Friday, 28 February 2014

Cyberpunk Game Jam

From the 1st - 10th of March the online game entitled the Cyberpunk Game Jam is taking place. The theme for the jam is this image:

My Theme Analysis

Cyberpunk ideas and theme isn't something that I would normally be interested in but participating in this would be to attempt to do something different and out of my comfort zone. One thing I already like and strikes me about the theme is the neon pinks, greens and blue colour pallet which would be interesting to explore in a game prototype.

We can get an idea of setting and environment from the image by the vastness of build up civilisation that appears to tower upwards - creating a sense of density and over population. Similarly we can establish a great sense of height through harsh expressive vertical lines, alongside the backwards lean of which the main figure appears to teeter over. The figure in the scene appears to be wearing some form of leather jacket, with boots, dark trousers and gloves - connotations of rebellion and anti-establishment could be associated through biker culture and alternative subculture by the dark clothing/hairstyle the figure appears to be wearing.

A sense of urgency is presented by the nature of the falling figures below, it appears that these characters are escaping from something or someone - we can assume that these figures may have run into trouble with the law or perhaps the higher elite. It is clear that the image is not set in the present nor past, but the future by the nature of the human form being merged with what appears to be electrical components intertwined onto the body - appearing on the arm, face and back of the figure. I am unable to grasp the gender of all figures in the image, so this is unspecified. The omniscient presence of the observing figure reminds me of how gargoyles appears to observe from a great height - perhaps giving us an idea of why this figure is here.

I am unable to make out any definable language or linguistics that could give us a sense of culture. I get a very futuristic 'Tokyo' vipe from this image due to the vastness of colour, form of shapes and symbols that run down neon signs and by the way they are presented to peak out of buildings - but this could be anywhere, perhaps even an alien culture located not even on earth.
I am still currently looking for someone to team up with on this one. Intending to make to make something extremely micro. Nonetheless, I will post up my results sometime before the 10th.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Mini Ludum Dare #49

This weekend (21st-24th of February) has been Mini Ludum Dare #49 in which I have been partially participating it.

The theme for this weekend was - "non-human player".

Since Global Game Jam in discussion about the work I have done with my lecturers and other developers. I have concluded that some focus in order for me to grow as a designer should be in area of purely gameplay mechanics. I will do an extended version of this post explaining what I made in full shortly.

MiniLD#49 prototype under the theme "non-human player"

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Flappy Jam

The indie community have decided to organise a game jam base on the success and recent publicity of the indie game 'Flappy Birds'. The deadline for Flappy Jam is the 24th of February, midnight GMT +0.

Here are the rules:

"make a hard, almost unplayable game use assets inspired (not ripped) from classics FLAPPY word or gameplay not mandatory have fun, be supportive. hate must not win"

I will not be participating in 'Flappy Jam' as it clashes with mini Ludum Dare #49 this weekend and I am a little dubious of what the intentions/purpose of this jam are.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

I Wish I Could Fly - Postmortem

The jam schedule has been updated accordingly since participation in this particular jam.

The Jam
Myself, Tom Sharman and Wayne Jackson worked together for the Global Game Jam from the 24th - 26th of January 2014 under the theme "We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are". The theme was nice an interesting with room for a lot of interpretation. This was my 3rd time participating in The Global Game Jam, and my 2nd time working alongside Wayne and Tom. We created an aesthetic heavy game with our main focus towards polished visuals and achieving a sense of mood. Working within team was a lot of fun and we all had blast together throughout the weekend.

The Game

Our entry is entitled 'I Wish I Could Fly'. Player’s experience the life cycle of a girl from a young age to through to adulthood, as the seasons pass she begins to grow old. I Wish I Could Fly is best defined as an interactive storytelling game with hidden object elements. As players interact with the swinging girl, time passes, seasons change and the character grows old. Time is dependent on players keeping the swing in motion.

What Went Well?
Setting, Tone, Mood
The game is set across an ever-changing landscape that fills with unique elements over time.  Setting the game outside in a natural environment with a tree allows us to represent with clarity the time passing of time. Players can easily understand the visual representations of the seasons. Changing these seasons’ helps to set the look and tone of the game; we wanted to create an experience that encourages players to consider their own time, and the shortness of life in a reflective, natural environment. The constant seasonal also change makes things feel like they are moving forward and a constant rate. A lot of thought went into the pacing of the game, although it would be interesting to what impact would occur in the game if the pacing of everything was ramped up. Setting the right pace in your aesthetics allows you to achieve the most impact and create a memorable experience.

Experimental Mechanics
The mechanics of the game are not fun, but from a learning experience were interesting to explore in terms of game aesthetics. The minimalist interaction that takes place in the game was initially a big unknown for us as a team – we did not have much of an idea towards if this envisioned mechanic would work. We wanted to try to induce players into some sense of dream or meditative state that calms players.

The focus towards a rotation mechanic was a conscious decision through influenced of hypnosis techniques such as in the video presented below. The idea of the movement of a clock swinging in front of a person is an attempted in inducing them into dreamlike or relaxing states of consciousness. This was something we were keen to explore. The swing in I Wish I Could Fly is a reflection of that swinging clock idea and an attempt from us to try to achieve senses of relaxation or dreaminess in the player. Moreover, the choice of this mechanic was also intended to make players feel immersed into the world.
The successful implementation of this gameplay mechanic also meant that we accomplished one of the many diversifiers.
  1. Round and Round: Rotation is one of the primary mechanics in the game

It was interesting exploring time as a gameplay mechanic. The game ‘Passage’ By Jason Rohrer was definitely a big influence towards this. Passage follows the flow of time until death which was an area we wanted to explore. “Passage for example essentially explores one idea, which is one little nuance feeling of coming face to face with your own mortality.” (Rohrer in discussion with Chris Crawford, 2009) Passage does well at trigger emotional responses from its players; the idea of aging over time can be very powerful. Jason Rohrer has described Passage to be a ‘love letter game’ to his wife – it is wonderful thing that he shares such personal expression for free to the world. For me personally, Passage holds many things that I want from a game experience. The main one being that it is so meaningful to the developer, playing it felt like having a personal conversation to the developer.

One way we visualised this concept in I Wish I Could Fly is by the ever changing seasons to give players a sense of long periods of time passing by. We wanted to explore some similar themes of death and mortality like in passage, but also the idea of how quickly life goes by. Although it was clear players interpreted this in many different ways, the essence of the message we wanted to give to players can be summarised nicely, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller.

In the survival guide it states that “…to be sure that you have practiced using your entire art creation tool chain.” As a team this was our 3rd project together, meaning by now we are relatively comfortable with each other’s work flow, style, strengths and weaknesses making for an enjoyable design experience. Working with the guys made this Jam a lot fun and is the most important thing; the fact we made something that played smoothly and was polished is an added bonus! It was awesome to step away from our group project (Softlegs) and work on making some new. This jam has enabled us to go back to our group project with some positivity and familiarity to skill set with working within a team, as well as new perspectives to design and approaches to 2d Flash development. When in the heat of the Jam, it is important that communication within the team is constantly taken place to keep things on track and to avoid un-expected surprises – it is essential that you listen with much attention towards your team. “The most important skill for a game designer is listening… listen more deeply, pay full attention to body language, subtle facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures.”(Schell, 2012)

Visual Influence
Component that helps to illustrate the progression of time to players is the scaffolding into hut building asset that appear after in a couple of yearly cycles of seasons. We liked the idea of representing a presence of civilisation overtime. The game Black & White was a big influence on this. The process of building Norse huts in Black & White allows players to see the progression of the scaffolding grow over time which was something I always thought was cool. I adopted this idea and interpreted it into a projected 2D perspective in a number of building states for Jam simplicity, shown below.

Dealing with the Game Jam Theme
One thing that went well stated in The Game Jam Survival Guide when digesting the theme was to, “Talk about the theme over dinner with a friend”. (Kaitila, 2012) As a team, we all went to a restaurant the moment the theme was announced to talk it over. This approach has become yearly Global Game Jam tradition for us as it allows us to think in comfortable environment and does not force any strain towards coming up with an idea. Also, this gets us away from other teams meaning that we avoid becoming influenced by any other Jammers ideas that may be discusses in the labs.


‘I Wish I Could Fly’ is a nice proof of concept prototype that could one day be developed into something much more substantial. With some focus towards the mechanics of the game, among other things, this entry could potentially be enhanced into an enriching experience that players can appreciate on a meaningful level. My goal as a designer is to create a game experience that touches players on deeply meaningful, insightful or enriching way – overtime; I hope to show players something that they have never seen before. I Wish I Could Fly is a stepping stone to the next game and towards one day achieving this goal.
"Aesthetics is how the game looks, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels.” (Schell, 2008) By further understanding game Aesthetics, I am able to get a sense of how I can approach achieving my goals. The word aesthetics is interesting one. To truly understand the nature of this, I made further research briefly into the area. The research I undertook has enabled me to learn more about the specific types of strengths and weaknesses I encompass as a games designer. “You will want to choose mechanics that make players feel like they are in the world that the aesthetics have defined, the right pace and have the most impact” (Schell, 2008)

Polish & Scope
One thing that we achieved well in the short time frame is a good level of polish which meant the concept was scoped well. Working alongside Tom and Wayne with all the visuals and throwing around animations was great. I good way of keeping your game in scope is by designing a game that takes place across only one screen – this will help you to achieve a good level of polish in your game (Scrappy Chappies, I Wish I Could Fly, Channel) As you will be focusing on making the one screen perfect for the entire weekend – this can often impress judges “do one thing well as opposed to 21 things poorly” (Kaitila, 2012) I often find that if your Jam game has only screen or limited to one area that you can usually get a fairly decent level of polish throughout the weekend - which can sometimes make for award winning entries. This of course will vary depending on your skill level, experience and number of people in your team. Avoid overscoping is a big challenging to achieve in Jams and one of the most common traits of unsuccessful Jam games.

Our own cursor was also implemented to add a level of personal flair and professionalism. Custom cursors also allow players to get a sense of the type of game they are playing. Often, they will intuitively go for the mouse instead of the keyboard upon seeing the custom cursor.

Public Reviews 
A couple of online reviews we written about the game which has been exciting for the team. More than once, the game has been defined as a meditative experience - which is an interesting way to define the prototype. I Wish I Could Fly was featured on two websites as selected Global Game Jam 2014 submission highlights. 

We had a surprisingly fair amount of response considering the prototype was not fun in anyway. People said many encouraging things and I even had a personal e-mail from a fan complimenting the game which was encouraging.

What Went Wrong?
No Win Condition
We made the mistake of prioritising certain elements of the game over implementing a ending to the prototype. “Concentrate on the important parts of your game… Triggering a ’win’ state” (Kaitila, 2012) A lot of people said that they wish something would have happened to end the game. This in turn made for players walking away from which is a shame - I learnt how important completing your Jam game can be. In the short time frame nearing the end, we could have achieved this by simply fading the character out into nothing once players obtain all hidden objects in the game. This would then climax the game and potentially trigger some emotions and more concrete meaning/interpretations from players.

Task Priorities
We simply did not prioritise the Win Condition and other tasks for the game well in order for it to have the impact we wanted to have. We did in fact have a number Player animation frames that did not make into the game, frames which would have made for some strong emotional impact in players. We wanted players to physically see the life cycle of a young girl, grow into teens, to adulthood, to an elder until eventually deteriorating into nothingness leaving players with an empty swing.

I have recently come to understand the importance of considering demographics for when planning to release a game that will have an audience. Before I started this project I was very much in the mind set of overlooking demographics, but simply being aware of them with some consideration can help your game find its players. “We know that all individuals are each unique, but when creating something meant to be enjoyed by vast numbers of people, we have to consider ways that groups of people are the same. For games designers the two most significant demographic variables are age and gender. We all play differently as we get older, and males and females play differently than one another at all ages.” (Schell, 2008) It is important to be aware of demographics when creating. Any drastically wrong component that conflicts against the types of players you indent to tailor for could resolve in a non-existent audience for your game. 

If we were to develop I Wish I Could Fly further into a potentially public online release then the research that follows is critical:

  • 0 -3: Infant/Toddler. Children in this age bracket are very interested in toys, but the complexity and problem solving involved in games is generally too much for them.
  • 4 – 6: Pre-schooler. This is the age where children generally show their first interest in games. The games are very simple, and played with parents more often than with one another, because parents know how to bend the rules to keep the games enjoyable and interesting.
  • 7 – 9: Kids. The age of seven has long been called the “age of reason.” At this age, children have entered school, are generally able to read, are able to think things through. This is also the age where children start making their own decisions about what kinds of toys and games they like and dislike, no longer just accepting whatever their parents choose for them.
  • 10 – 13: Preteen. Children this age are going through a period of tremendous growth and are suddenly able to think about things more deeply and with more nuance than they were a few years back. This age is sometimes about their interests. For boys especially, these interests are often games.
  • 13 – 18: Teen. The job of a teenager is to start getting ready for adulthood. At this age we generally see a significant divergence between male and female interests. Boy continue to be interested (and often get more interested) in competition and mastery, whereas girls become more focused on real-world issues and communication. This makes boys and girl game interests very different at this age. Teens of both genders are very interested in experimenting with new kinds of experiences, though, and some of those can happen through gameplay.
  • 18 – 24: Young Adult. This is the first “adult” age grouping, and the mark of an important transition. Adults in general, play less than children do. Most adults do continue to play, but at this point with their teenage experiments out of the way, they have established certain tastes about the kind of play and entertainment they enjoy. Young adults usually have both time and money on their hands, which makes them big consumers of games.
  • 25 – 35: Twenties and Thirties. At this age, time starts becoming more precious, this is the age of “peak family formation” As the responsibilities of adulthood start to add up, most adults in this age bracket are only casual game players, playing games as an occasional amusement, or playing game with their young children. On the other hand, “hardcore gamers” in this age bracket – that is, people for whom playing games is their primary hobby – are an important target market because they purchase a lot of games, and are often quite vocal about what they do and don’t like, potentially influence the buying decision of their social network.
  • 35 – 50: Thirties and Forties: Sometimes referred to as the “family maturation” stage, most adults in this bracket are very caught up in career and family responsibilities and are only casual game players. As their children become older, adults in this age group are often the ones who make decisions about expensive game purchases and when possible look for game playing opportunities the whole family can enjoy together.
  • 50+: Fifties and Up. Often called the “empty nesters,” adults in this age bracket suddenly have a lot of time on their hands – their children have moved out, and they will soon be facing retirement. Some return to games they enjoyed when younger, and other, looking for a change turn to new game experiences that have a strong social component. Such as golf, tennis, bridge, and online multiplayer games.
It is a big achievement to accomplish near completion of a Game in a Jam. One thing that we were conscious of before the jam was that we wanted to appeal to a certain type of audience – we wanted create and experience that appealed to females. At the time underestimating how truly challenging this is, I have made some additional research since so that next time we will hopefully be one step closer towards appealing to types of players.

By looking into Jesse Schell’s Art of Game Design we can understand that females tend to like different things to males in games, it is important to be aware of these. “Females want experiences where they can make emotional and social discoveries that they can apply to their own lives.”  - Heidi Dangelmeier. I Wish I Could Fly was designed to be focused with the female target audience in mind. Since the Jam I have learnt a lot more towards the likes and dislikes towards this target audience and some iteration would need to be taken place in order to achieve this.

Female Players
If I Wish I Could Fly was to be aimed at the female audience then much research is required to take place. I spent some time looking over Jesse Schell’s Art of Game Design book towards the sections that discuss gender; I was able to digest some useful information. Additionally, I came across Schell’s list of Five Things Females Like to See in Games (presented below) and discussed how they link to I Wish I Could Fly or could with further development.

Five Things Females Like to See in Games
  1. Emotion“Females like experiences that explore the richness of human emotion. For males, emotion is an interesting component of an experience, but the seldom an end in itself.” (Schell, 2008) I Wish I Could Fly is emotionally focus as it allows players to experience the life cycle of human emotions.
  1. Real World“Females tend to prefer entertainment that connects meaningfully to the real world. If you watch young girls and young boys play, girls will more frequently play games that are strongly connected to the real world (playing ‘house,’ pretending to be a veterinarian, playing dress up, etc.” (Schell, 2008) I am unsure if the game ticks the box of some of these points, but the game does offer an experience that connects meaningfully to the real world by simulating the act of play on a swing in a natural environment.
  1. Nurturing“Females enjoy nurturing. Girls enjoy taking care of baby dolls, you pets and children younger than themselves. It is not uncommon to see girls sacrifice a winning position in a competitive game to help a weaker player, partly because the relationships and feelings of the player are more important than the game, but partly out of the joy of nurturing.” (Schell, 2008) Unfortunately, this prototype does not allow players to nurture with any interactive elements in the game. Perhaps, the game could be iterated with opportunities to feed a pet of some kind that sits next to swing in attempt to achieve potential nurturing opportunities.
  1. Dialog and Verbal Puzzles – “It is often said that what females lack in spatial skills they make up for in increased verbal skills. Women purchase many more books than men do, and the audience for crossword puzzles is mostly female.” (Schell, 2008) The game features some hidden object elements that allow players to obtain the thoughts of dialog from the character. However, these elements were implemented in the later crunching stages of the Jam meaning much attention and interaction would need to take place in order to fully achieve this aspect of likeability from female players.
  1. Learning by Example – “Just as males tend eschew instructions, favouring a trail-and-error approach, females tend to prefer learning by example. They have a strong appreciation for clear tutorials that lead you carefully, step-by-step, so that when it is time to attempt a task, the player knows what she is supposed to do.”(Schell, 2008) The game does not offer players any opportunities to learn by example, you simply have to dive in and figure out the system through trial and error. Meaning this is a fundamental flaw if we were to aim I Wish I Could Fly towards the female market. Some instruction that visually shows players step by step how to play the game would potentially need to be implemented. Particularly as additional mechanics could find their way into the game potentially adding complexity.

Conclusion/What I learnt?

I learnt many things from this Jam, specifically towards what my strengths and weaknesses as a designer. Some of my weaknesses that I am now more aware of are, designing ‘fun’ mechanics, crafting addictive gameplay and holding players attention for long periods of time. I learnt that concluding a Jam Game entry by having a win state can be vital in drastically enhancing the game. I will take this forward with me to my next jams as a priority as this could be the thing that brings your game one step closer in becoming an online Game Jam hit! I learnt the importance of demographics in understanding the types of player that you can tailor your game to. I will take forward with me certain likes and dislikes from players when creating a meaningful experience that we intend to finish.

I am open to the idea of developing this prototype into a full release online towards many of the more popular web portals. I like the idea that most of the players of the game being female.  A lot of attention would need to be made in the way of appealing towards this demographic before the official public release.

List of Illustrations
  • Brady, J (2011). Global Game Jam - 48 Hours of Persistence, Programming, and Pizza at Scottish Game Jam. Birmingham: Bennion Kearny Limited. 3 - 170.
  • Garstang I. (2013). The Over-scoping Game Designer – The Attack of the Feature Creep. Available: Last accessed October, 2013.
  • Geest, B. (2014). Global Game Jam 2014 Games (Part 1). Available: Last accessed 2014.
  • Kaitila, C (2012). The Game Jam Survival Guide. Canada: Packt Publishing. pg 10 - 73
  • Kaitila, C. (2012). How to Get the Most Out of a Game Jam. Available: Last accessed October, 2013
  • McMillen E. (2009). Opinion: Indie Game Design Do-s and Don't-s: A Manifest . Available: Last accessed October, 2013.
  • Lazzaro, N. (2012). The 4 Keys 2 Fun. Available: Last accessed Nov, 2013.
  • NA. (2014). Innovation. Collaboration. Experimentation.. Available: Last accessed 2014.
  • NA. (2014). Global Game Jam 2014 Highlights – Part 2. Available: Last accessed 2014.
  • Schell, J (2008). The Art of Games Design. FL: CRC Press. 4 - 450.