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bloomer Visiting my blog, eh? Wise move. I think we should all try to understand other people, no matter how stupid their beliefs.

Title: Dumb baddies in my game prototype leads me to Pacman docs
Posted: March 13, 2012 (08:44 PM)
Last night I was programming some super-elementary pathfinding into the game prototype I'm working on and I noticed enemies were getting stuck on corners when following the player. They don't yet have the brains to try moving a few more pixels forward so that they can round the corner and continue the pursuit.

Here's a demo video (152kb). The pink/red rectangle is the player. The bottom-left blue rectangle is the enemy ploddingly following him. (And the things that look like a trail of turds are player footsteps… In case I have a level set in dust or snow)

Googling for information on path-finding, I came across this nice webpage called The Pac-Man Dossier which explains the workings of Pac-Man in extreme but user-friendly detail. It didn't solve my problem but it's more interesting than my problem and you may enjoy having a look at it.
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Title: Six wins Best Implementation at XYZZYs
Posted: March 05, 2012 (04:57 AM)
This morning I attended the 2011 XYZZY Awards Ceremony on IFMud. The XYZZYs are best quickly described as the Oscars of Interactive Fiction, voted for by any interested players over two rounds.

My game Six was a finalist in a lot of categories:

Best Game
Best Setting
Best NPCs
Best Supplemental Materials
Best Implementation

In the end I won Best Implementation. And I think that was a good win, as I do believe in the strength of the game's implementation. The game that really mopped up, and ultimately won Best Game, was Cryptozookeeper.
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Title: Unholy Jam
Posted: January 30, 2012 (08:33 AM)
This is a story about team Dusk (which included myself, Wade Clarke) trying to develop the game eventually titled Unholy over 48 hours at the in-Sydney venue of Game Jam 2012, January 27- 29.

The brief of the jam is to form a team on the spot and develop a game from scratch within 48 hours related to a mystery theme which is only revealed when you show up. At the end, industry judges check out the games and dole out praise and prizes. This year's theme was given in the form of a picture, a ring formed by a snake eating its tail. The move from an English word cue (last year's theme was “extinction") to a visual one might have been made to help convey the theme to all participants around the world with equal force, getting rid of the English language issue.

My initial shock this year was at the explosion in attendance. While I guess 40 to 50 people attended last year's Sydney Jam at the Powerhouse Museum, this year more than 100 descended on the new venue of Rosehill Gardens Event Centre, a super high-ceilinged building beside a horse racing course. The jam was facilitated by the presence of the Sydney Gamers League: 350 of its members were having a networked game-a-thon in the Centre alongside the jam. Imagine hundreds of hardcore gamers and computers stacked in aisles for as far as the eye can see, with Modern Warfare 3 and Starcraft glowing on as many monitors.

Initially I was in a team with seven people, amongst them Tim and Jacqui who programmed our team's game Impacts last year. I'd also met Michael at the last jam, and had since done sound and music for his Flash game ZX Space.

Coming up with a game concept

As you've only got 48 hours, the organisers urge you to come up with an idea pretty quickly, then they hold a session where all teams pitch their ideas to each other. Jammers then have the opportunity to change teams if they like a different team's idea better or can find a better fit for their own skill set.

After a lot of frantic riffing on the snake-eats-self theme, our team's ideas for game mechanics fell mostly into the following three areas:

-- Playing a level multiple times and using your corpses as tools to progress through the level
-- Having ghosts of your previous plays help or hinder you on later ones
-- Having a series of characters die and play through the same areas (ala Eternal Darkness)

Over our catered tea (which was hardly stellar, and the first sign of the food hardships which lay ahead) our team split in two when one half came up with a new set of ideas involving a literal interpretation of the snake image; they would make a variation on the classic Snake game in which you don't control the snake but must somehow trick it into eating itself. It was called Ekans. Get it?

I was much more into the idea of making a horror game and doing something with ghosts, but what our two new teams agreed on is that they would share artists. That is, I would do sound and music for both games, and Michael and our new friend Leanne would produce artwork and animation for both games.

Members from both teams

Finalising the concept (OR DID WE?)

The ghost game team – which we called Team Dusk at some point – now consisted of Tim and Jacqui on programming, Michael and Leanne on artwork, Michael on animation and myself on sound and music.

Coming up is what I recall to be our initial game concept. I say recall because tracing the exact origins of ideas is always tricky (who came up with what and when?) and probably even more so over a crazy sleep and food deprived 48-hours.

The game is set in a village. Ghosts/demons are attacking the villagers for some reason. It's dark and scary and visibility is limited. The view is from overhead. You can try to flee the ghosts but inevitably one will get you. At this point, to survive, you need to attack and possess another human. When you're a ghost you have limited time to possess someone or you will die in a Game Over kind of way. To end the demon attack you have to find and put out 6 black candles hidden around the village, which were used by villagers to summon the demons in the first place.

Eating food at Game Jam

Food was sparsely dispensed over the course of the event (a euphemism) and not very good (euphemism). You had to hand in a voucher to get each meal, thus preventing you from stealing an extra two Weet Bix at breakfast, for instance, after realising that your breakfast of only the initial two Weet Bix had actually been a parody of a breakfast.

We had our own tea and coffee supplies in the Jam area, but no milk. The plastic spoons warped when you tried to stir your hot drinks with them. On day three I made an interactive sculpture out of three warped spoons, a coffee lid and a live fly.

The artwork

Leanne drew our cast of villagers with her graphics tablet. Her style is quite manga-ish, which gave the game a Japanese look. We had whittled the cast down to three types: a man, a woman and a little girl. Leanne came up with the man's design very quickly and I was impressed, though I did make jokes that I wasn't sure that men had such fashionable facial hair in whatever time period this game was set in.

Uh, what time period was this game set in?

Our game's background story was still vague on day one. Was this village medieval-rural? 18th century? 19th century? Early 20th century? And where was it? I had kidded that I wasn't going to be policing accurate fashion and grooming for the characters based on when and where we set the game, but I did start thinking about nailing down a setting. It had to make sense that these people were superstitious enough to try solving problems by summoning demons.

Handily, Leanne's design for the little girl had her dragging a teddy bear, which forced my hand. I thought that if it was a genuine teddy bear, the game had to be set after those became popular (post Teddy Roosevelt). Our story was not dissimilar to something Lovecraft might write, so I figured we could set it in Lovecraft country in Lovecraft times. On a piece of paper I wrote "Dunwich, 1924." Then I wrote a succinct introductory story intended to be displayed at the start of the game.


When Michael wasn't working on the snake graphics for our sister team, he took Leanne's village character artworks and animated them. He also came up with ghost versions for each character, and they all looked really cool. The ghost girl in particular was the kind to scare the crap out of you.

Sound and music Part 1

The first task I set myself was to produce music for team Ekans. One thing I realised about Game Jam last year is that you may have only a few minutes to demonstrate your game to judges and an audience, and you can really increase the value of your presentation with a good in-game soundtrack if one is appropriate.

I asked Dan on the snake team about what kind of music they might like. Their game was now set in an Egyptiany arena and had a crowd cheering on the player who was stuck in the pit with the snake. He suggested something jarring along the lines of the Kirk VS Spock gladiator fight from classic Star Trek. 'Duh duh duhhhh duhhhh duhhhh duhhhh duhhhh DUHHHH DUH DUH DUHHHH DUHHHH!…'

I thought that would be cool and funny and I went back to my laptop fully intending to go in that direction. As often happens in musicmaking, I ended up going not where I had intended to, but liking what happened where I ended up. I dropped in a 4/4 C64-sounding bass riff from Logic's library while experimenting, and that dictated the whole piece, just because I liked what was happening when I mixed it with Egyptian noises. The decision to continue with this piece and not go back to the drawing board was also the kind of time pressurised one you have to make often in Game Jam. I couldn't afford to lose the time I'd already invested in it.

To this track I added liberal doses of vocal yelling from various nations – Bollywood yelps, African chants, that kind of thing – to get a tribal feel happening, though the resulting mishmash was probably completely offensive to all of these cultures. I later pruned back some of the silliness and added my own melodic magic () to develop something that I thought would sound quite tense and exciting over the snake-in-the-arena game. When Matt from team Ekans checked it out and described it as "wicked and dark", I thought: "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!"


I had watched Tim and Jacqui do their programming wizardry last year, so I knew what to expect from them. They sit their computers side-by-side, work on different elements, occasionally merge them, occasionally communicate by ESP and occasionally by Tim raising his voice. Jacqui staves off sleep in general.

The main difference this year was that the process was less inscrutable to the other team members (or at least to me) because the gameplay was less inscrutable. The game we made last year was a high-faluting variation on Life, and there was no time for everyone to discuss every algorithm that was going to go into it. We just had to trust Tim and Jacqui to put it together, and they did. As a result, late iterations of that game kept surprising me with their new behaviours.

This year we had all discussed, argued about and contributed to the design of the game mechanics as a team, so as the code began to become demonstrable, we would look at each version of the game and see the things we'd talked about starting to function.

Screenshot of Unholy

Finalising the concept?

Late on the middle day, Tim told me he wanted to change the game design so that there would be a bunch of scene setting achieved through in-game dialogue before the part where you had to deal with the ghosts. Given the amount of time we'd already spent nutting out a design I thought would work, I was highly resistant to the idea; it threw up lots of new plot and game mechanic questions and contradictions that would all need to be solved, and change the nature of the beast so that you weren't thrown straight into a fearful survival situation, which I felt was a very pure mechanic well suited to the constraints of Game Jam.

We talked about all my concerns at length and were able to come up with answers to most of the new questions. For instance, when was the ghost attack going to occur now? We decided that initially the village could be a safe place and that the ghosts would be outside, but once you went out there (hopefully in response to curiosity piqued by the villagers' dialogue) you'd encounter a ghost and sort of set things off. Something I was adamant about was that ultimately, no place in the game should be safe. I didn't want the player to be able to hide in the village. I wanted the pressure to be on.

Of course what was intriguing about Tim's new idea what the prospect of recording some villager voices. Surely this would be a highly ambitious feature in a game made in 48 hours. Like he later said, “it's something you can brag about." I had also prepared myself technically pre-jam to record some dialogue because Michael had expressed interest in making a game including audio narrative.

I still had some misgivings about the direction change of the game, but since the solutions seemed feasible and the idea of doing dialogue was attractive, I agreed to it. Our challenge/problem now… at 2 AM of the final day, though you'd hardly have known it what with 400+ gamers and coders wide awake and still thrashing about in the building… was to get some people to perform the script Tim had written. We needed lines for the man, the woman and the girl. Cynical readers from Generation X will not be surprised to learn that most of the folks at Game Jam are men, so the first thing we did was approach the only woman who was both visible and awake at that moment, Jenna.

Recording the in-game dialogue

Jenna was famous at last year's jam for having built a robot; that was the interesting fact organisers wrote about her on the getting to know you sheet. We asked her if she wanted to record some lines and it turned out she wasn't interested, though she was encouraging of the idea that we should approach random non-jam gamers in the foyer, saying, "Hey, wanna voice a videogame?" – because she said that would be hilarious.

I can't deny that it might have been, but my sensible side thought we shouldn't. There was the potential for time wasting with people we didn't know and who weren't committed to Game Jam, but potentially a bigger problem was that the single location quiet enough for the recording of dialogue which Tim and I had scouted out and tested was in an unlit brickwork cul-de-sac outside the centre. Frankly, I would have been embarrassed to try dragging people I'd never met before into this dark alley at 2 AM with the promise of voice work in a video game.

So instead we dragged people we knew out there – me, Tim, Dan, Michael and Leanne. Tim's brother Dominic came along just to laugh at us, I think. Jacqui came along but was dead on her feet. We took turns trying different lines from the script, recording into my Macbook which was perched on a recycling bin in the dark. While I have directed actors in the past, I am certainly not one. I think Dan obviously has some performer in him. I don't know if he has any acting experience, but you could believe that each take with him was potentially a different person, one of those people being Dr Evil.

In the dark we ended up missing one of the lines, but otherwise we got everything we needed. I then worked on editing this dialogue into useable takes until 5AM, at which point I broke for a four hour nap. Listening to the recordings vindicated our choice of that quiet cul-de-sac; they proved to be extremely usable in their raw form, with almost no background noise and no need for post production other than level matching. They weren't even recorded with an external mic, just through the air into the Macbook's internal mic.

Having a shower

No showers were available until late on the middle day, at which point you had to book your shower and be marched down into the bowels of the facility if you wanted one. I got to use a shower set aside for female jockeys. I deliberately chose that one because when else does a man get to go into the female jockeys' shower at a race course? Never, that's when!

Sound and music Part 2

I love making Silent Hill-like music, and I also like making dismally sad sounding string music, so on the afternoon of the middle day of the jam I put the two styles together to come up with the in-game soundtrack loop for our ghost game. A low string grinds away beneath a bed of wailing and rattling. A harpsichord-like synth plucks a few notes overhead occasionally, and eventually the violin comes in with the sadness riff. I was extremely pleased with this track.

After the design change to the game involving the addition of dialogue and atmosphere-building in the village, I decided I would make a twin piece of music which would sound similar to the first one, but be the safer "pre ghost attack" version. It uses one of the same strings and some of the same riffs, but contains no supernatural noises and is in danger of being pretty. It reminds me a bit of the town music for Diablo, which probably isn't a surprise because our game has a slightly Diablo feel in the village, and Tim also mentioned the game when trying to describe an aesthetic for the lighting to Leanne.

I also created three soundscapes for what we called Ghost Hell. When you become a ghost, all the sound is blotted out except for a horrible noise from the ghost world, which should repel you and encourage you to try to get out of the ghost world as quickly as possible. I made a soundscape for each of the male, female and girl characters. For the man and woman, I used massively slowed down sounds of anguish and combined them with irritating tones and rattling. In the case of the girl, I slowed down the sound of a bunch of children cheering to about 10%.

Coming up with a freaking name

I wanted to call the game Black Candle but Tim really didn't like that. We thought of going with our team name, Dusk, which seemed evocative and to suggest all those being on the edge of one area (life, ghost life, death) and entering another ideas applicable to the game. But admittedly, there was no dusk in the game, only night. There was also talk of naming the game after the demon you would eventually defeat, but I'm glad the demon was never named or seen properly, and that as a result I never had to argue against this particular naming idea which I disliked intensely! We debated "Possession", but eventually settled on Unholy. Michael wasn't crazy about it, but he was outvoted.

The final product

By the time of the midday judging on day three, the game was about 85% complete in each of the three areas: art, programming and sound. Some sounds hadn't been put in (footsteps for instance) and the audio proximity alarms for the ghosts, and the reaper who kills the ghosts, weren't in either. A really neat addition, however, were the character portraits which appeared whenever you spoke to someone. And thanks to a random name generation library, every character had a unique period name which would appear alongside their portrait. Plus the names changed every time you played! The Japanesey artwork and RPG-ish dialogue really made the thing look Japanese.

The main thing that was missing was the programming for the candles the player is supposed to find to be able to win. In other words, the mechanics were in, but there was no goal. Obviously we still had a lot that we were able to demonstrate to the judges – people wandering the village, giving their dialogue, ghosts wandering around and attacking people, the reaper attacking ghosts (an awesome effect involving screen jitter and a huge black hand reaching from the ground as he comes near - Jacqui has a way with the effects) and the possession mechanic. We had to give our presentation about four times to different judges.

We didn't win any awards after the judging, but I definitely like – and am impressed by – the game we made this year. We do plan to add the candles and tidy up some of the programming and sound issues after Game Jam so that we will have a finished game. Compared to our game last year, Impacts, I'm more impressed with the volume of content we got in this year, especially at the level of quality that we achieved. The entire village map and graphics, including roofs which disappear when you enter the buildings. Three animated characters and their ghost versions. The reaper hand and his special effects. The ghost hell sound effects and a two-piece musical soundtrack, though the second piece wasn't implemented by judging time. We created all this stuff from scratch in 48 hours. Leanne had not worked on a complete game before, and I think secretly she was a bit of a star with the volume of excellent artwork she gave the team. I look forward to seeing and hearing the final iteration of the game.

Download Unholy here (Windows only atm, Mac build coming in future)
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Title: GameJam 2012
Posted: January 25, 2012 (03:04 AM)
Tomorrow is Australia Day. The day after that it's Global Gamejam time again. I'm going to the Sydney venue where I'll contribute design, audio and music skills to one team as we try to cook up a whole game in 48 hours, Friday-Sunday.

In some ways, what I look forward to the most is the catered meals. They're the most tangible reminder that you don't have to pay attention to anything other than your game-making for 2 days. You don't have to leave the venue and you don't have to cook.
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Title: Kerkerkruip - texty dungeoning
Posted: January 06, 2012 (01:50 AM)
I'll start this year by strongly recommending a game I played in the 2011 Interactive Fiction competition. It's a dungeon combat game called Kerkeruip - it's a 'roguelike' if you know what that means. It's highly tactical and very addictive and challenging. I've played it at least 50 times. Each game last 5-45 minutes (mostly at the shorter end).

It is free to play. Just download the interpreter Gargoyle for your OS:


then download the Kerkerkruip 'Story File' itself from IFDB (other resources for the game are also linked on the right side of the page):


and drop the story file into Gargoyle.

Note - you definitely need to read the 3 page Beginner's Guide before you play. If you just go along spamming 'attack', you will be slapped down hard.

This is hardly a conventional text adventure game, but if you've never played any game like this before, there's also tute videos available where the author talks you through a game session.

I've cleared the game on Easy (wasn't all that easy) and Normal, but not Hard yet. The game also has its own achievements system.
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Title: Someone snuck a SNES in my recycle bin late at night
Posted: September 27, 2011 (10:05 AM)
I have ongoing problems with people putting unrecyclable crap in my recycling bin every week. Even when I only put it out real late at night, some bastards sneak out and fill it with non-recyclable shit I have to remove - if I happen to see it, and I probably don't half the time.

This week I came home from pub trivia to find the bin crammed full of decrepit electronic gear. Acres of ethernet cables, a dusty router, RCA cables etc. And amidst that, a SNES and a pile of cartridges.

When I saw the lone SNES, I didn't pause too much, but after I found the carts as well, I gathered them all up. I've never even owned a SNES. I brought it inside, sorted it out. The only thing missing was the AC adaptor. I have one of the correct voltage, but lower than needed ampage.

The regular output cable seems to be screwed. It was putting a fraction of warbled image signal to the TV, but I could hear the sound a bit. Clearly the console itself was running, though. There was also a 'multiout' cable, running via a regular antenna connection. I couldn't find the channel, but there was a separate socket on this for picture only. I assume you'd use this to play a multiplayer game with 2 TVS, getting sound from only one?

Anyway, the picture cable from the multiout gave a decent picture. It's basically 80% there. There are a couple of warbly bands in the pic, and I don't know if that's the cable, or something in the console that's old and frazzled. I also don't know if running it at below recommended ampage could affect that, or is bad for it. I didn't run it for too long, but it was too tempting to not try it a bit.

I've got about 10 games, including Super Mario Kart, Donkey Kong Country, F Zero, Zelda_ Link to the past, Star Wars, The Lion King.

For anyone who's got an old SNES - do you know if the video hardware is prone to going out with age? Should I expect a better picture (from an old console which has clearly been used a ton, and also been thrown in a garbage bin eventually...) Any advice or observations in general would be appreciated.

Title: Reach for the Stars
Posted: August 01, 2011 (08:43 AM)
As I was saying in RotW, I didn't actually know what a '4x strategy game' was before I read EmP's Neptune's Pride review. Or in a best case scenario, I had read the term before, but had forgotten it since.

As I began to wonder about how long the term had been around, a game called Reach for the Stars - which my dad bought for me in 1985 - suddenly jumped back into my head. This was about to turn out to be very prescient of my brain, in a 26-years-later kind of way.

The next thing I did was look up 'Reach for the Stars' in Wikipedia, which said it was the oldest commercial example of a 4x game. Reach.. was developed in Australia for the C64 back in 1983. And there was the box art as per the box I still have with my other classic games inside another box.

I never understood Reach the Stars when I tried to play it as a 10-12 year old. You would issue a bunch of commands that seemed to have no immediate effect, then you would be asked again to issue more commands, ad infinitum. Presumably what was happening was that since I was the only human player, it appeared to me that I got to have every turn consecutively. Whatever my ships were doing was not apparent to me, and the game just seemed to be doing nothing or going nowhere.

I was a reader of instructions and I distinctly remember that the one sheet that came with Reach.. was not very helpful. Wikipedia informs me that a game could last for up to 12 hours, so perhaps it's unsurprising that kid-me gave up after sessions of 15 inscrutable minutes.
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Title: Next Show
Posted: April 04, 2011 (03:31 AM)
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Title: Global GameJam (Sydney) 2011
Posted: February 03, 2011 (06:56 PM)
* This is my largest ever blog. You will work out whether or not it interests you pretty quickly. Some photos are scattered throughout.

From 28-30 January I took part in the 2011 Global GameJam at my local Sydney venue, the Powerhouse Museum. About 40 local gamemakers and artists formed teams on the spot, then lived in the venue for 48 hours with the goal of turning out a game on this year's theme: "Extinction".

This is the me-cam story of my team's experience as we turned out a strategy game prototype which we eventually called "Impacts".

The game runs on Mac OS X and Windows and is here:


Nerd speed-dating

After a fun getting-to-know-everyone-else session on the initial Friday evening, the theme of Extinction was revealed to us jammers, and then we were encouraged to brainstorm ideas and form teams around them. I had met a couple of programmers named Tim and Jacqui, who invited me to join them when they heard I was good on music and sound. They also brought to the team Katherine, with the awesome power of visual artistry.

At our team's brainstorming session, Jacqui started to describe an idea of hers involving people bouncing off volcanoes and something about Final Fantasy. It was amusing but I can't say I understood it.

Then I pitched an idea which everyone on the team liked enough that it became the one we ran with, a butterfly effect kind of thing. The screen would be split into two windows. On one side would be the present, in which you, the human, could walk around doing things like treading on flowers and interacting with animals. The second screen would show a point in the future, which would be a projection of your actions in the present. So if you killed all of a certain type of animal, or trod on every instance of a type of flower, that lifeform would be erased from the future, and there would be an alarming sound effect and a big graphic that said EXTINCT!

We weren't sure of ultimate player goals yet, but we had our main idea, and after pitching it to the room, accompanied by a mock screenshot drawn on butcher's paper in the scale and perspective of Pokemon (a scale we all agreed upon as we all knew it) we set off to nab a cluster of workstation computers in the main room.

(Jacqui, Kat, Tim, Wade)
"So we'll be working in the scale of Pokémon, agreed?"

Pretty quickly I discovered that the promised Ableton Live Suite software had not actually been installed on our computers; an administrative mistake, I guess. I had intended to use Live to do both the music and sound effects, and had left my own laptop at home because of my expectation that I would have access to it. I decided I would have to get a friend to bring my laptop in to the museum the next day. Chances of a late Friday drop off were nil, since everyone in my social group was at that minute drinking at the Bavarian Bier Cafe.

To see what software I did have instead, I sifted through the workstation and found Audacity, a simple and not-bad audio editor, and started downloading animal sounds from FreeSample. I was soon able to start treating and stitching these together in Audacity.

At this point we had committed to bunnies, cows, wolves and fish appearing in the 'present' screen, and worked out that for each animal there would be noises for when they appeared, when they bred, when they died, etc. I made all of these sounds realistic except for the bunnies, since none of us could think of any conspicuous sound we knew that bunnies made. I made a popping sound for when they bred and a squishing sound for when the player clubbed them to death.

The presence of other animals also raised some weird questions, sound wise. What sound does a cow make when it dies? How about when it breeds? Probably pretty much the same stupid sound, I figured.

By the time I was done with the animal FX it was 4 AM. While the rest of my team ploughed on, I mooched off to the dorm, basically a dark room with lots of space in it for people to lie on the sleeping bags they had been advised to bring. Having underestimated the hardness of the floor, I woke up groggy, but still better off, five hours later, and found all of my teammates glued to terminals as I'd left them.

I should point out that my teammates are all a decade younger than I, and that the antidepressants I take screw up my sleep anyway, so I had zero interest in trying to stay awake unnecessarily. Both programmers in my team went with very little sleep, and probably had to to do what they needed to get done. I think Jacqui didn't sleep at all on night one, and Tim was taking power naps of 20 minutes every six hours.

While waiting for Andrew to deliver my laptop that afternoon so I could proceed with our game's music, I decided to ask around to see if any other teams needed sound effects done. The only other audio-oriented person amongst the entrants was already working on behalf of six groups (me and him were the only two audio purveyors, hence our popularity at team building time) but I still found another group that needed help. The team doing the "natives flee from an erupting volcano" game needed a bunch of comical death, grunting and cheering noises. I found I was able to put these together way faster than I was able to assemble the assorted animal noises required for our game.

What state was our game in at this point? Well, when Tim and Jacqui had begun programming on night one, they had asked Katherine to provide the most important graphic tiles first, like the grass and trees, so they could start working with something on the screen as soon as possible.

My memory is already blurry, but I think it was on the morning of day two that they had established enough algorithms to be able show us trees growing and spreading, and that we could chop trees down. But from then until the evening of day two, the programmers' work was fairly inscrutable to onlookers. Whenever I looked at the screen of the game demo, I just saw trees thrashing about, but I knew Tim and Jacqui were working flat out building the engines, and I could see how intensive it was. I realised that since they had done the hard work of defining the rules for how everything would interact in this game, going far beyond the vague ideas we had talked about in early team meetings, I needed to just trust them to do that work.

That afternoon I completed my favourite individual task, composing the game's music with a mouse and my laptop. The track has an insistent and programmatic sound which I think suggests inevitability when you hear it, but also constant change, both relevant themes in this game. I described it to Katherine as sounding like the theme song for a particularly stressful gameshow.

That evening I was again on top of our game's sonic workload, and helped another gent named Aram sort out the soundtrack to his own game "Lingua Franca". This was an interesting challenge involving sourcing some relaxed old European-sounding music which would fade out and be replaced by aggressive rock music if you were losing the game. I found a couple of relevant tracks and looped and pitch-shifted them so they fit together in a nasty way. Unfortunately Aram didn't complete his game by jam's end, so I didn't get to hear this mechanism in action.

Me right. I assume I was thinking deeply..

At some point that night we had our umpteenth team meeting about what our game might be called -- plus our team was still lacking a name. The Internet Random Game Name Generator had us in hysterics with its stupid suggestions, one of which, "The Horrifying Octopus Girl", became our team name. But mostly we were procrastinating.

At another evening meeting, Tim and Jacqui were in game feature prioritisation mode, since the deadline was at 1 PM the next day. Tim was saying, "My priority is to get the future working". I have to admit that when I heard that I was wondering how much game we would actually have functioning 17 hours later. But there was nothing more I could do or needed to do myself at that point, so I went to bed at the very reasonable hour of midnight.

When I woke up, I was amazed to see how much of the game T+J had made active during the night. The player sprites were in, you could perform most of the actions, the bunnies were running around the screen and they were really cute, and the future simulation was working pretty well. I think we only had an hour to go when we put the music in and tested it out. It worked wonderfully. We only had to adjust a few of the volume levels to make sure that particular sound effects remained audible, otherwise it played very well with the action.

(I'd initially intended to have the music play just over the title screen, but I'd realised the judges and audience would be looking at our game for only a short period of time and would hardly have a chance to hear it there, so I recommended on the morning of day three that we loop the track over the whole game.)

We still hadn't sorted out the game's title. Tim kept barracking for his two day-old suggestion "Nexus", which did make extremely good sense, however something about it kept bugging team members. Katherine said something about Star Trek, and I was starting to feel the name was a bit too heavy or literate for our particular game. Jacqui mentioned "Consequences of My Actions". Eventually Tim ventured "Impact", and I recommended we add an "S" to the end of it to make "Impacts". There was still grumbling and indecision in response, and I was reminded that Katherine had pointed out earlier that we often had team meetings that ended but still left her not knowing what had been decided, if anything. If our team had a fault, this was certainly it. So I doublechecked that nobody actually hated the title "Impacts" then announced that it should be locked in, to end our suffering.

The last hour before the deadline was a mad dash to add things like a title page, some instructions about the controls at the bottom of the screen, and to eradicate a few bugs… the last 15 minutes before the deadline were especially exciting and nerve wracking.

I've already said I was amazed by the state of our game on the morning of the last day, but I continued to be amazed every time I got to try it. Even though it had no ultimate goal, since we have not been able to implement the full range of animals, human population and mechanics before the deadline, it worked very well as a simulation you could play with, and I kept noticing fine features that Tim would point out to me.

For instance if trees grew all around a field of flowers, the flowers couldn't expand further in the future. If animal numbers were reduced to one, they would cease to breed. The bunnies had many mechanics, like how they would eat grass, creating dirt patches. If a square was entirely surrounded by dirt, it turned into a desert space and was not recoverable. You could also now build huts, and if you did so, skyscrapers would start to appear in the future. Flowers and trees grew constantly, and we had in the EXTINCT! message and sound effect. And something that really impressed me was that as the present approached the fixed date of the future, the two displays would start becoming extremely similar.

So what I was conscious of was that while I had come up with the initial idea, Tim and Jacqui had embellished it with all these excellent details and had worked out all the rules for the simulation. Katherine's art was very cute, my sounds worked okay and the music glued it all together.

After the deadline, each team posed for a photograph, installed their game on a master machine, then got to demonstrate a copy at their workstation to the judges. Amongst the judges was the lead designer of God War 2, and while I try to avoid namedropping generally, I will explicitly point out that he commented on the music being really good. All the judges were pretty impressed with our game in general. I did think we had definitely made the right move putting the music across the whole game, because every second jammer who tried the game remarked on it.

After a hasty lunch, we had to prepare to demonstrate our games again, this time on a giant screen in a lecture hall of the museum to members of the public who had paid $10 to see and hear what us nerds had been up to for the past two days. This was potentially a bit confronting, because one minute you're in the terminal room, where you've been hot-housing it for two days, the next you're being filed into a strange hall before an audience to show your game and talk about it. I had been taking the lead in most of our demo sessions, so I did so again now while Tim played the game for the audience. When I got stuck I handed him the microphone. This session was hosted by local game guy "Junglist" Jeremy Ray, plus the judges were present on a panel.

Me explaining the game to the audience while Tim plays it.

When they gave out some awards, we were very pleased to secure "Most Innovative Game". We got actual trophies, which are jam jars on trophy bases ("The Jammies", get it?).

The event was physically gruelling, and in spite of the excellent catering, I felt pretty washed out at the end of it. Our game is best described as a prototype, but it is a fully working prototype and one with some subtle possibilities. It is certainly sophisticated beyond what could be fully demonstrated at the short sittings we had at our disposal at the Game Jam. That the game has this quality, that we started with nothing and turned out Impacts in what was probably 40 hours, and that the game was unlike anything else turned out at our jam (which is why we got that award) are all things I'm really pleased about.

I hope to go to this event next year and would encourage anyone else reading this to do the same at their local venue. Given the time constraints of the event, I think you do need to have a practical game design skill if you want to participate in making a video game - IE coding, producing graphics or producing audio. Longer haul skills like writing get less of a look in. However, you are allowed to make a game of any kind, whether it's a board game or even a no-props game, like Mafia. It's just that the majority of entrants go for video games. To do something else may require bringing a team whose goal is to do that something else, or that you do it on your own.
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Title: My game 'Leadlight' finishes IFComp, now playable by public
Posted: November 17, 2010 (11:16 PM)
My horror game Leadlight for the Apple II has just finished competing in the 2010 Interactive Fiction Competition. Players voted on as many of 26 entries as they could play within six weeks, during which time game authors were not allowed to publicly discuss their entries or those of other authors online. Now that the competition is over, myself and the other authors can stop being all secretive about what we've been doing!


Leadlight placed 14th out of 26 with voters, and also won the Golden Banana of Discord for being the game which achieved the highest standard deviation amongst the scores it received. The game was written in 8-bit code for the Apple II, which made it an anomaly amongst the 90% of entries written with the state of the art Inform system.

The Inform games have unlimited RAM and file space at their disposal. Leadlight has to do everything it does in 35 kB of RAM, and fits on two 140 kB floppy disks. That the game was still able to gather fans and pass almost half the Inform entries in placings was a great result for me, and I think a vindication of one of the ideas embodied in the game's presentation, which is that creativity in game design is more important than the technology used.

That said, there are a good number of reviews of the game online complaining about that technology, two-word parsers, the need to play on an emulator, the font colours of the Apple II display, etc.

A couple of folks from HG helped playtest and debug this game, and they did an excellent job because players found no typos and only one real bug in Leadlight. Janus was the preconception-free test player, and ASchultz was the veteran who double-checked everything and also wrote perl scripts to help analyse the Apple II code. I thank them both for their great contributions.

I just today put up an updated 1.1 version of the game.

The game website is http://leadlightgame.com

For those who play, I hope you enjoy it. If you don't know what the hell's going on, there's a huge FAQ, a downloadable Player Guide and a hint sheet.

There were lots of horror games in the competition this year, and if you like zombies or Silent Hill type shenanigans, I would also suggest playing 'One Eye Open' and 'Divis Mortis'.

It already looks like all of ASchultz, Zig and Zipp could be in the comp next year. I can't rule myself out, but this was a huge project so I obviously don't know at this point.
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Title: PN03 rides again, kind of
Posted: September 23, 2010 (08:29 AM)
I received an email from Gamehead plugging a new game called Vanquish, with this spiel:

'Directed by Shinji Mikami, the creator of the Resident Evil series, VANQUISH is a sci-fi shooter that sees players take the role of Sam, a government agent kitted out with a futuristic battle suit. A versatile fighter with a huge arsenal of weaponry at his disposal, Sam also has an array of martial arts skills that he can use to take down his robot enemies.

Fast, fluid and frenetic this is gaming at its most explosive and exciting, as you storm into battle.

Experience a game character like no other Sam is the ultimate weapon, donning a futuristic battle suit of destructive firepower and superhuman speed and agility.

Fight your way through the enormous, open environments of the space station. The most advanced, futuristic city in the skies becomes home to the action.'

I thought, 'This kinda sounds like PN03 again.' So I googled 'Vanquish PN03' and found out that it kinda is:

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Title: I had to get my copy of this Australian film from America
Posted: August 05, 2010 (12:00 AM)
Belinda (1988)

The difficulty of finding this 1988 film to see it in 2010 amounts to a sad (or weird) comment on film archival in Australia, as does Quentin Tarantino's need to buy his own print of 'Frog Dreaming'. No DVD of Belinda exists, and there's no copy of the film in Canberra's National Sound and Film Archives, only posters and press material. I'd be happy to get a look even at that stuff because there's nothing to be found online.

My minor irrational obsession with this film is a direct consequence of these difficulties. I first saw Belinda on VHS in the early 90s, either during high school or early university years, and remembered filing it away in my memory as one of my favourite Australian films. By the time I was pining to check this memory by seeing the film again, it was the year 2008. Google searches turned up next to nothing on Belinda - though there was a very old interview with the director on a website about adult thumbsucking(!) - and ironically the easiest way to obtain a copy turned out to be by buying an NTSC video from the USA on eBay.

The film wasn't even called Belinda in the US, it had been renamed 'Midnight Dancer', and the woman on the front cover of the video hadn't actually appeared in the film, but looked like a refugee from Flashdance, and I had to manually repair this ex-rental video with a screwdriver and great difficulty before I could watch it... but I got there in the end.

So I sat down to watch Belinda for the first time in probably 15 years. Sadly, I discovered that the film wasn't as good as my memory of it. Belinda is an innocent young dancer who ends up in damaged company in Sydney's King's Cross during the 1960s. The strand of the film about her straightlaced parents never really goes anywhere, while the major strand about the wisened old dancer who becomes a drizzled mother figure to Belinda is kind of maudlin or corny by turns. Crime and seediness rub around the edges of the club, and there are a lot of unhappy and dysfunctional women on display.

The film is kind of effectively grim, but just not particularly well paced or involving, and Belinda comes across as too slight a presence. The sexual assault scene is still pretty nasty, and was something which really stuck in my head from the first time I saw it. The standout actor in the film is Kaarin Fairfax (later one of Col'n Carpenter's roommates) who puts in a killer performance as a really lively and dangerous-seeming dancer at the club. Seeing her here makes me wish she'd had more film roles.

In spite of its flaws, I will always have a soft spot for and interest in this film, probably because I had to jump through so many hoops to find it again. IMDb says that the film also received four AFI (Australian Film Institute) nominations. You would think an AFI nominated film would be available or distributed somehow in Australia, but not this one, at least not at this time of writing.

The film does have John Jarratt in it, Tarantino's favourite Australian actor, so maybe he will buy a print from somewhere and save it, a la Frog Dreaming.
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Title: Next Aeriae gig
Posted: June 03, 2010 (10:08 PM)
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Title: Reviewing without playing
Posted: May 23, 2010 (10:17 PM)
So how does one review a game when one can't play games? I will explain my situation re: the just passed horror competition.

With the other work I have to do at the moment, consisting of programming, writing and musicking, in that order of priority, and including a lot of related online activities for each of the above, I can't play video games for any real length of time. Gaming is particularly bad for RSI. The last game I really played was BloodRayne 2, late in 2008.

For this horror tournament, I initially had two ideas about what to do. Either review a game I know very well from memory, or play something very small and short, and review that. Concerning the latter idea, a few years ago I was trying to work out how to play Friday the 13th on the Commodore 64, because there was no FAQ for it, and some people on a horror game forum were trying to work it out. I succeeded, and discovered the game was pretty tiny. So I briefly considered revisiting Friday the 13th for this comp, but I felt that an unremarkable game would make for a competent but unremarkable review. This isn't the kind of review that wins points in a competition.

Next, I decided I would revisit my ancient Resident Evil 2 review. This is one of my favourite games of all time, and I have been meaning to do a proper job with it for years now (!). I have completed the game many times, but wanted to refresh my memory of the whole thing in one hit. So I went to Youtube and found a good-looking video play through of Claire's scenario in 18 parts. I dutifully downloaded all of them and sat down to watch this approximately 3 hour-long play through.

I admire the guy who put this together. He recorded it off his TV screen with a camcorder. He had turned all the lights off in his room, and showed great discipline in making almost no human sound (beyond the tapping of buttons) for three hours. There was a clock ticking in his room, which was driving me crazy at first, but eventually I forgot about it.

Watching the video brought back good memories. Then I thought, "Time to write this review!"

But it seemed to remain the un-writable review. Looking at the work I did, last saved on May 4, it's better than I remember, and my best attempt yet at reviewing RE2. The things that make RE2 something of an island in a series that has since become sprawling are now hard to describe in their own right. Yet it seems to me that is how they should be described, because RE2 was immediately people's favourite upon release, then maintained that position even as it was continually reinterpreted in the light of all the games that came after it.

The task defeated me again, and I cast my mind about for a safer bet to review from memory. I came up with BloodRayne, and spent about a week on the review. I only had to watch a couple of little video excerpts online to remember the whole game, as I have played through it about three times, and many segments more than that.
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Title: Jimmy crack corn
Posted: April 26, 2010 (10:24 PM)
Jim is cracking some corn and I am indifferent to this fact.

Jim is crackiing some corn and I remain indifferent to this fact.

Jim is cracking some corn and I continue to remain indifferent to this fact, because the master has departed from our present location.
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Posted: April 23, 2010 (06:11 AM)
Autechre playing in Sydney next month!!!! AUGGGGGH!!!!!!!!! EXCITE OVERLOAD!!!!
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Title: Clash o'the Titans
Posted: April 01, 2010 (08:20 AM)
Tonight a couple of my friends and I followed up a meal of Chinese BBQ with a trip to the late session of 3-D "Clash of the Titans" on the film's opening eve here in Sydney. For readers who don't know, this is a remake of the 1981 fantasy adventure film of the same name. The original was a starry eyed movie which left generally positive impressions on most kids who saw it at the time (including myself, and one of my two accompanying friends), and which in film history terms is important as the last film to feature the creature work of stop motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen.

I was in a very receptive mood tonight and basically enjoyed the experience, making ongoing comparisons to the original film in my head as it bounced along – in spite of all the criticisms I am about to dole out.

The remake has a grungy, ugly look and a completely joyless opening quarter of an hour. Sam Worthington's blokey performance as Perseus turns out to be roughly interchangeable with the performances he gave in both Avatar and the last Terminator film, though Clash has next to no character development on the cards for any of its actors. What little humour there is comes in the form of cynical one-liners from one of Perseus's bearded mates. The film is mostly a series of grunty fight scenes involving sandaled humans versus giant CGI monsters – giant scorpions, giant medusa, giant kraken, etc.

One of the heroes of the original Clash was a cute clockwork golden owl named Bubo. When trailers for the new Clash were screening, my friend and I joked about whether Bubo would make the remake. I said, "there's no way they're going to have a cute robot owl. This film looks way too grungy and they're playing heavy metal music on the trailer."

To all our surprises, Bubo did appear, albeit for ten seconds. Just before Perseus sets out on his adventure, he is digging around in a supply chest when he pulls out... Bubo, looking and sounding exactly like the little blighter did in 1981. This caused me to cry aloud: "Oh my God!"

Perseus considers the owl briefly and says something like, "What the hell is this?" His bearded one-linery friend responds with, "Don't worry about it, just leave it here." Then they shove the owl back in the box and go adventuring. In retrospect this was the wittiest moment in the whole film, even if it only made sense to people who knew the original. If you had been wondering if the owl would reappear, this scene both satisfied your desire to see the owl again and then reassured you that, "Okay, that's the owl issue dealt with, so no, the owl won't be in the film in general, and now you can stop worrying about it."

The basic strike against the new film, which amounts to 1000 strikes, is that not a single aspect of it is developed in any satisfying way. Dialogue is absolute nuts and bolts stuff to propel the simple plot. The people in the film aren't moved when their pals are killed, so you aren't either. There's a cast of gods in Olympus, but 80% of them stand in the background saying nothing. ALSO... Some witches make a prophecy which is never heard of again, and Zeus rants about not wanting to help his demigod son, but then immediately loads him up with weapons and goodies in the next scene.

The new Princess Andromeda is dull as dishwater in a cut down role (but I was kind of in love with Judi Bowker of the original film, so I am biased). The principal female role now belongs to lovely Gemma Arterton as Io, the ageless half human, uh, toga'd spirit type woman.(?) If I thought anyone would ever say anything remotely poetic in this film, I'd have put money on her character saying it. But nobody does and she didn't.

The old Clash of the Titans was extraordinary with romance, G rated magic and beautiful scenery, no matter how naff some of it was. The new one is ugly and weak, brisk and dumb. I think it's safe to say that no kid who is seven years old now will be looking back on this film with any fondness in thirty years' time. I enjoyed my evening for basic "enjoyment of being alive and going to movies" reasons, however I predict I won't be looking back on this film with any fondness in about seven days.
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Title: My 1st instructional gaming video
Posted: March 26, 2010 (06:21 AM)
After some comments on my Karateka review, I thought it was time to show the world my patented 'superpunch' technique for this classic Apple II game.

The result is this thrilling video:

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Title: Sibling gaming rambling
Posted: March 21, 2010 (07:42 AM)
My nine years younger-than-me sister dropped by today. I had to help her with some work, but then we got onto some minor gaming. She brought SimAnimals and MySims Kingdom for Wii over with her. She told me that she thought SimAnimals was pretty crap, thus I could check it out or even have it if I wanted. I said I thought it would be poor use of my hand-arm resources to go trying out a game that both she and the Internet had largely pooh-poohed.

While she is not the kind who will ever write a review, she is a savvy judge of games. I once loaned her The Simpsons Game, which I had decided was poor, thinking (stupidly) that she might either enjoy it, or at least hang onto it so that I wouldn't have to see it again or go to the trouble of selling it on eBay. She returned it briskly and told me it was crap.

I also loaned her MySims around that time, knowing she would dig it (we're both huge Animal Crossing fans), and she did. Thus she was disappointed with the besmirching of the good MySims name that SimAnimals effected. I tried to restore her illusions by telling her that it was probably programmed by someone other than the guys who made MySims, MySims Kingdom and the pending-and-we-hope-it's-good MySims Agents, which she's waiting on.

So we put on MySims Kingdom and she back seat-drove me through the introductory levels. I agreed it was cute and charming. Unfortunately it's probably too RSI-y for me to persist with at this time, otherwise I would.

Then I showed her the Wii 'remake' of C64 classic Impossible Mission, which I got cheap and used the other day. I used to play this game with her on the Apple II when we were younger. My beef with the Wii version is simply that you can't hold the Wiimote sideways when you play it. You guide your man with the thumb pad and have to press the A button situated beneath it to jump – not very handy, and a symptom of late sloppiness in moving this game from where it was originally going to have been (the Nintendo DS, I hear) to the Wii without tweaking or polishing it at all.

Finally my sister wanted to play Um Jammer Lammy, so I hauled out of the old box in the cupboard and booted it on the PS2 for her.
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Title: Moby Dick
Posted: March 10, 2010 (08:01 PM)
I finished reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick today, after about a month of reading, or one and one third library loan periods, and I feel like trying to write something about it with the speech to text software I recently purchased, Mac Speech Dictate. As much for practice as for expression.

Writing anything of length this way is a new and somehow unusual experience, which takes me out of the transparent combination of inner world and unconscious typing I normally associate with writing. I had been worried before I tried this that it would be really difficult or unsatisfying, but as with any new task, it is foolish to expect that you can master it instantly. The effectiveness of the software in understanding my dictation has already far exceeded my expectations. So the challenge really lies in just adapting to this new way of thinking and performing writing. My goal is not to completely replace all typing, but certainly to replace large blocks of typing, like this one, to free up some of the RSI-depleted resources of my hands and arms so they can be better distributed amongst all the tasks I need and want to perform. While I can do a lot of editing by voice (which is already pretty impressive), for finer points, I tap a key here or there or reach for the mouse, because it's easier. For overall, final or macroscopic editing, I still do it by typing/mousing, which is fine. I just want to reduce initial typing workloads.

Of various renowned books I've read over the past few months, including Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar', Hermann Hesse's 'Steppenwolf' and Dostoevsky's 'Crime and Punishment', I found Moby Dick to be the most conspicuously great. Or perhaps just the one I enjoyed most. Or a bit of both.

This is not to say it was an easy read. The vocabulary is endlessly testing, the structure unlike that of any modern novel I would typically read, and the whizzing-over-my-head biblical references come thick and fast. I quickly grew weary of ducking down to the explanatory footnotes in this critical edition (not that they are anywhere near as painful to read as those accompanying a Shakespearean text) and so dispensed with them, choosing to gather broad, intuitive meanings from the context instead of picking over individual words.

The plot and action of the novel concerning the obsessed captain Ahab's hunt for the great white whale, Moby Dick, as frequently seen through the eyes of the newcomer aboard his vessel, Ishmael, makes up probably less than half the novel's length. And that half is not delivered consecutively. After a meandering introduction which gets Ishmael onto the boat, the book becomes a lusty treatise on all aspects of the operation of whaling, whether technical, aesthetic or spiritual. During the treatise, there occurs no progression of the here-and-now plot, but the details and observations are marvellous. Many of the anecdotes are bizarre and surprising, like the one about the whaler who falls overboard into the bloody, open-topped corpse of a whale, almost drowning in its silky interior.

The crush of details almost wearied me as I thought of the amount of research which must have gone into creating them. It reminded me again of my broad feeling that I would rather make stuff up than have to do research. But this isn't entirely true – in retrospect, I'm aware that I've done tons of research to verify tiny details in fiction or games or comics that I've created in the past. I think this feeling has more to do with an initial position. That is, I would not consciously choose to make a fiction about a topic if I had the impression that the research required would be boring or too much work. Yet having started on some topic I have assessed as being 'safe' in this regard, I usually find that my obsessive or perfectionist tendencies will drive me to over-research things I probably know enough about already, anyway, on top of the ones I don't. I can see recent evidence of this behaviour just by glancing at my computer desktop, where the presence of some online chap's PDF thesis on uniform design for young people, which I came across during a research episode, reminds me that I went above and beyond the call of duty while settling upon a few details in the school-set horror game I'm programming.

But back to Moby Dick... the book's portrayal of the damage wrought by hubris and obsession is impressive. And a cool surprise is that the final action sequence extends right up until the second last page. I can tell that I will remember much of the experience of reading this novel, whereas details of the recently read Crime and Punishment are already sketchy in my mind. What I like most about jumping around different periods of books in my reading are the demonstrations of ways to write and to do things which would never have come to me if I only read in one place.
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