Saturday, December 29, 2012

More Screenshots

I'm going to be honest: the main reason that I'm posting these because I'm making a thread about the game on the TIGsource forums and needed somewhere to host new, up-to-date screenshots. Still, I think the game's starting to look pretty good.



Thoughts on Game Violence Part 2


     I was really tired when I wrote that post on game violence last night and didn't hit on everything that I wanted to or expressed myself in a way that I would've liked. I just want to elaborate a few more things.

     It isn't the violence in games themselves that makes me uncomfortable, it's how that violence is portrayed, the carelessness to which violence is inserted into games, and the feedback that games give to violent vs nonviolent behavior. Let's look at some examples. Generally, games like Iji and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP use violence in a conscious and thoughtful way, while the aforementioned SkyrimTorliight II, and nearly every first-person shooter and action RPG ever created use it in a thoughtless way.

Thoughts on Game Violence

     Nathan Grayson wrote an excellent piece on video game violence for Rock Paper Shotgun. It begins with the following:

"Everyone? We need to talk.

I didn't feel right playing Far Cry 3 the day after the awful, disgusting, utterly tragic shootings in Newton, Connecticut  I didn't at all.

I think that says something. I know that says something..."


     I've been feeling the same way, lately. Even before the recent shootings, I've been growing increasingly ambivalent towards violence as a primary interactive element in games. I'm in the middle of playing Skyrim at the moment, and while the violence in the fantasy RPG wouldn't have bothered me much in the past, for some reason it's bothering me a lot now. Generally, the game tries to make you feel like a hero or a badass for adventuring and killing lots of things. The sweeping score, the epic quests, and the praise that non-player characters give all communicate to you, as a player, that you are heroic and mighty. In the past, when overly violent games have communicated this message to me, I've accepted it without question. Killing a couple of dozen bandits or giant rats used to make me feel good, I felt like a hero, I felt accomplished. I was living through the power fantasy that the game developers constructed for me and it gave me pleasure.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Game is Renamed; has Blue People

You Will Probably Lose Your Job, in addition to being an obnoxiously long title for a game (or for anything, for that matter), no longer suits the theme or mood of the game now that the actual implementation of the story is underway. So, for now, the new working title is Waker.  There, isn't that much easier to say? "Waker." I'm certainly relieved.

Also, as of today, Waker now includes 50% MORE BLUE PEOPLE.

   It's sort of funny, I was determined to make a totally unique fantasy race, and instead ended up combining two of the most cliche fantasy race traits there are: pointy ears (elves/gnomes/goblins/faries) and blue skin (Na'vi/Asari/dark elves/smurfs/those blue-skinned black-haired red-eyed humanoid aliens from Star Wars). Honestly not sure how I screwed that up. At any rate, what the Feymer lack in originality they make up for in sass. At least, the one above does.

     I'm really excited about where the game's going, though - I haven't felt that way about a project in a long time.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shadow of the Colossus and Story Telling

So, I've been writing some short pieces for Ohio University's self-described online "nerd culture" magazine, Beta Fish, and just recently wrote one about Shadow of the Colossus and how it uses the unique strengths of its medium to tell a compelling story. Give it a read!

(I also wrote a fairly general piece of indie games a while back and forgot to link to it, so here it is.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm going to throw another interactive story at you.


Bento Smile made this great little interactive visual novel for the recent Ludum Dare competition called Vixen, in which you pick on a teenage girl  (for those who don't know, Ludum Dare is a regularly held 48-hour game competition. Most of the entries are rough, but some really inspiring work is produced from time to time. You Will Probably Lose Your Job was originally going to be a LD competition entry, but then it sort of... grew). Bento Smile also made another great visual novel a while back called Air Pressure that is really good; I highly recommend it.

I really love it when game devs like Bento make non-violent, accessible, and inspired games about the human  experience instead of meaningless tales about space marines saving the world*. There's a place in our culture for the latter, certainly, but they do over-saturate the games medium, and its because of the former that I write this blog and am a hobbyist developer myself. If you're the rare family member or friend of mine who doesn't play games but reads this blog just because you're a nice bloke, play one of the games above, or play one of the interactive stories that I linked to in other posts. All of them are accessible and appeal to a broader audience than most games are, so give one of them a try. 

* And that isn't to say that stories about space marines saving the world can't be meaningful. It's just that, 9 times out of 10, they're not.

EDIT: Bah, just replayed Air Pressure, it's good, but not quite good as I remember. Considering the subject matter, it makes sense that it made a bigger impression on me in the midst of my teenage years than it does now that I'm leaving them. Oh well.

Monday, December 17, 2012

You Will Probably Lose Your Job - Progress

Guess who's game now has a robust dialogue tree system?
There's a lot of other cool stuff I've thrown into the game since I've last posted about You Will Probably Lose Your Job, but I'm finally getting to the stage in development where I can't show some things without spoiling too much of the game - I would probably have waited until later to share screenshots displaying the dialogue system until I was able to take some of a less important in-game conversation, but I'm too gosh-darned proud to wait for that.

Not sure how I feel about the color scheme yet - we'll see.



Fun fact: I have literally made 25 different portraits of that woman, each expressing a different emotion. I am already saddened that I will probably not get to use all of them - such is life.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

This one's good too

Here's another interactive Twine story, this one written by Jonas Kyratzes. It comes together at the end, trust me. I can't wait to write one of these things.

And this is why I love Twine

Take a few minutes to play/read Brooklyn Trash King, and don't ask questions.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I'd Rather Eat Gravel than Land a Job in the Games Industry

     For those of you who don't know, I'm a sophomore year college student majoring in political science. Despite my passion for making games, I have for a long time disregarded the possibility of studying game development or pursuing a career in the medium. Most people I've talked to about it tell me that it's a natural choice for someone with my interests. Whenever I have conversations about choosing a major or considering a career path, the other person almost always mentions, "you know, you've always disregarded the game thing, but you know, it's good to be paid to do something you love/good to pick up some highly technical skills/it seems like a natural fit for you." It was hard to provide a response that indicated otherwise, why wouldn't I want to be paid for something that I love? Yet, deep down, I knew that the games industry wasn't for me. I didn't want to be part of a massive development team, cranking out another generic AAA first person shooter whose story that wasn't worth shit. I wanted to do something different, I wanted to make stories that reflected upon real human experience, and I wanted to tell stories on my own terms, to realize my vision and not somebody else's. The games medium was made for me, but the industry, as it exists today, isn't.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

You Will Probably Lose Your Job - Progress

I'm going to be frank: I hate animating characters. Drawing them's fine - I love to translate the forms that I've envision for them into reality - but re-drawing them in a slightly different position a dozen times is one of the few parts of game development that I dislike. So progress on animating YWPLYJ's protagonist has been super-slow. Really, all I have to show for the past month of work is an animated character (with a shadow!) that can move around the world. Thankfully, I've gotten over that hurdle - the rest of the game's characters require much less animating, and the coding that will follow will go very quickly.













I'm going to have to make the protagonist's sprite darker since the side that is visible to the player is supposed to be in shadow, but that can wait for tomorrow.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Today's Indie Game Recommendations, thoughts on Half-Life Franchise and Why People Generally Think About Games the Wrong Way

Here are today's (mostly) free indie game recommendations, and quite a bit of reflection.

First Recommendation: Black Mesa 
     This is old news to any Half-Life fans, but for the rest of you, Black Mesa is a totally free fan-made remake of the original Half-Life in the Source Engine, and it is just about one of the best FPSs that's been released recently I never thought I'd say this about a shooter game, but it is one of the most refreshing games I've played in a while. Let me explain.

     When most people talk about a game, they talk about the game's "features" - the game's core play mechanics - as though it's some sort of appliance. Games often designed starting with the features, instead of the world that the game takes place in or the story. Borderlands, for example, was first conceived of as a game that combines FPS gunplay with RPG looting mechanics, not as the story of treasure hunters on a wasteland planet. When people complain about games, they often complain about how the mechanics of a game's sequel are not different from its predecessors, or they complain that a game is just a clone of another. I find this confusing, comparing games in such a technical way is like comparing novels by the length of their chapters or the use of certain grammatical constructions. Criticizing two shooter games because they have similar game play is like criticizing two novels because they are written in the same satirical style. This is how people think about games, anyway.

     Most action games I've played recently- Borderlands, Rage, Mass Effect, BioshockZeno Clash, among others - are symptomatic of  this way of thinking of games. The emphasis is placed entirely on the mechanics - what the player can do, what the guns do, what the enemies do - and on little else. This means that you have fairly linear levels that, while visually stunning, are fairly static. For the most part, the only interaction in the combat sections of these games is between the player and things that he shoots or hits. While each level changes in aesthetic, your location has no impact on the interactive aspect. Instead, any changes in interactivity between each level is only what the player fights and what he fights them with. Frankly, this is tedious: every interactive encounter in these games are identical.

     Black Mesa, and the Half-Life franchise as a whole, take a much different approach. The player encounters new enemies and weapons throughout the game, but these things aren't what keeps the game  fresh from level to level - the meaningful change is in the levels themselves. In most recent action games, the context in which the player does battle is often irrelevant the experience outside of itself, in the Half-Life games it defines the experience. Even though I should be endorsing Black Mesa in this essay, I'm mostly going to use examples from the similarly-styled Half-Life 2 since I have played it more recently than its fan-made prequel.

     While each individual fight in Borderlands or Rage is just like the other, fights in Black Mesa and Half-Life 2 are much more memorable. While every fight with a Banshee in Mass Effect 3 was the same as every other one, every fight with a gunship in Half-Life 2 was drastically different. Even though the core mechanic is the same in each encounter - you must steer missiles from your missile launcher through the ship's gunfire and into the ship itself a number of times before it goes down - the changing setting makes each fight exciting and memorable. The first time, you fight the gunship from the rooftops of buildings, as allies supply you with ammo meanwhile. Later on, you fight the ship under the beam supports of a bridge - running on the narrow beams to find valuable cover and ammo. In the sequel, Episode 1, you fight the ship inside a wooden building. Initially, the entire building is intact and you can't even see the ship -  but the roof, walls, and floor are torn up in the struggle, making it easier to hit the ship, but also making it difficult to navigate the building and avoid gunfire. Each encounter with the gunship is distinct, memorable, and feels like a totally different experience. Encounters in other games are often homogeneous and undifferentiated from each other.

     The worlds of Black Mesa and Half-Life 2 are some of the most convincing virtual worlds ever built, even though they are made in a game engine that is now over eight years old. This is not only because the levels influence the action more than the core mechanics do, but also because the levels themselves are used to tell the story. The settings in most games are just that - settings - while explication of the story and game world are handled entirely through cut scenes, dialogue, and encyclopedia entries. That is, the game gives you a setting and tells you what it all means. The Half-Life games, alternatively, have their worlds explain themselves. The first Chapter of Half-Life 2 is one of the greatest examples of how game worlds can tell a story without explicitly telling it to them in a traditional manner. In this chapter, the hero rides a train into City 17 with absolutely no historical or societal context, but after walking through the run-down city, observing armored cyborg soldiers brutalize civilians wearing identical uniforms, watching the civilians converse with themselves and go about their daily lives, and listening to the propaganda espoused by Dr. Breen across the city, the player quickly figures out essential information about the game's world. No one explicitly tells the player that Earth is under siege from alien "benefactors" who have established an Orwellian  regime that seeks to assimilate humanity into their war machine, but no one needs to - by the end of the first chapter, the player knows all of this. This method of story telling is used throughout the game - no one tells the player about how headcrabs are used for biological warfare, about how humans and other species are transformed into cyborg war machines and lose their personalities, or that humanity is on the verge of breaking into all-out revolution. Instead, the player explores a town ravaged by biological warfare, escapes from the facilities in which humans are transformed into machines, and witness increasing acts of defiance leading up to the revolt.

     Yet another reason that the worlds of Black Mesa and Half-Life 2 are so engaging is that they give the player incredible freedom to interact with it. Nearly any object can be picked up, moved, thrown, or destroyed; structures can be, to some extent, built and destroyed. You can talk to any civilian,  press the buttons on any computer display, microwave, and in one instance, miniature teleportation device. If it has wheels you can push it, if you can stand on it the game won't stop you with invisible walls. Much of this interaction seems trivial, but it really makes you feel as though you're in a real place and not just in a corridor filled with guns and bad guys. More than that, it gives the player to solve problems and defeat enemies in ways that the developers didn't intend: you can stock objects to reach areas that would otherwise be forbidden, or you can pick up a barrel and use it as a shield from enemy bullets. Most games these days provide you with one way to solve your problems (in shooters this solution is usually take cover, aim, shoot, and repeat) and explicitly tells the player how to solve these problems in some sort of tutorial. Black Mesa and HL2, meanwhile, do not tell the player how to solve his or her problems, but instead provides the tools needed and lets him or her figure it out using creativity and trial and error. It's a real shame that Valve, back in 2004, pioneered the in-game physics technology that makes greater player freedom possible, yet developers have instead shied away from giving the player freedom, instead using the technology for mere aesthetics.

     The point I'm trying to make is, game play mechanics - the 'rules' - have much less to do with the quality of a game than most players and developers think. Although this is fairly obvious when discussing a game's world or story, it is also true when it comes to the "action" of a game itself. Valve understands this, and the Black Mesa team understood this too. Black Mesa's story obviously pales in comparison to its sequel's, but the game's world is every bit as amazing. If you have Steam, go download it!

Second Recommendation: Space Funeral






Space Funeral's become a bit of a cult classic since I first played it years ago. I just replayed the short punk-styled RPG again out of nostalgia and was pleasantly reminded of its quirks. It tells the story of a man and a leg horse as they try to save the world.  The combat is broken, unchallenging, and needlessly overwhelming, but that is beside the point - the wonderfully bizarre game world more than compensates for this. If you want to play a short, hilarious, quirky, and memorable RPG check it out. Seriously, though, the hero's supporting party member is a horse made out of legs called Leg Horse. That should be enough to convince you to play it. Like most stuff I recommend, its free.

Third Recommendation: Analogue: A Hate Story

     I really enjoyed Digital: A Love Story and couldn't wait to try out its spiritual successor. Although it wasn't reviewed very well, that's only because people are idiots and don't have the patience to play a game that mostly consists of reading. Analogue: A Hate Story is a short "interactive novel" in which the player must investigate an old derelict space ship, read the ship's logs, and solve the mystery of its crew's death using the help of the ship's artificial intelligences. The writing is good, the AI characters are remarkably well developed, and the story of the excessively patriarchal society that developed on the ship is horrifying. The story can branch out in a fairly complex number of ways, and the player is forced to make some decisions of moral ambiguity. The soundtrack's great too. It may not be everybody's cup of tea, but if it sounds tasty to you, check it out here. Costs $10 on Steam.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You Will Probably Lose Your Job- Progress!

I've finally finished building the levels for YWPLYJ, which means I get to move onto character design and coding! More screenshots follow.





Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frog Fractions

Play Frog Fractions.  It is amazing. Bear with the first few levels, you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Things are coming along...

I'm almost done designing the world for You Will Probably Lose Your Job. I only have four more screens to make! Additionally, for the first time I'm putting a little effort into putting shadows into one of my game worlds. Makes quite the difference, I think!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Digital: A Love Story

If you follow the indie game scene, you've probably already heard of Christine Love's Digital: A Love Story, but I had never gotten around to playing it until recently. It is essentially an interactive novel, but while most interactive text stories are told merely with text and hyperlinks or user commands, Christine Love does a creative thing and tells her story through the GUI of the protagonist's computer, and it really adds to the immersion.

On top of that, while it is an interactive story, the interactive components draw the player in without challenging or overwhelming him, and it does this while maintaining linearity and building a strong relationship between the player and one of the other characters. I think this is an amazing feat; in games you usually have interactive components that merely provides the player with challenges while telling a linear story, or you have interactive components that have the player determine the outcome of the story. The problem with the first is that you have a game that is only an interactive story in a very loose sense, and the problem with the second is that it is difficult to create a strong protagonist with motivations and behavior separate from the player, which limits the type of story you can tell. Christine Love somehow has created a protagonist that, even though you control him, has personality and motivations unique from the player. Yet, when I played the game, I felt as though I was one with the protagonist: his motivations became my motivations, his outrage was my outrage. It might not sound like much, but I think that's amazing.

Essentially, Digital: A Love Story it everything that I want my games to be, even if they are in a different format. It's really good, so give it a play.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

First Draft of the Revolution

I played this really cool interactive story the other day.  It's a particularly creative take on the "choose your own adventure" concept in which you play the role of various characters as they write letters to each other, and it does a remarkably good job of world building for such a short work. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More YWPLYJ Screenshots

Haven't had much time to work on You Will Probably Lose Your Job, but here are some more screenshots of the game world for your pleasure:



Friday, September 7, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Storytelling Through Games

Here's a fairly good article about the potential of games as a medium for storytelling. I'm actually in the process of writing an essay on the same topic, and it is always refreshing to read a piece by a game developer who agrees that interactive software can tell stories as well or better than other mediums, but that  potential for storytelling is being wasted on shallow, linear, overproduced playthings.

The only point of disagreement I have with the author is his praising of the player avatar over the player character. When the protagonist is an avatar of the player, makes decisions based off of the player's history in the player's world, but lives in a separate world... a lot is sacrificed. Avatar characters in games can't undergo complex character development the same way characters in novels and movies can unless the player who is operating the avatar is undergoing development himself. Even in that case, the character development is a result of events that happen in the real world, not the game world. It poses a serious problem for storytellers, I think. More about this when I publish that essay I mentioned.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's August (more or less)

A few items of interest:
1) You Will Probably Lose Your Job is growing into a much larger project than I originally planned. Right now I'm making tile sets and creating the maps before I start writing the code. The dream sequence of the game is going to look something like this:

 2) I'm starting to rethink whether or not I, as one-man team, have enough time and patience to tell the story I want to tell in Space Punk with sound and colorful graphics and do it justice. I'm thinking about instead attempting to tell the story in the format of an interactive electronic book. More on that when I'm done with You Will Probably Lose Your Job

3) Play this. It's a short flash game called dys4ia by Anna Anthropy, aka Auntie Pixelante. It's about her experiences as a transgender woman undergoing hormone replacement therapy. It's really cool; I wish more people would use games to tell these sorts of stories instead of the usual stories of wizards and space marines. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bahahaha moron

Release a game at the end of June, I said. Believed myself when I said it, I did. Dumbass.
It has taken me this long to get back to the point I was at before I had to restart my work on You Will Probably Lose Your Job. I'm finally getting some momentum again and will release it before I go back to school and forfeit my free time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Grace

From time to time, indie dev Jonas Kyratzes writes something really cool. I really wish this attitude were adopted more widely across the industry.

Its those moments of "grace," as Kyratzes calls them, that make games worth playing. Those moments when Agro falls into the ravine in Shadow of the Colossus, when Psycho Mantis shatters the fourth wall in Metal Gear Solid, when the Scythian's body floats down the river in Sword and Sworcery, when Garrus is horrifyingly taken away by a seeker swarm to his death in Mass Effect 2, or when the Kid is carrying Zulf's body over his shoulder in Bastion and the violence stops... those are the moments that touch me and keep me thinking about the game for days after I've played it. It's those moments of grace that actually give the medium value.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ludum Dare Day #4: Retreat, men!

I don't have time to finish this game in time for the competition. I have no free time until late in the evening, and I really don't want to start all over again. This is not a good time in my life to be doing this.

At the very least, I now have a conception of a truly original game that I can create in a few weeks, so this short-lived experience hasn't been a total loss. You Will Probably Lose Your Job will be released by the end of the month.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ludum Dare Day #2: Fuuuuuuuuuuu

Game Maker crashed when I was working on my mini-LD entry: the file was corrupted, and I lost everything except for a couple of sprites. All my code and maps and half of my graphics are all gone. 5 hours of work all gone. God, this is disheartening.

I'm sure at this point whether or not I want to duplicate my lost work or start all over. Certainly don't have it in me to continue work tonight. Bah! At least I still have five days to work on an entry.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Ludum Dare Day #1

Ludum Dare begins today! Here's a screenshot of what I've got to show for my first evening of work:


It's gonna be weird.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Games Page Added!

Hey, you. Do you see that little tab up top that says "My Games"? Good.

On that page you'll find information on my two current projects, as well as a couple of old games I made in high school, just for the hell of it. Check it out!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Upcoming Projects

Here's what I'm up to:

1) Spacepunk (working title)

     Spacepunk will be a medium length sci-fi adventure game. It will tell the story of Franklin, a freelancer and bounty hunter, and his crew as they travel through space searching for love, meaning, and an elusive murderous outlaw. Or something like that.

     I'm placing a very heavy emphasis on narrative and much less emphasis on complex game mechanics and violence. All interactive elements will serve to make the story meaningful and engaging; they will not be ends to themselves. Hopefully, I'll get this thing done within a year.

This is what it looks like so far. Graphics are mostly placeholders. Don't judge, it's still super-early in development.
2) My Mini Ludum Dare #36 Entry

     For those of you who don't know, Ludum Dare is a 48-hour game making contest. The main competition is held once every four months, and mini competitions are held every month. Hundreds of devs participate, including some pretty big names; for example, Notch and Terry Cavanagh, respective creators of Minecraft and VVVVVV have participated. Anyway, a lot of the work produced from these competitions is really creative, and it sounds like a lot of fun. I've been wanting to take part for a while.


     The next competition is one of the monthly mini-contests, and instead of being a mere weekend long it will last from July 9th to July 15th. The contest's theme is "contrasts". Not sure what sort of game I'll be making yet, but I still have a few more days to plan before I'm allowed to start cranking it out.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Welcome!

Welcome to Sassy Echidna Software! This is essentially a personal blog with an emphasis on my work as a game developer. I have not completed a project in two and a half years, and starting this blog to help motivate myself to actually make something playable.

Sloppy collage of screenshots from unfinished games I've made over the past two years in a desperate attempt to prove that I actually know what I'm doing.


Once I've actually published something good, I will start hosting my games on this site. I hope you will enjoy them!