Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Immigration Jam", August 20-21, 2010

This weekend was a game jam even put on by Alex Schwartz and Darren Torpey, as part of Boston Game Jams - a group seeking to foster a sense of community among local area game developers. We met at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab for a weekend of game development fun.

The reason the theme was immigration was in honor of fellow WPI student Yilmaz Kiymaz, who's looking to come back to the United States since his student visa expired. So, many of the games developed had to do with immigration, ranging from the satirical to the tangentially related. Keep an eye on the Boston Game Jams site to see them and the presentations!

Fun fact: This particular game jam had an exceptionally large number of participants dealing with audio. Usually it's the audio people that are the hot commodity; this time around it was some of the artists who were juggling their time between groups. So at the very least, this was a very good sounding jam.

I ended up in a group with Greg, another WPI alum, as well as three Berklee students, Leah, Kristen and Lawrence. The original proposal was a combination of two similar ideas, one featuring plants in garden, and one about the Chinese Rhino beetle (I think he meant the Asian Longhorn beetle). Both ideas had the central theme of balancing an ecological system, with the idea of migrating species presenting a challenge in maintaining the balance. I added the suggestion of styling it more as a strategy board game. For lack of a better name, we've dubbed it "I-Migration".

We chose to use the Akihabara game engine, which is a relatively new system that's essentially a set of Javascript libraries to access the Canvas element of HTML5. In short, the entire code of the game is on a webpage and runs in-browser. (Well, except Internet Explorer, but that's because it just sucks.) Darren gave a talk about it at last month's Boston Indies meeting, and has been working with Darius Kazemi to provide documentation and tutorials for the engine.

I felt the decision to use Akihabara was a good one. Because it's basically Javascript, it's fairly easy to pick up and learn (despite the lack of in-depth documentation, although Darius and Darren's efforts are a good start). Because it's HTML5, compile time is negligible, and we can use things like Firebug to get real-time debugging information. Also, adding art and audio assets isn't complicated either. At the last Global Game Jam, I mentioned one of my great regrets was not being able to get sound working in our game. This time, music was one of the first things we had working!

There was a bit of a learning curve where the two programmers of the group were essentially learning a new game engine, and as such the initial struggles were getting the game to load art assets, and yet most of the game came together within the last few hours. The other problem came because I shot myself in the foot. Despite the fact that we were working in the GAMBIT Game Lab, we didn't have access to their equipment, so the jam was bring-your-own-computer. And I don't own a laptop, so my role on Saturday was mostly relegated to that of design and support. And while I love the design aspect of it, there comes a time where you can't tie up the people actually creating the product. Thankfully Greg was able to secure another laptop for me on Sunday. But even if I had a system to work on the whole weekend, another issue was source control. It wasn't a big problem since it was effectively one programmer working on one file, but there was a headache when I was able to contribute code and it was a matter of hunt-and-peck-and-copy-and-paste. But that's understandable, given the short time span and jam-mentality of "throw everything in a bucket and just get it to run".

I'm pretty proud of what our group was able to accomplish at the end of 36 hours. It's effectively a vertical slice, offering one round of play. It has some awesome art and sound elements, thanks to our talented Berklee members. But, due to time constraints, it's not as complete a round as originally designed. And it's not as automatically as I'd like - there's a lot of hand-holding, and even then the user doesn't really have an idea of what's going on unless they pay real close attention. But hey, given the ease of development, we may still poke at this some more, and move closer to a complete game.

Another interesting twist to this whole weekend was the food. Vickie Wu, Darren's fiance, had a one-woman "food jam", making a variety of snacks and tidbits for us through the whole weekend, which was great because otherwise the official "meals" were all pizza. Delicacies included berry smoothies (yum), peanut butter/banana/yogurt smoothies (more like "thickies", way too sludgy - the only real misstep of the weekend), Waldorf salad in lettuce cups, two different kinds of hummus, freezer pops and ants on a log (reliving childhood!), microwave s'mores (marshmallows need to be fire-roasted, but they still tasted good), frozen coffee mocha drinks, and strawberry/mint soda spritzers (I could have done without the mint - too earthy and not minty enough, plus the cup full of tiny leaf-chunks is off-putting). I'm not entirely sure why she did this (other than "she wanted to"), but I'm glad she did! Plus, Yilmaz brought some honest-to-goodness real Turkish Delight. I had heard the closest thing to it was jellybeans, which it was, but a little chewier, but not as chewy as say, candied fruit. It's also flavored like almond and had almonds in it (though there was a mint variety), and completely covered in powdered sugar or coconut. Of course, the only time anyone's ever heard of Turkish Delight is from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, so it's neat to actually try some.

In conclusion, as much as I love game jams, I'm not 100% sure at this time if I will participate in the next Boston Game Jam, unless I can definitively secure a laptop to work on. I think everyone did a great job and I had a fun time!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Games Review: 6/29

I'm getting involved with another group of game players, this time Boston Cards and Conversations, a group that usually meets in the northern Boston area. They had their monthly New Member Mixer last night, and here's some of the games we played at the table I sat at.


Guillotine is based on the French Revolution, where the players are trying to execute as many nobles as possible over a 3-day period (rounds). Action cards are played to shuffle people in line for the blade...the idea being you want to move up more valuable nobles to the front of the line for you to collect into your score pile when it's your turn. It comes with a little cardboard display of the namesake device - cute, but unnecessary - and the real charm of the game comes in the art design. Very Disney-esque. Fairly simple and straightforward.


We then played a couple games of a game that I own - Monty Python Fluxx. Not sure if I mentioned it before that I have this game, but there it is. I do like the basic premise of the game - that every card changes the rules - but I find that Fluxx is a lot like sex: either it's a long marathon session of whirlwind activity, or it's over so fast that you're left quite unsatisfied.


Gloom is a very depressing card design. Actually, it's not, but it's got that macabre feel, a mash-up of the Addams Family and Tim Burton and Lemony Snicket. You are a family of five, and the goal is to do cause events to your family member that depress them significantly (decreasing your score - which in this game, is a good thing), and then you put them out of their misery. Alternatively, you can cause positive things to other player's cards, make them happy and raise their score. The game ends when one player's family is all dead, and points are totaled.

The really cool thing about this game is the core mechanic. All of the cards are clear plastic. The family cards are at the bottom of the pile, and as you play your cards on top of them, parts of the cards are obscured, while other parts show through. Say you put down a card that shows a -10 score in the top slot. Then someone else could put a card with a 0 in the top slot and +15 in the middle - the 0 covers up the -10, but you still read the +15. You can then put another card with a -10 on the top and -10 on the bottom, which ends up as a -5 (-10 + 15 -10). Then at some point you play Untimely Death cards and those scores get locked. And of course, most of these cards (especially the ones with significant scoring) have additional abilities.


Archaeology is a real charmer of a game, because it plays so quickly, and the strategy is pretty simple. The game only takes like 20 minutes to play, so it's fun to get a lot of games in (sadly, it was getting pretty late at this point, so we only played twice). The idea is that you're a bunch of explorers collecting artifacts in Egypt. You draw cards, then sell collections of artifacts to the museum (your score pile). Usually the more cards you have of a kind, the more points you get. You can trade these artifacts at the market. There are also maps to explore the pyramid (getting you a stack of cards), and there are thieves and sandstorms to contend with, too. The trick is figuring out when to sell to the you save up to get the points, or do you risk losing them, or not being able to sell pieces back before the game ends?

This group plays a ton of different games, from traditional trick-style card games (like Hearts or Spades) to toy-store party games (think Scattergories or Pictionary). I've already been to one of their Magic: The Gathering nights, and I'm hoping to make it to more of these events.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Boston Unity Day

Boston Unity Group is a new off-shoot of the Boston-area game development community, founded by Elliott Mitchell and fellow WPI grad Alex Schwartz. B.U.G. is a meetup group centered around the Unity game development engine.

On June 12th the group had its first meeting, dubbed Unity Day. Over 100 developers met at Northeastern University to hear from Unity's "product evangelist", Tom Higgins. The morning started off with Tom giving an overview about the Unity engine - how the company started, about himself and how he got involved with the company, some features about Unity, both current and what's in store for the future, and some business information about what's involved with licensing the engine. Then people had the opportunity to show off the projects they've been working on in Unity.

After an impressive lunch spread (thanks to Demiurge Studios), we headed back in for some tips and tricks about using the Unity engine. Unfortunately, this part got off to a late start - a lot of people were engaged in conversation - plus I had to leave early for a previous engagement. So I missed out on a lot of the tutorial talk, which is a shame since that was my main motivation for attending.

Overall I think this was a good start to what will be a great group. Personally I would have liked to see things stay on schedule, since this had a very strong conference vibe to it. And I'm not sure what the group's plans are for the future (aside from the next meeting at the end of August), but I think it would work well to follow the format of the Boston Postmortem and Boston Indies - to be able to meet and talk with people, with a short presentation. I thought the conference could have used a little refocus. Tom gave a lot of talk about how to get involved with Unity, but it seemed like everyone who was there is already on board with it.

I'm excited about the Unity engine. I'd like to work with it more on my own, which I really should, since it's available for free on Windows. But then, I need to sit down and do anything, really...not just go through Unity tutorials. Although I wonder if I should wait a bit, considering the cool new features that will be available with Unity 3.0 when it's released later this year.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Recent board games review

In an attempt to socialize more, expand my knowledge and experience in games and game design, and just to have fun, I'm on the lookout for gaming groups...specifically, board games. Right now I'm averaging about 3 or 4 game nights a month with varying groups. I thought I'd share some thoughts about some games I got to play last week.

Last Tuesday I went to the board game night at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. There I got to try a couple games:


I don't quite remember, but I think this is the name of the game. It's a card game that represents man's progression through society and technology. There are 10 "eras" of cards (ranging from the Stone Age up to the Information Age) as well as up to 6 color-coded categories (one might be technology, another may be more abstract like philosophy or mathematics). The trick is to build up your collection of tech and put cards into a score pile, which can be used to buy achievements which win the game.

I liked the general feel of the game - all you were basically dealing with were cards, and the interesting mechanic was that each card had an ability as well as up to four symbols. The more symbols you have, the more likely you'll be able to use the abilities and draw more cards. Plus, there's the possibility to "shift" your piles of cards, thereby exposing more symbols. The problem I had was, since I was learning the game, I didn't have a good sense of what I needed to do. As I found with Settlers of Catan, I'm more interested in building up my part of the board and prolonging the game instead of doing what it takes to win. Additionally, since each card comes with an ability, more of my time was spent reading the abilities and figuring out if they were worth activating - a similar problem I have with another game that's popular with another group I play with, Girl Genius: The Works. Because of this, the beginning of the game took a long time, but by the time we got to the end game, it went really fast, we breezed by what might have been more interesting abilities, and, because of my aforementioned problem with not getting the right resources, I didn't have enough score points to come close to winning. Not that I play these games to win, necessarily, but it's not good when you cripple yourself from even being able to win.

Royal Palace

I've come to two conclusions. One, I've found I have a growing fascination with modern board games that use little wooden pieces. As such, I've decided that any game from Rio Grande Games gets an automatic pass from me unless I play it and decide otherwise. This game feels an awful lot like a game last time I went to Gambit Game Night, Stone Age. Except this time, instead of building a tribe, you're influencing and trying to gain the favor of aristocrats. Unfortunately we were a bit pressed for time when we were playing this game, so it was cut short, and as such we didn't get the opportunity to really dig into the meat of the game with the added special abilities that gaining more nobles into your area allows.

Battlestar Galactica

We played this in a game group we're trying to start up at work. I was reluctant to try this game, since I never got into the show it's based on (the modern one on Syfy...though I never saw the original either). But, it came highly recommended by the others in the group, so I was willing to learn.

Much like Pandemic, the idea is for all players to work together to "jump" enough times to make it back home. The problem is, you're dealing with crises on every turn... and then there's the Cylons. We played with four people, and I played as "Helo", so I got to act as Admiral.

What I like about the game is that there's lots of stuff to do...lots of options and little ships and pieces and dials and cards. The thing I don't quite like about the game is the part of the game that everyone likes and makes the game somewhat unique...that someone may or not be a secret Cylon agent and trying to sabotage the humans' efforts. I mean, I understand that this part of the game needs to be there - for flavor, and otherwise the game would be pretty straight-forward - but it's that meta-gaming that I can't wrap my head around. Not only do you have to worry about what actions to do, but you have to be aware of how the others in the group will view those actions ("Oh, he did that action...does that mean he's the Cylon, or is he just stupid?"), plus you have to keep track of everyone else's actions to analyze THEM for possible Cylon activity, PLUS, if you happen to be the Cylon, make sure you do enough to sabotage AS WELL AS cover up your tracks. Bleah. It's like that Truth-teller/Liar Cannibal mind puzzle.

During the second half of the game I was exposed as the Cylon Sympathizer. Once I had to be a Cylon (effectively), I found it quite liberating since I knew what my actions had to be and didn't have to worry about everyone else's motives. Which is funny, since I started as human and probably did the most to get us home (as Admiral I chose to jump the furthest I could, which triggered the second half and turned me Cylon). In the end the humans lost due to running out of food.

Monday, March 29, 2010

PAX East 2010

The big thing going on last weekend was the Penny Arcade Expo, being held for the first time in Boston. Apparently PAX has gotten so huge it's now branching out.


Things actually kicked off for me on Thursday night, with a "Made in MA" party held at the Microsoft offices in Cambridge - the New England Research and Development center, or as some call it, NERD. Most of the Boston area game companies had set up tables and showing off their latest and greatest (or in the case of 38 Studios, just kinda standing around ;) ) Even we at Quick Hit had a table...unfortunately paling in comparison to the Harmonix Rock Band setup next to it.

The event took place on the 1st and 10th floor of the building (which I thought was a little weird...but then, I don't know what's on the 2nd-9th floors). On the first floor was some smaller setups, including WPI, Macguffin Games' All Heroes Die and Fire Hose Games' Slam Bolt Scrappers. The last one I gave a try, and it's pretty fun once you figure out what's going on. It's come a long way since I saw its prototype, and I think it's got a lot of potential - I hope it does well.

PAX: Day 1

I showed up to the Hynes Convention Center at around 11:30am on Friday, and since I didn't really have anything better to do until the doors "opened" at 2, I waited in line. I'm not sure who's diabolical idea this was, but it really set the tone for the rest of the weekend. The main exhibition hall on the first floor had a small area where you could pick up tickets, but the rest of the hall was roped off into one gigantic queue. So there we were, sitting on the floor, some playing with the free pack of Magic cards that came in the swag bags (okay, bonus points to PAX there), plenty with their DSes out. The room had two huge projection screens which interacted with the crowd. To be honest, it was the most entertained I've been waiting in line since Disney World.

Eventually we were let in for the keynote speech, presented by Wil Wheaton. I wish I had taken some notes, but the basic theme of his speech was: welcome home. We are geeks and we are gamers and PAX is a celebration of both. He shared his thoughts about his own childhood and what gaming meant to him. I thought it was a good speech.

Afterwards, I wandered around seeing as much as possible, one sardine in the expo hall can. Partly because it was the first day, but mostly because they probably oversold the convention, but there were a TON of people there. And there were lines for EVERYTHING. To groups gathered around every booth, to the interminable lines to get into the panels, to the wall of bean-bags for people to chill and play more DS.

The main expo hall on the second floor was where most of the action was. I'm not a hardcore gamer, so I didn't find a lot of interest in all of the hardware-related booths, nor the games coming out in a few months on systems I don't own. But, it was still fun to walk around amid all the loud noises and shiny things. Oh, and free swag. Though not as much as I could have gotten, were I more patient.

Friday evening was spend in the tabletop gaming area. There were a couple vendors of game start-ups showing off their games, so I gave them a try. One was Summoner Wars by Plaid Hat Games, which I found quite enjoyable. You get a deck of cards of your summoner and troops, and you place them in a specific way on the playmat. You then take turns moving, attacking and summoning more troops to destroy your opponent's walls and summoner. Added bonus is that expansion packs are more decks of cards - there's no blind purchasing - which excited my frugal side but didn't quite sit well with my collector's side. But still, recommended. I might've bought a set if I had someone to play with (with the groups of people I play with, a multiplayer game would work better). The other one I tried was Battleground:Fantasy Warfare from Your Move Games. Basically, it's a miniatures war game without the miniatures. Instead, you use cards representing units of troops, which can be drawn on with dry-erase markers to issue commands. That's an interesting mechanic, as well as the fact that the stats are kept track on the cards - you don't have to do constant checking with tables in books. My problem was that this is still a wargame, which isn't my particular strong suit, so the other guy I was learning the game with and I were having some difficulty remembering all of the different modifiers in certain game situations - and we didn't even get into flanking or pinching or any other more complicated maneuvers. Plus, any special abilities that the troops have are written on the backs of the cards, against the table - so you tend to forget them anyway. So as nice as it was to walk away with some free stuff, I wasn't particularly impressed by the game.

Friday night was also when I caught my first infection. My aforementioned wargame opponent infected me with LARPcolepsy. This was part of a social game, PAX Pox, by the MIT GAMBIT Game Lab people, as a parody of the fact that many people came down with the H1N1 flu at the last PAX in Seattle. So Carriers went around giving willing participants stickers representing these silly diseases. Saturday I was infected with Wii-coli, and there was also MMORPGingivitis and DDRLS (Dance Dance Restless Leg Syndrome). Sunday the Cüre was released. And reporting to the GAMBIT booth, I got a +1 HP bandage holder for my trouble.

PAX: Day 2

When I arrived Saturday morning, I didn't bother waiting in the mega-line. I'm just minding my own business hanging out in the hallway, and I turn around to see I'm standing by G4TV's Adam Sessler. I am kicking myself now for not getting the nerve to introduce myself or get a picture or something. The weird part was, there were a few times I noticed Sessler when navigating the escalators...I was an accidental stalker. And speaking of random encounters, I managed to, at random intervals throughout the whole weekend, bump into what seemed like almost everybody I've met over the last three years, between WPI classmates, former and current coworkers, and other game industry people.

One of the other items in the swag bag was a coupon for reduced entry fees into Magic: The Gathering tournaments, including something called the Intro Pack League. For $15 ($10 after the coupon), I received a starter theme deck and a booster from (I think) the latest set, and I could play as much Magic as I wanted against others who signed up for the league. Every 3 games you played you could pull 3 random cards from a box they had - I managed to pull a couple rare cards. So, I ended up playing more Magic on Saturday than I think I've played my entire life so far...which isn't saying much. But it's especially weird since I'm barely even a causal Magic player, and I certainly didn't attend PAX with the intention of playing Magic.

Throughout the con, because I was playing games, I managed to miss out on some panels I was somewhat interested in attending. But I wasn't too sad since none of the panels really inspired me, that I had to be, the aforementioned stupid queues. Besides, I was doing what I really wanted...playing games.

Saturday I also found what I had missed on Friday - the arcade and classic console rooms. It was a nice nostalgic trip to look at the old school pinball machines and Ms. Pac Man and Dragon's Lair and Atari and Colecovision and all the old Nintendo and Sega consoles. There was also some quasi-nostalgia as I peeked in the modern console gaming area and watched quite a bit of Street Fighter 4.

As much as I would have liked to have gone to the concert on Saturday night (featuring the Video Game Orchestra, Paul and Storm, and Johnathan Coulton), I didn't for two reasons: (1) the inevitable line, and (2) the concert would go very late, and I had to make sure to leave early enough to get the T back to where I was staying. I did go to the LoadingReadyRun panel, and there's a chance I might show up in a future video, so I'll keep an eye out for that.

PAX: Day 3

I signed up for a Dominion tournament, and ended up playing that for most of Sunday morning (missing out on yet another panel - the XPlay Live panel). But again, playing an awesome game trumps that. The tournament had a weird format - basically it was an accumulation of victory points, instead of any brackets or total wins or something. So when the second game started, we had a gentleman's agreement to try to amass the most points possible for everyone before causing the game to end. Thanks to that second game, where the Gardens was in play (1 victory point for every 10 cards in your deck), someone earned like 80 points and shot up from the like the 5th place table to the first, and ended up winning the silver medal. It was also neat that, since everyone at the table knows how to play the game, turns were just flying by.

After another afternoon of pointless wandering, having already seen what there was to be seen, and sitting in half-heartedly in one last panel, I got into line for the closing ceremony. Not the super-line downstairs, but the one to get into the balcony seats, since I was up on that floor anyway. So, no entertaining video boards, which sucked because whatever they were doing beforehand went over and we waited in line an extra hour than was necessary. Now, I opted to attend the closing ceremony because I wanted to see the entire con from start to finish; plus, I have never been to a con's closing ceremony before, so I wanted to see what it was all about. Well, at PAX, it turned out to be the final round of the Omegathon (their weekend-long videogame competition). Which was cool and entertaining and all, but when it was over, Gabe and Tycho said, "See you next year!". And that was it. Not exactly what I had pictured it to be.

While waiting to board the T to get back home, an little old Indian woman passed me and noticed my lime green swag bag. She asked me, in a tiny little voice, "You were at expo? Penny...Penny..." "Yes, Penny Arcade", I replied. She then wanted to see the free stuff I had gotten. So I tried my best to rummage through the bag for interesting things (I didn't end up with much cool swag), but I showed my Magic deck, which she seemed to recognize. "Oh, it's dat game." One last looksee and she walks off saying, "Dey give too much stuff." It made my day.

tl; dr

Overall, I had a great time. PAX is awesome, except for long pointless lines and too-high people density.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Global Game Jam 2010 Postmortem

I participated in the 2010 Global Game Jam, held (among many locations) at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab in Cambridge. I did it last year, and it was so much fun I opted to do it again, despite the fact that I haven't had a free weekend yet in 2010. (We've been in something of a crunch mode at Quick Hit.)

The theme for this year was "deception" and "abstraction", as well as the local constraints of "rain, plain and/or Spain". The project I worked on was called Define Yourself. The original pitch was that you started out as some abstract avatar, and your actions at the beginning of the game determined how the character was defined until you were much more fully realized. We were throwing back and forth ideas as we discussed game design on Friday night, when we developed the core concepts of an exploration space. Eventually concepts crept in borrowed from fellow programmer/developer Darren Torpey about an idea he had about a Facebook college simulation game. The game, as it stands now, is more that as a freshman entering college, you are very loosely defined as a person (abstract, if you will), and the choices you make in college - which classes you attend, how often you socialize, etc - define who you are by the time you graduate.

I think I'll move onto a list to outline what went right and what went wrong in typical postmortem fashion, but it's not to say it wasn't fun, that it's not a bad game, and that these aren't in any particular order or importance. I am not placing any blame on anyone for any perceived failures; I'm just mentioned who worked on what on the team.

What Went Wrong
  • The initial design. Of course, with a game jam game, with the time constraints and the limited options you're given, either you come up with something simple and you do it and that's it, or you come up with something vague, and the design can go in multiple directions. Ours was the latter. One of my ideas early on involved nurturing a creature Pokémon-style in order to solve puzzles (hell, I still may make that game). Honestly, the Friday night design session is one of my favorite parts of the Game Jam, and game development in general. I would have loved to spend all night taking several ideas and molding them into basic game designs. But, unfortunately we only have two days to make a game, and we can't afford to "kill our babies" and run through several prototypes.
  • Over-designing. Once we came up with our idea and we started hunkering down on the technical parts of it, our original pitchman Dan Roy and consultant Ravi Purushotma continued to make further designs. It's great that they nailed down the details of some of the things we planned to build, but they also added some features that weren't discussed during the initial design. So it got to a point where we were like, "oh, okay...guess we'll have to build that as well".
  • Technical difficulties. For some reason, Darren had a hard time getting Visual Studio working for him on the MIT computers. I wasn't familiar with the repository system Darren set up for us (not that it was difficult, it just took a while to set it up, plus I'm prone to making mistakes. I'm still not used to working with repository systems :P). All told we were really kind of spinning our wheels until Saturday afternoon, so we had a lot of ground to make up. Additionally, some of the things I was working on were really simple things that I shouldn't have had problems with, and are really probably quite easy to fix, but with the deadline looming there just wasn't enough time to worry about it. Specifically, I'm thinking about the sound system. I don't know what kind of crazy format XNA expects its WAV files to be in, but apparently we couldn't figure out which magical settings it needed in time.
  • Didn't meet all the constraints. This is a minor issue. We can make up arguments/excuses as to exactly where it is in our game that shows "deception" (and I think there were some good ideas thrown around in the design session), but the rain/plain/Spain kinda got left off to the side. Plus there were additional optional achievements, such as using all organic sound effects or using only 16 colors. But, we felt that these were more guidelines than rules, and there really more to spark creativity than to hold us to some arbitrary game conditions.
What Went Right

  • Choice of platform. We chose to develop the game in C# under the XNA format, and specifically AngelXNA, which is an open-source port of the Angel prototyping engine developed by Darren and Jeff Ward. Now, I haven't programmed in a while (and never really in C#), so it took me a short while to get reacclimated. And since I was learning a new system, I was bound to make some rookie mistakes. For example, Darren questioned why I bothered to communicate within the game using AngelXNA's messaging system when I could have much more easily done a method call. And the answer to that was, well, I was mentally stuck using the messaging system since that was how it was reading keyboard input, and the sparse documentation didn't help to break me of that mental lock. However, it's still in its infancy, but the system made it much easier to build systems that would have taken us hours to build ourselves in XNA...which, of course, is the whole point of AngelXNA.
  • Art and Music. Our artist Dan Salsberg came up with some great art with a nice visual style. And I have to both thank and apologize to our musician Alex Liberatore. I really do admire the Berklee students that attend these Game Jams, and game audio designers/engineers in general - it's really an under-appreciated aspect of games. He wrote some nice music and sound effects, and he and Dan Roy designed some really cool ways to implement the music as a function of the gameplay...but unfortunately you won't hear them because I couldn't get the sound system to work (see above).
  • Complete prototype. It may not have sound, and the controls are a little sticky (for Darren, for some reason - they were working fine for me), some features were dropped, and it might not be terribly fun, but we accomplished the core concepts of the design, and it works. And for something that was only built in 48 hours, that about all I can ask for. Plus it looks good.
  • It was fun! It was great meeting old friends and making new ones, and it's wonderful to go through the whole creative process of making a game.

What I'd Do Different

  • Simplify. Maybe it'll take a bit more practice, but I'm slowly learning what kinds of things make for successful Game Jam games. First, come up with a simple yet specific "elevator pitch". Make sure the design is locked down by the time we leave Friday.
  • Prototype, playtest, iterate, repeat. Make sure we've gotten a prototype done by Saturday afternoon, and a first playable by Saturday night. Sunday should be for polishing and fun-making, not "oh yeah, we should probably put all of the pieces of the game together and make sure they work before we need to upload our final game to the website in an hour".
  • Get the sounds working in the game early. It's one thing if I'm using clunky sound effects I've borrowed from the Internet, but I don't want to waste another audio engineer's time again if I can help it.
  • Don't forget the small stuff. If I were producing, for the first-playable I'd dedicate at least one hour to make sure we have a title screen, end screen, credits, and all other the other little things that tend to get forgotten that end up being slapped together.

That being said, it was a wonderful weekend and I can't wait to do it again next year.
We had a lot of other great games made at MIT:
RunRunRunJump: a platformer with text cues. Looks great in 3D Unity (even if it is mostly text in blocks).
Quest for Stick: a platformer where you can alter the platforms. Great visual style.
Jumble is Trademarked: a word jumble where the solution is not what it seems. My second choice when we were organizing.
The Hunt Alone: first-person shooter where you're a visually-impaired hunter caveman. Had they gone with their original idea of "blind caveman", I can't help but think, with some tweaks and more innovation, it'd make an interesting Daredevil(tm) game.
The Last Bullfight: first-person perspective where you're the bull. I think given a little more polish time, this would have had a real emotional impact.
Press X to Not Die: Flash game that's all quick-time events.
Pigmalion: action-stealth game. Worth playing if only for the opening cutscene.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Year, New Post

Things have been chugging along for me quite smoothly. I've taken a step back to work on getting into a routine, and kind of settle into my job. At least, that's my excuse for not blogging or making games. Some notes:

  • The job at Quick Hit is going great. People ask me how I like the work, and I like it just fine. Sure, some of it is tedious, but it fits right into my mentality and the way I work. There's a checklist of tasks, and I do them until they're finished. If there's a problem, I figure out the circumstances behind it and try to fix it (or more often than not, go talk to the developers and have them fix it). The only downside is that it's a temp job (which means no paid time off) and it doesn't pay terribly well. I worked all through Christmas break to make up hours. I worked all last weekend to prepare for a release we're making this week, and will be working again this weekend for the release next week. But, I'm getting paid overtime, so I suppose it's not all bad.
  • Coming up next weekend is the Global Game Jam, which I'll be participating in again. Last year was a good time and I hope this year is just as good. There's a good chance I'll blog about it here again. It will be great to get back into creating and programming, even if it's only for a short while.
  • I have finally joined thousands of others and have gotten an iPhone. My old phone was really unreliable...could barely hold a charge, and I couldn't hear through the earpiece - I had to constantly use the speakerphone. Well, I don't have to worry about that any longer. It's really quite liberating to have access to the Internet pretty much anywhere that I go, and luckily I'm one of those types that doesn't have to constantly check my messages and Twitter so I get in trouble. I just check when I have a few free moments. ;)
  • And part of the reason I really wanted to get an iPhone is to develop games for it. It's the wave of the future! And now that the Unity engine is available for free, I bet I can actually do it, too. Of course, it's a matter of taking the time to sit down and actually learn how to do it, which is easier said than done. Still, it is my goal to make at least one iPhone game this year, and hopefully even maybe sell it in the App store.
  • I will be attending PAX East this March. This will likely be very awesome.
  • Speaking of board games, one that I play regularly, Heroclix, is back after a long hiatus. We're in the middle of the tournament season for the latest expansion, Hammer of Thor, which I'm actually helping to organize at the place where I play, Friendly Neighborhood Comics. Also exciting is the next set that will be out, DC's The Brave and the Bold, as well as a new, Blackest Night themed started set!
  • And segueing nicely into comics, my own comic has been in a hiatus as well. (See: the aforementioned "routine"). Well, just a quick note to say that I think I've gotten a good storyline worked out and I hope I can get back on that horse again soon.
So as you can see, it's not that I'm not staying busy; it's more that I'm just neglecting my website.