itu copenhagen

The End Of An Era

And as quickly as it began, it’s all over. 2 years ago, I was on my way to Copenhagen to start my Masters in Games, wondering what lay in store for me. Now, I’ve finished my course, and getting ready to go back home to Malta, and I’ve only just realized how quickly the 2 years went by.

After 2 years, I figured I should at least have a photo of myself outside ITU Copenhagen. Photo by Giulia Attard Navarro.
After 2 years, I figured I should at least have a photo of myself outside ITU Copenhagen. Photo by Giulia Attard Navarro.

I’ve met so many new people (both from the Masters course as well outside it) and learnt so many new things! Overall, it’s been a great experience that I’d be more than willing to recommend to people!

Here are a few highlights from these part 2 years:

  • Making a dice game at the introductory days at ITU, and winning ūüôāDice Dash
  • Pulling my first (but certainly not my last) all-nighter to finish a game. In particular, this was for the game¬†Sun Valve for the Game Design course.
  • Took part in the Nordic Game Jam 2012, made a board game called¬†Mussades, and won 2 awards!
  • Moved house from Vanl√łse to Amager
  • Got a job with Savivo as a student developer
  • Travelled to Sweden for the¬†No More Sweden¬†game jam
  • Got a job at ITU Copenhagen as a teacher’s assistant
  • Travelled to Vallekilde H√łjskole for the¬†Exile game jam
  • Attended the TEDxCopenhagen event
  • I’ve travelled to Portsmouth, Edinburgh, Vienna and Budapest
  • Took part again in the Nordic Game Jam 2013, made a card game called¬†Beast Builder and won an award!
  • Finished my thesis, entitled¬†Reinterpretation of music based on visual cues in virtual spaces
  • Formed a company called¬†Kvasir Games

So, what now?

Well, I don’t know actually. I could consider a PhD in Computational Creativity if I wanted (but as much as the subject interests me, I think I need a break from academia for now). I could stay in Copenhagen, since I really enjoy the games scene here, all the relevant events, and continue pushing our board games through¬†Kvasir Games. I could go elsewhere, and find a job in games in other different country completely. I could just take a year off and do something different before I start looking for a relevant job.¬†I could go back to Malta, enjoy a proper summer and find a job there. All of these have been options that I’ve been considering as I got closer and closer to the end of my course, and now that I’m here, I guess I have to pick one ūüôā

Right now, I plan to go back to Malta and enjoy a summer there, and we’ll see what happens ūüôā

JamIT 2012

Although I was meant to be busy this weekend programming a Ms. Pac-Man controller using artificial intelligence techniques for the Modern AI in Games course at ITU, I found some time to drop by at the first game jam organized by PlayIT, the student organization at ITU. The game jam was called JamIT 2012 and was an awesome game jam!

We first all went into Auditorium 1, where we had the opening ceremony by Jonathan van Hove and Tommy Rousse, followed by keynotes speeches on How to Win a Game Jam by Tim Garbos, Lau Korsgaard and Nicklas Nygren, among others. Afterwards, we split into teams to make games based on the theme, which was this picture over here¬†accompanied by the words “Not Possible”.

I teamed up with¬†Astrid S√łnderby Lamhauge¬†and¬†Casper Nielsen Voigt, and we all agreed that even though we were all busy and didn’t really plan on spending the whole weekend on making a game, we were still interested in jamming. We started trying to come up with ideas that had a small scope and we eventually settled on a game that was educational/serious in nature. The goal of the game was to try and turn on the projector at ITU, since it was widely acknowledged to be extremely difficult, with none of the buttons making sense.

The game,¬†I Think It’s On?, can be downloaded and installed from here. It’s an executable file that will install the game and any other necessary files. It was made in C# and XNA and needs an Xbox controller to be played. Casper was in charge of programming, Astrid was in charge of graphics and I did the sound design.

There were around 18 games made during the duration of JamIT 2012. These were presented at the very end of the jam on Sunday afternoon. Anchel Labena¬†and I, along with some others, provided a running commentary on Twitter using the hashtag #JamITU. Here’s some of my opinions of the games that were created during this weekend! (all submissions can be found here)

First up, we have¬†Bert Baker’s Cunnilingus, made by Bert Baker, Virgil Tanase and Samuel Walz, which as they describe it, is an “educational game about cunnilingus” made for the iPhone. It also involves licking the phone’s touch screen, and recorded female vocals. I think you get the idea.

One of my favourite games made during this weekend was¬†Don’t Hose Me Bro by Enric Llangostera, Jonatan van Hove,¬†Mar√≠n Bj√∂rt Valt√Ĺsd√≥ttir, Jan Flessel and Tommy Rousse. It’s a 2v2 co-op game where the objective of the game is to capture the other team’s diamond. Each team consists of a wizard that can shoot jets of water at other characters, reducing their life and pushing them backwards, and a skull that can lay various different traps. First to 3 diamonds wins. It’s a well made game, the sounds are addicting and the graphics are awesome!

We then have a game called Impossibl3 Pong by Giuseppe Enrico Franchi. Giuseppe arrived late and didn’t plan on attending the jam, but decided to start making a game on his own anyway on Saturday morning. It’s a different take on the classic game Pong in the sense that it’s played in the dark, points are scored on the opposing axis you’re playing on, and there’s a third player who can affect the puck’s movement.

Anders Lystad Brevik made a game called I Think. I Am.¬†It’s a platformer made in Flash where the game comes to life and actively wants you to play the game, in a rather creepy and overbearing way, to such an extent that it will resort to disabling controls if you fail to follow its commands. I also made a short music track for Anders’ game.

Jackalope, by Daryl Leon Hornsby and Giulia Trincardi, is an interesting point-and-click adventure game of sorts which contains 2D graphics in a 3D world, which I found quite innovative. The game idea seems to be quite narrative heavy, and although only a short demo was made in 48 hours, they plan to continue working on it in the future.

Kiss Kiss Bam Bam was made by Andrew Borg Cardona, Ioana Marin, Hans Henrik Hvoslef and Wen Xiong. It’s a game set in the 60s where you control the faces of a girl and guy and try to align their lips together to get them to kiss. It’s an awesome idea, even though the game is slightly difficult, with ratios of kisses to failures being somewhere around 1: 200. Still, it was very entertaining to watch!

The next game is called¬†Major Lack, made by¬†Nikolaj, Magnus, Emil, Niels & Alexander. It’s an interesting take on platformers, since in this game, you control 3 characters simultaneously¬†that navigate through 3 different obstacle courses.

Photo Shooter was a game made by¬†Valentin Mihalache, Alex Savu; Federica Orlati, Marta la Mendola and Jesper Taxb√łl. It’s a real world spin off of first person shooters, but in this case, players take pictures of people that are tagged with QR codes.

Up next is another erotic game called Sex Roulette, made by Jannick and Adonis. The mouse is used to pleasure women seen on screen, and the player can make use of voice control in certain parts of the game.

Space Monkeys! was made by¬†Andrea Distler, Jan Flessel, Lasse Knudsen and Peter √ėlsted. It’s a multiplayer platformer / runner similar to Canabalt, but each player’s controls keeps changing over the course of the game, forcing players to scramble to find their appropriate keys as they struggle to stay alive.

Stuf was made by Martin Fasterholdt and Julian Hansen. It’s an interesting take on real time strategy games in the sense that one player’s land is another player’s void, and vice-versa of course. Players must try and take as much terrain as possible, and the aim of the game is destroy all opposing bases.

Super Battle Combat Fighter Pre-Pre-Pre-Alpha 0.0.0.3.6.36b revision 3691726316 (iteration 36, sub-iteration 872) was a game made by a massive team of 7 people:¬†Anita Simonsen, Nis Bj√łrn, Marco Scirea, Aleksander Nikulin, Morten Frederiksen, Nicklas Nygren, Federica Orlati and Frederik Klovborg. It’s a top-down shooter of sorts with a really interesting twist: it’s turn based. Basically, you have the option of shooting at objects or simply moving. The game then executes your action while the environment responds, and after some time, everything freezes and you get to take another action. Something that I found novel in the game was the fact that when you died, you were allowed to save your gameplay and replay it at normal speed without time stopping, allowing yourself to watch the ship blaze desperately through the level.

Super Original was a game made in 2 hours during the actual presentation of the JamIT games by¬†Casper Friis Fars√łe. For something made in 2 hours, it’s really fun to play; you’re being chased by a horde of stained glass alien things that slowly speed up while you slowly start to slow down. In the mean time, more enemies are being spawned, and you must do your best to avoid them!

Up next is another one of my favourite games made at the game jam:¬†SWEDISH GARDEN by Tim Garbos and Niklas Aberen. It’s a quirky and artsy platformer that starts adding different layers of music as you progress through the level. The environment is also reacting to the music, making it a very immersive experience!

ThrowIT was made by¬†Mattia Fiorio, Cristinel Patrascu and Leif Bj√łrn Rasmussen. It’s a top down game that allows players to fight against each other by throwing pictures. The interesting thing is that players can upload pictures to be thrown, and everybody can use any of the uploaded pictures.

T-RAGE was a game made by Achim Wache, Nikolaj Settnes and Oliver about why dinosaurs really went extinct. It’s a two player game that could be co-op or not depending on the players. Players must fight against dinosaurs on an asteroid, and the game features orbital physics which I was impressed by since it was made during a game jam.

T-REX HIGHFIVE¬†was made by Tim Garbos, and is a two-player game where each player controls 4 different limbs of their T-Rex, and must run towards the other T-Rex and high-five them. It’s fun to watch the game being played, and it reminds me a little of Sumotori Dreams and QWOP.

Last but not least is the game¬†When Pigs Fly by Nina Croitoru and Andrei Livadariu. It’s a 2D puzzle/platformer where the object of the game is to roll a pig to a cloud shaped platform, where it can grow wings and fly. I really like the way the pig rolls throughout the level, and the graphics are very well done!

Winners haven’t been announced yet, but they should be up soon. This game jam was small and comfortable, and I’m happy to have taken part and watched cool games being made!

News Games: Yay or Nay?

On Wednesday, 12th September, I attended the first Game Talk Mini event held and promoted by¬†Vallekilde H√łjskole. The event’s theme was¬†news games, what they are and how they work; an interesting combination of journalism and games development.

The keynote was given by Gonzalo Frasca, who started off his talk by discussing how games were relevant to education since people could learn through play, giving experiences of how they were used in the space industry, the medical industry and the military. Here, any form of error would be critical, so new users are guided through the system and taught through games. Frasca stated that “Learning through mistakes is one of the most effective ways to learn stuff“, and games seem to be the perfect medium to allow people to make mistakes.

Frasca gave examples of tutorials that teach the player how to play games, stating that if the player could not learn how to play the game within the first few minutes, then the player was lost. In particular, two examples of good tutorials were given: the Angry Birds tutorial and the Cut the Rope tutorial. This was because the first provided a short and intuitive animation of how to play the game, while the second placed the tutorial directly in the first level of the game.

This concept of understanding through play was then introduced with respect to news. Frasca claimed¬†that people could understand events through action, stating Augusto Boal’s¬†Legislative Theatre as an example. He also made reference to JFK Reloaded, which was a interesting experimental game, but a commercial failure. This “documentary game” allowed you to recreate the events of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, allowing players to come to their own conclusions as to whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald committed the crime or not.

Likewise, games could be made in addition to current news stories. Frasca stated that the concept of news games has been around since 2003, and most news games tend to be very quickly made with a short life span. He also stated that there were several challenges involved in creating news games, such as the fact that they had to be done in a few days in order to remain relevant, and the game had to make sense and be fun to play.

The second discussion that presented the counter argument to Frasca’s was Espen Aarseth’s talk, entitled “Good News is Not News: Dispelling the Newsgaming Myth“. Aarseth stated that although the “genre” of newsgames was 10 years old, news corporations did not seem to be interested in it, since it would have been picked up by now. He also stated several disadvantages to using games in news: the cost/benefit ratio seemed to be too low, making a good game is hard, and if the game doesn’t come out in time, is it still news?

Aarseth also made reference to a problem that could arise between the skinning of the game and its mechanics. Good games could only be made if the mechanics matched the thematics, so while war and violence made good games, Aarseth claims that everyday politics would be difficult to convey effectively in a game. He also claims that if the game developer does not care deeply about the topic, then the game itself will not be good. Reference was also made to¬†The Landlord’s Game and¬†Monopoly, which were meant to be political commentary against private monopolies but ended up being interpreted in a completely different fashion.

The talk ended with Aarseth concluding that the only people talking about newsgames seem to be the people making them, and that they don’t seem to be viable to news organizations.

Several examples of news games were presented through the discussion, such as September 12 by Frasca, Darfur is Dying¬†and¬†Phone Story¬†by Molleindustria. Ultimately, I think that while both parties raised some interesting points about news gaming, the public is still largely unaware of news gaming. However, I’m definitely interested in trying to make some news games in the near future!

Second Year at ITU

The summer is over, and it’s time to go back to school!

Looking back over the past 3-4 months made me aware of how busy I’ve kept myself, and how time flies as a result.

After the end of the second semester at ITU, I decided to find a student job for the summer, and after much trials and tribulations, I landed a student developer position at Mingoville A/S, a Danish e-learning company that focuses on teaching English and Maths to young students. I spent most of my time fixing bugs in the MMO using ActionScript 3, and I was also introduced to new tools such as ANT and Git, which were never really introduced at University. I was also introduced to applications made in Lua for Android and iPhone, as well as working on an admin tool in Javascript and jQuery.

I also started a teaching assistant position at ITU, where I will be helping out with the exercises and lab sessions for the Masters course called Introductory Programming. The course is taught using Java. Today was the first day and it went really well indeed!

Sometimes, things don’t go well though. I decided to take part in the Ludum Dare 24, a game jam whose theme was¬†Evolution. After having no inspiration whatsoever, I decided to make a game around the evolution through mathematical dimensions, using Flixel as my weapon of choice. The game would similar in style to WarioWare, in the sense that it would be made up of a series of small, short games. By the end of the first day, I had finished the 0th dimension level, and was nearly finished with the 1st dimension level (as seen below). However, I ran into problems while working on the 2nd dimension level, and I realized that the 3rd dimension level that I had in mind (which I wanted to implement in 3D), was going to be impossible to complete in a 2D framework in the time constraints of a game jam.

Along with Danish lessons, my regular coursework and the thesis preparation that I must do, this looks like it’s going to be a very busy semester!

Molydeux Game Jam 2012

Amidst all the university related work I have to do, I also participated in a worldwide event called the Molydeux Game Jam. This event is similar to a game jam, in the sense that participants must create a game in 48 hours. However, this particular game jam had a special twist, since the game idea had to be based on one of the tweets by @petermolydeux, an account on Twitter parodying the famous game designer Peter Molydeux. The parody account is known for posting outrageous game ideas. A few examples are given on the Tumblr that Molydeux himself set up.

I decided to create a game called¬†Z√Ęmbesti. The word is Romanian, and it means smile. The game was based around this particular tweet from Molydeux:

“Imagine living in a world where all anyone can do is hurt each other. You on the other hand, your only ability is to hug those around you.”

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Game Spaces, Maltese Places

Yesterday, I attended an amazing session about social spaces for games by Kunal Gupta from Babycastles, as well as an awesome game session involving Hokra and J. S. Joust by Doug Wilson. But before I go into an interesting discussion about what Kunal Gupta presented and how I think it is highly relevant to Malta, I’d like to mention what I’m up to so far during the second semester.

Semester 2 has started at ITU, and I’m already extremely busy. I guess that’s partly my fault though, since I’ve decided to assign myself twice the workload. Apart from the 3 courses I’m meant to be taking this year, which I will explain later, I’m also continuing work on Sun Valve, ¬†the game that I made last semester in a team for the Game Design course, as well as continuing work on Mussades, the game that I made in another team during the Nordic Gam Jam 2o12. I’m also starting the second module of Danish lessons, which means that I should be kept very busy this coming semester.

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Nordic Game Jam 2012

NGJ12 BraceletI attended the 2012 edition of the Nordic Game Jam at the IT University of Copenhagen from the 27th to the 29th of  January. I was helping out during the organization of the Nordic Game Jam, as well as volunteering and jamming during the actual event. This meant that I attended organization meetings from as early as October in order to discuss how to best organize such a large event. I was also assigned shifts for helping out in the preparation of meals and in the kitchen, as well as actually participating in the Game Jam by creating a game.

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Second Semester at ITU

The first semester at ITU has quickly come and gone, and I’ve settled down fairly easily and gotten used to the Danish way of thinking. The IT University has kept me really busy, and I will explain why in a moment, hence the sudden lack of blog posts from my end.

Among all the parties and celebrations that inevitably occur along the way during the semester, there were some interesting and exciting events that occured, as well as lots of work to do.

Game Design

Sun Valve

As well as all the reading we had to do for Games Design, we also had to form groups and work on a small game. Although I had the initial idea of leading my own team, I quickly scrapped that idea since there was another team that was lacking programmers, and I joined them.

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Back to Work (And Lots Of It)

Almost two weeks have passed since my last post, and for good reason too. Here at the IT University of Copenhagen, we officially started lectures on the 29th of August, and were immediately loaded with loads of work to do.

Looking at the timetable, and coming from a background where I had loads of lectures at the University, you wouldn’t have thought that it could possibly get this busy. Just 20 hours of lectures a week, that doesn’t sound too bad.

Game Design¬†however, thought otherwise. Apart from assignments that are given every lecture (usually for the next corresponding lecture), we also had to prepare reading as a background to the following lecture. And don’t think that the reading consisted of reviews for upcoming games, oh no. Engaging academic papers, sometimes naming loads of philosophers, psychologists and sociologists that all discussed games from an academic perspective, as well as several books. The average is around 3 papers and a book chapter for the following lecture, and the content isn’t an easy read either.

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