Saturday, November 3, 2012

What I Am Doing Is Not New In Theory; But In Practice, It Makes All The Difference In The World

"Theory" is the wrong word to use, but I think it approaches the idea I am trying to convey. I am not proposing any radically different systems as part of my method of implementing character and narrative into a game. Instead, my intentions are to simply change the way designers think about the problem and how far they go to deal with it. Based upon my current thoughts regarding my solution to this, I see that I am taking an element that is rarely thought through and complicated, and extending it into something far more meaningful and sophisticated. I have already mentioned that there are games that do make considerable progress in portraying characters tied into the game itself, and even some of those games allow their pieces to change (though not by the characters development, but rather the player's whim of "free will").

I like to think of what I am developing as analogous to "RPG Elements." What does it mean when it is said that a game has RPG elements? It is a fairly new term and it says that a game uses a complex, dynamically changing and growing statistical/computational number system to determine the outcomes of certain moves. For the layperson, it means that the player levels up with experience and when they shoot things numbers come out of them. But in all honesty, RPG elements in this spirit have in many ways always existed in games. The Legend of Zelda does not count numbers or give the player experience points, but the code still defines enemies as having a certain amount of health, Link's sword as doing a certain amount of damage, and heart containers giving Link more and more power. The Legend of Zelda is has basic RPG elements and does not even know it. The same realizations can be had when observing the code of many shooters and action games.

Just as "RPG elements" can bring out a certain depth in a game's mechanics, what I would think of as "Character elements" can bring out a certain depth in a game's narrative. In that sense, what I propose is not new; it is an extrapolation of what already exists in the most simplest form. Because of this nature, it can be applied to pretty much any game imaginable. I believe that this quality makes this development far more useful and revolutionary than what would simply be a simulation engine for story-telling.

Hopefully I can develop better rhetorical devices to describe the ideas I am reaching at.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to Write the Protagonist or Protagonists of a Narrative Focused Video Game

Does the player interact with an narrative heavy game by controlling the protagonist? Games in the past have had many different approaches to the idea of protagonist. In some, the player directly controls one character.  In others, such as RTS games, the player commands larger groups of characters to accomplish different tasks. Role-Playing Games will often task the player with managing a small party of heroes. And in some games, the player doesn't control characters at all; tycoon games usually have a player manipulating a corporation that then interfaces with AI people. For a game with a focus on narrative and character, which method proves itself to be best?

The question goes even deeper than simply asking who the protagonist is; it makes the designer have to decide how much control is handed over to the player and of what kind. Does the player simply write the story, controlling the decisions and actions of all the characters, or do they only act as one causal agent? And if the player has reign over the main protagonist, how much room does that provide the designer to define the character at all? Does the designer create a doll house or a novel? Would creating a sandbox for role-playing truly create the best experience?

I have my doubts.

 Frankly put, outside of total simulation I do not find the idea of handing over the entire character to the player appealing for narrative purposes. The best example of this happening in video games can be seen in western role-playing games. For instance, at the beginning of an Elder Scrolls game the player creates an entire character from scratch which is then dropped into the role of hero. While it works (even though most people went through Skyrim guiding one of the most contradictory characters one could possibly imagine, it was not so much an issue that it detracted from the overall experience), I would say that it fails to create the proper amount of drama and narrative magic to really be seen as a reasonable approach unless the player is of the minority who sticks to a strict regime of role-playing consistency. The writer will always be better than the player when it comes to creating characters that fit appropriately in the fiction.

So, if the writer holds the power to creating the protagonist, is the player left to having no agency and being filtered through a linear plot that takes little advantage of the properties games have to offer? Of course not!

This is a problem I want to solve. Does the player determine the decisions of the protagonist, or does the personality of the protagonist determine those decisions? Which answer conveys more character? A player given the goal of obtaining victory and optimizing their path towards such will not make dramatic decisions in these situations, especially since they are so disconnected from the emotion of the fictional situation. A character's personality will lead to that character making particular decisions that in turn affect the game. 

Essentially, my answer is that the player does not enjoy themselves playing the the part of the character, but rather the character and the game are two separate entities, both dynamic and prone to change, and in constant influential relation to each other. Some titles have already started to explore this idea, but it needs to be developed further and stripped of the violence of current games.

Monday, October 22, 2012

And Now Back to More Important Things: Why I Have Chosen the Web Browser As My Next Platform

I am not particularly fond of browser games. Granted, I spent a lot of time playing them in my youth, but as I grew older the less seriously I took them. There was just something about downloading an executable file; a game located directly on the hard-drive seemed to offer so many more possibilities than a web game. They looked better, they were less bug prone, and they allowed for modification. Today, though, it seems as if many of these shortcomings have largely been overcome in the browser game space.

The ways in which browser games are developed are many and varied. Flash, Unity, Java, HTML5, Javascript, and other tools all provide their own advantages and contribute to the variety of web games. For all of my previous projects I have used Game Maker as my primary development environment, a program that creates stand-alone executable files that must be downloaded. While it has served me well, I feel as if it limits the potential audience I could reach. Finding a link to a download, waiting for megabits to travel across a pipe, placing the .zip file somewhere on the hard-drive, and then extracting the game files presents quite a barrier. Anyone can open a web browser and direct themselves to a website, and with the Internet becoming increasingly faster, this process delivers no pain.

Though I am not completely acquainted with the bounds of the technology yet, I also suspect that browser games are far easier to create as cross-platform. In the two times I competed in Ludum Dare, I often found players vehemently upset that they could not play my games on a non-Windows computer. Surely this is a valid complaint, and one that, when addressed, would benefit all parties involved.

Not only does using the web as my platform allow me to access a far larger audience, but it also pushes me out of my developer comfort zone. I cannot create games using Game Maker forever, and browser application development seems like a reasonable path to pursue.

There are other interesting possibilities in regards to making a browser game, but I will need to give them more thought before fleshing them out in text.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

That Day Has Come: The Pac-Man Has Been Released!

I decided over the weekend to pull this behemoth out of limbo and share it with the public. My consciousness can now rest.

All this and more awaits. The Pac-Man indulges itself as a tribute to both the original game and the variations of it made throughout the years. With 70+ unique stages across ten different worlds, The Pac-Man provides a challenging arcade-adventure experience filled with contrived and uncontrived surprises around every corner. With a new system for how ghost AI operates and a large amount of interesting game elements, this is Pac-Man unlike ever before: it is The Pac-Man.

Download the game now at the IndieDB page: The Pac-Man On IndieDB

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interesting Parallels Between Characters and Environments

I have been taking rather extensive notes on my current thoughts regarding the project I have embarked on completing, but there is one idea that seems to stick out in poignancy that would like to write about here. That idea is the comparison between characters and environments.

Most video games today are extremely environment-centric. The game's content is broken up into spaces called "levels," or the game takes place in one large, cohesive space which is called an "open world." Game development teams have level designers and environmental artists; the level designer plays a major role in determining how the player interacts with the game while the environmental artist plays a major role in how the game reveals itself to the player. For pretty much any game of any genre (platformers, RPGs, point-and-click adventure, racing, first person shooter, real time strategy) the most essential mechanism of control and interaction intends to move the player through 2D or 3D spaces. This mechanism is so universal that controllers are built around it; analog sticks, d-pads, and arrow keys are all abstracted controls that are designed specifically to maneuver an object in geometric space. Players explore and interact with the environment.

I decided early on to not focus on a player interacting with a plot; it felt to aimless and if it were made to not be so the results would be odd and definitely not what I am currently looking for (though perhaps interesting to use in a game or two that justifies the idea). Rather, my attempts at subversion focus on characters; as Chris Crawford talked about games simply being about things, and if they wanted to evolve further emotional and narrative depth they would have to be about people. But what is to be done with characters? They are simplifications of people; all the meat and none of the fat. Looking at how games have handled characters in the past, chess plays the role archetype. In chess, there exist several unique types of pieces each with their own attributes. Each could be labeled by letter, number, color, or symbol and the player would have just as fine a time enjoying the possibilities to be found in the rule set. But instead, the traditions labels each piece with a character. The piece which takes the smallest steps, is most abundant, and whose loss is not to be cried over is given the character of the pawn. The most important piece on the board, that which if killed ends the game, and yet is not very powerful in its own right, is given the character of the king. And that most powerful and influential piece, second in importance to the king, is given the character of the queen. And so on. Good usage of characters in games shows a connection between characteristics and function.

But is this going far enough? Compelling, rounded characters are not static entities. They change and they grow. If a game connects character and function, and yet character changes, must not function change as well in proportional fashion? Maybe I am getting at something; maybe I am not.

If a game is to focus specifically on characters, what would it look like? Well, there are many games that seem to focus specifically on environments and I have already explained what that looks like. Players explore and interact with the environment as their primary action; I shudder to think how much time I have wasted in my lifetime commanding my avatar to walk forward and to watch them march on and on as the artificial hours of game time pass away.  What if a player were to explore and interact with the characters as their primary action? What would that game look like? Would not that be a true "social" game?

How do humans explore environments? They use their limbs, in cooperation with physic laws, to maneuver through it. Is this the same way environments are explored in games? Of course not; homes are not filled with VR gerbil balls and full-body touch sensation suits or neuro-communicative computers; they are filled with game-pads, keyboards, and mice. The technology to build the simulation is either unreasonable for the average man to own or completely non-existent. Instead, technology allows for the creation of not simulation, but rather abstraction. When controlling a character in a video game, one experiences an abstraction of exploring a space. Developers have become extremely good at creating these abstractions and making them interesting to interact with.

The majority of work done in an attempt at improving the connection between game and narrative via interaction falls under its own weight; it has all favored simulation over abstraction. Of course though, simulation is far closer to actual human experience and thus is far easier to visualize. What about a game that allowed the player to explore and interact with characters through some sort of abstract mechanics?

To bring this idea into fruition; that is my goal.

(And dialogue wheels/trees are not the form of abstraction I am looking for).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It Is Time To Get Serious And Embark

Despite that I feel as if I am twelve years old still, I am an adult. At least, the law says so. In my youth I meandered about the immaterial possibilities of the future and now that I have arrived with the freedom, knowledge, and opportunities I had hoped for, it is time to start the process of manifesting those immaterial possibilities in the realm of physicality. This process starts tonight as I write this first post chronicling what will only be a very long trip. By the end I do not know what I will find, but that excites me.

There are too many unknowns to provide a comprehensive image of what I am talking about, but let me lay out the basics; I am going to make a game. Yes, this whole entire blog exists for me to write about my experiences in game development, so this might not seem to warrant such unique treatment. Here I will deliver an explanation. There are two forces that are driving the creation of what I am going to make. The first force is of the professional nature and roots itself in my desire to find a stable place in my career. It is quite clear to me already that attending college will not be enough on its own to truly provide me with the edge I am looking for, though it is certainly a great resource. I need experience and more importantly I need to prove that I am courageous and competent enough to do something of significance out of my own agency. This leads into the second force, which is of a personal nature. I am bored out of my mind and I have a great interest in seeing what I am capable of after spending my entire life watching mankind accomplish the incredible. Am I among them? Of course to some degree I am, but to what degree? The task I am about to go about completing will also bring a ton of improvement to me as an intellectual. The quality of the writing on this blog is a fine testament to how far I have to go. The final aspect of this personal driving force is, as if this blog post was not already under the pretension of angst already, existential. Why do I desire to be a game developer and is dedicating my life to the creation of mere games virtuous? I cannot explain my passion to others and they cannot understand it. I have already eliminated the guilt associated with being able to spend my time and energies creating games by simply dismissing it as fate, with which I feel I must fully appreciate out of humility.

I have developed four whole games, two of which are complete garbage, one of which is fun but brief, and an unreleased one which is the best thing I have worked on despite its usage of properties and ideas that are clearly not my own. Add onto this two dozen game modifications, a dozen stages created for a commercial indie game, and hundreds of scraped projects and ideas. This work comprises my current legacy, spanning the twelve years of my youth during which I taught myself the basics of game development. Well, I have arrived; I now know the basics. Congratulations to me, it is time to stop creating derivative genre games and to start work on a significant work. Cutting-edge work that has never been attempted before. I am only one man, but the craft is fresh and its frontier still primary uncharted.

The hour is late and my mind contains a soup of underdeveloped and unorganized conceptions in regards to this new project that I will need to have my dreams sort out, so I am going to reveal some of the other more solidified aspects of this, whatever it is. First, I expect this game to take at least four years to develop, but it will probably take more to maintain. Second, I am uncertain of how or if I am going to make a profit off of it. Third, I am going to make major usage of the influences from reading material on game development theory. Fourth, this game will be digital but of a new genre, one that is currently nonexistent as far as I am aware and has only loose similarities to what is already out there. Fifth, it will be family-friendly, comedic, and equally appealing to both sexes in content. Regardless of this, the intentions are not to water down the depth; this game will be as "casual" and as "hardcore" as a typical Nintendo game, by which I mean that it will find a balance between the two temperaments. Sixth, the Internet will be its platform. I personally have a distaste for browser-based game content, but I feel that if executed correctly it could really be brilliant. Also, this will greatly increase the potential audience size and allow for more accessible means for them to play. With so many games being created now by indies and hobbyist developers, no one has the time to download a .zip file or an .exe installer to get into a game. And finally, I am taking cues from the literature on interactive storytelling; I am not going to go as far as some others with the idea, but that might in fact be what works.

Hopefully that provides an idea of what this project is, for my horribly structured paragraphs have probably left behind a confused populace. I am recording the development of this project intimately; for its own sake and for the sake of it potentially turning into as a thesis topic. Of course posting everyday is unreasonable, so I will try to stick to a loose schedule of posting every five to seven days.

What is to come? I would sure like to know myself...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

College (With the Help of Laziness) Has Prevented Me From Making Posts, But Here is My New Foray Into Disappointment

Though, hey, let us be optimistic and say that this project will lead to absolutely no disappointment whatsoever! Anyways, I have been spending the past three days teaching myself how to do 3D in Game Maker and it has actually been a pretty awesome experience. This is what I have so far; generic Sokoban clone #528. But soon it should grow into something far more interesting than that...

I am going to try to collaborate with some of the other game developers at the university I am attending for this project. With what I am considering, it will probably need it!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Richard Dawkins’ Magnificent Microcosm of Mechanically Mutational Evolution!

This is the 4th game I have finished developing and the 3rd game I have released. Made for the Ludum Dare 24, it is a simpler take on Tower of the Sorcerer and DROD RPG. Here is an image of what it looks like:

More information and a download can be found on the Ludum Dare page:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Pac-Man is Finished in a Very Particular Sense

To prove this rather bold assertion, I have posted an image of the title screen. Now no more doubts can be held in the minds of the skeptical.

So what is it that I mean to say by "finished in a very particular sense"? Well, everything is done EXCEPT the soundtrack, which the musician I am working with is still in the process of developing. But besides that one missing element, the rest of the project rests in a state of unchanging completion. Overall, there had to some major cuts to the content, but with 73 unique stages in the final product I am quite happy with the final result. I think it is a good game, but I will still have to release it into the wild and receive the criticism of anonymous forces in order to have that feeling confirmed as some sort of reality.

This is the third video game I have finished development on, and it is the first one that was highly ambitious. The project took around four and a half months to complete. Along the way I have learned a great deal of lessons in development, and from here onward I now have a really solid foundation of understanding to work with.

Once the game is released (the date of which is to be determined, since it is difficult to gauge how long the soundtrack is going to take to complete) I will write a post-mortem that goes into the details of what I have learned and what I tried to do with this game.

Hopefully, though no promises can be made, this is the first and the last game I will make that utilizes an intellectual property that is not my own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In Regards to Writing, Fewer Words are Usually More Elegant and Accessible

But the writer needs to draw the line clearly between what they can safely assume the reader already knows and what ideas they still need supplied to them to fully comprehend the point being given. I often encounter writing that fails to draw this line in the proper location, either providing too much information or leaving out some vital concept. I am certain that this blog post itself fails to draw the line properly as well, as any hastily and not-so-hastily scrambled together prose of mine does.

Unfortunately, the problem of drawing the line has no perfect solution, since the audience consists of differing individuals who will require different lines (based either upon their actual knowledge or their initial attention to the piece). Is it then reasonable to find out the average amount of information known and unknown to the general audience, and then base the positioning of the line upon that?


I imagine this concept applies pretty well to video game tutorials, if I need to bring this thought back around to the subject matter of this blog.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Best World Map of All Time

Nope, just kidding, this world map is actually just "okay". It does better suit the game than the previous one I had installed. As I have mentioned previously, I scraped the original world map for a multitude of reasons of questionable validity. After 6 hours of wading through my ugly, messy code I was finally able to augment the system into what it is today. Many tears were involved. Now I have this as a result; it's better than the previous map. Probably. No, definitely.

Maybe there will be a trailer within the next 1000 hours. I do not want to make any wild promises though...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fasting Does Bring Revelation!

After taking a break from playing video games for a while, it hit me that the less time I spend playing games the more I actually like the thought of them. This is probably common sense. A good analogy would be substance abuse. Wait, no, that would be a horrible analogy. A good analogy would be that of a man who loves some food, say, Greek gyros, and decides that because he loves that food it is all he is ever going to eat. But quickly he will get sick of the food; the sensations it brings will no longer be a treat, but rather they will be ordinary. Such is with the case for the man who dedicates too much time to one particular hobby.

Moderation in many things is key, it seems. Again, this common sense is far easier in theory.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sometimes Murdering Children Gets to Me...

Humans suck at quite a few things. They can eat food okay, standing is not too much of an issue for them, and their defecation can come along quite naturally. But when asked to design and then simulate a complex game structure in their minds, they will usually forget a variable here and there. Complete visions of what a finished product might be are great, but they should not be indivisible wholes. The vision of what a game is going to be must be malleable so that new discoveries in science and play testing can inform and improve upon the original concept. Sometimes these improvements are minor; usually, though, they are complete conceptual refurbishments.

The current game I am developing has recently undergone this phase. The systems are magically transformed from theory into software and I get to see every wrong guess on my behalf in regards to how the game plays. For instance, I originally envisioned a rather straightforward narrative commenting on the philosophical notions of hedonism. After all, its a fan game about Pac-Man, one of many selfish video game protagonists; the dude eats up pills and fruit and that is about it. But once I started to actualize the game's AI, I began to realize that the relationship between Pac-Man and the ghosts was far more important and interesting than his relationship with a bunch of poorly sprited dots (hey guys, the joke is that it is impossible to poorly sprite dots; well, kind of).

And with that realization, I decided to change the plot. But ultimately, at least for this title, because it is after all just a stupid fan game, this is a rather minor change. It means I need to redo the opening and closing and perhaps make the writing a tad bit less insufferably self-serious (because one can not take fan games seriously and still expect to be accepted by society). However, I did have to decide to make one big cut to the game, and unfortunately, that cut is going to hurt because not only was the concept one of the reasons I decided to make the game in the first place, but all of the content I am throwing out probably took about 40 hours to create.

I murdered the world map. Its blood stains my casual outer wear. It does make me look a little bit suspicious. Maybe I shouldn't go outside for a while. Or better yet I could put on a fresh set of clothing. No, but really, it is dead. That glorious icon I was going to use to venerate the famous world map from Super Mario World has become just another victim of iconoclasm. Why did I kill it? Well, first, it become quickly apparent to me that the multi-path layout of Super Mario World worked because the levels were large and explorable. It is pretty difficult to place hidden exits in stages that operate on a non-scrolling screen. Any other substitutes I could come up with to finding hidden exits (such as doing a bunch of esoteric rituals or beating the stage under a certain time) were just missing the point.

Second, certain ideas I had in place for different level themes would be impossible to link together on the same map without the result looking absolutely forced. This kept me away from using some of my better ideas and instead had me feeling as if I would have to settle for some really generic level themes. Maybe an actually artist could do it; I cannot.

Finally, I had made too much space for secret levels that would be devoid of meaningful content, would waste the players time, and most importantly, would waste even more of my own development time. I am an indie developer making crap that is put on the Internet for free; replay value is not my first priority. Everything I want the player to experience is to be discovered in the main set of stages, from beginning to end. Beating the game will not simply be a, "Yeah, the horribly written story is complete and you've only played 45% of the game, but it's all cool, if you want to leave now you can do so without feeling bad," moment, but a, "Sup, you beat this game. Seriously, wow, that was crazy impressive. You must be dead or something after that." The game's development should really start to come to close; I do not want to notice that it is December and I still have to create ten extra stages before I can start to wrap things up. A game is done when a game is done; most of the advice speaks against releasing too early, but in my case, I could potentially face the troubles of releasing too late. Look at Duke Nukem Forever. I don't want to be that.

Cutting out the current world map is cutting out content, but that content is fat, and a leaner game is almost always better. The replacement will actually be using most of the same code actually; instead of a large, Super Mario World-esque world map I have opted into creating a level selection system akin to the map from the Game Boy Color version of Super Mario Bros. I just realized I need to desperately stop taking inspiration from the Mario series (it's just too good).

So yeah, I killed a few of my kids. Huh.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Apparently This Blog is Old and An Update on My Cute Fan Game

I decided to look through the archives to have a good laugh at the meager amount of content I put out now compared to back in the past when I zealously made sure that I posted something everyday. But instead of entertaining my present self with my past self's naive dutifulness, I realize that this blog is over a year old. And I missed its birthday by like three months. Oh no, what will I do. Maybe I will do something special for the 100th post for this thing. But maybe not, because of the whole "no one actually reads this blog" thing. Either way, online comic tropes will be employed.

Anyways, remember that one game I was making? The one where out of sheer laziness to develop my own fiction I decided to steal the Pac-Man mythos from Namco instead? Yeah, that is still happening, funnily enough. I have just finished world 7 out of 10 and I am really liking where things are going. The game gets quite difficult in these later stages, but I feel that if I don't challenge the player I am wasting their time. The ironic thing is that I usually prefer to play easier games. Once I have the main set of levels designed and finished I'll make a trailer for the game to show the world what good fan games look like. Awwwwwwwwwwww yeah.

ShootMania is Pretty Cool

Whenever I get an invitation into a private beta for some game I feel like the swellest dude in existence. All of sudden I feel as if this means I am some how important in the industry; as if I am being contracted to make games better with my betterness.

And then reason and logic return after a brief 30 second hiatus of fantasy and remind me that, "Oh yeah, I am just one dude of thousands invited to the beta because I put my email in some database. Huh."

I read on NeoGAF that the beta keys for ShootMania were being sent out and I vaguely remembered signing up to give it a try. I checked my email, found my key, wallowed in irrationality for a brief time span, and then downloaded Nadeo's latest.

TrackMania is one of the greatest things ever. To say it is just some racing game with a track editor is to miss the brilliance of TrackMania. It is a very pure experience and its design is almost of the quality of a good sport. The tracks themselves do not function like race tracks, but are rather intricate obstacle courses that test the player's understanding of technical driving. Each track then turns into a time trial, with up to over a hundred players on a server racing through a track in a set amount of time trying to get the highest placement. While it seems to me that most racing games like to focus on the vehicles, TrackMania stands out by focusing on the tracks (everyone races through a track using the same car; this is a very simple, but quite literally perfect balance). And ultimately, at least personally, tracks are far more interesting and worthy of emphasis. And then you add on to this the easy to use, intuitive track editor, the multitude of community features, the custom server features, the competitive scene, and the globally and locally ranked offline experience. I need to stop talking about TrackMania before this whole article becomes about how great it is.

But what if you had the same thing, but it was like Call of Duty. No, wait, I meant Quake and Unreal Tournament. You know, what if it had guns? What if it was TrackMania, but cool?

Well, then the result would be the inevitable ShootMania. Let me be clear though; saying that ShootMania is TrackMania with guns is doing it a massive disservice. ShootMania, like TrackMania before it, is important not because it whores the values of Web 2.0 (which it does, and gloriously), but rather because it takes a genre of game and tries to purify it. Especially with the onslaught of online shooters with leveling systems, customized weapons and abilities, and free-to-play money making machines of shame, the FPS genre could really use a detox.

In ShootMania, as in Trackmania, every player is on equal standing. There is only one default attack players have at their disposal and they all have only two health points. The orbs players shoot are slower than bullets and are designed to be dodged. There is neither ammo (ammo regenerates) nor health (death's only prevention is to avoid damage) on the field. While these two elements can go a long way in defining the flow of a map, the maps I played in ShootMania seemed to do fine without them. ShootMania very quickly becomes about strafing to defend and aiming to attack. I do wonder whether or not the bare FPS mechanics have as much depth to them as the bare racing game mechanics.

But considering that there is some added complexity in the way of game modes, this consideration is probably not all too important. There is the average death match ordeal, which is exactly what you might expect. Then there is some sort of attack and defend mode, which basically functions like KOTH with two hills, one for each team. I did not play too much of this variation, but what I did try was okay, though I really do not have enough experience to judge it properly. Then finally I tried a map where the game mode involved players rushing to activate a central pole, which created a bubble of death that slowly closed in on the map, forcing the players to tighten up their spacial relations to each other. The last man standing at the end was to be proclaimed the winner.

ShootMania is pretty cool. It reminds me of SRB2 in regards to how it handles combat. Which is a very, very good thing. Everyone seems to complain about the interface in Nadeo games, and while I do not think it is as bad as the hyperbole on the Internet claims, it could use some more clarity and polish. Unfortunately, the launch menu for ManiaPlanet, where one makes the choice between TrackMania 2 or ShootMania, is incredibly unwieldy. I played around with the editor and it is as functional and easy to use as it has always been. Visually I question whether or not the TrackMania art style is suited for a shooter, but I understand the pursuit for consistency. ShootMania is a great idea, which I hope sells well enough to be iterated upon. The industry is stupidly desperate for some freshness in its most popular genre, and ShootMania definitely delivers some fresh.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Another Post Containing Almost No Content Except for an Image!

I have been working away on The Pac-Man and it has been going extremely well. I have yet to encounter the major development plagues I have chronicled in angsty form on this blog, at least not in a project threatening form. The game is pretty huge, and I am a bit crazy for letting it continue, but I have come so far that there is really no turning back. It helps that the game design itself has proven to be fun, unique, and deep.

So with all that said, I would say that the arbitarily chosen value describing the completion of the game is something like 40 percent done.

I am not interested in typing up large blocks of text today so I'll end with a highly outdated screenshot of the game's world map, which is severely inspired by Super Mario World.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Full Circuit v1.1 is Out! (And now far easier)

Full Circuit, my Ludum Dare 23 entry, was a polished but incredibly difficult take on Sokoban that introduced some elements relating to circuitry. I have added a checkpoint system in the latest version, that, while maybe cheaply produced, makes the game significantly less frustrating.

Check out version 1.1 at

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Crusade Against the Arbitrary

I have reached the point in the development of my Pac-Man clone where all of the fundamental game play and meta stuff is implemented and working just swell. Basically, from here I expect that I can just create a huge load of content, implementing additional mechanics as needed, and then, once the game is "playable" from beginning to end, and all of the major issues have been ironed out, I can proceed to add a thin, shiny layer of polish. This is basically the approach I applied to my previous two games, minus the polishing stage, which was substituted with me trying to make sure the first pass on each element was, well, good enough. Such is the case in hyper accelerated game development processes. However, will this work for a large project such as The Pac-Man? I am interested to see.

A problem of entering into the content creation stage is the delicious temptation of creating "cheap" experiences. Or, experiences that provide no growth for the player, present no new ideas, are usually quite "grindy" in an attempt to artificially extend the life of the game, and contain no opportunities for the player to enter to mystical flow state. How are these created?

Creating levels for Pac-Man at first might seem like an incredibly easy job. The designer needs to draw a maze, of whatever shape, and then add in pellets, power pellets, ghosts, and Pac-Man. After this, the work is done; congratulations, you just created a Pac-Man fan game with over +200 levels. Put that on the back of the box (shoddy website).

Except, the experience will be terrible.

In the original Pac-Man arcade game the player had to play through the same maze over and over, to the point that the layout of that is burned into the minds of millions under the fever. Shouldn't a large variety of maze setups provide a better, more surprising experience? In a sense, there is an element of surprise and anticipation of the next maze, but when each maze is essentially the same in nature, except arbitrarily rearranged, these positive attributes quickly fall it despair and death. Haha, alteration is great.

The original Pac-Man maze is designed. It is the perfect size to allow for just enough space between Pac-Man and the ghosts for tension but not frustration. Regarding the ghosts themselves, their artificial intelligence is very carefully designed to take full advantage of that maze, with different sections showing off multiple types of enemy behavior. The symmetry of the maze adds a sense of order and duality, and the placement of the four power pellets makes absolutely certain that they can not be abused. As I mentioned earlier, it is very iconic for an entire generation of gamers, and rightfully so.

Anyways, I have been having to avoid the urges to just simply draw a bunch of randomly conjured mazes, decorate them a bit, and call it good. The option seems so easy to embrace, but it is also ultimately unsatisfying. With the different way that I am handling the enemy AI in this project as opposed to the original it is cloning, each stage can be designed around the wills of a variety of enemies. The goal is to maintain that balance between creating a challenging, engaging experience, but not a frustrating or dull one, which arbitrary level design seems to always lead to.

One last note on arbitrary level design more generally applied to other games. In the past two years, thanks to the success of the indie title Minecraft, it seems that developers have become far more willing and inspired to implement procedurally generated content. There are obviously games that handle this concept better than others, but I think there is a very clear difference in the quality of the experience had in a procedurally generated level design compared to a human crafted level design. Just contrast the experiences had in the dungeons of the Zelda series to those of any game that procedurally creates dungeon. Yes, it is Zelda, but Zelda does design better than almost anything else on the market, and the reputation of the franchise is a testament to that (regardless of fan's feelings on some of the more recent entries, the games still have that designed quality). Even games like Skyrim, whose dungeons are not random generated, but abundant and extremely similar, face this problem. Once the player has entered one dungeon in Skyrim, they have basically seen them all; the only differences are in layout, element arrangement, and story notes that are more often than not completely meaningless or ineffective at providing a constant stream of interesting content.

Since this post is at the breaking point of dissolving into a rant, I will stop here.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rule #1 of Video Game Design...

...every single game IS REQUIRED to begin with a happy, breezy, carefree grassland stage, NO MATTER what. Amen.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Download Full Circuit from the Ludum Dare Website...

...if you dare!

Ludum Dare 23 Entry Full Circuit

A Postmortem for Ludum Dare 23 Entry Full Circuit

Full Circuit, a game created within 48 hours for the game jam Ludum Dare, is a game about planetary voyaging, pseudo electrical circuits, and most importantly, brutal passive aggressive punishment. In the game, the character of Less Patters travels from planet to planet to restore electrical power by reconfiguring the broken circuits deep underneath the planets’ surfaces. The game is very similar to Sokoban, the Japanese crate pushing game. However, instead of having the final positions of the crates marked, the player must position the crates in such a way as to complete the circuit seen in the level. This adds another layer of puzzle to the original Sokoban mechanics.

As with any postmortem, I will be explaining what went right and what went wrong during the development process of Full Circuit.

Full Circuit actually exists for two purposes, both of which define its identity. The first purpose is to be a competitive Ludum Dare entry. The second purpose is to be a project for my high school Physics course. When the themes were being voted upon, I was desperately hoping that the result would enable me to effectively pursue both of these intentions. Thankfully, the final theme of “Tiny World” lent itself extremely well to my recent studies focusing around basic circuitry. With a theme and scientific topic in mind, I put myself to sleep with the intention of having a complete and reasonable game idea on the other side. And I did. Thus I decided to go ahead and combine the concepts of circuitry with the game mechanics of traditional Sokoban.

During the whole entire duration of development I was able to keep myself motivated, which was a definitely welcome surprise. This was not the first time I had programmed a clone of Sokoban, so coding the initial game mechanics was not much of a challenge. I started with the player’s movement and collision code, and then threw in the player’s animations. The graphical style of the game was always intended to follow the 8x8 grid format in order to keep the art demands low and to make the game world look tiny to the player. The art style turned out fine, and while it inherently has no issues, it would latter affect the game for the worst. After adding in the code for crates and doing some initial sprite work for the objects I was expecting to add into the game, I had to face my first coding challenge during development. How do I simulate the wire that is connected to the two ends of a battery such that it will only recognize itself as being charged when both ends are connected in a circuit? This proved to be a tricky problem, and one that I was not able to full fix.

My first solution to simulating a circuit was to have each piece hold two Boolean variables, one that says the piece is connected, in some way, to the positive end of the battery, and the other dealing with the negative end. This method would actually work if the circuit was a static whole which could not change. However, in Full Circuit the player needs to be able to build parts of the circuit on their own, and so, the circuits in the game are not static but dynamic. Why did this method not work with dynamic circuits? While I could let each segment of the circuit know it was initially connected to a certain charge, I couldn’t figure out a way to let it know it was disconnected in a way that made sense regarding the limitations of Game Maker. After a break to attempt clear thinking on the subject, I finally came to another solution.

This second solution to coding dynamic circuits simulated individual charges moving along the wire as actual objects. There were blue, positive charges and red, negative charge that would travel through a wire and, if they reached a dead end, would be destroyed. How did this system allow me to know whether or not a part of the circuit had been disconnected from another? If a piece of wire was no longer connected to a source of positive charge, for example, no more positive charges would reach it, and thus, it would revert back to not having a positive charge once all of the charges it did have left. Unfortunately, because of the way this method worked, the charges would have to move through the wire at a far slower speed than desired. Whether or not this is an effective way to simulate the actual science of electromagnetism in circuits is definitely questionable. However, with some level design trickery, the original message of, “The lights come on only when the wire is connected to both the positive and the negative ends of the battery,” still holds.

After finishing the code for circuitry, the bulk of the programming work needed for the game was done. I added in at this point some of the fluff that I usually hate to do, such as the opening, title screen, and intermissions, to get them out of the way in order to completely focus on creating level content. My biggest mistake with making Full Circuit was to interpret the theme as requiring the game to take place on different planets, or “worlds.” This in turn led to me using an art style that demanded large, single screen stages, which would exist as large, one circuit systems. Rather, a game that took place on the small scale of actual circuits, with the player controlling a small creature with the intention of fixing people’s broken electronics, would have led to a premise that could present a far better gameplay experience.

All of the stages in Full Circuit are beyond brutal because of their layouts. Each level is one large puzzle that, if the player makes a tiny mistake, must be completely restarted. The initial solution to this problem is to add some checkpoint or saving system in to the game. Admittedly, this should have been done, since it isn’t too difficult to do with the kind of game Full Circuit is, but I did not have much experience with implementing these kinds of systems and chose to ignore them as potential solutions to the difficulty problem. Another, perhaps better solution, would, as I had stated earlier, be to choose a premise that led to inspiring me to create smaller, more traditional Sokoban levels that would be far more manageable to play through. Unfortunately, I was too fascinated with the idea of having one part of a level affect another because of their interconnection. My mind was also too polluted with the imagery of small, single screen planets due to following the development of several other Ludum Dare games to consider anything else outside of my initial premise as an option.

After building and testing the three stages of the game, I added some polish (such as the animations at the beginning and end of the levels) and faced my Achilles’ heel in regards to game development; sound design. Fortunately for me, both sfxr and Autotracker-Bu came to the rescue and produced, some, well, workable results for me to use. Both of these tools output lo-fi sounding audio that mixes very well together. The only regret I have regarding Full Circuit’s audio is that I did not decrease the size of the .wav music files. For my first submission to Ludum Dare, I am proud of how Full Circuit turned out. However, from it I have learned that, as a game developer, I need to have empathy for the player and put them first, no matter what.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ludum Dare #23 and Oh Boy, I Have a Twitter!

This weekend I am going to be competing in Ludum Dare #23, which will hopefully turn out to be a productive experience. I am going to be lost in the depths of development, so I will not be posting updates on the game I am making. Rather, I am going to put together a postmortem once all is said and done.

Also, take a look, I am now on Twitter, @JMRante.

Time to die...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Am Working on a Pac-Man Fangame and I Feel No Shame

Currently though, the ghost A.I. is incredibly difficult to get right. At the moment, programming A.I. is one of my weak points and hopefully this project will help me gain a better grasp of how to deal with such.

I am still under the curse of senioritis, so I am unable to write further about the development of this project. I leave with a screenshot of the current build:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

An Abrupt and Lazy Image Dump of Glory

I really do not have a desire to write at this moment, but that does not mean I have stopped screwing around with dumb projects that don't go anywhere. Here is an image of a world map I have been putting together. What is it for? That is mystery that may or may not be answered.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Miracles Do Indeed Occur (Under the Right Circumstances)

It has been about a month since I have last posted. During this interlude I have accomplished quite a bit of work.

First, the prototype I ended up building for the game I had last spoke of did not work out, unfortunately. The design was to simple and the only interesting ideas would require me to develop all of the level designs to explore. Even though the platforming worked fine and there where no technical problems, I came to a startlingly (not) conclusion. Platformers are not very interesting anymore. Every indie dude has made one, and while I will not make the ludicrous claim that all the ideas for them have already been used up, any game that tries to sell itself solely on the basics of the genre will drown in a sea of mediocrity. There is nothing novel about two dimensional platformers anymore, since in the past four years both the independent and AAA markets have become more accepting of them again.

With my inspiration for that project dried up by the harsh sun, I moved on to a project that was inspired by a very unique and arcade-y top down shooter called Robotz DX. This game is crazy good nostalgia fuel and has a brilliant control scheme that I have never seen used anywhere else (probably in lost games of the past that I will never encounter). I basically wanted to take the core mechanics and enemy AI from this game and expand it, though I would probably keep the arcade like nature in for my poor, poor sake. I was able to recreate the player movement and control perfectly, but I have yet to tackle the AI. To this game I will return.

So, in the meantime, a miracle has happened. I made a game. I sat down and developed a complete game, from concept to .zip archive. It is called Vacuum and Force (a terrible name, even by my standards, but for some unexplainable reason I am too lazy to change it). Yes, I guess you could conjure some sort of innuendo for that, but let us both admit that it would not be that funny in the end. Did I seriously just write in the second person?

Anyways, this game was made as a project for the physics course I am currently taking. Turns out that physics is a very important component of many games, especially video games (sports too though, and 52 pick-up). I sat down on a lazy Saturday and from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM churned this game out. And now it is done. I still don't know if my soul can handle the absurdity of such a prospect, but I believe it has gone through worse, so I'll probably be fine. The fact that this project was necessary to school is probably the source of my motivation. I am one of those horrible people who will do whatever evils it takes to make sure that my academic status is as satisfactory as possible. During the development I was also following Mojang and their Mojam, which also provided some inspiration. The Swedish people are amazing and I am sure this also had a sort of psychology affect on me.

To describe the game and its relation to physics, let me present the small report I did on it for the class:
Throughout the game Vacuum and Force, the player is tasked with the job of controlling a spaceship with thrusters along a two-dimensional plane towards the finish line avoiding obstacles and hazards along the way. At first, players are meticulous with their control over the thrust of the ship, always seeking shelter in the stability of equilibrium, but over time they develop the skill, understanding, and boundaries needed to finesse their way through each of the obstacle courses with speed and accuracy. Subconsciously the player’s mind familiarizes itself with the physical nature of the game’s reality through repeated play. Velocity, acceleration, and inertia all take roles in defining what happens in the vacuum of the game space. Not only does the player simply witness the results of these concepts of physics in action, but they interact with and control them. This is the power of displaying and experimenting with these ideas in a game; the audience explores the nature of physics through exploring the space of physical possibility. As the player holds down a key to turn on a thruster, they are causing a constant acceleration in the respective direction, and when they let go, they remove the acceleration. Adding, removing, and changing acceleration allows for an indirect control of velocity. This indirect control over motion lends to the game challenge. And with inertia, which causes the spaceship to tend to move in the current direction and speed, balancing the many accelerations and velocities becomes vital to the player accomplishing their goal.

Finally, I leave some screenshots. And, oh yes, a download link:
Vacuum and Force v1.0

Monday, January 23, 2012

Only When Done Will I Know

Game development has proven itself time and time again to be a dreadful leech of motivation. In the beginning of the process one is excited. Ideas whiz about in the mind and the soul gets giddy at the potential. These feelings combine to make the designer feel that the game they are about to make is going to be one of the greatest every. This is fine. All creative types need to experience this initial momentum. However, it is at this point, from my personal experience, that one's emotions regarding their project can go one of two ways. Either the ecstasy inflates the ideas to a point where the vision is impossible to realize or the rationality and cynicism downplays the ambition so that what the designer is working on becomes uninteresting.

To succeed, a balance must be found between these two to keep the game designer motivated until the very end.

Recently, I have been keeping this balance by challenging myself to add new elements into my game that require me to go out of the way to learn something new. Whether it is using trigonometry to write more complex drawing algorithms or experimenting with art styles and animation, challenging myself keeps my mind busy enough that I do not worry about the current, incomplete state of my game. Overcoming these problems provides me with enough satisfaction and confidence that I keep the will to push onward. Only until the game is done will one know if their vision has been fully realized. Prototyping helps to give a taste of this, but it is only that; a taste. Visions fade and the mind starts to doubt the game's potential. This is dangerous for the game designer!

These pitfalls I describe are particularly starting to inflict me hard on my current project. This is not to whine; I am just trying to keep myself self aware and accountable. With this game, much of the experience relies on everything tying together to form one, large cohesive whole. Unfortunately, I need to build this experience with small, individual parts. This process is long and awkward.

I have been continuing work on the prototype. There has been so much added since I last posted: stage headers, balloons, new clocks, etc. I probably should have kept a list of revisions, but I am an amateur who is working alone, so I think I can let that pass on this project.

An image, to delight and inform:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Am a Terrible Artist, But I Must Create Graphics for My Games

I have been composing some backgrounds and tiles, just to see what I can get away with visually. Here is an example:

I am currently not in the mood to create large chunks of text to describe what I am doing, but I will apologize briefly for my horrid abuse of gradients.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Raising Up Systems and Some Thoughts On Combat

Most of the current work on the game recently has been focused on raising up and implementing some of the more fundamental and abstract parts of the game's systems. This includes several important things to making the game work. First, I have added a time limit, which plays a role in the actual game design. Second, I have built a primitive, but good base, for player death. So, if the player jumps onto spikes, falls off the screen, or runs out of time, they will die and the room restarts. This game is not going to have a lives system. Instead, the penalty for death is a subtraction from the score, as for the score is the most important element of the game that the player must worry about. If this breaks the system in some way, I will need to experiment and see.

I have also added room transitions. The player can walk up to a doorway and enter it, leading to next room in the game. Thankfully, since the progression through the levels in this game is (mostly) linear I can use a rather simple room transition system that allows me to use really only one door object for most transitions.

Also added into the game code are nine other types jewels. Sound effect wise, I really like what I have down with the aural experience of collecting a crystal. For collecting every one the sound is same, except, based upon how many points the jewel delivers, the sound effect has a higher pitch. It can almost at times become musical in nature and is quite lovely. Somewhere in there are also clocks that provide the player with more time when collected.

I have been thinking about removing combat entirely from the game. It fits into the fiction I currently have comfortably if every enemy is portrayed as some wild beast. However, I am starting to doubt how much it adds to the gameplay, and how much it makes sense from the perspective of what it contributes to the rest of the systems. If a player can shoot enemies and kill them, they get points. This works. If the player is attacked by an enemy, one of two things could happen: the player is knocked back and has their score decreased or they are just killed and have to redo the room. However, I am currently feeling more interested in focusing on a more pure platforming feel for the overall gameplay where the whole environment is a large obstacle course. Combat is usually boring in 3D platformers and potentially great in 2D ones. This is why some of the best platformers are very heavily focused on environmental traversal, and either have no combat or a basic combat system that has little depth. I have a feeling that this game should be more about environmental challenges. In particular, I am thinking of Super Meat Boy and how it succeeds because it ignores combat entirely, and right now this approach is feeling right to me. But, it is a feeling, and feelings can't be trusted, regardless of the fact that they potentially can be more right than any amount of reason can ever be. I am going to move forward without combat as I create a 20 level prototype and really start to get a feel for where this game can go.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Moving Platforms are Incredibly Discourging But Progress Pushes Forward Pleasingly

I have spent the past days adjusting to school again and solving the most sinister problem I have yet to face on my current project; moving platforms. These are infuriating little critters. After hours of playing around with different systems and variables, they are still incredibly broken. And this is not even my solution I am trying to get to work; this moving platform code is from the engine I am using. However, there is an issue stopping them from working in my code that is not present in the original engine. Something is quite clearly wrong and it is probably obvious. In situations like this I tend to over think, which is both fortune and misfortune.

Reasonably, I have moved on for now and have worked on implementing other systems. This has been an incredibly smooth experience so far, for which I am thankful. Most of the work between now and my last post was accomplished today. I am going to go through all the changes in bullet point form to please my incredibly lazy soul.

  • The art style has been changed. Instead of rendering sprites that are 8x8 pixels, I have realized that this project is going to require less sprite work than I was originally anticipating, and thus I have moved on to 32x32 sprites. The added fidelity is both a blessing and curse. It allows for more detail and more visual opportunities but makes sprite creation a longer process and makes animation even more hell-ish.
  • With the change of art style, I have removed the previous character sprites and replaced them with a placeholder mask for the time being. I am considering creating a non-human for the main playable character. Preferably something that is easy to animate.
  • Those collectable diamonds are new and play a major role in the overall game design. They are extremely polished already too; collecting one is an incredible visual and aural experience.
  • The '0' at the top is the current score and is the beginning of the hud I am going to implement. That score is the most important element of the entire game.
I also tried to add some combat in there, but it was a pretty awful and lazy attempt. The next thing I am going to do is give this another try. With the combat squared away, I will then start to focus on setting up the rest of the important game systems and after that, guess what, it is time to start creating a crap ton of content.