Want More Pay-What-You-Want Goodness? Try “Nikki and the Robots”

What strikes me about the Humble Bundles so far is that not only do you get a fair deal, in terms of price and being treated like a grown adult by not crippling the various media on offer with DRM, but the content itself is generally well above average. In the case of the Humble Bundles, I think credit goes to the various editors and curators who have put the packages together. However, there may be some correlation between the choice to use this business model and incredibly talented and creative folks.

Case in point: Nikki and the Robots.

A listener of mine who has been working on this game emailed me right as the Humble eBook Bundle was climbing towards its staggering $1.2M peak. Right away, the similarities are clear. The Humble Indie Bundles that contain video games have all been cross platform, like Nikki, as well as sporting the pay what you want model and foregoing the burdens of DRM, also like Nikki.

The studio behind this game, Joyride Labs, has gone further. There is a full, playable version you can snag for free. And it is available under an open source license (some of the Humble Bundle games have been openl licensed as a condition of meeting sales targets.) The free version comes with a level editor and there are a good number of sample and contributed levels that demonstrate the various charms of the game. What you get if you set your price and buy the story episode is a narrative mode that completes the full on nostalgia this game brings for 8-bit platformers. While there is currently only one story episode so far, more are promised and buying the first episode nets you all the future ones at no additional cost.

So what about the game itself? The pixel art is an unmistakable and loving homage to Nikki’s earliest ancestors. Even the character design and overall look and feel are a whimsical throwback to games without hugely elaborate backstories, but tantalizing hints about why the characters throw themselves around their frenetic, brightly colored 2D worlds.

Don’t let the graphic design fool you. Gameplay is smooth, convincing and challenging in a way that belies the vintage look, revealing deep roots in realistic physics models and an ethos in puzzle design clearly meant to inspire the player to new heights, often literally, through near impossible challenges and the amazing sense of accomplishment that comes of just nearly squeaking through to toggle the last switch, to collect the last battery. The titular robots add a twist that was a later development for the platformer genre as a whole but one that when used well extends the playability and the enjoyment. It is deployed to excellent effect in Nikki, offering the player at various points throughout each level, the ability to take control of one or more robots, the different abilities of each adding a subtle and engaging variation on the game play that also more fully shows off the Chipmunk physics engine.

My sole complaint as a long time gamer who has most recently been taken with gaming on my phone and tablet is the lack of an Android port. That is really a minor drawback as the game is fun, beautiful and engaging enough on any of the OSes on which it does run to draw me back to my various Linux machines to tease out a little more of the well crafted story and enjoy the original and addictive soundtrack.

Of course, with a free to play option, you certainly don’t have to take my word for it alone. Go on, download it and let me know what you think; better yet let me know if you agree its worth kicking in to see what episode 2 may hold in store or what other wonderful projects Joyride Labs may yet undertake.

Doom Ported to the Web

For geeks of a certain age like me, Doom was both a touchstone and a benchmark. I recall fondly hand building machines of the late 486 and early Pentium vintages, installing Doom, and comparing notes on how it ran on the last machine we cobbled together. The deep nostalgia many hackers hold for the game has also seen it ported to a variety of platforms.

The latest port is offered as an HTML5 demonstrator through the Mozilla Developer Network. It is pretty impressive, another strong testament to how far the browser has come. When I tried it game ran incredibly smoothly. My work machine made a bit of a hash of the sound but not enough to detract from the fond stroll down memory lane.

WebGL is not a requirement, the browser version only uses the audio and Canvas APIs exercised with the browser lingua franca, JavaScript. Slashdot, who linked to the demo, had a few more details about it.

The translation was accomplished using Emscripten, a Javascript backend for LLVM. As per the GPL, full source code is available.

Doom Ported To the Web, Slashdot

Using Game Systems for Something Other than Gaming

I noticed a pair of stories yesterday and today with a common theme. They are both about using gaming technology for something other than pure entertainment. This is hardly surprising when you stop and think about it for a second.

Today’s game consoles are essentially personal computers. They are at least as capable as the lowest end systems you can buy in the desktop category. What makes them distinct is in what their software takes away, they usually have a limited user interface better suited to use at ten feet and primarily for viewing content or playing games. And for what they add, starting with the Wii most notably but increasingly so from all the vendors, they boast an increasing number of physical interfaces, both for analog input and haptic feedback.

It isn’t surprising, then, that a programming classic, Logo, has inspired another take on this tired and true idea of making programming fun. This time, though, on an Xbox rather than a desktop personal computer. In some ways, this seems at least notionally related to Scratch. Both use sensing and animations in addition or in place of traditional program logic. Kodu seems like it may be a bit easier since it trades on a main stay of gaming, building levels and mods, which would seem to give the beginner a leg up in deciding what to do with the environment. It may also be its biggest constraint, though, compared to Scratch which can be used to program real world sensors and micro controllers. Oh, and since Kodu is from Microsoft, I doubt it is open source like Scratch.
Still, think about kids who may have better access to an Xbox and hence gain an exposure to programming through Kodu who might otherwise have missed out.

The other story I saw, this one by Jacqui Cheung at Ars Technica, ranges farther afield from technology than learning programming. It is about a student project that uses the Nintendo Wii to help train techniques of CPR. I have a vague, possibly inaccurate, recollection of someone recently suggesting that even poorly performed CPR improves a patients odds of success over nothing at all, so this may be better than we give it credit. And as much as I’ve been meaning to take a CPR course through the county, I’d be far more likely to try this if I was able to simply download the training to my Wii over the wireless.