Archive for month: October, 2012

Zynga sucks, who’d have thought?

23 Oct
October 23, 2012

Doing it during the Apply conference, so that the press was otherwise distracted, Zynga closed their entire 100+ person Austin studio, giving folks 2 hours to vacate the premises.

Ain’t that shitty?

Someone asked in the comments of a post, why I hadn’t tried to get a job in the industry? It’s stuff like this, and the fact that it’s usually worse hours and pay than a normal programmer job. Zynga is up there on the top of the evil, exploitative list, sure, but they’re hardly unique for this kind of thing. Bullshit has been common in the industry since the beginning. And even the cool development studios are at the mercy of the publishers.

Yeah, yeah, I know, game developers are supposed to run on passion and enthusiasm, not cold-hearted cost-benefit calculations. Tell it to the fresh-faced kids just out of varsity. 😉 Me, if I’m going to work for less pay and longer hours, I want to be building games of my own design. Not someone else’s dream, or whatever is popular with the lowest common denominator right now.

Man Down

23 Oct
October 23, 2012

My apologies. I know I said I’d be showing some screens of the state of the game on Monday, but I’ve been down with the flu this weekend and didn’t manage to finish up the UI things I wanted to finish. A few more days’ patience, almost there. 🙂

Games on my Radar : Prison Architect

19 Oct
October 19, 2012

Dunno about you guys, but I love me a good management sim. I have fond memories of games like Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital, and frankly I’d love to make one myself, at some point in the future.

As a matter of fact, I already have a few ideas for sim games. I have a document I keep, of any promising game ideas I have, so that I don’t forget them. It’s about 25 entries so far, mostly RPG and sim/strategy. Those are the genres I’m most interested in exploring, though there are a few action ideas, stuff like Thief-alikes.

Anyway, “Prison Architect” by Introversion Software is looking MIGHTY promising. Videos are showing lots of lovely, crunchy details, I’m hoping this is one we can sink our collective teeth into. I dig how you have to handle the plumbing and electrical layout, too.

Clever art style too, I thought. Cost efficient in time and money for an indie developer, but still rather endearing, I thought. It’s a similar design philosophy to how a lot of indies embrace retro graphics, except I don’t find pixellated that endearing. I prefer stylized or cartooney, personally.

I’d be tempted to sign on for the alpha, but I’ve been spending way too much money recently, what with Dishonored and XCOM, for a man who hasn’t earned an income in almost a year. :/

Hopefully I can change that soon. Fingers crossed!

I’ll end this post with a little teaser. Monday. I’ll be showing the first proper screenshots for my game on Monday. Tune in! 🙂

Camaraderie

17 Oct
October 17, 2012

Project Eternity has finished its Kickstarter campaign, ending just shy of 4 million, though the additional pledges from Paypal should tip it over that milestone.

Congrats to Obsidian! I think they’ve done a great job getting RPG fans excited for the project. As I said in the previous post, I wasn’t impressed with PE initially, but I’ve since come to consider it the best-run and most promising KS project I’ve backed.

One of the neat things they did, as the campaign wound down, was to run a livestream of the Obsidian offices as the clock ticked down the final hours. Employees gathered around, answered questions off the stream, joked around with each other, did shots at each 50k accumulated, and generally had a “party on the internet”. 😀

It was actually a fairly fun, I tuned in for the first few hours, before it got too late here in the Southern Hemisphere. They’re a cool bunch of people. The sense of camaraderie, both between the employees of Obsidian and with all the RPG fans who’d tuned in, was fantastic.

The passion of everyone involved was incredibly motivating, for me personally. These are my people!

The feed was recorded, so if you missed it you can watch here. I’m running the last few hours in the background, while I work. Listen out for the Age of Decadence and RPGCodex shoutouts, and the look of panic on Avellone’s face when it was suggested they invite the Codex to the launch party. 😀

That feeling, of working closely with people you connect to, is one of the things I miss most, working alone. Even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life, the last job was a pretty great working environment, the people were awesome and we had some fantastic times. I miss my mates. Communicating with people on forums and twitter helps keep me from feeling too isolated, but I want that kind of feeling again.

It was actually something I was uncertain about, when I started this. Do I want to stay a one-man band? Do I want to be like Jeff Vogel or Cliff Harris, keeping my operation small and being free to answer to no one but myself? Managing people, even contractors, isn’t easy. It’s easy to dismiss what managers do as trivial paperwork and bureaucratic bollocks, until you’ve had to manage a project involving more than one person. Taking on full time employees would increase my ability to produce new games, at the cost of having to spend more and more time managing. And it limits your options, you have to make decisions taking into account the people who rely on you, whose salaries you need to pay. Like having children, you can’t just follow your whims anymore. It is worth it?

For a long time, I thought the answer was “no”. But my viewpoint has changed this year. There’s lots of things you only learn “hands on”. And while some of the contractors I’ve worked with have indeed been a pain in the ass, a couple have proven a real pleasure to work with, to the point where I would hire them in a heartbeat if I could afford it, and won’t hesitate to work with them in the future. The trade-offs ARE worth it.

Also, I’ve finally accepted, really accepted, deep down in my emotions, that I won’t be able to finish a project on the scope of Scars of War without a team. So the question I had to ask was, am I happy to stay small at the cost of knowing that that kind of game is forever out of my reach, or am I willing to grow a team over time so I can tackle larger scale projects? Knowing that it would probably mean drifting into a more managerial role, at least to some degree? Could I let go of things like directly making all the programming decisions?

I really wrestled with this. I have always found the idea of managing people a bit of a turn-off, but at the same time, I started down this game development path a decade ago out of a desire to be involved in the creation of the type of games I loved. The Baldur’s Gate 2s and Dungeon Keepers and so on. If I accept that I probably can’t make those with my available resources, do I even want to be in game development? Should I go write books or focus on art, instead?

It all comes down to choosing what your goal really is. I DON’T want Spiderweb-scale games to be my upper limit. I DO want to work on games of the scale of Project Eternity, Baldur’s Gate 2, Vampire Bloodlines. That IS what I want. And with the right team, I believe I, no WE, can do it.

One of the first things Serge (Vince) of ITS told me : “Build it and they will come”. He was telling me that as he encouraged me, random dude on the internet, to show and talk about the RPG I’d been working on in my spare time, Scars of War, to the RPGCodex.

So I will build it.

The Upsell

15 Oct
October 15, 2012

We’re in the final hours of the Project Eternity Kickstarter campaign and if you’ve been paying attention you’ll note that Obsidian have, on top of rolling out new stretch goals, begun offering a lot of optional extras to induce you to up your pledge by a few dollars or tens of dollars. A campaign almanac, a narrated audio book version of the Avellone novella, PE playing cards and a downloadable documentary.

This is actually a fairly smart tactic called “upselling“, where you attempt to induce/entice customers into spending more. DLC is another example of this tactic. You see the thing is, people who’ve already decided they like and want to buy your product are a lot easier to sell to than people who are still undecided. These people have already signaled to you (via the initial purchase) that they value your product or service enough to spend money on it. Focusing your attention on them, via upselling and cross-selling, is often a better expenditure of your time and effort.*

Most people who could be interested in Project Eternity probably know about it by now. The majority of hardcore fans have probably put their money down already. At this point, it is a better tactic for Obsidian to offer incentives to the current backers to up their pledge rather than hope that more exposure will lead to more pledges. Definitely a smart move. I started off thinking that PE was not a particularly impressive KS campaign, but over its course I’ve become impressed with how well-run it has been. Kudos to Adam Brenneke, who has been running the campaign as far as I know, and the rest of the Obsidian dudes.

Now, it’s easy to imagine this kind of thing becoming exploitative, with sellers trying to squeeze every last drop from customers.

And it can certainly become very gimmicky very quickly, with a kitchen sink of knick-knacks accumulating around the product. But I do believe that it is actually a worthwhile thing, for both parties, so long as the seller is focused on providing value to the customer first and foremost, and in creating a mutually beneficial relationship. For me, for example, the PE almanac is neat. I have bought a number of pen and paper campaign books simply for the pleasure of reading them, though I don’t play a lot of pen and paper anymore. I would go in on it, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m trying to keep my expenses low until I’m earning an income again (I possibly should have avoided pledging for PE, but I decided that this was a worthwhile cause. Pay it forward, aye).

It’s certainly something I’m going to experiment with, with my own games. For now though, I’m head-down and concentrating on putting together a quality base product. No point in offering these kinds of “value added” products without a good base in place.

Beauty

12 Oct
October 12, 2012

Obsidian shows us how good pre-rendered-with-handpainted-details can look, using modern technology. And it’s just beautiful.

I’m definitely excited now. Maybe that makes me a graphics whore, but so be it. IT’S PRETTY, I LIKE THE PRETTY.

In the final stretch of their Kickstarter campaign, Obsidian have reached for the big guns, revealing 2 delicious stretch goals for the next half-mill milestones : a stronghold and another big city. Me, I love both of those things. Urban adventuring is my favourite type by far, and I loved the Strongholds in BG2 and Morrowind.

Let’s get behind this, people. I started off fairly skeptical, but I’ve become more and more impressed as updates have been rolled out, and after watching the various videos. I get a sense that they are level-headed dudes, who are listening carefully to community feedback and juggling the demands of transparency and preproduction flexibility. And their stretch goals seem well thought out without being over-ambitious.

Perhaps it’s just hopefulness on my part, but of all the big-name video game KS projects, this has become the one I am most impressed with so far. Let’s hope this project becomes a defining moment for Obsidian, where they go from being Bioware’s plucky younger sibling to a leader and trendsetter in PC roleplaying, as Bioware did with the Baldur’s Gate series.

Flatlining

10 Oct
October 10, 2012


I posted about my issues with the “Old School RPG” Kickstarter project a little while ago.

Well, seems I wasn’t the only one with these issues. I’ve seen a fair amount of misgiving being expressed this time, from big sites like Rockpapershotgun down to discussion on forums. Which is unusual and a bit gratifying, I’ll admit. I’d gotten used to playing the role of The Grinch at Christmas. 😉

I say ‘gratifying’, but I don’t want to give the impression that I want them to fail. No. It’s simply that I want more from the devs themselves, so that I feel they’ve earned the support I want to give them.

In short, I want you to ride victorious through the streets, RPG developers. But I also want to feel you have deserved that victory. I don’t want to feel like Kickstarter is an ATM machine, where you can simply insert nostalgia and watch money spew into your pockets. I want crowd funding to survive its birth pains and become a legitimate avenue of investment and funding. If gimmicky campaigns with little substance are rewarded, I begin to feel that this is little more than a short-lived bubble, a goldrush, not a sustainable platform.

In this particular case, I suspect the pitch may fail. They’ve changed the name to “Shaker : And Old School RPG” now, and slapped an incongruous sci-fi logo over their generic fantasy concept art, but I think it’s too little, too late. Kicktraq is showing that pledges are flatlining, the projected end tally dropped from just over a million 2 days ago, to barely a million yesterday, to about 900k today. RPS posting another news item on the updated lore barely made a blip.

Confidence, it seems, is low. It’s possible they’ll pull a rabbit out of the hat, but if you compare to the trend graphs of Project Eternity and Wasteland 2, it’s fairly clear they’re on a different trajectory.

Disappointing for them, I’m sure, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s no law saying they can’t try again, better prepared this time. These are early days, we’re all stil figuring out how Kickstarter works.

Somewhat Inconvenient

09 Oct
October 9, 2012

I turned on my computer this morning only to be greeted by a black screen and strange clicking noises. Upon opening the case and listening a bit closer, I narrowed it down to the hard drive. Which was now making a noise highly reminiscent of the sound a record player needle would make if you dragged it across a record.

Uh-oh.

So yeah, my hard drive bricked itself. Hooray. Fortunately, I haven’t done an Indie Stone here, the game is backed up, both in the Cloud and on various portable hard drives I own. It’s recoverable, though I’m having to sit here and re-download all my tools and things. On my third-world internet connection, sigh.

Ah well. Could have been worse, eh?

On a lighter note, I’m desperate to play Dishonoured, but I’m using it as a dangling carrot for myself, I won’t allow myself to play until I reach my next milestone. That milestone being getting the game presentable for its first real public showing!

Exciting times! Stay tuned! 😉

A Slight Tactical Error

08 Oct
October 8, 2012

So, according to my calculations I’ll most likely be releasing my game mid-December.

This is a slight problem. You see, that’s Steam Sale season. And AAA Release Bonanza season. I’ll be releasing right as competition, both for gamer dollars and media attention, is at its peak.

In other words, a somewhat less than ideal time for a tiny indie release that will struggle to get noticed at the best of times.

Unfortunately, I can’t release the game earlier because it’s not done. And I can’t release it much later, because money is running out. I could hold off a month or two, maybe, but then that gives me no room to breathe and I’m probably still in the zone where everyone has spent their money on Christmas presents and has a dozen new games to play from sales.

So yeah. I’m probably fucked. Not quite sure what to do about that. Maybe if I release, I can make enough sales to last a few extra months and build an expansion which I can use to create a second PR surge later in the year when things have calmed down. Maybe. Assuming I make any money at all.

I really don’t have the experience to guess at how this will play out. At this stage, all I can do is grit my teeth, push through it and let things play out.

Ah well. Better batten down the hatches, seas are about to get rough.

Sunday Art Update

07 Oct
October 7, 2012

Here, have some art. Nothing exciting, just a few studies. Trying to work on colour and edge control, mainly. As always, click for bigger versions.