Tetrash Postmortem

Full itch.io page here

Duration

48hrs for the Ludum Dare Discord Jam #4 game jam 2020

The Game

Tetrash is a tower defense game where players place towers to heal (not destroy) the pieces as they move along a path. There are enemy towers already placed that are trying to destroy the pieces. The whole premise is that your Tetris game is corrupted and you are trying to salvage the pieces of Tetris
blocks before malware destroys them. Before the pieces start moving to their desired location, players must choose which powerups to give themselves to help boost their chances of winning. They have to beware, however, because while they’re helping themselves out, they are also determining which powerups the enemy malware has as well.

What I Did

Working solo again, so I did all the art, music, design, and programming. I took a stab at making actual 3D models by using the MagicaVoxel maker. The only thing I didn’t create myself, besides the fonts, was the space background/skybox.

What I Learned

Having felt displeased with the lack of knowledge gained from the previous solo game jam, I used this one to learn new skills and incorporate it into making a new game. I decided to follow a tutorial series on how to make a tower defense game, where I learned about pathfinding through Breadth First Search
algorithms, instantiating objects, and having towers focus on the moving objects. It was nice to see how the algorithms I learned in my Data Sets and Algorithms course could be implemented into an actual
game, and it also made me curious about all the different ways Unity offered pathfinding. I also learned productivity tools where things would update within the editor, like the different location of the blocks and the blocks snapping on a grid. I also learned more about art and 3D modeling by making my own models for the game.

One of the things I wish I focused on more was the design of the game. I was so focused on getting all the pieces working together, including the powerups, towers, and path of the pieces, that I didn’t have a clear plan on what the most effective level layout was, and I wasn’t even sure if the game could be
beaten by the end (which it can). I think for future game jams I want to start creating design documents for each one. Even if it’s just a one page document, I think having a solid plan can keep me on track for what I want for the jam.

Tinker Postmortem

Full itch.io page here

(Note: WebGL games are formatted strange and may run slow in WordPress. If you have technical difficulties, check out the standalone version on itch.io)

Duration

48Hrs for Game Maker’s Toolkit Game Jam 2020

The Game

In Tinker, players have to place blocks onto pegs to help a ball reach the destination. The style resembles that of old marble mazes or Rube Goldbergs. The goal of the game isn’t really meant to complete every level, but to figure out the different ways you can complete it, and to experiment. I wanted a game that
wasn’t as intense and more of a relaxing experience.

What I Did

Well… everything. The only thing I didn’t do as much of was the art. I used just simple shapes and changed their color so it was a nice color scheme. I did all the parts of the game myself, including the design of the puzzles, programming, and audio.

What I Learned

Surprisingly, I didn’t push myself to learn new things as much as I would if I was on a team. What’s nice about working with a team is that there’s always something new to learn from other people, and there’s something that you can teach others as well. Working by myself I didn’t learn all too much, but this may
be because I was nervous of going it alone and only stuck with things I mostly knew. It was kind of interesting in the end, however, when I realized that I ultimately made a level editor, where players could place and move objects how they wanted.

Problems I had with not having a team continued into the design. When I released the game, I got a lot of mixed feedback on the difficulty of the levels; some said they were too easy, while others said they were frustrated and had to quit. The game was also missing a lot of player feedback: The holes on the
blocks didn’t show any indication that they were touching a possible peg, which could have easily been implemented by changing its color or adding an audio cue. The pegs also had problems where there was some “looseness” to them, where the block could be shifted more in another direction but still be
touching the peg. If I knew how to model some actual blocks, I would have put actual holes in them, which would have made my time dealing with the pegs a whole lot easier. Looking back, I should have made the holes lock into the center of the pegs, and made a simple tool to help figure out the layout of
the blocks to easily add pegs in the correct spot. I thought adding extra random pegs would make the game more interesting and confusing, but it seemed to frustrate players because they though they could connect to it. There was also bugs that allowed the player to move around blocks while the balls were
actually moving, and some players thought all the balls had to reach the goal to win, so while I was more focused on the presentation, it was the gameplay I should have analyzed more.

Celebration at Theo’s (C.a.T.) Postmortem

Full itch.io page here

Duration

48hrs for IGDA’s eJam Game Jam 2020

The Game

With the theme being “celebration,” our game has the player playing as a cat trying to gather supplies to have a cat party when their humans are away. The player has to sneak around the house with different household items marked as “party” items (e.g. “streamers” are actually blinds). If the player gets caught
with an item, they are sent back to their bed and the item is replaced. Depending on how many items the player got by the end of the day, different win states would happen.

What I Did

I worked on player movement, which included moving between different rooms and picking up the different objects. I also designed the layout of the house and what all the items were and where they were placed. I also lead the team in the art direction, implemented the static art (not animations), and kept us in scope. All the music and sounds were also made by me. I also made the interactive start screen, end screen, and worked on some of the UI.

What I Learned

First off, it’s SO NICE to have an actual artist doing the art, and the larger team of four was great. We all worked smoothly with no problems, and it was nice to not be stressed out on time or be overloaded by a whole bunch of tasks. With the help of an outside instructor volunteering their time for this jam, we learned how easy it was to collaborate on a project through Unity’s collab. I also learned how to manage merge conflicts through the Turtle merge handler, which made things a lot easier when dealing with conflicts. GitHub was really slowing the team down with having to recreate whole scenes, so we switched to Unity collab and our production speed almost doubled.

It was nice to be able to focus on more of the design of the game, and I think taking the extra time in the beginning to fully flesh out what we wanted helped the team set specific tasks that they needed. I learned how to make objects a child of the parent, so I could easily pick up an object and have it follow the character around. I also learned about Unity’s nice feature of being able to have a scene overlayed onto another. This was helpful in determining where the items would be placed while also having another programmer work on them. What I also started to work on while programming is making my code readable and be able to be easily changed. What I mean is, while I was implementing the movement, I also knew another programmer was working on the powerups for the cat, so I left some variables and methods public so the programmer had an easy time implementing the powerups to affect the movement. This made the programming process relatively simple and I like to think it helped speed things along.

WetJet Postmortem

Full itch.io page here

(Note: WebGL games don’t format well in WordPress, reload the page to play again)

Duration

48Hr Game Jam for Athens Game Jam 2020

The Game

In WetJet, your goal is to see how far you can get without crashing your jetpack. You do this by tilting left and right with the Q and P keys, and boosting with B. Your boosting power runs out after a while, so you have to stop above a sewer geyser to refuel. You lose a life when hitting the ground, a seagull, or a bench. Once you lose all three lives, the game is over.

What I Did

I worked mainly on the player’s controls and movement. I also made a simple UI that kept track of lives and the amount of boost left. I also designed all the menus and buttons that included the art for it. I also did all the music and sounds in the game. The other programmer that I worked with did the continuous screen, obstacles, and all the art for that.

What I Learned

Being my first game jam where I was actually helping with the programming (all others I’ve done I mostly worked on the music and sounds), I was a little nervous going into it. Luckily the programming friend that I worked with was really cool and helpful. With his experience we were able to get a cohesive
game together. I learned how to manage scope during the jam, and I think we got everything done that we wanted to do within the limited. There comes a point where we must accept that not all the cool ideas we had for the game will be implemented. It think focusing just on the making the one mechanic
of flying fun helped streamline our goals. When first came up with the game, I was kind of thinking of making the controls ridiculous like the game QWOP, but reading reviews it became clear that it’s best to keep the controls to what people are used to.

There were a lot of “firsts” that I experienced in the game jam besides being the first time to program a game. I’m not used to adding different packages into my games that I didn’t create for myself, so I had to get used to what my teammate added, as well as some of Unity’s new input features. My teammate
also suggested to use Unity’s built-in rigidbody system rather than planning out all the movement through code. Being a little hesitant about it, I went ahead and implemented it and learned how to work with it to get it to do what I’d like. Figuring out the turning of the player was probably the most difficult part because I wanted the angle of where the jetpack was pushing off from to match the body angle, not just firing straight up and down. This lead to me learning about turning Quaternion angles to Euler angles that had to be applied in world space and back to Quaternion to be applied to the player’s transform.

We also had a lot of trouble with source control collisions between Unity and GitHub, even though there weren’t suppose to be any. I had to make completely new scenes to try avoid the collision. Dealing with this problem took up a lot of the time, which isn’t good when the jam is only 48hrs. I’ll talk about more of the problems we faced and our solution in the next jam postmortem Celebration at Theo’s.

World Design of Journey to the Savage Planet

Journey to the Savage Planet (JSP) is a 3D first person platformer, where the player is set on a strange, undiscovered planet. The goal of your character is to confront the lifeforms that have inhabited this planet, and find enough fuel to leave.

Strange New World

A lot of the joy from this game comes from strange environments and creatures that the player experiences. With the setting of being stuck on a planet, the ideas and opportunities to a developer can be nearly endless, but to develop a meaningful world what it contains must make sense. In JSP, there are different forms of terrain that you progress through in this order: arctic tundra, sparse forest (with crystal caverns), desert plains, swampy lowlands, stony cliffs, and a gastronomic temple. There are of course various little areas that are between these themes, which helps blend the world into something more realistic. There isn’t a point in the game where the scenery doesn’t make sense from its other surroundings. For example, if you were walking down the city streets, you would be expecting for a jungle to be right in the middle of the road. JSP has succeeded in creating something unifying to make a strange world believable.

Flora and Fauna

In what ways do the developers create a homogeneous world? Lets first take a look at the different kinds of plants and foliage that the areas have. Within the arctic tundra, the only kind of plant that exists are the ones that drop seeds to help you replenish health. Having just this one plant at the very beginning of the game allows the player to focus on the plant’s properties. With it being the only one in a remotely empty room, the player can recognize what it is, what it does, and what to look for when they ever are low on health. The plant is also a bright yellow/orange that can catch the eyes of the player, and the large pill-looking seeds tells the player if the plant can provide health or not. This plant is seen throughout all of the game, since it is one of the most important plants out there.

There are also other plants that have importance as well when it comes to special powerups. The plants that do special things for the player are also split in multiple kinds of categories: world shaping and elemental. By “world shaping,” I don’t mean that the player is terraforming, or shaping the actual world. I mean that these items add new properties to the world. There is one plant that is a kind of bouncy substance so players can reach new heights. There is also a purple fecal looking substance that causes creatures to stick to it. Then there are the grapple plants that sprout along cliff faces to grapple to. These three plants are all found in a kind of cocoon/pea pod kind of plant that hangs quietly in the shadows. These plants also appear through the world, and are typically placed near where the player has to use them. The unfortunate design of these plants is that they all look the same, so the player isn’t sure what it contains until they break it open.

The more important, elemental powerups are very distinct from each other. The three different kinds are: bomb plants, acid plants, and electricity plants. These plants are special in that they also have “offspring,” which are the different stages in its growth (the game calls it child, teenager, and adult). These younger versions of the plants allow it to look like there’s a large area of them around, when really its only the adult type of the plants that you can harvest from. Being able to have a patch of the plants give them greater importance in the game because they take up more of the space on the ground, which can make them easier to find. It also presents a kind of life cycle to the player. By showing the different stages of life of an organism, the player gets a sense of progression as it understands the forms that the plants can take. In videogames, it can be difficult to show that the game world is its own living ecosystem. The player is only experiencing that world at a certain moment in time, so designers much plan out the history behind the world they are trying to create.

Mertroidvania

The designers use the special elemental plants as an introduction to what’s to come. A game that resembles this kind of powerup structure is the game Hollow Knight. In both of these games, the player is presented with a wide variety of paths from the start, but some of these paths are unreachable. The suggestion of these opportunities is what excites the player to start searching the game world in hopes to be able to achieve new goals. The term “goals” is very important here. Without goals for the player, what is going to want them to keep playing the game? Goals can be in various forms, from winning an online match, to being able to reach the end of the level. For Metroidvania games like this, (both Metroid and Castlevania introduced the style of multiple branching paths that are meant to be back-tracked after gaining new powerups, giving it its name), the goals of the player are how to reach the new location. Progress is then determined by the player’s ability to reach new destination by using the powerups they unlocked along the way. By having these powerups appear throughout the world, even in the earlier levels, brings a sense of cohesiveness to the game, and is exciting when the player realizes that they remember seeing these plants back in the beginning. While the world design succeeds in creating a continuous world, it also prevails in memorable areas.

There are four big locations in the world, each split up by smaller areas. The smaller areas themselves can have a completely different theme to the next. For example, in the second location, the player starts at a location called “Itching Fields,” which is this kind of moldy dry grass covered plain. The farther the player progresses, however, the world turns into a kind of swamp area with large mushrooms to jump on. These areas each have different kinds of flora and fauna, as well as their own color scheme. What’s fascinating is how the game takes a kind of creature and adapts it to each area. One of the more prominent creatures in the game, which are these flightless chicken-like birds with big eyes, are iterated upon throughout the world. In the arctic tundra, the chickens are woolly and have tusks, while in the forests they are pink and colorful like the plants and don’t have many feathers. By having the different types of the same kind of creature, the designers create clear differences of each area while also having a continuous set of recognizable creatures.

Bosses

While there are all these strange and exciting creatures, the boss battles feel a little lack-luster. Some of the bosses, which are just this large dog-like creatures, appear multiple times and feel a little copy and paste. These creatures are also frustrating to battle at times because predicting what they are going to do next is completely randomized. While there’s really only two different kinds of attack states, continuously judging the wrong one can lead to some anger-inducing battles. Since the game is in a first person perspective, it’s difficult to judge if something is going to hit you or not, so trying to dodge out of the way from attacks can seem impossible at times. I think the designers had a little trouble trying to balance difficulty within the game. For the most part, the bosses weren’t difficult, but extremely repetitive, where only certain parts of their tail would hurt them, but if you were facing it the wrong way, you missed your chance of attack. Most of the bosses were just various forms of target practice, which could get dull after a while. I think why the designers chose this method of battling is understandable, however. The player is only allotted one weapon throughout the entire game, with only a couple of powerups to help make it shoot faster or fire a more powerful shot. That means having the player persistently fire at the bosses while watching their health slowly trickle can become tedious. The target practice makes sense in a way, because it forces the player to view their surroundings and move around while avoiding attacks.

Grapple

A just have to step aside from all the world building and design and talk about my favorite mechanic in the game: grappling. I’m a sucker for games that grapple. I’m not sure what the reason is, but the act of grappling feels like you’re bring the world closer to you, and could feel like a trampoline that’s propelled by your arm. In “Journey to the Savage Planet,” the grapple is one of the core mechanics in the game, and is one of the most satisfying actions to perform in my opinion. There’s a lot of aspects to the game’s grapple that I think helped it out. First, when you launch the grapple, the player reins it in like you just caught some cattle with a lasso. Second, when you reach the point of grappling, you stop on the wall. I think this decision is kind of unique to the game because in most games a player would simply start to fall once they reach the end of their tether. Since the game is focused on platforming, being given the a moment to get your bearings and look around is nice. A third aspect of the grapple is its trigger distance. What I mean by this is the grapple icon can be turned on from a far distance away, allowing you to travel that distance. Because the game is a big open world where the player can see far off in the distance, I find it nice that a player can see a far away target and reach that point without too much difficulty. To relate the mechanic back to world building, the grapple might be the most important tool because it allows the player to reach great heights in a matter of seconds.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Marketing The Outer Worlds

In this blog series, I’ll be breaking down Oblivion’s journey with the Outer Worlds, and the marketing strategies surrounding it. This will be a continuous blog, so information may develop over periods of time.

The Outer Worlds is a narratively driven, first person shooting game developed by the game studio Oblivion, published by Private Division publishing company. The game can be both a tangible product and a downloaded item, but the experience of the product is all digital, making it more of a service than a good. The product is available for many systems to play it: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and any computer. Because I’m going to be pursuing game development in the future, I wanted to focus on a product from a company that I’m interested in applying to. Obsidian is an interesting company because they’ve traded a lot of hands between large publishers. While they published The Outer Worlds with the publishing firm Private Division, they are now owned by Microsoft Game Studios and publish their future games under that new name. Here we’ll break down the 4P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.

Product

Being a narratively driven video game, players can get lost within its complex branching storyline, with each play through of the game being different than the last. Even if the game is roughly 20 hours for a whole playthrough, players can experience something different each time they restart, given them an endless amount of re-playability and content. With all the different choices the game offers, players can manipulate the game in how they want to play it. Want to have a strong team to explore new worlds with? Talk to your members and formulate a cohesive workplace. Want to blast through, guns blazing, all on your own? Reject team members and start shooting. Being a single player game allows the game to cater to each individual player, rather than being slightly generic for a wider audience.

Price

There is a lot of variation for the pricing of the game. Since the game is available on most platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Epic Games Store and Steam for computers. Because of these different platforms, this means that it is sold on all of the various digital storefronts that it appears on. Most of the time, games try to be the same price on every store, but stores can lower the prices to be competitive, and offer limited time sales. The game also has the opportunity to offer the game at full price when it reaches a new store, due to buyers being typically dedicated to a specific platform or store. An example of this is when it comes to Nintendo Switch June 5th. It will probably be at the full price of $60, instead of its currently discounted price of $36 (found on Amazon) on the platforms its been on for half a year. There are also “second-hand” retailers both digital and in person that sell games. Walmart has started selling newly released games for $10 less than other retailers to attract more people to buy games from them. This is a smart move for Walmart, because a lot of brand new games that are as big as The Outer Worlds start at the hefty price of $60 a piece, so cutting consumers a break and offering the game slightly cheaper at $50 gives the buyers a positive attitude when shopping at Walmart. The benefit of also getting games from retailers is that used games usually go for a lot cheaper and can depend on how much that user sells it for.

Here are all the current locations and prices where one can obtain a new hard copy of The Outer Worlds:

SellerPlatformPrice (in US $)
Amazon.comPlayStation 436.93
 Nintendo Switch59.99
 Xbox One36.93
 Microsoft Store (for computers)38.99
GamestopAll gaming systems59.99
 PC digital download38.99
Best BuyNintendo Switch59.99
 PS4 & Xbox One39.99
WalmartNintendo Switch59.99
 PS4 & Xbox One36.93
TargetNintendo Switch59.99
 PS4 & Xbox One39.99
Digital Playstation StorePS459.99
Digital Xbox StoreXbox One59.99
 Xbox Game Pass ($10 monthly fee)Free
Digital Nintendo StoreNintendo Switch59.99
Epic Game StoreComputers38.99
SteamComputersProbably 59.99, not released yet

Place

As seen previously, the game is sold at a variety of different places. It is important to note that most of these places are digital store fronts, and stores like Walmart and Gamestop also have their own digital storefront. It is important for this game to be on as many storefronts as possible, due to the nature of players and their dedication to a specific platform. Many people were outraged in learning that the game won’t be released on Steam until a year after it was released on the Epic Game Store. Even though both storefronts are located on the computer and both can easily be downloaded by similar means, there is a large group of people that refuse to have multiple storefronts downloaded on their computer, and want their library of games to all be in one place. The benefit of having a video game produced both as a disc at retailers and a digital copy is the versatility of how the product can be sold. By having hard copies, smaller, lesser-known stores can sell the game, and used sellers like eBay can list their prices as well. By having a tangible product allows it to share many hands than if it were to just be sold digitally. If it were to only be sold digitally, it couldn’t be used as a gift for someone to unwrap. This problem with tangibility for digital content is solved, however, when we look at download codes. While the disc may not be available, a card with the download code can be bought. This allows in-person store fronts to serve the same needs as digital retailers, so the people who still enjoy shopping at brick and mortar places for games can still have the same feeling for when they shop digitally.

Promotion

The announcement of this game was exciting and slightly unexpected for people. There was almost a cult following of people who enjoyed their previous story-driven game Fallout: New Vegas, which was released years ago. The developers also keyed in on the fact that they combined the two different styles of games into one, by getting the look of Bioshock (another cult classic) and New Vegas. Even though Microsoft was the ones publishing it, since they recently acquired Oblivion Entertainment, they made the new game front and center in their series of announcement trailers. One of the fastest growing events of the year, The Game Awards, featured the game, showing it off to the millions in the crowd and those watching online. The next year, the year the game released, the game itself was nominated for four game awards. Being in the public eye is very important for games, so being able to reach the large stages of these gaming events is a big promotional opportunity. By having a clean, funny trailer that gets audiences happy and excited, The Outer Worlds was able to integrate itself and become an instant hit.

Microsoft also has a lot of power in the gaming marketplace, with both computer and gaming system platforms and systems, and an immense amount of assets to purchase full game studios. Because of Microsoft’s control, they were able to make The Outer Worlds free on their streaming platform, Xbox Game Pass, day one. Game Pass ask consumers to spend only $10 a month, in exchange for consumers to play a wide variety of games. As a consumer, not having to buy multiple games and being able to play them for a cheap $10 is a great benefit. In terms of The Outer Worlds, Game Pass also let players “pre-download” the game. This means as soon as it was released, players could start playing it without having to wait for any downloads. Pre-orders are a big promotional tool for games because it both gets people excited for the game, and it also fills the need to have the game right away. For games that are a bit older, which the game is for the most part, many sellers offer competitive discounts that’s usually tied into other games that are on sale as well. These sales god be developer related, like all the games the developer made are on sale, or theme related, like any space games (which this game is) are on sale.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Maya Architecture in-Design

A Life in-Design blog series

In this blog series I take a quick look at people, places, actions, and things and break them down and compare them to games. Today I decided to shift my focus to the artwork featured in Maya architecture.

A glance at the past

The early Maya societies were prosperous, and built large plazas to host the work of both the noble and the common folk. The homes of the nobles, including their religious burial sites, were often made into these large, looming stepped pyramids that overlooked the plaza. Atop these pyramids were ritual chambers for the celebration of specific gods. Many of these pyramids were also home to observatories. Because of their obsession with the night sky, this lead the Maya to create on of the most sophisticated calendars ever created. The calendar comprises of three calendars, one tracking 365 days, another tracking important events, and another tracking thousands of years in both the past and the future. It’s unfortunate that during the Spanish inquisition all but four of the Maya literature was burned. The Maya’s way of tracking information was not our typical way of writing words, but they were actually in forms of pictograms. These pictograms represented different words, and can be combined in a series of blocked pictures. Even though the writing of the Maya was mostly burned, fortunately they kept their history sculpted upon their architecture.

Brick by brick

Due to the limestone-enriched soil in the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Maya were located, the Maya were able to use a combination of mud and plastered bricks to create these large structures. By starting small, they built on top of the same formations over and over again, which reflected the city’s growing population. It is on these structures that we can find unique design patterns and their hieroglyphics.

By looking at the different stone workings, we find common patterns that they used. The use of the spiral is found in many spots upon the stonework. The spiral could represent tails of different creatures. Serpents were an integral animal in both Maya architecture and religion, from the crawling serpent temple El Castillo, with its depiction of a crawling serpent during the spring and autumn equinoxes, and the feathered snake Maya god Kukulkan. Another feature of architecture is a kind of cross-hatched, checkered pattern. These individual blocks could have had more hieroglyphs on theme, but due to the softness of limestone, they could have weathered down. A prominent feature in much of the architecture is the use of stone faces or protrusions. Because the building’s history was document upon itself, and the Maya scripture was depicted in pictograms, it makes sense to have facial features appear on their architecture much like it does in their texts.

What makes their architecture so fascinating is how it appears to be just a combination of multiple patterns, expertly placed in sequence. It almost appears to be like a quilt of some sort, stitched together as an assortment of multiple designs. Going on the fact of the Maya building on top of previous buildings, they would also place carvings on top of one another. It curious to see that of the parts of building used for decorative design, there are no blank spaces, or breaks, within that design. Even though the design consists of multiple different patterns, it is formed to create one unique whole.

Recreating through modern mediums

The current game I’m working on, Vex, is a 2D, resource management, geometric survival game, where a player must defeat waves of different shapes. Trying to create a theme and art style for the game, I happened to think of Maya architecture and its intricacies. I decided to have the background become completely filled with a pattern representing the likeness of the Maya art, and all the different shapes depicted in the game be pieces of the background pattern. The patterns seemed to fit well to the art of the Maya, especially the spirals and the checkered patterns. This was due to the fact that the art I was recreating it on was through pixel art, which lead to a more block-y square pattern. While the pixel art is made up of a series of squares, I wanted the artwork to feel more fluid and natural, like if it was the written Maya hieroglyphs, so each pattern isn’t exactly the same size as the next.

Current progress of a background in Vex

Relating to games

As I’ve mentioned before, the kind of patterns in the Maya architecture could be considered a kind of quilt, almost fitting together like puzzle pieces. Since brick is laid by placing it on top of one another, the game of Tetris can resemble the act of creating the architecture, due to both having uniquely designed blocks. When a Tetris board is also filled with blocks, it appears as a kind of quilt as well. If we think about spirals and snakes as a big feature in Maya architecture, the game of Snake also comes to mind, with the player curling around to grab the items. There is some comparison to the snake growing in Snake, and the way the Maya would constantly build buildings on top of one another.

Interested in learning more about the Maya? Check out these links!

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Narrative Design in Oxenfree

After finishing the game last night, I decided to analyze the narrative behaviors in the 2016 game Oxenfree.

Oxenfree is a narratively driven horror game where you control the character Alex and try to stop dimensional ghosts from taking over your friends. Being narratively driven, Oxenfree has a total of 10 endings, allowing itself for multiple playthroughs. How the player chooses the dialog in this game I think is unique to other dialog games. In many dialog games, a kind of word block appears at the bottom and shows you a list of choices to take. In this game, however, there are different word bubbles that appear over the player’s head, and depending on which button is pressed (I played it on xbox), the story tree changes. How the narration is represented can be seen in the heading photo. Now I’m not going to break apart the story line and analyze the different changes, but rather take a different approach and look at how the decision making actually works.

Decisions, decisions

As far as I can tell, there are really only two different ways the choices work: there is a timed choice, where the bubbles fade out if you don’t answer, and a stable answer where the game waits for you to make a choice. Let’s look at each one a little more closely:

Timing is everything

The bulk of the game features timed dialog segments. In these segments, the player is either given an option to remark to something that is happening, or to reply in conversation to the other characters. Not every timed choice has the same amount of time, however. There are times where the bubbles fade out quickly, and other times that take a long time to answer. The bubbles that fade out quickly usually represents a quick, witty remark that affects how the characters think of you, so it turns the decision making almost into a quick-time event, but with multiple choices. These timed responses can add stress onto the player as they try to quickly handle a situation.

It’s also curious to see that even though there’s only three choices presented to the player, there’s also another choice: not speaking at all. There were times where I didn’t like any of the choices being given to me, so I just waited until the dialog boxes went away. The only problem with this choice is I didn’t know how the game would react to that decision. By choosing the different dialog boxes, we can infer how others are going to react to what we say, but by not talking at all, the game is left to itself to make the decisions for us.

Think Carefully Now

In the bubbles that wait for you, the player is given time to think about the choices that they are about to make. Most of the time, these choices are very important, like when choosing who to bring with you to check out the other side of the island. By waiting, the game places emphasis on these decisions, allowing the character to have time in choosing how they want to vastly change the game.

Interactions

Most of the time, the player is having a conversation with the other characters. In Oxenfree, the developers want the conversations to be as natural as possible, so the other characters behave to your responses a certain way. When waiting for you to talk, the characters usually say “Hello?” or “Did you hear me?” as if they’re expecting you to answer. If this is during a timed dialog, the characters will just say something like “Oh playing the quiet game are we?” or something snooty like that. If timed correctly, the player can answer back with “Yes, I heard you, yeah i think you’re right” or something like that, where the player responds to the character’s questioning remarks. There are sometimes where the player just interrupts the conversation, either the other characters were talking about how the player is being quiet, or they were going off in a tangent from the conversation. Sometimes it’s disappointing to interrupt what the character was going to say; perhaps they were giving something away about the story, other times it feels like the player wants to get the conversation over with. Another way a player interacts is by making a decision, but only answering it at a certain point in the conversation, instead of interrupting the characters. Because of the variations in this system, the player realizes which conversations are actually important to the story, and which are world building, characterization fluff.

Besides answering the characters, there are also objects in the world to interact with. Because of the unique way the dialog works, players can move around while also talking, giving a more natural feeling to the conversation. When a player selects certain objects, when that object becomes available to select either during or after conversation, the player starts a new conversation about it. Sometimes finding an object progresses the gameplay, but other times it’s just for world building. When the object is important, previous conversations are interrupted as the game focuses on the next task. Other times, however, the characters will go back to their conversation with the player. There was one point in time where I was talking to a character and I wanted to drop the conversation, so I just kept selecting the different items in the room. The game, however, found this conversation important, so it brought it up again immediately after.

Interacting by leaving the different areas, or walking too far away, also causes different interactions. In the case of entering a different area, whole conversations can be lost behind, because certain conversations only happen at certain places (we’ll talk about triggers in the next segment). This can be a detriment on the game, because the player just lost all the important choices that they could’ve made. When the game wants the player to listen in on a conversation, the characters will sometime beckon the player to come back, like saying “Hey, why don’t you stay and chat?” These kinds of interactions are ways the game is telling the player that exploration isn’t important, and there’s no point rushing from area to area.

What makes it tick?

So we just described the different kinds of systems that are involved with the conversation to make it flow naturally, but how does it actually work behind the scenes? Note: with programming, there are multiple kinds of ways to complete certain tasks, so what I say may not be exactly what’s programmed, but it could be a similar system. Now, within the program, there are the different Update methods, which are just called every frame (so like 30 frames per second or what have you). Then there are Coroutines, which follow their own set of actions. To make it easier to visualize, just think of Updates and Coroutines on separate timelines: the walking and scenery effects in the game are on the update side, while the actual conversations are on the Coroutines side. By being able to aptly control the timing of Coroutines, developers can figure out the right timing for each conversation.

Imagine the conversations as a web of Coroutines. By interconnecting the system with a series of true or false statements (called booleans, or bools in C#), the game can choose which Coroutine to call next when a player makes a decision. Using while loops, which are activate if certain terms are met, there the bubbles can fade out naturally, waiting until a player makes a choices. Within that while loop, there can be “if” statements where if a player presses this button, then this conversation is true and moves to the next Coroutine, or if a player doesn’t make a decision at all, move to something else. If a conversation is interrupted in the middle, it can check if there were any bools that were set off or not. I can picture a kind of game manager for the scene or conversation where it holds a set of bools and if there is a bool that is false, that set of Coroutines start. If you’re not sure what I mean, don’t worry, just imagine like if you were grocery shopping and you were following a list, but in the middle of shopping, a friends stops you to say hi. After that conversation, you go back to your list of items and proceed to shop.

When I talk about triggers in terms of programming, I’m talking about invisible boxes that the player can’t see. When a player enters or exits a box, an event happens, which could mean a conversation starts, or the characters beckon the player back to a certain area. Because the player can move around while also talking, triggers in this game are very important. It may seem like sometimes the characters start conversations with the player randomly, but a lot of the time it’s because a player walked into certain areas of the map. Triggers are also useful when a player gets close to an object and the selectable option and its description shows up. There can also be trigger boxes that are on the characters themselves. If the player is either following the character or the character is following the player, the game can determine how far away the player is by if they are in a character’s trigger box or not.

I could go farther in depth about all the programming and techniques used to make the game, but I’m going to keep it at that for now. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll try to recreate a level of another game, but we’ll see. You can check out Oxenfree here. What did you think of the game? What were you favorite bits of dialog? Let me know in the comments below! Have a great day, and thanks for reading!

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Design Reflection: Human Fall Flat

In this blog series I take a game I’ve completed and analyze design aspects randomly given to me from the Game Design: A Deck of Lenses app by Jesse Schell.

Human Fall Flat (HFF) is a physics based puzzle game with quirky ragdoll mechanics. The goal for your character is to reach the other side of the level by doing a bunch of tasks.

Today we’ll look at three lenses:

The Lens of the Avatar

The avatar is the player’s gateway into the world of the game.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

In this game, players play as a kind of ragdoll in the form of a soft, clumsy Pillsbury dough boy. The way the character moves is a kind of waddling as it tries to walk with its limbless appendages. Both of their arms and legs are kind of stubby and a tad difficult to control, but in this game, the movability of the character is the most important part of the game.

By having a game called “Human Fall Flat,” it’s expected that the player will fail a lot because of the clumsiness of the character they control. The “Fall Flat” part of the name derives from the phrase “falling flat on their face,” like when someone trips. Would this kind of playable character be something for players to enjoy? I think for the most part, yes, but there are times where the character gets in the way of themselves, but more on that later. In terms of the player projecting themselves onto the character, it can be a little mis-matched at times. The character starts off as a completely blank slate, with no features at all. The player may enjoy this featureless persona, but the game is hinting at the fact that the player can customize their character. The whole act of customizing allows players to put little pieces of themselves in the game by having a character look how they want it to. The whole act of customizing a character can be a delicate balance. On one hand, there may be games that let the player customize their character in too fine of a detail. This seems to be the case in many RPG’s. There are other times where there are not enough customizable pieces to a character, like the developer didn’t create as many costumes to try on, or those costumes are locked behind a paywall. If a player doesn’t feel that any of their customizing choices fit with their own self, a player can feel a little disjointed from the game. At that point, a connection is lost between player and character. There’s a noticeable difference between a player saying “Oh no I fell off the cliff!” and “Oh no my character fell off a cliff!” Just by how the player describes the character they’re controlling show us how truly they connected are to the game.

Back to my reference on movement. There are a lot of situations in this game where the player has to do some fine motor movement to get through a level. This could include platform jumping, climbing up ledges, and steering cranes. The “fun” found in this game is from the character’s inability to be able to perform these movements well. Besides the player lacking limbs and having bouncy, gooey physics, the clumsiness also is in the controls. Both the direction of the arms and where the player moves to are controlled by the same control stick (I was playing on an xbox, it could be different on the computer). Now having to overcome this strange function of the mechanics can be fun, but there are times where things can become frustrating. This kind of game comes down to the perspective of the player. If a player is happy and doesn’t care to really reach the end, then the game can be fun and goofy as they fail multiple times. If the player is trying really hard to get to the end, however, I can see the player becoming frustrated as they try to not walk off of a crane while also trying to steer it.

The Lens of Resonance

To use the Lens of Resonance, you must look for hidden power.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

What is it about HFF that makes the game special? I think the game really likes to advertise how players enter the level when they fail. When players enter, they fall through the air and belly flop onto the ground. By having the players constantly do this, the game is promoting silliness in its movements. The game is telling the player that things are going to be ridiculous and blown out of proportion, just by showing the player splatting on the ground.

The act of having the player fall into a scene tells a lot about what is going to happen. The game tries to tell the player that it’s fun to fail. If a player would have just entered the scene without any kind of dramatic entrance, then the players would lose the fun in it. By telling the player that it’s fun to fail, the game can get away with the player accidentally dying multiple times without being too frustrated. Having failing be funny can relax the player because they don’t have to worry so much about surviving. There are also times when players play with others and they try to get others to fail, rather than actually focus on the level. This turns into more of a meta game where players are climbing over each other and landing on top of one another. It’s interesting to see just how effective it can be to make failing a silly focal point of a game.

The Lens of Beauty

Beauty is mysterious. Why, for example, do the most beautiful things have a touch of sadness about them?

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

In this cell-shaded, polygonal world, what makes this game beautiful? Due to the layout of each level being a series of challenges, there are sometimes when you reach a high point you can see all the things that have to happen. It’s moments like these where the player is filled with excitement as the question the purpose of all the things that lay before them. Most levels have a theme to them, like a steam factory, medieval castles, and an ice level. The game plays on a lot of these kinds of themes, by having the challenges be integrated within them. For example, in the ice level ice cubes are used as platform devices, but they slowly melt if placed in the sun. The trick is in finding the shadows and trying to get the cube there before it evaporates. This causes the player to look at the level a slightly different way because instead of looking up around them, they are looking down at the ground for shade. Being cell shaded, however, has the objects lacking detail, and can make a lot of the levels seem kind of bland.

If the game portrays fun through its player movement and failing animations, it doesn’t try to portray it in anything else. Because of its lack of details, there are just areas with muted colors and nothing much to look at. For a game that’s about grabbing things and ragdolling about, the game tries to keep a seriousness to how it presents itself. The contrast between the silly movements of the player and how the levels portray itself could be funny if seen in more of a dry humor sort of way. There’s no part of the level that tells the player to be goofy. The only real goofy things are the players themselves as they waddle throughout. Perhaps it’s social commentary where even though the world can be daunting and serious, humans still have a chance to be silly. Part of me wishes there was some acknowledgement that the game knows it’s silly, perhaps the narrator at the beginning could speak some funny quips, or the scene could have an obnoxious color palette.

The music in this game is also something to talk about. Before going into the game, I thought the music would be lighthearted, like some quiet jazz squeaking in the background. Upon opening up the scene, however, I’m greeted with this giant swell of emotional strings and piano. On one side the music is nice, and tries to be elegant and professional, but on the other side it just doesn’t really fit what’s happening. If the game is trying to be completely serious with its theme, level, and music, then the developers nailed it, but is it what the game needs? Some would say the juxtaposition is funny when compared to the goofiness of the characters, but personally it dampens my mood to have fun. The problem with the music as well is that it goes away, so there are moments where you’re just walking around and you can only hear the thumps and bumps as you run into things. Perhaps the developers wanted to accent on these sounds to help accentuate how clumsy the player is, but the lack of audio and connection between the seriousness and the silly just adds to the blandness of the game.

I think the game is a lot of fun, especially when playing with friends who are also wanting to be goofy. I wish the game focused more on being silly rather than having a serious side to itself. Of course it’s always the players that bring the fun into the game, but it’s nice to have a game that encourages the fun that the player can have. While the falling feature is funny, it’s the only feature that is.

Thanks for reading! You can find the “Deck of Lenses” by searching for it on the app store. You can find Schell’s full book “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses” here. Try Human Fall Flat here! What did you think of the game? What were your favorite and least favorite parts? Let me know in the comments below. Have a great day!

Psst! If you liked this blog and you want more, please consider contributing to my Ko-Fi. It helps me make new and exciting media like this blog and you get a game in return! Check it out here

Time Management in-Design

A Life in-Design blog series

In this blog series, I talk about different actions, events, things, or ideas every day and analyze them a bit and possibly relate a game to it. This is more of an exercise in exploring deeper into emotions and experiences.

The Clock is Ticking…..

As ironic as it is to write this post at 8pm tonight, I usually deal with time management well. Many people could say they don’t manage time well, or they don’t have enough time to do something. I’m going to take a quick look at that mentality and the different solutions facing this conundrum.

The Perception of Time

I think our mentality of being able to use time wisely correlates to our own perception of time. If I’m trying to work on something that has a deadline, I have one eye on the clock and one on what I’m doing. On the other hand, if I’m more “loose” with when my tasks need to be done, I’m not as focused on the time. Time always seems to go by quicker when I’m working on something or having fun. The bottom line is when I’m not focused on the time, it goes by a lot quicker.

I think there’s different levels of focus that you could have on the clock. There’s the casual glance, like to make sure your stomach is in sync of when it’s time for lunch; the rapid glance, like when you’re looking back and forth at the road and your clock because you’re late for work; and the surprised glance, like when you look outside and then at the clock when you realize the day just flew by. Notice in every scenario we are looking perceptively at time. Time itself is something we merely created to make sense of the circular motion of the stars and planets. If we were to just be still, close our eyes, and just sit there, we won’t really know how long we’ve been in that state. It’s like when you’re really tired so you drift off, then jolt back awake thinking you’ve been asleep for a while, only for it to be a minute or so.

Think inability to “feel” time is the constant problem we’re trying to overcome. We could get lost in watching TV, playing games, or scrolling through social media. There may be an inexplicable reason why televisions don’t have a constant clock at the top (could be a setting, I wouldn’t know). These kinds of devices require your time and attention and know that you’ll probably get lost for hours in it.

“No!” you say “I’m not distracted at all. I’m a well-oiled machine of tasks and actions.” Okay, that may be true, I’m not going to judge you. Have you ever thought about how long things take you, however? Just thought, “I’ll make lunch, which is 30 minutes, then go to the store, which will be an hour,” and you’ve completed all the tasks in the exact time you thought of? Obviously, since time is mainly within our own imagination, not all tasks can fit within the time frame that you’ve allotted for it. The real problem comes when we look back at the clock and realize how long we’ve spent doing something. If it’s something you enjoyed, you’ll react in a more positive surprise like “Oh the time just flew by!” If you look at the time however and knew that you should’ve been doing something else, you’re filled with regret, like “Oh, shoot, I need to go do the laundry.” These feelings of regret are what motivate us to take control of time and search for ways to make ourselves more efficient.

Father Time

I’m going to go out on a limb and just say it: Nothing can motivate you other than yourself. Sure, you can buy all the planners, clocks, egg timers that you want, only you can force yourself to use them. In the purpose of using these tools, they are there to keep stimulating yourself with positive emotions as you’re checking things off of your list. They could also be friendly reminders so you’re not late for an important meeting. These time tracking tools CAN be helpful, but they could also work in a negative way. If you’re spending so much time writing down all the things you are going to do on your planner, then you are just wasting time writing things down on your planner. Having a planner could also cause the problem to over plan. Remember how we felt when we were late in completing our tasks? Imagine that feeling multiplied as you realize your tight-knit schedule went uncompleted as a task too way longer than you expected. Every day is a kind of balancing between the tasks we have to complete and how we want to feel at the end of the day when no more tasks can be done.

You got time for a game?

Time stresses people out. It stresses me out. Our inability to mentally sync up with the clock is detrimental to how we want to organize our life. As humans, we are more conscious about time than we think we are, and there are many games that reflect on our desire to control time.

Imagine any kind of race: marathon, triathlon, NASCAR, you name it. The biggest judge on who wins in any of these games is time. In each of these games we are trying to win at time. Yes, we could be racing against others, but we’re merely trying to get a better score, which is denoted by the numbers on a stopwatch. Isn’t it strange how we try to manipulate the very thing we created for ourselves? Perhaps I’ll dive deeper into more invented measurements in the future, but for now it seems I’ve run out of time.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing a couple dollars to my ko-fi. Have a great day!