PGDF Awards (part 2)

(part 1 here)

The application process could have been simpler. The nomination instructions were hidden in a subpage. I had to get birth certificates and stuff just to prove the games are authentic Filipino. Are we that distrustful as an industry that we’ll think someone is going to cheat here?

Last Wednesday, I received an email telling me that public voting is on and I should promote the game. And oh, public voting ends the following Wednesday. I checked the site and…

... the best PC/Mac game is in your browser's cache folder

The game, a browser, non-executable, installer-free flash game, is nominated for the Best PC/Mac game!  Ha, an awesome game is awesome, right?

Maybe the organizers “saw what I did there” and took me on my joke so I emailed asking them if it’s ok to nominate the game for the Cultural award instead. No sir, the voting and judging has begun so you can’t switch categories. What?! Wwwait, does it imply that no judging happened between the time I sent my application and the voting page was set up?

Oh well, at least Circle Speedster is there and, no offense to the other entries, it’s hands down the best game on that list. I was hoping to find something like Wildfire or at least some Indigo or Gonzo flash games. Either the organizers failed to advertise the event enough or the game developers couldn’t be bothered.

Seriously, play this first then vote the hell out of it.

Btw, you need to register to vote. It’s 2011, setting up Facebook Connect can be done in an afternoon. (But Julius, they’re game dev people not web developers.)

(part 3 here)

PGDF Awards (part 1)

Getting awards isn’t really a priority in all my game-makings. I’m not keen in joining sponsored/professional competitions. They tend to be serious and stressful and that level of competition just isn’t fun for me. Besides, the games I like to make and the games judges expect rarely exist in the same universe.

Sure, I dream of making a game worth entering in the IGF but only for the thrill of having my game played by the people I look up to and getting interesting feedback.

Back in college, my cousin and I decided to join a local film festival. It wasn’t big or anything, but it was a ‘celebration’ of Waray film making. (Yes, apparently Waray film making exists). Knowing the most likely entrants, the Liberal Arts /Humanities folks, we expected a bunch of serious, artsy “socially relevant” videos with sad piano scoring. We hate that kind of films. I’m Waray, and that’s not the kind of movie that represents me. Something has to be done! So with a digicam, a ski-mask, and a basic premise, we went around the campus one afternoon and made our own art film. The artsy stuff still won the competition but we had the entire audience laughing. Except for some minor grammar corrections, our awesome poet+professor congratulated us on our “intelligent comedy”. This was a big deal because he’s a guy who can weave multiple layers of humor into a poem IN WARAY-WARAY.

4 years later, I have given up on my plans on winning a Cannes and turned to making bidyogeyms instead. A month ago, I saw this:

Is this legit?

It sounded like a cool idea. But somehow it reminded me of that film festival. Is this a sincere celebration of whatever video game making progress we made as Filipinos? Or is this another attempt at self-validation by the game companies? Is this legit enough to bother joining?

Who are the likely entrants?

The Philippine game industry is small and most of them are into outsourcing, so fewer still are companies with original IPs.  Having only one or two companies join and getting awarded because they have a different business model isn’t exactly the purpose of this event… is it? But wait, mobile has been a buzzword this year and developing in it is relatively accessible maybe there are a bunch of low key game devs who made something awesome recently. There are also browser games. There’s at least the possibility of diversity.

What’s the judging process?

Again, small industry so I have a fair idea of who the jury might be composed of. I’m not a big fan of judging by criteria just as I don’t like game reviews that score audio, graphics, gameplay separately. The criteria might serve as a guide and won’t be strictly followed I suppose.

It says in the application form that I can only choose to nominate a game at most 3 categories. Maybe they are expecting a lot of entries, to make it easier for the judges? But shouldn’t categorizing the entrees be part of the judging process? People who want to award video games should know enough to see which category applies to what game, shouldn’t they?

What are the award categories?

Third, I checked the categories and the first bullet point LOLd me: “Cultural Award”.

Making games about Filipino culture, just like making ‘educational’ games, is a touchy subject for me. Games that are designed for this purpose are usually horrible, immature perversions. They are less about culture and educating than they are about asking for societal validation. “Look Ma, you say games are a waste of time. I made a game with maths and also tell you what our national flower is.” The situation was similar to the film festival.

Something has to be done!

I’ll enter a game, a “local culture” game. I’ll nominate it for an unrelated category and see if the organizers care.

Nominating for Best Mobile Game would be too easy. The description hints at it being about culture.

I will also nominate a super awesome totally indie game and see how it fares against the IPs of the game companies.

"Indie spirits" sounds like an awesome publishing company. They also sell liquor.

(part 2 here)

From Flash to Atari 2600

For more almost 2 months now, I’ve been trying to learn making games on this:

Fun fact: I have never played on the actual machine

Why (normal answer)?

I didn’t have real assembly programming experience so I have no idea how hard the ‘good old days’ actually were. (Blame my college instructor who only met us thrice, gave us passing grades and disappeared).

I want to make a video game under serious constraints as a tribute to the pioneers of the medium (see A Slow Year, Halo 2600).

Most of my games are made in Flash and even if I worked for the industry I still get weird looks when I introduce myself as game developer. “Flash? Real game developers use C++.. nay, REAL developers use assembly!”

Why (artistic/pretentious babble)?

Most of my video game stuff is a cultural commentary. My imaginary critics may claim that my games are commentary first before game, that they would be more fun if I lose all my baggage. They’d be imaginarily right, except I’m not really interested in making the next Angry Birds. The continued interest that I have for game dev, despite my bad experience professionally working in it, stems from my frustration from developers trying to make a Filipino video game. Anito was awesome and all but why did we stop there, you guys? (There are a lot of factors inhibiting us from expressing our culture genuinely. I hope I’m able to address them in this other game I’m working on.)

Also, sometime last September, I was able to play this:

You might need a translator to play Spanish games

Prior to playing them, I had no idea Spanish video game culture was THIS old. Then again, my knowledge of European video game history is very limited.

The design and narratives of the old games reflected the culture of their creators. They might have been trying to compete with the global market, but they worked with a very Spanish taste. Game creation then didn’t have the rigid commercial rules we have now and in effect forced their creators be very personal in their approach. This ‘authenticity’ is what I find most interesting.

Wouldn’t it be cool to see how in the middle of Martial Law and the EDSA revolution and the aswangs and manananggal some guy rage quit his Pong game and decided to make his own? How will Marcos and Communism and Eat Bulaga play into the creation of 4kb worth of digital entertainment?

Making a game in one of the earliest gaming platforms now won’t change how history was written, but I want to see how a Filipino programmer in the 80’s would have made his own video game.

How to make an “educational” Math game

Dudes, I am not an educator. I taught some classes, yes, but I don’t have formal education on educating. I don’t claim to be an expert on teaching kids.

But I am, to a certain extent, a gamer. But nope, I’m not hardcore. Just a gamer.

My Personal Sad Story

Here’s my personal sad story:

I grew up in a house without a single videogame console. We have shops in the neighborhood where you can play playstation games at 20pesos/hr. My allowance can only let me play a few times per month. I played Mortal Kombat II with friends. The nearest coin op arcade is 4 hours away. And even if it existed next door, I don’t think I could have afforded that either.

My parents think those kind of games are bad for kids and so they kept us away from it. They however bought us a PC. See, they agree that not all games are bad. Games that run on the PC are good. For starters, it taught me how to use the computer (the tool of the futuuure!). I became comfortable in the command line, MS-DOS era. As for the actual games, the games my parents let us play on the PC really were educational.

They bought us two kinds of games. The ones that were meant to be educational, (“Let’s Learn Math”, “Spelling Bee” stuff) vs the regular pc games. Guess which ones I played more and made more impact on my learning.

I played action games, I learn spatial thinking. I played Lucas Arts adventure games, I learned how to read and understand context. I played Civ, I learn about the forms of government long before we discuss it in class.

With the help of emulators I was able to play console games and realize that my parents were wrong on the educational games are exclusively for the PC part. The rest, they were spot on.

Still, I don't know what these are. 😦

Presenting: Educational Games

Fast forward to the present and I read crap like this: Numvaders Press Release

Problem: Filipinos (and implied, the world) think that games are too addictive and this is a bad thing.

Solution: Make a game that is still addictive, but this time makes you learn how to do basic math. A good thing.

Simple counter-argument: Why break a great game like Space Invaders so you can shove your stupid arithmetic homework into an iPhone owning kid?

Follow up counter-argument: Who plays this kind of games?

It’s not only Numvaders. I have seen a lot of these games, coming mostly from the Philippine academia, claiming to be all about edumacating. They seem to think that any software with cartoony graphics is a video game. They have the shallow notion that a kid is more likely to solve a math problem if it is in comic sans and the background is a picture of Disneyland. Yes, this kind of approach to teaching works Sesame Street style but that’s not using the real power of video games and doesn’t contribute anything to the gaming image.

How to make an educational Math game

But how, you ask, will I make a game about Math?

Dudes, let’s take a Space Invaders style game. Let’s say we want kids to know about the four basic arithmetic operations. Most of the arithmetic is already there. You have killing aliens = subtraction. You accumulate points = addition. You have combo multipliers = multiplication. Umm, you can implement division by having special gameplay mechanics, for example, 1/3 of the invaders attack at a time. The whole time the player is blasting aliens, his maths is working. Somewhere between levels the player is thinking: “If the hiscore is 2850pts and I’m at 2400pts how many more level 1 invader should I shoot if a level 1 invader is 50pts a piece?”

Math is represented everywhere in games, you don’t have to try very hard.

 

Pictured: Math teaching tool

You can make it slightly didactic by adding quests like “Get 5 shots on invaders worth 250pts”. The trick is don’t make the player feel like he/she is doing homework.

Conclusion

Stop making games look bad by trying to make it look good. Also, stop trying to get rich on video games, because then you’ll be doing it wrong.

Open and Free

UI draft: Pretentious Art Deco Style

Yessir, I spawned yet another open-source hobby project. Here are the codes:

https://github.com/zerojuan/ForgeStory-Server

https://github.com/zerojuan/ForgeStory-Client

In terms of technology and innovation, this project is nothing special. There are a lot of other games like it, the concept isn’t new. I try to keep the code as easy to maintain as possible but that’s the norm. So why am I doing this? Well, why not?

I Have Nothing to Lose

Once I met a team of student developers who made an award winning game. I asked them about the future of the game, whether they want to share the codes or not, and they said, citing commercial and business reasons, no.

Are you planning to sell the game? Nope, it’s available to play on my website.

Am you using proprietary algorithms as the secret sauce on your business plan to world domination (ala Google)? Nope.

Is there something in your code that will directly lead to you losing anything? Umm, someone could use it to make a game exactly like mine and then pass it off as their own… Aaand? Can they steal design instincts? Or marketing? Do they have all the other skills you (or your team) have that made the game successful? Nope.

Then why aren’t your sharing your code?

The Philippines isn’t exactly a hotbed of game development right now. It’s a country where formal game education and training isn’t a big priority and we are only restricting ourselves by being selfish to one another.

And Have Stuff to Gain

As far as I know, the challenges in making persistent web games isn’t very documented. Trying to learn this stuff from scratch isn’t an enjoyable experience and most people are put off by it. I always believed that the web is the future of gaming and the more accessible we make it the easier that transition will be. By putting this very standard project in front of everybody I hope I’m inspiring more developers to try this social web gaming thing.

When you are open, other people tend to be open too. I’m not the best programmer. I only have a year of “professional game development experience”. There are a lot of things I don’t know. By making this opensource, I subject myself to other developer’s scrutiny. I’m hoping someone would declare my code crap then proceed to tell me why. Worst will be if no one cares about this project.

And as my hidden agenda: having a github account makes it easy for employers to evaluate my work. And people who interview me without bothering to check for my online projects, while not exactly a deal-breaker, is a bad sign.

Conclusion

Filipino game developers should really try sharing their magic tricks. No one will benefit from a community who keeps secrets from one another.

I know that there is a lot more to this open source thing than just pushing to a public code repository, but it’s a start.

Forge Story, The Next Chapter

As promised, I am going to start updating Forge Story once the LD judging is over.

I was supposed to keep working on it on a local server the weeks prior, but I keep getting sidetracked with personal (read: unemployment) issues. And I’m afraid I’ll be sidetracked even more as my not-receiving-a-salary status worsens.

 

How I went from being promoted one day to resignation 2 months later is a story for another time

I almost considered giving up on this project if it weren’t for 1) the peer reviews the game got on LD and 2) the cool user generated art that piled up in my server.

Why Make A Game ON Facebook?

While the finished game is, to put it kindly, raw for game standards, the comments and the low play rate it received seems to suggest that the majority of  indie developers doesn’t like the idea of social network games.

Challenge, accepted! I am going to work on this game some more using garage indie resources and methods and prove to the community that the social network platform is perfectly workable and is a very exciting place to work on. I have decided to keep the development of the game  as open as possible with hopes that others can learn or get inspired by it. Seeing that I am already planning on making this guide.

User Generated Joy

Most of my past efforts consisted of me making games for myself. And Forge Story would have been the same if it weren’t for this:

Pixel art from my social network

People, mostly my friends, are using the game to create awesome stuff. This never happened before! Wonder what it would be like if I let them animate their creations or turn them into quest items or pokemons. This is the question that keeps me awake at night  and I can’t let my codes rot any longer!!

What will become of Forge Story?

It will be opensource and all possible aspects of its development will be public. This means features and roadmaps will be shared. The game is also being built on top of RPGAutomata (for the battle and animation system) so RPGAutomata will still be active as well.

And of course, there’s an ulterior motive: making a Facebook game will at least keep me relevant while I’m looking for my next job.

 

 

 

By making this post public, I am making myself accountable for making this game so played it will crash my webhost.

Like the app page here

 

Forge Story: A #LD48 Post Mortem

Spamming soon, on a wall near you

I made a Facebook game in under 48 hours.

What’s the game about?

The theme for this quarter’s Ludum Dare was “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone, Take This”. So I immediately thought that it would be perfect for a facebook or social network game.

The original vision was a trading game between players. They can create items and sell them. Players aren’t allowed to use their own items. They should buy them from their friends. When players create an item, they give it a price which gets deducted to his coins. This way, players will have real investment on the items they make. When a player buys an item, its creator gets paid.

But players can also get items for free. Creators can publish their items as wall posts, and players who click through that link get the item for free. The creator still gets paid (by the system, for being a viral channel 😉 ).

I originally planned on a battle system, Go Aloning!, so that the items will be more than decorative but I ran out of time.

I wanted to explore the gift giving and wall spamming mechanic of facebook games. If people share a personalized wall post, would his friends respond positively?

What went wrong?

My work desk

Software Crisis – I wasn’t really planning on making a facebook game, until the last minute. (Ok, maybe I did, but I wasn’t decided until I knew the theme). So most of the tools I used were downloaded as I needed it. I had to download XAMPP and SQLYog and had to look for my day job projects which was tucked away in my backup drive.

On the morning before the theme was announced, I discovered that it was my Photoshop trial’s final instance. The backup plan was to create procedural art, which is also fun.

Hardware Poverty –  I made this on a netbook. 1.6Ghz processor and 2GB of RAM and all my browser tabs and IDEs == frequent freezes. Also, my internet connection was a very unreliable Sun Broadband USB dongle. Disconnections and freezes were frequent. My brain took it as an opportunity to freeze as well.

Inaccurate Task Estimates – I still suffer from this. But I feel I’m getting better at it now. The more projects I make, failed or not, the easier it gets to guess my capabilities and limitations. That’s why I had to let go the battle system. Either that or miss the deadline.

What went right?

Simplified Concept – the game looked simple on paper. It required a simple database backend. And doesn’t require me to draw assets (no Photoshop needed).

wireframes is GDD for gangstahs

more wireframes

my database tables, just waiting to get hacked

Worked on a familiar platform – I make facebook games for a living. This means I’m not exactly a noob when it comes to making this sort of stuff.

One of the risks I was anticipating was the development to production deployment. My typical day job project takes careful setup in syncing the development and production servers. I didn’t have time for that, so I just made sure the folders, urls, database names are configurable and hoped that my local server was exactly like my webhost’s. It worked flawlessly — the webs didn’t notice I swapped servers.

What now?

The game is far from finished. But the vision is doable and seems like a good learning exercise for me. I’m keeping the app active and updates will come as soon as the judging is over. If anyone is interested in following the development of a true indie social network game, like this page: http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=189157287797834

Oh and here’s a timelapse video:

Timelapsssssseeee!

A Poor Person’s Guide to Making a Facebook Game: A Intro

Dudes, here’s the thing. When I was first starting out on this Facebook game making business I had no idea how complicated things would get. It’s like no one told me about this side of flash programming. You can’t just google and forum lurk your way into wisdom. You have to go deep, like 5+ sub links deep. Is it because most social games are run by companies who don’t want to share their secret sauces? Yes, maybe. Companies are evil like that.

Not me. I’m a friend. And I want to share what I learned. Partly because I’m a good person and don’t want other people to suffer like I did, but mostly because I want to get other (read: smarter than me) people’s feedback. Disclaimer: I haven’t made a successful facebook game (yet) and some of the things I’ll write about are things I didn’t do but totally should have.

Making a social game is different from making ordinary for-flash-portal games. Way different. For a typical flash game to be profitable, it has to be distributed to as many portals as possible. So it is common wisdom that you should put everything on a single .swf file, otherwise the portal people are going to hate your guts for making their lives miserable. Try to do that for your social game, cram 250+ animations of houses and racially diverse avatar skins and “save this cute lost puppy” dialog popups and you have yourself a slightly less heavy MMO client. And look, databases! And server queries! And user metrics! And Facebook credits!

It’s more like making web apps really. You provide them a service: you free them from boredom. The customers/players pay you to keep tabs of the data they generated from your app/game. This is similarities are uncanny for spreadsheet style games.

This is my linkedIn if my contacts have really cool job titles. My real linkedIn sucks.

So I think I will be writing about how to make games as apps. And here is a list of random topics I might write about:

  • Optimizing loading time
  • Dynamic asset loading
  • Efficient asset pipelines
  • Vector caching
  • Continuous integration
  • Transacting with real money
  • Connecting to social graphs and APIs
  • Virtual spaces
  • Logging user metrics

Btw, I use flash (as3) and php because I don’t know other languages.

Sextinction Art Update

Background

I joined the Global Game Jam and made a sex game called Sextinction. It features some of the improvements I made on RPGAutomata (aka my RPG Engine). I spent majority of the weekend getting a pretty kewl dialog tree system up and running. The game turned out crappy.

It was crap because of two things: bad graphics and bad writing. Really, in a game where there’s no ‘fun’ gameplay the worse that could happen is if it had graphics made in 30 minutes and the story less than that –which says a lot at how dynamic my dialog code works btw.

Before

The art is so bad it's worse than the writing.

The style is all over the place. The pixel art characters clash with the crayon drawn background. The font style is bland. The NPC characters are almost invisible.

Now

Srsly. This is so derivative.

Straight lines make everything look rigid and manly. But the uneven shades makes the office look worn and used. I also limited the view to be smaller than the canvas so everything will fit without having to pan the camera. The text is no longer in the way. The overall look might remind people of  photo negatives– those people are voyeurs.

If U R in it, CH side by side

.. is a lame riddle I learned as a child. Oh look:

Catholic?

Is this even Catholic?

New updates to that RPG engine I’m making includes dynamically changing the tilesets and adding mouse controls. So I decided to make a game that features it. This game is about Catholics and their churches. It isn’t ready yet, hence the screenshot.

The code repo is right here: RPGAutomata . Follow it, if that’s your thing.