$NEWTON64 :: {blog|games}
IGDA DemoNight

About a week and a half ago, I had the opportunity to talk a little bit about Red Rover at IGDA Montreal‘s yearly DemoNight, which is a night where people show demos. So that was pretty rad.

Honestly though: it was great to speak alongside some really interesting projects (check them out on the IGDA’s website, above), and to start actually showcasing in public. What I had on display was very rough — we’d only hired our 3D artist about two weeks beforehand (unwise) — and so it was a lot of talk, but I think people got the gist of it. I got some genuinely positive feedback, which would really work great as an IV drip.

The video’s not up just yet, but I’ll post again when it’s online (and be sure to check it out if only for Saleem’s surprise poetry-slam demo of Skipping Stones). In the meantime, it’s that time of the week. Have yourself a teaserful, pre-early-alpha Screenshot Saturday.

Screenshot Saturday Feb. 2

Greedy Aardvark

Being an Orthodox Canadian, I was raised on The Raccoons, and there’s this one shot during the show’s intro where villain-with-a-heart-of-maybe-like-tungsten Cyril Sneer is shown playing what looks like capitalism. Check out 0:43 of the video:

Bert that is not dignified.

I’d always wondered just what in the log driver‘s name that thing was, and this past weekend’s Ludum Dare 48-hour game jam finally gave me a chance to explore that question.

The result is a new thing: Greedy Aardvark.

It controls rather strangely, but I was working off the 1.5 seconds of footage in the show’s intro. I managed to have some fun with the level design, particularly in the latter third of the…well…ten levels. As I wrote elsewhere — this is not the game Cyril played, but perhaps the first voice in its choir.

Read the README and sing it with me.





The Unity folks were kind enough to provide a 4-month trial of Unity Pro to those who participated in LD48. Unity Pro is pretty rad.

How many times did I type “groovy aardvark” instead of “greedy aardvark”? Many, many times.

Didn’t have time to model Sneer, the evergreen trees, the money bags, and the random blue thing. Next time, Gadget. Next time.

The “runs” of blue lines caught me completely by surprise, so I played with ‘em a bit more in the final levels. The importance of playtesting.

Moonlight, Jonas Kyratzes

Jonas Kyratzes has this thing where he writes pretty good: he and his games first won me over with The Fabulous Screech, and he pretty much picked up a lifelong fan with The Sea Will Claim Everything. The games are confidently-written, incredibly original, and possessed of this crazy, carefree, despairing, empowering life-force that mixes whimsy, nostalgia, surrealism, wonder, and really, they are very, very good.

His latest — Moonlight — brings the sweetness yet again. It’s been receiving some rather nice words elsewhere, so I’ll try not to be too redundant: it’s a dreamy game to be sure (it is literally a dream), but the feeling that struck me most was that of a new, enchanted, interactive improv theatre. It’s not some wild experience over which you have no control; instead, you point the way, and the game winks and says “Why yes, why wouldn’t we?” and away you go. It’s intentional, it’s effortless, it’s joyous. That this sort of improvisation can be felt in a browser-based, text-only game is remarkable.

Play Moonlight. Go on.

Progress Resupply

So that’s a month then, is it. Strangely, Red Rover is not yet finished.

Work has been steady, if less than glamourous. At first, there was about a week of trying out new IDEs (I claim that MonoDevelop, faults aside, has probably the best autocomplete ever) and attempting to get a 64-bit Linux distro to compile 32-bit dependencies for a 32-bit OGRE library — with a few days to give up and just install a 32-bit Ubuntu on the laptop (and come up against the same linker problems regardless); a week or so of trying out physics engines — I desperately wanted to use Newton (for obvious reasons), but Bullet turned out to be a bit more mature and actively maintained (and more easily integrated with OGRE); a week of re-familiarising myself with Blender for eventual content creation (I swear, I’ve learnt the tool around five times already — at least now I have a longer-term reason to stick with it); &c &c &c.

In short, it’s been yet another sequence of black triangles commingled with the shaking of fists at the majority of things.

Fist shaking

Otherwise, KO-OP business is moving along briskly. Saleem is essentially constantly engaged with bankers and bureaucrats, and/or sweeping cat hair (note to self: Disney movie/game tie-in called Bureau-Cats, digitised Tony Jay voice as Cats); Bronson has been cutting his teeth on Pure Data and Unity; and we’ve had a number of artists hanging out in the office and producing some fantastic concept and promotional art (more on that in The Future).

So while the tasks are a bit mundane, this is still the first “steady” “job” I’ve held down with like-minded people. That’s motivating in its own right, and the fact that I’m seeing progress on the ground (however low-level) is the gravy on top of the cherry on top.

Blender tests

A Mars Odyssey

The very first alpha Teaser Trailer (Beta) for Red Rover is live for your viewing pleasure — check it out on our shiny new website (those with matte screens are invited instead to our fancy, non-specular new website). It’s…a little bit surreal to see this project anywhere but inside my own head, so of course I hope you will allow me to write a lot of text on the internet.

Previously, on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Red Rover -- Mars Approach

Regular viewers will recall that I recently quit my day job, which is like the one thing everyone tells me not to do. (Not a regular viewer? Welcome! Try the hyperlinks; I made them myself.) It was like one of those scenes where someone throws caution to the wind and runs off into a hermitage to work on Something They Care About (or rather, Something About Which They Care), minus the obligatory montage (on a bike!) set to jangly, empowering indie folk music.

Now, I have all the spontaneity of a person sitting in their living room and not combusting, so it took my friends Saleem and Bronson founding KO-OP, and inviting me to join them, to finally move me down this path. They’ll describe it elsewhere I’m sure, but essentially, the gist is that we share a co-working space in which we work on our own games, while at the same time maintaining a vested interest in contributing to everyone’s projects. Saleem calls it the “record label” model; for the moment, it’s the three of us coding in a bedroom under a mountain of cats. Which works.

For my part, it means that I can now finally, officially, wholeheartedly work on a game that’s occupied (possessed?) my mind for years.

Come over, Red Rover. Let’s meet the nice people.

“Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance…”

Red Rover -- Alignment

In my time as an internet curmudgeon, I’ve called out more than one game for taking, erm, liberties with their representations of space. It’s fine, I get the conceit, and generally I don’t mind playing along. It’s just unfortunate that it’s become so pervasive in games (and frankly, in pop culture generally): instead of celebrating our achievements and potential as a species, the medium tends to gloss them over as granted (“It’s the year 10,9X6 A.C., of course we have the Ludicrous Drive”) or as a miracle (“We could barely get our asses to Mars, but then we found an alien warp drive behind the couch and bingo: galactic domination”).

Look — space is flippin’ sweet; to assume our little backwater planet (around a backwater star, in a backwater arm of a backwater galaxy…) is somehow It is dangerously shortsighted. At the same time, our first human steps outside the 1AU neighbourhood are going to be incredibly momentous — no mere engineering feat, but transformative in a very real cosmological and spiritual sense (this coming from an atheist). When (when) human beings become an interplanetary species, a significant number of our traditional frames of reference will be rendered obsolete.

That is f*&^#(@_@;)ing mind-altering. Literally.

Meanwhile — Kerbal and Noctis notwithstanding — I feel like not enough games give space exploration, the act itself, the reverence it deserves. Cue some real-life inspiration.

“The gates of the Wonderworld are opening in our time.”

Red Rover -- Doorway

In early 2004, Spirit and Opportunity touched down, and NASA’s EDL animation absolutely floored me (social outreach, NASA — keep doing it); I knew I wanted to set a game on Mars. Since that time, NASA’s landed two more robots on the Red Planet, and dropped an incredible camera into orbit (among, you know, other things); in the same period, I moved into an apartment and started a Twitter account. Ahem.

The idea never left my mind that I wanted to make a game about the journey to Mars. It has, however, undergone some pretty serious revisions in that time. The first few iterations were decidedly “gamey” — more like a cross between Oregon Trail and Lunar Lander (with points and fuel and everything!). It has since evolved into a nebulous entity lost somewhere between Myst and 2001: A Space Odyssey (I can only describe games in terms of Venn diagrams — Super Mario Bros. being not unlike a cross between The Catcher in the Rye and Jūbei Ninpūchō).

I think the comparison is apt, though. Myst had a profound influence on me when I was younger — the undirected, patient exploration of these beautifully surreal worlds resonated very strongly with me (and I clearly wasn’t the only one, given the amount of Myst-alikes in the works these days; this is A Good Thing). And 2001 — well, as my uncle said, it’s almost a religion. No explanations given; just the beauty of hard science and a lifetime of questions to explore. In our first teaser for Red Rover, we use actual topographical data from Mars (via NASA) to render the planet, as well as star maps from ESA. While there’s only a niche audience that will geek out over those details (and I count myself among them), I nevertheless think it’s important to stay true to that object’s reality: we’ve been to Mars, and this is what it looks like. I’ve mentioned it before, but Isaac Asimov was once told that he couldn’t make “realistic,” Law-abiding robots interesting. Like, this was an actual thing he was told.

(Some of the more astute viewers might also notice a similarity between the ground texture in our teaser and certain other recently-acquired interplanetary thumbnails. They would be correct. And incidentally: kudos to the whole Curiosity team. It was unreal. Only it wasn’t.)

“Maybe we’re on Mars because…we have to be.”

Red Rover -- Mars Limb

In a very roundabout way, these are some of the foundations of the game I want Red Rover to become. I’ll be the first to admit there’s a long way to go. The teaser we’ve just released — well, I’m happy with it, but it’s a mere proof-of-concept; design and coding begins in earnest right now. It’s a project of unprecedented scope for me (and it’s in 3D, which is like…I mean, it has vectors, right?) — but KO-OP’s got my back. I am naive enough to think we’ll be done in 2013. Dare mighty things, I hear.

The present website will serve as a dev log for the game. I’ll try to keep the updates steady; weekly at first, until I unconsciously let it slide to the point where every post recaps the prior six months of my life (“Timmy, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”). Updates will also go out through the traditional Facebook page as well as my Twitter feed, for those bookfaced tweetors among you.

Otherwise, kiss me for luck, and head over to the main website for our very first alpha teaser:

Red Rover — now in full-time development.


(I would of course be remiss not to include the following message from another of my direct, shameless inspirations:)