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

Top secret project is….. Redshirt!

For quite a while, I’ve had a little side-project that I’ve never talked about. The reason for that is basically that we were waiting until we had any final artwork at all, before revealing it. The side-project is a new life-sim game called ‘Redshirt’. It’s a bit of a departure for me, because I am not the coder or designer (although I do chip in the odd idea). The game is being developed by fellow UK indie -> Tiniest Shark.

Positech Games is  effectively the publisher of the game, although I hate that term because it implies evil bean-counting and not caring about the game. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get over it.

So what is redshirt????

Check the website, and also check facebook.

Well you know in all those sci-fi series there is always some crewmember in the background, with no dialogue, who nobody knows his/her name, who always gets shot in the first 15 minutes, and tends to wear a red shirt…. Well that’s YOU. It’s a game where you are not Luke Skywalker, you are the guy who fixes the drinks machine in Luke’s quarters on hoth. You are the guy who fixes the sliding doors on the enterprise when they get stuck. You are the girl who offers Kirk a notepad for him to scribble on. You are basically the bottom of the hero career ladder…

And here is the thing. It maybe AD 2652 (or whatever) but people manning space stations are just as shallow, self-obsessed, dorky, and fixated with social-media as they are now. none of this ‘enlightened future’ crap that you see in star trek! The interface for the game is loosely based around modern social media apps, so it’s a nit of a humorous dig at sci-fi conventions and social media obsession.

If you played my life sim game ‘Kudos’ you will have an idea of how these things work. Only this one has cooler outfits, and space! and aliens!

There will be lots more information on the game in the course of time, I’m just basically waving ym hands and saying “We are making this game, what do you think?” right now :D.

Long slow checklist of stuff

There hasn’t been much to blog about lately. I don’t have a set-in-stone beta-date for GTB, but it’s likely to be the first half of March. This clashes horribly with GDC, and it’s associated press crush, and also with a friend going to Australia, and also with stuff I can’t talk about just yet but will do soon.

Right now I am just slogging through a list of tons of features in the game, making sure they work, and do what they should do. In doing-so, I’m finding all kinds of minor quirks that have crept in. As designs and code changes, stuff often gets left in a paradoxical state, where it no longer makes sense. For example, I had three options when picking defender as a mission:

Scripted AI
Adaptive AI
Adaptive++ AI

And as defender, two options:

Attacker uses scenario-defined designs.
Attacker uses any designs (including yours).

The thing is, the 2nd two defender options are the same as the attacker ones. It was just described really badly, and makes much more sense now I’ve harmonised it. This is one of those things that isn’t a ‘bug’ as such, just a thing that is obviously ‘wrong’ to a newcomer to the game, but has so much code & design history (I won’t bore you…) that it went by un-noticed by me for months.

The one thing that I reckon will confuse people about GTB, and the thing I’m still not happy with, is the vast complexity of different options when it comes to how to play a battle. This isn’t just a tower defense game. It’s more like a tower-defense/attack / RTS/ simulation toolkit. I guess it’s ‘little-big-planet-meets spore-meets tower defense. None of this trips-off-the-tongue. I can see a lot of me waving my hands in videos trying to explain the various permutations of how to play the game. I guess that will make for content-rich interviews :D



Look! Naked Booth Babes!!!!!!

It’s sad isn’t it, that this is probably one of the most cost-effective ways to get attention to your game. In my dreams, I’d love to  exist in a world where the only PR that was necessary was to send videos, screenshots (real ones, not ‘target renders’) and playable demo copies to journalists, and then let the public and the critics pick the best games on their merits.

But it is not.

I could get 100,000 people to come to my site tomorrow. It’s easy. You just take out your checkbook and pay the money to google adwords, or yahoo search marketing etc. It’s a done deal, it’s easy. Of course, it may not be cost effective. And this is where it gets murky.

I am currently investigating the pros and cons of flash game sponsorship as an alternative to traditional banner-ad promotion, which I have toned down a lot for the last 2 months. So far, I think I like it, even though I had one profitable sponsorship, and one relatively disastrous one.  What I’m thinking about now, is actual physical promotion at events such as trade shows. They vary widely. I’ve been looking at how many people come to these shows, the cost of hiring a booth, and a monitor and PC, the travel costs to and from for me and probably at least one other person. Overnight accommodation etc…

And rapidly it becomes very very expensive. I’ve heard quotes of $200 to ‘hire’ power cables at your booth for 2 days. Are you fucking kidding me? Yes…it costs money to rent a big hall and promote a show, but lets live in the real world for a moment. Do we really want an industry where the only games that get press attention are the ones that set aside $30,000 for trade show expenses? This is insane. That $30k doesn’t make the games any better.

I’m pretty sure a business case could be made for me going to some agency, hiring a few bikini-models with huge chests and long blonde hair, giving them ‘Gratuitous Tank Battles’ T shirts, and sticking them on a booth for 2 days to pout at journalists. The thing is, I’d feel like I was just cheapening the industry I like, and wasting money that could have gone on music, sound effects or art. Can you imagine ‘booth babes’ at a literary festival? Do they have them at Cannes? (I really have no idea).

I don’t think I’ll be hiring booth babes any time soon. I’m sure eventually there will be some cheaper, less tacky indie-focused events for me to promote my games at.

Latest GTB video, very close to beta now.

Here is the latest video showing a few battle clips. I think I am almost at the finish line regarding beta + pre orders now. Just a lot of housekeeping to do in the next few weeks, for stuff like crash testing, multi resolution support, and finalising the installer. I intend a slightly better installer this time, so people can’t get into a muddle with where the game is installed any more.

Anyway… here it is:

Gratuitous Shield Effect

I sneakily stuck in a new effect today as I was play testing. I used some cunning distortion shader cleverness to give a ripple effect to shield bubbles when they take incoming fire. You can see it happen here on a medium mech:

Looks really good in-motion, with everything else going on. It’s also effectively free, in performance terms due to the overhead of the shader pass happening anyway.

I’m currently tweaking a few variables, and improving a few minor things like this. Then I have the final manual, final performance optimisations etc, and then it’s pre-orders + beta. I’m looking forward to doing a few final trailer videos showing off the game in all it’s gratuitous explodey glory.