Abstract Restrictions Leads To Abstract Design

I was browsing around on Stumble Upon the other day (which is a great resource by the way), and I found this site that was designed to challenge people’s perception of the way websites work.  Basically, it’s a website that works without having the user click on anything!

Give it a try!  It’s a really neat idea and I’m sure that it’ll blow your mind.

So, I’m dicking around on that site and it had me thinking about how that applies to game design; I was thinking about how I could translate that to an exciting video game.  While I couldn’t necessarily see how to take the idea of not clicking anywhere into a new direction, I think that it opens the door to a lot of possibilities.

I’ve always liked the idea of restrictions just for the sake of it.  I’ve always considered joining a tigsource challenge because they always seem to involve a restriction of some sort.  Unfortunately, I’ve always been way too focused on making tradition and popular games (and, failing at it) to bother with it.

But, lately, I’ve been wanting to try something a bit more experimental.  Although I don’t really like artsy games, it’d be nice to just make a game for the sake of making a game.  I guess that’s what I’m trying to do now, but, to be honest with you, I’m beginning to care a bit too much about Platform Explorer.  I really shouldn’t, as it’s a simple game with some cruddy graphics, but… well, it means a lot to me. I’ve come to realize that I’ve tried to make a game very similar to this for some time now, and it looks like I’ll finally be able to do it (although with cruddy graphics).

Getting back on point, the concept of setting up an unusual restriction is something that I’m quite interested in and would like consider doing again, when the time is right.  I definitely want to make a more traditionalist game as the next game I make, but, after that, who knows?

Maybe I could be the next Cactus.

The thing is that I can’t off the top of my head think of any abstract sort of games I like.  Paul Eres’ Immortal Defense comes to mind, but I didn’t really like that game.  And, I made a joke about Cactus, but the reality is that I don’t really like any of his games either…

Ironically, I always considered that to be the test of a true professional – when you can make a piece of art that isn’t in a style as yours but still have it turn out great.  So, maybe, for the sake of my own career and experience, I should really push myself to create something out of the ordinary…

Something to think about, no?

If any of you guys have any experience with this idea, I’d love to hear about it!

(Not) Riding Solo

Recently, I was talking with an artist about working on the next game together.  Actually, it was the old artist that did the fantastic work on The Good Apprentice.  It will be a huge help working with someone again particularly with the art, since I need it so bad.  We’ve decided to try to split up the work 50 / 50, which is great.  I’m really looking forward to the challenge of working with someone else again.

There is just one small problem: I’m a bit worried about clashing ideas.  Specifically, I don’t think he and I LIKE the same types of games. While a difference in ideas is always a good thing (after all, two heads are better than one), I am concerned with the project taking a long time.  With the Flash market being what it is, it’s pretty essential to be able to crank out something pretty quickly.  If we’re spending all of our time arguing over different elements of the game, then it’ll cause some problems and take too long.

Of course I could be wrong, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.  Along those lines, I’m thinking about how much additional work I might have to put into the current level editor to make it more user friendly.  Currently, the editor is a pretty bare bones thing. While it’s fine for the games I was making, if we’re going to be adding stuff, it’ll take some time to adjust.  For example, the artist mentioned parallax scrolling – currently, the editor supports only a single background that is static.  While it wouldn’t take too long to add it in, it’s just something that will add time to the project.

There’s also the problem of communication break downs.  Obviously, if we’re going to be working that close together, there needs to be constant communication between the two of us.  Every time that I’ve worked on a project with other online groups has ended up not being finished.  Granted I think the artist and I are a bit more familiar with each other than any other group I’ve ever been a part of, but, it’s… um… something to think about.  But, working online brings in the problem of different schedules, different time zones, etc. and those are hindrances to the completion of the game.

All of this is related to the last conversation that the artist and I had (we spoke last Friday or Saturday).  He said that I was more concerned with getting something done than having fun.  And, I said that he was right!  Now that I know the difficulty of trying to make something spectacular with very little resources, I’m trying to avoid it at all possible.  I’d honestly just rather make a good game that was finished and complete than spend my time working on something that might never be finished…

While I am looking forward to working with him again, I’m afraid that the project length will expand significantly due to the complexities of working with more than one person.  Of course, I could be wrong.

Any advice that you guys have, I would love to hear it!

Sticking To The End (Or, Why I Want To Finish My Next Game)

I’ve written about the importance of sticking out a project until the end before and it’s something that I’ve been turning over in my head lately. Basically, due to a variety of reasons (finding some simple work being one of them), the free time that I have available has become limited. Obviously, this is going to affect my future developments…

I know that I mentioned in my last post how I was going to be hooking up with an artist, and that is still the plan. With the shrinkage of time, however, I’ve had a very SLIGHT amount of doubt that says that I should probably just start working with him today. After all, if we’re going to work together soon and my games / design suffer because of art, it’d be a pretty nice situation to hook up with someone like that.

I’ve had to really think about the games I’m making recently (because of responses I’ve given on my formspring.me as well as on the Platform Explorer devlog). Particularly, I feel like I’ve had to justify just why I keep making games the way that I’m making them. And, I’ve come up with the following reasons why I think it’s important that, even though Platform Explorer has some glaring problems, I have to finish it:

I haven’t played a game like it in a while.
I know that there are a bunch of Mario platforming games in the world. But, there aren’t very many games that are more hardcore with an overhead map selection deal. Um… what I mean is that I generally feel that the gameplay mechanics are pretty interesting (though nothing revolutionary).

I learn more finishing an entire project than leaving it incomplete.
This may seem obvious, but it’s actually something that I wish that I had done more of. In fact, although I’ve been working on indie games for some years, it’s only in the past two years or so that I’ve really felt like I knew what I was doing. This, interesting enough, coincides with finishing and releasing games for the first time…

It will help me connect with other people better.
I think that one of the reasons why it’s been so difficult for me to find an artist or other collaborators is due to the simple fact that I don’t have a diverse portfolio to show for it. As I finish and release more and more games, however, people become more familiar with me and the work that I do. Obviously, that’s a good thing.

If I can’t see this project through to the end, then I will probably be stuck in a constant cycle of not finishing.
There are lots of people that start projects. Starting a project isn’t that hard… it’s actually a lot of fun. But, it takes a lot of hard work and conviction to be able to see the project to the end. As it turns out, the end / finished project is really what the whole thing is about. I may make a game that isn’t fun to play or is badly designed. But, as long as it’s done, bug free, and people can play it, then that still makes it better than any incomplete project.

You get the best feedback from finished projects.
If you didn’t know, I’m a huge fan of feedback! And, while it’s nice to have the Platform Explorer devlog, I think that finishing something and releasing it forces more people to look at it than would otherwise. People just genuinely seem more interested in completed projects than incomplete.

I’m sure that I could think of more if pressed, but those are the reasons I’ve been tossing over in my mind. While I suspect that this game is going to be less popular than Earth Tower Defense, I’m so in deep in the development of it that I might as well continue…

Any questions or comments are appreciated!

Why I Enjoy Keeping A Devlog

If you aren’t aware, Platform Explorer has it’s own devlog.  It’s available on the tigsource website!  You can get to the devlog by CLICKING HERE.

It was the first time that I’ve used a devlog and I have to say… so far, I really like it!

Strictly from a technical perspective it’s nice to watch all of the previous videos that I made and what the game looked like when I first made it (which, I guess, still doesn’t look much better).

I always tell myself that I aught to save old copies of the code of the game; you know, just to be on the safe side.  The thing is that I don’t have an external hard drive and work on a laptop (with a 60 GB hard drive).  Obviously, I’m afraid of running out of space, so I have to constantly delete old copies of files.  But, I’m always interested in watching

of video games and watching the changes that occur.  It’s amazing how tiny little tweaks can significantly change the flow of a game.

So, viewing some of the devlog posts reminds me of the little tweaks I’ve made and why I’ve made them.  Which is kind of neat!

More importantly, I’ve found that it’s a great way of keeping track of my progress and it’s pushing me to finish faster.  I always seem to reach a spot in my game design where I’m confused as to what task I should complete next.  As I’ve mentioned in the blog, whenever I make a new devlog post, the direction is always a lot more clear.  I can say that writing down the upcoming tasks to be completed is the perfect map that I need in order to continue a project.

Since I’ve had a couple of people interested in giving some really quick feedback in the devlog, I’m looking forward to having them play test the game and see what they think of the game.  I’m not entirely certain that everyone who’s mentioned any interest in the project is going to give some quick feedback,  but it’s nice to know that some people are interested.

The one down side to the devlog is just the simple act of writing it!  It takes time thinking of what to write and how to say it.  Plus, I’ll usually attach a youtube video, and those tend to take a bit of time to make.  Even though it’s usually just gameplay footage with no additional text or explanation, it can take about an hour to make.

But, I enjoy it!  Again, there’s just something about having a record of all the work that I’ve done and where I’m going that I find interesting.  It’s definitely something that I want to explore with the rest of my stuff.

If any of you guys have any experience working with a devlog, I’d love to hear about it! This is a good friend of mine’s dev blog about online pokies and lot of other mobile gaming stuff.

The Case For Working With A Partner

So, I’m almost at a point where I can release a demo for Platform Explorer.  It’s something I’ve been dreading for some time now, because… I don’t think this game has been going all that well.

Usually, when I say that a game isn’t going well, it’s directly related to art.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m kind of hung up on that issue…

But, the problems with this new game goes much past that.  Everything is feeling off – I think there’s something wrong with the gameplay.  Add in the problem of bad art and bad sound and I would really like to just stop working on this game. But, with my whole “finish a game no matter what” kick, I’ve decided to just keep working on it till the thing is done.  If people don’t really like it, then, so be it…

On the brighter side, I’m really looking forward to working with an artist again.  Not just because I can’t draw, but I think that my own designing is getting really stale.  It’ll be exciting and I’m hoping it’ll rejuvenate my interest in designing games.

See, I’ve been feeling a little… flaccid about working on games these days.  I don’t seem to be making much progress and it’s bothering me.

I guess it’s not just that “I’m not making any progress” – I am, obviously.  But, I’m wondering what it’s going to take in order to take things to the next level.  I’m entering into year 2 of my decision to focus on making video games and I don’t think I have much to show for it besides some very horrendous games.

It all gets me thinking about whether or not it will even matter if I work with other people or not.  I mean, technically, I made The Cherokee Indian with a bunch of other people and we all know how that turned out…

Ironically, despite my feelings that I’m failing as a designer, my resolve to make video games hasn’t really decreased – I still want to work in the exciting field of video games as an independent designer.  I still think it’s SMART for me to do that…

Still, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been banging my head against the wall lately.  I’m pretty sure it’s related to the fact that I’m not entirely enjoying working on Platform Explorer, but, who knows?  Maybe it’s a symptom that I need to change directions for a while…

At the end of the day, I’m really looking forward to hooking up with people for my next game.  I sure hope that everything works out and that the process go smoothly.  It’d be nice to finally make a game that I felt wasn’t just OK.

 

The Joys Of Finishing A Project

I know that I’ve been saying this for a while, but this time I’M FOR REALZ; a playable demo for Platform Explorer should be finished SOON.

If you’re wondering why I’ve been taking so damn long, the answer is pretty simple basic – I’ve been working on optimizing the code so that the game runs faster.  It wasn’t a very necessary part of the work as the game is running pretty decently already, but… every little bit helps.  More importantly, I’ll know how to build the code so that I won’t have to optimize too much…

See, because I’m not THAT experienced in Actionscript and I was using the copyPixels function quite frequently, I was creating new Points and Rectangles for each object ON EVERY TICK!  Recently, I found out that I can, for example, use a single Point and just change the x and y code.  This way I’m not creating a new goddamn Point every tick.  Since the game is pretty far into the development, I had to do that for a number of objects.  Essentially, it took me about the entire week…

Anyways, I’m excited to finally release a demo.  Not just for the feedback purpose, it’s also nice because it signals that the game is finally wrapping up.  I mean there is still some work to be done, but, it’s all EXTREMELY easy and simple type of work.  In other words, all of the menus have been created, all of the game logic is in place, I completed the first level of the “Tank Bonus” level… pretty much everything is finished.  It’ll be just a matter of adjusting a couple of variables here and there, adding a couple of simple objects (new traps for example), and then creating and tiling the actual levels.  All in all, not that much more work…

What I have been thinking about, however, is just how much I’ve learned about designing games over the past year.  There really is something to deciding to just FINISH a project at any cost; it feels good and I’ve LEARNED a lot very quickly.  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s something that I really wish that I had done in the past.  I probably would be further along in my career.

What I’m really proud of my desire to finish the game despite the fact that I don’t think the game is very good.  In my younger and more naive days I probably would have just stopped working on the thing a long time ago.  I don’t know how to explain how I feel now other than to say that I feel COMPELLED to finish.  And, I think that that’s pretty neat!

If you know what I mean, then feel free to leave a comment!  I’d love to hear from you!

Actionscript 3.0 Optimization Tips That I’ve Learned

As I keep mentioning, working on this new game has taught me a lot. It’s my second game working with Actionscript, and I’m really enjoying the process. Compared to where I was just a couple months ago, it’s amazing to see how far I’ve progressed.

Within this time, I’ve been able to figure out a couple of neat things about Actionscript 3 optimization. You can actually find a lot of these tips if you do a Google search of “Actionscript 3 optimization,” but I’m going to re-iterate them and my thoughts behind them here:

1. Don’t create new Geometric Objects if you don’t have to.

If you didn’t know, I’m using the blitting technique that’s highlighted here (8 bit blitting example) and it’s a great way of getting more familiar with the basics of blitting. Somehow because of the way that I adjusted the code, however, had my Movie Clip objects creating new Points and Rectangles every frame because it was easier.

It just never ocurred to me that I could just change the properties of the Point and save a ton of time and processing power.

2. On that note, don’t create any Objects that you don’t have to.

This is actually something that I didn’t end up doing for Platform Explorer, but I promised myself that it would be something that I would use in the next game.

My games run via a basic setup:

1. a “CONTROLLING OBJECT” is created that will oversee what will happen to every object,
2. the CONTROLLING OBJECT creates all of the smaller objects that it will need for a room,
3. the CONTROLLING OBJECT calls every objects’ tick event and drawing event as well as handles keyboard input,
4. when the room is finished or the CONTROLLER isn’t needed anymore, the CONTROLLER performs every objects’ death event and removes them from the stage. Then, the CONTROLLER is removed by a new “controller object”.

So, basically, I constantly have a bunch of objects that are created, manipulated, and then destroyed. Since I was using Game Maker in the past, I never really worried much about RAM usage and such. It always seemed that a room was it’s own universe and moving from room to room pretty much “reset” things as far as memory was concerned.

In these flash games, however, it’s a critical thing that memory is managed properly. Even though the objects are removed from the stage and are effectively destroyed, sometimes the garbage collector seems to miss an object or two, leaving it not doing anything and just taking up space.

After thinking about it for a while, I finally realized that I could probably just create pretty much every object that I needed at the beginning of the game and, then, determine a way to turn them “off” and “on.” Basically, I’d be reusing the same objects throughout the entire game rather than constantly creating and destroying objects…

3. Setting an objects’ “mouseEnabled” property to false helps with speed.

I read this somewhere, but I haven’t noticed any exact drop in speed. Still, it would seem reasonable to me that it would help.

If anybody can confirm or deny this, I’d love to hear about it!

4. Call stop() on a Movie Clip helps with speed as well.

This is also something that I read, but haven’t experienced much in the way of speeding up or slowing the game. Because none of my objects have anything on a timeline (all of my code is done via AS files), I’m wondering if this even registers.

But, I did it anyways cause I’m a slave to what I read on the interwebs…

There are actually a bunch more, but I noticed them in pretty much every optimization article that I read. These were ones that I didn’t really seem to find often and they’re pretty simple to do once you get the hang of it.

If you happen to think of anymore, I’d love to hear it!

The Sad Tale of Indie Devs

There was a recent post on tigsource about an indie developer that needed money to make a game (Getting out of a Catch 22 Situation).  The person who made that post made it in both the tigsource forums and the indie gamer forums.

To sum up, speeder (the person who made the post) is in debt, but he wants to finish making games.  Obviously, he can’t finish the game if he doesn’t have the money and time, so I guess he’s going around asking people for advice.  People have been giving him advice (myself included) and I hope he’s learning a lot…

I don’t know what it is, but there just seem to be quite a number of indie developers going bust.  Or, at least, I keep hearing about indie devs that just aren’t doing very well.  There is:
1. introversion – the guys behind darwinia
2. blurst – from the guys behind Flash Bang Studios.  They made Raptor Safari.
3.  Machine 22 – they’ve spent more than 3 years working on Golimizer!
4.  Arcen Games – they’ve been quietly working  on a space game AI War for a long time.

So, overall, I seem to be running into a lot of people talking about how bad there company / games seem to be doing.

You might think that, being an indie dev, that I would whole heartedly support these games and point out the various injustices that happen in the industry.  But, I can’t really.  The fact is that there are tons of indie developers out there who don’t make a penny (like me, for example).

Don’t get me wrong, these are people that I feel like are important parts of the indie community.  It’s vital that there be some successes to show that people can, in fact, make a living off of indie games.  And, I feel bad for them.

But, the reality is that companies go bust for any number of reasons.  It happens all of the time and I don’t think it’s too smart to dwell on failures (ironically enough though, failures tend to teach you more than successes do…).

Obviously, the majority of the people in this world have their own tales of failures.  And, there is practically every reason in the world why someone might fail.  But, sometimes there just aren’t any easy answers.  Everyone in this entire world wants to do what they want to do (and get rich off of it).  But, sometimes people can’t; they don’t have the right resources, or the right money, or the people.  Or, maybe, their timing was off.

And, I truly think that this is where sacrifice comes from.  You can’t have a safe and secure job and run a successful indie business at the same time (technically you can, but it’s very difficult).  You probably shouldn’t have a family and try to start a new business.  You can’t go out to eat every day when you’re starting new business ventures.  [There’s a term that is known as “right sizing your life” that describes this process.]

I’ve never really wanted to talk about what I’ve sacrificed in order to continue making games (that’s for another long post).  But, I understand the value of sacrifices now that I’m knee deep into designing games.  I can’t stop – it’s like a drug to me.  I’ve gone over the same problem (finding money or getting paid for my work) and, just like a lot of other people, haven’t found an easy solution.  Obviously, completing games at any cost is a part of that solution though.

In the end, I feel bad for any indie dev who is currently going through rough times.  But, the hope is that they understand how lucky they were to be doing what they loved to do in the first place.  And, with enough hard work, I’m sure that those smart and talented people will pick themselves right up.

Leave some feedback if you read this post, eh?

Crisis Averted – I Fought A Computer Virus And Lost…

So, if you’ve been a fan of the official Jr. Jellybeans Twitter page, you’d know why I haven’t been writing the past couple of days: I contracted a nasty computer virus and had to delete my Windows Partition (I use a Macbook).

Overall, I have to say that I really don’t like Macs.  It’s an odd system that doesn’t have a lot of easy-to-use programs.

Take, for example, the free Photoshop alternative, Gimp.  I guess it started life as a Windows only application, but, there’s a way to use it in Mac… IF you have Wine installed.  Wine is a program that allows Windows XP programs to be run natively on a Mac.  The funny thing is that in order to use Wine, you have to work with the Mac Terminal (the equivalent of the Command Prompt).  I find it really odd to be typing things out in todays day and age… it’s, like, how the fuck are people still dicking around with the Command Prompt in the year 2010?  I thought operating systems were created for a reason…

In any case, I’m trying to get used to using Mac programs and it’s going okay.  For example, I switched Photoshop and it’s not a bad program but I still find Gimp to be much more intuitive.  In addition, using Flash CS5 is MUCH slower on my Mac (though this might have something to do with the fact that my computer specs are kind of low).

Overall, I guess this is just an opportunity to remember to ALWAYS back up your system and not visit porn sites too often.  The only problem with that is that I only have one hard drive and I don’t really feel like doing an online backup support sort of deal.

And, I like watching porn…

I hear that Macs get less viruses, however, so maybe switching over isn’t such a bad thing.  Still, I miss Windows XP like an old childhood friend that has moved away.  I guess it’s just that, sometimes, you have to grow up and move on with your life even at the expense of your friends…

Nah, I’m just fucking around.  I really don’t enjoy Mac and I’m a bit upset at myself for jumping on the bandwagon when I did.

Macs blow…

***********

I’d like to point out that one of the reasons why  I wasn’t able to fix my computer was because the fucking CD drive is broken on my Macbook.  Apparently, this is a well known and common problem with Macs (I read somewhere that 10 % of Macs suffer from this) and repairing the drive can cost around $600.  Luckily, it’s really difficult to repair a CD drive for a Mac anyways…

Macs blow…

Platform Explorer Needs More Time…

So, it’s past October and Platform Explorer still isn’t done.  I had wanted to finish the game by LAST month.  It sucks that things haven’t worked out right for that.

In my defense, I did lose a week of time due to the Great Computer Failure of ’10.  But, I still thought that I was going to be able to create several more levels than the ones that I’ve completed.  To be honest, I thought that I’d be completely done with the levels but, am currently working at level 9.

With me being off about my timing AGAIN, I’m really, REALLY going to try to just make a simple sort of game next time.  I’m just a little tired of working on these sorts of longer projects.  Actually, I enjoy the process quite a lot and, if anything, I’d like to make games where I spent even MORE time.  But, given what the games are and the resources I have, it’s best for me to simplify things.

The one thing that I feel pretty good about is that I’m going to finish this goddamn game no matter what.  I’m already kind of sick of it, but, having a finished project is still better than an unfinished project.

In any case, I’m working hard to get it done but am very much looking forward to the next game.  I’m actually going to try pretty hard to find an actual pixel artist.  Hopefully, I manage to find one and things work out all right.

The real question is what game do I want to make next.  For a while, I thought that my next game was going to be a one button RPG.  I know that there’s already a one button RPG, but mine would be a bit different (actually, very different).  But, I’ve been meaning to make some sort of artsy game for a while.  I could make that as the next game instead.  It would really just depend on what the artist would want to do… I also came across an opportunity to make a mobile pokie games which is a pretty exciting opportunity, however I am somewhat concerned about the ethical implications of working in such an industry… There are some guys doing some really cool stuff in mobile online pokies though like these guys: http://quickpokies.com.au

In any case, I don’t have much to report.  I’m working hard and will finish soon, hopefully.