Chompy Chomp Chomp – Review

Chompy Chomp Chomp Title ScreenI stumbled upon Chompy Chomp Chomp a few months ago when a friend told me that she was looking for something cute to play. Sadly though, she only had access to a Mac at that point and I ended up not buying it for her (the game is Windows only).

But – a seed was planted, and I thought the game looked like lots of fun, so I started thinking that I should get it for myself. A few weeks later, I noticed IndieGamerChick‘s #GamesMatter campaign on Twitter, and after asking her how it worked, she gave me a Steam key. Which turned out to be for Chompy Chomp Chomp!

This review is very long overdue – let’s hope I can make up for that with detail ūüėČ Continue reading

Suffer, little children…

Since probably about 2010, I’ve been toying with an idea that I consider very important. I can’t really remember the thing that sparked it initially, but I’m sure a lot of it had to do with my experiences in the world of adults – the world of employment – as well as my experiences at the various educational institutions I’ve attended.

That I think there are vast, fundamental problems with education systems, is no secret to anyone who knows me. Thus, what I started thinking about, was a school to teach children to focus on their creativity. Somewhere where kids can discover what their true passion is, and live it, so that they don’t end up the way most of us do – doing jobs we hate to get some money at the end of the month to simply survive.

I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I feel that, if that’s really¬†all there is to life, I really don’t want any part of it.

I started thinking further about how utterly useless and misdirected half the stuff was that I’d learned in school. I started thinking things like, “If only I’d had computer science classes in school,” or “If only I’d had art classes in school.”

And then, I discovered this video, and all these random little thoughts  solidified into one big idea:

Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk on “How Schools Kill Creativity”. If this video doesn’t work for you, for some reason, you can also view it here on the official TED YouTube channel.

See, one of my problems in school was¬†that I¬†was¬†actually quite¬†good at mathematics and science. Not only that – I enjoyed these subjects as well. As a result, everyone kept “guiding” (read: pushing) me in the direction of the sciences, engineering, etc. The trouble was that nobody bothered to look at the fact that I was also really good at art and music and loved writing. I’m not even going to say too much about that – if you watch Sir Ken Robinson’s talk up there, he expresses precisely¬†what I experienced growing up.

And it’s nobody’s fault. Nobody did this with malicious intent – it’s simply the way of the world (it’s messed me up more than pretty much anything else in my life though). This cycle of fear we all get raised to respect.¬† Continue reading

The Flipside of Ideas

An illustration of a glowing light bulb surrounded and almost obscured  by a whole bunch of inactive light bulbs.I’ve been thinking a lot about how important it is to have diverse influences in your life when you’re attempting to do anything creative.¬†Probably the biggest hindrance to living in such a remote little place as I am now, is that there’s not a lot of external stimuli. Online interaction today appears to herd all of us into our predefined groups as much as possible – suggestions of who to follow based on similarities to who you already follow, music recommendations based on the music you already own…

Still, there’s also the risk of¬†over-saturation. Do you remember the weird plasticine modelling clay you used to play with as a kid? Beautiful, bright colours. But after a while, after smooshing them together and picking them apart tonnes of times, all the different colours started blending. And then, you got to the point where it was simply not possible to pick them apart again and you just mashed them all together. All those pretty colours mixed to become a blob of gross-looking, pasty, off-green sick.

And that’s what will happen if we all try to blend all the awesome things we can think of into one thing all the time. We’ll all simply come up with the same bowl of off-green sick.

A book, game, movie doesn’t need to be everything for everyone all the time. It never can be, and anything that tries to be that, is destined to become bloated and clumsy, and ultimately, a flop.

I actually don’t think I’ve really mentioned this yet, but the game I’m working on combines (predominantly) puzzle game ideas, with RPG elements and has the working title of “Alchemy Hex”. Thus I’m obviously targeting two main demographics: people who like puzzle games and people who like RPGs, with the hope that there’d be a crossover happening, getting mainly-RPG players interested in puzzle games, and vice-versa. In other words – this game will most likely not appeal to RTS players. It will most likely not appeal to FPS players. And that’s okay.

I think the trick is just to never lose sight of your idea in its purest form. That’s why I’m so keen on keeping notebooks and diagrams within easy reach. In the past few weeks, I’ve become so focused on the mechanics of the game and how it influences the level of difficulty, that I started becoming a little obsessed with difficulty levels. If you look at the little notebook icons I made, there’s even a sticker specifically for difficulty level (and in fact, I think it was probably that very aspect that inspired the idea for the notebook stickies in the first place). Then, last week, I looked at my original diagram, and gained a little perspective again: the RPG elements. That’s precisely why I wanted them in there, but I’d kinda lost sight of them. The game’s difficulty will be and should be determined by the skill and ability choices you make. There’s really almost no need for a difficulty level setting at all. It’s basically a moot point. And I’d been spending so much time on trying to figure it out (I think there’s some metaphorical life lesson hidden in there somewhere…).

Fortunately, I had the notes and diagrams to help me regain some focus again and point me back towards my original plan.

A photo of a cork pin-board with two mindmap diagrams as well as plastic bags containing alchemical symbols on hexagonal grids.

My pin-board with the original diagram(s) for my idea, as well as some material that’s been added since then. Of course, a lot of what’s on the diagram isn’t even relevant any longer, but it’s still a crucial document in my process.

Another problem with idea generation though, is when you get a whole bunch of ideas that you think are all really good, all at once. It can be difficult to filter them and keep the really useful ones. At the moment, since I’ve been working primarily with my hands, paper, scissors and glue, the idea of turning this game (which was from its inception intended to be a computer/mobile game) into a board game as well, has been milling around in my mind a lot. I never latched onto it though, since it was never the primary concern.

Besides, I couldn’t imagine how I would make a game intended for one player, into an enjoyable board game.

And then that¬†single little thought triggered a whole avalanche of ideas… “Just make it a board game for two players then.” Which became, “Why don’t I add two-player support to the digital game?” That progressed into a whole brainstorming session of what would constitute a two-player version of the game. Then, multiplayer… It got to a point where I now actually have what I believe to be a legitimate idea for expanding the game into a multiplayer game. I was almost as excited by this as I was when I had the original idea for my game.

But. I’m already in way over my head as it is. Adding multiplayer support at this time will delay the project by months. It’s not so much that the game mechanics or anything would differ drastically, it’s just that on top of everything else, I’d then have to start worrying about network communications, synchronisation of game elements across devices… Will there be a lobby, will it be peer-to-peer or direct connection? Will it be real-time, turn-based, e-mail driven…? That’s all way too much for me to be worrying about now. So… looking back to my original diagrams and the work I’ve already done, I decided that I really want to do the multiplayer thing. But not now. Once the game as originally envisioned is released, and if it is successful enough to warrant expansion, I’ll look into the multiplayer aspect. And then, who knows, possibly the board game idea too.

What I’ve learned from all of this then, is to always stay open to new ideas, but not to lose focus of what it is that I actually set out to do. ūüėČ

PS – Some other interesting things that have happened during the past two weeks, is that I’m now helping out at the local high school. It’s going to be kind of off-topic, but I’ll probably write about that next time.

Game Design: Winging It

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing Meme

So here’s a confession: I know nothing about game design.

I was never even very good at web design (and so I always went to great pains to refer to myself as a “web developer”, should someone see something I made and go,”Ummm…” Easy to bow out then by sticking on the “developer” side of the fence :P)

What on Earth then has made me think that I can design a game? From scratch…? Well, actually… Nothing did. I don’t know that I can. I do know that I want to try it though, and I do know that I’m busy trying it. And I do know what I do like in games.

I know that I want games to be mentally stimulating and challenging, but not to the point where they frustrate me so much that I want to throw the controller at the screen. I imagine dudebros would refer to me as a “casual” gamer. As such, I’m usually very grateful if a game has a difficulty setting. If I get just a little too frustrated with “Hard” or “Normal” mode (as “Hard” seems to be called nowadays… o_O), it’s nice to know that I can scale it down just a notch and still get a good degree of enjoyment out of a game.

But, I’m finding it’s¬†really¬†difficult to figure out what differences there should be in difficulty levels… I’m starting to suspect that even the basic idea of my game would prove to be rather difficult to complete, so a varying degree of difficulty is almost compulsory if I want people to play the thing and not give up after the first level. I just don’t even know how to go about it thinking about it. Because what I’ve also realised, is that it’s nearly impossible to work this out on paper. And I suppose that’s where that apparently well-known (?) gamedev wisdom (that I’ve obviously only very recently heard), “Make a prototype as soon as possible,” comes from.

I don’t think it matters in the least how well your game works as an idea, or on paper – it needs to work as a game. As Erin Hoffman said, “A game isn’t really a game until someone is playing it.”¬†(Please also refer to¬†this article¬†that I reblogged on¬†my tumblr¬†earlier this week – if you’ve read this far, it’s something you really ought to read as well.)

So how am I ultimately¬†going to design a game without having any experience in game design? I’m going to implement these ideas I have in a real thing, a non-paper thing, a semi-playable thing, and just see if they work. And if they don’t – reboot, rewind, redefine. Or possibly even scratch them entirely and come up with new ones (I had some metaphor in mind all week about pillars and the Mines of Moria or something, but it became all muddled up in my brain and it makes no sense any more…).

I suspect most people think that the programming is the hardest part of making a game, probably followed by the graphics and animation. They may be right. But I – ridiculously inexperienced as I am – firmly believe that by far the hardest part of making a good game, is game design. So suddenly, the significant concern that has¬†plagued me about how to make these hexagon-things actually work in Unity, doesn’t seem quite as terrifying any longer. I’ve started thinking of it as that thing that will actually be assisting me with the part of making a game that’s even more complex. Trial and error, until I get it right. I’ve got the time…

Thus, in the end, I think that the true difference between a professional artist/musician/programmer/whatever, and a newbie, isn’t really measured in skill – it’s measured in efficiency. Someone who’s been doing whatever you’re doing for years and years doesn’t necessarily have more talent or better ideas – they’ve just become “well-oiled”. They can generate ideas far quicker and execute them in far less time than you probably can. And that doesn’t mean they’re better than you are. It means they’re more efficient than you are. And the only way you’re going to reach that level, is by spending lots and lots and lots of time doing that thing (what’s the thing about 10,000 hours…?) Basically – you have to suck before you’re going to get good. Unless you were conceived by an Atari and an NES and your first words were, “Here’s an idea: There’s this Italian plumber…” For everyone else – we have to learn by doing. And failing.

Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Try… Ummm… No… Not quite… Try. Fail.

And maybe… someday…

Try.

Success.

That’s the formula I’m going for with my “game design” at this point.

Resources: Stickies for your notebook

sticker_iconsI’m a very big fan of capturing ideas and thoughts using pen and paper (I’m absolutely addicted to Moleskine journals – I’ll show you a picture sometime). It’s great to have something with you that you can quickly scribble or draw ideas in when a thought strikes you.

The one think that I don’t like about paper notebooks so much, is that it can easily become difficult to organise ideas in cohesive sections. On computer, you can cut and paste all your scattered pieces into different categories. Not so easy in a notebook…

I’m faced with that exact problem in my development notebook at the moment – new ideas that aren’t necessarily directly related to the ones that came right before them, show up whenever they feel like it. And if I don’t write them down immediately, I lose them. So I thought – if I had little “icons” that I could stick next to these unrelated ideas, it would be much easier to come back later and see which ones belonged together, even if they were scattered throughout the notebook.

I decided on a couple of categories that I figured I’d need a lot, made some icons for them and then bought two sheets of sticker paper to print them all on.

I’ve also decided to share this document. I’m not sure how useful these would be to anyone else, but feel free to do with them whatever you want to. (The “RPG” category in my stickers might not be applicable to all that many people, for instance, but I’m sure most of the others would have a use, regardless of what kind of game you’re working on.)

As an overview, the category icons I’ve included in the PDF (and what I intended them for) are:

  • icon_set_settings_gear¬†¬†Settings – Actual game settings. This could include rendering options, display settings, sound & music volume or any ideas that you have and think should be included in your game/project’s global settings.
  • icon_set_mechanics_spanner¬†¬†Mechanics – The way the game actually works. The bits under the bonnet. This could be anything from physics ideas, how things should move, if it’s a puzzle game (as in my case) – how exactly do the puzzles work? Should tiles just match colours, should things slide or rotate, what happens in empty spaces on your game board, etc.
  • icon_set_rpg_helmet¬†¬†RPG – Role Playing elements, since their will be a fair bit of RPG-based ideas in my game. For me, this would include things like – what base skills are available, what sub-skills do they affect, what exactly do these skills do and how do they affect gameplay and game mechanics, which skills can be trained, which can be “bought”, etc.
  • icon_set_difficulty_mountains¬†¬†Difficulty – Is your game going to have more than one difficulty level? If so, what are the differences going to be and how are you going to implement them? This ties in with Game Mechanics, but specifically when related to changing the ease of playing.
  • icon_set_interface_mouse¬†¬†Interface – This isn’t just the menu and points/skills display. More importantly – how will you interact with your game and your game pieces/characters/sprites? Mouse? Keyboard? Click and drag? Single-click only… Scrolling wheel… Touch-screen… I think you get the picture.
  • icon_set_music_note¬†¬†Music – I’m extremely optimistic about this and hope to compose the music for my game myself o_O. But – I’m not exactly sure what kind of music to go with yet. For me, this icon will probably be used more for references to artists and music that I hear that sounds like the kind of thing that could work.
  • icon_set_sound_waves¬†¬†Sound – Basically everything that’s not music. Clicks. Drags. Slashes. Pops. Bangs. Slides. Opens. Power-ups. Are you going to get someone to do these for you, or will you create them yourself? What could closely resemble the sound of a heavy stone door being opened down in a dungeon…?
  • icon_set_other_star¬†¬†Other – I don’t really know… I just wanted to fill up the sticker sheet (and was having a lot of fun creating the icons), so I figured whatever other category I haven’t thought of yet, could probably be covered by this. Notice how it’s actually a chaos star…? But it also sort of resembles an asterisk, commonly used for footnotes…? Clever, no? ;P

So there you go! Stick away! Of course, there’s an uncomfortable amount of time cutting out little circles and legends ahead of you before you get to that though…

If you can use these – awesome! I’m happy! Use them for whatever you want to (and tell me about it – sharing is caring). It would just be kind of nice of you if you didn’t sell these to anyone else and pretend you made them… Church? Okay ūüėČ

Oh, and don’t steal my logo! It took me like a whole ten minutes to come up with that!

(If you went “TL;DR” and missed the link up there – you can get the PDF here)

Later!

PS – If anyone wants the original featuring my sloppy SVG work, drop me a line or shout in the comments below. Peace!