VideoBrains November Talk: Using APIs For Completely Insane Reasons

I was in London a few weeks ago and I did a talk on using APIs to make weird and wonderful games. Apparently it went reasonably well despite me being unable to recall exactly what I said or did…

They recently uploaded the video so I thought I’d make a blog post to show it on my own website!

I warn you – it’s definitely an interesting one:

(In other news I’m still pretty down ever since the end of GameCity – don’t let my cheery nature on that video fool you… I was screaming internally. Being on my own is horrid, being on my own in LONDON is even scarier.)
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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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 01.13.44

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.

My Thoughts On: E3 2014 Microsoft Conference

Okay so I’m a little late to the party here as I’ve been in France since Monday. I have no idea why I picked such a dumb time to go on holiday but it’s done now so I can’t change that. I’m going to watch each of the press conferences and type up my thoughts as we go along. This might get pretty messy and I might ramble a bit.

INTRODUCTION

Okay – they’re focusing on games. That’s good. Definitely makes a change based on last years conference.

CALL OF DUTY

The new Call Of Duty is looking pretty damn gorgeous. Holy crap that’s pretty. Look at all those particle effects! I like the futuristic feel they’ve gone for. It’s still as horrifically scripted as per usual though… but I guess thats what Call Of Duty’s single player campaign is all about.

The guy playing is walking around REALLY slowly – I hope that’s not the players normal walking speed.

Oh god that was a freakin’ mech… I kind of want to play this game now.

Oh wow… those swarms of drones move really nicely. I wonder if they’re actually using flocking AI or they’re just animated to look like that.

(Can’t help but see the last two Crysis games in that though.)

FORZA MOTORSPORT

I have no passion for cars and racing. I have no idea what this guy is talking about. Do people really spend this much time recreating real-life tracks for games…? (Did they really get it down the millimetre accuracy? I doubt it… why would you bother?) Ech, I don’t see the appeal to be frank.

Dynamic weather and day-night cycles? IT’S LIKE A WHOLE NEW RACING GAME.

Granted the textures look quite nice.

EVOLVE

Okay I’ve been looking forward to this one actually. I’m really excited for the asymmetric gameplay between the hunters and the monster. The monster looks amazing – like something straight out go HP Lovecraft. I can’t wait to play it.

ASSASSINS CREED: UNITY

I was in Paris this week and it wasn’t all that great.

Cooperative multiplayer – not bad at all, sounds like it could be pretty fun!

So much Les Miserables going on round here. I approve.

As a fan of crowd simulations I’m very happy that the crowd reacted and charged into the building once the guards were dead.

These people don’t sound very French to me…

(I’m noting that none of the playable characters are female. Poor form Ubisoft. Poor form.)

DRAGONAGE INQUISITION

There’s some damn cool looking monsters in this game. I wish I also had the power of green.

SUNSET OVERDRIVE

Lawl, cover mechanic joke.

Well this game looks pretty zany. I think I’m gonna enjoy playing this game! Very tongue in cheek, self aware and highly amusing. It’s like Tony Hawk crossed with Dead Rising crossed with Borderlands.

This game has a heck of a lot of juice in it.

DEAD RISING 3 ARCADE THINGY

…is it really cosplay when it’s a character in a game?

…I still feel very confused by Dead Rising 3. I still think that they were very confused about what they were going for with that game.

DISNEY FANTASIA MUSIC EVOLVED & DANCE CENTRAL

FABLE LEGENDS

Ecch. This series should have died many years ago.

Oh… wait, hello, what is this? You can be the villain? That’s kinda cool. I like the idea of having an over world villain – I’ve seen it done a few times – it’s kinda similar to what we are trying to do with Hashtag Dungeon. I suppose they’re actually trying to be innovative for once! Good luck to them, hopefully the villain will have more up their sleeves than very easy to kill mobs and trolls.

PROJECT SPARK

Project spark looks pretty awesome. It’s like a far more complex Little Big Planet. I feel as if there’s gonna be a heck of a lot of crap uploaded by people though.

OH SHIT CONKER WHAT…

Wait. No. He’s only making a cameo?!

What have you done Rare… what have you done…?

ORI AND THE BLIND TEMPEST

Oh that gorgeous animation! I WANT TO PLAY THIS GAME NOW!

HALO: THE MASTER CHIEF COLLECTION

I really love the Halo universe… so this is pretty cool for me. Having all the games on one thing is mind-blowing though – that’s surely a lot of data to store on one thing… unless it’s several discs.

Oh god Halo 2 multiplayer… that was the majority of my teenage years…

Holy shit that’s gonna be a lot of multiplayer. I might have to start doing Halo nights again.

INSIDE

Gotta love Limbo 2.

Seriously though that looks pretty intriguing!

INDIE GAME SHOWCASE

As per usual they pretty much all look amazing.

RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER

Completely understandable that she’d be in therapy after the events of the first game. I loved the reboot of Tomb Raider and I am definitely looking forward to the next instalment.

THE WITCHER 3

Woo! Hunting! Looks good to me!

I have a strange feeling that the griffon was scripted to go through that village though. I seriously doubt that the player just happened to walk through there and the NPC just happened to have a griffon speech choice.

I’m very disappointed that they didn’t actually let the player kill the griffon and instead just had a cutscene.

PHANTOM DUST

Pre-rendered cutscenes just don’t do it for me. Show me gameplay damn it!

THE DIVISION

This game is still looking as cool as it did last year. I really like the post-apocalyptic world they’ve created. I’m loving the augmented reality overlays they’ve put in the game. I still have no idea how it’s supposed to play though.

SCALEBOUND

Another pre-rendered cutscene so I can’t really make any good comments on it.

CRACKDOWN 3

Crackdown’s narrator voice makes me shiver with enjoyment every time I hear it. I love how unforgivingly over the top the Crackdown series is. I’m also very glad they’ve gotten rid of the zombies – that was a waste of the games IP.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

Definite focus on the games this year from Microsoft – specifically exclusives. I’m glad they’ve learnt their lessons from last years atrocious press conferences. I hope that the rest of the conferences are just as good. (Of course I have my doubts as per usual…)

Embracing the Fail: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Chaos

So many of you will know that when I graduated university I set up a ‘games’ company under the misguided thinking that I’d be okay going it alone without any knowledge of the industry whatsoever. I had a client and things looked pretty promising. Naturally it all went pear-shaped and I got terribly depressed for a good few months.

I’d like to thank Devi Ever for helping me realize that things could have gone a lot worse and it’s never the end of the world if they do. Devi made a few mistakes and she’s in a bad situation but she’s still fighting and making games – it made me realize how pitifully small my problems running a company had been. I think at the time with all the stress piling on top of me I thought it was the end of the world – but it’s never the end of the world even if you do make a mistake (except if that mistake is setting off a doomsday device… then it might be the end of the world and you probably shouldn’t have done it.)

I’ve also recently been doing a lot of client work sorting out other peoples issues in businesses larger than the one I tried to run. Apparently the kind of issues I’d experienced in my own time as a director are actually completely normal! I thought for a long time that I was only having problems because I wasn’t ready for them… but apparently it’s common to find that people just aren’t ready to deal with when things get messy. We’re all human and none of us really know exactly what is going on all the time – we all make mistakes!

I look back now at the mess I was in before Christmas and realize a few things:

  • The company made no profit, but it also made no loss. It was practically as if it didn’t do anything in the first place.
  • I spent most of Christmas worrying that I’d lost people as friends because of the business – they’re all still here today and I’m glad of that.
  • Clients are always happy to take more than they are supposed to… it’s natural for people to get as much out of anything as they can.

I also feel that before I left university I hadn’t experienced nearly enough failure in my life: I found all my university exams and coursework easy – I breezed through my presidency at the anime society – I never really had anything go horribly wrong. I kinda needed something to kick me out of my complacency and make me realize that not everything is so straightforward.

I learnt so damn much when I was running my company and I would like to try again soon. I’m hoping this time I’ll stick to my guns and do what it is I do best: make interesting games and run hilarious game jams.