#1GAM July 2016: Turtle Trouble

The Game

The Game, called Turtle Trouble, is hosted on GameJolt and you can play a web-version or download the desktop version (Windows/Linux/Mac). It’s a short platformer with six levels that will take you about 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

 

For my first monthly Game I decided to create a simple platformer, doing my part of the job to reinforce the indie cliche. Additionally I wanted to focus on the player controls to feel good, and I’m quite happy how they turned out.

It was planned for July but I only finished it now, because it was far too ambitious and far from “simple” for a month long project. I’ll consider it a delayed fail for the July Challenge. I intend to do a small bullet point post-mortem for every monthly challenge, so here it goes:

What went well:

  • Cut it out: I wasn’t afraid of cutting out a lot of features I initially thought were absolutely necessary. It’s really shocking when you realize, that the game is perfectly fine without them. But those features were cut out too late, out of necessity, instead of in the initial planning phase (see the bad points.)
  • Mario-like physics: There are some awesome people out there that completely reverse engineered the physics for the original Mario games (and also Sonic). The physics for Turtle Trouble are loosely based on the physics of Mario, and it really helped making it feel quite responsive and fluid.

What went wrong:

  • No MVP: There was no real point during development where I thought: “I could ship this now, and nobody would notice there are things missing/not properly done”. Instead of finishing one feature after another, I half-assed a bunch of them and only completed them by the very end.
  • Level Design not fully explored: It’s surprising how there are still a lot of interactions/combinations of existing features that are missing and could be explored. But to keep scope small I decided on a small amount of levels. There are two player abilities that are only really needed once (stomping, sliding), and that’s the time they are introduced. Other objects that would have interacted with this two abilities were cut, which makes them feel like tacked on. Further strengthening the point that it’s better to have a few fleshed out features, before you start implementing new features you don’t even know you need yet.
  • Art isn’t my strong point: I spent far too much time on sub-par graphics. I should either decide on a less graphics intensive art style, have someone else make the graphics (or get pre-made ones) or else I’ll have to plan a lot of hours on graphics alone (which eventually turn out to be mediocre).
  • Abrupt ending: Another thing that was cut, was the bossfight that should represent the finale. Not having a bossfight is ok, but there is nothing to provide a proper conclusion. The difficulty at the end is not especially harder than the rest of the game. It sort of just suddenly ends, making it feel almost incomplete.
  • Crunch Mode: Approaching the last week of the month I started crunch mode, working unhealthy hours on it, just to try and get the list of features working in time (before I eventually cut scope in half (again)). This was due to underestimating the amount of work needed for the scope I came up with and overestimating the amount of hours available in a day for Gamedev when already working a 40 hour week. (Just writing this post delayed everything another day, aaaaaahhhhhh)

Lessons learned:

  • Create a Minimum Viable Product:
    • Less is More: Boil the features down to the bare minimum. All those fancy features you think you will need, are actually completely unnecessary. The complexity of adding new features seemingly rises exponentially, as new features will interact with every other part of the game already present.
    • Vertical instead of Horizontal Prototype: Fully implement the current feature, before starting another. It’s better to have one complete level, than a hundred incomplete levels.
  • Quick Animations: If you can’t draw well, go for quick animations with a high frame rate. The individual frames don’t have to look that pretty and fluid animations look a lot better than “fancy” choppy animations.
  • Reduce Scope Even More: There are far less hours in a day than you think. Don’t plan on having to do Crunch to complete your scope, but reduce scope beforehand instead. There are other things in life than Gamedev too.

Conclusion

A lot of these points are actually nothing groundbreaking. They are tips that can be read over and over again. I literally linked to a video going over most of them in my last post, and yet I keep forgetting about them. That’s why I’m writing them down, as I think having to put them in your own words helps appreciating them.

Any time now I’ll have an twitter account set up, I swear. It’s just that naming things is really hard.

Also I have yet to find a way to easily record Gameplay GIFs on my Linux machine. As the handy GifCam is only available for Windows.

A month, a game

Finishing a game is difficult. Whether it’s an unfinished prototype done in a day, or an abandoned project that has been dragging on for months and eventually falls victim to feature creep. I keep on doing all this work, but still have nothing to show for it.

That’s why I decided to join the One Game A Month Challenge. I think it’s a really great idea to set yourself deadlines to not lose your goals out of sight and stay motivated to push forward. The games don’t have to take a month to complete. Some will be made within a few days for a game jam, other times I will finally complete a half-finished prototype that’s been lying around for months. The challenge is to complete a game by the end of the month, no matter how I get there.

Dealing with Failure

I often toyed with the thought of joining the challenge, but this time it’s serious. Starting with July I vowed to make a game every month. That’s right, it’s already August. Of course I start off by missing the first deadline. I’m still unsure how to handle the failure situation with this challenge.

  • If I just postpone it to next month’s challenge, it’s no real deadline, and it will keep on growing the same way as always.
  • If I just stop working on it by the end of the month, it will stay an unfinished game like all the other prototypes.
  • If I just release it unfinished, well… then it’s not a finished game, and that’s not point of this challenge either. (Still, trying to reach an unachievable “perfect” state has to be avoided.)

This time I decided to go with option 1. I keep on working on it for another week, because that’s what I felt was still needed. Meaning tomorrow I should have it “finished”. But this approach is with its pitfalls, because I caught silly me trying to add in more features as I felt the pressure of the deadline moving away, although the features already present weren’t finished yet!

Starting this month I will try the following approach: If by the end of the month, the game I’m working on still isn’t finished. I stop working on it, and I’m not allowed to work on it again, before I haven’t finished another (preferably smaller) game the following month.

Worst case scenario: I’ll keep adding to my heap of unfinished prototypes, rather than working for months on projects that lead nowhere. Best case scenario: I’ll actually start to finish games.

Documenting the process

I plan to write at least one blog post about every month’s challenge, about the game itself, the things that went well, the stuff that didn’t go well and lessons learned. No matter if I actually finish the game or if I fail.

I’m also planning on taking an active part in the community. The Gamedev community doesn’t seem to live anywhere in particular but Twitter seems like a good starting point to share progress and post announcements to and such.

Goals

The goals I want to accomplish by joining this challenge:

  • Learn how to tackle larger games, by finishing smaller ones first.
  • Learn how to create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to actually finish games.
  • Learn to fail faster.
  • Learn to effectively fight Feature Creep.
  • Learn to accurately estimate Scope and Effort of planned Projects and their Features.

There are many guidelines and tips for reaching this goals, now the only thing left is actually executing them.

Next Steps

Next steps include setting up a twitter account and deciding where I’m gonna host my monthly games. (Itch.io and Gamejolt have been great so far, but maybe Newgrounds could be the right place?)

 

This actually turned out waaaay longer than I expected.

Retrospective of 2015

What, we are already over two months into 2016? You mean 2015 is already over? Wow, it’s really easy getting into the mental-trap of saying: “I’ll post some progress update later, when I really have something to show.”  Another week passes, again nothing happens… And suddenly the year is over!

2015 was a pretty exhausting year for me, I had many months where I just couldn’t bring up any motivation for game development. So, what did I manage to do in 2015 besides moping and starting game prototypes that led nowhere, let’s see:

thumbnail_goat_rebirth

~February: I found some time to participate in MiniLD #57 with the theme “Reverse”. Created a reverse Match-3 game. It’s playable, but mostly proof of concept. (And couldn’t get the web-version to work.)

title_thumbnail_infinitris.png

~March: Made a quick joke “game” called Infinitris. It’s tetris on an infinitely large playing field. I was motivated to finally test out chunked maps, which allow for (nearly) infinite worlds, and it works pretty well. There are so many possibilities this could be going, but it is a fun toy as is.

~Juscreen_1457547820.85.jpgly: Participated in the IndiesVSGamers Game Jam, hosted by GameJolt. The theme was ‘Arcade’ the time limit was 72 hours and the ambitions were high. Therefore the game “Space Scrap” was born (naming things is hard), a shmup were you assemble your spaceship from spare parts lying around on planets while under constant time pressure, fleeing from a supernova. The original 72h version plays and looks horrible, but I’ve been working on it on and off, and it starts to be a really kick-ass game. I’ll try to focus on it next, getting it done soonish.

That’s my first game hosted on GameJolt, and I have to say: I like it. It makes adding highscores and trophies a breeze and provides a clear and professionally looking game page.

thumbnail_small.png~August: Participated in MiniLD #62 with the theme “Final Boss”. Created a simple platformer, where you play a robot with a sawblade, using it to attack, defend, cling to surfaces and push yourself around. Had lots of boss ideas, but only managed to implement two of them. It’s unhandy to play with keyboard, but plays fluently with a gamepad.

screen_1450139431.7

~December: Participated in LudumDare 34, which had a tie between the themes “Two Button Controls” and “Growing”. Didn’t stop us from ignoring both of them, to create a random RTS about managing your Space Colony and sacrificing your people to calm the wrathful gods. This is absolutely missing a proper tutorial, so playing it can be confusing, and trying to win is a real challenge.

So, that wraps up 2015. With a post only over half a year late, I hope,that in the future I manage to convince myself to post progress updates more often. Now go play some games!

Hyper Soccer Title

Survived Ludum Dare 31

The last few days have been intense, but we present to you: Hyper Soccer

Hyper Soccer GameplayIt’s what happens when you let placeholder graphics get into the final game, but there simply isn’t time for everything. The gameplay turned out fun, that’s what matters most (to me at least).

The Theme for LD31 was “Entire Game on one Screen”. Nothing really inspiring, but at least I managed to make a game that follows the theme for a change.

Hyper Soccer Grapple Match

It’s a local-multiplayer game with gamepad support. Play with as many friends, as you have gamepads!

So, go grab some gamepads, call some friends, and enjoy the madness that is Hyper Soccer.

Web-Build and Making-Of will follow later.

 

Hello, Alien! - Banner

Release of “Hello, Alien!” – For real this time

So, now the “Open-Beta” has ended, and “Hello, Alien!” is ‘finished’. Or at least, development on it has stopped for now (except for bugfixes of course).

What if you make a game, and nobody shows up?

“Open-Beta” went relatively…. well, let’s not say bad… we’ll just call it underwhelming. The same holds true for the October Challenge. Apparently nobody will show up to a party, if you don’t tell anybody. (Who knew, right?)

At least we can boast 207 views and 38 downloads. (While nearly all of the traffic comes from ludumdare.com, the only other site I’ve posted about the game.)

I just understood the importance of marketing. The next step will be to try and get the word out. I’ll have to investigate on some good ways to get some people’s attention. I heard twitter is good at those things…

In other news

We are currently working on a small game started for the MiniLD #55 last weekend. Just testing out some things I usually neglect (trying out some nice shaders) and it seems like it will finally be playable in the browser (rejoice). I just hope we finish in time before LudumDare #31 will start this weekend. Also let’s hope the theme won’t be .

-Anton

What makes a game fun to watch?

There was a game jam last weekend, ‘Indies VS PewDiePie‘, with the theme ‘Fun to play, fun to watch’. But, isn’t a game that’s fun to play automatically fun to watch?

This was supposed to be a post about why a game that is fun to play is not automatically fun to watch, but the more I wrote, the more I contradicted myself, and it started to make less and less sense. I suddenly came to the conclusion: Yes, everything that makes a game fun to play, also makes it more fun overall: avoiding repetition, having a good story, giving a lot of feedback to player actions (making a game “juicy“) and having great depth. But there are other factors that are important when watching someone play a game.

Silent Let’s Play of Tetris anyone?

What’s really important are the circumstances under which you watch a game. Are you watching a speedrun or flawless run or somebody playing it for the first time? Is there any commentary or is it just the game? Are you watching live and in person or are you watching a video/stream? Why are you watching? For the music? Some gameplay tips? Or do you simply want to have a laugh? All this things determine how the game is perceived.

An example: You are playing Portal 1 at home for the first time with a friend watching, and that friend has already played through the game. He is watching you struggle to do a puzzle, and he is trying to be a smart-ass offer his help, but you are refusing, because you want to find out the solution yourself. This makes it frustrating for both the player and the observer. (Not that anything similar has ever actually happened to me.) But watching a Portal speedrun, is just mind-blowing.

Also playing Guitar Hero with your friends is a lot of fun [citation needed], but when you watch a video of somebody playing a song flawlessly without any commentary, you could just watch your media player for similar effect. But when all you want is listening to the music, then it’s probably fine for you.

There is more?

Still, there are some factors that make some games exceedingly good games for “Let’s play” material.

  • Randomization: How do you ensure that there won’t be much repetition, and every playthrough will be different? Through high amounts of randomization! Rogue-like(-like)s are great when it comes to doing Let’s Plays, as every run will be different, meaning you can be sure to always see something new and unexpected. Other games, on the other hand, achieve the same effect with a neverending flood of player created content.
  • Absurdity: When a game is different, unique or simply absurd in any way. This can be story wise or gameplay wise. When there is something unique or silly, this makes not necesarilly a good game, but gives a lot of potential for funny commentary. This is essentially what PewDiePie got big with.
  • Depth: When there are a lot of options and possibilites available to the player then it’s really interesting to see what pro players do in certain situations. Or seeing how new players get crushed completely.
  • Competition: Watching humans playing against other humans instead of AI adds a whole new meta-layer to everything. People can cheer for the side they like most and fanbases can develop. The players can become even more important then the actual games they are playing. This is true for e-sports as much as for regular sport. This is the reason why there are millions of people watching other people play Football or DotA.

Does every heading have to be a question?

I think, that for #indiesvspewdiepie one of the most absurd games will probably win.

I wanted to participate in that game jam myself, but unfortunately, inspiration had not struck and I also had a lot of other things to do.

Having said all that, great commentary can make even the most boring gameplay video interesting. Even watching someone die for the 1000th time at the same place can become entertaining.

-Anton

October Challenge Completed (more or less)

We just released our first game, Hello Alien! on the itch.io store. It’s totally free and it’s available for Windows, Linux, OS X and Android.

smartnail2

Open Betas are cool

However, as you might have noticed, we “released” it in an open beta mode.

It is functionally complete. Yes.

But some things look weird, the controls are difficult and there are not many levels. There simply wasn’t enough time to polish everything to the level I would have liked. Therefore it will be in an open beta phase during November. This gives us more time to continue improving it and incorporate user feedback. By the end of November it will be released for good, and we will hopefully have something we can be (even more) proud of.

screen_1414846984.43

First step done

Now that we have created and published our game, we’re just gonna wait until the money rolls in. No, but seriously, to succesfully complete the October Challenge, we still have to make a dollar. And I personally think that’s already pretty optimistic, but we will see how that goes.

-Anton

Android and the Google Play Store

First tests on a real device

I finally have an android device for testing our game on android. It took a while until I found these instructions on how to enable USB debugging and get your computer to recognize the phone correctly. However, after that, deploying and debugging on the device worked like a breeze, thanks to LibGDX and IntelliJ.

It works surprisingly well and dragging stuff around has a good feel to it. But developing for such a small screen provides additional challenges. The UI will have to be adapted to make everything easier to see and touch. On the other hand it’s fun to play around with features like the accelerometer.

No PlayStore Developer

Last weekend we tried to officially become Google Play Store Developers, to be able to distribute our game over the Play Store. The biggest hurdle to overcome is paying the 25$ entry fee, before you can call yourself a proper (Google Play Store) Developer. The problem isn’t getting the 25$, but paying them to Google. Especially when you have no credit card…

The payment has to be made with Google Wallet, and they only accept credit cards. We tried it with a pre-paid credit card, called cash4web. They claim to work everywhere where you can pay with mastercard. Unfortunately it doesn’t work. So this dream is stopped for now, until we have a credit card.

Plan B

We will still publish a desktop and an android version of the game. We will probably provide an .apk for download, and people will have to manually download and install it. But we will worry about the details later.

Since the Play Store is ruled out for now as a distribution platform, we will have to search for an alternative. One store front I had on my radar for a while, but never really checked out is itch.io. Itch.io is a great marketplace full of independent games and game developers, so I think this will be a great place to start. And most importantly, they have no entry fee.

-Anton

Beginning of October

It’s been a while now that October has begun. “So, what’s so special about October?”, you might ask. Well, it is the time for the October Challenge, duh! “So, what’s the October Challenge?”, is your instinctive follow-up question.

Hobby VS Profession

Well, October Challenge is about bringing a game to the market (making it publicly available) and earning at least 1$ from it. October Challenge isn’t about making a game, it also isn’t primarily about earning money but instead it’s about becoming a professional. Not all of a sudden, but making the first step. What differentiates a hobby game developer from a professional game developer? One makes (hopefully) enough money to live from it, the other doesn’t.

I now have been a hobby game developer for some time and sometimes I dream of becoming a professional. But on other days I fear becoming a professional. The problem simply is, when you do something as a hobby, you can do it whenever you want as much as you feel like. But as soon as you go (full-time, independent) professional, you HAVE to do it, if you feel like it or not, otherwise you won’t earn any money to be able to pay your food and rent. This simply drains fun from the experience and can put someone under unbelievable pressure.

The benefits of not being a professional

Being a hobby game developer has so many advantages. You can not work on something for a while, if you don’t feel like it. You can create all the things you want, without having to worry about focus groups or marketing strategies. Heck, you can produce shit games and nobody will complain. You can give things away for free and never have to worry about DRM or pirating. It just gives you so much freedom.

The benefits of being a professional

Of course it isn’t all rainbows and lollipops. Doing this as a hobby forces you to have to work on something else to earn money, meaning that you will have less time to work on your games, resulting in less games or lower quality games. Being a professional simply gives you more resources (time and financial), given you manage to do well.

Back to reality

As confucius once (might have) said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The only question is, if something remains fun after you have made it your job. But you can never find it out, if you have never given it a try, therefore becoming a professional is still a desirable goal.

But first, I would have to create something I feel like I can charge other people something for, without feeling like ripping them off. I never felt like charging someone for something I made. I make games mostly for myself for fun and for the learning experience. I hardly consider them absolutely great and I’m happy if someone is checking them out. I also refrain from putting ads in my games, because I also hate them being in games I play.

That’s why I will try to earn my dollar for october through donations. I will put up an improved version of my LD30 entry, ‘Hello, Alien!‘, to download for free on the play store and will set up a donations button for people to support the developers. I like the idea of letting the customers decide what something is worth to them and giving them the power to support what they like.

And maybe, just maybe, I will have earned one dollar by the end of the year.

I will call that a success.

-Anton