Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Video blogging

Fellow indies dejobaan recently did a video reponse to questions about their game, and I thought this was a great idea and shamelessly copied it replying to all the stuff people ask me by email and on the forums, then spent far too much time today playing with sony vegas movie editor. I needed to get my moneysworth didn’t I? For some reason I started ranting about star trek:

Tutorial and help rewrite

I have two big areas of gsb to fix. Challenges (adding features) and tutorial stuff. My straw poll of friends suggests that the initial mission and tutorial are what needs more urgent work. I was going to scribble this in my default ‘working.txt’ file, which is where I cache my brain, but I thought what the hell, why not just do it in public via the blog?

Current problems with the tutorial/learning stuff

  • Nobody notices the manual, or reads it
  • The timed ‘helpful’ popup windows are annoying and interrupt the game
  • The tutorial windows are often ignored or deleted, and cannot be recalled once skipped
  • The tutorial stuff breaks immersion, and interrupts what should be fun
  • The game is initially overwhelming for some players, and they have no idea what to do or how to do it

I don’t want to spend weeks fiddling with this right now, but it’s clear this needs fixing. I think the first item is a lost cause, it’s a PDF manual so not easily integrated into the game, especially as I’m too stupid to have integrated a built-in web browser for stuff like that (which would be ideal). The only possible tweak would be to have the manual mentioned by a hint when the game is first run, or maybe in a loading-screen tip?

I think just ditching this silly idea of popping up windows when I notice someone hasn’t used a certain feature might be the best idea. Ideally I’ll come up with a less intrusive way to deliver that information. Maybe an easily ignored little scrolling message at the bottom of the screen? The problem is that ship design mode uses 100% of the screen on minimum res…

Maybe the tutorial windows could be a little flashing question mark window that you can click to get help, which the first time player could ignore? (until they realise they need it). That might work much better.

One of the major things I need to do is flatten out the learning curve right at the start. Possibly give the player some starting ships which *can* actually win the first battle, write off the first battle as a tutorial (or add a new ‘trainer’ mission with just one level of difficulty). I could disable¬† the ‘new ship design’ button at the start, and let the player just learn the basics of the deployment screen for the first battle. Battle #2 could come with a different tutorial window which pointed you at the ‘new ship’ button. If I wanted it REALLY basic, I could also grey out all of the ship orders here too…

In fact I wonder if that is 90% of the learning curve sorted? I guess that people got overwhelmed with setting up orders and designing ships? My idea is that people learn the game like this:

1) learn how to add ships to a fleet and position them (could be mission #1)

2) learn how to use orders to control ship behavior. (could be mission #2)

3) learn how to design new ships (this could be unlocked after mission #2 with extensive popup and tooltip help for that screen)

I think I’ll address the tutorial stuff with this plan in mind. For now, I’ll go through the current system and remove everything that doesn’t fit this ‘new model’.

Balancing lots of things

Today was mostly spent playing the game, going through a lot of module data, reading a lot of forum posts, doing spreadsheets, and analyzing what modules and ships needing changing to make GSB more balanced. There were some really obvious screw ups that have been there for a while, such as frigate power supplies being too good, frigate crew modules being too small, and fighter torpedoes being stupidly heavy. Lots of this is now fixed and awaiting the next patch.

There has been press coverage here and there, not least here:

http://www.cyberstratege.com/magazine/2009/09/gratuitous-space-battles-en-direct-de-la-beta/

Hopefully that’s a good review, but my language skills are weak at best!

There is a ton of improvements I want to make to the game, mostly UI and online challenge-related stuff. I also badly need to ease casual players into the game much better than I currently do. This is all ‘on the list’. Plus there is a backlog of insanely cool features I’d like to add one day, maybe eventually there will be an expansion pack or something. I wouldnt mind if I was still doing GSB related stuff a year from now (providing it actually sells ok, obviously).

To people asking about GSB on platforms such as Impulse, the answer is *soon*.

Version 1.05 at last. Getting better…

I just uploaded version 1.05, and activated the auto-patching. This fixed a ton of things. The big stuff is code to prevent most of the hardcore ‘stacking’ on the deployment screen, by means of a snap-to-grid system for deploying ships (this has it’s quirks, but will be polished more later). That means fleets look more like this:

There is also a groovy new right click option for designs (mass deploy) which means you can add new ships with a single click. I also fixed about a  dozen minor interface niggles and made two big gameplay changes:

Repair modules now have limited resources, and when they run out, they stop working. This means they are no longer a long term equivalent to the infinitely recharging shields. In short, you can’t build indestructible ships just by stacking repair modules and armor

Escort orders now have variable range, meaning you can have closely knit groups of defending fighters, or squads that roam into enemy space only so far, which should mean a lot more tactical flexibility.

I’m well aware that I need to give the existing AI enemy fleets access to these new capabilities and improve their deployments as a result. However, that’s come secondary to making the game better balanced for challenges and for playability. I’ll be improving the general balancing, and all sorts of other stuff over the next few days. I might get around to a much needed beefing up on the online options too. It sucks that you can’t browse on-line high scores or stats, or easily track the progress of challenges you issued, or rate challenges for their difficulty. I have long term plans to get a lot of stuff like that in, plus all sorts of other goodies.

Here is some interesting coverage of the game over at good-old RPS

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2009/09/08/gratuitous-space-prattles/

Spot That Tank

I was going a bit square-eyed from all this coding so I took the morning off (I’m coding again now!). To get away from all the explosions and guns and weapons of GSB, I had a relaxing morning at THE IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM. Which is in London, and not *that* much of a trip. I’ve been reading churchills war diaries and playing company of heroes, so what the hell eh?
I conclude from my trip that the V2 rocket is HUGE, and that those PAK anti-tank guns from company of heroes are actually quite small. I also conclude that evil though they were (The holocaust museum makes that perfectly clear), the Nazis had some cool tank designs. Here is me stood nonchalantly next to the jagdpanther at the museum:

I’m working on AI behavior code. Fortunately I think I may have solved a big of a horrid fighter+escort+engage enemy bug whilst I was on the train, so I’m coding it now. If it all works, I might release a 1.05 patch tonight, mroe likely tomorrow, after some proper testing.