This page contains all entries posted to GAMBIT in August 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.
July 2009 is the previous archive.
September 2009 is the next archive.
Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.
Announcing our Summer 2009 games!
After several long, glorious months of chaos, code and camaraderie, GAMBIT is proud to unveil our Summer 2009 GAMBIT Prototypes
! This year we've highlighted the research questions for each of our games so our players get a greater idea of the thinking behind each project and there's some genuinely amazing research in these games. For example:
- Abandon uses some new automated rigging software to fill the screen with animated objects
- Camaquen explores new interfaces for affecting character conversation in games
- Dearth examines how to create AI-controlled sidekicks automatically
- Pierre: Insanity Inspired looks at how players deal with failure
- Shadow Shoppe examines the character attributes we assign to people based on only their silhouettes
- Waker and Woosh are two educational games sharing the same mechanics but offering different experiences story versus abstract to examine how these experiences affect student engagement
Here's the rundown of all the summer 2009 GAMBIT prototypes!
Abandon is a game about running away. Step into the shoes of a girl lost in a surreal dreamscape, and escape from the encroaching darkness before it consumes everything, including you. Objects strewn about this dream world are brought to life by your light, but they seek only to bring darkness. No place is safe. Can you abandon these objects; can you abandon the night? Or are you the one who has been abandoned and left… alone?
Abandon showcases a large array of animated objects. The development team utilized experimental, automated rigging software to enable rapid creation of animated models. The direction for the project was motivated by the desire to create a game featuring a large number of unique animated models, not normally feasible with a small team size and short development time frame. The team strived to create a world for the player where just about anything can come to life.
Camaquen is a casual puzzler in which players guide two characters through a heated argument. As part of a research project examining user interfaces for conversation in games, Camaquen models the effect of emotions in dialogue, enabling players to affect the emotional dynamics of the conversation and thus affect the outcome of the characters’ debate – even though the script remains the same. The actions of the player interact with the personalities of the brothers to determine one of five different Fates.
Players take on the role of Alux (Ah-loosh), the guardian spirit of the Sacred Grove. When the Great King dies and his kingdom is split between his sons Ban Amaru (Bahn A-mah-roo) and Huamanapu (Wah-nam-a-pu), the brothers begin to bicker over what to do with the Grove. Using Alux’s ability to command spirits of emotional energy (or "camaquen"), players change the meaning behind their words and sway the two kings to their destiny.
Does Huamanapu build his enormous stargazing tower, or does Ban Amaru move forward with his plans for a golden palace? And what happens to Alux when her Grove is transformed?
Dearth is an exciting co-operative action-puzzler. The Tribal Lands have been suffering through the worst drought in many lifetimes. Plant life is withering away, and people fear the approach of a great famine. Rumors spread of the awakening of monstrous creatures who the ancestors warned would one day rise to drain the land and its people of their water. As the thirsty beasts emerge, worried villagers turn to the Tribal Lands' two great shamans and ask them to restore the water to the land.
Play as the tribal shamans. Force the mysterious water-sucking creatures to smash into each other, allowing stolen water to gush from their engorged bodies and be returned to the land. Plan movements with your partner carefully or be ready to make split-second decisions if things don't go according to plan. The future of the Tribal Lands will depend on how well you work together!
Pierre: Insanity Inspired
Pierre is a cat. Pierre is also an artist.
On the verge of creating his greatest masterpiece, Pierre suddenly runs out of inspiration. Undaunted, he sets out to recover his lost creativity - but the path to completing his magnum opus is treacherous and filled with both dangerous obstacles and equally dangerous critics. Can he survive the challenge? Will Pierre finish his grand masterpiece? Who knows? The only thing certain is that Pierre is one strong-headed feline.
Pierre: Insanity Inspired is a unique combination of action and puzzle-solving. Players guide Pierre around a spinning circular platform to collect inspiring items, but only when they align with the right symbols! Making matters worse, Pierre must dodge falling spiked balls and - like all great artists - contend with the critics' gentle encouragements or savage insults.
Can you help Pierre finish his noble sculpture before he's driven completely insane?
Welcome to the Shadow Shoppe, located in a small town where people have lost their shadows.
As a temporary apprentice to the shadowmaker, your goal is to help create and return the shadows to your townspeople so that life can go back to the way it was.
To create complete shadows, you must pick the most suitable word out of those presented to you. When a customer request (or requests) comes in, these shadows are revealed again. This time round, you have to pick the shadow that best suits the customer's description.
Are you up for the challenge?
Waker is a puzzle/platform game set in the world of a child's broken dream. As the Waker, the player uses both mind and reflexes to solve puzzles, creating platforms to form a safe path through the dream worlds. Forming the paths, however, is the trick - it is up to the player to figure out how to create each path, and to manipulate the Waker and the world to travel safely through each level. With dynamic obstacles and three difficulty modes, the game offers continuing challenges even for experienced players, while allowing beginners an easier path to the end.
Waker was developed in tandem with Woosh, its abstract variant. Waker offers the same gameplay as Woosh, but also includes a rich narrative and a story that is reflected in its art and cutscenes.
Come explore the world of dreams. Will you awaken your dreamer, or leave her to drift forever?
Woosh is a challenging puzzle/platform game that engages players in twelve levels of ever-increasing difficulty. Using concepts from physics, players draw platforms to explore the abstract world of Woosh and encounter dynamic obstacles and other challenges along the way. Woosh features three levels of difficulty: perfect for experienced platform players and more casual players alike.
Woosh was developed in tandem with Waker, its narrative version. Both games are intended as educational games for middle and high school students (age 12 and up), to complement an introductory physics class.
Do you have the wits, agility and finesse to play Woosh?
So what are you waiting for? Get going! Get downloading! Get playing! Let us know what you think leave us a comment, email us, tweet about us, or post about us on your blogs and Facebook! Check out the bios of the developers behind these games in Credits and be sure to check back here on our blog as we start posting their thoughts and postmortems! But most of all, have fun!
Fascism is so much better in 2D.
I've never read Ender's Game, in spite of having been given a copy by a programmer friend of mine nearly a decade ago, so I've got no idea on how well Shadow Complex embodies the writing and ideas of Orson Scott Card. The game was recommended to me solely on the basis of its similarity to Super Metroid, long hailed as one of the greatest 2D exploration-based games ever made. Shadow Complex is a recent attempt by an indie developer (Chair Entertainment) to resurrect this supposedly long dead style of game. Of course, it's difficult to say this style is dead when Konami releases a new 2D Castlevania--all of which follow the template of Super Metroid so completely they've been affectionately dubbed "Metroidvania"--virtually every year. This is why if Shadow Complex were merely a Metroid clone, like Castlevania, it wouldn't be worthy of note. Thankfully it's much more than that.
I played the game for about an hour last night, and already I've had a dream about it. In the dream I am swimming in the murk of an underground lake. The lake is dark, but I can see some shadows, which I make out to be debris from a man-made platform. The platform is to the left of me, and I am swimming underwater so as not to be seen by the soldiers on the platform, who are looking for me with flashlights. As I swim forward I have the desire to turn left, to move around platform, near where the debris are. But I can't. As I swim toward them my vision darkens, as if the darkness of the water, itself compounded by the darkness of the cave, were weighing on me, pushing me down into the Earth. I can't move to the left. I can't move to the right. I can only move forward, being content to simply watch the mysteries to either side of me pass beyond my sight. I turn on my water-proof flashlight to better see these places I cannot go. The murk is illuminated and I'm in a bubble of feeble light, far beneath the earth, underwater, surrounded by a quiet darkness. For some reason I don't need air. I just float there, in the strange womb of rock and water, thinking to myself quietly, wondering what lies beyond, but equally content just to stay put, feeling my surroundings, until I am ready to explore.
Such are the pleasures of a game like Shadow Complex, and I have not felt them in a long time. They are pleasures I would not necessarily associate with games like Super Metroid, which feel to me less about reflection and more about moving through space. Shadow Complex reminds me a lot more of older exploration-based 2D games, most notably Out of this World, Flashback, and Pitfall II. These games had a sense of stillness that I feel Shadow Complex captures rather well. I'm not entirely sure where it comes from, but I think it has something to do with how the game divides itself into "screens" with discrete challenges, rather than long winding tunnels and paths. Both are fine ways to design a spelunking game, but the former encourages players to parse their mental image of the game world into focused sections, with each representing a single coherent idea. The "underground lake" I dreamed of is just such an example. It is an individual screen the player comes across instantaneously after walking through a door. Like Pitfall and Flashback (and unlike Metroid) screens "cut" between each other in Shadow Complex, creating the decisive impression of leaving one finite space and entering another. The lake, therefore, feels like a single area, not part of a larger area. The fact that I am faced with such a specific space with such specific boundaries encourages me to regard it as a destination rather than a pathway to other places. It is of course a pathway as well, but I'm much more likely to stop and take note of my surroundings, to think "Wow. I just found an underground lake!" than allow my environment to blur past me as I hurry along. Metroid seldomn encouraged this sort of mental orientation towards one's environment, which I think has not only to do with its seamless spacial transitions (which pan, as opposed to cut) but also its tile-based visual design. The environments in games like Flashback or Out of this World were not created out of tiles but were each totally unique pieces of background art. Shadow Complex exhibits the same sense of personality, which gives it a much different psychological atmosphere than a mere Super Metroid clone.
There are no doubt elements cribbed directly from Super Metroid, most obviously the map system and tool-activated backtracking. The gun-based combat, however, seems taken directly from Flashback or Blackthorne and in general has very little to do with the alien-squishing distractions of Metroid. The discreteness of Shadow Complex's spaces has a lot to do with this, for most combat-oriented screens feel like a single playfield in which players are encouraged to think, plan, and execute a complex strategy. Failing because I didn't get my gun out fast enough or because I stuck my head out from behind cover at the wrong moment feel right out of Flashback, as does the stealth-like aspect of enemies not noticing you until you let them. Again the keyword is 'reflection'. Finite playfields in which enemies don't notice you encourage reflection before action, as opposed just barreling forward and reacting to threats as they arise. Unlike the spelunking aesthetics of Metroid, which have remained alive and well in Castlevania, Shadow Complex's more reflective, screen-based approach is one that hasn't been explored in a while. The Prince of Persia remake on XboxLive Arcade that came out a few years ago is the only thing that comes close, and it certainly didn't innovate on this style of game in any significant way. Shadow Complex really seems to be picking up a thread that's been lying dormant since Delphine Software chose to go 3D with their Flashback sequel (the regardlessly excellent and underrated Fade 2 Black) rather than 2D.
The prospect of playing a game where every room is a discrete new space, where every challenge is a two part problem of thought followed by action, where I can stop and think and feel and reflect on each new idea the game presents me; all these things are what make Shadow Complex a welcome experience. Any game that can make me feel that dense feeling of habitation that Out of this World did is alright by me, even if the story is filled with things that give me pause. I have no idea how things are going to turn out in the plot, but so far I'm not crazy about the kidnapped girlfriend (Really? That's the best idea you got?) or the implications that the protagonist's journey will be one of submitting to his militaristic father's worldview. Knowing what little I do about Card, but having heard more than a few times about his allegedly fascist tendencies, I really wonder where such elements are going, even if the game isn't written by him. I doubt, though, that any power-worshiping ideology the game might have would turn out to be something other than amusing to me. You can throw a rock and hit a game of questionable politics, after all. I'm just surprised and delighted that one of these games would let me stop and smell the roses on my way to becoming a superman.
8/7/09: Summer Game Postmortems at Stata Center
Summer is still with us, but GAMBIT's summer program is drawing to a close. We're rounding it out in grand fashion this Friday at the Stata Center. Six student teams will demo and talk about the development of their games, describing their triumphs and battle scars.
We'll start at 9am in room 32-141. Hope to see you there, and keep an eye on our website for the public release of the games!
The Pangs of Game Studies
Being a games scholar is being a pioneer in undiscovered countries. It's exciting and adventurous, but it's also difficult and painful. Maybe it feels more of a pain because I'm in the middle of re-writing my dissertation, getting it ready for my committee to review before the defense.
At times, I miss Literature, I miss Film Studies, I miss my Shakespeare. They are established fields, and coming up with a significant contribution is really hard. But they have a set of established materials and tools. Research is like furnishing your house, and studying Literature is like going to IKEA--you go and select your pieces, and put them together following the instructions. In Game Studies, we have to come up with our own design, go to the forest, cut down our trees, make our boards, and assemble them. Thank goodness we can borrow the saws, hammers and nails of other academic fields, from Media Studies to Computer Science, although it is becoming evident that we need to make our own tools as well. We can also take some boards from IKEA and build something completely different. We shouldn't abuse it, however, or else we won't be using the materials that are inherent to our field. So far, the contributions of IKEA to game studies have been rather strange.
This metaphor is the result of having re-written my introduction and the methods section of my dissertation, and still not being happy with it. I find myself talking about foundational concepts that are still debated and in flux. How are games a type of performance? What do narratives have to do with games? What is a gameworld? What is a simulation? All I want to do is get around to talk about adventure games, which is the bloody topic of my thesis!
Don't get me wrong--it is because I like challenges that I'm in this field. The moment a theory or an idea clicks and makes sense is wonderful, precisely because one has to go through all these pangs. Perhaps I just want to figure too much out; I want the answer to life, the universe and everything, while I should just write "42" and talk about Monkey Island to get it over with. Or perhaps I'm just pissed off because I'm missing out on a gorgeous summer and working on my dissertation on a Saturday night.
Rant over. Back to dissertation toils.