Pokebot, Playtesting Session and Expand on Kotaku

I haven’t posted here for a little while so I thought I’d do an update especially considering that quite a bit has happened this week.

I’ll start by running through the heading in reverse order. During PAX Australia this year my friend and creator of Hacknet Matt Trobbiani and I were interviewed by Mark Serrels from Kotaku Australia. On Tuesday he posted his article based on that interview. It gives an insight into the human side of game development. I won’t say much more. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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On Wednesday we ran another game playtest event at AIE. The weather in Adelaide has been terribly hot lately but even so it was great to see a good group of people turn up with their games.

Today I pushed out my first Twitter bot. If you’ve watched the Pokemon TV series before then you may remember a segment called Who’s That Pokemon? The idea is that a greyed out Pokemon is display before a commercial break and when returning from the break the show reveals the Pokemon. This bot generates images based on the segment each day and reveals the answer before posting the next Pokemon. Follow @WhosThatPokebot to play along.

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So that’s what has been happening with me lately. I’m working on a few other things on the side. I’ll be sure to post about when I have something to show.

New Game: Shit Abbott Said

Over the last few weeks I’ve been learning how to use the Unity game engine. I decided that I’d be good practise to make a new game with it. Recently I read the Quarterly Essay called Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott by good old leftie commentator David Marr. It was published back in 2012 before Abbott’s first election against Kevin Rudd. One of the recurring ideas in the book was how the electorate had forgotten many of the awful statements that Abbott had made publicly. I thought I’d make this small game to highlight some of those statements.

Play Shit Abbott Said on itch.io

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My Games in 2014

With 2014 over I thought I’d put together a blog post talking about several games I worked on over the year. In 2014 I started working on games in a full time capacity while I lived off my limited savings. It’s quite a privilege to have the economic freedom to be able to do this. It’s been an amazing year with travelling over to Japan for the Tokyo Game Show and to Melbourne for PAX Australia being the highlights. I worked on several games and small prototypes throughout the year. Below are the more notable games I worked on.

Expand

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I should start by talking about Expand which is the game I spent most of my time working on. Our intention was to finish the game in 2014 but it’s looking like it’ll need much more time. Currently we are about 50% content complete with the game and level editor programs being mostly feature complete. We were really fortunate in having our game part of Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Game Show, the Indie Showcase at PAX Australia, Ludicious, Out of Index and the Indie Games Room at AVCon. These events took quite a bit of out of development scheduled but also really motivated us to improve the standard of the game. The second half of the year was really amazing, we travelled to Japan and were totally blown away by the reception of Expand at PAX Australia. If you told me at the start of the year that the game would be considered the best game at PAX Aus by both Kotaku and IGN Australia I would have thought you were crazy.

One for the Donkey

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One for the Donkeys is currently not finished. It’s a simple platformer game with a twist, a neat kind of twist that I’m not going to spoil here. Unfortunately I’ve run into some technical problems that aren’t easy to resolve so for the moment this project is on the backburner.

Replay Racer

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Replay Racer is a game I made at the start of last year with John Oestmann for the Global Game Jam. It’s a racing game in which every time you complete a lap your last replay is added as an obstacle to the race. I did the programming and graphics in this game. I’m particularly proud of the graphics which came out well considering my background. After the jam I added more courses, leaderboards and achievements. It’s a neat little game that I’m quite happy with.

Cave of Atman

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The Cave of Atman is a game I made with my twin brother Daniel. The idea was inspired by his experience playing Jeanne d’Arc on the PSP. I was mostly involved in programming and helping him see out his vision for the game. He did a fantastic job on the puzzles and graphics. We also received some really nice comments on Twitter from different designers that we both have a lot of respect for. I’d be nice to take the game further but only if we can continue to build up the mechanics in a natural way.

Hectic Hippo’s

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Hectic Hippo’s was made for the Adelaide Game Jam held in August. I worked on the game with Anton Axisa who I made friends with at the jam. Turned out that he was a pretty awesome pixel artist. He churned out a lot of art during the jam that was never used. I still feel guilty about that. In the game you are racing against four other players to push your orb into the hole. Other players can fire over projectiles onto your side of the map and end your plans.

Expand in PAX Australia Indie Showcase and at Bit Bash

Last Friday PAX Australia announced their selection for the Australian Indie Showcase(AIS), a line up of six games that “highlight the best of the Australian and New Zealand Indie scene”. We’re very fortunate in that Expand was selected to be apart of the showcase and that it was recognised along with a selection of really interesting and creative games. Out of all the games I’ve only had the chance to briefly play Screen Cheat at AVCon. It’s a great game that is really cemeted by a fantastic concept. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to play the other games. As part of the AIS selection we’ll be provided with a booth to show Expand at PAX Australia. So if you’re intending on going to PAX then consider dropping by, we’ll be there everyday from opening to close.

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Chris and I will also be flying out to a Melbourne a few days before PAX to attend Game Connect Asia Pacific(GCAP), an industry oriented games conference. The lineup of speakers looks to be fantastic with keynote speakers Siobhan Reddy the Studio Direction at Media Molecule, Barry Meade the Co-Founder at Fireproof Studios and the lovely Rami Ismail the business guy at Vlambeer. There’s also a selection of great interenational guests and there will be an awards ceremony to recognise individual developer and Australian Studios.

They’ve just started rolling out the scheduled sessions for GCAP. Here are some of the sessions that are taking my fancy.

Expand also manage to slip into the games selection for Bit Bash, an interactive arts festival in Chicago. It’s being held at Threadless on September 6th. I really love the selection of games they’ve chosen. Hopefully people have fun with Expand. Unfortunately we won’t be able to make it down.

Adelaide Game Jam 3 – Reaction

Not last weekend but the weekend before was the Adelaide Game Jam 3 held by Jamalaide. Leading up to the weekend I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to attend. I had been sick that week and my partner was just arriving back from trip on the Friday. Luckily though things pulled through. I was still feeling a bit sick but marched on and my partner was flexible because she’s just awesome like that. The jam started on the Saturday morning with the announcement of the theme ‘Reaction’ and ended on the Sunday afternoon(32 hours later).

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I didn’t really go into the jam with any intentions or plans. I just brought my laptop along with a few basic tools installed(HaxePunk, Love2D, sfxr, Audacity, Adobe Fireworks). The turnout for the jam was fantastic with around 40 people present making games. To my knowledge this is the largest turnout for a game jam in Adelaide. Due to the large turnout I decided to work with whoever was present or nearby at the time. When entering the venue I met Anton who was a first time jammer. Anton and I sat at the same table and so I figured that we might as well work together. To my surprise he had been writing his own NES games in assembly and is quite a talented pixel artist.

The theme for the jam, Reaction was quite broad and so we started off by thinking of ways to constrain the theme into an interesting domain. Our first idea was to have a game in which the screen was split into two and any action performed on one screen would have a reaction on the other. Our first solid idea was to create a top down, multiplayer shooter in which bullets would fire from one screen but when they hit a wall they would explode on the other screen. On top of that enemy movement on one screen would be influenced by the player’s movement on the other screen. The idea seemed okay and with limited time we decided to hop to it.

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Towards the end of the Saturday night, we were feeling that the concept wasn’t quite working for us. It was probably a mistake to adopt the first idea that had come to mind. So instead we opted to rethink our idea and create something else that could leverage the work we had already done. I spent most of the Saturday night thinking of new ideas while Anton continued to pump out awesome art. My mind kept going back to how splitting the screen view could lead to interesting mechanics. Before going to sleep for the night a new idea had popped up. What if we continued to make a top down shooter but this time split the screen into four quadrants with the view in the first and forth quadrant and the second and third quadrant being the same. Then what would happen if the bullets could cross the line that separated each of the views. This idea didn’t use the original reaction theme all that well but it was also quite interesting and with less than 18 hours to go we decided to switch.

Sunday was spent in much of a rush as we tried to knock out as much of the game as possible. Only within the last hour we had all of the basics of the game working, a title and game over screen, full game loop with win conditions, graphics, music and sound effects. It actually came together quite well considering how much we had to do. The final jam game was quite solid and highlighted our idea reasonably well. We did however modify the win condition by introducing an orb in which player’s would have to fire into a hole. Player’s could then interfere with each other by firing bullets over to knock the opponent’s orb into water.

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After the jam everyone played each others games. There must have been around 14 games made across the weekend with most people working in small groups of 2 – 3. The overall quality of games was fantastic. Here are the some of the other ideas that people came up with.

  • A multiplayer, arena shooter in which there is a strong recoil on the guns. Players had to weigh up the strength of their shot against the knock back from the gun.
  • A platforming game in which each of the platforms would respond differently when jumped on.
  • A three player, bumper racing game in which you must steer either an ambulance, cop car or police bike to different goals.
  • A narrative game in which you must push the story forward by choosing the player’s next action within a limited time.

After the jam Anton and I decided to tweak the game a bit. Anton updated some of the graphics making the player’s direction clearer, updating the menu graphics and tweaking the terrain tileset. I added controller support, tweaked the movement physics and simplified the existing level. On play testing after the jam we realised that people weren’t making the most of the bullet wrapping mechanic. Our idea was that a player could use one of the duplicated views to line up shots from any direction. However what ended up happening was that players would only focus on the one view. There was simply too much information present on the screen to flip between the two views and focus on lining up shots. We decided to simplify the game and have four players each on their own quadrant of the screen, all trying to fire their orb into a goal.

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Currently you can download the jam version of the game, the final version of the game and the source code. The jam version used the Flash target of Haxepunk which doesn’t support controllers. The final version of the game used the Windows target which does support controllers but uses software rendering which can be slow. Unfortunately I ran into a whole bunch of features in Haxepunk that were incomplete, not supported on certain targets or were just broken. The flash target, as expected was quite good but the other windows target really limit wasn’t quite there. As a framework and like FlashPunk it’s great but it just doesn’t deliver on the promise, at least not quite yet.

Overall I really enjoyed this game jam. There were lot’s of new faces and all the games produced were really great. Working with Anton was fantastic and we’re actually going to work on a small side project together soon. Jamalaide are in the process of adding all of the games to their website. Go and have a peak!

New Expand Website + Out of Index Selection

If you keep track of my Twitter feed then you will know that this posting is a few days out. So much has been going on recently that it’s tricky to keep track of it all.

Last week I update the website for Expand. If you’re not familair with Expand, it’s been a long term project for myself and good friend, Chris Larkin. To quickly summarise the game:

Expand is a single player video game in which players explore a circular labyrinth constructed as an abstract black and white geometric landscape. Players must avoid getting squashed as the labyrinth twists, stretches and reveals itself, always responding to the players actions and movements.

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The old wordpress website didn’t really convey what the game was about and felt a bit out of date. I think this new website quickly gets across what the game is about. Beyond setting up the page itself I also created a new Facebook page which I hope to regularly post to with updates about the game and it’s development. I also setup a short video of the game, some screens and Chris kindly uploaded one of the tracks to SoundCloud.

The game will definitely be available to download through itch.io and hopefully other distribution services too, if the cards fall nicely. I’ve currently announced a release date November 2014. It may be a little bit hopeful but it’s what we’re aiming for.

Last Thursday, when I was about to upload the website when I received an email confirming that Expand has been selected for the Out Of Index Festival in Seoul, South Korea. Out Of Index is a new games festival based on the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC. As part of Out Of Index I’ve submitted a short presentation about the game. It’ll also be playable at an after party event. This made my week. I’m really excited to be apart of something so fresh and exciting.

Expand will also be playable at this years Indie Games Room at Adelaide’s AVCon. I’ll do another post about that shortly as I’ve been involved in helping arrange the event this year.

The Cave of Ātman is released

The Cave of Ātman is out today. Based on the play tester feedback we made several tweaks through out the game. We also spend a bit of time layering the music as you progress through the puzzles.

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You can play the game on the following portals. If you enjoy the game then feel free to throw us some coin through itch.io.

Hayden has also made the soundtrack available for free on Bandcamp.

I believe that Dan is writing up an article about the game. I’ll share that through along my own thoughts about the game a bit later on.

Enjoy and let us know what you think.

New Project for Interstate Arcade

Recently I started working on a new project with my friend Stuart for Interstate Arcade. Interstate Arcade is a public games arcade that will touring around Australia later this year. Each of the cabinets in the arcade is custom built and games are sourced by local independent artists.

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The callout for games closed about a week ago however it’s still possible to get your game into the arcade. Originally 8 or so cabinet designs were proposed, each of these designs had different input configurations from your standard arcade machine. The changes to the input layout encourage designs for different kinds of games and that’s what got me interested in making something for this project.

Stuart and I went on a short hike together to brain storm ideas. This was a really great idea as I needed to get away from the computer after crunching on Expand for the IndieCade late submission deadline. We toyed around with a few ideas but in the end came up with something that we think is pretty neat. For now, we’re both wanting to keep tight lipped but eventually we’ll reveal all the details.

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What I can say is that we’ve chosen the cabinet design displayed above. There are two monitors and 12 buttons. There is enough room for someone to be in front of two buttons at once. Our game can be played with 1-12 players however I think it’s probably best played with 2 – 4. I’ve ordered some buttons online and am intending on making a custom controller to help us play test the game.

In terms of the collaboration with Stuart. I’m responsible for the programming and he’s doing the graphics and music. We’ll both have a hand in the design. Stuart’s pixel art is really fantastic, I’d encourage you to head over to his website and check it out. Stuart also came along to the puzzle script workshop that I ran at the Adelaide City Council library a few months ago. Since then he’s made two really great puzzle script games, The Nodus and The Nodus:Puzzle Caves, you should give them a shot.

For now we both are wanting to keep tight lipped about the idea. However I can share a little intro screen that we’ve been working on. Enjoy.