Friday, May 2, 2008

IGDA Treat, Big John Games

Last night the Twin Cities chapter of the IGDA (Indiependent Game Developers Association) had local game developer Big John Games present their story, experience and insight regarding game development, in general and as it relates to the Nintendo DS and other consoles, and even local development. It was an incredible meeting. This is the sort of thing that really makes IGDA worth it.

Big John Games is a pretty cool company, one I'm really excited to see located in Minnesota. Perhaps that changes my impression of their games, so take that with a grain of salt.

Ken, the founder of the company (named after his dad, Big John) and his brother Don worked on the IP Spitfire Heroes, a World War II air combat arcade type flight sim game. Interestingly, Don is a published author of young fiction, aimed at boys 5-9 old. When I first heard that the DS game was based off a book (or related to a book in some way), I thought it would be stale. Knowing the DS's limitations (via the experience I've had playing the games on it), I had a hard time imagining how you could capture a book into a DS game. What I realized after meeting Ken and Don is that the books aren't historical, they're fun. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of Dawson's Down, which I've already started reading to my boys.

Big John Games also has another release, Plushees. Last time I checked I wasn't a 9 year old girl, so it doesn't appeal to my gaming tastes. But what does appeal to me about it is that its a local developer making games for kids. I'm going to pick it up for my niece as an alternative to Tigerz.

I learned that the Nintendo DS has three engines, one 3D and two 2D. In the 3D engine, you can have a max of about 2000 polygons, with very limited texture space. One of their artists said he had to convert his 8000 poly model down to 196 poly with a 128x128 texture. I call that a challenge, a fun challenge!

I got a chance to play Spitfire Heroes and my first thought was that the first level is too hard. Your first objective is to defeat 12 tanks and there are three enemy planes trying to stop you. I tried about 6 times and eventually completed the level, but really failed due to the grading system (took too long, inaccurate, etc.) I was slightly frustrated with it that way, but I agree with their designer when he said they didn't want the game to be too easy either. He said he cringed when he saw someone playing and crashing into the tanks, which is exactly what I did about 10 times. In the end, I'm going to buy this game, regardless of the metacritic score. Both because I want to support them, and because I want to play it more.

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