Saturday, September 22, 2007

thatgamecompany's Flower

Friends from thatgamecompany have been busy working on a game called Flower. Derek Yu from TIGSource puts it best: "it looks quite evocative, although little is known about how it actually plays." I would like to add that the visuals look to be inspired by Boring 3D (a GOOD thing). That guy freaking rules, and I think he should at least get some props in the credits. The teaser tailer for Flower seems to suggest that the player will be some form of organic matter doing something related to pollinating flowers, though one can't be sure.

Ever since I watched the anime series Last Exile in May, I've wanted to make a game where the entire experience took place in a peaceful, endless field. Well, I also love walking through the grass with my bare feet on, so that could have something to do with it, too. :) Apparently TGC is one step ahead of me. If that's the case, I know exactly what their next game after Flower is going to be.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Metaplace - MMOs and Virtual Worlds Made Easy?

It's slightly old news by now, but I just found out about Metaplace today, the project that Raph Koster and the rest of Areae has been working on all this time.

The website claims that you'll be able to explore these easily-created virtual worlds without having to download anything. I'm guessing what they mean is without having to download anything if you already have some existing clients installed. Unless it uses the Metaplace client that is, which it probably will for 3d stuff. But otherwise, the platform can piggy-back off of some existing client, which is great. That kind of accessibility will definitely give Metaplace some long term chances of succeeding.

I'm really excited to see where this project goes. At the very least, it's a cool thing to use for prototyping some online gameplay. However, if it was a decent platform, it could allow people to quickly make successful multiplayer games or generate cool online spaces. And it could bring in revenue, too.

If the performance and security is decent, it could be another alternative to SmartFox for a server-side solution to Flash multiplayer games.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Contract Work As A Means of Inspiration

A lot of people who try to start their own businesses, especially in game development, talk about the dangers of doing contract work. It can be dangerous because, as a wise man, Adrian Sannier, once told me, "Contract work can become an IV needle stuck in your arm pumping cash right into your veins. Once you get that needle in your arm, it's hard to take it out."

His point was that you can get into a lucrative cycle with contract work, where you try to use it to raise money for your business, but really just end up continuing to do it since it's more secure and cushy than starting your own game company.

However, as Mike and I have experienced in the last couple days, it has some great benefits that can be used for your game company. Besides the obvious extra money, the main one we noticed is inspiration for innovative game ideas.

Depending on the type of work involved, contract work can be a great means of inspiration. Mike and I have been taking a little time here and there to get going on a logo animation for Nate Beaird's company Tri-Factor. Nate is a friend I met at Immersion here in Des Moines. He wanted an animation that involved some pixie-like particles swirling around to form his logo, which is based on a triquetra, an ancient symbol commonly used in Christianity to represent the Trinity.

I don't really have access to After Effects or Motion, so I figured I could just use Flash to set things up. And of course Mike's programming prowess would ensure the animation behavior was appropriately awesome. So Mike and I teamed up to tackle the project.

We're very satisfied with the result so far (we're not finished), which I've uploaded to our website: Tri-Factor logo animation. Please note that performance is a bit slow at this point, so change the quality to Low if you're running into problems. Shown at left is some frames captured at full-screen.

Once things started to come together yesterday, Mike and I realized how great it would be to use this in a game somehow. I realized that doing small jobs like this could definitely help people come up with ideas that they wouldn't normally come up with.

With this in mind, I've established some guidelines for choosing contract work that can inspire your game ideas:

1. Have enough time to finish the job (and do it well). This is a service for other people, so you should take it very seriously. It can be easy to get wrapped up with lots of other things, so make sure you've set aside time to work on it.

2. Keep the projects small. Yes, you want to set aside time to work on it, but don't go too far. This is stuff you're doing on the side to get inspired. The main goal is to create your art/product, so make sure your time is divided to represent that.

3. Keep the work relevant. If the work is going to inspire you, it should be somewhat relevant to your field, i.e. game development. In our case, the work is an animation, and we made it interactive. The interactive part is what can be the most inspiring.

4. Keep the work creative. A Flash website for an accounting company might be interactive, which is relevant, but it's not the most creative work you can do. By choosing something creative, you are giving yourself the opportunity to solve problems in a more artistic way. This will exercise the right side of your brain, which you do when you're trying to think of unique game ideas. In my experience, creative projects tend to inspire the most.

5. Get paid reasonably. You're devoting time and hard work to this, so make it worth it. Besides, you're likely poor and you need the money anyway.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Progress Update

Our apologies for the lack of posting over the last two weeks. Here's a rundown of what we've been up to.

After working on the press kit a little, we did some more business stuff to make sure we're going to be ok with Uncle Sam and protected from the "unknown unknowns," as it is referred to in The Boondocks. Our lawyer Rush Nigut has helped out a lot with that. Thanks Rush.

Mike has been working on Professor Porpoise: Adjunct Faculty Advisor to the Apocalypse, mainly as a means to continue developing features for Melba Toast. He managed to get a simple scoring and health system in, in addition to spawning ships, one type of which shoots at you. He also implemented some awesome explosions that we've made in the past, which even shake the screen. So PP:AFAA is now made of action-packed awesomeness.

PP:AFAA explosion closeup

Check out PP:AFAA here (pardon the debug lines). We've decided to treat PP:AFAA as a side project that we're going to pick at from time to time when we need a quick break. It will be developed more and more down the road. Hopefully we'll get to see some of Ted's awesome concepts in action.

An interesting side note about this early version: It's not fully optimized for performance yet, being so early on in development, but, yesterday I found out that Adobe has released a new beta update of Flash Player 9. I was amazed at the performance increase it has with PP:AFAA. Previously, with a few explosions going off at once, my Macbook Pro 2 Ghz Core Duo would drop down to 10fps or so. With the new beta Flash Player, the game doesn't get much below 24fps. I think game developers who are working on Flash games will really be excited when this new version gets released officially. I know I am.

Ted, Greg, and I have been spending much of the last couple weeks concepting, mostly for Dinowaurs. One of these days we'll compile stuff together and maybe post it up for all to see. Greg is now officially in Rome, too. It was sad to see him go, but sometimes you just have to let go. He'll be coming back to the nest soon enough. Be careful out there, Greg!

I've also been learning ActionScript 3.0 from a couple books, including an awesome one by Colin Moock, Essential ActionScript 3.0. His ability to explain the meaning behind things is great. Anyone who has a beginner-level knowledge of programming concepts or higher and is interested in learning about ActionScript 3.0 will really enjoy the book.