Posted in: Electric Shocktopus | August 28, 2015 | No Comments

Wow, the weeks when I play a NealCruco level make for a pretty darn cryptic blog title, don’t they?

To break it down:

FBF = Feel Bad Friday, where I attempt to be a level a player has made in the Electric Shocktopus.

C05D = the level I attempted this week.  By NealCruco, of course… which we can tell by the fingerprints left on the title.  Always with the hexadecimal titles, eh?  Or are they?  Mind = blown.



You can find the original level-code here, if you want to give this one a try.

It’s a very nice level.  What surprised me *most* about it, though, was how straightforward it was.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still hard — just not ultra-hard.  So it was a welcome relief :)  Fun to play, with just the right amount of frustration thrown in.  Thanks for sharing it with us, NealCruco!


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FBF: The Ocean

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus | August 21, 2015 | No Comments

Here to finish off another week – another Feel Bad Friday!

This time I take on ‘The Ocean’ by A Random Player.  Click here to watch and see how I do.



Whoa.  This is a level *not only* with pixel art (because, hell yeah, pixel art)… but it’s also animated.


Give this one a watch, even if not to see me suffer (and believe me, there’s plenty of that!), but just to see what I’m talking about.  Fish, sharks, the works.

Don’t let looks deceive you, though.  Aside from being pretty – it’s one heck of a tough level.  If you’d like to give it a try, you can find the code for the level here.  Big thanks to A Random Player for sharing the level with us!


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Posted in: Electric Shocktopus | August 14, 2015 | No Comments

Sorry for the couple-week break from Feel Bad Friday.  There was some travel, as well as a couple illnesses that came up (so fear not, my Fridays felt bad indeed!).  But I’m back in town… healthy again… and ready to rock!

So I took on a whopper of a level: 8D2A by NealCruco.  It is tremendous!  … and tremendously hard.  Pushed me near if not past my breaking point.  But(!) Did I make it? Did I throw in the towel?  You’ll have to watch the video to find out!



To play this level yourself, you can grab the code that NealCruco posted in the forums.  A big thanks to NC for sharing this level with us.  I think it might be my favorite that you made.  The non-linearity helped keep me going in spite of (nearly) countless deaths.  And I felt like I was improving.  (Up until the point I started getting tired, but hey, that’s par for the course.)  Anyway, great level!  You should all check it, and the video, out.


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The Electric Field Mystery, part 1

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus, Lesson Time! | August 11, 2015 | No Comments

The forums were quiet.

…too quiet.

In this neck of the woods, Andy knew that meant trouble was brewing.  It was then that A Random Player walked into the room with a problem.  And that problem’s name was Shocktopus.

.     So I heard you made a game about electric fields.

.     That’s right, Andy said, looking up from the line of impeccably tilted test tubes that covered his desk.

.     And I heard the game is scientifically accurate.

.     Well, aside from the questionable marine bi   ology, I sure aim for it to be, Andy said cautiously, memories of Velocity Raptor’s bullet-conundrum swirling like a mist in the back of his head.

.     Then how do you explain *this*? Random said, throwing a picture down on the desk:


Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 3.02.48 PM

Andy had seen volcanoes before… and they never looked like this.  There was nothing on the top of the screen, but there was an electric field emanating from it.

That was five nights ago, and Andy had been hitting the pavement ever since.  Looking for clues in a town full of shadows.  Where did he go wrong? Was this a bug?  Or worse: not a bug?  Either way, he knew that an understanding wouldn’t come easy.  Where did all this trouble begin?  Oh yes, with the Relaxation Method, which, as it turned out, was anything but.

The Case of the Relaxation Method

Back when he first started out as a gumshoe – programing the first prototypes of The Electric Shocktopus, the world was a simple place.  Electric fields were easy to come by, so long as you knew how solve a simple equation.  And with a computer at his fingertips, solving equations was one thing Andy could do.  Find all the electric charges in a level, find where the Shocktopus is, and you’ve found yourself the force.  Perfect forces.  Perfectly easy.

But, like all things in life, it was simple precisely up until the point when it was not.

And that point was when Andy took on the case of a grounded Conductor (who, incidentally, had been sent to the sleeper car without his supper).  As Andy pieced together the puzzle, he realized that you couldn’t just add conductors into The Electric Shocktopus.  There’s no simple rule for figuring out the forces, then.  No easy equation to solve.  For the fields affect the charges in the conductor, just as the charges in the conductor affect the fields.  You may as well try to track down a criminal who knows you’re on his tail.  Each move you make changes which way he’s running.




But, just like with that criminal.  There was a solution.  You just needed boundaries.  Walls, gates… or in this case, an electrified fence would do the trick.

If you’ve got a conductor all around the outside of your level, you’ve got a way to hunt down the electric field.  It’s called the Relaxation Method.  And just like playing a game of cat-and-mouse, it involves a lot of guessing.  But with each guess, you get closer to the criminal.  Or closer to the final, true electric field.



A Found Field


There’s only one problem.  By putting a ring of conductors up, you’ve changed things.



It just wasn’t the same anymore.


So, how can you put up a ring of conductors around the level, while at the same time not having them affect the level?  In all his years watching crooks melt into the shadows, Andy knew that everything leaves a trace.  Footprints. Cigarette ash. Or warped electric fields.

But there had to be a way.  And Andy had to find it.

To be continued…

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The Indie Game Collective

Posted in: General News | August 5, 2015 | No Comments

Some belated news about TestTubeGames:

Sometimes it’s hard to go-it-alone.  So, why not go-it-alone… together?

The Indie Game Collective

Back in January, I joined a group of game developers here in Boston called the indie game collective.  Basically, a whole bunch of local game devs found themselves working alone. Which is tough. And they *really* enjoyed the monthly meetups where they’d get to chat with each other, bounce ideas back and forth, and just be near other homo sapiens.

So a collective was formed!




It’s filled with a bunch of very rad game developers, and I encourage you to go check out the things they’ve worked on.  (For those of you into educational games, The Counting Kingdom by Jenna Hoffstein will be of particular interest.)  It’s a real honor to have been invited into the group, and I’ve had a lot of fun working alongside all of them.

What does this mean for TestTubeGames?

I’m still on a quest to fill the world with neat interactive science experiences.  It’s just that now, when I do it, I’ll be getting input and advice from a bunch of other game developers.  And I’ll be more well-adjusted as a human.  So… win-win!


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Shocktopus Version 0.6

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus | July 31, 2015 | No Comments

An update to The Electric Shocktopus is out today, bringing the beta up to version 0.6.  That’s, like, .1 closer to 1!  Whoa!


Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 10.27.42 PM

There’s a whole bunch of changes and (what I hope are improvements) that come along with the update.  You can read about *all* of them here.  A brief overview:

-Lots of bug fixes / memory leaks / lag fixes

-User-made levels can be shared and edited via text files

-Easily download Feel Bad Friday levels with a single click


So, yeah, overall it just run smoother, faster, and be able to do more.

That said – no Feel Bad Friday this week.  I’ve crunched a bit to get this update out, and also figured, hey: go get your Shocktopus fix this week by playing with the new update!

…and then let me know about bugs and problems that I can fix for the inevitable version 0.7.


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Ships Ahoy!

Posted in: General News | July 29, 2015 | No Comments

In addition to working on my own projects here at TestTubeGames, I also take on a fair amount of contract work from outside.  A game developer has to eat, after all!  I’ve been terribly fortunate in that many (all?) of the outside projects I’ve worked on have been (a) rad, and (b) educational.  So, it’s a pretty good deal.  One of those games you know about already: Bond Breaker.  It grew/is-continuing-to-grow out of a collaboration between researchers at CaSTL and me.

Well, I’m finishing up another project that I thought I’d share: Frigate! (Err, it doesn’t have an official name, but this is the one I’m gonna use.)

The game is for an exhibit at the USS Constitution Museum here in Boston.  If you’re not familiar with the USS Constitution, this ship was the pride-and-joy of the U.S.’s fledgling navy during the War of 1812.  It went by the name “Old Ironsides” because cannonballs would literally bounce off it, like it was made of metal.  Not a bad reputation for a warship to have.



The ship still exists today, and is harbored (or rather dry-docked) in Boston, with the USS Constitution Museum right next door.  The museum is filled with all sorts of artifacts that you’d expect, and teaches you what it’d be like to be a sailor back in that era.  And in addition to all those things, they now have a new game!



Photo by Eric Chadwick, the game’s artist


Look at that beautiful game!  And look at that beautiful hardware!  Wow!  I can’t take credit for that (the museum made the case, and Eric Chadwick did the awesome art), but I did code up the game you see running on those screens.  This is an engineering activity, where players get to ‘build’ ships to their own design (choosing length, width, and no. of guns), then sail them against each other in a ship-battle.  Who will win?  What ship-designs work best?  Once your ship gets destroyed, you get to redesign it and try again.

Along the way, you’ll learn how your choices affect a ship’s speed, turning radius, firepower, etc.  And, from what I’ve seen, you’ll have a whole lot of fun, too.

Three players can battle it out, each sailing their ships from their own station — and also competing against a dozen or so AI ships.

The game has been incredibly well-received.  We set it up for the first time on one of the busiest days of the year for the museum (July 3rd, no surprise there), and had a crowd of people waiting to play the game, even though it wasn’t even working.  And when we finally got it up and running, people played it *exactly* how we imagined.  Which isn’t supposed to happen with your first real playtest.  Without any prompting from us, players were changing the variables of their ships, trying to make the ‘best’ design.  They were noticing and discussing what effects those choices had.  They were trying again and again and again.  And they were having a lot of fun.  The game had a crowd around it all day.

As you can imagine, it was fun for me, too, to stand next to the beautiful exhibit and listen in on the players. That’s not something I really get to do with web games or mobile games.  When I released Agent Higgs, the game disappeared into the ether, to be played by distant people whose reactions I couldn’t gauge.  Sure, you playtest and get to watch people play *then*.  But you don’t get to see the reactions to the real game.  With Frigate!, I could listen to a constant stream of feedback from hundreds of people.

It was great.

I created the game with Kellian Adams of Green Door Labs, and Eric Chadwick making the art.  We’re still working on changing bits of the design here and there, but so far it has been a very successful launch.  If you find yourself in Boston, I encourage you to stop by the USS Constitution Museum and check out the game!


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FBF: Through the Spikes and Charges

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus | July 24, 2015 | No Comments

I’m getting near to releasing the next update to The Electric Shocktopus (version 0.6).  You can follow along here to see the latest bug-fixes as I finish them.  I was hoping to release it today, but I’ve run into an electrical conundrum, which will take some thinking to get around… and will be well-deserving of its own blog post.

But of course, what we’re here for is a Feel Bad Friday!

This week I take on Through the Spikes and Charges by A Random Player.  (Who is, for all of you following along at home, *prolific* when it comes to making levels.)

Random made this level a few months back, which actually means it is pretty straightforward (by Random’s standards).  No puzzles-within-puzzles or turing-machines here.  Just some good ol’ fashioned electrostatics.  Check it out!



Thank you, Random, for sharing this level with us!  (Spoiler alert — I didn’t die over 100 times… so I’m keeping my blood pressure nice and low this week.  Much appreciated!)  If you want to check out the level yourself, you can go grab the code here.



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FBF: Letter Writer

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus | July 16, 2015 | No Comments

I’ve been back at work on the next update to The Electric Shocktopus — spurred on in no small part by my failure during last week’s Feel Bad Friday.  Fixes all around, from lag to bugs to easier controls.  (Hopefully some fixes to the controls that will make it *easier* to beat some of these FBF levels!)

In this week’s video, I show off one of the new additions to the game: a file-system for the saved games.  Up to now, you’ve had to share and load individual codes into the game – but an easier way to share a whole bunch of user-made levels, say, would be to share a whole folder of text files.  And I’m adding just that to the game – so take a look in the video for a tour of that feature.

I also take on a level by A Random Player, who makes a level that surprised the heck out of me.  Called ‘Letter Writer’, it took until *after* I had filmed the whole FBF to understand the meaning of that title.  So make sure you watch to the end of the video to catch my epilogue, where I dissect the true core of the Letter-Writing mechanic.



You can check out the level in Random’s original post here.  Or just enjoy watching everything unfold in the video.  A big thanks to Random for another crazy-creative level.

I’ll also note that NealCruco made a modification to last week’s FBF level (B4C5), which makes it harder to exploit the level. So take a peek at the new version, and with any luck I’ll finally be able to beat the level.  Now that it’s harder.  Hey, hope springs eternal, right?


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Posted in: Electric Shocktopus | July 10, 2015 | No Comments

With a blog post title that looks entirely cryptic, this week I tackle a level by NealCruco: B4C5.  (You mean C4? Yuk yuk.)

The name, I’ll remind my intrepid blog-readers, is a hexadecimal representation of the randomly generated title of the level.  (Got that?)  It’s a fun little naming system that’s become one of those reassuring things in my life… like the sun rising in the East.

…and the first bit o’ jargon up there stands for Feel Bad Friday, of course, where I weekly make an attempt to finish a user-generated level.  (And I do mean weakly.  Hey, o!)

I’ll plop the video down right here for you all:



Wow, that’s a whole lot to parse! (This coming from the guy who wrote the level parser.)  According to NealCruco, this level started out as a bit of a playground before being converted into an actual level.  I can understand that — since it has some really nice symmetry — with horizontal and diagonal currents making 8 zones of magnetic fields.  I imagine this type of set-up must have a real world application.  Probably?  But who cares!  I’m going to cast myself into those spikes a few dozen times (or more!).

I’m a big fan of symmetry, NC, so well done with this level.  It’s neat how you were able to get the 8 little vignettes to interact with one another — and do so in interesting, non/trivial ways.  This must have taken a whole lot of work, so thank you for sharing it with us!


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