It's a comedic sci-fi tale about a test pilot trapped inside of a giant robot suit that is about to explode. It is also about other things: 70's rock and roll, mass media, secrets, hallucinations, mistakes, laughter, futility, and regret.
Twine's inception, and the interactive fiction renaissance that followed, have dismantled a lot of my preconceptions about interactive art and how interactive systems can be compelling outside of overcoming challenges, completing objectives, or winning "games." One of the few elements that IF - a medium of text and hyperlinks - shares with conventional videogames is choice. By removing the mechanic of player choice from the tropes of games, and evoking the tropes of literature, I think that IF causes developers and players to re-imagine what kind of experiences digital interactive art can provide.
I've also long admired interactive fictions' accessibility. Contemporary IF can be played on nearly any device with internet access, by nearly anyone who can read, regardless of previous experience with games. This is my first mobile game! The more I make games, the more I am interested in their development into a broadly accessible and artistically diverse medium. So, naturally, I've long been interested in finding inspiration to write a piece of IF with Twine myself. While I previously made a tiny game in an hour with a professor, it was time for me to undergo a serious project.
The chance came during Artscape last when, when Steven Thomas and I decided to create games for the winners of a high score contest we held during the festival. The winner of the Bloodjak high score contest asked for a text-based comedy about a person trapped inside of a mech, among other criteria. I was pretty excited about the prompt.
I wanted to be able to evoke the tension that comes with the play of a conventional game, but I didn't want to bring along the skill ceiling that typically accompanies it. I don't want to spoil the experience, but I think was able to achieve this with the systems I put in place.
Despite being a game made for another person, "The Giant Robot Blues" eventually grew into one of the most personal games I've ever made. Inside jokes, previously unrealized project ideas, and experiences and places from Baltimore city all find their way into this little story. I hope you enjoy it!
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
I can't believe I forgot to post this, but last month, Greg Livingston interviewed me about Bloodjak! I talk a bit about procedural difficulty, the game's unusual scoring mechanic, and emotive game design. The discussion gets pretty good, especially after the five minute mark.
It includes game footage from both me and Greg - if you ever wanted to watch me reach 10,000 points and die, here ya go.
It's always wonderful to be given an opportunity to talk about your work. Greg records a ton of great interviews with Baltimore devs and posts many videos on design theory - you can watch them all on his Youtube channel!
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
|screenshot of the finished Underground Arcade launcher program for festival exhibitions|
As promised, the winners of the Bloodjak high score competition will have a game made by me - I already have one winner's wishlist and am starting to pump that game out. If, by any chance, you participated in the competition and did not get an email from me, please let me know.
As I prepared the games for festival exhibition, I noticed that all of my games were running slowly on my laptop hardware. I won't go into the technical explanation (sleep margin! *shakes fist*), but Gewgawlicious, The Morphine Western Revenge, Bloodjak, and Digital Toilet World have all been updated and should be running at peak performance on all hardware now.
Furthermore, after the first day of festival, it became immediately clear that Gewgawlicious, the least playtested of my games, was way too long. I've since shortened the game's length by 45 seconds. I also fixed a minor bug in Digital Toilet World in which the android sprites would blur.
After I finish making the prize game (stay tuned!), I should be able to seriously redirect attention to Monsterpunk.
Monday, June 12, 2017
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
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:
-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.
-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
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:
-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).
-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.
Posted by Alex Higgins at 9:09 AM
Sunday, April 2, 2017
In a NutshellIf 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 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
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:
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.