The CHOICE CHAMBER Kickstarter is now LIVE! :D

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:D

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Choice Chamber – The Game That Everyone Can Play

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Hi

Whenever I get an idea for a new game, it’s usually wild, outlandish, not feasible, over my head, and then I don’t make it. There’s always something that stops me, whether it’s too done-before, it’s something not many people would be excited about, it’s something I wouldn’t be excited about, or it’s just too single player.

Wait, too single player? Is that really a problem? Aren’t some of the most compelling and celebrated games of all time single player?

Well yeah. But things are changing too fast. Technology is letting too many people in on the same world, and it would just be a shame to exclude others from being able to enjoy the same fun together. So instead of designing a single player game, I’ve gotten really excited about a multiplayer game. Not for 2 players, or 8 or 64, but infinite players, theoretically. The game is called Choice Chamber.

Choice Chamber is a side-scrolling action game that allows one player to control the main character, guiding him/her through a barrage of enemies, environmental hazards, and likely other dangers. The rest of the infinite players are watching this game be played live, while constantly giving feedback to help shape the outcome of the game in real time. This is all done through twitch.tv. Other than a player needing the game to play, the rest of the players watching don’t need any additional software or login outside of being able to chat in a regular twitch chat room.

The game is still in very early stages, but this is the general flow of things: A poll appears on the side of the game, asking the chatroom to vote for their top pick. After the poll closes, the winning entry is awarded to the player (for better or worse), creating a new poll to vote upon. Voting topics include what type of enemies to spawn, how dangerous rooms become, and even what major weapon the main character wields (the game doesn’t even begin until this has been decided). This goes on forever until greeted by a game over.

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blending in with the huskies

 

In the past there have been similar interaction games dealing with live streams, but none* of them allow the chatroom to directly influence decisions in the game being played. One such game is SaltyBet, a gambling game where the chat bets on which computer-controlled fighter will win in a match. Another is Spelunky Death Roulette, where players bet on how they think a Spelunky player will die in a given run. They’re very cool and certainly give players a way to feel more connected to the games, but again, they’re not changing any outcomes. And on top of that, they require the gambler to go to a specific website and have a separate login (for saving winnings over time). The convenient things about Choice Chamber are that you not only affect the fate of the game, but you also do so through the regular chatroom on the official website. It’s simple, and it works. For a while I thought this was a unique idea – that no one really thought about allowing people to control a game from the chat – at least, not until this morning.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a twitch channel called TwitchPlaysPokemon appears, allowing the chatroom to type out button commands, which are then inputted into a game of Pokemon. It’s becoming wildly popular, with 10,000 concurrent players and growing as of this writing, despite appearing no less than two days ago. It’s a beautiful trainwreck of subtle progress and chaotic choices. Because of the ~20s delay between chat input and stream output, it’s tough even for a small group of viewers to successfully navigate a game’s world, let alone thousands of players, many of whom have no intention of providing useful inputs. Needless to say, being able to interact with a game on a massive scale is a wild and untamed territory of possibility, a realm in which I look forward to taking part.

I’ve done a few Choice Chamber streams on my twitch channel, but there’s a good chance it may be appearing on other channels soon enough. As the game expands, you’ll be finding more and more ways to play, in multiple senses of the word. I do announce on Twitter when a new Choice Chamber sesh will be going down, so keep an eye there for any news.

Salutations

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12×27

For my 12/27 birthday, I asked friends on Twitter to draw me something tiny. Really tiny. 12×27 tiny. It’s small enough to not be intimidating, but also small enough to provide a challenge in representing something. I got over 20 tiny gifts throughout the day. They made me happy and I hope this becomes a thing. I also said I’d share them all, so here they are! :D (enlarged for detail with original as well)

lg_ari0ck ari0ck by @ari0ck (animated, too!)
lg_ArthG ArthG by @arthg
lg_bipolarmike bipolarmike by @bipolarmike
lg_dad dad by my dad
lg_dewclawpaw dewclawpaw by @dewclawpaw1
lg_gabesmed gabesmed by @gabesmed
lg_jonmcelroy jonmcelroy by @jonmcelroy
lg_jonmcelroy_2 jonmcelroy_2 by @jonmcelroy
lg_manojalpa manojalpa by @manojalpa
lg_manojalpa_1 manojalpa_1 by @manojalpa
lg_mcclure111 mcclure111 by @mcclure111
lg_mom mom by my mom
lg_mom_2_ithinkBits mom_2_ithinkBits by my mom
lg_mom3_bitsagainMaybe mom3_bitsagainMaybe by my cousin
lg_pobtfish pobtfish by @pobtfish
lg_pohungchen pohungchen by @pohungchen
lg_randompanda randompanda by @randompanda
lg_Seth4564TI Seth4564TI by @seth4564ti
lg_sheepolution sheepolution by @sheepolution
lg_skindy skindy by @skindy
lg_thehettingerk thehettingerk by @thehettingerk

Thanks to everyone who sent stuff in! You made my birthday special in your own tiny way. ♥

If you feel bad for not getting me anything, you can always buy yourself a gift in the form of Soundodger+ (50% off through Jan 3rd) or BasketBelle!

Happy new year and may you too find tiny things in life to light up your day!

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Soundodger+: OUT NOW!

Dear Internet,

Today my videogame Soundodger+ was released to the public. It was a labor of love that I worked on with 14 musicians for almost a year. It’s about moving through music and you should check it out. Here’s an orange circle with text in it:
getItNow
And here is a trailer that shows what the game looks and sounds like:

Also, here is a list of stuff in the game that I think you’d be interested in knowing:
– 15 musicians from around the world
– 23 original and licensed tracks
– 43 levels with hand-choreographed bullet patterns
– a full level editor for creating your own level for any mp3
– an auto-gen mode for quickly playing a generated level for any mp3
– 20 Steam achievements
– controller and fullscreen support

The soundtrack should be coming out shortly, so look out for that.

In the meantime, here are a bunch of links to give you even more info about the game:
Soundodger+ on Steam
Soundodger: the website
Me on Twitter, @onemrbean
Adult Swim Games, my publisher
Soundodger, the free web version from earlier this year

Thanks for being so cool about the stuff I make.

Love and Rockets,
-Bean

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soundodgerLIVE: Coming to IndieCade Night Games Oct 5th!

If you’re going to IndieCade Night Games this Saturday, Oct. 5th (2013), you should go check out soundodgerLIVE, a full-body spin-off I put together for one night only-ish! More info below:

UPDATE: Here are a couple videos put together by Joystiq and IndieStatik covering the event:

Besides that big ole Steam version of soundodger+ I’ve been working on since the web version launched, I’ve also been toiling away at a third version of soundodger, known as soundodgerLIVE! It’s similar to the game you know and love, but this time you control the player using your full body, and the game is projected onto the ground. This ends up bringing the game one step closer to where I was when I designed it in the first place. Though, it’s kind of like a warped image of what dancing really is, despite using your entire body. It’s kind of like how DDR has the word “dance” in it twice, but no one really dances when playing (aside from freestylers of course).

That aside, there were many technical hurdles involved with making this happen. Using a Kinect for tracking the body and a projector to get the game to appear on the floor were fine, but the game needed to accommodate all the subtleties of a human wanting to interact with something by standing on it.

To maximize the playspace, I zoomed in on the game, cutting the arena almost in half. This is great as the desktop versions have a lot of dead space around the arena. This also makes the bullets appear relatively tinier, which is great since things are so hectic when it’s your body.

To ensure enough people get to play in the 1 hour slot the game is getting, I made special versions of various songs to be 1 minute long (from ~3min), basically tripling the amount of total potential players in a given amount of time. It’s not quite long enough to get you tired, but it’s enough to give you a thorough taste of the experience. I also reduced the penalty time for getting hit, so your already-short 1-minute isn’t cut short by too much.

On top of all that, the projector needs to be aimed at you from a 45 degree angle. If it were suspended directly above you, your shadow would be blocking the exact spot on the ground you’d want to see. And since it’s aiming at you, the whole game needs to be rotated 180 degrees, as projectors should not be operated while upside-down (I think).

So aside from those technical issues, there’s the unchangeable fact that bodies don’t move the same way a wrist or thumbs do when playing a desktop game. For example, if you’re standing still and want to move to the right, you first have to shift your body to the left so you can raise your right foot. Then once your right foot is moving/in place, you then start to shift right. This delayed movement is reflected in your character in the game (the small circle), so you may have to unlearn how to properly move in order to beat the harder levels. I also wanted you to have to squat in order to use slow-motion, so your movement in the real world was slowed down as well. This proved tricky, as actually defining a “squat” differs from person to person (e.g. some people play the game with their knees bent to increase leverage). I ended up having the player raise their hand above their head in order to trigger the power. This is also how you select songs, so it’s all integrated together pretty nicely.

Here’s Disasterpeace himself employing his personal style of hoppy survival:

I originally thought the Kinect could only recognize human skeletons / shapes / etc. I was quickly proven wrong as our dog Koru stepped in and got 53% on the song “Daisy Wheel”, with a little treat bribing (watch the white circle follow underneath him):

Exciting! Hopefully I’ll see you there! :D

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Soundodger: OUT NOW!

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Soundodger launched today on Adult Swim Games! Thanks to everyone who has helped out over the months! It’s been a great adventure, and now that adventure is passed on to you! Go, play! Enjoy the sights, dodge the sounds, and have fun! :D

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Soundodger: Slowing Things Down

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Slow-motion used to be a really cool thing in games. I think it started with Max Payne’s bullet time, riding the success of the effect as seen in The Matrix. It allowed you to react to split-second decisiony moments while the rest of the game world was none-the-wiser. And then everyone did it. Even multiplayer games. It’s come to the point where slow-motion in games is included alongside the standard set of “power-ups” and “unlockables”. What was once a selling point based on inclusion alone has become a bullet point on the back of a box no one reads anymore.

So on that note, Soundodger has slow-motion in it.

You can actually use the slow-motion ability as long and as often as you want. However, as you begin to use it, you’ll quickly realize that it shouldn’t be used very much, if at all. Where most games will give you small tastes of slow-motion to enhance the experience, Soundodger presents you with the cold truth that slow-motion isn’t that great.

The game is one part dodging, one part observation, and two parts patience. Determination is also a factor, but not required. When you use slow-motion, the speed of the game is reduced to 10%. Things move so slowly it can’t be considered dodging anymore. When things slow down, playing a level goes from excitement and promise to casual and doable. That’s not to say it’s a worthless and demeaning power. Oh no.

If there’s a tricky section that diminishes your confidence in execution, slow-motion is just the right training buddy to help you get through it. That’s exactly what it is – an assistant, not a replacement for your skills. And as you begin to understand the simplicity behind a complex section of a level, you will eventually wane yourself off of going slow, craving the high from unprotected hand-holdingless play.

Besides, you can only play through the game if you gain points in available levels, and you do not score points in slow-motion. That’s probably the biggest deterrent from its use. PRO TIP, though: it’s possible to use slow-motion and not get penalized in the points department. “How?” you ask? It’s all a matter of understanding how scoring works. You see, points are gained when a bullet successfully exits the arena at normal speed. This means you can get away with a little slow-motion here and there if there are no bullets about to exit the arena. Spiffy!

slow-motion in action
For those doing the math, you may think that using slow-motion on a 3-minute song would take 30 minutes to play. This is a fantastic assumption, but is also inaccurate. The game may slow down to 10%, but the music only slows down to 50%. Why the disparity in speeds? Gameplay at 50% speed is still too fast and I found 10% to be just wonderful. However, when the music was slowed to 10% it sounded like absolute garbage. It was so far removed from “music” that I wouldn’t have trouble calling it plain ole noise. So I kept the game at 10% speed and brought the music back to 50%, which happens to reduce it by 2 octaves, keeping it a bit more pleasing to the ears than the rubbish granules of audio from before.

And then the mechanic designed itself.

Suddenly, bullets were being shot 5 times faster than before, relatively speaking. This increased firing rate flooded the arena with bullets, albeit slow ones. Upon termination of slow-motion, the player is presented with a wall of (now quickly-moving) impenetrable bullets – bullets that would not have been in that formation had slow-motion not been used.

At some point in designing the game, I needed a way to limit the player’s usage of the ability: a meter? a timer? a replenishable unit of use? No, no. In separating the speed of the game from the music, my meter created itself naturally through gameplay. It’s beautiful. It’s cruel. It’s the perfect way to make you not want to use it.

So on to the real question here: “Why did you even include slow-motion if you punish the player in multiple ways for using it?

Simple: To show you how amazing you truly are, without needing any help.

You’ll do great.

You’ll dodge it all.

I believe in you.

Soundodger is coming soon.

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Soundodger: From Squares to Circles

If you’re not familiar with pretty much my favorite Flash game of all time, that game is Squares 2 by Gavin Shapiro (a name I know only because it’s in the title). I’ve written about this game before, from the angle of how it’s basically a shmup without the ability to shoot. There’s something quite special about how simple the game is, and how easily it sucks you in. Maybe it’s the pleasure of dodging things. Maybe it’s the looping Daft Punk sample. Regardless, I fell in love over ten years ago. That’s likely when the seed for Soundodger was first planted.

In college, when I was in between render passes for my senior thesis (i.e. staring at a progress bar for 10 minutes at a time), I decided to make some small experiments in Flash. One of those was a game I shamelessly called Squares 3 (video above). It was pretty similar to 2, except I wanted the bullets to have more of a connection with the music itself. Since squares appeared from the edges in Squares 2, I simply “zoomed out” to show who/what was shooting at you. This became a train of enemies that slowly traveled around the perimeter of the playspace, shooting inwards to the beat of the music (a looping sample by MF Doom).

Taking the place of slow-motion in Squares 2, collecting 16 blue circles would put the game into a slower pace, allowing your aura to “eat” all of the bullets on screen. This would be the only way to score points, encouraging a score-chaser to wait for a full screen of bullets before collecting the 16th circle.

At some point between then and now, I became obsessed with street dance. Most of my attention was set on French identical twin brother duo Les Twins, who I had the pleasure of seeing in person last year. That flame was enough to fuel my interest in revisiting Squares 3 – designing a game about dance.

I removed item collection and focused solely on movement through space (i.e. dance), asking the player to merely move through the music. A looping sample would not do anymore, so I enlisted the help of a bunch of talented people (blog post here). Lastly, I made the arena circular instead of square, mostly because it’s easier to program, but also because it’s similar to a record playing.

And the rest is history. Well, it’s kind of still in progress. Soundodger is nearing completion, so you’ll be able to dodge the music soon enough!

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Soundodger: The Experimental Gameplay Workshop

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Soundodger had a great debut at GDC this year. It was the first time I ever showed it publicly, to more than a handful of friends at a time. I’d say about 5 months had gone by since I started it, my dog having the most exposure to it other than myself.

It was shown first at a press mixer at IGN, where it had a great reception behind closed doors. One guy sat down, picked the hardest level, and cleared it on his first try. I started complimenting his skills until he introduced himself as an employee at Q-Games, the company known for making quirky shooters for PSN and a few StarFox games. Cool guy. I also met one of the Indie Statik guys there, who has written up a beautiful preview of the game.

But onto The Experimental Gameplay Workshop, a 2 hour+ panel at GDC that people have generally found to be their highlight of the event. The line was forming over an hour in advance outside the room, anticipation certainly building. I had gone through numerous revisions of my 5 minute presentation, deciding to have the always lovely Chelsea play the game while I talk about how it came to be. After all, she was the most experienced in the game other than me and even helped with color schemes.

The entire panel was just amazing. I would have usually been really nervous leading up to the part where I talked (about 1.5 hours in), but I was just enjoying all of the games and forgot about fears. Then I got on stage and stared at a thousand people. There were plenty of technical problems and I went overtime, but that doesn’t matter.

There was a moment in my presentation. I stopped talking. I let the game speak for itself. Dubstep was playing. The beat dropped. The game stuttered in sync with the music. And the crowd of one thousand people began applauding and cheering. It was magical, I tell you. I don’t know if you’ve worked on something in silence for months at a time, only to have it received positively by a sea of strangers, but it’s a feeling I’ll never forget.

Here are some Vines from the event, captured from the audience during my presentation:

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Soundodger: Meet The Artists

musicAs soon as I realized a game like Soundodger would need a lot of original music, it became clear I would greatly benefit from the help of others. I mean, I could have created all of the music myself, but that would either have taken forever or ended up being a shorter selection of songs. Plus, I don’t consider myself that great at producing, fearing all of the songs would basically sound the same (see BasketBelle).

So one day I made a wish list of my dream team – the amazing people who, if combined, would create a dynamic and memorable soundtrack. The list specifically sought out those I’ve either met in person or have chatted with through this web thing, so there was some level of confidence they would all at least read my proposal. I pitched it as collaborative design – they on their instruments, and I on mine.

Lo and behold, pretty much everyone agreed (save for one person who is simply too busy. Your musical touch will be missed, but I look forward to what you come up with next)! I sent an early prototype of the game to everyone on board to best give them an idea of what they’d be crafting their music around.

They did their best to complement the design, while I designed to complement their sounds. The only limitation I gave was for the songs to be close to 3:00 min in length. Other than that, they were free to dream up anything to their hearts’ content. Some asked me if they could do what made them happy instead of what they’re used to making for others. Others asked me about making something different. Everyone was experimenting, not just myself. I think it turned out pretty great, to be honest.

Here is the official list of artists featured in the web version of Soundodger! Note that this is the artist list for the web version, releasing first. The desktop version will be bigger and better in all regards, including artist lineup, so stay tuned for that!

Some of these folks are good friends, some I kind of know from that one place that one time, and one of them is me. Some are professionals; some create music on the side. Some had never produced music for a game; some are veterans. But we all came together to craft an interactive album. An album of bullets that spray at you. That you have to dodge.

Soundodger. Coming soon.

Love, Bean

PS Here’s the teaser in case you missed it before.

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