A glorious adventure!

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I’ve been playing adventure games since I was fairly young and various point and clicks have punctuated moments of my life. When I was a school kid I played a game on the BBC Micro called Granny’s Garden, this was my initial adventure game experience. It was the first time I’d ever seen an interactive narrative with visual elements, before then it was text based games that used parsers. Exploration and puzzle solving was an entirely different pace & style of gameplay from the platformers and arcade games I’d been used to.

Sierra’s King’s Quest and Space Quest games past me by but when LucasArts rocked up with The Secret of Monkey Island I was blown away. The art style had a uniqueness that suited the humour and gloriously self-referential puzzles. The sword fights in which you traded insults rather than blows was exquisite and after Maniac Mansion & Zak McKracken it cemented LucasArts trademark style and humour. After that LucasArts released an adaption of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, another well written adventure with some great puzzles.

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I played a few more adventures such as Lure of the Temptress and Simon the Sorcerer on my Atari ST but consoles took over and I didn’t play any for a damn long time. A couple of things happened that reignited my interest in the genre. Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher on the Mega CD captivated me, the Blade Runner esque cyberpunk aesthetic, interesting characters, crazy plot, voice acting & a more adult theme landed at exactly the right time for me as a teenager.

The last pure point and click I played during this period turned out to be not only one of my favourite adventure games, but one of my most adored games of all time. In 1997 I got my first PC (yeah I know lots of firsts, work with me people!) and with it I bought Westwood’s Blade Runner. A game that really altered my perception of what the medium could do, I adored the film so the concurrent story taking place in amazingly realised versions of some of the film’s locales was stunning.

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The pre-rendered environments, realistic character animation, top notch voice acting and strong narrative showed me how a game could offer characters and dialogue with depth. It came on 4 CD’s and had a ludicrous number of endings, the atmosphere was astounding given the technological limits Westwood had to deal with. Then it all changed; adventure games had been in steady decline, the move to 3D somewhat instigated ironically by Myst led to third person action and FPS’s taking over the market.

So that was that. I went off to Uni where the N64 and PS1 ruled the roost. It wasn’t until years later when I really thought the genre had died commercially, that it suddenly re-emerged. Telltale’s Sam & Max and Wallace & Gromit peaked my interest, although Sam & Max’s puzzles were about as logical as running into parked cars. Wallace & Gromit wasn’t bad, Back to the Future was a bit better, Rockstar’s L.A. Noire was an interesting evolution, then came The Walking Dead.

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The Walking Dead was a genre redefining moment, a move away from old school puzzles to a dialogue heavy, character driven experience that focused on narrative and choices. It brought the fundamentals of an often frustrating genre (hovering the cursor over everything to find one tiny stupid thing or even stupider puzzle design) to a broader audience starved of adventure games. Meanwhile WadjetEye had been making the Blackwell series, amongst other things and AGS was being used by indies to create all kinds of cool point & clicks like Size Five’s Ben There, Dan That.

Tim Shafer’s Double Fine went to Kickstarter and gamers said hell yes, gaining extraordinary backing way beyond the initial target. So born was Broken Age and now the genre feels revitalised with new mechanics, choice and narrative complexity. The Wolf Among Us is another piece of Telltale genius and games like Dear Esther & Gone Home are really extensions and variations of the genre.

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I’ve missed some games many consider to be classics such as Beneath a Steel Sky, Broken Sword, Loom, The Dig, Full Throttle & The Longest Journey. I didn’t play them at the time but I am playing them occasionally now, along with newer adventures like Kentucky Route Zero, Botanicula, Machinarium & Deponia. The genre’s future looks much brighter and more diverse than it ever did maybe six or seven years ago.

Chris Burton’s Adventure Creator for Unity shows how technology is helping devs make a new wave of adventure games, a fully integrated framework for developing beautiful adventures. Touch interfaces naturally work well with the point and click mechanic so even more players are being exposed to the genre. I’m 35 and although I have an eclectic game taste, adventures games are a calmer, more thoughtful way to game in a landscape of constant action. To adventure and beyond! I’m so sorry.

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A mixed month

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It’s been a good while since my last blog post and a bit of a mixed month in terms of game dev. Plunder Push is kind of there and Jay has now added the forty levels we had, so after some bug fixing we’ll be testing as soon as we can. We need another twenty levels of the more difficult variety to have sixty overall ready for release. Once the initial testing has been done I’ll make sure the level difficulty and progression is balanced and get on with making those levels.

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I also made a few more backgrounds for Plunder but they can’t be used due to the way the game is structured, I’ll chuck them in this post so you can have a gander. We’ve also been working on our first console/ PC game and something Jay has been working on in one form or another for the last few years. I produced a bit of concept art to reskin the game but it didn’t quite work so we’ve now settled on another aesthetic which I’m currently working on.

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Jay is getting the level editor for that project done so I can get in there and start building an immense amount of levels. Sorry for the vagueness of that game thus far but more details will be forthcoming once we get a load of new assets and levels sorted. It’s the way of game dev and why new devs should make sure they have patience when developing a project. Some concepts work, some don’t and you must be willing to iterate until something grabs you. Oh and I did some quick top down thing with birds as well, go figure!

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On a side note and a little before my birthday, my wonderful fiancée bought me a Wii U with Mario Kart 8. I haven’t owned a Nintendo console since the N64, although Kez did have a GameCube for a while. Being mainly an Xbox One and PC gamer it’s been pretty weird diving back into the crazy and often saccharin sweet world of Ninty. Mario Kart 8 is certainly a return to form, my friends and I are all huge fans of the N64 iteration (many a night at Uni was spent drunk while playing it) and most began with the first on Super Nes.

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I truly despised Double Dash and missed out on the Wii version so for me returning for Mario Kart 8 has been cracking, especially playing with Kez and online. The absolute focus on gameplay and having fun rather than narrative or any deeper meaning is so evident in what Ninty does; it’s been quite refreshing to get back into. I’ve also grabbed a few SNES and GBA games on Virtual Console that I didn’t ever play when they were originally released.

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Super Metroid for instance is one of the very few SNES games I didn’t play back in the day, yes I know, shock, gasp, horror and all that. Hopefully my next blog post won’t take quite as long and Plunder should be close to release, so keep an eye on our Facebook www.facebook.com/DropDeadInteractive and Twitter @Sleevesoft. Oh and tis summer time, yeah!

Plunder Push ahoy!

 

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Yes I did just say ahoy, I know I know. Anyway, much news to tell you about this time around; Jay and I have been working pretty hard to get our first game together up and running and it’s time to give you some info. Plunder Push is a touch puzzler about a fish collecting treasure. You push the fish to the next piece of treasure but only have a certain number of moves and a time limit to do so.

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Jay has been working on the GUI, menu and in game effects, while I’ve been getting on with the assets and sound which are pretty much done now. We have forty levels already built so probably another 20 are needed to make a total of 60 for release. I think I’ve found an art style that suits me and I can do reasonably well and I’ve found it incredibly easy working with Jay. Decisions and communication between us have been a breeze so I’ve really enjoyed working with him on our first game together as Drop Dead.

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We intend to get it out on iOS first, then Android and Windows Phone, if it proves at all popular we might just do some levels packs but we’ll see. I’ve learn’t a huge amount over the last few months in terms of game development, I’ve worked on games before but never been this involved. I’ve gained loads of experience in Photoshop and plethora of new techniques for my 2D art which I hope will only get better with each game we make.

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Something else I’ve noticed is we’re both damn quick workers, we make sure we know what we need to do and it generally gets done pretty sharpish. That means we aren’t procrastinating over silly unnecessary things too much but rather getting stuff done, an excellent way to develop I think. Next we obviously need to get some testing done and thus feedback for improvements and difficulty balance etc, those extra 20 levels, plus Jay will add the animations and polish Plunder until it shines as best it can.

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I’ve never enjoyed making games as much as I am right now and if any prospective dev is reading this wondering how they should get started, well, that’s the fundamental thing you shouldn’t be doing. Don’t think about how to get started, simply start. The best way to get into making games is to, yup, make games. Only seriously hard work and practice will you get you there, if you’re a beginner then grab Construct 2 or Game Maker, go online and follow some video tutorials and build something basic.

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Go and download Gimp or Paint.net and again look for some tutorials to help you create your own basic art. From there it’s all about putting the hours in and iterating upon your designs, but start small and with simplicity. I hope you like the screenshots of Plunder Push and we’ll be working to get it released fairly soon on most mobile and tablet platforms. In the meantime keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter feeds for the latest Drop Dead game news.

Drop Dead Reborn

How quickly things change in game dev land! Due to a change of circumstances Jay of Drop Dead Interactive, who I was helping to make Soul Machine, let me know that Drop Dead was back on! Jay & I have decided to establish a two person team to make small & hopefully unique games. We’ll both design and he’ll do that whole coding thing I’m not so good at while I focus on art. We complement each other well in development terms and both tend to prefer PC/ Console games, although we have a few touch based game concepts.

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Ah things tend to work out in the end! Jay and I have been ploughing away on our first game together and I’ve got to say I’ve never been happier. I’ve obviously worked on several successful  ish games before with my bro but that was only level design, finding sound, marketing, a bit of writing and making trailers. Now while that was cool only elements of the game design were really mine.

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I’ve said before I’m no artist, my art education ended at 16, by nature I’m a writer but the one thing I’ve wanted to achieve is some decent level of visual design. So when I release a game my contribution is explicit and I’ve put part of myself out there in the world. I’m still not exactly wonderful or anywhere near the professionals of this industry but I’m steadily getting better. Jay codes, I make some art and we both design, which has given me greater focus, more time & freedom for design.

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So what the hell am I blathering on about, Jay and I currently have two games in various stages of development. A mobile/ tablet title and something a touch bigger, Jay has built the mobile title but we haven’t been able to nail the right aesthetic. The last two weeks or so I’ve tried a plethora of styles and techniques, such as abstract neon in space (bad idea) but nothing has stuck. A few days ago I was playing around in Photoshop, and I think I may have stumbled across a style I could be good at with some serious practice.

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I showed the assets to Jay (bear in mind they didn’t take long to produce and require a shed load of work to improve) and he rather liked them so we have the look for our first game as Drop Dead; Plunder Push. Plunder is a touch based puzzle game, it was Jay’s concept and it involves a fish but that’s all for now. As this our first game we’re keeping it simple, bold and most of all fun but with increasing difficulty.

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I hope you like the sound of Plunder Push, despite the somewhat vague details thus far, and some of the very early art. We’ll show some of the actual gameplay over the coming months and intend to release on Android, iOS and Windows Phone. I like to think I’ve found that one thing that I knew I was kinda meant to do all along, make games, but we’ll see how it goes. Lots to get done but it’s the best use of time I could ever imagine, well, except maybe playing games.

Aaarrrggghhh! Screw you Hyper-V!

Last week my blog discussed moving exclusively to Unity from Construct 2 & GameMaker. I didn’t do any of that, which is pretty typical of me & I’m regretting it a hell of a lot! Instead I worked on exporting Flight of the Bat to Android & Windows Phone 8 with absolutely no joy and mounting frustration. I tried to export Flight of the Bat to Android using Intel’s XDK & Ludei’s Cocoonjs, after many days of following tutorials and messing around I still hadn’t got it working.

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At first I tried Intel’s new XDK, designed for exporting to Android & other platforms with included emulators. That hasn’t worked at all yet, the game components load fine but all the emu gives me is a black splash screen. It’s still in beta so I’m sure it’ll improve but right now I can’t figure it out. Then Cocoonjs; the game uploaded to Ludei’s server successfully but the launcher app required a code which I still haven’t received. That was 4 days without any game development & I was getting rather pissed off.

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I left Android exporting alone and moved on to Windows 8 & Phone, the exported SLN file worked perfectly in Visual Studio 2013 as a Win 8 app but then more problems. Hyper-V has been my Kryptonite for a while; when I was helping to develop Drawtopia I had the same problem and couldn’t figure out how to get the damn emulators to work then either. My googled solutions mostly did bugger all but I finally worked out how to use switches. I created an internal virtual machine for the Win Phone 8 emu and then a bridged virtual machine for the wireless network adaptor.

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Voila! Flight of the Bat was running on the emulator! I also fixed my wireless network adaptor which had stopped working a few months prior, double win! Well actually no, in fact no win. Today I turned on my PC & Hyper-V wasn’t working as it had been so once again the Win Phone emus weren’t either. I tried to replicate what I did the previous night but it’s just not happening.

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It’s time to get back to Unity & make a PC game. Hell I might even make a shooter called Hyper-V! Yes I’m frustrated, I feel like I’ve wasted well over a week on utterly useless stuff that could’ve been avoided. However, to fail is to learn and for now I’m just glad to be back to actual game development, the mostly fun stuff!

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Edit: It’s worked! Huzzah! I tried Intel’s XDK again and Flight of the Bat is working absolutely perfectly on every emulator regardless of platform. Hell yeah! It’s only taken around three bloody weeks to get the damn thing working but hey I’ll take what I can get. At least that now means if I do have a simple game idea, I can quickly prototype it in Construct 2. Oh and here is the last you’ll ever see of Flight of the Bat…

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Focus, damn you!

I’ve been a touch missing in action over the last few weeks, so sorry for the slightly later than usual blog post.  Over my week off I’d been sporadically building a game for #flappyjam, called Flight of the Bat. This halted my Unity progress as the prior weeks had been focused on getting better with that engine & PlayMaker/ uScript. I followed a few Construct 2 tutorials to build a Flappy Bird inspired shooter, which was at least a bit different from Dong Nguyen’s ludicrously simple yet massively popular mobile release.

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I created the basic gameplay mechanics, art assets, animations & sound while adding a few other bits such as touch controls and particle effects each day. My problem came at the end of that week off. Although people liked the aesthetic I felt like I was about to finish a game in a few weeks and release it for the sake of it. This is clearly not the way to go with your first or any other game project. The iOS & Google Play stores were already swamped by Flappy clones including Flappy Bat & Bat Flapping amongst others.

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I didn’t want to just waste the little bit of time I’d put into it so instead I iterated in a basic sense. I started again & created an endless flyer, gone is the tap to flap mechanic and in its place is touch to fly higher, don’t touch to fall. The game speed increases over time while less bug boosts are spawned, collecting bananas adds to the overall score. There’s a range of enemies to avoid; Owls, Crows & storm clouds and top ten local high scores. I had to resize all of the assets to suit the new scale (960 x 640) and this game plays in landscape rather than Flappy Bird’s portrait view.

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Beyond this I’m not actually a massive fan of mobile games despite helping to develop two prior games for phone. I have always been more of a console & PC gamer, so why was I initially intent on releasing a Flappy Bird clone with a few variations? Well to get a game out isn’t a good enough reason & of course if it isn’t good enough it would inevitably effect your reputation as a developer. So then, what next? It’s time to knuckle down & spend the time to fully learn Unity & PlayMaker; I’m 34, have a full time job & am doing this game stuff on my own so time is incredibly precious.

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With this in mind learning C# right now just isn’t viable but PlayMaker & uScript certainly are. I already know how to use most of the 2D functions in Unity so that’ll be my future focus. I enjoyed making Flight of the Bat, however, I want my first proper game to have some depth & time taken over design rather than releasing a game made in a few weeks without any longevity. It’s time to move on from Construct 2 & GameMaker for a bit, to focus on Unity, rather than my constant dabbling which obviously isn’t helping me to build the games I want.

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I, like many other part time or upcoming indie devs am desperate to establish myself & make games full-time. However, that shouldn’t come at the cost of depth, quality & some sense of originality. Rather than releasing something of a throwaway & somewhat generic nature on mobile I’d rather take more time to create a game with greater complexity & uniqueness.

Drop Dead is dead and Flight of the Bat

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That was certainly an interesting week; Drop Dead Interactive, has, well, dropped dead, along with Soul Machine. Jay the owner & lead developer has been offered a wonderful opportunity simply too good to pass up. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from him in the coming weeks. I’ve enjoyed the last few months helping Drop Dead with level design, marketing & other bits of design and wish everyone involved the best of luck with their future projects.

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Without Drop Dead’s Soul Machine what the hell have I been doing? Flight of the Bat, that’s what I’ve been doing. The few prior week’s I’ve almost exclusively used digital tutors to learn Unity & C# but last Thursday I thought screw it I’ll make a game for #flappyjam. I wasn’t going to enter but decided it was an opportunity to make a simple first solo game. A few years ago before helping to develop OCD & Drawtopia, my bro & I made a side scrolling shooter prototype with bats & bugs called ‘Steve’s Bat Game’.

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It was really just a way for Graham to test a few things out like menus, parallax backgrounds & the shooting mechanic. I designed the bat & bug sprites which is why I thought Flight of the Bat might make a decent theme for my #flappyjam entry. I used Photoshop to tidy up the sprites & added a few effects; then created most of the other assets I’d need such as a splash screen, menu, buttons, background, top & bottom rocks & the floor elements.

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I decided to dust off my personal edition of Construct 2 and follow a simple tutorial to create the basic Flappy Bird mechanics. I’ve obviously altered them a bit and as I didn’t just want a total Flappy rip decided to introduce shooting mechanics. I’m in the middle of getting autofire to work along with bugs as enemies, then I’ll need to get the menu functions working, a game over screen, particle effects to make it juicier & of course sound.

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I’ve got the next week off from work so every day until the #flappyjam submission date I’ll be working on the game. I can’t really talk about making a game for #flappyjam without talking about the issues surrounding Flappy Bird & Dong Nguyen. It seems the last month in video game land has been quite the controversial period, the King trademark claims & Candy Swipe letter along with Flappy Bird’s removal from the App store.

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I initially became aware of Flappy Bird’s existence after almost all of my students were playing it on their phones at the start of lessons. An exceptionally simple design, made in a very short time that suddenly and some believed illegitimately rose to the tippy top of Apple’s store. The central issue I had with the game was the use of assets that I certainly deemed a bit too similar in design to those of the iconic Super Mario Bros.

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Apart from that I had no problem with the game; playing off the ludicrously difficult design model & truly engaging players worldwide. Then it all got rather weird; Dong Nguyen was receiving a plethora of abuse over Twitter while reportedly raking in over $50,000 dollars a day.

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He decided he simply couldn’t deal with the life changes Flappy Bird’s success had brought, also suggesting the game was proving too addictive for players. Regardless of your opinion about the game it once again goes to show how brutal the internet can be, even in apparent success. I’m not sure #flappyjam would have exactly been a welcome event for Dong, who I’m sure just wants to be left alone rather than see further unwanted interest generated. However, the jam is here & I’m taking part, why the hell not!  

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