January is in the rear view mirror and I’m happy to say I completed a game. Sure there’s no art. And it’s short. But it plays as I had hoped when I put the design to paper a few weeks ago. There’s still plenty of room for improvement and refinement. But let’s leave that for another post.

2016-02-01 - Game Night

First off, I’m surprised I finished. Sure it’s not polished but the main game mechanic is present which is more than I can say for anything other solo projects. When my programmer friends were committing to doing #1GAM, I told them I’d try it but focus on the game design rather than putting together a prototype or a finished product. With a wedding in the works, a fiancée to support and an RPG campaign to run, I just didn’t see a lot of time left over for #1GAM.

It took a few weeks for the idea to come to me. But it took almost as long to actually get to work on a prototype. I’m a perfectionist and so when I picked up a book, Game Programming Patterns. I ended up devoting time to reading that and then forcing myself to try to apply the lessons I learned. This led to a bunch of wheel spinning over the past two weeks until I just tossed it all out and committed to making a prototype work.

While I tried to toss all the lessons aside, I ended up rewriting the entire codebase Friday night and Saturday on the last weekend of January. My code still isn’t perfect but it’s a lot cleaner than it was before the rewrite. Also, it’s setup better for improvement and maintainability in the future. By Sunday afternoon, I had everything back in place and to a minimum playable prototype.

So what does the future hold for my January #1GAM? Likely some further refinements and additions. Even with the calendar turning, I expect I won’t have a genius idea strike me for February’s #1GAM until a week or so. I need to expand the available games and guests. I’d like to add some difficulty and settings sliders. Oh, and art. Maybe one day.

I decided to participate in 1GAM as part of my resolutions for 2016. The theme for January is hobby. The first few weeks of January have been taxing and I haven’t found time to do much work. But I did manage to come up with a basic concept. A puzzle game themed around game nights.

Towards the end of my tenure in Gainesville, board game nights became the premiere social event for my friends and me. Anywhere from three to twenty people would arrive at my humble abode and we’d play games late into the night. As my board game collection grew, decision paralysis often took hold. It’s difficult to find a game that everyone wants to play and everyone can play.

2016-01-20 - Game Night

And that’s the theme for my January 1GAM. Your friends have arrived for a game night and it’s your job as host to maximize their fun. You arrange the games and the players to solve the puzzle. There are a handful of traits that represent compatibility between players and games. The more a player’s traits match the game’s, the more fun they have playing that game. Games also have a range of allowed players.

I like the theme and basic design. I’ve had a little bit of time to implement it but nothing to show just yet. I’m hoping to have a no-art playable demo by the end of the month.

I’m not the easiest person to buy a gift for. I have a few wishlists scattered across the internet.1 But this Christmas, I knew exactly what I wanted, the Bioware Mass Effect LootCrate. I’m generally not one for random things to put around my office. But how could I pass up a box filled with things from a universe I absolutely adore? Unfortunately, we missed our opportunity to get the box. But my fantastic fiancée put one together for me anyway. First up the box she gave it to me in! Stellar job.

2016-01-13 - N7 Box

Next up, the cloth articles. First a hand towel. Then a t-shirt. Finally a patch. Towel is already in use after a wash. The t-shirt is a bit too small at the moment, but it gives me a reason to keep working out. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do with the patch.

2016-01-13 - N7 Clothes

The Art of Mass Effect book! I like to pick up art books here and there and this one definitely deserves a place in my collection. I plan to use it as drawing practice and reference material for my future Mass Effect cosplay.

2016-01-13 - Mass Effect Art Book

An N7 glass that will be primarily used to contain orange juice. Also an N7 card box she printed on our LulzBot Mini and painted. Inside a set of Mass Effect sketch cards from Etsy. Still need to figure out how I want to display the cards but for now the box is awesome. Finally, an iPhone 6s case. It took me a few weeks to get used to but it does it’s job and looks great.

2016-01-13 - N7 Cards

This haul was better than the box of stuff LootCrate delivered. I’m glad I missed out on that one and got this carefully curated selection of Mass Effect items from my fiancée. She did a kick ass job.

  1. Amazon books, Amazon stuff, CoolStuffInc games, Steam games. 

For the past year, I’ve been participating in the Ludum Dare game jam every few months. I started by joining up with some friends, A Flat Miner Studios, for the first two jams. A successful jam means that I’ve made a game and learned something along the way.

With A Flat Miner Studios, we built INtire and Renfield Hearts. Both were fun to play and had good mechanics. I learned how to use GameMaker and made my first two games ever. In August, my limited available time for the jam weekend prevented me from re-joining A Flat Miner. This was my decision, they had invited me back but I didn’t feel I could contribute much. Instead I organized another team with two of my friends/co-workers. They built Meownster. I provided guidance, design and some interface work. It turned out pretty good for our first attempt as a group.

Last month, we joined forces again and brought in two other friends/co-workers. This time most of assembled in Gainesville to work in the same physical location. This jam was a success but there is room for improvement.

LDJAM 34’s theme voting ended in a tie, Two Button Controls and Growing. Friday night we whittled away ideas and while we sort of settled on one. We were divided and didn’t come away with a clear concept by the time we retired. I think a lot of this was due to the two themes. One theme would have provided us more focus. But the two themes let us generate too many ideas.

When we reassembled on Saturday we still didn’t have a clear design and so we muddled through the day. We got a bunch done but we spent the first part of the day clearing up the design. In the aftermath, one of the team members has suggested storyboarding. Storyboarding promotes a clearer picture of the design to everyone.
Next time we’ll also focus on getting to a minimum viable product much sooner. The game we delivered only used one of the available buttons. The second button allowed the character to block incoming attacks. But it proved to be an ineffective strategy. So another team member suggested we allow more time for bug fixes and improvements.

I was disappointed with a few of my goals for this jam. It was my intention to livestream this jam. I still haven’t gotten comfortable with streaming yet. I hope that by the next jam I will be. I’d also like to be able to contribute more on the art side.

The art, sound effects, music, and level designs were great. Just the gameplay execution was lacking. It’s got the seed of a good to great game. It just needs a good amount of refinement that wasn’t possible in the space of a weekend. So, LDJAM 34 was a success but definitely felt like a sophomore slump. When we return in April, we’re hoping for a better end result but I’m still proud of what we produced this time.

And so, here’s Shemeowbi.

Hello 2016!

While I’m not a fan of celebrating on New Year’s Eve, I am fond of turning the page onto a new year. The clean slate. The upcoming events. There’s always a sense of wonder and excitement for me.

So here are my 2016 resolutions for all to see!

  1. Read one book every month.
  2. Watch one movie in a theater every week.
  3. Design a game as part of 1GAM.
  4. Continue progressing my workout routines.
  5. Continue podcasting at least bi-weekly.
  6. Improve the quality of blog posts and journal entries.

Most of these are incremental goals. Small steps that move what I have been doing forward. But that’s what makes them great resolutions. They are improvements that will take effort and dedication but are wholly achievable.

Oh and I’m getting married this year!

Goodbye 2015!

It’s been a great year but I’m excited for 2016. 2015 was a year filled with growth and change.

In April, I asked the woman I love to marry me.
In June, I moved to Tallahassee and in with my newly minted fiancée.
In July, I said goodbye to Gainesville for one last time.
In September, I returned to Atlanta for our now yearly pilgrimage to DragonCon.
In October, I helped two of my dearest friends get married.
In December, I built my third video game for 2015.

There were many more events. Seven weddings in total. Numerous holidays. Travel throughout the Southeast US. And a decent showing at the gym.

The Environmental Cost of Moving All Our Stuff is Huge. How Can We Shrink It? by Nate Berg

Berg takes a look at the future of moving stuff around the world. I’m most excited about the autonomous driving technology. It will increase the safety and efficiency of automobiles. I dream of a future where my children won’t have to learn to drive because automobiles drive themselves.

Introducing OpenAI by The OpenAI Team

Artificial intelligence fascinates me. Virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana are becoming more prevalent. As institutions inch closer to true AI, we need more safeguards in place to protect humanity from our ambition. OpenAI hopes to be one of those safeguards. Elon Musk, who has raised the alarm about AI, is a major funder of the group.

Why Splatoon is my game of the year by Sam Byford

I don’t own a Nintendo WiiU. But if I did, Splatoon would be one of my first purchases.1 A first person shooter, Splatoon turns the genre on its head by change the win conditions. Painting the walls with liquified color replaces the genre standard splattering brain matter. Byford puts Splatoon forth as his game of the year.

  1. Along with Super Smash Brothers, Mario Kart, Super Mario Maker, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. 

How Pokémon Go will benefit from Niantic’s lessons from Ingress on location-based game design by Dean Takahashi

The Pokémon Company is joining forces with Niantic Labs to bring Pokémon to smartphones. Takahashi has an interview with Niantic CEO John Hanke. They discuss the spinout, partnership and direction of the game. Hanke provides a plethora of information about a product I’m excited about.

Star Trek Beyond Trailer Review by Toni Sanchez

Last week, Paramount Pictures released the Star Trek Beyond trailer. I avoided the release in hopes of seeing it on the big screen in front of The Force Awakens. Alas, no luck as AMC did not run the trailer in front my showing. My good friend, Toni Sanchez, posted a review of the trailer. I agree with what she says. It’s not my favorite trailer but it is built for a different audience. That said I hope that Toni and Simon Pegg are right1.

Best of 2015: Gamasutra’s Top Games, Devs, Events and Trends at Gamasutra

Gamasutra’s staff compiles a list of development studios, trends, events and games for 2015. This is a great article that captures most of what occurred this year into a single space.

  1. HeyUGuys got a brief interview with Pegg about the trailer. 

The first game I’ve played start-to-finish in a while, J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is a fantastic story and puzzle game. You take on the role of Rachel Manners, an astrobiologist who left Earth to explore a nearby star system that was emitting an artificial signal. You awake to alarms and your ship’s computer, JULIA, informing you that a meteor storm has cause significant damage to the ship.

This opening sequence introduces you to two of the three primary characters and the interfaces and puzzles you’ll encounter. JULIA is the exploration ship’s artificial intelligence. She wakes you from your cryoslumber to inform you of an on-board emergency. The ship has encountered a meteor storm and there are fires, gases and electrical issues that need to be addressed.

After the initial danger has passed, JULIA informs you that you are the only surviving member of the expedition. Additionally, some of her memory has been corrupted and she is unable to access or reconstruct the events preceding your awakening. JULIA identifies your position and identifies a mobile laboratory on the nearby planet. She introduces MOBOT, a reconnaissance robot, that you can use to explore the planet and the lab.

You continue to explore the star system, create upgrades for MOBOT, discover the fate of your expedition members and solve many puzzles. All of these add up to an enjoyable experience that I finished in about eight hours. While some of the story is telegraphed and on trope, the characters, pacing, environments and music are fantastic.

J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars isn’t the best game out there, but it is a terrific experience. I picked it up on a Steam sale and would recommend you do the same. A capable protagonist, balanced supporting cast, compelling mystery, and interesting gameplay makes this a highly recommended game.

A month and a half ago, Mojang announced the open beta for their next game, Scrolls. Scrolls is a mix of collectible card game and a miniature war game. Each player takes their turn casting scrolls from their hand to place units on the board or affect units on the board. To win, a player must destroy three of their opponent’s five 10 hit point totems.

The board is a grid of hexes in a three column, five row layout per side. Creatures on the board have attack ratings, hit points and countdowns. When a creature’s countdown hits 0, it attacks the creatures or totems in it’s row. Once per turn you can discard a card in your hand to either gain one resource or draw two cards. Each card has a resource cost to cast.

Two weeks ago, I finally installed the game and played all weekend and at least an hour each night since then. Unfortunately, this game just doesn’t have the depth that is necessary for it to succeed yet. There are only three factions and while well defined, they’re a bit boring. A fourth resource is in testing and will bring some need variety. The cardpool is shallow with only 145 cards divided between the three resource types.

The game’s single player component is basically non-existant. You can play quick matches against three different levels of AI but there’s no story or campaign mode. It has been promised but it doesn’t look like it’s a high development priority at the moment. Ranked matches could be fun but the shallow cardpool makes it difficult for a complex metagame to develop. In addition, some of the mechanics and rules will make card advantage far more important than in other card games.

One of the supposed advantages Scrolls will have over other collectible card games is that they can update every version of a scroll whenever they want. They don’t have to worry about reprint rules. And yet, they’re only releasing a few cards every few weeks. I believe they’re spending too much balancing scrolls in their QA process. They should design new scrolls, give it a few passes and release to the beta. The metagame will quickly smoke out any overly powerful cards and the development team can tweak from there.

I suppose these negatives are a natural part of designing a new collectible game and part of being in beta. But I really can’t recommend Scrolls to anyone but the most dedicated playtesters or collectible card game fans. And even then it comes with a warning that the cardpool is shallow which makes the metagame non-existant. If you can manage to trudge through all this, it’s a pretty game that will fill your CCG addiction without killing your wallet.