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

Things I did wrong in GSB

GSB is a big success and sells well, and I love it. it’s my fave game, out of all the games I’ve made, but it still has problems, because I made some fundamental screwups, technical and otherwise. here is what I think I did wrong in no particular order

  • It doesn’t support netbook resolutions
  • There are a fixed number of ship sizes
  • The battles are not deterministic, preventing replays
  • There are no achievements
  • The tutorial is weak, and the learning curve too steep
  • The auto-update system is dumb regarding where the game is installed.
  • The online integration doesn’t include many features, like friends lists and user profiles, clan tags etc
  • It makes poor use of multi-core CPUs.
  • The player cannot customise the physical appearance of their units very much
  • Mod support is not quite as easy to use as it could be
  • The unit design tools (ship editor) used during development was laughably poor
  • The UI was not as gratuitous as it could have been, given the subject matter

Have I missed anything? Obviously if I ever did a similar game, I’d be keen to fix all of those issues.


I just can’t make my mind up about in-game achievements. The pseudio-intellectual whiny part of me says ‘they are just like pavlovs dog being trained, don’t give in to that manipulative OCD crap’. The rest of me goes ‘Oh YES! I just scored 47 hits with the flamethrower whilst running backwards, that’s the ‘platinum running backwards with flamethrower achievement’ checked off.’ (High-fives all-round).

I completely see why people get into achievements, and I think I’m being a bit of a grumbly old git not having them in my games. The thing is, people always want ‘Steam’ achievements’, and that gives me slight issues because that means people buying the game direct are not going to get them. I am very much against that, as I like it when people buy games direct.

Tbh, it is LONG past the time when I should be working on game IV, and I am now working on game IV (in-between GSB bug fixes etc), so I won’t be re-visitng GSB any time soon to stick in steam achievements. However, with G4, I shall definitely investigate this. There will be achievements, and if I can find a way to toggle it so that they are steam-integrated (if steam accept my next game) for steam buyers, and hosted and run by my own system externally otherwise, then I shall be doing that.

Other stuff I’ll be defintiely aiming to put in mystical top-secret game IV will be online integration in the manner of the GSB campaign game / challenge system, which I think worked extremely well. This time around, there will be more attention spent on the UI for that sort of stuff, so it should be a smoother experience.

I should probably explain what G4 is at some point, but I’m going to wait until I have something to show, which will be a long time, even if it’s just concept art, or placeholder. I also tend to change my mind in design terms a LOT, so I don’t want to say “It’s an FPS set in napoleonic times where you play a kitten that can time travel!” until I’m sure it really is.

Winter Bundle

Before I became ‘the Gratuitous Space Battles guy’. I made other games. They aren’t as good as GSB, I know that, but they aren’t bad*. I did newer versions of two of them (Kudos and Democracy).  Some of them may not run on some newer video cards or O/S versions, but they all have demos.

I mention this because I’m bundling Kudos, Democracy, Starship Tycoon, Planetary Defence and Rock Legend together for $5.99, which is very cheap.

Get it here, and enjoy.

*I have made some bad games, which I don’t even link to on my site. Everyone has to start somewhere :D I’ll be talking about this more in a few days, when I talk about GAME FOUR, and why that is the games working title.

In other news, there is a mouse loose ‘somewhere’ in the living room. I am in a 1950s sitcom.

Insulation: Achievement unlocked!

I wish improving the energy efficiency of your house came with unlockable achievements, I’d be a total achievement-whore. Roughly a year ago, we bought a very old house (roughly 1750), and it was in a sorry state in terms of energy efficiency. To take just a single room (the living room/lounge/whatever), it had thin carpet and crap underlay, huge gaps under the skirting board, a freezing cold cellar underneath with zero insulation between joists, and an open chimney with an open fire. Plus single glazed windows (can’t change them…alas), and normal bog standard curtains.


  • It has a wood-burning stove, MASSIVELY more energy efficient than an open fire (+400 points)
  • Curtains lined with ‘blackout-liner’, to keep the heat in (+50 points)
  • Some heat-reflecting nano-paint, ready to repaint the walls (yes really) (+25 points)
  • Sheeps-wool insulation stuffed between the joists under the floor (+75 points)
  • Super-thick underlay and carpet on order (+40 points)
  • A builder is going to fill all the gaps under the skirting board (+125 points).

To add complications, we just discovered that a draught from under the skirting boards is coming from a HUGE gap in one corner. It looks like the floorboard there is missing, and has been replaced with a thin sheet of metal, that is just hanging in one corner. What the hell? I think that may need properly fixing, by actual tradespeople.

Hopefully by the time this is all done, it will massively drop my heating bill, and I won’t need to sell 10,000 copies a day just to keep us warm. Hurrah! The guy who sold us the house must have worn duvets strapped to each limb all winter.

The dash for customers

This sort of thing happens all the time, but it’s usually less obvious, and less ‘all-at-once’.

People generallhy consider there to be two business growth strategies. I think it was Joel (of joelonsoftware fame) who called them Ben & Jerrys Vs Amazon. Amazon’s strategy was ‘Get Big Fast’. It depended on getting tons of customers, very quickly, and growing, growing, growing. Making a profit was irrelevant, that would come later. Ben & Jerrys was slow sustained growth (like positech!)

It’s also a strategy for building a games portal. If I had the time, and knew the right people, I’d be doing it myself with showmethegames.

Two portals are currently engaged in the mad rush to get customers. One is games for windows live, one is indiedb. Indiedb are doing it cunningly and cleverly with a competition, where you need an account to vote (please vote for GSB!)

Games for windows live are doing it by offering an old game, that they own, for 99% off. People think this is incredible generosity, but it really isn’t. If they could find a way to pay YOU $10 to sign up for an account (assuming you are someone who ever buys games) they would.

This isn’t a bad strategy, or an evil strategy, it’s very good business. It’s also very risky. If you win, in the long term, you become steam / amazon and make hundreds of millions. If you lose, you earn nothing, and you blew $10 million trying to make it work.

I’m too much of a wimp to actually remortgage the house and try it with SMTG. I’ll probably regret that one day :( At least I’m still biz-savvy enough to only include one hyperlink in this post though :D