AVSEQ Out, Fallen City On Final Stretch

With AVSEQ having been released last week a few people asked me how we managed to make two games at once (because we are also making Fallen City for Channel 4 Education) and the answer is: we didn’t. Well, not really. AVSEQ was an existing project that Tom had produced before we began working on Fallen City, which he then converted to Unity (our development platform) with a front end menu and some more levels. Then it was down to me and James to offer some design tweak ideas (the precise way notes are unlocked was James’ idea) and then bend the difficulty into an entertaining curve.

Tom, it should be pointed out, is rubbish at it, and can’t get much past Agate. If you’ve beaten that level then you are doing better than the programmer who made it. To be fair, I could probably beat Carmack at Quake, too, so it’s in a fine tradition.

Anyway, the past fourteen months have been focused on Fallen City, which is now just at the final stages of its development. There are just bugs to squash, and then it’s done.

Where AVSEQ is an abstract test of reflexes, Fallen City genuinely is a puzzle game, but not one you’d recognise from any other genre out there, because on the surface it looks like a strategy or Dungeon Keeper or something. It’s a game about making city districts worth living in for their inhabitants, and they will react to their surroundings, like The Sims. But the challenge is more about figuring out the precise solution we’ve set up for the level. Sorting the place out and choosing the correct combinations of buildings unlocks the full level, allowing you to “complete” each level. The levels can be finished without completing them, however, and you simply score a lower percentage.

I should probably stress, for my RPS readers and others, that Fallen City is a free game aimed at provoking younger, school-age gamers into thinking about cities, so it is not a hardcore challenge like AVSEQ, nor a more serious work of procedural cleverness like the Lodestone stuff we’ve been working on. It probably won’t be anything like people would expect from us, but I think folks who follow my RPS and twitterings will recognise a lot of our key obsessions in there. Tea, after all, solves a lot of problems.

Here are some screenshots (click for full size):

Later in the week I am going to talk about what the plan is for the months following Fallen City. The one thing I will say now is that it’s not Lodestone. Well, not exactly. But you’ll be interested. I guarantee that.

Finally, we turned the blog comments off, please head over to the forum to chat to us!

Working On Fallen City…

Hello! We’re still working away on Fallen City. It’s been bumped back slightly to March 2012, but will still be freely available to play, and still be about little dudes in a city. Here’s a couple of images from today. Firstly the scene view in Unity, the tool we’re using to make the game, as we try to figure out the best configuration for sound effects across the level.

And here’s a shot from the game itself:

Click both for full size!

Brooms & Bird Flaps: Major Milestones In Fallen City

This has been a strange week to be developing a game about cleaning up a wrecked city full of angry people. Fallen City is our first (but not only) project, and it involves brooms, tea, anger, inspiration, and cats. It’s a commission by Channel 4 Education, who wanted us to create something which examined the value of living in a city. A British sort of city. That’s what we’ve done.

Fallen City is a place that has already been allowed to fall into ruin and dereliction. Its inhabitants are bored, frustrated, ultimately angry humanoid creatures, many of whom are so pissed off that they are in an near-comatose state. Others are boiling over with rage, and continue to destroy or block off parts of the city. The player’s job, then, is to find ways in which to dissolve this ennui and rage, to bring the city back to life from dereliction. Fallen City looks a bit like management games of old (perhaps a hint of Dungeon Keeper in there) but it’s actually a sort of puzzle game. Figuring which buildings to create from the ruins you renovate, based on the kinds of staff you have available, is the main challenge for the player. If you want sort out the problems in an entire district, then you’ll need to make the right decisions about what that area needs. Getting 100% out of a level means cleaning the whole thing up, and choosing the right skills to unlock all the abandoned streets and annexes.

(Click for full size.)

There’s a little more to it than this, however, because we tried to reflect the implications of things like Broken Windows Theory, and also everyday experiences about how people feel when faced with urban environments. Our little creatures – Angries, we call them – are hyper sensitive to ruination, and will become extremely miserable if exposed to too much dereliction and abandonment. Push them too far and their energy – their attention span – will fail, and they’ll retreat to somewhere they feel comfortable. They might need a bit of cheering up – through music and street performance, for example – before they’re ready to help out. By default the Angries aren’t particularly interested in anything, and a few of them are swollen purple with rage at the world, the world that has promised them so much and then denied them it.

Yes, we’re playing with some odd metaphors for a videogame, and that stuff is even more stark this week, but I think what we’re prodding has a few different layers. This isn’t just social, it’s also about the material, functional nature of what cities are: Machines for living in, battlesuits for surviving the future. Infrastructure, we’re arguing, is too easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be because it is bound together with making life liveable. The Angries need to bring their Idea Yards and the Curry Pumps back online if they are to remember why their city is such a valuable place, and how all the stuff it already has in place – its roads and pipes and cables – exist to look after them. We bring those unnoticed physical aspects of the city into focus, and allow the player to bring them back to life, and remember how and why they make life liveable for city-dwellers.

(Click for full size.)

We’ve done an enormous amount of work to get to this stage – as is evidence by comparing the most recent images above with a shot from the prototype, below – and I’m regularly breathing sighs of relief as the other talented Big Robot members and contractors make huge strides towards completing the game each day. This week alone has been a torrent of bird flap noises, exploding cats, weird goblin noises, and even minor moments of emergence.

This is the first game I’ve made since I tried to put something together with a chum aged 14, so it’s been quite an experience.

And, yes, it’s all come into sharp focus this week. A week of terrible events in real British cities, and week where our own Fallen City hit a major milestone. It’s a proper game, now, and there’s a strangeness to it echoing events in the real world. The issues we’ve been mulling over in cartoon, digital form have come into stark clarity, and that makes me hope that the game seems appropriate and interesting when it appears for you to download (free on the internet). If nothing else, we’re now working on something shockingly relevant, and that alone has made me want to get it just right.

You’ll find out more about that when the game arrives early next year.

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.