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A Designer and a Coder Walk Into A Bar…

A designer and a coder walk into a bar. After sitting down to order drinks and making some small talk the coder says, “I’ve been working on prototypes of new platformer game, but I want to build an engine that can handle hilly 2d terrain.”

The designer replies pointedly, “Why do you need hills at all?”

Confused, the coder pauses and says “Because platformers need hills obviously.”

The designer, annoyed that the coder seems to misunderstand the nuanced wisdom of his cryptic question says again “Are hills really important to platformers?”

This time the coder does not pause a bit and states “yes.” The coder understands that a pause at this point would show lack of resolve in what would become the ensuing debate. Now both parties already understand that the battle lines are drawn and the designer opens with the gambit “Well the game design community is atwitter about the game ‘1001 Spikes.’ It clearly and fairly communicates how to beat each level and offers new difficult challenges that can be overcome, surely you think this game is a quality platformer right?”

The coder retorts “I wish it had hills though.” A clever response that carefully stabs at the fallacy of accepting a game is great based on the acceptance of the design community. And “why wouldn’t it be better with hills?” implicit in the statement was too much of a minefield for the designer to try to traverse.

So after a pause for more beer, the designer finally pulls out the holy grail of games and argues “Well what of ‘Super Mario Brothers’ it didn’t have any hills.” Now the designer knew this was a weak argument because the game does in fact have hills as background elements, but it would require the coder to acknowledge that aesthetic background elements count for anything and thus it was unlikely he would take that tact. The coder, who did not even remember that Super Mario Brothers contains hills finally argues, “I think Super Mario 3 or maybe Super Mario World was better.”

This was what the designer was hoping for so he says, masking completely the signs of impending victory, “Do you remember New Super Mario Bros U? Remember those wavy mushrooms that just rotate? Those are moving hills aren’t they even better?”

The coder knew that it would be impossible to defend the wavy mushrooms and so he says “No no, those were useless, lets focus on the older Mario Bros.”

And now the designer closed the net “Well if you start focusing on hills on grids next it will be multiple angled tiles of hills and then hills on spline curves and finally moving hills like the…”

The coder chimed in, accepting his fate “So you are saying this is all… a slippery slope?”

What I’m Playing: ‘Zenzizenzic’

As you know I’ve got a game on Steam Greenlight so I was checking out the other games on there and ran into another SHMUP called “Zenzizenzic.” I posted a comment because it looked cool and they gave me a free copy of the game so far, so I gave it a spin.

Classic Twin Stick SHMUP Zenzizenzic

Traditional Twin Stick SHMUP Zenzizenzic

The game is a fun twin stick shooter in the vein of “Geometry Wars” but with preset enemy level patterns and layouts. All the traditional SHMUP rules apply: pick up shields or power ups from fallen bad guys, dodge bullets, shoot enemies. Its got a nice soundtrack and a cool geometric style that reminds me a bit of “Everyday Shooter.” The name is a German term for squaring a number several times, which is clever but a bit hard to read out loud!

There are a handful of indie SHMUPS on the market and I’m a big believer in “a rising tide raises all boats.” It would be cool to someday to release an indie SHMUP bundle that could show just how wide a range of different SHMUPs there are out there!

Coding Byte: Disable Screen Saver in Unity

If you have a joystick only game in Unity PC you’ll find that after enough time the screen saver activates. There is an easy fix to this that seems to be working quite well so far, just add the following bits. First add some declarations to your main Unity class:


#if UNITY_STANDALONE_WIN || UNITY_EDITOR
[DllImport("kernel32.dll")]
static extern EXECUTION_STATE SetThreadExecutionState(EXECUTION_STATE esFlags);

[System.FlagsAttribute]
enum EXECUTION_STATE : uint
{
ES_AWAYMODE_REQUIRED = 0x00000040,
ES_CONTINUOUS = 0x80000000,
ES_DISPLAY_REQUIRED = 0x00000002,
ES_SYSTEM_REQUIRED = 0x00000001
}
#endif

These should run on all PCs, the dlls are included in windows. Then add the following code inside your main start function:


#if UNITY_STANDALONE_WIN || UNITY_EDITOR
if (SetThreadExecutionState(EXECUTION_STATE.ES_CONTINUOUS
| EXECUTION_STATE.ES_DISPLAY_REQUIRED
| EXECUTION_STATE.ES_SYSTEM_REQUIRED
| EXECUTION_STATE.ES_AWAYMODE_REQUIRED) == 0)
SetThreadExecutionState(EXECUTION_STATE.ES_CONTINUOUS
| EXECUTION_STATE.ES_DISPLAY_REQUIRED
| EXECUTION_STATE.ES_SYSTEM_REQUIRED);
#endif

Which changes your main process to disable the screen saver. I’ve also set it to run in the editor which might cause problems if you run the mac editor, and it will also cause an issue if you don’t turn it off so in the OnApplicationQuit make sure to return your current thread to normal:


void OnApplicationQuit()
{
#if UNITY_STANDALONE_WIN || UNITY_EDITOR
SetThreadExecutionState(EXECUTION_STATE.ES_CONTINUOUS);
#endif
}

That should do it! This code is based on scrapping together a few posts online but its public domain from my end.

What I’m Playing: Lightning 3 Game Bonanza

I’ve played a bunch of games in the last 2 weeks so I’ll just do a quick post about a few of them keeping in mind that I’m a former Firaxis intern and I’ve been to an indie game dev meetup up in Boston so I have dirty dirty BIAS!

Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol

Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol

You can’t go wrong with “pay what you want” for a ton of Sid Meier games, so go grab this and many other classics at the Humble Bundle before its too late! Ace Patrol is a strategy game that involves a turn based simulation of airplane dog fights. The constraints on the plane’s movement make plotting a good path for your planes fun and interesting. I’m not sure there is another game that requires players to figure out paths quite this way, which is cool!

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Force = Mass x Acceleration)

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Force = Mass x Acceleration)

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Force = Mass x Acceleration)

I was sitting on an actual real life plane recently above the clouds and I thought to myself: “I wonder what it would be like to just jump through this tiny window before the obvious unfortunate conclusion?” Then I realized: “hey! I have ‘AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Force = Mass x Acceleration)’ installed on my iPhone, no need to be drastic!” AAAA is a fine, polished, and original game. The controls are smooth as you tilt your phone to move around a lot of well thought out and varied levels. One of the cool features as you skydive down the futuristic city is the ability to thumbs up or give an “obscene gesture” to your fans/haters. I kind of wish they did a pixeled out finger rather than a sort of un-obscured two fingered thing, but maybe Apple was playing it safe? (Or maybe I need to learn better obscene gestures?) This game is well worth picking up in the app store.

Serendipity

Serendipity

Serendipity

I saw fantastic screens of “Serendipity” and I had to try it. Its got a great visual style, but figuring out how to play was tough. I didn’t mind putting in some thought to figure it out b/c that seems to fit well with modern art, however once you do realize how the game works it can be frustrating and the puzzles aren’t too challenging. I’d love to see the style with more beefed up game mechanics.

What I’m Playing: ‘Bokida’

Why is no one talking about “Bokida?” Nick Reineke asked this on his stream a few weeks or so ago and I instantly queued this game for a “What I’m Playing.”

Build, Cut, Push, Clean

Build, Cut, Push, Clean

“Bokida’s” website and trailer are slick, but you never know, maybe the game is just nonsense to play? I went through the entire demo and I think its actually already quite good in its current state. In “Bokida” you build blocks and explore in an atmospheric white landscape. Its fun to play with the actions you are given as a physics toy, build up towers, knock them over, etc. However, as with any digital toy the novelty wears off after a bit, so you can start hunting for black obelisks instead. The obelisk hunt adds a bit of structure and makes “Bokida” a game that compares a lot more to something like “Shadow of the Colossus.” Because “Bokida’s” block building offers a bit more freedom than “Shadow’s” horse, sometimes its almost too easy to navigate between objectives and it gets tedious. Perhaps adding some kind of constraint to the building process might make it more challenging and interesting to get from place to place which would push the experience even more into game territory. Another direction would be to make the music more reactive to your travels and add more of it so you can really take in the ambiance as you block surf around for 5-10 minute stretches. I also tried building up and out just to do a bit of limit testing but after about 10 minutes of that I figured there wasn’t much more point, but rewarding limit pushers is another way this game could expand. The thing “Bokida” needs most really is an ending that really solidifies and gives some kind of closure to the experience the player just had.

Sadly, I still have no clue why people aren’t talking about “Bokida” because its a really cool game you should try!

What I’m Playing: ‘Broken Age’

Double Fine delivered hard on their promise to make a classic adventure game. The game is beautiful, funny, and fun, and its getting a ton of press so I don’t need to explain what its all about. I think the subtle joke in the following screenshot is freaking brilliant, as it took me about a day to realize how awesome it is:

Sometimes You Have to Hack the Dialog Tree

This Game Features Dialog Trees

It would be interesting to add some kind of a system for noticing things that hid some potential actions and dialog until your character has a bit more of a justification to do some stuff, particularly with Vella as I get the sense that Shay would just do w/e. I’m not sure if it would make the game *better* but I’m kind of curious how such a system would play out. Anyway, get this game now!

What I’m Playing: ‘Steam Marines’

I’m a fan of turn based strategies, and I managed to find “Worthless Bums” twitter handle (@Worthless_Bums) while cruising the internet and thought he was pretty entertaining, so I figured I’d try his game “Steam Marines

In Game Screen Shot From "Steam Marines"

In Game Screen Shot From “Steam Marines”

I played the demo version available here.

The game, which is still in alpha, already has a lot of polish, visual, and audio flare. The dev is clearly of the “learn by doing” approach to tutorials, which I’m fine with but may not rub a lot of people the right way. For example, I managed to blow up one of my guys on some kind of explosive mine placed within 10 grid squares of the starting point of my first procedurally generated level. Also I think at some point I managed to clear a level and end up in some kind of eternal limbo, not sure if I was supposed to find some kind of end square. I’m a big fan of the completely destructible environments, breaking through a wall and then blowing up some enemies is a lot of fun! All in all, it seems like the start of a cool strategy game with a lot of potential.

What I’m Playing: ‘Problem Attic’

Interesting, weird, cool, avant-garde game by Liz Ryerson. This game explains very little and is an interesting puzzle/glitch game experience.

Play it here!

There is a little bit of a kind of “contempt for the player” in this game which never really jives with my personal taste in game design, but I’m impressed by how different and new the game is while it is still a lot of fun in a weird way. There are times when it gets a bit hard to execute solutions to various segments even though you know what to do. I’m not sure if that kind of frustration is intentional, which I think is both a critique and praise. Sadly, I couldn’t actually beat the game. Its supposedly a few hours long and I’m about an hour and a half in where I got stuck. I may update this post if I manage to finish it, or if the game has an update.