Get Water! launches tomorrow!

indie, playthroughs, Process Writing

You might remember that, a couple of weeks ago, TAG playtested Decode Global‘s Get Water! at one our our 5a7s. TAG and Hexagram have had the pleasure of hosting Decode Global at Concordia for some time now, and we’re very happy to see how well Get Water! is doing. The project, for example, won the Create UNAOC Award for 2012. Tomorrow, on World Water Day, Get Water! is slated for launch and here’s a little bit about what to expect. I also recommend watching the trailer.


The heroine of Get Water! is Maya, a little girl from India who is pulled out of school to fetch water after the pump breaks in her neighbourhood. As I mentioned during my writeup for the playtest: A few of the dangers that she has to avoid: peacocks, who will scare her into dropping the water, turtles that she might trip over, errant footballs that might knock over her jug, and of course, the very real threat of contaminated water. She is armed with boomerangs and other unlockables that will send her enemies running or improve her ability to get water.

So, when I last played Get Water!, it was on an iPad. I played the current build on my little old iPhone, and I have to say that that switch made a pretty big difference for me. Playing on the iPhone was, for me, a lot more difficult because my drawings had to be much more precise – I found that I was doing the same kind of drawing that I did on the iPad, but not getting the same results (probably because the displacement of a few millimetres matters a lot more on the smaller interface). I also found drawing Maya’s trajectory a lot easier on the iPad because I could draw shorter parts of her path and wait to see what was coming (a technique that didn’t really work on the iPhone’s smaller screen). So, if you have the choice, I’d really recommend getting it for the iPad. Otherwise, I got used to playing on the iPhone after a while.

One of the highlights of the game is that it’s a story-driven endless runner, which is not something that I’ve seen too often. During the playtest, not all of the cut scenes when the player unlocks parts of Maya’s story were implemented yet, so it was with great pleasure that I watched the new cut scenes, which allow the player to get to know Maya and her environment and see how the consumable items in the game were actually born of Maya’s innovative thinking about the world that she lives in – such as finding a new way to get around the turtles after watching her friend cross the water on some rocks, or using the rubber from balloons to block up the holes in her water jug. The scarcity of water has forced Maya out of school, and the game makes it clear that she is an obviously intelligent young woman who deserves an education.

I still love the idea that it is the cumulative effect of the player’s efforts that leads to rewards and changes in the game – an idea that is reinforced by the way that levelling up works in the game by adding up the percentage of progress from each individual run. Everything is just a drop in the bucket, but those drops in the bucket add up! So, as a message for social change, that kind of thinking is definitely appreciated. If we took the same approach to social change that we do to crowdfunding and kickstarting, we’d start to see some definite results come out of those drops in the bucket.

What I enjoyed in this final version was that the player gets to hear Maya’s voice – it’s a small change, but I felt a lot more connected to her because of it. (I’m not completely sure if this was in the play test version or not, just because the room was full of people and the sound may have been turned down – but even if it’s not new, it’s new to me!)

Overall, this is a game with a great message and a fun interface that has, to date, kept me busy for about four hours. Water is a universal need, which makes Get Water! a very relatable game that’s also just a lot of fun to play.

You can visit Decode Global’s website or follow them on Twitter (@decodeglobal). Get Water! launches tomorrow for iOS.

Did I ever stop playing Wild Arms?

playthroughs, Process Writing


Due to various circumstances (mostly my being sick), I’ve missed all of the events that I was planning to write about this week. That being the case, I’ve decided to try something a little new, somewhat inspired by this article ( by Adam Liszkiewicz on the Henry Jenkins blog.

Finding a game that I relate to in the same way that Liskiewicz relates to ‘The Binding of Isaac’ is difficult. Games that I’ve had multiple encounters with over time is easy enough – there are games that are just part of the popular zeitgeist, and there are a few of those that I run into all the time: Final Fantasy 7, Super Mario and Worms (in all its various incarnations) come to mind.

The game that fits the bill the best overall is probably Wild Arms. It’s one of the first games that I rented, and one of the games that I have had the most hardware problems with. The first two copies that I ran into froze after the first “act” of the game. There’s a difficult boss battle, followed by the game credits/a cut scene (in this game, the credits are run partway through the game for some reason).

For the uninitiated: Wild Arms is a game with three playable characters who start out with separate story lines and are eventually thrown together by fate and join forces to save the world from some kind of ancient “metal demons” who fought with the inhabitants of Filgaia thousands of years ago. One of them, Rudy Roughknight, has the ability to use ARMs – ancient weapons that are considered taboo. I guess that’s where the title of the game comes from. The other main characters are a princess named Cecilia who has been attending Mage school, and a treasure hunter/gun for hire named Jack.

Why this game stuck with me is probably because of the tools in the game. Collected throughout the first act, the objects are used to solve puzzles and progress the game. One of the tools is a blue wind mouse named Hanpan. Another is a pair of roller-skates, and yet another, a wand that lets the players talk to animals. There’s also a magical teardrop crystal that opens special doors. This creates some space for players to construct their own narratives – the hoodlum who wildly whips through town on his roller-skates until he crashes into something, or the jerk who trails bombs behind him (yet another tool). Sending Hanpan dashing off to places unintended is also fun, even though it never helped me solve any puzzles.

After the first two copies froze, I eventually found a disc to rent. One day, I went back to rent it again and it seems that somebody had just never returned it. Stole the copy of Wild Arms that I had been playing. I began to look for my own copy, but only in the same way that a person will see a movie title and say, “hey, I really should watch that.” I put it on my Christmas list, even. And then, Wild Arms: Alter Code F was announced.

Updated graphics? Updated gameplay? Sounds pretty good, right? But somehow I missed the actual launch, and by the time that I caught up to Alter Code F again, it seemed that nobody had anything really good to say about it.

I forgot about Wild Arms. I resigned myself to never finishing the game, never seeing the end of my Western JRPG adventure. Then, my fiancé gave me a copy for my birthday last year. I found my old memory card, plugged it in and realized… I was basically at the final boss. What?

So, rather than wondering when I first played Wild Arms, the question for me becomes “when did I ever stop playing Wild Arms?” Well, I haven’t yet. I’m still trying to beat a secret monster arena on one of the game’s many islands.

Oh, and, to this day, Michiko Naruke’s “Into the Wilderness” is hands-down my favourite game theme song.

Playtesting DECODE GLOBAL’s Get Water!

indie, playthroughs, Process Writing

Get Water! Playtest at TAG

So I was one of the many people who turned up at yesterday’s 5a7 to try out DECODE GLOBAL‘s Get Water! with the specific request that we try to break it. I had some idea of what to expect, but since they’re releasing the game trailer today (or sometime very soon), I had only seen a few stills here and there.

Maya is a young girl from India. When the town pump breaks, she’s sent on a mission to collect water in this endless runner with a lovely interface for the iPad. A few of the dangers that she has to avoid: peacocks, who will scare her into dropping the water, turtles that she might trip over, errant footballs that might knock over her jug, and of course, the very real threat of contaminated water. She is armed with boomerangs and other unlockables that will send her enemies running or improve her ability to get water.

Get Water! is a game for social change, and the developers have done an excellent job of integrating their message into the mechanics and interfaces of the game. There is room for some tweaking: for example, since Maya is school-age, pencils are the game’s currency but, for most players, the Pencil icon didn’t really scream “Store!” There is also one or two timing issues: with the warning that is supposed to appear before a peacock appears, for example, or with the occasional lag. The peacock warning shows up quite early, which leaves the player waiting to react to a threat that won’t appear for quite a while. None of this interfered with my enjoyment of what’s overall a great app game.

There are also some really beautiful examples of form suiting message (like form suiting content but for awesome games with a message). For example, even if the player doesn’t do so well on the individual runs of the game, each run is given a percentage which progresses a bar to the next “level,” making the individual runs add up in the long run to unlock different abilities and items. It reminded me of how wrong the expression “a drop in the bucket” turns out to be in situation like this – especially since Maya is collecting water droplets. Those drops come together to make something a lot bigger, and quickly (as anyone who’s ever had a leak in their home can probably testify). The larger message, for me, was then that if everyone adds a couple of drops to the bucket, we can create change. Nice!

My favourite part of the game was probably just the means by which the player guides Maya along: by drawing across the iPad in any shape that they want, so long as they keep the beginning of the path under Maya’s feet. I played for over an hour yesterday (and was a total iPad hog, ask anyone) and I never got tired of drawing a path for Maya through the city. The trail that the player draws in front of Maya is visually attractive and can be corrected pretty easily by drawing another path from underneath Maya’s feet. Okay, I lied, I actually played for almost an hour and a half. It was fun.

DECODE GLOBAL will be launching Get Water! on March 22nd, which is also World Water Day and you can expect to see a trailer from them soon. Check them out at or on twitter (@decodeglobal).

Pixelles: A Pre-Showcase Retrospective

adventures in gaming, indie, pixelles, Process Writing

Now that the Pixelles Incubator is over, and that we’re about to show the games next week, I’ve been thinking about the experience. Off the top of my head, it’s hard to say what I learned. However, since I kept a record of my progress each week and uploaded work-in-progress versions of the game to the internet, I do have something concrete to look back on and tell me what actually happened while I was busy not noticing.

In case you haven’t heard anything about this yet, there’s an information page here at the Pixelles website, and I’ll tell you a little bit about my project. I made a game called Diver Quest, where the player is a scuba diver who wants to dive safely but also take advantage of the most opportunities possible while under the water. Players interact with wildlife and their environment to gain a score, and they can also collect lost objects that other divers have left behind, which is just generally a nice thing to do. The lost objects, however, are cumbersome, and so having them depletes the player’s air more quickly. The diver’s goal is to leave the dive site with at least 500 psi of air, which is a safety margin just in case something were to go wrong, and to follow the diver’s motto: Take only pictures, leave only bubbles. That means cleaning up lost diving equipment and not interfering with the environment.

An archive of my weekly posts and those work-in-progress games is available here, where this post will also be eventually archived.

The things that seemed insurmountable challenges at the beginning of these six weeks are now a matter of course. In the first two weeks, everything in Stencyl was a struggle. Everytime that I wanted to create an event, I thought that I would have to reinvent the wheel. Once I discovered StencylForge and understood the syntax of Stencyl, especially in regards to what types of events I should be creating (trust me, there’s a huge difference between ‘When Creating’ and ‘When Updating’), things started to fall into place. I started to be able to predict problems in advance within my events, and to be able to fix them before I even tested out the game.

One of the most fascinating revelations for me was learning why, especially in programming (not that pulling blocks around in Stencyl is on the level of the amazing programmers that are out there), there’s a way to do things that works, and a way to things that’s the right way to do things.

My “favourite” bug was where I realized that my character wasn’t getting damaged by an object, checked the settings, and realized that there was a time period where the player was invincible after being damaged. Since my “air” is technically a modified HP bar that is decreased every second by a damage command, my character was constantly invulnerable to all other forms of damage – including, it turns out, damage that should have been happening at a timed interval to decrease the air bar. Once I made the character vulnerable again, it turned out that not only the rate at which she was being damaged was far too fast, that rate was getting exponentially faster because, instead of a time event, I had the damage as a ‘when updating’ event. Her air was depleted in seconds, and it took me about two days to figure out what to do about it. But I did figure it out, so, for me, it was a bug that allowed me to gauge my own learning curve, my own progress.

My least favourite bug is one that I have no idea how to fix, and seems to be inherent to the fact that Stencyl is flash-based. When I sent my game off to Pixelles, half of the features of the game didn’t work in the .swf but worked fine if tested through Stencyl in-browser. I have no idea why this is and there’s no mistake in my code…It seems that it’s just one of the idiosyncrasies of what’s an otherwise pretty decent tool for a beginner who wants to make games but doesn’t know how to code and it’s available for mac and PC (since I use both interchangeably but don’t have a windows emulator on my mac, this was important to me). The basic version also happens to be free. So while I’m definitely not trying to knock the software that allowed me to make a game, this bug was a total mystery to me and I have no idea why it happens. We got around this by means of a cheat: I sent the entire Stencyl project over to the ladies at Pixelles and they were very good about it.

This is almost my first game: as it turns out, I ended up participating in Global Game Jam 2013, and made a game as part of a team. I started this game first though, and it’s my first solo game. Global Game Jam turned out to be a huge boon to me, because, at GGJ, I learned the basics of how to mix sound there, and how to use the texture stamp tool in Photoshop. These skills made Diver Quest much better, because without them, Diver Quest would have had no sound and a much less nice level background.

This game also used almost none of the skills that I would have expected to be my talents as a game maker: I’m a writer, so I thought that I would have used that much more than I did. There is one screen that’s rather text-heavy, which is the instructions page. I also love to draw, but the aesthetic that I chose to go with was 16-bit, so I didn’t end up doing a lot of character sketches or concept art – I just drew my pixel art directly into photoshop. I really like the aesthetic – drawing fish and safety cones pixel by pixel was a fun experience. Designing a simple pixel-version of a diver was also a challenge that I gleefully accepted. Most of the equipment is pretty accurate, in the end.

I think that spending so much time with one game, it becomes difficult to judge it for yourself. I would love to hear some opinions about the game – if you’re in Montreal, you should consider coming out to the showcase. If you aren’t, after the showcase I’ll be finding a place to host the game online (assuming that I find a way to upload it as a .swf where the regions work!).

You can expect to hear more from me about the actual showcase experience! With photos!