Increasing Clarity

Recently I wrote about motivation. Now I'm thinking about clarity. Clarity is the ability to see your goals and see what you need to do to accomplish them. Like Neo at the end of The Matrix. Motivation is the energy to actually accomplish your goals. But without clarity, it's hard to be motivated.

I've noticed that some things decrease my clarity, while others increase it. One of my resolutions for the new year is to do the things that increase my clarity and avoid the things that decrease it. Sounds simple, right? But it's easier said than done.

If I'm very low on clarity, it's hard for me to choose to do things that will increase my clarity again. It's like being drunk - it impairs your judgment so you think you're fine when you're actually not. So I'm coming up with a list of things I can do that will reliably increase my clarity. If I look at these things and get anxious, it probably means I'm low on clarity.

Here are a few activities that can help me increase my clarity:
  • yawning a lot (seriously!)
  • taking a nap
  • meditating
  • doing yoga
  • walking outside
  • running outside
  • practicing Aikido
  • practicing Persian ney flute
  • freewriting with my eyes closed
  • listening to music with my eyes closed
These are all things that help empty and clear my mind so I can see what is truly important. They relax me when I am tense or obsessive or when my mind is buzzing.

Things that fill my mind decrease my clarity. This includes browsing the web, checking email, or eating lots of carbohydrates. Sadly, I don't yet see a way to get rid of these entirely. Instead, I will do my best to balance them with clarity-enhancing activities.

Happy New Year! :)


Game Idea Giveaway - Freetrace

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by Geekman:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    Puzzle, Adventure
  • what your goals are in making this game
    To make it simple yet unique and fun
  • what games you've made already
    No Popular games (yet)
  • your favorite Flash games
    Fancy Pants, Dino Run, Wone, Sling, Roller Coaster Rush
  • your abilities in game design, programming, art, and sound
    Game design-Ok, Programming-Intermediate, Art - Ok, Sound - Bad
  • your preferences in game design, programming, art, and sound

The weird idea: Databomb

The normal idea: Freetrace

In short, the idea is a puzzle game where you erase a drawing. It is inspired by the practice of walking a labyrinth - that is, following a winding, circular path for prayer or meditation. In this game, you trace the lines of an existing drawing with a virtual eraser by clicking and dragging, trying to do so as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Each line is actually made up of many pixels, and like a typical drawing application, you can erase these pixels in an area around the mouse cursor. But to keep things a little more interesting, your eraser strength is inversely proportional to the speed at which you move it. That is, moving the eraser quickly will hardly affect the pixels underneath, while moving very slowly will erase them completely. This makes wild scribbling ineffective.

What's the challenge? I've recently discovered the joys of swarming enemies, and I think they'd work out great in this game. These swarmers would fly around the screen, chasing after your eraser - your mouse cursor. If one of them hits you, your health or perhaps a score multiplier would be reduced. But the swarmers wouldn't be able to pass through the lines of the drawing.

As you erase, you end up dismantling your own protection bit by bit. If you want to succeed, you must be careful to maximize your protection throughout instead of erasing haphazardly.

Some lines may create living eraser crumbs when you erase them. These crumbs destroy the swarming enemies on contact. So you can use them for defense. Some protective crumbs might stay where they are, while other types might move in defensive swarms themselves or chase after the enemy swarmers.

For an extra challenge, the eraser could be a limited resource that runs out the more you erase. This would encourage you to keep your eraser strokes efficient. Or the scoring system could reward efficient erasing by giving out more points for each pixel you erase, and less if you are trying to erase pixels that are already blank.

The game would be divided into levels, each one a unique drawing made up of curved or angular lines. When you erase the whole thing, you get your score and the next level is unlocked. There might also be an opportunity for randomly generated levels or an endurance mode with drawings that continually regenerate in interesting patterns.

You'll want to collaborate with an artist on this one, though this may be difficult since each drawing must take both gameplay and aesthetic considerations into account. For this reason, I would suggest starting with abstract patterns that make for fun gameplay and interesting puzzles to solve, and then enlist the help of an artist after that.

Implementation would be fairly straightforward - no fancy physics involved. All you'd need are basic bitmap manipulations and collisions, and some simple swarming behavior. Let me know if you want any help! Good luck. :)

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!

Active Sketch 04 - Pillars

Critiqued and analyzed on the Critical-Gaming Network blog! :D

Finally, an actually fun prototype!

It's a test of some movement controls for a one-button flying game. Tap to flap your wings, hold to dive.

I've been working with the artist brontosaurus off and on for several months now to create a game, and this latest attempt seems like our most promising project yet. It started with a bit of concept art, a simple landscape of pillars - Pixel Skylines 01. Then I tried to imagine what sort of game, what sort of characters and actions might be fun in such a landscape. Obviously, the typical platformer approach would not make sense. But maybe if you could fly...

So I made this prototype, and yes, flying is fun. See for yourself.

It helps that there's a flock of tiny fliers to keep you company. They give you something to do - something to attack or run away from.

In response to some prompting from brontosaurus, I've also released some experimental versions that allow you to turn in midair, either automatically or by double-tapping. And I've gotten some useful feedback about each of these.

But I think I'll stick with the simple original. This is the one that has gotten the most unanimously positive response, and I have found it to be much more accessible to non-gamers in my own informal playtests.

And I like the feel. It's like a soaring eagle.

So the next question is, how do we elaborate this into a full game? Maybe even something for the upcoming GAMMA IV one-button game competition?

This is where our organic process should be able to take off. In the past, brontosaurus and I made the mistake of trying to start creating cool things before we had a solid foundation of fun actions to build on. But now we have our fun actions.

I can see even this simple prototype turning into a game just by adding a score multiplier system and a time limit. But I would hate to waste its potential on something as trivial as that. I want to create a bigger game, with vast landscapes to explore and creatures to interact with - some dangerous, some friendly, some food.

I think the way to go, then, is to continue building a playground for this one-button flying creature, this eagle. I remember reading that this is how Super Mario 64 was built - first with a playground that made full use of Mario's abilities and acrobatics, and only then expanded into a world of castles and mountains and bosses and missions and such.

Well, we shall see where this takes us.

a cloud dragon...


Game Idea Giveaway - Prejudice

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by kokosan:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    a game involving physics
  • what your goals are in making this game
    Have fun developing it, and to get players to have fun playing it

The normal idea: Metastability

The weird idea: Prejudice

In short, the idea is Geometry Wars combined with Crayon Physics, with rules based on the dynamics of racial or cultural discrimination.

Like Geometry Wars, the game takes place in a field with a bunch of shapes in it. Everything in the game is a polygon, of varying shape, size, color, texture, and mass. Random shapes appear on different sides of the screen, proceeding past each other and disappearing off the opposite side, somewhat like Mondrian Provoked, or a large volume of pedestrian traffic. Unlike Geometry Wars, however, you cannot shoot. Instead, with deft strokes of the mouse, you ram into enemies with your sharp corners to do damage, while avoiding theirs.

Not every shape is an enemy, however. This is where the "prejudice" part comes in. At the top of the screen is a row of icons, each one depicting a particular shape. When the game begins, there is only one icon in this row - that is, the evil shape who has somehow wronged you in the past. Perhaps it killed your father. Anyway.

This evil shape, like all shapes, has several defined characteristics, such as area, number of edges, perimeter length, shortest distance across, longest distance across, color, and texture. Any shape that you encounter in the field is an enemy if it shares at least one of these traits with the evil shape. That's the prejudice part. The more traits it shares, there more points you get when you damage it and kill it. But if you attack a shape that does not share any of these traits, you lose points. Pretty simple.

There's more. You can add shapes to your "evil" list. How? If another shape happens to damage you, bumping into you with one of its sharp corners, then, naturally, it's evil. And it gets added to the row of icons at the top of your screen as a new evil shape. When your "evil" list is full - when it has more than, say, four icons in it - then the oldest shape is bumped off the list.

So any shape that shares a trait with any of the "evil" shapes in your list is an enemy that you can attack. These shapes are given a suspicious dark tint, for your discriminatory convenience. But in general, most shapes are content to mind their own business on their journey across the screen. Few shapes will attack you outright unless they are provoked, and some might even run away. This personality trait has nothing to do with a shape's "enemy" status - it's simply a way to modulate the difficulty of the game as you progress.

As if that's not complicated enough already, there's another twist to the idea. Not only can you have enemies, but you can have allies, too. This is where the Crayon Physics drawing engine comes into play.

When you have earned enough points from lynching enemy shapes, you can choose to spend some of those points to create allies. When you create an ally, you simply draw a shape in the mouse with the handy ally editor, and assign it a color and texture. Then, the ally gets added to a second row of icons at the bottom of the screen - your "good" list. There is always at least one shape in the "good" list - your own shape. The twist is that any shape in the field that shares a trait with any good shape - any ally - is not considered an enemy, even if it shares traits with an evil shape. So having allies reduces the number of shapes that you can legally attack.

But allies can be useful. Marked with a white tint, they swarm around you to shield you from aggressive shapes, and can also help you attack. When you hold down the mouse button, they swarm in tighter and flock with your velocity, so you can direct them in coordinated attacks. And if your very own shape is killed, then you can continue playing as the next ally in the list.

Like your "evil" list, your "good" list has a limited number of slots. If an ally is killed, its icon stays in the list. You wouldn't want to forget an ally killed in battle, would you? But if your list is full and you buy a new ally, the oldest icon is pushed off the list, though its corresponding ally remains in the field.

I want to explain the movement controls in a little more detail, as well. You move your shape with the mouse. One vertex of this polygon is the forward vertex, the point of a spike most easily used for attacking, and this vertex is made to follow the mouse cursor. This allows you to control both rotation and velocity with simple mouse movement. Allies swarm around you loosely, using a simple swarming algorithm. Just like your shape, they move from their forward vertices, which you would assign when you first draw them. When you hold down the mouse button, they try to swarm closer, and they also try to match your velocity and direction with a flocking algorithm, making their forward vertices point in the same direction as yours. This should allow you to direct their attacks.

That is all. Let me know what you think of the idea!

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!

Game Idea Giveaway - Metastability

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by kokosan:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    a game involving physics
  • what your goals are in making this game
    Have fun developing it, and to get players to have fun playing it
  • what games you've made already
    Colorfill, a fill the screen type of game (Qix-like), SnakeBox, a snake game in 3D
  • your favorite Flash games
    Bloons, Bejeweled, this kind of games easy to grasp and where you have fun instantly.
  • your abilities in game design, programming, art, and sound
    mostly programming, game design OK, no artistic skills
  • your preferences in game design, programming, art, and sound
    Programming, definitely.

The weird idea: Prejudice

The normal idea: Metastability

In short, the idea is Tower of Goo combined with Crayon Physics, with a little bit of Tetris on the side. I know I've expressed annoyance at the countless Crayon Physics clones out there that waste a powerful physics engine with narrow gameplay goals. This is my attempt to design an alternative, a game that makes use of Crayon Physics' full potential.

Like in Tower of Goo, your goal is to build a tower as tall as you can. The world consists of a large horizontal platform, an island in a sea of bottomless nothingness. Random polygonal shapes form a layer of rubble on this island, which you can drag around with the mouse to form structures or just to toss off the island, never to be seen again. You can also draw your own shapes as in Crayon Physics, and drag these shapes around as well. New shapes drop down from the sky every so often, providing you with new material as well as threatening the stability of your tower.

You use these shapes to build a tower, but crucially, they must alternate between drawn and found shapes. And the tower is only valid if no drawn shapes touch the ground, the island platform. Otherwise, you could just draw a really tall shape and use that as your tower. Alternating means that a drawn shape must not touch any other drawn shape, only found shapes, and vice versa. If two shapes of the same type touch, the tower is invalid, and the offending shapes are highlighted in a conspicuous manner. To make this easy to see, drawn shapes should be colored differently than found shapes, and perhaps a beam of light shines down from the heavens if the tower is valid.

The height of the tower, measured from the ground, translates into your score. While it may seem that you could just draw really tall shapes and cheat, this does not provide an advantage. Bigger shapes are less stable, and since mass would be proportional to area, they would be so heavy that they might simply crush the shapes beneath them.

The game could provide a special timed mode, though this is not necessary since the shapes raining down provide their own form of time pressure, and the width of the island limits the maximum height of the tower. There could also be modes for different island widths, and different amounts of rain. You could even include a mode where the player can build several towers on the same island, with their combined heights added up for the final score.

I think this game could be awesome. If I didn't have a ton of other projects already, I'd make it myself. So you'd better do a good job of it! ;) Please keep me involved if you go through with this, as I can help you playtest and polish the design to its full potential and connect you with some good artists who know how to awesome-ify a game like this. If it succeeds, who knows - I could see Metastability making the same transition as Tower of Goo, toward the full-blown, award-winning World of Goo. There's a lot you could do with it.

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!


Game Idea Giveaway - Tumblestack

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by FullerGames:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    I am looking for the flash game gold: Simple, addicting. Perhaps a chain reaction game, a puzzle game, or similar. A "free-time" game that wouldn't be as complex or time consuming to make.
  • what your goals are in making this game
    The feeling of lots of effect for little action is what had me in chain reaction. Players seem to enjoy those

The first idea: Collink

The second idea: Tumblestack

In short, the idea is a physics-based chain-reaction game, based on the combo chains of match-three games.

Each game starts out with a bunch of colored bricks filling the screen, stacked up and packed together randomly but in a tidy manner. Perhaps they slide around in rows and columns or fall from the sky or change colors randomly too. But they all freeze when the player clicks on the screen. Then an explosion is created at the mouse cursor, sending bricks flying with the resulting shockwave. This starts the chain reaction.

Whenever a moving brick touches another brick, their colors are compared. If the colors match, then just like a match-three (or a match-two in this case) all adjacent bricks of the same color explode, destroying said bricks and sending a shockwave through the surrounding bricks. And hopefully, more and more bricks explode, continuing the chain reaction. The player's goal is to destroy as many bricks as possible in a single click.

That's it. I don't know if it would work, but it might. You'd need a good rigid-body physics engine though, like motor2 or Glaze. Fortunately, they're free. :)

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!

Game Idea Giveaway - Collink

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by FullerGames:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    I am looking for the flash game gold: Simple, addicting. Perhaps a chain reaction game, a puzzle game, or similar. A "free-time" game that wouldn't be as complex or time consuming to make.
  • what your goals are in making this game
    The feeling of lots of effect for little action is what had me in chain reaction. Players seem to enjoy those

The second idea: Tumblestack

The first idea: Collink

In short, the idea is a physics-based chain-reaction game, based on the lattice structures of World of Goo.

Each game starts out with a bunch of variously sized circles bouncing around the screen, like in Particles. When the player clicks on the screen, everything stops moving, and each circle forms two links - two springs - between itself and the two circles closest to it. As a result, the whole playing field gels into a lattice structure, just like you might see in World of Goo. You could play around with the number of links that form - maybe three would be better, or four. You could also experiment with letting the circles continue their velocity instead of stopping.

So as soon as the circles have formed this lattice, an explosion is created where the player clicked, destroying all links within a certain radius of the mouse cursor. Maybe it could impart a bit of velocity to the circles nearby, as well, in a sort of shockwave. Once these first few links are destroyed, gravity kicks in, starting a chain reaction. Whenever a circle collides with a link, the link is destroyed, causing more circles to fall and further collapsing the structure. Circles are never destroyed - instead, they collide with each other, and move freely if all their links have been broken. The player's goal is to destroy as many links as possible in a single click.

That's it. You'll need a decent physics engine for this, but it should be very easy to set up. :)

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!


Game Idea Giveaway - Salmon Song

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by IvyGames:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    I guess, can any of your ideas incorporate a floating jellyfish?
    The jellyfish in itself isn't that important to me, what is important is the flowy feel one gets from sea-based games, and a jellyfish is for me the epitomy of that flow... very relaxing but intense at the same time, if you know what I mean.
  • what your goals are in making this game
    Making a game that really flows together and is simple but beautiful.

The normal idea: Randori

The weird idea: Salmon Song

In short, the idea is a 3D version of the one-button helicopter game, combined with an eat-and-grow game like Fishy.

The key feature of this idea is that the game is split into two contrasting halves. The first half is a lonely, perilous race for survival, with a blue and gray color scheme, and the second half is a warm, triumphant journey of growth and abundance, with a deep red color scheme. The contrast is what makes this work, accentuating and enhancing the emotional impact of each half. Not only gameplay, but sound and color design play a big role in establishing the mood. I even picked out two specific music loops for the game, which I would be glad to hand over to you if you decide to make this game.

The idea is that in the first half, you are a flowing, snake-like creature traveling through a tunnel toward your ancestral spawning grounds, to lay your eggs and then die. Like a salmon. Your goal is to get there as fast as possible without getting eaten. In the second half, you take control of a hatchling, traveling back out of the very same tunnel you had gone entered in the first half. But here, enemies that you once had to avoid are now delicious food for you to consume, and grow bigger, and as you grow bigger, more enemies switch from dangerous to edible. That's the core concept.

The specifics of the controls and graphics are less important. I had in mind something minimal and 3D, based on the helicopter game where you control your movement with a single button, pressing it to rise against gravity. In the first half, you are constantly sinking. To rise up, you hold down the mouse button. But you are also moving forward constantly, through a tunnel in 3D. The camera is fixed ahead, never rotating, looking straight through the tunnel directly behind your snake-like body. To speed up, you put the mouse cursor in the top half of the screen, or in the lower half to slow down. You cannot move backwards, however. To steer left and right, you put the mouse cursor on the left or right of the screen. Basically like a joystick.

The interesting thing is that in the second half, you are constantly rising. You press the mouse button to sink against your own buoyancy, effectively reversing the controls for your vertical movement. The idea is that the first half should feel more like a struggle to stay afloat, while in the second half you should feel more liberated. This effect could be enhanced by placing bigger, more dangerous enemies lower in the space, in deeper waters. This gives a consistent association of safety to the upper region, which would increase the emotional impact of the reversed controls.

The tunnel would be rectangular in cross-section, varying randomly in width and height at discrete intervals, for simplicity. It would basically be a bunch of randomly sized boxes connected end-to-end, which should be fairly easy to generate and render in 3D, perhaps with an engine like Papervision3D. At some points it would be long and narrow, while at others it would be very wide and deep, like a vast aquarium tank. You never know what strange creatures you might find lurking in the bottom of one of those. This is the purpose of using 3D - it's good for conveying scale and the feel of wide and narrow spaces.

The tunnel would be populated with objects, sparsely at times, or densely. Some would be inert obstacles that obstruct your movement, while others would be enemies of various sizes that might try to chase you if you get too close. Though once you pass an enemy, it will not be able to follow you down the tunnel. And there could be speed-boosting gates, as well as areas to heal you if you rest inside. All of these objects could be represented by spheres - perhaps a circular sprite for each type, scaled based on distance rather than an actual 3D polygon mesh. Your own avatar, the sea snake, could be a simple chain of spheres, similarly to the creature in flOw.

The scoring system would be fairly simple. There would be two numbers to keep track of - health and energy. Health goes down when you touch an enemy, with more dangerous enemies taking away more health. If your health goes to zero, your snake dies and you lose the game. Energy starts high and decreases constantly over time, encouraging you to go fast. Energy is basically your score. When you reach the spawning ground, the end of the tunnel, in the first half, any remaining energy is carried over to your hatchling, while your health is simply reset. In the second half, as a hatchling, you can increase your energy by consuming the enemies that are smaller than you, which also makes you grow bigger. Your goal is to get back out of the tunnel with the most energy - the highest score - by consuming enemies without dying or going so slowly that you use up all your energy in the process.

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!

Game Idea Giveaway - Randori

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by IvyGames:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    I guess, can any of your ideas incorporate a floating jellyfish?
    The jellyfish in itself isn't that important to me, what is important is the flowy feel one gets from sea-based games, and a jellyfish is for me the epitomy of that flow... very relaxing but intense at the same time, if you know what I mean.
  • what your goals are in making this game
    Making a game that really flows together and is simple but beautiful.
  • what games you've made already
    Vertical scrolling shooter and a Three Word Story game.
  • your favorite Flash games
    Dolphin Olympics & N The way of the Ninja.
  • your abilities in game design, programming, art, and sound
    The first three for me are just a matter of taking it painstalkingly slow; I could program anything given enough time in the helpdocs and online guides... sound I expect to mix and edit from sources on the Internet.
  • your preferences in game design, programming, art, and sound

The weird idea: Salmon Song

The normal idea: Randori

In short, the idea is a mouse avoider like Particles, where instead of dying on contact, you only die if you get hit too hard.

You asked for a game with a flowing feel, that is intense but relaxed. What that means is there's a lot going on, but you continuously make small motions that blend with those around you, whether those are enemies, obstacles, the wave of the sea, or your own breath cycle. It's about being harmonious with yourself and your surroundings.

The small, flowing motions are important. If you're smashing things out of the way, the experience may be intense but it's not relaxed. Instead of opposing the movement around you, you blend with it. You match its velocity. That means you see how fast an object is going, and then you match that speed exactly so that when you touch it, there is no impact. You are not moving relative to each other. This is concept from Aikido, the nonviolent martial art. If someone punches at you, you can use your body to match the speed of their fist and then redirect the force.

So how do you make a game about that?

The simplest way I can imagine doing that is to make a game based on the randori practice of Aikido. In this exercise, you are in the middle while a bunch of other people rush in and attack you, either with an actual strike or a simple push or a grab, depending on your skill level. You must remain calm and in control, redirecting their attacks and keeping on the edge of the crowd so you don't get trapped in the middle. The basic response to an attack in this situation is to turn your body to match the speed of the attacker and redirect it around you at the same time, then push them away once they are past you so you can move on to the next attacker.

As a computer game, this could be very minimal. Everyone is now a circle. You move your own circle with the mouse - it follows the cursor more or less instantaneously. The other circles, your attackers, all swarm in toward you. If you get hit too hard - if the relative velocity is too high in a collision - you lose a life. To avoid that, you match an attacking circle's speed to reduce the impact, then push them off to the side so you have time to move and engage the next attacker. It could be a simple survival game, like Particles, where you try to last as long as possible before running out of lives. More attackers might appear at regular time intervals, increasing the difficulty as time goes on. Some attackers might not even attack you - they could just bounce off the walls and each other like the balls in Particles. Some might just be inert obstacles that clutter up the field and force you to move more carefully. There's a lot of complexity you could add to this concept.

And of course there's no need to give this an Aikido theme. It could easily be abstract, just circles and shapes, or even underwater, with jellyfish, if that's what you want. Jellyfish could be cool, too, because you could make the objects more than circles - they could be webs and strings of circles connected together with ragdoll physics. And you could add waving currents or fluid physics too. Just don't put it in space! That's overdone. ;) I might end up making a game like this with an Aikido theme anyway, so that's another reason to theme it differently. :)

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!


Game Idea Giveaway - Random Lulz

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by TobiHeidi:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    strategy, action (often a problem in Multiplayer games cause of lag), open to anything
  • what your goals are in making this game
    Create a Multiplayergame that creates a community, keeps players coming back, forces players to interact (attack, but also help each other).
    I like to have the players to be able to upload s.th. (i.e. graphics) and autmatticaly intergrate them in the game as gfx / or maps

The normal idea: Gridslime

The weird idea: Random Lulz

In short, Random Lulz is a collaborative rhythm game based on the innovative Dark Room Sex Game, but with a more kid-friendly theme.

In Dark Room, each player has a button to press, which makes a particular sound. When you play, you are paired with one other player, slowly alternating button presses with each other. Your goal is to accelerate the rhythm of your button presses as quickly as possible to an exciting climax. This works best as a competitive team game, where two teams of two race to finish faster than the other team. The limitation is that you cannot press the button too soon after the other player - there is a minimum amount of time you must wait between presses. If you press too soon, you have to slow down again. This minimum time limit gets smaller as your rhythm accelerates.

With Random Lulz, the gameplay is similar but somewhat more complicated. You press a button to make a sound, a single laugh or chuckle. You are still trying to accelerate your rhythm as quickly as possible to reach full, hysterical laughter. But there are some extra limitations. There is a minimum time limit, but there is also a maximum time limit - you don't want to wait too long or the energy of the laughter will die away. And more interestingly, the time interval between your button press and the other player's last button press must be different than the previous time interval. In other words, the rhythm of the button presses must be random, because no one laughs like a metronome - that would just be awkward.

The requirements of this game are very minimal, assuming you have a basic multiplayer system set up. All you have to do is send a message with a timestamp every time a button is pressed, and lag isn't a big deal - it just makes things a bit more random. Graphics are completely optional, but if you want you could give players customizable avatars, or different arenas in which to laugh, or let them upload their own background images. Sounds can be recorded - just get a bunch of friends together late at night and loosen them up with some sugary or alcoholic beverages, and start having laugh contests. Record a range of sounds for each person - starting with low-energy grunts, chuckles, or giggles, and gradually moving up to knee-slapping guffaws or full tear-streaming, rolling-on-the-floor hysteria. Guffaw is a weird word. Anyway. The Dark Room team did something similar for their sounds.

The idea is pretty loose - there's a lot of ways you can take it. If it appeals to you, I'd encourage you to at least try it out, since it should be very easy to prototype. See if it's fun with simple beeps and no graphics, and then add in the recorded laughs and teams and scoring and all that. I'm looking forward to playing it. ;)

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!


Game Idea Giveaway - Gridslime

...continued from The Game Idea Giveaway Thread

Request by TobiHeidi:
  • what sort of game idea you're looking for
    strategy, action (often a problem in Multiplayer games cause of lag), open to anything
  • what your goals are in making this game
    Create a Multiplayergame that creates a community, keeps players coming back, forces players to interact (attack, but also help each other).
    I like to have the players to be able to upload s.th. (i.e. graphics) and autmatticaly intergrate them in the game as gfx / or maps
  • what games you've made already
    All my games are Multiplayer, made a strategy and a soccer/pong game.
  • your favorite Flash games
    many, not some special ones
  • your abilities in game design, programming, art, and sound
    Game design = %60, Programming = %99, Art = , Sound = %30, in terms of how well I am with them
  • your preferences in game design, programming, art, and sound
    I only make Multiplayer games.I am very bad when it comes to art...
    I also would like to avoid strongly physics based games (doesnt work to synchronize in Multiplayer games), and games that have problems when there is more lag then about 200ms (ping).

The weird idea: Random Lulz

The normal idea: Gridslime

The idea is to take the minimal gameplay of Slime Volleyball, and expand it into a 3D multiplayer game of four square. It retains the fluctuating rules and interesting social dynamics of four square, while simplifying the physical aspect of the game into simple bouncing spheres.

You play as a sphere that can move and jump with the mouse. Your short-term goal is to hit the ball when it bounces into your square, your medium-term goal is to advance to the lead square in each game, and your long-term goal is to make your way up the global grid by challenging other players.

Four square is a popular playground game played on a grid of four squares with a bouncy rubber ball. It is simple to play, and features a compelling blend of physical action and political strategy. If you haven't played it before, there are a lot of websites and videos around that will introduce you. And plenty of player nostalgia to go along with it, too.

The idea is that each player has a square to defend. The squares are ranked, and your goal is to progress to the highest ranked square and stay there. If the ball bounces in your square, you have to hit it back to another player's square before it bounces again. If you don't hit the ball in time, or you hit it out of bounds instead of into another player's square, you're out of the game, and everyone in a lower ranked square moves up by one to take your place.

In the playground game, there's usually a line of people waiting to get in the game, since only four people can actually play at a time. In that case, you'd be sent to the end of the line. Otherwise, you're sent to the lowest ranking square to start over.

The interesting part about four square is that the leader, the player in the highest ranking square, gets to change the rules of the game. This is also the player who serves the ball at the start of each round, and before serving, this player can announce changes to the rules, such as allowing or disallowing certain moves or situations. There are tons of these weird rules and moves, often known by obscure names like "cherry bomb" or "bus stop", many of which can be found online. It's a phenomenon analogous to Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering. And as you may expect, it is ripe for adaptation into a game.

the rules of four square...

So how do we turn this into a computer game?

You may be familiar with Slime Volleyball and its many variants - these were Java games that were popular several years ago. Most of these games were simple 2D games analogous to Pong, where you move a "slime" that's like a circular paddle and try to bounce a ball to the your opponent's side of the court. Move left, move right and jump. There's a lot you can do with these simple controls. It's like playing table tennis with a basketball instead of a paddle.

It's easy enough to adapt this to four square. Just replace each human player with a sphere that can move around in its square and jump into the air. Aiming is accomplished by hitting the ball at the appropriate angle. On a computer, you might move with the mouse, and jump by pressing the mouse button. You can see a similar control scheme in Slime Volleyball 3D, except that the slime moves slowly toward the mouse cursor instead of moving instantly with it, which can be frustrating. I'd recommend making the movement instantaneous. And allow for a variable jump height, based on how long the mouse button is pressed.

But there's no reason to restrict the game to what is possible in Slime Volleyball or four square. You can take it further. In particular, you don't have to restrict the game to only four squares. You could have as many as you want, in any configuration. They don't even have to be square. Assuming that you keep the whole thing on a grid, you could make some squares neutral, some impassable, some into walls that bounce the ball, and change the size and shape of each player's area. You could even make them all shift around over time. This would be a great place for procedural and player-created content.

There are a lot of cool things you could do with the rule changes as well. Since this is a computer game, you can let players modify the physical properties of the ball or players, to change things like size, speed, bounciness, mass, or friction. Beyond that, you could even include ways for players to directly disrupt each other, with weapons or environmental hazards, kind of like the shells and banana peels of Mario Kart. Any of these might be special abilities bought by players with earned or purchased currency, or they might just randomly appear in the game to keep things interesting.

And of course, there are all the special rules of four square itself. These generally determine how you can hit the ball or who you can hit it to. Here are some common examples:
  • windmills - putting a lot of spin on the ball is allowed
  • cherry bombs - bouncing the ball really high is allowed
  • lemon drops - hitting the ball really low to a corner is allowed
  • chicken feet - hitting the ball at a player's feet is allowed
  • dictatorship - getting a player out with a serve is allowed
  • air ball - you can hit the ball before it bounces in your square
  • poaching - you can hit the ball no matter where it bounces
  • jump ball - you can only hit the ball while you are jumping
  • treetops - you can hit the ball up to two times in the air
  • bubbling - you can hit the ball any number of times in the air
  • holds - you can catch and hold the ball before passing it
  • tea party - two players may only pass to each other
  • friendship - two players may not get each other out
  • no passbacks - you may not pass the ball back to a player
  • around the world - you must pass the ball around (counter) clockwise until it has been passed to every player on the court
  • other variations - you may only pass the ball to players who are orthogonally adjacent, diagonally adjacent, wearing the same color, or whatever else you can think of
There are also rules that allow special situations to occur, often when a player catches the ball and shouts a certain word. The words and situations differ from game to game, but here are some examples:
  • pops - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square, then the player who last hit the ball is out
  • poison - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square and say "poison", the player who last hit the ball is out, but if that player says "poison" first, then you are out
  • mail man - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square and say "mail man", the last player to put their foot on the outermost corner of their square is out
  • bus stop - if you catch the ball before it lands in your square and say "bus stop", the last player to put their foot on the center intersection of the squares is out
As you can see, there's a lot to choose from. And they should be fairly easy to adapt to a computer game. What's most important is how they contribute to an interesting social dynamic without totally unbalancing the game. The powerful moves - like "cherry bombs" or "poison" - should also be risky moves that won't guarantee dominance.

In a game with four or more players, it's all right to let one player gain an advantage, since the other players will compensate by allying themselves against the offending player. Temporary alliances and betrayals are common in four square as players make deals to help each other get to the lead square, only to stab each other in the back when they are in power. But players who lie and betray others will find that their tricks stop working once players discover their true nature. It is a delicate balancing act, one which is at the core of most compelling multiplayer experiences. This is how you get a lot of gameplay for free in a multiplayer game.

In order to support this dynamic you must have abilities that benefit the lead player, as well as abilities that benefit all players. Obviously there must be benefits to being leader, so that players are motivated to reach the top spot. Perhaps they earn more points this way, which they can spend on special abilities, or maybe the ability to control the rules of the game is motivation enough. Either way, there must be advantages. But there must be ways for the leader to reward other players as well. That way, players can make campaign promises to each other to get their support: "Get me to the lead square and I'll use my Pay Day ability to increase your earnings for every round that I am in power!"

So far the game that I've described does not involve a long-term goal. Or even an end condition for each game. But don't worry, that's what I'm going to explain next.

grid slime?

There is a world map, a giant grid where each cell is a Gridslime court. At the bottom of the map are the newbie courts, where new players enter. At the top are the expert courts, where the stakes are higher - more points can be earned the higher you go. Players strive to reach the highest courts, both to prove their mastery and to enjoy the richer rewards.

As a new player, you start in the lowest courts. You can move freely left and right between courts, each of which might feature different terrain and configurations, but you must earn the right to go up to the next level. To move up, you must get to the lead square in your current court. Then you can choose to leave that game behind and join the court above - or wait in line to join it if the court is already full with players. Once you're up, you can move between courts left and right and below, but to go up again you must attain the lead square in one of the courts. If you come to an empty court, you can start a new game there, but you can't advance to a higher court unless you are the leader in a full game.

Alternatively, there might be a level requirement for each row, where players earn experience points through play that let them level up over time. The basic idea is to make sure players are matched with others of similar skill, to keep things fair and interesting. If it's not too unbalancing, you might also allow players to earn or buy free passes to get to the row above. You could also make some grid cells that are not courts - either completely impassable, or with free movement in any direction. You could even make movement cost a certain number of points, and make some grid cells cost more than others. This could help control the flow of players around the grid.

Enough of that. How about monetization and player-created content? First of all, you'll want to have some sort of virtual currency in the game. Actually, you'll want two - one that players can earn through playing, and one that players can buy with real money. And what will the players buy with this virtual currency? They will buy special abilities and avatar decorations.

The special abilities can be things like "cherry bombs" or "bus stops" that players can use when the leader allows them, or they can be rule-changes that players can use when they are in the lead square, like calling a "tea party" or allowing "poaching" for a round. They may also be physical changes like increased size or bounciness, or even weapons used to disrupt other players. For the most part, these will be bought in bulk with earned currency simply through playing the game, but rarer abilities may be purchased with real money. Because the leader has control over which abilities are allowed, there's less of an issue with players spending money for an unfair advantage.

Avatar decorations can be purely decorative, serving no in-game purpose. Or, if your engine supports it, players could customize their avatars beyond simple spheres, adding extra spheres or even other shapes in a ragdoll-ish way, or just adjusting and upgrading physical properties like stickiness and bounce. You can also incorporate player-created content here as well, allowing players to upload images as textures for their avatars, for a fee. They could even then go ahead and sell their images to other players, with you taking a transaction fee off the top. Since all players are spheres, you could just generate a circular cutout of the uploaded image and use that as the player sprite, maybe with a bit of shading tacked on for a more 3D feel.

The other place for player-created content would be in designing custom courts. One approach that might work is to let players form guilds or leagues (for a fee, of course) where members have access to special league-controlled courts as well as permanent abilities available in games within the league. And special hats, or something. This would be good if you want to keep player-created courts separate from those on the main grid. Or maybe you could find a way to combine the two. Could be cool.

I'm going to stop here. I've already gone on far too long. If you have questions, feel free to let me know. I'll leave you with this excellent article on design considerations for competitive multiplayer games, Testosterone and Competitive Play. Read it.

Want an idea? Make a request on The Game Idea Giveaway Thread!


A Briefly Lucid Dream

You may be wondering what I've been up to. Or not. But I'll tell you anyway.

I've been working on my Flash physics engine, in particular, the collision detection and response. It's been a lot of fun. It's great to be solving interesting problems that I care about, being able to fix things and see them have an immediate affect, and build cool things that actually exist, instead of just being in my mind. The latest cool thing I've built with it is Engine Prototype 05, a ragdoll and a ball.

I expect to continue working on that for the next week or so.

I've also added a bunch of stuff to my deviantART gallery, like this weird painting of a scene from Ishmael, and a bunch of my nature photos from last year.

And I learned that yawning is the best thing ever, like yoga or meditation but easier, so I've been yawning constantly for the last few days. And I expect to continue doing so. *yawn*

Anyway, this morning I had a very brief period of lucidity while dreaming, falling asleep again after waking up early. All my lucid dreams so far have been wake-back-to-bed occurrences. I thought you might find it interesting.

I was walking along a sidewalk, thinking somewhat abstractly about how I seemed to have just been dreaming. Then suddenly I realized that if that was true, then I was still dreaming. I immediately lay down on the grass and tried to see it up close, but all I could see was an indistinct blur. I couldn't see my hands either, so I knew that this was a dream.

Then the scene couldn't hold itself together any longer and it shifted somehow. I found myself talking with my parents about what had just happened, and I wasn't really sure if I was still dreaming or not. From there, I got carried away by the dream and lost my lucidity.

After writing that down, I happened to read the previous entry in my rarely-updated dream notebook, from earlier this year. I found it quite intriguing and poetic, and thought it would be worth sharing here.

I was hiking a winding path in the snow along with many other people. They had lost hope. The majority had decided that the best way to go would be to nuke the whole place, with them in it. I didn't want to. But the missiles were coming.

I was terribly anxious. I could not bring myself to surrender to the situation and accept it. When the explosion came, I woke up. It may likely have been a false awakening.

I felt better about it then, that maybe death is just waking from a dream. I remember thinking, back in the snow, that I wanted to keep this identity and all its memories and attachments to people, that I couldn't be ready to merge with oblivion and leave it all behind.

My second dream was about these traveling people who were also sea creatures. As they imagined their future, they saw themselves falling into water, which they feared.

I pushed them into the water, and they suddenly realized that they were meant to be in the water, that they were already where they wanted to be, free.

What do you see when you imagine your future?


Optimizing the Mood Web

food web? ...or mood web?

I've thought quite a bit about my goals, my motivations, what excites me in general. Which is good.

But I've never really tried to look at my motivation in terms of concrete, moment-to-moment experience. Recently, however, I've begun to notice some recurring patterns in my motivation. Doing certain things, experiencing certain things, will reliably get me excited about certain activities or projects to a significant extent. The effect is so strong, I'm amazed that I haven't noticed this before.

The list below is what I'm calling my "mood web" - as in food web - the description of all my triggers and what they get me excited about. Well, not all triggers, but the important ones, at least.

It's a slice of a mood web. You can see a few chains there - the way listening to songs that I've picked for my game ideas inspires me to flesh out the designs further, and then looking at the design sketches I've made inspires me to actually start making the games. But for the most part, these pieces are separate.

Still, they are useful. Have a look into my mind:

Walking outside to look at plants gets me excited about...
  • making a game in a procedural forest or garden
Walking outside in the rain at night gets me excited about...
  • making Environment Sketch 02 - Winter Rain
Walking by houses with nice bamboo gets me excited about...
  • making flutes out of bamboo
Practicing Aikido gets me excited about...
  • making Aikido games in Flash
Teaching Aikido gets me excited about...
  • designing a lesson plan to give people a taste of Aikido
Watching videos of other martial arts gets me excited about...
  • learning those martial arts
Reading about personal development gets me excited about...
  • improving my life and habits
Reading emails from people gets me excited about...
  • writing emails to those people
Reading through old idea notebooks gets me excited about...
Reading old calculator game ideas gets me excited about...
Singing along to I'm on a Boat gets me excited about...
Listening to songs I've picked for games gets me excited about...
  • designing those games
Looking at design sketches for my games gets me excited about...
  • making those games
Looking at design sketches for my physics engine gets me excited about...
  • making my physics engine
And let's not forget this one:

Eating corn chips
gets me excited about...
  • eating more corn chips
Which can sometimes be a problem.

I hope that by understanding my own mood web I'll be able to more consciously choose how I spend my time. If I've decided that I should really be working on programming my physics engine, then I know that I should take the time to look through my design sketches and diagrams, as opposed to reading articles about Overcoming Procrastination or something like that. And if I don't have any inspiring design sketches, I should make some.

All of this may seem obvious, but it is something of a breakthrough for me. If I have not already locked onto a project, I often lack focus because so many different experiences trigger excitement in me, each of them directed toward different projects. And I had no idea how to deal with this.

But now that I've discovered how reliable these triggers are, I can really pay attention to what causes me to gain or lose interest in a project. The mood web is a framework that allows me to start making meaningful observations about myself. And I can now choose to activate or avoid specific triggers when I want to focus on specific projects instead of letting my mood get bounced around randomly.

Even further, I wonder if I can begin to modify my mood web, to nudge my response to certain situations and begin to associate them with different projects in order to build accelerating feedback loops. Perhaps a form of search engine optimization for the mind?

How about you? Do you also notice a reliable pattern to how your motivation changes? I'd be very curious to see what other people's mood webs look like. I imagine that they would be very different from person to person but I'm not sure how. Share yours in the comments and maybe we can find out! :)


Understanding Time

I've been trying something new today.

I have a tendency to get stuck when I'm on the web - checking email, posting on Twitter, reading articles, replying to forum posts. It's like I start turning to stone, my mind gets stuck inside the computer screen. I think fifteen minutes have passed when an hour has gone by.

This is a problem. Not only do I end up spending more time than I want doing trivial tasks, I also neglect my basic needs and can easily go without eating lunch just because I suppress the physical pain I feel in order to focus on taking care of just a few more emails, a few more replies, a few more articles.

And now, I think I've found a solution.

The main problem is inertia. The longer I sit there in front of the computer, the more reluctant I am to get up. So I keep myself mobile - getting up and walking around every so often. But how could I make sure I do this?

It turn out that the answer is easier than I expected. As I found this morning, all I have to do is set a timer for five minutes, and put it in another room. When the timer goes off, I get up from the computer (that's the hard part) and walk over to the timer. I don't have to stop using the computer after that, I just restart the timer and go back to whatever I was doing. And then I do it all over again in five minutes. And five minutes after that. And so on.

I haven't had any trouble getting up for the timer - after all, I never let myself sit down for so long that I get completely stuck. After a while it becomes instinctive, Pavlovian, like waking up to an alarm clock. The hard part is making sure I get enough of a mental break that I can actually slow down and get some perspective before going back to the computer.

One thing that helps me is to put the timer in a different place every time. Hide it, even. This forces me to engage with the physical world, to acknowledge the third dimension, to get out of my head and get in touch with the place where my body lives, if only momentarily. Plus it's kind of fun. It helps me experience my ordinary surroundings in a new and refreshing way. And it's such a weird feeling to be looking for this timer, guided only by the sound of it beeping, with no recollection of where I put it just five minutes before.

What's strange is that already I find myself getting up naturally at five-minute intervals, right before the timer goes off. I get up for a drink of water (thanks to my newly instilled mobility) and then a few seconds later there goes the timer. Very interesting.

But the most striking thing about this whole exercise is how horribly skewed my perception of time is. I don't know if my timer's broken, but it feels like that thing is going off every two minutes, not every five. And I'm pretty sure the timer is working, because even my computer clock agrees. Yet almost every time I hear that timer go off, I'm thinking, "How has it been five minutes already? I just sat down!"

One thing that might help is to keep track of how many times the timer has gone off, writing down the current total every time I restart the time. I could write it in terms of minutes, even. Because it really feels like a lot less time has passed, and this might help me tie the feeling to the numbers.

Hopefully, using these timers will retrain my brain to perceive time more accurately. Who knows, maybe it will even help me in long-term planning. Though I might need another tool for that.

There are a lot of useful things you can do with timers and productivity - for example, the "48 minutes of flow" mentioned in this article. I've done something similar before, and it helps. It's just a matter of using your physical (or virtual) environment to reinforce your goals. It's like level design, applied to your own life. Why not?

You could even use this mechanic in an actual game. Put a timer in the game and give them a little reward for responding to it when it beeps, and the ability to put it somewhere else and start it again. Kind of like the Milano cookie effect in reverse. Could be useful.


Playtesting the Enemy

You've probably heard that it's a good idea to playtest your game. If you haven't heard, well, I'm telling you now. It's a good idea.

But how about playtesting other people's games?

I was reading a book called Don't Make Me Think, a classic in web design and usability. At one point, the author suggested doing a usability test of a competitor's website before you start designing your own.

Why not apply it to game development?

If you're thinking of making a particular type of game, find an existing game that may have some relevant similarities, and do a playtest of it.

Find a random person, sit them down in front of the game, and observe. Watch for what they enjoy, what confuses them and where they get frustrated.

Then repeat with other random people and other games. Do it with both good games and poorly designed games. You will learn more by testing both than by only looking at one or the other. See where the bad games fail and what the good games do differently.

And then when you go to design your own game, you will know what mistakes to avoid.


Deconstructing Artificial Emotions

A while ago, Daniel Cook wrote a game design article about how to provoke artificial emotions in players. His suggestion: give players a physiological nudge somehow, raising their heart rate, getting their adrenaline going, and then provide contextual cues about what emotion they should be experiencing at the time. And apparently, the players will be tricked into thinking they're actually experiencing the emotion you've set up.

Are all emotions are artificial?

I don't know, but I have noticed some interesting patterns through my own introspection.

Anger and sadness and frustration and despair, before they solidify into these emotions, start out as an indistinct feeling of tension inside. It is possible to focus on this tension before it is nudged - by my own assumptions and expectations - into one of these negative emotions.

The thing to remember is that the tension is all internal, in my own mind, and not somewhere outside in anyone else or any thing.

At the point where I notice this tension, before it becomes a full-blown, directed emotion, instead of reflexively reacting to it, fighting and getting defensive, I can listen to the motivations behind it. This is empathy. It's a lot like Aikido, except with emotions instead of physical attacks.

First of all, I can think of what expectation or fear or desire or need is causing this tension that I feel, and then, even further, I can think about what need or tension is behind the other person's actions or speech if another person is involved. Maybe this will help me resolve the tension or at least let it pass through me without escalating into something bigger.

One thing that sometimes helps me dissipate dangerous levels of tension safely is to listen to very fast, energetic music while lying down with my eyes closed. After a while, I can transition to more calm, repetitive music while I try to empty my mind of the assumptions and beliefs that are directing my tension outward.

Those who can maintain their composure and relaxed attitude even in difficult situations have probably mastered this ability to release internal tension before it manifests as emotion.


Concluding the Inaugural Experiment

Earlier this year, I tried a little experiment.

I created a forum signature, attempting to start one of those chain letter-ish memes that seem so clever to the people who participate in them, and so utterly not for everyone else.


I believe in Barack Obama as my personal savior. If you do too and aren't afraid to admit it, copy and paste this into your signature.

So what happened?

Apparently, nothing. No one got offended, and no one really got the joke or thought that it was all that funny or clever. It probably wasn't.

Well, one person copied it. But it didn't last long.

Oh well.

Time to try out a new signature! :)

How about this?

I believe that games will be as significant a new medium as the printed word ever was, and as powerful a force for change.

I am here to make that happen. Making life more fun

It's not a joke this time. It's sincere. Upon recommendation from books like Finding Your Own North Star and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I've been trying to come up with a way to phrase my life goals, in a way that is inspiring yet specific enough to help guide my moment-to-moment decisions.

Because I need a reason to get on the computer and work instead of reading self-help books and stuffing my face with corn chips.

I'm still working on it. But this is a start, something short enough to put into a forum signature. I've been thinking about this for a while now, and I expect to keep adjusting it. I might even try brainstorming a list of possible life goals, as suggested here.

We'll see. :)