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

Green thoughts: What does it take to be carbon negative

A worry a damn lot about climate change, and 97% of scientists are scared to death as well. if you are not, you should be. I really don’t want to contribute to the problem, so what can I do? The best figures I can find show that the average UK household emits 8.45 metric tons per year per person, so our household is emitting on average 17 tons. We have lots of home PCs, and our house is sadly not as insulated as modern ones (its as insulated as is practical), so lets round that up to 20 tons. My risk adjusted life expectancy is 87 years, so I have about 40 years to go, which very crudely puts my remaining CO2 emissions at 800 metric tons of CO2. Can I offset all that?

Current prices put the price of carbon at about 7.7 EUR per ton, so to offset all my future expected production would be about EUR 6,160. This doesn’t really sound too bad at all, and i suspect its not close to being accurate. After all, this would cost me a mere EUR 2.92 a week. If the cost of taking us to zero carbon was this cheap, we would be done by now.

Clearly the real cost of damage done by CO2 is way, way higher, and current carbon pricing is a joke. Sure enough, scientists have suggested the true cost to be more like $220 a ton, making my lifetime future emissions closer to $176,000, a much scarier figure, although thanks to my luck with the world of video games, not out of the question at all.

If I was to commit to spending 176k over 40 years ($4,400 a year) to negate my carbon output, what would be the best way to do it. I can think of various answers.

Firstly, I could simply buy carbon offsets. This is the simplest and easiest system, just send people a check, and they plant trees. in theory simple, although I would want to be EXTREMELY sure that those trees were actually planted, that they were not going to be planted otherwise, and so on.

Secondly I could invest in renewable energy that generates enough power to offset those emissions. A 500kw wind turbine generates roughly 1,800MWh per year. Apparently 1 kwh is the same as 0.14kg of CO2 currently in the UK so errr… 1,800,000kwh is effectively offsetting 252,000 kg of CO2, or roughly 252 tons. Thus I need about 3.5 years output from a 500kw wind turbine to have my household be carbon neutral. Generally speaking you expect these things to last about 25 years, so by again, crude methods, we can say that I’d need to own 14% of a 500kw wind turbine to be totally neutral. I currently own (through abundance) 7.14% of this turbine:

(technically not owned, but am entitled to income from it due to ownership of debentures etc…) Which means I’m actually half way there just with this turbine. A bunch of other investments, including solar, geothermal and tidal means I’m definitely already there…

I’m such a big fan of renewable energy that even before typing this, I was pretty sure I was carbon neutral, but starting to do the sums and look at the investments convinces me I’m massively carbon-negative, even if I fly to the US once a year, and leave my PC on all the time (which I don’t :D). Having said that, a flight from London to San Fran, business class, is about 6 tons, so not to be sneezed at, as it represents a 75% increase in my annual emissions. FWIW, the same flight economy class is 3.3 tons. If we were pricing the CO2 from flights accurately, the climate surcharge for economy flights would be about $726, and for business it would be $1,320.

Maybe if sales are good I should do my own offsetting for future flights, I never trust the airlines to really do it anyway, and reflecting the true carbon cost feels better.

Food for thought :D



Car design GUI, unicode and shadowhand…

…So I ended up concluding that rolling those two bits of GUI together was not unanimously a good idea, but I think changing the car design one so those horizontal tabs became left hand side list items is a bit of a no-brainer so I did that:

I’m currently working on supporting toggling slot upgrades to be on or off, to allow more player control. I’m in a bit of a ‘usability’ mode where I’m making the game easier to use, and more welcoming, because its easy to get caught up into an Early-Access vortex where all you think about is expanding the game for people who already know how to play it.

However, that doesn’t mean that I am *not* planning a lot of expansion. I have some more music on order (yay!) and am getting all those untranslated strings sorted so that its a smooth translated experience in French, German and Spanish. I’ve also got some more artwork coming probably in the new year, for stuff like making your own air bags, some new machinery to make slots more distinctive, new animations, and some components like chrome and wood to make plush luxury interiors (plus cabin lighting!).

Basically Production line seems to be going quite well, which is just as well as I have lots of other stuff making demands on my time, mostly Shadowhand and Democracy 3 unicode. We have some teething problems with the windows build of Democracy 3 unicode, in that some fonts are not displaying right. We are aware of this and desperately trying to fix it ASAP, although the earlier build is now available as a steam beta option. We already have some thumbs up reviews in Chinese, which I take as a good sign, and hope to have an official press-release about Chinese Democracy soon :D

Shadowhand has been announced to the world recently, and will ship on the 7th December on Steam, GoG and the Humble store (oops…must set that up…) We have been promoting the game a bit on youtube, reddit and facebook, and our wishlists are thundering higher and higher. The more I play the game, and read peoples comments on it, the more confident I am that its going to do well. If you are wondering what I’m on about, you should go check out the game from the link below…

Combing two dialogs into one, A GUI rethink?

My car factory game currently has two separate dialog boxes launched by these two icons on the top interface strip in the game world:

The one on the left is the ‘car showroom’ dialog and it looks like this:

…and the one on the right is the car design dialog and it looks like this:

I have some design issues with the way this works, in terms of it being a nice logical and intuitive user-interface. Firstly, those two icons are not really distinctive enough to show that one means ‘the car market as it currently is, plus your showroom’ while the other means ‘design of your cars’. Secondly its not immediately clear why they are separate dialog boxes at all. There is some justification for having 3 buttons and 3 windows (market, showroom and designs) or a single one with 3 tabs called ‘cars’, but very little justification for the current layout. In addition, the car designs window is currently different dimensions to the showroom, which feels weird when switching between the two, and to further complicate the issue, clicking a design in the showroom dialog launches the car design window to show that model…

My gut instinct is that this is just poor design, resulting not surprisingly from the design evolving during the games development. Initially the showroom was a single window, then it got the market added as a new tab, and the overall design of this stuff has not been revisited with fresh eyes since it got added.

The problem with just changing it, is that existing players of the game are going to initially wonder what happened. I can put a note in the change-list, and mention it in my next blog video, maybe even have a first-run popup, but there is always the possibility that some players may prefer it the way it was. Of course the game is still in Early Access, so really players should be expecting that the design would evolve, and I think the majority would welcome the change, but its still something I hesitate to do without canvassing some players opinions.

For existing (or for that matter new or potential…) players, what do you think about changing this?  Would a single window (and thus button) make more sense?


Shadowhand coming on 7th December, New trailer!

Before I go any further in talking about the card-battling RPG/Adventure?Visual Novel/Unique game we are publishing called Shadowhand…check out the trailer..

If you have not heard of the game before, its an interesting mash up of a whole bunch of genres. The basic card game is solitaire, but revved up to the max with power-ups, special cards, and a unique ‘combat’ mechanic version, all wrapped up in a cool story about an 18th century highway-woman with two identities. I recommend checking out our website with more information about the game here.

Shadowhand is being developed by Grey Alien Games and published by me. The game was originally planned to come out about a year ago, but the games scope changed a bit which pushed it to January, and then…well to cut a long story short, it took longer than expected, but the end result is truly awesome and I’m very excited that we are about to release it to the world.

Oh yes…I haven’t mentioned yet that the release date is now 7th December. Thats a proper, public, its going to happen release date, even if I have to break down jake’s door with a bat-leth and grab the final build from his desperate claws to upload it to steam…

Shadowhand will be extremely interesting as a publisher (although TBH I am moving away from publishing games directly now), because it represents a unique experiment. The developers (Grey Alien Games) have a lot of game development experience, but that experience has mostly been in casual games, of the sort normally sold by the big casual sites like Big Fish games, and back-in-the-old-days, RealGames and Yahoo Games, IWIN and so on. It was all those years ago that I first met Jake, who was selling games through those sites (and eventually went to work for a big casual games developer) at the same time I was selling Kudos and eventually Kudos 2.  There was a time back then when a decent, experienced indie game dev could make a reasonable liviung from making casual games and selling them direct, and also through the big portals for casual games.

All that changed with the consolidation of casual games publishers, combined with a shift for that game style to first facebook, and then mobile. This led to lower revenues per game, lower game prices, and a miniscule revenue share for the actual game developers. Suddenly the smart money was in ‘hardcore’ games on steam and GoG, instead of the ‘mass-market’ casual games often sold to ‘soccer moms’.

Thats a long history to explain why the developers behind Shadowhand have so much experience, but so few well-known games on steam. The problem was, selling on steam was ‘different’ to selling casual games through other portals. Also, the level of polish, game design and user experience often demanded by casual games was often actually higher than the typical indie steam game. This is especially true now, where most games launch into early access with bugs ahoy and placeholder stuff everywhere.

So together, me and Jake hypothesized that he could take his design skills and experience of user-interfaces and game-polish, and bring that sort of game design to steam gamers with a suitable theme. The idea for shadowhand was thus born. If it works, it proves there is a gap in the market for taking what casual games do best, and applying them to serious hardcore game designs for the steam audience.

I strongly think its going to be a success.

Shadowhand will be out soon for $14.99, 10% off at launch, and you can add it to your steam wishlist right now, (which might be a good idea, as you will get a reminder on launch day). If, in the meantime you have a need for some similar entertainment, Grey Aliens previous game ‘Regency Solitaire’ is already out on steam…

(Nothing to do with me, this is a game Grey Alien Games made and sold themselves).