Birthday Lesson

I’m turning 29 years right about now.

Here’s a pretty good lesson that I’ve pondered today: “I gotta think more about doing the stuff I wanna do.”

With increasing number of responsibilities and stuff I’ve been pondering that I also want to ensure that I use my time the way I want to spend it. I could say “spend your time wisely”, but I don’t. Since I can also spend time “unwisely”. I can go to sofa and stair the wall paint for an hour if that’s what makes me tick.

Perhaps you get the point.

Right Amount of Challenge In Game Makes Jack a Bright Boy

Couple of days ago I set my alarm clock to wake me up at 5 am. I wanted to watch the Finland – Czech Republic match. It wasn’t after 3rd intermission when Finland scored 1-0 (and soon after it was 2-0). The whole game was a thriller – and and the challenge was just right. Game was a one big fight that ended in a good end result (at least from the Finnish perspective). The best gaming experiences can be like this: the player encounters challenge and barely wins in the game, with chance of losing.

It was totally different in the next Finland – USA match. The match became so that after 3 minutes or so, USA scored 0-1 due horrible error. Then couple of penalties and some minutes later it was 0-3. Then 0-6 after 15 minutes or so. It was slaughtering, and the first intermission wasn’t even over. At that point I went to bed to sleep. There was pretty much no point for me to watch the game as it was pretty certain that USA would win (1-6 was the end result).

So, when you “know” already who is going to win, there’s no point playing. One could argue that one should not stop fighting and all that… and yes, I agree on that. But I also agree with the design lesson that it’s much more fun to play when game provides just the right amount of challenge instead of playing a game that’s nearly impossible to win.

So, how can this be achieved?

Sometimes, it’s possible to provide handicap for the losing side. Some games have mechanisms that help the losing side to catch up. This can sometimes work pretty fine if done properly.

Some games might do the opposite (“rich get richer” attitude) or nothing.

In video games, it’s sometimes done so that the “AI balances/tweaks its behavior based on the game situation”. In video games, this feels like cheating. It can also lead to conclusions such as “why play as good as possible, if the computer will match my skills no matter what I do” – it’s like there’s no point of trying to get better since the computer is always mimicking my actions. It’s like playing chess with a mirror or something.

I think video games can learn from board game mechanisms in this issue. Board games don’t have similar AI that video games, thus they need to build the game mechanisms so that it works properly. Checking that side of the fence can be useful.

What you think? What kind of balancing you like in games? How you handle balancing in your game? How you like if computer difficulty is adjusted based on how well you are playing?

So, What Next?

After clearing my mind about donuts, I think it’s time to put some stuff up about the things I might wanna do next. Baby is coming… but there will be game development ahead.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I’m trying to climb to a higher level in game making. I like scripting and adding content – not all the technical stuff.

I checked Unity3D. I’ve been reading tutorials already, checked some things from the forum, ordered & read a book about it and toyed around a bit. (Okay, all this took like a few days in total, so I’ve really gone through Unity fast-forward mode digesting all the information about it). It seems a reasonable candidate for game development plans I have (more on these below)

Here’s list of things that are currently on top of my head right now:

  • Block stacking type of game. I’m very proud of my Highpiled game. It’s fun game. It has potential to be a really cool game. It’s also technically relatively easy game to create – it’s more about content. I have several ways how this could become a cool casual game. I’m not totally sure if portals would accept it, but it’s possible. I think it would also be good way to get familiar with Unity.
  • Another block game. I have some other ideas on how to approach the whole block stacking thing, and I suppose there are some ways to make a more portal friendly block game. But if we forget portals – would making this be fun? Quite possibly. Even if it would be just a prototype, it would be a nice way to test the waters with Unity.
  • Dead Wake 2 (or porting Dead Wake to Unity). At the moment this option is probably the lowest in my hierarchy (due the fact that I don’t have Unity experience so much), and that it would require something more in the game (besides of course the suicide-for-point feature). I can see ways how this could be fun.
  • Edoiki: Couple of years ago I ended Edoiki development (mainly for the reason that the project was too big for me). I now have some fresh ideas which resonate into something like “thief meets crimsonland” type of genre. I think adding stealth in the Arkanoid genre (since that’s what Crimsonland and other games are: if you sit down for a moment to think about you’ll agree with me). It would mean quite new design for Edoiki, but somehow it might be a cool thing to do. And now I’d have better tools and skills to pull the project successfully in the end. I have no doubt on that.
  • Hidden object game: I sort of hate all the current hidden object games. Yet, I’d wanna make a hidden object game that I like. Must be something in my water.
  • Guards: There has been this one game I’ve wanted to do earlier. It was about having several mini-games inside one bigger game. It would be easy way to prototype (since one mini-game is a really small thing) and continue development – or stop it – after doing 1 or 19 mini-games. It would be bit like doing “prototypes”, but using the same theme & graphics style in one game. The mini games could be about a “guard doing his training”.
  • Traitor game: This is something that’s practically not used in video games. There are social/party games (like Mafia / Werewolf) and board games (such as Battlestar Galactica) which have brought me the best gaming moments ever in my life and are – in my opinion – something that would work also in computer screen if produced well. In these games, there is one (or sometimes more) traitor in the group… yet nobody knows who it is and the accusations fly over the room. Since it requires multiplayer (at least 3 people, preferably more) it’s slightly more complex to do – if wanted to do properly. IRC/forum versions just don’t quite do the trick. A better approach would be needed.
  • Or something totally different: As you can see. Getting ideas is the easy part. The 0,01% part of the game production.

I’m leaning into “Unity + the simplest possible game to make” formula, but we’ll see. You are free to comment (bearing in mind my new ignore everybody attitude).

How to Get More Donuts?

After Dead Wake release I’m getting back to drawing board. I have got pretty good publicity. When Hightailed – years ago – got into PC Zone I was totally thrilled – and had the same feeling when Dead Wake got into PC Gamer zombie edition (the issue which I unfortunately could not get to myself). But you can’t buy stuff with just publicity alone.

Besides publicity I’ve been also earning some donut money from this whole gaming stuff. Okay, bit more than donut money, but it’s not like I could buy a house with the money that my games have brought me.

At least not a very big one.

I guess that’s the next thing that I’m interested in taking. Taking a bigger step. Earning tons of donuts. House-buy much donuts.

So… how do I get more donuts? That’s one thing I’m pondering.

Maybe that’s what I have been pondering too much. Maybe I’ve cared about the financial side and put some mental donuts blocks to myself. Maybe I’ve cared too much about the budgets and shit.

I have master’s degree from some computer biz thing. And studies in marketing. And tons of practical production experience (both from gaming & outside gaming). I’m good at serving people and have done all sorts of cool deals with cool companies (which have brought me quite a bit of donuts – figuratively speaking). I’m pretty good at coming up stuff that people want or could be interested in. I have a very practical approach on things. I’ve been grown up to certain type of approach in “business world”. This is one perspective.

I’m also looking this whole donuts business from another perspective.

I read this book Ignore Everybody and the perspective of that book is quite radical to everything I’ve read & practiced so far. In this book, the author recommends forgetting everything about what the others say – forget about money totally (when doing your own thing). And just do your thing as long as it’s fun. (Read the first chapter online for free and you get the point).

That sort of sums up what indie game production should be.

Has it been like that for me?

I suppose it’s not so black and white. To some extent, yes, it has been like that. To some extent, no, it hasn’t been like that.

Maybe I should just stop thinking donuts.

Forget donuts completely. And start making something totally cool. Something fun without giving a thought on “how many donuts will this thing get to me”.

Perhaps that is the solution.

More Dead Wake Post Mortem Stuff

In my earlier Dead Wake lessons learned I mentioned that I would share some more lessons from the project.

Here’s some more of them:

Pay for the stuff you are actually going to use
Dead Wake was a game where I did actually put quite a bit of money into. Engines, tools, programming aid, art, animations. There was quite a bit of stuff where I put money. In retrospect I can say that there was some stupid purchases (like the fact that I paid for some animations that never got in the final game – that’s just plain silly and the lesson is “pay for the stuff you actually aim to use”). But the good thing is that I chose to *pay* for stuff.

Many, many years ago I tried to do everything on my own since “it was too expensive to pay for other”. Well – I figured it out that instead of trying to do everything by myself, I should – like you know – get other people to do stuff they are good. And focus my own efforts on something else.

Indies shouldn’t do “realistic” looking art
I think one thing that made the project take longer than I anticipated, was the fact that I chose a “slightly realistic” (as in comparison to for example “cartoony”) approach. Okay, those low poly zombies look low poly, but the dark atmosphere in game and all suggested that the stuff needs to look pretty realistic.

I feel that artwise this caused some issues. People expected “more” from things. Shadows needed to look really good, and barrels needed to look barrels. And getting such art might not be so easy… and the fact that AAA studios are doing ultra-good looking art (just look at Alan Wake screenies for example) it means that I’m sort of a competing in a league where I shouldn’t be.

It is somewhat “easier” to go with perhaps more cartoony look or something like that. If gamers see a cellshaded cartoony indie game they say “cool!”, but if they see “realistic” looking game that does not match AAA games they say “this looks crap”.

(Okay, they didn’t say that to me – but I felt that I was somewhat competing with Left 4 Dead art for example. Naturally my game has tons of better shadows, but hey – maybe Valve is learning.)

Sticking to what is important
There were many type of suggestions from the Dead Wake community members. One very early suggestion was “bazookas”.

It was pretty easy to say “No.” to that.

The game is not about bazookas. Play quake live if you want bazookas. You ain’t going to find them from my game.

Making it moddable (by use of scripting)
One of the very early approaches for me was that I made my own system for doing “templates” in the game. Each object has a template: weapons, zombies, objects… and all are simple text files that can be edited in Notepad or something.

I initially thought that this would be for modding, but later realized that this actually was really fast & easy way for me to edit numbers. I could change different values and test them in the game pretty easily. I didn’t need to alter game code to be able to try different weapon damage values.

Consider leaving controversial features in the game
One of the features that I accidentally had programmed early in the game (something like in version 0.5) was that the guy could shoot himself.

Yes, that’s correct. I had made it so that bullets hit any person, so you could shoot yourself in the game.

I don’t know many games where you can do a suicide, and considered leaving that feature. Some community members thought “it was hilarious”. I even considered making it so that the player could get some bonuses for shooting himself with the last bullet. I wasn’t trying to promote suicidal behavior, I was simply thinking how they do this in zombie movies. Sometimes the people in zombie movies leave one bullet for themselves. So, in a way it could fit the theme.

I didn’t leave that version there, but in retrospect I think it could have got a pretty good publicity & made a “nice” viral marketing thing.

(In the end my technology change so that the feature was “automatically gone away” and it would have required work to code it in the game again. I suppose I thought it wasn’t worth it – and perhaps some people could have found it disturbing. Who knows, maybe in Dead Wake 2…)

Multiplayer was there too soon
I started the game with multiplayer in my mind. I think that I was trying to test the multiplayer option perhaps too soon (and was too low-level in it) and this cause more of those “engine dev” instead of “game dev” stuff.

Ditching stuff (like multiplayer)
The good thing was that after using Leadwerks engine for some time I decided to “drop the multiplayer for now”. I thought that it would require quite a bit of work and that I would do it later “if I had time”.

Well, I didn’t – so it was good that I decided to leave it later.

I think multiplayer is another feature that would greatly add interest in the game, but it would have been simply too much work at that time – so it was good that I decided to focus on other things.

Have a great art pipeline
I had a horrible art pipeline. Leadwerks has many good features, but the art pipeline isn’t one of them. The engine uses its own internal models (which is good for efficiency) and there’s tons of plugins available for exporting yor models from pretty much any format… but for me this took tons of time to do.

I bought some art packs, but needed to do all sort of pipeline work to get .X files to become working .GMF files in the game. It’s can be a huge timesaver to have a good art pipeline available.

Over and out
That’s it for now.

“Be Open For Critisism” Is Cool, But It’s Also Nice to Hear Nice Words

Dead Wake has been receiving pretty good feedback (also more ideas, and then some complaints about certain (known) issues… and then some questions about “what to do to get it working on my computer”). It was so nice to hear the following:

“I love the whole zombie barricade thing. The objects hold well enough to stop the zombies, yet they can push through at a reasonable rate. It’s pretty scary when your barriers start breaking down and they come for you.”

“Once I figured out the game was about preparing your defences it started making interest. Kind of slightly reminds me these siege games like ‘the hord’ which I was playing when I was a kid.”

I hoped that people would get this type of feeling, and seeing that some people have experienced this.

After listening to tons of ideas, implementing some of them in the game, leaving some out and hearing ideas on “how to make things better” (at the time of writing there’s hundreds of threads and replies in the “suggest ideas” Dead Wake sub-forum) is cool – but I must admit that after doing the game it’s also pretty cool to hear some good stuff about the thing you’ve created.

“Where Can I Get More Ammunition?”

Some Dead Wake testers reported me that they had “trouble finding ammunition”. One guy was clueless about “how to get more ammo?”

In the first chapter, I left the ammo box “somewhere in the level” on purpose. The guy would need to go near the ammo box, and when he is near enough – an in-game help text appears and instructs him on how to get the ammunition. It’s relatively simple, yet I wanted to have a small element of surprise when the guy first needs to check out the map a bit and think where he could find that ammo.

This can frustrate people. If they don’t have a clear idea on “how to find ammo” (and the first tip just says “you have no bullets, find more ammo”), then it can be frustrating. In the first map, the ammo can be find relatively fast and there shouldn’t be a big problems with it. I now even prepared a video to help people out.

But in the chapter 2. There I was sneaky. I decided to pile some stuff on top of the ammo box. First when you go through the map, you cannot see ammo box anywhere. Only if you realize that “hey, I can drag these objects away – and aha! here’s ammo!”. I wanted to give player a very brief puzzle, and to let him get the feeling of accomplishment when he realizes that he can actually search the level… move some trash away… and eventually find ammo.

Yet, one guy was getting frustrated since he could not complete Chapter 2 as “there was no ammo nor med kits to use”. Well, I decided to do a spoiler video to reveal how to go through it.

There’s a fine line between “giving fun lil’ puzzle” and “frustrating the player”. And the puzzles should fit the style of the game. I don’t know if players think “oh shit, I need to actually go through these piles of junk to find ammo” or “cool, not only I can barricade with right click but I can use the same thing to get access to some useful stuff”. I suppose I could have guided the player right there where the ammo is but I felt it would be like pampering the player. I trust the player of Dead Wake to figure out things on their own. Naturally I provide in-game hints that tell you “how to play the game” (how to move your character, how to barricade, what to do and so on), but I wanted to leave some room for little surprises as well.

Where do you draw a line?