Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Game jamming, Granny crossing

I just took part in the Global Game Jam's Helsinki event for the first time. During the weekend, we made a game about a Granny crossing the street. The gameplay will still face significant changes as it's now more about just running and luck instead of giving more room to tactics and skill. Nevertheless, here's a short video that shows the gameplay as it was on sunday:

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Friday, November 23, 2012

"A game in one week"

I made another very small game called "A game in one week". It was made for a tiny contest, where the only idea was to make a game in a week. I thought that the only proper way to participate would be to take it literally, so the game is really about going through the phases of developing a game.

Day 1 of 7
Try the game on Newgrounds

I planned on allowing the player to participate in designing the game and even share the creation, but I had just a couple of evenings to work on it, so I had to ditch most of those plans. The result is a short game that depicts one view on how a game development process could take place. It also offers a challenge that seems to be too much for most players. But that is a lesson learned: if a game is about to end up this difficult, adding easier difficulty levels will probably pay off. 

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Looper - The remaining question answered

I just watched Looper a couple of days ago. It was a slight disappointment, but still pretty close to anticipations: an interesting concept in a relatively entertaining package that just happens to demand a bit too much forgiveness from the viewer in terms of how the time travel logic plays out. It also features elements that go unnecessarily far from its basic premise.

But even if you're willing to accept the weird time travel rules depicted in the movie, there is one crucial question that remains to be answered. Here's an explanation, which is kind of related to a funny theory that has been circling the discussions related to the movie. If you don't want to be spoiled, don't read forward, but otherwise click below.

Show/hide the question and the answer

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Why Touch doesn't touch

One of the new television series this year, Touch started here in Finland two weeks ago. The series is basically about two things. On the surface it tells a story about an autistic boy who doesn't talk but can see the future instead. The boy communicates the future to his father through numbers so that he can influence the surroundings so that good things happen. Under the hood it's more about telling stories about how we're all connected around the world.

So it's a fantasy mixed with international stories. It could be interesting, right? Well, I think it fails badly. Here are four reasons why:
  1. The boy doesn't only predict the future. He also predicts the consequences of his foreseeing, which makes him omniscient to a point where nothing really matters.
  2. The numeral sequences the boy is dropping are overused. If the primary purpose of the sequence of numbers is a simple thing like a phone number acting as the clue that actually leads the father on right track, why does that same sequence have to make pointless appearances in lottery tickets, coded doors, baseball bats etc.? Is it to try to hide the fact how simple and uncreative the clue actually was? After all, having the sequence all over the place doesn't really add to any "mysteriousness" you know. Instead it just makes you lose interest in trying to even think about it.
  3. The foreign characters should bring depth to the series, but unfortunately they don't as they don't feel real. This is enforced by the fact that these characters seem to be making implausible admiring references to American entertainment (such as Sopranos and Chris Rock). Due to this the characters are not "touching" but rather just make the storytelling unnecessarily jumpy by introducing new characters all the time. 
  4. Last and least importantly, Kiefer Sutherland doesn't seem to know whether to be soft daddy or Jackbauerishly tough. Sometimes the latter seems to surface in a way that I don't really really suits the character of Martin Bohm or the situations in this series.
In general I think the series shares some of the same flaws that Flashforward did. Both series have too many uninteresting sentimental stories that are interconnected in a way that seems utterly artificial. Both series also have predictions that are not only glimpses of an unaffected future but of a dynamic future that has been affected by the prediction. Admittedly in Touch this makes more sense. The boy doesn't just see one possible future: he sees how everything is connected. Perhaps this is one of the reason why Touch has done a bit better than Flashforward: it has survived till a second season. Nevertheless I still wouldn't predict a long life for this series.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Time travel stories that make sense?

I've always liked time travel movies. The whole concept itself is fascinating, and like with sci-fi in general, the stories are often quite different from each other, which makes them memorable. Even though many of these movies are quite entertaining, the logic in them almost never stands any closer look.

Three very different time travel movies - Time Machine (2002), Looper (2012) and Primer (2004).
Although the distinction isn't always exactly clear-cut, the ways in which time travel movies impose inconsistency to their universes can be roughly divided into two groups. I can think of only one movie that does a good job at avoiding both of these categories, creating a group of its own, but let's first have a look at the more common groups. The examples given below are spoiler-free, unless revealing the time travel logic type can be considered as spoiling.
  1. Fate - These movies state that even though you can interact with the past, you can never change it. 
  2. Self-adjusting reality - In these movies changes made in the past only have the kind of effect on the future that happens to support the plot.
Neither of these methods of explaining time travel really holds, but I think I prefer the idea of the second group, because the first one inevitably throws free will out of the picture. Nevertheless, how the way of thinking manifests itself in the movie really makes a bigger difference than the core principle of the story. For example the movie Time Traveler's wife (belonging to the group 1) has an interesting concept and is able to build an interesting story. 12 monkeys also only heavily implies the "fate idiology" but doesn't explicitly prove to be so, which make both of them quite good time traveling movies. From the group 2, Kate & Leopold shows a time travel consequence that's equally ridiculous to the episode of Futurama where Fry finds out he's actually his own grandfather due to to time travel. Whereas Futurama's example felt like a funny joke that epitomizes the problems of time travel in fiction, Kate & Leopold just seemed to quickly destroy any hope of finding some logic in the movie's time travel logic.

Back to the future trilogy is filled with problems related to time travel too. One of the most notable problems is the repeated plot device of depicting a photo or a newspaper that transforms as history changes - as if that photo would have been taken were there no-one to take the picture of and as if that newspaper would have been carried around if there was nothing interesting in it, and as if all of this wouldn't cause paradoxes. The series also often changes the future in ways that happens to fit the plot but doesn't change the future in ways that would in fact be unavoidable. The second part of the BTTF series has also at least two additional issues compared to the first and last movie in the trilogy. Still, these movies are undeniable classics in the genre, and even with all their time traveling issues I can't help but love them: they really make a lot out of the concept, they have a real sense of adventure to them, they keep an applicable level of tongue-in-cheek mood and are all around very entertaining.

So what do I find the worst example of a time travel story? Ironically, the movie called  The Time Machine (2002) (loosely based on the original H.G. Wells novel) takes the cake. By adding new content to the original story from 1895, it does a miraculous job of following both the Fate and Conforming reality concepts, a "dynamic fate" of sorts. While the protagonist is obviously able to change occurrences in the past, thus leaving free will somewhat intact, "important" things cannot change, and the universe will fix this. This feels just plain stupid, as it implies that the universe would distinguish small changes from big ones while still basically destroying free will at least partially.

Some one might have guessed my least favorite movie from the ones I've listed would have been Sound of Thunder (that has received very bad scores on imdb). Even though its premise is weird, doesn't make much sense and seriously underlines the idea that time travel only affects certain aspects of reality, its inner logic kind of holds: the viewer is given the premise early on, and then it just becomes an action ride in a transforming reality.

Of course there are also movies that involve time travel in a different fashion, where cause and effect play a somewhat different role. In Butterfly Effect the difference to most other time traveling stories is that the protagonist interacts with the past as his younger self. This takes the need for doppelgängers and nasty paradoxes out of the picture, which I think makes it a very good time travel movie (I think there was only one insignificant scene where the movie's inner logic failed). The short-lived television series FlashForward (2009) on the other hand is a sad example. I really liked the premise: everyone seeing a short glimpse of the future almost equals the idea of time traveling momentarily into the future. It could have created interesting stories that could have avoided all paradoxes much more easily compared to "traditional" backward time traveling stories. But what did it the series do? It failed miserably by constantly depicting people pursuing their sentimental "flashforwards" that would have never happened had they not seen them 6 months beforehand. It also takes itself far too seriously while doing that. Basically they forced paradox into a premise that wasn't inherently paradoxal!

You might wonder why I didn't include Teminators in the lists. Well, the reason is that although from a certain forgiving perspective the logic of the movies doesn't cause problems, for motivational purposes it seems to follow the logic of group 2. By this I mean that if the Terminator universe would follow the logic of group 3 (to be described below), the machines of the future would have no motivation to send the terminator machines back into the past.

So what is this third group that the Terminator movies almost follow?
  1. Alternate timelines - The concept where moving backwards in time always creates an alternate timeline that never affects the original timeline in anyway.

Primer succeeds where all other movies fail (or don't even try to succeed in): depicting a universe (or multiverse) where time travel doesn't cause paradoxes nor an obscure absence of free will. This of course doesn't mean that it would be the best in terms of movie entertainment, as that's more of a matter of taste. I agree with all those who find that Primer could have done a better job at delivering the story to the viewer, and accordingly I find eg. Back to the Future a better movie.

In fact, I'm still waiting for a time travel story that would be as fun as Back to the future, and as logically consistent as Primer. Creating a story like that shouldn't be that tough. The movie Looper (2012) that's just about to hit the theaters will probably deliver in the entertainment department but is unlikely to succeed otherwise, as the whole premise heavily suggests the idea of a Self-adjusting reality.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Neat concepts ruined by poor design

Sometimes you try games that have a very nice or even innovative principle concept. If the implementation is technically seemingly flawless with pleasant graphics and music that should result in a great game, right? Well, in some cases the whole thing is ruined by poor design. Let's take a look at two examples.

Fruit Ninja (on XBox 360 Kinect)

Fruit Ninja (XBox360 Kinect)

In the game you yourself act as the controller by whacking the air like a ninja to break some fruits. This is the kind of game that is always fun to try for the sake of novelty, and if it's good, it's worth an occasional revisit. Like with many other (non-mobile) games based on a single simple idea, the biggest potential comes from the multiplayer mode. Technically it works quite well: the biggest problem is just trying to avoid hitting your opponent physically. However, the real problem lies in gameplay. When playing the game, there are three thing you'll learn quite quickly:
  1. Since it's easy to get all the fruits meant for just one of the players, the round winner is really determined by who gets to whack the special fruits that are meant for both players and also give more points than the other fruits.
  2. There is so little time react to these special fruits that the best tactic is to constantly whack the air even if you don't currently see anything to whack.
  3. Who gets the better opportunities to get the special fruits is very random.
These three combined means that you'll just whack the air constantly and hope to get more special fruits. Sure you aim your hits towards the fruits, it's fun for a while, and you can even say that you get some exercise, but it could be more. The number three in the list above isn't really that much of a shortcoming, since this is a game that's supposed to give you a fun time, not something that should offer a serious competition. But I think the bullet points 1 and 2 do make the game experience worse. If combos played a bigger role the special fruits wouldn't be the only thing that basically determine the best score. And if whacking the air recklessly would give you some kind of a punishment, you would actually wait for the fruits appear first, which would give a much more stronger ninja feel to the whole gameplay, and thus make the whole experience more fun.

Donkey Konga (GameCube) 

The basic concept is a fun one: play the congos to the music and use hand clapping as a game play element through the microphone that's located in the middle of the Congos. Admittedly the music selection isn't that broad and there may be other matters to nitpick about too, but the game does offer some fun. The problem is that once you find the design flaw, it enables you to cheat in a way that's so unnoticeable that you can even cheat by accident. Here's how it goes. Generally the gameplay has 4 types of input: left drum, right drum, both drums and clap. The problem is that if you're supposed to drum just one of the drums, you can as well drum both of the drums and the game doesn't mind. This means that at parts that seem tough where you have to switch between the drums constantly, the easy way out is to just drum both drums all the time. This takes most of the fun out of trying to actually follow the drumming instructions! This is such a fundamental flaw that it makes me ask: what were they thinking?

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Crazy 1-Button Suicide Javelin

I just released a new game as an entry to the Mochimedia Summer games Contest:

To check the game, go to Mochigames.

The idea is to get a maximum combined distance of five javelin throws. The trick is that you can boost your distance by getting hit by your own javelin: if your torso flies longer than the javelin, that will determine your score!

Since the contest concept was not only to have a reference to the 2012 summer games, but to also be played by just one single button, everything from setting the angle, running, throwing and trying to catch the spear are all controlled by one single button, 'J'. Nevertheless, you can also press 'H' in the main screen to show the hiscores.

Please tell me what you think about the game by writing a comment down below! :)

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