Stonedraft

Soon for Android and iOS.

Stonedraft is a thaumarchaeologic game about raising pillars of stones from ancient times.


alcohol

Dig down 16000 levels of earth to find the mysterious buried stone – the batelum. On your way down, free the creatures embedded in boulders and make them your friends or enemies. Collect resources, open secret treasures and upgrade your stone sorcery.


Screenshot 2014-07-05 09.41.37

Based upon the LD29 Entry Kinetectonic:

“Very very fun game. Best game I’ve played yet!” bzizizi

“I loved this game. Simple, to the point, but still deep due to upgrades.” josefnpat

“5* everywhere! SO ADDICTIVE! I love you.” Pitoum

PFXR is back up

To popular demand my little weird sprite generator is back up on:

http://headchant.com/pfxr/

Screenshot 2014-06-29 21.42.50

Forgot to put it back after the last relaunch. (still working on the frontpage!)

I hope to revisit the generator one day and make it a lot better. But for now, I would like to know what you guys think of it?

Making Games Is Hard

I am far from being good at game design and my view on this subject is very personal but I want to shed some light behind the (=my) process of game design. It always is a struggle and maybe talking about it more might help in the future. Here come the ramblings:

The setup

To make a game you might need an initial impulse. This can be anything. A word, a drawing or some kind of sensory input. It may be some kind of external idea that you want to improve or change. Game Jams provide a fairly effective impulse mostly in forms of words, phrases but also sometimes in form of other media (see the heartbeat sound of GGJ 2013). These ideas are very general and leave enough room for interpretation and creativity.

Let’s take Ludum Dare 29 as an example. The theme was ‘beneath the surface’. A lot of games involved submarines and water or oceans . The initial theme might not be so important because execution is the most important. For me, I interpreted the theme as part of the question: ‘what lies beneath the surface?’. I decided to make this question central to the design.

Logic / Illogic

It isn’t easy to make a game that feels cohesive. Logic might help if you need it. Since my central design was a question I could get a lot of answers for myself by answering the question in a logical manner. If I need to decide what kind of interaction the game has I asked ‘How do I find out was lies beneath the surface? I pull stuff out of the ground.’. This answers the question but leaves enough room for

Logic isn’t always necessary and at some levels of design it needs to be shut out. But you need some kind of consistency in the logic of your game world. This might be like Tolkiens secondary world approach in literature. It might be very different to our world (and unrealistic) but it has a internal mechanic that can be understood. Of course some games don’t need to be cohesive and understandable but when this is necessary the quality of internal and external logic is quite important.

Be specific, sometimes

I try to do this as early as possible but in a living design this should be possible at any point of the game making process. If you set up some ground rules for your game, you get a better field to play in. Limitations are good because they give you borders and focus your design. My specifics (or specification) are like axioms for a mathematical proof.

If I decide that I want there to be only mouse controls I cut out a lot of other possibilities for the game – and that is good. A wide open space is bad for you if you ever want to complete a game or want a game that feels harmonious.

Section Modulus or That Bad Feeling

Ok, section modulus isn’t the right term. But what I mean is that you need to feel out the flaws and edges of a design. Things that don’t feel right or out of place. It is important that you are extremely honest with yourself and others. You should at least write down any kind of impulse that you feel where you think that the game lacks.

It is hard to extrapolate from missing assets so use something visually appealing and some sounds early on so you can focus on problems with the design. Listen to your testers. It might hurt but you need to be open to criticism in order to make a game that is not only for you but also for others.

a cpu in lua

The whole of arithmetic now appeared within the grasp of mechanism.

(Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), ch. 8 “Of the Analytical Engine”)

Stack based languages are really interesting and are fun to implement in Lua.

Even broken ones.

But it might also be interesting to implement a small register based VM in Lua. Let’s build a VM on a VM. First we have to consider the architecture of a register machine.

The NOP machine

If we look at how existing Register Machines are designed for example the 56300 or the Lua VM itself, we see a few things:

  • some registers
  • a program
  • something that executes the program

The last part will be the point of entry for the lua program itself but also decide the core features of the design.

The memory

We can reduce most of our design problems by answering the question: how is it stored?

Most often there is a counter that is being used to fetch the program from memory. This counter is sometimes called the program counter or short PC. In Lua we can represent the memory as a flat table and the PC as a number type.

local MEM = {}
local PC = 0

The registers

A data registers is a small storage cell defined by it’s name (address), wordlength and content. In the DCPU-16 Spec, for example, the wordlength is 16 bit and there are 8 registers named A,B,C… and correspond to the values 0x00-0x07.

We use simple variables and init them with numbers to represent our registers:

local registers = {
    A = 0,
    B = 0,
    C = 0,
    D = 0
}

The registers table is used later to access the registers more elegantly.

Opcodes and operands

Instructions might be represented as byte sequences in the memory and can be a instruction like NOP. It can also be a operand that is only meaningful in conjuction with a opcode like MOV A, c (move constant c into the register A).

We represent instructions as lua functions in a table where the keys represent the bytecode of the opcode:

local opcodes = {
    ["0x00"] = function() -- NOP
    end,
}

Fetch and Execute

We need to establish a cycle to read out the instruction and fetch the opcode.

First step is easy. We offset our instruction register

PC = PC + 1

Then read out the current instruction at the location of the program counter into our instruction register

local IR = MEM[PC]

Since our opcodes are stored in a table where the opcodes are keys we can easily decode the opcode by addressing the table and then executing it:

opcodes[IR]()

This whole process can be completed and simplified into a function that uses a while loop that checks if the PC has reached the end of the program memory.

local FDX = function()
    while PC < #MEM do
        PC = PC + 1
        local IR = MEM[PC]
        opcodes[IR]()
    end
end

We will add some print statements for better insight in our little cpu:

local FDX = function()
    print("PC", "IR")
    while PC < #MEM do
        PC = PC + 1
        local IR = MEM[PC]
        opcodes[IR]()
        print(PC, IR)
    end
end

If you want to test the program you can just fill the memory with a program and execute the FDX function:

-- TEST

MEM = {
    "0x00",
    "0x00",
    "0x00"
}

FDX()

This will output something like: PC IR 1 0x00 2 0x00 3 0x00

Great! Now our machine finally does…nothing.

Fetch operands

In order to implement operands we need to introduce a new fetch function into our program:

local fetch = function()
    PC = PC + 1
    return MEM[PC]
end

We can change the FDX function to use the fetch function and also print out the A register:

local FDX = function()
    print("PC", "IR", "A")
    while PC < #MEM do
        local IR = fetch()
        opcodes[IR]()
        print(PC, IR, registers.A)
    end
end

Define it somewhere above the opcodes because we will need to use it to get the operands. But first we need to create a conversion table for the operands to bytecode:

local operands = {
    ["0x00"] = "A",
    ["0x01"] = "B",
    ["0x02"] = "C",
    ["0x03"] = "D",
}

We now add the MOV R, c instruction to the opcodes table:

local opcodes = {
    ["0x00"] = function() -- NOP
    end,
    ["0x01"] = function() -- MOV R, c
        local A = operands[fetch()]
        local c = fetch()
        registers[A] = tonumber(c)
    end
}

We change our testprogram to: MEM = { “0x00”, “0x01”, “0x00”, “0x01” “0x00” }

Our output then tells us that our A register is being filled with 1.

PC  IR      A
1   0x00    0
4   0x01    0x01
5   0x00    0x01

JMP around

Just to show how to extend this, I added three more instructions: ADD, SUB, JMP and IFE. JMP sets the program counter to a specific address. IFE adds 3 to the PC if two registers are equal.

local opcodes = {
    ["0x00"] = function() -- NOP
    end,
    ["0x01"] = function() -- MOV R, c
        local A = operands[fetch()]
        local c = fetch()
        registers[A] = tonumber(c)
    end,
    ["0x02"] = function() -- ADD R, r
        local R = operands[fetch()]
        local r = operands[fetch()]
        registers[R] = registers[R] + registers[r]
    end,
    ["0x03"] = function() -- SUB R, r
        local R = operands[fetch()]
        local r = operands[fetch()]
        registers[R] = registers[R] - registers[r]
    end,
    ["0x04"] = function() -- JMP addr
        local addr = fetch()
        PC = tonumber(addr)
    end,
    ["0x05"] = function() -- IFE R, r
        local R = registers[operands[fetch()]]
        local r = registers[operands[fetch()]]
        PC = (R == r) and PC + 3 or PC
    end
}

-- TEST machine

MEM = {
    "0x00", -- NOP
    "0x01", "0x01", "0x05", -- MOV B, 5
    "0x01", "0x02", "0x01", -- MOV C, 1
    "0x02", "0x00", "0x02", -- ADD A, C
    "0x05", "0x00", "0x01", -- IFE A, B
    "0x04", "0x7", -- JMP 1
    "0x00",
    "0x00"
}

Now we have a small loop that counts to 5 and then stops! Yeah!

PC  IR  A   B
1   0x00    0   0   0
4   0x01    0   5   0
7   0x01    0   5   1
10  0x02    1   5   1
13  0x05    1   5   1
7   0x04    1   5   1
10  0x02    2   5   1
13  0x05    2   5   1
7   0x04    2   5   1
10  0x02    3   5   1
13  0x05    3   5   1
7   0x04    3   5   1
10  0x02    4   5   1
13  0x05    4   5   1
7   0x04    4   5   1
10  0x02    5   5   1
16  0x05    5   5   1
17  0x00    5   5   1

Conclusion

There is still a lot of room for experimentation. Write an assembler. Handle errors, add your own instructions and make small programs with them. Try to enforce the register sizes or maybe create a stack and add subroutines.

You could also try to create opcodes with different cycle length or implement a small pipeline (and then resolve stalls).

One of my ideas right now is a small DSP VM that that runs on luajit with portaudio…more on that later.

Get the full code of this tutorial on github.