between you and the destination place or object you need for a quest. So not only are you getting the tiny reward for each monster beaten, you get closer and closer to a bigger reward of completing one (or often several tied to the same area of the map) quest. That quest, once completed, gives the same reward as a monster kill but in bigger doses: loot, XP, reputation.  Quests are, by the way, the most extensive way that narrative is woven into WoW.  It’s because WoW has thousands of quests that you don’t feel like you’re just doing the same thing over and over and over and over again.

Layered on top of questing is the reward of leveling either your character or your reputation with a faction. Aside from the occasional helpful loot reward from a monster or quest, this is the first reward you get that directly improves your character. With a new level you either get a new talent point to spend or a new spell. When you reach a new reputation level with a faction, you likely have access to new gear that will help your character.

Finally, at the endgame you have layered on top of leveling/rep boosts for your character the concept of getting better gear for your dungeon/raid group.  Players are rewarded by being part of a solid dungeon or raid group even if they are unlucky enough not to get any drops that help them directly by still getting drops that will help other members of the group, and so the group advances even when an individual character does not.  Blizzard has improved this formula in later expansions by granting currency to each participating party member for every endgame boss killed that, once enough are accumulated, can be traded in for gear even if that character never gets a direct gear drop from any boss fights. For each raid, there is eventually a boss considered a “gear check.” That boss encounter is impossible for the raid to beat until they have gone through the earlier raid content enough times for their entire group to have good enough gear from the earlier bosses to have the raw stats high enough to beat the gear check boss. This boss is, therefore, the gateway to higher content.

Like XP/quests before, some players are just raiding for better and better gear for their characters, others are raiding just to get to see all the content, and others are in it for both. But the raid activity for “progression” is the same for all three.

But wait, there’s more! That’s just one “stack” of reward layers. There are at least three other parallel reward paths:

Crafting: As players are out in the world-whether completing lowly quests or endgame raids-they will come across nodes of resources that can be harvested for crafting components. As players build gear from these components, their crafting skills are improved, and they get closer to building better and better gear. So players will often fight monsters just to get to a harvest node so they can get more resources to build more gear and raise their crafting.

Achievements: With Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard added explicit achievements to the game. These can range from exploring all the points in any and all maps, to accumulating vanity pets, to completing all the quests in the game, to beating all the dungeons in heroic mode. As with the main reward system, achievements are often layered. For example, players get a small reward for exploring every node on one map, a bigger one for exploring every map on a continent, and the biggest one for fully exploring every map in the game.

PvP: (Disclaimer: I never got deeply into PvP, so my knowledge of this dimension of the game is limited and may not be entirely correct.) Completely parallel to the main game, players may choose to participate in player versus player content. The PvP starts at level 10 (though you’ll be yelled at if you’re not level 19 to be the “appropriate” level for the 10-19 PvP group), and some players spend all their time “twinking” their level 19 PvP character. It ends at Arena matches, available only to characters who have gotten to max level, which have 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 ladders. Arena PvP is associated with “seasons” in which the medium, higher, and highest ranking players are given gear roughly equivalent to the gear their characters would get at the endgame raid PvE content that is in the game for that season. As I said, I haven’t followed this aspect of the endgame very closely, but I’m pretty sure when new raid content is added to the game with the associated next level of raiding gear (your raid group will only have a fighting chance against higher end raid bosses if they’ve geared up from earlier raid bosses) a new Arena season starts at the same time with rewards on par with the new endgame gear.

What say you, gentle reader?  Did I miss anything?

The many forms of “We rule!”

Derek’s post a couple days ago on “I rule!” versus “That rules!” got me to thinking, which is always a dangerous and frightening prospect. While thinking back on my own “I rule/That rules!” experience, it suddenly struck me that my very best experiences in multiplayer role playing games have always come from two very different approaches to “We rule!”

On the one hand, we have the MMO raid endgame experience. There is nothing like 25 voices screaming in victory after taking down a raid boss that the guild has been throwing itself at over and over again for weeks. Progression raiding is painful. It’s frustrating. It’s time consuming. It can tear guilds apart. And it is one of the best video game experiences out there when you finally succeed.

On the other hand, there is the group of role players I am currently tabletop gaming with. We are the Most. Dysfunctional. Party. Ever. Our mage has a charisma of 2, but will take any opportunity upon meeting new friends or foes alike (‘friends’ in this case being defined as NPCs we haven’t made ‘foes’ of yet) to bring out his magic box which will announce to the world that he is “HARWIN THE MAGNIFICENT!” One of our fighters is a greedy halfling, who in his finest hour discovered that the urn he was hauling tightly in his arms back to town to figure out how to open was actually a trap: on our way out of the dungeon the urn evaporated, leaving dear Merbles covered in green slime. The bad kind. Our priest has a relationship with the bottle that can only be described as masterful. But even more important in understanding his personality is to realize he…ah…absconded with the robes and holy symbol he currently wears from a fellow traveler on the roads. He has no idea which deity is answering his prayers (and for our party, we need a great many prayers), but some higher power is indulging his adjurations…at least for now.

I round out the group as our second fighter, a dwarf named Lars the Epithetless, who fancies himself something of a strategist. He almost never gets to enact any great plans due to his fellow party members’ tendency to rush into the next room swords and spells blazing, but last session he finally had his chance to shine. The party had come to a halt in front of a door behind which was a room teeming with rats. Behind us was a room full of caltrops we had picked our way through earlier. 15 minutes of excited scheming and trap setting later, Lars launched into action—the final result of which was a horde of nonplussed rats, Lars’s feet riddled with rat-poop-covered caltrops (cure disease, anyone? no? lovely…) and the nasty monster who was master of this corner of the dungeon alerted to our presence. It was the best role playing I’ve done in weeks.

Our party is terrible. But at the same time, we rule! Because playing these horribly inept adventurers is hilarious. Managing to get out of every mess we’ve made for ourselves so far has actually been something of a two-edged sword. We were never supposed to make it to level 2. Months later, now that we’re approaching level 4, I must admit, I’ll be sad when we eventually end up getting ourselves killed by plunging into the middle of more than we can handle. But that won’t change how we play this group, because that’s who these characters are.

This second form of ruling—the ability to craft a fun player-based narrative, even if it is by playing incompetent characters—is something you don’t see much in single player RPGs. It’s out there, though, if you can find it. One of my biggest “I rule!/That rules!” moments in playing Mass Effect 2 happened during one of the cutscenes. For those not familiar, if you progress far enough in either the “paragon” or “renegade” options for your character, sometimes you have the opportunity to interrupt a cutscene to your benefit. The character I was playing was primarily a paragon, though she would occasionally show traits that could be considered “renegade” under stressful situations. During one particular cutscene, a renegade interrupt became available to my character. But it just didn’t fit her character, so with great difficulty (as a player), I let the opportunity to interrupt the scene pass. Later in the same cutscene, a paragon interrupt opportunity appeared, which my character did activate. It was awesome! It was perfect! By being true to my character and keeping a cool head, I let a chance to be a nasty sort of character pass, and I was given the chance to influence the narrative in a more virtuous manner. The result was both an “I rule!” and “That rules!” moment at the same time. BioWare managed to outdo itself again by supporting this kind of gameplay opportunity, and I was thrilled that I had discovered it. At the same time, I was able to keep my character true to the personality I had crafted for her, which made the moment “rule” for me in an entirely different way.

In the end, I’m not sure how well the MMO style of ruling and the narrative crafting/role playing style of ruling can coexist. As I wrote in the comment section of Derek’s post, an MMO raider serious about progressive raiding isn’t going to be worried about whether his character’s arachnophobia should be decreasing his competence against the spider boss, nor would his teammates appreciate him playing that encounter “in-character” by /cowering in the corner during the entire fight. On the other hand, a munchkin/rules lawyer tabletop player may not be seen as the optimal partymate for a group of gamers who are injecting a lot of player-based narrative into a gaming session. Therefore, as game designers, one of the challenges we face is determining what type of gameplay experience we’re trying to build in our game and make sure that the content we’re producing allows that type of experience to shine.

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