Developing TRAUMA for iOS

TL;DR The most challenging parts of developing TRAUMA for iOS was fast blur with a big radius and realtime video into texture streaming with synchronized audio.


A sample of the sourcecode of TRAUMA iOS. This particular function is to detect which image was selected by the player.

The original TRAUMA was completely created by Krystian and is using Flash as base technology. Even if there are ways to compile Flash directly into an iOS app, it seems to not the way to go for a game like ours. TRAUMA seems to be simple but it is based on some really performance intensive effects. It is a 3D game with a lot of blurring and video textures.

We wanted to create an iPad version and so I started from scratch. Later when we saw that the gesture painting is working well on smaller screens we decided to support iPhones and iPod touches too.

In the end the game is based on a C core for math and Objective-C for all the device specific components and the menu. The result is a portable core without losing the look and feel of a native iOS application.

You might ask why we didn’t use an engine. The popular cocos2d is obviously a 2d engine. Unity has no support for video textures and also I’m not a big fan this engine. The unreal UDK was not available at this moment. Also I don’t want to use a multiple platform engine because I would lose control over the user interface which should consist of iOS standard elements.

Redesigning the menu

The original menu was to fiddly for iPad. I started before the first retina iPad and drawing all the small font didn’t work out. Still I wanted to keep the four separated scenes and the direct access to options and the movie gallery.

Krystian is very picky when it comes to user interfaces and it took multiple iterations before the current sliding menu was finished. Now the only drawback to the original is that you cannot view all discoveries at once.


“Krystian is very picky when it comes to user interfaces…”

Having a nice interactive menu is an overlooked component of many games. The menu is one of the first things you will see in a game and it should fit into by having the same art style, using the same input methods and also shouldn’t break with the expected behavior of the platform. There is no good menu that is the same on a touch-based and a cursor-based interface.

TRAUMA Menu Designer

One of the more complex menus in Xcode’s Interface Builder.

Soon after the release of TRAUMA people started to ask for and iOS version and the game seems to be perfectly made for touch, but it was not. In the original version you use the mouse cursor to find frames, click on them to go there and hold down the mouse button to paint a gesture. But there is no hovering on a touch screen. Either you have your finger on the device or there is no input at all.

In my first implementation I used a button to switch between search and paint mode, but it felt totally awkward. I also played around with using a second finger to switch between the input modes. Than I came up with the idea of tap and hold to switch. You start with searching for frames and could enter gesture paint mode when you shortly paused your motion. This was similar to the original version.

But the first implementation that convinced Krystian was when we started with gesture mode and used hold to switch to search mode. This also radically changed the gameplay. On iOS you are using far more gestures to navigate between frames because you are starting with gesture painting. It is also much more likely that you discover the move left, right and back gestures on your own.

Fading out gesture paint and hold to flash frames were implemented thanks to your fine beta testers. Many had problems to enter the search mode. Before that there was a lot of random tapping to find neighbor frames.

Writing a gesture recognizer

When you start with gesture detection you might think it is some dark voodoo magic. But it turns out to be pretty straight forward in the end. A good entrance point is “Easily Write Custom Gesture Recognizers”. Even if the final algorithm used in TRAUMA is slightly different, you will get the idea.

Detecting gestures is one of the crucial tasks in TRAUMA. So I spend a lot of time optimizing the gesture recognizer until it has a pretty high level of tolerance. Nothing is more frustrating to paint a gesture and than it is not recognized. On the other side I tried to ensure that random painting is not accidentally treated as a gesture.

Finding the balance here is pretty hard and I know that TRAUMA sometimes fails to detect an obviously correct gesture. I still try to improve this and we hopefully will ship an update later.

I have written a UIGestureRecognizer subclass that can be used in each iOS application. When I’m happy with the results and have cleaned up the code I will push it to GitHub.

TRAUMA Gesture

“Detecting gestures is one of the crucial tasks in TRAUMA.”

Minimal loading times

I wanted the iOS version to have no loading times at all. Everyone hates loading times and so I tried to keep them as low as possible.

Since each frame in TRAUMA is unique and the iOS devices only have a small amount allocatable of memory compared to a desktop, it is impossible to keep a whole scene in memory at once.

Therefore I have written a texture streaming engine. When you enter a frame all neighbor frames will be loaded. When a certain amount of textures is loaded the ones that are more than two steps away from the current frame are unloaded. Also when memory is low on the device all frames except the current one and its neighbors will be discarded.

The same is true for audio assets. Only the focus and gesture sounds are preloaded at start. All others are streamed. This is also true for the videos.

Even the two seconds of blank screen when starting a scene is a delay Krystian wanted to have, so you are not instantly dropped into the game.

There are only a few games on iOS that use the benefits of dynamic texture loading. This is kind of sad. Loading times can make a huge difference when it comes to the gaming experience.

High performance, big radius blur

When you hold down your finger for a short moment before you can search for frames by sliding over the screen. When you hit a frame it will be focused. Technically it changes from a blur with a big radius to a blur with a very small radius. Blur is a highly computing intensive task.

TRAUMA is using an optimized two-pass gaussian blur with a constant sized filter kernel. Also the frame is rendered into the scene before the blur is performed. Projecting your image before blurring it is an additional pass but the result is much better for images that are not parallel to the screen plane.

I spend a lot of time optimizing the blur algorithm and parameters. But even if all neighbor frames are flashing there is no drop in the frame rate.

I will write a full article about high performance blurring with shaders in my blog soon.

TRAUMA Shaders

Developing Shaders in Xcode

Realtime video texture streaming

Another big challenge on iOS was streaming video into textures. When I started developing with iOS 5 the API was not capable of grabbing realtime frames from a video. I used AVAssetReaderOutput in the beginning but it had some major issues when you need to drop a frame. But thanks to the fine folks at Apple iOS 6 finally offered AVAssetReaderOutput, exactly what we were looking for.

This class delivers the image you need right now. It supports frame dropping and also takes care of audio and video synchronization.

Sadly you have some serious hangs, up to 3 seconds if you use two instances of this class at the same time. Therefore if you leave a video frame in TRAUMA the playback is instantly stopped and the next video texture is loaded. You might notice this in the first scene when you toggle the frames with the stacked spheres. But this is only a small drawback.


After all the biggest challenge was to understand the existing XML-files with a left handed coordinate system, a ton of exceptions and strange attributes like uptothisone="true" while all documentation only existed in Krystian’s head and sometimes no even there.

Still we had a lot of fun porting TRAUMA even if we needed to fight over some details. We also improved some minor parts: the photo previews are now unique images instead of empty frames and you can explore the location in Apple Maps when you have found all photos in scene.

I spend a lot of my spare time to make this game possible. I like technical challenges as much as making games. I have learned a lot and if you want more detailed information about the implementation just drop me a line on ADN or Twitter.

You can play TRAUMA on iOS here

TRAUMA iOS Released!

I am proud to announce that my game TRAUMA has been just released on the App Store. It is available here for $2.99. It is a universal App so it plays on both, the iPad and the iPhone.

It has been a surprisingly long way to get here. Almost immediately after the initial release of TRAUMA, people kept suggesting to me to release it on iOS. The iPhone hasn’t existed as a gaming platform back when I started development of the game. And so while it seemed liked it would be a perfect match, there were a lot of barriers to cross in order to actually make it work.

For starters, the game was made in Flash, which gets a reputation of being a bad match for iOS. It actually isn’t nowadays. You can publish into iOS directly from Flash. But TRAUMA uses some pretty CPU-intensive software-3D stuff which would have likely been prohibitive to release directly on portable devices. I wanted to avoid an issue like the excellent Machinarium App, which caused a bit of confusion for being iPad 2-only. Max Christ, a friend of mine approached me. He is a talented and passionate iOS developer. He was really eager to attempt a complete re-write of the entire game in Objective C. And that’s what we pretty much did. It seemed like a bit time-consuming at first. We had no idea.

TRAUMA iOS Development

A Meeting of the Generations – Making sure the game runs on multiple Platforms was a serious concern in the Project.

One thing that is easy to forget is that TRAUMA was developed for a pointer device. So for example, it uses the mouse-over concept to let players explore a screen with the mouse cursor. This doesn’t really transition at all into a touchscreen interface. So we had to come up with ways on how to make the game without it. We had an early prototype which was a straight port. Taping would be clicking. Holding and moving your finger would be searching for photos. Holding in one place would switch into gesture mode. It was really clunky and the game lost a great deal of it’s intuitiveness. Max finally figured out a neat solution. He made it so that players would primarily draw gestures. The photo-searching would step back somewhat – players could switch into a search-mode by holding the finger in one place. It really changed the dynamic of the game. On PC you could play through TRAUMA without every relying too much on the navigation gestures. On iOS, those became the primary way of movement. We realized that the level design was solid enough so you didn’t actually need the mouse-over-search except for maybe one or two places. It worked out pretty well. We had to add some minor last-minute interface tweaks based on beta feedback to help people through the more obscure locations.

Still, Max struggled for a long time with some pretty surprising technical issues. I’m not an expert on this, but it turns out rendering videos into textures was surprisingly difficult to do on iOS. We actually had to wait for a new version of the operating system to pull it off. Even then, squeezing that many images into the limited space of the iPad/iPhone required some smart memory management – something I never had to deal with in Flash. Max also had to create a gesture-recognition system from scratch. I based mine on an open-source re-creation of the Graffiti handwriting recognition of old Palm Pilots and it was ripe for a proper rewrite. And of course we spent a lot of time wrestling with my home-grown logic of level file syntax. All those short-cuts you can take as a solo dev come back to haunt you as soon as you bring other people in. Max wanted to do a write-up of the project himself. I’m sure he will go into more specific details.

TRAUMA-themed Muffins to celebrate the release

TRAUMA-themed muffins by @marieslogbuch to celebrate the release.

So there you go. We may be late with this but we really didn’t want to release this without making sure it satisfies our high standards. And indeed, we are really glad with how the adaptation turned out. The interaction changed substantially due to the different interface. Yet, the atmosphere of the original is preserved. And we were able to squeeze out some additional visual quality out of the assets we had. There is still one adaptation we are really eager to try before moving on. But more on that in the future. Until then, let us know what you think!

Miasmata Impressions

The games industry has a sickness. It’s an acute lack of innovation. We don’t have a cure yet. But here is a mixture that may provide temporary relief: mix equal parts Far Cry 2, Amnesia and Myst. You get Miasmata.

Far Cry 2 Parts

Just like Far Cry 2, Miasmata is a first-person open-world game. You are free to roam an exotic jungle. The game worlds consists of a lush, natural environment – something that is notoriously difficult to pull off with polygons. Like in Far Cry 2 a big part of the game is survival. There are camps on the island where you can heal up and save the game. The most dramatic gameplay moments occur when you struggle to get to the next camp.

The game is played “modelessy” in first person. Which means there are (almost) no 2D interface elements. More importantly, there are no in-game 2D menues. If you check your map the player character actually takes the textured 3D object of a map and holds it in your viewport. You also collect various documents and notes which end up in an actual 3D notebook. Far Cry 2 did this to enhance immediacy and immersiveness. That game was very much about putting players into a desolate war zone and not providing any means for them to distance themselves from the situation. Miasmata tries the same and it works although I feel it’s less justified here.


Miasmata adopts the “modelessness” of Far Cry 2. While successful, it remains a solution in need of a problem.

As in Far Cry 2 the player character is suffering from a disease. It was Malaria in Far Cry 2. The disease in Miasmata is unnamed. But while the Malaria in Far Cry 2 was more flavor than anything, in Miasmata the entire goal of the game is to find a cure. Just like in Far Cry 2 you will pop pills from now and then to keep the symptoms at bay. Just like in Far Cry 2, you never actually feel sick at all but they sure try to convey the idea in various interesting ways.

Amnesia Parts

Like in Amnesia there is actually no real combat. There are no firearms of any kind. Unlike in Amnesia there are at least daggers and you can throw some stones. I’m not going to spoil how they are used. But you never actually kill anything and anybody. Like in Amnesia, the game focuses very much on creating drama by making the player feel weak and vulnerable.

A more stylistic relation to Amnesia is a focus on the manipulation of chemicals and victorian-looking scientific tools to solve puzzles. Although Amnesia is more super-natural/alchemistic while Miasmata plays it slightly more realistic.


Refreshing to play as a character, whose special ability is not punching people but doing science.

Myst Parts

Like in Myst you start on an Island. There are no people on the Island. The Island is full with abandoned houses, ancient ruins and mysterious statues. You find documents that hint vaguely at a story. But the experience is more about figuring it out yourself while soaking up the gorgeous environment and the enigmatic atmosphere. Unlike Myst this game features fluid FPS controls and real-time 3D. There are no actual mechanical puzzles either. No button pushing and gear turning. But with combat not being part of the gameplay, your challenge is more of a cerebral nature.

Other Parts

And finally, there are some very interesting aspects which I haven’t seen in a game yet. I really love the way the map works in Miasmata. The game doesn’t keep track of your position on the map. You need to figure it out by triangulation. This sounds more complicated than it is. In your viewport you simply click on two landmarks you already know the position of. The player character will automatically draw two lines on the map at the right angle to each other. Where they meet is your current position. Every time you determine your position this way, a small area of the map around you will be automatically revealed. So you can actually chart the whole island this way. But you need to explore strategically. You need to keep climbing hills and carefully preserve line of sight to already established landmarks. It is a fascinating, new idea. It conveys an an unusual concept of exploration which seems authentic and provides unique, engaging interaction.


The triangulation of the player’s position is one of the game’s most unqiue mechanics.

The game also features realistic walking. By that I mean you are not blessed with that one super-strength we all seem to take for granted in an FPS: immunity to stumbling and falling. If you steer your character over a steep incline, you will slip off and tumble down the hill. If you run down steep a path without controlling your speed, you might get your feet twisted and fall over. All of this can make the previous task of always having to seek out vantage points to triangulate your position REALLY interesting.

None of the above systems make the game especially difficult or complicated. But they do add a certain sense of realism to the exploration. Miasmata is not a game where you are afraid of getting killed by mutant space alien zombies. It’s a game where you are afraid of slipping and falling down a steep hill while going hiking. It’s a game where you are afraid of and getting lost in the woods. It’s a game where you are afraid of not making it back home before sundown.

Missing Parts

Miasmata is an indie game made by two brothers. So yes, there are a lot of unpolished bits. When interacting with lab tools, there are no sound effects. The plants looks nice but all human and animal 3D models are horrible – “my first 3D model”-level-horrible. The designers dodged around an inventory system and arrived at a very unintuitive and disappointing solution. You may think that a game about collecting plants would give you some sort of bag or a backpack or at least pockets…

Gameplay-wise, there are other bits curiously missing. The game details some aspects of outdoor survival in a painstaking way. Yet, you never have to eat. You just need to drink regularly. Apparently that is supposed to be a stand-in for supplies in general. Curiously, there is a great deal of fauna being simulated, sometimes even down to individual bugs. It makes me wonder if food management was part of the original game design.

I like the nuanced way the story is conveyed. But ultimately, it just never goes anywhere. Considering how many ancient ruins you find, there is pretty much nothing to be discovered about them. You find a lot of corpses too but you find out next to nothing about those people and why they died. The elements for a great drama are in place. They just have never been taken advantage of. Oh, and here indie dev protip: if you work on your game for such a long time, for the love of god spend the few bucks on ANY KIND of voice actor to read the few diary entries you left for players to find. There is no bigger turnoff than finding a page with a wall of exposition text on it. Voice actors are the cheapest way to improve your game’s perceived production values.


Sadly, Miasmata never seems to take narrative advantage of it’s set pieces.

One problem the game runs into I’m familiar with my work on TRAUMA is a certain redundancy in the items you find. You collect a lot of plants in Miasmata. Because you can go everywhere, the designers couldn’t anticipate in which order you find the plants. So a lot of the plants you find do the same thing just to make sure the players will be able to do those basic things no matter where they go. This is great at first. But by the end of the game it can feel quite disappointing to discover that the new plant you found is the just the 4th variation of the same basic healing plant. In general, there is not much you can do with the plants anyway. The developers tried to come up with some tonics other than “healing” but didn’t seem to find anything interesting.

Finally, the game has been released on a self-made engine. It is a perfect example of why it’s the worst idea for a indie dev to attempt. Even if you make it, you just end up with a horribly un-optimized engine. I just bought my Notebook recently and had to turn most effects down to quite unflattering settings. Which is a pity, because a big draw of the game should have been the lush, natural environment. I saw other people having much better results so this may be a driver issue. Yet, I don’t think I would be having the same problem if this was the Crytek Engine.

Drink Me!

The above mentioned shortcomings shouldn’t stop you from trying the game. In fact, this interesting article makes a great point about how a game like Miasmata should be held to different standards. Because as far as creativity and innovation goes, we hold AAA titles to much lower standards than independent games. I had a fantastic time in Miasmata. It inspired me a great deal. It should inspire you to. Do yourself and some smart indie devs a favor. Try it out on Steam.

New Super Mario Bros. U Impressions

New Super Mario Bros. U is a game easy to be cynical about. It represents much of what is wrong with Nintendo today – a company relying heavily on the same, decade old brands. The New Super Mario Bros. series being a particular offender – delivering Mario branded products by re-packaging 30 years old gameplay on a low budget.

But hey, I bought a Wii U and thought I needed a game other than Nintendoland. It was either Mario or Zombies. Hard to tell which ones of the two is more over-used these days. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I was genuinely enjoying Mario.

Bros. or World?

I have only played the first game from the New Super Mario Bros. series. Compared to that NSMBU is much more closer to the Super Mario World instead of the Super Mario Bros. formula. I think a confession is due. I really didn’t like Super Mario Bros. 3.

I get why it is revolutionary. I completely understand why people latch on to it. Yet for some reason, it never really worked for me. Perhaps it’s the NES aesthetics. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I played Super Mario World before Super Mario Bros. 3. In any case, I prefer what NSW brought to the series. The beautiful colors. The organic world map. Discovering crazy short-cuts and hidden areas. Yoshi.

NSMBU is a throw-back to many of those. You explore a huge coherent map instead of going from one isolated area to another. There are a lot of short-cuts. There is even a Star Road. There are baby Yoshis and adult Yoshis. Baby Yoshis even come in different colors with pretty cool new abilities. I immediately felt comfortable with New Super Mario Bros. U.

Granted, the HD graphics make it very easy. The characters and environments finally looks like the lush hi-res graphics on the cover. I was sold as soon I saw the first time how fireballs illuminate the ground underneath. There is also an incredibly amount of polish and creativity in the level design. You would think the team would run out of ideas after all those iterations. But they still manage to make each level feel as fresh and new as if it was the first game they ever made.

However, as I progressed through the game, it dawned on me that the game never fully committed to the Super Mario World formula.

  • Themed Areas One thing that Super Mario World did better than Super Mario Bros. 3 was the world design. The world felt very organic in SMW. In SMB3, each area had a specific theme: Ice, Desert, Water, etc. In SMW, areas didn’t have clear themes. For example, you wouldn’t have a “Water Area”. Instead, you would have a water level in a more ambiguously themed area like “Plains” or “Valley” or “Forrest”. NSMBU does present one, big SMW-esque map. But that map is separated into clearly themed areas. After you defeat the boss of the desert area, you can decide if you want to go to the ice area or to the water area. For me, it lessens the impact of the world design. The world becomes formulaic and predictable. There is less sense of discovery.

  • Nerfed Yoshis We have Yoshis now, but for some reason, they have been nerfed. Baby Yoshis never grow up to adult Yoshis, no matter how well you feed them. You can’t take Yoshis with you. They stay behind at the end of a level. Well, that’s not entirely true. Some baby Yoshis follow you around. It’s really quite confusing. Either way, Yoshi is actually very rare in the game. Subjectively, there were maybe 3 levels where he was used.

  • Formulaic Secrets The game does have a lot of cool secrets. At one point, you are even required to find a secret exit to progress. However, almost all of the secrets turn to be just short-cuts to skip entire areas. In SMW, the secrets were more sophisticated.

    Donut Plains

    Donut Plains show the sophitication of the secret areas in Super Mario World.

    For example, Donut Plains had the Water level Donut Secret 1 which wasn’t actually a short-cut, just an alternative route to Donut Secret House. But Donut Secret 1 also had a secret exit to Donut Secret House. That level, in turn, had also two exits – either to an actual short-cut or to the Star Lane. NSMBU feels like a dumbed-down version of that.

  • Weak New Suit The game features a new suit, the flying squirrel suit. The aesthetics seem like a mixture of the Racoon Suit from SMB3 and the cape from SMW. But the new suit is actually less exciting than either of those. For once, it doesn’t actually allow you to fly. Both the Racoon suit and the Cape allowed for continuous flight, given you had enough space to get to the required speed. Squirrel Suit doesn’t have that. But the Squirrel Suit also lacks a way of dispatching enemies. Both the Racoon Suit and the Cape allowed Mario to hit enemies (or blocks) next to him by spinning around. The Squirrel lacks this ability and any other kind of equivalent. As a result, it just doesn’t feel that empowering to get it. Meh.

  • Missing Movement What really disappointed me was the lack of some subtle ways of movement. For example, SMW allowed you to throw shells vertically. It was actually the mechanic that would be used prominently in the game’s final boss. NSMBU doesn’t have that ability.

  • Overall, the game feels like a Super Mario Word homage at first, but turns out to have been toned down in subtle but significant ways. I wonder what the reason for this was. It’s obviously not am issue of technology. I reckon the omissions must have been by design. Is this the result of an experienced development team honing the game mechanics to the absolute necessary ones? Or is it an attempt to reduce complexity for the sake of a wider appeal?


    This being a Wii U title, I was curious on how the pad implementation worked. I already heard that the pad allowed for a second, supporting player to spawn weird, temporary platforms in mid-air. When I saw this ability for the first time at a Nintendo conference, it felt very tacked-on. That feeling never went away in the finished product. It’s not an elegant implementation. But it’s surprisingly effective and quite polished.

    NSMBU uses a bit of a Demon’s Souls approach here. The difficulty for a lot of the levels is actually quite saucy. There are some exceptionally tricky passages, especially if you want to get the star-coins. But then the game also delivers a lot of workarounds to “cheat” your way through those challenges. The pad is one of them. Even in the hardest Star Lane levels I never felt overwhelmed because I knew I could always ask my GF to help me out in a particularly hard level. She did so on occasion and we always had a good time.

    Wii U Pad

    Nintendo has a particularly authentic commercial on this.

    Working together with asymmetric controls requires a lot of more communication. It tends to feel more like actually working together instead of just playing next to each other. I was initially worried that my GF would get bored because she had less to do. She would only occasionally have to build platforms while I was constantly in control of Mario. But in fact, it turned out to be a huge advantage. I already wrote how the difference in our gaming-skills prevented us to enjoy co-op games in the past. The asymmetric Wii U controls are an excellent solution. It turns out the laid-back and occasional interaction on the Wii U pad was a preferred way for my GF to participate. In contrast, the Rayman demo is more engaging for the pad player and while we had fun with that too, my GF seemed to enjoy the less taxing Mario implementation for now.

    I was also surprised to see how many interactions the Wii U pad provided. Not only could you spawn platforms. You could also paralyze enemies, extinguish fireballs, light up dark areas. Each level seems to add a new idea. It’s fun simply to discover those and experiment with them.

    Super Mario Miiverse

    One feature I found really interesting was the Miiverse integration. Miiverse is Wii Us new Twitter-like system. Players can post short messages, pictures or screenshots. They can comment or “Yeah” each other’s posts. Everything is organized into channels of the individual games. You can friend and follow people. It feels very Twitter/Facebook-like.

    NSMBU is one of the first games where Miiverse functionality is built into the game. Every now and then, the game asks you to comment on a level. This can be because you finished it, because you got all 3 coins, because you died a lot, because you’ve beaten the game, etc. It is a bit arbitrary. Sometimes the system offers a prompt in the form of adding “TWO WORDS:” or “DEAR BOWSER:” to the beginning of the message. The messages then appear on the official Miiverse channel. But more importantly, they also appear in the actual game.

    The messages appear next to the actual levels in the map. There are small balloons hovering next to the levels. If put the map display into a special mode, the balloons will pop out a random message about that particular level. You can even set the whole thing to sample messages from all of the community or just your friends. It may be interesting to follow the train of thought of your friends as they progressed through the game.

    Miiverse Comments

    Players can comment on levels which will show op on the map of other players randomly.

    Another occasion where messages pop up is when you die. The game will briefly show a sample of other people’s messages as they died on the same level. Most of them are variations of “I hate this level”. But they do a good job at making you feel slightly less of an idiot should you get stuck.

    Miiverse Death

    Before you die you see… people complaining about how hard the level is. Keep in mind that the above is a PR Image. Posts tend to be much less coherent IRL.

    Generaly, the Miiverse messages bring a surprising amount of community into the experience. Much like with Demon’s Souls, you feel as if you are playing through the game together with a group of people. Unlike in Demon’s Souls, it creates a much brighter, more relaxed atmosphere. You see people getting frustrated with levels you already mastered. You see people celebrating achievements you still have ahead of you.

    The system has still some weaknesses. For example, the quality of the messages can get on your nerves. There is just so many ways to say “I hate this level” before it turns from comforting to obnoxious. Not to mention all the creative ways kids come up with to get offensive content into the system while they are raging out over the game’s difficulty. There is also no way to directly respond or interact with the messages from within the game. So if you see somebody struggling with a level, there is no way you can help them. Also, I would have loved to set the game in “messages from friends only”-mode. But I just don’t have too many Wii U friends, who played that game yet. There is also a lack of permanency. I posted a few screenshots that show secret exits. But they soon disappeared into the no-man’s land of old messages. No way to bring them up again or even search for them.

    Closing Thoughts

    It would have been easy to dismiss New Super Mario Bros. U as a derivative cash-in on an old franchise. That’s certainly a valid perspective. But actually playing the game, I found it very hard to maintain this cynicism. Mario still works after all those years and Nintendo seems to cultivate the values that made Mario successful in the first place.

    On closer inspection, they carefully picked which elements to adopt from previous installments and fine-tuned them. Personally, I think they should have used more from SMW. But it’s hard to deny that their plan works.

    Finally, I’m surprised how much the Wii U pad and the Miiverse integration brings to the table. Neither of those feel very elegant yet. There seems to be still room for improvement. But for a launch title, they show that the Wii U works perhaps better in practice than it may appear on paper. I’m interested to see if Sony and Microsoft are aware of this and how they want to respond.

Hyrule Historia

Here is an interesting game thing to get. Nintendo recently released a book called Hyrule Historia in the west.

Historia Cover

Around 250 pages. A4 Format. Full-color. Hard-bound with golden print on the cover.

The books is somewhat unusual. On first sight one could call it an artbook for the Zelda series. The main bulk of the content does focus on character and environment art. Needless to say, the artwork is quite stunning.

Historia Sample Page

Most of the pages show character and environment artwork. Mainly from Skyward Sword.

As always, I find myself drawn to the concept art more than to finished results. At various points the book shows variations that were considered during development process.


There are some character design sketches every now and then.

One unusual feature is that the book attempts to cover ALL of the Zelda games. Indeed there are chapters dedicated to the various games. However, there is an obvious focus on the most recent installment, Skyward Sword. Because I haven’t played it yet, most of the depicted characters and creatures are insignificant to me. Sadly, the Zelda part that interest me the most – A Link to the Past – received a laughably minor treatment. It’s basically just one page with a few images of Link.

Historia Game Design

The book contains some game design documents. They are rare and appear only as very small thumbnails. But they are fully translated.

Besides the artwork, there is some actual behind-the-scenes / game design material as well. Every now and then there are scans of game design documents and notes. Suprisinglly, all of the hand-written text on those scans has been replaced. This sacrifices the authenticity for comprehension. I do enjoy the result. My only problem is that this kind of content is just too scarce. There are just a few pages scanned in total. They usually appear as tiny thumbnails together on one page. I would have loved to see an entire chapter dedicated to those.

Historia Alphabet

Zelda fans get the Rosetta stones to be able to read ancient runes in the games.

A big deal for Zelda fans are probably the translations of various alphabets from the different games. Using those Rosetta Stones, one is able to read the ancient Engraving and Scrolls. I’m surprised that the devs went the length to actually design a translatable alphabet. I wonder if the translated texts are actually readable in a real language or if they result in random gibberish.

Historia Timeline

The key stone of the book – the 1st official Zelda timeline.

The key stone of the book is the first official Zelda timeline. A mind-boggling attempt to sting all of the various Zelda games into one, big, overarching story. Personally, I always found the story of the Zelda games quite tired and stereotypical. The attempt to weave them together into one big epic is adorable. But it is a disingenuous gesture to present this side-by-side with behind-the-scenes material. The individual episodes don’t seem to have been designed with a meta-narrative in mind, yet the book implies that they were.

It is an odd book. It seems to evoke the idea of giving a glimpse behind the scenes. But it does so in a very reserved, controlled and dumbed-down fashion. It never quite commits to exposing Zelda series as the artificial, designed product. It gives us as small peek and pulls the veil close again and distracts by extending the game’s in-game narrative even more. It’s fan-fiction made by the original authors – authentic and opulent. But at the same time condescending, pandering and masturbatory.

If you have been playing games in the 80ies and 90ies, chances are you have some interest in the Zelda series. In spite of the above, I recommend Hyrule Historia. At around 250 hard-bound, full-color pages for just 25 EUR it is at least quite a bargain for a weirdly dissonant and certainly pretty experience.

Backlog Update 9

It’s time for another Backlog Update. I completed another set of 5 games some time ago.

  • Rayman Origins Finished this quite some time ago. I wrote a little about sexism in that game and possible ways to have avoided it. But generally, I liked it a lot. I was also pleased to see that my GF played it for a considerable time – until she got stuck and lost all interest. It was announced today that the sequel Rayman Legends was delayed, which is a huge bummer for the both of us.

  • Far Cry 2 Played it before Far Cry 3 came out. I also finally got why people like it. It creates a very bleak and nihilistic atmosphere very quickly. Part of it is because it’s a world without civilians and where everybody is shooting at you. Sadly, that feeling soon fades away as you master the mechanics. There is a good emotional payoff to the buddy system at the end. But the game is overall just to long to maintain that sort of emotional arc. Or perhaps I’ve been indulging in too many sub quests? Either way, not much I can add to the body of knowledge created by Ben Abraham and Idle Thumbs. I might comment on the collectibles because I think they are very good.

  • Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Finished the single-player campaign. Wanted to try multi-player too, but quickly decided not to waste my time with it anymore. As I wrote, it got too self-important. The only way to pull that off would have been to make a Nolan reboot. Not sure how that would works with robots that turn into cars.

  • Lost Planet 2 That playtrough is documented in our YouTube series. I was genuinely surprised by it. It seems like a generic shooter at first. And it kinda is. But there are a lot of very creative scenarios and gadgets. The game constantly keeps pulling those amazing rabbits out of your sleeve you just did not see coming. I started out playing it more in an ironic / grumpy fashion. But the game really won me over. Not sure exactly when it happened. The train level was certainly the highlight. I also recall being incredibly impressed by the fact that you can transform the robots of two players together to make one big robot controlled by two players. And the game never openly advertises it. In fact, that feature is actually more of a secret. In an industry so keen at showing the features of it’s products in your face, this kind of understatement is precious.

  • Gravity Rush Man, I love Gravity Rush. I wrote a little about its Bande Dessinee roots and it’s character design. It’s a beautiful little game and a good reason to get the Vita for, in case you have the disposable income.

So the game in return for this Quintuplet is Gravity Rush. I have been lagging with updates so apart from the above games, I also completed the following:

  • Little Inferno Finished it recently in the Wii U. I was impressed by it immensely. A smart and thought-provoking experience. Quite moving too. It can be a clever commentary on games if you want it to be. But it also works as just an enjoyable distraction.

I’ve come to realize that the 5:1 ratio to reduce the backlog may have been to high. I broke the self-imposed rules too frequently in this last update. I indulged in buying more games that I finished. I got the Wii U with a couple of games, X-Com, Persona 4, Tokyo Jungle and Ni No Kuni. Which defeats the purpose of this exercise. Especially when buying a new console like the Wii U, it’s impossible to get a system with two new games or so. It may be possible to finish a quintuplet when I see an interesting new release coming up. But it’s just not realistic to finish over 5 games in a short time. If I slip on one game, it’s easy to slip on multiple ones. I have been adding rules like “indie games don’t count” and “co-op games don’t count”. But adding workarounds just seems to soften my resolve to stick to the rules.

So I want to try to reduce the ratio to something more realistic. As an experiment, I’ll reduce it to 2:1 – the lowest possible ratio – just to catch up. If that turns out to be too easy, I’ll go higher.

Upcoming games I’m planning to finish:

  • Super Mario Wii U playing a few levels everyday. More than halfway in. Enjoying it a lot. Also, playing with a second person on the Wii U pad works incredibly well. It’s easy to get jaded on it being yet another Mario game or yet another platformer. Somehow, the game won me over. Oh Mario.

  • Dark Souls Played it a lot. Got though Blighttown which many people seem to have disliked. Had my problems with the game too. Might write about it. But recently, I was started enjoying it more.

  • Tokyo Jungle Great fun. Probably my game of the year 2012. Haven’t finished the story yet but I must be on one of the final levels. Planning to unlock all animals.

  • Ni No Kuni Had to get the special edition. I love it. It’s very much a standard JRPG with all of the tropes and pitfalls of that genre. But it is a very well designed JRPG. Incredibly polished and juicy interface design. It’s probably very long so I hope I will be able to hold on to it.

How They Broke Prometheus

I got the Prometheus Blu-Ray on Christmas. It was the über-mega-special edition with a ton of special features. Perhaps not quite as much as Red Letter Media suggested but I ended up spending an entire day watching it.

There is some very cool material on there. I was especially surprised by the edited scenes. There was a lot material that didn’t make it tn the film which wold have likely cleared up a lot of confusion about it. Here are some of the ones that struck me most.

  • prometheus_briefing

    “Guys, I’m gonna explain to you why this movie make sense even if it doesn’t appear so…”

    Longer Briefing apparently there was initially a much longer and more detailed pitch by the two archaeologists. It would have addressed some scientific concerns like how Evolution fits into the idea of Engineers creating life on earth. In the current edit, one of the other scientists asks about that but they just shrug it of. This undermines the credibility of the premise. Another advantage the longer pitch would have brought is to clarify what the expectations of the expedition were. The acts of multiple characters are motivated by strong beliefs that they would actually meet living engineers in person. This belief is never properly established in the shorter pitch. Without that, the disinterested way the characters react to the spectacular finds kinda doesn’t make sense.

  • Weyland talks to David supposedly, there was a scene planned where David would visit Weyland in his cryosleep. One thing I never understood is why David infected Holloway with the black goo. Well, that scene might have clarified that it was the an order by Weyland which David blindly follows because he is a Robot. David still visits Weyland in the final cut but we never learn what they say. They drop some ominous lines in the confrontation between Vickers and David afterwards. But it’s never really clear and so it seems contrived and stupid.

  • Biologist finds life one thing that is particularly annoying about the final edit is how the exobiologist and his punk-geologist friend react when they find the engineer corpse. It seems inconsistent in how they later react to the big worms. Apparently, there was a short scene bit in the room where Shaw takes off his helmet. It would have shown the exobiologist finding a small worm and being quite excited about it. That scene would have been an additional data point in the characterization of this particular character and would made his behavior appear a bit more consistent.

  • Captain comforts Vickers one scene I REALLY liked and that was cut was one between Vickers and the Captain. After Vickers burns infected Holloway, she is shown being emotionally devastated in her quarters. The Captain forces himself into her quarters and tells her a story about a similar mission he had once, where he also had to kill people, who were infected by bio-weapons. The scene would have improved the movie in two ways. It would have added some more emotional depth to the two characters. Especially the captain is very under-played in that movie. Perhaps more importantly, it would have hinted more clearly an an interpretation of what the hell the pace is. At the end the characters are willing to sacrifice their life for the belief that this is a bio-weapon facility. But it’s never very clear where they got this idea from.

Moist of the scenes were cut because of pacing and length issues. It is kinda hard to see if this was really a good idea. But it is true that watching those kinds of scenes in isolation makes it very difficult to feel how they would have fit into the overall flow of the movie. On the other hand, some of them were so incredibly short. That scene with the Biologist was just a few seconds. I can’t help thinking that it wasn’t really worth cutting it.

Hearing the overall intents of the movie, I noticed two very distinct visual effects that really did a lot of damage to how people interpreted the movie:

  • prometheus_goo

    “Nonsense. It makes me feel great. Smarter. More aggressive.”

    The black goo at the beginning The movie starts out with an Engineer drinking something and then falling apart into pieces to begin new life on earth. The stuff he drinks is difficult to properly recognize. It looks dark so a lot of people, including me, assumed it was the same goo the crew of the Prometheus finds. The problem is that none of them has the kind of reaction the Engineer in the beginning has. Which makes the black goo appear weird and inconsistent. It turns out that the filmmakers intended for the stuff from the beginning to be different. There is a part where they hire a molecular chef to design it. They add a honeycomb structure and some spheres to make sure it looks organic and alien. They intended some similarity to the black goo but also wanted it to look distinct. I think they accidentally ended up going to far with the similarity. There should have been more obvious warning flags that this is clearly different from the black goo.

  • prometheus_eye

    I’m not crying. I’ve just been cutting worms.

    The eye worm One of the most memorable special effects is the little fish/worm that comes out of Holloway’s eye when he finds out he is infected. I think that was a bad idea. They wanted to show something shocking and biologically creepy, yet inconspicuous. But making it a worm just added a lot of unnecessary red herrings in context of the worms they find in cave. It just muddled up the question of what the goo actually does. From the making-of material, it seems the stuff is really just supposed to cause some mutations to whatever gets in contact with it. The end result being what happened to the punk geologist or to the worms in the cave. Imagine Holloway just finding an infected vein or something and the movie becomes much more consistent.

But the last things brings me to a final observation. The initial script was a real Aien prequel. Instead of goo, the scientists would have found Alien eggs. Instead of weird goo mutations there would have been facehuggers and chestbursters. Instead of the eye worm there would have been a chestburster scene. Instead of David spiking a drink it would have been David trapping a scientist with and egg. Once you replace the goo with Aliens a lot more puzzles pieces fall into place:

  • Infecting People It makes more sense for David and Weyland to infect people. They wanted to meet a living alien and using the eggs may appear like a reasonable way to do this.

  • Shaw’s “We Must Leave” speech By the end, Shaw insists that they were “wrong” and they should leave. But the goo is a very passive danger so there is no reason to flee. And there really is nothing they were wrong about. With aliens, this speech makes way more sense. They were wrong about the eggs being eggs of the Engineers. They are about to go back to a hive of aliens and Shaw is desperate to warn them.

One thing the Blu-Ray never properly answered is why the opted not to have aliens. Clearly, a lot of the scenes were written with aliens in mind and don’t make any sense without them. They tried to replace aliens with a different kind of danger and just failed in finding an adequate replacement. They created this goo and made it really hazy and unclear so it always fits whatever they just needed in the plot. But there is just so much it can do to fill that alien-shaped hole.

One possible explanation was that the story would have been very predictable and derivative with aliens. As it is, a lot what makes Prometheus work is the mystery. The movie is good at keeping you guessing. Aliens are such a tired trope, the first time the audience would have seen an alien egg, the entire movie would have been spelled out for them. So having mystery is good. The film just never delivers all the payoffs it sets up. I wonder where that short-sighted mystery-driven approach came from? Oh, wait! Look who who came in to do a late rewrite of the script.

Another thing that came to mind is that perhaps there was some rights / licensing dispute. Or the studio got worried when looking at the reviews Alien vs. Predator 2 received. In any case, somebody from above really wanted to downplay the alien connection. This would explain why they didn’t just downplay the aliens but completely excised them. Even the way they talk about the movie seems contrived. Why not openly admitting that it’s an Alien Prequel? It certainly seems to be written that way. Why the talk of “Alien DNA”? It’s Alien but not Alien?

I still like a lot about the movie. There are some really good themes still present in the story. The production design is nothing short of spectacular. It seems to me like the movie started out as a very simple, well written movie and they kinda broke it in re-writes and through some poor editing choices. What do you think?

Wii U-Turn Around The World

I’m really enjoying the Wii U these days. I got one at launch but I wasn’t able to play it until just recently. Because the first thing I did once I got it was to break it.

WiiU System Update

Before you brick, you see the ring.

But let’s start at the beginning. As you may know, I host a podcast show about Monster Hunter. One of the games that was announced for the Wii U is Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. It’s the first western release of a Monster Hunter game after a very long lull. So naturally, this settled the decision to buy a Wii U very early on. Additionally I tested Rayman Legends at the recent GamesCom and it made an excellent impression. Titles like LEGO City Undercover caught my attention as well.

The problem is that in order to play Monster Hunter with the rest of my colleagues from the podcast, I probably needed a Wii U from the US. I wasn’t sure, but that’s how it worked for Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii – the servers were separated into regions and European consoles couldn’t play with American ones. Thank you, region lock.

So Shepard from the podcast pre-ordered two systems and was generous enough to be willing to hop into the adventure of shipping one of them to me. I was kinda hoping to get in before the EU release date, but it was shortly before Christmas. Even though we paid extra for express shipment, the package didn’t arrive until a few days after the EU release. Bummer. The bottleneck seemed to be the customs office.

Ah, the customs office. The fat fly in the soup for every person interested in importing games from abroad. Thanks to tracking data, I was able to determine that the package spent at least a week just waiting to be processed at customs. Seems like express shipment doesn’t grant you immunity against German authorities. But of course, the kicker is that every item sent from abroad needs to be paid taxes for. And of course, you can’t pay them a the postal office around the corner, oh no. You have to go to an actual customs office. In my case it’s a drive down the autobahn to the middle of nowhere next airport. And I’m one of the lucky ones: I have a car. Even when you get there, there is usually an impossibly long wait involved. Because why would they hire more staff, right?

wiiu customs2

Airport Customs Office – a place beyond space, where time has no meaning.

I always laugh when the guys at the office try to sell me the idea that I could have paid the taxes at the postal office, had I just followed proper procedure. Because every time I write down what to do, they always seem to add more rules afterwards. You need to add a receipt. No, that’s not enough, your address needs to be on it. And it needs to be on the outside of the package. No, not together with the other shipping papers, it needs to be it it’s own transparent envelope. And then you have to make a hand stand and say Beetleguice three times. Oh wait, we were just kidding. We need to take a look anyway.

So I got the Wii U, I paid the taxes. I set it up. I let it do the inconceivable 2-hour-system update process. I played Little Inferno for an evening. It was fun. Next day I sit down to eat breakfast with a bunch of eShop codes to I was able to coerce from some incredibly sleazy, unreliable code import shop. The Wii U says it needs to update. AGAIN?! Sigh, alright. Surely this is just a small patch unlike that huge frigging 2 hour day-1 system overhaul I just did yesterday right? The update process started. Percentage bar seems to be moving. Time says it’s just a couple of seconds.. or is it minutes? I decide to let it be and focus on my breakfast.

After breakfast and a couple of Emails I check the Wii U. Not much progress since the last time. It must have been at least half an hour now. Timer seems to be stuck. Is that seconds or minutes? No way to tell. I decide to cancel just to get those eShop codes in. I can still re-download the update while I’m working. Oddly enough, there is no cancel. I press any button, the console doesn’t respond. But it says “Downloading” so it seems like it’s safe to just turn it off. I press the power button. No response. Now I’m sure the console just froze and that’s the reason why it takes so long. So I pull the plug. Plug it back in, re-start the console. Power light goes on and off immediately. I just bricked the Wii U.

After trying a couple of things I get really worried. I can’t even get the CD out. A quick web search confirms that there is nothing I can do. It’s a common problem. The only solution is to send the Wii U in. Wait! Send it in? Like to America?! I check with Nintendo Service. I ask both, at the US and the European one. Both tell me to send the Wii U to America, indeed. And here I was thinking the sleazy code store was annoying. And here I was thinking getting the Wii U a few days after EU launch was a long time to wait.

So I pack the Wii U back in. This time only the actual console. How do I get this through customs now. I call the customs office hotline. They give me the address of a customs office not quite in the middle of nowhere and the name of some obscure form to request. If I do things right I will still have to pay taxes. But there is a chance I might get them back afterwards. Yay.

Customs Office in Niehl

Harbor Customs Office: “Whaduyouwant, kiddo?! Whatsa Wiijuh?”

The new customs office turns out to be a shed at a harbor nearby. The guys inside deal only with stuff like container shipments and probably never saw a private person as a customer. They are utterly confused about the situation. But instead of admitting it, they start spewing a tale of how I’m supposed to go to a customs agency. I actually go out and call the hotline again. The guy on the phone clearly disagrees with the guys in the shed and I’m stuck in-between. I decide to stick with the guy on the phone because his version at least involves the possibility that I don’t lose money. In any case, the guys at the shed just don’t have the actual form I need. Off I go to the airport office after all. Luckily, I don’t need to wait in line this time. The guys in the “exports” room seem to be pretty relaxed. I sense this is the tip of the mismanagement iceberg that is probably responsible for the massive waiting lines there.

The airport office guys are as skeptical as the harbor guys. But at least the have the form and they are more cooperative. They fill out the form, write down the Wii’s serial number, seal the package with a hilariously elaborate, official customs office seal. All the while they keep assuring me that this won’t help me at all. But they don’t have a better idea so I just run with it.

Christmas comes and goes. The New Year’s Eve. Snow comes and goes. I see myself getting older. Think about settling down, starting a family. After a couple of weeks the package arrives. Of course not back home. Not even at Nintendo. I wasn’t able to send in the Wii U directly to Nintendo because I don’t have a US Address. Instead, I sent it to my podcast buddy Shepard. He calls Nintendo and coerces the service hotline person to cooperate with us. The Wii U gets forwarded via UPS to Nintendo. Again, some weeks pass. The Wii U returns repaired!

Wii U Repaired

Wii U repaired and ready for the trip back to Germany.

Shepard now faces the daunting challenge of shipping the Wii U back to Germany in a most customs-office-friendly fashion. We decide to forgo any express shipment experiments. But I do insist on a tracking number. Shepard apparently goes through a very tiresome procedure at the postal office, but eventually the package is underway. Apparently he does a good job because just a week later or so, I get called to the customs office to get it. Here is the final boss of this story.

The lady dealing with my case is the same one I met when receiving the Wii U for the first time. This was more than 2 months ago. Clearly, she doesn’t remember me. She asks me for the value of the Wii U. The time has come. I bombard her with the receipts and forms I gathered. She disappears for a moment, comes back and lets me go without taxes. I thank her. Between her teeth, she lets me know that there is a LOT to be thankful for.

Wii U Arrived

You’ve come a long way baby.

Operation Rainfall Coins

Here is something weird that Nintendo of Europe did recently. They gave me coins.

Operation Rainfall Coins


You may not be familiar with Operation Rainfall. It was basically a fan campaign to convince Nintendo of America to localize and publish 3 specific Japanese Wii games: Xenoblade Chronicles, Last Story and Pandora’s Tower. It started out with Xenbolade Chronicles being announced for a European release but not for a north american one. The 3 games have been identified by the movement as particularly exceptional examples of complex, core-gamer titles which the Wii console was somewhat lacking in the west.

Operation Rainfall was an exceptionally successful campaign of this sort. It gained quite some traction with various, well-organized and productive forms of raising awareness. It eventually developed into a full gaming news site / blog. It was successful too. Nintendo of America eventually did release Xenoblade Chronicles. The other two titles were picked up by Xseed and found their way to North America.

Meanwhile in Europe, we got all 3 games in luscious special editions. And then we got coins.

Operation Rainfall Coins

SWAG detail

The first European Club Nintendo members, who registered all 3 games received a free special set of 3 coins as a “thank you”. I was among the lucky ones. It took Nintendo of Europe quite some time to actually ship them so by the time I received them I kinda lost track of the whole story and forgot to post about it.

The coins are pretty nice. Not sure what material they are from. They certainly feel heavy so I assume some kind of painted / coated metal? Each coin has the logo of one of the 3 games. There is a graphic from the corresponding game on the back. The set comes in a nice, back box. Each coin is in it’s own removable, plastic shell. I’m guessing that’s to avoid wear. As you can tell, I’m not a coin expert.

Operation Rainfall Coins - Motifs

All of the SWAG from every side

This is one of those incredibly bizarre gaming stories we may never really completely understand. What motivated Nintendo of Europe to spend that extra money for that kind of reward? I’m pretty sure most of the fans in Europe were already pretty glad they didn’t have to convince Nintendo of Europe to import the games. The extra reward seems so incredibly superfluous. Especially since the actual artifact is so arbitrary and anonymous. You could make those kind of coins for any game, really. Perhaps it would have been more justified for a game like Mario, where collecting coins is actually part of the game.

So perhaps there was some kind of political reason at play here? Was this Nintendo of Europe rubbing it in to Nintendo of America? Was it Nintendo of Europe’s way of weighing in and trying to convince Nintendo of America to import the games? Were they just exploiting the situation to raise their public image? Did they even have an image problem in the first place? Were the developers involved somehow? Or was this just a genuine tip of the hat to the fan movement of Operation Rainfall? I guess we assume that the coins would have never been made without them, right?

Apart from speculations I really have no clue what caused this to happen. Perhaps we are going to hear an explanation years later. Or perhaps you, dear reader, have a better idea? Until then I’m going to file these babies in my vault under W as “Weird” or “WTF”.

P.S.: The games are actually quite interesting. So coins of no coins, I recommend checking them out!

Global Game Jam 2013

I recently participated in the Global Game Jam 2013. It was fun. Here is an impression video.

Because I haven’t been involved in the management and presentation of this year’s jam, I was able to actually work on a game in a team for the first time. It was an exciting 48 hours. I was working with my friend Max and a couple of my students from AIB / Texas A&M. We developed a very simple music game for the iPhone. Perhaps the coolest thing about it is that we actually finished it and submitted it to the iTunes store. It is currently being reviewed. Will post when it’s out.

One think that struck be about the Jam is how the mood / morale of the team usually goes through the same arc it does in a long game development process. Initial confusion about where to start. Exuberant enthusiasm once a concept has been agreed on. Utter disappointment beyond the midpoint as it becomes apparent that you can’t quite fulfill the initial vision and you need to start slashing features. Swinging back to boundless enthusiasm shortly before deadline once all the different elements fall into place and the game start working as intended.

I’ve been always an avid proponent of Jams. I keep discovering other ways in which they are a useful way of preparing for long-term game development.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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