Gubble Development starting yet again

It’s been a while.  Gubble was first developed in  1996 and 1997, then again in 2006 – 2007, then the mobile versions came in about 2010, more or less.  After almost 20 years, it’s definitely time to overhaul Gubble in a major way, so here’s the plan.

I’m going to use Unity to rewrite the entire game as well as Gubedit, the level editor.  All the 3D models are getting remade in Blender.  The game itself will be the same, at least in classic mode.  The remake mode will be incredibly different, mainly because the old-style game is very much in need of a modern kick in pod.  The audio is really the only thing that’ll be untouched except the music files will be high-quality MP3’s instead of MIDI files.

Development Screenshot G15 001

Unity G15 001


On occasion I’ll be posting screenshots in this blog and write about my trials and tribulations.  Above is the very first screenshot.  It’s basically the same thing I made when I first developed Crystal Castles at Atari in the spring of 1982.  Wow, that was 32 years ago!

It’s a bit different now, but ultimately it amounts to the same thing.  Build a world, make it interactive, add some scoring to make it into a game, then play it a lot to find out if it’s fun.


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Review of Joe Larson’s “3D Printing Blueprints”

If you’re like me, you have an interest in 3D printing but haven’t gotten around to actually geeting your hands dirty and creating a 3D print yourself.  Joe Larson’s “3D Printing Blueprints” is a great way to get started. The book is available at Packt here. You don’t even need to own a 3D printer, just a computer with the free, open source Blender installed, and you’re ready to go.

Blender can be a daunting piece of software and it does take some time to get used to its quirky interface. Fortunately Joe Larson provides a gentle introduction to newbies so you can get started right away. The book is written in the “blueprints” style where each chapter is a 3D print project ranging from beginner to advanced, from a mug to a teddy bear figurine.

Once your 3D model is created and ready for printing you can send it to one of the many service companies for printing, or you can print it yourself if you own a 3D printer. The cost of making small prints really depends on the size of the print and the materials used in printing, but you can get started for under $2 if you shop around.  As they used to say (I’m showing my age here) your milage may vary.

I do have an ulterior motive in reviewing this book. My company is in the midst of developing the next Gubble game, and as it so happens we’re using Blender for all of our 3D modeling. So it’s only natural that I’d want to take some of the Gubble 3D models from Gubble and try to print them with a 3D printer.

The most important part of the book for beginners like me is a very clear and well-illustrated section on how 3D printing works and what it can and can’t do. You’ll have to read the first chapter yourself for all the details, but basically, to quote the book from page 8: “When designing for supportless printing the rules are simple: Y prints, H prints okay, T does not print well.” The basic reason for this is this: 3D prints are deposited from the ground up, so you can’t just create something floating in space and expect it to stay there.
Armed with this new-found knowledge I selected the gear from the Gubble character models and decided to use it as a first test. Amazingly, all I had to do is take the 3D blender model, scale it up by a sufficiently large amount, and then export it to .stl format.

Then came the fun part.  I found a local and inexpensive printer using All I had to do is upload the stl file and I instantly got dozens of price quotes, some of them quite reasonable. Here is a photo of the result:

Picture of me holding the gear

3D Print in white plastic of Gubble Gear, no red center



As you can see, it’s pretty basic, just one color, and small. But it’s a great start and quite a fun experience to see my very own creation from 1996 printed in real plastic some seventeen years later.

The blueprint chapters in the book are very well written and are easy to follow.  Just do the steps and pretty soon you’ll have a 3d model ready for printing. Then, you can get creative and make your own modifications very easily in Blender.

The Face Illusion Vase in chapter 3 is particularly fun.  You can take a photo of yourself or a loved one and create an ordinary looking vase.  But, it’s far from ordinary because if you look carefully at the vase from the side you’ll recognize the outline of the face baked into the shape. This chapter teaches how to use a reference image to model a unique 3D mesh, ideal for 3D printing.

“3D Printing Blueprints” is a great all-around introduction to 3D printing and serves both as a series of tutorials for creating your own 3D prints and as a useful reference to have on hand for your future 3D printing projects.

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Gubble 3D printing

I just got a chance to review a new book about 3D printing using Blender by Joe Larson: 3D Printing Blueprints . This got me to thinking…

It sure would be fun to make some 3D prints of Gubble characters. Gubble D Gleep himself is a real challenge with his complicated 3D geometry, but the gears or the robots would make a great experiment. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. The next step will be to make 3D-printable versions of the meshes in Blender and printing them.

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This blog has been in limbo for too long. Time to for a revival.
Look for some interesting posts in the near future — Franz

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Review of Gordon Fisher’s “Blender 3D basics”

So I thought I knew Blender pretty well, with some gaps, of course. Then I got a chance to review Gordon Fisher’s “Blender 3D Basics: The complete novice’s guide to 3D modeling and animation”. In summary, this is a great book and definitely lives up to the billing as the best starter guide for complete newcomers to 3D modeling and animation. Having seen quite a few Blender books, video tutorials, and written documentation, I’d have to say that working through this book is the best first step before going on to other more advanced topics.

I’ll even go further and recommend this book to somewhat more experienced Blender users such as myself. Blender isn’t exactly easy to learn on your own, so this book is a great way to tackle the initial learning curve.

As an indie game developer, programmer, artist and musician, this book is a great resource both for improving my Blender skills and also for learning some great things about 3D graphics and animation.

Blender’s user interface isn’t exactly standard. It’s famous for driving people nuts and stumping newcomers. Version 2.6 is a vast improvement over the earlier 2.4 versions, but it’s still a bit wonky. On the other hand, the user interface is very keyboard oriented, which is just how I like it. There’s just the slight problem of learning the keys and enough of the basics to learn the rest on your own.

This isn’t some cursory review. I actually worked through the first 330 pages of this 430 page book. I plan to work through the rest in the coming weeks, but I thought that I’d share my impressions so far.

The step-by-step approach of the book is great. Just follow the steps and slowly but surely you’ll learn how to use Blender. Anyone can do it. There’s no artistic talent required, just an eye for detail. The downside of this way of learning is that if you happen to skip a step or do something slightly differently you might find yourself looking at something very different from the screenshots a few steps later. Never fear, the author did a really great job providing a whole bunch of .blend files to load to get you back on track.

The whole experience of working through the steps was truly educational for me, as I’m sure it will be for you as well. My only real criticism is that on occasion I felt that I would have liked an explanation of the steps as I was doing them rather than in the “What just happened” section after completing the section.

Technically, this book is pretty good, though it’s not perfect. There are a few typos and, strangely, the occasional confusion of RMB and LMB (right mouse button and left mouse button). In Blender you select layers with LMB, but the book instructs you to use the RMB I a few places. Not a big deal, really. Also, a few of the screen shots don’t match exactly what I was seeing when working through the steps, but over 95% of the time they were right on. In all cases I was able to work through the steps and follow along.

In conclusion, this is a great book and definitely worth you while if you’re interested in learning the basics of Blender 2.63, 3D modeling, and a little bit of animation.

P.S.  Here is a link to the book at Packt Publishing:



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GDC 2012

Well, after a long break I’m back exploring the game industry. As always, GDC is really great. I’ve got several projects swirling around in my head, so I can’t wait to get back to my computer and start developing.

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California Extreme

It’s that time of year again when hundreds of classic arcade games and pinball machines congregate at California Extreme.  If you’re a fan and you’re in the Bay Area this weekend (July 9 and 10, 2011),  you should definitely check it out.  I’ll even be there on the “Tips and Tricks” panel giving tips on how to play Xevious.  Then I’ll try to live up to my expert status by participating in the Xevious tournament.  I’m not expecting to win,  but maybe I can win back my entry fee…

I’ve attended this great event for many years now and it never fails to bring a wave of nostalgia,  not to mention good old fashioned arcade action.  Where else can you go to play Quantum,  Crazy Climber and Major Havok?  There’s even my very own Crystal Castles there or two.

The weird thing about the old arcade games is that they’re very similar to today’s $0.99 iPhone games.   Even the cost is similar,  except that you get to own the iPhone games and play them over and over again for free,  whereas those old arcade games needed a continuous stream of quarters (about a dollar of today’s money).

The truly great classic arcade games and today’s iPhone hits have another thing in common:  they grab you right away.   You’d better be having fun within a minute or two,  because you’ll be seeing “Game Over”  after three minutes.  There’s just no time for messing around with complicated instructions on how to play,  memorizing what all the buttons do, etc.

The reason today’s iPhone games are quick is that people just don’t have the time play some long game while waiting for a bus,  but the resulting game designs are similar.  So if you’re a mobile game designer,  take another look at the classic arcade games,  you might learn a thing or two.

Hope to see you at CAX this weekend.   And if you see the initials FXL on some machine there,  well,  that’s me,  still playing games and entering my initials after all these years.


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Loot Drop here I go

That’s right,  my stint at Loot Drop has come to an end after five weeks.  If you’re thinking, “did they fire him?”,  you’re thinking along the right lines.  Why did they fire me?  Hmm, the official reasons in my termination letter include that I wasn’t good enough and that I asked too many questions.  Unofficially,  I was probably too blunt when criticizing my new bosses,  something that I’ve always been guilty of.  So I guess my career as a game programmer has come to an ignominious end.  Who would hire me now?

Fortunately I can still hire myself, so it’s back to doing independent game development, and no,  I’m not touching facebook game development,  at least not the way things stand right now as of mid-2011.

Why,  what’s so bad about facebook game development?  Just think of the money!

I’ll tell you what’s bad,  these things aren’t fun to play,  at least not for me.  Call me antisocial,  but I prefer the single-player fun games like the Halos, Mass Effects and Donkey Kong Country returns.  Farmville?  no thanks.  And I’ve even been known to grow tomatoes, strawberries and chives,  but in the real world where I can taste the fruits of my labors.

The worst part though is spammy feeling that pervades these games.  I hate spam.   I’m not going to subject my friends to a continuous barrage of spam about which games I’m playing.  The whole focus is on the “friend grind”,  getting your friends to play this “game”, if you can call it that,  and then their friends, etc.  Sounds like a pyramid scheme,  and we old-timers all know what happens to pyramid schemes: they collapse into a heap of misery and broken dreams when they run out of victims.

A rather bizarre thing for me was seeing my baby,  the isometric game,  still flourishing on facebook,  and all I could see is the technological backwardness of it.  Why are we trying to do fake 3D when real 3D games built with real 3D engines are so easy to develop now,  even for cheap phones?

Even weirder is the monetization aspects of facebook games.  Did you know that only 2 percent of all players actually pay,  and paying players spend an average of $100 per game?  The developers aim at extracting as much money from the few and the rich.  It doesn’t really matter what the other 98% are experiencing,  because they don’t pay.

And so concludes yet another rant,  hopefully the last one for a while.



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Loot Drop here I come

That’s right,  I’m now working at Loot Drop,  John Romero and Brenda Brathwaite’s new company.  I’m diving in at the deep end into facebook gaming, flash, actionscript and switching from Windows to Mac.  It’s quite a change for me,  but it’s stimulating and exciting.

Actual Entertainment will be a side-business for me from now on.  Gubble is still selling,  and Fatjumper development will have to take a bit longer.

I’m particularly pleased to see that John Romero saw to it that Ravenwood Fair actually had developer credits.  Apparently the entire facebook game industry is not doing developer credits.  Which is very sad indeed.  Zynga, WTF! Even John had to put the credits into an easter egg king of thing,  where you have to type “credits” to see them.

My opinion,  which is entirely my own and not necessarily that of my new employer,  is that developer credits should be present in all forms of gaming,  social, console, pc, handheld, even board games.  Furthermore,  they should be easily and clearly accessible by the public, not hidden somewhere.  A third point,  is that credits should persist across ports to other platforms, languages and territories.  And lastly,  the employment status of the developers shouldn’t disqualify them from getting credit.  I’ve been personally bit by companies who didn’t give me credit in these situations,  so I hope that current and future generations of developers will stand up and protest loudly when they are denied credit.

Whereas Mobygames and IMBD try to build game credits databases, these databases are sometimes incomplete or inaccurate,  especially when it comes to games which have no built-in credits.  It’s great that these attempts have been made,  and I wish that a database of the same quality and completeness as IMDB for movies will someday exist for games.

Oh well, enough ranting for one day.  Can you tell that I’ve had a long day of coding and fighting my computer?


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Red Dead Redemption 100 percent

Man,  that took a while.  Yes I got 100 percent on Red Dead Redemption.  Now I’m done and moving on to Portal 2.

RDR is a great game,  but it sure is a bit too violent for my taste.  I feel like the sandbox aspect is lost when you have this goal of getting 100 percent.  You basically have a list of things to do and they interact with each other a little bit,  but basically you do them and then you’re done.

So basically,  I’ve been playing this game and learning Blender and Unity the last two months.  It’s amazing how time can just disappear if you let it happen.  No regrets,  but it’s time to get back to creating something.

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