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Dimensia: A Gamma 3D Postmortem

A while back I mentioned Gamma 3D, an upcoming indie gaming exhibit challenging designers to come up with a game that makes important and novel use of anaglyphs. I didn’t really think, at the time, that I’d actually manage to pull together a coherent game, but here I am, 45 days of confusion and banging my head against the wall later, having actually submitted something interesting (if not necessarily “good”).

Working with my buddy Josh—he and I were the first occupants of a dedicated “Games Lab/Broom Closet” at McGill—we put together Dimensia, “a puzzle game of spatial geometry and dimensional hijinx” somewhat inspired by my reading of Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (why yes, I did post a review, thanks for asking). To describe the game in a nutshell, I’d say try to imagine a combination of 3D Tetris and Pipe Mania. I’m not quite sure if the game meets Gamma’s criterion of using stereoscopy in a manner that’s vital to gameplay, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. I figured, before we hear Kokoromi’s Yay or Nay regarding our game’s admittance to Gamma, I might as well write a brief postmortem while the ideas are still fresh, and before the agony of defeat or the ecstasy of less-shame kick in.

Things That Went Right

  • Brainstorming: Josh and I managed to kick around a number of ideas fairly quickly, and very easily agree which ones were interesting and which were rubbish. A few concepts lacked enough depth (“Let’s make pick-up sticks in 3D!”), a few others just seemed way too obvious (“Let’s throw things at the player!”).
  • Final choice of concept: I think the choice of a puzzle game over an action game made things a bit easier for us (rapid action/collisions/etc. might complicate matters), but at the same time allowed us to create a game that had simple rules, but a lot of depth (assuming we design some more killer levels for it).
  • We got the job done: This probably shouldn’t be considered a major accomplishment, but I do have a tendency to be all think and no action. In this case, it was just the two of us wanting to meet that deadline, and we managed to motivate ourselves well enough to follow through on our own. Let’s all pat ourselves on the back.

Things That Went Less Right

  • Erratic communication: External duties and scheduling conflicts, and just a lack of setting up meetings, made it so that on occasion the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing. This inevitably led to…
  • Redundant or conflicting implementations: Not knowing what had already been implemented, we (well, mostly I) sometimes coded something twice (such as the game’s controls) or in a way that was contrary to assumptions being made elsewhere in the code (Vertices as part of Grids, Grids as part of Zones, etc). This in turn led to some stressful rewrites as the deadline loomed larger. But it wasn’t as stressful as…
  • F*@#ING XNA: There is nothing so frustrating as having a game completed, fitting pretty much exactly to your initial design and ready to be submitted, only to find out it won’t f***ing run on any other computer. In my initial post regarding Gamma, I mentioned that I was impressed at XNA’s ease of use. Little did I know then that actually running the damn thing anywhere else requires the user to download a few gigs of extraneous Microsoft extras: XNA (which does kinda go without saying), Visual Studio (for some strange reason… didn’t know gamers were assumed to have to be developers too), DirectX 9.0c (a special version where even if you have it installed, you have to install it again), and so forth. What’s wrong with just giving someone an .exe and a folder of game resources? Why does it all depend on the gamer downloading the entire internet? Grr.

Anyway, these are just a handful of the most salient points. As I said, I’m quite happy with the way the game has turned out. I don’t think it will necessarily beat out Portal or Ocarina of Time as teh b3st g@me ev0r, but considering it was a first-time, rapidly-implemented project by two guys who’d never coded a full game in their lives, I’d say we did a respectable job.

I’ll probably post some screencaps along with the game itself once we’ve had time to clean it up a bit. Here’s hoping you get a chance to play it at Gamma…