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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

XXL is Certifiable

Serious Sam Double D XXL has completed Microsoft's extensive 'Certification' testing process and is ready for XBLA!

It's coming really soon! 
Since the game involves multiple parties including ourselves (the developers), the release date has to be approved by several other groups. As such, I don't know yet exactly when the game will be released, but it won't be in 2012 (surprise!? :)

I'd imagine within a month or two you'll be stacking bee guns, chainsaws, and giant cannons like a pro!

As a bonus, I've updated the box art. It's not dramatically different, as I liked the original format, but I've tried to improve it some.
New box art! Click to zoom.
The new box art has better context. Before it showed Sam and Huff standing on a mountain of corpses, but all the monsters were hidden by the title! Thus, it was just.. those guys.. standing there in the desert.

The new art raises up the monster pile, but also makes it more identifiable as dead monsters, and lowers the visual clutter a bit by silhouetting the edges.

Even the title got touched up, I made sure the middle 'ouble' part was readable even when in a tiny image (like on the Xbox marketplace on your TV).

Finally, I went with a more abstract 'sunlight' theme for the background, instead of the noncommittal desert look I had originally, and I zoomed in a little closer on Sam and Huff. 

Here's the original box, for comparison.
Old box art! Not bad, but I wanted to improve it!
Note my sloppy 'whatever' sort of desert. It was meant to not distract you, but it's just sorta blobby. Also the monster pile is not as interesting, and much harder to understand.

It's funny because I still like them both, but I think the new one's monster pile is much more interesting and fits better.

New, old, who cares--I wanna stack some guns and fight some monsters!
Soon... soon... soon...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fox News Articulation

I was quoted in not just one, but two articles today on FoxNews.com. Take cover!

Quotes from me were taken from a phone call with a journalist from their site, asking me about my thoughts on video games and violence. He was curious to talk after he read my post here about the idea of the entire industry taking a break from making violent video games for a few years. (I know I would have a tough time abstaining from making violent games, but creatively I think we'd all make some amazing stuff.)
Ahh.. a simpler time when violence was viewed sideways. (Source: Midway Games)

Obviously my phone call with him was much longer than just those few quotes in the articles. I figured I'd expand a bit on those thoughts.

 

Breadth of Possibilities in Games

The first article is about a new study from Ohio State University which says that if you play violent video games for 3 days, you show more aggressive tendencies afterwards. It sounds like there's plenty of questions remaining, such as 'how long do these tendencies last' and 'does the aggression level flatline'. Also note how the 'aggression' was measured in the study.

The Fox News article basically says that violent video games are top sellers, and this new study says they can make you more aggressive. I said:

“When you think about the whole spectrum of human emotion*, violence is just one little sliver on there. You can think of so many other things that we could explore in video games,” he told FoxNews.com.
“Video games can do all those things. It’s such a young art form.”
(*'Emotion', I meant to say 'expression')

I'd like to add that I think violent games are fine. But I also would like as many non-violent ones as well. Basically as much high-quality variety as we as a creative industry can muster is the goal. Violence in games can be a very satisfying stress relief. I feel like they can actually relieve aggression rather than encourage (but obviously that could just be me). Regardless, with so many creative people involved, I think video games can contribute positively overall to culture, and we as developers should strive to help enrich people's lives.

Violent Games, Sales, and Audience

The second article explores if video games are getting increasingly more violent. I think generally envelope-pushing will continue. The article doesn't present any in-depth analysis such as the number of shooting games as a percentage of all games released over the years (which would be a pretty big undertaking since it should probably measure all games on the web as well). It does bring up Bulletstorm which incorporated specific, original violence as part of it's gameplay.
ESRB ratings are very successful at keeping the most violent games out of children’s hands. But as in-game violence spreads, it becomes increasingly hard to separate the Sim Cities form the shooters.
Even the humorous PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a fun fighter aimed squarely at younger kids, includes “crude humor” and “violence,” according to the ESRB. That’s because of the community itself, explained Nathan Fouts, founder of video game maker Mommy’s Best Games.
“I think that has to do with the number of people and the people that are playing video games,” he told FoxNews.com. “We’ve got a catch-22 right now: younger kids are playing.” And therefore, developers are writing games for those kids.
“That’s the kind of thing that’s fun and exciting when you’re a teenager,” Fouts said. He believes games like Portal 2, Flower and Journey signal a shift towards less violent games.
I don't think I explained my point very well, so I'll try again.
Violent video games sell well. If you look at the portion of all games sales, compared to violent game sales, then compare that to a similar fraction for books or movies, does violence sell proportionately better for video games than other mediums? I'd expect it does. And my suggestion is, violent video games sales are proportionately higher than other entertainment because the number game players are younger and more interested in exploring digital violence.
When you're younger, it's very interesting to think about violence. Growing up, I used to play 'war' all the time with my siblings with plastic guns, running around outside. I also loved to play video games of all kinds including Super Mario Bros 3, but also Mortal Kombat. I still play a variety of games (enjoying El Shaddai, City Tuesday, Black Knight Sword, and Qrth-Phyl right now).

I'm guessing people over 50 contribute proportionately to more book, music, and movie sales than they do video games sales. As the variety of games commercially available on a large public scale broadens, and games are played among more diverse ages of people, I think the number of violent games that dominate sales charts will continue towards violent/non-violent distributions similar to books and movies.

Games and Children


Scene from POSTAL 2  (source Running With Scissors). It's true, I worked on this game!
And lastly, some full disclosure: I worked on the notorious POSTAL 2. I still like the game a lot and am proud of it, mainly because the player has free choice. The player can progress in the game even if you don't kill people, as opposed to most FPS. Unprovoked player violence has strong repercussions. If you start acting violent in the game, the innocent NPCs react (as do the police) and cause the game to get harder for you. There are no points scored as you kill things, no direct rewards. I'm hope it goes without saying, but I don't think children should play this or anything like it!


From what I can see the ESRB ratings board is very useful for parents to understand what is in the game. As a parent, you need a baseline as to what the game could contain so as to help gauge whether or not kids should be playing it. But nothing beats sitting with your kids for a few minutes to watch them play the game itself. Parents--ask them about the game too, ask them what they did in it, what they liked, and why. Do it on a regular basis too, keeping up with these things will help you understand what they're experiencing.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

>This< Close for XXL!

Serious Sam Double D XXL is juuuuuuust about finished with its bug fixes, and ready to enter its first (and hopefully only) round of Xbox Live Arcade Certification testing!

The coop version of the Ornithocheirus mini-boss fight.

Serious Sam Double D launched on Steam in August 2011.  Since then, we added a ton of new features, from coop play to stacks of new guns, inevitably introducing new problems. Examples of a few new bugs and their fixes include:
  • Crashes in between levels when one thread was saving data and another was loading.
  • Occasionally saving at a checkpoint and reloading would actually return you to the level start.
  • Pulling the MU storage device right when it saved showed the wrong message (said it was out of storage space, which was cute, because in a way, it was! Since, you know, there was no storage device, and no storage space since it had been yanked. Anyway, fixed)
  • Dino mini-boss duo-fight showed the wrong health if one of the creatures died but the other still lived (showed zero). 
  • Hero homing rockets and bullets would seek bad guys, but also seek neutral dinosaurs even before they got mad at you.
So yeah, all that and many more little, itsy-bitsy issues have been cleared up and now we're waiting on some odd policy issues to be sorted out.. then I think we get to submit it!

In promotional news, I took a coding break to record voice over for detailed videos about all the new gun upgrades. I had met the chaps at New Albany Production House when we were showing our games in public recently and we all decided to give working together a go. Recording went great! I should have that video available in another week or two.

In addition there's also a sweet, new, completely bonkers trailer re-introducing Serious Sam Double D XXL coming out really soon--watch for it!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Let's Try No Violence

Thought experiment:
What could we end up as an industry if for the next 5 years, no games with physical violence were made?
What would you make, if your next game could have no physical violence in it?

Defined as: Physical violence you can hear or see. There can still be implied violence. There can still games about revenge, war, crime, you just can't have physical violence shown/heard. Yes, that cuts out the core of most shooter games, but that's sort of the point.

The Witness

Also: The game would ideally be in a new franchise. I suppose it could use an existing franchise (though things like Gears of War and Halo would be tough, but again--could be something interesting from them).

The Unfinished Swan

There are already a lot of independent developers making games with no or limited violence and they've created some very original games. I'd really like all the AAA studios to think about it as well. There are so many hugely-talented people on these massive teams with giant marketing budgets. What could they produce that would then reach the world as the next thing they have to play? Hopefully something different from Farmville?
No Assassin's Creed III, Halo 4, Dishonored, or Call of Duty Black Ops 2. What would those companies make instead? What TV ads would we see?

Dance Central
Now, I realize the irony in me asking this as Mommy's Best is finishing an XBLA game in which you stack guns on top of guns on top of guns. (I like guns.) I really like fighting and shooting in games. I like it a lot. But I see games like The Unfinished Swan and I think, what would a whole industry look like if we did that for a while? What if we all pushed in that direction? Sure, we can make violent games again after that--but maybe we'd hit on something so good, we'd keep going?

Super Hexagon
I think I'd do something with expanded social interaction, story-manipulation and very responsive NPCs. I liked where LA Noire was heading in the interrogation sections... I'd probably look at interesting AI for characters interacting and responding to situational changes. A short game, but with lots of breadth to support more interaction options along the way, and additional replays.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Best Players in the World

How do the best players in the world, play your game? Or how *will* they play your game (if it's still in development)? I think coming at your design from the 'best players in the world' angle can shed light on some possible gaps.

After mulling over an inspired question by Jason Rohrer of his own Diamond Trust of London, "I'm interested to see over time what a really good player of Diamond Trust is", and reading a Super Hexagon tip list by a world-class player, I wondered how the best players of my own games would play them.

We're working to finish our first XBLA game, Serious Sam Double D XXL. It's not out yet, so I don't know yet how the world's best players will climb its leaderboards. But I have a good substitute--myself. If you're a indie dev like me and you're working on a game still to be released, chances are your team includes your game's best players.

You play the game day-in and day-out working on and testing it. You may be using techniques and abilities that are perfectly in-line with your designs, or you may be side-stepping intended gameplay without knowing it. Will your players do this as well?

Here are some questions I've been using and you put to your game:
  • What would you tell others to allow them play as well as you do?
  • Practice writing a small walkthrough for your game before it’s finished. What are you telling players to help them through? 
  • Should you have to tell them these things? What are you explaining that should be better explained within the game itself (hopefully through design, rather than explicit text). 
  • Are you subverting the game design in the way you're playing? Is this intended? 
  • Can you uncover exploits to hopefully redirect players into the intended portion of the game?
  • Best players know the levels and mechanics well. How? Is there a proper introduction of each mechanic?
  • How do you think the best players will discover the deepest tricks of your game? Are they fair and discoverable? Is it fun to suss them out, or will they find them only by accident?
Best Tricks
For instance, In Serious Sam Double D XXL there are campaign levels (with a story) and challenge levels. The campaign levels have leaderboards for quickest level completion time. Based on how I play, I know this means they need to get the Air Buffer gun upgrade, which lets them hover some as long as they shoot. I also know its possible for players to skip a lot of enemy setups. Is this okay? Is this still fun?

Air Buffer in action, encouraged through Speed Run attempts

For me knowing how players (and myself) try to skip enemy setups, can help foster new ideas. This led to creating a shotgun upgrade with pellets that slow down time momentarily for any enemies hit. This combined with the hover ability can get you through fast.

Thinking about this from the original PC release of the game, I realized some setups players were skipping too quickly in any case. Even though the game now registers speed runs, I wanted some spots to give them something more substantial to fight sometimes which led to the introduction of armored enemies.

Exploits
Another aspect of the campaign is collecting currency to spend on new gun upgrades. Similar to getting infinite 1UPs in a Mario game, I know there are a few spots in the game where a player can grind to gain currency. If you have exploits like this, make sure you know about all of them, to properly manage them.

Collecting currency actually helps the simpler setups now as well. In the earlier, easier levels, players will still engage the smaller enemies because they drop currency on death. The original designs of the game had no such system, and no incentive to engage the smallest enemies once players became accustomed to the level setups.

Walkthroughs
Imagine that best player wrote a walkthrough about your game. What are they telling others in order  to perform well that's missing from within the game itself?

New to SSDD XXL, There are over 30 upgrades which let you heavily modify your weapons, some of which are pretty strange. That's a lot of new gameplay to introduce; how do I know players are getting it? This is especially tricky to consider because as the creator you inherently know all the abilities of your guns (or various gameplay).

Bee shotgun in combination with the turret gun
It may sound obvious, but a good place to start explaining things is a description of your guns (or whatever advanced gameplay you have). If there's some advanced technique you regularly employ and expect the player to know, explain it somewhere. For instance, XXL has a 'Cybernetic Bee' upgrade for the shotgun which shoots bees which can lift enemies into the air, stinging them. Cool! But it can also be used against armored enemies. While normal bullets bounce off the armor, the bees can go under their armor. One way to explain this is with text. I do this now, but originally the Cybernetic Bees description only mentioned what they were, not their ability against armored enemies.

A better way is organically letting the player discover abilities. For instance, in the game, the Gunstacker system lets player stack up their guns, allowing players to have multiple guns firing at once. Here players don't have to exclusively try out the bee gun to see it working--it will likely be in a stack anyway, and the results against armored enemies speak for themselves.

Bee shotgun against the new armored soldiers
While I assumed players would be able to figure out that the bee gun can be used on armored enemies, since this is a quasi-required mechanic (not just a secret), it's best to go ahead and explain it wherever possible.

---

I'm still learning about gaps and looking for issues in Serious Sam Double D XXL, but it's getting much better.  With my game still in development, imagining what tricks the world's best player would employ, I can see what areas of the design are being exploited, require shoring up, or better explanations, and hopefully you can do the same for your designs.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Final Group Questions for Shoot 1UP Phone Skin

This is the final group of Shoot 1UP Phone Skin Giveaway questions.
Check out the first group of questions and second group of questions and answer those as well to win the cool prize!

Serious Group Questions: 
  1. How many levels are in the Windows Phone 7 version of Shoot 1UP?
  2. What is special about the new game mode in the Windows Phone 7 version of Shoot 1UP?
  3. How do you get the highest score multiplier in the game for a single attack in Shoot 1UP? 
    Email me the answers (see below) to this second group of questions for a chance to win.
    Contest finishes this weekend so get your answers in!

    Intro
    To celebrate Shoot 1UP being available on Windows Phone 7 we're giving away awesome phone skins!
    The skins sport a sprawling battle across the first level of Shoot 1UP, are made of high quality vinyl, and allow you to protect your phone from bumps and scratches, all while making it look like your from the future.

    You have several chances to win!
    All you have to do is answer some Shoot 1UP trivia!

    Prize as shown on a LG Quantum. Pick any phone you want for your skin!

    Essentials: 
    • Get any group of three questions correct. For each group answered correctly, that's another chance to win!
    • Sometime around Sunday, September 16th, I'll announce the winners. 
    • Like us on Facebook and follow MBG on Twitter for more chances to win!
    • See at the bottom for details.

    Details
    You have 3 chances to win. No game purchase is necessary (bug your friends for the answers, or check the Internet), but it's greatly appreciated! Answer the Shoot 1UP trivia questions. Several groups of questions will be offered throughout the week of September 10th, 2012. If the answer is particular to the Windows Phone 7 version it will say as much. If you get any group of 3 questions correct, you'll be entered into the pool of potential winners. Be good to each other. For each group you get correct, I'll enter you into the pool once (answer 3 groups correctly, you'll be 3 times as likely to win). For those people with correct answers, I'll randomly select (at most) 3 winners. You can only win (at most) one phone skin. I'm the judge of the answers, and all rulings are final. 
    Prize details:
    I'm buying the skins through SkinIt.com. If I pick you as a winner, I'll need your phone model to know what to make the skin for. If they don't have the model on the site, I'll have to pick someone else! Sorry! (Check first then for your phone before entering? Or just enter for fun anyways.) If there's international shipping involved, I'll have to see how much it costs first before I can agree to send it. I think international will be doable! Unless it's like a hundred dollars or I have to pay off your local government or something. Just mentioning that caveat.

    How to send your answers:
    Email: nathan@mommysbestgames.com, subject "Shoot 1UP Trivia"
    or Facebook: Message me personally (Nathan Fouts) (since company FB accounts don't seem to be able to send messages.)
    You could also just leave your answers in a comment below, but make sure I can contact you somehow.

    Good luck!
    Check back for more ways to win this week!

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    Group 2 Questions for Shoot 1UP Phone Skin

    This is the second group of Shoot 1UP Phone Skin Giveaway questions.
    Check out the first group of questions and answer those as well to win the cool prize!

    Normal Group Questions: 
    1. Shoot 1UP is out on Windows Phone 7 but on what other platform has it been released?
    2. What type of objects are lying destroyed in the background of the first level in Shoot 1UP?
    3. What's the name of the female android boss from the box art of Shoot 1UP?
    Email me the answers (see below) to this second group of questions for a chance to win!


    Intro
    To celebrate Shoot 1UP being available on Windows Phone 7 we're giving away awesome phone skins!
    The skins sport a sprawling battle across the first level of Shoot 1UP, are made of high quality vinyl, and allow you to protect your phone from bumps and scratches, all while making it look like your from the future.

    You have several chances to win!
    All you have to do is answer some Shoot 1UP trivia!

    Prize as shown on a LG Quantum. Pick any phone you want for your skin!


    Next group of questions on Friday!


    Essentials: 
    • Get any group of three questions correct. For each group answered correctly, that's another chance to win!
    • Sometime around Sunday, September 16th, I'll announce the winners. 
    • Like us on Facebook and follow MBG on Twitter for more chances to win!
    • See at the bottom for details.

    Details
    You have 3 chances to win. No game purchase is necessary (bug your friends for the answers, or check the Internet), but it's greatly appreciated! Answer the Shoot 1UP trivia questions. Several groups of questions will be offered throughout the week of September 10th, 2012. If the answer is particular to the Windows Phone 7 version it will say as much. If you get any group of 3 questions correct, you'll be entered into the pool of potential winners. Be good to each other. For each group you get correct, I'll enter you into the pool once (answer 3 groups correctly, you'll be 3 times as likely to win). For those people with correct answers, I'll randomly select (at most) 3 winners. You can only win (at most) one phone skin. I'm the judge of the answers, and all rulings are final. 
    Prize details:
    I'm buying the skins through SkinIt.com. If I pick you as a winner, I'll need your phone model to know what to make the skin for. If they don't have the model on the site, I'll have to pick someone else! Sorry! (Check first then for your phone before entering? Or just enter for fun anyways.) If there's international shipping involved, I'll have to see how much it costs first before I can agree to send it. I think international will be doable! Unless it's like a hundred dollars or I have to pay off your local government or something. Just mentioning that caveat.

    How to send your answers:
    Email: nathan@mommysbestgames.com, subject "Shoot 1UP Trivia"
    or Facebook: Message me personally (Nathan Fouts) (since company FB accounts don't seem to be able to send messages.)
    You could also just leave your answers in a comment below, but make sure I can contact you somehow.

    Good luck!
    Check back for more ways to win this week!

    Sunday, September 9, 2012

    Win a Shoot 1UP Phone Skin!


    To celebrate Shoot 1UP being available on Windows Phone 7 we're giving away awesome phone skins!
    The skins sport a sprawling battle across the first level of Shoot 1UP, are made of high quality vinyl, and allow you to protect your phone from bumps and scratches, all while making it look like your from the future.

    You have several chances to win!
    All you have to do is answer some Shoot 1UP trivia!


    Essentials: 
    • Get any group of three questions correct. For each group answered correctly, that's another chance to win!
    • Sometime around Sunday, September 16th, I'll announce the winners. 
    • Like us on Facebook and follow MBG on Twitter for more chances to win!
    • See at the bottom for details.

    Send me the answers to this first group of questions for a chance to win!

    Chilled Group Questions: 
    1. In Shoot 1UP, does choosing the path that goes right make it easier, harder, or the same difficulty?
    2. What do you unlock if you collect 2 MBG pies in Shoot 1UP? A new level, a new game mode, or a new ship type?
    3. What's the maximum number of ships one player can get in Shoot 1UP on Windows Phone 7? 10, 20, or 30?

    Next group of questions on Wednesday!

    Details
    You have 3 chances to win. No game purchase is necessary (bug your friends for the answers, or check the Internet), but it's greatly appreciated! Answer the Shoot 1UP trivia questions. Several groups of questions will be offered throughout the week of September 10th, 2012. If the answer is particular to the Windows Phone 7 version it will say as much. If you get any group of 3 questions correct, you'll be entered into the pool of potential winners. Be good to each other. For each group you get correct, I'll enter you into the pool once (answer 3 groups correctly, you'll be 3 times as likely to win). For those people with correct answers, I'll randomly select (at most) 3 winners. You can only win (at most) one phone skin. I'm the judge of the answers, and all rulings are final. 
    Prize details:
    I'm buying the skins through SkinIt.com. If I pick you as a winner, I'll need your phone model to know what to make the skin for. If they don't have the model on the site, I'll have to pick someone else! Sorry! (Check first then for your phone before entering? Or just enter for fun anyways.) If there's international shipping involved, I'll have to see how much it costs first before I can agree to send it. I think international will be doable! Unless it's like a hundred dollars or I have to pay off your local government or something. Just mentioning that caveat.

    How to send your answers:
    Email: nathan@mommysbestgames.com, subject "Shoot 1UP Trivia"
    or Facebook: Message me personally (Nathan Fouts) (since company FB accounts don't seem to be able to send messages.)
    You could also just leave your answers in a comment below, but make sure I can contact you somehow.

    Good luck!
    Check back for more ways to win this week!

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012

    Even Up the Odds

    Shoot 1UP on Windows Phone 7 is out now! It's got exclusive content like strange, new enemies, a new ship, a new game mode, Achievements, friends Leaderboards, and free ringtones! Get it here: marketplace link

    In addition, we made a short, live-action commercial called "Even Up the Odds" to mark the release. Enjoy!



    Game press kit for WP7:
    http://www.mommysbestgames.com/Shoot1UP_WP7_PressKit/

    More game details here, including the original Xbox 360 link:
    http://mommysbestgames.com/shoot1up.html

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    Help Microsoft Fix the XBLIG Forums



    About a week ago, Microsoft split the XBLIG and WP7 site back into two sites. One for Xbox LIVE Indie Games and one for Windows Phone 7 development. This is nice... actually it's more funny than anything as originally the XBLIG had it's own site.. but anyway.


    UPDATE (September): Looks like the forums and searching is working again. Hooray! Thanks Microsoft for getting it fixed.

    ORIGINAL STORY:

    After that change it turns out that doing a search for information on the forums does not work. Let that sink in. Search is broken.

    Doing a search for most things on the XBLIG development forums fails. What happens is you are redirected to a pretty page that asks if you want to make an Indie Game or WP7 game. Even if you click on the Indie Game, it ignores whatever you were looking for and just takes you to the main XBLIG. Search aborted. Can't find the help you're looking for. I've found a few things that work, but the vast majority of searches fail.


    We need to get that fixed, and that means writing "creators@microsoft.com". If you develop Xbox LIVE Indie Games, let's get this change happening.

    Here's the body of an email I've sent. Please write your own, or use mine as a starting point or wholesale. I'd keep it short, polite, and say what's broken.

    Hello team!
    After the transition from pulling the XBLIG site back out of the apphub/phone site it seems the forwarding links when doing a search for information don't work. I was hoping this was just a short matter of time, but it's still not working.
    This is critical for the site to be useful. That impedes not only seasoned developers but especially new developers which will crush growth.

    Can we please get someone on this?
    Thank you!

    In any case developers, it's up to us to help convince Microsoft this is an important issue. Please write them!
    I love playing and developing XBLIG as I'm sure you do as well. Keeping the forums in a healthy state is critical to the platform's ongoing growth and development.

    Thursday, August 2, 2012

    Shoot 1UP Yours August 22nd

    You can Shoot 1UP your phone on August 22nd for $2.99!
    New gameplay video extolling its exclusive virtues:

     New features include:
    • A new weird level, enemies and extra bosses!
    • Extra unlockable ship!
    • Exclusive game mode called Score Tilt which utilizes the phone's tilt sensor!
    • Free sci-fi-techno-catchy ringtones!
    Just twenty days to wait till your phone gets a new workout!

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012

    Gunstacker Upgrades Explained

    I love the Gunstacker feature in the current release of Serious Sam Double D on Steam, but we can push it further. There's definitely some neat strategy you can get out of the current version, but obviously with more weapon variety the player has even more options on how to tackle a tough fight.




    That's where the XXL comes in, for the new version of the game coming to XBLA later this summer. The new game has an extra suffix (Serious Sam Double D XXL) denoting new content, and one big aspect is Gunstacker upgrades! There will be two types of modifications "Ammo" and "Upgrades".



    For each of the 8 gun types (Tommy Gun, Rocket Launcher, etc), there is the ability to increase the amount of ammo the guns can carry. This general modification is applied to an entire 'gun type' (like all variations of Tommy Guns). As you buy Ammo+1, you get an extra clip which gives you about 20% more ammo for that gun type. Any Tommy Guns for which you buy Ammo+1 can now carry more ammo. That opens up Ammo+2, and then Ammo+3, each costing more, but letting you carry a lot more bullets in the end.




    Buy gun-changing upgrades for particular guns.

    The second, and biggest area are the specialty "Upgrades". These are applied to one specific gun which you'll select while buying things in the new store (the first Tommy Gun, your third Shotgun, etc). That's right, you pick one specific Shotgun, and then buy an expensive upgrade for it. But why? Because the specialty Upgrades basically turn that particular gun into a whole new weapon!

    These range in complexity, from an upgrade to the Machine Pistol that increases the damage dealt by all guns in your current stack, all the way up to entirely new weapons like an upgrade to the Shotgun... that turns it into the legendary Serious Sam Cannon!

    You'll also be able to revert a specialty gun back to it's original form, and get a little bit of money back in the process.

    Stay tuned, as over the summer I'll be detailing some of the various new guns you can get in XXL.

    Saturday, June 16, 2012

    Mission Small Business

    UPDATE: We've gotten enough votes to enter the contest, thank you all!

    ---

    We're working towards a grant from Chase bank and Livingsocial for $250,000, but we need your vote of confidence!

    In order to be officially considered, we need 250 votes by June 30th. Please do us the honor of voting for Mommy's Best Games for a chance at this excellent grant funding.

    With this funding we would be able to increase the speed of our game development and expand releases to many more consoles and mobile platforms!

    To vote you have to visit their site, search for "Mommy's Best Games" and click the "Vote" button.
    It's quick and easy as 1-2-3, but it does require a Facebook login <wince> please bear with it!
     
    Here's what to do:
    1. Visit https://www.missionsmallbusiness.com/



    2. Scroll down and click "LOG IN & SUPPORT" on the lower right. This will require a Facebook login. 

     

    3. In the "business name" section (lower left) search "Mommy's Best Games"



    Vote! 



    Thanks so much for your help and time, and please tell your gamer friends!

    Tech info:
    Because the link to searching and voting is behind the FB login, there's no simple way for me to provide a straight link to the vote button. It's pretty obnoxious and we've tried for a while to suss out a link, but there's no way I can see. Thanks a ton for seeing this through!



    Thursday, May 17, 2012

    Serious Sam Double D XXL

    We're taking Serious Sam Double D from Steam to Xbox Live Arcade this Fall! I'm excited develop for XBLA thanks to support from Devolver Digital, but the cool part is we're not just doing a straight port--there's a lot more going on.

     
    To help illustrate the expanded content and features, and make it easier to keep track of, this new version is called Serious Sam Double D XXL.

    One of the new enemies in XXL, the "Torcher Kitty". His belly is filled with love. And lighter fluid.
    Here's a cheat sheet to all the cool new stuff.

    • Two-Player Local Cooperative Play - Huff will be the second playable character! Not sure who Huff is?? Check this out.
    • Gunstacker Upgrades - Shotguns that fire a horde of bees, Prism Lasers, the return of Serious Sam’s trademark Cannon and more!
    • New Campaign and Challenge Missions - Take to the air in your very own missile-loaded Pterosaur or roll through your foes on a dynamite-powered unicycle!
    • New and Upgraded Enemy Classes - To balance out all this new firepower we're adding new enemies such as the Torcher Kitty (see below) and the Explosion Eater! 
    • Reworked Level Design and Flow- And to better frame the new enemies, and Gunstacker additions, there's lots of tweaks to each level and to the flow of the game itself (such as an improved checkpoint system).
    • Voice Acting  - Serious Sam's original actor voices Sam, and we have the absolutely bonkers Huff guy, Netricsa to balance out the 'boys', and General Maxilla to add a dash of evil.
    • 800 MS Points, Fall 2012
    So yeah, the important points are ... XXL has two-player local coop, there's new levels, and we're going from 8 guns to 40! And not like "40 combinations" this is actually 40 different types of guns. Some are more tame, like a Machine Pistol that allows you to glide, but most are full blown new weapons, like the Shotgun with bees (trust me-it's cool), and the Van de Graaff Chainsaw.
    We've tried to make sure all the new guns influence and enhance how you think about combining your guns.

    Check out some screens (Click to make them "XXL!" :)
    That's Huff jumping, firing the new laser rifle. Sam is about to be mauled by Armored Gnaar.

    Sam riding the "Lunicycle", his dynamite-powered unicycle.


    Sam is fighting a Torcher Kitty (above left) while shooting the new Cannon in a stack.


    Huff is firing the Prism Laser and Electrostatic Orb in the upper right in Pompeii, while Sam fires in the lower left.
    I'll be detailing lots of the new game here in future posts as well.
    Press kit for SSDD XXL

    Monday, May 14, 2012

    2D Number Justice

    8 Bit Horse, the premiere site on the web for all things 2D action gaming, has hit some big numbers recently! Looking at our Google numbers we realized we're closing in on 200k hits since we started just a few years ago!
    Tease: Plus there's cool desktop art on the site now (see end of article)

    It's great to see this sort of interest in a niche area, and with a unusual article structure. At this point anyone that's visited the site knows 8BH articles are filled with precise and extensive gameplay breakdowns games of now and yesteryear.

    8 Bit Horse covers games that are 2D in art and gameplay, and focus on action.
    The site is not a daily blog in which topical news pops up then quickly melts from the front page. Instead, each article is an often long investigation of the gameplay in a particular title. Games are organized into lists such as Upcoming, Current, and Heritage. Links for all games are maintained on the front page, making it simple to browse through the lists.
     

    In looking at the hits on the site we gathered together bunch of fun stats:

    Over 180,000 hits
    Over 100 articles
    - 21 heritage games featured
    - Over 80 current and upcoming games featured
    - Over 100 additional games covered in 2D CRED sections (featuring developers' other works), including these notable titles:
    - Maestro! Jump in Music, Bitejacker: Secret Base Horror Series 01, Legend of Princess, Noitu Love & The Army of Grinning Darns, Aquaria, Eternal Daughter, Soul, the Johnny Platform series, JoyJoy, Challenge from Kiyoshi, Digidrive, the PixelJunk series, Mirror's Edge 2D, NyxQuest, A Game with a Kitty, Tuper Tario Tros., rComplex, Super Tank Run, the Soulcaster series, Ninja Senki, The Adventures of Shuggy, Insectoid


    Most popular article: Demon's Crest - 2/5/2010
    - Over 10,000 words
    - Nearly 200 images
    Biggest article: Wario Land 3 - 3/3/2011
    - 14,000 words
    - Over 250 images
    First article: Jackal - 10/17/2009
    - 4,000 words
    - 24 images
    Most popular feature:
    Super Mario Bros. 101: Lessons in 2D Game Design

    2D RADAR
    - A list of 2D games in development, each with a quick description.
    - Currently 68 games on the list 
    - 26 updates since it originally went live on 10/27/2010 (near 1 year anniversary)
    - Total games listed from the start: 125!
    - Original post had 23 games including these notable titles: - Acceleration of SUGURI, Astroman, Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury, Bastion, Capsized, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, La-Mulana*, Monster Tale, NightSky, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Rayman Origins, Retro City Rampage*, Spelunky*.
    * Denotes title is still on the list.

    The 8BH YouTubeChannel has over 10,000 video views.
    - 16 investigative, 2D game developer interviews, including Michel Gagné (Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet), and Team Meat (Super Meat Boy), and Jamie Cheng (Shank)!
    - 5 "Oddities in 2D" episodes

    And here's some great art for your desktop!  All your favorite characters in their native resolutions, partying down around a remixed Mario level.

    Click for original size! SD size on the 8BH site as well.
    From AJ and myself, thanks for reading!

    Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    Swordfight is Good Art

    Swordfight is a new physical game using modified Atari 2600 controllers created by Kurt Bieg and Ramsey Nasser. Each player straps on an adapted Atari controller over their crotch. The goal of the game is to push the other player's button (the button beeps through an custom, internal circuit board). Player's end up moving around, laughing, embarrassed, trying to push their pelvises toward each other and push the button on the other player's controller, but also dodging the other player's stick. I've not played it personally, but after watching some video, the game looks pretty absurd.


    At first, after learning about the game on Indie Games blog, I thought it was simply a joke and moved on. But the idea of the game kept me thinking.


    A View of Art

    One concept of art for me is an expression created by someone else that brings new perspective to my life and things around me. A lot of times intent and context are a big part of things, and art created can also be very personal. Munch's "The Scream" doesn't do a lot for me until I consider it from a point of angst and despair and then I can start to make sense of it. When I look at Rodin's "The Cathedral", I admire how delicate the hands look, yet it's made of metal. It looks like it could be lover's hands coming together or hands of people in a church being to say a prayer together.



    What I Like About Swordfight

    I see Swordfight as rearranging and changing game industry and societal conventions. The controller with the stick and the button now conceptually replaces the gender of the person playing. Each player is now the same gender. Each player has both a stick and a button (like a phallus and a clitoris). Classic console and arcade games are traditionally played by males. Here, both players are changed into a new, combined conceptual gender.

    The players are then guided by the game rules to get close and to touch buttons, but they shouldn't get too close, as that will allow the other person to win. Most people would find it rightly awkward to get so close and poke their friend's crotch (unless of course this friend is your girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse!) But here, the game encourages close contact and the game rules present an equally embarrassing situation for both players. Players now interact in a new, physical way. It is not a hug, a pat, or a tickle (and no, not even sex), but is guided by the game.

    The experience here is only possible because of a game. Photos or videos don't do it justice. No amount of reading about it (don't quit reading! :) or watching conveys the full experience, it must be played. Interaction being the defining distinction of games.


    The 30+ year old Atari 2600 controller is now sexy, brought into present day and at the center of the game. You're goal is to press the button on the other player's controller. In most games, pressing the button on your own controller is part of the basic gameplay.

    Kinect and the Wii may get you up and moving, but here you are physically grabbing each other. Swordfight uses game hardware, but goes even beyond current-gen consoles in terms of promoting physical movement, by repurposing decades old technology. For a group as traditionally un-sexy as gamers (as opposed to say dancers), it's pretty wild to design a game around waving their crotches at each other.

    The development duo responsible for the game were interviewed on the indie games blog a few days ago. They point out a lot of the key elements of the game's concept. "It's a very intimate place to have a game, between two people's hips, but the controller acts as a buffer, and the novelty of it allows players to engage with each other in a way that would normally be off limits."

    Deep Thrills

    While the basic concept of moving around, trying to thrust your hips at your friend is definitely absurd and crazy, I think there's a lot of inventiveness and depth to the concept of Swordfight, beyond mere entertainment or cheap thrills. I think Swordfight is good art.

    Thursday, April 19, 2012

    Sine Mora Feedback

    A little while ago a new, very pretty shoot 'em up, Sine Mora, was released on XBLA. It was  co-developed by Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacturing.


    I like the game a lot!
    I think the graphics are gorgeous and the boss designs are inspired with lots of variety. I also like the music a lot even though it's a little understated. Several of the tunes stay in my mind after playing, such as the disco-like theme for some boss fights.The time-slowing ability is fun to use in a shoot 'em up.

    I liked the game so much I want to play it more! Sadly, while I play I get frustrated by several, smaller design elements of the game that would be easy to fix. I decided to detail these in the hope that someone involved with the development of Sine Mora would read this.


    I'd love for some or all of these issues to be addressed by the development teams on a subsequent update. In all cases I list possible solutions to the problems, most of which would be pretty reasonable to implement.

    Major Issues 

    • Problem: Player ships can be damaged by some objects that player bullets pass through. This is the strangest thing I've seen in a long time and it pretty much screws up any sort of reasonable 'discovery' the player can achieve. In a shmup, the player's bullets are like this hands. He uses these to feel out the world and decide what can hurt him and what can't. For instance, the underwater submarine boss turned sideways does not let you pass through it (like when trying to grab powerups) but your bullets and powerups do. In most vertical shmups there is no environmental collision. In horizontal shmups there is often environmental collision. Sine Mora follows that convention, but strangely does not let find out what can hurt your ship until you actually smash into it. Also strange is that some objects block bullets and your ship and some only block (and damage) your ship.

    • The environment-collision inconsistency hampers the game.

      • Solution: If the player ship bounces off things, their bullets and powerups should too, OR if your bullets go through things, don't let that damage the player.





    • Problem: Objects in the playfield are too easily confused with objects in the background or foreground. Even in levels I've played several times, and with enemies that come in from the background (which is often) I'm not quite sure exactly when a ship is able to collide with me or when I can shoot it.This leads to lots of confused shooting and scrambling to figure out where to be. It's also confusing when a tiny turret stuck onto the background is actually shooting and you, can damage you, and could be shot to recover more valuable time (which acts as health here).
    • Pic from a different shmup, Mushihimesama, the background is desaturated and you can see the action more clearly.
      Sine Mora: Some of those turrets are enemies, and some aren't.
      • Solution: Make a clear distinction between objects in the background and playfield, via a fog effect, desaturation (as is already used in the time-slow ability). Could even be an option for the player to toggle in the menus.
      • In our own Shoot 1UP we offered several background visual options including the ability to simply turn off the background (full black) to make the game easier to play for people that struggle tracking things on screen amidst all the action.
      • The game won't look as pretty, but I think giving the player an option to control how distinct the background is would be a huge help and really increase how much they can enjoy the game. I agree that picture of Mushihimesama is washed out and maybe don't have that as the default in Sine Mora. But after I play with 'full graphics' some, I'd probably want to change it so I can see what's happening better.






  1. Problem: Powerups quickly fly off the screen. From what I can tell the powerups bounce off the environment (this is fine) but they don't bounce off the "screen bounds". This is very frustrating. You end up really under powered with just one slip up and fighting underpowered is tedious. I think it's also fine if the powerups eventually leave the screen, just not immediately.

  2. That red powerup is pretty much as good as gone.
      • Solution: Powerups should be bound to the screen, or travel more slowly, or there should be more created.







  3. Problem: It's difficult to discern what parts of the 3D environment you'll crash into and what you wont. This is related, but different than the first point (not knowing what things you can crash into because you're bullets don't hit what you'd expect). This is because the game is in 3D, and has pieces of the environment extending "out towards the player" and has parallax. The ship always emits a vague light on the environment which makes it seem that the developer knew there was a problem, but they didn't go far enough with this possible solution. In most 2D sprite shmups, you can easily discern when you'll crash into the environment. In Sine Mora not only is it tough to tell going up in down in a simple cave setting, but sometimes you're forced to go through a 3D tube while your ship is obscured from view! You can easily bump parts of the tube and be damaged. It's very frustrating.

  4. It's tough to decide just when your ship will hit the walls, especially while frantically chasing down powerups.
      • Solution: Make collisions with the environment not damage your ship, like in Einhander, or shear off all graphics to create a cross-section with no parallax, or cast a distinct visual line (like a circle emitting outwards from the ship in a plane parallel to the screen) that collides with environment and shows what the player will hit.

     

     Minor Issues

    • Problem: Screen shake is too disruptive and happens often while a big cloud of enemy bullets are about to hit you.

      • Solution: Only screen shake at the end of boss fights when the player is invincible, or make the player invincible while the screen is shaking. 

    • Problem: Some enemy bullets are extremely similar to your player ship bullets. When lined up, it's hard to tell when something is coming. This is worst on the train boss. The bullets are long red shapes extremely similar to the players.

      • Solution: Change enemy bullets to not look like the players through color and shape.

    • Problem: Effects cover up things. In the underwater sections, explosion and smoke effects cover up too much of the action.

      • Solution: Make sure the player and enemies, and bullets layer on to of effects.

    I made this list in the hopes that Sine Mora can be updated to be even more enjoyable, but also for other shmup developers to consider these and other design decisions in your game.
    I love the game, keep up the great work developers and please consider these issues--thanks!