19
Apr 14

Metempsychosis and 8-bit Dev Pipe – Week 3

This week not a lot of progress on the Dev Pipe project was made, but I did make a different game! Last weekend, April 11th – 13th was the Spring St. Louis Game Jam at Webster University and I participated as part of an extremely talented team of 4. We created a platformer called Metempsychosis.

TitleScreen

Download it at http://www.stlgamejam.com/game_jam_game/metempsychosis/ to play it now or continue reading to find out more about it.

The themes for this Game Jam were created using a Random game design generator. You can try it out at this link: http://orteil.dashnet.org/gamegen. Our team had a pretty difficult time with this challenge. The theme we got was “An adventure game where you go to war with manbeasts while balancing your karma.” We spent a very long time deliberating on what this game could be. We went back and forth between making a point and click adventure game where you play as a female in the modern day dating scene or a story-heavy game in a fantasy universe. As the team kind of felt out what these ideas would become, over time it became apparent we would never come up with something we could agree on.

Eventually someone mentioned, “what about something like Limbo?” and we changed our focus to more of a platformer. Suddenly things clicked for everyone and we quickly threw together a high level design that involved playing through levels that end in a moral decision that gives you different powers that evolve over the course of the game based on your choices. And with that decision made we quickly got to work.

The game made slow progress over the first day, but suddenly came together on Saturday, allowing us Sunday to polish it up and try to fit in the missing pieces of the vision. We all walked away feeling incredibly proud of what we’d accomplished, and the rest of the team has continued working on it after the jam. Keep an eye on the download site above because I have a feeling what you download today will be just a shadow of what’s there in a few weeks.

That said, this is supposed to be a development blog for Project Punchvania. As I mentioned before, with the Game Jam smack dab in the middle of my work week I didn’t accomplish much, but I was able to build something that imports maps from Tiled (http://www.mapeditor.org/) so that level design can be done easily and can be quickly iterated on over time. Having good tools will be critical to our development process as we’re hoping to quickly iterate on all aspects of the game until it’s at a point where we can release something we’re proud of. I’ll talk more about level creation in next week’s entry. See you then!


10
Apr 14

8-bit Dev Pipe – Week 2

This week I’ll talk about how we decided on a platform and technology to use to make the game, mostly because I spent all week experimenting with our options. Stephen and I set out knowing that we were making a game that is very heavily dependent on having a controller in hand. It could work on a touchscreen mobile device, but it would be awkward given how we want the game to control. This basically leaves us with very few options these days.

We could make a game for Playstation 4, Wii U, or Xbox One, but the requirements for even getting a dev kit involve setting up a business and going through a lot of overhead that might not be worth it for our small 8-week game. We could make it for XNA and publish it on Xbox 360, but Microsoft basically killed it off and I don’t get the impression that it has many players these days. We could publish on Ouya, but I feel like nobody takes it very seriously. That leaves us with the Playstation Vita as a last resort. Thankfully, the Vita is a really great system where our game won’t get totally lost in a flood of releases.

Unfortunately, because we don’t want to deal with any overhead it means we’ll likely be going the Playstation Mobile route rather than native Vita. This means we lose access to certain hardware features, can’t do cool things like trophies, and are put in this weird offshoot store that not many people visit, but there are some perks as well. I’ve gotten approved as a developer already, so I am ready to deploy on an actual Vita to test the game and publishing games should be relatively painless. We’re considering taking an episodic approach, where we release the game in separate parts and grow it over time. This might not be possible if we were in the Vita App Store, but it should be with the reduced oversight that comes from targeting the Playstation Mobile store.

With that in mind, I spent the week experimenting with the Playstation Mobile SDK. It has a few nice features, but overall it’s kind of a mess. The SDK itself seems relatively competent, but the documentation and example projects are poorly written and not very comprehensive. I tried for several days to get the Physics 2D Framework to work and ended up getting pretty close, but not being able to move at all once the character came to a complete standstill. I probably could have figured it out, but my gut reaction was that if I was having trouble so soon I would likely end up running into more roadblocks. It was time for a change.

I downloaded Unity and starting thinking really hard about going through a tutorial. I’ve heard from many people that Unity isn’t great for 2D games and I envisioned a future where I spent a week learning the basics and ending up feeling like it wasn’t going to work. It’s then that I remembered Monogame. Monogame is a cross-platform port of Microsoft’s indie game development framework XNA. I have a lot of experience in XNA, but haven’t yet attempted to convert any of my projects over. If it would work though, it would be perfect. I called my local developer friend Jesse Chounard from Third Party Ninjas for a second opinion and he affirmed my choice. So Monogame it is!

Unfortunately, since I spent all week picking out a development tool I’m a lot less far along than I planned to be. That’s what right now is for though! Time to write some code!

-Wes


03
Apr 14

8-bit Dev Pipe – Week 1

8BITDEVPIPE

I’ve decided to challenge myself by pairing with a local game designer/artist to make a fun, polished game in under 8 weeks. I’ll be chronicling my progress in these posts, which I’ll cross post everywhere, including my own blog at http://www.superwes.com

One of more prolific and awesome game development shops in St. Louis is Butterscotch Shenanigans, which consists of two brothers, Sam and Seth Coster, who make really great Android and iOS games. A few weeks ago they made a post offering a mentorship course called 8-bit Dev Pipe to virtually anyone in St. Louis that was willing to take it seriously.

I was intrigued when it went up because I’ve been trying for many years to work up the motivation to actually get something to a releasable state. I often work on games until they’ve proven or disproven themselves and then move on to something else, afraid to get myself too invested in them. I have a folder with literally 30 unfinished games in it (I just counted) that I haven’t seen through to the end and I saw this mentorship as an opportunity to be accountable for finishing something and humble myself by accepting that I have a lot to learn about certain areas of game development. I wanted to participate, but I didn’t have a team.

Enter Stephen.

Stephen is a designer at local game development house Simutronics. He commented on the Coster’s dev-pipe announcement saying that he would love to do pixel art on a team, but didn’t have a project. I didn’t say anything at the time, but we randomly bumped into each other at Buffalo Wild Wings and decided to pair up.

We reached out to the Costers to see if they were still accepting applicants and they offered to let us apply. After a short application we were in! But what game to make? Stephen and I tossed a few ideas back and forth, eventually settling on one that uses the core mechanics from something in my unfinished backlog. We’re going to work on a Metroidvania that uses punching as the only interaction. Want to jump? Punch the ground! Want to open a door? Punch it! What to talk to someone? Punch them! It’s a simple verb with a lot of clearly practical uses.

Our first meeting was Tuesday, April 1st, and after a few hours of high level discussion we forged a path forward. Our current goal is getting a character on the screen and making basic movements and interactions that work well and feel tight. Theoretically, if we can nail this goal the rest should be cake. Check back next week for videos of our progress! A tertiary goal is to make my bed every day. I guess I’ll find out why in a few weeks!

If you can read the writing, you can see the milestone goals for each week below. I’ll be trying to post progress updates every week so you can follow along if you’re interested.

milestones

This is going to be fun. I’ll post progress videos along the way, and in the end you’ll hopefully be able to download and play the game yourself. Stephen will be posting design and art updates as well, so you should be able to follow this project from both angles. Please post your comments of encouragement or general suggestions below. The game isn’t fully designed and we’re listening, so this is a great opportunity to help make it into the kind of game you want to play! Let’s do this together!


30
Jan 13

Love Tester 1985 and the St. Louis Global Game Jam 2013

Matching Hearts

Over the weekend of Jan 25-27, 2013 I co-organized and participated in the St. Louis Global Game Jam 2013. See my posts over at http://www.stlgamejam.com for more posts by me. I’m particularly proud of this post: http://www.stlgamejam.com/everyones-a-designer/, which is about what the role of a designer is at a Game Jam.

Our jam site was the 19th biggest in the world, and the 4th largest in the United States. We had 143 registered participants, and created 20 games altogether.

My team consisted of me, Andrew Rauscher, Clayton, Maxwell Oldt, Jordan Covert, and Giovanni Baldi. We team used Sifteo Cubes as the target platform. I bought a set in December, and I’ve been thinking about how having three cubes would make an awesome two player game where each player has a cube and the third cube sits between them as a scoreboard. This was a perfect opportunity to create a game like that and learn a bit of C++, which nobody on the team had ever coded in before the event. It was challenging to move outside of my comfort zone, but it was extremely gratifying to learn what I’m capable of learning and producing in just 48 hours.

photo(4)

The theme of this Game Jam was “sound of a beating heart”, and our team interpreted that as the feeling of being in love. As a result, the game we created is Love Tester 1985. It’s a game that’s meant to be played by lovers/potential lovers. Love Tester 1985 is structured as a series of cooperative mini-games where a pair can only win by communication,  knowing each other, and working together.

  photo

The game begins by having the players put their cubes together to form a heart. When they do this, the game notices and a heart on the scoreboard lights up. A few seconds later, the first game begins. This gets the players used to interacting with each other using the cubes and gets them in the mood to play cooperatively.

The first mini-game is a question that tests how well the players know each other. Each of the cubes displays “Me” and “You”, but one of the words is upside down so the player has to flip their cube over in order to highlight their answer. For example, if the question is “Who is more ‘experienced’?” one of the players might hold the cube so that it reads “Me”, and the other would hold it so that it reads “You,” and when the players press their cubes together they would win the mini game. The hope is that the couples talk about the results and get to know each other better or playfully fight about the answer.

Next up is a super fun cooperative dexterity mini game. In this mini game the players’ cubes show a different color on each of the four sides and the center cube shows a solid color. The players need to push their cubes together so that the color of the touching edges matches the color of the center cube. When they do this, the color on the center cube changes and they need to quickly rotate their cubes to match again. This is really fast paced and fun! We got this game working on Friday night and immediately knew we were onto something.

photo(3)Next up is another question round, just like the first game. This is followed by a communication game where each player’s cube has a four-sided shape that they hide from the other player and attempt to explain which edge fits into one of the edges of the other player’s cube without peeking. This is a unique use of the cubes, and an interesting design since it relies on the players willfully hiding information from each other to be fun.

photo(2)photo(1)

When the players are done with this game, their total score is tallied up and they are given a “Love Tester” like label, such as “Hot Stuff” or “Frigid”.

This is as far as we got during the Game Jam, but ideally we’d like to polish some of these games and make even more mini-games. Thankfully, we might have that opportunity! There’s a contest that I’m using this post to enter, and if we make it to the second round, Andrew and I are going to put some time into making these games even cooler and adding in some of the other mini-game ideas that we liked.

If you happen to have a set of these cubes you can download and install our game right now (it doesn’t play well in the Sifteo cubes simulator):

http://www.superwes.com/lovetester/loveTester1985.zip

Also check out a video of people playing it!

* Special thanks to Jason Lemons and Kayli Elizabeth for modeling in these screenshots


17
May 11

Game Design as an Art, not a Science

Shortly after my game/lecture on Game Design Using In-Game Editors a call went out for lunch and learn presentations at my work. I wanted to expand the audience for my talk so I decided to give the same lecture again, figuring it wouldn’t take much effort. After committing to present, I went back and played the game again only to realize that the topic didn’t translate perfectly to my new audience. The programmers at work might share the same desire to make games, but they’re definitely more the type of people who want to make games as a programming challenge rather than a design one.

I decided to modify my game in an attempt to challenge their preconceptions of what makes a good game. I’m not sure how successful I was, but if nothing else, this new version prompts discussion, as it asserts a lot of somewhat controversial things about what constitutes good game design. Unlike my previous demo, I’ve published the text of the game below. In my previous post I explained how to download Knytt and play the level, so go back to that post if you’d like to play the game.

The updated files for this new talk are:

I’m assuming most of you won’t play the game though, so I’ll go ahead and post the text of the game below for all the lazy folks out there. As you read through these pretend like each one is on a sign post in the world.

  • The theme of today’s talk is…
  • Game Design is an art, not a science. Don’t let technology prevent you from making games.
  • And. Uhh, press “S” to Jump. (That’s not the theme)
  • You don’t have to be a programmer to try your hand at game design.
  • This may seem obvious, but if you’re like me, the technical hurdles sometimes scare you from getting started.
  • Creating is hard work, and if you want to make a game, the amount of effort may not seem worth it.
  • When that happens, we can handle it in a few ways:
  • (For this lecture we’re ignoring the “man the hell up and learn something” option)
  • <- Create using something easy
  • Never create anything ->
  • Good choice! Going the other way has never solved anything.
  • Today I will show you one of the simplest and most versatile tools I know of to make a platformer.
  • Some of what I show will hopefully inspire you. This presentation was made in just a few nights.
  • This is a freeware game called Knytt Stories. As you can see, it has a pretty snazzy level editor!
  • The game isn’t actually about reading signs, I made it like this because it’s more fun than PowerPoint.
  • Go to the next room and grab the high jump!
  • This lets you jump higher so that you can reach taller platforms.
  • You could probably use this in some pretty advanced designs, right?
  • To advance from here you’ll need to climb a wall. Get the wall climb!
  • Shoot! someone must have “forgotten” to put in the wall climb ability!
  • Better go to the level editor and add it.
  • Put Object 4 from Bank 0 on layer 4. Don’t forget to save before quitting! (press down when on the light)
  • So yeah, that was the level editor. You can also add in enemies, people, hazards, and pretty birdies.
  • You may have thought about how cool it would be to make a game like this before.
  • You probably thought it was too hard. From scratch it is! But using this you can design one easily.
  • Moves like a high jump, wall climb, super speed, and umbrella are very inspiring.
  • It was super easy to throw this together and it’s even easier to do something that’s actually fun!
  • I’m not trying to sell you on Knytt, just that you that you don’t need to program to design games.
  • Now that you’re 100% convinced, let’s talk more about game design.
  • Game Design is more about psychology than physics engines.
  • This is why there is a need to inspire non-programmers to experiment with game design.
  • And this is why tools like this one are becoming ever more important.
  • A game with good design teaches the player how to play without realizing that they’re learning.
  • This doesn’t happen in the programming, it happens in the content creation.
  • Consider how game design has changed over time.
  • In the early days, the goal was to take money from the player 25 cents at a time.
  • It was all about preventing the player from progressing.
  • What’s fun about games is learning, so the player would pay another quarter to try a different strategy.
  • Players were good about learning, but games weren’t always very good at teaching.
  • Asking the player to learn grew naturally from the challenge, so designers didn’t have to work as hard to teach.
  • Since arcades began disappearing, this idea has made a 180.
  • Designers now want players to play as long as they want without getting frustrated.
  • Though the goals have changed, what’s fun about games hasn’t: learning to become better.
  • This sort of put designers in rough spot.
  • They want their games to be engaging, but they don’t want the player to fail and quit.
  • Games accomplished this by becoming better at teaching.
  • Challenge and complexity increase at such a rate that the player barely realizes they’re improving.
  • But challenge and complexity have to increase so that the player stays engaged.
  • A good game is a good teacher.
  • It repeats its lesson just enough that the student can learn it, but not so often that they stop listening.
  • If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. You can’t get there by simply having a cool idea for a game.
  • And you can’t REALLY teach by throwing a bunch of signs up in place of a powerpoint.
  • You need to let the player learn through play.
  • You have to think about what the player is going to do when presented with a certain situation.
  • You have to account for the choices they make with an interesting and believable outcome.
  • Push D to use this umbrella!
  • It’s not something you get better at by programming game logic.
  • And playing games will only get you so far.
  • You have to design levels to improve.
  • You might design so that the player goes right, when in actuality they tend to go left.
  • This has obvious and direct parallels to software usability testing.
  • But that’s a talk for another day and another game.
  • It’s boring to have dead ends.
  • So you’ve got to lead them somewhere interesting.
  • For now I’ll leave you with this:
  • Remember how I said that you don’t need to program to make games?
  • This game, Knytt Stories, (including its level editor) was made using a drag and drop tool.
  • By one Person.
  • There’s no reason you can’t make something even better!
  • Get out there and create!
  • Thanks for playing!

And that’s it for the game! After the lunch and learn we had an interesting conversation about what constitutes teaching and learning within the context of a game. If you’d like to continue the discussion or have any other comments about the text of the presentation please leave them below. If you’d like to give a similar presentation, contact me and I’ll do what I can to help.

As a bonus for reaching this far I’m posting a link to a Kyntt stories level I made a few years ago as part of a forum I frequently visit. The idea behind this level was that several different people would all work on different parts of the same level with no forehand knowledge of what the person before them did. The person in charge of the idea sent out a template with all of the other sections blocked off, leaving you no idea what they did. The result is a varied, uneven level that’s surprisingly fun!


07
Mar 11

Game Design Using In-Game Editors

On the evening of Monday March 7th I gave a talk at the St. Louis Game Developer MeetUp Group about using in-game level editors as outlets for game design creativity. The theme honestly felt like a bit of a stretch, but it’s a lesson I think a lot more people should pay attention to. It may seem like I’m preaching to the choir since this is a game developer meetup group, but we have a lot of nontechnical attendees who sometimes seem to get lost in the more advanced talks.

Regardless, I think everyone should hear this. A lot of people want to be game designers, but when it comes down to it, the most common excuse is that they aren’t an artist or a programmer. That excuse is getting further and further from legitimacy every single day, and this talk is meant to be a motivator that broadens people’s understanding of what’s possible in easily available, high-level toolsets.

I would publish the text of the talk here, but the talk wasn’t actually done in text – a majority of it took place within or surrounding levels I designed specifically for this discussion. To experience the talk, follow the steps below. If you would like to forgo the level creation part you can simply read along by downloading the level in a Knytt Stories importable format, but I suggest following the steps below for the full experience.

  1. Download version 1.2.1 of Knytt Stories and unzip it into a local directory
  2. Drop the contents of this zip file into the “Worlds” directory
  3. Launch Knytt Stories and start playing. Come back when you get to the level editor part and I’ll explain what you need to do. This section should be blatantly obvious.
  4. The editor should look like the image below. If it doesn’t, navigate to room x998y1001 using the arrow keys or by clicking on the map in the lower left to select a room to edit. It should look like the picture below.
  5. Select Object 4 from the system pallet. To do this, make sure that Bank 0 is selected (far upper-right), and left click on the “OBJ” number below it until OBJ 4 is selected.
  6. Now click on the play area to place the Wall Climb ability wherever you would like (preferably on the ground).
  7. Choose File > Save or hit Control-S to save the game.
  8. Launch the game again and continue from your last save.

You’ll notice that this demo doesn’t have very many enemies or opportunities to die. I did this on purpose because the demonstration would not have been very interesting for people to watch if the player kept dieing. Knytt Stories has plenty of enemies available though, and you can make some seriously devious levels. When you’re done reading get to it!

After the Knytt Stories part of the talk I showed off some levels I created in the PS3 game Little Big Planet 2. I didn’t do this to show how cool I am (but I am pretty cool!), I did it to demonstrate that getting a level from your head into game form isn’t as hard as you might think. You’ll need a PS3 and a copy of Little Big Planet 2 to fully experience this, but if you don’t have one you can still get the gist of what was created by reading on.

A few months ago, the members of our MeetUp group drew levels on paper for a platformer we’re slowly working toward creating. Moving these levels from concept to implementation in Little Big Planet 2 took just a few nights. Below are the levels that were drawn up, followed by links to the Little Big Planet 2 equivalent. You can add them to your Little Big Planet 2 game directly from the links.

John Anderson’s Level Design
John’s Rock Level

 

Steve G’s Level Design (only the top half was made)
Reactors

I embellished each of these levels slightly to make them easier to implement and more fun. In the first one I added a lot of collectibles to give people a reason to explore the empty space. In the second level there weren’t explicit instructions on how the platforms should act, so I took the liberty of making the movement of the platforms into a puzzle itself. Watching where they go and how their actions change as you destroy the reactors is a big part of what I’m hoping makes this level interesting. The core idea of the original level is there, but it’s enhanced to give the level a theme of increasing chaos as the reactors are destroyed.

I think everyone got something out this discussion, but even if they didn’t, at least I had fun making the levels. There’s a lot going on in the St. Louis Game Development scene right now and I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t be a part of it. I genuinely feel that everyone can make games, and if you’re not already a part of the scene the best place to get started is by attending the St. Louis Game Developer Meetup. Scratch that, the best place to get started is by creating something today. Grab some tools and get started!

Relevant Links from talk:

Meetup Page for this meeting

Knytt Stories Download

Auntie Pixelante Indie Games Rant

Little Big Planet Community

Multimedia Fusion Homepage

News on the Infamous 2 Mission Creator


28
Feb 11

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – Completion Log

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood isn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but that seems to be a running theme with this series. It’s hard to say whether or not I would suggest it, because your takeaway is going to depend largely on whether or not you want more of the same. Brotherhood doesn’t stray far from Assassin’s Creed 2, and that’s either a good thing or a bad thing depending on where you’re coming from.

Before I get too deep into my feelings on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood I want to take a look back at my feelings on the first two games. When I finished Assassin’s Creed 1 I wrote the following at The Gamer’s Quarter:

“It’s not very good, but I’d say it was worth playing… I’m hopeful that the second game can clean up some of the flaws. Part of what I was looking forward to while playing was finally having the present-time main character get access to the abilities he’s learned in the Animus (that’s the thingy that sends him to the past-time world), but this game never did that. I thought for sure that the final sequence would be your character waking up, discovering all of his powers, and then scaling the enormous office building that he’s being experimented in. They did something like this at the end, but it was lame and the majority of your reward comes from checking other people’s e-mails after they leave the room. Oooh boy! Oh well. Since it’s Ubisoft I think I can safely assume that there will be a sequel in early 2009. Here’s hoping it all takes place in the present!”

Scaling the office building never happened in the second Assassin’s Creed either and the game actually had you spend even less time in the present than its predecessor, but it was a much better game. Here’s what I had to say about it:

“It’s an excellent, excellent game, but not perfect. Near the end I started to feel like I was being put through busy work, but 90% of the game was totally engrossing. Polished to an outstanding degree, freeform without sacrificing structure, and a seemingly endless series of unique missions that explore every possible use of a lot of interesting mechanics… I see myself picking up the sequel whenever it comes out. If the leap is as big as the leap between the first and second games let the froth never end.”

Again, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood isn’t quite the sequel I expected. Rather than having a leap as big as the one between the first and the second, it’s basically an expansion pack to the second game with new missions, a different story, and a Farm Ville-like real-time Assassin training mini-game integrated into it. This wouldn’t be so bad, but surprisingly early on Brotherhood begins to feel like busywork. This feeling comes from the lack of a strong story to string you through from location to location, and a near-removal of the leaping between time periods that makes finally completing story chapters so rewarding.

What I’d wished for most in the first game - Desmond finally waking up to his ancestor’s powers in modern times – is the thing Brotherhood gets totally right. He’s finally fully capable of scaling walls, leaping from place to place, and potentially stabbing some dudes in the neck. Too bad there’s never any enemies for him to try his knife out on. Brotherhood gets away with modern day action on-the-cheap by having Desmond travel to the same locations that Ezio goes to in the past. Reusing the assets was certainly done at least partially out of budgetary concerns and laziness, but experiencing an area through both past and future eyes is something I enjoy immensely. It makes the world feel more tangible, even if it is just a series of platforms to re-navigate.

Another surprisingly successful addition to Brotherhood is the aforementioned Farmville-like Assassin rearing mini-game. Although this sounds like a recipe for disaster, the way it’s implemented is rewarding in the same way games like Farmville tend to be – you’re given cool stuff just for hanging out. In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, only time playing the game is taken into consideration, but the countless optional missions make this time speed by. This is both a blessing and a curse though, as these optional missions and mini-games add to the feeling of busywork that I’ve mentioned above. It’s hard to say whether the payoff is worth it, but the addictive “just one more” feeling is effective nonetheless.

The biggest failure of Brotherhood is the plot itself. It feels like an incidental subplot that might have taken place during Assassin’s Creed 2 that has been stretched out to span an entire game. The first few hours are a confusing mess, and by the time it finally settles into a groove you’re left feeling like a pawn in a war that never mattered. Assassin’s Creed 2 strikes the perfect balance between personal and political, but Brotherhood never gets around to feeling personal and suffers for it.

It’s interesting to go back and look at how Brotherhood measures up to what I wanted from the first few games. Had I not played the second one it might have been amazing, but as is, it was merely good. With my time being split between family, making games, and playing them this isn’t always enough any more. As for what I want from Assassin’s Creed 3, I predict that it won’t be the dramatic improvement in design that I want, you still won’t spend enough time playing as Desmond in modern times, it will continue to take place in a European city that I could care less about, and that whatever it ends up being I’ll play all the way through it, whining at least a bit about what I hoped it would be.


31
Jan 11

Lil’Bro vs. DinoStuff – Made in 24 hours

My New Years resolution was to make at least one post a month. I guess I’m sticking to that, but it really wasn’t my plan to wait until the last day of the month to post it. I have a good excuse though, honest! I spent much of the month planning and organizing the St. Louis Game Jam, which went on over the weekend. Around 40 people from all over St. Louis got together and made some pretty great games in around 24 hours under the theme of extinction. I blogged the event over on the Jam’s site and I don’t want to restate it all, so when you’re done here click on over to stlgamejam.com and read what I wrote. It’s like 4 blogs in one!

The game my team made is called Lil’Bro vs. DinoStuff, and it’s a stylistic Score Attack game about a meteor that flies around quite literally slicing the stuffing out of the last remaining dinosaurs on earth. The dinosaurs are all stuffed animals, and when your sword collides with their bodies a burst of stuffing is emitted that shoots out in a random direction until it fades away.

This was a departure from my usual game design method. Usually I begin with a set of mechanics and systems that I want to validate the enjoyment of, but we began with the ridiculous premise and just ran with it, adding in as much cool stuff as we could think of. It’s a lot more style-over-substance than I’m used to, but I think the final game ended up being pretty fun. Premise-first development allowed us to find what works and iteratively design the game around that, rather than create complex gameplay interactions that might be too convoluted for their own good like I did in last year’s GameJam game.

The thing I’m probably most happy with was our team’s ability to evolve the game from a single enemy type, placed randomly, to three separate enemy types with scripted spawn times and positions in less than two hours. The amount of hackery involved in accomplishing this feat was legendary, and I’m much more confident in my ability to solve tough problems with creative solutions by myself now.

If you’ve got a Windows machine and you’d like to play a silly score attack game, please download Lil’Bro vs. DinoStuff. Post your feedback and scores below! Also check out our site’s other games. There’s some good stuff in there!


30
Dec 10

2010 Year in Review

2010 has seen a lot of changes both big and little that culminated so subtly that I didn’t notice how different things are until this reflection.

My job has changed drastically this year as I’ve moved from being a developer on a team of developers to being the sole technical member of a more free-form R&D team. I’m working for the same company I’ve been at since 2003, but now I’m working at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, which has increased my drive a bit. I assumed this would be a huge change, but at the end of the day it’s still just going to work every day. I’m certainly thankful to have a job in the current environment, so it’s hard to complain.

My family’s relationships have shifted around a lot this year as well. I won’t get into it here, but it’s made me thankful to have a wife who is so down-to-earth, intelligent, and supportive. I don’t think I’d be able to handle things so well without her.

And finally, I swear the amount that babies sleep decreases so gradually that you barely notice your free time deteriorates to almost nothing as they get older. I’m thankful for the slow change though, because otherwise I’d be really pissed. I’ve had enough time to experience quite a bit of entertainment though, so here are my _____s of the Year.

Game of the Year – Halo Reach

Years with Halo games released have the unfair advantage of basically automatically winning GOTY (Game of the Year) from me. It’s not that Halo games are so much better than everything else, it’s just that I’m in a very unique position where I work (worked?) in an environment where we have four system linked Xbox 360s and play 16-player networked Halo at lunchtime. It’s an environment that would turn most-anyone into an avid Halo fan.

Given my situation, it’s not a big deal that Halo Reach is generally more of the same. The class-like loadouts and the ability to use jetpacks is great, but my favorite addition is the updated Forge. I spent hours making maps in Halo 3′s Forge and those maps usually didn’t go over so well with my Halo crew because the lack of precision in the tool meant that people always seemed to catch on walls or fall through floors. The Halo Reach version of Forge lets you float environment items in space, overlap their positions, and explicity enter coordinate positions, letting you choose exactly where you want things. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough that people at work aren’t diametrially opposed to trying out new custom maps.

Halo Reach is Game of the Year for the way it acts as an outlet for my game design creativity.

Movie of the Year – Scott Pilgrim vs the World

I made a post on the forums (secret hidden area, sorry guys) that Scott Pilgrim vs the World would be the best movie of all time shortly after I saw the first trailer. I was joking at the time, playing on the fact that it focused on everything I love, from cheesy love stories, to Street Fighter, to a story that’s grounded in reality, but overexaggerated by its narrator’s overactive imagination. But then the movie came out and it was literally a non-stop bombardment of all of those things for the entire duration, with little references to everything I love, from Zelda to Seinfeld, sprinkled in. I don’t care that it’s not a perfect movie. I’m sure lots of people will hate it, but I can say for certain that it feels like it was made for an audience of me and me alone, and I don’t see another movie with its finger on my pulse happening again ever.

Best movie of all time.

TV Show of the Year – Vampire Diaries

This year we’ve started watching more TV than my wife would like to admit, making this a hard call. Community, Parenthood, and Modern Family were all great, but my favorite show of the past year (or two) has been Vampire Diaries. It’s sooooo good

When it first came out we started watching it ironically, to make fun of how bad a show that so blatantly rips off Twilight could be, but it turned out to be really addicting. It is a bit like Twilight, but the main character responds to her boyfriend being a vampire a lot more realistically. Instead of silly high school unconditional puppy love, Elena responds to her family being constantly put into danger by trying to stay the hell away. It makes a lot more sense!

But the real draw, sadly, is the whole soap opera draw of watching a love triangle. There are currently around 5 of them going on, and it’s keeping me on the edge of my seat. Sometimes I’m quite simple.

Album of the Year – Forgetters s/t

It’s only 4 songs and it’s only available on record or digital download, but the first release by Forgetters, Blake from Jawbreaker’s new band, is really outstanding. It took a few listens before it really clicked, but the disc hasn’t left my car’s CD player since my wife bought and burned it for me on my birthday in late September. I still pick up on subtle lyrical gems nearly every time I listen to it. I can’t wait for a full album!

Group of the Year – The St. Louis Game Developer Meetup Group

The St. Louis Game Dev Meetup Group was reinstated and reinvigorated with the help of a small company named WorldKi. Our monthly meetings have been extremely fun and I’ve been an active participant, helping to organize the STL GameJam, putting on presentations, getting my friends and coworkers to come check it out, and starting a collaborative game project with everyone who comes to the group.

I really hope this community can continue to grow and St. Louis can blossom into a game development hot spot. We’ll see!

Event of the Year – Watching my daughter begin to learn new things and become a real person

As of this week Elliott will be 19 months old. In the span of just one year she’s learned to walk, talk, eat food with a spoon and fork, play by herself, tell us “no”, and intentionally harass the dog. She’s become a real person!

I was told that it was cool, but until you experience it yourself you’ll never really understand. The best part of my day is getting home from work and hearing her yell, “Da Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” and demand, “Up, up!”

Resolution of the Year – Keep this Website going

I’ve really enjoyed getting this site running again, and I want to keep it up. So that’s my resolution I guess. I resolve to post at least one post every month in 2011. We’ll see how it goes! Keep reading and start commenting!

-Wes


17
Dec 10

Infinity Blade – Completion Log

This is on a Phone?!

That’s one of the Game Center achievements you can get in Chair’s Infinity Blade for the iPhone. The task it’s attached to is playing through the game 20 times, but the sentiment behind it comes from the game’s outstanding beauty. Infinity Blade is the showpiece for the Unreal Engine III on the iPhone, and, to put it succinctly, that means developers can make iPhone games that look about as good as high-end console games. Infinity Blade is certainly notable for its graphics, but for me it’s just as notable for how Chair understands the nature of gaming on a non-gaming device.

Infinity Blade is, in essence, Punch-Out!! the RPG. The fighting consists of watching your opponent for how they are going to attack, dodging, blocking, or parrying in the right direction, and counterattacking to do some damage. Instead of rounds, there are short cutscenes, and instead of doc riding his bike behind you, there are navigation sections with hidden bags of gold and health potions that allow you to upgrade your character.

One cycle of the game lasts between 15 and 30 minutes and culminates in a boss fight that sends you back to the beginning if you lose. The next cycle allows you to retain your equipment and stat upgrades, and makes all of the opponents more difficult, but also more lucrative to defeat. It’s this short time frame that makes the game perfect for the road. You can fight through a single enemy in the bathroom or play through a quick cycle before bed.

The entire interface consists of tapping or holding to dodge, block, or stab, and swiping to attack. Overall the controls are very tight and intuitive. This is where Infinity Blade gets things right. Other games that try to bring the console game experience to the phone begin by deciding where to place the virtual controller and/or how to emulate the analog stick using the accelerometer. In my experience these things just don’t work.

Take, for example, the “other” showpiece for iPhone graphics that came out last week. It’s a toned down version of Rage, the next big FPS by the creators of Doom. Rage attempts to simplify things by removing the ability to move, leaving only aiming and shooting. In this game, aiming is done by either swiping your finger across the screen or by tilting the phone using the accelerometers. Because precision aiming is at the core of this design, neither of these methods work very well at all. Fighting for precision with imprecise controls becomes the game, and actually making and executing decisions takes a back seat.

What gives a game depth isn’t a high button count or requiring precision aiming, but the feeling that there’s still more to learn. That’s where Infinity Blade excels. When an opponent attacks, you are given three ways to avoid those attacks. Near the bottom of the screen is a block button. This button will block almost any attack, but you’re given a limited number of uses. This is the “easy” option. The “normal” option is the dodge. Dodging allows you to avoid taking damage, but most attacks require that you dodge in the correct direction, making it essential that you watch your opponent closely. The “hard” option is to parry. Parrying requires that you swipe in the opposite direction of your opponent’s attack. Parrying is very hard, but will dizzy your opponent, allowing you to get in several hits.

I spent most of my time in the early part of the game trying to perfect the parry. It was so hard that I eventually reverted to dodging. This is now how I handle most attacks. When I did finally defeat the final boss I did so by dodging attacks until the final round, then taking the easy way out and blocking everything I could for the victory. It’s juggling these three mechanisms where the depth comes into play and the design really shows its strength and versatility.

I’ve played through the game 8 times now, one of those was immediately after beating the final boss, and I’m sure I’ll continue to come back to the game to perfect my parry and level up my equipment. Maybe some day I’ll get that achievement for playing through it 20 times. And this is on a phone!