Category Archives: Games

If Twitter hate mobs are Ultron, where is the internet’s Vision?

For the last ten years-or-so I’ve been convinced that governments would be responsible for the death of the Internet As We Know It: ever-encroaching censorship and surveillance transforming the promise of the open internet into something darker, more capitalist, more consumerist and, essentially, more 20th century. Here’s me on the Digital Economy Bill, and then on the good ol’ Twitter Joke Trial. That’s a lotta words.

Then so-called GamerGate happened, late last year. An amorphous bunch of apparent activists rose up, ostensibly to decry ethics in games journalism but in reality taking every opportunity to harass female game devs, game journalists and gamers, and anybody who supported them. Rape threats. Death threats. It was the abuse unleashed upon Anita Sarkeesian writ large, with a broad brush. The aggressors wielded the term ‘Social Justice Warrior’ as if it were something to be ashamed of. And all the while they claimed the moral high ground, even while forcing planes to land and issuing genuine terrorist threats to universities. The actions of GamerGate spoke far louder than its words. Continue reading

In the footsteps of Tom Francis

This is the blog post in which you can download and install A GAME WHAT I PROGRAMMED.

I’ve been following Tom ‘made GUNPOINT’ Francis’ GameMaker tutorials since the start of the year. The man has an uncanny ability to teach code in a way that makes sense to people who don’t code. I suspect he’s new enough to coding himself, relatively speaking, that he still remembers what it was like.

BASIC, Inform, TWINE and others have crossed paths with me over the year but none have ever stuck. They’ve either been too difficult or not quite relevant to what I want to do. TWINE is still the engine which has most appealed, because it enables a surprisingly pure writing experience. I suspect I may go back to TWINE, armed with a better knowledge of how all this stuff hangs together.

Tom is teaching GameMaker, the system he used to make GUNPOINT (always write it in caps) and which he is now using to make Heat Signature (not sure whether to write it in caps). Although GameMaker has all kinds of nooby drag-and-drop features, Tom’s bypassing all that and jumping straight into code.

I’ve just finished part 13, which has added a nice little menu screen to the game. As such, I thought it was time to share what I’ve been up to. Note that most of the code and actual design are from Tom’s tutorials, so it’s not like I’ve done this myself – however, I have understood the entire process and am already starting to think about what I can use these techniques for later in the year.

Download the latest build here.

It’s ugly as sin.

Instructions:

  • Move with WASD.
  • Aim with the mouse.
  • There are two weapons in the arena. Pick ’em up by rolling over them.
  • Left click to fire.
  • Right click to swap weapons.
  • The weapons interact in an interesting way. Experiment!
  • The enemies react in different ways to being shot.

Not much of a game there as yet, but it’s further than I’ve ever managed to get in 34 years of dabbling. And I’m still excited every time Tom Francis warbles “hullo” at the start of an episode.

DIY gaming part 6: The GPU

Turns out I forgot to blog about the final part of my computer upgrade: the GPU. Bit silly of me, given how important it is. I purchased the other components over the course of last year and built the rig in September, but only purchased the GPU right at the end of November.

This was all about waiting for the new ‘sweet spot’, which seemed to be on the verge of changing throughout 2014. NVIDIA had already teased some new tech and were clearly building up to something – that turned out to be the 970, a card which offers phenomenal power-to-price value.

The 970 is more expensive than the 960 and not as powerful as the 980, but it sits in-between the two perfectly. An overclocked 970 starts to edge up towards the 980 in terms of performance, while cutting costs to go for the 960 is likely to be limiting in the long run.

I went for an MSI version, which has a nice super quiet fan when it’s not being taxed. I have an Asus variant at work which is similarly spiffy.

Aside from its raw power – it can handle anything I throw at it, so far, and can run any pre-2014 game at 2x my monitor’s normal resolution without breaking a sweat (eg 3360×2100) using NVIDIA’s cool built-in supersampling thing – it also runs very efficiently, which means it’s quieter, cooler and less hungry than a card of this power has any right to be.

And, thus, my computer upgrade is now complete. Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age Inquisition at Full Everything and super high resolutions are amazing, and it turns older games into perfection. Star Citizen is silky smooth. The big test comes in May with the arrival of Witcher 3 – the first game to really push beyond the current console gen. Fingers crossed it can handle it.

Making Far Cry 3 better with self-imposed limitations

Far Cry 3 took me a long while to get into. I bought it long after release and even then it didn’t entirely click, with its ludicrous, mad playground of bizarre wildlife, open tropical island territory and huge arsenal being amusing but not terribly engaging.

It was a little too loose and lacking in focus, and its story too daft to be engaging. I’ve never been one to enjoy games which provide vast options, tending to prefer a game which specialises in a few key areas and gets them just right (Shadow of Mordor being a good recent example). Continue reading

Making games with Tom Francis & GameMaker

Back in November I mentioned I was working through FutureLearn’s game course. That never quite worked out, alas. It was an oddly pitched course, simultaneously focusing on complex and boring infrastructure stuff while being really basic in the creative areas. Lots of other people clearly loved it, but it didn’t click with me.

AND THEN TOM FRANCIS HAPPENED.

Tom Francis made GUNPOINT. It’s a delightful indie game where you can jump through windows, punch people a lot, and rewire entire buildings to do crazy, emergent fun stuff. He made it in GameMaker, and recently started publishing tutorials on his YouTube channel.

They’re utterly great, pitched at just the right level for me. He dives straight in to doing creative, responsive stuff – aided I’m sure by the simplicity of getting up and running in GameMaker’s IDE, compared to the faff of working in Eclipse for Android development. The tutorials are a perfect blend of technical insight and game design analysis.

Crucially, Tom clearly remembers exactly what it’s like to know nothing at all. Highly technical people tend to have an inability to remember what it was like at the start of their learning (often because they started learning as kids, and thus have simply Always Known). Tom knows exactly what I want to know, and how to teach me it.

As such, it now looks entirely possible that I could have a proper, simple game of my own in existence before the end of the year. Which is hugely exciting.

If you’re interested in making games but have literally no idea how to do it, click here to check out his tutorials.

Molyneux, Kickstarter & why fixed funding is good

Gosh, John Walker’s interview with Peter Molyneux makes for hard reading. It’s resulted in the usual outraged reaction from those gamers who get terrified of reading anything which isn’t a simple graphics/gameplay/replayability review with a percentage score. And, yes, Walker’s interview pulls no punches and its opening gambit is especially on the nose – but it’s also an astonishing, fascinating interview which gets to the heart of an issue that everybody else has danced around for about 10 years. Continue reading

Game design: Responsive characters

Despite this blog post’s lofty title, I’m not a game designer. I am, however, attempting to become one, pretty much from scratch (spot the noob programming joke!).

I’m currently taking Future Learn’s programming course, which is a mostly useful but very peculiarly structured introductory course. I suspect I’ll end up learning more by working my way through Unity tutorials, in the long run.

The other thing I’m doing is working on a Twine game. This is a choose-your-own-adventure engine with an interesting, intuitive flowchart UI and support for some decent variables, stat tracking and lite programming gubbins. It’s a really nice introduction, allowing me to focus on game design aspects and on actual prose writing, while keeping the technical challenges to a minimum.

Something I’m trying to bring to the game is a sense of responsive characters. Depending on your actions, I want characters to behave differently towards you. Practically this is unlikely to massively affect the overall storyline, but having that moment-to-moment customisation of character responses will, I think, lend the fixed narrative more of a personal note. Not a million miles away from The Walking Dead’s “she’ll remember that” stuff, basically.

I’m learning on the job, though, which probably means I’m doing things incredibly inefficiently.

I’d initially considered a simple three-state setup for characters: Annoyed, Neutral and Happy. They could move between these states depending on what you’re up to, which would then drive their responses to your subsequent actions and dialogue choices. This wasn’t nuanced enough, though.

So the current system is an attitude rating, with 0 considered to be ‘neutral’. Player actions will then increase or decrease this variable. Do something a character likes and the variable goes down by 1. Do something which annoys them and it’ll go up by one. Do something intensely stupid and it’ll go up by 2. Save their life and it’ll drop by 5 – that kinda thing.

The benefit of this system is that you really have to pay attention to your actions. Piss someone off too much and you CAN still get them back on your side, but it’ll be difficult, because their attitude score will be really high. No matter how much you try to ingratiate yourself, it’s going to take a while to get that score down. Equally, if you’ve got into somebody’s good books and have a -10 attitude score, you’re going to have to do some pretty stupid stuff to really get them annoyed.

The trick is then in how many custom responses to craft. It needs to be a practical number which I actually have time to write. At the very least there needs to be 3 responses for any given situation – that annoyed/neutral/happy trio. For the system to work there really needs to be at least another 2 responses, for extremities – otherwise it won’t feel natural enough.

A problem with this setup is that I rapidly lose track of the limits of the system. With a myriad of choices and multiple narrative paths through each scene it’s really, really hard to know the potential range of attitude responses at any given time. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does run the risk of the system getting unstable, with the player unable to ‘fix’ early actions – then again, is that really a problem, or is it a decent game-representation of the result of mis-handling a relationship with another person?

I’m intending to blog about my continuing explorations of Making A Game. So far: it’s fun.