Agent Higgs Shared Levels
First, a quick apology for the late ‘Wednesday Update’ this week. I’m actually traveling around the country for a couple weeks, so I spent the past week or so feverishly tying up some loose ends of projects. And all that time I spent *not* writing blog posts was spent making new content for you all. So I’ve got a few new things up my sleeve in the upcoming weeks. One of those being…
Agent Higgs Shared Levels
The flash version of Agent Higgs has had a level editor for a while now. It’s pretty straightforward to use and make whatever levels you can think of. In fact, you can find an ever-increasing list of cool levels in the forums.
But they are no longer just in the forums! Player-generated levels are now attached right to the game. It’s still a system in beta mode, with room for improvement, but if you scroll over to the far right in the menus, you’ll find a playable list of user-creations. Play them. Rate them. Get a new ‘best’ score. And, if you’re so inclined, make some yourself!
The reason I added this in? Well, I got curious to see if there was an easier way to share levels. I had the level editor there, but to play someone else’s level, you needed to copy and paste a level code from them. Not terribly smooth. And with the Electric Shocktopus having a level editor, too, I figured the time was right to test out a ‘better’ method.
The shared levels just appear in Chapter 1 for now, but there’s nothing to stop me from adding them into Chapter 2, as well. And, who knows, maybe the same system can be put in place if I ever do make that Velocity Raptor level editor…
-AndyPost a Comment
Brief Technical Interlude
Out and About
First up, TestTubeGames was featured in an article this month by STEMwire. It is an article (er, slideshow, sorry) about various creative toys and games to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Check it out here. That ‘Compounded’ game looks neat — I suggest checking out its Kickstarter video for a good ol’ fashioned Bill Nye parody.
Making a Game for Everywhere
(Warning… technical details ahead!)
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about platforms. (iPhone/browser/PC/Mac/Android/the list goes on).
So far, I’ve made Flash games and iOS apps. And each game is one or the other of those. So if you want to use my Pocket Slide Rule, well you better have an iPhone. And if you want to play Velocity Raptor, it’ll be in a browser. Occasionally I’ve bridged the gap between those two — so you can play Agent Higgs on you iOS device, or you can play an abridged versions of it as a Flash game. But that’s really like making two games. I needed to recode it, rearrange it, change the art around so it fits the screen… All in all it’s a lot of work.
The reason I’m thinking about these things is because of the update to the Gravity Simulator. One of the big plans for the upgrade has been to move it *beyond* just being a Flash game. It’d work great (and be fun) to touch and fling planets on mobile devices, I figure. My goal: Browser/iOS/Android… possibly downloadable simulations for PC and Mac, too. That’s a lot of platforms I’ve never made games for.
There are, it turns out, some newfangled ways to do this ‘easily’… and so far I’ve explored a couple.
If you make your game in HTML5, it’s playable right in the browser just like Flash. But the neat thing is there are ways to turn HTML5 games into official Apps which you can sell in iOS/Android app stores.
Neat in theory, so I started making the new Gravity Simulator in HTML5. In fact, I even used a framework — Game Closure — to streamline everything. (Frameworks are like having an assistant to deal with the boring technical stuff — so you can just worry about making a game.) Boy, that was a headache. I’ll admit, for starters, that my background *is not* in programming… I’m just picking things up as I go. But I had constant issues getting an HTML5 game (with Game Closure) to work. The game would work in browsers, but break on iPads. Or there would be bugs — so many bugs, and often they wouldn’t even be bugs in *my* code, but rather with the framework.
The *biggest* issue I had was with orbits. The drawn orbits in the Gravity Simulator turn out to be the toughest piece of the whole system. Why? Because you need to be able to draw a line that that grows longer and longer *forever*. It starts off simple:
And the lines keep growing. You get 10,000… 50,000… 100,000…1,000,000… and more vertices on these lines that loop back and forth over each other.
Eventually the system can’t handle it. In order to do that without crashing the system/killing the framerate, it takes some sneaky work-arounds. Maybe you turn the lines into a picture. That way the most you’ll ever need to draw is a picture the size of the game… you won’t have to worry about a million+ vertices. Or better yet, just forget about the lines, and just make a list of pixels that are colored in.
Well, it turns out that, at least as far as I could find, HTML5 (and namely Game Closure) wasn’t well suited to the task. ‘Line Drawing’ is barely present in that framework… and invariably something that worked in the browser wouldn’t work on my iPad. Try as I might, it gave me a bunch of headaches and it never came together. HTML5 is often criticized for being ‘not finished yet’, and now I can understand why.
This is another popular way to make games for a bunch of platforms, and it is much more polished than HTML5. (It outta be, it’s a commercial product, after all!) I’ve been trying it out for the past few days, and I like what I’ve seen. There is a much more robust system for *drawing*, which is key. Lines, pixels, it’s all good. I can even draw a surprisingly high number of lines before I need to resort to tricks. And so far, what I’ve found, happily, is that the tricks work both in the browser *and* on an iPad! I write one set of code, and it does seem to work similarly in multiple places.
So at the moment, that’s where I am… working on prototyping the Gravity Simulator in Unity. The path towards ‘easily making a game in a bunch of places’ has been a tough and winding one. Here’s hoping that Unity will fit the bill. Then I can get down to real things, like actually making the simulator (better).
-AndyPost a Comment
For those of you who haven’t been following along (and why not?), the forum is doing swell. After it was unveiled last week, it has been a hotbed of science game chat. So come by, introduce yourself, play some neat, new Agent Higgs levels, and read a discussion about the evolution simulator.
As always a big thanks to my playtesters. Their help with the (many) versions of Shocktopus have been invaluable. This week, I’ve been using the latest round of feedback to fix up the game. So I’m taking out levels that are only ‘fine’, leaving in ‘awesome’ levels, and trying to improve ‘good’ levels.
The level design is a huge part of what’s left in the game — but certainly not the only part. I’m in the process of getting music, adding (good) instructions, putting in flammable scenery, and introducing the plot. Oh, and as for the plot, this image should pretty well set up our conflict:
What is that new thing we see in Shocktopus’s hands? Ah, his trusty Electric Guitar, of course. I mean, what other instrument could he play? Though, when he plays, I’d back up if I were you. Remember what I mentioned earlier about ‘flammable scenery’?
That’s right, when the Shocktopus charges himself, there are some side effects. Not that *he* cares. As the old saying goes: ‘you can’t exact revenge upon the Magnetic Yeti without burning a few trees.’
-AndyPost a Comment
A Forum for Us
Some neat news this week from TestTubeGames — we’ve got a brand new forum!
Last week I’d mentioned that this might well be in-the-works. It turns out it is extremely easy to add forums to a website nowadays. Frankly, how could I *not* add it? And just like that, with just a few clicks, the forum is now a reality.
The forum is setup to have individual sections for each of the games — for feedback, tips, questions on that particular game. Come share that neat Gravity level you made, challenge others to solve your level in Agent Higgs, or find out more about the nuts and bolts of Velocity Raptor’s relativity simulation.
There’s also a section of the forum to discuss *other* science games (non TTG, that is). I’m always interested in finding new, neat science games. So post your favorites.
Finally, of course, there’s a General Chat forum for everything else. Say ‘hello,’ chat about some random science topic, or give feedback that doesn’t fit elsewhere (“The TestTube should definitely point left instead of right…”)
It’s only been up for a couple days, but we’ve already got plenty of discussions going. For instance, ARP noticed something very neat about the stability of orbits… and also made a very challenging and complex level in Agent Higgs. There’s a growing list of science games that we enjoy, so take a look there, too!
The forums are definitely in a beta mode — at least in the not-sure-what-they’ll-look-like-in-a-month way. So come on by, join in the discussions on science and games, and together we’ll see where this goes.
-AndyPost a Comment