PPS Title

Post-mortem: PPS – Pixel Person Shooter

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PPS Title

This post has been a long time coming, but for one reason or another I’ve always been postponing it.

However today is finally the day I write about PPS – Pixel Person Shooter, a game I made alongside Andrei Livadariu for the No More Sweden 2013 game jam.

PPS was one of those small ideas I have in my mind that got inspired by watching other people’s experiments at game jams. In particular, this game was inspired by a game I once saw at Exile Game Jam where, even though the game had a 2D top-down perspective and looked completely flat, the level itself was 3D with different ground heights. This meant that you had to figure out the landscape height differences even though they were invisible to the player.

Starting from that point, my idea for PPS was pretty much “What would happen if a top-down 2D multiplayer game suddenly rewarded a player with first person shooter mechanics?

That was my proposal to Andrei Livadariu for this project. I focused on the gameplay mechanics and aesthetics, while he worked on the programming and controls side of things. The controls part is also important since this game was originally meant to be played on an arcade machine with 4 8-direction joysticks.

And the beginning of the game the screen looks pretty much like this:

GameStart

I decided to give the game an old CRT TV look with aesthetics similar to those in Pong, but with some extra visual effects that happen during the gameplay. To achieve this I used a mix of screen filters (a bit of static noise, a lens distortion to produce that monitor look, a glow effect to have the graphics bleed out a bit and some motion blur – which we had to tone down in the end because it was a bit too much).

Kills

To add some visual flair to this overly simplistic look I made heavy use of particle effects in the form of squares of the same color as the player. When a player is killed (by an opponent shooting at him) he disintegrates into these particles. After a short cooldown time, the player respawns again (using the same particles effect, but this time inverted so that it looks as if the particles are joining together to form the player).

You can see this effect in the animation below, where some power-ups have appeared randomly in the level, such as the laser beam, which destroys anything in a straight line for a few seconds:

LaserBeam

There’s also a few portals in the level, the colored walls that can be seen in the sides of the level and surrounding the score box in the middle. Entering one of these portals immediately transports the player to the other side:

Portals

An added effect of this is that shots can also go through these portals, which makes it more interesting to plan a distance kill. In the animation below you can see that feature in action with the blue player using one of the other power-ups in the game, the shotgun, which spreads shots in a wider range. A few of these shots go through the red portal on the right and reappear on the bottom left of the screen:

Shotgun

But the big element of this game is still the PPS power-up, that is, the Pixel Person Shooter. This power-up makes the player who picks it up completely invisible for a few seconds (though in later revisions we made this character occasionally flicker so as to give a clue of where the player is). So how does the player know where HE is? Well, up until this point everything has kept a 2D look. But the PPS power-up (the rotating cube seen above) is the only 3D element in view. This is to indicate that whoever gets that power-up will get the first-person view on the middle area.

The advantages are clear (in theory): while everyone else can only move in four directions, the player with the PPS power-up can move in all directions and, even better, he has a bigger gun with more powerful shots that can even destroy the walls in the level.

       PPSView

The destroying the walls part was actually a fix to one of the bigger problems we encountered during the development of the game.

Even though we assumed that being invisible and having more mobility would make it a clear advantage for that player to win, it actually made the game harder to play. First of all because the original arcade machine this game was being designed for had joysticks that weren’t ideal for this type of control. But secondly because it was too difficult to figure out WHERE exactly you were in the map, so finding the opponents to kill them became quite difficult.

The solution was to make it easy for this player to destroy most walls in his way, so that the gameplay would become a simple display of raw power where you just make your way through everything and kill whoever was in the way. Of course this also lets players know WHERE you are since they can see the destruction you are causing (thanks to all the particle effects), which can have all the players gang up on you and destroy you even though you are invisible.

Regen

As mentioned earlier, the walls would respawn after a few seconds, leaving the arena back the way it was at the beginning of the game.

Even after all the refinements we made during the game jam, the gameplay was far from balanced and this is something that both Andrei and I wanted to work on by changing several features.

In fact, we had the chance to showcase our game during the Copenhagen Cultural Night 2013, where we invited kids visiting the IT University of Copenhagen to play the game and allow us to see how different players reacted to a modified version of the game on a really wide screen.

This was quite a fun experience since it showed us kids would quickly get the idea of how the game works and take advantage of the power-ups, but it also showed a lot of flaws and ideas on how to fix them.

Kids playing PPS at ITU

Andre and I have talked several times about working further on the game, but time constraints and other stuff have impeded it so far. Perhaps some day we will pick this project up again and work out the kinks to make it faster-paced and more engaging.

But until then, you can download the game from its Unicorn 7 page (though mind you that the controls are very tricky one keyboard and you will need to change the input if you want to use controllers).

NGJ14

Handling PR for Nordic Game Jam 2014

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NGJ14

Once again I’m part of the group organizing the Nordic Game Jam, the world’s biggest game jam and one of Denmark’s biggest game development events.

Last year I was already part of the PR team alongside Julie Heyde, but this year, even though I still get help from Julie and other members of the organizing team such as Guo Yu Pan, I’ll be taking charge of all the PR. Quite a hefty task!

During the last few months I’ve been silently making changes to the Nordic Game Jam website, cleaning it up a bit, giving it a wider theme to allow more content and bigger pictures and writing new text. Also the occasional blog post with things related to NGJ and to start hyping the event.

But now, with the ticket sales open for #NGJ14, I’m ready to reveal two videos I have been working on to kick off the promotion of the event:

First of all is a social media take on promotion. I asked a few people to send me very short video clips with their webcam where they explain why they think Nordic Game Jam rocks. After putting it all together in a nice, quick video, I ask viewers to send their own and share it on Facebook and Twitter using the #NGJRocks tag. Later on I plan on creating a mash-up of the best videos that will be shown during the event. It’s a great way to have the participants themselves get others excited about the game jam!

This is the video:

The second one was a bit more tricky. I collected a lot of feedback from students and people who are trying to get into the games industry who do not attend game jams because they think they are not ready for it.

That is one big problem, really. Game jams are actually a great environment to improve your skills and network with other people in the games industry. But you don’t really need to be an expert to attend one! Many people have their minds set thinking that a game jam is a contest: you go there to make the best game and win the competition. But the truth is that a game jam is far more than just a competition. You can take it as such, but you can also just attend because you want to make a team with people you’ve never worked together with before, learn some new ways of doing graphics, programming, you name it!

So to address that, I made a video explaining what exactly is Nordic Game Jam, combining footage from the previous year’s event and a simple flash animation. The tone is very friendly and casual to ensure that everyone wants to give it a try. Don’t have the necessary skills? Don’t worry! You can still try, or if you prefer, be part of the board games category.

This was the final result:

Of course there’s a lot more coming. Nordic Game Jam is still a few months away and we need to keep the momentum going from now on all the way until February 14th when the event starts. I have so many things to announce and hype from talks, workshops, keynote speaker…

It’s going to be a wild ride, but if it’s anything like last year, I’m all up for it!

NGJ14, here I come!

ForcedOnSteam

FORCED is finally available on Steam!

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ForcedOnSteam2

Remember all those developer diary videos that I kept posting on my blog several times?

I also commented about how the game was on Steam Greenlight, and on social networks I posted about the game having a Kickstarter campaign.

Back then I was doing some of Danish game developer BetaDwarf’s first company videos and helping out here and there from time to time.

But now the game is finally out on Steam!

It’s also available in Spanish, courtesy of mine ;-) I was also in charge of contacting all the Spanish press prior to the release.

In any case, you can now get your hands on this fun co-op game for Windows, Mac and Linux! The reviews so far are going great! Give the trailer a look below and enjoy!

Shoot! Nightmare at Exile

And my latest video-videogame is… Shoot! Nightmare at Exile

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Shoot! Nightmare at Exile

Well, how fast time flies… It seems as if it was just a few weeks ago when I last went to Vallekilde Højskole for Exile Game Jam Fall 2012, and now I’m just back from Exile once more!

As usual, it was a blast: lots of cool people, new tech toys to play around with (Oculus Rift and Leap Motion anyone?), many great game ideas and interesting experiments, sauna, music, party and more!

And… I also made a game, this time along with programmer Gabriel Durac and music by Kristian Rømer.

The result is “Shoot! Nightmare at Exile”, or simply “Nightmare at Exile” for short.

If any of you saw my last game from Nordic Game Jam, NGJ Fighters, the game was mostly made of live-action video footage of two characters fighting against each other. The idea seemed to attract some attention, so I wanted to take that a bit further for this new game.

Nightmare at Exile 1

Partly inspired by games like Mad Dog McCree and Los Justicieros, I wanted to put together a short game where the player walks through Vallekilde Højskole (on rails – it’s pre-recorded video footage after all) and has to defend himself against hordes of enemies attacking him at every step, with an epic final boss fight at the end.

To get the project running I managed to create a simple prototype in Unity where a looping video of my friend Peter Ølsted shooting at the camera and taking cover would play infinitely. If the player clicked on him when he was out (detected by a plane that would only be active at the right time), the game would then switch to a video of Peter getting shot. I also managed to get a similar test with an enemy attacking the player in melee combat without taking cover.

Unity test

After I got the test running I showed it to Gabriel, the programmer, who had shown interest in working with me on this (also I’m thrilled to have worked with yet another person I had never made a game with before at a game jam!) He quickly understood what I wanted to do, but suggested doing it in Adobe Flash instead.

The reasons for the switch are many, but mostly because it would make syncing the video with the invisible target area that players ultimately click on much easier when using Flash’s timeline. And while Flash was definitely not perfect (constant crashes, memory errors, compiling stopping without giving away any messages at every second build, limits in video importing…) it did a great job at providing smooth gameplay.

Nightmare at Exile 2

The trickiest part no doubt was trying to get more than one enemy attacking on the screen at the same time. As you can see in the picture above, Nina, Simon and Astrid are all attacking the player simultaneously. This is actually THREE different video clips put together to look like one, playing independently and each one with its own tempo. This made it possible to kill the enemies in a different order every time, with only the character shot falling to the ground while the rest kept attacking. Very tricky, but it worked flawlessly.

It was also a lot of fun getting a lot of people to participate in the production of Nightmare at Exile as actors (then again, it was also a lot of fun asking random Vallekilde students if they wanted to die… on the camera). It has definitely taught me a few things to take into consideration in future projects about planning and camera positioning for this type of interactive video. Of course for a 48 hour game there are lots, LOTS of errors here and there, especially when it comes to changes in lightning, but I let them be since this is, after all, a game made purely for the fun of it.

Even cooler was putting together the final boss fight that takes place in the living room at Vallekilde if the player manages to survive that far, but I won’t spoil it here.

This was also my second time recording and editing sound effects for a game, so not only have I learned a bit more of programming (with the Unity prototypes), video production and Flash development, but also sound design, even if it was all done very quickly in the last few hours. Definitely something worth looking into further in the future.

But enough words about the game. How about you give it a try? You can download the SWF file from game jam games hosting website Unicorn7(You might need to open it with your web browser).

Spilbar 14

Spilbar 14 on video

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Spilbar 14

Last week Spilbar 14 took place at AFUK (Akademiet for Utæmmet Kreativitet) in Copenhagen.

SpilBar is a bimonthly event where people from the games industry gather to attend interesting talks, mingle, try out new games and have a few drinks in a cozy environment. It’s organized by Kristine Ploug from DADIU and Thomas Vigild from the Danish Game Council (Dansk Spilråd).

With the latest edition of the event that took place on April 18th, subtitled “Surprise!”, there were several cool things happening (Danish Spilprisen awards, incredible acrobatic performances…) that were worth recording on video. Which is why I was asked to take my trusty camera with me to the event and record everything I could.

The result? A pretty nice video I’m really proud of that tries to capture the ambient of Spilbar. You can watch it below. I seriously recommend watching it fullscreen =) Thanks to Kristian Rømer for the original song!

 

OrthEA.jpg

On Adam Orth, EA and the angry Internet mobs

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OrthEA

Dear people of the Internet,

What an exciting week it has been! Look at all that you have accomplished in such a short amount of time.

First, the big, evil games conglomerate EA has been voted the worst company in the US for the second year in a row. That will teach them not to mess with our games by adding stupid DRM systems, trying to force their online PC games store Origin on us and crushing the dreams of so many people who wanted a proper ending for Mass Effect 3.

And you also managed to get the arrogant Adam Orth out of his position as Creative Director at Microsoft. Hah! How could a person defending so fervently the always-on policy of that “next generation console” have a position like that at Microsoft? Well, now he’s out of the company thanks to the fair people of the Internet!

That’s two wins in a row for you this week! Right?

Right?

Or is this a major display of what the angry mobs of the Internet can achieve when they get annoyed at something? Because to me this is the closest thing I can imagine to a father buying his little kid a bag full of candy because he kept screaming and yelling and crying in the middle of the store until he got what he wanted.

But while related, there’s much deeper issues within each case I’ve just mentioned.

First, the case of EA being voted worst company in the US.

Let’s take a moment to look at what makes a company “the worst”. Is it their impact on the world economy? Is it the impact on the environment? The way they treat their customers? The illnesses or deaths it has caused? All those are very valid reasons to rate a company the worst, and I’m not just making them up. These are real issues that companies have been linked to, from banks to electricity companies that have gone from causing instability in the world economy to contaminating the water of an entire area, causing cancer to its population.

But here the Internet got to vote on an open website what they thought was the worst company. And EA came up as the winner. The reasons? Well, there’s many valid arguments for attacking EA. The most recent one being that the new SimCity’s launch was plagued with server connection problems because they had slapped an always-on DRM on the game without any real need to. That means those who bought the game at launch had trouble playing what they had paid for… until the servers got fixed. So those who bought the game can now play it. Sure, it’s still a draconian decision to have this type of online requirement on a single-player game, but this is hardly the kind of issue that causes everyone to hate a company forever.

There’s many other things such as how they push their Origin store on customers, which is definitely not as good as the competition ( but has everyone forgotten how much hate Steam got when it first came out and how it took it a couple of years to start being good?). And there’s the Mass Effect 3 ending which annoyed thousands of gamers worldwide with its ignorance on the player’s actions throughout the series (something that got partially fixed -for free I should add- through free DLC). There’s all the issues with micro-transactions, their constant disregard for what “gamers really want”, and much more.

None of those are crimes noteworthy enough to cause such a huge reaction on an award that pit EA against so many other non-gaming related companies. Because the truth is anyone who is not deeply invested in the games industry does not care about those things. Heck, my parents don’t even know what EA is! The percentage of people truly affected by EA’s decisions is so small that it is baffling to see those problems upscaled that much.

But the gaming community is a very vocal one. When they are angry about something it takes the internet by storm. They know how to work through the web’s social networks and spread the word all over the net. And with the creativity that so many people have to create memes and have them become staples quickly it makes it look as if those are issues that “everyone” in the world knows about.

That’s not truly the case though.

I won’t go much further into this topic, but I’ll close it off with a quote from Forbes about what exactly is this “Worst Company Award”: “It’s a measure of how annoyed the internet is with a certain brand at the moment.”

Oh, and this (fake) letter from Dorkly standing as Peter Moore from EA:

EALetter

So that’s all of it on the EA case. It’s something that EA will probably react upon but still take lightly as they most probably believe that the poll has little validity.

But then we have the other controversial topic: Adam Orth.

This one is way more worrying than any Internet vote. This is the case of someone losing his job because he made a couple of comments on Twitter.

I have to admit that when I first saw these tweets I was extremely annoyed at Adam Orth.

Twitter-Adam-Orth

But there’s a small problem with Twitter. If you jump into someone else’s conversation (because tweets are public after all) there is usually very little context to grab from those short 140-characters long messages.

Is Orth being sarcastic in his last tweet? Is he really looking down on those cities? That’s impossible to tell from just that image, which is the one that got shared all over the Internet through channels such as Reddit. Go a bit further back in their timelines and you will find out that this is not the first time they talk to each other, they’re actually friends to talk to each other in a casual way. That last reply could easily be him joking around.

But of course this is Twitter and it’s public. Even if you have the now-so-typical disclaimer of “opinions are my own” when you have a certain position in a company you have to be careful of what you post and how you say things, because it might involve your company in a bigger way. Some people have argued that he shouldn’t ever post his opinions on Twitter and that he should have sent that to Manveer Heir instead through private messages.

So are we suddenly as users of Twitter censoring what someone can or cannot say publicly online? Check Manveer’s tweets. He’s Senior Gameplay Designer at Bioware, quite a high position to be in the games industry, yet he is one of the most vocal people in the games industry, always expressing his own thoughts and often with a fair amount of personality in them. As he describes himself, he’s a “sarcastic ass”. And nobody has any problem with that! He criticizes lots of games, he criticizes the moves of many companies, and at keynote events he criticizes pretty much every sentence that comes out of the speaker’s mouth.

But guess what? People expect that from him already. His “online persona” has always been like that so if he said something about Bioware with a sarcastic note to it, people would take it happily. Perhaps a few replies with rants, followed by snarky responses from him.

What happened with Adam Orth was not so much a situation of “public personalities should not comment on Twitter their personal views” as it was Orth not having built enough of an online personality to be able to do that. Had he done so before, there would be a lot more context in his tweets for people to understand it. Instead, Orth later on (with Manveer’s help) tried to explain that he was being sarcastic. To which people replied that was a very childish response trying to take away the blame from himself.

The damage is done now though, and Orth is out from Microsoft and with enough media backslash to make finding a new job a real nightmare for him. All because of three tweets in which he is talking to a friend. That escalated quickly! Of course it doesn’t help that the topic of the conversation was the already controversial always-on subject…

In any case it’s really scary to think how fragile our entire careers are now that through social media everyone can react so quickly against you.

I don’t want to defend either EA or Adam Orth for their actions because they did not act their best to be honest. But the Internet should really try to be more careful with their actions as well and try not to look like a kid having a fit.

And most definitely they should not consider this a win, but rather a shameful display of the Internet at its worst.

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