“An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.”
>>INTRO TO MOBILE GAMING
From the definition above I can honestly say that over the course of my life I have been on numerous adventures. Whether it was hiking the Grand Canyon, jumping off of a high dive or getting married – all of these activities, and many others, have been exciting experiences that I will never forget.
Another kind of adventure that I go on a few times a week, and have done so since the 1980s, is to experience the unusual, and sometimes hazardous, activity that we all know as playing videogames.
No I’m not referring to motion-based games and the possibility of knocking something over while I swing my arms around to control whatever is on the screen ahead of me. What I am referring to are the non-motion-based games that are on desktop computers (PC/MAC/Linux), current-generation consoles (PS3, Xbox 360) and yes, mobile devices (smartphones, tablets).
In this regard, I can remember one of the first adventures that I took in gaming when I was a kid. It involved a pre-Game Boy, mobile gaming device known as a Tiger / Orlitronic Handheld or LCD gamepad.
Typically these gamepads were monochrome, had a “bleep-bloop-bleep” style soundtrack and every action on the screen was pre-rendered; meaning that every single frame was stored in these small devices so that no matter how you approached a certain section of the game, your character would always look and act the same at that position.
Having and playing an LCD gamepad (check the graphic above to see which ones I had) was an unusual experience because it introduced me to something that I had never tried before: mobile gaming.
I think back to those games from time to time, and I remember that for as many times as I played them, including all of the AA batteries that I burned through to keep them powered on, each of the devices did not last very long. But again, it was my introduction to mobile gaming and I’ll never forget it.
>>ENTER THE SPAWN…OF SQUISHY
Leap forward to today. The gaming industry, more specifically the mobile gaming industry has evolved exponentially. Apps have come to be, more and more disc-based games are being made available as digital downloads, high-definition screens, social gaming, crystal clear sound quality – it’s enough to make your head spin. And to top it all off, LCD games are a thing of the past. Or are they?
Enter Game of Watchcraft: Spawn of Squishy. Yes, that IS the title of the new, mobile title for iPad from Clicker Interactive which operates out of Melbourne, Australia.
Watchcraft is the first title from Clicker, but the duo behind the indie game development company is anything but new to the industry. In fact, Mr. Bill Trikojus (developer) and Mr. Shaun Britton (designer) are both Digital Media Design lecturers at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. So in talking with them about the game, I not only learned more about their company and the game, I also learned more about the industry. Here’s what I found out:
>>GAME DEVELOPMENT @ SWINBURNE
W2W: How did you get into game development?
CI: Both of us teach game-design at the University, and have worked in the Design industry for a number of years. We worked on many educational games within Swinburne, as part of a larger development team, so the idea to branch out with the two of us making commercial, mobile titles seemed like a great idea.
W2W: How did you become a University Lecturer on the topic of Gaming?
CI: We both taught our respective skill-sets in development and design at Swinburne, so when the University began to develop game-design units, we both used this experience to teach into the same classes. Our skills complemented each other’s work and provided the basis for a number of game units.
W2W: Makes sense to me. So then which games, and game development software, did you use to encourage your students to develop interactive experiences?
CI: We started out creating Flash games for web and CD-ROM, but soon saw the potential of Unity as a powerful game engine that could be quickly picked up by our students. Teaching Unity also allowed us to incorporate the 3D components of the course into the games and to publish to a wider range of platforms. Did we mention that we love Unity?
W2W: What key components of game development do you typically lecture on to your students?
BT: The semester tends to be broken into two halves: The first half is all about coming up with an interesting concept, writing the story, developing the style guide and experimenting with different game mechanics. When teaching gameplay fundamentals I often reference the work by Staffan Bjork and Jussi Holopainen on Game Design Patterns, which identify core game elements found in many games. Being aware of these patterns can help the students analyse their own games and identify problems such as Is the penalty for dying too great? Would the game be more fun with a timer? – That sort of thing. The second half of the semester is all about building the concept, so we focus on Unity, the code and the user-testing.
“The secret is to pace yourself.”
SB: I teach game-design aesthetics and narrative – designing characters and graphics for games and developing stories for game-play. I predominantly use Adobe Illustrator and Flash to develop characters and animations with the students. These programs are great for vector asset development, so it’s easy to control file sizes and make changes before the work is rasterized and moved through Unity or other raster software like After Effects. I still think there’s no substitute for the pencil and paper though, so my narrative and drawing classes emphasize this with lots of drawing and planning on paper before the work goes into the computer.
W2W: Are there common questions that are asked by your students on the Gaming Industry and about Game Development? If so, can you please provide some examples?
CI: Some examples of questions would generally be about employment prospects in the local games industry. We are also asked about what skills are needed to be successful in the games industry. Slightly off topic, but Kaye Elling has a very funny presentation that every game student should check out here.
“Attention to detial. It matters.”
W2W: Has it been difficult juggling being a University Lecturer by day and game developer by night? What has been the secret to making this arrangement work?
CI: We’ve been lecturing at University and working in industry after-hours for years now. It is challenging, but many lecturers do that to keep their design skills up-to-date and to keep tertiary education relevant and topical. The secret is to pace yourself, although this is not always possible if deadlines are near! Some staff work part-time or incorporate the industry work into their university classes. Students really benefit from seeing their lecturers actually produce work they teach about!
W2W: What type of classes do you teach at the University?
BT: I teach the new and advanced technology classes. In recent years, these have both focused on game development using the Unity game engine. The advanced technology class is usually combined with a group project Unit where up to 80 students work together to create a Capstone Project before they graduate. The projects have won numerous awards and include several “serious games” designed to have a positive, real-world impact.
SB: I teach character design and 2D animation skills, both in traditional and digital media. This includes traditional drawing lessons and digital inking. I also teach classes in story development and interactive and linear narrative. These projects include lessons on storyboards, animatics and story structure.
W2W: What is the game developer community like in Australia; i.e., are there a lot of developers where you are or is the community in it’s early stages?
CI: The community in Australia is small, but determined. Many of the large game companies have moved out of Australia since our dollar-value went up, and production in Australia became expensive. Since then, the indie games scene has grown, particularly in the development of mobile games. So the scene is relatively new, extremely creative and very inspiring.
There have also been some massive success stories come out of Australia; including Halfbrick Studios (Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride, Fish Out of Water) and Firemonkeys (Flight Control, Real Racing 3, Spy Mouse): the makers of some of the best selling games on the App Store. We were also lucky enough to receive some funding from Film Victoria; a government organization here in Australia. So there is quite a bit of support for those, like us, getting started in this highly competitive industry.
>>CLICKER INTERACTIVE’S WATCHCRAFT
W2W: What is Clicker Interactive and how did it come to be?
CI: Clicker is the company we started to team up and start developing commercial mobile games. The name of the company comes from the “clicker” people used to use to trick arcade machines into giving up free credits. The brand of our first set of games is called LCDemakes, and includes Game of Watchcraft.
W2W: What is “World of Watchcraft: Spawn of Squishy” and where did you get the idea for the title?
CI: The game is a retro “de-make” of a modern MMORPG game. We’ve deconstructed the modern, sophisticated game and redesigned it as though it were made in the 1980s, with the aesthetics and design constraints of that time.
We made sure we followed the rules, by using simple silhouettes for characters and allowing no overlapping graphics. The only colour in the game comes from the backgrounds, which used to be printed on plastic inserts behind the gameplay.
We tried to challenge ourselves by getting as much of the modern gameplay into the limited format as we could. We managed to get all sorts of adventure in there; including questing, fighting, looting and even riding a flying dragon mount!
The idea for the title comes from a mixture of the words “Game and Watch” and the title of the famous RPG game. “Spawn of Squishy” comes from the slang term for game characters who wear cloth. Magical characters like ours often have low hit points, making them soft and squishy.
W2W: Why make the game as a LCD Gaming Console? Do you first try other options? If so, what were they?.
CI: We’ve both been teaching Game and Watch style games at the university for many years. This type of game design gives students the opportunity to design simple characters in fun, compact environments. They are also great examples of level design and the development of clever game mechanics.
“Observation is the origin of all learning. Play like a developer.”
Because we were familiar with this style of game and (are) nostalgic about the original handheld consoles, we decided that making a modern, complicated game into its simple retro equivalent would be exciting and challenging.
W2W: Did you own (or do you still own) a LCD game? If so, what is it?
CI: Yes! Between us we own many LCD handheld titles; including Donkey Kong, Fire Attack, and Oil Panic. We also have other larger tabletop retro games like Popeye and Frogger and may eventually do some remakes in this style as well.
W2W: Do you have anything more to add about game development, lecturing or about Watchcraft?
CI: We’d just like to thank everybody for the overwhelmingly positive response to the game. We worked really hard on this and tried to put our love of games – both retro and modern – into a fun and engaging title. People have really understood what we are trying to do with these games, and have shared in this celebration of those original LCD handhelds.
Game of Watchcraft: Spawn of Squishy is now available for iPad. Download it today and start your own, retro adventure!
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