Friday, October 16, 2009

Utah Indie Games Night - October 2009

What can I say? Last night was just awesome! We had a great turnout with close to 50 people in attendance, which might be a new record. There was just so much energy in the air, you could almost feel it. Needless to say the even was a lot of fun, and that's what games are about, right? Also we had Panda Express (Yum Yum!) for dinner this time instead of the usual pizza, so that was nice change of pace.Add Image

Game in a Day
Steve Taylor started of the night with a great presentation on doing a "game in a day". Steve's definitely a proponent of this exercise, having done it about seven times himself. He's even had his whole company drop every thing else and focus on doing a game in a day. He did this to help build the team and help bring some more synergy and efficiency to the team. It's not necessarily the game that the goal, but the lessons that you learn from it. One benefit to doing this exercise that hadn't occurred to me was that it can motivate you on old projects. Especially if you're in a rut in your current project; taking a break from it for a day and focusing on another game can "jazz you up" and help bring some energy back to the old project. One of Steve's game in a day projects, Rome, also became the basis for their latest game Kingdom of Kelflings.

If you’re interested in doing a game in a day, contact Steve at Also Josh Jones is working to bring the Global Game Jam to our area next year. More details will be made available to the group later as they are "fleshed out".

Okay the highlight of the evening can be summed up in one word - Archon!

React Games (a small independent studio here in the valley) came and sponsored our little event. They wanted to throw a party of sorts anyway to celebrate the opening of the pre-sales for the PC version of their game, so we decided to combine the two events. I think it worked out well. React has remade the original Archon game into something beautiful and very faithful to the original. I remember playing Archon as a young teenager on my Atari 800XL and loving it. Admittedly I never got good at it, but I was always captivated with its combination of strategy-based and skill-based gameplay. There were some similar games that came later on, like Battle Chess, but I still think Archon has more rich strategy than these others. The original was only a one or two player game, but now React has added a four player option, which I think is cool; it certainly enhances the gameplay. You can play four players in either a free-for-all mode or a team mode. Also the graphics also are just gorgeous; I wish I could make my game as pretty.

They also sponsored an Archon Tournament and the winning team won T-Shirts. This was the first time we ever had a tournament during Indie Night, and I think it went really well. There were lots of players over there competing for the prize, and I could tell that there was a lot of excitement going on. It also looks like the React guys got a lot of good feedback from the players, by getting their opinions and watching them play. I think it was a win-win for all involved.

Also, Congratulations to Justin Barlow and Jake Dinkins for winning the Archon Tournament, and taking home the booty. Way to go!

BTW, Jay has a great writeup on the game here. Also, if you want to get in on pre-sales (which will get you a reduced price and early access to the game) please go their site I may have to pick up a copy myself. ;)

Other demos for the evening

DazLinks - John Renstrom (Mogware) & Brian Howell (Daz3D)
Mogware and Daz3D have teamed up to create a product called DazLinks. It helps solve the common problem of being able to use stock 3D models in games. Most models that you buy cheaply (from places like Daz3D) have a very high polygon count, and usually too high to be used in a real-time rendering engine. Daz Links helps solve this problem by reducing the meshes down to a manageable level. It also combines textures into one, further optimizing the model. It can generate different Levels of Detail (LOD) from the same model, so you don't have to create these yourself. Also with morphs, you can use one model and modify it to be a troll or elf, which also helps generate more content for your game. In short it helps Indies by making cheap models usable in your game. This looks to be a promising tool.

Our Tower Game (working name) - Paul Milham & Mike Whitaker
This is a flash game in its early stages. It's a real time tower defense type game where you are trying to stop an invading frog army. You set up towers to fight the oncoming army, and as frogs die they give up their "gibs", which you then collect and use to build better towers. One unique thing about this game is that the towers are made up of two parts, a base and a weapon, which you can customize to have more options on what your tower can do and how vulnerable it is to attack. I know the art is early, but I liked the cartoony style that they have going in the game.

Zombie Defense - Darius Ouderkirk
I played this for a while and it looks like it's coming along. Most of the changes, since I last saw this have been changes to the AI. My understanding is that, he added some restrictions on placement of fences and how buildings were placed on the screen, which greatly simplified the AI. I gradually built up my machine gunners, riflemen, and fences and was able to protect my last few blocks of the city, although I lost most of the city to the Zombies. Though that's part of the decision process in this game. Protect too much and you're spread too thin; protect too little and you risk losing all the citizens as the zombies just gain enormous strength.

Experimental Games - Josh Jones
I played Josh's two new experimental games

Minput - This game has only one action you can take, but you decide when to take it. There's a hallway with people running down it. Your one action will block the hallway, but the outcome is different depending out who you let pass before blocking the path.

Fail Fail - This is a simple game where you have to decide what the content of the picture is (or rather the source of the photo), but you only get to see a small portion of the picture at the top. It is either a picture with dogs (Mutt Fail) or a picture of an accident (Epic Fail). The pictures are dynamically pulled from the web, which explains why Josh was laughing so hard when the full pictures were shown. I initially thought that he knew the answers before hand since he wrote the game, so I wondered why he was laughing, but once I knew that they were new to him too, I understood.

Balloon in a Box - Tim Tillotson
I played Tim' iPhone game, where you had to move a balloon through a small maze, by tilting the phone, until you reached the checkered flag at the end. After the first level there are fans and darts to avoid, which will pop your balloon and you'll have to start over. I found that I had to fight my natural instincts as I familiar with the tilt games where you move a marble through a maze, but in this game you have to tilt it the opposite way (as the balloon floats up). Another thing challenging about the game is that you can only see a portion of the maze at a time, so you don't fully know where the destination is. However this is helped by the fact that the portions you have visited in the maze are lit up, while the unvisited sections are dark. This way you have a better idea where the end may lie.

Andriod Tic Tac Toe - Don Jordon
Don showed me his Tic Tac Toe game on his android phone (T-Mobile myTouch). He had been doing this to learn the android API, and it looks like it’s coming along. I'm really amazed at how the iPhone and Android platforms are taking off. These platforms might not be the best to bring in lots of cash, but they are a great way to get started as a hobbyist or a way to release a game that acts like a marketing tool (such as a small iPhone game that in a way advertises a better experience in they PC game of the same name).

Good Conversations
Inevitably there are some great conversations that happen at our Indie Nights and last night was no exception. I'm amazed at the variety of experiences and types of backgrounds of people in our little indie group. I talked with a guy that just moved back to Utah from Texas and had worked on the Guitar Hero team. I love Guitar Hero, though I really stink at it. My 14 year old son can put me to shame quickly on it. Another guy talked about how he felt Indies may take over the game market. I'm not sure if that will happen completely, but there is a lot of truth in how the old methods of making games are dying out and the Indies and small studios have a better chance at survival. The big

budgets and big teams of the mainstream industry combined with dropping game prices is just not a sustainable thing. I also had a good talk with Jay about Adventure Games and how they are making a bit of a come back. I'm encouraged by this as it's one of my favorite genres, and I'd like to make a point-n-click adventure someday (though I need to finish my current game first).

It was a really great night; certainly one of the best that we've had. I feel a lot more motivated and energized to work on my own project now. I think the indie scene is only going to grow more, and I'm glad to be a part of it.

Thanks again to everyone. Thanks Ninjabee for providing us a place to meet. Thanks React Games for sponsoring the food and the wonderful Archon Tournament. And thanks to everyone that came and made the night so awesome!

Viva la Indie!

P.S. Jay's writeup can be found here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Utah Indie Games Night - July 2009

We had an another awesome Indie Night, with possibly a record turnout. We had somewhere between 50 to 60 people there. It was really packed with people and packed with games and information. There was so much going on I was unable to talk to even half the people there, and I'm sure I missed a lot of what was happening. Even my conversations seemed a bit rushed as there was just so much happening. It was a really busy, but very enjoyable night.

We started the evening off with a presentation by Chris Evans on iPhone Development. He (along with his brother Marcus) shared some good information on just how quickly the iPhone has grown as a gaming platform. Just some pronominal growth. He shared some examples of some iPhone apps that have made millions, but then quickly showed what the more normal numbers were (which are very low). My biggest take away was the $250 dollar rule that Apple has. Apparently a developer won't get paid anything from Apple until it had made at least $250 dollars gross (per country). And with a lot of apps priced at $1 that means you'd have to have at least 250 sales in the US before Apple cuts you a check. At that point Apple takes 30% and the developer gets the remaining 70%. This is why most apps make exactly $0 (since they never get over that hurdle). Seems like Apple has quite a raquet going on. Chris mentioned that their iPhone game is still wating approval from Apple to get in the app store. Apparently long delays for approval are not uncommon. Their game is called "Max Diamond: Treasure Hunter Extraordinaire" from Morphosis Games. Look for it soon on the iPhone app store.

We had a record number of games that were shown. So many that for the first time I wasn't able to see them all. Here's what I was able to see.

Kiten - Josh Jones
This was an experimental Flash game that has an AI that adapts to the player. It's a fast paced frantic shooter where you shoot at the enemies as fast as you can. The enemies adapt to either "hold back" or "really bring it". The AI can even be a blend of other AIs. You try the game yourself here.

Pain Town & Rafkill - Jon Rafkind
Pain Town is a fighting game along the likes of Street Fighter or Mortal Combat. I was very impressed.
The controls and everything seemed very fluid. He's been working on the engine and the game for about 3 years now. You check out the game here. He also showed my an older game of his called Rafkill, which is simple top down vertical shooter. He mentioned that he sold it to another company that then they changed the graphics and marketed it as "Tusk".

Zombie Defense - Darius Ouderkirk
Darius showed me the progress he's made on his game. Mostly they were changes in game balance and AI. For example instead of the Zombies coming from everywhere, they all start from one location (or a few locations in upper levels). This allowed for better placement strategies for the different units. Also the money you earn is directly related to the buildings you've saved, rather than the number of Zombies you killed. This put the emphasis back on defending the whole city.

Qubix - Paul Milham
This is a fun flash game where mere survival is the object. You have a cube that you move with the mouse and it grows if you touch other cubes of the same color and shrink if you touch cubes of a different color. As time goes on the other cubes move faster and faster. There are also timed events that happen periodically where the cubes start criss-crossing , speeding up, or if you're lucky they'll all turn your color and you can gobble them up. The game is over if you shrink to nothing. The game is nicely balanced and is very compelling.

Tank General - Shylar
This is a real time tank warfare game made in Director; something like "Scorched", but in real time. You control your tank with standard WASD keys and the mouse. You have to kill the enemy tanks and large bosses around various terrain. The terrain can block the artillery of the enemy tanks so you can use that to your advantage. Occasionally you'll have to dodge homing missiles as well. There are power ups that increase your moving speed or aiming speed or give you rapid fire. It looks like this is coming along nicely.

Wii Dancing Game - Les Pardew
Les of Alpine Studios came and showed the Wii dacing game that his team is working on. I can't say too much about this game, but the motion was really fluid and it was awesome. I think this one will be a hit, especially in families with young girls.

Heroes For Hire - Mike Whitaker & Ed Nielsen
They told me the name will be changing as there is a AAA tile with the same name; probably something like Trio For Hire. Anyhow, this is a flash based game that is similar to Rampage (and XCom), except you are trying to save the city and not destroy it (though you just might do a bit of destruction while getting rid of your enemies). I saw Mike playing as a robot defending the city from a giant kid in a Godzilla suit, a one eyed spider, and a giant garden gnome. The art was fantastic and added a lot of humor to the game. It had sort of an "Alien Hominid" sort of feel to it. They are planning to enter the game in the Newgrounds contest. Good Luck to them. I hope they do well.

Radioactive Joe - Carson Barlow
I didn't get a chance to look at this one other than a DVD cover that he made for the game. This was made for his capstone project at ITT-Tech. It looked pretty good based just the cover screenshots. It looked to be an action adventure, sort of Zelda like.

Darkened Dreams 2 - Curtis Mirci & Peter Anderson
I didn't get a chance to see the progress that they've made on this game. Just a really busy night. Though based on Jay's report, most of their progress has been "under the hood" and nothing that could really be shown visually.

I also spoke with Gabrielle Long, a talented freelance artist that is looking for some contract work or a full time position. You can check out her portfolio here. If you'd like to hire her or know someone that might, you might want to drop her a line.

I'm amazed at how this event has grown. We started out almost 4 years ago with just 11 people getting together in Nijabee's small basement office, and now its grown to a much bigger event. I'm glad to see the Indie spirit alive and well. I always come away from these events very inspired and with renewed energy. It was a blast.

Viva la Indie!

Jay's write up can be found here, and Josh's write up can be found here.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Utah Indie Games Night - April 2009

We had another fantastic Indie Games Night last night. We had close to 40 people there in attendance. Not quite a record but still a great turnout. Some of that was due to a field trip of sorts from some ITT-Tech students (thanks Ray). It certainly looked like everyone was enjoying the evening. As usual there was a lot going on, so I feel like I've missed out a little bit on some great conversations.

We started the evening off with a presentation by Darius Ouderkirk on "Choosing a Project Wisely". Darius gave us some good advice on picking the right project so that it would increase your chances on finishing it. It kind of boiled down to "knowing yourself" (your strengths & weaknesses), "knowing your audience" (their likes & dislikes), and "knowing your purpose" (what's my goal in doing this? to learn? for fun? for profit? etc.). He had a lot of good items to consider before starting a project to make sure the project is a good fit for you. A couple of points that he mentioned that I've learned the hard way are:
1) Keep it small (if you don't keep it REALLY small you may never finish it)
2) Do what you do best and outsource the rest (My first serious indie project was in 3D, and I learned that that's not where my skills were, so I had to put that project on hold.)

Darius was kind enough to share his slides with the group. You can find them here. He also plans to write more about the subject, so keep and eye on his blog here.

Here's my summary of the projects that were shown

Zombie Defense (working title) - Darius Ouderkirk
Darius' zombie tower of defense game is coming along nicely since he showed it to the group at our last meeting. He now has different placeholder art and the gameplay has improved some. There are now three types of zombies (or monsters) that attack; Lurchers (the basic ones), Crushers (slow but powerful), and Runners (quick but weak). To defend against on onslaught you have Machine Gunners, Cannoners, Snippers, and Rifleman with various strengths and weaknesses. Sandbags, fences, and bridges can also be place around the buildings. He mentioned that he'll be adding country style maps (in addition to the city maps already there) with differing terrain, which could add even more strategy to the game. He also showed me some of the concept art that for the game, that his artist came up with. It's kind of a cartoony anime style and it looked really cool. I think this will be a great game once it comes together.

Kingdom of Keflings - Steve Taylor
Steve also showed Ninjabee's kingdom building game for a bit. It's something akin to Civilization but made more accessible to the average player. I believe it might be the first game that will let you use your NXE avatar in the game, basically putting YOU in the game. As always Ninjabee does an excellent job on their games.

Demons of Corrath - Justin Mayhew
This one is still more in the concept stages. Justin described the gameplay as a side scrolling hack'n'slash type of game where you are defeating waves of monsters thrown at you. The original thing about the game was that once you were dead, you didn't just respawn, but rather you enter the dead underworld and had to fight the dead spirits there. Every spirit you defeat there adds to energy and if you absorb enough, you can reincarnate and come back to the land of the living. So lives in this game aren't just a stat, but a game mechanic as well. Justin mentioned that he's currently looking for a programmer to help him finish the project.

Vespers 3D - Mike Rubin
Mike showed some of the new additions to Vespers. I noticed that it a very nice intro sequence now. There seemed to be a lot more walkable areas now, and characters that you can talk to, since I last saw the game. There were a lot more enviromental or atmospheric items to fill in the rooms, so that they don't look so bare. Mike mentioned that most of the coding for the game is done, and that most of the work lately has been just adding content. I noticed that object that you could interact with would highlight as you moved the mouse over them, which was a good visual clue to let user know that something could be done with that object. That way they wouldn't waste their time typing in commands for objects that didn't exist in game internals. I also had a hard time hearing any of the voice overs in the game as the room was really loud
with lots of people talking. It certainly was quite the event.

Frayed Knights - Jay Barnson
Jay showed off his latest build of Frayed Knights. It has new dialog, spells, monsters and part of a new chapter. I got see the spell casting better than I have in the past. He showed a part of the new chapter where we were suddenly fighting three different skeletons with swords and shields. Then he threw different spells at them like "angry flowers" (I guess flowers are really scarry to dead people) and a spell that throws them throw a window (the window just appears out of nowhere for a comedic effect). It's shaping up to be a nice game.

Darkened Dreams 2 - Curtis Mirci & Peter Anderson
Curtis and Peter showed their progress on Darkened Dreams 2. The biggest thing that I noticed right off the bat was that there was a lot of final art added to the game. It's looking very nice now. He showed some combat with killer rats and rabbits. Remind me not to go strolling around that countryside. ;) They mentioned that their focus has been turning this into an RPG Maker of sorts. The editor will be the big selling point to the game, as it will be fully moddable. The user can add and modify maps, items, abilities, characters, enemies (NPC), dialogs, quests, and more. There was even some rudimentary scripting in the engine as well. It looks very customizable and would probably be a good fit for those wanting to build their own RPG. The character builder had tons of options and looked like it could create a wide variety of characters (male, female, and children).

Again I want to send a big thanks to Ninjabee for hosting the event and helping it to be a great success. They just keep on getting better. Also thanks to everyone that came. It was a super evening!

EDIT: Jay has posted his writeup now here. Also Darius is putting his presentation into a series of articles on his blog. The first one is on his blog now called "Choosing a Project: Know Yourself".

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dr. Dobbs Mystery

It appears to be a case of identity theft. Back in January, a friend of mine sent a scan of the latest (and last issue I later learned) of Dr. Dobbs Journal. I couldn't believe it. It was almost like looking in a mirror. The guy on the cover looks very much like me. How dare he steal my identity! What mad scientist did this? and why? Apparently this imposter is still at large. He's probably still writing articles and passing them off as his own. I have been unable to determine who this guy is. If anyone has any leads on this guy I'd certainly appreciate it. It the meantime my evil twin (or am I the evil twin?) is out there minding his own business. He has to be stopped! ;)

Here's a better comparison, so you can spot the suspect.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Utah Indie Games Night - January 2009

I apologize that I'm finally getting around to this write-up. I've had some important family matters that have taken up most of the weekend. We had a wonderful Indie Games Night this past Thursday. There were lots of new and familiar faces at the event. The event was well attended and we may have hit a new record in attendance. There were a lot of other students coming in and out so it was hard to count how many were actually there for the event. It appears there was somewhere around 40-50 there.

We also had a record number of projects being shown; Seven in all. So many in fact I wasn't able to see Josh's last two mini monthlies there at the event, but I checked them out in his blog later.

As usual there was so much going on, I felt like I was missing some good things. There was a lot of industry talk going on. There was lots of talk about the recent SensorySweep Fiasco (the company has been sued for not paying employees), and also some talk about combining Avalanche and FallLine Studios (since they are both owned by Disney).

We started the evening off with a formal presentation by Josh Jones on "Motivating Crunch: A MiniMonthly Postmortem". Basically it was some of the lessons he learned from his Mini Monthly projects. He talked about dealing with crunch time and staying motivated. He mentioned that you need to be accountable to yourself and use some time management techniques to "Manage the crunch". He mentioned that everyone does "Work work", "Fun Work", and "Fun" with our time. You need to always make some time for the "Fun Work", even if that means doing less "fun". You can access his flash presentation here.

Here's the projects that were shown:

Tank Raige Arena
- Nick Terry

Nick showed off his 3D Tank shooter MMO. It has been the culmination of over 4 years of work, and it looked pretty fun. I believe he said that engine and everything was built by him. The arena is populated by other players and enough bots to balance the game. If you fire too much too fast your gun will overheat and will need to cool down before you can fire again. If you die you will respawn in another part of the arena. In the final game a portal will open after beating the boss (which isn't there yet), and that will let you move to the next level.

Darkened Dreams 2 - Curtis Mirci

Curtis showed his RPG in development. He showed a bunch of features in the Level Editor, which he plans to ship with the game so users can create their own levels and quests. You can also customize your character as well. Not just attributes, but the appearance as well. In the first version of the game, it had a text based input interface with some minimal graphics to show relative positions of rooms, objects, and characters. Very similar to a lot of old text adventures and early RPGs. The second version is based on XNA and is looking very nice.

Zombie Town - Darius Ouderkirk

Darius showed his zombie game that uses a "Tower of Defense" play mechanic. You start out by picking your Home Base then Zombies will attack that building (or group of buildings). You can also set up a number of hero units (Snipers, Machine Gunners, etc.) to help defend the base. You can also setup sandbag blockades and bridges also to help you hero units defend their base. You can setup your defenders on buildings, on the street, or behind sandbag blockades, or on bridges. The game is built using TGB, and is coming along nicely.

Smote - Bryan Livingston

Bryan has put together a robust framework for an MMORPG (currently entitled "Smote"). Currently it is using minimal graphics, but the engine seems to scale well. Something needed in an MMO. It playing the game I was able to jump, fly, fight enemies, and restore my health. He was debating about whether to make the game gamepad driven or mouse and keyboard driven; each of them have their pros and cons. He plans to use the standard fantasy theme of most RPGs, but to use retro Vector graphics to help set it apart from other RPGs.

Galactic Winds - Carson Barlow

Carson showed off one of his Student Projects. It was a 2D side scrolling shooter. You are piloting a space ship above some terrain shooting at alien ships of different kinds. There are some ships that come in like a wave and then stay in position. Each type of alien has its own behaviors to make this classic gameplay interesting. It's looking good.

Two Mini Monthlies (Think Again & Good and Evil) – Josh Jones

Josh showed his last two mini monthlies. The one called "Think Again" appears to mostly be a puzzle game, where you have to place diamonds of different size to correspond to the numbers on the board so that that many diamonds are touching that circle. I wasn't completely sure what to do in "Good and Evil", and his blog mentions is not much of a game but more of an art piece describing the good and evil all around us.


Herb, Dan, and Paul were also there and showed some of their new YouTube gameplay videos. As always these are looking really nice.

I also mentioned to everyone at the event, that Aaron Reed's new interactive novel Blue Lacuna is out now. I was also really impressed with his marketing effort "Blueful" that was very original. It has pieces of the story strewn throughout the real internet on sites like YouTube, MySpace, LiveJournal, Flicker, etc. It was very interesting.

Josh also blogged about the event here in his blog. Also I'm sure Jay will write about the event eventually, but I know he's having some internet connection problems right now. Look for his writeup on his blog

Again I want to send a big thanks to ITT-Tech for hosting the event and helping it to be a great success. This was one of the best one's we've had. Also thanks to everyone that came. It was a super evening.

Viva La Indie!

EDIT: Jay just posted his writeup here. Also my appologies to Bryan for calling Smote "smoked". I'm not sure why I had that wrong in my head somehow. I fixed it above.