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.
Afterwards, everybody voted for their top three games, and Spark a Memory was selected to be presented at the main conference!* At which, of course, I took the opportunity to shamelessly plug Crescent Loom. So that was fun!
This is exciting from a design perspective. For example, Night Shift by Schell Games is used to help train emergency medicine physicians in trauma triage. It doesn’t have to compete for attention on the App Store because people come to it in order to learn something. Instead of coming up with some kind of fancy UI solution to display patient information, it uses dense text descriptions, just like in actual medical charts that the physicians actually work with.
Making a game for a context other than the entertainment marketplace gives you the freedom to explore designs/topics that wouldn’t “sell”, and lets you rely on information/expectations that your very specific target audience will have.
A question after Night Shift‘s talk: “how do you hide the fact that you’re teaching people things in the game?”
Their response was that educational games don’t have to be “sneaky” and hide what they’re teaching. People are playing this game because they want to learn. Besides, sneaky educational games never fooled anybody.
Help Screen / Introduction
On the coattails of all this good stuff, Crescent Loom was accepted to participate in the Seattle Indies Expo // PAX on September 3rd in Seattle!
They also helpfully included six juror’s feedback forms with the decision, every single one of which included a plea for a help file or tutorial.
So! That’s what I’ve been working on. Double-click on anything with a help file in the game, and it’ll bring up a screen with some functional information and explanatory animated gifs.
(gifs, I might add, that were non-trivial to get working:)
Another problem I’ve seen is that new players don’t know what creatures are sorta supposed to look like. Therefore, I’ve also started making a introduction where you hatch from an egg and steer a pre-made creature to an obelisk:
I also learned a lot at Games for Change about the process of getting funding for educational games. To get back on my every-other-week schedule, I’m going to post a post about that next week. It’s cool stuff, and drove home for me how different sources of funding will fundamentally shift the direction of a game’s design.
Other than that, I’m going to keep getting things ready for this SIX exhibition. Jeez, it’s been forever since I actually worked on the physics or art. It’s all been writing help files or the project as a whole.
Because I definitely already don’t have enough projects going, I’ve recently started poking around with a super super old demo of mine: WIREHANG RE-REDUX.
The core concept was: “I want a game where I can be spiderman.” The game that prompted me to actually start is an old (6+ years ago?) game called Wirehang Redux.
So in highschool I threw together a demo platformer (the first I’d ever programmed), but it got bogged down in physics and writing my own custom level editor with triggers and graphics layers and all sorts of other homebrewed bells and whistles. I felt the core flow of gameplay had a lot of promise (especially the control scheme: one hook per mouse button), but when I left for college it lay abandoned.
So here we are! The idea has stuck with me for a long time and I’m working with a friend to revive it to get some practice in collaborative programming. This time we’re working in Monkey X and using Fantom Engine to tie together maps made in Tiled to the Box2D physics engine. I’ve never worked with non-homebrewed tech before so it’s going to be a learning experience. Also, one of my biggest regrets from the development of Rubicon is that I didn’t document the journey, so I’m going to try to get some regular posts out about this. Here’s a gif of the current build::
Hey, Brooks from Guardian Games here. “Dagda’s Workroom” (can’t link, googling it should work) has full contact info. As reminder, water mechanic suggestion worked as follows: You can place headwaters and unlimited number of adjacent water tiles so long as each new tile is lower than the last. Each water tile can be atop OR replacing the land tile beneath it. Also, critically, if you place a water tile so it has two+ adjacent water tiles? You immediately stop.
I did a board game jam about a week ago and came up with this super-cool competitive collaboration geology god game where you gradually build up the topographical map of an island (on the back of a giant space turtle, of course).
I haven’t really done any board game design before but I’m finding it much more immediately fulfilling than video games: there’s a satisfying tactile sensation plus a nicer social experience.
I’m working on optional rules at the end so you can use the island that you build as the board for Settlers of Catan.
Another weekend, another 48-hour game jam. Only with this one, we actually got it more or less working by the end of Saturday and then got to spend ALL of Sunday basically just working on polish. We got to dicker over the font of the title screen and how many pixels to move things to get them centered. I want to emphasize how usually the time constraint means that just doesn’t happen in jams.
Anyway, it’s not letting me take a screenshot, but it’s basically anti-breakout. You play as Pandora trying to keep the evil bubbles in her box and letting hope out. It’s solid and I’m proud of it.
What we did right :
We were a small team. It was originally just me plus Sam Arei on sound/music, but we were fortunate to also pick up Elijah Blackwell who managed the production, aesthetics, and images.
After quick but intense deliberation, we decided on a very simple core mechanic: paddles bouncing balls around. I was able to throw together a tech demo within the first couple hours. We had no idea how or if it would be fun, but ran with it anyway.
Spending time developing what we had. It started out as only a sorta-interesting graphical toy so I focused on ways to give it a challenging objective. Since we didn’t have a strict idea of what the final form should look like, we had a lot of space to play with different mechanics. Multiple or single blue bubbles, different types of evil bubbles, the best paddle configuration, bounce powerup effects… they were all “hey, let’s try this” and keeping the things that worked.
Playtesting. Just a few people who hadn’t seen it before in the last couple hours showed us that we needed to revamp the instruction screen font. Getting people to understand depends on lots of tiny stupid things being just right but are invisible to you since you already know.
As We Are is a short 5-minute puzzle game where you explore a situation from several different character’s viewpoints. It’s our entry to the 2014 global game jam.
I’m quite pleased with this self-contained little game. It’s simple (you just move around with the arrow keys) but is able to present comprehensible situations via puzzles (thanks to a combination of the I’m-quite-proud-of level design and clear visual style).
I made a couple of huge layout oversights (incl. one that lets you just skip 50% of the puzzle) but I think they actually ended up adding to the experience. The alternate paths let you feel clever if you find them, and help people who get stuck continue through the game.
Sure, there’s a couple of other rough edges (no clear instructions to use space when you’re a dragon, NPC item stealing noise loop, you occasionally catch on the edges of things, I really wish I had added another level after the first where you play as one of the pink ‘bros), but I am legitimately proud of this. It feels whole.
My second game jam is over and done! I competed in the Indie Speed Run with Greg Krsak and Eric Goldman. Our theme/element was Agriculture/Aquarium.
As per usual, I tended to bite off more than we could really chew design-wise and we ended up with a top-down game where you command all these little invertebrates and plants (not fish. Fish are jerks.) to expand your aquarium and… well, get to the other ones? The idea was to have to collect the right seeds to grow a spaceship before an interstellar catastrophe befell the planet, but between AI and pathfinding and making it look pretty, the end product is more of a strategic aquarium simulator.
This was the first project I’ve worked with others in writing code! I was dragged kicking and screaming into object-definition madness instead of my usual monolithic huge single file approach. Of course, as soon as my co-coder Greg Krsak left for a wedding, I reverted to my old habits. But I think I learned some important things about how non-me people code (read: how to actually do stuff right instead of fast).
Aesthetically, I’m pleased. Eric Goldman put together some very atmospheric music and I had a lot of fun in drawing and animating the graphics. I haven’t worked in this quick-sketch-but-realistic style before, but it just sort of happened.
Of course, the power went out with an hour and a half left on the clock, right as people were starting to upload their games to the Indie Speed Run website. We got an extension on the honor principle to not work on it for any more time than we had left, so I threw in the music and a splash screen and called it done.
We did the whole thing in Python, which unfortunately means that I can’t really link to an easy thing for people to run and play it. There are tools that’ll spit out an exe but I’m not clear how to use them and I’m about to crash. God, I love game jams.
At the request of a friend, I made a little productivity timer gadget called ClickClock. The timer counts how much playtime you’ve earned: it’ll count up or down depending on whether you’re working or playing, respectively, and plays a little reminder noise every so often if the timer goes negative.
You can also set the work/play ratio (e.g. 4:1 will require four minutes of work for every one minute of play) and manually bump the timer up and down. It’s meant to be a tool, not an enforcer, and I’ve found just the fact that I’m on a timer at all helps me focus.
Design-wise, I wanted something simple but aesthetically pleasing, so I focused on condensing all the functionality upfront on one small screen in a manner that was clear and elegant. The fonts used are: Microstyle Bold ATT for the letters and Microsoft Uighur for the numbers.
It saves your time when you close the program. You can reset the clock by either manually bumping it back to near zero or by deleting the “state.cc” file in the same folder.