I quit Gameloft Montréal last month, and I had two weeks off before starting my new job. I was planning on poking away at Cashtronauts during that time, but when the Walking Dead All Out War Game Jam was announced on September 26th I decided I’d give it a shot. Molyjam was fun, so why not?
I ended up making Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around, a family road-trip simulator where you manage the attitudes and appetites of your children, and your own sanity. It will be playable on WalkingDead.com soon, and the trailer can be seen here:
What Went Right
Doing improv theatre I learned never take your first idea. The theme of the jam was “All Out War”, and while use of the Walking Dead IP was verboten, I was sure that zombies were going to be used a lot. I wanted to make something that would stand out as a one-man team with limited technical and artistic skills the easiest way to do that is to make something unique and personal.
I grew up in rural Saskatchewan, which means you do a lot of driving if you want to go anywhere. My brother, sister and I were always fighting over elbow room, the radio, who has to sit in the middle, food, etc. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to “all out war”, and it made for a fun and silly game idea. It’s also great because it’s easy to explain to someone in one phrase, “a family road trip simulator.”
Knowing that this was a game jam with a strict deadline kept me from feature creeping the game to death. There are still some things that could have been cut, like the dynamic gauges on the car’s dashboard, but the core gameplay was and finished on time.
Learned Some New Stuff
Personally, the best part of this game jam was learning new stuff. I got much better at 3DS Max, using it to make the car, buildings and characters. I also found a great tutorial on how to make curved roads using splines.
I also used the Terrain engine for the first time, and got to poke around with the 30-day Unity Pro license that I got for participating in the jam.
What Went Wrong
The car in DMMTTCA is four WheelColliders, a rigidbody, a collision box, and the visuals. I tried to keep everything super simple, but for some reason the car becomes really tipsy after driving for a long time. Initially you’d get a “game over” when the car rolled over, but it became way too difficult and unfair.
I googled around for a solution, but way too often the answer was “just rewrite your own WheelCollider script”, which was out of my league and timeframe. So as a last-minute fix I just made it so that you can roll over without losing, and lowered the car’s centre of mass so it always rolls back onto its wheels. And if the player still gets stuck somehow, they can still press F to flip the car back onto its wheels.
I kept putting off my sound integration until later, later, later, until it was too late… the final game has no sounds at all. I rationalized that this was ok since most people playing web browsers probably have their own music going, right? Next time I should find someone to help with sound stuff from the get-go.
You could probably put this one and the previous note about sounds under one entry; working alone. I am not an artist, so while I did have fun working in 3DS Max I could have made a much prettier game had I gotten one of my artists friends to help.
I did this game during my week off. It was fun, but long and stressful and maybe not the best way to spend a vacation before starting a new job. In addition, I neglected household chores during that time, which was unfair to my fiancée who was still working full-time that week. If ever I go indie, I now know that time management and family scheduling will be of the utmost importance.
So I finished the game, compiled a trailer and some screen shots, submitted it all and waited. While the winners haven’t been publicly announced, the people at Skybound compiled the trailers were into a big playlist. I was ecstatic to learn that The Indie Mine did a rundown of their 5 favourite entries in the All Out War Game Jam, and mine was #2! It was super flattering, motivating and exciting.
It’s not perfect, but I’m proud of Don’t Turn This Car Around. It’s the first solo jam I’ve done, and the first solo project I’ve ever really finished. I picked up a few neat tricks in 3DS Max and Unity as well. One day I’d like to go indie, and I think the week off I took to make this game taught me some valuable lessons about time-management, focus and motivation.
When I was first hired as a QA Tester at Gameloft in the fall of 2008, Salim Larochelle had just been promoted out of QA, up to Technical Game Designer. He eventually became a Game Designer, but a desire for creative freedom and the urge to tell his own stories led him to set out as an indie game dev. He’s now working on an action/adventure game tentatively titled The Girl And the Robot.
“The player plays as a little girl that is trapped in a castle ruled by an evil queen,” Salim explains. “As she escapes, she meets an antique steam-powered robot that can be controlled remotely. Players will need to use the abilities of both characters to clear puzzles and defeat enemies.” The Girl and the Robot‘s inspirations are varied; ranging from the Brothers Grimm to Ico to the films of Studio Ghibli.
Salim is currently working solo, from home. His day usually starts at 6am, but he enjoys a flexible schedule. “A lot of people are afraid to go lazy and not work when there is no boss. Not for me; while I don’t feel forced to work, I simply have passion for what I do and that’s enough to get things done.”
“When I need to think about a specific technical problem in the game, I usually go out and walk in the park nearby or a lay on my bed.” But he’s been known to work late into the night when he’s firing on all cylinders. “It’s great to have the power to work whenever I feel inspired.”
“[I’m] mostly designing and implementing the mechanics and the levels.” He has a growing collection of architecture books, and has learned a lot about texturing through practice and watching others online. (Check out this video flyby through the first level in the game.) Even then, “I realize there are things I can’t do. I’m now looking for partners to do the characters’ modeling, the music, the concept art and the animations.”
Even though he has a degree in business, the entrepreneurial side of being an indie is another role he wouldn’t miss. “Keeping track of money and doing pitch presentations is less fun than making games. If I’m successful, I plan to give this job to someone else.”
I asked him if there was any hesitation or regrets. “I had learned as much as I could at Gameloft and this was just the next step. It was something I wanted to do for a long time. The only thing I miss is the socializing part of working in a big company; I miss those coffee breaks!”
I was perusing /r/GameDev today and was pleasantly surprised to see that local game developer Nihilocrat (Twitter, Tumblr) has released SWOOOORDS! Colon Lords of the Sword. It’s a 4-player co-operative dungeon crawler that is also the prototype for a future RPG project, according to his comments.
Castle Story by Sauropod Studio
When I first saw that Sauropod had launched a Kickstarter campaign for their adorable mining/building RTS, Castle Story, they’d already earned over $10,000 in a few short hours. I guessed they were going to hit $300k by the end of the campaign, my coworker guessed $400k. You could argue that we were both right, because this Sunday the Kickstarter ended with a final sum of $700,000. Insane! I can’t wait to get my grubby mits on the alpha demo, or my complimentary hug! (It’s not too late to buy your way into the beta, you can do so over Paypal through their site.)
Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves by Artifice
If this blog about Montreal and video games was made to talk about one title, it’s Sang Froid.
Quebec has produced hundreds of games, but this is one of the few you can actually call Quebecois. Set in 19th-Century Canada, you play one of two brothers who must defend their sister from the sinister forces of the devil. You have at your disposal a wide variety of weapons, spells and traps inspired by French-Canadian and First Nations folklore.
Waiting For Horus by Devine Lu Linvega, Renaud Bedard, Henk Boom and Mangadrive
Also available on Steam Greenlight is Waiting For Horus. It’s pretty early in development, but already this Quake 3-inspired shooter looks amazing. You might remember Renaud as the programmer from Fez, and Henk Boom is one of the folks working on the aura adventure Fract, which is also worthy of your attention! (He was also a guest on the last episode of the podcast.)
If you want to play, the team is hosting public playtests on Sunday nights, follow them on Facebook for full info.
Mercenary Kings by Tribute Games
I fell in love with Tribute Games at MolyJam, when they showed Friends ‘Til the End (stick around for the ending…). Having completed Wizorb, the team is now moving on to Mercenary Kings, a side-scrolling shoot-em-up with insanely customizeable weapons and stellar art from Paul Robertson.
They’re going the Kickstarter route as well, and with 13 days left they have already hit 96% of their goal of $75,000. Check it out!
I’m absolutely sure that there are other local indie projects that are coming out very soon. I’d like to make this post a regular thing, so if you’ve got something in the works you’d like to share with the world, leave a comment, send an email to simonprefontaine on gmail, or ] tweet at @PixelPoutine.
My high school was a private French-Catholic institution in small Saskatchewan farming town, so it was almost impossible for the geeks on campus to get our gaming fix. But on Friday afternoons, one of us would make sure to leave the computer lab’s window ajar during class. Later that night (we lived in dorms on campus), we would sneak out and slide the window open from outside. We’d crawl through and, keeping all the lights off and our voices down, install Starcraft spawns and play LAN games late into the night.
Now I’m a goddamn adult with his own PC who can play Starcraft 2 as much as he wants without having to resort to any form of trespassing. But I haven’t just been playing the game, I’ve also been watching casted replays, diving into /r/starcraft, and devouring dozens of Sean “Day9” Plott’s super-cerebral tutorial videos. Starcraft 2 has become a pretty big part of my life…
Hm, maybe they had a reason to lock us out of there…
Recently EA unveiled the formation of Victory Games, their new strategy label. Along with it they also announced a reboot of the Command & Conquer series. One can easily speculate that Starcraft 2‘s critical and financial success influenced this decision.
This reboot might seem a bit premature, since the last C&C game came out about a year ago. But C&C really lost its way long before then, never having regained the audience and importance it had 10+ years ago. EA has shown that they’re not above taking inspiration from Activision-Blizzard’s other hits (*cough*Medal of Honor*cough*), so are they setting their sights on Starcraft 2 now?
C&C was my first love, long before Starcraft 2 introduced me to a life of crime. So understandably I am excited by the idea of a reboot and some evolution, but I hope the original series’ gameplay and spirit are carried over. But what does that mean exactly?
THE TIBERIUM MUST FLOW…
Real-time strategy games revolve around the control of resources. Westwood Games, Victory’s predecessor, invented the genre with Dune 2, so it’s not surprising to see that all of their games would follow the same resource scheme: renewable fields of a Spice-like substance, collected by a heavy harvester vehicles.
This is much different than Blizzard’s games: carefully-placed finite resources of gold/gas and minerals/lumber. Listen to a pro Starcraft 2 game and you’ll see how this affects gameplay. Each map is littered with a number of empty “expansions”, carefully designed spots where resources are placed and waiting for a Town Hall-equivalent to be constructed. The player who can safely expand the most has the highest income and can afford to overrun his enemy.
Tiberium spreads uncontrollably and is poisonous to infantry, so you can’t “expand” into it, building your base around it. This means your Harvesters have to venture out, away from your defences. It also means that your income doesn’t come in a steady stream, but in periodic bursts.
Another way that the C&C games differentiate themselves is that unless you clear out a field completely, Tiberium will regenerate on its own. If you pace yourself it is an unlimited resource. This could be a great gameplay mechanic that leads to some interesting questions: do you clean out a nearby, easily-defensible Tiberium field for immediate resource gain, or do you maintain a slower and more sustainable, long-term approach?
The C&C games tends to have a slower and much more pensive pace than Blizzard’s games. This is due to several factors: larger map size, slower unit movement, longer build times and a zoomed-out view of the action.
I don’t think this makes for a less exciting game necessarily, in fact for this can be a good thing. (If a fast pace was all that mattered to spectators, why would there be a channel devoted solely to golf?) It gives you a game that is less reliant on insane hand speed and superhuman reation timing, and more on macro strategies like army composition and positioning. Not that this would be better or worse than how Blizzard does things, just different.
PRESENTATION GOES A LONG WAY
(I’m not talking about the talking-head FMV sequences… those were great, but it’s time to let those go.)
With big-budget affairs like Korea’s Global Starcraft League and the upcoming North American Star League, the RTS genre is probably the biggest spectator e-sport out there. I think that there’s room for C&C in this field, and that it might be a great RTS for new spectators as well.
As I mentioned before, C&C played out at a pace that was easier to manage and watch. In addition to that, its aesthetic and setting made it an easier game to understand. While some of the games did get very science-fiction-y in later iterations, or just plain ridiculous (armoured Russian bears?),you know what a flame tank does just from the name… a Corruptor… less so.
So these are a few of the things that make the C&C games stand out: a unique resource collection mechanic, methodical pacing and a fun, comprehensible setting. I’m positive that we have enough players and spectators out there to handle another big RTS, so here’s hoping Victory Games makes it happen.
Great comedies leverage the strengths of their medium to get laughs. About 80% of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel is hilarious descriptions, turns of phrase and nearly-irrelevant Guide entries. But a movie like Airplane! would not make a very funny book; a lot of the gags are visual, or based on the actors’ stone-faced delivery. In short, Hitchiker’s Guide gets laughs by telling, Airplane! gets laughs by showing.
So while funny cutscenes and clever writing will always have a place in games, we’re really just copy-pasting another medium’s storytelling tools into ours. Tools that are just delivery services for someone else’s jokes. But games can be more than that, they are in the enviable and unique position of being joke creation mechanisms.
Spore could have been hilarious. I did enjoy creating creatures and seeing how the AI would find a way to animate them. Too bad there was not much else to do. Imagine if something like this was combined with the detail and the complexity of interaction available in The Sims! I’d be be locking purple galloping penis-creatures in doorless rooms while armless fishmen struggle to open the fridge.
Abstraction is also be a valuable tool. After all, if we are generating events and situations randomly, it would serve us to “zoom out” a bit and intentionally make things less realistic and more open to interpretation. Recently I was enthralled by a demonstration of Introversion Software’s upcoming game, Subversion. There’s a long but awesome demonstration of the game available. You should watch the whole thing, but if you’re in a rush the relevant part here is at 18:00.
In the demonstration, Chris’ men start waving AK-47′s around the lobby of a bank. The customers raise their hands and begin freaking out, but they follow his commands. One of the guards, however, bugs out and doesn’t move at all. In a high-fidelity, realistic game this bug would destroyed the immersion. The robbers decide to shoot the guard’s gun out of his hand (and pop another bullet in his leg for good measure), but he just stands there, bleeding profusely on the floor. All I could think was that this was the most badass guard of all time. Abstraction saved the day.
And we can’t talk about funny games without talking about ragdolls.
There will always be something funny about watching a man fall off a thing. Even better if he hits some other things on the way down. Team Fortress 2 is one of about a bajillion games that use ragdolls, but they really take advantage of them. Faces will continue to animate for a few seconds after death, leading to some hilarous screaming emotes like the one above. The Sniper’s Hunstman arrows will pin bodies to a wall, hanging the corpses like… wow, that paragraph is getting dark, let’s to move on.
I wish TF2 would do with killcams in-game, like a “best of” gallery at the end of a round. But I think all ragdoll physics are handled client-side, and might not sync up with all players. Ah well.
I finally got a BIXI key last week, and have been biking to and from work. Subsequently, I noticed that Gameloft is uphill from my apartment. So it’s a good workout, and when I change t-shirts in the bathroom when I arrive I can pretend I’m Superman in a telephone booth. So really, it’s fun from start to finish.
For those from out of town, or the exceptionally oblivious, BIXI is Montréal’s public bicycle sharing system. Users buy a month or year-long pass, or can pay-as-they-go with a credit card. It was launched last year in Montréal, and has since spread to Ottawa and London, among other places. Like many progressive eco-friendly community socialist projects, Europe’s been doing it for a while.
Anyhow, BIXI’S front page is currently showing off the “2009 Top 25 BIXIclists”, the twenty-five folks who used the service most. A leaderboard of sorts. So what other game design concepts can be used to improve BIXI? Basically, what incentives can we create to encourage users to use the service more, and to make it more efficient?
Already users have access to “My BIXI Space”, a page where they can check out their bike-riding stats and history. The simplest stat shown is the user’s total distance traveled, in kilometers. Why don’t we turn this into a currency, a point system? With each km traveled, users earn points that can later be redeemed for prizes, like water bottles, safety gear, or a free subscription for friends and family.
Or just for bragging rights; let’s make a leaderboard. Who has biked the most this year/week/today? Who took the longest trip? Who’s fastest? Or, on a personal and less competitive way, personal high score tables could encourage solo “players” to beat their own personal week-to-week distance.
The site also keeps track of every trip you’ve taken, station-to-station. Google Maps/Earth keeps track of altitude, so why not keep show who has climbed the most hills today, or who is the downhill champion? That leads us naturally to our old friend, the Achievement System! You biked 100km, ding! You’ve climbed a total of 25km, ding!
So that encourages players to use the service, so let’s now find a way to encourage users to make it run more smoothly.
A friend of mine, who is a much bigger sustainatarian than I, was telling me that some people are unimpressed with the service, due in part to the fleet of pickup trucks required to shuttle bikes from overcrowded stations to empty ones. We could give players bonus points for docking a bike at an otherwise empty station, reducing the need for these trucks. We’ll place “bounties” on the website, encouraging users to bring bikes from overcrowded stations to empty ones. Personally that wouldn’t encourage me to bike to Peel and walk home for a few points, but it couldn’t hurt.
I’ll be honest. Part of me feels kind of weird doing this. Like I’m helping Jesse Schell’s terrifying vision of the future become a reality. This whole blog post is about manipulation. But is it wrong? I’m hoping to inject a little more fun into a service I already use, and one that helps me stay in shape and pollute less. If this ever turns into a spammy Facebook game I will throw myself under a solar-powered bus.
Since December I have moved apartments twice, broken my PC, purchased a new PS3 and 360, recorded an episode of the podcast and learned how to cook Mexican food. I’ve been busy. But now that I have some free time again and the sun is shining, it’s time to stay in and write blog posts.
But the biggest/most relevant news in my life is that I am no longer working as a Localisation Bug Specialist at Gameloft. The career gods heard my pleas and made me a Technical Game Designer at Gameloft Montreal. Obviously I can’t talk about what team I’m on, but I should be able to share news in a few months. Here’s a hint: it’s a game and it will be enjoyable.
You can download the MP3 here. [Right-click to Save As] We talk about Heavy Rain, high five sensors, the Hippocratic Oath of video games and a certain little one-button RTS.
This week’s episode features Misters Henk Boom and Matthew Gallant. In addition to being great writers and thinkers, they are 2 of the 5 guys behind No Fun Games, the makers of Pax Britannica. You can download their game for free from Matthew or Henk’s sites.
Episode 4 is now online and can be found here! Don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes, and leave us a review! Questions, comments and love letters can be sent here. And hey, while you’re at it you can follow us on Twitter.