Know Thy Game

GCAP2015

Before Unite and GCAP 2015 in Melbourne, I thought I knew my game. After talks given by people such as Tim Ponting, Tim Dawson, Tony Parmenter, Steve Halliwell, Joel Styles and others, I realised that perhaps I needed to take a closer, more analytical look at what I was creating.

Tim Ponting, director of Renegade PR, spoke about generating your key messaging which helps to define your game not only to others, but—more importantly—to yourself. “Do it early,” he said then went through the five step process. So I started at step one, the brainstorming stage. What is my game about? I regurgitated onto the page all the words that fit my game. Five words later, I realised I was either not so hot at this brainstorming thing, or I had no clue what my game was about.

Not willing to be defeated by the very first step, I took a break, ate one of those delectable convention cookies, had a mental snooze, and then got back to it. This time I came up with a bunch more words, but they were words that fit the game in my head, not the actual game. Tim mentioned in his talk to be careful of these kinds of words. Remove them and get to the truth.

Well, fine. I crossed out a few aspirational words on my dog-eared page, and stopped. I’m still exceptionally early in the development of my game. If these are the words that fit the game I want, then why don’t I keep the words and change the game? For this micro-indie developer, that’s a daunting task to face. But I must face it if I want this game to offer the kind of depth it’s singing out for in my heart.

Decision made. The five steps complete, the new pillars built. Time to get cracking with my clearer vision… after a minor drowning incident in a lake of chocolate.

Lynda Young

Character Creation

TP_sitting_SM_logo

Meet TP. He’s my main character in the iOS game I’m developing. The proxy character I had been using to test the game mechanics has now been tossed. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see TP walking and running around rooms and corridors. One small step for TP, one giant leap to get him to this point.

I’ve had a number of people ask me what is involved in game development. Character creation is just one teeny tiny aspect, but I thought it might be a good place to start:

1. First the character needs to be visualised. Quick concept sketches help here. They don’t have to be masterpieces, which is a good thing considering the fact I don’t see myself as a sketch artist, or concept artist.

TPConceptSketches

2. Develop the character you like best, the one who fits the story, game, platform. If this is being done for someone else to model in 3D then you need to sketch the character proportionally in front view and side view. I didn’t bother because, well, I’m the 3D modeller and I could visualise TP without having to sketch his side view.

TP_01small

3. Model him in 3D. Sounds simple, but when you’ve been putting it off for months because the character will be the main focus of the game, the story revolving around him, the target for players to control, well, then it gets a lot tougher. Add personal pressure generated by my perfectionist nature and I figured I’d be doomed. Not so. After a couple of failed attempts–I’ll readily admit I was a smidge rusty when it came to character modelling–I was satisfied enough to call him done. And then I tweaked him some more… and a little more.

4. Texture the character. Without a texture the character would be boring monochrome. While I might have had something like 9 years’ experience in the animation industry, I never had to worry about polygon counts, texture atlases and everything else that must be considered when aiming for a mobile platform with limited capabilities. Fitting his textures on one map and hiding seams proved challenging. I spent many hours playing with his UVs, the thingies that tell the flat 2D texture image where to wrap on the 3D character’s body.

TP_BonesMap

5. Bone and Skin him. Sounds like torture for the character, but really it’s torture for the artist who is new to the program of choice. One has to create a skeleton and attach it to the character. It’s via the skeleton that I’m able to animate him. Skinning is telling the specific parts of the character to respond to specific bones when they move.

You’ve created an awesome character who can laugh and dance and walk around. He can also cry with you when something inevitably goes wrong while trying to import him into your game.

So that’s my nutshell of what happens behind the scenes of character creation.

 

Lynda Young

Feeding Your Passion

Being well fed is not exactly the best time to code. By ‘well fed’ I mean really well fed–four hour long lunch well fed, Lynda’s birthday lunch at our favourite restaurant well fed.  Now it’s time to digest, be introspective and generally not move about much.

Not surprisingly for us there were only really two topics we discussed over lunch: the food and games, specifically the game Lynda is working on.

Looking back at the conversation, I am struck by just how much she loves her current project, the creative process, the story, the art–the list is endless and I came to the realisation that I don’t love mine.

That’s not a good thing to realise. If I don’t love it, can’t put my passion into it, then it’s hard to expect anyone else to be passionate about it either. Time to have a good long talk to myself about re-evaluating my game.

So, Self, where is the passion? Hrm (not making eye contact) never had it. This was to be a quick learning process, a means to an end, a way to reacquaint myself with the coding process, learn about mobile development, publish it and then get onto the real games projects.

First lesson: Making games is hard and contains lots of different jobs.

So, Self, why not just shelve the project and move to a real game? But… but what I have so far works! The swipey thing that took me hours to make work, the physics to make the blockie things bounce just right took ages and don’t even get me started on the Facebook integration–it was awesome to see that first wall post go through. Ah… my passion is not the same as Lynda’s passion. Oh… I see what I did there.

Second lesson: People make and play games for different reasons. Passion comes in different forms.

So, Self, if you’re not about to fire up a room with enthusiasm like Rami Ismail did at GCAP14, speaking about his indie experiences, Trent Kusters painting his beautiful word pictures about Armello at Sydney Vivid festival or even your wife speaking at birthday lunch date 2015, what will you do? I am going to realise that those people inspire me but I don’t need to walk the same paths to be passionate about my games. I need to focus my passion for making the technical side of things work, finish this GAME and start another one full of technical challenges.

Third lesson: Just finish the damn thing.

Bonus lesson: Never eat anything bigger than your head unless there is an accompanying wine.

Coming soon: my fun take on a block match game, done my way, full of technical challenges you will never see, and I am proud of that.

TJ

Story-Based Puzzle Adventure Games

zork1I grew up on those text adventure games, unable to get enough of them. My favourite was the Zork series.

“West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.”

Those opening lines bring back so many memories of being hunched over my brother’s Microbee, trying to navigate my way through the Zork world. When I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, it brought back even more glorious memories. I highly recommend reading that book. It was a fun time for the young at heart.

Technology advanced and I watched text adventures evolve to amazing graphic adventures. At first the graphic adventures were nothing but glorified text adventures. You got a slightly dodgy picture, yet all the controls and information were still set in a text format, or if they weren’t, then the games lacked atmosphere. Developers tried hard to make them more, but the technology wasn’t yet up to it. I don’t think I ever finished Return to Zork, nor any of the Sierra games. The pixelated art just didn’t do for me what my imagination could via text adventures.

MystThen Myst arrived. Oh… my… gosh! This was what an adventure game should be. Beautiful and atmospheric, with a captivating story and intriguing puzzles that made sense to both the world I was exploring and the story. It was totally immersive and stole many hours. I played Myst and Riven through to the end. Same with Myst III: Exile and Zork Nemesis. There were, of course, a bunch of others, but I didn’t make it to the end on those, or if I did then they didn’t capture me like the early ones.

It was inevitable these games would evolve again. We got online attempts to make the games multiplayer, for example, Uru: Live. I took part in their short beta test, but the game didn’t offer enough so it was cancelled before the official release. Some of the hardcore fans kept it going for a while but that eventually closed too.

Then game development became more accessible to the regular Joe. A plethora of puzzle adventure games came out. Many became formula, mass produced. And the ones that weren’t had become a whole different kind of game, for example, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect etc. These could be considered adventure games.

So I’m going back to the roots of what I love about story-based puzzle adventures. As a side project, I’m making my own. A game with humour and heart. And hopefully the puzzles will make sense.

 

Lynda Young