Around the beginning of October, I found out that there was going to be an open source XR conference (called FOSS XR) in my neighborhood. I attended, and took some notes. I posted some of my notes in the MSPGameDev slack, and Zach, who runs our local VR & HCI meeting, asked if I would give a short recap of my impressions. I put some slides together, which I’ll embed below the video. There were some technical difficulties getting started, so the beginning of the video is actually as I’m getting into my second or third slide.
This year I attended my first ever Essen Spiel, the world’s largest board game convention.
Bucket list item: Check.
…as you can see, they are mostly (but not all) abstract strategy games. And for the most part (with a couple of notable exceptions) they are games that I am unlikely to see in a store here in the states. I haven’t played them all yet, but I have made a dent, and I’ve quite enjoyed Control V, Nova Luna, Hetrix and Stackers so far. My family played a game of Miyabi, and my wife even declared she approved of the purchase!
I was demoing and exhibiting with Adam’s Apple Games, who had, months ago, during the kickstarter, hoped to have Thrive there for sale, but alas, there have been manufacturing delays, and it now looks like it’ll be next March (probably at the earliest) before we see the final production copies. You can see me here standing next to the 3D printed prototypes that we’ve been showing around for the last year or so.
Spiel is more like a trade show (they refer to it as an expo) than most of the other board game related events I’ve been to. Comparing it to Gen Con in particular is interesting, because at Essen there are really no “events” at all. Some exhibitors might post a list of events they are having in their booth, (signings or tournaments most likely), but the convention itself has no designated spaces for events, and doesn’t post a schedule. At Gen Con the expo hall is maybe 1/4th of the designated convention center space, and probably 1/2 of the total space is purely for events. (Many of which are ticketed and cost additional money.) Another difference is that most people expect to actually play games in the exhibitor booths. So most booths, even the smallest ones, have a demo table (or a dozen!), and folks sit down at them mostly to play entire games. Although many of the larger games at the bigger publisher booths (but not all) were just shorter-length demos, which is usually what you get to do, (if anything!), on the show floor at Gen Con. But of course Gen Con has all that additional space for events, most of which are just scheduled times to play specific games.
A lot of people attend Spiel, this year nearly three times as many as attended Gen Con. (If Wikipedia’s numbers are correct, 209k vs 70k.) But for that, it never felt significantly more crowded than Gen Con to me. Yes, there is more physical space, certainly, but I think another factor could be that more folks attend Spiel on day passes than Gen Con, and so you have fewer people at any given time. Certainly Saturday and Sunday did feel very crowded, but I saw very little shoulder-to-shoulder, wall-of-humans that is common walking the expo floor at Gen Con.
You can’t throw a stick without hitting a designer. Not thinking of the attendees so much, but as I walked around the convention, the folks staffing the booths were quite often the game designers themselves. This was definitely not as true in the larger booths, but the smaller ones it felt very common for the designers to be present, and if there was only one person staffing the booth, I’d guess it was 50/50 whether that person also designed a game being shown.
It was super multicultural. There were definitely publishers there from all over the world. I personally met folks from Australia, Korea, China, Spain, the UK, Ireland, and of course Germany. But as large as it was, not all the US publishers were there. I can only speculate why, but certainly some of them don’t think a cost/benefit analysis holds up, but I also think it’s just plain impossible to go to all the events all the time. I’m fairly certain you could find a board game event somewhere in the world to go to every weekend, if you tried hard enough.
I’m definitely glad I went, and I would do it again. I really enjoyed wandering around the show floor and seeing all the new games.
Last weekend was Protospiel MN. After how much fun I had at the Madison protospiel (was it just a month ago!?!?), my expectations for this one may have got away from me. I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the last few weeks prepping new prototypes. Here’s what I brought and tested:
Adam Rehberg and I both brought copies of Thrive in various states of quality. It was interesting to compare his 3D printed pieces to my own. (We are using a new model courtesy of local artist Colin Cody-Waters, and his printer does a better job with it than mine.) At this point, we are more in marketing mode than actual play testing, but we did have some new things to playtest.
Worth noting that there will be a kickstarter for Thrive at the end of February, or beginning of March, and at least in part to collect email addresses for that kickstarter, there is a Thrive print-and-play contest going on right now over at Adam’s Apple Games.
I managed to get a new “pyramid tile laying / fitting / stacking game” to the table several times. The tiles are (some of them) glued together in 1/4th overlapping shapes and patterns. (This is harder to describe than I realized.) I’ll include a photo of one of the end-game pyramids below, but you can’t really get a sense from the photo which tiles are actually glued together and which are singletons. The idea is that you use the singletons as currency to pay for the larger tiles. One of the last parts left to design was how to score the game, (though I had plenty of ideas), and I got lots of useful feedback on those ideas, as well as plenty of other helpful suggestions from my play testers. One of the games we ended up calculating scores for each player in 4 different ways. None of them fully met my criteria for how I wanted the scoring to incentivize building up rather than out, so I still have some thinking still to do on this one.
Oh Tetrominoes! – just the blocks – I made a version of this game by gluing 1-inch cubes together (pictured below). It was easy to get to the table, because it just looks and feels really nice, I think. Adam gave me some great feedback about wanting a “qwirkle moment”. And someone suggested having blocking pieces. Next time I play it I want to try where only the three polygons score, and the spaces marked X are blockers. Notably, the game board (with score track) was the first and only thing I’ve ever created in Illustrator, only about an hour of work.
Windrose – I did playtest this again at the convention. There were some new ideas thrown around. I sort of thought this was “done”, but the conversation left me bristling with ideas. I sort of feel like most of them would result in a different game entirely, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I did also bring my Blinks dev kit, which was running my game Takeover. I only actually brought it out on Saturday night, after the main convention hall was closed for the evening. Immediately after we played it, we played Oh Tetrominoes!, and someone paid me the compliment (paraphrased) “You’ve shown me both the most sophisticated (technically), and least sophisticated (physical components) games that I’ve seen this weekend.”
– My standout game for the convention was a numbers-heavy (but not at all otherwise heavy) strategy game by Patrick Yang. He’s calling it Mathemagical, which is a great name, and I really liked the game.
– I got to play a tetromino stacking prototype called Lots. It was light and quite fun.
– My daughter attended with me on Sunday, and she ended up spending at least an hour (maybe two) prototyping a game in collaboration with another little girl who was there. I think they both really had fun, and there were even some neat ideas they came up with together.
This was my first time at this particular Protospiel. I do think the space was bigger than the MN one, but only by a factor of maybe 1.5x or 2x. I heard tell it was actually more space this year than previous years, but I have no idea if that was true. I also heard there was less of a publisher presence this time around. The only ones I saw, were Adam Rehberg from Adam’s Apple Games, (who I traveled over with), and the GameCrafter (if you count them as a publisher). Of course others may have been there incognito. (Or just less obviously.)
Adam (who is publishing my game Thrive) and I set up Thrive as a blind playtest on one of the back tables. This was the first time it had been shown with (some of) the new artwork, and we got a lot of praise for it. (I’ll post a photo.) I did feel bad briefly on Saturday when it was especially packed for taking up the space, but there was almost always someone playing it, and I had so much positive feedback, both about the game itself, and about doing a blind playtest at Protospiel (which several folks said they’d never seen before), that the feeling was easily allayed. We got good feedback on the rules, and added about 15-20 names/emails to our signup sheet to let folks know about the kickstarter when it happens. (Incidentally, we talked about a date for the kickstarter on the car ride home, and we are currently aiming to have it now in March.)
My personal goal was to get more games of my two current favorite designs in, and I got both on the table several times. The first, (with working title Oh Tetrominoes!), was played 3 times to completion, and only actually broke on the 4th play through. While it mostly felt like it works mechanically, I think the consensus was that it’s a bit fiddly, and not especially fun. It’s a mashup of three or four game ideas I had that all feature tetrominoes, and while they are integrated well (I got compliments on this!), they still feel weirdly disjointed, and one of them really feels like the core of the game (which I reluctantly agree with). After the last (failed) gameplay, one of the playtesters actually convinced the rest of the table (including me, but I didn’t need much convincing) to play a game of just that main core mechanic, without the other features. That went really well, and I’m definitely going to pivot the game a bit. (I mean really, I think it’s basically done, but I suppose I should playtest it a few more times to be sure. I’ll probably try and re-use the other mechanisms in a different game… someday.)
I felt like my other game, Windrose, had each playtest go better than the last. My goal for that one had been to play it with 4 players. as It had previously only been tested with two. I got in 2 more 2-player games, 3 4-player games, and one 3-player game (in that order). It really felt like it worked just fine with 3 and 4 players, although after the first 4-player game, we added a rule that changed strategies quite a bit without making the game feel all that different. I do think I prefer it with the new rule. Otherwise, the game didn’t actually need any tweaking, which feels kind of amazing to me. It’s another super simple abstract strategy game, and creating one of those that plays 4-players is really exciting to me. (Probably not something any publisher is going to be interested in, but you never know!)
Other highlights for me include:
– Playing a couple of new-to-me Adam’s Apple Games prototypes.
– A game played with “kite and dart” Penrose Tiles, which really looked cool.
– Seeing, (but sadly not actually playing) Cartographers: A Role Player Tale, which looked like a contender for my favorite take on the emerging “Flip and Fill” genre that is hot right now.
– Having dinner with Nick Bentley, who I have been acquainted with for some time, (I turned his game Catchup into an iOS app a few years ago), but until this trip might not have actually called a friend. We had such great conversations at dinner on Friday that we resolved to do it again on Saturday, and then I managed to convince him to play a couple of games late into Saturday night.
There were way more games that I was interested in trying out than I actually got to sit down and play. I did play a lot of games though, and I hope I gave some good feedback. I’d say the ratio of playing my own games to others’ was probably 40/60. All in all, definitely a great event for me. I’d recommend it, and definitely hope to do it again.
For years I’ve been a very vocal proponent of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC. This year’s session hit the internet quite fast (over on the GDC Vault), and I consumed it last night. As usual, I’d definitely highly recommend game designers and developers give it a watch.
Often, I want to refer back to the session after, or follow a particular work I saw there, but it can sometimes be quite difficult to find a list of participants for a particular year. This year’s seemed especially un-google-able, so I’ve compiled a list here:
- Baba is You, Arvi Teikari – A sokoban-like game where the rules of the game are also pushable blocks, and can be rearranged.
- Untitled Goose Game, Nico Disseldorp & Stuart Gillespie Cook, House House @house_house_, A game where you play as a goose and interact with your environment and an AI controlled gardener to complete objectives.
- Everything is going to be Okay, Nathalie Lawhead @alienmelon, This is an art game, or “an interactive zine”, that focuses on using humor to confront modern horrors.
- Noita, Petri Purho Nolla Games – An action rogue like game where every pixel is simulated, which means they are both destructible and have real-world (and fantastic) properties.
- Time Watch, Balthazar Auger and Lucas(?) from NGD Studios @ngdstudios – A FPS that allows you to play a single death-match three (or more) times, all the while altering causality.
- Feng Shui, Saúl González and David Marull from Ludopia @LudopiaNet – A puzzle or architecture game allowing you to place furniture in a room and incorporating the principals of Feng Shui.
- Luna, Robin Hunicke and Brad Fotsch of Funomena @funomena – Luna is a VR game with music and flowers.
- Freeways, Justin Smith from Captain Games @manbearcar – A game about drawing freeway lanes and making efficient paths.
- La Tabla, Chaim Gingold and Luke Iannini @tablaviva – An open source table and projector combination with lots of exciting possibilities for interaction and play.
Of these, I was most surprised by Baba is You. It won two IGF awards, so I guess I wasn’t the only one. I have already downloaded the game jam version from Itch, and played through all the levels. I am definitely going to pick up the full thing when it launches on steam.
I have also been following Dynamicland when I can, and I’d be interested in hearing about the relationship between La Tabla and it. I know that some of the people involved are or were involved in both, but that’s about it. Maybe I can interrogate someone about it at Eyeo Festival in a couple of months. La Tabla is on github, and I’m pretty tempted to put together a table so I can play with it myself.
I’ve been pretty lax on posting here this year. The main reason for this post is that I realized I hadn’t posted about Donuts in Space, which is a game I made explicitly to put on the Donutron. In case you’re not familiar, the Donutron is a donut-inspired arcade cabinet installed at Glam Doll Donuts on Nicollet and 26th in South Minneapolis.
The Donutron currently features all games made by local-to-Minnesota game makers. Donuts in Space was the first donut-themed game on the cabinet, and is a game where you play as a donut rolling around on top of a giant donut floating through space, racing the clock to collect mini-donuts. You can also play split-screen multiplayer. Here are a couple of screenshots:
So the other reason I wanted to post is that I keep meaning to write about Unite Austin. First of all, I decided to go to Unite because a) Unity is a good chunk of my freelance work now, (easily 50% in the last year, possibly as much as 80%), and b) it had been a while since I went to a technical conference where I expected to learn anything. I did learn a bunch, mostly about the new Timeline and CinneMachine features built into Unity 2017.x, but also a bunch about various AR stuff. I also got to try out demos of the Microsoft “mixed reality” headset and software, as well as the Meta 2 AR headset.
When I registered for the conference, the website also managed to upsell me on taking the Unity Certification exam while I was there. (So yes, I am now Unity Certified, at least for the next two years.)
Let’s see, other random stuff that’s gone unmentioned this year:
I gave a very similar (but slightly different and less long-winded) talk at Minnebar 2017 to the one I gave a few months ago at Cocoaheads. Probably the only notable difference is the inclusion of a screenshot from my new Unity port of ActionGo, for which I made this 30 second trailer.
Anyway, here are the slides:
I gave a 7 (-ish) minute presentation tonight at our local VR & HCI meeting. I was one of three folks invited to share their GDC / VRDC experiences. Here are the slides:
Additionally, I was contacted today by a student looking for more information about my experiences in the local game industry. If you are interested in that sort of thing, I’ve posted the transcript below.
I’m giving a short talk tonight at igdatc as part of a bunch of folks talking about their GDC experiences.
Let’s face it, playing games is the best part about game development. This is essentially a guide to where you could play games at GDC this year. (It’ll probably be better with my commentary, but then again, maybe it won’t!) Here are the slides:
This week has been all about learning, and specifically about watching videos to learn. Mostly because this week is Apple’s big WWDC conference. The list of developer-specific stuff they’ve announced this week is perhaps slightly larger than usual (including a new programming language called Swift — more on that later), and I have been watching a ton of talks pouring out of San Francisco in video form. (Special thanks to Apple for releasing them so expediently!)
Normally I am fairly un-enthusiastic about watching videos to learn. I’m much more of a do-er than a view-er. I’ve got to be working with the code in order to absorb a new programming language, so the Swift videos in particular have been somewhat frustrating. I did spend most of Tuesday with the OSX 10.10 and Xcode 6 betas, and Swift specifically, but after spending a lot of unnecessary time tripping over syntax, grammar, (and copious crashes) decided to go back to videos (and getting some actual work done).
My impressions of Swift are pretty mixed. On one hand, I love that they’re trying to make a language that is simultaneously more accessible and also less prone to bugs. That is as fantastic and commendable as it is self-serving. On the other hand, I’m not yet convinced it’s going to be an instant switch for me. I had lots of little niggling problems with the syntax. For example, I’m not sure the benefit of declaring strongly typed variables using generic keywords (
let). In the c-based syntax languages I know and love, you declare the variable with the type. So in swift:
var view = UIView()
UIView *view = [UIView new];
Now, the first example isn’t ambiguous or anything, but how about this one:
var views = UIView()
This is how you declare an array of
UIView objects. I do like that it will always (and can ONLY) be an array filled with
UIView objects, but I do think it’d be incredibly easy to miss the brackets. Overall though, most of the problems I had weren’t with the language itself, but with the tools, which I think are just not ready yet. I mostly agree with Austin Zheng when he says (from the comments of his 2048 port to Swift): “Xcode is as unstable as always. The background compiler/code analyzer kept on crashing and restarting itself. Xcode was functional enough to allow the project to be brought to some state of completion. The debugger is horribly broken though.”
All my video learning this week actually started on Monday (while waiting for the WWDC keynote to start) with watching Facebook’s video on building the paper app. This is also the one in which they announced their open-source animation framework pop. (And was recommended to me to learn about why it might be useful.) At an hour and a half, it’s a long video, but worth watching not just for the pop stuff (which is absolutely interesting, particularly if you already use Core Animation in your code), but for a multitude of other insights into how Facebook writes it’s apps. (There is some seriously interesting iOS engineering going on over there, something I did not expect given their history and track record, particularly in the quality department.)
Finally, yesterday (after fully maxing out on more WWDC videos), I randomly stumbled onto a talk about SpriteKit and grid-based games. The first half of the talk, by Scott Kim goes into great detail about several different kinds of grid-based puzzle games (on iOS specifically). He more or less breaks the talk into categories organized by gesture, which I think is an arbitrary distinction. (I’ve talked before about how I think the best games provide both tap and drag control schemes that are not incompatible.) Otherwise I think he does a really great job with the topic, and while it’s nowhere near comprehensive, it’s a very nice introduction / survey of the topic. This is very close to a talk that I’ve been thinking seriously about writing. (I first mentioned this idea in a previous blog post.) But since I haven’t (yet) written my taxonomy of grid-based games, Kim’s talk is, at the moment, much better than mine.