Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Charity Game Jam - Update

A couple of teaser screenshots of the game I am currently making for this weeks Charity Game Jam.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Charity Game Jam

From the 23rd - 30th of November I will be participating in the week long Charity Game Jam.
I will be working with a programmer who got in contact with me through the Tigsource forums he's from the Philippines - you can follow him on twitter here. We've been in discussion for a couple of weeks now and plan on prototyping a little idea for a simple management game. I'll post an update with more information on what exactly we're making sometime next week.


Jam Rules:
  • Make a new game (or edit some old ones!)
  • Style points for using the theme word TURBO
  • Add the charity button to the main menu
  • Submit it to charitygamejam.com Nov 23-30
  • Spread the love! Make games for good!

Time for the second annual Charity Game Jam! Last year, we raised fifteen hundred dollars for the Make-a-wish Foundation. This year, we have a quest for you: the CHARITY BUTTON CHALLENGE.

Your mission is simple: take an old game or make a brand new one and add the charity button to your title screen or main menu. You can send players to the charity you personally like best! Whatever has the most meaning for you.

Spread the love! Encourage others to donate to charity by joining in on the fun of the Charity Game Jam, which starts on November 23rd and ends on November 30th. Thank you!

Remember The Fallen Response

We were interviewed as part being in the section of winners for the Walking Dead Jam, the following things were said about Remember The Fallen:

"Remember The Fallen begins by presenting you with soldier’s graves. You must find flowers to pay tribute to their deaths in a heavily damaged black and white environment. The game surfaced regularly as a favorite for its original approach to the all out war design brief.

Jaz picked it for a special mention, “simply because it looks so interesting”. He added, “Not quite sure what the game really is, but I think with a lot more work and some really creative thinking, this could be as emotionally engaging as something like Journey. It has all the basics there, and if it can maintain its stark atmosphere but add some visual sophistication, it could be a really intriguing game.”

Brian Huntington, our website overlord, also picked it out as something he enjoyed, and added that if this were to blossom into a long term project, “some narrative elements every time you drop a rose, revealing more of a really simple story, would be super effective.”

A link to our full interview can be found here.

The Youtuber known as 'iDubbzTV' uploaded a video of full gameplay of Remember The Fallen which has played an important role in getting some exposure on the game. He say's some really cool things about the game which was quite motivating. It is always odd watching someone play your game, particularly an unfinished jam game but for the most part he seemed to understand what to do, where to go and what the game was about.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Stability Sim - Postmortem

The Game
The game myself and Joseph Kinglake made in 24 hours for Game Hack this year is best described as ‘Human Tetris’ - inspired by the Japanese game show where people have to get position themselves accordingly the pass through oncoming shapes to prevent being thrown into a pool of water behind. Before the jam we knew we wanted to try something new and step out of our comfort zone and that’s exactly what we did. It was satisfying to do something that was both hilarious to create whilst learning a ton of new skills through the development pipeline in Unity 3D.
Game Hack 2013 - Pinewood Studios
The prototype juxtaposes with clear clarity a strong comparison to our previous more ‘serious’ work. I remember one of my lectures saying to me “I’d like to see you try to create a funny game Brad”. This made me consider a lot of things, but what I think his intention was to simply for me try something new and to push out of my comfort zone – and that’s exactly what I have been trying to do.

The game we made is entitled ‘Stability Sim’ – players take control of a rag doll character where they can manipulate each limb accordingly (X = left arm, Y = right arm, B = left leg, A = right leg). Players have to position their rag doll in the appropriate stance in order to fit through the oncoming shapes that move towards players over time.

What went well?
Approaches: For me personally I learnt a ton of new design approaches and principles. I learnt first-hand the importance of user testing and feedback is vital in ensuring a compelling and sophisticated experience. I learnt that multiplayer games go down well, people seem to enjoy local multiplayer as there is a tendency to make people laugh - I am a big believer in making people laugh with games. For me personally the things I find to be funny in games are the things that aren’t supposed to happen in the system. I learnt that considering the pacing of a game can be crucial in keeping players interest, to avoid boredom and controlling difficulty. 
Relaxed mentality: We attended Game Hack with the intent to have a good time and to not take the competition side of things too seriously. This mentality works well for us as a team, often taking too much time to focus on competition and winning as a whole can often stale your game design – this simply adds to the pressure. I think the game that we created definitely reflects our mentality we had going into this jam. Admittedly this isn’t our most sophisticated design.
Playable build within the first 2 hours: Kudos to Joe, he managed to get the core mechanics of the game more or less in very early in the jam – this meant we were able to test the game and tweak the controls from very early on in order to establish how enjoyable the experience was. What we presented was reasonably polished and almost well executed. I think it is essential at any game jam to get a playable build that you can get as many people to playtest out as soon as possible – I feel it is important to prioritise design in the early stages and throughout development, otherwise your game will have very little substance. It is important to tap into the core fundamentals of what really makes a unique experience that has the potential to touch and inspire players.

What Went Bad?
Pacing: This was our second Unity prototype we have worked on so we are not as compatible with the tool as compared to say Adobe Flash – upon reading The Game Jam Survival Guide I have since come to the conclusion that this may have not been such a wise idea, particularly from a competitive stand point. One of the main design flaws with Stability Sim was the pacing of the game. It is extremely slow; having little experience in Unity meant there was even some serious frame rate issues when demoing the game.

Overscoped: Looking back I do think we scoped the project ever so slightly higher than was needed. The project was well scoped for a 48 hour jam, but maybe slightly over for a 24 hour jam. I think we could have simplified a lot of things which would have benefited in order to enhance the prototype. One thing I would do differently would have been to not have had a single player mode as well as a local multiplayer mode but to simply concentrate all efforts on one mode, this was perhaps a little un-necessary given the time frame.

Stability Sim was built in Unity 3D by myself and Joe Kinglake with Autodesk Maya & 3Ds Max for asset creation, Adobe Illustrator for GUI and freesound.org & Audacity for sound design.
As it stands this prototype simply sits as another stepping stone to my next game. I am open to idea of working on this game further, however I have a plethora of additional projects that myself and Joe have worked on that already take priority over Stability Sim.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Game Hack 2013

This weekend from Saturday 16th - Sunday 17th of November I will be participated in Game Hack 2013 located in Pinewood Studios. This is a 24 hour jam which is half the time of a typical Ludum Dare, consideration to the scope of the game we plan to make will need considerate planning. A postmortem of what I create at this jam will be posted sometime after the jam.

Pinewood Studios

Monday, 11 November 2013

Results of The Walking Dead Jam

A couple of weeks back I participated in The Walking Dead 'All Out War' Game Jam along with Joseph Kinglake, our entry has been featured on the Walking Dead site a number of times as an entry that caught the judges attention:

We placed in the top 19th out of a total of 70 games submitted worldwide and were featured on the site again as of October 27th.

As of November 11th the entries were cut to a final 10 of which we were chosen. This meant winning a copy of Unity Pro license, a Steam Greenlight key, the game being exclusively featured on thewalkingdead.com and an article soon to be featured on Eurogamer.net, as well as a ton of signed walking dead merch and goodies... the post can be found here

We got some feedback on the game from the judges: 
"We weren’t expecting an emotionally-focused game about loss of life during a war to come out of this (even though we suggested something along those lines when illustrating what the teams could submit), but we were glad to get one and we found this entrant to be superbly executed. The music, art style and use of color worked well together in expressing a depressing concept, in a game-like environment. And this one was put together in 48 hours!"

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Remember The Fallen - Postmortem

 The Jam
Myself and Joseph Kinglake participated in what was intended to be a 2 week long game jam in about a weekend and 2 evenings. In total, we probably put no more than 48 hours of solid work into this little prototype. The event was an online jam hosted by Skybound Studios, creators of The Walking Dead. The given theme was 'All Out War', more information and detailed rules on the jam can be found through this link.

The 10 best entries will win prizes as follows:
  • Super-special Walking Dead prizes, including signed special books, merchandise and t-shirts.
  • A full Unity Pro license for each of the 10 winners.
  • A Steam Greenlight key so if you choose to build your winning game further, you can ask the Steam Greenlight community to help bring you to the Steam platform!
  • Fame and adulation on Thewalkingdead.com and Eurogamer and other Gamer Network trusted game sites!
  • Featuring on www.Thewalkingdead.com!

And for our Number 1 pick, all the stuff above, plus…
  • The endorsement of Mr Robert Kirkman, should he pick you as our grand prize winner game from the 10 winners.
The Game

Remember the Fallen was our best attempt at a War Memorial tribute game. Inspired by the aftermath imagery taken of the nuclear bomb explosions on Japan in 1945. The game was made to honor the people who suffered during the atomic bomb explosions and the lives affected and ruined for generations as a result thereafter.

Nagasaki, 1945 [Online Image]
Atomic Bomb Survivor [Online Image]
At its core, the prototype is a simple hidden object game where players have to discover flowers in the environment to then place onto the graves of fallen soldiers. Players can simulate the process of paying tribute to the dead. We wanted to give players the freedom to explore, and those who do are mildly rewarded with the ability to interaction with certain unique assets.
The teaser trailer for Remember The Fallen can be found here: teaser trailer
The gameplay for Remember The Fallen can be found here: gameplay trailer

What Went Well
Taking Risks: It isn't everyday that people design a game inspired by the atomic attacks on japan. We very much pushed ourselves creatively to take a big risk in terms of subject matter and visual aesthetics. From a indie design manifesto I take guidance from it states that, "Try to innovate the hell out of anything you make. From how your game plays to how it looks, be unique and you'll stand out. Push your personal limits, try new genres, mechanics and aesthetics. Experimentation and risk are the keys to growing as an artist." (McMillen, 2009). This was the first official game jam that had me working on a 3d game, initially I wanted to use 2d pre-rendered assets into Unity - however I am glad I took the risk to move ever so slightly out of my comfort zone. I learnt a ton about Unity game development processes, I am more open to the idea of working within Unity whereas before I was a little close minded as well as skeptical towards the tool - I do still favor Flash over Unity but am more open to work in it depending on the game idea for suitability.

Feedback & Response: People have seemed to peak more of an interest to this piece compared to my other game projects which has been interesting to say the least. I've had friends say that I'm actually making 'proper' games now - purely based on the fact that it is a 3d game, of course, this is ludicrous. Nonetheless I do consider it a strong peice conceptually but not the strongest in terms of gameplay - note that strong gameplay wasn't our core intention when designing the game. We approached it with the intention to make something interesting on the given theme. The feedback has been fairly positive but it is clear that some players do find it boring, the process of finding and placing flowers isn't that motivating to the player. The most motivating comment we had so far was from one of the employes from The Walking Dead who said, "You're one of our strongest entries by the way, so well done. You planned and executed beautifully. If you don't already make games for a living, you definitely should be".

Not Over-scoping: In game development, the term over-scoping means you've 'scoped' bigger than the game needs to be. Sometimes our ideas and aspirations are greater than our abilities. Feature Creep is when you are mid development and you start having additional ideas which sidetrack you off the task in hand whilst elongating the development time. We scoped this game realistically in relation to our time constraint, technical abilities and skill limitation in the Unity engine. Naturally tasks were prioritised - whilst Joe began focused on implementing the core mechanics and establishing game controls to feel nice, I was working on building an plethora of assets to be used for set dressing. We discussed design choices in relation to the throughout development. When you're working on a game that has a 'finished when it's finished mentality' attitude it can linger for months and ultimately you may lose your enthusiasm and shelve the entire game. "Feature creep is inevitable and so you should expect it, and even assign time to it. This will make you more adaptable and flexible when developing games. The trick is to manage it and not let it manage you."  Ian Garstang (2013)

Unique Take on The Theme: We pushed the minimalist aesthetics and some of the unique qualities of the game in order to stand out from the other potential entries in the competition. A lot of deep deconstruction and thoughtful consideration went into how we planned to interpret the theme prior to the event. We'd previously done a shooter game for the Indie Speed Run competition so we were inclined to push ourselves towards something more than 'just a shooter'. Not rushing into an idea can sometimes be beneficial - particularly when dwelling deep on a subject matter.

Limitations: Working with limitations is great, it makes for interesting and unique ideas. As a designer you want to embrace and explore any limitation that you may have. You should never put off doing a game because say 'your waiting for a new piece of software to come out', you should just do it - work with what you have and you'll find that certain qualities will shine through. Simply doing a game jam is a limitation in itself, time is against you. It will limit the scope of your idea and train you to think in particular way when designing.

The main limitation we had for Remember The Fallen was time, we started the jam about a week into the actual event so the scope for the game had to be fairly minimalist. Also we could only work on evenings and weekends due to jobs and university. Embracing this limitation helped achieve a very specific type of aesthetic in the prototype. We both knew from the beginning that we wouldn't have any time to unwrap and texture any asset, so we didn't. We worked purely with blocked out grey toned low poly assets using scripted filters in unity and minor particle effects to build a traditional grainy film aesthetic. I wanted players to feel like the world is coated in ash -  a minimalist blocked out grey-scaled world helps to achieve this, whilst giving connotations of isolation, abandonment and loss to the player.

The lecture below by Petri Purho discusses why limitations are good for creating games:

What Went Bad
Fun: As it stands, it's a nice 'proof of concept' piece, it has a lot of potential to be something cool. To put it bluntly it isn't very fun and arguably boring to certain players. It is the kind of thing that players need to sit down alone with headphones to fully enjoy searching for what it may have to offer. I like the idea of having mini games/micro games incorporated somewhere in the world, perhaps some combination or number finding puzzle elements which players have the freedom to solve - this might help to enhance its substance and possible open up possibilities for emergent gameplay. Rewarding players for 'thinking' or making them feel smart is always a good thing.
Submitted Early: Technically this isn't particularly a bad thing, however due to confusion over the time zone for game submission we e-mailed over the game with about 24hours to spare. They did seem impressed quite impressed by the entry and the fact we submitted early which was cool. There probably wasn't too much else we could've added to enhance the experience in the time frame that was left anyway - mainly just little tweaks here and there, all the features and mechanics that we wanted to get in were in. Anything else would have just been further set dressing.

Initial Self-Doubt: It's always intimidating trying something new due to fear of failure. I'm glad I entered the event as it was a huge learning curve for me. I'm more than happy with what we made, it illustrates perfectly to the judges what kind of designer I am and the types of games I'm interested to make. Like all the games I make, I do see this somewhat of a stepping stone to the next game.
Internet Speeds: As Joe was working from Amsterdam and myself from UK both of our Internet connections for the duration of the jam were critically slow (mine is awfully slow anyway) - sending over/sharing work was a long and nail biting process. The main sound file for the game took around 2 and a half hours to send so there was a lot of pressure to ensure that the file was right for the game build prior to sending it! It was tricky to iterate the game with this constraint but we just about managed - there was a constant flow of new or updated files being thrown into the Skype chat.

How I'd improve it further
I've been considering how I'd improve the game and that's the kind of question that as a designer you always have to ask yourself because naturally there's always something that can be improved. The direction I'd like to take RTF is in the form of a fully fleshed out War Memorial Tribute Game. I would like to design historically accurate events in war history with appropriate research into the time, location and culture of the event. For example, a level of London during WWII which features players finding poppies to honor the fallen. Similarly an accurate stilled account of Hiroshima and Nagasaki levels that feature white flowers which are culturally accurate to Japans process of honoring their dead. Likewise with such locations and events from, Berlin during WWII, United States during September 11th 2001, the Jewish faith and Auschwitz etc.
Another area I'd like to improve If I were to develop RTF further, is to give players more significant rewards for finding and placing flowers - possibly through a system that unlocks new components in the area where the flowers were found, giving players a reason to backtrack to the already explored area. The rewards could be in the form of unlocking particular personal insights into the peoples lives of the graves just before the nuclear explosion. I like the idea of presenting players with the ability to interact with people, holding their hands, waving, etc.
There's a lot to be said on what could be done to further enhance the players emotional response from the game, I'm looking to produce a Design Document on this in the near future outside of my current University studies. We're currently waiting on result for game jam finalists, The Walking Dead site get exclusivity of the game on the site for 2 months. I will update and post the link [here] when it is available.
Thanks to everyone who's peaked interest in the game and thanks to The Walking Dead for hosting the event, good luck to everyone who participated.

- note this post may change due to further proof reading and changes

Sources Referenced:

- Image 1:

Prof. Chris Bursk. (2012). Atomic Bomb Survivors Meet Harry Truman’s Grandson: Testimonies and Discussion on the Nuclear Age. Available: http://cfpabuxmont.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Hiroshima_aftermath.jpg. Last accessed October, 2013.

- Image 2:

NA. (NA). A Photo-Essay on the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Available: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/levine/bombing.htm. Last accessed October, 2013.

- Indie design article suggesting to 'Take big risks.' (section 4.)

Edmund McMillen. (2009). Opinion: Indie Game Design Do-s and Don't-s: A Manifest . Available: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/26577/Opinion_Indie_Game_Design_Dos_and_Donts_A_Manifesto.php. Last accessed October, 2013.

- An article that discusses over-scoping in game design:
Ian Garstang. (2013). The Over-scoping Game Designer – The Attack of the Feature Creep. Available: http://www.debugdesign.com/2013/01/12/the-over-scoping-game-designer-the-attack-of-the-feature-creep/. Last accessed October, 2013.

- A lecture on working with limitations when creating a game:

Petri Purho. (2011). Why Being Poor and Having No Budget is Good For Making Game. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwXFOgNVMww. Last accessed October, 2013.