Vote for Goo!

Huge redesign to the game, and I released a public demo. Go vote for it here: http://www.igf.com/audience.php


No longer official site for Goo

Hi, Tommy again. Aubrey quit working on Goo and made his goodbye post below, but I've seen that this site is still linked in places as the official site of Goo, PillowFort and Amorphous. Instead, go here: http://www.pillowfortgames.com. More to come soon, I'm just about in the polish stage now and things are really coming together. The redesigning of the controls and core gameplay have really done wonders for the game. GDC is next month and the Audience Award is due on Monday...so I'm burning the midnight oil again. Anyways, change your bookmarks and look for a public demo soon.


The Butterfly is in Full Effect

They say that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it can cause a storm on the other side of the world. My father told me recently that although this is sometimes true, typically a butterfly's affect is dampened out into insignificance. The turbulence it generates meets a predominant flow in the ichor of the atmosphere, whose impetuous flow is barely interrupted. Any meaningful causality from that flap hits the equivalent of a brick wall.

For this reason, butterflies do not form a prominent place in the American Military Arsenal. There are no fields of cabbages placed strategically at the polar opposite location of Iran, attracting caterpillars who bloom into storm-generating Weapons of Mass Destruction causing lightening storms, flash flooding, and as an unintended positive effect, allow crop production in the previously arid deserts.

Tommy's asked me to clear up some confusion which probably could have been cleared up a while ago. This may be my last post here. (Edit: That sounds a bit like I'm going to kill myself, apparantly. Don't worry. I'm not going to. I simply meant that I'd be posting on this blog from now on).

For the past 5 or 6 months, I haven't really contributed to Goo. This is because of the depression I've been going though. I guess I won't go into detail about how this disease robbed me of the will to work on a game that I had been planning since I was about 19. Basically, my psychotherapist says I built an enormous castle of expectation on it, and was slain by the performance anxiety guarding the gates.

It's never quite as simple as this, of course. There are many other contributing factors to my decline, but there it is. I got depressed. I choked. I'm still dealing with the guilt of leaving Tommy in the lurch. Now I live, cocooned in my parents house, isolated, dormant, hoping to awaken, but not holding my breath.

During my slow and torturous departure, Tommy took on more and more of the weight of production. Not only has he revised the code almost completely (twice over) he's also had to take on board feedback and make design changes without me*.

I'm still proud to be a part of Goo, even though now it goes on without me. Though my coding contributions have been written into insignificance, I still feel I worked damn hard on the design - at least while I still could. I know it seems like a simple concept - one you wouldn't expect a lot of design for - but simple concepts don't necessarily make for simple solutions. I tried my best to focus on the intrinsic joy of handling the Goo physics, to have the shaders explain the interplay of thick and thin, and thus the unending depth of gameplay even with such a simple concept. I wanted to do it without using gimmicks as a kind of apology for weak core gameplay. I wanted it to be "pure", and enjoyable within that. I even tried to think of what the mechanic was trying to express**, and ways to amplify that. I put a lot of love into Goo. It breaks my heart that it no longer belongs to me. The fact that it took me several months before I finally came to favor my mental well-being over this game ought to be proof enough that my heart needs some glue (Note: not gay slang).

I said, a long time in this blog, that passion is like a fuel, and that when you make a game with no secure income, you need to stock up on passion for the long haul. There's obviously something wrong with that analogy, because I had passion... but somehow my petrol tank exploded. In slow motion. Across a 4 lane motorway. Causing five deaths. 15 injuries. Long tailbacks.

Tommy wanted me to point out - to anyone confused - about who was really behind earning Goo an IGF Technical Excellence nomination, since we both seem to have been credited equally in a few cases. I'm here to say that the IGF technical excellence nomination is all down to Tommy's hard work. My contribution to the technical side was certainly not in implementation - Tommy's coding ability humbled me completely any time I tried to do anything useful. I merely outlined the broad strokes of the technology at the beginning of the project - I'd had this idea (of blending blobs to create a height map, and interpret that through different shader visualizations to create a wealth of different effects) for many years, and had been waiting for hardware to catch up. When the hardware finally arrived to achieve it, I was no-where near expert enough to act upon it. Ideas are one thing, but without implementation, they're just ideas. Without Tommy we'd have nothing.

A butterfly's flaps won't always cascade into a major weather-front. Similarly, as the butterflies around us flap as hard as they can in the hopes of causing a storm, the causal persistence from our own meagre turbulence may be dampened and redirected into other streams of flow. In this life, some of us are destined to work hard and achieve little. I know this is true, because I flapped myself half-empty even before working on Goo, and still have nothing to show for it. Tommy, thankfully (and guilt inducingly) still has a lot of flap left in him. Take it home, buddy!

Oh, and speaking of flapping myself raw, I won't be able to fly to the IGS this year, but I do hope that everyone who goes has a nice time.

Goodbye, caterpillars.

*I don't doubt that the game will be different from what I originally intended, but then, that'd be true even if I were in tip top shape, beavering away along side him. It's typical for games to change as they are made.
**In the same sense as Jon Blow's recent talks mentioning "Meaningful Gameplay" which I always called "Logos ex Machina", because translating English into Latin
badly, and putting it in italics instantly raises your IQ by four points.


IGF Nominations!

The 2008 IGF nominations just came out! Tommy's excessive hard work has paid off: Goo has been nominated for Tentical Excellence!


Who does Huey Lewis ride with..oh that's right the NEWS

Hi, It's Tommy. I've been damn busy over the last few months rewriting engine stuff (basically rewrote about 90% of the code base...in August) but have some stuff to announce. There's a new video for Goo, it is below. It was too big to stick on YouTube (can anyone explain the 10 minute restriction on me...the video was 95MB so that wasn't a problem as they cap at 100MB) so yea, it's hosted on the website now. I'll probably chop it up into two parts later on and post it on YouTube but for now it's on my server. Enjoy.

To watch the higher res version, and find out how you to can embed this video into your crappy blog go to http://goo.pillowfortgames.com/.

In other news, After around a 42 hour crunch during which time I took no break (aside from eating and showering) Goo made it into IGF. Hoorray and what not. I think we have a decent chance to get at least a nomination, but there are some really nice looking and creative games this year...so it's going to be a hell of a competition. Wish us luck...you're not wishing hard enough...I can't feel it...Good..that's better...keep that up.

In other other news, we sent a new build to Microsoft on Monday...and that is all I can say at this point...WOOO SECRETS!

In other other other news, Amorphous is no longer Amorphous. It is now called PillowFort (cute huh?) and as such a new, functional website (no more splash pages) along with a website for Goo will be up hopefully by next Friday. The URLs are http://www.pillowfortgames.com/ and http://goo.pillowfortgames.com/. So yes, to all 8 of you that read this blog, here's your news. Don't really expect another post from me for a very long time. Stop crying, it's for the best.


A Path Through Recovery

It's been a while. I know, and I'm sorry. A few people have been in contact due to my lapse in blogging to ask if everything's okay, and if the game is still going.

I'm fine, thanks. The last couple of months have been fairly torturous, but I'm back home in Exmoor now, taking plenty of exercise, and leaning on the support of my family. I was pretty severely depressed in Brixton because of the day to day loneliness, and generally feeling kind of burned out, but I feel like I'm getting back to normal now. Prozac seems to help a bit, but even with it, you can feel stressed out an panicky, so it's by no means a total cure to my situation. Still, I'm recovering and getting back up to speed.

Goo is still going, thanks mainly to Tommy's incredible hard work and persistence. It can't be easy to keep going at this project when the only other person doing the work with you is having a nervous breakdown, but he's soldiered on regardless, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Tommy's been reworking our engine, making it more efficient and stable. Previously, we had this rather nice feeling physics, but it was unfortunately not very efficient, and could be unstable - explosions of goo, a bit like in DarkMan. Tommy's taken that stuff, and completely re-worked it from the ground up to feel just as nice, but to also maintain stability. He told me that he left it on all night once, by mistake, and it was still stable when he got back. Result! We used to use some fairly devious corruptions of Lennard Jones spring potentials, but ultimately Tommy found that simpler is better, especially where bajillions of spring connections are concerned. We now use very basic dampened springs for our physics.

We're crunching for the IGF at the end of this month. Only two weeks to go. The same build we submit there (which won't be complete, but it's rare for primary IGF submissions to be the final product) will also be sent to Microsoft and hopefully championed internally.

Someone contacted me about World of Goo, and whether we're worried about the similarity in name to our own, "Goo".

I'm really looking forward to World of Goo as I've been watching the output of the Experimental Gameplay Project for a long time now. They've managed to popularize the idea of gameplay prototyping, and I want to kiss them for it. While I found all the experiments interesting in some way, Tower of Goo was the one which was clearly ready for a full production.

Am I worried about the similarity of names? Probably not as much as I should be. It seems like there's a whole micro-industry of games publishers who shovel lookeelikee games into their portfolio in a simple attempt to get mistakenly bought by Grandmas who happily purchase "Grand Thrift Aunt" amidst a confused hunt for similarly acronym'd hit games. It's the only service outside optometry dedicated to cataract suffers.

I wish I had the Machiavellian genius to think so hard about something so cynical, and admit to you, dear reader, that the name "Goo" was born of a desire to rob Kyle Gabler of some well deserved sales. I'm sorry to say that the truth is far more innocent.

The reason we call our game "Goo" is threefold:
  • Most obviously, you control a sticky, blobby fluid - like a dense oil or quick silver. The subject matter is Goo.
  • The main aim of Goo is to surround your opponent, much like the ancient eastern board game "Go". In a sacrilegious kind of way, Goo is like a spiritual successor to Go - the same premise but more organic and flowing. So, we added an "o" to represent that natural progression. Clearly, if we did a sequel, it'd have to be called "Gooo" (and have sniper rifles and exploding genitalia).
  • "Liquid War" was already taken. That's right. When I came up with the idea of Goo, I had never heard of Liquid War, and it was only after checking google to see if that name was taken that I found the game. Definitely worth a look, but if you're worried about the credulity of making a game so seemingly similar to it, I can assure you that Goo plays significantly differently, being based on very different physics and very different controls.
So, I don't know yet if we'll be changing name. I wonder how many sales "God of War" earned due to the proximity of its name to "Gears of War", and vice-versa? Perhaps "Tower of Goo" and "Goo" will be mutually beneficial in that way? Or maybe, the obvious answer is to call our game "Goos of War"?

Any suggestions for new names are welcome, of course! "Liquid War Copying Cunts" is the thing you would write if you enjoy trolling, for example!

In other news, I got into the Bioshock credits!


Bioshock First Review: 10/10

I just wanted to give a public shout to my mate JP, and the rest of Irrational, because the first review of Bioshock is out.

I'm not the sort to judge a game by review score alone (so much else is important in a review - whether or not you have an established knowledge of the reviewer: I tend to agree strongly with Tom Bramwell from Eurogamer, for example, so I put more credence in his reviews than with people I know I don't have a shared taste with), but when something gets a perfect ten, you have to sit up and take notice.

Once again, congratulations Irrational! I knew you could do it!



Not many updates of late. Sorry. It's been a bit hectic recently.

I've moved to Brixton to look after my sister's flat. Nice place, and I've got it all to myself. I'm managing to see a few friends, which is good for the soul.

A couple of weeks ago Tommy showed Goo to our MS Account Manager at PartnerDay. Our original worry was that he thought the gameplay was too slow (sorta confused us when he said this - we think it's pretty fast paced), but as it turns out, he was just referring to the fact that he was running it on a slow computer. Tommy's got this insanely fast laptop which runs the game faster than either of our desktops, so he managed to kill any notion that the gameplay itself was sluggish.

The other issue he had was that the game was too abstract for people to understand when they were coming to it for the first time - if you plonk someone in versus mode, and tell them to play, they won't know what the point of the game is. That point still stands, but I've just finished the voice over for our pitch video which explains in quite a lot of depth the goals, controls, and basic strategies of the game. We're heading off that issue, essentially, and I'm not too worried about it.

We're still not greenlit as a result of the face-to-face. Right now, we really need to put forward a convincing demo, video, and design document, but Tommy says that the reaction to the game from everyone he talked to/showed it to was really positive. Tommy met some other cool indie devs like Ninja Bee and Gastronaut, and said that their expression was always the same upon hearing about the game... wide eyes, and jaws dropping [Correction: these reactions were not from those two, but from people from Activision, Sierra Online, and MS]. We got comments from MS like "This is THE game for live arcade!" and "I've loved this concept since I first heard about it".

This is all lovely to hear (if a bit hyperbolic) since we've been working on this game for over a year now with no real breaks, and you can lose all sense of objectivity. I saw a good video of a talk from one of the fun-motion guys, where Matthew said something along the lines of "With physics based games, you have to change the physics to what you want before the physics changes what you want". In essence, he's talking about the transition between platonic ideal and practical reality. This game is such a simple concept, but the work which has gone on researching and developing an engine for a very different kind of game has been extraordinary. Trying to remember what I originally wanted from the game takes some effort when your nose is to the grind-stone, tweaking endless variables and attraction/repulsion models.

I digress. The problem is, all the positive energy Tommy got was a bit like water off a duck's back for me. We were getting a lot of stuff ready for PartnerDay (and actually didn't end up showing it), and so went into some rather mental crunch. There I was, coming right out of jetlag, and punctuating the crunch by knackering myself hobo-ing around London to find a decent place to work. I was completely exhausted, and incredibly low. I love the game, and love making it, but there's a point where your mind physically refuses to work.

Last weekend I went to my neice's christening. There was a big family party afterwards: around 30 people, family mainly. I was low... maybe not quite as low as when I left my last job, but certainly thoughts of suicide were becoming more frequent. I could barely talk to anyone without feeling like I'd snap, and insult them. I didn't want to do that, so I stayed in my room until the party was over. Social anxiety mixed with depression, and I went into meltdown.

I'm a pretty depressive person at the best of times, but the momentum of tiredness, and the knowledge that we had to go straight into another crunch took its toll. The next day, I went to see a Doctor, and now I'm on some anti depressants and looking for local therapists. I'm not looking to become dependant on pills - depression is a desease, and you have to cure it. I want to get on with life and enjoy my work, so I hope this is just a phase.

At the same time, we're in a pinch right now, and are working harder than is probably healthy. Feels like we don't have much choice but to suck it up and keep working, or the development will last forever - neither of us can afford that. We'd have to lean on our parents way too much.

I guess we can be thankful that it's our choice, rather than some boss or publisher forcing us to stick to impossible deadlines - the difference being that if we really don't feel like the game's up to snuff, we won't force it out of the door. I really just hope, in the long run, we have enough time to give the game the attention it deserves without killing ourselves doing it. Seems like there's no point in this endeavour if we can't do that.

On the brighter side, Jamie Parker, an old war-buddy, is helping us out with some of the art. Right now, our demo has no real cohesive artistic direction. This is because we've been all about getting systems and gameplay working - functionality first. Everything's been placeholder and proof of concept. Right now is a good time to have someone with artistic talent take the reigns. I'd love to do it myself, but... I sort of have enough to worry about.



I've touched down in London. Now that I have some "micro-funding", I'm able to hobo around various friends'/family's abodes for a small amount of rent money. Right now, I'm at Tim and Chrispy's, stealin' their internets. I couldn't be here without the money I'm getting - It's already solved the issues I had being in a broadband deadzone while working in the countryside, and also the problem of having no social life.

It feels as though for about 6 years I've been detatched from my friends: first there was university, and then there was my previous job abroad. After that there were the trips to America to work with Tommy in his secluded family house, as well as working from my parents' home in equally secluded Exmoor.

We had a small reunion the other night. It felt a bit as though I was coming out of hiding... all these faces I hadn't seen for years.

So much has happened: One friend got a PhD, another was part of a Think Tank, and another turned out to be working at SCEE (which only became apparant after I, erm, "commented" on some of Sony's recent PR problems. Oops). Another came back from his new home in Iceland for a visit. It was great to see them all again, as well as meeting new people, but after years of feeling like a hermit, it was a little overwhelming. I think I had a mild panic attack after someone said that I moved like a robot, and made fun of my clothes (this was at about 4am after my cousin and another friend sorta crashed a party which had already run its course. It felt like we walked into freezer, such was the welcome.)

I'm still pretty poor, here, and the overwhelming sense of capitalism driving London means that I have to make a concerted effort not to make lots of impulse buys as I travel from place to place. Food and cost of living are expensive enough as it is without the constant temptation of the game du jour. I'd love to shell out for some new clothes, but there's no way I can afford them, and also, I get a fantastic false sense of superiority telling people that I'm being ecologically friendly by wearing my clothes for as long as possible. These trainers are over two years old, and are the only casual footware I have.


We showed our Demo (see previous post) to our man at MS. Unfortunately, we think he may have been playing it on a single core machine (and our engine requires multiple cores to work). As a result, the game ran incredibly slowly, and he wasn't really able to see what was going on. Then again, he may be referring to the general pace of the game, and that he couldn't really percieve what he was supposed to do, or what the draw of the game really was. He still likes the concept, but as we already know, we've got a ways to go before we have the core mechanic properly framed by a proper user experience (the "beginning, middle, end" of games).

The feedback creates some confliciting feelings for me. On the one hand, he still loves the concept, but on the other hand, pushing 2 sets of 20 crunch wasn't enough to make a convincing demo - it's frustrating to know that hard work doesn't necessarily equal success. Never work hard at the exclusion of working smart, is the moral. We know where to go from here, though...

Tommy's going to an invite-only event on the west coast on the 16th which our guy at MS is also going to (I can't really afford the tickets). We're polishing up what we have so that we can show him the game as it's supposed to be presented.

We're working on this polish-up based on the feedback we've been getting from all over about the video. We've been finding that people who see the game for the first time fall into two categories: the first set of people immediately understand what to do "Oh, I see... you surround their goo with your goo!"; The second set simply get a mental block, and need help understanding what the game's all about.

I'm a bit annoyed with myself: I've seen people wander into development myopathy many times before - so concentrated on what they're doing that they can't have any empathy for the outsider. I promised myself that I wouldn't fall into that trap, and make sure I step back and look at the game with fresh eyes as often as possible. I feel like if people don't get what is a really pretty simple concept ("surround their goo with your goo") I failed my duty there.

We've been in it so deep for so long that when AdamAtomic from TIGsource forums told me "the only reason I really understand it is because I've read your blog", I was taken aback. I'm annoyed at myself for not explaining the game better, and for assuming that everyone should just understand it, and know what "Go" is, and know about Sun Tzu's art of war, and Bruce Lee's "Be water, my friend" quotes. I thought I knew better than to be so presumtuous, but apparantly I fell into a spot of denial about how obvious the game is.

Then again, it is a fairly different game, as buddy JP says "If people aren't lining up colors, or shooting baddies, you're immediately obligated to a lot of explanation."

So, perhaps I shouldn't be too mad at myself, for two reasons: it's par for the course to have a lot of effort put into a tutorial for a game with a non-typified mechanic, and also, tutorials are not the foundation to rest your game on... we needed to make the game before we could explain it. Illucidation will come in time.

Before the 16th, I hope to have a better in-game explanation of what the goal of the game is, how to use the controls fully, and how to maximize your points. I want to do this without putting players through example videos/replays, or by forcing them to jump through hoops. I want something more akin to BattleField 2's wonderful "Teach it as you use it" system... but with Goo rather than helicopters. It's certainly harder to do, but far more satisfying for the player when they aren't boxed into the classroom from the get-go.

It's funny how much of good design is just about thinking hard so that others don't have to.


In Brief

Just quickly running down the events of the last couple of weeks, in no detail what so ever.

We pulled a 2x20 hour crunch to get a demo ready for MS. We're now totally exhausted and are recovering. We're not going to do a public video of this version just yet, for a number of reasons: We don't know if it's particularly cool for us to do it with MS's say-so (though, we're independant, so I don't see why not - just trying to be careful); we're too tired/time strapped to do a GOOD video - our previous one was done in a rush; The amount of time I spend replying to feed back:

a) makes me look like a pathetic, overly defensive contestant on a fictional reality TV show called "R U Indie Enuff Squire??" where some mean British Game Developer (Tadhg Kelly in my mind's eye) tells everyone they suck.
b) makes tommy get a bit irritated that I'm obsessing over whatever our public image is becoming (because I am a vain insecure bast), rather than getting on with work.

Since the last demo, we've added a new background/music driven visualization (which is really just our first stab, and a bit of a proof of concept), we've redone the HUD almost entirely (Bars, scores, whizzing text etc.) spruced up the sound and music a lot (thanks Justin!), added rumble, re-coded the menu (still needs lots of work, but it's useable now), improved controls (you can now blend between throwing in a direction, and throwing in every direction by only deflecting the stick half way - subtle, but useful), improved some gameplay things like how "chain captures" are balanced, vastly improved Survival Mode (JP says it's like "Katamari meets Geometry Wars meets Total War"), and... um. Added something like 7 skins to the game, including "crowds of bees!". All in all, not bad for two people (and justin) in 1 month.

In a couple of days I fly back to England. I was sort of dreading this because funds are running low, and my parents are intent on chucking me out of the house ("For your own good!"), thus forcing me to pay rent somewhere, thus forcing me to get a job, thus pretty much destroying my ability to be a useful part of development. However, out of the blue, a patron may have saved us! I've just had a kind of dream-come-true conversation on the phone with him and with Tommy. Don't really know how much I can say, but hopefully our wolves are being kept away from the door due to this last minute save.

It's my last night in North Carolina. I have to pack up my Tower PC, get the over-weight charges ready for my luggage (I really ought to get a laptop, as much as I hate their expensive hard to replace hardware and horrible keyboards), and print my itinerary and various angry letters to expedia just in case their systems didn't update my flight to its new day.

Tommy is suggesting we get married so that I can stay longer. Tempting.

Boring update, sorry. This is good, though.


Some Approaches are more Equal than Others.

Delivery of narrative is not the sole purpose of an artistic medium.

I say this because I've just read this article on Bioshock. It's a good article, all in all, and I don't want to deride in in any way. There was just one comment in it which triggered my alarm bells:

The point of BioShock, the raison d'etre, is really the story, and the messages and intellectual content that Levine tries to deliver as a payload. "Look at Lord of the Rings," he challenges. "Why is Lord of the Rings more interesting than random RPG story number 507? They're exactly the same thing. They have orcs and goblins and demons and trolls. But Lord of the Rings is a meditation on power. And it's really interesting because of that. It's what gives it it's heart." And with undenied hubris, Levine's trying to do the same thing with BioShock, while still delivering a game 16-year-old cheese eating high school students will want to play. "We have these philosophical notions, but you've got to deliver. You gotta bring home the monsters. You gotta bring home the superpowers." In short, he's become a commercial realist.

There's nothing wrong with this quote in of itself. Publishers demand returns on investment. Marketing the game as an RPG is not going to give them what they want. Therefore, while Bioshock is heavily RPG oriented (though without the unnecessary complexity which typical RPG convention dictates), the publisher wants to focus the market on the percieveably more accessible action aspects. If Bioshock allows players to take on a gung-ho approach as a viable option whilst also fostering sneaky and cerebral approaches, then it's truer to the root of the term "role playing" than most RPGs. Indeed, many FPS/RPG hybrids have certainly been wanting on the pure-FPS side, almost forcing your expression away from Rambo-ism via inadequate core controls. So again, if Bioshock pulls it off, I'm happy that it won't be an implicit cost to other sides of the game.

My issue here is that the implication from Levine (or rather, inference from the author) that the "shooter" aspect exists merely to sate base desires in the mass market and to deliver a story payload, seems to me to be an incredulous amplification. I know a developer on Bioshock, and although I'm not privy to details on the game (bless his NDA fearing socks), I am aware of the design philosophy that guides him. Because I know this, something about the above doesn't add up for me. The view that low level mechanics, proprioception, and feel are in any way less important than the overall message of the game does not match with what I perceive to be their attempts a more symbiotic relationship between the two.

The idea that Narrative and Ludology must together form a master/slave relationship is an old one, and one I had hoped was dead by now. I'll sum it up briefly for anyone who is unfamiliar: How can an interactive medium produce a coherent story without compromising the author's intent, or the player's expression? Who has the reigns of the story; player or author? Surely it cannot be both? It has taken a while for people to calm down and understand that there doesn't have to be a conflict of interest, but you get the occasional article in the press fanning the ashes of a long burnt out debate, hoping to ask a wider audience into this initially ferocious debate, generating a little advertising revenue, no doubt. What's the final point which settles the argument?

Logos Ex Machina*: The Message/Idea in the Machine. Through the forging of a path through possibility (HAY THAT'S THE NAME OF THIS BLOG!!) systems generate stories (or at least, "series of events": "Jump, Jump, Break Block" is hardly Dickens) but at a more abstracted level, systems describe and explain emergent behaviours. In other words, they portray a message/idea in their own way - in a way which is fundamentally different to painting, sculpture, dance, writing, film or any other artform.

When you play Civilization, you can derive an understanding about why, say, the US is in Iraq: From your needs as a player, you grow to understand that you need to dominate resources to fuel a war machine to conquer the world to dominate resources. In the Sims, you see countless truisms in life - our credence of the capitalistic lifestyle and worship of material goods: "The things you own end up owning you", or that there's a fine balance to be struck between all your base needs if you want to be happy and productive. These are not explicit stories - they are messages woven deep into the fabric of an interactive system either by masters of the art form, or by lucky shits with unintended messages to spread. Their exposition is a natural systemic inevitability through the emergence of gameplay, rather than a forced contrivance in a cutscene.

With this in mind, there is no conflict between player and designer for authorship. Both are free to express themselves at different levels, feeling each other's will/intent without an authoritive power struggle.

Clearly there is an overall narrative string in Bioshock, but the progression from System Shock 2 and Thief seems to show that Levine is more and more being reborn as a storyteller who is embracing the strengths of the medium. This is refreshing considering that many die hard storytellers in games see a player's agency as a nuisance; as an affront to their own creativity.

The Narrative, in Bioshock's case, is just one expression of the underlying idea. It is amplified by the gameplay, and vice versa, since both gameplay and narrative are striving to explain the same thing. That moral choice to bio-engineer ones' self, or save a population if little girls is wrought implicit in the fundamental gameplay - moment by moment actions bear out themes in the story, and in more way that one! The openness of possible expression in your approach ("Rambo" for the slack jawed joes, "cerebral" for the poncey art fags) is bookended by a difficulty at either extremity: "All guns blazing" is possible but apparantly difficult; "Tower Defense: the FPS" likewise is hard to survive on alone, but is fully catered to. A mix of strategies, therefore, may be the easiest route, matching the "Fundamentalism is Baaad" overtones which the story tries to express.

I should also mention that the level design also re-enforces the narrative message: it's a sprawling the mis en scene. That's the technique it uses best to describe that same message - the ubiquotous conflict between the arrogance of imposed structure and penetrating waters embodying nature's malevolence: fundamentalisms causing conflict.

The point is, it's a three way symbiosis between exposition of the story, exploration of the physical/virtual world, and experiencing the varied strategies. Level Design, Gameplay, and Narrative are naturally intertwined: That's because this is not a case of "Which came first: Chicken or Egg; Story or Mechanic". It works because every cardinally aligned medium employed in the game is its own expression of a single unified idea. Using the message as a seed, each part of the medium grows out to express the same thing, in their own unconflicting terms - on those different, non conflicting layers.

I don't mean to imply that "Narrative as master" is a red herring, or that "You must have a story to justify a game mechanic". I don't believe either of those things - I welcome all approaches. I just felt that the idea that Bioshock delivers its message in one medium only, or that the other media utilized are subserviant, is false, and discredits the work that I know has gone into the game. Delivery of narrative is not the sole purpose of an artistic medium. Delivery of the idea is. And you can do it any bloody way you feel like. And you don't even have to be intentional about a message, because it's ultimately all in the interpretation!

I don't mean to sound like I think Levine indicted his own team, either. You know what I think happened? I think that a passionate journalist takes measures to dig deeper into details. I think Levine sensed that this guy is more interested in the higher level story, and placates him with more information about that side, playing to his wants, as every good designer should. Journalist (somehow) takes this as an implicit damning of what he percieves as a "lesser art" - that of basic interaction... kinaesthesia.

This whole post seems like an over-reaction to most, I'm sure. The reason that I rebut this incredibly minor point with this many words' worth of effort is because the idea that any one part of a game is more important to the medium than any other, by extension, denigrates what I'm trying to do with Goo: a focus on feel, and an expression of something greater through that one quality.

Just to show that I'm not being a total fanboy, I leave you with this Bioshock cover art, and the first words that sprung into my mind upon seeing it:

"Cowabunga, dudes!" :/

*Forgive me for a fruity embellishment which is probably translated wrong :/


There are two parts to me...

Seems like I've been posting more than ever! COOL. This post is in two parts, one is for everyone, and the other is for everyone.

Part 1: You aren't special

Aubrey has brought to my attention that a lot of you "like" that I hate you. Let me just inform you, that you are in no way special to me. I don't hate you because you're an indie developer, or some kind of minority, or some sort of a person. I hate everyone. "Hahah, Tommy hates me...COOL". Hahaha, laugh it up suckslut, it's not a joke. I really have no respect for you or anything you do or say. Now, you may be asking yourself "Wow... I wonder why he..." let me cut you off right there. There's no reason that I hate you other than that I don't know you. If I don't know you, you are by default a jerk. For all you programmers out there...this is how the world was created in reference to me:

memset(people, jerk, sizeof(person) * population);

Get it? Good. If I did know you, I might not hate you but we'll never know, will we? So to all you people that think "Hahaha that's cool, he hates people" Fuck off. This isn't a joke, the comments left don't make me hate you or like you. In fact, there's no way possible I could hate you more.

Part 2: Cats are awesome

Cats are awesome. I like cats. Cats have paws and some claws. My cat, Evil, is big. He's a big cat. I like cats. Cats are better than dogs because dogs are not as good as cats. Cats can jump higher than dogs. Cats have fur, noses and ears. A cats ears can fold backwards. Cats also have tails. Cats move their tails sometimes to show how they feel. Cat eyes can see in the dark. Cats are better than dogs because dogs aren't as good as cats. I love cats.


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.