Feature – GameCityNights Season 4 Episode 1

Posted: April 22, 2013 in Feature, GameCity, Indie, Reviews

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The reason there was no GameCityNights last month was that it was in celebration of the then unreleased Sim City game, the festivities called SimCityNights. Pretty smart, eh? As such the night was spent with everyone playing Sim City, myself included. There was a competition as to whom to build the better city. I had a tinkering session with the game but due to arriving late there was no chance of winning, so I left my city available (named the Iain Simons Experience as a tribute to the GameCity Grand Master) so those who weren’t on a team could tinker around. Coming back 15 minutes later I find all houses gone with parking lots everywhere. You try to be nice…

SAM_0819

Anyways, to events more present. This month marks the first Episode of Season Four of GameCityNights, why so late could only attribute to it being scheduled by the financial year but this was firmly debunked by Iain Simons. Our House Band Owain Davis made a welcome return as did Paul Butler after a long hiatus with his video game themed stand up Augmented Vision.

Taking the spot of former GameCityNights regulars DevSoc, who usually brought us Flerbs now came Falchion Games with point and click game Go To Hell Dave!, a well-liked game taking up the space Flerbs has left behind. Although according to a close source, Flerbs is being rebuilt so watch this space for the inevitable return of the nation’s favourite corpse jumping game.

TCTGTM_08_Level06The main attraction for the night was The Cat That Got The Milk from Ollie Clarke, Jonathan Mann, Helena Santos and Chris Randle (I’m calling them The Gringos). On their behalf guest speaker Ollie Clarke made a presentation about how the mechanics work, along with some sneaky shortcuts for game makers

Even though I never heard of The Cat That Got The Milk before that night, it had actually been out a year before The Button Affair which was playable at GameCity7. The game has a simple enough premise: get from left to right. But of course, nothing is that simple. So to throw you off your game delightfully colourful obstacles have been placed in your way and your controls limited to the good old fashioned way of not being able to move diagonally.

The design plan was straightforward enough, they wanted simple gameplay in this instance the concept of moving from one side of the screen to another, but wanted to shake things up with a strong mechanic. Tired of the monotony colour palette of games which nearly all appear to be limited to varying shades of brown and grey, The Gringos have injected a welcome and refreshing change of colour to stand out.

Inspired by a quote by a former tutor “The trick is not to have the good idea, the trick is to simply spot the good idea”, not just to invent something that can work but to see other things which can work when applied in a certain way, even with other concepts.

Clarke has stated he has three rules:

TCTGTM_12_Level101)      A solid mechanic. Something that is simple and easy to pick up. No complaints about clicking through multiple menus. Just pure fun.

2)      A strong art style. How to stand out from the crowd when there are 100+ games released a week.

3)      Great music and sound. This pulls it all together to (hopefully) create a great gaming experience for all.

With this Clarke wants to show he wants to respect the time someone has with a game by pulling all these ideas together. If he isn’t respecting the player’s time, then he has failed.

According to the Tate Gallery - "The vast expanse of unmodulated red paint in this work is both absorbing and disorienting. It is interrupted by a single, narrow band of purple running the length of the right-hand edge. This 'zip' generates a tension throughout the canvas between presence and blankness, solidity and fragility. Its verticality also echoes the position of the viewer, helping to fulfil Newman's concern that 'the onlooker in front of my painting knows that he's there'." Looks just like a rect rectangle  with a purple line to me.

According to the Tate Gallery – “The vast expanse of unmodulated red paint in this work is both absorbing and disorienting. It is interrupted by a single, narrow band of purple running the length of the right-hand edge. This ‘zip’ generates a tension throughout the canvas between presence and blankness, solidity and fragility. Its verticality also echoes the position of the viewer, helping to fulfil Newman’s concern that ‘the onlooker in front of my painting knows that he’s there’.”
Looks just like a red rectangle with a purple line to me.

Admitting to stealing, ahem, borrowing striking colours thanks to a Google image search to find the best of the best abstract shades available and then cherry-picking the finals ones for a colour test to see what mood they can convey, a technique adopted by Pixar in their films. The myriad of artists’ work selected as inspiration for the game include Kandinsky, Gruam, Klee, Mondrian, Newman and Noland.

An animator for over five years, Clarke made a shocking confession. Although it appears to be a 2D game, The Cat was actually made in 3D using Unity to make collision detection simpler. Clarke feels that how a game feels is effectively a combination of the following – shape, texture, colour, motion and interaction. With these factors interrelated the possibilities are infinite.

When marketing The Cat, Clarke and The Gringos simply talked to journalists who were interested and wanted to know more. To his surprise they weren’t as vicious and evil as everyone says we are (it’s true. I’m a very pleasant chap). A polite email can go a long way and if you’re honest people will respond. If you try different avenues you will find others with similar interests and start to build a good fan base and contact list. Additionally a great video can go a long way and there is no shame in spending a lot of time creating something designed to catch eyes to create that buzz amongst the gaming community. The website took a pounding because of this.

TheButtonAffairA year later came The Button Affair. Inspired by games like Canabalt and liked the similar mechanic used in Another World in 1991, feeling a connection with the character and Clarke’s first emotional experience was with the cliffhanger at the end of Another World. By not giving the character a face you can imprint your own face on and give yourself that sense of immersion that you’re the one avoiding gunfire and many certain death situations.

This image will make more sense to the game makers of the world.

So, why make The Button Affair? Clarke remarks it was so they could make something fun and to “level up!” and make something different that can respect the player’s time. As with The Cat, The Button Affair is made in 3D in Unity as the sneaky way to help with some of that collision detection stuff. Another cheat suggestion was during one instance where it looks like Enzo Gabriel was pushing a chair aside. This was actually accomplished by having two collision boxes next to each other, triggering as the player ran past on one layer which then triggers the trigger for the chair to move on a separate layer. View it from the right angle and it looks like Enzo is pushing it himself. However the hand drawn separate layered animation illusion for the death effects was something that Clarke would not recommend due to being too time consuming.

The Gringos, now calling themselves Modern Dream (“For a Modern Age!” although Jonathan Mann has departed to work on other projects) strive to think outside the box. They are the brave souls who are rising to the challenge to benefit those who do not want brown knee-high walls anymore. They are spotting the good ideas.

IDG_AbstractNo3_KandinskysViolin_SmallClarke was kind enough to announce their next game – ABST No. 3: Kandinsky’s Violin – it seems to resemble The Cat but taking more inspiration from Wassily Kandinsky. No videos of gameplay shown yet but if it’s anything like some of Kandinsky’s work I’ve seen… It’s going to be challenging.

I enquired as to how they decided that the grey rectangle in The Cat was actually a cat? Although he couldn’t remember the title, Clarke recalls a book from his youth where a little girl follows her pet cat into the woods at night to find a large group of cats being given milk by an old man. Although he admitted this didn’t really answer the question he did say that this was part of the magic, he wants people to question it “What is the cat? Is it a mouse? Is it chasing a mouse? Where’s the milk?” The question is more important than the answer.

Time for a quick break. A quick nod to Owain Davis and “You know what I want.” Had the awesome Great Fairy theme remix from the Legend of Zelda series.

UnmechanicalXLater, from Stockholm, Sweden via the magic of Skype came Talawa Games founder and CEO, Jesper Engström. Last seen dancing in a converted church by Iain Simons until he had to leave at 3.am, Engström came to us from his parents’ house, a much more relaxed setting. Talawa Games’ debut title Unmechanical, released on the App Store not too long ago has met critical acclaim (a review by myself should be available soon) and I seriously suggest you invest in this title. When asked for tips for iOS game developers, Engström heavily recommends that you listen to the Man and do what they ask. If Apple wants some exclusive artwork in 24 hours, it’s beneficial you try to comply. With regards to marketing, as well as the standard making of a good game, Engström consulted Metacritic and emailed as many reviewers as he could – over five hundred.

I asked if he had any inkling to add any narrative, using the voiceover in Thomas Was Alone as a comparison for Unmechanical. Engström noted that having no budget or investment it was too ambitious but understanding the gameplay art and using your own imagination to create the story worked out better. In this instance I’d have to agree. I also asked if the robot had a name and he answered no. I called mine Weegeeite.

GameCityNights is an event that happens on the last Thursday of every month at Antenna in Nottingham. For more information check out http://nights.gamecity.org/

I even managed to meet the OUYA machine. I tried to unlock the secrets within but my penetrating gaze simply wasn't enough.

I even managed to meet the OUYA machine. I tried to unlock the secrets within but my penetrating gaze simply wasn’t enough.

External links for you all:

Modern Dream.com
The Cat That Got The Milk website
The Button Affair website

Twitter feeds:

Ollie Clarke
@OllieClarke
Helana Santos
@helana_s
About.me page
Chris Randle
@chris_randle
Previous “Gringo” Jonathan Mann
@mannjon79
 

Talawa Games website
Unmechanical website

Falchion Games and Go To Hell Dave!

The musings of Paul Butler and his Augmented Vision

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