Categories
Game Design Game Development Games Geek / Technical Linux Game Development

LD50: The Theme is Delay the Inevitable #LDJam

The Ludum Dare compo has started, and the theme has been announced.

I am trying to remember if “Delay the Inevitable” was a theme I submitted, but I can’t seem to determine if that information is available.

My plan is to spend the first hour or so coming up with ideas. During Ludum Dare, there is usually an obvious idea that many people might try to pursue, so digging a little bit deeper should result in something more unique.

I just finished watching West Side Story (2021), so the inevitable violence and death that prevents two lovers from being together is top of mind.

Death is inevitable for all of us, and so delaying death might be one of the obvious ideas, but even so it seems like it could be a rich vein.

Taxes are also inevitable, but meh.

And in some areas people might argue that construction is inevitable. A game about constantly fixing roads? So are you delaying the construction, or is the construction delaying the entropy?

“Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” That line from Firefly is classic, and perhaps a game could be built around the idea of joining forces with an enemy that you know is going to target you once your common foe has been defeated or problem has been solved.

Climate change is feeling inevitable. Perhaps a game about being a representative of a corporation trying to convince people that climate change is a personal responsibility despite that corporation being directly responsible for most of the greenhouse gases.

The expansion of the universe seems unending and ultimately results in heat death. I remember learning that Newton’s math, pre-relativity, didn’t actually work, as it predicted that the planets would spin out of orbit. Or was it Kepler? Either way, he suggested that it was God’s hand that was keeping everything in place. So perhaps a game about keeping celestial bodies in place by manually (and frantically) putting them back when they go where they aren’t supposed to. Maybe you start with the Earth-Moon system, then branch out into the solar system, then into the galaxy, etc. Might be a math/physics heavy project. But maybe it will be more enjoyable if the physics was a hand-rolled hack job anyway.

Looking at the time, I see almost an hour has passed. Eep! I want to think a bit more before deciding.

Categories
Games

Introducing the Free Toy Factory Fixer Player’s Guide

Toy Factory Fixer, the free, family-friendly game about managing a toy factory to repair toys before they ship, was released last December.

It can be challenging to play, but if you want inside-information on how the game works, then you’ll be pleased to know that the Toy Factory Fixer Player’s Guide is now available!

Toy Factory Fixer Player's Guide

The 19-page, full color PDF explains everything about how the game works, along with tips on how to play well. If you want to get the highest rating in each level, this guide will give you the edge you need to make it happen.

Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 19-page, full color PDF of the Toy Factory Fixer Player’s Guide for free, as well as other free gifts.

Categories
Games

Announcing: Toy Factory Fixer, Now Available on Android and iOS 🧸

Available for free now on the Apple App Store and on Google Play, Toy Factory Fixer is a toy factory management game in which you hire and manage workers in order to ship toys by the deadline.

Toy Factory Fixer

Download on the App Store

Get it on Google Play

Bad Toys are accidentally getting created by the toy factory’s automated machines, and it is up to you to hire workers to separate those toys into parts and reassemble them together into Good Toys.

Toy Factory Fixer - game play

I have been working on this game for the past year, and I am so happy I can finally release Toy Factory Fixer to the world. I hope you enjoy it.

Toy Factory Fixer - game play

The game features four levels, each with an easy work shift and a challenging work shift. You can also choose to play without a deadline, or for an extra challenge, a hard deadline.

Toy Factory Fixer - game play

It plays much like a non-violent tower defense game, and it requires more thinking than dexterity.

In fact, you can hit the Stop button to plan your moves, then hit Go again when you’re ready, allowing you to take as much time as you need.

You can hire potentially three different worker types, each with their own unique abilities and capabilities, and you’ll need to strategically place them along the conveyor belt in order to handle the work.

And again, the game is free. For real.

NO ADS, NO IN-APP PURCHASES, NO INVASIONS OF PRIVACY, AND NO VIOLENCE

Have peace of mind with a family-friendly, ad-free, safe game.

Play the game, and please let me know what you think of it!

Download on the App Store

Get it on Google Play

Part of the Freshly Squeezed Entertainment line.
Freshly Squeezed

Categories
Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.6 – More Responsive and More Compatible 🐢🍂

Just in time for the start of Autumn and leaf-raking season here in the northern hemisphere, I just released the newest version of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Both Google and Apple changed certain requirements for Android and iOS devices, which meant that there were certain issues with playing the game on their latest phones and tablets.

For example, the game should play in landscape mode, but on Android 11 it was not rotating the screen correctly. On both Android and iOS, input would not always get detected properly, so you would tap the screen and it would seem like it was ignoring you.

I have addressed these issues, ensuring the game plays correctly on older and more modern devices as well as making it a lot more responsive to your actions.

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Game Design Games Geek / Technical

Books I Have Read: The Works of Ian Bogost

A couple of years ago, I purchased a number of books by Ian Bogost, the game designer, author, and professor who also created the parody game Cow Clicker and one of my favorite things on the Internet: buns.life, which lets you put words between buns.

I read some of Ian Bogost's Books (words in buns)

I can’t remember why I decided to buy multiple books by Bogost at the same time. I imagine it was because Racing the Beam was on my wishlist for a very long time, and when I finally decided to get it, I thought, “Yeah, I could stand to read more books about games.”

I finally got around to reading these books recently. In fact, I read each book within a week before moving on to the next, so I felt I got quite immersed in Bogost’s world in a little over a month. I could trace lines of his thoughts as they evolved over time and also recognized the same references he makes across multiple works.

Here are some brief thoughts on each.

Racing the Beam

Racing the Beam

Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, co-written with Nick Montfort and published in 2009, was a joy to read as someone whose first experience with video games was my family’s own Atari 2600 that I still have in my possession.

The book covers both the technical details of the Atari VCS, what I always knew as the Atari 2600, as well as analyzing how it impacted what kind of culture was being created by the developers who worked on the games for it.

I learned a lot about the history of Atari and the people involved in it, the reason why games worked the way they did for this platform, and how the system was flexible enough that it allowed for such a wide variety of games to be made for it, way beyond what could have been expected when it was designed.

There were times when I wished to dive even more into the technical details of how the system worked, but what was provided was probably deep enough for the target audience. Besides, I am sure there are actual manuals and guides for that kind of depth.

But I also enjoyed reading about the Atari 2600’s place in terms of the time period, the market, the politics, scandals, and more. I liked the insight that came from what were seen as poor quality arcade ports in terms of what it takes to make something successful as an adaptation. I liked learning about the names of the people behind some of my favorite games for that system, as well as learning more about the constraints they worked their magic within.

Despite diving into the details of a piece of hardware, I found this book to be one of the more accessible ones to this non-academic.

It’s also part of a series at MIT called Platform Studies, and I know I have copies of a few of those books thanks to Humble Book Bundles, so I look forward to diving into them soon.

Unit Operations

Unit Operations

While I found Racing the Beam to be accessible, I found Unit Operations to be a challenging read. I felt smarter within a few page partly because I had to look up a few words because the rest of the sentence or paragraph that they were encountered didn’t seem to give me enough clues to their meaning.

This was a book written for an academic audience. I had to work for it, and I’m glad I did.

Unit Operations has a copyright date of 2006, and if I managed to successfully understand it, it was Bogost’s attempt to create a grand unifying theory of criticism that would work for not only games in particular and computation in general but also cover typically criticism-comfortable ground such as literature and poetry and film.

This book covered everything from philosophy to art to computer science to psychology to film and of course games.

Much like with Racing the Beam, I enjoyed the placing of context of different pieces of work. I happened to listened to a course on Western philosophy a few years ago, and so I was able to get references to major thinkers and writers.

As for a unit operation, well, my understanding, which might be wrong and not nuanced enough, is that a unit operation is a “thing that has meaning.” Specifically, a thing that can be combined with other things and understood with its relationship with those things in that specific combination.

That “thing” can be a cog in a wheel, or the wheel itself, or the concept of machinery in general. Bogost talks at one point about object-oriented software You can write a piece of code as a component of a larger system. Maybe that system is a component of an even larger system. But each component can be understood both in isolation and as part of the system it operates within. And the components work together differently if they were combined in a different way. The components in a particular configuration allow for certain operations and meaning-making. I wasn’t sure if I followed his understanding of “object technology”, but the general idea of procedural meaning seemed to make sense.

He talked about the Baudelaire poem “A une passante” which “expresses a unit operation for contending with the chance encounter.” It’s love poetry about the fact that the woman walking away in the busy and modern Parisian atmosphere will never be someone the author will meet. Walter Benjamin named this idea “a figure that fascinates” as it isn’t about the woman so much as a lost chance at connection.

Baudelaire was trying to figure out how to make sense of this new modern city life. This chance encounter idea was kind of new. The loneliness despite being among so many people was new.

Decades later when Charles Bukowski wrote “A woman on the street” it similarly was about that figure that fascinates, that lost chance to connect. Bogost argues that this concept went from being a novel experience to a meme-like cultural understanding. In a way, everyone understands this concept now, as everyone knows what living in modern society is like, and so instead of needing to describe it in detail, you can use shorthand.

It became a unit operation, a way to help us understand the meaning behind it all.

And then Bogost explored how it applies to The Sims expansion Hot Date, exploring the unit operation in the simulation that the game provides of modern urban living.

And the book was filled with similar analysis across multiple types of media.

I think one major takeaway I got from Unit Operations was the idea of simulations, and games in particular, being necessarily subjective. Bogost’s definition of a simulation focuses on the gap between what the simulation represents and what the user brings to understand it.

But I think that in light of complaints by some gamers that politics should stay out of games, I think it is interesting that there is this idea that all games are necessarily political because the game creators had to decide what to simulate and what not, what to put in and what to ignore, what to model and what not to.

I think I am glad that I read this book now as opposed to when it was released, because I don’t think I would have understood nearly as much. I expect that if I reread this book in five or 10 years that I’ll pick up some nuances or learn that I completely misinterpreted an aspect of it that I would grok much better then.

But I really appreciated how this book brought together so many seemingly different subjects. I find I can be fascinated by anything, and this book put a lot of anythings within easy reach and allowed me to see them all next to each other in a very satisfyingly holistic way. I remember finishing it and thinking, “I wonder how often unit operations will come up in other works” but I did not see them mentioned in his other books, and I wondered if it meant that the concept did not catch on.

How to Do Things with Video Games

How to Do Things with Videogames

In 2011, Bogost published How to Do Things with Video Games and explored the relevance of games as a medium by analyzing what spectrum of possible uses they can be employed.

I mean, you can play games, sure, but more than that, games can be used to make art, or to train, or to persuade, or sell, or exercise, or anything in between.

Each chapter explores one use that games have already demonstrated they are capable of. Rod Humble’s The Marriage usually comes up when talking about games as art, but there was a chapter about using games for politicking that touched on Bogost’s own work in creating a game for a U.S. Presidential election. There was one chapter on promotion that focused a bit on Burger King’s series of Xbox games, comparing it to similar efforts at promotion in the 80s and demonstrating that games have a long history of allowing people to do a variety of things with them.

I think one thing that struck me was that Bogost argues that games aren’t just for the stereotypical gamers anymore. The idea of the gamer will be as silly as the idea of the movie watcher. You just have people, and people might play games. A few years after this book came out, there was an ugly and sometimes violent backlash against women who wrote essentially the same thing. I don’t recall hearing Bogost getting the same vitriol thrown at him, but I could be wrong.

How to Talk About Video Games

How to Talk about Videogames

The next book I read was 2015’s How to Talk About Video Games, which addresses the idea that games, while different from other media, shouldn’t be treated as either special or less than.

Specifically, Bogost was unhappy with the idea of “games writing” or “games criticism” because it risks isolating games from the rest of the world. People can look down on games, and they can get away with it because society as a whole looks down on games.

In the intro, he says “This is a book full of … attempts to take games so seriously as to risk the descent into self-parody. Or even, to embrace that descent, since caricature is another means to truth.”

And it is here that I have to say, at the risk of offending Bogost, that multiple times in the previous books I thought to myself, “Ok, are we actually being serious here, or is this an elaborate joke?”

Around the time I was reading Unit Operations, I saw Bogost tweet “Sbarro Studies, Year One.” Clearly, THAT was a joke, but there were times where I fully expected it to be mentioned in the wide array of topics and subjects that the book addressed.

How to Talk About Video Games is a series of chapters that offer some kind of analysis or criticism about games or game publishers or the culture in which a particular type of game is popular.

My favorite chapter is the one about Ms. Pac-Man titled “Can a Gobbler Have It All?” It covers the pre-history of the game, going back to insights about the Atari 2600 again, the way arcade machine enhancement kits functioned both technically and economically, and finally argues that the creation of Ms. Pac-Man the game and the character has a deep connection to the roles women have in society.

Bogost admits that making parallels to the creation of Eve from Adam and to women who want to excel at a career and a family life seems absurd, but then proceeds to make a very compelling case by talking about how the game character was marketed, the story within the game, the origins of “Ms.” both as an abbreviation and as part of the title of the game, and more.

She is, after all, the first female lead in a videogame. Everything Pac-Man can do, she can do – and better. Her job is less predictable and more exciting, making it more challenging and rewarding. And yet Ms. Pac-Man is a traditionalist, a family woman willing to make a home with the right man – one whom she chases as much as he chases her – and a mother, able and willing to care for her Pac-progeny.

Bogost argues that the culture around games has fooled itself into thinking it is bigger than it really is. I am reminded of an article I once read in The Escapist when it was new and still trying to recreate a print magazine experience awkwardly on a web page, in which someone was surprised that there were gamers who didn’t read enthusiast magazines and websites about games. That people showed up at GameStop or Babbage’s and just didn’t know what the heck they were about to buy.

But there are a lot of people who don’t know inside baseball about the game industry, and it is easy to think, with an industry that has eclipsed Hollywood’s revenues, with more people playing games than ever, that it’s them who are weird.

I think the conclusion for Bogost follows from How to Do Things with Videogames, that rather than double-down on insisting that games are the most important medium of expression, and therefore marking them as different and special from the world, we can just live with games. There is no need to insist on the one true game that only gamers play. Games are for everyone, and there can be some games that appeal to only certain audiences, and games don’t need to be a sole focus, and that’s OK.

Play Anything

Play Anything

Play Anything, published in 2016, is one of the deepest dives into the concept of play that I’ve ever read. Which, as I already admitted I am not an academic, might not mean much, but still.

It also surprised me because it was about how to enjoy life, and as I turn 40 and keep an existential crisis at bay each day, this was an important message for me to receive.

I loved the beginning in which he talks about the modern popular use of irony as a way for people to avoid deciding whether or not they “mean to mean” something, as a way to avoid engaging with something to protect against disappointment or disaster.

Are you wearing that t-shirt of that brand as an expression of how much you like that brand or as a parody of people who would do that? With irony, you don’t have to choose. You can be neither of them. You can avoid what you are afraid of, which might be that brand betraying you by turning out to be a terrible faceless corporation after all, or that rejecting the brand isn’t very interesting.

So there’s an indecisiveness to engaging with things that comes out of fear, and our world today has a lot of things. Bogost argues that rather than hoping for something to be more than or less than it is, we can take it and accept it for what it is.

Perhaps the problem that afflicts us is not having too many possessions (or too few), or too many choices (or too few), but in failing to know how to treat anything with enough respect that its existence feels like an opportunity rather than a burden. And not an opportunity because we get something back from it or because we can put it to maximally optimized use, but because we can train ourselves to approach it for exactly what it is, rather than wishing it – or we – were something different.

The theme of treating reality honestly, of accepting what is, and of entering into relationship with that very real reality instead of trying to manipulate it into something it isn’t comes up a lot.

Play for Bogost isn’t compatible with irony, in which you hold things at a safe distance, neither accepting nor praising nor rejecting them.

Bogost argues that play is an inherent property of things. Irony’s position is that things aren’t going to be sufficient, and play’s position is that, duh, of course they aren’t, and that limitation in things is interesting and potentially enjoyable if you come at it the right way. Play is about doing what you want with what is there, and fun comes from exploring the possibility space there, especially when you think you’ve seen it all.

It’s not just mindfulness, about being aware of my own thoughts about them, but an awareness of everything else that isn’t me.

It’s about seeing things, really seeing them, paying attention to them, and doing what we can with them without being disappointed that they don’t offer something they can’t.

Conclusion

I felt a sort of kinship with Bogost. Here’s a person who also seems to love to explore a wide variety of topics, seeing and finding connections between different areas of study, and expecting to find that those connections exist.

As a game developer, as someone who is trying to create meaningful experiences through entertainment, I think I have gained a much greater appreciation for what is at stake, what the work involves, and how it relates to life in general.

I recognize certain modern debates as continuations of discussions that have been happening for centuries related to other media. I’ve found that my understanding of games as a medium has been grounded a lot more.

I think it is interesting to see how some things have borne out over a decade after he wrote about them, such as how relevant games are in politics or how the concept of the gamer is still alive and well despite the fact that pretty much everyone plays games.

And I think I’ve gained an appreciation for living a life in a way that I can appreciate living. People say life is short, that you should do what you love, that you can stop and smell the roses or practice gratitude or whatever. Maybe it is also due to the pandemic revealing a lot of the absurdities we as a society have tolerated needlessly and sometimes fatally, but I’ve found myself more and more seeing situations for what they are. While I can’t say I’ve found a way or motivation to play in a dysfunctional corporate environment or play in the misinformation surrounding COVID-19, I’ve given myself permission to have some agency in whether I participate in someone else’s constraints or my own.

Life is more enjoyable when it is honest and authentic, when you can explore the possibilities it provides, and when it is well played.

Categories
Games Personal Development

Teacher Streamer: Learn About Games and Their Classroom Potential

Last week was the Games for Change Virtual Festival 2021, and I learned about an attendee named Scott Beiter, a science teacher who also streams games on Twitch.

Specifically, every Wednesday this summer he is playing a different game and talking about its potential use in science classrooms on https://twitch.tv/sciencestreams.

Recently he played the games Red Planet Farming and Surviving Mars, obviously to explore the science behind the planet, and he talked about what his students experienced when playing through the games, how to get the games, and other logistics.

Most recently he has been exploring marine biology through games such as Subnautica: Below Zero.

I admit to not exploring a lot of his videos, and I wonder how many of these games end up amazingly adapted to classroom use as opposed to games that end up completely inappropriate or challenging to use.

Still, it’s pretty neat to see an educator not only using games in the classroom but also live streaming about his research into which games work well there.

Categories
Games Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Tell Nintendo Online to Keep Google Out of It

I’ve been a fan of the existence of Duck Duck Go, the search engine that focuses on privacy. It’s search results are sometimes not as useful or comprehensive as I’d like, but most of the time, it’s great knowing that what I search for there won’t follow me around the Web.

So I subscribe to the Duck Duck Go Privacy Weekly newsletter, and I just learned about how Nintendo is using Google Analytics in the eShop. The latest firmware update will apparently automatically turn on data sharing even if you had turned it off prior to the update.

If you’re in Europe, you have the benefit of the EU’s GDPR to protect your privacy, and so you’re probably less concerned about the kind of data that is being collected about you.

In the US, we have no such privacy laws, but at least Nintendo Switch offers an opt-out in this case.

Nintendo Switch eShop Analytics

  1. Open System Settings and go to Users, then select your Switch’s primary user
  2. Select Nintendo eShop Settings, and type in your password if you need to
  3. Scroll down to the bottom and click “Change” button under Google Analytics Preferences
  4. Click the “Don’t Share” option, then click the “Change” button on the right

I hope you find this helpful. I feel better if my kids end up on the eShop that they aren’t being tracked any more than they already are online.

Categories
Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.5 with Transitions and More Dialogue

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, has a new “Personality Injection” update, available now in the Apple App Store and Google Play store!

Version 1.4.5 adds more unique dialogue for each of your 19 neighbors, turning the neighborhood into a more lively and interesting place.

Clients now have different things to say for each of the three months of the leaf-raking season, and they say something different when you finish the job in their yard.

For example, Mr. Cardinal says the following in October:
Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

And after you finish raking all of the leaves in his yard, he’ll instead say:

Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

Also new are screen transitions that, frankly, make the game more enjoyable to look at and play. You can see for yourself how it enhances the game nicely:

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing New Holiday Dialogue in Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.4

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, has a new “Personality Injection” update, available now in the Apple App Store and Google Play store!

Version 1.4.4 introduces unique, holiday-specific dialogue for each of your 19 neighbors.

Mr Cardinal dialogue on Labor Day

There are currently 6 major calendar events, and when you visit your neighbors, they will have something new to say to you depending on the date.

Luciana's dialogue on Halloween

You’ll get a better sense of who your neighbors and clients are. Learn who loves being part of a crowd and who loathes a party! Understand who makes the best of a bad situation and who sees the world as glass-half-empty.

Amy's dialogue on Thanksgiving

Learn which of your clients is cheering for you as you try to earn enough money to buy yourself the Ultimate Item(tm).

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Categories
Games

Coming to Kickstarter: Family-friendly Coding Game Time Tails

I learned today that Snowbright Studio will soon be launching a Kickstarter campaign for Time Tails, a game about traveling through time, learning to code, and designing games.

The game follows two time traveling cats from the 80’s as they help kids learn coding and Unity game design.

According to a college friend of mine who is one of the people behind it, it’s aimed at middle and high school students, but it is a game for the entire family and anyone who wants to learn a few things about coding games and/or 80s time travel. “We’re working specifically to bring this game to girls and LGBTQ+ youth interested in computer science.”

The Kickstarter campaign is expected to launch on October 16th.

Sign up to be notified at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/snowbrightstudio/time-tails