Saturday, October 6, 2012

Battle High 2 Beta!

Just a tiny image to start this post...
Some of you may be aware, but Battle High 2 is slightly nearing completion with each coming week with small updates, bug fixes, and new art & music!  Anyway, I decided to write a post about some of the updates as well as the trials and tribulations with said updates!

My current choice for my XNA installation needs!  Sorry Advanced Installer!

Installers

One thing I like about publishing to the Xbox 360 through XBLIG and XNA is that installation is made very easy.  The installer -- .ccgame files -- that Creators' Club Members use to test the game on their systems is very straightforward and when you submit said .ccgame file to the Creators' Club site, the packaging is taken care of once the game is approved.
Because I am releasing this game on PC, however (and hopefully), I need to make my own installer.  First, Ian Stocker, creator of the Soulcasters series and Escape Goat, suggested I try Advanced Installer
Advanced Installer was very nice and easy and had a great template for XNA games, it even had the ability to check for prerequisites like the XNA runtime and .NET 4.0, but there was one downside:  a $300 price tag.  Now, I'm not the most stingy person in the world, but that seemed a bit steep to me, so I decided to look for alternatives.
The first alternative I found -- and am using -- was WiX XNA Installer.  What I like about WiX is that it does almost all the same things that Advanced Installer does when it comes to checking the proper prerequisites.  WiX, however, requires much more work such as putting all my required files into an XML file which the compiler uses.  This was a great opportunity though to practice my XML creation skills as well as Windows Forms, both of which I utilized to make a tool that requires me to simply select topmost folder that holds the contents for my game.  Hopefully people don't have problems with installing the game with WiX, and if I do future PC projects that require an installer, I may use this program.
Not that kind of Betta...but possibly just as violent...

Beta

One thing I didn't do during the previous iteration of Battle High is have a lot of people playtest the game.  I did through the Creators' Club, but that wasn't tons of people and the PC version of Battle High 2 has some PC-specific features that need to be tested such as resizing the screen.
Finding beta testers wasn't overly hard; social media sites like Twitter and FaceBook helped me find people.  I'm hoping I can find more as I approach release and possibly even do a public beta or something.
One issue I've fallen victim to though is "excitement".  I finish a new build and get excited and want to send the game out as soon as possible, but there's a major crash bug I didn't test for before compiling and sending the installer.  It ends up making me appear to be incompetent -- at least more than I already am -- and it's very frustrating to have to resend an email almost immediately, informing testers of a new version.
Also, if you are reading this and interested, just send me an email:  mattrified@gmail.com.

Smashing my monitor would not help with networking issues in any way, but this image does make me wish for a tiny, stone hammer...

Networking & Fear of It

I really wanted to do networking for Battle High 2; I really did, but networking is something I know almost nothing about.  I did find Lidgren, which seemed like a great API and start, but just basic networking issues like connecting two players over the Internet boggle my mind.
This is all I really wanted to do:  players enter a "room" and select if they want to host a match or find someone hosting one.  Host would send their IPs to a database or something and those looking for host would pulldown all the current IPs; said IPs would probably be sorted by best ping or something.  (My use of the phrase "best ping or something" probably already hints at my lack of knowledge in this area.)  Those looking for a host would then connect and using a peer-to-peer system, the two players could compete.  I don't care about hosting a master server keeping track of wins and disconnects and whatnot.  I'm very new to networking so just enabling players across the country, heck across a street, to play would make me happy.
Networking for the 360 is also intimidating; it requires two consoles and two Creators' Club accounts and a lot of extra time for something that may not pay off that much in the long-run.
Because of the difficulties I have been encountering, I decided to forgo any and all networking features until after the first release.  I think completing the game's main features and not worrying about and being distracted by networking, especially if any netcode would require me to rewrite huge chunks of the gameplay code, is for the best.

"I don't know what I'm writing into this journal, but whatever it is, it is hilariously introspective!"

Journal Entries & Challenges

This is rather minute, but I added new journal entries.  Journal Entries are Battle High 2's version of achievements since Microsoft set strict guidelines disallowing XBLIG users from rewards specifically named "Achievements" since it interferes with "real" games.  Anyway, I made a bunch of new journal entries such as "Do a 20 hit combo with Jada in Arcade Mode".  Adding these into the game wasn't too difficult, but made me feel that keeping these sorts of things in mind earlier in production would have made their implementation faster.  For example, I wanted an achievement for keeping a character in the air for five seconds, but I wasn't recording how long a player had been in the air; though I could have added some system to do so, it didn't seem worth it.
I also completed 15 challenge combos for all the new characters.  This was a surprisingly difficult task.  It also made me contemplate on redoing the input system as a whole as there was several instances where inputs where just not happening properly.  It could have been the 360 controller though; I am a dpad user and the 360 dpad does not have the best reputation...then again neither does Battle High's input system.

I don't care about watermarks; this is a blog!  Regardless, this pumpkin pie represents the small yet tasty fraction of work needed to complete Battle High 2.

So What's Left?

There are a couple of things that need to be done for Battle High 2:
  • VO
    • I believe we still need a few male voice actors.  Email me -- mattrified@gmail.com -- if interested and I can direct you to the right people!
    • I have to integrate the currently delivered VO.  So far I only have Mai's done.
    • Balance and correct delivered VO.  I think the VO should be louder than most SFX so I need to do some volume adjustment to these sounds
  • Ending Integration
    • A very talented artist is working on new ending artwork for Battle High 2.
    • Said artwork has to then be integrated into the game once completed.
  • Music
    • Battle High 2's five new characters -- Jada, Michelle, Kazuo, Klein, and Principal -- all need new background music for their stages.
    • I have a few individuals who I believe could do said music, but regardless, it needs to be done.
  • Bugs and Balancing
    • There are bugs as with most things; there are also balancing issues that I need to take care of.
  • AI
    • I have to create AI logic for the new characters
    • I may take some time and redo the entire AI system for the existing charcters as Battle High's AI was rather dull.
Anyway, stay tune for more updates and hopefully a release of Battle High 2 before the end of 2012!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Battle High 2 To Do List!

So we've been working on Battle High 2 for quite some time now and as August approaches, I want to make a list of what has to be done.  Some of these I want to get finished before releasing a public beta and some of these can wait until final release.  Anyway, this list is to help me keep track but also let those interested in the loop!  So I just buckled up and am ready to go!

Beta

  • Create palettes for all 13 characters.
    • I would like to have 16 palettes.  8 are unlocked immediately, 8 are locked.
  • Create a new way to select palettes.
    • A lot of games like BlazBlue and SkullGirls and the newer Street Fighter games have interfaces to select colors more easily than just the test-and-remember-what-button-does-what method that Battle High 1 used.
    • Done!  I may need to add instructions informing players that pressing "Start" goes to this menu, but it is done!
  • Create Voice Actor reference videos for Michelle and Principle.
    • I have been creating reference videos for our voice actors like this for them to know what the moves for the different characters look like this one:
     
  • Create a PC installer for PC versions of the game.
    • I will also have to implement unique APIs for different indie gaming outlets like IndieCity, but I want to wait to do these.
  • New Menu Designs
    • Main Menu
    • Splash Menu
    • Character Select
      • Started working on and close to finishing.
    • Stage Select
    • Options Menu
    • Versus Splash Screen (loading screen prior to a match)
    • Journal / Gallery
    • Network / Matchmaking Screen -- we are going to attempt a network mode, but this will be the last thing we implement after the beta and possibly before release but screens will need to be designed to get this working.
    • We are also working with a graphic designer to do some new title artwork which will be used in these screens.
  • Keyboard Input Menu
    • This both needs visuals and implementation
  • Finish "Elemental Charge" for some characters.
    • This is a new feature that is essentially a status mode -- power-up, speed-up, armor, etc. depending on the character.
    • This will change Michelle's gameplay a bit as hers is very different than the other characters.  I'll just leave it at that for now.
  • Input new win quotes and new mid and end battle dialogues as well as setup the special "Dream Match" with its requirements and allow locking and unlocking for the secret character.
  • Balance
    • Though the beta will help with some balance issues, I can't depend on playtest finding them all and if there are glaring problems, minor details might be missed so I want to do some balancing.
  • Bug-Fixing
    • Similar to balancing, I'd like to catch major bugs that I find while doing playing before releasing the game.
  •  Update move list implementation and new inputs for existing and new characters.

Post Beta

  • Integrate received voice acting references into the game.  We've been receiving some cool stuff from voice talents like Kira Buckland who did voice acting work for SkullGirls.
  • Get a hold of voice actors for the following characters:   Khai, Principal, Michelle, Jada, Shinji, and Khai.
    • If worse comes to worse, I may even try my hand at one of these.  I'll warn, it'll be FAR from the best!
  • Have 5 songs created for the new characters -- Jada, Michelle, Klein, Principal, and Kazuo.
  • Have 5 new stages made for the five new characters
  • Implement new intro video
  • Implement new endings for all 13 characters.  Currently, endings have been written, but I need to implement as they style my differ form the original game depending on how the artist works.
  • NETWORKING!
    • I'm very nervous about this, but I'm going to do my best to do this properly!
  • Marketing 
    • Branding and marketing for the game will need to be done
      • Website
      • Cover art
      • Achievement icons (for use at places like IndieCity)
  • Outlet-specific code / achievements coding.
  • Playtest feedback and fixes from the beta.
Anyway, that is the giant list.  I'm probably missing a few things and I can update it, but I just feel like this covers most of it.  I'm nervous and excited and I'm going to start working on the things for the beta as soon as I can and hopefully I can release a playable demo before the end of August.  Also, if you are interested in being a voice actor or tester for Battle High 2, send me an email!  Thanks!

 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Contemplating My Next Game

So I've been wanting to start a new project, something simple and small I can do during breaks from Battle High 2.  I've been contemplating, hence the title, what to do.  Here's a simple list of goals I'd like to accomplish:
A checklist image for a checklist.  APPROPRIATE!
  • Unity3D:  I bought a license for this engine forever ago, and they are nearing the release of the fourth iteration.  Before this happens though, I'd like to finish at least one game.
  • Publish on the PC:  There are so many sites now to release indie games on:  IndieCity, IndiePub, Desura, and -- if I feel confident enough -- at least submit it for Steam approval.
  • Narrative:  I'm no Hemingway, but I enjoy writing.  Most of my games have very simple, open-ended stories; however, I'd like to do something with a strong plot and, more importantly, deliver said narrative in a way that isn't overly distracting but hopefully not completely ignored by the player.

Platformer

I feel a bit silly referencing this movie; I've yet to see it :\
Platformers are a popular indie genre; Indie Game:  The Movie showcases mostly platformers -- Super Meatboy, Fez, and Braid.  I can see why they are so popular.  For one, they are easy to implement and there are tons of tutorials out there for how to develop them.  Also, they work well for PC regardless if they player is using a keyboard or a plugged in controller.  Finally, I've made one already but only in college and never released it.  An issue I have with doing a platformer is that I don't think they work well as story delivery vehicles.  Because the platforming is a key element to the game, I feel like any story given through text or cutscenes -- unless riddled with clues on how to complete future puzzles -- is just a distraction that'll fall victim to being ignored.  Apparently this didn't happen in Braid or Limbo though, so maybe there is hope for me to insert a story into my game without.  Another issue is that there are so many already, and even if I try to do something different, there's a good chance it's already been done.

Fighter

You're a fighter?  I'm skeptical...but still super excited for DOA5!  Don't judge me! >_<
I've already done a fighting game, but it is my favorite genre by far.  I find them fast-paced and fun requiring a unique mixture of dexterity and prediction.  Sadly, fighters are probably even worse at delivering story than platformers.  Ending cutscenes are really they only way to deliver story; most other attempts are usually intrusive -- like BlazBlue story mode -- or ignored -- bio pages in games like Soul Calibur II.  Also, I'm currently working on Battle High 2 and just wrapped up Turquoise Mars -- my yet-to-be-released mobile fighting game -- so doing another fighter could possibly burn me out on the genre, which is something I don't want.
Another problem is that I prefer fighters with a controller and most people prefer them with joystick both of which are not the default control for PC games, and I can't help but feel that if you release a game that requires players to plug something in, most people will roll their eyes and pass, not wanting to deal with a new peripheral.
A thing I've been learning too is that I like fighting gameplay more than I like fighting games.  Soul Calibur V is a great example of this.  It's fun to player, but once you get through Quick Battle's 250 battles there's not much else to do, particularly for me since I'm not into netplay that much.  I would have loved a more in-depth Story Mode or some mode involving earning levels to progress -- something to make fighting opponents feel more than training or collecting a new, pointless badge.

Brawlers

Odin Sphere:  a great brawler and RPG combo but was just a little boring and too time-consuming for my taste.
Brawlers like Castle Crashes and Final Fight are very similar to fighting games, but they have enough unique aspects that I feel I should mention them.  As much as I would want to do a brawler, the fact that many of them require more than one player is problematic.  Four people can't share a keyboard, and I'm no network programming guru.  I will say, however, that delivering story through simple cutscenes between stages could work well for this genre, even if it is just textbox conversations.  This is one I want to think about more and see if I could make it more of a single-player experience similar to Odin Sphere, which, like the captioned image above is a great example of a single player brawler that combines RPG elements and brawler elements, but it required a lot of grinding and had a harsh difficulty curve that ultimately made it an unsatisfying experience for me.

RPG (Role-Playing Games)
Heh, the first image you find when you search "RPG"
I enjoyed RPGs when I was in high school.  I even attempted to make several using RPGMaker for Playstation One (or whatever you call it nowadays).  One issue I have with them though is that they take forever to finish, at least the epic ones; I can't fathom how that converts to development time, especially since I usually work on games by myself.  My other issue is that they tend to be boring, especially if they require to player to grind for hours on end.  Also, searching through menus to do an attack gets old quickly no matter how cool the attacks look in my opinion.  Quite possibly my favorite RPG of all time is Namco X Capcom.  Battles were strategic like Final Fantasy Tactics, but there was no grinding involved.  Attacking opponents was quick and required focus and timing.  The story delivery wasn't great, but it was all in Japanese.  If I were to replay a translated version, maybe my reaction to it would change.
Another aspects of RPGs that is intimidating is that they are very asset heavy.  You need to make the characters and dozens upon dozens of enemies as well as environments for your party to explore and those seen during battles.  This large amount of required assets intimidates me from every making one on my own.

Conclusion 

Why did this come up when searching the word "conclusion?"  I don't know, but I like it!
In conclusion, I want to making something that will fulfill the above checklist, but that isn't the most complex checklist.  I think what I want to make is a single-player experience with controls and gameplay that is similar to a fighting game but with the story delivery of an RPG experience.  It gets very risky when one starts throwing different genres and pulling bits and pieces from them.  Often, a real lame game ends up being the result, which is definitely something I don't want.
For now, I just wanted to get some thoughts written down, thoughts that I will probably return to by August.  Hopefully by that time, I will have made up my mind and started production on something I feel will really showcase my abilities as a programmer, artist, designer, and maybe even writer.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Turquoise Mars & Dream.Build.Play 2012

The strange, minimal banner for the Dream.Build.Play contest
A few weeks ago, Microsoft's 2012 Dream.Build.Play contest concluded it's entry acceptance period.  I wasn't going to do an entry this year, but after the Game Developers Conference, I decided to.  There was one problem though:  I only had about 3 months to create my game.  Even if it would be a colossal failure, I decided to crunch, and, to my surprise, I actually finished!  Now, unlike last year, mobile games for the Windows 7 Phone were accepted so I decided to do that.  I figured it be easier in some aspects and a change of pace from keyboard and controller input like I was used to.  My game definitely leaned away from the easy side, at least in my opinion, because I decided to do 3D graphics instead of 2D and learning and getting the hang of touch inputs was definitely a challenge, but after several months of long, frustating nights, I was able to finish my game, Turquoise Mars:


Ooh, a trailer!

  The Idea

So where did I get the idea for this strange game of giant rats, clawed warriors, and floating heads of evil?  It's a rather simple answer:  John Carter of Mars.  There, I said it; I'm not ashamed.  I saw this movie during my last day at GDC in San Francisco with a coworker, and though it wasn't the greatest movie -- alright, it was pretty cheesy -- there were some aspects to it that I liked, particularly the costume design.
Even on the Red Planet, good guys wear blue!
I even got part of the title, obviously, from this movie.  Anyway, I decided to take some theming cues from JCoM for my game.  So with some subtle theming in mind, I started to answer more important questions for my game and "Frankenstein" this thing together.

Fighting Games on a TouchScreen? 

If you know me, it's definitely not a secret that I love fighting games.  Because of this, I wanted my game to be similar to a fighting game.  Now, two people playing a game on the same mobile device, especially a fighting game, seemed silly and I didn't have the time or skill to develop network-based gameplay, so I decided to do something for a single player.  I took a page from Capcom's Red Earth:

How do you go from WarZard to Red Earth?
You can say this is the second half of my inspiration for this game:  a main character fighting bosses that are larger and with unique abilities.  Another design question to answer was how am I going to get fighting game input.  Recently a lot of fighting games have been released for iPad using a touchscreen dpad for input.  I don't like this though; it doesn't feel as responsive or satisfying, so I decided to try a combination of gesture and touch location.  For example, if you hold the left side of the screen the character moves to the left, and to jump, you swipe up, the direction and speed, determining the angle and strength of the jump.  This was very risky and experimental, but I felt it could be something different and stick out from some of the contest's other entries.  If you're wondering, I referenced this for most of my gesture coding.

Hypercalamari

So one issue I had to solve, and quickly, was how am I going to do 3D models in a short period of time.  Now originally, I wanted to do 5 bosses and a main character and 6 environments.  I quickly cut that down to a main character, 4 bosses, and 4 environments.  You can cut scope all you want, but work eventually has to be done.  So, using some base models from the Urban Mages project,
*sigh* This game again...
I was able to create the main character for this game.  I then had to make the other four bosses for my game, and this is where Turbosquid came in.  What I was able to find on the site -- for cheap -- is what essentially determined the design of my four bosses.  I found a really nice rat model that was already rigged and has some basic animations as well as a spider.  I used these without hesitation.  I edited them a bit, adding a rhinoceros-like horn to the rat and some strange wings to the spider.  If I had more time I probably would have done tons more, but they were really nicely done, low-poly game models.  However, not all models from this site are perfect.  I downloaded a rigged lizard character whose vertices were already bound.  Now, the model was a little high-poly, over 20,000, so I thought I could easily cut down a few vertices, but model optimization takes a lot more time than just applying the "Optimize" modifier in 3D Studio Max.  Next I thought I could use skin wrapping to quickly reskin the optimized model to the old vertex binding, but no, the original model was using an outdated vertex binding method known as "Physique" that doesn't work with Skin Wrapping.  Fortunately, after some plug-in searching, I was able to get this model optimized, skinned, and wrapped.  Then, I had to solve the problem of the 3DS Max biped and the fact you can't make knees bend backwards!  Essentially, I had to reskin the legs and make sure this new leg rig lined up to the originals as closely as possible.  Since this had to be done, I learned my lesson that not all Turbosquid models are created equally.  Needless to say, I definitely had a "buyer beware" moment.

Effects, Effect, Effects 

OMG!  THIS GAME IS THE BEST GAME EVER!!!
Effects are a big thing in games today.  They can be used to convey information; they can be used to give a sense of artistic polish.  Because of both these things, I wanted to attempt to have some decent effects in my game.  The first effect I made, however, was a bit of a waste.  I learned a lot and felt good that I was able to get it to work, but I just didn't use it that much.  I made this trail effect:


A trailer for trails?
This effect wasn't easy to implement.  Essentially, a set of positions are set and then quads are created based on the positions and the changes in their positions.  Here's a crude diagram explaining what I did: 
Anyway, in the above diagram, the right image or "Created Mesh", has points Ac, Bc, Cc which are the recorded positions in the trail.  Lines AtAb, BtBb and CtCb, run through the center points and are determined by a width that decreases by a specified parameter as well as the deltas from a point and the one preceding it, so Cc to Bc and Bc to Ac.  The dotted lines signify the triangles used to make each quad, and the square on the left display how the UVs are plotted so the texture runs through the entire trail.  Of course, my diagram is highly simplified and the one in game has several dozen points being registered at a time.
Anyway, despite all the time I put into it, it didn't look that great and caused some strange depth-fighting, so I only used it to indicate to the player that they could perform a really special attack.  Now, it took me about a week and a half to make this trail effect, and because my knowledge in graphics and rendering programming isn't that strong, I decided against creating a particle engine from scratch.  I researched a bit and came back to Mercury Particle Engine.  This is currently what I'm using for the revamped effects in Battle High 2.  MPE has one version, 3.1, that is for XNA 4.0 but is mostly 2D and doesn't work for the phone -- to my knowledge -- so this wasn't an option since I was doing a 3D mobile game.  I then learned that they had the source code for a 3D version that also worked on the phone.  My only real mistake was waiting near the end to implement my particle effects.  Not only did I not have an editor to use to create my effects, forcing me into an adjust-a-number-recompile-test-start-over process, but I had to create some of the modifiers like a Trajectory Modifier, which I use for Turquoise Mars's hit particles.  Regardless, using MPE helped out tons, even if some of the fullscreen particle effects drop the frame rate a bit.

Friends

No!  Not these dingles!
Now even though I can probably do every aspect of game creation -- some much better than others -- I still needed some help to finish my ambitious game with its even more ambitious schedule.  No matter how independent you want to be, you still need to find help sometimes.  Anyway, I found some awesome friends who were willing to help me.  One did music, another sound effects, and a third created 2D character portraiture used in the game's UI.  Now, there is one issue with using friends to help you make a game.  Essentially, there's no consequence if they do not do the work you want; however, you don't reserve the right to be an asshole to them.  They are doing you a favor.  That's the most important thing to keep in mind.  Even if you may not love what they did, if they did it quicker and better than you would, you should accept it with a smile, as I did.  There are two other things I did that I think helped this go more smoothly.  One was to treat the situation professionally.  Stay in contact with your friends, answer their emails quickly, and make them asset lists.  Personally, I like having minimum and maximum list.  For example, for the 2D art, I had one image at a minimum and about twenty at a maximum.  Due to time limit and other things, about five were done, which was wonderful and all I wanted.  It is also important to have a contingency plan and be able to improvise.  When it came to the soundtrack, I needed about 5 songs and only 3 were done, and again, I wasn't mad, things happened and the deadline was short to begin with.  So, I improvised; I found the wonderful Wub Machine and essentially remixed two of the tracks I had.  The remixed tracks weren't perfect, but using them was better than omitting content completely.

Conclusion

This is an image of the main character drawn by Penelope Barbalios.
The rest of the project involved testing on the Windows 7 Phone I got from the 2012 Global Game Jam, iterating on gameplay, checking for bugs and tons of other hectic things until finally turning in my game, which is surprisingly less than 50 megs.  In conclusion making this game in about 3 months was stressful and sometimes bordered on the "unfun" side, but I'm still happy I was able to finish it.  Will I release this for the Windows 7 Phone?  Maybe.  Will I win the contest?  Most probably not.  All of these questions I won't know the answer for sure until the Dream.Build.Play results are released sometime in August, so until then, the fate of Turquoise Mars is unknown!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

GDC 2012 -- Day Three

It's the third and final day of GDC. Things are starting to wind down a bit, so I actually didn't go to any of my morning talks. It was a combination of being tired, but nothing sounded interesting either.

Frozen Synapse: award-winning indie game that utilizes simultaneous asynchronization

Relaxed Hardcore: Why Asynchronous is the Next Big Thing in Core Gaming

Mode 7 Games' Ian Hardingham gave this thirty-minute talk. It discussed the importance of using asynchronous gameplay and the reasons why it was used in their game, the indie-hit, Frozen Synapse. Asynchronous gameplay is a fancy way of saying turned-based over a network. The difference in Frozen Synapse is that instead of taking my turn and then waiting for my opponent to take theirs, we both decide what we are going to do at the same time and then watch it play out. It would have been nice to see a little code or some details on how to implement the simultaneous asynchronous gameplay discussed, but it was a design discussion -- and a bit of a postmortem -- so I couldn't complain too much. Overall, this talk was decent and well delivered but not overly inspiring or special.

Promotional image for the Indie Games Summer Uprising

Marketing for Indies: The Indie Games Summer Uprising

After lunch, my friend, Dave Voyles of Armless Octopus -- a review site specializing in XBLIG and indie titles -- gave a talk about the Indie Games Summer Uprising he helped put together in the summer of 2011. Despite a Zune-related hiccup, it was a well-delivered talk and interesting. Battle High was part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising, so not everything I heard was completely new to me, but there was a few bits that I was surprised to hear about like the dashboard update and its related secrecy. Overall, I appreciate all that Dave did for the Summer Uprising even more now because of this informative talk.

Image of Osmos, a game Andy Nealen worked on that exhibits texture...I think?

Minimal vs Elaborate, Simple vs Complex, and the Space Between

This talk was given by Andy Nealen of Hemisphere Games and Rutgers University. This was my last talk of the conference, so I was waiting for something to get me inspired, ready to return to work with new ambitions and desire, something to end my GDC with a roar, but instead it was just a whimper. Maybe I was tired, maybe I wasn't prepared for a talk like this, but overall: I just didn't get it. Nealen seemed to bounce around from various topics such as why games that look simple are actually complex because of the number of game-states they can have but then went to the importance of texture -- and not texture used for applying models -- but the overall appearance of a game screen. I guess I was just looking for something more directly related to the topic's title, but instead I just got a talk about "What does Andy Nealen think about game design?" which seemed to be a lot of computer science based ideas. Overall, it just was a bit disappointing for my last talk of GDC 2012.

Maybe "Meh Face" is a bit extreme, but I did feel this at times after leaving most talks this year
I guess as a whole I was a bit disappointed about the talks I attended this year at GDC. They all weren't bad, but I didn't really learn anything groundbreaking and wasn't overly inspired. It's partially my fault for not picking better talks, but a part of me suspects that maybe I'm just harder to inspire than others. What I did like about GDC this year though was meeting new people and catching up with people that I don't see on a regular basis, and maybe that's the more important thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

GDC 2012 -- Day Two

So it's now Thursday and my second day of talks at GDC.

I actually think this image was used in the presentation...

Bootstrapping 101: How College Kids Built a Thriving Game Company in Under Three Years

This talk was given by Justin Beck of PerBlue. Firstly, I have to say, I felt he was a very good speaker. Anyway, the topic discussed the history of his company and their game, Parallel Kingdom. It was a mix of postmortem, business information, and anecdotes of starting a company. It was a very interesting talk, even if, at times, it went over my head with business information and numerical data. It did teach how to bootstrap -- or self-fund -- your own company without investors. Offering equity in the product to people working on it seems like a major key. Anyway, I liked the talk despite its few flaws and early morning time.

Jetpack Joyride. If I had an iPad, I'd probably love it!

Depth in Simplicity: The Making of Jetpack Joyride

This talk was given by Luke Muscat from Halfbrick Studios. This talk was average. It was mostly a postmortem -- a common trend this GDC -- of Jetpack Joyride, which I should have known from the title. It was well delivered, some good information about the importance of prototyping and playtesting but also to not rush a product if it's not really done like Jetpack Joyride, which I believe was supposed to be done in 4 months but took 9. I don't right this blog right after GDC to see how much I can remember and this talk just wasn't that memorable.

Logo for The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, a very fun, 2D hack-and-slash

DIY XBLA FTW: The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile Postmortem

Unlike the previous postmortem, I remember a good amount of this one. James Silva of Ska Studios delivered this talk with a mixture of humor and respectable humility. He talked about differences between this game and the prequel to his game and how they differentiated it on a wide variety of topics: technique, sales, marketing, fans, etc. I guess what I liked was that, as a fellow XNA user, I got a lot out of the technique and tools stuff. If the Jetpack Joyride speaker would have done the same, however, I probably wouldn't have gotten as much out of it because I don't develop for mobile in my spare time -- yet. Anyway, I really enjoyed this talk and even of all the postmortems I've seen at this and previous conferences, this was probably my favorite.

I kind of want to see this movie only because so many famous designers seem to love it

GDC Microtalks 2012: One Hour, Ten Voices, Countless Ideas

This is a lengthy one. Essentially hosted by Richard Lemarchand, ten different speakers -- including Lemarchand -- spoke on a topic for about five and a half minutes each. Again, I don't really remember all of them well. I really only remember the ones I really liked and the ones I really hated. I'll start with the ones I liked. Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games and Brandon Sheffield of Game Developer Magazine both had similar talks. They discussed the importance of doing what you want when it comes to independent game development a bit and to not be afraid to do it. A part of me liked this, but I feel it's advice that suffers from "easier said than done" syndrome; it's especially to say when your "likes" are usually in a popular realm. I think designers can do what they want -- in reason. Maybe the real point of their talk was to make a good game and don't worry about the theme too much. Sadly, "good" is subjective and what I think is good many may not and vice versa. Dave Sirlin, who helped rebalance Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix, discussed how "quick" games can be more strategic than games with long, thought-out gameplay because of its use of the unconscious. Dan Pinchbeck of Dear Esther fame bitched about people over-discussing certain aspects of games like changing the world, "being games", mechanics, etc. Overall, his outspokenness seem to overshadow what he was really saying and instead made everyone just blindly agree with it -- whether he was right or wrong. Alice Taylor of MakieLab spoke about the improving affordability of 3D printing and its uses in game marketing, which was cool to hear about. Amy Henig of Naughty Dog spoke about a movie and how it has inspired her design. This movie is entitled Sullivan's Travels; an older movie about a comedic director who enters the world of poverty to help him make a movie that shows the darker sides of humanity. It's a strange movie that mixes comedy and drama, but this is an important mix, Henig explains and it's exhibited throughout the Uncharted series. Unfortunately I don't remember Heather Kelley -- who she was or what she had to say. I remember who Erin Robinson was, but her talk escapes me as well. Mary Flanagan of Tiltfactor spoke about the importance of cooperation, which was fine, but then she made the audience play "Slaps" and then a weird, eyes-closed version of slaps that resulted in high fives. Overall, I felt this was awful and was my least favorite of these talks.

Pass for getting into the Microsoft Studios Mixer
Anyway, that was my last talk of the day. After that, I attended a small mixer for XBLIG developers. I got to meet some new people and talk about our games and our hopes and wishes for the XBLIG platform. After that, I attended the Microsoft Mixer with some coworkers and again networked with some very cool people and received some pretty cool swag! Overall, Thursday was a major improvement over Wednesday!

The final day tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

GDC 2012 -- Day One

So another Game Developer's Conference has come to a close so I've decided to write about my experience and talks. So here is a list of each talk from Wednesday, March 7, 2012:

Another year, another GDC
Quick note, before Wednesday, I explored the conference a little bit to discover a new section of GDC known as GDC Play. It was a small section displaying a variety of games and companies. I heard the goal was for indie or other people to get noticed by possible publishers. It's unlikely, but I was even contemplating on getting a booth one year for my work -- of course I need to actually finish stuff. I played a very nice, yet overly sexual, 3D fighter known as Girl Fight, and an interesting fight simulator called graFighters in which players draw their characters and using some unique, easy-to-use tools, create it and watch it fight others' creations.

graFighters -- interesting concept and name
So Wednesday started out with a new concept for GDC known as the Flash Talks. These, in a way, replaced a universal keynote. During the Flash Talks, 100 speakers pitched the audience their talks in about 45 seconds. Unfortunately, there were more than 100 speakers at the conference as a whole, so there were some that you only had to go by with a description and title -- which I later learned isn't too reliable. Overall, I liked this concept and it definitely helped sway me which talks to and not to attend during the following days.

Laralyn McWilliams worked on Free Realms

Get Over Yourself: Making Someone Else's Game

This was my first real talk given by Laralyn McWilliams of iWin, Inc., and though it may not have been my favorite or the best, it was definitely the one I needed most. It discussed dealing with and motivating yourself and/or a team to work on games that may not be their style or their taste. A couple of weeks ago I was rather depressed with the current projects at my job, and this talk definitely helped motivate and inspire me to continue working and that there are more important things than what I do during my "9 to 5". McWilliams went over things like how to get a mindset for preparing to create a game for an audience you don't belong in or understand and techniques to help satisfy any feelings that your main job might not be satisfying. I didn't suffer a bit from "easier said than done" syndrome, but it was still a good talk.

This guy -- Frog Skin Pro

Upgrade Humanity in 60 Seconds Flat: The Game Design Challenge 2012

Again, I went to my third Game Design Challenge. I sometimes question why I go to these things. This year the theme was to design a game that would have measurable improvements on humanity and only takes a minute to play. After hearing the theme, I wanted to leave. Eric Zimmerman -- the host -- and his themes get more esoteric and confusing it seems, but I guess dealing with such unique and challenging themes is why these guys are famous. Anyway, the contestants were Noah Falstein, the designer of Sinistar; Richard Lemarchand, Naughty Dog designer; and Jason Rohrer, last year's winner. In order of presentation, Rohrer's game, Frog Skin, involved turning your money into a trading card game. The difference is that you can extend your hand by ripping the money in half. How did this help humanity? Well, by ripping money and making it worthless -- much to the audience's chagrin -- it caused deflation, counteracting inflation, which did help the world economy and humanity as a whole -- I guess.
The game presented by Lemarchand -- whose last name I can barely say as much as type -- was entitled The Shame Game. He went through the high-level explanations of what a game is and how shame motivates us and is dangerous -- essentially all done to support the game he was presenting. Said game was entitled "The Shame Game" Essentially, for 30 seconds we looked into the eyes of our neighbors while humming a song, in this case, the Katamari Damacy theme, while thinking about our most shameful moment. Then, for the other 30 seconds, we looked anywhere we wanted, continued humming, and thought without shame. The goal was to help us eliminate shame, which he measured by asking the audience to raise our hands. Overall, I felt more shamed in the second half, because while everyone stood and sang aloud, I just didn't want to but conformed and did so.
The third and final presented by Fahlstein was essentially a YouTube displaying "good deeds" -- moments that you would see on the local news of firemen in action, people saving cats, essentially Good Samaritan acts. It wasn't so much a game though. It felt similar to Jenova Chen's last year. It wasn't so much a game but just socializing and monetizing a site to display good deeds, deeds that I guess helped improved humanity and documenting them made it measurable. It was well thought out, answering questions like, "How do you prevent people doing dangerous, stupid stuff just for possible rewards?" Overall, it just didn't feel like a game. In fact, none of them really felt like real games to me. I know there are board games and card games and all types, but at GDC, video games seems to be the main thread running throughout the conference, so when presented with these, they all felt like cop-outs?
Anyway, Lemarchand won -- I think. The end was very scrambled since Zimmerman had to leave to do his talk. Again, it was interesting to see how famous game designers work and present but it wasn't overly inspiring.

You get nothing but a glare, Nordic countries...

Stupid Nordic Party

So after the Game Design Challenge, a coworker told me about a large party being held dubbed "The Nordic Party". I wanted to go since others were going, but when I went to get a ticket they were gone. Strangely, I don't even know why there were holding the party and the PR lady giving out said tickets didn't know what any of the companies did. To make matters worse, I missed the talk I wanted to go to entitled, "Rapid, Iterative Prototyping Best Practice" being given by Eiten Ginert of Fire Hose Games. His Flash Talk was one of the most memorable, singing a silly song involving frogs and their demise at the wheels of trucks. Anyway, I missed it because it was filled; if I didn't waste time trying to get a stupid ticket for a party I later heard sucked, I wouldn't have missed the talk. That's what I get for trying to be a "Good Time Charlie" I guess.

Your game made more money on Steam than other platforms? I could have deduced that, but getting onto Steam? That's another story.

How Steam Worked for an Indie

This thirty-minute talk was given by Andrew Goulding of Brawsome. Essentially he explained how putting his game, Jolly Rover -- an adventure game involving dog pirates -- made most of its money through Steam. It was probably the worst talk of the conference I attended: boring, information that wasn't overly interesting and could have just been presented in a few slides, and not inspiring at all. I was hoping there was going to be more information on how to get your game on Steam. It was interesting to hear how Steam suggested when to change price and whatnot, but overall, this talk could have probably just been a "Poster Talk".

Anyway, the above was my last talk of the day. I could have attended another short talk, but I was too frustrated. I did hang out with some awesome XBLIG developers that night and that was much better than the either, expensive, overly packed parties taking place that night.

Day 2 tomorrow

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Career Path?


The Game Developer's Conference is next week. As usual, I'm nervous and excited. I'm excited to see and learn about new technologies and game design approaches, but I'm also nervous because of the networking. Mostly I'm just going to try and be myself, outgoing, personable, yet professional and I'm hoping to make some new, important contacts.

However, the more important thing I wish to accomplish is a rebranding of myself and my career path. Right now, at Schell Games, I'm technically a programmer. I program things usually from other's designs, but I've been contemplating, especially since I'm more of a self-taught programmer and with my art and design background from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, if I should venture into the world of becoming a designer. One particular reason I think this would be a good fit for me is that I enjoy writing, and I know writing is a very important part of being a designer whether one is designing the story of a game, the UI, or the gameplay elements, but I think more importantly, is that because I can program and enjoy doing it, I can prototype a majority of my ideas. So not only can I write a well-thought-out, crystal-clear design document, I can build and portray what I'm actually writing about, so I know that what I'm asking for isn't insane because I've already implemented it to a degree.

Don't get me wrong, I like programming a lot, but I'm not getting any younger and in an already competitive field, competing with people who've gone to college for 4+ years to learn programming is not going to get any easier. Design positions are in no way any less competitive, but design is so much more...subjective. You can't really learn how to be a good designer. You just need to design and keep doing it. Battle High was definitely the first place I did this in a way. Though I was programming it, I had to design how pieces would work together with the assets I was given, and that was my favorite part of the project and continues to be as I work on the sequel.

Overall, I'm going to see how this plays out for me in the weeks to come, this attitude of designing instead of just a programming purists. I may write more blog posts about designs, heck, maybe throw a Unity prototype up here every once and awhile, but the true goal will be to transition from pure tech to a tech / design hybrid.

Anyway, wish me luck on my way to GDC. I'll do a report like I have in prior years when I get back!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Battle High 2 In Production!

Ooh, new fancy in-progress logo!
Whether you wanted it or not, it's happening! The guys and I at Point5Projects have decided to start production on Battle High 2. A lot of new things are coming to the game that I'm excited about: new characters, new moves, balance tweaks, and visuals and music. Overall, a lot of changes. As to when it'll all be done, I can't really say, but I'd like to optimistically believe it'll be before the end of 2012. Anyway, here are some small previews of what is to come:

Polish

All games need polish and one of the nice things about sequels is that, if you are building upon the previous framework, more polish can be applied. One area, for example, that I'm applying polish is the collision system, which some people commented on was too simple and made it too easy to hit one's opponent during moments they shouldn't have been hit. During my previous project I learned about the importance of tools, keeping that in mind I wrote a collision box creator in a night. Is it very good? No! If I had to hand this off to someone else, they'd probably complain and I'd have to spend a week making it more usable. Would it change the fact collision boxes would still have to be made for more than 6,000 sprites? No! Anyway, here is a screenshot of said simple collision editor:
I definitely used a K.I.S.S philosophy with this editor.
Other areas we plan on polishing the game are effects and the effect system, character artwork, story, input system -- a biggie -- and other areas that we deem are important.

New Characters

New character is probably the most important part of a fighting game sequel. Battle High's initial cast had only 8 characters. Are goal is to double for the sequel! That sounds ambitious; thus, we'll settle for 4 new characters if it comes down to that. Anyway, I don't want to give too much about said characters away and/or their stories, but here are some concepts:


ONLINE

You see how those gold guys are shaking hands all friendly like? Yea, well Battle High 2's online experience probably won't be that harmonious...
The one feature most players wanted in the previous Battle High was online play. Heck, even I wanted online play, but the truth of the matter is that I'm not a network programmer. I don't even really know the first place to start! Now there are tutorials online and other developers I could probably ask for assistance in some way; however, the online experience for this game is probably not going to be perfect and even if I can get rudimentary matches working, I'll be happy. Will gamers be happy though? That I can't answer.

Playtesting & Community Input

Hopefully SRK members can help Shoryuken the shit out of any bugs in BH2.
Finally, the next big thing I'd like to try and do for Battle High 2 is get more input from people who play fighting games like those from the Shoryuken Forums. I think doing this will help reduce the amount of infinites, glitches, bugs, imbalance, and other issues that plague all fighting games to some degree. The real issue is how should I do this? Closed beta? Open beta? 360 Playtest only? There are a lot of different choices and hopefully I'll get the game into a state where I can start testing some of these.

Hopefully I'll be able to post more details in the coming weeks and months!