Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chromatic Aberration out on PS Mobile.

Just a short post... I had to share this feedback I received on Chromatic Aberration...

"I have recently purchased Chromatic Aberration for my PS Vita and just wanted to express my delight in what I consider to be one of the best games for the platform - I completed it in the wee hours of this morning and have subsequently left a 5 star review on the PSN network (I think the only review to date sadly).  What an absolutely fascinating, original and highly playable gaming mechanic!  I didn't think it would be possible to re-invent the platformer, a genre I have loved since playing Manic Miner in my long distant school days.  I cannot wait for Chromatic Aberration II and as soon as I see it on the store I will be buying it!  Thank you for producing such a fantastic, playable game that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish and I look forward to all of your future releases - in fact, I'm sure with Sony's push to embrace indie game development that Chromatic Aberration would be a smash on the PS4 - certainly it would be a day one purchase from my point of view."

I approve :)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Further Adventures in Game Development

Lots of things have happened since I last posted - not all of them good, and some of which are at a personal level and shall not be delved into here. Suffice it to say that much like many struggling developers in this economic climate we find ourselves struggling too.

Up until January it had been fairly easy to support development of games on the side due to an ongoing lucrative contract, but unfortunately that came to an abrupt and unfortunate end round about that time. Since then we've been managing on savings, and they are close to running out.

Still, I'm not one to give up that easily but I also realize that I'm also not a "hit maker". I make games that I want to make - because I want to make them, not necessarily because I think they'll be popular. As such, the three games that we have been working on for the past few months may well have been rewarding to work on, but I sincerely doubt that they will reap any real financial benefit.

Two of these games have been previously mentioned in the blog; Chromatic Aberration II and Zen Accumulator. The former is an old-school 80s/90s style platform adventure with some modern touches (i.e. not very marketable), and the latter is a relaxing math-based "brain-training" puzzler (i.e. not very marketable).

The third game, which has not been previously mentioned is, I suppose, slightly more marketable, being a frenetic arcade game in which the player takes on the role of a pair of bungling bank robbers making their getaway from a heist in a stolen roadworks truck, making use of the traffic signs they find in the rear bed of the truck to redirect the pursuing police vehicles away from the chase.

I've also been giving some thought to resurrecting an updated version of our first game, Creatures & Castles, with a new "Time Trial" gameplay mode and additional levels for the children to adventure into. Originally, this was planned for an update to the iOS version, but I've become somewhat disillusioned with iOS of late. Too much crapware to make a mark in games. (Now, applications are another matter - and that's something I may investigate at a later stage, but for now, no more iOS games, I think).

Instead, I find myself considering the following targets: PS Vita (yes, I know it's not doing great right now, but I find it hard to believe Sony will let it languish), 3DS (if I can stomach the cost of a development kit, and the corresponding switch from c# to c++ again), and PC/Mac (simply because most of the games are initially prototyped on PC, so we have a build ready to go at most stages in development). Now, this doesn't mean that we will never target iOS again. I have specifically developed our in-house libraries to be as cross-platform as possible, such that building for iOS should be a simple matter of just changing the target (as well as adding in any boiler-plate setup code and taking into account the different control interface). However, for now, it should be assumed that our primary targets will be those mentioned above, probably starting off with the handheld devices and then releasing the games for PC/Mac shortly thereafter. Obviously for the latter, we'd rather go through Steam - but honestly, I think that's going the way of the iOS store these days. Chances of getting through Greenlight (particularly with the niche nature of the games we make) would be remote to non-existent.

Luckily for Hiive, things are looking up due to a recent development. At least for the next year, we will have enough money to keep operating comfortably. Hopefully we'll be able to produce a game in that time that warrants the expense and effort that has gone into it. Although, with my penchant for writing games that I want to play, I'm not sure that'll happen but there is always hope...

In the next month or so, I will decide whether to pull the trigger on the 3DS kit (although it would be nice to get some idea of typical downloadable sales before I do), and delve much deeper into PS Vita development (using the PSM framework). I also have a crazy idea about producing a board game based on Creature & Castles, but I have no idea whether I'll take that any further.

Watch this space over the next month or so for more news on these and other things Hiive-related.

Oh, and after a long hiatus due to a server crash, our sister site Hiive Books is now back online. Take a look (if you're over the age of 30 and have a hankering for some retro-gaming joy).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Daily Grind

You'd think that running a company would be all fun and games. I'm the boss. I get to do fun stuff all the time. Yeah, well no. I get to work all the time. If I happen to find it fun, it's a bonus, but sitting up into the small hours banging your head against a brick wall trying to track down annoying little bugs that turn out to be issues with third-party libraries in no way to go through life, son.

So anyway; making games is fun. It's just that at some point they have to start paying for themselves. Now, I've already discovered that I'm not very good at predicting what game genres will be a success and what will not (Candy Crush? WTF?) so the only option left open to me is to make a game that I will enjoy playing and hope that others will feel the same way; and preferably enough of them to make the time spent writing the game pay for itself... (Yes, yes, it's all very noble to suffer for your art and all that, but meanwhile, in the real world, people have mortgages, kids and a burning desire to eat and pay bills and all that jazz).

So, anyway. Even though the platform game is really a means to an end (the end being a nice set of cross-platform libraries to make future development easier), it still is something I'd like to be proud of at the end of the day. In order to do that, it needs to be a game that I'd want to play.

Now, "back in the day" (and I'm talking early 80s here), one of my most-enjoyed style of game was the platform adventure. Games such as Jet Set Willy, Spellbound, Knight Tyme, and Universal Hero combined platforming action with a light story-based 'collect the objects and use them in the right place' type adventure. Nothing too deep, usually, but fun and engaging enough to while away the odd afternoon.

There have been some successful modern takes on this class of game, including VVVVVV (on the Jet Set Willy end of the scale) through to Knytt Underground and Cave Story on the Spellbound/Universal Hero end of the scale. So, why not add my own effort?

One of the things I enjoyed most about the early games was the exploration and mapping aspect; in Jet Set Willy, for example, each room was named and usually was a good insight into the twisted sense of humour of the programmer (and in the case of Matthew Smith, the author of Jet Set Willy, it was a very twisted place indeed). A bit part of the fun was discovering all of the new rooms and in-jokes. Jet Set Willy was pretty much pure platforming exploration; fun but shallow. Spellbound and Knight Tyme were far more adventure-like, and placed much less of an emphasis on the platforming and much more on the story aspect. So. I got to thinking, why can't a game do both? Well, I'm sure that plenty have and I'm just unaware of them. I'm not going to let that stop me though, which is why I'm ready to announce the title of the new game: Chromatic Aberration II.

Chromatic Aberration II Title Screen
"Wait a minute!" I hear you exclaim with a bored tone, "Why is it a sequel? What's the first game?"
Well, the prequel will be coming out too. We're working on both games simultaneously, but we're starting with the sequel. For those of you familiar with early 80s games, we're aiming for a Manic Miner/Jet Set Willy vibe - only enhanced with up-to-date features from modern game styles such as dynamic lighting. It should be an interesting experiment; lo-fi graphics with modern FX. At worst, it will be a glorious failure.

Technically speaking, the gameplay engine is about 75% complete. Most of that which is remaining are for special cases and (for example) extended features, such as the ability for the player to control in-room features via a computer console (e.g. shut down a force field), and things that I'm sure I'll think of when I come across something cool.

The other stuff that's remaining to be done is to overhaul the graphics (most of them are currently placeholders and/or ripped from elsewhere) and implement the story/adventure aspect of the game and any other special features that are required, as well as design a whole bunch of new rooms (the first map is shown below). I'm trying to keep it all fairly generic so that I can script the majority of it from text files (which lends itself nicely for a future 'adventure editor' feature). 

The starting area for the player. Please excuse the 'placeholder' graphics.

Currently, it's planned to be released for Windows, but I am doing regular simultaneous builds for OsX, iOS and PlayStation Vita, so if all goes as planned I would expect it to be released for those platforms at some point soon after the initial release.

Oh, and lastly, my trainee minion, Josh is still working hard and is coming on leaps and bounds in his programming skills. Here's a screenshot from the prototype I have him working on currently. It may not look much right now, but it's surprisingly fun to play, even at this early stage. I hope to talk more about this next time.
It's a puzzle. With numbers.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Killing Time...

Well, I suppose it's about time I wrote a blog post. It's been a while... Since I last wrote a post, Hiive has brought on two part-time employees - both of whom (after a couple of early hiccups) are working out pretty well so far.

The initial plan was that they would free up more time for me, and I guess they have - but not as much as I'd hoped for... Part of that is ramp up and training, which is to be expected, so hopefully once they are fully up to speed on my idiosyncratic ways of running a company I'll have more time for the things I want to do rather than the boring management stuff. I clearly wasn't cut out to be a manager so my employees effectively have to manage themselves...

Anyway. That's boring. Onto some interesting stuff... We're currently performing a grand experiment with the Monkey programming language. You've probably read about me alternately complaining and/or praising it since I started experimenting with it. In fact, even in the short time I've been using it in earnest, the quality of the product has improved leaps and bounds... It's very good, if a little rough around the edges. For quickly getting up and running it excels. However, I'm not convinced that it will be a good fit for me to take a product from conception through to release. It will get me close, but when it comes to matters of polish, the 'one size fits all' targetting method isn't ideal. It gets me 90% of the way there, but doesn't really feel right for the last 10%. For example, if I want to add in custom shaders to make the game look more impressive, then there is a mechanism for doing so - but it's target specific and relies on getting your hands dirty with the target language to implement correctly. This is all fine, of course, but if I'm going to go to the trouble of writing in target-specific languages, I'm wondering why I didn't start out in the target language to start with.

There are other things I don't particularly like about Monkey as well... The main one being that class inheritance isn't as fine grained as I would like. You can have private and public members of a class, but there is no concept of protected. (Note that the previously mentioned lack of a debugger is still an issue - but there are workarounds for that).

So, I've been mulling over a plan of action for how to proceed with the platform game, and I think I've decided on making the gameplay 'feature complete' within Monkey and then mothballing the monkey code. Further development will be continued using a heavily refactored (Thank $deity for ReSharper!) version of the XNA target.

This still allows me to target multiple platforms (thanks to Monogame) and gives me the advantages of being able to have very fine-grained control over the graphics pipeline. I have some great ideas to up the presentation that require the use of shaders. Of course, this means that Josh will have to learn a new language (as he is currently familiar with Monkey) but I think that the extra productivity boost from being able to use a mature development environment and world-class debugger will outweigh any slow-down from having to learn C#.

As an aside, I noticed that GameMaker is now available on Steam. I may well be looking into that at some point. (Although who knows when that will be... I still have Unity installed on my computer from a couple of months ago, and I think I've only fired it up for a quick look once in that time period. I guess I'm just not that excited by 3D for the sake of it.)

Hmm. So what else have I been up to? Well, I've actually managed to find some time to play a few games. My current addiction is Subset Games' FTL. It didn't grab me at first, but I persisted for a few plays and quickly became hooked. And this actually brings up a wider point. As I've grown older (I turned the big 4-uh-oh about a month ago) I find that I have less and less time (or inclination) to play games that require a substantial time investment. Instead I find myself looking for games that I can delve into for twenty to forty minutes at a time. Now, I know there are a whole slew of casual games that fit that bill, but I've never really been into casual gaming. What I tend to look for are the more 'hardcore' style of game that feel deep and involving and yet only require small amounts of time. Up until now, boardgaming has been scratching that itch fairly well, but I can't always rustle up a group of friends to play a quick boardgame. FTL, on the other hand, is almost perfect for a quick hardcore play session. Note that I said almost perfect... It's not quite the game I want to play. It's very close, but not quite... I'm hoping that they come up with a sequel that goes more in the direction I want, but if not, then I know what Hiive's next game is going to be!

Another game that's captured my attention just recently (if only to make me weep at how much my reaction time has diminished over the years) is Terry Cavanagh's Super Hexagon. It's a beautiful piece of minimalist design, and extremely addictive to boot. It could use a couple of playability tweaks with the movement of the player, but I'm also perfectly prepared to accept that I may just suck at it. The music is also absolutely fantastic. In fact, it's the only game soundtrack I've ever bought (mainly because I don't survive long enough to hear the tunes in their entirety and they surely deserve a listen). I'd even go as far to say that it's better than the VVVVVV soundtrack. (Note: It's no secret that the current platform game we're working on is inspired by the latter!)

Okay. That's enough random blathering from me. Hopefully we'll have some more exciting posts about the platform game coming up in the next few weeks and then we'll start working in earnest on our Rogue-like. Watch this space (if you're so inclined!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More Prototyping Fun...

The platform prototype has nearly become a game in itself. When I started working for Hiive it had the basic mechanics functioning in a test level. The player can run, jump, change color, and perform an impressively athletic wall-jump.  Since I started working on it I have taken it from a cool concept to a promising game in the works.
The Prototype when I started
My primary project has been to take the raw prototype level format and expand it to  create a functioning editor screen, and I am happy to say it has been going well. It's is still far from finished, however it is getting closer and closer. Once the serializer (to save levels) has been finished the floodgates will open for new levels and the prototype will be in its final stages of creation.

Edit screen as of now
Within the editor screen, you can place and remove any block, reassign the start and finish position, place any color of horizontal or vertical robot and set waypoints for them to travel between, and remove those robots when you decide they weren't in the best position.

Current game screen
Even incomplete, the game is both fun to play and to create levels for. Once the game is further along, the finish point, which is currently a tesseract, will be a wormhole, and collectible items that unlock your colors will be required to reach the wormhole to the next level.

For example, in this level, good luck reaching the finish point without using green, either to run along the top platform or to wall jump from wall to wall. The robot's are immortal, the player currently has no way of defeating them, though there have been a few ideas tossed around for their possible demise.

Future plans include attaching the tesseract graphic to collectibles, adding a third robot that either moves in a set multidirectional path or chases the player, finishing the serializer so new levels can be added, and making the editor screen more user friendly.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monkey Game Development: A Beginner's Guide

 Having just opened Monkey for the first time simultaneously with this book, I must say this is a very well done book. I had learned Java through school so it was not my first programming language, but as far as monkey goes it was a completely fresh start. Monkey Game Development walks you through the creation of eight different games over ten chapters, one per chapter with the first chapter as an introduction and the last as guidelines for getting games published.

 Starting from the first game, a remake of Pong in the form of "Pongo," I could tell this book would do well with me. It explained the basic methods that would recur throughout every game I made with the book, and even explained why those methods belonged in every game. For every new piece of information it made sure I knew not only how to type it in, but also why it worked the way it did and why it was either necessary, or why it saved time. On the subject of saving time, the book comes with a host of graphics, sounds, fonts, and a particularly useful library called fantomEngine. It was introduced in chapter four and used with every game created from that point onwards. fantomEngine was created specifically for this book and is a library to help speed up the creation of your games by providing useful functions such as loading images, fonts, and sounds, creating images from sprite sheets, creating transitions and timers, and much more.

 My biggest complaint about Monkey Game Development is the lack of instruction on compiling to the various destinations. In chapter one, it mentions it will guide you through the installation of the various SDKs and how to set them up for Monkey, yet it never does. For example, in chapter five you create a game called Chain Reaction and it is the first game you are able to upload to an android device. In the beginning of the chapter it says it will show you how to set up Android, yet by the end of the chapter it only tells you how to change the name of your game and the icons for it once it is already on Android. I flailed trying to upload this game to android for hours.

 My only other complaint about Monkey Game Development is the rampant typos. After going through the entire book I am truly unsure whether they were on purpose or not. Admittedly, they did help me learn the code much better then if they were not there, but it would still be a good idea to at least mention to expect those landmines in the code in the intro chapter. The typos included everything from misspellings of method headers, forgetting to type in the parenthesis after calling a method, alternate spellings of fields from the initialization to the implementation, and much more. Again, the typos helped more then they detracted, but I'm still not entirely sure they were supposed to be there, or an accident by the editor. 
I highly recommend this book to all people looking to learn the Monkey programming language, particularly for game creation as the name suggests. The book has several faults, but the benefits far outweigh those faults. I read through the book and did all of the games in a week, and am now making a game of my own to prove I know Monkey.

It's going well.

[Note from Andrew: Josh is my new trainee programmer minion.]

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rogue Games: Can I have a little more plot with that?

Rogue Games: Can I have a little more plot with that?

Since its advent, gaming has made a profound impact on the lives of those who’ve enjoyed it.  As the technology improved and the variety increased, gamer culture began to grow exponentially. In fact, it’s grown so much that it has been, irreversibly, intertwined with the mainstream. Proof and point: my very non-gaming parents bought a Wii two years back.

I didn’t grow up a gamer.  At least not like many of my generation did.  I didn’t own my first console until 2002 (I was in college)—and that was a N64, which I bought for Mario Kart. I added four more consoles soon after that, and then, of course, now I have my go-to's: Wii, PS3, and 3DS. My PSP no longer makes this list as it had a rather crushing accident with my foot.

Now, it’s not that I didn’t play on consoles as a kid. I have an aunt and uncle with nine kids; they have literally owned every console to come to America, and a lot of the rip-offs. However, in my house, kids were expected to go outside to play, not be in front of a TV. So after babysitting, swimming, fishing, exploring and general crazy kid stuff, I would spend hours on the computer at night.

For that reason, I got into PC games first. Granted, the ones I played were almost all educational. I remember playing the crap out of Oregon Trail, the Carmen Sandiego series, and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. What? This was the MSDOS age and I wasn’t even in double digits yet for my age.

Speaking of that, does anyone else remember Freddy’s Rescue Roundup? You had to go around rescuing chickens on platforms while trying not to be caught by whom I can only think are the farmers who own the chickens.

And like any good Family Guy episode, here’s a jump to something only slightly related from the set up:

The first time I played a rogue-like game was last month.

Eventually, once I was able to play the less than educational games, I gravitated to J-RPGs. Zelda: A Link to the Past (I love puns!) was actually the first in this genre I every played, and I loved it. What I enjoy about RPGs are the stories, so jumping into rogue-like games was a big shock for me.

I played two games on recommendation from Andrew, as a means of getting to know the genre: Hack, Slash, Loot and Legends of Yore. Both of which are fun games, in their own right; however, I kept craving that overarching story line. Because, while the exploring, questing, and desecrating tombs are all fun, the general lack of depth to the plot that jogs me the most.  It leaves a gap for the players, like myself, who became attached to other genres first.

And certainly, this isn't saying that rogue-like games aren't good games; it's quite the opposite. While I didn't have the connect I would with some games, Hack, Slash, Loot highly amused me. I couldn't sit there for hours playing it, but it was enough entertainment, even in just short bursts, to show that it was a good game and well constructed. I also enjoyed some of the game mechanics of Legends of Yore too.

When it comes down to it, rogue-like games probably aren’t for me, or at least pure ones. However, games are rarely fully one genre or another anymore, and I would be greatly interested in seeing a rogue game mixed in with other genres; then you can get all the fun of questing, with the added bonus of a plot to explain why we’ve decided that all those tombs just had to be vandalized.