How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Rhapsodies on games, gaming, and why we play.

Category: Self-Made Games

Time happens and we play games

by anbrewk

Or actually I don’t know what time does, only that it’s not what it used to be. And it’s not the playing of games that I wanted to talk about, though I have been doing a lot of that, but the writing of a game proposal.

Over the last three weeks, thanks to Berv’s suggestion, I’ve been working on a game design for N Square’s Game Challenge: design a game that “[inspires] creative solutions and novel approaches that foster greater understanding of nuclear proliferation and its related safety and security challenges”(NSquare).

Its been difficult not actually designing the game but rather making the broadest (most exciting!) pitch for NSquare to then, hopefully, be enthused about. It needed to be concise (800 words) but also capture whatever it was that made the game. It’s strange trying to describe ideas without actually refining them. It seems to me, and I think Berv has said this too, that so much of designing comes down to rethinking, reevaluating and redesigning as part of the process of making.

Even if you have some consistent idea in mind, an unchanging focus throughout the process which you might say was your “design,” that could be so broad as to be near undefinable. Or at least not accurately representative of what you actually end up making, despite having a strong family relation.

It makes me respect clear execution of vision. When someone follows a thought to an end which matches their original intention, that’s actually impressive.

But the most satisfying and exciting part of this process, and what I really wanted to talk about, has been the  successful collaboration with Berv. Separately we came up with some fledgling ideas, then shared what we’d come up with and gave feedback on what we’d done. Then splitting up again we worked on our ideas some more and reconvened again to share better ideas made better by having worked on them with each other.

And now we have two distinct proposals each with added insight and consideration from another trusted perspective. It’s awesome.

Collaborating with a partner in design is much more invigorating and exciting than working alone. Even while meeting to talk about this project, we talked about future projects and working together like this again. It’s exciting to think we could design and maybe build things together.

I hope that as time passes, we get better at this: working together and making things. Working together better and making better things. All the good.

 

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Game Dev Log #3: Prototype

by anbrewk

My prototype is almost ready! The main components of the prototype are one main screen and two “rooms.” The main screen acts as a point of reference for the player to return to. It’s meant to represent a hallway in some type of labyrinth with each iteration of the hallway containing two randomly assigned doors from which the player chooses one. I had already made a bunch of pixel-art doors and written up a bunch of text that I am now slotting into the framework I’ve built. The door images are taken in a random order from an array along with their corresponding door descriptions. When the player clicks on a door, they then enter the corresponding room. The player can then return to the labyrinth’s corridor from the that room and then again enter further randomly assigned rooms.

I still have to build the interaction response/prompt system for each room, which I think is going to be difficult. I had originally thought I would make one room template and have all of its text and options populated from arrays but that’s proving to be hard to even get started. So my current plan entails  building every room as a distinct level which I think from an organizational standpoint will be a lot cleaner and easier to edit/change. So it’s probably a win my first idea proved too difficult/not possible.

Before I tackle the response/prompts though, I’m going to make a game over screen and link it to a bool for player health. At the end of each room, the player will either be dead or alive. Alive, go back to the hallway. Dead, go to the end screen and either try again or quit. Then from there, it’s the response/prompts …and an abilities screen with variables tied to choices that will be available conditionally on those abilities being chosen. Which I think after building the response/prompt system should be a relatively straightforward  addition. I think…

Regardless, I’m very excited about the kind of progress I’ve been making given what little experience I have. It’s gratifying how much the final game is coming to look and feel the way I want it.

Game Dev Log #1

by anbrewk

Over September I’m working on a simple text based game with some visual aspects in Unity. My first week and a bit has been spent anticipating design hurtles. I’m building it in an unfamiliar engine and as an almost complete beginner in coding. Given my very little programming experience, any coding whatsoever, like anything at all, is difficult and tiring.

That being said, the actual planning of what/how to implement my ideas in code is kind of exciting — until I have to actually implement them that is… which is what I started to do yesterday. I had ordered another monitor to make my work space more manageable and had been waiting for its arrival before I started. Yesterday it arrived and I began to go through some of the tutorials I had book marked over the last couple weeks.

I had already discounted a few of them prior to anything because as I made a list of features and thought about implementation, it became obvious many of the tutorials were for drastically different things that what I planned to do. Given that, there were only a couple tutorials worth looking at and only because they clarified some of Unity’s features and interface. Entering a new program is somewhat daunting so the hand holding there was actually quite appreciated.

After I felt a bit more comfortable with the interface, it began to become increasingly obvious that Unity can do a lot of things that I do not understand AND a lot of the things I want it to do are not obvious. Given I want to make a text based game in a physics based engine, it shouldn’t surprise me that much of what Unity can do is not what I want it to do.

After giving up on finding a tutorial that would essentially show me how to make my game, I eventually found some success just trying to make a single feature work: a button!

My plan is to essentially make a game menu that leads to other menus using GUI elements because that’s really what the back end of my game consists in: 2D pages with doodads on them that the user can interact with and which, when interacted with, change either the page you’re on or the content of the text on the page. The dialogue part, which I just very poorly described, is actually going to be the most complex, I think, but this morning I did, successfully, create my first button. Which is not a minor thing. It is a major element of my game which I successfully made a very poor version of which actually did a thing I wanted to do. It’s an ugly button and it only does one thing I want it to do (and not to the full extent I want it to do it), but it works. And so I’m pretty happy about that. Day 2 of n00b coding and I have part of one of my games features partially implemented. That, is pretty cool.

bluelit

by berv

Last night, I came across an interesting call to action:

If you haven’t played any of the Grow games, I highly recommend you check them out. They and the rest of EYEZMAZE’s games claimed many of my adolescent hours. The premise is fairly simple: choosing from an array of eight objects, apply them one at a time so that they transform the playspace, building on each other progressively to reach the optimal outcome. Didn’t work out? Try a different order!

Fortunately for me, today worked out just beautifully to take a shot at Arnott’s proposal. Twine is an absolute breeze to use, so if you’re at all interested in writing interactive fiction, you ought to have a look. I’d also like to highlight Anna Anthropy’s introduction to Twine, which helped me get up and running.

Taking Arnott’s Tweet as written, I began to map out eight verbs in the workspace. After a short amount of work, I realized the colossal number of possibilities that that worked out to. Beginning with eight choices, the number of unique chapters adds up to over 40,000! Certainly more than I’d be able to get done in an afternoon. So, after some further math, I decided to go with a much more manageable four verbs (65 chapters).

Here is my story, “bluelit.”

 

It was an interesting project to undertake and I rather surprised myself with the setting of the story. Initially, when I was still looking at eight verbs, I was thinking of beginning in the void and then progressively building a world by taking broad, general actions like “love,” “doubt,” “run,” “remember,” and so on. I still think there’s some interesting potential there; perhaps I’ll revisit the idea. Or perhaps you will? If you’d like to use my four-option framework, you can download the Twine file here. Simply use “Replace Across Entire Story” to swap out my numbers for your chosen verbs.

Anyways, I ended up with romantic relationships as a theme, and was surprised to find some of the corners I ended up in. Having to write narratives in such a way that every single one of them contains every possible verb was an interesting thematic challenge. Though I think I did an alright job of tying things together, I feel like a bunch of the stories are kind of samey in their arc (especially when it comes to endings). Perhaps some greater advance planning would avoid this, or perhaps the setting was just too narrow.

Another issue I found with creating a story like this is the vagueness of player (reader?) choices. I tried to account for this as best I could, but there’s really no assurance that choosing “cry,” for example, will lead to the sort of crying or what-have-you that the player has in mind. This has often been a frustration of mine in choosing from among dialogue options in other games: “No, I didn’t mean it that way!” These might be unavoidable limitations of the format, though I would be curious about the possible applications of adverbs in these situations. Or dynamic AI, but that’s way beyond the scope of a Twine game.

Either way, it was fun to run around in this space for a little while and I must thank Leon Arnott for the impetus. Let me know what you think!