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

Five dollars twenty in silicon valley

Five dollars twenty cents. Thats the price of the medium size latte in the hotel lobby. The hotel room has a coffee machine, but I don’t like the coffee. I sell lots of games, I can treat myself. I buy the coffee. I forget to pick up the cardboard surround for the heat. I could go back and ask for one, but I’m done with interaction today. I’ll get hot, I’ll burn my hand.

Day one of GDC is over, at least for me, at just 9.20PM. I was awake at 5PM but thats no excuse. My real excuse is I’m like crocodile dundee here. Most people in the village back home seem to know me. Cars are rare, we walk in the road. Trees are everywhere.

I am on floor twenty seven and I see no trees, just skyscrapers, glass and concrete. The aura of business, of finance, of money, of work, of technology. This should be my world, I’m in silicon valley, I’m actually HERE.

Breakfast is with fellow coders. I miss a lunch with friends because collectively me and google suck at calendars.  I miss another meeting for the same reason, but meet up with old friends and grab food and a coffee, then later there is more food, then drinks. I’ve met new people, an alarming percentage of whom know who I am and read my blog. This always feels weird, flattering but weird. I’ve met people whose games I admire. I don’t mention this. Do they think I’m being shy? or arrogant?

Most people are here to get press, or learn about new technology, or hear the tales of success (and increasingly…failure) from fellow developers. People come here to network, to make contact with people known only as disembodied twitter and facebook avatars. If you ask me why I am here, I have no answer. Is it to get press? maybe a bit, but that won’t happen. Will I learn much from the 5% of talks I am allowed into for $300? not really. Am I here just to go to parties? me in bed at 9.30PM?

GDC is weird, and I am weird when I am here. I sport a brilliant white (practically glowing) jacket festooned with Production Line logos. I am a walking billboard, happy to say hello, but terrified of not knowing what to say after that. Everyone seems confident, but most of us are shy introvert geeks. Fully alive when discussing multi-threading, never happier when swapping stories about memory management, awkward to the point of terror when meeting new people. I still notice the accents. Not clique but ‘click’ not ‘mobile’ but ‘mow-bill’.

So far its been really nice, great to see old friends, interesting to chat about the industry, yet still tiring and in some ways scary. So different to a life of quiet coding and the occasional meow.  GDC is great (nowhere near as good as steam dev days…but great), but I’m glad its only an annual event. My inner introvert couldn’t take anything more.

Every day I think about giving some money to some homeless people, whose continue presence in the land of billionaires never ceases to shock. I spent five dollars twenty on a coffee. Should I have given it away? Maybe I should but even that social interaction is overwhelming when I’m thousands of miles from home and surrounded by people, so many people, confidently talking about monetization strategies as they stride down the street.

I’m not in kansas any more.


Heading for GDC soon. pre-GDC thoughts

On Sunday I start my trek to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. I’ve been many years now, and can pretty much find my way around SF without a map. As usual I’m only buying an indie pass, because frankly, I’;m not a billionaire, or gullible, so I will only be attending a few talks. (its not like there are secret talks that tell you how to make 3x the sales which nobody ever leaks details from…). For me, the real ‘worth’ of GDC is taking the pulse of the industry, and meeting other devs to both socialize and to share information.

I’ve written in the past about whether or not GDC is worth it as an indie, and I stand by my assertion that it depends on your personality. Even though some drugs are now legal in SF which are inexplicably illegal in the UK, that is not going to make me gregarious enough to march up to ‘influential’ journalists, and start giving them an elevator pitch about my game. (seriously, we are happy for the tens of thousands of alcohol and tobacco related deaths each year, but we still ban cookies that make you giggle and eat chocolate bars? wtf?). If my only motivation for GDC was press, frankly I wouldn’t go. I am trying to compensate for not actually being gregarious by wearing a VERY WHITE jacket with a production line logo splashed all over it, in the hope that this subconsciously ‘raises my brand awareness’. Hmmm.

As of writing this, I have ten ‘appointments’ at GDC. None of them are with press, and none of them are likely to in any crucial way result in higher sales or anything like that. The vast majority are just meals with friends, and parties where I can make new friends. There is something cool about being at a party with 200+ people and you know all of them know what ‘indie developer’ means and you don’t have to feel like you do some weird made-up job nobody understands…

With shadowhand heading for a release in a short while, and production line already in alpha, I know a lot of devs would spend the time schmoozing and trying to make press contacts, but I really have decided that the whole ‘schmooze’ side of the business is not really for me. If I make even half the sales that I currently do, and that allows me to just code, design and run the odd ad campaign, then thats cool with me. Increasingly it seems that games get the majority of their real ‘buzz’ from being high quality, and from engaging with the community, rather than knowing the right people.

Of course YMMV, maybe I’m doing it wrong, I often think that I am, which is why I often change my approach to development to see if I’m wrong. I used to think Early-Access was nuts, but am trying it to make sure, and decided I like it. Ditto with youtube. If you think going to shows is nuts, or absolutely a pre-requisite, then it really is worth trying the exact opposite one year to check your hypothesis. And if you think that having a booth at a show is something you MUST do because everyone else does it, don’t forget that it can be very expensive and sometimes it does not help.

See you at GDC. I’m the one in the WHITE jacket.

Update on shadowhand! potions!

Shadowhand continues to make awesome progress. We are close to releasing the games steam page for ‘coming soon’ and wishlist adds, which is a bit of a milestone. The trailer is nearly done and the launch is in sight. If you haven’t heard me talk about it before, shadowhand is a game developed by Grey Alien Games and published by me! Its an interesting card-game/rpg/story based game that has no real direct comparison. Its very polished and very addictive. Here is Jake talking about the latest developments in the game:

Its hard to know how best to describe the game, I would say ‘darkest dungeon meets solitaire with steroids on’.  I like it (and think its a good bet to publish) precisely because its no hard to describe, and thus is likely an experienced most gamers have not had. Its going to be really interesting to see what people think of it.

Both me and Jake will be at GDC next week. if you are a youtuber or twitch streamer and want a demo, just leave a comment or email me at cliff AT positech dot co dot uk. Also obviously we are always keen to talk to bloggers and journalists about Shadowhand and Production Line. Plus we are British, so you can offload all your political angst on us while we nod sagely and understand :D.

Hopefully new Production Line patch tonight or tomorrow morning…

Random ups and downs of releasing games

I really don’t get how indies put so much time and effort into their first game. The ones who get into debt amaze me even more. the ones who mortgage/sell their house scare the crap out of me. Don’t do this.
I’ve made lots of games, here is how they went:

  • Asteroid Miner: Meh…sold a few hundred copies, was exciting to see it in a box.
  • Starship Tycoon…sold a few hundred copies, also some retail deals, tempted to quit day job… and does! That was a mistake!
  • Rocky Racers… mediocre flop.
  • Kombat kars… mediocre flop.
  • Planetary Defense…not bad considering development time was super short (a few months).
  • Kudos…surprise hit. did really well. 3rd party publishing deals that paid actual royalties!
  • Kudos 2… even better. Seriously good sales. hit $20k in one month. unbelievable.
  • Democracy…not bad, not enough to quit job, but really not bad.
  • Democracy 2: Really good, enough to quit job. *quits job AGAIN*. pays off mortgage.
  • Gratuitous Space Battles: OMG teh fountain of money. Buys new house.
  • Gratuitous Tank Battles. Meh: pretty good, but nowhere near as good as GSB.
  • Democracy 3: LOLLERSKATES. Orders brand new car & stupidly expensive laptop. Starts flying business class. Eventually buys stupidly flash electric car.
  • GSB2: Yikes, that didn’t go down well. Ouch. what did I do wrong?
  • Democracy 3:Africa. Fuck. Americans REALLY don’t care about Africa then? Barely breaks even.
  • Production Line: LOL. Almost physically crushed by stampede of pre-orders.

My point is…holy crap you never know what will happen next. Your next game could flop, it could be huge. I *really* think that GSB2 is underappreciated and am surprised it flopped. I’m still amazed at how many people like political strategy games. YOU NEVER KNOW. So be cautious, and experiment a bit. if I’d bet my house on Asteroid Miner, I’d be renting a bedsit whilst still working in IT support trying to pay off debts. I’ve never borrowed money to make a game, I’ve never remortgaged, I’ve never worked for more than 18 months on a single game before putting it on sale.

That might be a bit clinical and unromantic, but its worked for me. Your life is not a feel-good Hollywood movie starring Tom Cruise. Don’t get stuck in confirmation bias. Many indie games fail. Some fail HARD.

New blog video, Production Line 1.07 and onwards…

Wow its been a BUSY week, like crazy busy. I released build 1.07 for Production Line, and started on 1.08. The price went up to $11 today, and I also started laying out a list of coming soon stuff in the forums here. There has been a steady (and accelerating) growth in daily pre-orders for the game. 4,000 sales seems ages ago now, and I’m struggling to keep up with all the feedback. Anyway…here is the new blog video.

I shouldn’t really be surprised, but the pace with which people have got around to building REALLY BIG factories is kinda amazing. This meant I needed to do some optimisation for those cases, often totally revising my idea of how big I should make certain fixed size buffers. (640k is enough for everybody!). I know some programmers might say ‘but dude…variable sized data structures. Yup, know all about them, but they can be SLOW. Try comparing the performance of a list or vector and an array one day… its HUGE. What I tend to do is have fixed arrays of oft-used objects, and allocate extra arrays if I start to run out, meaning rare one-off frame skips, but silky smooth performance most of the time.

My day is just now a blur of checking email;, then twitter, then facebook messages, then reddit posts, then forum posts, then forum messages, and then going through my bug list and my features todo list until its time to sleep or blow off steam in Battlefield One. However…just in case you thought that made me sound lazy, don’t forget we are also publishing another game (Shadowhand) which is coming soon. Here is Jakes latest video about the game:

Before long it will be GDC, and before that I’ve agreed to speak at TWO(!!!) events, which means…holy crap. I should stop typing and get on with it.. I will leave you with the exciting changelist for Production Line build 1.07:

[version alpha  1.07]
1) Major performance optimization for large factories.
2) Much faster vehicle rendering when zoomed out.
3) Fixed bug where very high car output resulted in no market price for a car being low enough.
4) Fixed the 'No room to TrashLowPriorityResource from stockpile' bug.
5) Fixed the 'Route Pending!' bug.
6) Possible fix for corrupt efficiency graph.
7) Fixed bug where manufacturing slots showed as not connected to a stockpile until the first resources arrived.
8) Added game-clock to top right menu.
9) Quitting the new car design dialog now gives a unique default name and price to the design.
10) Fixed bug where the warning notices on cars would persist until they encountered an empty conveyor belt.
11) Fixed bug where right clicking on research screen could delete items in the factory.
12) When a car is unable to move to the next (connected) slot, the message now tells the player which requirement is not met.
13) Background sound FX in R&D screen reduced in volume.
14) Fixed bug where some conveyor belt placements resulted in multiple placement sounds on top of each other.
15) Fixes to the layout of some R&D and slot menu items.
16) The warning and error notices in the factory now shrink to icons when zoomed right out.
17) As a temporary quick balance measure, only 4 valves are needed for engines now!
18) Fixed bug where supply stockpiles would not always fill correctly.