Friday, April 24, 2015

"Succulent" technical overview / behind the scenes

This is a high level discussion of how I achieved certain effects in Succulent using Unity. It spoils the game, so I recommend you play it and/or read my artist's statement.

To the game engine, the popsicle (or "ice lolly" or corn dog) in Succulent is the main director for the entire scene. It is essentially a psychic telekinetic popsicle that dictates music playback, effects, and character animations... The popsicle is god. Love the popsicle.

To many developers, the most obvious straightforward way to achieve this popsicle-sucking interaction would've been to create a hand / arm controller, and then parent the popsicle to the dude's hand. But this "direct" way would've been the wrong way; this game is about popsicles, not about hands. Tuning the hand and arm movements necessary to pilot it into his mouth -- it would've been painful and unnecessary. (This is why it's important to have a fairly solid concept before you start coding something. The concept and design will affect how you code it!)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Embarrassed silence

I'm stealing the first three paragraphs of Pippin Barr's lovely post: (see also -- Emily Short's take)
A post called Minimum Sustainable Success by Dan Cook has been doing the rounds on Twitter recently and so I read it because people were saying it was good. And it is pretty good, especially if you’re a bit games+money minded – as I am not. It’s a hard look at how you might address and perhaps even mitigate some of the enormous risks and problems involved in getting into the making-a-living end of our beloved videogames.

In there, Dan brings up the “supportive spouse or family” category of game developers and points out that people don’t often “admit” to being in this one, with the idea being that it’s a bit embarrassing, and that it should be talked about more to add perspective to this crazy thing called “how the hell am I supposed to make the games I love and also live at the same time?”

Fortunately I have no shame, and so I’m writing this to represent one data point of the “supportive spouse” crew. Are we legion? I don’t know. I’m definitely one of us, anyway. Hi, here’s my life story (of privilege).
Like Pippin, I have a very supportive and awesome spouse. His name is Eddie.

In addition to currently making more money than I could ever hope to make as a part-time adjunct academic, he is a better Unity programmer than me and taught me a lot of what I know today. He also has really good design instincts; he had the idea to make the cooldown in Hurt Me Plenty go into several weeks, and he also picked-out the music used in Stick Shift. And right now, I'm making him write the server code for my upcoming dick pic game because I don't feel like doing it. (LOL.)

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Stick Shift" technical tricks / backstage Unity peek

This is a high level discussion of how I achieved certain effects in Stick Shift. It spoils the game, so I recommend you play it and/or read my artist's statement.

The "car" in Stick Shift is actually (a) two different cars, one for each camera, and (b) neither car actually moves, ever.

When you want to create an illusion of motion, or at least have something read as motion, then you generally have two options in games: move the object around the world, or move the world around the object. Because I wanted to focus on the gestures in the drivers seat, it didn't make sense to actually simulate a road. A scrolling panoramic image of a city street, blurred and stretched horizontally, would give enough of an impression of motion.

Friday, April 3, 2015

"Stick Shift" as activist autoerotica

This is a post detailing my process and intent in making Stick Shift. It has SPOILERS; if you care about that kind of thing, then you should probably play the game first.

(Again, SPOILER WARNING is in effect. Last chance!)

Stick Shift is an autoerotic night-driving game about pleasuring your gay car. It is the last of my recent erotic gay sex game trilogy, alongside its sisters Hurt Me Plenty and Succulent. I also feel like it is a fitting book-end to the past two games, incorporating themes and ideas from both.

Over the past two months, the game has changed quite a bit. Originally, I started from Paolo Pedercini's suggestion to riff off Andy Warhol's film Blow Job (1964).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Implementing real-world real-time stamina / energy cooldown timers in Unity C#

In Hurt Me Plenty, I implemented "real-world" cooldown timers, which persist even if the player restarts the program. The cooldown period elapses in "real world" time, not in game time.

This resembles stamina delays in many popular free-to-play games, but it also connects with the design tradition of using real world system clocks to dictate game logic -- maybe certain Pokemon emerge at real world night, or you witness events that correspond with real world holidays, or perhaps you can even kill a boss NPC by setting your console's system clock forward by a week.

Much like the implementations referenced above, mine is quite weak and vulnerable to circumvention and cheating: I simply save a system timestamp in the game's PlayerPrefs, and then check that saved timestamp upon loading the game. If the difference between the current system time and the saved timestamp is less than zero, then the time has fully elapsed and the game continues.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Level With Me, vol. 1 re-release (v1.1)

I have updated my old experimental Portal 2 mod "Level With Me" to work with current versions of Portal 2. This mostly involved repackaging a menu file and rebuilding the sound cache. Assuming you have Portal 2 installed, you can download and play this collaborative interview / playable journalism project at the page.

  • Remember to feel free to stop playing the first chapter at any time.
  • Previous posts / notes are here.
  • Interview subjects were: Dan Pinchbeck (The Chinese Room), Jack Monahan (Stellar Jockeys), Brendon Chung (Blendo Games), Magnar Jenssen (Avalanche Studios / Valve), Davey Wreden (Galactic Cafe), Ed Key (Twisted Tree Games), Richard Perrin (Locked Door Puzzle)
TECHNICAL SOURCE ENGINE NERD NOTES: It was fun trying to figure out how to update everything; Valve updated every Source game to use .VPK v2, except Portal 2, so it was pretty much impossible to find the old VPK.exe compile utility. Luckily, I had a hunch that Alien Swarm hadn't been updated since forever, and I turned out to be correct. (For anyone who googles for this post, you can grab the one from the Alien Swarm SDK, or download the old v1 VPK.exe here. Make sure you place it in a \bin\ folder with a tier0.dll, and then you can just drag-and-drop folders onto it or a shortcut, etc.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 2: a formal approach to light design, and light as depth

Here's how I generally, theoretically, approach lighting in my games and game worlds. Part 2 is about light and function, mostly for level design.

In part 1, I talked about how different light sources have different connotations to the viewer, and these meanings are culturally constructed. In New York City today, an antique Edison bulb connotes trendy bourgeois expense, but 50 years ago it might've been merely eccentric, and 150 years ago it would've been a thrilling phenomenological novelty.

But people rarely intellectualize lighting this way, in, like, your own bedroom. In your daily middle class Western life you don't usually agonize over the existential quandaries of electricity, you just flip the light switch without looking. When in familiar places, we experience light as a resource or tool and take it for granted. So much of our everyday relationship with light concerns its functionality and what it enables us to do.

Monday, March 16, 2015

#altgames is the no-fault divorce that indie games needs

I'm cautious. I've been watching #altgames from a distance. Quite a few years ago, Jim Rossignol said I was supposed to be part of an "alt mod" scene, but by then I was tapering off most of my work as a modder so I'm not sure if such a community ever really materialized anyway. I generally don't like labels with "alt" in them since the alt-ernative can be said to be anything, but I do like what TJ Thomas said at Indiecade East, and I like a lot of games that are "altgames", and I think much of my work shares whatever those altgames sensibilities are... so there's probably some kind of consensus, we just have to keep articulating it?

In my GDC 2015 diary, I confessed I felt disconnected from fellow indies who were concerned with running small businesses and contract negotiations. No one wants a civil war over what "indie" really means, or a witch hunt over who is authentically "indie" or whatever. We all have different relationships with games and that's okay as long as you're not promoting hate speech or something. At the same time, it's ridiculous to pretend that I'm not bored out of my mind during countless GDC conversation(s) lingering on advertising revenues and Indie Fund deals and sales figures, and then people get visibly annoyed with me when I don't say anything and check my phone instead. Where is the way out?

This morning, Zoe Quinn's altgames manifesto at Offworld really crystallized this for me:

#altgames can be the no-fault divorce that we need where we don't blame each other, where we even stay friends with contemporary indie games. We can still have dinner parties and share custody of the kids! However, we also have very different goals and concerns, so let's try not being married anymore, and maybe we'll all be happier for it.