Sunday, 27 April 2014

The World Is A Beautiful Place - Postmortem


Schedule

The jam schedule has been updated accordingly since participation in this particular jam. 

The Jam
The Norwich Inide Game community organised an Game Jam Event that lastest from the 7th – the 11th of April. I started the jam late on the Wednesday night and submitted my entry on Friday at noon. I mainly worked solo for this project but with the help of Joe Kinglake some of the interaction and movement code.

The Game

The theme for the jam was 'Norwich and Norfolk', we created a minimalist piece that simply stands as a proof of concept entitled 'The World Is A Beautiful Place'. I wanted to revisit some old ideas I had kicking around from the previous jam (Stencil Jam) and explore some new ones from some of my recent discoveries. My focus with this jam, as with most was purely towards aesthetics, creating an imaginary little world and attempting to bring everything to life with lots of animation tricks - hopefully some sense of tranquillity was achieved. You can play the game here.

Player’s goal of the game is to simply appease to what the lady in the house requires. Players must search for the key ingredient that will solve the puzzle in the game – thus pealing back the post-it note. My initial vision for this prototype was to create lots of little strips of gameplay that players could peel away once solved to reveal a fresh new one. Each section of gameplay was intended to be fairly minimalist with a couple of minutes of gameplay to solve – making for fairly rapid pacing across new scenes. In the end, I only managed to create one strip of gameplay; the winning animation that reveals the credits screen illustrates this however.

Looking Back to Stencyl Jam
As a follow up from the unsuccessful attempt in Stencyl Jam, the research I had made towards minimalism in games was fresh at hand. The World Is A Beautiful Place was an attempt at pulling the research I had established from the previous Jam into a cohesive minimalist prototype.


What Went Well?

Creatively Inspired
I was immensely creatively inspired for the Norwich Game Jam, meaning I had a good work ethic going into the event. I get heavily inspired and excited by a lot of different things, particularly creative people of any industry that hold such a recognisably unique style to their name, something which takes years of growth and persistence to establish.
When I get inspired by new things I often get very creative. As a designer it is important to me that players are one day familiar with the style or particular qualities in the games I create. I take certain components from other creative and the outside world and merge them together to attempt to build a uniquely cohesive and hopefully memorable experience.

Texture
To enhance the paper post-it note aesthetic, I simply added a crumpled up piece of paper texture over the entire game space and turned the opacity filter of down. This worked very well in creating a unique blend of textured vector style artwork, giving an extra touch that I was particularly happy with.

 

Coastline Influences
I wanted to explore some elements of water and reflection in games; this was tricky as the theme for the Jam was Norfolk and Norwich I had to undertake additional research in order to stay somewhat relevant to the theme and work this it in somehow. I spent some going over imagery of Norfolk coastlines as a basis to get thinking. It proved challenging to get excited about the theme so I changed the direction of my research towards other components that were more creatively stimulating.


Dynamic Text
One aesthetical feature I implemented was to make the name of the game a little dynamic and interactive – this allowed me to develop some additional programming skills too. It was key the name of the game was to be shown to players but I wanted to do something a little different as appose to simply fading out the text. I used ‘Vani’ capitalised font type for text as the clean cut and easy to read appearance complimented the game well.
n Flash, each letter has a unique movieclip and instance name. Within those movieclip is a 35 frame animation. Lettering falls towards varied coordinates whilst fading out to zero opacity. In code I simply put an if statement in the game loop that detects if the player hit tests with a letter movieclip, to then play the animation. Alongside adding polish to the game, this also allows players to clear away the name of the prototype away, which adds a little something to the feel.



Palette and Style
A big influence for this entry is taken from the dark hand drawn illustrations by Don Kenn. Most of all, I have great admiration for his minimalist/simple approach to composition and balance in his work. I aspire to the way he that he fills the page up close, cutting out certain parts of the scene to make for the more visual pleasing piece.

  
The use of negative space with leading lines in his some of his illustrations is very strong as it directs the viewer’s eyes and attention along the page – it is admiring the amount of control he has over the viewer’s focal point. This was something that I wanted to attempt to develop in this jam by some use of vibrant red colour as well as lining up posts along the pier to lead player’s eye contact up the bank – hopefully some control in the player’s focal point was achieved.


Another thing that Kenn does particularly well is strong use silhouette and shape to create interesting subject matter Рthis one of the elements I took from his. I adopted his approach and theme of creating artwork on post-it notes. However, unlike most of Kenns work I did not want to go for any dark or eering themes by the use of subject matter. I wanted to make a little interactive world within a post-it note where players become apart of a love interest between a boy and a girl Рa little cliché I know. I wanted the player to become somewhat attatched to the characters by considered the thoughts of the character as they interact with the world.

Keeping things simple
In addition to having many style, compositional and theme influences I also took out Kenn’s yellow and black colour palette. A  element I especially liked about this was a limited palette allowing for the artwork to be kept simple. Keeping things simple is one the first things discussed in The Game Jam Survival Guide, “First KISS”… “Follow this K.I.S.S. rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid!” (Kaitila, 2012)
“More important than any design document, more important than your programming skills or the fantastic game engine you have is management of your expectations. The masterwork you may wish you could make in a weekend is probably not the game that you will make in reality. One important tactic for Game Jam success is to tone down your plans. Lower your expectations. Follow the K.I.S.S. Rule – keep it simple, stupid!” (Kaitila, 2012)
The KISS rule, as it is, is overly general. What you really need are some concrete and specific examples. 

Modified Survival Guide list of specifics to keep things simple:

  • Simplistic graphics that are quickly produced (less is more)
  • Limit your colour palette to as few shades as possible
  • Simple controls (as few as possible: four or less buttons)
  • Minimal game mechanics (one or two rules)
  • DO one thing well, not twenty things poorly
  • Make the executable “just work” without complex installation
  • Avoid long intros, cinematic effects or setup screens
  • Don’t craft perfect OOP code for future use: quick n dirty is fine
  • Aim for less than you think you can accomplish
  • Plan to finish early (everything takes longer than expected)
  • Low tech is better, high tech (cutting edge) is problematic
  • 2D games take a quarter of the time to code than an equivalent 3D game
  • 2D art takes 1/20th the hours of designing as compared to 3d art
  • When in doubt: no physics engine
  • When in doubt: Square grid (as opposed to hexagons)
If you have only 12 hours of the Jam left before the deadline and you have failed to keep it simple and you are in a position where you might not finish, then don’t panic – there are still things you can do to resolve the situation. 12 hours is the perfect time to change direction “…For example, throw out half your game design. Make a joke game that is impossible to win.” (Kaitila, 2012)

Kaitila’s list of ways to finish when all seems lost:
  • Buggy? Find something fun about it and call it a feature!
  • Only one level? Call it a “battle arena!”
  • Broken weapons? Make the game an “avoider” with no guns!
  • Sound broken? Your main character is deaf – or in space!
  • Not fun yet? Make it a “joke game” meant to annoy players!
  • Ugly art? Call it retro, hipster or ironic!
  • Poor framerate? Make it a turn based strategy!
  • No story or characters? This is an arcade title!
  • No gameplay or all story? This is a visual novel!
  • No “game over” or way to die? Can you survive for 60 seconds?
  • Code won’t compile? Comment out parts until it does!
  • Too tired to finish? Call it done right now and submit!
  • It works but it sucks? Take pride in the fact that you finished!


Animation
With the aid of the Onion Skin tool in Flash, I was able to drawn smooth frames of animation quickly – making use of this can be essential in Jams. The fish animations and timings turned out well as I was a little short on time.


 
Movement Controls
I have never created a game that features mouse click to move the character controls - this often reminds me of the way strategy games feel. However, the influence towards the specifics of a mouse click movement control scheme takes heavy influence from the game ‘Don’t Starve’. This is one thing that we liked that Don’t Starve does particularly good at. It allows players to navigate characters around the screen effortlessly. They achieve this with simple mouse clicks, removing any need to additional button input from the player. 


Symmetry
One of my more recent discoveries are of the films by Wes Anderson. Almost instantly I was in awe of his vibrant colour palettes and meticulous style that is so clearly definable in his filmmaking. "Anderson is famous for symmetry, wide angle lenses and the colour yellow. His quirky films such as Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited and recently Moonrise Kingdom have earned him the title of "The Next Scorcese" (Scorcese, 2013) to me, Anderson creates almost picturesque scenes that are wonderfully memorable to his audience. As designers there is a lot we can learn from the film industry in making our games iconic and memorable for players - by analysing some of the 'greats' in the film biz we can begin to understand how this can be achieved.


If you striving to make your game as unique as possible, it is vital you take influence from mediums other than just simply video games. Sure, games are useful to analyse and it is important to be aware for trends, but if you want to make something that players have never seen before then it can be beneficial to bring in a range of artistic components from both games and the real world.

One thing I wanted to do was take an aspect of Andersons' unique style and attempt to explore it further within games - that thing is symmetry. We can use symmetry to make our scene appear very neat and balanced. Observing the way Anderson utilises symmetry seems almost like strive for perfectionism, the consistency in his quality style omits creative meticulousness and obsessiveness – traits to truly admire.

Symmetry was something that I wanted to explore during this event. I was not too worried about these influences being drastically related to the theme, at this stage I was simply trying to collect up many cool components that I could then bring together. I liked the idea of a landscape perfectly reflected in water. This gave me the freedom to create a freeform landscape in whatever shape I wanted allowing for symmetry once flipped horizontally.



Musical Influences
Another creative component I decided to take from was the music and lyrical themes by the post-rock/emotional focused band "The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die". I had tickets and plans to see these guys live in Norwich on the Wednesday evening that I decided to devote my full participation into the jam instead.
My initial thought process was to create something that would hopefully be worth missing the gig for, and so I named my entry 'The World Is A Beautiful Place' as a little homage to missing the show. Often my games I try to create are heavily influenced or inspired by the music I listen to in some way - particularly my individual projects.

I like to take lyrical components that stand out to me and create my own little interactive world of how I imagine/visualise these lyrics to be. I pick out the lyrics - "So there's this party, down at the pier and we can go there if you want". I take the noun 'pier' as my place, my setting and framing for my environment. I pick out the 1st person pronoun 'we' and 2nd person pronoun 'you' and imagine a love interested between a man and woman which I use as the overall focal point and basis for theming. It is important to note that I do not like to use this music for the sounds in my games. I often use classical piano in order to enhance the mood and tone of the game to bring the overall aesthetic to life. I simply use the music I listen to as a tool to get creatively inspired.


What Went Wrong?

Sensory Significance
One thing I wanted to explore with this entry was applying significance towards traditional sensory components, such as smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight. As designers we can immerse players deeply into our world by giving them sensory information to obtain about their environment. It is the one thing I really want to begin to understand fully in order to attempt to immerse players with world they find themselves in.

Unfortunately, this particular entry is a fairly poor attempt in outlining the fundamentals of merged multiple sensory components in a prototype. The more sensory components you have working correctly in unisons with one another the better. There is one example of sense of smell that I attempt to explore during this game jam. A technique I utilize to my advantage in attempt to apply significance to sensory objects is by giving them vibrancy through complementary/contrasted colour. "Bright primary colours attract the eye, especially when they're contrasted with a complimentary hue."


"One good way we can create colour contrast is by including bright splash of colour against monochromatic background. Scenes consisting almost entirely of a single hue can be very effective. And those with a limited palette of harmonious shades, such as softly lit landscapes, often make great pictures. The key is to be really selective about how you isolate and frame you subjects to exclude unwanted colours." The only way I have practiced approaching implementing this idea is by simply having a basket of apples and when players interact with them the characters thought bubble appears exclaiming [those apples smell great].


Gameplay
My focus was on creating a nice place for people to visit, rather than a fun focused gameplay experience. In terms of gameplay, there are a bunch of hidden objects that once clicked rewards players with details of the characters internal monologue. The game does have a goal but features no conflict. The only smidgen of conflict that players face is their internal process of figuring out the system, the game does throw anything at them that will directly kill them or tell them it is game over - so as it stands the prototype is closer to an interactive art piece than a game. With some iteration though, it would not take much to build this prototype into something that is more definable as a game.

Once again, looking at Nicole Lazzaro’s ‘The 4 Keys 2 Fun’, I can only pick out one element of fun. Currently the game only has some elements of Easy Fun. “Easy fun inspires exploration and role play.” – Lazzaro. Players experience some emotions of curiosity wonder and awe, but much iteration in the way of making this prototype fun would need a lot of care an attention towards.


Conclusion/What I Learnt?

Attending the festival on the Friday for submitting my entry I managed to catch a lecture from one of the creators of Surgeon Simulator, Imre Jele. He briefly discussed the logistics of his indie studio and how they go about selecting a project to develop further. What they do is they create many Jam prototypes over the course of a couple of months and then at the end of those months they select one or two that they really like to then develop for a further couple of month. Their studio revolves heavily on Jamming.

Nearing the end of the submission process of the Jam, teams were called up one at a time to do a 10 minute talk about their Jam Game, I was called up first. Although terrifying in the presence of a room full of unfamiliar industry folk I managed to clearly discuss the nature of the game, how is it made, what I like about it, potential for future developments, the link to theme, vision, the tool set and a little about myself. There was also room for questions where a number of developers seems to really like the concept and complimented the game to me personally after the event – all in all, making for a highly motivating and rewarding could of days out travelling to Norwich.
The World Is A Beautiful Place has potential to function well on touch screen mobile devices. Particularly once featured with swiping away pages of post-it notes to reveal new gameplay – I can see this working, and I quite like the idea of randomly generating those pages so players never know what they will get, making it different each time!

Tools

The World Is A Beautiful Place was created using the following tools, I was able to develop new skills in these areas.

Game Engine
Programming Language
Art/Animation
Sound
Paper Prototyping
Adobe Flash CS6
Actionscript 3.0
Adobe Flash CS6
Audacity
Pen & Paper, Post-it notes



List of Illustrations

Bibliography
  • Gabriel Lievano. (2009). Less is More. Minimalism in Games (Part I). Available: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/GabrielLievano/20090813/2659/Less_is_More_Minimalism_in_Games_Part_I.php. Last accessed 2014
  • jmeyer. (2012). 10 rules of photo composition (and why they work). Available: http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/04/12/10-rules-of-photo-composition-and-why-they-work/. Last accessed 2014.
  • Kaitila, C (2012). The Game Jam Survival Guide. Canada: Packt Publishing. pg 10 - 73.
  • Kaitila, C. (2012). How to Get the Most Out of a Game Jam. Available: http://gamedev.tutsplus.com/articles/business-articles/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-a-game-jam/. Last accessed October, 2013
  • Kushins, J. (2014). 12 Hypnotic Animation Tricks Used By Disney's Legendary Artists. Available: http://gizmodo.com/12-hypnotic-animation-tricks-used-by-disneys-legendary-1570953121. Last accessed 2014.
  • NA. (2014). #1UpNorwich Game Jam. Available: http://norwichgamingfestival.wordpress.com/create/game-jam/. Last accessed 2014.
  • Schell, J (2008). The Art of Games Design. FL: CRC Press. 4 - 450.

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