A long overdue journey

Hello. My last post here was about a game I really enjoyed, so in the name of balance, this post contains a couple of terrible games –  unfortunately, I made them.

After many, many years of playing games and a lot of time saying I’m going to try and make one, I’ve decided to actually do something about it. I’ve said that before, mind, but the difference this time is that I’ve been learning the ropes for the last month or so and I only seem to be spending more time doing it, and get this – enjoying it!

The other difference is Unity. I’ve poked around and got confused by a ridiculous amount of different game engines and development tools before, but Unity has managed to find that perfect balance of being (relatively) easy to use/learn and having the power to actually make something decent. The support on the website is amazing and the community is really helpful. Plus, ‘Unity Community’ sounds really good when you say it out loud. And how’s this for a lovely coincidence – Thomas Was Alone, the game I wrote about the last time I updated, was built using Unity.

Anyway, thanks to some helpful guides, I’ve built a few games that I’ve decided to post here. They’re not particularly exciting – they’re barely even fun – but I wanted to document my progress and thought this would be a nice way of doing it.

My plan is to go through a few more guides that touch on subjects I’d like to learn more about, then I’ll try building something new. It’ll be basic – like a simple flash game – but it’ll be mine and built from scratch, so I’m a bit excited.

You can find them here for now. They’re all playable in-browser (with the Unity web player) and on Windows and Mac, so you’ve got no excuse not to play them and tell me how awful they are.

Also, please let me know if there are any broken links.

Thomas Was Alone

I’ve not written about a game in quite a while, so it’s high praise for Thomas Was Alone that I felt the need to on this occasion. Yes, I’m a bit late to the party – it was released on the 30th June – but, well, it’s magnificent and an absolute must at £5.99. Here’s a trailer:

If you hadn’t guessed from that video, it’s a 2D puzzle/platform game involving a series of blocks and a Danny Wallace voiceover. That’s probably not going to convince you, is it? Ok, fine. It gets better:

First of all, for a game involving a series of 2D blocks, it’s gorgeous. Mike Bithell (that would be the creator) has managed to do just enough – shafts of light and subtle shapes to the lightly textured backgrounds – to keep you interested in a very simple art style. It’s also sharp as hell at full HD resolutions, which is something frustratingly lacking in a lot of 2D games.

Then there’s the soundtrack. There have been a few games in recent years that have had a soundtrack good enough to have stood out against, or at least proudly alongside, the gameplay and this is definitely one of them. The very minimalist look of the game means that it’s almost a necessity to have a decent score in order to keep your attention, but last night was the first time I’ve listened to a game’s soundtrack outside of playing the game – twice, in fact. It was composed by David Housden and you can even have a listen to it here. Why not listen to it while I ramble on some more?

The gameplay itself is a simple enough concept, but it’s easy to overlook how well crafted a game is when it’s not doing as much visually. The aim is to get the blocks from their starting positions to a white outline somewhere in the level. It starts out simple enough with the red rectangle, Thomas (yes, they all have names); he has an average jump height but will disintegrate when he touches water. We’re introduced to Chris shortly after – he’s a little orange square with a tiny jump, so he often needs Thomas to get up higher walls. All the blocks have different characteristics and shapes, which, as you’d expect, you need to use to your advantage to get where you need to go.

It’s way too easy to underestimate how well-balanced the jump heights and physics are, though. Despite being a world consisting of basic shapes you feel immediately comfortable with how far you can jump and how fast you can move with each block and this sort of balance makes or breaks a game like this; something that’s often sadly overlooked. Traversing the levels is never annoying, confusing or tedious and the fact that you never give the physics a second thought is testament to how well they work. Which brings me to the Danny Wallace voiceover and the story. Yes, the story.

Well, basically, it’s wonderful. I obviously don’t want to reveal anything about the actual events of the story, but the fact that the game would work without any of this stuff shows just how much love has been put into it. It’s told through a Danny Wallace voice-over (love him or hate him, he does a superb job) which manages to reveal both the personality of the characters (yes, the blocks) and the mystery of the story at a perfect pace, often focusing on one character for each level.

The story manages to build tension brilliantly towards the conclusion and does so while keeping the difficulty perfectly balanced. The fact that I felt more emotional attachment to Thomas, Chris and the gang by the end, than I did to almost anything else I’ve played in the last few months speaks volumes, really.

So, my advice to you, dear reader, would be to buy it. It’s a fun, charming, lovely little game with a magnificent soundtrack. It’s available on both PC and Mac and there’s even a demo, so you’ve got no excuses. Go!

You can try the demo or buy it here. You can listen to and buy the soundtrack here. You really should. 

Drop the Pop

Wow. I haven’t written anything here for a while. Nothing that I’ve published anyway. Hello! Ok, shut up.

A good friend of mine has just reminded me of a band that I fucking adore, that I almost forgot existed.

I always loved it, but then I remembered when I actually read about the song and paid proper attention to the lyrics. It’s beautiful:

The news hit me like a ton.
I didn’t know what I was waiting for.
That day came like a rolling thunder
And we were waiting for the sun.
Hey man, I haven’t seen you in a while.
Get the hell out of this circumstance.
Can’t fight this kind of feeling that we’re dealing with.
I feel helpless and useless.

It’s clear now, this day’s decided.
I feel like I’m defeated.

Shivers shake the ground we’re on.
Cold feet dance in nervousness.
Speechless with my hands in my pockets.
Skin cracks as we march in.
Sit down and let the feeling take control.
Grieving, can’t hide it with a smile.
I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in god,
But I can pretend for a little while.

It’s clear now, this day’s decided.
I feel like I’m defeated.

He’s Just Not That Into You

Urgh. It’s been a while since I’ve disliked a film as much as this. Well-known actors putting in awful performances of unlikeable characters, what’s to like?

I’d seen it before but I obviously decided that I no longer needed that memory. Still, it wasn’t long before I remembered why I hated it the first time: Ginnifer Goodwin playing one of the most naive, stupid characters committed to film; Justin Long (who I normally like) playing an omniscient smart-arse; and, umm, everyone else. They’re all that forgettable and dull.

It’s like a masterclass in how not to write likeable or realistic characters. I genuinely can’t think of one in the entire film. So yeah, don’t watch it. Or do, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Hopefully I’ll watch something that I’d actually like to watch soon, rather than relying on whatever’s on Film 4 that we can’t be bothered to turn off.

Juno

Sweet, charming, funny. Sorted.

Ok, the dialogue’s a little contrived and Jennifer Garner’s character puts me on edge whenever she’s on screen, but it’s hard not to love a film that has this much Moldy Peaches on the soundtrack.

This sums it up rather nicely, I think:

Marley & Me

It was about 5 minutes into Marley & Me that I realised I knew nothing about it, besides the fairly well-documented fate of…one of the main characters, shall we say? I was quite pleased about this, since it meant I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen at any point or when it was going to happen, or how.

I actually really enjoyed it. I’m an absolute sucker for animals in films so probably didn’t stand much of a chance, but I thought Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston were both really enjoyable throughout, and it was all quite charming, if not a little bit routine in places. It was definitely helped by not being the out-and-out comedy I originally thought it was when I heard about it, and a few moments genuinely surprised me with just how sad they were.

I was also a bit surprised when I first heard about the “ending” mentioned above, but now that I’ve actually seen it I’m a bit confused by people who didn’t see it coming during the course of the film. Yeah, ok, maybe it’s because I knew it was coming, but the film covers a huge passage of time, so surely it was to be expected by the end? I thought it was a fitting way to end the story, actually, despite the obvious sadness. The children crying though? Nearly killed me.

Monsters vs. Aliens

I’m normally a sucker for animated films, even when I’m spending half the film quietly working out in my head who did the voice for that guy about 9 minutes in, but this is one of the very few that did absolutely nothing for me. Worryingly, the first thing that comes to mind when I look for reasons as to why, is the fact that there’s no ‘cute’ character. That says more about me than I’d really like it to.

So, there’s a really tall, strong woman that nearly married an idiot, the Missing Link and a mad scientist cockroach – none of which really had much in the way of personality – and then B.O.B., the gooey thing without a brain. I liked B.O.B. because he was stupid and consequently had all the funny lines, and also probably because he was voiced by Seth Rogen. I’m struggling to think of personality traits for any other character and I can’t even remember hearing the name of the villain. Come to think of it, I can barely remember what actually happened during the course of the film.

It’s not great, then. And no, I’m not exactly the target audience, but I can watch pretty much every Pixar film up to now and you’ll probably not hear a peep out of me for an hour and a half. Much like the children they’re made for.

I Am Legend

I always seem to find myself looking forward to Will Smith films. I like him; He’s chosen some really good roles and had some really good performances. I feel like the snobby film fans are tutting disapprovingly and shaking their heads at me whenever I say that I like him, though. Am I just being paranoid? Is Will Smith recognised as a good actor? Or is he just one of those actors that appears in really big films and no one really knows why? Has this just made my opinion on films null and void? It’s a great start to a supposedly year-long series of my opinions on films if so. I like him, anyway. I don’t care what you think. Get your own blog. Leave me alone.

I like I Am Legend as well. Sort of, anyway; I like about two thirds of I Am Legend. Maybe three fifths, actually. It’s a good film for about an hour and then it completely falls apart in the third act, and it’s so frustrating. My main issue is with the fact that it spectacularly missed the point of what ‘I Am Legend’ meant in the original story, despite having bags of opportunity to do it justice. I don’t mind if the plan was to take the original story and twist it into something new, but the original (now ‘alternate’) ending was a lot closer to the events that took place in the book, and, as annoying as it is that this ending tested badly (it’s still a better ending), it’s not really surprising that it did when it’s almost presented as a ‘twist’ in what is very close to the final scene.

I did take major issue with the use of CGI “darkseekers” the first time I saw the film too, but I’ve since discovered that the original plan was to use actual people in prosthetics until it transpired they looked shit (Or something along those lines), so I’ll let that slide a bit. They do still look shit though, which is a bit disappointing when you think how different it would have been if the creatures had actually been a bit scary.

That said, I did enjoy most of the film, and it’s problems aren’t so bad that they ruin it. I’d still recommend watching the alternate ending if you can, though.

A plan for 2012

I spent some time yesterday debating whether or not to attempt the whole ‘One a day’ business again. I’m not entirely sure why; I spent a horrifying amount of time staring at a blank ‘Add New Post’ screen on the WordPress backend last year and I seriously doubt I’d make it anywhere near six months if I tried again. Obviously, I decided against it.

I have been looking for an excuse to start using this site again though, so I’ve decided to attempt something much less time-consuming, that will mean I can update the site a little more regularly. It’s nice and simple, and an idea I’ve had for ages: A film diary.

I have no idea why I’ve been wanting to do it for so long, but for some reason I quite like the idea of looking back of the films I watched over the course of a year. That would obviously lead to incredibly short and quite dull blog entries, so I’ll fill them out a bit with my thoughts on the film. I don’t plan on writing a full, in-depth review, just some of my first thoughts and feelings.

I’m hoping that writing something more frequently (and without spending 2 hours trying to think of anything to write) will mean I can write about something a little more interesting during the year too. I have a lot of gaming-related thoughts bouncing around my head almost constantly, so I’d like to write a few of those down as well. Either way, I’m hoping to write a lot more stuff here in 2012. Sorry about that.

A letter to Keith Vaz, MP.

Hi,

First of all, I should clarify that I am not a member of your constituency, but given that your comments today regarding violence in computer games, specifically ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3′, are not specific to your local constituency, I thought it would be more than reasonable to contact you regarding them.

There is one particular comment that I would like you to clarify, regarding the “increasing evidence of a link between perpetrators of violent crime and violent video games users”.

I’ve played games of a huge variety for over 20 years now, and I’d hazard a guess that the majority of these were in some way violent. I don’t think this is a reflection of my personality or any particularly violent tendencies on my part, it’s more a reflection of the content of games. I won’t lie and say that I’m comfortable with the frankly overwhelming amount of games geared towards hurting or killing people, and I have no doubt that the games that I enjoy the most often involve a lot of thought as opposed to brute force (I can’t recommend Portal 2 enough), but even after twenty years of mostly-violent games I can safely say that my feelings towards violent crime are much the same as most non-gamers; disgust, horror, anger – I don’t like it, basically.

I also happen to be good friends with a lot of people who, like me, play a variety of games with a tendency towards those including violence of some sort. Now, I can’t say for certain that they aren’t living a secret life committing horrific crimes, inspired by the games they play, but I’m happy to stick my neck out with some degree of confidence and say that they aren’t. That said, this is just anecdotal evidence, which doesn’t really hold up in official reports and the like, I’m just trying to give you an idea of why I find your comments so confusing.

Lastly, and this is quite important, I’d like to know what this “evidence” you mention is. You’re not the first person to express their distaste for computer games and I’m sure you won’t be the last, but up until now there has been no evidence to indicate a link between violent computer games and violent behaviour. None. There’s a school of thought that would argue committing a violent act in a game would desensitize you to doing such a thing in real life. That’s probably to be expected. But there is no evidence. In fact, some would argue that it does the opposite.

I can recall a time when I was in a particularly bad mood, so I turned on my console and played Grand Theft Auto IV (Again, a great game, but probably not your sort of thing) so I could drive around like a maniac and cause a lot of carnage, some of it violent. Now that obviously doesn’t mean that if GTA IV didn’t exist I would have stolen the nearest car and attacked anyone who stepped in my way, but it also doesn’t mean that I’m any more inclined to do so now. I can’t stress that enough. There is no evidence. None. Again, that’s just anecdotal evidence, not the real, scientific stuff.

So please, Mr. Vaz, either share this evidence with us, so we can ban these violence-causing games for good, or stop making wild, unfounded remarks about a past-time that I have no doubt does a lot more good than it does bad.

Thank you.