An Eventful Early Summer

I’ve had an eventful summer so far, and the past month has been busy. In June, I vacationed to Nevada City and Grass Valley, California to tour historical sites involved with the gold rush and mining. The highlight of the trip was visiting Empire Mine State Historic Park and looking down into a very long mineshaft.

In late June, I played the new Shadowgate beta and tested it quite a bit. I love the style and format, and I’m hopeful the game will do well. There’s something fundamentally cool about seeing the game revived more than 20 years after I first played it.

I also got the MacBook Pro I desperately needed. I originally planned to buy a new mac after expiration of the warranty on my Inspiron M5030, but things worked out, and the mac happened sooner. I love it.

I expect to spend July catching up on certifications, and planning out the last half of 2014. I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished this year, and the next few months should be pretty great.

Reading Update 5/19/2014

May is more than half over, and I’ve made good progress on the novels I planned to read this month.

I finally finished A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and immediately started the sequel A Clash of Kings. So far it’s a breeze to read and so much more fun than the first book. I’m completely hooked.

Halting State by Charles Stross was an intriguing if somewhat confusing read, and I only made it to the 50% point before my e-library loan expired. The book is brilliant and relevant given present day advances with Oculus Rift, but I had trouble following the action with its changing character perspectives. A video game programmer hired to help with an investigation is my favorite character, and I might renew the book later to see what happens to him.

I’ve started Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and plan to restart The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan next week.

I’m also enjoying a preview of the 2013 Locus Reading List’s fantasy section through Kindle samples. I hope to browse the entire list by the end of summer and discover some new favorites. I found Neptune’s Brood (also by Charles Stross) this way, and it’s easily my favorite book from 2013.

Playing Papers, Please

Papers, Please

Papers, Please is my new favorite game on Steam. Created by indie developer Lucas Pope, it’s a dystopian game about running a border control checkpoint in a fictional 1980′s country.

Each day the player examines the passports and paperwork of applicants trying to enter the country Arstotzka. Money is paid out for successful processing, and fines are levied for mistakes. Increasing imposed hassles slow applicant processing (and therefore moneymaking) down. The story is told through the people entering the checkpoint and a daily newspaper. Ultimately the player has to support themselves and their family on a dwindling budget.

The concept of Papers, Please is original and well executed. The pixel graphics, fonts, and simple animation mesh well with the in-game tasks and story. The game also has branching saves. It’s possible to go back to a different day, make new choices, and keep the original timeline from the first save.

The game’s UI is a little confusing. Interrogation mode gave me the most trouble: it wasn’t immediately clear how to successfully check all of the items I needed to. The game is also disturbing. I found myself trying to do a good job even with the consequences of complacency.

Overall, I’m glad I spent time on Papers, Please. I’m looking forward to playing more of Lucas Pope’s games in the future.

 

 

The Lost World: Jurassic Park Is A Terrible Film

Last week I finished my re-watch of Jurassic Park. I hadn’t seen the movie since it hit theaters in the 90′s, and I was happy to discover that it held up in unexpected and delightful ways.

I cannot say the same of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It was so bad, I was surprised it was based on a sequel novel by Michael Crichton, had been directed by Steven Spielberg, and that it did so well commercially.

The Lost World had some positive moments. Jeff Goldblum, who played the chaos theory expert, almost held it together with infrequent but well-delivered humor. I hadn’t minded him in the first film, and it was fun to see his return. There were also scenes with special effects just epic enough to feel like a Spielberg film.

Aside from that, everything else was a mess. Actors faced away from the camera while speaking at length. The sound, fantastic in the first movie, felt blunted. The plot consisted of implausible action scenes strung together, badly.

The Jurassic Park universe is still exciting, and I’d love to see a well-done remake. For now, at least there are YouTube cat videos.

Revisiting Jurassic Park

Last night I re-watched most of the movie Jurassic Park on VHS. It really took me back to 1993, which doesn’t seem all that long ago.

During the summer of 1993, I remember seeing Jurassic Park in theaters as a child. I was most impressed with the movie’s sound effects and how my seat shook during loud scenes. I wasn’t scared, but I remember feeling on the edge during most of the action.

Re-watching the movie in VHS feels very 1990′s. The movie is fun and also somewhat comical with the plot, dialog, and casting. It feels like a different time. It was a different time.

Tonight, I’m going to finish watching Jurassic Park and maybe start on The Lost World (which I also have on VHS). Though it came out years later and isn’t rated as highly, I’m still looking forward to seeing it.

Learning Crafty.js

I used Crafty.js for the first time in April when I developed my entry for Ludum Dare 29. I felt accomplished with the framework after two days of development and I want to explore it further.

During May, I’m going to create experimental gameplay and effects to improve my understanding of the library. I’m also going to look through source code to see what I could extend in the future.

Finally, I’m going commit to improving my Photoshop skills. I want to create better sprites for use with Crafty, and the time investment appears to be worth it.

Shadowgate Remake Beta Testing Opens

Shadowgate by Zojoi

Zojoi, a company formed by the creators of the classic video game Shadowgate, launched a successful Kickstarter in 2012 to remake the game. The remake is nearing completion and beta testing is now open.

Here’s how to participate:

  • Kickstarter backers at the Novice tier or above can sign up here.
  • If you didn’t back the Kickstarter, pre-order the game at the Hero level. This includes beta access.

Shadowgate for the classic NES was one of my favorite games as a child. I’m excited the game is nearing completion, and I’m looking forward to playing it.

Reading Update 5/5/2014

Back in April I pledged to read several novels in May. This is part of my larger plan to read more widely while finishing at least a few novels a month.

So far I’ve spent the most time on Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s a continuation from last month’s reading because of the novel’s large size, and I suspect I’ll finish it this month. As of last night I’m completely caught up with the TV series, which I highly recommend to anyone considering working through the books.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is next in the queue after Game of Thrones. The Kindle sample I read gave me enough insight to see why the novel is making waves this year. I’m looking forward to starting it soon.

I’m at about 22% on Halting State by Charles Stross. I’m not sure what to make of it yet. I felt the same way about Neptune’s Brood, the last Stross book I read, and that was freaking brilliant.

I’m excited about restarting The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan at the end of this month. I set it aside last year after becoming too busy to finish it, but I still have the paper copy that was generously given to me.

Kraken: A Ludum Dare 29 Postmortem

You are a deep sea explorer searching for treasure. As your craft descends into the murky depths large kraken will approach your ship. Fire your harpoons to kill them before they get close enough to attack your underwater vehicle. 

Press left or right to use your claw to capture treasure. Avoid hitting anchors which will damage your craft. 

Your deep sea adventure awaits!

Last weekend I created Kraken, a web game for the Ludum Dare 48 hour game development competition. “Beneath the surface” was the theme chosen for this competition and, coincidentally, the Atari 2600 ET landfill dig was also held the same weekend. I felt inspired to create Kraken as a retro Atari 2600 style game.

What Went Right

I kept the graphics simple. Creating a retro style game that could pass as an Atari 2600 cartridge meant blocky characters with few colors and limited animations. It also reduced the total number of screens to develop because many Atari 2600 games don’t have intro or game over sequences.

I sketched an outline of the game before I started development. Having a design in-hand reduced deadline stress because it gave me an idea of how long I could spend on each component. My design also held up, except for a pseudo-3d water effect I’ll mention later.

I finished on time. I think of the Ludum Dare 48 hour competition as an exercise in release management. It’s important for me to finish with something playable, and I’m proud I managed to do exactly that. I also had fun making the game and getting it out there.

What Went Wrong

I spent too much time on a pseudo-3d effect that didn’t work with the gameplay. I planned for the viewport to cycle colors around the edges as the player descended towards the kraken. The implementation was distracting and gave me a headache, so I transformed the feature into the shuttered pre-game and game over color changes.

I also didn’t prototype the graphics with the gameplay early enough. The squid were harder to draw than I expected, and ended up too small to look frightening as they approached the craft. Their small size also caused a disconnect with the harpoon collision detection. The final squid graphics didn’t take up enough space for the player to hit them directly.

Sound was planned but dropped. Atari 2600 game soundtracks are simple, but I hadn’t created sound for a web game before. I didn’t review the process before the competition started and I ran out of time during development.

Overall

I had fun creating Kraken. The Ludum Dare is a bit of a rush to get everything finished, and there’s always a moment of panic as the game comes together, sometimes unexpectedly. I’m glad I participated, and I’m looking forward to the next competition.

Play Kraken

Atari 2600 Landfill Dig Successful!

On Saturday, April 26, 2014, I watched folks live-tweet the excavation of Atari 2600 ET cartridges from a New Mexico landfill. A few hours after the dig began workers pulled up several cartridges complete with their packaging.

Atari 2600 ET Cartridge

I’ve had this cartridge since I was five.

I played ET at home during the dig. I have the original cartridge (photo right), but I played using an emulator so I could post screenshots. I don’t remember finishing the game as a kid, but I beat it in an hour with the Stella emulator on the easiest setting.

Despite not finishing the game as a child, I think it says something that I saved the cartridge along with a handful of my other favorites through various moves over the years. It wasn’t until college that I learned the game had been a disaster for Atari and that the gameplay was considered poor and broken.

Overall, I think the game is okay. It’s possible the emulator made it easier to win, so I’ll have to try it again one day on a real Atari 2600. I’m glad I kept my copy, because the newly unearthed cartridges seem crushed and slightly melted.