October 17, 2007

Poll Results: Most challenging 4E6 Element

The results for which 4E6 element is regarded as the most challenging:

  • Ponies: 4 votes

  • Accountants: 6 votes
  • Crystals: no votes
  • Explosions: 1 vote

As I expected, the opinion was split between ponies and accountants as to which is the trickiest, with accountants just tipping ahead. Interestingly there was a late vote for explosions, which I also think the difficulty of including has been understated by those posting in the GameDev forums. I’ll post a more detailed view of what I think about these four elements over at my GameDev.net journal in a little while.

The new poll is now up. I’m interested in seeing what toy and game preferences people have, as there’s a whole world of play that doesn’t involve staring at a luminescent screen.

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October 2, 2007

Macless for a week; early 4E6 brainstorming

I delivered my MacBook Pro to the shop for repair today, so I’ll be without my main development platform for this week. Actual Flash development will be hold, although I might spend some time designing ActionScript classes.

During the time I’m without my Mac, I’ll spend a bit of time resurrecting some old skills. Now my left hand has healed I need to get back into drawing again - the Flash games are eventually going to need it, and I’ll need to start learning Illustrator too; the interface just is not intutitive to me.

I also might spend a little bit of time planning for future Flash games, including the Four Elements contest. I’m fairly sure I can factor it into a small simple Flash game if I try hard enough. I’m currently debating a series of ideas in my head, but most of them depend a lot on what Flash skills I can develop and how fast I can implement with them. My current thinking is I should brainstorm a whole series of concepts quickly, and then test the skills I need - such as the ability to animate a horse. I might have to resort to a game idea that is based primarily on still images, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For those who are interested, there are two main game concepts I’m considering. The first would be some kind of fantasy management game, based on some colourful magic world filled with ponies. You have a team of accountants (vaguely supernatural ones) that help you manage crystals as a resource for managing the ponies somehow. I’m also thinking crystals can be used for fuelling explosions of restorative energy. It’s all extremely vague because I’ve only been thinking about this in dead time, such as when I’m walking from point A to B, and without the images in my head it’s a fairly useless description. I like the general concept because it’s a gameplay mechanic I’ve been wanting to implement, and it can be done with minimal animation. It needs a fair amount of 2D art to be appealing, and might take some work before I can tell if it’s fun or not.

The second idea is also a concept I’ve been meaning to try for a while - a fantasy sports game, one which is totally crazy where no-one really knows the rules. Think something like a cross between Calvinball and Blurnsball. This could work in turn-based, or maybe even with a board game/trading card like feel. I like this idea as it’s also a gameplay mechanic I’ve been meaning to try, plus it’s very scalable due to time pressures. Both a strength and a weakness is that it can pretty much work with any four elements - I could probably even throw ninjas, pirates, zombies and robots in there too.

Whatever I decide to do I probably won’t start development until December anyway; I’ve got an awful lot to do before hand, and I need to get more comfortable with Flash first. Until I can gauge how much I can do in the time I have I can’t commit to any concept.

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September 28, 2007

Scheduled Mac downtime; more 4E6 musings

It probably wasn’t the smartest move to read the GameDev.net 4E6 elements at 1 a.m. this morning. I must have had ponies and accountants and pony accountants running through my brain for the last 15 hours. Consequently my productivity wasn’t the best in terms of research output. But then again, it’s Friday in front of a long weekend, so it’s not like that was unexpected.

I’ve just learnt from the local Apple store that the replacement screen for my MacBook Pro is almost ready, so they can fix my pixel damaged screen next week. That’s pretty good news; I wasn’t sure if it was damaged enough for them to replace with nine to a dozen dead pixels. It’s mainly an irritant than something totally dehabilitating to work, although the cluster on the end is a pain, and it’s annoying when I try to lean in to look at something closely, which happens now and again when you work in computer vision and with art. But I’m pleased with their customer service, and it makes me more likely to buy a Mac Pro as my next desktop replacement so it’ll be a win for them in the long run too.

This means that I’ll be Mac-less for much of next week, so I won’t be doing much work directly with Flash. As a consequence I might move my long weekend tasks of updating the website back to the middle of next week, as I can do that on my ol’ Windows box. I’ll also look into other things I can do without my main software tools, like designing some ActionScript classes, writing some articles or maybe a bit of C++ programming.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been spending (too much) of today musing about 4E6. If you’re interested in following the contest you can consider me as joining in this year, at least for now. I don’t know how far I can go before the time pressures get too great, but it’ll be a fun academic exercise in game design.

This year 4E6 contestants can choose three of the four elements to include, or to put it another way they can throw one out. In the early stages it’s a nice exercise to figure out which elements suit your design style the best.

For me, it’s pretty much a given that whatever I end up making will be cute and/or retro - pretty much all my game ideas fall into one of those categories; that’s my niche. I’m also committed to using Flash this year; I’m considering this as part of my Flash game development strategy. This means 2D, vectorised graphics, possibly web based, mouse based control preferred.

With that in mind, it’s pretty clear to me that “ponies” and “crystals” should be in the game; that’s prime cute material right there. The two can pretty easily work together in a number of ways, too. The question then is which out of “accountants” and “explosions” do I have as the third, or whether I include both.

I’ve got a few ideas for those two elements, although I’ll need to brainstorm them up a bit more with a clearer head. I’m hoping I can factor in accounting as some kind of financial management side to a game, and explosions can easily fit in as a special effect if they aren’t too much of the violent kind. It probably won’t be too difficult to factor in both of these after all.

Lots to consider though - still very early in the game development process, but there’s also a lot of Flash learning to go before I can make something sizeable enough for a contest piece. Stay posted.

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4E6 - First Impressions

Only one more weekday before the long weekend. Most people celebrate Labour Day by not doing any work, but I’ll use some of the extra time to make some general improvements to the website. I’ll also be continuing with learning Flash game development. I’ve got my next game almost finished - the core gameplay is done, I just need to put the finishing touches on the graphics and the sound effects. I’ll probably have that up later today, and I can start work on another game on the weekend.

For those of you interested at the happening at GameDev.net, the Four Elements VI contest is underway. The elements this year are very… random. “Ponies”, “Accountants”, “Crystals”, and “Explosions”. The general impressions I’m getting from the forum is that the element choices are very polarising; some really love them, whereas others are turned away.

I must admit my first impressions of the elements are a bit lacklustre. They seem like they’re trying a bit too hard to be “out there”. They didn’t at first really strike me as elements that make me want to rush out and design a game. Now I’ve had a bit of time to think about it I’m starting to get a few sparks of an idea but it’s still a bit muddled. I’m glad there’s only a three element limit this year.

I’ll stick up a poll about the elements this weekend once my current poll has run its course. I’ll be interested in seeing what your views on the elements are. Here’s a quick snapshot of mine.

Out of the elements, “crystals” is the one I like the most: it’s got a lot of potential to be taken in a number of ways, and it can fit it nicely with any of the other elements. However “ponies”, “accountants” and “explosions” all have the problem that they negate each other as themes. “Ponies” suggests cute, safe, magical environments, which doesn’t go well with the raw destructive power suggested by “explosions”. And, no offence to any accountants out there, accountancy strike me as a rather flat and dull element to put in a game. Taken individually they can work well, but my impression is that the general essence of only one of those three elements can be brought to bear at any one time, with a danger that the other two will be merely tacked on.

Additionally, “accountants” sticks out to me as the odd element out from the four. It’s very specific. It’s not something general like economics (from last year) which could be taken in a number of different ways. Even “accountancy” would be more general, as that doesn’t suggest you need an actual accountant in the game. I’m not sure exactly why, but I’d feel better if the element was a bit more general, say to include bookmakers or insurance claim assessors or something.

Overall I expect there will be a lot of parody type games that only scratch the surface of most of the elements. I’m hoping there’ll be one or two that can blend the elements in an unexpected way though - it might be tough to fully do justice to all four.

As for me, I may enter this year. Given my time constraints I’ll only enter if I can think of a game I can prototype up in a week, which limits down any grandiose ideas from me (nothing in the vein of Mop of Destiny, I fear). That being said I have the kernel of an idea that incorporates all four that might be serviceable - I’ll see what I can sketch up over the weekend.

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September 25, 2007

4E6, soon

After a fair delay it looks like the Four Elements contest will be underway very shortly - dates listed and everything. I always like GameDev.net during the first few months of a Four Elements contest; everyone in the journals bounces around ideas and gets cracking on development. Usually things start losing steam about half-way, but there’s usually a project or two that lasts the distance.

I’ve always kicked myself for not entering something in each Four Elements contest, so I’m somewhat keen to try something for this year. The gargantuan problem is the timing with regard to my Ph.D. candidature. I’m in the tail-end of my research right now; wrapping up the theory, getting ready for some core experiments, and writing up my dissertation. My planned finishing date for my Ph.D. is roughly the same time as the finishing date for 4E6, so things will only get more hectic as time goes on.

Because of this, I can’t say for sure whether I’d enter or not. If the elements are favourable, then I’m strongly hoping I can put together a small Flash game in a week or two. Whatever I decide to do there’s very little chance I can get much done in the last month or so of the contest time line.

Even if I don’t manage to get an entry done this year, I’ll be very keen to see what everyone else gets done. I’ll probably have the time to try them out in April after I submit.

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