Play Your Self

A decade ago we were students of multimedia design at the Burg Giebichenstein, an art school in Halle, Germany. Probably our most memorable time there was when Peter Hann, who was part of the Sacred 2 development team, was brought in by Professor Bernd Hanisch and became our tutor for a semester. He gave lectures in game creation, and we could prototype our very own game ideas (Fascinated By Evil by me, and Mummenschanz by Jana). It was an inspiration to be able to talk to a game designer from the industry, who is also a very good technical artist.

Last semester, years later, we finally had the chance to do something very similar, but of course with our own "twist". Jonas Hansen, professor at the very same degree programme we were part of back then, invited us to be tutors for a semester project (“Kreatives Gestalten” - usually a free project where students can decide the focus themselves). We would think of a theme for the applicants to follow, and then support our students with advice and suggestions, and finally grade their results. An interesting opportunity indeed, and of course we said yes.

After a few sessions of thinking and discussing we decided for the topic “memories”. The title “Play Your Self” would emphasize that our course is about creating a game that tells of a personal experience, so it was narrower than the usual semester project proposals. 13 students applied. We were thrilled.

When the semester started, we asked each student to draw their portrait on a piece of paper, which already served a purpose of finding out how everybody saw him-/herself. We also had a much easier time remembering names and faces later on. Right after this introductory routine we did a play session - everybody had to do a short “Let’s Play” of one of 13 personal indie games we selected beforehand, and talk about it while playing. This would tell us how experienced our students were with indie games and art games.

The next week we made it personal. We tasked the students to bring along an object connected with a strong memory; ideally something small-ish and unique (both in terms of the object and the memory). They had to talk about it in front of the class, and then try to create a rough, short game concept for it. It would prepare everybody, us included, theoretically of what was about to be expected of this semester.

On the practical side we thought of a ‘game jam’ for the week after this. On Monday we presented a text by Christian Morgenstern, Der Zwölf-Elf, a very linguistical poem with twelve verses. We assigned each student one of the lines (the 13th got the title) with the task to create a room that conveys an interpretation of that verse. The room should tell a small story by revealing the line in the end, and allow the player to leave it. Amazingly, on Wednesday all the students could present a result, even though some of them didn’t know the engine well, or weren’t comfortable with 3D modeling. Interesting enough, a lot of the created rooms actually were open spaces (usually with forests).

We had to be pretty rigid in regard to the limitations of this jam: the room had to be 3D, first-person, and made with Unity. This way, we could mash all of them together into a single Unity project, in order to ultimately create a “hotel” with a lobby and 13 rooms. The final Zwölf-Elf game can be downloaded on itch.io.


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These sessions concluded the preparation part - from now on every student had to think about the memory they wanted to translate into an interactive game, and how they would like to achieve their goal. Some memories were very specific in time and place, others concentrated on a place only from the student’s general past, others on a person who is dear to them. Some games became 3D, others 2D. Two of the students tried Unreal more or less for the first time and yet succeeded - kudos! A highly interesting (and entertaining) mix indeed.

After the idea and concept phase we demanded timetables and weekly status reports - which sounds more strict than it was. We just wanted to make sure nobody was out of the loop, and everybody would be serious about their personal, emotional experience. That’s why we also set up a public blog, for everyone to post progress updates and musings.

At one point we assigned groups of three to four students who would then play-test the current state of their projects; which was something we already did with the Zwölf-Elf rooms. We felt this could have been done more often, but then again we are aware most semester projects are only playable shortly before the final presentation. It also didn’t help much that the pandemic was still going on, and after the first few weeks we had to move all consultations to Jitsi. Even though chats (e.g. via Discord) were available all the time, a presence at a real location would have been better for bonding and interim test sessions.

The final presentation at the end of the semester was held online too, and this time the other professors (which also were our professors back then) of the degree programme would watch. The presentation went smooth, because together with Professor Hansen we decided that our students should make presentation videos beforehand, instead of doing live presentations. This was because of the often wonky internet connections, and Jitsi’s subpar screen-sharing abilities.


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We liked all of the results; nearly everybody stuck to the idea from the beginning and could showcase a polished prototype representing their memory, and their abilities as designers, very well. We are super proud.

Would we like to be tutors again? Very much so! Alas, we also learned something: it’s a lot of work. Consultations with our students happened only once every week, but preparation work, discussions and other things made the job a lot more time-consuming, even though it was always fun of course. (Un)fortunately we have a new game project currently, and we need to do our own timetables and status reports for the next foreseeable months.

Hopefully we can show more of our project soon. From time to time we stream our development process, which currently consists of researching stealth games. And of course there's still our Discord!

Ray-caster – an experiment

I participated in a Kajam, which is an regular-ish game jam hosted on alakajam.com with different hosts. If you remember classic Ludum Dare, this is the equivalent to a Mini Ludum Dare, where hard rules like ‘everything must be from scratch’ or the weekend time-frame are much more relaxed. The theme of this particular Kajam, running the whole January 2021 and hosted by toasty, was “make a game based on ray casting”, and one could interpret this any way possible, but of course the basic idea is to get your hands dirty and actually try to create a ray-caster. If you don’t know what that is, the most prominent example for a ray-caster is Wolfenstein3D from 1991, back when there was no 3D hardware for PCs.

Wolfenstein3D, by id Software

My entry for the jam became a ray-casting engine with a very rudimentary level editor, or a sandbox if you’re generous. I had some gameplay ideas, but as I could not work fulltime on the project, and most of my experiments didn’t result in anything playable, the state for now is that there’s just no game. Yet for me, creating a ray-caster, based on tutorials on lodev.org, was a feat in itself, so I still wanted to submit it. With only one weekend left I decided to make it a “playful” level editor - meaning the editing (placing walls, changing textures, resizing the rooms, etc.) happens inside the “game” in first-person perspective. While this is actually not really an efficient way to create a level, it definitely makes it a bit more interesting and fun.

Textured walls, the first highlight

I utilized haxe, Kha and zui for this project. The first two I already tried for another software rendering project - the “Ray Tracing in a weekend” version I did 2 years ago. So I knew Kha could be used to just draw some pixels (probably grossly under-using this framework), and I like how it supports virtually every platform. The latter was a life-saver for me because the web version turned out to be not ‘compatible’ with my input method (as locking the mouse cursor always is a risk in browsers). But the Windows build turned out fine, after I had to fix a surprising bug which switched the textures’ red and blue channels. Zui, the go-to solution for tool GUIs for Kha, was relatively easy to understand (after quite some tinkering with the elements), but unfortunately it doesn’t feel as powerful and flexible as the Immediate GUI I know from Unity. Still, it was much better than nothing, and helped me to add edit functionality quite easily.

Final (jam) version of my ray-caster, with editor

Features of my ray-casting “engine” are, for now:

  •  textured walls, floors and ceilings
  • 3(!) block layers (bottom, center, top)
  • sprites (for the center layer only)
  • more or less correct display of infinite wrapping levels
  • collision with walls

It also supports different wall textures for each block side, but this feature isn't shown in this prototype unfortunately, because I had no time to add an editor mode for this. As I have a lot of overdrawing (mostly thanks to the top and bottom block layers) the performance is worse than it could be, and with infinite wrapping levels fps get low very fast as soon as you have a bit more sprites visible at once. Still, it’s good enough for me, because I do not target DOS machines like some of the more impressive entries of the Kajam do.


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Most pictures (textures for the walls, and five of the seven sprites) were pulled from textures.com. This is also only rudimentary, as there is no game; but I expected to use photos for the environment from the beginning anyway, for whatever game I would do; I am still inspired by Ultima Underworld II in this regard.

Ultima Underworld II, by Looking Glass Studios

While my use-case for the engine is not necessarily a dungeon crawler, I definitely would like to repurpose it for another jam game in the future. The biggest feature missing right now is level saving and loading, which I should add in any case. Other than that, the gameplay will probably decide what the direction is going to be.

If you want to try the Alakajam version of rc-test (I didn't have any use for a better name), don’t forget to read the control instructions on the entry page. And check out voxel’s excellent RAYKA!

A Questionnaire

For a pretty long while, we planned and prototyped a game that we called Behind Stars and Under Hills. After we pitched the first prototype to publishers, we kind of restarted the project, for which our vision was a grand one – but it also was a blurry one, a bit too blurry for a project of this kind. Behind Stars needed a relatively big open world and a cohesive story from A to Z. And while this is doable of course, we never were satisfied with the stories, settings and characters we thought of, and it was never enough. In the end we had to admit that a big coherent world isn’t something we should do, even though we liked Behind Stars a lot.

So now we search for another project, and for that we try to find a spark that will give it life. There are several gameplay mechanics we both like and want to pursue, so naturally we chose one of those. One of them is stealth, a gameplay that – in our minds – is always exciting, as the player is both powerful and in danger all the time. There is something oddly satisfying in hiding and stealing from enemies, and for us it always feels better than going on a rampage. So yes, let’s do a Thief-clone!

We even did a Spielgefährten episode about Thief!

Simply copying an existing game is boring though, and dishonourable, and just not our style. Instead we will try to make it our own game, and for that we look at other inspirations, and thinking of what we can do actually different, without diluting the stealth experience. Being inspired comes naturally (or not), but trying to come up with “new” elements, unused ideas – that’s hard, maybe impossible nowadays.

So I created a questionnaire for ourselves, by writing down questions that somebody could ask about the project or that nobody would ever ask. Here are some examples:

  • What does the game tell about you, the developers?
  • Draw the logo of the game.
  • Collectibles: what does the player constantly click on? Does it make them happy?
  • Is there any sex in the game, and if yes, will it arouse the player?
  • What does the game do differently from all the other games out there?
  • What is the most irrelevant feature of the game that still has to exist?
  • When the game is made to a movie, who should definitely be part of the cast?
  • If the game were a person, how often would you invite them to dinner?

Some of the questions are probably superfluous, some are plain bad; to be fair, the questionnaire was created spontaneously and without a lot of revision. In any case the idea behind it is to find out the shared vision, and also to get inspired by looking at the whole project from a completely different perspective. So we printed the questionnaire twice so each of us could fill it out individually. We wrote down the answers, drew some scribbles, and then talked about the result. It was interesting to see where our common ground is, but also where we would differ completely.

If you are interested in the questionnaire, for your own game project or just for a laugh, it is online on Google Docs but also downloadable as PDF, ready to print and fill out. If you don't like any of the questions, just leave them out.

And yeah – more to come about our new project soon, hopefully.