Today is the last day of April, and with it comes another milestone for the Connectorium project. As I had mentioned earlier, I’m actually well ahead of the schedule I had set for myself. That schedule involved having 5 complete levels and 1 cut scene by the end of April. As of tonight, I have 7 more-or-less-complete levels, and 3 cut scenes.
BUT, I also have a better feel for what it’s going to take to finish this project. And it’s a monumental task. I have written a first draft of the story, but it’s going to need a heck of a lot of work to get it to a point where I can actually use it in the game. Here is a laundry list of just some of the other things that need to be done:
- Add 2 or 3 more levels and add the story as appropriate.
- Add sounds for a number of levels.
- Revise and add help text for all connections.
- Add a menu to the game.
- Oh yeah, play testing with, you know, actual kids!
- I have some ideas for replacing the info mechanic for the connectors, but that might be a lot of work…
- That whole thing about voice recording.
- Lots of little features here and there.
- Testing, testing, testing.
Did I mention I want to finish the bulk of this by the end of May? It’s more than ambitious, but let’s see. I think I need to write a little road map and see what things I can forgo when time is up.
Anyway, just for good measure, here are some of the drawings for the new cut scenes:
It’s a collection of thoughts about writing a story, and my experiences with it. I also talk a little about writing for Connectorium there. Do check it out and share your thoughts!
A few days ago, I happened to be sitting next to a young boy at an event. He had his iPod out and was playing away. I naturally got curious and started looking at what he was playing. It was Spider-Man, punching, kicking, bashing, *pow*ing, amongst other things. It was the strangest thing for me. I have grown up playing games, most of which have included violence in some shape or form. I still play them when I get a chance. I have watched movies with violence. But something about seeing this boy play the game with so much attention bothered me. A lot.
I proceeded to ask him, and his older brother sitting next him (they must’ve been 6 and 8 or thereabouts) what their other favorite games were. A certain game about some upset flying creatures outside of the earth’s atmosphere came up, but that was to be expected. The other game mentioned, I honestly can’t remember the details of, but I do remember giggling at how violent it actually sounded.
Some weeks ago I remember seeing a kid play a game which involved throwing ice-cubes into a plumber’s pants as he bent over to fix the sink. Funny, I have to admit, but what worried was that to him it wasn’t just a joke. He was actually really good at it (meaning he had played it more than once or twice).
Why am I sharing all this? My point is not to go on rant about the state of games. I think in essence portrayal of violence has not necessarily changed all that much since the start of the industry (maybe it looks more realistic). No, the biggest change I see is the emergence of mobile devices and how that has changed games. No longer is playing games, at least for the general population and especially for kids, a planned and scheduled activity. Rather it is a casual endeavor that happens at various times through the day. Instead of a handful of games, now you have literally hundreds of thousands of games only a click away, many of which are free. And the barrier for entry into game development is lower than ever (heck I’m doing it!)
I think one of the effects that this has had is that companies as well as individuals are creating games faster than ever. From what I gather, many mobile game developers opt out for short development cycles which can be only a couple of months, in order to stay competative. The outcome is that these games, for lack of a better term, have less “depth”. There usually isn’t an involved story, and the core mechanic that often remains behind is combat. The funny part is that it is obvious to anyone who has…ever been a child, that children (and adults for that matter) love activities that actually exercise their higher nature, their intellect, and creativity. But for some reason making games that promote these things have become risky, in a market that is flooded with seemingly endless spins on combat mechanics.
So who can change this trend? Developers? Parents? Community? Media? All of the above? I guess if the answer was so simple, we’d already be there!
I have been working around the clock and I do feel the urge to share. So I thought I’d post some screenshots from the new levels. Interestingly I am actually ahead of the schedule I had set for myself, which was to complete 5 levels and 1 cut scene by the end of April. At this rate I think I can do quite a bit more than that. At the same time though, I do feel the pressure of time… in my thinking I really need to have this finished no later than end of May and actually start looking for a job!
Anyway I digress. I had already posted the breakfast and the farm levels. Here are 4 more levels. Please click to see higher resolution images:
Here I’m trying get the player to use both sound and visual clues, to work out which notes belong to which chords. I’m also debating whether I should use some color coding. Possibly, if this is going to be too difficult. Of course there is a story that goes with each level that should give more context (something I have been writing more of).
In this level the player must put the different parts of the bike together correctly. I think the artwork needs a bit of tweaking here…then again most of the levels do! Also please note the cool looking glow effect on a newly created connection, complete with flying particles, which replaces my previously failed attempt. There is also a satisfying “Oommmffff” sound that goes with it! Great success!
The digestive system. Not much else to be said.
Here is the new score screen I have been working on for the past 2 days. As you can see it’s much more explicit now, showing the number of correct and incorrect connections. I also decide to opt out for using stars instead of my “connector badge” idea. I think that still has merit, but without much more work it’s hard to explain to the player what it actually means. Stars have an established meaning which I don’t need to redefine.
I have to say this aspect of the code is quite hairy and took ages to put together. The main issue is trying size and scale the UI in such a way that it looks correct on varying resolutions, from an iPad 2 (1024 x 768) to much higher resolutions on the new iPad and desktop. Unity’s solutions for UI is also scattered and not well built. Nevertheless I think I have something working now and it seems to be ok across most resolutions. The font sizes are still fixed which I need to look into, and I do need to tidy up the look of the UI and add some buttons in there.
This level was actually a suggestion from my good friend Payam. The idea is to mix the primary light colors in order to get 4 other colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and white. I added a new feature which allows my to replace the image of an entity based on its incoming connections, which you can see here in the screenshot. I admit that the screen looks a little confusing. I’ve been thinking about having certain entities which are only targets and not sources of connection (in this case the “mixed” lights, or the chords in the music level), have a slightly different look, and be locked in place, as a visual clue.
There are a few other new things which can’t be shown in the screenshot. Hopefully I’ll put up a new demo soon.
I’m trying to keep up with writing 2 posts a week but I’m falling behind just a little bit. Since it’s late, I though I might keep this one short.
During my perusings online I’ve come across two sites that’ll be quite helpful for anyone developing digital media for children:
- Common Sense Media: This site has great many resources including reviews and ratings of media, teaching aids and tools, advice, and much more. One thing that grabbed my attention was their breakdown of age groups and children’s state of development here. Of course this is a generalization but it’s a good start, especially when you have no clue what age range you could/should be serving.
- Moms with Apps: If you search for the words ‘apps’ and ‘kids’ you’ll come across dozens of review sites, some bigger than others. This one however (at least at a glance) seems to be one of the “key holders”. It also seems to be more developer centric than the other sites. There is a decent amount of activity on their forums also.
I have to say, this aspect of development, i.e. keeping an outwards presence, and everything that goes along with that (facebook, twitter, blog, forums, emails, press, etc etc) seems like a lot of fun. However actually doing it AND getting results is not easy, especially if you’re not an extrovert.
Difficult and time consuming. I’ve been playing with three pieces on the piano which should be appropriate for the game. However, the process of getting a piece from the piano and orchestrating it using samples on the computer is something else. And this is even with a little bit of previous experience. It is a fun process though and the outcome is usually rewarding.
Here is one track which I intend to have for as background during the levels. The finished product will be about twice as long which should hopefully minimize repetition and the “annoying factor”:
I still don’t quite like how the sounds sit together (or don’t for that matter) and not sure if the choice of instruments is quite right. At least for one of the other tracks, I intend to just record it directly from the piano as I think the lack of experience with orchestration takes away from it. I’m still considering whether I should just do that to all the tracks. I’m also thinking that there is too much going on in this track if it’s going to be in the background. There is only one way to find out though, and that’s to try it out!
One of the things I have been working on for the game is cut scenes which are to be shown before the levels, and convey the story of the game. Early on I had an idea about having cutouts which pop up, similar to those…ummm…pop-up books (not sure what they’re actually called). My main reason was that I am religiously avoiding doing any animation to save both time and embarrassment.
I finally put together a basic version of what the opening sequence might look like. Obviously there will be music, and hopefully some a decent voice as the story teller. There is also some jerkiness which is due to my video capture method. But you get the idea:
I’m facing a few issues though:
- I still haven’t fleshed out the story fully, though the concept / ending is becoming more solidified for me. I really need to make it more concrete so as to avoid having to redraw things.
- Drawing is hard and time consuming. I have to admit I do enjoy finishing pieces, but the process can be cumbersome. Initially for each level I wanted to do a story segment with multiple groups of drawings which the camera would move between. Not only have I now decided to have one group of drawings per level, I am desperately trying to figure out any way to skip doing it altogether for some/most levels. Obviously every level needs some sort of story/context…can I get away with just text and voice for some levels?
- The camera movement needs to be more fluid, with no sharp turns. There could even be pauses in certain places.
Also a quick progress report on the rest of the game: I have added some more features to the game, mostly in the visual department. I have also added a new level which I might talk about later. That puts me at 3 levels, with 7 more to go. I have ideas for a couple of really simple levels, and I’m hoping as I gain experience with the process, the content creation is going to be become quicker in general.
I decided I haven’t shared any quotes lately. Since I’m writing a game for kids, I thought it would be appropriate to choose a children’s prayer. I’m sure we all know little ones we can think of when reading it:
O Thou kind Lord! These lovely children are the handiwork of the fingers of Thy might and the wondrous signs of Thy greatness. O God! Protect these children, graciously assist them to be educated and enable them to render service to the world of humanity. O God! These children are pearls, cause them to be nurtured within the shell of Thy loving-kindness.
Thou art the Bountiful, the All-Loving.