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Say Mistage and Michael Silverman of Silverware Games

I’d have to do some detective work to figure out how long I’ve been Twitter pals with Say and Michael, but I’m sure it’s been a couple of years now. One of the greatest benefits of doing this podcast is having the opportunity to go beyond tweets and capture the stories behind the work and the art that we enjoy seeing around the web, and this week’s show with the Silverware Games team did not disappoint.

Silverware (and Say and Michael make up the whole team, most of the time) is behind the Matchyverse games, including MatchyGotchy and MatchyGotchy Z, both technically tie-in games for the upcoming Matchy Star. That may sound like a lot to take in, but it’s as clever a strategy as it is ambitious. The team is spread thin with the parallel projects, but they have substantial momentum and they’ve achieved solid reach on Steam and social media.

In this episode, we discuss Silverware’s games, their interesting casual design philosophy, life on Steam, the Epic store, the great difficulty debate, and more. Thanks to Say and Michael for their time!

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Our new intro voice-over is by none other than Tim Kitzrow, the voice of NBA Jam! Tim does custom recordings on demand at Check him out!

Our new theme, 8-Bit Memories (ft. Xiu Xiu / prod. Giuseppe) by Time is available to stream at SoundCloud along with a whole bunch of his great tracks. He reached out to recommend the track and it’s incredible, thanks again. Show him some love!

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Pico-8 for Game Development: Why and How

In this post, we’ll discuss the retro virtual console, Pico-8, why you might be interested in it, and tips on how to get started. 

Patrons saw this post first! Check out what we’re doing at Patreon to provide exclusive opportunities to our supporters!

A typing game I prototyped for my son

Pico-8, the fantasy console

Don’t feel bad if you don’t yet know about Pico-8, even if you’ve seen some of the cool Pico-8 projects floating around Twitter or the web. Although there’s a deeply devoted user base, the application is fairly new, it has a price tag on it (currently $15 USD) so you can’t just freely download it, and it doesn’t quite let you create a viable product you’d want to sell, based on its limitations. 

That said, Pico-8 is an all-in-one console with a built-in developer kit, which makes it a fantastic way to learn or improve your game development skills. This is why the Pico-8 scene, particularly in social media, is booming. 

Pico-8, booted up and ready to go

So, how does it work?

Apart from any form of development, it’s plenty of fun simply to use Pico-8 to play games you can download from creators directly inside the application, and this is a great way to find your way around. The handy game browser lets you download and play unlimited games and demos from a community curated collection, rated by popularity, all for no additional charge. You can play your favorites, poke around in their source code, and even modify them to your heart’s content. If you’re beyond a certain age, it may remind you of the very oldest days of distributed PC games, and the way many legendary programmers got their start. 

Checking out new community creations in the game browser, like “Untitled,” by “Farty”

Once you’re ready to start a project of your own, you simply enter a command to save a new “cartridge” with a name of your choosing, and off you go. The built-in game editing tools include a code editor, sprite editing tools, and capabilities to design your own sound effects and music. It’s up to you to design and implement a game using the system’s harsh limitations: games for Pico-8 are played on a 128×128 display (which can go full-screen) in 16 colors, with the whole game not exceeding 32 kilobytes. For reference, that’s actually much larger than an Atari game, but only about a quarter of the size of many of the more modest games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Coincidentally, supported USB controller configurations very closely match the NES d-pad/2-button layout. 

Pico-8’s built-in code editor

Upon completion, you can export your game to a nice-looking virtual cartridge complete with a screenshot from your game, you can export gameplay gifs directly from the system, and you can upload the game to the community forum where it will be displayed for users to play and discuss, or download directly within the Pico-8 game browser.

Why master Pico-8 development?

It’s fair to ask yourself why you should spend time worried about a retro game system that sort of doesn’t exist, for which your games must remain short, simple, and generally have no hope to earn you money or mainstream notoriety (don’t tell that to our friend Paul Nicholas, who’s managing both). To answer the question, it’s worth examining the strengths of Pico-8 development. 

First, Pico-8 has a great community in a discipline where there aren’t that many functional areas to go off and specialize. For the most part, Pico-8 developers are doing similar activities all the time, and it’s rarely difficult to find any issue your having being discussed on forums or Twitter. Everywhere you look, other users are eagerly discussing the craft, and if you’re new, this will bring you a long way in a very short time. 

Next, Pico-8 uses Lua, a pretty friendly scripting language that can be picked up in a relative hurry, but also has applications beyond Pico development. Many employers value proficiency in Lua, and there are even other game engines and frameworks that will allow you to port your code to a heavier duty environment, and perhaps even turn your small project into something releasable later. 

This one will seem counterintuitive, but Pico-8’s technical limitations will make you a better designer. You will do more with less, you will not get sucked into an endless cycle of never-ending asset improvement, or worse, blank page paralysis. The tools are all right in front of you and require fairly simple assets throughout. You will spend the most time focused on limiting your project’s scope and sticking to it. You’ll do creative problem-solving, optimizations, and probably reach for new levels of elegance in your design, and these skills are all directly transferrable elsewhere. 

Sprites in development for my port project, Rampage-8

Finally, Pico-8 is a great way to develop simple prototypes and small, shareable experiences. I’ve had a great time sharing my Pico projects on the web with friends and family, and have had positive experiences developing learning games for my son in situations where I didn’t think development of a full product was viable. 

Tips for getting started

So how do you get off to the best start possible? I strongly recommend you start by playing some games and seeing just how much this miniature virtual console is capable of. Find projects you like, open them in the editing tools, and poke around to see how they did what they did. 

You may initially be inclined to code the whole project in the built-in editor. Spend as much time you like this way, but know that you can–and should–move to an external editor to work with Pico-8 carts. I like opening my whole Pico directory as a project in Atom, which has a built-in package for Lua/Pico-8. This allows me to quickly check out code I’ve written in other carts, and Pico-8 seamlessly loads my external changes when I save in Atom and reload the game in Pico. 

Life is so much better in an external editor, like Atom.

Get to know Neko250’s illustrated API reference at GitHub. Great stuff. 

Pico-8 input scheme, as shown in Neko250’s excellent API reference

Make use of the keyboard shortcuts to export screenshots and gifs. They come out great and the community on Twitter loves to see them. Tag them on #screenshotSaturday with #pico8 for great results and to connect with folks doing awesome Pico-8 work of their own. 

If you’re working in iterations or run into issues, don’t hesitate to upload a simple or early version of what you’re doing to the official forum. You can update and version as desired, and in the meantime, you can gather feedback, find community answers, and get the fresh eyes you sometimes need to move forward. Sometimes changes to the API go undocumented or outright hidden, and community users will be invaluable to you when they know to warn you about a certain bug or fill you in on a certain undocumented setting that makes a fix possible for the first time. 

The official forum post for a keyboard teaching game, Letterworks, that I made for my son.

Finally, check in on some of the cool activities in the community. Tweet carts are an exceptionally interesting trend, in which a creator uploads the entire code for an animation or even a small game within the length constraints of one tweet, then they’ll include a gif of the code running. You will not BELIEVE what these developers achieve. We could do a whole series of posts where I simply go through incredible tweet carts and make the code readable, explaining what was done and some of the unique optimizations that had to be implemented to meet the requirements. “Demakes” are another great trend, in which a developer picks an existing game and “ports” it to Pico-8. I’m currently working on a port of Rampage, tentatively called “Rampage-8,” and it will almost certainly be central to a number of future posts!

An early screenshot of my port project, Rampage-8

So, what do you think? Are you doing any Pico-8 development? Are you convinced you should try it? Let me know what you think and maybe we’ll discuss it further, or pick an area of Pico-8 game creation and really dig in.  

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Great News About Our Content!

Thanks a ton to those of you who have checked in to see how we’re doing and what’s up with the site and the podcast. We have news!

In an effort to help cover expenses for hosting here and for the podcast, we’ve opened a Patreon account for the community! I want to state right up front, this will not take anything away, nor put any expectation on podcast listeners or site readers. The site will see more regular content and the podcast will approach a more regular schedule as costs get covered. This is simply an opportunity to support what we do, get earlier access to special content, and even get a chance to help us determine what topics to discuss!

On our tiers and goals

If you decide you’re interested in participating in the patron community, there will be a variety of ways to do it. Here are the tiers we’re starting with, we’re bound to add to these and modify as we get acclimated.

  • Friend of the Show – This is a tier for anyone who just wants to say thanks, throw something minimal our way, and help make the site and the podcast possible. It’s also a great way to try out the patron community and see if it’s for you. In return, you’ll get entry-level access to the patron feed, meaning you’ll get to see some of the new content each month, to get a look at what we’re doing.
  • All-Access Pass – This is the tier for you if you want access to the full patron feed. Great for creators and anyone looking to expand their creative skill set.
  • Writers’ Room Pass – If you’re enjoying the patron feed and seeking a little bit of mentorship, try the Writers’ Room Pass! You’ll get full access to the patron feed, and once a month, you get to choose the topic of a post! If there’s something you’re struggling with, something you’re curious about, a new game engine you’re considering, it will need to stay somewhat broad for the sake of other readers, but we’ll go looking for answers!
  • Show Partner – Got something to promote? The Show Partner tier gives you full access to the patron feed, as well as a monthly podcast plug for your team or your project. Get the word out to hundreds of listeners in your targeted audience each month!
  • Producer’s Pass – The Producer’s Pass gets you full access to the patron feed, one monthly post topic of your choosing (we’ll include a plug for you), and one monthly podcast plug for your team or your project. This is awesome for anyone nearing a project launch or looking to generate some buzz!

And finally, let’s look at the goals we’ve set:

  • Podcast costs covered – Hosting for the #GameDev Breakdown Podcast requires audio hosting, and we did not go the cheapest route, because we wanted listeners to be able to go as far back in the catalogue as they desired, any time they wanted. We’re happy to do it, we currently have no plans to let it disappear, but we could do even greater things if the podcast cashflow headed the other direction. If we get podcast costs covered, we will commit to a steady recording schedule (one weekly show minimum), and will not miss but for emergencies or other very good reasons. We won’t skip a week because we just didn’t happen to record a show.
  • Site costs covered – Pretty similar situation here. CodeWritePlay has been around for nearly four years and has cost money to maintain consistently. I love running it, I want to continue to do so, but I could justify greatly expanding site activities if costs are covered and we were able to establish a small budget for it. I’d love to do more in-depth features on development and creative topics, better tutorials, exclusive events, guest posts, etc. If we can get costs covered, I’ll commit to making it happen.
  • Community projects – This is something I’ve been discussing with people behind closed doors for a couple of years now. I’d love to establish a small budget beyond the other costs to start some community projects. If we can cover some minimal development costs, I’d love to gather pitches from the community, put it to a vote, and tackle projects that we all openly discuss, cover on the site and the podcast, and follow start to finish to show the entire process, then put it out for the world to see. Small games, prototypes, soundtracks, we could go a lot of directions with this. We’d finish one and move on to the next.

So again, no pressure on anyone, this initiative is just intended to provide a way forward and potentially allow us to tackle some things we’ve wanted to do for a long time. We’ll get there when the time is right. Feel free to check out the Patreon page any time to see changes and updates, or to see how we’re stacking up against our goals. We’ll provide updates from time to time. New content, new opportunities, everyone wins!

Let us know if there are other tiers or benefits you’d like to see, or what goals you’d like to see added. This is your community too!

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The Path of Motus Creator Michael Hicks

Michael Hicks has released more creative projects since his late teens than some folks get to throughout an entire career. His top two game releases, Pillar and The Path of Motus, have been downloaded half a million times across a wide variety of platforms. When Polygon investigated Valve’s shortcomings in supporting Steam developers, Michael’s sharp criticism for Valve’s practices took center stage in the debate.

We discuss how I first crossed paths with Michael in this week’s episode, but we’ve been friendly for several years. He’s become a prominent indie voice here in the Midwest, and it’s been a pleasure to discuss industry happenings with him and follow his career throughout that time. Not only has he developed keen insight into independent console development and learned how to navigate the PC space, but he’s also dabbled in sharing his experience with others in the form of his own development-focused YouTube channel.

Michael’s one of the nicest guy’s in the game right now and this was a fun episode to put together, his time is greatly appreciated.

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Creating Universes and Characters with Ray Marek of Unparalleled Comics

Story-driven games are often revered as the height of artistic game development. For as dearly as we all hold Rocket League, it can’t match the impact of Mass Effect or tug at the heart strings like Red Dead Redemption. To create a project that stays with your players, you need to design a world for them to experience.

When we last spoke with Ray Marek, we casually discussed the downfall of Toys R Us (where he met Todd), the indie publishing experience, and even great games for horror fans. We had a great time, but Ray has much more to offer the indie dev crowd.

This time around, Ray shares insight into the creative process of writing for the universes, planets, and characters we love learning about in comic books, using methods directly applicable to next-level game development.

And yeah, we talk about our favorite Mexican food.

Thanks again to Ray for his time and excellent insight.

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The Trouble with Game Jam Culture

Following a few discussions on social media in the wake of Ludum Dare 43 (enjoy my photo from LD19), I took an opportunity to gather my thoughts on this revered tradition of ours and ask a few important questions: Why do we do this? Why do we do it like this? Should we still be doing this? 

Believe me, I’m far from anti-jam. I’ve probably participated in a dozen over the last decade, but I do have some thoughts on how we can put them to better use. I don’t think we should respect any practice too much to question it, so let’s get the ball rolling. 

Though I’ve been thinking on this topic a long time, tweeting with some folks including your friend and mine, Christer Kaitila helped me finally decide to organize what was in my head. If you jam, you should check out his book, The Game Jam Survival Guide. We’ll have to pester him to make an appearance here soon. 

It was a great week of feedback around social media after a show we were actually worried about for a few reasons so thank you one and all. As always, your ratings and reviews keep our community growing, and your kind words keep us working on it. Thank you!

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How Players Learn and How to Teach Them

It’s time for a mini-show full of things to know! I’ve sort of been bouncing catchphrases like that in my head for the better part of a day, and I’ve determined there are no good ones–but that may be the fever talking. I was in the throes of a full Man Cold for this episode, but I landed on a topic I liked a few days ago and I decided not to rest until I could be sure the show went out on time. 

Teaching players how to play your game is one of the most crucial challenges you face as a designer, and while it may not get fully overlooked (you DO know you have to do it), it does not always get the care that it deserves, and this will absolutely cost you players. In hopes of offering up some solutions and solid guidelines for your planning pleasure, I set out to look at the actual processes of teaching and learning, to see how I might apply it to our jobs as developers and designers.

It was during this time that I stumbled across the writing of Scott H. Young for the first time. Scott has devoted his life and his writing to some fascinating pursuits, including his “MIT Challenge,” in which he completed the institute’s full Computer Science program in less than one year, all through self-guided study. When I went through his Step-by-Step Process to Teach Yourself Anything (in a Fraction of the Time), I was immediately able to recognize tangible ways that these methods applied to teaching players the skills they need to be successful playing your game. This episode contains my findings. 

As always, please subscribe to keep up with the show. We appreciate your kind ratings and reviews and we invite you to help us get the word out! Always feel free to reach out to us here or on social media. We’re always listening!

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The World of Pico-8

At last! We’ve certainly discussed Pico-8 enough on the podcast to warrant this top-to-bottom look at Pico-8 in general, which includes a walkthrough of my latest Pico-8 project, Letterworks, from design to submission. If you’re an audio show listener, you may want to set aside a few minutes to check this one out on our YouTube page, as this episode’s video shows the Pico-8 system, the code, the sprites, and even the forum where projects are shared and discussed. I tried my best to ensure the audio track alone made sense as well, so don’t YouTube it behind the wheel or anything. 

You can get your hands on your own very affordable Pico-8 license at Search Pico-8 on Twitter to see even more wild and fantastic demos created by the community at large. 

As always, you can help get the word out about the podcast by telling a friend, leaving a review, or by subscribing any of the places below. We’ll be back with more soon!

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To Those About to Jam: Part 1

Unconventional Advice for Your Game Dev Journey

In this series, I will pass on odd lessons from over a decade in development that I’m fairly certain you won’t hear anywhere else. 

Side Note: We do a game dev podcast that might be perfect for your jam weekend.

Part 1: Don’t Get Weird with the Food

My first team jam was Ludum Dare 19 in December of 2010. I’d already been studying game development about ten years, and had finished my first “game” around 2002 at 17 years old. I made plans to have a friend from college come over and stay at my townhouse in Southern Illinois for the weekend, and we’d create a genius RPG that would surely launch us to global superstardom. 

I guess that joke doesn’t work as well these days, now that a certain member of the Ludum community just bought the most expensive house on Jay-Z’s street. 

Both of our girlfriends at the time planned to hang out at least some of the time, so my partner decided we needed to class things up when it came to sustenance. I did want to be a gracious host, but when I asked if there was some special kind of Mountain Dew or Doritos his lady friend preferred, he declared he’d be taking over the food preparation completely. I didn’t get it, but my girlfriend ate worse than I do. Wherever she is now, her sinks probably only dispense orange Gatorade. Anyway. 

When Friday evening arrived, my buddy showed up with a carload full of groceries. He said he’d mostly be preparing one big fancy meal on the first night, and there would be enough to last us all weekend. 

“Great!” I thought. “He must be making spaghetti!” 

Francis comes from a long line of McTreasureMans. Finally, destiny called.

What he set about preparing was some kind of slow-cooked, red wine roast beef. I ended up letting him use my desk to code some XNA Framework magic, while I spread out my laptop, tablet, keyboard, and peripherals on the kitchen table next to the oven. The smell was pleasant, but very noticeable immediately. No problem! A nice little reminder that our hard work on Friday night would be rewarded with an amazing dinner. In like five hours. 

As the hours started to pass, I noticed the smell getting stronger. 

“It’s cooking,” I thought. “That’s what cooking food does.” But I’d be lying if I said the smell wasn’t becoming a distraction. It still wasn’t unpleasant, but it wafted my direction and my thoughts increasingly drifted back toward it. 

When dinner time finally arrived, hours and hours later, we had a fancy group dinner, just as promised. It was a break uncommon for a weekend code-athon and everyone seemed to enjoy their smelly wine meat. After food and brief relaxation, we packed up the leftovers in the fridge and headed back to our battle stations. This was when I first realized we might be in trouble. 

It would be worth digging into the files to show off all the dialogue we wrote

With everyone else either coding, leaving, or thinking about their next orange Gatorade, I sat alone in the kitchen, wondering how the smell had not dissipated at all. We were no longer cooking. We had either consumed or sealed every part of the meat in the refrigerator. Was it the dishes in the sink? I closed them up in a dishwasher that I seem to recall didn’t even work, and decided to get some rest to clear my head. 

When I woke up and came downstairs, my partner was awake and coding. If the smell had changed at all, it had gotten worse. Had he abandoned all goddamn respect for himself and heated up more of this shit for breakfast? He said he had not. Didn’t he smell it, too? If he did, he pretended otherwise. I cooked scrambled eggs; the smell cared none at all. 

By early afternoon on Saturday, I started to worry the smell had picked up a psychological component. I asked my girlfriend, but she was busy scouring the garbage for partial Gatorades and couldn’t be bothered. Somehow, I was cranking out graphics and audio like a mad man. My partner and I teamed up on the writing, and something I love about the game is what an opportunity it was to cram just unlimited weird humor into this humble little Windows 95-looking package. It was my first group game project and the good memories attached to it should not still be saturated with booze beef odor in my brain. But that’s my reality. 

Looking back, I think the wine eventually saturated even his armor…

Saturday evening we grinded away at our tasks, discussed issues, content, and design, and ate more juice jerky. What did it matter now? We were all irrevocably tainted. 

Sunday morning, we landed on a playable game loop. We had most of a day left to test, discuss, and enhance as desired. But I seem to recall we didn’t. It was not long after that time that my partner left, perhaps tacitly admitting “We have given a game, but we have ruined your home. You will have to destroy this place.” He took the leftovers from the fridge, but they don’t make bleach wipes for what was left over in my soul. 

The clothing I wore was never the same. I’ve washed garments from that weekend and had people confirm that it smells like wet mystery meat. The game was well-received (though ratings that old on the site aren’t really legible anymore) and we were truly proud of what we’d done. Still, I can’t help wonder what we could have accomplished if I hadn’t spend so much time weighing the pros and cons of standing up and yelling “DON’T ANY OF YOU ASSHOLES SMELL THAT?” 

Unlike my ex, who thinks bottled water is fine, now that Gatorade also makes a powder, I do value smart, responsible nutrition. This cautionary tale is not a Pizza Hut and Taco Bell endorsement. My most successful code weekends were probably the couple that happened to coincide with meticulous eating plans I’ve adhered to in the past, particularly low-carb strategies that were heavy on food prep. By all means, keep a little cheat candy or soda on hand, but grab a 2-liter. Walk to the fridge and take a gulp, not a can. Grab a tiny, individually-wrapped Reece’s cup. You’ll get bored and walk away. I think it’s when you are able to sort of focus past eating entirely that the magic really happens in your other endeavors. 

Just please, don’t soak meat in wine and cook it for five hours in the middle of your jam space. 

Todd Mitchell is an indie software developer with games journalism experience who still smells like roast beef and regret. Follow him @mechatodzilla

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Who Is Video James?

We’re back for the last recording from this God-forsaken apartment.