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.

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.

My Thoughts On: Jazzpunk

Jazzpunk Is Weird

Sean knocks back a glass of his new favourite cocktail Vodkacetamol as he attempts to recollect exactly what he just played for the last few hours. His brain throbs will a dull ache. He can recall colours and sounds but very little else. He remembers pigeons and spray cheese and liberal use of floating text. His hands shake violently as he attempts to glean meaning from the intangible nothingness around him. He has just played Jazzpunk.

That may well be the most hilariously surreal three hours of my life. I cannot remember ever having played a game that strange before (except maybe The Wonderful End Of The World). Whatever the designers are on at Necrophone Games please can I have some? I’d love to make something like this!

Jazzpunk is an exploration of the surreal side of cyberpunk – exploring the craziness of matrix-esque worlds and virtual reality. You play as a secret agent called Polyblank who is tasked with a bunch of random espionage missions including:

  • Shooting pigeons with some kind of degaussing ray gun.
  • Stealing important data and documents from Russians.
  • Poisoning a guy with fugu-fish.
  • Saving the day from a guy who has an accent similar to mine.
  • Playing a ‘Marriage’ version of Quake.

It’s weird. Really, really weird. But its also really, really funny and quite engrossing considering how strange it is. There’s a tonne of little side missions and hidden bonuses that you might miss if you don’t explore the whole world – I know for a fact I’ve not seen everything based on the lack of achievements I managed to grab on my first play through (apparently I need to go talk to some cardboard boxes or something?). One thing that really made me laugh were the small mini games which pepper the world that parody other games: pizza zombies, car beat-em-up games and wedding-based FPSs which all made me laugh out loud.

I also really want to point out how much I liked the art style of the game. The simple models coupled with cartoonish textures and that tell-tale Unity stock cartoon outline shader looked awesome. The music was also pretty good – whacky and over the top at almost every point. I loved it!

One thing I will say though is that the price counts against it – I’ve bought things for far less that have had much longer shelf life. It isn’t worth it if you’re looking for a long-burning game, but if you’re just up for a surreal romp into a world that will constantly surprise you… then go for it – just make sure to medicate properly first.

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.

My Thoughts On: Continue?9876543210

Continue?9876543210 is a game that attempts to answer the question of what happens to a character in a game when they are deleted from memory.

I remember myself and Alex talking about making a game where you play as a pointer that has wandered off into memory somewhere so I was very interested to see what this game would be like. I was hoping for a Zelda-esque hack and slash game… instead it was a very artsy philosophical game filled with oodles of despair.

The game opens as another game finishes – one of several random characters is seen dying. Then a ‘Continue’ screen flashes up on the screen, it ticks slowly down to zero and then everything goes black. It appears though that the character you are controlling doesn’t want to die… at least not yet.

Continue? Screenshot

The character has to spend its last remaining moments in the memory of the system exploring strange artistic set pieces and hiding from the garbage collector. Each time you play the game there are six random levels for you to explore out of a total of eleven. These range from a wartime trench scene to a small haunted village filled with medieval NPCs. When inside a level you have to talk to NPCs and answer their questions in order to gain ‘prayer’ and ‘lightning’ which help you to stay alive.

Lightning helps the player move to another level by destroying obstacles. Prayer lets the player build houses in a town in order to hide from the garbage collector when it comes along to delete stuff. Both are vital to the players survival but no matter how much you get you will eventually die.

Continue? Enemy

The enemies in the game remind me of Stephen King’s langoliers. They’re vicious and hunt you down without remorse – after all you are just memory locations waiting to be cleaned up. The game ends when the player is finally deleted. The players score is defined by how ‘ready’ the character is to die when they finally meet their maker.

The game was apparently inspired by a drug-trip gone bad that left the designer in the middle of the Mexican desert. It seems to me to be all about survival, life and the inevitability of death. It made me think about my life so far and brought up a lot of emotions about death and how I feel about it.

My only issues with the game are the amount of flickering and loud noises that gave me a headache. I expected the game to have a pretentious air around it and it does – however the designer has attempted to combat against this by adding in some fun gameplay here and there. I’m also going to point out that the game is very confusing towards the start: a lot of things happen without much warning and they can really put you off playing.

If you want to try it out and see what you think it’s available on Steam right now.

My Top Games Of 2013

Twenty-Thirteen has been a really interesting year for games. We’ve seen some really awesome stuff coming out of studios across the globe. The indie golden age is still booming and despite the downfalls of the Greenlight system I think there’s never really been a better time to make games. Despite the awful disappointments of SimCity and Aliens: Colonial Marines we’ve had some amazing games this year… so in no particular order here are my favourite picks:

Don’t Starve

This game looks great. It’s Tim Burton-esque artwork and smooth animation really blew my mind. Even though I am incredibly bad at Don’t Starve I really love the world that they designers have created. It has a beautifully pitch-black sense of humour which appeals to me. Klei are an excellent studio, I hope they have continued success into the future!

The Last Of Us

This might be one of the most wonderfully written story-driven games that I have ever had the chance to play. The characters feel very real, they’re not one-dimensional and are willing to make choices that feel justified from their point of view.

Whilst the gameplay is a lacklustre recall of most third-person combat-stealth games the combat scenarios you are thrown into have a variety of different tactics that can be applied to them – meaning that they never really get boring. The game switches out zombies and gun-toting humans to great effect to continue to make the player switch up their tactics.

Although The Last Of Us is a very linear on-rails game it rewards you with excellent pacing and  an emotional experience that only a few games have really managed to create. It’s a must play for anyone who likes their games with a rich story.

Papers, Please

Damn this game. If you went to any game publisher and told them you were making a game were you play a border control agent working in their normal job day after day they’d probably laugh you out of the building. However, Papers, Please! has shown that even something as mundane as passport control can make a compelling and interesting game.

Watching the country of Arstotzka change because of little things you do is always really interesting. It shows that even someone as un-influential as a border control agent can bring a country to its knees given the right opportunities.

Grand Theft Auto V

The guys at Rockstar have outdone themselves with this amazingly well-made game. It proves that not all triple-A titles have to churn out a sequel once a year to do well (I’m looking directly at you, Call Of Duty). Well done to all my old university friends who worked doing QA on the game, you all did a great job of making a high-quality end product.

Tearaway

Media Molecule really have a skill when it comes to exploiting every aspect of a handheld console’s physical interactions. It’s amazing some of the things they make this game do with the touch screen and cameras, being able to manipulate the environment with your fingers is really cool. Speaking of the environment… the construction paper style they’ve gone with looks amazing – one of my favourite things being the glue pasted on walls that the player can walk along.

Bioshock Infinite

Despite the post launch criticisms of Bioshock Infinite in terms of the levels of violence, the restriction to two weapons and the stadium fight -> story -> stadium fight storytelling style, I feel like this game is the best possible example of the story-shooter genre that has grown and propagated over the last few years.

The world of Columbia was a fascinating insight into a section of time that America likes to forget happened. It really captured that Main Street happy American lifestyle that I see every time I go to Disney World. I loved the characters – especially the Lutece twins.

Antichamber

Good god this game was strange. I loved its non-euclidean architecture and how it tried to break down peoples conceptions of how games are meant to be played. Definitely a good game for people who like puzzles and occasionally getting headaches. This is definitely a game I’m going to go back to in a few months once I’ve forgotten most of the solutions to it. I’m still very surprised it was made in UDK, it doesn’t feel like it at all.

Far Cry: Blood Dragon

Just adding this one to the list because of it’s ballsy venture into that awfully neon science fiction world of the 80s. This sort-of-expansion thing was what Duke Nukem Forever should have been aiming for. Completely insane and not afraid to be in-your-face and happy about it. I was laughing my head of when I played this and I’m glad that they made it.

Pokemon X and Y

Finally after all these years they’ve brought the Pokemon universe into the third dimension and boy has it done well. With all its new features for contacting friends, training pokemon and sending gifts around the world it has shown that the guys and gals designing the Pokemon games are really in touch with their fan base and are giving them what they want.

Tomb Raider

Yeah I know this game was very much plagued with quicktime events and the pacing of Lara’s character development was a little off… but I think it was a wonderful reboot to the Tomb Raider series. I really hope that they make a sequel to this one.

The Stanley Parable

This is the discussion about a game about a man named Stanley. This fully expanded version of the old mod was truly a delight to play. With the stunning voice of Kevan Brighting (who I’d really like to read my novel once its finished) this game really makes the player question if they ever actually have any real control over a game. It’s very clever and very funny for anyone familiar with games in general. If you’ve not played it already I’d play it right now – just remember… the end is never the end.

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!

DSC_1502

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!