Saturday, March 31, 2012

My first computer game is nearly finished!

I am very excited.  My first computer game is nearly finished!

I've been working away in my bedroom, and sometimes in my funky Brunswick St office in Fitzroy, Melbourne, feeling like a pretty cool dude, to be honest...

I've been working away on the code, and the art, and the sound!  And it's nearly ready.

Recording skateboard sounds on my old 80s skateboard!

I've been sketching out ideas for games since I was 8 years old.  My grandmother was a draughtswoman, and loved to make funny birthday cards for us with pen, and water color pencils.  And of course, I was also inspired by fantasy book and games...

I've always loved a whole range of genres, and over the years I've dabbled away on text adventures, and little RPG projects, and sketched out designs for vehicle simulation games, driving, flying, jetpacking. I've worked on an Adventure Game Studio project or two.  I've made levels for Quake and Thief.  But I've never released my own game.  I've just never been able to!

Despite more than 10 years working on the games industry around Melbourne, I've never been able to figure out how to make my own games.  Until now.

I'm finally going to do it.  Release my own computer game.

Thanks to Apple bringing the marketplace directly to the developer, and mobile phone games in general helping to bring back smaller sized games, and Game Salad giving me a platform where I can create the behaviours, art, and sound for my games entirely on my own, I can now do it all on my own.  Indie games are the new indie band.  

I love the olden days of the one-man-game teams.  Many of the classic games from my youth were made by just one person.  Sometimes a few, but often just one person who did everything.  And I think there's something brilliant about that.  Like a novel, the vision is created from just a single person's imagination, and delivered to the reader / player in that intuitive form.

I want to make so many different sorts of games.  Retro action games, funny games, fantasy strategy games, vehicle simulation madness, story mystery games, oldschool adventure games, B-grade 70s games, stealth games, and beyond!

I'm worried that I will not make a good businessman.  That my choices will be based on fun, rather than monetisation.  Because fun is what seems right to me.  This whole Freemium craze has it's place, but many decisions seem to be made to the detriment of the game itself.  And in my books, game design is all about whatever is best for the game, best for the player.  I guess, as long as I can support myself, I really don't care.  I don't want to be a businessman.  I want to have fun!  I want to create games that people love, that engages them and forms a special place in their heart, like those magical games I've played over the years.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mighty Amiga 500

I clearly remember this exact moment, with mum taking the photo.

It's marked in the photo album, "FEB 1989".

L-R  Evan, Eric, Oop, Murray (me)
(with Rod in the centre, holding The Melbourne Trading Post)

"Conning Dad re AMIGA" in mum's writing

There was a palpable tension in the room.  Everyone was tuned in with dad.  

We all knew it was a bit of a farse we were playing in.  Dad just wanted a hair tickle.  But we STILL knew, we couldn't afford to put a foot wrong if we wanted to seal this deal.  

We needed dad to be happy.  We needed to play his game.  He was going to milk this, but if we played our cards right, we'd have an Amiga.

To this day, I totally honor the Amiga as a fantastic piece of technology.  It was a real multimedia powerhouse.

Anticipation was thick in the air.

I don't think I'd even seen a picture of an Amiga.  But Oop wanted it.  He wanted it bad!  So I knew it was good.

His mate Eric was there, always the secret advisor, letting us know what was the next hot thing in the computer gaming world.  It was his dad who had run a business selling computers, and got us our first home PC around 1983.  Blessed be!  We also got many of our games through him, including the amazing King's Quest.  A sort of virtual-drug-dealer for the rich and fertile minds of us Lorden brothers.  We always wanted more! 

I remember walking into the upstairs computer room many years earlier and finding Eric and Oop with our home PC open and their hands all in there, pulling bits out!  I was shocked!  You should flick that red switch to turn it on, press the Turbo button to make it go from 6 mHz to 8 mHz, and slide the big 5 1/4" floppy disks in and out carefully lest they start to go "kkrrrrchchnnk, kkrrrrcchrrrnnk."  And that's about it!

What were they doing?!

They told me they were putting in an EGA card.
A what?
16 colors?
Extended graphics?
It wasn't really sinking in.

We'd been enjoying games of the pink, blue, white and black variety for years!  What was this new fangled 16 colors?  

It was of course this EGA card that made King's Quest 1 and 2 look so beautiful.
All I knew was, these two boys were setting themselves up for trouble!  When dad found out they'd wrecked it!  Jeez!

Surely, it was all going to end up the same way as when I opened up my mum's precious watch that she was given for her engagement or something.  

I never could get it back together, no matter how much I tried to finesse it back together.  It got more and more desperate as I tried to get the little spring's heart-beat ticking again. 

Surely, just like that, Oop and Eric were going to have to hide the remains of their horrible crime in a yellow envelope and tuck it away amongst on the top shelf amongst the other yellow envelopes.  But just like the watch, someone would find it.  And even if they owned up to it, the computer would never work again.

...Years later, I remember my youngest brother, Hill, a good ten years younger than us, ashamed, red faced, humiliated and truly sorry, when mum dug up a strange artefact in the back yard.  A twisted and muddy 1mb Amiga Memory expansion card.  

I was furious.

He had been unable to get the memory card into the slot of our old Amiga.  He'd recently discovered it, and was paying through all the golden old classics from our collection with his mate Kieren.  Trying to get Dungeon Master going, he'd tried to shove in the memory expander.  But having bent the little pins irrecoverably, he had buried it.  

Unable to admit to any of the older brothers that he had destroyed the memory card, he had done the only thing left to him.  Buried it.

How could we ever boot up Dungeon Master again, in the way it was meant to be played?

But at the same time, through my anger, I knew exactly where he was coming from.
Flashes of that yellow envelope played before my mind, the guilty, failed operation on mum's watch, tucked deep down inside.  

I didn't want to throw it away.  It wasn't rubbish.  It was precious.  I had to keep it, but not with my things.  It had to be kept somewhere safe, but where no one would find it.
It had stopped working because I was too fascinated with it.  

I wanted to see inside.  To see how it worked.  To get closer to it.
But when it all went wrong, I couldn't own up to it.  

I KNEW I could put it back together, why would I NOT be able to just PUT IT BACK TOGETHER?  Well, you keep trying, but it just gets worse.

That yellow envelope was a respectful grave.  A memorial.  
But bodies always get found.  

And when we found the body of the Amiga Expanded Memory, all bent and broken, with it's crooked little pins all dirty, I was so angry, but I couldn't let myself not forgive him.  

He broke it out of anger and frustration, but he buried it out of shame.  Shame and fear.  

And I knew that feeling too well.  He couldn't own up to it, just like I couldn't own up to the the watch the day dad lined us up and asked us who did it.
I couldn't say it.  

Thinking back, it was probably obvious it was me, by the look on my face, but he didn't make me say it, and I didn't.

Luckily for all of us, Eric "EJ" Doriean DID get that EGA card in there, and we had ourselves 16 colors of gaming goodness!

And thanks to those special people at Sierra, and their fancy dithering technologies, we actually had about 32 perceived colors.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

This year, I bought my first Macbook Pro.  And I love it.  
After all that shit talking, and cajoling with Mac owners.  I really love it.
I feel like a million bucks.  Like a special pampered member of the elite.  

My Windows machine is faster.  But it's ugly.
When I sit in front of it, I blanch a little.  

It's a world of error messages that tell you to turn left at Albuquerque, when the robbers have just headed for Kalamazoo.  
It's a store keeper that hates his job and is just waiting to clock off.  

Opening my Mac feels like opening a book by my favorite author.
It feels like entering a cinema to watch a movie by my favorite director.  
I'm in good hands, and ready to go on a pleasant journey.

The Mac reminds me of the Amiga in some ways.
It has it's own way of doing things.  The hardware and software have been tailored for a special experience for the user, to connect with you.  To be your friend.

Thank you Amiga.  

You will always be welcome in my family, and at my table.

Murray Lorden

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Betrayal at Krondor

This game was amazing.  1993.  A real story, cool characters and locations, amazing music!

I loved the old game Phantasie from 1985, which was also one of the earliest games we had on the PC.  It was a cool open world RPG game.  BUT the story was quite hackneyed, and the interface and graphics were rudimentary.  Betrayal at Krondor was like everything Phantasie was and more, with a richer story and great music and graphics (for the time!).

I personally love hand painted graphics in a game, and Krondor featured lovely images of each location you visited and great looking inventory items.

I would play all night, there was no end to it.  I would huddle before the computer with a sleeping bag draped over my whole body, like some ancient form of worship, my palm red from wiggling the mouse around for hours on end.

I love this tradition of games from Phantasie, to Oblivion and Skyrim.  They just keep getting more immersive and seamless.  Viva!  Long live adventure games!


Gravity Force

I played this heaps as a teenager on the Amiga, mostly against my brothers Evan and Oop.

Very few people seem to remember this game.  It was a public domain game made by Kingsoft in 1989. 

It took a while to get used to the controls, and it wasn't an easy game.  

The single player mode involved a series of missions, much like Lunar Lander, to pick up cargo from around the level and return it safely to your base.  

The worlds were populated with moving enemies like spaceships, and tanks, and also wall mounted turrets.  Later there were additional threats such as moving walls, and magnetic fields.

Single player mode was all good and well, but where the game really shone was MULTIPLAYER!

You could do RACES or DOGFIGHTS against another player, and it was hectic!  You really tested your skill at controlling these little ships, hurtling headlong around the levels by the skin of your fingers, all the time shooting at one another, while trying to avoid hitting the walls, getting shot by turrets, all the while flying through the checkpoints ahead of your opponent!

There was a real curve of skill and experience that you built up playing this game.  Lots of little details that added up to a better strategy.  You got to know the maps inside and out, every little nook and hitch you could hide behind and ambush your opponent.  I think my all time favorite map was Race 1, where the track was treacherous, and intersected itself around the middle, so your opponent often had a chance to get a few shots in as they hurtled across your path.  This was a great equaliser, greatly increasing the longevity of the game, as you just never knew who would win.

Spy vs Spy

Another game that took us months to master.

A brilliant game.  Genius.  There were so many layers to this game.

We would play this up at Mick's place at the end of the road, on the C64.  

You had to collect all the elements to get on the plane and win the game before your opponent does.  Sounds simple!  It's not.

You could see on the map, some rooms have little dots in them.  That's where the special items are hidden.  But you can only carry one at a time, until you have the BAG.  But you don't know which dot is the bag.  So as you search and find each item, if they're not the bag, you just have to hide them again.  You can booby trap them to stop your opponent from getting them, but you have to remember which sort of trap you used, so you can disarm it when you return!  

All the while, the other player is trying to do the same thing!  But at the same time, they can watch your half of the screen to see what you're doing!  What are you carrying?  What sort of booby trap are you putting on that object you hid?

But they can't watch you all day, or you'll win the game!  So it's this constant struggle of trying to collect the items, watch your opponent, find the correct objects, remember which booby traps you've set, and all the while having bouts of "pokey pokey" combat with your opponent when you run past each other on this mad circus of a treasure hunt!

This is multiplayer gaming of the finest vintage quality.

Moon Patrol

My family would fly around Australia a bit when we were young.

I have an identical twin brother, and my mother was a member of the Australian Multiple Birth Association.  In fact, she was the Twins Club President for a few years!  And we'd fly around to go to various conferences where she would speak and organise things (I never really knew what she did exactly!)

What I DID know was that at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne, if you ran around the long corridors, you could find MOON PATROL!  They had the table top arcade machine and I thought it was amazing.

There was something very cool about Moon Patrol, no doubt about it.  The fluid movement of the little wheels is something that I still think is just so well executed!  Haha.  It adds a really groovy feel to the game.

I also played Moon Patrol A LOT at the back of the classroom in Grade 3 on an Apple IIe.  Me and my mate Troy (who also introduced me to Evil Dead at a much-too-young-age) were awesome at it.  And I even finished it once!  And the Evil Dead series remain some of my favorite horror movies of all time, along with similar horror comedies Bad Taste and Brain Dead.

Over the years I've often thought about Moon Patrol.  I hold it up as a real classic.  It brings together many things that I love in games: physics simulation, complex action-response gameplay, various interplaying entities with different behaviours for you to keep track of at once, and a deformable terrain!  

King's Quest

King's Quest is probably my single fondest memory of computer gaming.

I don't think that's something that will change any time soon.  It doesn't matter if it's not the best game ever.  To me, it will always hold a totally special place in my imagination.

So many things seem to have been lost, or at least not fully explored, that King's Quest did.

It was a cinematic world, presented in resplendent color.  And the best part, a fully WRITTEN story, based around TEXT, and the player inputing their actions through TEXT.  

I loved that the world was experienced through the eyes, and the MIND, and that to interact with the world, you would READ, THINK, and WRITE.

To be honest, I can see why they brought in the mouse interface years later.  But it did remove a layer of imagination from the game.  It removed the "infinity" of the game world.

When playing King's Quest, ANYTHING was possible, because there was basically no interface.  There was a flashing cursor at the botton of the screen, inviting you to type in ANYTHING.  Anything you could imagine.

Can you think of a VERB?  Try it!  

Sure the game might say, "I DON'T UNDERSTAND THAT".  But there's always the possibility that it WILL understand what you type next, that the next thing you type will open a new door, show you a deeper layer to the world, find a special hidden item or secret.  The world was revealed, and the story moved forward, by you talking to the computer, and it talked back.

I loved that.  

Every little morsel of the graphics were mouthwateringly full of potential.  My eyes and mind would savour every detail, wondering what lay hidden inside this world before me.

When the mouse cursor came in, with the fixed set of verbs, "Walk, Talk, Manipulate", it actually closed off a lot of that potential in the game world.  Things became much more explicitly binary.  There were things you could do, and things you couldn't do.  No discussion.

And ever since, I feel that games do not want to enter into a discussion with you.  You play by their rules, and you move through the puzzles laid out for you.

If you waved your mouse cursor over a hole in a tree that looked suspiciously alluring, and the cursor did not change, then you can forget about it.  Nothing of interest there.  That is a useless bit of graphics that you can just forget about.

With the text interface, you could never really close off the potential of anything.  You just hadn't discovered it yet!  And I think there was a beauty in that.  Sure, perhaps the actual interactions that are possible are the same.  But there was something I liked about not being sure.  About everything being possible, and my mind having to remain open.  Perhaps it more accurately mirrors the real world, where everything has potential, and that potential is in the eye of the beholder.


Now this was a weird game.  We played this A LOT, up at Mick's place at the end of the road, with me and my twin brother Evan.  We'd take turn being the player and the cat, with the third person watching and commentating along.

We never got bored of it.
It was such a challenging game.

Again, it took us a long time just to figure out how it worked.  WAGGLE THE JOYSTICK the activate the currently highlighted powerup?  OK...

There was a REAL sense of camaraderie in this game. 

The wizard character had to actually EARN the other player, by collecting 3 pickups (by killing a whole set of an enemy type for each pickup), and then choosing to waggle the joystick to "manifest" the cat.  Then the cat player would appear and be able to play until they die.  The cat is required to pick up the paint drops, which is the point of the game.

It's all very interesting and unique.  I can't really think of an equivalent type of game today!  Can anyone out there think of something like Wizball?

I can only imagine that this would have been a very iteratively made game.  I am guessing that Sensible Software started working on it from a basic concept, and then just "felt out" where it was going from there, adding powerups and features as they went.

I really don't see how you could go about designing this game from the ground up, entirely on paper.  No sirree!

A real gem.  And that guitar lick at the end?  GOOOLD.

Wizard of Wor

I remember drawing pictures of the Worrior in this game on pieces of paper, seriously wanting to make computer games.  I loved the way he looked, with his little backpack, and his helmet, and his gun.  He was a compact and powerful little space adventurer, ready for what the cosmos had to throw at him.  It really got me thinking about pixel graphics, and how to make them.

I saw that you could program on the C64, and I tried doing it myself, but all I could do was print out little shapes on the screen, made up of those basic shapes that are shown on the C64 keyboard.  I could make round cornered boxes and lines.  Hmm.  I tried looking at some books with example game code written out in them, but they never seemed to add up to the GOOD games that I actually liked playing.  And the books didn't seem to really explain the RULES behind harnessing the power of the language.  So I gave up on those and just kept playing!

Wizard of Wor was great!  We'd play this at our friend Michael's place on a hill up the end of the road.  We'd ride up their on our bikes, or trounce up the road stamping in puddles with our gumboots, and huddle in front of the TV in their rumpus room.  They had this awesome big house that you could run around, and lots of board games and things to do!  Mick always loved games, and we'd often play chess, and he'd very often beat anyone up for the competition.  We'd play Marco Polo, and clothesline the unsuspecting blindfoldee with a blanket, and end up just wrestling and fighting.  We had great times up there on his hill.

He had Wizard of Wor on a cartridge, which was awesome, because it would just start straight away without that whole disk loading rigmarole!  LOAD "*",8,1  (Whoever thought to make kids type that archaic command to load their video games?)

This was one of the first games I played with two players on screen who had to cooperate, and COULD shoot each other.  And of course, WOULD shoot each other half of the time.  On purpose by accident.  Thus resulting in many off-screen jostles and punches.  Which was, of course, half the fun.  

The sound effects are so over the top!  I love the sound when the Warluk appears.  It's quite terrifying, and induces immediate panic.  

The way the enemies can sometimes disappear and reappear, the whole screen flashing scarily, this game really was something else.

Special mention must also go to Gauntlet, at the foot of which we also worshipped for many many hours.

Alley Cat

Alley Cat.  What a strange and absurd game.  
There is so much going on in this game!  

And a very high inscrutability quotient!
You had to figure out how EACH of the many minigames worked!  

I remember it was months, perhaps years before we knew you could press ALT to switch between the different holes in the cheese.

This was a very cool game.  I love the abstract nature of it.  It's like a Da Da game in many ways!  The broom sweeping about the level on it's own.  And yet everything has it's place.  The broom follows your footsteps, cleaning them up in the order that you made them!  

Catching that bird from the cage was so hard, and then you're nearly there, and BAM!  The broom jostles you straight out the window.  

Playing as a little defenceless cat was also a unique and uncommon approach to a protagonist character.  

Avoid detection, don't get caught!  Perhaps this is why I like the Thief series so much!  Years of subjection to Alley Cat at a young age.

I love the irreverence of this game.  So many whacky concepts.  The sexual nature of the cat's purpose!  The funny music and sound FX.  Fantastic.  

This is the golden age of gaming right here.
A real "one man game" classic!


Ahh, Digger!  

To my memory, this was perhaps the first game that we EVER booted up on our home PC in about 1984.  

Dad bought a computer.  He NEVER used computers.  I never saw him sitting in front of it that I can remember.   But he ran a business, and it was doing well.  He made buildings.  So of course he needed a computer.

Like me, dad has always likes toys.  (He's currently building a model railway.)

The main thing I remember about dad was that he'd head off in the morning in a suit with his black beard on his face, and come back quite late at night, and let us watch James Bond movies with him, when they were on TV.  He was always a friendly guy, good humoured when he wasn't throwing a phone off the balcony.  He was quite affectionate, although he didn't really play a strong hand in raising us.  That was mum's domain.  And mum is, I will tell you for free, a stella mum.  And dad, having the ability and inclination to succumb to our latest desires for new toys, is of course, a stella dad!  But back to Digger...

Digger provided us with endless fun.  I'd play it against my brothers Evan and Oop (yes, "Oop") for hours, taking turns to get a better score, whooping at each other's finesse and ability to avoid those dreaded changeling Hobbins.  It was such an exciting game, requiring such dexterity, yet always seemed fair.  There was a great mix of consistency and randomness in the behaviours of the enemies.  

My twin brother is a relapsed Digger addict.  At times during university, he would become re-addicted to the game for weeks at a time to avoid finishing his essays.

Like many old games from this time, just learning how to play could take weeks.  I swear it was months before we even knew there was a FIRE button in this game.  We just played defensively for months and months.  When our cousin scoffed while watching, and revealed that you can SHOOT by pressing F1, it almost felt like he'd broken the game.  I was so used to playing this little vulnerable and defenceless Digger, it seemed wrong to be able to shoot those unsuspecting Nobbins in the face.

And... umm!  F1?  What the hell?  
I'm pretty sure the accepted FIRE button would be the SPACE BAR.
Are you folks at Windmill Software drafting a rulebook on how to be a maverick?

That's the thing about games back in those days.  Figuring out how they even worked was something that could go on for months at a time.

Inscrutable!  There was something quite pleasing about that, too, I might say.  You felt like an explorer, examining new species never before seen by man.

The deformable terrain at the core of this game was very cool!

Three cheers for DIGGER.  Hip hip, hooray!

The Golden Age of Gaming - Gaming Memories That Inspire Me

Making my own games is something that I've wanted to do since I was very young.

It's also something strongly imbued with nostalgia.

It takes me back to my childhood, when games were magical.
I search through my experiences, trying to find what it is that makes games a special part of my life.  I examine those games which totally captured my imagination, and hours of my interactive enjoyment.  

I ask myself...
Q: How can I imbue my games with this magic?
Q: How can I make great games that last the test of time, that people really connect with?

I don't want to make crappy games. I don't want to make games with core design features that are there JUST to monetize people. Sure, I want to make enough money to live. Hell, I'd love to be rich!  

But for me, I only want to be successful by making great games - special games that connect with people, that get an emotional response, whether that is to make people laugh, feel nostalgic, feel scared, mystified, curious, challenged.  

I want to inspire the sorts of responses that I got from my favorite games - the games that really resonated with me over the years.

As a little exercise for myself, and a sharing exercise with YOU, here are a bunch of games that have really inspired me from my earliest gaming days in the early 80's, and have informed on the sorts of game elements that get me excited.


NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme)

I've just started the NEIS training course at RMIT University in Melbourne.

NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme) can provide you with accredited small business training, business advice and mentoring, as well as ongoing income support for up to 52 weeks.

NEIS is one of the Australian Government’s longest running employment activities, and has helped more than 100 000 people develop new, viable small businesses around Australia.
NEIS is delivered by a national network of NEIS providers under Job Services Australia, in locations right around the country.

Wow!  Hey?  What a great state!  VICTORIA!  Can I hear an AMEN?

So I'm in my first week, studying a Certificate IV in Small Business.  It's actually really stimulating, and there's great teachers there.  It's good to be back at school.  :)
I'm working on finishing off my first game while doing the 8 weeks of business training.
I'm hoping to have my first game out by around May 2012!
Thanks NEIS!

Find NEIS on Facebook here...

Here's an article about The Voxel Agents, a Melbourne indie startup that went through NEIS in 2010, who found it really helpful!