Website Overhaul

Over the next couple of days I will be doing a complete overhaul of this site and during that process some of the pages may be half complete. The good news is that new content will be here very soon.

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2010 vs. 2011 at IGAMEMAKER.COM

2010

The main two IGAMEMAKER.COM achievements from last year were:

  1. Finishing a Tic Tac Toe unity web application
  2. Posting a how-to video tutorial

My main goal last year was to do one small project and finish with with a fairly high level of polish. I’ve had roughly 850 people watch the making of video and roughly the same number play the game so I think this was a success.

2011

On January 1st I became a registered iOS developer. An hour after registering I launched my current, incomplete and top secret, game onto my iPod. This year I am hoping to do the following:

  1. Create and launch a game on the app store
  2. Create more projects/video tutorials
  3. Add in the ability to donate or purchase larger tutorial source files (allowing you to download the video if desired)

If you have an interest in further tutorials please let me know your suggestions/preferences. Here is my list as it stands today:

  • Tic Tac Toe – Cocos2D, Cocos2D-x, UDK (why now?)
  • Google App Engine – Hosting Unity player with Google App Engine
  • Top seller break downs – Flight Control, Angry Birds, etc.
  • My game as it develops…
  • Anything else that comes to mind?

Last year was more than a little hectic and there wasn’t much time for projects or blogging. I cut out the “fluff” posts and focused on getting meatier results. I’m going to do that again this year and focus on “doing” and then blogging when I have something interesting rather than something forced. I am planning on having more time to dedicate to development this year and I’m hoping to share some of it soon.

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Tic-Tac-Toe using Unity3D

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Tic-Tac-Toe from scratch in 25 minutes using Unity3d.

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Tic Tac Toe – Finished

I have finally completed a small game project: Tic Tac Toe!

Because of the awesomeness that is Unity it is available on the web, however it is currently hosted on my own tiny server so this might be a bit slow and access to it might be intermittent.

CLICK HERE TO PLAY!

Over the last few weeks I stopped posting game updates and focused on getting a VERY small game project done. The result was this Tic Tac Toe implementation. I decided to finish the simplest thing possible and I am happy with that choice. I also decided to accept help from a great artist friend of mine in order to finish. Now that it is basically done I thought I would chat through a bit of how it was made for those interested.

Attempt #1

I was really excited to do an iPhone project but told myself I couldn’t spend money on it until I could finish a project using just the simulator. In roughly 8-12 hours I wrote a version of Tic Tac Toe that looked roughly like the Unity one that I completed later. Only the main board was working and only 2 player (no A.I.). At this point in the project another artist friend of mine bugged me to try out Unity. In 4 hours I caught up to where I was and it looked like it would go even faster in Unity AND it would give me the ability to have an OS X, Windows, Web and iPhone version! So I happily switched.

Tic Tac Toe in Unity

Opening up Unity was a bit awkward for me at first being someone more familiar with Visual Studio than with asset creation tools like Maya. About five minutes later I was completely converted. I love that Unity acts as a sort of “asset hub” where you collect all of your game data and double clicking any asset opens its own application to edit the file. The documentation and tutorials were great, but rather than reading a bunch of how to documents (I still haven’t), I just opened up a JavaScript file and started writing my game in the OnGui() function. My entire game was contained in one JavaScript file and I did not run into that many troubles creating the game.

Phase 1 – Play board and scoring (4-8 hours)

The first thing I did was create a grid of 9 buttons and a storage array in to say what buttons were set. You can pass a GUI.Button an image so based on what space was taken I would select one of the button images. After this worked, I wrote some code to see if an entire row, column or diagonal was filled and then I would score points for that row. Next I added in detection for a draw. Finally I wrote some code to display the score and had a basic Tic Tac Toe game going with myself.

Phase 2 – Functionality and A.I. (4-8 hours)

With the basic game running I was moving into new territory for this code (I had already done the above in xcode). I started with simple A.I. Easy – Pick a random open space. Medium – Win if you can, block other player from winning, random. Hard – Same as medium. Then I went through and enabled a turn indicator (lights up X or O for whose turn it is), reset board button, reset score button and sliders for 1 player/2 players and easy/medium/hard difficulty.

Phase 3 – “Polish” and audio (4 – 8 hours)

My final phase of work on the demo was finishing the audio and making all of the graphics look great (alignment, correct textures, etc.). To customize sliders I had to use the GUISkin class and I noticed that all of the button, box, label and slider classes all have padding and borders on them. This is what was causing my misalignment. After removing those all I needed to do was override the slider and slider thumb textures and my application looked great! Audio was probably the most fun and surprising part of making the game for me. I used the terminal “say” command to output the generated speech to an audio file. Adding this and a button press file from this site and my audio was complete.

I don’t even think I used Unity in the way it was intended and I still found it very easy to use!

Thoughts on building Tic Tac Toe

I’m very happy that I picked such a small project and actually finished it. The project took a total of 12-24 coding hours and roughly 4-5 art hours. Had you asked me before starting how long Tic Tac Toe would take and I probably would have said 4-8 hours. Without polish that was true, but to actually “finish” the game it took three times as long. The range is because I didn’t journal my time working on the game. If I had to pick a number I would say the project took 24 hours or three full-time working days including the time to learn Unity. This information will help me plan my future projects to make sure that they are accomplish-able. I will probably post more intermediate progress steps on future projects.

If people are interested in the source code or a tutorial on this please let me know in the comments and I will write-up a follow-up post, otherwise I will be happily working on the next game.

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Game Breakdown – God of War 3

I have thoroughly enjoyed every installment of the God of War series and the third finishes the story off very well. The following are some random thoughts and opinions on this game which will obviously contain spoilers.

Playtime

My recorded time in-game was 11 hours playing through on normal difficulty. The majority of that playtime was excellent and I loved it (probably about 9-10 hours). I had a few hours of frustration, some of which was included in the 11 hours and some of which far exceeded it! I spent an hour pummeling a scorpion boss in the game and it would not die. I was over a 1000 hit combo on the thing when I thought it must be a bug. There were a couple other sections like the Icarus flights and musical bits that annoyed me but eventually my perseverance was rewarded! After completing the regular game I still had enough energy left to complete the challenges. So in total gameplay time I would estimate 15-16 hours with one play through of all features. If you suck less than I do and die less than my appalling 108 times you will probably shave a few hours off that. At the end of the game I had about 62% of the trophies.

New gameplay

I was sort of used to getting all the same powers back in God of War by a different name. I was happy and surprised to see them mix it up a little this time. All your powers are new and you get some cool items. In addition to that you get the craziest titan and boss fights that I have ever seen!

Challenges

I didn’t play the challenges in any of the other God of War games, but I really enjoyed them in this edition. There weren’t to many and from the description they didn’t sound too hard. Hah. Took me a few hours to get through them all and each has a little trick to it. The hardest one for me was the gorgon’s turning you to stone 10 times. Then I figured out that if I try to grab one it triggers them to try to turn me to stone. Then it was like clock work. I enjoyed finishing these.

Extra Features

I sat through every video that unlocked when the game was finished. It was suprising how similar some of the footage was to the God of War 2 making of I had watched a couple months back. These guys are very energetic but obviously pretty tired by the end of making a game like this! The making of footage is worth watching and has an interesting commentary on the new director for the game, who I think did a great job! If you are at all interested in how games are made, these are very well put together interviews with all of the staff that helped make the game.

If I had complaints

Hmmm…if I had to criticize what would I say? One thing is that the game’s story kind of just flows like you have already played all the other games. The title screen has a nice montage video but really you are thrown into the thick of it. Luckily the story develops more towards the end of the game. I like that they assumed people had played the last games but I still think the beginning of the game was a bit slow from a character and character motivation standpoint. I also think that the voice acting picked up near the end of the game and the initial dialogue was a bit campy and under delivered. The end of the game was awesome.

Bugs…as I mentioned I got stuck fighting and invincible scorpion. That sucked. I had a few other characters that just wouldn’t die fighting them either until I found odd tricks to kill them. I don’t recall a tutorial on how to do those tricks either. I used the tried and true mash buttons until something works.

No mention or respect for Chains of Olympus. The PSP entry in this series was actually one of my favorites, and also shipped the most units!

Final Impression

This final act in the series was the first that I feel pulled me into being Kratos. Every previous game I felt bad about killing civilians or sacrificing people to achieve my objective. For some reason this game let me just slaughter as Kratos without batting an eye. It is by far the most gory experience I have ever seen in a game (worse than Phantasmagoria).

This game is truly next-gen. I was personally hoping that it would surpass Uncharted 2 but I think Nathan remains the PS3 champ. However…Kratos gave him a run for his money and is the second best game I have played on PS3. I will miss Kratos…but remember to watch to the end of the credits to find out why I might not miss him for too long!

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Game Breakdown: Trine

I was really surprised by this great game. I have NEVER had as many people walk by my desk and comment on what I am playing. “What game is that?” “Wow, that looks gorgeous”. Explaining the mechanics to them is also met with instant recognition of how good the concept is. I agree with their comments!

Value

I bought Trine on sale for $7.99. $8/8 hours for one play through = $1/h of entertainment. Awesome. Modern Warfare 2 $60/8h = $7.50/h. Trine was better value for my dollar, even at full price ($20/8 = $2.5/h).
Fun

What makes Trine so fun?

Story

Very simple and engaging story with three character archetypes and enough humor to not take it seriously. Very much a story book brought to life with a light hearted feel that reminded me of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time which was the last time that I played something with the “princess bride” effect. Games that feel like fables or fairy tales have a magical sense of fun and innocence in them even when they play with darker themes. The developers also had the courage to essentially wrap up the experience in one game. It doesn’t feel like it needs a sequel or that anything was rushed or missed.

Gameplay Mechanics

I think the design spells itself out with the characters and you owe it to yourself to download the demo and try out the first levels with the characters.

  • Knight – Sword to hit stuff. Shield to block. Down the road your sword is on fire, you can run and bash people with shields and you get a big lighting hammer. What more do you need?
  • Thief – Arrows. Grappling Hook. Swinging kick. Upgrade to flaming/exploding arrows, faster reload times and more arrows.
  • Wizard – Search for fireball…and end up drawing boxes, planks and eventually platforms.

Using these core mechanics, many physics and side scrolling battle encounters are created in a magical world. I have never seen a game play out so obviously since Portal. Great tutorials, fun experimentation, collectibles, secret areas and achievements.

Why do these features work together? Because of the great differentiation in a characters and the levels that force you to use the characters strengths.

Summary

I don’t think I have played a better “indie” game. I think this clever game deserves to be played if you don’t mind playing something a little more childish in theme. I probably enjoyed this equally to Modern Warfare 2 and in 5 years I would predict that I would be more likely to go back and play Trine as I doubt a game will do the physics genre better than Trine because MW2 will have many competitors. +1 to uniqueness!

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Avatar

I see you – Na’vi


Introduction

Accessibility is a key in both movie making and in games and I believe that Avatar embodies the “simple but deep” development philosophy. This combined with cutting edge visuals and spectacle is where the film’s greatness comes from. I have heard a few people bash the script as being incredibly simple and I have also heard comments about the moving being an extremely “left” political message. For me as a viewer I think there is some truth to these comments, Avatar should not receive and award for writing and I do think it has many left wing things to say but I believe it tells a much more potent message than some people may think. The message is so blatant and simple that I don’t think many reviewers actually see it. The thesis of the film is “I see you” and I want to take a minute to describe how that message is told in a way that includes everyone but is ultimately and expression about Art rather than society.

To make and engaging story you have to create characters on screen that people can identify with and then you have to tell a story where those people progress and change throughout that story in meaningful ways. I think that one of the cheapest ways to make people connect is by making fun of people that are dislike them. I personally think Avatar sells its experience by using stereotypical caricatures to make fun of and include everyone all at the same time (no group other than the Na’vi miss having stereotypical digs).
Military

People that are military supporters get the initial buy in for the marine grunt (read protagonist) on the ground and a get things done attitude. They get to make fun of the science geeks and show that a Jarhead can come in and learn everything and blast some people up, get the girl and ultimately save the day. This is a very satisfying film on this level and is probably the best executed and the one that took the most on screen time to develop. I think this story is where the majority of ticket sales are actually from.
Corporations

Corporations and economics do not make good entertainment. So this movie easily targeted something everyone has understandably had a run in with. Phrases like unobtanium and slaughtering people to get at resources is a very powerful message.
Scientists

Scientists are one of the most interesting commentaries made by Cameron. It would be easy to make this movie a pro-science movie but instead I think Cameron even took a dig at scientists by making them unable to see the Na’vi for what they really are, due to their preconceived notions. The jealousy they have for Jake is sort of “last one picked for dodge ball funny”. I think this example is where Cameron takes his biggest step in layering the meaning into the picture. I read this, even on my first viewing, as a message to movie critics and viewers everywhere to really stop and see and occasionally admit that you are prejudiced and biased at times and cannot see.

After making fun of so many groups, the only core message I can really in the movie is purely artistic and a bit of an ego trip. Come into my created world and revel in the art. I say making fun of other groups and ego trip fairly lightly as well. I loved this movie and I think it used simple techniques to establish character. The battle scenes and heroes journey stand on their own without comment! Yes there are political messages included in this artistic film but at the end of the day the artistic brilliance created by a  masterpiece created by a huge collaboration of people it what will stand the test of time. I think that at the end of the day, this somewhat simple plot tells the tale of artistic achievement and fulfillment in the best way I have seen to date. To me, that is where the greatness of the film is. Does art include commentary on social and political issues? Yes, but even more it is a window into artists worlds and imagination rendered in a way that has never been more real. Avatar is the Star Wars of this generation and I am excited to see the inspiration this work of art drives in years to come. Hopefully “I see you” James Cameron and what your collaborators brought to the screen.

“I see you” – James Cameron (Golden globes)

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Game Breakdown: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2

In my game breakdowns I typically try and focus on the overall product and what makes it tick as a game. Having just finished Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) I am struggling to break down the experience because…it is a highly polished shooter which doesn’t leave much to describe in mechanics. The base mechanics are fairly clean and executed extremely well so instead I am going to focus on what I think Infinity Ward’s strengths and weaknesses were for me in the play experience.

The Good

The Modern Warfare series does a spectacular job of capturing memorable moments in game play. What do I mean by this? When reflecting on other shooters that I have played I usually don’t remember the fighting or moments in the game, I typically remember plot points or movies. The MW games bring you right into those moments and let you live them. I typically summarize the original MW as “fight, nuke crawl, fight, air bombardment, fight, sniper mission, fight” and I found the pacing of these events to be far enough apart that it captured a great game play pace. Do I remember the plot? No, but I can remember my “OMG” moment as a player at the end of the nuke crawl and the sense of awesome power raining down fire from above. I think that capturing the current situation in a game to be more important than story when done right.

If I was summarizing my emotional experience out of MW2 it would be understanding how people felt during the cold war. I think the first half of the game is better than COD4 and to be honest…I think the last half was only mediocre. The following discussion will obviously have spoilers so please don’t continue if you are worried about that kind of thing. If I could summarize the play experience form MW and remember it 2 years later, what do I recall from MW2 right after playing it? Black hawk down, Snow mobile rampage, Residential American fighting, Prison break, EMP, DC, Hunt dude down, betrayal. For me the only part that mattered was the first half. Jumping from foreign war torn streets to local suburbia in the same state in only one hour of game play really hit home at an emotional level for me. The game after that was more “plot focused” and I honestly can’t keep the players straight in my mind. There were a few good moments of story telling and struggle after but the main greatness was exhausted in the first half for me. I found MW2 to be better in some areas and worse in others but on the whole I think it compared equally to MW’s single player campaign which was amazing.

I think CoD4: Modern Warfare (COD:MW) was probably one of the best “shooter experiences” that I have played so MW2 had a lot to live up to. I clocked in at just over six hours to finish the regular campaign.

I have barely scratched the surface of Multiplayer and Special ops but I can see plenty of things to like already. For me this is the closest experience to counter strike that I have played (which is a good thing). I also haven’t seen a game that is so blatant in it’s kindergarten sticker giving. What I mean is that it seems like there are hundreds, if not thousands, or unlock-able achievemnts and logos. I predict a lot of fun in the MP future.

The Bad

I found the plot overly complicated and “twisted” to be clear for the level of experience the game provides. Usually I like a story with some twists and involvement but I didn’t really find the character names memorable around me so I never really bought into the actual plot. I thought the single player experience was also a little short as I was hoping for about 8 hours of play for my money on the single player side of things.

The only small complaint I have about MP is that I didn’t find that the new features were described well enough. I find that I just want to get in and play so I’m not using many of the features that I have unlocked yet. I think this has more to do with me being a nube rather than the game itself.

Conclusion

I think this is one of the best selling games for a reason. For my own tastes I found this serving of Modern Warfare enough to keep me for a couple of years I think. I will have to spend some more time with the multiplayer but I am not drawn to double dip in the singleplayer.

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Entertaining Technical Distractions

Over the last few months I have had a great deal of fun and pain with electronics and gadgets. In the last few months I have:

  • Built a home theater
  • Broke, Repaired and Upgraded my PC
  • Buidling a home theater
    I had been planning on building a home theater in my new house since August and I finished the majority of it in December 2009. Here is what I went with:

  • Epson 8100 1080p Projector (Quebec Accoustic)
  • Harmon Kardon 354 AV Receiver (Visions Electronics)
  • Polk Audio M10 Speakers x 6 (only using 5) (Visions Electronics)
  • Polk Audio P10 Subwoofer (Future Shop)
  • All cabeling from Monoprice.com (SO AWESOME)
  • For roughly $3500 I have a 110″ 1080p image projected on my wall and great surround sound. I am by no means an audio or a video expert so this upgrade in quality has blown me away and was well worth the investment considering that you can spend the same about on a 55″ TV which is 25% of the size and the sound would be lacking. Some days I still wonder if I should have gone with the TV as the projector requires a bit more maintenance and doesn’t look good during the day. When I put a movie on at night, those little niggling thoughts go away and I remember how awesome theater can be! If you can control the light in your room and don’t mind playing around a little to set it up then there isn’t a better value on the market.

    Repairing/Upgrading a broken PC
    Moving my PC ended up being a series of unfortunate events.

  • Stock Heat sink fell off during the move
  • Decided to upgrade to a quad core chip and a beefy heat sink (E6600 -> Q9550)
  • My Asus P5W-DH Deluxe MB barely supports the chip (not at full spped and I needed a bios update)
  • Bios update ended up failing (my fault) and my bios was fried
  • Ordered a new bios chip and bios chip removal tool (Ebay). It was fairly easy.
  • Installed new CHIP…OS wouldn’t boot
  • Decided to upgrade to windows 7 and ordered a new HD
  • UPS stuck it in my BBQ and I thought they lost it so it delayed in another couple of weeks
  • Installed Windows 7 and used the computer desk to put the christmas tree on
  • Back to my laptop
  • Christmas was over, got back to my desk
  • Computer crashed a lot and only registered 3GB of memory in a 64 bit OS
  • Updated BIOS settings to support more than 3GB
  • Computer became unstable
  • Took out old 2GB of memory
  • Computer now runs great…piece of cake.
  • What did I learn?
    Research the chips a bit better. “Supported” and “Supported at full speed” are different things.
    Don’t power off a machine during a bios update (duh…this was an accident as I left the disc in the drive at boot up)
    Check everywhere for a delivered package, even if it required a signature.
    Run x86memtest or something like that when you get new RAM.
    Keep in mind how easy pre-built laptops are! 🙂
    Next time consider just buying everything new to start with as I have probably invested what a reasonable new machine would have cost if I was searching for deals.

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    2009 In Review

    Over the last year I haven’t done much game “making” and instead have been busy entertaining myself with movies, books and games. Since 2008 I have tracked what I have read, watched and played to see the impact that having a child had on my entertainment time. I am really surprised at how much I can still fit in! So here is a quick summary of what I did in 2009.

    Games
    Games took the hardest hit in 2009. I only list games that I have “completed”, not ones that I only tried. In 2009 I only finished three games vs. 9 in 2008.

    1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
    2. Batman: Arkham Asylum
    3. Resistance: Retribution

    Next year I am going to focus on playing more games as I picked up a bunch of games on steam this holiday season. Expect some breakdown/reviews on: Trine, Torchlight, The Witcher, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and maybe some others.

    Reading
    I read 10 books in 2009 vs. 6 in 2008.

    1. Honor Harrington: At All Costs
    2. Hedge Knight 2
    3. Graphics Black Book
    4. Prey
    5. Terminator: Salvation Prequel
    6. Shader X2
    7. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
    8. Lieutenant Hornblower
    9. Hornblower and the Hotspur
    10. Hornblower and the Atropos

    Of these books I really have to call out the Hornblower series. I’m usually not a fan of classic literature but this stuff is amazing! I hope to finish the entire series next year.

    Movies
    I watched 58 movies in 2009 vs. 54 in 2008. The best films I watched this year were:

    1. Avatar – I may do a blog post on this in the future but simply put: Wow.
    2. Star Trek – Major plot holes but a lot of fun and very re-watchable.
    3. District 9 – 30 million budget? This is science fiction at its best.

    Blog
    I didn’t hit the goals I set this year for blogging and I am going to re-evaluate what I think I can get done this year. I’m thinking of either switching to JavaScript games on this site and I am also looking at doing a few strictly programming based applications.
    Expect a few blogs on purchasing a home theater system, getting used to owning a mac, upgrading my pc and a few more game breakdowns. I am hoping to do a few more programming posts as well but I think I am going to reboot my game coding again. Perhaps I will have some new goals soon.

    Summary
    I had lots of fun this year and didn’t work on hobbies very hard. I’m going to find more ways to make games for fun in 2010.

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