Last weekend, I got to play some Candy Crush Saga on my friend’s phone. It was interesting enough, and different enough from Bejeweled, that I decided to download it and give it a more thorough try.
Here’s the short version: the game isn’t necessarily bad. However, since it’s free-to-play, the designers have made some choices that I don’t agree with. They’ve created a game which requires strategy to beat, but luck can mess up all of your strategy. Their monetization strategies are also finely tuned to really eke money out of the players, for better or for worse.
It’s a fascinating read, whether or not you like to write. But while I was reading it, my mind drifted a bit. I’ve been thinking a lot about writing styles recently anyway, thanks to the author’s commentary at the end of the Ender’s Game audiobook. This article just built on that for me.
Six years later edit (April 21, 2019): Links to the bundle have been removed. They now lead to a page that seems dangerous. Additionally, I’m no longer convinced bundles are a good thing. That’s another story, though.
There are so many game bundles on the internet (thank you, Humble Bundle, for making this a trend) that The Open Bundle is easy to overlook. Its name is simple but not descriptive, and to be honest it doesn’t actually include any games. Instead, it has art, music, and code for making games. What really makes it special, though, is that it’s a grand experiment in leveraging crowdfunding to make releasing things under Creative Commons licensing viable for artists.
I originally posted this on April 18, 2013 on my blog on Gamasutra. Cross-posting here because this game looks great. It’s on Steam Greenlight Concepts with a demo available, and I urge you to check it out.
Overcrowding at BitSummit meant that in the short time we had for looking at game demos, there was no time to see them all. I did see quite a few. Most of the games I saw interested me in one way or another. However, a simple platformer named TorqueL took first prize for being fun to play.
I originally posted this on April 9, 2013 on my blog on Gamasutra. Cross-posting here, as I should have done before.
I first learned of Ludum Dare last August. I wasn’t in time to participate, but I was able to play a wide variety of interesting games. That got me fired up — I definitely wanted to participate in December’s 48-hour compo (hereafter LD48). I hadn’t programmed in years, really, but I was signed up for an Intro to Computer Science MOOC and was pretty sure I would be capable of pumping out something come December.
Participating in Ludum Dare #25
When December and its LD48 came around, I was not at all confident in my abilities. I had successfully brushed up on basic computer science concepts and learned some new things, but the MOOC had been taught in Python instead of the C/C++ I originally learned in. I could do some things with Python, like perform computations and output things to IDLE, but I had no clue how to do things like play sound and draw graphics. To make things worse, I live in Japan, which meant that the event would be starting at noon on Saturday for me. In order to be functional for work on Monday, I needed to get to bed around midnight on Sunday, leaving me with only 36 hours to make my game. In short, my limitations were many.
This was originally posted on March 9, 2013 on my blog on Gamasutra. I really should have cross-posted it here in the first place. BitSummit is awesome and I am proud to have helped out with it. I fully intend to help again next year.
So, BitSummit happened on Saturday. It was a one-day event organized by James Mielke and Q-Games with the goal of helping Japanese independent game developers expand their reach. Epic Games, Unity, and Valve were in attendance to promote their tools and western media representatives from outlets including Wired, IGN, and GameSpot came to see what the game developers already had to offer.
The presentations were mostly informational, but James Mielke had the opening speech, in which he talked about his reasons for organizing the event. With the world of independent game development expanding, he feels that it’s a shame that talented Japanese independent developers see less recognition for their efforts. Japanese developers have a different pool of cultural expectations and experiences from which to draw, he pointed out, and the games they make reflect that. Mielke believes independent game developers in Japan have a lot to offer the industry, and that’s why he put BitSummit together.
As a volunteer staff member I spent most of my time at the reception desk, though I did get to listen to most of the presentations via the speaker system and was given some free time to check out the games being presented during the demonstration period. I didn’t get to see all the games — no one did, I think — but I saw some great stuff on the floor. One man just walked around carrying an iPad with a playable demo of an artistic, relaxing game in which the player moves through a pop-up book whose aesthetics are based on traditional Japanese paintings. Another game was a 2D platformer with unremarkable graphics, but whose gameplay was extremely fun because the developer had completely rethought movement. Then there was the first person shooter game in which you played a fish, spitting water at other sea creatures and able to move in any direction through a 3D environment. There was a lot of variety on display.
Six years later edit (April 20, 2019): You can no longer download Poke from itch.io. Sorry folks
Item one: there is now a Mac OSX build for Poke, the game I mentioned in my last post.
It can be downloaded from item two, which is my profile up at itch.io. Itch.io is a web site made by another Ludum Dare person. It’s designed to just be a place where indie game developers can host their game files. The site supports pay what you want models, with the minimum price being set by the developer and $0.00 being a viable minimum price. It’s a neat site.
Ender’s Game Trailer
Then there is item three, the first trailer for the Ender’s Game movie adaptation.
I have fond memories of many video games. I used to go back and play those old games fairly often, but as time wears on this happens less and less. There are a few reasons for this. One is incompatibility with modern gaming systems. If you can’t make the software work, you can’t play it. One is lack of time to do everything I want to do anyway. If I have 15 new games stacked up waiting to be played, I’m far less likely to go back and play one I’ve already beaten, especially if I’ve beaten it 3 or 4 times.
The biggest reason these days, though, is that game design has advanced so much that those old games’ control systems are just so darn clunky. I would love to play WarCraft or WarCraft II again, but trying to make your units do anything when compared to the ease of doing things in WarCraft III is like pulling teeth. My favorite Harvest Moon game is Back to Nature, but the controls for that one are so ridiculous that I stopped playing it within 5 minutes last time I tried.
Over the years, game developers have figured out how to create smoother gaming experiences such that the controls don’t interfere with the actual gameplay (or interfere less). The changes have been so gradual that we don’t usually notice them. Sometimes we do; I, for example, was elated when I was finally able to automate workers in a Civilization game. But in general, all the changes become most apparent when we try to go back and play the old games and find that controlling anything that happens is just more trouble than we want to deal with.
One of the things in my mess of being busy in the past couple of months was Ludum Dare, a game jam which is held every four months.
A game jam is a challenge in which game developers must create a video game from scratch — concept, design, coding, everything — within a certain time limit and possibly with other restrictions.
So here are more details about Ludum Dare, specifically. In the month leading up to the game jam, interested participants may submit ideas for themes. These are voted on by the community up until the last minute before the jam starts. Participants then have 48 hours to make a video game, alone, that matches the theme. There are then three weeks of voting by the people who made the games, and at the end the games are ranked. Your prize is that you get a game and hopefully learn something.
The most recent Ludum Dare was held the weekend of December 14th and the theme was You Are the Villain.