April Update: Hello, Blimey. Fallen City, AV-Seq, The Bunker.

It’s been a while since we had an update on here, so I thought I’d say a few things about how we’re getting along.

Our Channel 4-funded project, Fallen City, is storming ahead (as you can see above) and we’ve now got our angry little chaps wandering about in cities that are part placeholder, part final art. It’s a lovely feeling to see the vision we had for the game being slowly filled in with the details required to make it real. The two artists we have working on the game are doing a great job, in spite of the strange brief we gave them, and the occasional problems generated by myself and James (my co-designer) really not being artists in at all. We’re also really getting to grips with bug-hunting, and okay, wow, we’ve managed to create, identify and (hopefully) expunge some exotic Ouroboros worms of design-meeting-code-meeting-design.

Fallen City, as I’ve mentioned before, is an educational title about appreciating cities. The tagline will be something like “Get The Fallen City Back On Its Feet!” That’s precisely what you’ll be doing. Turning a delapidated, abandoned city into something beautiful and alive. It’s a sort of a metaphor for reciprocity in living, in which you prod the resident “Angries” into tidying up the city and, ultimately, causing them to drop their cynicism about the place they live in. Having realised that taking care of the world around them means that the world takes care of them, the Angries become something else. Maybe not Happies, but certainly something less frowny. It’s an odd little game, but it’s starting to have real character, and I hope people will take to it.

Our impossibly industrious programmer and 3D graphics master Tom has also been putting the finishing touches to a project that he started way before Big Robot began flexing its pneumatics. That’s AV-Seq, which you can see an image from, below.

It is, as the title might suggest, an audio-visual sequencer game. Nodes fall from the top of the screen and must be connected according to colour and the detonated in the sequencer grid below. Detonations open up patterns within the sequences, which is based on the musical track that is playing underneath. The patterns create their own sort of melody over the top. It’s shaping up to be a fine musical puzzle game, and it’s already rather mesmerising. We’ll have more on this soon, I suspect, because it might well be our first proper release.

Much further away, in the realms of strange experimentation, we are producing things that look like this:

This is our other, more ambitious spare-time project. I am playing games like Stalker and Darwinia as part of my research for it. We’re designing clever, polygonal robots to live in it. It also has a name: The Bunker. This is our long term plan, and something that we’re going to have to raise money for to make in the way it deserves. It’s going to be the project that – in a nonetheless lo-fi indie sort of way – expresses my interest in open, living worlds, and also robots. Robot ecologies. More on that soon.

Big Robot Standing On New Horizons

If you really want to understand games, people said to me, the best way is to make them. They’re half right. The best way to understand making games, is to make them. Whether you understand games depends on what you are trying to do with them. For the past ten years I’ve been trying to write about them, and that’s gone pretty well, what with the book and the enormously popular website. But now it’s time for something different. I do want to understand a bit more about making games. I’m not going to be leaving my writing exploits behind – I’m not abandoning RPS – but I am going to be putting together games for the foreseeable future.

So what’s the plan?

Well, Big Robot will an independent studio run by me. Crazy, I know. I’m already working with James Carey, who RPS readers will remember from the Shotgunity articles, the Arma 2 script, and some community event organisation, and Tom Betts, who has long been a prolific experimental programmer, lecturer, and artist. Other creative types will be contributing as we go.

We have two projects underway, both of them being developed using Unity as our framework. But, uh, two projects? One thing at a time, surely? Well yes and no. Let me explain:

GAME ONE is a commercial project that we’ve pitched to an unusual kind of publisher. It’s a game about cities and people. A kind of Theme Park for urbanism and citizenship. It’s a project that encompasses my love of bossing tiny computer people around and my love of cities. It’s about writing positive futures, undoing dystopias, and generally making the world a better place. Due to contractual stuff Game One is currently sitting at a kind of pre-production stage. We know what will do, and some of how we will do it, but when we will do it is yet to be precisely nailed down. We’ll have much more to say about Game One in a few weeks time. It’s ludicrously exciting.

GAME TWO is rather different. This is an ongoing experimental project based on some ideas that I’ve collected from my years of playing and writing about games. It has elements of Stalker and Eve Online, it has robots, alien ecosystems, and procedurally generated worlds. It’s a game about exploration, survival, and tinkering. Having spent months discussing it, we’ve been working on Game Two properly for just a few weeks – with Tom doing some virtuoso coding – and I can’t believe how much progress we’ve made. It’s thousands of hours of work from being a game in any real sense, but already we’re beginning to see the prototype take shape, and our little world come to life. It’s a fairly ambitious project for a tiny group like us, but you might as well aim high. Game Two is going to an experiment to see what a small indie studio game achieve, and we’ll be blogging its progress as we go. I want to be open about what we are doing, and hopefully provide useful insights and tech we can share along the way.

Tom is planning to blog a little about some of the technology problems he’s faced and how we’ve integrated our ideas into Unity, too, so please bookmark us if you are interested in the ongoing development of both games.

More soon.