Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Mini Ludum Dare #46 - 'SharkJam'

Another Mini Ludum Dare on the weekend of November 2nd/3rd, 2013 under the theme 'Sharks'.

  • Make a game about sharks!
  • 48 hours time (give or take), on November 2nd/3rd
  • Work alone or in a team
  • External assets are allowed
  • Every genre is allowed. RTS! Action! Dating Sim!
  • Have fun!
I'm currently working alone on this one but if anyone is interested in teaming up, feel free to e-mail me: b.smith2@ucs.ac.uk

Friday, 25 October 2013

Junior Game Design Position

I have been searching for available job vacancies that are looking specifically for Junior Designer positions. The job requirements are listed below, I highlighted the areas and skills in which undertaking my dissertation will cover for this potential position.

A link to the studios jobs page can be found here

What you will be doing:
  • Implementation and iteration of the core game mechanics
  • Production of detailed design documentation
  • Working closely with the Product Lead to help with future feature and mechanic creation and implementation.
To be a great fit, you’ll need to bring the following things with you:
  • You will have at least a 2:1 degree in a technical subject.  Ideally you will be able to show examples of games or game content you have made in your spare time.
  • You are a highly motivated and enthusiastic individual with a passion for creating great games and a desire to make great gameplay for a worldwide audience.
  • You are able to demonstrate an understanding of what makes fun and compelling gameplay and have the ability to identify and determine the difference between good and bad game design.
  • You need to be highly technical and able to analyse complex data.  You’ll be excellent at Maths, logical and organised.
  • You have a good knowledge and appreciation of the mobile game space and are able to offer a considered opinion as to why some games maybe more successful than others.
  • You relish the opportunity to take responsibility for key areas of the game design and mechanics and become an important member of a productive and focused team.
  • You are able to work well as part of a team in addition to being able to work independently with minimal supervision.
  • Happy take other’s opinions on board and evolve your designs.
  • You have ability to learn and master new tools and processes quickly.
  • Good written and verbal English skills are essential.  You will be asked to provide examples.
Want to really stand out? Know about these!
  • Have worked on a shipped title.
  • Proven industry experience
  • Knowledgeable about a wide variety of genres.
  • Worked with User Experience and UI creation tools.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Studying Puzzle Design

Since discussing a game idea with my lectures I was recommended to look into the work of Scott Rogers and how he approaches puzzle design. I have been reading the book "Level Up - The Guide to Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers" in order to further understand a more solid and sophisticated approach to puzzle design. In a lot of my work, not all, but some, it's clear that the mechanics are either non-existent or lousy so I hope to be able to learn something from this study. I have churned out all the useful information from this chapter that I feel I could benefit from further understanding for when approaching both rapid prototyping and designing levels.

Rogers tells us that "There's nothing worse than an empty level you just walk through". Players need conflict, as a designer you can throw things in front of the player both good and bad to make the player cry with pleasure and weep in sadness, mechanics are how we can do this. There are four kinds of these things to work with:

Specifically video game mechanics are object that create gameplay when players interact with them. They can be jumped on, activated with a button press, or pushed around. Some examples of mechanics include: opening/closing doors, pushable blocks, switches and levers, slippery floors, conveyor belts, moving platforms.

They look like mechanics, they often act like mechanics, but their purpose is to kill the player. Hazards can also be resembled as enemies, but the key difference is intelligence and/or mobility. All hazards have predictable patterns and limited movement. Some examples of hazards include: spiky pits, smashing blocks, blasting flames, exploding barrels, laser guided missile launching turrets.

Rogers tells us that when designing hazards it's important to make them clearly dangerous for the player. Get information from things of danger in the real world for inspiration try using shape, colour, sound effects and particle systems - anything to make it inherently clear to players that they WILL get hurt when colliding with the this hazard. Try to make a connection with your games themes and the types of hazards that would fit.

"Instant death hazards just suck" They are cheap and mean-spirited. If the player is going to die because of a hazard, let them die because of the they didn't pay attention or get the timing right. Make them realize it was their fault they died, not because the designer decided they needed to die. Death is never a good way to educate the player. It just causes frustration and sadness.

The secret to balancing great video game design is knowing this:

Difficulty = Promotes pain and loss
Challenge = Promotes skill and improvement

A difficult game does whatever it can to punish the player. A challenging game confronts the player with obstacles that can be overcome with skill and knowledge. Rogers refers to the balance between challenge and difficulty as the "fun curve." he states the actual psychological theory about the fun curve called "flow".

The key to keep players from going over the fun curve is to create ramping gameplay. A designer must build one gameplay system upon the last, teaching the player a new move and how to master it against mechanics and enemies. The gameplay elements are combined and gently intensify as the game progresses. 

Props are mechanics that don't move. Props can be placed into the level to make it feel more like a real place. They can sometimes act as obstacles or barricades that players are able to use to avoid, jump over or take cover behind. Allow players to be able to interact with your props in your world, let players knock over light items, shove around heavy ones, closely example interesting pieces of statues, bookshelves or paintings. You can use breakable props to access new areas or yield treasure. There's nothing more satisfying than breaking things to get a load of treasure, but try not to overdo it as it can turn your carefully designed gameplay into a mindless smash fest.

Crates are breakable items that yield goodies and double as platforms, but they're also overused clichés that have become a joke within the gaming industry; visually boring and, frankly, a lazy fallback for designers and artists who don't want to burn the brainpower to think up more interesting breakable objects.

Here's a list of breakable objects you can use to populate your game with other than a crate: Barrel, treasure chest, vase, urn, trash can, mailbox, newspaper stand, baby carriage, metal drum, cargo container, cardboard box, cage, lantern, lamp post, filing cabinet, fish tank, toy box, keg, hay bale, pile of skulls, dog house, bird house, tiki idol, statue, fortune-telling machine, church donation box, suggestion box, ATM, hollow tree stump, attaché case, safe, suitcase, TV monitor, fuel tank, refrigerator, oven, breadbox.

There is one more type of mechanic which is the rarest one of all. It's that mechanic that's "just for fun." This can be the player piano that plinks out a tune as you approach it or the toilet that flushes if you interact with it. Don't be afraid to include these just-for-fun props in your game.
Timing puzzles are mechanics that move. They are perfect for creating tense moments where the player has to wait for the right movement to dash through whirling blades or smashing pylons. They cause players to experience anticipation as they wait for the right moment to jump to a moving platform. A timing puzzle should have the following:

1. The hazard must have a discernible movement pattern. Back and forth, up and down, zigzag, circular, or figure of eight. It is important that players are able to track the movement of this hazard.
2.The hazard must have predictable timing. Random timing is unfair in order for the player to understand the pattern successfully.
3. The window of opportunity must be tight, but not impossible. Allow leeway for the player at the stat and close of the window's opening.
4. Use "tells" in the world to give the player clues to where it is sage to stand and where they will be hurt or killed. Players will notice these things and will learn to use them as markers for success.

Doors hold their own set of issues when designing a level. Think about how the player is meant to open a door. Be mindful of which way your door opens. Does it open in? Does it rise up? Does it lower down? Does it swing out? all of these opening actions can lead to different gameplay scenarios. Even a simple door in a survival horror game can be closed in the face of an enemy to buy the player the time to reload or escape.

The game 'Hotline Miami' features the use of doors as a mechanism for killing enemies. It makes for interesting action filled scenarios where players can potentially beat a level using nothing but a single door to knock out their opponents. In this game players also have control over triggering enemy paths with the use gunshot sounds to alert opponents - players can use this method of crowd controlling numbers of enemies in the form of 'camping' based strategy. This is the kind of thing that player stumble across overtime and learn how to use door positions and corridors to their advantages. Once players have figured this out it makes players feel smarts that plays an important role in the fundamentals of the core gameplay experience

"Hotline Miami - Online Image"
Despite their benefits it's important to consider the problems that doors can bring into your game design. Quickly opening doors can clip into the player or cause the player to get knocked down. Make sure the player doesn't get caught on doors or doorway geometry. This is particularly important is players are walking through hundreds of doorways - players will become irritated if they get caught up every time they are trying to walk through your faulty functioning doorway. The early 'Resident Evil' games use doors in quite a sophisticated way, they designed their level loading to correspond with the player opening a door. Not only did it mask the loading of a level section, but it built tension as the door slowly swung open.

Locked doors are perfect for getting players to find an alternate route in your level. However, make sure it is super clear to the player that they can't get through, the appearance needs to be obvious to avoid frustration.

"Make sure you know the answers to these questions and then keep the method of entry consistent throughout your entire game."

S, Rogers (2010). Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, ltd. NA.

NA. (NA). Hotline Miami. Available: http://www.co-optimus.com/images/upload/image/beyond-co-op/hotline%20miami/hotline%20miami.jpg. Last accessed October, 2013.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Norwich Game Expo 2013

Yesterday I was in Norwich all day showcasing a game to the public for the Norwich Game Expo 2013. This was the first time I have ever showcased a game at a public event, so naturally I was very excited and it was an awesome opportunity for me.

Setting up

The game I showcased was something I made in 24 hours for a game jam early this year for Game Hack 2013 with Sam Amantea-Collins.The game is called Scrappy Chappies, I wont go into too much detail as I plan to do a full postmortem on the game relatively soon so I'll leave a gameplay video for those who are interested.

You can also download the game for FREE here: link

I was given a table in the corner of the expo to myself where I had my monitor and keyboard set up with Scrappy Chappies running from my laptop. On both sides of my monitor I had help cards showing the controls for players 1 & 2 in case people were confused - and a card explaining how to reset the score on top.

I noticed that a lot of people were quite shy and would just watch at first - if I didn't ask people 'would you like to play?' then they wouldn't. So I was pretty much on my feet all day, telling people all the details about the game and myself. The game seemed fairly accessible to a wide variety of different people which was nice. Both girls and boys young and old played and enjoyed it, one girl said she couldn't wait to download it and play her little brother at it which was really wonderful to hear.

These guys played over 200 rounds!

The feedback I received on the game was very positive, everyone who played it laughed or had a big grin on their face which was really encouraging. No one seemed to have trouble with the controls and a couple of people came back to play more than once! Players also seemed to stick around and play for a really long time I don't think anyone played for any less than 10 minutes, which was really cool to watch.

The press even took a couple of photos of people playing the game which was exciting. The game is quite photogenic as players are sharing a keyboard and were often laughing with the game. Doing this gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to make games, I was blown away by the amount of people who played the game, and the day far exceeded my expectations as the game got far more attention and positivity than I could have imagined.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Glider - Postmortem

Glider - Postmortem
On Friday 13th September 2013 at 7:17pm I hit the ‘GO’ button at www.indiespeedrun.com and our theme of ‘First Planes’ and element of ‘Toupée’ was randomly generated for us to build a game in 48 hours.

Arguably this was one of the most challenging game jam themes I had been tasked. We struggled for a good few hours in trying to come up with an interesting or unique take on the theme.

The Game 
The game is a fairly straight forward avoider/shooter game with some minor interesting dynamics in place. I liked the idea of having a shooter game where all the characters in the game were piloting vehicles that appeared to be powered by kinetic energy. The art direction is loosely inspired by the imagery of Mr Da Vanci’s inventions.

What’s good about the game?
Ramping Difficulty:  The game has a stable difficulty curve that ramps up over time. It does well at introducing new enemy types by giving players a chance to see how they function as a singular unit. It’s important to teach players how a unit functions alone before overwhelming them with that enemy type and with other enemy combinations.

Customizability: This is both good and bad. It is good that the game features a customizable character. However, it’s bad in that it makes a very little impact in the game. The playable character is fairly small in scale so it is difficult to visualize. This was actually the first time I have worked on something with character customizability. From a design perspective this was maybe a little pointless and looking back I probably should have been focusing on designing units to make for an enhanced player experience with gameplay variety as opposed to a customizable player experience with limited gameplay.

Feedback (Kongregate): Some of the feedback we had for Glider was surprisingly positive. A large number of the suggestions made so far are for power-ups, mute button, less repetitive gameplay/more enemy variants. Glider definitely seems to appeal to a certain type of gamer, with a little research into the specifics of what these types of players look for and don’t look for in the games they play could really help Glider develop into a more gratifying flash game.

What’s bad about the game?
Replay Value: When players die in Glider, they are sent back to a loose screen where they then have the option to replay from the start or select outfit. Other than the fact they can change the outfit of the character there isn’t much in Glider does well to motivated players to play again from the start. This could be overcome simply by keeping players in the game, giving them a less harsh penalty for dying with the loss of potential high score record as the only downside to dying perhaps. Alongside this it would be important to give quick respawn times to make for instant and even faster paced action crossed with constant flow of action gameplay being thrown at the player.

No Substance: What I mean by this is that it’s nothing special in terms of artistic value or originality. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. It would have been nice to experiment a little more with something that had a little bit of substance or potential for artistic merit. Of course iterations could always be made to give a game like this artistic substance. I like the idea of making a shooter where player play as the bullet. It’s important to consider what any type of game doesn’t do and experiment with those ideas for substance.

Gameplay Variation: As there are only 3 different variants of enemies to shoot there is limited dynamic variety in the core gameplay. As a result it players tend to gets bored fairly quickly once they have been exposed to all enemy types. This can easily be overcome by simply adding more enemy types and then building levels with variations of each combined into randomly generated positions of set waves.

What I learnt

Pacing: One thing that is fairly interesting and new to play around with for this jam was the pacing of a game. Generally speaking the games I have made in the past have been quite slow paced or ‘clunky’, Glider was purely an attempt to make a fast paced game.
I learnt that when designing levels it is sometimes nice to give players a moment to take a break – particularly in games with extended periods of faced paced gameplay.

Art Style: Because we had to pay a $25 entry fee for this jam, and as well as some of my favourite games designers judging (Jason Rohrer) there was a lot of pressure to make something of a high standard, which arguably is in some parts. With this in mind, we very much played it ‘safe’, particularly on my part in terms of art direction. The art is very similar to a game I had previously made I felt in the shadow of the last game I worked on and was a little bit hesitant to leave my comfort zone and try something new for this jam specifically with all the pressure. Looking back I could have been valuable from a learning perspective to take that risk. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Indie Speed Run Game! - Glider

A game I made in 48 hours under the themes of 'First Flight' and 'Toupee' is now live on the Indie Speed Run site. You can play it and if you're feeling kind rate it directly from this link. Feedback is of course always welcome and I hope you enjoy.  I will post up a postmortem analysis very soon!

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Importance of Game Jams

On Wednesday morning, I presented a 20 minute session to a room of fellow students on the importance of Game Jam events and why more people should in fact be doing them.

For all those who missed my presentation session I will be briefly going over what I talked about in this post:
Why are they important?

Learning: You'll be surprised at how much you can learn in a short time frame, in fact I have probably learnt more about making games in 48 hours than I have when working on a game for a couple of months. This might have something to do with the short time frame or condensed hours all merged into one blurry sleepy experience. I see every game as a stepping stone to the next game. You'll learn something new after each and every game jam and with that is one step close to potentially making some thing that people will enjoy.

Passion: Telling employers at an interview that you've participated in a game jam is always a bonus. It tells them that you're clearly passionate, that you're willing to make games in your spare time and that you've done more than what was asked of you for your university modules. If you like the idea of working for a company or games studio then there's nothing that shows your passion for making games better than game jams. It gets your face out in the world and gives you something to talk about. The more events you attend, developing games will become natural to you. For me, my passion for making games grew the more game jams I entered. It's given me experience and knowledge that justifies my passion when talking to other developers.

Networking: Jams for me are the best place to build up my networks, not only with people who work in industry but with other students to share/compare projects or even to find someone to work with. It is the ultimate place to get your work seen by industry folk, often companies sponsor game jams and give prizes out to promote their company, they often come to these events looking for talent and people to hire. If you're good enough and you're passionate you might even end up with an interview or even work. If not, they will be more than happy to look at your portfolio or CV and give advice from experience. Bottom line is, if you're looking for work in the games industry game jams are possibly the best way of finding it.

Industry encourages it: If you want to prepare yourself for the games industry with pressure filled deadlines and crunch times, then games jams are good practice for giving a taste for how the industry runs. Also certain companies even hold in house game jam events to their staff when pitching or coming up with a new game idea to develop.

Communication: It's so important to talk about you games, and to learn how to communicate your ideas. Game jams are a good work out for your game design brain. Making games uses your whole brain, chances are you're lacking in some area, so working and communicating ideas with others is important.

Advice & Tips

Aim Low: All of these tips are mainly aimed at first timers or those who are new to game development, so they go with out saying. There's nothing wrong with aiming low, in fact I think there's no such thing as aiming too low because you can always add little details and tweak gameplay afterwards. The best games I have made at jams have usually been the most simplistic idea, it gives you room to really polish what you have. It's also important to remember that you're not a big company with thousands of people and you may only have 48 hours! So it is crucial that you work with your limitations. Limitations are great, they can sometimes make for more unique or interesting ideas or mechanics and there's nothing wrong with that, less is more!

Priorities: This is SO important! Try to get something playable or the core mechanic of your game idea coded in FIRST. The sooner you have something playable, the sooner you can begin getting people to play test your game and then the sooner you do that you can iterate and make tweaks. Don't worry about the credits, the main menu, or pre-loader, these aren't relevant to the game experience, you can always add these things when the jam is over.

I've known people to build 'game templates' prior to jams which include a preloader, main menu including buttons with sound options in and a game screen all blank and with placeholder art. There's nothing wrong with doing this if you already know how to add these things into a game why waste time adding them in at the last minute for a game jam. Prioritizing what is the most important thing to work on at the time is cruicial for a successful jam game. it is always a difficult one and I still get it wrong from time to time. I've wasted time doing custom character outfit menus and selection screens at jams where I should have been designing unique mechanics for more variations of enemy unit types to mix up gameplay and add variety to the overall player experience, it always shows in the game when priorities have been ordered wrongly.

Will players 'get it'? Once you have your game functioning a little, with perhaps some basic controls or mechanisms. It is best from relatively early on to close your game, re open(compile), step back and pretend you're a completely new player who has never seen this game before. Consider what they would do. Where are their eyes drawn to on the screen? Think about the controls of your game, what inputs need to be made? Could you change your controls to make it easier? Are the controls too complicated or difficult for players?

Think about how you can teach players how to play your game. Interactive tutorials are more enjoyable and sophisticated way to teach players but longer to implement as opposed to help pages. If you use any text, think about where it's placed, consider typography. Remember, less is more. What would work well in your game?  Make the first level near impossible to die, teach players by slowly introducing mechanics, ramp up the difficulty. Try to get a good balance between easy and difficult, you as a designer will be naturally good at your game because you made it, make sure you account for this when designing the first level.

Postmortem your work: After every game jam you do, try to postmortem your work. When you're physically writing something down it helps you to further understand the process. Talk about what's good and bad about your game, consider what players like and didn't like about your game. Think about how you could improve it or what you'd do differently next time from a design perspective only. Try to avoid talking saying things like 'I wish I didn't drink so much on the first night of the jam', think about the game and the direction you could take it.

Feedback: Feedback is a natural part of making games and it's crucial if you care about making something which can be enjoyed by a lot of people. Of course, not everyone is going to like what you do and sometimes people may actually be offended which isn't a bad thing. I think if you can trigger a passionate negative response from someone then you have the potential to trigger a passionate positive response from someone. It's always good to ask people questions when reading feedback. It's good to be humble about your work and really look at it for what it is, be open to suggestions there are many ways of approaching game design and the way that you may have approached it might not be the best. Ask people what they like/didn't like and why.

Competitions & Upcoming Events

- Global Games Jam www.globalgamejam.org
- Ludum Dare www.ludumdare.com
- Indie Speed Run www.indiespeedrun.com
- Game Hack www.gamehack.co.uk
- The Walking Dead Games Jam www.thewalkingdead.com/Gamejam
- TIGjam www.tigjam.com

A lot of people ask me how do you find these programmers to work with (I'm an Artist/Designer) for all these different game jams. The answer is, just go to these events and you will meet programmers or artists or designers who are looking for someone to team up with.
You can download the PowerPoint presentation of the session here: link

Thanks for reading, hopefully someone will get something useful out of this post.