Simoroshka & games

Dec
18

Ludum Dare!

After all the hype has faded I guess it is time to finally write a huge post about my first Ludum Dare experience. All in all: it was unexpectedly good, and pleasant, and I like what I have done. And people seem to like it too, all the comments on the entry submission page warm my heart and make me smile.

PLAY!

I wanted to participate in Compo, not in Jam. First of all, it is more challenging and challenges make me work better and achieve more. Second, I didn’t have a team. Third, I had other plans on Monday anyway. And I already had a game jam experience that lasted less than 2 days, and I knew how it works for me.

I woke up at 6 am on Saturday and read the theme. IT’S A TIE! Hmm, strange theme, what can I do about it, a game about ties?.. After 30 minutes of trying to come up with something sensible I read the email again and this time got it. We had 2 themes! Growing and 2 Button Controls. I personally don’t think that the last one is a good one, too many people took it as a simple restriction of controls available to the player, not a proper theme for a game. But I was determined to, first, make both of the themes into a gameplay, and second, make a complete and nice to play game that I can actually finish alone during the weekend.

I finished brainstorming by 8 in the morning. The idea was a perfect fit for both themes and I decided to go with it, despite the fact that it was more about art than programming. But hey, games are not just programming!

However, I decided to start with a prototype, so I could be sure that all code things work and I have everything I need before I could jump into design. And also at 8 in the morning after 5 hours of sleep I cannot come up with ideas and art, but I certainly can code in javascript. By lunch I had my super ugly but working prototype. Most importantly, I made sure I could easily plug in all assets and add logic parts, so later I didn’t spend much time on coding or any on debugging.

prototype

My next challenge was to come up with game choices. And this is where I had to scope the initial thinking down. Having even one line of depth 10 would be impossible to implement in a weekend (and probably too much for a player to get through). After trying to manage the logic on paper sheets and spreadsheets I got a working solution that helped to finally fill the blanks and understand the scope:

IMG_5678

I was drawing in parallel with designing the game logic. Nicola suggested that I could use the huge blackboard in his room and I thought – why not? Otherwise, I would use paper and pencil because there was no way I could do so much digital drawing with the mouse I have. The blackboard idea turned out super well and gave my game a certain distinct style, and I just love the final look.

58943-shot1-1450032952

I expected sounds and especially music to be the most frustrating part with the worst outcome since I had no experience whatsoever, but it went very smoothly. For three sound effects I recorded chalk sounds and a “poof”, which I edited a bit in Audacity. I also came up with a very simple music loop, using basic rhythm logic and my own intuition.

I finished at 8 in the Sunday evening, 7 hours before the deadline. There was nothing to add, nothing else to polish. I was happy and content.

What went right

  • Scoping. I knew how much I can do in a weekend with this kind of project. First I made a working prototype, then the main line, then I added other ideas in the time that was left. And I was working in cycles, making sure that the end product looks like I wanted and I can make it fast enough. The last bit is the reason why I have just one animation piece – it would be possible to have more, but it was time consuming and everything apart the one I have was not essential.
  • I decided to go for quality over quantity. It is a very simple and small game, but it is nice and people enjoy it.
  • I was relaxed, had walks and didn’t cram. You can probably see my mood in the game.
  • Using Javascript and keeping things as simple as possible. It’s a tiny browser game, one shouldn’t use Unity for things like this and it’s good to have a choice of tools.

What went wrong

  • I tried to save edited pictures in PNG, because I thought transparency will make things easier. Well, PNG is bad for photographs, they were so heavy, that I decided to redo them into JPG by fusing with a piece of the background, and spent at least another hour on that. But imaging working in a team and discovering an asset problem in the last moment.
  • I tried to keep it nice and tidy and in different files, but in the end my code was all scrambled and I was too worried about drawings to do anything about it. Code works, but it doesn’t look nice. The game does, though.
  • I forgot to make an opening screen. It didn’t even occurred to me! It would be nice to have one.

Takeaways

  • Sometimes it is not about advanced programming at all. It doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it. I had a moment when I though that I am wasting my time because game is too simple and even stupid.
  • Making something that you can finish and polish in the given time frame is extremely rewarding. Reading comments of people who enjoyed your game is the icing on the cake.
  • It is nice to have the code base or prototype done and checked as soon as possible, so you can be sure that the game is working. Then you can have all the time left to make it look great.
Nov
30

My first game

I was supposed to start my blog with this game post. But I didn’t and now it is time to fix it.
This project is important, because it is the first game that I have finished. After making this I was absolutely sure that this is what I want to do with my life. Games. Also for the first time in my life I knew that it is what I can do, and not something from a parallel universe where awesome people create new worlds with some sort of magic. I had my preconceptions about the whole game development thing, I admit.

But back to the game. Take two nerdy girls with a shared love for Doctor Who, put them in a game project course, and let them do whatever they want. Advise them to use Unity or something similar. And leave them for a few weeks. By the set deadline you might get this.

Nana, my project partner, was a game-designer. She proposed the initial design, made the 3D models, got sounds, wrote texts and came up with a name.
For me it was easier to play with code and game logic, and I did just that, solving problems one by one. I never opened Unity or any other game engine before. With a help of some official video-tutorials I have put together something that resembled the idea we had in mind and on paper. It wasn’t all too easy and I spent days and evenings and a weekend during the last week, but it definitely was fun.
The game is a collection of tiny and big bugs and problems but it does what we wanted, at least partly. We had so much more in mind, but simply didn’t know how to do it, nor did we have the time with all other courses and exams. But we loved it. It was ours. It was the first.

One awesome thing that we did was the progress log. We couldn’t meet too often and had to work separately, so it was easier to track our progress this way. And it the end it was much easier to reflect and write the required postmortem. I still love to re-read it. It is inspiring to see how we went from “we have no idea how to do anything” to “I’ve done these things and am doing these”.

I look at our game, see all the imperfections and you know what? I have a sudden but a very strong urge to re-make this game with my newly acquired knowledge about game physics and unity. I will make a separate post with an analysis and plans. Aah, excited!

Nov
17

ProcJam 2015

ProcJam is an online game jam which is all about procedural generation. It is organized by Michael Cook, who is an awesome researcher and who accidentally inspired me to choose a particular topic for my thesis. Since I am now all about computational creativity in games, I couldn’t miss this event.
The tagline that is supposed to guide people through this relaxed 1-week long game jam says “make something that makes something”. Participants were to create a game or a tool that would make use of any procedural generation algorithm. No other theme, no constraints.
For me, it was yet another chance to try something new. I didn’t have much time and the week was rough, so I ended up implementing in Unity3D a depth first search algorithm for labyrinth generation. Very simple and the result is not very exciting, but still it is a new experience.

My inner game designer is not happy with the game and refuses to call it such. There is no winning condition, just endlessly generated labyrinths of increasing size. The controls are not very responsive and the ball player annoyingly bumps into walls. The labyrinth itself is not very suitable for a labyrinth game: of course, it is a proper labyrinth with no loops and closed rooms, but going through it is very straightforward and poses no challenges. Maybe it would be better if the labyrinth weren’t visible from above.
It would be cool to add collectables, or enemies, or both. Or to make it first-person and add a possibility to leave marks on walls. Or inverting the labyrinth and moving the ball on top of the walls. Or tilting the board instead of controlling the ball. Or making the labyrinth transformable with walls appearing and disappearing here and there. Or adding portals (I like portals). So many options, so little time…

As for the jam experience… I find it more difficult to be completely on my own. I like constraints: a particular place where you have to be, a theme, a team, a strict time frame. I like to be all in the project, without juggling it with studies, theater rehearsals, home errands and other very important things. I really want to participate in Ludum Dare, but I need to think how to organize my life around those dates (like finding a local event place and saying no to everything else).

Oct
30

October game!

It was a very busy month for me, with a challenging last course and exam (passed!), work still going on and thesis starting along (I will write about computational creativity and game jams!). But nevertheless I managed to make another game. It’s written in Javascript, so it should work in any browser (I haven’t tested it though. I probably should). It is a simple tennis game with a twist.

portalTennis

Play Portal Tennis in the browser!

It was a good exercise. I grew rather fond of Javascript during my summer internship, so I wanted to use it to make a game. And not having all the powers of a ready-made game engine makes you think more about small things. I didn’t particularly like this part though, I like to program things like game logic and mechanics, without worrying about asset loading, collision detection, frames and things. But again, it was a good exercise.

Speaking of collisions. There are bugs left in the game that are the result of the fact that I don’t really like trigonometry. Writing the AI for the second player was difficult enough on that part, and I didn’t have any mental power left to get those pesky collision problems resolved. Next time I would rather use an engine or a library of some sort and save my time for more fun things.

Takeaways

  • It is not that difficult to find time to make a game even in the most scrambled schedule.
  • I like programming interfaces, inputs and user interactions, but I don’t like designing graphical elements. So much time lost, such poor results…
  • I like implementing game logic, AI, and balancing things for a better experience. But I don’t like dealing with small things like asset loading, collision detection and other things that are usually automatized. They are just in the way!
  • In order to finish a game on time, you probably should kill your inner perfectionist. Or at least knock him unconscious for a while. This was the biggest struggle of them all.
Oct
10

So we decided to make another game

After the game jam three of us decided that since we had so much fun and the result happened to be great, we need to continue making games together. Well, we failed. And then we didn’t. Let me explain.

The first week

We have an awesome idea that includes time travel, surrealism, and a strong psychological element. We enthusiastically discuss it for half a day, trying to make sense of each other’s visions of the end result. It is going to be so great! We seem to lack only one thing – a solid story, without which the desired game is impossible. But we are eager to come up with one during the next week. And as soon as we have the story we will be able to start working on the game itself and test all the crazy mechanics we came up with.

The second week

We don’t have a story and it seems that none of us is able to create a good enough one for this undoubtedly awesome game idea. For some reason I almost expected this to happen. We were too ambitious, we luck certain skills, and we put ourselves into a situation where failure was most likely.
It is easy to get discouraged and drop everything when you encounter a problem like this. But we want to make games! Maybe that great idea was untimely, maybe we need to start small. We must try and make at least something.
So we decide to take a little piece of what we initially wanted to create, a tiny bit of all the complex mechanics, something very easy and well explored by other games. Like point and click puzzle games. Like room escape games.

The third week

We’ve done some research on room escape puzzles. Most of them are horrible and unplayable, but some of them are very inspirational. We concentrate on those (keeping in mind the horrible ones to avoid the mistakes), we play them, we try to understand how they work. Ir runs pen and paper game design analysis. She comes up with a story. I study a new game engine. We have drafts. And sound recording plans.

I think now we are moving somewhere. I think we are going to make it. And it makes me very happy.

I will most likely post updates every couple of weeks or so.

Shaman draft

PS The games that inspired us are made by Rusty Lake. They know how to make good room escape games (although quite creepy at times).

Sep
30

Quantum Cat – patched

While making a game prototype can be done in 16 hours of pure team focus, fixing all the tiny fixes took more than 2 weeks. Thereby I announce the project completed and case closed. All planned changes are done: you get a random level, everything falls where it should fall, game pauses and exits like a normal game, timers go, and even most of the grammar mistakes are eliminated. There is even a secret feature of row deleting.

qcat-logo-patched
The game can be played online (no Chrome though) and on Windows.
Web | Windows

Takeaways and postmortem

  • Don’t name gameObjects and scripts the same in Unity. At some point I managed to make the whole editor to crash on play without explanation, and only careful renaming solved the issue.
  • If you want some text in your 2d game to appear at an exact place on the screen, don’t use 2d-text, use 3d. Counterintuitive.
  • One needs to think more about game balance. It appears that opening the color of the block is always a better strategy and the other option goes unused. I added the normal tetris mechanics starting from the second row (although it goes unmentioned anywhere in the game), but anyway, it feels quite pointless most of the time.
  • I love finishing things and to call them done.
  • Chrome doesn’t do all the things and therefore cannot be considered a superior browser anymore.
Sep
22

We made a game in 16 hours!

So, quantum game jam, hah? It was borderline awesome!

Apparently, it is not so impossible to make a game in such a limited period of time, even without much of experience. Game Jams are said to be 48 hours in general, but ours started very late on Friday, and we had to postpone actual work till Saturday morning because everyone was too tired. And the deadline was at 15 sharp on Sunday.

We had four people on the team, only myself being capable of making things in Unity. So I became the coder (all bugs are on me). My awesome friends Nicola and Ir did graphic design and other things. Much of which was discarded in the process due to the communication or technical problems… Mikko the quantum physicist was basically designing the game around our initial idea and coming up with quantum ideas. And bringing us chocolates. What would we do without him?

We wasted some of the time due to the lack of experience, but still managed to finish the game. Well, what exactly do I mean by finishing?

  • The game has a story and motivation.
  • It has instructions.
  • It has a gameplay with specific mechanics. The jam theme was “Quantum Rules”, so we have some of those.
  • It has pretty design.
  • It has nice sound.
  • There is a goal and clear win and lose conditions. And an ending.

Of course, it has bugs. And sure, it is my fault. Just like sprite animations Nicola spent so much time on, but we couldn’t use because I didn’t know the process and there was no time to learn. But still, come on, first game jam ever, the second finished game. It is finished and it is a win!

The gamejam version with source and executable files can be found on the official page.
Here is the video of the game.

Future improvements

As I mentioned, the game has bugs, some of them are quite critical, some of them are said to be features while they are really not. I am now working on the post-jam patched version of the game. Here is the list of things I want to fix, change or implement, in order of priority.

  • Quantum timer doesn’t show decreasing probability. This is quite bizarre, because inside Unity it works, but freezes in the build. I have to go through the scripts and make sure there is nothing fishy.
  • Particles don’t fall. At first we didn’t think about it. I started with classic tetris mechanics, this is where it comes from. Then we decided that it doesn’t make much sense in combination with color/shape “quantum” uncertainty, since in tetris color doesn’t matter. And so we added match-3 logic. At which point particles should start always falling instead of hanging in the air. There was not enough time, of course.
  • Collision bug. Like in tetris, when pieces reach the upper border, you lose. It worked until some moment in the development, now it is very much broken and crazy things happen.
  • Slower particle elimination. I mean, now they just pop. I actually have a piece of code that adds a delay so you can see what is going on there. But it caused some very crazy bugs we couldn’t ignore, so I commented it for later testing.
  • Random level initialization. Yep, the one we have there is very much predefined. I couldn’t make the GameObjects to instantiate properly and there wasn’t much time, so I just placed things in the level manually. Anything for finishing the game.
  • UI things and sounds. Minor adjustments like slow music change, in-game text messages (hurry up, you still can save her!), bonus sounds, pause, reset, proper exit (are you sure you want to leave Mu here?).

Takeaways

At some points I was thinking that we really lack a producer who could go and check what exactly everyone’s doing, stop them and tell what is necessary to do right now. But probably next time we can do it better ourselves. It is important to ask yourself and each other what is the most crucial part of the work and what are the priorities. What must we do and what can we go without if we don’t have enough time? I had to say no many times, because I knew that I won’t be able to implement this particular thing in a reasonable time. I had to remind people, that we don’t need perfect, we need something right now. But otherwise my team was perfect and I could just dive into coding (and even get help when my brain stopped working).

  • Stick to the minimum, especially when it comes to coding or trying new things. There will be no time to get all those awesome ideas done and tested. Take one, maximum two and build around them.
  • Dirty hacks and playable game are better than clean code and an unfinished thing. Do whatever it takes.
  • Have all the tools ready. You don’t want to spend precious time installing software. Especially if it is video recording/editting app and you have one hour left to make the demo and upload all the things.
  • Everyone should do what they can do best. If you have an all-rounder, it’s better if he/she fills a gap and doesn’t try to do everything else as well. Multitasking isn’t very efficient.

It was a great test for our newly formed team. We decided to continue making games together. Three of us have all the basic skills that are needed to make a game and nothing can stop us. =)