There are unwritten taboos on the internet. There are things you Don’t Say. There are replies you may not give. There are comments you may not make. There are truths you may not tell, in the world of public relations, for the public are fickle, and behave as a mob. A mob in all its feral, brutal depravity, lacking any and all of the qualities we laud upon humanity that allow us to feel so smug over all of the hapless animals that we raise ourselves over. And we are all, whether we admit it or not in public, under strict censorship of the mob. Even admitting that the mob censors our thoughts and feelings and the expression thereof is risky. Be careful! The mob may notice.
Well, it’s time for one of our lamentably infrequent blog entries. So much has happened since the last one I can’t even think where to begin.
Alas, woe unto Puppygames, for we are broke. Due to several decisions of dubious merit last year we’ve ended up wasting most of our cash on things that never flew. We tried for several solid months to rescue our direct sales but it seems nothing but nothing that we can do will change the fact that at any given moment, Steam comprises 97% of our income. And that’s just when there isn’t a crazy Steam sale on. So we wasted months on that and achieved precisely nothing.
Otherwise known as, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Deadlines and Fail Gracefully”.
Ok, that’s a little melodramatic.
We were doing quite well on the sprints but then Real Life decided to place a series of embuggerances in our way. I notice that the spelling checker in WordPress doesn’t understand “embuggerance” but I assure you, it is a word.
The plan for this sprint was:
- Fix all the bugs we know of (there were plenty of issues with focus and tabbing and mouseovers, and one or two other little minor glitches)
- Steam Integration – a full Steam version of all functionality. Steam is actually not so hard to integrate as it sounds as we have an awesome Steam integration library ready-made from our previous games, and mostly it involves removing functionality that we’ve implemented already in the game for Puppygames customers.
- Serverside housekeeping batch jobs – make accounts dormant if they’re unused for a month, etc. That sort of thing. In addition the subscribers actually needed to be charged on a regular basis (not that we’d actually enable it at this point – it just needs to be there)
- The last messages widget on title screen needed wiring up, with the associated event polling stuff all working between clients and server
- And the last actually exciting feature, the Commander Screen, in which you can adjust your display name, personal avatar, army colours, change manufacturer allegiance, and request to join a faction. As well as placeholders for stats and medals.
Well, in the end, all we’ve kinda managed to do is:
- Fix the tabbing/focus/mouseover bugs. Except, infuriatingly, checkboxes
- We can log in using Steam and get our avatar displayed but sadly that’s as far as we’ve got
- The Commander Screen is visually coming on very nicely but none of the functions are wired up to the server yet and it’s not fully integrated properly yet at all, more like Chaz just trying it out first than actually functional.
What’s Our Excuse This Time?
Well, mostly, this is all my fault, because Mrs. Prince is terribly ill and I’ve basically had to take almost the entire sprint off work to look after her and the kids, whom I can assure you are a pair of devils sent to torture my mortal soul. Right now she is in hospital and everyone is very upset though the prognosis is good. I don’t know particularly how any sprint survives contact with a quarter of the team suddenly stopping working in a completely random manner, but there we go.
The next thing is that Chaz’s Windows installation has somehow managed to blow up this morning and he’s going to have to reinstall his OS, which means at least two days down the drain for him too.
Finally Riven’s mouse has died. Not his squeaky one, but his old faithful electronic one, the one he uses to point at things on screens with. This makes Windows extremely difficult to operate, it would transpire.
Well, I don’t think it’s really worth releasing Battledroid this sprint because we’ve barely got anything done on it – I think it really needs another week of work on it when we’re all firing on all cylinders so to speak – so we’ll leave it. Which brings me to the exciting news of what’s happening next week, which is that we will all be exhibiting at EuroGamer Expo 2013 in Earl’s Court, London, between September 26-29! Once again we’ll be giving away two brand new Nexus 7 (2013 models) as prizes for the best hiscore we have recorded in Ultratron and Droid Assault come Sunday evening. I’ve got a new Nexus 7. It is awesome. You need to come and play.
As we’re basically all away all next week and then a couple of days to recover, I wouldn’t expect much visible progress till Friday 4th October.
So, we actually got this one out bang on time. So on time there wasn’t quite enough time to actually write a blog post to coincide with it before we went on our summer hols
- There is nothing to play yet – we’re concentrating on the user-interface and back-end stuff
- Previous bugs are not fixed – such as tabbing not working – we’re working on fixing those now
This sprint was all about getting registered players to become premium subscribers, and finishing off the account maintenance functionality. So now you can subscribe or unsubscribe at will, and you can delete your account. Additionally the options panel, which wasn’t meant to be released until today but got released last week instead, was supposed to be in the sprint. So here it is Have a play with the GUI scale function and marvel at how awesomely clever our UI layout is. But first let’s explore the new functions and talk about them…
So, here we have the latest Battledroid alpha release, the second so-called “sprint”. You will notice it is lamentably already 4 days late – way to go guys! We’ve clearly not quite got the hang of this agile development malarkey.
Firstly, anyone who does not yet have the client already can get it here:
If you’ve already got the Battledroid client, you don’t have to redownload it – it should update automatically with the latest release like the rest of our games.
Expect to encounter…
- tabbing doesn’t work in forms
- scary security certificate warnings from emails
In this sprint we wanted people to be able to register a guest account, change their email address, change their passwords, reset password if they forgot it, and log out again. We wanted the titlescreen UI to behave fully correctly, (less library bugs that is) and its design to be more or less finalised.
Well, we did all that, but we’ve also implemented the Options panel as well, which wasn’t supposed to be in till next Friday. Graphics options are a little more expanded upon from previous games, and check out the cunning GUI scale feature. The GUI will also automatically scale if you go below 4:3, meaning the game is perfectly playable on a monitor set up in portrait mode.
Anyway – if you could, we’d like you to test out the registration and login processes, and the account management functions. You will notice a scary security certificate warning if you click on any links we send you from the Battledroid mailer, but that’s because we’ve not got proper SSL certificates in place yet.
Also, if you would care to click on the second tab icon at the top – world map – you’ll get an early test of our new sprite engine. Though not completely optimized yet, we’re currently testing with 60,000 dynamic sprites on a background of 1 million static sprites. Middle mouse wheel will zoom, hold RMB to scroll, LMB to paint more sprites!
And… first cut of a theme tune – work in progess – open options and slide music volume to 11
Ladies and gentlemen, may I proudly present to you… the Battledroid Alpha! Available for all OSes (not currently on Steam but we’ll see about that).
- Download Battledroid for Windows (installer)
- Download Battledroid for MacOSX (zip)
- Download Battledroid for Linux (tar.gz)
Don’t get all excited now! What you see before you once it’s installed and run is just the title screen. We’ve got a seriously hectic schedule coming over the next 4 months, during which time we will release a new build every other Friday, and the development diary. Our ultimate goal is to get into beta with a minimum viable product by 22nd November 2013, at which point we will be seriously running out of money and unleash our Kickstarter project upon you all, to get the game finished and full of content.
The title screen may not look that exciting to start with but this is how we make our games: we get all the really boring stuff done first, because it has to be done, and once it’s all out of the way while we’re all fresh and full of energy, the only stuff left to do is the fun stuff, with lasers, robots, explosions, and stuff getting blown to bits! (Years ago I realised that leaving titles and menus and options till last is a recipe for misery, demotivation, and failure to complete a game).
As it currently stands, the title screen automatically creates a guest account to play Battledroid on our server, and that’s pretty much all it does right now. Most importantly however is whether you are experiencing anything out of the ordinary, like rendering glitches or connectivity issues. We’d like to hear your feedback, even as this early stage, allowing us to take it into account as we’re working on the next alpha.
In two weeks’ time, at the end of Sprint 2, expect to see the next round of functionality being added to Battledroid, which is account registration and management functions like the ability to change your email address, set a name for yourself, reset your password, etc. – more dull stuff. But important dull stuff.
Soooo… we all had a great time at Rezzed last weekend – thanks to all those who stopped by our booth! All in all the show seemed a success, with a friendly atmosphere and eclectic mix of games, with indie games generally seeming a bigger pull than the AAAs that were there
Unfortunately we didn’t have a huge amount of time to play other games on show, but a few new to us that impressed were Trash TV, Montague’s Mount (both of which are on Steam Greenlight – here and here) and Revenge of the Sunfish 2 which really needs to be seen in motion to appreciate how completely bats it is.
The Win-a-Nexus-7 Hiscores Competition
We were giving away a brand spanking new Nexus 7 tablet to each player with the highest score for Ultratron, Droid Assault and Titan Attacks, and it was a great success with a nail-biting finale. As we approached the end of the show the highest scores seemed unbeatable, but as the returning hiscore holders of both Droid Assault and Ultratron watched on, their records were beaten!…
Because my previous blog post was not a complete academic essay on the subject, nor indeed intended to really go any further than the few people that visit our blog, it seems that a few people are deconstructing the arguments and poking some big holes in the assertion that “The Demo is Dead”, which is fine, but the article is not at all complete, and contains no hard data (of which I have a lot). At the time, I just thought I’d pen some musings on the subject talking to people who already didn’t care (existing blog readers, who are generally customers and therefore unaffected by what we do with our existing titles).
As a general reply to various comment all over the place, here are some further musings:
99 Reasons To Not Buy Your Game
This was clearly an exaggeration for literary impact, and if that’s not obvious to you, for shame. But instead of just asking me what those reasons are, maybe you could engage in devil’s advocacy, and think of some yourself. Here are some I thought of, spuriously:
- I got my fill of gameplay already from the demo. (Our demos typically gave away 25% or so of the full game progression)
- I’ve had 90% of the initial delight of the game for nothing. Paying some money for the remaining 10% is a waste of money. (Note disconnection between “delight” and actual content)
- I can’t be bothered to pay for it when I can go and play another free demo somewhere else.
- I’ve already got a bunch of games I’ve paid for but not yet even played. Maybe I’ll not bother getting this one yet.
- I played the demo ages ago and forgot all about it by the time payday came because something else distracted me in between.
- I only buy games through Steam.
- I’m a poor student/waster/single mum and I don’t spend money on games especially when I can be entertained endlessly by demos for nothing.
- I loved the game except for this one small thing that I didn’t like like I can’t remap the fire button to X and for that reason alone I’m not going to buy it.
- I thought the game was too easy but that’s because the demo can only show the first 10 levels which have to be easy to not put off the 95% of people who find it too hard.
You’re Just Using Yourself As A Single Data Point!
Some have accused me of using myself as a single data point (“I’ve never bought a game in the last 5 years from playing a demo”) and drawing my conclusions based on this, which is fallacy. This is not the case; my own, singular experience was what got me to look at the data in the first place. It was just a hunch, that I got to thinking about actually a few years ago. It’s only in the last year or so that the data has become impossible to ignore (see below for some figures).
The Nature of Puppygames Demos
Few people were aware of the exact nature of our demos, or even our games, and it’s probably worth researching because our games are of a particular ilk and available only on a particular platform. We make desktop arcade games mostly, and that’s a pretty strange niche to begin with, which substantially effects the way demos work.
Our demos were “full” versions of the games, which could be unlocked by registration (no further download). They tended to let you play the first 25% or so of the game unfettered before expiring on a cliffhanger (eg. first boss appears, or you’re just about to see the next “world”, for example).
Claims that we’re “doing demos wrong” are from people who, I suspect, have not been doing this for as long as we have. The fact is, our demos were more or less no different from nearly every other demo I’ve ever seen. They weren’t even unsuccessful either – they converted at an industry-respectable rate, AFAIK. The problem is that rate is shit and the amount of money we can charge for a successful conversion has been eroded, which brings me to…
Context Is Everything
The context of pricing and market positioning, specifically. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen the average price of an indie game plummet from $20 (sold direct by the developers) to $5 (sold on Steam or BigFish in a sale) to about $1 (sold in a bundle of some sort). Steam pioneered the price slashing in the market – I’m sure you educated types with economics degrees have a special name for this manoeuvre. In the space of a couple of short years, direct sales plummeted to less than 1/10th of what they used to be (and they were never great). Almost overnight, the chances of being an actual indie developer – and succeeding! – have dropped from “you’ll be lucky” to “you’ve as much chance of winning the lottery”. Not only had consumer expectation of prices been eroded from $20 to $5, but consumers were also taught by Steam to buy on the basis of video and recommendation and, most importantly of all, discounts.
Then, just as things didn’t seem they could get more crazy, along comes the Humble Indie Bundle, and we’re now becoming accustomed to picking up titles for a dollar or less. Again, demo unseen. We’re conditioned to buying stuff because it is cheap not because we necessarily want it. I say “we” – yes! I am one of you. I am a consumer. I’ve got a hundred games in my Steam library. I am doing all these things. I won’t buy a game if it’s not on Steam any more. I won’t buy a game if it costs over $10. And so on. This reminds me of an anecote many years ago when a friend of mine came bouncing into the room full of glee because she’d bought some mint essence. When I enquired what was so amazing, she told me that it had been 75% off so she just had to buy it. I can’t recall her ever before or since actually making anything with mint essence in it, but it was a bargain!
In this context, what we now see is that 95% of our income – any developers income – comes not from conversions of demos, but from sales via gatekeepers and bundles. What the focus of my original article was really about is that there is a case for simply dropping prices through the floor and not giving anything away for free. There is “free” stuff everywhere, already. The differentiator we now have is that if you want to sample our stuff, it will actually cost you. Otherwise it is simply unavailable. It is out of reach. You can look through the glass into the shop but you can’t touch it until you spend a (paltry) amount of money. Just like with mostly everything else in the world these days.
Are We Right?
There’s no harm in being wrong. We can be wrong. We’re going on what the data tells us, and we have a lot of data. We’ve sold 481,529 games in the last 3 years, and 30,246 of those have been to people who played a demo. That means the other 451,283 sales were made without anyone ever seeing a demo. If you want percentages, that’s 6%. We’re quite happy to be proved wrong! If the data tells us we’re wrong, we’ll go back to using demos.
Our hypothesis is, we’ll make a bit more money if we ditch demos and drop the prices. As you can say what you like about the 97% of sales being without demos and argue till you’re blue in the face that you don’t buy games without playing a demo first, go on ahead. Argue away – you’re arguing that black is white. You’re not making us 97% of our sales. The bit you need to argue over is this:
6% of our sales are to demo players, direct, and they have made us $72,000. We think that if we drop our prices hugely, and ditch demos, that we’ll continue to make 6% of our sales direct, but that we’ll make a bit more than $72,000.
The Sands Shift Beneath Our Feet
And still that’s not the whole story. The thing that most beginning developers – us included – fail to take into account is how the markets change over time. As I said, when we first started, we sold conversions on demos for games that cost $20. We started just at the tail end of a golden era in independent game distribution (typical bad luck, huh). The internet had just revolutionalised developing games and the gatekeepers were just about to move in, along with a flood of other developers who suddenly discovered they could do it too. It is suprising in hindsight that so many developers clung to the $20 price model in the face of what was happening.
Things came to a head in about 2008 or so, when we released Droid Assault. Droid Assault was released to the sound of tumbleweed. No-one was even the least bit interested. It’s a great game (IMHO, haha), but when it was released, nobody wanted to buy it. Customers were already thoroughly in the pockets of Valve and BigFish by then. If you didn’t have a game on a portal, it simply didn’t sell. DA must have shifted literally a few hundred copies. By contrast on Steam, now it’s finally out on Steam that is, it’s shifted thousands of units.
And so we must realise that the market is changing, all the time, imperceptably slowly. Let’s look at those figures I just mentioned above, and instead, let’s look at just the last 12 months:
In the last 12 months we’ve sold 77,224 games, of which just 725 were demo conversions. The demos weren’t suddenly any different. The prices weren’t suddenly any different. Suddenly, after just 2 years, we’re only making less than 1% of our sales via demos. Nothing else changed except the entire rest of the market.
So actually what you really need to be arguing over is this:
1% of our sales are to demo players, and they have made us $5200 (yes, really). We think that if we drop our prices hugely, and ditch demos, that we’ll continue to make 1% of our sales direct, but that we’ll make a lot more than $5,200.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Many years ago, when we first started making games, the perceived wisdom of the age was to follow an apparently successful formula, and strike it rich. Or at least, make a living. Games sold for an average of $20 or so. This is in the dim, dark depths of history, in 2003.
This formula was: offer a demo, and convert demo players into customers by having amazing demos (and, as a secondary, offer a money back guarantee just in case a customer mysteriously wasn’t satisfied). All you need is a large enough influx of traffic downloading a large enough number of demos and a large enough conversion rate. Simple! And this we have done, for the last 10 years.
To cut a long story short, it doesn’t work for us.
Today, none of our games have a demo, and they probably never will have again, either. The Demo is dead.
Long Live Video!
Why have we done this? How can we possibly gain from no longer hosting demos? Well, the times have changed. I have come to realise that I’ve not bought a single game from playing a demo in the last 5 years, maybe longer. Why am I buying games? Or rather, why am I buying the games I am buying as opposed to other games?
Mostly because they’re recommended to me by friends, and sometimes reviews. That generally isn’t enough though; I also want to look at the game before I buy one. And this is where video comes in! Just about every game I’ve bought for the last 5 years has been on the basis of watching a video of the game – either a review along the lines of Total Biscuit, or a trailer in Steam, or on the developers’ websites, or shared on Facebook or Twitter. Usually I don’t even need a recommendation from a friend if I watch a trailer for a game that I think looks interesting.
But there is another thing at play.
Almost none of the games I’ve bought have even had demos. They’re full versions only, accessible only via Steam, and/or usually… rather cheap. And with a bit of investigation we’ve noticed that 99.9% of all the games we’ve sold on Steam have been bought “blind”, without anyone ever sampling a demo.
This got me to wondering why we are bothering with demos any more.
What Does a Demo Do?
I’ll tell you: it has three primary functions:
- To assure the end user that the product actually installs and runs ok on their machine
- It gives the potential customer a good long demonstration of the game with no up-front investment on their part
- The shocker: it then gives them 99 excuses not to buy the game.
Video manages to sidestep 2 and 3 nicely. Video still gives the customer a demonstration of the game, albeit non-interactive; but it does have the potential to cram all the interesting bits into a very short space of time – rather like a movie trailer does. But, barring a total disdain for the style or genre of game, it doesn’t give the customer any reasons not to buy the game. Not a single one. You have to actually pay to form an opinion on how it plays.
The first function is trickier. Why do people buy something if they don’t know if it’ll even run or not? It turns out it’s required a little bit of technical wizardy to solve, which we’ll be releasing the source to in due course as it’s GPL, but basically – take a look at Revenge of the Titans now, if you’re unregistered, and you’ll see that the title screen has in fact been replaced by the video trailer which is now rendered inside the game. So we know at this point that the game is going to run fine on your machine, and more importantly, so do you. We’re slowly converting the other three games into video title screens as well.
Of course, once a potential customer has installed the game, fired it up, and been presented with the trailer video instead of an ordinary title screen, that’s not quite the whole story. Customer clicks “PLAY”… and is transported straight to an in-app purchase screen which you can use to unlock the game there and then. Unfortunately this IAP screen can only take credit and debit cards (no PayPal or other dubious payment systems). However… it is working, and working nicely.
Now all our games have a built-in IAP system (and a cunningly built-in one-click buy mechanism too), we’ll be able to collect some stats on how things look without demos, and I’ll be following up in a few months about the end result.
… and this one’s got a few more goodies in it.
Firstly and most obviously, it’s now got fancypants shader effects in it, which I’ll be expanding on a little in another patch. You can turn these off in the Options menu.
Secondly, we’ve added Easy Mode. This is a campaign mode like normal campaign mode but the difficulty is capped at a much lower level for more casual play.
Thirdly, we’ve enhanced Sandbox Mode for those of you that have it. The editor now allows you to specify a lot more detail about spawn points, and also specify exact amounts of each resource available. Check out the new editor options at www.RevengeOfTheTitans.com
Fourthly, we’ve added Research Respec - you can now completely redo your entire research tree, at any time, without penalty.
You will notice a little screen flickering going on at the start, which we will soon remove. It’s gathering some logging information for us so we can get to the bottom of a driver crash. Sorry for the annoyance.
I was idly warbling away to fans on the Steam Community forums today when I had a little think about some of the facts and figures involved in making games. When I read it back to myself I realised it was actually pretty fascinating reading for people outside of the industry (that is, the players of our games). There were some amusing estimates of how much effort goes into making games from the fans, so here are the facts and figures for you all to see, and hopefully, tweet, reblog, and comment about, until all children are suitably scared in their beds and night and vow never to want to becomes games developers ever again, and some sort of massive JUST SAY NO style meme floods the internets and makes it to the very top of Reddit’s wonderfully insular and self-referential news pages.
Ultratron took 24 man months to develop, or if you want to put a financial figure on it, about $120k at ordinary salary rates. Ultratron has so far made a loss of $100k.
Titan Attacks took approximately the same amount of time. Titan Attacks has just broken even after 7 years, so that’s cause for a can of lager in celebration.
Droid Assault took quite a bit longer – about 36 man months, or $180k ish. Droid Assault has so far made a loss of about $120k.
Revenge of the Titans took about 7 man-years to develop, or about $420k. It’s only just broken even. Sandbox mode took 12 man-months and has so far cost us $56k. It is unlikely to ever break even.
For most of the last 10 years, I subsidised all the development of the games by working as a menial contractor in the IT industry and effectively putting every spare hour of my life into them. We started seriously in 2002. It wasn’t until 2010 that we actually made enough money to buy anything more than a celebratory curry!
So now you know why a) you don’t really want to be an indie game developer if you can help it and b) why we’re not making any more arcade games
* probably. Unless a genius can think of some way we can make them for about a tenth the cost that’s palateable.
We gathered in our millions around the Consoles of our cities to hear the announcement. Whole families turned out and stood out in the plazas waiting for the rumblings from inside the machine to herald its latest edict for the good of humanity. We stood in silence, until a deep red light flicked on from a scanner situated near the top of every Console, and a laser scanned over the suspended crowd, surveying. Counting. And then the Console spoke the words of Central Nexus.
All humans are to report in an orderly fashion to their nearest RecycloMat Facility. Transportation will be provided free of charge by Central Nexus – your friendly system overlord. There is no need for alarm and recycling is painless. Central Nexus wishes at this time to thank you for your peaceful co-operation in this hazardous waste recycling operation and wishes you continued happiness and contentment for the remaining duration of your current form.
So… work is underway on our new game. I’ve called it “Battledroid” for now (ahem), a name which may or may not stay. I quite like it. So by way of warning, there now follows a wall of text explaining everything.
What is Battledroid?
Battledroid is a massively multiplayer asynchronous online war fought over the blasted and war-torn landscapes of Earth in the not entirely distant future a few centuries from now. At war are various ultracorporations (whom we shall call “factions”), who vie for control of territory in order to boost their own manufacturing capabilities. Everybody who is sensible has left for more peaceful pastures in the rest of the Solar System, leaving the wars to be fought by giant armies of autonomous battledroids.
It’s St. Valentine’s day! Apart from delivering coffee and jam on toast to Mrs. Prince, I’ve been beavering away losing hair and sanity making our games work nicely on Linux through Steam. I now have about two handfuls less hair, but also for your perusal, delectation and delight, all of our Steam games working on Linux!
It also happens to be the case that Valve are celebrating the official release of Steam for Linux starting today, and so we’re doing a special sale of all our games on Steam at 50% off! Now there’s a reasonable chance you’ve already bought one of our games if you’re reading this blog, so if you fancy spreading the love a bit, why not buy the gift of a game for that special friend that you forgot to buy flowers for this morning? A copy of Titan Attacks for the object of your affections will surely go a long way to getting you past first base. You might even find out what first base is! I never got to find out myself, I just looked at Mrs. Prince funnily one day and bam! Pregnant. But that’s another story.
Don’t forget that all our games are also “Buy Once, Play Anywhere” – your games will run on any operating system even if you buy the Linux version. And all you existing Puppygames customers – you can still go here to get your FREE Steam keys (note that you have to register your game first though).
So I went to Rezzed with @Cliffski (and Mrs. Cliffski), ferried there in a state of mild car-phobia induced air conditioned comfort in his spaceship-like Lexus. I couldn’t tell you what Lexus it is, just that it is black, and has batteries in it to make it go, and a charming electronic assistant lady called Lizzy who tells Cliff where to drive. I also managed to figure out how to transmit music from my phone to the car, and forced Mr. and Mrs. Cliffski to endure my “eclectic” musical tastes. I notice that most of the music I listen to has what graphics people might describe as a “high dynamic range” – that is, it has quiet bits, loud bits, bits with low frequencies, bits with high frequencies, and mostly every combination in between. It turns out that this is crap for cars, as you can’t really hear anything, and this probably explains why nearly all modern music is just a massive irritating wall of sound – because the only place most of it gets listened to is on car radios. Anyway, I digress. This is what we did when we got there:
We went to see a talk by the Indie Stone of Project Zomboid fame (I’ve been doing some things for them). We were nearly as surprised as they were as the room was packed out with hundreds of people (a show of hands in response to a question from one of the, er, Stoners, showed that maybe 90% of them were fans of Project Zomboid). Anyway – the presentation was of course quite funny, detailing as it did how not to set up a studio and have several disasters. We make our own luck, as the saying goes
I was going to throw tomatoes at Lemmy for forgetting to mention me but as he was visibly shaking like a leaf with nerves decided that would be a bit mean. My time will come! I think it’s time I did a talk at one of these talk things, having amassed all sorts of interesting bits of know-how and wisdom about the industry, games, and coding in general.
We wandered around and looked at all the man-shooters on display – still strangely the most prevalent sort of game at computer game shows. There were also a rather large bunch of indie games there but unfortunately my largest and most vociferous organ was telling me that I had to go and eat, so we didn’t hang around and play any of them for any significant length of time. Can’t even remember the titles.
We wandered into a section labelled “18 Only”, hoping for scantily clad pole dancing ladies and these naked booth babes I hear everyone decrying, but annoyingly there was just some guy in a rubber Alien suit, and Borderlands 2. The Borderlands 2 demos were wired up to XBox360 controllers. WTF? I wrestled with the controller for a minute, looking probably like one of those long lost tribespeople that some missionary westerner has just given a knife and fork to, and eventually gave up in disgust. So in short: it looks like Borderlands 1, but prettier and the interface is a smidgen slicker. I’ll be buying it and playing it with a keyboard and mouse as God intended.
Fish And Chips
Eventually my stomach won the argument and we went in search of fish and chips. This you must know if you visit Brighton: the Regency Restaurant, on the sea front opposite the old burnt-out pier, makes the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. The Indie Stoners arrived along with torrential rain, and we decided to go to the pub.
In this bit we discuss things that we are not allowed to repeat in front of anyone, let alone broadcast all over the internet A couple of things became apparent though. Firstly, the Stoners absolutely hate the AAA games industry with a passion, and after they told us their life stories, I can see why. Secondly, we had a good laugh at the Zomboid team’s expense concerning what disasters might have befallen them on the way down from tha Toon to Brighton including hilarious anecdotes such as strapping all the laptops with the source code on to the front of the van (“for safekeeping”).
The next talk we went to was to see what batshit silliness Peter Molyneux is up to with his new “independent” studio 22 Cans. It turns out that he’s hiring lots of people to make little games for iPhones, and to be fair he did have quite an interesting “game” concept he talked about which he claimed was about curiosity – “what’s in the box?”. I thought that really it asked the question, “Just how much money can you fleece people out of via iTunes?” Molyneux actually seemed to concur on that point. Nothing wrong with parting people from their money, I always say. Anyone daft enough to spend it in such a manner clearly needs to be parted from it as soon as possible before they actually go and do something stupid with it.
Cliff and I stood at the back and sniggered like naughty schoolboys. During the Q&A session I was just almost but not quite drunk enough to want to ask Molyneux whether Cliff was fired or whether he quit Lionhead in a huff. But again my pleasant nature somehow smothered my desires to make mischief and the session ended without incident.
Mitu and Redshirts
After the session we bumped into Cliffski’s minion, Mitu Khandaker, who is simultaneously developing Redshirts for Positech Games (ie. Cliffski) and also strenuously denying being a minion. Just as I was getting into my stride mocking one or the other of them the Mode 7 team happened by broadcasting their intentions to obtain food from Italian restaurants, and my favourite organ once again declared its interest in food. Exeunt Indies. Past Molyneux near the front entrance; I tried to get Cliff to rant at him (“Remember me? Huh? Remember?”) but he wouldn’t do it, which is a shame as it would have been entertaining.
Pizza, Beer, etc.
Went and had a pizza. Waitress threw a plate on floor behind me. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in Final Destination. Anyway, having dodged certain death from flying crockery, we went out to go and find the RockPaperShotgun drinkiepoos at some fancypants club called Audio. Talked to a bunch of people there including me old mucker Adam Martin, whom I conclude needs to port Titan Attacks to iOS for me, though he doesn’t know it yet. But we were so knackered we only managed a couple of drinks and had to retire back to the hotel. Out like a light. An interesting day.
I recently acquired a Raspberry Pi, the £25 computer which is the brainwave of various UK industry luminaries, most famously including David Braben, the author of 8-bit classic 3d-space-shooting trade game Elite. I have a few thoughts about how it’s delivered, what it costs, who it might be aimed at, and what might be done to improve things for level 2.
The Raspberry Pi arrives as a naked circuit board about the size of a box of what we in the UK call fags. This always amuses Americans, but Americans are of course easily amused, albeit for an extremely short duration. The circuit board has as many connectors on it as you could reasonably hope for in a computer – two USB ports, stereo jack, Ethernet port, micro-USB power input, HDMI out, and composite video out. There’s even something called a GPIO which is a bunch of pins which you can connect “things” to that do “stuff”, but that’s for very clever propeller head types who understand electrickery, and not programmers like me.
Of the USB, Ethernet and stereo jack, we shall have nothing much to say. Or indeed the GPIO thing. They are as they are and I dare say no improvements could be made on them. The other outputs represent some rather odd thinking.
HDMI is the future! HDMI is awesome! VGA is dying! … but unfortunately, HDMI is only available on the very latest monitors and newer TVs. So we’ve got a £25 computer, and the theory is that you’re supposed to pick up and use some existing mouse, keyboard and monitor that you’ve got, probably gathering dust in the spare room, to save you a pile of cash. Except, of course, your monitor only has the usual D-shaped SVGA input. Everyone I know has a spare SVGA monitor lying around. Not a single one has a spare HDMI capable monitor. A few people quite likely have monitors with DVI-D input, but I have a feeling that like mine it is already in use as the main PC monitor. The solution in my case was to buy an HDMI cable and a brand new HDMI-capable monitor. £115 vanishes.
Then there’s this thing about HDMI not exactly being reliable, like SVGA is. In my case, all I got was a black screen on startup. It could have been any number of things but fortunately I’ve got quite a diagnostic mind and I’m not 12 years old, like many of the prospective owners of the Pi are purportedly meant to be. Suffice it to say it took me an entire evening of Googling around to discover that you had to create a text file with HDMI configuration parameters in it to get the monitor to actually display anything. This is fun… for various values of “fun” which unfortunately lie somewhat outside my comfortable parameters. You see, I spend all day, every day, trying to figure out why the fuck stuff doesn’t work properly. I was rather looking forward to plugging in the Pi and tinkering with it straight away, but I didn’t even get that far. I had to wank about fiddling with it just to get a fucking picture. Yes, that made me cross.
A nice touch but pointless. Almost all composite-input devices likely to be found around the home are now rightfully in landfill and those that aren’t are generally massive and not the sort of thing you generally want cluttering up a spare corner of a small room. Not only that but they tend to be Jurassic power-guzzling dinosaurs and prone to going on the blink. The other day I spent a happy afternoon coding in CRT distortion effects in the new version of Ultratron. So anyway: composite output – might as well have saved the money on providing this output, no-one in their right mind needs or wants it who is going to own this device. Yeah, even you. You’ve got a spare old SVGA monitor in the garage too haven’t you? Throw that old black-and-white portable telly in the skip.
Micro-USB Power Input
Er… why? I’ve got about 20 different adapters lying around my house, all with sturdy jacks, providing voltages anywhere between 3v and 12v. I literally have a box full. I expect mostly everyone else does too, because over the last 30 years, nearly every widget you’ve bought came with its own. I bet amongst them all you’ve got a 5v DC input you could have already used. Well, it doesn’t matter, you can buy the flimsy microUSB input instead for another £5.
Supplied without an SD Card or software
Now, here’s probably the most controversial thing I’m going to say about the Pi. As it comes, it won’t actually switch on or do anything, even if you’ve got the spare keyboard, mouse, and shelled out £85 for a monitor and cable. You also need to get yourself a 4GB SD card to put on some firmware and an OS. Although this process is trivial, and the cost is nothing to worry about (literally, the price of a bag of peanuts), it’s completely unlike my first experiences of computing.
My first real computer was a Vic-20, back when they first came out. It cost quite a lot of money – a lot more in fact than all this Pi stuff has come to in real terms – but: I plugged it in to the telly, switched it on, and tuned the TV using the twisty analogue knob. And there it was: a BASIC interpreter, 3583 bytes of RAM free (though 2 went missing immediately somewhere). It came like this out-of-the-box. I could get coding on it within seconds. It’s this plug-and-play appeal that turned so many people off of PCs for gaming and on to games consoles in the first place and represents exactly why software engineers are so derided by mostly every other engineering principal.
Built to a Price, But What Price And Why?
So the Raspberry Pi commands all sorts of cool headlines like “a computer for just £25!” mostly because it sounds, well, cool. Except I’ve spent £200 on mine in total, which coincidentally is about what my Vic-20 cost me albeit in 1982 money. That’s clearly beyond typical pocket money for today’s cash strapped youth who of course absolutely, completely need mobile credit and, er, whatever it is that teenagers spend money on. Drugs I expect, as they can’t easily get booze any more.
About £165 of that cost was the monitor, keyboard and mouse; the keyboard and mouse were really just me being slightly extravagant (I have an awesome tiny Cherry ultra-compact keyboard), but the monitor… well, that was annoying, really, as I could have used one of several other devices kicking about the house if the Pi ditched its HDMI and composite outputs in favour of something more befitting its status as a cheap toy that is meant to be attached to stuff you have lying around gathering dust.
So with the Pi only about 12% of the total cost of the whole setup, why exactly is it designed like this? Why is it built to meet a £25 price point when a few bob here and there would barely change the overall cost but vastly improve the whole experience? Who buying one of these things actually gives a fuck that it’s £25 and not, say, £40? I really have no idea.
It would appear that there have been engineers involved in the market research. Oh dear.
No-one buying computers cares that it costs £25 or £35. Especially when you have to buy a bunch of other things to make it work anyway, and then waste an evening trying to get it to boot. There are of course a few electronic engineering types having gentlemen’s accidents over the GPIO port and that’s great, but I seem to recall that the Pi was all about getting a generation of kids into computing as we used to know it, back when we had Spectrums, 64s and Amstrads. The problem is that price was only a small factor in the choice of whether we owned one of those home computers back in the day, yet it seems to have been absolutely the driving factor in designing the Pi.
What I’d Do To Make Me Happy
Were I to think about the successor to the Pi, apart from the usual guff about making it a bit faster and giving it more RAM through the inevitable march of progress (nabbing the chip out of a Galaxy S II would just be incredible), I’d ditch HDMI and composite out in favour of a technically obsolete SVGA connector. I suspect the cost would be as near as identical as to make virtually no difference to the prospective buyer’s financial situation – as we’ve already established, the cost of a Pi is only actually a fraction of the total cost of actually using a Pi. Not only would this mean you can use that old Dell monitor, it’d also work, unlike the HDMI port, which doesn’t.
Secondly, I’d supply the Pi with a 4GB SD card plugged in to it already, with an OS on it, that boots. In fact I’d probably consider wedging the thing inside a keyboard casing with a trackpad and then you’ve literally got something just like one of those home computers of old, the spirit of which the Pi is attempting to capture. If you sold the bundle of things ready assembled for under £100 you’ve got a no-brainer for any prospective parent thinking about getting one for his or her geeky kids.
Lastly I’d switch from using microUSB power input to a standard 5v DC power input. And then I’d supply the device with one anyway, in the box.
The choice of Linux as an OS is unfortunate but a bit of a necessity given there’s bugger all alternatives yet. Linux is incredibly complicated. Just look at the BASIC interpreter command prompt startup of a Vic-20 compared to the Pi. Eek. This isn’t really going to help a new generation of geeks get in to programming; it’s likely to make them think, this is just too much effort for too little gain. Well done for creating the sort of barrier to entry that filters out all but the most heavily bespectacled and introverted propellerheads but is that really what we need? I believe that the barrier should be as low as absolutely possible in order to hook people into fiddling before people need to get into the nuts and bolts. Look at Mac OS. It’s got Unix underneath but even an idiot can use it after switching it on. I think the Pi is going to need something like that.
Anyway, more ramblings about the Pi later, as I get to grips with the horrors of Linux and C programming (Python! You must be joking). Eventually I’m hoping to get some Java code running on it.
You might think I’m being a little negative about the Pi so far. Actually I’m having a reasonable amount of fun tinkering with it; my fears are really more meta-fears; I suspect that the Pi will turn off more people from software engineering than it will turn on, supplied as is. It is the very raw roots of modern computing. Unfortunately those roots are ugly, messy, nasty, clunky things; and one of the chief reasons I don’t use Linux as my main OS, and also one of the main reasons I use Java as my weapon of choice.
Talking of Java, seeing a bit more of an effort to support Java on the device wouldn’t go amiss. After all, it’s very, very likely that Java is what they’re going to be actually exposed to in higher education. Not Python.
The LWJGL project, which provides the low-level graphics, sound and input bindings required for Java to make great games such as Revenge of the Titans, Titan Attacks, Spiral Knights, Tribal Trouble, Starfarer, Blocks That Matter, and yes, the ubiquitous Minecraft, needs your help. Well, that is, if you’re a reliable, seasoned Mac OS X developer with a fairly deep understanding of the Obj-C display APIs. Continue reading
Having spent the last few days dealing with the aftermath of turning 39, I’ve finally gotten the database rinsed and cleaned and full of genuine registrations again from the Great Birthday Giveaway… and with some cunning databasery I’ve managed to reinstate some previously disabled games. What does this mean for you?
In short: if you ordered more than one game, I have reactivated the first one you ordered.
So if you were one of the people that fired up Steam the other day and discovered your game(s) have vanished, or if you tried to obtain a Steam key and were told that your email has been disabled, or if you tried to register your Puppygames registration but were told the same, you may now again register your game – just the first one you ordered – and get a Steam key for it (if it was Revenge of the Titans or Titan Attacks – Droid Assault and Ultratron don’t have Steam keys yet, but they will have, and you will be able to get them in the same way).
All in all I’ve managed to give away a further 2,353 free games to people who either didn’t read the small print quite right or for whatever reason were unaware of the one game limit. This makes me feel all magnanimous and warm inside, and is back in the spirit of things, bringing the total grand giveaway to 13,701 games.
Just to allay a few untrue rumours circulating – no-one is going to be banned by Valve for blagging an extra key. There are a few script hackers who might be in trouble though, and it was these guys filling up the registrations database with shite that have caused everyone all the grief, you included.
As a little treat for the internets, on my birthday the other day I decided that we would give away our games for free, and see what the power of a single tweet could accomplish.
Well, of course, our server was flattened within the hour, as it turns out our keygen can only generate about 15 keys a minute, and we went on to give away 22,500 keys. The only reason we only gave away 22,500 keys was because BMTMicro, our payment provider, closed our shop page after 12 hours because we couldn’t cope with the huge backlog coming in.
To make matters more amusing, we only had about 6,000 Steam keys to hand, and these ran out sharpish as well. It also turns out the Steam key retriever contained a schoolboy thread race error in it causing a couple of hundred people to receive duplicate Steam keys. And the cherry on the cake was that unbeknownst to us, a few days before the promotion, our server silently stopped sending email to customers after it was “migrated” by Rackspace. I’ve no idea how its configuration could have changed in that time, but it did. So we had this perfect storm going on:
- Site flattened
- Shop page shut down
- Ran out of Steam keys
- Email sender kaput
The end result is that my single tweet generated 3,000 support emails, none of which we will be answering No, instead, we are going to send an email to each and every one pointing to a FAQ page which explains what went wrong and what you can do about it, and if you’ve got some problem that’s not answered in the FAQ, we advise emailing us again.
It didn’t take long for some people, in Eastern Europe and Australia, to latch on to our generosity, and quickly create scripts to generate hundreds of Steam keys for themselves, which presumably they have been trading. Unfortunately I know about this. Unfortunate for them, that is, as every single one of these keys will shortly be invalidated by Valve, who will also at their discretion be completely banning accounts who took advantage of the abuse. This is called “karma”.
Slightly Less Abuse!
I’m not sure just how clear that tweet was about the offer but to me it looks very much like “1 item max” means that I only wanted to give away one game each on my birthday. I’m terribly sorry to all 3,137 people who decided to take all of our games during the offer, because I’ve had to disable them all, and again, Valve will be taking your keys off of you, and no, I’m not giving them back because there are thousands of you and you had your chance and blew it.
What We Are Left With
So out of that 22,500 “sales”, we’ve actually ended up with just 11,200 legitimate people who took us up on the offer – happy birthday me! And a thousand thank yous to all those who took the offer in the spirit in which it was intended – you really are our fans and you make it all worthwhile for us. Keep an eye out for the completely updated, revamped and changed Ultratron 3.0 coming in the next couple of months, and of course, Droid Assault will be making an appearance on Steam as well soon.
Some Of Your Problems Answered
Where do I get the Steam key from for my game?
I got a duplicate key! Can you fix this?
Just try again, it’s fixed now.
I never received the email you said you sent me!
Try again, it’s fixed now. And check your SPAM folder!
It says you’ve run out of Steam keys!
We’ve got some more now, just try again.
My game has reverted back to a demo version!
That’s too bad – I did only want to give one game away each and I haven’t time to deal with everyone who somehow “misunderstood”
Wolcum yole! Christmas lurks just around the corner, ready to pounce on unsuspecting credit cards and weakened bank accounts. To alleviate the suffering just a teeny, tiny, weeny bit, here is a new version of Revenge of the Titans, v1.80.14, which in a few days’ time you will discover has a special Christmas treat in it.
Here are the download links (except for you Humble Bundle types, you need to go back to your Humble Bundle download links and get them there. And, er, wait a day or two for the caches to update first):
What’s New and Noteworthy?
The first thing half of you will notice is that the mouse handling is completely different. I realise that this is a fairly bold and risky thing to do to a fairly long-established control mechanism in a product that’s already very mature, but… it never really worked properly before, you see. It didn’t use the desktop mouse settings, it didn’t work with tablets, it didn’t work with some mouse drivers, it was quite frequently completely erratic in movement, and it also grabbed the mouse when you clicked on the window which is kinda rude and doesn’t behave nicely in windowed mode when it comes to alt-tabbing.
So now the mouse is no longer captured by the window, and you use either the left or right buttons to scroll the screen by click-and-drag. The right mouse button has a tiny sensitivity threshold on it, which means it should still respond sensibly to its original functions (picking up buildings to build, cancelling operations), whereas the left mouse button will immediately drag. The left mouse button of course won’t drag if what you’re clicking on would otherwise have some other effect – for example, attempting to drag whilst in range of a capacitor isn’t going to work – you need to use the right mouse button.
The reason for allowing the right mouse button in drags as well is so that you can go into build mode and still scroll the screen about with the mouse like you used to. Or smartbomb mode, etc. It takes a little bit of getting used to – especially after 4 years of the old way of just waving the mouse about – but after a few games it’s just second nature again. Of course you can still use the cursor keys or WASD to scroll anyway if that’s what butters your bread.
The next thing I’ve changed is the display context handling. Er, what’s that, you ask? Well, put it this way: if you had driver problems before, they might have gone away now and the game is more likely to run. There were a lot of issues with the nice resizable window we introduced in v1.80.13, and hopefully they’ve all gone away now, although sadly with the loss of the minimise and maximise buttons.
The powerup spawn effects (and building attack effects, etc) now use chunky fat lines to draw, and because they’re now being drawn the same way as everything else in the game, they should be proper fast on all drivers. A few people had problems with the game suddenly dropping to about 2fps whenever a powerup spawned. This should now be fixed. It looks prettier, too, I think.
Finally there’s a subtle change to the way animation works, and screen transitions. You probably noticed on the screen transitions that some sprites were rendered before others, just for a single frame, so we’d have this sort of partial display which was just noticeable. This especially irritated me because I’ve seen it about 100,000 times, and it’s been bothering me for several years (yes, really). Well, I finally got around to fixing it.
Please let us know ASAP if there are any odd issues with the new version!
So Long, Desura
This part of the post is likely to attract all manner of hate and flames, but it has to be said: Desura wasn’t working for us. We spend just as much time and stress figuring out how to release software on the Desura platform as Steam, but unfortunately make literally 1/1000th of the money. So little in fact I don’t think Desura have even managed to pay us any money yet. It doesn’t make sense for us to support Desura any more, and so we’re not. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great client, their hearts are in the right place, but… we’re on Steam.
So my humble apologies to anyone with their eggs in the Desura basket. Contact us if you’ve got any issues.
Ultrabundle refresh being prepared
If this release of Revenge goes to plan, that is, generally seems to work properly, we’ll do a refresh of the Ultrabundle games using the same code, which will fix the same issues, etc. Fingers crossed.