Audio Games for DS Homebrew

HYENA DS logoSurfing for new thrills for my Nintendo DS the other day I was happy to find that one of my favorite homebrew devs Collecting Smiles, Jens Andersson of Colors! fame, has a new release just out!

The wickedly named HYENA is created to usher onto the DS the genre of Interactive Fiction, but with a twist. Using the unique qualities of the hardware he has created a system for the playing of “Audio Games” which can be played only with sound (a reading of the text via voice synthesis) and one button for interaction. Though if you keep the screen up you can also read the text and view graphics.

In addition he’s put up documentation for the scripting language so that anyone can make their own Audio Games. A pretty wonderful idea! This already has me thinking of ways the system could be used to create some interesting, and simple, audio/visual games. And I hope many people do come up with games for this.

The first game released for HYENA is Lone Wolf – Flight From The Dark… I’m in!

Hardcore reviews of softcore games

I enjoy playing Endless Ocean. Not as much as reading a good novel or attending a nice opera. But more than any game that has been published in the last few years. I realize that this tells me more about the quality of those other games than it does of that of Endless Ocean.

Eurogamer’s review of Endless Ocean once again shows how inadequate games journalists are in reviewing games that are different. Within the context of a hardcore games publication, it probably makes sense to almost exclusively talk about the gameplay. And I think that anybody who judges Endless Ocean on its gameplay would arrive at the same low score (6). But is gameplay really the only thing that matters in a contemporary game? Have we come this far, developed all this technology, spent all these millions, just for some mechanic?

Perhaps Eurogamer’s audience consists exclusively of hardcore gamers. And Eurogamer may feel an obligation to view everything through the eyes of a hardcore gamer. Even if the majority of people who end up buying and playing the games they review do not fit in this category. But this is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you only talk about games from a hardcore perspective, other players will simply not be interested in what you’re saying. Or they would have to be as cynical as yours truly and scan for the word “boring” as an indication of a game that they might like.

Endless Ocean

Meanwhile the majority of gamers have no place to go. Mainstream magazines don’t have the space. And specialist magazines cater to the small hard core exclusively. With the ever-expanding reach of the games medium, the need for a non-hardcore games press becomes more and more urgent. The audience is ready. The publishers are ready. The developers are ready. But the press is lagging behind. This is holding back the industry because we all still care about what the press says. Even if we think that they only half-know what they are talking about. And even if we know that game reviews and game sales are two entirely different things. We still care. For one thing, press has an enormous effect on a publisher’s greenlighting process.

It’s amusing to hear Eurogamer express the exact same sentiment about Endless Ocean as I have felt when playing Bioshock or Portal or Zelda or Mario or World of Warcraft:

After sitting for minutes at a time, gently shaking the Wii remote to and fro over a digital rendition of a Red Gurnard or Bigeye Trevally, you do have to ask what you are doing with your life. As a hobby, brass-rubbing makes more sense.

Brass-rubbing. Or pretending to run around as a space marine in a science station on an alien planet? Or hitting endless series of excessively large insects on the head so that a number in the corner of your screen would increase? Or making a little dwarf jump from one platform to another so that he can jump on another and sometimes on another character’s head?

When a game makes you feel that you are wasting your time, is when you stop playing. But the point where this happens, is very different for different people.

It seems to me that hardcore gamers are well aware of the futility of the games that they play. But they want the game’s design to continuously distract them from this fact. It is the purest form of escapism: a game that absorbs you completely and doesn’t allow your brain any time to reflect on what you’re doing. Eurogamer literally complains about the fact that the designers of Endless Ocean are too gentle in this respect.

But what if you like being treated gently? What if you don’t hate your life and you don’t want to be knocked unconscious by your entertainment? What if you just want to relax in front of the television set, doing not much of anything, spending some time with your family, experiencing a story or looking at pretty moving pictures?

Eurogamer talks about a games’ pull, about it being compelling, about goals and gathering and collecting, incentives and rewards, and mini-games. But is this really why people play Endless Ocean? Why they like playing it? Reviews of games like this need to go a bit deeper. Or somewhere else. Just saying that the hardcore gamer will not like Endless Ocean -which is essentially what the Eurogamer review does- is not very informative or helpful.

And it’s not like they don’t realize this:

It’s an honest relief to play something that doesn’t shout in your ear, set any time limits, or feature a single explosion; a game whose raison d’être is just beauty and peace. Playing this game is almost like taking a holiday from gaming.

It’s that they don’t appreciate it. And apparently don’t care that other people do.

Some noteworthy IGF entries

I had a more thorough look at all the entries to the main competition of the Independent Games Festival. The diversity is impressive. I have tried to select some entries that I feel are worthy of attention and/or likely finalists in my opinion. I have done this based on the information available, which ranged from screenshots to playable demos. Entries that didn’t have more than one screenshot were ignored.
I also did not include games that were decidedly hobbyist projects or games that fit a very specific market (and will probably find it without the help of the IGF). Obviously, given the high number of entires, I may have failed to recognize some really good titles. I hope the jury picks them up for me.

As it turns out, the games I selected can be divided in three categories. I call them pinball games, simulators and games with content. The first are the most likely to be noticed by the IGF jury, in my opinion, and the last make the least chance. As it happens, my personal favourites are in the last category. I hope I’m being too pessimistic because there’s some very remarkable titles there.

Continue reading “Some noteworthy IGF entries”

The most hyped game since the previously most hyped game

Some quotes from the Eurogamer article.

the most convincing and elaborate and artistic game world ever conceived

the most staggeringly beautiful environments you’ve ever lain eyes on in a videogame

it’s got to the stage where you don’t even care about the tech so much as the creativity eked out of it all

I love this one:

But here’s BioShock in August 2007, looking for all the world like a game that’s landed fully formed from a couple of years in the future. It’s a game that’s going to make a lot of rival developers either very excited or very depressed indeed over the coming months as they come to terms with how far ahead this game is – not just in technical terms, but in practically every other angle as well.

And the conclusions:

this is the kind of game that people want

Seriously – if you don’t find something to love about BioShock, we’d recommend a trip to the nearest doctor to check if your heart’s still beating.

Luckily offset by the more sober comment by DjFlex52:

All I have to say is that if you don’t enjoy Bioshock ALOT then you’re not a true gamer.

Never mistake “people” with “gamers”, Eurogamer.
Thank you for clearing that up, DjFlex52.

possibly the most thrilling combat in any FPS you’ve ever experienced


Joy of DS

So, I have been exploring the wonderful world of Nintendo DS homebrew software. I recently received an M3Simply card for my DS. Put simply, without going into all the vagueries of making your DS homebrew ready, what this is, is a DS card that looks like all other DS game cards but with a little slot to put a MiniSD card into. Hook the MiniSD card up to a computer with a USB card reader and you can load files on there which are made to play on the DS.

And there is a thriving community of developers out there making games and other fun things. Drunken Coders and Dev-Scene are but two of the indispensable gateways where one can keep up to date with various DS projects in the works and more importantly find all the info and tools you need to make programs for the DS.

a scene from Cave Story DS I do love World of Sand (which was first a popular java based browser game) and I’m pleased to see that Cave Story is getting a DS port too. (The project is at an interesting beta moment right now, you can run through the levels without getting hurt. It’s high quality pixel art, nice to get a chance to enjoy it.) There are some very good original game projects out there too. But I am more interested in the “other fun things to do with a DS” category. The DS is all about coming up with genre defying applications, no surprise then that people have taken advantage of the touch screen to make it a multipurpose device!

So, here is a short list of hand made, home grown, DS apps that I’ve found worthwhile thus far.

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DSOrganize gives your DS PDA functions like an address book, to do lists, notepad, audio recording, mp3 playing, a very low tech web browser, IRC chat, and more. It’s the kind of thing you wish Nintendo had just built in. The functionality is all there so my only gripe is that the GUI could use a bit of polish. Not so much the look of it, because it is skinnable so one can easily change the look of it, it’s more in the choices made in which buttons to push and when to use the stylus. Menus hiding behind “more” buttons make the ergonomics of the applications suffer. Still, I find it to be the most useful application built for the NDS so far.

ColorsDSColors! DS is by far my favorite project in progress. I actually can’t praise it enough. It is a very simple, elegantly designed, paint program made by Jens Andersson. He is a true believer in the principle of less is more, usually I wouldn’t be so into that, but the other paint apps I’ve tried for the DS usually go a bit too far into trying to emulate Photoshop. Colors! lets you just get on with it and paint. Pressure sensitivity controls opacity, the shoulder buttons bring up the color palette and brush size, start button brings up options and calibration. Other than the rather special animated playback of your paint strokes that’s about all there is to it. And since you’re painting on a very small screen, this is a very good thing. You’re not going to paint the Mona Lisa on the DS but it’s very good for hanging out in the park and drawing flowers, or making a quick portrait of someone on the train, or a thumbnail of an idea you want to expand upon later when you get to your computer. At this point it will be nice to have the wifi functionality which he’s promised for a future release.


ConstellationsDS available in an Alpha version right now. It’s a star chart! :) I find that to be a really great thing to make for the DS. I hope development continues.

ComicBookDS serves the purpose of letting you read a sequence of image based files, most commonly one would use it to read comic books i guess, but any image sequence will work. Using the provided conversion utility you take a zip, rar or cbr/cbz archive of images and convert and compress them to be used with ComicBookDS. Actually, 4colorrebellion has done a great write up of this software, it’s where I originally read of it. Ergonomics of reading lots of text on the DS screen aside, it’s got a well functioning if not especially pretty GUI plus a plethora of options which I find more than adequate for reading and showing things on screen. It’s also a very polished and active project.

Last but not least there’s the fascinating DSMidiWifi and NDSVisuals projects. Neither of which I’ve been able to try yet but both of which show ingenious ways to use the DS as a controller for other host applications. NDSVisuals is an initiative to get the DS working in tandem with realtime 3d programming environment vvvv. DSMidiWifi works with a server application that runs on your computer and a client application on your DS card.

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There have been several interfaces made, since it’s midi mostly these are music based. But I found the other day that someone has an initiative (ah, here it is, Chris McCormick’s KnobsNSlidersDS.) to make it work with Max/Msp and Pd. This opens things up to just too many creative uses to name. And just imagine, controlling the lights in your house through your DS! yep, you could do that. (There is also a Wii Remote external for Max/Msp but that’s beyond the scope of this article, though I’m very eager to try it out.)

So, I find this whole homebrew world is worth getting into. I think we will see a ton of great software coming from this scene. Both games and not games. As new peripherals are made for the DS developers are taking advantage. For example, the DSMotion card has enabled yet another form of DS interaction in games like SensitiveDS. And you can bet with the upcoming DS Camera peripheral devs will be inspired to do what larger developers can’t or won’t do. Let’s just wait, and see.

Little girls will save the industry!

Capucine looks like a very promising game. Some students at Supinfogame, France, have created a PC demo for a game ultimately intended for Wii. I have no idea if there’s any plans to actually commercialize it. But it’s heart warming to see that there are at least some young designers who are not stuck in the battle/race/action cliché.

Capucine demo screenshot

Sure, it looks rather nasty (the graphics and animations could use a woman’s hand! 😉 ) and the music is cheesy. But their hearts and minds are in the right place!

Capucine is based on four fundamental principles:

  • Give life rather than take it.
  • A unique gameplay element: the beam of light.
  • Build your own path.
  • The player creates his own enemies.

Sounds like a game you know? 😉

I like the simple game mechanic of an all powerful beam of light coming from the protagonist’s hand. The creators realize that it is more fun to do things in a game than to not do them, which is what most game designers seem to think these days with their “challenging obstacles” leading to having to do the same stupid thing over and over again. Don’t get me started…

It strikes me that what this industry needs is a combination of fresh minds and experience. But the people with experience are stuck in the 8-bit era and the fresh ideas come from newcomers. How many more decades to go until we have a 80-year old game designer who started gaming on Playstation 2?…