Archive for Development Blog

Sentimental about Invertical

During my time as a hobby game developer I have put together many quick projects but there’s one that I keep returning to.

PrototypeIt was 3 years ago today when I put together a very small prototype of Invertical. Strangely despite knowing that I wanted to do with the game with path finding puzzle gameplay, the prototype was heavily focused on jumping, despite being pretty awful to control (to be fair, this was an afternoon’s work!).

Those who played it liked the concept enough to encourage me to develop the game further.

Unlock bonus levels

Objective based levels

A few months later I released the game but I’ve never been happy, making several updates and trying out new ideas such as the Invert World section and bonus levels. Much of the newer levels being added were in mind for a mobile version and more objective based gameplay.

Whilst the bonus levels don’t have much story, there is a bit of thought behind each of the characters. For a period I had been playing about with a mobile version, building it up from the beginning and focusing on small levels and a series of stories. I have a few character ideas in mind and liked the idea of having small levels similar to the Invertical bonus levels but they’d be linked together. Many of my designs were about unique gameplay as well, including runner levels and very different puzzle styles.

The Vine-al Chapter

I released a “proper game”!

However when meeting the chaps from Hunted Cow they were keen to get involved and helped bring the original Invertical to mobile with a port the more desirable option than a long term project. Working on Invertical Touch has been an interesting project as the standard has been much higher. The artwork provided by Hunted Cow gave the game a whole new look and whilst it was sad to see Simon depart and his backstory fade, Qube is cute and the game had a lot more polish. It was a proper game! The first time that I’ve really felt that.

So far Invertical Touch hasn’t had the success we’d hoped, which was absolutely crushing, but the market is a lottery and there’s some cool changes coming. I’m still determined to make a success out of Invertical! This is partly because of the money invested but mainly to share my idea and passion for the project. Maybe once my current projects are done then I can make the Invertical game that I’ve really wanted!

If you’re interested in knowing more about the development, read more articles on Invertical and if you manage to 100% the PC version of the game there’s a hidden extra.

A Gamer’s Christmas Thoughts

Christmas is upon us and soon we will all be enjoying gifts, hopefully including wonderful games, consoles and gaming merchandise. 

It is a wonderful sign of the way that the games industry has evolved from a geeky thing for boys and err, adult boys to something open to all age ranges and genders. Whilst the kids play the latest adventure on their Xbox, Dad might be on his laptop enjoying a strategy game and Mum playing a puzzle game on her iPad. Such diversity and accessibility in games means that many people who would say “oh I don’t play games” actually play a lot, although the misunderstanding that playing games on your mobile somehow doesn’t mean that you play games still needs working on. Yes, Call of Duty is a game but so is Angry Birds! Just because there’s no blood and gore it doesn’t mean you’re not playing games.

However what most interests me and the main reason for blabbing on in this post is how the distribution of games has impacted on Christmas. It is increasingly common to get credit or points for your console or tablet in order to make in app purchases or buy games and download them. This doesn’t seem right to me. I do love online distribution and the ability to buy games quickly in sales. Heck, I would have never been able to sell a single one of my games if I had to distribute physical copies. However when it comes to gift giving I am not sure that I like it. It is one of the times of year where shops like Game and also online ones like Amazon make a difference. 

Buying a physical copy of a game makes a much better gift. It is wrapped, requiring unwrapped and means that you are giving something more tangible as a present. Not only that but if your games console is elsewhere or requiring updates… Or it’s time to all sit round the TV for an awful film then you can read the box or the manual, building up your excitement to play this new game.

Perhaps the fact that we can buy games so quickly and cheaply nowadays, especially with the number of free games available (including in my site…), the personal value of a game has gone down. In my younger days when I lived in the countryside and had my allowance for lunch, savings and stuff I wanted (games) it meant I may have only gotten a handful of games a year but I really loved those games. I’d play them again and again. It seems today has a much more dispensable approach to owning games. Steam sales and humble bundles spring to mind as a major reason. I have about a hundred games I haven’t played. Crazy! I do kind of miss having a few games to cherish. Next year I expect to only buy one or two games and ensure I appreciate and enjoy them… Not just filling my actual shelf or online library.

Another thing that I think gets lost on Christmas is that first boot up. Plugging in your new PS4 and then waiting an hour for it to update. Then you excitedly put in your new game and wait for that to update. That, to me at least, loses some of the magic of the moment. “Back in my day” I could go from the buzz of unboxing straight to playing my new game. Let’s hope that any updates are only done if absolutely critical at this time if year. By that I mean game breaking bugs only. 

Well I’ve rambled enough. One final thing is when giving and receiving presents, don’t forget the true meaning of this holiday… A pagan holiday. Be sure to sacrifice a goat, your youngest born or whatever the customary offering is, whilst dancing naked around a tree. Or just have some egg nog.

Merry  Christmas!

Trick or Treat released on iOS

Trick or Treat has been released on iPad and iPhone, just in time for Halloween.

Get your spook on when trying to make your through this free puzzle platform game. You won’t be able to get all of the goodies in the land of the Treat without venturing into the scary Trick world, which is full of monsters and other dangers.

Can you find the route to each item and the portal home?

4-puzzleplatform

Avatar Runner… oh well

Avatar Runner was the game that I was hoping would be pretty fun to play, obviously not setting the world alight but fun to play and also actually get enough sales to meet the minimum level of revenue for Microsoft to actually pay you. It would have been wonderful to at least make back some of my game dev costs. Alas it hasn’t quite panned out.

I’ve been mulling over whether I can salvage it and of course reflecting on some of the main issues that people may be having. As part of that I took myself back into my mindset for coming up with the game.

You’ve had a long and stressful day at work with an infuriating demand. After being stuck in traffic on your way home and burning your dinner you just want to relax and play a game. Been there before? I have. The only problem is on days like that I more often than not die a lot or fail to spot the part of a puzzle to progress. I just want to relax, brain off and do something chilled. This is why I made Avatar Runner.

The core gameplay is of course based on HexStackIt, which is a reasonably twitch based game. With Avatar Runner I wanted to create something a bit more chilled. Something with mellow and relaxing gameplay that you can whistle to (well if, unlike me, you can actually whistle) and play without sweaty palms or rage quitting. Something that even with a hangover you won’t get beat. It does the job quite well in my opinion. Okay, it isn’t a pretty game but when I just want to slump on the sofa and play a game that doesn’t require focus, it is great. I enjoy it and it mellows me out a little. I also enjoy playing the intense difficulty runs that are bloody hard, especially with the songs Sports Shop and Dirty Blonde (i.e. songs not by me >_<).

Unfortunately by creating a game that intentionally allows everyone to get through a run pretty much intact, it has given a very poor impression for people expecting something with a bit more intensity from their gaming. There’s plenty runs in there if pace is your thing, but that first run is easy.

In total there are 30 runs with 7 available at the beginning. It makes sense that if you’re unlocking runs then the more intense and difficult ones should be the ones that you need to play a few times to unlock. Also they should go from easy to hard. It would be odd finding a random ordering of difficulties!  This however has meant that on your first couple of plays, you will be playing easy levels. These are kind of boring. Well mellow is what I’d rather think of them as but if you’re expecting something exciting and intense… these first levels are boring.

In hindsight I should have kept the initial runs down, just providing a small selection of runs to give players a taste for the difficulties and also meaning that the many players who’ll want the hard or insane difficulty runs have one to play straight away! Perhaps more people playing the trial would have bough the game if they were readily exposed to the more challenging gameplay.

Going forward my code is going to make this a tough one to fix as I can’t touch the order of the runs. The plan now is to make the first runs more challenging and engaging by increasing the spawn rate between items, making you react that little bit quicker. The player is already running a speed that would make Usain Bolt jealous so I won’t be touching the speed!

There’s one more big issue with Avatar Runner that needs addressing. When you skip the instructions and don’t read the game description, it isn’t entirely obvious that you’re meant to build a combo. I’ll be brash and honest… if the gameplay video commentators were playing someone else’s game, I’d be having a giggle at them. Alas it is my game that they are (in my biased opinion) giving unfair abuse so I kind of need to do something about it. I can’t quiz the player to test that they read the instructions and it is an incredibly simple game so a tutorial is pointless. I feel dirty but in the next release I am adding pop up messages to guide the player when they are being dumb.

Ah well. One day I might meet the minimum revenue to get my monies from Microsoft. Doubt it though.

I know I probably should be more professional but in truth I bet that just like my games, this ramble / moan / self-harm of word vomit will get no hits.

Avatar Runner: Coding to the beat

I won’t hide the fact that I love Audiosurf and it is no doubt one of the major influences in why I wanted to create Avatar Runner. The look, vibe and scoring are all of course very different with Avatar Runner having a (hopefully!) cheerful feel to it but at the heart of it, the game is about playing along to music.

Audiosurf works by analysing the entire song and building up the track. Whilst the XNA framework does provide analysis of audio, it requires the song to be playing. Unfortunately for in order to know what is coming next and create a nice and exciting run I would need to play through the entire song first. That is some loading time!

With the songs currently in the game I was able to analyse the music myself and plot turns of pace, increased spawning and colour of items. However that isn’t possible for the Custom Mode where you can play any track from your music library. I would imagine many people would find this mode an attractive option therefore I still wanted to have some way of slowing down the player when there’s a lull in the song as well as providing pace for the more exciting parts. To achieve this I’ve done a few calculations based on the visualisation data provided by XNA and have been able to tweak the player’s pace and spawn rate to match the song. It ain’t the perfect solution but it still provides a great gameplay experience, unlike anything currently on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Checkout this video of me playing along to two great tracks on my personal Xbox Music Library!

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