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

Nameses – Android App released

Nameses on google Play

New app released! It is a generator for strange phantasy names and as so often it resulted from a discussion among ourselves, how to find new names.

The algorithm features several alphabets, terms from math and some languages to generate names never heared before.

We know it is an app suitable for very few people, maybe writers or game creators, which could be inspired by the names.

Because of that it is very simple, and does not have any kind of save function.

Given some interest we could well expand on it.

Story in Computer Games #1

Snake-O-Tronic animation

‘Snakes terrorized mice
Chasing them incessantly
The mice, playing it nice
Started to gather food
And by offering it decently
Hightened everybody’s mood’

This is a repost from g+, because we want to elaborate on it in the future.

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libGDX for the FaintHearted #5

Where are we:

  • There exists, somewhere on the harddisk (yeah, no use for a lone dev to rush into the new trendy cloud), hopefully someday also here, on this page, a project like myriads of others, but we’ve seen it evolving, at least in retrospective.
  • This project is a patchwork: It was created using Aurelien Ribon’s setup program, imported into Eclipse (yea, didn’t cover that, but I promise just to talk about scarcly talked about things and this isn’t), and equipped with the StartScreen from SuperJumper. For the sake of simplicity I also imported its assets, although they are not for public use, or how to say that in our feverish world of copyright thieves: can’t be distributed, probably for commercial as well as for ‘free’ products, but what I want to say is: copy the code, but create your own art. I’ll just use it for educational purpose to elaborate on already elaborated examples, feeling like a dwarf on giants shoulders by that, and mainly I did it because I wanted to see something on the StartScreen right from the beginning when I manage to switch to it, you know, a logo (the false and so I commented it out immidately) and some words in bitmap font mainly, like Start, Highscore etc. Probably I exchange it asap with say, some artwork from my QuadCores comic.
  • Waiting to recive the code for moving a bucket or something around.

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libGDX For The FaintHearted #4

libGDX logo

Setting up a Project

The horror of choice grabs you right at the beginning: There are projects which consist of two parts: the core and desktop project plus the Android one, then there are the ones where core and desktop is also splitted and then there’s the (new) Html5 (Gwt or something) part, summing up a four parts tops.

And like the universe strifes to ever new levels of complexity you can safely guess that’s where we are at at the moment: sweet four parts. (and for those of my readers who already happened to be exposed to Mario’s beautiful writing style: I think right now I’m doing my best to be a cheap rip-off of his for that matter).
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libGDX For The FaintHearted #3

libGDX logo

Our First libGDX Project

Ok, now that all the demos and examples, or at least some, are at our disposal, let’s proceed with our First Project, after a remark regarding one of the demos: libGDX-Mario ported Metagun and included it in the outfit, a game made by new Indie Developer Superstar Marcus Persson alias Notch, the man behind the Minecraft phonomenon, for the games-competition Ludum Dare (problably latin for Giving Games), where you usually come up with a full game in 48 or 72 hours, and may or may not use prior resources, probably to animate his flock to learn from the best.
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