Archive for month: July, 2014

Fearful Eye

31 Jul
July 31, 2014

Playing around with logo ideas.

I like the sense of narrative and mystery in this one. But I’m not sure it doesn’t imply that RMS is a horror game studio. ūüėõ

FearfulEyeLogoSml

Then again, does it really matter?¬†Bioware, id, Mojang, Bungie, CDProjectRed…I’ve gotta go with Jack Monahan here. ¬†The name (and by extension the logo, probably) is less important than what comes to be associated with that collection of syllables and glyphs, in the mass consciousness.

Fuck it, I like the imagery. What the hell is up with that moon, man? Is it…is it coming for me!?! Oh nooooo!!!

Until I come up with something better, I think I’ll go with that. ūüėõ

Do As I Say, Not As I do

24 Jul
July 24, 2014

I’m going to give you some good advice.

In fact, it’s great advice. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot, recently. Ruefully, mostly. But yes, it’s excellent¬†advice. And I’m going to give it to you even though you’re going to completely ignore it, hypothetical reader. I ignored it. The people who passed it on to me, they ignored it themselves. And you, reader, will undoubtedly continue this proud tradition.

But I’ll give it anyway. So here goes –

Pick a smaller project to start. No, even smaller than that. Like, SMALL.

Got it? Yeah, sure you do.

I direct this mostly at other game developers, though it applies generally. But let’s go with game development as the target here. Whatever game idea you’re setting out to develop as your first project, young indie developer, you’ve almost certainly picked something with too large a scope.

I know, I know, you probably nodded when you read the¬†advice above! Very sensible, you thought, I totally agree with that. That’s definitely something I’ll¬†keep in mind! I’m going to set myself a realistic target!

Yeah, I thought¬†that too. And then I proceeded to completely disregard it. Ok, disregard is probably the wrong word.¬†I certainly thought¬†I was keeping it in mind. But I maintain that, in my heart of hearts, I knew I really wasn’t. And¬†I can offer you a simple test to determine whether you’re ignoring it, too.

First, go and find the game that is the nearest equivalent to the idea you have in mind. Don’t tell me your game is completely unique. Find the closest thing to the core gameplay mechanic, whatever.

Got it?

Right, now find the credits. Ignore the biz/marketing people. Just look at the production team. And be honest, now. What was the size of the team that built that game?

Was it more than 20 people?

It was, wasn’t it?

Yeah, I did that too. The game I had in my head was comparable to some of my favourites. Because of course, you get into game development because you love those games. Certain particular games excite you to the point where you just have to make your own! But those were built by teams, probably. I knew that. But I somehow thought that, with real dedication and perhaps some enthusiastic volunteers I would find online, I would be able to build something equivalent to the output of a 20 man team. I would do it, I was certain!

Yeah, no.

Pick a smaller project, dudes. One that you know is of a similar scope to what individuals like yourself have been able to achieve in a reasonable time frame. And start with that.

Unless you’re already experienced or are absolutely certain that you’re one of the rare, god-like developers, the John Carmacks of the world. Everyone else, learn to crawl before you walk.

But you’re going to ignore this advice. I know, I did. I’ve ignored it multiple times. I scoped down, and down, and down. But each time I realized that it wasn’t not far enough. System Crash, for example, only came about after I realized that Scars of War was beyond my current capabilities. Scars of War, had, at that point,¬†been¬†through three rounds of scope reduction.

But with System Crash, my little card game, I thought¬†that¬†it would be¬†a good idea to build an interesting, involved narrative for the single player campaign. I mean, I don’t have multiplayer so I had to have something else, besides just card battles, right?

Yeah, what I should have done is start with something a lot simpler (narrative-wise) that provided context for the core mechanics, but not much else. Then, for the next game, I could take that mechanical core, build on it and wrap it in the deeper, more satisfying narrative. Alternatively, I could have built a narrative game but kept the mechanics relatively simple.

Instead I, foolishly, took on both challenges at once. Narrative depth and mechanical complexity. Which¬†is like¬†trying to write a short novel at the same time as¬†building your first¬†video game. Not an insignificant challenge, let me tell you. I’ll get it done, but damn,¬†I really should have structured it to get one¬†game out in the first year, with¬†another to follow the year after that. That would have been sensible.

Not only would that have paced out the work better, I would have had experience with shipping and marketing two games, instead of one.

Ah well. Spilled milk and all that.

But you, reader, you really should choose a smaller project.

But you’re not going to. It’s ok. Just nod, and we’ll both pretend that you’ll take my advice to heart. And perhaps, in a few years, we can ruefully exchange stories. ūüėČ

Good luck, my friends.

A Prototyping Toolbox

23 Jul
July 23, 2014

I rather liked this post by Sebastien Lambottin, designer of the naval gameplay for Assassin’s Creed 4, on building up a prototyping toolbox.

For myself, while I haven’t really built up a toolbox of my own prototyping code (something I intend to fix asap, starting with code I’ll cannibalize from System Crash), I have been building up a library of useful Unity assets. Things like minimaps, networking libraries and planetary body generators. They have a different asset on sale every week, and every so often a big sale, just like Steam. And I’m always looking out for stuff to add to my toolbox.

And when I finish SC, one of the rewards I have in mind for myself (after I spend some time vegging out and remembering what it’s like to have weekends free) is permission to spend a good few weeks simply messing about building little prototypes, game jamming. I haven’t done enough of that, either. Time to rectify.

What A Mess

20 Jul
July 20, 2014

Man, the Yogventures story just gets more and more cringe-worthy.

By the looks of that, almost every artist they hired was some unnecessarily senior dude from a prestigious studio who got a lump sum up front? Crumbs. And how can you possibly be so inexperienced as to not tie payments to asset delivery? Man.

Don’t get me wrong here, I think KS is overall a big positive. All you need to do is check the Steam list of Kickstarted games to see all the great, worthy projects that wouldn’t exist without Kickstarter.

But you have to realize going in that all the risk management the big publishers do, that’s on the backers now. And since there’s no centralized oversight and control there, and no legal recourse if things really go wrong, that opens things up to abuse. Be wary.

And game developers, don’t tarnish your name forever in the rush to round up funding on kickstarter. Don’t take on projects way out of your league and far above your experience level. Be a little cautious, a little conservative. Especially with other people’s money. This is very much a trust-economy. Don’t be too eager.

Pricing Is Hard

15 Jul
July 15, 2014

System Crash is going to be priced at $15. Because I’m indecisive, mainly.

I mulled on it for ages and just couldn’t reach a decision. I basically hovered between 2 price points, $10 and $20. But for the life of me, I couldn’t settle on which was a better option. Some days I’d lean more toward $10, others I was almost certain that $20 was the better decision. Doesn’t help that I have no first-hand knowledge to go by, no past sales figures to compare. In the end, I just got tired of thinking about it. So I shrugged, said “ah, fuck it” and split the difference. $15 it will be!

Thinking about pricing is tricky. Especially since, as developers, I think we all have 2 viewpoints on the matter. Viewpoints that pull in two opposite directions. Our developer side and our gamer/consumer side. We’ve all had experience as gamers purchasing games, and we all know that offering a game cheaply can convince us to take a chance on a game.

So there’s the temptation to just set the price low and hope to cast the net wide. That’s where the lean toward pricing SC at $10 comes from.

But you’ve got to be careful with that. Humans have a tendency to only remember the hits and forget about the misses when trawling through our memories of the past for data to confirm impressions. That’s how John Edwards makes his living. You don’t remember the times a low price failed to persuade you to buy a game. So you don’t really, objectively know that price was the deciding factor, or even how much price weighs against other factors when you make decisions. It might just be that the price is easy to recall and compare objectively, so you it sticks in your memory. The more fuzzy parts of your decision-making might remaing hidden from you.

There’s also plenty of advice from people selling their games, that you shouldn’t price your title too low, that cutting your price in half won’t result in a more than double increase in units sold. And that the optimal price point is often higher than you imagine.

And I know that I, personally, am a pretty shit haggler. I tend to lowball myself. Based on advice I’ve read/heard about freelance work and so on, I suspect I’m not alone in that regard. So I know that I can’t really trust my instincts, that I should probably take whatever figure my gut thinks is reasonable and raise it by 30-50%. That’s where the urge to price SC at $20 comes from. Maybe even $25! Daring!

As an aside, it’s funny (and scary) to think about how the regular Steam sales have affected perception of $20-$25. There was a time when that was for the low end of (new) games. Now that’s like premium indie or slightly discounted mainstream. For the Natural Selection 2’s of the world.

It doesn’t help that there are many great games priced at $10. Some of which, if I’m honest, I think are better than System Crash. Which makes me feel presumptuous and nervous, pricing SC higher than those titles!

But maybe those games are priced too low, or are in later parts of the sales tail, or have alternate monetization, or some other factor. I don’t know! It’s one of those things where you just have to try not to panic and go with what you know is a good value proposition, if you’ll excuse the biz speak. I spend more than $20 just for a casual night out with friends for a few hours. System Crash is looking like it will have close to 80 missions at this stage! Overall, it’s good value!

I have to hold onto that, use it to steady my nerves. I’m not trying to gouge anyone here, but I also want to trade my output for what it’s worth, a fair price, traded honestly, for good value. And hopefully at least cover my expenses!

So fuck it. 15 bucks is what it will be.

Shark Infested Waters

14 Jul
July 14, 2014

Indies beware.

There are lots of folks out there who don’t have your best interests at heart. Scary, scary stuff.

I Am 12 Years Old

06 Jul
July 6, 2014

It gives me no small amount of joy to have used the term “fuckwits” in my game.

Swearing

Heh.

Might need to implement a swearing filter though. Or I could take the Bioware defense. But my artistic integrity!!!1!

On Anxiety And Measuring Success

03 Jul
July 3, 2014

Anxiety is paralyzing.

Or, at least, it is for me. I can only talk about my own experiences here. Other people might thrive under stress, I don’t know.

Tell me if you’ve ever experienced this. A giant deadline looms. Every time you think about it, your stomach clenches slightly. But, instead of doing the rational thing, instead of buckling down and focusing on making the best use of your time, you find yourself procrastinating. Flittering away your time on the most trivial distractions.

Which makes the anxiety even worse. Whenever you stop procrastinating, the anxiety rushes back, made all the more worse by the knowledge that you have even less time left, and compounded by the guilt you feel at having squandered time on procrastination.

Which, of course, makes the urge to go back to procrastinating, to distract yourself from your anxiety, even stronger. The proverbial vicious cycle. And even if you’re aware of it, it can be extremely hard to escape the cycle.

For myself, I’ve experienced this more and more frequently the closer I get to releasing System Crash. I’ve invested so much time, money and effort into the project that thinking about the outcome creates a churning mix of hope, fear and stress. And, unfortunately, I’m one of those people who hopes for the best but anticipates/plans for the worst. I would love for System Crash to do well, but mentally I’m braced for it to be a flop. Which is just realistic, very few people hit it out of the park on their first swing, and certainly I’ve made a range of mistakes that I cringe thinking about (though hopefully I’ll avoid them with the next project).

But that kind of “realistic pessimism” mindset means that, in my mind, the chance of failure far outweighs the probability of success. So the anxiety loop feeds on that. I think about the outcome, my mind imagines failure/disappointment, and I feel…well, I suspect it’s anxiety, but I’m not so consciously aware of that part. What I am aware of is a sort of draining away of my motivation and enthusiasm. I develop a creeping apathy toward my own project, and a strong desire to focus on something else.

So I’ll go off and paint, for example, even though I know it isn’t a priority, that I really should be getting my SC work done in my scant free time. But the painting is simple, relaxing and creative. And painting still feels like I’m achieving something, unlike goofing off playing video games for hours. The fact that it feels productive means that I don’t feel the guilt that I do when simply playing around, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, so there’s none of the anxiety either. My future, my self-identity, that isn’t caught up in whether I paint this fantasy monster well or not.

Another one is getting into pointless internet debates. I have strong opinions on things at the best of times. But I think that when I’m stressed, I give in to the temptation to argue far more. Again, I suspect it’s my mind distracting itself from one emotion with another. “But it’s important that this is said!” I think. But it isn’t important. The long-term work is what is important, my mind is just focusing on distractions to push away the stress, to alleviate the sense of looming identity-threat.

So that’s fairly sucky. I dunno, I hope I haven’t come off sounding neurotic here. I don’t want to exaggerate the problem. But it certainly is something I’ve noticed. Especially now, toward the end. The closer to the end I get, the stronger the resistance is. But what can you do about it?

Enough talking about the problem, what’s the solution?

Well, discipline helps. Being able to force yourself to soldier through, whatever you’re feeling. But I don’t find discipline alone does it. At least not for me, not long term. Maybe I’m just not disciplined enough, I don’t know. But it’s really hard to stand as stern taskmaster over your own mind when it’s that same mind experiencing the stress and wanting to escape it. I find that if you try to simply pit your will against your emotions, eventually your will crumbles. Willpower is a castle built on the rock of your emotions, your drive and desire. When the foundations start to crumble, the structure cannot stand for long.

So discipline alone hasn’t proven to be a great solution, for me. I can power through, but only for a while. A more permanent solution is required.

What else? Well, what’s really needed here is to address the source of the problem, that anxiety. The mind can’t carry that kind of burden for long, it will seek to put the burden down one way or the other. If you can’t find a more intelligent way to give your mind relief, the animal subconscious will do it for you, it will play its tricks with procrastination and so on.

So What I’ve found works best, for me, is to reframe the way you think about it. The anxiety comes from the sense of identity-threat and impending disappointment. From this line of thinking – “I’ve tried so hard, put in so much, what if it’s a failure?!? What if it’s a public failure?!?! Oh no!!! :(”

But what is it specifically? What is the “failure” I’m afraid of? Well, here, failure is the game being a financial flop. Not making enough money to cover its costs. Being disappointing, to me and others.

But surely that isn’t the only measure of success? Making money? I know it’s going to sound like hippy bullshit, but the only way I’ve found to truly relieve that anxiety long term, to achieve a measure of mental zen, is to redefine how I am choosing to measure success. Let the money be a nice, but not necessary condition for considering the project “successful.”

Instead, choose to measure success by :

– Whether you’re proud of what you’ve created. You’ll probably never be perfectly happy with anything you create, but you can be proud of it, nevertheless.

– The sense of pride and accomplishment you feel for actually having done¬†it. You’ve done what you set out to do. You’ve taken the step most people can’t or won’t. You haven’t just talked the talk, you’ve walked the walk.¬†You haven’t just dreamed about it, you’ve picked up your tools and turned it into a reality. That’s a powerful thing. Keep doing that and your life WILL change.

– What you’ve learned in the process. Education ain’t cheap, as a friend told me when I mentioned that I was stressed about the fact that I’d sunk so much of my savings into this project and I might see¬†little in return. And that’s the plain truth. Education is expensive, but it’s the best investment you can make, investing in yourself .

– Whether the game finds an audience who enjoys it, no matter how small. Even if it’s just 3 people and one of them’s your mum. If it finds an audience who it resonates with, who enjoy playing it and are enthusiastic, you’ve built something that adds value to other people’s lives. That’s a great, rare thing. Treasure it.

– Fun. Plain old fun. Did you enjoy creating¬†it? Do you still enjoy playing it? Look, it’s not going to be fun all the time. There will be long periods of hard or boring work. Lots of grinding. But in amoungst that, there should be plenty of moments where you felt that joy at creating something that excites you. Remember those moments, clutch them to your breast, let them feed your soul.

So that’s what works for me. Changing my own definition of what it means to be successful. When I do that, the anxiety melts away. I’m already successful. And I look forward to the future, I look forward to releasing System Crash and sharing what I’ve made with all of you. And then doing it again.

The doing must be¬†an end in itself, not a means to an end. That’s the secret that I’ve found. The process is the reward. And when I keep that in mind, I can get back to creating from a place of joy and excitement. Instead of a cloud of fear.

Yoda had it right. Fear really is the path to the Dark Side.