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!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Shoot 1UP 7-Day Work Diary

I had never created a game for Experimental Gameplay yet, but October 09's Numbers theme really inspired me. Growing up loving shoot 'em ups of all kinds, I imagined a vert scroller in which powerups poured forth from enemies, but the player gained playable ships instead of just switching weapons or getting super bombs. Thus Shoot 1UP was born. It's since grown in size, aged a little, and lost its baby teeth in favor of a mouthful of real chompers.

As I explained to 2BeeGames developers, I keep careful notes on my games during production. Mainly to keep myself on track for the tight seven day schedule, but also in case anything went wrong, or if any particular discovery could be useful in future work.

What follows is a unedited log of the development during those first (non-consecutive) seven days of Shoot 1UP's development (including embarrassing though humorous self-congratulations). Notice, the 'big things; take longer up front, and more little details begin to fill the list as the polish goes in (what little there was at the time).

October 21, 2009
Got the TiledSprites sample working and running as Shoot1UP.
Experimenting with the cloud layer.
The parallax is broken in the sample. I’m trying to improve it.
Worked on some graphics this morning to try out a new art style.

October 22, 2009
Got the tiled sprites to scroll properly and repeat forever.

Abstracted classes out into game objects, and made an animation class for sprites.

Got the ship back in, properly, with no animation.

More ship sketches.

October 23, 2009
Ship flying around! But not super well animated.

Played with distortion/pixel effects as well.

New animations for ship are working.
Drew some more, revised ship.

Animations work pretty well but code needs more work.

October 24, 2009
Animation functions (AnimDone, etc).
Ship rolls left and right correctly.

Shots drawn. Shots playing. Shots able to recycle.

Refactored anim code to reuse static data better.

Added in shadows for objects.

Level scrolls automatically now.

Drew temp enemy.
Temp enemies spawning via level controller. Recycling in pool.
Level controller knows all player shots and enemies.

Enemies and player shots can collide.

DamageInfo class in place, and used.
Shots disappear, ships die after health gone

October 26, 2009 (Skipped Saturday and Sunday)
Ship locked to screen.
Widened screen. Scaled down shadows
Fixed bounding box collision determination (was only using circle test)

Moved all objects to level controller from main game file.

Update lists find max current objects dynamically now.

Player ship can die on enemy ships and enemy bullets.
Level can reset (kinda crappy).
Powerups for new ships.
New ships from powerups (up to 30) Increased player bullet count.
Offset all ships based on count (ship trail/ship worm looks awesome!)

Early hud, points, ship count.

Added push-pull mechanics/controls for player ships

October 28, 2009 (Skipped Tuesday)
Temp explosions drawn.

Fixed anim bug with not storing time per frames.

Refactored all objects to use “delete” bool instead of just state checks.
Added explosions to list.
Small enemies make explosions on death.

Big player explosion temp art.
Big explosion in new list, to collide with enemy shots.
More awesome refactoring. I wasn’t resetting health in some objects on recycling, so things couldn’t die since they already thought they were dead!

Fixed multiple-updates per same explosion bug (took a while)

Uggh, lots more nasty update bugs fixed. Not carefully keeping track of things dying.

New art pass on bullets for player/enemies
Enemies now grant you new player ship powerups based on numbering system I added in three streams of enemies—pretty fun now! And really challenging (not surprising). Polished the pop animations for enemy bullets and the player shot muzzle flash animation.

October 29, 2009
Keyboard controls working alongside pad controls

Refactoring game/levelcontroller to use menu system to exit game.

Menu waits to start game.

Early Pause menu works.

High score board works now.

Nice’d up the main menu and score board.

Randomly rotating most explosions now.

New explosions, new ship arts.

Tweaked difficulty to change as you play.

Fixed pause bug (can spawn bullets when paused).

Sigh, didn’t get to sound.

You can play the 7-day version of Shoot 1UP, linked in this previous post. But it's really small and simple, basically only a prototype. With luck the complete Shoot 1UP will be out on the Xbox 360 next month Feb. 2010!

Shoot 1UP is out NOW!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shoot 1UP

UPDATE: Shoot 1UP is out now for only 80 MS Points! Check it out here!

Why play shoot'em ups one ship at a time? Launch them all at once!
Unleash an entire armada of ships in Shoot 1UP!

Instead of stowing each 1UP you collect, each new ship becomes playable immediately, resulting in an ever-growing armada of destruction!

With your home world ruined, lead your detached battalion's charge by destroying the mechanical-tentacle hybrid forces responsible for your pain.

  • 1UPs INSTANTLY enter the ACTION!
  • Command over 30 ships at the SAME TIME!
  • 2 Player coop for over 60 SIMULTANEOUS player ship INSANITY!
  • WEAPONS UPGRADE as you collect more ships (And downgrade when you lose them so stay sharp!)
  • Sacrifice ships for a BULLET-VAPORIZING BOMB which increases in power the more ships you've collected!
  • Manic Shooting without all the wailing and gnashing of teeth--NORMAL GAMERS can actually enjoy this!
  • Hardcore? Jump into the action several waves in for THUMB-TWISTING difficulty!

See Shoot 1UP in action! Play it in JANUARY FEBRUARY 2010 NOW on Xbox 360 Indie Games!

Here's the press kit with screenshots, title, and trailer.
Check out this free, super-duper early version of Shoot 1UP to whet your whistle!

And what's UP with Grapple Buggy? Short answer: it's coming along fine. Long answer: read this!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

November 09 and Year One Numbers

Weapon of Choice data for November 2009:
Trial downloads: 7,145
Sales (240 MS Points): 563
Which puts the conversion rate at about 7.9%

(Click for the big picture.)

As you can see from the graph, Thanksgiving day/weekend was nicely higher than a normal week. And weekends in general were higher, but Mondays were lower, at least for trial downloads.

Also this post I wanted to share the first year data from November 19th 2008 to 2009 since Weapon of Choice just celebrated its first birthday.
Trial downloads: 182,055
Sales: 11,293
(400 MS Points: 10,250, 240 MS Points: 1043)

Conversion rate's about 6.2% for that period, including both prices.

Make sure to click the sales label below for past month data!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Grapple Buggy playtest results

"Wait, wait, wait, Shoot 1WHAT? Where's Grapple Buggy? How can you be working on two games at once? Are you still working on it or what?"

Fear not! Grapple Buggy is alive and kicking! It's doing just fine, it's simply a big game that needs a lot of time in development. The best thing to do with an atmospheric action/adventure is ensure it has plenty of time to properly percolate and coalesce. I definitely don't want to rush things and end up with Brundlebuggy.

About a month ago Grapple Buggy went through it's first big playtest and the good news is it was really well received! The bad news is there's plenty of bugs to be fixed. Let's check out just a few of the quotes (good and bad versions).

From the creator of the upcoming Dust: An Elysian Tail:
"I just had my first combat encounter. I love how it's a bit like Ghostbusters in that you have to wrangle your prey in, and then use it as a projectile. Very original."

"I used my newfound ability to reanimate a big blue 'walking' type machine in the first outside area (with the two buttons on top). However, I was on top of it as it came to life, and then got stuck in its 'body'."

From the creator of Kuchibi, and the upcoming Your Doodles are Bugged!:
"Very interesting game! Very fun to play! I dig the exploration factor! :-)"

"Got a code 4 crash. Let's see if I can describe where... "

And finally from the creator of the ground-breaking In The Pit and the quixotic Crosstown:
"I like the mechanics! It's much more "loose" than any other "metrovania", or any other platformer I can think of, for that matter. I can fling myself around fairly accurately, so I think it works very well. It also looks wonderful!"

"The map is frequently totally wrong."

What does this all mean for the big, ole gnarly Grapple Buggy? Well other gamers and developers are clearly enjoying it (big cheers!) but they are plenty of bugs and issues needing to be addressed (anxious murmuring).

Before playtest began I had a giant list of things to do and fix for the game. After playtest that list just got a lot longer! It was extremely beneficial to have many other gamers try out the game and point out issues.
I'll be working on bug fixes through the holidays and into the beginning of next year. After that, it'll be time for new content! Yes, the game in it's current form is only about 60%-70% content-filled, so there's plenty more monsters, grappling weapons, and alien vistas still to be created.

This is the hearty, flavorful middle of a game's development cycle. Pessimistically one can think of it as having "no end in sight". Too far from the beginning, and still too much to do before it wraps up.
I really enjoy this part since this is where all the development fun really happens. The game is still subtly changing, and growing and it's a blast to be making it. All this is to ensure of course that when it's ready, you have a blast playing it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Weapon of Choice!

Original box art--feel the nostalgia!

Today marks the birthday of Weapon of Choice and Xbox 360 Indie Games! Of course back on November 19th 2008, the service was called Community Games, but it's grown since.

The Microsoft homepage for all things XNA has a snazzy splash currently up with Constance fighting a nasty Scat Thrower (second from right).
Let's take a trip down memory lane...
Here's a hilarious story about pricing the game:
Yeah, so much has been improved on Indie Games! Now we have price changing abilities, the Top Rated section and user ratings, and daily sales data.

And here's the first reported sales week on Major Nelson!

Top Community Games NEW! (Full Versions purchased)
1 Word Soup
2 Golden Royal Balckjack (sic)
3 Weapon of Choice
4 Colosseum
5 ZSX4 Guitarpocalypse
6 Sin(Surfing)
7 In the Pit
8 Head Banger
9 Snake360
10 Swords and Monsters

Ahh just think back...Swords and Monsters was driving people nuts and we hadn't even heard of an 'app' yet.. at least not on the 360.

Fast forward to more recently, here are some newish stories about the game:

Modern day box art--note the less stylish, but actually legible title!

And finally the newest update of Weapon of Choice IS NOW AVAILABLE!
It includes:
  • 4 new difficulty settings (six total now!) but they aren't simply increases in enemy health!
  • Easy--for taking your time
  • Wicked--spinning spiked pain aplenty
  • Mega Death--no Deathbrushing for you, see how you fare!
  • Mega Wicked--spinning spikey madness, and no Deathbrushing to save you, how will you possibly survive?
  • Also...
  • 4 control schemes possible
  • More enemy balancing and tuning
  • 10% more hookahs

Sunday, November 8, 2009

October 09 Numbers

First edition of monthly sales numbers, and it's pretty interesting!

(Click for zoom)

This is for sales of Weapon of Choice for October 2009 which includes dropping the price from 400 MS Points to 240 MS Points.

Trial downloads: 13,118
Total sales: 870
165 at 400 MS Points
705 at 240 MS Points
Our conversion rate is about 6.6% which higher than it has been.

In the graph, you can clearly see the jump in sales once we dropped the price. Some Indie Games' sales haven't improved with dropping the price. Weapon of Choice's sales have probably increased because it's fortunately had a lot of press and critical praise, so it worked out pretty well.

Broken down by 240 vs 400 we have:
Trial downloads October 1st to the 12th (400 point period): 4,221
With 165 sales, the conversion rate is 3.9%

Trial downloads October 13th to the 31st (240 point period): 8,897
With 705 sales, the conversion rate is 7.9%

Update 2:
Average trial downloads per day for 400 point period: 351
Average trial downloads per day for 240 point period: 494
Trial downloads increases approximately 1.4 times daily after the price was lowered.

Additionally it's reasonable to conclude we had a revenue increase for this month as well.
We can approximate how many much money we would have grossed if we simply had kept the 400 points as follows:
351 average downloads a day * 31 days in the month = 10881 downloads
10881 downloads * 0.039 = 424 sales
We'll use the American prices to make our math simpler.
424 * $5 = $2,120

And here's what we actually grossed for the month:
165 (400 Point sales) * $5 = 825
705 (240 Point sales) * $3 = 2115
825+2115 = $2,940
We can then divide 2,940 by 2,120 and see that our revenue increased by about 1.38 times.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shoot 1UP (7 day sketch)

Shoot 1UP is my entry into the Experimental Gameplay Project contest for October entitled "Numbers".
(Note: this is version is free, but unpolished--read about the nice, fancy version of the game here.)

In Shoot 1UP, you control a fighter attacking enemy aircraft infected with creepy, machine-controlling alien parasites. Your ship harnesses the alien power and is using it against them!

The twist on the vertical shooting action is that instead of gaining extra lives and taking them in turn, any time you gain an extra life that ship comes into play right then!

Inspired by the Numbers theme, when you kill an enemy ship, a new 1UP powerup is released based on the total number of player ships currently available.
For example, as you start the game you have one ship. Shoot the first alien, and you get a 1UP! Now you have 2 ships, and to get another 1UP, you have to kill 2 enemies ships... with 17 player ships, you have to destroy 17 alien fighters to increase to 18 ships!

Controls are simple with a Xbox 360 controller or the keyboard.
  • Shoot: A button / Space bar
  • Move: Left stick/ Arrow keys
  • Menus: Start and Back / Enter and Escape
  • Contract phalanx: X button / M key
  • Expand phalanx: B button / N key

Try to beat your high score with higher points, but the real challenge is getting more simultaneous ships!

Here's the free PC download for Shoot 1UP.
(Sorry folks, my ftp ate my file and it's not longer available--long story. If you have a back-up copy of this email me so I can get it back online--thanks!)
(And here's the winrar download if you need it.)

Install walkthrough:
  • Open the folder and click Startup.exe
  • This is an XNA game, as such it will need to download a Redistributable from the web.
  • If needed, it will download the Microsoft XNA Framework 3.0 Redistributable (takes a few minutes).
  • Then it asks you if you'd like to Install the Application or not. If you click yes, the game will start running.
  • If you have any tech problems, I'll try to sort them out. You can write in the comments or email me.
Shoot 1UP gameplay tips
  • The longer you play the faster the fighters attack.
  • Always collect powerups if you can squeeze through the bullets.
  • If a fighter dies, it explodes in a cyan fireball for a few seconds. This explosion destroys enemy fighters and their bullets--hide inside for temporary protection!
This version of Shoot 1UP was made in 7 days, as per the Experimental Gameplay Project contest rules.
A more polished, prettier version will soon be making its way to the Xbox 360 Indie Games section. Read about the ALL NEW pretty version to be released in January 2010!
Please enjoy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin flavored Air Bladder.. mmm.....

Oh, and the new, fancier version of Weapon of Choice just entered the "peer review" stage.. should be updated on your Xbox pretty soon!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Controls play-test drive

Version 1.08 of Weapon of Choice has just entered the "Playtest" phase in the XNA pipeline. In this case it means the finished update should be out for gamers to play in a few short weeks.

If you're an XNA developer (such as this Short-fused group) please consider giving the game a spin while it's in Playtest! I'd love to hear comments about the new changes (in the Playtest forums of course, but you can also share thoughts here). There are new control schemes, new difficulty settings, and several other fancy options to try out.

I'll do a post shortly detailing the various new changes to Weapon of Choice once it's available on the Indie Games channel.
And in related news, Weapon of Choice is now only 240 MS points! Yes, just three US bucks will get you more alien guts than you can stir with a jet engine, so go give it a try today! (And just think you'll be getting even more cool stuff in Weapon of Choice version 1.08 soon!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Illusions of Control

I've been working on a new update to the original Weapon of Choice, which doesn't sound as fun as working on something new like Grapple Buggy, but I think it's necessary. Weapon of Choice is currently still in the Top Rated list, but as other new, fun things become available it might lose footing (rate WoC high if you haven't already, thanks!). To make the most of the higher exposure, I'd like to do as much as possible to continue to refine the demo experience and the game in general.

One area that could use broader support is the controls. I've heard various podcasts, seen forum posts, and gotten emails that wished the controller layout were different. Weapon of Choice uses a modern take on the side-scrolling, "Contra-style" genre in which the left stick controls the character and the right stick controls where he shoots. Since your thumbs are on the sticks, you can't reasonably operate the face buttons for jumping or switching which are moved to the shoulder buttons.

Throughout the post here, I'll show each of the three current layouts planned. I'm certainly open to hearing feedback in the comments on these new layouts.

For me, and thankfully the majority of gamers, this is a perfectly natural extension of the Contra-style genre and works with modern controllers. But since the genre itself is old, some gamers have expected and requested face button controls for jumping and shooting. I'm working on an update that should be available shortly, with these new control schemes.

But why would I have not allowed for such configuration from the start? It seems obvious in hind-sight. The main issue is, I couldn't imagine it any other way! Oh, and probably a dollop of hubris. Yes, some of that too. But in general I think I was standing too close to the painting for too long. To light-heartedly pick on the very snazzy developer Halfbrick, their recent game Halfbrick Rocket Racing seems to have suffered from a similar control issue also, as is evident in these reflections from XNPlay. Though they already did offer several control layouts, it looks like from the comments some people still couldn't find the best fit.

With more time and thought, Weapon of Choice will shortly have more control options, and some new difficulty modes (especially for the masochists out there!)

The lesson here is, if you're pushing a new control scheme, at least offer the original, expected layout somewhere in the game (even if it's buried) to temper the delivery somewhat. Otherwise, you'll end up looking like this.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

10,000 sales

Weapon of Choice recently passed the 10,000 sales mark, selling at 400 MS points! While I could have picked 9,837 sales as our arbitrary milestone, I thought 10k had a better ring to it. We're very happy and grateful to all the fans that have supported the game along the way. We know you have lots of gaming choices and it's a honor that you've picked our game to have and to hold and to use to kill disgusting aliens.

Originally we had higher expectations for the service. Since then we've recalibrated our estimates and believe 10k is a solid achievement, as it places Weapon of Choice in the Top Ten best-selling Indie Games to date*. And to better convey the size, I've compiled a small list of relative concepts that 10k copies of Weapon of Choice represents:
  • 47,823,213 gallons of alien blood spilled.
  • 919,534 brushes with Death. Under similar circumstances, Death would have stolen player's lives in other action games.
  • 423,525 references by gamers to Wilford Brimley, followed by 173,189 trips to his wiki page.
  • 276,207 frowns turned upside-down as the Vengeance Missile did its job.
  • 184,622 WTF's when encountering the various ungodly alien invaders throughout the game.
(All statistics discretely recorded by PARMAbots tele-imported from the year 2188.)

On a serious note, when possible I like to share information about our business's inner workings with the hopes of helping other developers in some way down the road. I want reveal information about Weapon of Choice's sales to encourage others to share more information about their sales more frequently. Xbox Indie Games is not even a year old and has shown it is different from the other digital stores. The more information developers have, the better decisions they can make in the future.

Weapon of Choice from November 19, 2008 to September 21, 2009:
Total sales : 10,010
Total trial downloads: 160,000+
Approximate conversion rate: 6.25%

This is a graph of the running total for sales.
(Click to zoom!)

And this shows the daily totals for sales.

Here is the running total for trial downloads.

And here is the daily trial downloads.

In addition to on-going game development posts, I also plan to release each month's new sales of Weapon of Choice on the dev log here for all to see.
(*Source: Xbox 360 dashboard->Game Marketplace->Indie Games->Browse All->All->Sort by Best Selling)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

OTAKU is forever

When we heard that Indie Games would be available in Japan we started work immediately on translating a press release and contacting the Japanese press to help promote Weapon of Choice. We hired a friend of a friend who speaks Japanese to help us translate our materials to make the extra effort when dealing with the press there. The sad news is I don't know if any of that helped. We haven't been contacted by anyone that we think was influenced by what we sent.
BUT the extra cool hyper super jet mode news is--Famitsu contacted us! Yes, that Famitsu, and out of the blue I received an email from a writer who was interested in an interview.
We received a copy of the magazine recently and wanted to share it with everyone. We're in the Otaku section, but guess what--I don't mind! In fact, that section is almost as big as the rest of the magazine covering "proper" games, so I think it's all pretty good. Sure, I haven't had the text translated, but I'm just hoping for the best that everything reads pretty well.

I'll take a quick business detour and show how the Famitsu article impacted downloads for Weapon of Choice.
(Click for more detail)
On the 9th and 10th of September Weapon of Choice had 40 and 56 trial downloads respectively, up from 12 on the previous day, so I imagine the magazine hit newsstands around the 9th. (Do they still have newsstands in Japan?) Sadly sales didn't really spike with the trials, though at least they continued to hop around between 1 to 2 sales a day in Japan.

Even after skimming around the web about how Otaku is perceived in Japan I'm fairly confused. Since it's not definitive I just hope for the positive side of things, that when Japanese kids see Weapon of Choice in that section they find the screenshots intriguing. How about you? Do you think Otaku a pejorative term or not?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Box Art of Choice

Along with a minor update (demo level changes to hopefully draw in more people) to Weapon of Choice, I'll also be changing the box art. There's a poll running over at acting as my "Ask the Audience Lifeline" for box art selection. I'm trying to find the one that piques people's interest the most.

I've made the image annoyingly small in order to simulate how small an area the image takes up on your TV when you're searching games on your Xbox 360.

Please detail in the comments below what you liked or didn't like and about whatever images strike your fancy.
For instance,
  1. Does the girl need that "European look" made famous in MGS2?
  2. Does the blueprint need more mauve?
  3. Is the monster a giant spider thing, or a pile of Skittles on the ground?
  4. Have the millions of dollars I've spent on brand marketing made the original box the only art you could ever love?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fun Can Wrap

The results are out for the 2009 Dream Build Play contest and sadly Grapple Buggy didn't win. In fact Grapple Buggy didn't even place in the top twenty!

Questions filled my mind:
  • Did the game somehow crash immediately? Did they never even get to start playing it?
  • Was the "sci-fi buggy with grappling hooks exploring an alien planet and a mature story" genre completely saturated?
  • Did the notion that the alien co-pilot, "Drozo", eats puppy dogs as a snack turn off the judges?

At last the answer seemed obvious. The fun wrapped. As described in the well known, and ground-breaking white paper "Exploring Sensory Perceptions of Polarizing Satisfaction Elements" by Haag and Vormann, I think the judges had so much fun with Grapple Buggy that it actually crossed the maximum threshold and started over, at the bottom of what is "fun".

Dr. Haag called this theoretical threshold of fun the grenzespasse and examined how if some entertainment media actually caused a person to cross it, they would feel that the media was actually not fun. While I'm thrilled that it's possible Grapple Buggy would be the first media to do this, it's unfortunate it could have cost us the contest.

Just a word of warning to other developers out there: mind the grenzespasse. Make your games fun... just not... TOO FUN. And if Dr. Haag or Dr. Vormann would care to comment on our humble dev log I'd certainly be honored to hear their perspective on the situation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grapple Buggy story trailer

At last it's time to check out the newest game trailer!

The big deal for us, with this trailer, is to reveal the spoken dialog dovetailed with the intriguing science fiction plot. It's ambitious for our tiny studio, but so far it's turning out really well. We're working to create a "big boy" story with room for moral choices by the player, and elegantly present it in a 2D side-scroller.

The player controls the buggy driven by a human and an alien, working together but, because of their natures, at odds with one another. The characters comment on things as they happen, discussing the action and the puzzles, the story itself, all without bogging down the game.

Right now we're still figuring out if the game will be released via Arcade or Indie Games, but it will hopefully show up on the Xbox 360 in some fashion, in 2010.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New trailer eminent

Begin holding your breath... now.
I'm still balancing the audio levels and fine-tuning the music to line up with the gameplay action.

You'll probably die by the time it comes out some time tomorrow, but it'd be a nice show of support. Tell you what--cheat a little and take a new breath just before you go to bed. Thanks! You're the best.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trailer construction

With a solid build of Grapple Buggy safely sent to the contest, backed up on stand-alone harddrives, and solid-state CDs now hidden throughout the country, it's time to make a new game trailer.

Yes, I really wish I had created a new trailer before the contest but that would have removed precious time from polishing the game. The contest was effectively more than a month sooner than last year, and Grapple Buggy needed all the love it could get. Fortunately I think the Dream Build Play contest submission turned out great, but I still had to use the original teaser trailer for the contest submission.

I captured gameplay footage today using Fraps and am currently composing a custom animation to fill in the 'story' for the trailer. The trailer's story will actually include an overview for the story for the game itself, but probably one of the most exciting new elements revealed (among several) will be the spoken dialog from the game.

Grapple Buggy features two pilots within the buggy who effectively have a running dialog and comment on the action. They help the player relate to the mechanical buggy but also provide important context-sensitive tips with the action. You've already met Commander Javeya. With any luck I'll soon have the portrait finished of the other pilot.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Locked In

Finally! It was a little close for comfort, but Grapple Buggy is officially entered into Microsoft's Dream Build Play 2009 competition. We submitted the game about three and half hours before the deadline and fortunately didn't run into any problems. Apparently other developers did have some problems at the last minute. While it's not like I want more competition, I hope the contest admins can cut various devs a little slack. The tough part is, there has to be a cut off time drawn at some point.

Regardless, Grapple Buggy is now leaps and bounds ahead of where it was during E3. We now have all sorts of audio and graphical improvements and the game story is completable from beginning to end.

But that's just the half of it! Yes, the game's a little over halfway finished, that is to say, about only half of the gameplay content is completed. While the story is completable there's a lot more designed for aliens, levels, and powerups. There's more story as well, but at least what's in there makes sense.

Currently we're looking to finish Grapple Buggy for some time in the first part of 2010. Sure I could release it sooner, but I'd like a more substantial experience for everyone. I do plan on releasing a new trailer fairly soon to show off some of new fancy features. Some new screenshots will also be forthcoming. In the meantime, enjoy this capture from the contest submission!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Must keep programming...

I'll be honest. There's a lot to do still before we submit Grapple Buggy to DBP. But that doesn't mean it all won't get done.

Somehow I'll find the will and the organizational umph to keep it all together. In the meantime, I'll let the lolcat get across my scattered state of mind.

How can a cat communicate human feelings so well? It's practically scary.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Picking the details

We are planning to submit Grapple Buggy to the Dream Build Play 2009 competition in August. Weapon of Choice won third place in last year's contest, so we're certainly hopeful of winning, but there's plenty of solid contenders already swirling about such as Elysian Tail: Dust and Duality ZF.

While Grapple Buggy is far from complete we'll be submitting a subsection of the final game. This will include a full story with multiple endings, lots of enemies and bosses, and all the Mommy's Best fixin's such disgusting aliens and their viscera.

There's only a few weeks left which presents some interesting polish(not Polish) challenges. On what details do we focus now and what do we decide to fix after the contest submission? Sure all these things will be made great by the time the game ships, but we have to sculpt an amazing game now.

One example came about recently between the TrailFly and the LoogeySnare, two examples of the xenofauna within the game. Both need some extra polish, but there won't be time to commit before the contest to address everything. The LoogeySnare is a 'flavor' enemy for later in the game. His attack is currently too powerful and needs some serious time to rebalance a fight with him.

The TrailFly is nearly ubiquitous enemy which inhabits all sorts of caves and passes on VALD-END 317. The work required to improve him centers around making him attack more often, making his attack more obvious, and then rebalancing his flocking behavior to counter-balance the new attack.

I generally consider how often the player will encounter the gameplay and how long it takes to implement as most important. Sure it's probably more fun and cooler to fix the LoogeySnare, but he's encountered much less frequently. The changes to the TrailFly will be seen by the player constantly, and the improvement, while small will cumulatively pay off the most.

When it comes to gameplay optimization and polish, if there's a timeline, I balance ease of implementation with the impact of the change. And I almost always pick how frequently the player encounters the change as the motivating factor when picking which details on which to focus for a deadline.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Layers and Layers

I wish there were a super fast viewer for Photoshop files. A nice portion of the world map for Grapple Buggy is shaping up and it'd be great to be able to make layers for it and have them quickly viewable. Honestly I don't know of a program like this, but I wish there were the ability to open a PSD file in a fast viewer (like IrfanView or Windows Picture Viewer), then page through the layers themselves, in a simple fashion like pressing the arrow keys up/down or something.
Sure programs like IrfanView can open a PSD and display it 'flattened', but the trick would be flipping through the layers. It'd be really nice to have monsters on layer, level actions on another, written notes on another layer, and the environmental surroundings on another layer, for example.

Photoshop is great to use and create the images, but for simply viewing it's expensive, slow loading, and not everyone has the program. Most PC users have those simple file viewing programs. Maybe that's the problem, those are too simple and I'm looking to do something complicated. Regardless it be great to use such a program with the rest of the Grapple Buggy team, sharing the world map with them and flipping through layers to see how the levels fit together.

In the meantime, do know that things are chugging along at a good clip, with plenty of game assets swirling about, being carefully put into place by knowing hands.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Three point one lives

I was scared to make the change to XNA Game Studio 3.1 merely because ... who knows what could happen? I've been waiting a while to upgrade just to make sure the kinks were worked out and thankfully everything went rather smoothly.

For those developers still waiting to upgrade from 3.0 to 3.1, the only issues I had were the following:
  • It asked that I uninstall 3.0. When I went to Add/Remove Programs it also showed I still had GS 2.0 installed. It never asked to uninstall that, and I never did... so I guess that's good? Uninstalling 3.0 requires a reboot.
  • As I installed 3.1, it 'got stuck' on installing Games for Live Redistributable stuff. I let it sit for about 10 minutes and the progress bar never moved. After that didn't work I started shutting stuff down via Task Manager. I then restarted the installation, and it jumped past that point. Everything seems to work, so again... I guess that's good.
  • At first I forgot to actually upgrade it since the 3.0 to 3.1 shift is not automatic--silly me! Here's the helpful article on that.
Other than that, it was very smooth and I'm glad its finished. It does take a little while... maybe 20 minutes total. Or 30. To wait through all the updating and installing and such.

After that I made sure Grapple Buggy still runs on the Xbox 360--and looky there--it does!

Okay, so this is my standard-def-test mega TV. It's huge, ugly, and blurry, but this helps me figure out what text is unreadable to us 'second class' TV viewers that haven't upgraded to HDTV. The faint red lines in the middle of the screen are actually debugging text for framerate, objects updating, and other programming stuffs. (But the orange-red, sausage thing to the right is really in the game and looks pretty interested in the buggy.)

Thankfully I have recently acquired a smallish HDTV to do further testing, so hopefully Grapple Buggy won't come out all stretched on rich bastard TVs like Weapon of Choice woefully did/does/dain.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Detailed Files

As work continues on Grapple Buggy, I thought I'd plop in a design for one of the levels. For those Weapon of Choice fans, the levels in Grapple Buggy will be quite different and much more in number than what we've done before. This particular level is sandwiched between others, and will be encountered as you're exploring later through the opening area of the game.

This is a technical illustration of the level, with the slightest pixel conveying intense meaning and intentional direction.
Okay, I'm kidding, it's a really loose sketch that serves to guide the construction of the level. The final level won't end up exactly like this so I'm trying not to spoil too much by showing it!

And finally say hello to a hearty bin of Grapple Buggy shirts on their way out to the lucky winners. Congrats shirt winners!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Everyone Wins!

Giveaways are fun.
What's more fun than giving one shirt away?
How about giving one to everyone that participated!

That's right the shirt Giveaway is over, and after reading all the funny comments, and checking my mega-stash of Grapple Buggy shirts, I decided everyone that made an effort would get a shirt!

I'll be emailing the comment-writers soon, and I hope everyone enjoys their prize.

In Grapple Buggy development news, I will be working on getting the game to work using Game Studio 3.1 so everyone hold their breath! Assuming anyone's still alive, I'll do an update when it's okay to release said breath.

And speaking of Game Studio 3.1--it seems like Christmas in July has come early because apparently Xbox Live Indie Games will be getting user ratings!
(You know... this news is like a Christmas gift... but in July. I have no idea when they'll actually implement the user ratings.)
User ratings--wow! Finally, a way in Xbox Live Indie Games to separate the wheat from the chaff... but without all the chafing.
Now if we can just get a simple path for finding the games on the dashboard. What do you think Microsoft--maybe something for Christmas in December?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Story time & T-Shirt Giveaway

Hooray, E3 is over and it was spectacularly not sucky! Great job guys!

I took a super-special demo of Grapple Buggy to the show and managed to wrangle a few daring members of the press to take the titular (giggady) buggy for a ride.

And guess what--no one died! They also seemed to like the game. Hooray for hummus!
Here's some of the stories:

I wore and handed out fancy new Grapple Buggy T-shirts at the show. The shirts look similar to this but more 3D in person:
Grappley, eh?

Well I'd like to give one away at random to those that play along!

All you need to do, to enter this particular giveaway, is post a comment to this blog post, and include a synonym loosely associated with the word 'grapple'. (In other words, have fun coming up with the word or words.) It could be as a verb, noun, etc. So for instance your comment could be "This game looks so amazing! I can't wait to *grab* it!" Or you could just leave a comment that says something like "clutch" or "clasp" or "seize", for instance.

The drawing will be randomized but you simply have to post a comment here, and email me at so I have an email with which to contact you, if you win.

Oh, and only one email per entry/comment. You can comment all you want, but that won't effect your chances of winning past your first comment. Play fair, make a comment, send me your email and we'll all keep doing just fine. And I won't be spamming your email something like that. This only for this giveaway. Unless you want some spam--in which case I can forward some your way. Sadly (sorry) I'm only willing to mail a shirt within the Continental 48 states of the US. Finally,
I only have medium, large, and XL T-shirts, so I hope one of those will fit you.

To review: make a comment on this post about the game for this post, including a loose synonym for the word 'grapple', and email me so I have your email address to contact the winner. If I can't get a hold of you, you won't win.

Let's say this ends in about two weeks, so some time after June 22, 2009, I'll announce the winner. Good luck!

UPDATE: Looking good everyone, thanks for the funny comments! Keep 'em coming, there's still time before the random drawing.