Friday, May 29, 2020

Arnold Hendrick, Rest in Peace

On May 25, 2020, Arnold Hendrick, the creator of the revolutionary board game Barbarian Prince and the revolutionary computer game Darklands, was taken by cancer, just shy of the three-score-and-ten years the Psalmist allots us. “It is too soon cut off, and we fly away.”

I never met him; I know next to nothing of his life story. But all the same, Mr. Hendrick had a direct and significant impact upon me. Fallen Gods is inspired by both Barbarian Prince and Darklands. Both games are marvelously inventive and brilliantly realized. Sometimes works of fantasy are called “escapism.” To “escape” literally means to shed one’s cloak. (One can ponder the age of brigandage when slipping a robber’s clutches in that manner was frequent enough to coin this expression and put it in common currency.) Mr. Hendrick’s games were the opposite—the player does not shed his cloak so much as garb himself in another’s clothes. Contrary to the genre’s name, most RPGs do not achieve this effect. The player’s role is not that of a hero, but that of a hedge fund analyst, crunching numbers, maximizing upside and minimizing downside. But in Barbarian Prince and Darklands, the player is immersed in the characters and the setting. For a while, he sees a different world through different eyes. A person is greatly enriched by such an experience, while merely shedding a cloak—in contrast—leaves one a little poorer, even if we sometimes need to escape to survive.

When I began designing and developing Fallen Gods years ago, I tracked down Mr. Hendrick’s email address. When our game was ready, I wanted to show it to him as tangible evidence of the impact and inspiration of his work. But I kept delaying the email because I wanted to make sure Fallen Gods was worth his time. Now there is no time left.

So I must end where I started: I never met Arnold Hendrick; I know him only through his published games and articles about game design. To me, all of them bespoke an abiding curiosity, a creative vision, and an overflowing generosity toward his players. The man put 136 saints in Darklands. May they speed him to his Maker.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Primordia Fan Art

Fantastic piece of fan art from Ivette Navratilova (! I've always loved this little moment in Primordia, glad to see it glossed by such a fine artist.
Sorry for the radio silence on Strangeland and Fallen Gods.  Both continue to progress, but what energy I have these days (after homeschooling kids, doing my day job at night, and trying to plan ahead of this slow-moving catastrophe) is better spent on developing, rather than discussing, these games.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2019 in Review

The past year has been a very good one for Wormwood Studios, and I think we’ve laid the foundation for an exciting 2020.  As always, we owe these successes to the support of our players:  without your encouragement, we’d never be able to make it through the inevitable low points of the development cycle.

In 2019, we released a major Primordia patch, likely the last we’ll ever do.  We ported the game to a new version of AGS, which significantly improved stability on modern machines, integrated French, German, and Spanish translations, fixed dozens of bugs (including a few reasonably significant ones, such as the inadvertent removal of music from an important scene), and included a variety of quality-of-life improvements to the game’s UI.

We also hit 2,000 reviews on Steam, a significant milestone by any measure and a particularly significant one for an indie adventure game.  The only other AGS title to reach that number is The Cat Lady, and it’s more reviews than Thimbleweed Park has, despite that game’s far greater prominence.  Player reviews not only help keep the game commercially viable (it’s really the only way that new players get brought in at this point), they’re also a great reward for us in and of themselves, since that kind of interaction is one of the best aspects of indie game development.  We’re lucky that reviews have held strong over the years—though our halcyon days of 98% positive are behind us, 97% percent isn’t too bad!

In one of the crazier and more delightful pieces of fan art, the Spanish heavy metal band Taste My Sweet Revenge put together two Primordia-based metal songs for their soon-to-be-released album.

Finally, we were approached with an interesting proposal from a television producer to create an animated adaptation of Primordia.  These things usually come to nothing, but we’re cautiously optimistic, given the producer’s track record, interest in science fiction (particularly robot-oriented sci-fi), and excellent background in visual effects.  We’ll post more when there’s more to share.

Strangeland can now be played from beginning to end, although it is missing a considerable amount of art (and some design) in the last 15% or so of the game.  We had hoped to finish it entirely in 2019, but we’re very close now.  The game is divisible into four sections, and we’ve had testers play the first two of those sections extensively.  The reactions seem quite positive.

Strangeland’s a bit, well, strange, in that the whole thing is confined to a dream-like carnival, which makes it feel much smaller than Primordia, even though the actual number of rooms, puzzle interfaces, characters, and so forth is probably roughly comparable.  The art is spectacular (no surprise), and benefits from four times the pixels that Primordia had in terms of resolution.  But the real leap forward, I think, is in the code.  There are dozens of features, from striking visual effects to behind-the-scenes conveniences, that make Strangeland really exceptional.  Without James’s code wizardry, there would have been no way to achieve the warped and unnerving scenario that the game requires.

We’re very hopeful for a 2020 release for Strangeland.

For a good while, I was writing Fallen God design updates that were really fun, but really time-consuming, to put together.  Then I got out of the habit, and decided that I should focus all my time on design/writing on the project.  The result has been an apparent stoppage where, in fact, there was tremendous progress.

As I’ve tweeted about recently, Fallen Gods is now a proper game—you can win and lose, and do everything we wanted on the way to that victory or defeat.  We still need quite a bit more content, and a lot of balancing, and then even more play-testing, but for the first time in the many years of development, it now feels inevitable that the game will be completed.  I am reluctant to put any release date on it, but 2020 is not out of the question.

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Once again, many thanks to all of you who have made our successes possible!  Hopefully we will live up to your support in 2020!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Steam Game Giveaway

We're giving away Steam keys to various games.  Read more below.

Ever since Primordia reached 2,000 reviews on Steam, I've been meaning to do a game giveaway.  Soon after Primordia's original release in 2012, I had the idea to "tithe" the royalties I got on the title and donate that money to other developers, whether via Kickstarter projects (I backed around 220) or charity bundles (I donated to ~30).  Over the years, I've given keys away to Primordia purchasers who were disappointed in the game on the theory that no one should come away unsatisfied from buying Primordia.  But our good fortune has been that most purchasers really like Primordia!  And with limited free time, I've never been able to play many of the games I've backed.  I've tried various ways of giving away keys over the years, but I've still accumulated a substantial backlog of about 150 keys -- some to acclaimed games, some to labors of love that never took off.

So here's what I'm doing!

Previously I've given keys to people who left negative reviews of Primordia.  Now, I'm happy to send a key to anyone who has left (or now leaves) any Primordia review, until the supply runs out.  Moreover, because something seems crass about simply rewarding reviews of Primordia, and because I'd like to use these keys toward my original goal of promoting fellow indie developers, I'm happy to send a key if you leave a review for any of these other adventures, which I feel never got the attention they deserved:
Whispers of a Machine
Guard Duty
Sumatra: Fate of Yandi
Mage's Initiation
Quest for Infamy

To be honest, I've not figured out the mechanics of exactly how to execute the giveaway, but here's the basics.  Check out the list here and see if there are any that interest you.  If so, add me as a friend on Steam and message me a link to the review to any of those games or Primordia.  Let me know what game from the list you'd like.  If it hasn't been taken yet, I'll send you a key (though my responses may not be immediate).  If it's been taken, pick another if it interests you.  The whole thing is going to be clunky and cumbersome since I'll be managing all this by hand, but hopefully it well help promote our fellow indie adventure game developers, pass these keys along to people who will play and enjoy the games (that's why games exist!), and generally spread holiday cheer.  I'll try to do it as fairly and efficiently as possible!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Primordia Upgraded on GOG

At long last, the upgraded version of Primordia has been posted on!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Primordia Upgraded

We are delighted to release what we hope will be our last substantive update to Primordia (we may release future hotfixes if bugs are found). This patch was made possible only through the tireless efforts of French, German, and Spanish translators, a dedicate group of testers, and the labors of our coder, James Spanos, who shares the spirit of no game left behind! But the motivating force behind it was the ongoing love and support our players have shown for this game over the years -- your loyalty to Primordia compels a return of that loyalty on our part.

Among the changes:

  • The underlying game engine is updated to a recent version that is much more compatible with today's hardware (such as widescreen monitors and Logitech mice) and operating systems (such as Windows 10).
  • The French, German, and Spanish translations are now fully integrated into the game, and do not require separate downloads. Those translations have also been updated and improved in various ways.
  • Certain modest quality-of-life improvements, such as the ability to change between windowed and full-screen mode by using alt-enter.
  • An additional music track, which had been mistakenly deactivated, has been reactivated in an important scene.
  • A persistent crash relating to how the underlying game engine handled dynamic sprites has been fixed.
Various small fixes have been implemented to issues like sprites occasionally being misaligned by a pixel, or the years-long labeling oddity that could arise if players combined the sensor parts in an unusual order.

Unfortunately, old saved games will no longer work due to the significant engine-level changes and added content.

We've posted the new build on Steam and hope to follow on GOG shortly.