Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Such a Perfect Day

So... I spent my entire day trying to purchase an iPhone. And I failed.
I had a suspicion it would be that way. Contacting service providers, untangling their "attractive" (and completely incomprehensible) offers, struggling with the question of model, memory, second hand or new...
Ugh. This is why I had a Nokia up until now.
C'est la vie. My soon to be amazing tower defense game will hopefully be available in the app store, so I need an iPhone.
I finished with the Unity tutorials, and moved on to the research phase of the project. This means playing tower defense games, and plenty of them. I've toyed around with Defense Grid, Sol Survivor, several games in Kongregate, and got addicted to Kingdom Rush, Which is the best Tower Defense game I played since Plants vs. Zombies.
Research is fun. Next week: Design.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Bit of Dialogue With Gamers

A few days ago I've raised the rate of incoming mission credits to 1 per hour (instead of 1 per 6 hours, as was before). Ever since I did that more people have started playing the game and some chat has been generated on the Kongregate forum and comments.
I try and react to the complaints or praise that people post accordingly. Thus, a long thread complaining about the game's difficulty curve made me make the difficulty curve a little less steep.
Here are the main points raised, and my general thoughts regarding those points:

  1. Please remove the mission credits system - Naturally the requests (or at least some of them) are a bit less polite, but this is generally the sentiment. I haven't decided what to do with that yet.
    The mission credits system, contrary to what people think, is not intended to generate us more money by making people buy more. The system is mainly there to make people return to the game, thus enabling us to create a community of players who return periodically to see if anything was added or changed. This has not worked well as we thought. People generally get annoyed by it and it was a serious turn off for some. I can remove this but it will take some development time, and I need to think if it is for the best.
  2. The game seems to be over - this is a complaint regarding the fact that events are starting to repeat themselves. Here is the thing: Misfortune is supposed to be an ongoing adventure. Some open plot threads are left dangling and are supposed to be picked up later (as in some great games like "beyond good and evil" and "the longest journey"). However, the same as with the aforementioned games, this content has not been created yet, and will only be created if the game will be successful enough.
  3. We need better weapons/how do we get steam rifle and steam pistol - those separate questions converge to a single answer - the new weapons will be released soon. I am trying to think of a good way to do that.
  4. Bugs! BUGS!!!! - I am doing my best to fix them. There actually aren't a lot of bugs. The most serious one currently is that the game doesn't work in Ubuntu
Besides the fun I am having talking to people who like (or don't like) our game, I am 3/4 done on my Unity learning book. Once I am finished with that, we're off to game design!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Choosing the wrong tool for the job

First of all, I need to decide what tool to use when working on my Tower Defense game. It is a 2D game, so naturally I need something that fits 2D game development. Naturally, I've decided to work with Unity.
"Unity", my friend informed me "is intended for 3D games."
"No problem" said I "I will simply create flat sprites and position them one on top of the other like a stack of cards, and then position the camera in one spot so that it will look 2 dimensional."
"That's abuse of the platform. There are great engines for 2D development."
"I'm using Unity."
"You're an idiot."
Well, he actually didn't say that, he's a polite guy. But his tone hinted it, and that's fine with me. I know Unity is the wrong tool, but the thing is, I want to learn how to use Unity.
Scratch that. I don't want to learn anything. I want to know how to use unity. The learning process is really unnecessary.
I started looking for tutorials. After an hour of hair pulling, curses and prayers, I've stumbled upon this golden link.
10 Minutes later I've bought a nice kindle version of Unity Game Development Essentials. I'm in chapter three. I already have a lush island with palm trees and a volcano.

It's fun.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A shiny new idea, I will call it "Tower Defense"

I disappeared for a time, working on Misfortune's marketing. I published it in Kongregate, added support for Twitter posts, played some more with the content. For now I am happy to let the game stand on its' own. I've decided to start working on a new project.
The hardest thing about Misfortune was the immense size of it. Misfortune is HUGE (especially for 3 guys who haven't made any game before). It has a server and a client, a pretty hefty SQL database containing items, monsters, events, dungeons, players and whatnot. I've been working on it for two and a half years, my partners joined me for the last two.
I want a smaller project. I want to start working on something and end working on it in no more than 3 months. 
I have an idea. It's a secret, but I will tell you about it if you promise not to tell anyone. I don't want someone to do this before me. I call this game a "Monsters running around in a maze while the player positions defense towers to kill the said monsters" game. Acronym: MRAIAMWTPPDTTKTSMG. Catchy.
I'll just call it a "Tower Defense" game.
I intend to develop it for flash, android and iPhone. I will use the unity engine for the latter two, and develop the first separately. We will see how it goes.
I hope to describe in this blog the entire process of the development. Who knows, I might actually maintain this promise...
Good luck to me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ticking Away

I don't write content as fast as I would want to.
If it were up to me, and I had time, I would write a new event for Misfortune every day. Unfortunately, time is a resource which I don't have much of. We have some vacations right now, which means my three and a half year old son is at home. He is trying to help me work. This usually causes for a very long random string of characters in the middle of any text I write.
In addition, I have some hectic events in my life which I really don't want to get into, which also consume much of my time and mental resources, so the whole content writing is a bit in delay.
I will try to write some more next week, I promise.
Diehard GameFAN wrote a review about Misfortune, which made me blush. In fact, the things he wrote in the review are exactly the things that we though about when designing the game, so it was wonderful to read.
In addition, Misfortune got second place as best Israeli developed web game of the year yesterday. That was nice. I wanted to get first place. Nothing is ever enough for me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

You Keep On Knocking But You Can't Come In

I am running into difficulties, trying to advertise my game.
I do have a problematic policy of "don't invest money into marketing... yet". This doesn't leave me with a lot of options. I have blogs, and I have forums.
The forums are a big problem as well. I am not a long time member of any forum, so the only thing I can do is register into one, perhaps respond to a few threads, and then mention my game. Most often than not I am flagged as a spammer, which hurts my feelings, although granted, I am a spammer. I am a bit clumsy in my approach, and haven't honed it well yet. If the internet were a pub, I would be the creepy guy who approaches women and says "Hey baby, is your father a gardener...?"
The blogs are a different story altogether. The internet has a huge supply of game related blogs and sites, which stands to reason, since a lot of people want to be paid to play games. It's the new dream job, replacing being a star in Hollywood.
I wrote a nice template to send to blogs. In the beginning, I tried to personalize the mail according to the site to which I am sending the mail. I would read some articles, point out some notes regarding the site in the e-mail. I really tried. However, I discovered that when I do that, I get really hurt if they don't respond, and since only one in six blogs responded, I got hurt a lot. So now I send the template.
I've already earned about 10-15 positive reviews of "Misfortune", which to my surprise, didn't help me one bit. All those blogs have very few followers, and I didn't get many visitors from them.
The only real success I've had so far is by posting my game in reddit, which brought me about 1,600 visitors in one day.
I'll keep on trying different things. There are bound to be more reddits out there, right?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You're IT

I am the person in charge of the server in Loadingames. Yup, I am the IT guy. And there is nothing I hate more.
I don't know what it is in Linux that inspires such fear in me. I swam with crocodiles in South America, walked over swaying bridges above roaring rivers in the far east, ate some really spicy food in India. None of those caused the tingling of dread I feel when I try to configure my server to do what I need it to do.
Which is why I feel Facebook really screwed me over.
For those of you who don't know, Facebook have decided that from now on, all applications in Facebook must have HTTPS security. They did so without consulting with me first, which makes me feel betrayed almost as Eduardo Saverin in "The social network".
So now I have to delve deeply into the joyful world of SLS, Apache configuration, certificates and the rest. Until I figure this out, we have a nice canvas in Facebook, sending all players to our site so that they can play from there.
On a lighter note, I've published a new wrestling event, which enables the players to wrestle with some shady characters. As simple as this event seems, it is one of the most complex and branched events in Misfortune.
Additionally, I've also published the events I've mentioned in my previous post, so anyone who wants to delve deeper into the story of Misfortune, merely has to log in and play a little.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Down With Someone or Other!

I never cease to amaze myself with my polarity.
I've been following Notch's blog for a while now. For those of you who somehow don't know, Notch is the founder of Minecraft, one of the most successful, if not the most successful indie games ever made.
There is a bit of a thing going on with Mojang (Notch's company) right now. Apparently they are working on a game called "Scrolls". A much larger company, familiar to all, called Bethesda, is working on a series of games called "Elder scrolls", in which the latest release called Skyrim is to be published on November. I am actually pretty excited for that release. I've played Oblivion, which is the previous game in the series and it was amazing.
Bethesda served some legal papers to Mojang regarding the trademark of the name "scrolls". It was a cease and desist letter with some mentioning of legal fees... I won't go into that.
This generated some buzz in the net, with Bethesda being the evil malicious corporate and Mojang being the innocent victim. I was caught up with the resentment and anger towards Bethesda.
Now, to set things straight, I have a pretty strong apathy towards things that don't concern me directly. It comes from a belief that the world is an evil place and life sucks, and we can't do anything about it. However I do want to care. I remember days when I was young and innocent and I felt very strongly about... well everything, and I really want to feel that again.
So I decided that I want to care about this whole Mojang/Bethesda thing. I thought about it, got myself pretty fired up, and this morning I started the day by thinking "Today, I am going to start a world wide protest against Bethesda!"
The thought was something along the lines of demonstrating to Bethesda that their consumers are angry at their petty and evil legal tricks. So angry, in fact that some of them will not buy Skyrim... this year. January is good.
So, riled up as I was, fuming and muttering, I went to Facebook and open a page which was called "Bethesda, we can read" (which was supposed to clarify that we know the difference between a game called "Scrolls" and one called "Elder scrolls: Skyrim"). And then Facebook asked for an image for the page.
This never happens in the movies. It should have been a done deal. Open protest page -> bang! millions of angry consumers -> Bethesda retracts their lawyers and I saved the day. An image? Fine! I went to Flickr and searched for scrolls. And then I went for thirty minutes through thousand of scroll images. Eventually I took one myself:

However, something happened during the time I was looking for an image. I stopped caring. I suddenly couldn't be bothered. I also read this post by Russ Pitts which made me doubt Mojang's stance... Who is right? who is wrong? Meh, what do I care.
Eventually I deleted the page, and went on with my day.
Final thoughts: I am still with Mojang about this issue, but I also don't want people to cut the rain forests in Brazil. However, I am not doing anything for either things. 
A new version in the game! The skills have tooltips which explain them! Events with skill tests have some clear explanations! Yay!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I Think the Butler Did It

There's a lot of mystery in Misfortune.
Some of them are short term mysteries, like the "death in white" story, in which detective Dranus hires the protagonist to help him find out who murdered Mr. Popshaw. No, it was not Colonel Mustard.
However, some are encompassing mysteries - who tried to kill the protagonist in the beginning, and why? Why are there secret passages within the city? What's the deal with the fortune teller and her predictions? And so on.
The thing I hate most about "Lost" (and that's the reason I stopped watching the show), is that there is clearly a mystery, and the creators clearly don't know the explanation behind it. A mystery has to have a solid explanation. I don't think it necessarily needs to be shown, but if it doesn't exist, people can feel it. The question stops being "I wonder how this all ties in together" and starts to be "How are they going to tie this up?"
Don't even get me started about Fringe.
I make sure that everything I write ties up. If a question is asked, I already know the answer to it. Perhaps the player doesn't, and it is even possible he never will, but hopefully he will feel that the game isn't simply pulling rabbits out of its hat. No, it had these rabbits beforehand.
I am working on several events which will hopefully amplify the touch of mystery in the game, and they will be published later this week.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Topography of Success and Failure

I've never been addicted to any substance, except for coffee. However, I would imagine that my compulsion to check the statistics of my game on a daily basis is comparable to heroin addiction. Without all the sickness and death involved.
There are a lot of ways to check statistics of web sites, and I'm usually using Google analytics. I sometimes use the Facebook stats as well, but it's a much more mellow substance.
The statistics look like an insane topography map of mountains and valleys. The mountains usually occur when me or one of my partners go on a marketing spree, and new users flock to our site. The valleys... well.

My reaction to these statistics can be a basis for an extensive psychological research. At the beginning I was elated whenever I saw a peak in the graph. It would make my day perfect. The decreases would depress me, making me think I should take a different profession, such as gardening or sheep herding. After a while, the peaks started to frustrate me as well. "Why now?" I would think "What was better Yesterday than the day before? Why can't users enter my site without my help? It's easy enough, you just have to enter the common search string 'Loadingames Misfortune' and it's the first result!"
Last week, apathy sunk in. A peak causes me to think "huh. check this out.", a valley gets me to say "oh well", and the long plains of mediocrity invoke "well, that makes sense."
So why do I keep entering day after day?
My name is Michael, and I'm addicted to my site's statistics.

This image was take in the tiger leaping gorge trek in China. There were days when the mountains and valleys I saw were much more breathtaking.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Press Release Me Please

I've been working on a press release for the past week. I was told that it should be about 400 words. I wrote some nice sentences. word count: 110. I added some descriptive words and got to 130. my contact info got it to 135.
I started begging random people for sentences to add. My art director added another tidbit or two about the art style. My dad told me that he is very proud of me, which was nice to hear, but completely unhelpful.
Finally, my wife sat with me and got to work. She has the amazing ability to make a text smaller or bigger without changing its meaning. I don't know how she does that. Anyway, we got to 250 words.
150 to go. I started contemplating copying random marketing texts from journals.
I showed the text once more to my partners, my wife, my dogs. One of my partners switched some words in one of the sentences. It sounded a lot better, but no words added. How does that even help?
I sent it to a good friend, who knows about these things. He sent me some corrections, and a pdf of seven pages about press releases. An outrage. You ask a friend for help, he gives you a manuscript to read.
I drank a nice cup of coffee and read the thing. Victory! the manuscript clearly states that the press release shouldn't be more than a page long. My press release is long enough!
It also mentioned that some developers forget to add a link to their site. "Har har." I thought "Stupid developers. Who can someone forget something like that? Silly, silly people, that's who."
I took a look at my press release. There was no mention of a link to the site anywhere. I added a link.
So, now it's out. It's nice, releasing a press release. It makes me feel important and business like.
I am also having real fun with this blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rat catching and a bit of Caiphirinha

Most of the work I do on Misfortune these days is adding new content. In fact, Misfortune is a bit like an insatiable monster, which feeds on words and sentences.
The initial idea of Misfortune was an RPG dungeon crawler game, in which special events are sprinkled in the dungeons like small candy on a cake. These special events will further the plot, tell stories of the different characters, and expand the atmosphere. It's a sound idea, of which I am very proud.
So I write events. The events tend to be like small "choose your own adventure" books, with 6 - 50 chapters in which the protagonist experiences various occurrences. Today I've published two of them - Rat catching and the street bar
The rat catching event is a simple linear experience, in which the player can join the dubious experience of chasing a rat. The winner gets the prize.
The street bar is a little more complex and atmospheric. I am struggling daily with  expanding the world of Rodnia and exposing it to the players. The street bar is an event in which the player can buy a small mug of Caiphirinha and be exposed to some tidbits of rumors from other customers. Some of them are lies, some are half truths, some are confusing...
The street stall is in fact taken from an actual experience that I had in Brazil. wandering about in one of its coastal towns, I stumbled across such a stall, in which I bought the largest, tastiest cup of Caiphirinha I have ever drank. After half an hour, me and my girlfriend could only zig zag back to our hotel, praising the drink, the town, it's inhabitants and the world in which such a place can exist. We tried finding the stall on the following day, but the streets look different when you are sober.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The fortune of Misfortune

So... here I begin.
I've been a bit manic depressive lately, very cheerful one day, depressed the next. I got really tired of myself. Publishing my first game did that to me. I talk about it... a lot. With everyone. My wife, my 3 year old kid (who is never sure what game I am talking about), my friends... But everyone has a certain amount of tolerance. So, the obvious venting option - the wonderful internet, where you can spew whatever drivel comes to mind and no one cares!
Here it is - I am Michael, and I founded a small indie company called Loadingames, with two very good friends of mine. We've been working for two years creating a game called Misfortune. It is, to quote myself: a steampunk RPG browser game. In the game you follow the protagonist, as he finds himself marooned on an unfamiliar island, in a strange and violent town called Rodnia. 
It has been one of the most emotional times of my life. I've always thought of myself as a calm person, lacking ambition, breezing through life... What bullshit. The truth is this. When it comes to things that matter to me I am hysterical, obsessive and faintly annoying. However there is one thing certain. This is a dream come true.
So we launched the game a few weeks ago, reviews are coming some are good, some are not, players are slowly joining in, some of them giving very good feedbacks, some report horrid bugs. I eat Misfortune, I dream Misfortune and as of today I blog Misfortune.