On Fear and Touchtronica
Currently in Development
Quick update on the status of Ball of Steel:
- A proposed feature was scrapped after a week of trying to make it work ended with it being a cumbersome un-fun addition to the game. A lot of good lessons and solid code came from it, but as always it was painful to “lose” the time in a tail-chase.
- Full 3D levels are working as intended, with elevators performing as expected, so that makes the major addition to the update complete.
- Narrative elements are also working as intended, and players have the ability to opt-in to the story, much like they can with the audio, at load.
- Full live list of production elements is available. This is possibly the last time I’m going to share this type of document, so if you’re at all curious about how I organize my production it may be worthwhile to take a look.
Aiming for a beta on the 11th then upload to Kongregate/Flashgamelicense.com on the 19th. After that? Unfortunately nothing I can really discuss, but the next two projects (Zero Four and Zero Five) are most definitely spoken for and in their drafting stages.
Some words on the words:
- The follow-up to Tale of the Madeus has now passed 30K words in its first draft. I’m tremendously pleased at the progress and feel the story coming to it’s inevitable end. Hope to have this on digital bookshelves in two months.
- Submitted an application to publish to iTunes, currently awaiting approval. If it comes through, a revised edition of Tale of the Madeus will go live shortly thereafter.
A Very Brief Discourse on the First Stages of an Independent Corporation
The following is anecdotal and in no way intended to serve as a guide or roadmap. Your own mileage may vary.
There are several stages an adult independent can choose to go through that a lot of younger and perhaps more naive developers can freely ignore, possibly at their peril.
The route I chose to take was to incorporate myself and create an entity that I could, for all intents and purposes, separate my ‘private’ life from. That entity is Dark Acre Game Development Incorporated. Fundamentally it’s a shield, a barrier, a garbage-collector for everything and anything I do as a solo game developer. It cost a bit to set up, and there was some paperwork involved, but at the end of day on September 24, 2010 I had established an entity that was not me to take the fall for my work as an indie.
Explaining it this way, as raw as it is, really paints it out as something almost cowardly. A thing to hide behind. And I have no doubt that some people that incorporate treat it as such, particularly if they’ve done it more than once.
I’m beginning to understand its value only in the basest of senses. It’s something I can attach to my own name to add a minor air of officialness. It’s something that can encompass all I do into a nice little package and if everything goes south that package can be cleanly deposited in the bankruptcy bin without hurting myself too much. There are tax benefits and such, but for a solo like myself there aren’t really that many more than could be gained by simply running a ‘home business’.
I did it mainly because I felt that Dark Acre was an organism that was screaming to be born, and had been mewling so for ages. It wanted to stand on its own as a thing, and I subjugated myself to its will. I may not have a boss in the traditional sense, but I am certainly mastered by my own creation.
And I’m not entirely sure that it’s satisfied with my progress so far.
Here’s where the fear part comes in. The root of the fear is a financial one. I am now officially running on my war chest, whereas before I was sort of drifting on the good graces of a surplus of cash on hand. So if there was a countdown clock ticking away the hours, minutes, and seconds of my window of success, that clock has officially begun to run.
Once a thing is quantifiable, it becomes something that can be measured, weighed, and perhaps adjusted to suit the needs of a given scenario. In my case, the ‘thing’ is the amount of time I have to produce work that generates a living income. This time now stands at twenty months. That’s a lot of time, it really is. For someone being tortured or imprisoned, it’s an eternity. For someone free and able to exercise that freedom, it’s a luxury.
The question then becomes this: okay, if I know how much time I’ve got, how do I spend it?
Up to now it’s been in 8-week cycles of solo development. Those cycles have all been educational in nature as I’ve learned the ins and outs of the Unity 3D engine, and FL Studio 10, various Adobe CS4-5 packages, and 3D Studio Max in how they integrate into the U3D pipeline. It’s been a great time, I’ve had a lot of laughs, and then all of a sudden I’ve got to get serious.
It’s very easy to come down with a case of analysis paralysis. How much to plan, how much to execute, when to execute, where to deliver, who to market to, and why. These are all critical questions that demand answers, not just for an ‘indie game developer’ but for anyone producing something that their very livelihood depends on.
If, as an independent, you’ve followed a similar route to mine, then you may find yourself facing these questions, and this critical point in your career. It may come in an overwhelming stress-filled wave as you’re reminded of your responsibilities, be they as simple as food and shelter or more complex like raising a family and trying to grow an enterprise. For me, I’ve taken solace in one piece of arcane wisdom, filtered down through the ages from that great font, the revered Yogi Berra:
“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
All of this goes hand in hand with last week’s post on simply being independent, and even way back when I first started writing about these travels and the motivations for being a solo independent in the first place. The belief that it is possible, that this thing I’ve set my mind to will bear the fruit I hope, and that with each and every moment I’m living a dream that’s already been the result of buckets of blood, sweat, and tears.
Apple’s Insidious Devices
I acquired an iPad 2 on launch day, after standing in a rather chilly lineup outside of a nearby Future Shop for 3 hours.
Those who know me would be shocked to hear this. I’ve never stood in line for longer than I had to or felt it worthwhile to do so, and abhor waiting in general. So why now, and why for an Apple machine?
I’ve been leaning towards mobile development from the beginning of the Dark Acre enterprise. I’ve always seen handheld and mobile as the perfect platform for gaming, and not just the micro-experiences or minified versions of PC or console games but as a viable platform for games of all types. In my time in Japan I probably spent more hours with my various mobile phones and DS than I ever did with any console, and possibly nearly as many as I did on PC.
I’ve been working with touchtronic input since forever, the first time with a tablet, then onto friend’s expensive PC touchscreens, and most recently with the DS and Android mobiles. I hadn’t ever laid a finger on an iPhone or iPad, mostly because all of the ones around me belonged to someone else and I was worried about catching cooties. I knew from recent experience with a friend’s Galaxy S (Android) that there was a lot of design consideration to be had when building experiences on touch-centric machines. My understanding was limited only by my exposure, which unfortunately had been minimal.
Second was that the release of Superbrother’s: Sword & Sworcery: EP was imminent, a veritable launch title for the iPad 2. It was iPad-only at launch, which meant that this amazing development that I’d been following for ages would go unexperienced unless I either went out and picked up a device that could run it or waited.
Compound that with the fact that Project Zero Four (though still officially unannounced) will be an iPad development, time was running out where I could be ignorant of the uses and feel of the machine.
A bunch of logic went into making the decision, first and foremost was really the burning desire to play S:S&S:EP. But aside from that, the fact that once I had an iPad I could develop for all other smaller form-factor iDevices. It would be a sound business move to acquire the technology.
So I went out and picked one up. Here, in a concise list, are my initial impressions:
- Any claims that the tactility of a button are required to get full engagement from a player seem to me patently ridiculous. Then again, perhaps the games I’ve played thus far haven’t been ‘button-mashers’ for which, I would imagine, one would really want a button.
- Fingers are a lot dirtier than we give them credit for, even if that ‘dirt’ is only the natural oils that seep from our pores. This causes all kinds of input inconsistencies like sticky drags and ‘pebbles’ of crud on the screen that can affect an input, causing user error.
- The smaller form factor of the device definitely works in its favor. It’s not a larger iPhone, it’s a smaller PC, assuming you only used your PC to play games, surf the web, and manage documents.
- The exclusion of a browser other than this weird Safari abomination is irritating but not insurmountable.
- The pervading feeling that I’ve somehow tethered myself to Apple’s commercial whims is extremely irritating. Fine, I get that you want me to buy stuff for your device from your officially licensed storefront, but could you make it any less obvious that you only want me to buy what you think is worthy? Better interface, better search functions, please. At least a search option to filter by price would make it less obvious that you’re just in it for the money.
I’m sure if you have one of these machines you can agree with the points above. If I didn’t feel that I needed one for development, I’m not entirely certain that I’d own one unless I had a lot of disposable income.
Here’s a quick list of the games I’ve played so far, in no particular order, and found them to be ‘must-own’:
- Superbrother’s Sword and Sworcery: EP. This adventure/puzzle game is a near-perfect execution for the device. The touch controls are executed in a way that doesn’t interfere with the experience (probably the main complaint of poorly implemented interface) and the audio/visual elements are unsurpassed. If you own an iPad and like adventure games and art, you need to own this game.
- Chair’s Infinity Blade. It’s the Unreal Engine (Gears of War, Bulletstorm) running in all its glory on a wafer-thin mobile device. Couple that with a visceral interface that asks you to swipe as you would if you were actually wielding a massive sword and you have a game that makes the best use of a touch interface since the unparalleled ‘The World Ends With You’ for the Nintendo DS (another must-own for that machine). Violent, but not in a bloody or gory way. More like in a ‘I’ve got five minutes to vent my frustration and I’d just like to kill a giant’ kind of way.
- Ratloop’s Helsing’s Fire HD. Absolutely brilliant puzzler that uses lighting as the main feature. The art is gorgeous, and the game is simple and engaging with a finely tuned difficulty curve. Can’t recommend this one enough.
- Matt Rix’s Trainyard. Perhaps the most ingenious puzzler I’ve played in ages, and as with S:S&S:EP it’s Canadian-made. While it’s an iPhone app by design, the upscaling does nothing to decrease the quality of the experience and if anything, makes the game that much more engaging. Like with Infinity Blade, I can’t imagine trying to enjoy these games on a screen smaller than the iPad’s. The amazing thing about Rix’s approach is that he crafted a full-featured lite (free) version with puzzles separate from the main pay-for version. Incredible and definitely a model to emulate.
- Rodeo Game’s Hunters HD. Sci-fi themed top-down turn-based strategy with the depth and feel of an X-COM or Jagged Alliance. A super-highly polished product that’s episodic and has a lengthy free version, if you’re a fan of this type of game you have to check it out.
- Dropbox. The default file manager since there isn’t one standard to the device. Works perfectly.
- Twitter for iPad. While the Tweetdeck Chrome extension is my go-to on the main machines, this does the trick okay in the absence of an iPad version. Still irritating that I can’t add people to lists or post to Facebook easily, but whatever.
- GetGlue! I could write a whole post on the value of this software. Take Facebook’s Like and Pages systems and make them actually useful. Plus, the ability to ‘Dislike’ things makes far more interesting for finding out if your tastes really match the other people’s in your social networks. Unfortunately it’s hurt a little by the lack of any form of curatorship, so you end up ‘Liking’ ten versions of the same thing. Still, very cool.
- IM+. The best instant messaging app I found, my only complaint is that the icon is so ugly. Other than that it’s functional in the absence of a proper GChat app.
So there you have it, some fresh eyes on the iPad experience. Have you got any other recommended apps or games? Drop a comment below or Tweet at me!
Phew! That’s it for this week, hope there’s something useful in there for you. As this week marks the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I leave you with this. Nirvana came to me at a very wild and confusing period in my life, and I’ll always be thankful for Kurt’s music providing some form of spiritual anchor. Even if you couldn’t understand what he was on about most of the time, but the same was often said of a certain long-haired drugged-out young man wandering the streets of Victoria in search of meaning.
Rest in peace, Kurt. You are missed.