TAG | The Voxel Agents


Awesome news! The Time Project was nominated for Best Design and Best Visual Art at the Freeplay Festival. 

We all rocked along to the awards night feeling quite proud to have been nominated along side of an extremely impressive line-up of games.

While we didn’t pick-up any wins, we were thrilled to have been considered. The team was very much taken by surprise by these nominations. We didn’t imagine our game was at a point where it would be considered for an award, little own two awards! 

Push Me Pull You (House House) took best design and Movement Study 1 (What A Dreamer) collected the Visual Art award (the rest of the award results can be found over here!). Congrats!!!

Freeplay had it’s tenth birthday this year and went for ten days – it’s longest running time, yet! It also had an online festival as well which our programmer, Maya Violet, was working on as an associate producer (wooo!). 

The Voxel Agents would like to thank all of the Freeplay staff and the board and all the other games and game makers for making such cool stuff. We’d especially like to thank the judges for seeing something in our little game. 

<3 <3

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We were invited to speak about narrative in games and my role in The Time Project at the Tech Games Fest! It was a big, three day event held at Chisholm TAFE in Frankston all about making games. 

I had a lot of fun talking about what we do at The Voxel Agents and, more specifically, how I help blend story with game mechanics. There were a lot of questions about how to do this and I think it is an on-going challenge for us but we are getting better at it all the time. 

After my talk, I lead a panel which gave me time to answer more questions. We covered how to work story in with puzzles, how story informs level design and vice versa, why writing helps with user experience design and tips for working effectively in a small creative team. 

Great day! Thank you for having us, Chisholm! 

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Level Transition Concept for The Time Project

We have been having some brainstorm meetings to figure out a natural way to transition between levels. It has to make sense to the game and to the story.

Our adventurers arrive at their destination and they move on. But to where, and how? And what does this mean in a game about time?

We will let you know!

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The Time Project – Our adventurers scale a mountain and are faced with a puzzle.

We’ve been working a lot on the presentation of ‘blocks’ and puzzles. We have been through lots of art treatments and this is the one holding up at the moment! 🙂

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Concept artwork for the puzzles in The Time Project

We’re having lots of discussions about how to make sure the puzzles are clearly asking the player a question. The language has to be consistent, succinct and provide a way for the player to interact.  Not as easy as it sounds but I think we’re getting some good ideas going. 🙂

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Tree builder exploration in Unity.

We are getting real blossoms, guys! 

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I’m so glad to be showing some more pictures of The Time Project. I have been allowed to show some more screenshots (which is prompting me to steal more from our folders because if I get an inch, I’m taking a mile!).

Behold, our world has soft, soft sea foam!!

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At the 2013 Game Developers Awards hosted by the GDAA, Puzzle Retreat was awarded with the Accessibility Award. Not only is it an awesome and prestigious award that we like showing off in our office, but it marks a very important milestone when it comes to game development. Film Victoria and Screen Australia now consider accessibility when it comes to providing funding and are now rewarding companies that excel in developing games that are accessible to a wide audience.’

We think this is pretty swell.

Accessibility in gaming has always been a topic of contention. How does one make a game that caters towards people with motor, cognitive, hearing, speech or vision impairments? Mainstream games usually shy away from this demographic in favour of the masses.

In terms of our games, we aim to make them accessible to those living with impairments. We believe everyone should experience the joy of gaming!

Puzzle Retreat was designed from the ground up with that philosophy in mind.

Sometimes games (particularly puzzle games) rely too heavily on language, small icons or graphics that are make it difficult for players with certain types of vision impairment or  difficulties with language to be able to understand and follow. We’ve attempted to alleviate the problem by using large and bold icons that can easily be differentiated. Furthermore we tried to make the game playable without understanding any written text.

There is an definitive association between time limits and penalties with puzzle games. I’m sure you’ve all felt the frustration of nearly completing a level, only to have the timer run out on you. We decided to take a different route when it comes to unforgiving scenarios.

We eliminated them entirely.

Puzzle Retreat allows players to take as much time on an individual puzzle as they’d like, reset it as many times as they want and even skip the puzzle entirely. Puzzle Retreat was designed to be a relaxing puzzle game, so it only felt right to dispose of time limits and penalties.

We’ve also tweaked the detection radius of the blocks so that its extremely forgiving when a player misses a block by a small margin. This feature, plus the removal of the timer allows players who don’t have a range of fine motor skills to be able to enjoy Puzzle Retreat.

We at The Voxel Agents are extremely excited when it comes to the future of gaming in Australia. With so many awesome studios producing games of such high quality and Film Victoria and Screen Australia providing consideration for funding to those who place emphasis on accessibility, we can’t wait to see what gets released in the future.

This is Agent Aiden, signing out.

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PAX was such a great event and I loved meeting our players, especially those of you who have been supporting us for so long! You fill me with pride and excitement that we are making something worth making. Events like these get me so inspired, and they remind me why I make the games I do.

I got the chance to be part of the panel ‘Getting out of the Garage’ with a fellow devs from our oz industry. We spoke about what inspired us to get started, and what mental illness we had to let us do so. During the talk I mentioned that our inception was partially inspired by a manifesto for making iPhone games. We weren’t always the fearsome, bearded developers you know us all to be and at the time of creating the studio, it wasn’t obvious that starting a mobile games studio making original IP was such a good idea. Certainly at the time there were zero prominent examples of it working in Australia!

Matt, Tom and I (and our other friends too) had always talked about starting a studio . It wasn’t until our team won the 48 hour game making competition twice in a row, and when Pandemic closed down and I had quit Halfbrick that it just all fit together. We knew it was time to start a studio. The manifesto isn’t the reason we started, it just formed a part of the conversation. But it’s interesting to look at it in retrospect, and see that where we were coming from.

The “Manifesto for iPhone Game Development” was actually a tongue-in-cheek title to a thread I posted into a private forum my uni friends and I frequented. The “manifesto” bit was the joke. At the time the title seemed stupid. iPhone’s weren’t “gaming” devices. But I can’t take credit for thinking otherwise. I’m an unashamed Apple fanboy for almost a decade now. I was reading Roughly Drafted regularly and Daniel Eran Dilger’s ideas convinced me that there was huge economic potential in the App Store, and that the iPhone’s success seemed highly certain. Daniel Cook’s game design blog was my significant designer inspiration – especially the articles about innovation and creating new genres. The iPhone seemed to be the perfect mix of the circumstances Cook talked about for great innovation to occur.

Without further ado, here is the Manifesto as it was written back in November 2008.

The Manifesto for iPhone Game Development in 2008

  • There is no first party developer to compete with. Apple has no interest in making games. Yeah they have a Poker app, but that feels more like proof that games can exist as apps, rather than any significant attempt to become a game developer.

  • Big companies aren’t that interested yet. All the massive developers and publishers are either ignoring the market entirely, or giving it extremely little focus. The attitude is generally that the iPhone is not a serious gaming device.

  • Game developers are generally avoiding Apple products, regardless of opportunity.

  • Quality standards are easy to beat.

  • The platform lacks a defining title, and the opportunity is there for an innovative title to fill that role. Gameboy = Tetris. Famicon = Mario Brothers and Zelda. Playstation = Wipeout (to me at least). iPhone = Trism? Really? Good idea, but surely we will progress from here.

  • The iPhone is at a very early stage and innovation on the platform has barely begun – it is an exciting time to be designing iPhone games! Think of all the possibilities with a multi-touch screen, an accelerometer, an always connected internet device, a device you ALWAYS have with you, GPS, bluetooth! Each offers huge potential for new experiences!

  • Consumers expectation are at a comfortable level for indie studios; $1 – $10

  • Units sales are already considerable and sales growth is huge. Consider that the iPod sells hundreds of millions a year… well where are those iPod users likely upgrade to?

  • The approval process is relatively easy for indie developers to satisfy. Certainly better than current handhelds, and forget consoles!

When we started the company, we focused in on the multi-touch screen as our key differentiator. Ultimately though I think the always-on internet connection and “always with you” device have been the single most important aspects for innovation for game design, and even the games business. So much innovation has occurred by exploring these aspects.

In 2013 I’d it’s not so clear cut that the iPhone is the best platform for an indie studio to get started with… But that is a whole other discussion!

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