Last Updated on July 13, 2019
The University of Technology Sydney hosted a showcase of games from this semester’s first-and-second-year game design classes. There were also a few personal projects on display. I’m a huge fan of indie games, so getting to chat in person with local developers was exciting.
In the first room were the second-year students’ projects.
A Man and his Monkey by Terence Lau, Sam Matthews, Dominic Kihas, Lachlan Christophers
I talked to a developer who wrote their own 2D platformer game engine from scratch with C#. They explained that they did this because they weren’t happy with the bounciness and unresponsiveness of Unity’s rigid bodies.
While their game did have good motion, it was sorely lacking variable jump heights, which detracted significantly from the capability the game could have otherwise had.
Another problem was that the background used the same colours as the platforms, which made it difficult to navigate visually. When I brought this up, they said it was to give the design cohesion by showing the platforms as a part of the broader world.
While this may have been their aim, it really wasn’t functional, especially since the platforms are already so ubiquitous. The game was very simple. They had focused primarily on its unique engine, but they would have been better off allowing for some technical debt to allow for more complex design.
Hyperpocalypse by Aryeh Zinn, Sean Simon, Robert Romano, Alex Leydon
Another interesting game in the room was a 3D space flight game that was fast and responsive. They did an incredible job with the graphics. The game had vibrant colours that stood out, but it also had many objects and obstacles in the levels to stop you from looking too much into the void.
There were glowing green rings for the player to fly through and dark red asteroids to avoid. The asteroids had slim atmospheres, which granted a good deal of points for brushing without colliding with the asteroid itself. It was quite a fun and spectacular experience.
On a Train by Jacob Efendi
There was one game about anxiety which had me interested both as a fan of art games and as someone that suffers from anxiety myself. In this game, players were put on an endless train ride where they are forced to make light conversation with an NPC for as long as possible, while suppressing anxious and distracting thoughts by repeatedly pressing a randomly chosen key.
I found this mechanic to be a very truthful representation of my experience with anxiety, especially with its tendency for pulling us away from the real world into ourselves, creating a vicious and destructive cycle.
However, I am not sure that the game was very effective overall, as it was too narrowly focused on that one experience. This game plays all its cards too quickly. After the first fifteen seconds, you’ve seen the first negative thoughts to come through, and there isn’t much more beyond that.
The graphics are also very minimal, with a boxy style and grey colour scheme. Rather than adding to the mood of an anxious person, I think this just made it too clear what the experience was intending to convey without any complication or necessity for thought.
Still, the game was an interesting experience and truly unique among the evening’s games. I’d like to see what they make next time.
First Year Projects
In addition to the aforementioned game were the smaller games made by the first-year classes which, while less impressive, did show some heart. These games mostly used assets lifted from other games or their own extremely rudimentary graphics.
There was one game with an Attack on Titan-themed main menu, and in-game you played as the protagonist from Hyper Light Drifter with a very clunky grappling hook.
The first challenge was a gap to swing over. But the grappling hook ignores all your momentum, so it was much harder than it needed to be.
My favourite game in the first-year room was called Slime Time, which was a slower-paced platformer where you played as a slime monster that could stick to walls and the undersides of platforms and also fling yourself with the mouse like an old flash archery game.
I liked Slime Time more than most of the other games I experienced because it had much better level design and it really capitalized on its charm. It was a colourful, carefree, pixelated world which matched very nicely with the flow and feeling of the game.
Unfortunately, the controls were not intuitive, especially when upside on a platform, as the left and right controls were relative to the orientation of the player’s sprite, not the world. And the flinging of the character was also somewhat unpredictable. These flaws didn’t end up dampening my experience of the game too much though.
Another game in the room was a two-player top-down puzzle game where one player played as a ghost and the other player as a human. The puzzles were based around the idea that the human could push boxes and the ghost could walk over spikes.
This base concept was certainly substantive enough to make a good game. However, the approach to puzzle design was hard to grasp. There was only one specific solution, and even small deviations would lead to an impassable game state, so many restarts were necessary.
This got so bad that it was the core idea of the final level, which lead the players to make certain assumptions about how to progress through the level before revealing a trap door which the obvious solution blocked.
I understand the temptation to design something tricky like this, but it fails at creating engaging experiences by teasing and tricking the player over and over without any granting of satisfaction. There was no room for safe experimentation without the threat of needing to restart the level entirely, which is too much of a punishment.
In all, the showcase was an enjoyable evening, and I had fun seeing all these interesting games. I am eager to take part in some of the classes that helped to produce them.
Young Computer Science student, interested in game design and development with a particular interest in the use of framing and narrative to enhance gameplay and story.
Also runs the Design Dialects YouTube channel which has longer form videos on this topic.