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

Eat your own dog food

I’m not literally talking about what lister had to do: (2 minutes 30 in)

Nope, I’m talking about the phrase often used in software development, or any business these days, which means ‘use your own product’.

I think there is likely a decent correlation between successful businesses, and those that eat their own dog food. I play my games a bit, not enough tbh, although that primarily a lack of time. I’m going to set aside a few hours today to just play through some challenges. I have found so many bugs, and had so many ideas, post-release, just from experiencing my own games with the mindset of an end user.
If you are an indie dev, and there is something, anything, no matter how small that disappoints, bugs or annoys you about your game, then fix it. Fix it now.


. Tomorrow you will find something else that needs fixing, and fix that too. This is how games go from good to really good.

Of course, sadly not everyone eats their own dog food. I bought two products recently that did not. One was a picture frame with a tiny hook on the back to place over a nail. The hook was tiny, and bent easily and was in the middle of a large frame. The sheer physics of it made it literally impossible to hang it on the wall by the hook. They *never* ate that dog food.

Then I bought a TV cupboard thing, one of those ones with a shelf for all of the DVD player stuff, and a hole cut out the back for the cables to tidily go through.
The hole was too small to put a plug through, and most EU appliances now have moulded plugs you can’t remove. The hole was effectively useless. They *never* ate that dog food.

Bon appetit!

Coding for the sake of elegance

I’m working on campaign stuff for a future (long way off) GSB expansion pack.

Right now, when the player clicks the battle screen to show the missions, there is an extra “campaigns” tab, and when that screen is initialised, the game currently loads in all the campaign data, including data for all the encounters within each campaign.

That doesn’t take very long tbh, it’s fairly negligible, even in debug mode.

Yet I am determined to fix it. I can just load the campaign name, and only bother loading further data if that campaign gets selected, and the player goes to the next screen. Otherwise, I’m wasting time.

Back in the days of the ZX81, that sort of delay would be very long, slow and totally unacceptable. It would be hugely wasted processing to load any data you didn’t really need, regardless of how much effort it took or complexity was involevd to avoid it. These days, it really doesn’t matter so much. We have more than 1k of RAM, we have more than a million times as much.

And yet it still bugs me. The code is inelegant, and I must fix it. Like most games programmers > 30 years old, I’ll never shake that desire to code ‘close to the metal’ and get as much performance as I can, even in fairly unimportant scenarios like this. Maybe it’s a good thing? Maybe thats why GSB surprises people sometimes in how well it runs on crappy old PC’s :D.

Is the casual boom over?

There was a time a few years ago when casual games seemed to be the BIG THING. Almost everyone was making a game where you matched 3 things. Then they all cloned Bettys Beer Bar (You might remember the first clone – Diner Dash). Then they all cloned Zuma, then… etc. I lose track of who everyone was cloning after a while.

This wasn’t the golden age of indie game development. In fact, it was the golden age of actual indie game developers rolling their eyes and wondering what the hell people were thinking, when developer after developer announced their ‘innovative’ new clone of whatever was #1 on bigfishgames last week.

Not surprisingly, a lot of casual games bombed and made virtually no money. At least, for the developers. The aggregators, who owned the platform like BigFishGames and Relfexive probably made a fortune. I wasn’t immune, I had Kudos and Rock Legend on a number of those portals. I still get the royalty checks for them, although it’s nothing to get excited about.

Nowadays it seems everyone is cloning farmville, and I think I might have glossed over the bit where everyone was making a browser based MMO game. In 2010, I’m sure there will be a new goldrush (maybe the new mac thing) where indie developers all chase trying to cash in on the latest #1 guaranteed way to make millions.

Because I don’t make games aimed at casual portals anymore, or even ones they would be interested in stocking, I’ve taken my eye off the ball. I have zero interest in games like that right now, I always only make the sort of game I personally think is cool at that point in my life, but I am curious as to the state of the market. Has it collapsed? Or are more and more people each year still shelling out actual money for the latest reskinned dress-up or clickfest time management game?  That would be (as a game designer) a bit depressing, but  it wouldn’t stun me…