Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tile Based RPG - A Rough Concept

This is a rough game concept I've been playing with lately.  I've always wanted to make an old-school top-down tile-based RPG in the style of Phantasie from 1985.

This project started as a 2D top down view, but more recently I tried presenting it as a first person view from ground-level, which had been interesting.

It would be great to see some nice art in there, and then to experiment with more complex ways of blending the layers, to try to achieve a watercolor aesthetic.

One day I'd like to make a game that has the feel of a 70s fantasy film like The Dark Crystal, as if a storybook has come to life.

Top Down Zombie Action Game - Status Update

Here's a look at my current game I'm working on... 

I've been working on the Weapons and Vehicles.  

I'm trying a lot of new things in this game, using Tables in a much more extensive way than in previous games.  

I'm expanding on things that I tried in a basic way in Pulp Diction, and taking them much further.  Specifically, I have all the weapons in a table, defining a full set of attributes such as ReloadTime, ClipCapacity, BulletRange, DamagePerBullet, etc.  That way, the actual Weapon Actor is a single actor, but can take on the form of any number of different weapons.

Likewise, my Vehicle Actor can take the form of any number of vehicles, taking their Acceleration, Top Speed, SteerRate, etc from a table.

I'm also using a HudSpawner actor, which spawns all the different elements of the HUD, and they resize and position themselves around the screen as appropriate (depending on which device they're running on).  

Next I'll be moving on to actually dealing with the missions themselves.

Please excuse some amount of silliness and bad language.  If you leave me alone too long, I become foolish.  :)

Some thoughts on Interactive Fiction (and Inform 7)

I've been thinking about Interactive Fiction since I was very young, even though I didn't really know what it was.  I got hooked on the King's Quest games in 1984 and I was immediately in love with these living story books!

Recently I've started looking into Interactive Fiction, and looking at what tools are out there for making my own.  I found Inform 7, a free application for Mac, Windows and Linux, that let's you write your own games in a package that makes it accessible for non-programmers.  It's a pretty great little program, with good documentation, so I'm hoping to create a project with it in the future.

This has spurred many thoughts about the subject, so I thought I'd make a video about it. Any comments on the topic would be most welcome!  I'd love to check out other people's work, to see what they've done in the genre.  

Hopefully I'll have a work of Interactive Fiction (an Adventure Game!) online at my website at some point in the future.  But it might be a while in the writing!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

GCAP Highlights - Design Fundamentals with Luke Muscat from Halfbrick

I've seen Luke Muscat from Halfbrick speak before at Freeplay 2011, and that presentation about the development of Fruit Ninja was really informative, full of decisive insights about game design itself and about the sort of audience he was trying to capture, so I was excited to see him again at GCAP 2012.  Here are my notes...

"Design Fundamentals: Communication from your Game to your Player" with Luke Muscat from Halfbrick

Avoid unclear payoff
  • Instead of a bonus that provides "20% more coins" (hard to really know if that's happening or not!), they invented GEMOLOGY, where 5% of coins turn into gems, and are worth the value of 5 coins.  This works much better because now the player can literally see the gems onscreen!  It also adds additional gameplay, in that the player can now aim for the gems to get those additional points.
  • In an RPG, instead of "+5% Luck" (which is largely invisible and impossible to detect during moment-by-moment gameplay), give bonuses like "every 20th hit does quadruple damage", and when this is enacted, the game should make a different sound effect and animation, and the player will see the quadrupled damage in the number that pops up.  So there are a variety of ways for the player to immediately get the feedback about what this powerup is doing.  Even if there was no additional sound effect or animation, you'd still notice the extra damage being dealt in the number popup.  Having some sort of clear feedback is the important thing.


Don't just have all your perks available at once, and order them on a list from worst to best, cheapest to most expensive.

Mix them up into different categories, lock some away, encourage the player to experiment, to try different ones, to earn them.

You want the player to engage with the system for longer, to enjoy the variety, not just one of them.  Don't bore them or frustrate them with the upgrades and perks.

Each new perk should be a fresh new thing to play with, and offer something a little different.

Helmet Fire (too much input = brain overload)

When a pilot is landing an aircraft amongst chaos, there's too much input... radio chatter, a variety of interface stimulation, their own thoughts, all combine to be very distracting...  Pilots can become saturated with information, and almost black out, out of control and unable to act cohesively.

Keep your interface organised, and as simplified as possible, have a consistency to its functionality and pacing.  Only give the player information that they need at the time, and put effort into spacing out the information.  Never be sloppy about how the interface works!

Bad Piggies is great at stripping out every bit of information that's not needed.  There's almost nothing on screen!  Very very minimal.  This is especially important when trying to communicate to a very young audience, and to audiences across languages.

FTL has an incredibly complex HUD, but it suits the game because it's meant to be chaotic, and you can pause the game and make decisions.

Surfing Game
Sometimes it is good to obscure or abstract information.  
Doing this can actually enhance the engagement of the player.

If you just give a list of points for Distance, Barrel and Style, it feels a bit scientific and inappropriate for the theme of the game.  And giving big numbers like 10,000, 140,000, 25,000 starts to feel as if it lacks context, it doesn't mean much to the player.

For a surfing game for instance, you could abstracted the scoring system to be a pacel of 3 judges who each give a score out of 10, like in a surfing competition.  The judges are named Distance Dan, Barrel Barry, and Critical Chris, whose scores now feel contextualised through characters, and give a sense of what each judge cares about.  This keeps it a bit more open and obscured, and the player knows the context of what their total score of 10 means, and they have a sense of how to improve their score on the next attempt.

Giving your scoring system the right sort of theme and metaphor can really help add character to your game, which engages the player in your world, and also provides extra feedback to them about how they can progress and improve.

Jetpack Joyride - Goals
Halfbrick introduce the goals in a casual way as the game plays out.  The goals system is not forced on the player.

The first three goals are just activities that the player will inevitably achieve anyway, simply by playing the game normally.  They are not even told the goals exist.  But as you inadvertently start to complete those goals, you are notified of your achievement and reward!  So it's a nice soft way to introduce goals to the player, and draw them in once they've been playing for a little while already.

The first goals in Jetpack Joyride are:
  • Reach 500 metres without collecting any coins.
  • Complete 3 missions.
  • Collect 5 vehicles.

Get your strings right!
Really refine your strings!  They have to go through a lot of iterations to get them right.  They look easy to write, but you need to test them against a range of users, and iron out any confusion while keeping them as succinct as possible.

A string can easily go through 10 iterations before you nail it.
  • Fly past 75 red lights
    • "Well, I went past them!  I didn't know I had to TOUCH them!"
  • Touch 75 red lights
    • "I was tapping them with my finger!  Why wasn't it working!?"
  • Brush past 75 red lights
    • "Do those little red lights on the computer screens count?"
  • Brush past 75 red flashing lights.
    • "Do I have to do 75 in one game, or in total, or what?"
  • Brush past a total of 75 red flashing lights in any number of games.
    • "It's a lot of text to read.  It feels cluttered."
  • Brush past 75 red flashing lights.  15 to go!
    • "Cool!  Got it!"

The devil is in the details.  It's easy to just knock out a string, but it makes a HUGE difference to get those strings just right!

It really is just all about EMPATHY.
What is the most effective way to communicate with the player?
How do you make them understand you game, and make them care?

My Reflections

I'm just getting into the User Interface for my new game, so this got me thinking about how to keep things streamlined, while still having all the relevant info on screen.  

And it helped me collect my ideas about how to present In App Purchases, and how to make it clear and easy for players to browse things they might want, to make their decisions interesting and fun.

As I keep working through these parts of my game, I'm going to be going back through these notes to tweak my ideas.  Great stuff!

GCAP Highlights - Opening Keynote with Robin Hunicke


Game Connect Asia Pacific 2012 has just wrapped up.  I had a great time there, and I wanted to share some of my favorite sessions here.  I hope you find them inspiring and useful!

Opening Keynote with Robin Hunicke
Robin Hunicke is an inspiring person!  

As an older gamer myself, I feel tired of the majority of mainstream games.  I don't really have the time to plough through a 20 hour killing spree, and although I'm sure I could get into the high-quality games like Crysis 2, Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, Dragon Age, etc, I just don't feel compelled to dedicate my time to that endeavour.  I have a sense of being time poor, of needing to strive to make my own games, and these days I'm hungry for different sort of experience.

So it takes a more unusual game to get my attention these days, and a game like Journey really captures my attention.  Robin's games come from a fresh perspective.  She's interested in themes and emotions outside of the normal game genres, outside of the normal power fantasies, and that resonates with me.  She talks about game development in terms of creating art, of exploring a medium that is rich with possibilities, a games that stem from a creator's passions and values.

My notes from "Keynote with Robin Hunicke"

Work on a game that you're passionate about, that you must make, that will have an impact not just on the market, but on people, on culture.

Don't work on games that just aren't worth it.  You can spend years on a single game.  Life's short.  Make sure you care about what you're doing, or you'll look up one day and realise you've spent years working on games you just don't care about.

Find an idea you care about.  

If you do something original, no one knows ahead of time what the game will look like and feel like, so concept it like crazy.
There's no one specific way to make a game.
Let your ideas loose, start from the place that works for you personally.
Start with the music.  Start with the art.  Whichever part works for you.
Don't rush it, don't force it, let yourself fall in love with the idea.

Iterating in development is not a waste of time.  You need to build things and try them, and you will need to throw things away.

Test your concept like it isn't yours.

Devote yourself to the process of user testing.  
Even though it can be hard, you need to go through the shame and the pain, and you will learn from it.  Resist being critical of the players who test your game.  If they don't understand something, it's not because they're bad players.  It means you could improve how your game works, so they get it.

Also, seeing things fail in user testing makes it much easier to throw things away that you were otherwise attached to.

We are not optimised as humans to throw things away.  We horde things, and we want to do things perfectly and efficiently.  But games are about refinement and optimisation.  You need to optimise what the player ends up experiencing.  Hide all of the mistakes, and unnecessary elements that they don't need to see.  You want them to end up with only the best, most streamlined version of your game.

Find the feeling in your idea.

Focus on the feeling, and prototype like crazy.
Get at that thing, work it.

It's not that complicated to do something amazing, it's mostly dedication and practice.  It takes time and effort.

As you go along, you throw away less things, but you still throw away at the end.  Don't expect to not throw things away.

The curve of uncertainty and the curve of effort are correlated.  

You can feel very uncertain in the middle, and towards the end, and the effort must ramp up to match this uncertainty.  Uncertainty can be caused by things that "just dont work", that you thought would work, for example.  There are many unknowns in game development.  And you need to overcome these uncertainties with effort and iteration, until things finally work!  It can take more time and effort to overcome these uncertainties than expected, hence the additional exertion.

You should feel like making games is fun - the best job in the universe.

If you don't feel that, then maybe you're doing the wrong thing, or doing it in the wrong way.

FUNOMENA - Robin's new company with friend Martin from ThatGameCompany.  Goals:
  • Creativity
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Martin and Robin decided that at Funomena, they wanted to work up from their values, not down from the market.  To build something that feels important to them, not just something that feels like it will sell to a market demographic.

During question time, Robin said she'd love to see a big world beautiful game that wasn't about fighting, it was just about exploring.  (I agree!)

My Reflections

This presentation reminded me that I miss working with other people.  

It's hard to "jam out" ideas on your own. It's hard to make quick iterative progress by simply throwing ideas at each other, improving ideas rapidly and drastically in a single conversation.

I resolved to show my games to people more often, to get more feedback from a wider variety of people, and to catch up with game developers more often, tell them my latest ideas and hear their ideas for improvements, as well as their criticisms.

Between sessions at GCAP, I chatted to some friends about my new project ideas, and often someone would throw a fantastic idea at me straight off the cuff. Even a quick idea can suddenly shine a whole new light on my concept, on the setting, on who the main character is. It's big issues, not just little details, that can be greatly improved just by a quick conversation!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pulp Diction: Dev Diary - "Voice Acting"

This video shows me and my fantastic voice acting buddy Brendan Barnett having a lot of fun while recording the detective voice over for Pulp Diction.  We always have a great time doing voice over recording.  He cracks me up.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pulp Diction: Dev Diary - "Theme Music"

This video shows me and my twin brother Evan making the music for the game! Evan played a few different retro instruments on my Nord Electro 3 keyboard, which I have loaded up with mostly vintage sounds from the Mellotron. I love the Mellotron!

Evan also played guitar, which added a nice live feel to it.

I then played a variety of virtual instruments using the Roland GR20. It picks up the guitar strings and lets you control a plethora of instruments with it. I recorded double bass, clarinet, pizzicato strings, timpani and the lead instrument, the saxophone!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pulp Diction: Dev Diary - "Art & Immersion"

This video explores my frustration with the mood of the game, and the ideas I came up with to create mood and atmosphere with art and music.

So much of the actual effectiveness of games happens on a psychological level, so you really need to work on a metaphor that brings everything together in the mind of the player.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MUZBOZ and Rad Skater Apocalypse in The Age

On 26th June 2012, The Age ran a great little article about my game Rad Skater Apocalypse with an eye-catching photo taken by Michael Clayton-Jones.  Click the image to read the full size article!

My long-time friend Luke made a touching gift for me, getting the article framed with a little Dr Seuss quote at the bottom.  Thanks Lukey.  :)

Follow-up Addendum:  This poster lasted about 6 months on a wall on Smith St in Collingwood!  It was awesome seeing it age over time, and smudge with the rain.  :)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

ACMI Chiptunes Workshop

Had a great day at the Chiptunes workshop down at ACMI.  It was a quick introduction to making music on the Gameboy with "Little Sound DJ".  Very informative in a short amount of time!

Thanks to the presenters and mentors: (L-R) Dot AY, Derris-Kharlan and cTrix!

There was quite a bit to learn in a short time, and I only got about 20 minutes to actually put a song into the program, but it was fun, and now I want one of my own!

Here's the little song I managed to make in the time.  It's really just a short pattern that I was tweaking on the fly...  

Listen to Muzboz Lightning...

or download Muzboz Lightning.mp3 (2mb)

I used to make tracker songs on the Amiga in a program called "Sound Tracker", so the basic approach was familiar.  I'd quite like to make my own original soundtrack to one of my games, entire using the Gameboy!  
Anyone got an old Gameboy they want to donate to the cause?  :)

Where are the great iPad games? Where are our arthouse games?

Seriously, where are the GREAT iPad games?  Where are the games that capture your imagination and completely engross you?  Not with graphics, but with craft.

I'm 34 years old.  I grew up playing King's Quest games, where a rich world lay before you, and you interacted with it using verbs you typed in.  It fired the imagination on all cylinders.

It can be hard to separate your memories as a child from the actual true qualities of a game, but I simply cannot believe that a game like King's Quest 3 is anything less than miraculous.

Later I played Thief, immersed in it's richly crafted world, beautifully simulated systems of light and shadow, sound propagation, and characters who "thought they saw something... but noooo, must have been nothing".  I love these richly realised, deeply detailed worlds.  The art, writing and sound design in the game are superb.

These games crafted a rich tapestry of their game worlds.  The player must navigate a high-resolution space BETWEEN "alive" and "dead".  These games barely care how much ammo you have left, or the accuracy of your aiming.  They're about a much richer story space, where you try to figure out the secrets of locations and characters, the missing pieces of the puzzle, how to sneak past a wary guard, or what might entice a character to help you out.

I know that I have rose colored glasses for these games, but I don't believe for a second that it's impossible to evoke these values that I long for, still.  And you don't need high definition 3D graphics to evoke these feelings, although it does benefit from great art and writing.

I look for games with this richness on the iPad, and I come up empty handed.  Nothing.  
Some would argue that it's a high demand to expect these games on iPad, considering that tantalisingly good games are far and few between on the high end platforms like PC, Xbox 360, PS3 or Mac.  Maybe that's true.

I don't think it's a matter of these games being especially hard to make (although they do take great skill and care), I just think that they are not perceived to be the sort of games that will make the most money.  Because a dinky little throw-away game will probably sell more, due to mass appeal, and an audience that largely isn't looking for a deep experience, but instead wants a fairly shallow, non-committal experience, especially on iPhone, but also to some extent on iPad.

I'll take that as true.  That's fine.  But I'm still disappointed that a platform perfectly capable of running these amazing experiences is not being exploited by some developers to give these experiences to people.

Where are the truly great games?  What brings a thirty or forty year old back to the glowing screen, promising "we have something truly great and wondrous to offer you."

I guess as I've gotten older, I really want better WRITING.  And not just writing, but an actual PURPOSE TO WRITE.

Why are today's games being made?  

What do they have to say?

I understand that many games are not written for the purpose of engaging people in this manner.  That's fine.  But seriously... 



I know it's not easy to make these games.  And perhaps a sense exists that there is no calling for these games.  That no one will play them, or at least not enough people.

Well I want to challenge that.  I want to build up towards making games that are considered arthouse games.  Games with something to say, or at least, a great sense of style, of story, of writing.  To have an artisticness to them, even if this is in the entertainment side of arthouse, like Amelie, or Pulp Fiction, or Twin Peaks.  I'm not asking for "high art", just something unique and joyfully intriguing.

I don't want to be a star marine.  I don't want to drive a racing car.  I've done that.  I loved it.  But my life is calling for other things now.

Maybe it's not possible.  Maybe it is the wrong medium.  But I'm determined to find out.  Can I make a game that meets my own desires for atmosphere, story and exploration?  

I want to make a game that I'd be delighted to find myself.  One that makes me love the maker, to feel a bond for the joy they've crafted in that world.

That is my mission!

Indie Game Developer

Saturday, July 14, 2012

2012-07-13th Dear Diary: TIGJAM 2012

Dear Diary...


It's Friday 13th!  Oooooh!  Bad luck?  Or great luck?!  It's been an excellent day!

I went to meet up with Lester about being in his documentary about indie games!  He wants to make me a character to focus on, hopefully, like Phil Fish or Jon Blow in Inide Game: The Movie.  I'd love to make it work, and it helps give me a lens to see myself, to question what I am really trying to do.  He wants to interview me, and film where I work and things.  I need to make sure I have something to say, and connect with the camera.  To have myself figured out a bit.  I'm excited!

After meeting with Lester, I went to Kill City bookstore on Swanston St, full of crime novels (a place he'd just told me about, because he's a pulp novel fan himself!).  I bought a compilation, "Women on the Edge", which seemed to be full of writing that was fast moving, and instantly catchy.  The sort of stuff I needed for my game.  Short snippets that moved fast, and kept the reader engaged.  A lot of the novels I picked up were slow, dry, languished in pacing.  That just wouldn't work where I needed the action to move ahead with every sentence.

My friend Luke called me, and said he'd put up some posters for Rad Skater Apocalypse in some skate stores around Frankston.  The kids all asked if it was free, and he had to say no, it's 99 cents.  I really need to get a free version out, with advertisements in it.  Maybe I'll wait until my our game is out, and link to that game directly as well.  Shame they're very different games, for totally different markets.

Then I took some photos around the city, of the old buildings...  Flinders St Station, the Nicholas Building elevator shaft, the Regent Plaza theatre, the Town Hall Clocktower, and the Carlton Gardens.  All possibly locations I could use for a more graphic novel style presentation of the story.  I could photoshop filter them, like Max Payne...  or use them as reference, and trace over them.  I could take photos with actors in them too, and exaggerate the lighting and design in Photoshop.

TIGJAM is tonight, in Richmond.  I'm gonna go and work on something!  Dunno what yet!
Might team up with some people.  Might just work on my own.  Happy to just meet people, and see what happens.  

My life is so much more exciting since leaving my day job!

- Muz

Note to self:  TIGJAM will be a good way to experiment with the idea of a Travelling Game Dev Setup.  I can take my laptop, and some basic tools for creating all the content.  Pen and paper, H4 audio recorder, phone camera.  Will be interesting to see what I can come up with in 48 hours!

Friday, July 13, 2012

2012-07-12th Dear Diary: Detective Word Game, Mark Frost, Story Ideas

Dear Diary,


Tying to work out the core game design mechanics, and story for my detective word game.

A word game, alternating with story snippets.  Must be an excellent story, gloriously written.  The player must be yearning to know, what happens next?

I was thinking of asking Mark Frost, co-creator of Twin Peaks, if he would be interested in writing it.  I watched some interviews with Frost, and in 2008 he was playing World of Warcraft and interested in where interactive storytelling is heading, with the audience wanting to be in the middle of the action.  He is a master of mystery, and weaving fascinating driven stories, so it could be a really interesting match if I could get him on board.  He's currently writing a trilogy of teenage fantasy books, so probably not!  Maybe later down the track...

I read a great article by Steve Farrelly called Growing Pains: An Exploration of Mature Game Design about games maturing as a medium and dealing with more mature themes, and consequences, and I got totally inspired to write the story myself, and actually make it meaningful, relating to the state of the world, the things that threaten the freedom and happiness of all mankind, and the animals and the planet, and the solar system.  

Perhaps to have a criminal who is a sort of anarchist, tying to take down all the forces in the world that seem to be held up as great, but I actually bad for the earth as a whole.  Unrestricted capitalism.

He's questioning... "What is progress?  Is progress always good, is it always moving forwards?  At what point do we need to hold ourselves back, to say that we are happy, to say that we have enough, to indeed try to trim down our population, to pear back our impact on the earth."

I like the idea of the criminal seeing humans as a cancer on the earth, building our cities, these concrete melanomas over the body off the earth.  And that as the story unfolds, we start to question what is right and wrong, who the criminal is, whether the laws of the world are protecting us or emprisoning us.  Where we are being manipulated and deluded.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pulp Diction: Dev Diary - "Early Days"

This video shows the very beginning of the project, making sound effects on my granny's old typewriter, and exploring different game ideas, some of which made it through to the final game, some of which did not!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Pet Programmer

When I tell people about the limitations of Game Salad, some useful souls like to mention helpfully, "You know, you should get a programmer."

As if that's easy.  As if that's just a decision you make, and you're done.  Oh you want a programmer to create your games for you from scratch, and support all the code bases you want to release on?  Oh!  Great, now you have a programmer, then.

Seriously?!  No.  

That is not the answer to my problems.

I've worked really hard to learn Game Salad, so that I can enable myself to make games.

Getting a programmer is not the answer that makes everything possible.

Game Salad has been my answer to making ANYTHING possible.

I spent 10 years working at games companies, surrounded by lots of talented people, half of them programmers.  And they don't want to go and program your game for you.

No, "getting a programmer" is not the answer.

BECOMING the programmer is the answer.  Doing everything myself is the answer... for now.

Until people want to join me, and work on my projects, with me, together, I will keep making them on my own.

Putting together games on my own, and having to assemble them bit by bit, has been really liberating and empowering... it makes me think about the design in its entirety.  And that is a really enriching and educational process.

Later, I would like to have a few more people work on the games, but right now, my job is NOT to go around begging and pleading at the door of all the programmers I know, or to trawl over forums searching through a bunch of wannabe programmers looking for someone to try to connect with, someone I can trust with my entire business.  No thanks.  

My job is to build games the best I know how, with the skills I have, and the skills I can develop.

Designers don't get much cred.  Everyone thinks they're a game designer.  That anyone could do that design task, if they had time.  Well, that may be true.  

Trying to get someone to program your game is like trying to get Hollywood to make your movie.  Why?  Why your movie instead of their own, or someone else's?

You can spend your whole life trying to convince people that your idea is great.  But I think the best test is to go out and do it yourself, build your skills, make better and better products.  And then, people will start to join you for future projects, because they can see that you have created great things, that you have a following, that you have a well deserved fanbase.

If I have to do it all myself, I am investigating the medium to its very fullest and being exposed to all the accidents and inner workings of every system.  It is an opportunity for discovery and self-empowerment.  I am in direct contact with every little detail.

So like a filmmaker who writes, produces, shoots and edits his own films, and then later brings in experts in their fields do shoot and edit and write the films, I want to move into my career as a game developer understanding all the disciplines involved as fully as possible, so that when and if I get the chance to work with other great people, I can understand as Director and Producer, how to create a strong, cohesive vision for the game that's moving the medium forwards.

I've started my own business.  I'm basically risking everything, betting everything on being able to make some good games.  I am not prepared at this point to bank my life on some programmer who may or may not hang around.  They might leave the project at any point.  Then I am back at square one.  I need to be able to proceed on my own.  So I choose Game Salad.  I've released a game with it already.  I can release more.  I know how it works.  It's a known quantity.  I feel I can rely on it as much as I can rely on anything for now.

I'm writing this because it actually makes me angry.

People say it, like it's something I've not thought of, or not tried.  "You should get a  programmer!  Yeah!  Get on a forum and get a programmer.  Ask one of the guys you worked with."

They say it like I need one, like I can't make games on my own.  It belittles what I have achieved on my won.

That after so many years of wanting to make my own games, and finally putting in the work to do so, people NOW say, "You know, you could really do with the expertise of a real programmer."

No shit.

No fucking shit.

This statement is ignoring the practical issues involved in "having a programmer", like having to find them, having to pay them, having to keep them interested and passionate in your project, and relying on them to stick around.

If I could have a pet programmer, entirely dedicated to my cause, of course I would!  :)

Rant complete.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rad Skater Apocalypse lives!

It lives! The game is live! 

Rad Skater Apocalypse is on the App Store now...

It's been a long journey, and it feels so good to see my very own game up on the App Store!

The leaderboards are cooking!  I'm really keen to see the leaderboards go crazy, so I can get on there and battle with the best of them, to see if I can hold my own!  :)

I really hope you all enjoy the game, and I hope to see you all in the future for a whole bunch of unique games over the coming years!  :)

Love Muz

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



I thought I'd post some photos of my workspace, as I'm rather proud of my awesome bedroom, full of my favorite knick-knacks, books, decorations, instruments and toys.

It's very densely packed, and many would quickly label me a hoarder.  Pity my poor parents, for the less urgent belongings all end up out there.

Now that it's getting into winter here in Melbourne, I'm working upstairs on the mezzanine level that I built with my dad and brother, with my heater on below to bring up the warmth! 

I'm creating my game on an older model 2008 MacBook Pro that I bought off a lovely friend. 
I'd love a new 27" iMac one day for some extra power and screen space.  But I do love my Mac, a lot.

My old iMac is downstairs, which I bought from another kindly friend to get started using Game Salad.  It was the computer that converted me from being a Windows guy to a Mac guy.  That being said, I also have a Windows machine downstairs, and one upstairs!

Downstairs is also home to my favorite guitars, a piano, and various keyboards and organs! You can also see my 20 year old Lord of the Rings poster on the wall, along with a more recent LOTR discovery (seen sitting above the mirror).  It's an LP from 1972, "Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings" by the Swede, Bo Hansson. Excellent album! Check it out if you're into atmospheric psychedelic instrumental stuff.  I like listening to records while I'm working, especially instrumental stuff, because it's not too distracting.

One day I'm hoping to build a castle and work out of there...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Breakthroughs: The 8-bit Apocalypse Approaches!

I'm nearly ready to submit my first iOS game!

I'm nervous. I'm biting my nails. But delightedly, I've made some breakthroughs in the last few days!

I've got it running smoother! Which is the greatest thing! And I've refined the whole setting for the game. The 8-bit apocalypse!

An Organic Development Process

Rad Skater has been a very organic process. It's been a way for me to learn Game Salad, and to finish an entire game on my own. I feel like it's the game I would have built as the 8 year old version of myself if I'd had Game Salad in 1986.

I came up with the idea with my brother Evan. I needed to come up with a SIMPLE idea, to make my first game quickly. So we were throwing around ideas. Something significantly simpler than the ideas I'd been working on already.

All the projects I'd started before Rad Skater were too big. They'd gotten out of control! 

My Project Number 1: Hand-drawn RPG

Well, everyone warns you away from making an RPG as your first game. Well, rules are meant for breaking! (And lessons are best learnt by making your own mistakes!). I just had to try it!

I loved a game called Phantasie when I was a kid. It was this awesome open world game, but just done from a tile based map, with fights interspersed. 

My game has you moving around on a ghost horse through a sketched landscape. It has a full night and day cycle, and seasons passing! It's a project I really want to go back to when I have a better sense of elegantly hooking systems together. There's an island with a wilderness area with a town, inn, church, and if you enter the cave, there's a dungeon that connects back through to the church as the way out again. You can fight Speetles on the grasslands and Skeletons within the dungeon.

My Game Project #2: B-grade mission based zombie game

I still want to finish this, but it got out of control in terms of the scale of it. There was too much work to do so it didn't make sense to make it my first released game. I needed to do heaps more work on the core mechanics, build all the levels, and get proper art for the game. I'm looking forward to working on this one again some time this year!

My Game Project #3: Rad Skater

So, after spending a lot of time on two projects that both turned out to be too big to finish in timely manner, and my life savings running out, I knew I had to start something small, and get it out!

Evan and I spent years playing silly arcade games in the 80's, growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne. We played truck-loads of Combat, International Soccor, Wizball, Digger, Alley Cat, Moon Patrol, some of the world's earliest home computer games. 

Home computer games were born around the same year I was born. 1978. This was the time when home gaming consoles really hit the scene. So in many ways, I associate my journey through life to parellel the life of home computer games. We have always shared the same years, from being in our infancy, to growing to be 30 years old.

And I still delight in the wonderful things that those early games did with just a handful of pixels and colors, and only about 6 mHz if you were lucky!

It seemed natural for me to examine what it was I loved about those earliest games. 

Around this time, my dad said "Make a skateboarding game! It'll sell like gangbusters!"

I grew up with skateboards, and despite not being able to do any tricks, I used it as a mode of transport as a teenager, riding it to work after school to the local fruit shop, where I worked for Charlie, who played a tin whistle and had a special talent of telling elaborate jokes. There was also a period of my life when I'd sneak out my bedroom window late on a school night, and skate all the way to the train station, catch te train to Box Hill, skate to my girlfriend's house, and she'd sneak out, and we'd kiss in the park. (Maybe there's a game in that, somewhere).

Back to the future, I sat with my brother at a cafe, wondering how to make a relatively simple game. We talked about making a weird game set on the streets of Fitzroy, and you just have "weird stuff happening". We thought it you could inject a bit of David Lynch, that would be cool. Evan likes strange idea. I felt inspired to just make some simple quirky platformer. But I wanted to bring it back to something with a clearer goal. I came back to dad's suggestion of skateboarding.

Build it and they will come?

So I just started building it. I grabbed bit of inspiration from the games I loved, and modified them, subverted them. I took a punk street-art sort of approach. I collaged bits together from all the things I love, chopping out this from here, that from there, to make my own unique take on growing up in the 80's, and living in Melbourne in the 2010's.

The foundation of my idea was: You skate along collecting MIX TAPES.

I liked the 80's vibe. It fit with the whole theme of old 8-bit games. The days of neon, the days of loading games from cassettes... good days!

Since then until now, I've just kept adding stuff. Obstacles to jump and the great graffiti and street art around Fitzroy on the background walls. I added a classic Game & Watch feel to it, with two buttons at the bottom to press for all gameplay controls.

Skate Band

At one point, I felt like the game just didn't have any driving purpose, so I I tried building it into a sort of management game! 

It's an entirely different game mode built through a front end menu system that contextualises your skating activities. You choose what to do next to ultimately make your band more popular and make more money!

The skater is the synth player in a punk synth pop band, and you're trying to skate to rehearsals. In one mode you are collecting mix tapes for inspiration to create new songs. Then you collect money so you can record your band. Then you have to press records, and finally play gigs to get more fans and sell your records. All the while, you are using skating as the vehicle for making these things happen. It was like a strange skateboarding lemonade-stand game. 

I spent weeks on it, but at the end of the day, it didn't solve my problems of giving the game a clarity of purpose. It was just more confusing, and going to take more work to beat it into something that really rocked. 

Once again, I stripped it all back to an endless runner mode.

Tying it all together: The 8-bit Apocalypse 

I'd been developing the game for months. Way longer than I'd originally intended. But I still hadn't really tied it all together. 

I had the brainwave of adding in some more enemy types, and unlocking them as you play through the game, resulting in an entire 8-bit horde of the apocalypse.

And as I kept working on the game, and showing it to people, and re-evaluating it, I would get new insights into how to clarify the vision of the game. The direction of the game kept morphing organically as I went along. It's not the most efficient way to make a game, and it can be frustrating, but I've learned a lot from doing it this way.

Coming into focus right at the end

After chatting to my brother Evan just a few days ago, he pointed out that it really needs a clear story setup. The player needs direction. You can't just drop them into the arcade action, and expect them to care about what's happening. 

We came up with the idea that the skater is me. It is the tale of my experiences with computer games. The 8-bit invaders nested themselves in my head over those early years of playing computer games, and now they are bursting out and taking over Melbourne.

I took some photos two days ago as part of an intro sequence to the game... I grabbed my Korg Poly 800 synth, my old 80's skateboard, and grabbed a costume that combines a bit of Marty McFly with my normal clothes, and snapped some shots of the 8-bit apocalypse!

Just yesterday, I watched this great presentation by Chris Wright at Surprise Attack, and it really brought everything into focus. 

Indie Games Positioning Workshop - by Chris Wright of Surprise Attack

What I took from this was, I need to bring all my concepts together into an "elevator pitch". The game needs to be summed up quickly in just a sentence or two, and the game itself needs to serve that concept. All the screenshots, all the gameplay, needed to support that elevator pitch.

So I re-evaluated what I was presenting to the player in my game, with an eye towards emphasising the apocalyptic setting. I needed to make that apocalypse a reality. 

I need to create the reality of these 8-bit invaders coming to Melbourne, that doom is impending! And I've spent the last day adding and emphasising those visual and gameplay elements that express the apocalypse in tangible ways within the game. 

I've changed the order that the enemies are unlocked, starting with zombies (instead of the dogs), and adding the flying invaders next, then the hell hounds, and so on! The sky darkens as you keep skating, then smoke starts to rise up from the distant buildings as the invaders take a hold of the city. And finally, large rumbling explosions start to occur as all hell breaks loose, and the city begins to crumble.

The game finally feels like it has a proper setting, with the gameplay and artwork focusing in on this growing apocalypse.

Now I have an elevator pitch that actually makes sense and ties into the game... 

If games don't melt your brain, they just might destroy the world!

After playing too many games as a kid, Muzboz's head was filled with 8-bit invaders, breeding and multiplying. Now they want to get out, and they're taking over Melbourne.

Armed with only his skateboard and an old synth, Muzboz is the only thing standing between the world, and the 8-bit apocalypse!

The Future: Finishing Up, Moving On!

I need to get this game all finished up and submitted.

I'm excited about what I've learned. I'm excited that I've achieved so much with this game. I want to work on the next game!