Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Error - Exchange rate not found

Someone high up in the US govt, please sort out your exports and manufacturing or invent some amazing new widget you actually make in the US that people in the UK want, because this flipping exchange rate is killing me.
Ok, not exactly KILLING me, but its becoming most irksome to get 1.92 dollars to the pound. I am generally paid in dollars, which are all very nice and all that, but when I convert them into pounds I rarely have enough to buy some spotted dick and custard*

On the gamedev front, things continue to trundle along. I now spend more and more time dealing with tech support emails, publisher emails, moderating my forum, and doing admin / businessy things, and less time actually making games.

This is a pain because I REALLY want to get some progress made on my unmentioned next game, which (true to form) is no longer currently starship tycoon 2.

I need to make an apology in advance to a certain artist, whom TWICE I have asked for quote on artwork, and TWICE I have decided to not do that game. As a result, I'm waiting till this one is really close to being done before I pester you for a quote for this game...

*a typical british meal.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Russian Testing

Those russian QA depts really know how to test stuff. I could only ever get about a dozen relationships to be active in Kudos. Looks like the russians did much better:

They have realised that I never capped the number shown on screen. Ho hum.

In other news, theres a 2 page interview with me towards the back of PC Format magazine in the UK this month. Good old PC Format :D.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Learning from Star Trek : Legacy

Star Trek : legacy, the new RTS game is coming out in 3 weeks. I am a huge star trek fan, and I love RTS games. I own most Star trek games that exist for the PC, I open my letters with a klingon knife. I own the whole of DS9 on video AND DVD. I am totally the target market. I have enough cash to buy the game, and a PC that should run it.

I haven't ordered it.


Here's why...
Firstly, although I've seen 90,000 screenshots for it, all of them are pictures of spaceships taken to look really 'cool' but with zero GUI, and no idea of how the game will be played. Is this really an RTS? it looks more like eve online. How many ships can I control?, does the GUI take up half the screen? I have NO idea. (and I have better things to do than wade through hundreds of 'previews' full of hype and bull without finding the answers).

Secondly, this is a multi-platform XBox + PC game. Methinks its designed for the XBox, with a graphics engine for the XBox, and modding support aimed at the XBox (not much). I'm a PC buyer. I am VERY wary of this.

Thirdly (and this is the main one). There is NO demo, and NO demo planned. I was considering pre-ordering anyway, but seeing that not only do they flatly refuse to do a demo, but the developers forums actually closed 9 topics of people who dared to ask if there would be one, and why not, I see this as a big huge warning sign.
Refusing to do a demo is like holding up a sign saying

"Give us your money before you see what you are getting, because we might not get it once you've seen it"

This really irritates me. Maybe I'm wrong and the game will kick ass, but at this rate I'll never know.
If you were thinking of buying Democracy or Kudos without trying the demo. DON'T. try the demos first. they are free, quick and easy downloads direct from my site. I want you to be happy with your purchase. try before you buy. It's one of the best ways you gamers can encourage us devs to make better games.

Bah etc.

Monday, November 20, 2006

so you want to be indie developer?

Then here are a few things to keep in mind...

1) Your website lasts forever
There are many factors involved in getting traffic to your site, and one of them is just sheer persistance over time. The more links you have to your site, the better,so dead links are a disaster. Because its almost impossible to track down everyone linking to your site and getting them to update the links, this means that when you tell someone the link to a jpg, a demo exe, or a video, for best results you need to keep that link legit forever. If you have a decent webhost, you can fiddle with config settings to redirect certain files to other places, but by far the best way to handle this is to just be organised from the very start. Assume you will have more than one game, and make your site layout reflect this. Try to standardise everything from the very start, with a naming convention, and neat directory layout. If things go well, you will have your website for ten years or more. Start as you mean to go on.

2) There is no standard contract
The two biggest lies in the music business and the games business are these:
"This is a standard contract, it cannot be altered" and "This is what all contracts are like, if you don't sign this, you won't get a better offer." ALL contracts from serious publishers and portals are negotiable, and every clause can be reworded and changed. If you don't ask, you don't get, and if you sign a contract that you aren't happy with, you have only yourself to blame. A related tip is to note that any reassurances you get from the publisher about what a clause "really means" or means "in practice" is useless. The most vital one to watch for is deductions that are mot capped or itemised. If a publisher says "you should get at least $x a copy" make sure it says exactly that in the contract. If they say that deductions will only be a dollar or so per copy, have that amount explicitly written in. If they won't do this, they are probably lying. A single vague clause in a contract can cost you a lot of money. You never know if your game will be a hit, and if it is, it's too late after the inks dry to renegotiate the contract terms.

3) You need to do it all
Many indie developers are ex-mainstream industry programmers. If that's you, you are probably used to big areas of work being done by someone else. You will have to do it all, unless you buy an engine outright. That involves a lot of code people don't think about. You need code to handle input, sound, music, graphics, cheat codes, save games, the front end, version control, any web integration, etc etc. This also goes for non coding activity such as website design and development, marketing, business matters, tech support and QA. If the thought of doing this all alone doesn't scare you, it should do, it's hard work. If you have lots of money, you can pay others to do it all, but it's way easier (at first) to just learn how to do it.

4) Size matters
Big retail games are stupid sizes, and people tend to ignore the whole topic of installer size and efficiency. Demos for such games are even more hilarious, some of them are over a gig in size. That's suicide. Yes, you have fast broadband and will wait 5 hours with it to get the new RTS demo. Newsflash - you are a game developer, you are hardcore. The majority of your potential buyers dont know who the hell you are. They haven't been waiting 2 years for your game, you do not have the Spore marketing budget. You cannot gurantee placements on magazine cover disks, and cannot assume enough downlaods to keep a torrent download viable for your demo. Also, in all likeliehood, you are paying bandwidth costs for each demo download. If you have a 1% conversion rate and a 100MB demo, thats 10 gig of demo traffic per sale, without images, videos, and html. This adds up. Also, lots of people just won't bother with a 100MB demo from an unknown. If you have never given the size of your demo thought before, you will do so now. It's a cardinal sin to include art and sound assets in a demo for levels that aren't included, but you need to know every trick in the book.

5) The exchange rate can kill you
Generally online games are sold in dollars, and as a one-man company, for simplicity, and to avoid fraud and mega hasle, you will probably charge everyone the same price. I live in the UK, where a US Dollar is worth so little we wallpaper our houses with them. That's great for when you go on holiday from the UK to the USA, but its sucks bigtime for when I get paid. Theres basically no way around this, because it's not an issue of charging different prices to different countries for standard-of-living reasons (people always try to rip off the british, and sell stuff cheaper to russia), it's more a matter of converting the currency from the majority currency to the one you use. Ideally you will live in the USA or eastern europe. The worst place to live is the UK (AFAIK). If I lived in the USA, I'd have paid for my house by now. There's no way around this apart from moving to a new country, but it *is* something you need to be aware of.

6) Ideas ARE worth something.
In fact they are worth a lot. Common armchair-pundit wisdom is that "an idea isnt worth anything, its the implementation that matters", but I disagree. Take a look at the current 'casual' and 'indie' game markets. Lots and lots and lots of clones. An original game DOES sell better than a simple clone, all other things remaining equal. The thing is, you have to really believe in your idea, stick to your guns, and still turn out a good (as well as original) game. The great news is, that if your game is original, there is virtually ZERO competition. Thinking of doing a vertical scrolling shooter? it better be as good or better than Star Monkey. Thinking of doing a match 3 puzzle game? it better be superior to Bejewlled (good luck...). But if your game is truly original, you will have the whole market to yourself. Just avoid political simulation games and turn based life-sims. Those arent genres you should consider *cough*.

This post was part of the 'So you want to be an Indie Developer?' blog
project. You can find the other entries via these links:


Lemmy and Binky

Reality Fakers

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I'm going on holiday. Within the next 12 hours I'll be cocooned in a tin box hurtling through the air at high speed while irritating air hostesses try and sell me alcohol I won't want, or ply me with processed food I won't eat. Doubtless the fact that I'll be wearing bulky headphones and trying to enter a state of meditative trance for the journey will mark me out as an evil terrorist.

The big problem is, I'll be away from positech for 2 weeks. I'm going to the middle of nowhere and phone lines will not be accessible, let alone broadband web access. There is literally nothing I can do to respond to email or other such inquiries for 14 days.
I doubt the world will end, but I suspect I will have major email cloggage on my return. At least 4 people will not bother to check my forums or website, but will email me fierce, aggressive hate mail because I haven't replied to their tech support issue, or set them up a replacement download link for the files they didnt backup when they formatted their disk.
I route my email through so many different locations and filters, it looks like a phone call from 'sneakers', and at none of these points am I given the option to do a blanket "reply all" with an autoresponder.
So I guess I'll just have to worry about it when I get back.

The latest thrilling games news is I've frozen development on Starship Tycoon 2 for the time being (I'll get back to it) to do a totally different game.
yes I am mad.
But it will be a great game. I reckon.

Lastly, I bought a new digital camera today. My old sony one is dying. This one is about the size of a runner bean and as slim as a sheet of paper. Its flipping amazing. And it has 1 GIG of memory. That's insane It wasn't that expensive either. Technology is getting mental.

Cya later dudes.