GameCity 9 – Spooky Text Adventures

So two weeks ago I had the pleasure of showing Hashtag Dungeon at the GameCity Open Arcade. It was a really cool event, with a lot of really cool people. I got some really great feedback for the game and we sold a bunch of new copies, and that’s awesome.

I also got to hang out with the creator of Depression Quest, Zoe Quinn. It was really interesting to meet her and see how she was getting on after all the stuff that’s been going on recently. I had the pleasure of watching her destroy Christos most easily in a game of Nidhogg:

Wednesday night had the unveiling of the grand plan for GameCity next year: the opening of the new National Video Game Arcade – a place where I am really hoping to exhibit some of our more wacky projects in the future!

I was also in charge of designing and running a ‘spooky text adventure’ on the Thursday night. Using a piece of software programmed for the event by GameCity staff, I was able to assume the role of a paranormal entity that was communicating through a computer. The game itself was held on the third floor of Nottingham Library – we turned all the lights off, played spooky videos and music through the TVs and speakers and hid clues in a variety of different places. The objective of the game was to talk to the ghost and then solve its riddles whilst avoiding the hooded figures walking around the library.

Library Picture

The event was a big success! Thanks to the help of people like Jake TuckerSam Smith, Christos Reid, Jenni Goodchild, Jason Alan Dewey and a bunch of others, we managed to get a good few scares out of people and create a really creepy atmosphere.

Friday night was fun, video game karaoke at a pub in Nottingham. It was weird to be surrounded by a load of industry people I look up to all getting drunk and singing their hearts out. I also played a rather heated game of boop with C418… I’m not sure which one of us actually won the game in the end, but now we’re having a poke war on Facebook and I don’t think it’s ever gonna end.

Whilst the week was somewhat spoiled for me due to a really distressing and stressful situation in my personal life, I really enjoyed the events that I did end up going to. I’d like to thank all my friends who kept me from having a mental breakdown, you’re all awesome and I look forward to seeing you next year.

#LD30 ‘Going Postal’ Post-Mortem

You can play ‘Going Postal’ on your PC or on an android phone or tablet for free if you go to our Ludum Dare entry page! (I’d recommend the android version as it feels really nice to spin the planet with your finger!)

After a long week of making sure that Alex gets on with her final year coursework, building Minecraft server transport networks and making new enemies for Hashtag Dungeon; I thought it’d be nice to take part in Ludum Dare 30 with a few friends.

For those who don’t know, Ludum Dare is a big, weekend long game jam where loads of people from around the world come together and make games and then show them to one another in order to be judged. It’s pretty awesome and this is the second time I’ve managed to find time to do one.

I called up my friends Mark Boyde-Shaw and Amelia George to see if they wanted to join me in making a game, they accepted and joined me at my house for a weekend of excellent game development work!

After waiting up till 2am on Saturday for the theme to be revealed (the theme was ‘Connected Worlds’) the three of us spent a good hour or so discussing possible ideas. These ranged from a horror game where you slowly bring more ghosts into a house by destroying wards, to a crazy planet destroying simulator. Eventually we all agreed on an interesting idea and swiftly moved to our respective beds to sleep.

Morning came and the three of us reconvened in the living room to start work. Mark had been very busy overnight working on a possible storyline for our game, the elevator pitch for the game (entitled ‘Going Postal’) is as follows:

You are a mailman on a small planet with a few houses on it. You deliver mail to houses in order to connect the people who live there together. You can however, choose to deliver mail to the wrong house in order to cause absolute chaos within the small community.

Amelia got to work immediately on making art assets for the game. I went to work on programming the main part of the game with the little help of some placeholder programmer artwork (yes, I do the art for #Dungeon and no, I don’t care that this art is terrible in comparison):

LD30_Pic1

I went into the game jam feeling pretty lazy and I wasn’t really looking to have very pretty code… so in the end I may or may not have put almost all the code into one giant script attached to the planet. This caused a few major problems later on in the evening but for the most part everything worked out fine so I am not too bothered about it. Game jam code is always disgusting.

Over the course of the day, Mark wrote out all the possible letters we wanted to have in the game and the outcomes of each of them. He then printed them off and cut them out in order to arrange them into a cohesive story. PHYSICAL PROTOTYPING FTW!

LD30_Pic2

Once we had an order of letters that we all agreed upon, I set about adding them into the game. It was a very time consuming part of the jam which went on for several hours. Each letter had several recipients who each had different writing styles, letter artwork and house locations around the planet – some of them also had special events tied to them.

It was around this time we also started replacing my horrific excuse for placeholder art with Amelia’s glorious artwork – the tiny microplanet town of Dreamsdale was born:

LD30_Pic3

Mark and I worked on giving each of the characters a believable and unique personality. There were a total of eight characters living on the planet in the end:

  • King Harold IV – The pompous king who is loud, bold and brash. He lives in the palace.
  • Queen Anne III – The wife of Harold who we based around Mrs. Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances. She also lives in the palace.
  • Daisy ‘Sugarplum’ Dumpling – The baker who has the personality of a particularly annoying american teenage girl. She lives in the cute gingerbread house.
  • Sergeant R Murphy – A war veteran who has seen his share of horrors in a ‘Great War’ – he is a no-nonsense soldier who doesn’t like to express his feelings. He lives in the fortified bunker.
  • Mr Frank Fisher – The town fisherman who lives on a small boat in the only lake on the planet. He is a kind natured man who likes poetry and the outdoors.
  • Mr Boris Bletchley – The manager of Dreamsdale’s waste disposal and energy plant. He is a perverted old man who smells horrible – but he’s trying to turn over a new leaf.
  • Dr Eugene Egbert – The geeky scientist who moved to the planet in order to study the local area. He doesn’t really get other people. His letters are all typed in the same manner as Terezi Pyrope from Homestuck (A, I, and E replaced by 4, 1, and 3, respectively). He lives in a hi-tech tree house.
  • Sister Jane Jazzpunk – A nun who is also a talented musician. She is always looking for more people to donate to the church and spread the word of her god. She lives in the church.

Of course we didn’t manage to get everything we wanted to into the game. We wanted it so that if you sent letter to the wrong houses then the world would change slightly in appearance. We also didn’t manage to add all the ending cutscenes we wanted. The options on the letters were also not particularly clear to players, and could have used some work.

Luckily we also managed to get in touch with our friend Will Bryce, who frequently writes music for our games. He managed to come up with a cute little tune to play in the background of the game. Adding music and sound really brought the game to another level of juiciness.

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All in all the game jam went well, we took it easy and had plenty of rest breaks. We didn’t want to burn ourselves out doing a full 24 hours straight and I think it really was beneficial because the end result was far less buggy than I’d expected. The feedback we’ve had on the Ludum Dare website has been incredibly encouraging. I look forward to seeing our final scores!

You can play ‘Going Postal’ on your PC or on an android phone or tablet for free if you go to our Ludum Dare entry page! (I’d recommend the android version as it feels really nice to spin the planet with your finger!)

Hashtag Dungeon Launch Week!

So it’s been a week since we launched Hashtag Dungeon so I thought i’d do a little post about how it’s gone so far and the problems we’ve encountered over the week.

Launch day was incredibly hectic for me and Kieran. We were finding and fixing bugs till about 11:00 that night. Unfortunately it was also the day that Sky Broadband in Lincolnshire decided to stop working – completely. Kieran had to upload the final build of the game at about 2:30 in the morning via is phone. I was up till 3:30am getting the itch.io store front set up properly.

Oh… and Kieran had to go and get the banner from the printers halfway through the day because they’d managed to mess up printing in twice and it was almost not ready for when we needed it…

London Anime Gaming Convention

This late launch would all have been fine if we didn’t have to be up at around 5-6am in order to get to London for the London Anime and Gaming Convention 2014… so there was absolutely no time for a lie in! Luckily we were in good spirits and managed to (with the aid of coffee) make it to London in time for set up. Many thanks to Tom, one of our most excellent musicians, for driving us down in the car.

Myself, Tom and Kieran sitting proudly behind our booth at LAC!

LAC was very exciting for all of us! It was our first experience of running a booth at an actual convention. I’d like to thank Pia for helping us arrange getting a table for the convention – we couldn’t have done it without you!

You might be thinking, “Surely going to a convention the day after release might be a bad idea? Surely you won’t have access to your builds if there’s a problem with the version online?” – Yes, yes it was a bad idea. It was only a matter of time before my phone started going crazy with tweets from people who weren’t able to download the game. It turns out that because i’d included a ‘#’ in the uploaded file name people weren’t able to download it from the itch.io servers. Whoops…

Some Bad Stuff Happened

Whilst I was at the convention the booth opposite us (manned by Ubisoft and GAME) decided they were going to do a free giveaway. I was manning the booth alone because it was too expensive for the other guys to come back for a second day, so I was naturally a little on edge about looking after all the equipment around me. Crowds gathered to get free swag and the guys on the other booth decided that they’d throw out PHYSICAL COPIES of random games into the crowd. One of them landed on the Hashtag Dungeon table… people turned and piled towards me in order to grab the game, knocking our banner and almost pushing my laptops off the table onto the floor. I wasn’t happy at all.

Oh yeah and then I also got assaulted on the underground and had a bunch of other personal problems occurred over the week that left me feeling awful. I became pretty unproductive because I was really upset. I think karma was balancing itself out again because of the buzz I got from the launch! I’m okay now though – much more stable. Thanks to Louise, Alex, Richard, Byron and Christos for being there for me. I don’t often have particularly emotional weeks but occasionally everything becomes too much for my brain to compute.

Soft Launch

We decided we’d go for a soft launch and not actively contact sites like Polygon yet because we want to make sure the servers are able to handle the load over time. We were worried that if we got a massive surge of people playing in the first week we might end up having problems we wouldn’t be able to deal with quickly. We wanted to avoid a situation like other online-based games have on launch.

Having a soft launch has been excellent because we’ve been able to deal with bug reports on a one-on-one basis. If we’d had loads more people playing we’d probably get spammed with the same bug report over and over again. It’s nice to have a small community at this point as we can talk to them all directly.

Kieran has been amazing at responding to and fixing bugs. He’s worked tirelessly every day fixing things and communicating with players who are having issues. He’s even finished the first version of the Hashtag Dungeon launcher that allows us to push updates out to our players quickly and easily. I want to thank him for being the best co-developer ever, he’s been amazing. He’s been really on the ball whilst I’ve been feeling pretty down.

Coming Soon

I’m going to be at the Loading Bar on Monday showing the game off at a big event! Thanks to Failnaut for inviting me along to show the game off! I’m really excited for it – hopefully we’ll get some interest in the game and maybe sell a few more copies!

I’m also working on making the bosses in the game harder. One of the new bosses I’ve just added is The Infernal Soul Organ. Good luck trying to take him on… it’s not a boss that shows much mercy:

SoulOrgan

We also have a tutorial video coming soon with wonderful voice over work by my good friend Greg. I’m looking forward to hearing it! It should give non-players a better idea of how people make dungeons.

If you’ve not played the game and are interested then you can buy it from our website! The current build is Alpha 1.3.2 and once you’ve purchased the game you’ll get access to all updates afterwards for free! Supporting us now means that we’ll be able to continue to make the game bigger and better.

GameCity 9 Launch Event Rundown

Last Thursday was the launch event for this years GameCity festival where the nominees and judges for this years prizes were announced. Myself and Kieran had the opportunity to show off the current build of Hashtag Dungeon at the event!

It was really cool to see people playing and talking about the game. It’s definitely shown us what things we need to improve upon over the next few weeks and what is good about it right now.

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Unfortunately we edited our server’s code just before we left to show the game off; this meant that all the tweets being grabbed by the server were missing a bunch of important data which poor Kieran had to input manually! (We should know better than to edit the games code a few hours before we show it off… but nevermind!)

We also had chance to take part in the Spaceteam Admirals Challenge which was really fun but we didn’t do particularly well at it (3rd from last… could have been worse I suppose…) Congratulations to the winners of that by the way – those medallions you got looked really sweet.

I very much enjoyed myself and I’m really looking forward to my first trip to the GameCity festival this year. I’m also excited to show our game off again – hopefully we’ll have worked out the bugs by that point! I’d like to thank Dr. Patrick Dickinson for coming along to the event to support us, Alex for helping get me in contact with the people running GameCity and Iain and Chloe for making me feel super welcome! It was also really cool to see Sam from Boxface Games again – he’s seriously the coolest kid I’ve ever met – ever.

Performance and Games Network: Kickoff Workshop

On the 25th and 26th of March there was a workshop at The University Of Lincoln for the Performance and Games Network. This network is a collaboration between the Universities of Lincoln, Exeter, and Nottingham, Tiga, and Arts Queensland looking at how we can use the performing arts to examine the design of video games. Kieran and I were invited along by Patrick to participate in the workshop alongside people from loads of different places including De Gute Fabrik, Rare and the performing arts themselves.

We were able to take a look at the technology powering the new Kinect 2.0 as well. I was very impressed with how powerful the camera is now – at times it was like something out of minority report.

The workshop was designed to encourage people to work together in order to create unique and crazy games that looked at the idea of the performer. There were some amazing things developed and I was very impressed with the sheer variety of things that came out of it:

  • A physical game that uses office chairs and a Kinect where participants have to push and pull other people from one side of the room to the other.
  • A game in which participants strip in front of one another to score points (although they can’t actually see the other player accurately because they are wearing a rift.)
  • A game where a player takes on the guise of Godzilla and has to avoid missiles that people fire by sending tweets at a bot.
  • Mario Kart controlled by a VIOLIN!
  • Street Fighter controlled by pulling on strands of conductive yarn.
  • Mario Bros controlled by stirring cups of tea.
  • A motion capture game that looks at the idea of physical Chinese whispers and the Exquisite Corpse.
  • Using the Oculus rift and a cool camera rig to allow a user to see through the back of their head.
  • A wheelchair tank game that uses the Kinect in a very interesting way.

The workshop was incredibly inspiring and I’m looking at taking on some projects over the summer that centre around a lot of the stuff I learnt over those two days. I’ll definitely be looking at incorporating MakeyMakeys into my future work as I’m interested in using them to create some unique interfaces for games, I’d really like to do some art installations using them. I’m also hoping to continue work on the Godzilla game with Patrick and Alex over the summer and we’d love to try and get it on one of the big screens at Game City in Nottingham.

You can find out more about the network at http://performance-games.lincoln.ac.uk if you’re interested in learning more about what is going on! It’s awesome!

The Value Of Games

The cause and solution of all my problems...

There’s an increasing noticeable trend that games seem to be getting cheaper and cheaper. I can currently buy a decent indie game for less than the price of a pint at the pub. Why is a game that I will spend several hours playing less expensive than a drink i’ll have imbibed in about half an hour? Surely developers are selling themselves short? I think we are.

Recently I was discussing how much we’d sell Hashtag Dungeon for when it is first released. I feel as if it’s worth more than a few pounds, but it the current environment we’ve got to follow the trends and make things super cheap or we’ll not get any interest whatsoever. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and hope we get a lot of sales instead of just a few. It makes me sad we have to sell something we’ve worked on for ages for so cheap – but that’s just the way things are now.

I think theres a distinct problem with a great deal of gamers nowadays. The rise of the ‘Humble’ Indie Bundle and the ridiculously cheap Steam Sale has left them weary of games that have prices more than £5.00. They want to play interesting indie games but do not value the time and effort that has been put in by developers to create the game. They want the world but don’t want to pay for what its actually worth. They’re the kind of people who claim to be a fan of a game and then expect the developer to spend every waking moment working on it for them for no extra reward.

Games are pieces of art and you wouldn’t expect to be able to buy someones artwork without paying them a vast sum of money for it, right? It doesn’t seem right that someone should have to make their game super cheap just to be able to compete with everyone else’s ridiculous prices. They’ve poured their soul into their game… why do they have to cheapen themselves?

When is this maddening mass deflation going to stop? When all games are free to play and most self-respecting developers have gone bust because they can barely afford to feed their families? People need to realise that this current cheap-as-chips system isn’t good for anyone… it needs to stop before the games industry collapses in on itself and there’s nothing left but Candy Crush Saga.

Can Jam 2014

Can Jam Logo

Hey everyone! Just a quick blog post to tell you all about the upcoming Can Jam at The University Of Lincoln. It’s a 24 hour long game jam ran by students and staff at the university for the glory of game-making students everywhere!

It’s going to be starting on the 8th of March at 9:00am and any UK student with a valid form of identity is welcome to come along to participate. We’re really hoping that you’ll be able to come along and make games with like-minded people. If it’s anything like the last three it’ll be an awesome event. I will be there helping out and providing people with my homespun brand of passionate encouragement (until about 3am – then you’ll have to deal with grumpy Sean).

There will be people coming from both Crytek GmbH and Rockstar for the judging so it’s a great opportunity to network and show off your skills!

Also… this year we have a fancy trophy. I’ve yet to lay eyes on it because apparently it’s far too fancy for any one person to lay eyes upon. It’s really that fancy.*

You can sign up here! There’s only a limited number of places so make sure to grab a ticket quickly! Also feel free to share the details with anyone or anything you might think will be interested.

*I have literally no idea how fancy it is right now. But I can only assume it’s going to be pretty fancy.

Hashtag Dungeon: Thanks Guys!

Hey guys and gals!

This is just a quick little blog post to thank everyone who has tweeted, retweeted or blogged about Hashtag Dungeon so far. Myself and Kieran have been flipping out at every positive comment, response or article we’ve found. We’d like to thank everyone for the great interest in our game.

I literally squealed when I clicked on this video…

We’re working super hard to get the game out as early as we can in order for you guys to get your hands on it. I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am to see what everyone does with the dungeon editor – if it’s anything like the fancy stuff I’ve seen done by our alpha testers then I’m going to be so happy. I’m really looking forward to playing through your dungeons… hopefully you won’t make them too hard (I’m kinda sucky at not getting hit by stuff – especially goblins).

I’m going to get back to working on sprites now. The more enemies, items and traps I can cram into the game before we release the better. We’d really appreciate it if you guys continue to give us feedback and share around the game with anyone you think might be interested – that’d be super special awesome of you.

Also as a little thank you because you’ve decided to click on this blog page thingy here is an EXCLUSIVE picture of one of the enemies from the game – the fireball throwing Flame Mage:

Flame Mage

#GGJ14 Post Mortem

So myself and a bunch of the staff at The University of Lincoln decided to host an event for the Global Game Jam this year! It was very daunting as we’ve never done a whole 48 hours before – we’ve always considered 24 hours to be a pretty crazy feat on it’s own. We had students from a bunch of other universities and developers from outside the university come along too. It was pretty awesome to see so many new people coming to make games together over a weekend.

Not going to lie though “We don’t see things how they are. We see them how we are.” I didn’t really like that theme – I know for a fact that Alex was almost going to bail on me when he saw it.

Luckily we kept the band together and managed to form an idea for it with the help of a pint of alcohol and some good hard thinking. We looked at the idea of propaganda and how it pushes people to form somewhat inaccurate opinions of the world around them. We decided you’d play the role of a person employed to put up posters around an area for the government or those who opposed them.

GGJ14Screenshot

Myself and Alex decided it’d be cool to revisit the country of Happystan that I created along with some of my friends back home. It’s a dictatorship ran by a crazy man who expects everyone to be CONSTANTLY happy ALL of the time. I’ve always wanted to make a first person game in this world so this seemed like a perfect time! After having finished our drinks we went up to the computer labs and started work: Adam Bowes made 3D models of security cameras, buildings and trucks, Alex Saye programmed real-time poster physics and I made a metric-fuckton of poster graphics ranging from government propaganda to XXX strip club advertisements. (Meanwhile we were all listening to plenty of Caravan Palace…)

TreeDiagram

Unfortunately we didn’t get the game finished. Despite our solemn vow to never make a branching tree-like story for a game ever again we ended up making one anyway. We had a load of bugs that we didn’t manage to squash in the last few hours and they ended up leaving us a little stressed out and on edge.

On the plus side we got a heck of a lot of comments saying that we’d created a really nice atmosphere for the game, which I tend to agree with as it’s pretty much exactly how I’d imagined the land of Happystan to be like (it was very heavily influenced by Orwell’s 1984). I also really liked the cool billboarding effect we had on the NPCs – totally gonna use that again at some point! I consider ‘District Smile B’ to be a glorious train wreck – both beautiful and terrible at the same time.

Game Jam Round-Up (#7DGGC and #ScareJam)

I’ve been a little busy recently so I didn’t get chance to write a round-up for either the Gentlemanly Game Challenge OR the Scare Jam. Yes, I know it’s been a while since both of them… quite a while – but I don’t care! It’s time to round them up and discuss how they went! Grab a glass of wine substitute (grape juice) and enjoy my game jam round up! Cheers!

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So I’ll start with the Seven Day Gentlemanly Game Challenge. It was interesting to see what people took from the idea of ‘Gentlemanly’ as a theme. There was a whole lot of steampunk stuff – which I approve of, however I’m still not sure if steampunk always equates to gentlemanly or the vice versa.

We had a nice array of games. Team Noname (Now known as Volatile Element) made a cool RTS game in Unity. Kieran Hicks (who is now working with me on Hastag Dungeon) made a game in which you play a hobo who must rise through the ranks in order to get into the country club. There were some really juicy ideas in the game entitled ‘Monoculus Rift’ which placed the player in a retro environment as seen through a fancy monocle.

DSC_1484 DSC_1474 DSC_1494DSC_1487 DSC_1498

The Scare Jam was awesome. I can’t believe how many people turned up to make games. I was so impressed by the turnout from every year of the computing courses at Lincoln. All the games were pretty well done too and there was a great deal of variety among them. I’m not entirely sure why I chose to do a game jam based on scary games since i’m a very jumpy person myself. This was particularly evident when I jumped halfway across the room when playing one of the games.

Halloween

Alex Saye won the prize for the overall best use of mechanics for his game “14565” where you play a blindfolded person attempting to escape from a terrifying monster. Its lack of visuals and reliance on sound really made for a great experience as your imagination fills in all the blanks and makes it far more terrifying. You can download it here. Wear headphones.

Kieran Hicks received the award for scariest game. His 3D Gamemaker maze game pushed the boundaries of what most of the judges thought could be done in the software. Plenty of jump scares all around.

Team Volatile Element gained the final award for most interesting use of the theme for their game “Child’s Whisper” for the Oculus Rift. It was a surreal and spooky experience that had the player controlling their right and left eyes with a controller.

Duncan Rowland gave out a special award for a game developed using the Mindwave. This game tried to gauge the players stress levels in order to change the environment around them. It was a very interesting insight into getting the Mindwave hardware integrated with Unity.

As with all the game jams I’ve ran at Lincoln i’m always impressed at the creativity and skill the students have. It’s great to see people who are passionate making games and I love to give them opportunities to just make games for the hell of it. It’s my hope that at least one or two of the games will be developed further after the jams are done – there’s definitely a few gems that deserve the attention of the gaming public!