Weave neural circuits to create primitive creatures and explore an alien world.
[ Online Demo | Project Page | Dev Log ]
Turns out a lot of government grants want proof that people are interested in your project, so they’re asking me for testimonials. If you have ~4 minutes, could you take this survey?
Also, a couple Kickstarter plugs!
First up is NeuroBytes, which just launched today.
They’re working on the exact same problem as Crescent Loom: how to make neuroscience tangible? Only instead of with a video game, they’re doing it through making physical networks of circuit-board neurons.
Side-note: Zach Fredin (one of the creators) looks eerily like Tom Hanks.
Second is Nimbatus by my friends at Stray Fawn Studios, which already exceeded its funding goal in the week it took me to send this out.
If you like the building-stuff part of Crescent Loom but want A LOT more lasers, Nimbatus has gotcha covered. You can also set up some pretty sophisticated triggers to make them be able to navigate autonomously.
For backers with survivor/nemesis memories, I have the recording studio booked for next week. In order to get your memory voice-acted, you must fill out your survey by the end of this Saturday (Oct 14).
(if you need some inspiration, check out this sample of what people have submitted so far. They’re SO GOOD!)
Ditto with stickers; I want to start mailing them out, but only about half of y’all who get them have responded. If you haven’t responded by Saturday, their delivery will be significantly delayed until I get a chance to do another mass-mailing.
In the spirit of being-willing-to-admit-to-falling-behind, I’ve had scheduling problems with getting time on a laser, and am going to substantially miss my Nov 1st estimate for the Ramón y Cajal etchings. My new goal is to get them etched and shipped by Dec 1st — there’s just too much going on this last month, and this is the thing that gave out.
But here is the finished digital draft vs the original art! I’m going to etch at two laser powers; the darker shapes will be burnt deeper into the wood.
We’re in the final countdown. This is a list of my campaign promises to have done by November 1st:
[X] Game engine: brain + body editor [X] Basic gameplay: sandbox populated by online creatures (bonus: race mode!) [ ] Platforms: Win/Mac/Linux [ ] Backer content: cryopods, voice-acting, creature collaborations [ ] Physical rewards: stickers & etchings
I’ll be spending the last couple weeks getting it working on Mac/Linux (I got a Mac Mini off of craigslist last night!), adding the backer content (from those surveys you totally filled out), and shipping the stickers.
A difference between this and most other crowdfunding campaigns for video games is that I still don’t consider Crescent Loom “done”. I’ll be entering a phase of open development where I continue to work on it as time and funding allow. This Kickstarter was always meant to do just that: kick-start the game.
I’m pleased with how this year has gone. As far as I know, this is the very first biologically-realistic neural circuit simulator that can be used without technical training in existence.
Oh, and to top this all off, the cookie has crumbled and I’ll be moving out of Oregon (for the first time ever! o_o) and down to West Oakland… also on November 1st. Woop woop!
It can get lonely working on something by yourself for a year, so the external-validation boost from showcases is always a welcome punctuation to the process. I can’t think of a more perfect way to get closure on a year of work than how this weekend went.
I’ve heard some skepticism that Crescent Loom would be accessible to younger audiences, that the process of weaving a functional brain would be too complicated for them. This weekend thoroughly vanquished that concern. This weekend, I saw players with a curiosity and willingness to experiment that led them to make creatures far more sophisticated than those made by older crowds.
Another lesson that I learned is that different people come to the game looking for different things. Kids that could barely hold a mouse had a blast just smashing creatures together like action figures.
My absolute favorite scene from the entire weekend was from the very last visitors to the booth, a father & son. The kid was having a lot of fun crushing/trapping creatures against walls. The father leaned down and started pointing at the brain, “Now, these are little bits of electricity that are being passed around-”
At which point the child just screamed, “I WANNA EAT IT!”
I almost knocked into a bystander from bowling over in laughter. Sometimes the universe just gives you little clear-cut cosmic jokes. I’ve been building up this complicated game with all these words and sciences and systems, and been trying to clumsily explain what’s going on, but people are going to come into it with very simple desires and an understanding based in their earthly humanity.
I wanted something exciting to make some gifs of, so I spent some time fixing and adding body parts:
1. Harpoon! Catch prey from a distance or just swing around like spider-man.
2. Sucker! Anchor to the ground or hitch rides on unsuspecting bystanders.
3. An inflatable balloon that lets you control the buoyancy of the creature / bounce along the ocean floor (pay no mind to the floating boulders):
4. A symmetry tool, finally. Making larger creatures that can swim straight suddenly got a lot easier:
5. I added the ability to pull specific types of creatures from the server. This allows me to automatically organize and add creatures by how they perform, which is key if I want to eventually set up some kind of natural selection (e.g. creatures that win races will show up in more races).
As per the Kickstarter reward, I made a cryopod object that pops up the name of the person sleeping inside when you touch it. However, a friend pointed out that having a human-sized reference implies a scale for the creatures. Up till now, I’ve left it ambiguous, but now I have to choose. Are the creatures small, pet-sized beasties…
…or are they huge, tentacle’d monsters?
Last week I showed Crescent Loom at the Seattle Indie Expo (and it got some of the best, most enthusiastic responses yet!) and then came back to a Columbia Gorge On Fire. Needless to say, I got a little less in the way of development done than usual.
I ended up heading out to my parent’s house to be on hand to help with the evacuation if necessary, but thanks to the work of our firefighters (and a little luck), the fire didn’t burn any homes and is now stalled out. Yay!
I’ll be showing Crescent Loom at the OMSI mini maker faire this weekend (Sept 16 & 17). The mini maker faire last year was the very first public showing of CL, so this is officially the end of the first year of development!
Not too bad for a year of work. 🙂
1. Make game 2. ??? 3. Profit!
Before starting game development, I tended to have this notion that, once completed, art sorta existed in a vacuum. High-school-Wick at one point argued that you could seriously judge a piece of art on its own merits, regardless of the context in which it was created or the artist’s intentions.
I now appreciate how the environment that a piece of art is designed for totally dictates the shape of that art. These are design decisions that are so fundamental, that feel so natural, they’re invisible unless you’re looking for them. One of the reason Charles Dickens’ books are engaging is that he ends most chapters on a cliffhanger — due to the fact that he originally wrote the chapters for magazines and needed to get people to buy the next one.
In games, the most clearest example of this is the concept of “lives”. Needing to start a game over from the start if you fail a few times wasn’t something a designer came up with because they thought it would enhance the experience; it’s because it drove people to insert more quarters in the machine to buy more lives to continue their game.
An arcade machine’s entire design — lives, levels of increasing difficulty, high score lists, colorful graphics — is molded around its business model. This isn’t inherently a bad thing; you can find games that worked with this structure to tell a story (such as in Missile Command, which was developed during the height of the cold war and whose mechanics demonstrate the inevitability of mutually assured destruction). However, the structure itself is unyielding. The economics demand it.
Agh, I thought it’d been a weirdly long time since I wrote one of these. With all the travel, I got bumped off my every-two-week schedule and then Google calendar didn’t remind me til now. Ah well. I have a lot to talk about.
First up, I wrote a section about different funding avenues I’m looking at for after the Kickstarter wraps up, decided it was too long, and broke it off into its own post here. They’re some good notes & are worth a read, imho.
Shiniest thing second: seeing Rose City Games’ excellent new branding got me thinkin’ about Crescent Loom’s logo. The current version is pretty abstract, and its meaning is not in any way obvious.
If people have to read a book to be able to parse the cover, the cover ain’t doin’ its job. So I asked myself: what’s the core message I want the packaging to send? My tagline sums it up pretty well, I think:
Stitch muscles. Weave neurons. Create life.
Of those, the most generally-compelling is the creation of life. The emotional journey of Crescent Loom is going to be bringing life back into a ruined world, so I threw together a few posters based on that and asked for feedback on the Portland Indie Game squad slack.
When I landed in New York, I was afraid. I expected endless crowds, giant rats, an arcane subway system, and to inevitably get mugged / hit by a runaway taxi. But it turns out it’s just another city filled with beautiful, busy people. The subway was super efficient and air-conditioned. And jeez, it drove home to me what a issue Portland has with homelessness; I see more street kids by walking down Hawthorne than I did my entire week-long trip there.
I was there for the Games For Change conference, a meeting about using games to do good in the world. This was preceded by a neuroscience virtual reality game jam (a “brain jam”, if you will), where neuroscientists were teamed up with VR developers to make a game in 48 hours.
Long story short, I was paired with a gold-star team, and we knocked it out of the park with this weird floating-lights-with-connections experience called Spark a Memory.
During the jam, one of my team members started talking to somebody at another table. They mentioned something about neuroscience and my ears perked up, but I kept working. Then: “…there’s a neuroscience game I backed on Kickstarter recently. It was called… Crescent Loom?”
What are the chances? It’s the first time I’ve run into a CL backer in the wild. It was awesome and made my day.
“I’ve added most of the systems,” I said to myself. “There’s not that much left to add to the basic engine, right? Make some objectives, polish the tutorial, iron out the physics bugs. It’s been about four months since the kickstarter, and I still have about four months left. This thing is in the bag!”
Oh, Wick of two weeks ago, you sweet summer child.
Based on feedback I got from the July 4th beta and juror feedback, the more-or-less unanimous response has been: “Great concept! I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, or how to do it!”
Also, looking at the my big-picture Trello board, I still have a lot of promises to fulfill.
So I rolled up my sleeves, ignored all of that, and added a particle engine + basic lighting effects!
Gotta do something for fun.
Oh! Also, I’m going to the Games for Change festival in NYC at the end of July! There’s this meetup before the festival where the organizers were trying to get neuroscientists to meet game designers to make educational games — my exact cup of tea basically made-to-order.
WHAT’S MORE, they’re gonna be giving me free admission to the festival and I’m going to be able to crash with friends in the city, so the whole thing isn’t going to break my bank account. So that’s nice.
I’ve been struggling with one basic thing in the brain: how to move cells versus drag connections. The simplest answer was to add in some kind of move / connect toolbar, but I wanted to see if I could avoid adding more menu buttons.
My first attempt: double-click to pick something up, click+drag to connect.
Flashiest change this week: creatures laying and hatching from eggs! I added in a super-basic calorie-counting system that causes creatures to lay an egg if they get enough to eat:
Took a day or two to iron out the kinks. For example, I set eggs as a very calorie-rich meal (makes sense). So calorie-rich, in fact, that a creature got more calories by eating an egg than it took to lay one. In my infinite wisdom, I also neglected to prevent creatures from eating their own eggs.
I think you can see where this is going:
I also had to track down why creatures were hatching with developmental deformities:
It had something to do with me randomizing the angle of the creature when it hatched. Instead of diving into where in my many sins and cosins I had an error, I made it so all creatures just get born at angle = 0. Some fixes are easier than others.
There was also a bug where if an egg hatched while too close to another creature, the baby and that creature would get fused together in a big angry physics mess (I forgot to take a picture of it, sorry!). I fixed this by just making the eggs physically bigger, which ensured nothing was near their centers when they hatched.
But lo, behold life arising from inanimate matter! Babies start small and gradually grow as they eat things:
No big announcements this time around; I’ve mostly been working on polishing the user interface + adding content for the beta at the end of this month.
I finally got around to working on my list of cool body parts. I made a water jet that can be squeezed as an easy mode of propulsion (though it pulls you back a bit as it refills) and fins that can be activated to tense and turn (like holding an oar out sideways in a canoe):
In order to have a dynamic ecosystem, I need to be able to measure the performance of player creatures. Setting up a database + metrics to track creature stats was one of those things that takes a lot of backend work and has unimpressive visual results, but here ya go:
These are the average distances traveled, speed, parts that were chewed off, and calories gained from eating other animals/plants for three test creatures. Since edible plants didn’t exist yet, I had to add those too:
Those blue guys are plankton, which can act as a food source for herbivores. I still need to make a mouth that can efficiently scoop them up — I’m envisioning a whale-type creature that just swims along to gather them up. You can also see here my new ability to dynamically resize stuff, which is gonna allow creatures to eventually hatch from eggs as lil bebbez and slowly grow larger.
I also added a bit more variation to the maps; there’s now foreground and background rocks that can make little caves that creatures can hide in: