Thanks for the Interest

Well, we've announced the game now, which gives me the luxury of being able to tell you in detail about details you really didn't want to know details of: for example, Tommy just finished our instancing management, which means we can finally have the famous crowds of beees! They're in there, and moving around nicely ontop of a bee hive surface which grows as they move around (clever shader stuff going on there). Just by pure luck of emergence, when the bees are about to be captured, they look a bit scared, like they're trying to escape the other goos' clutches!

Right now, we're trying to pull the demo together properly so that it can be shown to interested parties. We're finishing off game modes, totally revising our menu (which was a bit of a quagmire of prototype code), re-doing the HUD, polishing sounds (thanks Justin). We're also doing a proper background audio-viz, which will be taking a leaf from the demoscene book (though hopefully not to the point of plagurism!).

Because of the video, we were linked from a few places, and got more than twenty one hits! Over 4 days! Amazing!

Feedback on the video has been really useful, and highlighted issues that we'll work on, or atleast explain better. I should say, by way of excuse, that we had been coding for 20 hours before we started recording that video, and stayed up another 6 hours editing. I feel tired just thinking about it.

Some people didn't immediately get that the core point of the game was to capture Goo by surrounding it. I guess we've been working on it so long that it seemed self evident to us (and other people felt that way about it, too). Still, in the next video, we'll have to make that painfully clear.

It also wasn't clear/convincing from the video that the game is one of those "simple but deep" affairs. People suggested that it needed more buttons, or powerups, or levels, or just more perceivable complexity. I've always thought of it as "Liquid Go", hence the title of the game. Go's incredibly simple, and unarguably deep. I really want to keep a hold of that property, and would argue that once you try the game, you'll very quickly become aware of the interplay of density and territory: with territory, capturing is easier, but it's easier for your goo to be divided by slicing attacks. With density, it's harder to be punctured, but you're smaller, slower moving, and easier to surround.

Of course, Go is turn based, so you have time to think with your higher consciousness. Goo is much faster, and therefore becomes more about experimenting with strategies and seeing their results immediately, which helps you to build quickly an intuitive sense of strategy. You're creating instinctive reactions. It's still strategy, but at a different level to Go's. Gillen said it was like "Protozoic StreetFighter", and that feels right on the money. StreetFighter 2 might be button masher to people when they first come to it, but you get a sense of flowing strategy pretty quickly if you give it any time.

On the other end of the scale, people said that it could potentially get too chaotic. From the beginning of development, I've been vigilant about this. We've worked really hard to create a physics model which we can tweak to perfection. I investigated fluid dynamics early on, and found that things like Navier Stokes (a fairly realistic approach) weren't going to suit this style of gameplay. Navier Stokes gives rise to chaotic outcomes very quickly. For me, this isn't usually a useful quality for a player - if their input in the game turns into "noise" too immediately, they don't feel a sense of Perceivable Consequence. Success, failure and consequence in general don't feel like direct results of player input - instead they're due to the seemingly random (but, infact, chaotic) whim of the fluid model being used.

Some games have used it to good effect, mind you, but I don't think it would have worked here where intuitive and expressive control is a prominent goal. The point is, it's far more important to give people a good sense of control than to have purely "realistic" physics - the two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but very often in games, the latter takes precedent over the former.

We use a pseudo soft body physics model - hundreds and thousands of points have connecting and disconnecting spring forces between them, as well as friction. Points from different goos have a different relationship, so that they don't overlap too readily, and so that fast moving blobs can scythe through the enemy, or have their movement slowed by the enemy's density. This gives us an atomic level of control. After tweaking these base forces enough, you get a sense of how these changes affect the higher level gameplay, and all of a sudden, you've got this plyable goo which works for you, rather than despite you. At the same time, all gameplay is an emergent result of these simple spring forces, so it doesn't feel like the physics have been contrived... it feels believable, even though they're unrealistic. That's kinaesthetic verisimilitude, word fans!

Still, if none of this sense of control is immediately clear in the video (go fig. It's not interactive), then we probably have to present it better. The BeeHive skin certainly helps explain goo density and behaviour a lot more transparently than previous goos have, so we can get there.

Blah, I'm wandering off into random thoughts. Thanks for your attention span.


To those that give a shit:


This is Tommy. I am the engine programmer, I program the engines. That's not to be confused with "injins" which my peepaw calls Native Americans. For the record, I don't program Native Americans...if I did they wouldn't have been so anxious to trade everything west of the Appalachain Mountains for 8 shiney pots and a belt buckle. Plus they would have had many more particle effects.

Anyway, to all 4 people that read this blog, here is our video. We sent this to Microsoft the other day and they liked it. We had a call with them and I thought it was good but Aubrey didn't take the news so well. It's not that there's anything wrong with Aubrey, it's just that as a child his parents beat him with a rake whenever he smiled. I understand this to be the norm in England. Anyway, here's the video. DON'T EVERYONE GO AT ONCE OTHERWISE YOUTUBE WILL EXPLODE.

.wmv - Higher Quality video, limited bandwidth.



P.S. Clyde McParkstein is avaliable for weddings and bar mizvahs.


Tomorrow or the next day, we'll know.

We're submitting a Work-in-progress demo and a video of our game to MS pretty soon. We have at least another 4-6 months development left, so hopefully they'll see past the issues of polish and unfinishedness. Still, I am nervous. Tommy keeps playing this song to cheer me up:

He must not realize that I hate all ginger kids without exception.


Go get a proper job!

It sounds like the most pathetic thing in the world, but this game could easily be canned by my own Mum.

I'm currently on no income, and have to mooch off my parents in order to have a place to work on this game. Tommy's the same way. Luckily for Tommy, he has supportive parents. It's not quite the same case for me. My Dad seems pretty much fine with what I do, being a big nerd himself and having some appreciation of what goes into a development like this. My mother finds technology fairly repellant. As such, she has no natural interest for computers, games, or technology in general. In 2004 she finally caved and bought a microwave. I can count the number of times she's used it on two hands (though this might actually be a blessing. Microwaves. Feh.). She used to use computers for work in the 80's, but when the mouse was introduced, she pretty much refused to use computers. I don't blame her - cheaper ball-based mice were jumpy affairs at the best of times. I've thrown a few at co-workers when they've given me the critical mass of frustration. That's why I didn't allow myself a cordless one until 7 months ago - many a potential lawsuit was avoided thanks to a 1.5 meter cable snapping taught.

Bottom line, as a bonafide luddite, my Mum doesn't actually like my career choice at all. She sees games as probably the lowest form of art possible, and she'd use the world "art" grudgingly and with little finger quotes, too. Let me put it this way: even though she thinks that comics are for "street urchins and commoners", she'd still find it preferable if I drew cartoons rather than make games. Imagine Mrs. Bucket and Mary Whitehouse rolled into one, and you see my dilemma.

When I get home from Tommy's, I've got around a month at my parent's house before I'm kicked out. I'm dreading it. I'm not sure how I can possibly focus on the game while earning money, tracking down places to stay etc. It's as good as canning the game, and yet she insists "it's for your own good". She's worried that I don't have a social life, (and I am too!) but if we don't nail this first game, I'm worried that the company will be killed in utero.

Being kicked out is despite the fact that of all the video-games I've ever seen her come in contact with, this is the only one she's been able and willing to try. Now, perhaps she's being polite, but she was absolutely able to play the game (and had no chance with K, incedentally). We've kept it that simple.

I know lots of people who felt alienated by games' percieved high levels of violence, over-complication and sameyness. They're non gamers, through and through, preferring a nice book instead. I've asked them to try our game, even though they've told me that they hate games due to their crass image, or how punishing they can be to newcomers. When they pick up the controller, they seem instantly surprised at playing such a welcoming game. They're confused at the idea that they might like a game. How could they like a video game when games are for spoddy 4-eyed friendless geeks? Will they have to buy new clothes now? Do they have to ditch 75% of their accumulated friendships? What can nerds eat anyway? Will they have to stop having sex for years on end?? It's all so confusing!

It's actually helped development just knowing that there are so many people in my life who haven't been interested in experiencing the joys of interactivity. I see why. From their perspective, there's no entrance point to the cacoon we've weaved ourselves, and watching most gamers as they adopt their zen-autism in order to interact with a complex game hardly makes it look like an enjoyable activity. These are the opinions of people too scared, judgemental, or in fear of being judged to try games for themselves. It's far easier to dismiss them as algae snacks for cultural bottom-dwellers.

When some games try to entice these potential patrons in, (like early Wii games) it's unfortunate, but they don't seem to even scratch the cacoon's surface with their shallow gimmicks. Thus, players are left wondering "What's the big deal with games? They're shallow novelties!". Such games are getting people to pick up a controller, sure, but sadly they're not really showing these newcomers how enthralling the depths of interactivity can be. To have someone understand the appeal of great games, you have to do both in the same stroke (I think Guitar Hero succeeds here). The cliche "Easy to Learn, Hard to Master" seems to be pervasive in interviews and pitch documents. Sadly, it's rarely as true as people would like to believe.

I have to conclude that there's no point enticing people in without showing them the spectrum of joy found in interactivity - from simple surface verbs to deep causal chains of events. It's still easier to require current gamers to jump through less-than-elegant hoops in order to find depth-through-complication within re-hashed works, minnovation occasionally sprinkled ontop. That seems like a shame to me.

So, in a weird kind of way, I've been making this game for my mother. Sadly, she doesn't recognize how ironic it is that she might be canning it.


We're in a self imposed crunch right now. The game's coming along pretty well. The other day, I was setting up a single player mode (somewhere between Geometry Wars and Tetris) when we decided to try co-op (up to 4 players) on a whim. Tommy jumped in, and started controlling the avatar with me.

Now, as everyone knows, co-op makes any game better purely through the shared experience you're giving people. It can be like a bridge for both of you into a different plane where your minds meet in tackling the same problems. Something about this game really capitolized on co-op, though. I think it was because we were both in control of so many common entities at once, and could very quickly tell what the other person was doing, and help out. On the flip side, we were never disruptive to each other: we could both work in parallel or perpendicularly, and still not accidentally hurt each other's immediate plans. We could suggest and enact strategies so quickly that it felt like we were reading each other's minds. The game was an efficient mind-bridge, and we were working as one. I've felt that before in other games, but never so densely and immediately as this.

At that moment, I lost a whole lot of stress about whether or not the gameplay was going to be good enough. Any doubt about how practical the concept is has been lifted. I'm convinced that we're almost there.

To that end, we're trying to get a demo/recording of our game ready for MS to see. It'll still be without polish, but I think the concept should be strong enough for them to endourse. A green light might save me from being kicked out, too.