Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Harry Stuff

The Alien Carnage/Halloween Harry freeware release has been getting some buzz on the internet. It looks like a lot of people were fans of the original game when it was released back in 1993. Hopefully they're wearing rose colored glasses when they re-play the game :-)

I spoke about some of the potential Harry sequels a few days ago and since then I found this screen shot from the proposed Zombie Wars sequel (which would have technically been the 4th Harry game - after the Microbee version, Alien Carnage and Zombie Wars).

Basically this was a hires (SVGA) upgrade to the Harry series, but by this time 3D was taking a hold and that's when we diverged into the world of 3D games development. Sadly the project was shelved and Harry was put on ice.

As for the 3D projects - now that's a whole blog entry in of itself!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Two Exciting Product Launches

Brainiversity is almost here. There were a few minor wording errors that needed fixing, but apart from that it's done.

Which is a good thing as my wife and I are expecting our new baby next week! It's incredibly exciting and our little girl Ella can't wait to be a big sister. She even helped set up the baby crib on the weekend, letting her dolly have a sleep in it to make sure it worked.

I know this sounds trite, but being a father is one of the best jobs in the world.

So stay tuned to find out which arrives first - Brainiversity or Baby?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage - what might have been!

I've had a great response from fans of Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage over its re-release as freeware.

So, while people are excited about Harry I thought I'd talk a bit about some other Harry games that never made it to market.

Of course there was a direct sequel called Zombie Wars released in 1996, but before that we kicked around a number of other ideas for games to put Harry in. Often times we mocked up prototypes to test out ideas - from Sidewinder Sally (a Harry spin off) to Halloween Harry: Undead (a 3D multi-player game) to the potentially very cool Lunch Break Commandos.

Lunch Break Commandos
Now, I forget if this was inspired by the LucasArts Indiana Jones Desktop adventures, or whether it was inspired by the same thing that inspired LucasArts - but the game was designed as a "casual" game you could play during your lunch break. Either way, I think it would have been a fun little game as this Windows 95 screen shot shows:

Here's an extract from the design doc dated June 1995:

Game Overview
Lunch Break Commandos is a top down view action/adventure game similar to Zelda.

You take control of a hard as nails mercenary, either Agent Halloween Harry or the equally lethal Agent Diane, Beagle or Doc as you embark on a number of small but challenging missions that can be completed within half an hour to 45 minutes.

Having been assigned by the United Planetary Alliance (UPA) to patrol a number of small planets on the outer rim, it is your job to keep intergalactic peace. Your tasks range from protecting villagers from the evil non-humanoid aliens (NHA) to rescuing downed UPA pilots from behind enemy lines.

There are twenty missions to choose from covering a number of different scenarios on four different worlds. Players can explore and blast their way through each level as they try to achieve their objectives.

New missions with different graphics can be loaded by a special Load Missions facility on the Options screen from separately sold mission disks.

I designed a system to allow the creation of a variety of missions, including the ability to load new tilesets and item types. This was going to used to create new IP and adapt existing IP, such as the Amazon Queen characters.

Again, here's some example game scenarios from the design doc:

Game Examples
The first two examples use the hero morph feature differently but to the same affect.

1) Player has to rescue a downed pilot from across enemy lines. Arriving at the POW camp he comes across a barbed wire fence that blocks further progress. An enemy squadron is based on your side of the fence. There are ten of them and they have a tank. Attack the squadron, avoiding the tank’s shells. After wiping out the squadron hop in the tank and drive over the barbed wire. Get out of the tank and blow the door off the munitions building. Stock up on some grenades and make your way into the camp building, etc.

2) Player has to destroy the evil dragon Grizzlebludde. The only way to it’s Castle lair is via the lake that surrounds it. Unable to swim across without drowning, the player must visit the local Wizard. He will give you a Duck Transformation potion if you deliver a Scroll to the village elves. After delivering the Scroll you get the Duck Potion. Drink it and turn into a duck. Paddle across the lake. On the shore of the Castle grounds drink the potion to turn back into a human, etc.

3) It’s the wild west and legend has it that Old Man Slade stashed a fortune in gold somewhere near Tumbleweed Gulch before he died. With Old Man Slades treasure map, you must brave wild animals, fight off bandits and help a tribe of Indians before entering the dangerous Dead Man Mines to claim the gold. However, you’re not the first... the evil Wooden Teeth Pete and his men are one step ahead of you! Armed with dynamite and the only map of the mines, you must outwit Pete and his men and return with the treasure. Alive.

4) It’s Ancient Greece and the life of your loved one is at stake. As a noble warrior you must brave the fearsome Minotaurs Maze to rescue your girlfriend/boyfriend. But this time things are in your favour. Armed with your trusty M-16 and a heavy duty grenade launcher you’re ready to kick the Minotaurs sorry ass.

As you can tell the game was far from serious. It would have been interesting to see if the idea would have worked back in the mid nineties, but given the warm reception that LucasArts got with their Desktop Adventures I'm guessing it would have struggled to sell.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage as Freeware!

In collaboration with 3DRealms we've released Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage as freeware today!

Halloween Harry, the tough as nails marine from Alien Carnage, is 22 years old this year. He was the star of a game I wrote on the Australian Microbee computer system and released commercially in 1985. I was still in high school at the time and was super excited to have sold my second computer game (the first was called "Chilly Willy", a clone of the classic arcade game, Pengo).

I left school, studied computer science at university, and then got a "real job" as a programmer at a telecommunications company. That lasted just over two years before the computer game bug bit again. Now I was developing for the Amiga computer and had started work on a re-make of the Halloween Harry game I made as a kid - the game that would eventually become Alien Carnage!

With the help of a local comic artist we cooked up a demo that had great graphics and the core of a cool game. Through sheer luck I then hooked up with two other programmers who were making PC games. They were "coding demon" Robert Crane, and "graphics wizard" Tony Ball. We joined forces and Robert took over as lead programmer while I took the reigns on design. In no time we had a very addictive game on our hands.

Then, through sheer luck, we hooked up with Scott Miller and George Broussard from Apogee and before we knew it, the hottest shareware publisher on Earth was publishing us. Back in 1993 when Alien Carnage was first released, we had the honor of being one of the best selling shareware games of the year - an honor that we held on to until a little old game called "Doom" was released a few months later!

I want to say a big thank you to the DOSBox Development Team and Joe Siegler for putting this all together. Nice work guys!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Casual Game Activity

There's been a bit of activity between the traditional console world and the casual games space this last week.

Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, joined the board of NeoEdge - a company that uses an ad-supported business model.

UbiSoft has announced their My Life Coach line of casual games for the Wii and DS. Their first entry is My Word Coach which looks like a collection of word puzzle games.

Outside of the traditional console space, Kyoto is introducing DS English Training to classrooms. This Nintendo DS brain training style game will be part of junior high second year English classes. How cool is that?

And finally Puzzle Quest on the PSP got an excellent score from IGN!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Gold in them thar hills!

I've prepared a gold master candidate for Brainiversity ready for the final round of testing. If all goes well the game should be released very soon.

Fingers crossed!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Back in Black

Well, I have some good news and bad news this week.

The bad news is that my beloved Nintendo DS Lite broke. I sent it to Nintendo Australia and was quoted a $95 repair bill (!) and a promise that it might not be as good as it used to be when I get it back (!!).

The good news is that my amazingly wonderful wife went out and bought me a brand new shiny black Nintendo DS Lite yesterday and personally delivered it to me after lunch. Sigh. She's the best.

So now I can continue my quest for more Pokemon and solve criminal cases with Phoenix Wright (as well as continue to enjoy all the other cool games on the DS). Hallelujah!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Brainiversity Sneak Peek 4

This is probably the last sneak peek I do before the game is released.

So this week I've included a screen shot from the "Sort It!" activity.

I got a great response to my survey with the beta testers and "Sort It!" was rated as one of the most popular activities.

I'm almost finished making changes to the game based on the feedback - there were some great suggestions. Again, thanks to all those who participated.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Design Tips! (Part Two)

Here is Part 2 of the Design Tips from my Passfield Games now defunct Design section. As I mentioned last time, these are based on the old adventure and action platform games I used to make, but may have some useful gems of advice within...

#4 A Game World is a Precious Thing to Waste
Or, Avoid dead ends with no rewards

If you have areas in your world that serve no purpose except to pad out the game then you need to redesign the level. Lose the dead areas or create a reason why they are there: you could add some bad guys, a bonus (even if it’s hidden) or an NPC with some back story or clues.

And remember, bigger is not always better.

A tightly packed Quake III Arena level is way more fun to play when there’s always some action.

#5 Be Consistent
Or, Don’t mess with the player’s mind!

This applies to all aspects of the game design from menu layout to character design.
  1. Music. Game selection menus should always play the same music. In game music can be shuffled.
  2. Clues. If a “Red Wall Tile with a Crack” can be smashed to reveal a secret cave, then all “Red Wall Tiles with a Cracks” should do the same thing.
  3. Danger. If the player can swim in blue water then NEVER have blue colored water in a later level then can kill the player. For God’s sake change the color to Slime Green or Lava Red!
  4. Obstacles. When replaying a level for the umpteenth time a player shouldn’t find a bomb in their path that wasn’t’ there on the last three attempts.
Don’t waste time writing up detailed design documents. The team will never read them. Ever. It’s a complete waste of time. If your publisher or employer insists that you write huge design documents then simply paste random blocks of text into a Word file. You can find chunks of random text on most web sites. Try using text from this site!
#6 Lead The Player Through The Level
Or, Getting lost isn’t fun

All game levels have a start and an end. Players should be led through the level in an intuitive yet unobtrusive way.

Banjo Kazooie uses musical notes to plot a path through the levels. Crash Bandicoot uses crates and apples. Snow boarding games use slaloms and flags. Racing car games use time gates.

Use these paths pointers to take advantage of the lazy gamer! And yes, it’s okay to take advantage of lazy gamers as long as the astute and hard playing gamer can appreciate the design.

For example:
  1. If the Apples that your game character has to collect lead down a certain fork in a path then place a special bonus item down the other path. Place a time gate just after a sharp turn in a racing game so the player will automatically race toward it as soon as they turn the corner – but add a side road at the corner that can hold a special powerup.
#7 Bad Guys Should Never Overwhelm The Player
Or, No one likes to be picked on…

This is a pretty straightforward design rule but some people tend to forget it. If the player has a gun, for example, don’t put them up against a horde of bad guys armed with rocket launchers. Try and balance the difficulty of the enemies with the experience and abilities of the player.

And, unless it’s absolutely necessary, make sure the player starts the level with a bit of breather – don’t drop them into a horde of enemies intent on killing them. If you want to have a horde of enemies then give them a chance to catch their breath first – then you can smash their false sense of security and unleash the horde.

You can ignore this rule if you’re making a game that’s all about killing loads of bloodthirsty aliens and/or goblins.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Design Tips!

I've been cleaning up my Passfield Games web site and have moved most of the content into my blog. Passfield Games displays my latest blog entries, links to free downloads of my old games, as well as my gameography (currently over 20 games since 1984).

One of things I had on my old site was a list of Design Tips. Since I've deleted that old page I decided to print them here starting with Rules #1, #2 and #3. Now these are based on games I made a long, long time ago - but some stuff may be still relevant today. I'll post the rest later.

Design Tips
(or, John's theories on how to make games suck less)

Here you’ll find a mixed bag of my game design rules and my opinions on design. I don’t proclaim to have the final word on game design or that my way is the right way. I’ve been making games professionally since 1992 and am constantly learning new stuff. Which is great, because I believe once you stop being challenged then it’s time to move on.

Some of these rules and opinions will probably change, while others will be expanded upon. Oh, and a lot of them are only relevant to the sort of games I make… which are primarily adventure and platform style games.

The Rules
Most of these rules are pretty obvious. But, I am constantly amazed at how often people just don’t seem to understand a lot of this stuff. I put it down to being too close to the trees in a forest of gaming goodness. Or something like that.

#1 Ramp Up The Game Play (Or, Don’t overwhelm the player)
Start the game off simply and introduce new game play elements, enemies and skills/powers as the game progresses.

Train the player when a new skill is introduced.

If the new level of a platform game requires lots of long perilous jumps to make it to the end, add some areas at the start of the level that the player can practice those jumps safely. For example add a sand bank below so if the player falls they don’t die, but can climb up to the jump and try again. Later on you can have bottomless pits below the long jumps.

#2 Reward The Player (Or, Don’t show all your cards at once)

This compliments the previous rule.

Players need a reason to keep coming back to the game. Obviously the great game play will have them hooked, but giving them something new to see and do is one sure way of keeping them coming back for more.

Here are some things to reward the player with:
  1. New levels. Unlock new levels of the game by first successfully completing the easier levels. Make sure the new levels have new graphics.
  2. Introduce newer enemies/obstacles.
  3. New bonuses.
  4. New challenges. If the player can double jump to get extra air – introduce elements that use this in later levels.
  5. Introduce new skills. For sports games this isn’t always possible, but you can introduce new equipment that can enhance the existing player skill set (and result in higher scores)
Ramping up the Game Play and Rewarding the Player is something that has to be done during the entire game building process. Always remember that any design change can impact game play at a later level – look at the overall game design from start to finish and keep in mind the big picture.
Always cite design rules as fact even if you’re making them up. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about then most people will believe you.

If you suck as a designer you’ll eventually be found out during game focus testing, but you can always blame the lack of fun on badly implemented code!
#3 The Solution Always Comes After The Obstacle (Or, Never leave the front door key in the mailbox)
This is pretty obvious, but there are commercially released games that defy this law. If you come across an obstacle, be it a locked door or chest, or a high tech piece of machinery that needs something to get it going – make sure that the key is located somewhere beyond the obstacle in a place where the player has not yet been. This stops the player from solving the problem before they even realized that there was a problem.

If the obstacle requires more then one item to unlock it then you can let the player find one before reaching the obstacle. If it’s a story game then this can help foreshadow future events and can be a nice touch – plus it can get the player thinking (in a fun way) about future possibilities.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A History of Matching Tile Games

Jasper Juul from the University of Copenhagen has written a fascinating article on the history of matching tile games. He traces the origins of the genre best exemplified by the likes of Bejeweled, from its humble beginnings 21 years ago with Chain Shot and Tetris all the way to today with games like Luxor, Chuzzle and Meteos.

It's a fairly in depth article, and well researched. If you're a fan of this genre, or video games in general, then check it out here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brainiversity Feedback

Wow. A lot of testers were involved in the beta trial for Brainiversity - and overall the feedback has been extremely positive.

I have to give a big thanks to Joel Brodie from Gamezebo for supplying the majority of the beta testers. Not only has he got a list of top quality testers but he also had some good advice on getting the most from the trial.

So, now I'm focusing on addressing the common issues while compiling a list of stuff that is better suited for a sequel :-) I have an internal gold master date that I'm shooting for, so expect to see the game sooner than later.

Again, thanks to all the folks who gave such valuable feedback. I really appreciate it!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Return to Oz

Today is my last day in LA. Tonight I'll be flying back to Brisbane at 10:30pm. I have books and magazines to read and games to play - but honestly, I think I'll be sound asleep soon after take off.

I also picked up one more DS game today. No, it wasn't Puzzle Quest - that game is sold out - instead I got a copy of the new Phoenix Wright game called Justice for All. I really enjoyed the first game so if this is more of the same I'll be happy. The game wasn't built from the ground up with the DS in mind (it's a GBA port), so it doesn't really support the DS as well as it could. Apparently the newest Phoenix Wright coming out in Japan is designed exclusively for the DS, so that should be fun.

For those unaware of Phoenix Wright check it out here on Wikipedia (I love Wikipedia - it seems like everything has an entry!). The game is a lawyer/courtroom drama adventure where you try and get your clients off the hook by presenting evidence to prove they are innocent while cross examining witnesses to prove they are lying. If you love casual games and crime/law TV shows then you should check it out (although it does get over the top in some places).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Busy in LA

I've been rather busy during my trip to LA, but I did manage to get in an hour or two of shopping today. I bought some books for my wife, a DVD of the Curious George TV show for my daughter, Ella - plus some Dora the Explorer stuff that isn't available back home. Ella loves Dora and Boots , and I have to say I think it's a pretty cool show for kids.

I also bought a book called The Real Toy Story. It looks at some of the creators in the toy biz as well as the "dark side" of the industry - the cold blooded marketing used to sell product and the Chinese sweat shops used to make toys. Should be an interesting read. I'll let you know what I think after I read it. In the mean time, if you're interested in toys go read Toy Wars - I really enjoyed that one.

On another note, I picked up a Nintendo magazine at the newsstand and was surprised to see a bad review of Puzzle Quest. The reviewer gave it 4 out of 10 - one of the lowest scores in the mag. The reason he didn't like it was because "it's not much different from Bejeweled and it's just as boring." To say Bejeweled, one of the most succesful and addictive games of the last decade is boring is one thing, but to say Puzzle Quest isn't much different is absurd. I suspect he picked on the game because its from a relatively unknown developer and publisher - and I'm doubly sure he wrote his review before he read Penny Arcade's strips about the game.

At least gamers are voting with their dollars!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Beta Feedback

Well, the final lot of beta testing is underway for Brainiversity and I've gotten some good feedback so far. Thanks to all you folks who are playing the game!

I'll be adjusting stuff before the game ships and one of the key things I've gotten from feedback is that the grading system is a little harsh. I knew this was probably the case, but now I can use data from the beta players to calibrate the system.

So far it looks like fairly minor stuff needs fixing (touch wood) - so if all goes to plan expect to see the game soon!

On a different not, I'm off to see Spiderman 3 tomorrow evening. Should be fun, despite the poor reviews its been getting. At least now I have low expectations. Usually if I go into a film not expecting much I'm pleasantly surprised! I'll be seeing it with a bunch of Aussie friends who are living in LA - so that in itself will make it special.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Diamonds and Pearls

Well, I did it. I bought Pokemon Diamond Version today. Got it at the local game store here in LA. Haven't played too much yet, but it seems like fun. Now, I just need to keep an eye out for Puzzle Quest.

Speaking of Puzzle Quest, Infinite Interactive are giving the space saga setting the same treatment that Puzzle Quest gave fantasy RPGs with their new game Galactrix. Looks like these guys are going to own this genre. Good on 'em!