Category Archives for: Game Development

Using Scribblenauts as a Teaching Device

18 April 2013

A family friend of mine in India has been using my iPad to use Facebook for the past two days. He’s in high school. I think he’s got the gist of Facebook, which is better than his Google skills and his concept of the internet. In the past, I let him play a few games on it. Just now, I showed him Scribblenauts Remix. It was an interesting experience.

He doesn’t know English well and his spelling is very poor. I didn’t know this until he spelled boy “boiii” and ball “bol”. I had play with him: to teach him how to play, to translate the goal of each level, to talk about how to solve each level, to help spell out his solutions, and to help deal with the poor game interactions. Although I was guiding him through the game, there was a constant stream of new content: a new English word (axe, ladder), a new object (masquerade mask), a new concept (evolution, extinction events). In parallel, there was a constant stream of learning taking place. The game naturally brought up discussions about the new content, mistranslations, and puzzle solutions. Playing this game turned out to be a really fun teaching experience.

I think this game makes for an awesome teaching device. I totally recommend playing it with any child or foreign teenager, or anyone who wants to learn some English vocabulary! Super Scribblenauts and Scribblenauts Unlimited add adjectives to the game, making it an even better English learning device.

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An Analysis of a Playtest on Kids, and Thoughts about Designing Games for a Large Audience

26 February 2013

I let my family’s domestic worker family’s son in India and his friend play some iPad games: Fingle, Shot Shot Shoot, SpellTower, and Singing Fingers. It turned out to be a really interesting experiment.

Experiment Results

Despite them being a little uncreative, they enjoyed all of the games. The only problem was I had to guide them a bit on learning how to play each game. I would say they enjoyed the games in the following order: Fingle, Shot Shot Shoot, Singing Fingers, SpellTower.

Fingle, by far, was a winner. They quickly learned (with guidance, and the constant enforcement of the using one hand rule) and said, “this would be fun to play with a girl”. Still, the two male kids enjoyed playing. They laughed at the sound of moaning after accomplishing a level. I feel the game worked because it doesn’t require much creativity from them. There is a clear goal, and they do it.

Shot Shot Shoot was fun. When I played against either one of them, I won 90% of the time because they just didn’t have the capacity for building a strategy. When they played each other, they were reckless. They cared about winning, but there was little to no learning going on.

Singing fingers was short lived. After I taught them the mechanics of Singing Fingers by demonstration “helooooo”, they mimicked me and said “hellooooo” and then nearly closed it. I then showed them that they could make sounds of different pitches and play them in a tune or simultaneously. Then they got excited. Still, that only extended the gameplay another two minutes for them.

SpellTower went pretty well too, but I think they just lacked English vocabulary. That and puzzle games just aren’t fun. Okay, this is a personal bias. I don’t play puzzle games. Some people love Tetris, Lumines, and Super Puzzle Fighter; My brain turns off while playing them. I’ll consider this game as disqualified.

What happened?

Without a goal, some people will stop playing and move on to something else. Maybe they lack attention, don’t care, or just aren’t curious enough. In order for a game to be popular, the idea has to click within the first minute, or else they’ll move on to something else.

This is a problem. Hugely popular social network games tackled this by adding hand-holding tutorials in the form of dialog boxes. Independent game designers emerged and said tutorial are stupid and that the player should learn by playing. I imagine the direct contrast to those old social network games is Shadow of the Colossus. That game nearly has no directions. It asks the player to figure out what to do, by, well, playing!

None of the games I playtested were learned by the players by themselves. I allowed time for each game, but none of them captured their attention long enough. They simply asked what they should do. Sometimes they touched anything that resembled “Okay” until they came to a screen had enough things moving to resemble a game screen (was this conditioned by social network games?). Once there, they touched a few times, gave up, and closed the game.

Sure, teaching people how to play defeats the purpose of play, but should a line be drawn between the curious, patient, and intelligent people from the rest or should game designers strive to teach everyone?

Even after I taught the kids the basis of each game they struggled to progress in each one. No strategy was created in Shot Shot Shoot and no creativity existed in Singing Fingers. Fingle however was played until they had to leave.

What does this mean?

I think this playtest kinda revived mechanical games for me. Fingle is amazing, simply for its mechanics. Once the basics are learned, the players know how to play the game entirely. New mechanics are not progressively added, so the players are not constantly learning, and so a constant tutorial is not needed. You put the solid white block in the dashed white outline (another sexual metaphor?). Progress is shown through levels rather than mechanics. Sure, there wasn’t major thinking or learning going on, but they had fun. Mechanically-heavy digital games, like the board games that precede it have a universal audience. That’s kinda powerful.

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Pinkies Up

15 May 2012

Game Files



NOTE: Works for iOS 6, not sure about 7. I’m updating everything right now!

This project is really old, but it still seems to work for me. It’s an Xcode project.
1. unzip
2. Open PinkiesUp.xcodeproj
3. Run
4. Pray
5. Play
– to play it on multiple devices: run the game on each device to install it, start the game on each device, on one device press host game, on the other devices press join game, press at least 2 buttons on each side to have a minimum of 2v2, press ready on each device, press start on the host device.

To see a play through, see the video below.


www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqO_Vyc9a1Q via jonstoked.com/pinkies-up

Design Statement

As Jon often describes the game to others, “it’s basically flip-cup for iPad”.


Two teams race, each team having a quirky physics based character code-named Harold. Each player is assigned one button. Each active player group must press their buttons in sequence to add force to Harold. A button pressed out of sequence causes Harold to physically collapse, stopping him for a moment. First Harold to the finish line, which is at the end of the screen of the last device, wins.


A social extensible-multiplayer iPad game with a simple interface. It’s what Jon and I had been gravitating toward for the previous few months.

We intended to maximize the use of iPad’s features: eleven touches, physics, and networking. Oh the possibilities! A single parallax scrolling background over multiple devices as Harold runs across the screen, UI color palettes and silly sounds for each device.
Personal Contribution
The game is Jon’s idea, which constitutes a large portion of the game design. We collaborated to etch out further game design. I programmed everything except the physics of Harold. Jon also handled visual design.

Lessons Learned

The greatest problem with development was the lack of consistent playtesting. Consistent playtesting is needed to see progress and priority, but also to maintain motivation. A related problem: we were working remotely. Being physically together is important.

I also underestimated the time it takes to write code for Objective-C, Cocos2d, Box2d, and Game Kit. It was at least five times slower than writing code for my previously used game engine: FlashPunk. I also felt that my networking code was poorly written. It takes time.

The lack of feedback caused motivation to wane, and the work sits on my computer, teasing me. Perhaps I just need to bring it out, playtest it to regain motivation, and finish it.

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Designing Educational Games: The Indie Way

30 April 2012

I attended the VINCI / Sid the Science Kid hackathon. It turned out to be a startup pitch event for developing an educational game using a VINCI tablet.

After I poorly pitched my game, I had a burning thought, the reason I had to write this post: I felt that the design behind technology in education is poor because of the designer’s approach and money.

I imagine when a typical educational game designer thinks of a game, they constrain the game to the limits of what they perceive a kid can do. Thus resulting in worthless passive games (think film with buttons).

I believe that if I was a kid and given any educational game from today, I would have played the game for 5 minutes and trashed it. I would have deemed that the game lacked value. Yep, even as a kid I had values.

Educational game designers could take few points from the current independent game scene. Indie game designers strive to let the player learn to play the game by playing the game, without a tutorial. Indie game designers also try to make a game as accessible as possible, so even a person who hasn’t been conditioned to a similar game can play.

I think one approach to this is to take a complex system and try to simplify the interface as much as possible, without losing the core functions. My game is essentially a simplified music composition application. What else can be simplified? How about other creative endeavors: writing a book, making a film, choreographing a dance, designing a house, designing a game. How about occupations: forensic scientist, nurse, documentarian, journalist, photographer.

The other problem is sadly money. If money already greatly influences the American education system, then it surely affects technology in education. The existence of a poorly marketed two-day $80,000 prize startup pitch event perfectly demonstrates the influence.

The end result: an indie game developer rants and another terrible educational game is funded.

The Pitches

I pitched two ideas, one with a team and one without.

The team pitch development started with many great ideas but became something monstrous and out of scope. Still, I don’t regret teaming up. I feel that having a team enforces the result product to be more accessible. My personal pitch is clearly a product of my personality, and likely only works for my kind.

My personal pitch was for a game in which the player draws to create music. The x-axis is time and y-axis is pitch. The game has pre-defined sounds it can recognize and indicates the player once found. For example, if the player draws a stick figure, the game recognizes and indicates the vertical line used for the body as a clap sound. The clap sound is now marked as discovered under a list of sounds. Perhaps there’s a sound below that for applause (with a play button beside it to play it). Now, since the player knows how to create a clapping sound, he may intuitively draw multiple vertical lines to create an applause sound. In the process, the player will learn how the game works and go on to try to mimic the other sounds listed.

The possible features are exactly those of any professional music making program. Colors (different instruments), sound recording, save composition function, etc. I imagine the core sounds would progress: make a crescendo, a decrescendo, a siren sound (wave), jingle bells (without pitch), jingle bells (with pitch).

I doubt my game will be chosen. It requires too much development time; It’s not feasible. The judges likely feel it’s too complex for a 5 year old. Yet, of all of the pitches, the only game I’d actually want to develop is my own.

The team I was on won, but the misrepresentation of the prizes and the misorganization of the development process steered me away.

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31 March 2012

Play the game.

This is my entry Experimental Gameplay March 2012. The theme is economy. It is the result of developing a game without thinking about the core game mechanic first. It is a complete failure.

Player 1/Player 2 – description

A/’ – Red
S/; – Green
D/L – Blue
F/K – hold and press RGB to direct military to retreat, halt, and attack
G/J – hold and press RGB to tell workers to get a specific resource (by default it auto-gathers)

Finger mapping:
Player 1, use right hand
Player 2, use left hand

Player 2’s controls mirrors Player 1

A/’ – index finger
S/; – middle finger
D/L – ring finger
F/K – little finger
G/J – little finger

How to play:
It’s just a simple real-time strategy game, except you play with a keyboard. Blue units gather resources, green do nothing as of now [supposed to research/upgrade], red can attack.

Other Notes:
As of now battles are sad due to lack of solid objects and pathfinding. Also, there is no win condition.

Post thoughts:

What was envisioned:
1000s of units, flocking, simple yet competitive gameplay (think Hokra), precise controls (think QWOP), color-collar workers (and a statement against classism), resource renewal (and a statement against resource consumption), map based off of image, able to upload map (MS paint is now a map editor!), large resolution to zoom in and out.

Why it didn’t work:
Decreasing the amount of player input increases the amount of AI programming. Competitive games require more balancing and tuning than non-competitive games. Multiplayer on the the same screen isn’t as fun because it lacks fog of war.

Also, I felt like crap while making this. It was forced. It just didn’t feel right.

I feel like a game could be created with these initial ideas, but I can’t bare to look at it again.

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What Makes a Game Meaningful and Why Innovative Mechanics Aren’t Enough

25 March 2012

During the production of my first few game prototypes [September-November 2011], I was inspired to create games with new game mechanics. But now as I am creating this month’s EGP game, novel game mechanics are not enough for me. It’s not enough to motivate me to continue creating.

I am now gearing towards Jenova Chen’s philosophy. Making a game that causes the player to feel a certain way.

Thinking about film for a second, as films have greatly influenced me, I cannot think of an experimental film that greatly affected me. The films that the were meaningful to me, that influenced me, were ones that made me feel differently. [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did come to mind]

I can’t name many games that directly express a feeling. Most current great games have a novel game mechanic and fit the secondary art (story, graphics, music) around it [in good taste] to express the feeling: Ico (care), Shadow of the Collosus (epicness), Braid (enigmatic). Few games have a more direct approach: Dys4ia (frustration) [IMO, amazing], …But That Was [Yesterday] (sadness) and Between (lots!). Okay it seems now I’m just naming some of my favorite games. But perhaps that’s the reason they are my favorite. They were meaningful because they made me feel a certain way. They moved me.

Isn’t that the core of art, an expression of feeling?

What place do purely mechanical games such as (glancing at IGF) Spelunky, Antichamber, Beat Sneak Bandit, The Floor is Jelly, even the mechanically genius Storyteller have? In order for it to be meaningful to me, will these games have be fully developed, realized, harness an emotion for it to have a pronounced affect on me? [Botanicula did make me smile]

I think so. I don’t even care about most of those game as of now.

If Braid did not have the story, graphics, level design, and music that it did, would it have been great? I don’t think so. It would have just been another puzzle game with cool new mechanics. A forgotten IGF winner for best design. A squander.

The importance of “finishing your game” is reiterated. And by finish, it is implied to develop the game until every aspect is fully thought out, until you’ve spent years of your life creating something, something that somehow your life now depends on, in hope that it will be equally appreciated by others as it is to you.

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Ridiculous Vending

14 March 2012

This is my half-assed entry for Experimental Gameplay Project March 2012. The theme is Economy. It’s an analog game! I’ll make a digital game soon…


  1. Each player (vendor) is given a set of n blank cards. N being the number of players or 5 at a minimum.
  2. Each player draws a single item and duplicates it on all of their cards. Example items: A spaceship, Obama, a Macbook Pro, Excalibur, an empty tin can.
  3. Each player writes the value of their item on the card. Example values: 1, 1 million, 1/3, 1283, $1.99, pie.
  4. Each player keeps 5 cards in hand and discards the rest. (This is done so that players can evenly distribute their cards when they get eliminated)
  5. The player with the highest valued item begins the first turn (barter).
  6. Turn: The current player must barter with another player. The number of cards exchanged must be equal on both sides. Example barter: “I’ll trade 1 spaceship, 2 Obamas, and a Macbook Pro for 3 empty tin cans!”. The players exchange cards. The other player must now respond with the new total value of his goods within a time limit [5 seconds]. If the other player succeeds, the game continues. If the other player fails, the player is eliminated and must evenly distribute their cards among the remaining players.
  7. If a round completes, the time limit decreases by [1 second]. The time limit resets to the default value once a player is eliminated.
  8. The game continues until 2 players are left. In order for the final player to win, one player must fail a barter and the other player must succeed during the next barter.

Optional Rules:
Players must role-play as a vendor. Example vendors: the merchant from Resident Evil 4, Crazy Dave from Plants vs Zombies, an ambiguous Middle Eastern vendor.

This game has not been play-tested.

Copyright issues:
The title may have been inspired by Ridiculous Fishing.

How this came about:
I actually wanted to make a game in Unity but my windows partition had insufficient space, so I started thinking about analog games and new media. The main idea was written during public transport. I worked it out a little more on a composition book. That’s it.

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Poorly Designed Upgrades

15 November 2011

Play the game

This game is my submission for this month’s Experimental Gameplay Project competition. The theme is upgrade.

I used ActionScript, FlashDevelop, and FlashPunk again.

Last time I promised EGP and myself the game would be experimental. It’s certainly more experimental than my previous games, but not quite enough. The ideas are there but I cheated myself and conveyed them on a shoot ’em up genre game. Never again!



Experiment with different upgrade setups to prevent enemies from reaching the bottom of the screen in various challenges.


wasd or arrow keys to move
space bar to fire
f to autofire (on by default)

while in sandbox screen:
– and + to decrease or increase enemy HP (can hold the key down)
[ and ] to decrease or increase enemy spawn rate (can hold the key down)
u to enter the upgrade screen
1, 2, 3 to start a challenge

while in upgrade screen:
left click on the canvas to draw the current upgrade. This works similar to the pencil tool in a graphics editing program
*you can only draw on the ship or a neighboring pixel of the current upgrade
*you cannot overlap other upgrades
*protip, each 4-connected neighborhood is treated as a separate gun
escape to go back to sandbox screen

while in challenge screen:
escape to go back to sandbox screen

Oooone mooore thing. The boosters and challenges are actually poorly designed. Really, it’s bad.

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My First Game Jam

24 October 2011

Here’s the story behind Can You Imagine Yourself as a Verbal Assassin?.

Well, not the whole story. I’ve divided the story into two parts as I was involved with two games, one with a team and one personal. The first story is about the development of my personal game. The second story is about my experience at the game jam and the development of the team game. I’ll start at the time the theme was given.

The Personal Story

Jammers (I’m making this term up) were able to choose any posts by the Horse ebooks twitter account. No one knows the origin or reason for the account. It appears to be run by a program which grabs phrases from the internet and posts it every few hours. The results are interesting, as some phrases seem poetic.

Initially I was felt bummed out for having such a broad theme, but then some of the more thoughtful posts stuck out to me. “Will there be cars without drivers?”. I thought about some futuristic place where suddenly the protagonist realized there are cars without drivers. Where are they all going? What is their purpose? The second one that stuck out was “Can you imagine yourself as a verbal assassin?”. So I imagined. How can you be a verbal assassin? What dose that even mean? How do you kill with words? Is the theme implying that a verbal assassin is lesser than a normal assassin? Then somehow I got the idea that the assassin talks out loud, “move up, move up, move up, stab”. That’s going to ’cause problems with an assassination. People will hear the assassin. Then the vision of a Metal Gear type game came up, in which sound waves are displayed every time the character talks, and you must be careful so that the enemies cannot hear you. Most of these thoughts occurred within the first hour. It was the most exciting part. There was so much creativity brooding.

I didn’t spend very long on the game. Maybe 5 hours one day and 4 hours the next day. I got the core mechanics down the first day and threw in a story and level design the next day. Because I didn’t spend much time on it, I wanted it to just show the mechanic, the idea, in the comedic way. No polish. I could have added Metal Gear sounds, or even a parody of it. I’m sure if I polished it it would have been more fun for the jammers to play. But I guess after making my last game, I don’t care for polish. I only care for experimenting and art.

The game didn’t fly so well with the players. I should have reduced “move up” to “up”, as players got frustrated typing, or were just unable to touch type (that was painful to watch). “Move up” was in there because I had I planned to add other mechanics such as “say move up”/”whisper move up”/”yell something”/”stab up”/etc. I actually had a more difficult second level, but I correctly guessed that it would have frustrated the player so bad that they would never get to the ending. Ah well. Again, my game wasn’t meant to be popular or polished, it was meant to be experimental.

It was fun to see different personalities play. Some without patience. Some expecting more polish. Very few able to figure out they could move in any direction. I guess a simple fun platformer like MeatBoy is what they desired. Too bad this was not the game.

I guess that’s my personal gripe against game jams. It seems the most polished game (fully equipped with assets) would win. Even in Ludum Dare, this happens. I would personally strive for the most innovative badge, not the best game overall. Who cares for a non-creative polished 5 minute game?

Of course I didn’t win anything. Actually, I was surprised that the game I voted for won first from the judges. That game actually was unique, fit a craaazy theme, and was polished. Congrats to that guy. The other winners were simple polished games.

I still love the idea of my game and may go further with it. Using a microphone, the player could say “up” and the sound wave and character movement would depend on the player’s volume. A teammate mentioned maybe the sound waves could bounce off of the certain walls. That’d be awesome too. I’m reminded of Devil’s Tuning Fork. I think waves itself can be explored a lot more.

The Team Story

Rewind back to the beginning, when the theme was given. All of the jammers started looking at the feeds on their Macbooks and Iphones, throwing out ideas. Teams were not chosen by an administrator. Jammers were just told to form teams within the first few hours, naturally. Veteran jammers, and anyone who came with a friend were already had a team. The stragglers just awkwardly gravitated toward another and it eventually worked out. There were a bunch of programmers, some musicians/sound folks, some illustrators, and everyone was essentially a game designer.

The team I got along with was awesome. Really great people with good taste and values, which was discussed at some random bar that served meatballs and potatoes, and later at Barcade. The discussion of art in games was really interesting. It’s nice to know that everyone agrees that Braid is a powerful statement, that Machinarium is cool, and that Gears of War is a teenage kid’s fantasy.

Moving along, the team consisted of me, an iOS programmer, a Processing programmer/sound engineer, and a game designer/artist/musician/asset master. Three programmers whom all used different languages. Perfect.

One of the ideas that the game designer pitched was about the horse tweet “Advantage”. The player needs an advantage over other players to win. A multiplayer game in which everyone is against a common enemy, yet compete against each other. It’s simultaneously cooperative and competitive. That was the main idea/mechanic. It could be applied to any kind of game. The first game that came to both of our minds was space invaders. It works, it’s fun, it’s easy to implement. So, he later pitches the idea to the other two, then we go to the drawing board, and bam, a game.

To win, one player must have x points more than the player with the second most points. Everyone loses when the enemies destroy the base.

We wanted the game to be four players, so the iOS developer was silently chosen as the main programmer. The other programmer planned to learn Objective-C/cocoas2d/box2d and help. The game designer/asset master created design documentation, raster graphic art, AND music (It was amazing how he just made Egyptian melodies. It even had basslines!). I sorta left the group, as I didn’t feel I’d be helpful programming in a framework I’m unfamiliar with within 48 hours.

From what I gathered, the iOS developer (who’s just started programming recently) had troubles using Box2d and wished he hadn’t used it at all as it was the cause of most of the problems. Without it, I’m sure he could have made the game. So in the end, the game was incomplete. I believe it would have won if it was complete. I think the team is going to finish it anyway. I’ll even look at it myself, to try iOS developemnt.

So the moral of the story is: If you plan to create a full game, use the framework you are most familiar with. Learning a new one (or one you are inexperienced with) within 48 hours is tough. Oh, and if you plan to win, make it simple, polished, and minutely creative.

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Can You Imagine Yourself as a Verbal Assassin?

24 October 2011

Play the game.

The title of the post is the theme I chose at my first game jam, Castle Lab: Parsons x Babycastles.

I’ve also written more about my about experiencing my first game jam.

EDIT: To reduce frustration, I added controls to repeat the last command. Subsequently, the game’s length has been reduced to five seconds!

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