Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Utah Indie Night – January 2011

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 28, 2011

The new year has officially been rung in with a Utah Indie Night.  The attendance was good, though not up to the record levels we’ve had in the past. Maybe due to lack of pizza. This time it was hosted by ITT Tech, and while the student common area isn’t optimal, it sure was a good time.

Naturally, the buzz (or the self-deprecating jokes) this time was about the local 14-year-old indie from Spanish Fork who managed to unseat Angry Birds (if briefly) for the #1 slot for iPhone games. Ray Rackiewicz of ITT said that he’s using that as a motivational point for his students – if some 14-year old kid can do it, why not them? Why not any of us? I guess all of us were feeling a bit like we just got our butts kicked by a local 8th grader.  Maybe Greg can get him to come give the talk at our next indie night.

The evening started with a talk about Conversation Systems. Mark (I’m not gonna try and spell his last name) has been working at a company doing natural language processing for several years, and presented sort of a broad spectrum of conversation systems (and hybrids) throughout gaming history. In spite of his extensive background in NLP, his recommendations for the most open-ended text (or speech) parsing systems didn’t touch much on natural language processing other than to say it’s REALLY hard to do well.

He spoke on the purposes of dialog / conversation systems, their value in revealing information on the game world, NPCs, and even the player himself. He ran through the spectrum of systems from highly linear conversation systems (or linear conversations that are part of a larger hybrid), branching conversations, “branching with state” (popular in RPGs), topic-based conversations (highlighting Ultima IV and Blue Lacuna), simulated conversations, and then “blended” (or mixed) conversation systems.

He spent some time at the end focusing on modern conversation system implementations in Mass Effect 2 and Alpha Protocol. His final thoughts emphasized that nothing kills a game’s conversation system faster than poorly proofread text or bad voice acting, and encouraged games with a lot of text (Curtis Mirci of Califer Games nudged me when he said that) should consider writing a support tool to help manage the flow of all the text, and to allow others to help write game conversations.  And to always consider the costs – especially with voice-overs.

After that, it was time to play games. I had some great fun playing Califer Games’ Siphon Spirit – it’s a bit more impressive than the last time I played (which was something like a year ago).  There was a game about catching flies with chopsticks that was pretty amusing. Cannonball Ruins was a physics-based game in Unity about knocking things down in 3D with artillery. Always fun.

I was surprised to really enjoy an untitled game (which might end up being called, “Bizarre Tile Adventure“) which was part side-view action game and part puzzle game.  You had your basic running, jumping,  jumping on monsters to kill them type of action. But in addition, you had a limited number of tiles you could shoot to build up the level.  The tiles would go in a straight line in one of the four cardinal directions, and would “stick” against the first tile they ran into and form a permanent walkable surface. They’d also create a small, deadly explosion when they hit. The author (Chris?) said that the game has just evolved naturally from his experimentation with the XNA engine’s side-scroller starter kit, sort of a game-design-by-iteration type of thing. I love it!

Anyway, I had a delightful time, had some great conversations with fellow indies (always half the fun of indie night), and left feeling inspired. I really, REALLY want to work on a quick game — like in the Global Game Jam which starts tonight — but I can’t allow myself to do so until Frayed Knights ships. But it’s always a fun learning experience.

Filed Under: Utah Indie Game Night - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Califer said,

    Glad you enjoyed Siphon Spirit! We were hoping to have more beginning levels in but ran into a bug that took a day away from Peter.

  • Spencer L. said,

    Sounds, pretty neat! I saw that app earlier and thought nothing of it, but after hearing this…I am getting the app just to see what he made. That is incredible!

    One of these times, I ought to go to one of these Indie Game Nights…if only I could afford the time and transportation to get there.

  • vazor said,

    Thanks for the writeup!