Mommy's Best Games, Inc. is an independent game developer founded in 2007. Our seventh game, currently in development, is Pig Eat Ball on which we started working in 2013. This is behind the scenes thoughts about game development and marketing.

Nathan

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interns. For Great Justice

So you've made a few games, and made some money, but now you have a business growth decision. Do you stick with your one-man gig and keep creating the same size games over the same period of time, or do you try and hire someone else to help. It could put a real strain on things to hire your first full-time employee, or it could really broaden and speed up your game development.

Consider hiring an intern first!
An internship gets described a lot of ways, but basically it's on the job training for less pay. So you may be thinking "Oh boy, cheap labor--I'm all over that!" It's more work than that. What you save in money, you make up for in time spent instructing, but ultimately it benefits everyone involved.

Our first intern--he picked up coding in a snap!
With an intern, as opposed to a newly hired, professional employee, you'll have to educate them, and work with them a lot more. They will likely not have as much skill or experience as what you'd expect or hope. But the good news is, they usually can make up for lack of experience, with willingness to work and learn.

To start looking for an intern, check out your nearest college, approach the CS or Art department (probably by phone or email, but just walking into random offices will turn heads too). A lot of colleges now have areas more focused on game development, sometimes they may have game development courses, or are teaching art classes focused on 3D modeling. Talk to a "career development office", or to the heads of the respective departments about interns available for hire. It depends on the college, as some places are more aggressive and robust than others.


Keep in mind you're hiring a student, and you will usually be working around their schedules (and semesters). For instance, we had an student work for MBG from May to mid-August, and we now have a different student working from August to December. Don't be afraid to turn down a potential intern--do proper interviews, and ask about any previous work, and what classes they've had. You'll be looking for someone, essentially who you think can learn quickly, and has had at least some experience in class or in hobbies (game demos are good!). It also helps when they are very eager to work with you on games!

Basically "temporary on-the-job training" gets called a lot of things like "internship", "apprenticeship", "coop", or "externship". The college you approach may have different possible versions available. They may also require a certain number of hours that the student work. Check with your CPA about tax issues (we have to pay federal and state withholding, and Social Security for the students). You may also need to fill out a report for the college at the end detailing what work the student did and how they performed.

Just another day at the home office


The work can often be flexible, depending on what you can arrange with the student and the school. The hours could be part-time, full-time, or they could work from home, or come into the office, or both.
Interns are a great way to get very enthused help with your small game development business for low cost, high personal reward through mentoring, and the potential for a great employee when they graduate!

Reference:
http://www.northeastern.edu/experiential-learning/coop/
Northeastern University in Boston seems to be really aggressive regarding co-ops and internships. If you're in the area, make sure to check it out!

http://louisville.edu/speed/
J. B. Speed School of Engineering in Louisville, Kentucky is from where I've been getting some great students.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Accessibility Options Ideas

Imagine for a moment you'd love to play games, but you have extreme arthritis and can't handle a controller. Think of trying to play your favorite game and all its button combinations. We may all be in this situation one day as gamers get older!

Very few commercial games offer a lot of help for disabled gamers. There are definitely gamers out there who are worse off than just having arthritis but still want to play our games. As an independent developer you can help give those gamers more options in their games library!



Shoot 1UP is one of the few shoot 'em ups to feature many options targeting disabled gamers. Sure some shoot 'em ups have options like different ships and difficulty settings, but Shoot 1UP goes further than most with things like gameplay speed changes, single button controls and more. I got a lot of my inspiration from these settings from OneSwitch.org.uk and AbleGamers.com.

As assistance for my ailing memory, but also as a challenge to other indie developers out there, I'm going to manage a list of accessibility options for games. Some things won't work in all game designs but some things will--open your mind and give them a try in your game!

  • Gameplay speed adjustment: even if your game is a skill based game, consider allowing gamers to slow things down for those that can't track objects as quickly as others. The cool part is you can make the game faster for hardcores too! If necessary, you can separate leaderboards, or mark scores with gameplay speeds.
  • Remappable buttons or Alternate control schemes: Remappable buttons are great for people with special needs, but also hardcore gamers with arcade sticks. If you can offer controls remapping, it's tough to do at first, but then the player can choose whatever they want without bothering the developer for more schemes.
  • One switch mode or Single button mode: If possible, make an option to make all the gameplay and menus driven by a single button. In Shoot 1UP shooting was automatic, and the single button controlled motion via a rotating arrow. Each time they pressed and held, they moved in that direction. On release, the arrow rotated 90 degrees.
  • Single button tweak: In Shoot 1UP I forced people to hold the button while moving. This played better during testing, but not for some people that can't hold a button for long. Offer a further option (or start this way like SYNSO) that allows for a simple toggle with a button press.
  • Single button menus: As for the menus, you can offer an "automatic scroll" option which periodically moves to the next menu selection. When the player wants to select it, they simply press their one button. Of course all menus then need an explicit Back button instead of just mapping it to the B button (for instance).
  • Closed captions: Allow for all spoken dialog to have subtitles, and for any gameplay-sensitive sound effects to have captions as well ("Door opened", "timer ticking", etc).
  • Automatic options: In a shooting game, this means auto-fire. But it could also mean other toggling or selection of something that's not the core of the gameplay. Maybe it auto-jumps the player in a platformer, or maybe makes him walk always to the right--developers, you get to decide!
  • Visual contrast options: Especially in a shoot 'em up, it's important to see the dangers. Shoot 1UP offered an option to lower the background contrast or turn it off. This is good for just about any action game as it can reduce eye strain and allow some gamers to track things better.
  • Icons: Always offer icons along with text when you can. If there are mid-game choices involved, put a picture with the text to help it make more sense. On menus in addition to the words, offer an icon of what that choice means (if at all possible)
  • Spoken options: Especially for menus, if there are any options in your game, allow a spoken version for people struggling to read the text. You could even use an automatic voice generators if you can't find someone to voice act for you (or don't want to use your own voice).
  • Other button options: Instead of just One button mode, you could also offer a stripped down 'Two button' mode (or 'three button' mode). You'll be basically scaling down the input needed for players based on your game. The game Archaist provides these options plus tons more.
  • Difficulty settings: Obviously this isn't just for disabled gamers, but offering an extra-easy or tutorial mode can really help some gamers enjoy the game and get into it more.



Obviously Shoot 1UP isn't perfect and while it includes a lot of these options, there's still more work to do. As I learn of more things disabled gamers want, I'll be updating this list for my own use, but yours too. I'll be taking what I've learned here and trying to apply it to Grapple Buggy in the future.