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.

Guacamelee

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.

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Awesome Games – Super Hexagon

Super_Hexagon

I’ve been using this blog mainly as a place to shout about my game, so today I’ll switch things up a bit and talk about an indie game I’ve not been able to put down for days – Super Hexagon.

What the heck is it? Looks mighty colourful!

Super Hexagon is the brainchild of Terry Cavanagh, the same sadistic motherfucker who brought us VVVVVV. You play as a small triangle thing, possessing only the ability to rotate around a hexagon, with the aim of not getting hit by incoming shapes. Then, throw in the fact the whole level itself spins round, changing direction occasionally. The shapes coming at you get weirder, faster and harder to avoid. By this point your fingers are probably wrapped around your controller or keyboard, jackhammering buttons in a futile attempt to dodge the malevolent shapes, all to the mesmerising wub-wub tunes of Chipzel. That’s Super Hexagon.

So shapes come flying at you. So what? Is that all there is?

Initially, yes. On the first level, named ‘Hexagon’ and with a warranted difficulty level of ‘Hard’, all you’ll really come across is simple shapes to start with, then the level eventually turns into a pentagon, then a square, switching things up a bit and reducing the time you have to react. On the second level, Hexagoner/Harder, the level starts getting a bit faster, throws more weird-shaped mechanics at you, and now the level stays hexagonal. But by the  third level, Hexagonest/Hardest, the difficulty level ramps up hugely, as the movement sensitivity increases to an insane level, and the game throws shapes at you like there’s no tomorrow, mixing the hardest stuff from the other levels whilst adding its own tricks. If you beat it, I take my non-existent hat off to you.

What about unlockable stuff?

When you reach 60 seconds on any given level, you reach hyper mode, where the stage changes colour and the speedometer goes off the charts, because it’s not impossible enough already. Once you’ve done that, then you’ve unlocked the hyper mode version of the level, with difficulties aptly called Hardester, Hardestest and Hardestestest. Those names are accurate, however. I’ve reached 60 seconds and beaten the first five levels, but I’m still stuck at a measly 16:38 seconds on Hexagonest hyper mode – it’s friggin’ impossible and I’m 99% sure I got THAT far by accident.

The game has been the subject of many rage quits videos on YouTube, such as this one:

For me, what’s so special about the game is that, however hard it gets, however frustrating it is that I died by *that* much, I never get angry. I just have another go, then another, and another, then before I know it, an hour’s passed. Then another hour. The soundtrack provides an incentive to try again, so I can hear another of the amazing songs again, however briefly. Then I can go grab a few friends and challenge them, try to beat their best times for each level. If you’re interested, my best times for each of the six levels currently stand at 212:42, 151:25, 64:10, 197:37, 92:00 and a pathetic 16:38, in that order. Try and beat them, or if you already have, post your own times below!

Where do I get me some Hexagon action?

The game’s available on most platforms, such as Steam, but you can also grab it DRM-free on desktop platforms from the Super Hexagon website. If you’re a fan of frustrating yet highly addictive games, outstanding music and chasing your own high scores, then this is the game for you.

-Daniel

New Force Gun! – Project Spikes 02/03

Yup, you read that correctly, there’s now a new model for the Force Gun! Not only that, but I’ve figured out how to properly make animations in Blender (because Unity’s built-in animations are terrible), and figured out how the heck Mechanim works (that’s Unity’s animation controller that blends animations for you), so the gun now comes with a much better animation system. That includes animations for picking up the gun, shooting, holding cubes, trying to pick up/shoot cubes that are out of reach, as well as an idle animation. There’s also a couple more sounds, and later I’ll be adding more particle effects.

spikes-66This is a much better model than the old one in my opinion, as it has a distinctive look and textures that continue the ‘blocky’ theme. Eventually I’ll get round to upgrading the other two guns, but it’ll take quite a bit of work, as I also need to find proper uses for them and integrate them into puzzles more.

Another pretty big feature for this update is an enhanced pause menu, which follows the theme of the newer options menu.

spikes-70For this, I lumped together a few existing scripts into one to make things easier and a bit more efficient. The Start Menu’s also had an overhaul, with a few new things added to the background, but most importantly it has a new GUI to match the new style. It looks approximately 27% more glorious than before.

spikes-71

In this update are two – yes, you heard right, TWO – new levels, both in World 2 and both with pretty unique puzzles. The first is World 2 Level 4, which features another puzzle with the Force Gun and vapourising fields. It’s pretty fun and I hope you all like it – I’m going to aim for one new level every update, although if another important feature is taking a while, then that might not be possible. There’s some new textures in this level too, which are transparent like windows, but not destructible like the others.

spikes-69The new texture can be seen on the roof here. Then there’s World 2 Level 5, which is a fun but rather difficult level in the later sections. Basically, you’re given some ice cubes, an icy runway, and you have to avoid obstacles that are dotted throughout the whole track.

spikes-72

Just look at all those obstacles! I stopped short of adding turrets too, as there’s too many hazards here already, including spiked walls (see below screenshot), vapourising fields that’ll destroy the cubes you’re using and holes in the floor, but the main addition to this level is a new type of field that harms the player rather than cubes – I call them harm fields, or hurt fields, basically any synonym for “ouch, looks like I’m dead” followed by “field”. They’re the red fields in the screenshot. There’s many ways you can get across this level, for example you could lay out a series of cubes on the floor over the fields so you don’t touch them, or just make a small runway of cubes so you can take a run then jump over them, but my favourite way to get across is to hop on the cube and shoot at it downwards, so it acts like a sledge. The floors are all icy, so you;ll need to be careful and try to go slowly, but at least I didn’t make the floor at an angle, then it would’ve been extremely difficult… *gets idea for next puzzle*.

I’ve been going back and adding small new things to older levels too, such as gravit spawners for levels that didn’t have any, more hazards and more puzzles. Just have a look at World 2 Level 2, which now has some moving spiky walls, a couple turrets and more scenery, as it was pretty bare before.

spikes-68Those same spiky walls are improved versions of the ones in World 2 Level 1, and they’ll mess you up. I mean look at them, red obviously means they’re dangerous. Back in the Hub World, to provide a better sense of scale and immersion, you’ll find some building-like scenery in the background – these buildings are supposed to be the other worlds, as the whole game is set in some sort of facility, perhaps to test ‘Project Spikes’. That opens up a possible storyline, which may be an interesting direction to take the game in. spikes-67

It’s subtle, but it does add to the general feeling of immersion, it feels a bit more like you’re in a large facility. The small room you start off in is also a tad bigger, so I’ll add some sort of bedroom or living space there later on. The boss level for World 1 looks a little different too, mainly that the exit door’s been moved to the top floor, there are spawners for cubes and gravits dotted around, and the death sequence is a bit different although I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t played it yet. Plus Squoid himself now obliterates cubes when he crashes into them, accompanied by copious amounts of particles.

There’s also many little changes, such as in W1L5 there are more boxes in one of the turret rooms, and in W1L4 the small pathway where the spike balls fall from the ceiling has been removed. All across the board, older models for cubes have been replaced for the newer ones, and I’ve used new textures to make old levels look sexier. All this basically means is you have no excuse to be not playing this update, so give it a try 🙂

The game’s also now on IndieDB to drum up a bit more support, so you may want to have a look at its page for a bit of additional info and news, or you can look at the new Twitter page for the game and help spread the word! You can then play the game at the usual places, and you can leave a comment if you have anything to say. Have fun playing!

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Project Spikes

The Actual Actual Plan. Sorry For All The Vaporware!

Okay. I swear this time, I have a plan for real. I was dawdling about at home the other day and stumbled upon a video that explained why people sometimes have trouble completing projects (much like myself). One of the main reasons was over-ambition. I thought I’d be able to make a game full of unheard-of ideas, fantastic graphical displays and bug-free gameplay. However, I found myself at a dead end when small changes to one script started to completely ruin others, forcing me to pull back some changes and eventually, I decided to put my tower defense game on hold too, for a while. I’ve gone back to the drawing board, and found an idea that works: trying to make the most basic game I can, with a super-simple graphical scheme, focusing on the gameplay and trying to make the game more entertaining and much longer. So, now I’m working a new game where the objective is to get from the spawn point to a cube located somewhere in the level, and I will slowly start to add new gameplay elements and hazards as the player progresses. It has been codenamed “Project Spike” for now, as the first and only hazard so far is the spike.

spikes-1In fact, this is the first level. Just get to the goal, simple as that. The levels do increase in complexity, and so far I have included small platforms, some of which move, which means there are some minor jumping puzzles (don’t worry, they’ll get worse. Everyone loves jumping puzzles.), as well as spikes in the later levels. They are in no way challenging, but currently they teach the player simple game mechanics that will feature later on.

spikes-2This, in contrast, is level 7, where there are many spikes and more challenging jumps and moving panels. This method of level design is actually quite a lot of fun for me, as I can place more hazards and remove them at will to find the perfect balance of fun and challenge. I plan to have more worlds, which will each feature an important new mechanic, for example turrets (which I can take from my tower defense game) and some kind of pitfall or tripwire traps. The spikes take 10 health of the player each (so two spikes together will take 20 health), but the groups of 5 spikes are an insta-kill. The player has 100 health at the beginning (which I will show graphically at some point), and 5 lives. Falling off the level is also an insta-kill, and will respawn the player at the start of the level. Losing all of your lives will eventually cause a Game Over screen to appear.

spikes-3My favourite graphical part of the game so far is actually the advance cube; I simply made a .png of a swirly cube thing (it was originally going to be simply an outline, but my hand slipped and I messed it up, but it looked cool, and this was the result of a couple minutes’ work), made a material with the transparent/cutout/diffuse shader, and this fancy-looking cube is the result (well, it’s one cube in another actually).

spikes-4

In every level you’ll also be able to find a ‘Secret’, a collectible item that should be hard to find. It’s a re-coloured advance cube, and it looks rather attractive. It’s currently not actually able to be picked up, but the locations of them won’t change, so if you find some, great going! I’ve not yet put them in every level (at the time of writing, there are only actually two), but they will be in every level at some point.

Most importantly, I actually worked out how to make a Unity Web Player build of the game and host it through my Dropbox, so you can try it out right now hereCurrently, there really is not much to see, but I will be adding many more levels over the coming weeks, and perhaps I will actually get this project done!