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10 years of LOVE

Love Posted on Thu, December 01, 2016 08:09:07

Today is the 10th anniversary of the development of my game LOVE, and I think it’s time to tell the story behind it.

was working in academia and as much as I love science, I was getting
tired of not doing something real. When you do research about something
like video games or video game production, you never really know if the
solutions you create would work in the real world. I was considering
doing something completely different, but then i realized that it would
be a waste to not use my skills, and in the end i really love making
games. One late night, after coming home from a conference, I started a
new visual studio project called project love. I worked on it all night.
The name stuck and so did the game.

I was way in over my head,
but I liked it. I decided to do everything myself, engine, networking,
graphics, sound, physics, gameplay and procedural generation. It may be
the most ambitious game project anyone has ever attempted, but none of
that was really a problem. 3 years later I released an alpha.

was very excited, but there were some problems. I fixed them, and then
there were more problems. I kept fixing problems, but the game just
didn’t work. No players came, the server costs started to outstrip the
income. The press loved my game, until they played it. It wasn’t without
merit, it just didn’t come together. It turned out that I had vastly
underestimated the design challenges in the creation of the kind of game
I wanted to make. I was essentially trying to invent an entirely new
class of games.

At the same time someone else, with my resources,
in my city, made a very similar game: Minecraft. The difference was
that his was a game people wanted to play. When you work on a big game
there are many people you can blame if things go wrong. I had no one.
The fact that someone else did it proved that it wasn’t an impossible
task. I was just not good enough.

I thought I wanted to make a
commercial game, but at every turn where I had the opportunity to make
it commercial or design it the way I wanted, I chose the latter. Many
people have told me I needed to market the game better or make it easier
to learn, but to me this was always secondary. To me, the game simply
wasn’t good, and until that was fixed, why bother trying to attract
players? I spent almost 4 years trying to fix the game, and while
improvements were made, it never worked.

All of this was really
hard on me, and I got fairly depressed. After 7 years, I finally gave
up. Love was just associated with too much pain. I had wasted 7 years
and so much money. I didn’t want to be a game developer any more. When I
told people what I did, people would inevitably say “Oh, like
Minecraft? I love that game”.

At my lowest point I was at GDCE
and Robin Hunicke (who BTW is awesome) gave a talk about the hugely
successful game Journey that had just come out. She told the story of
the horrible development of that game, about the infighting and the pain
that it caused. I thought to myself: would I rather have had that
experience, having a terrible time making something successful, or do
what I did: have fun making something no one else cared about. That’s
when i realized that I had done the right thing. I followed my dream and
I enjoyed the process, more than the result. Minecraft fucked me up,
but not as much as the guy who made it. I got passed it, and I came out a
better person. He is no longer my nemesis, I feel for him.

last few years I kept a note file with ideas of how I would change Love,
but I was scared to go back. I worked on the pivot model to be able to
finally understand how games work. Last year, I decided to take a few
weeks off to fiddle with Love. Just to see if I could apply any of my
ideas and how it would feel, I was kind of surprised by how good it
felt. And I was even more surprised by the changes I made. For very
brief moments, Love started to sing.

I don’t know what it means
yet, and I don’t dare think I have cracked it, but for the first time in
many years I’m excited about it. So yes, I guess this is my
announcement that I’m occasionally working on Love again (for followers
of my Twitch stream it hasn’t really been a secret). I was planning to
make a video showing off what I’m working on, but I don’t feel ready, so
I wont. Maybe I will some day. I don’t have a timeline or a release in
mind. This time I know I’m doing it for me.

My next project is
Unravel, and I can’t even imagine it being successful, but I know that
it will challenge and intrigue me for years to come. In the end I am a
scientist and an artist. I tried to not be but I am. I will always
rather boldly go where no one has gone before, than be one of the
popular kids. I’m not convinced I will ever make something that anyone
will ever will like and use, I will probably never be rich or famous.
But you know what? I’m going to live a really good life.

Rock paper SwissArmyKnife.

Love Posted on Thu, January 10, 2013 23:42:31

When we think of game balance we often think of “Rock-paper-scissor”. It has become short hand for a perfect balanced game where each move have a perfect counter. The problem with Rock-paper-scissor is not that it is a unbalanced game, but that it isn’t fun. The more I develop games, I realize that this definition of balance breads a bad mindset that creates less fun games because its a form of balance that precludes strategy. If i select paper you dont have to think very long what you would do to counter me. All the strategy is embedded in the rules instead of letting the player be the one who provides them.

In chess the different pawns have radically different powers, yet any pawn can be the one that puts the opponent in check matte. In the chess community there is a ongoing debate how to rate the value of the different peaces, yet their true value in a game of chess is always in the end determined by how the player chooses to use their peaces. The power of a chess peace is chiefly decided by its position on the board. In the hands of the right player any pieces can take any pieces. This is a radically different view of balance where the game doesn’t become unbalanced just because the queen can do more then a pawn.

In my opinion the goal of balance is to make everything overpowered occasionally, but make nothing overpowered all of the time. The goal for any player in any game should be to try to get in to a situation where the tools available to the player becomes overpowered. If nothing is ever overpowered the game becomes pointless because no strategy is better then any one else. Just like in Rock-paper-scissors.

The strategic element of game should always encourage the player to be creative and reward innovation and knowledge by empowering the player when he or she does something smart and creative. When designers create units, weapons, abilities or mechanics they too often have a play style in mind. A tank, medic, sniper or spy have by their very classification taken away freedom from the player by telling the player how the classes or units are meant to be played. Instead i advocate making units with an interesting collection of abilities and stats that do not point to a specific play style. If you give a unit a sniper rifle then put a big bayonet on it, to break up the assumption that the only way the unit can be effective is on a very long range. Often when designers find that new play styles emerges that don’t fit their intentions, they nerf the away the creativity of their players in the name of balance instead of embracing it as a part of the game and balance it in order to keep the innovation.

When developing LOVE I was originally very concerned with the potential for any ability to break the game, but now I’m more concerned with things that aren’t occasionally overpowered. The trick is to just make sure that each mechanic is only overpowered in a very limited time frame and situation. When i created the pod system with 20 different pods I gave the players a range of very overpowered tools, and to balance them I just made them scarce. As I have developed the character upgrade system I made it possible to to get any pod type the player wants instantly, encouraging a player to be able to see an opportunity and then instantly make use of it. Once the pod is used it has a cooldown period, forcing the player to find a creative use for another pod type. If the player has enough possibilities just thinking of using the right one at the right time can be enough of a challenge that you don’t need to worry about any of them are overpowered.

Imagine all the numerous settings that goes in to designing a gun. A few obvious ones comes to mind, like damage, rate of fire, clip size and bullet spread. These are usually not very good if you are trying to make an interesting game that promote different play styles. If you put these in to a spreadsheet it quickly becomes clear what guns are best and players will naturally gravitate towards these guns. But then if you start to actually implement a weapon system you realize that there are huge amount of very different properties a gun can be given. Is it quiet? Does it have a mussel flash? Does it set things on fire? Can it nail things to a wall? Does it give off an electric shock? Is the shock delayed? These kinds of properties are much harder to compare and their usefulness depends much more on play style and opportunities. They are far more primed for player discovery and creativity. Damage per second and other under the hood numerical settings should only be used for fine tuning not to set options apart. This is especially true when you can combine elements. Making a near sighted artillery unit, may not be as asinine as you think if it means that players can experiment with using other units as spotters.

Another common problem is that game designers think that they need to give all options drawbacks in order to balance them. Team fortress is a great example of a game where rather then choosing what abilities I want, I feel like i have to decide what disability I can live with. Do I want to be slow? Not be able to turn while I shoot? Not be able so shoot without scoping? Only be able to shoot 3 shots before i need to reload? Ten people with different superpowers can be just as balanced as ten people with different disabilities, its just much more fun to play a super hero. If something is fun and overpowered, maybe you should make everything else as fun and overpowered too rather then try to nerf away the fun?

The reason we want to make games fair, is because unfair games aren’t fun, but if our method making the game fair is to take away the fun then what is the point?

Love servers will be released.

Love Posted on Fri, September 14, 2012 19:17:25

A few days a go I was out having lunch and I was thinking about punishment in games. Its a topic I have been thinking a lot about. Games with harsh punishments like permadeath can be very effective at increasing the tension, but they can also become very frustrating. In a game like love that it ultimately cooperative it is easy to fall in to trap of collective punishment. Then i thought of a interesting solution to this, a spawn timer that forced players to stay in the settlement for a limited time after dieing. If I would have gotten this idea a few weeks ago I would have just implemented it, told my players about it and seen how it would have worked out.

Love has always been about experimenting with new ideas, but I cant do that anymore. After last week I have seen an explosion in new players and interest. It has been absolutely amazing and it has been a massive success and donations are pouring in. But it also made it very clear to me that too keep changing the game like I have in the past, for the players I used to have, just wont work. Many of the new players needs less players and action, they need a calmer safer environment that doesn’t change to experiment in. To them Love needs to become more stable, and not have me constantly put new experiments in there. In many ways it has already become more stable just because I am now much more happy with the game, so fewer major changes are needed (and the fact that administrating the ballooning number of servers and players is taking up so much more of my time). This however is not enough. Love needs to be able to branch for different players and skills.

This is why I have come to the conclusion that letting players run their own servers is the best way froward. Its been requested many times before, but with very few players it always felt better to have everyone gathered in a few shared servers, but now things are different. The servers are over populated.

The new servers that you will be able run yourself, will be configurable in various ways so that you can run them with or without AI, you will be able to re-seed when ever you want, you will be able to save several copies of the world, put a password on them, and pause them…. and maybe just maybe I will make some options to make Love more punishing. I will still run my own servers that will be accessible to anyone.

This was not something I planed, so I will need to take some time to work out all the details. I need to redesign a significant part of the master server architecture, and will need to expose these options in some new way. Anyone who has donated 25$ or more in the last week will have gotten an extra voucher code, that I originally intended to use as a Beta/Alfa code for some future project. Now I’m instead going to use this as a voucher code for running servers. If you have donated 10USD in the last week and now wish you had put up 25$ to get a server voucher, just E-mail me and Ill figure something out (Or you can just donate 25$ now…).

It will be a few weeks until I’m able to release the servers publicly, but I’m working as fast as I can to make them ready for public release. Luckily PCGamer has stepped up and will in a few days start running the the first beta servers that will allow me to test this. I cant thank them enough for all their support!