Mommy's Best Games, Inc. is an independent game developer founded in 2007. This is a view behind the scenes of our game development and marketing!


Monday, June 23, 2008

Weapon of Choice runs on the Xbox 360!

It's official! I finally have the game successfully running on the Xbox 360. It's amazing to see it playing on the TV instead of my computer monitor. Knowing it's running on the console and seeing it on my shabby, standard def TV just makes it feel very 'official'. Once it ran I was able to bask in the victorious glow and enjoy that achievement for about 400 milliseconds.

Why about half a second? Because that's how long the horrible frame stutters lasted as the game chugged along on the Xbox! It was like the beginning of ABC's Wide World of Sports, but instead I got to feel both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the same moment.

Yes, it was crushing to see the game barely limping along at about 5 frames a second. It actually stutters at about 10-15 fps down to nothing, so it's hard to estimate. Fortunately, I've been doing some reading and it seems like this slowdown conversion is common. There are many differences between the Xbox 360 and the PC architecture, and now I get to find out all about them! Or at least as many things as I can discover. I do have hope that I will get the game running fast enough for fun and hopefully to a point that it could even be considered smooth!

Here's a photo of the game running on the Xbox on a real TV.
That alone will keep me smiling for days (I won't let needing to optimize the game get me down)!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Break time: Confusing 'Ninja Spirit' ending revealed!

I beat Ninja Spirit last night on the Wii Virtual Console. I have a Turbo Graphx-16, but sadly this was just more convenient. There is no written story when the game starts. A quick animated sequence shows the player character get zapped by green lightning and a white wolf runs next to him and howls. Before each level there is a small amount of Japanese text, but I'm not able to translate it. My friend recently beat it also and warned me that the story screen lasts for only a few seconds. With that in mind, I watched the ending with the camera ready.

The ending was pretty cool, but was only more confusing. Your character runs out into an open plain and falls to the ground. He then transforms between an almost-wolf and a human several times (remember at the beginning he wasn't a wolf, it ran along next to him). Then there's a nice 'boss procession' while the credits roll in which each enemy performs a menacing attack reminding you of the battles. After that the story concluded and I managed to get a picture (the text disappears really quickly!), but it captured the image in a weird state (the text is repeating):
Is "Tsukikage" supposed to be you or the white wolf? And did the wolf inhabit the player? Was the player character evil and causing all the evil? Or was the Tuskikage the good element inside the player helping me defeat the evil? Maybe it's that last one... though I think the introductions is more artful than clear. It's just about as confusing as a Metal Gear Solid story.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Conversion is in progress.

Weapon of Choice
has several levels running right now on the PC. Unfortunately, it needs to run on the XBox 360, since that's the real platform for which it's designed. The game is a high-action arcade style side-scroller that can be played with the keyboard and mouse but is best played with a game controller. The good news is, converting it to the 360 will be easier than usual since the game is built upon XNA. The bad news is, until now I've eschewed the 'Content Pipeline' part of XNA. I'm now in the process of getting the game to use that system.

I really enjoy gameplay design, gameplay implementation, and art. I don't generally enjoy engine or tools programming. I do it because it's necessary, and it's the right thing to do. This conversion is very painful for me, but I've managed to find a good amount of help on the XNA forums. When a full level is running on the 360, I'll post the exciting proof. As it stands now, here's my current test situation: a tree that draws off the top of the screen. It's not exciting yet, but I'm really happy to see that tree drawing right now!

Look at that! It's on the TV--not the computer monitor! It's very exciting!

Yes, that's a standard definition TV. Although I can see how the game will render on a HDTV since the computer monitor is pretty similar, I also like to see how the game will show up on the standard definition TV. I believe a significant portion of game players still have this type of TV--this includes myself.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Game Resume: Doing Time

I started professionally in the game industry in 1998. The sad part is I didn't get to work on a game that actually shipped till 2003. Yup, five years of telling everyone "Yes, I really do work on games!" but having no proof.

I got my first industry job programming at Running With Scissors. This was back during the heady days when places like Panasonic were throwing money at any game with a snazzy character. RWS had just finished POSTAL and I came on during a time when martini hot tub parties in Vegas and leisurely, 3 hour lunches were part of the work week.
It was like a dream--this is how everyone thought the game industry acted--and it was really going on! Until... we had to make a new game.

We went through several iterations for the next game and even secured funding for a little while. At one point RWS artists were hand-painting intricate sculptures, photographing them, and scanning them into the computer to be used in a new adventure game. It was pretty cool in theory and totally insane from a development standpoint when you saw it in action. It would literally have taken years to see that vision through. RWS never got any versions of that game finished, but we did make a pretty sweet game a few years later.

After RWS slowly closed down in 1999, I moved to Orlando to work at n-Space just before the world was going to end. There, I worked on a Duke Nukem game for the PS2 and helped with an Austin Powers game to coincide with the new movie. Neither made it to Gold, but it was a pleasant, mediocre ride along the way. As the PS2 Duke game floundered and Take Two slowly distanced itself from n-Space, I decided to jump ship and head back toRWS for POSTAL 2. It seemed ridiculous to me that the game would go from top-down isometric to a first-person shooter, but I knew it would be more fun than what I was doing at the time.

Next update--a game that ships!

But before that, let's look at a picture from Weapon of Choice's past. Here's a very early version of Xerxe's Jet Engine gun in a old test level with a simple background.

The flames aren't quite as big now, but I promise it's even more fun to use in the current version!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Game Resume: The Team

I'd like to talk about what games I've worked on in the past but also who's working on this game. There should be several posts, and to keep it from getting too dry, I'm going to end each of these Game Resume posts with a screenshot of how Weapon of Choice looked in the early stages.

I'm doing most of the development on Weapon of Choice. What does that mean? Well I'm doing the 1. game design, 2. programming, 3. artwork, 4. animation, and 5. sound effects.

That leaves the story and the music. AJ Johnson is writing the story and dialog. He's a great writer and also has the largest collection of games of anyone I know personally. (Yes, this really bothers me. I own a lot of games and systems, but his collection still tops mine.) Hamdija Ajanovic is composing the original, hard-rocking music score. He's worked on movies and original albums and his beard can probably go a round or two with Chuck Norris's.

And for the business side of things, my wife Amy Gandell Fouts helps deal with people since I'm sort of a tactless monster. She's written grant proposals for non-profits like SAAF, Child and Family Resources, and Jewish Family Services LA.

For dessert, here is a very OLD screenshot of the game (mild laughter is permitted):

This was back when I first got the level editor running and was testing out IK for Xerxes and the first monster, the SpikeSack. And I was apparently making my player characters as large as Last Battle instead of something playable like the original NES Batman.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Xerxes redo finished.

Weapon of Choice has over 20 playable characters designed. The artwork is finished for 7 characters and 4 are currently playable. (Yes, there's a lot left to do!) While a lot of games let you see the concept art used, it's not often that you get to see the actual progression of the art. I thought for a change it would be fun for players to see some of the art changes as they happen behind the scenes before the game is finished.

Here is the original image for Xerxes Remington shown during the selection screen:

I like it, and it serves its purpose. But after a lot of discussions, I decided it would be worth trying to make it more interesting. I approached it from two ways: 1. the pose, and 2. the actual design (clothing, hair, etc).

I'm not a great character artist, but I am improving. My ol' buddy Steve Wik *is* a great character artist. He's been drawing characters for years and knows what he's doing. He was so good as to guide me in redoing Xerxes. I picked out the pose but Steve helped make the pose more natural. He also added some neat new design elements, like the tattoos and the goggles. Steve acted as my Cyrano de Bergerac (without the big nose), whispering how to make things cooler looking.

Here's the new portrait for Xerxes:
The new portrait is more energetic, and it also suggests an alternate use for Xerxes' own Weapon of Choice, the Jet Engine gun. Not only does it shoot flames and kill things but he can fly around with it like a jet-pack! I'm still going to do another polish pass on the picture in a few months to improve things like the tattoos and the highlighting.

It was difficult to decide to spend time redoing the art. The old portraits were functional, and get across the general idea of the characters. I decided though it would be worth the extra polish for something so prominent.