Tag: Game Dev

Fast Forward

Either I have become a lot better at game dev, or then Cocos2D v3.3 is awesome.

To be fair, I’ll give the biggest kudos to the Cocos2D team. Compared with version 2, the version 3 line, currently stable at 3.3 with beta of 3.4 coming out any time now, the engine has become excellent. I’ve had some epiphanies about game dev lately, but those come so much easier when working with a clean code base – and Cocos2D lets you have a clean code base now.

Being an old man, I rather do my games in good old code, meaning, I’m not much for drag & drop IDEs like SpriteBuilder, which is the vessel Cocos2D comes nowadays in. Not that those are bad in any way, I’m just used to hack at actual code. And also here: when the engine is as easy as Cocos2D, I don’t think using an IDE is much faster. Any real coder knows anyway, that it’s not the writing of the code which is the big part in the project, but the time between coding, when you’re brainstorming, testing, and planning what’s next to code.

I’ve been doing various tests on the basic game play of Pixelem, and once I got that to a certain point, I got stuck, so my brain decided to “take a quick look on Jungled Baron“. ADD, anyone? To cut a short story even shorter, I got a working prototype of it made in mere three days. It’s actually playable! And seems like fun, even if there are major parts still to be prototyped (such as the power ups).

JungledBaron-ipadProto002

Well, to be fair here also, big kudos to my intern Elma, who is working more or less constantly in the background on the art. This week we’ve been drafting some animations, and there’s a lot of those to be done in the coming weeks. First two animation drafts are already in the prototype, as I was able to whip the character workflows into a fully working shape already.

Furthermore, I had a few hours to think about the scope of Jungled Baron. Came up with some awesome ideas, in my own humble opinion. I need to think about these things all the time, because Elma is on a fixed contract, so I need to scope the artwork so that the time she spends at Sneeweis makes sense. The master plan is to try to finish as much as possible of the actual game (i.e. start scene + playfield scene), and separate out the “additional” stuff for later. This way we will end up with a fully demonstrable version of the game, and think about the implementation of the monetization strategy, additional fun stuff, etc., at a separate step.

The Global Game Jam is on the coming weekend. There will be the Finnish Game Jam version of it at the school which Elma attends. Gonna check it out as a hang-around (…no time to attend the actual game jam…)!

And We’re Done!

Would you believe it? Oggipital’s finished! I wrapped up the Game Center code today, adding the missing parts of the leaderboard and achievements code.

Hold your horses for a couple of weeks still, though – I’ve got a bug list I need to wade through and fix the obvious one’s. The list is surprisingly short, and to my astonishment, TestFlightApp tells me the game has not crashed a single time on my testers. I knew I was good, but that good? Apparently. (To save me from getting obnoxious I’ll disclose that I’ve naturally crashed it several times, but mostly with the use of a debug menu which won’t be in the final version anyway.)

Ryan, my audio guy, whipped up two more pieces of background music due to the additional level. In addition to some iteration over the sound FX, the sound landscape is pretty awesome now! I’ve got some coding to do for a few new sounds – not more than fixing a few bugs.

Other than that, smoke is pouring out of my ears while trying to get my head around the whole release process. OMG there’s a lot to do. Planning, writing, marketing, contacting media, pushing stuff out on several channels…it’ll certainly be a hectic but teaching time. I’m planning the official release date – expect it to be in around 4 weeks – and I’ll naturally post more official details on that one!

 

Scope Creep Part 1

I’ll return to actual scope creep in another post as I find scope creep an interesting part of project work and processes. But for now I’ll just announce that

You’ve now got 33% more game play for the same price!

Isn’t this great news? It’ll make the price for the game a bargain! Well, one could argue that it’s hard to say as the game’s not even released yet, and I’m inclined to agree. This is what actually happened:

To mitigate the risk of Oggipital being too hard on newcomers, I came up with a feature called “Expert Mode” a few months ago. Last week I decided to implement it already for the first version of the game because it has game play and scoring altering side effects. I’ve got the feeling players don’t want their Game Center high score to lose steam due to a game update – we’re competitive like that – so I don’t want to do major changes to the game once it’s out.

What the mode essentially does is that once it’s enabled – you need to get through the first level first – it’ll give you a chance to toggle the “Expert Mode” on and off for the next game. When on, the first level of the game will be skipped and you’ll start the game on level 2 with the high score you have for level 1.  I.e. experts who find the first level too lame can skip it but keep the possibility to make a new all-time high score, but newcomers will have an easier level to start with so they’re not scared away in case they’re not into quite hard to beat games.

I made the first level easier by taking out one Kisau Veela type, but to keep the other levels as they were before, this essentially meant there will be a total of four levels instead of three. Bam, 33% more game play!

Business As Usual

We’re getting towards the end. All the art is in the game – some small adjustments and sprite additions notwithstanding. The main audio implementation is done but some music handling still needs work; I want the music to consider the game situation in certain cases. We’ve got an idea with Ryan, the audio producer, on this one. A lot of the sound fx still need to be finalized but adding those to the game is minimal work; practically dropping the files into the build and calling a function when the event is triggered. All features but one are done: the Game Center integration still needs to be implemented.

Given this my immediate target is to fix the release date as soon as possible. To be able to fix the date I need all the features complete on the implementation side – if there’s a few sprites or sound files missing it won’t be a big deal. I’m aiming for a feature freeze and a last testing sprint of 1 – 2 weeks after the implementation side is done, so small adjustments can be done during that period. Currently the release date is pushed to first half of May, so I’m not diverging a lot from the original wish of releasing in April.

kisauveela-blah-oggiputSo no groundbreaking news on Oggipital side. But! On top of this I have been writing the game design document, plus a bunch of other supporting documents, such as a project plan, for Sneeweis’ next game! It had to be done this week because I am actually applying for some funding for it. Deadline this month – exciting times! Getting funding would mean fewer distractions and a faster time-to-market, which I’m all for in this start-up situation. More releases is better. Can’t wait until I have several games in my portfolio!

The new game will be announced immediately when the release schedule is clear for Oggipital. I won’t wait with the announcement as I did with Oggipital. Also, I will start implementing the prototype of the game even if I wouldn’t get the funding. I will push out games, one after another, no matter what – my intention is to run this as a business. Build up the market share, push out new products, grab opportunities, try to make this a full-time job first for me, and then for a few employees. Which game ideas, how many of them, and at what point Sneeweis is going to push out, is continuously up for evaluation. No funding = more subcontracting work and slower time to market, and less parallel work on game ideas. I have no problem in letting Oggipital be the cost of entering the market, on the contrary, it will most likely be a cost and I’ve prepared for it. I have no problem with even the next game adding to that cost. It only affects my balance between game development and subcontracting.

If I get some funding, or if one or more of my first games actually makes a profit, I will immediately adjust to that. My “Games To Do”-list is ready for this, and the main strategy is to speed things up by a) go full-time and b) starting more game implementations at the same time. The amount of parallelism is directly related to the available finances at the current time.

By the way, looking for an 2D artist for the next game! Tweet me if interested! The need for the art assets are, according to current plan, in the June – August time span, while implementation of the new game will start in mid-May.

I Almost Scored

For the last two weeks I’ve added a lot of visual stuff into the game, most notably the High Scores screen and several “for fun” animations to all of the screens. Adding those in makes wonders – now I starts to feel like the game I once was designing. And definitely fun to make this stuff. Small stuff, but gives a lot of character to the game. And it’s surprisingly fast and easy to implement!

We’re on the final stretch now, just a few features missing – most prominently the Game Center integration and the small in-game animations. I finally googled smart enough to find out why the animations kept crashing the game, so now all that’s left on that front is to include the proper sprites and animation sequences into the game.

On the Game Center integration front I started with the local score handling. A few minor bug fixes and that’ll be a wrap, after which the Game Center stuff will go in. For that I need to activate the Game Center leaderboards and achievements in my iTunes Connect account, alas I want to do the whole feature separated from other stuff. The testing of it requires also sandbox testing towards the Game Center test servers.

In the meantime I’ll treat you to Screenshot Saturday #4 even if it’s not Saturday!

highscores-screenshot1

For fun

Had I hard week developing your game? Does it once again feel like it’s going to tank? Let a tiny test group play around with non-game-related features, that’ll cheer you up!

Game Over- and High Scores-screen “for fun” animations in an actual test scnenario.

PS. No, “Gangnam Style” is not on the official soundtrack of the game.

Learning To Teach

As I mentioned in the last blog post, I’ve come to realize one really needs to teach one’s customers to use the product. For the last week the tutorial portion of Oggipital has been under construction, and right now it is somewhere between first draft and final implementation. It still lacks the final art, but looking good enough to be used. I want to get one part implemented still, the “Level Up”.

I’ve been quite secretive about the game – not on purpose, though. There’s just not that much to show each Screenshot Saturday in a game with static screens. But as more and more features gets finalized, I will post more and more information about the game here. And I’ve heard Vine is the latest dogs bollocks in social media marketing for indie game developers, so here’s a taste of the tutorial system, revealing a whopping six seconds of the game play idea!

Yes, the video is supposed to loop indefinitely on a 6 second clip in that quality.

Feedback, Schmeedback

“That’s a great milestone!” someone replied to me on Twitter when I was making the announcement of Oggipital, and mentioned it went into beta testing at the same time. Well, beta and beta. Very early beta. But who cares about the wordings of development phases in a small indie game studio anyway.

It is, of course, a great milestone. WIth the announcement and distribution of the game to outside players, it’s kind of the point of no return. If I back out of this NOW…that’ll be embarrassing . Actually, it wouldn’t be in normal circumstances, but my intention is to be – become – a game developer full-time, and for the time well into the future. Plus, my motto is to make games I want to play, so it would be silly to not develop such a game. When I already started to.

But apart from a great milestone it’s a very stressful situation, too. Maybe it is just because it’s my first game announcement, but I had that awful nagging feeling for a full three-four days and nights, “what if this is complete crap, what if I have a really bad bug in there for the testers?”. Even though one should just take it easy and announce games early on and take the feedback from the audience – be it a closed test group, Twitter, or readers of a blog – as constructive criticism, humans seldom work like this. So it’s pretty nerve-wracking to wait for the first real feedback on a game.

Thank Darwin I started the testing with external people. In retrospect I should have done it earlier but I always feel like I need to have some parts of the game near final before I do it. In this case it was the core game mechanics. I closed some serious bugs the last week before beta and did some very needed adjustments to the core mechanics.

And I got immediate and good feedback – first, I was naturally like “screw this!”, but it didn’t take me many hours to see what needs to be done, and then I was back in the creative loop I so love about game development. The feedback was unanimous: the game’s impossible to comprehend without a wayyy clearer way to show beginners how it’s done. And it’s correct – the game has rules which are not logically derivable. Even if there aren’t many rules, not getting the main ones will result in complete player frustration. By “not derivable” I mean rules like “you must cut like this, but you cannot cut like that”, and the “cannot” being just due to a rule I made up, one that you cannot visually spot in the game.

I had only first-revision help pages in the game, available only in-play behind a “?” button. Pushed by the feedback of my testers, I am now implementing an active/interactive tutorial, which is offered as the first thing a new player should do before playing a real round. In addition to being really fun to implement, it teaches me also a way of looking at the game, and gives a fresh view on the gameplay. AND I get really accustomed to Cocos2D animation functions. 🙂

I’m working with draft art on the tutorial still, but for the sake of Screenshot Saturday, enjoy this complimentary shot of the tutorial. It’s on the house!

Oggipital-tutorial-screenshot1
Please pay attention. You there, in the back row! Rought night, last night, eh?

ANNOUNCING: OGGIPITAL

Bam! Stop the press!

Sneeweis’ first game is hereby officially announced as it enters the beta testing phase!

Oggipital-animation-490

Oggipital, with its cute characters the Kisau Veelas and the Oggiput is a puzzle game about quick decisions and accurate finger moves, about the pursuit of the highest score among your friends. Perfect for those minutes on the sofa when home alone. On the back seat on a road trip. Between the bus stops. In the loo. Quick to play, quick to annoy, quick to thrill.

Oggipital-engineering
It probably won’t help you to become a better Oggipital player by reading the book. The book is recommended reading, nonetheless.

Look! It is already playable on an iPad if you’re one of the lucky beta testers. But it’s not yet released, you’ll have to wait to around April 2014 to find it in the App Store for your iPhone, iPad, and iPod. An exact release date will be decided while we go along in this blog.

For a more formal game presentation please visit the Games Page.

If you like to stay updated through Facebook, please “Like” Oggipital’s Facebook page here.

For more granular, and not always game related droplets of awesomeness, follow our Twitter feed.

Nearing Beta

Sometimes one just have to do a status post.

“Shipping a 1.0 product isn’t going to kill you, but it will try”, some wise dude once said. Now, my work week is way too balanced for this to happen, but for the last two weeks I’ve felt it, and I have “been there”, if not else, at least mentally.  I could and should push the progress of my game much more, but it would be against one of the main pillars of my so-called life improvement plan: don’t let the family duties slip due to this new career of game development. But I’ve been such a good boy that I think I can get away with a bit more now for the coming couple of months – it’s crunch-time until release now, after all.

My mind has been all over the place due to this one-person indie game studio setup. It didn’t come as a surprise, but that doesn’t mean all the various tasks aren’t daunting. Why don’t they tell us it will be this hard to make even a simple game? …oh, wait, actually every article about the subject has that as the second bullet point. Never mind.

Kanban

To get my head around all the tasks – not only coding, but also marketing, building, distribution, features, graphics, audio, and so on – I took good use of my whiteboard. Boom, some Post-its and you have yourself a Kanban-light. It helps to have the amount of tasks, the task types, and the task descriptions visualized in front of you.

I am aiming to get a version out for beta testing in the coming 7 days, hence I have been focusing on certain aspects of the game. The most important is the game mechanics while graphical “fun” effects come last. All the scenes should work in all resolutions, and all actions should be available. Scoring should be if not fully balanced, fully working so that testers’ feedback is relevant for the final game. If I screw up the scoring balance I pretty much screw up the whole game – the scoring is very tightly tied to the game mechanics. It has to be fair, drive the player towards skillful moves, and reward players who are putting time and effort to play it through. While the game contains also a randomized component, the complex scoring mechanism has been next to impossible to tune and balance as it has not been possible to simulate or calculate the various variables in e.g. Excel.

There are a lot of very important features which are not yet implemented at all. Game Center integration, music and sound effects, I’m looking at you. But I got a smallish beta testing team already in place and want to distribute the game to get first-impressions feedback. I’m using TestFlight to do the distribution and test session data collection.

Very soon now I should receive some more final art for the game and once that is in, I’ll do the official announcement of the game.

It looks like I passed the point of no return!