Archive for the ‘Game Design’ Category

Creatures 4: Q&A with the devs & Alpha-test

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

We’ll be holding a live Q&A session between game designers Andrea Di Stefano and Samuel Languy, from the C4 dev team, and you folks, from the vibrant Creatures community! You’ll get to directly discuss with them about the development so far, and about the inner-workings of the upcoming game. The event will take place in the CreaturesVillage Chat Rooms, also known as CC Chat, where most long-time fans of the series already have their habits. An active mIRC connection is required to attend. The dialog is scheduled on Thursday 28th of February 2013 at 7.00 pm G.M.T.

For those who can’t make it, a transcript will be recorded and shared publicly after the fact. Even better, you can register your question right here, ahead of the gathering and get a chance to have it asked by our Creatures 4 Ambassadors during the session, if its relevance catches their attention! The live session must be restricted to one language only, which will be English. So if you want to ask us questions in French, Dutch, German, Japanese, Swahili or any other language known to Man and Google Translate alike, feel free to do so in that same pre-show thread.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the #NornInvasion of Earth is gearing up, with little ones popping all around the globe. The limited edition figurines have been won by some lucky few during an Instagram Adopt-A-Norn give-away. If you missed the occasion, we’re prepping up more contests as we speak, so keep an eye on our social media in the coming weeks!

On the development side of things, March 4th has been formally set as the beginning of our Alpha-Testing phase. It has been decided that this one would still be internal for now and the target will be to get the game “feature locked”. The polish ‘n’ refine cycle will continue in parallel for a while (that will feel like forever to you, and like the bat of an eye to the devs), until we finally feel confident enough to open the testing to outsiders, therewith commencing beta. Alpha-testing will involve absolutely all Fishing Cactus employees, regardless of which department or team they belong to.

If you recently tried to comment to our blog articles in the section below and found yourself stuck because of not having an account, please note that guest-commenting was disabled by mistake earlier (we omitted to toggle an option off during our Disqus plug-in implementation)… Guest posts are now enabled again! So if you don’t like sharing private information at the same as your opinions, you can take it easy and feel free to speak out anonymously again!

Valentine Special: “Ultimate Care Bear Love Rampage” (Arcade title made in two days during Global Game Jam)

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

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Arriving At The Global Game Jam

That they work all day every day on Creatures 4 is normal. It’s their job. That they keep working on it overtime, long nights and during weekends is somewhat understandable. For it’s their passion too. But when we unleashed our Andrea DiStefano, Samuel Languy and Gauthier Billot for two days off so that they can relax and recharge the batteries a bit, we didn’t quite expect that they’d go ahead and build another game from scratch during their spare time. Yet that’s exactly what they’ve done two weeks ago during Global Game Jam. They were accompanied in their little escapade by our Fabrice Lété and Guillaume Bouckaert, though the latter both ended up working with other dev teams once on site.

 

 

IMG_2530For those who are not familiar with it, Global Game Jam is a regular worldwide effort organized by a central entity that coordinates all local chapters. The concept is both simple and amazing: on a given day, game developers and artists from around the globe, professional or hobbyist alike, set up locations in their region, where they meet and… Improvise the creation of video games on the fly. By the end of the event, the games must be finished.

The latest Global Game Jam took place between January 25th and 27th, and the Belgium scene gathered to the Design Center of Winkelhaak (Antwerp area) for the meet-up. Our three nutjobs only joined the partay on the Saturday ;-)  

 

doubleThe Ultimate Care Bear Love Rampage

Upon arrival on the set, two things immediately grabbed our gang’s attention. First, the camping tents in the corner of the room. Then, a fascinating object had already caught their eye:  the Winnitron indie Arcade system. Already existing in Canada, Shanghai and New Zealand, the collective-spirited retro system was introduced to Belgium for the occasion. A stick and two buttons over a stylish wooden cabinet. 

Take off your jacket. Code, draw, assemble. Don’t stop until they tell you to. Gauthier Billot took the lead on the actual coding, assisted in that by Sam Languy, who also handled sound and music on the side (he actually kept tweaking the main track for a week after, in the car-pool ride to work that he shares with Andrea every morning – note that his creation scooped the prize for “best sound”). Andrea drew the graphic assets to change his mind from his game designer routine. No real director to speak of, our three stooges pretty much decided the mechanics and the flow of the game collectively, in iteration and in consensus. 

The game was built upon the Love 2D multi-platform technology, using a Linux PC, a Windows PC and a MAC. It relies on the Winnitron Frameworks to run on Arcade machines. Maps were created with Tiled software. The underlying concept is clearly and blatantly borrowed from Halfbrick’s brilliant Jetpack Joyride. You press a button to go up, and release it to go down. But there’s a tiny twist that the crew borrowed from some frantic button-mashing titles of our youth, such as Track’n'Field: sometimes to floats upwards, you have to rapidly and repeatedly tap the A and B buttons at the same time until you break a sweat out of it. The action gets increasingly hectic as you progress. Levels are generated randomly. You can play the game alone or against a friend. 

In lieu of Barry Steakfries, the central character you control is an adorable care-bear made of thick and blocky 8-bit era pixels. Don’t be fooled by its cuteness though: it is out for rampage. There’s your title right there. Just throw in an “Ultimate” at the beginning for the wow-factor, and add the word “Love” somewhere in the middle because it’s got heart (and pixelated hearts assets too) — And that’s a wrap. Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!

You can freely download the game file from here

Special thanks to Wim Wouters for setting up the GGJ belgian chapter and making this wonderful weekend possible. Here below some more pictures of the event that he took.

If you recently tried to comment to our blog articles in the section below and found yourself stuck because of not having an account, please note that guest-commenting was disabled by mistake earlier (we omitted to toggle an option off during our Disqus plug-in implementation)… Guest posts are now enabled again! So if you don’t like sharing private information at the same as your opinions, you can take it easy and feel free to speak out anonymously again!

Creatures 4: Underneath the Norn’s Fur

Friday, February 1st, 2013

shii_okay_smallUnderneath Creatures 4, like in previous episodes, there’s an entire matrix of codes and parameters that determine the behavior of Norns and their interactions with the eco-system. Today, we’re going under the hood to delve deeper into the mechanics and the inner-workings of a Norn, and present you with an overview of the in-house tools we used to debug our little creatures’ behavior.

In the making of Creatures 4, the main challenge resides in the fact that every time you implement a new feature, or change the way the Norns behave just a tiny bit, you need to go through hours of play-testing to make sure you didn’t mess up the complete balance of the game, that the various scenarios remain bug-free. This, knowing all the way that you can never truly harness a Norn’s behavior, since it’s conditioned by countless personal and environmental factors.

To this end, our tech wizards have developed several tools to monitor and debug our implementation of the original Creatures AI. As we established in previous posts, moving the Creatures engine to 3D proved to be a more daunting task than expected, for which we needed constant access to a certain set of variables.

Over the past year, our programmers have spent a lot of time on in-game debugging tools that help our game designers track the Norns’ attitudes as well as their environment. You’ll find some exclusive screenshots of these debugging tools here below.

The standard Creatures 4 in-game view, free of debugging clutter:

00_ingame_small

 Crowd/Physics status

 This view informs us about the status of our crowd management system (avoiding collision between agents) as well as the physics for each agent in the world.

Most agents in this demo-screen have been put in “custom” state which basically means they are doing something script-specific and do not belong in special groups like physics or crowd.

01_crowd_physics_small

 Attributes and Scripts

Opposite to what all the visual clutter would have you believe, this is one of the most informative views. It shows many properties for each agent: attributes, instinctive/genetic behaviors, category, running script etc. All this determines what a Norn can do with each agent in the world (e.g. an attribute sets a flower as eatable by a Norn).

02_agent_attributes_small

 Facial expressions

Norns have several facial expressions that inform the player on their current status or mood. Facial expressions are triggered by a sum of parameters that determine which expression has the higher “weight” and should therefore be displayed. This algorithmic approach makes the process slightly more opaque than simple “Norn is happy –> happy face”. What expression is displayed when a Norn is both happy and hungry? Which has priority between hunger and sleepiness?

While some choices are obvious (pain often wins), some are not. Hence, the debug options!

03_facial_expressions_small

Senses Range

The Norn’s focus and path are partly driven by its senses. Sight, hearing and smell play an important role in an agent catching the Norn’s attention.

Below you can glimpse at a Norn’s sight and hearing ranges, represented by the blue and green outlines respectively.

Each ray tells the ability for a Norn to see each agent. If the line is white, the agent can be seen; if it is red, rather not. The environment’s geometry is taken into account to compute this: in this case, most visible agents are on the same height as the Norn.

Hearing range is pretty self-explanatory.

04_view_hearing_range_small

 This picture below shows the smell propagation. In Creatures, smells are called Cellular Automata (CA). Technically speaking, CAs are not exclusively used for smell, they can be means to other ends, such as giving the Norn a sentiment of “being at home”. Still, most of the time we use them for smells and to be honest, we still have to tweak a lot of them.

The propagation display is made of small spheres: you can see some spheres fading out on the border of the screen… At those spots, the potency of the smell is lower.

05_smell_CA_propagation_small

 Outside the game, a handy webpage allows us to monitor the Norn’s drives and decisions. We can also access all this data in the game itself, through the science kit, but this raw and dry mode makes batch-processing tasks much more efficient.

06_chem

 Please note that, like in previous installments of the series, each Norn still has a set of organs that simulate its digestive system and comes into factor to determine when a Norn contracts an illness. They also carry an artificial “brain” so to speak, and are interiorly affected by over 150 chemical elements. And of course, genomes enter into play as much as before, naturally – After all, Creatures is essentially a Genetic Game, we’re kind of going all-in on this particular aspect ;-) Our next blog article will actually focus on that: genes and what you can do with them, breeding, splicingEndless possibilities really. If you didn’t catch it yet, we’ve released a teaser pic of various breeds on Instagram earlier this week!

If you recently tried to comment to our blog articles in the section below and found yourself stuck because of not having an account, please note that guest-commenting was disabled by mistake earlier (we omitted to toggle an option off during our Disqus plug-in implementation)… Guest posts are now enabled again! So if you don’t like sharing private information at the same as your opinions, you can take it easy and feel free to speak out anonymously again!

Creatures 4 Dev Update: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

The games industry is filled with notorious stories of underestimated development cycles, changes of scopes, technical hurdles… By now we all know Creatures 4 is certainly no stranger to all that.

Around April/May 2011, the plan was that Creatures 4 would be ready within 9 months… We’ve now officially entered 2013 and Creatures 4 is still a no-show. However, we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Quite frankly, the whole first year of development has been spent on deciphering the A.I. code of the first three installments, making sense of it all, and merging all the stuff with our Mojito engine. That alone took us until the first months of 2012 and to this day we still notice bugs both old and new.

Furthermore, we were always conflicted about how to “restart” the Creatures IP in a way that would make it appealing to a new audience while avoiding the over-convolution that led to smaller sales and eventually the disappearance of the series after C3 (this is a fact, regardless of how fans or ourselves feel about it). We underestimated the complexity of striking the balance between staying true to the original IP and widening the game’s appeal.

And of course, since Creatures is a game series like no other, while exploring the source code of C3, the list of ideas and possible features that we could pack in kept growing longer.

Escaping Scope Creep

It’s only in the last eight months that we have felt like we were really making great strides tying everything together into a persistent universe. We’ve re-introduced the eco-systems (still working on this). The inner-workings of the Norns are all in place minus some bugs here and there. We’ve also set in stone most of the UI and tools you’ll be using in the game. Our next blog post will most probably be about what’s going on inside a Norn and what tools we developed to monitor our little creatures and debug their behavior, so that you folks can see for yourself that we have not dumbed down the complexity of the game one tiny bit.

Graphics assets are almost all ready and integrated too. There are some visual things that need to be taken care of like the fur rendering which is not optimal, “wet” skin on amphibious Norns ( what!? :-) ), various optical bugs and, last but not least, performance optimization. We’re happy with the world we’ve created and we think it strikes a good balance between familiar and fantastical.

We’ve just recently put great effort in reworking the way our procedural techniques work for Norn patterns generation. We want to ensure that no two Norns look alike and to guarantee a diverse range of patterns that can be merged to create cool-looking hybrids. This will also be the subject of an upcoming blog post to show you guys how things have improved since this summer’s public demo.

Important things like the Hatchery and Splicing machines are being completed as I’m writing these lines. They’ve both undergone several iterations but we’re very close to final now.

We’re also nailing down the story details at the moment. In that respect, the work the community has been doing in the last ten years is a great source of inspiration. Nothing super fancy or too intrusive but we want to insert cool nuggets of info here and there for old-time fans and newcomers who want to dwell a bit deeper in the Creatures’ lore.

Throughout the project we have also laid out the technology that will serve us to go multi-platform on day one. But we have gone places with Creatures 4 that we as a small indie start-up had never visited before. For this to happen, our code wizards led by Julien Hamaide and Ramses Ladlani, had to give Mojito a major overhaul. This process has been a lot more strenuous than we anticipated and we’re not out of the woods on this one yet as our goal hasn’t changed: we want to be up there on-par with the best-in-class on touch devices when we release and to do that we still have to squeeze out slightly improved performance.

We sincerely and profusely apologize again for all the multiple delays this project has suffered. We probably should have hidden behind the letters T, B and A long ago. We made a bad call announcing the game too early (blame it on our own excitement about scoring the deal), and after realizing that this project needed extra care, we kind of moved into the “ship when it’s ready” mind-state that has been ours since late 2011, but then kept guess-pushing the estimate launch date every six months, which was both an amateur-ish and cruel thing to do. We thought we could deliver a game faster and better that anyone but in retrospect 2 or 3 years is simply what it takes to build this.

We reckon we could have handled the communication line much more smoothly. We thank you for your patience along this ride and are truly sorry if it all felt like we were playing with your nerves. This was never our intention!

We are trying to start the dialog anew with the will to be as transparent as possible in showing our progress and explaining how things work and gather your feedback, so hang in there a little while longer and keep an eye on this space, as we are about to unveil the specifics on Creatures 4 system/mechanics through a series of regular updates that will start in the following weeks, leading up to beta, then official launch.

Oh, and don’t bother trying to bribe us about getting into the beta just yet, details about that will be revealed in due time. Meanwhile, you can also subscribe to our drip-feed of the latest visual updates over at Instagram. And if you’ve recently decided that you’ll never visit them again because you hate their T.O.S., we’ve got an alternative for you up on Flickr.

If you recently tried to comment to our blog articles in the section below and found yourself stuck because of not having an account, please note that guest-commenting was disabled by mistake earlier (we omitted to toggle an option off during our Disqus plug-in implementation)… Guest posts are now enabled again! So if you don’t like sharing private information at the same as your opinions, you can take it easy and feel free to speak out anonymously again!

Algo-Bot – How does a robot think?

Monday, January 7th, 2013

So we’ve established that Algo-Bot is a game that will teach you the logic of programming. How are we going to do that without being dull and boring? That’s a very good question, and one that we actually asked ourselves when we took on the project. Luckily enough, we think we found the answer.

In Algo-Bot, you’re given control of a little robot dude. You don’t control him directly, you don’t make him jump on mushrooms by pressing a single button either. Instead, you set up a sequence of orders for him: go straight, turn left, go straight again, turn right, etc … . When you’re done creating your little sequence, you pass it onto the robot: it will go around the power plant, following your orders. In a nutshell, the player manipulates sequential commands to order Algo-Bot around in an attempt to reach the given goal of the level.

Of course, your little robot can’t just roam freely, it has a job to perform. It must carry around toxic containers, sort them out and re-arrange them, and call on smaller robots to help him when he has too much. And you have to provide him with orders for every step that he takes.

Imagine the following situation: you have to get your robot around a specific arranged path, and you can see that this path is repeated a few times along a mission. What you have to do thus is to create a separate sequence of orders that you call each time you want the robot to go through that path. Exactly like how functions work in real programming! By solving small problems in the game, you’re learning the logic behind it all. You’ll be able to play with programming concepts such as variables, functions, conditions and groups.

So that’s our Algo-Bot for you. We’re currently in finalization stage with this Serious Game and we hope to deliver it by the end of the month. Be sure to check it out when it comes out! We’ll of course keep you abreast when it does.

 

 

Creatures 4: GangNorn Style, Instagram Voyeurisme & something for the Ladies…

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

A packed update this time around as we’ve let a bunch of norns go wild and loose and we all know what can happen when you do that ;-)

Our animator has spent a few days on a funny angle to present you our latest progress on the Norn Creatures. See, after getting viewed over a cool billion times down on Earth, Psy’s intergalactic hit Gangnam Style has now reached Sphericus, the planet where the cute intelligent Norns race now (tries to) live. Enjoy ;-)

You probably have already noticed it on the official web site, some lucky few have even been gifted one while visiting Paris Games Week, a limited sample batch of small Norn figurines has recently been produced… And one of them has escaped from the box and is now hiding in our offices, stealing sneak peek photographs of our gang at work, paparazzi style! Follow our little Norn reporter’s Instagram feed right here.

Our Sophie Schiaratura has also opened up a little something for you girls*: a Pinterest account full of cuteness all around. We will soon run some special activities there… If you’re into nail-art and that sort of things, go subscribe immediately and pin away, ladies*!

(* If you’re a male, you’re welcome to take a look around too – We won’t judge you.)

On a final note, some of you heard rumors about it so we might as well go on the record: we won’t be ready to launch before the end of the year. The team is knee-deep in crunch time, learning to adjust their bodies and brains to less sleep at nights and more caffeine during the day, but there are still a few bullet lists to cross out. We currently hope to enter bêta phase in January. “Hope” means: it might as well be February that we wouldn’t be totally shocked. That’d translate into a live date around March/April 2013 or so. “Ship when it’s ready” is our stance on this one. Expectations are high and we know it — We can’t afford to drop the ball by rushing it out. We’ve spent too much care on this so far. We will very soon deliver you with a more thorough, radically transparent update about what’s been happening on the development side of things this far. Keep an eye on this space.

Get a stake in Piratoons through Gambitious!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Ever dreamt of being a big shot producer or a powerful entertainment mogul? This is your chance to get started.

Piratoons_title_thumb We have listed our next hit project on Gambitious, and everybody is welcome to invest in it and actually own a piece of the revenue share! Think of it as an evolved Kickstarter: by investing, you get more than a few perks and collectible gifts; you essentially become a stakeholder in the venture. Gambitious is basically like an online stock exchange for game properties.

The game project we have selected for this, titled Piratoons, is in very early stages of development and has been identified as having strong franchise potential.

Now sit back and relax, Mr. Big, here’s our mind-blowing pitch for you:

Piratoons_Interface_thumb«Steer your ship along the tropical coastlines, upgrade it with new powerful and magical artifacts, recruit the most greedy pirate crew and engage in exciting real-time Match-3 battles to prove your skills and gather hefty amounts of doubloons!
Set sail for the search of the legendary Pelican Tooth, meet a great cast of wacky cartoon pirates, trade extraordinary goods, capture, protect and build harbors.
Piratoons lets you experience the warmth of the Caribbean Sea, its lush colors, seducing rhythms and extraordinary stories.»

Mind blown away? Feels like this is something you want to help making happen? Smells like a profitable opportunity? Then hop on board and let’s go quest for those hidden treasures together! Oh, and if you’re broke and want to help us get our games made anyway, you can still vote for Eyeball Invaders over at Steam Greenlight completely free of charge ;-)

Master Shee lessons-time on Creatures 2!

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Creatures 4 - Master Shee Yeah!The history lessons of Master Shee keep going! This time about Creatures 2.

The action still takes place in Albia, but centuries have gone by and the planet has been destroyed by a volcanic eruption caused by the taking off of Lone Shee’s spaceship, called Capillata.

Lone Shee is a bit of a geek type scientist. He was so focused on his research on the Warp (a system to transport Norns over the Internet) he didn’t quite notice his friends abandoning the planet on The Ark and leaving him behind!

Creatures 2_thumbSo he took his spaceship and used the volcano to boost it into space and started searching for the other members of his species.

Rumors says he hates the orange color, is furred, invented the Albian beer, loves tea and chocolate cookies and can smell Grendels from miles away.

In C2, the Lone Shee let Ettins in charge of the destroyed Albia, but they actually became a nuisance by stealing everything they found lying around. He admits himself it wasn’t his best move. Players however kind of enjoyed it because they could finally breed a new species!

Creatures 2_thumbThe most interesting improvement of this sequel is its ecosystem. However, due to the game complexity, a bug made its first appearance, dubbed the OHSS (the One Hour Stupidity Syndrome). This illness caused the affected Norns to become totally idiots after one hour of play, forgetting important things like how to eat or sleep.

The first Norn on Creatures 2 had a name too and it was Alice, this time.

You can close your history books for today. Class dismissed. See you all next week!

Shifting World 3DS available in European stores!

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Shifting World Demo free on eShopAs you probably already know Shift is one of our biggest successes, with almost 16 millions players worldwide, and we are developing and porting it from one platform to another as fast as we can offering you each time a new game experience and new content to have fun with. This time around, it’s the Nintendo 3DS we are shifting.

We started developing this new edition in December 2011 in partnership with the owner of the license Armor Games and two different publishers, Rising Star Games for Europe and Aksys in the US. The game has been released in Europe last friday! And if you want to try it before buying it, a free demo version is on the Nintendo eShop on your 3DS!

Don’t lose this opportunity because Shifting World will totally plunge you inside the world of Shift and this time in full-on 3D!! And that’s not a gimmick either, it truly affects gameplay here. You will have to constantly switch between 3D and 2D views to find your way through 60 levels and 5 worlds. In the demo version you will have access to one level and you won’t be able to play the Time Attack Mode, the option that allows you to play the game against the clock, but you’ll basically get just about enough to fall in love with the game!

Flip your 3DS open and download the Shifting World demo right now!

Creatures 4: a bit of history!

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Creatures 4 - Master SheeWe know that most of you are already fan of Creatures from the start, but we think it’s time to wear the clothes of Master Shee and start doing some history lesson for whom of you who have never heard of this awesome game before. So, what is Creature 4 or C4? No, it’s not an explosive, even if its content really caused an explosion of fan all over the world and the years. If it’s called “4”, it obviously means that before there was a “3”, a “2” and a “1”.

So let’s start from the beginning!

Creatures 1 - NornCreatures 1 was released in 1996 and it was about two strange “creatures” (it couldn’t be other way!) or species called Norns and Grendels. Norns were created to entertain and serve tea and biscuits to the Shee, the ancient inhabitants of Albia, the world in the shape of a coin where the game takes place.

And in the beginning there was Adam… erf, no, sorry, Ron. Yep, you understood well. The first Norn was called “Ron”. The real history of his name have nothing really mythical, except that Ian Saunter, the development director, once did a demonstration using that name for the character and the demonstration went so well that he kept using it praying the success repeated itself and apparently it did!

Creatures 1 - GrendelGrendels, instead, are a failed genetic experiment made by the Shee and the most feared enemy of the Norns. They depend from a Queen for reproduction, the Grendel Mother, who never actually “moves”, she’s just a tube in a tree. The first Grendel was a descendant of Cain, who was the first naturally-born child of Ron and Eve, obviously!

And speaking of “entities” which made history, one of the over-mentioned men in the biblical adventure of Creature is surely Steve Grand, the responsible for the architecture and programming of the artificial life game engine.

Enough with the lessons today, cya next week!