Develop Highlight : HoneySlug, Kahoots and the Peg Monster

There have been some great things at Develop 2010 this past day, but I felt so enthused and invigorated by the presentation by Ricky Haggett and Nat Marco from HoneySlug I had to do a separate post on it. The pitch was called Homespun Fun – The Art of Kahoots. It was (as from the title) aimed at the game artist audience, but quite frankly it was such an amazing tale that it should have been a keynote!
Firstly we have seen a lot of powerpoint at this conference. An awful lot of standard bullet points, though the stories have been interesting. Straight away Ricky and Nat were going to deliver this in a more friendly and accommodating manner, in fact it was like we had just popped into their offices and we were all having a friendly chat (Ricky and I were presenting sessions the awakening creative entrepreneurship last year in Derry so I know this style is very natural for him). Honeyslug is a small 3 person games development company based out of London. The game they were talking about is one that is currently on PSN and is called Kahoots.

The story really is one of just getting on and doing something, creating and discovering ideas on the way. No great plan, no huge budget, in fact no real budget at all. Even more important there was clearly a great deal of enjoyment and fulfilment in the entire project for the close knit team.

Nat did some “preliminary” character sketches in biro on lined paper, as Ricky then said “there were actually no more sketches, that was it design done”

It started as a quick flash demo using some pixel art that Ricky “threw together” in a weekend. The game is a 2d puzzle based trigger the right things at the right time game. The idea for the game was not the core of the pitch it was what happened next.

Having shown the game mechanic worked they had to decide whether to pay a pixel artist to do the characters in the game or try something themselves. Nat had studied stop frame animation at college so one way and another they thought it would be good to make the characters for real. So rather than go an get the proper modelling clay and rigs and armatures they got a stack of the cheapest plasticine they could, some old packing foam and some garden wire and then made the characters. Nat doing a quick tutorial for them then they all had a go. Apparently Ricky’s was a bit fatter then the others so he just was able to peel bits off it until it worked. As Nat said “You can’t do that if you use the really pro modelling gear as you have to shave that down with tools”.

There was a short movie of the fast show stop frame animation modelling scene thrown in. Which added to the happy and playful attitude pervading the room.

Then Ricky pointed out that they did not spend months on the animation, more like a couple of days. It was web cam and cardboard backdrops.

Nat told the story about the other non plasticine character, the Cardborg. This is a cardboard box head and a tin foil body (Jack Black’s robocop in Be Kind Rewind came to mind). The tine foil was a nightmare to animate, it kept tearing and reflected the background that was supposed to be used to key the foreground out in post production

The stop frame animation was then handed over to Ricky, who admitted he learned everything he needed about doing this and photoshop from cut and pasting his friends headshots onto comedy pictures.

Whilst there was a a lot of self deprecation there is such a creative talent with these guys, yes it was just a few clicks and strokes to make the real characters look like computer sprites yet retain the homemade feel, but they were the right clicks.

The rest of the game art was accidentally decided upon. Having made real characters they headed to the charity shops and spent £35 on buttons, sweets, fabric etc. They then tool all that and threw it in a standard scanner. Many of the assets scanned were sweets, which they then went on to eat over the course of the next few weeks. Again the artwork was keyed out and then some colour treatments made to keep it in the style they had stumbled upon.

That then led to the concept that the entire game, with all its bits and bobs was taking place down the back of the sofa. (I love the way this works and flows, to some it may seem backwards but this is innovative spark at its best. Observer the situation, go with the flow and trust you will find the right things on the way and make the most of them.

Then we got to the Peg Beast. The game has a very quirky and amusing guide, the peg beast who sings quirky songs. He cam about because of a random collection of items in the scanner which Ricky spotted and said looked like a dragon. So Peg beast was born visually. Then they decided Peg Beast would be the instructor at the start of a level by singing the tale of what would happen. Ricky sang into a mic some made up words with a comedy voice and Peg Beast came alive. His brother, a musician scored the track. Then the animation of Peg Beast was simple frames in flash, keyed on the audio. As Ricky said he did not bother to isolate the voice, its just the audio track as is so Peg Beast sort of talks and bobs around in a quirky fashion.

The rest of the map and instructions for the game were done with felt tip pin in a sketch scanned in.

Then the side effects of this flow continued. For some press shots they took the Kahoot plasticine models around London and photographed them in key places (these then became achievements rewards in the game). They also went and had a picnic with them. As Ricky said that was the most money they spent on the entire game buying a small picnic set for the Kahoots and a stack of food to eat.

It does not stop there, the plans roll on, Peg Beast is doing a music video ….. etc. etc.

It was so inspiring to see such a homebrew, enthusiastic non corporate, non sanitised approach delivered with enthusiasm and an almost embarrassed at how well it went attitude.
If you have not bought Kahoots I suggest you do it, they deserve the recognition. An Iphone version is on its way too.

They have proved, as they said. Games are a wish fulfilment for both players and the creators.
Being open to ideas, crazy ones, odd ones and in particular ones outside of your field of expertise unlocks a teams creative spirit. Well done Honeyslug!

Peg Beast FTW.

Develop 2010 – Evolve Day 1 – 10% is the answer

Develop – Evolve Day 1

The first day of the 3 day Develop conference proved, as usual, to be very interesting and well worth the trip to Brighton. It’s not a million miles away form home but enough of a trip to make it worth while staying over at the hotel for the after conference conversations.
Develop 2010

Matthew Wiggins – Wonderland creators of Godfinger
Making Free apps for fun and for profit.
Matthew @wiggo on twitter is a games design veteran having worked at places like lionhead. His company Wonderland created the hit iphone game Godginger which is published through DoCoMo and uses the plusplus social networking system.
The talk was primarily a case study in moving from an initial design with a price point of $9.99 on the app store to a completely free game. This was, and he referenced it, an example of the variety of opportunities and business model decisions written about by Chris Andersen in his book Free.
Free does not have to mean for nothing, users get the game, enjoy playing it and if the game has merit they play it in large numbers. 10% of the users will want to start paying in some form or other, for kudos, for content. Or when you have a huge number of users advertisers clearly want to direct adverts towards them.
As this was the Evolve part of the conference, this is the sort of forward thinking, with actual examples, that the games industry needs to hear. Just like many other industries that have become large and monolithic with huge sums of money flowing around a disruptive business model is often greeted with scepticism.
We do know though, free works, and in some case free is the only way forward.
Matthew also talked about how the design decisions in the game have to be intertwined with the business goals and the overall finanacials. He did not think this was a problem but that some people might consider this restricted their creative freedoms. He pointed out this is a balance and when it works lots of people get to play and enjoy the game, which as a game designer is the point.

Patrick O’Luanaigh -nDreams
Explorers guide to Facebook and other digital platforms
As the previous talk had had a projector problem I got to this one a little late. Patrick was doing an interesting explanation of the challenges of working in Facebook and also alluding to Playstation Home emerging as a much richer game platform in its own right, not just an advert platform. This doe sofa course stand to reason, as he pointed out, it already is an MMO platform. Part of the problem though is content is not as resizable across other platforms, its a specific build.
During his pitch he had lots of comedy product placement, which having missed the start I am not sure if he explained. However he was treating his pitch as a beverage generation engine. i.e. he was promised beers to mention certain books and people which he sprinkled through the pitch. The final one was “there is no such thing as a free lunch though in this case there is” as he showed a photo of a local cafe who offered him a free lunch if they got a mention.

Lunch – Vertical Slice
At lunch I got talking to the guys from Vertical Slice who are doing a pitch on Thursday. They specialise in user experience in games and are the first UK studio to set up to study this having come from an academic background but applying the science.

Thomas Bidaux – ICO partners
Games as a Service
Thomas was sharing his experience of running MMO’s. He made no apologies for coming at this from a service level direction. He talked about how the things around a game often get forgotten, the registration path, the localisation, the experience of getting to the experience. He cited the first MMO he worked on which was not a fantastic game, but they knew that and focused on working with the users and the community to create a fantastic service.
He cited the sort of mistakes that can be made in dealing with collecting information from users, in breaking the in game experience by having to back out to website. The tricky difficulty of providing translations and setting up the processes with 3rd parties to perform those.
Many people would recognise this runtime need who have worked on any serious website or backend commercial system that runs 24/7. In a build it and ship it games industry (which is now shifting to online and constant iteration) it is going to be a shock. Runtime operations actually become core business and need to be designed in as things scale in unpredictable ways.

Dave Bishop – PopCap
When Casual meets Social
Bejeweled is 10 years old. PopCap have created some of the most popular and addictive puzzle games over the years. There were some amazing facts and figures around just how many people play Bejeweled.
The focus of the talk though was around how PopCap are making the transition from Casual games to Social games. This quite often gets mixed up into the same thing. Dave explained how people played PopCap games in their droves but a complete standalone experience. Now with Bejeweled Blitz they have introduced social networking elements to allow people to share scores with friends. There are many aspects to this that ramp up the complexity of doing this. Having had games in flash on the browser, having iphone version etc they then have the complexity of trying to make the experiences and the relative scoring systems the same across all the platforms. Each platform may look very similar but in reality, as Dave said, PopCap spend more time than is natural working out how it feels when the gems fall.
Dave said that PopCap were not only putting social features into all their games, including cross platform interactions but they are also creating actual social games. This will be interesting to see how the transition happens in game design from a recognised franchise point of view.
Like Thomas before him Dave indicated the massive alteration that happens in the business when it goes to actual online, not just delivery online. They have had to go from teams of 3 or 4 people to teams of 30+ to deal with the constant iterations.

Adam Boyles – Beefy Media (Formely CapCom)

Round2 – Get ready for convergent gaming
The basic premise here was that convergent gaming, i.e. a game experience or brand that crosses platforms and ways of interacting with it has been talked about for a long time but might now be coming. This was much more than simply porting game x to platform y. It was about fundamentally different experiences suited to different ways people interact. He told a few war stories about the restrictions put on CapCom by both Sony and Microsoft as they were delivering some of the downloadable titles, and how when you have two competing giants you don’t have to take their word for it, but push them.
I found this all interesting as I tend to be getting data from one place and effecting change elsewhere even with the virtual worlds. Closed platforms development wise, or very expensive ones are of no interest to me, but being able to get data feeds from them very much is.
Adam also talked about the problems of just converting content, or of only doing half a job when doing an HD remix. The fans will tell you when you are not doing it right. Hence CapCom always gets the fans involved.

Nils-Holger Henning Bigpoint
How 100 users turned into 100 million – a browser game success story
Bigpoint has 130 million registered users. That is a lot. They come to play top quality web based games. Bigpoint are pushing the envelope of what that means with both Java and Unity and Flash. They deal in MMO massive scale. Nils-Holger indicated the shock and exponential shift in effort required in MMO’s. He also re iterated the 10% rule. Most of the 130 million will not be paying anything but 10% will start to. That is why free works. For some of their early games they still have massive longterm support from the users. People come for the game and stay for the community.
With respect to taking payment he also said something that makes a great deal of sense economically, but many may laugh.
If you set a subscription price for anything you have a massive impact on that 10% that will pay something. i.e. many will drop out. If you set the subs at $10 but they are prepared to spend $5 you are shooting yourself in the foot. He also alluded to the other end of the market though. (This is my favourite anecdote). There are some people with so much money that they would just not bother with $10 subscription. They would however pay $50,000 for a custom piece of armour in a game. This is about paying for kudos and quality. It is the couture end of the market. People who spend 10k on a dress will not shop at Primark. The product may look the same but its not. So, as he said, 2 people paying $50k each for one piece of custom content is worth a lot of $10 subscribers.
He went on to show Poisonville and then Battlestar Galactica online both extremely rich visuals and in browser. One Java one Unity3d.
Another interesting point was that Bigpoint are now targeting the US more. He admitted they had treated it in the same way the US tends to treat Europe. “send a junior to london and he can cover germany, france, spain, italy …). Its a much bigger market and deserves proper attention.

David Helgason, Unity Technologies
Gamification: How games are everywhere

David was not specifically talking about Unity3d, though of course it came up as a scene setting. It was interesting (as I tweeted) to see Mark Rein of Unreal sat in the front row as clearly Unity has a disruptive influence over the engine market. Unity3d I still find really interesting and exciting.
Unity meets unreal
The core of David’s talk was that we are at such an interesting point in the use of games and of games technology. He cited Jesse Schell’s pitch on life achievements which is turning into as seminal a work as Chris Anderson’s Free or Malcom Gladwell’s tipping point.
David also said that there are so many programmers out there, many of them probably starting to develop in the first place because they really wanted to build games, but have ended up not doing that. (sounds familiar 🙂 )
He also said that we had an education systems that was creating technically literate students with a will to create.
The third element was that of content creation and the change in the web to allow and encourage that content
Finally The technology and community is in place to work and collaborate with anyone anywhere (as I say everywhere is local)
This creates a perfect storm (which was cheekily shown with a backdrop picture of the icelandic volcano that disrupted all our lives, David is originally from Iceland)
David’s pitch was quite handy when explaining to people in the evening when asked “so what do you do then” the whole metaverse evangelist thing and the education in virtual worlds and business use of game tech ended up with people saying “oh so ramification then”. So thankyou David 🙂

A cracking day and looking forward to day 2

Heading for Brighton Develop

Tomorrow sees the start of 3 days in Brighton at the Develop conference. As I have mentioned before it is unusual to be going to a conference and not actually presenting. Though in part that is because Develop has grown up form a pure games development background and with things like Evolve as a track is starting to head towards what I do.

It feels like it will be an exciting one again this year as last year was great.
The past year I have met some of my game design heroes in various capacities and with an increasing crossover into the game environments, and the massive impact of things such as Kinect and Nintendo 3DS on the horizon we may be at an important crossover.
I will also be sharing the launch of the British Computer Society Animation and Games Development industry group which launches this month. This is very exciting as again it starts to show the crossover and connections. After all this is all tech, it needs more tech skills than ever, but blends with other creative endeavours.
If you are interested please contact me or want to discuss this group and maybe present or help in the future once we get going.
It will also be an outing for my new feeding edge tshirt so look out for me if you are there and say hi.

Ground control to mAYCh3rT0m – Nasa Moonbase online edugame

This week has seen the release of the free to play NASA Moonbase alpha game by virtual heroes.
It fits nicely into that area of education and a specific event or scene that has to dealt with providing education and online teamwork rather than being a free roam NASA virtual world. i.e. there is a task to get on and do right away.

It is a large client download, again as the assets are not constantly changing so as with most game clients they reside locally.
It places you in a situation of having to repair certain resources in a certain time. Chain reaction failures leading to mission failure if not done right.
It also poses the qualities of slowing you down precisely because you are in a space suit. You can hop along and try and jump to places but there is no rapid click fixing.
The is where the online teamwork fits in. Decisions to commit to fix a remote part has significant implications on being able to get back in time.
There are all sorts of tools, like remote control robots that come into play too.
It is a pity is a windows only client but thats the way it is.
I am going to experiment and see how the predlets take to it. The elder one will probably be ok with the task, the younger happy to bounce around.
With a bit of luck this sort of thing will get used in UK schools too as it offers the ability for LAN play rather than having to deal with the vagaries and perceived risks of other people on the internet.
It is always good to see interesting educational and entertainment projects emerge.
I would be interested to see if any team building activities occur in corporate circles using this, as it is not a fragfest but a slower teamwork task that many of the older non gamers of my generation can relate to having watched the space race and the moon landings.

APB out on epredator

Well not exactly. I have dived into the MMORPG world of APB today.
APB first tshirts
It seems pretty good, it is an MMO so for those who have note played one before it may be a bit odd. However its got some great features and customisation options to create a look. A tune composer to create victory tunes. I have done a few tutorial missions and hung around in the social areas.
I also lost my first gun battle (to be expected I guess).
Still I was representing with Feeding Edge logo tshirt v1.0 more later.
****Update I gave the jacket a go too 🙂 It worked, real designers are going to do some fun things with this, just like the Forza racing cars community.
APB jacket

Living in a social Blur – AAA games heading the right way

I usually dive straight into car and driving games as they are possibly my favourite type and style of game. Somewhere in the Red Dead Redemption and holiday interruptions I missed getting Blur
. That is now rectified, and in no small part thanks to Jay “Springwatch” Dykes (also Wimbledon behind the scenes) for having reminded me and giving it the thumbs up.
Blur is from Bizzare creations who have created some of the most innovative racing and visuals over the years. Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast which morphed into Project Gotham 4 on the 360. They were probably the first to bother modelling real places in intricate detail. The clever element to the racing genre for those games was Kudos, the ability to race with style, lots of sliding basically adding an element over and above pure speed. So it was not a simulation, but was set in a real location. I wrote before how it actually helped me hook some pieces of London together
Blur is a very arcade style racing game, as a driving experience, with kart style weapons and power-ups it is very different to PGR4. So it is good, though in gaming terms not overly innovative, but very well executed.
What is different though is the integration they have put in on all the platforms with places outside of the game console. You are able to link both twitter and facebook accounts to share various elements of the game, whilst still in it. A few others have done things with microsites for the game to be able to upload and share photos etc. This though is a little further down the line in injecting itself into existing social networking platforms.
So I am able to take a photo in world like this
Brighton blur style
Share that to facebook, and in this case take that and put it on flickr myself.
Each of the social media messaging systems add a predefined piece of information onto them. This is both clever and potentially annoying in the same measure. Though does break out of the the xbox or ps3 only style communications we have. Not quite cross platform integration but close. Rockstar’s Social Club for GTA and RDR is probably the most advanced in linking the platforms together and providing more than a micro site.
If I tweet a message I can edit my part of it but will be forced to have something appended to it such as “I’m playing #blurthegame”. That is a little too game specific I think. yes its great to have a helping hand with hashtags and proforma tweets for certain achievements, but it gets spammy very quickly.
Other interesting features, once that is also in the xbox arcade titles now, is that of creating a challenge for a friend.
Something that Bizzare have kept is modelling real world locations. In this case both above and below there are pictures from Brighton.
Brighton Blur
This is where many people from the games industry (including me) will be next month at the Develop conference at the very hotel in the top photo if I am not mistaken !
So it looks like the game industry is not going to ignore social media (they have all just been a little slow) maybe next the tentacles will extend out into virtual worlds and richer web and mobile experiences.
For me, seeing AAA games as well as social games letting you share your achievements and set new goals is an important step that fits into the gaming startup that I am working on. More on that as we go forward. The good thing is things are panning out as I said they would 🙂

World cup and other sports – Gamer style

I have a keen interest in how we get to represent sporting events in ways other than just TV coverage. This years world cup is already showing a little of what can be done once the rights have been agreed. Rights management, just as in the music industry is a huge business. Of all things it is the thing stifling the explosion in creativity that could be had with all the data and feeds of information from live sports. Something I was hoping would be a bit more open for the 2012 olympics but it looks not to be the case. Though there is time and hope.
EASports are one of the biggest sport game producers with lots of franchise lock-ins including football(soccer). So it was natural that this years world cup got the usual treatment of a branded game.
2010 FIFA World Cup (Xbox 360)

I am not a massive football fan but these large tournaments and getting behind the countries team does reach me and I also usually end up with a game of the tournament. Given they are every 4 years the world cup ones help set a timing on what a platform of console is up to at that point in time.
France 98 for instance was the same as my first year working at Wimbledon. It was the out of hours game of choice, played in the UK house we rented and played on my Nintendo 64 that I took up for the fortnight.

This year my world cup game is on the Xbox360 and hooked up to the net. There are all sorts of interesting features but the one I wanted to see how it felt and worked is operational now during the actual tournament.
The option is hidden away in the “Story of Qualifying” section. Here there are recreating crunch moments and scenarios that have happened in the actual tournament (and in the lead up). It becomes a playable news feed. You pick a scenario and then dive in and try and beat the odds or change history.

This is a nice feature and there are a few scenarios in there but I really wish it went further. The scenario is just a set initial start conditions and some special win conditions e.g. score 2 more goals. However with an engine as powerful as the game has it would be fantastic to be able to watch the entire match, or its highlights in the replay editor.
There is of course a small problem of getting the accuracy not only of where the player was but where there arms and legs are for fidelity of replay, however it has been done before to some extent.
Looking at the sort of thing NASCAR does with raceview much of the sports coverage is quite behind the times.
If you take Formula1 the pinnacle of motorsports, we have a timing feed application on web and mobile to watch and a text based commentary, or the TV. We have a visually rich console/PC game from Codemasters, but that is not out until towards the end of the season in September. I hope that in a few years time all this gets in synch and by next world cup we will be able to enjoy it in a host of other interesting ways.
***Update I just bumped into this article on engadget about EPSN just getting on and doing innovative things with sports coverage.

Red Dead Redemption – it is what we miss that makes it so good

Good design of any sort is really effortless, or joyous for those on the receiving end of it. Something that has had a whole load of great design go into it is the new gaming classic Red Dead Revolver. Non gamers and “serious” types may just consider this as trivial as hula-hoop. A toy that a few grown ups enjoy playing with. Well…. it is. At one level of abstraction it is a football, a hoop and stick. On another level, it, and the current generation of well crafted gaming experiences are a fantastic example of good design and talent.
Red Dead Redemption is a cowboy gaming experience. It is an exceptionally large free roaming area interspersed with a plot that takes you from set piece to set piece. You can if you want just go for a ride and see what happens though.
The first thing that most people latch onto, with good reason, is the graphics and the animation in the game.
Red Dead Redemption
Given where we were only a few years ago the graphics quality, the detail on things like the horse animations, the size and scale of the terrain, the flora and fauna and even tumbleweeds is very good. Still pictures do not do it justice. Xbox 360 or PS3 though it just works. Just think for a moment the amount of graphic design time that has to go into both the size and scale and the intricate detail. The flowers on the plants, the mane on the horse. Even the bullets in your bandolier are all created by someone. So as a graphic design task, even with tool and middleware support this is a monumental undertaking. Of course tiling, and cut and paste comes into play, but just consider the person hours of skilled design tool usage then add to that the overlaying of the design of “where” all these things go and can go.
Under the covers there is of course code. Programming and detail in allowing things to happen, chaining effects together, determining where and when a bullet has hit. As a programmer I know that most people do not see the code under any of this, but it takes as much design effort and talent as the visuals. The system architecture and middleware combinations becoming the “where” all these things go.
However I think that many people in most enterprise businesses and alike will understand a little about IT (from using it all the time) and maybe a little about visuals from having to create the odd powerpoint. Clearly not the same but at least in the general area. People probably have a moderate understanding of testing (though not the mind numbing repetition and test case coverage that goes into knowing something is right)
The things that people don’t have to get involved with and that have really evolved so much and been taken seriously in the production values of high end games are things around the sounds and voices that you hear.
Red dead redemption good deed
The sound design is generally so well done, creates so much atmosphere and is in some senses more transient than the visuals that it almost melts away. Also the acting quality is just miles beyond the early fumbling attempts to read badly written dialogue we used to see and hear. When the characters in the game talk to one another in cut scenes or as part of atmospherics in a town it feels real. Of course the dialogue has to be layered with western style occasionally over the top elements, but films that we passively sit and watch have all sorts of over the top characters.
Threading all this together is the script, both a story arc and then the micro stories that form at key points in the game progression. Thrown in are also random events that happen around the place as you travel around, thefts and challenges which you choose to engage with.
Its all highly immersive, and very entertaining. That is without even engaging in what is in effect a completely different use for all these assets, the multiplayer games. These take place in the whole environment, fellow real people being cowboys and travelling the land living their own stories.
Now clearly I am a gamer, but I do not always feel compelled to complete a storyline. However recent months have seen Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2, Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption all making me want to complete the storyline and not ending up disappointed. There are lots of games but these stick in my mind for being good stories and for me wanting to, and actually bothering to complete them. Many people will of course not spend 40+ hours on a single gaming experience of this sort, though they will of course spend 40+ hours grinding on Farmville, or breaking jewels in Bejeweled and alike, or maybe watching Eastenders or Coronation Street repeat soap plots. It is though all good as far as I can see.
Games and gaming experiences, both ones we create for ourselves and ones we are directed through are as memorable as any traditional film or TV experience. The effort and design going into them warrants the time and attention to explore them. For me it is of course business and pleasure, research and a release, which makes it doubly valuable.
Well done Rockstar games (again)

The power to create – Little Big Planet 2, WarioWare DIY, Second Life and Unity3d

One of the most amazing developments over the past couple of years has been the explosion in creativity tools that are available to anyone and everyone, combined with the ability to share creations with others over the net. The creations can be businesses, presentations etc, funny things, appeals for help or art. Amongst all that there is also games. I grew up in a time when there were arcade cabinets that we drooled over and pumped 10 pence pieces into, we were then treated to the home computer boom. We were given the ZX81/C64/Spectrum, later the Amiga as tools that let us , should we wish to learn our craft create all sorts of things. We did not really have a distribution network other than word of mouth and posting disks around. Something happened to the homebrew market as the PC rose to power. Things got complicated, programming kits and licenses got expensive so we managed to lose an awful lot of homebrew to what became a massively monolithic games industry.
Now there is a shift again. The creativity tools are back and on the previously closed and expensive to licence too platforms that took over.
If you are a gamer or a content creator, a Second Lifer, a designer or any remotely interested in computing and animation or an engineer or teacher you really need to try the original Little Big Planet creator tools on PS3. The whole point of Little Big Planet is They provided a palette of objects, rich 3d clip art if you like, combined with mechanical programming logic (motors, pulleys, switches, rods) which let you create all sorts of visually rich experiences with very very simple tools. Or you can just play platform levels with friends and have fun too. All those levels can be shared online. It has been a stunning success. As with all user generated content platforms the depth of human creative talent tends to astound the tool makers.
Now we have Little Big Planet 2 on the way and as a natural evolution of the tools we are going to see some fantastic creations in that. Take a look

The ability to combine things into an experience for others using gaming elements is not restricted to the PS3. The tiny little Nintendo DS (tiny only size not sales) has Warioware DIY. This is an extension of the minigame ideas of Warioware. You are presented with a quirky 5 second task with no real explanation and you figure it out. The graphics are often like something Terry Gilliam would do or are very cartoony, but the games work. Quick ideas executed well. The DIY game is really a collection of games but also the tools to create them yourself. A visual programming environment enabling you to create triggers and win condition combinations. For a programmer is may be annoying to go through the dialog pieces to get to the tools but for people who are not programmers it really starts to make you one. A small graphics and animation package and a music sequencer are also in the game/package. I have not tried it yet but apparently there is a Wii download that lets you get to and share/play you DS creations. That’s next to try.
The important thing here is an evolutionary path for talent to emerge from anywhere, for people to be able to find out if they are good at creating game ideas, combing graphics and sounds and having fun.
LBP2 and LBP approach it as aside to the basic game. Dropping you into a sandbox to play and helping you create amazing things right away. Giving a taste for creation and innovation not just consuming the levels thrown at you.
Warioware DIY makes you work a bit more, its a “go on then create a mini game then if you can” a bit of help but really a dressed up development kit.
UGC virtual worlds and places like Second Life or the more programmer extensible OpenSim also fit into this sort of homebrew model. Its a creation tool as much as a consumption tool with the added layer of events and people online thrown in.
These then can lead people who are interested and talented to tools like Unity3d. With that you are on a PC/Mac. You have all the tools available to you to write proper code, develop proper games from scratch. If you find you are a 3d graphics person there are lots of creation tools from free to very expensive, if you find you can do music or textures the tools exist likewise. Unity3d as a development environment lets you or a team work together to create things. The things created then will just work pretty much anywhere. The simplest being on a stand alone file on a website. Which of course means you have massive distribution potential.
As in a previous post the next large step of creating massive shared online experiences gets a little more complicated, but with people being able to do the things they can now with LBP2/DIY/SL/Unity3d in an out of the box type way is already amazing.
With a few tools, lots of middleware helping it is possible to create very engaging experiences and interesting art on any platform. The 4 way needs of programming, graphics, audio and story/game mechanics meet in various ways on all the creation platforms. The key though is that anyone, and I mean anyone! can have a dabble in any or all of them and find an outlet and talent they did not know they had, or fulfil their potential.
What are you waiting for go and make something somewhere.

Photo Realism, Augmented Reality blend away

Lots of things have crossed my mind here on holiday around the Florida Theme parks.
The first most relevant was at the Monsters Inc laughter show at the Magic Kingdom. This at first glance looks like a standard film show, file into a theatre and get thrilled, wet or blown at in various ways. Instead though it turns out to be a live comedy show, but featuring computer animated characters. The characters appear on stage and talk to the audience. The animation and puppetry is great, and fast thinking comedians working the audience make you forget the animated characters and they become very real.
The characters are still cartoon like, but they are powered by real people, though they are not people who we actually know as they are playing a character. This works so well. We often worry about identity and photo realism but both are basically trumped by good narrative and human like qualities in the interaction. The audience and performer bond becomes the important part. The tech helps make it feel different.
***Update today at Epcot we saw another live digital puppet example with Crush the talking turtle from Finding Nemo. Another very impressive and expressive avatar.
This applied to the playhouse disney show which was rod controlled puppets of Mickey, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins and tigger. Puppets are obviously physical beings but given energy by human movement and expression.
I also just saw this video of the AR magician Marco Tempest doing a projection demonstration.
In this the character he creates is only a stick man, yet with movement and expression and no talking he manages to create a magical show.

The point of all this, and of all the attractions here at disney and universal is to reach people, to tell stories, to spark imagination. Atmosphere can be created with the simplest and easiest of techniques.
I wrote some about the Simpson ride back in 2008 over on eightbar. Pasted below for completeness
Homer MistSuzuki
“The Simpsons ride really takes a whole load of ingredients to fool and entertain the brain. We often say in virtual world circles that nothing beats real life. The Simpsons (for those who have not followed such things) take the TV program into a giant domed screen, but pairs a crazy cgi rendered experience with a whole load of physical tools. The prime one is the hydraulic cockpit. These seem to be able to generate a whole load of unusual movements that fool the brain. That is why of course they are used in flight sims. The Simpsons has an open carriage, which allows for a greater immersion, and for things like dry ice to be thrown into the mix.
You are also experiencing this with other people. Only a few in a car at a time to give the feeling you are a family on with the Simpsons, plus technically its harder to throw lots of people around in one car. They do of course have more than one running on the giant screen but you attention cannot see those.
At the dawn of cinema people were only able to experience films in a purpose built facility, as time has gone on we have added more sensory elements to home installations. Vibrating joypads on consoles etc. By combining what we currently have for 3d immersion and adding some extra layers of the physical world whilst we may not be able to do the justice to the Simpsons ride we should be able to immerse entertain and inform people in an even richer fashion. We may even be able to locally manufacture some of the physical elements needed for an “experience” using 3d printers? It still feels we are chained to these laptop screens and qwerty keyboards…. I guess thats more for tomorrows visionaries panel.
BTW my favourite Homer line from the ride “Doh I hate chain reactions”
A clever mix of tech, good story and of surprising the human brain seems to be the way to reach us as people. Not just one huge photo realistic identity verified online experience.