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3:59pm on Sunday, 25th January, 2015:

Cat, Cab, Crow


I popped into the university again today to see how well the game jam entries were progressing. Needless to say, I was impressed. It's amazing what a team of four can do in 48 hours (or less than 48 if they squander a few hours on sleep). We have three teams this year, as it's the first time we've entered. They went for very different games.

One game doesnt look great visually and is in definite need of reskinning. It features the university's campus cat (a wild cat that roams the campus) trying to find fish. It's basically a 2D platformer. Nothing special, you might think, except that once you complete a level the next level is the same as the one you just completed but with one of the components you used to complete it disabled. So, a platform might disappear, or a wall might appear, or a moving platform might stop moving. There's always a solution (maybe you didn't notice that the screen was wrap-around?) but it gets progressively harder. If anyone wants to play a recalcitrant platformer, this should appeal.

Another game has a very nice stylised look to it. The premise is that you've fallen out of an aircraft and are trying to stay in the air as long as possible before you hit the ground. It's a vertical-scroller rather than a side-scroller. As it happens, you never do hit the ground as flocks of crows will get you first, but you have fun trying. There's a nice little mechanic involving a friendly bird following you down that you can try to get to hit crows and frighten them off (for bonus points). This game would work very well on a smartphone or tablet; I hope the team takes it further.

The final game looked gorgeous, a testament to the aesthetic skills of whoever trawled the Unity store for compatible free assets. It's a taxi game: customers want to be picked up and taken to places. The view is bird's-eye, top-down, and although it's played in 2D the graphics are all 3D, which is why it looks so good. There are pedestrians who call the cab and who may occasionally wander out ino the road at a moment's notice. There are also other cars, which follow the rules of the road. Pedestrians and other cars are under pretty smart AI control. Now although what I've described of it so far oozes quality, it doesn't perhaps sound like much of a game. That's because I haven't mentioned the key mechanic: it's a four-player game, each player controlling one wheel of the taxi. If you want to turn right, then the players controlling the wheels on the right will have to put their own wheel either into neutral or reverse. Or maybe it's a gentle turn so they just need one of them to do it. Or maybe they need to turn on a sixpence so the front left goes forward, the back right goes in reverse and the other two wheels are in neutral. This is the kind of game that would work best on a console with four controllers, or in a bar or amusement arcade.

Overall, it looks to have been well worth the effort; I certainly liked what I saw. As IGGI is a 3-university centre, next year the event will take place at either York or Goldsmiths. However, I'm hoping we'll be able to use the experience to persuade our undergraduates and (if our games MSc starts in time) postgraduates to take part.

I'd have entered myself but it's double black bullion reward weekend in The Secret World...

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).