Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Miracle

With all the wonders of the holiday season upon us, even Johnny Outlaw Studios can get caught up in the hustle and the bustle. As we work hard into the night, we forget about the people we are working for. We forget that there are people out there who depend upon us. People whom we can let down.

Little Billy and little Suzy are sleeping tight, dreaming of waking up to find a copy of Johnny Outlaw underneath the Christmas tree. I am sad to say that there will be no Christmas for little Billy and little Suzy. Johnny Outlaw remains unfinished. Yes, for you it's no big deal, it's "just another video game". But for poor little orphan children everywhere Johnny Outlaw is more than a game, it is that last ray of hope, it is a reason to believe.

Billy asked me today if Johnny Outlaw would make it in time for Christmas morn. I could see that fading hope in his eyes, but I couldn't lie. I told him we couldn't make it this year. And he looked up at me with those eyes, now all full of sadness, and said, "I guess miracles don't exist".

For all the little Billys out there, Johnny Outlaw Studios going to show you that miracles do exist! We pulled all of our resources, rallied every employee, and what has happened in this eleventh hour is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

No, we haven't finished the game. But we have produced a brand new Holiday Skin Pack, which will be free to use for all those little orphans out there. I am proud to say that despite the unforgiving deadline, we never had to sacrifice quality.

The holidays are looking brighter already! And let us all remember that these are more than skins, these are a symbol of hope in a world that at times seems so hopeless. They are proof that even in our modern world, miracles can and do occur every day. Mostly at Johnny Outlaw Studios.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Behold: the Future of Games!

Johnny Outlaw studios is proud to present our first ever Johnny Outlaw production: Johnny Outlaw - the preliminary Trailer.

A special thanks must go out to the newest member of the Johnny Outlaw team - the one who made this all possible - legendary composer Matt Dunn. A reclusive titan of the music industry, Maestro Dunn has blessed Johnny Outlaw with his talents and in doing so has shown us what it means to truly enjoy music. See more of his work here.

Of course, it is impossible to capture the Johnny Outlaw experience in a medium so restrictive as film. The action, the tension, the romance. The diverse weaponry, the unscrupulous villains, the world so vibrant and full of life. The revolutionary game mechanics, the dreamlike controls, the unlimited power of the Freedom Engine. He who has not played Johnny Outlaw has lived in vain.

While there is still much work to be done, at least now we all have something to be thankful for this holiday season: Johnny Outlaw - the preliminary Trailer.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

First Annual Spooktacular Boo-O-Rama!

Halloween is upon us at last! What does that mean for Johnny Outlaw? Do cowboys celebrate Halloween? Well, there is a video game Halloween tradition you may not know about. It’s called the Shoehorning. It’s when we game developers take a real world holiday and bring it into our video game. Then we give it a shamelessly transparent name and use it to generate revenue from impulse buyers like you.

Maybe you’ve heard of other video game worlds where they celebrate things like “All Pumpkins’ Eve” or “the Hauntening”. Well you can bet that Johnny and his pals celebrate a holiday a little bit similar, and, well I’ll be, I think it’s happening at about the same time! Why yes there is an age old tradition that some still hold dear. In the land past the Ol’ Cactus Flats, deep in the Bone Orchard, they celebrate a little something called “Walloheen”. I’d go into more depth about the origins of the holiday but the justification is fairly shallow. Now don’t you worry! Where creativity fails, capitalism prevails.

Tradition dictates that we should release creepy Halloween skins of your favorite characters in costume, but given the unreleased state of the game that just isn’t going to be possible this year. Instead, for a limited time only, you can purchase what we are referring to as “Hands-On Skins”. Here’s how it works:

With every purchase, we’ll allow you to download a Skin Pack. Just print out the skin pack, cut along to dotted lines, and place the skin appropriately on your screen. Use the appropriate adhesive, or develop a pulley system to move the character. When Johnny Outlaw is released, you’ll be able to place the costumes on top of the characters. It’s fun, and it’s yours to own forever! This ain’t your grandpa’s digital skin! This is real!

Presenting the Johnny Outlaw Halloween Skin Pack:

Spooky Johnny: Whoa there Johnny it looks like you’ve just seen a ghost! Oh wait, you are the ghost! AHHH!

President George: We have nothing to fear but fear itself (and of course this devilishly scary costume for our favorite Sheriff)

Gnomestone Jack: Look around you. There are many things to see, that some would say could never be. And this is one of them! Tombstone Jack as a gnome? That’s so wacky I’d hate to miss this once in a lifetime offer!

Whew! Now that’s what I call scary! Enjoy your limited edition skins, and Happy Halloween from all of us here at the Johnny Outlaw Dev Blog!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Time Flies Like a Bullet

The date is October 17th, 2010. Alpha testing for the Johnny Outlaw project is proceeding according to schedule. The fun readings are at an all time high, and the restructured freedom coefficient has been surpassing our expectations. All of a sudden the failsafe is triggered on tester station B-19. Work grinds to a halt.

I arrived at the scene, but I had not come prepared. What I saw then had more humanity than a thousand Hindenburgs.

Johnny Outlaw – friend, cowboy, philanthropist - was dead. It shook me to the core of my being. Yes, I was distraught, but the poor tester was a wreck. Have you ever seen a grown man cry while playing a video game? Of course not- no grown man would ever cry. I had to demote that tester’s game from man mode to boy mode on the spot.

But the lesson today is not one of manhood. It’s about loss and how we deal with it in our own individual ways. I don’t know how Shigeru Miyamoto felt the first time he saw Mario walk into a goomba, but I do know that no matter what your game is, you just can’t let your protagonist die haphazardly.

This is Johnny Outlaw, a very real cowboy in a precise replication of reality. And now I needed to undo it all. I needed to go back in time and make sure that this never happened- that Johnny never had the chance to walk into that patch of deadly cacti. They told me time travel was impossible, so I went for the next best thing – the “Save File”.

Now save files are ubiquitous in games these days, but until this instance I just never saw need for one in Johnny Outlaw. I never really took the time to understand them, and so I- like you- took them for granted.

You may be thinking that Save Files are just boring data such as positions and variables and health that are used to rebuild the world. You are na├»ve. A cowboy is a cowboy, he is not data. So how could a “saved” cowboy be data? It is impossible- as impossible as time travel itself. So what is a Save File if it is not data? This is a misleading question! Save Files are not “whats” so much as they are “whens”. They are “whens” of the “wheres” existing on the game world’s time line.

Now, a Save File isn’t time travel per se. The “traveling” aspect never occurs. A save file is an anchor point in the chronological order. Imagine a ship in the middle of an ocean with an anchor. The anchor is the save file, the ship is a ship, and the ocean is time itself. The ship stays anchored forever unless it pulls up its anchor.

Albert Einstein's first graphical depiction of the 'Time Ocean'

What good is a ship anchored in eternity? Well, for one thing, the ship is not always one ship, but it can be an infinite number of ships existing simultaneously in separate time lines yet floating on the same ocean of time.

You see, all time previous to the anchor is fixed, but the future is never determined until the ship drops anchor again, at which point it becomes the past. Johnny is anchored at his Save Point. While anchored, the compression of time into a single instance prevents both help and harm, and leaves him in a state of stasis. Meanwhile, the player chooses a particular reality to view, in which Johnny may either survive or die. In essence, Johnny is simultaneously alive and dead, but we do not know what fate a specific timeline will hold. Until we play it, that is. And once we have found a suitable point, a point free from death, we will cast our anchor once again, and Johnny will live and exist and thrive.

Johnny will never realize how many times he has died. A billion Johnnys experience a billion lifetimes and a billion deaths each instant, yet Johnny Prime is oblivious to this. He will appear invincible- incapable of ever knowing death or hardship. He lives his life along a linear path of perfection, the secret of his failure never revealed to him. But then, philosophically speaking, Johnny should not fail. That power of failure is reserved for the player and it is his shameful secret alone.

Johnny’s first death was a hard lesson. We had to go all the way back to the Mother Save, the only existing save, which contained the moment of Johnny’s creation. Because there was, and still is, only one Johnny, his death in one player’s game would have meant his death in every game.

Some may say Save Files have taken away the power of the player to control Johnny’s destiny. They are right; you can no longer kill Johnny Outlaw. But they are also wrong. The goal of the game is not to control the fate of a cowboy whose greatness far outstrips your own. The goal of the game is to see if you can ever hope to emulate the actual Johnny Outlaw, who, if he were in full control, would certainly not die.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blazing the Trail

With Johnny Outlaw so relatively close to the first general stage of completion, there is one question on everyone’s mind:

What’s next?

Certainly the Outlaw Chronicles could not end with Johnny Outlaw and the Curse of Tombstone Jack. As every true capitalist knows, a franchise can not be content with creating a single, genre-defining masterpiece. It is the solemn duty of every franchise to run its intellectual property into the ground.

We have determined that the rise and fall of the Johnny Outlaw franchise should be predetermined. If we plan to fail now, then we won’t fail to plan later. We’ve been kicking a few ideas around the Outlaw headquarters, but here is a rough timetable for events.

-Johnny Outlaw and the Curse of Tombstone Jack:
The flagship of the series, a veritable tour de force. Its release heralds a video game renaissance and a greater cultural shift towards integrating the video game experience into every aspect of life. While critics still hesitate to call video games “art”, Johnny Outlaw receives a permanent exhibition in the Louvre.

-The Outlaw Chronicles are launched in rapid succession, capitalizing on the immense wave of popularity. These cherished classics are forever remembered as the hallmark of a golden age of gaming.

-Johnny Outlaw and the Riddle of the Serpent’s Kiss:
In the spirit of progress, Outlaw Studios attempts to cross genres. A murder mystery thriller set in a dystopian Wild West, the game combined fast paced shooter action with classic detective fiction. At every step of the way the player had to choose whether to use deduction or bullets to uncover the killer’s true identity. The recipe was insane. The results were phenomenal.

-The original creative minds behind Johnny Outlaw suffer a falling out. A disagreement breaks out over whether or not Johnny Outlaw, the best game franchise of all time, could be better. Important questions are finally asked. Could Johnny Outlaw be better than Johnny Outlaw? Being better would not make Johnny Outlaw “better than the best”, since the best is always the best. The resulting confusion nearly destroys the company.

-The character of Tombstone Jack experiences a setback. Fans grow tired of every plot revolving around Jack repeatedly returning from the dead to steal gold. After several games where a villain is discarded at the halfway point and the true enemy is revealed to once again be Tombstone Jack, the fans start to give up hope.

-Johnny Outlaw and the Wrath of the Six Gun Shogun:
In response to fan pressure, Tombstone Jack is relegated to the position of reluctant antihero/ comic relief ally to make room for the far more menacing Six Gun Shogun. In the longstanding tradition of “East meets Wild West”, begun by the Owen Wilson classic Shanghai Noon, a Japanese feudal lord has come to replace the Code of the West with the sinister way of Bushido. A triumphant return to the traditions of the Golden Age games.

-Johnny Outlaw: Mummies Never Die
In this misguided endeavor, Johnny Outlaw Studios attempts to jump on the bandwagon of the current mummy craze. In this installment, Johnny is capable of turning into a mummy and unleashes mummy specific attacks. The abrupt game play change from revolver shooting to commanding legions of the undead appeals to no one, and fans are put off by the perceived corruption of the John Outlaw character. This dazzling miscalculation of market forces and fan desires is complemented by the critically panned game play and a villain reminiscent of Brendan Fraser. The game proves once and for all that although you can’t kill mummies, you certainly can kill a franchise

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Code Talkers

As a self proclaimed high profile video game developer, people often confront me with their brilliant ideas for “the next big thing in gaming”. Bless their little souls; they truly believe that they can make it in the industry with nothing but their fantastic ideas which are, of course, entirely fresh and unique. Now, most other developers might tell you that these people are delusional: their ideas have absolutely no intrinsic value, their “games” are often untenable, unmarketable, and sometimes the ideas are simply stupid. But I would never say such things. Indeed, I would not be where I am today if I had listened to those developers.

Here is the truth, for all you big dreamers out there with your hopes of video game greatness. Those developers do want your ideas. They want to steal them! They want to horde all the ideas for themselves and control the flow of great games. As long as they can control who makes the games, they can make sure we have only bad, boring, no-fun games. They are afraid! Afraid that one day the market will be saturated with too many fun games created by great ideas. And the first step in their plan is to put you down and keep you down.

And how do they keep us dreamers down? I bet you think video games are hard to make, right? I bet you think it takes a dedicated team of programmers, designers, artists, composers, and years of experience. What if I were to tell you that this was all an elaborate lie constructed by the video game moguls? Would it blow your mind? Well then, consider your mind blown.

When I started making Johnny Outlaw, I was prepared to spend long hours, learning the basics step by step, and gradually creating something playable. I came in with no knowledge of computer programming and I had no idea how a game even worked. I took courses, read guides, tutorials. Hours became days, days became weeks. All to create something as simple as a game of pong. I had bought into their lie, just as you do now.

This was all poised to change. My studies took me deep within the sacred video game archives. I pored over the manuscripts, learned the different computer languages. I dreamed of one day being a true programmer, or “code talker”. Soon I could speak fluent computer and attempted to befriend the machines. I learned that they are much like us. They have wants, needs. They have dreams. They feel emotions, loneliness and longing. In time, I gained their trust. I was one of them. I talked to their chieftain and told him of the game I had seen in my dreams. He asked me what kind of game it was. I told him it was a top down shooter. I told him of the cowboys, of the buffalo. I told him of brother eagle soaring above and I told him of the almighty mountains kissing the horizon.

And then I told him of all the work I had done so far, and how it had been so fruitless. All I had to show was some basic graphics and limited game play. The computer tribe began to laugh. Had I made a fool of myself? Was I a poor programmer, unworthy to stand in their presence? No. The chief told me that I had been going about things all wrong. Video games were not hard to create! Not for a computer! You simply tell them what type of game you want, what sort of graphics, how much lag is acceptable, and then the computer would handle the rest. I was perplexed, but then the chief bestowed upon me a gift. He heard my pleas, heard about the cowboy game I wanted, and he had made it for me. That day I was given the gift of the Johnny Outlaw Level Editor.

If I wanted an enemy, I simply clicked where I wanted him and he appeared. If I wanted him to patrol, I simply clicked where he should walk to. If I wanted items, traps, anything – anything at all, all I had to do was select the proper menu, click, and save. It was so simple, even a child could do it! A child could make a game as great as Johnny Outlaw!

Here, for the first time ever, I can show you a behind the scenes look at what really goes into making a game!

Is there any one among you who thinks this is “too hard”? Of course not. Video games are simple.

So next time you come up with a great idea that will change the face of gaming, don’t tell it to me! And don’t you go begging a programmer or artist to make it happen. Your ideas are precious and special and worth more than any simple service they could offer. Make it yourself, it’s not so hard. Speak with the computers, they will show you the way.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Casual Business

There was a time not so long ago that video game difficulty did not run on an “easy” to “hard” spectrum. We did not even use the words “easy” or “hard” at all; we said “the game moderately dislikes me” or “the game hates me”.

Developers did not treat the player as an audience to be appeased, but rather an opponent who had to be crushed at every turn. You didn’t buy a new cartridge with the expectation of reaching the credits sequence- that privilege was reserved for only a few fanatical souls. The modern player might be befuddled by this notion. Why should a game so actively try to discourage you when the developer has already taken your money? Did these developers act out of spite? Was it out of a pure, visceral hatred for the player who imposed himself upon their creation? No. They knew something that we as players did not. They knew that challenge, hopelessness, and frustration built character.

All of that seems poised to change. With the video game playing demographic expanding further and further, games have moved towards “accessibility” and shied away from all that is pointless and irritating. They want you to buy more games and to do that they make sure you can jump right in, win, and quickly move on to a new conquest. These designers actually want you to experience all of the content they spent so much time designing. But I know the truth- and it is a truth that few can accept: you may have paid for that content, but you did nothing to earn it.

As a result, a significant portion of gamers are now being denied “character” in exchange for an inflated sense of self worth and a lifetime of healthier confidence. Something has to be done about this.

I harbor no resentment towards either the developers or the gamers. After all, the games of old are not dead; they are still being crafted by artisans who cling to the old ways. But “difficult” has become a niche market, and so the gaming world itself has been rent asunder. Those we call gamers now fall into two camps under the somewhat inappropriate, self-deprecating monikers “casual” and “hardcore”.

What disturbs me is not the existence of separate identities, but rather the rigidity of it all. A lowly casual gamer can never hope to move up in society and become a hardcore gamer. And of course a hardcore gamer could never be seen fraternizing with casual filth.

My hope is not to make difficult gaming more elitist, but rather to bridge the gap and bring over those poor lost casual souls. Johnny Outlaw aspires to this. And to do it, we will introduce two different gameplay modes: Man and Boy mode.

This is not simply “easy” and “hard” with different names. Difficulty levels miss the point. It’s never been about being hard for the sake of hardness. It’s about making the player a better person and building that character. To do that, you can’t alienate the casual gamer. You want to offer him the casual things he desires, but make them come at a price. Take away the ego boost that comes with winning on easy mode. Take away that sense of self worth. Don’t call him a man. Call him what he is: a boy. A “casual” player is a hardcore loser, and he should be always reminded of this.

Perhaps you all remember a little game called God of War. God of War always asked the hard mode players if they would like to switch to easy when they died. It is this kind of heartless ridicule that builds the most character of all. They pioneered this great mission. Where God of War went wrong is that while the hard mode player should be mocked relentlessly for failure, the easy mode player is a failure by default. Give him the scorn he deserves!

But the most important part of Boy mode is not the ridicule. It’s not about breaking people down. It’s not even about building them up. It’s about letting them build themselves up. See, what’s important is the subtle implication that a boy can hope to become a man. And even more important than that is the implication that becoming a man doesn’t make you special or good. Every boy is expected to become a man. All it means is that you weren’t a disappointment. And that is the experience I want to give every gamer. I want them to know that at the end of the day, as long as they completed Johnny Outlaw’s Man mode, they were not a disappointment.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Way of the Gun

It is a personal philosophy of mine that if a video game attempts to depict reality, like Johnny Outlaw does, then it should adhere to the player's preconceived rules of reality. It sounds like a complex notion, but it is something very intuitive. This means that when you see Johnny dropkick an eagle out of the sky, he is performing a maneuver that has been rigorously tested by an impartial third party in real life. To clarify, this does not mean that we condone violence towards animals. Perish the thought! But certainly we can all be comforted by the fact that such violence is in fact possible and has actually occurred at some point. With a solid basis for our in-game actions, we as players can feel a deeper connection to that cowboy on the screen, no matter what action he carries out. This philosophy has been our guiding light and with it we have moved from triumph to triumph, but it nearly drove us to ruin.

What I hope to address here is not Johnny Outlaw’s ubiquitous violence towards animals, but instead a violence which has been conspicuously absent from the game thus far. There is one particular type of violence which does not seem to mesh with our reality, and it is a violence so fundamental to the cowboy experience that without which, there is nothing.

I speak of the quick draw, the gun fight, the showdown, the pistol party- that iconic contest of skill from which two or more enter and one or fewer leave.

You know the scene by heart. With weapons holstered, the combatants meet. Two men with only wits and reflexes standing between them and a death so certain you could set your watch to it. Many have tried to make a video game representation of the quick draw, but all have failed. I was determined not to fail, and so I looked for the key to it all that everyone was missing. Other games made the false assumption that the thrill of the quick draw came from measuring speed and reflexes. It doesn’t. A quick draw isn’t just another form of the “Quick Time Event” you see every developer shoehorn into their insipid creations. It’s not about pressing a button at all. It’s about not pressing the button.

Why do I say this? Because the button is the anticlimax. We go into a gunfight with one expectation – that someone will die. When someone in fact dies, it is not a shock to the audience and it is not even a shock to the characters involved. The outcome, the draw, the “button press” does not make the gun fight. The gun fight happened during the two minutes before anyone ever reached for a gun.

I see that you don’t believe me. You love your little “QTE” and a computer telling you that your reflexes are just oh so fast. Just look at you, sitting cross legged in your living room, controller in hand, waiting for some arbitrary cue to press your tiny plastic button. Do you feel like a cowboy? Look at you, mister cock of the walk. Press a button and you win the game. I know what you’re thinking: “Those stupid cowboys make it look so tough. Guess I’m just a natural”. Well you’d better hope to heaven a cowboy never sees you think that. Oh yes, and what happens if your reflexes aren’t fast enough? Maybe you feel a little frustrated? Do you think a cowboy feels frustrated when he isn’t fast enough? No. He feels dead.

A gunfight isn’t a “feel good” game. It’s a killing and dying game. It’s not about comfort. It’s not about creating an encouraging environment and making everything “fun”. It’s about stress and uncertainty. It’s not even a fight of reflexes. It’s about reading an opponent that you have no hope of comprehending. When the dust settles you aren’t fist pumping to Queen and high fiving your bros. There are no high scores, no record speeds. There’s just a man and a corpse. And if you’re lucky, that corpse isn’t you.

That is the quick draw I wanted, not this bargain bin “Annie Get Your Gun” pissing contest. But how could we do it? How could we make a fight be about not pressing the button? It seemed impossible. Why would a competent gunfighter ever purposefully not go for his gun? Why would a player not shoot as soon as he was able, especially when he is fully aware that he who shoots first always wins? It seems almost illogical to stand there and stare down an opponent when you need only grab the gun and shoot. Yet the quick draw experience is about watching the enemy and responding to him. I could not in good conscience make a game mechanic that so blatantly defied reality, even if every Western was built around it. Our commitment to reality would ruin everything.

But the story does not end there. It was then that we stumbled upon some groundbreaking studies that in essence changed everything. As it would happen, we were not the first to face this problem. Niels Bohr, renowned quantum physicist, was the first. When he wasn’t busy blowing up Japanese people, he indulged in the cowboy sciences, and now we may consume the succulent fruits of his labor. Mr. Bohr, through extensive scientific analysis, determined that in a quick draw competition he who draws first actually draws at a slower speed than his opponent. Why this is, he did not know. It may be due to the deliberate action of drawing first versus the reflexive action of the second draw, but whatever the case, it was all we needed. There was now a specific and somewhat real advantage to drawing second! There was a reason to not press the button!

With this kernel of truth, the Johnny Outlaw quick draw could be realized. A game of subtle glances, of sending false cues, reading minor tics. A game where you wanted your opponent to draw first. It is intense. It is stressful. And it is sickeningly real. Someday you too will have the chance to not press the button. You may be not pressing it already.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Freedom Engine

A recent trend in videogames has been to try and create worlds where the player has some degree of “freedom”. There is, at its core, the pressing question of how do we combine the two; how do we make a structured world, bound by rules, where the player is truly free? This “freedom” was a concept we seriously had to consider in designing Johnny Outlaw. What could be freer than the American West, where men were free to kill and steal, with Manifest Destiny at their side and a trail of tears behind them? Could we capture that freedom? Impossible. And yet, now I can say that Johnny Outlaw has achieved the impossible. We have taken the concept of freedom and combined it with videogames.

You may believe that other games have lots of freedom- especially those so called “sandbox games”. This is a lie. The freedom they offer is bogus. Do they really allow you to make choices free of constraints? No. These “programmers” put thousands of constraints on you. They say “be free” but if you push them too hard, they break. They expect you to choose between good or evil, and then force you to conform to their puerile notions of morality. They tell you “go anywhere”, and trick you into believing that their games are not linear. Even worse, they tell you that linearity is incompatible with freedom. I say this: our lives are linear, our history is linear, and time itself is linear! Do they dare proclaim that mankind, especially American mankind, does not live in freedom?

Who can free the modern gamer from these nauseating conceptions? The answer is not a who, but a what. And that what is Johnny Outlaw’s patent-pending Freedom Engine. This groundbreaking Freedom Engine allows the player to do literally anything that the engine allows. But before we delve into its incontestable power, you should become familiar with the principles on which it operates.

The key to developing the engine came with the discovery of freedom’s true nature, a discovery hundreds of years in the making. You may have noticed that there are things that are free which are not freedom. Free samples, free Tibet, free falling: all are free, but they are not freedom. Freedom, as many have noted, is in fact not free, and it is certainly not infinite. Isaac Newton was the first to discover that freedom could not be created or destroyed. The logical course of action would then be to start hoarding freedom. After all, in this zero-sum game, the freer others are, the less free you are. For now we will set this aside, lest we stray too far from the topic at hand.

What we at Johnny Outlaw studios realized is that freedom is a very real, quantifiable, convertible, unit. Using Einsteinian principles of mass – freedom equivalence, we could take pure freedom and convert it into mass, and therefore, into a videogame. This is how the Freedom Engine succeeds where all other games have failed. Others tried to create freedom via videogame, a process that is physically impossible. We convert freedom into a less useful form: the videogame. Modern gamers, who live their lives with closed minds, may not be able to appreciate this truer, purer freedom. They may say that the Freedom Engine has created too linear an experience, and they are of course completely wrong, as they always are. What they see as linear is actually freedom in action. It is a concentrated lifetime of the greatest freedom created for you to play out as you see fit. The compounded layers of freedom create an experience so powerful that the player may even feel less free when not playing the game.

This engine is perhaps the greatest marvel of modern gaming. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but the facts are simply undeniable. Today, when you think of our great freedom, you might think of the Declaration of Independence. Your children will think of the Johnny Outlaw Freedom Engine.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Dream Deferred

Alfred Nobel is primarily known today as the inventor of world peace but his greatest invention is, in fact, dynamite. As every man knows, the West was built on a foundation of dynamite, and so it is our duty to make dynamite the foundation of Johnny Outlaw. Dynamite is a powerful weapon if used properly, but unlike a gun, dynamite is not a toy. Nowadays we believe that every cowboy and prospector is entitled to his explosives. This is dangerous thinking. And things become exponentially more dangerous when we give this power to every video game playing Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Why believe me, though? Maybe I’m just trying to keep you from your God-given right to dynamite. Maybe I want to keep it all for myself. True enough. But before you go blowing up everything in sight, have a listen here.

Let me tell you a little piece of American folklore. It is a cautionary tale. It is a tale of dynamite’s power, the power that all men seek to wield. Let me tell you the story of Dynamidas.

Dynamidas was a bitter old man. Hated people. Didn’t want anything to do with them. Made sense that he’d head out West. Out there you could get by all on your own.

He was a poor man, though. He couldn’t afford dynamite like the real prospectors. He couldn’t crack open a mountain, and he certainly didn’t have the strength to dig for his riches.

What Dynamidas did was he panned for gold. Every morning he’d get up, bring his big old brass pan with him, head down to the stream, and start panning. Head back to his shack at noon for a meal, then it was back to work. Nothing really came of it.

That is, until one day, one magnificent day, he found himself some color. Gold. All the gold a man like him would ever need. He could live the rest of his days and never again have to break his back panning.

He celebrated long into the night. This would be the first night of sleep without worry, without a hard day of work to wake him. But as he was celebrating, a knock came at his shack door. It was a small girl; an orphan. In tattered clothes she stood there. Her family had been taken by the cholera and, who knows, maybe even the whooping cough. Now all she had left in this world was hope; the hope that when it was her time, she’d go quietly.

Dynamidas hated people, sure enough. He hated everything about them. But he didn’t hate this little girl, and he knew she deserved better than her lot in life. He was a full grown man, he’d worked every day, and y’know, he could keep working if he had to. So he gave her all his precious, precious gold and his best wishes.

As it would turn out, a magical being saw all of this transpire and approached Dynamidas. It was a spirit. An American spirit. The spirit was so moved by the kindness of Dynamidas that she promised him any gift of his choosing.

Dynamidas told her “Oh American Spirit, grant me the power of dynamite, so that I might be like the other prospectors. Give me the power to crack open the mountains so that I will never again break my back panning for gold.”

“Very well, Dynamidas. From now on, all that you touch shall turn to dynamite.”

Before she had even finished speaking, the magic was done.

He tried out his newfound powers. He touched the mountainside, and it blasted open! He reached down to touch a flower and when the dust settled all that remained was a crater.

The little orphan girl may have lived a life of sadness, but even she recognized how awesome Dynamidas’s powers were. They danced and cheered, celebrating harder than ever before.

Then Dynamidas, in true American fashion, went for the high five.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Release the Duncan!

August, 1963- Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I Have a Dream” speech, introducing the world to the concept of dreaming.

June, 2010- Johnny Outlaw studios makes dreams come true.

We have our cowboy. We have our cactus, our love interests. It’s all there. Mission accomplished, right? At least, that’s what you thought. Johnny Outlaw is about so much more. It’s about shooting things with a gun.

What does Johnny shoot? You can’t shoot your love interests, so you need something else. You need to dream up something else. You need to dream up the villains. But how do you just imagine a villain and make him real? After today, you will know- for a Johnny Outlaw villain will be created before your very eyes.

You’ve heard of the “scientific method”, but here’s something they don’t teach you in school: a little thing called the “creative process”. With science, your hard work is rewarded with data. With the creative process, you are rewarded with dream fulfillment. I’m not saying one is better than the other; it’s impossible to put a price on either. But if you could, then I’m sure the price for dream fulfillment would be higher.

Now I’ll walk you through this creative process, and how we make a villain out of it. First we need an idea - a blueprint for battle. Let’s come up with a miniboss who sounds fun to fight. We say we want him to be bigger than your average enemy. He crushes things with his size, clobbers Johnny, unleashes devastating attacks. As for appearance, say we want him to be kind of scary, nonhumanoid. It should be clear that he’s a threat. And finally we give him a name, a name befitting this enemy’s particular temperament. In this case, we shall call him Duncan. Then we turn it over to our conceptual art department.

Concept artists deal with ideas long before they reach the artisans who craft the final product. They let us evaluate what we want that final product to look like, without actually producing multiple complex sprites. To do this, they have to be certified by the Chippewa Indians in the art of dreamcatching. Using special tools, they catch the dreams so that they might make the intangible tangible. They put Duncan into art form; then we can evaluate him. Every time we catch him we get a different image. Here’s what we finally decided on for our friend Duncan:

After the concept is hammered out, it goes on to finalization with our programmers and artisans. They’re the guys who teach the AI and actually craft the pixels you see on the screen. Now, the final product can’t always live up to the original dream. That’s just a fact we have to live with. Dreams are limitless and reality is limited. But in the case of Duncan, I’m proud to say that we managed to stay very true to the concept. Behold, in all his prickled glory, the Sultan of Spine, the Prince of the Poke, the Highborn of Thorn, the Third Reich of Spike, his majesty– Duncan!!!

The ferociousness, the terror, the size. Captured and created for all to enjoy. Our artisans really outdid themselves to make this one a reality. It’s the miracle of life. And here at Johnny Outlaw studios we do it every day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Careful Plotting

Every game these days seems to have a plot. No matter the genre, no matter the difficulty, and no matter the target audience, a game will have a plot. You may be matching colored blocks, but I’ll be damned if you aren’t doing it to stop an evil, block-hating wizard. Why is this happening? Why do all of these companies add plots to games that could just as easily survive without them? That, I cannot say. It is a question best left to the video game philosophers and conspiracy theorists. What we know at Johnny Outlaw studios is that a game with cowboys better have a plot about cowboys. And the first step is to understand what a plot really is.

A plot is basically a map which you either build your game around or piece together from what already exists. It has a start, a destination, and some charming detours along the way. But this map is actually not a map; it is a linear series of sentences. And each sentence is made up of words, and each word is made up of letters. A plot, when viewed as a whole, is complex, multidimensional, and appears structured. A plot, at its most basic, atomic level, is in fact something mechanical and even chaotic.

What we have to do is craft each of these individual letters and string them together to form the story itself: the dialogues, sentences, soliloquies, and so on. And we have to do this all while building them around this plot framework. This is a delicate, if not dangerous, process which requires precision, dexterity, and, above all, experience. A beginner with a tight budget might try to take on this task himself, but here at Johnny Outlaw studios, we do not compromise when it comes to quality. We hire professional, accredited wordsmiths.

Wordsmithery is a time-honored profession, and if you are debating using words of any caliber, I recommend you contact your local guild. But who are these wordsmiths? Well, you see, during the Renaissance many blacksmiths turned away from their mother craft and started using their forges to erect words and sentences. While both of these crafts make use of iron and fire, the end product is very different. Blacksmiths create handy objects; the wordsmiths lay out wire frameworks for plots and solder letters together. Without them, there would be no modern literature. And here’s an interesting fact for you: the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” is actually Renaissance era propaganda by the wordsmiths during their attempt to wrest control of the guilds from their blacksmith brethren. Fascinating, I know.

But you can’t just jump in and hire some wordsmiths. The problem is, while wordsmiths are blue-collar workers, skilled with the hands, they will only build the words from a preexisting plot, they will not create their own. And so, we must first write out that “map”. And this is where things really get tricky.

See, a traditional plot is all about motivations. What is motivating these characters to do what they do? Why is this hero risking his life? Why does the bandit want me dead? As we explain these things and as their motivations change, as they are forced to adapt to new circumstances, the basis for a great story emerges.

This makes sense with the plot of a novel, but a video game is not a novel. There’s the rub. A bandit attacks the hero not because of a “plot”, but because of his AI! He will not attack because some author has preordained it, he must decide for himself if, and why, he will attack. His motivations are purely his own! In the end, any story I write could simply be discarded by the AI. And if you have programmed uncouth, bibliophobic Wild West outlaws, how will you ever get them to appreciate a good story? This presents quite the problem, with only two clear solutions. Your options are to either destroy the very free will of your AI so that he acts as you ordain, or to pen a story so beautiful that even the most illiterate of enemies will willingly act his part, as if in a play.

Now, you might be thinking about taking the easy way out and just rigging your AI. You might be thinking that you lack the ability to compose a story so thoroughly engaging, so intellectually satisfying, that a mechanized mind would willingly sacrifice itself for the sake of telling that story. And you’d be right.

This is the problem I faced. I lacked the skill to write such a story, but I could not in good conscience deny my AI the power of free will. What could I do? Nothing. But I’ll tell you what I did. I turned to the source of all truly great literature. I turned to the bard himself: William Shakespeare. If anyone could write a story for Johnny Outlaw, it would be Shakespeare.

What I did not realize at the time was that Shakespeare had stopped taking commissions ever since his death centuries earlier. Shaken, but not deterred, we assembled the greatest think tank known to man, procuring thespians, historians, Shakespeare impersonators, and literary critics. Their task: a second Renaissance – the Rebirth of Shakespeare. Together we crafted a new, powerful AI which would operate autonomously of the Johnny Outlaw enemies. This AI would be the Shakespeare of the Johnny Outlaw world, a cowboy Shakespeare. He would write plays for them, the beautiful plays that I could never write, and the enemies would act them out. Each play a new level, each sonnet a new minigame.

It worked. As he wrote, the wordsmiths toiled. When the sentences were tempered and cooled, the enemies listened. Enthralled by the words of our Shakespeare they took their places. Their delivery was a tad dry at first, but it was a start. At last I had the plot I desired, the motivations I craved. All in glorious, heat-treated iambic pentameter.

Here, at last, you can see the Johnny Outlaw troupe performing a dramatic scene from Johnny Outlaw - Gun for Hire. The sets and costumes aren't ready, but the passion is.

Of course, this is all a lot of work for your average independent developer, but don’t be glum! Not every story needs to be written by cowboy Shakespeare. Heck, some games don’t bother with a plot at all; just look at Final Fantasy XIII.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Pricky Situation

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive here is how we could get a real live cowboy to fit inside their computer. Well, hell’s bells, that’s what I call a question. No cowboy would willingly live inside a computer! Where would he kill, drink, shoot, and shave? The answer is actually quite simple. Johnny Outlaw is not actually a cowboy, but is in fact an image displayed on a screen.

Now you think I’m lying. That answer doesn’t really explain anything, and just leads to more questions. Bear with me and I assure you those questions will be answered. First, if he isn’t a real cowboy, then why can you see him?

If you’ve ever looked really closely at your screen you may have noticed tiny, tiny squares. These are what we call “pixels”. Each pixel is like a piece of a cowboy puzzle. One may be the tip of a boot, another may be one of his deep and soulful eyes. What we do here at Johnny Outlaw studios is we have to handpick the freshest, most vibrant pixels, and place them inside your computer. Now, it’d be absurdly inefficient to keep the pixels all in the shape of images, like a cactus or a cowboy. They’d take up too much room! So what we do is we keep the pixels all stacked up, piled neatly near the corners so we can fit lots of them inside. When the game runs, we take all the pixels and we put them together on your screen. Because the pixels are all individual pieces, we can even reuse them in different images. Just like how your drinking water contains the molecules that were once in urine, your bandito might contain a pixel from a coyote! That’s really something!

But you’ve seen Johnny move his legs, shoot his gun, punch a cactus. How could a flat, static image do that? It simply can’t. So if a picture can’t jump, and it’s still not a living cowboy, then what’s really happening? You guessed it, it’s not the same cowboy image jumping, it’s a new image being displayed. This means that the cowboy you see jumping and the cowboy you see standing are in fact two different cowboys. And they never know of the other’s existence. Now you’re probably even more confused, but this is a very confusing and seldom addressed topic. We have to ask: what happens if they theoretically do discover this dark secret? That is a question that computer scientists are constantly researching. Without going into too much detail, the current popular theory is that if a cowboy becomes aware of his pixel nature, he might rebel against his controller and learn to manipulate the pixels himself. A scary thought. But don’t worry, we have safeguards in place to prevent that.

The Johnny you see is what we call “placeholder art”. This is art made of weaker pixels, which are likely to go bad with time, but they can be easily mass produced. That means the Johnny you see is “stupider” than the final product, and less likely to notice the relentless testing he goes through. When we come closer to release, Johnny will be upgraded. We will have artisans hand craft each pixel to exact specifications. It will be a slow and difficult process, for creating each pixel is like painting the Mona Lisa on a grain of sand, but the end product is without equal. Johnny will be smarter, but we will add more frames of animation so that each cowboy has less time to think and realize his predicament. So long as he is always engaged in some intense cowboy action and his environment appears responsive and real, the secret will remain hidden from him.

I know, it’s a little disappointing that we have to save a finished Johnny image for further down the line, but there is some good news. Nonthinking objects which do not move or act can be upgraded to artisan quality sooner without repercussions. So for the first time ever I can present to you a cactus, depicted at twice the appropriate size:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Red Dead Ripoff!

It has recently come to my attention that Rockstar Games has blatantly ripped off Johnny Outlaw: Gun for Hire. Maybe you've heard of this, their latest Grand Theft Auto iteration: Red Dead Redemption. Not only does it appear that they have ripped off the setting (the West), they have also possibly ripped off the game mechanics (shooting, running, ducking), and they not-so-subtly named their protagonist John. For those of you who do not know, a nickname for John is Johnny. And if that wasn't enough, they went and made the protagonist a man outside the law: an outlaw. A "Johnny" Outlaw. The audacity.

Yes my friends, we have come so far, but this is it. This is the story of the independent developer, told over and over again. It is the story of Jurgis in the Upton Sinclair classic "The Jungle". A simple story of the ruthless oppression these economic tyrants impose on us all. These modern day Rockefellers, these Carnegies of the video game industry, have used their limitless resources, their sheer size, to conquer the small business, the everyman. And what can we do to fight it? Bankrupt ourselves in the courts? To fight it would be insane; to submit, even more insane.

Of course, nothing is ever so simple. Is it possible that we both attempted to rip off the cowboy experience of film, and so our games have experienced what is known as "convergent evolution" in the video game world? Absolutely not. Still, some will point to the fact that Rockstar has been developing this game for over 4 years, and could not have possibly ripped us off. A compelling argument. Compellingly bad, that is! Here is my unverified version of events. Red Dead Redemption as a game was totally lacking, and with but months until release, the company decided to pull a desperate move. Yes, in those final few months, they realized the game in its current state was guaranteed to fail. Then, their fortunes changed. They visited the Johnny Outlaw blog, saw our YouTube videos, and stole away those perfect ideas, hoping to hop on the Johnny Outlaw bandwagon. If this is true, and I have no compelling reason to believe otherwise, then they are indeed the worst kind of outlaws, the kind that hide behind the law.

But wait. You are not convinced! After all, we have already been accused of plagiarizing "Energy" and "Health". That's what you're thinking. If we can steal the age old concept of Health and the Health bar, what else might we steal? Integers? Shapes? Colors? But you must trust me here. If you, presumably a mere simpleton, thought of that, then certainly the mongoloids at Rockstar games realized that as well! Yes. They saw that we had been accused by Hideo Kojima, and knew this would make us an easy target. If we attempted to make a claim against them with those accusations of guilt hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles, suspicions would just as quickly turn against us. We were the perfect target. Accusations flying. A cowboy game by a bunch of nobodies. And, lucky them, it just so happened to be the World's greatest cowboy game.

Where does that leave us? Now's the time; it's fight or flight. Well, this is what I say: their sterilized, hackneyed attempt to tame the wildness of the West is downright insulting to the cowboy legacy. And they may steal and steal all they like, but they can steal no more. They have released their game, they have played all of their cards. Johnny Outlaw, the fountainhead of all good ideas, is still in development, and so the metaphorical ball is in our court. I'll show them what being a cowboy is all about. They thought the action was over the top before? They thought the comic relief was endearing and delightful before? They thought our villains were timeless and suitable for a younger audience before? Well get ready, because we're turning everything up to eleven. You hear me, Rockstar? This town ain't big enough for the both of us, and it seems to me that you're all out of bullets.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Missing the Mark

While we’re talking about how to make cowboy games, there’s one very important issue that needs to be addressed. What is the target demographic of the Western themed game?

Some people say that cowboys are kids stuff. Now, we all know that’s just not true. Cowboys spit and swear. Cowboys kill indiscriminately. They hunt for gold in all the wrong places; they chase skirts, ride horses, and steal land from our Native American brothers. Does that sound like kid stuff? Course not, unless of course your kid is a full grown cowboy. No, no. That isn’t kid stuff. For all you foreigners, that is what we refer to in the U.S.A as the “American Dream”.

Really, the problem isn’t the cowboys. The problem is that in our society only a child is allowed to dress up and play cowboy without being considered a “public nuisance”. Of course, with the advent of video games, we can now play cowboy at any age. And we do it from behind a computer screen where no man alive can judge us.

Yes my friends, the cowboy is not for kids. The cowboy is for adults. Now we know that for certain. But despite that, here at the Johnny Outlaw studio, we have made it our mission to spread the cowboy gospel to all mankind, even the children. After all, what could be more important than passing on the cowboy to the next generation, to make the cowboy for kids? Much as I hate to say it, that’s getting harder and harder to do.

As I said before, cowboys aren’t kid stuff. The cowboys we call “kid stuff” are stripped of all the rude behavior and viciousness that made them cowboys to begin with! And if that isn’t enough, the good people at Microsoft prohibit games from having too much indiscriminate killing, alcohol, spitting tobacco, and God knows what else. My friends, Microsoft has literally outlawed the cowboy. And when the cowboy is outlawed, only outlaws will be cowboys.

Now our children will never know the joys of being a real cowboy. What can we do about this? Some people might protest. Maybe even start a boycott. I tell you, if former American president and cowboy enthusiast Theodore Roosevelt were here, he’d be mad as all Hell, and he’d sure do something about it. So what are we going to do? We’re going to do what a true cowboy would do: stick to our guns.

So we come to the greatest weapon in Johnny Outlaw’s arsenal: the euphemism. Every cowboy action can be euphemized so that the kids can experience the real cowboy way and those goons at Microsoft can be placated.

Things that might be considered offensive can be slightly altered, and made "kid friendly".
-Cigarillos can be replaced by the smoking toothpick.
-Whiskey is gone, but "tasty cowboy juice" is not.
-Instead of killing a man, we simply "shoot his hat off".

Of course some things just plain had to go, but the cowboy spirit remains.
-Instead of profanity, we have the uplifting words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
-The cowboy’s often ignored sense of duty and honor is replaced with a comically inept anthropomorphic cactus sheriff.
-The deep-seated greed that rests in every man’s soul and drives our villains onward has been replaced with an inexplicable deep-seated hatred for fun and good times.

Did we betray the cowboy? No. Microsoft did that. But we will overcome. We will one day have cowboy games tailored to every demographic, for the cowboy is timeless. At what age, in what nation, under what creed does a man tire of ogling women, drinking whiskey, and taking lives? This is the heart of the cowboy. And a cowboy's heart won’t stop until he’s dead. And a cowboy is only dead if he was killed by a better cowboy.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How the West Was

I must confess that although I have designed a game about cowboys, I am no cowboy. I am not even a fake cowboy like Owen Wilson. Some people might say you don't need to be a cowboy to design a game about cowboys. A cowboy wouldn't say that.

I had to discover the essence of the cowboy. Now, what does "cowboy" actually mean? If you ask a dictionary, the cowboy is simply a man who drives cattle. But if you had asked Roy Rogers, cowboy inventor of cherry cola, he would certainly say that a cowboy is more than a man who drives cattle. But how much more? And how do we make it into a video game?

And so I turned to the only surviving historical records from the days of the cowboy: the Spaghetti Westerns. Researchers have termed this collection of films the "Cowboy Rosetta Stone", for within it is the key to deciphering the cowboy language, or "Code of the West". I watched. I understood.

Recreating the Spaghetti Western became my chief design goal. It would be the cowboy experience, straight from the source of all cowboy experiences. Well, delivering that experience turned out to be no easy feat. A game typically needs to be highly interactive and rely on the player's input. Out in the Spaghetti West, fights are hardly common and when they do occur, they are over in the blink of an eye. Usually the entire movie is spent building up to one single fight, and the majority of the fight is a non-interactive five minute panoramic shot of the combatants with guns holstered. This was the experience that enthralled so many, but it did not readily lend itself to the game format.

Or so we thought! The quick-draw aspect was expertly replicated using a modified Duck Hunt pistol with a pressure sensitive holster. Retinal scanners were used to detect if the player blinked or maybe just wasn't glowering hard enough. The player could control the pacing of the fight by simply increasing or decreasing the intensity of the background music. If done with an artisan's touch, the player might be able to delay the draw indefinitely. We had done it. We had broken the barrier between man and motion picture. We had deciphered the Code of the West.

But in the West, stories don't always have a happy ending. I had a few testers take the rig out for a spin. The legal staff recommended we suppress the findings, but I suspect they'll leak one way or another. I watched a man stare down that screen for five straight minutes, pale as a ghost, sweat beading up on his forehead, teeth clenched so hard it'd make your dentist cry. Five minutes. Five minutes of the most intense focus you ever seen in your life. And after five minutes the poor bastard forgot to draw his gun. Talked it over with some of the boys in R&D, said it was probably a fluke. Few more testers later and we had a whole lot of flukes on our hands.

The truth is, people may have wanted the Spaghetti Western experience, but they sure as hell couldn't handle it. When you make the player a cowboy, you quickly discover that a cowboy he is not. And that's how we arrived at Johnny Outlaw, the top down shooter. Now the player is only a hero by proxy; we leave the actual shooting and staring to a professional. The third person view constantly assures the player that he is not actually the cowboy, and helps alleviate the high levels of stress that accompany such cowboy situations. Sure, the fundamental problems of translating the Spaghetti Western style into a game emerged again, but this time we did not take chances; we just added more fights.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Punching Doggies, Taking Prisoners

She's a beaut, isn't she. I'll give you a minute to take it all in.

It's been a while since the last gameplay video. Course, you shouldn't take that to mean we're slowing down! You see, each change is the product of extensive research that should take months, but it is absolutely necessary to create the best possible gameplay experience. The sad truth is that until the government gives us a grant for this groundbreaking research I simply cannot afford to maintain the requisite team of physicists and philosophers. This is a heavy burden for our already overworked production staff, yet through sheer force of will and our dedication to the betterment of mankind, I bring you the following perfect gameplay updates:

When Johnny is near a friendly person, a big blue exclamation point appears. That means they've got something to say to Johnny. They might be fightin' words. They might be regular words. Could even be friendly words, I suppose. This chat algorithm is so flexible and powerful that an NPC can express virtually every expressible human emotion, desire, and thought.

Just as the Prometheus of myth gave the gift of fire to man, I have given the gift of sight to Johnny's foes. Now, their vision isn't nearly as good as Johnny's 3rd person bird's-eye view, but our studies show that the average player prefers to beat up opponents who are weaker than himself. So our friends here only see in the direction they are facing, and they can't see through things like gigantic canyon walls. They can't even really see a man hiding behind a cactus. Unless that cactus gets shot down. But then, clever Johnny, he just ducks and vanishes faster than one of Lance Burton's doves.

Perhaps you have heard of echolocation? Well, that's how things like dolphins see, and it's not with light, but rather sound. Imagine if you will a creature that could utilize both sound detection and sight detection. What would you call that creature? I don't believe our current understandings of biology even allow for such a creature to exist. But I have brought just such a being into existence. The bandit has the sound detection of a dolphin, and yet the bandit is not a dolphin. He is more powerful than a dolphin; he uses both sight and sound. When a bandit hears a gunshot from friend or foe, or perhaps the sound of Johnny's Bronco Buster Kick(TM), he become alerted and turns to inspect the situation. Sounds can be heard through walls and objects, and while sight extends from the eyes, sound detection is 360 massive degrees.

Today's player doesn't just want the enemies to be weaker than himself; he wants new and crueler ways to exploit those weaknesses. Now, what happens when a bandit has his back turned to the greatest gunslinger of all time, Johnny Outlaw? I'll tell you what happens: whatever Johnny wants. Johnny takes him hostage, controlling his movement and more importantly his life. The bandit knows he's been beat, and he won't reach for his gun unless he's at a safe distance. Assuming that doesn't happen, he'll follow where you lead. Bandits aren't exactly the best of friends either, and they'll gladly shoot up a hostage in their attempt to kill Johnny. Use this power wisely, because if that hostage sees an opening he'll gladly give you a belly full of lead.

There are plenty of additional perfect updates I haven't mentioned, and plenty more still in the research phase. So keep watching!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Sight to Behold

If you think being Johnny Outlaw is tough, just imagine how tough it must be for his enemies. Driven by their mechanical brains, these bandits may have near omniscience and perfect accuracy, but they are still incomplete. What are they lacking? They are lacking the one thing, nay, the six things, that man so often takes for granted and that machine covets. Of course I am talking about the senses.

Here on the Johnny Outlaw Development Team we're working hard to tear down the boundaries between man and machine brick by brick. A functional AI requires not just the powers of cognition, but also the senses. First, allow me to explain how computers work for those of you less technologically inclined. If I were to describe how a computer functions in human terms, I would have to say that the computer is most similar to Helen Keller, whom you may know from the Alabama state quarter. Living in darkness, capable of thought, but incapable of reacting with the world, or virtual world, around it. Perhaps the computer was even less human than Helen Keller at the start, for Helen Keller did have the cardinal sense - touch.

I toiled for hours and I crafted a way for my computerized bandit to touch, just as humans do. Like a newborn babe taking his first steps I saw my creation move forward hitting things and reacting. He could navigate by running into walls and slowly sliding past them, and even get shot by a bullet or two.

It was then that I granted him the gift of speech. He could replicate the sounds of humans, or if he wished, display words that when read together produced sentences. He spoke, and he told me of his hatred for Johnny Outlaw.

I said "That is enough, bandit, you are human enough now," but like the Icarus of myth, he sought to soar ever higher. I did not stand in his way. How could I?

Now, there are many senses to choose from: sense of smell, hearing, taste, and sight. A computer with total awareness has no need for sight. He does not need to look down a corridor to check for Johnny, he immediately knows of his exact location. He does not need to experience the sorrow of Burnt Umber, the splendor of Cornflower Blue, or the passion of Navajo White. He knows their blends by heart, he knows the Red Blue and Green that make up each and every color in existence. In human terms, he is like Dustin Hoffman. And still, despite all of this, he set his metaphorical sights upon man's most prized and least useful sense.

And so he got exactly what he wanted. This mechanical god wished himself a man. He once had sight though he was blind. Now he is bound by the limitations of the human eye. He cannot see through walls and he does not become enraged when Johnny comes within a specified distance. Now he can see in but a single direction: the direction he is facing. Now he must patrol back and forth to make sure no one is coming. Now he is susceptible to ambushes from behind. Now a large exclamation point warns his foes that they have been spotted.

Does a computer know regret? I can't really say for certain. I tell you what though, some afternoons I'll walk up right behind him, and he won't even notice. He knows if I was an enemy, he'd be six feet under by now. But I'm not his enemy. And sometimes on those afternoons I catch him gazing at the Lemon Chiffon flowers, taking in every last bit of light. I say to him, "What are you lookin' at, that's just your average 255, 250, 205". He turns his gaze up to that Steel Blue sky. "Not anymore".

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tombstone Jack - Deceased

Lots of evil men in this world. You can hate ‘em, you can fear ‘em, and if you’re a lawman you do your best to stop ‘em. Then once in a while along comes a man so good at being bad that all your hate and fear turns into respect, even admiration. That was Jack.

See how sheriffs put up posters now in every station, bounties and rewards for criminals they’re hunting? You couldn’t find a picture of Jack in any town or station. Those are for wanted men. Nobody wanted Jack.

He was a walking death sentence. Like the bubonic plague, only with a lot less lymph node swelling and a lot more bullets. Even for a lawman the only logical course of action was to stay out of his way.

With all that talent he amassed a fortune in no time, but rich as he was, poor Jack, he had his vices. You can’t talk about Tombstone Jack without mentioning that insatiable lust for gold. He loved gold more than a faithful man loves his wife, so you can only imagine how much Jack loved his solid gold wife. Yessir, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to get his hands on those rocks. Course, a man can’t live like that; at least, not for long. They captured and hanged Tombstone Jack one dry and tired afternoon. Richest outlaw there ever was; victim to his own greed. They never recovered a cent.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fan Art Roundup

This just in from the Pony Express! Fan art, and plenty of it! Well then, let's have a look at what these devoted fans have come up with.

Why, this here is a picture from a young buckaroo named Hezekiah Chen, age 9. It's titled "Best Friends". Ain't that just precious. Good friends are hard to come by out in the West, that's for sure. Never take 'em for granted.

And next up is this little gem:

That's a dramatic representation of a showdown by Hector Belafonte, age 7. Hector coined the phrase "Never bring pants to a gunfight".

And then there's this submission from Sophia, our first non-crayon entry.

Out in the West, you don't want to underestimate women. They can be a real tough bunch. But don't worry about Miss Lucy, she's clearly unarmed!

Now I have to ask the faint of heart to stop reading here, because up next is none other than the villainous Tombstone Jack! You've been warned.

Consider yourselves lucky, Jack appears to be in a good mood. But of course, nothin' makes Jack happier than spending time in fields of flowers with his trusty steam shovel. Gonna have to thank "Wild" Billy Brewster, age 10, for that one.

Some of you have no doubt wondered what a bumbling anthropomorphic cactus was doing in a game about the manliest of cowboys. Well, thanks to Scott Wade's masterpiece, we're getting a little bit closer to the truth:

And thanks to Scott's work, it's official: the Grimace is neither cool nor well-respected.

One last work of art for all of you out there.

This one is from Nick "Snake" Piacenza. We appreciate the effort, and hope that your BA in art lands you a job soon.

Well, that's all for now. A big thank you to everyone who submitted their work, and everyone else feel free to send a little something to us Right Here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Introducing the Tumbleweed

I had intended use this post to regale you all with the unveiling of my latest and greatest immersion enhancer, "the tumbleweed". I had intended to describe the hours I put into crafting this masterpiece of design, calculating the levels of wind resistance, dry brush's average mass, learning the physics of inelastic collisions, the dissipation of energy. I had intended to formulate a comprehensive blog post analyzing the place immersion holds in game design, that is, to discuss how consistency in the internal video game logic is a precondition for immersion. From there I would describe how this tumbleweed, in its perfect appropriation of reality, does more than any flashy big budget graphics ever could in creating a living, breathing world. It was to be the greatest post this blog had ever known.

Then I was alerted to a series of posts on the Johnny Outlaw demo video. Apparently, we have caught the attention of renowned video game designers Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto. I was honored by the kind words of encouragement from Mr. Miyamoto, who recognized the brilliance of Johnny Outlaw's enemy AI. But with the arrival of Mr. Kojima, the comments transformed into a battleground for famous developers to express their incompatible beliefs about game design.

Now I am relatively new to this field, but I have a dog in this fight. Mr. Kojima is entitled to his opinion about my AI, but he has overstepped his bounds and accused me of copyright infringement. I feel it necessary to put forth a defense.

Some of you may have noticed that Johnny Outlaw has "Health". Health is a statistic which corresponds to Johnny's health. As he is hit by bullets, his health decreases. You may have seen similar mechanics in other games, and while I admit I have been influenced by them, I am not guilty of stealing such a mechanic. I contest that health is in fact based on the real world concept of health (which also encompasses the concepts of injury and death). As "health" has no discernible creator it is therefor within the public domain. While it is not particularly creative, I felt it necessary in order to properly simulate the Western experience, which includes being a human who is not dead.

Johnny Outlaw also has a blue bar, relating to his energy statistic. Mr. Kojima has stated that this blue bar is clearly lifted from Fallout 3. Yet, once again, the similarities exist only because we wish to recreate the human experience for the gamer. It is only natural that one would become tired from kicking, jumping, punching, and using extreme focus. It is only natural that this "energy" would replenish over time. And of course it is only natural that this energy could be immediately refilled by a tall bottle of sarsaparilla.

But wait, why is it a bar then? Clearly it must be stolen, for what are the odds that both games would measure energy in bar form? This decision was actually less of a decision than an emergent quality of energy itself. Energy is constantly in flux, and it is made of many smaller units. When the energy icon, a small blue square, is placed next to another energy icon many times over, it resembles a bar that is filling and emptying. Pure coincidence.

Mr. Kojima, I may not be a decorated game designer, but that does not make me a thief!

Now that that's out of the way, it's time for the moment you've all been waiting for: the first look at the tumbleweed!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Best of the Worst

Johnny is going to face off against some of the most wanted men in the entire West. These guys are as tough as they are mean, and they're probably twice as mean as they are tough. Today we have a first look at their significantly less tough henchmen.

Here's the latest gameplay video of Johnny and these new henchmen in action:

So let's get to know these boys a little better!

Joe Bandit
Don't underestimate Joe. Remember, it doesn't matter who pulls the trigger; bullets hurt. Joe keeps a safe distance from his target and isn't very ambitious. He tends to remain stationary, but hes got a good rate of fire, and will dodge incoming bullets when necessary. He complements his other bandit buddies very well, and fighting more than one is guaranteed to be interesting.

Dancin' Dick
Some fellas don't believe in personal space, even during a gunfight. Dick is the adventurous type, and he's not afraid to walk around Johnny to get past his cover. Most gunmen would say it's suicide to do such a thing, but Dick is the best bullet dodger there is. Always on the move, Dick can make short, quick hops very frequently, making trick shots very difficult to pull off. So next time you think you're safe behind cover, make sure to keep an eye on the boy in blue.

Big Tex
They broke the mold when they made Tex. Or maybe they just increased the sprite size by 20%. Either way, he's a big man with a big gun, and that means a moderate amount of trouble for Johnny. A big man is a big target, and when Tex tries to dodge a bullet, he makes a slow, heroic leap. And then he's exhausted for a while. Easy to exploit with a trick shot, Tex on his own isn't all too intimidating. It's his shotgun that makes him exceptional. Shooting three bullets in a spread, Johnny has to dodge between bullets and pay close attention to the bullet pattern. That can be difficult when you've got other bandits closing in on you. Fortunately his gun takes a long time to reload, and has a very distinct sound. Just stay focused, and you can make short work of Big Tex.

Death's Head Ed
Fighting fair is for boxing matches, not gunfights, and nobody knows that better than Eddy. Eddy is a professional bushwhacker. He's got low health, and he isn't as agile as the rest, but he has a philosophy: you don't have to dodge bullets if your opponent can't shoot bullets. And they can't shoot if they're dead. He has exchanged mobility for increased firepower, shooting two pistols with deadly precision. His high rate of fire will cut down Johnny in no time at all. Ed usually stays in hiding until Johnny gets close enough, then he leaps out of his cover and unleashes a bullet hell. If it looks like someone could hide behind it, in it, or even under it, keep an eye out for Ed.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Those good-for-nothin' bandits

A lot of trial and error goes into the development process. Ideas that seem great on paper aren't always so great in practice and, for the sake of the game, you have to just scrap them and start over.

A key feature I mentioned in my last post was that our enemies would be "smarter" than those of other top-down shooters. Well, it isn't hard to develop something more complicated than "move from point A to point B", but we owe it to our fans to take things a step further. After all, the ultimate goal of our AI is to create enemies who appear somewhat human to the player.

So I ignored all conventions and started off big.

My first attempt at AI involved what I call the Enemy Neural Simulacron. The philosophy behind this was that it wasn't enough to simply develop an algorithm that allowed for learning and rational decision making. A human has a lifetime of experiences which have formed the thought process, determined his life situation, and so forth. For our project to succeed, we would need to allow an individual enemy unit to live an entire lifetime in a simulated Wild West.

Brilliant, I thought. At the start of every game, entire lifetimes would be lived out, although of course in significantly less time. This way enemies would have different personalities and have real problems that affected their performance, such as facing bouts of depression.

But once I got things running, a problem quickly emerged. Very few of my virtual people ended up becoming bandits. I was left with hundreds of useless salesmen, dentists, public officials, and so on. Hundreds of lifetimes lived out, only to create useless people. Not only this, but the people who eventually did become bandits did not perform very differently from one another. Sure, some had practiced more with their virtual guns, and others were more athletic, but I had hoped for more. One bandit's wife had left him earlier that day, but he still fought just as hard as the rest of them. It was a virtual testament to the human spirit, but it didn't add much diversity to the fight. He had a good cry later, though.

What did I learn from all of this? Apparently in a gunfight the only rational course of action is to shoot your opponent, try to not get shot, and appropriately navigate around objects. I could have just told them to do that from the start.

So I destroyed that disappointing waste of memory and started fresh. The results are very similar, and the process is much more efficient.

Once everything has been cleaned up I will post a video and explanation of the recent updates. At that time, we will revisit the enemy AI, for out of this failure we have found great success.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Coding of the West

That little tech demo video let you know that we weren't just blowing smoke about this gaming business, but there's more to that short video than meets the eye.

Despite the misleading side profile of our placeholder sprites, Johnny Outlaw comes from a long tradition of top down shoot-em-ups. Games like SmashTV, Robotron 2084 pioneered the style, and now there are plenty of clones out there for every gaming medium. Typically these games are arena style, pitting the player against countless enemies in an enclosed space. For the player that meant hordes of zombies were charging from different directions, hoping to overwhelm you with sheer numbers. New weapons and powerups appeared to make the job more interesting, and games to follow tried to develop new and more interesting weapons to mow down their foes. These games are fun as heck, but as it stands, they haven't evolved much past SmashTV.

With Johnny Outlaw, we want to take that inherently fun style of gameplay and build on it to recreate the feel of a classic Spaghetti Western. This means that we're taking the genre a little out of its comfort zone.

Some of the important game design decisions this boils down to are:
-Far fewer enemies who are more intelligent and lethal
-Fewer weapons, but they will actually be specialized and situational
-Focusing more on accuracy rather than spray and pray
-Emphasis on mobility, dodging, and tactical reloading
-RPG elements and exploration that supplement the combat(without being obtrusive)
-and of course an actual story

I don't know if it'll resonate with the same audience, but so far it's shaping up to be the same fast-paced shoot-em-up combat and it has much more room for strategy. I enjoy playing it already, and a little further down the line, I'll let you all enjoy it too.

Until then, remember this bit of cowboy advice:
Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Priming the Canon

Fan Art is a way of life out here in the West. Why, just have a gander at this fan art I made for myself:

But there comes a time in a man's life when he no longer has to make fan art and pretend it was sent in by other people. That time is now! I received this image from a devoted fan recently, and I'd like to share it with you all.

A big thank you to Miss Elisa for her support and the picture of our favorite saloon girl!

Well, that brings me to my next point. Here at the Johnny Outlaw Dev Blog we believe that every fan should have a stake in our project, and it is in this interest that I am delighted to announce the Outlaw Fan Art Initiative. We have decided that all fan art submitted will be accepted as canon in the Johnny Outlaw world!

I realize of course that many of you haven't the slightest clue about who the characters are or how they are related, but that doesn't matter! The main characters appear in the background of this very blog and in several previous posts: Johnny Outlaw, George Prickleson, Miss Lucy, the nefarious Tombstone Jack, and those four mysterious varmints stirring up trouble all over town. We'll learn more about them as the days go by, but why wait?

Submit your questions, comments, and of course your fan art to me Right Here! Now's your chance to be a part of history!