Elemental Focus

September 15, 2011

My Experience on The Cannon
Filed under: Article,thecannon — jonathon @ 12:11 pm

First off, let me just remind you that you have less than a day to vote for tomorrow’s content. I’ll be taking the results at midday GMT, and posting the appropriate stuff later in the evening. If you’ve yet to cast your vote I’d like to remind you that you can do that here.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to spend a little of your time running through my experiences working on/with The Cannon. I vaguely recall the day when Chris explained to me that he was planning to create a game, and whether I would be interested in helping-though helping was used very loosely. As time went on I eventually saw a build of the game, and it looked rough. I couldn’t tell the difference between robots, pirates or zombies which is quite a bad thing to get confused over but as the time passed things got easier to differentiate and my skill improved.

The strongest memory I have of that early game, other than how vastly different it looks now, is spending a long time setting up the connection between my computer and the XBox to test the game, only to do something stupid in the game and it essentially break. This happened more than I’d like to admit, but on the plus side (in my mind at least) my stupidity eventually lead to a significantly less buggy game. I also like to take some credit for how “Waves” worked out, since after a lot of pestering from me Chris added the countdown type thing between different waves. Maybe everyone hates that but for me that’s a staple of any wave based tower defense. Come to think of it, all my suggestions ended up being very minor tweaks that Chris probably planned on doing anyway. e.g. Being told how many medals you’ve unlocked, what difficulty setting you’ve got selected etc. which in extra hindsight was actually just me asking Chris to make the game easier for me to interact with. As a testament to  how much playability the game actually has, I actively won the 4 hour medal on 3 occasions, and that obviously wouldn’t include before medals were introduced and still I enjoyed flinging pirates this way and that.

In regards to the voice of Brigadier Sasquire, I will say this; I personally am disappointed with how it ended up, both Chris and I had come to the conclusion that the gruffer voice (the one who asks if you’re ready and gives the post game comment) was significantly better than my own natural voice. The problem was however that after reading just one of the tutorial screens through a couple of times my throat was wrecked and I couldn’t talk normally, let alone in a crazy gruff way. Apparently I also had a tendency to pop the microphone, which is not the best of things and so with much disappointment I (and perhaps we) settled for something rather than nothing. The odd thing is, when I first demoed the voice to Chris and he was happy with it it was significantly less gruff but over time the way in which I prepared myself became almost a parody of itself and it got gruffer and gruffer such that I couldn’t do it any other way.

Anyway, I think that’s enough about me talking, and probably enough of me talking anyway.


September 14, 2011

Jon’s Postmortem of The Cannon
Filed under: Article,thecannon — jonathon @ 3:13 pm

Assuming I can’t just take what Chris has written and flog it off as my own, because he made some very valid points, I will instead use it as a launching point to provide a decent foundation for what will probably be a less than decent set of points on my part. My first step on this journey is to steal his format but with less HTML fiddling-so I apologise for the headers, so here we go. A second post-mortem (which in itself isn’t a brilliant image):

 

What Went Well

  • I think one of the strongest points that worked in The Cannon‘s favour is that throughout development, despite the number of drastic changes made to pretty much everything, the basic premise and mechanics were in place from the beginning. Without this early grounding I can only imagine that The Cannon would have taken significantly longer to produce, or it would have travelled so far from what it originally was that it just never felt right as a game.
  • The music. I don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said. Before Maestro McAllister there was some pretty good placeholder music, but even then the music had that odd ability to make you slowly dislike the game because the music got on your nerves. This for me is not the case for the finished product, as a testament to the Maestro my iTunes claims I’ve listened to The Cannon‘s soundtrack over 500 times. That’s some good music.

 

What Went Less Well

  • Promotion and publicity are a hard thing to do when you can’t really pay people to advertise for you. What seems to end up happening is you put something out there and frantically scramble to get anyone and their mums to see it as fast as possible before it gets swallowed up by a sea of other people doing the same thing. In regards to The Cannon there was a respite from this sea of indie games as the market didn’t seem to be updating, allowing The Cannon to be the newest game for a good few days. Despite this of course, you still don’t have the vast lakes of money to advertise and so you are purely at the mercy of others, and reviewers.
  • People have talked about how the art is a mixture of awful and nostalgic. I personally see it more on the retro side of things but I also remember in my mind how the game’s art used to be. That was bad art, what the game went out with is not bad. Not fantastic, but not god-awful. Of course in this day and age where it almost feels like graphics rule the roost and people can’t get past a small visual flaw, the art style of a game alone is able to make or break a game.
Overall I think a mixture of unlucky circumstances and the development time are the main reasons (that I can come up with on my own, Chris’ conclusions are also very true) that it could be viewed as this game “failing” though I think that it exists at all and is out in the world for people to enjoy is as big a tick in the positive box as anything else.

August 25, 2011

‘The Cannon’ – Post Mortem
Filed under: thecannon — Chris @ 9:52 pm

If a good game sells well and a bad game sells badly, it’s surprising no-one.  If a bad game sells well then the creator is often too pleased to over-analyse it.  However, when a game reviews well and sells badly, even for an indie game, which is what has happened with The Cannon, it can often be a little harder to see why.

That being said, it was the first game that I’ve developed and there are lessons to be learned. There are several things I believe went well and several things that went badly and I decided it would be nice to share my thoughts on the matter.

What went well

Making what I wanted to make
Other than the odd tweak here and there, ‘The Cannon’ is basically the game I wanted to make when I set out to make it. This in itself is an unusual achievement for a game. There was no heavy feature cutting (a couple of things got dropped, but nothing major) and everything came together as envisaged (or at least how I remember envisaging it, probably not that same). The Cannon is the game I wanted to make and I am happy with the result.

Core Gameplay
To go along with the previous point, the general gameplay of The Cannon came out really well. This is the main reason the review scores have been so high, so its really great to see other people are enjoying it in the same way I do, despite countless hours of testing. Not only have I created what I wanted to make, other people ‘get’ what I was trying to do. To take some quotes from reviews:
[The Cannon has] got a wonderful combination of strategic action” – Indie Gamer Chick
there is just enough variety and, dare I say it, strategy in this artillery adventure to make it addictive” – Kotaku
If blowing up hordes of ninjas and pirates with a massive gun turret doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I’d recommend seeking immediate medical attention.” – Dealspwn

Support
While overall, promotion didn’t go how I intended, I had a wonderful amount of support from friends, both in real life and online. I had plenty of people tell me that they’d bought the game and were really enjoying it and lots of people also passed on the message about the games release. This kind of support really gives me hope for the future!

Music
As I was tidying up the game more and more, I realised that the music was being left behind. Whenever I would sit down to try and write something, I could never come up with a halfway decent tune and would often just give up before even finishing the first 10 or so seconds. This is where I made the smart decision of getting help. As a result, I wasn’t working on something that wasn’t my forte and received some wonderful music for the game. It’s just a shame that I’m not able to pay back the musician for their help due to the lack of sales.

What went badly

Art
The art for the game sucked. I know it and its the one downside most reviews give it (depending on which side of good-bad or bad-bad they fall on for the sound effects/voice acting). Of course, the boxart and the screenshots are the first thing a player sees when they decide whether to download the game or not. As a result, I got about 2000 trials in the first 10 days. This seems like a lot, but I saw the developer of Lair of the Evildoer (Going Loud Studios) moaning about only 5000 trials in their first 10 days after a much better performance on their previous game, so ‘The Cannon’ obviously fared far worse than that.

Promotion
Perhaps rather foolishly, I was hoping on a couple of larger shout-outs from people with a lot of ‘followers’ (in the broader sense, not just the twitter sense). This wasn’t a “If I send him an @ message on twitter he might RT it”, this was “I’ve been involved in cool things with/related to these people, they’d be happy to give me some support”. I’m not going to call these people out because these shout-outs would still have been done out of the kindness of their hearts, but needless to say, they didn’t happen.

Trial
I went out of my way to craft a trial that I felt gave a perfect taster of the game, while still giving the player a good reason to invest. Sadly, this approach backfired as it suffered some shortcomings and my conversion rate was left embarrassingly low.
In a last minute balancing act, I reduced the difficulty on timed mode (for all three difficulties). The easy mode available in the trial mode had always felt easy to me, so I didn’t really notice the change but it was only after I started watching other people play (something I’d done before the difficulty change as well) did I realise that the trial was now far too easy and even tedious. The patch I added increased the difficulty back up to the original level and .
It’s also unclear to a trial player all of the features present in the full game. They’re all on a little slate at the end of the game, but for most people its a case of tl;dr so think the entire game is just rounds of the 5 minute steam of enemies.

Unknowns

Features
In theory, I could’ve released a basic and bare-bones version of ‘The Cannon’ back at the end of 2009. This would’ve been just the three basic gameplay modes and the gameplay would’ve been a lot rougher (its had a lot of small tweaks since then) but the basic game was there. I’d set myself a deadline and just missed it, at which point the ideas and feature list expanded. This raises the question of how worthwhile was it for me to expand from this with the tons of different features that, as mentioned before, many people playing the trial probably didn’t even know about. The campaign is obviously helpful for giving the game a learning curve and sense of progression, but don’t really know how people feel about the stats, scores and medals, each of which took a little while to add.

The name
There’s not really much to say about the name, which says something in itself. Perhaps a more interesting name could’ve brought in more trials?

Conclusion

It seems that I should have done with the art what I did with the music. Art is definitely not my strong point and it really shows in this game. Sadly that particular failing is also the one most likely to impact downloads and a botched trial mode that does a poor job of showing off what the game has to offer kept the conversion rate of the few trials I did get down.

Over the next week or so, there’ll be updates that’ll indicate how I’ve gone forward from these lessons.

That didn’t really end up being ‘mini’ did it?


August 24, 2011

Review Round-up #2
Filed under: thecannon — Chris @ 9:19 pm

It’s time for another round-up of reviews for The Cannon.  With the patch released, I made a second push for reviews and now have a larger collection of full game reviews.

Indie Gamer Chick  [Full Game] : Overall, I really liked The Cannon a lot.  It’s got a wonderful combination of strategic action mixed with some really funny British humor.

XboxHornet [Full Game] : (8/10) If this game was given a face lift with better art, different stages with settings in them and more music, I could see this on Xbox Arcade.

GamersDailyNews [Full Game] : (8/10) Silver Award  The low cost and simple learning curve (the hardest thing is how to effectively use the vine to ’wrecking ball’ your enemies) make this a quick game to just grab and play, making it a decent time-sink for either a single player or a small group of two to four players

recensopoli [Trial AFAIK] : Original and well thought out

ArmlessOctopus [Trial AFAIK] : The Cannon is a good bit of arcadey fun

Kotaku [Trial] : But there is just enough variety and, dare I say it, strategy in this artillery adventure to make it addictive

CFG Indie-Dome [Trial] This is a surprisingly enjoyable wave-survival game.

Review Round up #1 can be found here 

Despite the good reviews, ‘The Cannon’ has sold fairly poorly,  275 copies to date and it shows little sign of getting any higher.  It’s nice that it sold as much as it has considering its the first game I’ve concocted, but it was being worked on on the side for just over 2 years, so its easy to feel disappointed with the low levels of payback.

I’m fairly sure of a couple of contributing factors however, so I’ll probably share them in a mini post-mortem tomorrow.


August 16, 2011

Patch #1
Filed under: Project Flame,thecannon — Chris @ 9:43 am

At last the first patch for The Cannon has gone live!
This update includes:

  • Performance fixes removing slowdown particularly present in multiplayer
  • Fixes a freeze associated with long unspaced gamertags
  • Fixes a *ahem* bug on the last campaign level
  • A couple of other minor fixes, including ones involving bacon.

This will hopefully be the only patch I release for The Cannon.  Any ‘new features’ kind of got added BEFORE release, which may have contributed to the long time it took to make.  Of course, if any new bugs rear their ugly head, I will patch them as soon as possible.

Blog update day is now moving to Monday, because that’s when stuff seems to happen (although in this case, the last reviews didn’t come in until early this morning).

Project flame has now merged into something much much bigger (which I haven’t come up with a project name for yet, probably some synonym for big) and I’ll be started to release screenshots (albeit particularly obscure ones) starting next week.


August 8, 2011

Updates
Filed under: Project Flame,thecannon — Chris @ 10:45 pm

[This was meant to go up last week, but evidently didn’t.  Sadly there’s not much more to add other than the big issue has now been fixed and the patch is waiting to pass peer review, so more news on that soon!]

Not much to say this week, patching is going slowly as there’s a very big issue which I want to fix, but I can’t test for it myself, making the process quite difficult.

As I haven’t yet released the patch, I haven’t made a further push for reviews for the time being, there are a couple of new ones, but I’m going to wait for a few more before compiling another round-up.

Work has sort of started on new games, the first of which will be known as “Project Flame” from now on.  I really don’t expect it to take anywhere near as long as The Cannon as I’m now doing this full time (for the time being), so hopefully I should be able to post the first mysterious and obscure screenshot within a week or two.


July 24, 2011

Review Round Up Part 1
Filed under: thecannon — Chris @ 8:18 pm

Some reviews have come out on ‘The Cannon’ since its release last week, both good and bad, and below is a round-up of all the ‘proper’ ones I’ve found.  I’m against people doing reviews of just the trial mode, as anyone can download and try it for free, but whatever.  This has led me to realise the trial mode is perhaps a bit too easy, so people are getting bored…

Partly as a result, I’m releasing a patch this week (well, its going in peer review tomorrow at least) to improve the trial experience and fix some other bugs and things that have cropped up.  Hopefully it will fix any problems anyone has had with it thus far.

Anyway, reviews!
OtakuDante: [Full Game] “the developer of this game did a brilliant job in delivering a quality experience”
DealSpwn: [Trial, as far as I know]  (Second in indie picks for the week) “The Cannon delivers fun and firepower in equal measure. If blowing up hordes of ninjas and pirates with a massive gun turret doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I’d recommend seeking immediate medical attention.”

ThisIsFakeDIY [Trial, as far as I know] (Indie game top pick) “This has got tons of heart and is a heap of fun to play”

IndiesonPause [Trial] (skip it) “Pros: Good Music” (score one for maestro then)

There ought to be more reviews by next week, as well as the patch being up, so plenty to talk about then!

 


July 18, 2011

The Cannon has been released?!?
Filed under: thecannon — Chris @ 5:11 pm

Apologies for the late blog post this week, but I was kind of waiting for this to happen:

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/The-Cannon/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d802585508ec

Things are a bit hectic at the moment, we’re trying to secure lots of reviews and get lots of exposure, the adventure with this game isn’t anywhere near over yet, but we’ll be moving on fairly soon to new games!

 


July 10, 2011

Birth of a brand!
Filed under: thecannon — Chris @ 12:02 pm

Welcome to the first blog post on the new Elemental Focus website!  We’re a new brand for publishing independent games and we hope to be around for many years to come, bringing you lots of bright, new, fun games!

At the current stage, our first game,  The Cannon, is waiting to be submitted for peer review again and if it succeeds (which should hopefully be the case given the amount of testing it’s had), it ought to be on sale on Xbox Live Indie Games by Friday.  Of course, peer review is a touchy thing and we’ve been here before, so we’ll keep you posted.

I (Chris) will be updating regularly every sunday and there will be others updates as necessary, for example, when The Cannon finally makes it on sale!  There will also be occasional updates from other team members (i.e. Jonathon and then anyone else who joins the team).


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