Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Postmortem, 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 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. 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,

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, 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 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 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 really was a great experience!