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Awarded by Yngar
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To all the minority game designers out there…

Posted by
Saturday, September 13th, 2014 5:09 pm

I love you all.

No, for real. While one of the things I love about game jams is the ability to push my own skills and make something fun for others, the vastly more important thing is that it gives people who aren’t normally game designers – and games that aren’t designed with normal paradigms – a chance to shine.

For some minority game designers at the moment, it’s really difficult – if not outright dangerous – to have a voice or create in the way they want, so I have nothing but the utmost love and respect for the People of Colour, the LGBTQIA, the differently abled and the women who managed to submit games and spread joy over the last month.

I didn’t get to play anywhere near the number of games I wanted to during the rating period, and often the game designers don’t give up aspects about their identity, but here are a whole bunch of wonderful games made by minority designers (or had minority identity as a theme in their game).

Zanlings Match: Love transcends all, including sentient species. Both an absurd take on dating game shows (the music is PERFECT) and wonderfully accurate, pick your questions wisely to find the perfect alien lover.

Alice Anxiety: A Visual Novel that feels like it comes from a really personal place, though this is only a taste of a full game experience. Anxiety is a difficult topic to broach in any medium, and this has the chops to be a great attempt. That it’s a Visual Novel made in Unity really intrigues me, I’d like to learn how to do that myself.

Crossed Paths: Connected Worlds: I love Visual Novels because they’re really accessible for anyone who wants to tell a story, and this short tale about dimension-crossed friends (and lovers) is so charming. I clutched my hands to my heart at LEAST twice. That it’s an initial Ludum Dare entry is super brave and impressive!

Secret Place: Twine Erotica?! Normally the realm of Porpentine, this is a really interesting experience to read through. It manages some really cool design ideas with little technical knowledge. I recommend playing this alongside Porpentine’s Mutant Heat and Pippin Barr’s Hot Coffee for the complete Weird Digital Sex Experience.

Steam: While not a technical marvel, the story written here is so solid it doesn’t matter. Themes of love between races and racial oppression are soberly handled and are married with some REALLY strong lines, but it doesn’t feel ham-fisted in the slightest. I really hope a post-LD version comes out, this is really underrated and will absolutely shine with some polish.

Monster+Connect!: Oh man. The music’s great, the art direction’s bright, the romance is adorable, and the amount of coding effort to make it all work must have been immense! It’s two different Visual Novels in tandem (YEAH THAT’S RIGHT), bringing humans and monsters together in harmony. More games about monstrous relationships need to exist.

Sleep: I have always been a little too scared to make a game that’s fully personal – it’s a kind of vulnerability that takes serious courage to put out there; but I absolutely love that someone has – Sleep is a game I identify with quite heavily in places, and largely makes me want to give everyone a big hug. And then become terrified of doctors.

GET Connected: I love me some cyberpunk settings. I really admire this piece – the developer is more of a writer than a coder, and they made such a polished game out of an older, clunkier engine. If only I had such willpower! In many ways, this plays like the game Watch_Dogs should have been.

TAUPE: I’ve been really impressed by this designer’s games every LD I see them in, and this time is no different. A VERY complete and polished Twine adventure involving well rounded and likeable characters – all generating from a particular choice of colour.

Crece-above-Clouds: This is the most action-y game on this list, but it’s still got a charming relationship in it! The gameplay doesn’t fuck around, but it’s certainly worth a play for the dialogue and general… feeling of the inevitable experience.

World of Beatrice, the girl next door: Overtly feminist and wonderfully so. Works well on its own, but the more time you spend with it, the more obviously it works with the Connected Worlds theme.

There are so many more that I’ve missed out, and with the end of the voting process, I may not even have time to play them – which makes me genuinely sad. Still, that there are so many of these experiences out there beats out the sadness and then some. Well done and thank you again to these designers!

I would absolutely love to be in better contact with other minority game designers, if nothing else to tell them that their work is appreciated and to keep being awesome. If anyone does want to get in contact with me and be Game Design Friends, please do contact me on my Tumblr, Twitter or email me at grooveman(dot)exe(at)googlemail(dot)com. My own entry, Crisis Culture, can be played here.

Thank you.

Crisis Culture – Post Mortem

Posted by
Sunday, August 31st, 2014 12:23 pm

menubanner

Okay, I’ve let this sit for a while, and I think I’m ready to unpack how this jam (and my entry, which you can play here) went.

What went right:

Execution of style

DandySmileWhen we decided the plot of the game (which I’ll talk about later), it didn’t really take much discussion to find out how we wanted the game to look. Our pixel artist, Gordon, has a very distinct, angular, heavily-stylised look to his illustrations, perfect for a game that is heavily about style and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The artwork I produced for the game was a bunch of photomontages. For a game about bringing separate realms together, I liked the idea of my pieces being all kinds of stock photos smashed together and those montages juxtaposed against much cleaner and precise pixel art.

The hexagon motif kind of just… emerged. It started when I made the graphic for the item window, which was initially square until I started using that rad hexagon font for the text. And soon it was everywhere. Even Akachi’s wallpaper at his house is made of hexagons!

More of this post under the cut.

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We made it!

Posted by
Monday, August 25th, 2014 5:21 pm
HELL YEAH, WE'RE FINISHED

HELL YEAH, WE’RE FINISHED

It took some desperate staring at code, some wild scribbles in Photoshop and communication over the Atlantic Ocean, but Crisis Culture is now finished!

menu

It’s playable here: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-30/?action=preview&uid=26423

I look forward to playing other entries! (I personally really love playing other Visual Novels and Point ‘n’ Click games, so if you’ve made one of those please do let me know, I’ll be all over that business.

Good luck in the ratings, darlings. <3

Good luck in the ratings, darlings. <3

What’s prioritisation?

Posted by
Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 4:48 pm

Nathan here. I just spent a pretty long time putting together the clickable map for Crisis Culture:

spacestation-hover

I’m teaching myself to use a graphics tablet at the same time, so while my cheesy-as-hell photomanipulations have definitely improved, I could have spent way less time on this.

Still, I’m quite happy with how parts turned out, and Visual Novels live and die by the amount of polish they get. Scripting-wise we’re still on target to finish on time, so I’m pretty hopeful.

Rough concepts complete!

Posted by
Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 2:11 am

Nathan here. After a night of throwing ideas around and getting solid concepts to paper, we can start proper content creation – after I take a nap. And we still don’t really have a proper game title. Hm.

So, the game flow:

You play as Akachi Fortman, a member of the Peacekeeper Corps on a space station where all the inhabitants have split off into separate communities, connected by a network of transport pipes. A mixture of space debris and human engineering has gone into creating these cliquey little planetoids, so they’re called Planet-Cities.

There are four major Planet-Cities:

  • Candy Harajuku City
  • The Tundra Punk Metropolis
  • The City-State of Volcanic Dandies
  • Jungle of the Cowboy-Metalheads

Planet-Cities are domed ecosystems sitting on a planetoid. Like Candy Harajuku City:

planetcity template

(Of course the planetoid is made of ice cream why wouldn’t it be?)

More info below the cut.

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To Boldly Go Where No Subculture Has Gone Before!

Posted by
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 9:16 pm

For this Ludum Dare, Phil, Nathan, and Gordon invite you to a spacestation, adrift in the vastness of space, where five very different cultures make their homes.

Hop from planet to planet through the handy travel tubes! (comfort and leg room not guaranteed)

As a bored peacekeeper from Boring City, you venture fourth into the greener, more interesting subcultures. You were once all unified, but differences in living style and aesthetics have left you (almost literally) worlds apart. Your once intelligent and logical space exploration platform has become an absurd maze of half-constructed travel tubes linking a raft of city-planets. Inter-‘national’ relations are not good. Maybe you could help? I’m sure this young lady would be happy to help-

Just don’t anger her, those shades look vicious.

You’d probably have to ask very politely, though.

ISS Subculture (WT) will be a Visual Novel, built in Ren’Py.

Nathan will be handing coding and scripting for the project. This isn’t his first Ludum Dare rodeo, having previously entered for the ’10 Seconds’ and ‘Beneath the Surface’ jams (which you can play for yourself here or on Ludum Dare itself.) He has a permanent fascination with subcultures, fashion, and writing diverse characters, and plays mostly Visual Novels and JRPGs.

Phil’s contribution to the project will consist of trying to put his creative writing degree to use and staggering through Ren’Py’s learning curve. His gaming influences consist mainly of what he calls ‘jumpy-climby games’ (AC & Prince of Persia), and far too much time spent playing MMOs.

Gordon is the project’s Rad Artfriend, bringing the different cities of ISS Subculture to life. His unique style is perfect for this crazy bullshit. Find more of him on his Tumblr.

5 Beneath the Surface mystery games to check out

Posted by
Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 6:36 am

Whoops I wanted to do this earlier, but at least I’m still timely.

I absolutely love mystery and crime-solving games. I was delighted when I realised the Below The Surface theme allowed me to make a mystery game of my very own; and during the voting process I was magnetically drawn to other games that eschewed ‘Surface’ as a physical location, and took it to more metaphorical places.

These five games are my favourite of those that I’ve come across, and I’ve awarded them all the It’s A Mystery Award!

Itsamystery

Agent Thursday
Really solid noir interrogator. Is both closely tied to and cheerfully ribs the genre, with some amusing characters to grill for info.

Beneath the Surface (Spaceship Edition)*
Features a delicate balance between finding out about the true intentions of your space exploration crew and pissing them off (with fatal consequences). Incredibly solid atmosphere.

*Subtitle mine, for clarity’s sake.

They Beep.
Who’s the robot? Is they guy in the toilet a robot? Will you use your terrifying robot powers to increase company morale? Who the hell broke the photocopier again?!

Cases
A randomly-generated murder mystery system! I love logic puzzles like these – with enough detail for me to need to take notes, but not enough to have things feel obfuscated. The way characters are presented (and that the main character reminds me of Agent York from Deadly Premonition) are bonus points.

Sub Rosa
Gothic mystery! The atmosphere is thick and heavy, and the generated cases mixes things up. Could show some awesome potential with new clues and extra sound design.

Beneath The Surface: A detective story of video game conspiracies
Noir detectives meets video game meta humour. Definitely worth a play to see where it goes with its graphical style.

 

And, of course, there’s my wonderful and sexy neon-noir visual novel, Thought Police. Check it out, if you haven’t yet!

I’m sure there are many more awesome mystery games submitted that I’ve not seen, so if you know of any, please tell me in the comments – I’ll definitely check them out.

Thought Police Post-Mortem

Posted by
Friday, May 2nd, 2014 10:58 am

title

Okay, so now I’ve had a few days to mull the experience over and got a little feedback on Thought Police (Please go play it if you haven’t!), I feel prepared to go over the experience properly:

What Went Right

The planning stages

Jacek Klimy (Blush)What we achieved out of the gate was pretty efficient, all told. A mixture of me and Aryn thinking alike, and having all the resources set up in the hours before meant we could quickly sit down, take out the whiteboard and marker, and come up with a plan. Because we had previously established that we’d work in Ren’Py, it was easy to say whether an idea would be simple or hard to implement with my level of coding knowledge.

Because Ren’Py is purely code-based, there’s no way to see the overarching structure of the story. So when planning the script, I used Twine to shape the story’s structure. This was an absolute godsend, as the story branches and rejoins multiple times. Eventually I just wrote straight to Ren’Py instead of pre-planning. That worked fine for a game this short, but I should definitely plan as I go when crafting more complex stories.

The character design process

Compelling characters are so, so important in anything narrative driven. I like to tell my stories in second person (so the player is put into the protagonist’s shoes, but the protag is their own person), and although that wasn’t the case for this game, it still made me place having a likeable player character quite high. Which, considering Alexis never really smiles, was maybe a challenge!

The moodboard ued for Chief Gentry

The moodboard used for Chief Gentry

Outfit design is equally important, I feel. Just like how you express your personality through what you wear, so do characters in fiction. Having a stage where we did mood boards of character body types and clothes (I have a tumblr where I archive clothes I like, so this was easier for me than most, possibly) made the art asset stage more driven, and gave me a better idea of character dialogue style.

The mood

We had initially planned to work around the idea of a black comedy. Aryn likes doing stories with heavy subject matter, where my stories are fluffier and less serious. The PSP/Vita game Dangan Ronpa informed a lot of design choices in this regard – it’s a very visually bright game about murder, with settings that utilise a lot of black and heavy gradients, and objects intentionally being off-kilter in proportions.

skyscraper

Cast Diversity

This went largely right. Because I’m a queer person of colour, having characters that identify with one or both of those things is both important to me, and something that I work in without too much effort. It’s a lot easier than some people claim it to be. I throw so much shade at those people. When a friend played the game, he felt the entire cast was queer in some way, which I have now decided is totally canon.

If I was to be super nitpicky, I would have has Alexis’ skintone a little more obviously Mediterranean, and another female-identifying character other than Julienne, but hey ho.

 

What Went Wrong

Proofreading, Proofreading, Proofreading.

I work in journalism as a career, and spelling mistakes are like loading a pistol and giving it to a five-year-old who hates your guts. It’s a bad idea, and no one who witnesses it will forget your poor actions for a while. In handling both the script and code, typos had different but equally severe negative effects.

Alexis Brambilla (Device - Exasperated)

In the time available I did my best to catch errors as I went, but in the final hours of the jam, Aryn had already left for home and was unable to help me proofread – and I was so tired, catching errors became harder and harder. Since uploading my work, I’ve found two typos – and I pray that I don’t find more. I have refrained from correcting them – it feels against the spirit of things.

In future jams, I will export my script as a .txt, and proof it that way, or better yet employ a second set of eyes to proof for me.

Scale and Asset Creation

Drawing sprites took a lot of time. While the end result was some absolutely immaculate character art, the inking process for a pose took up to three hours to produce.

For me, I sometimes ran into walls of coding issues, where the method of doing something I thought was simple became an hour of scrabbling through Ren’Py documentation, screaming inwardly.

While I did use Warmup Weekend to discover a few coding techniques (that I went on to use in the jam, no less), there were still things I didn’t think to research first. For the emotion system, although it all looks synched up and seamless when you play the game; the code behind it is pretty heavily jury-rigged and inefficient. Maybe there’s a way to reduce the lines of code needed for it, who knows.

Humour

This is something I didn’t really think about until we started getting feedback on the game (and I definitely appreciate the feedback). Some players said that the humour took away from the mood; which I can understand – but I just couldn’t bring myself to follow through on the heavier topics the game brings up.

I mean, police corruption is a pretty major and serious issue that my “Fuck the Police” Bad Ends don’t appropriately broach, nor would I ever intend them to. Alexis was initially written to straight up slap Jacek as a dialogue option, which I changed because that felt far too real. Kayode and Julienne get really cruel deaths if you stop to think about them, but that flashback is injected with extra melodrama to offset that. Jacek is an unreliable narrator, at that.

But maybe I was wrong for doing that. By using a lighter tone, it’s fair argument that I’m being trivialising. I could talk myself in circles about this – but so far no one has found the game problematic, which, considering the subject matter, I’m going to take with pride.

 

Final Thoughts

I’m super happy this all came together. I was a lot more ambitious in this game than my last, and it shows (A lot of people have said the story is surprisingly large for an LD game, and that makes me incredibly happy)! My next personal target is efficiency – know the ins and outs of Ren’Py a little better, schedule in proofreading time, and work out more efficient ways to get the assets together.

Thank you to everyone who has played the game so far! We love you.

Thought Police – Final Thoughts

Posted by
Monday, April 28th, 2014 7:02 pm

Thought Police is done! And is available to play right now!

title

Arguably ahead of schedule, although I goofed at the very last moment and managed to remove the art from the title screen. It’s been fixed quite quickly though.

I gotta admit, I was seriously not rooting for Beneath the Surface as a theme (funnily enough, I was most looking forward to getting Four Elements and doing a game about hip-hop). But when me and Aryn started brainstorming, we ended up naturally drifting towards digging up deep-seated emotions and uncovering corruption in organisations.

Thought Police ended up being both of those things pretty effectively. Details below the cut.

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Thought Police – Day 2 Roundup

Posted by
Sunday, April 27th, 2014 8:43 pm

title

…Wow, I’m tired.

We covered a hell of a lot today, but it can probably be all summed up in one screenshot:

demo screenshot 2

Thought Police, if the name wasn’t a good enough hint, is a crime-thriller Visual Novel. More details below the cut.

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Thought Police – Recap of Day 1

Posted by
Sunday, April 27th, 2014 12:06 pm

Whoops, I got so involved in making cool games (and sleeping) that I didn’t post what we got up to on Saturday! The most important thing is that our game finally has a name – Thought Police. It’s apt, trust me.

To summarise:

I planned out the initial stages of the games paths in Twine.

Because Ren’Py is a text-only engine, it’s difficult to visualise the structure of your story. As such, Twine, the interactive fiction construction software is great to do planning.

I planned out the first half of the game, and it looked like this:

twine layout ludum dare GrooveMan

I find it really difficult to write interactive stories with wildly separate branches. Even though I fully intended to have notably different branches, I still ended up with a ‘core’ to the story. Welp.

More after the break.

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Beneath the Surface? Sure thing!

Posted by
Friday, April 25th, 2014 7:00 pm

Okaaaaay, so here we go. Having skipped the December Ludum Dare, the last time I took part was in August (I really quite liked my entry for that, go check it out).

As with last LD, I’ll be working in Ren’Py. I’m teaming up with my best friend Aryn, who’ll be handling the art (his blog’s here), and I’ll be your resident wordsmith and kinda-sorta coder.

This is also the first time I’m doing an art jam in person rather than over the internet. I got way too excited and dragged out every art book I have and set up a sleeping zone deep with blankets and pillows.

Ludum Dare GrooveMan workstation

Since we’re in the UK, we powernapped leading up to 2am, when the theme went live. Immediately the whiteboard came out, and STRATEGIES MANIFESTED.

WP_20140426_004

My handwriting is terrible.

Eventually we came up with the following:

  • The story will be based around a detective (you) interrogating a witness to a murder (we’re very cheery people)
  • The witness is pretty stunned and vaguely emotionless, but as you ask questions emotions will rise to the surface.
  • The player has a way to read the emotions of the witness, which affect the outcome of questions asked.
  • There will be a notable discord between tone of writing and aesthetic tone
  • Secrets uncovered will be both of a traditional mystery and supernatural nature
  • Uncovering certain secrets will get your higher-ups involved, which… you don’t want.

Right now we’re doing all the sensible preliminary steps. Off the cuff sketches, planning out what bits of code we might need, brewing cups of tea. A playlist of thematically appropriate music has been made.

ludum dare 29 Grooveman selfies

It’s happening, people.

PIZZAPOCALYPSE 20XX – Post Commentary

Posted by
Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 2:24 pm

menu

It’s been nearly day since I submitted my and Wicked’s Ludum Dare entry, and I’m still kind of basking in the glow of having Made A Thing. I’ve spent a whole lot of time playing and writing about game design, but my attempts at game creation have been very fleeting. So it’s a joy to have teamed up with Wicked and finish something that we feel is a really solid entry for two first-timers!

pizzashit

Okay, so what in the merry hell is this game? Before LD started, me and Wicked both agreed to make the game in Ren’Py, as we were both hella interested in the Visual Novel genre (and we had both dabbled in Twine in the past). And since it’s always easier to make a game about things you love, necromancers, pizza and badass women collided with urban fantasy, subcultures and neon aesthetics.

Bounty hunters from the London v5.3 Subculture Collective are sent to take out Glam Necromancer, and his nefarious plot to eliminate all pizza from the world. By the time you arrive, only 60 seconds remain in the ritual – what will you do to stop the PIZZAPOCALYPSE?

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