A New Name, A New Home

A New Name, A New Home

As you may have noticed, a lot has happened around here lately! Today we’re re-launching our website and company with a brand-new name: Axon Interactive Inc. (yes, we’re incorporated now!) But the website and our name aren’t the only thing that’s changed. We also moved into our first office, which has been a long process that we’re eager to share. The Search Last April our friend Ryan Creighton generously offered us space to work, so we spent an amazing summer working in a gorgeous downtown space. Jeff and I were joined by three interns: James, Odin and Deanna (all game programming students at Humber College) and we had a good time making websites and watching The Legend of Korra. Unfortunately the end of the summer brought the end of steady contracts for us and the end of the lease for Ryan (boo) so we all moved out and resumed working at home (double boo). But by then Jeff and I had learned a lesson about working with other people: a lot more gets done when everyone is in the same place at the same time. We knew we’d need an office for the next summer, and earlier if possible. We started our search online – I really wanted a “brick-and-beam” space because I felt like cubicles and white walls might stifle creativity. I wanted big windows too. And cheap rent. So… I had a lot of requirements. Eventually we came across the Planet Storage building, which happens to be in our neighbourhood, the Junction. In December we came to look at spaces on a whim, knowing that was way...
A Sea of Hexels

A Sea of Hexels

We’ve been working on the Quench pipeline tools for a couple of months now, and despite the apparently endless barrage of school assignments that keep slowing things down, we’ve managed to reach our first major milestone! As I mentioned in this post, our plan has been to closely integrate a hex-based pixel art editor called Hexels with Unity as a 2D map editor to let our map designers more easily do their work. We’ve got the initial stages of this process working and from this point forward we’ll be making more and more map features in Unity editable from Hexels. I figured that I would run through the stages that we’ve passed through on the way to a working (but still pretty unstable) product. First Steps When this integration process began, we planned to utilize Hexels’ XML output feature to pass data back and forth between it and Unity, but after a short email conversation with Ken Kopecky of Hex-Ray Studios (the developers behind Hexels) it was made clear to us that Hexels doesn’t actually read its own .XML output format. With that in mind, we realized that we’d have to bite the bullet and decode the Hexels binary .HXL file format. Thankfully Ken is amazing and happily provided us with a specification to follow in the process of building a C# .HXL reader/writer (Hexels itself is written in C++). Ultimately the power of Hexels has been well worth the effort, as it provides us with a ton of map editing features that would have been a mountain of work to implement from scratch in Unity as Editor extensions....
A* And My Love Of Excel

A* And My Love Of Excel

We’ve been working on the Quench editor and pipeline for about a month now, and before anything else, I want to know what I can and can’t get away with doing on an Android tablet. Over this past week I’ve performed a semi-scientific study to identify how best to use the A* algorithm in Quench. AI can be incredibly demanding on CPU resources. Having spent time studying robotics, I know the kind of computational power that often goes into academic robot designs with goals no more noble than ensuring even coverage of a surface by a Roomba. It can be surprising how much computation it can take to do something that seems trivial in the human experience. Quench is going to require that groups of animals have herd-level group-think AI and individual-animal-level AI that result in flocking/swarming behaviour to move as a group and also avoid enemies while finding their way through a map of hazards to reach a goal location. Our plan is to implement the group-level AI as an A* algorithm that runs at intervals to identify a clear path to follow. Flocking requires some further study before we can say how exactly that will work. With these goals in mind, I dove into the first assignment for my AI class at Humber to answer some important questions for myself. I wanted to know what factors cause the computation complexity of A* to grow most quickly, so that I could plan to mitigate or sidestep them. And so I wrote myself a simple A* testbed as a C# Console Application that utilized interfaces to specify the necessary...
A Thirst for Quench

A Thirst for Quench

As school starts up again for the year (my final year!) my attention has been focused upon the project of grand scale that lays before me: my capstone. The project that no teacher at Humber will let you forget from the first moment you sit down in a classroom. It is intended to be your greatest achievement before graduating, and to mark your transition into professional video game development. I’ve been dying to get started. And so much thought and care has gone into my plan — and Axon’s plan — to bring my capstone project to life as a commercial game called Quench. Quench is a top-down hex-based puzzle game in which the player controls the weather to assist herds of animals though desolate landscapes and the dark spirits of the past. The player uses earthquakes, lightning, wind, rain and simple psychology to guide their flock to safety, and eventually restore the world. Since Axon is working on this project as a whole, I find myself in the enviable position of having a team of some of the most talented people I know from a wide range of fields to bring to bear in creating Quench. Furthermore, Axon will be bringing another another Humber Game Programming student named James Zinger onto the team, and so Quench will be shared as our student work masterpiece. All told, the Axon team for Quench is comprised of 6 people: Myself (Jeff Rose) – Programmer and Technical Direction James Zinger – Programmer Tabby Rose – UI Design and Creative Direction William (Bill) Nyman – Game Design, Level Design and QA Albert Fung...
TOJam: The Sevening!

TOJam: The Sevening!

Our latest outing was TOJam: The Sevening! The 7th iteration of it’s kind, this year’s TOJam (that is “T.O. Jam”, pronounced “Toe Jam”) was a game jam that hosted an awesome 410 people, making a dizzying number of games with only one long-weekend to do it. Since it’s not a competition, there’s just a pervasive atmosphere of productivity and adrenaline and progress that really gets the blood flowing. We were all too happy to be there to ride on that wave. The three of us (Bill, Tabby, and myself, Jeff) entered into the jam with Albert Fung, our distinguished 3D artist collaborator, and a new acquaintance of ours, Marty Bernie. Marty is an incredibly talented musician and we had an great time working with him. Our team of 5 worked together really well, and I think everyone involved is itching to work together again soon. Throughout the weekend, we put together the foundation to what will be a really interesting game, which we call Quench. Since this year’s theme at TOJam was the world is not ending, we wanted to make something that really captures a feeling of life, protection and restoration; a blend of Okami and Minecraft, if you will. Quench is a game in which you play the role of a demigod charged with controlling nature. You must assist herds of animals as they trek back home, through a parched wasteland, to the safety of the Elder Tree. Only by protecting the herds on their pilgrimage will the Elder Tree have the strength to make the world green once again. Wonderful concept aside, we had to cut...
Gamercamp and nerfed turkey

Gamercamp and nerfed turkey

Gamercamp just ended and now that I’m home safe (and completely exhausted) I’m happy to report that it was a fantastic experience. Jaime and Mark ran a great show. We met a bunch of really cool fellow indie developers and artists, saw some incredibly insightful presentations, and made ourselves a paper prototype game, in collaboration with Jaime Woo and a couple of other Gamercamp volunteers, called Sandblocks. So, lots to talk about! Cheating as a Game Mechanic Firstly, I’d like to thank Andy Keenan for an enthralling presentation (and everyone in the room for the ensuing discussion) regarding Cheating as a Game Mechanic. His focus on flow maintenance in games had everyone in the room reconsidering how to design game difficulty from a totally different viewpoint. His central idea is hugely important but amazing in its simplicity: Maps, cheat codes, time rewinding, FAQs, YouTube playthroughs and wiki entries all share a common thread of being a form of meta-gaming that could be thought of as cheating, and yet many of these are embraced as viable parts of play while others are shunned as being detriments to play or “impure experiences”. But shouldn’t we, as designers, be most invested in maintaining immersion, enjoyment and flow for our players? Why not embrace these as ways to improve games and maintain flow, rather than rejecting them? Considering this subject from the player’s perspective, it becomes clear why some players cheat. They’re either bored because the game is too easy or the game is too hard and they’re frustrated with it. It’s just more engaging to cheat than that to play the game...