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, November 7, 2013

Minecon 2013 Postmortem



We we're fortunate enough to be one of twenty indie devs asked by Mojang to show off our game at Minecon this year in Orlando. While the show is primarily about Minecraft, having an "other" indie games section was great, as it featured upcoming games such as Hyper Light Drifter, Scale, Shovel Knight, all part of the "Minecon Indies".

Our new game, Pig Eat Ball, currently in development was a perfect fit as we had hundreds of young boys and girls come up to play. It felt good to offer something a little different, without killing and blood and gore (though we've enjoyed making those games in the past :)

'Bow' in our ode to Ms. Pac-man, which we used on our shirts

 

Eventful

Running for just Saturday and Sunday, we were in the Exhibition hall most of the time, though I also was on a panel called "Life as an Indie Developer" which had a good turn-out. There were five developers on the panel, including myself, Pete Angstadt (making Cannon Brawl), Evan Greenwood (making Broforce), Richard Perrin (making Journal), and Mo (making A.N.N.E.), and it was moderated by AJ Johnson (from gaming site 8 Bit Horse). The panel focused on how there's more to just "designing your game all day" when you have to sustain yourself financially, handling such things as marketing, emails, scheduling, taxes, and more. I think all the devs afterward handled plenty of "My child wants to be a game designer, what do you think?" from parents approaching us.

Evan, of Broforce, and I showing our guns before everyone came in.


The show, while small at 7,500 people was handled really well, at least from what I experienced. As an exhibitor, our normal costs for a convention includes booth space, equipment rental, and hotel and travel fare. Most of that was graciously covered by Mojang which was pretty great. Additionally, after the first day ended, everyone that attended the show (gamers and exhibitors) were allowed to go Universal Islands of Adventure (which was closed that night to anyone except Minecon people).

The Harry Potter area was excellent, though I hear it's packed on a regular day.

I'm not the biggest Minecraft fan, so it's hard for me to say if it was worth it from a consumer perspective, though everyone attending seemed pretty happy. The show had a very interesting farm exhibit which you could walk around and pet the strange cubic animal sculptures (which were made from expected materials--the square horse had fur, the square ducks had feathers, there square tree had.. cubes of leaves...)

Boxy, furry horses. Of course.
There were also plenty of ancillary Minecraft booths such as special Lego toys, expansion/mod centered booths, papercraft, a diarama booth (featuring physical recreations of Minecraft screens) and lots of talks and panels from Minecraft personalities. I was surprised by the fanaticism surrounding some of the Youtube personalities and Notch himself. I saw and heard kids running and screaming through the halls several of the few times I was out of the hall.

One of the screenshot-diorama's being setup.


After the second day there was also a swanky party held in downtown Orlando for VIPs only. All the indie dev exhibitors were invited and most went (I went back to my friend's house who lives in town there, and we played Dragon's Crown instead--hey, I don't get to see him often!) It was really nice there was a special party just for exhibitors. There were even shuttles from the convention center to the party. The only odd part was the shuttles only ran early to take you, and late to bring you back (meaning you had to stay several hours if you stuck with the shuttles). Still pretty cool to end with a big party!

The game cards we gave to everyone, and one of the "Barfies" we only gave to those that played the demo.

Our Bring List

  • Laptop
  • Build of the game (copies on usb stick, on laptop, uploaded to dropbox)
  • Wired Xbox 360 controllers
  • HDMI cable
  • Java installer (on usb stick also)
  • Headphones (bought for show)
  • Speakers (from office)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Stand-up banner for game (features elements to view from a far, and some to read up close)
  • Specialty cards for the game (for gamers to learn more, as a reminder)
  • Prizes after you play (custom "Barfie" ball, with Pig Eat Ball logo)
  • 4 "Flying Pig" Hats (gave one away to a young super fan who visited both days)
  • Free game codes (to give away the game occasionally)
  • Personal business cards (with my contact/company info on it, different from the game cards)
We pointed people to the banner occasionally for more screens and info.

The Setup

Mojang provided the Alienware computers which ran our games. Each dev's area was one of four tables forming a big diamond shape. To your left and right was another game developer at a right angle. Fortunately, the noise level was very manageable. We brought headphones just in case, but speakers running the sound was enough (our game is puzzlish action game, not specifically about sound, as opposed to SoundSelf, which was there, and did use headphones).

Anyone that played the game got a branded "Barfie" ball which drew in a lot of people.

We were able to put our banner in between our table and the one to the right. To our left, was the stand-up banner for Sportsfriends. With everyone facing outwards, I felt like we had enough room, but I wasn't on the inside of the booth area, which was more crowded. There were five of these groups of four games each.

Having been to bigger shows like PAX, it was different because your "booth" was just a computer at a table. It was a little tough if you wanted to run a merchandise table with shirts, or wanted a bigger screen display. Still, with all games equal, and with decent sized monitors, I think it was easy for the games to shine and bring people in.

The only real "trick" here, was that those developers that showed up first, got to pick where they wanted to set up. I ended up showing up very late on the setup day, and thus missed the chance to pick the "primo" end spot, that was facing the high traffic, main aisle. Doing it over, I would have gotten there sooner if I'd have known we could pick our spot (as opposed to it being randomly assigned).

One person handling the demo, while another talks to the crowd helped a lot.

Paring Down the Pitch

We had plans to run an hourly contest, give away game codes, and shirts. But our game is new and strange, and within the first few hours we realized people were spending plenty of time just playing the opening levels. With so many people coming through our booth, we ended up paring down the experience to
  • We hand you a card, and let you play the first three levels that explain the unusual gameplay. 
  • As you play, we explain the pre-order and instant access for the game.
  • When you leave (assuming you play), you get a "barfie" ball from the game.
  • We had at least two people managing the booth most of the time, which helped as one person talked to the current player, and the other person talked to the parents or new players coming up to watch. 
  • Explaining that the game comes with a level editor letting you make your own mazes was a hit (which makes sense given the Minecraft theme).

You might have one idea going into a convention, but staying nimble and open to change goes a long way.



Great Stuff

  • Mojang covered most of the typical expenses for the show. Booth costs, equipment rental were all handled. Because John of Media Indie Exchange was also helping, our computers were also already set up. Actual booth set up was a breeze. 
  • The show seemed well handled. There were plenty of volunteers, and things happened on time. Things were clean, and well built. I was a little worried how it was all going down (given it's a young, small show) but it was well done. 
  • Because there was a small number of people, we had plenty of traffic, but it was manageable. It wasn't too many people all just moving around, not stopping to see your cool game. There seemed like there was also lots of giveaways gamers could get at the various Minecraft booths which keeps everyone excited and happy.

Not So Great Stuff

  • There was basically no press there. A few you-tubers with Minecraft focussed sites showed up, but that's all I saw. It would have been nice to let game press play our game. Maybe Mojang didn't want it to be swamped with press and not letting kids play? Either way, I wish they had given out a few free passes to press (maybe just a dozen?) to help multiply the impact of demoing the game early.
  • Mojang asked that we not announce our involvement with the show until the day before the show itself. Sure it didn't actually matter about talking to press because if they didn't have a ticket they weren't going. But it would have still been nice to talk about it leading up to show more, and discuss it regarding developing the demo for the show.

Clientele-Server

Part of what made the show so great was how enthused and interested everyone was. Maybe it's just that "Minecraft fans are so great", or maybe our games were all amazing (of course! :), but either way the people were very interested, well-informed about gaming, and very polite. Plenty of young kids knew all about Steam, understood pre-orders, instant access, and were even curious what language we were using or wanted to talk about programming and design.


Crafty

All told, it was excellent show.  The fans there made for an easy show, and Mojang made it easy on the wallet too. I wish some big gaming press were there, but otherwise, it was well worth doing. The show apparently changes year-to-year but if it's anything like this one and you get the chance to show your game, I'd go for it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Serious Sam Double D XXL on Steam

Serious Sam Double D XXL is available now on Steam! And as a super gift to our early adopting PC brethren, all new XXL content is free DLC! Yup, if you already own the original Serious Sam Double D released back in 2011, you get all the cool new content for free.

The game is on sale for 75% off for a whole week! (ends Oct 28th)



XXL has been revamped for play on the keyboard and mouse but still works with an Xbox 360 controller. Still quite customizable, and works easily for 2 player couch coop (one can play on keyboard+mouse, while a second plays on a controller, or both can use controllers).

The new content includes the original 8 guns from Double D, plus 32 unique, completely crazy upgrades! There's also new monsters, new levels, vehicles--literally every level has had enhancements made to gameplay flow, new paths, new areas, and new secrets.

And if you're really hardcore we've even included the original version of Serious Sam Double D in there as well!

The most important to remember about XXL on Steam.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Reflections and Pig Eat Ball Level Editor Progress


The Level Editor is shaping up nicely now for next game Pig Eat Ball. All written using Java and LibGDX.

This shows the basic controls and capabilities. We have some advanced placement tools in the works as well for the next update. I'm planning on possibly releasing the editor with the main game, assuming I can make it friendly enough to use.

Reflections

 (Primer: Reflection is a language ability which allows for code to recognize class types *within itself*. It allows for extremely generic programming, perfect for dumping new classes into an editor and having the code sort out all the new variables and how they save and load and can be edited.)

I guess it's a keyboard with mirrors in it? Looks awesome either way.

On the code side of things, not using reflection was a bit of work, but I think because I was worried about how well-supported reflection is in Java, and because I was worried about portability to Linux, Mac, and Android, I decided to "hand-code" things.


That means, when we add a new class type, like a ball spawner, if there are specific variables that you can edit when you select the ball spawner (such as spawn type, or number of balls spawned), then all of that code has to be written by hand. That includes the Info box populating with the specific entries, the saving/loading and a bit more.

On the right is the BallSpawner selected. "SpawnType" and "SpawnCount" are special variables.

It's a pain but the usefulness in the editor is amazing. It means you can place specific objects, and modify behavior on each object in a class-specific way. Plus once you get the format down in the code, it only adds a few extra minutes to adding a new class. It's just a lot more complicated than carefree reflection code I was used to in XNA and .NET.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pig Eat Ball Editor Begins

We've not formally announced our next game Pig Eat Ball because I'm still figuring out what the heck it is exactly! I've had it in 'prototype mode' for a while now, but fortunately it's shaped up in recent months and things are starting to come together. I hope soon to have some interesting to stuff to show off, like some varied screenshots and a nice video--enough that we could call it a "real announcement".

In the meantime you should know that the game is basically about controlling strange flying-pig creatures in outer space, as they eat tennis balls and deal with each other. The core gameplay is unusual in that the pigs get bigger as they eat things. Their size is used in the collision in the levels. This alters the way the player has to think about moving around the level.

There's no gore, and some unusual gameplay features that make the basis for a new, action-puzzler. It's suitable for kids but is original, and not super-kiddy in the traditional sense. Basically I wanted something I really liked playing, but could show to other people and not have to explain why there's bloody intestines everywhere (our other games are bloody--and I love them dearly--but I figured I'd try something different).

Speaking of levels, we now have a dedicated person, Matthew Barnes, working on the new, visual level editor! He is a coop student from the nearby University of Louisville's School of Engineering. A new editor will assist in making much more interesting, more intricate levels than I've made previously.


Here's the current level "editor" for Pig Eat Ball:


 
Bahah--Yes! That's just some ASCII characters I arranged by hand to then interpret as a level.
And here's a level generated from that ASCII code. It's already really fun but could use some sprucing up.



And now that the game seems up to snuff, we've started working on a visual editor!

Okay, that's not really impressive at all, but stay with me. There's some menus and buttons working, you can add some debug-draw objects, we're working on selection, deleting, rotation, and more! All this means our new coop programmer is moving along on the editor, and can start making some real progress.

The reason for the editor now, is to be able to add more details to the levels themselves. The yin-yang level from above is already cool, but I'd like to add more decorations to it, add layers of details perhaps in the foreground, and background, and make connections between some specialty objects that will give us more interesting gameplay. All of this is much easier to do in a visual level editor rather than ASCII.

So for now it's time to hunker down and get coding on this level editor!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Papers, Please is a Game for Grown-ups

Papers, Please is a recent PC game by developer Lucas Pope, which has the player acting as a border officer deciding whom to admit to their country of Arstotzka. The game takes place mainly within a small room acting as a border checkpoint. A long line forms outside waiting to enter your checkpoint, all eager to enter your country.


The player gets five credits for every person processed, and at the end of each day, the money is used to keep their family alive. The player decides how to spend their money on rent, heat, food, and medicine for your family of four dependents. People in line may have excellent sounding reasons as to why they should get to enter even if their papers aren't in order, but you have to balance humanitarianism, penalties from the government, and keeping your family healthy.

I think this is an amazing game, one that could really help reshape peer adult views on the state of video games. Yes--this is, in part, an article about me worrying about the image of video games in popular culture. If that's gross, bail out now! But not before you check out the game, it's excellent!

 

Appealing Theme


There's very little in Papers, Please that would titillate a pre-teen's interests. While there is a small bit of blood and violence, it's infrequent, and none of it happens because of the player, at least in the traditional manner. There's nudity as well (stylistic, drawn in the game's pixel style, and can be turned off), but it's not at all sexy, and is incorporated as part of the player's job. Deciding to use the body scanner in the game can make you as a player feel uncomfortable. There's typical elements of a FPS such as soldiers, guns, and barricades, but all of it viewed from the bureaucratic side of things. The actions required are skill-based, and time sensitive, but akin to skills developed in the business office, rather than with a controller. The game is difficult, but the second-to-second gameplay comprises analyzing text, correlating information, and following strict rules. It's something that sounds boring to most, but could definitely appeal to 50 and 60 year olds, when cast against the 1980's faux USSR background with the underlying intention of stopping illegal immigrants and supporting your family.



I'm fascinated with how real the characters feel whom you must process at your border station. In The Sims, the player has God-like control over each Sim, but must baby them, telling them exactly what to do: eat, watch TV, or talk to someone else. They feel like automatons, which is fine, as it serves that game. But in Papers, Please all the characters feel like complete people. I suppose it's from a mixture of the background data provided (via their papers), the tiny slice of their life you get to see, their realistic conversations with you, and your imagination. You don't get to follow them around the alley, and see their dull stare into the distance, or aimless wandering (such as in a GTA game). You see them for a moment, and they feel like real people with real problems. The God-like powers promised by a Sims game are realized here, but in a much more powerful way. When you admit or reject someone, you can imagine it having a real impact.

Situational Depth

Your job in the game can have real consequences rendered. All sorts of situations related to border control are explored here, for instance, you could personally stop a human trafficker from getting through, if you know how to do your job. Or you could accidentally let a suicide bomber through, if you miss one crucial bit of information in an effort to process people more quickly and make more money. The depth achieved here, and the situations created is vibrant and memorable. Bribery, misery, compassion, bomb scares, police brutality--all of this and more happens right next to you, and sometimes you're even the cause of it.

Here's a game I think few adults would feel embarrassed to be caught playing. Many of my friends and relatives play Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds, but if I bring it up they dismiss as "just a dumb time waster." I think because of the concepts explored, and the agency provided to the player, many more adults could be shown the beneficial and positive artistic expression possible within a video game.



Playing Papers, Please made me recall an interview with Jenova Chen in which he laments the lack of appeal of games for adults.

"My biggest complaint for computer games so far is they are not good enough for adults. For adults to enjoy something, they need to have intellectual stimulation, something that's related to real life. Playing poker teaches you how to deceive people, and that's relevant to real life. A headshot with a sniper rifle is not relevant to real life. Games have to be relevant intellectually. You also need depth. You have the adventure -- the thrill of the adventure -- but you want the goosebumps too."

This game is a great place to start for many non-gaming adults. The setting is in the past but the concepts of border control, rivaling nations, and the human element are contemporary. The game is compelling both from what happens at your border job, and from how well you can provide for your family. This is a game that involves genuine sympathy and resolving conflicting responsibilities such as those to your direct boss (and the state), to your family, in addition to what seems morally right.

Few Traditional Game-like Elements

I think it's important for most non-gaming grown-ups, that very little of Papers, Please feels 'gamey'. There's no "morality meter"; you don't grow horns or wings based on how many people you help or hurt.You're paid by the state based on what they want to see happen. It certainly feels like a horrible totalitarian regime, but is it? When they tell you watch out for an enemy of the state and detain them, maybe he really did something bad. Or should you believe his story? Are enough other people's explanations starting to form a pattern in your mind?

 
Having a game that treats the player as a grown-up is as refreshing as having a dramatic game based on a world not too different from reality. While flights of fantasy involving time-travel, blood thirsty orcs, and terrifying aliens is lots of fun (Trust me--I love games with those things!) it's incredible to have a very compelling game, using fairly strict "real world" situations.

Avoiding the Tragedy 

Make sure you try the game. It's 10 bucks over on Steam, but I think there's a free beta version available at the developer's site you could use as a demo. Next, get other people to try it. Non-gamers. Maybe your Dad, or Mom, or Uncle, or those guys and gals at work that talk about politics or sports. Get other people to check out a video game that's not all violence and sex, but still mature and deeply compelling, working with concepts everyone knows. 

Nope, I don't get any kick-back here--I don't know the developer personally. I just want more people to play a video game and see the powerful work that can be done. Or maybe I do benefit from this--the whole industry could benefit from this. Pulling weight along with the likes of Flower, and Cart Life, maybe games such as Papers, Please can get the video game industry out of "The Tragedy of the Comics" within which we may be forever stuck.



(My current game in early development is about pigs that fly in space and eat tennis balls. It's shaping up to be really fun for gamers of all ages, but I'm 38 years old, and that explanation for my work was a little embarrassing to type.)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ouch, We Slipped a Disc--

--into the Xbox 360!

Mommy's Best Games is proud to announce one our games is now available on disc! In this current age of independent development, digital distribution, and streamlined costs, it's very exciting for us to have had one our games be deemed so popular that it was included in a disc release.


The Serious Sam Collection is now available for sale on Amazon through publisher Maximum Games and lists the contents as "4 Legendary Games Plus DLC". These include 3 canon Serious Sam games developed by the original developer Croteam, and our own, double-the-wacky Serious Sam Double D XXL!



From a technical standpoint this is also very exciting as I believe this is the only XNA game to have been released at retail on a disc like this. And I can personally confirm that Serious Sam Double D XXL does actually run off the disc itself. The game is not distributed through a download token found on the disc, and you're not required to install the game to the Xbox's harddrive. And the game can run without an Xbox Live connection! From the other XNA devs I've talked to, this is surprising as I think most thought XNA required a connection, or was not built to run off of a disc.
I wasn't involved in the development of this collection, so it looks like Maximum Games did some nice work getting it to run off the disc.

In any case, it's a big day for us, and a nice collection too. Grab it if you're looking for hours and hours of frantic, monster-gibbing fun. When we started back in 2008, I only assumed we'd be releasing games in digital form, never on physical disc, so it's a special honor indeed!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Strawberry Progress

Here's what I've been up to lately at Mommy's Best Games.

As you can see, delightfully, it's almost solid game development! We're deep in the middle of work on Pig Eat Ball, coming to various (TBA) platforms. I've already gotten the Android tablet version working pretty well, now I'm on the PC version, adding content, and ensuring the controls work great. The little pie sliver for Android represents that I have to go back and forth sometimes to prevent code rot.
Pig Eat Ball is still far from release, but it's getting very strange and interesting. If you're the adventurous type and interested in helping playtest the game while it's still super early, email me! (Nathan at MommysBestGames dot com, subject: Pig Eat Ball Playtest)

Another good portion of my day is spent on porting one of our popular games over to PC. I can't say much about it because our publisher wants to wait to announce when it's releasing (but that should be a big hint as to what it is! :)

And the rest of my recent time has been spent working with our new Community Manager, Alex Langley, and getting him up to speed. Alex is already doing a great job helping get together some fun MBG Facebook posts like this!

As you can see, not a lot of marketing push at the moment. It's nice have a break, shifting back and forth between lots of development (like now), and other times around game launches, more marketing.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Design Tips When Porting Mobile to Console

The Ouya game console officially launches June 4th, but has already been sending out Kickstarter backer versions. The game store itself is live. I've had a dev kit console for some time and have been working on an original game for it called Pig Eat Ball. I'm interested in this console, am making a game for it, and want it to do well. It's a low cost console, but doesn't need to come off as cheap. What can make it look cheap and neglected? Quick ports.

Let's turn those shoddy port faces upside down.
Obviously since the Ouya is Android-based many developers have ported their existing games from mobile over to the Ouya. This is fine and many of these games are very polished like Knightmare Tower, Beast Boxing Turbo, and Gun Slugs.

After playing lots of games currently on the Ouya store, I've been seeing a trend in which a few irksome issues keep cropping up. Here is a simple checklist for developers to consider before releasing games to console. This in general could apply to all mobile-to-console, but I'm specifically thinking of the Ouya (could be for GameStick, others too).

  1. Analog controller sticks require a dead zone. Many, many, many games I've played on the Ouya store have a 'drift' in their controls. It's extremely annoying, especially considering most games on the system currently are action games requiring precision input. 
    1. It usually manifests by tapping the left analog stick to move, and after releasing the stick, the character/cursor/etc continues to move in that same direction.
    2. This is easy to fix--in the code, when you get the X,Y back from the left analog stick, measure the distance of this vector and if it's less than a certain amount, disregard the stick press.
    3. I'm pretty sure there's even example code on the Ouya dev site, but I'll present some here just in case. 
    4.   static private float stickMag(float axisX, float axisY
        {
              float stickMag = (float) Math.sqrt(axisX * axisX + axisY * axisY);
              return stickMag;
          }
    5. The float returned from the stickMag function will tell you the length of the vector made by the left stick input. It should be between 0 and 1.0f. The Ouya controllers are pretty gummy, so try making the dead zone fairly large like 0.35f. That is, all input lower than 0.35 in length is ignored.
  2. Make a selected menu option >>obviously<< different from the other options. Being presented with two options such as an in-game store "Buy" "Cancel" and seeing one yellow and one white is not helpful. Some games will say yellow is the selection and some will say white. Simple color coding is not intuitive and it's easy to fix. 
  3. Quick--save her! But do you have the right one selected?
    1. There are many simple ways to show something is the current menu option that is selected. 
    2. Consider:
      1. Drastically increase the size of the text.
      2. Put a special background behind the selected text
      3. Put a special pointer graphic off to the left
      4. Pulse the scale of the selected text
      5. Put some simple particle effects on the selected text
  4. Support both analog stick and d-pad input for character movement and menus. Especially on menus but also in the game. It's just common courtesy to allow for input for both. Some people like to play with the left stick and some like the dpad. I've played games that for some reason only allow d-pad input on the menus. I've also seen games that would work fine with d-pad in the game, but only allow the left analog stick on menus (in games where the choice of stick/d-pad really didn't matter. Yes I understand it's possible it could important in a game, but it's very common that the game would be fine with either input).
  5. Remove mentions of touch/mobile controls. Seeing things like "Tap the screen to continue" or "Press here to continue" when that function is not supported anymore in your game looks rushed and sloppy. Remove all "tap", "swipe" terminology from your game unless it's actually using the mini-touch-pad as the only input. 
  6. Please don't make us do this.
    1. Even if it *is* supported to allow the player to tap a portion of the screen to continue on a menu, the touch pad is a chore to use. Support button input, and show button tool-tips.
    2. Remove HUD graphics that are obviously just left over from the mobile version. Based on real examples I've played: When the O button on the Ouya makes the main character shoot, don't leave a big button on the HUD, taking up space, that lets you shoot if you manage to click on it via the touch pad. Sure it's technically possible to click on the button to shoot, but it's very ineffective and the game already has a button on the controller dedicated to that action. It's just wasting screen space, and again looks sloppy.
    3. Don't leave the || (pause button) on the screen as *the* way to pause the game via the touch pad. It's terribly slow to try to pause like that. Use the Ouya system button or another face button.
      It's okay to add this!
  7. Please put an Exit option in the game. Yes the Ouya system button can do this, but you can just as easily present the player with a simple option to turn off the game if they'd like to do so.
  8. Remove unused manifest settings. This may be an Ouya system issue, but I've seen some games that when installed prompt that they may need to make phone calls. I'm pretty sure the Ouya can't make phone calls, but if it can, is your game really making calls? The ones I saw with this requested never made calls. If it's not needed, just remove it--it looks sloppy.
First and foremost--please, PLEASE use a dead zone on your left analog stick input. If you've taken anything from this article, go to your code now, and implement a dead zone. Now. This is really bad, as it's making your play experience worse.

Everything else on the list is good too. Basically it means you really cared about bringing your awesome game to new people. No one likes a sloppy port. No one wants to see "Press Start" in their PC games when they don't support controller input, and no one wants "Tap Screen to Continue" in their console games.

They want to think the neat, new game they are considering purchasing was made special just for their system, just for them. You worked really hard on your game. Ports are annoying--I know from experience. Put in that extra effort, clean up your game some more, and make it a AAA port. Good luck! Gamers will thank you.

Monday, March 18, 2013

PAX East 2013

Mommy's Best Games will be in the Devolver Digital booth #607 this year. Come by, play some Serious Sam Double D XXL, stack some guns and maybe win a prize!

We've compiled this handy map showing indie game developer booths at the show. It's even big enough to print.
Make sure to go to the Indie Mega Booth. It's huge and awesome and has devs like Ska Studios and Dejobaan. This map mainly shows all the devs *not* in the Indie Mega Booth. And there's tons there as well!
Here's the full exhibitor list.

Also we'll be running a fun promotion called "United States of Indie Booths". Visit 8 specific developer booths and get a chance to win 8 games from them! Just drop by our booth and get a 'passport' and I'll fill you in on the details.

See you soon!


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Vuvuzela of Plenty

If you saw the Xbox 360 dashboard last night (in the US at least) you may have noticed this funky creature!

It is the 'Vuvuzelator'. An evil stack of pancakes that blasts you with its vuvuzelas growing from its body.

I created the concept for the creature and drew it for our game. But my lovely wife commissioned an artist to create a 3D sculpture of it for me last year for my birthday!

Don't stare directly into its cute blueberry eyes or you're a goner.

Austin, Texas-based resin auteur 'Motorbot' creates all manner of creepy, amazing-looking creatures. Not only is the detail excellent, but the various textures and materials is lovely to see in person!


Speaking of Austin, we'll be at SXSW this weekend in the Interactive section!
UPDATE: We'll be at Booth 312 - SXSW Gaming - Palmer Events Center

Make sure you find the Devolver Digital booth or just follow the sound of blasting vuvuzelas to find us. We'll be showing Serious Sam Double D XXL, giving out prizes, and telling all the bad jokes we know about evil pancakes. "Did you hear the one about the angry pancake driver on the freeway? Yeah, he totally flipped me off!" (Flipped? pancakes? Okay--don't let that deter you, come out and see us!)

Yes, we'll even be giving out vuvuzelas! But those will be pretty tough to win. We do have another fun prize that's easy to win! Just tell me the secret word "Pteradon". It makes sense in relation to the game, plus it's another fun toy you can use to grief your friends. Just like in coop.
See you this weekend!


Thursday, February 28, 2013

XXL Love for Serious Sam Double D

Serious Sam Double D XXL is out now on XBLA--go download the demo if you've not yet!
Critics are chiming in with some intense praise, see what they have to say. (I bolded the best parts :)


Gaming Nexus, 85/100:
"DD XXL is more than an expansion; it’s a downloadable title that delivers its worth ten times over."

Gaming Age, A-
"It may seem like a risk at first, but once you play it, you'll be hooked on Serious Sam DD XXL. At 800MSP… this is one of those games that just, feels right."

Official Xbox Magazine, 7/10
"Unloading a huge spray of deadly projectiles at crowds of goofball opponents can be awfully fun, and it’s made more enjoyable by the game’s surprising amount of variety.

Game Critics, 9/10
"XXL managed to blow me away again, this time offering five different variants of each of the game's firearms, for a total of 40 different weapons that can be bought and assembled in any way imaginable." 

Venture Beat, 82/100
"Serious Sam Double D XXL is a tongue-in-cheek, delightfully violent love letter to the 2D shooters of old that manages to build upon the genre while reminding us why we enjoyed playing them in the first place."

Indie Statik,
"Do you want a loud, ridiculous and improbable game that does like no other game on earth?"

Enjoy the launch trailer!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Serious Profiles

It's time to update your profile! Choose from all sorts of characters, some serious, and some just plain bananas. oof :(  Serious Sam Double D XXL comes out next week, show your support and personality with one of these crazy pics, thanks!

Sam Stone

Dan  Huffington

Headless Kamikaze


Vuvuzelator

General Maxilla
Torcher Kitty

Torcher Kitty (spitting)

Chimputee

The Trader

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Serious Sam Gun Gameplay 2

Serious Sam Double D XXL comes out February 20th, less than a week away!

In this new video I demonstrate 4 new upgrades in the game, for the Tommy Gun and Laser Rifle, explaining some of their strategic capabilities.


There's over 30 brand new guns in the game offering plenty of ways to take down Mental's Horde!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Profiles in Gonzo Guns: Land Shark Gun

We're releasing Serious Sam Double D XXL on XBLA Feb 20th and it has lots of "gonzo" guns. Before the release, I thought it'd be fun to dissect what makes crazy guns fun in other games. This is a design exploration as to what it takes to make a successful "gonzo" gun. I like the weirder guns in games and hope more games use them since they often push designs in new directions. 


Armed and Dangerous was a funny, third-person game by Planet Moon Studios released on the Xbox back in 2003. The game followed a group of misfit rebels using some basic and some not-so-basic guns to save the day.

The Land Shark Gun in Armed and Dangerous is great because it brings to life a hilarious concept and is well fleshed out.



Concept: The concept is solid, easily understandable, and based on some extension of reality. It expands expectations of what could happen. People have always been safe from sharks on land, what if a shark could reach you even on land? It also helps that it works off a popular, existing media character (the SNL skit from the 70's) and is in the public's mind.

Gameplay: The gameplay is satisfying, while it is basically a fire-and-forget homing missile, it is still very effective and you're able to fire several at once. It takes out basic enemies (most of what you fight in the game) and occupies their time before killing them. It can take out several enemies in succession.



Visual and Audio: The execution is great as a whole. The shark is launched, the fin is clearly visible. When it's close to a target enemy, the enemy stops what he's doing, animates to look around, and even calls out with voice. A pregnant pause as the shark has disappeared underground, and then BOOM, the shark bursts high into the air, devouring the enemy has he screams. (Wow, that sounds terribly gory, but in the context of the game.. it's funny!)



Why It Works in This Game: Armed and Dangerous has many humanoid enemies which can emote fully. They can speak English and animate like humans. This is the quickest way to get ideas across about enemies, and generally hurting/interacting with something. Do it with humanoids. It's much harder if you have complete aliens. Designers and artists usually pull from any human qualities they might have when animating and giving feedback. (That may sound discouraging--and I wouldn't want to discourage designers from exploring more alien designs--but it is an issue if you are trying to convey more human emotions with very alien-like enemies.)

The most common enemy in the game is a soldier type. This is means the shark gun can be used on many enemies effectively which is important to have the player care about it. If the gun is too specialized, it can be something of a let down to use. If there weren't as many soldiers, or you had to wait for too uncommon of a moment, it's tougher to make that appealing.
Also the gun is powerful which helps its appeal. That's not always necessary, but it helps.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ouya Game Jam Postmortem: Pig Eat Ball

New Platform

To help invigorate game development for the new console, a game jam was held for the  Android-based 'Ouya' console. It was a bit of an unusual game jam in that it had no specific theme and had some troubles early on (there was a false start and the rules changed a bit along the way). Buuuut once it got going, it turned out pretty fun. And the event, hosted by KillScreen and named the 'CREATE' jam ended up being very successful with over 160 games made!

The gist was simple, make a game for the Ouya, from scratch, in 10 days. Also, there's +$50k at stake! Playing around with new hardware and trying to make something quick is always fun, but the prize money offered even more incentive to get involved.

New Direction

I created a 4-player party game which has you controlling flying-pig-like creatures trying to eat the most bouncing balls first. The pigs bounce off each other, and if their mouths touch a tennis ball, they eat it. Each ball they eat makes the pig grow bigger. Controls are simple: left stick drives the pig around and any button 'boosts'. The boost propels them forward quickly for a second then they return to normal speed. Pigs have a sensitive tail on their backside. If a pig boosts into another pig's tail, the injured pig will barf out 3 balls.
Do you try to make progress or try to stunt your friend's progress? Ah...just like real life.

The goal of each level can change, but the basic version is to eat X number of balls first. As you play, it becomes a matter of watching the size of other pigs to see if they're beating you, scrambling to eat balls yourself, and if someone is getting too big, you boost and fight each other to make them spit up balls.

What Went Right

1. Don't Follow Your Typical Design: I love violence and gore and guns in my games. Love it! But for this jam I picked no gore, no extreme violence. At most, the pigs spit up balls they've eaten. Pigs can also bump each other.
Picking a design and motif that is unusual for you is a good direction for a short prototype. You may have trouble with it at first, but because everything is so different from what you usually do there should be plenty of new ideas to explore in your own style. Plus at the end, you could end up with something really different than what you'd normally attempt. I'm already really proud of this game--I can show my friends and family and not apologize for the flying guts and bone shards in most of my games! :)

2. Clear, Contained Design: The design for Pig Eat Ball was reasonable in scope. 4 players, bounce around, fight over balls, and bump each other. That's it for a first pass. Everything else is gravy. There's no crafting system, no complex animations, no intense AI. The difficult part, of course, with something simple is to make it interesting and original enough. I relied on my powers of 'crazy' for that--everyone knows pigs and tennis balls go together like honey and jackhammers :)

The other part of a simple prototype is to create an excellent 'fun loop'. Ensure that whatever you have for show when the jam is finished is honestly fun. Not 'fun if you know what we have planned', but fun with what you're playing, right then.

Day 1 Diary: Getting Started

3. Video Diary Motivation: Each morning I recorded what I did the previous day and carefully listed progress. This was an unusual jam since it was pretty long--10 days. That required special diligence to stay motivated. Seeing progress through the video and forcing myself to articulate the important changes each day helped me stay motivated for the next day despite some set backs.

Early quad-sprite tests for rotation, tinting, scaling.

4. Learning Through Examples: The system is Android-based using Open GL ES. Within about 20 hours, myself and another programmer were able to get a respectable, quad-based sprite game skeleton in place on the hardware. That felt really good! But clearly this was only possible with articles and examples from others on the internet. Bootstrapping from examples may be obvious, but was such a big part of the technology side I had to list it.

What Went Wrong

1. Must Playtest with Newbs: The final version submitted to the game jam was pretty fun. BUT, I blew something completely. I was playing the game every day, refining the controls. That's to be expected. I was having a few others play the game each day as well. By the last day, we were all very good at the game.

The game was submitted with horrible collision bugs, but the problems were only noticeable if you were not good at the game! As the screen filled with tennis balls (from players not being good at catching the balls) the framerate would dip, and the collision bugs would begin to show. Players would get stuck in the walls. They'd get stuck in each other. Balls would travel through walls.

Even in a quick game jam, make time to have new people play it and watch what they do!
Yes, this is basic playtesting, but it's something that I think is easy to disregard or forget altogether when you feel you're missing proper menus, control screens, or advanced gameplay. It's easy to get flustered! But letting someone new playtest before you submit is huge and worth the extra time!

An early screenshot before the pigs had distinguishing icons.

2. Dodge Those Rabbit Holes: Several times I found myself spending time drawing art for a special 'how to' screen, or animations better suited for post-prototype development. For a short game jam, you've got to stay focused, and stick only to things that will absolutely be used right then. It's obviously fun to think about the bigger game, but get the 'fun loop' together first!

Day 3 Diary: Collision is Working

3. Watch Your Example Code: Part of the success was quickly learning how to do things in Android from examples. But that can be a double-edged sword as you may be wading into complex code with little understanding. I had trouble getting sounds to play on the Ouya. Was it hardware, code, or the wrong file format? Turned out I was calling 'Release' on SoundPool then trying to use it. SoundPool does not crash or report calls made to it after a Release(), which I found unusual but maybe it's a 'feature'. I fixed this only after slow debugging, forum searching, and reading documentation (precious time lost!).

Our submission made it just in time!

4. Save Time for the Upload: If this is a strictly managed event and you have to upload your game, approximate the upload time and budget for it! We almost didn't make it, only had minutes to spare because the game ended up a bigger upload than from days before. It's also possible for events like this to have their servers crash from so many uploads! I've done several XNA Dream Build Play contents in the past where this has happened. Get a screen shot of your finished upload!
Also, watch out what timezone the game-time is marked to finish (UTC? GMT? EST?).

 Finished Pig Eat Ball game trailer

Fun Loop

My one-sentence, wordy lesson for a game jam or short contest? Ensure you have a demonstrable version of the fun part of your design, made possible because you stayed focused following your articulated, inspired concept.

Diary 6: After Jam, Bugs Fixed

Future

Pig Eat Ball is on schedule for release with the Ouya in April. I love that we're on our way to our first non-violent party game! My inspiration, motivation, and free time come in waves and here they all happened to line up just right. I hope the same can happen for you!