Holding Pattern: Pixel Viking

So, it’s come to this: I’ve decided, after a fair bit of thought, to put Pixel Viking on hold.

The long and the short of it is that I just don’t have the time and resources, right now, to make Pixel Viking into the game I want it to be. So it’s not cancelled, per se – just going to sleep for a while.

“So then, all quiet at Archaic Studios is it?”, you might ask.
“Certainly not, old chap!”, I’d reply.

In the background I’ve been quietly working away on a few other side projects, designs and ideas. I’m not ready to announce anything right now though, but when one of these nebulous things can step forward and occupy me for enough time to get finished, I’ll mumble something here or on Twitter a day or two before I push it out of the nest, to either soar among the clouds, or plummet to it’s grisly doom.

Tah then!

How a Little Girl Showed me the Importance of Inclusivity in Games

Last night I had my eyes opened by a little girl living through a character in a video game. It sounds strange, but it was one of the most touching moments of my life and it drove home just how important it is that we, in games, put effort into including and representing everyone.

My daughter is two and had a sore stomach. I was getting in late and my wife and I were talking finances about an upcoming opportunity when we heard her crying. I’m a sucker for tears and she’s a very sweet little girl. So, my wife and I wrapped up and I gave my daughter some medicine but she couldn’t sleep. I brought her downstairs with me and, to distract her, let her calm down and relax a bit, I gave her a choice – watch TV with me or play a game together. Unsurprisingly, she chose the game.

My PS4 is a well loved piece of hardware. I’ve never owned a PlayStation before now – being mainly in the Nintendo camp (hush, I know) and a PC gamer – but it’s seen a lot of use since I bought it last year. I don’t really have many games suitable for small children, so I scrolled down through my library looking for something she might like. That’s when I found it.

Child of Light.

As soon as she saw it, before the game was even loaded, her eyes were locked on the screen. She looked at me and I asked her if she wanted to play a game about a little girl. She squealed and nearly shouted ‘Yes!’.

Being a turn-based combat RPG, it’s not generally the sort of game that holds a small child’s attention, save maybe for the beautiful art, but for the better part of 40 minutes my two-year old was rapt. She often doesn’t watch movies or TV for long, always having a new adventure to find, but she was so enthralled by the magical little girl on the monitor in front of her, she couldn’t look away – save to quickly glance at me and point, breathlessly.

Repeating ‘Little girl!’, ‘Like me!’ over and over, I was nearly in tears. My daughter likes games. She likes explosions (thanks Vlambeer!) and she likes games with fighting (often cheering ‘FIGHT!’ when she sees one in-game), but last night she loved a game about a little girl that could fly, adventure and battle back the darkness. A little girl that she saw herself in. A little girl that let her explore a world as herself. That cemented in me, as a creator and a father, the absolute need to include everyone we can in our games. If my daughter, who is white and born to a family that is financially stable and lives in a first-world country, was so thrilled to see herself in a game, how could this affect someone who may not have that identity, stability or privilege?

When it was time to turn the game off, she was disappointed. The little girl was gone away and she had to face the harsh reality of going back to bed. I promised her that we would play again, and that we would make that our special game – the one we play together. She agreed right away, with only a little pout and gave me a hug. It was one of the best moments of my life, and it was thanks to someone making a little girl a hero. Giving her a sword and letting her show her bravery – showing other little girls what they can be.

Even if it’s just before bedtime.

Turnabout is [Un]fair Play

The events transpiring on the internet over the last few weeks in and around the gaming industry have been bad. Bad is an understatement, but is the only single word that really covers pretty much everything that’s happened.

From personal threats, to smear campaigns, to hacks and doxxing, the internet has shown it’s teeth and let loose the worst it has. Anyone who dares stand up and say it’s wrong has also been targeted and either put on a list of people you shouldn’t support, or been messaged and threatened or told to kill themselves. Now, that’s a pretty serious problem – and I’m not sure when anyone started thinking it’s OK to say that to someone, but it’s very telling of the type of person who feels the need to say that, for whatever reason.

I could go into the various reasons that all this is happening – the anonymity of the internet and it’s inherent lack of accountability or the culture that that has fostered, but that’s all fairly obvious stuff. Everyone knows yelling on the internet isn’t real yelling… right? Hrm, well not so much these days, but that still isn’t my point.

My point is this: It didn’t feel good to be on the other side, did it?

A lot of “gamers” today were on the other side. They were weird kids with hobbies that others didn’t understand. They lived in front of computers, on consoles or with a portable in the their hands and glued to their faces. They were ridiculed for it. Mocked, isolated and ostracized. I watched to happen to others and lived through it myself. It was those experiences that bound us together – we “gamers” were united in our unpopular pass-time. United by being the people more interested in a way to escape a boring or painful reality into a world of fantasy where you weren’t a victim or a social outcast, but instead were the hero. You saved people’s lives and worlds. You re-made what was broken. You re-made yourself.

That was a long time ago. Since then our hobby – our pass-time of world-saving – has become mainstream. People talk about how the nerds finally won, and that they rule the earth. It’s a nice thought, but not quite accurate. It’s true we won legitimacy for games – we spent our money and lives buying, playing and talking about games. We talked to everyone about them, even if they didn’t care. We made this a multi-billion dollar industry.

The “gamers” of today aren’t just those people anymore. There are a huge number of people who play games. There are a huge number of games to be played. And there are a lot of different ways to play them, but not everyone remembers the struggle – the pain and loneliness of being the outsider. Some were born into a world where video games were ‘ok’ or even ‘popular’. On the surface that sounds great, but the darker side of that is that it has bred a culture of entitlement. What’s more is that, to a degree, that’s always been there – as though games are something one person owns – that they worked hard to get them here and you shouldn’t dare think of changing them. And then there are the angry people. The militant people.

These are people that think it’s OK to threaten others. They think it’s OK to belittle someone for sharing their opinion. They don’t have any respect for open discussion and are so firmly close-minded that their reflex is to lash out at anyone they perceive as not sharing their particular, generally narrow, world-view. It’s to these people that I address the following to:

You know how it feels to be attacked and excluded. You were there. We were all there together, no matter your age. You know how it feels to be ostracized, and maybe you even know how it feels to be threatened. It’s painful. It’s a pain that no one deserves and you know that. You know how it feels to be singled out.

Instead of reflexively lashing out or shouting someone down, look at it from another perspective. What’s the worst that can happen? Rational discussion and exchange of views? Or to have you mind changed about something?
Are you afraid that you’ll suddenly stop being yourself? That you’ll suffer such a deep shift in personality – a complete schism of the mind – that you’ll be unrecognisable to friends and family?

That won’t happen… but what might happen is this: You could understand another human-being.
You don’t have to agree, but you do need to understand.

One very final note:
Archaic Studios is now and will always be an inclusive place. I encourage everyone else to make their spaces – their communities and their forums and their offices the same. Never in human history has exclusion and ostricisation led to the betterment of us as a species or civilisation.

So then, build something better.

2014: Recap and The Year Ahead

Looking ahead into a new year, it’s often beneficial to look back and reflect on the past year. 2013 was a good year – lots of new designs, art and code got done. It was a very foundational year – the frameworks established this year will act as the basis of many more games to come.

While there weren’t any releases in 2013, progress was made on multiple projects. Near the end of 2012 I drafted a number of designs and did a lot of pixel art, finding the style and producing some quality pieces to act as a style guide across multiple projects. In early 2013 my daughter arrived and plans had to be adjusted accordingly, but development kept ticking along. Tons of animation work for Pixel Viking got sorted and a few drafts of the environmental art were shuffled in and out.

In the summer I redesigned the website and learned enough CSS to build a new theme that accomplished more of what I wanted with the site – something I was hesitant to take the time to do but was well worth it in the end. Of course, almost immediately things changed again.

In September I returned to full-time dayjobism in IT which restricted development time considerably from what it had been and I’ve returned to the world of commuter development. Despite the change in available hours, progress on a number of projects has continued.

September was also the first month I attended Torontaru, which is a bloody good time. Getting to chat with folks from Capy, Metanet, XMG and many other studios/indies was a really great experience. Plus it’s good to get out of your own head an talk with your peers about development and non-development topics. Also beer. I highly recommend it to anyone in the Greater Toronto Area.

The rest of the year was fairly uneventful. Lots of back-end systems building and tech stuff for use and re-use in projects to come, more art and lots of design/planning.

So, what’s coming up in 2014? Well, with a little luck, lots! An early version of Pixel Viking should make an appearance later this year, and a smaller game is currently getting close to wrapping up. There may or may not be one or more projects in early design/planning phases as well. There may or may not be some art/screenshots coming for any/all of these. Maybe. If you behave.

And for now, that’s all the news that’s news.

Announcing: Pixel Viking

Archaic Studios is proud to announce Pixel Viking, a 2D action-roguelike platformer. Take control of a pixelated Viking and embark on a voyage of adventure, danger and treasure.

Interviewing himself, John Lethbridge, chief Cog and Founder of Archaic Studios, had this to say, “Pixel Viking combines my passion for both games and history. There’s an incredibly rich historical record to be found in the Viking sagas that’s gone mostly unexplored in games. I want to tap into that, to provide an experience that makes you feel you’re a legendary warrior on a long and dangerous journey.”

After the player creates and customises their Viking – by giving them a name, selecting their tunic and hair colours and, most importantly, their beard – they are given a goal that will shape how their adventure unfolds. Whether they are sent to raid distant shores and amass wealth or charged with slaying a fearsome Frost Giant, each voyage will be a new experience.

“Every journey has a goal. Each goal will affect what kinds of levels you see and how they play out. Combining that with procedural level generation allows for all kinds of unique experiences. While you may have been in a pitched ship battle before, if you’re hunting a troublesome Frost Giant, you might find the ocean has now frozen over – completely changing the dynamic of the encounter.”

Pixel Viking is coming to Windows PC, Linux and Mac. For the latest information and development news, follow @TheVMan_ on Twitter.

Site Re-Launch

The new site design is finally done and active! Many hours were spent hand-crafting new CSS and lovingly pushing pixels about, before mashing it all together and extruding it into a shiny new website.

Welcome, do come in!

The result is much more streamlined and easy to update. Gone are the featured images which, while an amusing feature, were entirely too much work to bother with when just wanting to bang out a quick dev update or news bite, and that also means that this should also mark the return development and project updates.

There will also be an exciting official announcement coming up as well. Probably about a game or some such thing. You do like games, don’t you?