EyeSix Games

Sheffield Based App Developers
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The Future of Streaming Games and why Sony bought Gaikai

So, the new console generation is about to start. 2 behemoths of pure gaming joy that will probably be the last great consoles ever made. Both are talking up the power of cloud gaming, NVidia, Valve and others are streaming games over local networks but there are some critical issues with adoption of the tech.

The main issue, as anybody who has seen PS4/Vita cross play or tried out OnLive knows, is latency. The lag is inevitable, given the number of steps each frame has to navigate, and despite the very best efforts of some of the very best engineers on the planet, even the mighty Microsoft admit it is ‘problematic’.

The solution, as I see it, is to render the active parts of a scene locally, and stream the passive parts. I call the idea ‘Green Streaming’.

It works like this: the new console GPU’s can kick out a few hundred million triangles. Developers will be able to focus these on the main characters, with ‘highly detailed backgrounds’ ignored on the local machine (or, scaled back massively) akin to real time green screening in film. Particle effects, smoke, lighting masks and backgrounds can then be streamed via the cloud, and are limited only by the processing power contained at the data centers developers use. Response times become less of an issue as the main action is handled locally, and local processing abilities become less important as you can get much more out of it.

In ten years, I imagine most games will work in this way. Graphics will be 3 or 4 times better than they are now (and have you seen NBA 2K14 on PS4?), physics will be more real, games will be improved. It might even let this generation of consoles last a decade. Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai might give them a head start.

Look Into the Light

Look Into the Light is my first OUYA developed game. It’s a first person platform/puzzle game where you have to reach a light in each level. You do this by, well, jumping on platforms and solving some (admittedly light) puzzles. It’s also a game about .

When I was young, I had an idea about making a film that made people afraid of the light. So many horror films are based on our primal fear of darkness, and I wanted to do something different. I never had the time, skill, resources or even plot to actually make it happen but it was always a germ of an idea in my head. That germ eventually led to Look Into the Light’s primary mechanic. You literally have to keep the light source on screen at all times in a level (with a few seconds leeway) to complete it.

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That mechanic, in and of itself, keeps each level nice and self-contained, but it doesn’t create any sort of emotional connection with the game. It gives rise to some interesting puzzles where certain platforms only move when not looking at the light, and vice versa, so looking into and away from the light becomes a cat and mouse challenge in and of itself, but there’s no tension. No threat.

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The next step was to create a fiction around the mechanic that could serve to heighten the sense of tension. As a parent of two young children, the thought of losing them is the scariest thing I can imagine so I decided on a world where everything was created from trying to escape the light, but being forced to be drawn into it. The game world in which you play fractures to allow the narrative to seep through, using audible clues, the limitations of the OUYA hardware (the game world ‘breathes’ as the framerate is managed) all to break one sense of illusion and present the player, you, with another. A glimpse into something darker.

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The main narrative is played out throughout the game, including the menu screen. This was a choice I made based upon my monetisation method for the game. Each level is self-contained, heading back to the menu screen after each success or failure, and for those interested in the fiction of the world, they will get it here. Each time you play, the amount of time you have to wait before you can play again increases (up to a maximum of 1 minute, so you’ll never be waiting too long), which can be removed with a single $4.99 purchase. So, as few people will pay for the content (if I top 5% conversion I’ll be pleased), I imagine that people will spend a fair bit of time on that single screen, which makes it a great place for exposition as far as I’m concerned! (Edit: the first versions of the game don’t yet have this mechanic)

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I hope you guys enjoy playing it (actually, no, enjoy is the wrong word to use. I hope you feel uncomfortable playing it, but think that it’s worth playing). I’ll cover some more aspects of the game as I get a little closer to release, but for now, you can play a demo in your browser here!

Cheers,

Ian

Why I’m Putting a Bet on OUYA – For Now

OUYA’s phenomenal Kickstarter success has raised a lot of questions about the viability of what Tadhg Kelly has dubbed the microconsole. It proved that there was demand for a device which allowed gamers to play on their TV on the cheap (obviously) and that developers wanted a route into the living room without having to jump through Sony and Microsoft’s hoops. In my mind, while it will succeed in these goals, and help change the nature of TV gaming, the OUYA will, in and of itself, fail.

It will make a bit of money, and it will have (does have) a devoted fanbase. But it will not become the box that everybody has under their T.V. It will remain a niche product, languish around for 2 or 3 years and quietly disappear. The company that runs it will sell up (probably to Amazon) and everyone involved will have made a tidy sum and OUYA will be largely consigned to history.

Why then, am I making a game (possibly and hopefully more) for something that I think is destined to fail?

Because it’s a playground full of people like me.

It won’t be full of 14 year old kids screaming “Faggot” at everybody who shoots them. It won’t be saturated or dominated by Activision and EA. It won’t require a marketing budget the size of Greece’s debt to succeed and it won’t have 28 versions of Angry Birds.

The games I expect to flourish on OUYA will be largely experimental, largely independent and largely different from the usual Modern Warfare template. It will, temporarily, be the home for the auteurs of game development. A place where new concepts and styles and stories will get an airing before they hit bigger platforms.

At first, the games on OUYA will generally consist of iOS or Android ports, but developers will quickly learn that what works on an iPad doesn’t work with a controller in hand. Most medium to large developers will learn that they can’t make a lot of money from releasing on OUYA and head on back to the pastures of the iPhone, but one or two person teams might be able to find a niche with interesting concepts and different ideas.

Will these games all be good? Of course not. Will they be polished and professional? Some will, but most will be rough round the edges. Will you find interesting games that you won’t find anywhere else? Absolutely.

I’m hoping that the likes of Dear Esther and Journey will become the template for success on OUYA – 2-3 hour experiences that take gaming in new directions. That’s what I want from OUYA, and that’s the aim of my first project for it. I might be wrong, but I hope not…

Then the market will dwindle. Slowly haemorrhaging customers to different outlets. The 3rd generation OUYA will sell half what the first gen one does, Apple will enable iOS apps on the Apple TV, Google will bring a fully Play Store equipped Nexus device in and it will be over.

People like me will have to find somewhere else to play, but it will be good while it lasts.

And Then Comes the Iodine – Lucentis treatment for Diabetic Macular Oedema

“Look at the nurse’s finger.” The consultant stated calmly as the nurse waggled her finger gently above my head, “The needle is about to go in, DO NOT move your eye…”

All I could think of, at this moment, was moving my eye. The nurse was waggling her finger. I was following it with my gaze. Surely that meant that I was moving my eye?

“All done,” he stated, confidently, “We just need some ointment in there and then we’ll get that clamp out.”

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I’ve had diabetes for, at the time of writing, about 19 years, give or take. It’s not all been plain sailing. Through my teenage years and early adulthood, controlling my blood sugars seemed a secondary concern to sex, drugs and rock and roll (though I had precious little of the former!) and I’d never really looked into the long term consequences of my condition. Yes, I knew there was a risk of losing limbs, heart disease, blindness and so on, but I sort of assumed they would be sudden. They’re not.

Two or three years ago, I was diagnosed as having proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Essentially this means that the blood vessels in your eye get blocked, new, weaker vessels grow to get around the blockage, and then because they’re weak, they burst. This causes blood to accumulate over the retina and results in, mainly temporary, loss of vision in the areas affected. This is treated by burning the retina with a laser to seal the vessels and reduce oxygen supply to the retina so that new capillaries don’t grow. As a consequence, you lose much of your peripheral vision but can still see straight ahead.

Unfortunately, for me, this treatment has left me with limited vision, and hasn’t wholly worked. A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with Diabetic Macular Oedema (DMO). This is the next stage, where the central vision part of the eye gets pushed away from the nerve due to the blood. It’s this that causes blindness. Your macular changes shape, which is a bit disorientating, and slowly, you lose vision.

Recently, the NHS approved Lucentis for patients with DMO. It’s shown to work in not only halting DMO from getting worse, but in some cases improving vision. Lucentis, however, is expensive. The list price is $1200 per injection. My consultant applied for emergency funding and I was treated 2 days ago. There’s not a whole lot of detail about what the treatment is like, other than you receive an injection into the white of your eye. Once a month, probably for the next 6 or 7 months.

As a huge fan of injections in my eyes I was incredibly excited by this… Terrified might be a better description. But, you know what, the injection part was easy. I’d already received a dose of laser to my retina earlier on that day, so my eye was pretty scratched up. I’ll go into more detail on this in a future post, when I’ve got the pictures (they’re incredible). I went into the treatment room and was told to lay on the bed. That’s when the consultant brought out the clamp.

Assuming you’ve seen ‘A Clockwork Orange’, you’ll know exactly what this clamp does. It isn’t painful, but it is.. weird. You roll your eye around your head to keep it moist. No blinking. No attempting to blink either, that can squeeze out the clamp and then it would hurt. A mild anaesthetic next. But not enough.
Because then comes the iodine…

I cannot describe to you the pain of iodine in your eye when said eye is already red raw. It reminded me of Tyler Durden’s soap kiss in ‘Fight Club’, only on my eyeball. It was on fire, and I wasn’t happy about it. Next came the other cleaning fluids, which depending on their colour alter your vision like an Instagram filter, a quick cleanse with water and then it’s the needle. I barely noticed the needle.

Five minutes. That’s all it took, but it was scary as hell, and my eye hurt too much to open for a short while after. The ordeal was over. For my right eye. For left eye, repeat steps 1 – 4…

I was in a state afterwards. Thankfully I had my wonderful lady to look after me, to guide me back to the car and to give me a hug. It’s not an easy thing to go through. It hurts, and it continues to sting now. It’s worth it though, if it means I get to watch my kids grow up, it’s worth it. The antibiotics I have to put in my eye are probably going to become as much a part of my life as insulin, at least for a while. But it’s worth it.

Reviews – And How to Use Them!

This 3 – star review was posted by Rae-13 for version 1.0.0 of Six Letter Words a couple of days ago. And it’s brilliant:

“Challenging Fun! – I enjoy this game–however…I wish it would save responses to all unfinished games. Also, I wish I could “surrender” and find out answers I can’t figure out. Sometimes, even with the 1st letter of the word, I can’t think of an answer that fits and therefore, I can’t finish the game. When that happens, I lose Interest.”

Now, this sort of review for a developer is great. It gives specific and valid criticism and suggests how they think it could be better. The first suggestion (saving progress) will be implemented in version 1.2.0, and probably wouldn’t have been if I’d not got this review. The surrender option won’t get put in though – I don’t want people to have the option of quitting. Alright, maybe I’ll put it in a later version if you’ve spent more than an hour on a single puzzle…

I digress…

The point is that, as a developer, you can’t always see the wood for the trees. You get so wrapped up in staring at lists of words and your brain stops thinking like a player. Being such a small company, we don’t have the time or resources to have a lot of people testing the products, so our feedback before a release is usually limited to, “That’s broken.” So genuine user feedback helps us improve the experience for everybody else. It’s exactly what the App Store review system should be used for – Information for other players and suggestions for improvement.

Now, I’m not saying that getting 5* reviews isn’t great – it is, and it’s a great ego boost and makes me want to make more and better things. And I’m also not saying that I’m satisfied with 3* reviews, I’m just saying it’s a perfect example of how user feedback can influence a developer to improve their games. So thank you Rae-13. And thanks everybody for the kind comments you have already, and hopefully will continue to, give.