The Demo

Here’s a CSS3 demo of the Donut Get! background.

Use your mouse to adjust the perspective of the scene.

I’ve been messing around with CSS3’s 3D Transform ability recently. I was looking for a way to achieve some primitive 3D visuals strictly with HTML. I wanted something that would also run on phones and tablets.
Continue Reading…

Last month, I found out last-minute about an IGDA Los Angeles meeting. The guest speaker was Mark Cerny. No way I was gonna miss out on that! I’ve been super inspired by the stuff I’ve read about him, like working on some of my dream projects (I wanted to work on Sonic 2 when I was 8 years old 🙂 ). I left work on time and ended up getting lost on the UCLA campus, but I managed to catch the tail end of the presentation.

My coworker was smarter than me and actually saw the whole talk. His synopsis described what I missed — like Mark talking about the arcade business back in the 80’s. Arcade programming was tough because each game ran on new hardware so programmers never got the opportunity to master the hardware. With consoles, the benefit was that they had a lot of time to learn all of the inner working, tricks, reusing engines, and whatnot. Something like that, ha.

When I jumped in, he was getting to some points. Game budgets are commonly exceeding $20 million. He made fun of no game development team being complete without a “combat designer”. The leap from vertices to pixels has taken its toll on the industry during this generation. But there is hope.

There’s hope in taking the time to actually learn the craft. There’s hope in learning what is and isn’t important. There’s hope in breaking out of budget climbing.


Mark stressed importance of UN-learning. Learning is easy, unlearning is hard. He focused this unlearning around many of the conventions of games inherited from the Arcade Era.

Arcade based games have frequent death and great difficulty at the end. He then did a quick overview of 30 years of arcade style games.

  • Dragon’s Lair had simple gameplay but required players to memorize each sequence to complete the game.
  • Space Ace was designed to be hard as hell for people that mastered Dragon’s Lair.
  • Robotron was mentioned because difficulty was the appeal of the game.
  • Mario 3 was a great example of an arcade game because even though it was a console game, it worked great as Play Choice arcade release.

After that, he talked a little about the Crash Bandicoot games he worked on. The first Crash Bandicoot was hard as shit. In it, you had limited number of lives and although you could restart from the same level, you had to progress to and complete a bonus stage just to save your game. With Crash 2 they had more consumer awareness, they tested it more for difficulty. The players performance in the game is tracked and the game helps when possible.

Dynamic Difficulty

He then talked a bit about dynamic difficulty in games, sometimes you notice and sometimes you don’t. The first example was Sly Cooper, in which the Sucker Punch “solved” jump problems. The solution was that if you missed a jump a certain amount of times as cartoon hook would grab you and put you where you need to go. Maybe not the ideal solution, but it fit the vibe of the game’s world.

Next he mentioned Ratchet & Clank, where reviewers had a problem because the difficulty adjustment was too obvious. When you die too much in Ratchet & Clank, boxes that would normally drop money start dropping health. Last he mentioned Uncharted but just that many people didn’t realize that Uncharted had dynamic difficulty systems, he didn’t go into anything specific.

End of Death

We are fighting our arcade heritage. If you aren’t dying, you aren’t playing. Is Farmville a game? Even though you can’t die?

I think this was an important point. Many games I love for the challenge, like a Mario game for instance, but many other games I enjoy more for the experience, like NiGHTS.  Mark asked the crowd to raise their hands if they thought Farmville was a game. There were some vocal Farmville haters expressing that they didn’t think these kinda games were games at all. Is it because you can’t die? No clear challenge or goal?

I don’t think they are good games, but it’s kinda hard to deny that they share much of the same basis of the games we all love.

Can a game be enjoyable without rewards and punishment? I’ve been playing Earthbound recently, and I’m into it solely for the story and scenario. I feel like I could skip out on much of the “game” of it and have a great time. I’m willing to experiment with these ideas.

Today’s Vocabulary

At the end, Mark talked about today’s gaming vocab, we have “co-op”, “social game”, “3rd-person-shooter”, “deathmatch”, etc. But we need new words for new social paradigms. His example of this was Demon’s Souls. It’s a single player action RPG… but it has many forms of social interactions. But not necessarily directly. For instance, you can leave messages for other players and your spirit shows up in other players games. So what do you call that?


I believe during Q&A he states that he thought 80-90% of games could work with socialization and monetization. I agree with this, and this seemed to be his point of “un-learning”. Developers need to stop thinking of “social-games” as leaderboards and Farmville.

When asked something about independent development without a publisher he said that it’s possible to scrape together enough cash to make a console game but even if you manage to do that, you’d need a publisher for marketing. With a console game having about $10 million marketing. On the subject of the iPhone market he said something like “There’s someone successful out there. Odds are that’s not you.”

That’s it!

One of the most interesting things he said was pointing out that gaming has sort of come full circle. People are scared and violent towards the trends of monetization of social gaming. But it’s the same concept that the industry was founded on — arcade machines eating players quarters to cover development costs.

I think it’s best to embrace it if you can, think about it differently and find a way to make it work for you.

Some Links:

Donut Get: Car Segment
Artwork from the Car Segment of the game.

Work continues to progress on the Donut game. I’ve spent a great deal of the summer focusing on the Car Segment, which serves as an interactive intro. During this segment of the game, you play as the officer driving to the scene of the Great Donut Fire. You must drive through traffic, hopefully avoiding collisions with cars and civilians. The outcome of this section will be dependent on how you handle it — reckless driving will result in a ‘negative’ outcome where you don’t get to where you’re driving to.

Donut Get Fight Fight!With the Car Segment mostly wrapped up, I’ve moved on to focusing on the Fight Segment of the game, which acts as a mini-challenge within the game. David’s animating the characters for this part, the gameplay will be similar to Punch-Out!. I’m working on getting a skeleton of the game engine in place so that he can test his animation without requiring me to drop additional code in. Since this sections gameplay is so tied to the actual animation and timing, it’s important that he’s able to quickly iterate and test while animating.

The game is starting to emerge from the rubble and smoke. With every pass at detail and polish, it becomes clearer to see what the end result will be. While I chose to have the game mechanics relatively simple, I wanted to use them to play out a scenario and communicate ideas and themes from the world. This communication plays a larger role than it did in Thugjacker, where it was a bit more subtle, and is more integrated into the world than LUV Tank where it was much more blatant and abstract.

Most of the game artwork is done and in place at this point, but there’s a lot of animation that needs to be done. I’m doing planning for the game endings now, which will play a large role in the game. The way the game plays out will determine your ending — Way of the Samurai serves as my inspiration for this aspect. I’ve been thumbnailing these endings, working them out on paper while I develop the game.

Until next time…



IGDA Los Angeles

The title of the talk was ‘Writing Games: Tall Tales of Triumph and Terror’ and it was held last Thursday at the Writers’ Guild of America, West headquarters in Los Angeles. It went alright, with some discussion of what it’s like to be a game writer, the new and growing position of game writers within the WGA (which allows game writers to join according to lower standards than film or television writers), and lots of nods to Uncharted 2 and Half-Life.

Everything pretty much went as I expected, but I found it very unfortunate that we did not see a discussion of the art or craft of game writing. We only really heard about the differences in work environment and technicalities. For example, it was generally agreed that game development involves far less clearly defined roles than filmmaking, so a writer can expect to play some role in game design and should expect the game designer to play a role in writing. A script writer should also expect his usual 125 page script to shoot up to around 800 pages for a game, since games are longer and a player may only experience a fraction of a game’s writing in a single play through. We did not, however, hear about anyone’s ideas on game writing, how a game is structured, approach, how they use the game to convey meaning or feelings. At one point it was mentioned that while in film it is said that a writer should ‘show’ and not ‘tell,’ in games a writer should ‘do’ and not ‘tell,’ but that was the extent of artistic discussion.

I stood up for the Q and A at the end and asked about the difference between games with mute protagonists and those with talkative protagonists, citing Half-Life and Uncharted and asking how each writer felt about the different approaches to game writing. This, I thought, was a question they could bite into. Surely one of these guys struggled at one time or another with the contradiction of a game’s protagonist being both a unique character and being played by the player, or at the very least, thought it was interesting, thought something could be done with that. Right? One of the writers reiterated that Uncharted 2 and Half-Life were both great games and simply said sometimes you go the one direction with a mute, and other times you go with the yapper. Nobody else had anything to say. So that was my shot. Oh well.

Anyway, I had a good time, especially talking to some of the writers over cokes. I even met a flash developer by the name of Tamar Curry. Seemed like a cool dude.

This is my second IGDA meeting and I recommend checking them out, especially if you want to meet some local LA game developers. Students and indie devs show up in addition to folks from some of the larger companies, so it’s a good bunch.

-Christopher J. Rock

It’s not apparent from reading this blog, but we’re actively in production of this Donut Game that I first mentioned here over 2 years ago. But you know what they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun!

For a preview I’m just showing some line art from the game. Currently, this art is already painted and imported into the game. The background is my handywork and Ricky did the characters. Continue Reading…

A few months ago the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood hosted a Making of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune talk, titled An Evening with Naughty Dog. The guest speaker was Richard Lemarchand, the lead designer for Uncharted. An excellent speaker, he opened by shining some light onto the environment of Naughty Dog. I wasn’t just there for the free booze and pizza — I also took some notes.

  • Produced by Artisans. Everyone on staff at Naughty Dog actually has a role in making the game. No-one only does management. NO PRODUCERS (sounds like heaven to me). The people with responsibility are creatives that are making the game.
  • Disciplined leads should know how long tasks should take to be completed because they do the same work themselves.
  • Give people responsibility. Trust the members of the team to have good judgment and make the right decisions.
  • Face-to-Face communication. Less disruptive than e-mail. Builds teamwork/camaraderie.
  • Short meetings. Keep them brief to get the message across and to stay productive.
  • Cross-functional team.
  • Allocate work to those who are passionate about it. That’s where the magic comes from.
  • Do-acracy — individuals choose tasks for themselves.
  • Never get personal w/criticism. Don’t get bent out of shape.
  • Micromanagement is usually the enemy of excellence.
  • Waterfall development process from software development doesn’t necessarily apply to game development.
  • Games are like painting. Before painting you make sketches, research, rough in charcoal, etc. before even touching a brush. Continue Reading…