Monday, April 02, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire!

This is a big day. For me, at least.

In early 2008, I played Fairway Solitaire, and it was wonderful. I wrote several posts about how much fun I was having, and in one of them I noted the three principles involved in making the game.

One of them was John Cutter.

I didn't make the connection, but then I got an e-mail from John Cutter. The John Cutter who designed TV Sports: Football, Wings, Betrayal at Krondor, and who was involved with a ton of other games that are still among my favorites.

It was like a huge rock music fan getting an e-mail from Jimmy Page. Best e-mail ever.

I asked him if he had ever considered making a Fairway Solitaire type of game, but with a football theme. He said there were just too many other things he was working on.

That was a shame, because I really, really wanted to play that game.

Time passed, but I kept thinking about that game. I started writing down notes about what I would want in the game.

In July 2010, I sent an e-mail to one of my favorite people, DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles:
I'm working on a design document for a game called "Gridiron Solitaire." It would meld a text sim with a solitaire game. A few features:
--modeled on the NFL league structure (without the real teams, obviously)
--full seasons and multiple season dynasties
--single games take about 10 minutes
--runs of cards constitute yardage, plus simple play selection of run/pass/kick (defense chooses as well in a rock/paper/scissors kind of contest, and guessing right nets a bonus/penalty
--individual plays have a time limit, so the player matches as many cards as possible before the clock runs out
--if a player has to draw a card, there is X chance of getting a random event (contextually appropriate--interception, fumble, sack, for example)
--bonuses based on team strength/home field plus a few special bonuses (for weather or particular stadiums)

Over time, the realtime element was discarded, but other than that, the design didn't change much.

In August of 2010 I made a post about looking for someone who could answer questions about Visual Basic.Net. Garret Rempel became the DQ Visual Basic Advisor, and Scott Ray became the DQ WPF/XAML Advisor.

I knew nothing about programming, and I was very naïve. The idea that I could learn a programming language and make this game was totally ridiculous.

I was, however, very stubborn, and I had an extremely clear idea of the game I wanted to make.

Progress was incredibly slow. I got the smallest book on Visual Basic I could find. Read it. Didn't understand 95% of it.

I did, however, understand 5%.

I read it again, and got a few more, thicker, programming books. Asked Garret and Scott a ton of questions. They were both incredibly patient.

It was painful, but I started making a little progress.

Scott convinced me that a WinForms application would look like ass, and that I should use WPF instead. He was right, but to do that, I had to learn XAML in addition to VB.Net. That sent me sideways for months.

The only way my brain could do this was to proceed one screen at at a time, so I designed a title screen, and team selection, and a schedule screen. Each one took months. At first, I didn't even understand how to open windows.

I'm not even sure when I got to the point where I had a crowd and cards displaying on the field, but it was a huge moment. And it looked like this:

Don't think I don't know how ugly that looks. But the crowd was wearing the primary and secondary colors of the home team, and cards were on the field, and I had a scoreboard and a kicking meter, and man, I was so proud.

I kept working.

I was getting a little better. Instead of being totally bewildered, I could sometimes find at least an ugly way to do something.

In July of last year, I decided that I needed an artist.

I had some very striking background screens, but they were totally unsuited for the "in-game" play (the screenshot you just saw). I wasn't going to work this hard and have the visuals not reflect the effort I put into the game.

I had to have an art budget.

I had mentioned Fredrik Skarstedt several times, because he's an incredibly talented fellow, and he became the DQ Official Artist. And he's damned good--I could describe something I wanted in a stylistic sense, and he was unbelievably good about creating what I was seeing in my head.

Kept working, kept working, kept working. Slowly got smarter. Kept working.

It was very hard for me to keep this secret. I wanted to talk about it, but sometimes when I talk about things, the urge to create them or continue working on them goes away. So I kept my mouth shut, with the exception of an extremely small circle of family and friends.

Since I'm probably putting all of you to sleep, let's fast-forward to last night. I think it's fair at this point to say that Gridiron Solitaire is in beta. It's feature-complete, the art is almost final, and it's fully playable for up to 30 seasons.

This is not me talking about a future thing. This is a real thing. This will be a commercial product. And here are some screenshots:

Those referee cards are used in the game to signal on-field events, just like a referee would in a real football game.

That's the team hub, where you can see all the league news.

There's a full stats generation engine for simmed games, so that you can be part of a larger game world. And team ratings rise and fall over the years, including yours, because there's a card mini-game between seasons that might help or hurt your team.

If you're wondering about the fans in the stands, they're little playing cards, and they're wearing their team's colors. That little section in the upper right? Visiting team fans.

I'm going to talk more about the game in the upcoming weeks, but I thought it was time to let you guys know what's going on.

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