Category Archives: Videogame Design

Videogame Design. I’m all for designing things, but mainly I point out other people designing things :)

GameCity 2010: A Report

Lego, of course always present
Lego, of course always present

GameCity 2010 was a while back; 27th to the 30th of October. This is a late report, with all the pedantry of trying to remember things from it that are worth reporting on!

Talks, Panels and Notes

Firstly, I have done some rather lengthy notes this year. This comes from doing them on my laptop at the time; so there are quite possibly errors and it isn’t a word for word account πŸ™‚ In any case, I’ll link to the relevant ones as I go through what was fun and so forth. I didn’t get to everything though, and I can’t point to a “Calendar of events” on the GameCity website (which was at ) since it has now disappeared.

Before the Event

GameCity was generally well run and fun this year. There was no horrible Gatecrasher venues, there was most of the events up in advance of the week, although knowing about things more then a few weeks in advance is something they need to strive for πŸ™‚ On one hand I was discussing this with someone and having less people coming keeps it more low-key and more a Nottingham feel, but I opposed this and say if I want friends to come I need to show it’s worth booking travel tickets, holiday time (they have jobs!) and hotels in advance. In any case I hadn’t the nerve to get anyone outside of Nottingham to come up, more the shame to me really – some would have enjoyed it πŸ™‚

One oddity: you could “favourite” events which seemed to put you on a list for events. Stewards were weird, so I booked everything on the first day once I got almost turned away from something. I heard some people got turned away in spite of the rooms not nearly being full too…must try harder! either first come first serve, OR pay for tickets, not a bad mix of both. πŸ™

The Tent!

The bomb with David!
The bomb with David!

The tent was good; I never bothered with the EA side, each to his own but exercise can’t be thrown at me like that (with the full set of crass marketing too. I suppose it’s all sponsorship money though). The other side was cramped but good enough – Crysis was well laid out at the side for instance, and the projector games generally were far enough at the back to not get in the way. The other odd thing was not enough chairs and tables, especially for Gambling Lambs! It meant a lot of standing around, and put me off staying there for very long, a shame really. However what went on there was fine even if I didn’t bother with Saturday’s Mario stuff, since I wanted more indie games dammit! πŸ™‚

Oh, and on Gambling Lambs – it was great, got to play Dixit, which is a game where you have to describe a scene in a generic storytelling fashion but not be too accurate; it’s great to play a second time once you work out actually what to do. There were other games to be had too – and David Hayward put on a brilliant Laser Trap Scene Test at Lee Rosy’s, as in any good spy flick needing lots of smoke to see lasers to disarm the bomb! I did it successfully, and was very fun! πŸ™‚

Shame there was no Kinect or Move playable demos. I have no clue what Microsoft and Sony are doing here (apart from Sony apparently hates GameCity) I just don’t know how you can get people to buy such interactive things without being able to try them. There was the Kinect talk, which was okay, but didn’t exactly let me try it πŸ˜‰

Development; the office space was too small originally - foreboding for UK living rooms? :)
Development; the office space was too small originally - foreboding for UK living rooms? πŸ™‚

Spy Party

Spy Party; the room
Spy Party; the room

A really standout game! I loved playing Chris Heckers Spy Party, I took notes from his talk, and am fully looking forward to the game itself.

To outline; it’s a deception and infiltration game, where you as a party guest have to mimic an NPC while performing certain tasks, while a sniper, a second player, tries to find out who you are and snipe them. As the base game mode, this is just brilliant fun in itself and I can see how it can be easily played online. Chris mentioned possible other modes, more players (multiple spies or snipers, working in teams even) and other changes; well worth looking out for. Gets the “Game of GameCity” award from me!

Jonathan Blow

Jonathan Blow had a double act; a nice sum up of Braid’s design, and his new game The Witness which looks interesting, but I hope doesn’t have too many tutorials; it could get annoying. Still, he’s someone you could rely on to really polish and make a very strong game, which is what I’m looking forward to.

The Witness: What are adventure games? What should they be?
The Witness: What are adventure games? What should they be?

Comedy and Music

OneLaughLeft - Simon Byron
OneLaughLeft - Simon Byron

There was an evening of Comedy by OneLifeLeft; the jokes were soemtimes groan worthy from the presenters, but still damn enjoyable and fun (although Ste sure is one who does very harsh critical humour!); they should think more highly of themselves for doing it. The comedians were a fine lot; some geeky stuff, some game related material, and one comedian who I’ve seen before at the Fringe (a shame; since I’ve heard some of his stuff before obviously). Well worth attending, had me in fits πŸ™‚ I’d give it 7 out of 10.

The Choir during the music of James Hannigan
The Choir during the music of James Hannigan

The music evening in the church was good pretty much because the composer James Hannigan did Red Alert 3’s main theme “Soviet March” – and it was done better live with the main part being sung by a woman then the theme in game! (I wish I could have recorded it!). The spy music from Evil Genius was good too – the rest, well, I’ll be frank and say that without them telling us what games they were from, which they didn’t, I had no clue if the tracks were Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or any number of other different orchestral soundtracks he’s done – a shame really, since some were pretty fun to listen to. There was only the Pinewood Singers in attendance; not a full orchestra, which worked well given it was a church.

Retro Remakes, History and Parks

A Reproductive System
A Reproductive System

Finally, there was a good panel on retro remakes, the only thing that could have improved it was explaining what a remake was and giving some examples then and there. Coupled to the old stuff side is a panel I attended on game preservation, which sadly lacked the major major problem now occurring: DRM. The British Library might want to get a copy of every game made, but it’ll be useless if the consoles and platforms they run on break isn’t it? πŸ™

Also an odd talk was done by Keita Takahashi who is designing a park for the nearby to me Woodthorpe Park; I’m looking forward to it, but I’ve no idea if any of the designs will actually be completed!

Takahashi LOVES the big catapult idea despite its flaws
Takahashi LOVES the big catapult idea despite its flaws


Panel on being Independant Game Developers
Panel on being Independant Game Developers

On the indie side was a good panel called “What’s the Point?“; a shame it was over lunch (like the preservation panel) since it was harder to take notes, but in essence it was good to hear the two sides to working, what indie is, about game jams and other things. I did get to play several indie games too – apart from Spy Party, there was Ben Bradly’s Substream, much improved from GameCityNights, and I talked to the creator of VVVVVV a bit too (and the musician too), who are both totally cool dudes. I aim to play more VVVVVV – now I’ve finished some other games πŸ™‚

Iain Simons doing his vision statement; shout it brother! Shout it loud!
Iain Simons doing his vision statement; shout it brother! Shout it loud!

The last thing really to note was the Vision Statement by Iain Simons – good points to note, he wants to do more GameCity and game stuff, but wants nothing to do with Sonys kind of marketing. It was a rather nice thing to see him explain about it and name some names, and I fully agree about many other things he went into detail – always needing the newest stuff, interactive entertainment and “now being mainstream”.

I missed several things however – the music of Limbo, an indie game producer from somewhere, and the morning panels at breakfast – I felt rather ill so got up late every day sadly – it wasn’t too convenient to get there, but sounded interesting.

So overall it was a lot more fun then last year in most places, although it felt more empty with much less to do at times, mainly due to scheduling no doubt. I say bring on next year with agusto, like I said, hopefully with some forewarning about what is going on before the month it is on πŸ™‚

Achievements Considered Harmful?

I want to bring up a good talk from Chris Hecker about achievements; Achievements Considered Harmful?.

Why? Apart from it being bloody interesting, it reminded me when it popped up from another blog – I had a discussion, ever so briefly, with a few guys at a GameCityNights event at the start of the month. All the common arguments came up from them – “can ignore them” and “new playstyles” (and of course “I enjoy them” – these were both men; seems research points to this kind of reward being less important to women). I am glad Chris went over these and I now know a reasonable way of explaining why they are invasive especially on design; he himself says he will try and do something as a test with the Xbox limitations.

You might realise I’m not a fan. To me they’re invasive, annoying, and change the gameplay in games to allow such actions to exist (for no other good reason). For instance I abhor all the Valve TF2 achievements – once I have the weapons I then ignore them, they’re intended to be a fun addition but instead turn into a complete barrier to progress. This is anecdotal, and I don’t care πŸ˜‰ These kinds of rewards are rubbish to me in any case and don’t encourage anything from me. No gnomes are going into space for me.

I however agree; more research needed (with less bias, hehe), and his Q&A is well worth listening to where he clarifies a lot of the things involved in his talk. I mainly also don’t want to ever play a game where you’re paid to play, urg…it’d be more like the gaming (gambling) industry then anything else.

Videogame Nation


The Urbis Gallery opened the Videogame Nation exhibit two weeks ago – I was invited by the curator, David Crookes, to go along. I meant to get up something about this before, but my camera died (these are it’s last pictures) when I broke it accidentally.

The exhibit is based around the UK videogame industry from past to present – there is enough for a good few hours, if not more, looking at the exhibits, playing the games on show, and reading the huge amount of information on a whole range of aspects – from playing to making videogames.

An entire bus stop, yep

I personally loved it – some great games on display (apart from the arcade cabinets all free to play), design documents and a varied amount of information on different magazines, publishers, developers and people. The games are presented in a variety of forms – including some nice football bench seating for Sensible Soccer, and a bus stop and bus seat backs for portable games (okay, that was more odd then great, hehe).

N64 lunchtimes!

I added a few things to the places you could write and draw – I’ve got pictures of my additions to the wall of consoles (sadly missing out several older consoles, but still allows you to pick one and put a comment up), and my Half Life “crowbar” cover, no doubt by now replaced but, well, a game which deserved a clean classic-like cover πŸ™‚ (it was also easier to draw then any of my other ideas! πŸ˜› ).

The Urbis at night
Half Life cover

There were also some great displays on the mini-controversies in the UK around videogames. For Manchester, the Manchester Cathedral sillyness, with Sony’s response printed in its full glory, in the 18 rated section (where, for some reason, Bully was situation despite not being rated 18…), as well as some on the value of fitness to do with videogames.

Never finished Oliver-twins material

However, the main thing that was great for me was the history side – there is a lot of information about pre-current-generation games, including ones not finished (Dizzy 2, as photographed to the right), the design of many UK titles – Lemmings, Sensible Soccer, Broken Sword (which I still need to play…), Jeff Minter classics, Oliver Twin games and things from the bedroom programming era – including Elite, and more. It is about the only UK exhibit of videogames on right now – so well worth a visit. Check my gallery of pictures to see some of the information boards and pictures of what was available to play – not at all comprehensive, I should have took more picture πŸ™‚

I am also going to try and get back for some of the Sunday-timetabled related events, some sound very interesting πŸ™‚ and if I go I’ll put down what they were like (especially since I’ve not been updating my site much!).

For more pictures I did find Negative Gamer to have some great pictures up, and David has a small Flickr set too πŸ™‚

Oh, Assassins Creed, How I Loath To Replay You

Lazyest Gallery cannot access Gallery/Videogames/Assassins_Creed/

With my PC reinstall, which is pretty much done except for me losing a odd few programs’ settings (where my Filezilla settings disappeared to I have no idea, sigh), I’ve started reinstalling games. Assassins Creed I decided might be worth replaying – I got installed, patched, and copied my old save into the bizarre place they put saves (It’s in a folder named “Ubisoft” in the Application Data folder in your Documents and Settings/Users folder).

Then I tried playing it. I realised, while I had enjoy the game, it was only when I had played it for long amounts of time and for the first time. Mandatory logo screens on boot up, slow progress through menus to get anywhere, and unskippable cutscenes (fine the first time, horrible any other time). Luckily I know the exit shortcut of Alt-F4 – exiting manually takes an amazing amount of effort (several menus to find “Exit” – it was made for the Xbox primarily, and it shows).

The game also forces 16:9 widescreen (hilarious if you’re on 4:3, and just annoying on 16:10 – the Steam overlay stays on screen in those black bars. Sigh).

The killing blow, I think, to me fully getting around to replaying the game is the insistence on only allowing me to reply entire chapters from the beginning…so I have to do all the minigames (although hopefully not explore the city fully), sort the civilians and so forth, before doing an assassinsation – the one part of the game which was awesome, and which I wanted to replay.

Poor decisions from the Ubisoft team on this. Lazyness is all I can account for the decisions (especially the insistence on unskippable cutscenes and 16:9 resolution), since they seem relatively easy things to solve – let me start at save point X, where I can immediately start an Assassination, just like how the game allows you to replay from that point if you die.

I wish I had made backups before each assassination now. If only I had known in advance πŸ™ It seems I’ll be forced to do the bare minimum of minigames for each one, and go through a good 15-25 minutes of cutscenes per assassination, to have the 5-10 minutes of fun doing the actual task. I do like the game, as I’ve said before (beautiful looking, the character is cool, assassinations great, exploration relatively fun), it’s just painful to replay any part of it. This has been said before, but it’s worth saying again. πŸ™‚

Deus Ex Vintage Game Club Playthrough

Training and onwards!

I’m currently playing through Deus Ex, in the Vintage Game Club. I’ve pretty much put what happened and the goings on in three posts for the first three areas, which link to my gallery of pictures I take which have even more detail. So much detail in fact I can’t really add a lot by making a new post here πŸ™‚ so if you’re interested in my method playing this rather open RPG, or on how the game plays, you can read my posts and see the gallery. There’s around 3 area’s a week, to space the game out some more, so I’ll stick to that kind of schedule and post a weekly update – maybe a bit more in depth in future.

Oh, but if you do want to play this game, I recommend the beta HDTP for a bit more improved graphics (and updated OpenGL renderer, so choose that for your rendering). You should also remap a lot of the keys, it’s not an FPS so I found stealth melee my preference (hit stuff a lot with a baton, they fall down unconscious. Or a electric prod. Hit them in the back well and they go down in one!). Also you can never sell anything, ever, or really store anything anywhere, and stores are also rubbish, so keep that in mind πŸ™‚

Well worth playing so far, I’d recommend it to anyone – I played the sequel, and it’s much better (more open, better RPG stuff, and just plain better for not being an outright FPS).

Playing a blind character

I think one day I’ll have to program a game where you play a blind character. I had it in mind a few years ago when I got to know AudioQuake, which is accessible to blind people. Now, I was randomly browsing the insert credit pages, when I came across Blind Adversaries, the PC passage catches my eye;

In terms of blind playable characters, developers have done little to modify games’ mechanics or aesthetics based on the affliction. Nothing in the way of showing the world to the player as the character would experience it is attempted, naturally, because videogames by definition rely on images. Furthermore, all of the following characters are viewed through a third-person camera, which conveniently avoids presenting their point of view (or lack thereof). Usually, their blindness lends only to an interesting backstory and offbeat attacks; occasionally a bondaged wardrobe.

The same might be applied to being deaf – although the restrictions on gameplay are not as bad, and commonly grenades and other items may make the player unable to hear for short periods of time, but still see the action (and dangers).

A blind first person perspective character I’ve never seen. The examples are all from fighting games, and as the wiki notes, basically has no effect on the PC’s performance apart from an “interesting” backstory. There have been, of course, dark games, and games which have special vision, but these are never truly inhibiting since you get given torches and whatnot to deal with it.

The problem with making a game where you cannot see anything is that while in real life you have touch and hearing to help, in games you only have hearing (we’ll ignore smell and taste). There are ways to remedy this partially; force feedback on controllers would allow certain actions to produce feedback (such as feeling if anything is in front of you), or a certain noise can be associated with a certain type of touch (or, although this is a bit silly, an icon could appear detailing what you feel – like a “minds image” of the object your holding). For things like temperature and pain, you’d need appropriate sounds – probably made by the character, or an artificial sound representative of it.

Allowing for being blind would also remove, from most game types, a lot of the jumping and complex navigation usually needed. If it was a combat game, a lot of actions would have to become automatic – climbing, jumping short distances, getting up stairs, and so on. Of course, it could be a Superman-like blind person, but unless some kind of graphic is shown of NPC’s/obstacles, PC’s won’t get very far, which defies this ideas point anyway.

It’d also be interesting to see a game where there was a team of people, with different impairments – someone is deaf, someone else is blind, someone is mute, someone cannot run or jump and so on. Navigation through a level with players helping each other would be interesting – the mute and deaf people possibly would have to rely on sign language perhaps!

Or even if not a team, then NPC’s who could see would be able to guide the player through levels or whatever the aim of the game is (“follow my voice”). 3D sounds would likely be a good idea πŸ™‚

All a bit of an idea – I’d like to see what could be done like AudioQuake has done, and play something other then deathmatch. Playing a game with your eyes specifically closed is certainly unique and quite fun!

Now I just need to get my programming up to scratch to code it…at least I won’t need any fancy graphics πŸ˜‰