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SHilbert

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  1. This afternoon, accomplished game designer Graeme Devine gave a talk on designing games for the iPad, and why the iPad is a different gaming device than any other platform on the market today -- including the iPhone and iPod Touch. Graeme stated that he believes the iPad is the "best gaming machine on the planet today" (a statement which seems even more bold when considered alongside the fact that he no longer works for Apple.) First, Graeme described what is different about the iPad. For all iOS devices, the joystick and physical buttons of classic game consoles are gone. An iPad-specific difference, however, is that the positions of the player's hands are quite different on the iPad versus the iPhone or iPod Touch. For example, when holding an iPhone, players generally cradle the phone in both hands, thumbs or fingers from both hands to interact with the device. With the iPad, generally one hand is supports the device from behind, while the other plays the game. He exhorted developers to consider all the ways users will want to hold the device while playing their game, and to factor that into their design choices. He also cautioned developers to play the game in the "wild," not just leaving their iPad flat on the desk, plugged into their Mac while developing, in order to experience these different hand configurations themselves. Graeme considered the challenges of porting from PC to iPad, saying that there are no easy answers, and frequently many bad choices are made by games during this process. He gives the example of the iWork apps on iPad -- these are completely different than the equivalent apps on a Mac, suggesting that simply replacing the mouse cursor with the user's finger is not adequate. On a PC, you move your mouse, then select an item onscreen, said Graeme; with an iPad, the finger only touches the glass when a selection action is occurring. This is the most "key" difference between a desktop and an iPad, according to Graeme. He used an example of porting a puzzle from his game Clandestiny to iPad, contrasting a "simple" implementation with a carefully designed, iPad-conscious implementation in terms of usability. Graeme thinks of touching the iPad's glass screen as if he is touching the world directly on the other side of the screen -- in other words, the player's fingers are interacting directly with the world. He cautioned developers not to put up artificial barriers between the user and the game world, such as virtual onscreen D-pads, which he unequivocally dislikes. Some other aspects of designing for iPad that Graeme mentioned were making good use of the accelerometer to provide subtle 3D effects when the device tilts, and the importance of a high framerate. Although it may not seem important that an app such as Words with Friends runs at 60 Hz, he said, it becomes quite important when the user actually picks up a tile to move it around the screen. You can always throttle down the framerate when the player isn't touching the screen in order to save battery, he said. After this, Graeme enumerated his list of best practices for iOS development, and development in general. These were as follows, paraphrased roughly: Do play tests with other people every day, and make sure to hold your tongue while watching others play your game. "You do not come with the game," he said, so the only way your game will improve is if you do not help the play test subject while he or she tries your game.Make your app playable on Day 2. With the short schedules common on iOS projects, the luxury of spending months on an engine before getting to gameplay is not available. As much play testing time as possible is necessary.The user should never have to manually save a game. The game should save automatically when they press the home button.App startup time is important. According to Graeme, over 3 seconds is too much. 10+ seconds risks people never playing your game again.Don't release as soon as your game can possibly be released -- spend at least 2 weeks polishing before you submit to iTunes Connect."When in doubt, refer to the Zombieland rule set." Graeme suggests that the series of "rules" enumerated in the 2009 movie Zombieland come in handy in all situations."What you are saying when you put a virtual D-pad is... my game is better with a joystick." The best games on the app store do not have virtual D-pads.Make sure your app gracefully supports being interrupted by notifications, home button presses, etc.If you are going to implement gestures in the game, be sure to give the player some sort of feedback as to what gesture the game "thinks" the player is doing well before they complete it. The player should get feedback as soon as their gesture starts, not have to wait until it completes and wonder why it wasn't recognized."A quick rant about reality": In short, Graeme feels realism is overrated for games. He believes time is much better spent focusing on gameplay. You cannot "go wrong" with gameplay the way you can while attempting to achieve visual realism. He gave the example of Hollywood sets, which look real on film but have completely unnatural lighting environments.Lastly: "It's a game!" Graeme tells developers to "delight" their players, and create games that give them narratives to tell others the next day at the water cooler. He says that games that provide a narrative that can be easily described in words are the best. He finished the talk with an exhortation to "make something fantastic," saying "the games industry is the best industry in the world."
  2. SHilbert

    The Full Spelunky on Spelunky XBLA

    This talk was given by Derek Yu and Andy Hull. Derek started off the talk by describing his development history, contrasting his "small" games (Diabolika, I'm OK, Spelunky) and his "large" games (Eternal Daughter, Aquaria, Spelunky XBLA.) He said that these smaller games were important to his ability to create the larger games, in ways he would go on to describe later in the talk. Derek described his prototyping process, which he compared to doodling. He just makes things that interests him at the time, without worrying about whether others will like it, or whether it would be worth commercializing. The key, he says, is to "get [his] ideas out," to simply create things. He then described Spelunky's influences, a combination between the replayability, improvisation and excitement of roguelikes, and the more visual, action-oriented, immediately gratifying platformer genre. One of the most technically interesting points of the talk was Derek's algorithm for level generation in Spelunky. A larger area is broken up into a 4x4 grid of rooms, and a random "path" is chosen to progress room-to-room from the top of the area to the bottom. This establishes certain rooms as vertical or horizontal corridors, etc. Then, templates for each room type are used, with random embellishments added for obstacles, treasure, and monsters. According to Derek, working on a procedurally generated game is extremely gratifying, because not only does it allow small teams to create more content, but the game is always new and surprising to play, even for the developer. Derek also pointed out the role small releases play elsewhere. He brought up Super Meat Boy, Google Labs, and Haruki Murakami's process of writing short stories inbetween writing larger works as "success" stories for the process of making small, exploratory games inbetween making larger, more draining works. At this point Derek handed the mic to Andy Hall, the programmer for the Xbox Live Arcade version of Spelunky. Andy started off by describing the genesis of the XBLA version of Spelunky: Jonathan Blow contacted Derek and asked if he would be interested in making an XBLA version, and helped smooth the greenlight process with Microsoft. Blow even offered the source code for Braid's engine to the Spelunky team, although they eventually decided to create their own engine after running into some difficulties using Braid's. Another thing Andy mentioned was the fact that Spelunky XBLA is treated more as a sequel than a port of the original Spelunky, which was difficult to adjust to -- it felt awkward to change things from the original game, but the original game will always still exist for people to play. Of course, they did not want to break what worked in the existing version, but instead make them better. Some of the things they improved from the original version were the controls (even Andy had difficulty with the original controls), and the artwork (upgraded to beautiful HD.) Derek and Andy also announced that Spelunky for XBLA will support 4-player local multiplayer, and said that more information about the multiplayer game modes will be available in the coming weeks. According to Derek, Spelunky for XBLA will likely take around two years by the time it is done. Derek and Andy primarily work over Google video chat, as Andy is located in Connecticut.
  3. SHilbert

    Independent Games Summit Miscellany

    Here are some highlights from a few of the other sessions I attended at the Independent Games Summit today: The Care and Feeding of Your Independent Game Studio Arthur Humphrey (Last Day of Work) Arthur covered some of the challenges facing the casual games market today, as well as his approaches to surmounting them. Arthur says that in recent times, the return on development costs for casual games has decreased significantly (or, put another way, to achieve the same sales quantity an increased development cost is necessary.) This is a result of price compression caused by attempts of the various casual portals to undercut each other, as well as users being drawn away to other platforms such as Facebook games. Last Day of Work's approach has been to plan to release on many platforms, aiming to find at least one market where a game gains traction and then leverage that to promote your other games, or other platform supported by a particular game. They have also experimented with many different revenue models, and Arthur made the point that there is no reason to keep the sales model the same across different platforms: it's possible to have a normal try/buy model on one platform and a freemium model on another. Another interesting technique Last Day of Work has come up with is what they call "coercive conversion," a process Arthur admits is somewhat "evil." The general idea can be summed up in his example of a virtual pet game his company developed, in which it was free to raise and play with your virtual puppy character, but medication cost money -- and the puppy was guaranteed to get sick within a few weeks, dying in 24 hours without medical attention. Despite angry letters from parents, the technique apparently works monetarily. Finally, Arthur cautioned developers to maintain control of their own IP. Game Design by Accidents Seph Thirion (Game Designer) Seth presented several "exhibits" of how accidents can produce innovative game design, and how code as a medium is particularly suited to accidental discoveries of this sort. His first example was Tetris: Alexei Pajitnov was intending to create a multiplayer version of Pentominoes when he created the code that allowed users to rotate the Pentomino tiles. Seeing the tiles rotate onscreen for the first time, he had an epiphany that eventually led him to create Tetris. The second example of design by accident was Jonathan Blow's early prototype of Oracle Billiards, a billiards game that allowed you to see the final resting positions of all of the billiards balls before you made your shot. The prototype did not become a full game, but the time-bending experience of the prototype inspired Blow to later create Braid. The third exhibit was a game creation workshop in Barcelona run by Seph, in which he gave the code for a simple Breakout-style game to visual design students with no programming background, telling them to simply modify the code and see what happened. After six hours, the students had created an amazing array of unique and striking variations on the original game. Finally, Seph had an interactive demo in which he evolved a simple prototype from scratch using Ruby Processing, to demonstrate his concept of stumbling across design innovations via code. The takeaway from the talk is that code has some unique properties that make it useful for exploring design in this way: small changes can have far-reaching results, and the results of your code changes are often already interactive -- not just a design sketch on a piece of paper. Turning Depression into Inspiration Michael Todd (Spyeart.com) Michael gave a very personal talk about how he copes with his own depression while also continuing to be productive creating video games. One strategy he employs is to choose game concepts that are rewarding to build throughout the entire process. He also attempts to mitigate his perfectionist tendencies by re-calibrating his view of his game through play tests, chats with other designers, and perusal of game demos on Steam or Xbox Live Indie Games. Additionally, Michael purposely works on shorter projects to make sure more of the game development takes place during the "honeymoon" period during which you are very excited with your idea. He measures his hours using Procrastitracker to be aware of how his productivity is trending (rather than self-estimating), and is careful to design games that are a fit for his abilities and his own personal skills, avoiding games that would require types of work he struggles with.
  4. SHilbert

    The Humble Indie Bundle

    The first session in the Indie Games Summit this year covered the Humble Indie Bundle, and was given by Jeffery Rosen and John Graham of Wolfire Games. They gave a sort of postmortem for both the first and second Humble Indie Bundles, covering a lot of details about the design, preparation, launch, and results of the bundles. For those of you not familiar with the Humble Bundles, the Bundles were limited-time, pay-what-you-want, DRM-free, cross-platform game packs that ended up becoming runaway successes. The idea for the Humble Bundles was inspired by the fact that every Steam bundle sale seemed to automatically get to the number one story on reddit. Wolfire itself put their toes into the water with the bundle concept by bundling Overgrowth with Natural Selection 2, which received a decent amount of press coverage and attention on Reddit, garnering 1600 sales. Another source of inspiration was 2D Boy's successful pay-what-you-want promotion for World of Goo. This led Jeff and John to begin considering how to top a pay-what-you-want sale. The ideas Wolfire came up with to make an even more compelling sale were to add more games, add support for Mac and Linux platforms, make a better site, add charity donations, and release the source code to the bundled games. Initially, it was difficult to get developers on board with the idea, especially because they had to limit themselves games already supporting both Mac and Linux. Getting charities onboard was somewhat easier -- 10 minutes into Jeff's complicated pitch, the EFF representative stopped him and asked, "So, you're asking me if you can give us money?" Wolfire also covered some of the challenges with designing the Humble Bundle site. The challenges they faced included making sure the site was scalable, easy to use, while also providing good customer service. For scalability, as Wolfire has documented in their own blog, they utilized Google App Engine to host their site. At the highest point, they had 70 instances of their app running simultaneously across Google's servers, and had nearly perfect uptime over both bundles. Amazingly, Google only charged them $10. They also utilized two CDNs for the actual file downloads. For the first bundle, they used Akamai, and for the second they used MaxCDN. They recommend Akamai, which they say is the most expensive service, but also the best. As for the ease-of-use goal, they designed their web site such that you did not have to register an account, fill a shopping cart, get a verification email, require a special client program download, etc. There was only one pre-purchase page, and only one unique post-purchase page per user. Customer service wise, they used the Tender service to track support request emails as tickets, as well as the Olark service to do customer service via live web chat. They only had 18 live chat operators total, and most of the time only a couple people were active, but they managed to handle many many support requests in parallel once they got into the proper mental flow. The gentlemen from Wolfire then described the specific pre- and post-launch experiences for both bundles. For the first bundle, there was initially very little press interest (with the notable exception of Ars Technica), and only once they began approaching the $1 million sales mark -- the threshold for releasing the source code to the games -- did other press coverage begin taking off. The first bundle achieved $1.27 million in sales over 138,813 contributions. For the second bundle, they were concerned whether the first bundle was a fluke or actually a repeatable phenomenon. To improve the bundle, they planned new features to improve it beyond the bar set by the first bundle. They added new games, including Braid which was ported to Linux specifically for the bundle, and Revenge of the Titans, which was actually launched for the first time inside the bundle. They also made plans with Steam, OnLive and Desura to provide download keys for the games in the bundle, allowing users to unlock the game on those services instantly, something that was only offered after the fact in the first bundle. Humble Bundle 2 ended up an even larger success than the first, with ~$1 million going to developers alone, another ~$500,000 going to charities, and $133,000 as a "humble tip" which went to support the Humble Bundle as a business. There were some unfortunate events that occurred post-launch. For example, some customers bought a thousand copies of the bundle at 1 cent per copy, apparently planning to resell the games elsewhere. Also, an estimated 25% of downloads were pirated directly from the Humble Bundle site itself (via shared CDN links), not even counting BitTorrent or other channels. There were some other issues. After open sourcing Lugaru, a counterfeit version built from the open sourced code appeared on the Mac app store for 99 cents, significantly undercutting Wolfire's own offering of Lugaru HD in the same store, even coming in ahead of them in search because of the shorter name. Another problem (which I do not recall being publicized as much with the Humble Bundle as when it occured with e.g. Minecraft) is that Wolfire also encountered the same dreaded "account freeze" where PayPal placed their balance under hold for an undefined period of time. Wolfire's opinion is that while they were very satisfied with Amazon's payment system, and Google Checkout is at least good for merchants, despite PayPal's unpredictability it is virtually required to support because of how ubiquitous it is as a payment method. In total, both bundles made $3 million dollars, of which $1 million went to charities such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child's Play.
  5. SHilbert

    The Implementation of Rewind in Braid

    Posted a GDC coverage article about how rewind works in Braid: https://www.gamedev.net/columns/events/gdc2010/article.asp?id=1808
  6. SHilbert

    Control Inspiration

    Control Inspiration Mark "messhof" Essen and Daniel Benmergui (developer of Today I Die) This session was titled "Control Inspiration," but was actually less focused on controls and perhaps more on inspiration by itself. The format was extremely informal and was basically just two separate talks given by Mark and then Daniel. Yesterday Cactus identified creating games with punk rock, and cited Mark as one of his inspirations. Seeing him explain several of his games in person makes this analogy ring particularly true. His games are minimalist and pared down (much like punk rock songs, which can often be a minute or less compared to the three to four minutes seen in mainstream music.) Mark presented some of his inspirations, such as a video of a robot that learns to walk by itself, and discussed some of the things he has been experimenting with visually, such as random texture generation. Daniel's presentation was essentially a history of the development of Today I Die, as well as look into the future of the game. Daniel described some of the issues he had during early development, such as a poem-building mechanic in which rearranging key words in a poem would control gameplay. The problem he encountered with this was that in these early versions, words would change into an entirely different word when placed in a different location in the poem, which was confusing to players because one couldn't predict what would happen to a word when it was moved into a different location. Eventually, Daniel went through over a hundred revisions of Today I Die over its six month development period -- including almost abandoning it for a space shooter prototype -- before arriving at the final version. He also presented a look at the next revision of Today I Die, which will be released as an iPhone game, with improved graphics and revised gameplay that should keep players from giving up early on due to confusion.
  7. How to Manage an Exploratory Development Process (Kellee Santiago and Robin Hunicke, thatgamecompany) For this first session of the day, the presenters focused on solutions to problems that arise when developing games like Flower where experimentation is required to find the "magic." These problems were generally planning, communication, and interpersonal relations problems. However, the talk actually had broad applicability regarding quality of work environment in the game industry. During development and after the release of Flower, thatgamecompany was experiencing serious morale problems, resulting especially from stress and arguments about experimental game mechanics. For example, there would be a disagreement about whether a mechanic would be workable, people would get into a heated discussion, one person would refuse to accept a mechanic and then another would come in over the weekend to implement it to prove it works, etc. The result is that everyone gets emotionally burned out. They realized that this situation was essentially unsustainable -- that working in that sort of environment would destroy developers and their company. (They posted a quote from an IGDA whitepaper that most game developers burn out and leave the industry within 5 years.) Recognizing this, they started searching for ways to fix their problems. One of the primary problems they addressed is that developers often are not open and honest in communication. For example, and developers are often afraid to show weakness by being open about the fact they are having trouble implementing features on schedule. As a result they suffer silently and can experience serious anxiety. The solution is to create an environment in which it is okay to say "I need help." This extends to relationships with publishers as well -- thatgamecompany gave an example where they had to admit to their publisher that their initial prototype for Flower wasn't quite right yet -- and as a result they were able to get more time to iterate their prototype and ultimately make a better game. These discussions may be difficult, but having them is better than pretending these issues don't exist and letting them cause anxiety. They also presented a rough outline of their scheduling and estimation methods. Unfortunately I'm not sure there was enough detail to really replicate their process, but the overall idea is that they estimate using large, rough blocks of functionality placed at approximately monthly resolution to create a schedule estimate, and then for finer-grained task tracking they keep track of units of functionality that take about 2 weeks to complete. Progress updates from developers are required 3 times a week. They claimed to not be a proper "Agile" studio, but a lot of their processes sounded similar to agile development in practice. The session basically ended with a sort of collective ego rub, congratulating the attendees for being part of one of the most difficult and anxiety-inducing industries in existence.
  8. SHilbert

    IGS day 2

    Alright, my journal has been activated, so I'm ready to start covering the second day of the Independent Games Summit. About to head over to the Moscone Center now and find a seat. UPDATE: Sitting in the IGS room waiting for the first presentation to start. Schedule for the day: 10:00 - How to Manage an Exploratory Development Process 11:15-11:45 - NinjaBee's Top 10 Development lessons 11:45-12:15 - Control Inspiration 1:45-2:15 - Minimalist Game Design: Growing OSMOS 2:15-2:45 - Savvy Indie Solutions to Difficult Development Problems 3:00-4:00 - Tripping the Art Fantastic: A Beginner's Guide to the Brains of These Here Artists 4:15-5:15 - Indie Gamemaker Rant!
  9. SHilbert

    Hello again

    Hope she gets better soon. :)
  10. SHilbert

    Too many engines!

    Quote:Original post by theOneAwaited Well I just joined an indie group to start development on an FPS. I also joined as one of the programmers, so I have been having an endless discussion about which engine to use for our game. I know, the most discussed topic since ninjas vs. robots. Well I have been looking at C4, Torque, Vicious, and even Unreal. The most impressive is the Vicious engine. It has cutting-edge graphics, multi-platform conversions, next-gen capability, almost everything our team wanted. HOWEVER their site stinks:( The lack of information is really quite depressing. Does anyone know about the license or its expense? Could anyone recommend the engine? Has anyone WORKED on it?? Slightly frustrating:) I worked for Vicious Cycle this summer. However, I don't actually know how much the engine costs to license, and I imagine it varies on a case-to-case basis. You would be better off talking to someone at the company who is more up-to-date than me, too. I believe you can register to receive more detailed information on their site, and they have a special program for indie developers you can apply for. I am sure they would be happy to discuss whether the engine fits your needs. So, I'd say to register for information on the site or send an email to John O'Neill for more evaluation information about possible licensing. I'm sure they'd also like to hear if you think their engine site needs improvement. Quote:Our backup plan is to use C4, since it is a stable engine and the second best. The license is inexpensive and they have a good support community. Another question I'm facing is, would it be too much effort to change engines later in the game if C4 doesn't work out? My gut instinct says yes....Unfortunately the amount of stuff you can port to another game engine is generally limited to the things you make in other editors: models and animations, textures, sound effects, and possibly level geometry, depending.
  11. SHilbert

    A place for cats

    Holy crap, I haven't updated this thing in... well, possibly ever. I also haven't updated my main blog in forever, either. However, I'm paying for this one, so it should probably get some use. So, let's see... currently I am an "actual" game developer (well, paid summer internship), which is interesting. I've also got a few projects -- like a retro 2D platformer and a fancy new version of SHilScript -- that I keep intending to work on during the weekends and never getting around to because I'm horribly lazy. If ravuya keeps bugging me enough I will probably get some work done on them, or at least update my blogs so everyone knows exactly how little is getting done. Shameless plug of the moment: one of my friends has developed a MySpace for cats, called Meowspace. I would make a profile myself, except my cat died a few months ago (possibly, but not verifiably, due to the Chinese pet food fiasco.) :(
  12. SHilbert

    In before the milk

    lolz, is this copypasta?
  13. SHilbert

    Release of Blumenmacht Demo

    I get the same thing as Scet on my laptop with a Radeon Mobility FireGL 9000, also 64 MB of memory.
  14. SHilbert

    "NERD"

    A lot of people don't understand the kind of work that goes into programming. They don't know anything about the process besides that it involves sitting at a computer a lot, so they just assume it's boring as hell or uncreative. Without knowing this, they've got no more ability to appreciate it than a rock has the ability to roll uphill of its own volition. Every action a person takes has some kind of cause behind it, conscious or not. Namecalling (e.g. calling someone a nerd) is done because it lets a person feel better about themselves (albeit at another's expense), and also to solidify their bonds with their own social group, which again makes them feel better about themselves. In a way, it's sad because their self-esteem and identity are based upon using other people as dartboards. Try not to become angry that you're being judged as something negative -- realize that your antagonists are grasping for some kind of rise out of it because they don't understand the territory and are grasping for little jolts of self-acceptance. You're not doing anything wrong; if anything, they are.
  15. SHilbert

    Preemptive closure

    Quote:Original post by ravuya: I think you should really replace your old Pivot weblog with this. It's so totally awesome. Plus, RSS works better here. Yeah, that's what I'm considering doing. We'll see if I ever get in the mood to write anything.
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