Global Game Jam 2018

I went to the Global Game Jam again this weekend. It was amazing. The last and first time that I went to Global Game Jam was 2012 where I felt defeated and a failure. I said then that I’d return the following year. There were some hurdles in the way but I finally came back this year. It feels like a personal victory to return and this time be able to finish making a game about which I feel pleased.

The theme this year was Transmission and our game is called Going Postbot. You are Postiebot — a robot tasked with transmitting the mail of the future. Unfortunately, the mail has been stolen by the box factory. Enter the box factory and rescue the mail and do your duty.

goingpostbot_title

The game is buggy, as you would expect from a game made at a game jam, but I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the global game jam — everyone knows that they’re not going to make a perfect product over one weekend, but that’s totally fine. The goal isn’t to make a perfect product. Instead, the goal is to just create something in the allotted time. It was a comedy of errors often as people would preface their games at the presentation with, “this is probably not going work as intended”. We all laughed, but we all knew that that was perfectly okay.

The shared enthusiasm of everyone at the site on the weekend was really beautiful and there was a sense of genuine joy as everyone came together to create. Humanity can be rather ugly at times, but on display at the Global Game Jam, all around the world simultaneously, was a side of humanity that was wonderful and something to be celebrated.

Going Postbot can be played at itch.io here on Windows computers.

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Taiwan, 2017

“If you don’t do this, you’ll regret what could have been”, I told myself and I’ve felt that pang too many times already so I jumped into the unknown and travelled with some other students and teachers from my university to Taiwan to teach English to high school students at an English summer camp, and to experience another culture.

As we arrived late at night to the university campus in Tainan and I saw the tiny dorm room with which I’d be sharing with three other guys for three weeks, and felt the stifling heat of the Taiwanese summer, I questioned if I had made the right decision. However, by the end of the three weeks, I was sad that I had to return to Australia.

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After settling into the campus and Taiwan itself we met the Taiwanese TAs, and the other international students (mostly American, but also one from Canada, and one from Singapore) who were here doing the same program as us. Just like an Argentina asado barbeque slowly cooking all day, I take awhile to get to know new people and explore my surroundings, and as such, the three weeks we were there didn’t feel as though it was enough time. Yet, although it was only three weeks, it felt at the end as if we had been there for three years due to how much we did in that short time.

We participated in numerous cultural classes, such as indigo dyeing…

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Cooking…

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Language classes…

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Pottery…

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Tea making…

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Calligraphy…

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Martial arts…

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And many more.

On the first weekend we took the fast train up to Taipei. The view from the Taipei 101 tower was beautiful.

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At the summer camp where we taught the high school students, it was nice to see some students who were initially super shy and reluctant to socialize with other students or speak English, to then have made friends at the end of the week and become more confident in speaking English. Teaching can be rewarding but it can certainly be stressful too.

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You can’t step in the same river twice. When I return to Taiwan in the future, it won’t be the same, and I won’t be the same, but I’m glad I was there during this time.

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As I returned to Australia and stepped off the plane, it felt unreal. Travel is a transformative experience and you can’t go home again the same person.

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2015 – 2016

I haven’t posted here in two and a half years, so in point form, here is the gist of some of what I’ve been doing since then.

  • I started studying a Master of Teaching (Primary). I did my first teaching prac this year and it was stressful but I passed it. I have one more year to go before I finish my degree and can work as a teacher. For my philosophy of education, see this post I made in 2012.
  • I went to Freeplay in Melbourne again in 2015. It was great. I always love seeing what everyone is making.file-31-12-16-12-03-40-amfile-30-12-16-11-56-33-pmfile-30-12-16-11-58-14-pmfile-30-12-16-11-59-11-pm
  • I returned to improving my French and managed to get it to an intermediate level where I can understand what people are saying to me somewhat. I took a class at the Alliance Française and I initially assumed I’d be confused but to my surprise I was able to follow along with what the teacher and other students were saying. I really need to practice speaking it more frequently. Actually speaking a language is the best way to improve it.
  • I started studying Japanese (again) and took a beginner class. I’ll continue studying it and hopefully go there next year as a tourist and ~MAYBE~ teach English there in 2018.
  • The game Not Without My Kittens that Chris and I were working on slowed to an infinite crawl when he returned to Australia from Argentina and I started studying my degree. I don’t know when or if it’ll ever be finished, but it’s not a complete loss as we can re-purpose some of the assets for future games and it was a learning experience for both of us. I’ve been teaching myself to program these last few months and have been making a game called Boundless Plains about a sandcat refugee from Syria. I’ll have more to say about that soonish in the new year. For now though here’s some screenshots of the game at the moment.

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It’s been a difficult two years and it seems that almost everyone in the world has hated the year 2016 especially.

Here’s to 2017 being a better year and our hopes and aspirations becoming reality.

Posted in Boundless Plains, Freeplay, French, Games, Japanese, Languages, Not Without My Kittens, Study, teaching, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Let’s talk about sets, baby

Let’s talk about geometry
Let’s talk about all the ways
To tessellate tiles sets
Let’s talk about sets
Let’s talk about sets
Let’s talk about sets
Let’s talk about sets

I considered doing this whole post to the tune of Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex, but I’m just going to jump straight into discussing autotiling tilesets and how I’ve been using them in Not Without My Kittens.

Since I last wrote here, I took the game to an IDGA meet up which was really useful in watching people play the game and get their feedback.

We’ve also been making more levels and I started to think that maybe the 2.5D perspective with all levels painted as one giant background wouldn’t be practical if we wanted to finish making all the levels of the game any time soon. Did you hear about the guy who spent 13 years to finish making his game? Yeah, I don’t want to do that. It’s cool that he eventually finished it but I’d like to have made more than just Not Without My Kittens in 13 years from now.

So I’ll be using tilesets for most levels in the game that automatically tile (more about that later…) and for the occasional level I’ll do a painted 2.5D perspective with the background as one single image. For most levels though it’ll be 2D tilesets.

I could still use a 2.5D perspective if I made tiles such as these:

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That platform has a decorative layer of tiles in the background that has no collision with the player:

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(The above images are from this blog post I was reading.)

The trouble with using a tileset like that though is that I don’t know how to make it automatically tile together correctly. Autotiling is great because it saves you from manually placing down every tile which can be very time consuming when there can be thousands of tiles in a room. If I have to make a choice, I’d rather use 2D tiles that autotile and have no diagonals, instead of 2.5D tiles that allow me to have diagonal platforms but don’t autotile.

For autotiling, I’m using a set of 47 tiles known as “The Blob”.

The following image from this site shows the pattern:

The Blob

(There’s more useful information about The Blob that I found here too

To get autotiling working I’ve been using this tutorial from Shaun Spalding. I recommend checking out his YouTube tutorial videos if you’re interested in learning how to use GameMaker.

The autotiling script he uses from what I can understand, is a series of nested if statements that looks at all blocks around each tile and determines which of the 47 tiles should be displayed in order for them to correctly connect together. I suppose the script could be amended to allow for more than 47 tiles to include decorative tiles that go in the background and give a 2.5D perspective, but for now I’m not sure how.

I can’t stress how nice it is to be able to place tiles down and know that they will connect up automatically. Each tile is really a sprite that contains the 47 possible images. When you place down a tile in GameMaker you only see the default tile in the editor:

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But then when you run the game, all the tiles connect together correctly:

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If anyone has any ideas how that script can be amended to allow for extra background decorative tiles like this then I’d love to know!

There’s more information here on the GameMaker forums where the original autotile script was posted that Shaun Spalding based his script on.

If you’re using Unity, then Tidy Tile Mapper by Doppler Interactive is a neat autotiling system to use for that platform.

For now I’m just going to keep making more tilesets in the 47 tile format of The Blob, and if I find out a way later on to amend the script in GameMaker to have more than 47 tiles then I can adjust my tileset sprite sheets then.

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Finish It!

“Who here has actually made a finished game?” asked the presenter at a conference I attended a few years ago where people who were wondering how to get into the games industry sat in the audience. Less than a quarter of the audience raised their hands.

Here I am trying to finish off my first game Not Without My Kittens. I was talking last night to Chris who’s programming it, and we both agreed that we’re at the point now where we just want to finish it. Finishing something is a huge milestone in itself that many people who talk about wanting to make games don’t accomplish, so that’s what we need to do. We were finding that feature creep was occurring. We kept adding new ideas and at the rate we were going, we would never finish.

So the plan is to make a demo containing about four or five levels to release in a few months from now and have people play it and give us feedback to see where we can go from there to finish it entirely and move onto making a new game.

I don’t want to sound like I’m about to talk down the quality of our game, but it is our first game only. To put years and years of effort into one game and make it our magnum opus would be silly when we could spend that time instead making multiple games and better improve our skills in the process. It’s just like the pots theory of education that I wrote about in this previous post On Teaching Yourself. The students who made multiple pots improved their skills faster than the students who focused on trying to make that one perfect pot.

While trying to finish Not Without My Kittens, maybe I should use this blog more as a dev blog to show how we’re progressing or maybe it’s better to not talk about what we’re doing until it’s done? I don’t know.

At any rate, there is something I’ve learnt that I’ll discuss now.

Not Without My Kittens is a platform game and we wanted to include slopes. The trouble is, our player character Holly is a cat. Cats are long. How does she walk up the slope?

holly_hanging_slope

In a game where your character is a taller biped this wouldn’t be a problem. For example Mario in Super Mario Bros 3:

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I tried making diagonal versions for all of Holly’s animations which was quite time consuming, but ultimately it proved too difficult to seamlessly move between flat and diagonal animations and we found our solution in 16-bit platform games on the Super Nintendo such as Donkey Kong Country and The Lion King. I think the perspective in these games is what’s now called 2.5D. The camera isn’t looking directly straight at the player (as in Super Mario Bros 3) from the surface level, instead it’s raised slightly and tilted.

This is useful in Donkey Kong Country to avoid the non-bipedal characters hanging off the slope in an unrealistic manner such as Holly above.

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The same technique was used in The Lion King to have Simba walk on slopes.

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These games are not using an actual 3D camera that you would find in some more modern platform games with a 2.5D perspective such as Little Big Planet. Instead the level is painted as one background and then invisible objects define the collision boundary for the player. The effect is a clever way of creating a 3D scene (without actually creating 3D models and using a 3D camera) so that when playing you’re not likely to notice in Donkey Kong Country that Rambi the Rhinoceros’ back leg is hanging in the air in much the same way that Holly’s back legs were hanging. The raised camera and painted background creates the illusion of depth.

Rambi

So that’s exactly what I’ve done:

holly_slope_depth

With that in mind, I’m now making some levels using that perspective. I don’t know if the perspective angle is technically correct, but I don’t think it was in many commercial 16-bit games either, so I suppose I’m not too concerned.

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I’ve also been looking recently for inspiration at 90s PC platform games such as Commander Keen, Jill of the Jungle, and Hocus Pocus. They frequently reused art assets within the games but it never felt too repetitive or had “Art Fatigue”, a concept described in this GDC 2013 talk about Skyrim’s modular level design.

Anyway, I’m off to hospital tomorrow to have surgery – septoplasty, to fix my deviated septum at the back of my nose which has been causing me chronic health problems, so I may not be very enthusiastic for the next week or two at least to work on Not Without My Kittens, but as soon as I’ve recovered I’ll jump straight back into it. The goal is to have a few levels done that we can have as a demo that people can play and give us feedback to determine where we need to go next to actually finish the game.

And then on to the next game. And then the next game. And then the next game. And then the next game. Repeat and repeat and improve in the process. That’s the plan.

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Freeplay 2013 – Volume of Revolution

When I last wrote here I was about to attend this year’s Freeplay festival and was trying to avoid the dreaded impostor syndrome. I’ve been meaning to return here post-Freeplay and write about how it actually went but I’ve been sick so I never got around to do it.

So, before the year finally ends I want to write down how my fears were unnecessary and Freeplay was wonderful.

Erin Robinson

The first keynote speaker was Erin Robinson. She’s a Canadian independent game developer who was actually a catalyst for me realizing that I wanted to make games myself and that it was an achievable goal. It was a few years ago now that I played her game Puzzle Bots. It was charming and it reminded me of the LucasArts Adventure Games that I played when I was a child. It was her game that was the spark that convinced me to investigate other indie games and made me aware of this whole world of indie games out there and that mainstream commercial triple A games weren’t the only games worthy of my time. Seeing what other people had made also convinced me that I too could make games that would be the type of games that I’d want to play and be able to express myself through their creation.

I had a chance to speak to Erin at Freeplay and tell her this. They say you should never meet your heroes, but they, whoever they are, are wrong, and I’m glad I was able to meet her and tell her how she helped inspire me to make my own games.

Speaking of which, her keynote speech spoke about games as self expression. She showed the audience a list of mostly independent games about personal topics such as cancer, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and drug addiction to name just a few ( see the full list of games mentioned here).

This appealed to me and reminded me that I was in the right place. I love that independent game developers can make games to express themselves and tell their stories and reach out to other people experiencing the same issues. I love that game creation is more accessible now than ever before and even though the themes in these games are less likely to be found in the larger commercial videogame market, they can still be made and appreciated by an audience. I didn’t initially understand what the topic of this year’s Freeplay – Volume of Revolution – meant, but listening to Erin Robinson’s talk it made sense to me. This is a revolution in how we see and make videogames. As I listened to the person who inspired me to realize that I could make games myself, I felt I had come full circle.

She then spoke about her own games that she has made and how each game represented something personal in her life at the time. For example, she spoke about how her game Spooks was about her in college trying to find her way into the world and how Puzzle Bots is about her experiences with dating and relationships. She next showed the audience her latest game Gravity Ghost that’s currently in development, and how it also is about something personal. She played through a few levels of the game and in a moving soliloquy told the audience about someone who had previously harassed her online and in person and made her feel small and helpless. She was the girl in her game who tries to break free of the forces pulling her down. There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. It was a beautiful presentation and demonstrated how making games can be cathartic and healing. There’s a lot of justified negativity about videogames and the toxic culture that surrounds it, but we can replace that and build something better.

Steve Swink

The keynote speaker for the following day was Steve Swink. He built his keynote inside his game Scale which was a rather inventive way of giving a presentation. His talk was equally inspiring as he spoke about having impostor syndrome himself and my ears shot up. The terrifying thing is that it may never go away. I’ve heard from professionals who have achieved success in many measurable ways, and yet they still think to themselves, “am I any good?” As he explained though, you get better by struggling, and it’s hard. “Things that are really worthwhile tend to be hard”, he said. “You have to spend those hours being mentally engaged”.

The Twine Revolution

The next talk I attended was about Twine and how it’s being used by indie devs to make their own games and tell their own stories. I’ve yet to explore it myself but I’ve played a few games made in Twine which have impressed me.

I was reminded during the talk of how I used to play MUDs during high school and university, which like Twine games are composed of text. I had a friend during school who struggled with education. Whereas I was hanging out at the library and borrowing books every week, he never read books for fun. However, when I introduced him to MUDs, he took to them like a fish to water and his literacy abilities weren’t a barrier at all. Soon he was learning to code for MUDs and to create descriptions for areas in MUDs that we played. Here was someone who would never have been interested in creative writing or programming in the context that those topics were taught at school, but on MUDs he excelled.

When I was in primary school, having read books about videogame programming at the library, I excitedly asked the headmaster if we could learn videogame programming in school. He rolled his eyes and scoffed and told me to wait until high school which disappointed me greatly. So it was exciting to hear one of the speakers Paul Callaghan say how Twine is being used to schools now in Australia as an educational tool and that the kids enthusiastically embrace it.

Izzy Gramp

A further inspiring talk that day was from games student Izzy Gramp who talked about making games to help create empathy in people so that we can understand other points of view. She showed us her game Faceless which felt really poignant in the current climate of Australian politics where refugees are sadly treated by many as faceless people not deserving of our attention and respect.

Another game of hers in development that she showed was All Your Fault – a game about victim blaming. I think this was a common theme at Freeplay, how games can create empathy and allow people to understand different perspectives that they may not have considered.

Anna Anthropy writes in her fantastic book “Rise of the Videogame Zinesters” how so many commercial games are about big men shooting other big men in the face with guns, and because of this, the videogame industry has become bland and saturated and new voices and perspectives are not heard.

I think Freeplay however this year showed that it doesn’t have to be like this. People are making different games that tell personal stories, that inspire people, and create empathy, and THAT should be encouraged and supported.

So Freeplay was fantastic again and my apprehension and anxiety about attending were unwarranted. Kudos should go to Katie Williams and Harry Lee, the new co-directors of Freeplay, for making it happen.

Next year’s Freeplay topic is cats. Apparently.

holly_roomba_spin

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Still Alive

I’ll travel to Melbourne this weekend for the conference program of the Freeplay festival.

It’ll be hard not to let impostor syndrome rear its ugly head again. When I went to the entire Freeplay festival last year, I was inspired by what I saw there that I knew I wanted to plunge into making my own game that I could submit for this year. I’ve had a lot of encouraging friends to whom I’m grateful, but it’s been a tough year in which the black dog has followed me (as I wrote about earlier in the year over at Medium Difficulty and my impressions on the wonderful game Depression Quest and how I related to it).

I think that’s why my website here has been largely unattended this year. It’s easy to shout from the rooftops and want to write when circumstances are pleasant, but when life is tough and not working out, crawling into a hole and not telling anyone is more comfortable. It’s rough to admit that you’re not fine.

That said, I’ve been playing with the game engine GameMaker this year. Programming is certainly not my forté, but it’s something I want to push myself to understand more in the future. Nonetheless, collaboration is magic in game development, and I have a friend who’s been teaching himself videogame programming with whom I’m making a game called Not Without My Kittens.

It’s a simple little platform game in which you play a cat called Holly who has to rescue her kittens from evil giant spiders.

Here’s a screenshot from the current playable build in which Holly attacks a spider. At least, that red square placeholder will be a spider when I get back from Melbourne next week and make the art for it.

not_without_my_kittens_screenshot_25-09-2013

Also here’s a title screen I made for the game:

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That we have a playable build of the game makes me smile, although it’s pretty rough. Still, it’s a start and I feel confident that we’ll actually finish it.

I also made a prototype in GameMaker for a game called Space Sheep. It’s a bit like Wizard of Wor with a mechanic in which you need to collect coloured wool from sheep to use as ammo against coloured aliens. I was sheering sheep in Minecraft when the concept occurred to me. I ran into a dead-end coding it though so it can go on the backburner for now until my knowledge of videogame programming improves or I collaborate on it with someone.

Here’s a screenshot of Space Sheep at present:

spacesheep_screenshot_25-09-2013

I think I might check out too a game development program that’s designed for a specific genre such as RPG Maker, Adventure Game Studio, Ren’Py, Twine, etc. Game engines such as GameMaker or Unity are certainly powerful tools to make any videogame imaginable but they may be overkill for my purposes right now while I’m still getting my feet wet with game development. However, I’ll continue making Not Without My Kittens in GameMaker regardless.

So in spite of the ever present impostor syndrome and the crippling delay that has been this year, some actual progress in making games feels hopeful, even if I’m not exactly where I wanted to be at the moment.

I saw someone say the following on Twitter the other day:

Three steps to get good at making indie games (& most other things):

  1. Make something
  2. Laugh at how bad the thing you made is
  3. Go to 1

And who knows, maybe the things you make won’t be bad, or they will be and you’ll like them anyway, but it doesn’t matter and you keep on making more things.

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