Archive for month: November, 2012

The Power of Steam

30 Nov
November 30, 2012

An informative post from another indie developer, breaking down where their revenue comes from. It’s fairly obvious that the lion’s share comes from Steam.

Now, it’s clearly desirable to get your games on Steam. This data just echoes what I’ve heard repeatedly from indies, that Steam can literally multiply your income by a factor of 10. But it is also a little bit worrying that Steam so clearly dominates. Valve are good people, I feel, but I do somewhat fear them becoming the sole gatekeepers of success, at least for indies in the PC space. While I hate Origin, and I hate having to have 2 store front-end clients installed on my PC, I do actually wish that EA would create a good competitor to Steam. Competition is good for the customer, and in this case the developers ARE the customers.

And Valve, no matter how good intentioned, aren’t perfect. Wadget Eye Games, for example, the developers of the Blackwell series as well as Gemini Rue, Resonance and now Primordia, who are, along with Telltale, reviving the Adventure game genre in the public consciousness, have to go through the indie application process each and every time for their new games. Which now means getting in the Greenlight line. Despite clear past success, they are still subject to this song and dance.

Time will tell, I guess.

The little things

26 Nov
November 26, 2012

There are a lot of little things you have to do to setup and run a game development studio. For example, right now I’ve taken a break from writing missions to try to figure out what I want the Rogue Moon / System Crash websites to look like, as I need to pass that information onto my web developer/ graphic designer brother. It would be nice to have a proper website up to point people to when talking about the project.

I am also trying to figure out a nice logo for Rogue Moon. Right now, I’m thinking something in this direction. It’s rough, but I just need to give him a general idea to work from, he’ll snazz it up with his graphic design skills.

The idea is a moon drifting off into deep space, un-tethered from the gravity of a planetary body. You know, like escaping to corporate world to go independent. 😉 I’m thinking keep it simple, use a font reminiscent of Golden Era sci-fi.

Or maybe something like this. A bit more dynamic, maybe.

Inspired by an eclipse.

This week’s best reading

24 Nov
November 24, 2012

Two excellent pieces of writing I’ve read this week, thought I’d share them with you.

Firstly, Rockpapershotgun (which you should already be reading, as it’s the finest gaming publication on this here internet) does a fantastic series of articles called “Gaming Made Me”, where folk share their stories about the game that first truly ignited their passion for games, that opened their eyes to gaming’s potential as a medium.

In the latest article, writer Patricia Hernandez writes about playing Fallout 2 for the first time. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, showing that games definitely are an art form, that they can have cultural and personal relevance beyond just being entertaining. And also perfectly demonstrating why RPGs are my personal favourite genre of games.

Give it a read here.

The second is an article written by Jonas Kyratzes for Nightmare Mode on mature storytelling in games. It’s an excellent critique covering a range of different viewpoints on the subject of what storytelling in games should be, and what it’s currently lacking. I’ve called Jonas a whiny idiot for some of his opinions in the past, but this is an excellent read. Credit where it is due.

Check it out on Nighmare Mode (itself a lovely site) here.

Very clever, Double Fine, very clever indeed.

21 Nov
November 21, 2012

You guys should check out what Double Fine are doing with the Humble Bundle right now. It’s both very cool and very clever, in my opinion.

Link

I won’t lie, I’m feeling a little bit burned out on Kickstarter, though the fact that I don’t have an income and I’m nearing the end of my funds may play a role there. Still, I think this is the kind of clever engagement with crowd funding that will make it an long-term phenomenon rather than just a flash-in-the-pan gold rush.

This kind of thing won’t work for every developer, but if you’ve got an engaged fanbase this is a good way to get early feedback, help cover the costs of letting your team pursue wild ideas instead of what will definitely make money, and give your fans a greater feeling of participation.

And I like the idea of letting fans help you buy funding smaller chunks of the development. You mitigate risk and get feedback a lot sooner. I could see myself, for example, coming up with a combat system prototype for an RPG, crowd funding that into a full-fledged, polished experience, then building on that solid base to create a full RPG experience. The Stoic guys are already doing this, with Banner Saga : Factions.

Interesting times indeed.

Ludonarrative dissonance…

20 Nov
November 20, 2012

…is a rather fun phrase to say, don’t you think? Say it with me : Luuuudonarrrrative dissssonance. Marvelous.

Not only is it fun to say, it’s also the primary reason why I switched themes for my game, from Urban Fantasy to Cyberpunk.

So what exactly is it?

Basically, ludonarrative dissonance is when there is a conflict between the explicit narrative being told by a game and the “story” that is told by the actual gameplay, ie the player’s interactions with the game’s mechanics and reward structures.

For example, say non-player characters (NPCs) keep lots of valuable loot in their houses but those same NPCs aren’t programmed to notice the player stealing their wares. This can (and frequently does) result in the player stealing the silverware in front of an NPC, only to have that NPC greet the player warmly in conversation later, as a “hero” and “a welcome guest”. This sets up a conflict between the observed reality of the gameplay and the explicit story being told by characters and cutscenes.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of examples of ludonarrative dissonance in games, many of which have entered the fabled halls of memedom.

The infamous Skyrim NPCs, who you can shoot full of arrows and still hear them conclude that it “must have been nothing” once you’ve been out of sight range for a while. The games that urge you to make all haste as your quest is of utmost urgency, only to have every actor in the game wait patiently in place while you finish up your side-quests and chase all the achievements. The games where you’re the only hope for the survival of everyone on the planet, but weapon sellers still demand that you pay for each upgrade. And perhaps worst of all, the ones where you’re soundly thumping the end-of-game boss, only for it to fade to a cutscene once his health gets low, where you’re informed that the boss is “just too powerful to defeat” and you need some special ritual or item to actually defeat him.

This collision between the experience of the gameplay and the narrative is rather jarring, and it is one of the ways in which writing a good narrative for a game can be difficult. You have to make sure the mechanics are not sabotaging the narrative, and vice versa.

This is essentially the problem I was was running into, with the Street Sorcery theme. The setting was inspired by World of Darkness and Constantine and the Dresden Files, supernatural intrigue and treachery. But the story told by the mechanics is much simpler, and more akin to an RTS. The player has only one real way to interact with the story, fighting. Straight-up skirmishes between two small groups of opponents. If I had more mechanics in the game, more support for branching dialogue and choices and exploration, if it had been an RPG or adventure game essentially, it would have been fine.

But that isn’t the case. And the card battle mechanics are not abstract enough to represent a generic “conflict” that could be adapted to represent social interactions too. This is a game about dudes fighting other dudes in groups. I needed a narrative where it felt like a more natural fit.

If you look at other CCGs, you generally see that the theme is designed to provide a context for regular strategy battles. Magic is a world where mages can create just about anything out of thin air, armies included, but the source of that magic, mana, is drawn from territories they control. A perfect setup for frequent conflict with disposable armies. The world of Pokemon is one where it is normal for children to wander around, collecting monsters and training them by fighting other Trainers in non-lethal Pokemon gyms. Again, the narrative fits the mechanics.

I got tired of feeling like the story I was writing wasn’t fitting the mechanics. So I decided to put that setting aside until I could do it the justice I feel it deserves, and pick a more appropriate context.

After trying a few things, I finally settled on Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk fit my needs well, “Runners” are essentially mercenaries, so it makes sense if most plot points are built around a clash with opposing forces in a “run” on some target. Also, since they’re mercs working for money, it’s ok thematically if both you and your enemies have access to the same pool of Agent cards. Helpful, when you’re working on a budget and need to minimize your card count. And finally, I really like Cyberpunk, as a setting. I like the “low life meets high tech” themes and conflicts. And it feels like an under served niche, though with games like DX:HR and CDProjeckt’s upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, that’s starting to change.

So now you know the reason. Ideally, I shouldn’t have changed direction, should have had the theme fixed from the start. But some things you learn only by doing, and now I know what to consider for the next game. And I’m sure I’ll continue to learn these kinds of lessons, as I make more games and more mistakes. 😉

Feel the Hate Washing over You

15 Nov
November 15, 2012

I’ve working on a more meaningful post, but for now, I’m just going to leave these two links here. Not even going to say anything about them. Just read. And feel the hate washing over you.

Why We Need to Kill Gameplay to Make Better Games

The Truth About Challenge in Games

System Crash

01 Nov
November 1, 2012

Well, my lungs are starting to work properly again so I guess I’ll show you that media I promised 😉

I wanted to make more of a “splash” with the announcement, somehow, with a website launch or something, but fuck it. I’m a tiny, unknown indie, that’s the wrong strategy.

So here goes. Announcing “System Crash”, a cyberpunk themed CCG. Cyberpunk, yay! Coolness…wait, you didn’t know I switched the theme to cyberpunk months ago, did you? Well, that’s because I got mocked for changing direction so many times that I felt I’d just shut up about it until I had something to show, to show that I wasn’t just gonna change my mind further down the line again. I’m not going to, the decision was made months ago. Besides, 45 of the 76 illustrations I needed are finished and paid for, I can’t afford to change my mind. 😉

I’ll go into the reason for the change of theme in the next blog post. No, it wasn’t just that I am an scatterbrained idiot that can’t make up his mind. I’ve got reasons, though those reasons are the justifications of a scatterbrained idiot who can’t make up his mind is for you to decide, I guess.

For now, pretty pictures. Note, I’m still working on the UI and I’m still getting in final art. Some of what you see is placeholder. Not sure whether I’m going to go with the lurid green colour scheme for the UI or something more like the desaturated turquoise blue in the XCOM UI. I chose green because it felt “old school DOS”, like the Matrix movies. But maybe blue fits better with some of the art I’ve got, and I’m not sure that the green doesn’t overwhelm the art, visually. Anyway. Click for bigger images, as always.