Archive for May, 2008

ToJam Complete! +1 XP to XNA

Monday, May 12th, 2008

So, ToJam ended this Sunday night and it was a fun experience. Our team ended up being 5 people, plus some help from a graphics floater who was helping various teams at the event.

To outline our time, it was pretty much a frantic dash from Friday to Sunday to make the game we had designed. A large portion of Friday was taken up just in getting our entire team setup at the event. Packing up our desktops, bringing them to the event, finding out one of them had their heat sink fall off onto their video card (makes me cringe just thinking about that happening!) and various issues of connecting to a very busy wireless network. Two of our members were doing the majority of the coding on Friday, setting up XNA and our program’s basic architecture so that we could more easily split up the programming tasks in the next days between the 4 programmers we had available. I spent Friday with a bit of code, but also doing the drawings for our game’s buildings. The weekend itself was the team building the actual game, filling in all the planned, but unimplemented pieces of functionality needed to meet our vision.

Our game itself was a resource-management game where the player competes for world resources with an AI opponent. Our idea was to have competing ISPs fighting for houses to use them as their internet provider and get a monopoly over the city. The good part was we got the engine made needed to implement the game. The bad news was that to get that engine finished we cut it really close to the wire, and as such never got a chance to properly playtest the gameplay. Due to the size of levels, concentration of buildings, costs of network maintenance, and all the numerous variables associated with how satisfied a customer is with a certain ISP in the game, our game worked, but didn’t have the balance we would have liked to make it truly shine in its own right.

It was a great experience overall and I’d love to do it again, but there are definitely some mistakes I’d try to avoid next time to try and assure that at any step midway through the process, not only do we have something that runs and is interactive/playable, but that the “fun” of the game is iterating as well. There were some very good games I saw that were based on relatively simple concepts. You could see these teams had an enjoyable”toy” to begin with, and although they may have not hit every goal they wanted, their end results were still fun, and could just be made increasingly enjoyable with more time. Our game had a good engine and a strong team, but I feel it was too big a step to go from “engine” to game in the time we had. If we had weeks instead of days it would be a completely different matter, but I think the time we had didn’t lend itself well to the genre of game we chose to pursue.

Once the organizers put up the games that were made during this Jam, I would highly suggest looking at my favorite two games of the event, “Cheese is War” and “Super Cheese Repulsor”. Both of these games I found to have fun gameplay, although you’ll have to invite a friend because they are both multiplayer. Cheese is War used the farseer physics engine for XNA to make some interesting physics based gameplay, and of course I’m even more proud to say that they were another UofT team with most, if not all, of the participants from the UofT Game Design and Development Club.

One other happy surprise I had was in my own programming competence. I was concerned over using C# and XNA for the first time at this event, as I hadn’t even touched either beforehand due to the busyness of classes and my final exams. My teammates assured me that C# would be easy since I knew C and Java, but I’m often a skeptic on such matters. Fortunately they were right. I took to game programming in XNA quickly and once I was programming it was easy to get my tasks done. Sure I don’t know all the intricacies of the language yet, but being able to work on a simple engine was a good starting point if I want to pursue learning C# or XNA further.

GameCamp Toronto 2: Achievement unlocked

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

For those of you who were in Toronto but missed it, I just came back from GameCamp Toronto which ran today, and it was a blast.

There were a ton of great presentations from various people and things went very smoothly thanks to the organizers Andrei Petrov and Mark Cautillo (both of their blogs should be in my blogroll links to the right). I was sitting on the sidelines the whole time taking photos of the event which I’ll try to get up at the GameCamp gallery soon. Unforunately, my batteries died by the last two presenters, but I think there were a few people there with spare cameras who covered what I missed.

I think my favourite presentations came in the morning sessions. Specifically, Jim McGinley and Andy Smith were showing games that they have developed recently, reflecting on their experiences and talking about the lessons they learned. Both were very different kind of games in terms of teams and their scope, but I love hearing about development lessons and seeing the development of a game. Maybe it’s because I’m a very visual person and like seeing art from a game, or maybe I just like hearing how others screwed up in their postmortems, or perhaps those who reflect on games they made provide the best insight to share with others. Either way, these two kept me riveted throughout their presentations. Other presenters gave me some interesting topics which I’m going to be looking to further, but design reflections feel more “complete” in my understanding of them within a conference. Check out here for a video that has cheese pliers IN SPACE! Andy’s team is insane!

I’m already looking forward to the next GameCamp. Thankfully it’s seasonal and if everything goes smoothly we’ll see another in 3 to 4 months.

Also, ToJam is coming! If you’re a Toronto game developer and don’t know about ToJam, you should. It’s a 3 day event happening from May 9th to the 11th where you make a team to develop a game in 3 days. It’s going to be hectic and amazing. I’ll try to post about my team’s game as we work on it during those days, and perhaps aim for a postmortem at the end. It will be my first time using XNA (and a crash course in C#) but I’m going to be working with some really talented people, so I’m not too worried.