Friday, December 19, 2014

Spirits of Elduurn and Kana Match

Why is it that good habits are so easy to break?  Well, it's about darn time that I made another blog post!

During the time of my silence (burn out), we've released a few games and went to a convention!

Spirits of Elduurn is a puzzle game where you play as some spirits that brought life to the world of Elduurn.  If the art style looks familiar to Siphon Spirit, that's because they are in the same series, and take place in the same world!  We released it for free on Kongregate, so head on over and give it a play!

Kana Match: Learn Japanese is the Japanese puzzle game that I'd been working on.  After having put it out to play on Kongregate I realized that it needed to be much better to be a good tool for learning Japanese.  I'm probably going to scrap it and find another way to teach Japanese.

I'm going to try my best to keep more regular posts coming!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Japanese Puzzle Game Progress

I've been getting a lot of progress done on the Japanese Puzzle Game.  I'm just going to list out everything that I've done since the last post.

  • Redid the tile art to make it easier to read.
  • Enlarged the timer/background art so it was easier to see how much time was left
  • Changed the score to be larger, show the numbers increasing instead of jumping, and got it out of that little box.
  • Every time you get points it now shows the amount of points you earned.
  • Fixed a bug that would count matches multiple times (matching five in a row also gave you points for four in a row and three in a row!)
  • More than doubled the vocab list, with a lot more to come!
  • Matching four-in-a-row makes a new tile of the type you need to make a word.
  • Matching five-in-a-row makes two new tiles of the type you need to make a word.
  • The four-in-a-row tile will give you double points when you match it.
  • The five-in-a-row tiles will give you triple points when you match them.
  • Fixed a bug related to clicking, releasing, then clicking and dragging somewhere else.
  • Completely redid the exporting of the word data and loading it in so I could make a web version.
  • Added a score multiplier.  The longer you keep the puzzle going the higher the multiplier goes!

So yeah, I've been a little busy.  Here's what it looks like now!

Obviously, still pre-alpha.

Though with all of that said, I'm still trying to come up with a name!  Japanese Puzzle Game doesn't really roll off the tongue...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Indie Game Night

Last night was Indie Game Night.  Those are always fun, and Peter and I stayed very busy showing off three different games.

Peter was showing Raiders of Elduurn and Spirits of Elduurn.  Both of these games are small spin-offs of Siphon Spirit, which takes place in the world of Elduurn.

Raiders of Elduurn is a card game where you team up with friends to defeat a demon.  Each player gets a team of heroes together and they try to find a strategy for taking down the boss before he takes them out.  It takes place 20 years before Siphon Spirit does.  For more art and gameplay instructions, take a peek at his Deviant Art page!

I got a lot of feedback on my Japanese Match-3 game.  First thing I learned is that even people who like games enough to make games don't know what a match-3 is.  Guess I'll just be calling it a puzzle game from now on.  This also makes me realize that I can't just put a match-3 in front of someone and expect them to figure out.  I guess I'll need a tutorial even for something like this.  Even more so since about half the people who tried it got confused and were trying to switch tiles from one side of the board to the other.

The other feedback that I got was that it was really hard to read.  All the images at the back of the tiles were making it too hard to really see everything that was going on.  I think I've fixed most of the issues now, but it's a strong reminder that Peter is the artist on this team!

Peter's hoping to launch Raiders of Elduurn as a free, printable black and white version sometime next week.  Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 2, 2014

I didn't make it

Yeah, long story short, I did not finish the Japanese Match-3 game.  I have been making progress on it, but my family and I spent a week sick so I'm behind.  Also, every time I sit down to get something done, Terraria somehow starts up.  Then I end up playing late and don't get enough rest to function well enough to work on complicated stuff during my development the next day and I end up playing Terraria and ... well.  It's a viscous cycle.

I did get a number of things done though.  I've got most of the icons done, and I've updated the web page to export words in a format that I can read in and pull vocab from.  It's now selecting a word and pulling the tiles from that.  I don't think I'll be doing too much gaming over the weekend since all my computer parts have arrived and it's time to rebuild my computer!  Looking forward to finally getting off of XP.

Peter's been having some issues with his computer.  He's taken to referring to it as his "zombie".  While it's down he's doing storyboarding and getting the story for Siphon Spirit completely nailed down.

Not too much to say, but hopefully there will be a lot more next week if I can just convince myself to get to bed at a decent time!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It's matching time!

While putting together the Match-3 in Unity I found out that velocity was supported, but not acceleration.  It didn't take me too long to get tired of blocks falling at an even speed and I decided to try using gravity.
Turns out adding physics to a match-3 wasn't the best idea.

Stuff ended up not falling very far before getting stuck and stopping all gameplay.  I ended up putting in my own acceleration to make things better.

One of the biggest problems I've had when telling people about the match-3 I'm working on is that no one knows what I'm talking about.  I almost always have to tell them "Like Candy Crush.  Match three things and they vanish."  Once I got past that past and told them how I'm going to make it an educational game, they are usually excited about the idea.  

Since it's not very far along, I didn't want to have many people test it.  That was a big mistake on my part.  I've shown it to two people so far, and even just as a basic match-3 I could see there were some problems.  I've got it set up for click and drag, but both of them clicked on a tile, then clicked on the tile they wanted to switch it to.  Allowing that method of play is my next goal, after I finish building the database.  

One other thing that showed up in testing was something that I was worried about.  I had the board set up so that only one thing could happen at a time.  You switched tiles?  Nothing can happen until it either makes a match or switches back.  That's pretty fast, so no worries there.  You made a match?  You can't make another move until the tiles are gone and new ones have fallen in to take their place.  I kept telling myself that it would be okay, but I knew I wasn't being truthful.  After watching their frustration watching the clock tick down while they couldn't do anything I knew I had to change it.

That took longer than expected, because I didn't plan it out well and my todo list just said "make it so you can match at any time", when really that should have been broken into smaller tasks to help me focus.  It was basically a rewrite of the update function and I changed a LOT of stuff around.  But as of today it's all working and it's much better than before for it.

I'm feeling pretty motivated to get this thing finished.  There's a Japan Festival coming up on the 26th and I want to have it done by then.  Will I be able to?  I'm not totally sure.  But I'm hopeful!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What we've been up to!

Yesterday on the train to work I say next to a guy from Nuemont University.  I remembered that their gaming program hosted Indie Game Night a few times so I started talking with him.  Turns out he's one of the teachers in the gaming program and he had a really nice chat.  Near the end, he asked me if I had any projects I was working on.  I hate that question.  I always freeze up and I'm never sure WHICH project to talk about first.  Then I realized that we've been working like crazy on all sorts of stuff but I haven't updated the blog in a while.  So here we go, all the projects that are currently on our plates!

Siphon Spirit is still our main project.  But we are very worried about not being able to get word out to people.  Peter took some time away from Siphon Spirit to work on a trailer for it while I worked on the editor.  We soon realized we needed something more than a trailer to get people's attention.  So Peter started working on a new project.

Spirits of Elduurn is a puzzle game written in flash.  We're going to be releasing it everywhere we can to pull people's attention to Siphon Spirit when it's ready.  It tells the history of the world that Siphon Spirit takes place in.  Peter's handling this one solo since he works in flash.

My side project while I was waiting for Peter to get back to Siphon Spirit is Japanese Arena: Kana.  A game for learning the basics of Japanese.  I've put that on hold because it's being written in XNA which doesn't give me many options for porting out.  I needed to find something else to program with.  I started rewriting Spirits of Elduurn with a built in solver and editor as well as a few more new elements.  It's fully functional now, but missing a few screens such as the level select.

But then I realized that I didn't need to know how to make it in XNA.  I already know how to make games in XNA (even if I don't have as much time to do so as I would like!).  So I downloaded unity last week to get going in that.  I've finished a few tutorials and I think it's working out for me well.  But then I decided that I wanted to make something even easier than Spirits of Elduurn to ease me in better.  I decided to make a simple Match-3, which is nearly functional now.  Of course, since I'm solo-ing it it looks hideous.  Frankly, it's much worse than March to the Moon because I haven't even tried to do any art on it.  I just made a square, set it to different colors and exported them.  It will look much better when I'm finished, but my main focus is learning how it all works.  Once the match-3 is fully functional I will make it available as a web game.  Don't worry, I am not going to just make another generic match-3 and throw it out there!  I have a nifty little twist that I think will make it really unique.

I think that's plenty of projects for a two man team, both with day jobs and two young kids each.  But wait, there's more!  Peter's been teaching a game design class at a community college and I've been teaching Japanese.  For some reason we both chose Thursday as our teaching night, so neither of us have been able to make it to the last few Indie Game Nights.  On top of both of us teaching, Peter's put together a Siphon Spirit-based card game to inspire his students with.  An early example is on the left.  Did you know there were dragons in the Siphon Spirit world?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Don't be a designer.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a game designer.  I wanted to come up with the stories, design worlds, do all that stuff.  In high school I designed a table-top RPG that my friends and I had a lot of fun playing.  When it was time for college, I decided I needed to get an English degree.  As a designer, I figured I'd be writing a lot of dialogue, design docs, flavor text, etc.  English degree seemed to be the way to go.  I told my dad that's what my plan was, and he said no.  He reminded me that he was helping to pay for my degree, and he wanted his money to go to something useful.

So I decided I would get a degree in Computer Science.  I figured it would help me understand when I talked to the programmers what was possible and not.  I knew that I wouldn't be very good at programming because I took a high school AP class and I couldn't really do anything after it.  I mean, I really couldn't do anything useful.  All I could do was declare variables.  (Turns out that the teacher was just really bad.  Everyone in the class got the lowest possible score on the AP exam.)  So I took some time in college to learn how to program.  It was rough at first because most everyone else there seemed to have some practice with programming.  I felt very behind.

But I got to the point that I could start doing things.  I started making my first game.  A little text-based RPG I wrote in Java called Darkened Dreams.  (I only wanted to get the link, but I ended up playing like a half-hour and now I'm convinced I need to remake it!  I've gotta tame that Giant, Draconic Bunny I saw outside of town!)  This taught me a lot.  Not only programming (I learned so much, I never want to look at that code again!), but also something major that I learned about my dreams.

I was now able to make a game.  I could do all the design just like if I was a designer.  Sure, it's still just squares and circles and a lot of text, but I did it.  At that point, my dream of just being the guy that writes stuff down and has other people turn it into a game felt silly.  I never realized I was shooting so low.  Throughout this, and working at Sensory Sweep, I learned a lot about the dangers of being a designer.  I want to share them below.  These are not in order of importance.

It doesn't pay as much as other jobs in the same industry.
No matter how important having a good designer is, the designer is going to be paid less than the other people on the team.  The producers, the artists, the programmers.  They are all getting paid more.  Maybe you'll say, "Fine, I don't care about getting a lot of money, I just want to make games."  And I'll say "Fine, why don't you get some more skills so that you can get paid MORE to make games.  And be able to make games even when you're off the clock because you have the know-how to do it?"

Your skills are only relevant to a single industry.
When I was in college, I knew I wanted to make games.  That's all I wanted.  That's all I would ever do.  I would make games from the time I got out of college until I retired.  Maybe make some more afterwards, just for fun.  You know how long I was in the game industry?  TWO YEARS.  That's right, only two years before I realized that working on a game that you don't care about isn't any better than working on any other project you don't care about.  First game in the industry was a kid's game based off of a movie.  Second game was My Japanese Coach, which I believe I have complained enough about.  Third game was some pro-wrestling game for the DS, and I have no interest at all in pro-wrestling.  And with how unstable the industry was and is with my young family to care for, I needed something better.

If I had focused all my studies towards being a game designer, what else could I have done?  Welcome to McDonalds?  That's not a better way to take care of a family.  With my coding skills I can and did get another job.  A good artist can always get a job.  A game designer is pretty limited in what they can do.

Your skills are only relevant to a single, crowded industry.
When Sensory Sweep started sinking, we started running to the other game companies to try to get work.  They weren't particularly looking to hire, especially not is such large amounts.  I ended up leaving the game industry, and even with two degrees (Computer Science and Japanese) it took me seven months to get another job.  Do you know what I heard over and over?  "All you do is games."  As if writing a game was such a simple task that I would never be able to learn how to code up the forms that they wanted.

Months after I'd gotten a job, I met up with two designers I knew from Sensory Sweep.  Still no work a year later.  No hope of work on the horizon.  I felt terrible for having a job.  Survivor's guilt, I suppose, but a little more than that.  I knew, deep inside, that that was the life I had chosen.  If not for my dad veto-ing the idea of an English degree, I would have been in the exact same position as them.  Jobless for more than a year with no hope on the horizon, wife and baby to take care of while I lose more and more self esteem through hundreds of companies never calling me back or offhandedly dismissing me.

Your skills are only relevant to a single, unstable industry.
After I got out of the game industry I kept in touch with a lot of people that stayed in.  For years, I kept hearing about layoffs.  People that suddenly didn't have a job anymore.  A friend of Peter's was at his birthday party and we got to talking.  He was a designer.  He had just gotten laid off.  In his words, he was now working a "dead end job" somewhere.  Say he got another job at a game company.  How many years would he be able to stay before another lay off happened?

If you want my advice, work on building up a marketable skill first, then worry about design second.  When I started this path, not only did I not know how to code, I was lead to believe that I was bad at it.  I hear people that complain that such things are too hard for them.    There are a number of valid, useful skills that you can learn.  Programming, Art/Animation/Modeling, Business, Marketing, Community Management/Leadership, Music/SFX.

Now, I'm not saying that designers are bad, or that wanting to be a designer is bad.  Designers have a very important role to play in the game industry.  A great designer can turn a decent game into a great game.  But it's just not safe enough to rest all your hopes and dreams on it.

And say you get out of the game industry.  Say you go indie.  Indies wear many hats.  They need to do multiple things.  If you are a pure designer, who is going to want to join up with you?  Design is the easier of the hats to put on, so it's more likely that an artist and a programmer will team up to make something and do the design between them.