Tag Archives: game maker

My Presskit, GMS2 and Steam +More Game Trailers

I’ve finally got my presskit together! I’m quite proud of it. It’s on github here. https://dylanfranks.github.io/

It currently covers all my games and music software. I won’t have much more to add until I start a new game project. And who knows when that will be.

 

Trailers

Here are some new videos of Algorithm for Angel Wings. 🙂 This one shows the game generating elaborate piano melodies in 7/8.

 

This one shows a marimba playing in 10/8.

 

This one shows a harp playing in 4/4.

 

And this one show the autoplay feature, which goes on forever. 😛

 

Here’s a Gosper glider gun generating music in Celody Life. I updated the software with a larger grid, pause and mute buttons, and more tempo options. The larger grid is nice because obviously now you can make larger structures and see how they “sound”. I may update this again in the near future.

 

Game Maker Studio 2

I’m surprised Game Maker Studio 2 is out of beta when it clearly needs a lot more work. The deprecation of certain ubiquitous functions really kills my enthusiasm for the new software – specifically instance_create() and draw_background(). Transferring my old work would honestly be too much of a pain. I’m better off continuing in “GMS1”, as it’s now known.

And the only reason I prefer that over Game Maker 8 or older versions is simple – dark mode is easier on my eyes and allows me to work longer. It’d also be cheaper to just upgrade exports for GMS1 than buy GMS2 – Linux export is the only one I still want to get and haven’t. My experience with making games for Android tells me iOS would just be a pain to work with.

The new work space also looks really weird. A bit too much like Unity. I’ll admit what they’ve done with GM’s image editor is impressive. But that can always be substituted with another image editor like Aseprite. You can do plenty with the image editor in GMS1 anyway.

 

End of Steam Greenlight

Steam Greenlight shutting down was quite a shock, but also a huge relief in a way. It means I don’t have to deal with their toxic community to get on the platform – if Steam Direct has a reasonable fee. If not, fuck them. There are other distributors.

Jim Sterling deserves the most credit for continuing to say “No, this is not okay, and don’t accept this as being okay.“ I may miss his series of Steam lowlights – but for every one hilarious game he covers, there are 10-20 that are just appalling.

I hate the way Steam has shaped the game community for worse with their utter disregard for quality control. Valve has lowered the bar too much with their storefront of trash games. I hope this is the year we recover from tactless joke simulators, meme games, scatological humor, and all the other plagues that fester in Steam’s catalogue.

I’m obviously setting my expectations for other people too high, but we’ll see. I’m not too concerned about PC distribution at the moment, as I’ve been experimenting with porting my games to HTML5.

 

Dev Blog Incoming

This blog turned quite sour, sorry about that. I will write about the updates I’ve made to Iridescent Crown in the next blog, once I’ve compiled some new trailers. Here’s a shot of the updated version.

 

You can find more screenshots on the presskit. 🙂 Till next time.


Algorithm for Angel Wings

Algorithm for Angel Wings

Play it in your browser here (or download it for Windows).

a4aw18d

 

I decided to make a more user-friendly version of Seraphim Automata, after I finally got it to stop running at 1 frame per second in HTML5. I started this on January 30th, and most of the work was done by the next day.

I went back on February 3rd and added an autoplay feature for the start menu – something I haven’t done since Cosmic Zephyr in 2013. The next day I fixed glitches in the menu, and added a save function for high scores and combos. I also made some new touchscreen buttons in Photoshop. Then I released the game for feedback.

I went back the next day and fixed a few bugs that were pointed out to me. Specifically, you could break the GUI by racking up a massive combo. (I’m still surprised someone got a 44 hit combo on the first day of its release. My own record is 19.)

The very last thing I added was the glove sprite for the mouse, which gives it one little human element.

The touchscreen controls allow this to be played on a mobile device, as well as in a desktop browser. Which is nice. The only reason I haven’t uploaded an Android version is because the export module is currently broken in GMS. I’m hoping this will be fixed in GMS2.

You can select from 12 scales, 12 keys, 10 time signatures, and 13 different instruments. The time signatures are the real key to getting different patterns – it’s automatically set to 12/8 while the scale, key and instrument are randomly chosen. 10/8, 7/8 and 4/4 produce my favorite patterns. 4/4 in particular can create very jovial rhythmic patterns.

 

Flashbacks, From 2010 to Now

When designing a game (or any project, really), you have to decide early on who you are making this for. Are you making it for yourself or for other people? That decision between “passion project” vs “product” will lead you down two very different roads.

I would say my games were passion projects until about 2010. That includes my two oldest surviving games, A Starspangled Zephyr and Deadman’s Dark Scenery Court. I felt no pressure making my early games since I was mostly doing it for myself.

When my cocaine addict of a father was finally removed from the picture in November 2010, mom and I shifted pretty quickly to survival mode. I found myself selling most of my belongings to keep us from going broke. One major reason I abandoned songwriting is because I had to sell almost all my musical instruments. That miserable era lasted for about 19 months.

By the time we lost our home in March 2012, I had shifted to a more workaholic attitude about game design. I wanted to make a polished product I could sell and hopefully get out of poverty. That never really worked, but it definitely affected how I approached the games I made in that era, Cosmic Zephyr and Eden’s Prison.

One major event was being raided by the police in December 2013. Which happened to be four weeks into development on Eden’s Prison. The fall out from that led to a period of inactivity through 2014 and 2015. Another factor was injuring my right arm in August 2014 – it’s still recovering and I’ve only recently begun feeling “normal” again.

I finally returned to game development after leaving a toxic group of old programmers in early 2016. There is no coincidence that I had the best year of my life after leaving them (2016, that is). The new games – Seraphim Automata, Zephyr 3, Iridescent Crown – still suffer a bit from the “product” mentality, but I’m slowly moving back to making strictly passion projects for myself.

My ongoing experiments with music generation are one indication of this. Now that Algorithm for Angel Wings fleshes out the Seraphim engine into something very easily accessible, I feel comfortable moving on from those experiments.

Zephyr 3 also tries to atone for its previous games by offering the source code for free.

It feels bittersweet to release Iridescent Crown over 6 years after I started it (just look at the 640×480 resolution if you need proof of how old it is). The mainstream roguelike genre (or ‘roguelite’ if you prefer) completely blew up and died in that timeframe. Now similar games like Terraria and Spelunky are gathering dust, and there aren’t as many fans around looking for another roguelike or exploration based platformer.

The resulting game is both old and young at the same time – with the former compromising the latter. I’m thinking about revisiting it and releasing a “deluxe” version with a bigger window and other features that the HTML5 version couldn’t handle.

 

Beginning of the End

I’ve boiled my new ideas down to two main projects, plus an extra passion project.

  1. The first idea is of course a horror game. I haven’t made once since 2010, back when I was a very different person. This one will be a 2d platformer, but beyond that I haven’t decided on much. There are multiple concepts and stories I keep bouncing around for this one. I surround myself with horror influences so this idea never really leaves me, it’s just a matter of execution.
  2. The second idea is a sequel to Iridescent Crown, with better graphics and more RPG elements, and hopefully a better name. I would actually argue that in 2017, procedural generation is going out of style for now. Especially after the debacle over No Man’s Sky. So while I want to release a more polished sequel, I’m not sure if it’s really the best time to be working on something like that.
    I could of course scrap the procedural generation and go with … level design. The argument for procedural generation increasing replayability goes out the window when you use it so much that nothing sticks. That’s one problem with Iridescent Crown in its current form. Since all 16 levels are using the same “room”, none of them can be saved and revisited later.
    The other problem is that there is no reason to revisit levels right now. So it needs more collectibles, an EXP system, and perhaps other things.
  3. The last idea is a Sonic fangame, which would be a complete passion project. But it would be a lot more fun to make than my original games, simply because it’s something I always wanted to do. I am looking forward to seeing how Sonic Mania turns out before diving too deep into this one, as I wouldn’t want it to be too similar.

Trailers for My New Games!

Trailers

I made a few trailers for my newest projects! First, here’s some gameplay footage of Iridescent Crown. I’m waiting until the next update before I record another trailer (though I don’t have much left to change/add).

 

Here’s some footage of Seraphim Automata generating ambient piano music. My computer unfortunately slows down too much when the drums kick in. But the game is generally more pleasant to the ear without drums (as much as I like the random drum code), which is something I’m keeping in mind for the sequel.

Since this game covers jazz music, the sequel will cover a different genre – ambient or perhaps post-rock.

 

This video is shorter, but is also less chaotic and contains a repeating melody.

 

Here’s a video of Celody Life generating some melodies. Again, my computer lags if too much is playing while recording, so the clips are pretty short. I did catch two gliders in this video though.  🙂 It’s cool to see how they can play complex melodies on their own.

 

I also created a trailer for my old horror game, Deadman’s Dark Scenery Court. OBS didn’t completely cooperate with me on this one but I managed to fix it in Videopad.  😛

 

Updates

Planning to update Iridescent Crown sometime next month. I’ve also been working on music, which I hope to share soon.  🙂


Iridescent Crown and Zephyr 3 are officially complete!

Iridescent Crown

Play it here!

I uploaded a new HTML5 version of Iridescent Crown with a few important bug fixes. The soundtrack has been added, and the Windows version is now available to purchase.  🙂

The release has been somewhat marred by ISP problems, but at least I had the game up in time for Christmas (and Diablo’s 20th anniversary!). One of the bugs screwed up the ending sequence, which, along with missing the soundtrack, made me feel less than comfortable sharing the game around. But now everything’s cool.

I’m really glad to have this game out of my way. I started it way back in 2010, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to turn out until recently. A lot of things just happened to come together at the end – like the final boss and ending sequence, which I’d been turning ideas over for years, but ultimately only needed a few hours to throw something together.

Finding the right graphics+sfx resources to fill in certain roles was also essential in speeding up the creation process. I don’t feel too bad about using cc0 enemy sprites in my game, because the alternative would be a game that’s still unfinished.  😛

I’ll follow up with a more complete dev blog when I have some time. Right now I’m working on trailers for the game. Stay tuned.  🙂

 

Zephyr 3 bug

z3x

As I suspected, there was only one line glitching up this game and keeping it from running in HTML5. As soon as I dropped “direction_to_object” and changed it to “point_direction” – essentially the same function with a different approach – the damn thing loaded up fine in HTML5. It even lags less than I expected. You can play it in your browser here.

Game Maker Studio is weird sometimes. Only 173 lines of code in this game, and it took just one to break everything. To contrast, Iridescent Crown’s engine is +6 years old, bloated as fuck yet somehow works fine in HTML5.

The source code is available for anyone who wants to learn how to make this type of game.

Zephyr 3 basically marks the end of the Zephyr series. But not the engine itself – I plan to use it again in the future.  🙂

 

Planning for Steam Greenlight

I should be getting better internet in mid-February. So for now, I’m going to focus on recording gameplay footage of my projects. Then I will upload the videos and see where to go from there. I’ve recently managed to get OBS working with my computer – though not with the best quality.

Every article about “indie game marketing” stresses the importance of Twitter, but I don’t think Twitter is as helpful as it seems when it comes to getting your game out there. I get a good amount of likes and retweets whenever I post screenshots or links, but honestly they don’t translate to people clicking on my game often. So “marketing my game” usually feels like wasted time that could be better spent on development. It does help to chronologue my development, but that’s about it.

Gamers make ~93% of their purchases on Steam. So… I probably need to get a game on Steam. People don’t buy games often enough on itch.io.

I’m most proud of Seraphim Automata, but it may be too weird / experimental for Steam. I’m also not sure what audience it appeals to in its current state. What “genre” is it, for instance? It lacks a certain long-term replayability that could be solved with more musical variations (read: a sequel). I may revisit it some time later and add more traditional gameplay features.

I’m also proud of Iridescent Crown, but wary because I haven’t gotten much feedback. And it’s definitely not as unique as SA. It’s really hard to strike a balance between innovative and traditional in game design. Any ideas people give me for IC will probably be saved for a sequel as well, since I’m happy with it in its current state.

While I do have more “work” ahead as far as marketing and making trailers, for once I can finally say that I have nothing left to work on in the field of game design. My existing projects are 100% complete. Which means I can let myself take a break.

… I hope.

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The World’s Most Hated Game Developer

tl;dr version: I’ve started running into old “friends” in various Discord chats, who are part of a toxic community I cut ties with last year. They’ve long been a source of stress for me, and here I try to explain why.

It mainly concerns an incident where a few people chose to attack me anonymously, causing me to be paranoid of the whole community.

 

The Medium is the Message

The medium of game design provides an empty space for me to exercise my ideas and bring them to life. Instead of just writing my ideas down as stories, I can give them music to set a mood, visuals to build a world, and mechanics to let you move inside that space. I can give faces to the faceless.

I can also do things that aren’t so easily expressed in words, like distorting the perspective of reality, or exploiting the generative nature of code.

Game design is a lot like theater to me. It’s where I can express and explore my most elaborate, ambitious ideas.

And unfortunately, it can also become pretty dramatic behind the scenes.

 

64digits, Then and Now

Game design was very different in 2005. Practially no one sold their indie games for profit back then, or even considered it. Online marketplaces didn’t exist then as they do now. Most indie devs dreamed of getting their games ported to console.

Cave Story was only one year old then, and steadily becoming a cult classic. That wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been available for free.

I joined the website “64digits” in 2005 when it was just starting out as a community (my userid is 164). The Game Maker community forums lacked decent alternatives, with many sites like GMClans dying after only a few years. 64digits somehow managed to survive this and still exists as of 2017.

The future creator of Hotline Miami, cactus, was even a member. I have a lot of fond memories of 64digits in its early days, as many others do. I could say many great things about 64digits in 2005.

But unfortunately this isn’t about 64digits in 2005 – it’s about 64digits now.

It’s hard to say when 64digits shifted from being a game development community, to being a community of artists and musicians, to being a community of shitposters. I don’t really fault the community itself for that last one, as it seems the entire internet has gone insane these past few years.

Gamedev communities in particular have been suffering more trolling and hostility ever since GamerGate in 2013. The toxicity has been impossible to avoid. I imagine it’s only gotten worse on 64digits since Brexit and the US elections.

I wouldn’t know because I left the site in May 2016, after being cursed out by one of the moderators (a common occurrence).

steven_obrien_music3

 

Anonymous Attacks

This happened back in June 2015. I still haven’t found the words to express how I feel about this, so I’m just gonna let the images speak for themselves first.

Warning: a lot of boring drama.

 

Long story short, the mods on 64d opened a blog where people could anonymously post feedback regarding the site. And everything was fine until I came along.

My first reply got 50+ comments after one day – mostly anonymous attacks toward me. These were either from people I considered friends, or total strangers. There’s no way to know until someone takes responsibility for their remark(s).

 

Some highlights:

“Funnily enough, your constant need to complain and attention whore is driving me away from this site more than anything else.

If I wanted to see whining attention whores I’d visit Facebook.” – Anonymous

 

“Your new friend got the treatment that has always come to newbies who post badly titled, low-content promotional blogs.“ – Anonymous

 

“One of the things that bothers me most about you hel, is your treatment of your personal situation. We all know what is going on and while it’s certainly understandable you’ve made a few requests to donate some money, right now you keep linking to your blog on every occasion you get and this really makes you look like “that poor guy”. It’s not like I don’t care about how you are doing, but it’s just getting really annoying since it looks like you’re abusing to make people feel sorry for you and either buy your games or to work for you for free. I hope this also gets rid of you considering yourself a successful game developer if your games have only been bought a couple of times. Mentioning your condition on your itch.io isn’t exactly helping your reputation either.“ – Anonymous

 

“Fuck you, seriously. So the thousands of dollars we donated to you amounts to not caring? I know for a fact that someone here donated so much money to you that they went into debt.

I don’t care about your stuff any more because I’m:

* Tired of you constantly complaining about the same things over and over again for years while doing nothing to fix them, and accusing almost everyone of attacking you or being insensitive when they try to offer you advice.
* Really reluctant to trust you after you casually mentioned that your donation money had gone to pay for pot (which isn’t exclusively for you) and heroin?
* Tired of seeing you complain about harmless fun which everybody else sees as the essence of the site and trying to apply some stupid arbitrary standards like we’re a court or academic conference or something.
* Tired of seeing you throwing hissy fits at people who give you feedback and having the nerve to say that we need more “self-criticism”.
* Tired of seeing you get away with harassing people and causing drama that other people would be instabanned for, and having the nerve to say that the admins are being unfair to you.

I wish you’d stayed gone. You make the atmosphere really uncomfortable here.“ – Anonymous

 

“Maybe all of the anonymous comments are actually just hel wanting to stir up more drama?“ – Anonymous

 

And my favorite: “It’s really disheartening to see people so intimidated by another member that they feel they have to express their frustration with them anonymously, and feel they have to express it publicly for something to be done about it.“ – Anonymous

 

Hell, even Julius Caesar wasn’t attacked by this many friends at once. It’s amazing the amount of vitriol people can spit out from behind the comfort of anonymity.

 

Aftermath

In the end, only one person confronted me in private regarding their anonymous comment. He left me with this gem: “I’m fairly sure that at least 50% of your games sold were bought out of sympathy for your situation is this does not make you a successful game developer by any means.” [sic]

No one else ever owned up to anything they said. No one else had the courage to stop hiding behind anonymity.

That event was pretty depressing, since I had been a part of the community for a decade. It didn’t stop me from continuing to create new games of course, but it did destroy the old dream of collaborating on a new game with anyone from 64digits. Now I distrust them all, regardless of whether or not they had been involved. How am I supposed to know who’s innocent?

Even the ones I am still “friends” with are mutual friends with some of the worst harassers on 64digits. They advocate the harassers by staying silent. And since I find that hard to reconcile, I’ve more or less pushed them all away.

I thought I could move on from this event and put it behind me (along with the community). I started using Discord chat in April 2016, and found new communities that support me.

That’s when I finally left 64d. I thought I could finally escape the old community for good.

But as I started joining gamedev chats, I began running into old “friends” from 64d. It’s been happening more lately. It makes my skin crawl every time. Is this person really being nice to me, or are they the one who publicly accused me of being a heroin addict? I’m tired of playing that game with these people.

That’s why am I bringing this up now. I’ve never wanted to bash 64digits publicly because I’m good friends with one of the creators. Seriously, he’s one of the best guys I know. And while I can never be friends with certain members, I’d rather not be enemies either. But their toxicity has been a huge factor in my personal decision to move away from game design.

At this point it’s quicksand to anyone involved, including myself. That’s why I’m still hesitant to write this.

My two oldest surviving games were collaborations with 64digits members (Extravisual and Cesque). My third and fourth games were made for contests there. I may be “free” now, but my early work is forever linked to that community. I will always have mixed feelings about this.

My two oldest games are 64d collaborations.

 

I still have Crohn’s disease. I don’t talk about it much anymore, but it affects me every day of my life.

We survived being homeless. We survived being raided by the police. I don’t talk about those things much either, but they still affect me every day too.

It’s affected my entire family.

I’m not sure if writing this gained me any closure. But part of me is writing this in case the 64d mods ever decide to delete that blog, erase the event from history, and continue fucking with me.

Maybe this will explain why I’m not enthusiastic about making any more video games. Maybe some people can relate to this.

If you hate me for whatever reason, now you know who to hang out with. Otherwise, avoid 64digits like the plague.

 

Anticlimax

I’ll end on this, part of my response to the one who confronted me privately.

“I link to my WordPress blog because I’m more proud of the writing on there. It was created to deal with the more personal issues that I can’t really post here. I haven’t publicly asked for donations since 2013. I don’t know which months you were inactive, but I’ve been living in the same place since September 2013. Since then my troubles have been less about being homeless, and more about that incident in December 2013 when the police raided us. So I’m dealing with a completely different set of issues than I was 2 years ago.

I only get $700 a month from disability. Which isn’t enough for anyone to live off of. My mom doesn’t have disability, so she only brings in what she can make online from writing. We’ve been lucky to have a semi permanent residence. If I can finally supplement my income by selling games, that would be huge. So for me, I’m finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I want my story to be one of overcoming trials, not succumbing to them.

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Getting Out of Dev Hell, Assets and Horror Games

2D Platformer Dev Blog, or Reflections in the Multimirror

To call this game old may be an understatement at this point. I recall starting this project sometime in 2010. I released an early version of the game for a Halloween competition back in 2012, then called “Hillel”, which didn’t look too different from the version I’m still working on now. The procedural generation of the levels honestly wasn’t that different either.

newgame2

Here is a screenshot from when I uploaded it to gamejolt in June 2014 as “Multimirror”, which shows how little it’s changed.

Even as far back as 2012 I was anxious to release the game, but it needed better graphics and after I lost my home that year, I wasn’t in much of a position to focus on my pixel art skills. I stopped working on the game and shifted my focus to Cosmic Zephyr, which seemed more suited to my skills, as well as a better vehicle for my music.

mm4

Here is a version of the game with a color shifting effect that I ended up taking out. It was too awkward to use while playing.

untitled-oct15-2

Here is the new version of the game. I gave up on making my own enemy sprites and simply found some free assets on the internet. I know this means you could potentially see these sprites in other video games, but I don’t care. My goal right now is simply release a working version of the game. I can always go back and improve on it later.

Since the success of Spelunky, the roguelike platformer genre has become so popular that it’s almost annoying – probably because few games have added much to the genre. Meanwhile, infinite procedurally generated worlds have gone from being an ideal to being a fad.

I’ve become increasingly conscious that if I finish this game, it will need something to set it itself apart from similar 2d platformers. But at the same time, I know if I worry too much I will end up paralyzing my creative process.

I no longer care about my 2D platformer game being called a clone by people too young to remember the age before 3D games dominated everything. I’ve learned through experience that game design communities are really toxic places, and I’ve had to cut ties with a lot of communities I grew up with because of the changing atmosphere.

 

Getting Out of Dev Hell

People can preach about video games being an artform all they want – that doesn’t matter when most game developers are only in it for the money. A lot of people are passionate about game design, yeah, sure. But for most people, passion is not enough to get them through crunch mode or development hell.

Real art does not go through crunch mode. A comparison between the quality of pop and art music is a good example of this. It’s not that art music is always great, it’s that it doesn’t have the soul sucked out of it like most pop music does.

Video games are still in their pop music phase, with most innovative artistic experiences either sitting on the sidelines in obscurity, or being hyped beyond human expectations like Braid or Journey.

I hope to take a long break from game design after I finish this project. I’m having health issues that directly interfere with spending too much time on the computer. My back started giving me problems when I was adding translations to Cosmic Zephyr back in March. My eyes have also gotten increasingly sensitive to light.

Much of this goes back to the malnutrition that comes with being chronically ill with Crohn’s disease. One of the major reasons I’ve continued designing games past the point of exhaustion is that a successful one would help pay for food and medication.

November 1st marks six years since my father was hauled away by police for being a cokehead. When he divorced my mom, the judge ruled that he owed us no alimony because mom and I smoked weed. We lost our home in March 2012 and I’ve been in fight mode ever since. I’m just now getting to where I don’t worry about money every day of my life.

I like to think if things had turned out differently (read: if my father hadn’t fucked everything up in 2010), I would have hired artists to help me finish games as a team. You have to have money in order to make money in this world. Unfortunately I’ve seen the dark side of how independent game studios can turn out, and I’ve fallen out of love that with that idea.

A lot has changed in 6 years.

I’m hoping to finish this game by Christmas. We’ll see how that goes.

 

Video Game Assets

For me, 2016 has been the year of the procedurally generated video game asset. Why spend time manually drawing tiles or making sfx for a game when you can have a program generate them for you?

shinynoisebricks1_preview
These are the bricks I decided to use in my platformer – procedurally generated by SpiderDave.

Traditionally, there was always a tough prejudice against using other people’s assets in your own indie game. I think people have since become more realistic in regards to the concept of the lone developer that is equally skilled in programming, art, and music.

Now with this new generation of indie game developers using engines like Unity or Unreal, and especially the introduction of the Unity and Game Maker asset stores, assets are not only acceptable but also a lucrative way for designers to make money. Arguably more so than actually making a game. Which only leaves me to wonder what the future of game design will look like.

From a developer’s standpoint, it’s very tempting to “go meta” and create tools for game design rather than games themselves. There are too many games, yet not enough tools to help create them.

And yet if enough of these tools are created, we could reach a point where very complex, detailed game concepts could be created by people with little to no knowledge of programming, art, or music. Which would lead to even more market saturation, and even more difficulty in finding good quality games.

Lowering the bar of entry for game design is always a good thing, but it has its downsides. I think what this all leads back to is increasing importance for game reviewers that are willing to sift through the dirt in order to find diamonds.

Most people are only aware of the limited amount of games that are being hyped at any given time, because major game journalists only cover the few AAA and indie games that everyone else is discussing. It’s an odd Catch-22, but few people are willing to go out of that collective safe zone. Jim Sterling’s Greenlight Good Stuff videos are one refreshing example of a game reviewer trying to help games that are unjustly obscure.

 

Horror Games

I was originally planning to make a horror game this October for the Pixel Horror Jam, but to my disappointment I found most of the participants use RPG Maker. I don’t mind RPG Maker, but the competition dynamic really changes when it’s more story oriented. I personally don’t want to take part in any game jam where the story is a significant factor to winning.

Horror games themselves have become a kind of joke that’s hard for me to take seriously, which is sad. I used to have great experiences with the many Japanese horror games that made their way onto PS2 – Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Siren, Clock Tower 3, etc. But now when I go back to play them I only notice the clunky controls, stiff animations, and lackluster gameplay.

Good horror doesn’t really come from story or gameplay. It comes from the “atmosphere”, which is a nebulous term for how a game makes you feel. What good horror games lack in gameplay, they have to make up for by being evocative in nature. They have to evoke strong feelings of fear, paranoia, confusion and anxiety. Which… isn’t really hard.

And I guess that’s why I feel like horror games have stagnated – it doesn’t demand the same level of quality as other genres. You can still get away with mediocre gameplay that would be unacceptable in other genres, as long as your game has atmosphere. Because it’s easy to scare people. So horror games have essentially become the low-hanging fruit of game design.

It should also be said in terms of replayability, the initial shock of a game’s atmosphere wears off after a while. Which is why now I play Silent Hill with almost no feeling of immersion. The experience is never as good as the first time.

I think story-driven games in general are in a weird place right now, with the growing popularity of short form video games. Games with longer stories demand too much patience these days, unless they’re very engaging or innovative. Successful titles seem to be relegated to the AAA industry and niche circles like the RPG Maker scene.

I had great experiences with To the Moon and Her Story this year, but those are both examples that lack traditional gameplay. Meanwhile there are games like Outland and Valdis Story: Abyssal City that have great gameplay, but I couldn’t care less about the stories. The characters and plot leave no memorable impression on me, and I probably won’t play them through to the end.

It points back to the fundamental disconnect between story and gameplay, and how some games are trying to bridge the gap while others remain traditional.

 

TL;DR

Once the platformer game is finished, I’m probably going to take a long break from game development to explore other forms of artistic expression. The format of a “video game” feels too creatively limiting for where I’m at in life. I’m sure the inspiration for new games will come back to me eventually, but right now I want to focus more on music and songwriting.

Congratulations to Bob Dylan for winning the Nobel literature prize, and thanks to him for reminding me the most important element of good music – the lyrics.

I’m working on a list of best albums released in 2016, as well as a list of worst albums. Both articles have been a lot of fun to write so far. So look forward to those!  🙂

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NanoTone Synth, Celody Life

NanoTone Synth

NanoToneSynthSmall

Download it here!

This has been my big project for the summer – my first music making tool for HTML5 and Android. This software allows you to play music in any temperament up to 240-TET. You can use this to tune a guitar in 24-TET to play quarter tones, for example. You can compare any temperament to 12-TET, to see which has more accurate perfect fifths, major thirds, etc. You can also use this to compare the accuracy of 7 and 11-limit harmonies.

I want to add more features but since microtonality is such a niche in the music realm, it’ll depend on what feedback I get. I’m really just glad to see that it works on a touchscreen. I’m sure the next tool I make will be more universally applicable for musicians. It may involve guitar.

 

Celody Life

celodysmall

Download it here!

I spliced together the keyboard code from Seraphim Automata and the code for the Game of Life. The result was this tool that lets you generate music with cellular automata. I was disappointed that the program doesn’t run in HTML5, but I’m glad the idea works. I don’t have anything else to add to it, but I do plan to use the Game of Life again in the future. 🙂

 

The Death of Serious Journalism

John Oliver’s video on the changing landscape of journalism really resonated with me. This is been a really depressing year for serious news, starting with the end of Al Jazeera America back in April. They were the only major news outlet that would open with the civil war in Syria, every day. They covered human trafficking, global hunger, climate change, so many important topics that aren’t discussed enough.

The fact that seems shocking just shows how little “news” we really expect from news organizations these days. I tried to replace Al Jazeera with CNN and MSNBC, but that just doesn’t work. This entire election year has turned into Maleficent vs. Voldemort.

I really hope Larry Wilmore and his crew move on to better places now that the Nightly Show is being cancelled. Mike Yard, Ricky Velez, Holly Walker, Rory Albanese, Robin Thede, Grace Parra, Jordan Carlos, Francesca Ramsey – all great comedians. The Nightly Show have gone out of their way to cover #BlackLivesMatter, Flint Michigan, and so many other issues being ignored by major news outlets (including The Daily Show). And Comedy Central are replacing their most serious news show with @midnight, which is a total insult.

Between this and claiming Stephen Colbert’s alter ego as their intellectual property, I’m pretty much done with Comedy Central. I’ve watched The Daily Show since the early 2000s, but now it’s a shell of its former self.

The Paley Center For Media Presents: "Keepin' It 100: An Evening With The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore"

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 14:Rory Albanese, Ricky Velez, Holly Walker, Larry Wilmore, Robin Thede, Jordan Carlos, Grace Parra and Neil deGrasse Tyson attend The Paley Center for Media Presents: “Keepin’ It 100: an evening with The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore” at Paley Center For Media on November 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

On a brighter note, I’ve been enjoying watching the Rio Olympics. Men and women’s basketball have been really fun to watch. On the men’s side, Serbia vs France was pretty interesting. Serbia had a big lead for most of the game, and the French didn’t seem to care. Then they came back with a one-point lead with 33 seconds on the clock. It was just so very… French. I felt bad for Serbia.

Women’s basketball is more exciting. The most exciting match I’ve seen so far was Turkey vs. Brazil, which went into double overtime before Turkey finally won. Isil Alben and Lara Sanders were both great to watch.

They met their match in the quarterfinals with Spain though. With Spain ahead 62-60 and 20 seconds on the clock, most teams would go for a foul. But Lara Sanders managed to steal the ball and scored for Turkey, tying the game at 62-62 with 4.3 seconds left on the clock. Then Anna Cruz got the ball, took a long shot with less than a second on the clock, and scored for Spain. Spain won 64-62. It was an insane victory for Spain, and a blistering performance from both teams.

Even though Japan lost to Australia in the fourth quarter after a 16-point lead, they definitely left the strongest impression on me in terms of being a fast and well-coordinated team. The USA vs Japan match was really entertaining to watch. So was Serbia vs Australia.

I can’t wait to see France vs United States, and Spain vs Serbia on Thursday! And the finals!

 

The Great Time Limit

Since the rise of smaller mobile games and the recent market saturation of popular genres, I’ve slowly lost the desire to make a large scale, story-driven, character-driven game, like the ones I grew up on (Sonic, Kingdom Hearts, Silent Hill, Zelda, etc). It makes more sense now to make smaller procedurally generated games with higher replayability.

Story-driven games are difficult for indie developers to translate into other languages, unless you have a strong fan base already built. Typical subject matter also varies greatly across the world. As more of the world becomes modernized, I fear we will share less common ground because of geographic and cultural differences. This is why I feel the best stories for games are archetypal myths – ones that can potentially be told through symbology instead of words.

This one guy wrote a great article about Sonic 3 & Knuckles and the Monomyth concept from John Campbell’s The Hero of a Thousand Faces (a spectacular book). Sonic 3 & Knuckles is one of the best examples of a game that tells a complete story without any dialogue.

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Here is a more in-depth breakdown of the game.

There’s also another issue that ties with market saturation, and that is the “great time limit” of our mortality. This occurred to me while binging on movies last year, that I could never see all the movies in the world, even if I devoted my whole life to it. So I’m selective about which genre, era, actors, etc that I watch. I can run into a fellow movie lover who’s never seen any of the films I have, and vice versa. It’s the same with gamers.

I think one thing that GamerGate exposed by questioning the identity of “gamers”, is that we really have very little in common. We may all be playing different games for entirely different reasons.

One person wants to explore, another wants to collect, another wants to build, another wants to micromanage. Another wants to role-play a specific fantasy, another like branching storylines, another wants to race, another wants to fight. Some prefer casual games, while others only respect “hardcore” gaming. Single vs multiplayer. Console vs PC. Controller vs keyboard and mouse. Do we even belong under the same umbrella term as “gamer”? Hardly. At that point we need to start breaking off into groups.

So as a game developer, how can you make everyone happy? You can’t. Not with a single video game. Your best that is to spend time with people who have people with common tastes as you. Try to figure out what you both like and why. Then focus on that.

 

Sonic Mania

The new Sonic game is being developed by game programmers from the fan community. It looks really promising, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. 🙂