in Games

When artists make games…


Amazing things will happen. For the past few months I’ve been working with an incredible gallery here in Minneapolis, Light Grey Art Lab, on a top secret game project. Today, they just opened the call for art for “Dream Arcade.” Artists in their collective will start to sketch out their game ideas and to contribute to the Dream Arcade exhibition.

How does a code geek like you meet cool artists?

I met the folks who run Light Grey when Lindsay Nohl, their founder, gave a talk on some of the amazing projects they’ve done in their short two-years of existence. They’ve done exhibitions on everything, from spooky paper art, to whimsical local landscapes, to a geeky fantasy role playing card game.

What stood out to me, besides the great artists that they are able to draw for their exhibitions, is their ability to find a way to tie the whole story together into a cohesive event.

"Palacio de Cristal"  by Lauren Airriess
“Palacio de Cristal” by Lauren Airriess from the IN PLACE exhibition

ROLEMODELS exhibition with 99 unique playing cards

"Camp Beaver Lake" by Manuel Kilger
“Camp Beaver Lake” by Manuel Kilger from the GREAT PERSONALITY exhibition

NIGHT OF THE EXQUISITE CORPSE paper art exhibition

What are the games going to be like?


The core game type is of the side-scrolling platformer variety…think Mario, Mega Man X. But the elements of each game will depend on what each of the artists comes up with. Over the past few months we’ve been working on the core game components from player behavior, to test levels and enemy types. Additionally, we’ve been working on ways to wrap up all of the per-level game assets in a way that each artist can replace them and still have a great game.

I love that I’m just the code monkey in the project, as Light Grey and each of the artists who submit, have total creative freedom to take the game where they want it.

What’s under the hood?



For maximum flexibility we decided to go with HTML5. This way we can have a game that could work on any platform, and also work in the browser. HTML also happens to be my platform du jour, but if I was making the decision again, I may have considered Unity now that I have experience in it, and they are supporting plugin-free gaming with WebGL export in Unity5.

Ludus.js and Jaws.js

As a starting point, I built off of the amazing open source WootStudio Platformer Starter Kit. It employs a simple platformer harness called Ludus.js which is a wrapper of the Jaws.js game sprite and state libraries. Using an open source starter kit is key, so we have the ability to push and extend beyond the basic capabilities of the starter kit. From new enemy types, to new game states and transitions.

Tiled terrain map editor

Chris at Light Grey is designing all the levels using Tiled, a terrain map editor that lets you export level data to JSON that can be imported into the game. Tiled is a super flexible editor, not only useful for platformers. It’s worth checking out if you’re doing any level design.

Why Windows?

Light Grey Art Lab is going to release all thirty mini-games and the completed full game on the Windows Store. By submitting them to an app ecosystem like Windows, they’re opening up the games to be discovered and played by casual gamers who may have never played a game in their web browser or engaged with an art gallery before.

Windows is a great first option because Windows and Windows Phone natively support HTML5 apps, so I can literally drag and drop all of the game code between the Windows game project and the web site without having to deal with a web browser control. Windows also does a great job of keeping the game running at 60fps, even on low-CPU spec devices like the original Surface tablet. Finally with over 200,000,000 Windows 8 Phones, Tablets, Laptops and Desktops there is great potential reach for their games.

But of course, since it’s HTML5 they can always wrap the game in an web browser control on iOS and Android to increase their reach to more tablets. Or even us something like PhoneGap or Cordova to package it up.

What’s next

Watch for submissions and updates on the Dream Arcade exhibition. Between now and September you’ll start to see the games start to take shape! If you’re an HTML5 game developer, definitely check out the Platformer Starter Kit to see what is possible.

My goal as a technical evangelist is to help folks be successful on the Windows Platform. Whether that be helping a wizard dev build killer app on Windows Phone, or a group of artists build 30 games without. If you want to make apps or games too, reach out to me…I can help. @dwcares

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