Monday, December 11, 2006

Casual Game Market and Pricing

In his Gamezebo article The Sky is Falling . . . NOT!, Joel Brodie talks about the higher priced PopCap Bookworm Adventures which sells for $30. But in the article he also talks about the expanding demographic of the casual games market and how many young adults and teenagers don't have credit cards or may not necessarily be able to afford the price of these games.

So how do we make it easier for this demographic to buy games? Some of Joel's suggested solutions include iTunes style gift cards, or a system to allow parents to top up online game accounts, or even selling games at a more kid friendly price.

These are all good ideas. And I believe it's an issue that will need addressing as more and more people are turned onto the idea of playing casual games - especially as games break out of the straight match-3 puzzle genre.

Check out Joel's article here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sound Advice

Work on the new casual game is progressing smoothly.
Here's a sneak peak from the game courtesy of artist Pete Mullins...

Recently I've been adding in sound effects to give the game some oomph and I thought it would be cool to talk about some of the resources that I use for sound.

The major sound tool I use is Audacity - a very nice and very free audio editing tool. I use it to capture my own samples recorded from my laptop, convert .wavs to .ogg file format, and to edit any freeware or purchased samples that need to be touched up.

Speaking of freeware - here are some great sites for free samples. And if you can't find a free sample to suit your needs you have the option of buying royalty free samples for bargain prices.

Flash Kit - is a flash developer site and has a selection of freeware, shareware and linkware samples.
Sound Dogs - has a lot of sound packs covering all sorts of samples starting from $9.95.

If anyone has any other great sites for music and audio samples please let me know!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

GCAP Weekend

This weekend I spoke on a panel at Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) entitled "Letting Designers Design". It was a fun panel that I shared with Chris Avellone, Matt Ford and Ed Orman and was hosted by Tony Reed.

But the real highlight was the Awards Night. The game I worked on, Destroy All Humans! 2, picked up three awards - Best Audio, Best Console Game and the biggie of the night, Best Game. The team should be extremely proud of themselves as they created an awesome game. Congratulations guys!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween Media Consumption

How cool is this? I'm featured in Gamasutra's Media Consumption on Halloween!

And speaking of Halloween, the exceptionally nice DOSBox Crew have made sure that Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage will run under Windows XP in the next release of DOSBox. This is pretty neat as Harry stopped working under Windows ages ago.

Friday, August 18, 2006

New Version of Word Shake Out Now

The latest version of Word Shake! has just been released across the Oberon-Media network this week.

This updated version includes a number of new new features such as eight trophies of achievement, an enhanced save system and an updated word list.

You can download the new version from Oberon Games right now.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Halloween Harry's 21st Anniversary

It's hard to believe it, but Halloween Harry turned 21 this year!

When I made the first Halloween Harry game all those years ago I had no idea that I'd be still making video games 21 years later. But here I am, so I figured I'd give you a little insight into the creation of the first game and follow up with some more entries on the other games later.

Most people remember the PC version of Harry released by Apogee back in 1993 but the very first game was made on the Microbee computer in 1985. The Microbee was probably the only Australian made computer system - sort of like a Commodore 64 but with a Z80 processor and no color. Still, the Microbee was sold to local schools and was a popular educational and home computer both in Australia and Sweden.

I wrote my first game called Chilly Willy (a Pengo clone) in 1984 during my high school Christmas vacation. I sent the finished game off to Honeysoft, the software arm of Microbee and they accepted it for publication. I was so happy that I sold a game that during my next Christmas vacation I set out to create a completely original game.

Inspired by Ghostbusters, the game was set in the 21st century and featured Harry, a Ghost Hunter, facing off against all sorts of evil across 13 levels. Essentially it was a platform shooter with some puzzle solving elements - set on a single screen. But rather than explain the back story, why not read the actual in game instructions that appeared on the start screen:

It is the 21st century and from this futuristic new world comes an exciting new hero:- HALLOWEEN HARRY!

As Halloween Harry, a fearless ghost-hunter, you have been assigned to destroy an evil witch that has taken over a 13 room building. You do this by collecting the magic item in each room, then escape through a mystical door.

There are 12 items to collect, ranging from a broom in room 1 to a cauldron in room 12. When all the items are collected you must confront the witch in the 13th room. The witch is protected by a magical barrier, so you must collect a padlock and a key (in any order) so that her defence is broken down...

Once exposed you may zap the witch with your trusty garlic-blaster laser gun, (which has 13 shots). 3 additional shots may be obtained by grabbing the bonus garlic. To make your task difficult, the witch has summoned up various ghosts and ghouls, as well as the dreaded dropjaws and zombie hands to destroy you!

Don't forget there's a time limit. It can be extended by the magic hourglass that appears when time is low.

Notice how I explained everything up front, even the ending of the game. Mystery and self-discovery wasn't something I had learnt in school at that point.

Each level had a different name, which was related to the special item you'd find in that room - and here they are:
  1. Magic Broomstick Closet
  2. Witches' Hat Room
  3. The Enchanted Chalice
  4. Pumpkin-Pie Room
  5. The Wizard's Library
  6. The Magic-Potion Pantry
  7. The Room of Wax
  8. Black Cat's Cavern
  9. The Crystal Ballroom
  10. Grandfather's Clockroom
  11. Yoric's Bedroom
  12. The Witch's Cauldron Room
  13. The Bewitching Hour
I initially drew the graphics on paper to get an overall look and feel. Then I used a tool called PCG Edit that allowed me to turn on and off pixels on screen so I could see the sprites as they would appear in game. I'd save the pixel data and include it in the game code.

I also used a simple sound editor to make really crude white noise effects that I used for monster and weapon sounds.

All up I spent around six weeks on Halloween Harry before I thought it was ready to ship. I saved the game to tape and sent it off to Honeysoft who happily signed it up. Then I spent the rest of the holidays hanging out with my friends doing regular kid stuff like swimming in the local river, riding my bike and exploring the local bush.

I had a ball making the game - spending late nights as a computer nerd cutting code while my parents shook their heads wondering what on Earth it was that I was doing. Even though I sold a game the year before I don't think they really quite "got it".

Making games was such an otherworldy concept back then that I didn't even talk about it amongst my school mates. How times have changed!

Anyway, I'm proud to have created something that has lasted the test of time and is circulating around the interweb in some form or other. Happy 21st birthday Harry.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Supa Nova Day 2

Well Supanova has wrapped and what a weekend it was.

I didn’t get much of a chance to check out the non-gaming side of things, but I did see some cool comics and toys during my brief walk around the expo.

One of the highlights of the day was attending Tommy Tallarico’s talk. I assumed it was going to be all about Video Games Live but he actually talked about so much other cool gaming stuff - including his thoughts on the next generation of games hardware. It was a really inspiring talk and he took time out to encourage people wanting to get into the games industry with some great advice. I was impressed with how approachable he was for a guy with such an awesome gaming pedigree.

The other highlights of the day included the concept art talk by Milenko Tjunik, Milenko is one of the concept artists on Destroy All Humans! 2 and he spoke about his art influences and gave some good advice to aspiring artists.

QANTM and Griffith University both gave advice on how to get into games, with Griffith focusing on games animation.

Lach Creagh, the other DAH! 2 concept artist and lead animator gave a great talk on animating for games. He showed off lots of examples of character animation and had heaps of useful animation tips. In fact I learned so much in the 30 minutes he spoke that it should have been compulsory attendance for designers and programmers.

I hosted the “All About Game Design” panel and along with the audience got to ask a series of designers some hard-hitting questions. The panel consisted of Craig Duturbure from THQ, Arash Mohebbi from Pandemic Studios, Penny Sweetser from Creative Assembly and Joseph Hewitt from Auran. Each of these designers has worked on a variety of games on different platforms and in different genres.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with the 2nd Game Trivia Quiz. Again, the game developers just won the day despite their atrocious skills in Mario Kart on the N64. But the five audience members did an awesome job in answering some tough questions and kicked ass in Mario Kart.

And finally, we concluded the day with the prize draws. The passport competition winner scored 21 games and other collectable swag, and the Art Competition winners each won a pack of cool games.

Each Queensland games company did an awesome job contributing to the prize packs with loads of Xbox, PS2, PC and Nintendo DS games up for grabs - so a big thanks to THQ, Pandemic, Auran, Krome, Halfbrick, Creative Assembly, Fuzzy Eyes and Dimsdale and Kreozot (sorry if I missed anyone).

Oh, and a big thanks to all the people who took time out of their weekend to man the Pandemic stand - Christie, Mick, Andy, Shane, Kirsten, Kieran, Ben, Peter, Mark and Rob - great work.

Hopefully next year will be just as good.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Supanova Day 1

Supanova day 1 has come to an end - and what a day!

For those of you who don’t know what Supanova is, it’s a pop culture expo featuring comics, sci-fi movies, fantasy, anime, collectable cards and for the first big time this year, video games.

Some of the guests included Summer Glau from Serenity, Richard Taylor from Weta, Tommy Tallarico from Video Games Live and John Schneider from Smallville and The Dukes of Hazzard.

This year was the first time that Queensland game developers joined forces to show off their stuff. Pandemic Studios, THQ, Creative Assembly, Auran, Halfbrick, Fuzzy Eyes, Krome, Griffith University and QANTM all had booths at the show. And there was also representation from Dimsdale & Kreozot, Gridwerx, KaWoW, Wildfire Studios and the IGDA.

I was on the Pandemic booth for the first three hours of the show and we had so many people drop by it was just insane trying to keep up.

One of the big things that we’re achieving from being at Supanova is educating people about how big and successful the Queensland games industry is. So many people were unaware that killer games like Destroy All Humans! and Total War were made here - but not anymore.

So, on to the highlights!

The “Passport” competition was extremely popular. The rules were simple - get a stamp from each of the 10 booths at the show to enter a draw to win a bundle of 21 games donated by local developers. The pack included Destroy All Humans!, Full Spectrum Warrior, Mercenaries, Total War, Spongebob, Trainz and more.

Shainiel Deo of Halfbrick spoke about making games for handheld platforms.

Leanne Taylor of Pandemic Studios gave a talk on writing for games. She’s been working on Destroy All Humans! 2 and gave some insight into why writing for games is different to writing novels.

Tommy Tallarico was showing off cool footage of Video Games Live, a great event that will be coming to Australia this year.

The concept art competition was a huge success with dozens of entries in all age categories. The winning entries were judged by artists from Pandemic Studios, THQ and Creative Assembly and each received a cool prize pack of games. The ultimate winner got an extra special prize - time with one of Destroy All Humans! 2 concept artists to learn the secrets of the trade.

The afternoon also saw the Developers vs. The Audience video game quiz in which members of Pandemic, Auran, Krome, Creative Assembly and Halfbrick battled it out with audience members in a game of Mario Kart and some video game trivia. It was a close call, but the developers won by a single point! We knew the color of all of Pacman’s ghosts. But we sucked at Mario Kart.

Well, tomorrow is another big day. We have a designer panel, a discussion on game audio, how to get into games talsk, as well as presentations from concept artists and animators. Plus we have day 2 of the Concept Art competition and the Games Trivia Quiz.

Should be awesome!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Casual Games On The Go

If you’re a casual gamer and want to play some great games on the go then look no further than the Nintendo DS. Out of all the consoles the DS is shaping up as the ideal casual gamer machine.

But if you don’t have one yet then wait until the DS Lite is released in the next few months. It comes in 3 colors, including iPod white, and has been physically redesigned so that it looks less like a toy and more like a “grown up” accessory. You won’t feel embarrassed pulling one of these out of your briefcase or handbag. It’s also slightly smaller and lighter plus it has an awesome screen that is so amazingly vibrant when compared to the original DS. Oh, and it uses a touch screen so it’s second nature to anyone who uses a mouse - so don’t worry about having to learn to use a joypad.

But the hardware is secondary, what makes this a great machine is the games. And for the casual gamer you’ll find a huge collection of stuff with lots of appeal.

First up is the granddaddy of puzzle games, Tetris. The DS has built in wi-fi, which means you can play against people in the same room, or if you have net access, against people from around the world. In fact a lot of the games have some form of wi-fi multiplayer functionality that really enhances the gameplay.

Next up is Nintendogs, the virtual puppy simulator that inspired the casual game Puppy Luv. It’s a simple concept - you look after a virtual puppy teaching it to do tricks and taking it for walks. Because it uses a touch screen you can pat the puppy on screen with your finger or stylus. The DS also has a built in microphone so you can also give your puppy commands by voice.

For fans of match-3 games you can choose Zoo Keeper or Pokemon Trozei. And because the DS uses a touch screen these games are right at home on the machine - just drag and swap your jewels using the stylus.

If you’re a Zuma, Luxor, Tumblebugs, et al, fan then the upcoming Magnetica will keep you happy. This is an update on the classic 1998 Puzz Loop game that inspired the current batch of match-3 looping ball games.

And if you want something a little different, then check out Animal Crossing. A whimsical game in which you spend your time growing fruit, catching insects, buying furniture and running errands in a small town populated by animals.

Then of course there’s Brain Age. Full of tons of mind-bending puzzles to test your intelligence it also features Sudoku. The idea is that by doing quick reading and mathematic exercises everyday you’ll stimulate your brain and reduce your “brain age”.

I’ve only touched on a number of games on offer and there are many more that are so different to what we’re used to seeing. A few examples are Phoenix Wright in which you play a lawyer, Trauma Center where you play a doctor performing surgery, Electroplankton where you stimulate plankton to make music, and Rub Rabbits where you try and find true love.

Like casual games, all of these titles are great for people with limited time who don’t want to delve into a 20 hour game experience. You can play for ten minutes a day and still feel like you’ve achieved something. And the best part is if the phone rings, or the bus arrives, or the baby cries - you can just close the case and the machine goes to sleep - ready to keep playing when you return. Incredibly convenient!

But what I’m really interested in is whether there will be much of an exchange between the Nintendo DS and the casual games market. There are so many interesting things being done in both spaces that could easily transfer between the two. Here’s hoping.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Project M-3

I’m well into development of my next Casual Game and things are progressing a lot faster than I had anticipated thanks mostly to an existing game engine and tools.

And while I’m still not the best programmer in the world, I find that when I get a spare hour here or there I can switch straight into game programming mode a lot faster than I did when making Word Shake!

Plus, it’s amazing how much work you can do when you give up TV.

So, what’s the next game about? As I mentioned last post, it’s a match-3 puzzle game. I know I know... there are hundreds of them out there. But I think I have something a little different - a game play twist - that separates my game from the rest of the pack.

And what about the theme? Well, it’s a tried true theme for games. In fact there have already been a few casual games with the same theme.

Yes, shiver me timbers, it’s a pirate game!

Although the game is 2D I’m using a lot of 3D rendered art. Here’s a sample:

Unlike Word Shake! the new game is story driven with a strong original character. Most of my earlier games have always been character driven, such as Halloween Harry, Amazon Queen, Jaruu Tenk and TY the Tasmanian Tiger.

So, the new character is a pirate, but what is he or she going to look like? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

How New Is Too New?

Word Shake! has been on sale now for almost 3 months and the response has been good. This is particularly encouraging when you consider that it isn’t on the major portals yet. The game mechanic in Word Shake! is different to the other word games on the market - the majority of which are inspired by PopCap’s “Book Worm”. There’s nothing wrong with taking an existing idea and adding something new - in fact I’m doing this with my next game due out later this year.

But what Word Shake! has demonstrated is that players are interested in trying something new. So the question is “how new is too new”?

One of the great appeals of casual gaming is the game setting. The theme has to resonate with the core demographic - which is why you’ll find an abundance of games with themes based on Ancient Worlds, Pirates, the Orient, precious gems, the Wild West, the natural world, etc. It’s rare to find a successful casual game based on hardcore science fiction or Dungeons & Dragons inspired fantasy that fuel their console cousins. Casual game themes have universal appeal and it’s no coincidence that casino slot machines use these themes as well.

The current landscape for casual games is littered with many “me too” games. But I think we can explore different game styles and mechanics without alienating our audience so long as the games have a level of familiarity. And the easiest way to achieve this is by sticking with tried and true themes.

The next few years in casual gaming will be very interesting indeed. I think we’ll see a number of developers embrace new and interesting game play mechanics, but still keep their games in the realms of familiarity. There’s still a huge number of play mechanics and styles yet to be tapped - and I’m sure there are a number of players out there just waiting for something new (but not too new!).

I’ll definitely be striving to do something different with my upcoming games... but after I finish my current match-3 project first :-)

Monday, February 06, 2006

So You Want To Be A Game Designer? - Jan 28th, 2006

...but have no experience.

Unlike programming and art, game design is a difficult area to break into. This is due to design being one of those skills that is hard to demonstrate. There are a lot of courses that deal with game programming and game art - but finding a good game design course is difficult.

The best way to learn is on the job - but it’s a catch 22 situation. Unless you have experience it’s hard to be hired - and usually the best way to get experience is to work for a game developer. So, if you want to be a game designer but have no experience what can you do?

Create a Portfolio

Like most jobs, the best way to show that you are good at something is to have an example of what it is you do. Game design is no different.

You need to be able to demonstrate that you can:

  1. Communicate an idea in a clear and concise manner with no ambiguity.
  2. Come up with game designs that fit a given theme.
  3. Design a playable level or feature of a game.

1) Communicate an idea in a clear and concise manner with no ambiguity.
The best way to do this is to create some sample game design documents. Check out the Design Web Sites links below for more information on how to write a good game design document.

An overview game design document is more than enough and can be under 10 pages. Remember, keep the design document brief and to the point.

2) Come up with game designs that fit a given theme.
Create sample game design documents that demonstrate you understand the game’s theme and that you know how to use this theme in the design. If the game is an FPS set in Ancient Egypt make sure that the weapon design reflects the theme. A Staff of Ra, for example, would be a better weapon design decision than a shotgun.

3) Design a playable level or feature of a game.
The most important thing you can do is to demonstrate that you know how to design a great game. The best way to do this is to make games - and these do not have to published games. Don’t fret if you have zero programming knowledge or art skills.

The more examples of completed playable game demos you have the better. These can be simple card games and board games (made from paper and cardboard), levels from Unreal, Quake or any other first person shooter, Real Time Strategy game missions or skate park levels from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It doesn’t matter what they are - the more you have, and the greater the variety, the better.

If you’re using an editor to make a level, plan it out on paper first so you can demonstrate your thought process from idea to implementation. Focus on creating a good single player level with an interesting scenario and interesting encounters.

If you’re making a paper card or board game, don’t get hung up on pretty graphics. Just text and simple shapes are fine – it’s the game design that matters! Don’t forget to write up some simple and concise rules to explain how the game works.

In Summary

Write sample game designs.
Make games.
Read about game design.
Play games.

Again, I can’t stress the importance of creating a portfolio of work, even if it is unpublished. The majority of game design applicants I see rarely have sample design documents or sample demos. If you have these then you’re way ahead of the pack.

Useful Resources

Books to read:

Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping and Playtesting Games by Tracy Fullerton
Game Design Theory and Practice by Richard Rouse III
Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design by Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams

Game Design Sites: – great resource on making games. - article on writing game design documents. - another article on writing game design documents.

Programs, Tools and Resources:

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 – both have a built in game editor that allows you to build your own skate park.

Blitz3D, BlitzPlus and BlitzMax – these are easy to use programming languages, ideal for getting a simple game prototype up and running in no time at all. BlitzMax and BlitzPlus are ideal for 2D while Blitz3D is great for 3D games.

PopCap Framework - visit to join their program and download their programming framework. You need to know the C programming language and you’ll also need a C development environment. - site dedicated to game editors for Half Life, Half Life 2, Unreal and Quake 3. - Unreal Editor links site. - a list of links to game creation utilities. Some require no programming knowledge at all. - check out the Free Stuff section for examples of simple card games for inspiration.

How To Make A Game In 6 Easy Steps - Dec 27th, 2005

With all the talk about escalating game budgets for the next generation consoles and how hard it is to bring your game to market - especially an original IP - I thought it would be an interesting challenge to make a game in my spare time. The result is a game called Word Shake that I developed over the last nine months. You can check it out here:

Word Shake is a Casual Game. It has nowhere near the complexity or graphical finesse of a regular console game but it’s still a game. And people are buying it. And those that buy it like it (it’s free for the first hour, so you get plenty of time to work out if it’s a game you want to own).

So, how did I do it?

One thing that made it easy for me to build the game was the fact that I can program. I’m not the best in the world, but I’m reasonably fast and can get my ideas on screen. God forbid if anyone was to look under the hood! But my code is stable and it works. But if you’re not a programmer then don’t let that stop you from making a game. Go out and find one - especially one that wants to make a game. They’re not too hard to find.

Anyway, let’s go over the steps I took to make the game.

First of all you have to free your mind of any preconceived conceptions of what a game is. For me the thing that makes games such a wonderful medium is their diversity. Soccer, tic-tac-toe, chess, Halo, patience, Monkey Island, rock-papers-scissors, Resident Evil, Simon says, Go Fish, hop scotch, Grand Theft Auto, Tetris, I spy with my little eye... these are all games. Each game is as valid as the other.

In order to pick a genre I took into account the limited resources I had. I needed a game that:
a) could be done over nine months with an average of three hours a week spent on it,
b) could be delivered on a platform with tools that are cheap (or in some cases free), and
c) was a game that I would enjoy playing.

I love puzzle games and I love word games. I also wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before, so I chose to do an anagram based word game.

Let me stress that my reasons for choosing this genre wasn’t born out of the desire to make loads of cash. That would be nice, but I wanted to make a fun game that was unique and that I would enjoy playing.

There was only once choice for delivery platform - and that was Windows. There are no licensing fees and there are a ton of cheap and free tools for budding game developers.

Like most people I have extremely limited time. I have a family, a day job and a social life. So I set aside certain times such as early in the morning before my baby daughter would wake and during the weekend. I made sure that these times were used as productively as possible... however I probably surfed the web a bit too much early on in development.

I wrote a spec for the game and made sure that I kept the feature set as small as possible. This wasn’t going to be an epic RPG or a graphics intensive action game. Although I was making a game that I wanted to play, I was also aware that it had to appeal to fans of word puzzle games, so I did a lot of research into this area. I discovered that these games generally appeal to women over thirty.

There are some wonderful tools and engines out there that are cheap or free. I started out using Blitz Basic ( but moved to C when PopCap released their framework for free ( I chose PopCap’s framework because it’s easy to use and is rock solid - games built with their framework have been downloaded millions of times.

As I was building the game I used placeholder graphics that I made myself. I replaced these with professional art as the game neared completion. If you require a nice little 2D art package you can’t go wrong with Pro Motion which is a bargain for USD $29.95 (

For sound effects I purchased a Mojo Audio sound pack from Garage Games ( and made the rest myself using the incredibly versatile and free Audacity sound editor (

This is the hardest part of making a game. Actually doing it.

One thing you have to understand is this: doing 2 or 3 hours a week is better than doing nothing. Within 3 weeks you will have done over a full days work. Never underestimate how much you can get done in the shortest amount of time. Remember, every journey is made up of many steps, but if you don’t take any steps you won’t go anywhere.

With Word Shake I quickly built a prototype to make sure the core gameplay worked. Once that was done I began building the rest of the game. I used my badly drawn programmer art to create menus and the user interface. As the game solidified I passed these on to Pete Mullins, an awesome artist, to create professional copies that I could use in my game. I also used Pete Dodemont, a local musician, to create the music for the game.

All the time I used friends and family to test the game to make sure it was fun and bug free. Finally, after many months, I had all the elements in place and deemed the game complete.

But it wasn’t all over yet. I still had to get the game to market.

I built a web site called Casual Games Arcade ( to sell the game. I used Microsoft FrontPage and hosted the site with IX Webhosting (

To handle the e-commerce side of things I chose TryMedia ( They have an extremely easy to use secure digital distribution package called ActiveMARK which all major Casual Games publishers use. After packaging and uploading the game it was tested and finally approved for release on the TryMedia affiliate networks. The game was now available for people to buy. And buy they have!

But that’s not the end. Now it’s an ongoing job of marketing the title and making sure that people are aware it exists. As I explained this is a niche genre and there is plenty of work to be done to make sure that these potential customers are made aware of the game. But that, my friend, is a topic for another day!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them here.


Writing For Games - Oct 2nd, 2005

This week I've been consumed with the subject of writing for games.

On Wednesday I was on the judging panel of the Fantastic Queensland's Writing for Games competition ( with Shainiel Deo and David Grant. Together we reviewed the five finalists who pitched their original game concepts to us. I was really impressed with the quality of their pitches - each one was cool and it further cements my belief that Brisbane is the hotseat of Aussie game development.

On Sunday I had the honour of giving a workshop titled "Writing for Games" with Gordon Moyes and Darren Baker. This was part of the Brisbane Writer's Festival ( held this week, and the workshop was a lot of fun. Gordon is the Development Director at Pandemic Australia (
and Darren is the co-owner and Technical Director of Wildfire Studios (, the creators of the hit casual game Tumblebugs (

On the subject of writing for games, having a staff writer is a bit of a rarity in the games industry at the moment. But having experienced the huge response to Destroy All Humans! (a game that used a professional writer) it's apparent that this will have to change. If you want to make a Triple A game, you'll need quality writers - the same way that developers realised that if they wanted fun games they needed dedicated game designers.

The time when the game script is handed over to a junior programmer or tester to write isn't over yet - but it soon will be.

Thank Heavens Someone At Nintendo Played EyeToy - Sep 18th, 2005

Congratulations are in order to Sony for shaking up Nintendo. My guess is that their cool new controller for the Revolution system was inspired by the hand gesture interface from Sony’s EyeToy. But what Nintendo has done is take the concept of a game with an easy to use interface and extend it to an entire system. It’s a smart move.

And I love the design of the controller. It takes design cues from in-flight entertainment controllers (the ones that allow you to play Tetris) and adds motion control. The other thing that I love is that Nintendo has actually managed to simplify the controller so that it has even less buttons than the average TV remote. It’s so simple and so inviting. Compare the Nintendo Controller to the Xbox 360 DVD remote and you wonder why Microsoft had to add in so many buttons! Especially when the average person mostly uses the play, stop and menu navigation functions.

The other thing I love about Nintendo is that they realize there is a huge market for console games that is yet to be tapped. When Sony started with PlayStation they realized that the market for games could extend beyond Nintendo’s kid market. It’s ironic that now Nintendo is in that position and is trying to reach the “everybody” market. It’s a market that exists and is being serviced by the casual game makers on PC and Mac - and it’s growing at an incredible rate.

And of course Nintendo are deliberately making a system that is cheap to manufacture and hopefully cheap to develop for. If this results in lower priced games that are fun to play then they are definitely on a winner.

While we’re talking about new systems, I have a few words of advice to those developers who want to make photo realistic games. Hire a professional director, hire a professional writer and cut your game trailers like you would a film trailer.

I had to endure the nine minutes or so of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots trailer. As a PS3 demo it was amazing to watch, but as entertainment it was incredibly tedious. Games should entertain. After about two minutes the average person won’t care how many polys are being pushed or how realistic the lighting looks. They have movies on DVD that look slightly better. They want to be entertained. It’s amazing how quickly people get used to stuff - the majority of what we’re seeing come out of TGS this week will be taken for granted next year.

I’m sure the official MGS 4 trailer will be cut like a movie trailer and will inspire me to want to play the game. I hope so. I don’t just want to battle my way through a Zelda dungeon swinging my remote/sword around like a maniac - I would like to play some old school controller games with realistic graphics too.


Ferry Halim - Aug 23rd, 2005

If games were movies then Ferry Halim would be Miyazaki.

His games are a sheer delight. They are beautiful to look at, a delight to listen to and a joy to play.

Each game simply drips with class.

So what are you waiting for? Go play. Now!

They're Back And They're Free - Aug 14th, 2005

Half a decade ago I designed and programmed two experimental "game" titles. We called them Screen Opera back then - sort of half games/half screen savers. A year or so ago I released them as freeware for anyone and everyone to download and play with.

Unfortunately the download links were inactive but luckily I just upgraded to IX Web Hosting and now have massive amounts of web space to play with. So now I am hosting them on my site where they should remain until the end of time :-)

The two titles are "The Chronicles of Jaruu Tenk" and "Halloween Spirit Board". Both represent my foray into AI and living worlds and both were done completely out of love on a part time basis (ie. for a zero budget and with extremely limited resources - I did all the game coding, design and writing, while Steve Stamatiadis did all the graphics and Tony Ball did the 3D renderer). Looking back at them now I wonder what we could have done with a bigger budget, a proper schedule and a design that included actual gameplay.

Still, I'm quite proud of the results that we achieved and hope that they can serve as inspiration to other budding garage game developers out there. Just five years on there are so many more tools and resources that have made game creation a whole lot easier!

If you have time to check them out, please do and let me know what you think.

In the coming months I'd like to dig into my giant grab bag of IP that I own and see what other interesting games I can upload now that I have the space. I'll keep you posted :-)


Game Design Master Class - Jun 23rd, 2005

I presented a game design workshop as part of the IGDA Brisbane Chapter Master Class on Sunday, 19th June 2005.

It was the first in a series of Master Classes organized by the local chapter and it was an amazing success. Prior to arriving on Sunday I knew we had 24 RSVPS to attend. I figured maybe half of those would be interested in design, but just in case I printed off 30 copies of my class notes.

Boy, did I underestimate the gaming community in Brisbane! I don't have the final numbers, but early estimates are that between 70 and 100 people turned up for the afternoon sessions that covered design, art, production and programming.

Just yesterday I was told that Queensland represents 45% of the Australian game development community - which is the highest percentage concentration of game developers in the country. Of course, you learn not to trust such statistics, but after Sunday I'm inclined to believe it. When I began making games in Brisbane in the early nineties, you could count the number of developers in Brisbane on one hand (of course, when I wrote and published my first game in my hometown of Kyogle in 1984, you could count the number of developers there on one finger!). But now there are over 400 individuals in Brisbane who earn a wage making video games. Small fry compared to San Francisco, but pretty impressive none the less.

Anyway, the workshop I did was inspired by a GDC workshop that Eric Zimmerman gave a few years back. I have to thank Eric and the team that day for opening my eyes that little bit wider. It's great to make games and still be able to learn new things.

If you want to check out the workshop I gave, you can download it here:

Basically it's all about creative brainstorming. The idea is to get people to take a popular game like Battleship and redefine it by changing the genre and some rules. What happens is that people are free to think outside the box and end up creating some interesting game play mechanics they normally wouldn't if they were thinking about wartime battle ships.

We had a lot of great game ideas on the day, ranging from medical emergency games to zombie horror games to a romance game in which you try and woo the girl of your dreams by presenting her with chocolates, flowers and long walks on the beach. They sound strange, but they actually work. And all of this was created within an hour.

Now that I've seen the thriving community we have here in Brisbane, I can't wait to do another design master class. This time I'll come prepared.

By the way, feel free to use the workshop material. I'd be interested to hear what sort of games you come up with.


What John Did Next - May 27th, 2005

Well, it's official.

This week I joined Pandemic Studios Australia as their Creative Director.

I can't talk about what we're working on yet, but I can tell you that I haven't been this excited for a long time!
But don't worry, when I can let you know, I will.

Anyway, here's the press release:


Brisbane, Australia – 27 May, 2005 – As a part of the continuing expansion of their Australian operation, Pandemic Studios announced today that game development veteran John Passfield has joined the Company’s Brisbane office as Creative Director.

“Pandemic Studios is one of the hottest game developers in the world right now, and I am very excited to be a part of the team,” Mr. Passfield says.

“With Pandemic’s recent string of critical and commercial successes, the Studio is looking forward to taking advantage of a number of exciting new opportunities,” comments Pandemic CEO Andrew Goldman. “As a first step in this effort, we’re thrilled to have someone with John’s experience joining our team. We are confident he’ll provide essential leadership as we expand our Brisbane studio and open a number of new development positions.”

With more than 20 years of experience, John is a founding member of the Australian game development community. Most recently, he served as Design Director for Krome Studios, a company which he founded in 1999. He was also the creator and lead designer on the TY the Tasmanian TigerTM series published by Electronic Arts. In 1992 he helped to establish Interactive Binary Illusions and was later a founder of Gee Whiz! Entertainment, where he oversaw game design, script writing and story creation as well as conducting the original programming on several games.

With its critically acclaimed title Destroy All HumansTM, published by THQ® Inc. (NASDAQ: THQI), releasing this summer, Pandemic is commencing work on an exciting new slate of titles and offering job opportunities in several areas of production. To review a listing of open positions and to apply, please visit .

About Pandemic Studios
Pandemic Studios is one of the world’s premier developers of entertainment for Playstation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and the PC. Over the last seven years, industry veterans Josh Resnick and Andrew Goldman have steadily built the company into one of the largest independent developers in the world, with studios in Los Angeles, California and in Brisbane, Australia.

An established reputation for releasing the highest quality entertainment and cutting edge original content has allowed Pandemic to work with major licenses, recruit the world's best development talent, and cultivate strong relationships with the industry's leading publishers, including THQ, LucasArts, Electronic Arts, and Activision. Pandemic's fully-fuelled creations are splashed across the covers of every major gaming magazine and have earned numerous awards and accolades for their graphical expression, technological innovation, and compelling gameplay.

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Australian Game Industry Under Threat - May 15th, 2005

The May 12th 2005 edition The Sydney Morning Herald has an article on the Australian games industry. Here are some quotes from the article, entitled “ Australian game industry ‘under threat’ ”:

"For our industry right now it's either fly or die," Evelyn Richardson, president of the Game Developers' Association of Australia (GDAA), said. "We don't have much time."

“The GDAA is calling on the government to inject $A50 million over three years into the Australian industry to help it compete against game producers in Canada, eastern Europe and Asia.”

"For the new Playstation 3 and Xbox 2, project budgets are expected to soar to $US15 million to $US20 million and employ 120 full-time staff for two years."

The crux of the report is that without government help the industry will be swallowed up by big multinationals.

Give me a break.

If the industry can’t survive without government help then it doesn’t deserve to survive.

The article might have had some merit if every game produced was a Triple A title for the PS3 and Xbox360. You know, like how every Hollywood film is a special effects laden $150 million blockbuster. But it’s not like that. The games industry includes budget and triple A handheld games, downloadable casual games, budget and triple A console games, online games, budget and triple A PC games, edutainment games, web games, mobile phone games, etc, etc. I see plenty of potential for smart local developers to pick their niche and make a good living at it. Just like Hollywood, not every filmmaker is a Spielberg or Lucas. And hey, if you want to make a blockbuster then go for it, but you have to start somewhere.

The other thing that irks me about the article is the assumption that every Xbox360 and PS3 game will require budgets of $15 to $20 million. Good luck trying to convince a publisher that your super addictive puzzle game is going to cost $15 million to make. And if you don’t think there are going to be super addictive puzzle games on the Xbox360 or PS3 then you’re smoking crack.

But hey, let’s go with the assumption that puzzle games have been made extinct. Let’s assume that the average Triple A golf game costs around $8 million to make (not counting Tiger Woods’ fee), do you really think that pumping up the polygons on the trees, courses and golfers is going to cost an extra $7 million? If you do, then you definitely are smoking crack.

Oh, and why do you need 120 full time staff to make a triple A game? Hello? Hasn’t anyone in the games industry heard of outsourcing? There is no way that each and everyone of those 120 staff will be fully productive from the first day until gold master.

I’m not saying that the Australian games industry isn’t under threat. In fact, I think it is. The threat to the Australian games industry isn’t the large multinationals or lack of government funding. No sir. The biggest threat to the Australian games industry is the Australian game development companies.

You see, a lot of these companies have grown organically over the years and, believe it or not, many have never made the transition to become real businesses. So many companies are badly run and hemorrhage money like you wouldn’t believe.

If Aussie companies want to compete successfully in the world market, then they have to pull up their socks and start acting like real businesses. They need to change. And soon.

Here is a short (and by no means complete) checklist of things required:

· Management with people skills who understand that treating staff with respect is just as important as treating publishers with respect.

· Management that know how to run a business and have accountability.

· Management with the guts to bite the bullet and fire staff who aren’t productive and are hurting morale.

· Producers with people and scheduling skills and the ability to delegate tasks.

· A great company culture that starts at the top. A culture that values the work they do and strives to create the best game in the world, even if it is a pre-school kids TV show license.

· Outsourcing. Seriously, if you want to make a triple A game, then it is not good business sense to have huge staff on the payroll. Not only is it financially risky, but you’re also creating a culture where people really are just a cog in the wheel. Have smaller, smarter teams that communicate well and outsource the grunt work.

Well, that’s my opinion. Let me know what other things you think Australian developers need in order to compete on the global stage.


Pure Sexy Performance - Apr 16th, 2005

While on a recent trip to Hong Kong, my beautiful wife got me an early birthday present. A Sony PSP.

I knew the PSP was sexy, but actually owning one and getting to spend time with it hits home just how cool it is.

What I like about the PSP and Nintendo DS is that they both do the same thing - play 3D games wirelessly - but they both do it differently and they both do it well. I really believe the future for both handhelds is strong and I'm looking forward to playing more great games on both systems.

But, back to the PSP. The battery life really surprised me. It has more staminia than I have when it comes to game concentration. So far I've not had any fears that the system will run out of juice - even on long flights. I guess the knowledge that I can buy a spare battery to keep around in case of emergency makes me feel better. And I know that Sony or some other third party will release a Super Stamina battery in the next year or so. The graphics and that screen are gorgeous. I got the same feeling watching and playing Ridger Racer on the PSP as I did all those years ago watching and playing Ridge Racer on the first Japanese import Playstation for the very first time. Pure magic.

But not only does it play games, it also allows me to view my photos, listen to music and watch movies. And transferring video is easy - click here for instructions:

And I haven't even got to playing games wirelessly yet. I can't wait until it's released in Australia and more of my friends have one. Then we'll be able to race, fight and adventure together.

A beautiful wife and a Sony PSP - how lucky am I?

Making Games Is Fun - Mar 18th, 2005

It’s so good to be back making games again! And I mean actually making them, not just directing somebody else to make them. While I enjoyed my time at Krome working on the TY the Tasmanian Tiger series, I was itching to get back to my roots and craft a game from the ground up.

So, while I’m getting the “next big thing” off the ground, I’ve been getting my hands dirty and making a game. Now, I know people say it’s impossible to make games unless you have a team of thirty or more (or one hundred plus, if you believe the PS3/Xbox2 hype), but it depends on what sort of game you’re making.

I’ve been putting together a fun little title that falls under the Casual Gaming umbrella. It’s called Word Shake.

The budget on this thing is less than the weekly “beer o’clock” budget at my old company. I’m using the free PopCap framework as my game engine (
) - this thing rocks and I have to say a big thank you to the PopCap team for releasing it. I’ve also used some of the sound packs from Garage Games ( for in game audio, the talents of a local musician for the music and have enlisted the services of Pete Mullins for the graphics.

Pete is a talented artist and I’ve wanted to work with him for ages. He has extensive experience in comics, TV, film and games and is the best character designer/concept artist I know.

What’s so refreshing is about this process is that I can go from concept to playable in such a short time, and it’s a game that I enjoy making as well as playing. I’ll keep you posted on its progress as well as how things are developing with the “next big thing”.


John Has Left The Building - Mar 3rd, 2005

Well, yesterday was my last day at Krome Studios.

I'll miss a lot of the really cool and talented people that I got work with on a daily basis. I had a lot of fun and it was great to see the company grow.

To all of you Kromans reading this now, I'm very sorry that I didn't get a chance to say goodbye in person. Maybe we'll get the chance to work together again someday soon.

In the meantime, this press release pretty much says it all...

Brisbane, Australia - 2nd March, 2005 - John Passfield, founder and Design Director of Krome Studios, has left Krome to pursue other opportunities in the video game market.

Passfield says while he is proud of the work he has done during his time with Krome Studios, he sees his career taking a different direction to that of Krome.

“Making games is definitely part of the next phase of my career and there are a number of exciting opportunities on the horizon,” Passfield says.

Passfield, a founding director of Krome Studios and shareholder since 1999, is the creator and lead designer on the TY the Tasmanian Tiger game series which has sold close to two million copies since its release in 2002.

Passfield established and managed Krome’s design team, was actively involved in the creation of new intellectual property, and implemented and oversaw the company’s promotion during his tenure.

A seasoned industry veteran with more than 20 years professional experience, Passfield is also credited as a founding member of the Australian games development community. He helped establish some of the first development houses -- Interactive Binary Illusions in 1992 and Gee Whiz! Entertainment -- where he oversaw game design, script writing and story creation as well as conducting the original programming on several games. He was also responsible for business management, production and liaising with publishing partners.

A lifelong avid gamer, Passfield was seemingly destined to follow a path leading to the interactive entertainment industry. In high school, he designed, developed, and published his first two games, Chilly Willy and Halloween Harry. Halloween Harry celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and was also the world’s best selling shareware game when it was re-released in 1993. Passfield also established online sales for Zombie Wars, Spirit Board and Jaruu Tenk during the infancy of Internet-based sales. Several of his early games have been profiled in the prestigious Museum of Brisbane’s “Bite the Blue Sky: Brisbane Beginnings” exhibition.

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You Go Girl!

If you're an adventure game player then you probably know who Jane Jensen is.

If you don’t know who she is, then read on.

Jane Jensen was the designer of the Gabriel Knight series of adventure games published by Sierra. Featuring the voice talent of Tim Curry, she also adapted the first two games into a series of novels.

After adventure games dried up in the late nineties (replaced by RTS, FPS and RPG games on the PC) she focused on her writing. But she resurfaced in October 2003 as a gaming force by co-founding Oberon Media and releasing Inspector Parker. Oberon Media is a Seattle based company focused on casual gaming and seems to be doing a great job reaching their target audience. Just recently Jane released a brand new Inspector Parker game called Inspector Parker in Betrapped!

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it seems that Jane has rediscovered the magic of adventure games, and, more importantly, found a new market for them. Inspector Parker in Betrapped! features all the cool stuff I loved about adventure games - puzzle solving, story, characters, inventory and dialogue.

Her games are a welcome addition to the usual Bejewelled and Tetris clones, and she’s crafted a good, fun game delivered in a downloadable package for $19.95 that you can try before you buy. The game is inspired by Cluedo (known as Clue in the US and invented by brit Anthony Pratt) with a nod to the US games company Parker Brothers in the title.

So, if you think that all casual games are either Mahjong or Solitaire variants, or simple puzzle games, then do yourself a favor and check out Jane’s games. We need more people like her to make more games for people like us.

You can find out more about Jane at her website: and at Oberon Media’s web site:

Have fun!