Monday, June 12, 2017

Underground Arcade at Artscape!




This is old news to those of you who follow me on other social media, but I am pleased to announce that the Baltimore Game Collective (consisting of Let-Off Studios and myself) will be showcasing our games at Artscape in Baltimore this July! Together, we are presenting Underground Arcade, which consists of eight games, half by me, half by Let-Off. Check out the trailer above!

Artscape advertises itself as the largest free arts festival in America, so I am grateful to be able to showcase my work in this setting. If you're in the area, do stop by and say hi!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Digital Toilet World v1.3


The last game I needed to revise in preparation for festival showcasing was Digital Toilet World, which has now been updated to v1.3. Most of the changes are minor - they make the game a bit more user friendly - but the experience is mostly the same, with one exception.

I have rewritten the game so that the dialogue more closely resembles that of the original version. I had grown considerably as a writer over the course of college (which I was in the midst of when I first made the game, and at the end of when I last revised it), and felt justified in making substantial changes.  My first update to the game, v1.1, simply corrected typos, but in v1.2, I rewrote much of the dialogue from scratch.

However, I've since realized that many of those changes went beyond improving the original script, changing the tone and subtext of the game. With this version of the game, I decided to compromise between the original text and my revisions, in an attempt to preserve the game's original spirit.

The decision to make any changes to a finished work always makes me nervous. While I want my games to be the best they can be, especially when I'm about to showcase them at a festival and have more exposure than I've ever had, I also don't want to be George Lucas. I don't want to take a perfectly fine piece of art and blemish it. I felt like I've managed to avoid that until the 1.2 revision of Toilet World. Hopefully, v1.3 adequately reversed those unsavory changes.

I think this will be the final edit I'll make to this game - it's four years old, and while it certainly shows on the surface that it no longer represents my absolute best as a game designer, it really shows under the hood. Making revisions to Bloodjak was easy - the code for Digital Toilet World is an illegible mess by comparison. I still love the game, it still holds up, and I think it represents my narrative and design style better than anything else I've made, but I've come to realize how much I've grown since then.

v1.3 has pause support, by the way

As always, you can play the game on Gamejolt and itch.io.

Here's the complete change list:
v1.3
Changes:
-Pause support added.
-Dialogue rewritten to more closely resemble that of v1.1.
-The player can now move using WASD in case your down arrow key is broken.
Bug Fixes 
-Androids no longer spawn while the player is in conversation.
-Sprites no longer blur.


 I have a big announcement to make soon.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bloodjak v1.3


As I continue to update old games in preparation for potential showcasing, the next one to receive a revision is my old shmup, Bloodjak

I ended up making slight changes to the difficulty, something I've generally tried to avoid in a game with persistent competitive high scores. The first is a bug fix. Spawn rates for the larger ships would cease to increase as they were supposed to later in the game. While fixing this bug means that the player will encounter more powerful enemies in the late game than before, this is how the game was originally meant to be played.

The second is that I've overhauled the sequencing of enemy waves in the early game. Now, the player is introduced to all of the standard enemy types sooner. While this makes the early game harder, it won't only make it more varied, but also make the first two minutes of the game more engaging to a casual festival-attending player

Overall, I think these adjustments to the difficulty are justified. Early game changes to difficulty are slight, and only a handful of players so far have made it to the late game. As long as the scoring system itself is unchanged, the competitive metagame should remain fair between versions.

Parents will be pleased to know that the game now has a pause feature so their kids can run to eat dinner without losing their precious high scores.

Finally, while this feature is currently absent from the publicly available versions, the biggest addition I made to the game is local high score support. As awesome as Gamejolt's online high score tables are, I shouldn't take them for granted and expect that they will exist forever. Furthermore, having internet access at Artscape (and other festivals and conventions) is never a certainty. So, I've got a secret version of the game that records high scores to your computer's very hard drive instead of recording them online. It'll be there when we need it.

YINZ CAN PLAY THE GAME ON GAMEJOLT BY CLICKING ON THIS HYPERLINK.

Here's  the complete list of changes:
v 1.3
Changes:
-Wave sequencing redesigned. Generally, different enemy types are introduced sooner!
-Pause functionality added, at the request of my sister-in-law, so my nephew can now stop playing to eat dinner. Press 'P' or 'ESC.'
-Player must now wait upon jacking out to submit score.
-Local high score support added (festival version only).
Bug Fixes
-Fixed a bug where medium and large ship spawn rates would cease to increase after a time.
-Fixed bug where game would crash if you tried to load highscores without an internet connection.
-Fixed muzzle flash rendering bug.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April Update: Gewgawlicious v1.1, Monsterpunk Devlog #14, Music

In a Nutshell

If I've gone dark from the dev blog for a few months, it's because (surprise) I've been busy. Part of that busyness can be attributed to game development, primarily to two large projects. The first of these has been my application to Artscape, Baltimore's big ol' arts festival. I've been collaborating with another local game developer (Let-Off Studios!) under the moniker "Baltimore Game Collective" to exhibit a collection of eight short games during the festival, and while our acceptance status is pending, I am feeling confident this year! I've made a short demo reel for our showcase that will function as a promotional video if our acceptance is confirmed. 

The games I am contributing to the collection are Gewgawlicious, The Morphine Western Revenge, Bloodjak, and Digital Toilet World. While I am feeling good about Revenge in it's current state, the remaining work demands some additional polish before being publicly exhibited. 

Changes to Digital Toilet World will be minimal (in fact, I'll be reversing some unnecessary changes I made in the last update), while changes to Bloodjak will be a bit more extensive to make it more accessible to casual members of a festival audience. As for Gewgawlicious...

Gewgawlicious v1.1 is out! Now with audible music!

As is the case with most jam games, Gewgawlicious was rushed, and benefited from some minor revisions. Namely, there were three issues: 1) The music was too soft. 2) The bomb beeping was too loud and 3) People were confused by the user interface and basic rules of the sandbox. The first two issues required straightforward solutions, the third required a bit more care. I made a number of subtle changes to the game's user interface that will hopefully provide sufficient guidance to the player and keep them playing up through the game's punchline.

As always, you can play Gewgawlicious at itch.io and Game Jolt.

As for the other project that's been occupying my time...

Monsterpunk Devlog Update #14! Now with character portraits!

After spending nearly a year on The Morphine Western Revenge, I've been able to return my focus to Monsterpunk. For those of you who are newcomers, it's a survival action-RPG inspired in equal parts by virtual pets, punk games, and queer games. I've been working on it on and off since... 2014? Gosh.

I started off by finishing off drawing portrait art for all of the game's characters - a task I had left unfinished about a year ago - and since then have mostly been making fundamental changes to the game's mechanics. I'm always growing as a designer, and that has been especially true over the course of Revenge's development. One of the most frustrating aspects of working on a large, long-term project is that there's a mismatch between the initial quality of the work and your current ability, and taking a lengthy hiatus from a project only makes that difference more obvious. So, I'm making changes to some of the game's most fundamental aspects. I've slowed character movement speed in order to better control the overall pacing of the game, while lowering adversary health in order to make combat faster and snappier, among countless other changes.

For those of you who just got here, this is also a game about flirting and pooping.

At this point, I'm aiming to release the game by this summer. While there is much about it that I find endearing, I've been working on it long enough that it is, admittedly, beginning to feel like a burden! It is already playable from start to finish, and has always been even after the first week of development. The question has never been whether it can be released at a given moment, but whether it should. I don't know if the game will be the best it can be by the summer, but as time goes on, that question becomes less important.

I want this game to be great, but I'm also looking forward to being able to chill out, make jam games, and hack Pokémon roms again.

Here's Some Music, Too.

Finally I threw some tracks up on the Soundcloud - the music from Gewgawlicious and Darcy's Yurt Adventure, as well as two unused tracks - one from a collaboration that fell through, and another that was written for Revenge, but ultimately didn't fit the mood of the game, although I think it is rather good. Enjoy!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Gewgawlicious and the Posterity Archive

I released a new jam game a few days ago! It's called "Gewgawlicious." If you follow me on social media, you already know this. I'm out of town at the moment, and haven't been able to actually blog about it until now.

It's a short comedic sandbox game. An engineer leaves on a milk run and entrusts you with his gewgaw machine. You shouldn't touch it, but you touch it.

You can play it on *gasp* THREE websites:
Glorious Trainwrecks
Gamejolt
itch.io

I created it in 12 days for the Sekret Santa 2016 Game Jam over at Glorious Trainwrecks. All participants submitted a wishlist of things they wanted in a game. We drew lots, and then had to make a game for a person based on their wishlist. Y'know, Secret Santa style.

My prompt for the project was that I had to make a playground full of gewgaws that would interact with eachother. As someone who generally dislikes sandbox games, I definitely appreciated being dragged out of my comfort zone. Especially after making a game that was long, dark, hard, and violent, it was really nice to make something short, lighthearted and accessible.

It is also the first project I've made to feature live recorded music and fully voiced sound effects and dialogue by yours truly. It was a ton of fun to do!


In other news, I've reorganized all of my unfinished and old games under a single page: The Posterity Archive! Most of it is stuff that's already been available on the site, but I've decided to make Blasterman and Apocalypse downloadable again. I'll be sure to dig through my hard drive and see if I can find anything else of value. If you want to play some awful but entertaining trash - it's there, waiting for you.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Morphine Western Revenge v1.1 (and more)

Week One Patch Hype!

Thank you to everyone who's played The Morphine Western Revenge so far! It has been a pleasure to hear what you have to say about it and watch you play it. Getting feedback of any sort not only helps me improve the game, but it's also one of the most validating things I can experience as a designer. Please continue to let me know what you think!

I've made some small changes and fixed some bugs in response to player feedback. Here's the complete patch notes:

Changes:
-In "accessible mode," ammo acquired from dropped guns is doubled.
-In "accessible mode," enemy accuracy has been reduced.
-The game now indicates when dialogue and intro credits can be skipped.
Bug fixes:
-In level 1, if the player moves using the arrow keys, the tutorial prompt for movement will now disappear.
-Enemies now properly collide with the player character, preventing scenarios where characters clip through each other.
-When you pick up a weapon for the first time, it will always be fully loaded, regardless of the level from which you started the game.
-Enemies at the very bottom of the screen are now affected by bullets!

You can play the new version at Gamejolt and itch.io.

Also, I've been pretty awful at self-promotion so far. While I will put in greater effort in the coming weeks to get the game out there, any help you can provide by sharing, reblogging, or retweeting the game are deeply appreciated. And keep making those gameplay videos! They make my day.

Speaking of gameplay videos...

Footage!

As I've written, one of my greater fears about this game is that it would produce homogeneous experiences. It has been an absolute pleasure to have been proven wrong. As I've watched live playtest sessions, as well as the gameplay vids some of you are throwing online, I've been surprised by how differently each scenario plays out from how I've envisioned it.

Here's some footage of the game's first two levels from "Just Gameplay, No Commentary," in which the player attempts to progress without using morphine, and largely without using guns. This is a far cry from how the game is meant to be played, but it is a mostly successful (and entertaining!) run. (Let it be noted that the bug at the end in which enemies at the bottom of the screen are undamaged by bullets has just recently been fixed.)



And here's some footage from my very good friend Turtles of the second level boss encounter, which goes horribly awry on many levels. (Again, let it be noted that the bug that the player exploits to kill the first big guy has just recently been fixed, very special thanks to Turtles for documenting it for me!)



Other News!

A small joke game I made for my sister for Christmas last year, "Darcy's Yurt Adventure," is now publicly available on the Games page. I had kept it unlisted due to the highly personal and unpolished nature of the game, but it is a game that I am increasingly fond of, and we really don't have enough autobiographical games out there, do we? Play it and be befuddled by inside family jokes at your own risk.

Speaking of unpolished games, I am working on more formally organizing a separate page for my complete collection of old, shitty, and incomplete works, including games that date back from my middle school days. I do want to document and preserve these games for posterity's sake, but I definitely don't want them awkwardly hanging out at the bottom of the page. Look out for that soon.

Finally, I am making a short game for a Secret Santa jam. The game is about stupid things that walk into each other, and it will be out during the first week of January. Here's some footage from the first day of development:




Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Morphine Western Revenge v1.0


The Morphine Western Revenge is done. You can play it on Gamejolt or itch.io. Windows users should download the desktop build of the game for the best experience. For everyone else, you can play the game in your web browser. You will need a mouse to play it.

The game's soundtrack is available here, and the game's source material, The Hyperbolic Needle by Brian Cristi, can be read for free here.

Please report bugs and provide additional feedback! I want to make sure my games are enjoyable to as many people as possible, and to do that, I need your help! As it stands, I may need to make the game's easier difficulty settings a bit more forgiving - how I do that depends on audience response.

Thank you for playing! I hope you enjoy it. Tell your friends about it! Tell your parents about it! Tell your electors about it!

Now that all of those formalities are out of the way, here's how I feel about all of this.


Post-Mortem

Gosh, Feelings

First of all, I am damn proud of this project. It's the most substantial game I've released, ever. Typical playthroughs will last anywhere between thirty minutes and two hours. The game represents my best work in terms of mechanics, design, engineering, style, and musical composition. My adaption of the original story is probably the game's weakest point, but the gunplay is more than good enough to carry the experience.

However, if you've talked to me about games, or have been reading the blog for a while, then you know I have a complicated relationship with shooters. Shooter games are a foundational part of who I am as a player and maker of games. I grew up on the internet driving Scorpion tanks across the icy fields of Sidewinder and blasting away with my scattergun in the Gravel Pit. As a teenager, video games were shooter games. I played the occasional RPG, and as I got older, I started becoming interested in experimental and narratively-driven work, but I've been playing, thinking about, and designing shooters for longer than I've done anything else in games. It's my primary design inclination. More than half of the games I've finished over the past seven years are shooter games.

Making art-games, not-games, alt-games, walking-simulators, narratively-driven games, or whatever you want to call them is not hard to do, but making good ones in a short period of time is.When I originally volunteered to make The Morphine Western Revenge, I was expected to complete the game in a month. So, I chose to work in the genre I was most comfortable with - the shooter. Had I known it would have taken me 10 months to complete the project, I probably would not have made an action game.

I fundamentally believe that video games are capable of exploring the vast breadth of human experience beyond strife and competition, and that the traditional core genres - shooter, strategy, RPG - are not going to be the future of the medium. While Revenge is very much a traditional action games, perhaps even to a fault, it does, at least, tell the story of a marginalized person and how she copes with loss and oppression. The game is also stylish and weird. "Well, uh, that was very indie," one of my playtesters told me when he had finished. The game walks a fine line between being a conventional shooter, and being this weird piece of wonderfully trashy software, but it still leans closer to convention than I would like.

I'm not sure of what interest these thoughts are to the typical reader, but this game has more or less consumed me for most of the past year. It's caused me to constantly reflect on who I want to be as a creative person, what sort of work I want to create. In the current political climate, these questions become of greater relevance.

Overall, my pride about this project overcomes my ambivalence. No matter how complicated my feelings about the project are, this is undoubtedly my greatest achievement as a game designer.

Technical Lessons

While I've ported old games of mine into HTML5, this was the first major project where I've developed desktop and web versions of a game simultaneously (I previously did the same with a short game joke game I made for my sister, but that project was not technically demanding). The Windows version of the game is superior than the web version for countless reasons, so when it can time to test the game, I almost exclusively tested the desktop version. I did this because I was lazy.

Game Maker: Studio, the program I used to develop Revenge, bugs the hell out whenever you try to export a game into HTML5. As in, sometimes I would compile the game and it would look like this:

This is supposed to be a cave. Instead it is A MONSTER.

Squashing the unique bugs that expressed themselves in the game's web build was enough of a challenge. But the web version also experienced performance issues that I didn't discover until late in development. A level that ran smoothly on the desktop (with, say, 70 bad guys in it) just had too much stuff in it to run smoothly online (the level would now slow down if you had more than 40 bad guys in it).

Usually, when I encounter performance issues in games, my inclination is simply to put less stuff in it, rather than engineer things more intelligently. But since I already designed the game around having lots of stuff in it, I needed to actually confront the issue.

I'm not going to bore you with the details, but by the end of development, I managed to optimize the game in ways I thought were impossible. One raycasting script that drew a straight line between the player and the closest object in front of them (which can sometimes be expensive to do every frame with any precision!) became 32 times more efficient. The number of enemies a level could support at a time doubled. Dust and rain effects automatically downgraded in quality as framerate dropped. I was able to deliver my vision on a technical level with little sacrifice, and it feels good.


Design Lessons (why the game works)

What surprised me most as I watched folks playtest the game was the sheer number of valid and creative solutions they found to solve the problems I presented them with. In the canyon level, the player comes across a group of a dozen riflemen. "I can't outgun them," the player character says. "I'll have to be clever."

Most of my playtesters solved the problem as intended. Except for one. "Nah, I'm going to outgun them."

He died a half dozen times, and it took him twenty minutes, but god damn, did he keep his word.

I was worried that the game, overall, was going to be a homogeneous experience. Limited to human opponents, 19th century weaponry, and natural environments, creating a diverse variety of game elements was a challenge. All of the baddies in the game use variations of the exact same AI, all of the weapons are slow firing, and I couldn't use moving platforms, locked doors, or other interactive elements in the level design. In retrospect, these limitations allowed me to hyper-focus on creating very specific and deliberate differences between each enemy and weapon, not only to create chemistry among all of them, but also varied and emergent gameplay.

For example, there are essentially 4 classes of enemies: revolver guys, shotgun guys, rifle guys, and big guys. Revolver guys are the game's fodder - not too dangerous at close range, less dangerous at long range, and easy to kill. Shogun guys are highly dangerous at close range, but nearly harmless at long range. Rifle guys are fairly dangerous at all ranges. Shotgun, rifle guys, and revolver guys are all similarly fragile. Big guys, on the other hand, can absorb inhuman amounts of damage from the player.

With this palette of enemies to choose from, you can create a surprising variety of enemy encounters. Shotgun guys can be safely fought at a distance in the open without cover... unless there's a rifle guy sniping at you from the corner. You can pick off a group of enemies one at a time with your rifle... unless there's a big guy leading the charge, protecting the men behind him with his bulging muscles. So on and so forth.

Furthermore, the overall design of the game itself lends itself to emergent gameplay. If you're stealthy, you can avoid the gaze of enemies and take them out from behind, undetected. If you fail, you can then pop in and out of cover, taking them out one at a time. If you fail again, you can run and hide, heal yourself, and run back into the fray. Or, you can run and hide, have your enemies lose sight of you, and then try to use stealth again.

Essentially, no matter what choices the player makes, no matter what mistakes they make, they always have an alternate method of solving a problem available to them. Not only that, but the player is unable to immediately repeat their previous strategy, forcing them to adopt varied techniques. Here's a visualization of how the game works:

At the beginning of an encounter with bad guys, the player can choose to 1) sneak or stealthily dispatch them, 2) use brute force, or 3) run away from them. If any of these strategies fail, they cycle to the next strategy. Repeat until the encounter is won or avoided. This is why the game works. This, I suspect, is what makes it fun.
From an aesthetic design perspective, I wanted to make the game's world feel as tangible as possible, especially since the game's levels are otherwise as static and dead as they are. To do this, I tried to animate and add sound to every physical interaction in the game I could think of. No matter what the player is doing, the world is responding. Dust clouds form as the players boots rapidly thud against the ground. Shotgun shells fly out of your weapon and litter the ground. So on and so forth. I tried to make it so that something interesting is always happening on screen and in the player's ears, and to a large extent, I think I did well.

If I have any regrets about the design of the game, it's that it expects the player to learn too much too quickly. While I was very conscious of the game's tutorialization (40% of the game is tutorial levels, whether the player is aware of it or not), I guide the player through the tutorial a bit too quickly. I explain a mechanic once, have them execute it, and then move on to the next one. I probably could have spent a little more time having players learn each individual rule of the game.

That said, I think I did some good damn work this year. As excited as I've been to release this piece of software for it's own sake, I'm even more excited to move on and do something radically different - games that are more peaceful, more experimental, and that tell stories I can be proud of. And, on a similar note, Monsterpunk development will resume soon.

Thanks for playing, thanks for reading, happy holidays.