Tentative Steps

I haven’t posted in some time now. There are reasons for that. Mostly it’s to do with the fact that I’ve got a new job and I’m having to learn a lot of new things very quickly. This is understandably cutting into my game making and playing.

However, I feel I have made some progress.

Until I have a better knowledge of what game making tools that exist out there I’m basically following the advice Anna Anthropy gives in Rise of the Videogame Zinesters to start out in Twine and then move on to Game Maker.

It feels good to be creating now. So much of my interaction with the world these days is consumption. Reading books or articles online, watching films or television and playing games, obviously. Even if what I produce is complete shit I’m glad that I’m contributing something to culture rather than just admiring things that other people have made.

Here’s the story so far:

Twine

For those of you that don’t know, Twine is a tool for creating hyper-text stories. Hyper-text being text which is non-linear and interactive. A good example would be those choose your own adventure books you might have read as a child.

The Twine scene on the web is huge with some of the most personal and interesting games being made in Twine. There are games about living with depression and coping with death at one end of the spectrum and then moving erotica about the unacknowledged sexuality of trans women and drinking games to be played with real alcohol at the other.

I made a few satirical games of no substance just to get the hang of the interface and then started on my main project. I have worked for a number of suicide helplines over the years and a Twine game seemed like the perfect medium to explore the experience of trying to stop someone from killing themselves (as oppose to say, real life).

lifeline

To start with it was a game about being on shift for a night in a helpline office, with all the downtime and interaction with other volunteers that entails. Helpline volunteers are often a little broken themselves and I wanted to get across some of that.

Quickly though, I realised that this was unhelpful as it detracted from the emotional charge of the actual calls so I stripped away a lot of the context and now it is just a game where you talk to people try to stop them from killing themselves and nothing else. This seems to work much better.

It’s taking a long time because I want to write this well and not to trivialise the subject matter. I’ll post it when it’s done.

Twine is free and very easy to use. You can download it here and there is a simple tutorial on how to get started on Anna Anthropy’s blog here. Give it a go. It’s fun.

Game Maker

Game Maker is a programme that allows you to make much more traditional games in the vein of Mario or Metroid. I’m told it has some capacity for creating 3D games but, so as not to overcomplicate things, the games I will be making using it will be 2D.

Game Maker comes with its own tutorial that runs the first time you start the programme. It’s very helpful and teaches you most of the basic features. Once the tutorial was done I started to make a game based on this picture of Johnny Cash that I’ve always loved. You have a guitar and you walk down a road, stuff happens, that’s basically it.

I am drawing all the art in MS Paint or Game Maker’s own version of it. This takes a fucking long time. I would say 70-80% of my time is spent drawing the art I need for the game and only about 20% is actually spent scripting. I imagine this will speed up as I become more proficient at making sprites for characters and backgrounds but it’s still frustrating. Drawing eight frames of walking animation is harder than you might expect, especially with a laptop mousepad. There was a lot of swearing.  To speed things up I’ve decided to make the game in greyscale as this means I don’t have to worry about my colours clashing when I choose my palette.

screenshot101

As you can see it’s all pretty basic pixel art stuff. I’ve stolen the look of Sword and Sworcery for the characters and some inspiration from Canabalt (as you can tell from the white socks).

The game is very simple at the moment, past the title screen there’s just you and a placeholder road which you can walk along while some mellow guitar blues I recorded in Audacity (a free sound recording programme) plays in the background. I also downloaded some footstep sound effects from Freesound which play when you walk. It evokes a pretty cool atmosphere which I’m pleased with. I’ll post more updates as I go along.

The latest version of game maker, 8.1, requires you to stamp your games with a ‘made in game maker’ watermark if you use the free version. Luckily the older 8.0 version does not require this and is available for download here (also on Anna Anthropy’s blog). Download it. Make a game. MAKE A GAME.

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