Archive for July, 2009

Jaywalt’s Guide to Making 16-Bit Maps

2009 Jul 30

Some folks were asking about how to hack 16-bit video game maps into something usable for D&D or other tabletop games. Here’s my attempt to outline what I do.

Step 1: Software

I use Photoshop Elements for Mac. I used to use an ancient copy of Photoshop 5 LE for Windows. You don’t need the full version of PS for this. Some folks do this in MS Paint, but I prefer something that will draw a grid for you. There are some cool, free sprite drawing programs like Pixen, but they tend — in my experience — to crash when asked to handle larger images like maps.

Step 2: Finding Maps to Hack

I use the Video Game Atlas and the Spriters’ Resource as my two main sites to find low-fi video game images to work from. There are many other places as well, but those two sites should give you plenty to work from in the beginning. I suggest you start with a game you love deliriously. For me, it’s often Zelda: Minish Cap because it has the most amazing color schemes known to mankind. Seriously, looking at Lon Lon Ranch is enough to make me want to cry; it’s that beautiful.

Step 3: Pick a Section to Hack, Throw a Grid Up


I grabbed a section of this Zelda dungeon, thinking that this relatively plain room would be a good example. So I threw up a 16×16 pixel grid over it, to get a better sense of how the room was assembled from various 16×16 square tiles (which is almost universally how video game maps are constructed). However, as you can see from the image above, this section of the map isn’t quite aligned to my grid, so the first thing I have to do is fix that.

Step 4: Align your Source Material with your Grid


When aligning things with your grid, it’s easiest to look for tiles that are immediately obvious, such as the two square blocks in the middle of the image above. If I shift the source map just slightly, all of a sudden everything is in alignment and you can begin to analyze how the room is constructed. I’m not going to go into that analysis here (maybe another time), but I’d spend some time looking carefully at the various tiles before jumping right into hacking.

Step 5: Expand the Grid (Optional)


For my recent Doppeleffekt 4E game, I decided that I wanted to break the map into 32×32 pixel squares, because they can contain a lot more information and be more varied than 16×16 pixel squares (being composed of 4 of them). This may or may not be the choice you want to make, but I’m going to approach this example map from that perspective because it’s somewhat more difficult and lets me show you a few things. So, in the map above I’ve expanded my grid to 32×32, so we can figure out what changes need to be made.

Step 6: Adjust Material to Fit Desired Grid


As you could see from the previous step, our source material didn’t fit as nicely into a 32×32 grid as it did into a 16×16 grid, mainly because the dimensions of the original room are 15 tiles x 9 tiles. However, I want the map I’m making to be 16 tiles x 10 tiles, or 8×5 squares of 32×32 pixels. That’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but I hope you see what I’m saying. In the map above you can see that I’ve deleted a lot of the unnecessary material around this one room and also shifted portions of the room to fit the new dimensions I have in mind. Generally speaking, you can often get away with very slight shifts which expand or contract the dimensions of the original material by a tile or two. More than that and the layout of the original map is subverted a bit too much, requiring more hacking on your part to fix it or even a complete rethinking of the layout of a room.

Step 7: Assess the Things You Need to Tweak


In the picture above, you can see that I’ve filled in the holes I’ve created with the background color of the floor, which makes it easier to look at and see where the major tweaks need to be made. In this particular case, I have four holes in the walls to patch as well as the two doors which are aligned fairly awkwardly with the grid of the floor. One more thing that bothers me (though it may not bother you) is that the two sets of wall columns are aligned differently with respect to the 32×32 grid and nearby walls, making it look like the ancient architect of the place was snorting too much Magic Powder or just plain incompetent. So our list of tweaks to make is: wall holes, door alignment, column alignment.

Step 8: Make Needed Tweaks


So I slide the right door over a bit and then patch the wall beside it by copying tiles from other sections of the wall.


Where I patched the wall on the far left side, I left the selection borders in place so you could see how I patched it. I copied the tiles from the middle of the top wall, turned them counter-clockwise, and then pasted them over the hole.


Here I shifted the right side columns to match the left.


Fixing the southern door required a bit of thinking. Because of the dimensions of the room, I couldn’t really center it between the columns (because it wouldn’t align with the 32×32 squares), even though that’s generally what the architects of Zelda dungeons would do. In the end, I decided to shift it left, making it clearly off-center instead of slightly off-center. The former implies a choice on the architect’s part while the latter implies bad design or poor planning. Plus, I figured that I could make some slight additions to the room later, showing why that door is off-center.

Step 9: Make Any Additions You Like


Looking at this relatively plain room, I decided it needed a few small additions to spice it up. The first was a justification for the southern off-center door, which took the form of those tiny wall stones that block your progress but allow you to make attacks over them (HtH to the squares immediately on the other side and Ranged anywhere). The second was a sense of purpose for the room in general, something that would allow you to make progress in the dungeon overall, rather than hosting yet another monster fight. This latter addition took the form of a pull-chain on the far wall, which might add something to the tactics of fighting in the room as well, since players might try to pull the chain before all the monsters in the room were dead.

Step 10: Playtest It or Just Play It

If you have time, I’d suggest playtesting your maps and encounters just like you would if you were releasing a published adventure (well, with significantly less playtesting than I hope [though I don’t believe] most published adventures get). You can either run the fight by yourself or, better yet, get a single friend to help you run a little 1-on-1 battle through the room, to learn more about what you’ve created (since everything won’t be apparent from just looking at it) and maybe even inspire you to make a few additional tweaks or additions, if things aren’t quite what you hoped.

Anyway, that’s my process. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Murderland Reviews: Pie 20

2009 Jul 29

20. Mark Villianatos – Carrion

Premise: An educational game that can best be described as “musical chairs + smallpox,” set during the smallpox epidemics of post-contact North America.

Thoughts: I really like that Mark wrote a “serious game” for a design contest, something that we unfortunately don’t really see very much. I would have to see the game played to know if there are any issues with the mechanics or whether everyone would die in two rounds (maybe that’s the point?). My chief concern is how complex and confusing the mechanics are for determining who contracts smallpox. You count how many smallpox tokens you have, then add one if you are near an infected person, subtract one if you are alone, and then add one for a number of different circumstances… all in your head, without talking about the calculation and with, hopefully, no cheating (which might make it harder to play this game with youth). It seems like, with that mechanic, Mark might be trying to model a few too many things all at once — basically, all the different ways you might be more susceptible to smallpox infection. I would suggest, maybe, making a little printed card for playing the game, which people pick up and then use to secretly tally their infectedness each round. With that small addition, I think the game would flow really well and you could even use it to jot down a bit of info about the Fur and Crow tokens.

Conclusion: Browned, but just needs a little tally card to be baked.

Geiger Gamma Outline

2009 Jul 29

This is inspired by conversations with Ping, Ben Robbins, and John Harper last night. If you’ve played a previous version of the game, you might be able to play the Gamma version with just this list, even though Gamma doesn’t exist yet :) In any case, when we eventually get together to play / playtest Geiger — since all of us are invested in having the game finished relatively soon — we’ll probably work from an outline something like this.

01. Explain the Basics
02. Pick a “Ship” (Setting) and “Crew” (Why are the characters there?)
03. Pick a Menace (only generally)
04. Pick a Director
05. Brainstorm Character Archetypes (at least 2x # players)
06. Pick a Friction / “Signal” (Why is shit about to go down, w/o menace?)
07. Brainstorm Character Goals (= # players?, write on separate sheet, unassigned)
08. Pick Potential Survivors (slightly more than # players)
09. Cast the Survivors (and others, if you like)
10. Pick Character Names
11. Pick Survival Dice
12. Pick Initial Advantage Dice
13. Run Trailer
14. Pick Working Title
15. Explain the Director’s Role
16. Run Prelude
17. Explain Menace Dice
18. Assign Initial Menace Die
19. Explain Confrontations (including the Final Confrontation)
20. Explain Conditions (and adjust if necessary)
21. Explain Gaining Advantage Dice
22. Explain Gaining Survival Dice
23. Explain Achieving Goals
24. Run the Game
25. Explain and Run Epilogues

Also, if folks haven’t seen Jake Richmond’s new game, Ocean, you should check it out. It seems very similar to Geiger Counter in many respects — though I haven’t read it yet — but is also doing something a bit different, since the main characters have amnesia. It’s like Geiger + Penny for My Thoughts / PsiRun or something. As evidenced by Jake also working on the 16-bit-inspired Magical Land of Yeld, we’re clearly sharing some sort of unintentional hivemind.

The Zoo of Death

2009 Jul 28


The original spikeball court — known colloqually as the “Zoo of Death” — was created by the ancient Tarqamish who lived thousands of years ago in the area now occupied by Spikeworth By-The-Sea. In fact, the game of spikeball was passed down to modern peoples by the Qamarrik people, descendants of the Tarqamish. Even today, many of the greatest modern spikeball players, such as Augusto Arquarre, have been at least part Qamarrik.

Sketch: Tales of Brave Ulysses

2009 Jul 17

Just a quick idea for a 2-player game that struck me.

One player plays Ulysses, who is trying to return home to his wife Penelope after the Trojan War. The other player plays everything that is trying to prevent Ulysses from returning home. The obstacles in Ulysses’ way take the form of 1) monsters, 2) temptations, or 3) things that are both monsters and temptations. For example, the cyclops are monsters, the cattle of Helios are a temptation to the starving sailors, and Circe is both a monster (witch) and a temptation (beautiful woman).

In a manner similar to Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, the players negotiate the obstacles between the two of them until Ulysses manages to overcome the obstacle or get away from it and continue his journey home.

The final obstacles take place on Ithaca and the last obstacle of all is, of course, Penelope herself, who can ultimately choose to accept or reject her returned husband.

Perhaps there is also some framing device by which Ulysses is always telling his story to someone who is listening to his tales — Penelope or Circe or Calypso or Nausicaa — in an attempt to gain their aid or acceptance.

Next Patrol

2009 Jul 12

Just something I’m chipping away. Don’t expect much any time soon, with the move coming up.


Last Call for Rockin’

2009 Jul 6


Danny Boyle on Geiger Counter

2009 Jul 4

Spent the 4th watching Danny Boyle’s commentary on Sunshine and, man, does he say some smart things about how to set up a good survival horror flick in space. He says:

  • The best films in this genre are 2001, Solaris (the original), and Alien. Steal horribly if you must but you have to at least pay tribute. Alien, in fact, invented this concept that the interior of space ships has to be industrial, dimly lit, and shot in grey, blue, and green colors. 2001 invented every airlock sequence / jump between two ships that you’ve ever seen.
  • The core of these movies is A) a ship, B) a crew, and C) a signal they receive that changes everything.
  • The beginning of these films HAS to be slow. You establish things and then let the problem creep up on you before all hell breaks loose.
  • Once you establish the characters, “you can kill them in any order you like.”
  • Deprive the crew of their captain first or very early on.
  • Give each character a crisis that they either overcome or are destroyed by (not necessarily killed, but placed on a path of no return).
  • You can hint at romance but no sex or kissing on screen.

I’m going to have to watch it again at some point and take notes so I can quote him in the actual game. Also, I feel like I should pick up some other classics of this genre and watch commentaries by their directors. Ridley Scott in particular seems like he’d have some great things to say.

The Board Game Version

2009 Jul 4


In Case the Peasants Get Confused

2009 Jul 3