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Brew Talk 1: Creative vs Technical Projects Community discussion of some things brought up in Week 6 of The Assembly Line

Sep 25 at 8:34:40 AM
SoleGooseProductions (120)
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(Beau ) < Ridley Wrangler >
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In the latest episode of The Assembly Line Kevin and I shared our thoughts on creative versus technically motivated projects. We wanted to expand it to the wider community, however, so whether you’ve heard the episode or not, feel free to share your thoughts on the matter. It's a chance to be self-reflective about the herculean task of making a game on the NES.
 
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Before we begin: all projects are creative; all projects are technical.
 
Now that that is out of the way, what we’re talking about is which direction does a project lean. The NES has a specific set of limitations, and being creative within those takes some skill on the part of the brewer. Are your projects more motivated by figuring out a technical problem (or set of problems), or are they more driven by creativity in terms of content. It is one thing to build the Mega Man engine, it is another to build the world of Mega Man, if that makes sense. As a brewer, which pole do you find yourself gravitating toward? What specific examples from your work might illustrate either side? I’d be curious to hear people’s first hand experiences when setting out on a project, or figuring it out in the midst of one. Maybe it began one way, but ended another, who knows. Genre may carry with it its own emphasis, but the mindset of the brewer is still paramount. What may appear technical to some might be creative to others, and vice versa, so share your thoughts and experiences  .
 
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Personally, Spook-o’-tron is a good example of a project that was motivated by a technical challenge. I wanted to build a game that could use the Virtual Boy controller, and figuring that out was primarily a technical achievement. The game itself has very little creative content; there is no story, no real world per se, and it only hosts a limited number of enemies. Sure, the arrangement of those enemies requires some creativity, but not in the sense of world building. Even if there was a larger world, the game for me was a technical challenge due to how I approached it.
 
The same can be said for Family Vacation, despite the level of content that it involves. That project, at least in its initial incarnation, was wholly driven by figuring out technical problems. I wanted to explore how to use a counter-based system, and after figuring out an idea of how that might work I set to implement it. It worked, and the game developed from there, the world itself being mere window dressing to that overarching idea. I was able to be somewhat creative in terms of the world itself, but in its origin, in its motivation, FV was a technical project. It was the quest to figure some things out, and that was about it.
 
Interestingly enough, it has since been reborn from the opposite direction. I figured out the technical issues, sat on them for a good year, and when I returned to the project I gave very little thought to those aspects. Since they had been figured out, they no longer interested me or drove the project. Instead, the game has taken on a completely different shape due to the different approach and emphasis. Art, music, screen layouts, and even gameplay have all come to embody this new perspective, and the engine has to be rewritten accordingly. Technical factors are being re-factored due to the change in emphasis.

 

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"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long..." ~ Blade Runner

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Sep 25 at 8:41:22 AM
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(Derek Andrews) < El Ripper >
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I'd say both. I have all sorts of ideas in my head before I do a game, then the challenge of executing them in the real world on the NES shapes what the game actually turns into. Isn't that true of all games? I mean I can't think of very many people who built a complete game engine without any content influencing their decisions along the way. Maybe tepples? (I thought he released a platformer engine before he got involved with Retrotainment games) *edit* I'm trying to think back to my original motivations to create Nomolos and Owlia. They were 100% because I wanted to make those games---the technical problems arose due to what I wanted to make. I didn't even know it'd be NES super early on.

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Creators of: Nomolos: Storming the CATsle, and The Legends of Owlia.


Edited: 09/25/2017 at 08:50 AM by GradualGames

Sep 25 at 9:01:47 AM
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(Beau ) < Ridley Wrangler >
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Yeah, like I said, all projects are a mixture of both. The question is which direction do you lean with a given project. What is the motivating factor, what determines things as you go, etc. A project could be perfectly, evenly split, but on the whole I'd wager that most are going to show one side more than the other.

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"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long..." ~ Blade Runner

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Sep 25 at 9:21:38 AM
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(Derek Andrews) < El Ripper >
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Originally posted by: SoleGooseProductions

Yeah, like I said, all projects are a mixture of both. The question is which direction do you lean with a given project. What is the motivating factor, what determines things as you go, etc. A project could be perfectly, evenly split, but on the whole I'd wager that most are going to show one side more than the other.
If we were to define creativity as trying to come up with something truly innovative and unique, then I suppose I'd say my projects are technically motivated. I've always wanted to make games, but I wouldn't say I've been particularly good at coming up with interesting stories or worlds---everything that has gone into my games so far has been more or less chosen at random, and largely derivative of games I know from my youth. That may change somewhat with the third game as the story has more personal significance to me but it's still your basic: "Travel afar and defeat the evil demigod" story. If we define creativity as coming up with original content of your own *however you're able to do it* whether it's particularly original or not then I'd say my projects are creatively motivated. However, I've been watching some Jordan Peterson videos on creativity lately and, after watching those I'd be humbly inclined to say I don't think I'm very creative, (based on his definition, which seems to be closer to the first definition I gave above) on the whole. Most things I've done, in games and music have been highly derivative of other things. But I'm quite alright with that, making these things makes me (and a few other people) happy.

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Creators of: Nomolos: Storming the CATsle, and The Legends of Owlia.


Edited: 09/25/2017 at 09:36 AM by GradualGames

Sep 25 at 9:41:10 AM
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(Beau ) < Ridley Wrangler >
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I'm not thinking in terms of originality so much (nothing is original anyways), but more in terms of motivation. Are you setting out to make a character shoot, jump, and run, and then building a world, or approaching it from the perspective of wanting to build a world in which a character might shoot, jump, and run. With fully fledged games like yours it is harder to see these things I'd guess, since they go through a lot of phases (though perhaps some of the phases are motivated by one factor over the other). The question is easier to see when someone starts out with a simple port. The goal is usually to figure out the basic mechanics, and any gameplay creativity is already figured out. Sure, you have to be creative in how you approach things, but you're approaching a technical problem, you know? I would think the same too with puzzle games, unless it is viewed by the creator as less of a technical one and more of a creative one. There's no hard and fast rules, it's all subjective, but it is a chance to reflect on the spirit behind one's efforts, if that makes sense.

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"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long..." ~ Blade Runner

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Sep 25 at 9:54:19 AM
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(Derek Andrews) < El Ripper >
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If we're talking purely about mechanics...I made a small attempt not too long ago to try to come up with a puzzle game with original mechanics. I had a very vague notion in my head of how those mechanics would work. I played around with it just a little bit in Pico 8, and...I couldn't see much of a game forming.   So so far, I can say all the games I've made used actual gameplay *ideas* I got from somebody else, in well-trod genres. I might revisit that puzzle game idea someday because I keep feeling like there should be something there I just haven't unearthed it yet. I'm enjoying creating games in well-known genres very much however, enjoying the craft of it and especially writing music for them, which I think in a weird way feels like the most important aspect for me to express myself in. You could say I'm a budding chiptune musician who was too stubborn to let my music be put in a game somebody else programmed, I wanted to do it myself. Haha

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Creators of: Nomolos: Storming the CATsle, and The Legends of Owlia.

Sep 25 at 1:53:45 PM
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Every project I work on is mostly motivated by wanting to do some new technical thing, or try a different approach to programming objects, etc.

Flappy Jack, I wanted to make a very large main sprite, with layers of sprites.

Rock Paper Scissors, adding the "change the Y scroll every scanline" effect was more interesting than the other 99% of the game programming.*

The last entry on my blog, someone asked me to do scrolling with neslib...but just a simple 2 screen wide scroll didn't interest me, so I did a big all-direction scroll thing, and solving that technical problem made it interesting enough to complete.

I'm going to do a small entry for the nesdev competition, but what gets me excited is the little bits of code that make sloped ground work. Otherwise, if I just had flat ground, it would be a bit boring to program.

* Edit, apparently there are no videos of this effect. I added that effect after the competition was over. I shall have to post it somewhere.

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Edited: 09/25/2017 at 02:04 PM by dougeff

Sep 25 at 2:11:49 PM
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Doug's post helps clarify the thread for me. I don't think I've started a game purely because I wanted to exercise a technical idea. In fact, if I'm really honest about it I do everything I can to avoid exercising technical techniques, at least all at once. Each game I try to heavily constrain what I would actually put into it---and this is due to observing how poorly software projects can go in the professional world from stuffing too much stuff into them. I have pretty low stress tolerance so this combined with long schedule time is the right choice for me. As a result, I've introduced new technical features into games very slowly. So maybe in a weird way I am technically motivated but in reverse, haha. Man, I keep going back and forth as to my answer to the original question posed. It may be too complex to give an adequate answer.

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Creators of: Nomolos: Storming the CATsle, and The Legends of Owlia.


Edited: 09/25/2017 at 02:14 PM by GradualGames

Sep 25 at 3:05:49 PM
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(Kevin Hanley) < Master Higgins >
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To be fair I never know how to answer a Beau question either, until he breaks it down into little mini questions that my little brain can understand. And then I realize that he's been right all along even when I didn't realize his question applied to me!

Sep 25 at 5:19:49 PM
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Tailgate Party started out as a technical project and then blossomed into a creative project at the end. I wanted to see if the Power Pad could act as a targeting system for corn bags. Once that hurdle was crossed, the challenge was to make a game out of it. After writing a functional 2 Player game, I wanted to technically challenge myself some more, so I created multiple game modes. Once this was all in place, I decided on a single player mode and that's when the project to a creative turn with a full story, achievements, unlockable characters and music, etc. Most of these later features were purely driven by creativity to make a unique and fun game on the NES.

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Sep 25 at 5:29:43 PM
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I will add one more project I worked on secretly this year. I've been wanting to figure out how to scroll, not 2 screen scrolling, but multiple screens. With about 4 weeks before my wedding anniversary, I decided to incorporate scrolling into a timeline of events with my wife since we met. It was a lot of fun and I finally finished the project the day of our Anniversary after staying up until about 1:30 am the morning of our anniversary to fix a few bugs I found. It's a simple little side-scroller where all you can do is walk to the right until you run out of screens, but it was a great tool to learn scrolling. Purely a technically project with a little creativity tossed in at the end.

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Sep 25 at 9:18:52 PM
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Originally posted by: dougeff

...

Sorry that we didn't have you on to talk about C programming. We were really looking for someone knowlegable on the subject, but by the time that we found out (via twitter) we had already recorded the episode. It is penciled in for the future though!



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"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long..." ~ Blade Runner

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Sep 26 at 10:53:46 AM
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Originally posted by: SoleGooseProductions

Originally posted by: dougeff

...

Sorry that we didn't have you on to talk about C programming. We were really looking for someone knowlegable on the subject, but by the time that we found out (via twitter) we had already recorded the episode. It is penciled in for the future though!







Sure, sounds good.

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Sep 26 at 1:13:01 PM
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(Nathan Tolbert) < Cherub >
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Originally posted by: dougeff


The last entry on my blog, someone asked me to do scrolling with neslib...but just a simple 2 screen wide scroll didn't interest me, so I did a big all-direction scroll thing, and solving that technical problem made it interesting enough to complete.
 
Oh man, that's my life for the past few months. Trying to get my mostly-in-C efficient omni-directional scrolling working.  Almost there, but I'm not as fast as you  


Anyway, to answer the original question -- I enjoy hopping around to different systems, which to me is the main technical part of the challenge (ok, how do I make a game for THIS system?)  Beyond that, it's usually all about making something creative. I have an idea for a game that I want to play, and I try to make it.  (and sadly I usually don't quite succeed in making the exact game I want to play).  

The tecnical challenges all just come as a result of trying to match my vision.  For my Atari Anguna, I had to learn how to make a reasonable multi-sprite kernel to make the game as good as I wanted.  For my new NES project, the hurdle is making large omni-directional scrolling (Well, that's the first challenge, I'm sure I'll have many more)  For my nesdev entry, Spacey McRacey, the challenge was just, "huh, how do I program this nintendo thing?"

 

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Sep 26 at 1:49:24 PM
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Originally posted by: Gauauu
I enjoy hopping around to different systems
Hey, did you get Jeff Wittenhagen's NES Compendium etc.? I think one of your interview questions got mixed with mine. There's a paragraph under my name that says something about doing homebrew on lots of different systems and being a "wanderer," followed by the paragraph I knew I wrote. Haha. I already mentioned this to Jeff, and my guess was going to be you because your name appeared next to mine in other interview sections. Was that yours? I think he'll fix it in reprints. But it was amusing to read, I was like: "Do I write code for lots of old systems? I don't remember it if so!" Haha

 

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Creators of: Nomolos: Storming the CATsle, and The Legends of Owlia.

Sep 26 at 2:05:20 PM
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(Nathan Tolbert) < Cherub >
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Originally posted by: GradualGames
 
Originally posted by: Gauauu
I enjoy hopping around to different systems
Hey, did you get Jeff Wittenhagen's NES Compendium etc.? I think one of your interview questions got mixed with mine. There's a paragraph under my name that says something about doing homebrew on lots of different systems and being a "wanderer," followed by the paragraph I knew I wrote. Haha. I already mentioned this to Jeff, and my guess was going to be you because your name appeared next to mine in other interview sections. Was that yours? I think he'll fix it in reprints. But it was amusing to read, I was like: "Do I write code for lots of old systems? I don't remember it if so!" Haha

 

Oh funny.  I hadn't seen it yet, now I'm really curious!

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My games: http://bitethechili.com

Sep 26 at 2:05:43 PM
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"For my nesdev entry, Spacey McRacey, the challenge was just, "huh, how do I program this nintendo thing?"

Like I said, Gauauu, it was my kid's favorite entry in the nesdev compo. I'd say, that makes it a winner.  

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Sep 26 at 2:38:36 PM
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Here...I uploaded a video of that stretch effect from Rock Paper Scissors, that I was talking about...(where I change the Y scroll value every scanline, using a carefully timed code loop).




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Sep 26 at 2:42:25 PM
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(Nathan Tolbert) < Cherub >
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Originally posted by: dougeff

Like I said, Gauauu, it was my kid's favorite entry in the nesdev compo. I'd say, that makes it a winner.  

Thanks, it's nice to hear good feedback  
 

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Sep 27 at 9:50:13 AM
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I am not much of a brewer, but I wanted to chime in a bit on this topic. My homebrew experience consists of one mostly finished small game, and two or three other neglected startup projects. I am not much of a creative type as far as building my own game concept from scratch, and I'm not an artist or a musician either. I like taking existing games and/or concepts and seeing how they might translate over to NES. What I have dabbled in doesn't consist of fancy hardware tricks, and though I know how to do it I haven't had a need to expand beyond NROM. I suppose I just like the act of assembly programming and getting something running, expanding it for awhile until I've scratched the itch to program, and then dropping it until either I get motivated to program again or get some other idea in my head. So while I am not highly creative or highly technical, I lean on the technical side.

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Sep 27 at 10:19:01 AM
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The things I love the most about NES coding are drawing graphics within the limitations of the system and doing impressive effects, either raster effects like in UXO (which looks like the one dougeff posted) or REKT or doing things that are hard to pull off on an NES, like the 4-way scroller w/status bar I did a while back. With the latter, my creative side comes in handy as I can make a whole game that uses this scrolling engine.
Another "creative" thingy I like doing in my games is to make my games based on somewhat humorous themes. Humor in an NES game is pretty hard to achieve but I still like experimenting with it.
Overall, I prefer the technical aspects of homebrewing although creativity plays a big part in my stuff too

Sep 29 at 5:22:03 PM
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A composer first, a virtuoso second.

Creativity is based on imagination. Delivering an original experience to the end user is the primary goal. The value lies in how they respond to it.

Technique is based on knowledge. It is a means to an end to put forth an end product. The art lies in how you use it.

Not to say that I don't enjoy playing around with code. If you don't get a mental rush from improving your abilities to get new things to work, making games won't work out for you. Neither will refusing to bite the shit sandwich when needed. Ultimately though, it's things that were dreamed of that are most desired for me. They motivate me to press forward and help me enjoy the process more than anything.

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Edited: 09/29/2017 at 05:23 PM by Optomon

Oct 04 at 10:41:29 AM
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I would say Eskimo Bob was primarily a creative project since it was based around a cartoon series and relied on fairly simple mechanics. The sequel I have envisioned is definitely more of a technical challenge though. I plan on taking the same characters and putting them into a more complex engine, allowing for more interesting puzzles.

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