Strumb!

Strumbloader

Just released my latest game!

It has been an interesting experiment. The theme for this month’s 1GAM was sound. I wanted to make a game that was all about creating music during play. In this game, all the guitar stings will play notes whenever there is an object on them. The notes change as the player picks up chords. If the player picks up a G chord, all the strings will change their notes to G major. The chords are also how the player gets points. To give the game some challenge, there are fingers that are randomly placed on the strings, these will damage the player and break combos.
Combos are built up by getting multiple chords in a short time. Combos will build up a multiplier that increases the score gained from picking up notes. Notes also build up a solo meter which, when activated, will play different notes and extend the combo.

I’m not sure how well this game will do but I’m happy to have put it out. I’m very ready to start on a new project. I will do a post-mortem for the game in a few weeks after I see how it is received by players.

 

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Current projects update

I have been neglecting this blog for too long. The reason for this is that I have been trying to participate in the 1 Game a Month group started after the last Ludum Dare. I started working on a game in January but I have been waiting on a programmer I was collaborating with so I don’t think that game is going to get released. I have been spending a lot of time working on my pixel art skills and working on my latest game.

I’m working on building up both a portfolio of art and games. I would like to be able to do contract work once I have a solid portfolio to get some money coming in and actually call myself a professional. In order to take more time for games, I recently left my full time job and I’m working part time now. It has been really good for me having extra time and not having such a draining job. I plan to start actually updating more and making a portfolio page here.

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Global Game Jam Postmortem: Pace of Cake

So about a month ago I attended the 5th Global Game Jam at Collin College. To sum it up it was quite an experience. It was my first time doing a game jam with other people in the same place, it was a really awesome environment to work in. It seemed like every few minutes someone was doing something really awesome. There were about 40 people attending and 12 groups, most of which were able to finish a game.

My group was not one of those.

The theme of the jam was the sound of a heartbeat. Some of the games people made from that are really cool and I encourage readers to check them out here. But I’m not here to talk about those.

My idea was to have a simple auto-running game in which the player doesn’t directly control the character on the screen, but instead controls the pacemaker of the character on screen. The character was a jogger, and the faster his heart pumped due to the pacemaker, the faster he would run and higher he would jump if necessary. If his heart rate went too high or too low he would die from it and the game would be over. To make things more difficult along the way there would be things that would make his heart rate increase or decrease. These ended up being implemented as a ghost, or a poster of a cat saying “stay cool!”. When we were pitching ideas to each other, I was able to find a team that seemed interested in working on it with me and we got started the next day, since some of them had to leave that night. On the team we had Matt, an artist who specializes in concept art and painting. Nik was interested in doing level design, and Travis who worked with flashpunk. I was doing game design, pixel art, and music, as well as organizing the project.

On the first day I really don’t think I explained my design idea well enough. I probably should have tried to make a cohesive design document to get everyone on the same page. However on the first day we didn’t have access to the PC lab and nobody on the team had a laptop with them, so most of the team decided to call it a night early, Travis said he would start a prototype version at home. So for the rest of that night I just helped other teams with their designs.

On the next day we finally got started when the lab opened up in the morning. When Travis got in to show the prototype he had worked on I realized my mistake with presenting my design. The game worked to an extent. The timer for counting how fast the player was pressing the buttons to control the “heart beat” was impressive and worked fairly well. There were some issues with how the game worked, and with the structure of the levels, but I decided since we were already late starting we should just work with that.

This part of the jam was probably the most fun I had there. Matt had brought in some concept art and it was great, the character in the game quickly came to life for us, and we decided he needed a name. From the concept art we determined that he was kind of a happy-go-lucky  meathead jogger, completely unconcerned with the state of his heart. His name had to be something that described his completely amped up state. After a few suggestions we came up with the first name of Pump to fit the heart theme. Shortly later Pump Jackson was born, and it was great.

Pump-Jackson-Head-Bobbin

After this things were on a roll. I came up with the name of the game “Pace of Cake”, and Matt and I began churning out assets. After we were done this is what the game was supposed to look like.

pacemockup

 

This is most of what we got done that day, I was pretty happy with the way things were turning out. The system was pretty janky but Nik was doing a great job making levels that exploited the strange system and made it something still fun with a lot of depth to it. It was turning into a much different game than I had planned but it was still fun in a way.

This is where things started to go downhill. Most of the team was getting tired. The jam had provided like 20 cases of NOS energy drinks and a big ol’ box of candy which I carefully avoided, and I think it was causing a lot of people there to start to crash hard by the end of the night. We wrapped up what we were working on and called it a night. We were pretty sure we could wrap everything up and get the final pieces implemented before the deadline the next day, after all it was pretty much playable.

The last day of the jam was when the game died on the tracks. Travis emailed me in the morning to tell me that he had gotten sick and wouldn’t be able to make it in that day. I did what I could to try to recover it. I have worked with actionscript before and FlashPunk is somewhat similar to my engine of choice, Flixel. However I quickly realized that it was a futile effort.

Jam code is always messy, it can’t be avoided. To make a game in a weekend you can’t spend a lot of time cleaning as you go. When I finally got into the code I was horrified. I couldn’t determine anything about it at all (and of course being jam code there wasn’t a comment to be found). I was hoping to be able to at least implement the tileset I had made for the game so we could just build a series of levels and loop them, but the game wasn’t really structured for tiles. It was based on different sized horizontal blocks, so many of the decorative elements I wasn’t able to implement. In the end all I managed to do was put in a couple of static sprites and re-skin the blocks to look like the tiles I had made. I put music in but the way the game was written it restarted the whole scene every time the player made a loop around the one level we could implement. I wasn’t able to find a way to get the music to loop without stacking onto itself.

The last version of the game is here if anyone wants to try it. Turn your volume down if you do, the music stacking gets pretty bad. The only controls are the control keys, and you just spam those to play.

To sum things up, in postmortem tradition…

What Went Right:

  • Had a lot of fun.
  • Had a good asset workflow for a day, though most of it didn’t get implemented.
  • I realized the power of good level design. I wish more of the levels that Nik made were playable, he managed to really make something out of a broken system.
  • Made a character that will definitely be back to haunt my games.

What Went Wrong:

  • I should have worked more closely with Travis, if I had been working with him while he made the game I would definitely have been better equipped to take his place when he got sick.
  • Started on a vague design. My plan for the game was a much more horizontal, open level design, with very different pacing. I should have made that clearer and given a guideline on how it should have been structured.
  • Give the programmer a structure outline to follow. As the project leader I should have made sure that the code would work with the assets we were making, things didn’t quite fit together in the end.

All together, the project was a failure but the Game Jam was incredible. I don’t have any regrets about going. I made friends there and got to work for the first time with a lot of creative, like minded people in a face to face setting. I learned a lot about working with a team and I can’t wait until I get to do it again.

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Postmortem: Battleship Texas

Battleship Texas

I made this game for Ludum Dare 25. 48 hours is not a lot of time to make a game. So Battleship Texas is based on an old inside joke my friends and I had in high school. Its about a scenario in which Texas is not satisfied with just seceding from the United States and decides to secede from earth. Originally it was just that Texas sinks Mexico in order to break away from the US but I decided to ramp it up a bit. The game is all about just telling an absurd story and I didn’t focus a whole lot on gameplay.

What went right

     Made it funny. From the comments and talking to people that have played it I think I definitely accomplished my main goal with the game, making people laugh. I’m not sure that people outside of Texas will get some of the references like Big Tex and the whole secession movement but the comments say that people at least got a kick out of it.

Finished on time. I actually finished the game. That is definitely a win, even if its not a quality experience.

Learned a lot. I learned a ton about working with Stencyl while doing this project. I have used Stencyl a lot on other projects but it was always pretty sketchy. I learned a lot of ways to do things that work a lot better than the way I had been doing them and I am a lot more comfortable with the tool now.

What went wrong

Started over 3 times. I originally had another idea that wasn’t working out. I ended up scrapping it twice before starting on Battleship Texas. I think that being able to tell if a game idea is worth trying is something that will just come with experience. It didn’t keep me back too much though.

Made 3 games instead of 1. I was more focused on trying to tell a story than gameplay. I didn’t really go in with a plan for gameplay so it came out as kind of a mess. Also it meant that I spent most of my time just making assets because every screen required completely new ones.

Didn’t explain well how to play the game. Since every scene was different the player just had to figure out how to get through. I heard some complaints about that and it kept some people from playing the game.

Overall I had a good time doing it, I’m happy with what I got from the weekend. Its a hell of a lot better than the last LD game I made. I look forward to the next one!

 

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Been neglecting to post lately

Alright its time to get back into this. Lately I have been working on a lot of projects. None of them have gotten anywhere near completion except for the last Ludum Dare game I made. I will post a postmortem of that one next.

I think I need a change in development strategy. I’m not sure how far I’m going to go with it but I joined a group that I think will help out a lot. One Game a Month is a twitter based group with the goal of making a game every month, and getting arbitrary rewards for it. Its about setting a development goal and trying to work on it with a supportive community and having more fun with game development. I really like the idea of the short development times and having a set schedule for releases.

There are plenty of reasons why I haven’t finished any of my big projects the past year, but I think one of them is just that I don’t have any deadlines or schedules and they end up just burning out. I plan to use the One Game a Month to refine my development skills, especially the planning part. I will try to work out a schedule that works for me, but right now I’m not sure what that will look like. I definitely intend to blog a lot more about it.

If you are reading expect to hear more later in the week about prototypes I am working on for it.

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Ludum Dare 24

http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-24/?action=preview&uid=15497

My first completed game jam!

Its a pretty awful game. I had to work most of the weekend that it was going on so I didn’t have a lot of time. I have also been recovering from tendonitis in my wrists so typing is difficult. I used stencyl to try to speed up the process and avoid a lot of typing out code. It worked out alright, stencyl is strange. I had to do some really dirty hacks to get the hit detection working the way I wanted and I am still not sure why those hacks worked but I couldn’t find a way around it.

I was able to finish everything I intended to though, I think the experience with the last couple of game jams I did taught me about scope, I knew I only had a day to do it so I scoped down a lot. Oh yeah I forgot to post about the super friendship club game pageant. Once I get some time I will write a post about that and link the unfinished game I worked on for that one.

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Premortem

I took part in the Newgrounds Game Jam 7 a couple of weeks ago. I would really like to write a postmortem on the game but it is still not finished. Needless to say that I did not make the deadline on that one. I do plan on finishing the game but I am waiting on art for it. I learned a ton from doing my first game jam, I can’t wait to do more of them. Since then I have been doing a lot of reading. The Game Jam Survival Guide was a good one I picked up. I think next time I do a game jam I am going to work alone unless I am doing it in person. I really enjoyed collaborating with other creative people but I don’t like having to rely on someone else to get a project out on time.

The way that the Newgrounds jam worked, the programmer picked out the team “kickball style”. I chose to be the programmer when I signed up and I picked an artist, musician, and “wildcard” when the selection opened up. There was a second pick to make sure everyone had a team but I missed that because I was at work so I only got half the potential team signed up with me. The first artist I had didn’t respond so  I recruited another artist that hadn’t been picked. He did some concept art but he lives in the UK so he had to sleep a lot earlier than we did. Eventually the original artist showed up and we explained the concept to him and he got to work.

The second day I had told the artist from the UK that we got the original artist in and they could try to communicate when possible but he decided to just drop out and leave it to the artist we had. We ended up really over-scoping the art and we barely got anything by the time the third game came around. In hindsight I should have just finished up the game without the art and put it out, but I decided to just wait until we could get something and make a game out of it.

I have a lot to learn about game design, and project management. Being in a leadership position was an interesting experience. I learned a ton doing the jam, and I hope to do a lot more. I am still working on the game, I have a new artist working on it, and I also have some ideas for other games. Hopefully I will have a new game or two to show soon. The last game I posted about is still in my head but I am having a bit of trouble with the design. It has been shelved for a while but I am still thinking about how to make it fun.

I have heard from a lot of indie developers that the first 10 or so games you make will be garbage. I don’t know how true that is but I am hoping to get those out of the way as soon as I can and start making fun games. Also http://www.amazon.com/Challenges-Game-Designers-Brenda-Brathwaite/dp/158450580X is a really good book.

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