BREAKSOUT: BROKEN

I’m still working away on BREAKSOUT in my sturdy, trudging manner. There are just two more versions to build and then it’s over to making sure that the overall package works and smaller bits and pieces. So it’s pretty close. Will hope to get it Out There sometime this week or early next.

One nice thing about working on games with even the simplest of physics is you often get to enjoy totally weird imagery generated on screen. This is especially true if you ever generate objects (like balls or bricks) during play. Instead of actually writing something tonight, here are some images of the game not working.

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 21.03.52 Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 21.05.57 Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 21.03.05 1 Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 20.58.11 Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 18.00.04

Critical Hitted

Critical Hit

Tonight was the final showcase of this year’s Critical Hit here in Montréal. Critical Hit is one of the many excellent things going on around games in this city – a game incubator premised on short-cycle prototyping projects by teams of makers, culminating in a very-slightly-longer prototyping cycle for the showcase. This year’s theme was ‘wearables’ or, more generally, physical interfaces for games/game-like-things.

I was one of the mentors and was fortunate enough to discuss the final projects with three of the teams. That involved giving some thoughts and ‘advice’, but mostly just being impressed and enthused by what they were trying to do in their work.

Funnily enough, I didn’t actually get to play any of the games this evening at the showcase, but I’d had experiences of some of them in different states and can safely say they all have some very interesting qualities. Such as…

(Un)done – particularly interesting for the investment of emotional energy into the act of tying and untying cords between yourself and your partner, the untying feels particularly poignant. (Also the writing is really good, and the aesthetics of the wearables and environment are beautiful.)

We’re fine. We’re going to be fine (I’m concerned I’ve got the title slightly wrong there.) – works hard to make hand-holding an active part of play, and succeeds. One of the best experiences of simply listening to someone else speaking about themselves. Also the physical board object that is the centre of the game is very, very impressive.

W.U.R.M.: Escape From a Dying Star – A game in which a ‘Houston’ character and an astronaut collaborate to… try not to die. I really like the avid focus on making an exciting and confusing experience of playing with diverse physical inputs, like switches, sliders, video communication, audio, connecting electrodes, and more. I really like the abandon with which the many physical elements were all combined to create an experience.

Shoal – The game I have the least experience with, though I did briefly play with it this evening. I think the casualness with which one can enter and exit play is very well done. The game is a projected ‘pool’ in which you can create and interact with ‘fish’ using hand gestures (interpreted by a Kinect). For a tech-heavy piece of work, it manages to feel quite naturalistic.

That’s it. They’re probably coming to a festival near you, I imagine, so look out for them all!

 

On Failceeding

SHIT BREAKOUT

What a horrible word that is. A horrible portmanteau, no less.

Anyway, I thought I would stop in (to my own website, yeah) to write a brief ode to the Mediterranean Game Jam that took place back at the start of July this year. Rilla and I participated and managed to get pretty excited about a game that would use retro videogames to tell a story about a person stuck at home trying to stay positive while not actually feeling very good.

We failed pretty hard. By the afternoon of the second day we decided to give up, because we just weren’t ‘getting it’ somehow, and it started to feel pretty clear we didn’t quite understand what we were doing. (Despite that, I think there’s something in the idea, so maybe it will re-emerge sometime. I love how working with Rilla pushes the kinds of things I’d consider doing in such a different direction.)

So the game jam was kind of a failure in the sense of making a game.

But somehow it got me quite obsessed with Breakout. All I did during the jam itself, really, was build a funny-looking version of Breakout (it did look quite nice), based on iPhone photographs of CRT televisions, which distort in interesting ways because of the beam scanning the screen. But I ended up with Breakout on the brain to such as extent that when we later went for a bit of a vacation on Gozo (the ‘other’ island of Malta) in a farmhouse, I spent almost all my free time (of which there was plenty) thinking of ways to leverage Breakout.

This ended up with fairly detailed designs for three games entirely premised on Breakout, the first of which is hopefully kind of obviously BREAKSOUT which I’m making at the moment, 36 variations of Breakout as a kind of ‘sequel’ to PONGS. But then I have two whole other projects, one of them surprisingly ambitious (for me), also based on Breakout.

So in brief, falling apart at a game jam in the context of working on Breakout led me to think a lot about Breakout afterwards (much of it in the ‘why?! why?!’ sense of self-berating) and ultimately to see that Breakout could be quite a strangely versatile way of examining games more generally, that obsessing (through design) over a single game could actually ‘say’ quite a large potential range of things about game design.

Perhaps.

Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is that if you flame out at a game jam you should beat yourself up about it continuously until you forge a beautiful diamond of design.

RIght? That sounds uplifting enough? A failcess, no less? Good night.

“BREAKSOUT?” versus BREAKSOUT?

Physics.

I’m plugging away at BREAKSOUT – roughly 26 exist in some form now and I’ve pulled together enough of Unchained Melody in Bosca Ceoil for it to sound pretty funny for GHOST BREAKOUT. As I do this labour (which, as I’ve said, is kind of mindless post-design) I sometimes question whether it makes sense to make these games at all.

That is, if the vast majority of interest for me in these games is the design itself, the ideas for the variations, why actually build them? Is the hypothetical set of 36 BREAKSOUTS equivalent to the actually built games?

I say no, and it’s important that this be the case. For one thing, I’m actually making them so I don’t want to hear about it being pointless. This may bias me. Nonetheless, I also think there’s something vital in the experience and interaction with these kinds of designs that makes their implementation necessary. We might well think that we can just thought-experiment our way through what something like GHOST BREAKOUT ‘would be like’ but I don’t think that we really can. The ‘Armchair designer’ we might call… no wait, that like a regular designer…

Anyway, my thought is that the experiential elements of a game cannot be presumed or even necessarily expected. And even when a BREAKSOUT game ‘works’ in the way I’d thought, that feels like something that isn’t the same thing as having the idea in the first place. Really listening to a lofi Unchained Melody while the paddle gets nudged around by an unseen force has a quality that isn’t present in the design itself.

I think there’s more to this than I’m managing to articulate, and it’s actually quite central to my whole ‘practice’ of making games in general. Many of the games I’ve made I could also have told to you as a one-liner kind of joke, or just written a description of, and yet the experience of play adds an understanding/emotion/physicality. And the game can’t be ‘understood’ without it.

It’s almost as if game-play is as important as game design or something…

Nah.

 

 

░░░░ Physics

Physics.

So, physics. What’s up with that? Gravity. Ha ha, no, gravity’s not specifically ‘up’. I don’t think? Or is it? No I don’t think so.

Anyway, I have never gotten on with physics in games, it’s just not a relationship that ever seems to work out. The typical way it goes is that I spend inordinate amounts of time on things that should be easy because of physics engines, and they don’t work. We’re talking weeks or months sometimes, people. And then, admittedly, towards the end of that horrorshow I do end up with something that ‘works’, but it’s ridiculously too much effort. I’m not sure if it’s one of those things where I should just sit down and actually learn how physics (programming) works, or whether it’s someone else’s fault.

I spent some time the last couple of days trying to do the stupidly simplest thing with a BREAKSOUT game, and I never got it. And I mean simple, like getting a ball to bounce off something simple. But no. It didn’t work and it still doesn’t work and I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

So I cut that game. Amazing how easy things can be. Having a hard time with your programming? You probably didn’t need that feature/game/universe anyway. Screw it. Off it goes, flapping like a rag into the abyss. That felt better, didn’t it.

Game making.

 

Thank Goodness for Formality

BREAKSOUT

Briefly, I have been reminded several times over the last couple of weeks what a good thing it is to be ‘working on’ a game like BREAKSOUT specifically because it’s so formal and well-defined. Moving to a new country and city and university and heading toward teaching new courses is not exactly the most and calm and collected time of life, so I’ve definitely been distracted and busy enough to make it hard to put nearly as much time into game making as I would ordinarily.

The fact that BREAKSOUT is just a series of fairly simple modifications to BREAKOUT means that it’s possible to literally work on it for a ten minute block if that’s all I have – some of the versions take less that than to implement to be honest. This way, I get to feel like I’m still pushing a project forward (I’m kind of hoping to finish it within this month if at all possible), but can also devote the attention needed to actually getting life and work in order as well.

So maybe one secret to not feeling concerned about productivity is to have a game project on the go which is so mechanically and aesthetically simple that any window of time is sufficient to progress it. I can even imagine putting this into action, as I do have ideas for other formal sets of games. SPACE INVADERSES anyone?

Establishing the Necessaries

Chez Boris donuts

We’ve been in Montréal for three weeks now, so we’re gradually trying to settle into life and to establish some of those necessary parts of life. We don’t have furniture as yet, but we have other important things, such as:

A place to have coffee in the morning: So far this is Chez Boris, a very casual café fairly close to our place that happens to serve ‘Russian-style donuts’. Even better, they happen to give you two donuts free on weekdays between 8am and 10am. Yes we have availed ourselves of this several times already. Even forgetting the donuts, it’s a very peaceful place to sit and work on a laptop for a while, and they have a pretty fun playlist (heard Twin Peaks and Mazzy Star this morning, for example).

A place to buy pastries/bread: The ‘bread’ bit is more notional than the pastries bit, let’s face it. Just this evening we heard from our landlords that there’s an amazing bakery just around the corner, Guillaume. It does indeed rate very highly according to, well, everyone, so we’re looking forward to becoming regulars.

A place to have lunch while at work: There are plenty of choices for food near Concordia, but we’ve settled into a pretty good thing with a Japanese rice-bowl place, Japote, in the Faubourg foodcourt nearby. Extremely good value for money, and a remarkable vegetable tempura rice bowl along with a fine array of self-serve sauces.

A cat to obsess over: Well there are a few, but the leading candidate right now lives a couple of blocks down our street and is called Ali. He is big and friendly and often lies down on the pavement with both his legs splayed out behind him. We call him by his imagined full name: Ali Fear Eats the Soul.

So those are some important ways to get established in a new city. Trust us, we’re professionals.