Tag Archives: Game Ideas

Dear Lady Gamers: What Do You Want From Me?

i was about to begin this article by saying “all my life, i’ve tried to make sense of the opposite sex”, but it sounded too trite and cliche. The truth is, i think – i honestly do think – that i have a pretty good grasp of women. i grew up the only child of a single-parent mom, and have lived a pretty estrogen-infused existence. i know what it is to toll paint. i have stenciled. i’ve knitted. i’ve made a macrame owl. These are things i can not unlearn.

Macrame Owl

Or unsee.

A very interesting conversation very nearly broke out on Facebook today, when i made the wild claim that our upcoming game, Spellirium, is for the ladies, and that i think “chicks’ll dig it”. The game was designed from the ground up to be female-friendly, in ways i will enumerate shortly. But something was eating at me: recently, when i made that same claim to a colleague, he said “Women will enjoy it, eh? Why? Does it have any romance in it?”

The blood drained from my face a little. We’re still not too late in the game to pivot, but no, Spellirium does not actually have a romantic thread running through it, nor does it have a female lead. i wondered: would these two shortcomings doom it? Would women not be interested in my game because the lead character is a young white male who doesn’t romance it up at any point in the story?

Fabio

Help me, Fabio. You’re my only hope.

Chick Magnet

First, a brief primer. Spellirium is a graphic adventure game, which means that the gameplay and the writing go hand-in-hand. It’s set in the future, after a cataclysmic event has left civilization buried under a thousand feet of earth. It tells the story of a young apprentice tailor named Todd living a sheltered life in a society where reading and writing have been outlawed, on pain of death. But Todd and the other tailors have a secret: they’re actually Runekeepers, secret curators of an underground library filled with forbidden writing. A short time after the Runekeepers set off on a mission leaving Todd alone, one of them turns up dead. Brother Todd sets out on a quest to find out why.

Spellirium Runekeeper Cottages

Spellirium was originally designed to be a casual downloadable game, the kind of title that a portal like Big Fish Games might carry. When we were making a case for the game to our funders, we had to demonstrate that Spellirium would be a hit with a female audience, because Big Fish and their ilk cater primarily to older female customers.

Here are the pro-female elements we felt the game had going for it:

  1. It’s story-driven. If we compare games to porn, they say that women prefer story and character development, while men just enjoy visceral close-ups of gnashing genitalia. If Gears of War is analogous to visceral, visual man-porn, something like Spellirium is far more gentle and female-friendly, with a focus on why the pool boy is visiting on that particular day.

    Porn pizza boy

    Did somebody whose boss just fired her under suspicion of corporate espionage order a pizza?

  2. It’s a word game. i’ve actually been warned against admitting this – indeed, Big Fish Games and friends dumped all over Spellirium at Casual Connect two years ago because it’s a word game. Some of the portal reps called it “too cerebral”, and others cautioned that women don’t like to think when they play games – they just want to sit down and zone out (hence 50 different flavours of bubble-popping, jewel-matching and hidden object-finding on those sites).

    But i can’t deny it: Spellirium is all about making words, Scrabble/Boggle-style, to solve puzzles. And my intuition was vindicated when we brought a very early build of the game to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival two years ago; every guy who swung by the booth said “my girlfriend/wife/daughter would really enjoy that”, while every girlfriend/wife/daughter who passed by did a double-take and stopped to check it out. And that’s when it was purely a word game, with no sign of plot or character development in sight.

    Spellirium Alpha

    Women to letter tiles: like moths to a flame.

  3. It’s dark fantasy. Fact: women enjoy this genre. They like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Pan’s Labyrinth and City of Ember and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and His Dark Materials and the Spiderwick Chronicles and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and (perhaps unfortunately) Twilight. Women read those huge 10-book-long fantasy chronicles like Dragonriders of Pern. In particular, i think there’s something about dark fantasy that women prefer over straight-up elf-ridden high fantasy. Women are drawn in by stories that have an air of mystery, seduction, evil, or … for lack of a better word, purple.

Ravenhearst

Quoth the raven, “Enter your credit card number.”

But It’s a Straight-Up Sausage Party

The two main characters in Spellirium are male. One is a young man. The other is a big blue monster. The third member of the group is a woman – a hard woman they call The Hunter, who dresses in the pelts of the animals she kills and skins. She has a big red scar through her left eye, because i was self-conscious about making her too pretty. She’s self-sufficient and vindictive, and is motivated by revenge. She doesn’t take any crap from the main character. i wrote her this way because i wanted a strong female character who isn’t subdued by the boyish charms of the male lead, and who doesn’t succumb to his wily advances, and who will put a bullet up his nose if he tries to come any closer.

Spellirium: The Hunter

Three concept sketches of The Hunter. We went with the one on the left. The blunderbuss was non-negotiable.

Will women like her? i have no idea. Will they still enjoy the game, even though the two leads are male? No clue. Will they be less interested in Spellirium because there’s no love story? i really don’t know. That’s kind of why i’m writing this article. i want to hear from women who play games. Is any of this stuff important to you?

The only other significant female character is The Mystic, who is an old fortune-teller, which i do realize is the female equivalent of the Magic Negro. Part of the fun of Spellirium is that it breaks the fourth wall on a regular basis; any time i (the author) introduce a stock character, Todd and company are going to call me out on it in the game dialogue.

Indie dev Michael Todd introduced me to the Bechdel Test today while we were discussing this. In order to pass the test, your script has to have:

  1. at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.

As currently scripted, Spellirium fails the Bechdel test at point #2. Women: have i fallen out of your good graces, or is there still a chance that you’ll play this game and others like it?

Word.

Sign up for the Spellirium Newsletter. The newsletter contains new screenshots and juicy game gossip that you won’t find anywhere else. Tuesday is Ladies’ Night.

Untold Entertainment Goes Forth


Untold Entertainment Goes Forth

When Untold Entertainment Inc. turned three last year, we were reeling from the fallout of the global economic collapse. It’s been a slow, difficult recovery, and we still have a lot of work left to do, but i’m happy to say we’ve nosed out of the tailspin. This was a landmark year for Untold; we are poised to have an absolutely incredible fifth year going forward. If last year was our Empire, this year is our Jedi. Bring on the Ewoks, baby.

Ewok

Yub nub, motherf*cker.

Here’s a look at the Year That Was.

2010

August

Last fiscal ended on a dark note. We were struggling through Spellirium, our post-apocalyptic puzzle adventure game, as various production problems saw the budget sapped with very little to show for our efforts. The year ahead had us planning to complete service projects in the hope that we’d bank enough margin to continue working on the game.


Spellirium

September

My book was published! Unity 3D Game Development by Example: A Beginner’s Guide is a great introduction to game development, computer programming, and Unity 3D itself, which is a super-powerful game engine for creating on a wide variety of platforms. Thanks to you all for buying a copy, or for recommending the book to your friends.

Unity 3D Game Development By Example

Fall

We launched Jinx 3: Escape from Area Fitty-Two on YTV.com. Jinx 3 was the first game to use UGAGS, the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System. It supported multiple playable characters, an inventory system, a subtitle system, game variable control, and a “puppet” guidance system, which enables the developer to write commands to build in-game cutscenes. Jinx 3 was the first UGAGS game we developed, but the second one to launch, after Heads.

Jinx 3: Escape from Area Fitty-Two

i spoke about UGAGS at Gamercamp Level 2.0, a Toronto convention celebrating the joy of video games.

October saw the publication of a now-infamous article about the Vortex Game Development Competition, where the previous year’s winners were revealed to have never worked on the winning game.

i experimented with a feature called Linkbait Tuesdays, where i used the Linkbait Generator to spit out randomized titles for blog posts. It wasn’t much appreciated by my readership, and didn’t appreciably increase blog traffic, so i killed the feature.

On Hallowe’en, we launched our second free games portal called ZombieGameWorld.com. If you know the song about the old woman who swallowed the fly, you’ll understand our challenge with these portals. We built WordGameWorld.com in order to attract a word game-playing audience, so that we could control the site’s ad inventory and find an audience for Spellirium. When the site suffered from flagging traffic, i decided to build a network of game portals; ZombieGameWorld.com was ostensibly created to help drive traffic to WordGameWorld.com, which should drive traffic to Spellirium.

Old lady who swallowed a fly

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. i don’t know why she swallowed the fly. i guess she’ll die?

To round out the fall, i grew a beard to win hockey tickets, despite not enjoying hockey. i spoke at an interactiveontario luncheon. And i wrote an article for Mochiland.com on the disgraceful refusal by contracting companies to credit their Flash game developers.

Ryan Henson Creighton's epic moustache

Why wouldn’t you want your game to be associated with this guy?

Winter

As the cold weather set in, i took a position at a private college teaching Unity 3D game development. i had hoped for a better experience than i had at Hervé Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined, but no such luck: halfway through the course, which was dubbed Programming II (the students had supposedly been taught Flash/Actionscript for four months prior to my arrival), i had to dial everything back and re-teach programming basics to them. And by basics, i mean stuff like “What does the ‘=’ symbol do?” and “What is a variable?”

name

What … is your NAME?

The class was only eight students, but i had no fewer than two of those students’ parents call or email me to ask why little Billy was getting low grades on tests. YaRly.

In this, i further proved the thesis in my contentious What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges articles (Part 1 and Part 2). Helicopter parenting and failure aversion have created a generation of non-functional kids, which i later dubbed The Most Useless Generation. My diagnosis is that many college undergrads have escaped high school without ever understanding How to Be a Student (an article i wrote while teaching last winter, which i’ve only just posted now that i’ve put some distance between myself and the situation).

In the interest of helping young people be more successful, i offered My Prescription for (More) Successful Students, which my students all ignored, and i wrote a serious of articles called Understanding Programming to explain programming basics, which my students also ignored. Oh well. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but sometimes you just have a retarded horse.

retarded horse

2011

Spring

In 2011, we launched an exciting blog series called Pimp My Portal, detailing our struggles to drive traffic to ZombieGameWorld.com and WordGameWorld.com. The hook here was The World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget, a pot of just $100 that i spent on Fiverr.com to buy testimonial videos to promote the site, the rationale being that search loves video. The Old Lady who Swallowed the Fly reared her ugly head again, as i found that i had no audience to watch the videos to go to the portal to go to the OTHER portal to find out about Spellirium. The Pimp My Portal series is ongoing.

Around this time, we were commissioned by The Centre for Skills Development and Training to produce a series of games to help teach workplace skills to 15-30-year-olds. The resulting game, Summer in Smallywood, enabled us to make a number of improvements to UGAGS, including auto-save, debug tools, navigation meshes, saved game profiles, and threaded conversations. We’re looking forward to working further with The Centre in the coming year to expand our educational gaming experience.

Summer in Smallywood by Untold Entertainment

In March, i admit i was feeling a little bit desperate and squirrely. Work was trickling into the shop in fits and starts, and i was really wondering whether renewing our lease would be wise. Wild-eyed and hungry at GDC, i was overcome with the need to let the world know i am here, like the tiny Whos living on a speck on a clover stalk, who ultimately issue a resounding YOPP! to show the jungle animals that they exist (and to keep from getting boiled in beezlenut oil).

Horton

A game dev’s a game dev, no matter how small.

To that end, i pulled some shenanigans at the conference, which came to be known as the famous GDC Coin Stunt. The resulting press on most major online games sites greased the wheels for what was to be our greatest victory yet.

i have all the coins shirt

Over the years, we’ve found it so difficult to drive enough steady Flash game development work that we haven’t been able to bank enough time or enough money to do our own thing. To date, the only chance we seem to get is TOJam, an annual weekend-long Toronto game jam, during which we always produce a complete and original game. Indeed, nearly every title in the Original Games section of our portfolio is a TOJam game, completed in one weekend by me alone.

This year, we used UGAGS to create Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. i worked on the game with my 5-year-old daughter Cassandra. It was no accident that i was wearing my “I have all the coins” T-Shirt in the TOJam group photo this year. After the game went live, it went viral, initially being featured on many of the same sites that covered the coin stunt. In the few months since its launch, the ponycorns game has gone on to become an international sensation (i just granted an interview to a Japanese newspaper this week!).

Cassie and Daddy

[photo by Brendan Lynch]

With the ponycorns game, we took a very important step to improving our viability as a dev studio by launching the game on the Apple iPad and the BlackBerry Playbook. On the third day of its launch week, Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure was featured by Apple in its New & Noteworthy section.

Ponycorns also drove us to develop our first alternate revenue stream based on our original IP. We launched the Untold Booty merchandise store with a number of different ponycorns-based SKUs, and have been very happy with the results.

Throughout the year, i remained active with the IGDA Toronto Chapter, organizing some well-received events including the speed dating-style Game.Set.Match, the Open Mic Night rant session, Straight Outta TOJam: Pint-sized Postmortems, and the Fund in the Sun workshop.

IGDA Toronto Chapter posters

Through the spring, we developed a great puzzle/platformer game called Spladder, which currently runs on a number of kids’ broadcaster sites – YTV.com. TVO.org and CBBC.co.uk among them.

We launched a new games portal called TowerDefenseGameWorld.com and filled it with free tower defense games, because it’s difficult to prove a theory about a network of games portals lending each other traffic if you only have two portals. We also gave a major upgrade to ZombieGameWorld.com by expanding it to feature zombie games and goodies on other platforms.

i know an old lady who swallowed a horse. She’s dead, of course.

Summer. Future.

We’ve come full circle. Spellirium remains unfinished, but we’re finally spending time on it again. We poked Kahoots with a stick to see if it was still twitching. Thankfully, it is! We’ve made some creative changes to it to spare a fellow indie game dev company some unpleasant legal strife; look forward to a Kahoots-related announcement in the coming months.

i’m writing the 3.x update to my Unity 3D book, which will be ready shortly (send me an email and i’ll add you to our notification list when the update is released).

Going forward, our plan is to leverage the success of the ponycorns game to make major in-roads into game development and education for kids (see our article on CBC.ca). i’m preparing a pilot project with Cassie’s elementary school this fall. We’re preparing the unstoppable UGAGS engine for a business-to-business, and then consumer, release – expect it to have a kid-friendly interface. We’re polling people for their interest in an iPhone/iPod version of the game (send us an email!). i’ll be delivering my conference session Ponycorns: Lightning in a Jar at the Screens festival this fall, and at other conventions throughout the year. Ponycorns is being translated into Japanese in anticipation of the Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Games Show.

Untold Entertainment’s fifth year will be filled with low-life panda bears, daily word puzzles, gamesByKids, and more great articles about game development and education, peppered with rude jokes and stolen LOLcat pictures. Thanks so much for your support, everyone! i’m really looking forward to writing an amazing recap next year.

The Tiniest TOJammer

After a tumultuous delay, the TOJam registration form is currently live! What was the hold-up? Remember that scene from Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf battles the ferocious Balrog and they wrestle each other off a cliff? Well, imagine that Gandalf is TOJam organizer Jim McGinley, the Balrog is the new database system for TOJam, and i’m a really sexy elf.

Ryan Creighton is a sexy elf

Go on: imagine it.

Seriously, if you want to attend TOJam and you haven’t signed up yet, i don’t know why you’re over here reading this crummy blog. Space is limited. Go sign up now. Like, right now. i’ll wait.

Party of One

This’ll be the first TOJam that i haven’t done all by my lonesome. After creating Two By Two, Here Be Dragons, Bloat., and Heads single-handedly, i’ve finally roped someone into spending an entire weekend with me in a room full of sweaty nerds building video games. And better than that, she’s a girl. How did i do it?

i’m her legal guardian.

Spawn of Creighton

Behold my progeny!

This year, i’m teaming up with my five-year-old daughter Cassandra to create a game called Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, which is a magical adventure game featuring ponycorns. (At this point, i usually have to stop and explain to people what a “ponycorn” is, which dismays me … a ponycorn, clearly, is a single-horned pony – a pony/unicorn. A ponycorn. You see? Was that so difficult?)

Ponycorn

Get some fekkin’ imagination, you freaks.

Cassie, who is a great little artist, will be drawing the game’s pictures in crayon, and i’ll be scanning them in and trying to shoehorn them into a sensible game experience. Because the handicap is so high on this one, i won’t be building the whole thing from scratch. i didn’t approach my first TOJam this way … i was determined to build Two By Two from “scratch”, starting with nothing and using Flash to build the game from the ground up.

Having proven that i can do it, over the years i’ve grown less and less dogmatic about TOJam. For last year’s game, Heads, i used UGAGS (the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System), as a sort of proof that the time and money we spent building the engine wasn’t a total waste. (It wasn’t! Heads was our very first release on the Blackberry Playbook, and we’ve gone on to use UGAGS in other projects). When i got thinking about it, even using Flash is a bit of a cheat. i didn’t write that software, and it does a lot of heavy graphics lifting for me. i also didn’t build the computer, or smelt the metals used in its creation. There’s only so much “scratch” that you can start from.

So this year, Cassie and i will be using the Citrus Engine to make our ponycorn-themed puzzle platformer game. i’m not even starting from scratch with the Citrus Engine – i’ll be re-skinning an existing game that i completed for a client. i’ll even be using some artwork that Cassie already drew months ago, because it’s adorable. (“What’s that, honey? An alien? A slug? A jelly bean?” “No – it’s you and me and Mommy.”) As is required for any weekend game jam, we’re keeping our ambitions reined way in; if we come out the other side of this thing with a title screen and one functional level, i’ll be happy.

i’ve also got Cassie slated to do some voice acting for the game, which will toally rock. Unless someone’s planning to one-up her, Cass will be the youngest developer ever to attend and work on a game at TOJam.

And i’ll be the sexiest elf in the room.

TOJam Sixy Times Announces its Theme

Long-time readers of this blog know i’m an avid fan of TOJam, the Toronto independent game jam, which takes place every year either on Mother’s Day or during student exams, or at some other inconvenient time. It’s very difficult to schedule an event free and clear of other competing calendar dates, but the organizers think they’ve pulled it off this year: the sixth iteration of the jam, “TOJam Sixy Times”, runs the entire weekend from May 13th to 15th 2011.

Borat

Congratulations to Borat, who apparently won the competition to name this year’s jam.

TOJam is not a competition. It’s rather more like camp … hot, sweaty nerd camp fueled by energy drinks and candy bars. Every year, the organizers suggest that each game feature a Toronto-specific sound effect, and a picture of a goat on a pole (rendered any way the game’s artist chooses). Here’s the goat in all its glory:

Borat

God help us if the photographer ever comes knocking to collect royalty payments for five previous years of jam games.

Here’s the goat’s appearance in some of the TOJam games i’ve developed over the years:

Two By Two

TOJam 2: Two by Two

Here Be Dragons

TOJam 3: Here Be Dragons

Heads

TOJam 5: Heads

Each TOJam also features a suggested theme. Past themes have included “Cheese”, “Scale“, and “Missing“. This year’s theme is “What Just Happened?” As i do every year, i’d like to riff on the TOJam theme and explore its possibilities.

Windbag

The very first thing that comes to mind when i hear “What Just Happened?” is Fred Willard in A Mighty Wind:



Wha’ Happened?? Ha ha ha ha. This is one of those movie lines i repeat all the time, and no one knows what i’m talking about. What are its ramifications for game design? None! But Fred Willard rocks my world.

WTFism

Like “Cheese”, the “What Just Happened?” theme gives a lot of room for WTFism. You can pack your game with ton of nonsensical crap that leaves the player saying “What Just Happened?” This is kind of a cop-out. Or maybe it’s because i’m old. i used to watch terrible movies and teevee shows just to laugh at them, but when you get old enough that you really start to feel your time on Earth is tragically limited, you tend to gravitate more towards entertaining yourself with stuff that’s actually worth your time.

Hot Throttle

Hot Throttle is about naked men who think they’re cars, and … uh, yeah.

The Scene of the Crime

A much more literal interpretation of the theme might involve a game where the player is shown the aftermath of an event, and has to work backwards to figure out what caused the event. This would likely be a plot-driven graphic adventure-style game, maybe in the vein of Déjà Vu, where you wake up in a bathroom stall with amnesia.

Deja Vu

i don’t remember if i HAVE any money!

Unfortunately these days, starting a point n’ click game with amnesia is a hackneyed trope used in nearly every free Escape the Room Flash game i’ve played. At the risk of calling every game contrivance a cop-out, i’ll happily call this one out too: amnesia is a tired device that should be given a 10-year breather in video games, or until somebody can do something interesting with it.

In the case of the Escape the Room games, the situation’s even more dire, because the games all begin with “You are trapped in a room and you don’t know who you are”, and end with “You got out of the room!” There’s no character or plot development whatsoever … just a key inexplicably hidden behind a scrap of wallpaper, and a VCR code in the breakaway leg of the couch.

Escape the Room

While we’re at it, let’s give Escape the Room games a 10-year breather too. Or 100 years.

Memory Game

The trouble with a graphic adventure game where you’re trying to figure out What Just Happened is that it’s probably not going to be very replayable, and it has a big spoil factor on it. Take something like The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shamalamadingdong: if you haven’t seen it, and someone spoils the ending for you by revealing that Bruce Willis has a penis, you may not enjoy the movie when you finally get around to watching it. You may not even bother watching it at all.

Penis Vader

Spoiler: Bruce Willlis’s penis is Luke Skywalker’s father.

Same deal with our hypothetical graphic adventure game: once someone tells you that What Just Happened is that the Evil Dr. Douchebag created a murder machine that killed everyone over five feet tall, and that THAT was the mysterious detail linking all of the survivors, the game might be less fun to play.

Here’s a less plot-heavy, more replayable game that’s simpler to program in a weekend: there’s a child’s memory game that we play at birthday parties, where you lay out a number of objects on the table. Everyone stares at the table for one minute. Then you tell all the kids to close their eyes, and you take an item away. The kids have to guess what’s missing.

What Just Happened? Mommy stole the fork.

Time-Bending

The past-tense of the What Just Happened theme may lend itself to a game involving time-bending or time-travel, a la Braid, or Back to the Future Part II on the NES.

Back to the Future

What Just Happened? You wasted fifty bucks.

Picture Super Mario Bros., and you show the player the level AFTER he’s gone through it: certain blocks are smashed, certain goombas are squished … and the player has to run through the level smashing all the same blocks and squishing all the same goombas in an effort to re-create the endgame state he’s just seen.

It would be way more interesting if you did this with more of a puzzle platformer, where there are switches and doors and traps and contrivances, which would make the re-creation far more interesting (ie “How did i get the pile of blocks to fall on top of that platform? What order do i have to do things in to get that to happen like that?”)

Word Association

You could bend the “rules” a bit and play around with the words in the theme. “What Just Happened?” could be the title about a Marmaduke-like dog named What.

Your game could be about a crusading judge on an alien planet, and you have to determine the ways in which he’s meted out justice by learning the aliens’ legal system. “What Thing that is Just Just Happened?” Meh. It’s a stretch.

And as long as i’m stretching:

What Just Hairpin?

What Just Hairpin?

Slut Just Happened

Slut Just Happened

What - Joust Happened?

What – Joust Happened?

Hutt Just Happened

Hutt Just Happened

What? Just Hop-On

What? Just Hop-On

Whatever you decide to pull together for your TOJam game, just keep in mind the rules i’ve learned from four previous jams:

  1. Keep it simple enough to finish.
  2. Finishing is everything.
  3. If you want to get any love from players, either on the final night of the Jam or at the public TOJam Arcade, your game MUST be fast to learn, and easy to pick up and play. If you have to sit next to the player and explain how to control the game or what’s going on or what that squiggly shape is supposed to represent, you’ve failed. So:
  4. Very strongly consider reserving a number of hours in the jam to build some sort of in-game tutorial to help the player understand your game, so that you don’t have to hand-hold.

i can’t tell you how many times i’ve sat down to play a TOJam game and have thought “What Just Happened?”, as in “how did a team of six people just spend an entire weekend building a game where i can’t figure out what the heck is going on?” This year, let’s keep the mystery of what just happened thematic, and create a great crop of games where the goals and controls are clear as crystal.

See you at the jam!