The lineup for this year’s Indie MEGABOOTH at PAX Prime has been posted, and Against the Wall is on it! I have a minibooth on the 30th and 31st. A minibooth is essentially 1/16th of a large square booth. It’s for game developers who are largely independent of money. Here’s my rather bare-bones page on their site, with the ancient trailer that I always fall back on.

Prep Work

I enjoy chatting up folks about my game like a regular carnival barker. I spent 5 hours at GDC’s Killscreen party last year, talking to people as they played my game which was projected onto a side of the room. Pretty sure that I can handle PAX’s sensory overload. The whole marketing side of things is a baffling mystery to me, but I’ll try to put myself out there and try to generate a little buzz.

Against the Wall - Windmill, 2013

Whatever. Developing the game is the important thing. I’ve dolled-up the game’s starting area a bit. Finally stopped using static red bricks for the windmill’s structure. Realized that it looked to bare and flat, so I fleshed it out using the Outpost tile set that I made in June. No plans on showing the ending areas of the game, of course.

Against the Wall - Windmill InteriorThis is the interior of the windmill. Unfurnished at the moment. Cut a large chunk out of the building’s rear with some new “destroyed” models. The support columns are part of the elevator/windmill structure.

I will be adding two new features: 1) optional automatic “death” when the player hits terminal velocity and is pretty much dead anyway. Won’t have to reset the game as often at the conference with this option. 2) No saving while in midair or on a moving platform. Should prevent a quick-save while hurtling towards the ground at 60mph. Also, saving on certain moving objects could easily result in a load where the player is halfway inside the object, or the lift is loaded in the wrong state (e.g. standing still rather than moving). This addition will stick around for the final game. Just a note: At one point, I entertained the idea of disabling quick-saves and relying on checkpoints. I realized how dumb this was, and reversed course. If people want to spam the quick save button, they are welcome to.

Finally, I’ll pepper the area with hidden paths, rooms, and interesting junk. Puzzles don’t seem to play well at these conferences, than again, neither do slow-paced exploration games. I’ve been experimenting with very simple Myst-inspired puzzles, so maybe I’ll finish one up and throw it in somewhere.

OVR and OVR Again

The NYU Game Center is in the process of moving to the its new building in Brooklyn. I haven’t had access to the Oculus Rift (OVR) in that time, but I’ve come up with a simple first step for integrating the new tech: create a new Unity scene identical to the normal one, only with the stock OVR character motor and cameras, tweaked to feel close to the existing motor. Players would not be able to swap modes on the fly, but this should save me about a month or so of headaches trying to fit the OVR code onto the existing character motor. Will have to add crouching, sounds, and fall damage. Really, I think that my game is a perfect for the Rift, considering the lack of HUD, simplistic controls, slow pace, and the immersive environment. Oh yeah, and the gut-wrenching heights may be a plus as well.

What I’ve Been Playing

I’ve been using Netflix to play the pilot episode of Twin Peaks. Man. It’s one very surreal series. I watched the Giant Bomb Endurance Runs for Deadly Premonition, and knew that it was referential to Twin Peaks. I just didn’t know how closely it stuck to the source. Loving it so much for how off it is, how it plays with and destroys expectations left and right, and the main character so damn endearing in his strangeness. Will need to find some time to catch up on the other eight episodes (hear the second season was not well received).

Bought a copy of Demon’s Souls. Only played it for an hour, but it’s  pretty much is  Dark Souls so far, though it lacks that Metroidvania-style contiguous world. I loved Dark souls, so I’m at home in this game. I also bought Brain Age to play some Sudoku puzzles on the commute (and not for the patronizing pseudo-science). Also, got copies of Catherine, Hotel Dusk, and Shadow of Destiny, but who has the time to play Video Games?

The Ends Justify the Means

Last week, I coded a draft of the game’s ending. Allow me to be terribly vague about the specifics, but I’m very excited about what I’ve been producing.

I’ve always had an ending of some sort planned for Against the Wall, but on reflection, I never had a very good one. The goal that I listed on the Kickstarter project was that your are “struggling to return to a village located miles above the starting point.” Nearly two years ago, that was a major component of the ending. It’s changed and evolved much since then. The other week, during a discussion with my friend Atlas, I had an idea for a new conclusion that would be a fun challenge for me to implement. Since then, I’ve added a couple new layers to the meaning of this ending, and smashed my fists into a keyboard until it was coded.

Note that I still have a ways to go on the other set pieces of the game, the last thing that I produce before beta should be the intro area.


Let’s talk about the game’s progression.

Part of this game’s original experiment was to create a linear game that’s gated not by invisible walls or narrow corridors, but by the sheer difficulty of sequence breaking. You could skip almost everything and head right for the highest city, but you’re not exactly making it easier on yourself. The experiment has changed a bit. I will be including some backtracking as part of the progression and visits to side areas, though this will always be aided by rail vehicles or elevators.

This change was born out of a suggestion that I received at a the Game Center’s Practice conference last November. I asked a crowd about the challenge of guiding players through a linear path in an open world. The best recommendation that I received, via Kevin Cancienne, was that I should just embrace the openness of the world. I originally intended a more-or-less straight linear progression from city to city, the idea being that a player could jump off the highest town and view all the bricks they extended on the way down. While this sounds neat, I’m more interested in creating a good experience on the way up, and fleshing out the world horizontally.

So I amended the plan, but initially kept the same ending. I won’t go into specifics, but the original ending was predictable and cliché. I wasn’t excited about it, and this lack of excitement was a stumbling block for me for quite a while. The real obstacle was my own obstinance; I was sticking to a set of narrative points that I developed back in May 2011 when I started the project. E.g. I won’t reveal X, I won’t explore Y, the player can’t do Z. Well, I broke my rules in order to create something cool. I’ll forgive myself eventually.

School Daze

I should mention, I will have a job and a few classes during the semester. One of these classes is for a thesis project that is the complete polar opposite of Against the Wall: a networked multiplayer sci-fi 2D twitchy action game. I’m trying to position Cartwheel as an eclectic indie studio, a bit like how Double Fine develops an odd mix of cool, quirky games. I suppose the thread that will tie all of my games together is a kind of expansive minimalism. If that fails, I could try to play the pretentious artist whose work is never understood boo-hoo.

What I’ve Been Playing (With)

On Monday, I messed with the Game Center’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset (OVR). What’s great about this device is that it gives you a good sense of vertigo and a feeling that you occupy space in the world. It’s perfect for Against the Wall, though I cannot bet that the thing will go mainstream. The biggest problem with OVR is motion sickness. I played Half Life 2 with the headset for all of five minutes before I had to stop in my tracks. I’m just not used to experiencing games this way, I suppose. Still this could be a great feature for VR buffs and anyone who wants a fully immersive experience on the Wall.

So, I played with the headset and poked the SDK a bit. From this, I’ve made a list of what needs to be done in order to implement this feature:

  • An OVR  mode should be added to Video Settings in the Menu. This would override the following settings:
    • Resolution will be fixed to 1280×800, full screen. This is the OVR’s screen resolution.
    • The crosshair will always be on.
    • Anti-aliasing will be forced on and set to 4x, rather than optional and using 2x.
  • Currently, the player has a camera that renders the world, another camera is used for the GUI, and a third camera for the loading screen. To be compatible with OVR’s stereoscopic 3D, I need one camera for each eye, and a special script that adds filters to them and controls how far apart they are. Swapping the camera set-ups will be the most difficult technical challenge with OVR.
  • I need a mouse-driven crosshair, rather than the fixed reticule in the center of the screen. This would present the steepest game-feel problem with OVR.
  • The Character Motor and Mouse Look scripts need to be modified to account for head-tracking and crosshair tracking.
  • The wand would appear to be hovering in mid-air. A solution may be to tie its position more closely to head-tracking movement, so the player never sees the whole thing.
  • Xbox controller support.
  • Configuration and calibration options in the video settings menu.
  • Disclaimer message. I’m not in the business of replacing keyboards.

Implementation should take two days of work, with another day for testing, and another for fixes (generous estimates). It will be a weekend project for sure, as this is a secondary feature. I should be able to provide an update on this by the end of the month.