Power Surge ~ Ludum Dare 39 (Running out of Power)

Game: Power Surge
Event: Ludum Dare 39
Platforms: Windows (planned to be expanded soon)
Source Available

Last weekend was everyone’s favourite orgy of sleep-deprived video game development. That’s right, Ludum Dare rolled up in town once more and I couldn’t resist taking part. This time round it kinda crept up on me as I wasn’t aware it was happening until a couple of days prior, but luckily I was free to take part.

The theme for this one was “Running out of Power”, which, of course, spawned several games about electrical power. I’m one of the unoriginal people who did the same thing. Introducing, Power Surge!

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The premise for this game is rather simple – the main generator’s output is slowly falling, and it’s your job to operate three different power generation stations to keep those sweet, sweet kilowatts flowing. Those three power generators each constitute a minigame requiring different kinds of mouse control.

Wind Turbine

The first game involves spinning an eco-friendly wind turbine round by rapidly spinning your mouse around it. So far, the feedback on the Ludum Dare website has been praising the graphical style, especially the background scenery. The depth of field effect emphasises the focal element of the scene, i.e. the turbine at the front of the scene – @maybelaterx says it’s “low poly done very well, and the depth-focus made it all the better”.

However, he also says “I would have liked more feedback on wind power generation”, due to the indirect nature of how the turbine reacts to your input, Rather than spin 1:1 with your mouse input, a torque is added proportional to the amount of spinning you do. That means it’s sluggish to start up and resists slowing down. During the competition, I aimed for the latter effect but did not want the former; I was unable to get the mechanic working satisfactorily in time and decided to move on rather than spend too much time on it.

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Coal Power

The next game gets you to tear down walls of coal by clicking them with your imaginary pickaxe. Gameplay-wise, this has been the most popular game so far – @thesand says “I really enjoyed the coal mining, there was something [satisfying] about it” and @loktor remarks “I liked the mining part the most :)”. I’m inclined to agree, since I spent far too long mindlessly clicking through the mine while developing and testing the game. It’s the game I spent the most time on, and I believe it shows in the final product – it’s the mode with the fewest gameplay issues.

I think its enjoyability stems from the same vein as games like Cookie Clicker and almost every RPG ever; there’s something psychologically pleasing to watching a number increase because of your actions. It’s a form of operant conditioning – a Skinner box – which is a widely-used psychological phenomenon used to make games more addictive.

This game also requires refinement, however. @thesand “clicked every single coal until [they were] 100 meters down”. Clearly, I need to mention that you can just click and drag over coal to mine it! Even better, I may make it so you merely have to mouse over a coal piece to mine it to avoid causing players muscle strain, or at least include that as the default option.

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Nuclear Power Station

Personally, I think this is the weakest of the three games. It’s the final one I developed and I think you can tell it had the least time put into it. All you have to do is click the inactive uranium sticks to make them glow again. On the left-hand side of the UI, there are eight bars that show how depleted each stick is. Unfortunately, I also forgot to modify the “tutorial” for this minigame; while the other two games have messages that appear when you are inactive for 5 seconds to nudge you into the correct action, this one has the message for the Wind Turbine minigame copied over by mistake, as you can see in the above screenshot.

This caused some confusion. @thesand “didn’t really understand the nuke power”, mostly due to the incorrect tutorial information, while @maybelaterx deciphered how to play the game but thought it was “by far the easiest”. This minigame, more than the other two, would benefit from a more difficult mechanic. Given it is a nuclear power station, a higher level of difficulty also makes thematic sense. @maybelaterx suggested that I “could make it more challenging by focusing on the precision of the task, maybe disposing and replacing the rod without touching any of the other rods”. I think this is the kind of gameplay I’ll aim for in my post-competition version.

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General feedback

Each of the minigames is a source of shiny gems, which currently act as a points system. Problem is, they don’t do anything apart from sit there on the UI. While the effect is nice – they rotate, with a black border drawing attention to them – they don’t have a practical use, and a few players picked up on this. @wevel “wasn’t quite sure what the gems where for, other than a score system” and @loktor “didn’t really get what the gems were for” either. What I’d like to do is implement a sort of shop for them, so you can buy upgrades for your power generators. I’m not sure what for the upgrades will take yet, but they will likely involve faster energy generation or increased energy caps (each game produces a maximum of 360kW right now).

@milano23 hit the nail on the head though – he “liked the different games” but thought they “became tedious after a while”. I agree. They don’t have much depth (apart from the Coal Mine, it literally has a depth counter) so it’s difficult to invest in each of the minigames. What they really need is a hook – a reason to keep coming back.

This game might work better as a mobile game that you only need to visit for 5 minutes every few hours. It mirrors pretty well how a game like Magikarp Jump works; in that game, I spent a couple of minutes every now and then just hoovering up berries that had spawned and doing my three rounds of training. I’d just need a reason for the player to want to keep their power flowing.

What I’ve learned

Low-poly 3D models have rapidly become my aesthetic of choice, with visually-pleasing results. It’s a style I adopted for my Ludum Dare 37 game, Chemical Chaos, and continued for my last game, Aerochrome. While it was mostly a necessity for LD37 since I wanted to try 3D and didn’t have the time to make high-poly assets, it was a conscious choice for this game jam. I think it’s a style I’ll try to develop in my next few games, too.

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I’ve also learned that focusing on a small number of simple games tends to lead to better results in game jams than focusing on a single large idea or more complex minigames. Chemical Chaos also had three different minigames, but they tended to be too complex, especially Flame Test. If I’m to do a similar compilation of smaller games, they each need to have simple and obvious control schemes and rules with immediate and tangible feedback – that’s why Wind Turbine and Nuclear Power Station were harder to understand than Coal Mine.

I think this game has a solid foundation and most of the work to be done is refining the gameplay and expanding the feature set – adding a shop, for example. Apart from that, most of my effort for the post-competition version will be adding detail to the environments.

If you took part in Ludum Dare, do give my game a go and leave some feedback when voting – I’ll try to get around to playing as many games as I can too. If you didn’t take part in Ludum Dare this time around, feedback would be appreciated anyway, even if you can’t vote!

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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.

Chemical Chaos ~ Ludum Dare 37 (One Room)

It’s been over a week since the last Ludum Dare competition ended. This time round, the theme was ‘One Room’, so naturally I made a game about a bunch of chemistry experiments that you have to run around and keep going. This decision was somewhat motivated by the fact that everyone I’ve ever talked to loved chemistry at school and would do anything to do a titration again. After all, knowing your market is half of the battle in game development.

The idea I was going for was a game where the player would be constantly running around, getting one experiment in working order, to find that another couple are starting to fail. It’d ideally be a very hectic game made up of several really easy minigames. For maximum effect, I’d need to create quite a few different experiments; however, I only had enough time to make three to a decent level of completion. I’d also have liked more time to polish some of the game’s aspects, mainly some smaller details like particle effects and other signposting to make it easier to see the status of experiments from afar.

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Don’t ask why it turns from blue to red.

The first experiment was a distillation – in real life, you do this experiment to separate some liquid from a solution (you probably used it to purify water in school). The controls are simple – just mash the mouse buttons or controller shoulder buttons to turn down the temperature, as shown by the thermometer. When this experiment fails – when the thermometer is full – there’s a large explosion for no apparent reason.

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The most important part of development – particle effects.

There’s a couple things I’d like to improve about this minigame. First of all, the apparatus should probably start to smoke and rattle around a bit as it’s getting close to exploding. And on the subject of explosions, I think the explosion needs to have more impact – sure, all the equipment goes flying and there’s a bit of fire, but I might add more flames that stay alight for a while on the table, and possibly violent screenshake when the explosion actually happens. On the plus side, I was very happy with the ‘reaction cam’ that pops up in the corner when an experiment fails.

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John is the best video game character this year.

The second experiment was the good old sodium-in-water one, which as we all know, causes fire. The gameplay for this one involves pressing left click/LB to decrease the amount of sodium and potassium that materialises above John, the water tank, and right click/RB to spawn more. If he gets too little metal, he’ll get bored and will fall to sleep and if he gets too much, he’ll get scared then eventually die. Please try not to kill John.

There are a couple of problems in this screenshot – first of all, the sodium blocks sort of clip through the bottom of John instead of bursting into flames on the surface of the water, something I didn’t catch happening before submission. I’m also confused what may have caused it as I touched none of the relevant code for this between getting the feature working and submission. Secondly, the instructions for this experiment are incorrect, as I seem to have put up the instructions for experiment 1 instead; this was probably just an oversight. They’re both easy-to-fix problems, but they could have easily been avoided.

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I’ve left my mixtape in all three of these Bunsen burners.

The third and final experiment is the Flame Test, which tasks you with carrying different elements into three flames. Each flame expects the element that makes it burn in a particular colour, as dictated by the chart next to the Bunsen burners and the base of each burner. All other elements go in the bin; if you’re too slow trashing elements, you’ll fail the game, and if you put the incorrect element in a flame, that flame will go out and losing all flames results in failure too.

In hindsight, I should have made the Bunsen burners explode when you get things wrong. It’s basically the only thing wrong with this minigame.

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For the flame test minigame, I invented new elements so I could make more interesting flame colours. There’s a line of posters along the wall with short descriptions of them all. Given how long it took me to think up the new element types and make posters and models for each of them, I would have liked to make more games that utilise them all, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time. One game idea I had was a solution-mixing table, which had a bunch of coloured solutions and you had to make the requested colour. However, it’s not really an experiment that’s easy to make hectic and if you’ve ever dealt with transition metal ions yourself, you’d know that this type of colour change chemistry can be a little complex. For the two people that got that tortured chemistry pun, I’ll see myself out.

I was, however, pleased with how the game came out graphically. The only issue I had was trying to make a roof and windows; doing that messed up the lighting, and any amount of time trying to work out Unity’s area lights and baked global illumination seemed to be wasted in the end.

You can give the game a go by visiting the Ludum Dare page, where you can vote if you took part in the competition, or directly on my Google Drive.

Shifting Dungeons ~ Ludum Dare 35 (Shapeshift)

This weekend was the thrice-annual Ludum Dare game jam. The rules for the competition are simple: working alone, you must create all game assets yourself and come up with a complete game in 48 hours to abide by a predetermined theme. There’s also a more relaxed ‘jam’ version, with a 72-hour time limit, in which you may work in teams and use assets from online, but because I must be a masochist I entered the competition version for the fifth time in a row. These game jams are a bit of a habit now!

The theme is voted on by the community beforehand in several phases (and is almost always terrible), so this time we got stuck with ‘Shapeshift’. Immediately the idea of shape-shifting dungeons came into my head, because I’ve been hanging out with people obsessed with making Mystery Dungeon-like games for far too long (James, I blame you. Unless you’re a different James, then carry on with your day). I’ve basically made a dungeon crawler-meets-my Ludum Dare 32 entry, but it has a twist!

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I tried making the art look pretty. I think it worked?

In some tile-based dungeon crawlers, such as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, players and enemies move simultaneously each turn. However, to avoid having to create a tile-based turn system, I’ve allowed players and enemies full 360-degree movement. To keep things somewhat ‘simultaneous’, enemy and bullet speeds are tied to the player speed. Think 2D SUPERHOT. This allows the player to stop for a moment and think: do I shoot the enemy’s bullet down before it hits me, or move to the side and shoot them directly? It’s the closest analogue to a turn system I could think of in a continuous game other than each character moving in turns of, say, five seconds each. Which would have sucked.

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I also added a couple of powerups for the player, and had planned more that got cut due to time constraints. Currently, there’s the axe powerup, which turns the player into a massive slab of metal on a stick that ups attacking power massively and increases defense. There’s also a slime powerup that turns you into an amorphous blob (in the style of Dragon Quest’s slimes) and lets you shoot bullets that slow enemies (or, well, they would if they weren’t bugged in the release version). That brings me to the next feature: bugs!

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The second dungeon, Glacial Rift. Shame that a bug prevented reaching it.

In the release version of the game, there were three dungeons. However, because of a wonderful bug on the lowest floor of the first dungeon, you can’t access the other two – the player won’t move once you reach that floor. It’s a bug that took 5 seconds to find, one line to correct and was stupidly introduced right before submission – I immediately knew what I did wrong but hadn’t thought to check whether the stuff I added would have any negative consequences. In short, I’m an idiot when I’m sleep-deprived. Above is a screenshot from the second dungeon, Glacial Rift, albeit taken after submission (I’ve been working on the game a bit since the deadline). There are a few smaller bugs related to combat, but they’ve mostly been figured out and weren’t too disastrous.

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The character select screen was one of the first things I fully implemented.

I had to abandon a couple of planned features, too. Originally, there were set to be more powerups – the Drill, American Footballer and Super Magician. The drill powerup would have let you tunnel through walls, while the footballer would have granted you a powerful charge attack that lets you vault through enemies at high speed. Transforming into the super magician would have given you a cape and made your magic attacks stronger, faster and larger. I also didn’t get time to implement all the little flourishes I wished to put into the game – there are no particles (a disgrace, I know!) or death animations for either the player or enemies. The screenshake is also a bit weak in places – I’ll probably increase the strength when enemies die. On the graphical side, I wanted to have a few more character customisation options, but at least that system was working entirely. I’d also planned a couple more varieties of dungeon theme, like City, Forest or Volcano, but I’m happy with the two that made it through (Temple and Ice).

I’ve already got a ton of notes written down for how I’d improve this game, and that’s just what I’m in the process of doing. I’ll have an updated version up soon! In the meantime, you can play the game on the Ludum Dare website! Just clicky da box below. Voting is still taking place, so if you also made a game for Ludum Dare 35, I’d really appreciate it if you voted for my game and left feedback!

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Slower Than Sound ~ Ludum Dare 34 – Two Button Controls / Growing

I’m not even going to pretend this post is supposed to be on time. Ludum Dare 34 happened on December 11th-14th, which means voting is already well and truly over and I’m just terrible with getting these posts up in time. Oh well, we’re here now, so it’s time to get started!

The theme for this one was *somehow* a tie between Two Button Controls and Growing. Since I wanted to cover both bases (not required as participants were allowed to choose just one theme), my original plan for my game featured both, although I settled for just Two Buttons in the end because of the huge time constraints. My game features two spaceships that shoot at each other (similar to Faster Than Light, hence the horrifyingly bad title), trying to target the other ship’s weapons. Both ships are able to shield each of their weapons temporarily in the hope that they’d be able to block out incoming enemy bullets. The game is turn-based, so one player attacks while the other defends.

The Two-Button part comes in with switching between weapons; on your attacking turn, you press Q to toggle which of your weapons you wish to fire, and E to fire the current weapon. On your defending turn (the enemy’s attack turn), you similarly press Q to toggle the selected weapon, and press E to raise its shield temporarily.

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The game is a bit buggy, but at least it’s pretty.

The original plan had you navigating through space on some world map using Q and E to turn left and right, flying forward automatically and trying to get to the next galaxy while avoiding asteroids. However, I didn’t have enough time to even attempt that part. In that version, you would trigger battles randomly, with enemies getting stronger as you progress. You would also be able to visit shops in order to upgrade your ship and buy more weapons; the annoying thing is that I had the code in place to add more weapons to your ship, but I couldn’t showcase it properly because the game crashes on level 2 (I eventually made the game just a series of 10 ships you have to fight, gaining weapons some levels).

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I also liked the effect of blown-up ships.

What started off as a pretty ambitious project got somewhat out of hand as I spent too long on the art. I’m pleased with how the game looks, but I wish I’d had all the key gameplay features nailed first of all. This Ludum Dare entry was the antithesis of how I usually work; this one sacrificed features for looks, while for example, my Ludum Dare 32 entry, I Will Be Happy, did well due to its simplistic graphical style and focus on gameplay. In the future, it seems I’ll be making sure I shift most of my attention on the gameplay. That said, I’m happy with the graphics – the stars look very nice as they scroll in the background and the ships, despite their minimalist look, are pretty pleasing to look at (if I do say so myself of course, I’m always modest, me).

I also didn’t rate enough other Ludum Dare games for mine to get any rating, although it was good fun making this entry. Here’s to the next Ludum Dare in April, hopefully I’ll do better next time round!

If you’d like to give it a go, you can try it out on the Ludum Dare website – there’s a link on there somewhere. Have fun and don’t get too confused – the game is a bit messy so I’d like to clean it up a little at some point.

Fuzzy Horde ~ Ludum Dare 33 – You Are the Monster

[Play the game at Ludum Dare]
[Watch a timelapse video of its development]

This weekend was the 33rd iteration of the three-times-yearly Ludum Dare competition. Participants spend a couple of weeks submitting, slaughtering and ultimately picking themes, until one single theme is left. That theme gets announced and then developers have 48 hours to make a game based on that theme, or 72 for the Jam version. For the competition, you must work solo and develop all assets during the 48 hours (it’s pretty brutal), while the Jam lets you use pre-made assets and work in teams. I’m obviously hardcore so for the third time, I entered the competition. In true me-style, my monsters were not towering, huge world-eaters, nor were they creepy undead beings. No, they were cute fuzzballs instead.

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These cute little fuzzballs, called Fuzzies, are your minions.

Fuzzy Horde: A reverse tower defence game

The basic idea behind the game is that you’re in a tower defence game, but you play as the waves of monsters. It’s an idea I’d really like to flesh out and refine, because I haven’t seen it very much elsewhere. Your Fuzzies live under the rule of Lord Fuzzbon, and the aim is to make it past the Raiders’ defences in order to steal the treasure. Y’know, because I definitely didn’t forget to put the treasure sprites at the end of the level. In response to some of the criticisms of my previous Ludum Dare entry, I made this one a lot harder (maybe too hard, but everyone loves a challenge, right?) and there’s no confusion about ammo, because there is no ammo (the purple variety of Fuzzy – Ballistic Fuzzy – can shoot, but has infinite ammo). I think this entry falls short of the previous one in terms of art; although I prefer the individual pieces of art in Fuzzy Horde, I feel like I Will Be Happy had a much more full and well-rounded world in terms of its art direction.

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Textures are more detailed and larger than I Will Be Happy, but there are fewer of them.

At the start of each wave, you are given a quota of Fuzzies and can freely place them on a 6×6 grid. This allows you some degree of freedom with your tactics – maybe I send in my TNT Fuzzies first to blow the crap out of the turrets, or maybe my Eaty Fuzzies should go first and soak up the some bullets while I shoot with my Ballistic Fuzzies from a distance. Once the wave has started, you control all Fuzzies simultaneously; moving left moves all Fuzzies left, and attacking with one Fuzzy means you’re attacking with all of them. This means you’ll need to watch out when using TNT Fuzzies to make sure you don’t blow holes in your base when you only meant to shoot with a Ballistic Fuzzy. The movement setup opens up some interesting tactics, such as leaving some barriers intact so that some Fuzzies can walk into it and let others go on ahead.

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What even is a tutorial?

Once you’ve deployed your Fuzzies, you’ll be tasked with avoiding and destroying various turrets placed along the way between Fuzzy Base and the treasure, which is definitely there at the end of the level. There’s two kinds of turret – one that casts a blue search laser and shoots the instant it sees a Fuzzy with a short cooldown afterwards, and one that locks onto a Fuzzy from far away and shoots if it stays locked on for long enough. There are also landmines that blow up a Fuzzy the moment it walks into its explosion radius. Sometimes it’s a useful strategy to walk into the mines with an Eaty Fuzzy so you can rush ahead with hordes of TNT Fuzzies next wave and not have to worry about more valuable Fuzzies being destroyed. Besides, Eaty Fuzzies are disposable.

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You only have a limited number of waves to steal the treasure.

You have 16 waves of Fuzzies at your disposal, with later waves generally gaining more Fuzzies to work with, and the aim is to steal the treasure while ensuring the Raiders have the lowest score possible; Raiders earn points for every Fuzzy they kill and every intact turret they have at the end. I’d really like to build upon this idea in many ways, first of all by improving the level design and adding more varieties of Fuzzy. I’d have Armoured Fuzzies that move slow but have high health, Fast Fuzzies that run quickly, Barrier Fuzzies that act as a blockade to hold some Fuzzies back – the potential variety is endless. I’d also have more enemy types, as the turrets feel pretty generic – maybe if I could find a way to add some kind of personality to the turrets somehow, perhaps by having Raider characters who act functionally like turrets, I could then flesh out the story surrounding the Fuzzy-Raider rivalry and explain why both sides want the treasure so much. I’d also put a lot more effort into the sound design, especially since there is such a lack of audio in this version (I did have a bunch of voice recordings for the Fuzzies, but I ran out of time to properly implement them).

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I also need to improve the logo.

While I’m away thinking up ideas for improving the competition version, you can play and rate the mostly-coherent masterpiece (ahaha) on the Ludum Dare site. Check out all the other games entered in the competition too – after all, they’re all free and there’s bound to be a lot of talent! You can also see the timelapse video I made using Chronolapse of almost the whole 48 hours, minus sleep and breaks, condensed into 11 minutes.

Ludum Dare 32 – An Unconventional Weapon

At the weekend was the latest iteration of the three-times-yearly competition Ludum Dare, in which participants have 48 hours (or an extra 24 for the Jam version) to make a game entirely from scratch, with all assets and code being made by participants in the time limit. This time around, the theme was “An Unconventional Weapon”, so naturally I chose a gun that fires hugs, love and affection.

i_will_be_happy_3This is NOT what you want to wake up to on a Monday morning.

The story of the game is that you’re in a city full of overly-negative inhabitants, and you’re sick to the back teeth of hearing their sulky, albeit comically-high-pitched, comments. You decide it’s high time someone put a stop to this madness, and you strut into the city centre with your arsenal of happiness-inducing munitions.

i_will_be_happy_4The shotgun is SOOOO satisfying when you hit loads of enemies at once.

You have five guns to hand, each with slightly different mechanics – one fires a single hug, while one is a shotgun that blasts a cone of affection in the face of enemies. The Rainbow Blast is your get-out-of-jail-free card, as it eliminates most enemies in all directions in a flurry of colour, but only has two shots. My favouite part of the game is the voice acting – I just recorded myself saying stuff in the very highest voice I could muster, then stuck it in Audacity and pitch-shifted it even higher, resulting in the Worms-meets-Croc kind of voice in my game.

The character select was another cool feature too. Rather than the player be forced to choose one single (probably straight white male) character, I opted for a way to let players have at least some choice I how the player looks, and made the enemies’ appearances choose randomly from these colours too. All people in the game are also somewhat gender-neutral too, as they are way too featureless to really have a gender, however I may add options for hair or hats in the pot-competition version.

i_will_be_happy_1What started out as procrastination turned into a feature.

Hitting enemies with weapons felt pretty responsive, with a satisfying ‘bang’ sound and some screen shake. The enemies’ quotes did get annoying at times as there were too many things being said at once, although this could be helped by introducing a variety of new sounds and controlling when enemies speak in a different way.

There are many things I will add and change for a post-competition version –  first of all, I’ll introduce enemies that try and shoot you with hate. One thing players seemed to notice is that the game is too easy, and enemies that shoot back will totally help with that. Another thing is that the enemies seem to congregate on top of each other, but the game would work better if they formed a horde of pessimistic city-goers.

There’s a few other features I’ll add to make the game a bit more varied too – combos, more scenery, new weapons – but I’ll try and focus on fixing the problems in the competition version first of all. You can play I Will Be Happy on the Ludum Dare website. If you participated, then please vote and feel free to leave comments, ideas and criticism!