CAT | Game Ideas

Hey there, we’re making a game at ACMI at Federation Square. We’re going to take an earlier prototype we made in 2011 called Time Travel Treasure Hunt, and make it into a fully fledged app fit for the App Store in just 14 hours! (Meanwhile we’ve spent a year working on our upcoming title… shh). So this is going to be EXTREME GAME DEVELOPMENT. 1 year? who needs that? 48 hours? Who needs that? 14 hours? Just perfect ;P

Come say hi at ACMI and pitch in your ideas. We just had a communal brainstorming with some luverly audience members, and we’re setting up two machines for you to make art for the game and make sound effects for the game. We’re here all weekend and I’ll be live blogging as often as possible. Supposedly I’m meant to be “spruiking” the audience, but I think ACMI forgets I’m a computer nerd LOL so we’ll see how that goes.

Ok so we’ve got the stations setup, people are recording explosion sounds. We’ve got people suggesting names for the game and we’ve got a drawing station with people filling in the lines for chickens, cows and houses!

first build of the game


second build of the game – some art and programmer “animations” ;P

I’ve uploaded our first build of the game: Play it here. The basic mechanics are up and running and from the first brainstorming session we are working our way through the list of todos.

The second build includes the first audience made art ; the trees and cows (?).

nawww

But Tian doesn’t like having people watch over her shoulder. Especially when she has to make art that fits the same style as what the audience can draw… haha oh Tian, it’s ok we know you’re AWESOME.

Day 1 – Hour 5 – 2:01pm

CHICKENS

and this one!

Here’s one of my favourite audience made art works!

People recording chicken sounds has got to be the best part of this whole shenanigan! It always gets a laff. BEGGGEEERRRRRRKKKK

Day 1 – Hour 6 – 3:31pm

Just had a quick team meeting. We’re dividing up the workload and putting champions in charge of certain areas. Matt, Tian and Henrik are building the first major scene and getting the flow happening in the core gameplay. Sam is getting sounds into the game and the audience user made content flow flowing. Tom is on the star collection crusade and I’m tackling the introduction to the game.

 

 Day 2 – Hour 14 – 4:31pm

We’ve had no internet all day! Sorry for the lack of updating…

But on the plus side we’ve been better at ignoring people today and desperately rushing to have the game ready for shipping. 26 minutes to go…

 

The final game!

final build of the game!

 

 

 

 

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The best art style for a logic puzzle doesn’t get in the way of a players ability to see and solve the puzzle itself.

Agent Tian and I researched what art principles were used in defining art styles for logical puzzle games. This information will be  relevant to other small development studios, as well as artists and students of game design.

We gathered data about the audiences of various games from the Facebook pages and user reviews of those titles. We found that Train Conductor 2, being a score based arcade game, attracts a much younger and tech savvy audience than is common for logical puzzle games.

Here are two typical sets of demographic data we’ve gathered from users interacting on the games facebook pages:
If you’re unfamiliar with Quell it’s a fantastic logical puzzle game that is performing well on Android phones. On their website you can read about the Making of Quell where you can read their development story.

Train Yards is a successfull logical puzzle game developed by Matt Rix. In his postmortem at GDC this year he talked about the difference between developing for casual players and harcore players. The slides are available for free here and you can listen to the full talk if you have access to the GDC vault here.

When developing a game for gamers you can skip several levels of teaching. With 10 years of gaming experience comes vast a priori knowledge of computer interfaces and how they usually respond to player input. For example, I’m sure you have, at some point in life, been completely mind boggled by the inability of an old relative to move files across folders.

We’ve seen endless cases, while playtesting with a casual audience, where the play tester develops the most obscure theories of what the game rules are. The cause of these theories is simply miscommunication by us, the developers. By stripping the game of unnecessary art assets we can greatly reduce this problem: less art assets mean less objects for players to develop wacky theories about.

We can see a clear connection between logical puzzle games that value graphical prettiness more than usability, and bad chart performance. We see the opposite effect when usability is considered first. It is clear that puzzle games that value usability over art outperform on the marketplace. Sudoku is a good example because there so many Sudoku apps (Appannie gives 823 results).

The players top favorite Sudoku game out of those 823 competitors is the example to the right. Their secret? They have the largest buttons possible.

The GDC talk “How to make your player feel smart” by Randy Smith (available for free here) gives advice about puzzles in games. He references the book “The Design of Everyday Things” and further emphasises the following principle:

Look at the example on the right. Though you might not be sure of the rules or the objective at an initial glance everyone will know how a car moves and player will try to interact with the element in that manner. Logical puzzle games that stick to this principle are clear favorites among the players. For example, see Traffic Jam & Cross Fingers

I will hold off with the remaining slides of the presentation. They rely heavily on statistics and I don’t want to bloat this post with pie charts. If you like that sort of stuff send me an email (henrikpettersson@thevoxelagents.com) and I can provide you with the whole presentation but you will have to draw some conclusions by yourself. I will publish the remaining data with descriptions sometime in the future.

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In 2011 we made loads of prototype games; some small, some funny, some that sucked, almost all ugly (except the lucky few that receive Tian’s touch :D). Here’s a visual tour of 20 of the 24 games that we made in five months. Together they paint the picture of what Voxel Agent games look like when they’re born – a mish-mash of squares, circles and terrible colour schemes!


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Last weekend, we competed in the #fab48hr game making competition in Brisbane, Australia… and what a wild weekend! We won! That was great, but more importantly I was absolutely blown away by the quality of games made by the other teams. I was particularly impressed with the level of quality and polish that was developed in “indie” / student room. There is an enormous amount of talent in Australia and I’m sure we’re going to see more from those awesome young developers.

In the #fab48hr competition, each team must concept, design, and create a game based on three keywords that are provided at the beginning of the competition. This year, those words were “suit”, “key”, and “badger”, provided by Yug, Hex, and Jinx.

We made this:

Download the game we made here [WINDOWS] or if you use a Mac, try this link [MAC].

The Badgers of Fury 161

The Badgers of Fury 161

How to Play: Without giving too much away, if you have a couple of XBox controllers, plug them in for the best experience, using “A” as your action button. If you have to use a keyboard, you can use the arrow keys for player 1 and WASD for player 2, with “shift” as the action button. Also be aware the the glowing yellow floor (which totally looks like lava) will kill player 1 and the swirling blue circles (evidently poisonous gas…) will kill player 2. That’s all you really need to know… oh yeah one more thing: the badgers aren’t nice and they will eat your face.

The Badgers of Fury 161 was developed by the Alliance of Indie. This team was composed of developers from a number of Australia’s top Indie studios including yours truly Agent Tom (The Voxel Agents), Liam Hill (Defiant Development3 Blokes Studios), Cratesmith (Cratesmith,DefiantStrange Loop), Matt Ditton (Queensland College of Art, Defiant), and the incredibly talented Milenko (Strange Loop,Defiant).

The Alliance of Indie

Matt Ditton, Agent Tom, Liam Hill, Cratesmith, Milenko

But really, kudos where kudos is due:
As proud as we are of the game we managed to make in 48 Hours, the real winners of the competition were the indie team Rockin Moses (read about them here: http://making-games.net/48/?p=2916) who made a really fun game called The Fifth Suit. 

This game was great fun to play. For me, their game evoked “Smash Brothers Brawl”. While playing, I was less concerned about winning and more concerned about trying to make life difficult for my opponents. It was a strong social experience and quite a polished product for just 48 hours of work! You can grab a PC version of their game here [WIN] but it’s best played with XBox controllers. If you’re lucky enough to have some XBox controllers then I strongly suggest you get this version [WIN – XBox Controllers].

Congratulations Rockin Moses!

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We’ve prototyped a lot of games over the last few months, some of them were made and discarded within 2-3 days, others had a much longer development process and Slingshot was one of those games. Since I previously posted a concept video of the game here on our blog I thought I do a Postmortem on the project.

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We like to use paper prototypes to test our ideas. We find it helps to test ideas really quick, and playing board games is a pretty super job to have 😀 We like it so much, our next game came from a board game prototype.

It’s the weekend, and maybe you don’t have much to do… Or maybe you’re attending the Freeplay Festival like us and get all inspired to make some games. To help you, we put together a generic set of board game pieces that you can use to develop your own board game! Download the pdfs below, print them on A4 and get started prototyping new boardgames! The set contains a total of eighteen unique pieces for you to play with 😀
Three “good” characters
Three “bad” characters
A house
A treasure chest and a coin
Three environment pieces
A life
Five generic symbols
And all of these icons in easy to print PDF’s are available here and here.
So get crackin!

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As we approached a decided on what prototype to bring into production we needed get a feel for it’s potentials, beyond the core and decided to spend a week trying out different variations. There were lots of ideas and almost twice as many new rules we wanted to apply. Most of them, unlikely to be a triumph on first go or even useful at all. This is the reality of a design process. There is always a heavy amount of tweaking and adjustments that goes into taking and idea and turning it into something that works.
We wanted to see many variation made in a short amount of time and even with two fantastic programmers on call and a level editor to use I can’t request adjustments on the fly. So with an old pair of scissors, pens and an wrist measurement for malnutrition I pieced together a cardboard level editor with a grid and compliant tokens and gamecards.

Getting away from the cursed desk is a massive relief by itself and moving gamepieces around with my hands instead of the using the mouse is like crawling out from the swamp of despair and walking on solid ground.

Need a new rule?

Bam! New rule.
(Link to The Prodigy – Firestarter for your convenience)

After only 3 days we had such success with the variations we felt secure that our game had plenty of potential far beyond the scope of the core. It was not the cheer amount of variation made but how surprisingly easy it had been to create very solid new puzzles.

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Agent Henrik is cutting paper boards for our next game! Guess what kind of game it is!

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The Voxel Afternoon Tea! Sound’s awesome, doesn’t it?

As creative individuals we are always producing new ideas, but how can we continually produce without also absorbing ideas?

So, we came up with this idea of holding an ‘afternoon tea’ session every Friday lunchtime. During tea each Agent shares something that they have recently discovered or found interesting and we all discuss.

We thought you might be interested to check what each person shared!

 

Name: Agent Matt
Material shared: Not Tetris 2
Play it on: http://www.stabyourself.net/nottetris2
Reason for sharing: I think it’s an interesting subversion of a classic game. The ‘broken-ness’ of it just works, and it is self documenting.



Reflection
Henrik: I’m impressed of the product. It’s been taken way beyond what he needed to show the concept. I’m not entirely sure what the developer is trying to tell or show us more than that its works but regardless I’m impressed.
Simon: I like how the whimsical controls match the developer’s attitude in destroying a classic 😀
Tom: Subversive! Loved how he broke the rules of tetris by making the blocks not behave the way they should, but the players objective remained the same. I’d love to see someone clock this game (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keeSEJG4XzU).
Tian: It’s interesting to watch it, but I don’t think it will be as enjoyable as the original Tetris…
Ramsey: Great Rehash on a classic, lovin it bro

 

henrik

Name: Agent Henrik
Material shared: Amnesia Dark Descent Gameplay Video
Reason for sharing: Along with Limbo, Amnesia was the best game I played last year.



Reflection
Matt: Watching videos of people’s reactions is always interesting. It’s incredible just how psychologically hooked people can get, even though they can just walk away at any time.
Simon: Amnesia looks like an horrifying ride and I want to take it 😀
Tom: I need to play this game, but after watching that video I also need to play it on skype with Simon.
Tian: I was worried at first when you told me it’s going to be scary, because I tend to scream if I see something scary. But I didn’t and it was kinda confusing… and funny. However I still would not play the game, just because it’s a scary game and I’ve experienced enough scary things.
Ramsey: Looked fantastic, I’ll get on it as soon as I grow a pair to play horror games lol. It seems the developers really understood how to manipulate the emotions and fear of the player and tweak it to ALMOST the point of snapping.

 

Name: Agent Simon
Materials shared: Live coding!
Reason for sharing: These guys inspired some of my final year work at uni and have been an ongoing inspiration. I like the idea of using a computer as an instrument, and not just to play samples, but to use it’s logic to generate interesting melodies on the fly.


Reflection
Henrik: Much admiration to the people who travel in new direction of creativity. Extra interesting since it’s an area I too wish to explore.
Matt: Code as performance is awesome!
Tom: Loved the performative aspect of this. Reminded me of conditional design more than generative design.
Tian: It’s always amazing for me when someone can do both art and programming. They would have some really symmetrical looking brain I think. 😀
Ramsey: Future sailors, taking retro to its logical conclusion! Boosh aside, this looks really cool and I’d love to see where these guys end up creatively in a year or two’s time. It seems to me that once they master their tools ( which they created lol ) they will definitely come into their own.

 

Name: Agent Tom
Material shared: We are the Strange (trailer).
Reason for sharing: Striking visuals and an amazing story. I love how it combines so many different types of visual elements and twists them into an unholy creation of amazing awesome.

Reflection
Henrik: Don’t know if I’d enjoy the movie but will see it because of it uniqueness. If we did not have creations like these our culture would be very dull.

Matt: Crazy video, I imagine it would have been very difficult to juxtapose all of the various techniques.
Simon: I don’t know whether I like his commitment or his craziness more.
Tian: Interesting find, I would love to know how he can afford to make such a long movie by himself. 18 months of production time doesn’t sound like a long enough period for making a good quality movie to me. Also I would love to know how he promoted and sold it, I think it’s really hard to market this kind of film.
Ramsey: Really cool animation man, I can’t wait to pull out the popcorn and anti-seizure pills and let it siege my senses.

 

Name: Agent Tian
Material shared: Get Out – Animated Short
Reason for sharing: Awesome story and imaginative visual style, and the concept is very funny yet heartwarming. Best animated short I saw at MIAF so far this year.


Reflection

Henrik: Fantastic short by people with skills and understanding that goes beyond animation goodness. I think the isolation cell metaphor worked for the most part. The additional details noticed through a second screening were few but impressive.
Matt: Great surprise ending. I was starting to feel really sorry for the guy. Sometimes you think if people can be happy in their own head-space, why should we force them to change? I think this video shows why.
Simon: Cleverly French.
Tom: Great animation. Interesting world. I didn’t actually like the ending. It made everything ok and nice and fine in the world… to me that’s as good a story device as “it was all a dream”. Nice twist in the tale though, I’ll give it that. Animation: 10 points.
Ramsey: Really great little short, beautiful animation and characters, im glad you shared this with me, I will definitely be showing this to my friends!

 

Agent Ramsey shared a top secret idea, so will remain in the vault 😛

Where do you find your best sources of creative inspiration? Please post in the comments any interesting things you’ve found on the internet as we’re really interested to see what inspires you.

 

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PLAY

This prototype is one in a series of time mechanic puzzles we’ve been exploring recently. Tian and I created this prototype and with some additional coding help from the other Voxels. It progressed from concept to prototype in just three days. While this concept as it stands will probably not be something we develop further, it has spawned some very interesting derivative ideas and creations.

I particularly believe in the navigation controls and we’ve been developing some quite special with them. Hopefully we’ll be able to show you this in the near future.

Time-Travel Treasure Hunt is a an observation-puzzle game where the players goal is to locate stars which are hidden in a scene. The scene changes over time, playing back a simple story, and the player can follow the events from start to finish or can reverse and scrub time however they please. As the scene unfolds, objects and patterns will collide and overlay each other to form a star-shape. The player must observe these shapes, and click them at the right moment to identify where they are hidden.

Here’s an example of 3 animated shapes dancing and having an absolute blast in the snow. Can you see when they align to form a star?

Click the link below to play the game! Rules:

  • Locate the stars in the animation and click on them when you spot them. We don’t mean the obvious stars in the night sky, but the hidden stars formed by shapes and patterns, as well as pink stars.
  • Use the scrubber to scrub time backwards and forwards, and use the arrow keys to jump a single frame at a time.
  • Pink stars will briefly appear for just a split second and it’s only possible to click them when they are visible.
  • Other stars have been cleverly hidden in the environment and take shape when objects align.

There a total of 10 stars. See if you can find them all. Click here to play:  Time-Travel Treasure Hunt [35 MB]

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