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Fire Island – Tin Man Games’ fourth Fighting Fantasy digital gamebook app

January 8, 2014

IOTLK_02Tin Man Games’ fourth Fighting Fantasy digital gamebook app, Island of the Lizard King, has arrived giving you the chance to rescue the young men of Oyster Bay.

Smart phone and tablet users can now embark on a seek and destroy mission to liberate then from the evils that lie within the notorious Fire Island.

But down to business. Your task on Fire Island is to rescue the Oyster Bay band, who face slavery, starvation and a lingering death after being kidnapped by a vicious race of Lizard Men.

Through the wicked use of black magic, the mad and dangerous Lizard King dominates this land of mutants and presents a formidable foe to any would be liberator.

Tin Man Games has taken the classic Fighting Fantasy solo adventure and transformed it into an interactive digital experience, using their critically acclaimed gamebook engine.

With animated, dynamic links, an automated adventure sheet to show changing stats and inventory, the reader can also roll physics-based 3D dice to bravely fight the cornucopia myriad of strange denizens that inhabit the jungles and swamps.

The new game is now available on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, following a recent Android release on Google Play and the Amazon Appstore for Android.

PAX Aus 2013: Post Show Report

December 20, 2013
PAXpost show report

At the opening of the first Australian Penny Arcade Expo in July this year, scores of people filled the Melbourne Showgrounds in a hall that usually holds showbag stands, most arriving from a short train ride from Flinders Street Station. Hundreds of Melburnians are dressed in the colourful costumes of their favorite game characters. I’d only ever seen it filled with temporary walls, making the size of the room impossible to estimate from the inside. Today, it is completely open, and a rough guess places it a little over one hundred meters long. It is completely filled with people. The queues aren’t rowdy or upset that they have to wait. Everyone seems enthusiastic to be surrounded by so many people that share they passion for games, and excited to be the first of many to be entering the PAX Aus expo hall.

Over the course of the three day event, the Australian video gaming community were united, both developers and the general public, to celebrate the dynamic and constantly evolving medium. Traditional games could be played in the table top area, with a massive library of board games and roleplaying games available to rent out. The PC area allowed visitors to bring their own computer to compete over the weekend in a number of tournaments. The major tournament was the ‘Omegathon’, a multi-stage competition, culminating in a giant Jenga face-off.

Ron Gilbert at PAX Aus

Ron Gilbert at PAX Aus

Other highlights included the keynote speech by gaming luminary Ron Gilbert. Creator of classic point and click adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, Ron Gilbert offered incredible insights into his development history including stories of helping Stephen Spielberg beat his games, and insights to his craft of writing stories for games.

Data gathered by Reedpop, the organisers of the event, have reported that of the 35,000 visitors to PAX Aus 2013 over the three-day event, 97% of attendee’s had fun. Of this, the vast majority were male, and 80% of the total attendees were between the ages of 18 and 35. Students made up a third of all attendees, with IT professionals making up a further 27%.

Just over half of all attendees came from outside Victoria to attend PAX Aus, solidifying it as an event that reaches a national audience.

PAX Aus BYOPC

PAX Aus BYOPC

The PAX Aus mobile app, which allowed visitors to engage in an augmented reality scavenger hunt, was downloaded over 20,000 times by attendees. Facebook and Twitter likes and fans peaked at 15,000 and 7,800 respectively for PAX Aus social media accounts.

Both the mainstream press and enthusiast outlets did not overlook the scale of event. Over 350 media pass holders were in attendance. Reports appeared on widely read publications like the Herald Sun, The Age and The Guardian, while gaming specific outlets like Polygon, Kotaku, and IGN covered the event heavily.

‘A lot of people have come to PAX. They stood in lines, took photos, discovered new games, made new friends. They helped to make PAX just as much as its Enforcers and creators. These people, from all corners of the country, from all corners of the globe, might have come to Melbourne as geographical outsiders, but PAX has made them insiders. Brought together by gaming, and leaving united by gaming’ said Darren Wells from CVG.

Independent developers featured heavily at the event, and crowds flocked to the dozens of games made by small teams on display.

PAX Aus featured the world first preview of Australian based developer Halfbrick Studio’s anticipated new game Colossatron: Massive World Threat, reaching the front pages of many gaming news outlets.

PAX Aus opening hall

PAX Aus opening hall

Halfbrick Studios was only one of the many exhibitors at PAX Aus. The response from the 100 plus companies on show was universally positive, in particular from independent developers.

‘Ninja Pizza Girl’ developer Disparity Games, based out of Noosa, were extremely pleased with the coverage they recvived.

‘Even though Disparity Games is a tiny family team and we had the smallest booth space available, the PAX Aus team always made us feel valued and took great care of us. Exhibiting at PAX Aus was a wonderful experience and directly led to international press coverage of “Ninja Pizza Girl”‘ said Jason Stark from Disparity Games.

Although perhaps the most telling factor of how popular PAX Aus 2013 was is the rate at which tickets for 2014 have been selling, the 3-day passes are gone long in advance suggesting another immensely successful show next year.
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Author: Callum Glennan
Journalism student at La Trobe University + Tuba Hero + Grumpy Barista + Journalist in training
Twitter: @CallumGlennan

GCAP13 – Living Collaboration

December 6, 2013

As a developer, I have (for the most part) experienced my profession mostly in solitude. This isn’t to say that typing away at a keyboard can be a negative experience (though not to deny that possibility), and in actuality I have always found that aspect of the job description to be one I relish the most. I love the quiet, internalised thought processes that come with building complex systems, and the strong sense of satisfaction when it all comes together as a result. Yet there are times when I realise how such a mindset can stunt growth and opportunity, and it was during Tony Albrecht’s brilliant talk at Game Connect: Asia Pacific (GCAP) 2013 this year, “How Smart Programmers Write Dumb Code”, that I had one of these realisations.

Both during and after the talk, I found myself overwhelmed with so many interesting ideas, born not just out of the talk itself, but from the QA discussions afterwards. The notion of programming being the process of controlling entropy, or the constant and delicate balance between generic and hard-coded implementations. Even if many of these ideas are ones that I understood on some innate level, the simple act of talking/arguing about them made them all the more tangible; all the more relevant. It was simply invigorating. Even this many weeks after GCAP, I still find myself drawing upon my experiences/discussions/ideas from it for motivation/inspiration.

Sharing and collaboration are such easy concepts to convey, yet to truly understand their nature requires more than simple recollection or retelling. Events like GCAP are a prime example of how, in the end, the power/quality of our work relies heavily on our ability to communicate, share, and debate. To be given a space such as GCAP where all of these notions are not only encouraged, but nurtured, is a truly wonderful thing, and it’s clear that we would be a much weaker industry without it.
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Author: Benjamin Wallis
Master of Computer Science Postgraduate at RMIT University, Melbourne and Freelance Mobile / Web Developer
Twitter: @TheCaffCoder

The Inherent Welcome: Melbourne Games Industry

November 29, 2013

It was around six months ago when I approached my tutor after class on a Friday afternoon asking a specific yet retrospectively unfair question: “How do I get into the video games industry?”

Having studied journalism for around two years at the time, one of the hardest and most daunting tasks I had encountered was finding that doorway into the field I have come to love in video games journalism. Feeling overwhelmed, I had no clear avenue to start, no clear beginning, and no easy way to continue writing about what I specifically enjoyed. That was quickly turned by one very simple characteristic I have found inherent in Melbourne’s video game industry culture, with almost no effort at all – the family environment.

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“Being an indie here in Melbourne is kind of great because the community here is very active and very collegiate. We share all of our failures and successes and having that support network that, when you’re an indie who has no money, is incredibly valuable,” said Ben Britten Smith, Technical Director of Tin Man Games.

“I think Tin Man Games definitely would not be around if it wasn’t for the indie community here in Melbourne.” It is in the relationships and the trusting bonds formed that makes Melbourne a great place for aspiring game enthusiasts, he said.

Game Connect: Asia Pacific (GCAP) was held in Melbourne on 21-23 October 2013, and seeing all the game developers local to Melbourne all together was definitely true to Ben’s comments. The aura of the event applauded creative thought, innovation seen in many art cultures, amid a friendly sense of accessibility. Everyone there had the opportunity to talk and share their experiences of their profession in amongst varying and specialised skill sets, whilst the panels tackled problems and leant helpful advice in that friendly and accommodating twist true to the impression of the convention.

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Ben Britten exclaiming that “Melbourne is where it is at!”

As a relative newcomer to the scene, I was almost certain that my place there would be distant, doing my job and moving out. However, seeing the people I had only met once before was surprising in the difference compared with most second encounters – we were all close friends.

It is in that light that I would like to extend the invitation to anyone in Melbourne or Australia. If you have any interest in the video games industry, whether it is writing or games programming, no matter who you are or what you do, the Melbourne video game scene ‘doorway’ is larger than you think.

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Author: Theodore Argyrakakis
Journalism Student at Swinburne University of Technology  + Writer + Musician + Video Game Enthusiast
Twitter: @checkthelettuce

Storytelling is the Name of the Game: GCAP and why we should all be indie developers.

November 1, 2013

‘We can all be indie developers as we all have a story to tell’

The Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) conference left an impression on me. I could feel the passion and love everyone felt for video games and play in general. Play is important to us as a species, culturally in the way humans interact with stories and socially in the way we interact with each other. We play when we communicate and as gregarious beings we identify with the world in which we live in through play. Play is a form of rationalising the world we live in and, of course, play is pure storytelling.

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We read books and relish imaginative dilemmas. We watch films and observe the nuance of the director, but play is how we lose ourselves, to become part of the telling of the story. It is when we fuse our personas with the protagonists and our experiences to the fictional worlds. It is often said that music is the highest form of art, but since GCAP, I feel that video games share the pedestal with music as I believe it elevates us beyond many realms of possibilities, emotions and dreams

There were many speakers that intrigued me on both days of GCAP, but it was Mattie Brice and her keynote on Earnest Games: Why you Matter to Game Design that really fascinated me. Mattie frames play as something quite exploratory, as something that allows gamers to explore multitudes of stories written from perspectives of a variety of developers. She equated game design to us, the people, as each game is personal to both the game designer and the gamer. And I think there is something special to this idea that is highlighted especially well in the most personal of games – the indie title. With unparalleled personal freedom, the indie developer is an artist able to conjure illusions through design and code, musings from their vivid imaginations to tell us a story; a story that is personal to them and them alone. There is nothing else I’d rather play as a writer as I’m always interested in listening to the stories of others.

“Through play, we explore the forbidden, the impossible, the things that we are not allowed to explore in our daily lives. In this sense, fiction operates much like play: through fiction, we try lives, and those trials are bound not by the values of life, but by the particular morality of that fiction. Pushing the analogy further, game designers are actually life designers – creators of an order and a world in which a different life can be instantiated.”  	-Miguel Sicart, Beyond Choices

“Through play, we explore the forbidden, the impossible, the things that we are not allowed to explore in our daily lives. In this sense, fiction operates much like play: through fiction, we try lives, and those trials are bound not by the values of life, but by the particular morality of that fiction. Pushing the analogy further, game designers are actually life designers – creators of an order and a world in which a different life can be instantiated.”
-Miguel Sicart, Beyond Choices

One of the developers of indie game Rabbit-Rush attended GCAP and I was lucky enough to play it whilst waiting for the initial keynote on day one. Rabbit-Rush is a very peculiar yet wonderful game that drew me in from the get go. It was retro, it was creepy and it was unique. It told me a story through play; the story of the developers. Of all the late nights they fed this game, of all the burgers and fries they ate themselves. The clichéd blood, sweat and tears was apparent; I was drawn and I was hooked.

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The game reminded me that we can all be indie developers, in that we all have a story to tell, and can tell it in our way, whether it be through games or other forms of expression.  For example, Mattie mentioned a program, called Twine. Twine is a lovely program that allows developers to make games with a focus on storytelling. A little complicated to learn and play with at first, but there are great tutorials out there! I’ve ‘played’ with it and if I can do it, anyone can. It’s just the story that matters; story and the chance to give others a way to experience your creation through play. And if you make something awesome, I’ll read it (contact me here – @DNN_Lewis) and I’m sure many other people will too. You will make a difference, indies always do.

To finish, as Mattie did: ‘we are game design and our flaws are game design too’. Indie games are great because of this “flaw” notion. Flaws, like story and play, are markers of being human. Write stories, create games. Fail, retry, and tell us your story; your special perspective on a specific situation. Your games are beautiful, your stories are interesting, please don’t stop and continue adding to the indie market! We need your voice; we all want play with your imagination.

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Author: Dann Lewis
Creative Writing PhD student at Deakin University + Writer + Gamer + Cyberpunk
Twitter: @DNN_Lewis

MC Frontalot: a journey through nerdcore

September 5, 2013

Nerdcore is a genre of music that predominately centres around themes of nerd culture discourse. And Damian Hess, better known as MC Frontalot, is a founding artist of the subgenre. Sitting on the balcony of a Docklands apartment belonging to a fan of Hess’, we spoke about the things he loves. Which works out to be mostly videogames.

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“I don’t know that I ever chose to participate in videogame culture. Well, certainly it is a choice to participate day-to-day in videogame culture, but I don’t feel like I sought it out… it has always been there and has made my eyes light up.

“It doesn’t feel like a choice. More like an overwriting life compulsion. I like videogames.”

Hess’ life compulsion of videogames, and love for music, eventually drew him to the world of nerdcore, a term he himself coined in 2000. Regarded, oddly, as a subgenre of hip-hop, nerdcore is a place where Hess feels he can express his passions and views on videogame culture.

“Nerdcore gives me the freedom to discuss videogames and how I feel about videogames, which is not something you would necessarily be able to delve so deeply into in the various ‘cooler’ subgenres of hip-hop. I can discuss whatever thing I am obsessed with or would maybe be ashamed to rap about were I the kind of rapper who wears sunglasses.

“That’s the nice thing about nerdcore. You have already assumed that all the cool kids are going to think that you are dumb. I mean… you put nerd in front of your kind of music.”

The introduction of the ‘nerd’ prefix could be seen as a title used to fend off any attempt to scrutinize the topics that Hess and other participants of the genre explore – an act of protecting their expression of somewhat minority themes. Which leads to the ironic view that rapping about nerd themes is cool, in today’s society of sticking it to the mainstream. Hess disagrees.

“Making nerd stuff cool. Yeah… what a paradox. The press keeps trying to work that angle. ‘Is there a geek chic moment happening?’ Umm… no. I’m sorry. By definition geekery and nerdism will never be cool. Forget it.”

The issue as to where geek culture would ever be seen as cool was irrelevant when it came to PAX Australia. Thousands of people gathered at the Melbourne Showgrounds to partake in the first international PAX. Hess, a veteran of the Penny Arcade Expositions, has attended all 14 PAX’s to date (he has actually written Mike and Jerry’s theme song, which can be heard here). Melbourne’s iteration was a welcome occasion and a success in Hess’ eyes.

“It was kind of nice, actually, to be at a first PAX again. Everyone was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Some of the veterans in Seattle (the home of PAX Prime) will adopt a somewhat jaded affect – ‘oh, I have seen it all before’ – but this initial, inaugural Melbourne PAX was absolutely enthusiastic from top to bottom.”

“It seems as though it’s a success here in Melbourne. And I think that is why they’re going to keep on doing it. So now it’s three a year, that’s how it works.”

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Hess’ first videogame experience was on a dedicated Pong console.

Melbourne’s integration of a large team of indie developers, international development companies and the fervent hordes of videogame enthusiasts established a great home for another one of the Penny Arcade’s shows, Hess explained.

“This does seem like a good place to launch the international franchise. It’s clearly got a strong gaming culture, a lot of smart kids and kids who are looking for that community, and seem to be very happy to have found it.

“I was surprised that they (The Penny Arcade team) decided to go to Melbourne for their first international, because it is as far away from the previously existing PAXs as you can get, which makes it seem more difficult! But I guess the city shows that there is a space to have a gaming show here.”

A dominant tradition of DIY habits lies in the nerdcore subgenre where artists self-produce and self-publish their content. The tradition extends to most indie videogame development, notwithstanding the majority of Melbourne videogame developers. Hess believes that conventions such as PAX provide an invaluable opportunity for artists of the industry to break out of the studio and meet potential audiences.

“Anytime you are really trying to get stuff done creatively it really helps to have people that you are face-to-face with. It allows you to have voices that you can hear and encouragement that you can get not only on the chat-room but also over the pint.

“It has been wonderful to meet the folks that I have spoken with on the internet over the years who appear because PAX is a beacon and a thing worth traveling to. And something worth me travelling to, thank goodness!”

Over the course of his career, Hess has seen nerdcore develop from a “silly term” that he had made up “to make fun” of himself from rapping at all to a whole genre in which hundreds of people participate in each day. The opportunity for him to become a notable artist and professional in this regard is a reality he still struggles to comprehend. The subgenre he helped create is thriving and he is proud of every moment.

“Hundreds of kids participate in nerdcore. Many of them are do-it-yourself, making songs at home and some of them become professionals and tour the country and the world. I love that the younger generations of nerdcore rappers keep appearing and that talent keeps popping out of that pool.”

Hess sees himself still making music in the foreseeable future as new technologies allow for easy production and collaboration within the field. However, touring may be something that he will leave to the new talent he plans to support, as he will like to begin furthering his role as a producer and help the “nerdcore kids who are still trying to get out on the road”.

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Author: Theodore Argyrakakis
Journalism Student at Swinburne University of Technology  + Writer + Musician + Video Game Enthusiast
Twitter: @checkthelettuce

Tasty Fish and somewhere beyond the sea…

August 30, 2013

Hello everyone, my name is Dann and I am addicted to Dime Studios’ Tasty Fish!

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You might recently have encountered their stall at PAXAus 2013, shelling out badges of their various exotic fishies and showcasing this wonderfully addictive little game. But I felt that Tasty Fish deserved something more, an entire article dedicated to it, hopefully I can do a decent job in trying to highlight the awesomeness of this game!

I think I hear some of you saying, “what is Tasty Fish?”. Well, Tasty Fish originally started out life as a final project for then Swinburne University students, Josh Wilson, Nial Bruce, Dan Clayton (now of Dime Studios) and three others. The game they had originally submitted was used as their prototype and after many months of tweaking and improving the quality, it was finally released on iOS in September 2012, and Android June of this year.

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Tasty Fish is a rather simple game to play. All you have to do is guide a school of cute little fishies while collecting bubbles, avoiding fishing nets, hungry sharks and evil looking crabs! Certain bubbles contain extra fish that will be able to join your school and coins that you can use to buy upgrades and special, exotic fish.

It may sound easy at first, but it gets hairy (or seaweedy to keep the ocean theme going!) really quickly. Sharks start to appear thick and fast, as do crabs, nets and other obstacles. You may want the largest school ever, but you’ll soon realise that after a few mistaps, your awesomely, large school will become fish sticks in a matter of seconds! But no matter how many times I find myself becoming a nice sharky meal, I continue to play on and on and on and on; wanting to claim the title of grand fish-master as there can be only one! (Did I really use a lame Highlander reference?)

Me failing at Tasty Fish!

Me failing at Tasty Fish!

This game also worms its way into my heart because Dime Studios is set up in Melbourne, and I’m all-in for supporting Melbourne’s indie scene. Josh speaks fondly of all the home-grown developers he has encountered along his developing ways, and is especially appreciative of their honesty and integrity as developers. One of his most favourite things about the Melbournian indie scene is the fact that everyone is so open, and it’s comforting and inspiring to hear other people’s trials and tribulations.

PAXAus 2013 was a wonderfully amazing experience for the small developing team. They were unanimously praised for Tasty Fish from a diverse range of people – Josh even recalls a surreal experience when he presented Tasty Fish to Jerry Holkins. I cannot even imagine what it must have felt like, especially as the crew have always been such huge fans of Penny Arcade.

Tasty Fish developers at PAXAus 2013.

Tasty Fish developers at PAXAus 2013.

Dime Studios has an exciting future ahead of it as not only are they working on a sequel for Tasty Fish, but another, far more secretive project that I am told involves a similarly cute aesthetic and very, very adorable sheep! I cannot wait to finally see and play both games, especially as I know they’ll both be fun, rewarding and challenging, not to mention that by purchasing them, I will be supporting the future of excellent Melbournian developers.

I urge all of you to give Tasty Fish a go! It’s available on both the iOS and Android markets. Let Dime Studios know that you love and support them and that they’ll always have fans like us to back ‘em up!

Please comment if you have played or own Tasty Fish! What do you love and who is your favourite exotic fishie? I love Hoover and Darwin … they both just rock!

Related Links:

Facebook: Tasty Fish
Facebook: Dime Studios
Dime Studios

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Author: Dann Lewis
Creative Writing PhD student at Deakin University + Writer + Gamer + Cyberpunk
Twitter: @DNN_Lewis

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