Archive for Development Blog

Avatar Runner picks up the pace

avatarrunner-boxWith Avatar Runner I always wanted to create a game that you can play whilst chilled and relaxed. However at the same time there needed to be some more intense levels for twitch players and those that love speed and the “rush”, with myself being one of those. The spread of gameplay styles and difficulty was done through different runs. In total Avatar Runner has around 30 runs, mixing difficulty, background, music and also to some extent gameplay (some levels encourage switching colours more than others).

However to unlock more of the harder, intense levels you did need to play some of the easier levels, or the same harder difficulty one over and over. Similarly if you’re doing a tournament with someone of a different skill level, finding runs to be enjoyable to all may be a challenge. As such I added the ability to speed up / slow down via the trigger buttons. This led to pretty much three things:

  1. Players don’t like letting go of the trigger to go faster because that is what you do in racing games, which have similar controls.
  2. If you provide the option to go faster, players will take it – regardless of whether their skill level is up to it.
  3. The turns of pace based on the music may become unbalanced or not be felt.

As such I’ve removed this feature and have been working to create the game more challenging. There will still be plenty chilled gameplay but with an easier progression system than before (i.e. new runs are cheaper and rewards increased from better designed runs) to provide quicker access to the more intense runs, which will be balanced and feel a lot more solid. As I (as the designer) have got full control of the player’s speed again, it allows me to really push them when the music picks up pace, without worrying about “what if they are already going very fast?!”.

I’m nearly there on releasing the game. Hopefully soon I’ll demo a custom run, which has also had some changes of late. The hard part is finding a song that I can use in the video for free without you know… getting sued.

Diversity in Avatar Runner

Avatar Runner was introduced with a healthy dash of samba and sun as a game that was perfect for slobbing on a lazy Sunday afternoon. However not all runs have a relaxed feel-good factor to them. The later, faster levels will have you gripping the controller tight as you find yourself nearer to the edge and more prone to mistakes.

Not only will there be differences in speed and the gaps between items, but the environment and music will have its differences. One run might be an easy going plod through the desert or down a beach with flutes playing and the next will pick up tempo as you head through a more fiendish setting.

The custom game mode will give players the freedom to set their own difficulty whilst running to their favourite songs on their Xbox. If you want to listen to some tunes and keep yourself busy at the same time then stick it on an easier difficulty and go for a run. Want to have a go at playing the game to a heavy metal song? Crank the difficulty up all the way and see if you can cope!

I’m still working on the balance and spread of levels (how many easy? how many hard?). For the speed nuts and hardcore gamers, mainly the more intense levels will appeal but there’s certainly a place for the slower, more relaxed levels. They provide a good entry for people who maybe aren’t as nimble with the controller and I also enjoy them when just wanting something to do when my mind is too numb to focus on more difficult gameplay.

Perhaps the biggest challenge here is providing access to these levels. I don’t want to force a very skilled player to play through all of the easy levels first, but then do I limit the amount of easier gameplay, or bury away. Equally that first level should be the easiest right? But it needs some pace to hook in those looking for at least the promise of a tough challenge.

I will explore this in my next blog… but for now enjoy this new video.

Update for Invertical available

The unique and charming puzzle platform game Invertical has been updated with a number of improvements.

Art Pass
The graphics have been tweaked slightly to give a slightly lower contrast, a bit more detail here and there. You’ll also see that now instead of the black borders at the side of the screen there is a grey pattern.

Level Design
The true enjoyment of Invertical is trying to figure out your route. Whilst the game needs some platforming challenge, aspects of it were maybe a little too hard. Now the more complex platforming elements have been simplified. Make no mistake though, this is still a tough game to complete! Especially if you try to collect all the books and scrolls! If you’ve had difficulty getting past a certain level, get the update and see if you can complete it now.

  • Controls: New controller support and improved control system.
  • Movement: You’ll no longer come to a stop when you land. Keep on running!
  • Front End: New GUI, most notably the Chapter Select screen.
  • Bug Fixes: As always, there’s been a host of bug fixes.

It is currently available on IndieCityItch.io and Desura.

Desura Digital Distribution

Invertical v1.3

Invertical v1.3

Oxygen Addict and reviews

For a while I’ve been planning on writing something about this topic and briefly touched upon it in my latest blog post. Given the frenzy around IGM’s review policy and the fact that I’ve changed my approach, it feels like the right time.

Craving Attention

Getting a game coverage is hard, in particular when it maybe isn’t the prettiest (yup, I know my artwork sucks) and when you are unknown. There’s a lot of games out there and getting attention isn’t easy. Usually as my game is ready for review or to be announced, I’ll start off with sites that I actually read and feel may be interested and then expand to sites that may also be interested. In truth I hate this. I don’t feel too comfortable sending the mail but even worse is the wait for replies that don’t come. It isn’t fun and can be very demoralising.

Occasionally I’ll get people contacting me wanting to review my games. One or two times I’ve been asked a few questions, which is great! A few times I’ve given out keys/links only to never hear back, which really sucks. However most of the time after a few emails back and forth I get asked to fork up money. Ha!

At a Cost

When most my games are free and I’m making them in my spare time, do you really think I’d pay for a review? Be better putting it on Greenlight, which is an expense I can’t justify as a hobby developer. If the stats are anything to go by, even the most positive review I’ve received haven’t led to many hits and no doubt fewer sales.

The other thing that I dislike about companies approaching me to pay for reviews is that they probably have no interest in the game. If they did really want to review the game, they would just review it. I suspect that they’d gather information and just dump it on the site, barely touching the game. I’d feel very hollow with that. In fact one review out there I actually pretty much wrote myself. It was a free thing to do where I was putting in a review request and filled out a questionnaire. The review was then a copy paste. Imagine being charged for that!

It was a real shame when I read that one of my favourite sites, and one that has given me great coverage in the past, has chosen to charge developers. I do like the site and if there’s any I’d pay for, this might be one… however as mentioned this is an expense that if I’m being honest, won’t pay for itself and there’s better ways to invest money. Its not like there’s a shortage of sites, although IGM was one of the few that actually responded to my emails!

I do get their reasoning. Their staff have always been great and I agree they do deserve to earn money. When I think about it, Invertical probably takes 8 hours to complete when you’re new to it. To do that whilst analysing it, then write a review… $50 it sod all per hour. I also believe IGM and their writers would still be impartial, unlike the dodgy emails I get. Nonetheless, IGM is a no-go for me.

Could Be Worse

Obviously there’s some ethical questions here but perhaps the worst I’ve encountered is a few companies trying to charge me for them to download my free games or provide 5 star reviews.

I never replied

I never replied

I can see why developers might go for it. To be successful you need to be in a good position in the stores. To get that you need success…

I turned it down.

New Avenues

Nowadays there’s an increasing number of ways to get attention. Obviously via social media you can share game news but that of course requires people to follow you first. Of course there’s traditional advertising etc but what I’ve grown fond of is IndieDB. Through there I can post up screenshots, videos, news and more. It gets plenty hits and I can distribute my free games through there as well! Excellent.

You’ve also got GameJolt. I can upload my game, get it shared with the world and whats more I can even get a cut of the revenue. Awesome!

What I really like about sites like this is that I can straight provide news to gamers beyond the narrow audience on Facebook / Twitter. It also makes like a little easier with timing. When I’m wanting to share with the world, I can. No doubt over the coming months I’ll learn about more great places where I can connect with players directly.

My Plan

Due to the effort this all involves and lack of results, I’m just not bothering. I make games for fun as a hobby, so why make it incredibly stressful? If someone reviews my game and it gets a positive write up, well that’s just an awesome bonus! The same goes for announcements, updates and other news. Of course they won’t be silent launches. I’ll still post on here along with Facebook, Twitter and IndieDB. Where possible I’ll submit games for download on various sites (eg GameJolt).

If any writers are interested in my games then I am more than happy to provide artwork, free copies or just email back and forth. Just get in touch. I know that I’ve effectively said that I want to go straight to gamers, but as a gamer myself I can appreciate the value of reviews. In particular I love articles that aren’t just reviews. Things like round ups, interviews and articles there to stimulate debate… love it both as a gamer and developer!

Quick Final IGM Note

I hope the reputations of none of the writers suffer and also that IGM doesn’t get too much abuse. I get the “why”. I just think its flawed and worry it may hurt them.

Less hassle – more games

It has been a strange year so far. I’ve done a lot of game development yet my list of games hasn’t really expanded. However what I’ve really enjoyed it exploring new platforms. With a handful of titles on Android and my first Xbox 360 game, there’s been plenty exciting and proud moments. After piling in the hours on Invertical, I then got it launched on two larger stores (Amazon & Desura).

However my reoccurring issue is discovery as well as “PR & marketing”. I know I don’t do enough myself, but it is still disheartening to spend ages sending emails and making that push when shattered after a game dev slog (whilst also having a stressful full time job!) only to get no replies. The lack of commercial success has led to me releasing most of my released games for free. Why get a handful of sales that amounts to sod all after tax, fees etc when I could potentially see a hundred or maybe even thousand times as many people play is for free?! I do this for fun after all, even if paying back the money I spend or going on a holiday would be nice…

This is why going forward all self-published games developed by just myself will be released for free (aside from Xbox ones where I have to charge!). Also rather than the whole planning to do a PR/marketing campaign, ending up spending just a few nights on it then ultimately getting no where… I’ll skip to the end and release.

I’ve had joy with Windows Phone for Trick or Treat (downloads are better than my Play Store figures for all games combined!) so that is something I’d like to continue. I’ve also really warmed to distributing via GameJolt and IndieDB where people are actively going there to find games – including the sort of games I make. The HTML5 support in GameJolt is nice and handy, plus I get a cut of the advertising revenue (I may be able to save up and buy a bag of pretzels!).

So yeah… in summary this is what you can expect from Oxygen Addict over the next year (excluding anything I do with other folk):

  • Xbox 360 games via XBLIG marketplace
  • Free games on Android / Windows Phone 8
  • Free games to download for PC.
  • Free games to play in a browser.

/dev

X-Orbtek II released on Xbox 360

X-Orbtek II and Minecraft sat side by side on my X-box. This pleases me.

X-Orbtek II and Minecraft sat side by side on my X-box. This pleases me.

I’m delighted to announce that X-Orbtek II has been released on Xbox Live Indie Games!

X-Orbtek II is a new blend of arcade style gameplay. You’ll be chasing after orbs whilst dodging swarms of enemies. If all the orbs disappear it is game over so the game is quick paced arcade highscore chasing gameplay.

Be warned – the enemies will take shots at you but you’re not defenseless. Blast them back or use your mines, bombs or pickups to clear out enemies. Alternatively choose one of the non-combat modes (or custom mode) to remove combat and just chase after orbs.

There’s also local multiplayer and with four players it can be insanely good fun! If you get the opportunity to play with a couple of friends, I’d recommend it.

You can pick it up now for just 80 Microsoft Points!


X-Orbtek II Single Player Trailer – Indie DB

New ways to buy Invertical

There are some great new ways to buy the puzzle platform game Invertical.

As well as Indievania and IndieCity you can now buy it from two of the most well known sites around! Amazon have introduced digital downloads and Invertical is now available on Amazon.com for just $2.49. USA only though!

Many gamers will be familiar with the site and store “Desura”, probably the second biggest gaming market out there. Invertical is now available for purchase on Desura for £1.99 with options in a range of currencies. Buying on Desura will ensure that you’ll get all patches providing fixes and new content.

Finally if you don’t want to go through a third party client, why not get the direct download? This will give you the installer that can be straight installed.

All the links are on the Invertical page or to the right here. Regardless of where you get it from, Invertical provides hours of great entertainment for next to nothing!

 

Desura Digital Distribution

Buy on Amazon.com

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X-Orbtek II set for PC release TODAY

Yesterday X-Orbtek II passed review on IndieCity. Rather than delaying release so I can tell everyone when its due out, I wanted to justify buying cakes to celebrate today… so it has been released!

You can pick it up on IndieCity for £1.49 or $2.49. The IndieCity version includes achievements so if you’re up to the challenge, why no have a go at getting 100%! If you don’t want to use a third party client to download the game then follow my Twitter (@OxygenAddictUK) feed for the latest news. Highscore tables will be the same no matter where you buy the game from!

The Xbox Live Indie Game version has been delayed slightly. It will be out when it is out…


IndieCity support in X-Orbtek II

IndieCity is a growing online store for Indie Games. As well as being a portal for buying games, with assorted features, they also provide a SDK that gives the developer the opportunity to use their Achievements and Leaderboards systems. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss my thoughts on this with X-Orbtek II.

Achievements
I fully intend to support IndieCity achievements. In fact if you looked at my profile on there you may see that I’ve unlocked a few already!

I had three lines of thought when coming up with the list. I could:

  • Come up with some tricky things to do.
  • Have long terms goals to achieve (like X-Orbtek on Android has).
  • Encourage the player to play the game in certain ways.
I’ve mainly opted for the latter so using the custom game mode, challenging yourself with difficulty and playing multiplayer unlocks achievements. Then I’ve also got a few gameplay based achievements. Some may be easy enough for a skilled but for some it involves staying alive for a ruddy long time!

Leaderboards
Before I started IceLib integration (Indie City stuff), I already had Leaderboards. I don’t think it really makes sense to have two sets of leaderboards but it would be nice to have full IndieCity support! I see four alternatives:

  1. Stick to my own leaderboard system. You compete against the same players, regardless of where you bought the game.
  2. Axe my own and use IndieCity’s. This would be a USP of buying it on IC but detrimental to people buying the game elsewhere.
  3. Use both with options to view either in game. This seems horrible from a UX point of view.
  4. Use both with IC hidden. Seems extra work for no benefit…

And Finally…
On the Xbox version it was easy to come up with the pkayer’s name… use the profile. On PC the Xbox Gamer Services aren’t available so I allowed you to edit your name. Through IndieCity I can take the player’s name. Sorted!

Invertical gets a major new update

The latest update to Invertical is now available with loads of new content as well as a host of improvements!

Better Control
Invertical now supports controller input. It has been designed to work with the Xbox controller but ought to be compatible with most game controllers, however the button layout may not be quite so logical. For many people using a controller is a more natural experience so if you’re uncomfortable with using the keyboard controls, this is for you. So long as you have a controller plugged in before launching the game you can freely switch between using the keyboard or controller. On the note of keyboard controls, you can now use the Up key to jump and down key to invert. This way if you’ve a large keyboard or for the younger gamer, smaller hands, this means less stretching!

New Start
The very first level has been completely changed. It will now introduce the player to the gameplay concepts of how and when to invert, rather than training the player on jumping. I’ve also changed the artwork so it is a little less of an assault on the eyes.

Unlock bonus levels

Unlock bonus levels

Bonus Levels
There are 150 collectible items within the many levels of Invertical, but why do you need to collect them? Well now you have an answer. Collecting all the books and scrolls in the chapter will unlock a unique bonus level. These levels have an extra objective to complete along the way, such as arming up to scare away a monster or retrieving Mrs Gragglepot’s cats.

Exploration
The old Great Big World has been replaced by a new area called The Invert World. Here you will find 15 rooms to explore and lots of books and scrolls to collect. Unlocked when you complete the main story, it is an extra area to potter around in and release your inner urge to collect.

Invert World

Alternate Ending
In the previous version of Invertical there was a right and wrong answer once you caught the final portal. This meant that you might not unlock the Invert World (or Great Big World as it used to be). Now this has been changed to an alternate ending that explores Simon’s character.

Getting to Know Simon
Simon has always longed for adventure, much like many of us (partly why I play games!) but what would you do if thrust into this situation? Would you suddenly become a hero or cower in a corner? The introduction to each level has been expanded to explore this and give you a greater insight into Simon’s state of mind.

And Much More!
If I keep going this post will be far too long but there’s been many more improvements. From fine tuning levels to an improved front end, you’ll find Invertical is a much better experience than before… and it was already a fun game to begin with!

Buy it now!
You can buy the latest version of Invertical from IndieCity for just £1.49. If you’ve previously bought the game on there just use the IndieCity client to update it!