Monday, November 20, 2006

so you want to be indie developer

So you want to be an indie developer huh?

Well, it’s not all sun and fun in the indie developer realm. In fact, it’s hard. Damn hard. In fact, it’s so hard, that I think you need convincing how hard it is.

So let’s get down to some science*

Actually, let’s get down to some probability theory!

So before we can start analyzing probabilities, we have to give ourselves a goal. So what should that goal be? Well, why not make it an interesting one. Our goal as set out, is to make one million US dollars (because that’s the currency most of our games will eventually be sold in).

A million bucks worth of sales of our game. Can’t really be that hard can it?

So let’s start off by defining the factors that affect our game and its ability to get us to our first million (after all, once you’ve made one million, the next one will be a cakewalk right?).

Factor 1 – Concept (Choosing the game)

This is the first important factor. It determines for instance, how we sell the game. It also determines WHO we sell the game to. That is a really important factor, because this part actually determines our target audience and hence we can guesstimate from that the potential size of the market.

So we need to choose a game, where the target audience is vast. It has to be as big as possible if we are going to hit out target. So let’s start off by deciding that our target audience is PC. This is rational, given the number of PC sales worldwide and the estimated 140 million* already out there. Plus we know that making games for consoles is hard.

So seeing as we are trying to maximize our potential audience, let’s go one step further and let’s make a game that targets as many of those as possible. Which means low end 2D only and using a software renderer, none of that 3D hardware requirement madness.

What else do we need to think about here? Oh yeah, the GAME! Well, that’s easy. Let’s take a mix of whatever is selling right now and outdo it. Basically, we will trawl through the most popular games of this type and make a game that fits in nicely with them.

So what’s the million selling game idea?

Well, after performing extensive focus tests* and extensive research* we came up with:


Yes, taking the large audience for tycoon games and mixing them up with the huge audience for “diner dash” style games. We are going to revolutionize the industry by melding two top selling themes together. Maid Tycoon (MT for short from now on), will blend the management aspect of tycoon games, throw in the micro-management of diner dash style games. Mix it up with a female friendly theme (maid service) and we’re all set!

I think we hit that one out of the ballpark! But we’re not done yet. The next important factor is:

Factor 2 – Production (Actually finishing the game)

So the next important part is actually making the game work. Of course, everyone knows this is the easy part. Basically, take whatever idea it is, write it out in fully descriptive text (it has to be ONLY text for this to work) and make sure each and every detail is laid out, as everyone knows “failing to plan is like planning to fail”. Of course, we should use the latest production processes. So lets expect that we need pair-programming, extreme scrumming. I think basically we can take this factor as a given.

Factor 3 – Marketing (making sure everyone knows about it)

Ah, now we get to the fun part! Of course you knocked the ball out of the park again with the production, so we know we have an AMAZING game. In fact, lets make sure that whenever we talk to anyone about the game, we remember that word AMAZING. I think it sums the game up quite nicely.

So, with marketing, we need to basically get everyone buzzing about our game. So of course we schedule some advertising. Maybe do a few interviews. This should actually be really easy!

We can factor the costs in later, but for now, we can assume that the marketing will be AMAZING-ly easy.

Factor 4 – Sales (convincing them to buy it)

Wow. It get’s even easier. Of course everyone knows about our AMAZING product. We knocked the ball out of the park with our marketing efforts. Sales are the easiest part, because they are just a function of how AMAZING our marketing was.

Running the numbers

Ok, so here is the scientific bit. Here we will analyze the type of numbers we need to look at in order to secure our first million.

Let’s start with some initial “guesses” at values.

Ok, the target audience if we count the number of PC’s is approximately 140 million. Let’s be a little conservative and say that maybe only half of those can actually play games at all. So we have around 70 million capable PC’s. Ok, so lets say that roughly speaking, around half of those are English speaking and have a connection to the internet (our game is download only, so we max out our profits, don’t want to waste time on the middle man).

So we end up at around 35 million PC’s that can play our game. Not bad. So we can use that as our target audience.

Input 1 – Target Audience 35 million.

Ok, we now have to look at the game itself. If we made a “perfect” game, we might hit our target audience just right, but we don’t want to be foolish. Let’s go with the idea that our game is about an 8/10, 80% of 0.8 of what it could be if it were perfect. This might lose us some sales, but we can live with that.

Input 2 – Game Quality 80%

So we now have to look at marketing. It’s a well known rule of thumb that you generally are going to hit 1% of any market with marketing. So lets mark that marketing down with a figure we know.

Input 3 – Marketing 1%

And now we have to think about what has happened. We’ve marketed our game, so now we have to convert the sales. We might as well apply the 1% rule; everyone knows that it works for sales too!

Input 4 – Sales 1%

Then the final part, profit!!! Yay! Ok, so let’s assume an average profit of $15 per sale. Seems reasonable from a $20 sale right?

Input 5 – Average profit from a sale. Let’s assume $15 per sale.

Ok, so let’s try and map out some “what if” figures for what we know so far.

So the estimated sales for our game are:

35 million * 80% (0.8) Game quality * 1% (0.01) Marketing * 1% (0.01) Sales * $15 (how much we are going to make from a sale) = 42,000 dollars.

Erm, hold on a minute? How is that going to get us anywhere near our million? Surely I must have made a mistake.

So ok, let’s start doing some “toying” with these figures.

First up, I must have made a mistake with the marketing. We have an AMAZING game remember; surely people will want to know more about it. So let’s tweak that value a little.

Hmm, let’s say that we can actually hit 5% of our target market. Let’s see how that looks.

35,000,000 * 0.8 * 0.05 * 0.01 * $15 = $210,000

That’s starting to look healthy, but it’s still not exactly getting us near our target value. Maybe I should just assume we actually made the perfect game. How does that do?

35,000,000 * 1 * 0.05 * 0.01 * $15 = $265,000

Nope, something is still definitely wrong. So wrong in fact, that somehow the logic must be flawed right? I mean, it takes up to 20% conversion for marketing to actually hit my target profit!

So what’s wrong with the model?

Nothing is wrong. Yes that’s right, absolutely nothing. Ok, the figures might be out, but essentially the problem is that fundamentally, well, let’s just say that you shouldn’t be looking at indie development if you want to do it to become a millionaire.

Getting serious

Ok, so my scenario is pretty stupid, but honestly, it’s not like we haven’t seen plenty of people saying “how much can I make” often enough. What this proves is that essentially developing games as an indie you would be well advised to consider your motivations. I’m not suggesting you can’t make a reasonable living. I’m not even saying it’s impossible to become a millionaire doing it. I’m simply saying that the chances are highly against that happening.

What this exercise should tell you, is that you had better get your head straight about why it is you want to get into indie game dev. Financial aspirations seem to be a very BAD idea if that is what’s driving you.

For myself, I do it because I like to be creative. With less than zero skill at art and relatively minor skill in music, game development is my best shot. Plus it happens that the medium is one I really love, having spent a good part of my life playing and making games.

I read a great article about one of the guys from Capcom about doing Steel Batallions. To paraphrase him, he went to his bosses and said “Look, I know we wont make any money with this thing, but think about it, this is the ONLY time we will ever get the chance to make a game like this”.

Thinking of it that way is brave, but it also is inspiring. Doing it because you only ever get one chance, one chance ever, to really make your mark. I applaud the sentiment.

So, fellow would-be indie, may I suggest humbly that if you are thinking of becoming an indie, forget the monetary aspect of it. It really is peripheral to the joy of creation. It is the creation of something that stands for who you are and what you believe that should be your driving force. Please consider this when you get locked into the debate over sales and marketing.

* Well, when I say “science” I mean in the shampoo or cosmetic ad kind of way.
* Focus test involved asking the woman next door.
* Reading Zzap! Magazine issue 14

This post was part of the ‘So you want to be an Indie Developer?’ blog project. You can find the other entries via these links:

Cliffski's blog
Lemmy and Binky
Reality Fakers
Bone Broke
Game Producer
They Came From Hollywood

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Indie Game Dev Reality

I just finished reading Neil Yates's blog:

Indie Game Dev Reality

A really nice sort of "core dump" of your average indie game developers life. It shows the harsh reality of things for those who think indie is a path to riches.

I do think that there is no "average" indie. But of all of the stories I've seen, this one strikes me as what might happen to the typical indie game dev I see on sites like and

I think Neil really sums up his adventures well enough, so I recommend you read his blog for the real skinny. I do think that it shows the importants of marketing skills and being true to your own style. I guess I see indie game dev as a multiplication thing rather than one single factor. Multiply potential interest, by usability then with potential market, throw in a smattering of sales and marketing and luck. Its like a big basket of things. Which is why striking it big as an indie is like trying to get planet to align.

Neil makes some great observations and I agree with him about becoming aware of your own motivation.

It sort of goes towards something quite obvious in many ways, but I think its been bourne out recently in graphical fashion.

If you look at and the number of views the various video's get. Which ones do you think have the highest views?

You might be forgiven for thinking that high production value "music videos" would be the thing right? Well, actually, nope. Its an old british guy going by the moniker "geriatric1927" and that 1927 relates to the year he was born!

What has this got to do with indie games? Well, think of it this way. With all the flash and money put into the videos on youtube, all of the shock and pizazz, why is it that people are actually flocking to hear from what is an understated non-fame-seeking friendly old gent?

I think this shows, that people want genuine experiences. They want to connect with real people and engage with real objects. Much like the idea of skills and crafts has been eroded by the media's portrayal of fame and fortune being the only goals worth going after, similarly people want to connect with the products, services, entertainment they consume.

In fact, as I think about it now, the reason why I like garagegames so much is because of that personal feeling.

So our goal as developers, should be, at least in part, to deliver a sense of why OUR games are compelling and personal, why people should want to be part of OUR scene, rather than trying to bombard them with images trying to sell, why not engage them as human beings? Why not promote your product by promoting yourself as a person?

I am very excited about how people are changing and starting to look for the geniune, the quality experience. Rather than just being all about cheapness.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Random game dribble

I've decided to post random game ideas on my blog. Not for any particular purpose, but because I can.

First up: Monkey Knuckle Fighter

A game where you play a bare knuckle fighter, who also happens to be a primate. Choose from chimpanzee, urangutan, gorilla etc.. You get the picture.

Basic beat-em-up, but the twist is the quad-dextrous primates can use the environment to thier advantage. Cross "Tekken" with "Pro Wrestling" and add monkeys.

Of course, it would require a fur shader. But then doesnt every good game?

Friday, August 18, 2006

MMO's stagnating already?

Oh my, are we there already? It was only yesterday it seems that I was wondering what the brave new world of MMO's was going to turn out like. Of course, back then I was playing Everquest and was working in the industry on networking related things, so it could also be classed as "research", but I sure didnt expect things to go the way they have.

Today I was looking for indie MMO's, as its an area of interest of mine (indie games and networked games).

I came across the link to a site called gamebunny and drilled down into the link:

That is, a list of MMO's showing at E3. Do you spot a trend here?

Now I'm by no means saying that there aren't other MMO's out there in the world. Thankfully there ARE alternatives, things like Habbo Hotel, even online webbrower games like Dofus. But it just makes me wince when I see all of the games on that site and the one that stirs my curiosity the most is "Hello Kitty Online".

There is some magic formula obviously, because these are all as cookie cutter as you like. Take some characters, dress the women in scanty clothes and the men in body armour, add some random mythical/animalistic creatures to bash on for a few months, add a dash of icon-infested magic and there you go!

The amazing thing is the costs involved in all of this. I mean, someone somewhere dipped into his corporate purse and handed over upwards of 20 million dollars for these things. Of course he probably doesnt know that he's got more chance of winning a lottery than succeeding with his cookie cutter game. It's no wonder people see games as a poor investment if this is what they spend thier investment funds on.

Of course you can always say "look at World of Warcraft" as a defense, but cmon, WOW is a creation of a company with a big profile, with a unique style and at a time when there wasnt much by way of competition. All of these cookie cutter games would be far wiser to look at say Anarchy Online for thier examples. Are funcom rolling in billions? Hmmm, guess not.

Luckily for me, I'm not even in the game here. I'm working on small-scale online games (whats the term instead of MMOG = massively multiplayer online game, perhaps MIMOG = medium multiplayer online game). Frankly, I think the ROI in mini-multiplayer is far better. We can live with a couple of servers, dont have to churn over tens of thousands of accounts each month, dont have to worry about massive influxes of people after huge press events etc.

My absolute favourite online game right now is Albatross18 ( It used to be called Pangya, but I think this is the european/american version of that game. Its an online session-based golf game, with a micropayment model. You basically play for free, but upgrading your character costs $$$. This model is great for smaller games, because who can complain about a FREE game right? (ok, not so true, but its a great defense), plus you can make spiffy new character enhancing items and people will WANT them. You can even throttle your funds by releasing new items, I've heard of some games doing that (There is one which name escapes me, where the company uses real money for purchases and which releases new content when it needs more funds!).

We also kind of saw that happen with Worms 2 when it got sold to Koreans, they incorporated the micropayment model and it did really well. Well enough that I hear Team17 are doing the same thing with a XBLA version of worms.

Which brings me nicely onto XBLA and console MMOG's.

I am absolutely convinced that at some point in the next 2 years, we will start seeing console based MMOG's coming out. I'm also convinced that outside of the huge WOW style games, the most successful of those games will be free-to-play with a micropayment model. They will also, likely, have to be session/party based. That is, they will be instantiated sessions, with between 4 and perhaps 16 players.

Why would they be like that? Well, technical limitations aside, your average buddy list isnt going to be that big. You play online games to play with your buddies. You play online games either for the socialising, or for the effect on the persistant world. So if you remove the possibility of having hundreds of people in one area, which CAN happen in MMO's, then why would you not just go instantiated sessions instead? Think of them as sort of instantiated dungeons, although they dont have to be that.

Now of course I believe what I say here. But can I back it up? Erm, no, sadly, I simply dont have access to XBLA and a 360 devkit. XNA is on the horizon, but it wont get me anywhere near a networked game within the next year or year and a half. So? Well, it means I need to prototype those kind of experiences on PC, with a mind to console experiences too. I'm entirely happy to do that.

Our current games in production are definitely not following this path though. Really just because they are quicker to produce and use a shader codebase. Its taken so long to get that codebase together and to really understand it, that it will be hard to break away from, but I feel that its necassary to step outside of our comfort zone right now, while the opportunity is fresh.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Listening to advice versus being creative

I guess I'm in a strange sort of mood right now. For the last few months I've been more and more critical of the world of media and entertainment. Especially the games industry.

Whats swung my mood?

The notion of originality and creative essence. Not to put too fine a point on it, I'm bored of most games. I'm bored because they simply dont have any character. They seem to try and use some cookie cutter concept to try and make some return on the investment.

I've seen it in games, but to be honest, I think its pretty clear that the same problem exists in most media. Look at the plethora of sequel based films. Look at the number of "reality" shows on TV, or "'s top " or some 'celebrity' pseudo-reality show.

Frankly, I'm tired of it.

Which is why, I was wondering what the cause of it was and I've come to the conclusion that its because the creators of all of those things, rather than listening to thier own creative talent, simply took whatever was making money and cloned it.

Thats not to say there arent people being creative. But it sure is hard to find them when they do exist.

Think of it this way, would you rather buy a beautifully crafted hand-made instrument, or a peice of cheap rubbish thrown out en-masse by a tiawanese sweatshop?

You'd never go for it would you? And yet we as consumers are doing it all the time. Accepting trash TV, Film and Games.

Why do we devalue the really unique opportunity these mediums present by simply making it all follow some accepted norm? I dont know. But the ray of light in this gloomy picture, is that truly unique and original product, created by unique individuals CAN make a difference. They can also turn out to be hugely successful.

Imagine the ROI on something like Blair Witch Project? Or Super Size Me. Or in games, how about say Uplink? Or the original wolfenstien?

I've read enough books about positioning and buzz to believe fundamentally the best way to generate interest in something isnt to be a clone of something. Or generic to the point of blandness. It is to BE unique. Something unique and of value can inevitably attract an audience. However that isnt completely true. Clearly your audience must actually be aware of your unique product in order to become interested in it.

Right now, my biggest challenge is finishing the unique products. To be fair, I dont think we're quite there yet. But we are unique in that we have something I think is missing a lot in todays media market, that being creative integrity. Getting that across to an audience is going to be an uphill battle I'm sure. But I believe that consumers are sophisticated enough to want to seek out uniqueness and originality as long as its easy to find it. So there is hope!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Its the end of an era

Well, yesterday my good friend Jay Moore announced that he was leaving garagegames.
Read it here.

I dont know about anyone else, but to me, it feels like the end of an era. An era where we had big dreams and big plans. The last 4 years have been really interesting, not least because I've struggled and overcome and struggled some more.

I guess change is inevitable and change is usually good. But I've got a sneaky feeling that things are never going to quite have the same spirit they once had.

I'll miss you Jay. And good luck with your next gig!

On another note entirely, I'm feeling a bit out of sorts this month. Maybe its buying a house, but I also think part of it is to do with being active and reading a few forums and websites. Mainly I guess the forums, but also looking at and just taking in what is happening.

Indie games are being consumed by the "borg" of casual gaming. If you read, there are so many indies hoping that cloning a match 3 or a bubble popper is going to make them rich.

Then you look at the AAA industry and theyre all hoping that cloning GTA or Halo is going to make them rich.

Whatever happened to people being creative? Whatever happened to independance or uniqueness in all of this?

I know, its very much in the trends of all media to become some homogenous mass of crap, but I never thought games would become such cynically derivative rubbish. I just hope a few people decide that they, like me, dont want that kind of industry and decide to walk a different path. I guess it compared to M Knight Shyamalans films in many ways. Try and do something different. Not just "pirates of the carribean N" 2 at this point.

Ok, my game might not be overly innovative. But its at least written with love. At least its an expresion of us as developers. At least its not written by committee and created because it makes some accountant happy.

But hey, we carry on. We keep going. We keep creating. Because its what we do, its what we are, its what gives us a reason to be. Even if its unappreciated and uncommercial and lambasted and hell, even if its plain old bad.

So the industry can do what it likes. I've got no plans on paying any attention anymore, its simply too much of a waste of time.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thank god for the internet

Call me a crotchety old fart if you like (and I know you will - .z.), but I'm becoming more and more thankful for the internet.

There is a notion amongst all game developers and indies are no exception, that there is some magical path to riches. Basically it usually involves making some mega hit game and then selling out to a hyper rich sugar daddy of a company.

Frankly, I'm getting weary of the whole games industry as it is. I hear so many stories and I've seen it enough myself to know that in general, I'm far better off where I am (meaning part game dev, part academic). At least I have the happy position that I dont have to kill myself to get a game shipped only to make millions for someone else.

But even a good thing like the indie scene has its downsides. Mostly these are down to the naive attitudes of many indies.

1) They believe they will "make it"
2) There are plenty of people who will prey on that naivet'e

I have no misconceptions or delusions of grandier about Air Ace. I dont expect it to make anything much. Its in a niche of a market that is itself a niche. If we get 500 people subbed it would be a miracle.

But thats not why we are doing it. We are doing it, because frankly, there is no other option. Because it is a project we need to complete. Because we have faith in it as a game. Because we have had enough false starts that now we know we have a game we can finish, we will finish or be damned.

The end result really doesnt matter. Having something finished is far more important to me than anything. It means that no matter what, no matter who gets in our way or the curveballs that are thrown at us, we will continue. We are the unstoppable force.

The reason why I say I'm thankful for the internet. Is that once we ship the game, we are then directly connected to our audience. We become symbiotic in nature. No matter what happens from then on, we can fundamentally feel satisfied in the knowledge that we have created something SOMEONE values.

It wont be some shallow pride in shipping. It will be full-on pride in knowing we have achieved some measure of enjoyment by entertaining a few souls. That is something that is important to me. We arent doing this just for kicks to be sure, but also, we arent doing it as some cynical money grinder. There is at least some integrity in knowing that at the end of this long road, we will achieve for a short time at least, that special thing that comes from entertaining others. You see it from all entertainers, the sheer pleasure of making someone else's life less miserable or unimportant.

I guess I'm getting all new age and stuff. I guess reality is that people dont think of thier developers when they play games. I know I havent thought about how great someone is for developing a game I love. But they SHOULD feel proud that I love thier creation.

So forget the business. Forget the marketing and all of the other stuff. For now, its because this is where the heart is.

Man, I'm a soppy git sometimes!!!!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Emergent Behavior

So I'm working on the AI pack today and I for some strange reason I started reading about the AI in Oblivion. It was on some serious games mailing list I think.

They were talking about the emergent behavior you can see in the game. So I get interested in seeing it.

So I go to a local PC world and buy the game. 20 quid is a bargain. But of course I cant stop at one game. In fact, I managed to buy a total of 5 games.

Then it hit me, the price of PC games makes them insane bargains!!!

I bought:

Full Spectrum Warrior
Heroes of the Pacific (for research)
Oblivion (for research)
Far Cry
Prince of Persia - Sands of Time

Those are all AAA quality games, but they were SOOOO cheap!

I think maybe this is an offshoot of everyone moving to console development. Of course you still generally want to be developing on a PC for instance (so the now 200 programmers can still work and not require a devkit), so you have almost a "free" PC version of your huge budget game. But the PC market is dying, so you dont expect to make any money, so do a quick budget release and make the money on console releases.

So essentially the PC version isnt a moneyspinner, its merely there to get some "free" cash!

Now of course, you could say "how in the hell will indies be able to make a sale if AAA titles are being released so cheaply?

Well, the strange thing, is that its actually only a problem if youre doing products that fit into that same category. If you steer clear of the normal genre's (FPS, RTS, RPG etc), then youre in with a good chance that you can still find a market.

So I think all in all, its a good time for PC gamers right now. Apart from the mass of really cheap crappy product on the shelves, the scene seems to be quite good for us indies at least!

Anyway, back to the point about Emergent behavior. I'm not entirely sure that Oblivion is really going to offer the same amount of EB that I'm interested in. for instance, I was battling some creatures today and I just went and stood on top of a rock, not only were the enemies not able to target me, they also were unable to pathfind to my position (angle was too steep for them). Hardly the next evolutionary step for game AI I'd been told about.

Frankly, I think game AI is pretty dumb :) having done enough work in the area to know its actually damn hard to get right I cant blame them for having things like enemies running into walls. But if we're ever going to sort this kind of thing, then we're going to have to solve some of the problems a bit more intelligently.

Emergent Behavior is all well and good, but unless you're building on solid foundations (like actually being able to pathfind anywhere in the level the player can) I think we're going to be on shaky ground.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Air Ace, scale, size and speed.

I've just updated the Air Ace website with a few new screenshots Here and it occurred to me I should perhaps blog about a couple of issues that are playing on my mind.

The game is similar to the old online games Air Attack Download it here which used to run on the UK network provider "wireplay" and of course Kesmai's Air Warrior, which was bought out and eventually closed down by EA games.

So there are two things that are causing me some concern:

1) Its damn difficult to actually track and hit a target
2) The game is going to be VERY big

The first of those, the issue of hitting another player is quite common in online dogfighting games. In fact, Air Attack itself seems pretty hard to hit anyone in, even though its thought of as one of the more user-friendly and less "realistic" of these games.

The problem is that of relative speeds. Typically in a flight combat sim, where the combatants are not seasoned players, the tendancy is to get into a turning battle. Basically they start in a head on fly-by, then immediately start a tight turn in either direction (for some reason, usually right), thereon they proceed to continue the same tactic ad infinitum.

Now of course your better players know how to avoid this with better tactics. But what of the new player experience? We dont want them to get constantly killed.

When I started on this project, one of my key aims was to give every player "a kill within 30 seconds", which is a goal which I stick to. This is bourne out of playing Red Baron and remembering how cool it was to be able to jump in the game and get a kill really quickly. Of course, the issue here, is that in Red Baron, the planes were relatively dumb AI's, in Air Ace, they are other real players.

So how do we make the promise of a quick kill come to life?

Well, here are some ideas, although I think it won't be a single thing that forms the final solution.

* Setup the game so that new players are spawned into the game pointing directly at the opposition and within range to make a visual identification
* Add some dumb AI planes into the mix and make them fly slowly and on a level so that new players get the kill quickly
* Make the new players have a lesser bounty so they dont get targetted by other players
* Make the new players hitpoints higher, so they can take more damage and not get destroyed
* Allow for some auto-aiming of the new players weapons
* Make an offline training mode which allows players some tutorials to gain better skills before going online for real
* Make the plane handling relatively quicker for newer players, allowing them more maneverabilty (essentially steering aids)
* Have some visual aids for directing new players towards a valid target
* Slow the relative speeds of the planes to a point where combat is less difficult

These things are all kind of indirect helpers, the only really viable way we are going to be able to guarantee a kill, is to incorporate a dumb AI aircraft specifically for that player to shoot down.

Hopefully we can incorporate some community features which will mean that other players take newer players "under thier wing" (pun intended) and teach them the ropes.

So thats something we'll have to experiment with. Perhaps a screenshot to come next time to show what the problem is. Even our attemps at visual aids to increase situational awareness (knowing where your enemy is).

The second thing thats playing on my mind is the problem of download size. Might not be a problem for traditional publisher based delivery (DVD disks), but given that a good terrain might consist of 100mb per level and we have at least 2 or 3 levels and perhaps 200 mb of ground items and planes/tanks/ships etc. Well you can see the problem.

According to Phil Stienmeyers blog, we're looking at around 20 cents per gig, for example from hosting on Amazon's S3 service. So lets say we can pack the game down to 300mb (unlikely but we can try) thats roughly 3 copies per 20 cents. so 15 copies for every dollar. Assuming a 1% conversion rate, thats going to cost us roughly 7 dollars to deliver enough copies to attract each sale!!!

Eeek! :)

Ok, so you might say "well dumbass, why not just shave your downloads and get more conversions", that is a possibility, but not with the current tech. Sure, we can go for a smaller demo download. Imagine we can get that down to perhaps 50 meg or so. But its still a fair chunk of change just for speculative downloads.

The other option we might have to employ, is to build in a bittorrent style download interace (using some bittorrent library) which allows us to deliver the game using shared peering systems. Of course there is another option and that is to try and get CD covermounts. But it still leaves us with a relatively large download issue.

I suspect that once we are more aware of the final scale of the end-product, we'll be able to make adequate provision for distribution. The fact that this thing is huuuge is mainly down to the high quality of the artwork and the requirements of the terrain system. Assuming we can prune back the terrain using some procedural methods, then our only issue is the other art assets. Which I expect we can live with as the terrain footprint is relatively large in comparison.

Hopefully what we can also do, is get a box deal which might allow us to deliver to more people, using a physical media, which lets face it, is probably optimal for games of this scale.

Its not like we deliberately set out to make this huge style game though, honestly, it was meant to be a really simple little game! its just become this beast which has a life of its own and must be sated or fear the worst!

I'll have to think on it a bit more.


Monday, March 20, 2006

GHAC Blog Posts Week 7

Ok, FPS Blogs so far:

Session 1:

Nick Rathbone has got GoldenEye
Ricky Anderson get The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.
Chris Cousins - Marathon (Bungie)
James Barron - Halo
Phil Abrham - Star Wars: Dark Forces
Charlotte Cook - FEAR
Matt Thayre - Soldier of Fortune

Ian Baker and Oliver Turner have both chosen Far Cry. We are resolving the clash.

Session 2:

Graham Rust get Star Wars: Republic Commando
Joe Hill - Clive Barkers Undying

Sunday, February 26, 2006

How many british indies are there?

About a year and a half ago, I went to a meeting setup by the guys behind "the game creators" website. It was really a fun meeting, plus I met a good friend there, along with maybe 100 or so other indie developers.

I was just thinking today, I wonder how many really competant indie developers there are in the UK?

The ones I know about right now:

Pompom - creators of shmups
Moonpod - smups again, creators of starscape. I heard they were going for an RTS thing next, but on thier site they have "war angels", check it out for yourself.
Introversion - creators of sneaky hit titles Uplink and Darwinia, they have a nice new title "defcon" in production.
Positech have a unique set of games, in particular democracy seems to be doing well.

So those are about the only really well known british indie developers (as far as I can remember anyway). Not so many considering how many developers this country has got. In fact its kind of shocking really to think that there are only 4 really good indie devs in this country. I know this is probably missing out a load of other people and I'd love to know about more british indies, so if you know of any I've missed please leave a comment.

I think its about time the british indie scene started taking control and making its voice heard. Indies in the US are definitely the driving force right now and I want us brits to start pushing ourselves on to the world stage too.

I guess I'll have to arrange something of an event in order to really consolidate that foundation. Sometime soon I'll post a plan of action for this.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Air Ace and the Torque Shader Engine

Ok, I've just laid in supplies for the weekend. MP3 player is at the ready and the world is locked out for the weekend.

Things have been going crazy recently, both at work and in my games. I can't really talk about work (students may be watching), but I can certainly talk about games.

Jeff Tunnell posted This blog entry about blogging and how people are linking up and talking about games. It makes an interesting read in that Jeff is probably more active at reading about games and other developers (and dev news) than most and even HE has taken to filtering out the noise.

I just kind of wish that GG had a similar filter for thier website in that the number of lame-brained posts is staggering. Mostly the only method of filtering out the noise is to stop reading the forums. I now just really scan the .plan areas of the site, even then I usually only look at the posts from people I know or have mentally bookmarked.

Anyway, back to the games. Well, Air Ace is shaping up really well. Nothing much different in game right now, but behind the scenes there is so much going on. New art content by the bucketload, new planes, tanks, troops, ground items, boats etc. If i was under any delusion before that this game would fit on a small download, its basically gone straight out of the window now. The damn thing is huge!

Now of course, art content does not a game make, but it's just impossibly hard to sell a game without great art. Luckily the technology side of things isnt the main drag-factor there (we are using the Torque Shader Engine and it is moving along nicely to provide us what we need eye-candy wise.

Now I don't want to toot my horn here (well, ok, just a little bit), but if you look at the quality of games using TSE, I still don't actually see much of an improvement over TGE from many of them yet. I think in fact, that Air Ace is one of the few games where you can actually see the difference TSE makes! Not only that of course, but as we progress and TSE delivers the milestone stuff that Brian and Ben are working on, Air Ace will move forward in leaps and bounds graphically! Those shadows and terrain enhancements are almost custom-tailored to Air Ace's needs!

Well, now that I've claimed that, I can't not post a screenshot can I?

This is a shot of the new stuka that Dante is creating. Of course this is a very rough early preview, so for instance the airfield is just a quick placeholder and the scene doesn't quite "gel" right, but at least you get the idea.

The other thing of course, is that I really would like some better editing tools for the terrain. More specifically, I want to be able to incorporate arbitrary meshes in the terrain (for instance for an airfield, so we can bake textures for lighting etc) and have them embed in the terrain so there is no z-fighting etc.

I'm sure Ben has this all in hand though. Can't wait to see the GDC demo's!

Anyway, thats enough bravado about Air Ace. I'll talk about how great Tennis Twins (working title) is coming along next entry, plus more about the AI pack, Horses, various dev stuff!

.Zoom out.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Response to Jeff Tunnell's blog about XBLA

I just read Jeff Tunnell's blog and it got me thinking. As soon as someone sees even a modest success, why is it that we are drawn to then emulate that success rather than trying to carve out our own?

I suppose it is human nature, to try and copy clear successes, but if you think about it, unless you are really an early-runner in any race, it is very hard to make your mark. It's simply common sense that the first in any field tends to become synonymous with that field.

For instance, right now there are plenty of casual game "clones" and clearly the driver behind all of these clones is simply to emulate the success of the game in question. Now I'm not against this idea, because at least you are producing something you know is of quality. But if we all slipped into this method of making games, where would the "next bit thing" that everyone wants to clone actually come from?

I guess that is the fundamental issue with commercial development now. There simply isn't room for the risk of creating the next big game mechanic that will develop clones. Ok, it might be an accidental thing that some modern games DO push forward a particular genre (I'm thinking of the medal of honor/Call of duty style FPS gameplay pushing forward FPS game production values for instance).

But if we're going to be clear about it, the only real competitive advantage your average indie developer has is the ability to experiment.

So where do my games fit into this concept? Well, I guess I've not been eating my own food here, in that I'm primarily working on a dogfighting based flight sim and on a casual tennis game, both of which have already been done to some extent. Now I'm not suggesting my games are clones, because they simply aren't. They also raise the bar in terms of indie developed quality and experience (or will). So maybe I'm being too hard on myself, because that little innovation of really polishing the games will be enough to set them apart from what's out there now.

So the other thing that Jeff's blog brings to mind is that basically the bigger publishers are going to push out indies by simply pumping money into the channel. This is quite a common thing in business, its called a "loss leader" and essentially means you sell for either no profit or in some cases even for a loss in order to secure market share, or in order to secure standing with potential customers some time down the line.

Of course there is no way we are going to compete with EA in terms of budget. But does this mean that XBLA is essentially dead to indies? HELL NO!

Of course, as Jeff rightly says, the quality bar is going to go higher and higher. But then it naturally moves that way anyway. Nothing new there.

This does mean that basically if you're very heavy with programmers on your team and haven't got many artists, you better address that balance quickly. I think the biggest barrier for many teams is simply acquiring enough good quality artwork for their products to look professional. This is especially galling considering that there are many thousands of highly talented artists in schools and colleges and universities around the world. Being able to hook up with talented artists and being able to drill into them the right work ethic and expectations is a very tall order.

Part of the problem is that both sides have unrealistic expectations. For instance, how many young artists are giving quotes for 50 dollars an hour because that's what a skilled artist charges, without acknowledging that they are 1) not that skilled and 2) nobody can afford to then pay them. On the flipside, programmers are often used to working for nothing, so they expect artists to do the same, only for the artists, they are getting burnt so often with projects that go nowhere and never having a return on their efforts.

I've got high hopes that Jeff might be able to actually effect some change in this direction. I know he has some plans in this area and I'm hoping he actually has a plan that might work :) If anyone can it has to be Jeff.

For my own point of view, I've given up hopes of finding my ideal art-partner and have instead just resigned myself to paying for the art I need. But that does raise the spectre of profit making in that currently sales of many indie games simply would not deliver enough return to cover artists costs given the sales volume and the costs of art.

However all is not lost. Recently I've been speaking to different people and whilst I'll be paying for my art requirements for the foreseeable future, there is some hope that I've found some people I can work with on projects going forward. Hopefully we'll get to a stage where I can provide some more information in this direction.

So to sum up my feelings on Jeff's post:

It was inevitably going to happen if the channel was going to be in any way profitable. But we should never be scared of competition. It just means we have to work harder and smarter than the other guys.