Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Job Achieved!

It's been three years since I was laid off from my factory job. Three years since I decided to refocus my life and get back to working towards a career - not a job that was just a paycheck. Three years since I made the commitment to follow my dreams.

And now, I am at the threshold of achieving those goals.

As previously mentioned, a couple weeks ago I had a phone interview with Demiurge Studios concerning a QA tester position. Well, the short of it is, I didn't get that job. But, you don't close a door without opening a window (or something like that), and I discovered another QA testing job, this time at Quick Hit, Inc. I previously applied there for a programming position, and so I had a connection with someone already there. So, I asked to pass along my resume.

A couple whirlwind weeks later, and now I've landed the job of QA Tester at Quick Hit!

There are some provisions, however. This is a temporary contract, but that's to be expected with most QA jobs. And QA isn't precisely what I wanted to get into. But, the important things to note are that
  • QA is a very popular way to break into the game industry,
  • my background in programming lends itself very well to QA in regards to close attention to detail, being able to find and diagnose problems, and in a more direct sense, as part of my job will entail writing automation scripts,
  • I might come to find I enjoy QA,
  • this is giving me the industry experience I'll need later on to get a more permanent job,
  • and perhaps most importantly, I'm being paid to work at a videogame company.
As I write this, I've only worked one full day. It's been a little bit crazy, since I'm being subjected to a baptism by fire. I'm jumping right into a busy schedule while I haven't quite gotten my bearings yet. But, it's only the beginning. Perhaps more details to come (if I'm even allowed to give them).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Status Report

I feel a little bit guilty about not updating my website, or anything else really, lately. What's been happening is that I've been focusing more on temporary work in order to secure some kind of income, for two reasons.

One, I'm very near broke, and student loans are looming over the horizon. I opted to sign up with a temp agency, and they've been pretty good about finding me work. I spent almost a month working at the Wrentham Premium Outlets at the Nike Factory Store in the backroom processing inventory. They had a lot of inventory coming in, and a few other associates and I were tasked with taking apparel out of boxes, pricing them, adding security pins, and hanging them up. It's repetitive, sure, but actually I like that sort of work. I enjoy it where I have a known amount of work and do it until it's finished (or at least get to a point where I feel comfortable leaving it for the next day). I've had another assignment since then, doing a similar thing but with auto parts.

I also have an interview later this evening for another position for quality control for a medical supplier, but the most important news is that I have a phone interview this Thursday with Demiurge Studios for a QA tester position. I'm super pysched about that...wish me luck!

The second reason is, I simply haven't been aware of many game job opportunities lately. Announcement at the Boston Postmortem have been very sparse the last few months, and those that are looking are looking for artists, mainly. I know I should hit up the contacts that I have and get a feel for how things may have changed since the spring.

So, unfortunately, I've put my personal game development on hold because of all this. Also partly because I seem to have gained writer's block...not only for my game but for my comic as well. Plus, what I'd also like to do is prototype in idea or two, and at the same time familiarize myself with some other technologies. But of course, that takes time, some of which I can hopefully muster up soon.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Game Spotlight : Puzzle Pirates

As I previously mentioned, something else I wanted to do with this blog was share with you some of the games I've been playing recently, both casual games as well as MMOs. I don't plan to go into any real in-depth review, and these likely won't be very long...just sharing a few thoughts I have about the game. It is my hope that you might find you like the game yourself, and perhaps get a glimpse into my personality and taste in games.

Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates

Genre: MMO, puzzle

I've been playing Y!PP off and on for about 5 years now. So far it's the only MMO to which I've ever subscribed, but then, I'm the kind of person who prefers to finish a game before moving on to the next one...usually.

In Y!PP, you take on the role of a little chibi-style pirate, and how you want to go about building your pirate fortune is up to you. Most of the activity in the game takes the form of puzzle mini-games, from duty puzzles (sailing, bilge-pumping, carpentry, navigating) to carousing (poker, hearts, spades, drinking) to labor puzzles (shipwright, distilling, blacksmithing).

I heard somewhere that how you play an MMO reflects how you operate in a real-life work situation. If that's the case, then I'm most useful as a grunt. There's the chance to become captain of a crew, or even royalty of a flag (a group of crews)...but I'm not sure how well I'm suited for management - I'm a middle-manager at best. There's also quite an economy built into the game. One can set up their own shop, bring in supplies, set competitive prices, etc. But I'm not that big into economics, either...and besides, I don't want my game life to be like a real job. No, usually I play Y!PP to play the puzzles. But I don't think there's any shame in that. That's one nice thing about Y!PP...it's varied enough to appeal to different types of gamers.

Another cool thing they added was trophies (achievements, basically). Sure, it makes trying to collect them fun, but the downside is also the way the experience system works. Pirates don't level up in the traditional sense; they're rated by how good they are at the puzzles. So it's really difficult to get some trophies because you have to be better than everyone else on the ocean, and there are some good players out there. And you can't get better at the puzzles by constantly playing them and making a little number get larger; you have to constantly play them and actually get better at them.

One thing I've realized is why I don't put as much time into this game as I'd like. Partly because I tend to get "puzzle vision", and that I don't do very well at the "social puzzle" (that is, I don't tend to make a lot of good friends in these games because I don't talk). But also because there's no real incentive to advance. Sure, there are blockades, flotillas, and the recently added monster hunts (blockades against special, stronger NPCs), but there are no "quests" like in other MMOs.

Of course, don't think that I don't enjoy the game anyway...I wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't. I'm sure like with most things, there are parts you like and parts you don't like, and different parts appeal to different people.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Game Development - Escape Game #2

The "Escape the Room" game (working title)
Progress: Prototype phase

All right, I think I've gotten over the initial hurdles of game navigation. I decided to redesign the inventory to stay on-screen at all times. The retractable inventory was getting a little unwieldy, plus I like the idea of seeing what objects you have available at a glance. The only problem is that the inventory "slides" along with the rest of the room when the player changes views, but it's more of an aesthetic issue that hopefully no one will notice. Well, unless they've read this. To help combat that issue, I've placed the inventory at the bottom of the screen.

So here's how it works: the player clicks and drags items from the inventory onto the screen, and the item snaps back into place when the player releases the mouse button. Unless it happened to be over the hot spot (the red square, in this case), in which case it will set the item there and disable it from the inventory. And by disabled, I mean the item stays there, but is grayed out and can't be clicked or moved. As an early design decision, I figured, like some escape games, that I'd have a fixed inventory - usually when the inventory is full but all the items are used, you're at the end of the game. It's an easy fix to just wipe the item out of the inventory if I need more storage space, so to speak.

By the way, the "S" on the wall there indicated that it's the south wall. I've got an "E" and "W" wall as well, and the door (as seen in the previous post) is on the north wall. Hooray for programmer art!

I've also implemented the close-up feature seen in many escape games. Typically you can zoom in on an object for closer inspection...this is most often for combining two objects for another purpose, or there's some clue to another puzzle hidden on the back or inside the object. Here, the player toggles the button on the lower right to engage "zoom" mode, then clicks an item in the inventory. A gray screen pops up with an enlarged picture of the item. The player cannot resume play until the close-up screen is closed with the button in the upper right.

One helpful side-effect of writing this all out in a blog is that I'm realizing potential pitfalls when it comes to my game design. For example, I just remembered that I effectively disabled clicking-and-dragging inventory items when the item is in close-up, to prevent said item interacting with what's going on behind the close-up "window". This will no doubt hinder any future puzzles if I plan to combine items. So, I wrote myself a note, and will see to fixing that later.

With the higher level components of the game mostly taken care of, now comes the hard part - puzzle design!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Game Development - Escape Game #1

All right. Here it is. If I'm going to be talking this project up to people, I'd better follow through on my promise to myself and get some actual work done on this.

The "Escape the Room" Game (working title)
Progress: Early prototype phase

As I mentioned elsewhere on my website, some of my favorite games to play online are the "escape the room" games, which I usually find at Jay is Games. It was suggested to me that since I like them so much, I should make one. So, here is the beginning stages of that project.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, "escape the room" games are pretty much just that - you find yourself locked in some kind of enclosure, and you have to use the objects found inside the room to escape. This takes the form of logic puzzles, ranging from the simple (use key on locked desk drawer) to figuring out codes (combination locks) to sometimes bizarre leaps in logic (tie a sawblade to an eggbeater to fashion a drill). It seems that these games are popular in Japan; therefore, you'll occasionally have to sift through some Engrish. And sometimes it devolves into a tedious pixel hunt. Luckily, on the Jay is Games site, a walkthrough is usually posted within a few hours if you get stuck.

If you'd like to try these kinds of games out, one of my favorites is Vision. This one is a bit long, but anything else by the developer, neutral, is also very good.

I've decided to start out by developing this in Game Maker. Why? Because it's free, I know how to use it, and it's what I have. I would do it in Flash, if I could afford it to tinker around with it. These kinds of games are a little complicated for something in 3D, although maybe if I had the resources and art software, I could do that. But for now, Game Maker.

Right now, all I have is the room itself, and a crude navigation system. The nice thing about Game Maker is that it's set up as a series of rooms. My plan is that each view, or side of the room, or close up, can be represented with a separate room in Game Maker, and the inventory and such can be dealt with by "persistent" objects.

My main sticking point right up front is exactly how I'd like the game to operate. Oftentimes these games have an inventory on the side of the "room" picture. Since I'm experimenting here, I have currently implemented a retractable inventory (as indicated by the blue "I"). I'm deciding how I want the player to interact with the inventory, whether to select and highlight it in the inventory, or allow the user to drag the object around with the mouse. I need to sit down and either design out how I want this to work, or just fiddle with it some more until I get something I like.

So that's what I got so far. I'm going to attempt to get a fairly intuitive interface finished (at least by escape-the-room standards), and then I'm going to write up a story/design some puzzles.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Renewal of Resolve

I've fallen into a rut, and it's not the good kind of rut. Or else it'd be a routine. Anyway, I've fallen back into bad habits, and I haven't made much progress lately toward my goal of getting a job in the videogame industry. Part of that progress involves staying on top of videogame trends as well as my own personal development. Both of these things I plan to keep updates on my website and this blog, which I have been neglecting lately.

So, here's the plan.

Step 1: Work on my own games.
Since I'm not employed as of this writing, technically I could consider myself an independent game developer. And as such, I should be making games. I've had a couple ideas floating around in my head, and now is the time to put them into practice. And for accountability purposes, I'm going to blog about the process.

Step 2: Play more MMOs.
I attended the Boston Postmortem again last night, and talked with some people from Turbine, one of the major game companies in the Boston area. It seems like if you hold a game job at a company in Massachusetts, chances are that you worked for Turbine at some point. And I realized that I'm not as well versed in MMOs as I probably should be, considering a) if I want to work at Turbine, and b) given the plethora of free-to-play MMOs that are out there. Granted, most may not be of the best quality, but then, one could argue that for a majority of games. Anyway, my point is that I'm going to try some more of these MMOs, and write some of my experiences about them.

Step 2a: Write about casual games.
Another thing I had planned, related to the previous paragraph, was to write about some of my more favorite casual games that I had found online. I probably won't go into a detailed review, but I wanted to show off some of the games I thought were fun, and maybe provide a little insight into the kinds of games that I enjoy.

Hopefully this gives my blog here a little more focused purpose, and maybe you and I can both learn something from all of this. There's a strong chance I'll even make Twitter updates when I update here, for added pressure on myself. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 8, 2009

IGC East '09 - Part 2

Friday's sessions started out with the keynote by Dallas Snell of the Happy Corporation (and formerly of Origin System Austin), about the importance of social interactions. One would think that this would be about the importance of social interactions in games specifically, but Snell emphasized the importance of social interactions in everything in general. The talk boiled down to him describing his life, with a lot more about his personal history and genealogy than anything else, and he apparently took some time away a long and storied career in games and did some personal research in social psychology.

The meat of the talk itself was quite interesting, and it struck something deep inside me. The point was that millions of years of evolution have come down to this, that humans generally require four things in life to be truly happy. Of course now, after the fact, I can't remember precisely what those four things are. They're four C words: choice, competency, maybe connection, and one other. I feel dumb now for forgetting. Anyway, the short of it is, humans are social creatures. The subtext of the talk was that we need to embrace that when designing games, although that was never explicitly said. Mr. Snell gave a great talk, as long as you were able to get past his rambling about his family and horrible singing.

Snell's talk went long, so the next talk I went to was a little bit rushed, especially since it was in the other building. William Ferguson of BBN Technologies gave a talk about a system he plans on building that would be a story engine. It sounds like it would work kind of like most BioWare games, presenting a list of choices and options of a story. Except the options and text would be "crowdsourced" (written by the general community, like Wikipedia), and tagged. The system would string together similarly-tagged parts of the story as long as certain criteria were met, with those criteria being defined by the user's actions, for the most part. It sounds like an interesting experiment for moving toward better interactive fiction, arguably one of the weaker parts of game development currently.

Next I sat in on a talk about iPhone development by Ravi Mehta of Viximo Studios. Basically it was "if you want to develop a game for the iPhone, here's some of the features the iPhone can handle, and here's what you can expect from Apple when trying to distribute it."

Then it was off to lunch at Uno's with Ichiro and Rohit of Dejobaan, a couple fellow WPI students, and a couple others (I'm sorry, I forget their names). Lunch went long, just by nature of the fact that we went to Uno's, and the delayed schedule caused by talks going long. I thought it was a bit ironic that I was late going to the next talk, Networking for Indies, featuring Darius Kazemi, Scott Macmillian and Sam Houston, when really I was networking at the time. It's okay that I was late, though, since their talk was essentially "use Twitter". I don't know what other advice they gave earlier in the talk, and I'm curious how outdated that talk will seem in a couple years when the Next Big Thing comes along.

Off to Duncan Watt's talk about the role music plays in games...another similar talk he gave at WPI before. And then a presentation by a couple of guys from Muzzy Lane Software about a system they're developing called Sandstone. The system uses Locust, a hybrid of XML, Javascript and a language they made up, which modularizes functions of the games they put online. It's a way of providing 3D multiplayer games online to run on off-the-shelf computers. It's a lot neater than I'm making it sound.

Later in the evening was a performance by Video Game Orchestra, which was free for conference members to attend. It was held at the Fenway Center, which was a converted church there on the Northeastern campus. I was a bit disappointed to learn that this was a chamber group...usually it's a full orchestra with a choir and everything. So this performance was a lot more intimate than I was expecting. They played a few of the video game music standards, such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Halo and a jazzy version of Super Mario Bros. (for the Berklee students in the group, apparently), as well as from God of War and perhaps a couple more I'm forgetting. All in all it was a nice, informal performance, and I hope sometime I'd be able to see a full concert.

Overall, I had a good time at the conference. I found most of the talks to be interesting, even if they weren't necessarily anything I could directly apply, myself. I only wish there was a bit more free time, to mingle, network and talk with the other conference patrons. I hope I get to go again next year...it's really exciting to see Boston emerge as a major player in the video game industry.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

IGC East '09 - Part 1

Today and tomorrow I'm attending the Independent Game Conference East '09, being held at Northeastern University.

I left extra early this morning to account for traffic, since I'm not used to driving in during rush hour traffic and I didn't want to be late. Turns out, the traffic only slowed a little bit, and I made it into Boston at about the usual 1 hour, so I had a little extra time to kill. I spent some of that time shooting the breeze with WPI IMGD professor Charles Rich, also in attendance. Also, upon registering, I got a T-shirt. Bonus!

The conference is basically a series of panel/lectures, divided into a business track and a technical track. The first keynote lecture was by Vlad Starzhevsky of Creat Studios, about "Challenges of Independence". It was more anecdotal about how Creat moved from pure developer to becoming their own publisher in the new digital distribution age. This was a theme I was going to hear a lot today (all these indy companies releasing their games via PSN, XBLA and WiiWare), which is fine.

I went to the technical discussion by Eitan and Ethan of Fire Hose Games, a lot of good and humurous lessons about their rapid prototyping process. Next was a large panel discussion about the ten "Really Important Things" to remember about game design. I believe the panel moderator, Linda Currie of Creat, gave a similar talk at WPI last semester. I was also surprised when I got home that Darius Kazemi had pretty much tweeted the entire lecture...that was a lot of tweets to sift through. All good things to consider, but unfortunately, like all things of that nature, it's hard to give all 10 equal billing in practice. Or maybe I just haven't had much chance to practice them yet.

After a quick burrito lunch at the Marino Center, I sat in on the business side of things. Brett Close of 38 Studios gave a talk about quality of life in the game industry, and explained how things worked at 38...making me even more disappointed I didn't get a chance to work there (yet). I stuck around for a panel discussion about managing your company's brand, but unfortunately I was starting to zone out due to a lack of sleep the previous night.

So I went over early to the setup of the Game Demo Night. A bunch of people set up their laptops and computers, and it was kind of a show-off-your-work/pitch session. Finally got to see and play a bit of Dejobaan's alpha of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (seriously, that's the name...which alone rates a 4 out of 5 on the awesome scale). I've never BASE-jumped, so I don't know if they're realistic controls...but I found them to be a bit sluggish. Plus, I'm sure gameplay will be a lot more interesting once all the little extra features and powerups get added. Also, if it's going to be that easy to crush all of your bones and die (pretty much after just colliding with a building), then it would be great to have a faster turnaround to get back to free-falling. Going through the menu system every time was a bit of a drag.

Another of my favorites was a game called Bumble Tales, by Tandem Games and Perfect Dork Studios. It's essentially Bejeweled, except there's added layers of collecting materials to build a town, along with a cast of characters (the Bumbles...green blobby people things) that grant combo bonuses. Now, I like Bejeweled, so this game was right up my alley, what with all the extra features and ways to do things, instead of just "click and slide". They're also awesome for giving away near-complete copies of the game. I hope this game does really well...I really enjoyed the few minutes I got to play of it.

Part Two coming tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WPI Game Jam D09

This past Saturday, WPI GDC held its D-term Game Jam. This term's theme was "3 Things". The idea is to incorporate 3 things - an image (a pineapple), a phrase ("TOO MANY GHOSTS!"), and a sound (a .wav of a young woman making a train noise) - into a game. Pretty simple, right? These games are going to be presents at Wednesday's GDC meeting, and will be judged and awarded prizes. And while prizes are nice, I participated for another chance to make a game for the sheer fun of it.

I took these items and went with a fairly free-flow game design, making up parts of the game as I went. The basic idea is that the player goes around collecting pineapples strewn around the screen. But there are ghosts around, who love pineapple, and rush toward the player when he collects the pineapples. After a short time, the ghosts aren't as urgent, but will still persue the player as long as he holds pineapple.

The player can deposit the pineapple into a train (unofficially dubbed the "Pineapple Express" - a stupid and not entirely clever name, and certainly nothing to do with the movie...not that the movie had anything to do with pineapples or expresses, as far as I know). Once the train is full, it moves off to exit the screen, and once there the game ends and you win! Plus, there's a timer, for added "challenge" (yes, I know it's an artificial challenge and not a terrible original one, but hey, it's a game jam game).

However, collecting pineapples cause ghosts to appear. If a ghost touches the player, it either steals a pineapple and stops moving, or takes some of the player's health. Health gone, game over. And, if there are too many ghosts, the train can't leave. So, there's a random chance a machine part will also appear, which are brought to The Machine. Enough parts, and The Machine revvs up, causing the ghosts to disappear.

One interesting idea came to me during the development. At first I slapped together the usual "use the cursor keys to move" on the player, but I remembered I did this for my 38 Studios MGC game, so I thought I'd try something a little different. So, the player clicks the mouse, and the character moves toward the pointer.

The game still needs some tweaking. Values need to be adjusted for gameplay and challenge, and I need more sound effects and perhaps a little more art (right now, it's just bitmaps hastily drawn in Game Maker's sprite editor). I was also tinkering with the idea of the ghosts running after the train to prevent it from leaving. And perhaps little extra things of that nature, we'll see. Plus, a background would be nice (it's a boring flat gray background).

I'll see about putting it up on the website sometime after Wednesday...or perhaps after I've messed around with it a bit more.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Job hunt now in full swing!

Okay, here goes. I fired out a bunch of emails today to a bunch of local game companies I'd like to work for, plus some that I know that are hiring, plus one long shot, Naughty Dog. It's a long shot, since I'd have to convince them to help relocate me to California, but their Twitter said they had positions available, so I thought I'd give it a try.

So, wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Boston Postmortem - March 09

Just got back from this month's Boston Postmortem. A good time, as usual. Got to see a lot of the people I know from 38 Studios, as a whole bunch of them were there supporting Jamie Gotch, the guy who created Fieldrunners, a tower defense style game for the iPhone. He gave a postmortem about his game, which I guess was the first iPhone postmortem done at the BPM. And, as an added bonus, they organized a raffle and everyone had a chance to win one of 10 "copies" (as in, a code to redeem for a free download) of Fieldrunners. And I happened to win one!

Now, all I need is an iPhone. :)

Saw some other familiar faces, as in the usual WPI people, and a couple of guys from my group from the Global Game Jam. Not as many announcements concerning job opportunities as there were last time, and therefore not as many business card I got to give away. But, I still have enough names and places from the last couple BPMs that I've been to, so I've got a good start. Which I will have to really start soon!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Postmortem postmortem...er, wrapup

Had a fairly good time at the Boston Postmortem tonight. Quite a few WPI students there, which was commented on by a couple people I had talked to. It seems everyone here in IMGD suggests going to the Postmortem as a way of meeting industry people and getting jobs, so I get the feeling it might get to the point that there's going to be a grand migration from Worcester to Waltham every month and there will be more WPI students in attendance than anyone else.

I was happy to recognize a lot of faces from the Global Game Jam, which was the topic of tonight's presentation. It made me feel good to "know" people at the Postmortem, which is my goal right now...to meet at lease one new person each month and see them on consecutive visits. It feels a little weird to me that I was able to talk to so many people tonight, especially considering my past, as I was a lot shyer in my youth.

Our presentation went pretty well, except our game was the only one that experienced any technical difficulties (I think it was just an issue with the laptop talking with the projector). There were some upgrades made to the game the other day, so we're up to version 5. Another person in our group, Trey, ended up being our designated speaker, so I didn't actually say anything to the crowd, but I stood up front and tried to be helpful with my laser pointer.

I suppose I shouldn't get down on myself about our game. On the one hand, I think it's a strong premise and the name "Porcupine and Balloon are Friends" is just quirky and fun. Although, I don't think it's quite as strong as some of the other games made that weekend. But then again, it's a game jam game, it's supposed to be bad. But, everyone seemed really impressed with it.

So, all in all I'd say it was a successful night, and I'm looking forward to next month!

Boston Postmortem tonight

I'm excited about going to the Boston Postmortem again. I think that makes this my fourth one, but certainly nowhere near my last.

I think this is doubly exciting tonight because the "speaker" is an actual postmortem of the games we made at the Global Game Jam a couple weeks ago. Which means there's a good chance I could even go up on stage and talk about the game I worked on (I'm not entirely sure how they plan on presenting or who else in my group will be attending).

So, if you're there, say hi to me! Wish me luck!

Monday, February 9, 2009

MQP Update

So, we uploaded the latest version of our MQP game, Hooping, to the website. http://hooping-game.com. We've also set up some forums for feedback...though that's likely being pretty optimistic.

The game isn't quite where I'd like it to be at this point, and hopefully it will be at that point next week. The point where we have all of the images in-game and some honest-to-goodness courses to race in. Right now we still have our demo levels where we've been testing out the game features as we've been adding them. But, it functions pretty well, and hopefully other people find it fun.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The 38 Studios guys left a few minutes ago. I showed our game off to them, and they all seemed fairly impressed. They had good suggestions for improvements, but my concern is that I'm not sure how much I want to add at this point.

I even convinced a couple to play it, and they had about the reaction I was expecting: that they had fun, and that the game appears deceptively simple. They way it works now, it takes a few times playing through it to realize the winning strategy. They tried what they thought would work, but found that by the time they made real progress, they were running low on time.

So, I'll plunk around with it a bit more, but the good thing about this game jam is that I can devote the whole weekend to it. I'm not sure how much time I'll get to devote to it in addition to all the schoolwork I still left to do. And the trick part is, the deadline for the contest is just before classes end for the term, so I can't have any free time after class to polish the game. But that's okay.

Hi 38 Studios readers!

So the 38 Studios guys have shown up. With doughnuts!

And I hear from Rich that, because my blog has shown up in relation to the Game Jam, that everyone at the office has been reading this blog. So to those at 38 Studios, I say HI!

I invite all of you to check out my other work on my portfolio website, http://www.lzorro.com.

38 Studios/WPI Game Jam, Day 3

Back in the lab again. It's kinda quiet in here right now...not nearly as many people as there have been. Then again, it's noon on a Sunday, and there's no food or 38 Studios people here yet. I'm guessing things will pick up soon enough.

While I'm here, I thought I'd talk a tiny bit about the art we're using for the game. I was going to do it myself, and Sarah agreed to do it anyway, but the plan was to model the game assets (namely, Munch) in 3D, and render it out into a sprite sheet, which we would import into Game Maker. That's what we've done, and it looks pretty good so far. Sarah's also renders scenes of Munch and the garage/driveway for our intro, lose and win screens, as well as part of the game's scene.

I wish I was a little better at sound design, because I'm just grabbing sounds off of http://www.sounddogs.com/, and I'm afraid so many sounds are going to be too garbled or distracting. But, that's the point for today; to show off what we have and try to get some playtesting feedback.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Okay, I think I'm going to wrap it up for the night. Thanks to Sarah (my partner in this) for all the wonderful art she's done so far; we've got most of it in game and it's looking pretty good. A lot better than my hastily slapped-together "programmer" art.

So, if you're reading this, perhaps you're curious about what kind of game we're making. The inspiration came to me while I was shoveling the driveway during one of our New England winter storms a couple weeks ago. The premise of this game is that Munch (38 Studios' mascot and the star of the game) is running late to work at 38 Studios, but there's a terrible Blizzard happening. Munch must clear the driveway by eating all the snow before the alarm goes off. However, the Blizzard occasionally dumps more snow on the ground, and if there's already snow, it may create a sheet of ice, which Munch can slide around on. Powerups of salt show up too, which clear the area surrounding Munch...ice can only be cleared with salt. Additionally, some pesky neighborhood kids run in and throw snowballs at Munch; if he's hit, he'll be frozen for a couple moments. It's up to you and Munch to overcome The Blizzard!

Tomorrow, a few more art assets need to be made, as well as figure out why one particular art asset (the blizzard) won't import, for some reason. Right now, I made it in Game Maker, so it's a bunch of ugly white streaks, but inexplicably when we try to import a nice looking Targa file, it gets corrupted. Also, I'll be asking around (and also, hopefully 38 Studios' QA director, who's slated to visit) tomorrow and getting some feedback on the game. I've got the values in now where I am capable of winning the game, and I want to make sure it's a fair game for most people to play. Also, there might be some more interesting things to add, and we'll see if we have the time tomorrow to add them.

There were also rumors of Curt Schilling (Red Sox pitcher and founder of 38 Studios) visiting today, but he never did. Which I thought was a little weird, since he tweeted that he was excited about seeing the entries from WPI. Well, maybe he'll stop by tomorrow.
I think I got the gameplay pretty well complete. Now I'm going to search online for sound effects.

Had a couple nice conversations with the 38 Studios guys here earlier. Producer Erik Theis, who remembered me from when he gave a talk here last year, also remembered I was working on my MQP (senior project). So I showed that off to him, as well as our game jam game. He seemed pretty impressed!

Curt Schilling hasn't shown up yet...not sure if he's going to be able to make it. Here's hoping.

WPI Game Jam, Day 2

Arrived back at the game jam after a restful night. A couple 38 Studios guys are here already. And a reporter from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette was just here interviewing someone. Nice.

Now, changing some of the way the features work, and perhaps adding more enemies!

(Again, sorry about being vague...but I'd prefer to work right now than explain my idea.)
OK, I think I hit a pretty good spot to quit for the night. I got a lot done...at least all of the basic functionality and the special items.

Tomorrow, add some more game flow logic, further playtesting and tweaking (this game is going to need a lot of that), maybe some additional enemies.

It occurs to me that I haven't described my game here; maybe I'll do that when I get home.

So, off to home, and to bed!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Earlier, when the 38 Studios guys showed up, they asked everyone for questions. They offered the first person to raise their hand a T-shirt signed by both R.A. Salvatore and Todd MacFarlane (who, if you don't know, are the two of the principal three of 38 Studios).

Just now, they got around asking everyone for a good question in exchange for some of their other T-shirts. I'm sure their definition of "good question" is kind of lax because, hey, they're just T-shirts, and they're encouraging interaction...which I think is great. They really are a bunch of great guys.

Well, continuing on the development!
Blue Jeans pizza and soda! Yay food! Om nom nom...

Also, talking with some of the 38 Studios guys is cool. They seem really impressed with what we have so far (which, admittedly, it's much...but it seems to be a good gameplan).
The 38 Studios guys show up, gave a quick speech about some of the details of the contest.

One of their producers, Rich Gallup (which I happened to meet before) showed off his really cool hoodie sweatshirt. It's white with black accents, and when the zipper comes up ALL the way, to the top of his head, it looks like an Imperial Stormtrooper. Very cool.

Talked over my design idea with my art partner, and now getting down to starting in development.

The WPI/38 Studios Game Jam

Okay, this time around I have the resources (and the fact that I remembered) to blog during the WPI Game Jam, sponsored by 38 Studios.

The WPI Game Development Club usually holds a game jam once per term, but this one is special because the goal is to create a game into the Massachusetts Game Challenge, for fablous cash and prizes. Well, only cash.

So right now, it's just before the official start, and we're setting things up in the lab, such as a live webcam feed, and people are trickling in. I know people from 38 Studios are due to stop over the weekend. I'll try to remember occasional posts of what's going on!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's the little things in life you treasure.

Last night, at the last Master Class session with Darius Kazemi, he mentioned the website Game Industry Tweets, which lists a bunch of Twitter accounts of people who work in the videogame industry. I went through and picked out a few to follow, especially those that have tweets for the company as a whole...companies that I admire and would be high on my "would like to work there" list.

And maybe it's a little dumb, because in the world of Twitter it doesn't mean that much, but I got a little thrill when companies like PopCap and SEGA follow me back.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Global Game Jam 2009

This weekend I participated in the Boston chapter of the Global Game Jam. Overall I think it was a great experience and provided me with an opportunity to do something I've been meaning to do...make games for the hell of it! Plus, networking is always good.

My original intent was to blog about the Jam every day, make it a three part series. But, a lack of computer and limited sleep time didn't help that. Then I thought I'd write everything at the end and backdate the entries, but looking back at it now, nothing terribly excited happened during each day. So, you're getting a post-game wrap up.

Friday, January 30th

I arrived at the Singapore-GAMBIT Game Lab at MIT in Cambridge, MA about 4:40pm or so. Later than I had planned, but still plenty early (perhaps it was a good thing that I hit a tiny bit of traffic on my commute in). Some light chatting with the others, and then we got down to business. A brief overview of what to expect for the weekend...schedule, important information, all that fun stuff. We had several constraints/themes to work with. Our total gameplay had to be no more than 5 minutes. We could choose one of three words: illusionary, persistant or pointed. We had a quote, "As long as we have each other, we will never run out of problems." And finally, we were challenged with making a game around 120 beats per minute. How that got implemented, was up to us. The idea was that at the end, we could play all of the games at once and everything be synched up.

Let me say that the GAMBIT lab is a very nice facility. Although first walking in, it seems easy to get lost, but it's really kind of a square-A shape (or, a figure 8 if you count the hallyway with the elevators). The most striking thing is that the rooms all have some section of translucent wall, a kind of plexiglass surface, and everyone uses them as whiteboards. It's neat, as you can sort-of make out the images from the other side of the wall, but they're usually set up in the corner, so there are tables or something else in the way which doesn't make them that effective of whiteboards, in my opinion. It's more of the cool factor, than anything. Also, they call their kitchenette the "Respawn Point".

So, we had 20 minutes or so to brainstorm game ideas, and afterwards we pitched them to the group. [Now, personally, this is where I would've liked a lot more time. Maybe because I'm just not that good, er, experienced, in coming up with original ideas that fast, but my favorite part of game design is taking an idea and rolling it around in the brain, fleshing it out a bit, analyzing it against basic game design principles.] We then took these ideas, written on index cards, and pinned them up on the wall. Everyone then pinned their name and "job" (art and code, mostly...though we had a few sound and music guys there that ended up working a bit on all the projects) up next to the project they wanted to work on. In this way, the ideas got sifted down and people shifted around until we had about 6 total projects. And with that, we were on our way.

Dinner was Thai take out. My first time trying Thai food, actually.

Most of the rest of the evening was brainstorming with our group, figuring out the details of gameplay and all that fun stuff, which I really like. Our project ended up being a combination of two project pitches, as there weren't enough people in either group, so we joined up, and our ideas ended up working together. One idea was a Pac-Man sort of game, where the player controls two entities at once, but one entity moves at right angles to the other. And the directions each entity can move changes when it hits certain obstacles. The idea was to collect pulsating "pellets" (this is where the 120 bpm comes in), and you could only actually gather the pellet on its "upswing". The other idea played more on the "together, we never run out of problems" quote, and it wasn't much besides the title and a sketch, "Porcupine and Balloon are Friends". So, we kept that title, and the entities became the titular characters. We then filled in the gameplay with plenty of ideas, about altering speed, the size of the characters, various obstacles, special powers, and tying the gameplay together with some music.

The last decision was about development environment. One idea was to use a kind of IDE that Popcap Games has released (I'll have to investigate that further - Popcap rules!), but it would have taken too long to set up. Somehow we ended up deciding to use Yoyo Games' Game Maker. And the weirdest part was, I was more of an expert on the program than anyone else in the group!

A word of caution. Sure, Game Maker might catch a lot of flack. But, it does do good in that you can create a game prototype fairly quickly. However, MULTIPLE PEOPLE WORKING ON THE SAME GAME FILE IS A PAIN IN THE BUTT. It's just not multi-developer friendly, and in the end, I think that's why were weren't able to get as much done in the end as we would have liked. The "solution" we came up of trying to merge game files together is just much more of a hassle than it really ought to be.

Saturday, January 31

Really, not a lot happened on Saturday besides spending just about all day developing. We spent a good chunk of the day just hammering out more effective movement code. The original idea was easy to implement: when the player pressed a button, move one thing in that direction, and move the other in a perpendicular direction. But, when one collided, the other moved forward a step (usually because it could), which was something we didn't wanted. So there's all sorts of crazy checks, including ghost objects which handle the collision detection (and if they can both move freely, then the character sprites moved).

Lunch was Chinese food, and dinner was Middle Eastern. Again, Middle Eastern was a new one for me. Weird, I know...I'm just not that big into exotic food.

Sunday, Februrary 1

We really went down to the wire, trying to get as many of our features implemented as we could before our 3pm deadline. We had something fairly workable, but once again, thanks to our Game Maker problem, our final integration resulted in a lot of bug that would have taken too long to really sort out. I mean, it works, but it's very finicky and very liable to break on you. Unfortunately, that also mean that our sounds and music were a casualty, since they got put off for so long in the project. Heck, we almost didn't have a game start or win conditions. Still never got around to lose conditions, come to think of it.

We eventually got our stuff uploaded to the main database, and we gathered together in one of the rooms for brief presentations, and a chance to play each other's games. Plus, an informal vote for best game. I would recommend you look them up yourself on the Global Game Jam page and play them...look for "The Beat" and "Move mouse for your destiny". The Beat is a two-player cooperative puzzle game, with a sort of "The Blob" 50's B-movie style theme, but it really takes the 120 bpm idea to heart. Everything is in time to the music, including trap doors which you must cross, and the actions you take must fall on the beat of a measure. The "Move Mouse" game is extremely simple, it's almost abstract, but very poignant and aesthetically satisfying. You run through life, starting as a young kid working your way up through adulthood, and you move between tending a farm, building a house, and entertaining guests. It starts off slowly, the idea being that it seems like time passes slowly when you're a kid, but it ramps up quickly and you're spazzing out trying to take care of everything. It's more complicated than it sounds; really, you have to deliberately not do anything to really "lose" the game.

Again, these two were voted the best among our group, but the other games are worth a look as well.

While "Porcupine and Balloon are Friends" at this point doesn't seem to be that successful, I think it holds a lot of potential. There's still plenty of things to accomplish and a lot of challenge can be designed into it. Maybe it'll get converted to the Popcap thing and it'll work out better...I'll let you know if it does.

Keep an eye on the website for the game. Or, go to the Global Game Jam site now and download it yourself.

And thanks to everyone who worked with me on the project, and everyone else who participated in the jam...it really was a great experience!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Welcome post

Hi, welcome to my new blog.

I'm not entirely sure if I'm going to keep this, right now it's in an experimental phase. I already have a blog at http://altdelusions.blogspot.com, but that's infrequently updated. I don't know, maybe I'm just not the blogging type. Worst case, I get fed up with this and I delete it, and what you're reading now will only be a figment of your imagination. oooOOOOooohhh....

Well, the intent of this blog is more for the video game side of my life, as opposed to the other one which is more comics and random thoughts. Maybe I'll put random thoughts here too, we'll see.