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

The bar gets higher all the time

I recently bought a present for a relative, from a fairly obscure website. It was clear that the companies heart was not in the whole website thing, and I suspect it was designed a decade ago. Lets put it this way. It used frames…

It was pretty clear that the nature of what they sell made it a poor mix for modern internet geek. However, they realised they needed a website and this was it. There was an online catalog, of sorts, but many of the links were broken. Worst of all, they had no prices next to items, just price codes. You had to go to a seperate page to lookup the price of an item. Plus (and here it gets laughable) there was no shopping basket. If you wanted to buy stuff, you would have to write down the codes somewhere, and then manually enter them in a form on the order page. And there was no running total, or way to calculate the cost. You had to add up the cost yourself, and submit your credit card details in a (secure) form. Lucky dip as to whether the final cost was as you suspected. No mention of shipping costs or tax, thats a happy surprise on your bank statement too. Did I mention no confirmation email or notice of shipping?

The world has moved on. Websites like amazon exist. If you sell online, you are competing with amazon. I don’t care if you don’t have the budget, the customer likely doesn’t care either.

The same is true in games. I just added the campaign map ability to zoom in. I thought it was needed. But thats not enough. Obviously if you can zoom, you can scroll, but how? using the arrow keys? yup, what about WSAD? yup, how about moving the mouse to do edgescrolling? yup. how about click and drag panning? yup, how about varying  scroll-speed based on zoom level to maintain a smooth feel? Every new triple-A game will add new features and expectations, and they trickle down to everyone. I feel like my games look cheap without smooth multi-threaded animating loading screens. I wish my games showed up in the windows game explorer like the big ones do… there are extra things being added all the time that people expect. Look at the Civ IV map versus Civ I, or the new total wars versus the first one.

Ultimately, you have to keep up, even if that means scaling back your expectations. A small, contained, polished game is better than a big sprawling but amateurish mess. I make this mistake myself. GSB is likely too ambitious a game for positech and I know it. I can barely keep up. The level of polish and features for the initial release of the game was too low. It’s way better now (37 updates later), but there is still room for improvement.

Everyone knows the bar keeps getting higher. But the worse news is, it’s tough luck. You still need to at least be reaching for that bar.

Centurion Cruiser Model. REAL model.

I haven’t decided the nature of the competition or task required to win this yet… But it arrived today and I wanted to blog some pictures of it immediately.

Behold a proper 3D plastic model (made using l33t 3d printing tech) of The Imperial Centurion Cruiser from Gratuitous Space Battles

If I do give this one away, I’ll need another one for my desk :D

Zoomable map

I decided that a combination of wanting the option to expand and do big things, plus the fact that it’s about time the non-battle parts of GSB stopped being scared of resolution-independence, meant that the GSB campaign map should be zoomable and scrollable.

This also means I can add more icons and data around a planet that you can zoom into. It therefore makes it easier to represent fleets as icons next to a planet, and makes it theoretically not a big deal to let the player have multiple fleets, at different worlds. That allows you to build up ships steadily at a shipyard in a safe system and send off ships to join the main fleet later on.

It effectively makes the campaign map a proper big Total War style campaign game. Which is a big step from just chaining a few missions together. But hey, who doesn’t like big campaign maps connecting battles together?

I haven’t got anything to really show off today, and it will be a few days before there is anythign visual done. By then I might have more l33t stuff to show you.  To answer someone’s question, the campaign will not be a free patch, it will be some sort of DLC. It’s still better value than a single flipping horse mesh which blizzard want $25 for.

Campaign Encounters, Patch 1.37

GSB got patch 1.37 recently. It did some weapon-balancing, plus some bug fixes and new features, like that new post-battle stats stuff I talked about a lot on here. It also increased the variety of ship debris, a side effect of preparations for an eventual new race.

In addition to finally getting that sent out, I’ve been doing campaign stuff. The map now looks like this:

Which is very similar, but those tiny icons are my placeholders to show facilities at each ‘encounter’ (basically each planet). The current types of facility are as follows:

  • Repair yards
  • Factories
  • Shipyards

The factories and shipyards come in 3 flavours. My current thinking is that the factories generate cash each day (real world day) if they are under your control. The repair yards let you fix your ships (rather than letting you do it regardless of where you are) and the shipyards let you build new ships, of a class dependent on the shipyard (Only the best yards can construct new cruisers).

I have all the code done to place these things, and load and save their data. The actual facility code to generate cash and the code that restricts or enables shipbuilding and repairs isn’t done yet. The plan is to have a game thats more in-depth than GSB was in its vanilla form, but nowhere near as detailed as a normal 4X game. There are plenty of 4X games already, I’m trying to do something different, by making the battles the focus, rather than the resource-gathering.

And yes, this expansion has mushroomed into serious feature creep. Typical…

Now I need to go pour some wine so I can enjoy the first ever political leadership debate in UK history. In 30 minutes time…

Question about buying games, friends etc.

I’ve been thinking about that classic situation where you buy a game and think it’s cool, but your friends don’t have it. I’ve experienced this lately with Just Cause 2, Men of War and even Mount N Blade. It’s cooler to know loads of people playing the same game as you.

Some companies do clever discounty stuff where they give people the ability to give away discounts or extra copies. (‘gifting’ is a word that really offends my feeble sense of grammar somehow).

I wonder what people think about this?

If you own Gratuitous Space Battles (for example), do you know someone who hasn’t bought it, who you’d like to pester to buy it? If so, and you were given a money off token for your friend to get the game at a discount would you:

A) Think thats cool, because you get to give away a discount code to a friend, plus they might now get the game too

B) Think you were ripped off by paying full price for the game.

I think A) personally, but I’m biased because I run a business and read a lot about this sort of thing. I don’t like the idea of making anyone who bought a game from me annoyed about their pruchase, so I fear there are many people who think B) but am I wrong?