Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year in Review

In a word, 'phew'.

2008 was the year in which a number of things happened to me for the first time:

  • The realities of owning property sunk in for real (building work and numerous DIY projects throughout the year which I became more involved with than my inner ostrich felt comfortable with).
  • I was made redundant.
  • I started a company.
  • I turned 30.
  • I won a pub quiz (the marvellous Bigger Boat film quiz).

Despite all of the 'real stuff' above, it was also an excellent year for rectangles - my new catch-all term for games, books and DVDs (although strictly speaking, rectangles applies only to the physical forms of media, and it was also an excellent year for ethereal media too). Here are some of my favourite things of the year:

Favourite Video Games of 2008

  1. Left for Dead (Xbox & PC): The best co-op game ever? It has that most powerful of rules in co-op: if one person screws up, you all die. And then it does everything in its power to get you to work together so you can keep each other alive. And Expert mode is incredibly hard, and yet I still want the achievements for finishing. Oh. and being a Valve game, all the things about Valve games are also true (world-class animation, voice acting, art direction, sound design etc).
  2. Braid (XBLA). Because it made me think real hard (about playing it and about making games), and the art and music is lovely.
  3. Loco Roco 2 (PSP): Hurrah for Pikmin 2 style sequels - don't change anything of the essence, just make more of it and add a bunch of features. This game contains some of the highest quality nonsense ever, in any medium.
  4. Geometry Wars 2 (XBLA). A Super Pure game. I'm fairly rubbish at it, but that didn't stop me playing it repeatedly, trying to beat Ronny and Bambos.
  5. World of Warcraft (PC): Yep this is still here. I went through Burning Crusade early in the year, and a very happy few months I spent doing it. I plan on following the same pattern in '09 with Lich King (really didn't have the time for it this year).
  6. Professor Layton (DS): Fairly uncontroversial choice this. Is there anyone who doesn't like this game?
  7. Res HD (XBLA): I've owned every version of this, but this latest one made me very happy (or maybe it was just my tv is the best its ever been).
  8. Fl0w (PS3): I spent a delightful couple of hours collapsed on the sofa going through this in the early hours of the morning. An audio-visual treat, albeit a short one.
  9. World of Goo (PC): best game of its type - I reckon I enjoyed this more than Armadillo Run
  10. Boom Blox (Wii): Best use of a Wiimote so far.
  11. Castle Crashers (XBLA): yes, admittedly its just Golden Axe with funny pictures, but I kind of like Golden Axe, and the pictures are very funny.
Apologies to: Little Big Planet, Dead Space, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect for not having gotten around to playing you yet x

Biggest Gaming Disappointments of 2008

Fable 2 - fell deep into the uncanny valley and never came out, with its terrible Poser manniquins and dialogue ruined by ham and lag. Also the way you can just teleport around the map, or follow the idiot-pandering glowing trail around, neutering the whole 'wide open world' thing. Having said that, I will probably finish it nonetheless, cos it's actually not rotten to the core - in fact perfectly enjoyable if you switch off your brain and don't worry too much about the flaws.

Spore - I *loved* the first 2 chapters where you turn a cell into a tribe of walking, talking, dancing creatures. Then it became a third rate RTS game, EVEN if you made the pinkest, dancingest, fluffiest creatures you could. I never made it into space.

Favourite Music of 2008

Been a bit rubbish at music this year: my walks to work have largely been dominated by something else, and I've found it hard to listen while trying to concentrate on other things. Sorry music!

The Vampire Weekend album
The Fleet Foxes album
The David Cronenburg's Wife album
Estelle - American Boy
MIA - Paper Planes
MGMT - Kids
The Ting Tings
Nick Cave
Jens Lekman live at All Tomorrow's Parties
Metallica live at the O2 (thanks Ben)
Listening to 6Music (and discovering things like Chairlift, The Noisettes, Florence and the Machine and Ladyhawke)
Playing in Satan's Cock

Favourite Books of 2008

I didn't read that much in 2008, though the highlights are below. What I did do - and surprised myself in doing it - was get addicted to Harry Potter. I started listening to Stephen Fry reading the first book on a whim, but before I knew it I was hooked, and spent my (40 minute) walks to and from work gorging through the rest of them, until I finished the last one in November, whereupon I went right back and started again (you know - for some 'perspective').

The first 3 or 4 books are definitely guilty pleasures - the writing isn't fantastic and the plots are fairly formulaic. What JK Rowling does so well is write characters and build a coherant world around them. And she seems to know where the series is going from very early on, and sews a number of things into each book which seem irrevelevant within the context of that book, but become important later. This means that although the early books seem a bit slight, the series builds to a proper good climax - I'd describe the final book as a masterpiece of its genre. Harry's world was where I did most of my escapism in 2008, and I never suspected that would be the case.

The other books I enjoyed this year were:

Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Favourite Films of 2008

There Will Be Blood
Happy Go Lucky
Son of Rambow
Margot at the Wedding
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
In Search of a Midnight Kiss

Not seen yet but want to:
Wall-E, Ponyo on the Cliff, No Country for Old Men, Synechdoche, New York, Burn After Reading, Horton Hears a Who, In Bruges, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Man on Wire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Persepolis, Somers Town, Waltz with Bashir, The Wrestler

Terrible Rubbish that made me want the time back:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Faded Dreams,

Favourite Sport of 2008
Does walking to and from work every day count? If not, then Climbing, without a doubt. I think 2008 will be the year I finally abandon the gym forever.

Favourite Television of 2008

Not a big year for telly for me. Haven't dived into The Wire yet, but will in 09. Missed Dead Set. Hated Gavin and Stacy.

Survivors on the BBC was very good.

RIP Oliver Postgate

I love your television programmes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Cripes, I've not updated in a while - been somewhat preoccupied, what with starting a company, more on which as and when. However, I felt this day should go marked - the first day of my thirties, and the conception of Ricky 2.0.

The last film I watched in my twenties was Spiderwick Chronicles (some nice character design and ideas hamstrung as usual by condensing a load of books into a shortish film).

The last book I read was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which is outstanding - it's a novel about the birth of comics, the Second World War, and an Escapist.

Best of all was the last video game I played - the single player Xbox demo of Left 4 Dead. Valve have taken their knack for level design and industry-leading production (textures, voice acting, animation) and married it to a high octane, multiplayer Zombie blaster. The original Doom is definitely a strong point of comparison here. The levels seem to be highly replayable, since the game's 'AI Director' generates waves of zombies and pickups programmatically, ensuring that no two experiences are the same. Highly recommended.

I am currently working on 4 separate games. The last one I finished was a flash conversion of a platform game I originally made for mobile: Balloon-Headed Boy for Gimme5Games.

In addition to the games I'm making, there are also a bunch of games queued up to play. This includes Fable 2, Loco Roco 2, Fallout 3, Lich King, Left 4 Dead and Little Big Planet. Then there are some I may check out depending on having a go of them - Gears 2 and Dead Space among them. I still need to finish World of Goo, and apparently Crayon Physics may yet be out this year! This comic sums up the predicament of gamers nicely.

Had a big party, saw lots of friends and got some awesome presents (including this print by Scott C from my lovely wife).

Okay, that's it for now - will no doubt post some kind of end-of-year summary before '09.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


This whole Braid pricing thing is ridiculous, but interesting.

For me, arguments about price versus longevity are moot - as in fact are discussions about how fun, pretty or concise the game is, all of which fall into the trap of comparing it directly with other games on XBLA.

The thing is that Braid is more akin to the experience of going to see an exhibition in an art gallery with the expectation is that it will change the way you think or see things - a proposition which people are quite accustomed to paying more than £10.20* for without griping at the price of entry

Furthermore, the art gallery transaction typically has no 'free demo' - patrons simply trust that the artist they are going to see will be worth the price of entry. And having happily trusted that Braid would be worth the price of entry, I bought it immediately without needing to see a demo. And being entirely satisfied with my transaction, I have a great deal of sympathy for Jonathan Blow's position that if only the 'art games people' buy Braid, he will make back his investment at 1200 points, and can only hope that he does okay out of it and then some.

Incidently, I think that 'art game' is an inaccurate and potentially misleading description of Braid - unlike the work of people like Jason Rohrer or Rod Humble, it's very much more game than art, by which I guess I mean that it follows more conventional rules of gaming, which people who already play videogames would understand. But the *experience* of playing the game does similar things to my brain as good art I've seen, hence the comparison.

I'm probably under half way through, and I've already come across several puzzles which I found completely delightful, and which have since sent my brain spinning around the possibilities which they suggest. 

So far my only criticism is that there's only one save slot. So I can't have my wife share the experience of playing through it properly until I'm done. ** Edit: but  I completely missed the fact that I can just create a fresh profile and have an independant save game for that too. Shows what I know huh?

* yep - we pay 134% more for the game in the UK - nearly the highest Microsoft points markup worldwide.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mucking About

The Glob private view went very well. Thanks to some fantastic testing and bug-tracking by Nat, the game behaved itself impeccably, and it was a genuine delight to watch people exploring it - including a number of people who probably don't play many video games, if any at all ever. There is now a version available to play on the website at www.gleanofglob.org, and apparently the exhibition will be discussed on the BBC Radio 4's Saturday Review programme.

The week continues apace. I'm down in Brighton this week for the Develop conference, where I have a number of meetings with my new company. I imagine I'll blog more about that when there's something more definite to say.

Work on Glob has led me, tangentially, to think a bit about playful games recently. By playful, I mean games which are comfortable in their own skin, and prepared to have a bit of fun with the player, and doing so perhaps lift them out of the experience of playing a video game a little bit.

This could be something really big, like having gameplay which is willfully obtuse and confusing but in a fun way - the best example I can think of right now is Wrath of Transparator, which is a game by Matt Korba et al where you control a gigantic monster trashing everything, but where you are also completely invisible, and have to work hard to even keep track of where you are on the screen.

Or it could be something really small, like the layer of gaming references in No More Heroes. Or the way you have to swap control pad ports to beat that boss in Metal Gear (not sure which version - never played it, but loved the idea). Or the caricature animation and crowd taunts in Rock Star's Table Tennis on the Wii (I didn't notice quite so much piss-taking in the 360 version, so perhaps they retro-fitted it).

In fact, playfulness can even be inscribed into the very DNA of a game, as it is in the Katamari series. I'd suggest that probably the Japanese are very much better at being playful than western developers.

I think in general, playfulness in games is underlooked. We work so hard iterating mechanics to make them play well, and then polishing up the content, that we don't leave enough time, or energy to muck around a little bit. And the result is too often these slick po-faced blockbusters that don't feel like the people making them were having enough fun.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Globolg Blogolb

For the past few months I've been collaborating on a project called Glob with my friend Daniel Baker, and it's pretty much finished, and ready for its exhibition at the Jerwood Space in South London, near London Bridge station. It's been really fun (and Dan always has really great bread at his house for toast).

The game is written in Flash and based on characters Dan originally created on a huge pinboard he found. It involves the player having to find the 'Glean of Glob', by exploring the world and interacting with its inhabitants.

I shan't say more about the specifics, but there's a website up here where you'll be able to play the game after the exhibition opens, and you can also see some artwork at our blog. There's a lot more of this blog that's currently private - we need to go through it and decide how much more of the process to reveal. This is a tough one - we have to weigh up the benefits of discussing the process with the negative impact on the mystery of Glob world by doing so.

We spent some effort trying to make Glob's presence in the gallery feel as much like a homogenous part of the Glob world - and as little like a computer game - as possible. I reckon we pretty much succeeded through the application of plenty of cardboard, and some barkway raddows that Dan made. Here is a photo.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Procedural Content

Despite being in an almighty swirling shitstorm of work right now, I've somehow persuaded myself that it would be a good idea to enter the competition over at The Independent Gaming Source, where they're calling for games which have procedurally-generated content. I dunno - I must be the eye of the storm or something.

Anyway, I spent a happy morning last weekend beavering away on the laptop in the sunshine, and got a swirling-circle-cloud-thing going for a little pixel dude to leap around on, collecting pieces of stars.

Now I just need to add some baddies and a difficulty curve and I can get back to the other 5 projects I'm working on!

Doom 4

Another wonderful game from Pixeljam - this one is called Dino Run. The gameplay is very simple: the asteroid apocalypse has arrived in the Cretaceous Period and all the dinosaurs are fleeing the doom.

You play one such dino, and run from left to right, leaping over your fellow dinos, eating those small enough, catching rides on terradactyls and surfing the wave of molten doom.

This is pixel art turned up to the max - the gameplay is simple, but the detail and range of interactions belies any screenshot - those Pixeljam guys obviously have real love for this game. There's even multiplayer, and the ability to buff your dino's stats with points awarded from successful runs.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Things and Non-things.

This game called Karoshi, where you have to kill your little platform jumpin' guy on every level is great fun. Play it!

Gametap have an article titled 'Indie Games Blowout 08' that looks worth a look. Read it!

My friend Caroline has a fantastic new blog about useability which I hope to contributing to soon. Laugh at it!

I'm alive and well and beavering away on a number of projects which will see the light of day at some point so help me.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lovely animation

Note to self: study this video closely before iterating the tree code from Flora. The musician is someone called Josh Pyke - who I've never heard of - and the artist is James Gulliver Hancock.

(Via drawn, as so many things seem to be these days).

You Have to Burn the Rope

Postmodern video games! More of them please!

This game is inspired by Clockwork Orange, Castlevania, that article in the latest issue of Edge about Boss Battles, and Portal.

It's here. Huge investment of time not required.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Had a great meeting last night about a new collaborative project with Daniel. All the really high level things have been thrashed out, and it looks like there will be enough overlap with Hohokum that I can reuse a lot of the code, which should mean we can concentrate on some interesting gameplay and visual treatments.

On that subject, a playable version of Hoho is now long overdue - I just need the time to bash out a string of small levels that introduct all the basic concepts. They're mostly all designed in my head even! It won't be this weekend though - the beta for Flora is next week and I'm going to Olympic Studios to record some songs with the Cock on sunday.

Once I stop being so busy, I can't wait to check out this game by Walaber - the JelloCar dude. I'll be interested to see how such complex motions have been mapped to the two analogue sticks..

Gymnast - launch trailer from Walaber on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I'm in a Wide Open Space

Thinking about ideas for a forthcoming collaboration with a friend of mine reminded me of an old game I remembered fondly, despite having never played..

Back when I was 8 we had a PC XT with a couple of games that my dad brought home on 5.25" diskettes from his pals at work. We had Space Quest 3 and Police Quest and some D&D games like Hillsfar, and some free ones too, like Alley Cat (I can still remember the music!) and Montezuma's Revenge. Sometimes the majority of the fun was extracted from working out how to make them run!

Anyway, I somehow acquired a copy of an early multi-format games magazine, whose title escapes me. Even though we only had a crappy PC and my pocket money wasn't in game-buying league yet, I loved that magazine, and read and re-read it until it fell apart. One game that always stood out for me was the one below: Typhoon Thompson on the Atari ST - a computer I never owned. Something about being able to explore a big wide ocean really stuck with me, and definitely explains why I was so taken with the sailing aspect of Windwaker.

I was reminded of this game the other day - and the only words I could think of to search on were 'Atari ST, Sea Sprites' - so I was delighted to find this video:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

/flounders for ideas

Bambos says:
plus he doesnt know c++ and isnt interested in learning

Ricky says:
I don't understand people who get hung up on languages


Ricky says:
it's like saying:
"well I can ride elephants, but only if they're Asian elephants"
"I don't know how to ride those African elephants!"

Ricky says:
it's EXACTLY like that.
especially the part about the elephants.
/firm nod

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hohokum Meeting

Had a really productive meeting yesterday evening about Hohokum, with Dick and Nat - a designer at Morpheme who will be helping us with the game. In retrospect it's surprising how many things we managed to work out, especially since I wasn't sure exactly what we were aiming to achieve before we started.

It's amazing the extent to which three heads are better than one. Issues that seem intractable when you're thinking about them by yourself are solved instantly the moment you have to explain or justify your thoughts to a group. And as you think on your feet, solutions seem to come from nowhere. It's like putting the game design over a flame - the assumptions burn off the surface, and the design heats up, becoming more fluid and can be molded into a new shape.

Working with a graphic designer is interesting too. I find it allows me to decouple gameplay mechanics from their visual representation in a way that isn't so easy when I'm working solo. This means I can consider mechanics in the abstract, knowing that someone else will be worrying about to communicate them visually.

Plenty of coding to do over Easter anyway!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Blueberry Garden

Erik Svedang's game looks like what you'd get if you gave the comic artist Lewis Trondheim a physics engine.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Prism on Gamefaqs

No matter how happy you are with a game you've made, I don't think anything quite matches the feeling of finding it on gamefaqs, and seeing that someone liked it enough to do something like this - meticulously create solutions for every level.

Thanks to both of you, Darkstar Ripclaw and Anarcho Selmiak!

The Fruit Farm team were filmed yesterday for a short documentary for 4Talent, talking about what each of us does to get a game from its initial concept to final. It's going to be interesting to see how the two and a half hours of footage gets edited down to 5 minutes! I thought we all did okay - it takes enormous concentration to make succinct points about something as complex as game development without stumbling over sentences, and switching focus smoothly from screen to face, but the filmmaker did a great job of helping us organise our thoughts and movements.

I've added a bunch of new links, including some games which I've tagged with [NEW], not because they literally are new (I've been meaning to add em for ages), but to make them stand out from the others you might have played already.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Two of my favourite adventure games are Samarost, and its sequel, which are visually sumptuous, and based around delightfully whimsical puzzles.

Here is an interview with their creator, Jakob Dvorsky, about his new game, which is called Machinarium.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Every Puzzle Has an Answer!

If Hayuo Miyazuki, the creator of Anime classics like My Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away, created a story based on Tintin, after watching Les Triplettes de Belleville it would be a lot like the world of Professor Layton.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village, for the Nintendo DS, is a wonderfully absorbing game, which I gorged my way through in several days whilst in San Francisco for GDC (yes - I have a lot of draft posts backed up).

It's an adventure game, in which the eponymous Professor and his plucky assistant Luke explore the village of Mystere for clues surrounding a case involving a lost treasure bequeathed in the will of a rich baron.

But the primary game mechanic isn't the traditional fare of point and click adventures, which usually involves locating objects in various locations and combining them in unpredictable ways to progress. Instead, this game uses brain teasers, which the residents of Mystere require Layton and Luke to solve in return for assisting with the investigation.

The puzzles are far richer than in a game like Dr Kawashima's Brain Training, which provides a limited number of puzzle types (like mental arithmetic) and has the player repeat variations of these over and over. Instead, the Curious Village contains 150 hand crafted puzzles - the kind you might get in a broadsheet newspaper. So you get riddles, math, matchstick or chess problems. Some involve physics or mazes or sliding blocks - there's a lot of variety, which is one reason why this game is so compelling - it makes you think hard, but continually changes the *way* you have to think so as to provide exercise for all your mental muscles - a bit like swimming in that sense.

Level 5 have done a terrific job of building on the core game mechanic with a number of design decisions which are right on the nail. There's a friendly and forgiving hint system (the writing in this game is strong throughout) in which 3 levels of hint can be provided for any puzzle by spending 'hint coins', hidden throughout the village. There are hidden puzzles too - interesting asides provided as a reward for exploratory clicking.

There are also a number of metagame sideshows: a number of the puzzles reward the player with various objects - gizmos which come together to form a useful tool, painting scraps which must be put together like a jigsaw, and furniture for Layton and Luke's lodgings - initially bare - which the player must share between the two to maximise their happiness.

The difficulty level is pitched just right - until the very end, you're not forced to complete any puzzle that's really hard, though there's a good chance that you won't be able rest until you've solved them all.

The music and the art (with its limited palette and art style which evokes Belleville) paint a wonderful picture of that fantasy Europe that the Japanese seem to have in their collective consciousness, and the cut scenes are of the quality of a 'proper' Anime film.

In addition to everything else, what makes this game especially noteable is the plot, which is genuinely surprising and delightful, and about which I shan't say anything further, except for..

Game of the year so far.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Gravitation is a new game by Jason Rohrer, and joins his previous game, Passage as one of the few autiobiographical games ever made. Gravitation is a comment on the artist's creative mania, which swings from periods of great creativity when ideas come thick and fast and work is frantic, to times when he feels lethargic and can't achieve much. It also discusses the difficulties of balancing time spent working with time spent with family or friends.

I feel Gravitation is a successful game, more so than Passage. Whilst I identify with the sentiments behind both, Gravitation provides richer interactions for the player, and this makes its message stronger and more emphatic. Without giving too much away, I also feel that the level design does a decent job of communicating what it feels like to be buzzing away on a creative drive to programming something new and exciting.

Download Gravitation here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Future of Highways

I watch this with a mixture of amusement at the naivity of our predecessors and admiration for their vision.

I wonder how many games it has inspired.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Take to the Rooftops!

One (good) measure of immersion in a game is the extent to which its mechanics spill over into everyday life. After playing a lot of Zelda every bush and dustbin becomes a potential source of Rupees. Katamari had me continuously parsing my surroundings to decide the order in which I'd roll everything up. Now Crackdown has me peering up at buildings, identifying every possible ledge to take me ever higher in the search for vantage points and agility orbs.

Considering that my perception of this game before playing it was 'GTA in the future', my expectations have been far exceeded - I don't think I've spent more than about 20 minutes in a vehicle throughout the entire game, preferring to first max my agility and weapons skills, before moving onto giant explosions. Not sure whether I'm gonna bother with driving or not.

Best simple, dumb fun I've had since Mercenaries on the Xbox.