Well, with a name like that, how could I not go?
Yes, I saw a mention by Toronto’s illustrious Hand-Eye Society that the students from the Game Programming class at Humber College in Toronto were doing an open presentation of their final “capstone” projects. They’d already presented their works-in-progress at the Society’s “level up” event, which I’d missed, and I was really interested in seeing what new developers were interested in and focused on. Since this is becoming a BIG game-creation town, there’s fairly good odds that these guys could end up being developers on big titles pretty soon.
‘Twas a good time. Granted, a lot of them seemed a bit confused as to why this “outsider” was there playing their games and peppering them with questions as to their design choices, but they all seemed to be really interested in showing off what they’d made. The general presentations on their choices and challenges were often as interesting as the games themselves; it’s always neat to see an unvarnished look at the nuts and bolts of developing games from people who aren’t being put through a PR filter, and who are still learning about and surmounting challenges.
The thing that really jumped out at me? “Unreal and Unity are a really big deal”. Sure, there were some people who developed their own engine. Game after game after game, though, were made using these middleware creators’ tools. I know that they knew how to make an engine; I checked Humber’s curriculum, and it’s on there. I doubt they’d shie away from it, either; these aren’t designers, they’re developers, so they aren’t going to run away from a bit of programming work. It felt like they were simply picking the best tool for the job, and leveraging the work that’s gone on before. I really, really liked that.
I feel like one of the reasons game design still comes across as an adolescent expressive form, instead of a mature one, is the fact that we’re still having to invent and re-invent the tools necessary to make them. Creating games is always going to involve some kind of scripting and coding, of course, but the way things are right now is roughly akin to a filmmaker having to build cameras, lights, and everything else from scratch every time she decides she wants to make a documentary.
That’s why I welcome this development so much. It just makes more sense for gaming to have its equivalent of an off-the-shelf camera. Unity, Unreal, and higher-level tools like RPG Maker and Adventure Game Studio are filling in that gap. In the long run, creators will be able to focus on being creators.
Anyway, here some of are the games I saw:
Quarantine TO: I gravitated towards this one because, hey, home town. What I saw was an interesting early take on zombie games: switching them from the normal first-person or over-the-shoulder view to a dynamically top-down view that was really (and intentionally) reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto. It was really simple, like most of the games there, and didn’t even have attack animations…but I ended up playing it for a fair while nonetheless.
The fact that it had full music and voice acting(!) helped. most of the games there were either silent or aurally simple. The presentation of the game was engaging, too, as creator John Ziolkowsky eschewed the tired Powerpoint slides for a rousing and entertaining Q&A.
Block Academy: This isn’t one that I got to play. Pity. I was REALLY interested in it. It’s an iOS “augmented reality” game that uses a small card to superimpose a 3D puzzle game over whatever surface the camera’s pointed at, with the movements controlled by moving the camera itself.
The rules seemed a bit esoteric, but the presentation was riveting. It showed me—and the rest of the audience—the promise of augmented reality gaming. That’s the big story tied into the whole Google Glasses thing that’s going untold; the social networking applications of augmented reality aren’t half as interesting as the gaming ones. Developer Kyle Halliday made something really cool here, and I hope I get the chance to try it out someday soon.
Planet Towor: This is one of the ones that made me really conscious of the engine transition I’d mentioned earlier, as it’s a Tower Defence game made in the Unreal Engine (of all things). Developer Devon Harpley said in his (interesting) presentation that he was encouraged not to do up his own engine for this, and it turned out that he didn’t need to. Using Unreal for something like this is a bit odd, and presented some challenges, but it came out looking pretty solid for a student game.
Gameplay was solid, too. Devon deliberately chose to avoid the standard “waves” of normal tower defence games for a semi-continuous flow of baddies along the path, which added a fluid and frantic feel to the game that I often don’t get from tower defence games.
Capstone Temple: Definitely the best-looking game of the lot. In a show where a lot of the games featured very primitive shape-based graphics—which makes sense, since these guys are developers, not artists—creator Jaleel McDowell employed a friend’s artistic skill and his own modelling acumen to build something that looked like a solid indie title, at the very least.
He also put together a REALLY impressive trailer for the thing: cheesy and over-the-top in the vein of the best RPG trailers, it really stood out among the more basic gameplay footage reels. I actually had to duck out of a conversation with Jaleel because he was about to be pounced on by obvious industry recruiters. THAT’S how impressive it was. The action-rpg gameplay held up, too: it was a bit loose, but still engaging.
Finally, Paper Wings. Developer Kanghee Lee used Unity to put together a really fun little mobile game. It was a simple race between two paper planes to pass through rings in an egyptian-themed environment. The simplicity made for easily grasped mechanics, though.
The gameplay was fun enough, though I’m still not sold on mobile gaming that requires you to move the screen you’re using, but what really worked was the local mobile-to-mobile gameplay in Paper Wings. In an age where all multiplayer seems to be internet-based, it’s a pleasure to play a game that uses local networking to create local multiplayer. Really, really want to see more of that. (Maybe when iOS incorporates NFC?)
There were many more; some (but not all) of the interesting ones that I also didn’t get to try were were built-from-the-ground up wargame called Tank Commander, a Portal recreation called Teleportals, and an interesting ARPG called Legend of the Elements. I hope to give more a shot soon, if they’re shared online, or maybe at future Hand-Eye events. Meantime, though, I’ll just say that it was a fun event, I was glad to be there, and look forward to the next one.
(By the by, if any of the Humber capstone students read this and have playable versions of their games online, by all means let me know and I’ll give it a shot.)