On ‘Ugly Games’
So, I wanted to write a blog post, because I have a particularly frustrating bug in Volume that I am trying to avoid. I didn’t have anything particular to write, so I decided to request questions on twitter, and pick one I found interesting. This one in particular caught my eye, as it’s something folks say to me a lot in person:
@mikeBithell How do you think TWA will affect the industry for those who are not good at art and have a gameplay or story to show by blocks?— Mohamad (@TheMohAyyash)September 20, 2014
Thanks for the question, Mohamad, I’m not going to answer it directly, but I hope my roundabout approach is as interesting as a direct answer would be.
Screw that, let me give you the boring direct answer first: TWA had zero effect on the industry. It proves nothing, it changes no paradigm. It came out, some folks liked it, enough paid me that I get to make the next thing. That’s as much as I can really hope for with any of my games. It is as hard to get folks to play an aesthetically minimal game as it has ever been, and every time TWA is revealed to a new audience on a new platform, it’s kind of the same uphill fight for attention and interest.
Boring answer, right? Here’s a more interesting answer to a slightly different question I just made up so as to avoid fixing that bloody AI movement bug for a little while longer:
So, why did folks play a game as simple and ugly as TWA?
That’s one I get asked a lot. I’ve seen forum threads devoted to debates over how TWA got any kind of attention. So why did my game do well with bloody rectangles?
The intent here is not self congratulation. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed feeling very clever for about 3 months after TWA started getting big, but that feeling fades as you go back to getting on and making games. Apologies for smugness. In person, this is down to my slightly small eyes and propensity to smirk, online, I have no excuse. I am likely going to sound a bit like this. Bullet points!
- TWA uses every graphic design trick in the book - It’s easy to assume rectangles are lazy, or retro 8-bit. Rectangles were, however, not invented for the Atari. They were invented by the Swiss, around the turn of the century. Or the Greeks with their golden ratio, or one of many, many cultures that have echoed basic compositional and geometric design practice back through the ages. For some reason, people find certain ratios, angles and scale relationships pleasing to the eye. I’m no genius with this stuff, but I own a whole heap of books. Everything in TWA is aligned to grids, spaced evenly, internally aligned, built off of fibonacci, every trick I learned as a jobbing layout guy. I even nicked the ‘just rotate it a few degrees’ rule I learned putting together documents for executives who were unaware of my tricks, or indeed my existence. Seriously, just rotate everything a few degrees.. makes it ‘pop’.. or so I’m told, don’t go too far, or you’ve made Battlefield Earth, and nobody wants that. There are several books on composition and basic graphic design out there, written by smarter folk than me.. go to your local library or amazon prime member.
- TWA uses every animation trick in the book - Go buy The Animator’s Survival guide, or, like me, engage in a 10 year relationship with an animator who already owns it. It’s written by the animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and is intended as a cheat sheet and basic introduction for animators. For hacks like you and I, it tells us everything we need to know to fake life on a computer screen. This is where TWA’s squash and stretch came from. Well, it’s where TWA’s stretch came from, and it’s where I learned that I could likely get away with not doing the squash (it balls up landing from a gameplay perspective). I still get complimented on the squishy nature of TWA’s characters, the human eye thirsts for faces and personality, it’s amazing how much you can achieve with very little, how many gaps your player’s neuro-chemistry will fill for you.
- TWA has a professionally designed colour palette - I went to my friend Daz for this, who I would later end up working with on Volume. Every colour is balanced with every other colour in the game, everything fits. Pop quiz: How many colours do you reckon there are in TWA (hues)? 100 Levels? 24. There are 24 colours in TWA. That’s it. Keeping the palette concise meant we could pitch everything together right, and ensure that every screenshot worked art wise, nothing clashed or glared out from the screen. Colours are important, and if like me they are a blind spot, get someone awesome to help you out. I can personally recommend Daz, he’s @thatswhatugets on twitter.
- TWA uses one font - Museo Sans. It’s free, go get it, lovely font. I use Josefin for my numbers too.. but that’s cheating. Easiest way in the world to make your game look cheap or tacky is to throw a million fonts at it. Volume is also one font, right now it’s Futura, but I’m thinking of changing. The logo is a bespoke logotype me and Daz bounced back and forth and made from scratch. Logos are allowed to be different fonts ;)
- TWA commits to minimalism - I threw a lot of mess at TWA while developing it, smoke, ash particles, loads of things. In the end I allowed myself rain and two lens flares.. and I’m still not sure about the lens flares. If going for minimalism, don’t chuck in fire effects, or that cool material with the shiny stuff. Every choice has to have intent, ‘it looks cool’ won’t cut it, and leads to inconsistent aesthetics. If you’re not sure about this stuff, find an artist to help you.. it matters. Too much, probably. Picking a core shape for the game helps too. Volume’s is a diamond, everything keys into that basic form, and looks tied together as a result.
And also, it had (hopefully) good gameplay (undoubtedly) great music and a fine voice performance (hopefully not ruined too much by my writing). But I think it’s too easy to use games like TWA, Super Hexagon, N+ et al to prove ‘graphics don’t matter’. What doesn’t matter is lens flare and normal maps. Aesthetics certainly matter, a little too much, frankly. If you can’t see how well Super Hexagon holds together graphically over, say, your average flash game, find a collaborator who can spot the difference for you.. please don’t make the mistake of thinking visuals don’t matter.
Or, be a punk and make an intentionally disgustingly ugly game. Those rock too. Just do it with intent and glorious purpose.
Thanks, hope there was something to glean from that. Thanks for the inspiration, Mohamad. Sorry I didn’t really answer your question properly.
failed step 1
step 1: reblog a two part post in the right order
so how many cool wrestlers are out now because of injury? daniel bryan, bad news barrett, ryback, and now roman reigns (plus ambrose b/c movie)
gdi apparently the newer version of bears den’s pompeii doesn’t have the lyric parallel that i really liked, replaced with an older version
(it’s the ‘flowers slipping from your hand’/’flowers sleeping in her hands’ pair of lines)
- male game designer: hey maybe we should treat women like people
- male gamer: how could you say these things... i trusted you... i have lost a hero on this day
ellisbender asked: Sorry for being an idiot but I am kind of confused as to the whole situation in Scotland. I no that they just voted to remain part of the UK but what is going on now?? And who is doing all of the spray painting??? Once again sorry for being dumb.
Honestly, don’t worry, even people in the UK don’t know what’s happening because we have shocking media censorship over here.
Okay, so for the last two years, Alex Salmond (now former first minister of Scotland) and the SNP and all the grassroots Yes campaigns, have been campaigning for the Independence of Scotland from the Union of Britain. Now this isn’t the first time this has happened, we had a referendum in the 70s, and it was swinging heavily towards a Yes vote for independence, but Margaret Thatcher and her cronies got their claws in and put in (now) illegal measures to ensure that didn’t happen. We got basic devolution powers later, which allowed us to form our own government with EXTREMELY limited powers. The Yes campaign did a brilliant job, but because the media in the UK is entirely right-wing biased, the fear mongering got to people and Independence was rejected 45-55. And while it’s not what I wanted, that is a very promising result, meaning people are getting more informed.
This is were it gets weird.
So the No (or pro-union) campaign won the referendum, but because the vote was counted by area they “lost” the vote in certain areas. One of these areas was Glasgow in which a majority voted to leave the Union. Glasgow has a long history of violence, but it has done VERY well recently in remaining peaceful, and the Yes campaign has never once acted violently in their campaigning so it seemed like the result of this referendum should be reacted to peacefully.
In George Square (largely regarded as the unofficial HQ for the Yes campaign) which is right next door to the single busiest shopping street in Glasgow, a few Yes campaigners were out there today protesting/campaigning peacefully.
The NO campaign has been constantly associated with notoriously violent groups. The Orange Order (A protestant extremist organisation, at their first rally they through a glass bottle at a twelve year old girl and have shoved and punched Yes voters) and the Rangers Football Club fans (incredibly religious and violent group).
During the peaceful Yes Protest in George Square, hundreds of Unionists carrying Union Jacks and singing “God Save the Queen” and Rangers football club songs marched towards them, shoving and harassing passing innocent Yes voters. The majority of them are middle aged men, and have been seen spitting at women wearing Yes badges and calling them Scum. The police arrived to form a barrier, which antagonized the Unionist, and they charged at the Yes protesters.
Usually I’m not the biggest fan of the police, but right now they are doing a top-notch job of at least not allowing this to break into a massacre. I have heard reports of Yes voters being stabbed, beaten up and attacked with hammers. Yes voters are being told not to wear their badges and to take their posters down to avoid harrassment and vandalism.
Here’s some eyewitness stuff
This is what Britain is.
I’m going to post this publicly, please reblog. To anyone in Glasgow tonight, please stay safe.