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I manage a regularly occuring forum game over at a gaming community called The Conclave which draws its basis from the party game ‘Mafia’. This game follows the same guiding principles except in the place of mafia members we have werewolves. The game started out with just a team of innocents and small team of wolves, the innocents trying to find and vote out the wolves and the wolves trying to eat the innocents and remain undiscovered. Over time the game has evolved via the model of most online games today via incrementing version numbers and ‘patch notes’. Done partially as a gaming nerd joke to amuse myself and also partially because I just like the tweak and retweak model and this makes it look semi authentic and proper. Giving me the delusion that I’m actually a highly paid designer for an extremely popular competitive multiplayer game as opposed to a bored nerd who trolls forums. Although in some cases you could argue that the two aren’t so different.

It’s been fun to manage a game where I as the ‘narrator’ hold all information, know who the wolves are and get to chuckle to myself as I hear the theories the innocents come up with and see the lies the wolves spread around the group but the most fun has always come from expanding and improving upon the game every time we play it. Initially the innocents had a single special role player called the ‘Seer’ who can ‘scan’ somebody to see if they’re a wolf or not once per game round. Since then we’ve added a Priest and a Judge with different respective powers, and a Wolf Seer for the werewolf team. These roles have been constantly retweaked and rebalanced as misbalances were found and now sitting at version 2.1 the game is in it’s most neatly tweaked state yet. Grown from player feedback and my own intuition together me and the game’s players have created something fun, balanced and unique out of a much less than original starting concept.

It almost brings a tear to my eye.

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Begins now!

Or rather, it began a few weeks back. I picked up the trial of Game Maker 7 to experiment for a bit with the ultimate goal of making something and finishing it this summer. For all the work I’ve done on different game ideas and projects, most things have tended to end up forgotten about in favour of new projects. You could say I lack focus, but I prefer to see it as having too many good ideas at once ūüėČ

I remember trying Game Maker a long time ago but never really getting into it, for whatever reason, this time getting past the first few hurdles of learning a new piece of software seemed remarkably easy. Probably because Game Maker is by design, incredibly easy to learn. What attracted me to this software over something else I’d been considering, Multimedia Fusion 2, is the option to write my own code. Don’t get me wrong, event driven game making is bloody cool. I have very fond memories of a program named Klik n Play¬†when I was much much younger, but the problem with it is I could never manipulate the tools I had quite well enough in the bounds of the ‘condition and event’ system to really get exactly¬†what it was I wanted. Game Maker has given me the same easy to use tools with the freedom to really change how it is my game works and define exactly “how high the little man can jump”. The best part is the language Game Maker uses, referred to in the help menu as “GML” (Game Maker Language) is incredibly BASIC-esque. It’s very easy to read and interpret and as a result easy to write.¬†

So having found this amazing tool, what on earth do I plan on making with it. Various failed attempts at RPGs in my early teen years proved I don’t have the patience for a long interesting plot or backstory. My riddle game proved that I like to constantly be experimenting and introducing new techniques. It also proved me a fan of the “Epic Journey”. Of progress from A to B to C to finally Z, as opposed to high scores or open endedness. I like to create things that are similar to a book or a film in the sense that you start, you experience, you finish and you sit back, let out a satisfied sigh and say “What a game”. My recent addiction to Killing Floor and Team Fortress 2 proved that there already exists a million and one ways to virtually kill things and I have intention or really ability to compete. So, all things considered I’ve decided to make a platformer. Simple as. What’s new or innovative about a platformer? Not a lot. Nothing infact. What’s good about a platformer? a ton of things. I love platformers. All of them. From the old school arcade bite-you-in-the-ass-at-every-turn classics¬†like Donkey Kong, to Mario games, to Castlevania to Ghouls and Ghosts to Splatterhouse to Lode Runner to.. yeah you get the idea.

So what do I want to do, why do I want to do it, what’s even the point. All valid questions. What I want to build is hopefully two things: A celebration of platform games of all shapes and sizes, and an exploration of platform games. The latter may take some more explaining, just as my riddle was a kind of exploration into what can be done with just a bit of badly formed html, how web pages and images can be used as a puzzle, so does my game plan to explore what can be done with a little man, the arrow keys and a jump button. I have a few ideas scribbled down, that range from “crazy” to “so crazy it just might work”. How it’ll turn out is anyone’s guess.¬†

I find I often struggle to do the indie game dev thing of coming up with a fresh innovative idea and building a game around it, “inventing a new wheel”, but I find I’m very good at screwing with what exists to do something cool, unexpected or weird “taking that wheel and adding sweet rims”. My friend and “Blitz Open Day Buddy”¬†Chris Walter¬†is also adventuring into the world of Platform games and is worth keeping an eye on. This is in no way an investment plug in the hope of being plugged in his blog. I swear.

More to come.

-Shaun

It’s a shame my attempt at blogging became one quickly forgotten under a pile of coursework deadlines but now I’m reaching the end of the madness I can hopefully start to get back to this little internet adventure. So.. my riddle.

To make sure I don’t lose anyone, I suppose my first post regarding my web riddle should probably best explain just what it is. Currently lacking a proper name (although support has been shown for the name “Shaun’s Online Riddle”, once described as “F**king catchy!”) my riddle game is a strange little experiment based off online riddles such as Notpron and Zest. A game where the player is provided with a web-page starting at level 1 and simply has to find a way to get to the next web page, which is level 2, and so on untill a finish page is reached. Every ‘level’ consists of a html web page and a picture with a number in the corner. Each page is a riddle, that provides clues to the player as to how they should reach the next level. Players progress by finding hidden buttons, changing URLs, editing pictures to find hidden passwords and so on. As players get deeper the riddle gets progressively harder, whilst designed carefully to teach the player the mechanics he will need for the later levels in early stages where the game is far more forgiving. I can’t explain it any better without you going ahead and trying it. So if you’re still lost: ¬†There you go, knock yourself out.

The idea itself had been done. By many people. Notpron being the most popular. (Speaking of Notpron, I am proudly the 8th person in the world to finish it. ūüėČ ) But there were many things with notpron I didn’t like, as much as there were things I loved. I’ve strived to maintain what I loved about Notpron in my own creation whilst adding my own touch to it and trying to make it ‘mine’ in every way possible. I’ve been testing this riddle by handing out the link to friends and people who I thought would be ‘good at this sort of thing’. To my surprise I learned, not only is it better to test with people who are useless at ‘this sort of thing’ but the people I thought would be into it weren’t the people that got into it. I left the link on my facebook profile and people I never would have thought of were emailing me about the game, which levels they were stuck on and generally words of praise for the riddle itself. (Aside from the obvious curses against me for making such an ‘evil’ (translating I would hope to addictive if frustrating) game) Yet the people who I hand picked seemed somewhat more uninterested and less able to play without help than those who found the link themselves.

Level 6 has been a thorn in the side of many players since the beginning. I get more emails about this level than any other. Some people breeze through it and for others this is where they gave up. I won’t go into specifics about the level in order to not ruin it, but while everyone manages the first task of the level easily enough, there’s a final far less obvious step that needs taking that people struggle to find no matter how strong the clue. I’ve tweaked and tweaked and tweaked and I think the level is fairly solvable by anyone now, but I still get complaints! In a way there’s a nice feeling that only an elite sect of people can make it to the end, but I’d like to think everyone can get as far as level ten. Otherwise I just feel i’ve failed as a designer. The level is definitely in a better state, and so are many of the future levels thanks to good feedback. I don’t know exactly where I’m gonna draw the line and say “It’s finished” make a proper intro page for it and let it stand on its own with the exception of a new level now and then. But I figure I basically have all the time in the world to make it right. There’s no money on the line here, no deadline to meet, I can let it grow and evolve at my own pace. Making games outside the ‘industry world’ is very pleasant in that respect.

I’ve been adding hidden levels for a while now too, there are currently… I think 27 levels on the main path, and about 6 hidden levels. So far about two of the many people I know to have tried the game have found a hidden level and none of them have yet been solved. This is actually exactly how I want it. These levels are just self-indulgence. And there to give a big pat on the back to anyone good enough to solve them. I’ve yet to think of fun rewards for these hidden levels, but at the rate they’re being solved at I think I have plenty of time to think on that one. ¬†A small handful of people have stuck it through and solved the entire riddle. And comparing this to the number of people that have tried it at all, again, this is kind of nice. People are having fun out of the game without completing it, and those that do complete it get to feel special. They’re few among many, they did something other’s couldn’t. The 27 levels in the riddle are far from impossible and anyone with enough time and dedication could solve it without aid. One of the people in the hall of fame struggled on just level 2 for hours on end, but still persevered, hit the learning curve just right and worked his way through to the finish.

That all said, I don’t like it when anyone says they’ve given up on it. I’m always working to make the riddle want you to play it and want you to have fun with it. But on the flip side, I’m certain that anyone who perseveres long enough to beat level 6, has gotten some fun out of the game. And really, that’s kind of the whole point.

-Shaun

Hello, My name is Shaun and I’m an addict.

Hello Shaun.

Thanks, I’ve been an addict since oh.. the first time I discovered Donkey Kong. Don’t remember when that was. But what I do remember is how long it took me to beat the first screen. Such a horrifyingly painful game. Designed that way on purpose ofcourse, as an old-school arcade classic it’s entire purpose was to reel in cash while kicking the living crap out of the player and laughing at their ineptitude. Donkey Kong is brutal. There are mechanics coded in the game¬†designed¬†to kill off the player if they’re just doing too well. The way barrels decide whether or not to come down a ladder while you’re climbing it, the way DK decides whether or not to throw a homing barrel at you wherever you are in the screen, Whether or not those GOD DAMN FLAMES will turn around the moment you try and jump them, landing you straight on their heads. It’s all designed to be a mortifying experience that begs a sickening amount of coins to make any kind of progress.

So what’s the trick here? If Donkey Kong is so brutal and unforgiving, why on earth did people play it? Why do people STILL play it? And why on earth am¬†I¬†still playing it!? I think the former can be attributed to the nature of the arcade machine and the latter two largely attributed to a niche market of masochists and my own personal insanity. There’s something brilliantly addictive about a game that presents me with something that’sjust¬†about possible, but will screw you over any way it can, tell you it can’t be done and take every opportunity to remind you that you suck. I don’t even mean addictive in a frustrating way. Well.. Ok frustration is definitely a part of it but while I’m having my arse handed to me barrel after barrel in DK I’m still having fun. Beating a level brings so much more reward to it when you know the game really didn’t want you to beat it.

I’ve had a number of discussions and read a number of articles on how the future of games is in Carrot over Stick. Rewarding the player and making them feel good about themselves, making sure the average player can get through the game, not punishing the player with scarce save points and a finite number of lives. It’s all true and logical and I agree with it whole-heartedly. Staple mechanics of Mario games have simply become outdated. Time limits and Lives are a thing of the past. But I still have to sit back now and again and admire the beauty of a game that thinks it’s better than me.

A specific little sadistic nugget of hellborn fire of this standard is I Wanna Be the Fangame ¬†(http://kayin.pyoko.org/iwbtg/forums/index.php?topic=2440.0) a fangame of the equally sadistic I Wanna Be the Guy. I mention the fangame specifically just to plug it, while both are great I prefer the Fangame to the original, the bosses and puzzles are really creative and inventive. To stop derailing myself, the mind bending satisfaction attained from playing IWBTFG is born, madly, out of the painful frustration that comes before it. ¬†It’s general misleading style is to present you with what looks like a simple ‘walk across the room, jump a couple of times’ problem and then when you take a step or two forwards it will throw tons of random insta-kill spikes and monsters at you out of nowhere. You die¬†(In a nice explosion of red pixels)¬†in one touch of pretty much everything in a level that isn’t strictly a platform (and even those often kill you) Save points are distributed neatly after every set of major challenges and your only weapons are jump, double jump and a peashooter for activating saves and killing some enemies. Each screen requires a painful process of trial and error, some ‘outside the box’ thinking and an intricate understanding of the deceptively simple physics engine. The game tries at every opportunity to lead you one direction with arrows, seemingly innocent platforms and simple looking puzzles, just so it can kill you in the blink of an eye and laugh at you. While the real solution is subtle and hidden, the game doesn’t want you to find it. It wants to see how long it can keep killing you. That said the game remains fair. It is definitely playable and completeable by anyone with the patience and stamina for punishment.

One section of the game nearly made me punch a hole in my monitor, I found a secret area off the main path that when followed lead me to a desert area with a sign saying “Endless Desert” and a save point. Instinctively I activated the save point. Oh the fool I am. I should have known better of this bastardized game. The desert was infact endless. Walk out one side of the screen, brings you back to the other. I was trapped. And I had saved.¬†

I had to start the whole game again.

I was NOT amused.

But at the same time, I was. It was a brilliant and spiteful trap. Amazing and terrible at the same time. That’s what this game is. Horribly designed, yet Brilliantly designed. To come back to the point I was desperately trying to get to, the satisfaction that comes from actually beating just one of this game’s malicious challenges is something far up and beyond that of beating the entirety of say,¬†Portal.¬†A Fantastic (with a capital F) game that was easily my top game of 2007. Brilliant from start to finish, hilarious, clever, witty and¬†fun. But it just doesnt have that same “F*** YES. I DID IT. I BEAT THAT F***ING LEVEL.” feeling that erupts from a game like Donkey Kong, Mario ROM hacks and IWBTFG. Knowing you overcame a challenge the game thought you’d never overcome, the feeling that you outsmarted the game and wasn’t cleverly lead to solving the game, it’s brilliant. It defies logic, it defies an equation, but sadistic, masochistic, bloodily brutal games will always have a special frustrating place in my heart. You can stand proud and say “I beat IWBTFG.” it’s an impressive feat. Where millions have completed Portal, mere hundreds have seen it to screen 50+ of Donkey Kong. The bragging rights are just worth that much more.¬†

On that note, I think I’ll go punish myself some more with IWBTFG. I’m pumped now. This game will not defeat me.

…again.

-Shaun