Monday, October 24

Committing (Planetary) Suicide ...In Style

When I was young and full of hope I always thought that if I ever met someone who was seriously contemplating suicide I'd give them the following advice:

                 Sell everything you have and travel.  
                 It doesn't matter where, 
                 just somewhere different than where you are now, 
                 but preferably as far away as possible.  

For a start, they'd have nothing left to lose and by the time they'd have seen a bunch of new things and gained some new and notable experiences, all from making a darkly brave leap of faith, they might have found they have changed their minds.  And if not, well, they have at least enjoyed the last moments they had alive as best they could.

It wasn't until I was sitting in a magnificent pancake restaurant in Prague, at the end of a one-month solo road trip through Europe that I realised, 20 years later, I had taken my own advice.  The only real difference is that humanity had decided to commit suicide on my behalf, only on a collective scale, via our continual abuse of the planet.  While I hadn't liked that collective decision, in fact I was and still am completely opposed to it, I nonetheless found myself at the mercy of the suicidal status-quo of our combined actions, and responding to it as if it were my own decision.  Hence, the holiday.  Why does our species so frivolously forgo its own future?  I have absolutely no idea.  But knowing that we are on a trajectory which we won't collectively survive is a slow-dawning fact that I fought vigorously against, but eventually... begrudgingly... came to accept.

When I finally did, life turned rather beautiful.  I felt unburdened, and found myself enjoying the time I have left, regardless of the Runaway Climate Change that we are on a collision course with.

To enjoy my life, while I'm still around to enjoy it, is why I'm sitting in a pancake restaurant in Prague. 

I would never directly commit suicide, of course. I'm too much of a coward for that, but it's an undeniably awkward situation to find myself in waiting for humanity to get on with its own grisly task of destroying itself, despite my best efforts against it.  The other reason that I could never punch out early is because I'm also far too morbidly curious to miss out on any of the gruesome details that this civilisation-wide catastrophocalypse has in store for us.  It's going to be quite a show, so... why not order the banana, chocolate, nuts & eggnog crepe?  And that's exactly what I'm eating right now as I'm staring out of the window watching the rain gently fall outside from this restaurant's warm and cozy atmosphere. What a beautiful way to live the last of my life. a Civilisation Tourist.

That's a term I just made up, by the way.  Much like the term, Eco-Tourist, where people flock to places of natural wonder before Climate Change sees that beauty vanish forever, a Civilisation Tourist sees the best of what human civilisation has to offer before we're reduced to fighting over water and eating our pets, trying to remember what fish tasted like, or when the weather used to be nice.

Mmm... These pancakes are excellent!

Tuesday, August 30

Mars:Mars - Positive "Freedback"

Mars:Mars is a tremendously fun casual game.

Mars:Mars was a real surprise.  It held my attention for two strong reasons.  It is incredibly beautiful, with a stunning colour palette similar to that of Monument Valley, and its gameplay has such a well-crafted simplicity to it.  

Mars:Mars is both beautiful and fun.  Well done to Pomelo Games for getting both of those things perfectly right. 

I love the game's small details as well, like: the real-time day-night cycle, (which took me around 3000 platforms before I noticed it); and the animated moons orbiting Earth and Mars in one of their menu screens.  Small things like that tell me there has been some real love put into this game.    

One of my favourite parts of Mars:Mars, however, is the Graphic User Interface (GUI) which is simply brilliant.  It's SO clean, and SO consistent in it's hexagonal theme that it blends perfectly with the game's low-poly aesthetic.  The UI nerd inside me is giving you guys a slow clap right now.  

I call this blog Positive "Freedback" because if I'm really inspired by a game or movie I like to spend some creative energy to comment on what else I'd like to see from it.  It's fun for me to do this.  It is NOT criticism.  It's simply my way of wanting even more from the current experience and these comments come from a place of great excitement.   The reason why it's called "freedback" in particular, is because this is my way of giving back to a "freemium" game.  You give me greatness for free, I try to return that greatness, also for free.  

Pomelo Games, if there are any ideas you see in this post that you would like to adopt as is, or adapt, or whatever, please feel free to do so.  That is the entire purpose of why I have written this blogpost to begin with.  All the ideas below are the result of my imagination having fun with your game.  Enjoy.  

--- M:M ---

At the very start of the game, you could enter the year you were born... that when you came to the platform of the same number the game wished you a Happy Birthday.

--- M:M ---

(Below is my favourite suggestion).  
If you leave the game idle for more than 5 seconds...

...the camera angle slowly changes... a more dramatic perspective, and stays there.  
(It's a chance for us to get up close and personal with our favourite characters)

As soon as the player touches the screen, the character launches as per usual, but the camera quickly moves back... it's default position... the game can continue on as normal.
(Seeing our character up close and watching them launch into the air from a dramatic angle would be coooool!)  

--- M:M ---

When the player reaches every 1000th platform...

It triggers a pop-up screen with a simplified landscape of the last 1000 platforms...

...along with a small animation of these platforms becoming "activated"...

...which allows for the "auto-construction" of a new monorail for the Earth colony of Mars. 
(If the player doesn't jump to the next platform before the one they are on is activated the monorail stops slightly short until they have moved).

The top of the monorail is simply at the top of the play area.  
(This idea gives the game definite milestones, but it also provides the player with a sense of purpose which encourages them to get to the next milestone, and, ultimately, the end).
Note: [SPOILER ALERT!] Even though I had this idea before I saw the Martian monorail at Platform 3994, I think this idea can fit comfortably with both monorail ideas in the game.  One monorail belongs to Martians, the other to Earthlings. 

--- M:M ---

It would be nice to see the number always appearing above the coin icon as a standard format for whenever we see a money amount.   
(You'll notice that I've done this to all the screens on this post).

--- M:M ---

The story can be told through the short messages our hero receives...  

...which are always very short, (the length of a tweet), with the ads still being present at the bottom.
(A story would add a lot to the experience, providing chances of exposition about our hero's bad landing at the start, the creatures of the world, the Martian culture, etc).  It's a way for things to be slowly revealed to the player, but it would also provide a golden opportunity for comedy.  Let's face it, some poor guy being stuck out on a desert planet activating platforms all day, every day, while all the good parts of his life are happening elsewhere- that's pretty damn funny).  

--- M:M ---

If you skip a platform six times...

...coins become fuel canisters, (and where there are no coins, canisters will appear)...

There are only 5 canisters to collect, which means you can skip about 5 platforms, but only if... can land on a platform successfully at the end of this run.  Crashing will return the canisters to coins again and make you start back from the platform you launched from.

--- M:M ---

Introducing Numerical Love.

Small titles appear over their relevant platforms (and then fade away after a couple of seconds) that describe the type of number the platform has.  

Synchronous numbers: 111, 222, 333, 444, 5555, 7777

Binary numbers: 10, 11, 100, 101, 110, 111, 1011
Palindrome numbers: 101, 313, 2442, 3883, 4114 

Prime numbers: All prime numbers up to 8000  (1 is not a prime number)

Twin numbers: 66, 88, 1212, 3232, 4141

Ascending numbers: 12, 56, 89, 123, 345, 7890
Descending numbers: 21, 65, 98, 321, 543, 987

(Getting to platforms that were of a certain type acted like mini-milestones when I was playing).

--- M:M ---

When you collect a coin from the sky...

...we hear a satisfying chime sound, but the coin only appears next to your collection, not in it.

You only get this coin (and a new satisfying sound effect) when you...

...complete the landing.

--- M:M ---

The more successful jumps you make in a row, the more you are rewarded with a coin prize.

Platforms jumped = coin rewards
Platforms x10 = 3 coins
Platforms x20 = 9 coins 
Platforms x30 = 18 coins 
Platforms x40 = 27 coins
Platforms x50 = 50 coins 
Platforms x60 = 50 coins 
Platforms x70 = 50 coins 
Platforms x80 = 50 coins
Platforms x90 = 50 coins 
Platforms x100 = 100 coins 
Platforms x200 = 200 coins 
Platforms x300 = 300 coins, etc...

This character has already made 30 successful jumps, and his reward is 18 coins.

Once they've crashed, their reward is waiting for them at the next platform.
(Jump rewards can simply be landed on to collect).  
(Ranks would still apply, of course.)

--- M:M ---

Here is a hellmouth over Platform 6666.

Landing on the platform reveals a new & unique description for this number.  

The number 3.14159265359...

The monolith at Platform 2001, with a unique numeric description.

Mat Brady is a Senior Storyboard Artist at Artrix Ltd (a game development studio) in Auckland, New Zealand. The views and opinions expressed above do not necessarily coincide with those of Artrix Ltd. This blog has been posted independently of the studio.

Sunday, July 31

ADR1FT: Detailed Constructive Feedback (with images)

ADR1FT is a game I've been waiting to play on my Vive for a long time, and now I finally have. The implementation of its VR mechanics can be improved, and so the following blog is based upon an email I sent to the developers outlining these potential improvements.  Enjoy.

ADR1FT: Detailed Constructive Feedback (with images)
ADR1FT already contains all of the art assets needed to make one of the richest gaming experiences in VR to date. The content is incredible. The theme is perfect. Only a few minimal tweaks to ADR1FT's Vive implementation are necessary to make it truly shine. These are detailed below.


The core gameplay of ADR1FT is essentially the player as a "pod" adjusting their movements in space and maintaining the player's existence by picking up floating oxygen tanks. This works perfectly as a flatscreen gaming mechanic where the view is always straight ahead, but runs into practical problems when the player is given control of the camera with the HMD (Head Mounted Display). The urge of the player to look around freely then creates a conflict with the core gameplay mechanic which requires a view constantly facing straight out from the "pod".
Similarly the HUD (Heads Up Display) elements that have traditionally worked perfectly within a flatscreen game mechanic also make a difficult transition to a full VR experience.
The following constructive feedback will address these two issues specifically.
In short, the following suggestions retain the core gameplay mechanic of ADR1FT, but introduce simple interface mechanisms that allow for a more comfortable, and therefore richer, VR experience.

THE HELMET - X-axis rotation - Looking Up & Down
In real life, if you wore a space helmet and looked directly up you would be staring up at the inside roof of the helmet itself.

Similarly, when you look down you would be looking into the helmet's chin cavity.

The only unobstructed view is when your head is facing directly forward through the visor. The same mechanic can apply to the VR experience in ADR1FT.

This isn't to say that the helmet doesn't move at all. Like in real life the helmet would move up with your head, but to a point. The same is true when you look down. You only become aware of the limitations of the helmet's movements at the extremes.

By introducing a degree of limited movement to the helmet, which is separate to the movement of the player's head, would actively encourage the player to adjust their "pod" orientation rather than adjusting their head position. This supports the core game mechanic, while at the same time enhances the experience of being inside a space suit.

A note on extremes:

Looking directly up (90°) the player's view becomes half blocked by the roof of the helmet, incentivising them to reorientate their view with the game controls.

Looking directly down (-90°) requires an extra solution to prevent the player from looking through their body. When you stand up straight and tilt your head as far down as it can go your head rests at an angle of about 45° at best.

At this angle (-45°) the helmet should be at its maximum obstruction to our visibility- looking mostly into the chin cavity. Beyond this point is unrealistic since our bodies are incapable of going any further, therefore the game view can then fade to black- starting at -45° and going completely to black at -55°.

This trains the player to keep their head within a certain playable range, and fading the view to black gently alerts the player that they have gone beyond this range. It can also be used as an emergency measure for players who are feeling simulation sickness to look directly down, cutting out the view without the need to take the HMD off.

THE HELMET - Y-axis rotation - Looking Left & Right

Because the Vive player has the physical freedom to turn around 360° horizontally, limitations placed on the Y-axis movement of the in-game helmet do not apply.

At best, the helmet's movement would "lag" behind the player's movement if the player moves rapidly in one direction left or right- just as in real life.

With normal movement, however, the helmet should follow the player 1:1.

This impacts the core gameplay, but only minimally. It essentially boosts the player's ability to pivot the Y-axis orientation of their "pod" by linking it to the player's head direction. It essentially allows the player to more quickly turn and boost, then turn again and boost, for much greater stability and ease of movement along the Y-axis, however, while giving this enhanced ability to the player it also greatly improves the immersion of their VR experience.

These two implementations of the X and Y axes of the helmet obviate the need to recalibrate the player's view with the R Trackpad button, since their view is now always calibrated.

HUD - Game Controllers

By removing the HUD from the visor and instead incorporating the radar and oxygen meter onto the Vive Controller models themselves supports the inclusion of the Vive controllers into the game world and gives them even more functionality to the player.

Bringing up important information like Oxygen Levels then becomes a physical act, enhancing the player's VR experience. Having this important information applied to the in-game controllers also makes it easier for the player to monitor, since the player is already using their controllers to target oxygen tanks and bat away unnecessary debris, therefore the controllers are already present in the player's view.

The above, relatively simple suggestions, if implemented, would retain ADR1FT's core gameplay mechanic while, with a minimum investment of resources, allow Vive players to have a more comfortable and richer VR experience.

Mat Brady is a Senior Storyboard Artist at Artrix Ltd (a game development studio) in Auckland, New Zealand. The views and opinions expressed above do not necessarily coincide with those of Artrix Ltd. This blog has been posted independently of the studio.