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Ludum Dare 38 – ‘The Other’

We are here again.

This time the theme was ‘Small World’.

As usual, I tried to do a novel spin on the theme. I made a short game about the ‘small worlds’ of those who are fearful of the ‘other’ around us, and how they might benefit from being more open-minded and engaging with the ‘other’, whatever or whoever (in the case of this game) it may be.

Keep in mind that I’m British, from London (who voted to remain in the EU) and as a country we’ve just voted to leave. These kind of issues are rather ‘live’ around here at the moment!

You can go see my Ludum Dare page, where there’s a link to play the game straight away (I tend to use Construct2 for jams and publish to HTML so it’s instant play in a browser).

LD37 – Life As It Could Be

Ludum Dare rolls round again – this time the theme was ‘One Room’.

I’ve got to admit that I really didn’t like the theme – I don’t think it’s really that inspirational and isn’t going to inspire the most original creations out of developers, but a theme is a theme.

I simply used it in the sense that everything stays on one screen mainly, but also the topic of life and that you only get one life and kind of ‘possibility space’ to choose from as it were. So I made a game where I tried to model the challenges, choices, and balancing decisions of life. The walls change unpredictably every few seconds (which I think works really well from a technical point of view actually!) and there are a range of pickups for you to collect. However, the highest score is yielded when they are collected in a balanced way. Just working and earning money all the time will not give you the highest score in the end, for example!

The two enemies – the skull and the black dog, that stalk you throughout ‘life’ didn’t work as well as I might have liked, but I had to have something!

I liked using a pure retro-aesthetic for this – inspired by Golden Era vertical arcade games such as BombJack and Donkey Kong. I felt as though it left me able to really focus on modelling my message in the mechanics, without worrying about impressive sound and art (although they both could have been better!). I also think the retro-aesthetic made it more fun for most players.

The simplicity of the controls also helped with this (just the cursor keys), and some of you will notice a reference to antiquity in the instructions on the start screen 😉 .

You can make your own decision by playing the game here.

LD35 – Friendship

Another Ludum Dare and another playing around with a game prototype.

This time the jam’s theme was ‘shape shift’. I always like to try and go for a strange spin on these themes – it’s part of the fun and I like to do something different if I can.

So I homed in on how we ‘shape shift’ personally, when we’re with different people. At some point we’ve all not been 100% true to ourselves in order to impress or get along with other people for one reason or another – or just to make lots of friends and be popular. I wanted to try and model how cultivating lots of shallow friendships with people who are different from us actually isn’t a great way to live your life. That, generally, there is more satisfaction to be had from making more effort with fewer relationships.

It’s a little clumsy, with true designer/programmer art and certainly needs a lot of finesse (even if you don’t agree with my point). But hey – this is why game jams exist right?

You can play the game on my website here

Global Game Jam 2015

Another year, another Global Game Jam! This year the theme was ‘What do we do now?’ Not really as good as last year in my opinion, but a theme is a theme!

So this year my game jam experience was a bit different. Last year it was amongst 150 people or so, crammed into SAE Institute in London, passing out under the tables for a few hours a little bit of kip on Saturday night, and ending up with a very INcomplete game.

This year, since I was doing the game jam with my PhD programme, there were only 11 of us. Additionally, we were booked into a 4-star hotel (which happens to be part-owned by the Uni of Essex. Convenient!) and had a butt-load of pizza, sandwiches, red bull and coffee provided. This was as close to ‘Game Jam Royalty’ as someone can get I reckon!

Not only that, but together with a super-team comprised of Mihail, Andrei and Christian, we actually managed to finish our game (more or less!). You can play it here.

Crazy Cabbies is inspired by Crazy Taxi by SEGA, but in our game each wheel is controlled separately. This means that you have to work with your other team mates in order to guide your taxi to your fare, pick them up and deliver them safely whilst not running over people or crashing into cars.

Recommended for minimum 2 players, ideal with 4, for ‘testing purposes’ you can of course play it with one person with 4 fingers!

It is strongly recommended you spend a few seconds in the tutorial first!

Made in Unity 4.6.

I was responsible for the idea and the world design, level building and procurement of art and sound assets.

Enjoy!

Global Game Jam 2014 entry

Last weekend I took part in the Global Game Jam at the SAE Institute in London.

I will write a post-mortem on my submission in a seperate post (as I normally do), as well as perhaps upload a tweaked version at some unspecified time later.

It was a fantastic experience and I’m really pleased that I had chance to take part. With over 100 people at the site it was a great atmosphere and I’m looking forward to it next year already.

Further to the unveiling of the theme (“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”), myself and Tom Smith decided to make a game about depression, and how it totally colours and influences the way that you see the world when you are in a low mood.

Unfortunately, I’m having troubles uploading my game to the GGJ website. In the meantime, you can play it here.

Made in Unity/C#.

Me: Concept, design, code for switching mood-dependant music, ‘art’
Tom Smith: Programming, Concept
Liz Wright: Last minute graphics – everything that blatantly isn’t ‘programmer art’!

Instructions (PLEASE READ!):

My teams submission is here.

depression

The game is only a prototype and is a little rough around the edges, we spent a lot of time getting the camera system in Unity to create our split world feeling, and for it to scale appropriately when the dark and light sections got bigger and smaller.

Controls:

  • Left/right arrow keys to move left and right
  • Space to jump
  • Up arrow to ‘do’ an activity.

Basic instructions: Move around, complete activities, don’t allow yourself to get depressed.

Explanation:

The game aims to illustrate the experience of having depression by use of a novel UI mechanic. The game takes place in the top half of the screen, and you start ‘happy’. Underneath the smouldering black line (particle effects by the way!) is what you would see if you are depressed. You see that activities that normally look normal become scary and less enticing when depressed, e.g. talking to a person becomes scarier and we represent this with devil horns, or the smiley face – which represents having fun or a hobby, becomes a blank grey face to illustrate that this loss of enjoyment during depression. What *could* happen is always visible, even if you’re in a ‘good mood’.

The dark portion of the screen increases (on the bottom upon loading) as time goes by. When it reaches over halfway then the screen flips and the character is ‘depressed’. The negative versions of activities become their reality, although they can see how things could be if they were well.

In addition to this, the structure of the game is used to illustrate ‘spoons theory‘. In short, this is a way of explaining that someone with mental health issues has only a certain amount of energy to use each day, and once that energy is used up, you can’t do anything more that day. Whilst it’s possible to ‘borrow’ spoons from other days, you are only borrowing against your allotment for the next day – where you will now have fewer spoons.

The game does this by using energy costs and reimbursement values for each of the activities. All activities cost some energy but only some will give you back more energy as a result of doing them. For example, it takes a lot of energy to take exercise, but you get a little bit extra back because it’s good for your mental health. You see this in the UI in the way the middle line moves as energy is expended and then received back.

Activities will also cost more if you are depressed, but your ‘return’ value will NOT increase. In doing this we aimed to illustrate how once you are in depression, it can be very difficult to work your way out of it.

The prototype itself needs tweaking for energy values spent and gained, there needs to be a bigger game area, the movement needs to be worked on, and the screen is too dark. But I still feel it has the foundations of being an interesting game with more work on those core systems in the future.

Play ‘The one about depression’ here.

 

Post-mortem on Voice of God

In my previous post I wrote briefly about the game I made for mini-Ludum Dare 28 (Jan 2014) called ‘Voice of God’. Since a couple of weeks have passed since I made it, and I’ve had chance to receive some feedback on it from various sources, I feel it’s time for a post-mortem.

Summary:

The theme I chose (out of the choice of any combination of facade, scheme, deceit and conspiracy) was deceit. I had always fancied having a go at making a game in Twine, having followed the whole resurgence of interactive fiction in gaming news with interest (e.g. Richard Hofmeier replacing his own winning entry Cart Life with ‘Howling Dogs by Porpentine, Cara Ellison’s Sacrilege etc. ). I also wanted to have a go at making a small game that focused on writing rather than mechanics for a change, and so took this jam as an opportunity.

Having chosen deceit as a theme, I chose to do a game about self-deceit and draw upon parts of my own life-experience and explore a small part of them in this game.

Challenges:

Without conventional mechanics to deal with like you usually do when designing a game (such as movement, combat, inventory etc.), Twine forces you to think about designing in a completely different way.

The only method of interaction with the game is to click on hypertext links and so you have to come up with a way to make this clicking on links meaningful or interesting. It should, of course, not feel like you’re just reading prose on the internet!

You also begin to think about structure in a very different way. We often break a game up into levels or sections, starting with a tutorial with sections that come after gradually increasing in complexity and variety (not always, but often). With Twine, this won’t necessarily work. Instead I had to think about how to orient and ‘ground’ the player in a different way. Without graphics and without mechanics, how do you ensure that there is enough variety to keep a player going, yet doesn’t make them feel listless and lost in the experience?

Finally, the very stripped down experience of designing and writing an interactive fiction experience in Twine (which in and of itself is quite functionally limited, especially when compared to Quest or Inform and similar) means that you really have to focus on what your game is about.

It’s this quality that perhaps encourages authors to deal with personal content in a more focused way – evocative and strong writing is the chief way to engage your audience. The best way to achieve this is to, effectively, bare a part of your soul or some very strong feelings.

Personally, I found it very challenging, but very satisfying writing this game. But because of all the issues above, I spent the vast majority of day one thinking about how on earth I was going to write and structure an experience that really encapsulated the theme I’d chosen (self-deceit)! I had a very vague structure in place before I went to sleep, meaning that that majority of the game was written during day two.

Successes:

I think I managed to get a very good rhythm going to the game. Once I’d written the first few panels worth of writing (each page is represented as a panel in the editor), I found that there was too much in each section for my liking.

To solve this I didn’t only reduce the amount of writing, but you can also use various javascript macro extensions to add actions such as “click here to continue”, “click THIS text here to replace THAT text over there” and so on. By mixing these tags with each other and including links in text not seen at first glance, it encourages the player to click more frequently in order to progress the story, and this rhythm can be varied at will to serve the purposes of the story if required. Chunks of text can be revised to add meaning to that passage, as well as what it’s replaced with.

The overall structure was something that I really struggled with at the beginning (as mentioned above), but I naturally fell into a kind of verse/chorus/verse/chorus kind of structure, with a bridge and a coda of sorts. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but writing and playing through the first two cycles felt right. It allowed me enough scope to develop the narrative as I wanted, but the repetition of certain sections (albeit with alterations each time to further the narrative) gives the player some orientation in the experience. Based on the small amount of feedback I’ve had, people found that these sections helped build the narrative to a crescendo (of sorts) near the end. 

Upon reflection, other well-known Twine games such as Howling Dogs used a partial-repetitive structure to show progress and return the player to somewhere familiar to pause for thought during the narrative. Since I did not make a conscious decision to do the same, maybe it’s just that this really is an effective way to structure these experiences.

I used colours to limited but carefully chosen effect – in particular red as the voice of doubt, and various shades of red to show those doubts getting stronger. Not everyone got that last bit, but I’m not entirely convinced that I could or should improve upon that and I am, on the whole, pleased with how that came out.

Feedback overall was positive, although limited since mini-LD is substantially smaller than the usual Ludum Dare events (Roughly 80 entries for mini-LD vs. 1500 for Ludum Dare 28!). People generally liked the writing and obviously felt emotionally involved. One person had a more neutral response, although conceded that they hated religion and this may have affected their experience. To be honest, I would have said that they entirely missed the point, but their entitled to their opinion!

Potential Improvements:

This game really took me a long time to plan. As is always the case with any game, but especially those done during game jams and under a tight time limit, I could have done with more time for polishing and picking up the one or two typos which have since been pointed out. Next time, I’ll have more idea of how it ‘feels’ to design and make a Twine game, and can use my time better accordingly. However, I was still happy with the final quality of the game.

I think that I should have spent a bit more time thinking of another title. ‘Voice of God’ is good in the the sense that it informs the player a little about the subject matter and could attract more attention than it might have done otherwise. However, giving too much of a clue as to the contents has probably stopped people from interpreting the game in ways that I did not plan for. In a game that is reasonably imprecise with the prose (and purposefully so) I have probably rail-roaded readers into interpreting it in a certain way, something which I’ll try to avoid in the future.

It would have been nice to play a bit more with formatting and colour. During this game I made a conscious decision to not try and learn a load of CSS at the same time as learning Twine. CSS *is* simple and straight-forward, but I had never used Twine before and you have to sensibly pick your battles in the time allowed! But using colour would have helped the game to stand out more from other interactive fiction pieces and can be used as another visual mechanic to serve the narrative (like I did a little bit with the colours of text in places).

If, after all that, you’d like to go and play ‘Voice of God’ then you can do so from my portfolio page or directly from this link RIGHT HERE.

All feedback, as ever, is welcome.

New game jam game (miniLD). Theme: deceit.

So, like I said, I enjoyed Ludum Dare in December so much that I decided to take part in as many as possible – including miniLD.

MiniLD is a smaller version of the Ludum Dare game competition/jam which happens in each month where there isn’t a Ludum Dare event (which is normally once a quarter). The theme for January was any combination of ‘facade, deceit, conspiracy, and scheme’.

I had already decided that I wanted to have a go at making a game in Twine, since it’s a tool that’s long interested me and I knew that it would be very different experience in creating an ‘interactive piece’ (people seem to get heated when talking about whether anything made in Twine is a ‘game’ or not!). I was also interested in the way that working in Twine seemed to encourage people to make more personal interactive experiences.

I chose to run with deceit only. After thinking for quite a while, I went with a theme of ‘self-deceit’ based on my own personal experience. 

I’ll write a post-mortem on this next week probably, when I’ve had chance to step away from it and then return and evaluate it a little more objectively. But I will say now is that it was a radically different experience from making something in the other tools I’ve used (Construct2, Unity and MMF2).

Arguably, it’s harder. Since you only have the text available (albeit you can use variables, conditional statements and other basic reactive actions) you really have to think about what you’re trying to get across. The fact that the product IS so simple, is what forces you to really examine what the purpose of the project is and what lends itself to more personal themes.

You can find the results at the Ludum Dare page for it, and also over on my portolio page.

 

I’m in the top 11% overall for Ludum Dare 28!

So, the results from Ludum Dare 28 were published this week, and I really don’t think I did too badly!

This is my score table from the Ludum Dare website. ‘Coolness’ is a rating based off of how many other people’s games you played, ‘Theme’ is how original or interesting your take on the game jam theme was (which in this case was ‘You Only Get One’). Other categories are pretty self explanatory.

There were 1284 entries in total for the competition.

Coolness 55%
#37 Theme 3.91
#91 Audio 3.48
#117 Mood 3.47
#138 Overall 3.55
#349 Graphics 3.21
#357 Fun 3.06
#384 Innovation 3.06
#386 Humor 2.50

So I placed in the top third for all categories, very nearly in the top 10% for overall (I’m in the top 10.7%!) and in the top 3% for the ‘Theme’ category!

I’m really quite happy with that result since it’s my first solo game jam. To place in the top 10% for ANYTHING is pretty good for a first timer.

As ever, the real fun was had during the jam itself, with the real prize being that I conceived, made and completed a game within 48 hours. I enjoyed the exercise so much that I’ll be doing it again this weekend for mini-Ludum Dare.

I have already written a post-mortem for my entry, entitled ‘Shades of One‘.