Latest News

I teached! - January 27th, 2011

EDIT: You can now find Mac versions of the games here!

Earlier this year, Chicago’s Columbia College created an ambitious new course for their game design students. The students were to design and create an entire game in just eight days of class, five hours a day. They called it the Indie Game Sprint. And they put me in charge.

Photobucket
Poster by the awesome Angad Mathur, who makes school look cool. Or like…Tron.

Thanks to a lot of hard work and Unity’s excellent documentation, my students have made you four brand new games (they work best when played at a high resolution). Here they are:

Sassy Robots in Space!!!
by Team SwordVan: Brian Cielesz, Noah Johnson, & Tucker Williams

Photobucket
No one is surprised that my students made a game about sassy robots.

Navigate a series of 3D platforms by moving the colored orbs and solving puzzles.

Folding Dragon
by Team Flightless Penguins: Michelle Flamm, Phillip Hogan, & Kevin Mackey

Photobucket
This is just begging to be a touchscreen game.

Help the dragon find his magical orb by folding origami paper into a path. An excellent (and difficult!) little puzzler.

Gravity Game: A Game of Gravitational Pursuit
by Team Denim Jacketz: Gewargis Envia, Blair Kuhlman, & Morgan O’Brien

Photobucket
Smashing fun!

Alter the direction of gravity to break stuff and earn points. Although the scoring system is a little broken. Oops.

10:15 to Clerkenwell
by Team Scorpion Jazzhands: Josef Locastro, Elise Motzny, & Philip Scholp

Photobucket
It’s “Robot Unicorn Attack” meets your childhood imagination.

Trace your finger through the empty spaces on a window to collect pearls and avoid obstacles.

If you happen to play these, please don’t hesitate to leave feedback. If all goes well I’ll teach another section of this course someday, and I’d be happy to pass along any information to the kids. Some of whom are older than me.

Order Matters - October 21st, 2010

To my fellow PC Gamers, I have some most excellent news! Puzzle Bots will go up on Steam this Friday, DRM-free, for $4.99 / £3.49 / €4.49.

So this is unrelated, but remember that Psychonauts Christmas ornament I made 3 years ago? I just found out that it still goes up on the Double Fine Christmas tree every year. From Mr. Tim Schafer himself.

That’s like two life goals down in one week.

The PAX Robota - July 29th, 2010

Releasing a game is pretty exhausting, especially one that you’ve put a lot of yourself into. So I made the unusual decision (for me, anyway) to take some time off from creating things. I’ve had time to reflect on the game, be thankful for the many glowing reviews, and write a mini postmortem for the IGDA newsletter.

And now, I’m ready to start looking ahead again. As it turns out, I’ve got lots to look forward to in the coming weeks. :}

Photobucket

First, there was the glorious news that Puzzle Bots was selected for the PAX 10, out of more than 100 entrants. I honestly thought we were a long shot, but I hoped the punchline-based dialog would click with the Penny Arcade judges. Whatever happened, we now get our own booth at the amazing PAX conference, and I get to go to Seattle for the first time. Man…I’m so glad I took that chance with Dave’s entrance fee. ;)

Photobucket

Secondly, with the help of Scott Roberts of DePaul University, we’ve started poking at the embers of the Chicago indie games scene. So far we’ve had two meetings of “Indie City Games” (I knew we’d find a great pun, I just knew). Next month we’re hosting our first game jam, and I see good and pixelated things in the future.

Photobucket

Third up, there’s the 3G Summit, where I was invited to be one of 5 panelists (the others are industry notables Mary Flanagan, Tracy Fullerton, Jennifer Jenson, and Susana Ruiz). The premise won me over: I get to spend a day working with 10 high school girls to design a video game. The other panelists all do the same, which means 50 girls get to participate. The winning design of the 5 gets made into a real game by a group of Columbia College students (it’s their final project).

As far as I’m concerned, it’s high-stakes game design boot camp, which sounds like entirely too much fun. Plus, I’ll have the chance to tell these young women personally that if they want to pursue a career in games, they “totes” can.

And maybe if they’re lucky I’ll tell them some long, rambling stories about my marching band days.

This Just Got Real - March 11th, 2010

Given the state of my nerves at the moment, I’d say that the big day has finally arrived. But for the uninitiated:

THE IGF AWARDS ARE STREAMING LIVE TONIGHT(!)

I think that anyone with an interest or a stake in the future of independent games should watch the awards. Also, anyone dissatisfied with the selection of games at retail stores. Or anyone who suspects that video games have an insane amount of potential as a medium, if only someone could figure out how to tap into that. This awards show is for you.

For my part, I’ll be the one on stage handing out awards to people far more talented than me. I’m co-hosting the awards with Kyle Gabler, who designed World of Goo. I haven’t made my World of Goo yet. But together, we did write a bunch of lame jokes that we hope somebody laughs at.

See you all tonight!

Photobucket

Fantasy vs. Reality - February 28th, 2010

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be an indie game dev, boy do I have some slides for you!

These are from my presentation at Indiecade about the fantasy vs. reality of indie game development. They were for a Pecha Kucha-style talk, where each slide was shown for a few seconds before advancing automatically. Most of the other presenters talked about their games, but I misread the instructions and made a presentation about myself. Hope you like it!

The full beard of unhappiness

And yes, these are all true stories.

Bye Mom, I'm going to Book Camp - June 8th, 2009

Last Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of giving a talk at Book Camp Toronto, an “un-conference” that was organized by Hugh McGuire. The main purpose was to discuss the present and future of books, and I offered to speak about my great love: using video games to tell a story.

My session was called “At the intersection of video game and narrative.” Knowing little about my audience except that they loved books, I opened with, “I know you may have been told that video games will rot your brain, but…”

I went on to talk about how games occupy a sort of cultural backwater, perhaps due to the stereotypes about the people who play them. I noted that games are often ignored wholesale by newspapers that offer sections on books, theatre, film, and music. And then I repeated the often-quoted statistic that games are now a bigger industry than Hollywood.

I talked about the wide variety of ways that people have attempted to tell stories using games, giving examples from interactive fiction, early adventure games, independent games (okay, just Braid), and first-person shooters. I explained how the tape recorders in Bioshock provided the player with a story that was rich, but optional. I ended by saying that it’s still a struggle to combine gameplay and narrative, and that we’re still a relatively young industry trying to figure things out.

And then, as per the un-conference format, I opened up the floor for 40 minutes of discussion. I was petrified. I looked out at the audience, about 50 strong, and noted the variety of ages and the 50-50 gender split. Did these people even play games? Had they wandered into my talk accidentally?

Nervously, I posed the question, “Have any of you even experienced an unexpectedly emotional response when playing a game?” After a few moments of silence, one man raised his hand. He talked about role-playing games (listing D&D as an example) and how the story and characters were really what made the game fun. A few others nodded. People began chiming in with examples of other beloved games. I started to relax. Nerdiness has this way of transcending genres.

One woman, who I believe was an author, talked about how she became completely absorbed with The Sims when it came out. Another woman who appeared to be my mother’s age told me how much fun she was having with this game called Portal. Some people hadn’t heard of it, so she explained how the game itself was fun, but there was also this sense of mystery that made you want to finish the game.

Next, a father of three told me that I was way ahead of the curve with my thinking (and I tried not to beam too much). He meant that it would be a huge breakthrough when the story could match the enjoyment of the game. He said, “My boys, when they play the DS, they just click through all the story stuff and head right for the game.”

Next, a UI designer who introduced himself only as “Rock” told me how his initial love of GTA4 had faded. He said that lately, he could only play half an hour at a time. When I asked him why, he said, “The game forces you to play as this character who is not always a good person. That’s not the kind of character I want to play, and I feel this sort of emotional conflict over it.”

Some of the audience wanted to know if there was a game that let you choose your “moral” path, and I had the joy of explaining the open world of Fallout 3 to them. A book editor from Toronto backed me up on that one, and let on just how many hours one could sink into that game.

Perhaps the most interesting account came from the representative of a major book publisher. He explained how the Little Sisters in Bioshock presented him with such an emotional conflict that he suddenly realized, “These games are our competition!” The audience seemed intrigued, so I explained that the Little Sisters were creatures could be harvested for a valuable resource, or rescued for a smaller amount of that resource. The moral catch was that they looked like real little girls, and maltreated ones at that.

Someone asked him, “Did it hit close to home for you?”

He replied, “Yeah, I have a two-and-a-half year-old daughter.”

I said, “The game does reward you if you do the ‘right’ thing. You get a really sweet ending. I actually cried a little bit.”

After a moment of pause, he said, “I won’t say what I did.”

There were a few more laughs after that, and I couldn’t help feeling like I’d stumbled upon something bigger. Nearly everyone in the audience was considered outside of the target demographic of the games industry, and yet the discussion kept up at a fast clip until we ran out of time.

On a closing note, I said, “I’m not sure what it all means yet, but I feel like it has something to do with games being an experiential medium, not just an interactive one. Friends will tell me, ‘I still remember the first time I beat that boss!’ and not, ‘I played a game where I beat that boss.’ And there are a lot of experiences that haven’t even been tried yet.”

And then, as everyone filed out for lunch and I was able to take a breath, I started feeling genuinely recharged and excited about all the potential in this medium. For the rest of the day, I felt extremely lucky whenever a fellow gamer came by to introduce themselves and ask about my game.

SEXY TIME - April 24th, 2009

Hello.

In this frighteningly public video of the GDC Game Design Challenge, you may learn way too much about me. But then again, that’s why you’re here, right?

P.S. For the rest of the week, I had to deal with Steve Swink saying, “So, I hear you like ultimate frisbee…”

P.P.S. Heather and I wrote the talk at Jon Blow’s place, over tequila and chocolate, while he was trying to debug PC Braid. So, like, if the game breaks, it’s okay if you blame us.

Robots! - April 23rd, 2009

Say hello to my little friends.

Internet, I’d like you to meet H.E.R.0, Kelvin, and Ultrabot. They are three of the six tiny robots appearing in my upcoming adventure game “Puzzle Bots.” The rest, I’ll save for a later teaser. :)

Photobucket

Like in Nanobots, you will be able to switch between the robots to make use of their special abilities.

Unlike in Nanobots, one of them has a flamethrower.