Old School Shooter

Ebot game

The Ebot Game

Last month I was approached to see if I could help out with a small project at Derwen College , a college for adults with various learning difficulties. One of their students, Adam Walker had drawn some graphics with the idea they could be used in a game to be played by everyone at their upcoming Online Safety Day. The main character, ‘Ebot’, was to move left and right shooting oncoming baddies that descend like the original space invaders. The players would have a large range of abilities so the game had to start off very easy but could quickly get more difficult. We also needed to keep a record of the best player scores as prizes may be awarded on the day.

Emma the E-Safety coordinator was attempting to get something together with Buildbox but it was clear that she was rapidly running out of time and patience. Buildbox does have a free trial period but for a department on a tight budget and unsure whether the game would still run once the free period expired I suggested we develop the game in Unity.

As time and money was short I knew Unity would at least handle the input, drawing, collision detection and packaging for me. What else is there?

Well I always seem to forget that even a simple game still requires all the different aspects of a complex one so I made the mistake of thinking I could take shortcuts and just dived in. True to form I got the basic game up and running very quickly, using square blocks instead of Adam’s graphics but then as I started adding scoring, lives, levels and the online leader board I found that in the end I had to retro fit all the usual game structures back in. Of course it would have been much quicker if I’d done the job right in the first place.

Lesson learned? I doubt it .

I placed Adam’s ‘Ebot’ and alien graphic over a circuit board background and uploaded the game to my site then sent Emma the link with a day to spare. All that was left to do was wait and every now and then take a peak at the leader board.

I needn’t have worried , apparently the game went down really well and judging by the high score table some of the students got very good at it, scoring much more than I ever could.

It was really good to develop an, albeit simple, old school shooter again – my first in over thirty years. But most of all it was great to play a small part in the excellent work of the students and staff at the award winning Derwen College.


Share This:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Year, New List.

2016For the last thirty years I’ve often found myself making a New Year’s list of what I (and my studio/company) should achieve in the year ahead. It usually takes the form of a brief outline of achievements and failures of last year and a more aspirational list for the coming one. So long as I didn’t beat myself up too much, this always seemed a good idea.

I like writing lists. List’s feel productive, they can focus the mind and help reduce distractions. Of course writing a list is just another way of putting off doing whatever is on the list but hey it’s Christmas, I like writing lists.

So yesterday I started a New Year list again. New Year, New Optimism.

But this time I’d only just started when I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, I started asking are all my New Year lists the same? I suppose the two parts are pretty predictable. The historical part can only exist in the harsh light of the real world whilst the other exists in a future state of wishful thinking fantasy – a place where all my systemic faults have disappeared, where I’m going to be more dynamic, more sociable, work more efficiently and generally be more everything good and less everything bad.

This is obviously total bollocks.

The first part of any year is spent playing catch up, finishing all the things that I said I’d get done the year before and hoping that people aren’t going to notice. For example I’m currently working on Sara’s new website and a website for the CMC (my climbing club). Both were promised for the end of the year and both are what I should be doing now instead of writing this post.

And there’s the rub.

If I could magically extract the actual ‘core’ time spent doing what I did last year from all that surrounding it, the life-wasting, despair inducing, polystyrene packaging of time, all the planning, thinking, dreaming, idling, all the total fluff of time that seems to encapsulate anything worthwhile I do then I’m afraid I could have squeezed 2015 into a couple of months tops, maybe less.

This scares the shit out of me.

I can reduce all my New Year Resolutions into two words.

‘Procrastinate less.’

I’ve somehow got to learn how to tick that one off.

Before it’s too late.

Happy New Year,

Share This:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It’s good to do something different.

Body v Bugs
Just back from Sheffield and KrebsFest for which I developed a simulation-like game where bugs multiply and phagocytes (aka white blood cells) attempt to eat them up. The action was projected large against the wall of the University’s Firth Court and actually controlled by the assembled masses waving red or green glow-sticks.

It certainly made a change to my usual projects.

A good bit was the simulation itself. I really enjoy creating simple rule sets for my game characters and just letting them make their own way within their environment and they don’t get much simpler than bacteria. I was using Unity to develop the game and it’s object orientated approach fitted nicely with the concept of independent cells. So I created a basic bacteria that could reproduce itself a limited number of times and provided a variable that dictated the rate of this reproduction. Once I set it up and ‘infected’ my screen it was fascinating to see the bacteria grow just as I’d always imagined they did, their number growing exponentially until they filled the screen and my machine slowed to a crawl. Excellent stuff.

Another interesting part of the project was the crowd input. I hadn’t done anything like this before and searching the internet it seemed that very few had. I found an old page summarising some techniques that proved it was possible but that was all. The original idea was to give out red or green LEDs to the audience but in the end we decided to use readily available glow-sticks instead.

The crowd was filmed with a reasonable quality, off-the-shelf, HD webcam and I processed the real time stream removing everything but the pixels associated with the glow-sticks. The number and flux of these pixels provided the input level. The red glow sticks increase the reproductive rate of the bacteria, the green increased the number and eating speed of the phagocytes. That was all I needed.

Compared with LEDs the light from glow-sticks is quite dirty, each stick emitting a lot of different frequencies whose distribution changes over time. What I checked for was a range of colour component ratios and whilst these ratios failed to hold in extremis, (a newly cracked stick would appear almost white), in practice they remained true. I’d hoped to produce a self-calibrating system but in the end I went the empirical route, taking snap-shots of the sticks with the webcam at various times and distances. From these I could work out the ratio ranges I needed.

To keep the simulation working at full speed I used one computer exclusively for the image processing and only transmitted the normalised results to the other machine running the game.

At the event we found that people actually picked more green sticks than red sticks, I don’t know why, but they did it consistently. Happily I’d put in place a calibration button that would simply balance the difference at the start of a session. I also had a couple of other (sneaky cheat) buttons that could increase either the red or green input just in case it all went to shit! Thankfully it didn’t.

The actual sessions were great fun, and whilst the game was only a small part of the overall festival, it was the one activity where families and friends could work together. The audience were fantastic and waved their glow-sticks with massive enthusiasm and believe me it gets quite tiring over 10 or so minutes.

The rain stayed off until the final few minutes of the last session and it seems everybody had an excellent time, not just myself.

Friday evening finished splendidly with fish, chips and beer across the road at the University Arms. I met some great people and must thank Simon Foster for suggesting I do it, Nate, Greg and Vanessa from Public Engagement, Steve Poole and his projector and Jo Boon for providing me food, water and shelter during my many stop-overs.


Share This:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment