Saturday, December 31, 2005

End of 2005
So what happened in 2005?
Well The movies actually got finished, and I left Lionhead, and I suspect, retail game development, for good. This marked the start of my second attempt (and first really serious one) at running my own business.
I released my first genuinely successfull indie game - Democracy, sold well over a thousand copies online. I started my first ever subcontract to a third party (still hush hush on that for now).
The last Star Wars film was released...
I bought a Klingon dagger for use as a letter opener / orange peeler / general defensive weapon.
I finally gave in to the inevitable and got both an accountant and a fax machine - Bah.

So whats ahead?
Feverish attempts to prevent Democracys sales sliding any lower, so as to afford to buy food etc
Top secret uber ambitious and fuzzily defined new game will start work in a week or so. (Current uber-secret name - 'Project Milo')
Must cut out and frame that 2 page l33t review of Democracy in the French magazine.
Happy new year gang.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Game Business tip #1
If, like me, you sell your game online, but also have some retail deals, make damn sure you ringfence the code for your final retail release version(s). That way, if bugs are found in the retail version, its easy to just fix them as an .exe patch, without having to roll all the other improvements into the retail build. (Most people patch, improve and re-release their online version after the release one ships).
I always try to encourage my sales to be online anyway, as it earns me more cash and keeps me in closer touch with the customers. If you are thinking of buying my games, buy them online, that's the latest and best version.
I changed the blog template, because this blog might change totally on Jan 5th when I start work on my new game. This means old comments got lost... ;(

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

You were destined to have a Red Lightsaber.

Red is the color of fire and blood, so it is
associated with energy, war, danger, strength,
power, and determination as well as passion and
desire. You have seen the Strength and Power of
the Dark Side of the Force and have you thirst
for more of it.

What Colored Lightsaber Would You Have?
brought to you by Quizilla

Hmmm I've owned both red and blue, currently i'm in a blue-owning phase...

Friday, December 23, 2005

I Can Feel My Body Breaking?
My favourite band of all time are Dream Theater. If you don't like uber complex wibbly guitar music turn away now. Anyway, they are seriously clever musicians. Some would say stupidly indulgent, but the main thing is they write EXACTLY the kind of music they want, ignoring all trend and fashion.
Anyway, I've been listening to their latest album a lot, and one song, might be the 2nd or 3rd, has this particular section in it, which has "I can feel my body breaking..." as part of the lyrics, and its taken entirely from another song of theirs on another album. The cunning thing is that the 2 songs are totally different, yet the same section flows effortlessly into both. I'd like to think they are just showing off how easily they can pull that off. I only just heard the original version right now, and It knocks me sideways how talented these guys are.
I used to teach guitar, and I know my way around wibbly guitar playing. I don't reckon Steve vai or Yngwie Malmsteen have anything on John Petrucci. And as for Dream theaters drummer... that guy aint human.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Coding Windowed GUIS
Is much harder than you think. Of course, windows handles this brilliantly, and we all take it for granted, but when you have to re-code the whole thing for a game it's very tricky.
I have used the same ever-expanding engine for a lot of my games, but its mainly a 3D engine (used to draw 2D worlds), rather than a GUI. Little bits of GUI code have gradually slid from new games into the engine itself.
You might think windowed GUIs are simple but they arent:

For example, you need a concept of a window manager to render them in the right order. bottom window first, top window last.
But you need to process input in the reverse order, so that mouse clicks hit the top window first.
And you need a concept of child windows, so closing a window also closes any tooltips or sub-panes associated with it.
And you need to handle 'eating' input, so you dont get mouse clicks falling through windows onto the ones underneath.
Then you need to handle 'modal' windows, for when you restrict input to a new dialog box.
Then comes the clean handling of the escape key to close the top dialog.
Then (maybe) some render optimising to ensure you aren't drawing totally obscured windows.
And don't get me started on dynamically resized windows to cope for extra-long translated strings.
Still, its' all good fun I guess.

Went to the cattery to consider getting a new cat today. Jury still out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Arguing with the piracy kids
I can't believe how backwards some of the slashdot posters are these days.
Here's an open message to anyone who want's to pirate my games:

I worked damned hard on these games. I didnt make you sit through FMV or adverts to play them. There is no DRM on them, there is no spyware or other big brother tactics. they are cheap. There are free demos. You have no excuses.
If you think that stealing my hard work is victimless, you are deluding yourself. If I don't sell enough games, I won't make any more, I'll get a job doing something else. End result = no new games.
Every time you pirate a game, copy a game, or turn a blind eye to friends who do so, you are putting people like me out of business. If you like a game, BUY it. Nobody 'owes' you anything. It takes serious hard work to make video games. Don't be a cheap ass when it comes to paying for entertainment.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Change of Direction?
I started thinking about doing a totally different type of game next. That would mean putting the biz sim on hold. I got thinking about it manically last night. The thing is, anyone can write a biz sim, although its harder than it looks. I'm thinking of coding a game that I don't think anyone else would make. I knocked up some concept screenshots this morning and I like it already. The problem is, it would be alsmost impossible to market.
The game would be massively AI-centric. AI is what I coded at Lionhead (mainly) and I LOVE it. It's way more interesting than coding gfx, sound, multiplay, input etc.
My game would involve some seriously experimental AI, although I've learned a lot about structuring this kind of stuff with Democracy and The Movies. I reckon it might be worth a few months investment to see where it goes. It will be, (like Democracy) a game that no big publisher will touch, and that will fit no genre whatsoever. I think I may have to make it anyway.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Some Great Articles
That you may not have read (and should do, if you develop online games)

How long does good software take?
Zero-Defect Software Development
Amateurs vs Professionals

My sales jumped back to normal last night, maybe that's a side effect of the game tunnel awards. I also had someone ask about instructions for Democracy, so I think I might add a user manual (word document) to the game. It can't do sales any harm, that's for sure.
I've been agonising about the post 3rd-party future again. I have a game a third done already, but my motivation isn't quite there. I'm still dithering about what to do next.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Democracy - SIM Game of the year 2005

That might help sell a few more copies maybe? I spent a while last night emailing British politicians with good websites (who looked young enough to be potential gamers) asking them if they wanted a free copy of the game. Of course, the problem with this is that it's 99% useless. You have to keep hoping for that 1% who reply and make it all worthwhile.
I also started advertising on a blog for the first time, just a trial with a few dollars. I have no idea how that will work out.
Plus I added 3 more dilemmas to the game, CorporateManslaughter, Alaska Oil Drilling and Torture Deportation. I had planned to wait until I had a lot more dilemmas, but I just have not had the time.
I'm torn between moving on (post 3rd party game) to my biz sim, or maybe spending a week or so improving Democracy. It's quite a tough game to fiddle with without breaking the whole balance of things though... I've also thought a bit about Starship Tycoon 2 again...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ok there's no going back to the dayjob now, I bought a fax machine. If that's not serious I don't know what is. I sent a fax and everything. I hate having such a corporate piece of crap in my living room, but there ya go.
Other news:
3rd party game is good, but I need to get the design fir the last 'piece of the puzzle' done tomorrow, so I can then switch into balance / polish mode.
Marketing continues on Democracy, sales have dipped but I suspect its just a blip. Simulation game of the year on GameTunnel is announced tomorrow. Lets hope I do well there...
I bought BF2 : Special Forces today, the install is cludgey and sad, but once you delete the adverts its fun, albeit I can't work out how to bind the nightvision key. bah.
I feel a day of pacing around the living room bouncing game ideas off my cat is coming along.
Despite being someone who cares little about the trendiness of mobile phones, the new one I got my dad is uber-cool. I actually want one, and my mobile bill is maybe £5 a month.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

School Tycoon - review
I Love tycoon games, so it was worth my time to try out Mall Tycoon and School Tycoon. Although I like the idea of both, I don't like them in practice. Heres my thoughts on them:
Firstly, (and maybe most importantly) these are *personality-free games*. You might think that having brightly coloured buttons, and constant mouseover blips, plus cartoony people, gives a game personality. It does not. Personality means someone *cares* about the game, and has made it the way they want, not to fit a feature-list of marketing demographic. Good games are like good art, you can *feel* the personality of their creator.

Black and white is like that
The Sims is like that
Sim City is like that
Democracy is like that :D

Games need to have a 'feel' and an 'attitude', that makes you think that somewhere, a guy (or girl) is holding the finished copy saying "this what I saw in my minds eye, this is what I wanted", rather than it just being item 17b on a publishers balance sheet
"Our demographic data indicates a profitable niche at sector 12, lets dispatch 6 faceless staff to process this opportunity"

Even if that wasn't bad enough, School Tycoon fails because:

a) The demo tries to act as a server acording to my firewall
b) The uninstall doesn't work at all
c) The demo gives me the hard sell BEFORE I've even played it
d) Almost every building in the game is locked, and unlocked only in a specific order. Ironically I can't build a school cafe without first building a soda machine. HELLO! There are people who dont think you should even have fizzy drinks machines inside schools, and this game FORCES me to buy one? Don't these people realise that Tycoon games are about choice? about being in charge and taking the decisions yourself?????

Back to Emprie Earth 2 for me...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Game Tunnel - Players choice game of the year!
You might recognise GameTunnel as one of the most popular games sites that reviews indie games (like mine). Democracy is up for consideration as simulation game of the year (I never know whether to call it sim or strategy) but also as the 'players choice' vote too,
So come on, you know you want to! here is the voting page:
You need to have an account there, but that takes 2 minutes to confirm your email address (they never send spam so dont worry), and you can be voting for the best indie game of the year! (Don't forget that's MY game - DEMOCRACY :D).
In other news, sales are fairly slack still, which is worrying, 3rd party game is going great. I've been doing some of the low key marketing stuff you have to do as an indie, like emailing sites asking for reviews, updating screenshots and descriptions on download sites etc etc. I'm not running any big ad campaign right now which I think might explain my low sales.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I've been damned busy on the 3rd party game, havent had time to blog.
designing and implementing to a deadline, pretty stressfull....
I ordered a new TV for a christmas present for a relative. Its a widescreen 32inch sony wega.
The box says 77 kilos, but thats an understatement. I have had to arrange for a friend to come round to help lift it into the car.

Sales are low for Democracy. Scarily low. get out there and BUY IT!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Minor Seven Add 9
The design for the new third party game is undergoing additions today, I'm brainstorming a bit ( just me, the cat, and my guitar). I have some good stuff, but it's in a state of flux until I can bounce my ideas of another live human in a few hours. As a consequence, the design is currently similar to an a minor seventh chord with an added ninth:

That's a good sign, as it's one of my favorite chords, anything that shows up in police songs and ozzy ozbourne songs can't be bad right?
Sales of my stuff were very god last night. This is a relief, as I was starting to worry on the income side of things.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Artwork Angst
I'm suffering art angst - the phenomena of knowing that your coder-art is just not very good. I do most of ym own art (can you tell?) and I'm having pangs of thinking its one thing that's holding back the sales of my games.
There are three ways to solve this:

1) become better at art (would take a LONG time, and I may not have much natural ability here)
2) pay a good artists to do all my art. risky - as I would be investing lots of money (in relative terms) in a project that may not sell.
3) Get an artist to work for a royalty split.

I tend to dislike 3, partly because I fear a game being a runaway hit and losing a huge chunk of cash, and partly because people tend to underestimate the amount of work I have to do (Code/Design/marketing/Sales), meaning I'd have to give away too much of a split.

I'm thinking about maybe hedging between 2 and 3 at the moment. My next game MUST have better art than Democracy did. It really does need to sell at least as well as Democracy if I can make a go of this independent game thing, and that means it can't be let down by its art. Doing your own games is a bit like playing a slot machine with 6 months of your life or £20,000 for each pull of the lever. Democracy was a bit of a hit, but can I assume I'll win ever time? *bites fingernails*.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Theory 1:
Life gets more complex everyday. Kids no longer use a simple sony walkman, but an apple ipod with USB connections and playlists. Mobile phones are like early suerpcomputers. Almost everyone is online. People demand options and sophistication. We should make complex games with lots of options to appeal to the new IT-literate demographic.

Theory 2:
Life gets more complex everyday, but people are unable to keep up. Most adults cannot program their Video recorders. People still click on spam emails and do not understand how computers work. Most people are bombarded with too much complexity and choice. We should make simple games to appeal to this complexity-phobic demographic.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Two important questions -
1) Is it insane to be suprised that Patsy Kensit is only 1 year older than me? Is it suprising how little she has changed in the last 10 years. She still looks 19 ffs.
2) Why is bacon always overcooked in the US? Bacon should not shatter or crack when prodded with a fork. I'm a big bacon fan, Maple cured being my fave, in thick slices, certainly not the thin sliced transparent rubbish you get in supermarkets. Still, they know a thing or two about bagels.

Anyway, I digress. Today I sent off the first lot of milestone work for the mystery 3rd party, and everyone seems happy, so that's good. Sales are still at a slight pre-christmas lull. I am thinking about having a bit of an advertising push after the holidays when the retail market is slower.

Currently playing: BF2 (as cliffski2) and Pirates! (Yarrrrrrrrrrrr)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Ever Growing Engine
My game engine continues to grow. As I work on each new project, I always encounter a few things that are worthy of bunging in the game engine rather than the game itself. It has been a while since I added new features to it, but today I put in some low level stuff. I added a ProcessObject class, which is like a really generic object that gets processed, and is maintained in a list of similar objects. In an RTS game, these objects might be buildings, units and maybe weather effects etc. By putting this basic code in the engine, I can avoid rewriting the same stuff every time I start a new game.
Now if you are only releasing a game every ten years like the guys doing Duke Nukem, this isn't much of a saving, and to be honest, every big name corporate game that I worked on used a brand new engine (for NO reason at all), so it's probably less common to have reusable code in this industry than you would think. In my case, I can't afford to (and don't intend to) throw money away reinventing the wheel every year, so I've gradually built up a re-usable 2D game engine over a period of maybe 5 years now.
My engine isn't the Unreal engine, nor does it support infinite polygons, but it does the job nicely. I haven't written any code to handle mouse and keyboard input, sound playback or sprite rendering in about 4 years now. It let's me concentrate on doing original game design instead. Hurrah for that.