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.

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!

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

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!

Snacking in-Design

A Life in-Design Blog series

In this blog series, I talk about things that I’ve done or have been thinking about, and analyze them in terms of design while relating them to games.

Crispy, Crunchy, Salty, Sweet

If you’re like me, you love your snacks. I usually like to have a salty snack when I’m relaxing, with a sweet snack nearby to balance it out. As I write this, I’m munching on a freshly popped bowl of popcorn, with a bag of M&M’s sitting on the table a foot away. Why do we snack? I believe it’s a combination of different senses: first we have the obvious taste to it, then the texture in both our hands and mouth, and then the sound as we bite down. I’ll go over each sensation in more detail, then try to see if I can compare then all to a game or two.

The Taste you can taste

I’m probably different than most people in such that I like my food to be bland. Well, maybe BLAND isn’t the right word for it. It’s more of a one-note. I don’t each many things with complex flavors, it tastes like one thing and that’s good enough. Take for example my favorite snack (and food): popcorn. Popcorn has little to no natural flavor to it, it is merely a vehicle to carry butter and salt.

If we think about the one ingredient, salt, it is in a lot of snack foods. Just think of all the chips, pretzels, popcorn, and nuts that line the snack food aisle. The parts of our tongue that favor salt take up most of the area on both sides. There’s a reason why salt is a very popular ingredient in snack foods. The ingredient itself is very easy to prescribe: I just take the salt shaker and tip it over some food I need to flavor. The same can be said for sugar, but powdered sugar is less commonly used, and not many foods need sugar as much as they need salt.

The Sound you can hear

Whatever movement takes place, there’s sound that happens. Most of the time, we don’t think about the sound we’re making when we’re eating, unless you happen to have Misophenia towards mouth noises. Crunch is a widely popular sound among snack foods, because a lot of the snacks we eat must be ground down to chew and swallow. If you think of it in a way, our mouth is like a mortar and pestle; the top part of our mouth is like the pestle, that pushes the food into the bottom part of our mouth, like a mortar. The ways we hear the sound is determined by how we shape our mouth. Think of the mouth as a kind of cavern, however the inside is shaped determines the reflections of sounds that echo inside. Companies use the sounds from snack foods to their advantage in marketing. If you’re interested in finding our more, check out this cool article: https://www.good.is/articles/watch-your-mouth-the-sounds-of-snacking

The texture you feel

Here it is. This is the most important sense, I believe, in terms of snacking. There are multiple times we “feel” the food: when we hold the container, when we bring it up and out of its container, when we place it in our mouth, and the little parts we feel when we chew. I think we are drawn to certain snacks is mainly by “mouth feel.” What I mean is that certain foods, like say a banana, feels a lot different in my mouth than a chip would. This goes back to why crispy and crunchy snack foods mainly dominate. When a crunchy food is chewed, it is broken down into smaller hard bits of itself, kind of like when glass breaks into smaller pieces. When a soft food is chewed, it kind of forms into a soft string. When we smash a chip apart, it almost has the same consistency of sand.

Many people find sand relaxing, like walking on the beach barefooted. This is mainly because it is many little hard rocks that push against our skin, massaging the many little tendons in our feet (I’m not scientist, but this seems like a viable reason). Since crispy food turns into a kind of sand when chewed up, it can have positive feelings within our mouth.

Snack foods and games

So one of the popular games people have played with small snacks include who can catch it into their mouth. The game is fun because it takes skill and coordination between both your hand and your head. The challenge is trying to figure out the actual trajectory the piece of food will take as it leaves your hand and flies into the air. Since every piece of food weighs slightly different, there’s no way in correctly determining where to place you head exactly so the food falls into your mouth. While this is a solo game, it is enjoyed by others around because one: it is impressive if someone can catch the food, especially if it is thrown from a great height; and two: it’s funny to see people jerk their heads widely, only to miss.

While playing with food can be fun, there can be games that resemble food. The most notable one that I can think of is jacks. It’s a simple kid’s game when you bounce a ball off the ground and while it’s still in the air, pick up as many jacks as you can while also catching the ball as it comes down. The reason I relate this game to food mainly has to do with the shape of the objects. The jacks almost resemble popcorn, as there’s a center part with limbs that stretch randomly in all directions. The act of picking up the jacks is reminiscent of scooping popcorn out of a bowl. It’s a little bit of a stretch to compare the two, but I hope you understand what I mean.

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!

Mixing in-Design

A Life in-Design daily blog

So this is the first time that I’ll try to keep a daily blog of comparing my usual life (or things that happened in the past) in a more design perspective. This means I’ll be analyzing the different structures that surround certain events and relating the experiences to different kinds of games.

The Elements of Mixing

Now I don’t mean mixing as in stirring things up (I’m no chef, so I would never talk about those kind of things), but I’m actually talking about mixing in terms of audio. For the past couple of days, I’ve been editing a lot of audio in preparation for this weekend’s digital memorial day concert. My first shot at mixing them were quite terrible; panning was all off, levels were out of balance, and the audio wasn’t lined up. Wanting to start over, I erased all the plugins (reverb, EQ, etc.) that I had for each track, reset the levels and panning for each track, and started fresh.

Game 1: Lining things up

When I “line things up” in the mix, I try to get the instruments to play at the same time, which is done by taking a wavelength and “nudging” it until its beginning matches up with another. Here’s the challenge, however, sure you can visually line up the wavelengths to match, but when you play it back, one instrument may not have full resonance right at the beginning, so it sounds like they come in late.

Okay, so let’s relate this action of lining up instruments to a kind of game. Imagine if you had a puzzle, but the pieces were cut diagonally, so they had to be slid in sideways instead of merely straight up and down. Lining up sounds feels almost like that. Even if you only complete one corner of the puzzle, it feels satisfying to have part of the picture complete. It’s also interesting to note the contrast of the jagged edges of the puzzle when the pieces are loose, and the smoothness of the puzzle surface once the puzzle is complete. The same kind of feeling comes from wiping a clean line on a dirty window (not that I would know such feelings). So yeah, when the audio all lines up, it feels like I’ve solved a kind of puzzle of sorts, and it’s satisfying to go from different notes jumping out at me at random times, to one unison note from everyone playing together.

Game 2: Panning

Panning in terms of audio, means moving the sounds being heard from one side of the stereo space (or you could go surround sound, but I don’t bother with it), to the other side, or balancing left or right. When I record instruments, I typically record in mono, which allows me to choose which side (left or right) that I want it to go. Sometimes I want an instrument to be fully on one side so only the left ear hears it, and sometimes I want it to go through both ears. So you can see in this kind of scenario, it’s a little balancing act.

In this game, imagine you have different widths of cooked spaghetti (it’s what I’m having for dinner tonight, gotta have spaghetti Monday), and you want to try to balance them on a balancing scale because you’re only allowed a half a pound to eat. The problem with this spaghetti is that it’s so long, it hangs off the sides, so even by having one end of the noodle hang off the edge affects the weight on the balance scale. So most of the time you’re spending shifting the noodles back and forth to really see if you have the correct amount. This kind of game relates a lot to panning, where I must shift the different instruments to either the left or right to help balance out the space, and make it sound like a live ensemble. Is the bass too heavy on this side? Are the mid range instruments clashing by both being on the same side? Once everything is balanced, the audio feels solid, meaning that nothing is pulling my ear from one side or another. This is also the same kind of feeling as trying to figure out how tight to pull the straps on your backpack; if one side is too tight, you can loose balance.

Game 3: Levels

Yeah there’s panning, but what about the actual levels? Should the levels of the instruments change throughout the piece, or should they be constant? This kind of depends on the piece and how the instruments and players were recorded at the time. Sometimes a player can get a little too excited and blast a section when they should really be in the background, and sometimes the sound engineer puts the microphone to close to the instrument (not that I would EVER do that). Through these different scenarios, while the panning may stay the same, the levels may change from song to song.

Okay, so you have this giant cooler of lemonade (could be pink), and you’re trying to get it to the pitcher sitting outside in preparation for a party. Your friends offer to help, but all they have are irregular sized cups, and the cooler is too heavy to carry over to the pitcher (this scenario doesn’t make sense, but just roll with it). Your goal is to figure out how much to fill each cup so that it one; doesn’t overflow, and two; fills the pitcher perfectly. So relating this to determining audio levels, imagine the cooler is all the audio you’ve collected from a previous recording, the cups are the instruments, the lemonade is the sound, and the pitcher is the main sound levels (or the capacity at which your computer can process the sound). How much should we give each instrument to fill up the pitcher of sound? What instrument is more important, i.e., which cups are taller? What if you fill up the cup, but some ice falls in it, meaning that it could overflow once it melts, just like an instrument could get louder later into the song? This kind of puzzle is tricky, but once completed, you’re left with a cool, refreshing pitcher of lemonade, or a clean wall of sound. The act of moving the faders (it’s what control the levels) up and down almost look like the different levels of cups, with the knob being where the top of the liquid is.

Analysis in real-time

Of course I’m not writing this while actually mixing audio, but here are just some thoughts I had whilst mixing. The more you work on a piece of audio, the more numb your mind gets to what you’re actually hearing. What I mean is that after listening to the same kind of mistake multiple times through playback, you may actually think it’s fine. Mixing is a lot like designing games; even though we are the ones making the piece of entertainment, we must take ourselves out of the equation of experience. What will people actually hear when they hear it for the first time? How many times will they actually want to listen to it? Why? How people experience media is what we’re striving to learn, but since people experience things in different ways, we must continually look for opportunities to broaden our mind to understand the many faces of society.

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!