BombFace & Playing/Writing Video Games

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Posted by AlanNorthway | Posted in Development | Posted on 04-04-2012

Hey, I’m Alan, Colin’s brother. I just finished a game I was working on and I wanted to share some thoughts I had while working on it. Colin and Sarah were nice enough to let me post on their blog (hey it’s called Northway Games, and I am a card carrying Northway).

I just spent the last nine months developing my first game. It’s a physics puzzler that, simply put, requires you to set bombs in order to blow up objects in a crafty manner. I call it BombFace.

You could describe it as Fantastic Contraption, but with bombs instead of contraptions. I just submitted it to FlashGameLicense.com (the website where you can auction off flash games), and I’ve never felt so alive!

I also work a regular 8 to 5 Software Engineering job. Once the clock strikes five o’clock I swap my work laptop for my personal laptop and continue to program. I’m like Mr Rogers swapping shoes, but with laptops.

What I wanted to talk about, and what I’m curious about is: does anyone else feel like writing a video game is the ultimate form of playing a video game?

What I mean is, take a puzzle game like Fantastic Contraption (or BombFace). You have a design mode in which you create contraptions (or place bombs in the case of BombFace), and then enter the run mode and watch the results, hoping that your design does what you’re designed it to do.

Well that’s exactly what I’ve been doing in writing this game for the last nine months, except instead of creating contraptions I’ve been writing code. The concept of entering a run mode to see what how your design behaves is exactly the same. It’s the same process. Design, test.

What’s funny is I really didn’t set out to make a Fantastic Contraption-esque game. I wanted to make a side scroller. I think I might have stumbled into it because I’m a programmer. Playing Fantastic Contraption, and BombFace are enjoyable for the same reasons that programming is fun. Thinking about a solution, and incrementally improving your solution till you complete your goal.

This can also be applied to other games to a varying degree. For instance, when you die playing any FPS you’ll probably try to think of a way of getting past that part. Maybe it’s taking it a bit slower and sniping the guy behind the 50 cal. before anyone notices you. Maybe it’s throwing a couple grenades into the room first and closing the door. You’re thinking up solutions and then implementing them. There isn’t a strict separation between design mode and run mode, but the process is still there.

What makes writing a video game better than playing a video game you ask? Many things I would contend. Freedom, first off. Freedom is one of the reasons I believe people like Fantastic Contraption so much. There are a lot of different ways to solve a level. When writing a video game, I wouldn’t say you can do anything, but there are an infiinite number of options with huge variation. A much greater freedom than even Fantastic Contraption.

Also, there’s the reward for finishing. There was no better feeling in my youth than beating Super Mario World for the first time. I invested so much time and energy into it, and for that reason it paid off. Well imagine spending 9 months on a game, and putting your thoughts, your likes, and your preferences into it. In some ways it represents you. Then at the end of the 9 months imagine putting it out into the world for people to judge, rate, and pay money for. You could become so successful that you could become nomadic indie game developers and literally travel around the world for years. Seriously, that could happen! Colin and Sarah are making that happen right now! Take that Mario end credits!

Almost everyone plays video games, so why doesn’t everyone program video games? Is there a certain balance people are looking for between thinking of solutions to problems, and…shooting people? Do they just not know where to start? Maybe they have no concept of what programming is like? Well here me loud and clear folks: if you enjoy Fantastic Contraption (or BombFace for that matter), then you would enjoy programming even more.

Agree? Disagree? Hit me up in the comments.

 

 

 

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Dear Proteus Parable

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Posted by Colin Northway | Posted in Game Design | Posted on 02-04-2012

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Three games I’ve played or re-played recently got me thinking about Control.

The Stanly Parable

Dear Esther

and Proteus

These games all say something different about Control aka autonomy aka player agency aka whatever you want to call it.

Every game lets you do different things. Some games are very opinionated about what you do, others less so. These three games all have something different but interesting to say about the Control they give you.

It’s easy to love The Stanley Parable because it is satire. Satire about the very idea of player agency in games. The Stanley Parable says your Control is an illusion. Whatever you do, wherever you go, the developer had to go there first or the place wouldn’t exist. The nature of code means games have to be meticulously authored. At best games offer you a convincing lie.

Into the world of the meticulously authored steps Dear Esther. Dear Esther makes no attempt to lie. Autonomy is not what Dear Esther is doing. It remove any meaningful Control from the game entirely. But by removing Control it gets to do something things other games don’t get to do. It gets to tell a linear story inside the gameplay. Dear Esther doesn’t have to be satisfied with tacked-on cutscenes or throw-away lines explaining some superfluous plot. The story melts into the visuals and the sound because there are no nasty choices to distract you from the pure sensory experience.

I personally don’t like Dear Esther as much as the other two games. I spent a lot of my playthrough chafing against my lack of Control. But it successfully touches people and I love that it does.

Proteus, on the other hand, is all about player agency. Proteus has very little interest in leading you by the nose. Little interest in showing you the best parts of its island realm. Little interest in ensuring an engaging experience. By letting go of the reigns it gets to do some things that other games don’t get to do. It gets to be pleasant place to be. With no real goal, no real systems to understand, and no story to tell it’s up to you to find something to do. It’s up to you to decide what will be fun or interesting. How much you want to explore, when you want to move on. I really like having all the power like this and Proteus provides an interesting enough world to reward the simple act of exploration.

Choice and Control is what video games do that other mediums don’t. All three  of these games use this unique power in unusual ways. Proteus revels in the simple fact of it and Dear Esther harnesses it to deepen its tale, but The Stanley Parable certainly gets the last laugh.

 

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Rebuild now available for Android phones & tablets

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Posted by Sarah Northway | Posted in Biznizz | Posted on 02-04-2012

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Yes, you can now get Rebuild for your Droid Nexus Galaxy Razr Epic Maxx, or whatever you call that thing! But first, an update:

Rebuild in the PlayBook top games

Rebuild in the PlayBook top games

Rebuild’s doing way better than expected on the BlackBerry PlayBook. This week it’s featured and in their top paid games – up there with three versions of Angry Birds (or is it 4 now?). It’s gotten mentions on crackberry.com, blackberrycool.com, and playbookdaily.com.

All of this is so awesome, because the port took zero effort… and I’m rather fond of my new PlayBook.

Rebuild's PlayBook Sales

Rebuild's PlayBook Sales

But even with all this extravaganza, my sales there are just barely matching the current iPad/iPhone sales (where Rebuild is #500 in games, #50 in strategy with a super-minor feature in iTunes – bet you can’t find it). So being a relative nobody on iOS == stardom on the PlayBook? Bummer for RiM, but I’m just so happy to be loved that I’d rather not dwell on that.

Up next: the terrifying Android marketplace. I’d been avoiding Android because of my instinctive fear of all those different devices. Despite all my laboring over the iOS version, Rebuild is still a little sluggish and crashy on the iPad 1 and iPhone 3GS. There are much less powerful Android phones out there and no easy way to target only the ones with enough RAM and CPU/GPU power to run Rebuild smoothly (although I’ve tried using compatible-screens). So it is with trepidation that I announce Rebuild on Google Play.

But apparently that’s not enough. I knew the hardware base was fractured, but I didn’t realize the app market itself was also fractured. There must be 100 different sites that sell Android apps, and each one wants me to upload my binary to them along with screenshots and promo art in different arbitrary dimensions. Many of the Android “review” sites either require you to sell through their store, or charge $200 for a review. Am I really seeing this right?

I’ve submitted to Amazon so I can get it on the Kindle Fire (although for $200 the PlayBook is a massively better hardware deal). But I’m not sure I have the stomach for all these other stores. Have I been naive to only buy apps through Google? Android users – where do you get your games?

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