It’s official: Third Eye Crime hits the street April 24th. Clear your schedules!
It’s been a while since we last sent out an update, but this one is a doozy.
Moonshot Mission Control is pleased to announce that we have an awesome new partner to help bring Third Eye Crime to the world. They’re called Gameblyr. They are a brand-new Boston-based Indie publisher, and we’re ecstatic to be working with them!
Early on in the development of Third Eye Crime we resolved not to go the publisher route at all. Burned by our experiences on Fallen Frontier, we did not want anyone standing in the way of getting our vision out the door and into the hands of players. So we decided that this time around, we would pay for the whole damn thing ourselves.
And that’s what we did. On our own, we took Third Eye Crime from a glimmer in our eyes to glorious noir completion. But now we have a different challenge – spreading the word. And as it turns out, we are better at making games than selling them.
This is where Gameblyr comes in. They’re a great new publisher that understands the challenges of Indie development and wants to help get our game and our studio out in front of the world. They’re a talented, super experienced team, and, as if all that weren’t enough, they’re Boston locals as well.
Once again, Moonshot and Third Eye Crime will be on hand at PAX East to demo the game to the world. This time we will be hanging with the MASS DiGI in their Made in MA: State of Play booth #499. Come check it out!
Last week, Boston was lucky enough to host the AIIDE conference — that’s the Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment conference — and Moonshot was on-hand to show off a new build of Third Eye Crime to the visiting researchers and scientists. In addition to demoing the game itself, I also got to give a talk on how our “telepathy” mechanic actually works under the hood. Turns out, it’s kinda cool.
Rothko’s telepathy is really an AI technique called an “occupancy map”. Occupancy maps were a big part of my research when I was in grad school, and they are basically a nice way to drive NPC perception and search behavior. They take a some inspiration from some of the work done in the area of robotics (where occupancy maps are used by robots to map a new environment) and some inspiration from the work of the child psychologist, Piaget, who is most famous for his theory of object permanence. This is the notion that objects do not cease to exist when we stop seeing them. (Turns out we’re not born with that knowledge, rather, it develops around the ages of 8 to 12 months.) Last, throw in a dash of probability theory — nothing that couldn’t be handled by some solid middle-school math — and you’re off to the races.
Omaps also happen to lend themselves to some pretty visuals, and a good part of the talk was devoted to the topic of how we render our pretty telepathic red glows.
If any of this sounds interesting to the more cranially ovoid among you, you can check out the slides from the presentation here.
Finally, I had a wonderful time sharing the stage on Thursday evening for a panel on AI, games research and “playable experiences” with an incredible group of people, including two of my personal heros, Michael Mateas (of Facade fame) and Richard Evans (of Black & White, Sims 3 and Versu fame). There we got to chew the fat on the future of AI, the difference between “perceived coolness” and “actual coolness” and the absolutely reDONKulous amount of work that goes into taking a game from “tech demo” to “shippable”.
Overall a great time.
What’s that you say? When is Third Eye Crime coming out?
Why does everyone keep asking me that?
Hey Internet —
Thought you might be curious about how we create levels for Third Eye Crime. This video condenses two and a half hours of creating a single level into about 7 minutes.
Destined for Chapter 5 (“The Hall of Records”), this level serves as a reinforcement for the “proximity door” object introduced in the level prior to this one. Proximity doors are simply doors that open when you get near them. Turns out they enable some interesting behavior.
In the first part, representing the first two hours (four minutes in the video) you can see the designer iterating on the basic level layout, playing with different configurations of space, characters and objects. Remember, the agenda was just “do something cool with prox doors”, so you can see them trying out a lot of different ideas, looking for something clever and fun.
In the second part, the level is skinned using the “Hall of Records” template. The end result is a level that is nominally shippable.
So is this level DONE done? Well, in reality it has a few more steps to go through. I have done some of the levels that you will play in the game, but the bulk of them were done by our lead level guy, Christian. The next step for this level will be for Christian to review it, make sure it’s as tight and interesting as it could be, and also make sure that it abides by certain layout conventions that we follow in the rest of the game (make sure it has standard corridor widths, and stuff like that). Then he will pass it on to Vicki, our level artist. The level as you see at the end of the video has “first pass” art. She will take it and lay on some aesthetic polish, basically taking it to its final “shipping” state.
Oh, and another possible outcome: it could just get cut!
The Two Methods
I don’t know if you are surprised by the amount of iteration that you see in the video, or the lopsided design/art breakdown (2 hrs vs. half an hour), but let me tell you: we were! None of us have ever worked on an AI-based puzzle game (has anyone?) but it has turned out to be a more finicky process than any of us expected.
In fairness: there are really two general methods by which we create levels: let’s call them “intelligent design” and “evolution”.
With “intelligent design”, we have a very clear idea of a particular mechanism we want the player to use in order to solve a puzzle. An example might be “the player needs to use a slow guard to block a sniper”. With that in mind, setting up such a situation is usually fairly quick, and most of the iteration focuses on ensuring that other solution methods do NOT work.
With “evolutionary” levels, we start — as in this case — with only broad ideas of what the level should be: “do something with proximity doors”. Often we get those broad outlines from looking at the level spreadsheet, and noticing holes in the progression. In this case, we noticed that proximity doors are introduced at the beginning of chapter 5, but then never really were the focus of any subsequent levels. That’s a hole in the progression, and so this level was born.
With evolutionary levels, we really just iterate and iterate and iterate, discovering cool behavior or spatial features along the way, and in the end, hopefully, come up with something interesting and fun. And of course a lot of times the ideas that come out of those levels find there way into others.
TL;DR: Level design is hard.
Hope you like the video!
No, Internet, your eyes do not deceive you. Yes, we’ve got updates for you.
Once again we are remiss in having, as they say, “dropped off the face of the earth,” and having left you, dear Internet, with that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach. “Are they okay,” we know you were asking, as you gazed anxiously out your window onto the apple orchard below, you and the trees bathed together in a luminous orange glow from the setting sun. At least … that’s how we pictured you.
Yes, we’re okay, Internet (you sentimental goof), and Third Eye Crime is getting better every single day. Fact is, we are (a) perfectionists and (b) horrible at estimating dates. So when we say “it’ll ship when it’s ready”, we really mean we are physiologically incapable of submitting a build to the App Store until we have worn our fingers to bleeding from polishing.
So no, we have not actually dropped off the face of the Earth. We were merely making a game we’re really proud of.
And the good news is that we are close to the end. In fact we recently reached — and quickly surpassed — the magical 100 level threshold, our definition for “sufficient content”. That puts us in the great position of being able to throw out any levels that are merely “good.” By God, our game is going to be pure uncut “awesome.”
So yes. Nearly There ™.
We will have much more to say about the game, more footage to share, more behind the scenes and more chances to see the game in the coming weeks. But for now, we wanted to tell you about a special event which we will be taking part in this coming weekend: The Boston Festival of Indie Games! If you are in the area, come by and see all the great stuff that is happening in the Boston Indie community. We will be on hand showing off Third Eye Crime, so visit us and check it out.
Hi Internet, Moonshot Mission Control here.
Well that was a whirlwind!
After 3 days of showing off Third Eye Crime at PAX East as part of the Indie Showcase, the crew jumped on a plane to sunny (foggy) San Francisco to take part in GDC 2013. Christian and Damian gave a talk there on — you guessed it — the AI of Third Eye Crime, and there was a ton of meeting friends old and new and showing off the game to everyone we could.
Now that we’re back in sunny (freezing) Boston, the crew has taken what can only be described as a collective breath of relief. Pax EAST marked the first time we were showing Third Eye Crime in any kind of public way, let alone to the press, and we’re pretty psyched to report that the reception has been awesomely positive. After the breath of relief, we follow with a throat-clearing of resolve — resolve to finish the game, and get it into the hands of you, the Internet, as soon as possible.
We thought we’d take the opportunity to share with you a selection of the cool things people have said/written about the game in the past couple weeks:
You Have to See Third Eye Crime — Touch Arcade
[Video!] 15-minute walkthrough of Third Eye Crime.
Highlight: Brad and Damian use the word “puzzle” as a verb.
Third Eye Crime – Losing Two Whole Years — Armless Octopus
Highlight: “Completing the demo was an absolutely rewarding experience that took me the better part of an hour, and it stands as the first iPad game I’ve ever actively awaited.”
From Halo to Bioshock Infinite to … Third Eye Crime — Giant Bomb
[Audio!] Interview with Damian on the origins and design of Third Eye Crime
Highlight: Damian takes credit for basically the entire Bioshock series.
Third Eye Crime Combines a Stealth Game with a Psychic Twist — TUAW
Highlight: “I saw quite a few really terrific indie games at GDC last week, but Third Eye Crime was one of my favorites on iOS.”
Be on the Lookout for Third Eye Crime — Apple’N'Apps
Highlight: “It’s a new twist on stealth games that pits you as an art thief who has a special ability to read minds. The end result is a game that combines stealth with an action puzzle style as you don’t simply avoid enemies, and instead you need to outthink them on the go.”
Interview with Moonshot Games’ Damian Isla — Darkstation
Highlight: Wait, who’s Jessica Rabbit?
That’s it for now, Internet. More is on the way.
Internet, forgive us. We know: we’ve owed you a 3eC trailer for quite some time now.
Well, here it is.
See you at PAX East, everybody!
Since announcing our new game, Third Eye Crime, we’ve gotten one question with some frequency. “Yes, 3eC sounds life-changingly amazing, and I will definitely be buying it. But what ever happened to Fallen Frontier?”
Glad you asked. Our friends at Joystiq asked as well, and a little while ago they posted a story on just that topic.
You can read about our “mobile resurrection” here.
I want to add just one thing to what they said: when we were starting Moonshot, we talked a lot about our ideal project scale. Remember, we had all just been working on fairly massive, 3-year, 200+ person AAA stuff. And those games can be amazing. But with Moonshot we wanted to do something different. We wanted to be small. I approximated it as “5 people working for a year.”
Here’s why that’s an interesting scale: it’s enough people that you can extract truly high quality work form a variety of specialists. It’s few enough that decisions can still be bold, and be taken quickly, and there’s no politics. A year is long enough to do something substantial. But it’s short enough to put the fear of God in you, and force you to make hard decisions, and impose the kinds of temporal constraints that ultimately lead to a much greater final product.
For various reason, Fallen Frontier had grown larger then our ideal project size — mostly because games in the console download space itself had grown larger and more elaborate. Between then and now, something happened: we became convinced that really great and deep gameplay experiences could be had on the mobile platforms, especially tablet.
And that’s how we come to Third Eye Crime. A game that is, in the end, far closer to our ideal project than anything we’ve worked on before.