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Game Developers Conference

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GameBoy Jam 2 just ended, and 6-hour entry Just Silence from Lucas Molina is short, but thought-provoking.

The game is styled like a silent film. It's not a thing I've seen in a real GameBoy game, but when you consider the monochrome nature of the system's graphics, it seems like such a shame that it hasn't been tried before. You play the judge, whose job is to sentence defendants. The mechanics for doing so are so simple and the game so short that rather than explain further, I urge you to just try the game. Even with the defendants walking a bit too slowly, the game still only takes a few minutes to complete.

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Join Quince the Cat on a treasure-hunting adventure in Plant Cat: First Blossom, an entry into GameBoy Jam 2. This five level puzzle platformer was created by a five person team over the course of ten days, and features some truly stellar happy chiptunes.

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It was about time, if you ask me... Brilliantly nasty imperialism simulator Neocolonialism has been released for Windows, Mac and Linux, complete with its upside-down map and deep understanding of Earth's going-ons. Just pay your $10 and enjoy alternating between manipulating and wrecking the whole world.

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A grassroots conference about game criticism will launch on the Sunday before the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, it was recently announced.

Organized by critic, writer and historian Zoya Street in collaboration with Critical Distance, the Critical Proximity conference will take place on March 16 in a yet to be announced venue in San Francisco. According to Street, the idea for the conference came after a number of critics he knew missed out on getting their talks into GDC.

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In Continue?9876543210, Game Over is the backstory.

Some games can really only be classified as digital experiences. Continue?9876543210 is such, being a high-concept game by Jason Oda. On the game's web site, it's written that it "was inspired by existential road trips into nowhere, Peruvian jungle drugs, and a brush with death while hopelessly lost in the mountains of New Mexico. It's one developer's attempt to translate his own quest for wonder, contemplation, and peace into the language of his craft." It sounds like Oda has had some unique experiences, and they've definitely contributed to a unique game.

In Continue?9876543210, you play as a player avatar who has just been killed in game and is now stuck in the computer's memory waiting to be deleted. Deletion is, in essence, a true death in this setting, and you flee the company of those peacefully waiting for their turns to be deleted in the hopes of finding a way out.

The gameplay is a bit difficult to explain in words. There are only so many levels in the game, and you'll never see them all in one playthrough. Once you leave the starting area, you go through two levels chosen at random before entering a town that is being buffeted by a lightning storm. During the regular levels, you have a limited amount of time in which to build up sheltering buildings against the lightning storm in the 3rd stage's town and/or try to unblock an exit so you can get out of the level without losing any of the buildings you've built up. Throughout a level, your efforts are occasionally interrupted by mini-stages. Doing well in those mini-stages by avoiding damage and defeating enemies can get you keys to unlock doors in the level that will (usually) help you out.

If that sounds a bit confusing, well, good. I think. The game takes some getting used to, but the need to get used to it is really one of its strong points. This is a game designed to make you think, and having to work out the mechanics and the meaning and how they tie together is really what makes the game work so well. When you add to that the graphics being as good and as bad as they need to be and a soundtrack which is a mixture of lovely music and sounds which can be appropriately jarring at times, the whole comes out to be something much more interesting than the sum of its parts.

Continue?9876543210 has been available on iOS since early December, but only hit the Humble Store and Steam about a week ago for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Its normal price on PCs is $9.99, but right now it's on sale on Steam for $7.99. You can pick it up on the iOS App Store for $3.99.

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ftl-small.jpgDevelopers who set out to create a game without a design document or template still must have a clear focus to test their ideas against. This was the advice of Matthew Davis and Justin Ma, co-founders of Subset Games and creators of FTL: Faster Than Light, the Kickstarter-funded space strategy game released to widespread critical and commercial success in 2012.

The pair began work on the game with only a target atmosphere - no genre, pacing or scope planned, thinking the development would be a three-month side-project for them.

"We started with a very vague idea for a concept and used that as a guiding light for the entire project," said Davis. "By having one singular focus we were able to abandon everything else that didn't fit in line with that vision."

The pair admitted that many features were dropped from the game that they had initially hoped to include. "We wanted multiplayer features that didn't fit the template," said Ma. "We kept ditching things to keep moving towards the goal."

Davis said that this focus can be various things to various different developers. "Technically that focus can be anything: a certain type of visual aesthetic a piece of audio; a story," he said. "By having one focus and letting that direct your entire experience you can approach your builds from a distance and find out what to keep in order to make that game into the experience you want it to be."

"Very often you get bogged down in a certain system and it just doesn't work out," said Ma. "We just had this one idea and it steered out path, allowing us to follow the fun and find what was interesting."

Finding this focus was especially useful for the team when their Kickstarter exceeded its goal twenty times over, generating $200,000 instead of the requested $10,000 from 10,000 backers. "You can't just throw money at a game and it gets better," said Davis. "It's a difficult balancing act - how to take advantage of clump of new resources, but also stick to release date and keep everyone happy. The focus helped us know where to expend energy and expand the game."

[Simon Parkin wrote this article originally for sister site Gamasutra]

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adelman.jpegIf you want to get your indie game onto Nintendo's platforms -- the Wii U and 3DS -- you'll want to talk to Dan Adelman, who works as the company's liaison with indies.

While his title is "business development manager," he's best known as the man who helped World of Goo and the Bit.Trip series, among many others, land on the WiiWare service for the original Wii. He joined Nintendo in 2005 to help build that service; Since then, the company has transitioned to new platforms, and offers a much better shop on them, called the eShop.

The abovementioned games were notable successes. Some other developers, however, later spoke out against Nintendo's policies and practices, and shared dismal sales numbers for WiiWare titles. The company has quietly been changing its policies, but has had a difficult time getting the word out.

As GDC begins, in this extensive interview, Adelman fills Gamasutra in on exactly what indie developers want to know about releasing a game on the Wii U and 3DS.

Let's state this simply, to start. Is it possible for an indie to get a game onto the eShop service right now?

Dan Adelman: You know, it's crazy that there are so many developers who don't realize this, but yes, it is not only possible for an indie to get a game onto the eShop service, we've tried to make it as frictionless as possible.

Developers have always been able to make their content available on our systems since the WiiWare days, without the need for an intermediary publisher between the developer and Nintendo. Nor do they need to mount a big PR campaign just to be allowed onto the service. Our philosophy is that if you believe enough in your game to build it, we want to do what we can to support you.

Do developers need to be registered Nintendo developers? What does that entail?

DA: Yes, they do need to become licensed Nintendo developers, since they will need access to our development tools. It's actually pretty easy to become a licensed developer. We really have only a few requirements to sign up as a licensed developer with Nintendo. The most notable ones are that you have to have some experience making games, you have to be able to keep any confidential materials like dev kits secure and you have to form a company. None of these should be prohibitive to any indie developer.

In the past, you've required developers to have an office, but many indies work from home or are individuals. Is this policy changing?

DA: So that second requirement -- the ability to keep confidential materials secure -- was originally defined in terms of an office that was separate from the home. Back when that rule was created, that seemed to be an appropriate way of defining things.

As you point out, more and more people are working from home, and we recognize that developers are forming virtual teams around the world. I know we've shied away from talking about these things publicly in the past, so I'm glad that I can officially confirm that the office requirement is a thing of the past.

I've heard from developers that to publish on your services, they need an address in the territory in question, for example a Japanese address. I've even heard that Canadian developers need a U.S. address to publish in the U.S. Can you explain what's going on here?

DA: That's actually not the case. Anyone from any country can make their games available on the eShop within the NOA and NOE region -- i.e., pretty much everywhere outside of Japan.

Steam is the obvious market leader here. Developers are used to Valve's functionality, like sales, preorders, preloads, and painless patching. Can you talk about your plans around these four aspects of your service?

DA: Developers set their own pricing for their Wii U and Nintendo 3DS content. As one example, Little Inferno launched at $14.99. They did a sale for $9.99, and it went so well, they decided to make that price change permanent. It's completely in their control.

Updating games is also fairly straightforward. If they find an issue they need to fix, they can. In terms of other Nintendo eShop functionality, there's a dedicated team working through a roadmap of new features. We'll be able to announce those as they get closer to release.

What kind of outreach are you doing on the tools side, since Nintendo platforms require custom dev kits?

DA: Dev kits are actually not all that expensive. They're about the price of a high-end PC. Nothing that should be a showstopper for anyone.

There are a number of really exciting things going on in this space right now. We recently announced that we're providing Unity Pro 4 for Wii U to licensed developers at no added cost. So if a developer is currently working on a game in Unity and has a Wii U dev kit, it should be super easy to bring that game over to the Wii U console -- and not just do a straight port but also take advantage of any features of the console they want, like motion controls, Miiverse or of course the second-screen GamePad controller. Or vice versa -- making a game for Wii U and then going to other platforms should also be seamless.

In addition, at GDC we're going to be talking about some new tools we're rolling out for developers to use HTML5 and JavaScript to make games. The thing I'm most excited about for this is how easy it is to prototype new game ideas to find the fun quickly and easily.

Is someone who's licensed to publish to the eShop for 3DS also capable of going to the Wii U and vice versa, or are these separate?

DA: The process and policies are virtually identical. If they're licensed developers for one, it's a fairly straightforward process to become a licensed developer on other systems.

What's your payment schedule like? Indies need quick and frequent payment. Have you changed your policy, which previously didn't pay out until a game crossed a 6000 unit threshold? What about frequency? Quarterly or monthly?

DA: We tend not to talk about business terms, since those are considered confidential. That said, the unit threshold is something that's been a problem for a lot of developers, so I'd like to address it head on.

Let me give you a sense of the thought process behind the threshold in the first place. Even as far back as the early WiiWare days, we allowed developers to forgo the need to hire an intermediary publisher to get their content on our system. We didn't believe that Nintendo should screen game concepts. That should be up to the developer who's making the investment. Instead, we wanted to have a mechanism that would encourage developers to self-police their own game quality.

The threshold was thought to be a convenient way to go about it. Unfortunately, some great games that just didn't find an audience wound up being penalized. So for all systems after WiiWare -- DSiWare, Nintendo 3DS eShop, and Wii U eShop, we decided to get rid of the thresholds altogether. Developers receive revenue from unit 1.

Has working with indies like Vblank, Nicalis, and Gaijin Games helped change your tune? Have you been taking feedback from your existing stable of developers on board?

DA: Absolutely. I like to think we've built up a relationship of trust with a lot of the developers on our system, so they know they can say whatever's on their mind. And not just when they have an issue that needs to be resolved, either. We try to take a proactive stance with developers and solicit feedback from time to time. How can our development tools be better? What kind of functionality do you want to see in the eShop? How can we improve our processes to make life easier? I kind of see a big part of my role as representing the indie community inside Nintendo to make sure that we can make our systems as friendly as possible.

How are you on responsiveness? Nintendo has a reputation for having a lot of corporate overhead -- how do you get indies the things they need quickly?

DA: A lot of our processes were originally created in an environment where there was a set number of large publishers who had employees on staff whose sole job was to interface with the different console platforms. Those people had to learn how we were organized and know who to call for what issue. That obviously doesn't work for smaller developers.

As a result, we've narrowed everything down to a single point of contact -- one alias that developers can write to for any issue. There's a core team at Nintendo who then tracks down the information and follows up. We have an internal goal of getting every question a response within 24 hours. And if we can't get an answer in 24 hours, we at least will let them know when we expect to be able to get them what they need.

What kind of editorial staff do you have working on the eShop (both platforms), to make sure good games get featured prominently? I've noticed changes there, but can you outline how that works to some extent?

DA: We really try to make sure that we're not setting Nintendo up as the arbiter of what is a good game. That's for the market to decide. We try to give visibility to every new game when they launch. The nice thing about the Nintendo eShop is that we have a lot of flexibility on this point. We can make adjustments without much lead time. Beyond that, we look to things like user ratings, review scores, and in the case of Wii U, Miiverse activity to see how people are responding to certain games.

That said, there are a few times when we do take a little editorial license. Sometimes there's a game that we recognize is a great game for a niche audience or is trying something so new that people may not get it right away. In those cases, even if a game doesn't have big numbers right away, we want to make sure that we give it time to find its audience.

To me, one of the best things about the indie scene is its willingness to try out new ideas and take risks. If someone is attempting something that has never been tried before, I want to do everything I can to support that. Little Inferno is a great example of that -- a game about buying things and burning them! When Kyle Gabler from Tomorrow Corporation told me about the idea a few years ago, my response was that I loved the fact that I could not imagine what that game would turn into. As an industry, we need more of that!

And let's not forget about Unkle Dill, the dancing pickle in Runner 2. So very, very awesome.

Any stats or comment on what portion of your audience has downloaded an independently-developed game from the eShop, on both platforms?

DA: I can't give out any specific numbers, but developers seem to be pretty happy with the sales numbers they're seeing for their games.

Nintendo platforms are unique. If a game is going to feature very Nintendo-specific functionality (e.g. 3DS dual-screen play, GamePad play on Wii U) will you consider working more closely with a developer on their vision?

DA: It's great when developers see the features of our platform and decide to build around those as pillars for their game. Mutant Mudds by Renegade Kid did this brilliantly. In many respects, it was a traditional 2D platformer, but it was designed around the 3D functionality of the Nintendo 3DS. It was one of the first games that used depth of view as a game mechanic.

Fractured Soul by Endgame Studios is another great example. That whole game was designed around the dual-screen functionality of Nintendo 3DS. One of the core mechanics is to switch back and forth between the two screens, keeping an eye on both at the same time.

That said, it's really important that developers see these platforms features as opening up new design options for them. They should never feel obligated to tack on a feature if it doesn't make sense. It's completely up to the designer to figure out what's best for the game. Because making great games is what it's all about.

For sister site Gamasutra's full GDC 2013 event coverage this week, check out the official GDC 2013 event page.

[Christian Nutt wrote this article originally for Gamasutra]

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triad.pngSleepovers are really just elaborate, animated Tetris puzzles, suggests Anna Anthropy's and Leon Arnott's free game TRIAD for Windows and Mac. Players must learn the sleeping habits of three humans and one cat to make sure they all fit comfortably on the bed without bumping into each other. Once the terti-humans are in place, players can click off the lamp and watch how they toss and turn. I found that when I took too long to make some moves, I wore out Liz Ryerson's music that otherwise fit the late-night mood.

Here's to hoping TRIAD becomes a live-action, physical game in future indie events, maybe with more tertri-humans. Each player also must communicate and then role-play their sleeping habits until they arrive at a solution. Or something.

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24 Caret Games' reverse rhythm-shooter Retro/Grade is coming to Steam on March 20th, offering up exclusive support for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii guitar controllers.

The port otherwise boasts all of the features that made the original PS3 release such a standout, including a broad selection of challenge levels and difficulty settings that range from "doable" to "ridiculously challenging." Seriously, don't underestimate the hardest difficulty setting. It will humble you.

It's worth noting that the PS3 version of Retro/Grade is currently on sale for $3.49, or $2.44 if you're a PlayStation Plus member. It's definitely worth the cash -- I really enjoyed the time I spent with the game, and it easily ranked among my favorite PlayStation Network releases of last year.

[via Joystiq]

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