February 16, 2009

Entering the Imagine Cup

Not a very imaginative blog post title, is it?

As you may have gathered, I've decided to enter Microsoft's Imagine Cup in the Game Development competition.

Other teams (of up to four people) from around the world have been working on this since August of last year. I discovered the competition three weeks before the due date. As such, I'm not too confident about my chances, and I'll have to crunch for all three weeks to get anything decent done. Still, what's there to lose, other than time? The theme is pretty much "a game about technology solving the world's problems", so I'm making a game about researching and deploying alternative energy solutions.

Not having high expectations also frees me to experiment with game mechanics. By that I'm pretty much trying to say that I have no clue of whether or not the game on which I'm working so hard will turn out to be any fun at all.

The game (still searching for a title) has two basic actions: researching (at a few different speeds) and building new power plants. It's said again and again that it's what the player does that's important. I worry that this game will be too sparse on the user-action side of things. It could be that the player spends all of his or her time waiting for a new tech to upgrade and then building a new plant. What's interesting about that?

My hope is that I can compensate for this sparsity of mechanics by increasing the pace of the game. Cities constantly demand more and more power, and new cities will pop up from time to time. Still, what do I do with the downtime in between? I'm wrestling with the question of whether or not I should let players pause the game while building; it would certainly make things easier, but it might, in the process, remove any excitement from the game.

Ultimately, the only interesting choice in the game is judging the most useful level of research and the best time to build. I couldn't simulate the game in my head quite well enough to tell if this was going to be fun, so I decided to build the game and find out. It's a gamble. We'll see how it goes.

And now my skepticism is on the record.

February 13, 2009

Azure Retrospective

Azure has been released into the wild.

I have to admit that it failed in its original goal. The core mechanic is ultimately vacuuming stuff up.

That said, the game succeeded in other ways. The "what I'm going for" angle changed during the project, and the final product was intended to offer a relaxing, almost hypnotic experience. I have the advantage of always playing the game in the way it is intended to be played, but it worked for me. I find myself getting sucked in by this game, and that's enough for me to be at least a little bit proud.

It didn't work so well for other people. I playtested it on my parents and an old high school friend, and they all thought that the point was to get bigger and bigger. Only my dad got to the clouds. I tried to remedy this (iterate!!!) by adding pulse effects when the emitters sent out new motes and by limiting the size of the player's orb to a very small range, but I don't know if people will be able to figure it out any easier.

As I usually do, I sent this game in to reddit and showed it around to some people. Nobody was especially impressed. I'm not so discouraged with this result, since I knew from the start that the game was supposed to go against people's expectations about a computer game. That said, I'm not so delusional as to call this one a public success.

February 3, 2009

Halcyon --> Azure

Random project update notes:

If this project were large enough to merit the term, I'd say that the game is in beta. I hope to get in some real playtesting and iteration before I show this one off.

For the first time, I've decided to change the name of my game. Halcyon remains the working title in the code, but the official new title is Azure. The color in the game is dominated by that sort of sky blue, and since I added a cloud image in the background, it seemed like the more appropriate title.

I'm surprised by how much I enjoy playing this game. It draws me in much more than my others did. It could be that I'm just creating a game to hypnotize myself, and it won't do much for anyone else. I'm not sure that that's a bad thing.

At the end of a recent coding session, I was struck with an idea and immediately grew infatuated with it. Text. Quotes. I would include beautiful and inspiring text once the player has cleared the screen of motes (and has been rewarded with a beautiful and inspiring image). I'm currently trawling the internet for quotes that fit. Some fit in the game better than others, and I'm sure I'll have to get rid of a few that I like.

Lastly, I'm pretty satisfied with how the game has turned out, graphically, even if the player's orb is just a huge blue ball. Screenshot below.

February 2, 2009


EDIT: Halcyon has been renamed "Azure".

I hit a brick wall in the development of the full version of Maestro, so I'm taking a break on that. Of course, I know that the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it bad enough, so I plan to return and conquer that one some other day, but for the time being, I'm working on a game that I started developing in parallel with Maestro.

A Dartmouth professor, teaching a class called Intro to New Media, opined that a digital game could not escape from a Western mindset since it was built on numbers; the point would always be to make more or less of something, or at least to get to the next level. I thought that was silly, and I took it as a challenge.

Halcyon is a simple game with the simple goal of catching all of the motes that appear on screen by mousing over them. I may have already failed the aforementioned challenge, since "eat up all the dots" sure seems to fall under the broad label of "Western", but I'm hoping that I can get away with it by representing it as "absorbing" or even "merging with" the motes. I hope to do this by having them change color based on proximity to the player's collecting hand, such that they are of equal color when they meet.

One interesting feature of Halcyon is a mechanic governing player movement: if the player moves too quickly, motes are discharged in the player's path. You have to move slowly and smoothly in order to reach a winning state.

Note the phrasing of "winning state". You don't win the game for good, but you've accomplished your goal. The new goal is to retain this winning state. The green dots are emitters, and they regularly send out new motes. You have to stay on top of them at the right times in order to keep the screen clear.

The prototype for Halcyon was completed fairly quickly, and I've made good progress on the main game. It's the smallest game I've made since Forces, way back in high school, but I'm satisfied with how it's turning out. I'm glad to be making a game that's at least trying to be more than "kill all the enemies". It gets embarrassing to explain to my parents and acquaintances that I've been spending all my free time making yet another space combat game. Halcyon's a nice change of pace.