Play Markham Mingle
My workplace offers a social event each month called the Markham Mingle, hosted by a different department each time. Last month it was hosted by our hospitality department which includes educators about tourism, hoteliers, restaurateurs, and flight attendants. They had incredible, intricately presented food and a beautiful faux-restaurant environment.
I work for IT and volunteered to help with the invitation, and I wasn’t about to let another department one-up us! I made a cutesy PDF invitation poster as is the norm, but decided to try something unique and spent part of my long weekend creating a video game invitation in Twine.
As the event occurs on October 31 my challenge was to incorporate the themes of information technology as well as Halloween. It also had to be enjoyable, palatable, and playable by non-technical audiences. Twine was a good choice because the mechanics are no more difficult than clicking hyperlinks, and the structure is that of a choose-your-own-adventure game.
I ultimately made a light trivia game with a little story thrown in for colour. The story is told in second-person present tense (“you are”) which I thought was appropriate for the audience, and involves the player in a fantastical scenario where they attend the event with a humorous supernatural tone.
Unfortunately, the game was rejected for publication – despite my efforts it was deemed “too techy”, and the reviewing committee wasn’t open to the idea of a video game with only text and no graphics. It’s alright – this was an unlikely shot in the dark.
I’m posting the game here for posterity along with the Twine source code, and Twine compiles the game as a single HTML file so you can view the source to see how it’s put together. I stuck with the default “Sugarcane” format because it looked pretty Halloweeny out of the box, and because I was only willing to put so much effort into this unlikely venture.
Play Markham Mingle
Download the Twine source
play You Are What You Eat
This was my first, an so far only, “real” game. It’s a text adventure created with the web-based Quest engine.
I’d piddled around with Twine, another text adventure engine specifically for “game book” style games aka choose-your-own-adventure, several times prior and was ready for a new challenge. Although I’d played several text adventures from Infocom as a kid such as Planetfall and Wishbringer I was too young, with too limited vocabulary, to really get anywhere. I even bought an Incredible Hulk text adventure and never got any further than the very first scene with Bruce Banner tied to a chair.
The concept of text adventures fascinates me but I find them pretty well impenetrable. I wanted to make something with story and character and attitude but minimal frustration and vocabulary guessing. Due to my skill and programming savvy I succeeded only partially.
Before I get too far I need to give a shoutout to the fine folks at Bento Miso here in Toronto. I joined their monthly Club Get ‘Er Done which is a forum for game developers and artists to stand up and state your goals for the next month in front of an audience, and also report on your progress since last month. This helped me enormously and made me feel accountable to myself and to my peers, and it was comforting to know I HAD peers even on this solo project! After 3 meetings my game had been started and finished.
I’d hoped to finish the game in a month but it took closer to 2.5. I scaled back my ambitions a little bit and consolidated the game down to 3 scenes and 1 puzzle. Due to the limitations and immaturity of the web-based tools I had to use some ugly hackery to get some things to work (there’s a great Portuguese word for this – “gambiarra”). One nasty bug stumped me for over a month which was very discouraging but I rethought my puzzle and accomplished it a different way. What a brain-bending experience!
The programming was the hard part. I did most of the writing on lunch breaks as stream-of-consciousness braindumps. That was a major benefit of using the Quest web client, by the way – being able to resume work from anywhere! I’m mostly happy with the writing though in retrospect it’s kinda long-winded.
When I was finished I took advantage of Bento Miso again to show off my game. I went to one of their biweekly Games With Friends social nights and passed my laptop around. A few people were gracious enough to play from start to finish and give me some feedback. Particularly fond memories are one guy blowing through the whole game in about 12 minutes, and another guy taking about an hour and occasionally looking up at me and repeating phrases he liked. I got some great constructive criticism and probably more praise than I deserved.
At the next Club Get ‘Er Done I was invited by the mediator and all-round impressive dude, Henry Faber, to present my game on a projector to the group. A text adventure is not exactly a multimedia extravaganza so I just read a few passages and invited people to shout out some commands. What surprised me was how difficult I found it to actually describe my game succinctly; I really stumbled over myself!
A handful of other people played my game and many got stuck in the same place. I made several adjustments to phrasing, giving hints about what to do, but my inability/unwillingness to edit source code meant some unhelpful error messages continue to mislead people a little bit. It’s tough to know where to draw the line – some people have no trouble finishing the game on their first try while others flounder a bit. Next time I’ll test early and often!
The last worth mentioning is that I considered writing a soundtrack for the game but ended up asking my good buddy Henry Smola to do it. I gave him a few passages and descriptive words about the scumbag jerkwad protagonist and he got right to work on a brooding downtempo song. The result, Iconoclasm, is just stunningly beautiful and fits the tone and themes like a glove. I embedded a Soundcloud player above my game and was all set.
I’d love your feedback on my game if you care to share any. My next major project will be a graphical adventure, probably, so I’m skilling up on Adventure Game Studio and similar engines in preparation. I’ll be writing an entire soundtrack myself for that one!
play You Are What You Eat
Ludum Dare’s judging period has come to an end and my 48-hour fortune telling game 40 in 10 did reasonably well! I’m pleased with the scores for my first game jam, at any rate.
I’m particularly proud of the scores reflecting what I spent the most time on. Out of over 2200 participants I was 95th in audio and 198th in humour. I somehow outscored 50% of entries in the graphics category with my text-only game, which is a little perplexing, but I’ll take it!
Here’s my 40 in 10 Ludum Dare 27 page.
play 40 in 10
I created this game for Ludum Dare 27, a global game jam with the theme “10 seconds”. Participants had 48 hours to create a game by themselves, from scratch, incorporating the theme in some way.
My game is a silly fortune teller toy that predicts your future, based on your answers, in both words and song. It was always my intent to create the music using Bosca Ceoil, which I did, but I had hoped to use something other than HTML for the game itself.
I started off using Microsoft PowerPoint but learned that the free online-hosted version doesn’t allow you to hyperlink to other slides in the same presentation. It was still a handy wireframing/prototyping tool, though. Then I tried Google Docs Presentations which let me embed videos but not audio, and I couldn’t set videos to play automatically on slide load, so nuts to that. In the end I had to resort to HTML which I created from scratch using Notepad++, and I used the HTML5 “audio” tag to play the song on page load.
The game design didn’t turn out the way I’d originally planned, either. It was never intended to be much more than an excuse to compose music with Bosca Ceoil, but I had hoped to involve the player more deeply in composition – or rather, arrangement. My first idea was to prompt the player to choose a mood or tone from a list which would provide the first 3 seconds of a song (remember, the Ludum Dare 27 theme is “10 seconds”). Then it would ask a follow-up question based on the mood which would determine the genre of music as well as the next 3 seconds. Finally, it would ask a question that would determine the resolution to the “story” and would produce the final 4 seconds.
At first the game was to be played in real time, with a fail state or default choice if you don’t make a choice within 3 seconds, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t reasonable to have someone choose between 4 items in that timespan. Also, my technical abilities were lacking to make it a reality. So I scaled back. And back. 48 hours isn’t enough time for lofty ambition.
In the end the soundtrack was far more successful than the game. Writing 16 ten-second songs in one day was exhausting and wonderful. I taught myself some CSS (cascading style sheets) and HTML5 (for the audio player) and wrote all the HTML from scratch with Notepad++. I toyed with the idea of creating pretty screens for each choice in PowerPoint or InDesign but time was too restrictive so I chose a typeface from Google Fonts and made a call to their web API. This kept the file size down and made it more compatible on different screen sizes so the standards-compliance was an added bonus; it even works on my Android phone, music streaming and all! (interestingly, the Android browser doesn’t automatically play songs on page load, presumably to save bandwidth)
I quadruple-checked the game was complete and submitted the entry to Ludum Dare. 30 seconds later I was awash with exhaustion and satisfaction. I was literally dizzy. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so dedicated to a voluntary project. The game is ridiculous and simple and probably not even a game but I’m really proud of it and of myself.
Participating in Ludum Dare was life-changing. My wife made a game (and soundtrack!) as well, 10 Second Bureaucrat, which continues to receive very positive reviews. Working side-by-side with my wife was wonderful. We plan to participate in every Ludum Dare we can.
play 40 in 10
rate and comment on the game at the 40 in 10 Ludum Dare 27 page
download the soundtrack
download the source
I composed another soundtrack with Bosca Ceoil for a random Ludum Dare 27 participant. This time it was for the Minesweeper-esque strategy game Speedrun by Kate Kligman. It’s got a compelling core mechanic, it leverages the competition’s “10 seconds” theme, and the simple art is charming and communicative. It stood out as a particularly strong entry in the compo and I was compelled to share my enthusiasm!
This soundtrack was darker than my Catch A Train soundtrack. The tone of the game is darker and more weighty so I made the tone a little more dire, but couldn’t resist a little playful jab in the victory song. Let me know what you think, and be sure to leave a comment on Kate’s submission page to congratulate her on her hard work!
download my Speedrun soundtrack (ogg, wav, and .ceol source)
I wrote a song this weekend – Willful. It’s about imposing yourself on the world to make a lasting impact.
I wrote the song with the new Bosca Ceoil version 1.1. Being able to zoom the arrangement screen out, in combination with double-length patterns, enabled me to write a song of decent length (~6:20). Here’s the song source.
And here’s the MP3.
I’ve really been enjoying composing with Bosca Ceoil. I made a couple of unsolicited soundtracks for Ludum Dare 27 games (the theme was “10 seconds”) starting with Catch A Train. The talented and creative programmer Mr.Greenhat worked my songs into a post-competition version of the game and was kind enough to give me credit.
The Gameboy-style graphics and palette suggested a 1983 arcade-style soundtrack so that’s the direction I went with.
Give it a try! What do you think of the game? Does the soundtrack fit the theme?
play Catch A Train
download my Catch A Train soundtrack (ogg, wav, and .ceol source)