Hypermorph Wins Three Thing Game Competition

So it’s been a frantic couple of weeks, plenty of course-work to do and last weekend was the much anticipated Three Thing Game competition. For anyone not in the know this is held each semester at Hull University and challenges teams to come up with a game based around three auctioned words per team. Judges then score based on the games relevance to the words and the quality/fun of the game. The competition involves a marathon 24 hour programming session to get your game finished on the day. This one was the biggest yet with 39 teams competing. We really couldn’t have asked for better “Things” because a combination of good bidding and luck meant we came out with “Flying”, “Tank” and “Bombs”. Considering another team got “Teddy bear”,  “Deodorant”  and “Pop Tart” I think we did ok!

Last year we came second with Shear Carnage and and I can say that honestly this year, we really really wanted to win it. This was evident to myself just by the focus we had this year and when the day of the competition came, I think I probably left my seat half a dozen times in the whole 24 hours! In hindsight we probably took it far too seriously and as a result I think it sacrificed a lot of the enjoyment of the competition and resulted in some contention regarding ideas that seemed inevitable considering vested interests and no one leader within the team. I think on a personal note, much was learnt regarding team work and there are aspects of the planning and design process I would do differently next time. Luckily it all turned out worth it in the end and so it’s very hard to regret any decisions, but this was by no means a painless endeavour!

Me on the right, Russ in the middle, John on the left. Lee Stott at the back.

So to the game, Hypermorph is a retro-style side scrolling shooter that takes me back to my childhood days, playing classics such as Xenon 2, R-Type and Menace on the Amiga. Back then the shoot’em’up was a staple video game genre and was hugely popular, now only since the mobile platforms have taken off is the genre again feasible because it’s the perfect style of game to have a quick blast on when wanting to pass a little bit of time. The  thing that’s pretty novel in Hypermorph is the ability for the player to switch between two different forms, a spaceship and a hover tank by simply tapping the screen. We made the game using XNA (C#) for the Windows Phone 7 and coded everything ourselves (no third party libraries).

I produced the art for the game and managing both the art and doing a lot of the programming was a challenge in itself on the day, resulting in most of the art being done in the last few hours. I had a good idea in my head what the game would look like when we were bouncing the initial idea around, however my regret was that I didn’t produce any concept art for it sooner to put the rest of the team at ease; for a long time I think we were left with our own ideas for how the game would look but once I came up with the first concept drawing for the ship, the team were all in favour to my relief!

We had decided to make the game quite dark and moody but with bright weapon and explosion effects to make them really stand out. Additionally, we wanted to make the controls as hands off as possible. We learned from Shear Carnage that using touch too frequently can result in obscuring a lot of the screen so we instead went for a tilt based movement for the player and a single touch to morph between Tank and Spaceship. Importantly we set it to auto-fire constantly since you soon realise that in this genre there’s never a time you don’t want to be firing.

One feature I’m really pleased we put in was the voice effects for powerups and various other things. It adds a lot to the immersion and again, really goes back to the genres roots.

Of course we have plans to get Hypermorph out on both the WP7 and Windows 8 market ASAP but uni coursework is currently being prioritised. At the competition was Lee Stott from Microsoft and guys from the Monogame team. Lee’s encouragement was inspiring and I’d also like to thank him and Microsoft for providing the cool prizes. The Monogame guys were brilliant and we spent a fair time chatting with them regarding getting our games ported to the various platforms, they even ported Shear Carnage and my Robocleaner game for us to show us how easy it is! (albeit there’s some coding required to get them ready for the marketplace).

Ultimately we are going to want to put in a few more levels, enemy types, weapons and powerups before getting it on the marketplace, but the good news is it will most certainly be free!

All in all it was overwhelming and the encouragement we have received from Lee Stott, Rob Miles and the MonoGame guys was great. Ultimately this is why I gave up a career in IT to get into the games industry, because there’s so much satisfaction in putting your heart and soul into producing a game and then seeing others get a lot enjoyment from it. Winning the Peoples Choice award as well as the judges award was the icing on the cake and I’d like to thank everyone who voted for us and gave us great feedback.

Stay tuned for more Hypermorph news soon…

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Shear Carnage

So, it all started with an idea based off that gem of a game “Missle Command” (pictured above – and whom most who read this are likely too young to have played) and spiralled uncontrollably into what became a potent concoction of sheep gibbs, explosions and of course laser beams…what else? My one regret is that we didn’t get around to combining that into the direct form of “laser beam firing sheep gibbs that explode”, but I digress.

The Three Thing Game competition is something held by Hull University every 6 months and  is based on teams being given 3 random words and then developing a game about these words within 24 hours (We did have a few days between getting the words to plan and prepare however). Our team “Run Dead Studios” received the words Sheep, Fireworks and High Diving. My good friends and team mates Russ and John have covered all the detail on this marvellously so I won’t cover old ground but do check out their blogs! (You both now owe me a blog plug).

The day was great fun and my first experience of working so closely as a developer on a games (or any software for that matter) project. This itself would have been great enough reward however to actually come second place out of 33 teams and over 100 people, was truly a wonderful thing. We were beaten rather predictable by “The Infamous Two Sirs” who live up to their name I can tell you. They had an excellent game that won hands down in terms of innovation, and though its mechanics are quite hard to explain, rest assured it was good. Next time, I think we’ll go for something more innovative ourselves, now that our confidence has peaked a little. There was certainly an element of playing it safe from us, but like Rob Miles has said on his blog, its much better to make a full game that’s simple,  then a complex one that’s basically just a tech demo.

    

Details wise, we developed it on for the Windows 7 platform using XNA in C#. I’ve got to say I think XNA is a great development library and with the help of Visual Studio and Tortoise/Subversion SVN for source code management, it was pretty much a care free development experience.

I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved, especially considering we are first years and the game is simply great even if I do say so…we certainly had plenty of fun playing it on the day, in fact it was so addictive it may have gotten in the way of us actually trying to get it finished which I think is a good sign.

On behalf of Run Dead Studios, I present Shear Carnage! Coming to a Windows Phone App Marketplace soon, free of course. No Sheep were harmed in the making of this game, however if the sight of cartoon sheep dismemberment is shocking to you, I STRONGLY do not recommend you play this game :D.

Just to add, you can find the video of us presenting the game to the judges (Well, the first presentation anyway) below: