Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Sprint Update - 12.07.16 - What has 6 legs and green shoots? Us!


Hoorah! We have been selected by Creative England to join their Greenshoots program in partnership with Microsoft, which comes with a solid amount of funding and will help us ensure we get to our aim of getting the alpha in your hands sometime next year!

This means we can continue working full time, plan towards some kind of release date, and have enough funds to guarantee we’ll actually be able to get the game out in it’s alpha state and that people will be able to get it around next spring/summer (assuming you are brave enough to grab early access copy)!!

We had some nice press in leading industry publications too, you can read a little more about us and the Greenshoots program through Develop Online and Gamasutra. If you are at Develop conference this week the Greenshoots team from Creative England, will be down there promoting us and the other studios, so if you see the team say hey to them and ask about us and let them know you are interested.

While you are there you should definitely swing by and check out our good old friends at the NFTS Games stand at the conference. They are showing off the quite frankly amazing looking demos for their current crop of developers.

We are now a 6-legged team

With the funding we have been able to bring on our good friend and developer, Harry Rose, who joined us around 2 weeks ago and is now settling in nicely. Harry is a great dev, experienced beyond his years, having previously worked at Feral Interactive, and brings oodles of knowledge in making games run smoothly across a range of platforms, Linux users, we got your backs :)
We’d like to add a public warm welcome to Harry, it’s great to have him in the team!

Hacker House, Holly’s Puppies, and the IFB

If you have read some of our recent posts you will know that we are collaborating with Hacker House. One of the projects Hacker House are working on is a cyber skills app to teach the foundations of digital hygiene in conjunction with the Duke of York’s iDEA digital literacy badges.

The Hacker House cyber badge is called ‘Holly’s Puppy Paradise’, and takes the player through the steps of securing the Puppy Paradise forums against defacement attacks from the evil Dr. David D. Davidson, a vitriolic cat lover!

Lauri Love, Hacker House’s ‘Cheif Hacking Officer’ came up with the initial design proposal, and together Rich and Lauri essentially went over the design, story boarded the foundations, and fleshed out the initial mechanics. We really like the concept and it nicely summarises the Hacker House approach to strengthening infosec skills through advocacy and participation.

Rich then traveled up to Liverpool with Hacker House to the International Festival for Business to take part in a talk on ‘cyber gaming’ and the future of teaching infosec.

Rich and Lauri presented Off Grid and Holly’s Puppy Paradise at the festival to a room full of diverse experts from places like Capita and the Cyber Security Challenge. Wes Hall wrote up a great summary of the day which you can read here.

Last month we also made an application in parallel with Hacker House to take part in the Mass Challenge UK accelerator program. If we are both selected it will give us even more opportunity to collaborate together on Off Grid and future hacking themed games, and innovate in the field of cyber-gaming, so watch this space!

Lauri Love’s Extradition hearing

As some of you may know, Lauri is facing some absurd allegations with no prima facie case being presented and no evidence being put forward, and although this seems Kafkaesque, it could lead to the UK allowing the US to extradite and try him in a far more politicized and punitive system.

Rich headed over to Lauri’s Extradition hearing to show support. There was a really strong showing from the great and the good in the community. Top from AnonUK Radio, Jake Davies, Fabio Natali, Wes Hall, Nicole Powers, Jen Arcuri, and Mustafa Al-Bassam among many others, and if you want a hilarious yet succinct summary of the proceedings you should check out Jake’s twitter feed or for even more detail, the full proceedings ‘storified’ from the Courage Foundation.

Final arguments for Lauri’s hearing have now been scheduled for Monday the 25th July. If you are around and interested in supporting Lauri then come down and show solidarity. This last day of the hearing will ensure aural submissions of concluding arguments on both sides.

Guest lecture / speaking at Amersham College

Rich went over to Amersham College / Centroid Motion Capture Academy with a panel of other games industry types including John Dower, and NFTS Head of Games, Jon Weinbren

to speak to the graduating student’s there. Amersham, and Neil Bedecker, their course leader, have been fantastic this year, running a mocap session and doing animation cleanup for us back in the spring, and so we wanted to pay the favour back and congratulate the students’ hard work. There is some really fantastic raw talent coming out of the course, so please check out the work of a couple of the students we met: Rowan Dunn and Joseph Shirley, and keep an eye out for Amersham college graduates.

On the panel with Rich was Dan DeRocha, Designer behind 2011′s highly successful First Person puzzler ‘Q.U.B.E.’. It turns out Dan is an Amersham Alumni, which speaks volumes for the college, and is also on the Greenshoots program with us; developing the sequel, Q.U.B.E.2 so we’ll look forward to doing more with Dan through the Greenshoots program in the future!

Co-working up at Hacker house FT interview

Pontus and Rich headed up to Hacker house to co-work and take part in an interview with the Financial Times special reports about what Hacker House is up to and how to revolutionise cyber security in the UK for businesses and individuals alike. We had some of the classic Hacker House toys out to play with and show the FT, if you look closely in front of Ens on the left is a ‘portable’ Commadore SX-64 lovingly refurbished by HackerFantastic, which we had running demoscene demos and the original Donkey Kong :P

So what about development?!

Well we have had some pretty interesting dev tasks this sprint too…

Bullet Proofing our modding api

As we’re planning on opening the creation of missions to our player-base we want to make sure that we give all the help we can when things go wrong. Towards the end of this sprint Harry has been working on beefing up our error checking and logging mechanisms to better help modders.
This will also help us a great deal during development as nearly all our missions will be built using the same tools that modders will be using!

Smart keys and network-connected locks

There’s a great blog post by Liz England explaining what game designers really do by using a simple thing, a door, as an example and then discussing all the aspects that need to be considered when adding that simple object to your game. Well, it looks like we’ve managed to take this door problem to completely new level…

By now we’ve gone through all the normal door stuff already (including all the “other door problems” since we are indie developers and need to fill all those roles as well), we’ve had working doors and locks in the game for ages, and we’ve even iterated the lock mechanics a bit over time; we’ve switched from dealing with physical key cards to unlock doors to just reading the RFID data from the card to your phone, and then using the phone to transmit the key data to locks to open them, without ever picking up the actual key card. However this was done in the simple way of just checking if the player had correct key card (or key card data) in their inventory, and then unlocking the door for you.

Turns out that’s not going to work for our level editor, as we need to deal with dependencies between different objects and classes and which ones can be included in the level editor and which ones can’t. For example if the lock checks the player inventory for the correct key, that means it needs to know about the player inventory class and we’d need to add that to the level editor. However the player inventory needs to know about several other things, like our user interface, a bunch of other classes related to the player and data systems etc, and each one of those depends on more and more things, and sooner or later you run into something we simply can’t include due to it over crowding the simplicity we are after in the LevelKit, licensing restrictions or something else.

This means that we needed to come up with a different way for setting up the door locks and keys. And since we are making a game that deals with data and networks, it only makes sense to design our locks to use those mechanics as well. In fact they already do, to some extent, the key cards work with exactly the same data type that everything else does, they just don’t use our networks system to send and receive that data. And changing that seems to be the best way to solve the dependency issues for the level editor, and also gives us more options for making the doors and locks hackable as network-connected devices, a feature we’ll need to figure out for many other things we’ll want to have available to players in the level editor anyway…

Of course this means we have a fair few additional design questions to ask; should the key cards use WiFi or should we add support for short-range data transfers, like Bluetooth or some kind of NFC/RFID system? How should that work? And what data should be transferred through NFC versus what should be available through the longer-range WiFi and mobile networks? Should NFC data be something the government (and any hacker) is able to access remotely, or will it be only available when you are in range of the key card or lock? And of course how to make it all easy for the player, if you are being chased by a guard you probably don’t want to stop to select the correct key file to use, you’d just want to swipe your phone on the card scanner and hope it’ll unlock before the guard reaches you… So we’ll need to make sure we can select the correct key for each lock automatically and make it all both player- and modder-friendly.

..and by now you might have some idea how we managed to spend weeks figuring out how to add doors to our level editor. We’ve taken a simple thing, turned it into complex problem, added a bit more complexity since that’s what we do, and then (hopefully) turned it all back into something that’s actually buildable for us and hopefully appears as simple thing for anybody making levels, and that the player doesn’t hopefully even have to think about to use. That kind of time investment for simplicity is always important in video games and should pay-off really nicely with the extension of the data mechanics. The design side is done now, so we should be able to deal with implementing this in the next sprint!

And that’s about it! We’ll get you another update sooner next time, speak to you in a few weeks!

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