DD_5

Oh my word. This game is my current single player obsession. Loved the new X-Com? Loved FTL? Love RPG’s and the that “one more turn” feeling? I found it hard to stop playing. It came out of left field for me (but that’s how it always feels if their marketing is doing its job right?). I’m not a huge fan of “medieval”  or “dark and grim” themed games. But the art style in Darkest Dungeon is amazing and I quickly became a fan. Also the narrator in the game was a great touch. The lines he delivers builds a great sense of atmosphere and immersion. So much so that I found myself thinking about the narration outside the game:

Ya, it’s quickly accumulating hours on my steam account over these past several weeks:

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Where have the hours gone?

I recently made a post on our official OML blog about what Adam and I are playing. Taking a look at that list you’ll find that the vast majority of games I play are multiplayer oriented. A lot of biases, inspirations, and design decisions that go into my game designs are influenced by multiplayer games.

When we set out to start One Man Left, my long term goal for the company (beyond making fun games we like to play) was to be known for making fun multiplayer indie games for whatever platform we develop for. Our first game wasn’t a real-time multiplayer game, but you gotta start somewhere, right? Admittedly, I don’t seek out purely multiplayer games on the iPhone often. Searches for “multiplayer” tend to not turn up very compelling options, and it worries me. The few games that are strictly multiplayer tend to have different reactions based on how the match making works and how ‘easy’ it is to play alone. For instance, one game was bluetooth/wifi only and had no AI opponent. It had extremely low ratings and the vast majority of them were “please add a computer opponent”. Just reading this you would think that a lot of iPhone users are isolated cases where their friends don’t have an iThing. This could very well be the case, although in my personal experience it isn’t. It may also have been a case of the app description not being detailed enough.

I’ve been prototyping some co-op multiplayer game ideas over bluetooth recently and we’re really excited about the possibilities. I feel multiplayer is an awesome tool in the game designer’s toolbox. It overcomes many challenges more traditional single player games are still struggling with:

  • Want the player to have a memorable experience? Include a friend, and now it’s a shared experience that is easier to remember.
  • Want a genuinely funny game? Add some human players and watch the hilarity ensue. It becomes a breeding ground for memes, inside jokes.
  • It’s much easier for players to evoke genuine joy, exhilaration, nervousness, anger and frustration when playing with human players in close proximity.

Yes, it’s definitely a different spin on things as you can’t exactly tailor an ‘epic’ story to many multiplayer games, but it entirely depends on the goals your game is set out to achieve. In the context of mobile games, long and epic games don’t seem to be hitting the mark compared to heavier duty, more hardcore platforms.

So where are all the awesome multiplayer games, especially with a platform that is practically connected 24/7 regardless of location and time? We’ve certainly seen some early successes so far (Words with Friends, Eliminate, NOVA, Archetype, etc), but these seem to be barely scratching the surface on what this platform can do. Now with some ideas on multiplayer on the iPhone I figured there are plenty of challenges and possibly very good reasons why we aren’t seeing many successful indie games based around multiplayer just yet.

Complexity

It’s no secret that networking, and making that networked experience seamless and easy to use is no small task. In fact, if you’re doing a server hosted solution where the game is happening at a central location, the cost and infrastructure is probably cost prohibitive for most indies to be sustainable. Even if it’s a P2P game, the complexities of managing a game over a network where any number of things can hinder the quality of the connection or the progress of the game can become a headache at times. You find you are coding for a lot “exceptions” in game events when things simply don’t arrive, arrive late, or aren’t even welcome.

It’s not common for a game to have multiplayer as it’s front and center offering. It’s usually tucked away as a “but wait, there’s more!” item in some bullet list description of features. As such, the convention seems to be a single player option with multiplayer being “extra”. That just adds to production time as now your game isn’t just a single “mode”.

Appeal

To me it seems the number of people who wish to play a game with their friends would be close if not higher to those that wish to purchase a quick 5-minute game to kill time. But I have no data to really back this up, and as such I think my bias is getting in the way here and I could be dead wrong when it comes to the iPhone game market. Social networking sites have already shown that ‘social games’ have a huge appeal, however dubious the game is. So maybe that’s good news?

Opportunity

The other dilemma is the chances the player will have to actually play the game. With a game like “Words with Friends” or “Archetype” there’s always a game at a moment’s notice. Of course, the catch being that you aren’t playing with real life friends (WWF has a slight exception here due to the nature of the game). It’s difficult enough to get players to play your game on their own, but now adding the constraint that 2+ people must buy it AND must be in the same general location to play becomes even more challenging. This drives the game more into niche territory. The question is if that niche is big enough.

The More The Merrier

Multiplayer games are sticky by nature. Players won’t drop your game after a day if they have friends playing it. There’s been a lot of ‘bigger budget’ games that are multiplayer driven on the iPhone, and the whole “social gaming platform” vendors (AGON, Open Feint, Plus+, etc) are all betting on the same thing with their leaderboards and social features. So maybe I’m not too crazy to try to create something that requires more than 1 person/iPhone to fully enjoy the game. The iPad is always an option as well, and possibly a safer one if I wish to pursue a ‘multiplayer’ centric game idea.

Tilt to Live has been unleashed on the unsuspecting public! So far the general vibe has been extremely positive! Adam and I are both pretty excited about getting our first app store game out the door. What’s interesting is the workload went from “lull” to “overdrive” in a matter of days as we ramped up for release and still are trying to coordinate things for a bigger media push in the coming weeks.

You can download Tilt to Live in the app store here. One of the cool things about AGON Online integration is how it’s easy to check leaderboards outside the game. Their community page for Tilt to Live is rather snazzy. We’ll be looking into integrating some of those widgets into our own landing page on onemanleft.com. But that’ll have to wait for now.

We’ve got plenty of ideas in store for Tilt to Live for future updates. So tell your friends, your mom, your dog, your twitter followers! The higher the rating the better! Things are rather hectic at the moment as you can probably imagine, but hopefully I’ll have some breathing room and be able to look back on all of this and write up some (hopefully) useful posts.

So I’m using OpenAL to do the audio in Tilt to Live. Over the course of development audio became the bottleneck of my game, both in size and in performance. The following could help you if you’re experience audio performance issues and are somewhat new to OpenAL. Let me preface this with: Don’t blindly optimize. Measure, Measure, MEASURE! Know what your bottleneck is before trying to tune code!

  1. Don’t make more than 32 sources objects in OpenAL. Of course, this number may vary from device to device and what generation the device is. Making any more than the limit the device support makes openAL fail silently, and at this point you’re wasting cycles.
  2. Load your audio buffers and create your source objects ahead of time and re-use them. This is a big one. Don’t generate and delete source objects in the middle of your game update. Instead, it’s much faster to just grab a ‘free’ source that is not playing a sound any longer and attach it to another buffer. I was pre-loading my audio-buffers, but creating/deleting sources on the fly in Tilt to Live. Then I started ‘pooling” and I got a decent gain out of re-using source objects.
  3. Keep OpenAL calls to a minimum. Especially in tight update loops, don’t repeatedly call openAL functions that don’t change frame-to-frame. I found that a good portion of my time was spent doing something as simple as ‘alSourcei()’ on each source ID per frame was causing a significant slow down.
  4. Don’t query openAL state if you don’t have to. In my case, I wrapped openAL Sources in objects with properties to get volume,pitch, etc. Initially those properties simply called the openAL equivalent and returning it instantly. This was hurting my frames due to some some innocent looking “backgroundMusic.volume += someVal” happening each frame along with other audio sources doing the same thing. Save any state you can in instance variables, and as a last resort hit openAL when you need to.
  5. As for size, you should consider compressing your sound FX and music to a reasonable size. If you’re like me, you hate giving up quality; especially if you listen to the full quality one and then the compressed one. It can seem like night and day. But in reality, when your users won’t have a full quality audio file to compare it to, they will not notice the difference.

As a sidenote, you can look at my first dev tip for batch compressing audio files.

I had seen a few things written about “Everyday the same dream“, a game created by but never took the time to try it out myself until recently. It’s a compelling art game where you try to subvert you’re daily routine. It took me a few minutes to figure out what to do after a few days of the mundane routine, but  that added to the whole experience of the game itself. It’s a very subtle, but clever design that speaks to a wider audience.

Be sure to give it a try. It only takes 5-10 minutes to play through.

So we’re at the last mile (it’s a long mile..) of development on Tilt To Live. Adam and I are starting to get some pre-release buzz built up around the game as we put our finishing touches into place. With the holidays around the corner, I will be out of commission until mid January. Marketing is a whole other beast we’re trying to deal with and learn as we go.  With a market as vicious and saturated as the App Store, it’s been one challenge after another!

As many have stated, to succeed in the app store these days requires a a good bit of marketing muscle. The ‘gold rush’ is pretty much over and the app store is now similar to any overcrowded market. I’ve been reading up on marketing in general and also seeking out articles on the app store specifically. App Gamer had a very interesting piece for newcomers to the app store regarding PR and marketing.

Have a great holiday (to those that are celebrating) and see you guys in the new year! We’ll be starting off that year with a great game and hopefully many more to come!

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Every now and then I come across a game that is rather inspiring. Strangely, a lot of them come from the flash community. I really like it when someone can take a game mechanic that is so utterly constrained and create something so enjoyable out of it. The epitome of these design challenges might be the ‘One-Button’ games. I just recently came across Canabalt, and it had me playing for a while despite the need for sleep.

The sense of urgency and the whole atmosphere implies a bigger and more ominous ‘universe’ than what the gameplay focuses on, and is a treat. I’ve died several times trying to figure out the fleeting images in the background only to slam into a wall, haha!  I’ll be checking it out on my iPhone later this week. Hats off to them for getting it onto the App Store and good luck!

Wow! GTA4 is an awesome game! The amount of content in it is mind-blowing. It seems whatever gta4 lacks in gameplay departments it makes up for by sheer quantity and quality of content. It was pretty sad when I spent 20 minutes in gta4 watching TV. Watching TV inside a video game…wtf…that’s a new low for me. As if being a couch potato or an eccentric gamer wasn’t ‘bad’ enough. It just goes to show the brilliance of gta4’s design. It’s like watching a very bad reality TV show on MTV. You know it’s bad, but you just can’t look away.

I’ve never played a GTA game before this so it’s all new to me. The whole ‘sand box’ idea didn’t appeal to me initially. Not having goals in a game bores me rather quickly if the core mechanic isn’t fun. Truth be told, if GTA4 didn’t have a compelling main storyline I would be bored already. The driving is ok, the mini-games are alright, the combat is so-so imo. All of these things have been done better in other more specialized games, but I guess the ability to do them anytime and anywhere appeals to a certain audience. The narrative is what drives me to continue. I keep wanting to see what happens next. And the culmination of all those mechanics to bring you a compelling narrative and gameplay experience is what makes GTA4 so great for me.

On the other end of the spectrum for me in terms of ‘sand box’ games is Skate. It’s still probably one of my favorite games on the 360. While GTA4 has the story, Skate has the gameplay. I can aimlessly wander the city in Skate for hours not giving a crap about the story. Why? Because moving around the city in Skate is fun. It’s the core mechanic of the entire game. Constantly challenging yourself is inherent to the gameplay of Skate…well because that’s what skateboarding is about. In GTA4 I tend to cut loose every now and then and just wreak havoc on the citizens, but not often. I’ve actually started whoring taxis to get from one place to another quickly because walking/driving around Liberty City isn’t that exciting to me. I’m more interested in the next mission to progress the story.

I’m not too far into GTA4, but far enough to see where this is going. The 10 out of 10’s GTA4 has been getting left and right doesn’t make too much sense to me. By all means it’s a great game. Quiet possibly the best game this year. But it has it’s flaws. Mind you, very minor ones but flaws nonetheless. A perfect 10 implies the game is flawless…so wtf? For one, the controls in the tighter areas (ladder climbing for instance) tend to become clunky. I find myself constantly adjusting the camera when driving to look at where I’m heading. In this day and age the camera should be smarter than that. They probably made the camera ‘lock’ like it does to reduce disorientation from the constant swaying of the vehicle, but it’d be nice for it to look at where your going instead of where you’ve been. Anyway, those were two that just recently stood out. Maybe if the gaming media didn’t rate games on a 7-10 scale we’d actually see a more ‘accurate’ judgement of the game’s quality. Or if they re-defined what the ’10’ means then I’d be more willing to accept it. Best game this year? possibly. Best game of this year and last? possibly. One of the best games in its genre? Probably. One of the best games ever? I doubt it. Reviewers’ scales are pretty vague on the meaning of ’10s’.

In other news, should have something of interest for Blitzmax users soon (this week if all goes well). Also going to try to update some of my samples for XNA to 2.0. Particularly, the 2D camera example. It’s still written for XNA 1.0 beta last I checked!!! So bear with me on that.

Update:

Just wanted to make sure that others are aware that I haven’t dived into GTA4’s multiplayer offerings yet, and this was just my initial impression of the game. Maybe MP more than makes up for the issues that I came across in single player :).

I always knew that your state of mind affects your productivity. Had a pretty rough week last week and work on my prototype suffered for it. But in the end, I realized time was a-wasting. You have to keep at it regardless of how you feel that day/week/month, because at the end of the day no one is asking you to do this. I never doubted that working on indie games would be difficult and you should approach it just like any other serious job, but it’s now becoming clear how to approach it. I have to set aside all the daily BS that’s going on in my life and whatever is currently on my mind and focus for 3-4 hours a night on one specific goal. But enough about that…

XNA community games seems to be on the horizon and I’m pretty excited about it. Should prove to be interesting to see what the community will come up with. In other news, I was suckered into buying N+ knowing full well the free flash game exists on the PC. N+ on the 360 is amazing though. I bought it for the co-op play and the convenience of sitting on my couch instead of a computer chair :).

I’m zeroing in on my final concept for a game I plan to develop for 2008. It’s certainly got me thinking though. It’s a 2D shooter, which in the casual game space is not popular at all. So on one hand, I love shooters and I’m intrigued by the type of shooter I have as a prototype [a slightly different take on the typical 2d shoot-em-up]. But on the other hand, I feel no matter the amount of effort put into it, it’s not going to sell well. But I like to think my meager market research just doesn’t have the right type of data. I’ve been looking at distributions on some of the bigger portals, but they tend to have a different type of audience. I need to focus on a lot of the smaller more ‘niche’ portals to possibly make this worthwhile, not to mention developing my own web presence. I’ve got 1-2 other ideas currently that I know I could go with, and about a ton of others I’d still have to prototype to see what works and what doesn’t. I hope, in the next couple of months, to have some actual content to put here. But until then, just smoke and mirrors ;).

Going onto my 4th prototype this coming week. One thing I’ve quickly realized is if I want to make a decent game that has enough depth to warrant as a full game then trying to crank out a prototype in a single week is unrealistic. With my current work schedule plus life’s many other challenges, the average 10-15 hours a week I invest wouldn’t be enough. I’m ‘redefining’ my time schedule to mean ‘total time spent on a prototype shouldn’t be more than week’s worth’. This’ll come out to 40-50 hours per prototype.

In other news, if you love rhythm games they you must check out Audio Surf! I installed this game and started playing…then 3 hours later I realized I had spent too much time playing rather than working on my own game. It truly is an amazing game. What makes it amazing is how it’s able to take your song library and construct interesting game levels out of them. It’s like the perfect game development situation: almost infinite number of levels and replay value because their engine adapts to the audio input given to it by the user. I wonder if anything like this will ever be applied to more traditional games like platformers or 3D shooters.

Garage Games launched their Instant Action Beta some time ago. It looks to be a very promising platform for indies who make games geared to an audience that is a little more ‘serious’ than your typical casual game player. I imagine many casual games will be on there also.

As for my current gaming, I just recently finished Assassin’s Creed (superb gaming experience), still play Call of Duty 4 multiplayer on occasion, and just picked Mario Galaxy back up after finishing Assassin’s Creed. I sometimes wonder if playing these triple AAA retail games hurts my creativity when it comes to thinking up my own game concepts. I’ve recently tended to conjure up concepts that were simply too big in scope and/or too cinematic/dramatic for a casual audience. One thing I have learned though is my strength is in action games. They interest me enough that I can see myself following through with them 6+ months down the road (Gunstyle being a perfect example, which lasted 2+ years just for one of the versions). Whereas some of the more laid back casual games can barely keep my interest through the trial period, so I imagine things would be much worse if I were developing them.

I’m finding it difficult to strike a balance between too ‘hardcore’ and casual-action, but it’s something that’ll get better with time. Adios.