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

Why advertising is scary

I’m starting some very basic ads for GSB, in anticipation of actually releasing it soonish. As a result, I’m fiddling with ad settings a lot. I get quite into it. Modern web-advertising is far far better and different to the classic advertising on TV or billboards or magazines that have existed all these years. You can literally do this with web ads:

“Bid for $0.08 per click for ads of this size on this specific site if the viewers time-zone is currently 7.30Pm – 9.30PM, on a Wednesday, and increase that bid by 10% if they are under 35 years old and reduce by 25% if they are female, making sure they do not see this specific ad more than 4 times today on that specific site. Only show this ad to English speaking people in New Zealand.”

You might think that’s overkill, but the thing is 99% of your competitors are big companies (measured by ad budget) and they ALL have people dedicated to getting those settings right. Ever wondered how the hell you see EVONY ads everywhere? How can they afford it? They can’t, but if you are aged 18-40 and visit gaming sites on weekday evenings, that’s a much more affordable niche to bombard.

So we establish that ads are VERY targetable and configurable, but why scary? Because they work. Seriously. I know everyone thinks they don’t and that we are immune, but trust me, you are not. I used to think that people ‘like me’ were ‘above’ ads, and that because I knew so much about PR and marketing, that I saw through their tricks. Then I read this book.

Advertising works because it affects your brain just like any other input. You probably associate the sound of birdsong with calm and peace, because over many years, when you have heard birdsong, its been peaceful and calm, and so your brain lays down patterns of neuron connections that associate birdsong = calm. This is how you learn EVERYTHING. Including pleasure. The smell of muffins with strawberry jam is associated by me with pleasure because I tend to experience the visual appearance of them shortly before I experience the pleasure of the taste. Our whole brains work this way, and good luck re-wiring them.

This is why ads work. They show you a busty supermodel next to a sports car, and your ‘higher brain’ thinks ‘cheap trick’ but your subconscious brain thinks ‘cars are sexy‘. You can’t stop it. It’s literally impossible, if you have physically seen the ad.

This is where it gets scarier:

There is a part of your brain called the amygdala. It gets visual input before anything else, and passes it on afterwards. It takes actions before the higher level part of your brain kicks in, and it is the part that works on strong emotions. The strongest emotion is fear. This is why when you sometimes jump in shock when you watch a horror movie. There is no reason to do so. The TV cannot attack you, you are safe, its just TV, but all these thoughts come in long after the fear response. In short, the fear response will lay down strong neural connections before your higher brain even gets to point out how incorrect that is. This is why political ads rely on fear. Fear works.




Fixing a few obscure, but nasty bugs

I’ve found a few big bugs that people don’t seem to have spotted, or at least, not in the numbers you would assume would have spotted them.
First is a bug relating to how bonuses are applied to modules. In code terms it was a fairly standard ‘doh’ mistake where you override virtual functions but forget to call the base function in the derived one. (obviously sometimes that’s legit, but here it was a mistake).
The upshot of this is that for some modules which had certain bonuses, such as shield modules, the base hull bonus got skipped. It was calculated ok on the design screen, but not in the battle. As a result, there are a lot of ships that are partially missing their hull bonuses, until now…

The second bug is less of a bug and more of an unintended consequence. Because of the way target priorities were calculated, they were biased in favour of targets that were just outside minimum range. because optimum range is nearer to maximum than minimum for most weapons, this meant a few sub-optimum targeting decisions were being made.

The good news is I’ve rewritten that entire section of code that makes target selection decisions. The bad news is I need to do some serious testing to ensure this is an improvement, and doesn’t break everything. I suspect that for the first time, I may need a few volunteers from the beta players to install a ‘trial 1.16 beta patch to see if it’s safe to roll out to everyone else. If I do that on Monday, I can aim to release the full 1.16 update a few days later, and then we are getting very close to starting work on a demo and an actual releasable final game.

Easy to contact

I feel strongly that this:

is true.

If you search my forums, you will notice I occasionally ask people to email me at
. I don’t use a NOSPAM or an image or try and get you to do some algebra before you get to see the mailto link.

People email me for a few reasons:

1) They are in the business and want to sell my games/do a deal/review my games/interview me

2) They have technical support issues

3) They hate me and want to tell me

4) They like my games and want to tell me

Only a stupid businessperson would not want to read 1) and 2).

3) is easily laughed at and deleted.

4) makes me feel good.

oh and….

5) Spam.

99% of spam is filtered out by spam filters. the other 1% is trivially spotted and deleted. I don’t think the odd click of the delete button is a hard price to pay to enable the people who play my games to get to contact the developer when they have to. I don’t respond to EVERY email, but I do read them.

Why don’t big companies do this?


“Determinism is the view that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.”

That’s what wikipedia has to say. In terms of gsb determinism would mean that if you field the same fleet twice, against the same enemy, then the result will be exactly the same.

This isn’t true.

I wish it was, as do a few GSB players who are doing great things with tournaments. In fact, if I knew that I could make the game work as well as it does now, but be deterministic with a weeks work, I’d do it. Sadly, the reasons why it is not deterministic go deeper than that. I spent most of today experimenting with making it work, and I never got past 6000 milliseconds of a big battle before losing synch. (Yes I know all about random seeds and how to do it. If you saw how much code is the game, you’d see the scale of the problem :()

Fundamentally, the game is not frame-rate independent in terms of simulation calculations. (although it is scaled so as to provide constant playback rates). The BIG BIG plus side of this is that games visuals are pretty darn smooth and look great, with no jitters or jumps like you sometimes see in laggy multiplayer games. The downside is it’s not deterministic.

This limits the game a bit in terms of being really competitive as any sort of online serious league style thing. However, thats not altogether a problem. The game is called GRATUITOUS space battles, and isn’t designed to be taking uber seriously. I’d love to code an ultra-complex, ultra-geeky dterministic space combat game where you even selected the rivets to use on the laser gun stabiliser panels, but the trouble is it would likely see 500 copies, and that means I’d be broke :(

Sooo…. The current limitations of GSB 1 which will always be there are these:

2D. Not 3D

No direct ship control

Not deterministic.

Everything else can be improved and expanded and bettered and tweaked. What would you like to see?

<offtopic rant>

I’m watching (as-in, it’s on in the background) masterchef. With the way these people talk, and the ominous sci-fi thriller music as they talk about cooking prawns, they take themselves waaaayyyy too seriously. I know my place, I make video games to entertain people, and play with spaceships for a living. You can do that, and take it very seriously and aim to be the best you can, without building up some big fucking hero-complex. These people are good at frying, they arent discovering DNA or serving as fucking fighter pilots. Bah! </offtopic rant>

Video TV thing

Theres a good endorsement of indie games in general (17 minutes in) here:

And of course they cover GSB very positively (which is cool). Some of the video clips are oooollllddddd, which happens quite a lot with GSB. I guess that is inevitable when you trickle out video over time.

It’s good to see people talking about the game in a mainstream discussion of games in general, rather than just a niche indie thing.

I’m working on some new stuff for GSB, in terms of a purely visual feature (more or less) for the next patch. Details coming soon. I just had a whole day of tedious businessy stuff, because it was the end of my companys financial year, which in the wonderful UK means a ton of form filling and non-games-related bullshit that takes ages. It seems I made a profit again, which is a relief :D

In other news, here is the latest promotional vid for GSB to lure in your friends to buy a copy: