Introducing CarneyVale: Showtime, 2008 Dream-Build-Play winner!
With a burst of fanfare oddly fitting for a game based on the spectacle of the circus, GAMBIT is proud to debut our newest game, CarneyVale: Showtime! The game, a spiritual successor to our summer 2007 prototype game Wiip, was developed in our Singapore lab by a team of GAMBIT summer program alums and was just named the winner of Microsoft's 2008 XNA Dream-Build-Play challenge a prize that includes US$40,000 and a chance at publication on Xbox Live Arcade. To say that we're proud of our team is a bit of an understatement!
In Showtime, you play as Slinky, a circus acrobat trying to rise up the ranks by performing acrobatic tricks and death-defying stunts through increasingly complex arenas. You can manipulate a wide variety of props to get Slinky through the arena:
- Catch and fling the ragdoll Slinky around using trapeze-like Grabbers
- Make Slinky grab onto flying Rockets and ride them through a maze of obstacles
- Avoid electrical and flaming hazards which cause Slinky to lose lives
- Dash in mid-air and burst trails of balloons along the way
- Perform special acrobatic tricks to gain more fans
...And much, much more!
The story has been getting a ton of press coverage, which we'll be adding to our Campaign: In the Press
page shortly, but here are some of the top headlines so far:
My #1 Favorite Dream-Build-Play 2008 Winner: 'CarneyVale: Showtime'
Microsoft Announced Dream-Build-Play 2008 Winners
Microsoft Reveals Dream Build Play Competition Winners
Microsoft reveals XNA compo winners
XNA Dream-Build-Play Winners Announced - Check Out These Videos
CarneyVale: Showtime was developed by Bruce Chia (programming), Hansel Koh (programming), Lee Fang Liang (programming), Adrian Lim (programming), Desmond Wong (artist), Joshua Wong (producer), and Guo Yuan (audio). More information on Showtime is available at http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/showtime.php.
More as this story develops, but for now... Way to go, team!
CarneyVale: Showtime on MIT News
We promised more details, so here are a couple of quotes from our press release:
"This is one of the first games where we attempt to combine ragdoll physics, platforming genre and player performance all into one single game," said Showtime programmer Bruce Chia. "It was definitely no easy task to innovate from well-established platform games like Super Mario Brothers while still keeping true to the genre. However, I believe we managed to pull it off. We are extremely happy to hear the good news and look forward to bringing the game to the public."
"We are delighted by Showtime's success," said William Uricchio, lead principal investigator for the GAMBIT lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It stands as proof of GAMBIT's concept and is a testament to the Singapore side of the operation."
Tonight: Jesper Juul at Purple Blurb
This evening at 6PM, GAMBIT's own Jesper Juul will be speaking in Nick Montfort's Purple Blurb lecture series. From the website:
Jesper Juul on developing video games to develop video game theory
October 27, 6pm, 14N-233
Juul is a video game theorist and author of Half Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds (MIT Press, 2006). He is also a video game developer, and will discuss using lessons from developing online and casual games to inform work with video game theory (and vice versa). Juul is currently a lecturer in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies; he works at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.
The event is free and open to the public.
I'm Addicted to Alts
My name is Elliot, and I'm addicted to alts. I think my problem began when I was only 12 years old and, giving in to peer pressure from my friends, I began to play Sierra's The Realm.
The first time I opened this early MMORPG, I was overwhelmed by choice. While other games presented you with a character that you could then tweak, The Realm had a level of customization I'd never seen before. You could select your race, appearance, and, most importantly, your class. A Fighter required a big weapon and a simple bludgeoning style of play. A Wizard had 6 different schools of magic to choose from, each requiring different tactics. A Thief wasn't overly effective in battle but had very useful non-combat skills. And an Adventurer was the hybrid reject that wasn't good at anything. Now contrast that with the Final Fantasy-esque Japanese RPGs that were my favorites at the time. In almost all cases, a character was provided for you and it was the story that pulled you through the game. You had much more flexible advancement paths, but multi-character parties allowed you to try out many different paths. Regardless of how you set up your characters, the overall style of play was consistent. Without the story to motivate me to devote time to the game, I quickly became bored with my first character, decided to try a different class, and created my first "alt" (alternate character). I had alts in each of the classes before deciding that there were other games I wanted to spend time on (and that didn't tie up the phones).
Much to this player's dismay, characters do not get a nudity bonus.
Years later, my habit reemerged in greater strength when playing World of Warcraft (WoW). This time there were more classes with more distinct differences. First came a hunter, but the pet mechanic confused me a bit. Not being able to decide on a single character with all the available options, I made a whole set of characters each of whom I took to between levels 5 and 10. I finally settled into a Warlock that became my main until a year long hiatus. But when I resumed playing, I wanted a different experience. Each class had such specific roles in groups that a change seemed refreshing. First I rolled a priest, and then a paladin. Took a break to level a druid to 10, but I got tired of that too. I needed that rush of excitement when playing a new class. My favorite section of the game was the early levels where you would learning an entirely new set of abilities and strategies, while advancing quickly and being guided through tightly organized quests.
Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) gave me my fix. The classes introduced more varied combat mechanics and comparatively ambiguous group roles. Again, I had two phases of playing with a long break in between. Each time I leveled a few characters to 5-10, and then took one farther. But despite my greater investment in LOTRO's world, the same issue occurred. I got past that opening excitement, combat became repetitive, and advancement slowed. And boy did it slow. LOTRO is sort of a "thinking-person's" WoW. The plot is much more involved, the world is less over-the-top fantastical, but boy is it slow.
Two motley crews of warriors face off in Warhammer Online.
Now I've found Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR). LOTRO and WoW had little differentiation between races (beyond the starting area) in terms of gameplay. WoW has 9 classes while LOTRO has 7 (though 2 more will be added in next month's Mines of Moria add-on). But WAR had 3-4 classes for every race! That's 20 different classes! Of course there's overlap and some redundancy, but even the mechanically similar classes have significant aesthetic differences. To make it even better, WAR takes care to let low levels jump right in to both elaborate scripted events involving many players as well as arenas where players from the opposing factions can battle for dominance. Will the game still hold my interest after playing for awhile? Doubtful. But for the time being, I'm enthralled with my High Elf Swordmaster. And my Dark Elf Disciple of Khaine. But a Human Bright Wizard's sole purpose is to blast fire everywhere? That sure sounds like fun too. Maybe I need a Bright Wizard alt. And a Chaos Marauder can mutate his arm into a saw, club, or claw? Oh Warhammer, why must you taunt me so?
What can you do after GAMBIT?
One of the questions at the top of our FAQ list is, "What will I be able to do after GAMBIT?"
The answer? Plenty. Many of GAMBIT's students in both the United States and Singapore go on to land jobs and/or internships in the video game industry. Here's a short list of examples:
- Chris Casiano (Elementalyst) went on to work as a game designer at Midway
- Alec Austin (TenXion) landed a job at EA
- Kristina Drzaic (The Illogical Journey of Orez) went on to 2K Australia
- Jamie Jones (gunPLAY, Elementalyst, Neurotrance, The Illogical Journey of Orez) worked at Pipeworks (still studying at MIT)
- Sarah Sperry (gunPLAY) interned at Activision (still studying at GAMBIT)
- Mark Grimm (Elementalyst, TenXion) is now working at Harmonix
- Justin Moe (gunPLAY) went on to EA
- Karena Tyan (Ochos Locos) went on to EA
- Trey Reyher (Ochos Locos, Neurotrance, Wiip) worked at Demiurge (still studying at MIT)
- Erek Speed (gunPLAY, Neurotrance) worked at Square-Enix (still studying at MIT)
- Neal Grigsby (Backflow) started up his own company, tikatok.com
- Eitan Glinert (AudiOdyssey, Muzaic) started up his own company, Firehose Games
- Sharat Bhat (Oozerts, Ochos Locos, Elementalyst, The Illogical Journey of Orez) went with Eitan to Firehose Games
- Dominic Chai (AudiOdyssey) joined Mikoishi
- Yeo Jingying (AudiOdyssey) also joined Mikoishi
- Donny Kristianto (The Illogical Journey of Orez) is now working at the Singapore Media Development Authority
- Zhou Xuanming (Wiip) joined Boomzap
- Paviter Singh (AudiOdyssey) went on to Sonoport
- Edmund Teo (Wiip) landed a gig at TQ Global
- Le Minh Duc (The Irrational Journey of Orez) joined EON Reality, Inc.
And let's not forget the Singaporean students that went on to work at the GAMBIT Singapore Lab: Zulkifli Salleh (Backflow), Chen RenHao (Backflow), Joshua Wong (Wiip), Desmond Wong (Wiip), Jason Wang (TakeOut!), and Bruce Chia (AudiOdyssey).
So, what can you do after GAMBIT? From the looks of things, a lot.
Relax after Spore with some GTA
A few weeks ago I made a rather odd purchase: both Spore and Grand Theft Auto III. This was to be my first GTA experience. I had always assumed the series was just lowbrow entertainment riding on shock value. I bought the game because I felt I needed to know about it as an academic, not because I expected to enjoy it. Spore, on the other hand, I fully expected to love. The creative potential in designing your creature, cities and armies, combined with the expanse of time and space contained in the game, made me wonder if you could ever run out of ways to play and things to explore.
Having played both for a few weeks now, I am forced to admit that I don't particularly enjoy Spore, yet GTA3 has been non-stop entertainment. Part of me really feels bad about this (as though I am now a stereotypical gamer), so I have been trying to understand the reason for my preference.
While they seem quite different, these two games are both about exploration. Exploration is the fundamental promise of Spore: a whole universe populated by the strange creations of people all across the world just waiting to be your backyard. Not long after the release of the creature creator EA and Maxis announced that over one million creatures had been uploaded to their servers . The idea of cruising across the universe, encountering creatures weird and wonderful, was an idea that appealed to many. Even your home planet would be populated with these creatures.
There was also the prospect of exploring the system behind Spore. How would other creatures react to me? What strange things could I create, and how would the game handle them?
The Crunkmaster is a carnivorous quadruped known for inventing post-modernism before the chair.
However, Spore does not allow for this kind of leisurely exploration. The game creates an environment where the struggle to survive is just that, and inaction equals death. From the very beginning Spore pressures you to act, as bigger fish in the pond start trying to eat you. At this early stage it's easy to outrun them or quickly evolve some defenses. In the creature phase, the game adds more pressure in the form of migration. After the first time your nest migrates the game does a poor job of alerting you. When you discover your nest has moved, finding the new nest is an immediate priority, otherwise you cannot heal or mate. This happens frequently enough that, when combined with basic survival, you always need to be doing
In the tribal phase your nest is constantly attacked, either by other tribes or wild animals. Even tribes you have never encountered somehow know you are there, and will walk across the entire continent to attack you. In order to keep up you must deal with the other tribes to expand your village and your population. The civilization stage is no better. Soon after evolving I was confronted by two foreign boats: the first offered a trade route, the second was shelling my city, and the situation deteriorated rapidly. As with the previous phases, inaction leads to defeat.
The worst case, by far, is the space phase. Almost immediately after blasting off I was confronted with numerous other races. The first two or three were benign, interested in establishing trade routes, buying my spice, and sending me on errand-boy missions to find stuff on their own planets. However, it wasn't long before I started receiving ominous transmissions to the effect that someone hates me and we are at war. I'm not really sure why, maybe it's because Matt evolved racism. I largely ignored these messages, assuming the game would give me a chance to comprehend this new phase.
My first goal was to establish an economy. I started a few trade routes and went about terraforming a few planets. However, it wasn't very long before those ominous threats turned to action, and I soon found all of my planets, and my allies' planets, under attack. I had no time to do anything but run around the galaxy fighting off the invaders, which really isn't what I wanted to do in the first place. Of course I was unable to stop all of the attacks, and before I knew it my allies had been conquered. I was broke and alone in an extremely hostile universe.
Throughout the whole game the only opportunity I had to explore was at the end of the tribal and civilization stages. At these points I had control over my immediate surroundings and was free from hostility. However, that glowing button demands you continue your evolution, never hinting at what awaits on the other side.
Frustrated, I turned to Grand Theft Auto III, and was surprised to find that the game was made for exploration. There is so much you can choose to do even on the first island that just exploring the game space is fun. Aside from the mundane places like the gun store and the hospital, there are plenty of hidden shortcuts and ramps waiting to be found. The game rewards knowledge of such places: shortcuts make timed missions easier, and launching your car off a ramp can result in a monetary bonus.
Just taking a look around. Really.
The game system behind Liberty City is even more fun to explore. I spent quite a few hours just learning the behavior of the police. I learned that shooting at their car usually gets you two wanted stars, while running down a pedestrian or carjacking (within police sight) nets you just one. I subsequently learned that grand theft auto and manslaughter are equal offenses. I also noticed that if the police ram your car into a crowd of pedestrians, subsequently squashing a few of them, nobody stops to help them.
There's also plenty to discover about the civilians in the game. If I steal their car and don't go anywhere, will they take it back? How much can I push them around before they attack me? Answering these questions and finding new questions is incredibly entertaining and rewarding. I have to believe that Rockstar knew this, and that is why the game does not pressure you to move forward.
While there are always missions you could be doing, there is no penalty for ignoring them. Early in the game no agent seeks you out and incites conflict; it is entirely possible to play endlessly without any conflict at all. Once a conflict ends, it is forgotten. That guy you ran over? Nobody from his gang comes seeking revenge. Previous arrests? The police don't notice. The people of Liberty City live wholly in the present. Even if you have a one-star wanted rating the police will give up if you just wait it out. This lack of pressure gives you ample opportunity to explore both the game's space and system.
Exploring a game can be a great source of fun and excitement, as seen in one of gaming's favorite traditions: the Easter egg. Hunting for hidden items, techniques, and spaces is essentially the same as the large-scale exploration present in games like GTA3 and Spore. Finding that secret room is like finding the hidden ramp or (I would imagine) the strange new species. It seems to me that the discovery of the unexpected is a source of limitless fun, and in this regard GTA3 is far more successful than Spore.
(Here to introduce Oozerts is product owner Lan Le.)
Oozerts is a self-contained, math-based puzzle game designed for the Nintendo DS that extends the universe of Labyrinth - an online computer game created by The Education Arcade - onto a mobile format. You, the player, have had your pet stolen by monsters who are planning to use your poor pooch in awful genetic experiments! Your aim is to navigate the monsters' secret underground lair - which doubles as a pet food factory to fund their evil enterprise - disguised as a monster. Along the way, you are waylaid by the goblin in charge of the Oozerts production line. He mistakes you for the new assistant and sets you to creating more Oozerts - candy bars made from the toxic slime byproduct of the pet food manufacturing. Your job is to fill the differently sectioned candy molds with the appropriate amount of slime. If you successfully complete the job, maybe then you can be on your way to find your lost pet!
Division 6 faced a formidable challenge in the brief that I laid out for them at the beginning of this summer. First and foremost, their job was to design an educational, math-based game teaching the concept of fractions to middle-school kids. Fractions can be somewhat intractable for students, so the game needed to be really fun and rewarding. We did not want to just create a fancy, interactive worksheet, but to really teach the underlying logics of mathematical concepts. The philosophy of Labyrinth is that by introducing players to a mathematical concept before it is taught in school, the students will be more empowered to learn in the classroom because they will possess visual and procedural game metaphors on which to draw. This meant that the core mechanism of game play had to develop out of the concept of fractions while keeping it as intuitive as possible.
Secondly, Division 6 had to design a game that would fit into the established universe of Labyrinth in its story, but also in its puzzle formats as well. Labyrinth puzzles possess several key features that prevent success by memorization and/or cheating:
- Randomization. Every time you play a puzzle, the underlying logic and structure of the puzzle remains the same, but the game randomly generates a new set of numbers for you to solve. The only way to help a friend "cheat" is to teach them how the logic of the puzzle works, and we all know that teaching is an even better way to learn, right?
- Repetition. The player must defeat the puzzle three times. This makes sure that the player understands the principles of the game and guarantees that the player did not advance by chance.
- Difficulty levels increase. The player must master three levels of difficulty, each of which require three victories to truly defeat.
The object for Oozerts was to both look and play like the other puzzles in Labyrinth while covering new pedagogical territory.
The third and last challenge was in designing Oozerts for the Nintendo DS format. The mobile platform has several interesting features such as a split screen, little screen space, and stylus play. We really wanted the team to design a game that would make the interactive nature of the DS an essential part of the game, but also take into account the way mobile platforms are used. Rounds of play needed to occur in quick bursts, because players would probably be squeezing in game time on the commute to school, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc. If the player is interrupted, the game also needed to be visually intuitive enough that a player could pick up immediately from where they left off - even if hours have elapsed - and understand exactly where the game play stands just by looking at the screen. Finally, the Nintendo DS has severe memory limitations, so sprite size, fancy animations, and other features had to be carefully balanced against the other design goals.
Altogether, for Division 6, that meant designing and creating an intuitive, super fun game that could teach fractions in the style of Labyrinth, capitalizing on the Nintendo DS' unique interactivity, and was capable of being played in five minutes or less. All completed in eight weeks.
I am happy to say that Division 6 rose admirably to the challenge. Oozerts really delivers all these qualities in an intriguing little package, and I couldn't be more pleased with the game we produced.
(Here to introduce our last game from the summer of 2008 is product owner Daniel Vlasic.)
Phorm is the first game where players create their character using free-form modeling. They are not limited to a set of pre-canned components such as certain types of legs, wings, or heads. Instead, they can draw any shape, after which the game embeds a human skeleton into it and makes it move appropriately. The shape of a drawn character defines its in-game characteristics thin characters with long legs can jump high and move quickly, while heavy characters with large arms can punch strongly. The player uses these properties to solve a set of puzzles and help the main character Osmo get home. Even without following the storyline, it is fun to sketch and watch your creations come to life. The team worked extremely well together to bring this concept to a high state of polish. Enjoy.
(Phorm is now available to download at http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/phorm.php.)