|Developer's Guide||Player's Guide|
The Cog Engine Project - Player's Guide
The Cog Engine
The Cog Engine Project is about helping people to create their own video games. It is about showing them how to build worlds and adventures out of their imagination, and share those worlds and adventures with others. At the center of the project is the Cog Engine itself. The Cog Engine allows games to be played in a web browser over the internet, without requiring the user to install any software on their own. This guide is meant to instruct the casual user on how to begin playing video games created for the Cog Engine.
The Cycon Odyssey
The Cycon Odyssey is the first game available for the Cog Engine. It is meant to serve as both an introduction to the Project, as well as an example as to what is possible, but it also stands on its own as a playable game. The Cycon Odyssey will be used as an example throughout this guide. The basics of the game were layed out when the author was in the sixth grade, thought many aspects of the game have evolved since then.
As the player, you wake up alone on a beach, with no recollection of how you arrived there, much less where you are. The goal of the game is to explore as much of the island as possible, and to overcome any obstacles you encounter. You will have to find, use, and combine items in various ways in order to accomplish this goal.
Loading the Game
In order to play the Cycon Odyssey you will need a Java-enabled web browser. Any version of Netscape from 3.0 on and any version of Internet Explorer from 4.0 on should work without any modifications on the part of the user. In some cases however, one will need to either turn on Java capabilities or download and install a plug-in. In that case, you should refer to your browser’s own documentation.
All you should have to do to begin playing an online video game is to point your browser at the correct web address, and wait while the program downloads itself. This can take anywhere from a few seconds on a fast connection to as much as five minutes on a slow one. Please be patient while the download occurs.
The Cog Engine permits the use of a variety of interface components. The following example is taken from the Cycon Odyssey, which makes use of all of those components. When game developers create their own modules, they have the option of turning off some of these features, so don’t be surprised if they game you are playing looks somewhat different from the screenshot below. Some developers may choose to only have a command line and output window (their games will only have textual interaction), and in the future developers will be able to create games that are played using only the image window!
A - Information Window
The information window provides status data about the player. This can include the player’s name, how many points they have accumulated, their current health level, how much experience they’ve earned, or any other statistic the game developer decides to use in their game.
B - Inventory List
This window contains a list of all of the items a player’s inventory contains. Sometimes extra information about the item will be displayed here as well, for instance, if a player has a flashlight in their inventory, an “off” or “on” tag might be included to let the player know whether they are currently using the item.
C - Command Line
The command line is normally used to manipulate the game’s environment, and the objects it contains. You can enter commands to move the player around in the game, or accomplish certain goals. For more information, refer to the “Moving Around” and “Interacting with Objects” sections below.
D - Navigation Compass
The navigation compass is used as both a shortcut for moving the player around within a game, as well as a quick visual reference for the player’s environment. Although a game developer can make their own compass look any way they choose, under the Cycon Odyssey, the default compass works like this:
Orange and Yellow Compass Points - The player can move in this direction by clicking on the compass point.
Grey Compass Points - The player is unable to move in this direction
Red Compass Points - The player is obstructed from moving in this direction. The player may need to perform a specific action or solve a puzzle in order to move in this direction.
Green Dot in Center of Compass - This indicates that an item is present in the current room.
E - Image Window
The image window is where the game’s graphics are displayed. Sometime manipulating the game environment will change this graphic, and game developers can choose to have graphics for items and obstruction layered on top of the room graphic. It may be helpful to realize that amateur game developers may not always have a graphic which perfectly suits the current room’s environment, so don’t be surprised if the textual description and actual picture don’t completely match up! (For instance, in the first room of the Cycon Odyssey, you are described as looking at a forest with a beach behind you, while the actual picture only shows a beach)
F - Output Window
The output window gives descriptions of the player’s current room, objects in the game, the results of the player’s actions, and any messages the game developer wishes to display there. This window will scroll as messages are displayed, so a player should always be able to see what path they have taken, and what actions they have performed over the course of their game. As a special note, in certain web browsers, if you click inside this window, the text will stop automatically scrolling. In order to fix this you normally need to scroll down as far as you can go, and click at the end of the last character on the last line. There is nothing that can be done about this problem; it is specific to the web browser.
Moving around a game’s environment is normally accomplished by using either the navigation compass or the command line. The navigation compass will change color depending on whether or not a player is able to move in a certain direction (refer to the “Navigation Compass” entry in the “User Interface” section above for details). If a player is able to move in a certain direction, they only need to click on the button.
If a player wants to move by using the command line, typing the name of the direction followed by the enter key will tell the game to move. Normally, an abbreviation of the direction can also be used, frequently the first letter of the direction’s name. For instance, if you are playing a game and are in a room in which you are able to move “North” you should be able to enter either “north” or “n” to move in that direction. (Notice that the command line ignores whether you enter command in capital letters or not)
Interacting with Objects
Since the goal of many games such as the Cycon Odyssey is to explore as much of the player’s environment as possible, it will frequently be necessary to interact with the objects the player comes across in order to proceed. An “object” in the game can come in two forms: “items” and “obstructions.” Items include any objects that can be picked up, used, manipulated, and/or combined with other items in the game to form new ones. Obstructions include any objects that block the player from moving in a certain direction, such as a boulder blocking their pathway, or a ten-eyed monster that can turn the player into stone with a single touch. The Cog Engine does not currently include a fighting engine, so getting past the ten-eyed monster may only require using a specific item on it, such as the glowing arrow of fire (or whatever else the game developer’s imagination has come up with!).
Each game module for the Cog Engine comes with its own set of “verbs,” which is basically a list of all of the actions you can perform in the game. Clicking on the “Help” button of the navigation compass (or typing “help” at the command line) will normally list some of these verbs, but not necessarily all of them (a game developer may decide that listing a certain verb may be too strong of a hint, and elect to not display that verb). Common verbs are “look,” “get,” “drop,” “examine,” “combine,” “spilt,” and “use.” Commands can be entered into the command line as short sentences, such as “attack black knight with the sword.” Game developers are advised to keep their list of possible verbs short, as it is not much fun to play “guess the word” when you know how to solve a particular puzzle, but are not necessarily thinking of the same word the game developer had in mind when they were creating their game.
Here is a short walkthrough for the beginning of the Cycon Odyssey. There aren’t any significant secrets given away by this walkthrough, and reading it may be helpful if you don’t know where to start. You should try entering the commands yourself into a web browser, so that you can see how the Cog Engine works.
You should now have a pretty good idea of how games written for the Cog Engine work. The Cycon Odyssey is only the first in a series of games which will be based on the Cog Engine Project, and the game itself will evolve as the Cog Engine grows more complex. A goal for the next version of the Cog Engine is to eliminate the necessity of using the keyboard, so that games can be played in an entirely graphical manner, with the user clicking on the screen to move in a particular direction, and items and obstructions can be clicked on and manipulated directly. Features such as saving and loading games in progress, a fighting engine that allows the creation of Role-Playing Games (RPG’s), and even multi-user environments are planned to be added in the future.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about the Cog Engine Project, the Cycon Odyssey, or this or any other document, please feel free to contact the author, Steve Castellotti, by email at steve@theProfessionalAmateur.com.