Giv’er on the River

Last week, i was invited by New Brunswick Community College in Miramichi to speak at their Jalloo animation and gaming festival. i was a last-minute replacement, which was expected … i’ve only ever been asked to speak at one other event, as a late-breaking replacement on a panel at a local Toronto conference. i’m the guy you get when the guy no one’s ever heard of can’t make it.

Ryan Henson Creighton and Andy Moore at Jalloo

Andy Moore of Fantastic Contraption and i deliver a panel on the State of the Flash Game Industry. Photo by Brian McGee.

Because i’d really like to do more speaking, i jumped at the opportunity to share my accumulated nuggets of wisdom with the attendees. i actually agreed to come out before even looking for Miramichi on the map: it was quite far from the bustling metropolis of Moncton. i clicked “What’s nearby?” and Google Maps said “you’re kidding, right?”

Moncton to Miramichi

Ugh … seriously?

The conference attendees were mostly students. The title of my talk was “I Know Kung Fu: 10 Years of Gaming in 45 Minutes”. The presentation had three sections: Tips for Students, Tips on Game Design, and Tips for Bidness. The bidness section was the weakest – i’m still figuring that stuff out myself.

The Tips for Students started out irrelevantly … since NBCC’s game dev program has been hammered out over 13 years, it doesn’t have many of the problems that the nascent Ontario programs seem to have. i found myself wondering why the Ontario colleges didn’t just visit Miramichi and do a straight lift of their entire program. Isn’t that preferable to letting batch after batch of students flounder through your half-baked program while you figure it out?

Here are a few of the game design tips i shared:

  1. Mouse control trumps keyboard control for casual web games (source: Chris Hughes from Flash Game License)
  2. Click and carry beats click and drag, especially for young players (click and carry is where you click once, and the thing sticks to your mouse until you click again to release it)
  3. Control = fun.
  4. Game jams perfectly simulate the Internatz. Big room full of games to try … if you don’t hook people in the first five seconds, they flit off to the next station. Just like on the weeb.
  5. Inconsistent escalation increases player. Instead of making your game get progressively more impossible, every few levels you should ease up on the difficulty. This encourages the player to keep trying; if he blows a gasket beating level 5, he may think “to Hell with level 6”. But if you throw in easy levels to give the playe a break every once in a while, he’s more likely to keep at it. Final Fight used this concept very early on with its car-smashing bonus level.

Final Fight car smash

Take that, CAR!

i’m Also On a Boat

The Jalloo folks organized a boat ride across the mighty Miramichi to a banquet hall where they fed their guests from enormous buckets of crab.

I'm on a boat

This is a picture of me watching I’m On a Boat while i’m on a boat.

River Jam

The conference ended with a 2-day game jam. You know me – i can’t resist a game jam. So with one hour to go before i had to leave for the airport, i coded up a very quick game structure and pulled out one of my game ideas from the backlog. The guys on the team took it and ran with it, and worked the next two days producing an absolutely demented little gem called Toes:

Toes

This was my fifth game jam, and it was the only one where i worked with other people – three talented graduating students, and their instructor, who actually invited me out to the conference to begin with. i met Martin Copp at the flawed Vortex Game Design Competition, which just goes to show that return on investment from certain events can really surprise you, even many months after the fact. So get out there and don’t stop networking! (tip #5 in the “Tips for Students” section of my presentation ;)

The plan is to take Toes further and polish it up, and then put it up for licensing closer to Hallowe’en. Answer the quick survey and let us know what you think! We’re looking for suggestions to take it from a quick, playable concept to something a little more … meaty.

11 thoughts on “Giv’er on the River

  1. Brian McGee

    Don’t feel too bad Ryan; if I had know you before Jalloo you’d have been on the A-List for invites.

    No one knows Miramichi has a collage and even fewer people know we have taught animation (classical style 2D), 3D, and game programming for over a dozen years. Anyone wanting to visit the college to see what we do well and what we don’t (we still juggle and experiment with new program ideas) is welcome to visit. You can contact me through the Jalloo website http://jalloo.net which has all the Game Jam entries and will soon have podcasts from the event.

    Reply
  2. Bill thinksmartgames

    If only there were some sort of meme you could invoke while watching “Boat” while riding in a boat. If only…

    That map looked pretty desolate. On the other hand, be glad you’re being asked to give talks, or even show up to an event. Some of us don’t get that chance, no matter how much we might like to, or how many interesting ideas we think we might have.

    Good thought about the level-ease, though I’m not sure you could count the car-smashing vignettes as “levels.” I think that’s one thing Oblivion did poorly; with the constant scaling of NPCs and random enemies, the game never gave players a chance to definitively say, “I’m a bad dude, now.” It sorta stretched and blurred into a grind, and the plot and dialouge were never enough to compensate.

    Leastways, for me.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Bill – i don’t want anyone to think for a second that i’m ungrateful for the opportunity! i was thrilled to be invited, and i’m sure Miramichi is a stepping stone to speaking at bigger venues, like Moosejaw or … dare i say it? Chatham.

      Anyway, you have to start somewhere. And the NB folks were so great – very positive, friendly people. Nice change of pace!

      Reply
  3. Bill thinksmartgames

    Ryan, I didn’t for a second believe you were ungrateful – I, too, enjoy couching good news in self-depreciation. I’ve never been one for promotion, especially self-promotion (even, for a current example, when I’m ostensibly making folding money to do just that); just needling ya a bit.

    Can you think of many other examples of games using the hard-easy-harder-easy formula? Doesn’t have to be perfect. I know our game utilizes some of those exact concepts… Actually, I think I’ll write a blog post about your idea, if you don’t mind me co-opting your terminology (with appropriate notation, of course!) for the writing. I’m not a programmer myself – more of the big idea and dialouge pen – so the theory is still a little foreign to me.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Bill – hahaha! Well done. Final Fight was probably a lousy example, i’ll admit. The tip wasn’t mine – i ganked it from a presenter at (i think?) GDC a couple of years ago, at the Casual Games Summit. i’ll keep my ears peeled at this year’s Casual Connect in Seattle to see if i can find someone to whom i can attribute it.

      Reply
  4. Bill thinksmartgames

    Casual Connect, eh? Right on. I’m from the PNW, so I’ll keep my eye out for that one.

    Thanks for taking a look. I dunno… if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. I was thinking of bringing up and dismissing games like PacMan and Donkey Kong because of the increased competition, today. At the same time, though – those games are doing well and making money for bars and bowling alleys across the country.

    Reply

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