Hull Pixelbots at Global Gamejam

The them of the Global Gamejam was "transmission". Over in the university we had a bunch of teams exploring different aspects of this in lots of creative ways. 

I had a bunch of Hull Pixelbots and a newly minted web editor that mostly worked. 

Above you can see a nearly working display of Hull Pixelbots propagating a transmission from one to the other. Each robot is programmed via a web site using a scripting language that runs inside the robot. 

The idea is that each robot "wakes up" the next one by moving close to it. The first attempt fails because the Mr White doesn't wake up Crystal Maisie,, and the second attempt shows my bad planning, in that it leaves Crystal Maisie in the way of the final move from The See Through Kid. Oh well. 

Hopefully players of the completed game will be better at it than I was.  I think it would be interesting for a large team, with each team member controlling a robot and a prize for the fastest transition from one end to the other, using all the robots at their assigned starting positions. I took some pictures during the judging, you can find all of the shots here

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Thanks to Simon and David from the university for organising such a great event. 

Heading for London

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Ian Livingstone playing the game that got us to London. He reckons we should set it in space, and I think he might just be onto something….

To start with, a bit of history. What seems like ages ago David, Simon, Lewis, David and me took part in Global Game Jam Hull. And we built a game. Then Microsoft offered a prize for the best Windows 8 game that came out of the Game Jam and made it into Windows Marketplace. So David and Simon took the game engine, made it marketplace ready and shipped it. And Heartotron won. At the time we weren’t sure just what we had won, but part of the prize turned out to be a trip to London to tour a game development studio and meet up with some of folks who made the game industry what it is. And so we found ourselves on a train at 8:00 am in the morning, speeding through the sunshine and looking forward to an interesting day.

Which we got in spades. It was great. First up was a look around Lift London, a shiny new Microsoft game studio with a focus on making games the Indy way. No big (or at least huge) teams, flexibility, appropriate technology and total commitment to the product are the order of the day. Lift London also sees incubating fledgling games developers such as Dlala as part of their remit, which is very interesting.

With people on the team who can say things like “..and then we went on to write Banjo-Kazooie…” or “..and then we did Singstar..” alongside folks who have grown up writing and pitching games any way they can I reckon we can look forward to some fun stuff in the future.

We got to look at some work in progress, which was fascinating for me. The transition from ideas to drawings to models on the screen was intriguing.. I get very jealous of people who can draw, and loved seeing these people in action, and how they can turn out lovely looking artwork with just a flourish of their Wacom pens. Most impressive.

Then it was time to move on to Modern Jago, a pop up venue in Shoreditch, for workshop with the gaming legends Ian Livingstone (Vice chairman of Ukie, Games Workshop founder, president at Eidos), Andy Payne (chairman of UKIE and CEO of Mastertronic) and Philip Oliver (TIGA board member and CEO of Blitz Games Studios).

Each had plenty of time to speak and plenty to say. Some things that I took away, in bullet form:

  • There has never been a better time to be writing games. Cheap tools and an easy path to market give you amazing potential.
  • There has never been a more competitive time to be writing games. The statement above is true for everybody.
  • Put your monetisation in at the start. If you are going to sell your game, be up front about that (although recognise that very few people will part with cash to buy it). If you have a pay to play model, put that in the central game mechanic. It is impossible to add it later.
  • Use metrics and feedback. Track downloads, watch for reviews and scores, use telemetry to be able to tell how far people get through the game, how long they play for, and when they give up. Phase your releases so that you get feedback from one part of the world (for some reason Canada and New Zealand are popular for this) before you go global.
  • Look for the “soft” market. A big splash in a small pond with a future has more potential than trying to make an impression in a huge marketplace with scant resources.
  • Get a following. Napoleon reckoned that with 1,000 followers you have an army of your own. He wasn’t on Twitter, but you can be. Give opinions and help to people out there and build a following of folks who like you. A crowd who like what you do and want to see what you do next are great to have around. Be loyal to them and they will replay you by supporting what you do.
  • Get a job. You might plan to be a lone gunfighter releasing your fantastic stuff for the world to marvel at, but it much easier to do this with a roof over your head and a full stomach. One of the things you need to succeed is luck (everyone said this). Napoleon (him again) reckoned that he always preferred his lucky generals to his clever ones. If the luck isn’t there, and it may not be, you still need to eat. Make time for your development and go at it full tilt, but there’s nothing wrong with having a backup plan.
  • Get some “skin in the game”. This kind of goes against the above but I still feel it is something to think about. If you feel that the stars are aligning and that this is “the one” then feel free to go for it every way you can. Living in a van for six months while you raise funds and build your product base might be the thing you have to do to achieve success. Worst case maybe your boss (see above) will have you back – particularly if you part on good terms.
  • The three most important aspects of a game are playability, playability and playability. But graphics and high production values are a way to distinguish your product and get people in to discover just how good your game is. But this, of course, costs money and time. As does buying a place in the charts that gets you noticed, something else which might be a necessity.
  • Put yourself out there. I was particularly pleased to hear this one, as it chimes with what I’ve thought for years. You need to be able to do the “front of house” stuff. This is really bad news for software developers, who tend not to be the most extrovert folks, but it is a necessary skill. Get yourself in front of people. Practise doing stand-up, meeting and greeting and networking. If you don’t have these skills other people will not compensate for your lack of them. They’ll just find someone else more interesting to talk to. Ian Livingstone himself said that this is one lesson he took a long time to learn. The great thing about computer folks is that they are used to picking up new tools and APIs. Treat this as just another thing you have to learn and get good at.
  • Make a good story. The press is interested in you, but only if you are interesting to them. “I’ve made a fishing game” is not useful to them. But “I’ve made a fishing game that I wrote underwater whilst wrestling a Great White Shark on the Barrier Reef” is. Make sure that you have a good tale to tell. Use your followers (see above) to big you up and help you get noticed.
  • If you are working as a team, set some ground rules (another favourite of mine). Have a plan for what to do if your lead developer gets a “proper” job and stops writing your game engine. Have a protocol and a policy for re-negotiating your arrangements when these events happen.
  • You don’t need to be the best, or cleverest. Just there are the right time, in the right place, with the right thing. Try lots of things, in lots of places as frequently as you can. Don’t expect success to happen the first, second or perhaps even the third time. But as soon as you get a sniff of something that seems to be working, follow it, develop it and ride it, and you might be the next big thing.

All in all a fantastic day out. Thanks to Microsoft for setting it up.

Heartotron Wins Microsoft UK Global Game Jam Competition

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I always tell students to enter all the competitions they can because, you never know what might happen. You probably won’t win. But then again, if you don’t enter you definitely won’t win.

Simon, David, David, Lewis and myself formed a team to take part in the Global Game Jam earlier this year. The theme was heartbeats and, after a little discussion, we decided that a game which pits your heart against all kinds of incoming bad things might hit the spot. Our game was made even more interesting because we also managed to capture heartbeats and synchronise the gameplay to them, which was nice.

After the competition was over David and Simon kept working on the game, submitted it to Windows Store and then entered it in a Microsoft competition.

And we won. A Windows Phone, some cash, a T shirt, a nice pen and key ring each. And a chance to go down to Reading to visit Microsoft UK. Amazing.

I’m actually feeling kind of guilty at this point. After Simon and David took over I didn’t really contribute a great deal to the on-going project. But my background music is in there and they have still based the game on some of my suggestions. I think I was the one that said “We should colour the blood some shade of red….”

If you own a Windows 8 device you can get hold of our prize winning entry by searching the store for “Heartotron”. If you think you can do better, then enter next time….

Thanks so much to Microsoft to organising the competition and choosing our entry. Great stuff.

Catching Heartbeats with the Gadgeteer

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I reckon the Gadgeteer has more interfaces than just about any other embedded framework. Including neat things like this Pulse Oximeter from Seeed. They make the point on the product description that you should not use this as a medical instrument but, what with the theme of GlobalGameJam being heartbeats, and me having one to play with, the temptation to use it in our game was very hard to resist.

Using it is very easy indeed. You can bind to events that fire when connected (i.e. someone has put their finger into the sensor), disconnected (when someone has pulled their finger out, so to speak) and on a pulse detected event. You can also read the sensor object to find out pulse rate, blood oxygen levels and signal strength.

This is my code to bind methods to the sensor events:

pulseOximeter.ProbeAttached += 
   new PulseOximeter.ProbeAttachedHandler(pulseOximeter_ProbeAttached);
pulseOximeter.ProbeDetached += 
   new PulseOximeter.ProbeDetachedHandler(pulseOximeter_ProbeDetached);
pulseOximeter.Heartbeat += 
    new PulseOximeter.HeartbeatHandler(pulseOximeter_Heartbeat);

The handlers then do all the work:

void pulseOximeter_Heartbeat(PulseOximeter sender, 
PulseOximeter.Reading reading) { sendMessage("P" + reading.PulseRate.ToString()); }

The sendMessage method takes a string and sends it on to the game via a serial port interface that is also connected to the Gadgeteer device. The sensor has proved to be quite sensitive and works rather well. It is quite unnerving to be playing a game and find that the gameplay matches your heartbeat.

GlobalGameJam Hull Results

Judging was a really frenzied effort. Two teams of judges, videos to take and show and final presentation right at the end of the day, with the coach for the Grimsby crew waiting outside with the engine running…

I went round with one of the judging teams and took some of the videos, Simon did the rest. If you want to find them and take a look at the wonderful stuff that was built you can search YouTube here. At the time of writing some of the videos were still being uploaded, but they should all be online soon.

After the judging, we had prizes. I took pictures of most of the prize winners, but for some reason I didn’t get pictures of everyone, sorry about that.

First up we had the special awards. These are teams who have excelled in specific competition categories.

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“Heart Attack Team” with their Social Media awardDSCF0555.jpg

“3 Old Robots and an Englishman” with their Diversifier award

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“50 Shades of Simon Grey” with their Art award

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“Blimbu” with their Project Management award

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Lifeline team with their Collaboration Award

Now it was time for the top three teams.

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“Across the Border” came third with a lovely heart powered jetpack game. Well done guys

In second place we had the “Heart Attack” team with a single finger controlled sideways scroller that has the player boosting their heart and avoiding circular saws. Sorry guys, I didn’t get a picture of you all.  But you are in the one above for your social media integration…

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The winners were “50 Shades of Simon Grey”, who designed, built and then textured an entire haunted mansion for their terrifying game where a ghostly presence stalks multiple players as they search the rooms to try and exorcise the evil that lurks there. The game uses 3D sound to play the hearbeat of the avenging ghost as he comes up behind you for the kill. Great,and very atmospheric, stuff.

Then it was time to pack up and head out. Thanks to Simon and Tom for making it work, Hull College for letting us have the use of their amazing Hull Studio School venue and all the folks who turned up. A great time was had by all, and we will definitely do all this again. HullGlobalGameJam will be back. Once we’ve had a lie down….

Heart Attack Lives

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This shows a tense moment in the game, you can’t see the amazing shader ripple effect, but when the game is running it looks amazing. I’ll see if we can put a video up somewhere.

We got the game working. Thanks to Lewis for some stonking artwork and everyone else for the bits that they did. Which were many. It was really great to forget everything else for a while and concentrate on just one program. This is the first time I’ve actually done the development thing in one of our competitions. It definitely won’t be the last.

Saturday GameJam

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When David drove us home last night we noticed that the snow was beginning to pile up. This morning there was a lot of it about. We managed to get into the GameJam around 8:00 am anyway, to greet Simon who had been up all night making the game. And we had a game, with the not too original name of “Heart Attack”. Bad things move menacingly towards a beating heart, which fires antibodies to dispatch them. Things are made even more interesting by the way that the baddies are only visible as the “pulse wave” of the players heartbeat passes by them. Simon assured us he could write a really funky shader that would show the effect.

So we sent him home to bed and we set to work. The first thing to do was to get the heartbeat values out of the Gadgeteer device and into the game. Turns out that’s what USB serial ports are for and so after putting together a tiny serial protocol we had that working. Then it as just a matter of the two Davids and me creating assets and building gameplay and sound. Which was great fun. I did find time to take some pictures too.

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Where we are working

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Having our pictures taken…

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Oooh. Old school.

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Inflatable bed, 10 quid from Tesco. Guess who’s using it….

You can find more shots here.

Global GameJam Hull Gets Going

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Waiting for the theme…..

When we started off with Global GameJam Hull we were very worried that nobody would turn up. Every meeting ended with an anxious discussion focused on “Bums on Seats”. As you can see above, we ended up with plenty of folks, which was great. The competition started with a couple of excellent videos setting the scene (and reminding everyone about the power of deodorant) and then we got the theme. No pictures, no words. Just the sound of a human heartbeat. Genius.

Then it was off to form teams and get cracking. I ended up in a team with two David’s and a Simon. We named ourselves “The Simon Grey Glee Club” and started casting around for ideas. During the discussion I mentioned that I happened to have a Gadgeteer Heart Rate Interface, although I’d lent it to James to do some Imagine Cup stuff. Could we make a game which made use of the heart rate of the player?  The answer was yes, so I was instantly on the phone to James who was kind enough to swing by and drop off the hardware and his sample code.

By the end of the evening I’d got the interface working and verified that we could get heart beats and pulse rates from it. Tomorrow I’ll make an interface to get those values into the game. I’m not working overnight on this, but I will be there really early in the morning.

MonoGame at the Global Game Jam Briefing

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Another day, another room full of smiling faces. Or something.

You can excuse the audience for looking a bit shell shocked. They had just sat through a whole bunch of game development stuff. I started proceedings, with a fifteen minute section that I retrospectively titled “Watching Rob fail to get his tablet to work in lots of different ways”. After I got a picture on the screen and a keyboard and mouse that worked (something that turned out to be surprisingly difficult and worthy of a blog post all to itself) I did some stuff about how easy it is to get MonoGamae working Windows 8. You can find my slides and sample code here.

Then it was the turn of Simon to talk about good practice for game development and creating sprite sheets. Before this talk we had engaged in a game of “PowerPoint Chicken”. The game is very simple, the one who is the latest to have their slides ready for a presentation wins. I thought I was in with a good chance of winning, what with having my slides ready less than five minutes before the talk. Of course this left me no time to test my tablet, hence the pain at the start, Simon beat me easily, I think he was writing his deck while I was speaking. Which is probably cheating. Anyhoo, it all passed off well enough, with plenty of failing demos to keep the audience amused.

A word from the wise here, PowerPoint chicken is a dangerous game.

Finally Louis, one of our students, turned up and gave the best presentation of the day all about Unity. I’m really going to spend some quality time with this framework, it looks excellent. I’ll put slides and sample code from the other presentations later on.

Now it is full steam ahead for Global Game Jam Hull. We have over 100 folks registered, a bus full of folks coming over from Grimsby, a load of our students. And some games to make.

Cheese Lander is Coming To Windows 8

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I spent some time today (lunchtime actually) playing with the latest version of MonoGame 3.0. This is the awesome framework that lets you take XNA games and run them on a growing number of platforms. I was interested in seeing if I could get a game to run on my Microsoft Surface. And I did. Behold, above you can see the venerable Cheese Lander actually running on my machine. Works a treat, and you can remote debug over WiFi. I’ll be talking more about this in my Rather Useful Seminar tomorrow.

Rather Useful Gamejam Briefing

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As a way of preparing you for Global Gamejam Hull (you have signed up haven’t you) we’ve got an extra special Rather Useful Game Development Briefing next week.

  • Louis Deane will be talking about Unity development.
  • Simon Grey will be talking about making 3D spritesheets with dynamic lighting effects by using shaders
  • Rob Miles will be talking.

(actually I’ll be talking about creating XNA games for Windows 8 using the Monogame framework)

The briefing session will be on the afternoon of Thursday 24th of January from 1:30pm to 3:30 in Lecture Theatre D, the home of the “Rather Useful” brand. You don’t have to sign up for GlobalGameJam in order to come along, but those who have signed up will be allowed to sit at the front.

Hull Global Game Jam Lives

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If you liked Three Thing Game, you’ll love Global Game Jam. It is the same, only the fun goes on much longer. Twice as long. It also lets you meet up with gaming experts and specialists in media and content creation, as well as programmer types.

For Hull students it is pretty much perfectly timed, at the end of the inter-semester week, far away from any coursework deadlines. You must, must, must take part.

Find out more and sign up at the web site: http://globalgamejamhull.com/

Global GameJam Hull Venue

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Great things are destined to happen here….

Today we took a look at the site for the our Hull Global Gamejam event. We are holding it at the Hull Studio School right in the centre of Hull. If you are serious about game development, or just fancy having a “Weekend of Fun”™ then keep the weekend of the 26th and 27th of January free next year.

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The venue has this entrance foyer with really funky chairs.

We will have a registration site and a whole bunch of details about the event coming up soon.

It is going to be such fun.