iPad game LineBloom created at DinoJAM

This past Saturday and Sunday I had the fortune of attending the second ever DinoJAM. This event was co-hosted by Emily Daniels and Darren Torpey at the DINO/Sprout space in Davis Square. Right after wrapping up at 3d Stimulus Day, made my way up to Somerville to make some games.

This is what I came up with (made in Unity):

It definitely translates well to the iPad touch screen. Just draw lines and they appear. It feels pretty fluid, but the low framerate video capture doesn’t convey that very well.

Thanks to Lawrence Lee for the epic music – Berkeley musicians make some good stuff quick! Props to the game jam musicians out there.

Congrats to the other attendees for making some seriously cool stuff. Great games/projects all around , and thanks for live-tweeting (@demiurgestudios @acosmos @jdemond @emdaniels @darrentorpey @davidludwig @boodooperson)

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MIT BiG – Postmortem

Yesterday was quite a crazy and eventful day. As day one of my 4-day birthday weekend, I attended the MIT Business in Gaming Conference. That’s right, my idea of a fun and relaxing day off involves attending a business conference.

I signed up for BiG with moderate expectations. Having been an alum of last year’s event, I knew partially what to expect from this conference. MIT’s Sloan E51 building set a formal jacket and slacks mood, but the 2010 rendition gave a much better networking environment with it being hosted at the Microsoft NERD Center. Also, when compared to last year, the session content was much more varied and applicable to my own interests as a game developer and (future?) entrepreneur, though the value for me ended up being the time nestled between sessions and after the closing keynote. I’m pretty sure most long time conference goers would agree with me on that one in most cases.

A *LOT* of talk, both in-session and out, revolved around social games, Facebook, and free-to-play monetization. This isn’t surprising considering many people believe these trends are ‘the next big thing’ in gaming. I’ll leave my commentary on the social game phenomenon for another post.

The sessions were structured in four separate time blocks, with two concurrent sessions during each block, not including keynotes. I attended only 2.5 out of four session blocks, as I ended up in a circle of people chatting feverishly about Unity for the length of an entire session. We were getting so rowdy that we were asked to move out of the main booth area due to our disruption. Sorry guys! It is worth mentioning, however, that those glass-doored rooms could use better soundproofing. During one of the sessions, all I could hear was the repeating slide whistle sound effect from the robotic demonstration.

As far as session highlights, searching twitter for the #mitbig hashtag is the best way to soak up the quality one-liners from the conference. One quote that comes to mind was from local dev Eitan Glinert who, when asked about VC money, said to a panel of venture capitalists: “I wish I hadn’t wasted my time applying for VC funding. I could have watched a good movie. Chewing gum is a better use of your time than meeting with VC’s”. Alexander Sliwinski summed that session’s vibe with his tweet “MITBig’s How to Build & Launch a Gaming Startup is good, mostly ’cause Eitan Glinert (Fire Hose Games) isn’t afraid to drop truth hammers.” Well said, brother.

Between sessions, I talked with many old friends and met some interesting new ones. Strengthening loose contacts always feels great, especially when you remember arcane details of a previous conversation with said person (from the depths of your dusty mind) and surprise them with this knowledge, or vice-versa. Lots of talk about games, business, life, apartments… which reminds me: I invited so many people over to my new apartment in Watertown (once I’m completely moved in) that I almost don’t remember who I extended a dinner offer to! If you’re reading this, you’re officially invited over for a wonderful night of fine dining, games, and a heaping helping of hospitality. No really, creepy stalker dude, you’re invited too… just don’t get all handsy.

After the ending keynote by eastcoaster now westcoaster Steve Meretzky, the regular conference came to a close, after announcing the raffle winners. I was lucky enough to win a Roboni programmable robot in the BiG raffle and am still trying to figure out how to put this bad boy to use.

Roboni

Roboni

From there, most of the attendees shot up to the 11th floor to attend the NE Games SIG’s conference reception (partay). Jon Radoff gave a well-presented speech / pep talk to the Boston game dev community to kick off the night. A bunch of non-conference attendees showed up to the after-party and great food was provided. Plus one for the NERD center for being one of the only venues where drink selection ranges from beer to chocolate milk. After a few hours, Scott started to rally a few people to head over to CBC to grab a drink. I’m not quite sure why, but whenever someone suggests heading to CBC I’m always initially reluctant but once I arrive and get into it, I have a great time.

The beer tower

Beer tower at CBC

Hats off to the BiG organizers and Microsoft for getting this thing off the ground. They put up some conference pics over on their Facebook page. I had a great time all around. Time to sort these business cards.

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February Boston Post Mortem

I’m just now finding time to write up some thoughts on Tuesday’s Post Mortem. What a great send-off to Yilmaz, who is returning to Turkey on February 14th. Scott Macmillan gave a great little speech about Yilmaz being sorely missed in the community. It’s definitely true, and good to see how quickly both he and I were welcomed into the Boston community after moving to the area not long ago.

Seeing the 3 site’s Global Game Jam games was really a great subject for a talk. Lots of interesting ideas and some great execution. Special thumbs up to the Quest for Stick group and Morgan Quirk’s excellent Flixel game. Some serious talent there and at every site. I’m REALLY impressed by this years GGJ turnout.

It goes without saying that I owe a great thanks to Scott Macmillan and Darius Kazemi as well as Les and the other BPM organizers for allowing Yilmaz and I to speak at the Post Mortem and to bore the crowd with images of ramen, cats, and energy drinks. A fun time all around.

The Skellig was packed once again, and Elliott Mitchell was kind enough to send me some pictures he snapped during the event. I’d guess the turnout was in the 150 range, which is surprising for a non-sponsored talk.

I’m posting the slides here in case anyone is interested.

Cheers, and I look forward to the next one.

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RunRunRunJump

Our Global Game Jam game RunRunRunJump has been deployed as a web playable version! You can play the game here:

http://gtproductions.net/projects/runrunrunjump/

Also, the theme music is now available for download :) Grab it here:

http://gtproductions.net/projects/runrunrunjump/Runrunrunjump_music.mp3

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24 hour iPhone game – The Extreme Ramen Challenge

Update:

Super Ramen BROTHers is on the App Store!

Get it at: http://bit.ly/superramen


As a fun new years gift to the community, my friend Yilmaz Kiymaz and I decided to create an iPhone game. We thought it would be fun to ask the community what *they* wanted to see in a game. We also thought it would be interesting to see if we could pull off a game from start to finish in 24 hours. So we, being the crazy people that we are, thought “Sure, why not?”. This is how it all began.

3:30pm [1/1/2010] – We posted the initial call for designs from the community. We set some ground rules for the ‘contest’, made ramen versions of ourselves (and my cat), and posted away.

[Posted by GTJuggler]
24 hour iPhone game - Extreme Ramen Challenge

We're making an iPhone game, starting at 6:30pm EST today.
The design will be based around one word: 'Absurdity'

You're the designer. Go.

Official Rules:

  1. Post directly in this thread using the example template seen in the following post.
  2. Game concept must follow the general theme of 'absurdity'. For examples of absurd game pitches see Offroad Velociraptor Safari or Enviro-Bear 2010.
  3. This means the idea should not be a direct photocopy of a preexisting game.
  4. Due to the 24 hour nature, game scope (or the complexity of the game) must be limited. Please do not pitch your awesome RPG / futuristic hybrid racing MMO today.
  5. We will be choosing an idea that has a proper mix of the following adjectives: Crazy, fun, silly, compact, horrible, ingenious, and weird.
  6. Anyone is eligible to post their ideas
  7. Game concept does not need to stick to a PG or G rating. Feel free to express yourself.
  8. Attach any concept art to the post (purely optional but will increase chances... (of being made fun of for using MS Paint))

Brought to you by Alex Schwartz (GTJuggler) and Yilmaz Kiymaz (VoxelBoy), developers of iPhone games SpringFling and Rocket Monkey.

This contest is fueled by Ramen, Bawls energy drinks, and the Unity engine.

Here's a picture of the developers:



3:30pm [1/1/2010] – After the initial post, we received some cool ideas, some completely insane. Here are a few:


[quote from Spidey146]
You are a plumber trying to fix pipes, which mysteriously keep breaking, to direct some dumps which people are taking in different apartements so that they land in the ummmmm compacter, along the way there are bugs, like giant dung beetles and cockroaches, and animals like skunks and cats which try to eat the scat, so you have to make sure not to send the crap at them.


[quote by Sailor Jensen]
Game name: Super Ramen BROTHers
Short game concept: Your ramen brethren are being sold at the supermarket, like slaves. Stop the ramen packages from getting past the cashier's conveyor belt by swiping away any and all ramen that comes by. The fate of your kind is at stake.

I love this idea and name! What about if instead you are the Ramen BROTHers and you have to keep from bing scanned by jumping over food and house items being rung up, and each item rung up gets you points. If you hit an item it gets knocked off and you get knocked back a little. If you get knocked back to far you get rung up and bagged. They are seperate so you click either one to make them jump. The only way to make up for being knocked back is by collecting soy sauce packets that randomly appear coming down the conveyer. Every now and then the cats head pops up and lets you know a paw will try and swipe you soon (which you have to jump as well) The soy sauce can only be consumed by one brother so you may have to avoid it with the first so the second can get it. This would be a run and jump side view game.


[quote by sunenun]
Game name: Go Go Ramen Bowl!

Short game concept: You are an ingenius chef for a new crazy Ramen restaurant. But the restaurant is in such a cramped, compact space you must find ingredients in the weird field next door! Grab fun food ingredients before the timer runs out! Put them in your ramen but make sure each ingredient has something in common with the one you just put in. Your patrons will love your silly recipes. Shoes? Tennis balls? Whales? Sure! But careful! The wrong sequence makes your meal taste horrible.

Design notes: Top view, touch based input. Two phase game. First phase you appear in a field with icons and obstacles viewable on the landscape. Swipe in any direction to run along picking up ingredients. In the second phase you have all collected ingredients available. There is a starter ingredient listed. Pick the ingredients so that the next ingredient matches color, number, or type of the previous ingredient. For example, a "Fish Ramen!" might start with Fish, add in a Blue Whale (both swim in the ocean), then a Blue Sweater, then a pair of Mittens, then a Kitten (rhymes).

6:30pm [1/1/2010] – We decided to go with Sailor Jensen’s game about Ramen Brothers (an extension of our example game idea), due to many factors. The idea fit the ‘absurd’ theme, scope was low enough that we believed we could pull it off in under 24 hours, and the art asset list that the game demanded was somewhat reasonable compared to the other ideas. Also it had no IP restrictions or other features which would prevent it from being App Store material. We chose the idea and posted a second major update.


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Thanks for the entries! We have chosen an idea (an amalgamation of Sailor Jensen's ideas and the conveyor belt part from the sample idea).

Here is our game design:
You and your brother (Super Ramen BROTHers) are running on the treadmill-like surface of the cashier's conveyor belt, trying to avoid getting scanned. Camera view is 3rd person. You have to either jump or avoid oncoming food items. If you are hit, you get knocked back a notch, closer to the scanner and your eventual doom. If you happen to gather a soy sauce packet, you get moved forward a notch. There are 3 lanes and the characters can move from lane to lane with a simple lateral swipe. Jumps are executed with a vertical swipe.

Suggestions, changes, additions, comments, and angry remarks are all welcome. Well, it's time to get coding!

9:05pm [1/1/2010] – When our first of many development updates was ready, we promptly posted. Note that this first development update mentions a special guest artist, Fluxist8070. This is Matt Board, local Boston indie, gamer, 3d art teacher, and all around great guy. I contacted him at 8pm, fully aware that asking him if he wanted to do a marathon art session was both absurd and showed a frightening lack of preparation. Amazingly, he accepted and was ecstatic about the idea. To quote Matt, after making the call to action via email, “Heck Yeah! Let me know what you need and you can consider it made!”. How about that! Here’s the first development update:


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Development Update 1
================
* Our special guest artist (Fluxist8070) is hard at work on a character model (ramen package)
* Yilmaz is building the code base. We have objects spawning randomly and moving on a conveyor belt (aka a grey box moving on a grey plane). Whee
* Alex is working on a main menu. Screenshot below:

As always, suggestions are more than welcome. They are required.... at gun point.

12:01am [1/2/2010] – January 2nd has reared its ugly head and we’re deep into development. A forum member has a 1-line suggestion:

[Quote by TouchChatterbox]
Mortal Kombat with Toasty.

We decide this is a great idea so we begin thinking about a way to include a MK-style “Toasty” effect in our game.

1:48am [1/2/2010] – Things are coming along and we post the second 2nd development update, this time with a video.


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Development Update 2
=================

  • We have a HUD design (see below)
  • Character design is complete (see below)
  • Animations partially done
  • Gameplay 40% complete code-wise

Gameplay WIP Video 1
http://gtproductions.net/projects/24houriPhone/prototype_v1.mov

1:57am [1/2/2010] – Responses from the community have so far been positive, but once we started the development updates, people were really getting excited. Posts like this one by Negamaki really kept us going through the night:

[quote by Negamaki]
Wow, you weren't clowning around! It's great to see the idea coming together so nicely already! YOU CAN DO IT!!!

2:33am [1/2/2010] – We decide to ignore some other community comments, such as this one:

[quote by TouchChatterbox]
What about some near-tentacle porn only to reveal the breasts belong to a Japanese businessman drunkeningly singing karaoke in the supermarket with ramen noodles on his head? That would be a good pre menu animation! :-p

4:20am [1/2/2010] – Matt Board comes back with a sweet ramen character model with animations (around 3am) and we implement the animations. Our third development update is as follows:


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Development Update 3
================

We have the character in and animating!

Video:
http://gtproductions.net/projects/24houriPhone/prototype_v2.mov

10:26am [1/2/2010] – Our next update occurs as the morning light shines in our bloodshot eyes. Beth Beinke returns from work (night shift) and makes two props for our conveyor belt. Thanks to Beth for her help with the art! Development update 4 covers the new working menu system, with a two-second shot of the game screen. Things are starting to get interesting and reality hits hard with only 8 hours to go.


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Development Update 4
================

We're getting quite sleepy. With 8 hours left, we feel about as tired as Link, the cat.

The energy drinks are starting to lose effect and morale is drowning in thoughts of warm blankets and naps. But we have a third video, now showing the final menu. Yes, we'll have online high score boards using AGON. Check it out.

Prototype video 3 - Menus
http://gtproductions.net/projects/24...ototype_v3.mov

Edit: Let me know if anyone else has problems with these quicktime files.

12:26pm [1/2/2010] – Suggestions on new game ideas and new game modes continue to stream in long after it is plausible for implementation. We don’t crush their souls by shooting them down. Instead we let them stream in and stick to our plan, drafted only 18 hours before. Development update 5 brings a screenshot of the near-final game scene and updates on music/other items.


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Development Update 5
===============

  • An old band member of Matt's has volunteered to do music. Six hours left!
  • Dual player movement is working sans touchscreen input
  • Splash screen + icon are being rendered/painted
  • We have 9 grocery store items for the conveyer belt. This will probably be the final amount for the 24 hour game, as the art asset creation is becoming too time consuming

Also, a quick screenshot showing the hud in place:

The aisle eleven symbol in the hud also doubles as a pause symbol.

4:06pm [1/2/2010] – Music by a friend of Matt’s is completed (once again, with no forewarning another friend of a friend happens to produce amazing stuff for us in no time flat. Awesome.)


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Development Update 6
==============

Music by Steve Trenkamp is complete. Amazing work by Steve. Can't thank him enough.

http://gtproductions.net/projects/24...hone/music.mp3

4:28pm [1/2/2010] – Two frikkin hours left. Matt comes back with more quality outsourced art. He has made the splash screen.


[Posted by GTJuggler]
Developer Update 7
===============

  • Splash screen
  • MK 'Toastie' cat added
  • First on-device test!
  • Touch input WIP

Splash screen looking hawt:

4:53pm [1/2/2010] – More awesome comments are posted, and our morale is boosted for the final hurrah.

[Posted by various]

All hail the new best TA ramen game in the App Store!
--
Man.. If only I could produce high quality apps in a day. :/
--
As long as it has "toasty", this will be the best game ever.
--
Now if apple will approve it with in 24 hours. heh
--
Wow, only about an hour left! Can't wait to see the results! Please make a YouTube video showing us the finished game!

6:30pm [1/2/2010] – We are there, 24 hours and 1 minute since the post declaring our chosen design. We post our results:

[Posted by GTJuggler]
We haven't added titles/credits or anything fancy to the video. It's just straight video capture of the game.

Also, here are 3 pictures of the game on the device:

And the video! Woot.

http://gtproductions.net/projects/24houriPhone/final_video_capture.mov
http://vimeo.com/8506224

We want to thank everyone involved and say that this was truly a fun experience (albeit tiring and sleepless :P). Maybe we can try it again some time.

-Alex and Yilmaz

I want to reiterate the credits page to point out the awesome help Yilmaz and I had.

Well, that’s the end of our story. Submission to the App Store is slated for Jan 4th (not officially part of the development process, so we can get away with putting that off for a little so we can rest). I ended up sleeping for 21 hour straight after this, but as for the question ‘Was it worth it?’

Hell yes.

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SpringFling 1.1 update released

Today Apple approved the SpringFling v1.1 point release which fixes numerous bugs, adds 9 new clothing items for Mr. Spring, and adds a new powerup: Ass-saving fans. They’ll seriously save your ass. That is all.

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SpringFling v1 out, v2 in the works

So, for those of you who follow the blog but weren’t aware, SpringFling is now on the App Store! (Game website and iTunes Link)

Publicity has been going well. Check out these positive reviews/previews!

  1. AGON Listing
  2. AppAdvice Review
  3. AppAdvice Preview
  4. JoyStiq Preview
  5. SlideToPlay Preview
  6. TheAppera Review
  7. TheAppsMachine Review
  8. ThePortableGamer Review
  9. TouchArcade Review
  10. TouchArcade Massive forum thread

Cool beans.

On another note, before release, I was aware of a couple of outstanding bugs and thanks to players, have filled in the gaps to find the rest of the noticeable bugs. I’ll be working to resolve these throughout the week and hopefully submit v2 some time in the near future.

One such bug revolves around general inconsistencies with AGON, scoring, achievements, and reliability of getting these awards. Here’s the bug and the fix:

Issues with AGON and things not registering:

Issues occur when the user launches the game for the first time, plays some levels, then finally decides to launch the scoreboards. Then they are prompted to make a username but at this point, actions they had taken previously are discounted, allowing the user to get to a point where the local playerprefs file believes a certain achievement is gotten but is not gotten as far as AGON is concerned. Short term solution is to reset progress from within the game. v2 fix adds a login screen when launching the game, ensuring all players are able to register their scores/achievements properly. This does NOT mean you have to approve online scores, but you do need a username to be able to store your local high scores.

Status: Fixed

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SpringFling – Sewer w/ audio

So here’s the new sewer level and accompanying musical score courtesy of Brad Scoville and Josh Dick. Any suggestions as far as art/musical stylings?

Sewer Audio

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SpringFling – Parachutes in action

Well it’s been a few days since the last update, so I thought I’d show some new goodies. I’ve been hard at work on the backend for achievements, online scoring, and other various implementations and fixes, but there’s also some eye candy to show.

First up, there’s a new powerup in action. The parachute!

This allows for much needed in-air influence over the spring at certain critical times, such as when your jetpack runs out of juice and you’re stranded over a pit of doom. Boom, parachute. Now you’re like frikkin James Bond, floating back down smoothly, the ladies eyeing your shiny metallic finish. Smoooooth.

Also, I have the art created for my next powerup, the jetpack/rocket. Things are coming along nicely. :D

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Tutorials – Instructing the User

While building the tutorial level for SpringFling, I started thinking about how different games choose to teach the user the basic mechanics of a game. I’m not talking about a beginning cutscene that sets up the backstory or character development, but the presentation of the controls and navigation through the game world. Some games choose to present the user with a linear sequence of static screens that present text instructions, possibly with visual diagrams to assist in comprehension. This seems all well and good but if one thing’s for sure, it’s that users rarely read text that is presented to them, especially if it stands in the way of completing a goal or getting to the ‘interesting’ part of something. Users end up skimming or blindly skipping through instructions, with a higher chance of doing so if the instructions last for more than three pages. Also, some instructions go so far past the Powerpoint 8×8 rule (8 bullets per slide, 8 words per bullet) that a wall of text is thrown at the user, forcing them to bear through the reading or skip ahead and hope they don’t get stuck.

For this reason I chose to do things a bit differently for the tutorial level of SpringFling. The plan is to create an interactive tutorial where the player never loses input control and is presented with both snippets of information (tips) and direct instruction (tasks). For example, the first step will be to instruct the user how to move their finger on the screen to compress the spring and aim in the proper direction to land in a certain designated destination. The level will then allow the player to try as many times as necessary to complete this task and upon completion, display positive feedback of the task completion and move onto the next task. This can be easily accomplished by using trigger volumes to detect the spring’s location and whether the user has completed the task. This interactive tutorial idea isn’t exactly new but especially on the iPhone, I’ve seen far too many games present game mechanics in a less than optimal way or in no way at all.

One other requirement is to be able to revisit the instructions or tutorial at any time without having to restart your game progress completely. Keeping this in mind, the tutorial level in SpringFling will be easily available from the level select menu in case the player wishes to run through it a second time to refresh their memory or remember how to, for example, apply jetpack boost to the player. The tutorial will be exitable at all times and quick to complete for someone well versed in the game, but with enough depth to properly show a beginner player how to navigate the game properly.

I’m always interested by games that present information in the game world without having to use a UI element or HUD element to display the information. An example of this is Rolando’s unique ‘hey finger’ method of addressing the user, without completely breaking the fourth wall and staying in character. You Have To Burn The Rope also displays its hilariously obvious game information on the ground and walls as you walk through the initial stages of the game. Many other games use the signpost method of showing information, although that usually triggers a UI popup to properly display the text without losing legibility by presenting it solely on a 3d sign. Edge for the iPhone also uses the very intuitive method of showing a phantom cube playing out a looping action to show the player the intended path or move to complete. It seems that in-game tutorials have really picked up in the recent past as developers realize the multitude of options that are available from interactively educating the player. (Thanks to Josh Dick for helping to come up with these examples.)

Mike Minotti seems to disagree with all of this. In a blogpost entitled I Hate Tutorials, Mike talks about why he dislikes many aspects of tutorials. He makes some valid points that ‘expert’ players are sometimes treated condescendingly in tutorials, but to say that all tutorials should be skipped because he ‘can figure out any control scheme in no time’ doesn’t mean that the rest of us wouldn’t like to progress through an intelligent well-made tutorial that quickly gets across the main ideas without boring or overworking the player with unneeded drills. He goes on to say “Whatever you do, don’t make me go through a tutorial level”. I agree that gamers have been burned in the past with some tutorials that take up too much of the players time or catering to the less experienced player but a viable solution would be to make the system adapt to how well you are completing the goals. This should keep players of all levels happy and what I plan on doing for the iPhone game.

What do you think about in-game tutorials and instructions? Should they be banned and burned at the stake? Should they be optional, manditory, adaptive, linear, static, or filled with silly hats? Voice your opinion.

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