21 January 2014
12 January 2014
23 October 2013
I’ve been busy these past few months going back to the basics and working on a twin-stick shooter called WE ARE DOOMED. I debuted it at the Seattle Indies Expo (to some very positive feedback) over the first week of September. I did mention this was belated, didn’t I?
WE ARE DOOMED covers a well-worn genre, but it’s not exactly straight-forward or predictable.
Giving the player a massive, overpowered laser beam weapon was the catalyst for booting up Xcode and prototyping away. Even when it was just a doodle in a notebook I knew it would survive the development process, even as everything from the controls, to the look, to the enemy behaviours changed dramatically.
However, it quickly became apparent that an overpowered player was going to make the game too easy. So I threw lots of enemies on screen. I wanted to avoid making a “bullet hell” game, so most enemies don’t shoot at all and are quite weak. The challenge for the player is in the overwhelming number of enemies, and the general trickiness of their movement patterns. This means the play style is less hyper-accurate dodging, and more strategic and dynamic crowd control.
This became the fundamental hook for WE ARE DOOMED: the interplay between the player being overpowered and the enemies spawning at an overwhelming rate.
Apart from the mechanics, I was interested in exploring vector art styles. I love the glowy vector look as-made-famous by Geometry Wars, but there’s so much unexplored territory. I surveyed far and wide, and settled on rough, glitchy geometry with an emphasis on motion and colour.
I initially pegged the release date for October. Unfortunately, that turned out to be very optimistic. Early 2014 is looking more likely. I’ll make sure to post screenshots and videos along the way though!
12 March 2013
Responses, a quick way to write personal responses to common messages, using snippets & tags.
Responses, like all my apps, was built to scratch my own itch. I receive a lot of support e-mail, and I wanted an easy way to reply to the more common ones on my iPhone. But I’m not a fan of templates. They’re inflexible and devoid of personality. I didn’t want an app to do all the work for me. My thinking was that the app should get the boring stuff out of the way so I could spend my time engaging on a more personal level with the recipient.
Responses is designed to let you compose personal messages efficiently. Instead of building monolithic templates, you start by creating* short, reusable snippets. Composing a message with snippets gives each one a uniquely crafted twist. Tags, placeholders you can tap on to fill out, let you personalize the message further.
(* Most apps of this kind come with generic data pre-loaded to save you trouble. I specifically avoided that. I make you type out your own set of snippets so that your messages sound like your voice, not mine.)
I look forward to having you all try it out, and please, do e-mail in with your thoughts!
12 June 2012
Timeli 1.4 is now available on the App Store. It adds retina display graphics for the new iPad.
I’ve received a few e-mails and tweets regarding future updates. I spent the year following Timeli’s release updating the app, mostly based on user feedback, while carefully maintaining the simple & intuitive interface.
But now the time has come when Timeli is no longer under active development. This means I will not add new features, but I will continue to support the latest versions of iOS, and fix bugs.
13 January 2012
Nothing new here, but the quality is much better than the shaky cam, noisy show floor footage from E3. I didn’t write much about the Wii U then, so I guess now is a good time.
Nintendo really have their finger on the pulse. The DS, Wii, 3DS, and now the Wii U all seem to have either started, or happened in close proximity with, major gaming trends.
The tablet controller looks great. Ergonomically, it looks comfortable to hold and lightweight. I’m a fan of the circle pads too.
I suspect the one tablet per console limitation will get bumped up to two. However, I fear the resistive touchscreen is here to stay. It has some benefits, but a capacitive multi-touch screen is so much more versatile.
Using the Wiimotes is a great idea, but it means we’re stuck with relatively primitive motion controls for longer still. I worry that developers will continue to largely ignore MotionPlus.
It’s always exciting to see what wonderfully creative games Nintendo showcases their crazy new input devices with. The games look so fun and playful. They look especially vibrant in HD. Some of these demos will end up being system sellers at launch, as with the DS (Yoshi Touch & Go), and the Wii (Wii Sports).
It’s a shame that indies won’t get their share on the Wii U. Nintendo’s consoles (more so than Xbox and PlayStation) could benefit from AppStore-like games because there’s so much more potential for novel, smaller scoped ideas. It’s more complicated than that obviously, Nintendo can’t afford to devalue software like Apple can. But there are ways around that, and I fear that Nintendo isn’t even trying.
E3 2012 can’t come soon enough.
11 January 2012
2011 has been an incredible year for videogames, so I’ll get right to it! This list isn’t ranked, except for the Game of the Year, which is. I’d take forever agonizing over how to rank the rest of them, so I won’t bother.
Let’s start with all the great games I didn’t play. Shogun 2, Bulletstorm, and Saints Row 3 sit idly in my Steam library, waiting for me to click “Play”. On my desk is a stack of unopened games, including El Shaddai and Catherine. Then there are the games I haven’t even bought yet. I’m looking forward to the typical first quarter lull to get cracking on them.
Game of the Year
Although if the coming first quarter is anything like the last, that may not happen at all. 2011 eschewed any feeling of anticipation by delivering my Game of the Year early. Predictable as it may be, that game is Portal 2.
Portal 2 added more everything to the mix and explored it deeply, but it never felt tedious or drawn out. The new mechanics fit in so naturally, adding complexity to the puzzles without sacrificing the elegant controls. The story too was more elaborate, but the storytelling remained brisk while still finding new ways to make us laugh and surprise us.
And therein lies the beauty of Portal 2: it’s full of surprises all the way through. From the hilarious opening sequence, to an ending that was more epic than it had any right to be, to all the gags, new mechanics, and brain-twisting levels in between, Portal 2 had me guessing, and grinning, all the way through.
Almost a revolution
Similarly, Deus Ex: Human Revolution had me gripped from start to end. While it wasn’t perfect (insert mandatory boss fight complaint here), it delivered on it’s promise of freedom and choice within a surprisingly compelling narrative. The game had me constantly re-evaluating my tactical position during missions, and better still, my moral position on the issues.
Human Revolution’s greatest achievement is that it refined the Deus Ex formula without sacrificing depth. But it also never reached for anything beyond remaking a decade-old game. I would have loved to see a world that felt more alive, NPCs that felt like more than quest dispensers, and so on.
Even so, it’s clear that the team at Eidos Montreal delivered on an incredibly ambitious project. Thief 4 is in good hands.
Bending the rules now…
Let’s talk about two games that weren’t released in 2011. I recently bought a PlayStation 3, and at the top of my “PS3 exclusives to play” list was the Uncharted series.
I played through Uncharted 1 & 2 back to back, and loved every minute of it. The series has a bit of an identity crisis, unsure of whether Nathan Drake is more Indiana Jones or Marcus Fenix. It’s the former parts, the adventuring, leaps of faith, brawling, and nail-biting chases around a breathtaking setting that make the Uncharted series special. The shooting sequences, while not bad by any means, were just not what I wanted out of the games. I turned the difficulty down to easy, and genuinely had more fun. The sequel leans more toward the adventuring, and is a much better game because of it.
I don’t usually have patience for the gameplay/cutscene method of storytelling, but Uncharted proves that it’s possible to get it right. It helps that the story and dialogue are great, and the characters are likeable, but the key is in the pacing. Cutscenes are to the point; they develop the characters with punchy dialogue and occasional exposition, and push the story forward by way of your next objective.
What they don’t do is steal all the best parts. You’re never watching the exciting set pieces, you’re playing through them. And the set pieces are incredible. Uncharted feels like it’s having an arms race with itself, constantly trying to out-do the last crazy situation it threw you into, while escalating the size of things being blowing up. I’m not even sure how Uncharted 3 is going to top this.
The best thing I can say about Uncharted is that when the credits were rolling after my back to back play through, I seriously had to restrain myself from unwrapping Uncharted 3.
POW!, ZAP!, etc.
I rounded out the year with Batman: Arkham City. I haven’t played it for too long, but so far it’s everything I hoped: a bigger, better Arkham Asylum. The open world makes traversing the environment even more satisfying than before, and the melee combat is still the best out there.
Videogames for public transit
In the handheld world, my DSi had one more good game in it left before being relegated to my pile of retired tech. That game was Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, a wonderfully told story played through an innovative blend of adventure/arcade game puzzle solving. I’d expect nothing less from the brains behind Phoenix Wright. Also features splendid character animation, the likes of which reminded me of the original Prince of Persia.
Super Mario 3D Land gets Handheld Game of the Year though. Traversing the world is as fun as ever, especially without having to deal with a camera. Although the level design is not quite as inspired as the best of Mario Galaxy, the game has you hopping through worlds, ideas and one-off mechanics at an alarming pace unheard of outside of Nintendo games.
Jamestown did the impossible: it made shmups accessible without compromising the level design or mechanics. Instead, Jamestown uses a difficulty system that hooks you in on easy, but then forces you up the difficulty levels as you learn how to use the mechanics effectively, and (eventually) do a bit of level memorization too.
It was also responsible for my most heart-breaking game experience of the year: getting to the final sequence of the final boss with no lives left, and getting hit by the bosses very last bullet. I was too devastated to retry a million+1th time, but I got my revenge the next day.
Joe Danger SE is Excite Bike with a thick layer of “CUTE!” and more medals, stars, points and best lap times than any mere mortal could ever hope to receive. And yet I try over and over again.
Games like Trials HD left me cold, but Joe Danger’s cute aesthetic ensures that your initial grin is never quite wiped off your face, even if it is competing with gnashing of the teeth and general sweary-ness.
It’s the plethora of ways to finish the level that keeps me going. I’ve yet to win a “best lap time” medal, but what about collecting all the stars? Hitting all the targets? Pulling stunts for the whole level? Now how about all of the above in a single run? You end up failing over and over again, but Joe Danger never fails to be an enjoyable experience.
27 December 2011
Uncharted 2 indicates when the game was last saved before selecting Restart Checkpoint. This saves yourself the trouble of wondering, “how far back do I have to replay?”, and helps quell the age old paranoid-save-before-quitting habit.
As a bonus, there’s also no need to display immersion-breaking “Checkpoint reached” messages in the game.
5 September 2011
When working on the graphic design for Orbit1 I decided to take a minimalist approach, with simple geometry and flat shaded colours, but with just enough glowy bits to make the whole thing come alive. I wanted the design to communicate the rules of the game for beginners, and be easily readable as it’s played.
The player ships follow the classic Asteroids design. It’s a classic for good reasons: I tried doing more with the geometry (at some point I had unique ships designed for each player), but the detail ended up being detrimental to the readability. The colours are CMYK. (The “K” in CMYK is technically black, but white just worked better.) They contrast nicely with each other, as well as the background and other game elements.
For the orbs and enemies, I wanted to communicate good and bad in a simple, effective manner. The colour choice is obvious: green for good, and red for bad. The less obvious part is that the orbs have curved, smooth geometry, and the enemies have sharp edges.
(The blackhole is an exception, where it’s an enemy and it’s red, but it’s a perfectly smooth circle. Again, the circle just worked better.)
The other elements of the game (the background and board) use a neutral design scheme. I went with medium blues and circular geometry (to reinforce the orbit theme).
I didn’t get everything right the first time around: In an earlier build of the game, the board was orange (quite similar to the red enemies). A common question during testing was, “will touching end edge of the board kill me?” Clearly, this was a huge oversight on my part, and was promptly fixed. It makes visual design a somewhat thankless task: get it right and nobody will notice, but if you get even one part wrong it’s a glaring issue.
But it’s worth it because it’s another small step toward making a game that easier to learn, read and play, minimizing the use of those pesky text instructions.
12 August 2011
Due to circumstances beyond my control, Timeli is now free to download from the App Store.
I understand that the early adopters must feel pretty burned right now, and for that I apologize. But I’d also like to thank you guys for your support. Your kind words and constructive criticism helped me through Timeli’s “growing pains”, and never failed to renew my enthusiasm when the work got overwhelming. In short, Timeli would not be this great without you guys.
I’m really excited about Timeli having the opportunity to reach many more people. While the money was nice, my primary goal has always been to just write great software, and hopefully make a difference in peoples lives. I’d much rather give Timeli away than, say, drop it entirely.
Visit the Timeli website to learn more, and download a copy today.