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

Better Damage Feedback

A lot of the replies to my ‘why didn’t you buy gsb’ post mentioned the lack of understanding what weapons and modules were effective, and the steep learning curve. I think this is a good point and I agree it should be better. I suspect one of the worst things is seeing your weapons firing but not knowing if they got through, and if they did any damage. You *can* tell this now, by the explosions, or the armor or shield glow effects, but it’s not immediately obvious and thats different to how most games handle it.


I thought I’d investigate how it looked to have those MMO style floating ‘damage numbers’ above ships as they got hit. I stuck this in this morning, and so far I REALLY like it. You can of course, toggle it off, along with the whole UI, if you prefer a more cinematic less gamey look. I think this makes the game much easier to play and learn from in the early stages. My only phear is that established players may howl with anger at the thought of changing this, because it removes a lot of the guesswork. I think the guesswork probably creates more annoyance than fun, but what do you think?

here is a crappy blurry youtube video.

But much better to download the wmv.

It still looks blurry, and not as good as it really looks, but its better than youtube.

In other news, patch 1.39 is in limbo because some people had crashes with it. I’m awaiting feedback from people with that issue so I can give them patch 1.40 and see if that runs ok, before I release it properly. This damage numbers thing likely won’t be in until patch 1.41, which may roll in some other usability improvements now I have some decent feedback on what to fix.

Talking With Customers (or potential ones)

Years ago, I did this blog post, which is why I now run a dedicated server, because mine just MELTED. I was even on the radio, in several countries, yabbering on about piracy. Its still a huge big deal in terms of people recognising my name.

Anyway. I’m sort of going to try and do the same thing, sort of, but on a different tack. it won’t be vaguely as popular, and I bet I get 10 replies, rather than 10,000, but that’s cool. So instead of ‘Why do you pirate my games’, todays question is

“Why didn’t you buy Gratuitous Space Battles?”

Please read this next bit:

I am NOT complaining. I am NOT moaning about sales. I am NOT unhappy with sales, I am not whining or anything like it. I just like making games that people enjoy, and I don’t know why the people who didn’t buy it, didn’t buy it. I’d like to know. The answers may well make it a better game for everyone, if I fix those reasons (if they make sense). It will make the game attractive to current fence-sitters, better for current owners, and more sales for me and my cats.

This cat demands answers NOW.

You can post here, or email me at Subject could be “Why I didn’t buy GSB”. As with the piracy thing, what I 100% absolutely totally want is honesty. Here are some prompts for what you might be thinking, and please email me if any of them are true:

  • “I Thought it would be an arcade game, but it wasn’t and I don’t like strategy games.”
  • “I Don’t like 2D games, or at least won’t pay money for them.”
  • “The demo was too easy”
  • “The demo crashed”
  • “It ran badly on my PC”
  • “I already have lots of space strategy games”
  • “The demo was badly balanced”
  • “I heard bad things about it”
  • “I don’t trust buying it from your website”
  • “It’s too expensive”
  • “I wanted direct control of the ships, and that was frustrating”
  • I wanted a campaign wrapped around the battles. It was too sandboxy”

etc. Obviously, feel free to add to the list, above all, be honest. I’m not offended if you email me and say “The games shit, my dog could make a better game”. I would disagree, but that’s your opinion :D.

If you have friends or interwebs-buddies who you know saw or heard about the game, and don’t own it, I’d love to know their opinions. Obviously if you *did* buy it, you don’t get a vote today. Sorry, and thankyou for buying one of my games. You are clearly happier, more intelligent, discerning and probably more attractive than other people.

My intention here is to hoover up all those comments that invariably get made, that could, in a perfect world, be fed back to the creator of something to make the product better. We, as a species really need to get our shit together on that. If you are like me, you *always* find something about everything you buy which is annoying*, there just isn’t a direct route to the inbox of the designer to send your feedback. My email address is Tell me what improvement would make you a buyer of Gratuitous Space Battles.

*those new nozzles on ketchup bottles give me less control over ketchup distribution, and are affecting my purchase decisions…

Current campaign-game to-do list

These are things on my list right now:

  • Add new code to tutorial so it can zoom to a specified location.
  • Finish off tutorial text and code for the remaining bits of the campaign.
  • Do the screens for victory or defeat in the campaign.
  • Filter out fleets where ships have no engines, so they aren’t selected as enemy fleets.
  • Merge 2 fleets if you drop one fleet icon on another.
  • Prevent exploit whereby you invade a system, then save and load before the battle got resolved. (Ooops).
  • Merge two fleets into one if you send two fleets to invade the same system at the same time.

None of these are trivial tasks. It’s coming together though. I’ll probably interrupt work on this at some point to release patch 1.39, although the campaign itself will need a patch to support it, so I might wait until the campaign is finished first. I keep considering putting the campaign code into a separate DLL, but tbh thats only going to be needless grief. There will always be one or two tiny things I need to change in the base game to support all the campaign stuff, so why bother? The campaign is all seperate data, just like the expansion packs.
Sales of GSB are definitely slowing. Hopefully the campaign will boost them up long enough to last me until I finish whatever game I do next.

Why hardcore gamers are the best customers

For a long time, indie game development got completely sidetracked by an unhealthy obsession with making casual games. These games were all made for 40+ ‘soccer moms’ whatever the hell that means. It got so bad that people on the popular indie developer forums even started equating indie with casual, claiming that indie games had to be 2D, use one mouse button and have zero graphical options, so as to minimise ‘confusion’.

These days, from a  developers point of view, casual gaming has imploded.  A single company (BigFishGames) pretty much killed off all the competition, and forced developer cuts so low that they all sodded off to make iphone or facebook games. (“The current goldrush didn’t work, quick! follow the next goldrush!”).

Personally I think indie developers are best off making games for hardcore gamers and here is why.

  • Hardcore gamers have hardware that will run something more demanding than tetris, meaning you can flex your graphical coding muscles.
  • Hardcore gamers spend money on games. Yes, some are sadly pirates, but the ones who aren’t are happy to pay for a decent game. They consider it a serious pastime, and thus worthy of expenditure. Not a coffee-break amusement. Hence, higher prices and deeper games. Yay!
  • Hardcore gamers understand simple tech support steps and bugs and patches. “What video card do you have” actually gets an answer, rather than questions, making tech support much easier.
  • Hardcore gamers are enthusiastic and chatty. They have accounts on web forums where they discuss games they like. They can evangelise your game, if it’s good, to dozens, hundreds or thousands of potential buyers.
  • Hardcore gamers remember the developers name. They know who made World Of Warcraft, and they know you made your game. They are likely to join your newsletter, and may even read it.
  • Hardcore gamers are the forgotten minority. Bad console ports have mistreated PC gamers for years. Give a PC gamer the option to mod a game, run in windowed or fullscreen, and choose graphical options and screen resolutions, and they think its christmas.
  • Hardcore gamers are tough critics with a lot of ideas. This can be a nightmare, but it means you get feedback on your game, what to improve, and what should be added. If you are open-minded about reading feedback from customers, hardcore gamers are a designers best friend.
  • Hardcore gamers are happy to buy a game online that isn’t from amazon or some mega-corp they have heard of. If you have a secure site, then you will get sales.  Hardcore gamers are also more likely to support a developer direct, rather than a portal.

You may disagree, but this is my humble experience :D I have no intention whatsoever of switching to making casual games, or simple games for non gamers. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could make a business case for it to myself, or my cats.