Monday, 29 December 2014

Game Jammin'

When I arrived back in Australia, after 10 years abroad, It came as no surprise to me that I had no social life anymore. My friends had moved on.

So I had to start again, find out groups, people, places that did things I (and my wife) liked to do.

As I was studying IT, Games and Entertainment, I of course gravitated towards Game Design, and I saw a poster for Global Game Jam 2014.. what was it? Game Jam?

For my former English Students: to Jam, to put as much as possible into one thing. quickly, messily, but done.

So Over 48 hours, you create a Game, based on the theme.. be it board game, card game, computer game, roleplay game, you make a game. The Theme is revealed on the day, Friday Night typically, and by Sunday night, you present your game to the world.

Doesn't sound too hard right? If you look online at what people have done, I've seen some amazing works, and when you say.. "wow, that was all in 48 hours" you think.. I could do that.. and you can

If you Prepare

So thats what this blog is going to be about.. not a Proper Game Dev write-up.. just a home brew blog on MY personal opinion on how to do a game jam.

Why do I feel qualified to speak on this topic, other than "the internet"

So a few months earlier, I'd been asked to head up the Game Development Club at UniSA, and it turned out, there was no official club.. So I had to create it.. and in the process, I found out that we needed to run events.. and After participating in my first Game Jam, I understood one thing..

I Need Practice!

So I asked the club, how about we run game jams, monthly, and get some practice in..

So we did.. and now, a year on, I've run 12 Game Jams, and Participated in 3.

The first Question you ask yourself is

Why would you do it? 

Well, for starters, Its a sense of accomplishment, you may not make a polished game in the time allocated, but you get something done, if you're close to finished, you might add a few hours, if the theme suits you.

In anything in life, getting started is hard, making something is hard, and actually deciding that you've finished is very hard. Having a concrete end date to work against, forces your hand. and takes the psychological issues away (for many people)

Then there is the feedback. Once you complete a game, and publish it, there are thousands of people, like yourself, Game Jammin, who'll play your game, and if they like it, they'll want more.. that creates motivation to finish it, and publish it..

The Experience itself. In a room of 20 people, all working to a similar goal, having the same troubles as you, creating friendships through hardships, it creates a vibe like none other. I cannot explain it.

So, finally.. my hints and tips

* There are many things you can do before the Jam, such as installing the latest engines/builds/browsers etc before the start date..   I saw 2 teams lose several hours on day one, because they didn't have everything set up, and encountered problems,

* If you're running a team, then get your team organised. If you have already got your team together before the Jam, great, but that's not all Jammers do, some come along on the day and hope to join an existing team. If that's you, then make sure you covered the 1st point.. again, I saw a guy arrive to join up on the day, didn't bring anything, had to go home to get a laptop, then had to install git, chrome and unity.. didn't get started til Saturday afternoon, felt like he hadn't been able to contribute, and quit.

* Get an idea of what you can do within 48 hours. If you are making a board game, would you have time to print a board, carve miniatures, print cards AND design the rules.. probably not, So figure out what can be done and do that.. I had a proffessor sit down with our team and draw up a list of what games could be made, from scratch, within 48 hours. Platformers were out, as were 3D, too much engine creation needed. 

* Pre build what you can. If you're doing a card game, bring 250 blank cards, or cut them out from card-stock, bring note pads, coloured texters, Pens, Pencils. For a board game, bring pieces from other games to use until you design what you'd use, you won't know the theme, so it matters not what you use in testing. If you are making a computer game, its not a bad idea to pre-build an engine, or have one ready to use.. if you want a platformer, make the entire platformer engine weeks before you decide on whats going on IN the platformer. For myself, I had an idea for a map control game, Hex grid, Isometric and I was going fantasy themed, regardless of the Jam Theme, I'd make it work.. so I already had a mini-civ style game engine built, and downloaded hundreds of iso tiles and icons..

* On the Day, Form your ideas fast, throw around hundreds, brainstorm it sideways. If you want to stand out from the crowd, thing of what the obvious answers are, and don't do that. If you're here for the first time, just think of something doable, which matches the theme.  

But don't spend too much time.. every minute you think of something, is a minute of your game creation lost. My rule of thumb is 1 hour for a 48 hour jam. 

* Write down a document of what you have time to add. If you have 20 graphics and your graphics guy has 20 hours left, then you need a minimum of 1 an hour each, Do you have levels? how long will a level take? can you make more than one level? 

Remember, you're not making a complete game, you're making the components and just Jamming them together..

* When you have a big list of all the things you want to add.. cull it, put it to one side as reference and ask yourself the first big question.. What is the core of the game.. minus all the fluff, the pretty pictures, the design of the minis or characters, what is the basic core of the game.. THIS needs to be done first, and it needs to be done within the first 24 hours..

I'm very serious on this point, If your core cannot be completed in the first day.. you will struggle to get a game done by the 2nd. I saw game after game after game, which could not be played, could not be tested, was so horribly broken, 4 hours to go to deadline, and only then do they begin to cull the project, 

My First Game Jam

The Theme was "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" which probably sounds nuts.. So for about 20 minutes I wandered around asking about people, who had teams, who needed an someone like me.. newb to the experience, and found 4 others who had no teams either.. 2 artists, 1 GameMaker programmer and myself.. So we got a whiteboard and wrote up the theme, we talked about what it meant.

Firstly, we wrote it on our whiteboard wrong, instead we had  "We don't see them as they are, we see them as we are" so we assumed the whole thing was about camouflage.. which turned out ok.. but this took us 2-3 hours. we designed levels, we designed 12 major characters, we had map structures, game flow, logic puzzles, storylines, so much, and then it was like almost midnight, so I went home to sleep!

Day Two, I got there at 9am, the team has already started. GameMaker can do some nice things quickly, but its hard to collaborate. So our programmer had to do everything, I drew up levels, maps, and pixel painted tiles. We needed around 200 tiles or so.. and I thought I could do that, they only took 5-10 minutes each.

Our Artists drew up characters, simple, easy, 8 frames per animation cycle, 8 directions for each of the characters...for 12 major characters, and some others for minor NPCs.. they seemed to be ok with 1 per 15 minutes

By the end of the day, we had our basic mechanic, when you move, you appear as a soldier, and when you stand still, you appear as an alien.. and we had trees on a grassy field, and a path, and 1 alien and 1 soldier and they fired bullets.. so that worked.. sorta.. again, I left before midnight.. last bus..

Day Two, Sunday, Arrived earlier.. one artist was burnt out, we only had the graphics for 1 alien, 1 soldier half of a map, and some broken machanics.. so we had a breakfast meeting about how to scale the game down to just 5 maps, with 3 characters, no NPCs and only 3 terrain types, field, forest and village... 

with 4 hours or so to go, we scrapped this, and went for 2 characters, 3 maps, scrapped the village and got some splash screens, and Menus together instead.. Oh and sounds.. always forgot sounds..

How insane... 

As you can see, I learnt a lot since then, You can pretty much see where we went wrong, but how better to learn than by doing.

Hopefully, this little blog helps you to make some better choices in your Jam future, so you'll get a game done in time!

Play it Cool.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Good Game Design in 2014

This is more of a set of notes, than a post, at some point in the future I'll come back to this and re-write it after contributions from readers in the comments section.

Meta Game is very important in modern game design, the game above the game, upgrades between levels. One aspect I like, is the idea of your success % relating directly to your upgrades. some games use the 3 stars as upgrade currency, you can probably pass the first 2-5 levels with 1 star, but to get 3 stars needs skill. The upgrades cost stars, so the better you do in each level, the better you can do.

Meta game spoiling the game. Like Pay to Win, I'm not keen on games using the meta game as a requirement to win the game. There is a fine line here.. and I will need to rethink this though on the difference between meta game, and game mechanics.. but in essence, I belong to the school to thought that the game should be fun & playable, & winable without the meta game.. but as though its on hardest difficulty. only the best of the best can do so. the meta makes the game easier so its more casual.. but when the game is impossible unless you buy $1.99 worth of purple crystal, or you 'churn' level 14 over and over to earn purple crystal.. this is just bad game design.

And Yet, this seems to be the prevalent style of game design right now.. churn your players into quitters or payers (and the rarer 'must win without giving you one red cent' gamer - like me)

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Game Dev: Upgrade Clicker Madness

Ahh what sad times we live in, where a game consisting of only the most elementary system, Clicking your mouse, and upgrading the abilities of that click, has become a genre unto itself.

I take in point 3 games: Must-a-mine a more recent edition to these style of games, and two quite popular versions in online game communities: Clicker Heroes and Adventure Capitalist

Must-a-mine is a bit of an interesting case, in that its broken. I'll get to that later, but lets first look at Clicker Heroes to get a feel for some underlying mechanics.

In CH, You click on the creature to damage it, based on your main Hero's damage. that's it. no retaliation, no HP, nothing else, just click to damage. when its dead, get cash, use cash to directly upgrade your hero.

Once 10 creatures are dead in the region, click the next region over, harder creatures, with more HP and more $, after 5 rounds, you are presented with a boss creature which has incredibly high hit points, you must defeat him in 30 seconds, or he heals back to full, and you cannot progress further until he/it is defeated.

At first I felt like I was playing the core basics of a Dungeon Crawl, kill monster, get reward, buy upgrade.

the 1st Boss Monster was easy, the second, nigh on impossible, I could not get enough cash to get enough upgrades to click fast enough to kill his 10,000HP in 30 seconds.. a quick calculation revealed I would have to kill 200 odd creatures in a previous level to gain enough gold to gain enough upgrades to beat the boss.. OR I'd have to upgrade the hero Helper..

The Helper (which comes along in many forms in other games) clicks for you. So instead of having to click 300 times myself, I could click 200, and my helper would click the rest.

Many Helpers don't actually click, they merely do a damage per second (or minutes, or hours.. more on that)

So, Helper in tow, I now defeat the 2nd Boss.. Levels are a grind, but my helper clears enough of them, and with enough upgrades for him/her, I can actually stop clicking....

I stop.. clicking... which is the whole point of the game..

So they've dumbed down the very mechanic that the game is based around.. your finger is too sore to play on, so instead of proving your endurance, your ability to click faster, or more than the average joe, no, we introduced the element of not needing to even play that part of the game.. it was there just to get you interested..

Is that what is happening in games? we're taking away the difficulty until it doesn't exist? why not just go watch a movie!!!

Adventure Capitalist makes a point of this, sure you begin clicking, with the lemonade stand, 2-3 clicks to upgrade, but its not clicks for the sake of clicking, the clicking means something, like any game, click the menu, click the button to activate, click on the monster, click the healing potion.. no AC is a different game again.

in AC, you don't click for the sake of clicking.. you click only to get the first few upgrades in place, once you have two or three managers (Helpers?) to do the clicking for you, you just make decisions of what to upgrade.

The Upgrades increase your income, each choice gives you more income, be it a new business venture, Investing into that venture to improve your takings, buying upgrades to improve profits or speed of said profits.

Anyone with any nonce, maths or just plain intuition knows delayed gratification is usually more profitable. and this game teaches this.. sure you could spend 2 billion for the 300th Upgrade to lemon stand, but that brings a meagre $7.50 increase to the stand income (seriously? 2 billion for a $7 increase?) or the same can be spent on your sports team for a 20 million dollar increase... but there are smaller aspects too.. get 25 upgrades to the lemon stand and double all profits! yet again, do the math, and you'll find that its always cheaper to buy the most expensive item

If you can stand waiting... 

That's the core to the game, can you wait? Its a test of your ability to wait for the best prize, vs go for the (seemingly)cheaper boost, because you know, it might just help you get to the bigger prize faster.

Sure, you can be like me, and write up a massive spreadsheet to determine if clicking the 81 billion upgrade to Oil Rig is going to be worth the same 81 billion spent on Doughnut shops.. its not, but if you cross reference the x3 multiplier for hitting 100 upgrades + the fact that you'll get 3515 payouts of 15 mil, before you get that one 500 bil payout.. then sure, those come once every 10 upgrades...

See what I mean? Who else other than a fellow sheldonite is going to go to that degree of trouble.

So, we come back to Must-a-mine.. who attempted to monetize the game.

There is a strange kind of problem with these multi-billion clickers.. When would you spend money? At the start, you don't realise how big the game gets, trillions, quadrillions, septillions, .. luckily the Americanized version, 7 sets of 000 + a 000 thrown in for good measure, and not the classic 1,000^7 as I was trained. If you spend $10 at the start of the game, you'd be likely to buy $1,000,000 with 10 of your diamonds.. worth $0.75, and think you were going to burn this game... to discover after 3 hours, that you'd be earning $1mil every 10 seconds.. or worse, after 24 hours, getting a billion every 10 seconds..

Its all just Big numbers.. and that's probably why people want to see it.. that little inner billionaire wanting to see the big cheques. 

So MaM added equipment, unlockable chests, and more upgrades.. I won't bore you with the maths, but you should either spend $40 at the start of the game, buy all the platinum chests, chew through 300 hours of play in roughly 10 minutes and ignore the whole equipment system or play the 300 hours, and realise that you'll never get enough of anything to resemble any kind of worthwhile bonus to offset the rising costs of all the other mechaMoustaches in the game and know that you just wasted 300 hours for no real reason.

But then again, thats what games do right? waste excess time? But this is worse, it makes you WAIT to waste that time.. you need to get another game, to play, while waiting for the ability to play this one!

Its a test of your sadomasochistic mental state to see how far you'll go before you give up.. (just one more click, maybe it'll unlock the next big thing and I'll chew through the level faster and get to the end?)

Some quick googling reveals, there is no end... all these games have a meta game.. when you're tired of waiting.. or when you get close to the end, or when you get all the upgrades, self reset and earn special bonus angels or tritanium or treasure chests, and play again.. with a 5% speed booster!


Game Dev: Upgrade Games

Improvement or Upgrade Games involve the player starting on a stage, a problem, a way to solve the problem, which cannot be done first attempt, but each attempt give you some kind of currency (information, cash, whathaveyou) which allows you to improve the stage/solution to be better at each attempt. Usually within 5-15 minutes, you've played it enough rounds to win. Your Meta Goal is to play again and beat your previous score. 

The Interesting thing about such games, is that the Upgrade is a component of bigger games, but has been simplified to just that one aspect, upgrading. Usually though, upgrade games involve an actual game task, as simple as it can be, from just clicking (Must-a-mine) steering (Hedgehog Launcher) Timing (Berzerk Ball) or 

How to Monetize?
Upgrade games are time wasters, which typically means a player is very unlikely to waste money on it as well. That said...
Upfront cost would require the user really wanting to play the game (word of mouth or competitive challenge) or the game having some further reaching goals.
Theoretically, a pay to win formula might be to have some far reaching trophy goal, one that you could achieve by playing a million times, or by paying $5 worth of upgrades, which unlocks the trophy.. you get to see the content which you paid for with your $5.. or someone without the means, with their million plays (maybe they should have different endings)
Microtransactions, Potentially the game could be far more fun if you use special upgrades that don't change the game play, but add a different style for the paid gamer.. again, if they know they are paying for the different graphic content, they might be more likely to buy into it.

This line to be edited, when I post the "Pay to..." topic in the future.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Game World Religions & the Biggest Problem

Sketching on the bus to Uni, I wrote about a religion which believes in a heaven/hell concept. They world as they knew it was a coin, but since no-one (they knew of) had ever traveled to the other side and returned, it was reasoned that the other side was hell.

The Religion is known as the Coynerites. They follow the concept that in the beginning, the world was flipped like a coin, as a bet between good and evil. If the coin lands (in the distance future, or maybe tomorrow) on any given side, its because its the heavier side. that side will be crushed, all who reside will be destroyed, and good & evil will know their place in this world, i.e. part of or banished.

So, in order to be the winning side, its imperative that the good side must make as many people bad, without being bad themselves, so that the bad side becomes heavier, and thus squashed, so the good side will be the inheritor of the world.

Mixed up logic.. but logical in its process (as any religion would be) and theoretically its right.. except that as creator of the world, I know that its not.. but that never stopped any religion before, from believing that its right.

And I begun to think.. hang on.. I don't ever remember reading about a gaming religion that had it wrong.. most of them, believe in a god, and that god exists, and they know it, because occasionally he does things and can be seen & heard. Clerics ask for powers, and receive them, so they know their god exists (albeit, the reasoning for the god might not match what the followers believe)

Does a religion, based on faith alone, belong in gaming? can it exist?

I've done a little research into different worlds, different gods, for the most part, its always true (cept some planescape) each religion believes in a god/power that exists, as such there is no real faith, its all choice.