The Journey Effect

I’ve just enjoyed an epic weekend party with friends old and new, and I thought I’d share an awesome gaming moment that took place there.

We were all staying in a hostel for the weekend, with a number of small children who had very little to do during the day. I’d brought my PS3 for SingStar the night before, but my wife thoughtfully suggested I put Journey on in the communal lounge for the kids. No online features, sadly, but we thought it would be harmless fun for an hour or so.

5-year-old Ethan played it through start to finish in one sitting.

He struggled a bit with keeping the controller level, so I had to reframe the camera for him occasionally. And he asked me to take over briefly during the scary serpent sections, but bombarded me with questions throughout, which I tried to let him figure out for himself. In the background I heard a number of adults discussing the art style, mood and pacifism of the game appreciatively. But Ethan remained utterly engrossed, except to turn occasionally and tell me his interpretation of what was happening onscreen.

By the end of the game Ethan and the watching children were literally laughing aloud with glee as he sailed up the mountainside on the back of a cloth whale.

I felt wonderful just to have introduced him to the experience. ThatGameCompany should be very, very proud of what they created. It’s art like theirs that makes me proud to work in the industry.

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Ludum Dare, and beyond

I have been neglecting this blog again – happens when things get busy at work (or outside work!).

It has been a very eventful December. Ludum Dare 22 generated nearly 900 games in a weekend, but due to some technical problems and a healthy dose of repeating my previous mistakes, I didn’t quite finish mine. Play “Lonely Island” here.

Then Unity released a beta build that exports to Flash’s new Stage3D, and announced a game jam…with prizes. Shame they announced it just before Xmas when everyone’s busy. I mulled it over until new year before settling on a steampunk space dogfighting game set in the Voidships universe. It made sense to use the contest as motivation to produce something that could generate a bit of an audience for our fledgling IP. It was a late start, but with some invaluable model work from an artist friend (Thank you, Liam!) I managed to cobble together something that’s very rough but fun nonetheless.

I’ve called it Voidships: Pilot Error.

My other game projects are temporarily on hold while Liam and I give it a proper polish ready for people to play in earnest.

Another Ludum Dare game!

One hour is a bit tight, but at least it’s all over quickly one way or another. Here’s what I managed within the deadline…and here’s what I intended it to be, which took an extra 3 hours.
Pills

I love these short events. You’d think more time would be beneficial, but it’s harder to sustain an hour or two every night for a week or month than to commit to one hour or even a whole weekend in one go. I wonder if I can break down my more ambitious side projects into bite-size chunks like that…

Ludum Dare rethink…make a game in ZERO hours!

Sigh. After being ill this weekend I’ve decided to abort the October Challenge – rather than rush out a substandard game, I’ll take my time and finish it to a quality I’m happy with. This is definitely the right decision – while tweaking the anims in Blender I realised I need to re-rig the main character so stop his IK knees skewing sideways. If I’m not extremely careful, this may mean re-animating the handful of anims I’d already done. With a week to go, I didn’t need to be redoing work. But in the long term, it’ll mean better and more animations. I’ll have some free time over christmas, so new year would be an excellent alternative target deadline!

However, in the short term – Ludum Dare have come up with ANOTHER game dev challenge that I can’t resist: The ZERO Hours Challenge!
It takes place during the hour when the clocks go back. This appeals enormously to the Faction Paradox fan in me.

Seriously though, the extreme time limit will force participants to focus on a simple design that works – the challenge is more about spending the intervening week imagining a game simple enough to implement in one hour, but still fun. It’s interesting that with modern game dev tools, classics like Pong, Breakout, Joust, or PacMan could all be cloned easily in that time. But coming up with something so simple and original is going to be much harder than actually implementing it…

Ludum Dare October Challenge

LEGO Harry Potter years 5-7 is done, so I have a little spare time again, and there’s a week left of the Ludum Dare October Challenge. I’m going to expand Fireflies into a full game – still a short one, but I’m going for quality over quantity.

I’ve been mulling it over for a few weeks without having a chance to do much, but this week I actually sketched a rough layout for the game and made a few decisions that will simplify the core mechanics considerably.

It’s an odd feeling designing level layouts – normally my job is making gameplay mechanics work within a level designed and built by other disciplines. I’m enjoying stretching these underused game dev muscles…

Keeping Gameplay Narrative in Context

A short piece entitled “Narrative as Gameplay” by Jonas Kyratzes made me think today. His key (and rather eloquent) point is this:

“In some games, you click on the enemy soldier and the enemy soldier dies, removing an obstacle to victory. In my games, you click on an object and it gives you a description, removing an obstacle to understanding.”

I like this thought in principle, but I think it’s missing a caveat: the revealed content must be appropriate to the player’s current context.
For example, if I were to to nit-pick The Book of Living Magic, I’d complain that the setting is SO surreal that the wealth of little asides do not really increase the player’s understanding. Many of them are charming little storylets in their own right, but it’s very hard to build a coherent picture of a world where the distinction between animals, people and other bizarre entities are so blurred. It must be acknowledged that this is the whole point of the Land of Dream, but it highlights my point.
In contrast, the superb The Infinite Ocean presents a very tightly focused narrative, each scrap of content referencing the already-established facts or themes. It’s only when you can hook the new information onto some existing part of your world model that it feels rewarding. Without that framework, each new piece of content has no obvious relation to the whole.
That, I think, is why some people don’t grok the Book of Living Magic – the content is more like a bag of marbles than a LEGO set. I happen to love world-building and was happy to comb through the descriptions looking for the links and occasional Lovecraft nods, but I can see how more casual players might find the Mountains of Oddness somewhat impenetrable.

White Flag

I’ve knocked up another little micro-game for mini Ludum Dare #27: “All Talk”. My effort is called “White Flag”. It’s just a dialogue tree with a measly 3 or 4 branch points, but I’m quite pleased with the implementation as it’s my first go at writing ActionScript within the StencylWorks Flash dev tool.

It needs a few extra bits before I could make anything worthwhile with it though – I didn’t have time to write line-wrapping code, so I had to place every line break manually. This was a nightmare, because the only way to know where the break should go was to see it ingame…a slow process even with so little text.

I need to read the text in from a file, rather than typing it into the script directly. Not sure if StencylWorks will allow that, though.

And finally, I wanted to have internal vars so that choices could accumulate over time or set flags for later in the dialogue. Ran out of time for those too.

But with those tweaks in place I’ll have a neat little dialogue engine which could easily be ported to Unity. Not bad for a couple of evenings’ tinkering!