The State of Things
Hello! It’s a beautiful fall out in Boston, little Max is walking and talking, and I figure we’re long overdue for a report on the latest hap’s at TestTubeGames. Let’s go!
Gravity Simulator is on the move!
After making all sorts of updates to the Gravity Simulator – which you can read about here – I decided it was *finally* time to post the web version on a site other than my own. So I brought it over to Newgrounds, excited to get some fresh eyes looking at the sim. And I was not disappointed, the game made it to the front page, and has been played more than 20k times. I’ve gotten some really helpful comments from people, and hope that we might see some creations from them in the forums.
I’ll be posting the simulator to other games portals now that I’ve shaken out a few new bugs, though am contemplating posting it on Steam Greenlight, too. Which brings me to…
The Electric Shocktopus is coming to Steam!
After sitting around in Greenlight purgatory for a while, The Electric Shocktopus made it through, and is going to be up on Steam soon! (I’ll be announcing the release date shortly.) I’ve been spending a bunch of time trying to learn all the ins and outs of Steam – and feel a bit like an out-of-touch person trying to understand what the kids are into these days WHICH I AM CERTAINLY NOT. Trading cards, badges, achievements, all sorts of bells and whistles to connect in to the game. So there’s a fair amount of research and work on my plate to prepare for the Steam release. (I’ll remind you that TES is already out, and you can download it, as always, here.) And speaking of storefronts…
Upcoming release on TeacherGaming Store!
I’ve been working with TeacherGaming, a teacher-facing games website, to get my projects posted on their site. The site is run by the fine folks that brought the world Minecraft EDU, among other educational projects. They are building a site that gets games into the hands of teachers, and provides them with some lesson plans connected to the game, to boot. They’ll be selling both The Electric Shocktopus and Gravity Simulator, with a release date within the next couple weeks.
Our Site Revamped
I went through, this past week, and cleaned up the TestTubeGames website, which, having grown organically, had some weeds in it. New fonts, new images, an updated footer, and fresh images for sharing to Facebook. (The default images that would pop up before when you shared a link were… not good.) I’m pretty pleased with how much fresher the site looks — and, as luck would have it — it got a test drive its first day out, when someone shared Velocity Raptor on reddit. Let’s put those new share-images to work!
Little Entropy Project
I worked on a fun little project recently, based on a puzzle posted over at Quanta Magazine. (A great site to check out for in-depth science news.) In their puzzle column, Pradeep Mutalik described a simple model of a universe, with finite states, and challenged the readers to answer some statistics questions about the entropy and evolution of such a world. Entropy is one of those topics I’ve been batting around, never really finding a great idea for, so I figured I’d go ahead and build a simulation of the world they described. You can read the puzzle here, and test out the model universe here.
@Evolving_Art on hiatus
I didn’t end up getting enough people interested in the art simulation on Twitter, so I’ve put it on the back burner for now. I might change it a bit and bring it to a web portal like Newgrounds — since, after all, the project only really works if we’ve got a lot of people contributing their opinions. But, with all that I’ve got on my plate (as well as a bit of contract work here and there), this won’t be happening anytime soon.
So, there you go, that’s what’s been keeping me busy lately. And kudos to you for making it through that uncharacteristically long post! As a reward, go play Quantum Marble Maze – a rad game by Crispin Cooper.
-AndyPost a Comment
A few weeks ago, I took TestTubeGames on the road (and internationally, at that!) when I took part in the iGamer Festival in Paris.
Now, after finally being done with jet-lag, and playing catch-up, here’s some takeaways from the trip:
1. It wasn’t a trap!
It’s not every day you get an email from someone who wants to fly you to Paris. Especially not just because you make indie games. Naturally, it seemed too good to be true! But indeed, this was legit. It was a two-day event at the science museum in Paris, where I, and about a dozen other developers, showed off our science/research-related games.
2. There are some rad people working on science games!
I got to meet great developers from around the world. And the Venn-diagram overlap between our interests was small enough that there was a whole lot to be interested in. There were people who made language-learning games, or games that probed the thermodynamics of creativity (yeah.), or modded games to work in classrooms, or made popular science-related games like a little thing called Kerbal Space Program. To name a few. There was so much to learn by talking to other developers. And a whole lot of fun to be had, too.
Meeting other devs was my big goal in going to this festival, and I was not disappointed.
3. Language barriers make for great playtesting
So, this event took place in France. Where they speak French. I, however, do not speak French. And here I was showing off a couple of my games to a bunch of museum visitors. Families, kids, people who weren’t interested in speaking or reading English. (Naturally.)
That was one of my big worries going into this – how would I communicate?
Turns out, it was a great reminder of one of the core tenets of playtesting — talk to the player as little as possible. The game should be intuitive, it should require very minimal introduction (I can say ‘please’ and point to the chair… which is about all the introduction people neeeded). With just a few key words (‘faster’, ‘spacebar’, ‘great!’) I really had everything I needed to show off the game.
And it revealed the points in the game where the mechanics were not intuitive very, very clearly.
4. Old science equipment is awesome
The trip was very quick – and I only ended up with about a half-day to go and see Paris. (The first day, namely, when I was nursing my jet-lag.) Not much time, but I did manage to make it to one of my favorite museums in all of Paris: the Musée des Arts et Métiers.
They have an incredible collection of old science equipment, from that era when tools were half-art. And where scientists were able to do things that, given their rudimentary equipment, seem impossible (gasp, no computers, or photo-gates, or lasers?).
5. A Trophy!
Ah, yes, the final takeaway from the event – a 3D printed trophy! The festival also happened to be a competition, and I’m delighted and honored to have won. I chalk it up mainly to the fact that (a) it was based on votes from the public, and (b) I was right next to the door where people came in. But it is a huge honor nonetheless, especially given how neat the other projects were.
A big thanks to the folks over at the CRI institute (namely, Alexandre and Julie) for arranging the event. I had a blast, and look forward to next year!
-AndyPost a Comment
Paris and F1B3 – FBF
Ha, the blog post title is always a mouthful when I play a level by NealCruco! This week I took on NC’s level, F1B3. Really had a grand time of it — as you can see from the video below. I posted an unedited version, very different from what I normally do. Thought I’d see how people liked the change. Do you like popping it on in the background as you do something else, and watching each and every shockto-death? Or are you more a highlights-reel person?
Thanks for sharing the level, NealCruco! Twas great fun! If you want to play the level, too, swing by the forums and grab the code.
Some cool news, next week, I’ll be showing off The Electric Shocktopus at a Science+Research+Games conference in Paris. The website, if you can navigate it, has all the info. Or at least some of the info. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me. So stay tuned to my twitter (assuming I’ve got wifi in Paris!) to track my travels and travails as I take TTG international!
-AndyPost a Comment
The Indie Game Collective
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!
-AndyPost a Comment
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!
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!
-AndyPost a Comment
My Newest Little Playtester
So the reason for this not-so-brief pause in the blog/Feel-Bad-Fridaying/game development… is that I’ve gone and made a new playtester from *scratch*! (My wife helped, too.)
My son Max arrived on May 20, and is cute as can be, as evidenced by these pictures:
Believe me… I had to hold back to just show those two. I’ve got probably about a thousand pictures, and the kid is just a month old. And it’s been a great month — filled with sleeping babies, eating babies, pooping babies, and wide-eyed-with-wonder babies. I’m so glad to have been able to take some time off to spend with the little guy.
I’m going to be ramping back up with TTG now, assuming Max continues to let me sleep at night. Thank you all for your patience and support.
-AndyPost a Comment
Andy vs. Juggling
Things are going well at TestTubeGames headquarters. I’m pretty much over that cold from last week (wow, that was a doozy). I’m working on some new levels for Bond Breaker — including Oxygen:
(Wow, I’ve been refreshing my memory about p-orbitals and hybridization. How long ago did I learn about this stuff?)
*And* I’ll be at the Cambridge Science Festival again on Saturday. It’s a fun event if you’re in the Boston area. Tons of science activities and booths staffed with really cool research going on in the area. Also there’s a Robot Zoo – which I’ve heard people are interested in? There are activities all week, but I’ll be at the Science Carnival at the Cambridge Public Library. Come on out and play some science games!
Feel Bad Friday!
Then, of course, since this is Friday, there’s a little ol’ thing called “Feel Bad Friday” that we need to take care of. Before we get started on this week, there was a bug in last week’s level, Meadowy, so if you’re so inclined, you can go grab the real level code here.
Okay, on to this week’s level! This is another level by the prolific A Random Player — who could single-handedly keep me in the FBF business for quite a while, it looks like. This one is called Juggling, and, as with every week so far, it is a very difficult level. I even had to edit the video to keep it manageable. Twas not easy.
If you want to play that level yourself, you can go grab the code here. And a big thank to A Random Player for thinking of such an intricate level… playing through it before it was even known to be beatable… and then sharing it with us. You can find all the levels that players (random and otherwise) have made, or share your own, in the TTG forums.
-AndyPost a Comment
Cambridge Science Festival
This past weekend, I took part in a Science Carnival here in Cambridge. There were dozens of booths filled with sciencey-stuff. Most of what I saw was in the Games Corner, a room devoted to the intersection between science and games. There was a 3D printer making Minecraft figurines, a game you controlled with a potato (think potato battery), and a giant chessboard controlled by robots.
And of course, there was me, showing off a bunch of stuff.
I brought three of the games that I’m working on right now – which was a fun challenge. Before I’ve always shown off one game at a time… which is difficult enough. It would be *madness* to prepare three games for a single event. Probably true, but boy am I glad I did it.
There were perhaps a hundred people or so that came by the booth and played one or more of the games. And in general, the event skewed a bit younger than I’m used to (more early-elementary schoolers, say). But I got great feedback, and learned quite a few lessons.
1. Thank goodness none of the games needed much explanation! I was worried I’d drive myself crazy splitting my time introducing people to three very different games. But with tutorials at the beginning of each one, people were generally able to simply sit down and play. Phew!
2. The Gravity Simulator has an extremely wide appeal. I’m used to talking with some of the… well… ‘advanced’ users of the simulator in the forums here. People who push the bounds of the sim, setting up and sharing complex creations. But on Saturday, I was able to place the simulation in front of a bunch of kids and adults who’d never heard of it before. (And thankfully, I’d added a bit clearer instructions than in the original iteration.) And, to a person, they found something cool to do. Whether it was an attempt to get two planets in orbit around a star at the same time — or just a kid seeing how many planets she could spam onto the screen — people found ways to entertain themselves.
3. Shocktopus is a work-horse. People really get into that game.
4. This was Bond Breaker’s first time out, and it performed admirably. It kept people engaged, which was nice to see — and I was able to get a bunch of great ideas for ways to improve the game. Mainly: ways to tweak the tutorials and explanations so people would have a better idea what was going on.
All in all a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, chatting with people, seeing them enjoy my games, and learning a heck-uva lot myself. A big thanks goes out to the Cambridge Science Festival, and all the people who stopped by the booth, spending a beautifully sunny Saturday playing video games inside.
-AndyPost a Comment
A brief detour from science, here…
Last month, I took part in the Global Game Jam, a challenge where you have a single weekend (48 hrs) to make a game. Game Jams are a great way to practice game-making – because time constraints and sleep deprivation work wonders!
At my particular site, there were about 80 people who came together, splitting up into 4-5 person teams. The theme? “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Pretty abstract. I was pulling for ‘particle physics.’ Oh, well.
I had the chance to work with an amazing team, none of whom had met before the weekend. There were 5 of us, and everyone brought some special skills to the team. We had Jennifer Lay doing art; Nick Bergen making the music; John Wolff as designer; and Vinny DaSilva and I doing programming. (See the credits page in the game for a rad picture of us.) We had a lot of laughs, and pulled together a surprisingly good game. (Most game jam games are pretty rough, but ours has a beginning, middle, and an end, and very few bugs. Rad!)
Our game? 14b.
The game is a mystery, where you are the detective. Someone’s been murdered, and it’s up to you to figure out who did it. You have some folders of evidence you can look at, witness reports of the scene, and clues that you can ask each of the witnesses about. Each witness sees the scene in a different way, focusing on different details, and bringing their own perspective. And you need them all to figure out the caper.
We’ve posted the game online, so you can go check it out. Who do *you* think committed the crime? Why?
-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