Are You a Visual Developer?

I’ve mentioned earlier in my Dead Wake post mortem (part 2) that one should not buy stuff he is not going to use. (While developing Dead Wake, I believe I bought many unused art content packs – just for the coolness factor.)

There’s one tiny thing I must add to this hint…

… since I’m a visual developer…

…buying “useless” stuff can be good sometimes.

I can imagine the game in my mind, but before I have a game art ready, I take images from other games and use them as my desktop wallpaper to help me get in the mood as in “this is how my game is going to look like”. (No, I’m not using them in my game). Sometimes, buying that extra stuff (that one won’t perhaps use in the game might help get the game done and enforce the style).

When I’m purchasing some art, I’m taking one step closer to “this is the style” decision and purchasing something requires me to spend some donuts. I’m investing in something, and I believe that this has some sort of impact on what I feel and think of things. When I’m purchasing something, I’m also going closer to a goal.

And one reason I buy things early is simple: I’m a visual person. I like to see my game in action.

When I was doing a card game prototyping (just for fun), the first thing I did was that I took some DevianArt images, made them into a deck of cards and ordered the thing. After the arrival (took a few weeks, just for the record) I had my own deck of cards to play with. It made a world difference in testing stuff. (Yeh, the game was sucky but at least my friends like the cards)

I’m going the same way in video game development: I like having at least some art right from the beginning since it helps me build the game around a certain theme. I’m much more about gameplay than anything else (story, theme aren’t as important as gameplay in my thinking: great gameplay can save the game, but great theme… well, perhaps sometimes – in my opinion) but if great gameplay is the meat & bones, then theme/art/music is the skin that makes the game much more enjoyable.

(Meatboy of course being an exception here)

For this reason, I don’t like prototyping with red and blue boxes. I’d rather have something enjoyable (doesn’t need to be finished or perfect, but something) to watch while testing.

Early visuals for the game help me visualize the game.

Your take on this, you like boxes and cones?

Am I The Only One Thinking Adventure Games Should Be Using 2D?

I tested the new Monkey Island game demo, and after finished the demo I started to look a place to purchase a Monkey Island game. No, not the one I tested (which uses 3D) but the special edition (that’s 2D).

I feel that 3D just adds extra layer on a system that doesn’t need one. In 2D, it has everything that there’s needed, and 3D does not bring (in my opinion) anything that would make the game any better. And, as a bonus, I somehow like the (handdrawn) 2D art over 3D in adventure games. Always have.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel adventure games should use 2D rather than 3D.

What you think?

“BlitzMax Is Not a Real Coding Language, Only C++ Is Fast Enough”

I saw this comment that trashed BlitzMax for being a sucky language and that Real Game Developers use C++. I first deleted the comment, but then thought to write about this. It makes a relatively interesting topic me thinks.

So, is BlitzMax a “Real Coding Language”?

Short answer:
[insert Cartman laughter here]

Long answer:
Yeah right.

Or who cares.

The person who posted the comment mentioned that BlitzMax isn’t “fast enough” and that only C++ can be fast enough. There’s some truth in that statement. Very little, but some truth. Yes, it is possible that C++ stuff might produce a few milliseconds faster stuff than some other code (not sure if this is true, but for the sake of argument, let’s think it’s true).

Now, this has close to zero relevance to game development.

Perhaps, if you are doing some sort of fancy NASA calculation system to launch a new rocket to Mars, then you might use C++ to program the rockety stuff. Maybe. I don’t know.

And I don’t care.

Since what I care is stuff like this: example number uno, game made using Blitz. Eschalon is a totally cool RPG that probably sells like ice cream in the desert. And here’s example number 2 – another Bmax made game that climbed to the BFG top lists (which means it sold like ice water in the desert – a loads).

And that’s what matters.

The people who think that BlitzMax (Or GameMaker or pretty much any tool) is not a “real language” can go argue about that in the Gathering of Elite C++ Developers and laugh together. Meanwhile, those “puny developer” dudes are doing games 72 times faster and eating caviar while coding new expansions.

Close the worst thing that a developer can do is:

  1. Start learning C++
  2. Start doing a “game engine” for his new C++ powered game
  3. Do everything from scratch using C++, since “it’s a huge timesaver after getting the engine done – after that ‘making the game is simple'”
  4. Rinse and repeat for 11 years calling himself “pro for being a Real game developer”

Oh dear.

P.S. With that being said, there ARE fine opportunities on C++ side as well. If you use frameworks and engines and libraries and shit and don’t do everything by yourself. You can be a C++ coder and actually get games done. But that doesn’t mean C++ would somehow be superior to other languages/tools. For me, C++ was bit like eating nails and BlitzMax like drinking ice water in the desert. I’m choosing the ice water. It suits me much better and doesn’t make my stomach hurt.

Blog Updated To WordPress 3.0 (And Built a Map “Editor” While Waiting…)

I just update this blog to WordPress 3.0 and the core update went smoothly, but the plugin updates caused the site to pretty much freeze. I recommend doing manual updates for those plugins.

Let me know if this thing still works, thanks.

I just coded the coolest map editor ever. In simplicity, it’s “map.dat” file with “1000100100002000000000100001” stuff inside. After all, this update took only about 7 minutes…

And Yet Another Problem Takes Care of Itself

One of the issues I’ve got with BlitzMax programming was the fact that I felt I would not be investing in better development practises, since BMax can only cater for Windows & Mac. For this reason I’ve looked a bit of Unity3D and Shiva which both can handle multiple platforms, web and iphone development included.

But then I was facing a new dilemma: The learning curve.

I started Blitz3D coding in 2001 and then moved to BlitzMax few years back, and I feel that I have pretty solid understanding on how these blitz machines work. I’m looking at iPhone/other game dev possibilities and with Blitz I was stuck.

Learning Shiva or Unity wouldn’t perhaps be a massive amount of work, but nevertheless it would take some time to get familiar with the tools.

Something mysterious happened yesterday. By accident, I came across with this blog post by the maker of Blitz-series. He had announced month ago that there will be this new Blitz version that’s directly aimed to support different platforms (HTML5, Java, iPhone, Android etc.).

Here’s the solution, dropped right into my lap

I was thrilled to see this happening. I could build on top of my existing experience, and simply continue working with BlitzMax with the knowledge that at some point there will (most likely) be this mobile opportunity. Of course there’s still question marks in the development (what stuff is really supported, how will iPhone stuff be done, what’s the time schedule) but as I’m keen to get my hands dirty with coding (rather than invest time in learning a new engine) I feel that the solution is simple:

I just do blitzmax stuff, and see after few months how’s the new blitz “iPhone” doing there. I’m building a game prototype, yet getting more experience which can help me with the iPhone development.

And this also means that I get a few months to see how the iPhone OS4 really works and if it’s something worth diving into.

It’s nice when pieces fall into right places effortlessly.

UPDATE: Looks like it might not be possible to do iPhone stuff with this new bmax. The Apple licence is somewhat iffy on this part. Trying to figure out how it really goes. I’m slightly positive about this.

Indies Need to Pay Attention When Somebody Says: “[Insert Platform Here] Market Is Dead/Crowded/Saturated”

Have you heard any of the following statements:

  • “PC gaming is dying”
  • “iPhone app market is saturated”
  • “Casual games market is too crowded”

I bet you have.

When I start thinking these statements, I feel that indies (those brave solo wolves that travel the snowy mountains without hope to see anything to eat, figuratively speaking) need to pay attention. The indie developers, when they hear “something is dying/crowded/saturated – no point trying going there any more” they know that now it’s the time to consider this market. (If the statement is really true)

Let’s pretend for example that “PC gaming is dying”it’s not, but let’s pretend it would be). Then it would suggest that Big Corporations will stop doing stuff for this platform. Wouldn’t that be a totally good news for indies then? More room for indies. Better start making PC games then eh?

iPhone app market saturated? Well, couldn’t this mean that the clone wars have been started and everybody is doing the same fart applications? I’d say an innovative approach and good marketing could do wonders. Pricing premium for your game (when others are thinking of lowering their game prices due tough competition) might do wonders.

Wherever there’s a dead corpse, vultures will do just fine.

Getting My Head Around This Mobile Stuff

I’m talking about iPhones, Androids, iPads and whatnot (here’s a handy picture about the iPhone and Android differences). And I’m talking about doing games for these devices. I know iPad for example is brand new and has quite many similarities with a rock, but it’s coming and increasing the size of the platform.

Android is relatively new thing in the mobile genre, but it’s going bigger.

I’ve never owned any smart phone (I’ve always thought that the owners need to be smarter than phones), only dumb ones. Now, lately I’ve been sliding into this mobile area. Why? Not sure, but here’s some thoughts on top of my head (these are all just thoughts and ideas in random order – I’ve yet to make any decent moves):

  • Non-game development wise I’ve seen that a handy camera recorder would come… handy. These new mobile phones have it. And then there’s of course that email and web and… stuff. But enough of these, now more on the game dev thoughts:
  • Scope: indie projects on PC have the risk of becoming Grand Projects (been there). Somehow the whole scope of mobile apps is smaller. Budgetwise this also sounds pretty neat.
  • Coolness factor: starting mobile development would give me bragging rights in parties. I could show off what I’ve done.
  • Many board games could possibly translate well into a mobile games. I’m a board game guy too, and this is one reason for thinking mobile game development. Some big names like Reiner Knizia have mentioned that they would want to see more board games in the video gaming world (didn’t specify platforms though).
  • I’ve been looking into Unity and Shiva game engines and both have good opportunities to do PC and Mac and iPhone/iPod/iPad games (Shiva raises the bar by supporting also Android). I’m currently checking Shiva and going through tutorials (liked Unity resources/tutorials/examples and syntax slightly more I must say)
  • Android market is totally new. It has tons of potential (which fellow indie dev kindly reminded me, alongside the fact that you can try development without a Mac). One small concern with potential market size for Android games it that they support Flash. And pretty close to every top seller iPhone app is a direct Flash clone. (So Android owners can just play these Flash games for free, maybe). This is just me thinking out loud, no any solid stats to back up any claims.
  • Market is not saturated. Well, I don’t think “casual games” market or “PC games” market for that matter is any more saturated. Heck, they keep saying that “PC gaming is dead” for decades now, and it’s doing better than ever thanks to digital distribution. Some people say that “iPhone games market is saturated”, but hell… there’s only a some million iphones sold and 6 billion people on this planet (I recall there’s over 6 billion mobile phones in this planet to put things into perspective). Smart phones app market is going to be much higher, ask any unbiased mobile analytic.

But all these boil down to “what do I want to do?” and “what would be fun for me?” Right now I’ve stopped prototyping with BlitzMax and testing the Shiva waters (Unity in my back pocket) since I see that these tools have so much things done & ready for me… and they are also good for the next wave of gaming.

Bottom line is: I’ll test things with Shiva (and have backup plan to test more things with Unity, and glimpse of iPhone 2D stuff like Cocos2D), and see how this thing goes. First I can try PC development with this, but then I keep in mind the fact that the mobile stuff is moving fast. Couple of days ago I was thinking how Android market wields such an opportunity that one gotta act now to be in the front lines.

I really don’t know. All sort of mobile stuff circling inside my head. What you think of all this, what you think of mobile gaming?

The good news is that my next step is clear: whether I want to do mobile dev or not, I’m on solid waters with Shiva since it can do everything that I could want. Continuing learning…

How Much Games Should Cost, What You Think?

My post about $2.99 price point got me thinking of what kind of prices I’m willing to pay for games. I’m looking at my Steam list since the end of 2007 and here’s the prices for the games I’ve purchased via Steam:

  • $12.14
  • $36.54
  • $60.99
  • $60.99
  • $12.07 (9.99 eur)
  • $18.11 (14.99 eur)
  • Free
  • $2.52 (2.09 eur)
  • $12.07 (9.99 eur)
  • $24.15 (19.99 eur)

I marked bold those games that I’ve completed or which are something I’ve spent time playing (Mainly Half-life 2 mods and Garry’s mod is on that list as well). I marked italic those that I purchased for 98% research purposes (Garry’s mod goes in this category too).

As you can see, there’s couple of games in the higher end ($60ish) – games which I nowadays hardly ever touch. Cannot actually remember when I last played either one.

Couple of games (10 to 20 eur) were purchased mainly for research (and I only tested these like few times to see how they work and all that).

And then there’s couple of 10ish eur (bit over $10) games which I’ve actually played recently.

In fact, from this chart it looks to me that I’m willing to spend some money for games (up to $61), but the games I really enjoy fall in the lower end (around $10).

Starting to think of it… somehow that $10 sounds a good price point. Ten bucks is something I can throw in a small game, and I know I don’t necessarily need to spend tons of time (as a slightly busy dad my time has become even more precious…) so those small games actually work quite well. If the price goes to $20 or $30, I might actually not do the purchase. Not sure if it’s because of the price, or whether it also means that I need to spend time playing these games (since I think they probably last longer than those $2 or $12 games)… and of course the barrier to spend $10 is few times smaller than spending $30.

At that price point perhaps I don’t care too much if the game isn’t that fun. And if the game is good, then perhaps I get a nice surprise (as in “oh, this was good! and only ten bucks”). And $10 games I get to buy double more games than with $20.

I know I can waste that $20 by buying couple of subway meals and I can get rid of $20 by buying some shit… but somehow the “ten bucks” feels good.

This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t pay more (or less) for games that I think are good. It simply reflects that somehow I feel good about that $10 price tag.

I know in this matter we are probably going to get a very twisted poll results from a game developer audience, but let’s ask anyway.

How much you’d like games to cost?

[poll id=34]

There’s smaller and bigger games and naturally this means there’s variation for how much I want to pay for games. But… let’s keep it simple, let’s take one price tag. You are free to comment your vote.