Friday, November 25, 2016

Primordia 2 Concept Art (jk)

My four year old daughter has been designing a "new Horatio and Crispin game."  It appears the energy crystal and conductive putty make an appearance in the sequel...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Divide By Zero


When I was 19, I was unexpectedly hired to write the story to a GameBoy Color RPG, entitled Infinity.  This was my first paid work as a writer, and actually my biggest paycheck for many years.  More importantly than that, though, writing a jRPG story was something I had dreamed of -- and attempted -- for many years.  As a little kid, I'd played Dragon Warrior with my older brother (the last RPG he ever played, the first of many for me), and after playing Shining in the Darkness, I became committed to the idea of making one myself.

I attempted to make an RPG in many different programming languages (BASIC on an Apple II/c, BASIC on a Macintosh IIsi, LogoWriter on that same Macintosh, QuickBASIC on a PC, and TurboPascal on a PC) and then a series of kinds of game-making software (ZZT, MegaZeux, Unlimited Adventures, Verge, and RPG Maker 95).  This doomed endeavor -- and in a sense, it really was a single endeavor -- was probably most fueled by Final Fantasy II, a game I played at a friend's house and dreamed of mimicking.  It consumed most of my creative energy and much of my free time from about 1992 until 1999.  Over the years, I collaborated with many people on the Internet, and dragged them into the black hole of wasted time.

One of those collaborators was Eric Haché, the indisputable king of jRPG-style music in that era.  I solemnly believed that if I could get Eric on the project -- a game called Shadow Incarnate -- we couldn't fail.

Well, we failed.

After that, I became decided to stop importuning other people and wasting their time, and set out in RPG Maker to create a throwback homage to Final Fantasy II, a game called Redemption.  About three months into making it, I got an email from Eric out of the blue: he was doing the music for a GameBoy RPG, but the writer had flaked.  Would I be interested in working on it?

The day I saw Infinity running on a real life, actual GameBoy, I nearly swooned.

That the game should be a technical marvel is no surprise because its coders, Justin Karneges and Hideaki Omuro, were basically superhuman savant programmers.  Justin, for example, had managed to make a full-featured RPG (Joltima) on the TI-83 graphing calculator, something that in a sense vindicated my Quixotic effort to make a jRPG in, e.g., LogoWriter.

Getting to work on Infinity was beyond the biggest dream I'd had -- namely, to mimic a console RPG, but not actually to make one.  The problem was, there was a tiny window of time to write the story, so I dusted off Redemption, and got writing: 25,000 words in three days.

Nineteen at the time, I imagined myself to be writing a mature homage to the games I grew up on.  With the distance of 17 more years, I realize how mistaken I was -- it is a decidedly adolescent appropriation of those games.  The story begins with a flashback to a heroes many generations ago and their tragic conclusion (just like Lufia and the Fortress of Doom), before turning to a fallen knight who has more than a little Cecil from FFII in him visiting a castle that is plainly Tintagel from Dragon Warrior.  There he meets a king who is equal parts taken from the the king of Baron in FFII and the king in Faxanadu, before encountering a villain who is plainly Kefka from Final Fantasy III and having a send-off that is plainly the bridge scene from FFII.  He sets off through a series of environmental dungeons facing environmental enemies strikingly reminiscent of Secret of Mana, while visiting a desert town straight from The Magic of Scheherezade and then a post-apocalyptic (not in the modern sense) refugee town that is just like the future city in Chrono Trigger (right down to an elder who riffs off the "Heal-thy" line).  Along the way, all the characters spout emphatic one-liners that are somewhere between Destiny of an Emperor and River City Ransom.  All of this adventuring takes place against a backdrop of a resurgent supernatural evil that is mostly Dark Force from Phantasy Star with a dash of Lavos from Chrono Trigger.

Anyway, this game got very, very close to completion, but a series of insane and insanely frustrating factors conspired to doom it.  For example, Squaresoft's American branch expressed interest in seeing it, but shuttered its offices before the project lead (Justin) could arrive: when he showed up, he found empty office space with a Parasite Eve poster on the wall and a single telephone on the floor.  He called the contact number he was given and the phone rang.  Later, Crave Entertainment entertained publishing it, but while they mulled it over, the GameBoy Advace was announced and Golden Sun with it, and the technical marvel that was Infinity was now the most advanced Cro-Magnon scratching his beard at a newfangled Neanderthal.

So it goes.  The project faded away.  We all went onto other things.  Years passed.  More years passed.  All the while, the game's sound engineer, Matthew Valente, kept the spark alive by teasing tidbits about Infinity on YouTube and elsewhere.

Finally, in 2016 -- a good 17 years after the project began and 15 years after it stopped -- Justin and Hideaki dusted off the code, and persuaded the game's visionary financier Matt Rossi to let a build and the code be publicly released.

So here it is.  A time capsule.  A living Cro-Magnon.  A homage, pastiche, bricolage, fiasco of a story. Go grab it here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Traducción Española

Tenemos el placer de anunciar la traducción de Primordia al español por parte de Eduardo Moreno Martín. Durante casi siete meses, Eduardo y su equipo -- José Morales, Antonio Reyes y "cireja de abandonsocios" -- han trabajado de cerca con el escritor de Primordia (Mark Yohalem) y el traductor previo al francés (Flavien Gaillard) para cerciorarse de que la traducción capturara los singulares modismos y expresiones de Primordia. Dado el papel inspirador que la literatura española, en particular las obras de Jorge Luis Borges, ha tenido en los temas de Primordia, es apropiado que el juego disponga ahora de una adaptación al español adecuada. Por favor tened en cuenta que sólo se ha modificado el texto; las voces siguen en inglés.

Como en la traducción francesa publicada previamente, en la actualidad no podemos distribuirla a través de los canales oficiales de Wadjet Eye Games. Tendréis que descargar un parche desde la página web de Primordia. Tenemos la intención de dar soporte a este parche con la misma diligencia y entusiasmo que al Primordia mismo, así que por favor informad de cualquier error para que podamos subsanarlo.

¡Esperamos que disfrutéis de la traducción!


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Auld lang syne

Notwithstanding the continuing lack of any new games, 2015 has been an amazing year for Wormwood Studios for a couple reasons. 

First, Primordia sold about 50% more copies in its third year than it did in its second, received a beautiful French translation, and rose into the top 15 user-rated games on Steam.  It also crossed a significant threshold: over 100,000 copies sold.

Second, I fulfilled an adolescent dream of being able to work on the closest thing to a second Planescape: Torment -- namely, Torment: Tides of Numenera.  It's been a humbling experience to be just one of many writers, with only a small part to play in the greater scheme, but all the same, the 70,000-odd words I've poured in so far seem to me to be among the best I've written.  As I've said many times, Primordia was heavily inspired by the original Torment, so this feels like closing a circle.

While life has a way of going awry, next year looks to be even more exciting.  Primordia will be getting a Spanish translation (currently about two thirds complete) and -- if Wadjet Eye Games can clear its pipeline -- an iOS release. There are also Polish and German translations, and a new Russian translation, although I am not especially confident that these will be finished anytime soon.

More importantly, we have three games in the works, which I'll list in order of my confidence that they'll be done in 2016.

First, James Spanos -- Primordia's coder -- will be releasing Until I Have You, an action game that is rather tricky to classify.  It has elements of CanabaltNinja Gaiden, and Hotline: Miami, but is absolutely its own distinct creature.  I've had some peripheral involvement in revising the writing, but otherwise this show belongs to James and his artistic collaborator, Andrea Ferrara.  UIHY has been in development for over a year and it's fully playable, with about 90% of the content in place.  This kind of game requires a huge amount of testing and honing, but I can't see any way that James doesn't get it over the finish line.

Second, Victor Pflug -- Primordia's artist -- is developing Trenchmouth, a point-and-click adventure game similar in spirit and style to Primordia.  Trenchmouth is about a world not unlike ours, where a Great War grinds on without end.  This has a certain superficial similarity to the background of Iron Storm, but things diverge dramatically because Trenchmouth's setting cannot be untangled from Vic's techno-magical realism.  Despite his endless efforts to ground his creations in real technology, there is a dreamlike quality, and at the end of the day Trenchmouth is not going to be a "What if?" alternate history but a nightmare whose symbolism is rooted in a dark historical reality.  Vic and I have chatted a bit about the story, and I think it's shaping up nicely.

Finally, Fallen Gods continues creeping forward.  I'm hopeful that as Torment work wraps up in early 2016, and I'm able to give full attention to FG, the pace will pick up.  In the meanwhile, let me tell you a little bit about the game.

This runestone serves as the main menu (options not visible) and part of the opening cinematic.
Its roots lie in two old, non-computer games from my childhood: Barbarian Prince and Lone Wolf.  I rediscovered these back in around 2006, and I was simply blown away at the things they accomplished without the assistance of a computer.  I loved the ways in which BP created this reactive, complicated game with very simple tools.  And I loved that choices and skills in Lone Wolf felt meaningful.  I was coming off having played a lot of computer RPGs where improving a stat, gaining a feat, picking an option really did not feel significant at all.  In Lone Wolf, by contrast, each of the special abilities just felt . . . well, special.  And you got to use them in these great ways, with great frequency.

I then launched into a massive project to hybridize these games with Weird Worlds, a procedural "coffee break" game.  The game was called Star Captain.  I read about 100 space opera novels, watched hours of space opera TV and movies, studied a ton of space opera P&P games, and churned out a 250-page design document.  I was very close to signing a contract with S2 Games to co-develop the title (at the time, I was doing writing for them), but it fell through, and I switched gears to make Primordia.  Then I discovered that Mass Effect had largely preempted my narrative concept (cannibalizing the space opera canon) and a slew of games, most prominently FTL, had seized on the same gameplay structure.  Well, shit.

Around the time Cloudscape died, I was reading Beowulf to my kids and The Long Ships to myself, and fell in love with Anglo-Saxon language and Norse fatalism.  I embarked on a long reading journey, which took me through most of the Icelandic sagas, the eddas, the Tain, the Exeter Book, and lots of history books.  So immersed, I realized that I could take Star Captain back closer to its Barbarian Prince roots, and thus Fallen Gods was born.

Many missing tiles, and the ! is placeholder. (Also a lousy screenshot.)

Here are just a few of the missing tiles, and sprites that replace the ! icons.
The basic gist of the game is that the player is one of the eponymous "Fallen Gods," who must win his way back to the Cloudlands -- our Asgard -- by hook or crook.  I don't want to spoil too much at this point, but basically it is a bleak game that blends Norse mythology and Icelandic folklore (and European folklore more generally) with a rather bleak worldview that fell upon me when reading a series of books about the aftermath of various revolutions (Russian, French, Bolivarian, and anti-colonial wars of liberation in Africa).  The current pantheon of Fallen Gods successfully overthrew the indifferent, and even cruel, primordial gods who ruled before them (a blend of titans and animistic prehistorical gods).  Despite this signal and perhaps noble victory, the new gods, led by Orm the Trickster, have proven fairly inept as divinities and catastrophe has befallen the world: political, ecological (I was also reading, among other things, The Earth Without Us and The Sixth Extinction), and spiritual.

Anyway, the "hero" -- more anti-hero, or let us just say, player character -- has a fixed number of days to make his way back to the Cloudlands, lest he become mortal forever.  The game plays out through three systems: the world map (depicted above), events (which are still coming together from an interface standpoint), and combat (which is still in the mockup stage).

Here's a look at some of the combat art:
A bogwight in its native environment.
A troll.  In theory, at least, the far background will be contextual to the map.

It's a shame that I don't have a great pic of the warband facing off against some of these foes.  I can only say that the artist -- Daniel Miller -- is simply amazing.  These are true pixel art, drawn dot by dot, each frame drawn from scratch.

Finally, here are a few examples of events:
So this is a look at how they actually work: text with options.
A draug in "The Dead Hand." (How the images look as standalones.)

"The Lights of Skyhold"

Some still worship the old gods.

The corpse of Karringar, one of the defeated Firstborn.

The first three images are by the amazing Ryan Cordin.  The next two are by the equally wonderful Zoltan Tobias.

Anyway, I can't wait to share more about the project and its League of Nations-esque international team, but for now, I'll just wish everyone a happy New Year!  Thanks again for all the support!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A couple fun pieces of Primordia fan art

Really neat to see that people are still doing these, even though apparently the latter artist hasn't actually played the game!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Traduction Française / French Translation

Nous avons le plaisir d’annoncer la sortie de la version française de Primordia, la première traduction du jeu approuvée par Wormwood Studios. C’est l’aboutissement de presque un an d’efforts fournis par Flavien Gaillard, qui a travaillé en collaboration avec Mark Yohalem et James Spanos -respectivement auteur et programmeur de Primordia- pour mener le projet à bien. Flavien et Mark ont littéralement échangé des centaines d’e-mails pour s’assurer que l’adaptation française capture l’esprit et les nuances de la version originale. Cette traduction est également le fruit du travail des testeurs-correcteurs Maryam et Eric Forgeot, Marc Monti et Sébastien Léonard, qui ont consacré de nombreuses heures à la relecture des textes et à la traque des bugs. C’est enfin le produit de l’enthousiasme des fans francophones de Primordia, qui ont encouragé Flavien à entreprendre et à terminer ce projet de taille.

Pour de délicates questions d’affaires, Wadjet Eye Games a refusé de tester, d’approuver, et de distribuer la traduction. C’est pourquoi il est nécessaire de télécharger le patch sur le site Primordia, et non depuis Steam, GoG, ou le site de WEG.

De par le nombre restreint de testeurs, il peut subsister des erreurs dans la traduction. Or, nous tenons à apporter autant de soin et d’enthousiasme à ce patch que nous en apportons à la version originale de Primordia. Aussi, nous vous remercions de nous remonter tous bugs rencontrés en jeu afin qu’ils soient corrigés.

Nous espérons que cette adaptation vous procurera autant de plaisir à jouer qu’elle nous en a procuré à la réaliser... et qu’elle vous apportera aussi un peu de frustration -car un jeu d’aventure sans difficulté est inconcevable !

* * *

We are delighted to announce Flavien Gaillard’s French translation of Primordia, the first Wormwood Studios-approved translation of the game. It is the culmination of almost exactly a year of tireless effort from Flavien, who worked closely with Mark Yohalem (Primordia’s writer) and James Spanos (Primordia’s coder), to bring it to fruition. Flavien and Mark exchanged literally hundreds of emails to insure that the French text captured the spirit and nuances of the original English. The translation also reflects the labor of Flavien’s testing team—Maryam and Eric Forgeot, Marc Monti, and Sébastien Léonard—who spent countless hours reviewing the text and trying to find bugs. Finally, it is the product of the enthusiasm of Primordia’s French fans, who encouraged Flavien to undertake and complete this massive project.

For sensible business reasons, Wadjet Eye Games declined to test, endorse, or distribute the translation. Accordingly, it is currently necessary to download a patch through the Primordia website, rather than through Steam or GOG or the WEG site. Because of the relatively small number of testers, there may be glitches or errors in the translation. We intended to support this patch as diligently and enthusiastically as we’ve supported Primordia itself, so please report any bugs so that they can be fixed.

We hope that the translation brings you as much pleasure in playing as it brought all of us in creation, and perhaps just a little bit of the frustration—because no adventure game should be too easy.