Welcome to Planewalker Games! We are the home of The Broken Hourglass, a new CRPG in development for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers.
Rules and Mechanics: Portraits and Soundsets

If you are a player who enjoys an easy way to tailor your gameplay experience, The Broken Hourglass offers easy options to add custom character portraits and homemade character soundsets. Although TBH will ship with an ample selection of both, tastes vary widely--and of course, for copyright reasons we are not allowed to include your favorite vampire slayers or starship captains. The privacy of your own home, however, is a different matter...

Introducing new portraits could hardly be easier. Images in PNG or JPG format can be placed in a special "portraits" directory, and are automatically catalogued by the game. No special resizing is necessary-the game will automatically scale images to suit the different sizes used by the game. In theory any image can be used, but those cropped to a standard portrait ratio of 11 x 17 will look best.

illuminated portrait
One of the game's default player portraits. Adding your own is easy!

Custom soundset creation is a little more intricate, but well worth the effort, be you an aspiring actor or simply somebody who can't get enough Bruce Campbell quotes in their games.

Mashiz: Narimir's Troubled Neighbor

Turn southwest out of Mal Nassrin and you soon reach the barren landscape of Mashiz, once home to a loose aggregation of human nomads and Cella wanderers. The current day sees it populated by a mix of rugged frontiersmen, criminals, and soldiers. The province was originally set up as a buffer region through which the legions of Tolmira patrolled to keep raiders away from the more prosperous heartlands, but rich deposits of gold and gems have made it a haven for the hopeful and the desperate. It is still under strict military rule.

A land of opportunity for the quick-witted, or a source of considerable embarrassment? The province of Mashiz can easily be described as either. The waypoint for many caravans passing through Mal Nassrin on their way from the mines and craft-workers of the sparsely-inhabited southwest, Mashiz is a place many would send an enemy, but few bring their children for a holiday.

Bordered on the north by the prosperous, freewheeling province of Nazashad, to the northeast by Narimir, to the east by the agrarian Rumir, and to the southwest by rugged, mountainous desert, Mashiz is a singular component of the Imperial body for a number of reasons. Unlike virtually all of the other provinces which belong to the Empire, Mashiz has no history as an independent state, and therefore no regional identity which holds it together. The rugged territory was best known as a staging ground and corridor for smugglers, raiders, mercenaries, and all manner of unaffiliated troublemakers.

Three hundred years ago, Emperor Galwaesh Uzanar declared war on the culture of smuggling and banditry which plagued the Empire's western borders, in both Nazashad and the territory now known as Mashiz. Against Nazashad, a territory governed by bandit kings, Uzanar and his successors were able to use economic, naval, and eventually military sanctions to bring the state to its knees and into the fold. To the southwest, however, Uzanar had no such option, there being no statesmen to bring to heel. So in the year 455, he declared some 7500 square kilometers between the Empire and the mountains to be the "Mashiz Trade Zone", an Imperial protectorate-and sent his troops in to enforce Imperial mandate, collect taxes and tribute, and squash the smugglers. At first, Nazashad lent some support to the incumbent Mashiz smugglers. But as Uzanar was taking the fight to Nazashad's doorstep as well, the Tolmiran legions had comparatively little trouble bringing the territory under a modicum of control.

Inside the Engine: Abuses
When is a game not a game?

When it's a jar. (Wait, that's a different joke.)

Regular readers of this column probably have, at some level, a love of tinkering. Tinkering can come in many forms. Some tweaking focuses on getting peak, beyond-expectations performance out of something-PC overclocking and car reprogramming are good examples. Both aim to achieve higher speeds than originally intended.

Other types of tweaking focus not on improving a primary function, but on turning those preconceived notions upside-down and doing something completely different. Like using a motorcycle to power a merry-go-round. (not recommended.) Or programming a text adventure game engine to play Tetris (recommended!)

Unlike some of the popular game engines in use today, WeiNGINE was designed from the ground up for a very singular purpose-to deliver a CRPG. That doesn't make it immune to tweaks and abuses-after all, a popular spreadsheet once shipped with an embedded flight simulator. It just makes them slightly less likely.

With a powerful and flexible scripting language, it turns out that a surprising range of abuses are possible. We thought we were pretty clever when we created an NPC who could play a credible game of cards with the player. We were recently taken to school by engine creator Westley Weimer himself, who decided to spend a few hours this past weekend taking our game engine in a slightly unexpected direction...
Character Point-of-View and CRPGs

The Rules and Mechanics department takes a break this month. Instead, some thoughts on the passing of a popular fantasy author, and what it might mean for the future of fantasy CRPG design.

While preparing for a TBH production meeting yesterday, I came across the news that author Robert Jordan had died. Although not a fan of his Wheel of Time series, I was certainly aware of it, and had a certain morbid curiosity about the state of the series now that he would not be able to continue it. So I did a little research.

Among fans (is there any other word for people who read eleven books on the same topic?) the core of the criticism against the later entries in the series seems to revolve largely around the multiple plot threads, which involve completely different characters in different places and occur at different times. Even when managed deftly, these plot lines tend to take on a life of their own, and merging them back together becomes a literary challenge—as both Jordan and his readers discovered.

Jordan is not alone. George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire book series has made it clear from the very beginning that it will spread its characters far and wide and dispose of protagonists at will. The most recent book in the series notably passes on expanding some of the plotlines altogether. This makes the series a daunting prospect for some readers, not to mention creating large gaps in narrative for fans.

Yet computer games generally and CRPGs particularly have not followed this trend, even though it clearly sells books. Why not games, as well?

Fetish, Chapter 2

This month we conclude Anikka's tale with the second installment of Fetish. Missed the first chapter, or any of our earlier stories? See our complete list of serials here.

By Sonja Littell-Trotter

Chapter 2

"Nikka, Nikka, talkin' to yerself ain't no sign of smarts." The voice was low and familiar, and the fingers that pinched her side painful.

Anikka twisted away, not bothering to waste a glare on the voice's owner.  "Go 'way, Danika.  I d-don't have blood for you."

"Not even a wee tiny coin for ye're lonely only kin?"

"G-go on, Danika.  You know I haven't--"  Anikka began, and then stopped, suddenly feeling a blade at her spine.

"Don't call me Danika," her sister growled.

"Fine. D-don't hurt me." Anikka turned her head to see the girl who leaned on her, breathing hostility.

"'D-d-don't hurt me!' Waaah!"  Danika, who was not Danika, mocked her in return. She laughed and sawed the blade lightly against Anikka's back.

The Senate and the Emperor

On the first Monday of every month, we bring you insights into the world of The Broken Hourglass. This week,we turn the spotlight on Tolmira's Imperial government.

Tolmira is governed by a law- and policy-making body known as the Senate, a 200-seat assembly of some of the most powerful and influential individuals within the Empire's reach. The Senate convenes in the Imperial capital of Azmadisha and traces its roots to the earliest governing bodies of its days as a city-state. In the official histories, the rule of the Senate has been continuous and unbroken for 600 years, since the year 148 when Primarch Urgardt re-took Azmadisha from northern barbarians who had captured the city a year earlier. At the time, Azmadisha was but the head of the much smaller Kingdom of Azmadir, consisting of the city-state's home strait and captured territory from the then-independent nations of Narimir and Aemir.
The Senate itself votes to fill its vacancies. Senate positions are ostensibly perpetual, but resignation and forced removal often "become necessary" through pressure from a majority (or extremely powerful minority) of other senators. As a result, only a minority of senators will actually serve out a lifetime appointment.

By convention, members departing (or dying) on good terms with his or her fellow senators are allowed to hand-pick a replacement, typically but not always a family member. The seat of an unpopular member is wholly up for grabs, and social climbers have been known to do anything to buy their way into the Senate through influence, pressure, and outright bribes of seated Senators. There are no strict requirements for regional representation of Tolmira's various provinces, but in practice the timely appointment of a popular local figure or war hero to the Senate can quell discontentment with Azmadisha among some of the Empire's more far-flung territories.

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