Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Here's my idea for a new mechanic for players to create the face of their own game characters: Something I call PixelFace, which I wrote last summer after being inspired by the work of an artist at the Royal College who had made a project around random pixel generation.

It takes 4 pictures at random from a directory, overlays them, and allows the user to blend them together organically. The results can be pretty convincing, or just plain weird!

It works pretty well with the eBoy graphics I took from their site.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Yes to Always

This isn’t a post about games, but it is about design, and it is a rant.

At least once a day, and usually more than twice, I’m confronted with that dialog box in Windows, that says ‘Yes to All?’. This happens when I’m copying files from one place to another, usually from my machine to my mp3 player / storage device or back again, as I transfer files between work and home.

What particularly annoys me is that Windows will ask once for each directory I’m copying. So I’ll click Yes to All, and seconds later another box will appear: “Yes to All?”. And my answer is always the same. Yes, yes, yes to all, always.

It’s not like these constant confirmation dialogs are ever going to prevent me from accidentally overwriting a file I wanted anyway – Clicking Yes to All has become so habitual that I don’t think I could ever click No, even if I wanted to.

I’ve long hoped for an ‘I’m not a fucking idiot’ setting in Windows (Settings: Control Panel: Idiot Options), which would completely disable hassle like ‘Yes to All’ once and for all. Maybe in Vista eh?

Everyone who feels frustrated with the everyday world and wants someone to blame should read this book.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Casual Tomato

Casual games seem a lot like tomatoes.

The core game part of the tomato is the seeds, and they come surrounded in a soft gunk that helps them to slip easily down the throat without the player even noticing.

The seeds are surrounded by dense, fleshy matter which tastes bland, but constitutes the majority of the tomato's bulk This flesh is analogous to all the things that happen in casual games when the game isn't being played - the status screens, bonus reward screens, map screens, intro screens, shop screens, cut scenes..

Friday, October 13, 2006

2D or not 2D?

For the foreseeable future I’m going to be concentrating my game design sensibilities on 2D games. Before I get into my reasons, I’d like to clarify what I mean by a 2D game. It’s not necessarily one in which the representations are strictly in 2 dimensions, but one in which the game space does not rely on 3 dimensions in order to work. To choose a recent example, Nintendo’s Pikmin is practically a 2D game. Although everything is represented in 3D, the map is 2D, and wherever situations there are that rely on height – throwing 10 Pikmin onto a paper bag to squash it for example – could be conveyed perfectly to the player using only 2D graphics.

The more 2D a game is, the more precise control can be exercised over what the player sees on screen. And the more control there is, the easier it is to infuse the game with charm. Compare one of the original Lemmings games to the later 3D version for an excellent example of this.

With a 3D game, the designer has many complex issues involved in working out what the player will be able to see of the gameworld at any one time. And this complexity passes right along through the production process, through level design, programming and art.

The artist on a 2D game has far less to worry about with regard to what transformations will be applied to their work. Loco Roco would have considerably less impact were it a 3D game.

There’s probably a workable analogy between cinema and games here: compare the amount of control the director of Disney’s Cinderella (insert your favourite traditional animation here) would have over the finished film, to the director of any live film today, with the large number of outside influences, technology and actors to deal with. It just has to be a lot harder to achieve artistic perfection with cameras and lights and action.

So what about the most important people in this argument - the players? Well, I’d certainly accept that 3D games are more immersive. The more you can make the game look and behave like the player’s real life experiences, the easier they will find it to become caught up in the world, get the sense of ‘really being there’.

But I’d argue that there isn’t a terribly convincing relationship between immersion and fun. A 2D playing space (and/or representation) hasn’t hurt games like Chess or Backgammon. I saw Will Wright talk in London recently, and he was asked what his favourite game was. Before answering, he defined his terms, which were that he considered the quality of a game to be measurable by the ratio between the number of rules and the complexity or depth that those rules provide. On this basis, he chose Go, with the smallest number of rules, that provide for an incredible wealth of playing styles and strategies.

As someone with a DS and a PSP, a lot of the best games I’ve played recently certainly don’t need to be 3D to succeed, and in most cases would be inferior in 3D. (short list: Loco Roco, Advance Wars, Electroplankton, Metroid Prime Fusion). In fact I’d go further and say that some genres are inherently flawed in 3D. For example, there will never be a 3D platform game that’s as good as the best 2D competitor – a game that predominately involves jumping from surface to surface in a series of parabolas simply doesn’t lend itself well to a 3D representation, and wonderful games like Jak and Daxter get around this issue by bending the rules of what a ‘platform game’ is, until, for my tastes, it becomes a different genre altogether (a 3D action-adventure, or whatever).

Finally there are the pragmatic reasons why I’m avoiding 3D stuff for now. As a developer working for a small independent and someone making games in their own time too, I need to maximise the amount of functionality and fun I get from every line of code I write. The only truly 3D game I made was called Cluster, and it was basically Magic Carpet set inside a computer, inspired by the marvellous Darwinia (and why has no-one re-released Carpet yet?!). One day, if I ever have a large team of artists and programmers at my disposal, Cluster may be resurrected, but for now, I think 2D games better fit my mantra: smaller games with bigger brains.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Some reasons why Frogs are the ideal candidates for computer game characters, an incomplete list:
  • Frogs can hop along the ground.
  • Frogs can jump.
  • Frogs can swim.
  • Frogs can hop along the ground underwater.
  • Frogs have big bulgy eyes, all the better for expressing stuff.
  • Frogs have sticky, prehensile tongues, that can grab stuff.
  • Frogs have great sound effects.
  • Frogs can be smooth or spikey, and come in a range of colours.
  • Frogs look great in hats.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I have the elephants wandering around now, chasing down those pesky fires. Go elephants!

So, this is a blog in which I may occasionally post updates about various game projects I'm working on, or thoughts about games in general.

I'm a games developer at a small company in London called Morpheme. I mainly do design and programming, but sometimes graphics too, though I prefer to leave that to the experts wherever possible.

Originally, Morpheme started off as a mobile developer, doing WAP games when I joined in 2000. We've gone from WAP to J2ME mobile games to web games in flash to PC games for casual games portals and hopefully console platforms like Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo DS in the future. My time in the industry has been a condensed form of the path many developers who started in the 8bit era have followed. Professionally, I've made around 20 games published on various platforms (mostly mobile), but also a whole load of private projects, in varying states of completeness.

I guess over time, all being well, I'll gradually post more stuff about my games.

In the meantime, here's a screenshot of my latest 'home' project - Bernie the Pyromancer:

Games I have made, a very probably incomplete list, presented here mainly as a memory jogging exercise for things I intend to mention in the future:

TunnelRat (Amos/Amiga)
Gribble and Slipps (Amos/Amiga)
Burble the Dragon (Amos/Amiga)
Arther and Jim's Letter Quest (Amos/Amiga)
Bip (TurboC/Dos)
Yellow Submarine (TurboC/Dos)
Midnight to Dawn (Visual Basic/PC)

WAP (all I can remember, anyway):
Backgammon (J2EE)

Mobile (all J2ME):
Gribble and Slipps
Gnome Garden
Christmas Pig Out
Balloon-Headed Boy
Go To Hell!
Penguin (Pinball Logic Script Engine)
Bluetooth Biplanes
Worms Mania
Worms Forts 3D
Blazing Fists
Prism: Light the Way

Primordial Soup (Flash)
Piano Pooch (Flash)
Scan (Flash)
Balloon-Headed Boy (J2SE)
PixelFace (J2SE)

Fill Up (J2SE+WildTangent)
Ukase (J2SE/PC)
Cluster (J2SE+Java3D/PC)
MonkeyBand (J2SE)
Balloon-Headed Boy (J2SE)
Bernie the Pyromancer (C++/PC)