Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

It’s tradition for blogs to look back at the achievements and notable events of the past year. It’s been a particularly turbulent one wherever you are in the world and is sure to be remembered for years to come. I keep joking that we’re currently living in the introduction paragraph of some future textbook on historical events; from all the establishment-smashing stuff that’s happened such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, to massive achievements in space exploration thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft, SpaceX landing a spacecraft successfully and the discovery of gravitational waves, to several horrifying terrorist attacks on multiple countries and countless celebrity deaths throughout the year, it’s easy to see why 2016 will be remembered as a turbulent year. But you can read about all these events pretty much anywhere else on the Internet and I want this post to focus on stuff surrounding game development, as that’s what my blog is for. It’s probably going to be my longest post ever, so hold onto your hats.

Although if you’ll allow me to get political for just a second, I’m pretty pissed that the happiest person this year is Nigel Fucking Farage, the hypocritical, toxic, lying wart. Man of the people my arse.

A review of my 2016

With that out of the way, it’s time to reminisce over the past year of this blog and then look to the future. First off, some boring stats: I posted 21 things this year, including this post. That’s less than once a fortnight, which makes me a liar since last year I vowed to try to post about once a week. Here’s this gem from my “Happy 2016 Everyone” post:

With that in mind, this year I’m going to try to get out one post per week – if not more – so I don’t fall behind and post nothing in a whole month (for example, December was completely dry this year).

This year will hopefully different. I should have enough to speak about, since I try to make a game for every WGD event I can, plus there’s 48 hour game jams such as Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare to give me an excuse to make games. On top of that, I’ll be putting out more posts about Honeycomb Engine which I hope are interesting for you to read. My posts about games should be more analytical and about reflection, while posts about Honeycomb will, for the time being, be technical explanations of the different aspects of a game engine.

Games I’ve made this year

I made or wrote about 6 games this year, which isn’t really that much compared to other years. That’s partially due to the fact I didn’t take part in August’s Ludum Dare this year and I also didn’t make anything for the whole of summer. On the bright side, I’ve had something to show at most WGD events since then, and I also entered Ludum Dare in December. I may as well list them all off here:

Slower Than Sound, for Ludum Dare 34, ‘Two-Button Control / Growing’ (which was actually in December 2015, but I only posted about it in January 2016)

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My aim with this one was a simple game in which you fight spaceships one-by-one in a turn-based manner, but thanks to a couple of bugs and confusing turn indicators, the idea didn’t really work. It was difficult to know what you were supposed to do as I had no real tutorial, and the gameplay itself didn’t really make much sense. I think the art was nice, but that’s what took up a lot of the time from developing the mechanics.

Ritual Quest, for Global Game Jam 2016, ‘Ritual’

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The premise of this game was simple: craft elements until you craft a ritual, at which point you’ve won. It takes heavy inspiration from games like Doodle God, with the exception that you can move around the world in this one, once you’ve crafted life. Then you can find new crafting elements in the overworld. Some of the recipes were very contrived, so if I were to revisit this game, I’d add more elements and refine some of the existing recipes with the new additions so they make a bit more sense. I’d also work on the UI a bit, although it was perfectly fine for a Global Game Jam entry.

Tappy Dev, for WGD’s ‘Fuck This’ 48-hour jam

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Because I’m a satirical bastard sometimes, I made a terrible clicker game about making games. I think it’s supposed to mock the repetitive nature of working in the games industry? Or I guess the game names and descriptions are meant to ridicule the games made by some developers. Either way, it’s a game where you mash your screen with as many fingers as possible as fast as possible, watch numbers go up and then every 1000 clicks you’ve “made a game”. Just your average mobile game, then. I made it as an experiment to see how different it is to make a mobile game than a desktop one, as the point of the ‘Fuck This’ jam is to use a tool, language, art style or platform you’ve never touched before. Using Unity was a bit of a cop-out, but at least I tried out mobile game development.

Shifting Dungeons, for Ludum Dare 35, ‘Shapeshift’ (which I also posted an update for)

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The idea behind this was that the dungeons would be randomly generated, and the game would describe them as ‘shapeshifting’. Then I went one further and added powerups that morphed the player into different shapes to give them new abilities, but a couple of them were bugged out slightly so unfortunately it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. I did manage to get a few different dungeon varieties into the game, and if I were to continue it further, I’d probably try to nail down the fun factor and make the enemies a bit less bullet-spongey.

Ghost Party, for WGD’s ‘Spooky’ 3-week jam

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This one was fun to make, as I made it in just a few hours preceding the presentation for WGD games that week. I also seem to remember not having had much sleep the night before, so it really was a test of endurance to keep going and get it done. The basic premise is that ghosts flood in from either end of the screen and you have to click them, which makes them fall down. But each ghost had a randomised pattern – all followed a sine wave, but some were faster than others and occasionally a ghost would have an erratic and tall movement pattern that took them off the screen. They also had a z-position, so the ones closer to the screen were easier to hit but spent less time on screen.

If I were to revisit it, I’d probably give each type of ghost a unique movement pattern – some would have a sine wave, some would move linearly, while others might zig-zag and some might fade in and out of visibility while moving.

And finally, Chemical Chaos for Ludum Dare 37, ‘One Room’

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With this one, I tried to channel my love of chemistry, although I realise that’s a tall order given how much some people loathe the subject. You’re given a series of simple chemistry tests – a distillation, a sodium + water experiment and a flame test – and it’s your job to keep them all going simultaneously. I wanted it to feel hectic and have lots going on at the same time, so I would have ideally added more minigames to the collection. I liked the idea behind it and think it could be a very fun experience if I polished it up a bit.

Honeycomb Game Engine

2016 is also the year I started on my game engine, Honeycomb, as my third-year project for my Computer Science degree. So far, it’s lacking in a lot of features, but it’s definitely on track for completion by the end of text term (and by ‘completion’, I mean of the features I’ve already planned. There’s no such thing as a ‘complete’ game engine I don’t think). As part of my plans for the engine, I want to make an example game with it once it’s feature-complete, so look out for that! I’m buzzing to see what it’ll turn out like.

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Games I played this year

I’ve really neglected actually playing games this year. I was discussing it with a friend the other day and discovered I could almost count the number of games I’ve played this year on one hand. And that’s not even just games from 2016, that’s all games I’ve not played before regardless of release date, excluding game jam games. Worse, the vast majority of them are on Nintendo platforms or are first-party Nintendo properties. I really need to diversify my game collection and maybe dig into my Steam collection in 2017! I’ll give a mini-review of the games I played here.

Pokken Tournament, Wii U

Image from http://www.pokkentournament.com/

I don’t play many traditional fighting games. But when Bandai Namco and The Pokémon Company teamed up to make a Tekken game with Pokémon in it, my interest was definitely piqued. It’s a fun game, even if I’m no good at it. I think its main strength is that it’s accessible to people who don’t usually play fighting games, and that’s definitely one of the reasons I like it so much. It’s also refreshing to see a Pokémon game in which the Pokémon make a bit more contact with each other, and with graphics like the ones on display here I’m excited to see what the future of Pokémon on the whole will bring, especially with the Nintendo Switch on the way. I’d love to see a Pokken Tournament 2, hopefully with a more in-depth storyline.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, Wii U

Image from nintendo.co.uk

I’ve never played the original Twilight Princess on Gamecube or Wii, but I’d heard it was one of the best in the series. The first Zelda game I played was Ocarina of Time 3D, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since, so this purchase was a no-brainer. And how right everyone is, this game is one of the best games ever made! The dungeons are exquisitely designed and it feels as if every corner of the world had heart and soul pumped into it. The Wolf Link amiibo that came with the special edition is also the finest-looking amiibo to date. If anything, it’s just made me more excited for Breath of the Wild next year.

Star Fox Zero, Wii U

Image from nintendo.co.uk

The Wii U’s last moments could’ve done without a dumpster fire like this. It had some promise, but it let me down on almost every count. It’s boring, hard to control and I honestly couldn’t make it past the first few levels. I was lead to believe in reviews that the two-player mode was pretty fun and made it somewhat worth buying, but that’s a damn lie, it’s still hard to control and it made my boyfriend sad. Don’t buy it, for the love of all that is holy don’t buy it. I don’t care that reviews say it’s fine once you get used to the controls. In 2016, I shouldn’t have to get used to the controls! I would’ve loved a game that used the Wii U GamePad in an inventive, fun and refreshing way, but this game wasn’t it unfortunately.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Wii U

Image from amazon.co.uk

This wasn’t from 2016, but I only got it a few months ago. It’s one of the three games I played this year not from 2016! I also haven’t finished it yet, but so far I’ve been having lots of fun with it. The graphical style is unique and, while the Wii U hardware isn’t the most powerful in the world, no-one can argue that this game looks beautiful. I can’t say much else since I’ve not finished it, but the game and dungeon design is so far on par with other Zelda games. And the sailing sections help to break up the action with something a little different to what you’re used to seeing in a Zelda game.

Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise, Wii

Image from youtube.com

It turns out this is a great game to take to a university society dedicated to playing Nintendo games. It’s another one not from 2016, but boy am I glad I played this one! I’ve had the soundtrack stuck in my head for weeks and I’m still concerned for the mental well-being of the dev team. Seriously, can someone tell me what the heck is going on in some of these rhythm games? If you can explain what is happening in Donk Donk, I’ll give you a fiver. My personal favourites include Flock Step, Double Date (pictured above) and Flipper Flop.

Miitomo, Android

Image from nintendolife.co.uk

Miitomo is one of those strange little experimental games, or at least that’s what it feels like to me. It’s similar to Nintendo’s own Tomodachi Life in some respects, but lacking in many aspects. It’s a communication app at its heart and integrates well with My Nintendo with daily and weekly challenges, but it sorta got old very quick. Regardless, I had a lot of fun with it when it first launched, answering very strange questions and hearing my friends’ quirky answers. And if any word describes Nintendo’s very first mobile experience, it’s just that: quirky. I was a fan of the costume crossovers with other Nintendo properties – seeing my Mii in a Link outfit or wearing an Inkling hat was pretty cute. I’d love if they brought out a massive update to make this more enticing and bring players back, but I don’t think that’s on the cards unfortunately.

Rayman Legends, Wii U

Image from ubisoft.com

Another game that’s not from 2016 and also great to play with friends. It’s one of the best couch co-op platform games I’ve played in a while, and it lets you ‘accidentally’ punch your friends into a bottomless pit of death, which is always a great selling point. The music levels are especially amazing, with some of the best level design I’ve seen in a recent game. Somehow, a game this creative came out of the maw of Ubisoft! It can be found for dead cheap and it’s been ported to most systems since launch, so I’d recommend picking it up if you can.

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, 3DS

Image from youtube.com

I loved Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness back on the DS. In the midst of the billions of other Pokémon games I had, it offered something different, as I hadn’t played Blue/Red Rescue Team prior. However, Gates to Infinity, the first PMD game on 3DS, left me a bit disappointed, a popular opinion amongst players. It wasn’t bad by any means, and the concept of building a Pokémon Paradise was a fun one, but it just lacked the depth of previous entries for me. Super Mystery Dungeon was different – it has so much content, I don’t think I’ll ever finish it. The combat is as basic as it’s ever been, although some small additions such as emeras and alliances keep things fresh, and I felt the plot was a lot more refined than that of Gates to Infinity. So far, it’s the definitive Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game for me.

Pokémon Go

Image from gameranx.com

You might have heard of this game once or twice. Yes, Pokémon Go is the one game this year that you couldn’t avoid mention of if you tried, and like every other human being on Earth, I gave it a go. While it was fun for the first few days, for me, walking around and catching Pokémon started to get dull. I did have fun while it lasted and it’s wonderful that it got me walking around a bit more in summer than I usually would have. I also took over a couple of gyms for a while despite having few powerful Pokémon (it’s part and parcel of living in a rural town, I guess).

What I like most about Pokémon Go is that it’s made it a lot easier for people to go outside, make new friends and enjoy themselves. And to the countless articles decrying people as pathetic for needing an excuse to go outside, I say sod that; many people find it difficult to work up the courage to go outside because of anxiety problems, or they simply find it boring to go for a walk, and this app has provided what a lot of those people needed – an excuse to open the door. It can only possibly be a good thing that more people are getting active thanks to Pokémon Go and I hope developers jump on the bandwagon of geo-location apps and continue to do good for people’s health in a similar way.

Pokémon Sun, 3DS

Image from ign.com

There’s a lot of Pokemon on this list, and for good reason: it’s Pokémon! When you buy a Pokémon game, you’re almost certainly guaranteed quality, and this year gave us a pair of blockbuster main series entries in Pokémon Sun and Moon. It’s another game I’ve not quite finished yet, but already it feels a lot better than X and Y in terms of story. For one, your friends aren’t made of cardboard and actually have interesting personas, and the story is so far very focused on the island challenge. That’s another plus point for me: the 8-gym system has desperately needed a shake-up for a while, and the island trials do it very well, with the Totem Pokémon being a welcome change from gym leaders.

One thing I’m not a huge fan on is the fact that wild Pokémon occasionally call for help, which is usually not a problem unless I’m trying to catch a Pokémon and it successfully calls for help about 15 times in a row. It took me 20 minutes the other day to catch a damn Caterpie. A Caterpie! And they can do it completely for free, it doesn’t even waste their turn. It’s sometimes good for grinding EXP, so there’s that I guess.

No Man’s Sky, PC

Image from pcgamer.com

Ooooohhh boy. This game sure was controversial, wasn’t it? Well, right off the bat I’m gonna go and make enemies with half of the Internet and say I actually quite liked it. If we’re objectively looking at the game and not the situation surrounding it, I can totally appreciate why the game is not for everyone. It does get boring and there really isn’t much to do, but that’s what I liked about it, crazy as it seems. In a world where every game is vying for your attention by throwing tons of flashy effects and fast-paced gameplay in your face, No Man’s Sky is instead happy to let you sit back and walk around a planet at your own place, appreciating the beautiful pastel-coloured scenery before flying into space seamlessly and visiting another planet to find huge bulks of resources, just so you can do the same thing again.

While the ending was a complete and utter disappointment, I can’t help but feel that this is a game that shouldn’t have had an ending at all. Why would that have ever been a good idea? It’s a game that, at its core, works best when there are no immediate goals or aims, because that’s what made it feel so relaxing for me. I didn’t feel pressured to get to some location in a time limit and was having the most fun when I was idly watching weird creatures run around or just taking screenshots of the breathtaking procedurally generated surroundings. This game really is a testament to the power of letting maths make your game for you.

I’ve not played the Foundation Update yet, but I hear it’s a step in the right direction and I really, really, really hope that Hello Games continue listening to fans and making an effort to communicate, because that’s part of the reason so many people felt so burned in the first place. Oh, and the soundtrack by 65daysofstatic, Music For an Infinite Universe, is amazing and you should go buy it now.

Rhythm Paradise Megamix, 3DS

Image from nintendo.co.uk

If you own a 3DS and like rhythm games, you absolutely owe it to yourself to get a copy of this game. If I were to pick my favourite game this year, I think this would be it. The minigames are so ridiculous, so Nintendo, that you can’t help but love the boundless charm of this game. Each and every game is simple at its core but some are very challenging despite the simple controls and rules. The soundtrack is excellent and it’s stuck in my head worse than Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise‘s was. That’s helped by the fact that Megamix is a blend of other games in the series with some original games, so every game in Beat the Beat’s library bar 5 made it into Megamix. If that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.

I’ve got almost every perfect on this game, the hardest of which so far have to have been the Left- and Right-Hand Remixes and Lockstep, and I’ve got real close a couple of times with Final Remix, but I don’t think I’ll ever get a perfect on Machine Remix. Fuck the part near the end with the onions.

It’s not just games

Not everything I do is to do with games. Okay, most of it is, since most of my life is playing games, computer science, or the illegitimate child of the two – game development. But more importantly, there are some achievements I made this year that I may as well stick here, since I’ve talked about basically everything else I’ve done this year. First off, I got a boyfriend! He’s called James and he’s absolutely adorable, which I keep telling him just to get a relatively blank face in return. I would put a picture of us up, but he might kill me, so no. I’m also not sure if such a picture exists, we’re both rather shy. Second of all, I’ve continued my successful academic record at uni so far and achieved a first in my second year – a slightly higher first too, up from 71% to about 74%. Since second year is weighted twice as much as first year and both those numbers were rounded, that leaves me at about 73% overall, which is fairly comfortable into a first, although I hope to do even better this year if I can.

We also finally got Nintendo Society recognised as an official Warwick SU society (or, we will be next term). For those that aren’t aware, societies are like after-school clubs basically, and there’s a lot of variety in the types of societies found at Warwick, but one that didn’t exist when I joined was one purely for Nintendo fans. So for about two years now, a few friends and I have been working hard to set the society up, and we’ve been running unofficially for about that length of time anyway, which I think may have swung the SU’s vote. We mainly play Smash 4, but there’s also a lot of Pokemon and other Nintendo games at some of our events. I’ve also unleashed Rhythm Paradise on the society and watched them crumble, although we eventually beat Remix 10 on Beat the Beat. And lately, we’ve diversified our events to include other Smash games, which I’m terrible at. I think I’ll stick to Smash 4 and just Link everyone into oblivion with my dash attacks in 8-player smash instead.

Looking to the future, 2017

Ah yes, the future. I’m not psychic, but I can at least make educated guesses at what 2017 might hold for me. Firstly, I’ll get a version of Honeycomb done. It excites me to no end thinking about how far I might get with Honeycomb, and what sort of games it might be capable of making. It’s running using the Vulkan API, which is basically OpenGL’s baby. Vulkan gives more power to the programmer, which means I’m responsible for setting almost everything up where OpenGL would’ve done stuff for me, but the end result is that games don’t need to rely on bulky graphics drivers quite as much, removing driver overhead and resulting in increased performance. Hopefully it means games developed with Honeycomb end up being fast.

Also in 2017, I hope to make more games than in 2016, since 6 isn’t very many. I’ll aim to enter as many game jams as I can and try to make something really cool over summer this year. Above all else, I hope 2017 can be a happy and successful year for you all, even if 2016 maybe wasn’t the best year for everyone.

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Oh Hell It’s Exam Season Again

This is only going to be a quick post about how often I will post (or not post) in the coming weeks. Exams are looming over the horizon, looking menacingly at me like the moon from Majora’s Mask, so I’m likely not going to have enough time to make games or post on here about, well, anything. Revision has settled in firmly, so I should probably keep my sanity and not split my time between revising and making games (even though one of those is far more fun than the other).

Since the last update for Shifting Dungeons, the only game design I’ve actually done is making bars look nicer. Well, it’s a work-in-progress, so it’ll look better by the next update. The main thing I need to add is some icons so you know which bar is for which stat. Hopefully next time I make a post, which will likely be after June 17th at the very least, I’ll have much more to show.

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Happy 2016 Everyone!

I hope everyone’s having a good start to the year and that your hangovers aren’t too bad! It’s also the third anniversary of this blog – I can’t believe I’ve been writing this long. Last year was a good year for this blog, with a post roughly every two weeks, and hopefully 2016 is even bigger and better with even more frequent posts. I aim to have fewer dry spells with hardly any posts for a significant time period this year, so expect to see more of my writing!

When I first started this blog back on January 1st 2013, I wasn’t entirely sure what form it would take. I was new to game development, so I wanted it to be a commentary on my progress with learning how to design games, but I also wanted it to be an outlet on all my views on the games industry, with game reviews and my reactions to industry events. While the latter hasn’t happened quite as much yet, I hope to increase the number of posts dedicated to evaluating and looking back at the games I’ve been playing. I also hope to continue my Game Design Tips series, seeing as I have a whole bunch of topics I’d like to talk about and tips I’d love to share with everyone.

java_game_1Where it all began for the blog, and for my game development journey.

The first step to posting more often is to have some kind of regular posting schedule. With that in mind, this year I’m going to try to get out one post per week – if not more – so I don’t fall behind and post nothing in a whole month (for example, December was completely dry this year). I might end up embroiled in work throughout the year, so posting every week might end up being a challenge, but I’m going to do my darnedest to keep up. I’m going to increase the number of posts on games I’ve enjoyed playing, and to kick this off I’m going to write about my thoughts on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s story and my experiences with Splatoon.

601895Hint: He’s facepalming because half his game’s story is missing.

I’ve had a few requests from readers and friends to continue with the Game Design Tips series; I have every intention of doing so, and I hope to write about topics such as saving data and perhaps more stuff on coroutines soon. I want to expand more into non-Unity-specific stuff, so I’ll try writing tips on other tools I use. Maybe I’ll write about cool art hacks I use to save time or tips on publicising your games, who knows.

Most importantly, I’ll continue to chronicle my journey through the games industry; whenever I make a game, I’ll be sure to post about it. I still need to write about my Ludum Dare 34 entry, and I’ve recently continued developing a game I started making in Summer, so look out for more information on those in the coming days and weeks.

Most of all, thanks for reading! If I had no readers, there’d be no point in writing anything on this blog. But you’re reading it now. So there is point. So keep on reading, and I’ll keep on writing! Here’s to a great year for all!

“One Lovely Blog” Award

Firstly, I’d like to thank Adam Herd from Lucid Mage Tower for the nomination! The “One Lovely Blog” award is just one little thing spurring me on further to make fun games and write about them on this blog. You should check out Lucid Mage’s blog – it’s an interesting mix between a personal and a development blog and it’s a great read.

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Here’s the rules for the award:

  • Thank the nominator and link them (thanks again, Lucid Mage!)
  • List the rules and display the award
  • Add 7 facts about yourself
  • Nominate another 7 bloggers and let them know via comment

7 Facts About Me

Unfortunately, “not knowing which 7 facts to put down” doesn’t constitute a fact in itself, so I guess it’s time to stare at my screen intensively until facts start popping out of my brain.

1 – I do a Computer Science degree at Warwick University

I’m currently in my second year and I’m sat in the Computer Science labs as I write this section. I got a first in first year (much happiness ensued), and I’m aiming to do the same this year. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have a huge amount of time for writing on here and it takes a lot of time out of my game development, as work starts to pile up further and further into each term. It’s fairly quiet at the start, which is why I’m able to dawdle about and write this. First Year was incredibly fun at times and stressful at others, but overall I’m really enjoying the university experience and I’ve made tons of amazing friends whilst here.

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This is where I spend a lot of my time goofing off and occasionally doing coursework.

2 – I made more games last year than my whole life prior to that

Last year, as part of Warwick Game Design Society, I made 8 games, plus another in the Summer (which isn’t finished, but it’s damn awesome and I’ll be showing off something for it soon enough), whereas I’d only made 4 games in total before joining uni. I also feel the quality and level of experimentation in my games has increased over time; they started off as simple tech demos (usually with very sloppy graphics, code or both) and have evolved into slightly more fleshed out ideas, covering more genres than before. I’ve mostly made a switch from ambitious 3D games to simpler 2D ones too, as it’s much easier to develop 2D games and fewer pitfalls present themselves due to the simpler nature of 2D games.

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All the games I’ve ever made. Plus Purge The City, which I’m currently making.

3 – I am a terrible cook

For those that have seen my cooking, you have witness the cruelty against tastebuds. Those that haven’t seen my food, count yourself lucky that you aren’t eating it. Last year, my staple meal was mostly *something* between bread. I also probably used a lifetime’s supply of noodles. I’m probably getting better, but at least I don’t cook for anyone else.

4 – Nintendo is my favourite game developer

I rant about their dumb decisions a lot (they make plenty of them), but they’re still my favourite game developer by far. It’s a shame the Wii U isn’t doing too well, because I think the games on the system are far more varied and generally better than those offered on other systems. No-one I’ve met has picked up a Nintendo console and failed to find a game by Nintendo that they enjoyed. Stuff like Splatoon shows that Nintendo are capable of taking a tired genre, the shooter (whose 2000’s-era corpse is consistently dragged in front of consumers every year with little to no actual progression in terms of gameplay), and making something very bold and very different to breathe life into the market. That’s not to say other systems or games aren’t worth buying, it’s just that I can’t get quite as hyped about other games (Metal Gear Solid V was a blatantly obvious exception, plus Persona 5 is also on my radar right now) and the other two main dedicated systems may as well be carbon copies of each other. Nintendo has had a run of bad luck recently (especially given the passing of its previous president, Satoru Iwata), but here’s hoping they can bring back their golden days with Zelda Wii U and the Nintendo NX next year.

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The best, most balanced shooter I’ve played in a long while.

5 – I *really* want to learn how to make video game music, but I never find the time

The one thing I always do when making games is listen to music from other games. I have 3,257 songs on my laptop and they’re all from games. Sometimes while working, I’ll think up an interesting little ditty I’d really like to put in a game of mine, then forget it 5 minutes later – if only I could quickly jot down the basic tune of the song in a music editing program and polish it later. Music is the one thing all my games lack, and I’d love to be able to write music for my games, but whenever I have free time, I spend it all on game mechanics rather than learning how to use a music editing program, which is something I really need to make time for. My current favourite soundtrack is Persona 4 Golden, since my flatmate is playing through it and it’s such a fucking great game.

This is possibly my favourite track from Persona 4 Golden.

6 – I’m not in game development for the money or the fame

Frankly, I’d be mad if I were. The only stories of game development people only hear about are the success stories, causing so many indie developers to strive for the next Minecraft and discard anything less successful as complete failure. That’s not why I’m in game development – first and foremost, I find it fun taking ideas and making them interactive. If they gain traction, then hopefully I’m making people happy too. I’m not the kind of person who would slap DLC in a game where I could’ve added the same content in the package in the first place, or at a later date for free, and I hate the entire ‘Freemium’ model with a passion (because Freemium is like the archaic class system – you have more money, you get an advantage over poorer players, plus it’s just bad and lazy game design).

7 – I’m not a morning person

This comes to no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I just don’t do mornings. If I’m awake in the morning and still civil, that’s because I’ve probably stayed up all night. If you wake me in the middle of a REM cycle, I’ll be extremely irritable and sarcastic all day (it’s hilarious, but I moan rather a lot if I’m short of sleep). I even have a mug proclaiming my apathy towards mornings. I’m not sure what I find so bad about the morning – maybe it’s because nothing interesting really happens at all in the morning.

Nominate 7 other bloggers

This is the hard part. Since I’m always embroiled in either uni work, society events, chilling with my flatmates doing games or of course game development, I don’t have a great deal of time to spend reading other blogs unfortunately. I wish I did have more time, but I’m not always able to scrape together a few minutes to give them all a read. Since I don’t read many blogs, there are only 4 I’d really nominate (not counting Lucid Mage since he already nominated me), so here they are:

  • 1001Up are a bunch of awesome people who review all kinds of wacky and wonderful games and talk about pretty much anything surrounding games.
  • GeekOut South-West do exactly what it says on the tin – they’re cool people who do everything and anything geeky.
  • Geek.Sleep.Rinse.Repeat are kinda like GOSW, but no less awesome.
  • What’s Your Tag are also gaming enthusiasts who have a pretty entertaining weekly comic.

Dare to be Digital – How Not to Give Feedback

Dare to be Digital is an annual competition held at Abertay University, Dundee, in which fifteen teams of between five and eight students work together to produce a working video game prototype over the summer. It began in 2000 and has since grown from there, accepting a wider range of participants including international teams, and has become the sole route for the “Ones to Watch” video game BAFTA. It is open to undergraduates and those who have graduated since the previous competition, but only people with less than 6 months’ experience in industry can enter.

Over the nine weeks of the competition, teams are provided with support from key industry figures – this yeah, the competition boasts big names such as Sega and Ubisoft’s Reflections studio. Teams then present their entries at the Dare ProtoPlay event, and the top three teams are nominated for the BAFTA and receive £2500 for each member, with extra prizes often distributed by sponsors. Naturally, many budding teams of developers, artists and designers leap at the chance and start hammering away at a concept or prototype to send to the judges, hoping for a chance to work with the industry’s elite. But that’s where the “mister nice guy” part of Dare ends. As a disclaimer, the views in this blog post are that of myself and not of my team, Something Afoot.

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The only student game design competition with a BAFTA at the end of the tunnel.

Our team comprises of seven members of our university’s Game Design society. As part of a group that has made countless games of all sizes and genres, we believe we have our fair share of experience. Since many of us had upcoming exams, we opted to polish the concept of our game and forego a prototype – nowhere in the terms and conditions or application advice does it require one. Since the pitch video requires us to talk about the concept, as well as relevant experience, that’s exactly what we talked about – our experience, our game’s concept, the research we did into our target audience and into the mechanics, as well as Japanese ukiyo-e art, which our game was poised to focus on. Here’s our pitch video right here:

As we didn’t have a prototype, and assumed many other teams would, we had accepted the possibility of not being accepted from the start. We apply, they don’t pick us, we take their helpful feedback and move on, all is okay. Except that’s not what happened at all. Instead, we find ourselves waiting longer and longer to find out our fate, the application process was plagued by submission errors and the terms and conditions changed more times than I changed clothes. One area of frustration amongst entrants was the initial step – the feedback form – that reportedly broke and didn’t let people submit their entries. I can forgive this, as it’s a large competition, so things are likely to go wrong a bit, but I still found it surprising from a competition that has been running this long. Luckily our team avoided this error.

During the application process, our team believed we would receive a weekly stipend of about £75 each and be provided with free accommodation at Abertay University for the entire 9-week period, as stated by the terms and conditions midway through the application process. Evidently they had left last year’s T+Cs up, as our team was left disappointed when they abruptly changed to no weekly stipend and only 10 days’ accommodation. We (and many other teams) would have found it far more productive to house the entire development team under one roof, rather than being spread across the country. While this was annoying, and a clear lack of communication due to the silent nature of the change (no-one was informed, they just sorta… changed), the competition was still enticing to us, despite now having no promise of monetary support had we secured a place.

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Dare ProtoPlay, where the 15 finished products are showcased.

Personally, my concerns over the competency of the organisers started after we had applied. The interview stage was scheduled to run at the end of May, but we had to wait until June 5th to learn our fate. I can’t help but notice that June is not in May. Running up to the end of May, the competition felt disorganised and, frankly, not up to scratch for the biggest student game design competition in the UK. But I can live with all the above – all competitions, large and small, have sticking points that, while annoying, are easily outweighed by the benefits of entering. All the above points may seem like I’m nitpicking, and mostly I am, but that’s not the most unprofessional part of the process.

Then came the feedback.

These guys utterly failed on this front and it’s the reason I won’t ever be applying for any Dare to be Digital competition again, at least not before they clean up their disgusting act. I make no apology for commenting that whoever the heck decided the following ‘feedback’ was worthy of being shoved down our throats shouldn’t hold any position as a judge of anything, especially when handling such a diverse industry for which people from across the globe should be free to creatively express themselves without being completely lambasted like this. Brace yourselves.

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Now comes the fun bit – deconstructing this monstrosity and picking out the key points that proves these judges (I’m unsure at this point whether it’s two or three people commenting) are clearly unable to write feedback for small indie student teams who are supposed to have little experience.

We’ll kick off with the first paragraph, keeping in mind the sentence I just said in bold. It’s worth noting that a prerequisite – yes, an actual requirement – of the competition, is that all participants must have less than 6 months experience in the industry, that is, they must be inherently inexperienced (note the spelling), as I’ve mentioned before. So when the first judge calls our team “unexperienced” (aha really? This is hilarious), all logic goes out the window. Of course we are, we’re students. We’re expected to not have made a commercial game before or to have worked in industry. But contrary to that point anyway, each member in our team introduced themselves and listed all their previous accomplishments, in order to prove exactly the opposite. *sigh*.

This judge opens up the feedback with the line “They didn’t really explain what they were doing”. Now I’m not sure whose pitch video they watched, but we spent literally half the video talking about what we were doing. Already I’ve lost faith in humanity. This ‘judge’ then wraps things up nicely with the snide comment that “to get onto Dare, you need to put more than 2 hour’s work in”.

What the fuck kind of underhand bullshit am I reading?

I’m sorry, I lost my cool when I read this line initially. This is supposed to be a friendly student competition and a gentle leap into the industry. Why the heck did this person feel it necessary to degrade me and the rest of my team like this? Luckily we’re thick-skinned enough to disregard this kind of comment as illegitimate tosh, but my worry is that many other teams could be irreparably damaged by this kind of comment. They appear instead to have some five-year-old’s mentality of slinging shit for no apparent reason. Nonetheless, it’s my favourite sentence in the the whole feedback document, because it’s so hilariously misguided and it amazes me how stupid people can be and still be trusted by others to judge something.

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Two of the judges are clearly Simon Cowell wannabes.

Now for paragraph numero dos. I can only assume this is a separate person’s comments, because it wouldn’t make sense attached to either the first or last paragraph. However, you could probably forgive me for thinking it’s supposed to be part of another paragraph, since it’s only one fucking line. Jeez, they took more than a week longer than advertised with writing this feedback, could they not have pulled some other rubbish out of the air? Anyway, it simply reads “Without a prototype, I think no.” Um, thanks for your in-depth, all-knowing feedback on the CONCEPT we pitched to you. The terms and conditions did not require a prototype, so this sentence just does not make sense at all. You’ve been in industry for a long while apparently, so your ideas on our CONCEPT would have been nice.

I firmly believe the first two (or one) judges’ (or judge’s) attempt at what they call ‘feedback’ is some of the laziest and rushed writing I’ve ever seen. You can find more insightful words in a Nickleback song.nickelback-4de8dc6b3304d

I have the lyrics to their next song right here in a handy email.

The third judge is the only one with anything insightful to say. He unfortunately then voids it all. But he starts off saying he’s sensitive to the need not discourage students from this industry, given some of the baggage that comes with it. This is fair, as jobs in the game industry are often riddled with long work hours and little job security when projects fail to sell, as he mentions. Clearly it’s not a sentiment all the judges share though. He congratulates our team on the effort we put into researching the marketability of our game, praising the ‘long hours’ we’ve sunk into our concept. There we are, some sanity! This completely contradicts and writes off what the first judge said, but these are fair comments – I see a lot of teams these days that blindly make games without keeping the end user in mind at all stages of development.

Towards the end of his feedback, he says our game is a “fairly standard take on the genre” and that our game isn’t really anything new. Unfortunately, I do agree with him here. Our game, despite the research we’d put into the marketability, was essentially the same as many other things you can already find on mobile. So he gives some insightful comments into our pitfalls and strengths, two things neither of the other judges really did well (or at all – I’m looking at you, number two).

One of my problems, then, with the third judge’s feedback is that it doesn’t really give any direction to improve on. Sure, he gave a lot of useful insight into our pitch and I appreciate it’s difficult to come up with ways to improve for every entrant to the competition, but a little more would have been welcome, even if I’m nitpicking a bit here. But my main problem is the middle of the paragraph. “Do you, the designers, feel your game is respectful toward Japanese culture?” This is a tough one, since there’s always the risk of misrepresenting another people. However, it’s extremely difficult to tell from the video which way this will go, and I’m sure the industry help provided by the competition would assist us in making our game as tasteful as possible.

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Okami, one of the sources of art inspiration for our game.

That said, in our video we did talk a lot about our inspirations, for example Okami, which are representative of the cultures we are targeting as the base for our game. This suggests that the judge was just finding lazy reasons to reject our idea, as bringing up the cultural argument then providing no evidence to suggest we’d unfaithfully represent such a different culture doesn’t really give any insight at all, it’s just open speculation. So to give this as a reason to not put us through to the interview stage is void and lazy.

The other comment from the third judge is pure gold. “Furthermore – and I must be direct here – do all of you have legs?”. Our game is based on a hero with no legs – indeed, it is called Legless Sorcerer – but this comment and the words that follow seem like the judge is trying to call us disrespectful to people with disabilities or paralysis. This is not the case. Nowadays, almost every game I see is biased towards straight, white males with no obvious health problems (usually in a terrible first-person shooter environment), particularly AAA titles. These kinds of game often do the opposite – they depict the protagonist as some kind of super-being, with skills above that of the average person, which makes sense as it panders to people’s desire to have all kinds of powers and skills.

What we were going for was an approach where we could have someone who had a disability without affecting gameplay, and without having to be asked questions. People of all minority groups are tired of being treated as ‘different’ – that’s a fact – and by having a game that doesn’t place heavy stereotype on one of those groups, we believe we could silently demonstrate how more games ought to tear down barriers in traditional games that cause grossly unrepresentative characters. But nope, the judges instead seem to want more of the same, which is highly ironic given them criticising our “standard take” on the genre.

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Judge number one.

The main thing I take from this is that Dare to be Digital, while marketed towards small student teams and with a supposed aim to seek out innovation and marketable ideas for games, seem to actively discourage people from the industry. Our team wasn’t the only one who was rejected with poor feedback (I’ve seen even worse, but I won’t post it here) and my concern is that legitimately talented people will be completely discouraged and decide not to make games at all. Games are a wonderful fabric that tie together people in some of the most fantastic ways, and I firmly believe any person should have the chance to become part of this amazing industry.

It’s fine to criticise a bad idea – I’ll honestly admit our idea had tons of holes which we had intended to look closely at during development – but to provide nothing but derogatory comments about the ability of the team and empty reasons in place of genuine concerns and places to improve is not something anyone should have to face from a student competition. I’m not angry at the fact we were rejected from the interview stage, because our game was quite generic in places and of course there are many talented developers entering these kinds of competitions – we took a chance, and failed. It’s life. However, had they just analysed our ideas and suggested ways to improve, I’d be happy. Unfortunately they took the easier route and wrote something they wrongfully label as ‘feedback’. Our team hasn’t been discouraged from the industry – I plan to make as many games as I can possibly manage over the Summer – but I’m terrified that genuine talent has been lost forever at the hands of these monsters.

Nintendo Logic #2: Amiibos

The first part of my Nintendo Logic series discussed Nintendo’s ‘Nindie’ program. This time, I’m going to write about Nintendo’s highly collectible NFC figurines, Amiibos.

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Nintendo’s range of Amiibo figurines. Only one of each probably exist worldwide.

Firstly, a bit of context. Since the rise of NFC figurine-based games such as Skylanders have become such massive hits, it is only natural for Nintendo to make a foray into the increasingly popular ‘Toys to Life’ concept. Skylanders proved popular enough to absorb what was left of the Spyro franchise and swiftly became critically acclaimed on almost every platform it released on, and Disney Infinity, which relies on a similar concept, also received generally favourable reviews. The Wii U GamePad features an NFC reader in the bottom-left corner and the New 3DS has the same technology integrated into the bottom screen, a move that can only foreshadow Nintendo’s wish to move into the NFC figure space. And with the announcement of Amiibos, it did just that – a wave of twelve figures hit the market back in November.

Nintendo’s range of Amiibos can store a small amount of data for one game (usually), which is backed up on the Wii U or New 3DS itself. For example, the Smash Bros range can be used to store ‘Figure Players’, which are super-tough AI characters that can be named, trained up and fed equipment. There are some Amiibo-only tournaments where people enter their best-trained Amiibo to do battle with other FPs. In some cases, Amiibos just need to be scanned in to unlock content, such as Mii racer suits in Mario Kart 8. But there have been glaringly obvious problems – some of them are bloody sold out everywhere.

Nintendo seem to have focused more on exclusivity deals than keeping up with demand. Given their extreme collectibility and the huge marketing campaign launched by Nintendo, you’d have thought the company would have predicted the demand. So why are they in such short supply? By offering some Amiibos as timed exclusives in some locations, particularly a problem in America, Nintendo have shot themselves in the foot by disappointing their most loyal fans who, predictably, want to own them all. But problems have persisted since the first wave, and despite the problem being flagged in numerous articles and tweets from angry customers, the shortages continue.

In fact, take the numbers in the image above – 5.7 million Amiibos shipped worldwide. Granted, the image is from February and the number is for shipments, not necessarily sales – but if we divide this by 44, the number of Amiibos in the Super Smash Bros range, we get about 130,000 each. This seems so much shorter than I’d expect, given the Skylanders series has sold over 240 million figures to date, and is an indication of the degree to which Nintendo is creating an Amiibo bottleneck.

Shulk_AmiiboYou want a Shulk Amiibo? Yours for only £50.

This was made far worse when Nintendo of America then shot themselves in the foot with a tweet that read:

Uh oh. It looks like Yoshi got caught hiding eggs before Easter. Which #amiibo do you want in your Easter basket?

This highlights an apparent disconnection between the company and its fans, who took the tweet as a middle finger to everyone who had failed to secure a preorder for their favourite character’s Amiibo. Of course this was met by countless angry tweets by users, the first of which simply read “NESS YOU MONSTERS“, but no apology for the insensitive attitude towards disappointed users has been made.

Nintendo had a huge opportunity to satisfy the casual Skylanders-type audience by offering a huge range of characters, and their most loyal (and incredibly rich) fans who would actively seek out the whole collection. But they’ve strangled supply for some bizzare reason. It’s understandable that the demand may have been overwhelming during Wave 1, but those problems should have been fixed by Wave 2, and the pre-orders and exclusives do nothing but disappoint large swathes of fans who weren’t quick enough.

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Are you one of those dirty infidels with an old 3DS? You’ll have to wait.

All the while, regular 3DS owners will have to wait until Summer to get their hands on an NFC reader – such a move can only be Nintendo trying to push people to buy a New 3DS instead, which already has the technology. To put that into perspective, even my door carries this incredibly cheap technology – it shouldn’t take the company half a year to push out a 3DS NFC reader. A great opportunity to grab a large chunk of the NFC figure market, ruined by Nintendo logic.

Nintendo Logic #1: “Nindies”

I’m a huge Nintendo fan. As someone who grew up with Nintendo throughout my life, particularly their handhelds, I’ve become attached to the sublime perfection of the Mario series, catching ’em all in Pokemon and the musical legacy of The Legend of Zelda. But once in a while, the Japanese juggernaut will make a move so bewilderingly odd, so utterly stupid, that I want to tear my hair out, buy a plane ticket straight to Kyoto, storm up to Nintendo HQ and scream directly in Satoru Iwata’s face: “WHYYYYY!”. All because Nintendo seems to be struggling with a phenomenon I can only describe as “Nintendo Logic”, a crippling syndrome that makes even the smartest guys in the industry make the dumbest mistakes. It makes it much worse when some of the attempts to fix these mistakes ends up pissing off half their user base. So I’m starting a new series on these daft choices, starting with indie Nintendo developers. Nintendo_Logo

The Big N, the behemoth of gaming that is Nintendo.

With the rise of indie development, everyone’s hopping on the indie bandwagon left, right and centre. And of course it makes sense for such an influential pillar of gaming to take a similar stance on indie games – by lending support to indies, Nintendo ensures a stream of 3rd party support, something it has lacked in recent times, all while helping the ‘little guy’ and thus further helping its friendly image. Hence ‘Nindies’ were born; Nintendo offers Wii U developer kits to budding indies of any team size and any level of experience, and they’ll hold the hands of developers to make sure the use of Wii U and 3DS features is the best it can be for each project. Games such as Guacamelee!, Might Switch Force and SteamWorld Dig are right now available on the Humble Nindie Bundle, for example (and don’t worry, I’ll get onto that shortly). However, there are problems with the Nindie program.

As the majority of consumers of Nintendo products aren’t indie developers, they’re gleefully unaware of the cost of a Nintendo development kit. An Xbox One development kit is, well, the Xbox One itself, so around £300-400-ish. Some reports suggest that Sony is ‘lending’ people PS4 development kits, although they may cost in the low thousands instead. Then how much is a Wii U development kit? Every source I’ve found says “anywhere between $2500 and $10000”, but most cite $2500 as being the absolute bottom dollar – the price of the absolute bare-bones development kit. This means a kit with full debugging tools and 24-hour support is probably orders of magnitude more expensive, all for a copy of Unity tailored to the Wii U hardware. I’ll have to remind you that Unity 5 Personal Edition is completely free.

What does this mean for indie developers with no money, like myself? Well, tough luck. There is no known program out there that helps people like me, the little guy. As the Wii U is such a unique piece of kit with unbounded potential – I have so many ideas for that GamePad – I’ve applied (twice) through Nintendo’s own Wii U developer application form with the hope of some support from Nintendo on the cost and to weigh up my options, but I’ve heard nothing back apart from the complimentary “yeah we got your application” email. No call, no other emails, nothing. So, Nintendo are helping indies… how? The sheer lack of communication here is not only frustrating, but confusing – for me, I have so many ideas I want to try out, so many ideas that might catch Nintendo’s attention, but I’ve so far I’ve yet to hear back from them.

Wii_UThe Wii U, a console impossible to develop for.

In the Nindie push, the Japanese developer has very recently decided to make the unprecedented move of introducing the Humble Nindie Bundle, which will run until the 9th of June. For those of you unaware of the Humble model, it comprises of a bundle of games, usually under some theme such as ‘indie bundles’ or a particular publisher, that can be purchased by the user for any amount they wish. Usually, some games in each bundle have a minimum spend. This bundle is the first bundle to feature both handheld and console games, and is the first by the major three console makers, marking a brave step forward for both Nintendo of America and Humble Bundle themselves. However, the bundle is region-locked. Yep, only American gamers – those from North, Central and South America (except Brazil, Martinique and Guadeloupe for some reason, and you need an Ambassador eShop everywhere except the USA, Canada and Mexico) are able to redeem codes from the bundle.

This is just plain wrong. The problem arises from the fact that Nintendo consoles are region-locked (which is a huge problem in its own right). This bundle also represents the first such offering by Humble Bundle that is region-locked. It wouldn’t cost Nintendo or the individual games’ developers any more to distribute European/Australian keys in addition to American keys. In fact, it would probably gain sales in addition to helping charity; the causes helped by the bundle are losing out due to lost European sales. This wouldn’t be quite so bad it it weren’t for two gaffes on Humble Bundle’s part: they sent an email to everyone on their mailing list proudly announcing the bundle, but failed to mention it was region-locked. Even worse, the website had no indication it was region-locked at first, so some non-eligible people bought the bundle, only to be disappointed when they couldn’t redeem the codes. Then, Humble quickly wrote up a blog post ‘explaining’ why the bundle is region-locked, which upon closer inspection, explains exactly nothing and leaves us Europeans and Australians pissed off with two companies we want so much to think only good thoughts about. Even worse, it’s completely contradictory.

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Guacamelee, which I *almost* got to play.

The Nindie program has so much potential. For starters, if I were in charge of the program, I’d give a lot more power to developers. I understand Nintendo want to protect their hardware and their reputation from shoddy, half-baked games – spend 5 minutes in the ‘Indie Game Developers‘ Facebook group and you’ll see the kind of spam Nintendo are afraid of amongst genuine talent – but this shouldn’t stifle genuine creativity. They’re losing ground to their competitors, while the Wii U and GamePad combination is one of the most indie-friendly pieces of hardware I’ve seen. There’s so much potential for the types of high-risk ventures exclusive to this hardware that AAA developers, including Nintendo themselves at times, are afraid of trying out. Exactly the same is true of the Nintendo 3DS. I really want Nintendo to get their shit together with this one, because I so want to make games with their hardware.