10 May 2015

Soundtracks, Humble and more

It’s been a few months since my last post, and a lot has happened: after the release of Particulars, SeeThrough went dormant for a while. For many of us, it was a simple matter of practicality: the company hasn’t been bringing in enough money to support anyone, let alone everyone. Saul, the other founder of the company, wasn’t able to stay on, and I, after 2 years on such a big project, sorely needed a break.

The biggest downside of this was that we’re way behind on the special features. After launch, I just let these slip a bit, and between starting a new job and taking a much-needed holiday, they’ve become incredibly late. It didn’t help that we lost our commentary recordings completely, which was quite a blow. Now, however, I’m back and working on these steadily, and I’ll hopefully have them all to you soon. Some people have asked me about buying separate upgrades to the Supporter and Devotee packs, and it’s definitely something I’ll get done – I’m just not comfortable doing it until we’ve got all the special features in there.

The Soundtrack!

For now, though, we have the first of the special features: the Soundtrack is here! If you’ve got a Supporter or Devotee pack on Steam, the update that just went live has the soundtrack in it. Massive props to Angus O’Sullivan and Bryce Halliday for their amazing tunes.

I’m going to work on Humble and getting it up on bandcamp in the next week or two. Next on the agenda is the digital artbook (rounding out the Supporter Pack).

Bundle me up

In other exciting news, Particulars is in the Humble Weekly Bundle, thanks to our awesome publishers Surprise Attack! Check it out!

08 May 2014

Inspiration and emulation – the drive to create

(Originally posted on the Particulars community site)

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reflection about Particulars lately. We’ve been planning the final stages of the game’s development, forcing me to really think about what’s important in the game, and why we’ve made it this way.

A lot of this comes back to inspirations – the things that make us create what we do. So today, I’m going to talk about what has inspired Particulars.

I’ve thought for a while that the inspiration to create takes two forms: an attempt to emulate amazing experiences, or an aversion from deeply dissatisfying experiences. I’ll call these modes emulation and dissatisfaction. A well-made creation (game or otherwise) requires both, but one will usually take precedence.

My games, overall, have used dissatisfaction as their major inspiration mode. I’m dissatisfied with the types of games that the industry produces, and want to push it to do better and cooler things. My two main areas of dissatisfaction are in real-world value (far too many game developers are happy that their games are simply ‘addictive’, and don’t think about whether they bring real-world value to players) and narrative (because, well, it’s hard to do narrative in games, so there’s a lot of bad storytelling out there. I have a theory that you first need to learn to tell amazing stories in simple structures – from there you can make the more complex stuff work).

From this dissatisfaction alone, you can start to see where Particulars is coming from, but there’s still a lot of gaps. That’s, in my mind, one of the strengths of starting with dissatisfaction: you’re much more likely to make something truly original, because you’re trying to solve a general problem rather than make something that already exists.

These gaps are where emulation kicks in. Particulars is the result of specific content and form being chosen and wrapped to ensure that the issues of real-world value and narrative are addressed.

The first emulation is, of course, the physics. Particulars is based on a 3rd year physics course I did at university called High-Energy Physics. It was, quite simply, my favourite course. The particles at this level were both simple and complex in weird and unexpected ways. The lecturer delighted in pulling the rug out from beneath us: almost every week, he’d challenge our views of the way the universe works, especially the ones that we’d been taught in previous years of physics.

There’s something cool about seeing the world in a completely new way, and that new view is something I wanted Particulars to provide. It was therefore important that the game be accessible for non-physicists, and that it allow players to look deeper into the workings of the world, should they choose to do so.

In terms of the game’s look and feel, there were a couple of main sources of inspiration, and then a lot of aspects that were designed based on the need to convey information. I’ve always been a big fan of clean and minimalist styles, and games like Thomas was Alone and Eufloria< came up in a lot of conversations. The other thing I wanted to emulate were bubble chamber images. Bubble Chambers are vessels full of superheated transparent liquids, where electrically charged particles make tracks made of gas as they move through. This is really where the trails and permanent trails of the game came from.

It’s important to note that the almost organic look of the particle movements (which very much informed the music) was a result of the game engine and physics, which we then chose to lean into with the smooth blobs around the particles. It’s not especially surprising that we looked at Osmos as a part of this process.

In terms of the story, it was a pretty early decision that the story wouldn’t be branching. I’ve always been a big fan of non-linear storytelling (Momento is one of my favourite movies), and both Saul and myself were pretty keen for the characters to come first. Alison has changed a lot over the last couple of years, but she was originally inspired by Alice in Wonderland. We talked a lot about Tron (often to say “we probably shouldn’t make it Tron”), and there was, at one point, a character loosely based on Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.

We toyed around with stories involving the Large Hadron Collider (there’s even a really horrible attempt at a LHC-inspired mechanic out there somewhere) and the beginning of the universe (which is when you’re most likely to see particles act the way they do in Particulars), but eventually decided that a smaller, character-driven story was much more important. The stakes of the story, when they change, have generally been lowered. The final big piece of inspiration came when Saul played Gone Home. We’d been struggling with the actual words of the story for some time, and Gone Home provided a detail-oriented approach that Saul was keen to emulate. The story’s been a lot better ever since.

It’s hopefully clear by now that there are lot of other inspirations for Particulars, and there’s a lot that I haven’t discussed here (Super Meat Boy for level length, both SpaceChem and Sokobond for science in games, Portal for being Portal). In the end, to be inspired is to be called to action, and nothing inspires me like the thought that games can be so much better. We can now make almost anything we like, and we’re now forced to answer a much harder, much more interesting question: what should we make.

24 Feb 2014

v0.6.1.0 – More Weak Force, More Magic

Version has just been released on Steam! Changes are:

  • Chapter 7! More weak force!
  • Particles spawning on other particles no longer a problem (by magic!)
  • In-game story for chapters 1-2 updated
  • Small bug fixes

I ended up not putting the audio changes in this build, coz we haven’t adjusted the volume settings and they sound kinda horrible. If you’re desperate to hear what it’s like, you can check out the Beta branch on Steam (just right click on the game in your library->properties->betas and choose the beta branch)

Next week, we’ll (hopefully) have:

  • Chapter 8: The Strong Force!
  • Actual audio changes
  • Some weak force tweaks (I’m not sure what yet, but I’m sure there’ll be some)
  • More in-game story updated
18 Feb 2014

Version The Force is Weak in this one…

Ok, I’m almost done with the bad Star Wars puns. Almost.

Version is here! If you go to Steam, it’ll automatically update! We’ll be updating the Humble Store version in the next day or two (it takes a little bit longer…).

Watch this video to see some of the new stuff!

Here’s what you’ll find in the new version:

  • Upgraded particle, spawner, spawn point and data graphics
  • Particlepedia, linked into examination mode
  • Examination mode now triggered on Control
  • Shorter chapters (most are 12 levels)
  • Chapter 5! Black Holes!
  • Chapter 6! The Weak Force begins!
  • Level opening changed, you only have to press enter the first time
  • UI system updated (mostly this has resulted in all the fonts being Arial)

The big news is the inclusion of the Weak Force, which adds… well, it changes things. Literally. You know what they say: strength may be weird and colourful, but weakness changes people. Or at least, it’s what they would say if particles were people…

Read more…

12 Feb 2014

v0.6 incoming: May ALL of the forces be with you!

This weekend we’ll (finally) be releasing a new version of Particulars: Version 0.6 (we went up a whole version number!). Sorry it’s taken so long – we had to upgrade our UI engine, which broke… well… a lot of things.

Version 0.6 will bring in the following changes:

  • Shorter chapters (usually 12 levels each) – we’re cutting a lot of the fat out
  • Chapter 5! (now with Black Holes)
  • Chapter 6! (wait, there’s 6 chapters now?)
  • Hopefully Chapter 7! (if I can get there)
  • Upgraded particle graphics
  • Particlepedia – an encyclopedia about particle physics, right in the game

Ok, so… I have a bit of explaining to do. Just before the christmas break, the SeeThrough team had a meeting that started with things that actually made sense, detoured through some concerns about the possible racism of avoiding the black antiparticles (conclusion: if people call us out on that, then it’s probably more a reflection of them, not us) and ended with “why don’t we double the length of the game?”.

Read more…

27 Nov 2013

From the Earth to the Moon

I’ve become a little obsessed with the history of the Space Race recently. This has mostly been brought on by two excellent documentary series, the predictably named “Space Race” by the BBC and “Moon Machines.” Did you know that the entire basis for the space program started with the Nazi built V2 rocket? Or that the Russians crashed a lunar probe into the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin were still on the surface? I certainly didn’t, but I was excited to find out.

If you have the time or inclination I recommend you give the documentaries a watch. It’s really inspiring to see how the efforts of so many people lead to some of our more amazing achievements.

Basically, learning about this stuff makes me ask one question: Can we go to Mars already?

25 Nov 2013

Frustrating Elegance

In a few of the early levels of Particulars, there’s a pattern of having one or two more pairs of antiparticles available than you need to finish the level (for example, there are 3 particles and 3 antiparticles in a level where you have to cause 2 annihilations). This wasn’t the case for quite a while (because, quite simply, it’s more elegant to only have what you need in a level), until we realised just how infuriating and not fun it is to try and get a single down quark to annihilate a single anti-down quark.

Just how not fun? Pouring good beer down the drain not fun.