Skipping IGF

My own game isn’t in such shape that I could possibly submit it to IGF, thus I’m skipping IGF this year – which is a bit shame since that’s where I aimed. I can see that there’s no point, since right now my game is not really playable (the next step for me is to work on the “units” of the game so that I can have challenges & skills and stuff sorted out).

Are you submitting? Deadline is tomorrow.

Zombies Have Invaded My Brain

Seriously. I have this issue with zombies.

I’ve never considered myself a huge zombie fan fan. I like some good zombie flicks and zombie games, but it’s not like I’m seeking zombie stuff. Not a “fan fan” you know. Like those zombie fan fans that dress up like zombies and participate in “zombie walk” and have watched every single zombie movie there is. I’ve watched some zomb movies and liked them, and also decided to use zombies in my earlier Dead Wake game.

But for some reason whereever direction I keep going, for some reason there’s a zombie lurking behind the corner. For example, for my current game I haven’t actually decided what exactly the “infection” is, but for some reason I keep thinking that they gotta be zombies. (Or something zombielike at least!)

When I tested Minecraft, my mind started suggesting me how there could be this “Dead Wake 2″ game where things would be much like in Dead Wake, but so that you’d be a lone survivor (like I Am The Legend movie) building shelters by combining objects (like in Minecraft) at daytime, and trying to hide at night time.

When my bro suggested playing the Risk game, I started thinking that (A) it’s too long game but (B) could be fun if there would be zombies used instead.

Whenever I hear something good about zombie gaming, I most likely tweet about it.

Well, I guess you cannot go wrong with zombies!

Social Game Development

Game development today is radically different from what it was 20 years ago. Nowadays Internet makes it possible to connect with others and share our findings, and get help – and help others.

I’ve heard about social games, but it was today when I heard the term “social game development”. Very logical, but I started wondering what social game development means? Sure, we have used forums and other systems to communicate, but isn’t almost any game development somewhat social today?

(“Anti-social” game development isn’t an option anymore, correct?)

Hi, I’m Juuso. I’m a Minecraft Addict

When I first heard about Minecraft, I knew nothing about how much it had been selling nor what kind of game it was. When I visited the site, my first impression was that it looks bit lame. Some blocks and whatnot. I didn’t pay much attention to that game. To me it looked like “one another indie game”. (Not in a bad way of course)

It didn’t take long for me to hear all this buzz around Minecraft.

And… with convincing comment I decided to buy the game. Of course the fact that I had heard rumours that is a great game and the fact that I wanted to see what the fuzz about this phenomenon is all about.

So, I bought it.

When I first tried it, I was like… whadda hell is going on? Okay. There seems to be a pig there. I can click ground and nothing happens. Oh, and there’s an isle over there. So… whadda hell am I supposed to do here? Help, anyone?

I put the game to “need to test some day” pile, since I had some more pressing stuff going on.

A few days ago I found out that there were player made youtube videos which would be worth checking. Thanks to my wide computer screen, I was able to show the youtube vids on left side and then play Minecraft right side.

Now things made much more sense. I could understand how some basic stuff works and get stuff done.

And now I have a better answer to my previous blog post, where I asked why Minecraft is so popular?

I don’t know exactly, but something in these open ended sandbox games is that hits the fun-never of human nature. I think much is about exploration, it’s about building something and watching things to evolve, it’s about sharing things (via youtube for example). Minecraft also makes it possible for you to have small goals that you invent (bit like playing with legos as a kid – and I loved playing with legos): if you want to build a monster trap, you can. If you want to build a lighthouse, you can. If you want to try something else, you quite likely can. (Shame that my own plan for reaching the moon seems to be impossible due some limit, oh well, you cannot get all).

It’s also a some sort of puzzle game. When I first learned that I could hit trees and craft certain items, that was cool. Then at some point I saw wiki explaining everything that you can do. Strange thing happened: I felt I was given access to “solutions”. Crafting suddenly started to be boring, when I knew what I could do and how to do it. Compare this to the joy when I accidentally discovered that I can make a boat!

I think this one thing goes totally against everything how for example casual/social games “need” to work. They tell you to make a tutorial and hold the player’s hand while explaining what to do. In Minecraft I feel that it needs to tell something. Llike for example it could tell players that *hold your mouse button when hitting stuff*, I was just clicking ground (=nothing really happens) before I saw the video. I mean, people shouldn’t *guess* the controls. But I think all these “how to make sticks and stuff” (which any casual game would explain you) should not be explained. That’s part of the joy: the joy of exploration and finding things.

Sure, with puzzles it’s always possible that somebody gets stuck (that’s why the “hint” button was invented), but if somebody goes to read the Minecraft Wiki, that person should not play the game since he pretty much got the cheat codes handed to him.

I don’t know why Minecraft is popular, but I can tell you that it’s strangely addictive and cool game. Funny thing is that I’ve used building/block stacking (Highpiled) and building stuff (Dead Wake), and felt that the block stacking/barricading was really fun thing to do – even wrote down that “some day” I might want to develop these ideas into something bigger. Minecraft is so much more than basic block stacking (for example exploration, resource gathering, crafting), and it’s nice to see how “barricading” becomes so much more when you develop it further.

Further reading
I also read these two articles, which I very much recommend to read (these are from game dev) perspective:

Game development: Don’t try to learn too much (by Over)
Minecraft is game of the year (by seanmalstrom)

Now, time to get to bed (no, I’m not playing Minecraft this evening… there’s still bit of hope for me)

Why The Hell Minecraft Is So Popular Even When It Does Everything “Wrong”

If a game developer I was to approach a venture capitalist and say that here’s the situation:

  • The game is in alpha state (meaning it’s still in very early development)
  • The game has blocky graphics
  • The game has no tutorial, but you can check some youtube videos players make
  • The point of the game is to place blocks around while running away from skeletons (or something)
  • The developer has no company (no time to mess with the legals side of things yet)
  • The game development is done like this: “There’s no design doc, but there are two lists; one for bugs, and one for features I want to add but think I might forget.”

… I think the venture capitalist wouldn’t say “that sounds like a recipe for a game that’s sure to make 3,5M+ euros! I’m sold!”

Back to earth
I don’t really know why Minecraft is so popular but here’s couple of things that caught my eye:

  1. First of all, it’s based on already fun game, Infiniminer. Minecraft dev said that this game idea looked fun, and saw that it could have tons of potential.
  2. Secondly, the game idea itself is about building/creation/exploration. People like these things. Think of Sims, or think of Farmville. Or think of older games: Civilization 1 for example. Or even older, games like Populous. Man is good at destroying things, but there’s something strangely satisfying in building something. (Since you get the bragging rights).
  3. Thirdly: I don’t know exactly how, but Minecraft got good publicity from Steam (and was selling pretty neatly before that too) and then “Paypal froze 600 000 euros” story, then Twitter and everywhere. Of course this probably wouldn’t happen unless the game was phenomenonal, but I think also marketingwise things worked out pretty slick.

I look at Minecraft development and think that it’s just… amazing. Everything around it. It does things differently. Every advice I’ve got about “doing things by the book” really are ready to be thrown out of the window.

Really makes you stop and think for a moment.

Excel to Help In Balancing

I tweeted about using excel in balancing game. What I meant with this, is that excel can be a great tool for tracking how things work in the game. Even at simplest, it’s possible to write down stats in the excel (attack, defense, hitpoints or whatever) for different enemies in the game and then think/test/calculate if they are/feel balanced.

Spreadsheet is a starting point. By putting stats visible in a chart, it’s so much easier to see how good different things are.

A simple example from what I did to start my game balancing:

  • First I wrote down numbers (in a simple text file) mentioning what elements there are in my game (things like “infection”, “character”, “weapon” and so on). I wrote how there can be different challenges with difficulties ranging from 1-3 and then there’s weapons valued 0 to 3. Now I had a list of things.
  • Then I drew an interaction picture (sort of like a mindmap, with arrows between elements that interact/change each other). From this picture, it’s easy for me to see for example that “characters use weapons, weapons are used to overcome challenges, challenges reduce resources A B and C” and so on. Since there’s different dependencies between objects, it was a good to see them in paper. This high-level map helps in seeing things.
  • Third thing I needed was excel (or open office alternative). I list my game objects in my excel, put numbers there and this gives me numeric data to work with. I can use my high-level picture to see how things affect each other – and from this I can start putting some numbers in the excel. Excel can give good additional view on how powerful some objects might be (and you can even create formulas that calculate relative powers of objects, you can see if some weapons for example are unbalanced).

Of course this is merely the start. After I have numbers in excel, I of course need get these numbers in my game – and test the game. And from there I can do changes, balance things with the help of spreadsheet.

I think I’ve blogged at some point (several years ago) how cool idea it was to use .csv file format, and import that data directly to the game – really recommend this. Also, I’m sure there’s tons of articles about game balancing – go fetch ‘em.

And of course share your own tips here.

“Just One More Thing…”

Remember the time when you said that your game is “almost finished” and that “you just need to add one more thing”.

Well, I’ve noticed this to happen to my own game’s engine. I’m using this browser based system, and noticed that once again I need to add this “one more thing”. Okay, this feature I add is good thing to add. It will help making changes much, much easier – so in reality instead of spending several hours doing repetitive work, I create a system that let’s me edit crucial data online & realtime.

In this specific case (bit hard to explain), I am actually saving quite a bit of time – since I’m sure my game won’t be balanced. Cannot be. Thus, I need an easy way to change numbers and help in balancing.

This is acceptable, but it is also a reminder about “adding one more thing”.

There’s always one more thing to add.

When was the last time when you said that you “just need to add this one thing and it’s done” (and ended doing another, and another, and another, and another change…)?

What To Do? I’m In The Zone But It’s Midnight

Seriously. I started updating gameplay design after 21 o’clock (had couple of short tweeting breaks) or so and noticed few minutes ago that it’s 23:42 (this is a scheduled post by the way), and that I’ve done great progress in writing the gameplay doc.

I started to wonder what I should do. I know that our baby will wake up early, and I need sleep. Thus, I’m checking the clock and thinking if I should stop writing (even though I feel “all the pieces are coming together great and writing the design doc just flows!”) since tomorrow will be hell if I stay up too late.

Now I’m writing these thoughts on my blog and I’m being afraid that I might lose my momentum on the gameplay design area.

Damn.

Here’s what I will do: I will continue 30 more minutes. I will write rest of my ideas down (I think I’m getting near the “end” for today anyway) and will head to bed after that.

I’ll schedule this post to appear after some hours – and I’ll be at sleep while you guys comment (so that I won’t spend any more time on updating this blog and commenting your comments).

What would have you done?

So, I Went And Bought NHL 11…

There’s one funny thing that happened.

I almost didn’t purchase the game since earlier I told that I wouldn’t purchase NHL ’11. Come to think of it, it would be silly to not to change my mind just because something that I said in the past.

Strange how we human beings are constructed so that we want to be consistent with our speech and actions.

Since I said in the past that “I’m not buying this game” (in this public blog), this somehow made me think that I shouldn’t buy the game. Not even when I can see that it’s terribly fun after winning the Stanley Cup in the demo over and over (and even though it costs 43.44 euros, and not 20 euros). In reality, +24 euros doesn’t make any difference. The bottom line is that the game is terribly fun, and all people who played NHL ’10 online have moved to play NHL ’11 online (yes, that’s a sad thing for some players – but quite cool fact from EA’s money department perspective), and that these new features are cool enuf to justify the purchase.

Also, it’s something that’s quite family friendly and something that I can play even if my baby girl is in the same room (learning hip tackles is perfectly natural thing to learn at the age of 6 months, but I don’t want to teach her how to steal cars (GTA) or shoot cops (Kane & Lynch) or smash object with your head (Mario Bros) – those are too bad things for her age).

Beta Testers Are Good At Breaking Things

That’s one side of the story. The other side is that without testers and testing we would miss tons of obvious bugs. Testers are gift.

Now, the dark side of testing is that… people want to try and break things. Few hours ago I did some ad-hoc testing to see if the technology was in shape. When I told people to “come here (link)…” I didn’t managed to say “…and listen to the instructions” when hell break loose. Sort of. All testers started simultaneously do random things. One guy started hiding pieces, another one started flipping them and so on. It was like watching kids who just got access to candyland.

Well, hell didn’t break loose – this is for what purpose I wanted these guys to help me out. I wanted them to come to the playground and try break things. I didn’t say that, I sort of expected them to try different things.

After I let these guys fool around, I told them to join to the next room and wait for the instructions.

That almost worked – until one guy couldn’t resist temptation and started moving pieces around. I tried to get these folks to send me screenshots (and got 2) and eventually located two important bugs. And after started fixing these bugs, I found couple of more additional ones.

Testers – especially new ones who haven’t seen what you’ve done – want to try things and play around. I’ve done testing for various groups and when I’ve carefully explained beforehand what we are supposed to do and how things work, I’ve got people to pay attention.

People are curious. One guy kept asking “okay, but how this works for The Infected? Are these representing some sort of barricades?” even though I repeatedly said that “this is purely a tech/networking test” and I believe I added that “the graphics don’t represent any of the Infected gameplay”.

It’s good to see that these guys are interested about my game, but for the next testing session I believe it would be useful to have art that I plan to use in the game (and not just some random Star Wars characters)

(By the way: in case you want to test my game, please feel free to join The Infected steam group – I’m announcing testing opportunities there and inviting people who happen to be online to test the game)