Hi, I'm Henry. In 2012 I quit my job as a programmer at BioWare to spend a year making my own indie games. This blog is about what happened next...

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GDC Prep

Short post today. I’m preparing a playable demo of Blabyrinth for GDC (the Game Developer’s Conference) next week in San Francisco. If you’re around and want to give it a try let me know and I’ll try to set something up!

Real Art!

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be working with Sam Ballard to make the art for the game. He's already started building surfaces, scenery and items and I’ll be integrating them soon. Here’s a sneak preview:

That’s it for now, but I’ll post again soon.

~ Henry

Generator to Maximum Power

It’s been a while since my last post so thanks for your patience! This year I'll make an effort to post more often, which will be easier as I get closer to launching Blabyrinth and have more to show. Soon I can also start showing real art from the game because I now have an artist! I’ll make an official introduction next time and showcase some of the work so far.

For now, in the game (and these blog posts) all the art is still placeholder.

The Level Generator is now building “complete" levels with all the critical components: treasure, an exit, secret sections behind locked doors, main puzzles, side puzzles, decorations, traps, and meta-game elements. There are still only a few examples of each thing. eg. ~6 puzzle types, a handful of decorations, etc. and at the moment the levels are quite convoluted and random, but it’s enough to start testing the game as a whole so I can make sure it's a strong foundation on which to flesh out the details.

Here’s the kind of content it’s generating now, presented as an abridged walkthrough.

Overhead map of the whole level, which won’t be seen by the players:

You start in the central room with the four torches.

Scattered throughout the level are a set of mysterious stone crosses with musical instruments engraved on them.

You also find a door with a keypad, with musical symbols on the buttons. Could they be related? … Yes, they could.

For this particular puzzle you need to count the number of symbols on all the crosses together and you’ll get:

The numbers correspond to the order of symbols in the keypad code, so the final sequence that will open the door is:

Behind the locked door you find more symbols on the floor and a fragment of a larger clue:

Combining this with other fragments hidden around the level will reveal the complete clue, “Two must walk North South North East from The Sigma”.

Phrasing is a bit awkward but the idea is that if two players move together in these directions in sequence, a hidden door will unlock. In this case "The Sigma” refers to a greek letter engraved into the floor of another room.

The hidden door leads you to the Treasure Room! But you still need to find the Exit and escape.

Elsewhere you find a lever that opens a portcullis (requiring two players to work together) and a red key that unlocks a red door.

Behind the red door is another clue:

Again this is badly worded. I’m experimenting with generated clues that sound “poetic”. But hopefully you get the idea. This clue refers to four jewelled items that can be found in the level and “Flower Sun Leaf Trees” indicates the four symbols on the floor found earlier. If you place a jewelled item on each symbol then another secret door will open: the Exit!

Now you all have to work as a team to carry the Treasure (which is very heavy) to the Exit and freedom. This will trigger the “end" of the game.

The whole process takes 5 or 10 minutes but the puzzles are pretty bare bones right now. Even so, tasks that seem simple can suddenly get a lot more complex when you have three or four people trying to coordinate while lost in a maze :)

Set Pieces

One of the ways I’m making the levels more interesting is by adding a few partially-handcrafted “set pieces” made up of scenery in preset arrangements. So instead of having a room with a random bookshelf in it, the room might become a Library. More examples from the level above:

  • An underground oasis
  • A throne room
  • A henge
  • A bridge over a chasm (which is only considered if the room has exactly two opposite doorways)

These elements can still seem out of place so the next step is to tie things together thematically by making the entire level feel more like a temple or a cave or a castle, or with some other unifying theme. And then if the items and clues can also tie into the theme then the levels should be much more coherent.

Family Playtest

Over the holidays I prepared a build to play with my family. There are still a lot of bugs so they only got through one full playthrough from beginning to end without anything going wrong. But they had several partial game sessions and I got a lot of good feedback. It’s clear that I need even more cooperative elements or it’s too easy for one player to act like an "alpha gamer” and boss the other players around. Or, just as bad, for two experienced players to go off on their own and leave someone behind with nothing to do. I already had a lot of planned mechanics to encourage cooperation but it seems like I should be forcing it in more places.

Random Gifts

In the spirit of the holidays I have few random game codes to give away to the first people to claim them! I didn’t work on any of these games but they’re all made by friends or local Montreal studios. If you’d like one just try redeeming it and if it works (ie. it hasn’t been taken) maybe make a post to let people know. And please be courteous and don’t take more than one!

Happy New Year spacefriends!

~ Henry

Full Production

Full Production

I took some time off to be with my new baby (pictures at the end) but now I'm back in full production on Blabyrinth. I'm so lucky to be able to work from home, and you're a big part of making that possible. So thank you!! I can work while mum and baby are asleep in the mornings and the evenings, and even though there are more interruptions during the day I've still been very productive.

The vertical slice is almost done and has revealed, as expected, several aspects of the design that needed rework or refactoring. But now I'm a lot more confident that all the systems will mesh well.

There was a lot of unsexy behind-the-scenes work so I'll regale you with a random assortment of tidbits:

  • Players can now be trapped, and then rescued by their teammates. This is just one way the game forces you to work together.

  • Photoshop's "Content-Aware Fill" has been really useful for removing symbols from placeholder art so I can add my own adornments dynamically. I'm working on a shader that will make the clue text or image look like it's engraved into the surface.

  • Related to this, I had to make a custom "Clue Region editor" so the game knows where to draw clues and identifying marks on scenery and items.

  • Having large libraries of scenery, items, and symbols means I have to do a lot of categorization/tagging so I can randomly pick an appropriate context-dependent thing.

    • Symbol tags are things like: simple, complex, linear, solid, connector, abstract, pictogram, animal, unambiguously-named, ...
    • Scenery tags are things like: can-stand-on, can-slide, can-be-ritually-touched, musical, engravable, landmark, can-see-contents, ...
  • It's important that players be able to return the treasure they find to the "overworld" when the game is done and store it in their personal collection. While building support for this I realized it was necessary to have two parallel worlds (only a technical distinction, not exposed to the player): one shared world when you're connected to other players, and one local world when disconnected. I have to perform some sleights of hand to keep these worlds consistent, and moving items between them is a bit tricky. But there's a special reason I need it to work this way and I think the payoff will be worth it :)

  • I'm experimenting with a simple "hands" UI for showing the item(s) you're carrying. Building good puzzles for two players involves splitting up clues differently from three or four players, so one of the ways I'm making things simpler is by letting you carry two items each in a 2-player game.

I'm still using temporary art (this asset has been great for prototyping and inspiration) but the game is getting to a point where I'd like to start looking for a real artist. If you know any 2D artists who might be interested in some contract work making lots of scenery and items for a top-down Indiana Jones-style treasure hunt escape room labyrinth, please send them my way! I'll post a full job description with details sometime soon.

Also the levels are very bare at the moment because I'm just including the essential elements needed for the core puzzles. The next step will be to generate each level with decoration, extra scenery, side-puzzles, meta-puzzles, a few custom handmade set pieces, and maybe some red herrings for good measure :)

Spaceteam news

I just updated Spaceteam to work better with iOS 11. If you were having Wifi connection issues on iOS 11 please try again with this update.

I'm working with Concordia to finalize the new versions of Spaceteam ESL and the French-language equivalent "Astronautes FLS". They should both be ready for launch in early November. I had a tricky time getting good French pronunciations for the phrases in Practice mode since I'm just using my Mac's built-in Text-to-Speech service. For reference to nobody but myself: I ended up using a combination of the Amelie, Aurelie, and Chantal voices to get it sounding right :)

The board game is back in stock almost everywhere (still working on cheaper shipping to Canada...). It's also starting to show up at some Barnes & Noble locations, so if you've been looking for it maybe you should check your local B&N store.

And finally, some pictures of Nori. She is now almost 4 months old!


Space out!

~ Henry