So my recent adventures in the land of code have taken me to port Production Line to 64 bit. The current 32bit build only allows me to access 2 GB of RAM and although even super large factories can fit in 800MB now, when you really pack things in and put the hours in, it *is* possible to hit 2 GB. With modding & any possible post-release expansion possibilities, there is arguable a need to remove that limit and so here we are.

I’ve basically done 2 days(ish) work on it, and have a release build and debug build 64 bit version of the game that seems to run just fine. It was relatively painless. The 3rd party stuff I use is mostly, Steam, some sound middle ware, Directx and an intel profiler, and all of this has 64 bit support, so the majority of the work has been going through the config for the game and changing include folders and paths to point to 64 bit DLLs and Lib files.

This has been complicated a bit by the mess that the Visual Studio (2013) software makes out of configurations. I can have a debug64 project config that then has the platform set to 32bit, and then god-knows where the exe gets put or which files get compiled and oh-my-god how messy. I think I have finally got close to getting it straight in my head, although I have ended up hard coding exe names and paths and may have to even rename my engines lib file to engine_64.lib to make ABSOLUTELY sure that it is not using the wrong lib file and thus mix-and matching.

I can totally see why people do not want to support both 32 bit and 64 bit versions of the same game, especially given the fact that, unbeknown to me, the mere *existence* of a 32 bit dll in the exe folder will seemingly stop my 64bit .exe launching. I guess you end up with separate folders? What a pain.

In terms of code, it was almost entirely painless. As I suspected, my one pain point was my GUI code for buttons. I have a base button type that takes a function pointer called BUTTONFUNC to execute when clicked. I cannot remember far enough back to work out why, but generally I end up passing an objects ‘this’ pointer as an (int) to the constructor for a button, if I want the button function to access it as data. So I end up writing code like this:

PCheckFree = new GUI_CheckButton(TRANSLATE(“CHOOSE_MISSION_FREEPLAY”), Freeplay, (int)this);

And then in the code that receives it I’d do this:

void GUI_Scenario::Freeplay(int data)
{
GUI_Scenario* pwin = (GUI_Scenario*)data;
pwin->SetType(SIM_Scenario::FREEPLAY);
}

Which is perfectly fine and lovely, assuming pointers are 32 bit and an int is 32bit. However, it turns out that porting to 64 bit is as simple as just replacing both users of (int) with (size_t) which varies based on platform, and voila! problem sorted. I expected this to be the first step in a whole world of nightmares,, but although I have not done serious testing yet, it appears to launch, run and allow me to load in massive save games, so I reckon I’m 95% of the way there. All I need to do know is investigate how all the various stores (Humble, Kartridge, Steam, Gog) handle multiple versions (64 bit versus 32 bit), to ensure I’m not leaving the tiny 32bit minority behind. I guess eventually that will not be an issue.

I’m definitely happy that this seems to have gone smoothly, as it amounts to days of coding and admin and investigation which are essential, but doesn’t make the game noticeably better for players, which is always a worry when the game is still in Early Access. Fun fun fun…

 

 

 

Its not long ago that Discord famously launched their new store, which a lot of people I know got very excited about and predicted big things for. I have not heard any tales of epic riches yet, and not read much news about it since launch, so I’m assuming its not yet setting the world on fire.

Today its the turn of Kongregate with their ‘Kartridge’ store:

This one is infinitely better because it sells 3 amazing games that I was involved with somehow. Those are Production Line, Shadowhand and Big Pharma. Kongregate still have that slight ‘amateur hobbyist’ thing going on because those games show as made by ‘cliffski’ which is my username, but really should list developer/publisher if they want proper ‘triple I’ games to flock to the store maybe?

As ever the big elephant in the room is epic, and why did they raise 1.5 billion dollars recently. Are they going to launch their own store? I suspect they are, but few people seem to agree with me. They certainly have the money, and they more importantly have a big name game that EVERYBODY plays called ‘fortnite’. Don’t forget everybody thought steam would die on launch and were outraged to find it as the only place to get half Life 2, which arguably is the only reason the site ever got any initial traction. Epic are clever, maybe they realise this and have been stockpiling money and plans for a store until they had the ‘must have’ game to ensure its success?

I think what everybody gets wrong about this stuff is they ‘dip their toe in the water’, rather than going bananas and adopting a ‘VICTORY OR DEATH’ approach to the new venture. Even Kongregates home page has just a standard wrap skin about their site today: https://www.kongregate.com/ which quickly rotates to a banner about ‘just another game on the site’. The same is true of discord, I don’t exactly feel like they are absolutely killing themselves to make me use their store, or even inform me whats on it. This seems way, way too meek a strategy to take on a massive established and popular competitor (steam).

I’m a big fan of Tesla and Elon Musk, and I believe the company to be the most important company on earth right now (due to their rapid push to shift us off fossil fuel dependence that is actually killing off our ecosystem and ensuring we will all die…), but even ignoring their ‘mission’ you have to admire the way the company pushes full-tilt, 100% into achieving things with seemingly the force of a nuclear explosion. Any other company would have happily sold high priced model S and X cars, and maybe invested any profits into eventually expanding into making slightly cheaper cars. Tesla has a single quarter of profitability, then immediately borrows and dilutes like crazy to raise a tra-zillion dollars to build the largest factory on the planet to go full tilt into mass-market car production. They *might fail* (although as of last month it looks increasingly unlikely), but nobody can ever, ever accuse them of not really going for it.

I don’t know what will happen to Kongregate. I think their store has a better chance than most, and I doubt it will actually fail. As to whether it will take noticeable market share from steam…thats even harder to know. Maybe one day these stores will start to compete for the top devs listings by reducing their royalty take?

 

 

Lots of cool stuff in this update to Production Line, which will get further checks, tweaks and balancing before I roll it out to the main Early Access steam branch, GoG and Humble widget customers. Here is a list of all the features, and notes on the biggies:

[version 1.61]
1) [Feature] Loans can now be re-paid early, assuming you have the funds, at a penalty of 12 hours interest.

This was widely requested, and I kept putting it off because I felt that it would lead to an unbalancing in the games difficulty, but actually now I’ve tested it for a while I think I’ve got it about right and am glad its in there.

2) [GFX] Conveyors use less obtrusive graphics
3) [GUI] New screen for market analysis to show breakdown of demand, production and sales.

I find this new screen really helpful when playing the game towards the later stages when there is a lot to keep an eye on. I worry its not immediately obvious how it works, but I do think its a usability improvement for managing supply and demand.

4) [Content] New researchable upgrade & feature: large touchscreen.

To make it obvious some cars are tesla-level expensive, and some are more Ford Ka level… :D

5) [GUI] Vehicle design screen now hides categories entirely if there is only a single default option.
6) [Bug] Fixed design research queue bugs where you could adjust first and last items up and down, causing a crash.
7) [Bug] Fixed bug where the second-nearest import bay for each stockpile was sometimes calculated wrong, meaning inefficient routing. Also major route calculation speedup.
8) [Balance] Major increases in the cost and value of electric car batteries (large and small) and touchscreens.
9) [Balance] Increased the power draw and process time for making wheels.
10) [Content] New researchable feature: parking sensors. Now a pre-requisite before reversing camera. Fitted at bumpers.

Amazing we went so far without these, as they are getting so common now. Also handy to be able to add a new feature without requiring yet another resource as ‘sensor’ is already in there. Plus it gives some much needed upgrades to the bumper slots.

11) [GUI] Revamp of the ‘apply options’ screen post-research, which adds price category indicators and selective coloring, and new buttons to apply a feature to a whole category at once.

This makes things much quicker when you have 20+ designs, and you don’t really want to make a more nuanced decision other than ‘add this new widget to my expensive ranges’.

12) [GUI] Music and cruise control are now feature-categories, where the more expensive versions include the resources, value and features of the cheaper ones.
13) [Content] Self-driving! new researchable tech, new resources and feature category for high-end cars.

This is very late-game stuff and requires quite a bit of research, but then you should have expended your factory enough to have a good dozen or two dozen research facilities at this point.

14) [Balance] Boosted the impact on marketing campaigns on showroom visits by 25% to increase total market size possible with current campaigns.
15) [Bug] Fixed bug where sometimes the warning on the design screen about common or universal features missing would be skipped if the feature had a category.
16) [Bug] Fixed bug where changing the color of a car design could lead to duplicating the price slider GUI.
17) [Bug] Fixed bug where the correct price-category adjusted market value of a feature was not being displayed in a number of places.
18) [GUI] Double clicking a car in the showroom now launches the vehicle design screen for that car’s design.
19) [Content] New researchable vehicle body style -> The small van.

I’m so pleased we got this in. Its likely the last new body style,  and its a really cool one :D

Feedback on this new update is very welcome, and of course any bug reports for things I have no doubt stupidly managed to break with this patch…

 

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I’ve sold games through yahoo games, Realgames, GoG, Steam, Iwin, the apple appstore, macgamestore, the humble store, and probably about a dozen minor ones I cannot even remember. Currently the ‘active’ ones, where I make literally 99% of my sales are:

Steam

GoG

Humble Store

Apple OSX store

Everything else is a rounding error. To be honest, those last two are pretty close to rounding errors already. I am about to release a few games on the new kongregate store, but after that I am doing some serious reconsidering of my strategy on this. The landscape has changed, technology and expectations have changed, developers options are definitely better, and its time to take a long hard look at the current system.

Basically any store of any consequence is trying to grab market share from steam. Steam had a VERY rocky start (younger gamers may not remember the absolute hatred and anger at the instability and clunkiness and inconvenience of steam on its initial release), but quickly rose to be the market leader. When it started accepting indie games, the premise was pretty simple: We take 30% of the retail price, and we provide a website to handle discovery, order-taking and fraud detection, demo and full-version hosting, automatic updates and some community features. Is this a good deal? And the vast majority of people thought ‘fuck yes’. It WAS a good deal, but 90% of the ‘good’ part came from exposure to such a huge audience. You could already get order taking, fraud detection and stats for about 5-10% from other companies, including getting the email addresses of your customers, depending how you haggled. Later, steam improved vastly on what it had to offer, as we got achievements, real-time sales tracking, trading cards, steamworks, a simpler (GUI-based) updating tool, better customisation of store pages, a steam-widget you could embed on your site, developer pages, and GUI tools to simplify setting discounts and participating in sales.

Debate goes on in 2018 as to whether this is worth 30%, because of the vast change in discover-ability on steam caused by the opening of the store to hobbyists and practically everyone. Thats an argument for another time, and not one that I feel is the most relevant to this blog post.

The real point of this post is to point out a pretty big discrepancy between the steam value-proposition (to devs) and that from other portals. Here is the headline:

Unless you are offering ALL of that, AND something new or better to make it worth my while, and probably throwing some swag my way, why the fucking fuck would I give you 30% of my hard earned income?

Chefs at Steam Dev Days cooking free food for devs

Chefs at Steam Dev Days cooking free food for devs

The assumption seems to be that you can set up a store, do some minimal GUI design on it, put out a press release and expect to cash in your thirty percent of every game that the developers take the time to configure for your portal. I think that time is coming to an end. The thirty percent is arguable anyway, but unless you developer experience is BETTER than steam (and lets be honest, its really not), why on earth should you take the same cut?

Hell… even steam’s offerings in some areas are extremely low quality. The steam community forums are awful, with no WYSIWYG component, no real-time preview, very limited features in comparison to software like discourse (which I have here on my forums). The stats reporting is nice, but still nowhere near as fast as it should be. There is no really usable inbuilt player-metrics component in steamworks, no way to easily upload images of work-in-progress stuff to show off early access development on the forums, there is no tech support ticket system to allow us to give proper tech support to our customers, no notification of new reviews for developers… I could go on.

Valve can ‘kind of get away with this’ for a while… because they are the market leader. But new portals cannot. Valve also do the odd cool thing like steam dev days, or send people nice gifts, even chocolate, which is definitely appreciated. they meet up with developers and give them free drinks (also appreciated). This kind of thing actually *does* matter. The Humble Bundle guys and Kongregate do get that side of it, but I’m not sure others do, and even those two have a long way to go to offer true competition for steam. Try setting sale discounts for 20 different titles on the humble store. its not fun.

So starting with next year, and my *next* game (Democracy 4), I’m going to change my view when it comes to online game stores. The game will definitely come to steam, but if anybody else wants to sell that game, my attitude will very much be… Whats it worth to me?

It doesn’t JUST have to be money (although setting your cut noticeably BELOW 30% would definitely get my attention), it can be way-better community experience, way better stats and metrics support, an awesome tech-support feature, incredibly fast and helpful developer support, an annual expo where you wine and dine us, fuck it… free chocolate or bottles of champagne sent to my house. A free fucking T-shirt? Throw us developers a fucking bone. There is no magical law that means we have to be on your store. We cover 95% of the market simply by being on steam. lets see some actual competition for a change.

 

 

Although obviously a tycoon/sim game like Production Line *does* need some fancy graphics, a decent overall design idea (‘Run your own car factory!) and a fair amount of content, in the long term, to get players to really put in the hours, the quality of the game can come down to two basic things:

  1. Is the simulation nicely balanced to provide an ongoing challenge
  2. Does the player easily have simple, clear access to all the information they need?

These are the things that I struggle with, because I know how vital they are, and yet other than measuring the games retention, they are very very hard to measure to see if you are making improvements on a day to day basis. I can easily add another car body or some more achievements or some more maps, and quantify the change, but if I redesign one of the stats screen, do I *know* that made things better?

So this results in a lot of chin-stroking and thinking, and reading books on user interface design, and of course a lot of playing the game. The screen that I have recently agonized over is this one:

Thats actually the ‘simplified version, that takes it for granted you can tell what those little $ symbols mean (price range) and recognize the car body styles enough to tell sedan from compact, from SUV etc. That frees us some space so its not impossibly text heavy, but frankly its still a mess. The red areas are ones where we are not currently selling a car to that segment, and each block is a combination of a car body style and a price bracket. All the data in each block is self explanatory (I hope), but although all the *data* is there, being able to rapidly draw conclusions from it is really hard. I guess the spread of green to red gives you a very rough approximation of how much of the market you have ‘covered’, but is that really accurate given that compacts and sedans vastly outsell offroad vehicles, and in this layout, all car body styles have equal prominence?

This is my current attempt at a solution:

This ‘pie chart within a pie chart’ shows the breakdown of total customers visits to your store (not the wider market, which is accessed through more marketing…) and shows the extent to which you produced enough cars to satisfy all those customers in each price bracket. The different body styles have been assigned colors, and those colors are split into light/dark gradients to show the four price brackets within each body style. To ensure that is apparent, icons at the edges of each segment show the price range symbols for that segment. Because the segments are correctly sized for the number of customers, its much easier to see where the majority of the market is, and no longer do you confuse the relative sizes of the off-road and sedan market (for example). It also makes it clearer that in general the expensive and luxury markets are smaller than the others. Unresearched body styles are greyed out entirely.

Here is an example with all body styles researched:

The inner chunks that are more darkly coloured are used to show the percentage of that market segment you have produced cars for. So if you get 8 customers per hour for a certain body style / p[rice combo, and you produce 4 cars of that type (of whatever designs), then that segment will be drawn ‘half full’.

So far that sounds good, but there are three problems I am yet to resolve.

  1. When you produce too many cars (produce 9 when there are only 8 customers) that information is not shown.
  2. This shows car production but not sales. maybe I produce a car for each customer, but they are too expensive to sell to them?
  3. The player may confuse the relative shaded AREA rather than the radius of the inner chunk as being the relevant metric.

Almost all of this is clarified by the mouseover tooltip which explains everything, but thats a clunky fix. I’m thinking of adding an extra red ‘bleed’ segment at the circumference to illustrate any cases where there is overproduction. I’m also considering having selectable buttons at the top to toggle between this chart showing production and then sales, as they are obviously different stats.

Still… I think its certainly a helpful addition. If you want to see the current version of this chart in action, I just uploaded a new blog video with it in today: