Last year’s 2015 in review helped me to put a lot of my thoughts in order about where URR and other work was, and where it is going, so I thought I would do the same this year. Here’s a little summary of everything done in 2016 – Ultima Ratio Regum development, my scholarly work, competitive gaming, and game writing. Read on!
This year I aimed to get 0.8 out; sadly, this was unsuccessful. Part of this was my fault for overestimating what I could do in a certain period of time; and part of it was due to a very unexpected glut of academic work in the September/October/November period. It’ll become clear what exactly this was when we get hopefully not too far into the next calendar year, but this was just completely unavoidable and extinguished my spare time down to an absolute zero.
However, despite that, huge progress has been made, and 0.8 is now about 90-95% finished, and in December I finally got back to working on it (and I’ve made substantial progress over the winter holiday period). Firstly, I finished generating all the clothing styles for URR 0.8 – gloves and headgear and things like that are yet to be finished, but everyone you encounter in the game world from any kind of culture, or religion, is now guaranteed to wear an appropriate set of garments, which vary according to feudal nations, nomadic nations, tribal nations, and religious hierarchies. Secondly, I finished all the AI and pathfinding and scheduling required for 0.8. This was a huge task in terms of time and effort, and without doubt the most programming-complex task I’ve done yet for URR, given how many different scales the game has to track things on and so forth, but as far as I can tell – in part thanks to my excellent playtesting team – this all seems to work fine. Thirdly, I developed name generation which varies massively from nation to nation, ensuring the people of every culture have their own distinctive practices for naming which are intricately tied to their geography, their history, and so forth. Fourthly, I developed 80%+ of the speech generation system for URR, and fifthly, and related to the fourth point, I developed 80%+ of the conversation system, both in a technical sense and in the sense of sketching out the future elements I want to add to it, and figuring out how the overall flow of the conversations are going to work. Although 0.8 wasn’t released, and I missed out on three months of development time, this has still been a hugely productive year for URR, and has got us to within the smallest distance from 0.8’s release and with it the first major body of actual gameplay in URR!
This year I’ve continued my first postdoctoral position at the University of York, focusing primarily on the study of Esports, streaming, competitive gaming more broadly, and so forth. I’ve written a number of papers which are currently soon to be published, primarily on Esports – I’ll be linking to them here once they actually go live. I also have some chapters coming out in Tanya Short’s and Tarn Adam’s upcoming book on PCG (my chapters are on “Worlds”, “AI”, and “Meaning”), and several other book chapters appearing in other edited collections soon. Right at the end of last year I signed the contract on my first academic book, which has a hefty roguelike and PCG component, and is due to be completed in the coming months. It’s currently well over half-way finished thanks to work done on it in 2016, and I’m very excited about how it’s coming together. I also secured a substantial amount of funding for a secondment to the UK’s Digital Catapult, to start on January 2nd, where I’ll be studying content creation in Esports and streaming, and in roguelikes, to understand the attitudes and perspectives of content creators vis-a-vis the use, reuse, and sale of user-created game content. This position will last six months until the end of June, and I’m extremely eager to see what will come of this post. I also secured a few other awards I’ll be talking more about in the very near future once I have schedule and travel requirements and arrangements sorted out, but there’s a lot of incredibly cool stuff coming up for 2017 I can’t wait to share with you all, a ton of new publications, and also (see below) some more book projects in the works…
This year I scooped up two more world record high scores in bullet hell games, bringing my total to four (assuming nobody has trumped any of them since I wrote this blog post!). The first of these was in the summer, and was on Blue Wish Resurrection, an excellent and well-known shmup with a pretty active high-score chart and quite a bit of attention on YouTube. You can find the video and analysis of the record here. Since getting this record I then wound up performing it in front of well over a hundred people at various events – I presented myself playing it whilst a colleague presented a paper about danmaku games at the Canadian Game Studies Association conference, at DiGRA/FDG in Dundee, and I’m also going to be presenting it at the University of South Wales in January (again with someone giving the “talk” half of the presentation). I’ve really enjoyed doing these, and numerous people have told me and my co-presenters (Alexandra Orlando and Michael Cook) that these were the best presentations they’ve seen to date at academic conferences! The second of these in particular was especially good, as we got somewhere between fifty and a hundred attendees, and the Q&A session afterwards lasted well over an hour, with questions ranging from gaming practice to danmaku history, soundtracks to danmaku culture, visual strain and reflex speed, and much more. I’m looking into doing something similar in the coming year, but since I won’t be able to attend this year’s DiGRA due to other commitments (more on this another time) and this year’s CGSA is probably out of my reach for similar reasons, it might be 2018 until I do any more live high-level danmaku play for a crowd.
After that, I then got the world record for Cho Ren Sha 68k on hard mode, quite an old and well-respected shmup that also has a pretty active high score chart. The analysis and video can be found here. This one was quite unexpected and the early sections of the playthrough are very shaky, but it then picks up and ends with only a single death in the entire playthrough (a little over half way through, I think); that, combined with some less-than-optimal scoring, means that I could definitely try to improve it by maybe as much as another million if someone else takes the record back. After the USW danmaku playthrough/talk above, I think I’ll probably play CRS68K live for any future danmaku presentations, since it’s quite a bit more “live” in my mind than BWR is at the moment, and it certainly makes for as striking a spectacle as BWR. I’m hugely proud of this world record, and in some ways I think this might be my strongest danmaku achievement, if only because of the incredible speed at which CRS plays compared to many other shmups, even if the actual volume of bullets on screen at once tends to be smaller.
Games Writing / Dissemination
This was a good year for freelance writing in various outlets, where I published the following pieces in the following places:
“High-Stakes Gamblers, Game Design […]” (First Person Scholar)
“Procedural Generation’s Future” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“How to Create Cultures” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“The Sociology of Streaming” (Sociological Imagination)
“How Games Can Benefit From Procedurally Generated Lore” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“How To Generate A Religion” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“You Can Spin Your Own Sci-Fi Tale in ‘RimWorld’” (Vice Gaming)
“Researching the Growth of eSports in the UK” (eSports News)
I was also interviewed by the Heidelberg Journal of Religions and the Internet about URR, interviewed for BBC News on Esports, and by the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on poker and poker-playing AIs. This has been a great year for public work and I’m really happy with what I’ve got out there, and some of the attention my work has got on the back of it, and this is what I’m aiming to beat once 2017 comes around.
Firstly, and most obviously, finally finish 0.8 and get it released. This is the absolute priority, and one of my main overall life priorities in January and February of 2017. The massive glut of academic work has subsided, I’m in a far better place in many ways than I was in the Sep-Oct-Nov area of 2016, and in these last two weeks of 2016 I’ve already made substantial progress towards getting 0.8 out. My intention is to have speech finished in January, and then return in February to smooth everything out, fix bugs, and get it released in early March. After that, 0.9 will be a very small release that will only – truly, truly only – add some more NPCs and some more conversation options and systems, and nothing else, and then release. I’m never again going to do a release even a fraction as large as this one, and feel free to hold me to that, internet friends.
First priority is finishing off my first book; this is almost done, and it should be released either in late 2017, or more likely, very early 2018. After that, there’s a whole bunch of papers in the works on Esports, Twitch and streaming, and several other topics, with which I’m hoping to continue to make in-roads into this fascinating area of study. Finally, in terms of books, I have two other exciting things currently being planned out which, hopefully, I’ll be able to announce at some point in the early parts of 2017! One of these in particular will, I think, be of a lot of interest to my roguelike readers…
My first priority is identifying what record I want to try to get next: I think at the moment there’s a high chance that this will be the newly-released Blue Revolver on Steam, which is an excellent “classic” shmup with a very well-designed scoring system and a lot of very challenging and very exciting patterns and levels. Another option would be Danmaku Unlimited 3, when it is released, or perhaps having another look at Warning Forever, a perennial favourite of mine which, sadly, suffers from some serious ambiguity with regard to what the world record high score actually is. Another option is the very exciting Devil Daggers, which looks like a game I would enjoy a lot and has a WR score I’m confident I could seriously compete with, but would need me to get used to using a keyboard and mouse again after years of controller usage. Alternatively, if course, it is possible that I won’t pursue many, or even any, further records. If 2017 works out how I want it to, it’s going to be incredibly exciting in both URR and academic terms, and I don’t know how much spare time I’ll have. I’ll keep you all updated, but my retirement from danmaku games might, just, be sooner than expected.
In one line, my goal this year is to write for a range of bigger and more visible outlets – places like Giant Bomb, the Verge, Polygon, and so forth. I have a set of pieces already lined up to pitch when the New Year comes, so hopefully you’ll see some of those come to fruition.
Well… I’m happy with how my academic, game-play and game writing lives have proceeded, and although URR has seen a lot of really exciting progress, I am inevitably also disappointed that 0.8 isn’t out. Overall, though, I feel I’ve laid some fantastic groundwork in the ways outlined above (and some I can’t yet announce in public) for 2017, and you should see 0.8’s release in this March, all being well. Thanks again for keeping up with URR’s development and helping me keep things ticking over in 2016 – I can’t wait to release in 2017 and get feedback from everyone who reads this blog about what you think words (and doesn’t work) about the new release, and the central conversation system and AI/scheduling elements. Here’s to a very productive 2017, and I’ll see you all next week for another programming update!