Elemental Focus

February 13, 2012

Skies of Fire screenshot: The shop
Filed under: Screenshots,Skies of Fire — Chris @ 10:39 pm

For the first time since I decided to do screenshots on Monday, there’s a screenshot! This shows the shop screen from Skies of Fire, which I will now guide you though.

The shop in Skies of Fire is where you buy your fireworks before each display. You have a set budget and you need to separate this out over your different sets. You can choose four different types of firework and which button (and colour) you assign each firework to.

The shop will give you all of the necessary information, the icon that the firework will have in the sidebar, the name of it, a short description and its cost. In the middle of the screen, there’s also a demonstration of the firework, so you know exactly what the firework will do.

The auto-assign option will take away any effort and choose your fireworks for you. There are some biases in the auto-assign, such as spending more in the final set and including the most recently unlocked fireworks. If you’re really lazy, there’s an option in the settings that will skip the shop and always auto-assign your fireworks. This is not-advised unless you want to save time, each player will have their own display styles and will have their own selection of fireworks that they’ll like to use.

Also, along the right is the redesigned sidebar (last seen on top of a large ugly block in the winter showcase). It now has no background and is semi-transparent to add to the ethereal feel of the game.


February 10, 2012

Progress report: 2012/02/10
Filed under: Diamond Digger,IndieCity,Skies of Fire — Chris @ 6:18 pm

Firstly, in case anyone was still wondering, my current main project is now Skies of Fire, the firework-em-up game that I announced when proposing my Game Season idea. You can find the first footage here.
That footage is now a little old, the interface is now slicker, the scoring isn’t so ugly (and probably clearer) and the fireworks themselves are a bit brighter. The game is coming together quite well and I’m looking forward to getting to see how the base system plays once the scoring system is completed.
I’ll go into more detail about how that’s going next week (if we’re we’re lucky then there may be a new trailer).

Secondly, IndieCity is now becoming my main distribution platform, I’m now putting my weight fully behind this growing site. This means that I’ll be building new games ground up for the PC (which will stop the difficulty I have in porting controls). My hope is that as IndieCity grows, the achievements and particularly the leaderboards become active and very competitive. Even as it is at the moment, it’s very easy for players to communicate with me about the games, with any issues or tweaks they may have, and I’m happy to oblige for the people who’ve spent time and money on my game. This is helped to no end by the extremely easy updating process, meaning that I don’t need to wait two weeks and put in a ton of effort to make a small fix. If there’s a bug report, there’s normally a fix before the end of the day.

On that note, both of my games will continue to receive updates as and when. The Cannon is unlikely to have anything major added to it as I launched it pretty much fully formed. On the other hand, Diamond Digger has the potential to grow a bit. While at the moment the sales incentive doesn’t look as though it’ll come to much, if I have the time I may add a couple more puzzles anyway. There are a couple of other little updates that may also be added depending on time and popularity.


February 8, 2012

Diamond Digger: Mini Review Round-up and Post Mortem
Filed under: Diamond Digger — Chris @ 4:15 pm

To start off, Diamond Digger has not been quite as succesful in the review stakes. I’ve always been of the opinion that its a tighter game than The Cannon, but isn’t quite so flat out fun and doesn’t have quite the same level of work put into it. The majority of my testers also seemed to thoroughly enjoy the game (I had to drag a couple of people off it), although its worth noting that they were all friends of mine, which is the second-to-worst group of testers you can have. I’ve also had good comments from peer reviewers and other people who’ve had the chance to play it. However, some reviewers so far have taken a different tone towards it and I’ve got some thoughts towards this.

What I’m going to do here is post the reviews I’ve got so far and add a couple of notes of my own, acting as something of a post mortem.

IndieGamerChick: “Maybe this game will be the opposite, where I thought it was a sleeping pill but others will think swear it’s a masterpiece that opened their eyes to the genre. I wouldn’t bet on it though.”
I think Kairi went particularly soft on the game given that she didn’t seem to enjoy it, but she does have a point that games like this are more fun to some people than others. Something like this certainly isn’t going to be universally loved.

XboxHornet: [4/10] “I feel there is some good game in here, the unique gameplay should be lauded but the neglect of some of the most integral parts of the genre let it down”
I think its bad form that the writer started with a bug report and tried to call me out for not doing any testing. Diamond Digger received well over 50 hours of testing between 25 people aside from myself. This is significantly more than The Cannon got and probably much more than the majority of XBLIGs. This bug never appeared in the final build of the game, but despite this I can understand how it looks when something like this happens twice to the same guy.
Anyway, aside from that, this is probably the review I can take the most away from. The reviewer mentions difficulty spikes, which is entirely down to the nature of the type of puzzle. The puzzles are all ordered in average completion time from my testers. However, the game is probably too bottom heavy, with far too few easy puzzles to ease people into the game. In addition, the tutorial should really have been incorporated into the first set of puzzles instead of being entirely separate and forced upon you at the start.

OtakuDante: “A Truly Challenging & Entertaining Puzzle Game”

Neogaf – Feb Ed: [Bronze Award]: “Diamond Digger is one of those games that is fun to play and can become very addictive.”

Armless Octopus: “This is a pretty standard puzzle game. You have to arrange the board in order to drop the diamond. The puzzles are well designed, but it gets a little old.”

Recensopoli: [3/5] “Really cute puzzle game”

I’ve got two main final thoughts:
-XBLIG
I don’t think Diamond Digger is well suited to the market of XBLIG. The types of people who buy XBLIGs are less interested in this sort of game (even if it does involve a lot of blocks) and its not the kind of game you sit down in front of a tv with a controller in your hand to play. From almost the very start, the intention has been to publish this on smartphones, which I think has a much better audience for this type of game and a much better mindset when playing them. My only problem with that at the moment is that I lack the facilities to do so. XBLIG is really on the down right now, which brings me onto the other thought.

-Sales
Diamond Digger has sold only 50 copies to date and has basically stopped going up now. This is less than a fifth of where The Cannon got to in a similar period. In fact the most shocking thing about this is that Diamond Digger has got here with a conversion more than double that of The Cannon. So, discounting differences in gametype (although The Cannon hardly set the trial number alight) between the two games, trial numbers are a tenth of what they were less than a year ago, which is very telling to how much XBLIG is on the down.
This is less than twice the revenue I’ve got from the game on IndieCity, a system still in beta with absolutely no other coverage from outside sources at the moment. It’s also less than a quarter of what I would be earning on minimum wage for the time spent just peer reviewing other games to get it through peer review.

I still have some decisions to make on the matter, but there’s a chance that Skies of Fire will be PC only.


January 28, 2012

Diamond Digger Released on Xbox Live Indie Games
Filed under: Diamond Digger — Chris @ 2:22 pm

Diamond Digger is now also available to download on Xbox Live Indie Games

You can find it here:
http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/Diamond-Digger/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550a6c

The recommendation incentive is still in place, for every 1000 copies, up to 5000 copies, the game sells over all platforms, I will release an additional 12 puzzles,


January 17, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations Pt. 2
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 7:44 pm

Continuing where last week left off, here are my opinions on five more IndieCity games, giving you reasons to get involved.
All impressions are either based on the demo or the full game if its available for free. That means that you can have all the same experiences without paying a dime and you might find something you really like.

Walking Bobby and Tommy
Price: £1.80/ $3.00
At some point last week after playing Hyperspace Invaders (which I now realise I never did a snippet on), I came up with a list of the most recycled game ideas. It went something like:

    Pong
    Snake
    BMX tilty games
    Pac-man
    Space Invaders

Shortly after coming up with the list, I had second thoughts about pac-man being on there, but here we are, round-up number two and already there’s a pac-man clone. I say pac-man clone based entirely on what its trying to be though, not what it is. The gameplay is slow, the graphics are bad and unclear and the game is just dull. Even the 2 player mode and different maps don’t redeem it. It’s no fun, the graphics are bad and its a shameless rip-off.
Rating: 1 Star

Lag
Price: Free!
Lag is pretty much the reason that I don’t like those little events where people go off and make games in 24-48 hours. Sure, the idea of the event itself is neat, sometimes the games have interesting ideas and its an impressive show of ability, but the practice is fundamentally flawed. People claim that these events give people total freedom to try new ideas, but the big restriction is any idea has to be implementable and playable within that period. This means that most of the time, while a playable games is output, they’re just not much fun to play.
Which brings me to lag, which was created at such an event and is available for free. You control a slowly growing green blob, around which rotates a little blue blob. You have to dodge bad guys and pick up crates, both of which move across the screen. You get more points for picking up crates with the blue blob, as its harder to so. However, every bad guy you hit increases the lag at which the blue guy follows you. It’s a neat idea, but once the lag is above 30 or so, you will just keep running into things making matters worse and once you ignoring the blue guy, its just a dodge game with fairly sluggish controls. In addition, even though the game is score based, there also aren’t any global leaderboards, so you’re only ever competing against yourself.
Rating: 2 Stars

Astro Taxi 2
Price: £1.79/ $3.00
I’ll be honest when I say I didn’t want to like Astro Taxi 2. It’s a flash game style simple concept with even worse art. It’s basically a 2d crazy taxi in space (ok, that does sound quite cool, but I’ve definitely seen a few of these types of game before). You also expect a certain quality from a sequel (or at least something with a 2 in the name), I’d hate to see what Astro Taxi 1 was like. But despite all of that, it’s actually quite fun to play. The controls are tight enough so you have complete control to zip around the map, the landing gear mechanic hits the balance between making landing challenging and not making it tedious and while the levels don’t offer a humongous amount of variation, there are 30 different ones in the full game. However, based on the original points, £1.79 is really overcharging.
Rating: 3 Stars

Vortexball
Price: £1.60/ $2.60
Vortex ball is another simple concept, but its very cleanly presented with vectors. You control a ball around a maze and have control over accelerating it left and right, while gravity takes care or down. Bouncing off angled walls help you gain height. In general, its pretty fun, but suffers from a couple of small design floors. Given how easy it is to lose control of the ball, the levels are just slightly too long so as to be frustrating and often you’ll bounce off a ceiling straight down into a hole. It can also be quite tedious and frustrating trying to bounce up onto a ledge when you lose momentum. It even loses its seamlessness at times, as the seams of the walls of the levels themselves provide a large source of bugs. The concept seems as though it could get very tired throughout the course of the game, but there are only 23 levels, so its unlikely to last very long based on the four given to you in the trial.
Rating: 3 Stars

Hyperspace invaders
Price: £2.80/ $2.60
Here’s the aforementioned Hyperspace invaders. It’s not fair to call it a space invaders clone, it just happens to have space invaders as one of its modes. The main mode, called soul grinder, gives you a ship at the bottom of the screen constantly firing and spawns lots of things you have to take down at the top, like some other old arcade classics. The game is pretty, eye-melting pretty and the variation in enemies keeps things interesting. There’s so much going on on the screen though, it can be a little tricky to keep track of and you can get taken out by a rogue enemy that you didn’t notice behind all of your shooting and the numerous pick-ups and having only one life aggrevates this a bit. (although it can’t be that bad, I was definitely getting better at the game).
As with a lot of the games this week, it still seems a little overpriced, but its probably the best value for this week and the full game includes a remake of paratrooper as well, which is one of my old favourites.
Rating: 4 Stars

And that wraps up this week. When I have some more money to spend, I might buy the games I’ve given 4 and 5 stars and give updated impressions at a later date.


January 11, 2012

Indie Game Pricing
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 11:22 pm

Note: I’m not going to claim to be any sort of expert on economics. These are just my views on the subject

With the recent changes to XBLIG lifting the restrictions on 80pt games, every game on the service is now dropping to the minimum price or being left by the wayside. Conversely, PC indie games prices seem to be all over over the place, crossing the middle ground between free and budget retail releases. So why are XBLIGs being forced down by the market?

It all comes down to the three tier structure. An XBLIG can be priced at 80, 240 or 400 points ($1, $3 or $5 dollars), which is decided by the developer. Because the price is decided by the developer, the price is not an indication of actual value, its either how much the developer thinks its worth or how much the developer thinks it will sell at. As there is little correlation between price and quality on average, the cheaper games instantly become better value from a consumer perspective.

A lot of people who buy indie games go straight through their xbox and are fairly unaffected by reviews and other press on the internet, so they’re mostly going on the demo. Of course, the demo might also not make it clear how much content there is in the game, so a player can’t always be entirely sure, they might be getting ripped off, or there might be a lot more content that they don’t realise (I think this happened with The Cannon a bit). This means that even the demo sometimes isn’t a good indicator of quality, so the player would again side with the lower priced games.

Even when a game does get a lot of good press from outside sources, if it’s selling at 240 as opposed to 80, someone looking at buying it will instead think that they could get 3 other games for the same price. Without a 160 point price point, the contrast is much more stark. Given the number of games at 80 points, they could also buy 3 games that are just as good, if not better than the one at 240. (Of course, for the same reason, the temptation for a developer to charge 240 is quite high, because they only need to sell a third as many copies to make the same amount of money).

The iPhone market is very similar (and is debatedly where the ‘dollar for a game’ trend started). A small selection of games can get away with being more than a dollar, but only the ones with a good reputation or a large amount of backing will do any well (such games would end up in the arcade, not indie games, on the Xbox).

So why haven’t PC games followed suit? Well, things are a little trickier. The PC market is quite spread out, there’s no proper hub for Indie Games for the same market conditions and pressures to arise. To add to this, more people are swayed by reviews on the PC. If you read a review on a website, there’s normally a link to download the game right there and conversely if you’re looking for PC games, you’ll probably be browsing the internet looking for them. Reviews make it very clear if a game deserves its price point, so developers are more likely to charge accordingly

The only large PC game market is Steam and, ignoring sales, they will rarely charge less than $5 for a game. In addition to this, the pricing of games on steam is normally a much closer representation of quality of the game as the whole thing is fairly closely managed.

In addition to the above, PC games currently have a slightly harder time getting down to the dollar mark. Xbox uses a points systems (as much as many people hate it) which means the transaction fees for the ‘one dollar’ are fairly small and iTunes manages it by grouping several of your purchases into one transaction. But for an independant PC developer? They don’t have quite the same low transaction costs and normally have to charge at least $2 before they’re getting a fair proportion of the consumer’s money.

So I guess this leads in to saying if something like IndieCity (for example) takes off and starts using some sort of credits system, then indie PC title prices could also tumble. Well, if this means more people buying cheaper games, then bring it on!

(wow, ok, didn’t mean for quite that level of subliminal text at the end there, but I guess its ok)


January 10, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 2:15 pm

At the moment, IndieCity has something of an entry barrier to new players. It doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t need a high powered computer, but even just the request to download a client seems to put a lot of people off. If they’ve come to visit for only one game, it suddenly seems far too much effort to go through.

So I’ve been playing through a bunch of IndieCity demos, to find out what gems there are in the growing library and today I bring to you my first set of recommendations, every one of which you can try for free. Of course, I’m not going to recommend my own two games, that would be silly (and goes without saying). I feel kind of cheap not buying the full games to review, but being a games reviewer isn’t exactly my job and I’m skint, so meh.

Firstly, the games/demos that didn’t seem to work for me. These seem to be specific to me and I haven’t heard anyone else complain about them, but all of them either crashed on start-up or were entirely unplayable.

  • Didgery
  • Blazin Aces (the whole game is free and I’ve heard good things about it, so don’t let this put you off)
  • Dysnomia

The next lot are in order of bad to good and are accompanied by the star rating I gave them.

Monkey Labour
I can see the appeal to monkey labour. It’s all set in an old-style LCD game, complete with the classic surround and large squishy-looking buttons. Previously an iPhone game, it would turn your whole iPhone into the LCD game, complete with those dancing colours you get when you press the screen. As an experience on the iPhone, it’s actually pretty clever. But as a game, played on a pc, its just not there. You move left and right dodging bricks, that’s about it. Sure, when these LCD games was all that we had, this would probably would class as one of the better ones, but these days you may as well pick up the real thing in a car boot sale for pennies…
Rating: 2 stars

MotorHeat
I like racing games and motorheat looked as though it would appeal to me. Wrong again, Powell. It’s a simple concept, you drive down a long windy road dodging other cars like a souped up version of some arcade classic. However, it also seems to be badly implemented. While the rest of the game runs smoothly, the car seems to stutter across the track and the control lag matched with the high speed of the game makes the game unplayable at times. Getting out the way of other cars isn’t an option because if you see a car ahead of you in the same lane, that’s it, you’ve already had it. Even if you’re lucky enough to survive a while, the game quickly becomes quite boring.
Rating: 2 stars

Laser mazes
Contrary to MotorHeat, I opened up lazer mazes to horrendous hand-drawn menus and Kevin Macleod music. Not the best of starts. In addition, you start playing the game and movement is slow and jumping is all floaty. However, I actually found myself enjoying it. You play a little robot with a laser gun and have to progress through levels composed of lots of lines. There are various things shooting you and the laser shots bounce off certain types of walls, so you have to be quite agile to dodge all of the bolts bouncing around (hindered by the aforementioned movement trouble)There’s good user of colour coded buttons and walls, which you need to keep hitting to balance your own safety with the ability to progress through the level. I still don’t know what I feel about having to use somewhat broken physics to help progress through the level though…
Rating: 3 stars

Novavon
Another simple idea, but this time well implemented. In Novavon you have pairs of portals, one red and one blue (at least to as far as the demo goes). You have to catch orbs of light (sometimes colour coded) in one portal and these are then fired back out from the other portal. As all portals of the same colour are rotated by the same key, things can get a bit frantic. The game itself is also very pretty although sometimes the graphics of the game obscure some of the orbs, making it impossible to catch them before its too late near the end of the end.
Rating: 4 stars

Mobiloid
Mobiloid is a gem. Go and download the demo for it now! In addition, the full game is on sale and is a steal for only £3.
If you’re still here, you play a small robot in a facility where you have to find new pieces for the robot in order to progress. However, each new piece isn’t automatically added, it goes into your library of pieces that you can use at a later time. You are free to edit the robot at any point in order to add pieces to get past a certain obstacle or take pieces away to reduce weight and increase speed. The nature of the game means that even early on, there is normally more than one way to solve a problem and the solutions always make you feel clever. Controls and the physics of your robot are all based on how you set it up, so gameplay also remains particularly varied.
Rating: 5 stars

And lastly, I’m not going to give Buccaneer a rating because its relatively expensive and I was so bad at the demo I couldn’t even get past any of the first levels. It’s pretty though.

I might do a couple more of these in the future, there’s quite a lot of potential.


January 6, 2012

Diamond Digger released on IndieCity!
Filed under: Diamond Digger — Chris @ 12:07 pm

http://store.indiecity.com/game/DiamondDigger

Available in free demo form, or the full game for only £2!

Diamond Digger is a puzzle game where you have to shift rows of blocks to position them above other blocks that they’ll crush. Each block will only crush one other type, making the game like a multi-dimensional version of rock-paper-scissors. The aim is to the get diamonds (the toughest block) to the bottom of the screen to collect them. The main meat of the game is a puzzle mode with 40 puzzles, but there are also two ‘endless’ modes. That might not sound like much, but its a game that will both frustrate and entertain with a thorough ‘so close!’ vibe.

Thoroughly tested on Cambridge University students.

“Non-Trivial” – Robert May, Mathematician
“Like Bejeweled, but better” – Peter Newton, 7 Twitter Followers

For every 1000 sales the game makes (up to 6000), 10 more puzzles will be added, so if you like the game, tell your friends!!


January 4, 2012

Fun and Realism: A Delicate Balance
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 8:19 pm

With computers becoming more and more powerful, developers have more power to play around with than ever before. Given this wonderful opportunity, a lot of developers are pushing to make their games as realistic as possible, but this seems to lose sight of what creating our own games really allows us to do.

By creating a game, you are creating a whole new world. This world does not need be identical to the world around us. In a lot of games we are presented with scenarios that are unattainable (or inadvisable) in real life, hence their draw to us mere mortals, but often almost every other factor is based off of the real world. With so much flexibility to tweak environments to create the most entertaining experience, why focus on realism when trying to create anything other than a straight up simulation?

Realism enforces strict limits on what a game world is like and what a player can do. For example, you can only move so fast, gravity is a certain value, you can only carry so many things, there are only three perceivable dimensions and time is linear. Sometimes, these factors can enhance game-play, only being able to carry certain items at once means the player has to be strategic with what they carry, but other times they just cause a hindrance, such as requiring more trips back and forth to store and collect items. These choices in design should be motivated by fun, not by realism.

Developers making realistic games will often forego some simple elements of realism for the sake of the gameplay (for example, the Bag of Holding) but when so much of the rest of the game is rooted in realism, if this isn’t explained within the context of the world, it leads to players asking ‘why?’ When the rest of the world is like our own, these elements stick out like a sore thumb, sometimes impeding the experience a developer is trying to deliver.

On the other side, not trying to conform to the rules of the real world gives a wealth of freedom to explore worlds that could never exist in ways that aren’t physically possible. Ideas like time travel or multi-dimensional travel, which have been explored thoroughly in both film and literature, have only recently been touched upon in gaming (such as in the real time strategy game Achron).

Even just tweaking the rules of real life to your hearts content can provide you with a much more entertaining game. In Super Mario Bros., Mario can jump several times his own height, obviously ignoring any sense of realism. However, if he could only jump as high as a normal person how different would the level design have to be? Would the game be anywhere near as fun?

Realism does have its advantages though, even if these often don’t directly increase the fun factor. A realistic world provides players with a sense of familiarity. Ideas of causality and effect that players have by living their own life can be applied in game without too much trial and error. If a game world has a different set of rules, then these need to be relayed to the user in some form, but if the world is like our own, this is unnecessary. How many game tutorials remind you that if you jump, you will fall back to earth again? Realism can also provide juxtaposition, putting a couple of unrealistic features in an otherwise realistic game. As mentioned before, this can be done badly and jerk a player out of the experience, but if done well, it highlights the unrealistic features much more and invites the player to mess around with them.

Portal is probably the best example of a realistic style game which does things that could only be achieved in a video game (at least with current scientific understanding). While the world and the physics in general in the game are realistic, the key game mechanic, creating portals, is something utterly impossible in real life. This mechanic is thrown into a sharp relief from the rest of the game, placing significant focus onto it. Other aspects of the game also break realism as the developers see fit, such as the lack of fall damage (albeit explained by the in-game science), all to improve the player’s experience with the game. The unrealistic aspects of the game also remain entirely consistent with the scenario that is supplied, maintaining the players experience.

In all, while creating games allows developers to entirely break reality if they so wished, some rooting in reality must remain in order to avoid confusing the player. However, when a decision needs to be made about game mechanics, the route taken should be to make the game fun as opposed to forcing realistic unless you can keep that thread going the entire way through your game.


January 2, 2012

2012 update schedule
Filed under: Site Updates — Chris @ 10:20 pm

Happy new year! Welcome to 2012!

To reflect the event of the Earth reaching a rather arbitrary point of its rotation, we’re restructuring when blog updates will occur and what each will contain. The aim of this is to provide more consistent updates with more consistent content, even if the total number may drop a bit on account of not trying to update on every weekday.

Mondays: Screenshot/Artwork/Video
Some form of media which could show progress or ideas. A while ago, for several weeks, I was posting artwork (mostly @aeonsummoners) on Tuesdays, so this is a continuation of that.

Wednesday: Article
I’m not a great writter, but I’m building up an increasingly large list of things that I’d like to write about. Some of the articles I’ve written before seem to have gone down quite nicely and I think I’ve got some good topics, even if my writing isn’t the best.

Friday: Progress updates
Fairly standard really, progress updates a week apart should mean that there should be plenty that I can talk about. How things are going, being it coding, ideas, reviews or sales.

Polls for content may return at some point although its unlikely that they’ll be a weekly thing.

Any other pieces of news, particularly urgent or current ones such as game releases, will be posted as and when, with links from the usual channels (i.e. facebook and twitter)


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