We Made a Game for TOJam 12 Called Blobber Basher!

Hello there! I'm Alina, a Toronto-based pixel artist and if you've been following what Spooky Squid Games has been up to lately, you've already seen my art in Russian Subway Dogs!

This weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the 12th annual Toronto Game Jam, my first game jam ever.

Expectations

Some of my expectations of what a game jam might be like had me a little nervous about signing up.

Having been with Spooky Squid Games for almost two years I have learned without any doubt that while game development can be fun and rewarding when things are going well, it has an equal potential to be gruelling and disappointing when something just isn't coming together. Why would full time game devs want the additional stress of developing a side project in three days' time? Or the disappointment of coming up with a promising idea and not finishing it in time?

At the same time, knowing that Russian Subway Dogs had itself started out as a jam game, it didn't make sense to ignore the potential behind rapidly prototyping a game idea. Who knows how far it can go one day! And hey, if it never goes anywhere big, at least you gave it a shot and learned something.

Jamming

Working under the assumption that most finished jam games are mere shadows of the developers’ original ideas, Miguel and I made a point of not planning out too much ahead of time.

Our basic concept was to make a local multiplayer, alien-themed soccer game with a sentient ball. We imagined the ball having a few different behaviours to add an unusual challenge for players, and also thought it would be neat to include a few different power ups that could drastically alter the ball’s behaviour.

I found it very refreshing to rapidly prototype the smallest possible version of our idea in contrast to how we usually work, which involves constructing and following a fully fleshed-out game design document. That's not in any way meant to knock the design document approach - if anything it's necessary for any large project - but it was very nice to get a break from that method.

A quick pixel sketch to establish the style for the game’s playable characters. The one on the upper right was inspired by the boot-shaped McNugget!

A quick pixel sketch to establish the style for the game’s playable characters. The one on the upper right was inspired by the boot-shaped McNugget!

I started out by doodling some ideas of what the players might look like. I tried to go as low-resolution as possible in order to simplify animation, but we went even smaller in the end!

 
 

To save on animation time and effort, I decided to give the playable characters a squishy bobbing animation that would be used both when they’re idle and “walking”. Miguel made their animation speed up in-game when they were moving and it looks surprisingly good considering how much time we saved on animation!

I also tried to give these sprites a little bit of directionality so that, even though I only made one set of animations, we could flip them horizontally in-game to make them face left and right.

 
 

Inspired by Snipperclips, one thing we wanted to experiment with was altering the characters’ facial expressions to give them a bit of personality when they scored. I’m glad we gave it a shot because it made a big difference, even though it meant I didn’t end up with enough time to animate any of the other playable characters.

This was our progress at the end of the second night of TOJam. The squishy “attack” pose is just us reusing the squishiest frame of the bounce animation!

This was our progress at the end of the second night of TOJam.
The squishy “attack” pose is just us reusing the squishiest frame of the bounce animation!

In the end, even though we went in with what we thought was a pretty simple idea, which we then pared down to what we thought to be its most basic, essential iteration, we still ended up having to go even more bare-bones than that! The current version does have a ball with very simple AI, but it does not turn angry, and there are no powerups to push it into.

Having said that, we still came out of this weekend with a small little game that’s fun to play!

Play it now!

Aftermath

Overall this was an extremely positive experience for me. One thing that was very helpful was partnering up with Miguel. Because we’ve been working together at Spooky Squid for almost two years, we definitely had an advantage thanks to already knowing how to work efficiently with each other.

Another big help was using tools that we are already familiar with! While there’s nothing wrong with using a game jam as an opportunity to learn a new language or software [Miguel: I used it as a chance to learn Box2D physics!], I felt I was much happier making stuff with an already established workflow. However, this is absolutely up to individual preference and your learning style!

Even though we didn’t get all of our initial ideas into Blobber Basher, we’re still excited about them and may be adding a few new features within the next few months. You can play the current version of Blobber Basher right now on itch.io.

This weekend was a lovely learning experience for me, and I would like to thank the organizers for all of the time and effort that has gone into making this year’s TOJam happen.


PS: If you’re in Toronto and wondering how Russian Subway Dogs is going, you can check it out this weekend (May 13th & 14th) in the Comics X Games section at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Comics vs Games + Spooky Squid Games = Crazy Busy Toronto Weekend!

Comics vs Games + Spooky Squid Games = Crazy Busy Toronto Weekend!

So outside of Spooky Squid Games I’m also part of the Hand Eye Society a Videogame arts and culture non-profit here in Toronto.  As part of that I started a project called Comics vs Games a couple years ago that keeps getting bigger every year. The third one happens this weekend as part of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and it is going to be madness. Here’s where you’ll be able to find me (Miguel) or the other half of Spooky Squid (Andrew) all weekend.

Saturday May 10th 11am-8pm at Bit Bazaar, Andrew will be manning our table which will have the new Russian Subway Dogs playable and a ton of They Bleed Pixels Merch

Saturday May 10th 12pm-1pm I’ll be upstairs from Bit Bazaar  interviewing XKCD’s Randall Munroe for Comics vs Games Talks live on stage. (Full talk description here) In fact I put together a full 7 hours of talks and panels that day with comic artists and game makers talking about the intersection of the mediums. Full list in the CvsG Talks program guide: http://handeyesociety.com/wp-content/uploads/Comics-vs-Games-Talks-2014.pdf

Saturday and Sunday May 10-11th at TCAF
Black Church Brigandage 2/4 player versus barbarian sports game I created with comic artist Andy Belanger will be playable at the Comics vs Games Showcase. This game isn’t available anywhere so it’s a rare chance to play it. Here’s a video of a 1vs1 match I played against fellow game dev Christine Love, however it really shines in 2vs2. It’ll be upstairs near the elevators at the TCAF main location along with a whole bunch of other games.  I’ll also be there most of Sunday if you want to chat or challenge me to match.

I’ll also be on the following panel talking about traveling in Japan with TCAF:

Sunday, May 11 12:15 pm - 1:15 pm
Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel - Google Map
TCAF International: Japan, England, and Beyond!
The Toronto Comic Arts Festival has been exhibiting on behalf of the Canadian Comics Industry and Canadian artists in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 2 years. In 2014 and 2015 we plan to head back to Tokyo, as well as other destinations around the world! Find out about our trips, what we’re hoping to accomplish, and how you as an artist or publisher can get involved.

So if your in Toronto and a fan of Spooky Squid Games, or just comics and games in general you should come out! Full info on Comics vs Games including times & locations here: http://torontocomics.com/comics-vs-games-3/

Live Pixel Painting at Toronto Long Winter with En Masse Tomorrow!

I’ll be painting (pixel art) with the En Masse collaborative art project tomorrow (Dec 13th, 2013) at Toronto Long Winter music and culture festival. If you’re in and around Toronto come out, catch some great music and watch me draw!  I won’t be the only game related person at the show, DrinkBox Studios have curated a bunch of indie games to play and I Am Robot and Proud from Sound Shapes will be performing live. Should be an awesome night.

This is actually the second time I’m drawing with En Masse.  The first was at Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku, Tokyo where I drew the 2-bit Clawed Girl you see in the photos above.  I had an amazing time, and it was one of the highlights of my 2012 Japan trip.

Want extra incentive? There’s a good chance I’ll be drawing something related to our next, as yet unannounced game tomorrow night!

Photo credits: Rupert Bottenberg, Jurie Manzarkowski

All Hallow's Eve Tea and Masquerade

If you’re looking for something to do in Toronto this Halloween may we suggest ALL HALLOW’S EVE TEA AND MASQUERADE at Bento Miso? They Bleed Pixels will be among several spooky local indie games available to play. Cover is $5 at the door. “Delightful drinks and tantalizing treats available for sale at the event.” All profits go to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

More info here: https://bentomiso.com/events/all-hallows-eve-tea-and-masquerade

I get back from my epic Tokyo trip the day before and will likely be in attendance, confused and disoriented by massive jet lag and so very afraid.

Spooky Squid Games at Fan Expo Toronto - Aug 22-25, 2013

We’ll be at Fan Expo in Toronto from Thursday through the weekend! Come play They Bleed Pixels and pick up some rare TBP merch including the super rare Little Black Envelope Edition pictured above!

We’re booth #2042 right across from Ubisoft in the South Building by a clump of other indie game folks including Capy, Christine Love, Onipunks, DMG Toronto and Bento Miso

More info on Fan Expo Here - http://www.fanexpocanada.com/

We’ll also be stateside at PAX PRIME the weekend after. More info soon!

Poster For Game Jam Documentary

Game Jam Documentary is a film being created by our friend Troy Morrissey who did much of the sound design work on They Bleed Pixels (under an insane deadline (Sorry Troy!)).  GJD is pretty much what the title implies: a documentary on game jam’s and jam culture.  You can read more about it here: http://www.gamejamthedocumentary.com/

When they launched an indiegogo campaign early in the films development they asked me to create a pixel art poster they could give out as a backer reward. I agreed thinking I’d have plenty of time to get it done after They Bleed Pixels dropped. I WAS SO WRONG!  The poster took A LOT longer to finish up then either of us expected, and it is totally my fault it’s late (sorry backers!). But it’s finally done! Troy will be printing ‘em up soon and sending them out to backers.

One subtle thing you might not catch is that each of the jammers has some sort of alter ego in the cloud of game sprites hovering above them. Some are obvious others are more subtle.

Spooky Squid Games on Electric Playground

Electric Playground did a bunch of indie games coverage this month and we got covered twice! Over the summer they visited Spooky Squid HQ (aka my home office) to film and talk about our games.

ep-squid
ep-squid

EP: Spooky Squid Games

They also covered the OCAD Start Show in September.  Around a minute in they interview me about Cephalopods: Co-op Cottage Defence. If your quick you can also catch Andrew and his kid playing the game in the background.

ep-start
ep-start

EP: The Start Show

If you're wondering about the big black squares around everything, it looks like they ran into a common gamemaker bug while capturing it at EP (If you're getting that bug at home, a good old reboot usually fixes it).   Lesson learned! After seeing that we're definitely going to be providing our own footage to journalists in the future.

Nuit Blanche Arcadian Renaissance

We recently had Nuit Blanche 2010 in Toronto, an all night event where the city is filled with all sorts of art, from gallery shows to huge building sized interactive installations. This year it also had an arcade thanks to The Hand Eye Society. Our game Cephalopods: Co-op Cottage Defence was one of the indie games exhibited.

There were six cabinets in all, each running an indie game made in part or in whole by people in and around Toronto.  Unfortunately the Osmos cabinet, a modified original Torontron, gave up the ghost and had to be reverted to it's standard set of games.

 
 

Cephalopods: Co-op Cottage Defence got a new arcade specific build, and (finally) a proper title screen.  I'm still doing some tweaks before I put the home version up on the Spooky Squid website, but the old version is still available for play.

A full shot of the cabinet complete with back lit marquee.

The arcade took place in an amazing space at the brand new TIFF Bell Lightbox Building.  The Lightbox was designed for film festivals which means we also had access to a huge projector...

...which was used for rounds of Everyday Shooter, Cephalopods: Co-op Cottage Defence, and a midnight Nidhogg tournament!

The award winning Nidhogg was our international guest game for the event. You can really see the size of the screen here.

Several of the cabinets will now be loaded up with multiple games and distributed around the city. Each cabinet is set up for different control schemes.  Shown here the 'one button' cabinet playing Silent Skies!

Mark Rabo from Gamercamp put together a great video of the event:

And the TIFF folks produced this one with an awesome packman soundtrack:

This was put together thanks to a huge number of volunteers and several generous sponsors.  Full list of games and everyone involved is posted on the Hand Eye Society Website.

START show and The Indie Showcase

If you've been following our twitter feed you know this has been the year of indie game events here in Toronto, the Hand Eye Society has ended up being wildly more successful then any of us expected and there have been a ton of side projects and events spawned by it. If you're in Toronto two events are coming up in the next few days that are well worth attending:

START

Tomorrow night (Oct 16)  is the gala event for START a celebration of independent games at the Ontario Collage of Art and Design. They've been showing a huge number of independent games from around the world all week in a great space on big projected screens.   We probably won't be there due to being in the last week of grant writing hell (Canada's grants are awesome. Writing hundred plus page submissions, not so much) but a new build of Cephalopod's Co-op Cottage Defense will be there and projected huge!  The space they have is amazing and it's well worth checking out even if you miss the gala.

As part of START the folks at Gamercamp put together this great trailer on the local indie scene.

It's part of a bigger project they're working on. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they make from all the interviews they've been doing.

The Indie Showcase

On Saturday (Oct 18) my friend Alex from Golden Gear Games is holding the Indie Showcase with live music, presentations from local indie developers, more games to play and, weather permitting, games projected outside on a 40 foot wall! Info on the event here.  We will not be attending, again due to what will by then be a full blown grantpocalypse .  However Night Balloonists and Cephalopod's Co-op Cottage Defense will be playable.

More events coming soon (and eventually more development vids I freaking promise!).

RGBfilter Interview

Been quiet on the blogging front for a bit, but not to worry we've just been busy on Guerrilla Gardening and some other projects. Here's a rather epic sized interview with the folks at RGBfilter that hopefully makes up for our absence. [blip.tv ?posts_id=3897684&dest=-1]

It was taped a few months ago, so I don't remember everything we talked about.  I know we touched on my not-so-mysterious origin story, the Toronto indie game scene, the inspiration for Co-op Cottage Defense and Guerrilla Gardening... oh and that pesky are games art debate crops up as well.

Spooky Squid at TCAF!

The excellent (and totally free!) Toronto Comic Arts Festival(TCAF)  is coming up this weekend.  Unlike your typical comic event this one is all about independent creators and small press comic books from around the world. It's also really big for an indie media event, taking up two floors of the Toronto Reference Library (Yes the one where Knives and Ramona fight in Scott Pilgrim vol.2).   Toronto's local indie games initiative The Hand Eye Society is setting up a booth at TCAF with a bunch of playable games and we're one of the participants. Here are the Spooky Squid Games @ TCAF specific details:

Read More

Gamercamp Success!

Despite the mysterious absence of the mighty Torontron, Gamercamp last weekend was a fantastic success. Andrew and I kicked things off with a short demo of Guerrilla Gardening and were followed by several hours of local indie hotness in the form of short demos and longer talks. Everything was caught on tape so videos of our demo should be up online soon.  Though I wouldn't be surprised if the organizers: Mark Rabo and Jaime Woo take a well earned break before getting that stuff up online.

Andrew and Miguel address the United Nations regarding their resolution for the deification of molluscs with bilateral symmetry.

Andrew and Miguel address the United Nations regarding their resolution for the deification of molluscs with bilateral symmetry.

After the disappointing corporateness of  this years Vortex Competition, Gamercamp was breath of fresh air, putting the artistry of games front and centre. I can't wait to see how it grows and matures over the next few years.  I may get my wish of a Toronto equivalent to Culver city's Indiecade yet.

The event's been well covered on local blogs, here's a little round up:

  • BlogTO - I'm totally flashing the crowd gang signs in their photo.
  • Toronto Thumbs - Wisely choose to show an image from Guerrilla Gardening instead of our ugly mugs.
  • A Couple of Gamers - Kindly described me as "looking like a hot indie dj" rather then "wild haired and unkempt, eyes filled with madness".

The Toronto indie game events for this month aren't over yet! The next Hand Eye Society Social is this Thursday (Nov. 26).   It's open to the general public as always and hosted this time by musical shooter artisan Jonathan Mak of Queasy Games.

Photo courtesy of the talented  Ryan Couldrey.

Torontron at Gamercamp.ca this weekend.

It's been  awhile since the last post.  Sorry about that. We've been busy getting ready for production proper and putting together a grant proposal. Night of the Cephalopods is now playable on the Torontron, an old retro videogame cabinet that was retrofitted by Jph Wacheski and some other folks in the Hand Eye Society to play a selection of Toronto indie games.  It's currently looking for a semi-permanent home, till then it's making the rounds of various local indie media and game events.  It already showed up at Canzine, and tomorrow (Sat Nov 20th) it will be part of the excellent looking Gamercamp event.   Gamercamp is set to have lots of talks and demos about games by local independent developers, including Andrew and myself who'll be demoing some new Guerrilla Gardening stuff.   The day ends with a freeplay retro arcade so the Torontron won't be lonely.

Here's a gallery of photos of the Torontron in all its retro glory:

The game with the two birds is Albacross, by friend of Spooky Squid Games Rosemary Mosco.  Since she wasn't available I ended up rigging it to work on the cabinet.

'Cephalopods Co-op Cottage Defence' and other AGI games released.

I've posted a few times about the current round of the Artsy Games Incubator and the co-operative game set in the world of Night of the Cephalopods I've been working on as part of it. Well all the games are now online and playable.  Other then myself all the games are made by first time game makers, most with little or no experience programming.  There's a real range, from simple reskins of existing games to small complete experiences built from scratch to promising works in progress that are just a taste of what will hopefully one day be a larger experience.   Go check them out!

As for the NotC Co-op game it now has a name "Cephalopods Co-op Cottage Defence" while it isn't feature complete (it lacks sound and a few other features) it's still very playable.  I've sat down with several testers over the last few weeks and we've always found ourselves playing 'just one more time' in an attempt to beat our last high score.

Cephalopods Co-Op Cottage Defence is a two player co-operative horror game with old school pixel art graphics that takes place in the same world as my previous game Night of The Cephalopods. Unlike NotC it's emphasis is on teamwork gameplay rather then narrative.

Lady Amber Pennyworth (scientist, suffragette, and researcher of the occult) and Winston Mainspring (her clockwork valet and lab assistant) have found their cottage lab besieged by foul eldrich octopi.  Armed with only a hammer and a fowling shotgun filled with low grade birdshot they must defend the cottage for as long as they can.

It should be obvious at this point that the game isn't the same as Night of the Cephalopods it's a lot more about game play and a lot less about interesting narrative techniques.  Don't worry it's not supposed to be a replacement for the new and improved NotC, it's its own thing. Though I'll be taking some of the stuff I learned making it and apply that knowledge to the new NotC.

Here's the description from the readme:

Lady Amber Pennyworth (scientist, suffragette, and researcher of the occult) and Winston Mainspring (her clockwork valet and lab assistant) have found their cottage lab besieged by foul eldrich octopi.  Armed with only a hammer and a fowling shotgun filled with low grade birdshot they must defend the cottage for as long as they can.

Anyway grab a friend, download it from the AGI page and give it a spin.  Let me know if you find bugs and feel free to comment with high scores if you think you've got an unbeatable score (once the game is feature complete I'll be adding online high scores)

Artsy Games and Spooky Squid this week at the Hand Eye Society Social

handeye3
handeye3

If you're in Toronto,  near Toronto, or filthy rich and own your own private jet, you should come down to the Unit bar (1198 Queen Street W.) this Thursday for the Hand Eye Society Social a free and public event for game makers and enthusiasts!

"Why?" you ask, "After all I'm only interested in games about militant gardening, tentacled mollusks with bilateral symmetry, or Luddite potatoes."

"Because we have a line up of games catering to your exacting taste!" I respond while quietly slipping a half brick into a sock 'just in case'. "You'll be able to play the games from this round of the Artsy Games Incubator featuring not only squids and  a tuber with an anti-tech agenda but also games with raccoons, criminally awkward breakfast conversation, stylish mountain climbing, and applying for arts grants!"

"I'm sold!" you respond while backing away ever so slowly "When does it start?"

"We'll introduce the games at 7:30, so show up a little before then so you don't miss it! " I responda little too enthusiastically, "if there's extra time I'll also be giving a quick demo of Guerrilla Gardening: Seeds of Revolution".

"I'll totally be there!" you respond as you make a break for the door.

"If you can't make it the games will be available soon on the Artsy Games blog where you can play games from previous rounds right now!" I call out desperately... but it's too late... you're gone.

Crafty Cephalopods and Other Miscellanea.

Check this out! My old housemate and friend Jen created this incredibly awesome 'tentacled monstrosity' amigurumi from my game Night of the Cephalopods!  I love how she captured the heavy brow and creepy yellow eyes. If you want to see my own much less cool Plasticine version of the same critter check out this old post on the excellent abootplay.ca, a great game blog that covers gaming culture of all sorts (from indie videogames to LARPing) across Canada.

While you're no doubt slavishly clicking on links I provide, I also recommend you check out the Fishdog game development blog which covers games made by indie creator Angelo Yazar.  I met him last GDC and he started his dev blog after checking out this one (neat!).  He currently has a steampunk themed strategy game out called Zepilin Nations on Facebook.  I avoid the dreaded Book of Faces so I haven't had a chance to try it out.  But it has zeppelins so I figure it's got to be awesome.

I mentioned in the last post that things have been extra busy, along with Guerrilla Gardening, there's been TOJam and I've also been running a round of the Artsy Games Incubator for the last month or two.  The AGI is a workshop started by Jim Munroe (creator of  Everybody Dies) where artists, writers and other creative types learn how to make games.  I  was a participant in round 3, and learned how to make Night of the Cephalopods as part of it.  Jim asked if I'd like to take on the task of running the next round which I happily accepted.  This latest round has a great crop of new games including my small co-operative Cephalopod's spin off game (it needs a title, any ideas? It has shotguns, hammers and stars a lady scientist and her robotic manservant).

Work in progress for un-named NotC co-op game.

Work in progress for un-named NotC co-op game.

The games will be playable at a public indie game event in Toronto soon  (announcement forthcoming) and the plan is to make them available on the AGI blog around the end of the month.

In terms of Guerrilla Gardening, I just finished a bunch of art for new plants that we're in the middle of implementing and  I'll be posting a new dev video early next week. If the slower updates are getting you down,  you can now follow  us on the Twitters !  You can also see the latest twitter update in the little box on the left side of the blog.

Toronto Indie Game Jam Arcade is Tonight!

Title Screen for Steam Ponk

If you live in the Toronto area and want to check out a bunch of neat indie games the TOJam Arcade is tonight!  As I've mentioned previously TOJam is an event where indie game developers, programmers, artists and musicians get together and try to make games in under three days.  I made a short video about it earlier this month.  The games are now finished (over 30 in total!) and the teams have had a chance to fix bugs and add a bit of polish and are presenting them to the public to play.  I collaborated with a great team of indie folks under the name "Invisible Ninja Squid" and both of our games will be playable at the arcade:

Flip the Beach a flash game that uses a fancy physics engine to combine pinball and tanks.

Steam-Ponk! A 2-player steampunk themed variant of pong for the Nintendo DS.

Directions and other info on the TOJam Arcade can be found on the TOJam webpage.

TOJam 4 Video Diary

Instead of the usual development video I decided to cut together this little mini-documentary of my experiences at the Toronto Indie Game Development Jam last weekend (May1-3rd 2009). It's about ten minutes long and gives a good overview of what it's like participating in a large game jam (hint: exhausting).

This TOJam I collaborated with a great bunch of indie game folks (some new some old) under the team name Invisible Ninja Squid (a mashup of our two team names from last year). We had a fantastic time and managed to create not one, but two games in the three day time limit!

The full team (with links to there respective sites) was:

Sadly while we had two Andrews, Andrew Pilkiw who's programming Guerrilla Gardening was unable to attend.

For more info on TOjam and to play games go to http://www.tojam.ca

I hope you enjoyed this departure from our usually scheduled dev videos. Don't worry if you didn't. In two weeks we'll return to the usual Guerrilla Gardening: Seeds of Revolution development video format.

T.O.Jam preview image.

The Toronto Games Jam blog has a new post about Guerrilla Gardening  with a brand new image that gives a little sneak peak of some things to come.   If you want to see it you'll have to Click the Link! T.O.Jam is a yearly event where local Toronto programmers, artists, musicians and sound designers meet up, form small teams and try to make finished games in a single weekend.  It's been running for three years and last year's was the second largest game Jam ever and the largest game jam to this day with a dairy based theme.  There are a ton of interesting fun games to check out from all three years, all free to download and play so it's well worth browsing around.  If you are local to Toronto and three days of back breaking game making labour sounds like fun the next T.O.Jam is set for sometime in May.

I'll be posting our next development video up Sunday night right on schedule, unless I'm set upon by wolves (a constant danger in the wastelands of urban Canada).  Based on feedback we're going to try something a little different, next weeks video will be shorter  and I'll be posting a second one half way through the month.  So you'll get the same amount of content as before but more often and in bite sized chunks.