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

Sith business cards

I’ve never bothered getting personal business cards printed until now, so I figured that I might as well get some l33t ones, and I always liked the design of the swarm horus frigate from Gratuitous Space Battles…

You can’t tell from the picture, but they are metal, with etched-out lettering and cut-throughs. They are a bit thin, so don’t feel especially metal, but they look pretty l33t. I was trying to imagine the sort of business card anakin skywalker would have. That’s pretty much how I chose my car too. Yeah, I’m sad.

Comparing stats

One thing I reckon is pretty neat about Battlefield 3 and other modern man-shooters is the stats stuff, and comparison thereof. I like the idea of beating my friends highs cores in a game, and the great thing about lots of stats, is that even if your buddy is 10x better than you, can always say “yes but who has the ‘fallen in a ditch achievement? it’s me isn’t it?”

Many of the things I’m excited about in Gratuitous Tank Battles are things that I wish I’d done from the start for Gratuitous Space Battles. GSB had some online integration built around challenges, but not much. The center of the GSB community is the modding forums on my website, not the game itself, which means a lot of people miss out on it.

GTB will correct this a bit. There will be integrated friends lists in the game (hurrah!) so you can add some people as your friends, and then filter online challenges only to show your friend’s maps etc. Their comments should probably show up with an icon when you read their thoughts on other maps too (must make a note…)

One feature I put in today (still needs some tweaking) is this in-game ability to compare stats with a friend:

Right now, the comparison is between XP, rank and achievements. Maybe I’ll add other stats in there too at some stage. Like battles played etc. The UI needs a little love too. The biggest issue for this sort of thing is the multithreading and php web coding, two areas I am relatively inexperienced at, compared with normal C++ game coding.

In other news, Ubisofts shit DRM meant I couldn’t play Anno 2070 for 7 hours this weekend. Online DRM doesn’t bug me *that* much, I understand the argument for it, and so do the shareholders earning money from MMOS, but I understand why people hate it. What really makes me hate and despise ubisoft is not their usage of that DRM, but their total inability to fix it within 60 minutes (absolutely TOP whack requirement to fix a server problem if you have dedicated server staff). And where is the big grovelling apology to all their players for their screwup?

Maybe we should just look at funny pictures of tanks* to bring back a smile eh?

*thanks andrew :D

Air-Fix models for the 40+ kidults?

When i was a kid we would spend ages glueing together model stuff like this:

Airfix and humbrol FTW!

The problem is, even if you are a 40+ kidult like me who wouldn’t feel silly ordering a model tank to build, the market does not seem to cater to me any more. Lets be honest, those model tanks we built as kids were actually pretty crap. I recall them being stupidly intricate and tricky and lifelike, but in fact they were small, very simple, easy to make, and always looked a bit crap.

of course, if you have money to burn you can buy these:

But they weight 70 KG…

But where is the middle ground? Show me a decent sized, hard to build (but satisfying to build) model tank and I’ll easily waste a weekend fending cats away from the glue as I stick a model together :D

Bite Sized Hardcore

The press and publishers often try to split gamers into two groups, the hardcore and the casual. Here are rough descriptions:

Hardcore gamers play serious games, deep games, and they play a LOT. They have a lot of time, and they get invested into games. They play mods, they read strategy guides, they are probably 14 year old boys. They like zombies and killing stuff. They play games like Skyrim, Call of Duty, Men of War, Starcraft. Their favorite color is dark brown, stained with the blood of orcs.

Casual gamers play fun cute games. They play simple games, and only in short chunks. They cannot cope with 2 mouse buttons, or reading instructions. They hate violence. They are all 40+ soccer moms and they like kittens and cooking. They play games like farmville and peggle, and match-3 games. Their favorite color is the fluffy white of a pony’s mane, draped across a basket of flowers.

But of course this is bullshit.

I am *time poor* when it comes to games, but I love deep hardcore serious strategy stuff, with orcs and blood, and ok, maybe the odd kitten, but it’s a kitten with razor sharp claws who battles his enemies and earns steam achievements.

What I think game designers may have missed, is that the 14 year old hardcore starcraft players of yore, are now 30+ with kids. maybe even 40+ like me. They understand and love serious hardcore games but are time poor. Right now I genuinely play more battlefield 3 than anno because anno takes longer to load for me.

What they want, perhaps… is bite sized hardcore? I present to you, the first draft of


What we demand is…

1) No pandering to casual gaming stereotypes. No gratuitous kittens or ‘cute’ cuddly characters.

2) No time wasting. No splash screens, intros, or FMV. We have 30 minutes tonight for gaming. Ensure all 30 minutes have us interacting with the game.

3) No Grind. We have day jobs. leave the grind to the kids in the F2P MMOs where it belongs. Give me decent, varying content, without filler. And don’t reward grind either, with bonus achievements for time played, or 1,000 low level rats clubbed.

4) No nickel+diming. We have proper jobs and disposable income. If the game is good, we will buy outright. Don’t keep breakign immersion to try and sell us $0.05 worth of magic pixie dust.

5) No oversimplification. We can cope with 2 mouse buttons, maybe even 3, and a wheel. We can cope with right clicking, tech trees, customisable units and mods.

6) No mandatory training levels or tutorials that cover the obvious. This is my 245th first person shooter. I can guess that WSAD moves, the mouse looks, and the mouse shoots. At the very least, let me skip tutorial stuff I don’t need.

7) Don’t patronize us. We shouldn’t get an achievement for hitting the jump key, or told we are awesome soldiers for hitting a tin can. Leave that crap for kids in kindergarten.

8) Be original. We have gamed before. We have fought in many a crate-strewn corridoor, and killed many a rat and returned their hides to someone who is too lazy to do it themselves. We have heard many tales of lost kingdoms and evil wizards. Surprise us. Please.
What needs adding?


I’m doing the tutorial for Gratuitous Tank Battles over the next few days. In format, it is similar to the one in Gratuitous Space Battles. I have thought quite a lot about tutorials, and the best approaches to them when i make my games. My starting points come from ym own experiences with game tutorials which are thus:

  1. I hate tutorials that are slow. I learn FAST. If your game has a tutorial that will take more than ten minutes, then I’m likely going to skip it and not bother, and then try to wing it. Sorry, but I have little free time…
  2. I hate tutorials that rely on spoken voice. I can read. I can read faster than you can speak, even if you are some sort of entertaining rap-singer with extreme vocal dexterity. Plus, the accent and acting will often make me snigger or groan. Text please. (also some people game with the sound off, especially in a room with family members).
  3. I dislike tutorials that attempt to be too cute or funny. Save it for the games characters, or the manual, anything but the bit where I am purely after information, not flavour or atmosphere.

With these thoughts in mind, my tutorial is split into different parts of the game, and triggers when you hit them. Its basically text windows with the odd interactive prompt to click a button, and flashing rectangles that highlight which parts of the UI are being referred to. In a sudden outbreak of common sense, there is now a ‘reset tutorial’ button on the options screen, which resets it all and shows it again if you missed something.

There is a lot more to the tutorial than actual modal pop-up windows though. I also think that an effective part of a games tutorial is distributed elsewhere, for example:

  1. the website, and it’s forums
  2. The manual
  3. Videos showing how certain stuff works, linked from the website.
  4. Tooltips on everything

I think this works well, because it means you don’t burden veteran GSB and RTS players with forcing them (like FPS games do) to look left and right and click all the buttons before you let them play. Real gaming newcomers can read the manual, and every tooltip and tutorial window, but I’m hopefully not applying the brakes too much for gamers in a hurry who want to plonk down an army of mechs RIGHT NOW and watch things go bang.

Thats’ the plan anyway. I’m looking forward to the manual. Should be fun to do. Most game manuals suck. Hopefully this one will not.