All posts by Cas

Revenge of the Titans 1.2 released

Late last night I uploaded 1.2 of RoTT. The mirrors may or may not pick it up correctly (and Webstart/Linux will probably get it wrong too – clear your cache), but you can tell what version you’ve got because the installer now says it’s 1.2 when it’s installing on Windows; and on the Mac there should be 1.2 in the program information from the Finder; and the title screen, if you look closely somewhere around the middle, should also say 1.2.

Mirrors:

Windows

Mac

Linux (Webstart)

What’s Changed

  • Factories now scavenge around for patches of empty crystals instead of just stopping when their current patch runs out. Less clicking! Hurrah!
  • Scanners are now more expensive at $750 (on account of just how bloody useful they are), and batteries are $500.
  • The moon aliens are worth a bit less cash when they’re destroyed, and they’re slightly tougher.
  • There’s been some tweaking of the game’s auto-difficulty adjustment function. If you get badly kicked in, the replay should be much more doable. It should also get harder a bit sooner as a result of the gestalt changes to pricing and such.
  • That annoying bug where an alien would scurry off to the bottom left and go hide in the bedrock has been fixed. Hurrah!
  • Aliens no longer self-destruct when cutting past scenery.
  • The maximum useful number of scanners/batteries/cooling towers/reactors that you can stick next to a turret or whatever is now 4. Any more than that won’t make a difference.
  • Fixed the laser problem when it was firing so fast its beam hadn’t finished the last shot, and wasted the ammo.
  • Adding batteries to turrets now dynamically adds to their ammunition – no need to reload.
  • The levels are ever so slightly smaller to begin with. A little more claustrophobic perhaps.
  • The level will begin automatically if you’ve got less than $100 (and therefore cannot place a refinery to start the level)

So What’s The Best Strategy?

Well, there’s a funny thing about our games… I’m not all that good at them myself! I’ve never completed any of them fully. There are loads of far more talented gamer types out there who have done. I once got an email from someone who’d found a problem on level 75 of Droid Assault (it’s a danger stage populated entirely by laser-shielded battledroids, that are themselves armed with lasers. You can imagine what the problem was when he transferred). Level 75!! I’ve never even got to level 50 without cheating. But there we go.

So far, what I do generally in RoTT is this:

  • Now I’ve made it so that you can look around before the aliens come, I set up a few key defences along the roads if I’ve got more than $1000 in the bank.
  • I never place things actually on roads if I can help it, because the gidrahs will very likely want to trample on them. Except for mines. I plonk mines in lines down the roads, and it blows them to smithereens one at a time. Mines are good.
  • When I’ve done that I paint as many refineries as I can next to as many crystals as possible. I spend every last penny on refineries. This is critical to success. It only takes a second full collection to make $100 profit from a refinery.
  • If (as often happens) the refineries are between your base and the gidrahs, they’re going to trample it. Get some walls up and put a few turrets behind them.
  • Eventually the gidrahs are going to get through your initial defences. I usually end up putting some big guns and a bunch of upgrades next to the base, and plonking concrete in front of them. Then it’s a case of nailbiting worry and frantic reloading.
  • I don’t always research something. Particularly by the Moon levels, things are getting mental. If I start a level with less than $2500 in the kitty I usually get kicked in. Sometimes you’ve just gotta save your cash. You can research something on the next level. You’re not honestly expected to be able to research everything by the end of the game. Choose your path. If it doesn’t work out… go back a few levels, maybe take a different turning.
  • As for research, I get all the basic tower upgrades done first before going for heavier guns. You only need the heavy guns from level 12 onwards.
  • Mines are especially effective on armoured targets or ones with loads of hitpoints. The bog standard rank-and-file gidrah can be picked off by spamming them with ordinary blasters – so don’t put heavy guns down in their way – it’s a complete waste of money and overkill.

A number of people have commented on the usefulness or not of the droid factory. The droid factory actually has a special purpose, and it’s related to what happens on Mars, where you will encounter gidlets. Gidlets can’t be targeted by turrets because they’re too small – you need to go hand-to-hand with droids. Droids are only otherwise much use against unarmoured targets as they have tiny little blasters.

Likewise you may be wondering about capacitors. Apart from how cool they are, especially with a few reactors and batteries nearby, you’ll be needing them to zap wraiths on Mars, which are invisible and therefore won’t get shot at by turrets or droids. You have been warned!

Some Reasoning about Game Design

So… why is this game so difficult for some, and so easy for others? What am I doing about it? Why are the things the way they are and not exactly howyou want them to be?

For example why’s there no difficulty selector? (In any of our games?)

Here’s my reasoning on difficulty selection. I don’t necessarily want you to agree with it, but understand what it is we’re trying to achieve with what we have: our games automatically tune for difficulty using a variety of performance metrics gathered from the player’s performance over time and on-the-moment. With a difficulty selector, people have no idea what difficulty to choose initially. I always select HARD in case EASY is boring but often I end up having a bit of a tedious time quickloading games every 20 seconds because actually, hard was too hard. Once I’ve chosen HARD, that’s it – there’s no changing it, no going back.

With auto tuning difficulty, the game starts off very easy. If you’re good – which it works out by how much money you’ve got in the bank, how many things you’ve got researched, and how many levels you’ve finished straight without defeat so far – it gets harder. Up until the point where you just can’t cope, and you get defeated. At this point, it lops a huge factor off the difficulty and invites you to try the level again. If you still get defeated, it lops even more difficulty off the level, until finally, you’re playing it as if you were a n00b right back at the beginning of the game again, albeit coping with all the new things that have turned up. The idea with the difficulty is that it slowly creeps up and if we get the balance just right, you’ll be having a fairly permanently frenetic time until you finally taste defeat. Defeat is part of this game. You are destined to be overwhelmed a few times. This is deliberate in RoTT.

Some people might be finding the game disproportionately hard even so. That’s because it’s a very deep game. There are a lot of things to juggle simultaneously – strategy, expenditure, mouse dexterity, research. You’re probably not thinking very hard. This is not a casual game! It’s not even a tower defence game. It’s an RTS, and a cunning one at that. Rethink your game!

I’m off on holiday to France now leaving all the problems that surface with poor old Chaz, so be nice to him, because he doesn’t know how to fix the server if it breaks, or any bugs.

Version 1.1 of Revenge of the Titans Uploaded

“Earthlings! Some of you are still attempting to thwart our awesome might using your puny version 1.0 turrets! Perhaps you would fare better if you downloaded the new 1.1 release and installed it over the top of your old and busted version!”

Things which have Changed

  • Mouse scroll speed is now fixed
  • Slightly more useful mouse speed adjustment range (default position 3 of 10)
  • The gidrahs do not start their advance until you place your first refinery. Go and make a cup of tea, look around, maybe place a few defences in strategical locations!
  • Going back a few levels to try a different tactic now works as you’d expect it to
  • You now get a bonus for recycling at the end of a level: your buildings are all sold for 40% of their original purchase price, scaled by their remaining hit points, to the nearest 50$. This is paving the way for the SELL BUILDING button which will appear with the Mars update at the end of June.
  • …but now the integrity bonus of the Moon base is smaller to compensate
  • The earlier levels will be ever so slightly harder than they were before
  • The game now ends at the end of the Moon (registered or not) because it’s a bit pointless playing any further at this stage, as Mars and so forth are completely unfinished placeholders!
  • Hopefully the Mac crash when you place a refinery is fixed. But without a Mac to test it on I won’t know until you bug me.

We’ve been carefully listening to all the feedback we can find on the whole internet and subtly planning modifications of various sorts that will come with the Mars levels.

Quick Tips

A fair few people have commented on the amount of clicking you’ve got to do in the game. You should know the following things:

  • You can click and drag when harvesting refineries, reloading, and building! Mouse down, wiggle all over factories, release, done. Likewise you can paint a line of turrets or reload them all.
  • Every button on the UI has a shortcut key. The three most useful ones are R, to go to the next empty turret; E, to go to the next full refinery; and Q, to take you straight to your base. TAB will fast forward the action in dull moments.
  • Right-click on a building to select that sort of building in build mode. No need to hunt around in the little icons if you can see another such building already on the screen.
  • The game evolves over time. It will eventually become impossible for you to manually deal with harvesting all your refineries and reloading your turrets. Certain avenues of research will glean you buildings that will do the job for you. The game evolves from a micromanagement cross between Cake Mania and tower defence into a macro management and strategical game.

Another few tips you might want to know, if you’re struggling with the difficulty sometimes:

  • Build as many refineries as can possibly fit around all the crystals you can find. It only takes two full harvests to make $100 profit!
  • If you get owned, replay the level. It will be a bit easier next time around. If you’re really at a dead end, go back a level or two by going back to the title screen – your progress is preserved at each level (until you go back levels)
  • Level 18 is hard. Be prepared! Make sure you’ve got plenty of money before you start it. Maybe skip a level of research.

Disaster!

Well, you know how it is: you toil away in obscurity for 5 years and then all of a sudden everyone wants to play your new game, all at the same time. So your server is flattened as if by a tsunami of eager Earth Commanders eager to turn the tables the advancing Titan hordes, and boom! the registration key generator dribbles its last, expiring quietly, without telling anyone.

We’re working with BMTMicro right now to get everyone their registration codes which didn’t come through. I’ve got about 50 emails to reply to and assure everyone that everything’s ok! We got all your orders in the BMT database, but they just need to be sent over to our server now. Stay tuned!

By the way – don’t play past the end of the Moon yet! Mars and so on are completely not at all done at all, with just placeholder graphics and aliens that aren’t even drawn right and have the wrong hit points etc. etc. – it’ll be very boring! Mars should be coming at the end of June, and you’ll have to deal with wraiths and gidlets!

While BMT help sort out the problems we’d just like to thank everyone massively for helping us out and for being extremely patient while we get the problems fixed. We’re reading every single little bit of feedback or commentary all over the whole internet and I’ll be making all sorts of little improvements and tweaks based directly on your feedback.

In the meantime I’ve got to hold down a day job 9 – 5 thing while dealing with all of this still – and guess what we’re doing at work? Yes, releasing a big bit of software this week, which doesn’t work yet.

Back to panicing.

UPDATE: the key generator was fixed as of last night, and looking at the stats this morning, everything’s working fine, so hopefully no more problems with new registrations. Things are slow with BMT to sort the backlog though, so we’ll manually register those today. Everything should be sorted by end of today. Phew.

UPDATE: manually registered all those that the key generator had previously failed, they should all now be working fine… and then it breaks again 🙁 currently waiting for Cas to return to fix.

UPDATE: that was me just being daft – key gen is working, database was blocked cos i was adding stuff to it manually. doh. Everyone now should have keys. Hurrah!

UPDATE: nope, not just me being daft, it’s still not quite right 🙁 Still only affecting a few people, apologies to them. I’ve manually added the recent few – all up-to-date at the mo.

Rock Paper Shotgun Loves Us


Rock Paper Shotgun

… and we wuv them back, too, for they have interviewed me. And yes, I speak the truth, it does appear that we’ll have a pre-order demo ready in a couple of weeks, and it’ll be 50% off, and the full game will appear in the summer!

Best get back to the drudgery of the day job first though.

Bah.

The to-do list currently looks like this:

  • Alien stuck in corner of map inexplicably
  • Double music playing on start of world
  • Research screen
  • Twiddle story xml around
  • Research tree
  • Replay Level button on Game Over
  • Clearer “reloading” timers
  • Some unique landmarks
  • Shift-click on a building to switch to Build Mode using that building (if still available)
  • Increase barricade / mine limit with silos?
  • Add ammo counter to capacitors?
  • Medals screen
  • Show medals earned on complete level dialog
  • Put in a load of tips
  • Hiscores screen
  • Different sfx for factory shutdown klaxon, base attack, base critical
  • Bezerk effect
  • Freeze effect
  • Mars
  • Saturn
  • Titan

The ToDo List

Just when you thought game development was all exciting and interesting and full of screenshots, kebabs, and nubile wenches feeding us creamy grapes and wafting our sweaty feet with palm fronds*, I thought I’d share the To Do list with you, as of today, and the Done list, as of the last 6 months or so:

Bugs

  • Crystals not being removed from map when exhausted
  • Double music playing on start of world
  • Fix story innaccuracies on Earth levels
  • Gidrah spawn point arrows in wrong place
  • Story screen sequence glitches
  • Restore is broken
  • Wire up powerup shortcuts in shop
  • Moon gidrahs need idle animations
  • Moon alt floor has some glitches
  • Turrets go from having 2 dits of ammo to RELOAD
  • change messageBox messages (eg. register failed)
  • change register email so it works like net.puppygames.applet.screens.EnterNameDialog…
  • need to set color to black, text to all caps, and email_x and email_y to be offsets like name_x,name_y

To-Do

  • Medals screen
  • Show medals earned on complete level dialog
  • Video
  • Put in a load of tips
  • Tip sequences
  • Building factories
  • Harvesting
  • Reloading
  • Placing turrets out of the way
  • Armoured gidrahs
  • Base under attack
  • Scripted tips that appear at set times in a level
  • Define level events and put in mechanisms to generate them
  • Adjust story in Earth and Moon for new tips system (and accuracy)
  • Hiscores screen
  • Remove screen flash from disruptor. Or tone it down.
  • Really Exit Game dialog when close button is clicked
  • Shift-click on a building to switch to Build Mode using that building (if still available)
  • Show approaching gidrah locations offscreen using edge radar
  • Increase barricade / mine limit with silos?
  • Add ammo counter to capacitors?
  • Different sfx for factory shutdown klaxon, base attack, base critical
  • Better sound when many gidrahs attack at once
  • Latest level should be highlighted in a different colour?
  • Minimap?
  • More feedback when activating powerups
  • Bezerk effect
  • Freeze effect

Done / Fixed

  • Leftover alien attacking squares – maybe related to knockback or angry gids
  • Deflected bullets at wrong angle
  • Earth levels at constant difficulty; moon increases difficulty very slowly
  • Armoured gidrahs to deflect bullets
  • Collector available at wrong time on moon
  • Moon too hard! Auto-difficulty tuning awry?
  • Center dialog text like ‘GAME SAVED’, ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’, ‘GAME OVER’
  • Dialog text fade out bug?
  • One or two odd glitches in GLStyledText
  • Shop bleeps over invisible shop items
  • Adjusted price of silos, collectors, autoloaders, etc.
  • New factory mining sound effect
  • Factory mining sound effect overpowers all other sounds
  • SetLayers now works properly
  • Maximum 100 gidrahs on a level, and timer stops when maximum is reached
  • Crystals don’t wear out so fast
  • Story Screen characters to allow multiple speech bubbles
  • Backgrounds (bg) and separate anchors for backgrounds on settings
  • Anchors for settings
  • Shorten levels
  • Shrink levels
  • Slow down gidrahs on Moon
  • Smartbombs only affect a gidrah once
  • Autocollector now autocollects
  • Factories once more fixed price
  • <setlayers> animation feature
  • Frozen gidrahs don’t change appearance to frozen when attacking
  • Ensure some crystals are present on the level
  • Better VBO rendering path
  • More background loops for worlds pinched from Alien Flux and Ultratron
  • Award end of level bonus based on remaining base hitpoints and world number
  • Capacitor and laser can’t shoot through powerups
  • Zoom To Building doesnt seem to work quite right in widescreen
  • Factories to randomly select 1 nearby crystal to mine
  • Remove extra bases on Moon onwards
  • Fixed all buildings suddenly paintable by accident
  • Black out inaccessible areas of map
  • Crystal shrinking
  • Factory <-> crystal effect
  • Crystals to be impassable
  • tooltips appear in the wrong place
  • Fix shop background missing on first open (again)
  • Display number of attempts & ranking in level select screen
  • Dissapearing obstacles/crystals on first level played (attenuation bug?)
  • Offset and textOffset bug on areas
  • VBO stability problems
  • Allow clicking on saucer in build mode
  • Award players money when using smartbombs against gidrahs
  • Crystals to slowly be consumed by factories
  • Can’t build factory unless next to Crystal
  • Crystals generation
  • Show turret/capacitor range when ghosted
  • Widescreen support
  • Layout tags for areas
  • Maprenderer
  • Change GUI backgrounds
  • Adjust XML for GUIs
  • Change options screen
  • Change slots to use areas
  • Save and quit broken ( press it and nothing happens… press return to game and then it quits out with game saved message )
  • Centre=”x” or centre=”y” or centre=”both” for screens
  • Re-enable VBO code with checks and option
  • Fixed mouse disappearing into black areas of fullscreen
  • Fixed level completed / game over messages
  • Make so ‘factory collect’ message dissapears when ‘shutdown imminent’ appears – otherwise theyre on top of each other
  • Faded progress bar on story screen
  • Delete broken on profile screen
  • Force base position to be at least several sqaures away from edge of map
  • Stop text breaking when style changes
  • Better difficulty tuning
  • Reset mouse cursor on story screens
  • Fancy Pants text rendering for GLTextArea
  • Auto-bolding
  • Wait until boss & other effects removed before completing the level
  • Story screens
  • Fixed hotkey bounce on screen open
  • Fixed background insets
  • Restart level needs to reset game state to what it was when the level was started
  • Record number of attempts a level has been failed at and adjust the difficulty accordingly
  • Game screen pauses when covered by shop or other modal dialog
  • Make game easier for crapper players
  • In-game menu
  • Quit
  • Save and Quit
  • Restart Level option needed
  • Fixed not asking player for a name on first startup
  • Fixed fullscreen toggle being broken
  • Moved custom capacitor zap code into nice new TickableObject style
  • Fixed shop closing if RMB held down while opening
  • Much faster shop opening / closing
  • Fixed tick/update glitch that caused labels to appear momentarily in the wrong place
  • Investigate using plain VAs
  • Can now scroll the screen with WASD or cursor keys
  • Capacitors overpowered and too cheap – so now they recharge slower and cost twice as much
  • Mines overpowered and too cheap – so now they cost more
  • Investigate poor performance in build mode
  • Fix initial proximity effect bug when closing shop or building something
  • Zoom to last base when it is destroyed
  • Fix emitter bug – gun flashes having screen offset somehow applied wrongly
  • Fix emitter bug – see emitter-ruins-problem-2.png and emitter-yOffset-problem.png
  • Fix buggered looking Game Over dialog
  • Fix blurry edges of buttons
  • Accurate danger circles around barricades and turrets (checked in debug)
  • When clicking on game map, grab mouse
  • Tweak HUD & shop to show number of barricades / mines left
  • Fix shop descriptions so they’re accurate and fit in the area provided
  • Show disabled things in shop better
  • Limit barricade production & disable in shop when all used up
  • Limit mine production & disable in shop when all used up
  • Autoloaders to cost more each time they are built
  • Warehouses to cost mode each time they are built
  • Move game screen immediate mode rendering into effects
  • Fixed single frame delay when switching animations in frame command – hurrah! – loads of glitches solved
  • Fix shop background not appearing when shop first opened
  • Fix flicker on icons in shop / HUD
  • Stop RMB closing shop before it’s open
  • Fixed music not streaming because fade=1
  • Ramp up gidrah speed when factories are shut down
  • Game Over screen
  • Wait a bit longer after last base destroyed
  • Fixed slot effects highlighting when Delete dialog is up
  • Fix background insets
  • Fix game not ending when base destroyed
  • Fix proximity effects
  • Fixed gidrahs not clearing “attacking” squares and eventually just sitting around doing nothing
  • Disable factories and related buildings in shop after shutdown
  • Fix performance of Backgrounds
  • Bosses to ignore danger
  • Prevent gidrah crowding on mass attacks
  • When selecting quicklaunched buildings, don’t cycle the quicklaunch order
  • Gidrahs to attack barricades a bit more quickly
  • Stop alien animatino when thinking or stunned
  • Fix totally broken texture appearance
  • Tune difficulty exponentially rather than linearly
  • Fixed emitters
  • Further difficulty tuning
  • Turrets don’t shoot at dead gidrahs
  • Gidrahs now try and plot a route around your turrets!
  • Continue button on Game Over dialog not yet wired up
  • Fade very last segments of capacitor beam
  • Investigate why gidrahs don’t flash white when hurt
  • Make game easier
  • Only 2 sorts of gidrah on earth, and no armour
  • Gidrahs have less hitpoints
  • Slower gidrahs
  • More ammo from batteries
  • More range from scanners
  • More cooling from towers
  • More production from reactors
  • Fix factory count-up
  • Fix ammo-count down
  • Use colormap for timer bar
  • When base under attack click to zoom to it
  • Wire up B & click to do zoom to base
  • Wire up T & click to do zoom to turret
  • Wire up F & click to do zoom to factory
  • Don’t centre mouse when screens change
  • Longer period before aliens start coming to build base defences
  • Spawn bosses immediately
  • Fix cursors when screens change
  • Ability to specify formations in world definition
  • Pop up tips on HUD
  • Capacitor beam weapon effect
  • Performance fixes so far:
  • Speed up Labels
  • Triple buffer VBOs in sprite engine & other places
  • Only invalidate paths inside changed bounds
  • Speed up sprite engine
  • Speed up capacitor renderering effects
  • Speed up build checking
  • Turn off build effect
  • Faster pathfinding
  • Faster gidrah movement code
  • Double buffered VBOs in sprite engine
  • Removed call to glGetError() on SwapBuffers
  • Upgraded to LWJGL2.2.1 for VBO performance fix
  • Speed up saucer effects
  • Speed up building attack effects
  • Speed up text rendering effects
  • Speed up background rendering effects
  • Speed up build effects
  • Speed up proximity effects

* unless you’re my girlfriend reading this, in which case there are absolutely none of those involved in game development.

    The Story So Far

    It’s been a little while since I ventured a post onto the blog, as I’ve been extra busy doing contract work. One of these days we’re going to have a game that sells enough that I don’t have to do contract work, but that day hasn’t happened yet. We have high hopes for Revenge of the Titans, though! Who knows, maybe we’ll even manage a retail deal, or Steam?

    So, here’s what we’ve been up to since the last blog post…

    Game progress

    We’ve been hard at work putting in lots of little touches into the game that polish it up in many tiny little ways. I can’t really overstate the importance of little bits of polish. People do actually notice this stuff, and every time someone thinks, “Ah! That’s cool”, we have increased the chances that people will buy the game. So, we’ve now got little shortcuts on the main HUD for the last 3 building types created, accessible with a click or a hotkey (1-3). It’s just got a slightly more natural flow than opening the shop each time. Similarly we’ve got shortcuts for all the non-exotic powerups on the HUD next to the powerup tab, too; so that’s the freeze, shield, smartbomb, repair, and bezerk powerups all accessible with hotkeys or a single click as well.

    We’ve got a “BASE UNDER ATTACK!” warning and “BASE SHIELDS CRITICAL!” warning, under a flashing base icon on the HUD; you can tap B or click it to instantly zoom back to your base(s) and cycle through them. Of course, on Earth, there’s only the one base.

    Similarly we’ve got a “RELOAD TURRET!” warning, and associated hotkey T and button that will flash, and allow you to instantly zoom to the next empty turret.

    And lastly we’ve got a “FACTORY FULL!” warning, and corresponding hotkey F and button, which does the same for factories that are full and awaiting collection.

    There’s now a bit more of a delay at the start of a level (which gets longer the bigger the level is), which gives you a few more seconds to survey the terrain and where the gidrahs are coming from, before you start constructing your base. The levels are now slightly longer, to allow for this extra time, plus a bit more time with factories producing money.

    Factories now shut down a short while after the gidrahs stop coming. There was a very simple exploit before that allowed you to carefully funnel your gidrahs so that they could get stuck behind a wall and trundle out one at a time, to be shot. This made the levels last so long that you could amass a huge pile of factories producing unfeasibly huge amounts of money. Now the factories only produce for a while so you need to get them built quickly and harvest them as efficiently as possible.

    I’ve been doing a lot of game balance twiddling. The Earth levels, which comprise the first half of what we intend to be the game demo, are meant to be a “tutorial” of sorts. They introduce each of the main buildings one level at a time, and I’ve just embarked on an in-game tip system that will constantly bombard the player with hints as to where they’re going wrong during play.

    Unfortunately I was beginning to realise I’d been playing the Earth levels for, ooh, about a year now, and I was getting rather good at them, milking them for as much cash as possible, using the minimum buildings in the optimum configuration, and generally being the saviour of Earth quite consistently. Even more unfortunately, I kept adjusting the game difficulty to compensate for my own brilliance, forgetting somehow that “EASY SELLS!” in the process (the exact opposite of what Microsoft seems to think), and also forgetting especially that “HARD TUTORIAL DEFINITELY DOESN’T SELL!” even more. I was getting to the point where I was getting my ass whupped by level 8 and enjoying the challenge; of course, that shouldn’t have been happening at all. The first 10 levels are meant to be super-easy introductions to the concepts of the game! Even the next 10 levels, on the Moon, are meant to be very easy, because we want people to complete them and buy the next 30 levels of game with all the piles of extra stuff in them.

    The wake-up call was getting my 11-year old nephew to have a go at the game (without the constant barrage of automated tips, I had to hover over his shoulder and tell him what to do – bad sign). He got kicked in fairly quickly by level 8, and the only comment he made about the game was, “It’s hard.

    Right now then, I’m making all sort of strange and alien decisions to make things almost trivially easy for Earth. Reducing hit points, slowing gidrahs down, cheapening buildings, making them more effective, etc. I will test it out on my ever-suffering girlfriend later tonight and see if she manages to easily pwn the boss on level 10. (I actually gave the boss armour so it could only be destroyed by heavy blasters! Am I some kind of idiot?)

    Performance Tuning

    This game, despite its apparently diminutive stature (still running in our odd native 320×320 resolution), is rather pushing the performance boundaries of even the most hardcore computers. About a month ago I was getting maybe 20fps on my 1.6GHz dualcore AMD64 laptop with integrated NVidia chipset – ouch! It’s supposed to run at 60fps.

    We’re actually pretty much hammering the 2D capabilities of the system somewhat. About a month ago, we were drawing approximately 1,300 – 1,500 sprites per frame, in approximately 70-130 draw calls. That sounds like it should be pretty trivial for a system to cope with – 1,500 sprites is after all only 6,000 vertices.

    It turns out we’ve come across that age-old Java problem: getting data into buffers for OpenGL to draw is probably being hampered by lots of unnecessary bounds checks. I’ve cut down the problem now by agressively culling entities sprites which are suitably far offscreen to be definitely not visible; now we’re down to about 800-1,000 sprites per frame, and getting double the frame rate. The actual writing of sprites to the data buffers takes approximately 7.5% of a frame here on my uber-l33t i7 rig (1.2ms). Actually drawing them takes 35% of a frame (5.8ms) on my super Nvidia card. That leaves 9.5ms or so to do game logic – on the fastest most powerful computer I could afford 12 months ago. All the UI interaction, collision detection, gidrah pathfinding AI, animation, movement, targeting, etc, all has to be done inside that 9.5ms. On my uber-rig, it gets the lot done in 3ms. Realistically I’m targeting computers two generations behind this one, which will be approximately one quarter as powerful overall.

    I wish they’d supply a switch to disable bounds checking so I could, if nothing else, at least prove to myself that’s slowing things down. I’d leave it disabled of course 🙂 I will explore performance tuning in a further blog post later this month.

    What’s Left To Do

    I’ve got to get the tips system working nicely so that it provides a constant “over-the-shoulder” commentary on what you’re doing for the first 10 levels or so. I also intend to use it to put in a few scripted speeches from the characters in the game.

    I’m also working on a silent MJPEG video codec. I’ve found a nice pure Java JPEG decoder in IBM’s SWT source code, which I’ve hoiked and plonked into SPGL. This will be the basis of some fairly inefficient full-motion video rendering. I’d really, really like an H264 or even DivX codec but inexplicably no-one has produced a pure Java version of either, at least, not without massive library dependencies.

    Chaz has got to do all the graphics for the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Titan – that’s all the aliens, rocks, floor, scenery, and the story screens – a tall order. I suspect that this means the game will now not be ready until Easter, which is a bummer because we’re broke, as usual.

    The story screens are probably going to take the most time. I suppose now I know this I can consider getting some semi-professional voiceovers done for them. Any volunteers? (The hint in that request is “volunteer” – we have no money :P)

    Music

    I know you’re all dying to know what I’ve been listening to lately. Behold, the Cardiacs.

    Life

    Seren turned 1 on New Years Eve. Had a great party. House was overrun by small children. Then I contracted gastroenteritis (probably norovirus). On the bright side I lost half a stone in 48 hours, which neatly compensates for the giant feasts of Christmas. According to the doctor I am now no longer overweight. Hurrah for disease!

    One long rambling post this. This is what happens when you don’t post regularly.

    Revenge Of The Titans Development Diary So Far…

    I posted the other day about these cute little soldier units that get produced by the Barracks building. It was one of those neat little ideas that pops into my head. Usually when I’m on the bog.

    The trouble with neat ideas is sometimes they don’t quite fit in The Grand Scheme Of Things. What is the point of the little soldiers? They fire little lasers which are quite good at vanquishing the weedier gidrahs, especially when there’s a whole load of them, but they’re otherwise not so good at anything with any armour. You’d be better off just buying a heavy blaster. So what’s the point of the little guys?

    “Oh no!” you cry. “Don’t take the wee soldiers out, they’re so cute!”

    Fear not! I figured out what I’m going to do with them. And it followed another little extra new idea I’ve had on the bog, and subsequently implemented. Angry Gidrahs!

    Angry Gidrahs

    Each alien spawn point emits waves of aliens, with a little gap in between each wave, until the level ends. What I’ve added is the probability that the last alien emitted in a wave is one of these so-called angry gidrahs. An angry gidrah looks like its normal counterpart, except it’s a little bit bigger, and has some sort of special attribute that makes it a lot nastier (and worth 5x as much to shoot). And with a bit of Chazification, it will also be red and smoke slightly. The frequency that angry gidrahs appear depends on how good you are. They’re a bit like mini-bosses.

    So some of the things that distinguish angry gidrahs from their smaller, more serene brethren are: 5x as many hitpoints; moves twice as fast; has a weapon; has a special tactical brain; and … spawns gidlets! (Amongst other ideas) Gidlets are teeny tiny little aliens which are the counterpart to the little soldier guys. A gidlet is too small to be targeted by turrets! And they run right through barriers and minefields unimpeded. So you need little soldiers to go running after them before they reach a building and start bashing it. So soldiers by preference now chase after gidlets before they’ll start attacking the bigger gidrahs.

    Because gidlets are produced in relatively large numbers and they’re so small, they only do half a point of damage to a building when they hit it as opposed to the full point caused by a gidrah. Angry gidrahs are also good and tough and can bash a building up to four times before they finally croak.

    Flying Gidrahs

    Also this week sees the introduction of flying gidrahs, which predictably completely ignore minefields and barriers and even rocks and just fly straight past. If they were allowed to just fly straight at the base and collide the game would probably be over in short order which wouldn’t be very fair, so these gidrahs work in a slightly different way to ordinary gidrahs. They will instead fly in a straight line straight from their spawn point directly over their target and then off towards the opposite point on the map, thence to respawn a bit later. En route they will be firing guns or dropping bombs on anything they fly over.

    Unlike in other tower defence games we won’t be making you put down a special kind of turret to waste them. Your ordinary guns will do just fine.  Even soldiers will take a pot shot.

    Wraiths

    More sinister than flying gidrahs are wraiths. Wraiths are actually going to be a kind of angry gidrah, so they won’t be too common. Which is just as well! Because they can move unimpeded through barricades and minefields and, yes, walls too. It gets worse! They can only be harmed by capacitor fire, not ordinary turrets.

    Gidrahs with Guns

    It had to happen sooner or later. Some of those gidrahs are armed! They’ll occasionally take a pop at anything they walk past that’s in range, significantly increasing their threat level. The only useful countermeasure is to shoot them first by having a blaster with a really long scanning range. They shoot right over barricades so that won’t be any help. Or you can bung a bunch of shield generators down and hope the gidrahs walk into blaster range before the shields all get used up.

    That’s it for development news for today. Over and out.

    Wait! Who are these little guys?

    Look! Teeny tiny little men! These guys are produced by the barracks building. They’ve got weedy guns, short range, and don’t exactly move very fast, but when you’ve got thirty of them standing in a line blocking the advancing gidrahs with hail of small arms fire they’re quite formidable!

    Of course, the armoured gidrahs just trample on them and squish them. But you need heavy blasters for that anyway. I think I might have several different unit types available, generated at different speeds. These little basic guys are the grunts. I think a tank would be a useful addition to the player’s arsenal but I’m so enjoying the tininess of them maybe I’ll just give every 5th unit spawned a rocket launcher or something.

    The number of little guys you can have depends on the number of bases you’ve got, which brings me to a small change I’ve made to the game so that the level begins with no bases – instead you place one where you want to place it (I imagine on the opposite side of the map from the gidrah entry points) and at that point the level begins. A base costs $500, and you’ll get the money back at the end of the level if it survives. While it stands each base awards you a good old fashioned score multiplier. Keep 5 bases on the go and you’ll enjoy a 5x score multiplier for massive points. Yay!

    While I’m on about progress, I’ve put in another three buildings besides the barracks: the collector; the warehouse; and the autoloader.

    The collector is a handy way of consolidating mouse clickery. Place a collector amongst a bunch of factories, and instead of having to click on all the factories individually to collect money from them, you can simply click the collector once, freeing up more of your time to panic elsewhere.

    Place warehouses near factories to increase their capacity before they get full and stop producing.

    The autoloader you plonk next to a bunch of turrets. As soon as any turret in range of an autoloader runs out of ammo, it will automatically reload! How handy. It is of course rather expensive.

    Revenge of the Titans!

    After many fevered, sweaty nights here in warm and humid Somerset, and probably a similar story over in Madrid where Chaz has been holed up for the last few months, I flicked the switch on FRAPS and the monster twitched into life. Behold! Some dingy low-quality video footage of the early stages of what will soon become Revenge of the Titans!

    I’m afraid this is a fairly simple and benign level (level 9 in fact) so it’s not the most exciting level to watch. The game story progresses through five worlds – starting on Earth, which is basically the tutorial, and on to the Moon, then Mars, Saturn, and finally Titan itself. The background story is how Earth is launching a major offensive on the pesky Titans, and has to gradually secure each planet on the way in order to send the invasion fleet on to the next location.

    On Earth, you essentially learn the ropes. Revenge of the Titans is quintessentially a real-time strategy game, based on the tower defence mechanic. At every step of the way from the beginning of the level you have to balance two opposing priorities:

    • Do you look around and survey the map, or just get building right away?
    • Do you build factories first and get production ramped up, or do you start by building defences?
    • Do you manage your factories or keep an eye on your turrets’ ammunition?
    • Do you build lots of little guns, or do you place just a few and enhance them with auxilliary buildings?

    and so on.

    The main differences between Revenge of the Titans and other tower-defence games are, as you may be able to just about tell from the video, that the gidrahs advance in an entirely freeform way, and your turrets once placed cannot be “upgraded”. Each alien has its own little brain trying to figure out the best route to get to your base (or whatever other building it may decide to attack… they get strategical on the later levels…). If a route looks pretty congested, they’ll start finding alternative routes and you can find yourself unexpectedly flanked.

    The turrets are not directly upgradeable. This is a common theme in other tower defence games, but we’ve got a new mechanic. Instead you place a variety of little but expensive buildings down nearby them to augment their powers. Scanners increase their range; batteries increase their ammunition capacity; cooling towers increase their fire rate; reactors increase their reload speed. Some buildings have dual purposes. Reactors will, for example, increase the speed that factories produce money; they also increase the damage of capacitors, a manually-aimed weapon not shown in the video because I’m still coding the special effects for it. Shield generators can be popped down in later levels to give nearby buildings extra hitpoints. And you can lay minefields of different sorts and barricades of varying strength. And decoys to lure the gidrahs away from your valuable buildings!

    All the while the game is automatically tuning itself to your abilities. Hopefully everyone will get just enough challenge to have fun. I’m trying to get it just right so that everyone can enjoy playing the game but really good players will score massive points.

    I’m also thinking that the demo players who score the most points in a single game over a seven day period might just be getting themselves a free game. For all our titles. How’s about that for a bit of competition? Play to win a free copy 🙂

    What Makes Me Buy A Game?

    Over on a secret forum where the illuminati of indie game development hang out, someone asked this question (I say someone because technically we’re not allowed to talk about Fight Club, but this is a benign and often-asked question, and I think that this won’t upset anyone):

    What REALLY makes someone buy a game? I think we should brainstorm this. I get the impression that people are too quick to rush to very simplistic judgements about this. We are clever people, what do we think?

    I’ve read a ton of psychology / microeconomics / neurosciencey stuff that leads me to believe that game buying decisions are almost entirely irrational and entirely emotional.

    So I had a little think about it, and fortunately I have a fresh, current experience to relate to.

    I’ve just played the demo of Defense Grid, and I’m about to buy it.

    I’m even writing my own tower defence game right now and I’m utterly sick of playing it already!

    I want to think a bit more about what made the decision for me.

    Firstly, I’m going to be flush again in a few weeks. I just landed a contract in Folkestone, 220 miles from home, but I’ll be earning £275 a day (a crap rate, far worse money than I earned over a decade ago, but still way more money than most people earn). A $20 or even $30 or even $50 purchase is now pure whimsy. I won’t even notice it – whereas before, as an unemployed bum, I’d have reluctantly said no, I can’t afford it. Even though at £13.99, which I could easily spend on a takeaway and a couple of bottles of beer last weekend when I didn’t have any money.

    The takeaway and beer is an important comparison – people often get to thinking that the takeaway and beer lasts only a couple of hours, and is therefore maybe a tenth the value of a 20-hour game experience. That’s wrong. I need to eat, so does the missus. The beer is immensely enjoyable. I’d take beer over games any day. Really.

    A comparison with cinema tickets is usually what follows next. And actually I think it’s almost valid, for certain kinds of game. But the fact is, a cinema outing is for the two of us, we’re paying to have the experience together. It’s (sadly) a Big Thing (especially now we’ve got a 6 month old baby). £14 of cinema tickets buys us a whole evening of different. It could buy me a game, but we won’t be playing it together. Even a multiplayer game. Even a multiplayer game that we play on one screen together. It’s not the same. There’s no occasion. So we value the cinema tickets considerably higher than the game experience. This is the emotional draw from this form of entertainment.

    Games, then, probably fundamentally have to compete with this extremely powerful emotional hold that “activities” such as “going out” have. The situation of being an unemployed bum counts towards the ultimate decision but I suspect we can totally ignore the financial status of prospective customers. Customers are either rich, or they’re not going to buy a game. Or a cinema ticket. They might buy beer and a takeaway instead with what frugal funds they have. So just forget them, and forget the money equation. I don’t want poor customers who reluctantly part with $3.99 for something I spent 6 months toiling away at. I want rich customers with an appreciation of the value of the really hard work we do (ie. other people who work really hard). That’s why I’ve put all my games up at $19.95 finally and that’s where they will stay from now on.

    So what made me buy Defense Grid?

    Well, first and foremost, it’s good. It’s a really good tower defence game, even though they spelled defence wrongly. It’s not innovative in any particular way (unlike, say, the one I’m working on, which is quite different to most TD games), but the basic gameplay has been executed perfectly, and when I played it, I enjoyed myself so much that I’m going to buy it because I know I’m going to keep playing it for at least a couple more weeks. I’ve not got any other games to play right now apart from Zatikon from Chronic Logic, which I limit myself to 1 game a day of because of its hellishly addictive qualities, and I need a break from my own game.

    Secondly, it’s a piece of piss to buy stuff on Steam. I’d go direct to the developers except the Steam version is integrated with the Steam achievements stuff and also Steam takes care of auto updating and I’ll even be able to just download and install it again anywhere I choose to be without having to think about it. I like that. Steam got that stuff dead right. It’s value that I’ll gladly pay for. It’s the digital equivalent of owning a shiny box with a CD in it – it feels like I’ve paid some middleman some money for something I actually feel is worth something – totally unlike my feelings about buying stuff from BFG (oh look – no hyperlink), where I feel that I’m giving BFG all the money solely because they bullied their way to the top of the search engine charts and do their damndest to make sure the developers remain unknown. They’re pure middlemen. They add nothing I care to have. I’ll even pay an extra £10 for a game to get it direct instead of through BFG.

    It may come as a surprise also but I’ve never actually played a tower defence game. Apart from my own game, this is the first one I’ve played, and it’s been done so absolutely perfectly and TD is such a great concept for a game, with all sorts of decision trees one has to go through and enjoyable trial and error, it couldn’t fail to sell to me. So it was the first game of its nature I’ve actually come across, and it’s a great implementation.

    (Similarly: Faerie Solitaire was the first solitaire game I’ve played since the one that came with Windows 3.11 – I would have bought it if Brian hadn’t thrown a free copy at me).

    So there’s my thoughts on the matter. What makes you buy a game?

    True Fans and Making A Living

    The ever-interesting Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software has a blog which I read whenever he writes a new and usually very interesting article. Today he’s posted an article about another article (and, ahaha, I’m posting an article about an article about an article) about that popular internet business meme of getting 1,000 true fans.

    The gist of the nested article is this: with 1,000 “true fans” of your products, you’re able to make a living if you, say, sell to said fans a product for $25 four times a year.

    Jeff wisely points out that extracting $100 from someone every year is probably a bit unrealistic. He doesn’t mention I think also the difficulty of actually producing four products a year worth $25. It ain’t gonna happen. It takes us 6 months to make a game. The current one has actually taken 4 years to write but that’s a story for another blog post.

    Instead, a more realistic figure is 4,000 true fans and selling one thing a year to them.

    I got intrigued and wondered just how many true fans Puppygames has. So I ran this bit of SQL on our database, which is a rough-and-ready indicator:

    select email, count(*)
    from registrations
    where ordernumber <> 'special'
    group by email
    having count(*) > 2
    order by 2 desc

    And it tells me that we’ve got 74 customers who have bought 3 or more of our games (at least, using the same email address, anyway). Bah. So we have 74 true fans by that reckoning, in 6 years of writing games. Only another 3,926 to go. That’ll take another 320 years or so.

    Hexstatic

    This is the kind of thing I like listening to whilst I’m making games:

    At least, when I’m not listening to Kool Keith, which is the current soundtrack during development of our forthcoming game. You should get yourself some Hexstatic – it’s great 🙂 And some Kool Keith.

    How’s that new game coming on?

    Chaz reckons he’s about 6-7 weeks away from finishing it. I suspect a bit longer now I’ve looked at the to-do list but it should be definitely out before the end of the summer.

    Can I see some screenshots?

    Not yet! We’re just a few days off of having something that we’d be comfortable with showing off. And if you’re extra lucky we might do a video of the gameplay instead!

    Is it completely awesome?

    Of course it is! But you’d better get an iron mouse because it’s going to take a pounding.

    And yet more Droid Assault!

    Whilst working on our new game (do you remember, many moons ago, we had a game called Monster Mash? Well, it’s still under development, and edging closer to being fun), I cut ‘n’ pasted the A* pathfinding algorithm from the multicore brains in Droid Assault into it. The A* algorithm is used in two places in the new game: in the first instance, to ensure that your bases are accessible by at least one enemy spawn point; and in the second instance, so that the gidrahs will trundle towards the base.

    The map in the new game – OK, let’s call it Monster Mash even though it’s not called Monster Mash any more – is randomly generated every level. It’s a pretty trivial random generation, which simply involves starting with a map of solid rock, and then carving holes out of it between the bases and spawn points, plus a few other random holes. The end result is pretty nice, with results ranging from about 50% rock to 90% empty. Then we plonk down up to 10 bases which you have to defend (+1 base every 10 levels) – if any one base gets destroyed you lose. And then we plonk gidrah spawn points around the edge of the map, and a few in the middle on the later levels.

    Before it approves the map, the generator checks to ensure that every base is accessible to at least one spawn point. We do this by just plotting the path between them using the A* algorithm pinched from Droid Assault.

    It didn’t work.

    I removed some more of my remaining hair in a violent thrashy motion for a couple of hours.

    “How could this be? It’s been working fine in Droid Assault for a year!” I ranted.

    Except, of course, it hadn’t. It had been broken all along. All those lovely multicore droids you’d been capturing, hoping they were worth the extra points just because they had the best brains, never worked properly. It’s a miracle they ever managed to find any enemies. In fact it’s only because they have a backup brain that switches to direct attack when enemies are in direct line-of-sight that they ever got around to attacking anything.

    So: it’s fixed. And while I was at it, I changed the way flamethrowers inflict damage – it’s more immediate, and the burn time is much shorter. And slowed the wear rate of droids down a little bit so you can keep them a bit longer. Enjoy the new version! Grab version 1.6 directly from Puppygames.

    Chaz is going to do a bit of work on the graphics for Monster Mash over the next week or so, and as soon as it’s worth showing everyone, we’ll pop up a screenshot.

    New Version of Droid Assault

    We just released Droid Assault v1.5 which fixes some of the biggest moans people have had about the game! I spent this morning playing the game and tweaking all sorts of little things. The general result is a game which is slightly more manic, very slightly easier in some respects, and slightly more fun. Here’s what I did:

    • The number of enemies on each level increases slightly slower as you progress through the game, but carries on increasing for much longer. Levels now have up to 48 enemies on them! Quite insane firefights result.
    • The droids under your command now start the level slightly more spread out, which might get them into more fights right at the start instead of wandering uselessly in a little room.
    • The droid under your command wears out considerably faster that in did before. Booo! That sucks! Except for…
    • all of your droids are 100% repaired at the end of every level! The information screen between levels now shows their “worn out” hitpoints versus maximum hitpoints allowed, rather than how beaten up they were by blaster fire on the previous level. This means you should be able to keep your favourite droids alive for much longer and you’ll eventually have a much bigger army of cool droids!
    • The boss tended to drop powerups which weren’t much use to you at the end of the level (shields, recharges). It’s now much more likely to drop better powerups.
    • The length of time between resetting the combo destruction bonus has been increased from 1 second to 1.5 seconds. This means bigger combos, and therefore more transfer points!

    These changes sound like small fry but having those droids kept alive longer lets you get further into the game and therefore you’re going to have even more fun! If you haven’t tried out Droid Assault yet, or even if you have but it wasn’t quite right, give it another go and see what you think.

    Gravitron 2 Now Available on Puppygames

    We’ve just added Gravitron 2 to our tiny catalogue of games. It’s a great little retro game reminiscent of Thrust on the C64, and at $5 (£3.50) it was just too good to leave alone! I bought it myself a couple of weeks ago and it’s the best vector graphic gravity based retro shooter I’ve played all year – in fact I liked it so much I thought we’d offer it up to Puppygames customers too. Expect one of our exceedingly rare mailing list letters in your inbox imminently!

    Have a look at the tasty video of the gameplay if you’re not convinced:

    Big Thanks for Feedback

    We’ve had a fair amount of feedback from the site recently, especially since the release of Droid Assault. The majority are positive, but we do get the odd angry sounding letter. People sometimes think we are to blame for having wasted their time, cos they downloaded a demo and didn’t like it. Fortunately they have enough time to write to us to tell us.

    And that’s fine, we don’t mind. We’d like to say sorry that they feel that way, and respond to any questions they have. Sometimes though they think it better to leave a made-up and offensive email address rather than a real one, and that’s really not very grown up now is it?

    Here’s one example of some of the positive feedback we’ve had…

    Just want to say how much I love Titan Attacks, Ultratron & Droid Assault.
    They are better than sex and a bargain at the price!! You guys are awesome for matching Steam’s general indie prices. Hell, your games are better than most of the indie represented games on their servers.

    It’s still a little surprising that people take the time to write to us and say nice stuff stuff like that! Makes you feel all warm and glowy inside. So a great big thank you to Ryan in Australia for that, and for letting us publish it here. And thanks to everyone else who has written in with similar messages over the last few years, and all the suggestions and constructive criticism too. Keep ’em coming 🙂

    Droid Assault 1.2 Released

    I just released the latest version of Droid Assault, fixing three niggles that have irked players. This is what’s changed in the new 1.2 release:

    • You now unlock levels after completing every five levels. This means you can now start just after any boss or danger stage! Hurrah! So when you get really far you won’t have to start quite so far back in the game, and you’ll gradually get to experience all those really vicious droids in the later levels!
    • The flamethrower equipped droids now actually shoot at the enemies when you’ve captured them. They used to just wander around aimlessly and get blown up.
    • And last but not least, the smarter robots now flee from bosses to the best of their fairly limited ability! It’s not foolproof but it might keep them alive a little bit longer.

    So there you have it, go snag the latest version and enjoy!

    Time to clean up the hiscores table

    Lately we’ve been rather miffed by the amount of really bad language on the online hiscores table (and what we thought was cheating but turned out to be a MySQL driver glitch).

    Now hear this: the online hiscores table is viewed by children and we’re really not going to accept any more of this stuff any longer. You will find yourself banned permanently (and all of your hiscores deleted permanently too) if you abuse the facility.

    We get a lot of complaints from concerned parents about this. If you’re a concerned parent, you may be pleased to know we’ve finally implemented the hiscores cleanup feature to get rid of the stuff you don’t want your kids reading. Also, the latest versions of Titan Attacks and Ultratron now have an option to completely turn off online hiscores for good measure – see the Options screen.

    Only an email of the most grovelly kind will get us to unban you.

    You have been warned.

    Ooooh what’s all this then?

    So… what’s become of Treasure Tomb?

    Well, it’s another one of our unfinished projects temporarily on ice. Treasure Tomb is going to take a lot of work before we reckon it’s awesome enough to release, in the form of level design and loads more graphics. In fact I suspect there’s another six months work left in Treasure Tomb, and in the meantime, once again, we are broke 🙁

    But… what’s all this?

    Droid Assault Screenshot 1 Droid Assault Screenshot 2 Droid Assault Screenshot 3 Droid Assault Screenshot 4

    Yes, that’s right, it’s another game we’ve been working on in the meantime! We started mid-December after realising that Treasure Tomb was just going to take us too long to complete before we became utterly skint. The rationale behind it was to create a game that used as much code from Treasure Tomb as possible so it took the absolute minimum time to write. Of course the code bit doesn’t necessarily really take nearly as much time as the graphics and sound bit but there we go. In order to keep the costs down we’ve done more silly Ultratron style graphics and got a single tileset built in layers that we can colour differently.

    So… what exactly is this new game?

    Well …. back in 1985 a rather brilliant game for the Commodore 64 came out called Paradroid. We all read eagerly about its imminent arrival in Zzap64! magazine, which published a diary over three months of the programmer, Andrew Braybrook. Andrew Braybrook is a really nice guy. Once upon a time when I was a wee bairn I wrote to him asking how to do raster interrupts on the 64, and he wrote back with four pages of beautifully handwritten script, including 6502 machine code (also handwritten!).

    When Paradroid finally turned up we all rushed out and bought it from the shops – I think it was £8.95 on cassette. And it’s a truly awesome game!

    You can play what more or less amounts to a perfect clone of Paradroid with this remake, Freedroid, which differs only in that you use the mouse to aim.

    Anyway – we’ve given Paradroid the same treatment that we gave Space Invaders and Robotron. It’s been Puppified, sliced, diced, and aweseomificated beyond recogntion, and it’s going to be released on to an unsuspecting Indie gamer scene in about a month, which is just as well as that coincides with all my money running out.

    The State We’re In

    We’ve been talking to friends in the industry about the state of play with regards to copying, warez, torrent sites, cracking, and people’s attitudes to what most people regard as “piracy”.

    I borrow books from my dad; I lend him books. I don’t feel obliged to pay for my own copy to read it. He’s in close(ish) proximity to me and knows he’ll get his book back (sometimes, haha). But that’s about as far as that book is likely to get because it is a bulky piece of physical media. Funny how the oldest bit of technology is also the most future proof in this ecosystem.

    Records were the same, 40 years ago, and then tapes turned up and people could easily give recordings to each other and the RIAA whined and moaned about it and levied all sorts of crazy taxes on blank tapes and yet mysteriously record sales went up and up ever since until they got replaced by CDs. This, I think, is because there was an inherent value in a record that wasn’t present on a recording on a tape – the physical medium was quite nice, and the recordings usually didn’t sound nearly as good anyway. Then some bright spark realised you could sell prerecorded tapes and actually have the existence of the medium increase profits.

    Then we get CDs and there’s a little golden era for the record companies because CDs are novel and taped recordings of them sound so inferior to digital media that tapes die off pretty fast too except for people who listen to music in cars. And then CD players for cars solved that. The RIAA is happy because CDs are actually valuable.

    …And then along comes the internet and hot on its heels MP3 compression and they’re back to the tape/vinyl situation again and they start whining and moaning again in the face of increasing music sales on CD despite the amount of copying going on. Then some bright spark realises they can sell prerecorded MP3s on the internet. Does this sound familiar?

    The situation is remarkably similar for computer games, in their somewhat shorter history.

    First came tapes of games. We copied them (well I didn’t, coz I only knew about 2 other people with C64s in my year at school so we just borrowed each other’s games) and so they put copy protection in and that was cracked anyway. Mysteriously the games industry grows. There are lots of little casualties and the survivors consolidate.

    Then came games on disk. They were copied, and then copy protection got put on them, and they got cracked and distributed via BBS to a wider audience. Mysteriously the games industry grows. There are lots of little casualties and the survivors consolidate.

    Then came games on CD. They are copied, and then copy protection got put on them, and they got cracked and distributed on the internet to a worldwide audience. Mysteriously the games industry grows. There are lots of little casualties and the survivors consolidate.

    Around this time though some bright spark realised you might as well distribute the games on the internet in the first place and the modern day Indie (indicus publishus developus) was conceived. Then the games got copied, so we put copy protection on them and then they got cracked and distributed on warez sites with powerful search engine mashups to aid people.

    This is where we are now. There are many, many little ideas springing up all over the place to make money in the present ecosystem – which is basically the same as the record industry’s. We have all sorts of valid and working ideas:

    1. Encourage people to give full versions to friends and family (like borrowing books!) That’s the model we use, currently
    2. Ad-supported sites or software (and its derivative, websites full of Flash games that aren’t actually for sale, but with lots of ads). Yuk! But it works.
    3. Consolidate into being a publisher or affiliate retailer and stop developing games. This is probably where we’ll end up if we don’t figure out how to make more money soon.
    4. Portals. Haha. No.
    5. Client/server and various opportunities that entails (like total copy-proofing). Not necessarily multiplayer games either.
    6. Simply carrying on while the percentages make it worthwhile.
    7. Magazine distribution of full versions for specific territories (which I’m looking at in great detail!)
    8. Rant about pirates and waste time on tryign to educate them despite the fact there’s 1,000,000 times more of them than there are of you and if there’s one thing we know about economics it’s that might is right

    What’s your choice?