Friday, December 02, 2011

Utah Indie Games Night - November 2011

Okay this might be a rather quick blog post as work and home duties have been keeping me pretty busy lately and it has delayed my write up.

We had another great Utah Indie Games Night this past Tuesday night. Ninjabee hosted it once again after a bit of a sabbatical. They are in new digs now and their new place worked well to hold the event. We had between 45-50 people there

Lee Baker from Sandman Studios started off the evening with a presentation on some of their experiences making visual effects and flash games. They got their start doing contract special effects work for TV and film. They did the effects for Pushing Daisies and a whole host of other TV shows and films. They've also done a whole host of flash games to promote products and larger games. He showed a bunch of demo reels for things they've done and it certainly was impressive. Lee also mentioned that it's pretty hard to find investors/publishers for your projects when you are first starting out, as you haven't really "proven yourself" yet. In my mind that underscores the reason for doing indie projects. You don't need people telling you what your project should be and what it should look like; you can do it yourself.

Afterwards we opened the time up to game demos that people brought. I'm sure I missed some, but here's the one's I know about.

D.R.O.D. 4 - Mike Rimer - Caravel Games
Mike has been hard at work on the next game in the DROD series. He's holding a contest for fans to guess the name, so we're calling it "DROD 4" for now. He did let me say that there is a letter "L" somewhere in the name. I got a small look at the game and it appears to be back to the traditional DROD game mechanics, however much of the game is above ground so there are some different level settings like water, forest and swamp. Mike mentioned that there are some puzzles that utilize the water by pushing things into it. There are also levels where you can call on soldiers to assist in battles. Apparently large battles is a big part of this new version of DROD. The game looks to be nearly complete, and he's done a great job on it. It think the fans will be pleased.

Me and My Zombies - Andrew Draper & Matt Radley
I spent a bit of time with these guys playing their Zombie game. This is a turn based stragegy game for the Android platform. The main object is to trap and destroy the Zombies before they get to you (a budding necromancer). You can put up fences to block them or fire at them if you're close enough. You can also have duels with another necromancer (perhaps a friend playing as player 2). The lite version of the app is available now on the android market.

Siphon Spirit - Peter Anderson (also Curtis Mirci and Dave Matney)
Peter was showing the latest version of Siphon Spirit on his new tablet PC and was using the stylus to move the mouse around (pretty cool!). He's added some new animations as well as some enhancements to levels to make them more balanced and interesting.

HTML5 Prototypes - Admiral Potato
I didn't catch his real name, but "Admiral Potato" showed my some small HTML 5 demos that he's worked on. He had one demo using an "Asteroids like" game mechanic and using a visual style similar to Geometry Wars. I haven't delved into HTML 5 much yet, but I was impressed with what can be done with it.

Flexitris - McKay Salisbury
McKay was showing Flexitris again. Not a lot has changed since I've seen it last, but he mentioned that he's been added tutorials to the game.

Bullet Train Hell - Chris Tart
I only saw Chris' game for a little bit. He's been adding an in game level editor to the game. That way he can tweak the different levels right on the device (instead of making changes on the laptop; recompiling; and then pushing it out to the built in

UVU Flight Simulator - Nathan Stoker
I didn't get to see this one, but I spoke to Nathan about it for a bit. This a flight simulator that UVU has been putting together. Nathan has been doing a lot of models for the project. Looking good so far. It's built in Unity, so you can click on the link above and play it.

Tank Raige Arena - Nick Terry
Nick showed Tank Raige Area again, but I was unable actually see it this time around.

Linetastic - Josh Jones
Josh showed his quick game he did at GEEX for the Game-In-A-Day event.

I noticed that Alan Atherton was there showing a game, but I didn't get to see it (so I don't know what it's name or what it was about).

As always there was some great conversations going on, including one about the game engine called Scratch. It's a project that M.I.T. put together and it's purpose is to help kids (and even adults) to learn how to program. It's similar to Game Maker or Construct in some ways, and it has a visual language that consists of putting blocks together. Apparently it's pretty powerful to use, and a couple of guys have had their kids write games with it. It appears to be a great learning tool. You should check it out.

Anyway things went really well. Our next one should be towards the end of January.

BTW - Rachel's write up on the evening can be found here.

Viva la Indie!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Utah Indie Games Night - September 2011

Wow, last night was AWESOME! We had a really great turn out (over 50 people) and it was an enormous treat to hear from Tracy Hickman, a renowned game designer and best selling author. He had a lot of wisdom to impart to us, and I felt like a sponge just soaking it all in. I certainly learned a lot from his presentation on "Story and Meaning in Games".

Tracy started his presentation on how story gives meaning to events. He mentioned that the news is done in a story format these days because story can communicate meaning. A pure journalistic approach would be communicating just the facts and then letting the reader decide. However the media likes to give "the story" so they can help shape our thoughts and opinions about the events, and thus sway our thinking towards their agenda.

He described different kinds of story structure in games from a linear type to more of a branching type used in games, with both hard and soft boundaries to help guide the player and plot to flow in a general direction. He also went into differing types of characters, and how you can boil them all down into eight different types. Four of those types are "driving" characters that help move the plot along, and the other four are mere "passengers" that come along for the ride. It's interesting to note that in some stories the main character doesn't have to be a "driving" character, and he used "To Kill a Mocking Bird" as an example of this.

He also discussed the four different through lines within a story. He mentioned that games do a good job of presenting the "Objective" and "Main Character" through lines, however they don't yet do a great job at presenting the "Subjective" and "Impact Character" through lines within a story. Because of this, stories within games can fall a little "flat". There does seem to be some truth to this, as I haven't been impacted nearly as much by stories within games, as I have been by stories within film and prose. I'm not an avid fiction reader, but from my own experience I can say that stories within the written word have taken on more meaning to me than stories within film, and then to a lesser degree, stories within games. I think this is in large part because my own imagination fills in those gaps, and the visuals from movies or games just can compete with that. Perhaps it's just that storytelling within games hasn't had enough time to "catch up" to where storytelling is within film, as film has had a lot more time to advance as an art form than games.

Tracy ended with a thought on how his books have impacted others and likewise our games could effect and change the world as well. I know we probably don't think about that much, as we ascribe ourselves as being mere entertainers, but we have the potential in our art and craft to touch lives (hopefully for the better). When I look back on my life, I can remember stories within books, movies, and games (mostly adventure games for me), that have filled my life with more meaning and have a special place in my heart. Those "stories" have had a powerful impact on my life, and I think we sometimes underestimate the power of "story". I think we have a responsibility as game designers to imbue our games with more meaning, and touch the lives of others in a positive way.

Apparently Tracy also offers classes on storytelling, both online and in-person. So if you're looking to just improve your storytelling abilities or are looking to write own novel and publish it to the world, you can find some help from Tracy on his site at

Also you can catch Tracy's presentation here. (Note the video is flipped) Kudos to Ben Benson for making this available, and kudos to Brad Baker for helping to bring Tracy to our event.

After Tracy's presentation we moved to the U's Xbox lab for our demos. We had so many demos happening that I wasn't able to see them all, but I'll mention the one's I saw and those that I knew where there. I'm sure I missed some and I apologize that I wasn't able to get to them. Here's the eleven that I know about.

Frayed Knights - Jay Barnson
Jay was there showing off Frayed Knights for the last time, as he has finally reached that milestone that many of us want to achieve, and that is finishing and releasing your game. Congrats Jay; I'm jealous now (as I still haven't released anything yet). I also hear that there was a celebratory cake given to Jay in commemoration of this event. I was a bit late to the event and didn't see this happening, so I'm thinking at this point that the cake was a lie. ;) (You Portal players know what I'm referring to here.) Anyway Kudos to Jay for reaching this milestone.

NerdWord - Brett Unzaga
Brett had an interesting game that is sort of a hybrid of Scrabble, Boggle, and the falling tiles game mechanic. It's an online game where you try and beat the scores of other players. Everyone has the same game board for that day, so it's fair. The tiles are Scrabble like by having different point values, and the object is to construct words with the different tiles like you do in Boggle. Once you've constructed a valid word, those tiles are removed from the board and any tiles above those removed tiles will then slid down into play. The person who constructs the highest point value set of words at the end of the day is the winner.

Smote - Bryan Livingston
Bryan's game "Smote", has come a long way since I saw it last. I played it for a bit and there are some real graphics in there now; not just a bunch of white blocks as it used to be. It's sort of a hybrid between an RPG and a top down shooter. I love the art style he has going with the stubby little anime characters; it's very cute and endearing and fun too.

Multifarious - Devin & Dustin Jenson
I only got to see this iPad/Android game for a brief moment. It's being made by two brothers and they've done a great job so far. It's a physics puzzle game of sorts where you have to tilt the iPad to move blocks and/or balls to their final destination. It starts simple but then gradually adds more objects that you have to manipulate at the same time. It can be frustrating when have to tilt the iPad to slide a block to the left, but not so much that another ball will fall off a teeter-totter. They are using Adobe Air to power their game. I think it's a great game so far and I hope it does well for them once they get it to market.

Faerie Alchemy - Ben Benson
Ben works for Subsoap and has been working on an iPad/iPhone puzzle game that combines Tetris and Match3 game mechanics. It looks very near completion and he's done a great job on it. It took me a moment to figure out the controls on his mac laptop for the game, but I imagine that since its a game for a mobile device that the touch controls would be much more useful. The game is also written in Monkey and that piqued my interest as I've played a bit with that language a bit and I'd like to use it for a future mobile game project.

CarWood - Josh Jones
I wasn't able to get to Josh's latest experimental game at the event, but I was able to play it a bit later. The theme this time was "Story Game" and its a Ninja vs Robots type game, however you are half ninja half robot, so you don't really fit into either world. On his blog he mentions that "two AI agents determine the dynamic elements of the story", which seems like a unique approach to AI, instead of the usual one master AI controller.

March to the Moon - Curtis Mirci
I got a brief look at the progress Curtis has made on his hybrid RPG and vertical shooter. He's been making "crazy" progress on it and he's nearly complete with everything. He's added a bunch more weapons, abilities, and art since I saw it last. Kudos to him for making some rapid progress on this. (Again I'm jealous.) Also I noticed that both Bryan and Curtis are making RPG/Shooter hybrids. Are they working together on something? Hmmmm?

Linkrealms - Herb & Dan Flower
I noticed that Herb and Dan were showing LinkRealms again, however ran out of time before I could see their new changes. They are always improving their MMO, so I'm sure it's just getting better and better.

Bullet Train Hell - Chris Tart
Chris was showing his awesome Bullet Train Hell again. I only got a glimpse of it but it looks like it's coming along nicely.

Tile Factory 2 - Jonathon Duerig
Again time was short so I didn't get to talk to Jonathon about his sequel that he's making, but I think it's cool that he can leverage some existing code and art for his new game. You can find the original one here.

I didn't get to see this student project which is apparently a Crysis mod, but judging from the video and screenshots on the modDB site, it appears that they are doing a great job with it.

UVU Flight Simulator - Nate Stoker
Nate showed off a flight simulator that he did some of the models for. I didn't get a chance to see this at the event, but was able to play it a bit later on. It's built in Unity and web enabled. It looks really good.

All in all it was a wonderful evening. We were truly fed some sage wisdom from Tracy and we saw some incredible games in development. I'm always amazed and humbled at the talent of the indies here in Utah. We definitely have an awesome group. I can't wait until next time.

Viva la Indie!

BTW, here are some other write-ups of the evening

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Utah Indie Games Night - July 2011

We had another awesome indie night this last Thursday night. Our numbers were a bit lower this time around but it was still a great event nonetheless.

Tim Fowers of Gabob kicked off our evening by giving an excellent presentation entitled "Turbulence Ahead: The Ups and Downs of Getting a Premium Flash Game to Success." It was a presentation that he originally gave at the first Flash Gaming Summit (which is part of the GDC) in 2010. He also gave some updated and additional information that wasn't in his original slides. The presentation mostly revolved around experiences with their successful premium flash game called Now Boarding. Though he also mentioned their next game Clockwords which wasn't nearly as successful.

He mentioned a bit about their demo strategy, which cut the game off right at a cliff hanger. Though it may seem a bit cruel to end the demo there, it does provide some motivation for people to pull out their wallets. It a useful strategy that I've heard mentioned before, and the psychology of it seems to make sense. He also mentioned an interesting guerrilla marketing technique that allowed a potential customer to get the game for free if they did some word of mouth advertising that resulted in a sale. It seemed like a very cheap way to get some free advertising and publicity going. Every bit helps.

He mentioned that they used an simple custom built online activation scheme with their game that allowed them to thwart some of the pirates. It sounded very similar to the DRM scheme that Cas from uses, and they also claim that their piracy rate is low or non-existent.

He also mentioned the local Board Game Designers Guild of Utah as being a great way to strengthen those game design abilities. Sort of a "gym for game designers". I was unaware of this group, but it seems like it would be a great resource to both video game designers as well as board game designers.

Some of the other take-aways from the presentation that I got were:
- Focus on creating value and not money (that will come once there is real value there)
- Be flexible in your business plan (feel free to change course some and/or experiment as needed)
- Make your game both distinct (stands out) and polished
- Find good partners and work hard (you usually can't do everything yourself)
- Focus on recurring (not one time) income, even if it's small initially (this pays off in the long run)
- Be "Ramen Profitable" (be frugal and bootstrap as much as possible)
- Having different prices for your game in different countries can be a good thing

After the presentation, we had quite a number of games that were shown (nine that I saw, though I could have missed one or more).

Catalyst - Brandon Nielsen
Brandon showed my his progress on his "escape the space station" type of game. It's in it's early stages, but he plans to make the game play about learning about the environment around you and finding a way out before the space station slowly disintegrates. It's a race for your life sort of game.

Tank Raige Arena - Nick Terry
Nick briefly showed me the progress he's made on his multi-player tank battle game. He's in the early stages of porting it to Unity. I'm assuming he's abandoning parts of his custom engine in favor of Unity because of some of the benefits that Unity will provide, like having a web enabled game, cross platform support (Windows & Mac), possibly having an iPhone version, etc.

March to the Moon - Curtis Mirci
Curtis showed me his top down action shooter (with some RPG elements in the mix). In the first level you are battling rats in the basement of a tavern. You currently have a choice of fire balls or arrows that you can shot at them. Even in its early stages the fun and humor come shining through. I believe he said that it's built in XNA and he hopes to get it on XBLIG (Xbox Live Indie Games) when it is complete.

Siphon Spirit - Peter Anderson, Curtis Mirci, Dave Matney
Peter showed off the progress on Siphon Spirit at the event. Admittedly I didn't get to see this one too much, but Peter has been hard at work adding more levels to the game as well as adding a bit more artwork polish to it as well.

Epic Puzzles - Ben Benson
This is a Kindle game that Ben has been working on for a while now. A Kindle game at our event is certainly a first. It's essentially a story that also has you solve puzzles along the way. It seems like it's a good fit for the Kindle market (story & puzzles), and I hope it does well for him. He already has a publisher lined up for the game as well.

Adventure - Chris Tart
Not much outwardly has changed on Chris' cool platformer, however he's been hard at work on the underlying engine. He's been converting it from C#/XNA to C++ so that he could use the engine on the iPhone/iPod Touch. He showed me a mac version of his game, using his new engine, and it was running just as smooth as the older XNA Windows version.

Bullet Train Hell - Chris Tart
Chris also showed me a quick prototype made with his revamped engine. The game is set on top of a moving bullet train and you have to jump over objects and hit switches to move. Similar to his "Adventure" game, but simplified. He even had the game running on his iPod Touch. Amazing.

Rick Invaders - Paul Milham
I got a quick look at this humorous game that Paul threw together for a friend. It's a side scrolling space invaders type of game, but with some humorous artwork. It was meant as a way his friend could take revenge on his former boss (virtually anyway), by shooting the enemies (which conveniently looked like his former boss)

Intergamerated - Josh Josh
This is another experimental game from Josh. The theme was disintegration, so Josh chose to make it about disappearing game mechanics. There are three game mechanics; shooting, typing, and timing, and these will go away one by one as you mess up using that mechanic, thus making it harder as you go. It's an interesting idea. I've seen some similar things done in racing and fight combat games where your control over your car or plane disintegrates as you take on more and more damage.

Also there was plenty of good conversations going on. I was involved in discussions about entrepreneurship, game engines, finding work in the game industry, Kindle development, and much more. There is always so much to talk about, but never enough time. I grateful to be around so many indies that are making their dreams happens. You guys are an inspiration to me and always get me pumped to work on my own project. I thank you for that.

Until next time,

Viva La Indie!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Utah Indie Games Night - April 2011

Indie Night last night was awesome!. React Games was gracious enough to host the event and we had a super turnout of over 50 people there. There was so much going on and so much energy there, it was incredible! The event was definitely a success in my book.

We started the evening off with a presentation on Flash Development by Jonathon Deurig. In his presentation, he started with an overview of flash and talked about both ActionScript and haXe for a bit. He mentioned the different pieces needed in game (in addition to your game), such as the loader piece, which is very important (otherwise you end up with a blank white frame for a while and the user will likely assume your game is broken). He also mentioned that you don't want to do too much processing in any one function otherwise the display callback isn't going to get called often enough to refresh your canvas; thus giving you choppy video in your game.

The best part of the presentation for me was when he started talking about monetizing flash and shared his own personal experiences. It sounds like sponsorships are the best way to bring in money with flash games. For Jonathon, this brought in way more than standard ad revenue and contest winnings.

One disadvantage of Flash is that it is 2D only, so it won't work for 3D games. However it sounds like Newgrounds is now starting to allow Unity games on their portal, so we may start to see more Unity games out there.

We then broke out into our game demos. We had nine demos in all (although there was so much happening I may have missed some). Here's what I was able to see.

Music Prototype - Tim Fowers - Gabob
Tim of Gabob showed off his prototype of a game (or construction toy), that is something akin to these Kinetic Music Junk Sculptures you may have seen at art galleries. You start out with a set of objects that you try to get your ball to pass though. You then dynamically build the track while the ball is motion, all the while trying to hit each object. As the ball passes through the object is plays a sound. Once your track is built, you end up with an interesting contraption that you can watch and listen to for a while.

Protype FPS/Tower Defense Prototype - Brett Unzaga
Brett showed off his prototype game that was part First Person Shooter and part Tower Defense. Built in DXStudio, it is an interesting experiment in merging these two types of gameplay.

Skylantis - UVU Students
Preston Powell brought a few of his students to the event to show Skylantis, which is a Unity game that 13 students have been working of for around 4 months. I was quite impressed with what they had accomplished in that time. The game is about a robot that is trying rescue his friends from an evil baron that has captured them. It's set in a steam punk type world with floating islands that you have to traverse. You can use vents to float you around or you can use your grapling hook. There are also bombs that you can pick up and throw at robot crabs. The main robot character (complete with idle animations) is nicely done and looks like something you'd find right out of the movie Robots by Dreamworks. Nicely done guys!

Halloween Panic - Mike Whitaker, Edgar Nielsen, Paul Milham - Cerbercat
This is a cute and addictive flash game where you try and protect some trick-or-treaters from hoards of zombies, ghosts, swamp creatures, and other ghouls. You basically shoot as many monsters as you can before the monsters consume the kids. A very fun fast paced game.

Grow The Grass - Mike Whitaker, Edgar Nielsen - Cerbercat
This is a simple iPhone game coming soon to the app store (it's just been submitted for approval from Apple). BTW, it's Built with Corona SDK, a nice cross platform engine that builds iOS and Android apps from the same code base. The game-play is super easy. You merely press a button over and over to grow the grass, to protect the humans from the bees (who'll try and beat the grass back). The faster you hit the button the faster the grass will grow. There's also a two player mode where one player tries to grow the grass and the other uses the bees to beat the grass back.

Adventure - Chris Tart
Chris was showing off some additions that he made to his XNA based game. He added a restriction that doing two builds in a row can kill you. Also added some disappearing floors, and a boss that can trap you in a shrinking force field. He mentioned that he started porting from C# to C++ so that he can port it to other platforms eventually. It looks like its coming along nicely.

The next three games I didn't really get a chance to see, although I have seen earlier versions of them.

Siphon Spirit -Curtis Mirci, Peter Anderson, Dave Matney - Califer Games
Curtis showed Siphon Spirit again, and this game is nearing completion. I don't thing any of the gameplay has changed, they've just squashed more bugs and added some more polish to it.

Tank Raige Arena - Nick Terry
Nick showed his Tank game for a while. In talking to him is sounds like he's improved the Tunngle (a P2P VPN solution) within the game a bit, which should help the multiplayer aspect of the game a lot.

LinkRealms - Herb & Dan Flower, Paul Witte - Mythyn Interactive
In talking to Herb & Dan it sounds like they've been busy working on LinkRealms as usual. They've added a Quest engine and newbie mode (which is under going some changes). It sounds like this is coming

As usual, there were lots of great conversations going on a well. Many of them I missed of course, being only one person. It's was a great evening. It helped get me pumped and motivated to work on my own projects again. I'm both inspired and humbled by all of the many things our indie group has done. Keep up the great labors of love guys!

Viva la Indie!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Utah Indie Games Night - January 2011

We held another Utah Indie Games Night this past Thursday Night. I was involved with the Global Games Jam this past weekend, so I'm a bit late getting my report out about the evening. Sorry for my tardiness.

We had around 25 people there at the event, which is a bit low on the attendance side, but still a decent turn out. We started the evening off with a presentation from Mark Schmelzenbach on "The Fine Art of Conversation (Systems): Talk on Talk". It was a discussion of various conversations that have been employed in video games. Such types include Linear Conversation (no choice), Branching Conversation (probably the most common one used), Topic Conversation (starting a dialog based on a set of topics), Simulation conversation (the hardest to implement), and Blended Conversation (a bend of these techniques).

He also discussed various input and output of these systems. Typical input would be keyboard or controller, but we may be close to using a microphone with actual human speech. Output is usually text and sometimes with voice acting. Sometimes "mumble voices" are used along with text. And lastly text-to-speech is another, but isn't used much as your actors sound like robots.

He also talked about the innovative "pie menu" input system found in Mass Effect 2. It incorporated two axises of control; one to select standard or special topics and the other to select between charming (soft) and intimidating (harsh) responses. Also he mentioned Alpha Protocol which had a timer to force you to choose dialog responses, and a secondary conversation system (implemented as an email system within the game). It was a very interesting presentation.

Then we opened things up for our game demos. Unfortunately I didn't get to all the games. In fact, I only got to see one and that was "Adventure" (working title) by Chris Tart. It was an interesting platformer with puzzle elements. On some levels you could preform actions to add to the level in order to be able to get to the exit. One of the actions created a moving platform which you could then use to either place other static platforms or run on the platfom to get to another part of the level. The combination of these two created a bunch of levels that were very challenging, and were hard to find solutions for. The game was built on XNA and used the platform starter kit. He has a good start on this game and it looks like it could turn into something really fun.

Other games that were there, but I didn't get to see were Siphon Spirit, Cannon Ball Ruins, and a game about catching flies.

There was lots of good conversations happening too. Don and I talked a lot about the iPhone and Android markets. As usual, there was lots happening and I missed some of it (as usual). It was a great evening!

Viva la Indie!

PS Jay's writeup can be found here