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

A month later: The electric car

So last year I treated myself to my dream car, a black Tesla model S. An 85D, to be precise (Range was my top priority, not speed, as I live in a rural location). So I’ve owned it for about a month, here is my thoughts on what its like. First the bad, then the good.



The range is NOT as good as they claim. This shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, MPG figures are bullshit, as has been definitively proven, but its still a bit of a disappointment. Without acting like an asthmatic snail, I can happily just jump in and drive 200 miles, which means I can go to London AND back without worrying about recharging anywhere. Still…it would be good to have a higher figure, AND to see more transparency from Tesla on the real world range.

The in-car maps for the satnav are NOT that good if you live somewhere rural. They are dependent on internet connection, and that isn’t that good here. To be fair, the actual sat nav is better than my previous car, AND it has voice-aware satnav that *works* so I can say ‘Drive to Oxford’, and it will set up the satnav without me once taking my eye off the road, which is cool.

Its BIG. It’s much too big a car for me. I don’t need this space, and it means that I have to be a bit careful when parking. UK roads are not as wide, I live down a country lane, in an ideal world, it would be 20% smaller all-round.

Actually recharging at public charging points is a pain. They all (except teslas) require swipe-cards from different networks, and they charge some fees. How about a universal system that just lets me pay with a flipping contactless card please? Tesla may well fix this over time as they build more superchargers and make the older networks redundant.



Holy fuck it shifts. I have no idea how ANYONE can have a need for a P90D which apparently has twice the acceleration. Its like owning an X-wing fighter. I think it’s 0-60 in 4.6 seconds? It feels damn fast.

The in-car GUI is just phenomenal. The huge screen quickly becomes normal. I cant imagine going back to a car with a smaller screen or without a touch-interface now. The parking sensors (I have the autopilot option) are amazing, drawing a kind of ‘shield-bubble’ around your car as it approaches things. The energy readout, the rear-camera, all of it is just amazing.

Charging at home is just so convenient. I only plug it in every other day or so, but my car always leaves my house close to 100% full. Its no hassle, easy, and dirt cheap. I actually think the (trivial) cost of getting a car charger installed at the house will pay for itself easily by added value, as everyone with a parking spot is going to end up doing this. It’s awesome.

The phone app is cool, when it connects quickly. Again..I’m rural. But being able to tell my car to warm up because I’m going out soon is awesome. plus the car-finder nav means I never forget where its parked.

Autopilot. This car has traffic-aware cruise control, self-steering and auto-parking. Its like living in the future. Granted its not 100% there yet, and you have to keep your eyes on it, but cruising along a main road at night at 70MPH with no foot on a pedal and no hand on the wheel as you watch it smoothly and perfectly steer around corners is just amazing. It can be a bit scary, and tbh I rarely totally take my hands off the wheel, but its still amazing.

Insurance. This car cost more than double what my last one did, and my insurance went DOWN. Methinks this is a very very safe car.

So yeah…in short its fucking awesome, but then it should be for the price. The good news is the Model 3 is on the way, which will be half the price of the S, and I suspect a MUCH better deal. I just couldn’t wait that long :D




A video game budget breakdown: Gratuitous Space Battles 2.

Indie developers, especially ones working on their first game are always very interested to know how much stuff costs, and whether they should spend more money on X or Y. It can be a bit intimidating and scary when you have no idea what you are doing and its your first game. To try and help with this, I thought I’d release some data about the last full game I shipped as the developer, which was Gratuitous Space Battles 2. For those who aren’t aware, its a top-down 2D space strategy game with more lasers and particles than you can shake a stick at, and it looks like this:


Or in video form like this:

Anyway, here is a pie chart breakdown of the cost (EXCLUDING MY CODING TIME) for Gratuitous Space Battles 2.


And for those who hate marketing, here is the same chart but without any:


Obviously you have to strongly remain aware that there was a LOT of coding time by me which I have not included here, because obviously as the owner of the company its hard to work out how much I should value my own time at. Regardless of this, maybe some people find this useful;. If you want more insight into why the costs are the way they are, you probably need to check out the game. GSB2 is a VERY GUI and visual-effects intense game. It has a lot of very complex GUI elements, and thats why its such a big chunk of the cost. It also has very good dramatic music. If you are making a 3D game, costs might be different. If you are working on mobile or ipad, again it might be different. This was a hardcore PC strategy game designed for huge monitors and hardcore players. How does this budget breakdown compare with yours? Share in the comments :D

A game producers job is not easy

I’ve worked in two different AAA companies, so I’ve seen what game producers roles are like from the developers end. To a coder, a producer is that slightly annoying person who keeps asking you how long stuff will take, and when it will be done, and how sure you are about that, and fussing about task-lists and todo lists and ‘the schedule’ which is this almighty document that is basically like the 2001 monolith as far as they are concerned, such is its importance to them.


As a coder, I always entered thrilling and enthusiastic, occasionally even sarcastic debates about how long a feature would take. My best guess was always somewhere between a day and infinity years. Basically, we are always doing stuff we don’t know how to do. if we’ve done it before, we will just copy and paste or re-use existing code. If we have *not* done it before…then things get interesting. We aren’t just typists. A good coder is basically a researcher, who works out how to achieve things. Knowing how long that takes is HARD. It might not even be possible.

With gameplay design, its even harder. Nobody knows whats in the design document is fun. It might not be fun, and then the whole schedule turns quickly to bollocks.

Now thats all kinda fun as an employee coder, but as a producer/publisher, I realize now its fucking mayhem. For example, ShadowHand and Democracy 3:Africa are both appearing at the PC Gamer Weekender show. This is aiming to be close to when both games ship, but will they? I may need to book some advertising in advance, can I do that now? Will they definitely ship? Will the coders hit their targets?

I feel like the producers that I worked with must have felt, standing behind someone who is typing away, wondering if they are about to turn around and say ‘this won’t work’ or alternatively ‘it’s done’.

Publishing games is basically a bit of a roulette.


On the ownership of original content

I worry that the creation and more importantly, the ownership of original content is becoming a minority sport. I believe very strongly in the free market, and the ‘perfect market, and in small business, widespread distribution of ownership, and other seemingly abstract things. For me, the scariest part of ‘Alien’ isn’t the monster, but the way people refer to weyland yutani as ‘the company’, because there is only one. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, or to put it another way, monopoly companies screw the customers.


The thing is, it seems increasingly like people consider personal ownership of content ‘too much trouble’. A LOT of content is being created, for sure, but who actually owns all of it? the strong likelihood is…you don’t.

Your really popular youtube channel? thats owned by google. Your twitch stream followers? yup, owned by twitch. Your friends? I think you will find facebook own them. And these days if you are one of these young people I keep reading about, your sex life is probably mostly owned and managed by tindr or grindr or other apps ending in ‘r’. If you go so far as to actually have a blog, rather than just facebooking stuff, then its probably hosted by ‘medium’ or gamasutra, or some other blogging company with small print and Terms & Conditions so long you never read them. Your opinions are not yours either, they are indexed and cataloged and stored and owned by facebook, twitter, disquss and all those forums you comment on.

Doesn’t this scare you a bit?

Naomi Klein wrote in No Logo about the privatization of social spaces. basically in the 1800s, we would meet our buddies in the town square. In the 2000s, we met at the mall, which was private space, with security guards who could throw you out for wearing the wrong clothes or behaving in a way they didn’t like. In the 2010s, that ‘public space’ is facebook or similar, where the security guards are invisible, but you can bet your ass they are still there.


The companies that have started owning our thoughts, dreams, opinions, shopping lists and diaries, are doing a superb job, because they realize that convenience trumps everything else. They have made it so easy to turn over our lives to them that we have done so en-masse. Thats fine, as long as you and the company are friends. When the two of you fall out….well maybe you just shouldn’t?

I can pretty much say what the fuck I like on this blog. I work for myself so no company has muzzled me. This copy of wordpress is hosted on my server, not by wordpress. The server is rented from a 3rd party, which theoretically could yank my site if I started inciting race riots or something, but we are going out on a limb a bit there. Much more importantly, this article is written by ME, its owned by ME. Its not going to be published legally in some book without my permission, not re-printed by a reputable site without my permission. I won it. Its a trivial, passing thought typed up by a guy in his office on a Sunday afternoon, but I own it, I control it, its mine, and to me, thats very very important.

Take a moment to evaluate how much of your life is being managed by private companies you do not control.


Actually you do have a marketing budget. You just don’t realise it

GoG, of ‘good old games’ fame, are very very clever, in a way it took me AGES to discover. Like many indies, I have to go through a number of different reporting sites and tot up how much money my games have made on them all now and then, primarily so I can give myself huge endorphin rushes and waves of serotonin boosts that can only ever come from pie charts.

Anyway, something that I used to regularly roll my eyes at and go ‘for fucks sake’ to, was the way GoG report sales. They report the amount of money a game has made, and ALWAYS report it as if the game was sold at full price. This is infuriating, because you think you have made more than you have. The next column is called ‘marketing deductions’, and thats where you find out how much of that was ‘given away’ in discounts.


Thats fucking genius.

Because when you think about it, thats what a discount it. Its a marketing expense. You are forgoing some revenue in order to get more sales. What, in any real sense, is the difference? I guess its true to say there is ‘less risk’ to some extent, because you are not putting money up-front. You cannot come out of a sale with less money than you went in with, that is true, but psychologically it *is* a very interesting way to think about it.

Put it this way, assume a big sale on GoG or Humble, or Steam or your own site is about to start. You normally sell 100 copies a week at $20. You discount the game to $10, in the hope of selling more. That *may* work, and you may make more money overall. However, the alternative strategy is to keep the game at $20 that week, and instead of a sale, spend $1,000 on promoting the game. That $1,000 might be in online ads, it might be promoted tweets, it might be hiring someone to do some new art or add a new feature you release to the game ‘for free’ to get press…there are a lot of ways to spend $1,000. The thinking is, you sell more copies, and that compensates you for the $1,000. There really isn’t much difference.

Now the obvious flaws are firstly you need money up front this way, and secondly, you still are not able to reach customers that will only pay $10 for the game. Although the first point has clear merit, I’m not *that* sure the second one is as strong as it sounds. There are VERY few people who cannot, when they need to, find $20 for a PC game they *really want*. I’d love to know the percentage of steam gamers, for example who have *never* spent $20 or more on a single title.

Our way of capturing those sales is often to just cut our price, but the alternate strategy is to spend money to elevate your game into that niche of ‘games people *are* actually prepared to pay $20 for’.

In some ways, thats still marketing. And it makes for interesting maths. If you have sold 10,000 copies of your game at $5 which was 75% off, you just ‘spent’ $150,000 to get those sales. Imagine the PR campaign or huge free expansion you could have added to the game for that money :D

Food for thought maybe.