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.

Breaking another quiet spell

I really need to post more often…

So…you probably noticed that our ambitious Kickstarter didn’t reach it’s target. Disappointing, but we’ve learned a lot from our mistakes. We’re looking at a number of alternative ways forward – more detail as and when…

On the plus side, LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes won a BAFTA for the Best Children’s Game…which was nice!

And I recently did another Ludum Dare game jam, producing this shallow but reasonably elegant effort: Winter’s Bane. As usual, I spent a lot of time on feel and polish, but not enough on content – nevertheless, it was thoroughly enjoyable to make. I’m working on a post-compo version incorporating some of the features that didn’t make it into the 48 hour version.

Ludum Dare 25

Wow, nine months without posting a thing. Epic downtime. It has been a busy year what with LEGO Batman, LEGO Lord of the Rings, LEGO City and preparations for the steampunk webseries I’m shooting. More on that shortly, plenty of filmmaking news to come!

I did manage another Ludum Dare weekend in the run-up to Christmas – that game is a stealth-’em-up called Infidel. I’m still too ambitious in these weekend challenges but at least this time I stayed focused on mechanics and gameplay over art. It’s all good practice.

And the beat goes on…

The Christmas holiday was a wonderful break, and I forgot how spending the day at work takes it out of you. Particularly as we’re now on the final stretch of LEGO Batman 2. I’ve had no energy left for side projects at all.

However, there are a couple of game jams coming up, which I’m excited about. I’m hoping to have cleared the bulk of my TT work by then so I can spare a couple of weekends.

The MolyJam is a semi-serious event based on the wild imaginings of spoof twitter account @PeterMolydeux, but surprisingly many of his deliberately pretentious pie-in-the-sky game concepts could actually work. I love the idea of starting with a joke tweet that was intended to be ridiculous and unachievable, and making it work. I have picked my source tweet, but I’ll write about that later.

Soon after that, it’s time for the epic Ludum Dare 23. We could easily break 1000 entries this time! My only plan for this event is to craft a player experience to begin with, rather than the vacuous but pretty efforts I’ve made before. I shall also start collating my game jam efforts here for posterity.

Throughout April it’s also this year’s ScriptFrenzy, which I’m beginning to think of as a game jam for screenwriters. I won’t be participating this year, as I have too little spare time, but my Voidships partner Steve Turnbull has some interesting plans.

When the dust has settled on that lot, it’ll be time to kick our steampunk web series into high gear. But that warrants a post of it’s own. Stay tuned…

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.

Ludum Dare 21: Fireflies

Ludum Dare 21 has come and gone, and I managed to squeeze some game dev into a busy weekend. My entry is here.

20110827-145041.jpg

It’s extremely short, but I’m very happy with it, because it represents my first fully modelled, rigged and animated character. I’ve learned plenty about Blender and about rigging in general. Best of all, although I didn’t get much gameplay in during the weekend, the concept I had in mind has enough mileage that I can expand it into a full game, which is what I’m working on currently (in-between late nights on LEGO Harry Potter years 5-7). It’s also excellent practice with Blender – although Voidships will use different features, my familiarity with the interface and core tools is improving.

Check out some of the other 599 LudumDare entries while you’re there. It’s a monster event and there’s a lot of little gems to be found…