Wednesday 22 December 2010

new video

In bed sick and coughing (thanks to sleeping in an airport full of coughing people), no motivation to accomplish anything productive, so I made a new video for Vertex Dispenser.

Wednesday 15 December 2010


A couple of months ago, agj came up with the idea of getting a few people to each make a game, and then each release another person's game in a ring of deception. And so it happened that four games were made, inspired by the theme "Masquerade", and released:
Face Time
The Sense of Connectedness

We chose not to explicitly lie by claiming to have made the games ourselves, and instead to just post them with a vague note like "here's a new game". The main purpose was just to have some fun and make some games, not to trick people.

I had very much expected that someone would spot the deception, but in retrospect it makes sense that nobody did - none of us are particularly well-known, so it wasn't likely someone would spot "that game is in X's style", and it's not at all uncommon for people to try out new styles and programming languages. Also, some of the people who are most familiar with our personal styles were already in on the plan.

(Feel free to try the games and attempt to match them to their authors before reading further, but from 16th Dec onwards some of the games will display their author.)

It's been quite a weird experience, and I'm struggling to write down my mixed feelings in any kind of coherent order.

My game The Sense of Connectedness got quite a bit of positive attention from around the internet - it's probably been my most successful game so far. But since it hasn't been under my own name, I've felt a sense of disconnectedness from it - it's still my game, I've just felt it a bit less. But instead, I feel a sense of identification with all four games, and I've taken personally the response to each of them - it's as though the feeling of ownership I'd usually have for my own game has gotten smeared around the ring. I feel the least connection to Ascension, perhaps because it's furthest from me around the cycle.

I've felt guilty that my game's gotten so much more of a positive response than the others have (and also a bit proud for the same reason, and then guilty again for feeling proud).
I've wondered if I should have done more to promote agj's Doppelganger, and if it's partially my fault that it's had the least response of any of the four games - should I have written more about it? Was Kongregate the wrong site for it? (Do people just not like me very much?)
Noyb's been feeling guilty as well - at seeing praise for my game directed towards him, and at seeing negative comments towards his game directed at Jonathan..
I think it makes sense that guilt is a common theme, because we've conspired to commit a deception, and even though we meant it in fun, it's still somehow transgressive (and the fact that we didn't explicitly lie doesn't really make a difference; we've still intentionally deceived people).

The following I'm not enjoying writing, but I'm going to anyway because I think it's worth exploring all the feelings that have come out of this experiment:
I resent the praise for my game having been directed at Noyb. Not in a big way, but it's there.
Partially this is explainable - I'd love to be able to make a living making games, and while marketing isn't something I value much, it does kind of matter. I fear that I've missed an opportunity to get my name in front of a bunch of people, to advertise myself and thus improve my chances of success as an "indie developer".
But largely it doesn't make any sense at all, it's just a crazy subconscious jealousy that he's getting the 'reward' for my work.
These aren't feelings I'm comfortable with having.
But they're just stupid irrational feelings, and in my intellect I don't mind at all. And it's actually helped me to think about what I consider most important, and to realise that ultimately I care way more that I've affected people with my art than whether they have any idea who I am.

I've dwelt too much on the negative here; there's been a lot of good as well. The feeling of community with my co-conspirators has been great, and reading people's comments on my game has been really nice - thanks everyone! And the most important thing is that we made some games that we wouldn't have otherwise. So while it hasn't been entirely a positive experience, it was definitely worth doing - I did consider backing out a few days before we released the games, and I'm glad I didn't.

The others have written up their thoughts after the experiment as well:

Wednesday 1 December 2010


New flash game:

kongregate link

It's more sort of a weird interactive art/toy than a 'game'. Uses webcam.

edit: I didn't make this, it's actually the work of agj, see Masquerade.

Friday 26 November 2010

Vertex Dispenser levels

Vertex Dispenser uses 3d models for its levels - the vertices and polygons of the models are the nodes of territory that you fight over. Quite a variety of levels are possible, but game balance and feel push towards particular kinds of level - moving around on the surface feels best if it's fairly smooth and homogeneous, the colouring rules constrain the degree of vertices, non-triangular faces are very weak, combat works best if the perimeter of a player's territory is in good proportion to the amount of territory (so a player who's winning is vulnerable to attack on more possible fronts). Also, it plays best with around 150-250 vertices - much less and there's no room to build up, much more and the game drags on after one player's already clearly won. And in some vague way, since players impose a lot of structure on the level through their actions in the game, it just kind of feels better for there to be less inherent structure as well.

All this means that the two levels i've found to work best are a plane grid, and a fairly regular sphere (from blender's "icosphere" primitive). Higher-genus surfaces don't work well at all - the torus is acceptable (though not great), and past that you just can't get enough smoothness without having too many vertices.

For some of the campaign levels I've used more intricate models, which work okay for levels with specific goals rather than a full battle to eliminate opposing players. Playtesters have had some difficulty with these though, and even a little with the sphere, so I've made the initial levels use a flat plane, and gradually worked up to other shapes. But then a few weeks back I was showing the game to a few people at the London Indies meetup, and a couple of guys who'd seen it before expressed disappointment at these 2d levels: the unusual shapes of levels are what they'd thought looked cool about it, so in making it more playable I make it less attractive!

I've been working on the final campaign level - originally I had a boss fight against Smestorp, but it turns out that fighting a big enemy with lots of hit points isn't fun in this game so I've had to invent something new - and as well as the above constraints, the design I have for the level requires that a particular subgraph appears, plus a visual effect I want to use looks best if the level is convex. I'd kind of wanted to make a "special" looking level for the ending, but so far I haven't found anything other than a sphere that will work.

Monday 18 October 2010

what I've been up to

* I'm now a part-time student. This is partially because I'm moving to a different country from where I'm studying and it'll make things less complicated, and partially to give myself more time to spend making cool stuff. (So I should finally be able to finish Vertex Dispenser!)

* I submitted Vertex Dispenser to the IGF again. I don't feel like I've done a year's worth of work on it since last year, but I have dealt with the main issues that hurt it last time around (i.e. difficulty, lack of a proper tutorial), so I think my chances are better at least. Also, the judging system has been improved, and I think the new system is more favourable to niche games (because they're selected by a jury, rather than by assigning arbitrary numeric scores and taking the average), so who knows? I definitely got something out of entering last year anyway, even though it didn't place.

* Had a couple of my games featured in an exhibition last month: the start show. Pretty cool!

* I've been working on an album of smaller games, each a few minutes long, full of psychedelic sound and colour. I'm taking a "games as rock music" simile and trying to push it as far as it'll go - with hidden tracks, remixes, b-sides, etc.

* Computer has decided to break down again, I guess this was inevitable. So I've bought a shiny new one and am waiting for it to show up.

* Playing a lot of Dominion and Shadows over Camelot.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

list of games

edit: I'm no longer maintaining this list. List of games is at

the purpose of this post is to list all of my released games.
I try to keep it arranged in approximate order of interest.


Vertex Dispenser
available on Steam
"spectacularly clever" - Jim Rossignol

Glitch Tank
fast-paced glitchy action-strategy game for iPad
available on AppStore


unfinished album
includes some of the games below: TSoC, KPSJ, HM, B2010

Exuberant Struggle
Versus game for TIGSource

The Sense of Connectedness
for Masquerade

Knot-Pharmacard Subcondition J
bricolage game for The Games Collective

Hyperabuse Monolith
S.C.U.M. game for The Games Collective

Babeltron 2010
S.C.U.M. game for The Games Collective

Death Lights Dancing
lovecraftian rowing game
for tigsource commonplace book competition

Smestorpod Infestation
based on connecting up networks to power things
no sound, cool mechanics

Glutton Quest
my first game with 3d graphics, kind of interesting but a bit glitchy

Chango: Chaos Penguin
turn based strategy retro mashup
Chaos/Pango mashup for Retro Remakes

7 day roguelike
nethack modification
just trying out a mechanic.

webcam game thing

(not mine)

hey, completeness. except my old BASIC games, which don't seem to run anymore. and maybe some java crap, but nothing important and java can piss off.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Chango: Chaos Penguin

Started this for a Retro Remakes competition in 2008, just dug it up again and had a go at finishing it off in the last couple of days. Basically it's a mashup of Chaos: Battle of the Wizards with some other old games, mainly Pango.

I'm still fixing bugs and making lots of changes hoping to make it vaguely balanced. Currently it's two-player only, I'll have a go at enlarging that range sometime.


Edit (28/09): Updated. Still to do: fix more bugs, AI.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Dominion, segueing into Prestige

I've realised some other reasons my first couple of plays of Dominion were not very good.
- The first game was 2-player, and my opponent had put out all 12 of each type of victory card (in 2-player games you're only supposed to use 8 of each); this served to make the game drag on for much longer after I'd already lost.
- The second game was 5-player, and the game actually only supports 2 to 4 players. The official rules for playing with 5 players say "play two games of 2 and 3 players". They then go on to specify how many cards to put out if you insist on playing with 5, but strongly recommend against it, particularly if any of the players are not experienced (as I was not). We didn't actually even play according to these rules, but rather by some ad-hoc house-ruled 5-player variant.
I was not aware that we weren't playing by the "proper rules" at the time, and it certainly helps to explain why my experience was not so good.

I'm not opposed to house-rules in general, but I feel like people often prematurely make up house-rules before they understand how a game works.
I've noticed this quite a bit recently in the BoardGameGeek discussions about the latest RFTG expansion (The Brink of War). This expansion adds a new resource called "prestige" to the game, which can be gained as a one-off bonus for putting certain marked cards into play, or generated repeatedly by using certain card powers, and gives a small bonus each turn to whoever has the most of it. A lot of threads have started up discussing how prestige is overpowered, unbalanced, broken, and suggesting various changes to "fix" it.
Amusingly, one common suggestion is to make the Prestige Lead bonus give cards instead of points every turn. This betrays a complete lack of understanding of the game; cards are worth a lot more than points, particularly near the start of the game (when there's most variance in terms of somebody getting the prestige lead easily because of the luck of initial draws). So this proposed "weakening" of prestige actually makes it stronger! But these people are playing with this variant and not minding; feeling like they've fixed the problem and prestige isn't overpowered anymore. And maybe they have fixed the problem - because the problem was in their heads the whole time: if everyone believes that prestige is all-powerful, they will focus their efforts on gaining it; but since prestige only pays off for the leader, those who have spent resources on gaining prestige and have failed to become the leader end up behind; a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So it's an interesting example of an unstable equilibrium. As long as all players pursue Prestige strategies, the Prestige Leader will tend to win, reinforcing the view that Prestige-based strategies are the strongest. But as soon as someone tries a different approach (like using strategies that were already strong before this expansion) this illusion will be broken. I'd think that in a game that takes up to half an hour there'd be little cost in trying something different - if it doesn't work out, never mind, you haven't spent much time on it (this is one of the reasons I strongly favour short games - you can fit so much more learning in) - but it seems that some people will try the same approach over and over again, no matter what they draw.

It's something to think about when designing games. You can't guarantee that someone's initial experience will be good, and no matter what you do people might just make up house-rules that overturn your efforts (this is much less of a problem with videogames). You can't guarantee that people will figure out the best strategies and not get stuck on local maxima (even in the third expansion, apparently). But it's worth doing your best to avoid these types of problem anyway.

Monday 23 August 2010

Vertex Dispenser: explosions

Rob Fearon wrote recently about how to make explosions more awesome.

I was inspired to make my explosions more awesome.

It seems that the trick to making cool explosions is layering multiple different types of particles. I used to just have one type of particle for each explosion, and now I mostly have three or four. Lines bursting out from the centre, expanding rings, fireworks..

This doesn't actually get the game any closer to being finished.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Vertex Dispenser: progress!

I've started doing some bits and pieces on Vertex Dispenser again, after having done nothing on it for several months. I'm going to finish it, dammit! I've actually fixed some of the problems in the network code, which is awesome (but it still crashes sometimes, more to do there) and I've done some work on the campaign - mostly trying to get the difficulty right, but in the process I've also made some of the level designs a bit weirder and scattered more shiny particle effects around:

I think it's an improvement. Possibly I have just gone mad.

Tuesday 3 August 2010


I've played Dominion quite a few times in the last couple of days, and have been pleased to find that it's actually a good game. I had played it twice previously, and formed a quite low opinion of it despite wanting to like it because of the cool deck-building mechanic.

Most of the reason for my false impression is because I had gotten quite the wrong idea about the "Attack cards". Each time you play, you select ten card types to have available to be bought, giving variety between games. For my first game, the guy teaching me chose not to include any attack cards (actions that cause a negative effect for other players) because I hadn't played before. From this I got the idea that attack cards were like takeovers in Race for the Galaxy - an minor additional aspect giving some negative interaction between players, but with there still being a complete game without them. In my second game, the only attack card in play was the Bureaucrat (place a Silver card on top of your deck from the supply, and each other player places a scoring card on top of their deck from their hand). Scoring cards are dead weight during the game, only providing points at the end, so being forced to draw one twice slows you down very slightly. There was also the Moat (protects from attack cards if in your hand). My opponents bought lots of Bureaucrats and Moats, and there was a lot of attacking and blocking going on that didn't seem to make any difference as I won the game by quite a margin because I bought scoring cards instead. Thus I gained the impression that attack cards had no significant effect even when you did choose to play with them.

Without attack cards (and a couple of other cards like the Council Room, which lets other players draw a card while you draw four), the only interactions between players in the game are: 1) the cards of each type can run out (not very significant) and 2) the game ends when three types of cards run out OR when the 6-point scoring cards run out (very significant, but not very deep). So the strategic options basically come down to "build a powerful card combo that will get you lots of points once it gets going" or "try to end the game quickly with more points before someone's combo gets going". There is complexity in figuring out how best to do these with the cards available and the cards you draw each turn, but it doesn't depend on what the other players have, just on when they score points or end the game.

However, it turns out that with more attack cards there is quite a bit of depth in terms of how you build your deck to protect against them, and conversely in whether opponents decks are sufficiently vulnerable to them to be worthwhile. The Thief, for example, examines the top two cards of each opponent's deck and destroys any treasure cards found, stealing one of them. If an opponent has Thieves, you can protect yourself by not having many treasure cards for them to hit, instead relying on actions like the Market to provide buying power. (And conversely, if someone has used the Chapel to thin their deck and increase their chances of drawing treasure, then the Thief also becomes a more reliable choice for you.) Discovering this corrects another false impression I'd received from my second game - when choosing which cards to have, someone had said something to the effect of "you can't have attack cards without the Moat", which is ridiculously naïve - there is plenty of subterfuge you can do to defend without a blunt wall to hide behind. (In fact, I disagree entirely with choosing the cards available, and believe the correct way to select them is randomly.)

The UI still seems very very poor after playing RFTG, but this is starting to become invisible now that I know most of the cards (though I have yet to master the bizarre "alphabetical ordering" system used in the box layout). And the problem of someone having already won quite a while before the game actually finishes seems to be diminishing, from playing with a group of people of similar skill level above some minimum threshold. Overall I am satisfied.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Random stuff

Just screens of a few random things I've been messing around with:

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Hyperabuse Monolith

A second game on the S.C.U.M. theme. This is a game about harassing people in the street. Again, the visuals are where I want them to be, but the gameplay isn't quite. It's more like a "proper game" though, has a score and everything!
(my best is 16130, but higher should certainly be possible.)

Hyperabuse Monolith

If videogames were rock music (a much better metaphor than movies), then this a fairly dull quiet track 2/3 of the way through the album (I'm not selling it very well, am I?).
I quite like that idea; an album of games.

edit (24/06/10): new version, incorporating some suggestions and fixing a bug; also, scoring is now different by an order of magnitude, so scores mentioned previously will sound absurd.

edit (26/06/10): new version, mostly the same as the previous, just improving depth-buffery problems but not fixing them completely because I'm lazy.

Thursday 10 June 2010


Several of my friends have started playing a game called Warstorm on facebook, and I've been getting lots of messages about them giving each other hunters and mages. I decided to try the game today. My impressions have not been very positive.

It's a CCG about fantasy armies battling each other. The battles themselves seem to be completely non-interactive. Your cards are drawn in random order, and after being in your hand for a number of time steps (the 'cost' of the card) they enter play. No decisions are made during battle. So basically, the entire game is about deckbuilding. This is (like Dominion) a game designed to attract ex-Magic players who get nostalgic about deckbuilding, regardless of depth. But it's combined with the money-sink of actual CCGs (you can get new cards by investing time, but the cards that cost real money on are strictly better) and the social addiction of Farmville. A charming mix. Plus the UI is laggy and the game has more fun than the player. I don't recommend it.

(It's a pity, because the mechanic of having a card's cost be the number of turns it takes to enter play after drawing it is quite elegant.. unfortunately what it elegantly achieves is nil interaction!)

Sunday 6 June 2010

Babeltron 2010

Another game. Really it's basically just an elaborate word-processor though.

Babeltron 2010

I'm not completely satisfied with the mechanics, but I think there's something there. I am quite satisfied with the visual aesthetic.

This was made as part of the Games Collective's pageant on the theme of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto. I don't think it's a very good use of the theme, maybe I'll do something else as well.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Brog Blogs about Brog Grog Jog Blog

On Andy's blog, he has blogged about I, Brog. I (Brog) am now blogging on my blog about his blog about I, Brog.

Irregularity Bog Sog

There was a big frog, he was sitting in a bog, he was climbing on a log, he was gnawing on a dog, he was a NONALOG FROG.

A Nonalog Frog.

There was a big goat, he was swimming in a moat, he wore a novercoat, he nibbled on an oat, he was a NOVERCOAT GOAT.

A Novercoat Goat.

That is my song for today.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Knot-Pharmacard Subcondition J

I made a game.

Knot-Pharmacard Subcondition J
(alternate download)

Don't play it if you suffer from epilepsy (it has lots of rapidly flickering colours).
Let me know if it crashes.

The idea behind this came from the theme "bricolage", meaning "a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things". I went through a bunch of unfinished prototypes I had lying around, foetal games that will never see birth, and copied chunks of code out of each of them, pasted them into one file, and stuck some arbitrary interactions between them. There is a victory condition; it doesn't make much sense, but it is possible to reach a "you win" screen. Don't feel compelled to aim for this though, just do whatever.

Edit: The zip was slightly corrupt (3 non-essential files were broken), this has been fixed.
Edit: Updated with very slightly modified version - main difference is that it displays a title screen. Also, the "you win" screen is replaced by just having weird graphical effects then going back to title. (15/9)

Monday 22 March 2010

Alien Oort Cloud Refinery

The Brink of War, the next Race for the Galaxy expansion, is due soon. This is fairly exciting.

The first expansion came with a collection of blank cards (with the same back) so that players can make up new cards, and there have been 'card contests' for the second and third expansions where people can send in card ideas - the prize being having the card in the expansion and a mention in the rulebook.

The winners of the card contest for Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War are:
* Michael Brough for inspiring Alien Oort Cloud Refinery,
* Kester Jarvis for inspiring Golden Age of Terraforming, and
* Ville Halonen and Raine Rönnholm for inspiring Universal Peace Institute.

This is even more exciting.
(The reason it says "for inspiring" is that they take the cards through their full development process to make sure they're balanced and fit the theme.)

The card I submitted was:
(ALIEN?) Rainbow World
Multicolour Windfall
Cost: 0, VP: 1
$: you may not trade goods from this world.
IV: you may consume goods from this world as any colour.
V: you may produce on this world with a "produce on windfall" power of any colour.

And the form it ended up in was:
ALIEN Oort Cloud Refinery
Multicolour Windfall
Cost: 0, VP: 1
$: you may not trade goods from this world.
ANY PHASE / GAME END: choose this world's colour.

So the only mechanical change was that they simplified and strengthened the property of "being any colour" - it does basically the same thing, but it's expressed much more cleanly and has synergy with more different powers (now it applies to cards that score for different coloured worlds, powers that let you draw cards for producing goods of a particular colour, and the new powers on e.g. Golden Age of Terraforming, which allow discarding goods of particular colours to gain discounts on other phases).
I'm really pleased not only that my card made it in, but that it was changed very little, meaning I'd already done a good job of balancing it. I'd actually started it at cost 3, and progressively reduced the cost as we played with it until it had cost 1, then cut it to 0 at the last minute before sending it off.

Sunday 14 March 2010

2 bugs

I've found two Vertex Dispenser bugs in the last two days. In the actual game mechanics, not in the netcode where I already knew there's still some brokenness going on. Nothing game-breaking; probably nothing anyone but would notice, just weird corner-case interactions not working how they should. Still, it bothers me a little because I'd thought everything there was solid.

Another cold has infected me. My immune system seems not to have been performing to specification for a while. I continue to blame the hideous climate. Have spent my time fiddling around with the sound rather than fixing these bugs, and don't have much to show for it. I'm finding it quite hard to generate new sounds that fit with what I've already got but don't mush together in the same frequency range. I guess I probably should try using something a bit more advanced than sin(pitch*time)*volume.

We've been playing quite a bit of multiplayer Vertex Dispenser. The aforementioned brokenness doesn't seem to interfere with what actually happens; it just claims to be out of sync for a frame and then gets back in sync afterwards. I'd like to know why it's happening though.

Something quite entertaining to do is to place a boobytrap next to an opponent's white vertex, after attacking the vertex a few times to weaken it. Then run away, and wait for them to set it off - with any luck, it destroys their white vertex and you'll hear a grunt of rage from across the room. One time I managed to kill both my wife and her last white vertex with this trick.. playing against human beings is a lot more fun than just against AI.

Saturday 13 March 2010


From Dave Sirlin's coverage of GDC:

Day 1: See Rob Pardo's talk, paragraphs 8-9. Basically, players whined about randomness meaning that sometimes unlikely events happened, so they changed it so when you fail, the chance of success increases.

Day 2: See Sid Meier's talk, paragraphs 8-11. Basically, players whined about randomness meaning that sometimes unlikely events happened, so they changed it so when you fail, the chance of success increases.

It's really interesting that these guys independently came up against the same problem and came up with the same solution. I'm in two minds as to what I think about it. My initial reaction is: this is bad, they're dumbing things down, they should leave things done properly. Then I back this up with some solid reasons why it's harmful. But then I'm not sure.

So first, why is this harmful? Games are educational. One of the reasons humans play games is that it fulfils our desire to learn - our brains are built for learning, so we find it pleasurable. And one of the things games are able to teach is HOW PROBABILITY WORKS. Probability isn't intuitive. Sometimes you don't succeed, even when the odds are in your favour. Sometimes exceedingly improbable things do happen. (It's even worse in the infinite case - I've seen people have serious trouble with the idea that an event can have probability 0 and yet still occur, or probability 1 and not definitely occur.) So by twisting the probabilities in your game to line up with human intuition, you're preventing your game from teaching a valuable lesson - and, more importantly, you're potentially teaching a false lesson.

(Here is a slightly related and slightly unrelated article by Tom Lehmann, designer of Race for the Galaxy, just because he's cool.)

But on the other hand, it's not really the case that randomness-where-failure-increases-your-chance-of-success is "fake" randomness. It's still random, just the random events are no longer independent, which is perfectly okay, both from an abstract mathematical perspective (it's still a valid formal system of game rules) and maybe even from a real-world-intuition perspective (plenty of real 'random' events aren't independent).

The popular board game Settlers of Catan suffers from problems with streaks of bad luck - resource generation is determined by a roll of the dice, and it's common for some players to miss out, or for certain resource types not to be generated much, sometimes resulting in a slow and tedious game. A fix for this which some of my friends use is to have instead a deck of cards with numbers in the same proportion as the sum of die rolls. This has essentially the same effect as what Rob and Sid described - if a number doesn't come up, it's more likely to next time, because the deck gets depleted and there are more copies of that numbers left in it. And this I have no problem with, partially because it's fixing a problem with game balance, rather than trying to conform to the intuitions of innumerate players, but also because the mechanics are explicit - you can see the cards being drawn from the deck, you know the card you drew is no longer in there, so you know you're not dealing with independent random variables.

So I guess what it comes down to is how it's communicated in the game. I haven't played either of the games in question, so I don't know how these things are communicated. If the interface gives the impression that the events are independent, but is secretly fiddling with the odds, then this should be considered Harmful. If it's clear that they're dependent, it's fine. For example, in WoW, if you're hunting bears in a forest, some of which have paws, it makes sense if there are a finite number of bears, and then finding a pawless one means that next time you find one there's a higher chance it will have a paw - you're drawing from a deck, not rolling dice. (I'm not sure what the reasoning could be in CivRev.. maybe a public "morale" stat that, counter-intuitively, goes up when you lose battles.)

Of course, videogames can hide their rules under the surface, and it's completely legitimate to say "you don't know what the rules are; a bunch of complicated interdependent systems affect everything that happens and it's up to you to experiment and figure things out". This is teaching something too - the scientific method.

Monday 1 March 2010

371-In-1 Klik & Play Pirate Kart II: Klik Harder

In 2009, 1600 people participated in the Global Game Jam and produced 370 games in 48 hours.

This weekend, 105 people participated in the 371-In-1 Klik & Play Pirate Kart II: Klik Harder and produced 524 games in 48 hours. Glorious Trainwrecks is the clear victor in the QUANTITY WAR.

I had a fairly busy weekend (cocktail party, board games..) so only had time to contribute three games:

No More Lasers is an arena shmup with lots of lasers. Quite pretty, very difficult.

Mah Jong Is Longer Than Ur Dong is a pornographic mahjong game. Because last time I saw a collection of 500 pirate ROMs, about a fifth of them were porn games and about a fifth were mahjong games, and those fifths intersected severely. I have never played mahjong and I have no idea what the rules are, but I found a picture of the tiles. This game is very difficult to work out so I may post the rules later, but the main point was to give an impressionist interpretation of how I felt while attempting to play those mahjong games.

Mah Jong Is Longer Than Any Dong : Hyper Graphic Future Edition is a variation on the previous, only faster and with Minter-esque incomprehensible blurred graphics making it unplayable. Um. Skip it in favour of the previous one if you know what's good for you.

It feels really good to finish making games. The Games Collective is running an inaugural pageant on the theme of Bricolage, so I may contribute something to this as well, provided my computer comes back this week WHICH IT WILL.

Friday 12 February 2010


Have installed a compiler on my wife's computer. It's slow, but I will be able to make some progress. Have fixed one bug already. May need to install Blender as well.

Who knows, maybe working on an old and slow machine that can't run anything will encourage me to make some optimisations.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

2-year old receipt?

So I'm having to prove that my computer's still under warranty, it being more than two years after date of MANUFACTURE, but not date of SALE; the manufacturers don't have a record of the sale. So I'm expected to dig up a receipt from two years ago, having moved house three times since then.

I'm pretty sure I kept it (or at least intended to), but where would I have put it?

Monday 8 February 2010


I still don't have my computer back; in fact the repair status is still "received, waiting to start repair".

Someone told me recently that it's never too early to have a decent website with videos and screenshots, so I've done some work on that. Needs better screenshots and a nicer looking title at the top. I'll probably try to make a better video soon too. Still, it's a big improvement over "THIS IS A PLACEHOLDER".

This is all just displacement activity though.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Igromania Article

The January edition of Igromania (a Russian videogames magazine) did a feature on IGF entrants, where they picked from the list the ones they thought looked coolest. Vertex Dispenser was featured, but a misprint left it looking mysterious with just a name and a picture, and text from a different game. The text is now up on their website, at Goodness knows what it says. Here's Google's attempt at a translation:

The website IGF Vertex Dispenser accompanied, perhaps, the most ambiguous in the abstract world: "Inspired by the mathematics of real-time strategy. Rapid action and puzzle-solving. Excellent use of a simple geometric 3D-graphics. However, this is perhaps a comprehensive description for this game.

Let's start with "excellent use of simple geometric 3D-graphics. At Vertex Dispenser (literally translated as "dispenser tops") game space is really divided into equilateral triangles, and can move only at their tops. The main character (in his role as advocates device, remotely resembling a vacuum cleaner) is able to emit a special laser that turns the peaks in the desired color. Color all the vertices of a triangle in a certain color, you are capturing this space, and then controlled from the center of the field leaves expressive gun.

At first glance, it strongly resembles another variation on the theme Tower Defense, with only isosceles triangles. However, the key issue here - not how fast you can grab yourself an impressive space, and how much space you decide to take. Inappropriate vertex may lead to the fact that your whole area will be in the twinkling repainted in the colors of the enemy's flag. That is "rapid shooter" is also present. As for the "puzzle-solving", then levels are responsible for them. At regular triangles author manages to break everything: the scope, volume circle, a giant cube, and then indulges in all serious and displays the articulation of shapes to choose the right strategy to capture that is not possible. Along with Fig8 and Proun this game - our clear favorite of IGF 2010. C look forward to the release.

WHAT IS IT? Tower Defense, where the production of the right strategy you will need spatial imagination and a basic course of geometry.


Babelfish's translation is much worse, but gives the title as “the measuring hopper of apexes”, which is awesome.

Monday 1 February 2010


Why is Vertex Dispenser taking so long to get finished?
When someone asks how long I've been working on it, the simplest answer is "three years", since I first started some version of it in early 2007. But it's not like it's been three years of solid work (even solid hobby-project level work), because in that time (apart from writing a Masters thesis, moving to England, starting a PhD, spending periods of time failing to achieve anything much due to illness or depression, getting married, and having a life) I abandoned it for a while then took it up again, made a few other smaller games and started several others that I didn't finish, so it's more like two years, if that. Even so, that's much longer than I'd expected. The difficulty of completing a project seems to increase disproportionately with scale, and the saying about the last 10% being 90% of the work seems about right. Plus I just haven't planned on selling a game before - it was in a state I'd have been happy to release as freeware some time ago. I do think it's quite hard to finish full games when not working on them full-time.

But it really is quite close now. Here's my schedule of what I'll be working on once I get my computer back:

- The campaign levels are too hard, so right now they're more of a challenge than a tutorial. I have a plan for what I think needs to be done for the first part at least (need more playtest data for the second part still). When I've made these changes, I'll need to playtest again on some fresh victims, and probably will have to go through another iteration if it's still not working right. (I should have playtested on non-mathematician gamers sooner, but I just didn't realise there'd be such a difference.)

- Multiplayer has a couple of bugs still. Sometimes it detects as being out of sync when it isn't, and sometimes there's a crazy spike of lag for no apparent reason. (Also, it's a primitive system where you connect to the host by typing in their IP address, and the host has to forward a port on their router, etc. It'd be nice to improve on this but I don't know how and probably won't; current system is perfectly usable.)

- Sort out sales, distribution, etc. Figure out what to put in the demo. Then release it.

(There are some other aspects I could improve, like UI and audio, but I'm not going to because I'd rather get it finished and start on something new.)

So this isn't actually much work, when I have the time and hardware to do it. I'd like to give an estimated time it'll take, but the main bit is the playtesting iteration, which is partially out of my hands, and will take an unknown number of steps. Upper bound of two months, I'd say. Looking forward to it.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Further Grumbling

It seems like a lot of what I post on here is grumbling about various things. This isn't because I'm a particularly negative person, it's more because I don't post very much, and often what inspires me to do so is being in a bad mood and having something I want to moan about.

- My computer's broken.
- The courier who was supposed to pick it up today for repair didn't show up before the time I'd specified (when I had to leave to catch a train.. to go to a tutorial to which five students turned up, meaning my presence was hardly necessary, given there were three other tutors.. anyway) so I'll have to call them to arrange another time for pickup, which probably won't be until next week. So goodness knows when it'll be fixed.
- Also, I'm feeling a little down about Vertex Dispenser in general, largely because of some feedback from a few people I showed it to recently. I've spent way longer on this game than necessary, trying to make it accessible to people who aren't `maths people'. But maybe that's not possible, maybe it is just a niche game for people weird like me, and inevitably too hard for normal people to bother with.
- The time of year doesn't help. Winter in Britain always gets me a bit depressed. The snow was quite pretty, which made up for the cold, but now that's melted it's just stupid cold and rain and dark all the time when I should be at the beach in the sun.

When my computer's back in action, I'll continue working on the difficulty of the levels. There are two main problems to deal with:
1) I'm really good at my own game, so I'm completely unable to evaluate how hard a given level is. Playtest data is helping here.
2) The game itself has an inherent difficulty that can't be diminished without destroying what makes it (in my opinion) great. While I can make levels easier in fairly continuous ways by giving the player more territory, the enemy less territory, making the AI react more slowly, etc., the difficulty of the vertex-colouring 'puzzle' is fixed, and that's something players are just going to have to deal with. So I'm trying to help players deal with it, to explain things more clearly and provide explicit tutorials, but even with that it still has to be up to them to use it in the game, and that's going to be quite hard for most people. This isn't strictly a bad thing, I think it's a satisfying experience for those willing to put in the effort (which is also why I've tried to arrange things so that there's a possibility of working things out for yourself before getting to the tutorial; this is most satisfying).

I'm really feeling like this game just needs to be finished, it's been going on for far too long. It'll be worth it when I release it and some people love it.. I'm not 100% looking forward to that though, because there will inevitably be negative comments - from people who don't get it or didn't like it or think any price whatsoever is too much for an indie game (a topic of much discussion in comment threads for the reasonably priced games VVVVVV and Solium Infernum recently, and earlier Braid; no doubt others as well that I have not been following).. also there'll no doubt be some bugs left in that I'll need frantically to fix. I have other games I want to make, but I'm refusing to get into another big project before this one's finished (and tiny 3-hour toys don't satisfy me the same). But it's just not quite done yet - there are bugs to fix and I can definitely improve on the campaign difficulty - so I'll just have to keep slogging away at it once I get my computer fixed (I'll feel much better about it then too, because I'll play some Vertex Dispenser and remember that it really is worth the effort).

Monday 11 January 2010

Water + Computer

So yesterday morning my wife spills a glass of water over my computer (a laptop). Turned it off immediately, wiped away the water, left it to dry. Today it turns on fine, so presumably nothing internal is destroyed, but keyboard doesn't work. Not much use to me if I can't give it any input.

It was not the best time for this. I'd just been making some really good progress on Vertex Dispenser, and motivation for that was high. I also had a report half-written that I need to get done, which now I can't access. And Tigjam is this weekend; service is usually pretty fast here, but I don't know if I'll have it back by then or not.

Not in a very good mood now.

Edit: I picked up a USB keyboard, it's working fine with that at the moment, so I'm getting stuff done.

Saturday 9 January 2010

IGF Feedback

The IGF results are out (as of a few days ago); Vertex Dispenser didn't make it. But the feedback from the judges was for the most part quite positive and also useful. Here it is:

Vertex Dispenser scored best in: Game Design
And scored worst in: Audio
This is a fun little strategy action puzzler. I actually agree with the designer's comment about the color puzzle1. I enjoy the main campaign, and the active strategy required to battle, but really found the color puzzles quite enjoyable and relaxing to play.
This happens to have been the first game I judged, and it almost prevented me from judging anything else. It is such a refreshing, unique game experience, and addicting in the best possible way.

My only criticism is that the difficulty curve is too punishing. Playing with the AI on Easy should be an experience where I might only have to replay a level once in order to finish it. And then only in rare cases, it should mostly be a cakewalk on Easy! I find myself replaying up to ten times on some levels to beat them. It's fine to ship a game that is punishingly hard, but if you're offering an "Easy" difficulty level it really ought to be easy.

Maybe instead of just changing the difficulty on the AI there should be an option to have, for example, faster recharge on powers or something.2

But yes, you've done a brilliant job on this game and I've given it a 100 in Overall Experience because it is a solid, innovative game that I would be incredibly happy to see win the Grand Prize.
While I did find this game interesting to play, I did find it too difficult to advance past the first few levels to enjoy. This almost seems like a computer science teaching tutorial more than a game.3
A very unique and clever action-strategy-puzzle game! My only major "complaint" is that it's incredibly niche. You really need a very particular set of skills/tastes to enjoy this properly.

This also isn't helped by having virtually no tutorial for how the color stuff works. This is by far the hardest part of the game to wrap your head around, and a slow introduction would have been nice. It looks like you're aware of this issue since you give some tips in the submission notes, but the game itself really needs to provide some additional help for players.

Zooming around on the surface of a sphere is fun.

But I found the gameplay very obtuse and kind of cold. I really wish the confrontation with the other player was clearer -- generally I rarely saw them and it felt like we were each playing separate games4.

Capturing specific types of nodes to aquire power boosts is interesting, but the color-to-power mapping was arbitrary and confusing5. I would have preferred to have icons6, and a more expressive UI in general.

The battlefield felt very large and empty. I never really got the hang of combat -- I felt like I probably should have been using the powerups, but combat just went by in a blur and dying didn't seem to have much of a cost, so I just muddled my way through it.
Amazing premise for a game and clever design. While the graphics are a bit rough7 the gameplay more than makes up for it.

This is one of the few IGF games I've judged that I plan to carry around with me to play for quite a bit longer.

1 This comment was "Some people like this more than the game proper."
2 I implemented this as soon as I read it.
3 I'm fairly certain that this is meant as a positive comment.
4 This made me smile, because it's a complaint I see made a lot about Race for the Galaxy (a card game I play quite a bit of); people throw around phrases like "multiplayer solitaire".. and it's really not true, there's a lot of player interaction, it's just subtle and parasitic rather than directly confrontational (although, a double-develop when your hand is empty does like a punch in the face), and it takes a bit of play to get to see how your actions affect the other players. But that's not the problem in Vertex Dispenser, which is very confrontational, I think he just hadn't gotten very far in. Probably I need to make it clearer that the first few levels are all fairly 'tutorial' in nature and the reason there's not much confrontation is that I'm holding back to ease you into it (not very well though, see earlier comments about difficulty - the first three levels were possibly even too easy, then the fourth was seriously tripping people up and taking multiple attempts).
5 He's right that the mapping of colours to powers is fairly arbitrary (not completely though - obviously I've tried to arrange them in order of power), but I'm not sure how it could be anything else without going all 'Magic: The Gathering' on it and assigning philosophies to the different colours, giving it a setting and theme, etc.
6 Someone else suggested this to me recently.. I found it interesting that this judge who is largely negative and not really getting it said the same thing as someone who's quite positive about the game. I think some kind of minor UI improvement is in order.
7 I was surprised by this comment, because I'd thought things were looking quite pretty. Sure, it doesn't have textures or shaders or whatever the latest thing is, but.. I don't know, I'm not going to worry about this anyway.

Anyway, the main things I've learnt from this were that the difficulty is too high in parts, and that the tutorial I have for colouring is completely inadequate - most people aren't used to reading statements like "when you capture a vertex, it is given the lowest colour not on any adjacent vertex", and so they don't immediately grasp what they mean and what their implications are.. I need to walk people through it more; do more showing and less telling.

So yeah, while I'm certainly disappointed that I didn't get in, I can see how my game could have been better explained and thus sold itself to some of the judges better. And I've been really encouraged by the positive comments that most of them gave, it's given me motivation to hurry up and get this game finished.