Pokr – the full story

Pokr banner

There is a story to Pokr, even though it is as small a game as there can be. And it is strongly interlinked with a well known psychological mechanism which in my case expresses itself as a mild obsession in the way i perceive games and the world. This mechanism can be described as looking for references, similarity, or: more of the same. Plainly said, i’m just a sucker for references. Well, we all are, or aren’t we?

The story of Pokr begins 20 years ago, in a time when i was still frequenting the arcades. There was a game named Gun Dealer. It was basically a Puzzle game of the Tetris variant with a Poker sujet, or to be more precise, strip-Poker, as pictures of lightly clothed ladies of the early manga-kind popped up after finishing a level (and i think that’s exactly what our game is lacking).

Gun Dealer Gun Dealer

I never played this game, but i was instantly fascinated by it. I always liked games that simulated reality or better said, had a connection with some other thing, like movies, etc.
For example, i remember vividly how much i adored the game Willow, because i adored the movie (but of course it was a fantastic jump-and-run in itself). In contrast, i only played Ghostbusters II on Amiga because .. it was Ghostbusters (the same is true for Ghostbusters 1 on C64, which was not as bad, and even had a quite unique game machanic). I was fascinated by flight simulators, even though they bored me to hell. I even got kinda excited by the first surgeon simulator and i still see the 4-color CGA-graphics palette in my mind when i think of it (Yes, from an early point in my digital career, i was spoiled by the rich colors of Commodore machines).Life and DeathBattlefield 2 BC
I played the hell out of ‘Death Knights of Krynn’, or at last i tried, but never bothered with the likes of ‘Curse of the Azure Bonds’, simply because i’ve read the Dragonlance novels, and Forgotten Realms was in comparison only another distant name related to an analog game system i continously failed to get properly acquainted to (and that’s also why i adored Dragonstrike and just recently read all Dragonlance comics i could get my hands on). But of course my favorite RPGs were the grossly underrated Darklands, set in medival Europe, and the Star Wars installments Knights of the Old Republic. I didn’t quite get a grasp on the other Star Wars games even though i’m not a total stranger to FPS – i simply love the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series, set around the desastrous nuclear power plant Chernobyl, and of course Battlefield, the modern combat simulator.
I finished Great Giana Sisters and Katakis (without much enjoyment), because, right, they were basically clones of Super Mario and R-Type (and for the record, from the new promo text of the new Giana Sisters: More than 25 years ago Armin Gessert developed with GIANA SISTERS one of the first Jump’n Run games for the Commodore C64. The console manufacturers got anxious and tried to stop the sisters. .. that is a very lame but highly diplomatic piece of text).

Great Giana Sisters Super Mario Bros.

Katakis R-Type

To cut a long story short: I was enjoying good games for sure, but i would also play bad games when they were made significant to me, had some kind of reference to something i cared about. Or at least i would go through great lengths to ensure the particular game was too bad to play.
I certainly had my limits, and my brother would earn some lack of understanding from my side for playing ‘Knight Rider’. :)

In these days it was a common fact that conversions of movies are as a rule bad games because the licencing costs would devour a great part of the production costs, as the budgets of these games were much smaller than today.

Was not E.T. the poster game for the first video games crash in the early 80ties?
E.T.

And for the same reason i played all these adaptations of movies and real life, i was intrigued by Gun Dealer, this lightly shabby action-poker. Tetris i played regularly because it was a good game, but to Gun Dealer i was drawn because it had to do with Poker. It was a kinda adult game for sure, and only some middle aged men, often with a mustache, smoking, played it (We were playing the hits: Super Mario, Super Wonderboy, Bubble Bobble, Tetris etc.)

klax
Fact is also, i’m not too big a fan of Tetris-like and Puzzle games, though i might play them eventually. I didn’t care for Puzzle Bobble, a well exploited mechanics that still rules the day, and even though i recently finished Klax, i never played it in the arcades.
The whole point of Gun Dealer for me was the Poker sujet. In fact, i never even bothered to understand its rules, but 20 years later.

And still, it never stopped to fascinate me, this match of Poker and Tetris. This ‘fascination’ files perhaps in one of these more obscure departments of the brain which everybody has, of things that aren’t really pressing, and even seldomly see the light of day at all, but instead are lurking around, waiting for a time where circumstances are in their favor to express themselves, against all odds.

BAM.studio & Postmodestie

BAM.studio & Postmodestie

Fast forward some 20 years, when i made another attempt to create games (the forth maybe?); The mobile revolution of our days. Recently i met a guy who also wants to make games and we started thinking what we could do. Our first collaboration, besides a server – chat program for the Java developement classes we attended is a game for the Oculus Rift VRJam. After one month the game gets finished, and we not only didn’t win, but my unusual attempt of a free flying game with two main paths and no die-condition flops totally and does not rise any kind of curiosity from our fellow developers.

After that we wanted to tackle mobile, particularly the libgdx development library, which i was afraid to take on alone. My colleague is a real code-head, he has an understanding of Java i can never hope to achieve (well, he has also more education in this field), as i, besides of the Java classes, never had any formal coding education.

Early on in our beginning friendship we discussed some beat-em-up side scroller RPG and what not, his dream is to make a RPG of course, but recently, after he was actually exposed to some game developement during our last project, he got cautious of any big project.

There was my entry – the lurking fascination got the better of me:

I thought about the smallest game possible and my old dream of a Poker-tetris popped into my mind. And even though my colleague is no friend of card games he agreed to do it. As a proof of concept of our collaboration.

The core idea was to drop cards on a playfield and to decide which combinations to remove, in contrast to Gun Dealer, which only allowed for the usual threes and more. And that’s exactly what we did.

Quite soon in the development proccess we added levels with different goals, which very much made it into a proper game.

And it has a two player option on one device, which is a reference to the old Nintendo Game&Watch Vs. series, which i was quite obsessed with..

Pokr for Android published

ilse-queenofhearts

Finally Pokr ist published. It took 4 months of development, 5 in total, part time mostly.

It is our first game in Libgdx, after tempering with Mario Zechners other framework for two years.

We collaborated with BAM.studio, a single indie developer, who coded the core-games engine. We were responsible for the rest, GUI, gfx, sfx, publishing, etc.

The possibility of an iOS version depends on the success of the Android version but is not a main goal. The main achivement was the collaboration itself, as we don’t know each other for a long time and didn’t know how well we would work together.

This proof of concept established, we’ll begin to work on our next, contract work soon.

Pokr

Old Blog, New game

1) We’ve put our old blog online again. Huzza! No time for something new. Some pictures are missing, we’ll think about that later.

2) On the top side, our new Android game Pokr is almost ready! For eager betatester, there’s a desktop version (Java for Windows, Mac and Linux) for download:

http://postmodestie.com/Pokr.jar

pokr

Pokr Beta Desktop Version Download

It is an old-skool game in the tradition of Tetris, Klax, Gun Dealer or Pokertris. This version resembles the free version with unlimited survival mode and 10 tutorial levels.

The full version will sport 100 levels and a 2 player mode on the same device – latter is pretty fun actually.

This is our first game made with Libgdx – a really great library to develop in! Hopefully I’ll find the time to share some gained experience in our infamous blog-series ‘Libgdx for the Faint at Heart’.

3) It seems that our next developer project is already determined. It will be commissioned work, a small 2D game, again in Libgdx. Looking forward to it! We also have half a ton of other projects crying for attention, but if and how they will see the light of day is, well, undetermined.

4) Our app library needs updates desperately! Specifically eMeditate and Snake-O-Tronic are missing the menu button (again!) on e.g. a Nexus 7. I hope to get that done soon! Sorry for the inconveniences! They may not be high-value products, but they are precious to us.

5) (Fun) fact about eMeditate: Over 200 people chose to upload a highscore (which is not mandatory), most of them are still the lowest rank (candidate), but the first and second place is held by one guy – she obviously plays it twice, and both ranks are pretty high: Ascended Master and Guru: gratulations!! Seems we have at least one genuine fan of the game! :)

6) We did some cover-art for Damir Posa’s new and this time really wonderful album. Pics and links to follow..

Above+Below 2 POST-MORTEM

So we didn’t make the finals. That was pretty clear since the release. Anyway, here is the story of our game:

After the announcement of the VR Jam for Oculus Rift, i immediatly started to assess ideas for Rift-games which were already piling up in my head. Most of them were out of the given time-scope, like a Dragonrider game (talk about interesting stuff!), a stealth game and what not, and we quickly decided to make a free-flying game, with clouds and everything.

The basic idea was to create a relaxing game where you fly through clouds, picking up delightful things, with nice sounds and preferably the controls would be mind-control via Emotiv while lying down. It was meant to simulate the experience of flying in dreams, which i often encounter (though it’s seldom peaceful and relaxing).

And as my long-term goal in life, to make games, was at some point altered to make moral/meaningful games – thought that would make a good niche, and besides there are enough good voilent games already – i went for a plot where you start in hell and have to fly up to heaven. This was iterated in the process into the choice of heaven or hell, mainly to please my colleagues, who are much more comfty with hell than with my happy-peppy attitude that all you need is love. I’m not religious though, but i still had to specifically renounce the slightest hint that our entry would in any way be ‘religious’ to make everybody happy. Even then it was not sooner than near the end, when the whole thing came together that they stopped complaining and started to love the bomb.

What went right:

- Had an idea pretty fast and knew it could be done.

- Convinced two friends to participate, another coder and a 3D-artist, though it included hour-long discussions to bring them on my side. I was the one with the Rift, and i wanted to make this specific experience, all right. It helped that they didn’t came up with an equally original idea (did it?).

- The control scheme i was aiming for was relatively easy to implement and worked from the beginning.

- Though we had no todo lists and version control the collaboration with another coder via Skype worked well in Unity, mainly we exchanged scripts and occasionally he got an update of the whole project (Which was around 200-600Mb, we had a slim version with no music for exchange). I had the todo list in my head and we would agree on the parts we would work on, either together or seperately on different parts.

- The cloud-scape, our main landscape worked after some change of plans. We considered and tried three cloud frameworks before it worked out and my colleague implemented not only this marvellous procedurally generated, infinite cloud-dome but also insisted on a sky-dome and sfx for the clouds (lightning etc.).

- Our 3D-artist managed to learn enough of Blender related animation to provide us with the definitive figures several days before the deadline, so i had enough time to implement them properly, and we also ran tests all the way down to ensure that it would work..

- The game needed a relatively small amount of props and it was easy to either make them ourselves or get them elsewhere.

- The music my wife chose/made fitted the theme beautifully and although the game features three full-length albums, it is still downloadable file-size wise (>100Mb). We are thinking of shrinking it to one third for a web-build?

- The game concept evolved during the whole developement and we were able to incorporate the changes which resulted in an asthetically and conceptually polished product.

- We realised almost the whole vision.

What went wrong:

- My idea of a ‘religiously’ themed game could never be of mainstream interest. If you so will i sacrificed an easy to swollow idea for our long term plan of establishing a ‘moral/spiritual’ niche of games.

- The control scheme is too complicated. It was not tested by many persons (including my colleagues), and i dismissed the eminent critique of my fourth colleague, my wife, in this matter, as well as the inability of other persons to control the game. Now i know it should have been be an ‘endless flyer’, without a starting island, without the infamous ‘nod’ to start moving. Start already in flight and just turn your head to control the direction, that’s it!

- Because we had no written and updated todo-list, the engagement and focus of our co-coder was dependant on the clarity and frequency of our communication, sometimes resulting in not suitable scripts that had to be re-written.

- The clouds do not work 100% in the Rift, they tilt sideways with the head movement, a known phenomenon, but it’s hardly noticable. Unity’s particle system is not flexible enough for such matters or we couldn’t find out how..

- the sky-dome was meant for double-radius but my machine (i5, GTX660 OC) for which specs we decided to develop, didn’t like it (flicker).

- We had no time for prettier 3D-models of the persons and the final version of them lacked all the props we already had in prior versions, such as hair and horns..

- We (I) had no time to properly beta-test the whole thing. I tweaked it once, and when at the end everybody was screaming for more action, i changed the values and made it even more unbalanced.

- Socondary goals could not be met, like platforms and speed-rings.

We’d like to continue the work on a game we really like. Especially to de-complicate the controls, make prettier figures and balance it properly.

All in all this is an example of us trying to make new game experiences with untested ideas and mechanics and we pay the price of not knowing if the particular idea is even translatable into something meaningful.

The Philosophy of Above + Below 2

plane

Above+Below2-starting-island

Disclaimer: Above + Below 2 is in no way to promote religion or discourage from it. It just uses religious metaphors for gaming purposes and to explore basic human inclinations.

Above + Below 2 is our entry for the VR Jam for Oculus Rift.

We wanted to make a free flying game that is controllable only with the Virtual Reality Headset “Rift” provided by Oculus VR. It should be remiscent of flying in dreams and the ultimate goal is to couple it with the Emotiv Headset so you can play and control it via thought-commands while lying in bed.

It turned out quite neat but either the control scheme is too complicated (which is said to be true for a couple of our games), or the game is not as appealing as we thought it might be. But that’s life.

let us share some thoughts regarding the philosophy of the game:

A Picture of Human Life:

Above + Below 2 is a metaphor on the human condition. It gives the player the choice between good and evil (better: bad), and this choice is allegorically visualised, in the tradition of the monotheistic religions, as the ascend to heaven or the descend to hell.

Angel-Demon

The verticality of the flight up or down plays beautifully into this concept:

Heaven:

As one has to look up to fly to heaven, it is necessary to straighten the body and to put up a tension in the spine. It isn’t easy to hold the head high for a period of time so there is a physical effort one has to deal with. Also, by looking up one does not see one’s own body, the materiality is hidden as long as one has ‘the head in the clouds’.

heaven

Hell:

The opposite is true for the descend to hell. It is more relaxing to look down, the player’s body, supported by gravity, bends naturally, as if to underline the relative easiness of the ‘dark side’. By looking down one is also confronted with the ‘sinful’ naked flesh of the body, as if going down is coupled with a more ‘material’ way.

hell

Nacked:

The nakedness plays also another part: it’s the vulnerable self that is always in danger to be squashed between greater powers, a vulnerability which some experience in dreams, especially at younger age.

menu

Way to Go:

But you can’t go straight to heaven or hell by just flying up or down. In real life your deeds decide if you turn out good or bad. In Above + Below 2 this is represented through the meeting with the guards, Angels or Demons, and one can imagine them as the virtues or sins one has to incarnate first, to be judged later.

guard-heaven

The Minions:

Each one of the three enemies has a special meaning:

The birds, Crows or Pigeons:
They are the little annoying things in life. You can keep them at a distance if you don’t loose sight of them, but one moment of unattentiveness and they are upon you again.

pigeons

The Plane:
It represents the inevitability of materiality, the big, hard facts of life which you can only dodge, hoping to be avoided if you only duck hard enough.

plane

The enemy guards, Angels or Demons:
They are the things you can’t run away from. The sooner you face them, the better.

enemy guard angel

Then there are the enemy crowds, Butterflies, Flies and Mosquitos:
They are easily confused with the vital potions (especially with the current resolution of the Rift) but only slow you down, thus making you an easy prey for the other enemies.

flies
butterflies

The World:

In the infinite cloud-scape one can go in every direction without any restriction, but that does not mean that it does not matter where you go. There is a strategic element in avoiding big cloud formations, as inside them one cannot see clearly and is always in danger of skipping a guard, a potion or running straight into an enemy.

clouds-guard-angel-small

The Controls:

The controls are a mix of looking around freely and some restrictions. The player can pan her head horizontally, but tilting has multiple effects, it translates vertically, turns the heading, or even enables or disables horizontal movement. In all of this it is a metaphor for looking in the real world, where how one glances has a social impact as well as a practical one, e.g. on the road, in a car, everywhere looking around is purposeful and far away from just turning one’s head.

plane enemy guard

The Damage Model:

Being hit by an enemy does not diminish health until the player dies, but obscures the vision with an even stronger motion blur. The idea is, that the game does not end when the health-bar is at zero, but when the player decides that he cannot continue, whether because of dizziness or out of lack of accurate vision.

motion blur