Friday, March 31, 2006

Design is tricky
I need a drink. Not just tea. A bottle whiskey. Thats how gtreat design happens, I'm sure.
Ideas I've recently backed away from:

Having the background of the GUI coloured like some pyschedelic swirly pattern thing based on your mood

Having the game summarise your day at work in Haiku form. (still like this idea).

Listening to octavarium on loop helps me no end. I could have written a standard tycoon or strategy game by now. This will either be something very special, or a HUGE waste of time...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Various Bits
It's good to see Cas is doing well with 'Titan Attacks'. I knew it would sell well. I wish my own game designs were so straightforward.
I've been panicking a bit as I rapidly rejigged bits of the Kudos interface, and I just rejigged some more of it tonight. It comes mainly from talking about the game with other real people. Always a help there. I also redid the games very brief website in order to reflect the changes a bit. I'm still not planning on updating the screenshots yet. My new look is very different to what's shown, but I'm not putting them up until I'm certain that's the look I'm sticking with
Democracy sales have flattened for a few days. A bit worrying, as that's what's paying for this game to be made.
However, today I learned that GalCiv2 cost $900,000 to make, so I don't feel so bad about my efforts now :D

hmmm. There's some silly program on BBC2 about business right now. It's not the apprentice, but its full of macho guys saying swear words to each other. Personally, these days I'm more convinced by the Mark H McCormack style of doing business. All this yelling into phones and being aggressive is just a bit tragic.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Define the 'CULTURE'
Not a productive day today, mainly due to design indecision about the right way to be pushing forwards. Some nice new stuff has gone in though, The game summarizes your character in text underneath the avatar now, so you get phrases like "wealthy alcoholic musician" or "calm, confident lawyer" depending how you play :D

Also there are a few more profile bitmaps, and some changes to the way people react to you. Now, when you invite indirect friends out on social events, they evaluate your kudos, IQ and cultural knowledge. They may pretend to be busy if you aren't up to scratch.
This is a new focus for the game. Basically there are threee paths to concentrate on, Kudos (sociabiltiy and friendliness) IQ, and Culture. You can be a very unfriendly reclusive person who is highly cultured. Thats someone who has read everything by Shakespeare and Jane Austen but has never been to the pub. Or you can be a highly intelligent physicist who has no appreciation of classic 'culture'. Or you can be a popular social animal who knows little about culture and isn't the brightest spark.
Or of course, you can be a balance between all 3.
The BIG problem here is making ANY generalisations about something like 'Culture'. It's a very touchy subject. You are bound to annoy some people with what you define as culture and what you don't.

For example, I find shakespeare a bit tedious in written form. I'd prefer reading Iain Banks or Malcolm Gladwell to Shakespeare, and listening to Metallica over Mozart. Does that mean I am un-cultured?
Sadly, most societies, DO actually have a general consensus on such things. I just watched the UK 'quiz' program 'university challenge'. If you haven't seen it, imagine the most academic, pompous and elitist quiz show on earth, and multiply by 100.

"You have 3 more questions on puccini Arias.."

Now many of us would rubbish this assumption that culture is just museums, classical music, opera and theater, but the media still sticks with it.
I'm hoping people see it for what it is in my game, a generalisation used to enhance gameplay, nothing more :D

I updated some of the graphics in Democracy, they look a bit more trendy now (maybe even more cultured)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Same old Names,,1736757,00.html

"The thing that worries me about being a "named" game designer is there aren't any new designers popping their heads up. I mean, everybody's going to get pretty sick of us as we fade into our 50s."

Indeed. But when companies do zero to promote anyone other than the 'rockstar' game designer, this is bound to happen. Once people see their ideas credited to someone else, they usually have the sense to bugger off and start their own companies. I was even given looks of genuine puzzlement when I suggested the company should promote a few up and coming employees as well as their dear leader.

If you want to earn respect as a game designer, learn to code. Anyone who harbours fantasies of working at a famous studio and getting to make their own games one day is just daydreaming.
And don't expect anyone else to promote your name above "development asset #554".
Everyone in the industry slags of Derek Smart. Personally, I think he has the right idea. He says what he thinks, and he makes damn sure he gets the credit for what he does.
Good for Derek.

Got loads done today. You can catch a cold if you go jogging in the rain and your not fit. You sneeze when you have a cold, I re-wrote the jobs system to be grouped into industry categories and allowed you to browse unavailable jobs. There are also jobs restricted by Culture, IQ and Kudos now. I also added the ability to go bowling, and did some bug fixing and speedups.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Getting into the swing of it
Todays new code:
Draggable windows, pretty trivial to do, and neccesary for comparing your friends interests
Some new interests got added
Dogs howl on a full moon. (My wife insists they dont do this, but I think its cool)
An overhaul of the social event 'post mortem' to get more accurate feedback on how it went. I'm almost at the point where people say "I chatted to Dave about holidays all evening" or similar.

One change I'm making right now is for interests to have a variable boost to chemistry. So, if its a generic thing like 'Sport', its kind of nice to meet other 'sport' lovers. But if its more specific such as 'hockey', then if you introduce me to a fellow hockey lover, thats much better.
I don't have granularity of interests, you either like hockey or you don't. I don't want things getting too granular, that leads to the kind of code in Democracy (play-balance hell).

A highly productive day today, even allowing for a walk to the shops and back. One thing about archery is it makes you realise if you have a belly or not, and that was enough to dissuade me from buying donuts...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sign Of The Times
The category on my MSN contact list of 'friends' who I used to work with is now bigger (as of today) than the list of 'ex-colleagues'. Whenever one leaves the company I drag them symbolically to the next category.
Anyone who thinks they have job security because they work for someone else is kidding themselves.
I wish them all immense success. Working for other people sucks.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Kudos Update
Well Im still writing code, but how far the game is towards completion is seriously hard to say.
What have I added lately?
A (very) basic tutorial for the game. (I need to get people evaluating it soon, so I have a sanity check).
The basic structure for saving and loading games. This is working, although the actual game doesn't handle the loaded in data fully yet, so its not usable.
You can now sell stuff you bought (like bicycles, books etc) and get half your money back.
You only gain kudos now for social events that YOU organise. Likewise losing kudos.
The GUI for displaying items you have bought now scales for more than 40 items. I might not need more than that yet.
You can buy a laptop which lets you shop online 7 days a week, rather than just the weekends.
I'm still constantly experimenting with the GUI.

I've held off on buying sounds for the cat, and the guitar as I intend to record my cat going meow (harder than it sounds), and myself playing the guitar. Somehow, I need to get a USB mic of high quality...

The rest of the day will probably be spent on revsiting the code for restaurants, and tuning the stuff where if you have low kudos, some snooty restaurants will pretend not to have a free table.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Things I learned in the last 5 or so years
Here, learn from my mistakes!

1) It's cheaper and easier to buy someone elses sound library.
2) Sometimes, advertising really works.
3) Web templates are worth the money.
4) Portals don't have any success with strategy games.
5) Leaving error checking code in the game is well worth doing.
6) Turn based games are easier to make.
7) Always check your royalty statements.
8) Sometimes it's ok to raise the price.
9) Mock up everything in a graphics program first.
10) Big games developers are staggeringly inefficient.
11) Big games publishers are often totally incompetent.

Save game code starts today. *shiver*

Monday, March 13, 2006

Slow but steady Progress

I added various new things to kudos today and yesterday. There is now an avatar selection screen where you can pick what your character looks like. The woman is on the left. There will be maybe half a dozen by the time I ship it.
Also, I added some complexity to the commuting stuff so it bores you if its a long trip (unless you buy an mp3 player to listen to bwahahaha)
Right now I'm editing the job rejection stuff, so you get told you failed the interview because you were tired, or lacking confidence or maybe even drunk.

Today I saw someone who did an indie puzzle game trying to sell the business because it didn't make its money back. Rule #1 don't spend $4k on your first game. Rule #2 Stick with it. My first game didn't make much either.

hmmm. malcolm gladwell is on 'Richard and Judy'. Thus I have accidentally turned out to have read a book on the 'Richard and Judy book club'. Bah
(its like oprah).

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Traffic Figures
Where would a web-based business be without web-traffic? I'll tell you where...
So getting visitors to my site is all-important. Years ago this was simple, you got listed on search engines, and you made sure all the sites with software listings like listed your game. Job done.
Now its way harder, you need to advertise, do marketing, build up a portfolio of games, or articles or other reasons to get traffic.
My site traffic has gradually grown over the years, but it still could grow by another order of magnitude. Im currently getting around 32,000 unique visitors a month. I'm not sure how that compares with other games sites, but I'd imagine its pretty poor.
Here's hoping that my next game will boost that a bit, and I think Democracy gradually pulls in more and more traffic over time.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Full Of Little Ideas
I have a lot of silly small ideas for what would be cool in a video game. Normally these aren't about content as such, but ideas about how a game plays, or reacts, or handles things. These ideas are the ones that often crop up at game dev studios, and in the long torturous route from being a new idea, to a meeting, to a design doc, to a task list to QA, at some point they normally get killed.
It's often nobodys fault, its just the way of big companies by their nature.
For example, in the last big game I worked on, there were dogs. We thought it would be cool for dogs to wander round the world when they werent used. I thought it would be cool if they picked a 'master' to follow around. I had the idea that it would be cool if someone played the game and suddenly got suspicious thinking that the dog was always following X etc.
I coded it so that if you picked up and dropped the dog near someone, they would consider that person their owner, and follow them were possible.
It added zilch to gameplay, it was pointless, but it amused me, and it only took 20 minutes to code.
I LOVE things like that.
The best thing about black and white was the fact that it named the villagers from your address book. I nicked that idea and stuck it into starship tycoon. I'm 100% determined that for Kudos, when I have a silly idea about stuff like that, it's going in. And I'll make sure I'll leave it in too. There's already stuff like this I added to the game and forget about until it happens when I'm playtesting.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The cool factor
When I first saw Spore- the video! I was a bit depressed. this game looked absolutely jaw dropping. how can I compete with that? I guess you might say "who cares, theres plenty of sales to go around", but things like this do 'raise the bar' on what people expect.

I just mocked up a really cool feature for kudos, an interface idea. I'm all over the interface, I love it, its a place where games don't seem to innovate any more. I'm not showing screenshots of it yet, because it'll get nicked.
My plan is not for kudos to look amazing, nor for it to be the most radical gameplay wise, or the cheapest, or the most addictive.
Kudos will be cool.
It will be the game where people say "have you seen that game thats got X in it" or "its the game entirely done like a X".
maybe cool is the wrong word. *different* or *interesting*
not predictable.
Thats the current plan. I'll change my mind, you see if I don't!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Puzzle Fun and Mockup Fun
Todays ferengi rule -> "Keep your family close, keep your Latinum closer"
Work continues apace on Kudos, I'm 'treating msyelf' in the evenings to working on a mini-game inside Kudos. basically its a classic puzzle game for when Milo decides to spend the evening playing video games on his own. I've decided this should slightly increase his IQ :D Anyway, coding simple puzzle games is quite fun, I can see why people get sucked into the puzzle game coding route. It's more fun than I thought it would be. I need to make it slightly less onvious a bejewlled clone though...
I've taken to mocking up design ideas in paint-shop-pro before writing any code. I find this very helpful indeed, it's like looking at the finished product and saying "I'm glad I did that" without actually having to code anything yet.
I'm suspecting that at this rate the game will be done earlier than expected. possibly October.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

One of the best games I've played in a LONG time. And it's only 10 dollars.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Day The Movies Died
Apparently. To be honest I've known this was going to happen for a long time. The sheer number of people employed at my old job was insane. The amount of work that was routinely thrown in the bin... I saw people work for six months to discover their whole body of work had been binned in the latest redesign.
The amount of AI code for the movies that was thrown away, the love affairs, the jealousy, the animals that wandered the lot, the aliens that beamed down and zapped your stars, the cows that wandered onto the lot and had to be herded, the security guards chasing the paparazzi around, the 523,456,895 different versions of every single building that the artists made before anyone decided what the final ones looked like, the improved explosions, the challenge system, the tutorials, the improved scene filtering, all thrown away on a whim by people who didn't even bother to play the game first.
Pretty much everyone could see this coming a long time ago... But it's still sad, because I know some good people working there. Hopefully things will work out well for them, whatever happens.
On the upside, Kudos is coming along wonderfully.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Stock Photos, Redesign, Portal Worries...
Allsorts going on. I've been adding commuting to Kudos, and it's nearly done. There are different ways to get to work, each with advantages and disadvantages etc. I'm quite happy with it so far.
That means buying some stock images for use in the game, which isn't as expensive as you might think (especially for low resolution ones). I also had to learn about batch processing in photoshop when I did a bit of a GUI redesign that meant re-processing about 50 files, but that all went very well indeed.
The only thing going wrong (apart from a v slight sales dip for Democracy) is a worrying glitch in the royalty data for one of my old games. I don't have much contact with the game 'portals' (like yahoo, Big Fish etc) but I DO sell one game through one of them. I noticed today that a brief check showed a big discrepancy in the number of sales that were made in the last month, and the number I got paid for. That REALLY worries me.
Basically, most developers have to just trust the publisher to send them royalties for the right number of units. You can see the problem there I hope? Luckily, my VERY old deal (maybe 6 years old now?) for my game means I get an email for every sale, and like the nitpicking git I am, I keep all of them. A quick count up of them, revealed a discrepancy. I'm sure its just an admin error, and they will sort it out and pay me, but the scary thing is, most developers I know don't even get sales emails, so when this happens to the,, they never even know.
This applies to everyone doing anything creative. How does JK Rowling KNOW how many sales there were in Portugal in Dec 05? How does a struggling screenwriter KNOW how many obscure countries licensed his sitcom?
Unless you keep a close eye on your business, you will find this kind of thing happening to you. That's why I prefer to control the sales channel, and strongly encourage people who like my games to buy direct from me (via a credit card company for now).