Game Engine Investigations

I’ve always been interested in game development. Some of the first code I ever wrote was typing BASIC game listings out of books into my BBC Micro and modifying them to fit my own ideas. Then came Windows 3.1 and countless hours noodling around with Klik N Play, followed by DarkBASIC on Windows 95 or 98.

Ten years ago I entered the popular Ludum Dare game jam (creating a game in just 48 or 72 hours). I made a tiny Indiana Jones-esque temple escape game called Daring Do, which unfortunately isn’t playable today as I used ActionScript and Flash as my technologies of choice and we all know how that ended up. Nonetheless, I ranked #16 out of 90 entries which I don’t think was too bad as my first ‘proper’ effect.

Recently I’ve wanted to get back into doing some game dev as a hobby. I’m only really interested in 2D right now as it’s just where I have more interest. I’ve dabbled with Unity a couple of times in the past but I’ve never built anything of much substance, so I’ve decided to spend a couple of weeks getting to know what’s possible with some of the most popular game engines out there today:

I’m planning to take up to a week getting to know the basics of each engine, then build a very small 2D platformer – which can literally just be one or two screens. At the least I’d like to get an understanding of:

  • How good their 2D support is (and in particular pixel art support)
  • Creating a basic character controller
  • Importing assets, creating tilemaps, and animating sprites
  • Scripting and communicating between different components
  • Support for effects like 2D lighting, shaders, and particle effects

This first week I’ve been looking at Godot, and I’ve really been loving it so far. More soon!

Four Great Games

Here are four games I played recently that I really enjoyed. Two short, two longer.

A Short Hike

Banner showing the logo of the game A Short Hike, and the main character (a bird) looking up into the distance

A Short Hike is a small and delightful game in which you hike to the top of Hawk Peak provincial park. Follow the trails or go off the beaten track, meet other hikers, find some collectables, and just unwind for a couple of hours.

It has really charming 3DS-style low resolution graphics and a fantastic chilled out soundtrack. A lovely little experience!

Lonely Mountains: Downhill

Lonely Mountains: Downhill bears some similarities to A Short Hike: it’s a quiet experience where you make your way down a variety of picturesque mountain trails. Only this time, you’re on a bike. There’s no music – the only sounds that accompany you are the sounds of nature and your bike carving across the terrain.

The difficulty curve is really well done. Your first time on each trail, you just have to get to the bottom of the mountain. Then, you might have to do the same trail but with a time limit, or a limited number of crashes (and you will crash a lot). Then an even tighter time limit or even fewer crashes. For each challenge you complete you’ll unlock extra bike parts, trails, and mountains. As you get to know each mountain you’ll find extra routes to take to shave seconds off your time and you’ll get more confident with the fantastic controls.

Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds (not to be confused with The Outer Worlds, which came out around the same time) took a little while to grab me, but once I got into it I was captivated. It’s now easily one of my favourite games that I’ve ever played.

You play as the latest astronaut to join Outer Wilds Ventures, a budding space agency on the small planet of Timber Hearth. You climb into your rickety wooden spaceship and jet off into space. There’s no mission given to you and it’s up you to explore the solar system however you like. You could visit Brittle Hollow; a crumbling planet with a black hole at its center, Giant’s Deep; an ocean planet covered in perpetual storms, or perhaps the Hourglass Twins; a pair of planets that orbit one another as sand pours from the desert of one onto the rocky landscape of the other. As you travel, you’ll uncover the history of the Nomai – an ancient raced who lived here before you, hundreds of thousands of years ago.

And then, 22 minutes after you set out, the sun explodes. You wake up back at the start of the game, ready to set out on your maiden voyage. 22 minutes later, the sun will explode again. You’re stuck in a time loop, and you’re the only one who knows it’s happening. Your leisurely wandering suddenly takes on more meaning: can you uncover the secrets of the solar system, and find out why the sun is exploding and your day keeps repeating itself?

I don’t really want to share much more, as the whole joy of the game is in the discoveries you make along the way. However I will say that the ending of Outer Wilds is an experience will stay with me forever.

If you want to get a taste for what Outer Wilds is like, this 10 minute walkthrough from the game’s Creative Director gives you a good idea without giving away too much.


Finally, Control is an action game set inside The Oldest House, a building that warps time and space which is home to the Federal Bureau of Control – a branch of government tasked with investigating the paranormal and the unexplained.

As you enter the building, you discover that it’s been invaded by a hostile force. It’s up to you to learn the build’s secrets, find out exactly what the Bureau has been up to, and to take back control. Along the way you pick up a very satisfying array of paranormal activities such as levitation and telekenesis. By the end of the game, you feel like a complete badass. There’s one particular late-game sequence that really lets you show off your skills and it’s one of the best set pieces I’ve ever played in a game.