So, in my life there are at least a few times where things didn’t reach their full potential;
Pokemon Go is pretty popular (at this moment, it is more popular than twitter, and some reports are even saying it’s getting used more than facebook). When I first heard about the game, and even its predecessor (Ingress, Niantic’s previous game), I thought “that’s cool…but hey that’s like my game”….
Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I am not in anyway trying to say “I had this idea first, I am grumpy because I should be rich” or “I had this idea first therefore I am great”, not by any stretch, I am sure I wasn’t the first to have an idea like Pokemon Go, I (like many other people) just didn’t build it.
First let’s look at the game I wanted to make, it will be a long story, that starts way back in 2010 (it may have even been 2009) when I started designing the game. While working at Lucasarts I saw the farmville craze and couldn’t understand why our company wasn’t taking advantage of this kind of market on both facebook and mobile. So I came up with a game pitch in my own time (it was called “Star Wars: colonies”) that you could play on Facebook and on your phone, and depending on how you started your game you could either play in any of three game styles, pick a Farmer to play Farmville, bounty hunter to play something more akin to Xcom, or a Pilot to play a space RTS/Logistics/Trading game. While all three felt like different games they were actually the same game with three entry points. your character choice simply dictated the section of the game you would be exposed to first.
It was also multiplayer, so a one player could enlist the help of another and pay them for their time. For example. my farm might come under attack from another player who is fulfilling a randomly generated mission (steal 3 Banthas or whatever). not wanting to lose those Banthas I woud have a short period of time to put up a ransom for other players to help defend my farm (along with the auto turrets and things I had already built to protect myself). If someone wanted to earn the ransom for helping protect my farm, that player would come in and play a multiplayer game of XCom in my level…so two players I have never met fighting in my farm…which is still a pretty cool idea…On top of that there was a space trading game, you could build fleets of spaceships and run deliveries for the farmers, or fly bounty hunters around the galaxy (or maybe you see a planet with an order for 3 Banthas, so you would then generate the mission above by offering a job for bounty random hunters).
If you didn’t get the bounty hunter to the right space in time, or failed to deliver the blue milk before it expired you wouldn’t get paid for the job. You could also set up pirate fleets to add to the AI pirates, and leave them stationed on popular space routes. What was also cool was that a farmer could buy a spaceship, build up a band of bounty hunter friends, in just the same way that a Pilot could save their money and buy a small farm…eventually you could in theory run all three career paths yourself…but that would probably be pretty hard core. I still think it’s a cool as shit game design…but the scope of it is kind of big! and without the Star Wars franchise it might be a hard sell.
Further Developments at the Corporation:
What made this interesting was that Paul Meegan became our new president at some point after I had pitched this design to my boss in Singapore. Paul was in the USA planning the future for the company, while we were filling our time with various things a lot of which were bundled under the title of “training”. When the plan was eventually unveiled to us, it was interestingly similar to what I had already designed, a space trading game, an FPS, a strategy game, and a Farmville game…all separate titles on different platforms that would somehow link together. In no way had my design influenced him, I am sure he had no idea who I was, and certainly didn’t appear to have much interest in the input of people like me (in his defence it was a big company, so it would probably be impossible to give everyone a voice – as it would slow down an already slow and very very expensive process).
The colonies concept was lost/ignored, and Lucasarts Singapore may or “may not” have got started on the Farmville portion of the above (See I am tryin to stick to my NDA). I was not involved in this project, (Kotaku Reveals Outpost).
There was a problem in that the details of how the games were going to link together were never really figured out, and the fact that their launch dates would be so important to each other meant that each game became a dependency to the other, as schedules went all over the place the games eventually broke off, and the idea of them being interlinked also got cut.
I was working on all kinds of other things, but did try to pitch a version of the strategy game, which was kind of a fun challenge to design…how to make an RTS based on what was happening in an FPS, I think the high level was that you were supposed to manage the battlefield from your phone and help the players in the FPS, but that made it feel like a companion app, I was more interested in making it a game…so you would have your squads, which would be small representations of parties from the FPS, you could select parties and favourite them, so this was a bit like building a deck in a card battle game – you would try to build your squads from the worlds best players….these squads would then fight other squads (really very slowly) and the kill death ratios in the FPS would determine which squads won and lost in the RTS. There were some little design things to make it so it wouldn’t stop working when players weren’t playing. Because the games had to feed into each other if you were being used in squads in the RTS, you got extra XP and stuff…but that was hard to figure out because the FPS didn’t really have it’s meta-game systems figured out at that point.
So yeah, getting back to the point! I carried on with the space trading design, and updated it (still in 2010) to become a standalone 4X game, with a GPS feature, looking back at my design doc it says “This is the Killer Feature!” directly above the description for what is essentially Pokemon go / Ingress.
So you would earn resources to build your space fleet (either in the single player game or from holding real world Galaxies). You would then walk around and go to Dimensional portals, here you would send your spaceships through to do battle…you wouldn’t know what was on the other side, you would just know who owned that galaxy. If your fleet was stronger they would be defeated and you would take the galaxy, otherwise you might just damage them.
owning a galaxy earns resources, if you are attacked you get a push notifications and can reinforce the galaxy. Every time a galaxy changes owners its resource generation output would be increased, making huge hot spots that people want to fight over….I remember speaking to my boss and mentioning that special spots like “McDonalds” and “Starbucks” could become sponsored galaxies, and would automatically have higher values than other galaxies around them, cause people to come to their stores! (just like McDonalds an Pokemon Go) finally I had the plan for AR, but it seemed tricky, because I wanted to hold my phone up in McDonalds and see peoples fleets flying though the sky and entering the battle…getting peoples real world positions (so things spawn from their hands) would be super hard, and probably not worth the effort, so rather than do something half baked I thought we should probably leave the AR bit for later. (I think the AR in pokemon is little more than a gimmick). While my design doesn’t have collecting, it had research trees instead, and more co-operative elements which promotes deeper social play (something missing in the current version of Pokemon Go). It also had star wars as a franchise…and a few other cool innovations here and there. So I never imagined it would be super huge, but I thought it would have been a fun and innovative game. Like so many things at big companies, it was just brushed aside and left under a pile of virtual files to collect dust.
So what is my point in this post? I think ideas are not the core of everything, acting on them is a lot more important, I am sure 1000 people have had the same idea, maybe they even had a go at making it! Niantic had the funding, and the brand to make pokemon go a success. The execution of their game is actually not all that great, and they are missing a lot of core features that would make it substantially better. I don’t really understand how it cost 30 million to build their company and publish 3 products, it seems like something that could be done for a fraction of the cost…but still a high cost none the less.
So in short, I missed out on making my own Pokemon Go, because of many factors, none of which I could reasonably expected to have overcome. I could never have made that game because I never had the opportunity, people or the funding, and as I have learned from running my own company, chasing funding takes so much time, I may as well just not do it and just get on with making things appear on screen. Does the success of Pokemon Go it piss me off? not at all, it makes me feel more confident in my other ideas. I had long ago given up on making that game, (despite redesigning it under a new name and new theme), it was just another title in the backlog of “things I will make one day”. Much like I would happily go back and make the farmville/spacetrader/bountyhunter game one of these days!
I could get more stuck up my own ass by talking about the “Kenner Star Wars” pitch/prototype that I developed over a year before skylanders and 3 years before Disney Infinity. A project with a toys to life spin that was stopped after gaining a lot of momentum. At an important meeting on the road to greenlight any hopes of making it were crushed by a person who said something along the lines of “I don’t really get it, I never played with toys growing up, so I don’t understand why people collect toys”. I wish I could share the video of that game…it was the most killer pitch I ever put together (I don’t have it).
So, I guess the only thing that scares me is that our game “Pixona” is probably the best idea I have had for a game…and just like Pokemon Go, or even the Toys-To-Life genre, I am sure many people out there have had the same idea! we have been sitting on Pixona for 3 years, we even own the US trademark! The problem is, we never get our heads high enough above water to make it. Let’s hope that our next game, get’s us the breathing room to step back and make Pixona, something we believe can have a real impact on the people who play it, and give them a new way of playing games. (even if someone else makes it, I guess our execution will be very unique and special…but still I don’t want to be in a secondary position)
After that maybe I will get round to the other crazy ideas I have like fixing the record industry with a new media format, or making a platform for crowd sourcing/game dev unlike anything else out there…I guess it’s good to aim big, but if you don’t ever get to try these things it can lead to a life of disappointment.
So we have something worth celebrating! Campaign clicker has been downloaded over quarter of a million times! Which means that collectively our games have been downloaded over 5 million times!
That’s a very big number, I can skim through some other things:
All our games are rated above 4, (Campaign clicker is currently rocking a 4.2 daily average votes, although its overall is only 4.0 on google play…so hopefully it will go up over time, but, it is my lowest rated game). So in general people like our games which is nice.
Excluded from these figures: Tiny Dice Dungeon has 453,577 plays on Kongregate.com, which is pretty cool.
Steam wasn’t counted, but Hiragana Pixel Party has been purchased 380 times, with code activations bringing it up to 594 units. Which is low, but being frank I never expected much action from steam, our future products should be more mainstream.
Yes remember we tried one? – it failed badly.
We released 2 games on 3DS, we can’t share the figures….its a lot more than steam, but a lot less than we might hope for.
I heard a rumour that we were the first developer in Singapore to get dev kits! and what have we done with them!? we got Hiragana Pixel Party up and running….but haven’t taken it over the finish line….
We finished Space Lift on the Vita, it just needs achievements and a bit of balancing. I want to finish it, but we don’t currently have any dev kits.
Off the top of my head I can think of 11 games that have been made as prototypes, or are currently in development! which is way too many, so we have decided to focus on finishing some in the near future!
Hopefully we will carry on making things that make people happy.
As we close in on having more players than the entire population of Singapore, I guess I need a new target. 64 million players….the entire population of the UK! – which seems totally impossible to me at the moment. However, if you had asked me 3 years ago to pick an impossible number for my games, I would have said that getting enough downloads for the entire population of Singapore would be kind of impossible.
So let’s think about the next 59 Million! – if we never get them, that’s fine! As really making games is all that actually matters!
To waste your lives and mine, we will try to illustrate what 5 million people looks like…to help us here is a person from “Space Lift Danger Panic!”:
And here are 10,000 “Space Lift Danger Panic!”people:
I could paste that image 100 times to reach 1 million…but I wont. Instead imagine all of those people in the above image somehow come together and create one huge naked person:
The 10,000 Man-Man:
So then to reach 5 million, we need 500 10,000 Man-Men
Amazingly it doesn’t look lie as many people as I thought it would! still, I know that if I walk through Singapore, and try to look at every person I see, I can carry on walking forever and still wont see every person. 5 Million people is a lot. I am very happy they played our games, and I am even more excited about what we can do in the future. I am proud of the fact that we back fill our adverts with good causes, and that the text I write in our games isn’t all just dumb garbage, most is, but some of the things I say I think are important, our next game has is set after an apocalypse brought on by global warming, but most people probably won’t notice….but out of the people that do, maybe one or two will think twice about taking a plastic fork instead of washing and reusing a metal one. (something I should do more of!). First and foremost I just want to make great games, and if they become even at all preachy then I will be failing at that. It’s just amazing to think the volume of people that see our stuff, and to not to want to try and do something with that.
- The State of things
So, we are still doing our thing, making some magic happen here and there! It’s been a tough few months, the Last Vikings did not make back its investment which kind of sucks. Hopefully over its lifetime it will finally get there, as we continue to get payments each month from it. The studio cost around 300K to run last year, and while we released some other games on 3DS during that period, their profits were pretty low, so I just throw all our dev costs at TLV to keep things easy to envision in my mind!
Equally this year, we have spent 1-2 months updating the Last Vikings, and those costs will be put against our newer games. It’s a super simplistic way of doing accounting, and isn’t in the least bit accurate, If we had some production muscle than I would actually start tracking people against projects and working our costs correctly, instead doing it this way is super basic, but helps give us some idea where we are going while not detracting from important development time.
This year we released Hiragana Pixel Party on Steam, while I expected to sell 18 copies (really that was my internal estimate) I hoped I would learn something from the experience. In general our experience with Steam was pretty good, it’s simple to do everything, and things are mostly under your control, which puts the experience from a publishing side somewhere between Android and Apple, but closer to publishing on the Google. How many did we sell? Well I think we are up to around 300 units, which made me pretty happy. Obviously this is barely profitable, if at all, but I see it as a fun experience, and a preparation for releasing The Last Vikings on the platform.
So all of that sounds doom and gloom, but it isn’t so bad, at least things are still bringing in money, and we still have our doors open. So what’s next!?
- Fishing Game:
Well remember our fishing game? Well that’s kind of ongoing, whenever there is nothing to do, the art team just start drawing things for it. I am not actively writing code for it, but I know one day I will jump in there and finish it up! Its super cool already, it just need that free to play model that will make it work.
- Civilization Clicker:
That isn’t its real name, but in January we started building an idle game to destroy all others! Its got a vast volume of art, and we are really happy with it. We got really far with it, and now it sits around 70% complete. We wont release it for a few more months…due to the next title:
- Campaign Clicker:
So I was walking home from teaching, and trying to think of a good name for “Civilization Clicker” and was just thinking of random words starting with C, and “Campaign Clicker” popped into my mind. I thought that’s cool, but it sounds more like an election game, wow…we should make an election game. So I suggested it to the team, and we said “yeah let’s make it in a week” which seemed all feasible and stuff. That was 5 weeks ago! But, on the plus side its very nearly done now. It’s super innovative, the design just came from the name really, and how epic the whole thing is over in the USA right now. So it’s a modified version of Civilization clicker, in Civilization clicker you take on jobs, so Campaign Clicker is essentially a whole game made from just one of those jobs.
What makes it interesting though is that it features live tweets from the candidates, and players can get their tweets into the game too, making it full of dynamic and current content. I don’t think anyone has done anything quite like that before so I am kind of excited about it. Also if you do well in the game your progress goes on to the online scoreboards, so people playing as Democrats can try to beat all the people playing as Republicans, which adds extra fun to the proceedings.
I like the fact that we are taking tweets and current events and showing them to people in the context of a game, I think some of the things people say come across as really hilarious when seen in isolation. So my hope is people will become more informed about the state of the political situation in the USA from playing this game. Also I hope we reach some players who might just be following the opinions of their peers, and not taking the time to understand for themselves the main points of each of the candidates.
Obviously I am English, USA politics is not something I can comment on. In fact, I don’t feel right commenting on politics anywhere, I don’t feel like I have enough information to have a valid opinion on any current affairs, sure ask me about tax for games companies and I can say something, but even in that instance I feel I don’t understand the tax of the industrial sector as a whole, so I can only say “Yeah it’s hard to make money, don’t tax me” which is very self-centred and myopic.
What I do love about politics is the show, it’s all about who can get everyone’s emotions running the highest, and reach into the heart of the voter rather than the mind. Why else would we have campaign songs, or focal memes, the fact that Bernie sanders can seem more appealing because a bird landed on his podium is just so far from the point of what it’s actually all about. But I can’t help but be affected, the picture of an friendly old guy who is loved by the animals, and seems like as estranged grandfather I never had is just lovely, but what has it got to do with his message? Very little! So, my hope is that the game helps distance people ever so slightly from the show, and brings their focus to the messages and intentions of the candidates and parties they intend to support.
So when is Campaign clicker out? Hopefully very soon on iOS and Android
Expect an update soon on some other projects we have going on!
So, our games have a lot of text. Why do I do it? Well firstly I think it adds character to the game and helps build a universe. Having someone talk about the things they believe or have done in the past without needing to show it is a great way of fleshing out our universe.
Secondly I think so many games are all corporate and straight to the point, they have no soul and feel very direct about their objective, play the game, enter the loop to level up and give us your money. I want to build worlds that are enjoyable to explore, and characters that are memorable in their own right. I also remember working with big companies like Lucasarts and EA, and text volume is a huge thing, as is what you write, it has to go through a lot of processes that eventually water down the content to such a degree that it becomes meaningless generic game stuff, “Look at that bad dude, he is bad so let’s defeat him” or “Here is an inoffensive joke suitable for everyone and guaranteed not to offend”. So I enjoy the fact that not having any form of editorial between what I write and what goes onto the screen allows our games to be more expressive that the majority of what is out there.
Another reason is that I feel it’s good to make some commentary on some of the things that happen on our planet. So putting characters in to our games that have characteristics or opinions about these issues allows me (and players) to explore some issues from alternate points of view. Take for example “Toad Boss” from the last Vikings, he is an overly pushy vegan, he says things like:
“TOADINGHAM, HAS BOTH TOAD AND HAM IN THE NAME. I AM VEGETARIAN AND I DON’T EAT HAM OR TOADS, BUT I HAVE MADE SOME VERY GOOD VEGAN ALTERNATIVES WITH THE MANY TYPES OF MUSHROOM THAT GROW HERE, AND I WILL DEFEND THEM UNTIL THE END! PREPARE TO FIGHT!“
“THIS IS TOADINGHAM, HOME OF ME! I COMMAND THE TOADINGHAM ARMY, AND WE WILL REPEL YOU, EVEN IF THIS VILLAGE WAS RIGHTFULLY YOURS! I RULE THIS PLACE NOW, AND SUBJECT MY SUBJECTS TO A LIFE OF VEGANISM WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT! REMEMBER PIGS ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD!”
Toadboss has this opinion that is kind of preachy and annoying, he even seems to force his people to be vegans which isn’t particularly cool.
If I put myself in the mind of a player, I might think veganism is stupid, and want to defeat this guy as fast as possible, equally if I am someone who disagrees with using animals for food, I might see him as a conflicted hero, he goes about things in the wrong way but ultimately has a good intention.
It’s these deeper ideas that I use that make me hope some of the characters have a depth uncommon in a lot of games. I don’t want to make a game that’s full of opinions and social commentary, first and foremost our games and exactly that, fun games. But after 20 hours of seeing the same characters over and over, it’s nice to see “Generic Spider Boss” as someone who has a bit more depth than just being a sprite on the screen. And while most people don’t event read the text, those that do hopefully find it funny, and in some cases surprisingly thoughtful.
The core idea is that by having characters that have their own opinions we can present ideas from both sides of the argument. So far I have covered all kinds of subjects from taxation, racism, sexism, greed, corporate growth, wasteful consumerism, games companies not shipping products, to why there are bugs in our games.
Recently someone commented in a google play review for our game: “As a woman, the things that the chick in the options menu says makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure if I should be offended or not. Remove or rewrite her and I’ll give it a 5 star”. This comment inspired me to write this blog, so I will write for a while about sexism in games, and sexism in our game.
So when it came to writing the options lady I came to the realisation that we had mainly been focusing on male white Vikings dudes, as they are the atypical people players would expect to meet in such a game. While we have added a lot of women and some non-white Vikings this is something that is a fairly interesting issue. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but in design there is clearly a balance between what people expect to see and your own design contribution to make it unique. It’s seen a lot in science fiction design theory and other things like the way Disney approach character development. Essentially this is how it works, when you think of a Viking, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Yes – it’s a white guy with a horned hat and probably a big beard. In a game about Vikings, if half of them are women, and half of them are non-white how does that make players feel? On a subconscious level (if not a conscious one) it probably makes think that this game is not a very authentic Viking experience.
I don’t want to be a person who hides behind the excuse that just because it’s what everyone else does, I should do it too, but I have to run a business at the same time as makes things I feel comfortable with. Obviously there are countless commentaries on the videogame industry pointing out that 99% of heroes in games are white men in their mid-thirties, and then in some cases (the last of us) the strong female roles are made into less pronounced characters in the games marketing assets so as to not break with expectation of what an action game should be.
I find it interesting that we have ended up with an industry so apparently racist and sexist, but does it mean that all videogame consumers are in fact racist sexist idiots? Well no I don’t think it’s that simple, I think it’s partially down to what people expect. If we go back to the question of “what does a typical Viking look like”, we can ask the same question again “what does a typical videogame hero look like” Sadly the answer is a white guy in his mid-thirties with a stubble, probably holding a gun, look at action movie posters, look at books it isn’t just games that are impacted by this. From a business standpoint it’s important that consumers understand what they are buying from the moment they see it, but that doesn’t make it right.
So what can I do? Well I always make a point to try and strike a balance between what people expect, and what we can do to surprise them. Our next game has many King type characters, but the remit for the art was that they are all asexual, no king should particularly look male or female. That was the idea, in some cases they ended up looking more one way or the other but being a small company I don’t have the money to go back and redo things just for the sake of our morals, but it’s important to note that the intention is there.
So back to the options lady, most the things she says are jokes about heavy metal, or the fact that there is an options screen, she does however say the following:
“I AM NOI A FEMENIST, BUT I THINK THIS TOWN HAS WAY TOO MANY MEN, I THINK ODIN IS DISCRIMINATING”
“IF I WERE A MAN, I WOULD MAKE THIS GAME EVEN MORE GENDER SPECIFIC THAN IT ALREADY IS, I CAN DO ANYTHING A MAN CAN, SO WHY AM I LOCKED UP IN THIS OPTIONS SCREEN”.
Perhaps what I was trying to say got lost in the way I wrote it, but the intention was that she is making a commentary on the lack of female characters inside the town, and that the game is unfortunately more gender specific than is cool. It’s funny because it’s a direct result of the “what’s the first thing that comes to mind” questions I talked about before. I feel I can only break so many conventions per game, before I break the universe I am trying to create in player’s minds. So the options lady, is intended to be a self -aware moment inside the game that we have fallen prey of the expectations of society by making our game not gender and race neutral. I am not happy about it, but it’s a balance I have to consider all the time.
I think this blog post makes our games seem like they are full of politics and opinions, the vast majority of “The Last Vikings” 3000+ lines of dialogue focus on the game, and the characters inside it. First and foremost we make games that set out to be just that, fun and entertaining ways of enjoying yourself.
Oh My GOD!!! we have been developing a game for no more than a week, and I have decided to announce it to the world! why would I do this? it’s so that I don’t get lost in my own stupidity, and we actually finish the thing in a more reasonable time frame than normal.
I realise, I don’t really need to be secretive about things any more, a while ago we were working with Kongregate, and while it’s mainly a formality, there was an NDA in place, so I thought I should keep my progress to myself. Well that’s no fun right!
Firstly – we are still working on The Last Vikings, so why am I doing another game!? well the artwork is pretty much complete in The Last Vikings, and I want people in the company to be useful and not get bored, so my plan is to get one (possibly two) games started, that focus more on art than code. The idea is that I get the basic game up and running, and then hand the project over to Shuyun and Cindy, who then do their magic with the art, while I get back to working on the boss battles for the Last Vikings!
It’s very important to me that people have valuable work to do, I remember sooo many times in my career when I would just sit at my desk waiting for someone to pick a direction for the team to move in. This is pretty much what usually get’s said to the team in these situations: “we haven’t decided on the strategy for our next product (or are waiting to sign a project with a publisher), so you and the team can take it easy, brushing up on your skills while we work with marketing to determine what to do next”. In this situation, I would rather sit at home and work on my own games, or even sit at home and play some other peoples game, anything is better that sitting there waiting for people to decide what to do, while watching my life drift past me in a blur of organic mortality based cellular degradation. I always felt that every day we sat there was a waste of company money, but worse yet, a wasted opportunity to make something. This happens is game studios a lot more than you might realise! it’s one of the reasons that I am not at a big game studio any more. Having the ability to make quick decisions, and pick a direction with the people around you in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee makes for a pretty efficient production process.
So how did it all start, we were tossing around ideas for games a while back and suggesting simple ideas. Cindy suggested a fishing game where you sit on an island and fish, that’s it. We didn’t really talk much more about it after that, we didn’t even decide on a mechanic, but the image really stuck with me, and I guess it rolled around in my mind for a long time.
The thing is there are some problems with making a fishing game,
1 – Theme, it’s fishing, not many people like fishing. I for one don’t like killing things, so I know this game isn’t going to focus on killing things…. but how will the consumer know? and not just think “that’s a boring fishing game…fishing games is suckkkkksss”.
2 – It being a small game, how can it possibly make money!? we can all hope that we get lucky like Flappy bird, but I know it;s very hard to retain in casual gamers, and even harder to monetize up to the point where you will be able to afford any user acquisition.
A couple of months ago, I came up with a structure for the game that seemed to make sense one night while walking back from my part time teaching job at Digipen, I messaged Cindy, and she didn’t hate it, so that was a good start, seeing as the game was her suggestion, I want her to actually have faith in what we end up doing with it!
Solving point two is hopefully not so hard, by adding just enough RPG elements to make it feel deep, but not so much that it ends up taking us a year to make, I think we can make something pretty unique, fun and engaging. Point number one is harder to overcome, but I am still super excited about the game, so screw it! We hope that so long as we make it clear that it isn’t a normal fishing game from the start, that people will not be put off by the theme, that said we know it’s a risk, which doubles our commitment to finishing it extra fast!
One day last week we finally had a design meeting, to thrash out what the game would be in detail. I am pretty difficult to work with sometimes, as I tend to formulate huge parts of a game in my mind, and kind of know what I want to do before I even enter a discussion! it’s tricky, I spend all my time thinking about games, so when it comes to having to wait for the right time to discuss it, I have usually gone through a whole host of options before hand. While this can be annoying for people, what it usually ends up in is a huge sanity check discussion, where I say all this stuff at everyone, and then they try to tell me why I am wrong. Every time we have these discussions something get’s changed that I thought was already the greatest solution and couldn’t possibly be influenced by anyone or anything. In the case of the fishing game, we discussed it for a pretty long time, and as I answered everyone’s questions the game got more and more convoluted, I knew I wanted something simple, but also something with depth and piles of secrets. For example, swipe fast to cast the line out further, or swipe slow to cast it into shallow water. I assumed that like being able to jump different heights in Mario, people would just figure this out. There was some resistance to this, in that modern mobile games have lost a lot of that sense of discovery. While I still don’t think I was especially right or wrong in that case, it was in the context of the discussion an example that I was getting bogged down in the complexities of what I wanted out of the game, and as a result was perhaps getting away from the core. After an exasperated Cindy looked like she was giving up the will to live, I suggested another angle for the game that addressed her concerns, and kept me happy at the same time. So in this case, our deep discussion that must have lasted 2 hours actually lead to a whole new design flow being put together that simply wouldn’t have happened without a bit of disagreement and heated discussion.
My goal is to get the game working as fast as possible, so Cindy and Shuyun can take over and just drop lots of art in. The game is designed to be art heavy, rather than code heavy, so I had to go for it and get everything up kind of fast.
Last weekend I went to the Philippines for a conference, but I still found time to write code, when I got back to Singapore the project was working, and there was a really non-fun version of the casting mechanic. We now have the beginings of a UI, a collection viewer and a lot of other stuff…Thanks to Shuyun, the ui ended up being housed in the fishing guys phone.
It has a story, you are a guy (called joseph for now) who washed up on an island, you are wearing a suit, it’s pretty clear to the player that they have to do fishing…as you fish you get food, but more importantly you discover things about your previous life…the Sea in the real world is full of garbage, so in the game, we are going to catch more garbage than fish! is there a correlation between the business guy and the garbage….well it’s probably not hard to guess…
The great thing about starting new games, is you can make crap loads of progress at the start in a seemingly short time..just look at this!
So I wish I had a bit more time to write about the trials and tribulations of developing it! but I don’t…so this will be quick!
our company engaged in some work for hire, which was kind of not suppossed to be work for hire, we made a collection of minigames to celebrate the Singapore 50th birthday, one of which was about dragon boating. What was great was that we got to make whatever we wanted, what wasn’t so great was that the project ended up getting cancelled! In reality I was relieved that we could return to focusing on what we do best which is making our own games with no other agenda. But was sad about a host of other things, the games we made were actually fun, and the people who worked on them (me included) were kind of attached to them. By this time, Springloaded had swelled to the vast size of 15 people! yes, there were 15 of us! some were part time, some were interns, but I was still burning through 45K a month on salaries! So, with cancelled projects, comes less income, less income means less employees, so in what seems like an eternity ago now, we had to figure out how to proceed, Lydia who works with us, but deals with things such as the bank balance, told me how severe it all was, and while I listened, I kind of stowed away what she was saying in to the back of my brain, and thought if I hid it well enough in my subconscious the issues we were facing would simply cease to exist! Obviously, eventually things had to give, so with a heavy heart I told everyone how we had no money, and how shitty everything really was. They probably don’t know, but I was kind of having an out of body experience as I said the words to people, and then when the gravity of what I was saying hit me on occasion, I nearly lost it, and started spraying water out of my eyes like those giant water canons they use to suppress riots. After such a crap-house of an experience, we reduced our size to around 8 or so people, to focus on finishing up our 3DS games, and getting our next mobile game to market.
Here is a screen shot, of the MIA – you wont get to play – Dragon boat game.
With the games cancelled, and them actually causing us some deficit, we really had no time to sit around and get depressed, there were games to make! for most of January, I actually spent all my time working on the 3DS version of heart beaten, because it seemed to me like a dumb stupid project that would be a lot of fun to make. I wrote the game code, while Paul worked on getting it on to the 3DS with some help from Alan here and there, Cindy did art to fill out the holes where my art was too shitty, There was simply never going to be any possibility of me drawing something like this (although I think CIndy did it in half a day or something crazy):
Heart beaten was intended to launch on Feb14th, but it was delayed due to us messing up the submission documents, so it came out a while later. What’s great about being an indie dev? well the night before submission ,Paul said that one of the game modes sucked, and he was right. So I accepted the challenge of writing a brand new duck hunt inspired game before the next morning. I started at something like 10PM, but got it done just before the sun came up. Astoundingly it was pretty much bug free, and we submitted the game on time. In any sane company, you would be told to not do something like that as it’s too risky! it turns out there was a pretty big bug in the game, but we missed it! In one of the modes, you can play forever, and you will never die, unless you die of boredom! you have to be above a certain skill level to do it, but once you are the difficulty stops increasing, and it just becomes a repetitive slog, with no goal! .I was pretty amused with the game, it is unpleasant and stupid, and I guess its clearly not a mainstream product! The theme is that you play a series of different women, who take turns in dumping the games hero, and then destroy his heart with graphic violence! I think my favourite mode could be the R-Type inspired one, (which somehow I drew, and didn’t make ugly), but probably it’s the final stage that’s really the best, seeing as it forces you to play two games, one on each screen at the same time, It’s supposed to represent that you the player have actually found some kind of love in your life, and now you have to protect two hearts, as you are no longer alone. Awwww…. many people thought the game would be cute, and were horrified to be faces with a blood soaked screen. Suffice to say, I didn’t even try to release it in Germany.
So after making 2 3DS games, we decided to take a break, and wait and see what happened as far as finances were concerned, while we waited I got back to working on the Last Vikings. The game was intended to be a small product, built ontop of the singapore game “Dragon boat”, re-skin it, refine the design a little, and add some cool polish so we could release it fast! Well, I am a bit stupid, in the end I think only about 50 lines of code from the original game actually made it across to the new one! the main mechanic was scraped and done again from scratch, the combat mechanic was added, and we added a small town hub,
We actually got the game up and running unbelievably quickly, I think it probably took about one months work to get it into a good state, As we were winding down the team size, a lot of people got to have a small go at something or other, When we stopped to look at the game, we realised it was actually a lot of fun, and then we started realising we could turn it into a fully fledged RPG, adding a story, a huge battle mode, multi-player and everything else you might expect!
So now here we are it’s almost the end of the year, I am sitting in our new office (because we had to leave our awesome free one behind), looking at a game that was expected to take three months, actually taking 9! You could say it was bad planning, but really it was just making the game into something bigger and better than was originally anticipated. We went from making a small game that might sit better alongside an endless runner than an RPG, to a product that has aspiration of competing with top grossing iOS titles!
I will be honest, it’s still not there yet! we are still adding little bits here and there, but now we are ,ostly waiting on the sales data and metrics from the territories we have the game out in already.
I couldn’t be happier with the game, it’s probably the best game I have made so far in my life! but on the flip side of that I can still see a million ways to improve it!
So what’s next? well we submitted our global launch candidate to Apple today, and are now just figuring out whether or not that really will be “the one”. if the game doesn’t do well, then things will get pretty dark for us! As a result, I started writing not one, but two new games over the weekend! much like “The Last Vikings” was supposed to be, these games are super small, and should be done within record time! we will see if that actually happens! but in this case, we have learned a load more about making games in the last year, I think as a studio we are ready to really start delivering on the stuff I always think we are capable of. Hopefully, Vikings is the first chapter in what will be a super victorious 2016 for us! While some of that is down to luck, I think by working as crazy hard as we have (and continue to), means that we have a good chance of making our own luck!
Today we release ‘Space Lift Danger Panic!’ for 3DS! It’s available right now on the USA eshop for $2.99, and should come to Europe in about 1 month.
If I look back on my career as a game developer, this is a pretty huge milestone for me, and something I never really expected I would achieve outside of the framework of a corporation.
I guess to a lot of people, releasing a game on 3DS might seem like not such a big deal, but to me it’s up there as a huge life goal!
I guess to understand why I feel like this, I’ll have to explain my whole history of games…you might want to stop reading now, and just go to the eShop and buy our game, rather than read this slightly narcissistic pile of words.
Anyway, before I started trying to actually understand game development, the idea of building a game was like magic to me. It’s one of those things that was so mysterious I didn’t have even the slightest idea of how you would do anything at all that contributed to making a game.
Eventually through a huge volume of hard work I started to figure out some stuff, and through the luck of the gods, I landed a job at Full Fat in the UK. The first released game I worked on was Dave Mirra BMX2 on the Gameboy advance.
This was in 1999, I entered the office with an open mouth, in awe of the AGB development kit that sat on the lead engineer’s desk. This was one of the early “wideboy” kits ( http://www.nesworld.com/n64-wideboyagb-1.php ) this was essentially an N64, torn wide open with wires flowing from every corner and fragile circuit boards sticking out the top. For me, I felt like I was entering some super-secret club, and being given the luxury of playing with prototype hardware that barely anyone in the world had been able to get close to.
Eventually we got the actual dev kits, which still had a few fragile wires sticking out of the, but they were essentially production GBA units stuck to giant boxes. They were luminescent pink, and made of slightly different plastic to the ones that were finally released to the public. So to me they were still very special things, and they were as far as I could tell kind of expensive, which is why I was never allowed one on my desk! Only programmers had them, and Id go over and test my work at a programmer’s desk, before running back to my seat and using an emulator or something to try and figure out how the game worked.
Our compamy mainly made games for GBA, and I think while I was there I worked on a crazy volume of games for the system (to my memory it was 18) including:
Dave Mirra BMX2
The Land Before Time
Dave Mirra BMX 3
BeyBlade Ultimate Blader Jam
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
Rock em sock em robots (the worst rated game ever in the history of the GBA!)
Pacman world 2
Ms Pacman Maze Madness
Sim City Advance
Punch King (which was about as stereotypical a game you can imagine…I kind of felt it was maybe a little racist at the time we were making it!)
Freakstyle (EA Big)
Aggressive inline skating
There were actually a few more than that, I just can’t remember them all right now.
But seeing our games in the store, was pretty spectacular!
We went on to the DS, and I worked on several more games including the Sims, Sega Darts and a Biker Mice From Mars game, that features me doing some really terrible sound effects as I try to impersonate cats getting punched in the face.
DS was also really exciting, back then a touch screen was actually pretty cutting edge as far as gaming was concerned. Remember, the iPhone didn’t yet exist, so for me when I got to design games for touch screen it was like entering uncharted territories! And trying to figure out how to use two screens was also a super interesting challenge.
The first DS dev kit we got was even more crazy than the GBA one we had before, it was just a bare circuit board with a single screen on it. The lead engineer who was using it tried to build a housing out of cardboard with a hole in to show the screen (which wasn’t even a touch screen!).
Console development has always been so much harder than PC development, or mobile dev. All my formative years of game development were spent working on Nintendo systems. And when we were at Lucasarts I was lucky enough to work on the Wii-U for a while before the console got released, ultimately the project was cancelled, but getting my hands on pre-release hardware was once again unbelievably exciting. Most of my fondest memories of game development (and playing games) are deeply entwined with Nintendo, which is why making a nintendo game now, feels like going full circle, in a time when mobile is king.
So I think this is the 33rd shipped console game I have worked on,and the 40th game I have shipped when including mobile! The amazing thing is that out of those 33 consoles games, only 4 were on consoles not made by Nintendo! So this is my 29th Nintendo game! Which is pretty crazy.
So this achievement is amazing for a couple of reasons, firstly, I never imagined I could get through the hoops to become a registered Nintendo developer, and then secondly, being a programmer who only knows how to use C#, I imagines that getting something on the C++ only 3DS would be impossible. For that, I can thank my colleagues at Springloaded (paul and Alan) for building a semi cross platform solution that allows my code to run on the console.
I may have made a lot of games on Nintendo systems, but I never even for a moment thought it was in the realms of possibility that I would be able to do it in my own company! But here I am ticking off a very satisfying life achievement!!
I have no idea whether doing this was a good business decision or not, bit I guess in the next couple of months we will find out! I really hope that it is a viable market that we can do well in, and we will only know for sure by making a few things and not giving up too soon!
So what is net, well we hope to launch heart beaten on the 3DS in February, for which I rewrote the game from the ground up especially for 3DS, (although we may do a Vita version too), then after that we plan to just carry on making stuff….2015 is going to be pretty crazy for us! We are trying to do an insane volume of stuff, which is as rewarding as it is challenging.