As Technical director it is my job to implement the creative ideas into interactive world that not only perform as desired but also is in parallel with current generation graphics and presentation. Last year I prototyped the collection game mode of Mech Mania in XNA using C# but as Microsoft decided no longer to support XNA in the future it was high time we switched to another framework.
Managed DirectX would probably have been the most obvious choice to make to switch from XNA however as news of Valve’s ‘Steambox’ surfaced we an excellent opportunity we switched to Unreal for its steam integration and multiplatform support.
Unreal is a beast, I do not have much experience in scripting other than for Armed Assault, yet very much versed in writing my own engines, Unrealscript has proven to be both tricky yet incredibly simple. It falls into “It’s easy if you know how” and most of my time I find myself hacking around an engine for a FPS which plays havoc with my coding OCD. Anyway I love Unreal for its asset and content separation from the code which allows the level designer and animator to quite happily deliver amazing stuff inside UDK without having to get me to set up test environments or create level design tools.
I’m using the Unrealscript extension for Sublime Text 2, it’s a bit ropey but a lovely environment to program in.
Fantastic bit of news, on the 7th of March we applied to take part in Starter for 10. This was made up of a series of pitch battles for the prize of a £10,000 grant and business mentoring to help each budding entrepreneur further establish their company.
The good news is, we managed to make it all the way through and be selected as one of the 10 winners!
With this money we can now work on the game full time and get it finished much faster. The business mentoring will be amazingly helpful as no part of my education had prepared me for running a company and overseeing a project like this.
The experience was great, from the judges and the other competitors to the amazing Steve Taylor! I would really recommend Starter for 10 to anyone starting out in the creative industries.
Thanks to Start for 10 it looks as though Infinite Playground may soon be able to stand firmly on its own feet and carry on as an independent game studio!
It's been an eventful few months!
I left off with the formation of Infinite Playground back in August 2011 and shall quickly round up the events that followed! (to the end of 2012)
First off, we re-branded We bid farewell to the rather generic Möbius strip and crafted our new Pixel Planets! I'm rather fond of them =)
And now, on with history!
The most fun I'd had all year, these two events are great for those of you who want to experience a broad spectrum of games! I lost count of how many games I was playing at once, some digital and many live action. While in one of the informative talks someone could start asking me questions as part of the spy game or the Zombie LARP may stampede through, Nerf guns blazing. Excellent opportunity for inspiration, making friends and networking!
Possibly one of the most surreal episodes from my life could be taken from Rezzed. I met some extraordinary people and came across old friends. Among the casualties of my handshake was the legendary creator of the Arma 2 mod Dayz, Dean 'Rocket' Hall and Matt Lightfoot. Dean gave a very inspiring talk and came across as a very down to earth and funny guy.
The most unusual event was when myself and a friend were on our way out to buy something to drink (it was damn expensive in the venue!) a guy with a video camera stopped us and asked us if we wanted to be in a quick skit for the Develop Awards, taking place later in the week. Of course we agreed and were then told we were waiting on Peter Molyneux!
After a short while he turned up, and along with some other convention goers who had also been Shanghaied we went out to the seafront and proceeded to chase Peter Molyneux up and down Brighton promenade.
Afterwards I got to speak with him for a good ten minutes and I have to say, although he mucks things up in terms of what we'll be getting in a game. He is an extremely passionate man who loves his art and certainly needs to be met! I talked to him about 'Player generated narrative' as it fascinates me.
I attended the conference as an Associate and really did have one of the best times of my life! The other Associates were really fun people to work with and the delegates were amazing. I'm not sure quite where to begin with this one!
I made sure to pick the brains of Microsoft's Windows 8 booth about the fate of XNA and porting. The guy to his credit was extremely helpful. I also met people from Valve, Unity, Autodesk and a whole host of others, all the while depositing business cards like ninja stars.
One particular, and also semi-surreal highlight was watching Indie Game: The Movie in Brighton's Odeon Cinema eating free fish and chips and drinking free wine in amazing company. I would seriously recommend being an Associate to anyone, student, professional, amateur, just go for it!
Taking place a few weeks before the actual Explay Festival (to avoid the two overlapping as they did in 2011) the game jam was sponsored by the Welcome Trust and took place at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol and the Science Museum in London! Linked by a live webcam the two sites were supposed to work alongside each other but sadly there was a fault ad the link was down for the duration with a few Skype calls taking its place.
This was my second game jam ever, I was the usual mixture of excitement and apprehension. My business partner, Chris, seemed apprehensive and downright forlorn at the prospect (although a veteran of several game jams already). Although we were in business together, to date we had never worked side-by-side like this and I was looking forward to it!
The theme was Deception!
We grabbed an artist named John during the team creation melee and very quickly moved our ideas along into one game and set about making it.
As this was sponsored by the Welcome Trust, we had several Scientist roaming around offering information and advice for gamifying(sp??) science. Keeping with the Deception theme, and with help from an awesome scientist, we attempted to gamify the HIV virus's attack on the human body.
The first day proved to be very productive, though the venue had to close for the night, we bundled back to Chris's to carry on through the night.
We thought things were going so well we even had a little sleep.
Next day the venue was late opening so several teams resumed their work on the pavement (deadlines a' coming!) while we waited for the door to be unlocked. The second day was a bit more manic but as the coder, Chris was bearing most of the pressure while me and John attempted to alleviate what we could.
After a few cock-ups with the drop-box permissions we made the deadline (and thankfully so did everyone else =)). Once everyone had settled down, or been woken up, we all gathered for a quick show and tell before making our way to the pub!
Now it was down to the judges to decide which game would win overall.
The event began with a networking evening at the historic Roman Baths in Bath, with a keynote given by Dr Joe Twist, CEO of UKIE. As you can imagine, being on halloween night, in the baths, amoungst so many game designers, people got a bit merry. Exasperated by the free wine the party went on till the early hours and apparently we're not talking about that night anymore!
This event was the first I have ever attended as an exhibitor, it was Infinite Playgrounds first real outing and I think we did very well! On display we had some freebies and playable for the first time we had Mech Mania and Track Heroes!
After some teething troubles we had both of the games up and running, drawing a small crowd. Possibly the best moment in my life to date was when people asked if they could play the game again.
With some excellent industry talks, great games, the bootcamp and the gamejam as well as the charity Johann Sebastian Joust, I would certainly recommend anyone in the south west of England attend it and everyone else for that matter!
After all that, the surprise was really very genuine. We won the Explay Gamejam!
Other than those sheltering from a Zombie Apocalypse, there aren't many who spend 48 hours inside a shopping mall. However, in the name of Bradleystoke Radio we barricaded ourselves in and got ready to repel the oncoming horde of Christmas Shoppers!
Another of my slightly unusual escapades, I had agreed to take part in a 48 hour game jam with a bit of a twist. There was no theme to speak of and no competing teams. Instead there was one team and a huge pile of community submissions.
To give the community even more involvement in the project a live webcam was pointed at us the entire time along with a 'making of' documentary chronicling our progress and states of sleep deprivation. At one point the webcam surpassed 200 people!
Our goal was to take all of these ideas and from them craft one game! They ranged dramatically from characters to entire PowerPoint presentations and all of them were eventually shoehorned into one narrative.
For the genre we opted for an RPG in the old 8bit style with myself working on the mechanics, leveling and balancing (and some graphics). Balancing an RPG in a few hours was pretty tricky, the game couldn't be too difficult but had to get harder as the player went on. This was made trickier as the player could fight the bosses in any order and also the player could level up.. so the bosses also had to level up with the player. Balancing four player characters against each boss as they level!!!
At one point the Live Steam actually ordered us a pizza, the topping having been chosen by committee, was more of an acquired taste. I had never seen so many spicy bits and pieces pilled on top of bread and tomato before! We ate it anyway and it did the trick. I wasn't tired anymore!!!
Possibly the biggest highlight of the event (and least expected!) was the appearance of a boy named Louis. He had been watching on the Live Steam and seen that we had selected his character to be one of the four main characters you play as. He suddenly appeared on the second day filled with excitement that his character had been selected and even more so when his was the one being worked on when he arrived!
By the closing of the second day it was all down to Chris once again to implement what we had created and get this finished game uploaded! We had an issue with the internet so the game was late uploading but we did finish on time!
All in all I had 6 hours sleep in 36 hours.
So whats next?
We've applied to have a stand at PAX and within the next two months should begin our Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to get Mech Mania finished! We have many other community games and projects in the pipeline and can't wait to get started on them!
Bring on 2013!
My name is Jonathan Vigurs and I am the Creative Director of Infinite Playground, a fresh faced and dewy eyed independent game studio currently based in the little seaside town of Weymouth.
I remember being a young child and playing a game on some ancient machine in my dads office and thinking 'I want to make these!'.
Soon after I was creating piles of imitation pixel art using crayons and coloured pencils, though my game ideas were pretty much what I had just been playing it.
At the age of seven my dad helped me produce my first ever game, a side-scolling space combat game where you fought off a crudely drawn race known as the 'Danggars' as you ventured out into space. I drew the character sprites and the backgrounds using the wonderful Deluxe Paint III and my dad programmed it all using Amos.
Not long after, I created some sprites for a Star Trek game (I loved the space ships as a child!). My dad then helped me create a top down space exploration game in which you flew around and fought with Klingon's and landed on alien worlds which you could sort of explore...
Next came a Sensible Soccer clone, though this time we used a piece of game creation software that allowed me to draw out all the sprites I'd need much more easily and I even had a bash at Amos! I have a feeling that this level of involvement at that age could well be why the game was never finished. It was very buggy and would often not run at all.
After this I take a break from games and discover the wonders of Stop Motion Animation. I began using the family video recorder and a lot of Lego, pressing Start and Stop as quickly as I could in order to capture just a single frame.
This soon destroyed the cameras power supply and somewhat irritated my dad. For my next birthday I was bought a small digital pen-cam and before you can say Nick Park I was buried under a sea of colourful plasticine. I spent many months with my younger brother creating ever more silly and often unnecessarily gory shorts.
Any game with any form of map editor, from Never Winter Nights to Far Cry was in my collection and I spent a large portion of my time messing around with them making maps of all varieties. I had also discovered the wonder of online gaming. My first real experience of it was with Valves Counter Strike, after my first play I was already imagining vast worlds populated only by players in which anything was possible.
With the Xbox and Far Cry 2 and it's various sequels I spent many more hours making maps and playing them online. I loved to hear feedback from other players and was over the moon when it was largely positive.
My degree made me begin to realise my potential as a game designer. Up until now it had been a hobby and I hadn't really thought I'd be able to make a career out of it. Suddenly I was learning to 3D model and other game engines game into my possession. The first was called 3D Game Studio, which I used to create some amazingly broken levels. After a while I settled in to BSP based level editors and finally got Valve's Hammer Editor.
Compared to what I had been using, Hammer was a dream, I got on very well with it and was soon creating massive and unbelievable broken levels with it.
And like everyone else who learns how to create a box room I announced a full stand-alone mod for HL2! I mean, how hard could it be? Even with many, many advice threads pointing out how difficult it was I decided to throw myself in and make it my major project for my second year.
After several months I had canned my original idea as I had never learned to code the tweaks I wanted to make were impossible so I essentially began a single player map pack. I created a little narrative and went from there.
That also went wrong so instead I created a single puzzle level that involved running around extinguishing all the red lights in the level before your time ran out. The map included hidden rooms and elevators which I think contributed to nobody completing it.
Then came a plethora of TF2, Portal and HL2:DM maps of all shapes and sizes. I was mainly working to experiment with ideas I had and sadly very few were actually finished and none have been released to the public!
I graduated with a 2:1 (the best grade) and pretty quickly found myself a bit of freelance 3D work. This also proved a bit of a disaster. The client kept changing what they wanted and the deadlines, there was no NDA or contract or any real direction. After a week I had completed what I could and given it to them.
From that experience I learnt exactly how things should not be done.
A bit more savvy I kept looking for work but didn't find much else so in the mean time I started helping out various mods. With experience of Hammer I tried to help out on a few mods that, like mine, ended up dying with little progress made.
For the next year I hop between mod projects across various game engines as a writer, mapper and artist.
By now I have become good friends with several talented game modders who want to take the next step and create a game. My dream of creating and running a game company still burning inside me I suggest we start our own.
On August 30th 2011 Infinite Playground is born, already with one game projects six weeks into development.