Category Archives: Technical

Games Surgery

From time to time I meet people who think that computer games are just a waste of time with no value. Usually those people associate games with ancient tetrises or supermarios, or with some maniac friends counterstrikers who isolate themselves from the real world losing the sense of time and of themselves. Various shootings in the schools of the USA make the situation look even worse.

As I am diving into this sphere deeper and deeper, I will share my opinion with you. It will also partly be the propaganda of gaming with a hope that it will prompt the interest in gaming culture and development, developers will start doing their job more seriously, and we’ll have more games of high quality in the future.

While talking about games in this article, I will mostly talk about video games, but won’t limit myself to that. In my opinion, party games, board games, mobile games, computer games, and playful life in general seem to be related, overlapping and complementing each other. I will look at games from different perspectives: entertainment, education, art, socialization, media, simulation, and job.

Entertainment

Not everyone accepts his days as gifts. Not all jobs are interesting. And even in the interesting jobs there are boring tasks that use your energy. After all people need to relax and run away from every-day problems. So people need entertainment.

People need experiences different from every-day life, stories, videos sounds, activities, and self-expression. Therefore, depending on the possibilities and personal choices, we go to clubs, cinemas, amusement parks, play TV games, and attend different competitions. Video games are one of additional forms providing storytelling and expression via video, sounds, animation and interaction with computer. Additional amazement is given by the newest technological possibilities to manage the system by motion, and to express the special effects not only by video and sound, but also by vibration and smells. Moreover there have been technologies developed to manage computer systems directly by brains through a helmet.

Games help you to reduce stress. Playing games, you can unleash negative energy on virtual opponents, not harming any real beings. The results in games can be achieved relatively faster than results in real life. Achievements release hormone Endorphin which gives the sense of joy. While playing more active partly computer outside games, adrenalin might be produced. While playing you compete with other players or with your own achievements. Excitement is felt. Sometimes it’s not as important to win as it’s important to communicate with each other and the game becomes an interesting way of communication where you don’t need to talk about weather when all the other topics have already been exhausted.

Self-education

School is important not because it’s an obligation. And Diploma is not the main reason to study. It’s necessary to learn all your life. You need to improve not only professional skills, but also many others, so that you could survive personal crises as well as global catastrophes and also that we could create maximal comfort for ourselves and for others.

Games are an attractive form to improve some skills. Games train our brains to manage audiovisual information, interpret it, and react to it fast. The coordination of arms and eyes is improved. Many games tell stories, so many facts are created by imagination of the player as when reading a good book. So games improve imagination too. Diving deeply into a virtual world also increases the attention for one thing for a longer period of time. Every one of us has a sleeping genius and attention to one thing is a way to wake him up. Games also improves logical thinking: we experience causes and effects through them. Games prompt to overcome the difficulties, persistently doing the job till the end. Virtual 3D worlds develop spacial memory and orientation. It’s easier to find out where you are, when you get lost in a big city (proved by my own experience :) ). Games teach to learn to understand more difficult structures than the primary natural ones, for example the forking and overlapping of time, alternative worlds existing at the same time, mutating states of the characters, changing gravitation sources, etc. Active computer games and some mobile games train balance. After-all, the computer literacy is getting better.

Games causes their developers also to be interested in many different spheres. Games are some of the most difficult software products. Usually they are created by big groups of people specializing in different spheres, but the project managers should have basic understanding everywhere. The developers have to understand natural, social and humanitarian sciences and be creative. Besides programming, programmers should educate physics, geometry, 3D modeling, development of artificial intelligence, and user interfaces. Game developers should understand psychology to predict user movements, and sociology so be able to manage gamer communities. The story creators should predict non-lineal possibilities of the script (one beginning and multiple endings or multiple paths to achieve the ending). Sound creators should be able to adapt music to the mood of the moment dynamically like in movies, depending on the players choices. And this is still not the full list of spheres game developers should know. As I am mostly interested in independent games and I am planning to publish them myself, I need to be interested in advertisement and marketing too.

Self-Expression and Creativity

What is the point of art for a human being? We conceive the world through contrasts. The more arguments for different ideas or features we get, the more we choose how to live our lives. Art is a subjective artists view to different things. The more subjective ideas we get, the more objective is our point of view. A game can be a form to convey the viewpoint of its creators. The game becomes an indirect dialog between game creators and game players.

Game itself can be very creative, re-mixing other forms of art, such as photography, 3D arts, architecture, fashion, music, dance, or theater play. Games stand close to movies or interactive video installations at modern-art galleries or at night clubs.

The process of gaming can be creative itself while solving some logical problem. Sometimes instead of normal game flow, the player can use game resources in a creative way making their own pieces of art in social games. Also different modification tools allow to modify the games or create 3D animations called machinima.

Means for Communication

A man is a social creature in an animal body. Like birds we need to communicate.
Therefore, bars and clubs are full of people, we like home parties, we attend different courses, or use facebook. Games are one of the means to communicate with other people.

While playing we communicate both, verbally and non-verbally. By words we communicate when we play together or by turns at a console or with mobile phones. Also by words we communicate at the chats of online games. It’s been said that the bigger part of information is transferred non-verbally by body language. In games the nonverbal communication happens when helping each other to overcome obstacles, competing with each other, sharing or exchanging virtual goods.

Local-area-network games bring existing gamers’ communities together. Online games create communities in themselves. Also gamers usually have their forums where they can share experiences about the game.

Media Form

There is a saying that a picture is worth one thousand words. I will extend it saying that a video is worth one thousand pictures, and a game is worth one thousand videos.

Games are strong media form getting much deeper into the memory because the idea of the game is conceived by practicing. A game can explain difficult things simply, clearly and visually.

One could compare video games to newspapers, magazines, books, comics, publicistic photos, movies and animations.

If the developers want to make an interesting game, they should be always on the cutting edge of actual things.

Safe Simulation of Real-life Activities

Even playful life isn’t a game. There are many difficult, dangerous or too influential spheres, where it’s better to avoid them, for example, martial arts, extreme sports, or stock quotes. Games can simulate risky situations enabling you to try them in a virtual atmosphere and experience just virtual awards and punishments and to decide later if that sphere is interesting for you in the real life.

We can start, pause and stop playing games whenever we decide. In real life, if you want to start something, you need some preparation (courses, studies, or contacts), and when you want to end something, you need to take others’ (family, colleagues, or clients) interests into consideration.

Virtual game world is always simpler than the real world. And you can feel as the manager of your own simple world, where all the rules are clear and all causes have clear effects.

The game can show you two different opinions letting you decide the conclusions which opinion is more correct as it’s done in discussions, debates, publicistic broadcasts and news.

Games can convey artificial reality: what would be if something existed or happened. One can be embodied as avatars of different profession, sex, race or even as things.

Simulation in games can also give profit to the developers, because modules tested on entertained players can be later applied in important software packages, for example, path search in the maps, artificial intelligence, user interfaces and so on.

Way to Get Money

Money is an important means in the nowadays world. Players can earn some money by gambling games or by selling virtual goods. But the most important from my point of view, that the games is the source of money for gamemakers.

The most games today are created for adults and the most players are adult people, not kids. That means that the most players do something in their lives to earn money which can be spent for entertainment.

There are many ways for game developers to get money, e.g. funding, donations, subscriptions, freemium subscriptions, box sales, in-game advertising, microtransactions, virtual currency, server leasing, and merchandise.


I gave you ideas, but no game examples. Anyway, I can give you some examples in the comments on request. The most important is direction what to achieve to get well developed game industry in the future with more open source and more collaboration, little by little, step by step.

HalmaStar Screenshots #0004

All of a sudden I will tell you about the latest updates of HalmaStar game website.

In the last half of a year I worked at the game about 10 days all in all. During that time I added user profiles, information about logged-in users, interplanetary ticket system, and some more. Also the style was tweaked. Unfortunately not everything has been tested.

The avatars of the game are aliens called insighters. As that is related to sights, I copied the idea of faces with four eyes from the internets.

I still have these tasks on my TODO list:

  • Counting time for one move. After half minute of inactivity, the time goes down.
  • Animation for increasing and decreasing of points.
  • Player statistics when the cursor is moved above the player name.
  • Robot opponent (at the moment it’s only possible to play against live opponents).
  • Target positions marked with different colour.
  • Facebook Connect for login.
  • Viral video or video about the prehistory of the game.

If you have any ideas or critics, I accepts all that here in the comments, in the feedback section of the website, or at a cup of tea.

The Future is Now!

You might have noticed that HTML5 is almost fully supported in WebKit-based browsers. This means that you can use Ajax, vector graphics, videos, audios, geolocation, gradients, animations, local storage, and other cool features on iPhone and Android. Furthermore, you can combine that with PhoneGap to create rich native mobile apps.

Have a look at the presentation about mobile web-based app development, given by my former colleague Philipp:

The future is really promising and it is happening now!

Open Gaming Avatar Service Required

When developing social online games with avatars, you usually need sprites for character animation. I decided that it would be really cool to have an open service which would allow users from around the world to customize an avatar and use it in different games of different game developers.

The system would be something like OpenId and gravatar combined, but providing sprites of user movements of different sizes from different perspectives.

Players could create their avatars choosing gender, hair, facial features, skin tones, and probably some default clothing. Then they could use that avatar in different social games and probably in forums and blog comments.

The system would generate sprites for default user movements like standing still, talking, going, and running from 8 sides (avatar pointing to North, North-East, East, South-East, South, South-West, West, North-West) and different perspectives like side, isometric (30°, 45°, 60°), and top. There would be APIs to get sprites of defined size in PNG, GIF, or SVG format, then those could be overlayed with different clothing for individual games. Also there would be an API to get the avatar features in JSON format for individual avatars or additional animations. If the customization happens in 3D, then the model of the avatar with it’s textures could be retrieved by a separate API call (that’s useful for custom animations or 3D games).

If the system is centralized under one website like gravatar, the avatar information could be identified by player’s email address. Otherwise, it can be identified by web address like in OpenId.

I know, it’s not trivial to implement this and there are many gotchas with that, for example, the drawing-style should be attractive and animations should be lively; avatars could probably be animals, aliens or other creatures. But still, if you like the idea of such a system, if you know anything about similar systems, or if you would like to develop that or team up for its development, please write a comment. Let’s wave the need of it! Let’s create a movement of open-source game development! :cool:

Social Game Development

I did a tiny little research on nowadays game development using Javascript(1) and decided that when HalmaStar becomes beta, the game I will create next will be multiplayer tile-based action-puzzle-solving scroller with most of the levels developed by players themselves.

The game will consist of multiple objects of different types where each of them interacts with each other in a specific way. For example, there will be avatars of different players, solid blocks, collectibles, different types of dangerous objects, etc.

Some games to take inspiration from are Electric Box, Bomber Man, Load Runner, and especially Supaplex.

The main features:

  • Level-based
  • Level editing, drafts, publishing
  • Voting for the best levels
  • Attribution and Flattr button of a level-creator at each level
  • Leaderboards: best players, best contributors
  • Some levels are for single mode, can be played offline
  • Some levels need collaboration to be solved
  • Some levels are competitive and only one player of a group might finish them in one go
  • Playable on mobile phones or other handheld devices
  • Facebook app
  • Django, Javascript, Ajax used
  • Funny attractive minimalistic animation
  • Developed no later than till July 2011 (having in mind that I will be doing that during my free time).

Maybe that will be the reincarnation of a game I started developing many years ago. I remember I couldn’t finish it then, because of some technical limitations of BASIC programming language or probably my incompetence in managing computer memory. Now as tools, technologies, and computers improved, and I have more than 8 years of experience in programming, I shouldn’t face any similar issues.


(1) I took the first glance at the possibilities of Javascript game engines: Akihabara, gameQuery, gamejs, and Javascript 2D game engine. I should review them in detail, analyze, and compare later. But that’s a theme for another post.

HalmaStar Screenshots #0003

Have I already mentioned that all wishes become true? Just a day after my decision to decrease the number of my working hours, I talked to my bosses and here I am working just three work days per week developing web, whereas I can spend the rest two for my own game development(1) and education.

I started achieving progress in larger steps. I have already made a playable version which is being tested at the moment and looks like this:

HalmaStar Screenshot #3

There is still a lot to do till publishing, e.g. player joining and profile management, a list of people online, player avatars, help for newbies, etc. But it feels very good, because of obvious progress, especially after positive feedback from friends.


(1) Actually, I have a four-day weekend, where I code or party at nights and sleep at days.. occasionally. :cool:

Sunday Celebration: Village Business

They say: “Grow delicious fruits and vegetables and raise adorable animals on your very own farm!”. But this is what you get: “Buy many images for money, lay them in your square field, return back in many hours, sell the images and you’ll get even more money. Buy many images for money, lay them in your square field…” That’s one of many facebook-based cloned games by Zynga company with rural decorations this time and it’s called FarmVille.

FarmVille

Game developers usually get surprised how such a primitive grinding game has more players than twitter has tweeple. Farm village engages the rational ones by simple strategies what images to choose to get maximal profit in minimal time. It engages the irrational ones by attractive childish graphics and animation and the ability to arrange their farms as cozy, interesting, or esthetical as possible. Some players exploit the unexpected possibilities of the game while creating their farm art. Some people get caught by marketing tricks like facebook statuses about the game, various actions and invitations, ads in other games by Zynga, podcasts, twitter statuses, adaption to actual holidays (Halloween, Christmas, Easter), etc.

FarmVille is a community-based game. Recently Tony Ventrice defined the following purposes of such games in Gamasutra:

  • Create permanent community (offer collaboration)
  • Create the feeling of continuous discoveries (prompt player progress and self-expression)
  • Spread the game virally (prompt players to invite friends)

There isn’t much community-forming in the game. You are just offered to invite neighbors whose farms you’ll be able to fertilize so that they get richer crop. Also you can give your neighbors animals, trees, and different decorations from a reserve of gifts, where the amount of gift choices grow up with the increasing level of your village business experience. What I don’t like is that you can give others different presents that you don’t really have and can’t take yourself (as well as you can’t fertilize your own fields). The game is symbolized a lot already, but giving presents from some strange reserve makes it even more unrealistic. On another hand, this ensures that players won’t sell virtual goods to each other what usually happens in multi-player gaming.

The avatar of the game makes no sense. It just slows all the activities down, because if you want to plough and sow a field, the avatar has to go to it first. I found out that if you frame your avatar with a fence, the fields are ploughed and sowed immediately. So you have to limit yourself for productivity (like in real life). If you visit your neighbors, you will never find them at home. You’ll find there only abandoned farm full of crows and weeds, which you can clear and get virtual money for that.

The business model behind FarmVille is this: the game is free for most of the players, but a few percent of biggest fans buy virtual money for real money at their free will, to be able to develop their village business in larger scope.

There is almost no interaction among different objects in the game except the area they take (animals can’t go over the area which is laid with an image, e.g. a field, a tree, or a fence). When you achieve quite high level or buy virtual money, you can get tractors or harvesters which make the work much faster as you don’t have to click on each field, but that works only while you have fuel. The game would be much more interesting, if rabbits would nibble the uncovered trees, unframed cows and horses would trample down or eat the crop, animals would need food, the manure of animals could be used to fertilize the fields, etc.

Frame yourself for productivity

Having in mind that FarmVille is still in beta, there is a hope that it will be more interesting in the future. If you have several months, you can try farming as is now. But if you have no time and still want to have fun, play the platform game this weekend (surprise surprise! :D ).

HalmaStar Screenshots #0002

Lately, my webserver provider sent me a message that the order for a year is about to end and that I have to pay for the next year. The Chinese Checkers website on that webserver has been holding just the logo for the whole year. The company of another webserver where I keep this blog, sent me a coupon of 75 € for advertising at Google Adwords. I have an ad, but still no project to advertise. I won’t promote my personal blog, will I!? So I have lots of encouragement and motivators, just the time is what I am lack of…

Anyway my creative work doesn’t stand still. I learned the basics of Gimp. Whenever I find some free hours among the sessions my work and spare time, I sit down and glue the graphical design together.

Page design

I changed the typeface of the logo. It’s much more lively and playful now. The Asian motives of the letters fit with the Manga-styled face of the star better that the old bitten typeface.

The website design will be of a space theme. At the moment there are just stars pasted all around. But probably later I will also add satellites, rockets, and even some absurd objects, let’s say, a wooden chair flying in the space. I am still thinking how to layout the textual elements like chats, titles, descriptions, collected points, etc. so that they fit in the main design. It’s also not clear how to layout the blog and forum as I don’t have experience in creating webdesign, but still I want something unique.

Berlin planet

All the planets will be different. At the moment I am only drawing the planets of Berlin and Vilnius. WTF? Since when Vilnius has been a planet!? As I’ve written in the first part, planets will uncover the identity of different capitals of Europe. That’s why I was asking for public opinion what things symbolize Vilnius for Lithuanians.

For liveliness each player will be represented by an avatar of the same color which marbles he’s using in the Chinese Checkers. I wanted to have single-colored unisex-styled dress. I was thinking about some overalls or cloaks.. Fortunatelly, Viktorija was doing her diploma about cloths which were sexless enough, futuristic, and original. The best part here is that she agreed that those textile designs will be used in my game and sent me the photos and sketches.

Persona

I am moving forward in turtle steps. Maybe I’ll finish in, let’s say, 10 years. It would be better to do that sooner, because I decided to find a girlfriend when I finish this project… As I was jealous of the relations of two couples visiting me recently. :D

Inspirations for Level Designers: “Vilija”

After crossing the pedestrians’ bridge over the river Vilnele, I climb the snowy hillside up. Then I go by the wire fence until I reach an unraveled hole in it. I go through it, pass the opened drains, and step inside through squeaking door. I am starting a new column in my blog. It will be about astonishing places which waken imagination for the creators of adventure, action, and horror games. Scary abandoned unexpected spaces, strange details, and mystic lighting will show what labyrinth of rooms your game character could be running in, what textures to use for covering your models, and how to adjust the lights..

A huge spool of thread lightened by the sun in the evening

It’s evening. The beam of sunlight through a window drowns half of the visible territory. Somebody might hide not only in the dark, but also behind the beam of light. The mystery is created not by the darkness, but by the penetration of light in the darkness cautiously touching things scattered all over the place.

Pigeons perching on the frame of a window

Pigeons being the new settlers of the house are watching me through the open or “opened” windows. Take a look at the light projected through the windows on the wall.

Kubrick-style-like corridor

Suddenly, I discover a white Kubrick-styled marble corridor. Plaster ceiling is broken and fallen down on the ground. They create me associations with the “Spring” by M. K. Čiurlionis. When you go on the pieces of the plaster, they clatter like metal faces in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. This room contrasts sharply with the rest of the factory. Is it a corridor to the baths of the chiefs? The door is locked. I hear steps and barking dogs. Somebody is putting a key into the door from the other side… Let’s run!

Ramps for extreme adventures

Urban activities make the building reborn in a new form. I roll over the ramps prepared by BMX bikers. Hurry up!

Wide spaces divided rhythmically by pillars

There is a lot of wide space, monotony, and rhythm. No matter how fast you run, you seem to stand in the same location..

Molded ceiling

The molded ceiling can be used as an example of texture. Do you feel that smell?

Holes in the ceiling

Of course, there is much water inside, because the roof has holes in it. Are those chimneys or holes for ventilation? Should we try running away through them like people did in the labyrinth of “The Cube“? It’s quite high. We should probably find some shelves, put them on each other, and then help each other to reach the holes. Oh! I can’t squeeze through them. You go up and wait for me!

Icy ground

This office is all covered in ice. I slip and bruise my elbow.

A window

The communist-styled window of this office gives me a hope that I can still get out of here until it gets dark outside…

Ghosts

Ghosts appear on my way. If you want to catch a view by a photo camera in twilight without flash, you need to do a long delay. If something moves in the shot at that moment, it will become pale and blurry as a ghost in the final photo. Theoretically it would be possible to make a ghost-like view in 3D by adding transparency to a model and making copies of it while it’s moving, where each copy would disappear little by little increasing the transparency. I’ll try that at some point in the future, when I start learning 3D modeling and animation. I turn aside…

Mysteriously creepy hall

Oh no! Everything has just started. My heart is bumping.


Location: textiles factory “Vilija”, Vilnius, Lithuania.
Time: January, 2009.
While writing, I was listening to music tagged “creepy”.


Others also were there:

  • Wd40 – correctly photoshopped moods.
  • JOG – the diversity of stuff found there.

Sunday Celebration: the Last Descendant of Space Invaders

The main dish from the Sunday menu is a shmopBroken Garden“. The author K. Thor Jensen gonna create 12 games in a year. This one is the fourth.

Broken Garden

Airplanes of strange shapes (I’ll keep my associations to myself) are called by the names of mythological sinners. They are Adam (the first man created by God), Eve (the first woman created by God), Cain (The first son of Adam and Eve), Lilith (ex of Adam. I’m not sure what kind of creature she was), Judas (the apostle of Jesus), and Satan (angel-manipulator). You choose one and then shoot at all the armies of angels in order to come back to the Gardens of Eden.

Each airplane has one normal and one super gun. The game is divided by levels, where the opponents are shot, and their fragments are collected as experience points. The protagonist has a few lives. Each level ends with a boss, i.e. a large airplane called by the name of archangel Gabriel. After finishing the boss and completing the level, you can buy an additional live or enhance one of the following features for your experience points: the power or speed of your normal gun, or the power or charging speed of your supergun.

If you multiply all you choice options, you get a lot of variations how to complete the game. The choices encourage you to replay and try different combinations.

The gameplay is almost the same as in the shmupXevious” which is of my age. But it doesn’t directly propagate wars among people. In worst case, you could see through the symbols inducing to fight for your rights, no matter what powers try to weaken you. The fiction is original, unexpected, and even shamelessly sacrilegious from the perspective of some religions.. I’m interested how it will end up so I’ll try to reach that Garden.