Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Postmortem: The Void Hero Blues, Constraint, and Violence


The Void Hero Blues was a strange game to make. While I've been making games for nearly 10 years now, it was not only my first university student project, but also my first game to feature post-1998 quality 3D graphics. The context within which I made the game determined not only the development process, but shaped the concept itself. If I didn't have to make a game under the conditions I did, I would not have had any desire to make The Void Hero Blues. Unlike the rest of my work, this did not start out as a passion project.

I feel a very strong ambivalence about the game. On one had, it is probably one of the most technically impressive, visually interesting, and mechanically solid games I've ever made. On the other, the game's treatment of violence simply makes me uncomfortable. Let me explain.

Constraint

If you aren't familiar with the game, The Void Hero Blues is a short first person shooter in a cyberpunk setting. The player character, Void Girl, is stranded in a  pseudo-virtual environment, and must fight enemy security forces and survive for nine minutes. The catch is that every time she kills an enemy, a message will appear where they were slain that shares personal information about them. As her enemies are de-objectified, Void Girl's mood deteriorates. By the end of the game, she puts down her gun and stops fighting altogether.



The game was made over a semester and a half as an undergraduate student project at Ohio University. Most of the projects created in my class were made by teams of five or more people. Most of the members of these teams had never worked on a game before. Because I had a bit more experience than my classmates, I was pretty quickly bored with the team project I was initially assigned to, and figured that I could probably accomplish more on my own. Much to my surprise, my professor was kind enough to let me work on a solo project.

With most of my recent game projects, I strive to make something that is personal, experimental, subversive, or soulful. However, with this student project, I didn't have the free reign to do whatever I wanted as I usually did. I had to make a game using Unity 3D (which I had never done before), and I had to make it within a semester and a half. For the first time in a long time, I had to make a game using tools I was mostly unfamiliar with.

Most importantly, however, I felt a need to prove myself to my professor, and to the class. I felt that I needed to justify the privilege to work alone that was given to me. At the time, I felt that I couldn't get away with whatever nonviolent interactive art I wanted to do. Instead, I felt that I had to demonstrate that I could make a traditional game, with traditional mechanics, and do it well. I felt as though something that wasn't a "real" game wasn't going to cut it.

In short:

1) Because I had never made a 3D game in Unity before, I had to design a game that was easy to make.

2) Because I thought I had to prove that I was capable of design good, traditional game mechanics, I decided to focus on making a "fun" action or strategy game rather than an interactive story or "art game".

3) Because I have more experience making shooters than any games of any other genre, I could most realistically make a complete shooter game in a semester and a half. Making a shooter would also satisfy the requirement that the game is "fun" in a traditional sense.

4) HOWEVER, I also wanted the game to be subversive in some way. I wanted to be critical of the way in which violence was portrayed in games.

This is how I came up with the concept for the Void Hero Blues. It was one of the few concepts I could conceive that met the criteria for ease of development, fun, and subversion. However, it is the compromise between  fun and subversion that causes my discomfort about the project.

Violence

I think about violence in games a lot. I grew up playing shooter games and RPGs, and such games have probably been the largest influences on me as a designer. Even when I make a game about monsters that poop on the ground, I still rely on violence as the fallback mechanic. As a game designer, it's a habit that's been strongly ingrained in me, and I resent it.

Having violence as the primary way through which a player interacts with a game world severely limits the type of story you can tell through a game. For most people, the infliction of violence by them isn't a prominent aspect of the human experience. Halo, Quake, and Jedi Outcast are lots of fun, but at the end of the day, fun is all they are. Lately, I've been finding that narrative games in which violence is tangential to or absent from the experience, such as The Walking Dead, Sword and Sworcery EP, and Kentucky Route Zero, are far more compelling and meaningful. If I find a game primarily concerned with combat to be at all compelling, nowadays it is in spite of the violence, and not because of it.

In sprite of my criticism of game violence, every game I've worked on over the past two years besides Waker has been, in some form or another, a shooter. In three of those four cases - Empty Chambers, Toilets Meat & Drugs, and The Void Hero Blues - I attempt to provide critical commentary on violence in games through my game's mechanics. In these attempts, the violence in Empty Chambers and The Void Hero Blues both have left me uncomfortable, and the only reason it hasn't in Toilets Meat & Drugs is that the violence that does occur is between non-human cartoon characters.

In the case of The Void Hero Blues, I think that the cause of discomfort is the dissonance between the game play and the narrative content. The game's protagonist is a reluctant fighter who grows self disgusted with each life she effortlessly takes, but actual player has a different experience from her. Dodging lasers, finding health packs, and killing enemies are all fun things for the player to do. The visual and audio feedback the player receives upon sinking their blade into an enemy's flesh is satisfying. If you remove all of the narrative and subversive elements from the game, you're (arguably) left with a satisfying minimalist shooter. It is the game's biggest problem. I tried to make something that was both compelling and fun, and in this case, these two goals were at odds with each other.



Because of the game's dissonance between its game play and its narrative, I think that the game's message - that every stranger we meet is a human and not an object - was lost on a lot of the players. Some people I've met online were impressed by the game's subversive elements, but most of the people I've watched play the game only talked about the mechanics, graphics, and features of the game, not its meaning. Many players, as they played the game, actively expressed a lack of sympathy for the characters they killed, sometimes mocking them as they shot them, or remarking that they deserved it. In the case of these players, the game had failed to accomplish what I had hoped it would accomplish - feelings of sympathy and remorse.

In spite of my ambivalence about the game, I am proud of it, and if you haven't played it yet, I hope you do, but I still feel really odd about the finished project. Once I complete work on Toilets, Meat, and Drugs, I'm going to take a break from violent games for a long time. After much experimentation, I think I've realized that violent mechanics aren't going to help me achieve what I want to achieve as a game developer. I want to tell stories that are relevant to people's lives, and I know now that attempting that through action games will likely be a waste of time.

If you have played the game, how did you respond to it? Did you find it enjoyable, meaningful, or compelling in any way, and if so, why? In regards to my more general discussion of games and violence, am I actually full of shit? Please let me know.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Radical Playthings: Bottle Rockets, Frail Shells, I'm Scared of Girls, and More

I've kept a list of neat-o freeware games over the past eight months that I've been meaning to share with everybody, but between game development, thesis writing, and reflecting upon current events in game community*, I haven't had too much time to write about any of them. Now that the year's winding down and everybody's writing their game-of-the-year lists, I'm feeling a little pressure to write about all of the cool stuff I played this year before I get to the GOTY material.

I do intend to dedicate more of this blog to freeware indie game curation in the future. The hole left by freeindiegam.es still hasn't quite been filled (although Warp Door comes pretty close), and I'd like to do my part to help share the small, otherwise unheard-of games that are well worth your time. So, I am pleased to announce that I am formally rebooting the (bi-?)monthly Radical Plaything(s) Blog Post Series!

I intend to focus on freeware, indie, alternative, punk, political, and experimental games in the new Radical Playthings posts. I might write about the occasional twitch shooter or small commercial release, but such recommendations will be made sparingly.

Because I have so many games I want to cover this month, my commentary will be fairly sparse this time around. Without further ado, here are this month's radical playthings!

Bottle Rockets by James Earl Cox III

"Bot­tle Rock­ets is a music videogame about a mother and her daugh­ter...
It is a game to play when you feel sad."

Do you know the terror of attempting to escape a burning space station as it plummets into the earth, knowing that your effort is in vain and you will never see your family again?

Bottle Rockets give you some idea of what that feels like. For such a small game, it's heavy.


Froggy by Tetrageddon Games


"FROGGY is the legendary froggame that forever changed frogtelling in the frogindustry with its groundbreaking narrative. Many critics have heralded it as the Citizen Kane of frogs. FROGGY’s most notable achievement was the accurate representation of frogs, for which it won many frogminations in froggytainment, and PC Frogger’s Frog of the Year award. In this no holes barred froggame you frog as FROGGY, a seasoned frog veteran with a strong inner-voice but no moral conviction, surviving one day at a time on Armageddon Highway. For the first time ever play the remastered version in full 2D froggraphics!"

 I haven't enjoyed a game purely for its tone in so long. Froggy's gameplay is fairly unremarkable (eat bugs, don't get hit by cars), but the bizarre setting, stylized, quality animation, and funny writing make for one hell of an experience.

Witness death and carnage on Armageddon Highway as Froggy. Do it. 



Mouse Corp by thecatamites


"Explore a field of caves and ruins under the benign aspect of the Mouse Corp. A mysterious 3d adventure awaits your survey. It's Mouse Corp. - what are friends for?"

SPOILERS FOLLOW, but it's a short game, so whogivesafuck.
Mouse Corp is cute and sad. You lead a group of mice on an expedition, fighting monsters and collecting berries, but over time, your comrades defect. By the game's end, you are all alone, with nothing to do**. There's no game over screen. Instead, you're simply left to experience an empty world. I'm honestly not sure how I feel about it.

Download Mouse Corp for Windows, Mac, and Linux (pay what you want).

I'm Scared of Girls by Moga

"Explore the depths of death, gender, and unhappy places in this surreal action game!" 

An adventure RPG in which you play as a gender nonconforming boy in the afterlife, who must cut all ties with his past life before being reborn . Solid little story, haunting music, great aesthetics and atmosphere. The game is quite compelling.



Average Maria Individual by Alice Maz

"You are MARIA. Why are you here. What's going on. Wait is this Super Mario Bros 1-1.

Find yr girlfriend! Defeat yr enemies! Jump no higher than half a tile!

The only mechanics are walking and light conversation and the only puzzle is don't act like a gamer. (There are some cool gameovers if you do tho)

Will you complete yr quest?? Yea prolly"

Nice little subversive parody of Super Mario Bros with themes of nonviolence and queerness. It pissed off some Gamergater-y types who made some awful response games (I played one of them and needless to say it was not cut out for this list). It's pretty weird that a harmless walking simulator with a gay protagonist that got such a strong counter-response***. Crazy times we live in.

Anyway, the game itself is an interesting little thing.


VA-11 HALL-A by Sukeban Games

"In this world, corporations reign supreme, all human life is infected with nanomachines designed to oppress them, and terrifying White Knights ensure that everyone obeys the laws.

But, this is not about those people.

You are a bartender at VA-11 HALL-A, affectionately nicknamed 'Valhalla.' Although it is just a small bar downtown, it attracts the most fascinating people this side of dystopia. Keep your clients lubricated and you will be made privy to the most interesting stories."

VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel in which you, a cyberpunk bartender, influence the story based on how you mix your client's drinks. Currently, only the prologue is complete, but the setting is intriguing, and the game's story and mechanics show much promise. 


Frail Shells by Taylor Bai-Woo

"Shells fall from the sky

Like rain on a day that's just a little too cold

Shells shatter like ice

Against a pan that's just a little hard to hold"

Frail Shells is a first-person shooter game that's more concerned with what happens after war than with war itself. It has a wonderful visual style and uses interactive mechanics to tell a story in a really clever way. It's damn near heartbreaking.

Download Frail Shells for Windows, Mac, or Linux (pay what you want).

And that's it for this month's Radical Plaything(s). A bunch of stuff for you to play that will make you feel sad or awful. Cheers.

*yes, that thing
**Unless I suck at Mouse Corp and am totally missing something.
***Hell, I even got a slight reaction for my latest game having a female protagonist, which surprised me. More about that soon.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

AIN'T NO BLUES LIKE THE VOID HERO BLUES

I am very pleased to announce that The Void Hero Blues is now available for download!

You can check out the game and download it from itch.io. You can also do the same from Game Jolt, but, let's be honest, the itch.io page is better looking.

I have some things I'd like to say about the game, especially regarding themes of gender and violence, but I'm fairly exhausted from cranking this beast out, and would like to get more feedback first.

Thank you so much for playing! I'm very proud of how this one turned out.





Now that The Void Hero Blues is good and done with, you can expect a lot more writing from me over the next few months, as well as the imminent release of Toilets, Meat, and Drugs: A Pink Monster Story. TM&D has been painfully close to completion for the past month and a half - until now, I simple haven't had the time to give it the little push over the finish line. 

It's been five months since I've worked on Waker. I needed a break, but am trembling with anticipation at the thought of working on it again. I think developing The Void Hero Blues has been a huge transitional phase for me as a game maker, for reasons I'll get to in the next post. I feel energized in a way I haven't felt in a long time. I think I can make Waker really, really special, not only because I have the technical skill, but because I feel driven to do so in a way I haven't felt in a long time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Devlog Update (Toilets, Meat, Drugs, and Gender/Romance/Sexuality)

Life's been preventing me from writing as much as I'd like. There's a lot I'd still like to say about Gamergate, about conversations with strangers, about gamer identity as a capitalist construction, and about soda pop and self destruction. Sadly, I've got no time for any of that. What I do have time to do is fulfill the bare minimum requirement for this blog's existence, and update the devlog for Toilets, Meat, and Drugs and The Void Hero Blues.


I'm currently in the process of implementing NPCs and writing dialogue for Toilets, Meat, and Drugs: A Pink Monster Story. I never set out for the characters of  TM&D to be well-developed, or for the story to be profound. However, as I write for TM&D, I'm beginning to notice that themes of queerness, sexuality, and androgyny are sprouting up through the cracks. This is a pleasant surprise.

From the beginning, I had vague androgynous intentions when designing the game, mostly with the aesthetic (I'm going to combine pinkness, cuteness, and hearts with terror, explosions, and BLOOD), but it was never anything serious. I didn't set out to make a strong or elegant ideological statement through the game. But the ideology seeped through, and continues to.

For a while, the game steered clear of sexual/romantic themes altogether, until I recieved feedback for the original version of the game and playtests of the upcoming version. During that time, at least one person referred to the game's charming mechanic as "flirting," While I didn't original conceive of the mechanic as such, from that moment onward TM&D became a game about flirting.

The game's aesthetic, combined with the game's heavy mechanical focus on flirting, reproduction, and physical change, have naturally influenced the way I write for the game. Because of the aforementioned mechanics are so prominent, the characters must refer to them fairly frequently. Meanwhile, because I've felt reluctant to directly impose a gender on the player character,  and because the player character is capable of flirting with nearly everyone in the whole game, I haven't assigned a gender to anyone in the game (with the exception of the one human character). Essentially, the world of TM&D is one in which, if sexuality isn't experienced by the player, it is at least implied, and, yet, gender is virtually nonexistent.

Now, if you are expecting this game to be primarily about queerness, sexuality, romance, or androgyny, or if you expect it to make a profound statement about any of these things, you're going to be disappointed. That was never my intention with this project, and I am not the most qualified person to make profound statements on these topics. However, while my exploration of these themes may be shallow, they are themes that aren't typically explored in games, and certainly not in this manner. It may just be icing on the cake, but icing is still really fucking tasty, and it's the good homemade stuff you don't often get your grubby hands on. Just remember that it doesn't have any nutritional value. I don't want to sell the cake as something it isn't.

MEANWHILE...!


Regarding my student project, The Void Hero Blues, I'm mostly focusing on modelling, texturing, rigging, and animating the art assets, and implementing them in game. I don't have much else to say about my work on this one, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Both of these games should be done in time for the holidays, for whatever that counts. Just a reminder that the rest of my games can be found here. Follow me on Twitter @alchiggins, as Twitter's become the primary way I engage with the game development community. Cheers!







Friday, September 19, 2014

Void Hero Blues and Toilets Meat and Drugs update

First, I'm going to start with the bad news. I'm formally putting Waker on hold until next year. For the next few months, I need to write half a thesis and finish The Void Hero Blues, and I'm aiming to get Toilets, Meat, and Drugs all done and out of the way. The sound guy for Waker, Ashton Morris, also has plenty on his plate to deal with. People ask me about Waker on a semi-regular basis, and I'm sorry that I haven't been able to resume development on it. Yet.
Good news is, Toilets, Meat, and Drugs: A Pink Monster Story, is nearing completion. I need to add a couple more endings, update the tutorial, update the story, and add music. The bulk of the work is done.

I went ahead and jacked up the speed of the player and all NPCs - it improves the game tons. Combat is oodles better than before, if you wanna play that way, and fleeing/evasion is now a more effective strategy than in the original.



The closer that TMD: PMS gets to completion, the less I have to say about it. When it comes to these projects, silence is often good.

MEANWHILE....!


Development on the Void Hero Blues is picking up. It's my first time working in (true) 3D since my teenage years, first time using Unity, and my first time coding in Javascript. Development is slow. Building the test level above, and simply getting the player to shoot and reload, has taken up the first couple months of development. But I'm finally moving on!

Here's an early model of the grunts you'll be fighting in the game. Designing the grunt was tricky - because the point of VHB is to humanize the victims of game violence, and perhaps re-sensitize players to game violence, I needed something with a human face that could be a subject of sympathy. However, I also needed something that could be mass produced. I compromised by settling for a character with an androgynous build and exposed, expressive mouth, but with their face mostly covered. However, I gave the bulbs on his visor "eyelids" so that they could remain expressive.

Not bad for my first serious attempt at modelling a humanoid, I think.


And here's the player's weapon! It kinda reminds me of Quake III's rocket launcher. I left a blade in there in case I have time to add a melee attack. The texture's still a work in progress - this thing definitely needs a bump map.

If you're looking for something to play in the meantime, why not check out Empty Chambers, Digital Toilet World, or How to Fly?

Monday, September 8, 2014

You Are Their Shield

Dear Gamer Gate,

I first wrote about your movement nine days ago.  In my original essay, I had written that, no matter how you look at it, Gamer Gate was never truly about journalistic integrity, and always about social/identity/gender politics. Recent developments involving the leaking of certain internet relay chat logs confirms my sentiment.

I want to talk about what the leaking of these logs means for the ethics of your movement, and what you can do to be a positive political force. I hope you can read this with an open mind, because I sincerely believe that the path I propose is best, both for your movement, and for the gaming community as a whole.

The Purpose of Gamer Gate

The majority of you organizing under Gamer Gate have done so for many reasons. Some of you feel that your identity as a gamer, and your favorite hobby, are under attack. Some of you feel that games journalism is corrupt, biased, and unfair. These are understandable concerns: nobody wants an exclusive gaming culture, nor a corrupt press. Disagreement stems from different perceptions of where we currently are, not from where we want to go. Please believe me when I say there genuinely is common ground.

However, many of us knew from the start, before the IRC logs got leaked, that regardless of what the movement had become, it had misogynistic roots. The first usage of the #gamergate tag was in response to the debunked Zoe Quinn "Scandal". The rally for journalistic integrity didn't come along until later.

A few days back, Quinn revealed screenshots of some 4chan IRC channels  and they pretty clearly indicated that Gamer Gate was created as a vehicle for harassment. Besides containing some undeniably hateful, misogynistic rhetoric, the IRC record very clearly revealed that #notyourshield and the cause of "journalistic integrity" were smokescreens for the movement's real purpose: to attack women, including Quinn, and so called "social justice warriors." If you don't believe me, please read it yourself.

As you're probably aware, many critics accused Quinn of faking the screencaps, or cherry picking specific examples to unfairly condemn the movement. In response, they revealed the entire, actual #burgersandfries IRC chat log as "proof" that Quinn's selections weren't representative of the whole, thinking no one would read it. Someone read it.

Quinn's screencaps have now been confirmed as representative of the entire #burgersandfries IRC. If you haven't seen it for yourself, do it. This is the indisputable truth of your movement. If you didn't know, you need to.

Maybe you still don't see Gamer Gate as inherently hateful. Maybe you think your own values, your own actions, justify your cause, and justify your involvement. Maybe you think that you're turning Gamer Gate into a force for good.

The Impact of Gamer Gate

But can we please consider the real effects of Gamer Gate so far? Countless women in the industry have been harassed and threatened as a direct result of this movement. Four freelance female writers have left the industry because Gamer Gate. If this is not the result of a misogynistic movement, I don't know what is.

I also hear that certain gaming review sites are feeling financial pressure as a result of Gamer Gate. I do not know if this is a rumor, but if it is true, it's troubling.

While innocent people are experiencing pain, fearing for their well-being, and losing their livelihood, corruption in gaming journalism, both real and imagined, has gone unchecked. No constructive solution has been proposed or adopted. Whatever charges you're trying to file simply have no legal merit. Your movement, so far, has only had a destructive effect, and in the case of the harassment, an irrefutably misogynistic one. For a movement that's supposedly dedicated expanding the number of voices in games media, the reality is that Gamer Gate has only silenced them.

Yes, the harassment is done by a minority of individuals in your movement. However, your movement is what makes this organized harassment possible. If these terrible people acted on their own, the whole gaming community would descend upon them in an instant. But, because of this movement, the people experiencing harassment are now your political enemy, and the harassers, like it or not, are your allies. When we call out the harassment, instead of helping us, all you do is shrug. You say "we don't endorse their behavior, but they don't represent the majority of the movement, and we can't control them." What would have been isolated incidents of harassment are now masked as political activism. Because of this, they are harder to isolate, criticize, and unite against. For the time being, this is their movement, not yours, and your participation endorses their behavior.

You are their shield.

If you don't organize, define clear goals, and pursue them through constructive means, you are not only going to fail to realize your goals, but you're going to hurt a lot of people along the way.

Responsible and Ethical Advocacy

If you still want to advocate for integrity in gaming journalism, or defend gamer identity, I won't ask you to stop. I believe advocacy for these issues is not inherently unethical. However, if you're against online harassment, as most of you say you are, there are primarily two ways to continue your advocacy.


  1. Organize your movement. Find leadership. Define clear goals for Gamer Gate. Pursue those goals in a non-destructive manner. If you're really going to reclaim the movement for your own purpose, you need to commit to it. You are responsible for your movement, so act like it.
  2. Find another avenue for your frustration, and please abandon Gamer Gate.


Yes, these options are inconvenient. The first one will require coordinated effort, and is likely unrealistic. The second one will lose you momentum for your cause, if not terminate it all together. In the short term, either of these options will put you at a tactical disadvantage. I understand this.

Tough shit.

When your political movement is based out of hatred, you don't have the option of letting it continue as is. It's unethical. It benefits the assholes who created the movement. It's disrespectful to everyone who has been a target of the hatred. It's simply the wrong thing to do.

You have probably guessed by now that I don't believe that significant corruption in gaming journalism exists, as Gamer Gate defines it. I will openly admit this. If I'm right, then there's no harm done by adopting my advice, as your movement was doomed to begin with.

But if I'm wrong? Do you know how much more effective your movement would be if you had clear leadership and centralized strategy? Do you know how much better you'd be able to challenge corruption? Do you know how much more credible you would be if you collectively condemned Gamer Gate's roots and started a separate movement?

I'm not writing this to destroy your movement. I'm writing this because I don't want to see anyone else get hurt, and neither should you. I ask you: stop being a shield for harassment, pursue your agenda through other means, and make the world a better place, as you set out to do. It's the right thing to do.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Toilets, Meat, and Drugs Update


 Alright, enough talking about politics for a while. Here's an update of Toilets, Meat, and Drugs.
I've recently figured out what the game really is about: a bizarre remix of stereotypical masculine and feminine styles, not only in terms of aesthetics, but in terms of game mechanics. While the combination of ugly monster and pink cutie aesthetics has been obvious for a while now, the combination of play styles has not. For example, if you want, you can play the game as your typical violent masculine power fantasy and kill everything. But the game's charming (or is it flirting?) and fleeing mechanics pose unusual alternatives to the traditional masculine play style, and don't only supplement the violent experience, but with adjustments I've made to the game, can now totally replace it. Instead of playing as a lethal force of dominance, you can play as a force of love, or as a victim of violence.

And, regardless of which path you choose, you still need to feed your character, take them to the toilet, and maintain their health. The game deliberately includes a return to the (usually) mundane, but relevant experiences, but it reminds us that those seemingly mundane needs can sometimes prompt memorable experiences.




I've always been disappointed by many open world games in that they don't let the player decide whether or not they'll be a killer, but rather what sort of killer they'll be. Toilets, Meat, and Drugs is a challenge to that. It's as though a mainstream shooter, an art game, and a social justice game got together and somehow made a super sexy baby. It's all of these games at once, or none of these games at once. It depends on how you play.

This means that it's either the sort of game that'll be enjoyed by everyone, or hated by everyone. I don't care. It's still a super sexy baby to me.



Now that I've realized that, I feel a lot better about making it. What started out as a Digimon World fan game (lame) has become something I feel proud of.

Now, here's some more technical notes:
  • The final game will be renamed Toilets, Meat, and Drugs: A Pink Monster Story. I figured that the title should be at least somewhat reflective of the actual game.
  • Expect a release in 1-2 months. I'm almost done improving the game's mechanics (I just threw in a reputation system that actually adds some depth to the previously underwhelming charm system). I just need to finish with the new levels, re-implement the story, and add music. 
  • Expect actual NPCs that can talk to you.
  • The new game world is nearly 3x the size of the old one. Complete playthroughs  of the game should take about 1-3 hours. For a game made by one person in a couple of months, I think this is pretty good! 




Just a pair of reminders of how gosh-darned complicated this game is.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

Read this one too

Here's a more intelligent interpretation of recent events than I attempted to write: Tadgh Kelly's "The Sad State of Gaming's Truthers and their #Gamergate"

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Game Culture's Ugly Transition: Team Social Justice Warrior vs Team Gamer

Holy shit.

If you're in any way part of the online videogame community, you probably know that this has been an awful goddamn week. For those of you who don't know...

What the Heck Happened
Zoe Quinn, developer of Depression Quest, has been accused of sleeping with games journalists to receive favorable reviews. Upon hearing this, many gamers have rallied in opposition to this supposed corruption. In response, many game journalists rose to Zoe's defense. This resulted in aforementioned gamers accusing game journalism of Social Justice Warrior corruption, which has resulted in aforementioned journalists, as well as indie developers, to declare the irrelevance of the gamer subculture. Now, the gamers are organizing a reactionary protest, called Gamergate, at the convention PAX , calling attention to corruption in games reporting and the SJW agenda.*

The story's a bit more complicated than that, Quin and numerous others have gotten doxed and harassed, but that's the condensed version. The main point is, there's an awful, horrendous debate raging between reactionary gamers and progressive devs and journalists. Everyone's pissed.

There people hate fun. I guess?

Look, guys, it's a fucking shitstorm. Lots of people don't know what the hell's going on, others feel victimized, and others still are banging their head against the wall wondering why other people just don't get it. I myself tried to contribute to the discussion on Twitter, and I regret it so, so much. I hope I don't regret writing this.

But wait! Here's the kicker. The original allegations of corruption are false. Zoe Quinn has not slept with anyone who has reviewed her game. The review in question does not exist. There was not corruption in the coverage of Depression Quest at all. No sex was exchanged for reviews.  No positive reviews were given to Depression Quest on account of Zoe Quinn's sex life. No corruption occurred.  Zoe Quinn and journalists behaved ethically. There was (initially) nothing to be upset about.

(and, frankly, if this corruption had occurred, a single person's sex life, which is nobody else's business, shouldn't have motivated a reactionary response of such a large degree).

EDIT: There exist two articles written by journalist Nathan Grayson, who dated Zoe, which cover her and Depression Quest. However, neither of these articles are reviews, both cover her in an ethical fashion, and, most importantly, they were written before they dated.

This whole battle has nothing to do with corruption in games journalism. Corruption's been going on for a while now, but gamers are, for some reason, only mobilizing around the Zoe Quinn scandal. Is it because she made an interactive fiction game about depression, one that isn't made for the traditional gamer demographic? Is it because of her own alignment on Team SJW? Is it because the alleged corruption happened because a woman, god forbid, had sex? I don't know the reason, but I do know this: the outrage is not because of the non-existent corruption. This issue was never about corruption to begin with.

Why the Heck This Happened
 This battle is really about long existing tension in the game community between so-called Social Justice Warriors and the traditional gamer demographic. In recent years, less and less players have used the phrase "gamer" to describe themselves. Many devs I know on Twitter have been tweeting about their own distance from the gamer identity and its subculture. I myself have been steadily working on another essay about my own alienation from gamer culture. The essay is now totally irrelevant.

Meanwhile, many gamers are under the impression that their favorite hobby is under attack. They think that SJWs don't want them to have their fun. They think that SJWs are hijacking game culture for their own purposes. No, really. Some of them are trying to make a documentary called The Sarkeesian Effect about "how gaming and tech culture have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors."  

As an important side note: by gamer, I'm not referring to someone who simply plays games, those are players. I am referring to a specific demographic and its respective subculture. Publishers that market to gamers, or "hardcore" gamers, are marketing to young white men with sufficient free time and money. This is not an exaggeration, this is simply the target demographic for most blockbuster titles. Yes, there are people outside of this demographic who play blockbuster games, and, yes, many of these people identify as gamers. However, they are not representative of the demographic.  It is an industry standard to market games to a specific gender and age range, and that demographic becomes the bulk of the consumer base. Let me repeat that: this is industry standard. Gamer culture is insular, and it is largely due to market forces.

Recently, users of 4chan created the character Vivan James, the anti-feminist girl mascot of gamer culture.
She looks like such a nice person.

The point is, I've felt tension between the so-called SJWs and the reactionary gamers building for a while. The event that caused this cultural conflict, the false allegations of corruption, is irrelevant. This conflict has been in the making for a long time. It could have been sparked by nearly any other "scandal." It was imminent. It was inevitable.

What's Gonna Happen Next
Leigh Alexander recently wrote that "gamers are over." She likely didn't mean this literally, since gamers, clearly, are still around. However, the gamer identity is currently in the process of dying, or, perhaps, the process of being transformed.

People have been begging for years for games to leave their awkward adolescence and grow into a fully mature art form. For that to happen, games need to become more culturally relevant. The only way to do this is to expand the demographics of mainstream game players, introduce new genres into mainstream gaming, and explore subject matter not previously explored in mainstream games.

This means that women and older players will need to become part of the new core player demographic. This means that so-called casual games will need to actually be considered as legitimate games. This means that genres not preferred by the current gamer demographic, such as visual novels and art games, will need to be considered as legitimate games. This means that mainstream games will need to include works with more accessible game mechanics. This means that mainstream games will need to incorporate relevant themes such as oppression, mental illness, poverty, politics, sex, and peace, and not just tell stories of wizards and space marines.

It also will eventually mean no more misogyny, no more racism, no more trolling, no more harassment, no more doxing, and no more hatred.**

The maturity of our medium means no more casual gamers, no more hardcore gamers, no more supposed fake gamer girls. It means no more gamers.

You want our medium, our culture, to grow up? First, we have to wade through this social media shitstorm. But, I hope, it'll be worth it, because on the other side, a more mature, egalitarian, and inclusive gaming culture is waiting, and I can't wait to see what it will bring.


BONUS: A Few Respectful Notes to Any of You Who are Angry Gamers Right Now
  • We don't hate you. Really. I know some of the writing has been inflammatory, especially Leigh Alexander's piece. However, many of us who are critical of gamer culture are critical of its homogeneity and insularity, not of the people themselves. I know many wonderful gamers! We don't hate you unless you do something like, for example, call a game developer over the phone and say she's a whore. Then you're an asshole.***
  • If you play games, that doesn't mean you're part of the gamer demographic that we refer to. I wrote a paragraph about this a while back. If you self-identify as such, that's a different story. As I wrote previously, the gamer is an actual demographic which represents the minority of the whole population, but dominates games culture. Yes, most gamers are fine people, but their cultural positioning is crucial to understanding the behavior of the few assholes. Not to mention that the gamer demographic constitutes a "Hegemony of Play" that excludes the majority of people from gaming culture.
  • So-called SJW journalists and developers actually really love games.  Engaging in, for example, a feminist critique of  a work doesn't mean you hate the work. Literally every other art form has feminist criticism. Would Anita Sarkeesian keep making Feminist Frequency videos in the face of violent threats if she didn't genuinely care about games?
    SJW journalists and developers are in the games industry for a reason. Our criticisms are out of love for games, not hate for gamers. We're not outsiders.
  • You're not being censored. I personally haven't seen anyone on Team SJW tell anyone on Team Gamer to abandon discourse altogether, but if they are, there's nothing stopping you from contributing to the discussion. You're fine.   EDIT: I was just made aware of the Reddit censorship. However, it seems pretty clear that it was done by Reddit moderators, and its just run-of-the-mill moderation.
  • If you see someone being an asshole, please stop them. I'm checking out #gamergate on Twitter, and one person's suggesting that you guys "run down, expose, shame, and tear these scum [devs and journos] into the ground." I don't know about you, but I don't want to see anyone else get doxed, harassed, or threatened. The climate's pretty scary right now, let's keep things civil. Let's not hurt anymore people.
  • If you are confused as to why some of us are so critical of gamer culture, please do some research. If you didn't click on the link a few bullets above, this article's a great place to start, if you don't mind a little academic reading. Most of us on Team SJW aren't doing this to feel good about ourselves, or to get attention. Most of us genuinely want to improve society, and many of us have spent quite a bit of time thinking, reading, and studying about social politics.  
  • Finally, I will admit, some of us are being unfair. Lots of people are angry, lots of people are making generalizations. I've seen people on my ideological side of the fence say some pretty mean shit, and decrying the gamer demographic so abruptly and, perhaps, with insufficient nuance, was a tactical mistake, if not an ethical one. I've tried to keep this essay as fair and nuanced as I could, but I'm sure I failed in some respects. I'm sorry about that.  

*Oh god some of the #GamerGate tweets are really, really gross. I'm sorry. 
**Seriously, have you heard of the shit Anita Sarkeesian's been through lately? She's so, so brave.
***This has happened to Zoe Quinn at least once this week.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Toilets, Meat, and Drugs Update, Waker and Void Hero Blues Non-Update

TM&D now has too many monsters. Up to 25 playable beasties:
You kind of have to view it full screen.

There's been a slew of tiny changes, the most significant of which is that NPCs now spawn, grow and evolve as the player grows. Not only does this mean that the game's difficulty automatically adjusts with the player's ability, but previously explored areas never grow dull and constantly change. It breathes a lot of fresh life into the game! The end game is pretty epic when a random assortment of miniature gods crawl across the landscape.

I'm also about halfway done with the new areas. The new game world will be over twice the size of the old one. I also only have 2 more new monsters to program. Once I'm done with both of those things, I just need to rework the story, update the tutorial, write the music, and finish the thing!

Then I'll get back to Waker and The Void Hero Blues. VHB needs to be done by December, so it'll take priority. I'll then focus all of my energy on Waker and try not to be diverted by any more side projects. When I started Waker, I didn't have very many quality games in my catalog, and I felt a need to flesh it out. While Empty Chambers is awfully pretty, and Digital Toilet World has it's charm, both are pretty tiny games, and don't really show off what I can do as a developer.

TM&D is the first mechanically rich game I've made in a long time, is pretty substantial in scope, and really rounds out my collection of work. As a matter of fact, it reminds me a lot of the games I made in my early adolescence. I honestly haven't made a (complete) game of such length, or with such a large world, since I was 14, nor have I found myself pouring so many hours into a game's development. The graphics are pretty shitty too, just as they were back then.

Making games with crude, minimalist, punk graphics is so liberating. Give it a shot.

But, yeah, after this, no more goddamn side projects. Starting next year, all Waker, all the time. Oh, I think Waker's second birthday was sometime last month. Shit. I feel pretty awful, I couldn't work on it at all this summer - by the time my broken wrist was pulled out of the cast, I had been totally derailed by TM&D. So, so sorry.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Toilets, Meat, and Drugs Update

I've been working pretty hard on the final version of Toilets, Meat and Drugs the past week.

Changes made so far:
-Doubled the number of player and non-player monsters
-Added special powers to adult and epic leveled monster! Create shockwaves, vanish in a flash, calm angry monsters, and even cut the game's frame rate in half!
-Fixed projectile spawning and collision bugs. Combat's now pretty hard, and for weaker monsters, downright undesirable. Which is good!
-Fixed the health system so that it would be more responsive to monster care, etc.
-Plants now grow when you are far away from them! Woo!
-You can now check out monster stats in the pause screen!
-Monsters now have names.
-Hostile monsters no longer chase you from halfway across the planet.
-Monster growth is no longer determined by health, but instead by care mistakes and the players' charm-to-kill ratio.

What this means:
The game's mechanics aren't totally broken anymore! Also, the player is now encouraged and more able to play the game peacefully, due to the heightened difficulty of combat, increased player evasion capabilities, addition of more pacifistic monsters, and addition of non-violent special powers. Toilets, Meat, and Drugs was not originally intended to be a combat-heavy RPG, but a multifaceted world in which violence is a relatively small part. By traditional RPG standards, anyway.

Oh, and because of the aforementioned change I made to the gardening system, player gardens now grow out of freakin' control. Currently working on restoring balance, eheheheh.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gonna do a post compo version of TM&D


I've decided to do a post-compo version of Toilets, Meat, and Drugs. As I've written before, as silly as the game is, it's the game that I've always wanted to make. I want it to be good.

Here's what I'm hoping to have for the final version of the game:

  • More monsters. 
  • Double (triple?) the world size.
  • Better world tiles.
  • Bug fixes?
  • Better explanation of what's actually going on.
  • In-depth monster info (names! level! actual HP numerical value!)
  • Have monster growth be determined more by play style than by player health.
  • MUSIC!

Now with double the monsters!
(Yes, I've changed the image slightly from earlier today)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Toilets, Meat, and Drugs: Bug fixed!


Some of you who've been trying to play Toilets, Meat, and Drugs may know about a save bug in the game.  Basically, the game would be unable to save until after you close it for the first time. I am so relieved to say that I have finally fixed the bug.

Here's the technical explanation of what happened. When you save progress a video game, the game itself is unchanged. Instead, a separate data file is created that contains all of the relevant information, such as the player's status or location. While game developers usually create save scripts from scratch that target the information that needs to be saved and ignore the information that doesn't, Game Maker has a single function, game_save(), that automatically stores all information to a file. While this function is overkill and only recommended for beginners, it's really convenient to use for a jam game, when time is not a luxury.

The function has worked wonderfully in past experience, with older versions of Game Maker. But when Yoyo made the switch from Game Maker 8 to Game Maker Studio, the file directory system changed so that Game Maker games could be ported to platforms besides Windows. Which is great and all, except you don't get the benefits of this change unless you pay $100+ dollars for a professional license. The standard license, which I have, lets you port games to Mac, but that requires going through a holyshitton of hoops that I don't ever want to go through again.

Anyway, Game Maker Studio used to have the game_save() function removed altogether. It's since been added back in, but doesn't work as its supposed to with the new file directory system. Basically, the function doesn't actually create a directory in which to store save files until after you close the game for the first time! What the hell?!
 
What this means is that people who played Toilets, Meat, and Drugs for the first time would lose all of their progress upon dying or quitting the game. This is incredibly frustrating for the player, and even more embarrassing for me. I also wasn't able to detect the bug during development at all - the directory was created well before I even implemented the save system. It was a much unwanted surprise when I found out that I published a broken game!

Let me tell you, for a developer, there is no worse feeling than releasing a broken game. I would rather release a bad game than a broken one. I feel no shame about releasing games with crude, hastily draw, graphics, or a game with overly simplistic game play, or a game with missing music, or a game that I made in middle school. However rough these games are, they still have some sort of appeal, and, goddamnit, at least they work. Technical competency is the baseline, the absolute minimum standard a game must meet. Releasing a buggy game is like releasing a song recording that can only play through shitty laptop speakers - technical incompetence ruins the art.

I've been incredibly anxious over the past few days trying to figure out the cause and solution to this bug. Just this evening, after the deleting the game's directory and keeping an eye on Windows explorer as I played the game, I finally was able to identify the problem. Finally, by using a piece of code that creates an empty dummy folder when the game starts, I've tricked the game into actually creating the directory before the player closes the freakin' game. Cripes.

Fuck you, Game Maker. Fuck you. This extra stress was the last thing I needed.

But thanks for allowing me to create games for the past nine years.

Toilets, Meat, and Drugs is now available on itch.io and Gamejolt. And thanks to Warpdoor for featuring it on their site!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monster Mash 2014: Final Entry

I need to sleep, so I'm not going to write another blurb about it, but it's worth noting that Toilets, Meat, and Drugs can now be downloaded for the ol' Windows PC.

Please don't be shy about feedback! I would love to hear your thoughts.
I'm so looking forward to playing the other Monster Mash entries this week!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Monster Mash 2014: Day 6

Aight, today I finally got to stop drawing and coding (mostly), and got to do sound and level design! And by some I mean all. All I need to do now is add some finishing touches, fix some bugs, and maybe try to cram in some of the Monster Mash 2014 multipliers.

Toilets, Meat, and Drugs is pretty huge for a jam game - it already has about a half hour of gameplay. It may suffer in presentation (breadth over depth, yaknow), but goddamn, I haven't enjoyed playing anything I've made this much in a long time. This is really the first time I've seriously focused on game mechanics over plot in, I dunno, six years? This thing is a hoot to play. Every play through I've done so far has had it's unique unexpected surprises.

Here's some screenshots of today's work.

D'aw, what a sweetie pie.
There are evolution sparkles!

Goddamnit, I swear I'm going to make a game without shooting one day.

Raccoon-dogs (?)
Bahahahahhaha
More evolution sparkles.
Sorry, I suppose "metamorphosis sparkles" is more correct.



I wish you could hear the game too - I had a lot of fun creating each monster's cry in bfxr. Especially for the lil' cyborg guys.