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Interactive Streaming- Part 3

Having had such fun adding interactive capabilities into our drawing game, Interference,  and making Mixer’s first interactive live hosted quiz Zeitgeist – we thought that we should actually start to build Mixplay into our new games, from the beginning.

We came up with the idea for Rogue Drones during a Christmas party last year – around the time that drones were plaguing Gatwick airport and stopping flights. There seemed to be no technology available to stop these drones – so we came up with the idea of duct-taping a stun gun to our own drone and taking out the rogue drones with that!

We just thought it would be a good joke – but within a few days Nathan, our lead developer, had come up with a workable prototype which turned out to be fun to play! As we have progressed with it, we’ve been getting some very good feedback. This made us think that maybe we should make a fairly polished prototype and show it at London’s EGX-Rezzed show in April. We could get feedback and maybe get some interest from publishers and journalists.

We had the concepts in place, but in order for it to look as good as possible for Rezzed we engaged the services of an awesome graphic designer and Duck Games streamer, the Mixer-partnered BobDuckNWeave. He made us a fabulous new logo and did all the UI for the game.

So here is the premise:
You’re working at the airport and the day seems to be going well, when suddenly you spot something out of the corner of your eye! It that a… drone?
Panic ensues – you don’t want your airport shut down, but budget cuts mean you can’t afford any anti-drone tech. You’ll have to improvise: get your own drone out, duct-tape a stun gun to the top of it and use it to chase down and disable the rogue drones throughout the airport. Dodge planes, helicopters, the air traffic control tower and home in on the drones one by one. If you succeed, maybe you’ll make headlines in the newspapers!

The interactive part comes in the form of various buttons that viewers can use to create problems for the person playing. They can increase the wind speed to blow the drone off course, or reverse the controls so that up is down and vice versa. The stun gun can be disabled and the charge up slowed right down.

Each time a viewer uses one of the buttons – they get a shout out in the game in the form of a message on the screen from Air Traffic Control that might say something like “A Hacker calling themselves (name of viewer) has been messing with some of our radio signals” or “Storm (name of viewer) is approaching, don’t get blown off course!”

As he adds things into the game and fixes bugs, Nathan is livestreaming a dev update each week around 8pm on Wednesday evenings. You can check out the progress of the game and admire the new art on our Mixer channel: https://mixer.com/interference
If you miss one – you can see some on our YouTube channel too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJ2byVNsaHQ

In our next blog I will be talking about exhibiting at EGX Rezzed 2019 – and the talk that we are going to give at the show: “Adventures in Livesteaming: A Developer’s Tale.

 

Interactive Streaming- Part 2

As part of the Interference birthday celebration last year we held a livestream party on our Mixer channel – and one of the things we tried was an interactive quiz. It was just about the game itself – as that is what we were celebrating – but it worked so well we thought “Why not hold a weekly pub quiz online – using Mixplay?”

Thus, Zeitgeist was born! It’s the pub quiz you can join in from your sofa – you don’t even have to take your slippers off!

Using the mighty power of Mixplay and Mixer’s sub-second latency we could ask general knowledge questions and give viewers 10 seconds to answer – so there was no chance for cheating by giving them time to google anything! If we had used any other streaming platform – where the delay can be 6-7 seconds – this would not have worked, as by the time they had read the question and answers they would have run out of time to press the correct answer.
Originally, we saw it as a way of marketing Interference – as the way we chose the topics for the 5 rounds of general knowledge was by picking our favourite 5 drawings from each week’s games. So if someone had drawn a particularly awesome seagull, for example, we might have a round on sea birds. Part of the fun during the quiz is the players guessing what the next round is about from the picture at the start!

So, the way it works is that we have 5 rounds of general knowledge – each with 5 questions. Each question is multiple choice – so you choose the correct answer (hopefully!) from four possible options. At the end of each round there is a leaderboard – and as we go through the rounds the scores are accumulated onto the main leaderboard – so we can see who has got the highest score so far.

It is hosted by myself and Nathan and we enjoy the interaction in the chat, the banter between the quizzers and the friendly competitiveness it fosters. We have got an audience of all ages – from all over the world, and we like to think that the quiz brings whole new audience to Mixer. It is pretty exciting most weeks as we quite often get to the final question to decide the winner. One week we even had a dead heat between two of the regulars. We think that it is the first live quiz on the Mixer platform.

We feel that there are a lot of people who would love to join an actual pub quiz – but can’t go out for various reasons (kids, disability, no friends available) so can join in from wherever they are from any device. Everyone loves a quiz but instead of watching The Chase or Who Wants to be a Millionaire and just shouting at the TV – you can actually take part. It’s like social television – what’s not to love?

To join in go to our Mixer channel at: https://mixer.com/interference

In our next blog post we’ll be talking about how we now build interactive features into our games from the start – rather than adding them in as an afterthought. We will show the example of our latest game in progress – Rogue Drones.

 

Interactive Streaming- Part 1

So, what have we been up to recently?

We’ve been getting into interactive streaming – one of this year’s major trends!

Thanks to our awesome Community Manager, Sarah Marie, who suggested streaming as the way to increase our discoverability, we have been trying out Mixer and using their Mixplay tools to let streamers and viewers interact in real time. With its sub-second latency it means viewers don’t just watch games in progress – they can actually join in and influence the gameplay. It is so much better than passive steaming as everyone feels more connected and involved.

For example, we first tried this out in our popular drawing game Interference (https://www.playinterference.com/) It was Halloween so we decided to add some tricks and treats to the live drawing stream that Sarah was doing each week. She was doing a session every Wednesday evening to show people how to play the game and how it works. Adding in ways for the viewers to interfere with what she was doing has made the stream even more popular!

Sarah enjoys the steaming much more too – in fact she says she doesn’t want to go back to playing Interference without Mixplay! It’s also great how people who enjoy watching the stream do go and play the actual game afterwards.

But, how does the Mixp;ay work?

To start with, you can decide which description she has to draw – by voting with the Mixplay buttons. Then, to hamper her progress, you can take away her colours – so she’s just left with a restricted or even just a monochrome palette or you can disable her undo button – so she cannot correct any mistakes. (She really hates that one!)

Nicer viewers can give her extra time (in Interference you only get 10 minutes to complete a drawing) or restore the colour palette if it’s been restricted in any way or even put back the undo button.

It makes things “interesting” for the streamer and fun for the viewers, because they can join in and enjoy the reactions of the streamer as they unexpectedly get helped or hampered during the play. It is certainly making a difference to her viewing figures!

If you’d like to see Sarah in action, and interact with her in real time – have a look at our Mixer channel on Wednesday evenings from 6.30pm – 8pm every week.

In our next blog post I will be talking about how we decided to use Mixer’s sub-second latency to host a real live pub quiz on Sunday nights!

EGX Video

At last we’ve edited the video of our EGX 2018 talk :If You Build it, They Will Come (Spoiler: They Won’t) a.k.a. A realists guide to game dev!

We had a great audience on the day – but if you missed it – have a look here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odhYgjoivcw&feature=youtu.be  

You’ll get some insights into what it is like to be a small indie games development company  and how you can try to overcome the challenges and make the most of the opportunities.

 

 

Centrifuge goes to EGX

Team Centrifuge at EGX – ready to give the talk!

We recently went to EGX – the UK’s biggest games event and we had a very productive time! It wasn’t all fun and games as our team, consisting of Nathan and Berni – the company founders – and Sarah – who kindly volunteers as our community manager – gave a talk at the show.

For the first time this year there was an EGX Fringe Theatre with a schedule “consisting entirely of panel sessions proposed and delivered by the EGX community”. We proposed a session called: “Lessons from game Development – If you build it they will come. (Spoiler: They won’t)”

The blurb of it was: “Join the team from Centrifuge (makers of Interference and other casual games) as they discuss their gamedev journey over the last few years and share the incorrect assumptions and mistakes that they made along the way. Featuring panellists Nathan, Berni and Sarah.”

We were pretty pleased when it was accepted and we were given a slot on The Fringe stage at 2pm on the first day of the show. We didn’t expect many people to come as it was the first day and no-one really knows who we are. Imagine our surprise as we were setting up the AV for the presentation – the room started to fill up. Then a class of school children came in with their teachers and there was standing room only!

Where did all these people come from?

We really enjoyed talking about our game development journey so far and framed the session as:  Assumption followed by Reality then Advice.
For example:

Assumption: We’ve had an interesting idea, and made a game. Let’s send out a press release, and people will talk about it

Reality: You can contact the big sites, but you’re probably not going to be as interesting as the other press releases they receive

Advice: Start small

  • Try your local press (they’re always interested in new stories in their area)
  • We met with our local business editor and she covers any new developments we have
  • Look for more specialised website/magazines
  • When we released Interference on Windows 10 we sent press releases to sites like Windows Central, because it’s more relevant to their readership
  • Contact individual journalists who are interested in your type of game
  • Don’t rely on sending messages to a general tips address

Nathan talked about the actual making of the game, Berni talked about social media, awards and PR and Sarah chatted about managing and engaging your community.

Live on stage!

The 45 minute slot flew by and we only had time for one question from the audience, although a few people stayed behind to talk to us afterwards. It was nice to see so many other game developers in the audience and the comments we were getting were that it was refreshing to hear a realistic and honest account of what it is like to start small and make games!

We’re the only ones here!

One good thing about having a slot on Thursday was that we then had the rest of the show to relax, play games and enjoy networking with other game makers and players. Well, that and the fact that we could get in early before the masses!

If you’d like to see our talk then we’ll be editing it soon and throwing it up on YouTube. Will put the link in here soon!

Interference is in Apps for Windows Ink!

If you’ve been reading our blogs you’ll know that we have been campaigning on social media to get Microsoft to put our drawing and describing game, Interference into the Apps for Windows Ink Collection – a curated collection of apps that are perfect for the Surface devices and pens.

Each day we would post on Twitter and Facebook our plea – along with a gif of a particularly good drawing that we’d had submitted to the game that day.

We got up to DAY 118

Interference @playifx Jul 24 DAY 118 Try to impress to put into APPS FOR WINDOWS INK Today a boy!

… when Jen from Microsoft got in touch and said that they would have a look at it. Seems we didn’t have many recent reviews – as we have forums in the game so players usually say nice things about Interference in there. We put out a plea to our players for a few new reviews in the Windows Store and got them. Then we were told that we could have Interference in Apps for Windows Ink for 30 days – to see how it went.

It is so great as we’ve had lots of new players already and get emails from the Windows Store to say that our trends are up.

It’s good to know that persistence pays off – we’re not sure how long we will be in the collection – but long may it last!

 

Virome – Update

Virome is the new colour-matching game from Centrifuge – the makers of the hit drawing and describing game: Interference

It came about from a quick game we made for a game jam – where the theme was Small World. See previous posts for more on that.

After the great feedback we got from other game developers during the game jam, Ludum Dare, we decided to expand the game and put it out into all the app stores.

It had been called Superbugs, during the game jam, but once we decided to put the game out we discovered that there is already a game with that name. So, after consultation with an actual scientist (Berni’s brother at York University) we chose the name VIROME. It refers to the viruses that live in the human body – so it seemed appropriate. Plus – there was definitely no other game with that name!

Nathan expanded the original concept to include 28 increasingly difficult levels. Complete those and you unlock the Daily Viromes – a new Virome to defeat each day. This mode is ideal for competition among friends and family as you all see the same puzzle on each day.

There is also a Random Virome – which gives you a unique puzzle each time you click it. So, you’ll never run out of puzzles to try. As we say – a scientist’s work is never done!

It is now available in the app stores for Windows, Android, iOS and Amazon Kindle – check the website for links: viromegame.com

 

There are MANY colour-matching games out there – usually match three or more of the same colour to clear a grid. Virome is a different take on colour-matching that involves matching the colours to the viruses – which will involve some colour combining as well as making sure that no cell gets overdosed! It will have you addicted in no time. Download it now before it goes viral!

 

 

 

Taking Part in Ludum Dare Game Jam – Part 2

With this being our first game jam, we weren’t quite sure how to plan or how to manage our time. As the jam started at 02:00 in our time zone, we decided the best idea would be to check what the theme would be, then to go to sleep hoping that we’d subconsciously come up with some ideas overnight.

By the time we were actually ready to start (after recording and editing the weekly Interference update video), it was Saturday afternoon – about 11 hours in to the jam. We’d had time to think about the theme (“A small world”) for a while, and decided to do something based around looking at a petri dish through a microscope. We’re both fans of puzzles, so decided to make some kind of simple puzzle game.

Berni quickly came up with the idea of showing the player a petri dish with various “bugs” in that would have several attributes (eg colour, shape) and the player would have to apply the correct drugs to make the bug shrink (but using the wrong drug would cause it to grow). For example, a spiky yellow virus would grow if given a round yellow drug (wrong shape), but would shrink if given a square yellow drug (correct colour, correct shape (well, it has corners!)).

I’ve been spending my spare time learning about Unity, so decided this would be a good excuse to play around with that. My experience consisted of reading “Teach Yourself Unity Game Development in 24 Hours” and doing half of a Unity course on Udemy, but I hadn’t actually made anything from scratch. Still, never hurts to have a go at things.

For the first few hours, I had a go at implementing the system Berni had devised, but – if I’m completely honest – didn’t have much success. I managed to set something up where you could drag coloured shapes onto other coloured shapes, and then they’d change size depending on whether the colours matched or not. It sort of worked, but didn’t feel very fun – you just piled drugs on to one bug, then moved on to the next. Berni suggested making different bugs grow at different rates, and introducing bugs that had two colours, but I thought it was getting a bit complicated (and whilst I could cope with changing the colour of a sprite renderer in Unity to make different coloured bugs, I had no idea how to handle things with two colours – swap in different sprites, rather than colouring the same sprite?).

Original Superbugs prototype

I suggested that we keep things simple: display the bugs in a grid, then have the player add drugs which would affect adjacent cells. You’d have to work out the correct placement in order to get the right combinations of colours. To make it a bit more interesting, we’d make the grid out of hexagons. I mean, that can’t be too hard to work out, can it?

Several hours (and a few pages of scribbled notes) later, I’d finally made a system that could generate a “circle” of hexagons, given a number of layers. The problem with hexagons compared to squares is that it’s harder to refer to a particular hexagon – in a square grid you can say something like (1,4) and it means “one along, four up”. The problem is that whilst one row of hexagons will fit into that, when you do the next row everything is shifted across by half a hexagon. I eventually implemented this by assuming that rows would alternate between sitting on even numbers and odd numbers on the grid. It seemed like a good idea at the time (just shift everything by 0.5 on every other line), but in hindsight I think there’s probably a better solution involving adjusting the Y axis of your grid to go at an angle. By the time I realised this, I’d already done a lot of implementation, so decided to leave things as they were.

A dynamically generated grid of hexes. Harder than it first seems!

Next was dealing with drugs being dropped into the grid cells (or “hexes”, as I called them in the code). That was pretty simple – Unity’s collision system took care of most of it. Whilst a drug was being dragged, we kept track of any hexes that it collided with, and when the mouse was released we dropped it into the last empty hex it touched. This just involved setting its position to the same as the hex and setting the drug’s parent to the hex. At this point, we also check the colour of the drug, and then set the colour of the hex to match. If a drug is picked up again, we set the colour of the hex that was its parent back to white. To change the adjacent cells, we check the two above, the two below, and the ones to the left and right – six in total. Well, I say six – one of the obvious things that I forgot to check was whether those hexes actually exist (eg if the cell is on the far left of the grid, then there won’t be any cells to the left of it). Fortunately, that was easy to fix once I’d realised my mistake.

Testing the colour mixing – “pill palette” at the top left (where you drag the pills from) and a colour mixing guide (which went on to become the game’s logo) at the top right.

I’d written a lot of code in the last few hours, so decided to do something else for a bit – making some sprites. I’m not much of an artist, but thought I could probably manage something that looked a bit like a virus. Using the excuse that I was aiming for a minimalist style, I came up with a few varieties that looked OK. They did seem a little boring, though. One of the things that had just been covered in my Unity course was animation, so I messed about with that quickly, setting a simple animation that made the sprite shrink a bit then grow (as if the virus was breathing). Surprisingly (for a change that took about two minutes), it looked pretty good and made a big difference. It gave me the idea that the viruses shouldn’t be removed when treated, just suppressed – so they’d become active again if you moved a drug away or added the wrong drug next to it. I quickly made another animation that made the virus shrink and stop moving.

As a programmer, I’m pretty sure this is what viruses look like in real life.

To test things out, I made a script to pick random hexes and spawn viruses of random colours, then edited the “do stuff when a drug is dropped” script to check the colour of any adjacent viruses and set an “isSuppressed” flag if the drug colour matches the virus. That triggers the animation to change from “idle” to “suppressed”. I was rather pleased when I ran the game, saw a few viruses spawn and start “breathing”, then stop when I placed drugs next to them. It was starting to feel like a game! We made a minor adjustment to the drug sprites here – adding a “C” to the centre of them – to make it more obvious when a hex contained a drug.

Testing the game out. Some UI has appeared, along with a “reset” button to start the level again if needed.

Something that I’d learnt from the Unity course was that adding sound makes a big difference, even if it’s just a small thing. I didn’t want to spend ages looking though lists of sounds, so just grabbed a microphone and recorded myself making a “pop” sound. Playing that when a virus spawned made things feel better, but it still seemed that something was missing. We thought that perhaps a sound for when a drug was picked up or dropped would help, so I recorded a “chk” sound. Almost there – but the whole thing was a little quiet when you weren’t doing anything. We added a bit of background music (a track from our friends at Vivid Muzik), and everything came together 🙂

It started to feel like things were almost done, but then I realised the big oversight that I’d made. Whilst the virus spawning system seemed to work well, it was just picking random hexes with no consideration for whether the puzzle would actually be solvable. I’d not had to write anything like this before, so wasn’t sure if there was a standard approach for it. In the end, I reasoned that if I made the game generate a solved grid, then pick viruses to spawn based on that, it would always be solvable. It appears to work, but perhaps there’s an edge case that I haven’t thought of!

I spent a few hours on Monday putting together a basic UI, instructions for the game (just some simple buttons and images), and a “plot” (you’re a scientist trying to prevent a pandemic) and the whole thing started to look like an actual game. On Monday afternoon we packaged the game, uploaded it to itch.io and submitted it to the Ludum Dare site – a few people have already tried it and left encouraging feedback.

I’m proud of what we managed to get done in a weekend (I think that our active time on the game was probably under 40 hours), and I’m tempted to add a bit more polish and release an updated version after Ludum Dare is finished. There’s a few things that would need changing, like trying to increase the replayability: at the moment, the grids are programatically generated – it would be interesting to generate levels based on a seed value (so different players could try the same level, and see who could solve it the fastest). Another improvement would be to calculate the optimal solution for each grid, so players could see how many steps over par they are.

Having spent a good few hours playing around in Unity, I’m very impressed with it – things that I expected to be tricky to implement were a lot easier than I anticipated, and being able to build for web, Windows, MacOS and Linux at the same time is excellent.

We’re definitely looking forward to the next Ludum Dare, but have decided to try and make a small game each month as a break from our big projects – it’ll give us a chance to try out random ideas without having to work out a long term plan for them. If everything goes to plan I’m going to document the process and share the results at thelab.wearecentrifuge.com.

If you’d like to try the finished game, then you can find it at centrifuge.itch.io/superbugs – we’d love to hear your feedback 🙂

Taking Part in Ludum Dare Game Jam – Part 1

Nathan has been wanting to take part in a Game Jam for quite a while – so when we saw that the Ludum Dare game jam was about to take place – and they were celebrating their 15th year – we decided we would give it a go this time.

Amazingly, as we are busy most weekends, this particular weekend everyone cancelled on us and we had an entire weekend to ourselves – we took this as A Sign and resolved to definitely try to make a game in just one weekend. We have never done this before so we thought it would be a great challenge and possibly fun 🙂

The first step was to vote on the possible themes on the LDJam website – these had already been posted by other users and game jam enthusiasts. The actual theme of the competition would be announced at 2am (UK time) on Friday night while we were sleeping. We were hoping that it would be “Keep it alive” as we’d thought of a really great idea for that – but when we stirred in the night and checked our phones we discovered that the actual theme was Small World.

We tried to go back to sleep and hoped we’d dream up a really good game idea before morning. We had a brainstorming session as soon as we woke and talked about what Small World could encompass:

  • there are already games out there already featuring small worlds that are fought over because they won’t fit everyone on
  • small world can also mean child-sized things
  • small world theory where everyone turns out to be connected to everyone else – could we make a game about that or would it just end up being too massive?
  • then, we had the brainwave that small world could also mean – microscopic!

That idea really got the cogs turning and we came up with superbugs – a game where you’re in a science lab and peer through a microscope at viruses in a petri dish. The aim of the game would be that you have to kill them off with combinations of drugs before they grow too big and become Superbugs – and resistant to ALL drugs.

We’d start with a few simple levels , where you just have to kill one virus with a drug of the same colour. This would be scaled up to many viruses – some needing multiple drugs and others needing colour combinations to kill them off.

As Nathan, our developer, is halfway through his first course on Unity – we thought we’d make the game in that. It seemed like a good way of testing his understanding so far!

Our first prototype was one petri dish containing the viruses – but it wasn’t very interesting and did not need a lot of skill. Also it was difficult to animate the viruses and get them to interact with each other.

Then Nathan came up with the idea of hexagonal cells – like a beehive – where each drug would affect the cells around the target one. This would make it into a proper puzzle game. It also allows for drug colours to be combined to make the other colours needed.

We didn’t have any access to sounds – so Nathan did the sound effects himself and recorded them to put them in the game.  I especially like the “pop” as each virus explodes as it is eliminated by the correct drug combos!

One of the hardest parts of making the game so far is working out how to automate the production of each level to ensure that it is still solvable. They do it with Sudoku – so it must be possible!

Check back in a few hours for part two, where we’ll show how the game turned out and how you can play it!

Find the game here: https://centrifuge.itch.io/superbugs

Zeitgeist – How Trump Influences Online Games

When you are running a game where there is mainly user content generated – like Interference our drawing and describing game – you get to see the current zeitgeist. With players being able to start games on any topic it’s something we find fascinating, seeing what subjects players describe and draw over time.

Recently, as you would expect, there’s been a lot of Donald Trump popping up in our games. Some seem to be complimentary and others humorous or insulting – as you might expect in real life! Not just our US players but everyone all over the world has an opinion on what he’s doing.

Descriptions that players put in to start new games have been showing what most consumes players’ thoughts – these include some of his key election pledges such as “Drain the swamp” or “Trump’s wall“.

It’s also interesting to read the discussions taking place between the players in the Comments after the games. Recently some have been upset about the negative representation on the President – and some have resolved to try to resist this in future – as our community is usually very supportive and respectful of each other.
As game devs we obviously have our own opinions – but Interference is resolutely neutral – like the BBC 🙂

During the election period there were fewer Hillary Clinton pictures or mentions – except in relation to Trump. For example the charming portrait below:

Obama didn’t get as much attention when he was president – but again can be seen popping up in relation to Trump in more recent months.

Needless to say – it’s not only our game that Donald J Trump is affecting – he has been appearing in more games that any US president before.

For example Surgeon Simulator added a special Trump mode where you could give him a heart transplant with a gold or stone heart (At the time of writing stone hearts are winning with 56%).

A new game called Mr President came out, where you play a bodyguard and can decided to save (or not) Ronald Rump, a billionaire president, from a raft of crazy assassination attempts.

There are a slew of mini games such as Trump Donald – where you can just spend all day blowing his hair with a trumpet.

So, love him or hate him at 100 days in to his presidency he’s certainly been influencing popular culture in a big way. All eyes are on him to see what he does next.