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

Show Me The Sales

Today marks the launch of the first Show Me The Sales promotion. This is a big bunch of high quality indie games all being sold at a discount. it’s not like a normal games bundle, where there is a central seller taking a cut, and you have all-or-nothing. It’s essentially a collection of indie games sold direct by the developer, which are all on sale at the same time. Plus every one has handy videos:

This is my little side project, and is a way to encourage indie pc devs to sell direct, and for gamers to remember what it’s like to buy direct. It’s really no hassle at all, and you get the satisfaction of ALL of the money going to the developer.

Anyone who is suspicious and thinks I must be making money from it somehow, I’m not. I see it as being in my long term indirect self-interest to maintain a healthy direct sales channel for indie developers. That’s all.

Please tell your friends, there are some great games there at great prices, and it’s only lasting 14 days.

I’m lucky, and mostly because of the year I’m born.

I am prone to ranting at people in their twenties, or younger about how they need to panic big time about job prospects. As I have a nice job, that pays ok, and I love, people never take me seriously. Here is why you should:

1) I’m naturally a workaholic, and highly motivated. I already have that as an advantage, and it’s a big one. If you can’t make yourself leap out of bed at 8AM on a Sunday to go do some work, you are at a disadvantage. I just got lucky here.

2) I’m just over 40, meaning I was 11-12ish when the first home computers hit the UK. As a result, I am a first generation programming geek. A few years older, and I’d be old enough to not have found them cool, a few years younger, and I’d have missed it. The ZX81 and its ilk forced me to learn programming from the ground up, with no help. This is another advantage.

3) I started an online business before steam, stardock, gamersgate etc. As a result, I sold direct because I didn’t have any other option. Thus I now have a very long-established site, business contacts, history, experience of selling online. If I’d started a few years later, I would have been tempted to just rely on portals, and I’d not be truly independent.

4) I got a free university education. Sorry to the kids now who are paying for theirs, I can’t help being the right age. Exactly the right age. A bit older, and there wouldn’t have been the push to go to uni, later and I may have skipped it due to cost. This is not going to change, except for the worse.

5) I started my business before china and india really went bananas with economic growth. I never had to worry about someone from china or india taking my job. Right now, I’d be VERY worried about that. Unlike people in the rich west, Indian and Chinese kids have parents who were in real poverty, and grandparents in extreme poverty. You bet your ass they will get pestered to get better grades than you.

6) I started work before robots got good. Robots now are very good. There is going to be NO work in warehouses or doing assembly line stuff soon. All those factory workers will HAVE to reskill to do something, and that may include doing what you do. I’ve got lucky yet again! I’m the right age for robots to help me in retirement, but not young enough that they take my job. Unless your job is creative, or involves direct people skills, are you really sure it will exist when you retire. If you are 20 now, will your job exist in 2061? because don’t pretend you can retire at 65 if you are 20 now. Don’t forget to factor in all those ex-warehouse guys working as robot technicians to make them even better each year… Say goodbye to warehouse, security patrol  domestic and many military jobs.

7) Complexity. Things were simpler for my working life. I commanded serious money because I had an MCSE qualification as a network / IT engineer. That isn’t so rare now, and the tech is more complex. You need to know more stuff now, much much more.

8) The interweb. People everywhere on the planet can take your job now. Telepresecence, video conferencing, skype etc… I employ people all over the world. You don’t compete with other locals, but 7 billion people.

9) Property boom. I thought UK house prices were insane when we bought, but that was 10 years ago, and they have tripled since then. How young people can afford a house now is beyond me.

TL,DR: Study hard, and work your ass off. You need to. More than I needed to. Sorry!

Gratuitous Tank Battles Alpha Footage

Ok here is a video of me self-consciously talking about GTB and playing it. It’s one of those actual gameplay no-tricks no-bullshit videos rather than the ‘target-render’ bullshot crap and touched-up recorded at half speed then sped up to look smooth things that a lot of big name publishers do. I just ran fraps while I messed about shooting stuff, and talked over it. My voice is a little too quiet here and there, but I always underestimate the SFX noises, and I have to capture both audio to one channel so it isn’t editable. Damn :D

The video is just showing some battles, not the level editor or the unit editor, or any online stuff (still most of that to do…) so its only a snapshot of the traditional tower-defense side of the game, albeit playing as attacker and defender, and with a tad more detail and explodyness than most TD games I hope :D.
let me know your thoughts, and please retweet, link, share, tell your favorite news sites about it etc. I might start doing a lot more in-dev videos about the game, I think they are a bit More interesting than just a normal blog post. What do you reckon?

Getting Gratuitous Tank Battles to run on my laptop

So…. it runs! and it runs in places at 60FPS, but in other places….not.

My dell video card has a 64MB VRAM intel GMA chipset, so hardly a gaming laptop, but my aim was to get GTB to at least run on it, even if the framerate sucked. That way, I know people with 128MB or 256MB cards should be fine, and I’d like to keep the min spec as low as I can.

The game already had a ton of stuff you could turn off, such as shadows, shaders etc, but running it on the Dell, and then profiling it using the awesome free intel GMA tools showed up a ton of stuff that I could do to increase the initial 20FPS rate. These were:

  • Realise that the refresh rate on the dell was set at 40FPS not 60FPS initally, hence making an artificially low limit. DOH!
  • Removing a redundant Clear() at the start of each frame. I fill the screen anyway, so why bother? I don’t use a Z-buffer.
  • Removing some render-target sets and clears when the shader options were turned off. With these off, I can render direct to the back buffer, old-school style and save time on render target changes.
  • Adding code that detects a jpg when loaded, and mip-maps it. Previously, they had no mip maps at all. Could possibly reduce some memory consumption
  • Add a graphical detail slider to options which can turn off a bunch of frilly details like window shadows, and drifting smoke on menu screens.
  • Providing a separate list of lower-res textures that get used in some cases when the graphical detail slider is below 25%. Such as mech legs and the shadow maps for scenarios. Any texture of 2048 or higher gets a lower res replacement. I had tried auto-scaling them on load, but this gave unexplained errors and I don’t trust D3DX to do this reliably on all video cards to be honest, so separate low-res textures it is.

I think the biggest wins were the texture-size reductions and the removal of the render target clears. It was interesting to note that the dell considered the game to be GPU limited, despite it being a fairly old and crappy chip (and only a single core). I guess at 1920×1200 res with all the options on for the desktop, things may be very different though.

Things may start to race ahead from here. The game is definitely very playable in its basic form, with the majority of extra work now likely to be the online challenge and integration stuff. That will take months, but still, the end is definitely in sight.


Platform fun

Wow. Getting GTB to run smoothly on my laptop might prove fun. Methinks it uses more horsepower than GSB did, at least judging by my first tests. The photo reflects badly from the GTB battles cloud-cover effect :(

But it runs, that’s the main thing. Time for some serious profiling on my min spec laptop now. Plus, GSB running on something called the ‘i-pad’. That looks fun!