Sunday, 22 November 2009

Levels, Mechanisms, and Mixing

So, here's something exciting:

The video capture doesn't see the mouse pointer, but this is me bringing up the level select menu, choosing a level, and loading it. The level in question features Hugh (our intrepid protagonist) stepping on a pressure pad, which unleases red paint on a water wheel. The wheel turns, and drives a set of gears (via belts which aren't being drawn yet - oops!), and opens a trapdoor, which lets the red paint flow into a vat of blue paint, mixing to make purple. It's all done in ropey placeholder graphics, which is likely to be the norm for a while, until we find a suitable artist, but there are some pretty cool things happening here:

  • A way to define levels in data files (XML in this case), which is massively speeding up the pace of our work. We're also putting effort into turning this into a fully-fledged graphical level editor.
  • Sensible and sane interactions between fluid and solid things. This is a biggie - it's hugely important to the game, it's taken us months to perfect, but perfect it we have. The wheel turns like you'd expect it to, the crates float. Hugh pushes paint around as he walks (we're not sure if that's going to happen in the final game, but it's pretty cool to watch for now).
  • The beginnings of physics "toys" with which to build the puzzles. Admittedly "step on button, wheel turns, drawbridge opens" isn't much of a puzzle, but it proves that mechanisms like this can work.
  • Paint mixing. We imagine that a fair few puzzles in the game will involve mixing colours of paint which you're not provided with at the start of the level, so getting paint mixing in (and looking reasonably nice, if I do say so myself) is a nice milestone to have hit.
Getting the fluid physics right has taken a painfully long time. But now it's done, things should progress much more quickly from here on in. We've proved it can be done, we've proved (at least to ourselves) that watching this stuff splash around is strangely compelling, and the job of creating cool machinery to interact with the fluid is a considerably faster and more fun process than the mind-melting frustration of hardcore physics R&D. Things are looking up!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

3D Is Dead, Long Live 2D!

One thing that's been on my mind recently is the 3D vs. 2D debate, which is quite an old one. I'm quite comfortable programming and designing games in both 2D and 3D, and I'd say that at this point in my life I've probably worked on roughly equal numbers of both. I think a lot of people don't question it these days - they sort of assume that since the invention of 3D rendering, 2D would increasingly become seen as quaint and outdated, a vestige of limitations of old technology. I'm not sure that's the case at all.

"Why would anybody make a game in 2D these days?", the strawman in my head asks. Well, for indie developers in particular, there could be a few reasons:

  • 2D is easier to program. Not a big deal for me since 3D isn't too much of a stretch, but when people are just starting out in game development it can be a lot to learn.
  • 2D runs on more stuff. A lot of indie games run on limited platforms - Flash, the iPhone, older non-gaming PCs, whatever. Pushing the technology limits your potential audience to only people that have machines that can cope with it. This also applies to some types of games where the tech is processor-intensive enough without even getting into the 3rd dimension. Our game is definitely a case of this - right now my monster development PC gets a thorough workout every time I run a paint simulation through it, although more optimisation can always help with this.
  • 2D art assets are quicker, cheaper and easier to produce. Budgets are Serious Business for indie devs, so this can't be overlooked. A sprite sheet is a LOT easier to put together than a skinned, animated, textured mesh put together in a 3D art package.
  • People like the "retro look". Pixel art is a big deal in certain circles, and can gain you street-cred among a certain "hardcore indie" crowd. I'm not so into that (as detailed below), and I'm hoping that this game is going to look much more hi-fi than lo-fi, but some people dig the pixels, and that's okay.
All of the above is true, but there's something else as well. There's some stuff you can do in 2D that is just better than it would be in 3D, and some ideas that don't even make any sense in 3D. Let's take some of my favourite games, some of which I've already mentioned in other contexts - Braid, Defcon, World of Goo, the first two Oddworld games, Worms, Chaos, old LucasArts adventures, Glum Buster, Bomberman, Passage, the early Sonic the Hedgehog games... What do they all have in common? These are all games that look and play brilliantly in 2D. In some cases, 3D incarnations of those games have been attempted, and have been dismally bad.

If I want to play the retro-but-undisputably classic card, how about Tetris? Pacman? Space Invaders? Want something more contemporary? I think the aforementioned Goo and Defcon suffice pretty well, and both of those games have clever art direction seeping from every pore. But there's another one now. Machinarium. If you've not heard of it, go play the demo. Then buy the game. Then finish it. Then come back. I'll wait.

Done it? Good. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the most visually stunning game you've ever seen? To me, it's jaw-droppingly beautiful (and it's a pretty bloody good game to boot). I don't know if we'll ever have the technology for it to be viable to make something that looks that good in 3D, or if there's even any point in trying. If a Flash game - a Flash game - can be that mindblowing, then why have we been wasting our time on 3D at all?

Take your polygons and shove them up your asset pipeline. 3D is dead; Long live 2D!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The "X"

I don't know how widely known this is, or if they still subscribe to this policy, but Electronic Arts used to (and perhaps still do) have a kind of Zen mantra that they applied to all of their game designs. They call it "The X". The idea is that they come up with a single sentence that describes the Unique Selling Point for any given game. They do this for every game - every throwaway film license game, every iteration of Fifa or Madden, the lot. The X might be character-based, like "Be James Bond in his world of international espionage", or based around gameplay elements like "Battle the forces of Hell with the power of your Rock", or "Parkour across rooftops to overthrow the Authorities", or something. I made these examples up, but I daresay they're not a million miles away from what might have been actual X's for games. Depending on how imaginitive the marketing department are feeling, the X might even end up written unchanged on the back of the box.

The idea behind The X is to provide a common reference point for EA's vast teams of people with all their disparate skills and viewpoints. It's not just the dev team that are made aware of it, but the publishing and marketing folks as well, from the lowliest level scripter right up to the head honchos of the company. It helps to keep a team focussed towards a single goal, and it informs decisions - game design elements which support the X tend to get approved and worked on, whereas extraneous stuff that doesn't fit the X is discarded.

Now, someone who is not a fan of EA games, who heard about this and was feeling uncharitable might argue that The X contributes to the feeling of blandness that comes with many of EA's titles. Their games tend to be incredibly polished and slick, but a bit shallow. They can feel a bit like one-trick ponies, with a single gameplay "hook" that gets pushed in your face, and which may or may not be actually fun, and meanwhile everything else in the game can feel a bit cookie-cutter and tame. Worse still, EA occasionally act as a publisher for exquisite titles developed by other studios, but their normally brilliant marketing team fall flat when they have no X with which to sell the game. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath fell foul of this, and the Oddworld Inhabitants team basically gave up making games shortly after, when the game failed to sell well.

Some games these days seem to wide and complex for an X. The likes of Fallout 3, or Grand Theft Auto IV would be considerably thinner experiences if the developers and publishers had chosen a single thematic or gameplay element and pushed it forward to the exclusion of everything else.

So, it's easy to be down on the concept of The X. It clearly came into being as a way to keep a behemoth of a company focussed when trying to get huge teams to crank out games, so how applicable could it be to apply this approach to tiny indie games?

As it turns out, it seems very applicable, but for different reasons. Primarily it works because indie games are incredibly restricted in terms of manpower, time and budget, and as such need to get right down to presenting the bare bones of what's cool about their game without wasting time on any of the fluff around the edges. Introversion's Defcon is one of my favourite examples of this, and feeds back perhaps to the earlier discussion about "purity" of design - the game is about global thermonuclear war (to quote Wargames, "the only way to win is not to play"), and the game's tagline of "Everybody Dies" sums up the game rather nicely. Although Braid is thematically quite deep and ambiguous, the gameplay has precisely one hook, which could be expressed something like "A Mario game where you can reverse time at will". The Experimental Gameplay Project take this idea even further: For every game, The X is whatever new toy or method of interaction the game demonstrates, and all that's added on top is just enough goals to give that X context and meaning, to turn it from a toy into a game. Experimental Gameplay, of course, spawned Tower of Goo ("Build the highest tower you can from squishy goo balls"), which then spawned the utterly excellent World of Goo. Contrast this with the foolish pitches you hear from wannabe indie devs who want to make "An MMO where you can go anywhere and do anything, and there are 10 character classes and you can customise all your equipment and it's set on Planet Zzryg'Yon...". These ideas have no focus, no single defining feature to underpin the development, and as such are far too ambitious and scrappy to ever see the light of day.

Our game will have an X. It might not be in the form of a specific sentence (although we might formulate one if we feel the need), but the paint physics is what will define this game, at least in terms of the gameplay. A puzzle/platformer is hardly a unique concept in and of itself, but that's okay because I know how to put those sorts of games together, what makes them tick. The platform/puzzler isn't the X. The X is in what kinds of things become possible when your main platform/puzzle element is paint, and I think that the kinds of scenarios we'll be able to present to players is what makes the R&D time developing the paint physics worthwhile.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Purity in games design

I've been having an interesting discussion with a friend of mine. We've been talking about aspects of various games in various genres, and I think I've hit upon a realisation about my own preferences (both in games design and in the games I like to play). I could give big lists of what I like and don't like, but there's a common factor in a lot of it, and that's what I call "purity". It's a kind of minimalism in the amount of "things" (be that pieces, skills, actions, objects) presented to the player. Purity, to me, doesn't mean that the game is simple, or shallow, but that the rules and interactions presented to the player seem straighforward and limited at first, but further explanation reveals a lot more complexity.

I'll give some examples: Chess is a fine game, but with a 64-square board, 16 pieces per player (of 6 different types), all of which have different movement rules, and other rules as well (like en passant, promotion, and castling), there's a lot to it. Okay, it's hardly over-the-top game design, but compare it to something like Go, a game played on a 361-place board, with one type of piece each, where the pieces never move. Arguably Go is the more complex and subtle game. A favourite board game of mine is Nine Man's Morris, where each player has 9 pieces, there are 24 places pieces can move to, the rules are not dissimilar to tic-tac-toe, and the result is a fiendishly, brutally beautiful game of pattern recognition and opportunism. In the world of computer games, Lemmings was a masterpiece, requiring you to learn every subtlety of the eight skills available to you to get through the levels. Lemmings 2: The Tribes provided 51 skills, and although it was a fun game, it felt rougher and looser and shallower for all its various skills. By the time you'd learnt what a skill did, there weren't often further levels that surprised or challenged your preconceptions about what it could be used for.

Archer Maclean's Mercury on the PSP was a puzzle game which impressed me greatly (and, as you might imagine, is something we're looking further into with regards to how to construct our own puzzle designs). Its basis is one of those annoying "get the ball-bearing out of the plastic maze" games you get in Christmas stockings, except that the ball-bearing is made from mercury, and there are a few more elements. The mercury can change colour by combining or going through "paintshop" type objects, and certain triggers and switches are colour-coded. Throw in a few physics-based objects like conveyor belts (and a whole pile of design smarts), and you've got yourself 84 levels of really pure puzzle/physics goodness.

I could go on waxing lyrical about games which feature this kind of purity, but from a design point of view it's perhaps more informative to think about where it comes from. There seem to be two main rules here:

  1. Introduce a small number of "things" (objects, skills, powers, etc) which are the player's toolset for solving the puzzles in the game (or are the things which provide the barriers which provide the puzzles, in the case of something like colour-coded gates). Ensure that, on the surface, these "things" are easily-understood, and seem at first glance to be quite straightforward and well-defined in their potential uses.
  2. As the game progresses, find ways to put these "things" into new contexts and combinations, to make players see them in a new light and start to interact with them in ways they hadn't considered before. The joy of "pure" game design is not to surprise the player with a new object, but rather a new way to perceive an object which they'd previously considered familiar and knowable.
The key to this appears to be to imbue an object with properties whose use only becomes apparent in certain situations. For our game, consider the humble and much-maligned videogame cliche of the crate. I don't know if crates will feature in the final game, but they were the first test objects to go into the engine just because they're so simple: A rigid box which obeys the laws of physics. What could we do with a crate?
  • Crates can be stacked, to provide a "staircase" to higher points on the level
  • They can be used to activate pressure pads
  • They can be pushed into an open door which is on a timed mechanism, to stop it closing
  • They can block up gaps, to prevent (or inhibit) paint from flowing into certain areas, or to build a makeshift dam
  • They can float, providing stepping stones across a treacherous lake of paint
  • They displace paint, so dumping crates into a vat could displace enough paint to make it overflow
  • They can weigh down one end of a seesaw, or be dropped onto it to catapult an object on the other end.
  • They can work their way into large cogs or gears to stop their movement
  • They can be shattered under sufficient strain, for situations where a solid-but-not-indestructible object is needed
  • They can catch fire, and burn/boil things around them
  • They can be thrown/fired at enemies
  • They can be used to hide inside, to avoid guards, or to get mailed deep inside the fortress of the Main Bad Guy
  • They can be deconstructed, and re-nailed together to form a Trojan Horse
  • Imagine barrels! Like a crate, but they can roll!
  • They can contain health and/or ammo ;)
There are probably many more uses for them, and no doubt some of the uses listed above are not applicable to the game we're making. But it serves as a nice example of an object that seems mundane on the surface but which could be used differently in a variety of different contexts and scenarious, hopefully creating some level of joy and surprise in the process. A "pure" game design only needs a few elements like this, working in combination, to provide a lot of different possible puzzles and experiences.

Of course, then it becomes an arms race between the imagination of the game designer and that of the player, to see who is best at thinking up alternative uses for familiar objects, but isn't that part of the fun?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Six Months' Work

Okay, so it doesn't look like much, but (like Transformers) there's more than meets the eye here. Or rather, exactly as much as meets the eye. Click to embiggen (a bit), should you so desire.

This neatly (if unimpressively) shows what's been going on in the Lemon Scented Shed since the video we did in March. It's the same old test level layout, but with a few differences:

  • More particles. 10,000 of them, to be precise (compared to the meagre 3,000 in the video). And they're an awful lot more efficient, and an awful lot more stable and less prone to "explode" than they were before. Fluid physics is always a balancing act between looking cool and behaving stably, but there were broken parts of the underlying maths which have now been fixed.
  • A sensible framerate. We "fudged" the framerate a bit in the last video - in reality the game was struggling to make 20FPS. Now, with more than 3 times the amount of paint, we rock a steady 30FPS as a minimum.
  • Paint-coloured paint. What you're seeing there is a mix of blue and yellow paint, which mixes to make green, which is what you'd expect from a subtractive substance like paint. Previously we were working with a "light based" RGB colour system in which you got yellow by mixing red and green, and if you mixed yellow and blue you got white, which is clearly not intuitive for paint. Now we're using a pixel shader to convert to an RYB colour wheel like they probably taught you in school, and also gave the paint a nice cartoony black outline.
  • The beginnings of a GUI system. The "Hello World" in the top left corner shows that the GUI library (Guichan - we tried using CEGUI but it was far too cumbersome and not at all friendly to add to the project) is in and working. The next step is to expand that into a rudimentary level editor so that we can start building interesting toys and combining them into new test levels in order to prototype and "find the fun". We're quite excited about the prospect of doing that part.
This, hopefully, represents the end of the first really difficult stage. Building toys and levels and gameplay is something which should happen a lot more quickly, relatively speaking, so this should start actually looking like a game (albeit one with horrible programmer art for a while) before too long. Exciting times!

Friday, 14 August 2009

What Will the Factory Look Like?

I have a strange form of kleptomania. Every now and then, I'll find myself browsing the internet, and find a link to a gallery of interesting images, and without any conscious thought as to why I'm doing it, I email myself the link to the page, to squirrel it away for viewing later on. I have no idea why I do this, but there seems to be a method to my madness (or, at least, a pattern to my preferences). Going back through my stash of links, the most prevalent galleries seem to be of Steampunk concept art, unusual places found by urban explorers, and galleries of Cold War era technology (both the Soviet stuff and the American stuff, although for the most part the Russian technology seems to incur a greater sense of grandeur).

Here are some examples:
American Titan missile bases
The Russian Space Museum
Pripyat, Ukraine - A ghost town abandoned in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.

Now, I'm no artist (Lemon Scented Games will be looking to hire one at some point, when enough of the game is ready with placeholder art), but perhaps the reason I collect this stuff is as concept art, or fuel for ideas. Which is odd, because in my mind's eye the game has a kind of comic-book/graffiti art kind of style, and the factory in which much of the game happens is some kind of hybrid between Black Mesa and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. But maybe, just maybe my subconscious is telling me that if there was a way to take this Cold War style of machinery (it's not quite steampunk, it's... Atompunk?) but transplant it into the painted style of the game, the result could be something really breathtaking.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

On Fashion

I've been thinking about what's been fashionable, or what has been fashionable in various areas of game development. I've drawn no solid conclusions, except that fashion is something which is perhaps overlooked a lot of the time by developers and people who play games (I hesitate to use the word "gamers", since that in itself has become unfashionable). Off the top of my head, I can think of a lot of aspects of games which became fashionable, enjoyed a period of popularity, and then fell out of favour somewhat.

- Point & Click adventure games. Became cool in the early-to-mid 90s as a more colourful extension of text adventure games. Fell out of favour when it was widely realised that one overly annoying puzzle could completely halt progress in a game and that the only fix was a walkthrough, which somewhat detracts from the experience. The last great adventures were Grim Fandango and The Longest Journey, right at the end of the '90s. They're enjoying a bit of a comeback now due to the works of Telltale Games, but they feel a bit watered-down in their recent incarnations.

- Lens Flare. I forget when this was first introduced, but in my mind it's cemented as being a hallmark of Sega games (and other vendors of Blue-Sky games) in the mid '90s, as a way of emulating the effects of sunlight on a real-life camera. Graphical tricks have a history of being incredibly cool at the time, and then getting old fast: parallax scrolling, rotoscoped animation, particle systems, bump mapping, HDR lighting, depth of field... All of these things look like wonderful innovations at the time, but get tired quickly.

- Physics. Games have had physics since Spacewar, but for a while having a particularly realistic physics engine was a selling point. It was happening before, but for me, Half Life 2 was the first thing that really made my jaw hit the floor. Now, realistic physics are practically expected in many genres even if they add little to the gameplay, and a game which advertises its physics as a selling point is generally very focussed on the physics and little else (for instance, the Jenga-esque joy of Boom Blox). Physics is still hot stuff right now though, so long as you're willing to sufficiently raise the stakes -which is part of the reason we're doing fluid physics. We feel half-annoyed, half-vindicated by the fact that the makers of PixelJunk Shooter feel the same way.

I suppose it's a good thing for an indie to try to tap into an upcoming fashion in order to get recognition. Braid wasn't the first game to feature time manipulation, but it was early enough to get recognised for it - perhaps in a few years everyone will have jumped onto the time manipulation bandwagon and it'll be an old, tired concept. Something like Crayon Physics, on the other hand, took long enough to be released that although it's a brilliant game, it felt a bit "old" on release, because of all of the clones that shamelessly preceded it, and because games in general have begun to take physics plaything for granted. On the one hand, indie games have the flexibility and bravery to enter uncharted (or at least under-explored) new territories in gameplay and innovation, and profit from mapping them; on the other hand, indie developers might not have the means to get a game to market before today's New Cool Thing(tm) becomes tomorrow's Old News.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Money Money Money

There are a few reasons I started this blog. Partly it's because it's hopefully going to become a place where I can document my thoughts on game design, partly a place to show progress in the game that Lemon Scented is working on, and partly as a promotional tool for said game. Whilst it's weird right now feeling like I'm blogging into the void, because at the time of writing this, I have no readers I know of, I know that it's important to continue this endeavour alongside writing the game. The theory goes like this - there are two options about how Lemon Scented Games operates on the web:

1) I focus all my time on actually writing the game, and never update the blog/site. When I have a big announcement to make about the game, nobody will notice because nobody will have heard about Lemon Scented Games or what we're working on. If the news does get carried on other indie games blogs, people might come to visit the site, see that there's nothing else going on there, and forget about it.

2) I feel like a lemon (pun semi-intended?) blogging to nobody at all, in the hope that some people will stumble across this place and be interested in what they read. When an announcement gets made about the game, there is at least a context in which to frame that announcement, and when people visit the site, they'll see that "stuff" is happening here, and might perhaps decide to bookmark the place and check in from time to time.

Option 2 is clearly preferable, and that being the case, now seems as good a time as any to start posing questions to you, the person reading this. You might be reading this months after I post this, but stuff never really disappears on the internet, so now is as good a time to respond with your opinions as any.

When I started this blog, Blogger asked me if I wanted to "monetise" my blog with adverts, and I've been giving the matter some thought. My initial response was a gut feeling that putting ads on the site would somehow detract from the "Indie-ness", that somehow I'd hurt my "indie credentials" by accepting a bit of money (assuming the readership ever swells to those numbers) for advertising other peoples' stuff. But then I got to thinking that Indie games need to be inventive with their revenue streams, and that perhaps a bit of advertising on the side could be no bad thing.

This post about making money from indie games got posted recently. It's pretty grim reading. In fairness, our target platform is PC (initially, at least), and we're hoping to eventually get the kind of interest that might get us entered into a few Indie competitions, perhaps a conversation with Valve about getting distributed via Steam, but that's a long-shot, and even then isn't a guarantee at success. Perhaps our game can never make enough money? I wonder about alternative revenue models, like the Charityware of the excellent Glum Buster, or this idea about Ransomware, or the Pre-ordering which I guess fuelled some of the development of World of Goo, as well as provided them with beta testers... Perhaps this idea of "make game, sell game for money, try not to worry about the inevitable piracy" model is a bit too simple, and we should be looking at other ways to fund things?

Perhaps we will. Right now I'm just a guy with an out-of-date YouTube video of a tech demo, so it hardly seems right to burden this place with adverts or ill-concieved PayPal links, but the question of funding is an interesting one (to me, at least). It seems at the moment that the only way to survive is to either have a huge multinational corporate publisher backing you, or to be making games so small and cheap that you need to sell very few to make it worthwhile, and that trying anything in between is a path fraught with financial danger and spiralling credit card debts. I'm sure a successful business model will emerge for bigger-than-trivially-tiny indie games, but right now I'd be hard-pressed to predict what that will be. Any ideas?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The White Man

I try to read a bunch of interesting game blogs, because they can provide some interesting food for thought. One blog I read regularly is GamePolitics, which today ran a piece about some research about depictions of race and gender in games which came to the conclusion that the vast majority of games depict white male characters. Setting aside the games in which the player avatar is an anthropomorphosised animal, the disembodied hand of a whimsical deity, or a vehicle of some kind, this is something which generally rings true, and it's hardly new information that games have a tendency towards racial and gender bias. Game designers, myself included, generally follow stereotypes of their own - typically the nerdy kids who were bullied in school, and who never quite grew up into Proper Grown-Ups who have a Real Job. Games can be pretty infantile, sometimes to the point of being downright offensive, and I think it's because more often than not (and I'm aware I'm generalising here) they're made by white males who never quite grew out of their awkward teenager period, and consequently only know how to make games for awkward white teenage boys.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the protagonist in Lemon Scented Games' current work-in-progress. In my mind, the protagonist is a white male - perhaps because I am one myself, and my "default setting" when called-upon to imagine a human character is to imagine something a bit like myself. But the game is in such early stages, the protagonist could be altered to be anyone. Perhaps I could be a bit more open-minded, and make my character black, or latino, or asian, or a woman or someone with a disability? Perhaps it could be a white guy, but be gay, or a lesbian?

I considered this idea, but right now I'm not sure I can run with it. A lot of the character's attributes and personality is up for grabs right now, but there are a few things I need in order to tell the story I want to tell:

1 - They work in a paint factory
2 - They have a family
3 - They are a recognisable archetype: not someone who the player would aspire to become, particularly, but the kind of person that the player can easily identify aspects of in themselves, or in someone they know.

It's surprising how limiting those things can be from a storytelling perspective, in choosing a character. As an indie developer, the games have to be very much focussed around one or two core ideas because there just isn't the time to add more (not to mention that adding stuff which is extraneous to the central core idea or mechanic just strikes me as plain bad design). If I made the protagonist a black, or hispanic, or asian factory worker, I'd be worried about how that would look in the context of people who earn a living working in factories, and I don't want to tell a story about how racial discrimination affects the kind of jobs people can get. I've worked in factories, so it's something I know about. If I made a game about someone of a different ethnicity working in a factory, I'd be worried that I'd be perceived as making some kind of statement I didn't intend to make.

If I make the protagonist gay, I'd feel like I had to explain how they came to have a family, and that seems extraneous to the story I want to tell as well. I guess the protagonist could be a woman, but frankly I've tried writing female characters before, and I'm appalling at it - and, although I'd hope that some people who would play this game are women who are breadwinners for their family, who would identify with a female protagonist (assuming I could get some help to make the writing convincing), I can't help but wonder whether the male players would wonder why their avatar is an ordinary woman rather than the leather-clad gun-toting vixens they're used to.

So, although this game won't be among those that is progressive in terms of depictions of the protagonist, I think a white male is the "default setting" blank canvas I need to tell this story. I feel like anything else would be tokenism, or would require extra storytelling which would detract from what I really want to say. While I was writing this post, I was thinking about Jason Rohrer's excellent game Passage, and wondering whether he ever considered making the couple in it multiracial, or gay. I suspect not - although if he did consider it, I can only presume he decided against it because it was extraneous to his story of the interplay between life, death, companionship and happiness. Perhaps it's the case that in some games, the choice of a white male protagonist is just lazy or pandering to an audience, but perhaps in other cases it's an attempt (flawed though it may be) to have a "default setting" to tell a story which doesn't need to concern itself with overtones about race or gender or sexuality.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Story So Far

It feels sort of weird starting a new blog now, given how long we've been working already. But I imagine people are probably new to Lemon Scented Games and what we're doing, so I'll start from the beginning.

My name is Jack Sinclair, and I make games. I've been making games for about 20 years now - some of them were even for Proper Reputable Companies You Would Have Heard Of(tm), and sold quite well, but a lot of them were made in my room and sold independently. I was doing this before The Internet became famous, when games got advertised in paper magazines, and when people would post me cheques in exchange for me sending them hand-copied floppy discs by snail-mail. I feel old. Anyway, a lot of that stuff stopped for many years whilst I went out and got a degree and a series of "real jobs", but at some point in 2007, some friends and I thought that it would be good to get back into it. We spent a looooooong time arguing about designs, and trying out ideas, but at the start of this year we settled on the game we want to make, and Lemon Scented Games was born. This blog is about the making of that game.

It doesn't have a name yet; or rather, it has a working title, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to share it yet, because working titles have a tendency to sometimes be a bit misleading. Anyway, it's about a guy who works in a paint factory. "Why, that's an incredibly dull profession for a videogame protagonist", I hear you remark. Well:

a) Mario is a plumber. A plumber. And people still like his games.

b) This paint factory has been designed according to the Willy Wonka school of factory design. Imagine that you're Gordon Freeman, but that Black Mesa isn't a research facility for theoretical physics, but a research facility for outstanding interior design, and maybe you're getting close. Or maybe not.

Anyway, Lemon Scented Games has been really quiet on the Internet for a while, mostly because I've been struggling with paint physics, which is an astonishingly difficult thing to get right. Here's what we had working back in March:

That video was kind of a fake. Well, not quite a fake, but an optimistic rendition of what we had. Paint physics means modelling fluids. There are two approaches to doing fluids, and the one we've chosen is to do it as a particle system, using the impressively-named "smoothed particle hydrodynamics". This can be quite a strain even on a modern PC, and what that video shows is 3,000 particles of fluid at about 20 frames per second, which we sped up a bit to 30FPS in the video as an idea of what we thought the engine might be capable of. After another 4 months of really hard work, we've got that up to 10,000 particles running at 30FPS on a processor, or considerably more than that if we do all of the physics on a graphics card. The fluid physics is also a lot more stable now - you'll notice at points in the video (particularly at the end) the tendency for the paint to 'Asplode everywhere under certain circumstances. We've got that worked out now.

Long story short, we reckon we can have a lot of paint splashing about all over your screen, and we're confident that we can make a kick-ass game out of it. Expect new updates soon showing a bit of what the latest version is capable of, and keep checking in for my random thoughts about game design and programming. I hope that as well as talking about the game, this place can become somewhere to visit for anyone with an interest in indie games, or game development in general.

Hello, World!

Testing, testing... One, two... One, two...