Posts in ‘Friends’ Category:
The first of many plaudits is draped on Captain Forever. All is right in the world.
We proselytize about this game often; a few words about its design.
In Captain Forever, the player constructs a ship. That ship is then tested against algorithmically generated ships that drift slowly through the game’s infinite playfield. Scavenging the parts of destroyed ships, your ship grows and evolves. There are ten levels of girder, thruster, and guns – on a scale from green to white. The game always sends some ships of a much higher level into the fray, providing that oh-crap-time-to-run kind of feeling. Green is prey, white is terror. As in Spore, skillful play enables you to later be that massive ship, fearlessly preying on smaller and weaker ships. The feeling of mastery over previously mighty enemies rarely so delightful.
As a soundbite, Captain Forever is what I wanted Spore to be. Not the intricate simulation, but what most excited me about Spore: meaningful construction. The placement of parts on your ship has a deep, satisfying impact on how effective that ship will be in the ecosystem of the game. It also has an immediate, visceral impact on the feel of control. A well-constructed ship both feels good to control and is effective in the game. It’s a perfect marriage of construction and utility, a perfect balance between skill and construction. There are so many strategies and so many ways to build an effective ship. Depending on your construction, you may adopt a new style of play. Or you may see a particular ship you want to attack, and quickly rebuild to a more optimized battle configuration. It’s so fluid; building happens in the middle of battle. The marriage of construction and play is seamless and simultaneous. The game’s ecosystem is perfect in conveying meaning to your construction.
The game is an epic moment generator. As you fly around, there is running internal monologue: can I defeat that ship? Will it be worth the damage I’ll sustain? How does that ship stack up against my current construction? Can I destroy that ship without damaging the parts I want? What will my ship be if I get those pieces? Sometimes an attack on a massive ship many levels higher than you will result in the destruction of most of your ship. But sometimes you’re able to worm your way into the innards of that ship, a parasite, and chip away at its core until it succumbs. A fight might take five minutes to complete. And then a mad scramble to rebuild before the next massive enemy frigate rolls through. First girders, then steering jets, then a gun of some kind. You must always be ready to zip away, and that means having a balanced controllable ship at all times.
It’s also possible to ‘kite’ two large ships together. Higher level ships ignore the puny unless provoked. Provoking two ships and running them into each other to wear them down a bit is obscenely satisfying. It’s just so good.
Nuts and Bolts
There are hundreds of small, brilliant decisions that make all this work. Many of them are tuning: Box2d is used masterfully here, and each level of girder, and gun, and thruster is immaculately tuned to its own level and to the other levels. A purple thruster on a ship made of orange pieces means crazy speed. Orange thrusters on a ship made of purple girders leaves your ship pathetic, unmaneuverable. Guns are relatively light, but they need girder space.
Construction is simple and intuitive. As you click and drag a piece around, it tries to orient to the nearest attachable surface. It does this just slowly enough to allow you to fiddle pieces to just the position you want. I still occasionally pull off a piece unintentionally, but I always feel as though it’s my fault; I was hurrying too much and slipped up. This is perhaps the most difficult interface problem in this design, and it’s been solved masterfully. You don’t think about it, you just put the pieces where you want them. No small design feat.
Another brilliant design cluster is in the notion of ship “hearts”, and the tree branch model of damage and destruction Farbs employs. To win another ship’s pieces, you must destroy its heart. But its heart is often its center, the main note to which all other pieces are attached. Ipso facto, it’s difficult to shoot, especially without destroying other parts. But the whole reason you attack a ship is to get its parts. This tension, between desire and danger, is exquisite. Likewise, when a piece is destroyed, all pieces attached to that piece are also destroyed. This forces even greater caution and though in one’s angle of approach on a potentially lucritive enemy target. You can’t try to blow off just a wing and then salvage the bits that break loose: you have to go whole hog, all or nothing. You have to destroy the ship to save the wing, with all its juicy gun and thruster goodness. This is just plain old fashioned awesome game design. Pure, elegant, excellent.
This game tickles my brain in all the right ways. It is, as so many other great games have been, a recombination of familiar elements. In the relationships between these elements, Farbs has found something new, beautiful, and elegant. A well deserved win for Farbs and his amazing game. Cheers.
Do you like playing fantastic independent video games? We sure do! It can be tricky to make an indie game, though; you need to find enough time to make the actual game without cutting into the time required to pay rent and buy groceries/beer. It’s a tricky problem!
Several indies are turning to Kickstarter, a website that allows creators to directly ask the public to financially support the creation of their ideas. It works like this: A creator posts a project, some dollar amount they’re asking for, and a timeframe in which they need the money secured. If you want to support the project, you pledge some cash. If they reach their goal, your money goes to them. If not, your money stays in your pocket. Simple and beautiful.
We Did This; You Should Too!
It’s one thing to say, “oh cool, other people should totally do this“, and quite another thing altogether to say “we did this and so should you“. So Blurst threw down $250 each on Flywrench and Liferaft Episode 1. You should do the same to help them out. Support indie game development!
This great IndieGames.com post mentions a number of other projects trying out Kickstarter:
- Flywrench (Remake): Messhof – $3220 of $5000
- Thunder Blunders: Nini White – $100 of $25000
- Liferaft Episode 1: Greg Wohlwend (aeiowu) – $1587 of $5000
- Video Game Set in Iran: Borut – $1712 of $15000
- FREEQ: The Singularity – $260 of $12300
- Saturated Dreamers: Paul Eres – $525 of $195
- Resonance: VinceTwelve – $576 of $150
- Home Base: Gerson Luca – $0 of $100
- Remainder: Gerson Luca – $0 of $1000
- The Zombie Game Experiment William Weaver – $20 of $14700
- Kingdom Death: Adam Poots – $0 of $10,000
- Dadaists Gone Wild 2: Alec Stamos – $0 of $200
Our good friend Alec Holowka is also funding one of his game projects, Marian, through public donations. Go check out the Marian teaser post for more details!
(Flickr photo by comedy_nose).
This is what happens when you have amazing people help you with your amazing projects. One Mr. Cory Robinson, a local game artist, good personal friend of ours, and all-around-super-talented-guy helped us out with some illustration work. In order to make the Time Donkey menu scene come to life I needed some promotional nonsense (product photos, discount alerts, beverage list) to surround the functional menu elements (game logo, the “play game” button, the “change username” button) and Cory delivered. While it ended up completely appropriate in the context of the title scene you don’t see it very well when it’s all said and done so here it is in detail.
Keep in mind that when I tasked him with this my instructions were very vague; crappy fast food menu with ridiculous products on it. He reached into the swirling neon vortex of his brain and created all of these products and their names, going off of Flashbang’s “Num Nums Raptor Taco” inside joke from back in the day and nothing else. When we looked at it for the first time we all cried from the laughter, and also from Matthew hitting us with a car antenna. Enjoy!
Our good friends over at local studio Coin App just launched the official website for their upcoming game, Max Blastronaut. They’re entering the game into the Dream-Build-Play competition. Good luck guys! This is definitely a game to watch.
I’ve been with Blurst since before we called ourselves Blurst. I joined two years ago, after finishing my B.S. in Mathematics. At the time, Flashbang Studios was just Matthew and Steve, with Shawn as an intern, and were working out of Matthew’s apartment. I was looking for an interesting challenge, and the notion of making games that WE wanted to play in obscenely short production cycles was a pretty appealing challenge!
When I started, we were working on Splume, which was two weeks away from a contest deadline (The Top DOG contest at Unite 2007). I spent most of the project making the level editor and the survival mode. The short production cycle was all I’d hoped it would be, and we even won the grand prize, netting us a duffel full of cash!
Two years later, and I’ve programmed an eclectic mix of systems in our games — AI for Raptor Safari, Blush, and Crane Wars, the mission system in Jetpack Brontosaurus, Minotaur China Shop’s random layout generator, almost all of Rebolt, and the foundation for Time Donkey’s movement and camera, among others. I’ve also been the Math go-to fellow and, with my brother Adam, the resident science pedant. Raptor Safari’s controversial feathers were spawned after reading Turner et al.’s discovery of quill knobs on the forearms of Velociraptor mongoliensis, and it was a hard-fought compromise that led to an Apatosaurus with the given name “Brontosaurus” being the star of Jetpack Brontosaurus.
I’ve loved almost every minute of it, especially since I’ve worked among awesome friends. But the Universe is full of challenges, and there is another one that’s been nibbling at the corners of my mind even these two years. During the last year of my Bachelor’s, I worked for Rogier Windhorst, an astrophysics professor at Arizona State, creating an interactive simulation of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. This image — the deepest optical light image ever taken — represents 95% of the history of the Universe. Despite covering a tiny patch of sky only 1/10 of the full moon’s width, the HUDF contains over 10,000 visible galaxies, the oldest having emitted their light up to 13 billion years ago!
I was, of course, immediately enthralled. It’s one thing to wonder at the works of Nature that we can see on the Earth — the wispy vortices at the edge of a cloud, canyons carved by a river’s flow, a species of ape whose intelligence has allowed it to build artifice and culture. It’s another kind of wonder entirely to look at an image and see light, far too dim for the naked eye, emitted by a billion fusion reactors only 300 million years after the birth of our Universe. Given the opportunity to probe those depths, to explore that inexhaustible possibility space, I would be completely unable to resist!
Over our post-Crane Wars break, such an opportunity arose. A lunch with my old advisor led to an offer to admit me late as a PhD student for the Fall. I of course could not say no, doubly compounded by the fact that soon after I begin, we will be getting data from observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope’s recently-installed new instruments!
My experience working with Unity and Flashbang/Blurst has given me an invaluable tool for my future research — the ability to program and problem solve at even more ridiculous speeds than when I began. I also plan to continue using Unity, producing more small educational simulations or games, so I can hopefully inspire the next generation of scientists, the way that Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking have inspired me.
More than anything though, I value the myriad other brilliant indie game developers that I’ve met and befriended along the way, my coworkers included. Necessarily generalists who must wear a number of hats, the knowledge that can be synchronized and the recombinant ideas that can be bred in an hour of talking to an indie game dev can be worth weeks of toiling away in solitude. Though I am a scientist at heart and my future holds mostly the marvel of exploration, it has been my honor to have even a small part in creating something wonderful — both games that bring joy and laughter, and an indie games community that declares, in one voice, “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”
I’ll miss you dudes, keep in touch. <3
To people, time is linear.
Memory allows us to revisit and relive the past, to learn lessons from it, and to develop different attitudes and ways of behaving in the world based on those lessons. But memory is an imperfect recording, heavily influenced by emotion. Two people can remember the same party as being wonderful (it was the night I met my future wife) or awful (it was the night I walked in on my wife with another man.) Objectively, the details are the same. The party happened at a certain place, at a certain time, and included specific people. But there is no way to separate emotion from memory. All memory is inherently subjective. The arrow of time cannot be reversed. But what if it could?
It is tantalizing to imagine what the world would be like if time were malleable. This is the essence of time manipulation in video games. One of the appealing things about video games is that they allow expression of our desire to exercise control over time. A game allows us to escape the way we perceive time by rewinding and replaying, collaborating with past sevles, or simply hitting the reset button.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time manipulation in games lately because our next game, Time Donkey, features rewind/replay mechanics. Here are some thoughts on the design of other time manipulation games I’ve been playing. For reference, of course :).
Cursor * 10
Cursor Times Ten distills the essence of multiplicity. The interface is a cursor. The only novel idea in play is the recording and playback of in-game actions. Everything you do is recorded. By careful planning you can collaborate with all your previous selves to achieve objectives more efficiently. What’s most interesting is comparing your memory of what you did before to a perfect, objective one. I feel as though I moved my cursor over as quickly as I could, clicked the stairs, and then went on to click the button as many times as I could as quickly as I could. But the replay shows that I over-corrected my initial mouse movement, clicked the wrong thing twice, and only managed to click the button ten times before being forcibly restarted.
What Cursor*10 really nails is the sense of upward progression. There is a secondary goal of scoring, but what feels compelling is clever application of multiple replays to optimize tasks. Once you’ve revealed the box hiding the staircase, you can quickly and easily find it next time, allowing the replay after that to reach further and further up the floors. This sense of building intent across multiple plays, and interacting with your own previous actions feels fresh and interesting.
DefeatMe is decribed in comments as “Cursor*10’s evil twin.” This is an accurate statement. In Cursor*10, you replay the same small slice of time over and over again, layering recorded replays one on top of the other. In DefeatMe, your replays are mirrored opposite, and become an increasingly wily and difficult opponent. Every shot you took at an enemy comes back at you, and every move you made to avoid a shot becomes a clever dodge in the next round. Each dodge is predictable if you plan carefully, and you can anticipate where it will end up and send a shot there before the ship arrives. This makes for a satisfying, cerebral experience (though this is currently hampered slightly by having to reload the page to start a fresh game.)
One weird decision in this prototype is bullet spray randomization. Your ship starts by firing one bullet at a time, directly forward. As you progress through each stage, however, the pattern can change. Sometimes you spray three bullets. Sometimes you have no direct forward shot. Presumably, this is to solve the problem of fatigue. If your ship only ever fires one bullet and directly forward, it’s too easy to predict where each shot is going to go and the play gets stale. I’m not sure changing the bullet spray is the right answer. The problem is that it feels arbitrary. It might feel more satisfying and strategic if there were collectable powerups in the level that changed the bullet spray pattern or upgraded it. Certainly, as the levels progress and there are more and more replay ships to destroy, I’d choose to then upgrade my weapons.
Regardless, this is a lovely little experiment by crafty indie shmupomancer Kenta Cho, one which I’d love to see him expand on. I wonder what it would be like with varied level terrain, powerups, or with the addition of patterned enemies independent of or spawned by the player.
As in: ”Hey this code is unoptimized and barely works. Ahhh….Future Me problem! Present me will eat cheesecake instead.”
“Man, I probably shouldn’t have eaten all the cheesecake…ah well, I’m sure Future Me will figure something out.”
Chronotron is neat, but I disagree with one of its self-implied design constraints. As in Cursor*10 and DefeatMe, your actions are recorded as you play. To start a new replay, the current robot must be returned to the door from whence it game. I don’t like having to return each replay robot to the door. It is a fundamental constraint to the levels as they’ve been constructed in Chronotron, but I can’t help but think the game would be more enjoyable if it flowed forward. I like thinking about how to use multiple replays to activate switches, weigh down scales, or launch off of seesaws. Just let me do that!
Having to then solve all the annoying paradoxes that occur when one robot prevents another from getting back to the door feels tedious. If there were a second exit door, or various portals throughout the level I could enter to start a new replay, and the puzzles would remain in tact sans tedium. Fixing paradoxes just feels like sweeping up after the clever bits. However, the ability to interact with oneself across time – and the many clever physics-y applications they found – makes Chronotron worth playing and enjoying.
Braid is pure experimental game design. Johnathan set out to explore time manipulation because he was unsatisfied with the limited, tepid, unsatisfying application it had found in games like Blinx and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. He asked the question ‘what would happen if the player could rewind time as much they wanted, as far back as they wanted, any time they wanted?’ Layering limitless rewind on a familiar feeling 2d platformer yielded unique and interesting gameplay. He then explored the mechanic more thoroughly through a world structure that modified limitless rewind with additional constructs like a ring that creates a bubble of slow time and an arbitrary rule linking the flow of time to left or right movement. The results were revolutionary.
This is the finest game about the nature of time as it is perceived by humans, and one of the finest pieces of work in any medium on that subject. There are ideas in Braid that are best expressed interactively. The concepts can be explained linearly, but are better expressed through interaction.
Coming Soon: “The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom”
A quick parting note; add this game to your List of Future Me Things . It’s being created by our friends The Odd Gentlemen, and has the potential to outdo Braid in terms of thoroughness.
Winterbottom will explore replays as help and hinderence, play with the arrow of time, distort space and time in even more ways than Braid. Seek it out!
It’s been spoken of here and there in darker corners, but I thought I would give it a formal mention. You can head over to Danny B’s website to download the beautiful pieces of music he wrote for Blush. For FREE, even! It’s like there is some sort of inherent benefit in giving away your creations to people who will appreciate them!
Over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
He’s a prolific and rather brilliant writer, that Minotaur. Don’t you think?
Unity, the the engine technology we use, is holding their second Unity Awards. We actually took home first place last year with Splume, and this year we’ve entered all of our new games (Raptor Safari, Jetpack Brontosaurus, and Minotaur China Shop). Audience voting determines the Forum Favorite award, which is worth a cool 1,000 euros. There are some great games in the lineup, so go check them out and cast your vote! It’s worth the I Voted achievement ;)
A vote for Raptor Safari would be appreciated, of course, but make sure you check out Tumbledrop and RastaMonkey, both excellent physics games. There are a lot of games to play, and most of these are in development and worth keeping an eye on!
Want to see what the Flashbang/Blurst offices look like? This weekend we’ve been hosting the inaugural TIGJam, a gathering of indie game developers. Check out project status updates over at TIGJam.com, or spy on us via a 24/7 video stream:
Minotaur China Shop iPad Tease
969 days ago
Minotaur Dance Party
1102 days ago
Visualizing Raptor Safari Data
1124 days ago