Lachlan's misadventures in games programming

Friday, 2 January 2015

PAX Part 3 - Culture

1/02/2015 11:33:00 pm Posted by Lachlan No comments
This is the long-delayed final part of my discussion on PAXAus. Find part 1 here and part 2 here.




I've been putting off writing the final part of my discussion on PAX, because (to me at least) it is the most important section, and I wanted to do it justice.

It sounds so very cliche, but I think the major thing that PAX brings to the table is the culture and atmosphere. It is no mere trade show for exhibitors to show off their wares to potential customers, or convention you attend to hear the keynote speakers but is instead a place that celebrates games and gamers of all sorts. One of the first things you see as you enter is that gigantic green sign (pictured above) that proclaims 'Welcome Home'.

In order to spread the awesomeness around the article, I've punctuated the article with photographs of some of the fantastic cosplayers who appeared at PAX. I've linked to their respective pages/portfolios and a highly recommend you check them out.

Twi'lek beauty Steph Elkington

Steph Elkington and Hollow Society as Mordecai


The current weekend that PAX is on is one of the biggest horse racing weekends in Melbourne. On the Saturday, the AAMI Victoria Darby Day was on. Inside the convention centre, I had rounds of Pokemon with people I'd never met, I had board games with people I never otherwise would meet, I attended a lecture on making video games all by your lonesome, met passionate and fantastic cosplayers (more on that later) and I had long conversations with indie game developers about the engines they were using. Once outside, my kinsmen, my brothers and sisters of the gaming fraternity marching as a disorganised huddled mass towards Flinders St stations were accosted and teased by a small group of drunken racegoers. I don't think think that the contrast could have been any more severe.

I don't know how PAX manages to so successfully cultivate that atmosphere - and can't, by virtue of only having attended Melbourne's PAX, compare how much that atmosphere can be attributed to Melbourne's culture and increasing status as a videogame development superhub. I do have some observations that might at least paint some of a light on why PAX can so proudly and honestly proclaim 'Welcome Home' to gamers of every sort.

Firstly, I suspect that a lot of it can be attributed to the culture that goes with being a Penny Arcade event and being run by gamers for gamers. Mike and Jerry's original idea was to make the convention that they would want to go to. This influences everything from how the rules are written and enforced, to how exhibitors are treated, to the talks that are chosen, and to the evening events that are run.

Secondly, I think that it is helped somewhat by the general atmosphere of respect that PAX seeks to foster - for instance, by requiring that exhibitors refrain from using booth babes. 5 of the 6 PAX commandments (don't steal, don't punch or kick people, no cheating, don't harass anyone, don't mess with things that aren't your) directly relate to respecting other participants and exhibitors. It comes back to being a place where gamers can celebrate that part of their identity..

Thirdly, I think that the effect of having huge areas dedicated to actually playing games with other people can't be underestimated. They are areas that could easily be sold as more floor space, but instead a third of the available space is full of consoles (with libraries of games accessible to everybody), vintage consoles, gaming tournaments, collectible card game areas, board gaming areas (again, with a huge library available to everybody). In the board gaming areas, there are signs to borrow which essentially say 'We're looking for players!' and 'I want to play this game... can you teach me?'.


Peter "Putty" Davis's fantastic TF2 Engineer

More Peter "Putty" Davis
As an aside, the tournaments are a lot of fun. I joined in the Marvel v Capcom 3 tournament on the second day... and had my posterior handed do me on a plate. I knew I was doomed from the moment that my first opponent plugged in his own fightstick. For those outside fighting game circles - a fightstick basically an arcade style joystick and buttons that most pros use to play fighting games. Even losing was a pleasure - the guy I played was a good sport, and was happy to not take it too seriously. My opponent juggled me in ways I did not realise were possible.

I also had a chance to finally get my first ever win of any Pokemon game against a human being. One of the areas set up is a large bean bag and power charger area for playing handheld consoles. I went into my copy of Pokemon X, found a person who had a similar amount of hours played as I did and sent them a challenge. I figured out after not long that they were sitting across from me and we had a friendly discussion of the match as it was going. And did I mention that I won?

We were sitting down playing a game with podcasters I hadn't met or indeed heard of before when one of them mentioned that awesome new RPG that just got Kickstarted 'Fragged Empire' by my friend Wade Dyer and wondered whether he was attending the show. Unknown to them, he'd just sat down at their table minutes earlier. The setup of PAX encourages these anarchical kinds of interactions with strangers in a way that I know nothing else that does.

Battered, bruised, and brilliant Raven Mad


    


 
 Some photos are just too brilliant not to share. A gender bent Misty (as portrayed by Zeek) carrying Raven's Lara Croft. Somebody make this game!

I want to take this opportunity to point out that the cosplayers were really fantastic. If cosplay is a foreign concept to you, it's essentially dressing up as a character. They might be from a movie, or a cartoon, or a game, or a comic, or pretty much anything else. Raven Mad, Zeek, Peter "Putty" Davis, Hollow Society and Steph Elkington (who are pictured on this page) all did fantastic jobs and were kind enough to allow me to use the photos of them that are on the page. Again, I highly recommend that you check them all out. I was also excited to see some other fantastic cosplays - such as a brilliant Manuel Calivera (from Grim Fandango), a cloud of Batmen (but not a single Superman!), TF2 and Borderlands characters.

Speaking to the cosplayers is fantastic and gives some glimpse of the amount of work they went to to get their costumes made and put together. Most from what I saw made almost everything themselves. There is real and genuine skill in managing to put together costumes like these cosplayers do. I'm actually a little tempted to join their ranks for 2015.

As cool as the cosplay is, to me it primarily reinforces to me that this gaming isn't just a hobby that you do behind your door, in front of your computer, on a table, or on a couch. The effort cosplayers go to demonstrates a real passion for the subject matter and shows it off in a very bold and unflinching manner. Perhaps one of the good things about PAX is that people can feel safe and secure enough to be actually willing to do it.

This year, when PAX finished, I was left feeling almost like I used to when after waiting for months my birthday had finally come and gone. I was richer for having gone, excited for the news that it's back for the next 5 years but a little empty and melancholy for it having finished.

I think that one of the most fascinating experiments is writing a twitter biography. You have 140 characters to define who you think you are. At present, mine reads thus:
Christian. Newly admitted lawyer. Musician. Games Scholar. Programmer. Nerd. Terrible, but enthusiastic Golfer.
I have fellowship with other Christians and worship at church every Sunday night. I have worked as a lawyer, and will work as a lawyer again, keep up with law and participate in legal events. I play my various instruments at church and (albeit) occasionally at other venues with other musicians, and attend other gigs on an almost semi regular basis. I have a regular golfing partner, and go out and hit rounds that are deserving of my terrible, but enthusiastic status with a gigantic grin.

But - Games scholar (thank Jas Purewal over at Gamer/Law for that term), Nerd and Programmer? I have friends who I talk to and with whom I participate in gaming, nerdy or programming activities, but they are (for me at least) largely private affairs carried out on a table or behind a monitor by myself or with a small group of friends. It is such joy to go to an event, with so many people, and be surrounded by people who are like me - who share this part of their identity with me. It is such a pleasure to go to a place where gaming and gamers are not merely tolerated but celebrated.

Without exaggeration, I feel that PAX is pretty special and I feel absolutely blessed that there is one in my home city.

Bring on 2015!

FYI - As of the time of writing, PAX Aus tickets for 2015 are still available at http://aus.paxsite.com/registration. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Atlas Warriors Major Update - Alpha 9 Released

12/08/2014 05:47:00 pm Posted by Lachlan No comments
Today's update of Atlas Warriors is a big one.

I can confirm that I was able to play through from start to finish without incident.

You can download it from https://github.com/lkingsford/AtlasWarriors/releases/tag/alpha-009

Enhancements

  • Rewrote part of victory screen
  • Dungeon restocking now occurs within the normal span of playing a level
  • Spending longer on a level will result in higher monsters being restocked
  • Animation speed significantly increased, and made simulataneous. It will make levels with lots of orcs and healers a lot less frustrating
  • Added 'pummel' attack for unarmed. After a successful unarmed strike, you get a free attack with a slightly higher chance of hitting.
  • Disabled background by default
  • You now receive XP for the xombies that die when you kill the Necromancer
  • The message log only shows what's happened since your last turn. It also always shows 'Kill or be killed' in the top row if you're in Kill or Be Killed.
  • Difficulty adjustments including:
    • Warlord level decreased
    • Drake's MP increased
    • Goliath levelling speed increased and HP increase per level decreased

Bug Fixes

  • Fixed crash when opening message dialog with 'm' key
  • When punched by goliaths, your visibility updates
  • Fixed issue with no random monsters appearing on final level
  • Fixed issue with drakes causing crashes when attacked
  • Fixed issue with necromancer draining self
  • Various monster bug fixes
  • Fixed issue with animation not displaying when winning
  • Fixed issue with winning, and then the warlord being healed again
  • Dungeon restocking now works as intended
  • Fixed issue with two handed items in inventory screen
  • Animations no longer appear where you can't see them
  • Messages no longer appear if you can't see their cause
  • Skewering is no longer broken
  • Warlord no longer is unbeatable due to rapidly increasing weapon skills

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Atlas Warriors Alpha 8 Released

12/07/2014 02:54:00 pm Posted by Lachlan No comments
Edit: New version has been released - go to https://github.com/lkingsford/AtlasWarriors/releases/tag/alpha-009 for information




Alpha 8 of Atlas Warriors has been released

Since Alpha 3, there have been a whole bunch of new bug fixes. There is also another new tutorial message (for when you are in flames). There is also a new AI for Healers that will prevent crashes later on in the game.

I highly recommend that you update to this version.

You can download the newest version at https://github.com/lkingsford/AtlasWarriors/releases/tag/alpha-008.

You can log issues at https://github.com/lkingsford/AtlasWarriors/issues. The new version will create an 'error.log' file when it crashes. It would be helpful if you could give that file to me when reporting a crash.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Atlas Warriors Alpha 3 Released

12/06/2014 10:48:00 am Posted by Lachlan No comments
Edit:
There's been a really major update since this information. You can get the latest alpha at http://www.nerdygentleman.com/2014/12/atlas-warriors-major-update-alpha-9.html

I've released the third alpha of Atlas Warriors on Github. You can get it on https://github.com/lkingsford/AtlasWarriors/releases/tag/alpha-003 for Windows. 
The source is available, so other OS's may be able to run it. It is tested with Python 3.3. It does rely on having Pygame installed.
Again, please provide any feedback you have.
Tell me what you like about my game, and tell me what is horribly wrong. There is an issue tracker for bugs and the like on https://github.com/lkingsford/AtlasWarriors/issues. Could you please report any minor or (far more importantly) major bugs that pop up?
There have been significant enhancements to usability and to better teaching you how the game works. 

  • Enhancements
    • Keyboard control of inventory
    • Tutorial messages for
      • First run
      • Death
      • Kill or be killed
      • All weapons
      • Attacked
      • Duel wielding
      • Levelling
      • Levelling weapon skill
    • Option for disabling autopickup
    • Option for disabling background.
    • Added polearm skewering and lunging
  • Bug Fixes
    • Closing issue #10
    • Healer AI bug
    • Drake bug
    • Zombie defence
    • Prevented crash on winning screen

Thursday, 13 November 2014

PAX Part 2 - Games

11/13/2014 02:10:00 pm Posted by Lachlan No comments

This is Part 2 of my discussion of PAXAus. Find Part 1 here.

So - in addition to spending time seeing panels at PAX Australia, I spent a fair bit of time playing and watching various newly released and yet to be released games.

I particularly spent a fair bit of time in the extensive indie area getting to try Australian and New Zealand made indie games. It was fantastic to be able to meet indie developers - particularly those from Melbourne. As with last year, I've been struck by just how vow vibrant the indie games development community is in Melbourne.

I also had the opportunity to try a couple of new release AAA titles, and one particularly special (to me) pre-release.

Slightly off-topic - I was also struct by just how strong the Unity engine is in indie development. I knew it was strong - but I thought that the new pricing model for the Unreal Engine would have lead to more indies using it. In hindsight, I suspect that there hasn't been enough time since the pricing change, and that the Unreal engine might have a bigger showing next year.

So - following is a very brief (generally coinciding with my play time) impression of some of the things that I've played. Not everything here is by indies - but the list is heavily skewed that way

Just as a forewarning - this isn't going to critically examine and review the games I list. This is going to be a brief selection of some of the things I thought were cool, and that I think that you should check out.

Note: Release statuses are as of 12/11/2014.

Defect: the Spaceship Destruction Kit


  

 
Developer: Three Phase Interactive
Status: Unreleased
Website: http://sdkgame.com/

Defect: Starship Destruction Kit (DefectSDK) is one of those games that just seems really cool. The essence of the game is you design a starship from pieces, and then run off fighting bad guys. But then (inevitably) your crew turns on you - hence requiring you to create yourself a shiny new starship to fight your very well designed previous command - which was hopefully the subject of a well designed flaw for you to exploit. And so on, and so forth.

The guys who made it were kind of inspired by Gratuitous Space Battles (GSB) by Positech Games, and it shows. I vaguely remember Cliffski of Positech talking about the requests for a 'direct control' mode in GSB to allow you to control the ships directly rather then setting the stage for the titular gratuitous space battle. This is that game. DefectSDK shares GSB's fluid zoom and fantastic prerendered/drawn 2D artwork.

If you're a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars or the like, you should definitely check this out.

Under the Sun


  

 
Developer: Stegabyte
Status: Unreleased
Website: http://stegabyte.com/

It is fantastic to be able to go to an event like PAX and find a former classmate from High School exhibiting their soon to be released wears. Stegabyte was formed by a two man team of Tim Glew and Alex Tulloh; the latter of whom remains one of my two favourite drummers to play with (despite not having done so for a good 8 years).

Under the Sun is a self-branded '4D Puzzle Game'. The goal is to guide the protagonist to the campfire before the day is out. Each turn, the world changes both independently (such as trees growing) and in reaction to your movements. The world changing can result in being unable to make the campfire in time, and therefore the death (by old age) of the character. Fortunately, Stegabyte have made it simple to move forward and backward in time to resolve past mistakes and observe the changing world.

The artwork is fantastic, slightly dreamlike and very clear (being important in a puzzle game). The puzzles themselves are clever and ran the gamut from easy to more difficult then I could complete in the time I had. My understanding is that is to be released on Windows, iOS and Android.

I'm looking forward to its release.

Screen Cheat


  

 
Developer/Publisher: Samurai Punk/Surprise Attack Games
Status: Released on Steam
Website: http://screencheat.com/

This has already been released, so you might already know something about it. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of rounds with friends and strangers.

(Cue annoying infomercial voice)
Have you ever been told off for looking at the other players screens when playing Goldeney or Perfect Dark?
Have you been accused of playing unfairly, maybe even cheating?
Have you had your defense that 'everybody can do it!' and potentially your argument over the prisoners dilemma thrown out without a consideration?

If so, Screencheat is for you and your friends!
(Yeah - that's enough of that)

So - the concept of Screencheat is that it's a first person shooter where all of the players are invisible. You must look at the other players screens to be able to discern their location, in order to pulverize them with projectiles. It's a fantastic concept, and very well executed.

The levels are really well designed for this specific game. They are divided with very clear coloured sections so even an amateur can get a rough idea of where another player is looking, or at the very least whether they are in the same room. I see this becoming a really competitive game when you know the layouts of the level.

Coming from a traditional FPS paradigm, it is fairly difficult to be able to hit other players. It is still difficult to figure out exactly where somebody is as opposed to where they are looking. However, the hit-boxes seem wide enough to accommodate the gameplay.

This is a good concept, well executed. I really hope that they'll be selling cosmetic DLC for the characters.

Rogue Singularity


  

   
Developer: Considerable Content
Status: Not yet released
Website: http://www.roguesingularity.com/

I didn't get around to actually playing Rogue Singularity but I spoke for some time to the developer and watched a bit of it being played. So I can't really comment on the gameplay beyond the obvious (that it's a 3rd person platforming game). The platforming looks clean and fluid with a double jump mechanic.

The reason I'm interested is because (like most games bearing the name 'Rogue') it is procedurally generated. Each level you play will be created by the computer - much like in Atlas Warriors. Unlike Atlas Warriors, this looks fantastic and generates really interesting 3D levels.

It also looks really, really good. The Skyboxes are a very high quality and look fantastic. The levels themselves look clean and good.

I'm interested to see how this ones turns out.

Crawl


  

  

Developer: Powerhoof
Status: Released (Early Access) on Steam and Humble Store
Website: http://www.powerhoof.com/crawl/

I didn't get a chance to play Crawl at PAX (although it was there) but I heard lots of people talking about it - including one friend who has purchased himself a copy. It has been described by the developer as a dungeon crawler where your friends become the monsters,

At any time, one of the players is controlling a hero, whilst the other players try to kill them. When they do, that player become the hero. The other players control ghosts that can effect the world, either directly (by producing weird ectoplasm blob balls), by inhabiting deadly traps or by incarnating as monsters. At the end of each level, the players get to u

pgrade their monsters. The hero can use the gold they gain by killing to purchase new weapons and spells to attack the monsters.

The ultimate goal is for a player to get above level 10 (as a hero) and go through a portal to fight a boss monster (again, controlled by the other players). At the moment, there is only one boss monster - but this will be improved soon.

All this wrapped up with some procedural generation of levels and really cool pixel art and retro styled graphics.

It is currently $9.99 on Steam, and a lot of fun for some local multiplayer action. I recommend you give it a look.

Appointment with Fear


  


  
Developer: Tin Man Games
Status: Released on Steam, Google Play and iTunes
Website: http://fightingfantasyapps.com/books/appointment-with-f-e-a-r/

Again, I didn't get the chance to play this at PAX, but I was fortunate enough to get steam code for it (and have subsequently purchased the Android version).

I really wish that I knew how to define Appointment with FEAR as it seems to defy genre. It is somewhat like interactive fiction with a fantastic silver-age of comics theme (with the fantastic spinny Batman style animation between some dialogues!).

You follow the hero from a second person point of view ('You ... ') being told what's happening. You then get given a list of options you can take. You work Titan City as a hero, collecting clues and stopping crimes whilst trying to hold a day job as a reporter.

The combat works well and consistently for the style of game. The artwork is charming and exceedingly well drawn (as you can see from the screenshots). The writing is excellent.

It's not a huge investments ($5.99 on Steam, $2.99 on Android/iOS). I've already recommended it to one superhero loving friend, and I'll probably recommend it to some more. I will note that it feels better on the tablet with touch screen controls then on the Desktop - so I particularly recommend the Android version.

Sentinel Tactics: The Flame of Freedom

Developer: Greater Than Games
Status: Released
Website: http://sentineltactics.com/

This is the only board game to make this list. I spent more time checking out new video games then board games (although I played a couple of other board games with friends while there). I was keen to try this, as I am already a fan of the Sentinels of the Multiverse. For clarity, I'll refer to the two games as Tactics and Multiverse.

I played Multiverse at PAXAus last year, and promptly went out and ordered myself a copy, and now have all the expansions so far released. Multiverse is a cooperative silver-age of comic books themed card game where you play the Sentinels against a variety of villains in a variety of settings. The heroes, villains and settings all belong to a fictional comic Multiverse inspired very closely by DC and Marvel heroes, villains and settings. The cards have fantastic drawn art and quotations from the fictional comic books. One of the few characteristics that makes it feel different to most superhero games is that you always feel like you're on the back foot, and every fight could be won or lost right until the end.

Sentinels Tactics manages to take a similar feel and turn it into a tactical board game. There are fairly simple rules (like Multiverse) and cards and heroes that allow you to tactically and strategically bend those rules (again, like Multiverse). Unlike Multiverse, the PvP elements reward knowing the actions that your enemy may take a lot more. The PvP elements also mean that you must consider the actions of the other players rather then merely the chance of a horrific villain card coming up. The board game elements also add an element of location that distinguishes it from the card games and means that some heroes (particularly the Flash analogue - Tachyon) actually feel like their powers feel different to the other heroes.

If you're a board gamey or superhero fan, this is worth giving a look - particularly if you're a fan of the original card game.

Mortal Kombat


 


 
Developer/Publisher: Netherrealm/Warner Bros Interactive
Status: Unreleased
Website: http://www.themortalkombat.com/

So - more disklosures: I've loved Mortal Kombat for a really long time (as can be evidenced by my kopy of Mortal Kombat II for the SNES, piktured on this years PAX scarf below).
My own beloved kopy of Mortal Kombat II for SNES
So - the chance to play a brand new Mortal Kombat game, 6 or so months before release was absolutely fantastik for me.

I'd like to take a brief moment to talk about how major Mortal Kombat been shown at PAXAus, before release is. The last Mortal Kombat game (which, for the record had fantastic kombat, and awful plot) was only released in Australia last year due to having been blocked from the Australian market entirely due to Australia lacking an R rating. That has all changed, and that is fantastik.

Mortal Kombat is an interesting beast. It has always distinguished itself to the publik from its kounterparts (most notably Street Fighter) by being a lot gorier and bloodier. To me, it distinguishes itself from its kounterparts (again, most notably Street Fighter) by the fluidness and ease of its kombat. Where games like Street Fighter make the very act of performing a highler level move diffikult, Mortal Kombat makes it easy to do the moves but still requires timing and strategy as to when, and how to block them.

I only had one fight (Sub-zero -v- Raiden) but learnt enough to say that the kombat looks and feels fantastic. The combat with sword type attacks feel a little more visceral then they did in 9. I'm glad to see the returns of 9's fantastic x-ray moves. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see any Fatalities, but they're already on YouTube.

I wish I had a bit longer to get more impressions and more detailed information, but what I had leaves me really excited for X.

Sunset Overdrive



 



 
Developer/Publisher: Insomniac Games/Microsoft Publishing
Status: Released on Xbox One
Website: https://insomniacgames.com/games/sunset-overdrive/

Unfortunately, I only had a single game of Sunset Overdrive but it was a lot of fun. It's essentially a third person coop arena shooter against waves (kinda like Mann v Machine in Team Fortress 2). It's got very cool Bioshock Infinitesque movement along sky cables/power cabled. It's got good fluid combat with a wide variety of guns with very different effects.

It looks good, and feels good. But honestly - it won't (by itself) sell me on getting an Xbox One.

So - that's it for Part 2 on my series on PAX. Part 3 will be coming soon, and will have a conversation about what else I managed to do at PAX and why I think that PAX is so important, and why I was so sad for it to be finished.

Feel welcome to share any views on anything you played or the games I've discussed in the comments below.