Friday, October 29, 2010

Utah Indie Games Night – October 2010

We had another awesome Indie Games Night last night. I counted 37 people attending, so it was a good turn out (certainly far from our record but still a good turnout). We started off the evening with a short and sweet presentation on Easter Eggs by Nick Terry. He gave us a quick run down on their history mostly. The first Easter egg known is the one that is in the classic video game "Adventure" by Atari. It was the developers way of still getting some credit for writing the game (even though he had to hide it some). Later they became just something fun for the user to find. Still later hackers realized the could take advantage of "undocumented code" (Easter eggs) and sometimes use it maliciously. By 2002 Microsoft introduced their Trusted Computing Platform and banned all undocumented code. Nick also mentioned the "Hot Coffee" incident and how it tainted people's feelings about Easter eggs. He said if we do include Easter eggs in our games, we should be responsible and only do something that is just pure fun and not malicious.

After Nick's presentation we broke out into showing demos. We had quite a lot of demos shown this time; 12 games shown in all. I wasn't able to see them all, but the ones I missed have been shown previously at our past events.

Recursion - Tim Fowers, Tom Mason - Gabob
Tim's friend Daniel came and showed us Gabob's latest game Recursion, which is their IGF entry for this next year. It is a unique and innovate game. I don't think I've seen anything like it. It's basically "Pacman meets Paper Rock Scissors". It's a flash game for two players on the same keyboard. Each round you pick one of paper, rock, or scissors and then try to move around the maze and try to destroy your opponent. On the next round you pick another object, but your previous choice still is still there and it follows the same path you did before. The same with your opponent. So there's a time element you have to be aware of as you play with all the "ghost plays" of previous rounds. Each round just builds on the last, until finally one player looses all three of his objects (paper, rock, scissors). I hope this does well for them in the IGF.

Catapult for Hire - Tyrone Henrie
Tyrone showed us his cute game made in Unity. He mentioned it started out as game for the IndiePub competition, where it won "Staff Pick" and then has just grown from there. Essentially you are a knight gone freelance catpult operator and you do jobs for people to help them solve a problem. You can then use the money earned to upgrade your catapult. There are different types payloads, such as bunnies, steel balls, bouncy balls, bombs, antigravity balls, etc. You'd pick the appropriate payload for the task you need to do. Also, there are different modifications to the payload that you can add, like a parachute or glider, that can help guide your payload to the target. There are also different ways to solve each level (job), so there are a bunch of puzzle elements to the game. Here's some YouTube videos that
show off the gameplay.
trailer video
gameplay video

Galatic Defendor & Sphoids - Brett Unzaga
Brett showed us two small games that he made in DX Studio. The first was "Galatic Defendor", and it is a basic 2D shooter game that he created to learn DX Studio. It uses a follow the mouse move mechanic and you have to shoot at the attacking enemies. Once you kill 3 of them then more come in greater and greater waves until finally the big boss arrives. The second game "Sphoids" is sort of a combination of Tetris and Bejeweled. You have these groups of spheres that arraigned like Tetris shapes that you can rotate and drop like (just like Tetris). However once they are dropped the spheres of the same color will combine into longer chains. You have to have at least 3 of a kind to be able to remove them from the bottom. On the left is a goal that you are trying to achieve, like a chain of seven blues. Once you reach that goal that level is over.

Shattered Colony - Jon Duerig
Jon showed his completed flash game, Shattered Colony. Armor Games has picked up the game and is sponsoring it on their site. Basically it takes place during the Zombie Apocalypse, and you and your band of survivors are trying to defend your portion of the city and grow it to include more territory. It's a hybrid RTS/Tower Defense type game. You can build sniper towers, baracades, workshops (which are used to gather/scavenge resources), and depots (which you need to build your supply line). It a very interesting game and quite more in depth than most flash games.

Facebook Game - Les Pardew - Alpine Studios
Les came an showed their upcoming Facebook game. I can't say more about it other than its about to go Beta and it looks really cool.

Siphon Spirit - Curtis Mirci, Dave Matney, Peter Anderson - Califer Games
Curtis was showing some new additions to Siphon Spirit. They now added cutsenes, which look really nice and give it a lot more polish. Also, they've added in Mirana, the character whom you are playing. She's the priestess who is casting the spells and guiding the orb. They also added some new spells, such as the conversion spell which can convert enemy orbs around you into friendly orbs. Also the addition of a shield, which if used allows you to absorb orbs bigger than you.

He also showed a Sprite Generator tool that he's been working on. It create sprites via layers. You can use prebuilt sprite sheets and create a custom character from that. So you pick the body layer, then the clothing layer, then the hair layer, and accessories layer, and colors for each of these and viola! you have a new sprite. Pretty cool.

LinkRealms - Herb & Dan - Mythyn Interactive
Dan and Herb were showing some latest additions to their MMORPG. The big thing they've added is giant bugs and some intricate bug AI. (intricate robot like AI). There's a hierarchy of bugs from King bug, Dungeon Boss, General, down to soldier bug, and the leader bugs can even talk. If there's more than five bugs together then can elect one be their leader then they may take on the dungeon boss or king and maybe take over (so their roles can change). Dan was explaining to me some of the intricacies of the AI system. It's a very elegent system they have in there to make the AI data driven instead of code driven. Very flexible and much easier to tweak.

Tank Raige Arena - Nick Terry - Pheenix Studios
Nick was showing his multiplayer tank game, but I was unable to see this one.

Frayed Knights - Jay Barnson - Rampant Games
Jay was demoing Frayed Knights. I didn't get a chance to see this one at the event, but he told me it's essentially everything that he had demoed before, but now wrapped into one big package. You can read his blog for more details on this.

Flexitris - McKay Salisbury
McKay was showing his tetris type game again. I didn't get a chance to see this one so I'm not sure what improvements he's made.

A World of Kelflings - Steve Taylor - Ninjabee
As things were dying down, Steve showed us some things with their soon to be released "A World of Kelflings". It is coming along nicely and it looks awesome! Words don't do it justice, so watch the trailer here.

There were also some great discussions going on as well. All in all it was a great evening!

Viva La Inde!

Jay's writeup of the evening is here.
Josh's writeup can be found here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Utah Indie Games Night – July 2010

We were a bit smaller in numbers this time around; about 25 people were in attendance. It’s still a fair number, but down quite a bit from last time. I’m not completely sure why we were down so much. Perhaps it was because we didn’t have pizza this time around (though I hope that not the only reason people were coming). I know July is a busy month for people too, so maybe it was just scheduling. Not sure.

Anyway we still had some awesome speaker and some awesome games shown. Mike Rubin of Orange River Studio gave a presentation on “Game Design Innovations in Interactive Fiction”. They were many in the crowd that haven’t grown up with the likes of Zork and other text adventures (now called Interactive Fiction), so the whole idea of Interactive Fiction (IF) was a bit new to them. I grew up with Zork and the Scott Adams adventures, so I was fascinated by Mike’s remarks. Mike mentioned that the parser was one of IF’s greatest strengths and also its greatest weakness too. It gives the impression of openness and unlimited verbs within a game, but it can also give the player a lot of frustration if the player constantly has to “guess the correct verb” to do something. IF has evolved a lot over the last 30 years, and have made some innovations to help bring more meaning and depth into the games. These innovations were the core of his talk.

The main innovations that I gleaned from his talk were:

-Better conversation and help systems
The game Blighted Isle included suggestions on what the player could type and also gave hyperlinks and numbered topics to help the player move the conversation along. The game Blue Lacuna and helped the player by responded to phrases like “I don’t know how to get the sword” with useful help (unlike a lot of IF that would respond with a default “I don’t understand that” phrase). It also included different colored text that highlighted recognized nouns, exits, and topics to help the player avoid the “guess the noun/verb/topic” frustration. (BTW, Blue Lacuna was written by Aaron Reed who used to come to our Indie Game Nights before he moved to California.)

-Use of emotional modifiers
The disturbing game Varicella allowed the player to use modifiers like Cordial, Hostile, and Servial to change to tone of your voice, which would in turn change how the Non-Player Characters reacted to you.

-Better conversation flow
Games like Galatea and Alabaster use a multi-liner plot with hundreds of quips that provide a more engaging conversation. The state of the conversation is also stored so that certain topics aren’t available at various time (such as if you are ignoring the NPC or not offering any info on you). In most adventure games the NPCs are often just “info vending machines”, but these two games provide something much more rich.

-Better implementations to offer more meaningful choice (freedom) in the game
The disturbing game De Baron is a piece of IF that offers more choices to the player, often forcing the player to make some moral choices along the way.

Mike did an awesome job with his presentation. We then opened the rest of the time for some game demos. We had six demos being shown (many were shown previously)

Tile Factory – Johnathon Deurig
This was a flash game about constructing contraptions to get ceramic title in piles ready to ship. It’s sort of a manufacturing puzzle game. You have to set up conveyor belts, bumpers, sensors, and painting machines to both paint and get the tiles from point A to B. It also had a nice tutorial at the beginning that helps the players get into the game. It looks to be a very fun game.

Zombie Defense –Darius Ouderdirk
Darius had me play his tower defense game again. I noticed he’s added a bit more polish now. There was even final art in a few places that looked really nice. Technically “Zombie Defense” is a working title since there are no longer zombies in the game. I believe they will be some sort of monster now though. It now had a tutorial section in it that helped explain the game for new players. It’s certainly coming along.

Flexitris – McKay Salisbury
McKay showed his highly configurable tetris clone built with XNA. There were a few graphical improvements since I saw it last. It now has a background to add some interest and the tiles look much better. On the main screen there are over thirty parameters that can be changed that affect the gameplay. For example, you can adjust the width and height of the play area and the speed at which the shapes will fall.

Gost - Josh Jones
Gost is a small flash game made for the Experimental Gameplay project. The theme this time was Repetition. You have to click on some moving ghosts in the correct order to send them to the afterlife.

Tank Raige Arena – Nick Terry
Nick showed me a little bit of his tank MMO game, however he didn’t bring in the newest build so he wasn’t able to show me some of the new features. He talked about it using some middleware called Tunngle, which is a peer-to-peer VPN solution that makes it easier to play multiplayer games over the internet. It will also handle the match making for you as well. It sounded pretty cool.

Vespers 3D – Mike Rubin
After his presentation Mike got a few questions about his game Vespers 3D, so he showed it to them. I didn’t get a chance to see what progress he’s made on the game, but I know it’s an interesting game that you should check out if you haven’t already.

As usual there were some cool discussions going on a well. At one point the topic of Apple’s hatred of Flash on the iPhone came up. Apple sure seems to be “loosing face” on many things lately, like this one and the whole iPhone 4 antenna fiasco. If they keep this up they are going to start losing even the die-hard Apple fans. Anyway, despite the numbers we had an awesome time.

Viva la Indie!

P.S. - Jay's write up can be found here.
Josh has some comments about the evening here.
Mike Rubin's presentation slides can be found here (on our Google Groups site).
Also, here's some import IF links that Mike provided.

Interactive Fiction Database:

Parchment (online IF player):

Interpreter applications:
Zoom (Mac and Unix):
Gargoyle (Windows):
Frotz (iPhone): iTunes App Store

IF Games mentioned in the presentation (all available at IFDB):
Blighted Isle:
Blue Lacuna:
De Baron:

Other recommended games:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Utah Indie Games Night - April 2010

After last Thursday night all I can say is WHOA! It was an amazing evening. We had around 60 people there, which is definitely a record for attendance at the Ninjabee site (and possibly overall). It’s incredible how this little event has grown. We also set a record on the number of games being shown at the event; 18 games in all. I wasn’t able to see some of them though; too many games, so little time. Also for the first time ever, we had demos being shown on both floors of Ninjabee. There just wouldn’t have been room otherwise.

We did a postmortem on the Global Games Jam (GGJ). My objective was a bit different then most of the teams. I had the objective to learn the Adventure Game Studio (AGS) engine, and I think I accomplished that goal by finishing a small two room adventure. A number of others from each of the teams got up and shared some of their thoughts on the event as well. Some of the points that I picked up on are:
-Sound can drive the creative process, and can really add a lot to a game.
- Happy accidents (things that weren’t planned but improved the game) can happen along the way.
-A lot of people talked how scoping helped them finish the goal.
-Everyone had a blast and everyone’s creativity was at a peak due to the environment.

Also, EA sponsored that event and handed out t-shirts after the postmortem to those that participated in the GGJ. Thanks again EA! If you want to play the games that were made at the GGJ, you can find them here.

Part of the reason for the record numbers was thanks to Brad Moss, who teaches the game design class at UVU (and is the lead developer at React Games), as he brought his crew of students to the event to show off their projects. They brought seven projects in all, though I was only able to see five of them. They were all built with the Unity engine and I was amazed at how much could be done in so little time. I will make an attempt to share some of what I saw. Please forgive me if I’ve gotten some details wrong, there was just so much happening. Feel free to comment or email me if you’d like to correct the record. Anyhow here it goes.

Ostrich 911 – Kevin Roberts & Jason
This was the first student Unity project that I looked at. It’s an interesting game where purpose is to find your fellow ostrich, by sneaking through a barn and evade getting caught. You have a miner’s flashlight and pogo stick to help you along the way.

Element – Abe Raigne & Kurt Spears
This was an interesting two player board game that is similar to Othello, though you have magic spells that you can cast at the other player. One player plays as Fire and the other as Ice. The art was superb and the game play looked fairly intuitive.

Broken Sky – Nick Murano
I was really impressed by art in this student project. You played as this metallic fish skeleton (sort of like a junk sculpture) that flies through the air and engages in a dogfight with another fish enemy. There were lots of little floating islands that added to the whole ambiance.

Jack – Preston Powell & Sam Richmond
In this student project you play as Jack pumpkin head that needs to find a number of pumpkins to regain his soul. There are several puzzles you have to figure out to eventually win the game.

Beefy Greeks – Aaron King & Brittney Peterson
This was the last student project that I saw. This one was similar to bulldogs. The object was to attack your opponent’s castle. You would set up your units and traps (all while the other player was not watching) and then once you both set them up you’d launch your greek soldiers at each other in the hopes that some would make it to opposite side and do damage to your opponent. After a number of rounds one of the two players will emerge victorious.

Flextris – McKay Salisbury
This is a variation of Tetris written in XNA. In fact you can define your own rules, so that you can play a number of variants on the Tetris theme. It was fun. I saw a number of people playing it that couldn’t seem to stop.

Siphon Spirit – Peter Anderson (also Curtis Mirci & Dave Matney)
Peter showed me some additions to Siphon Spirit that they have been working on. They added free energy that don’t hurt you like the other orbs do. Also they have shields and time bombs now that add some variety to the different levels. He showed a boss level where a demon heart (orb) is attached to larger boss and moves around in circles. It’s coming along nicely.

Udder Chaos – Victor Chelaru
Vic has been porting this iPhone game to the Xbox and has been using his Flat Red Ball engine to do so. It’s a simple game where you, or a group of players, can help protect your cows from some cute cartoony aliens. You have to shoot the aliens multiple times, before they take your cows away in their tractor beams. It’s very fast paced and fun game.

Linkrealms – Herb & Dan Flower (also Paul Witte)
Herb and Dan showed me some changes they’ve made to Linkrealms. They are very close to launch BTW. They’ve added pets to the game; most notably chickens. You can raise and breed your own chickens to be used in fights (basically a mini-game). They showed me the intricate system that creates the AI for the chickens. It’s data driven and looks very similar to neural nets. Also these pets can learn from you as a player. They watch what you do and then will start to take on some of those behaviours. They’ll also be adding wolves as another pet that can accompany you and protect you as well.

Two Experimental Games – Josh Jones
10 Second Path was an experiment in creating an animation based on the users input.
Mouse Hug was really fun. It was basically like wrestling with the mouse. Two players will use one or two mice and then “wrestle over” the mouse cursor to keep it on your side and then click as much as you can. First one to get 20 clicks wins. Also, if the mouse is moved out of the circle, then you both loose. It was quite addictive as well.

SONR – John Turner
I didn’t get a chance to see this one, but Jay mentioned this one in his blog.

Ayrik’s A Feeble Saga 2 - Eric Wiggins & Jason Faller
I didn’t get a chance to see this Unity game, but Jay covered this one. I’m assuming this was also the MMO RPG that Jason said they were going to demo. If not, then I missed yet another game.

Massive Freecell – Bryan Livingston
I only saw this one from afar, so I don’t know much about this other than it looked good. I believe Jay also mentioned this one in his blog.

Zen Tac Toe – Don Jordon
Don mentioned that he finished his Tic Tac Toe game for Android, and it is now in the Android market. Congrats Don for finishing it and bringing it to market. Now I just need to finish my game.

Frayed Knights - Jay Barnson
Apparently Jay showed his Frayed Knights a little bit to a few people as well. I don’t think he was planning on demoing it, but when asked to show his game, how could he refuse.

There were also lots of good discussions happening as well. I talked to Joe Larson of Cymon’s Games, and he’s helping to bring the old type-ins back, as a help to budding programmers. Some of you may remember these. These were the programs listings that appeared in magazines back in the late 70’s and early 80’s that you’d “type in” and then run. They were a great resource for learning and that is how I learned a lot back in the day. I learned more from books and these type-ins than I ever did in any high school programming class. My first official computer class was a joke. It was a beginning BASIC class that was taught by one of the athletic coaches (I guess they couldn’t find anyone else), and I ended up teaching the teacher more than he ever taught me. Anyway, thanks for doing this Joe. The more that the youth can learn by example and not be afraid of “code” the better future developers we’ll have.

Thanks again for everyone that came and made it an awesome evening. See you all at the next one in July.

Viva la Indie!

P.S. Jay's write up can be found here.

EDIT: Added Curtis Mirci and Dave Matney to the list of credits for Siphon Spirit, though Peter was the only one demoing it this time around. Also added Paul to credits on Linkrealms. Also fixed verbiage about mouse hug and added link.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Utah Indie Games Night - January 2010

My apologies on the delay of this write up. I was involved in the Global Game Jam (which was the next day after our Indie Games Night) and it kind of sucked up all my time. Anyway, we had a totally awesome Indie Games Night last Thursday night. We may have hit a new record; we had close to 60 people in attendance. The excitement and energy was at an all time high. (Special Thanks to Skyler Bradsby for the poster)

"What the iPhone Market Means to Your Development." - Ontario Britton

We started the evening off with an awesome presentation from Ontario Britton of PepperGum games. He totally brought down the house with his mix of comedy and info on selling games in the iPhone market. It was the most entertaining and humerous presentation that we’ve ever had. He mentioned that you need to “know your context” whenever you start a project. In other words you need to know who your target market is and if your planned of distributors/portals (in this case the Apple App Store) fits with that target market. He showed some stats that showed that about half of the people in the app store are from the US, and that most iPhone owners are young to middle aged adults (and not teenagers as is commonly believed). He also mentioned that you shouldn’t spend a lot of time on any feature, unless it has some sort of viral component to it. He mentioned that the best way to get your game noticed was within the app store itself, though banner ads could be expensive and getting on the top 100 list is difficult (but very helpful once it makes it there). Lastly, he mentioned that his 3 pillars to a successful game are:

1- Have a well executed game design (targeted for your market)
2- Polish, Polish, Polish
3- Lots of good marketing

DazLinks – Brian Howell & John Renstrom
After that Daz3D showed their nearly complete tool called DazLinks. I believe they are planning a full announcement around GDC in March. It’s pretty amazing what it can do. It helps solves the problem of using off the shelf 3D models from Daz and being able to bring it into a real-time rendering game engine. Previous to this it wasn’t very possible for game developer to use Daz3D models in their game (except for maybe title screens and the like) and the polygon count and number of textures was just too high to use in a game engine. Daz Links will reduce the meshes (and skeletons) from the model and clothing down into just one mesh. It also combines textures into one (and properly UV maps everything). It will also reduce the number of polygons down to a manageable level, without any noticeable loss of form (in most cases). It can be used to generate different models at different Levels of Detail (LOD) from the same model, so you don't have to create these yourself. Also with Daz morphs, you can use one model and modify it to be a troll or elf (all from one model), 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 indeed.

Here’s a YouTube video that gives you a little more info can be found here.

Siphon Spirit - Curtis Mirci, Peter Anderson, & Dave Matney
Curtis and Crew showed off their upcoming game Siphon Spirit. Basically the object is to collect (or “siphon off”) energy from various orb (or “spirits”) around the game screen. You have to get close to the orbs but not collide with them (else you die). Some orbs will shoot at you so you have to be careful. Also as you progress to higher levels, some orbs will move and try to collide with you and thus kill you. It was an interesting game mechanic, and it’s certainly one that can ramp up with progressively more difficult levels.

Experimental Games – Josh Jones
Infinite Number Adventure – This game was an experiment in randomly generated maps. It randomly places object that you have to go around and collect. You get bonus points if you stay within bounds.

Psycull: Perfect Storm – This was an art game and is a commentary on the role of a producer in a game company. You have to balance the ideas (represented by little clouds) coming from the developers/artists below. Sometimes you have to move them to other people or throw them out. When the milestone time hits, your project is evaluated. If there’s too many ideas, you have a poor product, or if there too little ideas in some areas, then you also have a poor product.

This is why you're FAT - Paul Milham
Paul was showing of a flash game that he and Mike Whitaker put together in a couple days close to Thanksgiving. It’s cool game where you shoot turkeys as fast as you can in 60 seconds. When you hit them, the bigger turkeys become smaller turkeys, and the smaller ones turn into lots of turkey carnage. Once the timer runs out, you eat all the turkeys that you’ve killed and you become a very fat guy. The more turkeys you’ve killed the fatter you get. It was fun to play, and it sounds like it’s done fairly well on Newgrounds and other flash portals.

Frayed Knights - Jay Barnson
I didn't get to see a whole lot of the progress on Jay's game, but it looks like he had spent a bunch of time working on dungeons in a Minotaur like level. He mentioned to me that "mazes suck" and he was trying to not leave the player just wandering aimlesslyaround in the dungeons, by making certain parts different from each other (landmarks if you will).

Flash Level Editor – Carson Barlow
Carson showed me his level editor that he built on top of flash. It allowed for placement of static and moving platforms, as well as walls and other obstacles. Eventually this will be used in a game of his, something akin to Dante's Inferno.

Zombie Defense – Darius Ouderkirk
I missed Darius showing his latest changes to his zombie game, but I caught up with him on Friday at the Global Game Jam (which was awesome BTW). The changes have been with the AI and game balancing, so nothing has changed visually yet. He fixed an issue with balancing so that you now have to have a mix of different kinds of units in order to win. Game balancing can be very hard to do, but it can make the difference between a game that is fun to play and one that isn’t.

There were also lots of great conversations going on all over. I’m sure there was a lot that I missed. Jay and I had a commiserating session on why both of our games are still not done. Yes, we’re still at it several years later. It was a nice “kick in the pants” for me. I also talked to Mike Rimer for bit (I was nice to see him again), and he mentioned to me that his business partner (the guy who started Caravel Games) has gotten really burned out and has turned everything over to him. So Mike has been busy this year dealing with all the business side of things and hasn’t been able to work on anything new. I guess the bright side is that DROD is still selling and making some money. Mike, I wish you well and hope things improve.

Thanks to ITT-Tech for providing us a place to meet, and a big thanks to both Daz3D and ITT-Tech for sponsoring the food. And thanks to everyone that came and made the night so awesome!

Viva la Indie!

Jay's writeup can be found here.