September #1GAM Entry: Hextrap

September’s One Game a Month entry is a clone of the NES game Yoshi.

Download Hextrap for Linux 64-bit (410 kb tar.gz file)

I’ve never made a falling block puzzle game before. I had more ambitious plans, but with ISVCon 2013 taking up a lot of my time, I ended up doing most of my game development hours on the four planes I rode to and from Reno, Nevada.

I started out with creating the four stack platforms, and a swapper which the player controls.

September #1GAM

I created shapes to act as the various pieces: circles, triangles, squares, and pentagons. Hexagons were special. If a top hexagon piece is over a bottom hexagon piece, the pieces in the middle were consumed and the player got bonus points.

September #1GAM

I think what put this project in jeopardy was that I wanted some particle effects. It didn’t take long to implement, but I could have spent my precious time on the game play.

September #1GAM

But it came together quite well, even if I think it feels kind of hacked together at times.

I think the only thing missing is an issue involving the interaction of a swapping stack that is higher than a falling piece. Right now, the falling piece stacks on top, whereas it should flip around to a different stack.

Oh, and sound effects and music would be nice.

The scoring is also much simpler than in the original game.

Enjoy!

September #1GAM: A Puzzle Game

For September’s One Game a Month project, I wanted to try to use the optional theme: hexagons.

I toyed with the idea of making a turn-based strategy game involving a hex map, but more and more I liked the idea of a hexagon-based puzzle game.

Long ago, I thought of a game involving hexagons that you can trap as they fell down shafts. The idea was that you controlled whether they continued down or got stuck at some point, but I never fleshed it out.

So I’ve been writing down ideas. Should the puzzle area be a grid that just happens to have hexagons? Do I make a hexagonal play area?

More importantly, what is the player doing in the play area? Do I make a match-3? I kind of liked the trapping mechanic, but I couldn’t think of a good way to make it fun.

Then I looked at the calendar and realized that over a week has gone by. So I thought I better steal some game play rather than try to create my own.

I recalled playing a QBasic game by Oren Bartal called Ultimate Super Stack. The point of the game was to trap stars between two objects, and I remember finding it very compelling. Maybe I can make a hexagon-based version of it.

I realized that there was a lot to the game, and I thought back to simpler puzzle games, such as Yoshi for the NES.

So I decided to try to mimic that game instead.

September #1GAM

So far, I have four platforms in an empty play area, with a switcher at the bottom.

Eventually, I will add dropping objects, most likely shapes such as circles, triangles, and squares. If two objects match on top of each other, they’ll disappear. If a hexagon’s bottom piece appears, then it’s top piece can close it, along with any objects trapped inside of it.

The player will be able to move the switcher to one of three positions to swap the platforms and any objects sitting on top of them.

It’s a simple game, but I don’t anticipate having a lot of time to create it this month, what with me going to ISVCon 2013. We’ll see how it turns out.

Aim for Purposeful Artistry, or “Just Be Games”?

Jay Barnson recently wrote Art. Or Not. He drew some parallels between science fiction and indie games. He talked about how older pulp fiction was how many great authors got their start, and some of their short stories became culturally relevant, and some of the authors became bigger names.

If I understand his argument correctly, he believes that they created art without specifically trying to do so, that the designation of artistry came later, after the authors tried to create good reads for the buying public.

The point is… many of the “classics” – the “masterpieces” that are held in such high regard today were simply yarns spun to pay the rent by these authors. Between a combination of good writing, good editing, a story that resonated with the audience, and possibly a healthy dose of good luck, these stories and serialized novels went on to become standards of excellence in their respective genres. The authors certainly did their best to make a great story, but I doubt they set forth with a prevailing desire to create “Art.”

Now, he separates “art” from capital-A “Art” without explaining too much about what he means, but I think it is safe to say that there’s a judgment call being made here on what he thinks counts as legitimate art versus art made out as more important than it really is.

In any case, while Barnson says he isn’t opposed to games having deeper meaning, he is concerned that indies are aiming to make games that are less like games and more like other, more traditionally accepted art as an attempt to make games relevant to critics, such as the late Roger Ebert, who is infamous for declaring that games can never be an art form unless they become more like movies.

Creating great art is difficult, no matter what the medium, but I don’t believe there are any problems with people trying to create art out of game mechanics.

I think one of the things that is difficult as an indie game developer trying to make culturally important works is that there is a perception that games are supposed to be fun, time-wasting playthings for children. To purposely make games that aren’t meant to be fun is hard for a lot of people to get their heads around. Games that aren’t fun sound like bad games to many players.

If you expect to play a game like Brenda Romero’s Train and think you’ll have the type of entertaining experience as when playing Ticket to Ride, you are going to be incredibly disappointed.

But the idea that video games can be more than merely fun is not a new one. Chris Crawford once gave a GDC talk about how, at a higher abstraction, entertainment is what games should aspire to. Fun is just one way to entertain.

As for aiming for art as opposed to letting “games be games”, why does it matter what purpose someone has for creating a game? Why does it matter who they try to please? If you’re an indie, who do you have to answer to but yourself?

F. Scott Fitzgerald was once quoted as saying “An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” He wasn’t writing to make money and leaving the question of his artistry to others.

So what about the idea that you don’t purposely try to create art, that it merely become so later? I don’t think it is necessarily the best way to go if you want to use the medium of games to create art. And some people specifically want to use the medium of games to create art. Or Art.

I’m with Jay on the idea that games are their own medium, that you don’t have to try to make them seem like other types of art. Games have their own strengths, and ignoring them would be much like how early filmmakers tried to record live theatre productions and not realizing how much more they could aspire to.

If you’re trying to make a commercially successful game, go ahead and try to please people, specifically your customers. But in most other endeavors, trying to please other people is a sure-fire way to kill what you’re trying to do with compromises.

If the creator of a game designs it to be art, it’s hard for me to argue that they are not trying to please their true audience.

On Free Games, the “Gamer” Label, and the Health of the Game Industry

My friend Gregg Seelhoff wrote a rant recently called You Lost Me at Buy.

He describes a dinner in which another person immediately rejected a game outright because it isn’t free to play.

We live in a world where there are a glut of freely available games, and a lot of them are high quality. It is perfectly within someone’s right as a customer to not be a customer, and businesses are not entitled to customers.

Still, it can be quite a shock to have someone immediately dismiss your game on the basis of the fact that they had to pay for it.

Now, I don’t completely agree with his first point, that games should not be free.

While most games make almost nothing in this new business model, it is kicking butt for some, and it is changing customer expectations in a disruptive way.

It’s painful for developers who expect to be able to sell games for a living, but if other developers are not only willing and able to release their games for free but also make a good living from it, that’s just a different business model.

It would be like saying that games should not be available through download because people should buy their games at retail through real stores. There’s an entire business model based upon selling at retail, with all of the partnerships and deals and overhead it required, and the Internet heavily disrupted that one well enough. I don’t think we’re going back to that world.

Still, years ago, casual portals and online retailers were lowering prices for games in a race to the bottom. It was a worrisome trend, and some of those portals are gone today, but what happened to customer expectations?

Is it healthy for the game industry for players to by and large expect their entertainment for free or nearly free? Maybe it is even healthier, as counterintuitive as it sounds.

Last year’s Penny Arcade Report by Ben Kuchera How Valve “devalued” video games, and why that’s great news for developers and players mentions how Valve and indie developers found their revenues increase dramatically when the per-unit price of their games was lower.

Ok, so developers can make more money, but does it impact the value players put on individual games?

Again, we live in a world where there are a glut of freely available games, and a lot of them are high quality. Sales and low prices aren’t necessarily devaluing games. It might just be the fact that players have a large backlog that they factor into their buying decisions.

Mike Ambrogi of Final Form Games says:

“[We] don’t believe sales are driving prices down; extant downward price pressure caused by a market surplus results in these sales becoming an optimal strategy.”

Selling games at a higher price point shouldn’t be dismissed as a stale view, though.

I think the bigger question is if there is room for games that can charge more. What are the real expectations for a game that costs $0.99 versus a game that costs $25.99? Are those latter games relegated to niche genres with fewer customers, or games which are more hobby than time-waster?

Is there still a unsustainable race to the bottom, or is the market being shook up, forcing out those who can’t make high quality entertainment with a low price point?

Since so many people can make games today, so many people are, and there are definitely a lot of mediocre games being made and published in the same space as the high quality ones. You can’t easily discern and find them, which is why app store top 10 lists are so huge for publicity, even if they aren’t a guarantee of success.

I’d like to think that people would be more willing to pay more for an epic-sized game rather than sit through ads or depend on big-spending whales to support their entertainment. The latter smacks too much of publishing a bunch of games in the hopes one becomes a hit and pays for the rest.

Finally, Seelhoff’s point that every interesting person plays games is spot on.

Just because a game does not involve a console and game controller, and shooting people on screen, does not make it any less of a game. Lots of people play Call of Duty, but ridiculous numbers of people also play Candy Crush. I do not like to segment people into hard-core/mid-core/casual/social/live/whatever gamers; they are all gamers. Please enjoy Pretty Good MahJongg and Demolish! Pairs, but do not tell me that you are not playing a game while doing so.

I can’t believe people still think “Oh, I don’t play games” just because they are not light zapper-holding 13-year-old boys who are into ninja turtles and M.C. Hammer. What year is this, seriously?

If you’re playing a solitaire game on your computer, you’re playing a game. The same goes for boardgames such as Monopoly and Scrabble. Words with Friends on your mobile device counts, too.

So by all means, play games. Why do people keep insisting to act as if there is shame in playing games?

A Reminder that Gaming Is as Old as Civilization

One issue that comes up periodically is that some game designers who grew up in the last couple of decades tend to look at game design through the lens of past video games.

When they think about game mechanics or themes, they might take cues from past video games that they loved.

But every so often, we’re reminded that games have been around for as long as people have been, and we have a much richer history if we dig past a form of media that has only been around for mere years.

Oldest Gaming Tokens Found in Turkey from Discovery News reports that 5,000-year-old game tokens were found in Bronze-Age burial mounds.

How neat is that?!

The tokens were accompanied by badly preserved wooden pieces or sticks. Sa?lamtimur hopes they’ll provide some hints on the rules and logic behind the game.

“According to distribution, shape and numbers of the stone pieces, it appears that the game is based on the number 4,” he said.

With something that old, and no one living to explain how to play, I imagine it would be quite the mystery to solve.

But imagine creating a game back then? Carving your own pieces with no one to tell you that you’re reinventing the wheel and should focus on the game instead… B-)

June #1GAM: Half an Hour and a Lovely Bunch of Coconut Trees

Yesterday’s post about my June #1GAM mentioned my huge island to explore and new coconut tree sprites.

After just half an hour yesterday morning that I didn’t think I’d actually take advantage of, I have animated coconut trees:

I intend for the trees to animate when the Castaway shakes them in an attempt to knock down coconuts, but for now they dance in unison in a poor imitation of Super Mario World.

They aren’t pretty animations, but then I’m just making programmer art over here.

What Is Wrong With Internet Society? #BeBetterStewards

I know the Internet magnifies the amount and scale of abuse, especially in terms of misogyny, homophobia, and racism.

It’s disgusting, and it has resulted in the silence of some great people, such as Kathy Sierra, and makes it more difficult to bring intelligent and grown-up conversation to sometimes (often?) immature game industry the way people such as Anita Sarkeesian do.

But I had no idea the mindset of the stereotypical 11-year-old, entitled Halo player who loves to curse into his headset had made it into the realm of indie games and the customers who pay for them.

Cliff Harris wrote Who Would Be a Game Developer?, a post about how indies not only have to do the hard work of making a living making games but also seemingly must endure abuse at the hands of fans and customers. Apparently customers are threatening the creators of the games they paid for with extreme bodily harm and a destroyed life.

It’s bizarre posturing from the safety of a keyboard.

But it feels like another offshoot of problem fandom that seems to be everywhere. From comic and game conventions where women, homosexuals, and rape victims feel unwelcome to “you’re not a real geek/gamer/Doctor Who fan/etc” arguments that tend to be aimed at women to a culture of privileged misogyny that creates online communities in which only white, male heterosexuals ever feel welcome, it’s an ugly thing that is highly visible to everyone else.

Even if a large number of the people think it is just good-natured, “oh, you guys!” kind of Internet joking, it has real repercussions. If it happened rarely and in isolation, it would probably be enough to tell the people who are the victims of this kind of abuse that they can ignore it and get a thicker skin and don’t worry about it.

But it doesn’t happen rarely. It’s a fact of life for a lot of people, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

There’s an entire vocabulary around these kinds of issues:

  • Privilege. If you have it, you’re probably unaware of it. And if you’re unaware of it, it’s hard for you to understand that other people who don’t have it also don’t have the same advantages and paths through life that you do. We’d like to think that the world operates to reward merit, but for many, it’s not enough due to systemic issues. If the system benefits you, you don’t necessarily know it is there and how it has impacted your life. It’s kind of the equivalent of being born on third base and thinking you’ve hit a triple. If it hinders you, on the other hand, it’s really obvious. You’ve probably seen John Scalzi’s Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is, and here’s an article about privilege in geek culture. There’s also this article about someone who acknowledges the role privilege played in developing his talents as a programmer versus other classmates who didn’t have access to computers or had the lack of responsibility that allowed him to spend the time to work hard on learning it.
  • Rape culture, which also brings up terms such as victim-blaming and slut-shaming. If you got raped, you were probably asking for it. Why were you wearing those clothes or walking somewhere by yourself? Don’t you know that it’s not possible for people to control themselves and act as humane individuals? Crap like this is the obvious set of examples.
  • Panicked male, an example of which Scalzi recently tongue-in-cheek critiqued.
  • Moral relativism. If you’re about to argue, “But there are worse things in the world, so why are you complaining about XYZ?”, your thinking is bad. Yes, there are worse things in the world. If you want to discuss those worse things, I’m sure you’ll find people willing to do so, as the Internet is big enough for those kinds of discussions. But if someone is talking about an issue they find important, you can opt-out of the discussion, or you can participate, but you can’t say, “Hey, you can’t talk about it because it isn’t as important as world hunger or terrorism.” A systemic problem has been identified, awareness is being made, and you think that we as human beings can only focus on one problem at a time? Stop selling yourself short.
  • Deflection and silencing. A lot of the so-called arguments against concerns about inappropriate jokes and the culture it perpetuates aren’t addressing the issue seriously. They tend to be statements that attempt to quiet the person making the concerns known. If someone says, “I think this game is sexist”, any response that has the intent of coercing that someone into never bringing it up again is not healthy. Saying that someone is being over-sensitive or to lighten up are examples.

If you want humor with your education, see Film Crit Hulk’s GODDAMMIT VIDEO GAMES: THE FIRST FEW HOURS OF ARKHAM CITY IS LOTS OF FUN, BUT SUPER-DUPER SEXIST and part 2 (because it is almost required to do a follow-up when you call out stuff like like this), HULK VS. ARKHAM CITY – ROUND 2: BITCHES BE TRIPPIN’!.

What’s really scary is the undercurrent of violence and dehumanization. There is a lack of empathy, and it seems to be almost nurtured into the culture. When a woman is raped, we have television personalities saying she was asking for it, and almost no talk about how the rapist shouldn’t have been raping. And if the guy on TV thinks it, it’s likely the viewers are going to think along those same lines.

Similarly, when prominent figures in the video game industry laugh off, tolerate, or perpetuate misogyny, homophobia, and racism, their fans are likely to fall in line right with them. And when it is part of the marketing and game development, it’s worse.

The Internet brings a previously-unheard-of-number of strangers within communication distance, and while many people take advantage of it to make the world a more understanding and intelligent place, there is unfortunately a loud and obnoxious segment of the population who think extreme violence is super effective at getting their way.

And the more they see and hear each other, the more accepting of that behavior they become. And while most think they are having good-natured fun, occasionally a few think that actual violence is called for and accepted behavior.

So it is gratifying to see people within the industry call out the B.S.

The nature of the Internet and human nature is that we tend to be attracted to those who are like-minded. Talking with someone who has new and different views is a lot harder, especially if those views are opposed to your own.

But we all live here. I think the least we can do is try to have some empathy and consideration instead of dismissing someone else out of hand.

If someone does do something inappropriate, speak up. Show this person that you won’t tolerate it.

We need to be Be Better Stewards, as Corvus Elrod has so eloquently and succinctly put it. We need to call out the bad in a constructive way, and we need to praise the good.

Because what we say matters and has power.

The Linux Game Tome Is Shutting Down

A few months ago I wrote about how it is so difficult to submit games to Linux gaming sites, based on my experience with trying to spread the word about the latest update of Stop That Hero!

One of those sites is The Linux Game Tome. It was one of my favorite Linux gaming sites, and had an active forum for developers and players, as well as an IRC channel.

In recent times, it has been plagued with spam and hardware issues. Twice it had been down for months due to a faulty hard drive, for instance. These problems resulted in a lack of activity when it was finally back up. When they updated their forums last summer, it broke the ability to submit games to their database. To this day, Summoning Wars was the last game with an update in June of 2012.

Last month, there was a new post, however, and it wasn’t good news for fans.

The Linux Game Tome will shut down on April 13. Those of us who have maintained happypenguin.org over the years now lack both the time and the ambition to do what is necessary to keep the site afloat.

A later update provided a link to a dump of the game database, all 300+ MB of it, with the idea that someone might be able to recreate the site if they so choose to do so.

Since then, two forums have popped up about how to carry on without the original site operators. One is Resurrecting the Tome, and the other is The Linux Game Tome Ideas and Discussion. I’ll be interested in seeing what comes out of these discussions.

While my new favorite site is the active Gaming on Linux, The Linux Game Tome holds a special place in my heart. I thank Bob Zimbinski, aka bobz, for all he had done, and I wish him luck in whatever his future ambitions are.

March #1GAM Entry: The New Worlds

I did it.

I thought I had a design that was a bit too ambitious, but I somehow managed to finish my March entry for One Game a Month.

“The New Worlds” is a space exploration game. Your homeworld’s star is known to go nova eventually. Evacuating everyone is the only option, and evacuation is expensive. Explore the universe, set up bases on suitable planets, and increase the wealth of your homeworld before time runs out.

Download The New Worlds for Linux 64-bit (547 KB tar.gz file)
UPDATE: A 32-bit Linux version is available now. Download The New Worlds for Linux (543 KB tar.gz file)

I’ll have to write up how it all happened later, as I’m rushing off to see family this weekend. I had to cut back on features, such as setting up trade with alien civilizations.

There’s still at least one major issue with the game play. It’s entirely possible to run out of fuel and supplies and have the game continue to run even though you can’t do anything. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t wait to die. You can’t scrounge for supplies as it was a feature I didn’t have time to add even though I really wanted it.

I want to come back and address this issue, although the next time I touch this code I’m sure I’m in for a shock. It’s horrible and ugly and I hate myself for writing it. B-)

Still, it’s playable, and it’s possible to lose and win. And it is fun exploring and trying to survive in the universe.

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February #1GAM Entry: Electomagnetic Play

I managed to put my February entry for One Game a Month together mostly in the last couple of weeks, sometimes with only 15 minutes at a time to dedicate to working on it. It’s amazing how much comes together in 15 minutes.

Electromagnetic Play is currently only available for 64-bit Linux as I wanted to get it in under the deadline. I’ll work on ports later when I have some time.

Download Electromagnetic Play for Linux 64-bit (1.5MB tar.gz file)

A quick description of the evolution of the game.

I thought of having magnets that you use to move metal balls around an arena.

February 1GAM

Eventually I decided on a simple game in which you have to catch the balls in a metal bucket, and you can only move the bucket by charging magnets on either end.

February 1GAM

Once I had balls dropping and magnets charging when you clicked on the green buttons, I had something that was basically finished.

February 1GAM

Add some scoring and lose conditions…

February 1GAM

…and tweak the challenge a bit by level, and we have a game.

February 1GAM