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

Gratuitous Tank Battles Update 1.017

Yes it’s that happy time again. GTB just got another update. The full change list is this:

version 1.017
 1) Mods/DLC now support their own sample units folders.
 2) Fixed support for recorded attacks on mods/DLC
 3) Armor glows now update correctly when offscreen
 4) Issuing last minute orders to moving units no longer causes impassable routes, and happens more instantly.
 5) Division manager will now remember all your custom divisions if you swap to 'auto-management' and back again.
 6) New GUI buttons for one-click selection of auto-managed divisions, or going to previous/next division.
 7) new graphics for command truck, repair yard and command facility
 8) Improved foundation graphics for many of the turrets.

One of the biggest and coolest things is probably 6). You could always quickly flip between divisions using the tab or shift+tab key, but I guess 95% of casual players don’t spot that, but hopefully the big phat new buttons should make this more obvious to them. It makes frantic unit selection mid battle tons easier. In fact, I do wonder if the game should auto-pause when placing units anyway… or maybe go half speed? hmmm.. Here are the new buttons:

The other big change is the new units in 7). I had basically skimped on my art budget and re-used a few units rather than get new ones built, and I never really liked the old repair yard facility, or the way it was colored. The new units are better, and split into more effective layers so you can shade them better and they look more natural. Here are some screenshots showing the new units.

Humble Bundle Update

The latest humble bundle has been updated to include previous games, such as Gratuitous Space Battles , so you might want to check it out if you are one of those crazy people who doesn’t own GSB (or know some people who may want to grab a copy) :D

Indie Loneliness

Ok lets talk about something indie game developers don’t talk about much, but it affects quite a lot of us.


Many indies these days are in teams of 3 or 4 or more people, so the problem in that case is not acute. However, the genius of al gore’s internet means that often those teams are geographically distant and scattered anyway. I have contractors and partners working with/for me in all different countries, but in the majority of cases I’ve never met those people, or even phoned or skyped them. Some people think that’s weird, but I like the idea that I’m employing people based on the portfolio, reputation and skills and that their country of origin, accent etc never occur to me.

Of course the downside of this is that you sit in a room on your own with a keyboard, and there is nobody to just go ‘hey wassup?’ to. This makes me very very productive, when I need to be, but it can also be a very lonely job.

For a lot of people, especially the more insular sheldon-cooper style geeks, this is not a problem. Some people at Elixir and Lionhead would sit there with headphones on and never talk to anyone at all. I found that weird, but it was quite common. Other people, like me, actually enjoy the whole ‘water-cooler chit chat about nothing’ that you get in a normal workplace. Intellectually I know this is just some primitive portion of my brain that wants to metaphorically pick fleas off fellow humans, but there’s no doubting it does make me happier to hang out with a group of buddies and chat about stuff.

MSN, Skype et al, are great, and I do chat quite a bit to other indies over them, but of course it’s not quite the same. Private forums are also very good, because they become like a bar filled with friends, rather than the vast mass of trolls and flamebaters you get in most public anonymous forums. Meeting up for a beer is ideal, but generally for me that involves at least a 100 mile car journey, because if there’s a bright center to the universe, I’m in the county it’s farthest from.

me at my house, yesterday.

What’s the solution? Well I think it’s yet another justification for going along to indie meetups and shaking some hands. Indies can probably recognize that slightly shy, rabbit-in-headlights stare that other developers have when they spend too long debugging and not enough time actually socializing. I’m lucky in that I’m not in the home alone like I was when I made Kudos and Democracy, and I don’t suffer from paranoid shyness like some indies do. I’ve also been around quite a while now, so someone normally recognizes me at all these indie things, which is great. One indie told me that I’m ‘much less scary in real life’ which I assume is a compliment. I’m at the eurogamer expo on thursday, BTW.

So I guess what I’m saying is, if you feel lonely,and isolated and it gets you down, don’t think it’s just you. This can be a lonely job, especially if the only people you chat to in your working day are family members who have no idea what you do, and are desperately hoping you will give up and get a proper job. They say the first step is recognizing you have a problem. The second step is normally to get a cat, or probably better a dog (because you need to walk it, and thus it gets you out in the fresh air that way). I’d definitely have a dog if we didn’t already have a sufficiency of cats.

Any other lone wolf indies out there howling at the moon?

Expos and shows vs advertising

I was rambling to someone a few days ago about advertising and risk, and something hit me about indie attitudes to risk and promotion.
I know a lot of indies who never do any advertising. I don’t mean word-of-mouth promotion, tweeting, updating facebook and sending people press releases, that’s PR, it’s not advertising. I actually mean paying for banner ads, and search advertising, and even print or video adverts. For most smallish indie teams, the advertising budget is zero.

it’s easy to work out why. Advertising often seems to give a low Return On Investment (ROI). You can do your best to measure it’s effect, using tracking cookies and lots of charts and graphs. I do a lot of that myself, and just about manage to be sure that I am getting a small, but measurable ROI. The problem is that it only really works accurately for your direct sales. if you run $1,000 of banner ads on and then track 500 visitors from clicking them to your site, and then witness 50 sales and calculate it as $1,000 then you know you got your money back. The problem is, if steam + impulse + gamers gate is 80% of your sales, you might be ‘losing’ a lot of those potential buyers to those sites, and be selling extra copies but not knowing it. All stats checking can do is tell you people left the site, not if they then bought elsewhere.

Theoretically, you can work out the proportion of your customers who buy direct, and use a multiplier that implies that the other visitors did buy. So if 80% buy elsewhere, and you got 20 sales, you can infer 100 total sales. You then need to take into account the publisher cut, so those 80 portal sales are really 56 or so direct sales. Plus you don’t get the email address, they are probably ‘worth’ 50 sales… I digress…

The point is, it’s complex to know if you are getting your moneysworth. It’s even harder when you consider tracking view-through clicks (people who saw the ad, didn’t click, but visit your site magically later), people disabling javascript, using 2 PC’s and seeing the ad on 1, the sale on the other, and the word of mouth that arises from the ad impressions. Plus there is the reminder effect (“That reminds me, I must buy that game…”) purely from impressions.

Now if you read this blog a lot, you will know all this. What I’m basically saying is ‘the ROI from advertising is difficult to calculate’. And on that basis we can all forgive all those indies who never advertise.

But hold on….

Most of the non-advertising indies are passionate believers in Expos, conferences and trade shows. They attend them all the time, with promotional T-shirts, big projection screens, multiple PC’s, lots of leaflets and demo CDs. I haven’t heard of anyone giving away home-made cookies on their expo stand yet, but they should do…

You can tell my argument from here I’m sure. Tracking a sale from a banner ad is really HARD, and vague, and ultimately you kinda have to ‘have faith’ in the power of advertising and be prepared to spend $10,000 on it before you can really tell if it’s going to work for you. Sound scary? Tracking a sale from giving out a free T-shirt at an expo is really ++++HARD v 2.0 with extra bacon and double cheese, and by the time you factor in your plane tickets, booth hire, pc hire, power surcharge, t shirts and cookies, you eat through $10k just as fast.

So why do indies, (especially the more hip and young indies) vastly prefer expos and networking over advertising? I think it’s down to the ‘feelings’ associated with them. Advertising is something big evil corporate people like EA do. Something old-school. Old-fashioned and for people stuck in the past. Expos and shows are for the young and trendy people who are undermining the system from within. It’s cool. Indie Game: The movie had some footage of fez at expos, it was cool. They didn’t show them setting the budget sliders on an advertising campaign. That would not be cool.

But I ask you, does it matter how a promotional technique ‘feels’, or does it matter how well it actually works?  Advertising is much more controllable. How many people from the UK have seen your game at the Expos you attended? How many from Spain?  Did you pick the date of the expo? And so on…

Gratuitous Controllable Battles (yes really)

I’ve been working on an expansion pack for Gratuitous Tank Battles, but hit a bit of an admin snag in releasing it right now, which gave me time to do something else. As I’ve had this GSB update pending for ages, I thought I’d get around to finally releasing it for everyone. This isn’t just a minor tweak and bug fix, it adds some good stuff. You might want to update your copy, and try this one…

So what is in version 1.60 of Gratuitous Space Battles? Well a little list of tweaks but the two biggies are these:

1) New Feature: Direct control now lets you (optionally) issue orders or edit existing orders for ships mid-battle.
2) New Feature: Shockwave distortion and shield impact distortion effects have been added.

(Full list at the bottom)

Essentially, I have added an option to singleplayer GSB battles that lets you play the game like an RTS. For all those people who hated one of the central elements of the game (no control during battles), you now have that as an option. If you have played the game before, you might enjoy giving it a spin with the new option. (Sorry, the demo isn’t updated with this feature yet). If you were always on the fence about buying the game (which you can get here) because of the lack of control, now is the time to buy :D.

This is patch number 60, so it took me a while, but I thought ‘what the hell’.  I demonstrate how it works, along with some new visual effects added in this patch, in this video below. Please upvote it, or retweet it, or do what ever trendy things you socially-enabled gamers do these days. It’s much appreciated. And tell me what you think of it, too. BTW it’s a free update, not DLC. This update *will* make it to the steam copy, I just need to get them to update it.

Full change list:

version 1.60
1) New Feature: Direct control now lets you (optionally) issue orders or edit existing orders for ships mid-battle.
2) New Feature: Shockwave distortion and shield impact distortion effects have been added.
3) Tripled the maximum supported submunitions per missile from 6 to 18, as requested.
4) Game now supports instant re-start with new settings from the options screen.
5) In mass-deploy mode you cannot now accidentally snap out of it by selecting an existing ship, which was annoying.