Monday, July 30, 2007

Inspiration Wanted (apply within)

Inspiration comes from anywhere when you are developing games. Sometimes in the shower, a LOT of times from watching movies, and occasionally when you misunderstand what someone is saying and your imagination wanders. A short time ago I was inspired from an unusual place and it has stuck with me, probably because I have yet to act on that inspiration.

The inspiration came from 2 small independent pc games created by Nicklas Nygren, also known as Nifflas, a 24 year old developer from Sweden. The first is Knytt , a game based on exploration and atmosphere. You play as a small creature that can jump and crawl on walls. Your goal is to find pieces of a broken spaceship using a Shadow of the Colossus style light as a guide. Sounds pretty simple, but this game isn’t about introducing some new mechanic to defeat enemies. It’s about the details in sound, music, and level design. Ambient sound effects, music that fits thematically with each area, and background life are just a couple details that are focused on. You get the sense of being alone, on an adventure in this empty world. Much like as if you were to walk into the woods right now. You would hear the wind, see some trees moving, a small creature stirring here and there, and nothing more. This would continue as you explored the woods, and after a period of time you might find something unique, like a waterfall or patch of flowers. These moments are so much more rewarding and allow you to appreciate the simple things in life. Many games have achieved this feeling; Miyamoto often refers to Zelda as a journey into the woods when he was younger. Knytt just simplifies this concept to its’ core.

The next game is Within a Deep Forest , a more traditional game with similarities to Metroid. You play as a bouncing rubbery ball. You can move the ball around and change the ball’s density to make it bounce higher or lower. As you progress, you find ball forms that have different abilities and allow you to gain access to new areas. The game has excellent music and attention to detail. The unique thing about Nifflas’ games is that they don’t have the player killing enemies. In fact, they rarely have enemies at all. The mechanic in this game can be frustrating, but if you make it past the learning curve it has some excellent level design.

Nifflas’ next game has been in the works for a while now. It is a continuation of the Knytt series called Knytt Stories and will be out the end of next month. I hope his style expands and grows in this next installment.

Another small game that has inspired me is Everyday Shooter , a game by Jonathan Mak being published by Sony on the Playstation Network. It’s a mix between Geometry Wars and Rez. Every enemy you defeat creates part of the music, so every time you play you get a unique soundtrack. I love to see that our industry can still support independent development and lately I have been more and more into quick, casual, games like these.
We are still in some of the early phases of development at work. This portion of the job requires lots of inspiration, which comes in random bursts. Certain aspects of the game I can see clearly and can’t wait to get the ideas down on paper and into the game. Other areas are still waiting for that spark. But that’s the best thing about working with a talented team. Great ideas appear all the time and from all departments.

Other things going on….my eyes are doing well since the Lasik. I have headaches, dry eyes, and still some halos at night. All supposed to go away. I bought an iPhone today, apple makes some slick products, I was sold as soon as I heard about it. Before tossing my old phone I finished God of War: Betrayal on it. It’s the only cell phone game outside of Tetris I have played. It’s impressive how much of GoW they brought over. There are too many fights in the game as a whole, which reminds you how repetitive the combat can be. They also didn’t get any music or sound effects while playing, which takes you out of the experience. Still, impressive what can be done on a phone and represents the franchise well.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The goggles do nothing!

Sweet. Now I have officially become a blogger. I don’t update my page often. I think I’m going to just start posting every Sunday evening, we’ll see how that goes.

I’m now writing this blog from a new perspective, without contacts or glasses. I went through Lasik surgery Friday! I’m still amazed at how fast and easy the process has been, thought I'd share the process with you.
I woke up Friday morning, had my roommate Paul drive me to the doctor’s office. They brought me in a couple different rooms, had me stare at a small house till it came into focus, all the usual eye tests to double check their numbers. Then I end up waiting in a room for about 30 minutes, they said they were a little behind, didn’t help my nerves very much. So I ask to go to the bathroom, I can’t see shit by the way because my glasses are off. I go to the bathroom, and just as I come out a nurse grabs my hand and says ok come lay down here. I lay down on this machine. It’s cold as hell in the room. The place a pillow under my legs and ask if I want a blanket, so of course I say yes. I wait for the doctor, he comes in and I’m like, I still have sensation in my eyes, don’t you need to numb me up? He says, “Of course, we do that now.”

So they place some drops in my eyes and I’m rotated under this giant circle of light. They tell me to look straight ahead into the dark center. They tape one eye shut, and place a piece of plastic into my other eye that stops me from blinking. They then take a small ring and put it over my eye. The doctor says, “Now your vision will gray out during the procedure, but that is normal.” I see something else placed on my eye and the doctor says “Suction on”. My vision starts to go blurry and blacks out completely. I’m thinking, wtf, this isn’t “gray out”. But whatever, I’m not worried about looking around anymore because I can’t. I feel pressure on my eye and maybe a slight burn, but nothing bad at all. The doctor counts down, and after about 15 seconds they turn the suction off and I see lots of blurry light. I close that eye, they tape it up, and then the same thing happens on the other eye.

That process was cutting a flap in my eye with a laser so they can get to my cornea. It’s called intraLasik, and has replaced the use of an actual blade, thank god. They roll me out and I keep my eyes closed. They tell me to stay there for few minutes. I’m nervously waiting with my eyes closed, and after a few minutes my eyes begin to burn a little. The nurse comes in and drops more stuff in my eyes to keep me numb.

Eventually the doctor grabs my hand and walks me down to the next machine. Similar layout. I’m rolled under a bright light again. This time I have to stare at a red blinking dot. I then see the doctor use a tool to peel away the flap they created, kinda cool. I can barely see the blinking red dot because my vision was so bad, but I stare anyways. There is a loud ticking sound for about 20 seconds and the doctor keeps saying I’m doing well and keep looking at the dot. He then takes the tool and places the flap back. He takes some sort of brush and wipes my eye a bunch of times to make sure the flap is in place. That eye is taped shut, then they do the same thing again.

And that was it for the procedure. The doctor checks my eyes, then they tape goggles over them and send me on my way. I can already tell my vision is better, but the goggles made it hard to notice. I fumble to use my cell phone and call my roommate to pick me up. I walk out of the office on my own and hop in his car to head home. My eyes start burning on the way out and I keep them closed except when I’m walking.

I finally get home, take all the drugs they gave me and try to go to sleep. This was the worst part. I’m in bed trying to sleep with a burning sensation in my eyes. This lasts for 15 minutes or so, until the drugs kicked in and knocked me out. I wake up 5 hours later, take the goggles off and put drops in my eyes. That’s it! My vision was great already. The only bad things left are, I can’t rub my eyes and I have to wear goggles when I sleep for a week. Also, at night, lights have large halos and blurs around them. Sort of like when your eyes are watering. That is supposed to just go away after time.

I know this has nothing to do with video games, but so many people in the industry have bad eyes and are considering Lasik. Hopefully this will help ease the nervousness of the process. It’s a pretty expensive process if you haven’t looked into it, around 2-3k per eye. Well worth it, in my opinion. And if you live in California, aren't you required to have at least 1 elective surgery?