Elemental Focus

April 25, 2013

Games For Everyone!
Filed under: Site Updates — Chris @ 8:20 pm

So just a quick bit of housekeeping: Sorry things have been a bit slow (and it’s been 10 months since the last post), I both have a job now so I have monies to do things with (although less time) and the game dev stuff I’m working on hasn’t really had much to shout about, until now!

Here at Elemental Focus, we’re looking to create great games that as many people can play as possible. To this end, we’re currently working on having our games embedded on the website. However, this is something we’d like to maintain for a while and the current direction of computing could make this a bit fiddly.

You might have noticed that more and more people have tablets and now do the majority of their internet browsing on either these or mobile phones. The general shift of how people use computers is to these mobile devices, in much the same way that several years ago there was a shift from desktops to laptops. There will always be people using older forms of computers as they’re just more efficient for certain tasks, but we want to look at what the majority of people use. Following this, surely we want to make it possible for people to be able to play the games on our website through their tablet or phone?

Well, there are some serious limitations to this. Due to the current way in which tablets work, the only way to actually code this to work is through javascript and html5. They’re powerful tools, but a lot more fiddly to use than game creation tools like Unity (that would still allow us to embed games on the site). There’s also the aspect of controls: there’s a very vocal portion of the gaming community that denounce touch screen gaming and while I personally feel it has it’s moments, it’s not something that I’d want to be restricted to doing solely. Obviously we could create different versions of games or even different games entirely for different devices, but what we really want is a central hub for the games, a FOCUS point (eh? eh?)

The ideal situation would be more of a shift to hybrid devices, allowing tablet users to download plugins like unity to play the games and having a keyboard on hand to use if the game requires it. The problem is this requires knowing exactly what the future holds, something that no-one has ever (proven to have) been capable of.

So what do YOU think? I’m really interested in getting some feedback on what other people think about this situation? Are people actually likely to want to play website based games on their tablets? Is it worth restricting what we can make? Are there any other options I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments, on our facebook page or on twitter (@Gingerlink)


July 5, 2012

Happy 4th July!
Filed under: Site Updates,Skies of Fire — Chris @ 12:19 am

The lack of Skies of Fire that you see before you comes from a combination of illness, time spent making job applications and having interviews and a new project which I believe is important to focus on as much as possible right now. The lack of a Skies of Fire themed release today is particularly a shame given some recent additions which make July 4th an even more appropriate release date, but alas it cannot be. Once it’s at the right stage, there’ll be a demo up on IndieCity, which will hopefully be before (British) bonfire night!

This ‘new project’ I’ve mentioned involves taking this site and how we create and present our games in a completely different direction. We’re still working out several kinks and finalizing the matrices, so over the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing a few articles on several topics that this new direction addresses and should hopefully allow you to see what it is we’re doing. So on another ‘when it’s ready’ note, watch this space!


May 21, 2012

Relaunching The Cannon!
Filed under: thecannon — Chris @ 8:14 pm

With version 1.4 ready to go, The Cannon is now officially relaunching on PC!

While technically a ‘relaunch’ this is The Cannon’s first publicity push on PC, following important feature updates to both the game and IndieCity. With IndieCity gaining more and more important features, it has now reached an excellent time to give the game a proper launch. Hopefully this will lead to an increase in players, to really set the leaderboards alight with competition!

Click here to buy The Cannon on IndieCity!

Press Kit

About The Cannon:
In the Cannon you must control a super-cannon filled to the brim with fireballs, ice shards, electricity and vines to stop an upcoming onslaught. Ninjas, pirates, robots, monkeys, zombies and aliens all want to take you down and its all down to you to beat them back. The enemies have a full range of sound effects, with the pirates voiced by Paul and Storm (known for The Captain’s Wife’s Lament).

But behind the cliched overcoat is a deeply strategic game. Each weapon has different effects on each enemy, so you need to balance your weapons against each other so you don’t run out of energy at a crucial moment.

The game includes three quickplay modes and a fifteen level campaign mode. You can play the game your own way, with four difficulty options, unlockable backgrounds and remappable controls. Indiecity extras means that the game has 50 Achievements and global leaderboards, so you can hone your skills and compete to be the ultimate cannon-meister.

Finally, some notes on changes in version 1.4:
-Game time is now not affected by slowdown, so Timed music will always remain in sync.
-Vine collisions made a bit more reliable
-Ninjas returned to their original faster speed


May 9, 2012

Progress Report – 9th May, 2012
Filed under: Adventure from Tora,Diamond Digger,thecannon — Chris @ 11:48 am

I really need to think of better titles for these update posts…

After a long period of relative silence with little to report, I believe its time to give some updates on what’s going on in Elemental Focus world right now.

Firstly, as mentioned in the previous post, I’m preparing to relaunch The Cannon, waiting on PayPal support for IndieCity and just checking that v1.3 works fine in the meantime.

Secondly, Skies of Fire is coming along fairly nicely. The interface has been changed up and the graphics have improved a bit more as well. There’s also a new key gameplay element that I’ve added fairly recently that really changes the tone of the game. It brings back a bit of the silliness that I seem to work much better with. As IndieCity has now launched their underground system, expect to see a playable beta of the game by the end of the month, with release hopefully no more than a month afterwards (although if it comes to it, July 4th isn’t exactly a bad release date for a game about fireworks).

Adventure from Tora is still on the cards but is now going to be taken in a different graphical direction. Of course, this makes the clips from the showcase even more irrelevant because it was only really graphics that they showed. It’s not far enough along to talk about properly, but it should end up being our first non-XNA PC game.

Lastly, Diamond Digger should also see a new batch of levels reasonably soon and there’s another little thing in the works that’s a little different from what we’ve done so far…


May 4, 2012

The Cannon v1.3
Filed under: thecannon — Chris @ 11:35 am

The Cannon has been updated with a series of bug-fixes and other small tweaks, including:
– “Thank you” medal fixed to unlock at 4 hours instead of 40 (whoops!)(will unlock if you’ve already exceeded four hours)
– “Far Reach” medal distance reduced due to previous difficulty in achieving it.
– “Faster” medal unlocks at 60 enemies killed instead of 80.
– IndieCity connection code made slightly stabler
– Collision code improved
– Campaign will now spawn set numbers of each enemy instead of the previous random valid enemy approach
– Small performance improvements
– Fixed the bug where the full credits would not show after completing the campaign has been fixed.

At the moment, I’m preparing to relaunch The Cannon, which will happen shortly after paying with PayPal becomes available on IndieCity. I think a relaunch is justified given that the original PC launch was alongside IndieCity’s launch making it tricky to get any exposure.


March 4, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations: Part 4
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 6:33 pm

I don’t want to sound like Homer Simpson, food critic, where everything is amazing, but the latest lot of games just happened to be a good lot for the most part.

Monster RPG 2
Price: £1.19/$1.99
I suppose its no surprise that with a name like Monster RPG 2, this is one of the most generic games I’ve ever played. Not tongue-in-cheek satire of the genre, straight up everything by the book RPG.

Monster RPG 2 rolls the RPG story dice and goes with “best friend possessed by mysterious artifact”, you start a journey following his trail of destruction and start picking up other group members (which seem to have little to no backstory or personality) and you basically need to make progress across the land in spite of the random battles. The biggest problems are a lack of autosave and dying sends you back to the last save point (First time through I hadn’t saved yet by the first time I died which happened surprisingly suddenly) and a lack of explanation for many of the items in the game, although they’re all so generic, you can probably work it out yourself anyway.

It’s not a horribly bad game and if you’re an RPG fan and want something new to play (or at least is technically new) there might be something for you here, but in general you can probably play something else more interesting

3 stars

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KrissX
Price: £3.49/$4.99

KrissX is a puzzle game based around swapping letters in a crossword to make full words again. I really don’t know what else I can say about it, its really not that complicated.

It’s surprisingly fun and there’s little to criticse. The game’s main failing is that it’s really rather easy. The hints system means on most occasions you could guess the word with even having the letters in front of you, but if you switch it off, on a few occasions you have no way of knowing which anagram the game is actually looking for. This means the challenge is based more around speed and not making unnecessary swaps. Still, it’s worth a look, if only for the somewhat sneaky trial-only level.

4 stars

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Neon Prime
Price: £0.60/$1.00

Neon Prime is a vertical spaceship shoot em up, enemies come from the top of the screen and fire down at you and you shoot back up. The whole game uses vector graphics and bold colours, so looks very crisp. It also has its own (non-IndieCity) leaderboard system which keeps track of recent scores as well as all time scores. It also allows you to use an Xbox controller, which I decided against (although I had to unplug it shortly after making this decision as it rumbles heavily every time you die).

The game is very active with plenty of enemies on screen and lots of things being fired at you. You need to be moving your own ship constantly and have to take enemies down in bursts of shots. There are also boss/bonus levels at the end of each round with a slightly different style of gameplay. The first one is space invaders style game (which also strips you of all of your upgrades) and the second puts you in a rotating box of enemies which you need to slowly whittle down.

My main problem with Neon Prime is the lack of enemy movement in the levels I encountered. Aside from the boss/bonus levels, only some enemies will occasionally move and even then its not very quickly. As a result, the only challenge in shooting them is avoiding their fire while getting beneath them You only ever really need to use the ships ability to go up and down the screen if you’ve let an enemy get by and its in the way of moving left and right. With this fairly bare bones approach, while reasonably entertaining, it doesn’t achieve much more than other similar games.

4 stars

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Didgery
Price: £3.00/$4.80

I’m not normally compelled by card games in quite the same way as some people do, undeniably so given the stats you can rake up about the amount of hours people play solitaire for, but Didgery was different for me. In Didgery, you’re given a grid of cards and have to build up a chain. For a card to follow in a chain, it must be adjacent (including diagonals) to the last in the chain and either be of the same suit but lower than the previous card, or the same number in a different suit. Finishing a chain removes the cards from the board (and with large chains can cause explosions removing other two, but scoring lots of points). Obviously removing cards means you can’t use them in future chains, so tactical play is required throughout. There are also special cards which mix things up just a tiny bit and you’re against a clock as over time energy drains from each suit. If it gets too low, it starts bleeping at you and you need to remove cards of that suit from the board with a chain quickly.

So as such you have the combination of trying to calculate what your best current chain is, balanced with setting up bigger chain in the future, balanced with the time pressure. In addition to such a compulsive mechanic, the game is very highly polished and has very soothing and appropriate accompanying music. I found myself playing Didgery for quite a while, constantly saying “one more round, one more round”, which is the sign of a very good game.

5 stars


February 29, 2012

More puzzles for Diamond Digger!
Filed under: Diamond Digger — Chris @ 11:17 pm

Diamond Digger version 1.2 is now available to download at IndieCity. If you’ve downloaded it already, just open up your client and there’ll be a little download button.

This update features 12 new puzzles and a new bonus menu, the first item of which will be unlocked when you complete the new set of puzzles.

This isn’t part of the sales incentive (sales have been too low for that to kick in) but updates will be on an as and when basis (unless the sales incentive catches up at which point the newer puzzles will go live as soon as possible).

I regret to say that this update is unlikely to go up on XBLIG, but if you’ve purchased the game, send me an e-mail and if you can answer a question about the game (which will be easy if you have the game), you’ll be gifted with a free version of the game on IndieCity once gift codes become available.


February 23, 2012

Skies of Fire Trailer – Out with a bang!
Filed under: Skies of Fire,Video — Chris @ 12:34 pm

23 February 2012, Cambridge – England
Elemental Focus have just released the first trailer for their upcoming fireworks game.
Watch it here (best enjoyed in 720p and full screen):

About Skies of Fire:
Skies of Fire lets you loose with the box of fireworks over 8 different locations and events. Make the most astounding displays possible to dazzle the crowd and propel yourself the global stage. Choose from 20 different fireworks, each with its own unique style and each one can come in whichever colour you want it to! Featuring a dynamic scoring system which focuses on building up a crowd and ending in a big finale. Skies of Fire will be released for PC in Q2 2012. For more information, please email chris@elementalfocus.co.uk

About Elemental Focus:
Elemental Focus is a small variable team of game creationists focused on delivering fun games around unique concepts. Elemental Focus was established as a brand in 2011 with the launch of their first game, The Cannon, on Xbox Live Indie Games. Since then, they have been releasing games on PC with IndieCity, firstly with a port of The Cannon, adding multiple new features and then with their second game, the puzzle game Diamond Digger. Elemental Focus is currently working on the titles Skies of Fire and Adventure from Tora.
Webpage: www.elementalfocus.co.uk
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ElementalFocus
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ElementalFocus


February 15, 2012

Leaving XBLIG
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 5:49 pm

As I hinted at in the Diamond Digger post mortem, I have decided to stop developing games for the Xbox Live Indie Games service. For the time being, I will be focusing on PC development, primarily for IndieCity. This little article isn’t supposed to be a complaint about XBLIG or what Microsoft is doing with it, but it is now clear that the service is no longer what I want to develop for or need to distribute my games on and is more effort than its worth.

So what follows are my main reasons for leaving the service:

  • Userbase
  • I first started working on an XBLIG game back in 2009 before the two most recent Xbox dashboard updates. While the sales figures of the top games weren’t as high back then (this is pre-minecraft clone time), there was debatedably a lot more people trying different games on the service. These days the sales figures are inflated by minecraft games and older games that already have a critical mass following, there aren’t actually many people trying the new games.

    The actual userbase of people who will try new releases (not even buy them) now seems to be down to well under 1000. Even with a relatively strong conversion rate, this just isn’t enough of a market to develop for. I know that theoretically there are over 10 million Xbox Live Users that could potentially buy the game, but these people don’t actively seek out the good XBLIGs and kotaku is pretty much the only major site that still does reviews (in the form of a fortnightly round-up).

    At the very least, most people I know own a PC and would be able to play the game, where as a lot of people I’ve spoken to interested in my games don’t even own an Xbox. By switching to PC I’m unlikely to be missing out too much of a userbase as most Xbox owners can also play the games on PC and a greater proportion of people who find out about the game are able to play it on PC.

  • Connection
  • Following on from the previous point, traditional forms of advertising seem to do little to affect sales on XBLIG due to the disconnection of media. People are likely to read reviews or see adverts browsing their computer so can’t easily download the game to play there and then. Even if they go to the marketplace link (which surprisingly few people do) and set up the download, people often forget about this by the time they get to their Xbox).
    This disconnection works the other way as well, as when browsing through games, it is difficult to tell which are the quality titles. I went over this a little bit in the pricing article a while back.

  • Updates and Peer Review
  • XBLIG requires all games to go through a peer review process where 8 other developers check over your game for bugs. This takes a bit of effort on the developers part because to be fair to other developers you need to review at least 8 other games yourself (although normally you have to do at least double this). It’s a necessary evil to stop broken games getting onto the service, although often some things will slip through. IndieCity has a similar system, but instead use a smaller number of selected testers from the community. The biggest problem I had with this with Diamond Digger however was that I’ve made less money from Diamond Digger than I would’ve done if I’d spent just the time reviewing other people’s games at a job with minimum wage, let alone all the time creating and porting the game.

    But most crucially, the peer review process causes an unnecessary faff when it comes to fixing small problems with the game. For a start, you have to wait at least a week before making a patch and even then you have to go through the 8 review process again. This means that its in a developers interest to put off fixing something in a game until they have a collection of fixes or not bother at all depending on the size of the problem.

    In contrast, IndieCity allows updates to a game to go straight to the player without any additional testing, which, although in theory is open to abuse, means that the time between a bug report and a fix for it is normally very short. If a developer accidentally introduces a new bug, then it only requires another quick update. If this were to happen on XBLIG, there’s a possibility that this could take a month of work to properly solve.

    Note: I’m against developing a game that NEEDS to be patched, but if bugs are present, patching is preferable to losing the full experience of the game. Especially as an independent developer with a limited time to test and only a couple of set-ups to test on, often things will only come up once the game is in the public domain and its very important to me to be able to fix this sort of thing quickly.

  • Features
  • While I don’t intend for all of my games to be high score based, I think its really important to cultivate competition in the community. In a game like The Cannon, I think it adds a lot to the game when you’re competing against other people for the top spots on the high score list. Its impossible to create anything more than hacky implementations of high score boards on XBLIG, where scores are shared between people online.

    Being able to use the achievement system IndieCity offers is a nice touch as well, as from my point of view it lets me see how people are playing my games.

    I’m not a huge fan of releasing the same game but with different sets of features, so having to cut high score and achievements from an XBLIG version of the game seems like a shame.


February 14, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations: Part 3
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 6:52 pm

After being inundated with a single request, here’s another round of my IndieCity demo reviews, letting you cut through the growing crowd of games on the platform and know what’s worth giving a go.

Punish the Birds
Price: £0.60/ $0.90

“All the fun of Duck Hunt, without the annoying dog.” – is a quote used the description of Punish the Birds and pretty much says it all about the game. Duck hunt was fun for one reason: the NES zapper, bringing light gun gaming to homes everyone. Even with the zapper, it probably would’ve been entirely forgotten about if it wasn’t for that dog. That dog added character to the game. If you mention duck hunt, most people will remember the dog before they remember the ducks.

But back to this game. You shoot birds with your mouse, like a bazillion other little flash games. Most of the bazillion other flash games also do it much better. It’s not painful to play, its just not great and by no means the best of its kind.

The artwork is obviously from mspaint and the whole thing has a very much ‘my first game’ stink to it. There are only 6 levels although as far as I can tell, you can get most of the content from just the demo, which eases the concept of charging for it. I’d also like to think that the aiming is a little off, but I’m probably wrong about that.

Rating: 2 Stars

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Your Doodles are Bugged
Price: £3.49/ $4.99

In doodles, your aim is to guide little hoppy bugs through levels to a little honey pot at the end. The game starts with drawing along dotted lines to give the bugs a path to their goal, later leaving you to work it out yourself and then limiting the amount of ink you can use. The graphics are nice and bouncy, but that’s a given where this ‘drawing’ style of gameplay is involved.

The problem with doodles is that you have to rely on the bug things and thus you have the problem that occurs with almost every single escort mission ever created has. Unlike the efficient predictability of lemmings, the bugs move slowly along the ground and jump at random intervals. This means the game swings wildly between being unchallenging and boring and difficult and frustrating. Also, I could never tell whether they pile on top of one another or not. They don’t appear to, but once I put a large amount in a hole, a greater proportion would get away.

While you can have some silly fun with the early unlimited ink levels, elaborating on your pathways by drawing snake and the like, once it stops being easy, the game quickly dissolves into a repetitive action of a short amount of progress followed by trapping the bugs in a hole.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Influence
Price: £6.00/ $9.00

In influence, you start of with an orb that follows the mouse. The concept is simple, you need to influence neutral and competing orbs, which you can only do so in groups smaller than your current group. Competing orbs can also convert you if they have a large group so you need to be careful to avoid these.

The gameplay is actually quite rich as both sides will often be going for the same neutral orbs leading to potentially risky manoeuvres and you need to balance going after small groups or trying to split orbs off of big groups. There is a music creation element where each colour orb has its own ‘voice’ and as each team grows they become a greater part of the game’s symphony, but this didn’t resonate with me as anything more than a neat effect.
The whole game is just iterations of this competition with various user chosen settings though, so the gameplay quickly becomes ho-hum. While there is an on-line mode, the game doesn’t hold much of a user-base and I was unable to find any games.

My experience with Influence was also somewhat adversely affected by its incompatibility with my computer, despite the specs indicating I should be ok. Even with the graphics settings turned down, the game often became slow and jittery. Given what’s going on on screen, this is a bit of a surprise as while the graphics are somewhat fancy, they shouldn’t be destroying my graphics card.

I’ve also got to take issue with the price on this one, while the demo is somewhat entertaining and a pleasant experience, the full game is definitely not worth the cost.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Fluttabyes
Price: £3.00/ $4.40

The first thing you notice with flutterbyes is that it’s stunningly pretty, the game is just rich with colour, although perhaps this is to be expected for a game themed around butterflies. Aside from the graphics, it’s really rather simple, you add different coloured butterflies to the board to match lines of 4 or more and the above butterflies will fall down to fill their place. There’s all the normal combo stuff of matching larger lines, multiple lines at once, creating combos and quickly matching multiple lines with subsequent butterflies, so you need to have some tactical play to reach the higher scores.

You’ll gradually learn how to set up the best combos the more than you play, so the game takes a little persistance. As far as I could tell the whole thing remains fairly basic, ladybirds appear in the demo which don’t appear to match with anything, so I don’t know whether other things like this are thrown in once you’re playing for a little while. As the butterflies can be placed anywhere, there’s also not the same sense of progression you get with games like bejeweled where it starts to get difficult to clear blocks from the bottom. The game consists of a regular mode, which you lose if you go too long without making more than basic matches and an endless mode, which removes this restriction. There’s really not much more to the game other than just playing the basic mode over and over again. Luckily, the game makes use of the IndieCity leaderboards, so it’s not all for nought and its a game that encourages healthy competition. I spent a little while on the leaderboard in the demo and I now hold the top spot 😀

Rating: 4 Stars

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Swift*Stitch (Full game)
Price: £4.20/ $6.00

Swift-Stitch can be controlled with only a single button. There are a couple of small caveats to this if you want to make things easier, but you can do everything with only one button. It’s a very simple idea where and hitting certain coloured gates will reverse you direction. There are a couple of additions in the form of teleporters and arcs, but the jist is that you will travel in a different direction when you’re holding down the button and when you’re not.
It’s a concept that works really well and you’ll find yourself crashing yourself into walls and knowing precisely why every-time, even if you brain told you something else the split-second before it happened.

From a developer perspective, swift-stitch is very frustrating to review. The game is basically to the book of good game design, with neat effects, fast resets, a host of options for the user to customize and lots of guides to where your arrow will go next. The amount of content and opportunity for re-playability even justifies the higher price-point than a lot of other games on the service. However, it’s just lacking a bit in the fun department and certain levels just don’t give me that compulsion to keep trying to finish them. From a personal perspective, I despised any of the levels which use arcs as they movement is harder to judge than the straight lines and it still seems difficult to know where you’re going to end up even with the guides. Heck, I had more fun replaying the earlier levels on impossible speeds than retrying arc-based levels. I can understand the need for variation, but it feels like the wonderful simplicity of the game is removed by it.

Rating: 4 Stars

Over the coming days, I will be adding a leaderboard to the site of all of the IndieCity games that I have demoed. Once that’s up, I’ll actually remember to add links to go directly to the games. So be on the lookout for that!


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