Last Mouse Standing

Download it from itch.io!

We made this game for the Develop Jam in 2017. The event took place at Develop Conference in Brighton and the theme was Risky Business!

We designed this game to work around risk & reward. A sleeping kitty at one end of the level guards increasingly high value coins. The players have a choice of running to the high value coins, but this gives them less opportunity to escape if the cat wakes up!

Since it’s a multiplayer game, we put in a mechanic where players can team up to scupper their opponents’ plans. By pressing a button to squeak at the cat, they can wake it up whilst their friends are deep in the danger zone – causing them to be eliminated! This adds a fun social element to the local multiplayer experience.

I wrote about the design in more detail over on my blog – follow this link if you want to find out more!

Develop Jam 2017: Risky Business

I was lucky enough to be part of the Develop Conference Game Jam 2017! The theme was Risky Business, since the Develop Conference is all about the business of games.

Talking the theme over with the team, we all wanted to go for a game design focussed around risk and reward – greater risks lead to greater rewards! Some of the first concepts were “Business Buckaroo”, “Tom Cruise Simulator”, and “What’s The Time Mr. Wolf?”

This last idea was the starting point for the game’s design. At one end of the level would be a threat, ‘the wolf’, and around the level would be coins – the higher value items being nearer the threat! Being closer to the wolf meant less chance to escape when it awoke!

We worked through some ideas around having the speed of player movement disturbing the wolf – perhaps the player had to creep? I was concerned how quickly we could relay this mechanic to the player, and the amount of time needed to implement a satisfying control scheme and camera for this.

I knew that that the game had to be very accessible and easy to pick up and play – the jam was being judged so we had only 3 minutes to sell it to the judges. We looked for ways to make the controls as simple as possible: ‘press A to move’ rather than full 3D movement. We quickly iterated over the idea of having a racetrack that the player travels around, to having the player move backwards when no button is pressed, as if on a bungee chord.

The other mechanic was to be awaking the wolf. We all knew we wanted to make a multiplayer game, so I suggested that this could be an opportunity to introduce a social element to the gameplay. The player can choose either to race to collect the high value coins, or they can choose to squeak and wake up the wolf if they see their friends getting close! We were all excited about the in room tensions this could cause among the players.

Finally, the control system was set down. We opted for button mashing rather than press-and-hold in order to keep the players moving, active and as engaged at possible!

This was the first game jam I attended with a 3D artist – Matt did a superb job of interpreting and animating Jules’ wonderfully colourful designs of a game of cat and mouse. Throughout the development we were frequently delighted and astonished by the quality of work they were putting out in such a small amount of time. I mean, just look at this sleeping kitty!

The jam went really smoothly although we made the error of getting a bit merry at the GI.biz party on the first night and getting to bed after sunrise. We only had a few opportunities to playtest and tweak the game feel, but I think we did a great job of balancing the systems. Jak coded a really robust system and spent the last hour of the jam cramming the control and feedback systems so full of juice his computer started leaking. Screenshake, particles, everything!

Meanwhile I was making sound effects and implementing them in the code base. I kept telling everyone how pleased I was with the musical system I implemented that mimics a Tom and Jerry creeping cartoon score as the mouse gets closer. It’s really funny and gives user feedback so that’s a win!

We all had a brilliant couple of days at the jam and need to thank David and Jo for organising, hosting and running such a brilliant event. They really made us feel welcome and were very patient and helpful when our equipment started breaking! It was great seeing our game on the big screen at the conference’s final session and we’re so grateful for our honourable mention – the judges said we had “a well designed risk mechanic and it was very polished”. We’re very happy with that!

Bleat The Wolf

Play it on itch.io!

We made this game for Resist Jam, a game jam that sought to unite game makers in a stand against fascism: to create games exploring issues around civil rights, freedom of expression and resisting the abuse of power.

Bleat the wolf is a political simulator set in a meadow. You must choose a policy from a list in order to woo the sheep over to your side of the field.

We hope that players will choose the policy they are most politically aligned with, but we built the game around this one key question:

Will you compromise your own values to win votes?

Since you’re presented with a popularity rating for each policy, the temptation is there to announce a policy to win votes rather than to set out your true vision for the meadow.

You have a strict time limit, and must watch out for the fox, spreading his newspaper and changing the opinions of the sheep!

Everyone on the team worked really hard on the project. It was an intense time, putting long evenings into game dev after our day jobs making games. Working again with Nat, Jules, Joe and Jim, I was reminded how lucky I am to work with such talent, and what it takes to make a game in such a short space of time.

I wrote about the game design in a little more detail over on my blog.

Please give the game a go! It’s not perfect, such is the nature of jam games, but it achieves what we set out to do. For this reason, I am incredibly proud of the work we put in together.

Toddle Topplers

Toddle Topplers is a furniture stacking game for two players. Players should arrange the falling furniture into a staircase, or other navigable shape, to reach the cookie jar at the top of the screen.

Made in two days for Ludum Dare 37. Play it here!

The theme for this game jam was “One Room” – quite a broad theme! My thoughts about what could be in this room covered a lot of exciting and ridiculous ideas, but none seemed to be very “room” centric. Most rooms have furniture, however, and furniture needs to be arranged.

Tetris block shaped furniture falls from the top of the screen, and players should arrange the furniture to a climbable shape. The original idea was to make a fast paced puzzle game, but the idea for a more chaotic, physics-based party game developed as the team worked on it. Features such as destructible furniture and toddler combat were dropped as the deadline approached, and I’m very pleased with what we achieved – especially since this was the first game jam for the artist and the developer!

The final hours of the project were spent tweaking the ‘random’ values of the item drops. Random factors were just too random, meaning that no matter how unlikely it was for larger items to fall (these were designed to get in the players’ way) they still fell too often. We rapidly tested and tweaked a set of values to limit the amount of larger items, and limit the total amount of items that could fall. From this point on, we saw far fewer players being drowned in a sea of bathtubs and unable to move. The game was improved.

I had great fun working with the team, leading the project, the design and working on the audio! Please do grab a friend and try it out – we put xBox controller support in just for you.

Toadal War

Download it from itch.io!

Created for the Rezzed 2016 Game Jam, this is a rhythm game for six players where players must tap their button in time with the music to avoid being thrown off their lillypad. Made in 8 hours, this was chosen as the winning game of the jam. You can watch me present the game to the judging panel below!

(Video starts at the start of our presentation)

I entered the Rezzed 2016 Game Jam with a couple of friends – it was an honour just to be accepted as a competitor. We were given 8 hours to make a game on the theme ‘flux’ with the diversifying themes as ‘waves’, liquid’, and ‘sound’.

I quickly came up with a game design about waves moving and triggering sounds, Jules interpreted the design as ‘toads on a pond’ and Joel fine tuned some of the gameplay elements – a game design was made.

I fell into my designer / producer role and scoped out the key features, before moving to audio design mode to write the music and sound effects. We presented to the judges the next day (see the video) and were awarded the grand prize of some posh new computers!

The judges liked how we’d made something that felt finished and polished in 8 hours. It was a real achievement to make something so small, whilst making it complete. We folded in a bit of feedback on UX and then put the game on itch.io, where it went to the #1 spot for local multiplayer games. What an achievement!

Dances With The Elder Gods

Download it from the GGJ Website!

A game made for Global Game Jam 2016, this is a mash up of the puzzle board game Mastermind and Dance Dance Revolution. Be the first to uncover the correct dance combination, or face the wrath of the Elder God!

This game was mentioned in the official Unity blog about the highlights of GGJ16!

This game was made as part of Global Game Jam 16. The theme was ‘Ritual’ and we spent some time discussing game ideas. I was able to merge ideas from our team of ‘repeating’ and ‘dancing’ into a design that mixes arcade dance games with the puzzle of logic and repetition, Mastermind!

Players have to guess the correct dance sequence to appease the Elder God. They have two bars of music to input their guess, then they get feedback on each move. They must remember the correct moves and discover the whole pattern in order to win!

At the end of each round, a loser is eliminated by the Elder God in the most adorable way imaginable. I have Jules and Kylie to thank for making the game look so attractive and Joel for the game development and amazing special touches (such as the wobbly speech bubbles).

There were a few theme modifiers in this jam, one of which required all of the audio to be made with the human voice. All the music and sfx use my own voice as a sound source, and I wrote the audio to this game alongside designing and producing it. Please download it over on the GGJ16 website!

 

Ludum Dare

Here are a couple of the first games I ever made – mostly solo projects for Ludum Dare:

Dystopian Scratchcard Thriller

play

A scratchcard simulator for the theme “Beneath The Surface”. I was trying to learn about ‘drawing’ on images to distort and distract them. Story written by my patient and supportive friend Joe.

Minimalisim in Art and Music as a Game

play

The very first ‘game’ I put online, anywhere. There’s a puzzle in there, somewhere, but mostly it’s a little toy I made on the theme of minimalism. Maybe, one of these days, I’ll improve the graphics and tighten up the rules, etc etc…

Bleat The Wolf


With the scary rise of populist fascist sentiment in the west, many of us are confused, scared and unsure how to act. An unusual opening line for a blog post about a game jam, but Resist Jam sought to unite game makers in a stand against fascism: to create games exploring issues around civil rights, freedom of expression and resisting the abuse of power.

I wanted to contribute a game to this jam, so I asked my friends Nat, Jim, Jules and Joe if they wanted to work together on a project. We all wanted to get involved and so we formed a team! I’ve worked with these people before and this unit is my game dev dream team – we had a great time working together.

One of the first things that surprised me about this game jam is that it encouraged us to discuss our political ideas and stances together as a group. I’m not sure about other countries and cultures, but on the South coast of England we don’t discuss the subject of politics in public very often. An opportunity to hear the opinions of your friends (and people overhearing in the pub) is really enlightening. Freedom of expression during a game jam brainstorm is not unusual, but the amount of learning that came from listening to other people in stage was notable.

Our discussion around the game jam brief was mostly political, so we were likely to make a political game. Inspired by games like Papers Please, we were looking for a game that gave players incentive to make decisions that were against their natural political opinion, to encourage players to look at issues from another point of view.

After brainstorming a few ideas, we ended up circling around the concept of playing as a politician and appealing to a crowd. Political margins are slim, and UK politics are all about appealing to the centre ground. I believe that most politicians are doing what they think is right, but they seem to contradict and betray core voters around election time, compromising their core values for populist policies. We thought that this area of politics might be fun to turn into a game, with the key question:

Will you compromise your own values to win votes?

In many ways it’s asking sympathy for the Devil, encouraging the player to empathise with a politician. Still, we hoped that by encouraging players to consider what politicians phrase as “difficult choices”, we’d encourage our players to me more aware of the pressures that underpin the nature of our democracy.

The first design of this game saw players operating sliders to adjust their policy, then broadcasting their stance to the crowd. All the characters were human at this point! A little bit like a game of mastermind, players had to tease out a policy that appealed to the broadest range of voters. This design lacked a little depth, so we came up with this idea of newspaper headlines that change the issues that the voters care about, forcing the player to adapt and respond. This essentially puts the player as a politician against the press!

Under the hood, each voter had a value from -50 to 50 as to their left and right political lean on each issue. Adjusting the sliders on our policy areas generated the lean of the player’s message. Through maths (kindly provided by Susanna) the voters moved towards the politician they agreed with most on a sliding scale.

There were lots of problems with this design. Firstly, most of our voters had to be centrist in order for our ‘message’ to work, and subtle changes to policy actually had very little visual effect on the crowd. Perhaps this version was too accurate a simulation! Additionally, explaining the UI, the notion of policy, the synchronous turn taking, the cause and effect – basically the whole game – was much harder than expected. We had key policy areas and descriptions, put players never really engaged with these ideas in order to win over the crowd, so we weren’t challenging the player’s values as intended. Time to rethink the game design.

During our brainstorm session, we’d had an idea whereby the player was given a statement and then asked how they wanted to respond. We realised that interacting with policy areas in this way was powerful, and we can feed this into our existing game design.

This led to the current design of the game – the player is presented with three statements, and has to choose the one they most agree with.

To make the voters more responsive, we changed the underlying mathematics so that they move toward the politician they agree with on the most amount of issues. There are 5 issues in the game, so if a voter agrees with the player on at least three issues, they will be on their side.

This solved most of the problems, but the voters were still moving around with some mystery. The player was just clicking issues and seeing a response – we wanted to challenge how willing they are to trade their beliefs for political gain. Allowing the player a little peek under the hood, telling them “55% of voters will agree with this”, lets them see how their choice might affect the game and makes them consider how strongly they believe in it.

The newspapers were kept in this design to mix up the voter profiles and force the player to respond to the changing whims of the crowd. These flip the opinions of a random set of voters on a certain issue – changing the public support for an issue.

At this point, the game still featured some nebulous concept of a political debate – there were voters, campaigners, newspapers… but no setting. We wanted an English feel to the game, so decided upon a village fete: a right wing speaker pitches up and you have to present alternative arguments. Upon seeing the field designed, we asked “What if the voters are literal sheep?” This gave us a unique setting for our political argument, and a name – “Bleat the Wolf”.

Having a farmyard theme meant we were ready to pin down our policy areas and ask Joe, our writer, to come up with some specific policies to challenge our players! Joe did a great job creating a mix of farrmyard puns, references and policies that make sense on the farmyard but have a place in the real world too. This made the game lighthearted and fun to play, but still fulfilled the aim of questioning the player’s political beliefs.

The final touches were added in pretty UI, animations, music and SFX. I wrote a function that causes the sheep to baa() every 4 seconds (I’m pretty happy about it) and we were ready to submit!

Everyone on the team worked really hard on the project. It was an intense time, putting long evenings into game dev after our day jobs making games. Working again with Nat, Jules, Joe and Jim, I was reminded how lucky I am to work with such talent, and what it takes to make a game in such a short space of time.

Please give the game a go! It’s not perfect, such is the nature of jam games, but it achieves what we set out to do. For this reason, I am incredibly proud of the work we put in together.

In case you’re looking to hire me, please can I highlight the two main imperfections of the game. 1) You really need to invest time to read all the cards before you make a decision, but the time limit is too short. The time limit was added to make you feel under pressure, like a politician, but it’s too much. 2) The newspapers appear at random times, rather than between rounds, and dismiss all the cards played in the round, often disappointing the player. We also don’t make it clear enough as to what causes newspapers to appear because we ran out of time to get the animation in. Game jams, eh?

Press here to play!

Dances With The Elder Gods: Global Game Jam

Last weekend was Global Game Jam, which very quickly became my favourite event in the game dev calendar. I’ve done Ludum Dare a couple of times and a few local site jams, but the sheer scale of GGJ – the feeling of being part of something so huge on an international level – was just amazing! Thank you to Jo for organising our local site and providing so many good vibes over the weekend (also thanks to Brighton Uni for providing pizzas!).

The game that my team made was called Dances With The Elder Gods. Take a look through the link or watch this gif!


The game is a mash up of two styles: Dance Dance Revolution and Mastermind. Players must find the correct combination of dance moves to please the elder god, alternately inputting guesses and watching the dancers to get feedback on their guess. It is a game of memory, ritual and watching cute characters get smooshed.

My wonderful team mate Joel beat me to the write up of the game, so I thought that for my blog post on the topic I’d focus a little more on the concept of our game and how we tried to make it fit into the jam’s theme of ritual.

The ideas forming stage is perhaps the best part of any game jam. The freedom to create ANYTHING you want, no constraints, just a spark of inspiration and a notepad soaked with ink. It’s easy to dream big, run with ideas as they come and discard them just as quickly. For me, the creative process is one of subtraction, not addition, so starting with big ideas and then refining is my favourite way to design. This jam has a theme, however. The theme of ritual.

We discussed many forms of ritual, from voodoo ceremony to superstition. I even drew this venn diagram to argue how closely linked superstition and ritual are!

The key ideas that we returned to over the course of our discussion were those of repetition and consequence. We talked about how ideas can be passed from person to person, through social compliance and tradition. We realised that this would be a great way to represent the theme in gameplay, a ritual being passed down and iterated upon. Originally esoteric comments and suggestions got condensed into more solid sounding gameplay mechanics until we realized that we’d just designed Mastermind.

The other thread that the ideas stage revolved around was that of ritual dance. Making a dancing game would be really cool, following the instructions of the ritual. Sticking these ideas together, a dance game where you must find the correct dance through deduction, was the idea that won the day. Perform a dance and then get feedback: ritual appears in the gameplay as players repeat moves (e.g. move 4 is always →). Rituals also spread amongst the players when played in multiplayer — as players copy each other, rituals are formed.

An early concept for the game had the dance and feedback given in real time, with moves having to be input on the beat, but this idea was still slightly nebulous. Condensing ideas to the scope of a weekend jam, compromises had to be made! With such a short amount of time to test gameplay and with player attention so short (assuming an audience of people browsing the jam website), the clearer we could make the game, the better. Likewise went our idea for a cooperative win condition where local players must decipher and pass the ritual amongst their group to please the Elder God, the game ending with all the dancers performing in sync.

I’m really proud of the game we made, which only works because of Joel and only looks awesome because of Jules and Kylie, so check those guys out. Making it in a weekend too, I couldn’t be happier!

See you at the next jam!