Unfinished Game: Zem! for Bang!

Around 2003, I was twenty and my friend ADV was developing a ZZT-inspired game creation system called Bang!. I had retired from ZZT a year before with the release of Zem! X, a final entry in a series of Lemmings-inspired games. At the time I was mostly focused on drawings and wasn’t especially interested in continuing game development, and certainly not in learning programming. While Bang!, heavily inspired by ZZT, used a language much like that system’s ZZT-OOP, it was much more powerful and, as you might guess, much more complex. While it retained a tile-based character system like ZZT’s, it allowed an infinite expansion of the character set and multi-colored characters, basically making sprites possible. Having primarily worked with text-mode systems, this was very appealing to me. But learning new programming somehow wasn’t.

In early 2003, ADV agreed to do the programming work on a new project if I’d lead up design on a project and provide the art assets. I still had some game ideas I’d been itching to try. And so I began plans for a game based on Zem! X‘s lemming hunter concept, to be entitled simply Zem!

At the time, I was enamored with the idea of open world games and Pokémon and wanted to add a bit of that grand scope to the project. Rather than the stage-by-stage challenge of Zem! X in which the player had to shoot one lemming, Zem, in order to move onto the next level, this game would find the player (choosing from a dozen or so potential avatars) on a journey to advance through the ranks of the Zem Catching Agency, an organization that returned pet zems to their owners, captured zems in the wild to be sold as pets, and removed nuisance zems. As you can see, “lemmings” had been replaced by “zems,” though clearly their designs were still inspired by the critters in Lemmings. Beyond the standard, blue-clad zems who simply marched ever forward, there would be fire-breathing zems, flying angelic zems, giant cyclops zems, and even goth zems–just for starters.

The game would have free-range areas where the player could hunt down rare or unique zems to raise in ranks or earn money as well as specific mission levels. Zem! was to have a massive world map that the player would need to expend resources to navigate by buying bus and plane tickets. There were to be major hub cities and little towns, belying my infatuation with Zelda 2. Somewhere in there, plans for online multiplayer modes were also sketched out, where players could compete or cooperate via peer-to-peer connections using the characters in their save files. There would be dozens of playable avatars.

It perhaps goes without saying that plans for the game quickly became unruly. In truth, I both had a hard time managing the scale and flow of the game and I’m not sure that I ever had the clearest idea where it was all going except for some vague vision. Eventually, WiL (who was already planning to provide music for the project) took over programming, but even still the game lacked direction on my end, I hit a block, and, as a result, the project was abandoned. Basically, the scope got out of control, my ambition couldn’t match by then-ability as a game director, and it was unsustainable.

ADV eventually discontinued Bang! and began working on his next ZZT-inspired game creawtion system, Plastic, which attracted an even bigger following, if I remember correctly. WiL made some awesome stuff for it. I think I flirted with getting involved with Plastic, but never produced anything.

In the meantime, WiL, Brian Polak, and I made Tetrovny! in Bang! (we were all really into exclamation points in titles in those days, it seems). WiL made a handful of really neat Bang! games, continuing his innovative and boundary-pushing work in ZZT.

A few months ago, I uncovered some of my old notes, old art assets, and some old builds that I could still get running (forgive the sophomoric humor and drug references–we were young). I took a couple videos of the game at different stages.

The first includes the opening cinematic sequence as well as a city environment and the game’s menu.

The second is a demonstration of the game’s weapons and different zem types. I can’t believe I thought that tile-based parallax scrolling underground was going to be at all acceptable.

Below is a lineup of the varieties of zems I’d designed for the game. As I mentioned above, each would have had its own behaviors, and there would have been even more than these:

And finally, I’ve dug up a video captured by YouTube user JaqMs of a build of the game I don’t have in my archives.

I’ve occasionally thought about revisiting this project–or at least the concept–and adapting it to Game Maker. After primary design work was done on Caverns of Khron I actually began a Game Maker version, recycling much of the assets from the Bang! version, but it again suffered from lack of a clear direction, and it stalled out before I got as far as programming the tranquilizers. Meanwhile, the basic ideas explored here and in other games of the Zem! series have heavily inspired my games Penguin Mania XSuper Stone BallShadow Wrangler, and the upcoming Explobers.

NOTE: If you’re looking for Bang! itself, I have the most recent release (1.1c) I had available for download here. It’s an old program now and originally came with an installer, so I can’t guarantee how well these files will work. I know someone wrote some documentation for how to use it, but I can’t find it anywhere. I may try to upload whatever games I can locate on my hard drives that were actually released, though most of what I have is my own and others’ in-progress builds.

Pirate Kart V Highlights: Volume 2

I can’t believe I made the first post almost half a year ago!  Still, I’ve been meaning to write up a few more of my favorite games from Pirate Kart V.  With Caverns of Khron recently released and a planned busy late-December working on a handful of other games (in addition to my classes), I figured I’d take a few minutes to write up another ten games.

secondsleftSeconds Left by Elektron

Elektron’s single-screen platformer is brutally difficult.  It’s perhaps a little too ungenerous when it comes to hit detection and so on, but for pixel-perfect, fast-paced platforming, it’s pretty darn good (when I played it x months ago, I got a lot farther than I did before playing it again this evening).  Where it really excels is its interesting punishment for failing to clear a level.  Rather than giving you finite lives or making you simply repeat the level from the beginning, the game boots you back to the beginning of the previous level.  It’s a pretty ingenious approach to progression, as advancing farther really feels earned.

Tower Defense by Bento Smile

You may know Bento Smile’s name from any of a number of excellently designed games with supremely charming visuals (and a modicum of fame with Air Pressure from a few years back).  I’ve played a lot of tower defense games in my time and this is by far the funniest.

skeletonsSkeletons in the Closet by JF Roco

I never had a Spectrum ZX-82, and have never even seen one (though I recently saw a shelf full of games at a game store in Akihabara).  I think I missed out, because people who played that machine a lot went on to make things like La Mulana and a trilogy of games made by JF Roco for Pirate Kart V.  This was my favorite of them, a simple but slick, stylish platformer.  Obviously, games like this have a special place in my heart, but really, this game’s biggest flaw is (as EffBee notes on the comments section for the game) that it just ends to soon.  I could happily play through 50 levels of this.

Proximity Mime by Chris Chung

Are mime jokes old hat?  Yes.  Did I enjoy this game that involves dodging mimes?  Yes.  In part, because you yourself play a mime.  And further, the  mimes have pantomime apples that make you lose.  It’s a simple, fun joke played well.  Its core dodging and moving feel pretty good too!

beholderDie Hero by Petri Purho

In this game, your avatar carries a sword, but more importantly he–like the monsters he fights–is equipped with a set of multi-sided dice (that he gets more of as he levels up, defeating monsters).

The game occasionally rolls entire game boards that are effectively impossible (giving you nothing but enemies with more dice with more sides than your own).  But throwing the dice down after entering battle is just quite a bit of fun.  It’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing further developed.


waspsvdemonsWasps vs. Demons: A Love Story
by atuun

A surprisingly long and lush visual novel about the forbidden love between Wasp and Demon royalty.  It’s played at just the right tone to be engrossing and ridiculous.  The game came about as a result of one of the donor’s request rewards: “Wasps VS Demons! A love story!” It’s basically wonderful.

Also see the game’s Launch Day DLC.

Dammit Snake by Guilherme Töws

dammittttAt its heart, Snake is a game about managing your own space as you crawl and grow around the screen collecting pellets.  In this one, your body splits and becomes part of a permanent obstacle course, making you design your own level as you go.  Pretty clever.

Zaratustra also made another clever thing called “Flip” for the event.

penguinlostPenguin Lost by Max Weinberg

It may be unfortunately marred by that Game Maker Lite logo in the upper left corner, but this game is just lovely.

That’s all for now!  I’ll try to post another handful of games in the next few weeks.  I’m going to go searching again through the entire 1,005 games of the Pirate Kart V soon, and I recommend you do as well (download them all free!) to find the gems I’ll miss.

[Blog] Moore-Tech 2000 in 1996

Some time next month, I’m going to release Caverns of Khron, my biggest game project to date.  A few months ago, I found a folder in my filing cabinet titled “Miscellaneous Game Development,” containing dozens of pages I wrote and drew between 1996 and 1999.  Until I’d found this, I’d basically forgotten about all the games I’d made and planned before I started making ZZT games in 1997.  I’d actually been designing games on paper since about 1990, though I didn’t have any kind of computer till 1994.  I never learned C++ or any other “real” programming languages save for a very rudimentary knowledge of QBASIC that only equipped me for the simplest text adventures.  So, if you’re interested, you’re welcome to join me on a nostalgic, navel-gazing trip through what I thought about making video games before I even knew how.

My cousin Steven introduced me to QBASIC in the mid-nineties, and it was simple enough that I thought I could write a couple small programs.  I never actually spent much time with text adventures like Zork (I loved Return to Zork, but couldn’t get my hands on an actual copy of the Zork trilogy until like 1998), but I was in love with the idea, and had played around with a couple MOOs and MUDs, more interested in the promise than any execution of the idea I’d actually seen.  Before long, I’d programmed a virtual room-by-room tour of my house–called “My House”–which forever cemented in my mind the cardinal directional layout of Pocatello, Idaho.  This and other games would be “published” under a “label” called “Moore-Tech 2000,” and I’d hang this sign on my door:

Please note that this sign only ever hung on my bedroom door.  The prices listed were the fees I wanted to charge my two younger sisters to give them copies of these games on their own floppy disks.  It was an evolution of when I tried to sell my sisters and cousins the Nintendo fanfiction I’d write and illustrate, bound in construction paper when I was about nine-years-old.  I also offered customized games for the low price of only 75 cents to $1.75.  I don’t believe I ever made a cent from any of my games, and rightly so.  Eventually, I just tried to get my sisters to play them.

Of the games listed, very few without the checkboxes ever were finished.  “Text Color” simply changed the color of the MS-DOS text interface.  “Pilgrim Hunter” was a text game where the player searched a square field square by square for a turkey to shoot, like a festive, unchallenging “Hunt the Wumpus.” I also apparently finished something called “J.C.,” but I have no idea what that might have been.  I seem to have been planning something called “Aquaria,” and considering my then-interests, it surely involved mermaids.

Sadly, I finally disposed of my 486 PC last year, which had what I’m sure were the only remaining copies of all the games I worked on, including the first game I ever published, “UFO Invasion,” a QBASIC text adventure uploaded to AOL and co-written with my friend Caleb.  I also once had extensive pages of planning for the sequel, which I intended to be a Wolfenstein-like FPS.  Also there was another collaboration with Caleb, a Christmas-themed game called “The Reindeer Riots,” though I can’t remember for the life of me what actually happened in it.

“Magic Learner” is the one for which I have the most documents still and was the first game I intended to be released in the world of “Khron,” a text adventure with a magic casting system and a fair amount of open exploration, to be later paired with a game called “Power Quest” which would be a text adventure with an action and strength orientation.  I’d written some amount of lore for the games’ story world, and even drew maps.  Below is a map of the game world and a modified one broken up into a navigable grid for use in the game.

 

Of course, these papers are what inspired me to name my current game “Caverns of Khron” (before that, it was called “Ruins of Bufannei,” a contraction of “Bullshit Fantasy Name”).  If you’re worried about Khron canon, understand that the game actually takes place in Greschden Caverns, but the game doesn’t bear that name because it sounds stupid.

Note the copyright date on the map.  The world of Khron existed contemporarily with our own, but with a 1,960 year date offset.  P.D., I assume, once meant something.

I’d begun a Halloween-themed horror adventure game called “Mansion,” where the player explores a large mansion during a Halloween party to discover dark secrets.

This game eventually evolved into “Jack O’Lantern,” which began life as a text adventure, and I distinctly remember drawing this map for it in my ninth grade speech class:

In 1997, I learned about ZZT, and found it a more attractive design platform.  I actually adapted this design pretty faithfully into a ZZT game that I published.

In those days, all my ZZT designs happened on paper before they happened onscreen. I have pages and pages of ZZT-OOP code for games like the unfinished “Bob 3: The Amazon Adventure” and “Zem! X” which I began work on in 1998 and didn’t finish until 2002.

 

With my early ZZT games, I employed a “star” system like Tezuka Osamu’s, featuring recurring characters playing different parts in each story.  It was silly, but I was in love with the idea.  In the “Zem! X” paper, I love where I drew a picture explaining to myself what I saw in my mind and how I had to express it with ASCII characters.

My ambition was not limited to what I could conceivably produce at the time, of course.  What I wanted to make followed my interests, which in the mid-nineties became largely focused on real-time strategy games.  I have about a dozen pages of notes for “Medieval” and its expansion “Medieval Quests,” featuring a total of five factions, with unique units and campaigns.

I also possessed a strange, obsessed fascination with LCD games, and went as far as to plan the screens for half a dozen games on paper. One of these, “Mythical Commander” (left) was an intended LCD real-time strategy game. “Blif the Blot” (right) was a mascot platformer that had a secret versus mode.

 

Beginning in my later teenage years, I fell in love with the link cable racing game included in Super Mario Bros. DX for the Game Boy Color, and plotted an intricate expansion of the game called Super Mario Arena, featuring a character roster with different abilities, power-ups, and a greater focus on competitive combat. I possessed some vain hope that Nintendo would somehow find out about my plans and accept my pencil drawings as the design document for a million-seller Game Boy Color game and a long career in making video games.

I continued to make ZZT games and began playing around with Megazeux.  Eventually, I became more interested in filmmaking than my once-intended career of glamorous, professional video game development and programming.  I kept my toes wet, working on a graphic adventure game and an online RPG fighter with my cousin, though neither project came to full fruition, and I only advised design and worked on graphics.  I wonder what would’ve happened if instead of ZZT, someone had handed me a copy of Klik N’ Play (I saw it in software catalogs, and after it I lusted), or if Game Maker had come into my life a decade before it did.

I’m going up to my mother’s house in a couple weekends.  I’m hoping to dig up some more of these kinds of papers.  I have a vague dream about picking up one of the other game concepts I know I had once upon a time and seeing if I can’t bring it to life with what I know now, just to fulfill my 13-year-old self’s dreams on some level.  It’s been somewhat inspiring to examine what I used to think about games, see where I’m similar, and see where I’m the same.

And at the very least, the 16-years-in-the-making Khron world of games will finally see the light.

Caverns of Khron (2012)

Pirate Kart V Highlights: Volume 1

I’ve now written ad nauseum about my own Pirate Kart V games, so I’d like to turn the spotlight to a number of excellent contributions by others.  Among the 1,027 games in the Kart, I confess I’ve only played somewhere around 300 to 400 of them, so this can by no means be comprehensive (and these are just ten of twenty-five I plan to do small write-ups about; I’ll be doing a follow up or two with additional games I don’t get to in this post, and others I discover later).  I’d strongly recommend you download the Pirate Kart launcher and browse around at random, looking for new, exciting, and hilarious things, an addition to playing what I recommend below.  And also to make your own game at the next event at Glorious Trainwrecks (there are two to four events per month and I try to participate as often as I can!).

These games are presented in a more or less arbitrary order.  I mean no insult to anyone whose games I don’t feature.  Every game in the Kart is valuable because, and everyone should have their game played.  But I wanted to share some of my favorites.

Dark Scorcerer by Ryleigh Kostash

There are a lot of things I like about Ryleigh Kostash‘s Dark Scorcerer.  The player character is a dark sorcerer (or, I suppose, scorcerer) whose magic bullets grow and gain in power as they travel across the screen.  You have to dodge the knights as you attempt to kill them.  The knights give you points, but also drop multiplier mods you have to pick up to stack onto your existing modifier, which quickly balloons into a gigantic number.  And if that number hits you, you also die.  It’s a game about navigating space and manipulating numbers with a natural, somewhat comical difficulty curve.  It also just feels really good to play.

Win Condition by Hugs

This game borrows heavily from the last screens of The Legend of Zelda for an enjoyable exploration of how video games can end.  There are, I believe, five different endings, though I’ve only reached four.  Find as many as you can.  The game’s cheeky as hell, and has a splendid sense of humor, and feels like a pretty good approximation of Zelda‘s core mechanics to boot.

I won’t give you any more than that, because it’s largely about the joy of discovery.  I’ve perhaps already revealed too much.

Action Figure Fighter by Kirkjerk

A brilliantly simple and utterly adorable idea.  A mashup of arcade fighting games and that box full of action figures from your childhood.  Its aesthetic is simple, and totally pitch perfect.

Also strongly recommended is another Kirkjerk entry into Pirate Kart V, DinoBeeBoxer.

Absolute Chaos Dog by Yuliy

Balance your physical need of food, obtainable by obediently performing the tricks your human overlords request of you, against your desire to achieve chaos and anarchy, accomplished by rebelling against those same demands, in your desire to become the Absolute Chaos Dog.  The game’s input is smart and unique, and the tone of the presentation is really fun.  The game has three endings, but only one allows you to achieve the status of Absolute Chaos Dog.

Rapid Fire Your Hookshot to Glory and Death by Damian Sommer

An alteration of Sommer’s own Context Insensitive, this works very well as its own, standalone, fast-pace single screen platformer.  The hookshot mechanic is used to navigate very narrow spiky passages and impossibly long jumps.  It feels tight and its aesthetic is great.  A lot of fun.

Famous Author Series by Chris Whitman

Chris Whitman made two games in his “Famous Authors” series and a making-of in the same style featuring himself making the game.  He uses them as a good platform for some good comedy both about his subjects and game inputs.

Franz Kafka
Marcel Proust
Making of

Realistic Female First-Person Shooter by Anna Anthropy

Adapted from a gallingly sexist post by some men’s right forum poster named XTC, Anthropy executes a ridiculous concept brilliantly in the best kind of mockery.

I also gotta say, too, I’m kind of in love with how this game looks.  Anthropy is really excellent with her video game visuals.

Super Thwomp Bros. by Dock

I’ve got a serious soft spot for games that put you in the shoes of the enemy.  I’ve also got a particular fondness for doing that with enemies from the Mario series (and I’ve done it myself in my game Hammer Bro.!, though you didn’t have to kill Mario in that game).  Playing with how a different character in a familiar world plays is a fun experiment.  This game is, of course, much like the excellent Spike: A Love Story, albeit much cuter and shorter.

PepsiMan Generations by Topher Florence

With such a relentlessly, garishly hip aesthetic (everyone and their Coke can in sunglasses, wild Spring Break cam), a feverish confusion of the same things (the game is called PepsiMan Generations, stars a Coke Can, and the executable is called drpepper.exe) and some seriously wacky but precise controls, this is some modern pop art masterpiece.

But could we expect any less from DocFuture?

Pirate Kart Post-Mortem [Part 3 of 3]

The months pass quickly!  Having not written this yet, I feel like my hands are somewhat tied on writing other things for my blog.  This last installment isn’t as detailed as my previous installments, I’m afraid, but nevertheless, it was fun to reminisce about some of these games, some of which I’d almost forgotten I’d made.

Watch this space in the next few days as I announce where a few other, larger game projects are in development, and in the near future where I recommend a host of other people’s Pirate Kart games.

17. My Pet Thing

This is the game I probably spent the least or second least amount of time on.  This was another request from the Kickstarter funders, and the request was this:

a game about taking care of a virtual pet and dressing it up and decorating its home

A virtual pet game!  I haven’t thought much about virtual pets since I had a little dog in a watch I kept on my nightstand in junior high.  My original ambitions were a bit lofty, but once I had the drawing of the thing (drawn directly into Game Maker’s sprite editor by mouse), I knew the tone this thing would take.  There aren’t that many things to click on, and your pet can never die (though it can sit in its own filth for a while), but I had fun putting this senseless, silly thing together.

18. Andrew W.K.’s Passage

Parodies of Jason Rohrer’s Passage are a Glorious Trainwrecks and Pirate Kart tradition by now, with numerous “sequels” and retoolings populating the fifth Pirate Kart alone.  Some have you playing 8 Passages at the same time, turn the slow aging mechanic of the game into a race to death, or make the player character into a literal piece of shit.  Sergio Cornaga put out one of the best Pirate Kart games in Passagebalt, injecting Passage into Canabalt.

Mine amounts to a pretty simple joke in the titular lyric from Andrew W.K.’s “We’re Not Gunna Get Old.”  It was fun rendering Andrew W.K. (whose music I listened to constantly throughout the Kart) in Rohrerized pixel form.

19. 101-in-1 Amaze-o-Kart!

Stemming from an IRC chatroom conversation with Effbee and others, I wanted to make a multi-kart to stuff into the multi-kart, upping the total number of Pirate Kart games by 100.  Effbee had done something similar for the second Pirate Kart with his 999,998-in-1 cart, the product of actual randomization, I believe.  For this one, I built a handful of quick, basic levels and made all the objects reskin by certain variables set in the multicart menu.  I recycled most of the game graphics and mechanics from elsewhere (getting enemies from games like Holiday Penguin Mania X, bringing in the player characters of Ghost Witch and Bulb Boy, and borrowing the levers from the in development Caverns of Khron), but this took forever.  Most of what took forever was coming up with 101 unique names for the games in the cart, and then setting the 4 variables that differentiated them.

All for a little joke.  But in making the joke, I made the closest thing to a Donkey Kong ’94-style platformer, which was something I’d been aiming for all throughout.

20. ChickenFall: ChickenCatch: Friend’s Edition

If only I’d come up with another game in the ChickenFall franchise, we could’ve had titles four layers deep!

Basically, this was a quickly put together game to up the total game count.  I didn’t change much from the way the first game worked, save for inputs.  I think I even left the phase progression alone.

That said, turning this into a two-player game (like Koi Puncher before it) may actually make this a more interesting game.  It’s always fun to play with your friends!

21. Witch Sisters in Lava Dungeon Rescue

For the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about multiplayer games where the players have different abilities.  I knew I wanted to make a game like that in the weeks following the Pirate Kart V weekend.  My initial concept was a Space Invaders-inspired game where players had to keep each other alive, one controlling a gun turret shooting airborne threats with the mouse, and the other protecting the turret from earthbound enemies with melee attacks.  But then I had the two witch sprites from the 101-in-1 Amaze-o-Kart, and, with Solomon’s Key 2: Fire ‘n’ Ice in mind, thought I had what could be a real interesting game, one where one player can shoot missiles, and the other can create blocks.

I’d also been wanting to make another splitscreen co-op platformer, after my Vector the Crocodile fangame, Vector Bros. the Crocodiles Escape the Warehouse.  I used a lot of what I learned from that game in this.

It’s not a bad idea, but it’s one that deserves more attention and better level design than I gave it here.  This is something of an awkward failure, I’m afraid.  But it’s one I’m often thinking about how to retool and make better.

22. Tales of Whales

Some time during the Pirate Kart festivities, I went crazy over Nintendo’s Game & Watch Gallery series, which had been the primary occupants of my Game Boy Color back in high school.  I became interested in doing more survival score attack games, and wanted to try my hand at a simple platformer.  I took my aesthetic cues from one of my favorite visual designs for an NES stage, world 4-2 of Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA).  The game may get too difficult too quickly, and I wonder if having the seagulls running into the player being instant death was really the correct choice, but I think I balanced the whale motions pretty well, and succeeded in creating a game that’s fairly charming to look at.

23. Boulder Defender

I really enjoyed the visual style I employed for Tales of Whales, and the next day, I played a fair bit of Tim Rogers and company’s Ziggurat.  This was the result.  It plays like a simplified Zigguart mashed up with a tower defense game.  The game originally had an old West theme, but a medieval setting just made that much more sense.  One of my favorite things about doing it was that as the game progresses and the player makes mistakes, the tower’s shape changes and the player has to adjust his or her perspective.  Which is surprisingly intuitive.

This is on my list of games to return to to polish up, retool, and possibly try to get some attention for.  If I could get this onto mobile platforms and tweak some things like enemy types, I think it might not be a half bad diversion.

24. Duel in Concert: Piano Man X Tambourine Man

Some days you walk into your apartment, find yourself singing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and then 90 minutes later, this appears.  I actually built this on top of Boulder Defender and Tales of Whales in ways other than the visuals, but that’s probably basically invisible.  I don’t do a lot of games with mouse control, so that was fun to play with.

This game.  It’s really silly.

I was racing to make this the thousandth game in the Pirate Kart, but at 50 megs, it just took too long to upload.  Alas.

25. Bulb Boy Infinity

I was watching the live stream of people playing the Pirate Kart on the floor at GDC with only a few minutes left before GDC Play closed.  I realized I had just enough time to slap together one final game.  I did a quick edit of my The Adventures of Bulb Boy platformer to make it a survival score attack game.  It’s not a terrible idea, but the hasty schedule resulted in a level that’s far from ideal for what this game is.

Still, I got to watch Glorious Trainwrecks founder Jeremy “SpindleyQ” Penner play it as the last Kart game finished during GDC.  That was a pretty satisfying end to a wonderful journey into creative experimentation and, as it turned out, relative exhaustion.

Thanks for reading these!  If you have any feedback, please be sure to share.

Pirate Kart Post-Mortem [Part 2 of 3]

It’s a little later than I’d hoped, but it’s here!  I wrote a ton about Ghost Witch, so I’ll be doing seven in this installment and nine in the last one.  As a reminder, you can download the Pirate Kart launcher here, and you can click on the thumbnails to go directly to the games’ pages at Glorious Trainwrecks.

10. Owl Forest

What is an “endurance” challenge in a video game? Often it’s something that you can’t endure anymore because you’ve somehow triggered the fail state–death, failing to x enough ys.  But real endurance challenges mean you just can’t bear to go on anymore–physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever.  This game was conceived as the same thing, but with the player’s ability to put up with something obnoxious.  That thing soon revealed itself to be owls.  If you play this game, it is imperative that you turn your volume up pretty loud.

Originally, I was going to voice all the owl hoots, but I ultimately realized I can’t make very good owl sounds.  So I stole a bunch of sounds off The Owl Pages.  There are over 12 owl sound effects in the game, and they come from owls all over the world!

Like a handful of other ideas for the Kart, I thought this would be a nice easy one to breeze through and move onto something else, but I got bogged down in the presentation and it took over 3 hours.  Does the moon need to have parallax scrolling?  No, but when I realized I could, I couldn’t resist blowing another 10 minutes on it.  It’s my very first parallax!

11. Fuck the Sun

I finally finished watching Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) in February with my roommates.  I’m pretty much in love with it.  I also really liked using this photographic GIF of the Sun I found in my Vector the Crocodile Pirate Kart game, Vector the Crocodile is Chased by the Sun back in September.  So as soon as the phrase “fuck the Sun” crossed my mind (which it did for some reason that Sunday morning), I instantly knew what my next game was.  A game where you get revenge on the motherfucking Sun by killing it and preserving Earth as a testament that the rest of the human race once lived.  Sometimes you have to kill God.  My thoughts are in this neighborhood none too infrequently.

12. Fuck the Sun II: Sun Lover

And here’s the other place my thoughts go when “fuck the Sun” is in my head.  This is essentially another exercise in using the video game form as narrative, this time for a little joke about playing a “character” with his or her own motivations that might be distinct from the player’s.  The controls are broken.  I think I know why now, but I wasn’t too stressed about fixing them in the moment, because once I’d had my joke, I was ready to move on.  It might be slightly improved by making the player feel less like he or she is stranded on this course (though you still wouldn’t be able to fly back to Earth; you’d continue to move forward).

I had the good fortune of tuning in to the Pirate Kart’s GDC live feed and watching some beautiful guy freaking out and screaming, both about the Sun’s betrayal, and my choice of music.

If there were a Fuck the Sun III, I’m sure it’d be about a distant star hooking up with the Sun.  Maybe a dating sim eroge?

13. Watch Ducks HD Remix

I mentioned before that I’d intended to make a whole slew of “sequels” to Watch Ducks.  It was always my intention to make versions that looked like they belonged to later generations of consoles (as the first one rocked kind of an Atari 2600 or Intellivision aesthetic).  I thought I’d progress them through early NES style, with a Duck Hunt flavor, Super NES, and then eventually other maybe even 3D renderings, if I ever could accomplish that.  But the title of Street Fighter II: HD Remix was really just too appealing, so I borrowed that.  I almost had to scrap this one because I couldn’t find a decent picture of someone sitting at a bench to steal.  But then I found this one and it clicked!

This game taught me a lot about sprite/object scaling in Game Maker, by the way, something I may very well find good use for in the future.   Each of those ducks is one of the same two sprites, but they scale according to their y-coordinates.  That may seem obvious to some, but it was pretty exciting to me!

Within about five minutes of finishing this game, a friend arrived for my Oscar party.  My participation in the Pirate Kart weekend was over with thirteen total games, eleven of which were made over the weekend.  I’d aimed for twenty games, but that was a bit over-ambitious.  I could’ve easily pumped my numbers higher, but at this point, I’d realized I was really interested in taking each of these little quickie games and exploring some idea or other with them, and wanted to keep doing things that were interesting to myself, spinning out some games that I’d come to actually be quite fond of, rather than just pushing up the stats.

14. ChickenFall: ChickenCatch

I think this came to me after playing a round or two of  Nintendo’s Yoshi for the NES on my 3DS, where Mario enemies fall into a well and the player has to stack them up to eliminate them Dr. Mario style.  This idea became fused with the ridiculousness of the falling chicken in ChickenFall, and before long, I’d thought of chickens falling through a well, and then squawking when you poked them with giant, gloved cartoony machine hands.

It’s hard for me to tell how hard this one actually is, because at some point I either fixed the difficulty or just learned to play.  Having put this together in just three hours, it’s really hard to know!  There’s a silly rainbow-disco chicken feathers celebration reward at the end of the game that I personally enjoy looking at too much myself.

FUN FACT: Until the last second, this game was called ChickenPoke.

15. Watch Ducks CGA

A hilarious “demake” of Watch Ducks, put together in under half an hour, almost all of which was sourcing the RGB values of brown-green-red CGA color.  As a quickie and the last (or is it??) Watch Ducks sequel, it grew out of a hilarious idea I had about trying to create a version of some game renowned for its visual splendor, like Flower or Journey.  This, however, was easier, and a quick, cheap laugh.

The Pirate Kart has passed, Journey has actually come out, I’ve played it, and CGA Journey actually kinda seems like it might work tremendously well, especially with a functioning (14.4 dial-up?) multiplayer (and with switching CGA modes at some key moments).

16. Ghost Witch

First off, I think this is one of the best things I’ve ever made.

The note that this game came from is still scrawled on the white board I keep next to my desk.  In barely legible print-cursive hybrid smeared in blue marker before I went to bed the previous night, I wrote “SSP [single-screen platformer] where you make yourself a ghost.”  This idea was terribly interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

First, I’ve kind of been obsessed with single-screen platformers lately.  The major project I’m working on at present, Caverns of Khron (targeted for release in June or July–my biggest, fullest release to date! more details on that later) is a single-screen puzzle/action platformer very much inspired by Todd Replogle’s Monuments of Mars, something I rediscovered late last year.  I’ve also been playing Fire ‘n’ Ice and Donkey Kong 1994 a lot and thinking about Jetpack.  Previous results from my ponderance on single-screen platformers have been Holiday Penguin Mania X (mashed up with some basic Lemmings 2 ideas) and Bulb Boy (actually cannabalized and built off an early version of Caverns of Khron–a sequel to that one’s coming before too long!).  Doing another SSP was, I felt, a chance to possibly make a really good game in this game-making frenzy.

Two-player games where players have different abilities is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, too (and resulted in a less successful Pirate Kart game a few days after this).  This isn’t quite that, but it’s the player exploring the level in two different ways with two different sets of abilities.  It took me a while to figure out which abilities the ghost would have and which the player would have.  Initially, the ghost was going to spit ghost fire, but that didn’t seem to lend itself too well to puzzle-solving, making it more action-focused, which wasn’t my aim.  One of the intended uses of the ghost fire was to destroy platforms, and that quickly became the central idea.  The ghost witch’s body is fairly weak as far as platformer heroes, only really being able to jump. However, she can’t be harmed by the ghost enemies that litter the levels, which will only pursue and kill the ghost when it’s free. Neither form can damage enemies, and I really liked that that ended up happening.  I wish I had figured out a way to put the body’s statue form (what the body turns into when the ghost is free from it) in more jeopardy so the player has to manage the time spent in ghost form more diligently.

I know it’s frustrating that two different buttons are required to transfer the ghost into and out of the witch’s body, but it’s a problem I couldn’t figure out how to fix quickly in the short time I was allowing myself to finish the game.  I’m kind of impressed that I churned out eight reasonably solid (in my estimation) levels in under two hours, when I usually spend at least two or three hours designing the levels for Caverns of Khron.

This is an idea I hope to be returning to once a couple other projects are squared away.  I think I’ll be able to devise some expansions of the core ideas by adding new types of environmental obstacles.  So expect a fuller Ghost Witch  game in the not-too-distant future.

That’s it for part 2!  Part 3 will be about the last nine games I made.  Following that, I’ll be writing up some of my favorite to-date discoveries in the Pirate Kart.  As a reminder, you can download the Pirate Kart launcher (which then, itself, downloads the games) at www.piratekart.com.

Pirate Kart Post-Mortem [Part 1 of 3]

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I contributed 25 out of over 1,000 games to the recent Pirate Kart. These were written over the course of two weeks, about half of which were over Pirate Kart weekend. I’ll be writing some brief reflections on each of these in my next few posts, in the order in which I made them.

(Click on the images to go to the game pages at Glorious Trainwrecks and to download and play!)

1. Wizard Forest

People who pledged $60 or more to the GDC Pirate Kart fund (which allowed the collection to be demonstrated on the floor at GDC Play) were given the reward of a game made by a member of the Glorious Trainwrecks community to be included in the Kart.  For my first game in the Kart, which I attempted a few days before the start of Pirate Kart weekend when I finished my homework early one night, I wanted to attempt one of these, and this description stood out to me:

A game about betraying wizards after becoming their friend. (Note: This should make the player EXPERIENCE EMOTIONS)

Lately, I haven’t been terribly interested in experimenting with narrative and emotions in my game projects, but jamming out games in under 4 hours is about experimentation if nothing else.  Naturally, the execution was going to be somewhat sarcastic, but once I figured out the tone I wanted to take, implementing it almost entirely through the game’s system with no dialogue and no real cut-scenes was an entertaining challenge.

I wasn’t the only one who attempted this game concept.  Alan Hazelden and Terry Cavanagh also made a game called The Lonely Wizard that made the player experience a much more frenzied, wider range of EMOTIONS, which was submitted something like minutes before mine.  It’s probably more fun.

2. Grizzly Golf

Before I started working on Kart games, I solicited a bunch of my friends for ideas via email.  My good friend Eli Z. McCormick suggested “Grizzly Golf” and nothing else.  I contemplated the idea for a bit, wondering exactly where grizzlies might intersect with golf.  Do they play golf?  Do they just swat a ball around?  Do they eat your ball? Soon I’d arrived at a miniature golf with giant grizzly enemies who maul you.  There’s still a weird bug in the ball’s behavior, but I’m pretty happy with how the ball moves and slows down.  I kind of feel like maybe I should’ve opted for keyboard control of the ball trajectory, but using the mouse was pretty easy to program.

I meant to do a spin-off/sequel with eight different levels and grizzlies replaced with pandas called “Panda Golf” but that never ended up happening.  I also began toying with a stick-less pool game where you played the cue ball based on the behaviors I programmed into the golf ball here, but that began to get a bit too daunting for my then-mood.

3. Watch Ducks II

When Pirate Kart II happened in February 2010, I’d intended to make a bunch of Watch Ducks “sequels” with pallette swaps, alternate scoring methods, and minor changes in controls.  I only ever ended up producing Watch Ducks itself, which seemed pretty well-received.  So what better time to crank out a bunch of those sequels than Pirate Kart V?  On my initial list of intended games (about a third of which actually represent what ended up getting made, the other two-thirds being improvised on the spot), there were about 5 Watch Ducks sequels/remakes.  I ended up making 3.  When I initially made Watch Ducks, I was much more inexperienced with Game Maker, and editing that two-year-old code was a surprisingly time-consuming affair, because I’d done things in ways that now seem so tremendously illogical.  I added a sleeping mechanic that a friend suggested way back when I first put out  Watch Ducks as well as a new silver duck multiplier and a fourth duck.  It enabled me to list all the new features in classic back-of-the-box bullet-point format.

  • Four all-new ducks (a significant improvement over WD1’s three ducks)!
  • Recolored and remastered background environment!
  • Challenging new sleep system. Watch your character to make sure he doesn’t go to sleep and miss ducks!
  • Altered system for gold duck appearance and bonuses!
  • New silver duck multiplier bonus!

4. ChickenFall

I can’t resist silly titles with the word “Chicken” in them.  My high school notebooks were full of them, especially fantasy games like “Chickenmancer.”  ChickenFall sounds far too dramatic for a word that has “Chicken” in it.  I’ve been working on a game about falling through a single vertical level for a few months now (called “Fall Free”), but that’s all about falling quickly and breaking obstacles.  A chicken should kind of fall slowly, gracelessly, and flap its wings furiously to slow itself up ever so slightly, ever so briefly, kind of futilely.  The game features my own voice acting as the horrible chicken.  Not gonna lie.  This is one of my favorite games I made for the Kart.

5. Blondie: Dagwood’s Spin-Off

How many “Blondie” fangames are there?  I don’t know of any others beside this one.  This is based on another suggestion by Eli Z. McCormick, this one a little more elaborate: “A Blondie game where Dagwood has to spin on his head to defeat Mr. Dithers.”  Apparently, at least recently, Dagwood Bumstead has been taking to spinning on his head to express his frustration and inability to deal with stressful situations.  So I did just that.

6. Koi Puncher

This one grew out of some suggestions from some friends.  Jared Allred suggested “Koi Hunter” and then in response John Allred suggested “Koi Puncher.  The image of some metal badass monster hunter type sitting in a pool punching some peaceful fish was extraordinarily appealing.  The fish will die after 3 hits.

Paul Allred had suggested “Koi Breeder” as an alternate/supplementary idea.  I ended up putting in a spawning system that happens when male and female fish of the same color (yes, they have hidden genders) touch each other.  It took me forever to finally make it work without creating an instant explosion of fish.  This can actually still get out of hand within a few minutes, which a friend pointed out after I released it.  I was going to fix it, but I thought, “nah.”

The player chooses to end the game when they like because as the game is called Koi Puncher, I didn’t want to give the player any objectives but to just punch koi to their heart’s content.

I’ve actually written up a really complex system of genetic inheritance for “Koi Breeder” which I had hoped to make for the Kart, but I never got around to it.  I still want to, and may do just that for another event/fun little side project one of these days.

7. Demon Forest II

This one’s another quickie sequel, after my recent Klik of the Month entry, Demon Forest.  Noyb left me a comment on that game that hitting a specific portal was perhaps too frustrating, and indeed, it was a vestigial element from when the game was going to be something a bit different.  So instead of making that first game better, I decided to throw together a second game that would contain that improvement, as well as some corrections to the sword’s behavior.  And while we’re at it, why not make the sword ON FIRE? I threw in a couple of other demons as well, one which is just a larger palette swap and another that spits projectiles at the player.  Between the two games, I think this is decidedly the better.

8. Catch the Bus

A game idea that came to me, surprisingly, while waiting for a bus one morning.  It struck me that in life I can sit around and wait for a bus at a stop, but in a game, I’d feel compelled to explore, so putting in a small, deadly platformer level away from the bus stop might be a compelling enough distraction to make the player fail to achieve the game’s goal.

Originally, I was going to make the player wait for at least a minute for the scheduled arrival time and have the bus randomly be a little early or as much as a minute late.  Then I realized that no one playing the Pirate Kart would have the patience to put up with my bullshit that long.  Time feels a lot different in a game than in real life.

9. Koi Puncher: Championship Edition

Koi Puncher is kind of a pointless, challenge-less score attack experience.  But that makes it pretty easy to turn competitive if a second player and a time limit are introduced!  This is the exact same game with a timer and a second player.  I don’t know whether it’s actually been played competitively yet, but I’m hoping  within a few weeks–now that the Kart has been officially released–to see a few streams on Twitch.TV, displacing MvC3 or whatever the kids are into these days.

That’s all for this installment!  Next time, we’ll wrap up the Pirate Kart Weekend games with Owl Forest, Fuck the Sun I and IItwo Watch Ducks games, ChickenFall: ChickenCatch, a virtual pet, and my favorite of my games for the Kart, Ghost Witch.

Twenty-five Games in Two Weeks

Whew!  Glorious Trainwrecks recently held its most massive event to date, the Game Developers Conference Pirate Kart (Pirate Kart V).  It was exhibited in San Francisco at GDC Play from Tuesday to Thursday of this week, with the major game creation event held the last week of February.

Holy shit, I made so many games.  Twenty-five in all!  Unlike other Pirate Karts, this one had a lot of submissions before the weekend and about 200 after the weekend.  The incredible Mike Meyer and Jeremy Penner put together a kiosk that continued to receive games as they were posted while people were playing the Pirate Kart.  Truly extraordinary.  As of right now, there are a total of 1,008 games in the collection (it’s supposed to close soon and contain those games in a final version), and I submitted my final one with four minutes remaining until GDC Play closed.  And that game, Bulb Boy Infinity, was one of the last to be played at the show.

Some of the games turned out pretty well and some were a bit unsatisfying.  However, I didn’t make a single game that lacked some idea I wanted to explore.  Each of these represents some gameplay or design concept I wanted to fiddle with.  It was an exhilarating experience overall, both for my creative development and for connecting to the community.  It’s been a while since I’ve felt so plugged into a community, and the folks on the side of the indie games community who hang out around Glorious Trainwrecks are some of the best.  I’ve also been examining why it is that despite my other creative and academic interests, game-making has been the most proeductive and constant in my life.   In the coming weeks, I intend to post some reflections on my history with video game design, some ramblings on games as creative expression, my perspective as a hobbyist developer, and commentaries on each of my twenty-five games for the Kart.

In the meantime, here’s my list of games contributed to Glorious Trainwrecks.  If you’re going to play just one, I’d recommend Ghost Witch, a game I’m so happy with, I’m thinking about developing it as a larger, more polished game once I’m done working on Ruins.  If you’ve got a friend, maybe try Koi Puncher: Championship Edition.

I want to thank Jeremy Penner, Mike Meyer, and everyone else instrumental in the staging of this and the other Pirate Karts for giving me one of the most fulfilling creative and community experiences in my life.  It’s been beautiful, and I look forward to wrecking more trains with this crew into the future.

Meanwhile, for the first time in two weeks, I’m gonna spend a little free time not making games.  Just a little.