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 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.

Updating The Blog! (It’s been a while…)

So its been quite a while since my last blog post… theres a good few reasons for that and I’ll list them below. None of them are bad of course – in fact I’d say all the reasons for me being off the radar are pretty awesome and cool. It’s been a very eventful university semester.

Firstly, I completed and handed in my dissertation on visual variety in crowd simulations. I’m pretty happy with how it went… the project was completed on time and the results gathered by the evaluation supported the changes I’d made to the agent’s model in the world. You can read the full project report here, hopefully you won’t find any mistakes in it (if you do… please don’t tell me as it’ll make me panic.)

Secondly, I completed my last two assignments of the year:

  • A games design document for a ‘critical’ game looking at illicit gun-running, capitalism and dictatorships. The player assumes the role of an unscrupulous arms dealer who travels to a fictional island in order to make money off of the war brewing between two countries.
  • A pathfinding assignment in which I implemented a pre-baked pathfinding solution in order to simulate more agents at runtime… it allowed for the simulation to have 20,000+ agents moving around all at once.

Thirdly, myself and the rest of my wonderful council at the university’s anime society (JAMS) put on a big event in the university’s bar called ‘LinCON’ – we had a load of things going on such as an artists alley, a sumo suit arena, sushi, origami and calligraphy. It was a great night and from all the feedback I’ve received everyone had a great time. I’d specifically like to thank Pia Davison from Lucky-Con for taking a big chunk of her free time out in order to help us get ready in time!

Fourthly, it was my birthday last Friday so I had a wonderful party at The Shed, my local student pub. We took on the theme of “Steampunk… like a sir.” and I was most impressed with how good everyone looked in their shirts and dresses. I like my parties to be classy and with whiskeys and victory cigars this was no exception to that.

Certificate

Fifthly… and I think this is the biggest and most awesome news of this entire updateI’m lucky enough to now be the managing director of my own games company! I’ve literally been buzzing this whole week after receiving the news that I’m now in such a position at the age of twenty two. I’ve been in touch with a couple of initial clients and hopefully in the future Top Notch Studios will grow to be a well-known development company here in Britain!

Thank you for reading! I’m sure I’ll be doing more updates soon about other things I’m working on… and I’ll be typing up the next Laundry RP files soon when I get chance to!

#1GAM February – “Hideous” Character Update

I had a little meet up with Alex and Amelia on Friday and we discussed the character for Hideous. Amelia did some amazing conceptual pieces based on a bunch of random creepy-pasta images I bombarded her with. We decided on parts of each monster to take forward into the next iteration of the character design:

Amelia's Monster Concept

We’re adding in more code to improve the way in which players see one another in varying light levels, this should make the game more fair when it comes to seeing one another in the maze. Kirt is working hard on making more models in order to make the environment more interesting. Things are coming together beautifully!

Oh and I’m uploading (fairly) recent test-builds here if you want to see the game being created.

#1GAM January Post-Mortem

So my game “The Food Chain” has been published and I like to think that its gone down pretty well. We did a few play-tests of it in the university’s computer labs and everyone seemed to really enjoy playing it. I even had my lecturers playing it (one of them said that they think it could be quite addictive) along with the students.

Playtesting

If you want to play my game with friends you’ll need to set up a LAN network – you can also get a feel for it by playing it yourself on two screens (but that’s hardly very fun…). Here is a link to the game in action: Play “The Food Chain” Here!

Some cool things I learnt:

  •  Oliver is a gaming troll and he intentionally would get bitten in order to lure the shark towards where other people were hiding their fish. (Not gonna lie… clever tactic – but a little mean.)
  • Unity networking isn’t too hard – but I’m still only able to run things on a  LAN network… which is a real shame. But i’ll definitely look into getting it working over the internet as soon as I have a spare couple of days.
  • My laptop is a trooper and can run a good few copies of the same game at once for testing.
  • SCRUM development methods go out of the window when it’s just me working on a project. Whoops.
  • Amelia and Kirt are both awesome 3D Modellers – and I really want to work with them in the future!
  • It’s surprisingly cheap to get some assets from the Unity Store… and they can be really good quality.

And lo: January turns to February and game number is about to rear its ugly head! Working alongside first-year games computing student Alex Saye, we are developing a game named:

HideousLogo

I’ll post up more information about this delightful little game as soon as we have something to show!

#1GAM Lincoln Meet-Up Number 1

So today we had our first official meet-up of students who are thinking about doing #1GAM at The University Of Lincoln. We started off with a quick listen to @McFunkypants’s keynote and then proceeded to have a chat about how things were going to go down!

We each took turns writing down themes and putting them into a hat in order to give ourselves some inspiration – this then devolved into me pulling them out and reading them aloud. We settled on the idea of using one of the themes as a ‘main theme’ and then each choosing one of the others as a complimentary one. The main theme we chose was “Underwater” so I’m looking forward to some really nice looking games coming out of it!

Since we only have a little while to work on our January games (having left it a little late…) the majority of the group seemed to be thinking about making something reasonably simple to get them into the swing of things. Next month’s meeting is on the first, so we should get a really nice bunch of games made for February.