Way back when the App store first rolled around, Alec and I put together a game engine and started cooking up some projects. One of them was this game. In the interim, I started doing a ton of iPhone contract work, and Alec put out Paper Moon, and forged ahead on Marian.
But we finally came around and polished this one up, and Danny (composer for megahit Canabalt, and future megahit Super Meat Boy) wrote us some apropo music.
I think the game turned out really nice. It’s a little more casual than anything I’ve ever done, but in a good way!
And the actual game framework we’ve built is kind of cool. It allows for a fairly rapid prototyping of games on the device — I feel a little sheepish that we’re only releasing our first project based on it now. In any case, check out the game and let us know what you think!
Owl Country is a short game I worked on in collaboration with several TIGSource regulars. We hatched the idea for the project during GDC, wrote the bulk of it while we were there, and added the finishing touches in the weeks afterward.
The premise is that you are an owl tired of the sea of pigeons plaguing the Montreal skies, along with the humans indifferent to their infestation. It takes place over the course of one night, ending in sunrise, and you must swoop as many pigeons as you can in this period.
How To Play?
Spacebar Swoops. Steer your swoop with the left and right keys. Don’t hit lamps. You get more points for successive pigeons attacked in the same swoop and extra lives for knocking pigeons into humans.
How Did We Do It?
Aquaria‘s Alec Holowka wrote the music. Adam Saltman, myself, Kevin Coulton, and Ivan Safrin did the art. Voice talent includes Goo developer Tommy Refenes, Fez superhero Phil Fish, and Raptor Safari troubadour Steve Swink, among others.
The game is written in straight C by Ivan, myself, and Alec, using OpenGL, SDL, FreeType for text, fmod for sound, and libpng for texture loading. Interestingly, the entire game was written on a sum total of five different MacBook Pros, and then the finished version was quickly ported to Windows.
Why An Owl?
After Gamma 256 ended this past November, a group of us were standing around outside Montreal’s Society for Arts and Technology chatting. Suddenly we heard a commotion above our heads and a pigeon dropped to the street beside us, freaked out for a second, and flew off. An owl had swooped in for an attack, failed, and had flown back several yards to perch in a tree.
And as we were all still processing this, pigeon feathers slowly floated down around us — eventually inspiring Owl Country.
It was a blast to work on a project with so many people I respect, and hopefully it will lead to other cool collaborative efforts in the future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
“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.