This is yet another iteration of my website, covering the various games I've created or worked on over the years.
Last time I retro-fitted this site (2009?), I thought that a forum would be the easy-to-update way to go, but let's be honest, I update things here about once every five years anyway, and since the SQL server ate that forum, something a little more resilient is probably a better idea.
So, me. I'm Tom, I program computer games. I've been doing this for a long time. Long enough that chronologically is probably the best way to go. You can see my old stuff here.
Nowadays I have my own company, called Zhou Creative, which is working on its first game, Lock 'n Load Tactical: Digital.
My brother and I were given an Atari 400 for Christmas one year by our doting uncle. This brand-new computer was pretty sweet, but we unfortunately didn't have electricity at our house at that time. Fortunately, our dad was a handy fellow and he was able to hook the computer and a black and white TV up to a car battery. (Handy tip: you could tell the battery was getting low when a horizontal line appeared across the middle of the TV screen).
With that computer, and Atari BASIC, we started to make our own games. Necessity and boredom are powerful motivators.
The Atari 400 was replaced with an 800XL and eventually a 130XE. I dabbled a bit with assembly language but the whole build process was slow and aggravating (I was probably doing it wrong), and so I mainly stuck with Atari Basic. My finest achievement was a crude implementation of Blood Bowl (first edition) that had so much code that the interpreter just started completely shitting itself. As soon as you started the game, the font began to slowly disintegrate as code overran into that area of memory. Things the Atari was not meant to do, #432.
The Atari printer was self-destructing at about the time I went off to college, so at that point, I got an actual PC.
The first year of college, I didn't do much in the programming department. I was going to classes and doing college things. I puttered a little with GW-Basic, but really didn't do anything of note.
In my second year of college, my roommate introduced me to NetHack.
For a LONG time, all three of us in our room were constantly playing NetHack. We were playing the later versions of 3.0 that were coming out at that time.
NetHack was a brutally hard game, but we all perservered. My roommate Yuval was the first of us to finally win (though I don't remember with which class), and I followed some time later with a Valkyrie, or perhaps an Archaeologist, it's a bit hazy.
Yuval actually knew C (unlike me), and when he showed me that the source code for NetHack was out there for anyone to look at, I begged him to make a few changes. Then a few more. Then a few more.
Thus began a long period of time where I would make a list of things I would want to change in the game, present them to Yuval, and he would make the changes while I tried to figure out what he was doing, he'd make a few more changes of his own, and then he would compile the thing overnight.
Yes, overnight. The compilation of NetHack took about 8 hours on his computer, which was a lot faster than mine. It was awful.
At some point, we got the sort of hubris that only college students possess, and decided to show the world our new and improved version of NetHack, better in every way, harder, more unforgiving, full of new surprises and ways to die, and we called it NetHack++.
Yuval's email suddenly blew up with people wanting to know how we had converted NetHack to C++, which was just becoming A Thing.
We renamed it to NetHack--.
NetHack-- is still out there somewhere, but really, the newer versions of NetHack are better, and there's not much point to playing it.
Some of our changes did seem to make it into the 3.1 release, either by coincidence, convergent evolution, or actual adoption by the dev team. We were too shy to actually suggest the changes to them, and figured if they liked any of the changes they'd take them themselves... maybe they did.
I got new roommates in my next year of college, and without Yuval and his knowledge of C, I went back to puttering with Basic. I had QuickBasic at this time, which was a little better than GW-Basic, and I started to put together a simple CRPG. One of my favorite games we had on the Atari was Wizard's Crown, which I had first borrowed and then bought off a friend. I got the sequel, The Eternal Dagger, the following summer and played it continually until I finished it.
So there I was a few years later in my dorm room with no Atari and no Wizard's Crown, but I really wanted to play Wizard's Crown and I (sort of) knew how to program. Obviously, it was time to just make my own. The fact that I only knew Basic was no obstacle.
Over the next semester, I made an RPG. Lots of combat, lots of blood, lots of shitty art. And every day, sometimes every hour, I would copy it onto floppies and make the rounds to the three or four people in my dorm who had deigned to give it a try, and I would sit there and watch them play.
This process went on and on, and I began to run up against the QuickBasic memory limits. I started "chaining" programs together - basically saving the game, and running a new program that would load the game and move on. It eventually got completely ridiculous. These little programs multiplied rapidly, as each time I added one, I'd use up the new 'free' space and then need to split a new one off. There ended up being a different program for the player's turn in combat, one for the monster's turn in combat, one for wandering around the wilderness, one for quick combat, one for town... you get the idea. It was madness.
So I decided if I wanted to continue this project, I needed a real language. After the NetHack experience, I was frankly scared of C, so I settled on Pascal. Turbo Pascal was affordable and I got the hang of it fairly quickly. But it meant I had to start over.
The QuickBasic version of Nahlakh is lost, which I am a little sad about, as I would be morbidly curious to see all that chaining crap in action again. I also don't remember anymore if the game had an 'end'. I don't think it did, I think I just kept building and building until it became too much of a hassle, but I'm not completely sure.
I had a little more of a plan for the Pascal version of Nahlakh. The demon blood and demon world were in place from the get-go.
The demon world idea was from The Eternal Dagger - near the end of that game you are told you are going to go to THE DEMON WORLD, which I had imagined would be a whole new world area full of DEMON THINGS and DEMON TERRAIN and DEMON STUFF but instead it was just another dungeon of orange blocks. So since I wanted so badly to go to that damn Demon World, I would put it in myself.
The blood was just a way to get you to be heroes and save the world. And it was another thing for me to watch over people's shoulders as they played the game, as their reactions when they hit a green-blood monster for the first time were entertaining every time.
As the Pascal version progresssed, I got a girlfriend. Fortunately, she liked playing the game too, and so even after I moved out of the dorm and into my own apartment, I had someone who would play the game and, more importantly, would let me watch them play the game. I took so many notes. Pages and pages of notes.
Finally, one day she reached the end of the game. The first person to finish Nahlakh. An achievement, right?
Well, I was a little worried about the game balance. The combat and experience system had been changed so much since anyone had played the beginning. Maybe it would be best to start playing over once more from the beginning, just to make sure it was playable.
And actually, it would be nice if the maps were a little larger...
Looking back on this, it was complete insanity. I basically re-did all the maps for the game.
Unfortunately, all the data from Nahlakh #2 was lost. Since I wasn't changing a lot of code, mostly data, I wasn't thinking about keeping backups. I remember making the maps larger. I think the whole jungle island was added at this point. A bunch of the dragon stuff definitely was.
But in any event, my girlfriend was nice enough to start over from the beginning, play through to the end, and be the first (second) person to finish Nahlakh in the world (twice).
We eventually got married.
Nahlakh 1.30 self-extracting .exe.
This is the original Turbo Pascal version, which has serious trouble with faster computers. DOSBox is almost certainly required.
Nahlakh is now free to download and play, ignore the plea for money when you exit the program.
The Nahlakh Hintbook is what you would originally get for your $15, printed with the finest HP Inkjet technology of 1994. Ideally you would only need to refer to the book near the end of the game for the Demon World map but it does have spell lists and various dungeon maps in it.
And a clearer Demon World map is available if you can't read the horrible printing in the hint book. Follow the dotted line from the green X (upper right) to yellow X (lower left).
* The game was (somehow) featured in a Finnish game magazine called Pelit, and well over half of the game registrations were from Finland. I've always thought fondly of Finland ever since.
* In fact, it was even popular enough in Finland to spawn Helherron. I can only imagine that Antti Kuukka finished Nahlakh one day and wanted more, just like with me and The Eternal Dagger. (I don't even want to know if that's true or not, I prefer to just believe that it is.)
* The game was supposed to have music. See below for the details on that.
* The graphics are so dark because the default Turbo Pascal graphic library uses a very dark palette and I didn't know you could change the palette until I had drawn basically everything, and there was no way I was going to redraw it all over again.
* In my first group of valiant testers - the four guys in my dorm - two were red-green colorblind. Every programmer needs to watch colorblind people try to make sense out of their interface. It builds character.
* I put in a very small chance for the starting screen to be blue instead of red, just for kicks. I got a lot of people emailing me worried about that when it happened to them.
* Similarly, for no real reason at all, a lot of the random checks are written like "if random number between 1 and 20 equals 3" (or some other number) instead of the usual 1. I have no idea why I did that, I just felt like it. But I once came home to a phone message from some random guy asking WHY IN GOD'S NAME DID I DO THAT, and he sounded very put-out by it. That was the first clue I had that people actually disassemble games.
* The reason there are a lot of unusual weapons and armor names is because I was an anthropology major and I thought it was unfair that all these cool weapons and armor from everywhere else in the world never showed up in a game. The fact that it made a completely nonsensical mishmash didn't occur to me.
For one year in college, my brother lived across the hall from me in the dorm. We had a music program on our computers called Adlib Visual Composer and I somehow convinced him to write music for Nahlakh. The Visual Composer program saved stuff in its own weird file format, .rol, and I had a terrible time getting that to work in the game. I incorporated some library I found somewhere and it would play... mostly... but instruments would be wrong sometimes and it also would eventually crash the game. As my programming skills were not up to fixing this, the music plan was aborted.
But not before Mark had finished a number of tracks, and they languished, dusty and unloved on my hard drive for 15 years, until one day I found them again and wondered if DosBox could run Adlib Visual Composer. And lo! It could!
So I piped it through Audacity, and here they are for your listening enjoyment. I really liked this music and wish my programming back then was up to including it in the game. There is an ongoing theme to everything and it all blends very well considering the limits of the Adlib sound card. Mark was, as he still is, much better musically than I am. MY attempts at Nahlakh music have been lost to time, I assure you.
These tracks are all copyright 1994 by Mark Proudfoot and he can be located at www.mwpfoot.com
Title (also used for underground): Danger
Creepy areas, like, say, demon castles: Bells
So then the party died: Death
Music for towns: Fair Happy 2 Happy 2B Happy 3 Happy 4 Happy 5
Wilderness music: Der Blass Quiet 2 Quiet 3 Quiet 4 Waltz
Party camping (he thought you could camp like in Ultima V): Sleep
Battle music: Battle
I think I forgot to tell him you spend 90% of your time in Nahlakh in combat.
Anyway, make yourself an iTunes playlist next time you play Nahlakh to see how it was MEANT TO BE.
After graduating with a shiny new Anthropology degree, I looked in the paper for a job. Right there in the classified ads, a company in Berkeley a few miles from my apartment was looking for a game programmer, so I printed up a resume and got an interview. They were impressed that I had finished a game (Nahlakh), and knowing Pascal was Good Enough, I could learn C on the job.
At the time I didn't consider this the miracle that it was in retrospect.
I also didn't know at the time that the owner of the company, Cathryn, had learned her trade on the Atari 800, and had also worked on Neverwinter Nights, a multiplayer version of the Gold Box SSI games, which were written in Turbo Pascal, so perhaps I was not a complete shot in the dark.
Anyway, I worked on their internal game project for a while, learning C as I went. While I worked on that, Cathryn worked on Dark Sun Online for SSI. We worked in the same room, and probably six months or so after I was hired, she was the phone talking to the people at SSI, who wanted her to make an online version of Panzer General. She said she was busy with Dark Sun, and so she'd have to hire someone else or something, there was hemming and hawing, and so after the phone call, I piped up and said I'd be happy to give it a whirl.
Panzer General was the first wargame from SSI that was popular with the average gameplayer, as opposed to the wargame crowd. It was a huge hit, and they wanted a multiplayer version of it. So since I opened my big mouth, I had to first convert everything to Windows & DirectX, and then do all the multiplayer stuff on top of that. All with Cathryn's assistance, of course, but the more I could do on my own the better because of her huge Dark Sun Project. It ended up on two multiplayer networks - MPlayer and TEN - and I saw a few boxes in the stores. It started out well enough that SSI signed us up for the next game, Fantasy General Online, and then they decided it didn't do well enough that they cancelled Fantasy General Online.
My favorite part of this project was when I went to SSI one day to visit the testers and see some bug that I couldn't reproduce and while I was there, I stopped by Paul Murray's office. He was the programmer for Wizard's Crown, and I said I loved his game and remembered seeing his name in the trees at the bottom of the map. Man, I was a huge dork.
Right after finishing Panzer General Online, I started on Fantasy General Online. The Windows and multiplayer changes were much smoother this time, of course, and they also wanted to add a cool new class, which was a necromancer-type guy who could raise the dead and it was pretty cool. We were in the last month of testing when, boom, SSI cancelled it. I'm still sad about that, but I guess they did the numbers on Panzer General Online and pulled the plug before printing a bunch of Fantasy General Online CDs. RIP, Necromancer dude.
For Steel Panthers III, they decided to solve the problem of not selling enough online CDs by putting multiplayer in the game at release. So I got to do all that stuff over again for a third time, but this time while the real programmers were still working on the game. The main programmer was the OTHER guy who worked on Wizard's Crown, Keith Brors, and it was fun to work with him. He was very knowledgeable and nice. Also I'm thinking of putting "he really liked Wizard's Crown" on my gravestone.
After Steel Panthers III, there were a few other projects that I don't remember very well. They were all very fast, just a month or two each. A few were in C++ which I didn't know very well at all. I was also getting the itch to make my own game, so I set out on my own. I did do some more projects for Junglevision over the years as a contract programmer, though.
Of course, I was still playing NetHack at home. They'd come out with some new versions, and, because I (somehow) wasn't getting enough programming at work, I wanted to make more changes.
I started off re-doing the changes we had made for NetHack--, and merged in another variant called NetHack Plus, and then started throwing in more and more and more, just like when it was Yuval and I in college, except now I knew C and there wasn't anyone to filter my ideas.
This frenzy eventually passed - I was busy at work, after all - but I did end up releasing it into the world as SLASH (as opposed to Hack, the original NetHack name), backronymed to SuperLotsaAddedStuffHack.
SLASH would be a minor NetHack footnote except that, for whatever reason, SLASH lived.
A guy named Warren Cheung merged the SLASH code with another patch called Extended Magic to make SLASH'EM, and then that version took on a life of its own, and, ten zillion changes later, it still exists today.
In the brief window between the release of Nahlakh and my graduation, I had worked on a sequel to Nahlakh. The theory was since I had now done all the "hard" programming, it should be easy to make a story and all the various maps and whatnot. I had gotten as far as making the first (small) island, with a different random encounter system, where you could potentially do things other than just fight whatever you blundered into - it was a lot like The Eternal Dagger, where a prompt came up saying something like (A)ttack, (B)ribe, (F)lee, and so forth.
Anyway, after that, I did the beginning of the game, where you approach the first town, and a mysterious villain-type guy MURDERS ALL OF YOU with his army of shadowy-ghost-monsters, and then afterwards you were going to get resurrected or something and carry on with the plot. After making the fight, I then wrestled with it for a long time, since what if the party actually won? What if people didn't know you were supposed to lose and just quit right off? But this is how I wanted it to begin! And so on and so on, and then I graduated, and I had to get a job, and this terrible game-beginning idea never happened. Nowadays it'd be a cut-scene.
Cut to a few years later, when I wanted to make another CRPG on my own, and now I knew C, and all that Pascal stuff looked old and stodgy, and I knew how to use DirectX, and why not make a whole new game? Enter Natuk.
Natuk is a game of orcish revenge. You control a party of eight orcs, ogres, and half-trolls who plot to assassinate their Emperor.
Natuk is the name of your country. A nation of violence, where the strong rule and the weak serve... or die. Natuk is ruled by Emperor Molvosh, the most cunning and ruthless emperor the nation has ever known. Unfortunately for you, you tried to kill him. Even more unfortunately, you didn't succeed.
Emperor Molvosh meted out his usual justice. Your mates and whelps were slain, the leader of the plot was flayed alive, and the eight accomplices of this pitiful assassination attempt (you) were thrown into the prisons of Jagg, never to be seen again.
But somewhere, somehow, papers were misplaced or orders misread, and you now find yourselves out on the frontier of Natuk, assigned as warriors to the most loathsome, moronic outpost chief imaginable.
But he is strong, and you are weak, and you have learned your lesson. Or have you?
Natuk is a traditional CRPG. It features turn-based combat, an overhead view, and a straightforward plot. It is in combat where Natuk truly shines... there has never been a CRPG with such detailed and satisfying turn-based combat.
You have as much time as you want to consider each move. Blows can be aimed at locations such as necks and arms to find weaknesses in your opponents' armor. Superior swordplay can disarm an opponent, or you can simply pound on his armor to beat him into exhausted unconsciousness.
Assassins can sneak behind enemy formations to strike from behind... shamans and witchdoctors can cast spells ranging from the easy and weak to such powerful spells as comet strike, banish, chain lightning, and death ball. Meanwhile, the enemy comes closer, with one goal... your death.
As you defeat your opponents, experience points are gained which can be spent on any of the thirty-eight skills. Each of the five character classes can improve any of the skills, but some are better at some skills than others. With time, however, even a stupid half-troll warrior may be able to stutter out a few spells.
From the beginning of the game, your goal is clear. Molvosh must die. But how to succeed, which dungeons to plunder, and when to strike are decisions you must make. And if you should succeed, you can try again on a higher difficulty level or with a different party composition. And many of the items you find in Natuk are randomly generated, unique from game to game.
Natuk features thirty-three dungeon areas and over 150 different monsters. There are over 160 different spells and hundreds of thousands of different types of items, both magical and mundane.
I am no longer able to sell Natuk CDs. I didn't run out of them, but the state got tired of dealing with my tiny little sales tax forms for Natuk.
So, the full version is available for everyone to download here. Patch 1.30 is already applied:
I no longer have the self-extracting zip file maker so you get to unzip, with subdirectories, wherever you want the game to live, and run natuk.exe to play. Easy!
I would like to thank everyone over the years who bought Natuk (and Nahlakh, for that matter). Some of you even bought it twice... I can only assume you lost your CD. Silly CDs, they're so last century! Anyway, I really have appreciated the orders and hope you enjoyed playing the games!
* I decided to do a game about orcs because a friend in high school had played a game called Knight Orc and he would not. shut. up. about it. I never played it, but the idea of orc protagonist(s) stuck with me. Then when I was working at Junglevision, we played various network games during lunch with the testing company that shared the office, and though it was about 90% Doom II, we did play some Warcraft II and I thought the orcs were entertaining. I couldn't think of any RPG that had you play 'the bad guys' (I'm sure there were some, I just didn't know about them), and I was off.
* Originally it was supposed to be a much grimmer and darker game, but I shortly came to the realization that playing a group of actual Literary Orcs from Tolkien would be super distasteful and not at all fun (for me, anyway). So it got a little sillier, with my orc voices, and the gnomes, and stuff like that. It still heads towards a fairly grim ending, though, and I like the way it tends to get darker throughout the game. It was mostly an accident, but I like it.
* The art and music were done by a friend of mine named Dave Gerry. We had been in the same 2nd and 3rd grade class and had been friends ever since and he still lived nearish to me. But I don't think he had any idea how godawful long it takes to do 2d sprite art, and he moved away after the game was done before I could convince him to work on another one.
* The norker voices originated in a D&D session that went WAY too long. AD&D Norkers are fairly hard to hit and the adventurers had to fight a lot of them, and people were getting punchy, and the 'nork nork nork' sounds came out of nowhere.
* The orcs might shout "happy new year" at you on the 1st day of the year. This was my attempt to put in a rare surprise like the Nahlakh blue-screen. I'm not sure if anyone ever noticed this happen.
* I no idea until the CDs were at the printer that both of my CRPG games started with "Na". Whoops.
* In Natuk, I "fixed" one of the things that irked me in Nahlakh - that Unconscious or Sleeping enemies still stood there, acting as roadblocks for the other enemies, which really made no sense at all. But in retrospect, making the enemies fall over instead of blocking movement took a lot of the strategy out of the combat, since it had been an easy way to change the terrain of the battle as it progressed.
* The other big change in the whole system was changing the skill improvement back to how it was in Wizard's Crown, where you get points, and spend them on what you want. A lot of people said they liked the Nahlakh version better (where things went up automatically as you used them). But I really liked (and still do) saving up a bunch of points and spending them all at once on the skills screen. It feels rewarding to me.
After the release of Natuk, I immediately started work on the next game, set in the same world, but instead of playing orcs, you would be more traditional characters. Again, I thought that since all the combat programming was done I could concentrate on the story and world, and I was able to - to a certain extent - but I made one fatal mistake - the world was waaaay too big.
I had the main questline in, and everything still felt so empty. My friend Dave had moved away and I couldn't get art from him anymore, so I started trying to hire contract artists on the internet, and that turned into a huge timesink, and half the time the stuff I got from them was not even up to my shitty standards. Meanwhile, it was quickly becoming apparent that Natuk was not, in fact, a gold mine, and so I had to get POWS out even faster. So there was not going to be time for me to make the whole world smaller, and I was missing half the art, and so on and so on.
Basically POWS collapsed under the weight of its own ambition and became a cautionary tale. But I digress.
Despite it never being finished, POWS is playable in its rough-draft form, and can still be fun. You really need to know how to play Natuk, though, since there are no help screens and things can be clunky at times.
The main game: pows.zip
After downloading and unzipping the pows.zip file, download this patch and unzip over the main stuff, overwriting anything it asks about: pows0730.zip
* The entire main campaign, from beginning to end, came from our then-just-finished D&D campaign. There were a few changes, of course, but the main gist of it, including the layout of the dungeon under the city, were straight off of my notes.
* Similarly, a good chunk of the NPCs that can join you were player characters in the campaign. The original characters were Thorgrim, Raven, Klypti (this was Dave), and "Pugli". (Pugli's real name was Gupi, which I did not like at all, so I changed it for the game.)
* The world map was also from the campaign, which led to my reluctance to change the size or scope of it for the game, since that wasn't the way it was in "reality". Don't get too attached to your creations, I guess is the lesson here.
* I always wanted ship combat in a computer CRPG. I spent a lot of time on boats when I was a kid, and though I eventually became thoroughly sick of boats, I still like the theme. Especially if it involves sinking them.
At the same time as I was working on Pirates of the Western Sea, I made a little fork of the code to make a little roguelike. I still loved NetHack, but a roguelike with a party could be great fun, I thought. I was also beginning to become disenchanted with the length of the average NetHack game and wanted something a little shorter that could be played in a matter of hours instead of days.
It was also a way to recycle art and test out my new automatic-wall-art-creation code. It ended up sort of amusing, at least.
Tower of Darkness is a roguelike game that takes place in the same world as Pirates of the Western Sea, and at the same time, too! Experience and magic are far more plentiful in TOD, since it's only a 10 level dungeon.
Like Pirates of the Western Sea, Tower of Darkness is an incomplete game.
The goal of Tower of Darkness isn't very clearly laid out in the game, so I'm just going to tell it to you... get down to the 10th level, find an evil altar, get the object on it, and return to the surface.
Your score is based on coins if you die, but speed (in game days) if you win.
* Like POWS, Tower of Darkness came from the D&D campaign. Whenever enough people couldn't make it to the "real" game, we ran an alternate game set the same time, in the same world but way off in the corner, with a single dungeon that was nothing other than a giant deathtrap of monsters, traps, treasure, and weird shit from the 70s.
While POWS was in the process of bogging down, I got a call one day from a guy in Staten Island about the work I had done to make Steel Panthers III an online game. He offered money.
Thus began my long association with David Heath. He had a company called Matrix Games, and they (somehow) had gotten permission from SSI (or someone, at this point SSI had been bought at least two times) to mess around with the Steel Panthers code as long as they didn't charge anyone for the resulting game. They could charge for scenarios and campaigns, though, so that was the plan. I had the simple task of converting the game to Windows and adding multiplayer. This is starting to sound familiar.
Anyway, I did that, and after their regular programmer moved off to another project, I did some more requests and fixed some bugs and things and long story short, even though David is no longer at Matrix Games, this game is still there: SPWAW. Though I assume there have been a zillion changes since I last touched it.
I went to Origins with Matrix in 2004 and met Mark Walker. For some reason, Matrix had put out one actual real-life board game among their computer games, a sort of Squad-Leader-lite game called Lock 'n Load, and I played it some with Mark between our various conference duties. Mark expressed a desire to make a computer version of his game, and since I really liked his game, I signed myself up right away. David was going to produce it, all the art already existed, and it sounded like a fun thing that would be way less complicated than the Steel Panthers stuff.
Ten years later, the game came out. It took forever. We had a major case of scope creep, and both Mark and I had numerous other projects that came and went. For my part, I kept picking up small programming jobs from my old bosses at Junglevision to pay the bills - a couple of Nintendo DS projects, and a few things for Doublefine. I had also gotten a real estate license (since my mother-in-law had recently done so and it looked interesting) and did real estate agent things for a while (and it actually was interesting) before the market completely fell apart in about 2010 and then I pretty much ignored that until my license expired.
Despite all those diversions, we did eventually finish it, and it is on Matrix's website here.
* We had scored some free copies of Steel Panthers from SSI back when we were working on Panzer General Online, and it took me FOREVER to get into that game, but when it finally clicked, I really loved it.
* All this stuff was still in C. I still didn't really use C++ for anything except Windows & DirectX calls where it was necessary and certainly didn't use it "properly". This was already a little quirky in 2004, by 2014 it was pretty nuts.
* There are vampires and mechs in Heroes of Stalingrad (down a couple of optional mission paths), and man, wargamers do not like vampires and mechs sullying up their wargames.
* Heroes of Stalingrad is really, really hard, and it happened because the development took so damn long that everyone working on the game got really good at Lock 'n Load. The first batch of beta testers thought the game was totally impossible. Whoops. We made some quick adjustments but it is still quite difficult (in my opinion).
After Lock n' Load came out, now what? Well, first off, it was time for me to learn a modern programming language. And after 10 years of development, the Lock 'n Load code was a complete mess anyway.
Complicating things, Matrix no longer had the rights to the Lock 'n Load board game. So, as I seem to do again and again, it was time to start a project from scratch to do a sequel, but better.
So in 2014, Zhou Creative was born. It sounds fancy, but it's just me.
We (me, of Zhou Creative, and David, who was now the owner of Lock 'n Load Publishing) decided to start with a smaller project, converting a simpler boardgame from LnL Publishing called All Things Zombie.
This went until about 2017, through various iterations of different graphics libraries and designs until finally I settled on Unity and C#, which I probably should have in the beginning, but live and learn. Then at that point it was decided that all this had taken way too long and we better get moving on the "real" game. So in March 2017, I set aside the ATZ mess and started the Unity version of Lock 'n Load.
Things actually moved along at a decent clip for once - partially because I had implemented these board game rules before so there weren't nearly so many questions from me about how the game should work, and partially because I had just spent the last three years learning C# and getting comfortable with object-oriented programming (which I had previously successfully avoided).
I kept a log of what I did each day as I went, mainly for reference but it turned out to also really help for motivation - I nearly always stuck to my goal of having finished at least three log-worthy items each day.
By mid-2019 it was getting pretty close to early-access-suitability, though in August, David finally convinced me that we should have multiplayer at release, even though I had told him it was going to take about a year to do. So I started on that, and it took a while to wrap my head around how to get that to work with all the weird object-oriented stuff I had been doing, but then 2020 got going and so did COVID.
I've never done so much work in my life as I did starting in the lockdown. Part of it was that all my other activities were cancelled. And part of it was I was thinking, "jeez, people are gonna be bored stuck at home. I need this thing out, now."
All that work added up, and we released Lock 'n Load Tactical: Digital on Steam on April 2, 2020. It was extremely tempting to do April Fool's day, but I resisted. And yes, it's an unwieldy title.
Anyway, ever since then I've been adding things to the game, either new features or new "modules" (North Africa, Pacific, Falklands, etc.), or fixing bugs... or sometimes even getting to play it. I'll probably be working on this for a while. Check back here in about five years.