Games I’ve Worked On

I got this idea from Tom Francis of GunPoint and Crate & Crowbar fame, and thought I’d do a recap of every game I’ve worked on. Partially this is an attempt to share my game dev history, partially to make myself feel better about the lack of progress I’ve made in the last couple of years(!).

I’ll start with the oldest games and end with my most recent.

Powerslide

I worked on this game straight out of high school, it was a post apocalyptic racing game that focused a lot on, yes – powersliding physics. I made (if I can recall that far back) 1-3 tracks, I definitely did the majority of the desert track and maybe a lot of the dam and mountain (?) tracks. As my first job, first game and first crew of non-school related co-workers and friends, it was a pretty huge deal and I’ve got a lot of great memories. A Powerslide ‘plaque’ still sits behind me here in my office, which consists of a team photo and signed gold master disc.

Role: 3D artist / Texturing
Made in: Custom Engine
Platform: PC
Year: 1998

Dirt Track Racing

When you’ve got a game with nice powersliding physics, dirt oval racing is a pretty logical move. DTR let you race in a career mode that mimicked real life competition, complete with sponsorship, multiple classes and progression. I think I was credited as game designer, but when you’re modeling a real life competition from real racing, the game is practically already designed for you.

Role: Game Designer / (artist? so long ago!)
Made in: Custom Engine
Platform: PC
Year: 2000

“Next Game”

Looking back, this was probably an overly ambitious title for its time, and the game designs I wrote for it probably didn’t help! The concept would have looked a lot like GTA but in a Mad Max world, complete with FPS and car combat sections, and an in depth story to boot. I recall the original game design by Richard Harrison (part owner of Ratbag) was far more realistic but I had some huge thing for people leaning out of windows and shooting each other rather than ‘copying’ Interstate 76. Anyway, I think this design morphed over time but never saw the light of day.

Somehow, after getting my dream designer role at Ratbag, I just didn’t seem happy at all, in fact it was the opposite, the last year I was there I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I guess I went from making DTR where I had a lot to do, to being someone who sat in front of the game design document all day long. I left Ratbag in the early stages of development, having picked up a copy of Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad” – I had a need to go start my own business.

So here’s where I left and formed Hyperfocal Design (sells HDRI/sky texture libraries). After the sort of crazy schedules games demanded, I’d somewhat sworn off returning to developing them.

Here’s a video:

“Concrete”

I managed to secure some early funding from our state government for this one, but at the time, with this concept, it was unrealistic to produce without a large team. Even today I’d say unless it was top down/2d sprite based or something it was another over ambitious title and I didn’t want to form the next Ratbag to do it. I got as far as actually meeting with a couple of venture capital people but didn’t get any interest. The gameplay again was GTA-like but ‘cops and robbers’ where the robbers could mark territory with spray paint and blend into the general population (there were no names hovering above heads). I suppose in hindsight the design is a little like APB (minus the MMO part), which was a spectacular failure.

“Zombie Outbreak Simulator”

I teamed up with Saxon Druce from Ratbag to make this one about 5 years ago. It was step one on the way to releasing the next game, Class 3 Outbreak. ZOS was a sandbox simulation, not really a game at all, where you could adjust various attributes of zombies such as their speed, infection time and so on. We had some success in terms of press coverage because the game ran on Google Maps and it had a big novelty hook.

Role: Game Designer/Artist
Made in: Custom Engine
Platform: Web, then iOS, then Android
Year: 2009

“Class 3 Outbreak”

With ZOS ‘complete’, we then released the ‘real game’, which I still felt was quite devoid of features. At least it had a fairly nice core mechanic where you had to use police units to stop the zombies multiplying out of control. Unfortunately, due to Saxon being only part time on the coding side, and due to changes with Google’s APIs, and then some huge screw ups with funding from the government, this never went much further. Eventually Saxon and I went different ways – I was always pushing for more gameplay but he wanted to focus on things like the map editor. We butted heads a bit and eventually I handed over my share of Binary Space to him.

Role: Game Designer/Artist
Made in: Custom Engine
Platform: Web
Year: 2010

“Unknown Orbit”

I’m fairly proud of this little title, which I developed in a year and released on the Apple app store. It’s essentially a 3D Tiny Wings/Endless Runner where you orbit around a small planet as a comet. It did pretty average, made maybe $2-3k or so and now sells a copy a day. I think the biggest let downs from this game were that I probably made it too hard and didn’t make enough content, ie other planets to fly around.

Role: All things! No wait, Rhys Lindsay did the music and Saxon helped with some high score code!
Made with: Unity, Playmaker
Platform: iOS
Year: 2013

 

Enter the ‘prototype years’

Whereby I make lots of prototypes and never finish anything:

“Zombie Games”

I messed around with a number of different designs for zombie games and never quite settled on any.

Status: This one is still simmering in the background, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I tackled a strategic zombie game at some stage in the future.

“Generation Ship”

I then entered a phase where I thought I’d like to make a game with no combat in it. I still feel this is a very noble goal and that potentially there’s a lot of uncovered non-combat stuff out there, but I didn’t do a great job of finding it. I wanted to make a game about a Generation Ship that was trying to survive out in space, you had a galaxy map and a crew, and had to decide where to go, what to do to survive. In the end it was just no fun, there wasn’t much to do, and I’ve since seen other games come out with similar mechanics that I didn’t like much either!

Status: Now ‘reborn’ (below)

“Fighter Tactics”

Obviously here I’ve totally given up on that theory and decided to do a turn based space combat game. This was probably my most promising prototype, which I abandoned when I saw the Oculus Rift.

Status: Also reborn (below)

“The Station”

This was an Oculus Rift prototype that also got quite far along. I wrote an entire script for it, characters, made a prototype… The only gameplay consisted of this kind of ‘dimensional tuning’, controlled by head movement, that never really seemed to resonate with people. Also I realised if I was going to make this game, I’d become a full time 3D artist again, which didn’t appeal to me.

At this stage I’m realising how lucky I am to have Hyperfocal Design paying my bills.

Status: I may come back to this one day, I’m not sure – I liked the story and concept but just didn’t want to make it I suppose. Its also a pretty big commercial gamble having no idea how Rift games would sell.

“Generation Fleet”

This idea didn’t seem to leave me, and I thought, why the hell didn’t I try combining the two ideas of the Generation Ship and Fighter Tactics? I was thinking a lot about Battlestar Galactica as well, and Star Trek Voyager’s Year of Hell episode. In terms of games, FTL is an obvious inspiration, as is XCom, and I really liked SteamBirds and Hero Generations. So that’s where I stand right now – the Generation Fleet/Fighter Tactics game is in prototype phase, I like the game play and I’m just trying some variants to make sure the turn based space combat is as fun and strategically deep as possible. The Generation Fleet story/world surrounding it will form a kind of XCom style meta game.

Status: In development

 

–>

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A bleat-free view on the DK2

Early last week I received my Oculus Rift DK2 after having developed some prototypes on the DK1 (un-released) last year. I wanted to put my thoughts down in a completely hype free manner, which I feel will probably make this one of the more level headed looks at the hardware. The hype right now is pretty crazy, especially from mainstream media/entertainment/games websites. So here’s what I think, starting with what I feel are the biggest downsides and short comings. Of course, some of this may or may not be solved for the release version:

Hardware setup and cables

During setup of the hardware, I was somewhat annoyed with all the cables required, and felt like it was quite a procedure to plug everything in and set up the camera. I have two computers in my home office, one of them in a standard (I guess?) setup where the case is on the right of my desk on the floor. For the DK1/normal case position, this was simple. For the DK2 I’ve now used a case behind my desk and so the cables are quite annoying. Inevitably speaker cables get mixed with Rift cables, and elbows yank on both as you decide whether to have them under or over your arm. If CV1 has headphones built in this will make this much better, as tangling cables does suck. I prefer using ear bud headphones so I don’t have double the things on my head.

Then you have to factor in that the Rift has to/wants to live somewhere on your desk, along with joysticks, mice and whatever else. You’ll pretty much be needing an input device like a controller or joystick for the Rift, so your desk just got double cluttered! A hook on the Rift somewhere would be great to just hang off the back of my monitor.

The DK2 on my desk, with ear buds, mouse/keyboard... joystick... wheel... oh, the cablezzzz!

The DK2 on my desk, with ear buds, mouse/keyboard… joystick… wheel… oh, the cablezzzz!

Camera

The camera is pretty much never going to be in a perfect position unless you have no monitor at all, or it’s magically off to one side. The 5 foot setup distance suggested is pretty unrealistic for most. Hopefully this distance is a DK2 feature and not permanent for CV1, because most people will need to mount this on their monitor, which is 2 feet away. When it’s this close, you’ll lose positional tracking past a certain (close) point to either side. If you put it farther back behind your monitor, you’ll lose positional tracking when you move your face in front of the monitor. To put it behind your monitor you need a tripod, wall mount or shelf. Sure these are all doable, but just inconvenient barriers for the normal consumer. A final point on the camera I’m unsure about – if it’s mounted on your monitor, I can’t imagine it doesn’t get knocked around a lot, messing with tracking in some way. Using a wheel or joystick is almost certain to shake everything around on your desk a little bit, including your monitor and Rift camera, disrupting or shaking your VR view(?).

Back to the cable situation – I think we still need some more customization/hooks/guides on the headset to direct them in a way that suits your setup. I hate the feeling of the cable around my neck/over my shoulder, but can’t really direct it away. I really want it just shooting off the right or left of the headset itself, but maybe you can feel the cable more that way, tugging directy at it rather than spread more evenly as it is now?

How’s your face feel?

Ok so what’s it like on your face? I’ve mostly played Elite Dangerous and Live for Speed, two of the best and most-working-est DK2 games out there. Every time I’ve played these games with the Rift, I’ve had to take it off and put it back on 2-3 times while it warms up and condensation stops forming on the lenses. So that’s pretty annoying. Once that’s settled it’s not too bad using it for around 30-60 minutes or so. After that point, I don’t know what to call it other than just fatigue. Whether it’s from the weight (it’s pretty light, though), it pressing against your face/nose bridge along with the heat, or looking at a low(ish) resolution screen, it’s hard to stay in for long. You might get some eye strain from trying to read all the now just legible text as well. Plus the foam that presses up against your skin isn’t the nicest.

From Kotaku’s article on being a space commander. I imagine my eyes look more tired and bloodshot!

The new lenses seem a little less forgiving than DK1 and require a more precise placement on your face to reduce the chromatic aberration effect, and the reduced FoV is noticeable when you’re looking for it, but not at all if you forget about it, same with the screen door effect.

Monitor > Rift > Monitor…

One of the biggest problems that will need solving is the awkward transition from monitor to Rift. This ranges from going from game to game (Rift off, select game, rift on, play game, quit game, rift off, new game, rift on…). Then you’ve got a key to recenter the rift, head set off… I’m pretty sure we will always need a re-center button(?), so maybe including one on the headset itself could be an idea? Often times I’ve been racing, wanted to reset, have to lean in to hit a key (my position is then different…) It’s a little awkward.

I almost think two buttons on the Rift could be great, one being recenter and another being ‘interface’/esc. Two buttons could do a multitude of tasks that would always be in reach, and would perhaps follow the design of Google Glass somewhat.

That Original Wow Effect?

I feel like a traitor to VR saying this, but I recall the first time I looked at a huge tree on a hill top in Minecraft and could barely believe my eyes. That tree was really truly “up there” and it was big! Now, with DK2′s new Minecrift it’s even better, there’s no motion blur, the frame rate is amazing, but now I’m used to the “VR effect”, and after a quick login/test play I didn’t get a repeat of this. I was still quite impressed with the views and increased resolution, the actually retch free playability of Minecrift. I made a little home in the mountain side, stretched my neck in all directions cutting down trees, and explored a few caves. Some of the views are great and the exploration sense is certainly heightened as you feel more that you’re actually inside these places. I’m more and more certain that it will all wear off, though. A second and third play through will likely feel a lot like playing vanilla 2D Minecraft again.

Awkwardly great

That kinda sums up the whole experience right now, awkward. Awkwardly pretty great, though. Yes it’s a dev kit, but the above points are what I see as some challenges to removing the Rift from the too-hard basket. Currently it is kinda in the same league as owning and using a steering wheel, requires similar levels of setup, and they occupy your desk in similarly annoying ways, subtly pushing you away from using them.

On the plus side for DK2? I can finally reaaaad! An amazing improvement in resolution that allows you to now actually play games and read instructions and interfaces! I can see into corners in Life for Speed and apex them properly, and only a little lean-in is required to read Elite’s interface text. The removal of the splitter box doesn’t really plus me that much, I never noticed it anyway once it was set up, and it’s been replaced by having to set up that camera.

The low persistence is really nice, and once devs have the software side working this improvement will become more apparent as we lose all judder, which is a slight problem with most demos made for Dk1 and tweaked for Dk2.

The number one thing worth talking about for me is positional tracking. Being able to move your head around in an environment both greatly adds to presence and opens up a number of game play situations. Looking around inside your ship in Elite is pretty amazing – doing simple things like standing up a little bit and looking over the front of your ship is great and really makes it sink in. Peering about the various cockpit objects for me is far more engrossing than looking out into space, potentially just because there’s so  much more depth variation close up. I’ve also found myself peering over the bonnet of my car in LFS to see if I can see damage to a wheel, and I’ve thought how cool it might be to… I dunno, check my vehicle/space craft for holes/leaks/damage in some not yet existing game.

Top Moments with the DK2

My best moment so far has probably been playing Live for Speed, despite having logged more time in Elite. If you have the full game and the DK2, I highly suggest choosing the MRT (a small open cockpit car close to the ground) and the city track. The sense of speed is amazing, and flying through that concrete chicane at top speed and hearing your engines bounce off the walls as you clip them made me laugh out loud.

In Elite, I logged in with my brother and used in-game voice for a while. We also bumped into another player and text chatted with him. In both cases the feeling of communicating with other people who occupied a ‘real’ space was pretty amazing for reasons I can’t really explain too well, other than they really seemed to be there. Typing with the Rift on though, it’s a bitch!

In Minecrift, it was getting that sense that I was carving out my own 3-dimensional home in a mountain, and later looking up from within a recently discovered cave at a night sky.

Still just a novelty?

So what do I think about this awkwardly great Rift? I’m not entirely sure yet. Part of me feels like it is a bit of a novelty and it’ll all wear off. The DK1 was so radically new and different and amazing that perhaps you can’t help but feel slightly let down when the second one doesn’t do the same all over again (despite it being much improved). I’ll certainly still be one of the first to place an order for the release version.

In LFS, am I really using VR to its fullest advantage when mostly looking straight ahead? I’ll rarely have to use positional tracking, but I sure feel like I’m there at the track, and I have an improved knowledge of my position, barrier positions, turn in points, etc. For VR, I feel car racing fits nicely into that “you couldn’t do this in real life” category where the benefits of the technology directly helps the game genre by increasing the sense of speed and gives you the ability to look around at competitor positions. The biggest downside is that, if you don’t know how the car feels to drive, you’ll probably suffer from motion sickness no matter how good the hardware. If you’re “mysteriously” losing traction and spinning/drifting, you’ll feel a bit queasy.

In Elite, again positional tracking isn’t hugely needed, you mostly look forward or around for your target, and again I feel like a VR traitor (because I do actually love the Rift) but it’s just a bit of a step up from Track IR if you don’t consider the immersion and presence. Despite the fact that the game is now completely playable in the Rift, I still get the feeling that I don’t want to play this game, because I’ve played games like it many times before over the years. When you’re ‘really, truly inside that VR space station’, you’re still weighing up if I should buy space widgets here and sell them there, or take this mission to kill space bad guy number 999. Don’t get me wrong though, E:D is a really nice step up in many ways (those sound effects!) and I’m planning on doing a complete play through at some stage, hopefully with friends or family.

Should I discard my monitor?

Another thought, VR in these games isn’t so amazingly good that its pulled me away from my current favorite non VR game, Dota2. My point I guess is that I’ll probably still be playing non-Rift games if they’re more fun/challenging/engaging. VR won’t just make all games magically the best thing ever/throw your monitor out the window. Picture this extreme example, 50 years in the future we finally have “the holodeck”. You plug in and load up your house environment that was scanned a moment earlier. It’s perfect, you can’t tell the difference between reality and VR. Unfortunately, despite this technical marvel, I’d rather go play Dota2 in real life or VR life because it’s more fun and challenging than going “wow this seems so real!”. If the same thing became some kinda “X country just invaded, defend your family in your own home”, then great, I’m in! My point is, the experience or game still has to advance beyond the same shit just with VR tacked on. Whether I’d play Dark Souls 3 in VR mode or not, I’m not sure. I haven’t been bothered using VorpX or similar to try many traditional games other than Dear Esther.

But the immersion! The presence!

Obviously you can’t say a huge improvement in immersion or presence is not a big leap for gaming, but I think the best experiences are going to be emotionally deep ones, where the message the game is giving you is heightened. I think this is mostly true of all fiction and media, the best experiences are ones that touch you emotionally and once you’ve closed the book or left the cinema (or turned off the PS3/Journey!), you can’t help but keep thinking about that story. In Star Trek, on the holodeck, if you wanted to be moved, you’d load up stories or “holonovels”.

I love action games and competitive multiplayer which have no story or meaning, it’s probably what I play most often (Dota2 for example). However games like Eve Valkyrie I feel will kind of just top out at “wow this is cool”, in the same way we think 3D is cool for the latest action film. On the other hand, having an experience like Gone Home or Dear Esther that aims to do things with your emotions, and where the focus is the environment and story, that’s what I really can’t wait for. Feeling like you’re really inside the house from Gone Home, or on the island in Dear Esther could go beyond “wow this is cool”. The house in Gone Home is a huge part of the story and the feel of that game – if you believe you’re in that house, that would really add something above just cool-factor alone.

Positional game mechanics

If we step away for a moment from any talk of story, and instead look at pure mechanics, I think the Rift doesn’t add a lot more (yet) other than positional tracking, which certainly has a lot of potential.  I’d like to see something up close and personal like The Room where you’re actively peering around and inspecting objects. Or as I said above, something where I need to inspect the vehicle I’m sitting in for damage. Something that really uses positional tracking. Super Hot seems to do this with its bullet dodging/time mechanics so I’m keen to try it. A lot of positional movement has already been covered a lot just by use of controllers for things like leaning around corners so I’m still not too sold on this being a huge thing for pushing game mechanics further.

My latest prototype

Maybe if we do something that combines both of the above things? Emotionally deep games where you inspect objects in your highly immersive environment, to help tell a story? This is what I’m working on right now – I’m prototyping stuff anyway! Being a mostly 1-man team I’ll have to choose something that’s possible within that scope, but I hope to tackle a game that only the Oculus Rift can do justice to. I’ll keep you up to date as I develop it. If you’d like to stay tuned, read more posts like this or be notified of demo releases in the future, you can sign up below:

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