Aug 232014

Today’s post is a rather mixed bag of  vaguely-related topics. Lets kick off (ahem) with Kickstarter…


Last weekend I was supposed to be at Alt-Fest, a crowd-funded goth/metal/industrial festival that was shaping up to be awesome. Then three weeks ago it imploded spectacularly – cancellation rumours circulated on Twitter, before finally a statement was released saying they’d not sold enough tickets and had run out of money. I suspect the UK alternative community is too small to support such an ambitious festival, but it was worth a punt. I suspect that this could be the first and last large-scale crowdfunded festival.

I love the concept of Kickstarter, but I’m done for the time being. I went in with some friends on the Deadzone game, but by the time we received it we’d all rather lost interest in miniatures wargaming, so I’ve got a small pile of useless plastic I may never use.


Chaos Reborn concept art

It’s not all been bad. The other project I’ve backed recently is Julian Gollop’s Chaos Reborn, a remake of the best game ever made: the original Chaos on the ZX Spectrum. To be honest I don’t know if I’ll actually get around to playing the finished product, but as a ten year old I spent hundreds of hours playing dodgy copies of Chaos and Rebelstar, so I figured some back-payment was due. It’s looking pretty good though.

Space sims

On a similar note I’m done with pre-ordering games as well, and I can pin that down to one game: X Rebirth. I’d been a fan of the X games since my university housemate made me play X-Tension years ago. It was a modern-day Elite with trading, shooting, pirates, space stations and fleets of ships. It was quite slow and the interface was awkward but I spent months building my space empire. The sequels were more of the same but bigger, better and prettier.


World’s most annoying co-pilot with character design straight out of the bad old days

So I was aware that X Rebirth was going off in a slightly different direction, mainly by making it friendlier and more accessible, but obviously it was going to be good, right? There was a small pre-order discount and access to the soundtrack (which I loved in the earlier games and spent hours listening to) so I succumbed to a rare impulse purchase. A few weeks later and I was the proud owner of a (literally) unplayable mess. Frequent soft-locks, glaring bugs and things just not working made progress through the game impossible.

The worst bit though wasn’t the bugs, but was leaving your ship to walk around a station. There were all of two different station interior layouts, the NPC character models were straight out of System Shock 2, every character was incredibly rude when speaking to you (even they ones you’d employed) and the gameplay involved walking around looking for crates full of junk to sell back to people stood three feet away from them. Some sage advice: “if you can’t do something well, cut it from your game”. The have been a huge load of updates since, but I can’t bring myself to go back and play it again.


It’s a shame because the actual space bit can be very pretty

All is not lost is the space sim genre though. The most successful crowd-funded project of all time, Star Citizen, continues to attract cash at an alarming rate. I’ve not been following it too closely because I can’t see any way that it’ll ever be ready for release. I suspect it’s far too ambitious to ever lock down on a shippable feature set, but prove me wrong and release a decent game and I’ll buy it.

But! The real Elite is back and looking good! With a more sensible level of funding, Elite: Dangerous is already in beta for an expected release later this year. In a classic case of doing more with less it’s promising to be a worthy sequel, and I fully expect to while away many more hours in the dark depths of space. Finally this most venerable of genres is getting the attention it deserves, on the modern hardware that can do it justice.


Elite Dangerous


Anyway, to make up for Alt-Fest here’s a few more bands I’ve been listening to lately.

Bad Pollyanna

I was looking forward to Bad Pollyanna last week, but instead I’ll be seeing them play the Whitby Goth Weekend later in the year. It’s catchy guitar tunes paired with a slightly retro horror-goth theme. Also try Monstrous Child.

Leaves Eyes

I saw Leaves Eyes back in January, and my main memory is how genuinely happy and polite they all were! From Norway and Germany, they play some great Viking-themed symphonic metal. If you like the less heavy stuff, give singer Liv Kristine’s solo work a go.


Amaranthe is one of those bands I keep going back to without getting bored. Their three vocalists – female singer, male singer and male growler – keep things varied, with a nice mixture of metal styles and pop influences. I saw them in Nottingham earlier in the year and while their complicated sound meant the mix wasn’t perfect, I’ll certainly be going to see them again. Check out Razorblade and Electroheart.

Miss FD

Time for something a bit different with Miss FD. A mix of upbeat American-electro with the more recent albums featuring a lot of moody quieter tracks. Also try Moment Of Fade and Enter The Void.

Aug 142014

It’s become a bit of a tradition now that when I host a LAN I show up with a new game prototype (although as it’s usually six months between them that’s not saying a lot). This time was my first attempt in Unity, and it got its first outing a couple of weeks back. Conveniently I had a second LAN the next week with a different group of friends, so I had time to make some tweaks and improvements. Here’s an eight-player team game:

If you know the Galaxy Trucker board game (which I raved about ages ago) then the ship building mechanics may look slightly familiar. It’s pretty simple – you start with a central tile and add more tiles which build outwards, making sure the connectors match up on all sides. Nothing can do directly in front of a weapon, or directly behind an engine, but that’s about it for building rules. Everyone has the same tiles available at any time, and once a tile is picked a new one spawns for everyone. After 60 seconds it’s all done and you get to use your creation.


At this point you’re all dumped into a deathmatch arena, where you fly your ship around and destroy everyone not on your team. The combat is somewhat inspired by Mechwarrior, with large, slow ships that take a lot of punishment, and each part of the ship can be blown off individually. Firing weapons and boosting uses up energy, so there’s some management involved here as well. Destroy the central component to destroy the whole ship.


Considering I hadn’t actually played it properly during development, it worked really well. After the first session I made the ships a lot less sluggish and added team games, which made the fighting a bit more tactical and less random. I had a few people saying it was the most fun game of the LAN, so there’s definitely potential. It still needs sound, and some non-programmer art, and I’ve got a bunch of things I want to add, but I’m really happy with it so far. I should really think of a name…

Aug 112014

It’s been a while since the last post, mainly because I’ve had two LAN parties in the last two weeks and getting my first Unity game prototype into a playable state has taken priority. But more about that one later. In the meantime, here is a prototype I made at the end of last year (complete with terrible programmer art).

Each player has an end zone area in their colour, and the idea is to place mirrors to direct as many of the beams into your zone as possible. You get points whenever the beams are going into your zone, and you can place bombs on other players’ mirrors to blow them up a few seconds later. First to 100 points wins. Here’s a three-player game:

Turns out that after playing it a few times, it’s not that fun. There is too much going on with mirrors popping up and disappearing all over the place, so beams change path unpredictably making it hard to plan anything. Originally there was limit to how often you could place mirrors or bombs, and the game became a manic click-fest. I then added a slight cooldown between clicks, but that was a bit frustrating.

The prototype was written completely from scratch in C++, apart from using ENet to make the networking side a bit easier. The reason for starting from scratch was purely that I wanted to have made some kind of playable game in this way, which I managed (but Unity is definitely the way forward from now on).


For the networking side of things I went pure server-authoritative to ensure there were no sync issues, and as a result it’s been almost entirely bug free. The client didn’t even know which player it was until near the end of development – it simply sends mouse clicks to the server, and the server sends back all the tile state updates. This is even the case when playing single player – the client and server run in the same process, and all communication goes through the network. This is a model I’m sticking with for all prototyping, because it means that if it works in single player it’s almost guaranteed to work multiplayer, which is makes debugging and testing much easier.