12th Dec 2010
The past few days have been a whirlwind and a constant high. I remember reading a comment on twitter that said something like “being a developer is like being a manic depressive. Extreme highs and extreme lows”. The more I think about this, the more I agree with it! The lows of the crunch periods, and the highs of release. Finally having your game finished is a superb feeling (one I wish I could bottle to take a dose of during crunch!)
But even the high of release couldn’t have prepared me for the way Cat Astro Phi hit the interwebs. Quite honestly I’m used to taking a beating when it comes to reviews on NewGrounds. I just don’t make the sort of games that appeal over there, and I’m cool with that. But I really did hope that Cat Astro Phi would find favour with them (it had after-all with the site owner). They’re a notoriously tough crowd to please. But I can safely say that the reviews have blown me away. 10 after 10 after 10, and even those that pointed out the games flaws (for it certainly has some) did so graciously. Sure there were a few trolls, and some who just don’t dig the Gameboy vibe. But the overwhelming majority voted in their thousands, and reviewed in their hundreds, with positive feedback.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I read every one of them. I find it easy to laugh-off the zero scores and inane comments, but they are far and few between. What I didn’t expect was to read all these comments from people who had truly loved playing the game. It made me happy that the 4-colour exploits of Jonesy and the spaceman had in turn made them happy. It’s a hippy-good vibe.
We also seem to have wormed our way onto a few notable sites as well. Front-paged on 1up.com, covered well by IndieGames.com (even if they didn’t really dig it, the people who commented did!), a superb write-up over at Barts News and Screaming Falcon did a great review of the soundtrack! which was also heavily mentioned on other chip music sites. Someone even posted walk-thrus on YouTube within hours.
The Gameboy aspect of it seems to have really hit a note with a lot of people, taking them back to “better days”. Or perhaps just simpler days. When they could bum around all morning playing games, and not have to worry about kids, work, mortgages or deadlines. I can certainly relate to that
I’ll be keeping tabs on where-else this little game travels.
8th Dec 2010
I am very pleased to announce that we have finally shipped our new game: Cat Astro Phi. This has been a long, drawn-out development process. Not so much because of the game itself. Although I did fall foul of constant feature-creep. But because so many other things interrupted it: My most insane period at work all year, the birth of my daughter, a huge 5-game release project for the BBC, and loads of other things. All fighting for a slice of my time.
But I finally battled through and got the game into a state where I felt it was nearly complete. Then I showed it to a few friends, and the reaction was awesome. Adam Atomic told me “I LOVE THIS GAME it is like sci-fi Link’s Awakening i am like enthralled by this“. Tom Fulp emailed and said “I just played through, killed the robot and got left behind on planet 4. It was mesmerizing!“, and people I work with and respect highly were also very enthusiastic. So I knew I had something good on the boil. It’s so easy to lose sight of that when you’re deep in the game. For you, you almost hate the sight of it, and it just doesn’t excite you any longer. Know what I mean? But to have people like Adam, Tom and Chris say really positive things gave me that belief in the game back again. Enough to fight through and finish.
And finish I did The game is now up on NewGrounds (who also sponsored it) and will be front-paged today. There are 11 Medals for you to unlock, some of which are easier than others, and a host of easter eggs to find. Plus of course there is this amazing soundtrack too by Rich Vreeland! You just have to check it out, or buy the digital remix album. At $3 it’s a steal!
Right now I’m going to have a bit of a rest, and take in the feedback and comments the game receives. I may make a few tweaks based on them, but essentially I now consider this game finished. And that’s a wonderfully liberating feeling Atari 16k contest here I come!
5th Nov 2010
Cat Astro Phi is a game Ilija and I have been working on, and tinkering with, for the past month or so. I always wanted to make a Gameboy Classic game, back in the day, but was too young and never got the chance. This changed when in August my main desktop PC died. While I waited 6 weeks for a replacement all I had access to was a very basic laptop. No Flash IDE, no Photoshop, no SoundBooth. Just really basic software and not much grunt power. So I thought it’d be fun to try and create a game, in the style of a Gameboy Classic, as all I had access to were super-limited apps anyway. So I restricted myself to those limitations – a resolution of 160 x 144, only 4 colours on-screen, 3 channel chip music, 8×8 tile sprites (or similar). It was a fun experience
Well one thing lead to another, and here we are two months later and Cat Astro Phi is done! Ilija has worked his usual pixel magic on the graphics and music, and together we’ve built a 3-level action adventure game. The blurb goes something like this …
“An unfortunate accident leaves your pet cat stranded. Explore and battle your way through three hostile alien planets. Each with their own puzzles, traps and inhabitants to encounter.
Created in the style of Gameboy Classic games, Cat Astro Phi features stunning pixel artwork and authentic sounds through-out. Three planets, with interactive story sequences between them, leads the player on a journey – as they explore the levels, interact with the environment, solve puzzles, hack lazer walls, explode bombs, avoid sentry guns and blow stuff up! All while searching for their missing pet cat. “
The game is in active bidding here on FlashGameLicense. If you’re a sponsor / portal then join in Fellow FGL devs can also play the game there.
The rest of you will have to wait until it’s released into the wild I’m afraid. At which point I’ll do a proper dev write-up. Until then I’ll leave you with a couple of screen shots (click for full size).
Am glad to finally have this done It’s been too long since we released anything (6 months), but brand new babies will do that to your productivity!
15th Jul 2010
Today Aardman Digital (where I’m Technical Lead) put live one of the biggest site builds we’ve done yet. Called the Tate Movie Project, it’s all about children getting involved in the creation of a film, which will be shown on the BBC next year. They can create assets online using a suite of tools we’ve built, or visit one of the tour buses currently going around the UK, where they get real hands on experience of the film making process. Ultimately children will have created the bulk of the visuals used in the final film.
Due to other projects I didn’t contribute a great deal of coding personally, but the Sound Tool (which you can find in the Sound Studio part of the site) is mine! This is where the children can record themselves, apply special effects, and submit their creations to the film. I built the tool several months ago, knowing that the release of Flash Player 10.1 was imminent. I wanted to use 10.1 as it allowed us to get real-time access to the Microphone, and then apply special effects without the need for a media server back-end. However we also had to create an FMS version for users running older versions of Flash Player! So the site switches between the two tools based on your player. Thankfully Adobe released Flash Player 10.1 final a few weeks before launch. It will be interesting to see the change in traffic to our FMS servers as users migrate over to 10.1.
The other tools include the Script editor, an Animation tool and an area to upload your images for the film. The tools are aimed at 5 to 13 year old children, which is a very wide spectrum in terms of technical capability. We ran a lot of user testing sessions in schools, gauging how the children worked with the tools and tweaking them accordingly – so although they may seem a bit primitive to most readers of my blog, we know they’re bang-on for the target audience.
There are also loads of hidden features across the studio: for example when the director is talking you could try clicking the lights in the background, bang the spot lights with your mouse, drag down light switches, pull down the ladder and many more. In the Script room turn the fan on, then click on the paper that falls to the floor, then bounce it off your mouse cursor into the bin. In the music studio knock musical notes out of the composers head, drag them onto the wall, and play your tune! An awful lot of love and care went into the smallest details, all of which are aimed at rewarding kids natural curiosity.
It was an extremely exciting project to be involved with, using a lot of talented people. The bulk of Flash development was handled by Tom Milner, our resident Flash guru. With animations coming in from two of the best Flash animators out there: Robin Davey and Felix Massie. Awesome thanks also go to a big roster of Bristol’s finest web development talent including Craig Francis, Rick Hurst, James Spencer and Julian Guy, all of whom are superb and strongly recommended if you’re in need of site build ninjas.
We first began work on the site almost 2 years ago, when myself and Dan Efergan (our Creative Director) spent a long time coming up with the “virtual studio” concept, how the tools would work and interact together, and how the progression of the film production would be displayed (keeping the children interested for what is a year long process). So Tom and the other developers can blame a lot of the frantic deadline chomping work they had to do on us But it was all worth it. The site is lovely to interact with. And the biggest kick of all is actually watching children use it. It truly makes it all worth while.
There’s a brilliant piece on the site over on Creative Review.
If you are in the UK (and have kids who are the right age for this) then I urge you to let them take part, or maybe visit the Tour Bus. Also keep an eye on Blue Peter and Newsround on CBBC.
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