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Comment: Re:For reference, here's one of the current system (Score 2) 38

by Abram Jablonski (#46455939) Attached to: NASA Offers Bounty For Improved Asteroid Detection Algorithms
MOPS is a very cool system and seems to be well-engineered, but it isn't quite state of the art - according to the performance numbers in section 3.12, it takes months to run simulations (with 100k or so objects), and it's a pipelined system (using Linux clusters), so there are multiple fairly beefy machines crunching the numbers. I know an astrophysicist that has a program that can do that in a night, on his laptop (not source, but... http://derastrodynamics.com/do...). That being said, MOPs is (AFAIK) free, has data interchange/ API capabilities, and is in production, while Dr. Der wants to get paid really well for his algorithms - slightly more than the $35k that NASA's offering :D

+ - Timothy Zahn's Parallax Kickstarter (rebooted)

Submitted by Abram Jablonski
Abram Jablonski (3070601) writes "Best-selling and Hugo Award-winning author Timothy Zahn – creator of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade – and I are currently running a new Kickstarter for our 4X Master of Orion-inspired game, Parallax.

Currently in pre-production, we’re offering our backers a chance to help shape the game: from voting on which user interface design to use, to helping us create and choose the alien races, space fleets, and technology for the game. Tim’s bringing 5 of his most popular non-Star Wars aliens to the game (the Qanska, Zhirrzh, Modhri, Kalixiri and Pom), we’re adding in the Humans and 3 other races, and the backers will help create the other 11 initial races.

The Funding Crowd from GamingOnLinux did a great review that captures the spirit and intent of the Kickstarter (about 2/3 of the way down the page), we did an interview with GOL and a guest post on SFSignal, and a full conceptual overview can be found here.

We’re trying to get the word out, so if it sounds interesting, come check out our Facebook page, the Kickstarter, contact us with comments, questions or concerns, or comment here (we’ll be watching)."

Comment: Re:Trademark infringement (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44851437) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
Sorry - didn't mean to come off quite that flippantly... The article does actually reference the game directly, but my argument was that the game was named after the technique, rather than the other way around.

I'm less concerned with the trademark issue (because the trademark isn't actively registered in association with computer games), than I am with the fact that there have actually been a FEW other games that share the same name. And a book. And a full game company. The majority of which, I only became aware of in the past few days. So there may be a name change in the game's future, but to avoid confusion, rather than legal issues.

Comment: Re:Priced out of Market (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44850013) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
I'm absolutely not taking it personally, and I have tried to treat is as honest, generally helpful, and occasionally strongly-worded, criticism - I'm on the forum because they're valid and valuable opinions. That being said:

Follow the hyperlink to check out the game

Sorry for not being clear - "you win either way" was directed specifically toward VertexCortex's argument ("I fear this will not end well" and such), in that he will have "won" by being right if I fail.

Even MOO2 added things I didn't like, and seemed to be moving more toward too much micromanagement. I have all 3 games, but only ever get the urge to go back and play MOO (on DOSBox :D)

Comment: Re:Risk/reward...? (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44849873) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
Excellent question, and excellent points...

The short answer is: Whether this Kickstarter succeeds or fails, I am making this game. The only things that the Kickstarter will change are the timeline, the amount of content that will be included, and the amount of time spent on the content. It will also make it clear, to Tim, that this is something that his fans support him spending a considerable amount of his time on. If the Kickstarter fails, it will be mostly the same under the hood, but will not have nearly as much content, and will take a few years to make instead of one. The $500k actually seems high to me, too, and I chose that amount. But it's the amount that allows me to say, with absolute certainty, that this game will be completed as described, on time, and with a level of quality and refinement in keeping with that funding amount.

More details:

No, I'm not well-off enough to survive for a year with no income - if I could, I absolutely would. Without going into detail, I might be able to go a month, and not because I'm irresponsible with my money. I've got 4 kids, and a good paycheck but... 4 kids. It's not personal risk I'm avoiding, it's risk to them. I'm going to be taking a pay cut, but not so drastically that I risk leaving them destitute or homeless. And in exchange for that reduced "salary", I fully expect to be spending a minimum of 60 hours a week on the project, to further ensure that it's on time, on budget, and high-quality.

The biggest cost is actually "developer" time, only a fraction of which is going to be for programming. I've said in other responses that the coding is the least of the effort (a couple of months of full-time work), and working with the backers to develop the content is going to take up the bulk of the time. Part of this Kickstarter is the experience and the involvement with creating the game, and while it's going to be fun for me to work with all the backers, it's going to be extremely time-consuming. I can't shorten the schedule and still give the backers the attention and consideration they deserve. With significantly reduced backer involvement, the target would be half as much, but the game would have a lot less content as well.

I've also said repeatedly that everything raised by this Kickstarter will go toward game development. In the highly unlikely event that everything falls into place perfectly and the game is completed significantly ahead of schedule and the backers (as a group) don't come up with other things that should be added to the game, the backers will decide what to do with the surplus.

As for profiting from future sales... It would be great to make enough to continue doing this full-time after this game is finished, with the same level of quality and detail, but I don't expect to make much more than that. I've also made it clear (I hope) that I want to be as reasonable as possible with the pricing for future mods and such, so if I start making a lot, I'll drop the prices.

Comment: Re:Excellent! Sort of.. (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847471) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
Yeah, I hate those... Or only stupid answers..... "why would I go down the stairs toward the shuffling sound - where's the choice to run away".... I really hope I don't suck. :D

(fortunately, I plan to have a whole lot of other people keeping an eye on me to make sure I don't suck)

Comment: Re:Trademark infringement (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847403) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
The Wiki page that you linked to states that the technique has been around since the 40's, and that Moon Patrol did it 4 years prior to that game... Plus "parallax" is actually the physics term for the apparent difference in relative position of 2 (or more) objects when the observer changes position, and I think it was in use by, y'know, ancient astronomers long before modern computers, let alone video games.

But, I could be wrong... I don't think I am, but I could be.

Comment: Re:Just show me ANY EXISTING PRIOR finished game. (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847367) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
It doesn't seem harsh - criticism is worth a hell of a lot more than praise, because you can do something productive with criticism. Hence the multitude of smileys...

:D

And Tim's not the idea man, he's the guy who's got 130+ published works of fiction in the past 30 years or so, so he's going to be focused on helping to make the content engaging and interesting. Which - despite opinions to the contrary - I think he's proven himself capable of.

Comment: Re:So why is MoO2 still the gold standard? (Score 2) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847339) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
It's a valid point and, unfortunately, one I've run into repeatedly - users don't really know what they want until they actually have something to play with, so it becomes the developer's job to help them figure it out. I've been on a number of projects that ended up in trouble because the development team (including the management) was afraid to say "no" to the customer.

I'm not afraid to say "no": I've already said that multiplayer isn't going to happen unless someone can think of a way to avoid having one person waiting on/ rushing the other, and the Kickstarter itself states that the vision and architecture are already set. The users will be helping to shape the content of the game, and I also said that we won't always be able to give them what they want. At the same time, Agile development works (when done properly), I've done it, I'm good at it and - most importantly - having user feedback right at the beginning is one of the best ways to prevent a project from heading off in the wrong direction and ending up as something that nobody wants. That is the biggest risk, and that is the one I need to address right at the beginning, which is why I chose to take this approach: the users have significant input, enjoy themselves, and the risk of turning out a bad game is reduced by orders of magnitude...

Comment: Re:Priced out of Market (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847299) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!! That's EXACTLY what I was envisioning this game to be!

:D :D :D (sorry, it's late)

Ok, seriously... Play my other game, Blobs - whether you love it or hate it (or give it 3 stars on Amazon because you got bored with it after 3 months like one player did), the level of technical difficulty to create that game is no different than this one will be, and I wrote it in a couple of months, in the evenings, after work. The only name I could drop would be the original author of PeachTree Accounting - my buddy Mike Goodell - and half of you would agree with him that PeachTree is the worst thing he's ever done... But it's also the first thing he ever did, and he's done some seriously impressive stuff since - that you've probably never heard of. Not that is really matters, though, because the only work he'd probably do would be the encryption-related key generation code. So.... Yeah, not really worth much.

Because so much hinges on the actual content generation, though, something more meaningful would be to announce that a Community Manager that's worked on a dozen or so (smaller, browser-based) games has volunteered to help out, but I can't - because he hasn't been fully-vetted yet and it might not happen. So what you have is someone who says he's more than competent enough to write the code, with a single published game in his repertoire, and no other work to show because it either belongs to the government or to a corporation.

My contention is that:
  • 1) Blobs is of the same technical difficulty level as this game.
  • 2) The artists at 99Designs will be willing to provide all of the high-quality graphics for the game for about $100k.
  • 3) The AI for the game is reasonable and straightforward, and will make the gameplay interesting and the AI generally believable.
  • 4) I will be able to properly install and configure forum software on my server, and then manage the user communication with that forum software (with or without a separate Community Manager).
  • 5) Within a year, the backers of the game will be able to help generate enough content, and I will be able to finalize said content and format it so that the game can load it.

Your call, I suppose...

Comment: Re:Priced out of Market (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847189) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
Again: where have you been for the last month while the preview was available? (but I will update the Kickstarter to reflect this as much as I can)

There was actually a lot of support for NOT having Kickstarter-exclusive content, and nobody even tried to make an argument for it. The general consensus was that, while it might be good encouragement for the backers to pledge more, it's incredibly annoying for anyone that happens to miss the Kickstarter campaign for some reason (tight month financially, military deployment, or maybe even just plain forgot to check).

The early access for higher-pledging backers was part of that conversation, as a way to both give them something permanently special, and be able to charge less for the expansion packs - I got a pretty strong "yes" when I said:

This would also allow us to charge less for each expansion pack and/ or make them larger, without making the higher-level backers feel like they're not getting their money's worth (so if we only have 2 or 3 Kickstarter-related expansion packs, and we charge $4 or $5 each, it's not a case of "hey, I paid $20 extra and all I got was this lousy $15 worth of extra content").

For the "Basic Game"... Argh! The "trial version" will be free, but require a code to unlock additional content. It sounded right, right up until you made me reread it. Nor will the game ever run on an old flip phone - "smart Phone" and "Cell Phone" seemed reasonable interchangeable.

The smaller form-factor devices do need "fairly" simple graphics, but it's a relative term. It will be the same source images on every device (which means it won't be pixel-perfect), and the graphics will have to be simple enough that they are still recognizable. As far as UI, it will be different layouts, but - again - the same source images, just with different locations and scale. The framework I have uses layout definitions, and will load static images and play sprite sheets in designated locations, according to those layout definitions. The style will be decided by vote and argument (in the classical sense), but they're going to be at least reasonably hi-res images.

Consoles are actually fairly simple, since I'm using Xamarin/ MonoGame, and it allows you to write code against a "generic" controller (the deciding factor on whether I can port it to a console will actually be whether they allow an "indie" game to go out to an FTP server and download game files).

And the money... Everybody hates the way EA handled things, but only slightly less well hated is when you can't play a game anymore because the activation server isn't there. So, just like taking it on faith that there will be follow-on expansion packs, I'm taking it on faith that most people will be honest. And the terms are "be honest"... Plus, my current plan is that the key generation/ validation will be tied to your email address, to help keep the honest people honest.

MOO3? Really? Have you not read all the other comments? Or are you just trying to start a flame war?

:D

Comment: Re:$250 (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847081) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
Yes, plus you get most of the other rewards, early access to the game, more say into the game mechanics - as I've said before, it's a judgment call... Where were all these criticisms when Tim and I had the preview available for the past month or so and were asking for them (yes, it was on Facebook, so if you never checked his page, you never saw it - still, a discussion along these lines might have borne out some valuable changes).

:D

Comment: Re:Starbase Orion (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44847017) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
Each game will go out on the respective App Store as a trial version, and have separately-purchasable "DLC" that (essentially) creates an unlock code for a specific user. The user will be able to enter the unlock code on any platform and have access to the exact same content.

In the past, Apple has allowed something very similar to this type of cross-platform unlock code approach, as long as the DLC was available in the iTunes store as well. They have a reputation for being fickle, though, so it's going to be an independent negotiation when we're ready to post the app to their store. As far as I can tell, they'd prefer to get some profit rather than none, so there's a very good chance that they will allow this. If they refuse to allow it, then either the unlock codes will have to be purchased elsewhere or (more likely), the entire game will be free on iDevices, lest we disappoint or backers by not following through.

Comment: Re:Just show me the finished game. (Score 1) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44846979) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
In practice, it IS going to be a series of sliders that influences how likely a race is to trade with or attack you.

No, it's not a revolutionary new approach, because there aren't a whole lot of other realistic options... But I think you might have cheated and looked at the answer on the Kickstarter before you guessed that:

Under the hood, however, it all comes down to fuzzy logic and decision trees really simple, old-school decision trees, similar to a choose-your-own-adventure book.

Each computer player will have a set of numbers that indicate, on a sliding scale, how they feel about every other player, and these numbers will change over the course of the game: how much they (and their subjects) like the other; how much they trust the other player; and even whether they respect the other player, or look down on them with contempt. There will also be relative statistical numbers, for stuff like tech level, civilization size, etc.

For every type of interaction, and for every race, there will be dozens of possible things that can be said at each step in the conversation – that list will be filtered down to a few items based on how the speaker “feels” about the other player at that point in time (and also based on previous selections during the conversation). And the choices that are made during the conversation will, in turn, affect how each side feels about the other (by modifying those underlying numbers).

For the AI players, they will be given the same choices as the live player, and each available choice will be assigned a percentage chance, based on the player’s feelings and the relative standing of each civilization, and a simple (virtual) dice roll will determine their choice.

:D

Comment: Re:Just show me ANY EXISTING PRIOR finished game. (Score 3, Informative) 116

by Abram Jablonski (#44846915) Attached to: Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game
Ouch.

..........

I've actually been developing software for 15 years, and have made a game before (XNA on Windows Phone, and Xamarin to port it to Android, ported from an original 3D WPF version that looked great but ran like crap on a phone/ tablet and had too small a playable area there) - there are screen shots on the Kickstarter page. And you can't tell from the screen shots, but the pixels do move.

That is, of course, the least of what I've done - I specialize in highly-complex modular systems that push around and transform data on the server tier, as well as UI/ UX presentation of that data in the simplest way possible (lots of complex third-order-effect stuff going on behind the scenes, pretty colors for the user). I got an MCSD way back when it meant something. I've redesigned $60,000 per-seat systems and saved multi-million dollar projects... I'm not the idea man - I'm the architect that the idea men go to when they want something to actually get built.

But for this... none of that really matters. Yeah, I'm going to move pixels around on a screen and create a dynamic shell driven by XML-based files that loads the content on the fly, but the content generation itself is the long pole. I had photoshopped screen shots that were serviceable but, since I decided to let the backers help generate all those reams of content, I stopped working on them. The community management and organization is going to be critical, and my main job is going to be to mentally juggle hundreds of different ideas all at once and make them fit together - and then listen to the backers and fix it when they tell me I messed up. as for the novel core mechanic, I'm stealing it from MOO[1], cherry-picking cool features from other games, and fixing the stuff that tends to annoy me.

But the cool part is that you don't have to believe me, and you win either way: either I fail miserably and you're right, or I succeed reasonably well and you get a fun game to play.

:D

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