Blog | Doomlaser - Part 3

Adieu, Macworld

I’ve been in San Francisco for the last week, running the Macworld booth for Danlabgames.

Besides showcasing all of Dans games, which went over very well, I tested out a rough demo of Rotrix on the crowd, leading to an estimable response from both gamers and some industry publisher people.

Receiving positive feedback felt very encouraging after pouring so much work into the project, and we’ll see where it leads.

Space Barnacle also seemed to be a hit, and looks fantastic on a glossy 24″ iMac. Going with the 1.6:1 aspect ratio totally paid off. It feels so mischevious to completely fill that high resolution display with a miniscule 288×180 pixel game.

I should be able to release a Mac port as soon as Apple releases Java 6, which, knowing Apple, will only be supported in Leopard… even though it’s been out for nearing 2 years on Windows, Linux, and Solaris. The rumor is that now that the Macintosh is on Intel architecture, they’re just porting the OpenSolaris version instead of rolling their own… which currently means 64-bit intel only? I don’t know, but it’s kind of sucky.

There’s something in the air

That brings me to Apple’s big announcement. The MacBook Air is light, underpowered, and overpriced.

No optical drive, slow hard drive, terrible integrated graphics, only 1 USB port? These are all things I need, but of course if I had a desktop at home, and I didn’t do graphics-intensive game development… and I was rich, maybe it’d be more attractive.

Stake your claim

The real buzz of the conference was iPhone development, even though few details on the SDK were announced at the keynote. A lot of developers are already working on projects with the reverse engineered headers.

Paul Kafasis likened the iPhone to the switch from Classic to OS X. These next few months will be like the wild west, and those that stake a claim early with quality software will have a really solid foundation in the future.

With 4 million phones sold already, and another 10 million forecasted by the end of the year, along with an untold number of iPod Touches, it’ll be a populous platform. And Cocoa developers will have an intimidating head start.

GAMES

Of course there’s a huge potential for games on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Just the hardware specs run circles around the DS. They’re equipped with a 660Mhz ARM1176 with a 3d graphics co-processor for hardware accelerated rendering, and include 128mb of main RAM, to say nothing of the gigabytes of speedy flash storage and wifi. And apparently, they’re running OpenGL ES 1.1 and SDL has already been unofficially ported.

A friend noted that if the iPhone were a game console, it’d already be the fastest selling console in history.

On Monday I was interviewed by San Francisco’s ABC 7 affiliate, for a story on mobile gaming. Bizzare and fun, with some footage from Wacky Mini Golf and Rotrix.



I’ll be staying in the bay area through GDC, so I’ve got another giant Moscone event to look forward to. Apple being Apple, the late February launch of the iPhone SDK may very well be after that — February 29th even.

Addendum

One of the best parts about events like Macworld is that it provides a chance to meet and knock around with all the great people of the Mac and tech scenes, some of whom you only see once a year.

I have to give a shoutout to the Picturesque guys, who had the booth next to me. Keep doing great stuff, and send me some of those photos!

Fun fact: Derek Yu, the editor of Tigsource and artist of Aquaria interned at Panic a couple years back, working on a cancelled project that Cabel showed a screenshot of during his session at last year’s C4. I knew that pixel art looked familiar.

Cursorcerer: Hide Your Cursor at Will

Cursorcerer is a little tool I hacked together which allows you to hide the cursor at any time by use of a global hotkey. It can also autohide an idle cursor and bring it back as soon as you move the mouse.

The inspiration for this tool is one of my favorite and most utilized MacOS features: the control-scrollwheel zoom trick. I use it all the time to make things like embedded web videos full screen. The trick’s only major downfall is that it’s a constant battle to get the cursor out of the way.

Cursorcerer Screenshot

To install, just double click on the prefpane. Hit control-option-k to zap and unzap the cursor. If you want to uninstall, go to ~/Library/PreferencePanes/ and trash Cursorcerer.

The technique behind this global cursor hiding hack originates in a useful post to the Apple carbon-dev mailing list from Red Sweater’s Daniel Jalkut.

Cursorcerer 3.0 works natively in MacOS Catalina and Mojave, and now supports Dark Mode. You may need to right-click and select Open on the PrefPane to bypass GateKeeper.

Update: Cursorcerer has been updated to a 64-bit version that runs smoothly in the latest versions of MacOS. The minimum idle hiding threshold has also been lowered at the request of some users. Legacy users can grab the 32-bit version here, or 2.0 here.

Download Cursorcerer 3.0


If you use Cursorcerer, please consider supporting it with a PayPal donation, or say hi on Twitter.

Trekking Across the Northeast for Gamma 256 and Blip

I’m on my way back from New York today after a whirlwind tour of the Northeast. Kokoromi contacted me last week to let me know they’d be showing my experimental low resolution game, Standard Bits, at their Gamma 256 exhibition.

Gamma was the final event of the Montreal International Games Summit and it showcased 8 low-res games projected on giant screens at the city’s Society for Arts and Technologies show space, set to live performances from New York chiptune artists and DJs. My friend Guy English (developer of Rogue Amoeba’s new Radioshift and former Ubisoft engineer) lives in the city, and he graciously agreed to provide a couch to crash on.

It all sounded too awesome to miss, so I flew out to New York and took a train up to Quebec. Let me just say, the French Canadian accent is truly bizarre — Fargo meets Inspector Clouseau.

The games could not exceed 256×256 pixels, and I had decided to go with a resolution of 100×54. To put that into perspective, that’s less than a third of the screen area in a Mac OS X icon.

The main character is a single pixel, and the left analog joystick is the only control. The game’s environment is populated with entities that actively seek to attack you, as well as creatures that follow and protect you.


View the game on itchio


You may also encounter ambivalent hazards and innocuous inhabitants going about their own pixellated business. The idea was to create a dynamic world with complex interaction while using very simple input.


Download Gamma 256 Build or get the game on itchio


Longtime Mac developers might recognize that the name comes from StdBits(), which was the low-level pixel blitter in QuickDraw.

Opposite my game was Alec Holowka’s Celu. and I was flanked by Jason Rohrer’s Passage on the left, and the lowest resolution game of the event by far, the 8×8 pixel Dodge Club to the right. TIGSource was well represented, with 4 of the 8 games on display coming from TIGS regulars, games such as Bloody Zombies, Petri Purho’s feast of zombie-cutting action and liquid blood dynamics which was placed wisely near the bar.

Though not the most graphically polished of the lot, Guy and I both took a huge liking to Mr Heart Loves You Very Much by TIGS regular Jimmy Andrews. It has a simple, fresh game mechanic that combines puzzle and reflex in a really fun way. And its svelte control scheme would make it ideal for something like the iPod Classic, or even the iPhone/Touch, making use of its accelerometer to change orientation.

Bubblyfish and the guys in Anamanaguchi (who both performed great sets) encouraged me to check out the Blip Festival in New York over the weekend, so I decided to extend my trip.

Blip was great. It was full of energy and crunchy melodies, with musicians from around the world. I captured some video from the iSight in my MacBook Pro which I’ll post when I’m more settled in back home.

One of the most surreal and awesome moments of the trip came when someone at a Blip after-hours in Brooklyn asked me if I’d played “Doomlaser’s Space Barnacle.”

We ended up talking quite a bit and, hey, if you’re out there, I’d love to see the photos you took!! I think there’s a funny/terrible one with Paza Rahm (a Swedish Atari-ST afficianado who did an 8-bit remix of ‘Girl’ for Beck).

Paza and I got into a heated discussion about platforms, open source, and how government provided social mechanisms (or the lack thereof) influence cultural outlooks and output on both. He also gave me some new insights into why Sweden continues to allow The Pirate Bay to operate.

I met so many interesting, driven, and friendly people on the trip that it’s hard to process. At Gamma, Standard Bits was played constantly from 5:30 pm until after midnight when the event was shutting down and people, both in and outside the games industry, gave me some very inspiring feedback.

The game isn’t in a completely finished state, but if you’d like to try the build that was played at Gamma 256, you can download it here. It is a Windows executable, though it will most likely make it’s way to the Mac soon.

The Gamma photos were taken by Ivan Safrin. More are available here.

Thanks to all the Kokoromi people for hosting such a cool concept and event. I loved Montreal and I’m looking forward to spending more time up there if you do one next year,

See: Video Games, High Art, Roger Ebert & the Cultural Ghetto

Space Barnacle: What a Terrible Fate… to be Reborn in Space

I’ve been hard at work for approximately the last month, creating a game. Space Barnacle is the end result: an ultra-violent pixelated platformer modeled in the 8-bit style.



The project came about as a result of a B-Game Design contest, hosted by the excellent Independent Gaming Source (TIGSource) community, and writing it has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had in game developemt.

I wanted the game to feel like a long-lost budget title, perhaps developed for the NES or Commodore 64 somewhere between 1989 and 1990. Thus, the native resolution is 288×180 pixels, and most of the characters are a mere 16 by 16 pixels square.

My friend Kevin shared pixel art duties with me, and we tried to work from a limited 55 color NES palette. But we took some liberties, taking advantage of additive blending, parallax scrolling, and particle effects for blood and vomit explosions.

The music is composed entirely of chiptunes in Amiga module format, emulating the sound of the Commodore 64’s famed SID chip, and we were lucky to be able to include compositions by Reed Richards, among others.

In developing the engine, I was intrigued by the approach of Knytt, Within a Deep Forest, and Lyle in Cube Sector, which all used the rapid development environment, Multimedia Fusion.

Coming from a background of Mac OpenGL development, building a game in this environment was quite a shock. It both saved time, and caused endless frustration, as the method for logic control is completely insane.

In the end, I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with. We’re not done working on the title, and I’d really like to come up with a solution for an OS X port. I’ve been trying to hack together a little encapsulated Wine Binary Launcher for the game– sort of a low-rent version of Cider. This would have the added benefit of potentially bringing some other great indie games to the Mac.

Until then, Windows users can play the game natively, and Mac users can play pretty adequately through CrossOver, which has a free 60 day trial.


view the game on itch.io

Super Mario Galaxy: A Visual Tour

I picked up Mario Galaxy last night and have been enjoying it, both as a game, and also picking it apart technically. The level design really stands out in how it consistently surprises you with creative platforming gameplay.

But what’s more interesting is how Nintendo is using the modest Wii hardware to achieve its graphical effects.

I could never quite tell from the YouTube previews, but it appears Mario’s using something like stencil shadow volumes to handle all its shadows– which are always projected in gravity’s direction. Unfortunately this technique means unsmoothed edges and a uniform brightness for all shaded areas. Side effects include moving platforms whose shadows suddenly blink onto surfaces when they approach, and suddenly disappear as they pass.

An element that Galaxy uses all over the place to great effect is something like a fake rim lighting shader. From what I understand, the Wii isn’t fragment shader capable, so maybe they’re faking it by setting an independent directional light aimed reverse relative to camera for each rimlit object? I’ve read a few things about the Wii’s Register Combiners and TEVs, and I wonder if they’re using them for pixel shadery purposes.

It’s all that lighting around the silhouettes of objects that helps give the characters and environments that signature plastic pop.

The fur shading is fairly nice as well, and I wonder how they’re doing it on the Wii hardware, whether it’s an actual shader, or they’re doing tricks rendering a multilayered shell of increasingly translucent polygons like in Shadow of the Colossus

Anyway, I am really enjoying the game so far, and the art direction is top notch. It’s also great to play Mario along to a live orchestral score — too bad Nintendo didn’t make the switch in time for Twilight Princess.

The shadows are the only real graphical let-down. It seems like they could be doing something more clever with the alleged crazy fill-rate on the Wii. Blurred textured shadow maps for near geometry or something? Also, multisampling would be nice, but playing on a standard def tv is forgiving.

I’d love to hear other people’s insights into the graphics behind the game. The rim lighting shading is something that could be easily applied to indie games looking for some eye candy punch…

Apple Pippin: Ahead of Its Time and Doomed Even Before the CD-ROM Booted



“We think that Pippin represents the Next Generation of a lot of the things you’ll be seeing from Apple”.

That is eerily prophetic, as the parallels are clear between the Pippin and the Apple TV, and more so with the more widespread contemporary trend of the set-top media box.

And from a developer’s standpoint, this promotional video highlights a lot of the the same things that Steve Jobs extolled during the iPhone introduction — It’s running the full version of Mac OS! Development is easy!

However the parallels between the Pippin and the 3DO are also easy to draw, and it’s easy to see why the system failed.

A third party, Bandai, manufactured and marketed the device. It was developed in the pre-NeXT acquisition mid 1990s, a grim time for Apple. To start the device, you had to insert a system disc into the 4x CD-ROM drive and wait for a streamlined version of Mac OS System 7 to boot. The graphics were all done in a PowerPC native version of QuickDraw, a graphics API that in its more than 20 years of existence, never supported more than a 1-bit alpha channel!

So many nightmares.

But the kernel of the idea was good. And it’s especially ironic today as the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii are all running on PowerPC architecture. The Pippin’s PowerPC 603e is the forebear of these consoles’ brains.

Watch carefully, and you will see the Pippin port of Bungie’s Marathon in the video — a game which you can now play on XBox Live Arcade. Here’s a full list of Pippin software releases. And more information including full hardware specs is available on the Pippin’s Wikipedia entry.