Author Archives: leigh
One of my primary tasks in the meaty, actual-developmenty bit of our game has been implementing the parameters of the in-game objects. What variant are they? If they’re plants, what colour are they? How often do they grow / move / bear seeds etc?
Our game being fun relies upon two main elements: the drive to create and the drive to explore. Given that we’re operation on a 2D plane, I had to create a world which felt fun to explore in without having the ability to impart actually distinct regions through cool architecture.
The types of parameters I’ve been implementing include creating ‘spawners’, wherein I create an invisible point in the game world which the engine will use as a central location from which to create a patch of objects of a certain type. In this way I can create clumps of rocks and patches of grass, right the way through to full forests, each based on algorithms which tell the game to produce a certain number of a certain type of tree, in a certain colour, and to have the density reach a certain point in some areas but not others.
When I first started playing with these settings to create a game world, randomness didn’t look natural. It looked entirely too computer random rather than natural random.
As evidently seems to happen when you’re designing a game, I continually receive input from the world around me and think about how it might affect the game.
I recently read an article on The Conversation outlining the multitude of ways in which pain is understood by the brain, already having some understanding of the vast and seldom grasped notion of how we each interpret pain differently.
“…[T]he brain draws on every piece of credible information – previous exposure, cultural influences, knowledge, other sensory cues – the list is endless.”
If the brain can adapt something as seemingly animalistic as pain based on cultural influences, surely we, as developers, ought to think along similar lines when creating motives for players.
Musing on this further, I find that the best answer a developer can give to the wild and untamable human mind’s propensity to interpret cues and signals in a game is with an open game.
When I was a youngling and wasn’t playing purely action-oriented games, I tended towards games which let me build something.
Creating something from very little was a hugely rewarding experience for me, but I always had trouble reconciling the binary objectives of aesthetically pleasing creations and efficient ones.
So much so, in fact, that once the two became mutually incompatible in RTS games, I stopped playing them.
In Age of Empires, the enemy would descend upon my hallowed halls, their majestic facades sending a symbol to all the lands that herein lies the greatest empire the world has ever known. The daunting walls housed but a portion of my available troops – a handful of archers manned the gates.
My message was clear – these walls speak for themselves. Approach and face the wrath my lack of visible army implies! (It’s worse still when you have to do it in Stronghold. So little space inside the castle walls! So much need for farmland! –Rohan)
At this point, quaking with fear, the enemy would march on my gates only to find…. that those few archers were in fact my army because I’d essentially been playing Sim City inside the walls and had a magnificently crafted and perfectly symmetrical city properly divided into districts.
I recently read an article on Fast Company, which asserted quite controversially that branding is an artifact of the past. To check this article out, read: Why Branding is an Artifact of the Past.
Quite rightly, the article kicks off by stating that “you can’t build a brand simply by setting out to build a brand” and that “in fact, thinking too much about brands can actually get in the way of the real business of your company.”
There are several quick points the article makes very early on about becoming too clouded in your brand. It outlines consumers who specifically have an agenda in mind which transcends (or even subverts) branding entirely, searching for a specific product which does X better than competing products. For such a consumer, branding is of little or no concern.
In entertainment, a brand is a promise, as has been said many a time before (usually by brand managers). It represents the entirety of your pledge to the consumers who purchase your product.
As is often the case, neither extreme really works, but both make valid points.
When creating the Flat Earth Games logo (and indeed coming up with the name), we set out to create something which did two jobs for us:
1) Made fun of silly people
2) Was a throwback of sorts to 90s games
3) Didn’t take itself so seriously that we’d be afraid to think of a third thing and add it in in spite of prefacing this section by saying it had two jobs to do
As we push on into milestone two, a significant amount of art needs to be created. Our world will be populated by many little large-headed inhabitants, which are all two dimensional, so we’ve been embarking on getting them to suitably fit into our bizarrely scrap-book style world.
Joshua, our animator, opted to manually create each and every sprite, the prospect of which makes the mind meander over to the corner of its skull and weep quietly into the pituitary gland in the hopes that its tears will act as a conductor to send an electrical impulse from a nearby synapse directly into it so it can die an early death, just to make the sprite-producing nightmare stop.
Or something like that.
Josh’s approach is based on the problem of procedural generation of sprites being too restrictive, insofar as it limits our ability to add too much variety to the characters, requiring a one-size-fits-all direction.
So congratulations are in order to everyone on the Flat Earth team, as we’ve officially reached our first Milestone! What this means is that we’re able to confidently look back over the original design and technical documents and see that we have definitely implemented… all of the features from the first milestone and half of those from the second, we weren’t expecting and a fair chunk of audio done which we weren’t expecting.
Ok, so congratulations are in order to everyone on the Flat Earth team, as we’ve officially reached our first and a halfth Milestone!
So evidently it’s very very easy to get trapped in a cycle of just continuing to work on the feature which is right in front of you in favour of the bigger picture.
That said, we now have an avatar which moves in all directions, is fully animated, can bump into objects and can even chop down trees, or about 140% of the originally required features.
Myself, Rohan and the fearsome duo of Morgan and Damien from Epiphany Games all attended iFest in Sydney this weekend, perusing the multitude of games on show from some of Sydney’s finest, alluding to the game we’ve been working on (while still remaining too shy to announce its name to the world) and just generally enjoying watching the collision (collusion?) of wannabe indie startups and the likes of Trip Hawkins all being able to share the stage.
Talks were primarily aimed at the indies around the place who were looking to turn their hobby / dream / idea into a business. There was talk about publishers, what they can do, when you should approach them and what you should look out for. There were grandiose statements about the future of the business (thanks, Trip!). There was a lovely talk by Paul Stazjer from See Through Studios on self-realisation being a core component (which Rohan referred to as ‘guided meditation with Paul’) immediately prior to a talk cum rant by Martin Slater (ex-2K Australia chap who’s always around the traps in these parts) reducing any and all idealism in the room to mush. As he does.
Well, I’m down in Melbourne right now alongside luminaries Tim Schafer and Warren Spector for the opening of Game Masters, an exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image which honours the greatest minds and biggest movers and shakers of our humble craft.
There are countless panel discussions, workshops and more happening down here. We kinda wish we could be at all or more of them, but being as we’re working on our game up in Sydney, it wouldn’t behoove us to take too long a break in spite of the knowledgey goodness being down here amongst this stuff will bring. Also, it’s really only one of us who’s made it down. The rest of the team is hard at work in Sydney making me feel bad while I console myself with Lord of the Fries (the only burger joint you ever need in your life ever).
So what’s on offer? Aside from Warren Spector giving an amazing talk on how he hasn’t written a line of code, drawn a picture or designed a level since 1992 (seriously), and Rob Murray from Firemint being the only one of the keynote speakers to admit he’s more of a businessman than a game designer, there are 130+ games here to play. There’s Defender, Rip Off, Braid, Child of Eden, The Sims and a whole buttload of mega-inspirational titles which in some way, shape or form, have changed gaming forever.
It’s a load of fun, and I do heartily recommend the exhibition (and just the ACMI in general) for any gamers down in Melbourne who get passionate about the culture and the minds behind what we all know and love.
Now, back to work! There’s drinking to be done down here in sunny ol’ Melbourne!
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my gratuitous pleasure to announce Eliot Fish as the composer for Flat Earth Games’ first title. Eliot is undoubtedly a familiar face to some of you existing in the Australian videogame circles.
He produced ABC’s Good Game for a couple of years, and is perhaps better known as the editor of HYPER magazine, where he had the helm for 5 years from ’99-’04.
Eliot’s been in gaming for absolutely ages, but also released an EP entitled ‘Trick of Light’, and played as a bassist for years in Big Heavy Stuff (got an ARIA nomination in 2001) and The Apartments. He’s toured all over Australia and internationally, playing (with The Apartments) to sold out shows in France, and touring locally (with Big Heavy Stuff) with the likes of Radiohead, Powderfinger and Jebediah.
Perhaps more importantly, he’s just a gosh-darned lovely guy, and we’re stoked to have him on board.
Check out a bunch of Eliot’s music here (http://soundcloud.com/