Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Global Game Jam 2014 -- Chameleon Chaos!

Unlike 2013, I participated in the 2014 Global Game Jam where games are developed all around the world over a crazy weekend!  I'm not sure why I didn't participate last year.  I think I was too busy focusing on finishing Battle High 2.  Regardless, this year, two friends and I decided to participate!  Having done 4 Global Game Jams in Pittsburgh, my one friend and I decided to drive to Baltimore and try a new location since our one teammate had moved.  I decided to write this post as a personal postmortem and recollection of sorts.

Location, Location, Location!

As mentioned previously, UMBC was the location, and it was very nice.  It was free and there were free meals.  Unfortunately, the venue was a little small and loud, and since my entire team had our own computers, we usually worked at my friend's house instead of working at the venue.  If given the chance to do it there again, I probably would.  Would I roadtrip 4 hours to Maryland to do it there again?  That's another story.  Maybe I'd fly.
UMBC. an Honors University in Maryland whose mascot is a retriever.

Keynotes & Themes

 Two important parts of the Global Game Jam are the keynotes in which well known designers give words of encouragement and inspiration.  To be honest, sometimes these irritate me; I have found them either boring, pretentious, or completely useless.  This year was different.  I almost liked all three!
The first was Richard Lemarchand who mostly expressed the importance of trying something new and experimental, to not stay within the genres of our comfort zones, and I definitely like to think our team did that.  Then there was Kaho Abe's playful cartoon expressing the importance of using emotional influences in your game, even if they aren't that obvious.  The final was Jenova Chen's, which definitely felt weak and just an overall summary of what game jams are and their influence on his life.  Below is a video with all three keynotes if you are interested:
Now there is theme, which is another thing I often find myself painfully rolling my eyes at.  This year was just a quote:
Personally, I thought this theme was interesting.  It didn't make me as angry as 2011's theme:  "EXTINCTION".  Keynotes suggested not to take it too literally.  I'm not sure if we did or not.  Sometimes I feel like ignoring the theme altogether and just make whatever we want and bullshitting how we think our game relates to the theme.
Then, there were what the Global Game Jam designated as diversifies, which are essentially just additional themes that can help classify the hundreds of games that were to be created that year.
  1. Back to the 1885. The game could have been built and played in the 19th century.
  2. Can You Come And Play? The game has a local multi-player mode.
  3. Design, Create, Play. All the content in the game is procedurally created, including graphics and sound.
  4. Hackontroller. The game must use a custom controller invented by the team, or use an existing controller in unconventional manner.
  5. Homo Sapiens are Boring. The game is meant to be played by cats.
  6. Honor Aaron Swartz. The game only uses materials found in the public domain.
  7. I am who I want to be. The game has characters, but nothing in their design suggests a gender.
  8. Inclusive. The game is specifically designed to be accessible to one or more groups of gamers with disabilities - vision, motor, hearing or cognitive impairments.
  9. Rebels Learns it Better. In this educational game a hidden learning path is provided for those who oppose the given rules.
  10. Round and Round. Rotation is one of the primary mechanics in the game.
  11. The Ultimate Bechdel Test Survivor. The game survives all three conditions of the Bechdel test.
  12. You Only Live Thrice. The player only has 3 lives and each level starts over when you die.
  13. You Say it! The game utilises audio produced by the player either recording or instructing player to make sounds.  
I think we ignored all of these.  We tried for number 5, but I think we didn't quite do it properly -- you can be the judge of that.

The Game!  Chameleon Chaos

The video below showcases the game we created, Chameleon Chaos:

Now you may be asking yourself:  "What the heck is this?!"  Well, I'm not even sure, but since that isn't a great explanation for the Global Game Jam site, here is what we put there:

Play as a Chameleon waiter trying to survive his day job! In this surrealist first-person simulation you have two independent eyes that sometimes look at things chameleon’s like instead of what you need them to look at. So do what you can to make sure you don’t get fired from work and maybe even eat some delicious flies...

To explain further, you control a chameleon who is trying live in a world and make money as a waiter, but his love of flies becomes very distracting and stressful.  The flies cause the chameleon's vision to distort as he can no longer control his reptilian instincts -- though I'm pretty sure lizards don't have such sickening vision.

Influences & Inspiration

After presenting our game to the other jammers, after the laughter had died down, we were asked, "Where do you get your drugs?!"  The funny story is that none of us -- or at least I know I didn't -- took any hallucinogenic drugs.  Truth be told, we did drink some beers and Kilo Kai Rum, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Inspiration for the design came from an experience my friend and I had while roadtripping to Maryland.  We stopped for lunch at a Bob Evan's, and our waiter was rather intriguing.  Firstly, he greeted us with "How are you doing?"  Before we could even answer properly he abruptly and grumpily answered, "It's cold!  I don't like it!"  His gruffness -- and the fact he spilled water on me -- we sort of our main inspiration, the distracted, stressed out waiter.
I would say I was also inspired by the theme -- as should have been -- but then also by the trend of "bad control" games as I call them like Octodad, Surgeon Simulator, and QWOP.  We wanted to -- not sure if we did -- create a game where the controls became confusing and difficult due to the change in vision.
You can definitely say Chameleon Chaos is very close to Octodad -- just not nearly as good.

Why The Cutouts?

So the chameleon was chosen because we wanted to showcase the idea of the player's eyes in disagreement without making fun of lazy eye or trying to explain bionic eye.  The cutouts though are another story.  We wanted to try and get the Aaron Swartz disversifier, and my friend believed that any photo on Wikipedia was public domain, so we decided to use these images.  Also, cutouts were much easier to create!  A simple billboarding script and there we go!  I have to admit that Tom Goes to the Mayor, a comedic show that was an Adult Swim, was also a heavy influence, especially with the phrase "HawkBob."  It just feels like something that would have been a new meal offered to the citizens of Jefferton -- mostly as an insane ploy by the mayor to rid the town of hawks, much to the confusion of Tom.


So this probably wasn't our best Global Game Jam game, but it is probably one of the more entertaining and enjoyable ones to make.  Also, we slept and didn't feel like garbage afterwards.  I fell into a lot of the same old traps of game jams, usually fighting a system of the engine I'm using, in this case Unity3D's fickle physics engine.  Also, we usually overscope, which I think is a common game jam problem.
Next year, if I participate, I definitely want to try making a more definite schedule and sticking to it.  I was a little embarrassed that as teams were presenting, we were still creating new builds.  It felt a little rude, and I'd like to avoid it.  Another would be to spend more time on making a more fleshed out design.  Often paper prototypes are suggested, but I simply don't agree with paper prototypes, at least for some games.  For turn-based games, paper prototypes are perfect, but for a game like this?  I can think of ways that a paper prototype could have helped, but I'm not sure if the time needed would have helped much.
Overall, I won't probably pick this game up again, especially since it requires a Pro Unity3D license, which were graciously provided for the Global Game Jam but only until the 9th of February.  I did learn new things, so it wasn't a total loss and had a fun weekend!  True I got a little bossy and irritated, but the stress of game jams brings that out in me -- and probably many others.  Again, it was a great weekend and I really enjoyed it. 
The game can be downloaded here since the Global Game Jam page seems to be broken:  Chameleon Chaos


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: A New Beginning...Maybe?

Woo!  A new year!  Time for renewal! Or to completely mess up...

So I've been neglecting this blog since I went to Unite 2013.  I've been really busy with a combination of work and a book I'm writing.  I don't know how much about the book I can say, but it is a technical book and my first attempt at such an endeavor.  So far, it hasn't been easy, a lot more time consuming and boring than I was anticipating.  I'm so close with finishing the rough draft though, about 80% done, that stopping now would be stupid.

Feels a bit like being back in college...
That being said, 2013 is over, and a new year has begun.  I reread my original post about 2013 and decided to see how successful I was with my resolutions.  One was to publish two games.  I wasn't entirely successful.  Though I did release a new version of Battle High 2 on XNA and Desura, which I would like to count as one, I wasn't able to finish another.  I could argue that starting the book is almost like a game though.  If I finish it and something else this year, that'll be like having two games published.  I'd still like to try and release two products in 2014, not necessarily games, and with the book in progress, and a new version of Battle High in the works, this is something I think I can be successful in.
Some work in Unity3D for the new version of Battle High 2!

Another was to improve my fitness habits, which I think I did a TERRIBLE job of last year to be honest.  I think one problem is the desire for instant gratification.  I want to lose weight or look better fast, but I think I'll see more progress if I take it slow.  I don't need to lose 20 pounds in a week; maybe just one pound a week over 20 weeks.  Last year I kept using the excuse of waiting until winter ended to start exercising and eating better, and I would like to avoid that this year but also avoid extreme change and dieting.  It seems silly, but a part of me feels like I can relate this to my career.  There's no real for me to rush and get twenty games done in one year.  Maybe if I take it slow and work on something I really like, I'll see improvement and development I can appreciate.  I can see the risk of going too slow -- new consoles, engines, design theories, etc. -- but rushing just to get something done isn't very helpful either.

What exactly is the rush?
Another was to be more active in communities, which I failed at.  I hate being active in communities, which is a bad attitude to have, but part of the problem is I actually need something to show and discuss.  Keeping up with the basic drama on forums is such a pain.  I think I do a satisfactory amount of networking on Twitter and in person at conventions like GDC.  There is a Battle High FaceBook page which I'd like to be more active on though, and I think that will be part of one of my resolutions this year.

You, you mean I actually have to communicate with people?

There was also one about doing more art.  I always make a little progress in this.  I feel more confident in my modeling skills and rigging.  Just hard to get something done without an actual game idea or something to produce for.  I've never been good at making art for practice or fun if it's not part of something bigger.  I feel like it's just a waste of time because it's not my primary skill set.
UGH!  I'm sick of drawing cylinders!!!  Why can't I just code them?!

There was also a resolution to play more games.  I don't know if I did better on this, but I did player Wario Land:  Shake It! and really enjoyed it.  Seems silly to mention, but it was outside of my fighting game comfort zone for a change.  I was able to analyze it from a design standpoint without ruining the game for myself, and I would like to approach more games in 2014 this way -- still play them to enjoy them but able to understand their design and what makes the games good, enjoyable, or bad.  I have a lot of games on my list.  Right now I'm trying to finish Kirby's Epic Yarn which is okay -- I'll maybe write a more in-depth review later.

Fun game, but a bit irritating to constantly back track to get all the treasures and secret maps

Overall, 2014 should hopefully bring some new, exciting things.  Once the book is done I'll be able to focus more on the new update to Battle High and possible a new game altogether.  Speaking of Battle High 2, I'm trying to port the game to Unity3D in the hopes I can get it to more platforms, especially how the new consoles are trying to be more "indie" friendly, which is a stretch since I'm not even technically a one-man studio -- I'm just one guy.  Anyway, good luck to your and yours in this new, and hopefully productive, year!

Hehehe, I hope no one peed in the pool that is this new year already!