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Charlied Dog Games Title
Technical Achievement Awards
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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:
Think of the game in terms of interconnected systems and build puzzles up from those, like this game.
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!
I’ve been playing the Stanley Parable which is receiving a lot of press. I like it, it’s funny for the first half hour and it has some interesting things to say about game design and stories in games.
A lot of the people I talk to about it think it’s really clever but I don’t think it’s quite as unique as they believe. I remember playing adventure games which satirized earlier games way back in the 80s. Many games have used established game design tropes as a source of humor. The Stanley Parable does the same thing, only with better graphics and a more contemporary twist, and it does it well enough, but it’s hardly new.
Also, personally I don’t think it’s worth the asking price at the moment so I recommend looking it up but waiting till it’s in the sales.
Democractic Game Design
I’m busy coming up with ideas for the new game and wanted some basic tenants to underpin the design.
Good democracy strikes me as having a lot of similarities to good game design. Some of my readers are living in democracies, and if the stats are anything to go by, a rapidly increasing number aren’t. I think a working democracy is a great thing to strive for but what makes one?
1. Freedom of choice: Pretty obvious. People need to be able to choose what government governs them and what they do for their to be a democracy. Games are the same. Players need to be able to make choices. Simple as that
2. Choices need to be meaningful: A little less obvious this one. But I’ll give you an example. Two months ago Australians got to vote between a number of parties. But pretty clearly one of the two main parties, The liberals and Labor, where going to win. Yet when you look at their policies you realize that neither party really represents the views of the bulk of the population and both are well right of center in terms of politics. Once the government got in the policies they have followed don’t align to the views of the bulk of Australians and there is no way for the public to direct the government on a daily or even monthly basis. Is this really democracy? That’s a politically charged question and I am sure a lot of people disagree with me but many western democracies don’t really give power to the people to make the choices that matter to them. Many games are the same. If you come to a branch in a passage and left takes you down a dangerous but short cut and right takes you a long but easier route, that’s an important decision for the player to make, but if the only choice you have is between two routes which are almost the same, that’s not much of a choice. Many games do this either literally in their level design or through offering the player a choice of many different types of object, weapons for example, many of which do almost exactly the same thing.
3. Choices need to be informed: Probably the hardest to understand and get right for most democracies. If the people don’t have access to the information they need to make informed choices then whatever choice they make is meaningless. In the case where the government is in control of the media they can and deliberately obfuscating the truth or just downright lie. The public will think they have freedom of speech but really they are just puppets, democracy is a sham in those countries. I think this is the greatest threat to democracy in the west. Much of the information which is getting out to the people is ill informed or deliberately censured by people who have large amount of power or money or both. Games are are the same. If I offer you a choice of going left or right at a branch in the passage but I offer no hint as to what is down the branches, or worse, deliberately misinform you as to what you might find down them, the choice is meaningless. Many games do this. RPG in particular offer the player a multitude of possible options with regards to how to equip their characters, upgrade their characters etc but often do not tell the player what they are likely to encounter in the game.
I Intend to use the above to inform decisions I make about my new game.
More to follow…
Puzzle Solving is a great joy
There is a good article over on Gamasutra about what makes a good adventure game
I used to love adventure games back in the 80s and I have raved about my experiences in other posts. But text adventures have been superseded with graphics adventures and action adventures. I myself dabbled with them in the 80s and my first game Quest is a mix of fairly classic adventure game puzzles and action elements. Here is a map of the entire game, the whole thing was crammed into 16K of memory including all the code and data.
I am watching with interest Double fines endeavors in this regards and I wish them well. But I think it’s a stretch to say the genre is dead and they are reviving it. Hidden object games have matured into something very similar to the old adventure games, if you don’t believe me then you should have a go at some of the more recent better ones. They combine story, hidden object puzzles with much more varied mechanical puzzles. the only thing they are missing in most cases is inventory. There are many puzzle solving elements in some of today’s FPS and third person games too.
I’m making a new game with some friends. it’s a puzzle/action game which I hope will capture the essence of the games I made back in the 80s but with up to date graphics and game play.
Watch this space…