Let’s Get Physical

Physics is something we witness the effects of every day so it should be really straightforward to program, right? No. It turns out that even with Game Maker Studio’s in-built physics engine, computers still don’t really know what physics is. On top of that, adding physics components to a game is so far outside my comfort zone I would probably find it easier to hit myself by firing a cannonball round the planet from the top of a very tall building. Physics programming appears to require a combination of maths, general knowledge and luck.

Well anyway, I appear to have rockets working now. For now. They arc gracefully/correctly, hit the thing they’re supposed to 75 per cent of the time, and actually destroy the thing they hit (if they’re supposed to) most of the time.

The little yellow dots in the image below are place-holder images for the thruster trail which slowly drop and fade as they emit from the rocket, hence the reason why none of the rockets in this picture look like they emanate from the turret (you’ll just have to take my word for it.) Also, this image shows three different rockets in sequence just in case you were feeling discombobulated.

There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom.

There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom.

In order to fire rockets at your enemy, the minimum you’ll need to have is a power unit (left of image) to keep the other structures on line; a weapons command room (underground at bottom); a rocket store (above weapons command) stocked with at least one rocket; and a turret. It may sound like a lot of hoops to jump through simply to obliterate your foe with projectiles, but this is just the first few items in a tree of options which should make game play more interesting.

For example, you only need one weapons command room in your base but because it controls all weapons, if it goes down for any reason it will temporarily knock out your ability to retaliate and force you to alter your priorities to react to the situation and find a way of regaining the upper hand. I really like the idea of a branching dependency structure. It’s been done really well before in games like Command and Conquer; I’m wanting to bring that mechanic to a more personal, micro-managed level. Because micro-management can be fun!

The next thing I want to work on is assigning and keeping track of every placed unit’s properties so they can have hit points and give other bonuses depending on if they have power or are manned. Although I haven’t yet started this it seems, on paper at least, to be less difficult than programming physics.

In my next post I’m going to talk more about some of the features I’d like to implement (this is more a note to myself but thought you’d like to know that too.)


Do What You Want

I’m a strong believer that there’s no wrong way to play a game; each method is just a series of choices made by a player.

You can point players in the general direction of what you want from them, clearly defining rules at the start of the experience so players know if they try to do something you haven’t planned for they’re going to walk into an invisible wall or make nearby characters bob up and down like ghost ducks. Or both.

In most games, certain choices will be outside the scope of anything the designer ever expected or planned for, so making those choices will cause the game to glitch. The designer’s aim is to either plan for every eventuality, or to design a core system robust enough that it can take whatever is thrown at it. Or in the case of Half Life 2, a Barney robust enough that he can take whatever furniture you throw at him (with the gravity gun).

It costs more to build underground but it could pay for itself.

It costs more to build underground but it could pay for itself.

With my work-in-progress Debaser I want to give players the tools and say “here you go, do what you like”, then players can think of ways to use these tools to outsmart the other player. For example, you can build underground. It’s a little more expensive (because excavation costs money, right?) but there are at least two advantages: one, there’s natural cover from the ground (although it can still be hit by projectiles), and two, you can tunnel to the other base and annoy them with explosives.

When one player chooses to build in a certain way this will influence the other player’s choices, which should lead to dynamic exchanges. I want people to play my game and say, “oh you think that’s clever, huh? Well what about… THIS?” [insert unexpected change of tactics and evil laughter].

I think the fun of my game will come from the variety of tools at a player’s disposal to help them decide the way they want to play.



Right I think it’s time to start talking about my new idea. This is daunting for three reasons:

  1. Sharing it means I’ll have to keep working on it and updating people on how it’s going.
  2. I have an irrational fear that someone out there will like my idea and use their superior game-making skills to make their own version which is far better than what I eventually create.
  3. I don’t think this idea has been done before and although it sounds amazing to me, I’ve never played this game yet so it might suck.

I can deal with point 1 as I think I already got over that bit when I started this blog. As for point 2, I think this is because I grew up exclusively playing on my BBC Micro where almost every single game was just a clone of an existing game (it took me years to figure out that Killer Gorilla was just a terrible Donkey Kong.) I’m going to tackle point 3 by telling myself that even if this is all a big, humiliating mistake it will not be a waste of time. Hopefully.


Debaser is the working title of my new idea. It’s a local two player turn-based head-to-head game, almost exactly unlike chess. You build a base, they build a base. You both build defences and guns, and then cheerfully blast holes in each other’s bases until one of you is just a pile of smoking rubble. The core mechanics of the game go a bit like this: [Building of SimTower] + [Facilities management of FTL] + [Combat of Worms]. I’m going to break this down. I don’t know why I said that like a rapper. I’m not a rapper.

Imagine two of these facing each other across a gulf. It's like a beat-em-up with buildings.

Imagine two of these facing each other across a gulf. It’s like a beat-em-up with buildings.


I loved SimTower. Whenever I ask people about this game they either loved it or hated it. The people who enjoyed it tell me they liked the way you could quickly create a functioning building where there’s lots going on but there was still enough personality and closeness to the activities within the building. The thing people seemed not to like was the management side of things. Large buildings became cumbersome to manage and the game stopped being fun. Also, there weren’t any gun turrets. I intend to address both of these issues in my game.

FTL: Faster Than LightFTL

If you’ve not played this, please do. If you have an iPad, buy it immediately. FTL is “a spaceship simulation realtime roguelike-like” (their words) which has sublime management mechanics which makes the game exciting to replay – there are always new choices to make and new strategies to try. This is exactly the kind of thing a building game with guns needs. The most terrible thing about FTL is it makes me want to never make computer games and just play FTL all the time instead, which is an amazing, but maybe terrible, thing.


Who hasn’t enraged their friends by being so amazing with the ninja rope that they can traverse the entire level and fire a shotgun into an enemy worm’s face, knocking them off a ledge into the gloop, all within 60 seconds? Or being able to precisely estimate where their bazooka rocket will land and knocking out an entire team in one shot? Oh, you haven’t? Well please humour me for a moment. Worms holds many fond memories and the “2D Tank”-style weapon firing system has always appealed to me. It allows for a good balance of skill, luck and determination – the more you play, the better you become (well theoretically; the more you play the more you also drink so the two can cancel each other out).

And so…

Combining all my favourite bits of these games could result in something really fun to play. I can just imagine an enemy rocket slamming through your steel block barricade and disabling one of your power units just before you were about to fire a high-powered laser at their building, and having to scramble your men to put out the fire, fix the roof, get the power unit back on line and hopefully build stronger defences or mount a counter-attack before the end of your turn.

I might be incredibly wrong but I’ve put it out there now, so I best get working on it and we’ll see. In following posts I’ll discuss other features I want in the game and how much progress I’ve made. What do you think? Please let me know or shout at me on Twitter.


What’s In The Box?

So… where to begin? I’ll start near the end and work backwards like a badly-written episode of Lost. Like an episode of Lost.

Once upon a time… no, wait. Spelunky. Yes, I’ll start with Spelunky. If you know what this is then feel free to stop reading and get back to playing Spelunky, but for everyone else, Spelunky is a platform game by Derek Yu that sees you traverse a randomly-generated set of levels starting only with a whip, ropes and some bombs, and lets you get on with it.

You're essentially Indiana Jones but with bombs. What's not to like?

You’re essentially Indiana Jones but with bombs. What’s not to like?

It’s immediately frustrating and hilarious, and quickly the idea of being able to make your own choices about how to get through the levels becomes highly addictive. It feels like real exploring; your personality dictates the choices you make and these are usually the difference between life and death.

There’s so much depth to the game I just wanted to play it over and over again until my hands were bloody stumps and I could hear the Mines level music in my dreams at night. For a relatively unknown, free PC game it blew everything else out of the water.

Reading more about it, I realised Derek Yu had created the whole thing in Game Maker. Digging a little deeper I found tutorials written by Derek on how to make simple games without the need for excessive knowledge of programming, and things just sort of clicked.

I played around until I thought I understood the basics and then set about making a game I’d been thinking about for a while. Then I set about re-evaluating what I thought I understood as it all turned out to be little or no use. Programming is like that.

I worked on “What’s In The Box?” over the course of a year, and once I felt I had achieved my aim of making something challenging, fun and original, I published it for free download on the Yoyo Games website. I sent the link to Terry Cavanagh (creator of VVVVVV, another of my favourite games) and to my surprise, he loved it, posting it on his freeindiegames blog. Shortly after that things went crazy. Derek Yu picked it up on TIGSource, it got reviewed on Jayisgames and someone actually wrote an entire walkthrough for it!

"No, seriously, what is in the box?" I can't say.

“No, seriously, what is in the box?” I can’t say.

Things got even more bizarre when, flicking through PC Gamer magazine in February 2013 I found my game with a full review in the Top Downloads section. My little free PC download game had become something other people talked about. People were enjoying, discussing, suggesting improvements. I was bowled over.

Encouraged by the positive reception, I wasted no time at all in forgetting all about programming and instead moved house, changed jobs, had a second child and fixed the new house because it turned out to be broken. Programming got filed under “Things I’d Like To Do When I Get A Moment”.

I’m now working on a new idea that I’m very excited about; in subsequent posts I’ll discuss it in more depth. Although I still don’t really feel like I’ve got a moment, I’m now making a conscious effort to create moments where previously I was eating, staring vacantly at the sky or playing Spelunky.