Ludum Dare 34

I’m taking part in Ludum Dare 34. I have started late. I need to respect family and social commitments. So the scope will have to be minimal.

The themes of this jam are Growing and Two Button Controls. I can pick either or both. I choose Growing.

First job is to brainstorm on paper.

My tool of choice for this jam is C++ with the Cinder Library, because this is what I am most familiar with. This is no time to experiment with new or unfamiliar tools. This limits my scope as my baseline is so low, but that’s fine. My platform is Mac OS X.

My approach for this jam:

  • Keep the scope incredibly small
  • Make it fun
  • Exercise
  • Protect focus (I will post updates on my blog from time to time over the next 48 hours, but not so much Twitter)
  • Use the tools that you know, this isn’t the time to experiment with your toolchain
  • It’s better to finish, ship and learn than to try to make something fun and end up with nothing

Thanks to everyone for the good luck messages. Let’s do this!

Reach for the PC

Screen Shot 2014 02 22 at 20 18 45

Finally then, here is the PC build of Reach for the Sky, my toy, soon to be I think, the world’s first Rocket RPG. Yes, that’s grandiose. Yes, that’s tongue in cheek. Oh and there is a Mac version too. Of course. And the Mac version has that lovely rocket sound.

Get the PC build here.

Get the Mac build here.

Remember, it’s just a toy, so muck around with it. I’ll be building a game on top of it.

You can fiddle with the JSON files in the assets folder and see what happens. The good news is that you can fiddle with them without restarting the game. After you’ve fiddled, just hit the Backspace (delete on Mac) key and all the changes will be reloaded.

You can change the sky gradients, the engine power, the atmospheric density at ground and at the top of the sky, the drag on the ship, and lots more. Please give me comments here, or on Twitter @shahidkamal with the hashtag #RFTS

Thanks to everyone for your help so far!

Reach for the Sky – update 1

Screen Shot 2014 02 16 at 19 43 50
I’ve done a weekend of work on this, but almost none of it is visible.

Internally, this is not just a toy now. I can play with the environment, background, rocket attributes, physics, engines and so on very easily. Instead of a single big file, I have classes for Ship, Engine, World, View, Particle, Emitter, RocketEmitter and so on.

This is the latest Mac build, watch out, this rocket is a lot more powerful. The gradient sky came about as a result of a nice tip from Paul Pridham (@madgarden on Twitter) – thanks Paul! I will experiment with this in later builds. The gradients are important because the object of the game will be to ensure that you reach the “sky” (the dark bit) and of course, the sky will become a narrower band as the levels progress.

Next week, there will be levels and more than one rocket to control. Eventually, you’ll be able to level up your rockets with multiple staged engines, but it will become like playing the keyboard, so later levels won’t be easy. You might need a friend when it gets up to 8 rockets on the screen with each of them having different attributes!

Download for the Mac here.

Sorry I haven’t got a PC build ready. I’ve not had time to build the Cinder environment for my PC laptop yet.

Reach For The Sky

This is a toy that took me a weekend and a bit to get going. I’m using the Cinder library, which for the most part keeps itself to itself, and C++, very badly abused C++ at that.

It’s only on the Mac at the moment. I’ll see if I can get it going on the PC and upload a build here if I can.

Grab the Mac build here.

Unzip it, stick it in Applications or something and remember to sort out your security settings to allow running something by a nobody. (After you’ve run it, do remember to restore your security settings, OK?)

Give Up on Your Dreams

“Is your deal on the Emu XL–1 Turbo with all the add-on cards still on at the same price?”

Many of my conversations with the staff of what used to be Soho Soundhouse and subsequently Turnkey took a similar turn. I spent a small fortune on music technology as it evolved, and even went there for my guitars, culminating in the purchase of a Paul Smith Standard 24 with the bird inlays at a cool £2,000. The journey began so long ago, as far back as the mid 1980s that I genuinely don’t remember my first purchase there. Like other firsts, it was hurried, clumsy and forgettable. It might have been a Roland TR707 drum machine, then over £450, and like most music tech, now worth £4.50 no doubt.

Every day a part of my consciousness acknowledges the rack containing the Emu with its sister-wives, the Roland JV1080; the magnificent, warm and unparalleled Roland Super JX, AKA MKS–70; the Alesis Microverb; the Emu ESI–4000 and the e-magic Unitor MIDI interface. I acknowledge the remnants of my dreams every day, a reminder of how I didn’t “succeed” in music, knowing full well that had I persisted, I would have.

Ohh the opportunities were there. In the late 1980s, Ben Wardle, an A&R man at Warner, liked what my band (Life in the Bus Lane) was doing, but we stopped. We had a contact with the CEO of CBS at the time, but we stopped. Then later in the late 1990s, I tried again. I started singing. My voice was untrained, the demos were rough, but people liked it. I got a good demo sound, not production-quality by any stretch, but good enough. I wrote some good songs, and recorded a handful. Then I stopped.

Every day I pick up my Dean acoustic fretless and I practice, and every day there is a part of my subconscious that is trying to push the “you could have done this” message to my conscious mind, but my conscious mind left that behind and moved on.

I never admitted that I’d failed, because I used to think that failure was shame. It isn’t shame. Failure is the only time we learn. When a child learns to walk, it fails again and again. It never beats itself up. It never chides itself. It smiles, picks itself up, loves the process and learns to walk. There are probably fewer skills harder to master than walking, but most of us do that without fuss.

I didn’t fail at music. I just didn’t keep going. If I’d kept going, I would have succeeded. What I have learned is that I wasted a lot of time thinking I’d failed. Failure is not shameful. The only thing I’m ashamed of is wasting so much of my time thinking there was no way forward. There isn’t always a way forward, but there is often a way around, or over, or under. There is a way.

My dream was to be a writer of great songs and a recording artist. I never gave up on that dream. What I did was pursue something else. Video games. I kept going and I kept going. I never stopped. I paused, but I never stopped, even when I thought it was over.

I thought it was over for me in 1984 after Jet Set Willy. I didn’t take Richard Jones’ offer of £3000 for Baby Starts Walking on the C64. That was youthful pride. And so I tried to make another game and got nowhere with it and thought it was over. Then I saw Knight Lore and knew what I wanted.

Then in the late 1980s, I thought it was over after a successful stint making games that Telecomsoft published. I’d had a great time and I was on top of the world. After Pandora, I thought I’d blown my chance with the Stampers, and that it was over. Then I got into music and started making music for video games. That led me to my gig at BITS where I spent a few years, after which I went on to Virgin Interactive, Hasbro Interactive and finally START! games where I was on top of the world for a while. And then START! stopped, and I thought it was over. Not just career wise either. Divorce, homelessness, no job, no money, crushing debt, ill health, I thought it was definitely over. After enduring that period as gracefully as it’s possible for a broken man to endure and gettnig by with some contract work for a while, I joined Sony Computer Entertainment at the back end of 2005, 8 years ago this week in fact.

By the tail end of 2005, I thought it was over again, but this time, I knew how to pick myself up. I never gave up the fight. I committed myself fully to work. I threw myself into work with zeal and passion. I found a new remit and a new focus. I totally transformed my life with energy and passion that I might previously have said was impossible. I worked insanely hard, stayed incredibly positive, stayed profoundly happy and with my colleagues, delivered, delivered, delivered. The run continues and I intend to reach new highs.

You see, if you are willing to put three decades or more of effort into something, you are going to be really, really good at it, but only if you care. If you go through the motions, you are doing a job. If you put yourself into it, you are following a calling. There are few forces in the world as powerful as the softness of water on the apparent immovability of rock over the aeons of time. Don’t be the rock. Be the water. Be the drop and fall. Again and again and again.

If I want to be “successful” at videogames, and success can be defined in so many ways, then I have to focus on videogames. Today is a great day for me to give up on my dreams, the dreams that were not meant to be, and to continue to kindle the fire inside that has led me to success I could never have dreamt of. A success that is its own reward. Of pride in my work, in my colleagues, my company, my partners. To deliver work that has moved people, enriched their lives, made them happy, in a way that they admire and aspire to. That is success. Today I give up on my dreams and hold onto that which becomes more and more real every day.

My Favourite Eight Games

Thanks to Paul Drury, I was featured in Retro Gamer issue #111 as part of a six-page “Desert Island Discs spread”. Paul asked me for my top eight games. Given my length of time in the business, this was extraordinarily difficult, and probably not even that meaningful, but here, in no particular order, are my top eight.

Star Raiders – Atari 400

Bit-for-bit, probably the greatest video game programming accomplishment in history. An 8KB miracle, the audio-visual experience was light-years ahead of anything else and the game design and balancing were almost unbearably good.

Jet Set Willy – ZX Spectrum

This game possessed me. I left my Spectrum on when I was asleep with a cushion on it so I could come back to it in the morning without having to wait for it to load. The freedom to explore was mind expanding. I loved it so deeply, I converted it to the C64.

Super Mario Kart – SNES

I played this for two years, every single day, for two hours a day, one and two player. I kept getting better. Probably the best balanced video game ever written. A masterpiece.

Speedball II – Amiga

“Ice cream! Ice cream!”

It’s hard to pick out a single title from the golden Amiga era, but this game gave me RSI and had believable and reliable AI. It had that feeling of solidity and it was brutal. Brutal deluxe.

Ultima Underworld – PC

A year before this came out I had a vivid dream of a game in which I was the protagonist facing skeletons in a 3D environment. The Stygian Abyss was that dream made real. This game made buying a monster PC a priority. It was by far the most deeply immersive and engaging game I’d ever played to that point. I still remember the battle music. Lights out, sound up, exhilarating genius.

God of War – PlayStation 2

This is one video game for which the word “epic” is wholly apt. An absolute masterpiece of design, progression, adrenaline, fury, story-telling and character development, the score is a masterpiece, the visuals were shockingly good and it is one of very few games I went back and replayed at a harder level. An utter triumph.

Super Stardust HD – PlayStation 3

The greatest twin-stick shooter ever made, supremely balanced, shockingly addictive, technically superlative, great music, retro-remade done better than anything else I can think of. At one point, I was in the world’s top 50 on several of the leaderboards. The updates were a joy too. This was like crack for the eyes.

Super Crate Box – PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Mobile game I was most pleased to sign, this had to be on the PS Vita because there is no better way to play the game than with “proper” controls. This game is deceptively simple at first glance, but every hour of play reveals greater nuances, depth and balancing that show just how deeply considered the gameplay is. I never thought so much thought and love could go into a single-screen game. My best score is 306.

What is an Indie Dev?

What is an “indie dev”? What’s the difference between a plain old “developer” and an “indie”?

I’ve been giving this some thought since last year and I think I’ve finally come to a definition I’m happy with, and a point of differentiation, or specialisation against a  “developer”.

The term “developer” is a broad definition that covers any person directly involved in the act of software creation. A “Developer” on the other hand represents an entity involved in the act of software creation. It can be one or more people. A “Developer” can be independent, whilst not really being “indie”. So what does “indie” mean?

Indies are free to create what they want.

An indie has control over his or her creative direction. Thus Mike Bithell is an indie, Jeff Minter is an indie, Rob Fearon is definitely an indie, Rami Ismail and JW (Jan Willem Nijman) are indies, Ricky Haggett is an indie, James Marsden is an indie, Rhodri Broadbent is an indie, but despite the tag “independent” being applicable to a number of larger developers around the world, they aren’t really “indie”. A developer who was at first an “indie”, but then paid to create a specific piece of software, is no longer “indie”. However, a developer who is paid to create what the developer wants, without contractual restriction, whether that be a date restriction or a content restriction, is still an “indie”.

There is no value being applied here. An indie is not “better” in any way than any other developer. An “indie” just has true freedom. A freedom is not more or less responsible than any other type of developer. An indie can create a franchise. The difference between an indie and a non-indie is that the indie can decide not to continue with a franchise without anyone making them do otherwise. Thus Infinity Ward was the antithesis of indie, irrespective of the ownership position of Activision. Again, this is not a value judgment. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare sold over 13 million copies. Many people would prefer that to being poor and independent. I wouldn’t judge people harshly for that and the game remains one of my favourite games of all time.

It’s about what you value. If you value creative freedom, you will aspire to be indie. I love games made by all kinds of developers.

I think the greatest games of the future will be created by indies.

Indies are free to create what they want.