Category Archives: Games

Iridescence mobile development update

When I was at the Boston Festival of Indie Games with Iridescence, I’d tell anyone who asked about the mobile versions that they were about two or three weeks out. At the time I had every reason to believe that to be the case, but it turned out to be a little more complicated than I had anticipated.

This will be a moderately technical post, so the short version: Iridescence is still coming out on mobile devices (iOS, Android, and even Windows 8 phones), but it won’t be as soon as I had hoped.

Now onto the technical side of things.

Iridescence is written in Haxe, which is a language that aims to act as an intermediary between platforms. Instead of writing C++ for desktop platforms, Java for Android, Objective C for iOS, and C# for Windows phone, Haxe allows you to write in one language for all platforms, translating itself into the one that’s best supported by each target. On top of Haxe comes OpenFL, a framework that mimics the Flash API but has support for OpenGL and runs as a native application. A single codebase, a familiar API, and great performance? Almost sounds too good to be true.

It is.

A week before launch, I plugged in my Android tablet to get a build running. It had been my intention to have a tablet on the exhibition table so people could see the game running on a variety of platforms. I’d had it working in the past without any issues and without having to change a single line of code, so I expected it to be uneventful.

It wasn't.

It wasn’t.

I’m at a total loss to explain what’s going on. At first I thought it was just a matter of the renderer acting up, but the music doesn’t start either. Worse, I get this same behavior if the app is entirely empty. Other games work just fine, so it’s not a problem with the device. On my friend’s brand new Moto X nothing displays at all, so it’s not a matter of the tablet being below required specifications.

I’ve spoken to the OpenFL community and development team to no avail. A new beta version of the framework came out and had the same problem. Worst of all, I tried to roll back to an earlier version that had worked before and I couldn’t even compile. The OpenFL ecosystem is in a constant state of flux, with new build toolchains and dependencies popping up seemingly every time it updates, and the older (working) versions weren’t compatible with the new tools.

At this point it was time to start considering my options.

  • I could hunker down, wait for another OpenFL release, and hope that it would solve my problems.
  • Or I could bite the bullet and port the whole game back to C# (the language I wrote the original gamejam version in) and use Unity.

I’m choosing Unity. I’ll be using the Futile framework, partially because the API is Flash-inspired and will be easier to translate code between, but mainly because it’s a fully code-oriented workflow and only has support for 2D. When I first started working on the improved version of Iridescence Unity still didn’t have support for Linux and doing 2D work was a hassle. Not so any more. When I’m finished, this version will replace the current Windows/Mac/Linux Haxe-based one.

It’ll be a tough road but I’m ready to do what it takes. I leave you with the first step.

long road

Iridescence development visualized

Three name changes, three frameworks, and 33,697 lines of code and data — this video represents 11 months of nearly solo development at the rate of two days per second.

Each dot is a file, and each cluster represents a folder. Green lines represent new files being created, yellow for modifications, and red for deletions. Source code settles out at the bottom left, with level files top right. Audio is up on top near the levels, with an equal number of .oggs and .mp3s to support multiple platforms.

Towards the end it’s obvious that a lot of work is being done on level design, with scattered changes to source code as I fixed last-minute bugs, and a lot of new image files being added as I rounded up screenshots and promotional art.

Created with Gource. Music is “Hongdae” by Lukhash.

Get the game:

Level count isn’t everything

I’m quickly approaching gold status on Iridescence, and with all foreseeable technical work finished, I’m deep in the throes of level design. Originally I had planned to ship with 100 levels, but today I decided to cut that in half and target 50 instead.

Why am I doing this?

I’ve been stuck in this stage of development for a while, actually. Slide had 16 levels when I released it, and I was intent on having significantly more for Iridescence, being as it’s going to be a commercial release and I want people to feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. 100 seemed like a nice round number and I assumed that reaching it would be fairly straightforward.

This is the part where I was wrong. Designing puzzles is actually really hard. You want them to be challenging but still fun, subversive but not unfair, and most importantly they have to mesh with one another as a cohesive whole. On top of all that, the puzzle designer has to learn to work backwards from an interesting solution to a starting state that doesn’t make the goal obvious.

The whole process is very creatively-bound, and it’s impossible (at least for me) to sit to down and just crank out new levels up to a set quota. It’s been hard to keep a steady pace, and the constant awareness of how much more work I have in store hasn’t helped.

While considering all this, I realized that I was coming at this whole process from the wrong direction. In all my favorite puzzle games, the number of levels is irrelevant; the game goes on until it runs out of meaningful things to do, and then it stops. My number one goal in Iridescence’s design is that each level provide some way of stretching the player’s mind; whether that’s by introducing a new system, or subverting assumptions to cause misdirection. This is in direct conflict with having to fill a set number of levels. Some puzzle games are based on a small set of mechanics which are then used in levels that are more about going through the motions than finding something new each time.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but it goes against the philosophy I’ve been building Iridescence around.

In the end, I’d rather make a concise game that does what it sets out to do and nothing more, than a long game that’s full of repetition and filler.

Hypothermia is now on itch.io!

 

A while back I made a little game called Hypothermia for Experimental Gameplay‘s “Temperature” challenge, a game jam of sorts that ran for a week during November/December 2013. It got reviewed by Indie Impressions and Indie Statik, and some guy from China did a Let’s Play of it.

Based solely on download count, it’s my most successful game thus far, but I never managed to find a hosting site for it that was a good fit, so despite it being a flash game anyone who wanted to play it had to download an archive containing the SWF and a web page. Thanks to itch.io, I now have a place to upload it without having to worry about it being blammed by people who don’t understand game jams. ;)

Play it here!

Stuck Scripting overhaul

Early on in the development of Slide (before Iridescence had come to be), I added support for small script files to allow levels to contain more complicated puzzles without running into false positives that caused the reset button to show up while the level was still perfectly solvable. I was using C# at the time, and options for proper scripting languages on the .NET platform are shamefully limited, so I rolled my own.

Here’s a sample of what it looked like:

The use-case for stuck scripts is extremely specific, so the language itself didn’t need too many bells and whistles. All I needed to do at any time was compare the number of game objects of a given color, and check if pawns had a valid path to their targets. The snippet above basically translates like so:

The puzzle is unsolvable if any of these are true:

there are more red pawns than blue
there are more green pawns than blue
there are more blue pawns than green, unless all blue pawns can reach a target
there are more blue pawns than red, unless all blue pawns can reach a target

Needless to say, it’s as ugly as it is functional, and adding new features proved difficult. The inflexibility of the original design meant for some truly impressive hijinks as I tried to implement more complex behaviors with only the original syntax.

Today I stripped the whole system out and replaced it with a new one. Since I’m using Haxe for this remake, I was able to take advantage of hscript, a subset of Haxe that allows for runtime interpretation. Now, the script above looks like this:

Much better.

The original scripting system was designed as a black box, with a minimal number of inputs and outputs. By keeping the interface consistent between implementations, I was able to completely change the underlying code without changing any other aspect of the program. It’s nice to be able to change something so integral to the gameplay without worrying about side effects.

Menu work

This week in development on Iridescence I’ve been focusing on menus, settings, and save data. Here’s what I’ve implemented as feedback when the player tries to open a level that hasn’t been unlocked yet. The animation is inspired by WordPress’ login window, and I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on.

1GAM 2013: Postmortem

2013 is over and, thanks to OneGameAMonth, I managed to finish 12 games over the course of the year. I wanted to talk about each one a little bit.

January — Must’ve been rats!

rats_arcadeJanuary’s game was the result of my participation in the Global Game Jam, working with Chris Logsdon and Paul Ouellette (with voice work by Mike Elser). It was a lot of fun to make despite not entirely fitting the jam theme, and its a lot of fun to play thanks to its overall silliness. I’m really happy with how well it turned out given the limited amount of time and relative complexity of the systems we were working with.

Here’s my full post on this game.

February — Humphrey’s Tiny Adventure: Remastered

htar

I’m still very happy with Humphrey. For the small amount of time I put into it, it’s one of the more polished games I’ve finished and I enjoyed figuring out ways to convey the story without any words. Despite my love for open-ended systems-driven gameplay, point-and-click adventures will always have a special place in my heart due to their role in my childhood, and I’m glad I was able to make one even as minimal as this.

Here’s my full post on this game.

March — No Other Home

dsjChris and I made No Other Home for NASA’s “Dark side of the jam” event that we attended at NHTI. It was pretty ambitious and we ended up taking a bit longer than the initial 48 hours to finish it.

Looking back on it there are a bunch of things I would change to make the gameplay feel better, but overall it’s pretty solid and I love the way the solar system looks.

April — Vanguard Charge

vcVanguard Charge was born from a combination of my frustration with the limitations of Mass Effect’s Vanguard abilities and inspiration from the results of TIGSource’s “Bootleg demake” game jam. The goal was to capture one specific element from a well-known game and present it in a way that feels like a cheap knockoff product. I only spent a few days making this and there’s admittedly not a lot going on, but it’s fun to play and that’s what matters.

May — Bit Cave

bc

Another game jam entry with Chris, this time to celebrate the revival of the Flashpunk forums. I love the atmosphere in this game. The tension between exploring further and staying alive can actually get pretty high, and the caves are unpredictable enough that even I still get lost despite having designed the system that creates them.

 

June — Gunbuilding

gb

Gunbuilding’s caption on my 1GAM profile reads “The worst misnomer of all time”, and that’s no exaggeration. As a game it’s an abject failure. The gameplay is simplistic, the visuals are terrible, and there’s no way to win or indeed any reason to keep playing. The only redeeming quality this game has is that it allowed me to put my C# port of Flashpunk through its paces and fix a ton of bugs.

Here’s my full post on this game.

July — Slide

slide_arcade

I’ve written a lot about Slide elsewhere, so I won’t go into depth about it here. This was a fun game to make because I had to think backwards in order to create puzzles, which gave me a newfound respect for mystery authors and other puzzle game designers. It was received very positively in its initial state and I’m currently expanding it for a commercial release on mobile and desktop platforms.

 

August — MicroRL

mrlMicroRL is another experiment without much in the way of gameplay. I wanted to take the ASCII aesthetic of classic roguelikes and try to make a minimalist game that felt good to play. Since the systems involved were so limited, I had to use some sneaky tricks to create situations that weren’t explicitly allowed, like having friendly monsters that healed you by dealing negative damage. Overall it’s not especially worth playing, but I’m pleased with the way it turned out.

September — SlangVN

svn

My final pure experiment of the year (yes, that is a screenshot on the left). SlangVN was a testbed for my experimental scripting language Slang, in the form of a minimalist Visual Novel engine. Technically I guess I would call this a success since the purpose was only ever to test the expressiveness of the language, but the result isn’t a game by any stretch of the imagination. The script is pretty nice though.

October/November — Color/Shift demo

csd

Part of my strategy for hitting as many platforms as possible with Iridescence (formerly Color/Shift, formerly Slide) was porting it to the Haxe programming language. This release marked the point where the port contained all the features from the original game and could make use of all the same content. I spent part of the second month porting the game to Linux, which (thanks to Haxe’s cross-platform magic) was almost entirely painless.

December — The Heroes’ Tourney (beta)

thtThe Heroes’ Tourney started in yet another game jam and has gone on to become a serious project that I’m still working on along with the other guys on my team, as well as some new talent. So far everyone we’ve shown it to has had a blast playing and we think we might be on to something good. The official website is under construction here.

 

Wrapping up…

It’s been fun participating in 1GAM, and I’m really happy with some of the games that came out of it. Looking back on it, though, I wish I hadn’t followed along so rigidly. Some of the months would have been better spent concentrating on more serious projects instead of stressing about meeting the deadline, and I felt more pressure to polish up my experimental projects to submit them where I probably would have abandoned them earlier otherwise.

In 2014 I’m going to participate more casually, following the revised rules which encourage working on fewer projects for extended periods of time. I’ve got a promising solo project and a great team project to occupy my time for the next few months. We’ll see where it goes from there.

Beta release – The Heroes’ Tourney

There comes a point in the life of every creative person where you create something that feels like the culmination of your craft. It’s your magnum opus, and you’ll never make anything better.

The Heroes’ Tourney felt that way for me. It’s a “couch multiplayer” game for 2-4 players in which you try to punch your friends off of platforms or into environmental hazards.

tourney_arcade

It started in a 24 hour game jam held by SNHU, a college here in New Hampshire. Chris, Mike, and I had decided to make a local multiplayer game and had the basic groundwork up and running. At some point around 12 hours in, Chris and I woke Mike up with our laughter over the absurdity of a certain bug with the physics, and we decided to build the rest of the game around that. The rest is history.

The 24 hour deadline rolled around and our game was a smash hit, despite being nowhere near finished. About a week later, we all met up again at a game jam at NHTI and somehow decided to continue work on THT instead of creating a new game from scratch. This new version included a powerup system that added a whole new dynamic to the gameplay. We had a mini tournament during the wrap up session and it was incredibly rewarding to see other people laughing and taunting each other while they played.

I’ve done some more work on the game since then and we still plan to work on it in the future, but I think it’s finally ready to be thrust out into the world to see how it fares. You can download it here. Make sure to read the readme, and yes, controllers really are required.

PS:

Here are some action shots from our post-thanksgiving dinner tournament.

And here’s my little sister playing against my cousin’s girlfriend.