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

The blog post the day before release

So lets do this. Lets lay out what I’m thinking / hoping / dreading. And look at how we got here :D. Initially my plan was to do Gratuitous Space Battles 2 as a nice relaxing project after the mental weightlifting and stress of doing Democracy 3, which may look like just a screen with some pretty icons, but is a fiendishly complicated and intricate simulation that is pure HELL to code. Making a nice simple sequel to my space game was sure to be a nice easy ride in comparison, and would relax me.


That was in August 2013, when I first started talking to the spaceship artist about how to do proper 3D-style lighting effects. Here we are 20 months later. It may not seem like it took that long, because it happened alongside some of the Democracy 3 DLC, and I worked on it for *ages* before going public with what I was working on.

Back in the early days, screenshots looked like this.


They look a tad better now :D.

At some point along the development path for the game, things started to balloon out of all possible proportion. I got insanely ambitious with the technical side. I’d never done much multi-threading or multiple-render target stuff before, and fairly limited shaders. Suddenly I was going full-throttle with all that stuff. I bought two 27″ identical monitors purely to test the huge 5160 res possibilities for high-end hardware. I added more and more effects and content, and ended up giving in and hiring people to do a lot of stuff (hulk graphics, sound effects, we design) that I would have previously done myself. The cost went up, and up and up. The game has cost more than double what Democracy 3 cost, and that excludes my time. 20 months work. Yikes.

So here we are. The game is on sale already through my site as a beta but at midnight GMT tomorrow (16:00 PDT) it will go live on steam, humble store and GoG. At some point the next morning, a cheeky little ad campaign will start up to tell the masses about it. I will become loud and annoying on twitter, and become very, very stressed.

Imagine taking no salary for twenty months, putting a big chunk of your savings in with the salary, and rolling a dice. That’s game development, and it is terrifying. Not just for game one, or two, but for game ten, eleven… This is a very very high stakes nerve wracking game, and at some point between midnight tomorrow and whatever time I drag myself to bed I’ll know if I made a good bet or a bad one.

I’m eating lots of chocolate to combat the stress.


Final week of Gratuitous pre-release

If you are not already aware, Gratuitous Space Battles 2 will be released on April 16th, this coming Thursday. This is scary stuff. People who are working on their first indie game may suspect that after you have shipped a dozen of them, you become more relaxed and laid back about it, but absolutely not. It always both exciting AND terrifying. The benefit of having some games ‘under your belt’ is that¬† if the game totally bombs, you can at least know that you *have* made some decent selling games, and thus you don’t feel like a complete failure. However, the downside is, that you have likely scaled up both your production and ambitions, and expectations, so you are setting yourself up for a bigger fall if it flops.


Conventional wisdom in media circles is to never admit to a flop, so you don’t get to read about them, but we have all had them. Gratuitous Tank Battles definitely made a profit, but comparatively, it was a flop. Check out it’s steam spy entry compared with the first gratuitous space battles. (Not accurate data, but you get the idea)…

My plan to make GSB2 a success, apart from the obvious and ‘I think we can assume that’ strategy of ‘making the best game possible’ is basically to minimize reasons for people ‘not’ to buy it.

For example, some people might not buy it because its not in their language, but I’ve hopefully reduced that by translating to French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch. (Others *may* follow). Some people may not buy it because they don’t run windows, but again I hope to eliminate that by porting to Mac & Linux (I *hope* these will be ready by Thursday). Another reason people may give is that they don’t think the game will run on their PC, but I’ve gone to great lengths to both optimize the game big-time, and also include a plethora of graphical options to ensure people can streamline the game down to whatever graphics capabilities their PC supports.


And yet another reason is that people have their preferred store, but I am hopefully mitigating that by being on Steam, GoG, Humble store and direct. The others are too small to be worth the accounting hassle tbh.

Of course, thats all well and good, but the reason 99% of people don’t buy your game is because they don’t know it exists. I am *still* running an ongoing facebook campaign promoting democracy 3, and every few days I see a comment on the ad saying ‘whoah this looks interesting’ and I wonder where on earth these people have been hiding! There are a LOT of people out there.

So with that in mind, I have a big scary ad-campaign budget primed for GSB2. Hopefully you will see an ad somewhere, if you are vaguely in the target demographic.¬† And don’t email saying ‘why not advertise with us’. I’m more aware of ad opportunities than most. If I didn’t email you, I’m not choosing that as an ad option thanks :D


Gratuitous Space Battles Beta Patch 1.21. Nearly done….


Soooo…Behold, its patch day for you lucky people who are currently enjoying space battles of a gratuitous nature. The latest patch has numerous exciting changes, here are some of the big ones:
1) Added remaining medium and hard deployments.
2) Lots of balance tweaks.
3) Total conversion mod support: Base game can now be disabled under mods.
4) Added default ship designs for the Yootan hulls.
5) Expert mode high scores for all applicable missions now get tracked online.
6) Retaliation challenges will now work correctly.
7) Added a bunch of new module graphics for some of the variations.
8) Added 10 New complex ship hull components for the terrans.
9) Some new explosion particle effects added.

Plus there are lots of behind-the-scenes bug fixes and a few optimizations, some of which came from making that rendering video I posted about.

So what is still left to do? well not much. The big ones are:

Get Linux & Mac Ports finished.

Get Final Text for all the supported languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch).

Some final bug fixing and polishing, and optimizing for crappy laptops!

The release trailer!

In the meantime here is a frankly stupidly big screenshot…


Don’t forget you get a steam key if you get the game (it wont work yet) and if you want, you can start playing the beta right now, just click below :D


Gratuitous Space Battles 2 with Graphics Debugging!

So here is something you might enjoy, especially if you like gratuitous charts and stats porn, or are interested in graphics programming, or maybe you just want to tell me I’m doing it wrong. This is a video of me demonstrating nvidia nsight, and how I use it to spot things that are inefficient in my engine for Gratuitous Space Battles 2. I’ve already fixed the two inefficiencies I point out in the video, while I was waiting for it to upload :D Enjoy! (And please share!)

Big Pharma update, GSB2 Trading Cards

Lots going on. Its good fun when you have two games in production, you get more stuff happening each day. Anyway… GSB2 is getting steam trading cards. I really enjoy getting art done for this stuff. here is a preview montage of some of it.


Plus I’m working on adding web high score tables for every mission, so you can compete to win with the smallest fleet. Its a work in progress, but so far the empty scores table is here.

Plus big pharma is coming along. There is a nice preview of the game here, on Rock Paper Shotgun. And you might want to check out Tims latest video blog:

And because you *might* have missed the new, you can grab the Democracy 3 collectors edition from steam at 50% off all this week and weekend: