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.