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.