September 29th, 2011
Are you using Flixel for Flash development? You should be.
Are you using Tweensy for easy programmatic Flash tweening? You should be.
Did you know that when Flixel loses focus and pauses, Tweensy doesn’t automatically pause? You should. It can cause some weird behavior.
I’ve figured out a simple fix that pauses Tweensy when Flixel doesn’t have focus. I just did it, so be aware that there may be some unexpected consequences of this that I don’t know about.
Put the following in your main class that extends FlxGame:
override protected function onFocus(FlashEvent:Event = null):void
override protected function onFocusLost(FlashEvent:Event = null):void
And that’s that. When Flixel pauses due to lost focus, Tweensy will as well, and when Flixel resumes, so will Tweensy. Just make sure you don’t get the “pause” and “resume” flipped; I did at first, and I couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong.
September 22nd, 2011
I just noticed that I’ve got over 150 games on my list of “Games I’ve Finished.” The list isn’t exactly precise. Sometimes I add smaller games (e.g. “All Roads Lead From Home“) but usually I only add games I’ve paid for or games that are big enough to feel like an accomplishment (e.g. Iji). I’ve surely also forgotten a bunch of games from the list.
I also have “Games I’ve Played” (but not finished) and “Games I Probably Won’t Finish” on that page. Looking at them tells a lot about my game preferences. For example, I’m reluctant to stick with very hard or very long games, especially if they’re older console titles (Super Mario Bros.). And I generally don’t care for “real-time strategy” games. I don’t like having to plan and out-think an opponent while also managing low-level real-time play. I’m lousy enough at strategizing as it is; I don’t need added distractions.
This list also feels very short. It seems like there should be many, many more games on it. I’ve certainly left out a lot of games I’ve played emulated (Final Fantasy VI) and many games that I’ve only played demos of (Rocket Jockey, to pick one totally at random). There are a lot of games out there, and I’ve played a lot of them. But still nowhere near a majority.
September 12th, 2011
B.A. Campbell has written a very detailed look at some of my games over at Innsmouth Free Press, a micro-publisher that deals in horror and dark fiction. The piece is critical and flattering.
If Babies Dream was, alchemically-speaking, a chunk of carbon, Looming is Weir’s lapis noster. Visually, it is perhaps the simplest of his achievements… Oddly enough, the monotony of the presentation, alongside the soundtrack of howling winds and weird, croaking wildlife, helps to evoke exactly the sense of loneliness and isolation that the name of this realm, “Looming,” suggests. And with no fancy textures to distract the eye, Looming’s colossal broken gears and Apatosaurus-sized rib bones can’t help but arouse a fundamental awe… and fear.
I recommend you check it out.
September 1st, 2011
My wife and I have been playing Fallout 3 in parallel recently. We’d each played for a while a year or so ago, but each stopped for one reason or another. I’ve finished the main story, including the DLC that extends the game a bit further. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a really well-designed game in many respects. Unfortunately, the story and world-building is pretty lacking. Let me tell you how I would have done Fallout 3.
Some backstory on the universe. The bombs fell in 2077, in a world themed around the paleofuture of the 1950s. The original Fallout starts in 2161, 84 years after the War. At this point, the US Southwest is in ruins with most people living in fortified farming, trading, or raiding communities. Fallout 2 takes place in 2241. Most settlements in the US Southwest have been rebuilt from a combination of scraps and new materials. There’s a shiny place called Vault City with trees and clean buildings, a democratic republic in California, and two different organizations with advanced technology.
What Bethesda Did
Fallout 3 takes place across the country in the ruins of Washington, DC in 2277. 200 years after the bombs fell, many DC buildings are still standing. People live in filthy, makeshift towns made entirely of ruins and rusty scrap with litter on the floors of their houses. There are no farms in the game. The only sources of food seem to be some cave fungus, a single experimental hydroponics lab, mutant animal meat, and whatever gets scavenged from the ruins. And yet the ruins are simply full of food. Mashed potatoes, snack cakes, and canned meat sit on shelves and are no more irradiated than the water people drink.
This is hard to believe.
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August 30th, 2011
Jonas Kyratzes just posted a piece called “Narrative as Gameplay” where he responds to complaints that his games lack “gameplay:”
[Narrative creates] a form of interactive storytelling that I would say constitutes gameplay as much as anything else in games does. In some games, you click on the enemy soldier and the enemy soldier dies, removing an obstacle to victory. In my games, you click on an object and it gives you a description, removing an obstacle to understanding.
This is a very important point, and it deserves further exploration. Most games have a structure composed of a cycle of actions and rewards. You do something you’re supposed to do, and the game rewards you. Classic positive reinforcement. These rewards can be in the form of points (or money, etc.) but they’re most effective in the form of content. If you beat this boss, you get to see the next level. If you pass this test, you get to advance to the next grade. If you explore a side path, you get to see a cool room. If you examine this object, you get a cute joke.
These things are all analogous. There’s different scales to the rewards, but the 3XP you get for killing a rat is analogous to the 20 gamer points you get for an achievement is analogous to the ending cinematic you get for defeating the final puzzle. The challenge may vary, and the reward may vary, but the mechanism is exactly the same. Most games are machines that dispense rewards (i.e. pleasure) when you press the right button.
Kyratzes’s games (especially The Book of Living Magic and Desert Bridge) tend to have a ton of side content like object descriptions that aren’t part of the main beat-the-game path to the end. They have a collection of trickier critical-path puzzles or challenges, and then a lot of incidental rewards that are provided in response to easy actions. This is just like, say, Diablo, which has a set of tricky battles punctuated by a lot of walking around, killing minor monsters, and smashing barrels. In games like Kyratzes’s, you click on the right thing and instead of a spray of gold coins you get a joke or an insight into the world.
August 29th, 2011
Steve Cook interviewed me for his great quotation and interview site Quote Unquote. In it he asks some good questions, including putting me on the spot regarding the pixelly aesthetic of a lot of my games.
I go back and forth on pixel art. A lot of people regard it as amateurish: a way to compensate for lack of drawing ability. Others dismiss it as nostalgia for childhood games. I think that there’s bad pixel art and amazing pixel art, and while there’s definitely nostalgia there, that very nostalgia can be useful for artistic purposes. My own pixel art isn’t anywhere close to the quality that many artists achieve, of course, but I think it’s passable for my purposes.
Pixel art is visual video game shorthand for an array of things: childishness, simplicity, or even a sort of wisdom born from history. It’s also the video game equivalent of cartooning. Pixel art stylizes and pointillizes, making its subjects more universal and accessible. It’s also a deliberate acknowledgement of the artificiality of the device being used. In a time where the iPhone’s Retina display resolution is at the upper limits of the human eye, pixel art exposes the underlying structure of the screen.
Anyway, enough rambling. Check out the interview, and read some of the other stuff on the site; there are a lot of cool things there! He also included some previously-unseen pieces of concept art and miscellany behind a link at the end of the article, if you’re interested.
August 19th, 2011
The Book of Living Magic, by Jonas Kyratzes, is the latest in a series of excellent, idiosyncratic works by a relatively unsung developer. This one is a followup to his Desert Bridge (one of my favorites), and it’s got the same sort of funny, childlike but not childish feel. The crayon drawings are appropriate to the gently subversive ideas being presented, and it’s simply packed with extraneous examinable items. In one late-game scene, every book on a bookshelf is clickable. They’re all clearly irrelevant, but if you want you can find out the clever title of each.
One of the interesting aspects of this game is that it’s really not about the story. Most of Kyratzes’s games are heavily storied; either you’re participating in or uncovering story (usually both). In this, however, you’re just exploring the world. The puzzles are simple and rather oddball, and your player character doesn’t make her personality very known. Instead, you’re meeting strange creatures (like Provatica the Unhefted, sheep adventurer) and visiting strange locales (like the Forest of Eyeballs). As one of Kyratzes’s games set in the Land of Dream, everything is appropriately surreal and dreamlike.
There are bits of darkness that pop out, though. Something happened to change Raven Locks Smith’s parents from dreamers to boring people, and it must be related to Mr. Urizen, Mayor of Dull, a recurring entity in Kyratzes’s works. A robot you meet is on the run from a government determined to turn him into a soldier. And the countryside around the town of Oddness Standing clearly has a long and often-solemn history that’s only hinted at in the game.
Play it. It’s short, it’s funny in a way that few games are, and it comes from the heart.
August 15th, 2011
With as much time as game designers and critics think and write about the specifics of game interactions, it’s often useful to step back and look at the basics. Let’s ask a simple question: why are there so many video games dealing with social interaction and relationships, and so few that explore violence and action-oriented gameplay?
In some ways, it’s a historical aberration. If Gygax and Arneson had made some war-focused game instead of Counts and Courtship, or Will Crowther had decided to entertain his kids with his obscure caving hobby instead of an exploration of his childhood friendships, perhaps the focus of our games would be different. Doom wouldn’t have been an oddball niche title if there were a hundred other games at the time about shooting aliens with guns.
But I think there’s a more fundamental issue at work here: violence and action are really difficult to simulate, unlike simple relationships.
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August 5th, 2011
The author of The Stanley Parable says that “it’s actually best if you don’t know anything about it before you play it.” And that’s probably true. So if you like, you can play it before continuing.
While we’re waiting, a bit of background: The Stanley Parable is a game by Davey Wreden made in the Source Engine. It requires some form of the Source 2007 engine to play, which you have if you own Half-Life 2.
The Stanley Parable, for all its exploration of interactivity and choice and video games, isn’t actually interactive at all when you get right down to it. Yes, it has six endings and branching and all that. But as with many games with multiple endings, as soon as you tell the player that they exist, she wants to view them all. And especially with Stanley‘s left-or-right, red-or-blue choice structure, trying out the choices exhaustively is trivial.
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April 20th, 2011
Valve Software advertised their release of Portal 2 using an Alternate Reality Game, or ARG. A series of puzzles led to a game that encouraged players to play a set of indie games in order to release the game early. The players participated, and Portal 2 was released 10 hours early.
A lot of people are upset about this.
At first I was really confused about how angry people were acting, even accounting for the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Valve had put together a cool set of puzzles, offered a bunch of indie games for cheap, and then actually gave players a real-world reward for playing. However, I’ve realized that the displeasure the ARG created is due to a classic problem in game design: miscommunication leading to false expectations.
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