Pong Music

15 01 2009


An aesthetic diversion today, BIT.TRIP BEAT is a Wiiware title taking Pong mechanics and turning them into a beautiful retro, pixel-art music game:

(via Offworld, CC image of ping pong balls by mknowles)

The Art of Digital Distribution

1 09 2008

(Above: Preliminary artwork from the development of Braid)

It’s unprecedented: The Daily Mail have given a gushingly positive review to a videogame, Braid. The Daily Mail, of course, has been at the front of many a “ban this sick filth” campaign against nearly every controversial game of the moment. As Destructoid put it, “British tabloid in game-liking SHOCKER!”.

Anecdotally, even my older brother, who only rarely plays games and hates most of them, watched me do a speedrun of the game this weekend while I explained the story to him. At the end, his words were “This is a significant piece of work”.

Since it’s a 360 exclusive, many will have to wait until the PC version of this is out, and luckily it’s likely to have fairly low system requirements. In the meantime, Gamasutra have an article about the development of the game’s art style, going from the basic programmer art through many iterations to the final product. It’s an interesting read, though a little fragmented due to originally being a series of blog posts. There are more in the same series there.

It struck me during this weekend that there weren’t really many propositions that would make a game entering the market at £10 look good or desirable next to £50 new releases like GTA IV. Am I a snob for thinking the idea of a £10 price point in brick and mortar retail kind of smacks of the cheap multipacks of Spectrum cassettes to be found littering cash and carries during the late 80s? Indie games can’t possibly hope to compete in the AAA arms race, and as a result it’s likely that a rack of boxed XBLA titles would create a bargain bin perception.

Digital distribution is the perfect medium to bring indie games back to the fore and reward experimentation though. Braid, Castle Crashers, RezHD, and Pixeljunk Eden are all things that have caught my eye over the past month, but in the past 5 years of my gaming there was very little in the same vein to be had. As a result, in one month since signing up for xbox live, I’ve spent more on games this past month than I usually do in most. There are PS3 titles I’d be buying digitally if I owned the one in our house too. £40 – £50 price points lead me to contemplate AAA purchases carefully, and I don’t make many. £10 for something that will keep me and a housemate entertained for a quiet weekend is a steal.

Digital distribution is a strange current where technology and culture mingle and drive each other. In the case of music, there’s an absolutely overwhelming amount of content, but with games, it’s still fairly easy for a single one to stand out and be remembered. I feel quite privileged to be able to observe a new form of media adapting to new technology.

Inside The Club

8 05 2007

There interesting look inside Bizarre’s upcoming title The Club over on Next Gen. I dismissed this game when I first heard of it, but it seems they’re taking an interesting approach: Classic arcade gameplay wrapped in the aesthetics of a next gen shooter. Highlights:

It’s a fast game, very fast, a breathless headlong fusillade of bite-sized levels, game modes, character selection, leaderboards, combos and multipliers, set to the metronomic bass-bin thump that accompanies every kill. It’s a score-attack game that rewards you for the reckless running and gunning years of stealth and duck-and-cover have tried to beat out: the faster you string kills together, the higher your score. A giant, ticking score looms in the top right, urging an incremental refinement in performance and skill, just one more go, one more restart. It may look conventional, but it’s completely Bizarre: as Davies says, “an arcade game hidden inside a next-gen game.”

“We prototyped it without any art assets at all,” Cavanagh reveals. “So we started with basically an IP-less shooter with the scoring mechanism. And we actually went through quite a lot of iteration before we came up with what we’ve got at the moment – initially it was just a game about shooting targets, and then we found that really wasn’t compelling.”

For that reason, Bizarre is working hard to engineer enemy AI that is responsive enough to be convincing while sticking to a totally predictable, repeatable rhythm, which is what prompts Cavanagh to liken them to the corners of a racing track. He’s convinced that, if the rewards are right, a reliance on foreknowledge and rote-learning are far from undesirable.

“We looked at pinball when we were looking at scoring ideas,” reveals Cavanagh. “We downloaded loads of emulators and looked at all the different pinball scoring systems. They handle big scores really well. You know that person with the dubious three-letter name at the top of the table knows some ins and outs that you don’t.”

He hopes The Club will be one of the few games to take the improvised speed-run culture and fully enshrine it in the core of its design.

Is there such a thing as a quintessential Bizarre game, we ask? “It’s turning out to be the scoring and the competition and the pace of it, isn’t it? The intensity. We definitely go for addictive stuff,” says Cavanagh. “It’s an arcade game that looks like a simulation, and then we add simple concepts,” ventures Davies, who’s careful, and right, to include Geometry Wars and the forthcoming Boom Boom Rocket in his definition. “This is what we do. We take something very basic, very simple, but just make it look better and play better. It’s a goldmine.”