Campodecolor got me out of college.

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As of today (yesterday), I am a professional graphic designer. My final project, which I now refer to as Campodecolor (Spanish for ‘Colorfield’), was the same videogame I have been talking about for some time, the one about visual composition. It’s not finished as a project, but an important milestone has been reached: its first purpose has been accomplished, which was to get me my degree. Of course.

Here’s my project report (in Spanish), which is a bit out of date and a bit incomplete, but I guess it shows the main arguments that support my project. I have touched on these a bit in past posts, and I might do it further in the future, because they are based on my opinion that videogames, as an artform, can be a relevant contribution to society.

For my defense I had to —evidently— show the game, and do a presentation of basically a recap of the same points already covered on the report. On top of that, during the past week I recorded some playtests, and edited a brief video with that material to show to the committee that graded my work. It was pretty funny to watch the testers stumble around and finally grasp the mechanics a bit, though some came to the conclusion that the game was more about the music than the visual aspect, which, I suppose, is a compliment to the sound design in the end.

Campodecolor, final presentation version

I have uploaded the version of the game that I presented today (yesterday). The algorithms are still lacking, I’m afraid, but I plan to make them my top priority now. The dynamic audio is created using the minor pentatonic scale, with the sound of a Rhodes piano, as recorded by Guy Cockroft. I’m glad it sounds as well as it does, considering the notes are selected randomly from the scale. Since it seems to be crediting time, I have to thank Stephen Lavelle and muku for their invaluable help and suggestions on all aspects of my game. Also, of course, my teacher throughout this whole process, Eduardo Castillo. […]

Family games.

As a Christmas gift, I made a game that stars my little sister (she’s two-and-a-half) and the rest of the (her) family as ‘supporting actors’, or ‘enemies’, if you will. Since I didn’t have a lot of time to make it, I went with a really crude style, probably inspired by Life of D. Duck II. I also recorded voices for everyone (and even some things, namely toys), and a brief guitar tune. The goal was for it to be surprising and funny rather than fun to play, so I made what amounts to a Road Fighter clone, but simpler. In this case, though, you guide Antonella upwards, avoiding objects and people. I called the game La Hazaña de Anto (Anto’s Feat). It didn’t take them long to finish it, but everyone got to play, so I think the difficulty was just right. They laughed and enjoyed it quite a bit. Mission accomplished!

Explode.

A first: I finished my Klik of the Month Klub entry within the time limit. It is, sadly, a step down from last month’s. This time I didn’t really know what to do, until I just decided to go for this idea of exploding fireworks I had at some point. I didn’t feel particularly inspired. The result is not really a game, more like a short-lived toy. Matt helped out with the music, once again, and it really fits.

Download Explode (Windows, requires the latest DirectX).

Reactions to The Lake.

I’m honored that The Lake was linked by awesome blogs such as Indie Games and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Although some people found some hilarious bugs, and many had trouble getting it to run (due to Construct’s dependence on some recently released DirectX runtimes, but read on for more on this), the reactions were mostly positive. So, mission accomplished!

The abovementioned runtimes can be downloaded from Softpedia, if you’re having trouble getting them. They’re a hefty download, sadly. As people have commented, it’s kind of ridiculous to download over 80 megabytes to play a game that will take under five minutes to finish. Oh, well.

The Lake.

I made a very quick game (though not quite as quick as the Klik of the Month ones) for a competition that is due today. The game is called The Lake, and it’s for the TIGSource Commonplace Book Competition. The objective was to create a game inspired by one or several of the brief ideas that H.P. Lovecraft jotted down in his Commonplace Book, most of which never got turned into full stories. This is what I did; my game is not ‘based on’ as much as it’s just ‘triggered’ by one of these ideas, though.

You can download The Lake v1.0, for Windows.

My goal was to create a game that would not take me too long to make. I wanted just a full day’s work, it ended up being three, but that’s quite okay. It was created in Construct, which truly is a great promise for the future, but so full of bugs for the time being. I managed, though. The end result is more of a short interactive story; it’s completable in about a single minute, which is a common factor for all my games so far, but in this case the experience is more focused on the narrative. I’m pretty proud of the fact that everything in the game was created by me (well, except for the engine, of course), though I wish I had the time to do something more with the sound design, which was part of the original plan.

As I mentioned above, the idea for the game just came to my mind as if it was a dream when I read one of the entries in the Book. This sounds pretty romantic, but rather than describe the creative process, I want it to be apparent that I applied very few filters on this initial flash. This is why the game may not be very coherent, or have a palpable meaning; nevertheless, it’s there, and I tried to make it as close to this initial spark as it was possible in the time that I had available to do it. I think I’ve just always had a thing for surrealism and their techniques, and this is why I like this kind of pure, unadulterated slice of subconscious, which I oftentimes value more than very produced and over-thought pieces of work. There’s more to life than logic, is what I say.

Where, feat. lofi.

Last saturday I participated again in this month’s Klik of the Month Klub. This time I didn’t use Klik & Play to make my game, because I had heard of a different software, modelled around Clickteam‘s own (creators of Klik & Play), but improved, called Construct. It’s still in beta, but it’s a very complete package nonetheless. Much like last time, I used that very day’s afternoon to learn to use the software, scribbled a few notes on the game I was going to make, and in the evening, proceeded to spend two hours figuring out how to do stuff. The resulting game is more complex than last time’s Runaway Blast, simply because Construct is so much more capable than K&P.

I am forgetting something. Before the event had started, I told my friend lofi that he should participate too. He didn’t want to, though, so I asked him to make some music for my game instead. Luckily for me, he agreed! Truly, the game has become worthy of people’s time just because of the cool music that he provided.

What you see above is how the game looks like in its second version. Download Where and play it, if you feel like it (Windows only). This is a much improved version of what I originally submitted an hour after the deadline (because I had some trouble getting other people to hear the music; other than that, I finished it only ten minutes past the deadline). Since the original suffered from some issues I didn’t have the time to fix, I spent several hours figuring out how to do so afterwards. What I didn’t have the time for, in the end, was improving the collisions, but that’s comparatively minor.

In Where, I just wanted to make some radical decisions. I basically wrote down the first few ideas I came up with, but since it was going to be a very small game, in order to make it memorable, some radical choices needed to be made. This is why I decided to obstruct the player’s view with large floating text, and use a psychedelic selection of colors. Since these contributed to a non-harmonic experience, I decided to make the gameplay conceptually frustrating as well: descending a ‘tower’ with an avatar that can’t stop jumping. The text used itself also helps to heighten these principles. And lofi’s music felt right at home when I first played it with it.

Making a game about making.

In a previous post I explained what motivated me to make the game I am currently making as my final project in college. In this entry I will actually describe what I have achieved so far, and my plans for what’s to come. If you so wish, you may play the game, incomplete as it is, before reading what follows. If you do, I’d be very interested in hearing about your experience, how you approached the game without knowing exactly what it was about, what could have been clearer or better.

What I sought, as I explained in that other post, was to create a game whose main objective is not to rack up points, but to create a visual composition. This is a game about creativity, indeed; a subset of games that, I have found, is not very largely represented.1 Kenichi Nishi said something in an interview that I quote here because I consider to be extremely significant:

Recently, games have been ‘passively interactive.’ Users do not really have to think about what to do; they are guided around until they reach the end of the level. These types of games do not rely on the creativity of the users.

This is why I started to consider my idea more important than at first. Although there have been games like Mario Paint, that are like tools that are given a context of fun, I wanted to make something simpler, something abstract and more concentrated. There was also the question about how this would work as a game; I didn’t want it to become a color-matching, chain-making fest, so how to evaluate what was being made for its own sake? It didn’t need to be competitive, but it also needed a purpose, a raison d’être. There was the possibility of it being multiplayer, and people judging each-others compositions, much like the abovementioned Nishi’s own game, Archime-DS (or LOL, as it’s being brought over to this half of the world). I took a bit of that idea, as I will explain later, but I deliberated some more until I came to the conclusion that the best would be not to judge quality, but to evaluate compositive characteristics, or parameters, as I’ve grown used to calling them. The point being that every visual composition can be evaluated in terms of different characteristics, like how symmetric it is, whether it uses warm or cool colors, whether it is rhythmic or not (presence of visual patterns), etc. We can use these parameters to objectively determine if a composition is harmonic and pleasing to the eye, if it is foreboding, if it is unsettling, etc.

Personally, I am more of a supporter of holistic rather than reductionist approaches to analysis, but in this particular case (and in many others) it is much simpler to compartmentalize the data—especially given that I am hardly a mathematician, or even a programmer, so it simply made my work a lot easier. I realize that to this point I’m still talking abstractly, so let me show you the game proper.

Screenshot

That is what it currently looks like. In the center, but leaning toward the top and left, is the canvas: a grid where the player creates his composition. To the right is the carousel; sort of a conveyor belt of colored groups of circles, that the player can grab at any time and drop on the canvas. In a bar at the bottom there are a series of pictograms of differing sizes: they are actually dynamic, and change depending on the current characteristics of the composition, as perceived by the game (right now the algorithms that calculate this are not very finely tuned). Each pictogram changes to either a neutral, high or low graphic depending on the value: For instance, the fire icon indicates that the colors are mostly warm, and it would change to a snowflake if it was the opposite. Its comparatively small size means that it is not leaning that much toward warmth. The pictograms still need some work for them to be easier to understand, since, as I said in that previous post of mine, this game will use no words, so they need to be self-sufficient. Finally, in the bottom right is the time counter, which, when depleted, will prompt the game to show a results screen, which is pictured below. […]

  1. I counted 14 games I could qualify as requiring creative input in the top 100 games of a series of specialized publications, as compiled by Kirk Israel

Ambitions of pushing the envelope.

I’m currently in my final semester for the Bachelor of Graphic Design degree, so I’m devoting my time to a project I haven’t discussed here so far. Now that I have something to show, though, I think it’s time to talk about it a bit. I’ll start from the very beginning: the conception of the idea.

I’ve been an avid videogamer for the best part of my life, so I can account for many hours spent in front of a screen, with a controller in my hands. One day, around two years ago, probably while playing this brilliantly elegant game called Polarium,1 I realized that I was having more fun creating levels, and making sure that they were both solvable and aesthetically attractive, rather than just playing the game proper. I found that the visual patterns created by the simple colored shapes in puzzle games like Tetris, Puyo Puyo and Puzzle Bobble could, and sometimes would, form beautiful patterns. This is, of course, where my training in design comes in; I realized that a game could be made where the objective, the very goal, was not to match shapes or make chains, but to create an interesting visual composition.

I had very little experience programming, though, so I never took it upon myself to make that game. Time passed, and one day there was a special event, hosted by a friend, called the Super Game Bakedown, that simply consisted of creating a game for the duration of a single month, in the spirit of the NaNoWriMo. I knew I couldn’t achieve such a feat, but I joined anyway, and made it my goal to finish a design document for this dream game of mine. I even added a secondary characteristic to the game, which was an idea that had intrigued me for a while: The game would not use words (or numbers) whatsoever. In the end, I didn’t even finish the design document, but I did get a clearer idea of what I wanted to, and could, achieve. […]

  1. Polarium is a videogame developed by Mitchell and released for the Nintendo DS. It’s an abstract puzzler whose objective is to turn every row, from a rectangular grid of white and black squares, into a single color, by means of tracing a path that flips white tiles to black, and vice versa. This simple premise, intuitive during the first few stages, gives way to mind-bending puzzles that test the player’s ability to analyze and recognize patterns. It includes a level creator. There is also a free-to-play Flash clone called Blackflip

Runaway Blast.

What happens if you mix a group of people, an old and crippled game-making software, and two hours on a Saturday evening? Awesomeness happens, that is what. It’s the basic premise of the Klik of the Month Klub; you grab Klik & Play, a buggy, limited and old (from 1994) software that is nevertheless endearing and fun to use (also free,) then make a game with it during those two hours. The results are often broken and nigh-unplayable, but hilarious or even enlightening.

Runaway Blast screenshot

You can’t do a lot during that short span of time, so not being overly ambitious is key. Last saturday was my first time participating in the monthly event, and I thought that I was going to have about an hour’s worth of time to work on my game, since I was supposed to go visit some photography exhibitions, which in the end didn’t happen. Given my lack of familiarity with the (at times esoteric) software, my humble aspirations were, nevertheless, extremely helpful. My design document, if we can call it that, was scribbled only a few minutes before the two hours started. Sadly, I ended up going 40 minutes over the deadline, which is not actually enforced, since it’s all just in good fun, but still. The end result is a game I called Runaway Blast; you can download the slightly polished version of the game, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, the original from the official thread of the KOTMK #14, though you’ll need some DLL files only included in the other package.

It was an exciting experience, being there in the IRC channel, everyone making terrible games together, sharing advice (or asking for it, as I was doing) and just having fun. Afterwards, everyone trying out each others games, sharing praise or anecdotes. I will certainly try to be there next time too.

So, my game. The main idea was to make it a tense pursuit, to be outnumbered and with little resources, that is, only your wits (and some timed bombs) to aid you against the brainless mass of enemies. Which is not unlike a zombie game (survival horror,) now that I think about it. The map that I drew in my sketch illustrates this, but being surrounded from every side would have made it difficult to be strategic. The resulting mechanics are not too bad; not incredibly original or engaging, but for a first attempt, and for having been made in under three hours, it’s not a half bad result. Of course, what I’m not mentioning here is that the game is broken: you can go through walls, even though you’re not meant to. The limitations in the software made this unavoidable; attempting to overcome them would have costed me too much time, and I’m certain that it would have been worthless, considering the scope of my efforts. Had all conditions met, my character would have actually followed the pointer with a specific velocity, which would have fixed the wall-crossing bug and also made the game more challenging, since you would not be able to outrun your enemies quite as easily. The game will stay as it is, though, so we will all have to learn to live with that.