Agent Matt


Bio: Matthew Clark is the Technical Director at The Voxel Agents. He has four years experience building and creating games for iPhone, various consoles and PC. Matt made his start in the industry at Pandemic Studios in Brisbane, working on an unreleased Wii title. You can currently find Matt in Melbourne working on The Voxel Agents next-big-game. Keep an eye out for him at various industry events, including regular IGDA gatherings, as well as GCAP and Freeplay.

It’s finally official. Time Trackers is now available on the App Store, and on our Voxelites page!

Here is a video showing the whole 14 hours that we took to make the game:

Play Time Trackers in your browser

Read more about the development here: Live blogging from the 14 Hour Game Making Challenge!

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Ever since I dropped a ping-pong ball into a satellite dish as a child I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the parabolic dish.  It doesn’t matter which part of the dish the ball hits, it will always bounce back up to hit the focus point. Allow me to steal an image from wikipedia to explain my point.

In a parabolic antenna, incoming parallel radio waves (Q1 – Q3) are reflected to a point at the dish’s focus (F), where they are received by a small feed antenna.

As you can see in the above image, a ball dropped from any point above the dish (Q1, etc) will always bounce in such a way that it hits the focus point. This is the same way satellite dishes receive incoming data (and why you need to make sure you point the dish in the right direction!).

I was trying to work out if I could use this concept to make a game. Being a satellite dish is no fun. Nor is being the focus point (you just stay in one spot right?). What if it was up to you to catch the data on the correct angle to make it hit the focus point? Now we’re getting somewhere! …and so ‘Ping’ was born.

Screenshot of the first playable build.

In the first version, there was a veritable wall of data raining down from the sky. You were the little panel you can see on the right-hand side of the image, and whatever hit you bounced off. It was made extra difficult by the fact that the panel was straight (i.e. not a parabola). So data wouldn’t bounce back to the right place unless you caught the data right in the center of the panel.

When I passed this build around the office, the other Voxels didn’t quite share my joy for the game. This is understandable, given that even the best player in the world could never catch more than 20% of the falling data – there was just so much of it! My solution was to add power-ups to the game. (Because power-ups solve everything right?) And that resulted in Version 2. It was definitely better, but it still had a ridiculous rain of data that you had to catch, and it lacked a strong reason to return to the game.

Rough draft UI design.
Upgrade menu up the top.
Big Grab button down the bottom.

I sat down with Agent Simon to discuss the problems the game had, and these were the major things we outlined.

  1. The game doesn’t explain what to do or how to play.
  2. There is still too much to catch – it’s distracting
  3. Why will a player return to the game?
  4. The game is kind-of ugly! (I’m a programmer – what did you expect?)
  5. What actually IS the player? Some kind of rectangle?

Making the game self-explanatory was all about encouraging the player to put their finger on the screen and start moving it about. So we added a big GRAB area on the screen. Reducing the amount of data to catch was easy – just remove the fluff data (And add in some scary RED packets that hurt the player and need to be avoided)

Screenshot of the final game!

Getting the player to return to the game was a bigger problem. The solution was to create an upgrade system where you can earn bigger satellite dishes, faster movement, etc. The idea is that you can’t get ALL the upgrades at the same time. So if you want to get a high-score, you need to find out which combination of upgrades works best for you. This means you have to play through the complete progression several times before you can be truly high-score competitive.

Solving the art was a much easier problem for me. I just got Simon to do it all! Thanks Simon 😉


Play ALL the versions here!

 

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Back in 2011 we had a problem – How were we going to fit a 6th desk into our tiny (4.5 x 5 meters) office space.

Old office layout with 5 desks

Old office layout with 5 desks

We had the following equipment, and the option of an extra desk (we could pick large or small)

  • 4 Large Desks 1800 x 900mm
  • 1 small desk 1200 x 600mm
  • 1 Whiteboard 1900 x 500mm
  • 5 Happy smiles

I wanted to start moving stuff around to get a feel for the space, but Simon – being the super game-designer that he is wanted to prototype the solution before we started turning off computers, knocking over monitors and generally making a mess.  So he opened up flash, made some boxes and started dragging and dropping.

The Tool

The Tool

We had some pretty creative layouts, involving putting everyone around a central island (Cabling would be a nightmare), or maximising empty space by getting cosy with 2 people to a desk.

Creative Desk Layouts

Creative Desk Layouts

Prototype Power!

Prototype Power!

At the end of the day, we easily had 40 different solutions. Some ideas were much better than others, and we came up with some pretty crazy layouts.

That’s the awesome thing about prototyping, once you start messing around with ideas, you find things that you never expected. The simple tool allowed us to do things that would have been simply too-hard in real life. The end result? It’s actually not that different from our original layout, but it’s actually a much better use of space. Even though we added another small desk, the room actually felt more spacious.

The final layout

The final layout

Which desk layout do you like?

 

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Agent Sam is a mad-keen programmer who was actually one of the very first Voxel Agents. He started with us waaaay back in 2009 doing 1-2 days a week – which was as much as his university schedule would allow.






Tom Simon Tian Matt Henrik Sam

When Sam started, we were just winding up on the original Train Conductor, and starting to prototype new ideas.  Sam got straight to work on an awesome shooter game that we were calling Thumb-Shooter.  The premise was simple – your thumbs control massive guns, and you fly through the galaxy shooting stuff up.

Dual thumb shooter concept idea

Dual thumb shooter concept idea

The concept didn’t really take off. It seems obvious now – but apparently trying to fit 2 fat thumbs on an iPhone screen, as well as a whole screen full of stuff that you want to shoot is pretty tricky, and your thumbs tend to get in the way of each other.

I’ll let Sam introduce himself in another blog post – but for now Welcome Aboard! Now that we have 3 programmers on the team, maybe I can join the art department! (Just kidding)

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Dec/11

20

Agent Matt

The Fire Game

So this is an awesome prototype that I worked on earlier in the year. It’s been sitting on the shelf gathering dust. Dust is boring – Players are fun! So now I’m setting it free.

Hit the image below to start playing, or skip ahead for the long story.

THE GAME

Play the Fire Game in it’s own window

The Fire Game

Play the Fire Game

THE MAKING:

The fire game started long long ago. Regular readers will remember last year when we competed in the 48hr Game Making Competition 2010.. The three keywords were Dinosaur, Revenge, and Bar. So we came up with a game, where you drop raptors into a bar, and try to kill as many people as possible.

PLAY: Raptors in a bar

The bar from "Raptor in a cocktail bar"

We eventually dropped the ‘Raptors in a Bar’ idea, and ended up making a game we called Egg Basher, but the idea of setting things up in a room, and then trying to kill as many people as possible stuck with me. However, there was one major problem with the idea.

Problem: If a player is going to invest their time setting up the scenario, then the outcomes needs to be predictable, and 100% repeatable.
Solution: Replace unpredictable dinosaurs with Scientific Fire.

It has to work. It’s Science!

I remember an episode of C.S.I. (or some similar show) where a house burned down. The police expected arson, because of the strong burn pattern up the front stairs. But some clever investigation showed that the fire actually started upstairs, but when a neighbour came to help, they opened the front door. The sudden gust of fresh oxygen caused the fire to rush down the stairs, and blast out the front door.

I was envisioning a series of traps and tricks that The Player could set up in order to make the fire spread faster. A game with complex timing mechanisms, technical oxygen measurements, and scientific fire!

What we ended up with was an interesting prototype. A very fun toy to play with, but ultimately, not a game.

Play the Fire Game in it’s own window. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as we did making it.

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Scary 'demon trains'!

Everyone knows when you release stuff into the wild that players will leave some pretty interesting reviews. But we have a story that I think puts the icing on the cake….

When we launched TC2 on the marketplace our first few reviews were coming in, and it looked like everyone was loving the game.
Great variety of levels.“, “Awesome visuals“, etc…

But then we got a couple of odd reviews saying the second level of the game was too scary for children.

Now, if you’ve seen the ghosts in our game, you will know they are quite cute and relatively harmless. Ghost trains provide a fun and fast paced twist on the usual ‘avoid-the-crash’ gameplay. We quickly called an emergency meeting at The Voxel Agents to think about how we could respond to this issue, and save our star rating! Meanwhile… Fans of Train Conductor were coming to our rescue.

I see nothing wrong with demon trains” – 5 Stars
I bought it for the demon trains!” – 5 Stars!
‘Demon trains’ hahaha! (…) GREAT GAME!

And finally Katie chimed in with the Gem:
I have a large preference towards games with demon trains in them. In fact they are the only type of games I will purchase. 5 out of 5 demon trains

Thank you Katie! We love demon trains too!

Check out the game for yourself and let us know what you think about the Demon Trains.
Get Train Conductor 2: USA on the Android Market

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So here is a game idea that I’ve been working on. The inspiration came from looking at build-orders in starcraft, and thinking about how we can use that to generate tunes. This simple prototype is still in the extreme early stages, but it’s enough to get a feel for what some RTS generated music might sound like.

Click on a circle to build a building. The resource bases generate up to 5 gatherers each, which play notes in the gathering song. If you build a baracks (Drum track!) – they will send out swarms of marines armed with notes from Ode to Joy. It takes a while to process the sound waves, so expect a little bit of lag when it starts up.  The game uses AS3SFXR for its sound engine – http://www.superflashbros.net/as3sfxr/

Let us know what you think!

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This is just a quick post to share the slides that I put together for a recent talk I did on porting an iPhone game to android.

And here they are:   Slides from the JNI_presentation

Some resources I’ve found invaluable when developing for android…

Game Dev (Textures / Assets / Saving): http://www.philhassey.com/blog/2010/08/03/porting-galcon-using-the-android-ndk/

JNI Specifics (Getting the JVM, attaching threads) : http://android.wooyd.org/JNIExample/

Debugging JNI (how to use NDK-GDB): http://vilimpoc.org/blog/2010/09/23/hello-gdbserver-a-debuggable-jni-example-for-android/

I might come back here and add some more detail later… stay tuned 🙂

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Over the weekend, we attended the Freeplay Independent Games Festival. Having had some time to recover from the brain-load of inspiring discussions, we thought we’d write a quick thank-you message to the organisers, the volunteers, and everyone who attended.

It’s really interesting to be part of a festival where everyone is so deeply passionate about games.  Few artistic realms have get such a rabid crew of practitioners, willing to play, think, reflect, discuss and research their passion all day, and then long into the night. It really shows how unique the games industry is, where everyone is part of a Play, Enjoy, Share, culture.  Freeplay really brought us together, it was truly amazing to see such a diverse group of like-minded people, sharing, playing and enjoying their time together.

The festival wasn’t all just fun and games though.  There was also an awards night!

Brawsome did an excellent job with his game Jolly Rover, winning Best Australian Game; and a surprise victory goes to Sword Lady & The Viking; two university students awarded Best Game Design with Up, Down, Ready. I had a chance to hang out with both at the event, and they absolutely deserve it.

Jolly Rover

Up Down Ready

We picked up Best Game Audio with Train Conductor.  Thank you Freeplay, we’ll keep the funky SFX and pumpin’ music coming in future titles. Thanks especially to Joel Joslin who writes our tunes.

Train Conductor takes home 'Best Game Audio'

Thank you to the international speakers who flew such a long way to share their thoughts with us.  A further thank you to Multimedia Victoria for funding the festival, and the Victorian Library for hosting it.  The Victorian government has done a great job of making Melbourne the ‘Games Capital’ of Australia.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a shot of the team brandishing the 2 awards (Best Game Audio, and Runner-up for Best Game Design)

The Voxel Agents

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Last week we announced Train Conductor USA and showed some screenshots of the Grand Canyon level. This week, I’ll be covering our New York level.

Regular New York travellers will feel at home with the new subway track numbering, based on real MTA subway lines.For now we’ve chosen the 1, 4, C, Q, and S lines, but, as always, we’re open to suggestions. The visual style in the subway is very urban (as you would expect) and features some stunning graffiti details. In the final level, look out for buskers performing on the platforms!

Manage real MTA subway lines in the NYC Subway!

Manage real MTA subway lines in the NYC Subway!

The challenge in this crowded NYC subway level is to avoid the columns between the tracks. You’ll really need your conducting hat for this level! We’ve played with many different column layouts, some more complex than others. So expect to see several variations in the final game!

Avoid the obstacles between the tracks to be sure the trains arrive safely.

Avoid the obstacles between the tracks to be sure the trains arrive safely.

Watch this space for more upcoming levels and inspiring new art and music!

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