Tag Archives: games

Four Small Unfinished Unity Projects

Over the last year I’ve been working on some small projects, each of which has been put into stasis or more than likely abandoned. Here’s a little glimpse at four of those projects.

A Cube Moving Puzzle Game

What I was really interested in learning whilst working on this project was how I could manipulate the mesh of a cube to make it animate. Like a lot of the game systems I design, it started moving towards a puzzle game.

The aim of the game was to remove the coloured cells on the larger cube by stamping on them with the smaller cube, which you control. I did spend some time adding symbols to help distinguish the colours as well as making the colours stamp a trail.

The idea was ok, and I was relatively pleased with the animation and style I managed to generate, however, I did not feel that this one was worth my time to get it into a playable state. The effort required to make the puzzles, I believed, would not be worth the finished outcome.

Drawing Shapes

For this project I was interested in how a system could recognise shapes drawn by the player on a touch screen.

The method used was to create a series of points as the player draws, making sure that they’re evenly spaced no matter how fast the player moves their finger on the screen. The centre was found, and any distinct changes in directions noted. This info was put through a series of tests to determine the most likely shape.

To make a sort of game from it, the player can only draw in the white section, with the navy blue timer restricting the drawing space. Completing the required shapes bought the player more time to keep drawing.

The game functioned but really wasn’t much more interesting that an experiment, so the final polish and push was abandoned for other projects.

Jump Snap

This game started as an idea to create a multi-player shared tablet game inspired by snap. I wanted to create something that couldn’t obviously be recreated in a physical form, or at least took advantage of the animation possible in digital games.

I started with shapes bouncing and rotating. At the moment of bounce they form a 2d shape allowing the 3d shape that they are part of to be switched to another one. In terms of animation I focused on the squash and stretch of the objects, as well as creating an offset between the two shapes bounce times.

Players did seem to struggle slightly with having to match the volumes of the 3d shapes rather than matching the sides (2d shapes). Something I’d have to find a way to make clearer in the instructions/tutorial for the game.

I did also consider the idea of creating a custom controller where players would stand on their own pad and have to jump in the air when the shapes matched.

This idea might be picked up again, if I can afford the time to make the custom controllers.

Tri-To-Hex-It

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A game about sliding triangles around to make hexagons that match colour, which then flip to create more hexagons. Grey and white triangles make red triangles; red triangles make orange triangles; orange make yellow; green, blue then purple.

Out of all the games, this is the one I have been working on the longest, on and off for about 2 years. It is also the closest to being finished. It only requires two things.

  1. A final end game animation.
  2. Some music and sounds.

I stopped working on it the first time, when I thought I’d have to add a scoring scheme for the game to work. I then realised about a year later, that if I didn’t want a score system it didn’t need one (players can see how well they have progressed by the colours of the triangles they have revealed). I started up again, and worked a lot on the animation, adding depth to the triangles, which were previously flat 2d objects which faded rather than rotate.

Then I stopped again a while ago because I can’t do sound myself.

Once I find someone to do sound for this, I’ll put the finishing touches to it and release it. I just need to be a bit more pro-active finding a sound person.

Conslusions

Although I’ve not finished any of these projects, I have learnt a lot from doing them. My skills in Unity have come on a long way over the last year and every new project provides me with new insights and methods that I can use for the next.

For me in my current situation, I get more from making many unfinished projects than I would from finishing one project. I guess I’m just waiting for the project that I think is really worth it, and the time to really dedicate to it.

Maybe the next one will be the one.

P.S. This post has not included all the half finished board games I have lying around my desk, but maybe that’s another post for another day.

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Gamification is an Ugly Word

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I was recently asked to create a workshop for a conference that would introduce a small group (around 25) to concepts of play for work. Over the last few years I have come to dislike words like gamification, edutainment, or serious games, and what they stand for, but had not really spent much time thinking about why.

There is this idea that if only we could make things which we are not motivated to do more fun, then we would want to do them more. Also games are fun, people often like playing games. So therefore we should make: work, training, learning, education, study, eating well, and exercise more like games, then they will be fun too, and we will enjoy doing them. At least that’s what the plan usually is.

The issue is not only that the execution of this concept is poorly done, but there are often more fundamental issues with it in the first place. Not every task is suited for being made a game of. However, amongst all the mess, there are some good examples of games being used in serious ways, which I will try to highlight later on.

So, I had to prepare a workshop, but I didn’t want it all to be negative, I wanted there to be some positive outcomes for the people who attended. It was also important for me that they went away with more than a simplified idea of how games and work can be mixed.

I observed that there are four broad approaches to mixing work and play, each with their benefits and issues in different amounts. I will go through them one at a time, giving the example of the activity I had the attendees of the workshop complete.

1. Rewards, Badges, Points and Medals.

This is the easiest way to gamify any activity. When tasks are completed, the player is awarded a small reward. The more tasks completed the more rewards are gained. Players can compete with each other to see has the most rewards, encouraging engagement with the game.

It is possible to add timing, reminders, and a little bit of randomness to increase the engagement of the players, see Skinner Box and Operand Conditioning if you are interested in learning more and research out from there, also look at the free-to-play mobile gaming market.

The activity: When the participants entered the room, an equal mixture of black and blue chairs were set out, there were more seats than participants. The group was split into two teams. Each team was tasked with gathering and stacking all the chairs of their teams colour to the side of the room, maximum stack size of five chairs.

Stickers were rewarded for certain tasks completed.

  • First chair moved.
  • Third chair moved.
  • Placed the last chair on the stack.
  • Placed the last chair on the stack three times.
  • On the team that stacked all their chairs the quickest.

Thoughts: The participants did not really enjoy staking chairs, and could see they were being manipulated.

In situations where the person wants to achieve something, is capable of achieving it, but perhaps is not intrinsically motivated to do something, rewards can potentially help. Also, if the activity is optional and engaging, this additional motivation can help. The issue is being forced into a system of rewards and being manipulated, or being told something is now fun because of stickers. Another issue is that people can become reliant on extrinsic rewards. Removing these reward risks removing the desire to complete the original task, even in cases where the person originally enjoyed the task itself.

2. Incidental Outputs of Game are Work

This is a little harder to describe, but the idea is as follows. Sometimes when playing a game, things which are not a major aspect or goal of the game also occur. If the game can be created in such a way that these outcomes are useful, then they could potentially be harnessed for work. For example, although Civilization (Sid Meier) does not explicitly test your knowledge of history, players often get a better grasp of historic events and time periods. Pokémon GO, asks you to collect Pokémon, but to do so successfully requires you to walk around (there are also motivations of play more similar to 1. within Pokémon GO). A really good example of this is how playing games can reduce pain felt (google: reduce pain with games). These games are not designed as training tools for not feeling pain but simply playing games in itself is distracting/engaging enough for it to work.

The activity: I had the participants play Connect-4 with the chairs, placing them in turn into the room. Although the group is focussing on trying to win the game, the nature of the activity means that the chairs were placed in such a way that they could be used as seating again, i.e. returning them to a state similar to when they entered the room.

Thoughts: The participants enjoyed this activity a lot more, however, they noted that it was not an efficient way of completing the task. In general it would have perhaps been a better use of their time to just get the job done, and then move on to something else. The other issue is, an example with placing chairs was relatively easy to determine a game for, but coming up with a truly engaging game with incidental outputs for many jobs, tasks or training would be quite a difficult feat of design.

3. Layered Gaming

In 2. the issue was designing a game that had in game incidental outputs that equated to the none engaging work that was original required. The idea of layered gaming is to further separate the game and the work. Have a game which can be played in parallel to work, an alternative reality that is happening in the same space and time. Depending on the type of work which is required the game must be selected so that it does not interfere with it directly. So whilst doing physically intensive work a thoughtful word or memory game could be played, or vice-versa.

The activity: Whilst stacking the chairs away for the second time, each player was given two scrabble tiles. The players had to form groups which would create the longest work. All players in the group with the longest words would be declared the winners.

Thoughts: In this instance this lead to quite a bit of distraction and not a whole lot of stacking chairs. With more consideration between the choice of game and the work/training activity I think there could be potential in the idea. The difficulty is making the game not interfere negatively with the original task.

4. Just Play

One option, and probably the simplest, is just to make time to play and games. I find it a good way for people to get to know each other. Games allow interaction through systems, and give space for people to both talk about something specific (the game) and about other things in between. There is also opportunity to not say anything and just engage with the game, meaning long awkward silences are far less likely. Finally, games create stories and moments that people can relate to later, and in the case of non-digital games people have to share a space.

The activity: For this example we played a variation of Lemon Joust a game brought to the world by Minkette. Players each balance a lemon on a wooden spoon. When the game begins the players attempt to knock off other players’ lemons with their spoon. Players who have their lemon knocked off are eliminated, the winner is the last remaining player with a lemon on their spoon.

Thoughts: The majority of the participants seemed to enjoy playing or watching the game. This method of just allowing play seems the most honest and least manipulative of the four suggestions. Not to say there are not certain scenarios where each could be appropriate, if well developed. This method is probably the cheapest, but for some reason perhaps the hardest to justify as there is no work being done. All you need to do is a little research and identify some great games for groups of people. With the recent resurgence in board, card and party games there are plenty to choose from. Check out ShutUpAndSitDown for some ideas of games to play.

Final thoughts

Overall I believe the workshop was a success, the participants seemed to enjoy it and gave positive feedback. Of the four activities, lemon joust and connect-4 were the most popular.

There is clearly a spectrum of approaches to mixing games and work. All the way from having games and work embedded in the same system through to having them completely separate from each other.

There is plenty of challenges in making them work together well, and in some cases it may be worth it. However, in my opinion, both the cheapest, simplest and most honest solution is to just create time for play and games, as a different activity to work. This way, there is clearly no manipulation and those that do not want to participate do not have to.

‘What’s Love Got To Do, Got To Do With It?’ a VideoBrains Talk in London

I gave a talk at VideoBrains (@VideoBrains) in February on the subject of love in video games. This is a video of that talk.

VideoBrains, is a great monthly event that happens at Meltdown Bar London (@MeltdownLondon) on Caledonian Road. Check it out if you can get tickets, they sell out fast!

VideoBrains Christmas Event

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Last night I made my way to the VideoBrains (@VideoBrains) event founded by Jake Tucker (@_JakeTucker) who had kindly invited me to bring Massively Multiplayer Rock Paper Scissors along for all the attendees to play.

What is VideoBrains, well they describe themselves like this:

VideoBrains is a free monthly conference where video games developers, journalists and players give talks and answer questions. We’ve had fantastic talks on everything from indie marketing to the Slender Man to a behind-the-scenes look at Deus Ex.

We’re partnered with Five out of Ten and Nine Worlds VG and our events take place at Meltdown in London.

The speakers at this event included:

Alan Williamson (@AGBear) who gave a talk about nostalgia and Sega. He spoke about how Sonic has changed (for the worse) and questioned whether the original games were as good as we remembered (yes – was his answer by the way). He then spoke about his ‘Get Well’ game, NiGHTS into Dreams and the game that was given away by Sega, Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams. This game is only playable in its true form at Christmas time, otherwise all the skins change to appear the same as normal. He explained how Nights Journey of Dreams for the Wii left him almost instantly cold. I was left considering how nostalgia is often used as a marketing tool, which more often than not seems to work, everyone hoping that this time, this time everything will be alright.

Christos Reid (@failnaut) gave a personal talk which changed between a few subject matters. An emotional highlight was when he revealed how the games he has made have shown not only that he was not alone, but have gone on to show other people that to.

Another high point included the description of how he beat the Final Fantasy VII boss with a dance mat controller at his friends house as they could not find the proper controller. I’m interested in what affect changing inputs can have on game experience, there is certainly lots of potential in this space.

Finally Christos spoke about a new idea he is thinking about which is a VR game experience where players move through a procedurally generated party, going from kitchen to kitchen having to deal with the things that are happening.

Mat Jones (@pillowfort) brought up the disconnect between character death in games and the game’s narrative. A lot of games have character death as a fail state, however in terms of the narrative of the game, this makes very little sense. This seems to be a hangover from video game arcades encouraging people to pay more to keep playing, which the games industry is still recovering from. I think he ended with some very useful advice, if you’re going to have character death in your games at least make it part of the narrative otherwise find another way.

Alex Roberts (@lexicobob) spoke of her experience of entering game jams with little preparation and developing games for the MegaDrive, GameBoy and SNES. I have not personally entered a game jam yet, but I think it would be a great way of getting me to finish a project instead of getting distracted by the new shiny idea. If I ever look into retro consoles as a tool for game development myself, I think I will take her advice and go for the MegaDrive first, apparently it is the easiest.

Mary Hamilton (@newsmary) and Grant Howitt (@gshowitt) spoke in turns about literacy and proficiency in games. Whilst one spoke the other played one of two games, Just Cause 2 or SuperHexagon. Grant could play Just Cause 2, whilst Mary struggled. However, Mary stunned the crowds with incredibly impressive times on SuperHexagon (despite been jet-lagged and playing in front of an audience). We learnt about the different games they had played growing up and how this affected their ability to play new games, and the way that they played those games. Mary wanting to explore in GTA instead of doing what the game designer had planned and taking the van to complete the driving training mission. Something she says is an influence of playing RPG games, where exploration is rewarded.

Another interesting aspect was how they talked about playing games not only with each other, but for each other. One of them could watch and experience a game without having to be in control.

Jake Tucker (@_JakeTucker) gave a talk recounting his experience with Rainbow 6 and how the more recent releases had lost all the parts which made them enjoyable for him to play. This just seems to be the case across the board, with games changing from what defines them. At one point Jake put up a series of brown game images asking us to spot the game he was specifically talking about, highlighting the loss of variation in a certain market of games, with them all moving towards the same space. I suppose, at least, those old games we use to play still exist.

Sadly Paul Dean (@paullicino), had to cancel his talk due to a corrupted presentation file. From speaking to him earlier he mentioned how it was experimental, I really wonder what he was going to present.

I went in to GameBrains expecting to hear some interesting talk about video games, but there was so much more than that. All the presenters were entertaining, funny, informative and most importantly personable in the way they spoke, sharing a little of themselves with us all. It felt like a safe, comfy place to explore games and what they mean to us individually and as a group. I will see you at the next one.

GameCity9: Saturday 1st November

The final day of GameCity and the second day of running Massively Multiplayer Rock Paper Scissors.

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I arrived early so I had chance to see Henry Smith (@hengineer) give a talk about his local cooperative game SpaceTeam. He also spent some of the time talking about his latest project Blabyrinth and his long term project Shipshape.

What interested me most about Henry’s talk was the influences he drew on to create his game. Board games like Space Alert (Vlaada Chvátil), influenced SpaceTeam. Whilst, Escape Curse of the Temple (Kristian Amundsen Østby) and the TV shows Knightmare and the Crystal Maze influenced Blabyrinth. Games including Galaxy Trucker (Vlaada Chvátil) are an influence on Shipshape.

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(more professional GameCity event photos like this one here)

Most of the day was spent manning the table with Massively Multiplayer Rock Paper Scissors, but thanks to my friend Keith who came to help out I had a brief chance to run around the rest of GameCity and try my hand at a couple of things and meet some great people.

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I had a chance to sit down for a couple of minutes and play GlitchSpace (@SpaceBudgie), I turned down the offer of the OculusRift and settled for a standard monitor. This first person puzzle platforming game used the interesting idea of a graphical coding UI to influence the objects in the game world. So in order to navigate the space you would use code to open and close doors, change the length of platforms and other such things.

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I had a quick talk with the creator of Spectral (@FirepunchGames) whilst someone else was demoing the game. Here the player controlled a spectral entity which could manipulate objects in order to solve puzzles and unravel a greater mystery. I wish I had chance to sit down with the game, hopefully I’ll get chance again in the future.

There were plenty of other games/events/talks I heard about whilst at GameCity which I did not get a chance to participate directly in all of which sounded great. It is a shame I did not get more time to wonder round and see all the different things in the constantly changing space. Next time I need to book more time for it.

GameCity Closing Event

In the evening I attended the GameCity closing event at the Nottingham Contemporary (@nottm_contemp). Whilst things were getting set up, I spent some time watching a few people try Titan Souls (Acid Nerve), which brought to mind a punishing 2d pixel art style Shadow of the Collossus. This game is definitely now on my radar.

I got an opportunity to announce the results for Massively Multiplayer Rock Paper Scissors on one of the stages with a microphone. For those that care about these things the results were:

  • Team Blue: 110
  • Team Red: 121
  • Team Yellow: 141

During the event I got a bit more time to play and see a number of games they had set up. These included (but not limited to):

  • Hohokum (Honeyslug) which involves exploring strange worlds and unlocking new paths. This was also projected onto a wall at an impressive scale.
  • Dog Park (@potatojin) a simulation of being dogs in a park.
  • Musclecat Showdown (Major Bueno @ThatMajorBueno), a game of striking poses with your cats by matching the commands on screen. This had amazing cartoon muscly cat poses. from Natasha Allegri (@natazilla)
  • Push Me Pull You (@pmpygame) a game for four people in teams of two (or two extremely dextrous people) involving controlling a two headed creature in a game of ball control. I do not think I few words can describe it, go have a look for yourself.

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(photo from Brendan Caldwells (@Brendy_C) article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun)

As well as meeting and speaking to some fantastic people, I have to say my highlight of the evening was the spoken word piece by Hannah Nicklin (@hannahnicklin), Games We Have Known and Loved. Hannah gave the titles of all the stories she had exchanged during her day at GameCity, breaking the list to expand on certain stories (mine included amongst them). She highlighted towards the end how we all had a story to tell and with just a little prompting we can find something interesting to say. I reflected that although I was initially racking my brain to think of something on the spot I have since recalled many more stories of games with friends. One of the stories Hannah told was of a girl whose last gift from her father before he past was a Playstation, that is still running today, really moved me. I too am left with the hope that this Playstation never stops working. I am left at the end of all of this with the confirmed impression that games are really important entities/experiences in our lives – individually, socially and culturally.

GameCity9: Sunday 26th October

GameCIty9: Thursday 30th October

GameCity9: Friday 31st October

GameCity9: Thursday 30th October

I returned to GameCity 9 on the Thursday, where I had signed up to a couple of talks and got chance to have a look round at a few of the exhibitors.

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The first talk I attended was with Prof. Richard Bartle, co-creator of MUDs (multi-user dungeons). Richard spoke humorously about developing MUD and sincerely about how he envisioned it as a social equaliser, where in a new virtual world your background would not matter.

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On my way between floors I was beckoned into a room by the eloquent Hannah Nicklin (@hannahnicklin), theatre maker, producer, and games designer/writer. Who was running Games We Have Known and Loved.

In front of me was a series of cards each with a title on them, I was allowed to pick one to hear that story on the basis that I would give a story back in return. All the stories were about games. I picked Basement of My Neighbour’s House. I heard the tale a young boy who use to visit his neighbour’s basement to play video games, and how they decided whose turn it would be. In return for this I told my story about how me and my brother played a physical version of Pong in our living room with a tennis ball and a settee and bay window for goals. I got to keep the card with Basement of My Neighbour’s House which was replaced with my story Physical Pong.

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I got to meet Geraldo Nascimento and try the game he was working on with CrazyArcadia. Gunkatana is a four player couch co-op where players move around a shared screen trying to kill each other with their Gunkatanas (blades that also shoot ricocheting laser beams), trails on the floor allow the players to boost their speed, and a spinning attack deflects the attackers beams. After killing myself countless times, I finally got the hang of the game and managed to win three games in a row.

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Finally I got to try Nidhogg by Mark Essen (@messhof) against another human being, sadly I lost two out of three of our games, but the game is vastly improved by a real world competitor and a giant screen.

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The second talk of the day, ‘In the beginning was the word’. Chaired by Professor James Newman (co-founder of the National Videogame Archive), Professor Richard Bartle and Kieron Gillen (@kierongillen) (Marvel-writer). An interesting discussion on the role of text in computer games.

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The final thing I had signed up for was a game of the Mouse Guard RPG, which was run by Tom Hatfield (@WordMercenery). For those that have not read the Mouse Guard books the rpg is based on, they should, the art is incredible.

I’ve been wanting to play Mouse Guard for a while, think I will need to play it again to fully get to grips with a system. I think two hours was a little short, we had to finish by the time we had got the story moving. Definitely want to play this one again.

GameCity: Sunday 26th October

GameCity: Friday 31st October

GameCity: Saturday 1st November

Oxford – Thirsty Meeple Board Game Café

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This weekend I went to Oxford to meet up with an old school friend, after going for the obligatory punt and realising we were too late to attend the Pitt Rivers Museum we went to Thirsty Meeples.

Thirsty Meeples, is a cafe/friendly gaming store. For the price of £3.50 per head (or £5 if you do not buy any food or drinks) you can rent a table and play as many of their games on offer as you want. It is quite a collection, with over 1,700 titles there ready for you to play. Also their staff were really helpful and helped us with quick explanations of rules.

The shop seemed really busy and apparently we were lucky to get a table as we did not pre-book and it was a Saturday. This seems like a great business model for game shops and I wonder if there are any other shops like this across the UK.

Whilst we were there, we played  a few rounds of Skull and Roses (Hervé Marly), a game of Carcassonne (Klaus-Jürgen Wrede), and most of a game of Hanabi (Antoine Bauza) before I had to get the train back. I had not played Skull and Roses nor Hanabi before and I would definitely play them both again, both suitable for quick games with friends that are not ‘gamers’. Carcassonne is one of my favourite games, for reasons that are too long to list in this post, and I had been talking about it to my friends so they were keen to try it.

There store was well stocked and I saw a more than a few games I’ve had on my radar for a while. I limited myself to only three purchases: Skull and Roses (Hervé Marly), Cube Quest (Oliver Sibthorpe and Gary Sibthorpe) and Quantum (Eric Zimmerman). Hopefully I will not have to wait too long to play them all.