Bacon and Games

Month: October 2010

Trainyard Developer Plays Show and Tell

Matt Rix is the guy behind Trainyard, a puzzle game for the iPhone. Besides the fact that it’s on sale for $.99, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. If you don’t have it you should check it out. However this isn’t a review, he’s got enough of those.

Matt was nice enough to share his Trainyard story with the rest of us mortals down here trying to strike app store oil. Beware, Matt’s story is one of those dangerously inspiring stories that’ll make you feel like you too can make millions overnight if you have a good idea. Let me spare you the suspense; you can’t. Well, you probably can’t. As long as you go into his article thinking of it as less of a blueprint and more of a good story, you’ll find it interesting. Don’t get your hopes up if you’re looking for hard sales numbers. It seems yet another developer has been persuaded to keep their detailed sales data to themself. Surprise surprise.

One last thing before I close… Matt talks briefly about Cocos2d, the freely available framework for building iPhone apps. He described it as “similar to Flash”, which caught my attention. It comes packed with physics engines Box2D and Chipmunk, has tilemap support and includes hooks into all sorts of other iPhone and game related needs. I intend to look into it and based on Matt’s recommendation I’ll suggest that any other Flash developers interested in iPhone development go ahead and give it a look as well. Let me know what you find :)

Randy Pausch: The Last Lecture

I realize that I’m about 3 years behind with this one, but I think those who have seen Randy Pausch’s: The Last Lecture would agree his message is timeless. I can’t describe it any more eloquently than has already been done, so I’ll lead with an excerpt from his website:

On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” With slides of his CT scans beaming out to the audience, Randy told his audience about the cancer that is devouring his pancreas and that will claim his life in a matter of months. On the stage that day, Randy was youthful, energetic, handsome, often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invincible. But this was a brief moment, as he himself acknowledged.

Randy’s lecture has become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.

I’ve had a copy of this lecture for almost 2 years now and, for whatever reason, only sat down to watch it tonight. Randy’s message, his delivery and his spirit would have been more than enough to inspire me to pass his message along, regardless of its relevance to this site. Imagine my delight when Jesse Schell and other components of my game-related universe started cropping up in Randy’s talk.

I knew when I sat down to watch this that the lecture was going to be about life goals and personal reflection, about how you can impact others’ lives and maybe even about changing the world. These are all things I think about, and so I expected his words would have a great deal of meaning to me. I had no idea game design would be among the topics.

On a daily basis I wonder about what I’m doing with my life and whether it has meaning beyond meeting my day to day needs. When the theme of games turned up, I felt like I was cresting the first drop of a roller coaster that I hadn’t been told I was riding. My obsessive introspection cast into the same room with my love of play, of games, was a lot to take. It hit me in a way that I haven’t quite fully grasped yet. The thoughts it’s jarred loose are still a bit too tender (and maybe too incomplete) to even begin to share, but I can feel the approaching impact.

As I said earlier, I know I’m late to the party but I’m sure there are plenty who still have not seen this. If you haven’t, you can watch it below. You should watch it. It was so thought provoking that I’m certain I could ramble on for a few thousand more words without batting an eye (or dotting one, the computer does that automatically….har har). Instead I’ll leave you with this:

I don’t believe in luck, I never have. It’s how the lazy explain their misfortune and the shortsighted hope for success. My dad once told me, “There’s no such thing as right place, right time. Only right place, right time, right person.” I’ve discovered there’s a lot of truth to that. Toward the end of the lecture Randy shares a quote, “Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity”. As a result I’ve updated my feelings on luck, because I think that definition truly explains the phenomenon casual observers tend to describe as luck. The better prepared you are, the more likely you’ll be equipped to take hold of the right opportunity when it comes along. I’ll admit that’s not the most insightful statement anyone’s ever made, in fact it’s well deserving of a “no shit Sherlock…”. But as a person who likes to make his own way, I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea of luck floating around if I can think of it simply as an opportunity landing on the right person. Randy’s lecture is filled with moments like that.

Whether you’re a fellow soul searcher, game designer or just a person with 70 minutes to spare, The Last Lecture is for you.

This lecture has changed me. I’m excited to find out how. Thank you, Randy.

Adam Atomic on Tuning Canabalt

Yesterday on the Semi Secret dev blog, Adam Atomic posted an article entitled Tuning Canabalt. In the article he reveals some of the tweaks, tricks and techniques that went into getting the gameplay of Canabalt just right. From a game design standpoint, this is probably the most interesting article I’ve read in a long time.

Adam goes into how he chose the aspect ratio for this game, which is an interesting story about portraying speed in a 2D environment. He also discusses his technique for auto-generating playable levels based on the user’s current speed. There are lots of interesting topics in this article, however I felt the big takeaway was his discussion about providing “a little extra cushioning for people’s reaction times”. In Canabalt, what the “game engine sees” is not always a 1:1 to what the user sees. Adam talks about how me modified the hitboxes of the player, buildings and obstacles to make them a bit more forgiving for the user.

When you’re making a game like Canabalt, the idea is to make the player feel like a superhero. It’s OK if you have to lie a little bit, or in the case of Canabalt fudge the hit areas, to achieve this. As long as the programming layer and visual layer aren’t grotesquely different, the user won’t notice the tricks you’ve pulled… particularly when the tricks are in their favor. No-one questions how they survived a jump, but they will argue a death they felt was undue.

In the game below the hit areas are much smaller than the actual robots so that the user could zip in and out of them. This allowed the hero to move more adeptly which makes the user feel like Indiana Jones narrowly sliding under that closing temple door.

In order to build a fast paced game, Adam had to find ways to give back to the users the reaction time game environment’s limitations cost them. His explanation of how he did this is very interesting.

Tuning Canabalt is a must read for anyone who makes games, but it might be equally interesting to someone who just likes to play them.

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