It’s that time again! Designers and developers around the globe are putting out their fine photos and GIFs for our enjoyment. Jam projects are nearing completion, demos are up for download, and someone is finally working on more sweet, sweet pro wrestling action. Let’s dig in.
If you don’t know about #ScreenshotSaturday on Twitter (and elsewhere), it’s when game developers in every conceivable project phase grab a screenshot, record a video, or create a GIF of what they’re working on, so they can show it around and enjoy a few moments of recognition and valuable feedback as they gather the courage to face another week.
We put out the call for topics, questions, and feedback on our new account at Swell, and you answered!
When we last checked in with Matt Hill, he was growing a thriving community around his Mixer channel and optimistic about the future. Then Microsoft killed Mixer.
The GameDev Breakdown podcast has just arrived in the Roku Channel Store! There may be some delay before it shows up in search, so the link is available below.
This article was originally published at the now-defunct Zam.
Cheating is as old as gaming, but it still presents brand new problems. Gone are the days of simple cheat codes in secluded sessions between player and machine. In their place, a booming new business thrives. Companies battle in court for the right to offer cheat hardware and intricate software tools. Pro tournaments are shrouded in scandal as cheaters are banished. New cheats are even keeping real money out of the hands of publishers. Cheating is raising questions faster than we are finding answers.
Cheating first became commonplace in the 1980s among hobbyist computer gamers. Many users of systems like the Commodore 64 were comfortable with basic programming tasks. Playing a game occasionally required typing its entire source code in manually, so it was a simple matter for some to load a game into the computer’s memory and modify a few values in the right locations to grant themselves goodies like points and health at will.
The eventual development of peripherals like Romantic Robot’s Multiface, a device capable of saving and modifying a computer’s memory at the push of a button, made game state tampering accessible to even more users. More developers were concerned about the growing issue of outright game piracy than simple cheating. Some games were released in the public domain from the start, and players were encouraged to customize a game to meet their needs. This case wasn’t strictly considered cheating at all.
Early consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System offered a vastly dissimilar experience. With no access to code or an operating system, players saw only what was intended for them on the screen and could only respond with a few controller buttons. This did not deter cheating for long.
Many game developers found work in the late 80s and early 90s by converting games from arcade cabinets for home console use. Most arcade games are designed with sharply increasing difficulty to keep quarters coming—which made these ports painful to playtest. To cope with this challenge on systems with limited means of input, developers created secret button sequences that triggered changes like invulnerability, allowing them to survive testing even when the gameplay gets tough.
None of these sequences are more popular than Kazuhisa Hashimoto’s Konami Code, a secret first created to grant all upgrades in the arcade port of Gradius, which he forgot to remove prior to the game’s release. The Konami Code has since been included intentionally in dozens of games (developed by Konami and others) in honor of its popularity among players.
Cheating thrilled console players. Enterprising hardware engineers took notice, and quickly set about pushing the limits even further.
The Business of Mischief
In 1990, Codemasters, a British game development studio, created a “video game enhancer” capable of the same memory value modification used on gaming computers with the Multiface peripheral. The Game Genie, as it was eventually named, could be connected between a cartridge and the NES itself to modify the game with codes entered by the player before passing the program through to the console. Though the codes used an obfuscated format, they result in direct editing of values in memory, meaning knowledgeable players could discover their own useful codes in addition to those distributed with the product. Codemasters’ publisher Camerica distributed the Game Genie in Canada while Galoob sold it in the United States.
Galoob found itself defending the Game Genie against Nintendo only months later in U.S. District Court.
The Galoob v. Nintendo case hinged on whether or not a judge would agree that using a Game Genie created derivative works of Nintendo’s games, in defiance of established copyrights. Thanks to the Game Genie’s marketing verbiage—specifically that it’s a “video game enhancer”—the court ruled that Game Genie players are still using the original Nintendo products as intended and established no damages. Galoob, on the other hand, was awarded $15 million plus legal fees. Not only was Galoob allowed to continue selling the Game Genie device, but a legal precedent protecting game enhancement without permanent modification was established, paving the way for the cheating industry to emerge and flourish.
In time, Galoob expanded its Game Genie product line to include all major consoles, and it competed with other cheat cartridges including Action Replay and GameShark products. Cheat code books and guides were published, updated, and republished. Rumors and codes were listed in nearly every game magazine in print. The now-defunct cable and satellite network G4 dedicated a half-hour show, Cheat!, to providing game codes and secrets, demonstrating them on-screen. Most importantly, resources for game cheating arrived on the web.
As household internet access became the norm, players were flooded with the collective wisdom of nearly the entire gaming community for the first time. Virtually unlimited information about tips and tricks were revealed as “urban legend cheats” began to decline (sadly, Michael Jordan really wasn’t in NBA Jam on consoles).
In addition to widespread information, the internet made new genres of player-versus-player competition possible. Cheating again followed closely behind—this time, at the expense of real opponents elsewhere in the world.
First-person shooters are consistently among top-selling games across all platforms, and its players experience what may be the most ethically dubious cheats in gaming. Time has proven that, in countless settings and series, gamers love trying to outgun and out-think their peers. Some are willing to cheat—even at the expense of the other players—and no shortage of tools have been developed to accommodate them. “Bot” applications can grant perfect aim (and take the shot, if desired), network traffic can be manipulated to allow a player to see and attack opponents in real time while sending their own actions back in bursts that make them nearly impossible to beat, and incoming player data can be interpreted and exploited in ways that their opponents may or may not ever be able to detect.
The online role-playing genre has not fared much better. Mischievous players have elbowed ahead of their peers with tricks as simple as teaming up with other players to grind on a single account, and as complicated as putting your character in the hands of programmed scripts or completely automated bot applications. Given the subscription model on which popular online RPGs operate and the negative impact cheating has on the community, developers and publishers like Blizzard have not been shy about taking cheating enablers to court.
World of Witch Hunts
Products and services again emerged to capitalize on a new age of cheating. This time, it was developers and publishers reaching for their wallets, and the investment was to prevent cheats. In 2000, Team Fortress player Tony Ray began testing his anti-cheat tool, PunkBuster, on Valve Software’s Half-Life. Though the product proved capable, Valve declined to partner with Ray’s studio and began development of the Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system. Instead, PunkBuster was integrated first in Return to Castle Wolfenstein and later in the Battlefield series and others. Additional anti-cheat suites were integrated into online role-playing games, including nProtect GameGuard and AhnLab’s HackShield.
While anti-cheat systems have proven effective—the VAC system alone has banned over 2 million accounts—they require constant changes and an intrusive presence in a client system to discover banned tools or activities. This introduces room for errors, often in the form of “false positives.” New games and updates occasionally result in widespread erroneous ban reports from players who claim to do nothing but connect to game servers. In at least one instance, Battlefield players had to appeal their invalid ban, even after EA and PunkBuster were aware of the problem. Even today, most publishers prefer to ban too many players, rather than miss potential cheaters.
Reasonably effective cheat protection was key in the rise of professional eSports. Players, organizers, and sponsors all need to be reasonably sure of a level playing field before investing real money into competitive gaming. The very few cheating scandals at the pro level have been huge.
Just before the DreamHack Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament began in winter of 2014, three pro players admitted to cheating after the VAC system banned their accounts. All three players and their respective teams were disqualified from the game’s largest tournament. One of the players would later tell Twitch viewers he believed about 30-40% of players at the pro level were also cheating, reported viewers on Reddit. Chaos erupted again in the DreamHack quarterfinals, as team Fnatic exploited a map glitch to win a match, leading to their eventual forfeit. Suspicion of additional cheating rocked the community for months to come.
Real Money Cheats
Mobile gaming has given new momentum to casual games. Free-to-play games like Clash of Clans or the more recent Clash Royale bring in staggering daily revenue without charging players anything upfront. Everyone wins, until cheating disrupts the balance.
Over the years, developers have released a collection of cheat engine apps for mobile operating systems, particularly rooted Android phones and jailbroken iOS devices. This has allowed willing players to tamper with “freemium” games as they might with any other game—the difference is that they’re granting themselves lives, power-ups, and other resources that cost real-world money.
Freemium cheating raises questions for which players have many opinions, but definitive answers are less clear. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows for the modification of games and other software owned, but previous cheats have never so clearly and directly deprived developers and publishers of revenue. As Garret Bright astutely points out in his Gamasutra feature, freemium games only bring in revenue from in-app purchases, one side of the debate argues that this clearly robs the publisher, while the other side suggests there is no harm done if they never would have paid for in-game items to begin with. It may only be a matter of time before a judge is left to decide.
If the past is any indication, cheating will continue to evolve as gaming keeps pushing into new territory, and the community will grapple with new questions about what is acceptable and in what circumstance. It’s important to acknowledge the positive impacts of game tampering as well as the negative: the new ways players experienced their purchased games, the content publishers hid away only to be discovered like buried treasure years later, and the large-scale hacking and modding initiatives that effectively created brand new projects for others to enjoy. What’s certain is that players will never stop pushing the limits they encounter, come what may.
Todd puts in an appearance on the Nightfall Unlimited test show with fan favorite Ray Marek, but not before an extended rant about positivity.
Okay, Todd here, this is a short show and then I’m headed out of the country for a little getaway with my wife–sorry, not sorry. I thought about skipping this week’s Thursday show completely or cooking up some kind of “best of” episode, but instead I thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain a bit and share a little segment I did for our friend Ray as he works on the return of the Nightfall Unlimited podcast. This was a Google Hangouts call I connected to, so my end of the conversation sounds a lot different from their end. I did run through it in Audacity to tighten things up a bit. There will still be a Monday show and next Thursday’s show is a good solid maybe, but things will definitely be on autopilot until I get back in town.
Yeah, I ranted a bit on this one. I think it was for a good cause. I think we have a certain responsibility to look at what folks in the community do around us. It reflects on all of us, and it’s usually pretty basic right and wrong. In any case, show Ray & company some love and I’ll be back before you know it.
Nightfall’s full test show is here:
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YouTuber Matt Hill joins to talk about running the OHCPlay channel, highs and lows in the gaming community, and we give the public their first glimpse of a list of spectacular gamer tags over 7 years in the making. I hope listeners enjoy this show half as much as I did.
This is the first installment of our second weekly show. Each week we’ll feature a content creator who will share their perspective on process, community issues, and hopefully have some fun in the process. Have a community member in mind you’d love to hear from? Shout them out.
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Ask Gamedev, a YouTube channel founded and run by game industry veterans, has listed our very own companion podcast, #GameDev Breakdown, as one of its 9 Game Development Podcasts All Devs Need to Listen to.
The video segment, dated July 23, 2019, compiles the group’s top podcast picks for aspiring game developers and game dev enthusiasts. Here’s what Ask GameDev had to say about #GameDev Breakdown:
Just finishing up its second season in May of 2019, #GameDev Breakdown is an excellent source for interviews featuring professionals working in and around the world of game development. Hosted by Todd Mitchell, an indie software development veteran of fifteen years, #GameDev Breakdown lets you listen in on sit-downs with the kinds of people who often don’t get much of a spotlight in the world of game development. These guests bring a wealth of insight into what the game development industry is really like, and puts on full display just how much passion and work goes into creating the interactive works of art so many millions the world over enjoy on a daily basis.
Season 3 is scheduled to begin in September and we can’t wait to share what we’re working on!
Other podcasts listed include:
- Game Dev Advice
- Designer Notes
- Building the Game
- The AIAS Game Makers Notebook
- Humans Who Make Games
- The Sausage Factory
- Script Lock
- Coffee with Butterscotch
We got into this because we wanted to hear more great game dev talk in the world. If you listen to great shows that aren’t listed, let us know!
This post is a recap of my experiences running this year’s Itch.io Jam for Kids, including a few things you may want to keep in mind if you’re ever in charge of a jam yourself.
On or around June 18th, my four-year-old asked me to make him a video game about trains. This was actually a continuation of a discussion we’d had earlier when I declared I was deleting Budge Studios’ Go Go Thomas from my phone, as I find their microtransaction model for the game to be red-hot garbage. I said I’d be thrilled to make him his own game rather than have an app for children advertise about $20 USD worth of in-app purchases twice for each activity. This was not an idle threat; I’ve done it before. So as promised, I brought the Surface Pro to the kitchen table, fired up Blender, and set about modeling a toy train to see if I could do anything interesting with it in Unity. When I had a reasonable starter model in place, I tweeted it out, because that’s what one does.
My devfam was enthusiastic and supportive as always, but one reply caught my attention more than the rest.
I half assumed @TrashGameArtist was kidding, but for fun I replied with some things he’s interested in and didn’t think much else of it. But the conversation about theoretical kid game designs developed until the suggestion to start an official Itch.io event was made. I thought this was a fantastic idea. Kids need useful play experiences more than anyone, as it directly stimulates brain development, yet they put up with some of the worst, most exploitative designs imaginable. If my admin time could help produce even a few positive playable experiences—not to mention place a sensible time limit on this activity for myself—bring it on. I logged into Itch, cobbled together the most basic of guidelines, and the Itch.io Jam for Kids was born.
What followed was two weeks of incredible learning, great community discussion, and sure enough, a prototype for To the Station! A toy train simulator developed to spec for a preschooler. I didn’t plan on taking away any worthwhile lessons from hosting the jam itself, but I couldn’t help it. Here are some notes in case you ever try this yourself.
Itch.io’s jam tools are amazing
I first got to know Itch as a journalist covering indie games. I was super impressed by the features implemented simply to make my job easier, and in turn, put more eyes on the platform’s game developers. When I came back to try out jam hosting, I was just as pleased. The proof is always on display in the always-loaded jam calendar. I’ve been an enthusiastic Ludum Dare participant for a good decade, but it’s getting difficult to imagine not using ltch for any jam at this point.
Two weeks is the jam duration God intended
I’ve probably participated in my last 48-hour jam. I knew my own time for this jam was going to be under assault by everyday life. I also chose to start the jam with no lead-up time, so I decided to blow out the traditional weekend format and give everyone two weeks.
What a win this turned out to be! I think the best strategy is to pursue a design no grander than you’d dream up for a 48-hour jam, but to find a groove completing and perfecting it around the rest of your everyday life instead of replacing your life with frenzied crunch development. After all, this is how release-worthy games are completed.
Anything longer than a couple of weeks, I suspect time management issues and scope creep would rear their ugly heads. Less than two weeks, I don’t imagine putting myself through the stress again. It’s the two-week life for me.
Admin tasks will eat up your dev time
This is a no-brainer going in but remembering it for two weeks is harder. Not many folks will likely want to run small-to-medium jams without working on an entry themselves (rules permitting) so a host simply has to find the right balance for their time. Two different days I had to hang up intricate development tasks to deal with situations I felt might put participants or others at risk in one case or make us all look kind of ridiculous in the other (more on this later).
I also felt pressure to set an example in the attached forum, participating in discussions where I could, running a progress thread about my game, and of course responding to any questions that came up during the event. By the end of submission day, I’d given up several features on a fairly modest list to fulfill the host role successfully.
Dev tasks will eat up your admin time
Of course the reverse of the previous point is true, but it’s worth discussing what that looked like.
On only the second or third day of the jam, a participant posted a dual entry he was working on for an earlier jam focused on education that overlapped with ours, explaining that it contained not only a prototype, but also a lecture he’d put together about designing for kids. In my mind, the timeline was an issue that would prevent his project from being an official entry, but he joined hoping to participate and posted hoping to help. I wanted to at least check out the project and presentation and provide some encouragement. Unfortunately for my Surface Pro, his was a fairly large project and was downloading too slowly over Wifi. I determined I’d check it out first thing when I next sat down in my office and provide feedback.
The only trouble is I never made it back to my desktop PC. I actually still haven’t. I had to continue work on my game and provide official support for the event. That’s simply all there was time for. I should have stayed laser-focused, even at the risk of appearing rude or uninterested in anything else.
People will try to get away with things
In order of sheer audacity:
A participant posted pretty early on that they hoped to make a basic racing game in Unity but realized the scope was going to be out of control (which is very correct), so they found a Candy Crush-like tutorial series they wanted to follow to wow us all with a puzzle game. It sounded great to me. I wished them luck and said we were all looking forward to seeing it.
I got a notification a day or two later saying they’d submitted an entry.
I suspect not everyone knows this, but a jam host can see the exact date a game was submitted to Itch, and this one was something over a year old. Perhaps I’d still try it and offer feedback before officially disqualifying the entry. That’s when I noticed the following paragraph on the entry’s Itch page:
NOTE: If your virus detection software is acting up when you load up this game, please ignore it because it’s just the software being suspicious because the app is not recognized by it. So if it says anything please just ignore it.
Right. I followed up in the forum, asking why his submission was showing up as being more than a year old, also having a YouTube trailer a year old. I didn’t dive into the antivirus topic. He claimed the second game attempt overwhelmed him and he simply wanted to have something to submit. He hoped I’d understand. You couldn’t craft any better test for a jam host, because it was either a perfectly sincere story that must have been hard to admit for a vulnerable participant, or he was trying to destroy all our machines from the inside out. I’m no King Solomon, so I used the easy pre-existing project excuse and disqualified the entry which removed it from the submissions page. It was probably legit; I wish the developer the best.
As the jam was drawing to a close, I was eager to try out other submissions. I saw a notification pop up on one of the final days saying an interactive fiction novel had been submitted. Interesting choice for a game for kids, I’d better have a look. When I got to the submissions page, I couldn’t help but laugh.
The game was $7.99 to play.
For good measure, this game turned out to be long pre-existing as well, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the boldness required to join a game jam and try to sell the entry to the other participants. It’s hard out here for us indie devs. I get it.
It will all be worth it
In the end, we had a couple of awesome entries to keep mine company. A user called Sipsop created the Surprise Eggs Machine which was a cute little proof-of-concept which could easily be tied into a real brand. Minemaster552 who said he’s only 13 years of age submitted Lego City Builder, an unauthorized FLASH Lego game that was off to a great start at the end of the event.
My four-year-old got his train game and even provided the name. To the Station! in prototype form convinced me a toy train simulator could be viable and fun. I’m in the middle of my book project—alright, not the middle yet—but I’m excited at the possibilities of the prototype and have concrete ideas in mind about how to carry it forward.
I think the Jam for Kids will come back around this time next year. The biggest change will be even longer, even clearer rules upfront. Everyone seemed to have a great time, I know we all learned a lot, and we just might have started some projects that could go the distance. Hosting was a deeply rewarding experience and I’d suggest it to anyone. The better our events, the stronger the community.
Comment with your best theme idea for a jam!