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Charlied Dog Games Title

Pokemon Online Card Trading Games

Pokemon

I know I am a little late getting to the party, as they say, but I recently discovered the online version for Nintendo’s Pokemon card game. The reason I looked it up is that my son has got into collecting the cards but he doesn’t understand the rules for playing the game with them, which is understandable because they are very complicated and incredibly badly explained in the instructions :) .

The online game handles all the rules for you so if you play against a trainer in single player mode you get a great opportunity to learn how to play. So I got him started playing it. Then I started playing it so I could battle with him and now I am enjoying playing it for the sake of it. I think it’s a pretty good game system. I like the use of energy, hit point counters, weaknesses, I like the way they’ve worked evolving into the game and use trainers and stadium cards kind of like wild cards. There is still quite a bit of luck in it, but the luck works well too because it keeps you playing. There is a lot of strategy too though and once you get used to playing you can spend hours putting your own custom decks together. The art is great as you would expect.

It doesn’t play much like the arcade version of the game it’s much more strategic with a lot more depth to it. So if you like card trading games and haven’t played this I recommend you have a go. it’s free to play and if you have bought a real Pokemon deck then you can import it into your game using the code which comes with the deck. Games take quite a while to play though so be prepared to give up most of your spare time once you get started…

WLToys WL922 Collective Pitch Flybarless Helicopter review

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I recently bought a new helicopter, a WLToys WL922. Regular readers will remember that I bought a Skyartec WASP V3 about a year ago. Unfortunately it was a bit of disaster and I don’t think I ever had two successful flight in succession. It was also very expensive for spares. It was a flybarless collective pitch helicopter and I eventually concluded that the flight systems where defective and I chucked it away in disgust. It put me off flybarless helicopters for quite a while.

Eventually I bought another fixed pitch flybar helicopter a Twister 400. I had a lot of hours of flying with that helicopter but I found I was beginning to reach the limits of what it could do so I wanted something which would stretch my skills a bit. Eventually the receiver stopped binding with the transmitter and I would have had to spend $40.00 to fix it. So I decided to get a new helicopter instead and one which I hoped would help me develop some skills, the WLToys 9WL22

The first couple of flights, we’ll call them flights because the helicopter did leave the ground for a few fractions of a second, where dreadful and resulted in serious damage to both the helicopter and my self confidence. Fortunately I have been able to repair both. By about ten attempts in I’d probably managed to get maybe a minute, total, of flight. I was still unhappy but making some progress. Then I did a bit of investigation and discovered that the pitch of the blades was very negative when the motor started and this was pushing the chopper down so hard on the skids it was bending them and that caused it to go out of control. I found that the blade axle was a bit loose and so could move the head up and down and that allowed the pitch to go very negative. After fixing that the next two flights were really good, about five minutes of hovering, mostly in control. Then the tail boom came off in flight… That’s not a good thing to happen to a helicopter and the result was fairly spectacular. But I think other than having to solder the tail motor wires back together and a bit of glue to stop it happening again it should be OK.

All in all though it’s a really difficult helicopter to fly, very sensitive and requiring constant control input to keep it hovering in one spot. Its much harder to fly than the WLToys 911 I have or the Twister 400. But it definitely has a lot more potential than either of those FP. I hope to get it repaired later today and try some more flights. Collective pitch is much nicer to fly when it’s working and the flybarless system looks a lot neater and sounds much cooler than a flybar head:)

Build quality is good but I think the boom needs attaching better and the skids are very lightweight. I’ve broken both of the spare blades which came in the kit so I need to order more. The transmitter is really nice to use and I like the look of the bird. All in all I’m a lot happier now that I’ve had a few decent flights and have had chance to get used to the controls a bit.

In conclusion I think I may have been a bit harsh on the old Wasp. Flybarless CP just seem to be really hard to fly. considering how more experience I had with my fix pitch I’m still struggling to control the 922, so maybe the Wasp was just too hard for me at the time. I’m still enjoying learning to fly model helicopters two years after I started and I’ve a long way to go yet.

Addendum…

Since I wrote the above I’ve flown the WL922 quite a bit. In fact I’ve had 8 consecutive flights with no incident. Once it’s in the air it’s great, the controls are really sensitive and it can cover a lot of ground really quickly, but if I concentrate it’s relatively straightforward. I’ve had to order another set of blades because I’m already using the spare pair and they are pretty badly chipped now because of bumping it on the ground and other obstacles. Occasionally I still have problems taking off and I find that sometimes I need to hold the helicopter in my hand, run the motor at full throttle for a few seconds, unplug, restart it and that seems to cure the problem. I suspect that maybe when the one of the batteries is fully charged the motor is too powerful for the flybarless system, I could be wrong though but that process seems to work for me. I’m starting enjoying myself with it. Collective is really much nicer than fixed pitch :)

Tribes Vengeance was a game I worked on…

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This months Edge magazine has a rather depressing article about honesty, or rather lack of, in game development. How developers lie to themselves and to each other about a projects prospects.

For me it bought back painful memories of Tribe Vengeance, a project I worked on several years ago which should have been great but ended up being a financial disaster. It’s with a sense of horror I realize I started working on it 12 years ago and finished it two years later. I was producer on the project. How the time flies! I guess it’s long enough now that I can maybe say something about it.

Ill start by saying that TV got good reviews and there is much to like about the game, but that’s not enough to get the sales we needed to cover the production costs. From the start I was apprehensive about the project from a financial POV. It seemed somewhat poorly conceived, sales of both earlier Tribes games had been good but not the mega numbers which a AAA game needed to make money and sales of TV2 where less than TV1. Why split our time and energy between a single player game and a multiplayer when clearly the fans wanted a MP. In the end my worst fears where realized and the sales just didn’t happen. What went wrong? It’s not really for me to say but in my opinion taking a well known (and fanatically loved) multiplayer franchise and relaunching it in a single player/ multiplayer package is a risky venture at best and needed very sensitive handling, something we failed to do. I think with our over ambitious rather oddly themed story and traditional mission based structure we set ourselves up to fail. But what let us down most was the multiplayer which never really stood up compared to the original tribes games or battlefield which launched the year before we did.

But the worst thing for me was trying to keep a positive outlook even though I had deep misgivings from about three months in. I really did put my heart and soul into it. It tore me apart knowing that every time I put a positive spin on things I was compromising myself and my relationship with others. I’ve never really got over it. Oh well I went on to other things but it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Computer Game development is a great industry to work in when things are going well, and I have had more than my fair share of that, but it is truly a shit hole when things go badly.

Technical Achievement Awards

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A while a go I blogged about an unusual game I helped develop. It was called 35° 17 SOUTH and was an experimental game the AIE and Canberra Youth Theater developed together. I felt it was really successful. Well others felt the same and we won a prize at the Canberra Theater awards this weekend. For technical achievement.

I’m very proud of this. I think it was a really interesting game and everyone who worked on it, actors, producers, writers, game designers, artists and programmers, did a great job. I hope we get to work on more projects like this.

Min Zelda Twilight Princess Review

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I like Zelda. Some of my best gaming experiences have occurred whilst playing as Link. So I was very happy when a friend lent me a copy of Twilight Princess for the Wii. Now I have to admit though that the only Zelda games I have enjoyed have been on the handhelds. I’ve tried with the console versions before but they just don’t grab me for some reason. But this time I was sure I’d get into it. But I am sad to say that my initial experiences have not been good.

The adventure starts promisingly enough with some guy offering you the chance to ride to the big city. Sounds like a great idea, doubtless I’ll get there and all manner of unlikely coincidences will occur and I’ll be off an an adventure. But before I can leave to go some problems emerge. I need to get the slingshot from the shop, I can’t just make one unfortunately nor can I possibly manage without one, so off to the shop I go.

The shop is not easy to find, a sign saying “SHOP” would be helpful but after entering just about every house I find it. But the lady behind the counter won’t serve me cos she has lost her cat, which she helpfully tells me likes fish. I remember someone telling me earlier that their mother has made me a fishing rod so I go looking for her. I find her, she is heavily pregnant and standing by the river looking very sad “I have lost the crib for my baby” she says. “I can’t think straight without it”. The option to ask her about the fishing rod doesn’t present itself so I go looking for the crib. Eventually I find it way up river on an island I can’t get to being held by a monkey.

Now at this point we have a kind of Dear Eliza and the leaky bucket moment where I want the sling shot to get the crib off the monkey but I need the crib to get the fishing rod to get the fish so I can get the cat to get the slingshot… Well to cut a very long story short it turns out that if I got to exactly the right place in the map I can whistle using a piece of grass thus summoning an eagle which I can send to crash into the monkey so it drops the crib. Which I then have to push into the shallow water so I can pick it up and take it to the pregnant lady who is very grateful, but can’t give me the fishing rod because she doesn’t have it, so I have to follow her to her house and she walks VERY slowly.

Then I finally get the rod and catch a fish, right next to where the cat is! Now I will get my slingshot and be off to the city, or so I think. But unfortunately not. The game designers have not finished torturing me yet. The fish I catch is too small. The game makes me throw it back before I can continue. The fact that it’s just for a small cat seems irrelevant. I catch another, and another, and another, all of them too small to be worth keeping, even for a cat.

That’s as far as I have got. I don’t really want to do this anymore. I want to go to the city and see all the cool people and have a great adventure with monsters and princesses, but instead I’m stuck in this shitty little village trying to catch a fish so I can catch a cat.

So I don’t know if I will play the game anymore. Probably not unfortunately. I have reached my capacity with regards to ridiculously contrived chaining puzzles and key hunts. I’m a bit over these worlds where no one seems to mind me smashing their pots and pumpkins, even when it’s over their heads. Even the pregnant lady didn’t mind when I started throwing the crib at her. She just kept wobbling slowly along as the basket bounced off her fat arse.

It’s very sad because I really used to like Zelda. But this is game isn’t fun. This is not how I want my next game game to play.

Atomic Worm is back

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I was telling a friend about one of my earlier games Atomic Worm when I noticed the download link for the game was broken. It’s fixed now. So if you want a bit of semi retro PC gameplay goodness then please download it and have fun.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot”

That’s a quote by one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. His seminal horror work, The Shining, is on the desk in front of me right now and it’s very tempting to pick it up and read another chapter even though I am at work and there is a lot for me to do. I’m into the last fifty pages and I am completely engrossed in it. Terrifying but, very well written and highly recommended.

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I’ve interviewed a number of potential candidate students for this years intake at the AIE where I work as a teacher. This is my fourth year here and I enjoy teaching very much.

For most students though it is the same story. They like playing games, they like the idea of being in the games industry, they want to learn how to make games. Some of them have even bothered to learn how to program a bit. Very few have actually bothered to try and make a game, except as part of a school project.

The fact is that the tools to make games are freely available to everyone and if someone really wants to make a game all they have to do is go online, look and there is a wealth of information telling them how to get started. When I started making games it was much harder, there was no internet, no courses to go on. Those of us who got into the industry had to self teach ourselves pretty much everything.

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I’m sounding old and cynical I know but I can’t help but think that the bulk of kids I teach would already have made a game, or two, if they had any real chance of making it in the games industry. A depressingly large percentage of the kids have been out of school for a year or more and yet have nothing to show for that time at all, not even references from casual work employers. If I was sitting at home with no job and a burning desire to make a computer game I know what I would be doing.

So to paraphrase king:
If you want to be a game developer, you must do two things above all others: play games a lot and make a lot of games

Just playing games a lot is not enough…

A New Beginning

I’m not a big console fan, preferring to play most of my games on the PC, but my son has just turned 8 and he wants to play the new Mario Kart game when it comes out and it is only available for the U so I bought him one for Christmas.

mu

I haven’t played it much yet. He’s had a lot more time on it than me but his experiences of Mario Land are very positive. We haven’t even got the new 3D Mario Land yet and when we get that and Mario Kart 8 I predict it’s going to become his favorite screen.

The U has garnered a fair bit of negative press which i think is a bit unwarranted. Sure it’s not as state of the art as the PS4 or the XBone but it’s a significant improvement over the old Wii in terms of graphics and processing power. I like the controller and we’ve already experienced some of the asymmetric game play possibilities when we where playing Mario World in coop mode. In this mode he was controlling Mario using one of our old Wii Motes and I was trying to “help” by adding platforms and distracting bad guys using the touch screen on the controller. It was a lot of fun and we played that way for well over an hour. We have two kids, my son who is 8 and my daughter who is 10 and in many ways their relationship might best be described as Asymmetric so I’m confident they’ll get a lot of fun out of these sorts of game modes.

We bought the deluxe version of the U, which was slightly more but expensive compared to the basic model but really not that much extra and has double the memory and came with Mario land and Rayman Legends. The later has got excellent reviews and we haven’t even touched it yet. As with all Nintendo products it just exudes quality, is really easy to set up, and plays all the old Wii games perfectly. The only negative thing I can think of is that I was prompted to patch the system when it started up and I innocently accepted only to discover that it took over two hours to download and apply the update. I had one rather annoyed child to deal with.

All up I’m very happy with our purchase. Sure I could have splashed out and got a PS4 or XBone but for younger kids Nintendo still take some beating in terms of game play for their first party titles. I guess that’s another critism I keep hearing, that the only good games on Nintendo are first party and third party games suck or don’t appear, but that’s OK too because there are enough really good first party games to keep my son happy.

Having said all that I might get a PS4 for myself next Christmas depending on what software surfaces this year…

Simon

I’ve been playing with an Arduino electronics kit at work. If you are interested in electronics and embedded controllers then it’s a great way to get started. Many amateur robitisists (is that a word?) use it to control their machines. I’ve used mine to create a simple “Simon” game.
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The game picks a random, sequence and the player has to copy it by moving the joystick and pressing the correct buttons. each time the player gets the sequence correct the game adds another step onto it. Eventually the player gets confused, presses the wrong button and is electrocuted. That last bit is not true unfortunately, but it would be a cool twist, there is a small buzzer which makes an annoying noise when they get it wrong and the puzzle resets to level 1. I can get to about level 12 before I lose it. It’s a surprisingly addictive little game.

collar

On the subject of electric shocks, we recently bought an electronic collar for our dog, Patsy (“Pat the dog”, get it? Oh how we laughed when we thought of that name). which gives her a small electric shock when she reaches the boundary of the garden, there is a signal wire I laid which generates a small electromagnetic field which the collar detects. It’s very effective. Might sound a bit cruel but I think it’s better for her to be electrocuted occasionally rather than dead from a car accident.

Systems And Game play

I’m going to continuing with my musing on game play and how I’d like my next game to play. I talked about democracy in the last post, in this one I’m going to talk about systems. There are broadly two ways to make a game

Start making the game and code a whole load of specialized routines to handle each event, like this game:

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Think of the game in terms of interconnected systems and build puzzles up from those, like this game.

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The second option has a lot to commend it but it takes longer to get something working. In the old days it was a mammoth task to make systemic games, these days it’s a bit easier to do because we have good physics engines and plenty of spare processing power. The maths for systemic game-play can get a bit complex and you need some CPU grunt to do it in a reasonably flexible way.

Some specific examples probably help to make this clearer. For example say I have a jet pack in the game, I could make a number of different jet-packs each with different qualities all of which are coded differently, or I could make a single jet-pack which has two values, fuel capacity and thrust. Then we allow the player to upgrade each of those stats by finding appropriate extra parts for the pack in the game. The second option is easier for the player to understand, they see the fuel tank, see the bigger nozzles and can choose which to add. We can make it even more realistic by giving each of these new parts a physical representation in the game so they make the jet-pack more bulky and so makes it harder for the player to move about and heavier too. Now we have a system the player can experiment with and exploit.

Another example is none player character NPC behavior. Lets take a really simple example where we have a NPC which moves left and right on a flat surface between predefined boundaries. We could limit it’s movement using some hidden data which the designer sets up in the level editor. This is easy to do but each enemy needs setting up after it’s placed and there is a risk that the behavior will seem arbitrary to the player. A better way would be to have the NPC move until it hits something or the platform ends or maybe it sees the player, then have it turn. The latter is systemic and a bit harder to code but more flexible in the long run, easier for the player to understand and less open to abuse by designers.

In general I think systemic gameplay is harder to set up, which is why it probably doesn’t get used as much as it should, but in the long run it provides for more interesting and believable games. Mine craft and the like are the ultimate result of this trend in games.

So my next game is going to be as systemic as possible but not to the extent of mine craft.

Systems and Democracy, next I’ll go back to talking about procedural generation and how that will be used to make content. Then I guess I should finish something and release it on my site!

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