Zero Hour Game Jam – PHASE

Last weekend was the “Zero Hour Game Jam” (0hgame.eu) a unique game jam where people around the world make games in the hour gained by daylight saving time.  You begin making your game at 2 AM, and end at 2 AM, which means you’ve technically created a game in zero hours.  It’s pretty fun!  My entry this time around was called PHASE.  It’s a simple action game about color blending.  You can download it here.

PHASE

The game is a bit bare-bones, as you might expect from something made entirely in one hour.  The score doesn’t display correctly, and the Game Over screen isn’t where I’d like it to be, but overall I’m quite happy with it.

Revolvengarde and Audenary

Just popping in to say that I recently completed Mac ports of two of Andrew Gleeson‘s games Revolvengarde and Audenary.  Andrew’s a really cool guy who makes impressive music, art and games.  If you like my work you”ll definitely like his!  Check out his blog for more information and download links.  Also, follow him on twitter!

If you’re a game developer interested in Mac ports of your Game Maker games, get in touch!  I enjoy doing ports of smaller games!  You can contact me through twitter, facebook, or e-mail if you’re interested.

The Major Pentatonic Scale

Today I thought I’d do something a little different, and share with you a simple design trick which has really helped me to improve the “juiciness” of my games and prototypes:

The Major Pentatonic Scale

Now, I’m no expert in music theory, but here are some things I do know about the major pentatonic scale:

  • It’s a five note scale, C, D, E, G, and A.
  • All five of the notes in the scale are in tune with each other.
  • By virtue of that last point, the notes can be played in any order, or even over the top of one another, and still sound good.

So why is this relevant to a game designer?
To put it simply, you can make a game feel more musical by playing a random note from the major pentatonic scale, rather than some other sound effect.  To illustrate this point, I present you with this simple flash prototype where you use the arrow keys to move a box around the playfield:

That’s pretty boring right?
Now compare it to this one, which uses the major pentatonic scale, rather than the simple clicking noise:

Most players who try this second version begin to move their square around rhythmically, creating simple melodies.

Incorporating the major pentatonic scale is an easy way to increase player interest and enjoyment.

My game Planet ZOOB uses the major pentatonic scale to turn a standard shooting game into an interesting musical experience.  The scale can also be used in the design of menus or other player interfaces, to keep players engaged and interested.  While I’m not saying this technique should be used in all types of games — I certainly couldn’t see it working in a horror or stealth game — I’d just like to offer it to you as an additional tool to keep in your game design toolbox.

To that end, I’m offering five different scales for free download under a Creative Commons Zero license.  What this means is that you can download these scales and use them any way you please.  You can use them in commercial and noncommercial products without the need to leave credit or ask permission.  They’re completely free!

  1. Gameboy Scale 1 – Download
  2. Gameboy Scale 2 – Download
  3. Saw Wave Scale – Download
  4. Sine Wave Scale – Download
  5. Square Wave Scale – Download

Each of the five scales consists of five .wav files in a .zip folder.  The first two were generated by an original Nintendo Gameboy running LSDJ, while the last three were generated using sfxr, and pitch shifted with Audacity.

I hope this technique will be as useful for you as it has been for me!
If you have any questions or other feedback, I’d love to hear it!

The Power of Play

After watching Dr. Stuart Brown’s excellent TED talk “Play is more than fun”, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences with play, and how they might showcase some of the more interesting properties of the phenomena.  Today I’d like to share with you a short story from my life which demonstrates the extraordinary power of play to break down the boundaries between not just people, but between people and other animals as well.
I hope it’ll be as enlightening to you as it was to me.  So, without further adieu:

This, is Gus:

Gus

Gus is a feral kitten that my wife and I trapped at a local feral cat colony.  Our hope in catching him was first to get him neutered and vaccinated, and second to see if he could be socialized and placed in a home, so he would no longer have to live out on the street.  The first task turned out to be easy enough, but the second was another thing entirely.

When we first trapped Gus he was somewhere between 6 and 8 weeks old.
He was young and impressionable.  This was a pivotal time in his life.  He could either develop a fear of humans, and become incapable of ever living with one, or learn to become comfortable around humans, and lead a much more relaxed and enjoyable life.  Unfortunately for everyone involved, Gus had already begun to develop a fear of humans, no doubt ingrained in him by his experiences living outside in a busy city district.  Since Gus already had this fear, our task was made exponentially more difficult.  We had to think of some way to build up trust with an animal who was both afraid and insecure.

We came up with a number of exercises which we hoped would help us build trust with Gus.  We pet him from a distance using a back scratcher, wrapped him in a towel and nestled him, gave him toys to play with, fed him treats, and spent long hours sitting by his cage, all in the hope that he’d become more comfortable around us.  However, as the weeks passed, Gus became more and more aggressive.  Eventually we couldn’t get within a few feet of him without him hissing and lashing out.  It was at this point that we tried something which we should have been doing from the start.

We played with him.

I tied a small ball that he was particularly fond of to the end of a long piece of yarn so that I was able to manipulate the ball by pulling the yarn.  I then placed the ball in his cage and started moving it about.  His eyes lit up almost immediately, and it was as if he were a completely different cat.  We quickly developed a kind of game, where I would place the ball on the shelf in his cage, slowly inch it to the edge, then suddenly drop it.  He would watch the ball intently as it inched its way across the shelf, and when it fell, he’d leap up and grab it from his position on the bottom of the cage.  As we played I slowly shortened the yarn so that I was getting closer and closer to him.  Toward the end of our game, I was nearly touching Gus, but he didn’t even mind, he was so entirely engaged in the act of play.  We played like this for over an hour, both of us completely engaged in the act.

After we stopped playing, Gus returned to his usual self, hissing and lashing out once again.  It was as if the only thing that could break through the communication barrier between us was play.  Unfortunately, Gus wasn’t tame enough to live the life of a normal house cat, so after months of trying to socialize him, we eventually decided that it would be best for Gus to return to the feral colony he came from to live out the rest of his days.

While some might write this off as simply a failure, I think that this experience is a great example of how play is exceptional at breaking through fear, and, more extraordinarily, the barrier between species, if only for a short amount of time.  We see this all the time with our companion animals: people throwing a ball for their dogs, having their cats chase a laser pointer, etc.  While playing, two different species of animal can reach an understanding with one another.  When you throw a ball for your dog, the dog knows that it’s their job to catch the ball, and it’s your job to throw it, even though you have no language with which to communicate.  In the future I’d like to explore the depths of this topic in more detail.

New Game – Motion

This past weekend I participated in Ludum Dare, a 48-hour game making competition.
This time around, the theme for the competition was “Minimalism”.
My entry, which I’m quite proud of, is called “Motion”.
Motion is a minimalistic arcade game about adaptation, memory, and control.
Will you figure it out?
Click the image above to be taken to the game’s Ludum Dare entry page.
As usual, all feedback is greatly appreciated!

Passion

So lately I’ve been in a bit of a rut, I’ve tried to participate in a bunch of game jams and competitions, but haven’t really had the motivation to do so.

After a bit of introspection, I’ve realized that the reason for this is a lack of passion.

At the beginning of 2012, when I first started taking game development seriously, I was passionate about making any game at all, simply because it was a new experience for me.  Now that a year has passed and I’ve made several games, I’ve found that I can’t become passionate about just any project, there are some ideas I’ve had for a long time that are really calling out to me.

It is for this reason that I’ve decided to dedicate the rest of the year to the development of one such idea, a virtual pet game/music visualizer called Audiovore.  I’m not yet ready to talk about the details of it, as I’m still working them out, but I’m really excited to be working on a larger project; especially one that I first conceived back when I was in high school!

Since I don’t like to do posts without at least one image, here’s a little bit of Audiovore concept art:Thanks for reading!  Leave me a comment so I know that someone actually reads this!

Game Jams Galore!

I love game jams.

They’re a great opportunity to flex your creative muscles and make something amazing, in a very short amount of time.  They allow small developers like myself to get our games out to a much larger audience than we would normally have access to, and they bring developers together to work toward a common goal.

Here are a couple I’ve participated in recently:


0h Game Jam – November 4th, 2:00 AM to 2:00 AM
“During DST hour shift, we shift clocks backwards, so there’s actually 1 hour between 2:00 am and 2:00 am. This is the best time in the year to make a game! Make a game in zero hours!”

My entry for the 0h game jam is called “NO TIME!” it’s a short, 5 level game that’ll put your reflexes to the test!  Can you beat it?

NO TIME!


F*** This Jam – November 9th, 6:00 PM to November 17th, 6:00 PM
“F*** This Jam is a jam centered around the theme of making a game in a genre you hate.  Through utter ignorance for conventions and hate for the established rules of a genre, beautiful things will happen.”

The genre I decided to tackle for this jam was the family board game.  I hate the genre because it typically focuses on luck-based gameplay, rather than skill-based gameplay.  With my entry, LUDO-BOTS, I took the tropes of the family board game genre, and turned them on their head!  While the game heavily features dice rolls and random card picking, the only way to win is to carefully observe your opponents’ behavior!  Download it, print it out, and try it with your family!

LUDO-BOTS


Ludum Dare 25 – December 14th, 9:00PM to December 16th, 9:00PM
“Ultimately, our goal with Ludum Dare is to encourage people to sit down and make something. Our hope is that the new structure continues to encourage more and more developers to join us and create a game in a weekend.”

The theme for the last Ludum Dare of 2012 was “You are the Villain”.  This theme fit perfectly with an idea I’d had kicking around for a while, a 2D platformer with a one second control lag.  Normally with platformers, it’s absolutely taboo to have any delay between when the player presses a button, and when the player character reacts.  I wanted to explore what would happen if you introduced a lag, and whether or not it would be possible to make a good platformer this way.  Try it out and decide for yourself!

GLORPLAX III


I hope you enjoy them!
I’ll be participating in my first Global Game Jam on January 25th at Quinnipiac University, so expect another game really soon!

Ludum Dare 24 Post-mortem

Ludum Dare 24 judging ended last weekend so I figured I’d take a minute to talk about the game I made for it, and what the development process was like.

For those who are unacquainted with it, Ludum Dare is an online game making competition in which people around the world try to make the best game they can in 48 hours.  A theme is announced at the start of the competition, and developers have to keep it in mind while designing.

The tools I used for Ludum Dare 24 were:
Game Maker 8.1
Inkscape
Voice Memos on iPhone
Audacity
sfxr

Virion Title ScreenThis time around, I made a game called Virion.  I’m not entirely sure what genre it fits into, but it’s a game in which you control the titular character, a virus particle, who must travel through the body, avoiding white blood cells, to infect a nice healthy cell.  The game has 17 levels and an ending.  Here’s a breakdown of how the game was developed:

Friday:
The theme for Ludum Dare 24 was announced at 9 PM on Friday while my wife and I were heading home from our favorite restaurant G-Zen.  (We decided to go out to eat before the competition started because I tend to forget to eat during Ludum Dare…)  Upon hearing that the theme was “Evolution” I really didn’t know what to think.  I had no real ideas, and didn’t feel too passionate.  3 hours later I was still in the same boat.  I contemplated giving up, but instead decided to make a list of features I wanted my game to have. Here’s some of the big ones:

  • Has to abide by the Pacifist Games mission statement.
    “To create interesting, thoughtfully designed, and primarily nonviolent video games that treat players ethically.”
  • Levels
    I hadn’t designed a game with levels before and really wanted to give it a shot.
  • An ending
    I have a theory that Ludum Dare games with endings get better ratings than those without them, so I wanted to test it.  More on that later.
  • Vector graphics
    I’ve been trying to learn Inkscape lately and thought this would be a good way to get some practice
  • A cute/relatable character
    Adding a face to the player character really seems to add a lot to games.
  • The environment/enemies should evolve, not the player character
    I figured everyone would make a game in which the player character evolved, so I wanted to do something different.

The last entry on the list got me thinking about what kind of environments in nature evolve based on the actions of a single entity.  I immediately thought of our bodies’ immune systems when they realize a virus is attacking.  Since I didn’t have any better ideas, I did a little research on viruses and decided to go with it.  The original idea was that you would play as a virus particle, attacking the same body over and over again until you destroyed it.  The white blood cells in the body would get smarter and smarter based on your previous playthroughs.

Influenza

The image which inspired the look of the main character: an influenza virion.

So, the first thing I did was design the character and controls.  Can’t really design levels until you’ve got the controls completely ironed out!  Since the game would take place within a body, I wanted the player to have a kind of slippery, slidey movement.  I spent the first night of the dare tuning the player’s movement until it felt just right!  I found that adding some rotation to the character made it feel a ton better, and decided to make him blink and pulsate as well.  Little details like these seem to make a pretty big impact on players.

Virion

The final look of the main character

Saturday:
On the second day of the dare I implemented the title screen, sound effects, background noise and background graphics then began work on the enemies in the game.  I brainstormed a few different types, the ones in bold made it into the final version:

  • Enemies that sit completely still
  • Enemies that move back and forth
  • Enemies that move around erratically
  • Enemies that travel diagonally
  • Enemies that mimic the player’s movements
  • Enemies that chase the player

I implemented the three enemy types that I thought had the most promise (the ones in bold) and then started trying to create the game’s level.  Since the idea was that you would repeatedly invade the same body, there was to be only one long level that you played over and over, with new enemy types appearing in later playthroughs.  It took me most of the second day to realize that this idea was really really stupid.  Not only would it be incredibly hard to design, it would also be boring for the player!  So, toward the end of the second day I began designing the one-screen levels that would be in the final game.

Companion

This level shows an interesting effect of the enemies that copy your movements.

My goal with each level was to highlight an interesting feature of the type of enemy that was in it.  There were to be 5 levels for each of the 3 enemy types, followed by a final boss room and a room in which you encounter the cell you want to infect.

Sunday:
Since it was now the final day, I entered panic mode and started designing levels as fast as I could.  In the end I was only able to design 3 levels for the enemies who mimic your movement, but did succeed in designing 5 for the other 2 enemy types.  In a crazy hour full of half-assed code I implemented the game’s ending, then went around sprucing up the rest of the game.  I made the background graphics slightly different for each room, and implemented the crazy circle graphics which make up the walls in the game.  (The walls were previously just black squares)  I also added a secret warp zone, gave all of the levels names, and updated the look of the enemies.  In the end I was unable to create a final boss, so I just placed the hardest level in the game right before the last room.  And so, just after 9 PM on Sunday, I submitted my game to the Ludum Dare website then promptly fell asleep.

Results:
Skipping forward now to the end of the judging period (a few weeks after the submission deadline) I’d like to talk about the results of the dare!  Shockingly, I placed 21st overall out of 1006 compo participants!  Here’s a detailed breakdown of my results:

RatingsThe coolness rating is based on the number of other Ludum Dare games you played, I only had time to play 60 this time around.  I was surprised by how high the overall and fun ratings were, since I didn’t feel too passionate about the game when I was making it.  I think the number and quality of the levels is what impressed most players.  It may also be that since they were able to beat it and see they ending, they got a nice high and rated accordingly.  The rest of the ratings fall about where I expected them to.  It makes sense that my theme score was the lowest, since I scrapped the part of my game that was overtly about evolution.  Overall I’m very happy with the results, and had a great time!

Prototype – RGB

Whenever I come up with a new game idea I like to create a quick prototype of it in Game Maker to see how much potential it has.  In creating prototypes I typically come across a number of design problems that I didn’t see when I had the initial idea.  It is typically these design problems that will cause me to abandon or continue working on the game.

One prototype that I’ve been playing around with lately is for a game tentatively titled “RGB”.  The game is about a pixel in a computer display that has gained sentience and goes around restoring the dead/stuck pixels in the display to life.

The original idea was that it would be a puzzle platformer where you play as a flashing pixel that, upon colliding with other pixels, will cycle them from red to green to blue, and then back to red.  The goal of each level is to make all of the pixels the same color.

RGB Prototype 1

A screenshot of the first prototype.

Upon finishing this first prototype I found two big problems:
1. It is difficult to precisely hit one pixel when you can move freely.
2. All puzzles I could think of were easy to solve using brute force methods.

So, to solve these problems I decided to give up on making it a platformer, and allowed the player to move up, down, left, and right, snapped to the game’s grid.  (Like an old JRPG) This also helps reinforce the idea that the player is a pixel in a display because they cannot move on a sub-pixel level.

RGB Prototype 2

The first level of the new prototype – the player is the gold pixel.

The new prototype solves the control issues of the old one, and opens up a lot of new possibilities for puzzles.  While it is still difficult to create puzzles for the game that cannot be brute forced, I have created a few, and am confident that I will be able to create many more.

RGB Prototype 3

One of the easier puzzles in the new prototype – the player is the gold pixel.