5 DAYS post-mortem

I competed once again in Ludum Dare, and made the game 5 DAYS. The theme is "alone". Here are some thoughts post-mortem.

What went right

Graphics

Creating graphical assets is a time-consuming task, so I immediately dropped it and only concentrated on stuff I could efficiently produce. The current style is a nice trade-off between detail and costs.

Level-Design

I started this thing from the ground up on tiles, which allowed me to make changes and updates right till the end. Having everything based on clean tiles also meant I could easily add objects, like the lamps, which effortlessly clamped into the architecture.



Intro

I love the intro. This is the closest I have ever come to a cut-scene, and even now it's pure gameplay, not a video.

The original idea had everyone dying in a scripted explosion, while the player could do nothing (but walk around). Having the player actually kill the reamaining crew (be it by accident, admittedly), would only further compel her to save the cat.

The cat

Your only companion is a cubic cat (no time to model, as mentioned above), which is aptly named Boxy. You have to feed for it to survive, but doing so will deplete your own ressources.

Title-Cards

The game starts with a cold open right in the action. The title is only seen after the first room, and then perfectly sets up the story.

My original title was ALONE. After the player would have watched his friends die / kill them, she would be ALONE. But because the name would probably be overused, I changed it to 11 DAYS. Eleven turned out to be too long, so I shortened it to 5.

I love how the title 5 DAYS becomes a chapter-card, turning into 4 DAYS, and so on. I contemplated putting the title at the end (Hot Fuzz/The Dark Knight-style), but only few people would see it then. I guess this doesn't work in games.

The only downside of this title is that I already made a game called 5 Days in Charleroi. I was already trying furiously too get the gameplay to work, so this didn't even occur to me :-). Oh well.

Timelapse

The video went alright. If you comapre it to my previous ones, you'll notice I frown a lot in this one.



Music

Instead of composing my own background-music I was forced to try out Wolframtunes, where I found some interesting ambient-tunes. I was able to reverse-engineer those, and created a fitting soundloop in comparatively little time.

Also notice how the sounds picks up after the title, further signalling that the game has "begun". Nice effect.




What went wrong

Initial idea

This was actually my first idea, but I classified it as "way too ambitious". I had some others, but none of them impressed me as "stuck with a cat on mars". So I begrudginly started, planning to either switch to a new project a few hours in, or use what I would have built in that time to make a smaller version.

I had a crisis after 8 hours, when I decided this was too big, and tried out other ideas. „Lone asteroid in space“ I actually started, when I realized switching to that would be even more work. It was quite a dilemma. I (not crying, completely manly) went back with further resolve to finish this project (in a manly way), and soldiered on.

After 32 hours everything then came together and started working, which lifted my spirits, and caused the classic game-design-high.

Gameplay

I noticed near the end that I unable to create the payoff every time. If the cat dies very early, the player will have a lot of food, thus eliminating the conflict and creating a boring game/ending. Typing this I realize I could've built it so that the reserves will adjust. ARGH THIS WOULD'VE BEEN PERFECT

Then there is the thing that re-playing it offers little incentive, as the gameplay already was rather un-action-y, expecially should the player die. Even a nightly checkpoint wouldn't have worked, as resetting the player each death would reail-road them to the „desired“ ending, which is strictly against my principles.

These things stem from the initial idea, and show how much I tried to fix this issue but ultimately failed (see timelapse).

No pointer/cursor/crosshair

Here's an important thing: We are a lot better at playing games than the average player, especially at playing our own games. It didn't even occur to me add some sort of crosshair/targeting-thingie, as my aim was always spot on. This stuff you only realize after one day not playing it.

All in all

Although this had a very bumpy ride, I believe it was a succesful experiment. Those who actually manage to get through to the end all agree, calling it „amazing“, „brilliant“, and me a „meany“. On Kongregate this is already my second most-played game, Ludum-Dare-ratings are doing well, and I even got a review.

Play here | Entry-page


-Matthew

DX trailer

Just finished the trailer for Unstoppaball DX. Enjoy!



Go play.

-Matthew

I'm a studio now. A nuclear studio.

www.nuclearwombat.eu, the website of my one-man-studio, has just gone online. I will publish my major titles under this title from now on. Right now that's Unstoppaball DX, but more will come soon.


Go pay it a visit for your primary Nuclear-Wombat-needs.

-Matthew

Unstoppaball DX now in the AppStore

It has just been approved to the AppStore, and it now available for you convenience.


Also, this means I'm a published Iphone-Developer now. Nice.

Go Play.

-Matthew

DOs and DON'Ts for setting up your game

Hi guys,

I wrote this a few days ago for the Ludum-Dare-Compo, where I meant to give some gamemaking-advice to newcomers. But the points turn out to apply to every game out there, so I might aswell use them here:

During the last Ludum Dare 600 games were developed. The one before it was 380 games.

I played them all.

And after witnessing the same "setup-choices" over and over again I decided ato write this assortment of DOs and DON'Ts, which will hopefully make your game more appealing to other players and judges.

These things are important. The games who are easy to start and play get more votes, plays, word-of mouth and ultimately publicity. If a game is a puzzle in itself to start, we will have to move on, so that we at least may sample more of the (probably) 600+ games available.



DO make a webbuild. If that isn't possible, a windows-standalone is fine. Mac + Linux-versions are a nice bonus, but shouldn't be the only versions available. While mobile-versions (iOS, android, windows-phone) are nice too, installing them is (compared to the others) a hassle and only few people have the devices and/or know how to install custom apps.

DON'T require extensive framework-tools to start your game. XNA is acceptable, as many people already have it and many games are made with it. I guess JAVA is too. The same goes for "only in browser X"-games, which require me to download/install/start an unknown program. Many people will also pass over your game if it requires and installer, or a registry-update.



DO call the executable of your game something other than "LD22.exe" or "the_theme.exe". After a while I have 20 of these on my desktop, which makes it difficult to locate a file, should I want to play again, or give a better rating. "kitten_simulator_2" will do.

DON'T hide the executable of your standalone in the_game/the_game_unzipped/binaries/system/system64/exe/1182772/localized/the_game.exe. The longer it takes to slog through your files, the higher the chance of me rage-quitting gets.




DO use an easy-to-access download-service. Dropbox is fine. Please no "wait 60 seconds, then enter undecifferable captcha, then close 3 pop-ups with forced audio"-hosting-sites.

DON'T keep me from playing the game once I started it. Hampering the start-up with more than one tutorial-screens or lengthy videos/credits is tiresome (you're making a /game/, not a movie or a book).



DO actually end the executable when quitting. I have encountered several games which don't "unplug" after quitting them, and still show up in the task-manager where they slow down my system.

DON'T require players to read instructions or a manual outside the game to understand it. Put vital instructions right inside it. NOBODY reads readme-files, unless of course they're called something like "WHY WOULD YOU READ THIS ANYWAY", which might peak my interest.



DO have international-keyboard-layouts in mind. German and French keyboards have different key-locations, and when the keys don't react people have to find find the replacement-key, and distort their fingers. Or alternatively mess around with keyboard-layouts.

Following keys are taboo (on qwerty-layout): Y Q Z. These are the major swapped ones internationally and the most used ones in games. EVERY symbol (% & * + - > | § # ?) has a different international location. Stay away from them. Games which have their controls on Y+X <- bad. Move them one key to the right on X+C however, and you just made your players from two major language-zones happy.

DON'T use the caps-lock-key in your game. Refrain from using the shift-key, as hammering it will cause a popup in windows. Everything around the landmine that is the windows-key should also be approached carefully.



DO play other games and give a vote. And don't restrict yourself to the popular ones.



DON'T make the kitty sad.

I hope this helps :-)

-Matthew

Ninety-nice percent

Hey guys,

So the amazing Zayne Black put together the 99%-Bunlde, featuring 13 diverse and interesting Indie-games. Unstoppaball is one of them.


The guys over at Indiegamemag have a good write-up of how this came together. Go read.

The website of the bundle is 99bundle.com, and it can be downloaded for free/pay-what-you-want over at Indievania.

And it was just reviewed by my favourite journalists from Rock Paper Shotgun. They seem to like it :-)

-Matthew

I'm a studio now

I've decided to publish the upcoming Unstoppaball DX under a studio-name instead of the older "Matthias Zarzecki". The new name is much easier on the tongue :-)

Now to set up a new website.

-Matthew

Got another review

French gaming website L'Oujevipo talks about "Push the Button! - Gain a Level!" and the Zero Hour Gamejam.

Go read.

Google-translated version.

-Matthew

Zero Hours



Last weeked I participated in the Zero Hour Game Jam (0hgame), which took place during the daylights saving time switch.

The goal was to make a game within the extra hour - or within zero hours, as this hour would be magically "gone".

It was a success, with 64 games in total produced. And I finally managed to make "Push the Button! - Gain a Level!", a satire/joke-game I wanted to make for ages.

Go play.

Or visit the 0hgame-website.



-Matthew

The crucible that is the Battlefield 3-beta sign-up process



So Battlefield 3 is currently in open beta, which means everyone can play it. Reading this review has finally convinced me to give it a try, but after I was four steps in the registration-process (a nested problem, as it turned out) I quit in disgust.

Behold, lensflares in all their glory. As if you're a camera with a gun.


Allow me to elaborate, by chronicling my progress:

I google "Battlefield 3 Beta". I do not see a "play here"-button, and all answers are in German. I want an English-page, as I want to sign up/play in that language.

I am aware that I can only play it with Origin, so I google that. Ah, there it is! I figure that I can find the game in Origin itsself, and continue from there.

Hey, a big "play now"-button. But it is in German. Again. I want to play in English. If I continue from here, the game might be installed in a language I do not want to play in, and chances are I have to either re-install it (lengthy download), or deal with cryptic settings, language packs or hacks.

I try switching to the UK-site, which has a completely different layout (which also differs from the Canadian and American websites), but the "play now"-button is now missing.

I find it, and click it. It takes me to the facebook-page of BF3. Notice how I wanted to download Origin, but I landed on facebook. Interesting. Also, the site is in German. I want an english site.

It tells me I need a key to actually play.

Hang on a minute. You said this was an "open beta". That website I just was on stated "anyone can play". Why am I required to obtain a key? You're apparently just throwing them away anyway.

Ah, I see. I can get a key by "liking" or "friending" BF3 on facebook.

...


There are several problems with this:

  • You will get all "news" that are posted by the BF3-page (and probably other Battlefield-games by extension). You can block these, but it is a complex and mind-numbing process, during which facebook will do everything to stop you.
  • All your contacts will know now that you are an “official fan of BF3”. I have no interest in being forced to proclaim universally anything that I do.
  • You have lied to me about the availability of your "free test game", and are now holding my access hostage, until I submit to your will.
  • People without a facebook-account cannot play the game. Since it already forces you to use the Origin-platform, these people are now being shanghaied into another "service". This is akin to installers sneaking taskbars onto your computer.
  • You are asking me, a sane person, to add a non-living product as a social contact.

Alright. Fine. Whatever. Just let me play it. Surely, after all these hassles, after clicking the damn "like"-button, everything will go smoothly, right?

Right, guys?


"Please enter the serial-number on your official government ID to prove you are 18 years old"


WHAT.

THE.

HELL.

This goes to far. This is where I draw the line.

No website/game/social-network has ever required this kind of data. Nobody in my life has ever required this kind of data. This is off-limits. You will not get this.

"This data will not be stored or used for other purposes."

Riiiiight. Remember, this is facebook asking me this, pioneer of data-mining. They never delete anything. Just earlier the day I visited the website of [company], and have been bombarded by [company]-ads ever since. I don't trust these people.

"Trust us".

*quit*

This actual line is a pure insult. After lying to me multiple times, after forcing me to submit to its will, it asks me to "trust" it?


So to sum up: I was lied to several times, I was asked for very private and delicate information, I was forced into not one but two separate “services”, everybody knows I want to play the game, my facebook-page will forever receive Battlefield-spam, and a website that deals heavily in information patronized me by telling me to “trust” it with data that is so personal, nobody in my entire life ever asked for it.

Thank you, but I think I'll pass playing this “free game test”. Apparently it carries a cost.


-Matthew


Disclaimer: I did this based in Germany. The process might be different in other countries. This was also the most “obvious” way to play. Perhaps there are other, better ways, but after this I'm not going to spend time researching them.


Ludum Dare 21 results are live

And they are good...

From 599 games in total, Metal Sphere Solid ranked

1st place Coolness

5th place Community

21st place Graphics

42nd place Overall

54th place Fun

I am quite satisfied with these results :-)

Go Play | LD-page



-Matthew

Review-Roundup

Seems I've gotten some press.

Jay Is Games reviews Metal Sphere Solid.

So does The Digital Fix.

Dogbomb goes through 65 Ludum-Dare-Games in 14 minutes, I'm number 41 at 09:21.



And the Unity-Award 2011 Finalist announcement has been making rounds, where I'm in. Here it is on Gamasutra.

-Matthew

Unity-Awards 2011

I just saw that my game unstoppaball is a finalist for the Unity-Awards 2011 in the student-category.

This is great. I'm going up against some fun high-quality-titles. Let's see how this will turns out :-).

Read the announcement on Gamasutra.

Play here.

Or visit the unstoppaball-website.



-Matthew

Thoughts on Metal Sphere Solid (a post-mortem, if you will)

Now that the euphoria of not sleeping and game-developing has settled down, let's take a look at what went right and what went wrong during the development of Metal Sphere Solid.

Well actually, everything went pretty alright. There isn't much that went "completely wrong". Ah well, I'll talk about it anyway.

What went (somewhat) wrong

The theme – Because "escape" is such a non-theme. You can put virtually everything in it. In that regard it is even worse than "it's dangerous to go alone."

The color-scheme - The main charater needs to contrast with the environment he's in too create tension. If the main character just blends in, he's not in jeopardy, he's at home. So I was a little miffed when I figured out with 12 hours to go that the environment was mostly blue, and I didn't want to create a red ball again.

I went for a glowy green (which I nailed this time), which nicely contrast with the level. The color-combination is still a bit weird.

What went right

Tile-based level - Having everything in clean tiles made putting this together much easier. This further creates a nice little gag when you leave the tile-set at the end.

Timelapse - I love timelapses. Everything seems ultra-efficient.

The Story - This is the largest amount of story I ever put in a game. Until now I've worked under the premise that good games-design has to be the basis, while story is optional. That still holds true, but now I see how an engaging story can pull you into the game.

The end - I love it. Too bad I couldn't extend it a bit. First you see your friends, an assortment of balls similar to you, but with different colors, core-structures and sizes. You free them, they say a random, possibly funny line, and roll to freedom. You join them, and while joining them leave the rigid, tile-based confines of the main level and enter a free terrain.

I need to expand upon the "friendly ball"-theme more. It's fun.

The ball-design - Compared to one of my previous games, Unstoppaball, the ball-design is much better. The glowing core is warmer, the outging light shows the strength of the character, and the brightness contrasts nicely witht he relatively dark surrounding.

The Soundtrack - I experimented with my guitar until I found something that was both interesting and fitting to the gameplay. So far it is only good, but nothing special. Also, the loop is off by half-a-second. Need to remember that next time.


What I would have liked to add/improve

Better character-fragments – So far the "remains" of the hero or the enemies are just four to five relatively uniform fragments. With more time I could have created something more complex and organic.

Better score – The score that is now measured is the time you spend being seen. The highscore-list is reversed, which means that people with the least amounts go on top places. This is far from optimal, as there is a "finite" highscore, and after attaining it doesn't create an incentive to keep playing.

More complex enemies - The original plan of having patrolling enemies fell through due to time-contraints, but I still managed to make something interesting with only stationary guards.

Conclusion

Well, pretty much every aspect came out positive – The game is emotionally engaging, throwing enemies in spikes is fun, the sneaking mechanic is relatively rare, so far I've gotten a pretty good amount of votes, critiques are positive, and a good number of people have played it.

Also, I got a review. Which is always nice.

I call this a success. Now let's see how you will judge this :-).

Play here | Entry-page

-Matthew

Metal Sphere Solid - My new 48h-game

Last weekend was once again the Ludum-Dare-competition, during which I made this game in just under 2 days.

You are a Sphere, taken prisoner by the evil Cuboids. Try to escape. Avoid enemies. Avoid being seen. Be sneaky. Be stealthy. Escape!



Features:
  • Asthetically interesting environment
  • Atmospheric soundtrack
  • Physics-based controls
  • A heartwrenching story about friendship and escape!
  • Highscore-system, so you keep coming back to kick more ass
  • Geometry-based adversaries and allies
  • Completely unrealistic glowing spheres.
  • The largest amount of story I ever put in a game

Go play!

Also, I got a review. Which is always nice :-).

-Matthew

New Business Cards


There are coming along nicely (except for the generous cutting needed and copius amounts of ink used), so I'll have a good batch ready for GamesCom.

I love the design. They are bigger than usual cards, made with heavy paper, and printed on both sides. The pictures are from games I made (unstoppaball, Dirt Driller, etc).

-Matthew

Bulletpoints: On Farmville

So I finally gave in and went to see what all the fuss with browsergames is about. I chose Farmville for Facebook, thinking that going for the ur-game would be more insightful than to one of the other "Placeholder-Ville"-offshoots. I played it for several weeks, and here are my thoughts (in bulletpoint-form):

  • I get a miniature farmer, which is my agent in this world. Only through him I can interact with things, apparently. Can I change his appearance?
  • Oh yes, I can. Clothes are prohibitively expensive (unless you buy them with real money, more on that later), but most of the hairstyles and faces are free. Since I can't recreate myself to my satisfaction, I settle for an evil version of me, which will probably do some evil farming.
  • I already have a dozen "free gifts" in my inventory from not doing anything with this game whatsoever since the beginning of time. Interesting.
  • Hey Farmville: You do not have to call if a "Free gift". The fact that it's a gift automatically includes the attribute "free". (see: tautology)
  • Also: It is not a Free Gift if I actually HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.
  • I crated a huge mono-culture of neatly segmented fields of interchanging vegetables (to keep nutrients varied, which isn't actually a feature), while the small space on the sides is occupied by trees and whatever animal or decorative object I seem to have.
  • I have to remove fields to display some decorative stuff, like a small garden. I don't like this getting in the way of my evil efficiency.
  • I really wish you could issue mass-commands, as is "harvest all fields" instead of having to do "harvest one field" 46 times.
Behold, my evil mono-culture of soy beans.

  • Oh, you can buy those in form of farmhands? Only with real money? Clever.
  • (I won't buy them)
  • Many online-games feature an early item-overload. Right on starting Farmville you are bombarded with ALL available items, 75% of which you can only get through real money or through the roping of other people into Farmville.
  • There are "masteries". When you harvest something, you gain experience in said field, and so gradually unlock new types of seeds to plant. However, you only get those masteries after level 10. Which means all of the stuff you did before is wasted and does not count towards your total experience. I can conceive of no logical or economical reason for this. It doesn't even make the game easier to comprehend, I for one was massively confused. Suffice to say, THIS IS STUPID.
  • The game reminds you as often as it can to either a) buy stuff, b) tell your friends or c) actively recruit your friends. I have the feeling they made mass-testing to get the maximum amount of notifications without pissing people off too much.
  • So here's the thing: You can plant your stuff, it takes some time to grow, then you can harvest it. There is however a window of time for harvesting, which I think is the time it took for you plants to reach maturity. So if your strawberries took four hours to grow, you then have four hours to harvest them, after which they wither, and your invested time into the game will be lost (unless you "un-wither" them by paying money).
  • You actually begin to plant your stuff so that you have access to a computer when it will be ready. A internet-less day would be devastating to both your farm and your investment into the game.
  • Luckily, you can "un-wither" your crops with Farville-Cash (which you can buy with real money in inconvenient and unnecessary complex ratios, much like I maligned in my thoughts on Bioware-points). As with any good drug, the first taste is free.
  • Boiled down to its very core, the game is not dissimilar to Cow Clicker.
  • While digging in my field I found some gasoline. Huh. It didn't specify whether it was a can, or if it just seeped out of the ground. Either way, I am nervous about this. The game treats the discovery of a toxic, carcinogenic and highly flammable substance in my field not with the sudden deaths of my crops, but with joy.
  • Oh, I can rotate my cow. No more east-west alignment for you, darling!


I guess this is probably a metaphor for something.

  • Apparently I can buy rusty scrap metal to make my farm look nicer. Interesting.
  • Oh, there it is. I can already exchange real money for Farmville-cash, but then buy Farmville-coins. And I thought there was no "pay to win" button.
  • When I click on my "farmer-me" I land in the clothes-section, where I can buy comparably expensive clothes. This sub-menu is laid out completely different from all the others, and always confuses me.
  • There are ranks, and levels, and skills, and achievements, and medals, and tons of rare stuff. Stuff!
  • Hey, a cross-promotion. If I buy 30€ worth of merchandise in an online-shop, I get 70$ worth of pretend-farmville-money, which I can exchange for more pretend stuff. It's the circle of life.
  • There is a ton of stuff to plant and then harvest. You get vegetables, fruit, tees, flowers, and crops like wheat. There are also some funny items, like square melons or "super"-fruits (i.e. “super-strawberry”), which you unlock by mastering the "normal" kind. The problem is that it's TOO MUCH. Right at the beginning you are bombarded with ALL OF IT, which you can only use a fraction, and unlock the rest over several weeks.
  • In the last day new feature has been added that shows who of your friends plays what game at what time. Great. Now everybody knows I tried this.

Well, these are my points about Farmville (and all other games that follow the formula, I guess). I can see how many people would find them interesting, but frankly, I outgrew them a long time ago. I already can control my impulses, and don't feel any loyalty towards my virtual assembly of non-existent stuff.

Also, Farmville didn't really try to respect me, with all the "give me your money", "recruit your friend to give me money" and "you have to pay money to see all the cool stuff"-spam.

As a producer, I can see how this brings in revenue. As an experienced gamer, I can only look at League of Legends or Team Fortress 2, where you never have the feeling you have to pay to enjoy the game.

-Matthew

I never actually posted that trailer

I just realized I never mentioned the trailer for Unstoppaball I made some time ago. Go watch.



If you're interested, play here.

Or read a review by DIYGamer.

-Matthew

Submarines! Torpedoes! Blastings!

I made this for game-design-school in about 6 weeks work-time.

You control a submarine in a virtual-reality-sim and try to blast different targets and enemies.


Damn, shooters are tedious. It takes massive amounts of features to make basic things have the right amount of "heft". I managed to do it with the ship and the torpedoes, but it might need some weeks of polish.

Anyway, go play.


-Matthew

I made another 48-hour game!

This time for Mini-Ludum-Dare (just like the big Ludum Dare, only more often and with relaxed rules)

Dirt Driller! Control the drill and steer it as far into the earth as you can.

Themes are "loosely" drill, descend, dirt and dig.

Time was short, so there is a miniscule chance of (optical) bugs I couldn't iron out.



Features:
- Automated random procedural awesome level generation
- Third-person Drill controls
- Atmospheric and claustrophobic surroundings
- Implemented Highscores, to keep you coming back to kick some ass
- Quite fitting awesome soundtrack


Go play.

-Matthew

Ludum Dare 20 results

LD20 is over. So how did Steampunk Axebots do?

#61 of 289 entries

#1 - Coolness
#9 - Community

Also good some good grades in Innovation, Audio, and Graphics.

And seeing how I was up against folks like Adam Atomic, the marvellous Deepnight, and this guy, I call this a success.

Go see the results and some other awesome games here .

-Matthew

Me? On Rock Paper Shotgun?

I'm on Rock Paper Shotgun! ...sort of.

They called for questions to pass on to ArenaNet, devs of Guild Wars 2. I chimed in. And got in.

Go read to the "Icarus Tyler"-part.

-Matthew

I have a Twitter!

I hereby swear to never make any twitter-related jokes.

..beginning after this post. Go listen to what comes from my head.

@Icarus_Tyler

-Matthew

Post Mortem - Steampunk Axebot Supply Run

So it's time to look back at my 48 hours of game-making, like many are doing. Let's see what happened during the development of A Steampunk Axebot Supply Run.



What went wrong

The Theme - "It's dangerous to go alone" was the one on the bottom of my list. Why would anyone vote for it, I thought, when there are so many interesting alternatives, like nihilism, or climbing? Why, indeed. I had nothing prepared whatsoever for this theme, and spent the first 2 hours panicking over what to do.

The Level - It occured to me only later that I could have made this in 2D, or using tile-based movement, either of which would have made creating this stuff considerably easier. Oh well.

Textures - As in "I don't have any". Adapting UVs is a grueling and time-consuming task,which I would rather avoid, and spend the time otherwise. Using the toon-shader for all 3d-objects was a great choice, but it would have been prettier with added textures. The terrain clashed with this. I couldn't use the toon-shader on it (so far I know), and creating extra textures for it alone was not efficient.

Preparation - Slept too little the first day. Woke up at start-time (4am), but forgot to check the theme. Felt unmotivated and guilty for first 36 hours, bevofre I finally kicked into non-stop game-making mode.

What went right/not-so-wrong

Timelapse - It felt weird, at first, knowing that my every move was being recorded. But the video makes everything seem ultra-efficient :-)










Music - this one actually surprised me. I never really composed anything bigger, and I just aimed for something unobstrusive. I ended up with a sweet theme which fits the game awseomely, complements it, and people actually like.








The Title - No matter how good or bad this was going to turn out, "Steampunk Axebots" sounds awesome.


The Scoring system - Your profit is determined by several systems, which are based on enemies killed, health of the robots, extra fuel left, and over-healing. Each robot has an own pattern and unity set of enemies at different times, so it is quite challenging to figure out the best combination. I still haven't.

The fuel gauge - The rockets can travel only for a limited time, before they crash. I intented this to stop players from hovering over the playing field or leaving it, but the time-constraint added another tactical layer. The rocket takes some time to reach its target, but once it passed a certain point, reaching the other targets would be impossible. It was however possible, that the robot you tried to heal died while you were on your way, meaning you had to carefully decide where to shoot. But since all robots converge on a central point later in the game, it became at that point possible to switch targets should something happen.

3D-models - My first though was a little knight, which I would have need to animate. Unfortunately, there was no time to either animate one or learn how to include animations in Unity (note to self: learn how to include animations in unity).

Biff-Particles - They are quite a good substitute for fighting-animations.

Healing-Particles - They look much better than I planned.

What I would have liked to add

More stages - which become increasingly complex and tell a story






A menu - Which I already had around, but no time,and no good reason (with only one level) to implement

No introduction screen - I always hates these. Dammit, I want to play the game, not read a novel! There are ways to start the game at once, and teach the player on the fly.

Destroyed robots and rockets - Which I would have added were it not for a game-stopping bug I encountered with only 40 minutes to spare

Having the title of the game appear somewhere in the first level - Like I did in Unstoppaball. I love that gag.

-Matthew

Steampunk Axebots!

So Ludum Dare 20 is currently on.

It's a game-design-challenge to create a game in 48 hours to a given theme. The theme is "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!"

I made a game about Steampunk Axebots. They are on their way to destroy the evil Prof. Malevolent, but they will fail, if you do not supply them with repair-kits. By piloting rockets into them.

It's fun. Go have a try. (or see the entry on Ludum Dare here)



-Matthew

Unstoppaball got reviewed by DIYGamer

Somehow I totally missed this.

DIYGamer reviewed my game Unstoppaball back in February in their "browser-pick"-feature, and they seemed to like it :-)

Thanks, DIYGamer.

Go read.

-Matthew


New game is out!

It's either the best or the worst thing I ever made.


Go see for yourself.

-Matthew

Replay: Half-Life

Since the Black Mesa Mod is still being reclusive, I decided to boot up Half-Life again after not having played it in several years.

And although this game is now 13 years old, it is amazing how fresh it feels and how it manages to still be more engaging that doays mega-sellers.

Observations:




  • There are tons of incidental detail. Enemy Barks, textures explaining stuff, conversations, all add details to the gameworld, which I missed the last times. Probably because I couldn't speak english then. And was 12.

  • Fast movement, long jumps, no gun-recoil. They don't make shooters like they used to.


  • Firefights are harder than I imagined. I though I would be able to sleepwalk through everything, what with my 10+ playthroughs and 13 years of shooter-experience. But here were several points were I had to stop, figure stuff out, and retry, until I wasn't crushed to death by a giant blue alien.


  • Leaving lone, alive enemies behind you, never to be killed, feels kinda strange.


  • There are indeed women in the game. There is Dr. Collette/Gina on the tutorial-level, and the female black-ops soldiers. Also, we don't really know the sex of any of the aliens, so there's still that possibility. It seems since then Triple-A games have taken another step backwards (while tripping on a rock and falling off a bridge), as most games barely even pass the first stages of the Bechdel-Test. There are virtually no female generic enemies in current games. Half-Life 2 made half the (friendly) NPCs female, which was much cooler (and realistic, but I try to avoid that word).


  • Very little apparent scripting. Although this has always been a positive about Valve Games, in HL2 it got more obvious.



  • It is LOADS of fun going in with the details of Opposing Force, Blue Shift, Decay and all info from HL2. Hey, that's "the" barney. There's Kleiner. That's Eli, I guess. Breen is mentioned (although not by name). Here is Gina (Hazard-Course Hologram) supposed to show up. Here I would have met Shephard, would he have been put in retroactively. Also, just nuked Magnussons casserole.


  • I am SO glad that Steam lets me play in english, not only in language, but also with the content. Which means: No green blood. No Robot soldiers (which were stupid in so many, many ways). No stupid mistranslated and mispronounced dialogue. No Barney-hologram on the Hazard-Course.

  • Jumping-puzzles are a lot easier than I remember. Maybe it's the 13 years shooter-experience paying off.

  • At several points I thought "gravity gun", followed by "damn it".


  • Snarks (those little bugs you can sic on enemies) are sill awesome. I miss them.




  • Watching battles unfold between guards, aliens, and the military is also awesome.

  • There is a surprising amounts of jets, tanks and helicopters here.

  • In multiplayer, you can play as a woman, and customize the color of your uniform. This was way back in 1998. THIS IS AMAZING. WHY WASN'T THIS A BIGGER DEAL. You can't do these things in current Shooters.


  • There are several points where you can land in a dead end, from which there is no escape. DO NOT press quicksave instead of quick-load. FOR GODS SAKE, do not do it. Luckily, quicksave and quickload are now three buttons apart, instead of being next to each other. I am still programmed by Tomb Raider, however, to press f5 to quicksave. Got me some screenshots though.


  • It's much shorter than I thought. Back in the day you could boost with 20-30 hours play time, but now I ran through it in 5 hours. Okay, I knew were to go, and knew how to solve all puzzles. I didn't backtrack, looking were to go. I didn't die needlessly several dozen times. I didn't flinch at spots I used to be afraid of. I didn't, upon hitting a roadblock, ride to the next games-store to browse a game-guide (before gamefaqs days).


  • It is amazing with how few resources are sometimes used. Moving hexagon: Crusher-thing. Particle-Effect: Sci-Fi-gizmo. Moving Crates: Train with stuff.


  • Half-Life Blueshift added a hd-pack, which replaced all textures, 3d-models and sounds with versions which are 7 years newer/better. They haven't been added to Half-Life since then. Interesting.


Well, apart from graphics, this game has aged incredibly well, and in gameplay and story it still outdoes what passes today as a blockbuster.

Go have a try. They are throwing it practically away on Steam from time to time.

-Matthew

Another blog/portfolio online

The blog/portfolio-thingie of Tobias, who helped me iron out the flaws in unstoppaball, is finally online.

Go have a look.

-Matthew

Unstoppaball ranks in the top 6% in contest

Unstoppaball made the 37th spot in the Kongregate/Unity-Contest of 2011, against over 600 competitors. Seeing as I was up against professional teams of paid designers, I call this a success.

It also gave me a chance to see and study the works of my rivals, and while there were some really fun and amazing titles, the amount of amature-mistakes is staggering. So I compiled a list of dos and don'ts for creating games of that venue.


DO let me start the game.
Now. As in "right now, this instant, in 0.0 seconds". DO NOT show me a cutscene. DO NOT show me credits (even before I figured out what this game is about). DO NOT have multiple, non-interactive screens containing exposition or tutorials. NOBODY reads the second screen. Let me start the damn game.

DO keep your interface clean
Let me find quickly what I want. I don't want to have to spend 5 seconds (4.5 seconds too much) to comb through the clutter on your screen, which undoubtedly includes advertising for the iphone-version of your game, and facebook/twitter-buttons, to find what I am looking for.

DON'T give me an incomplete game
And then say "full version on iphone". Well it's not a game then. It's a demo. An incomplete part of a game, given away for free, made specifically for marketing-purposes.

DON'T use any of these words or phrases in your title or description of your game:
"dark"
"shadow"
"destruction"
"last one"
"chosen one"
"reinvention of the genre"
"realistic"

DO lay off the clichés
I have no interest whatsoever in playing "the last survivor of the whats-its-called, fighting against the undead hordes". Or the terrorists. Or aliens. As soon as I've
read this cliché-rife introduction, the game already has a negative reputation with me.

DO try to get rid of all basic assets from unity
Seriously. Every terrain I recall playing used a basic texture already present within unity. Get a new one, it's quite easy. And then replace all assets. Change the font. Avoid basic particle effects. Remove the "basic blue background" (which, funnily, is also the basic background for videos from the Windows Movie Maker).

DON'T include obstrusive in-jokes. Nobody but you alone will get them. Everyone else will be pissed.

DON'T make your game "bad on purpose". It is still "bad". There is a fine line between "so bad it's good" and "plain bad", and you will not be able to control it.

There will be games which are worse than yours, show less production-values, have glaring bugs and are blatant rip-offs, which will get more attention and be valued more. This will happen, always. There is nothing you can do about it. DO deal with it.

It's not "failure" if your game somehow performs under your expectations. You just figured out a way that doesn't work. DO it better next time.

Let there be a next time. DO start now, immediately.

-Matthew

Facets of being a game-designer #37

February 11th.: I have a new idea for a game. It's called "attractor", a puzzler in which you try to to move objects through the use of attractors and repellants.

February 14th.: Somebody releases "Attractor", a puzzle-game about moving objects through the use of attractors and repellants.

This must be the seventh time (approximately) this had happened. It feels like... my mind is being read and then used comically efficient against me.

-Matthew

Five days in Charleroi now too on Kongregate

10 minutes ago


Me: Hmmm... I think my previous works are comparable in quality to those I am currently finding on Kongregate.
Brain: Well why didn't you upload it before?
Me: .....
Me: alrightalrightalright


Five days in Charleroi, my WWI-level, can now be found and played on Kongregate too.

have fun.

-Matthew

Introducing: Unstoppaball


The game I have been working on for the past months is finally done. I'd like to show you ... unstoppaball.

Unstoppaball is a physics-puzzler, in which you try to fumble a fragile sphere through 30 levels, all whilst trying to keep the balance, avoid spiky enemies, and finding all the fragments necessary to advance t the next level.

Features:
  • 30 varied levels, every one of them different
  • 2 distinct art-styles
  • Hidden secrets in every level! Can you find them all?
  • An awesome death-sequence
  • Atmospheric soundtrack
  • Stat-tracking system, showing you how often precisely you shattered into a thousand pieces
  • 8 deep achievements, you keep you motivated

Unstoppaball is out now for PC

Go play on now on kongregate, or visit the website.
-Matthew

Abe Raham is online

The blog of the ever resourceful Abe Raham, whom I worked with on the excellent Dodos!!!, has gone finally online.



Go have a look, there is some interesting stuff to find.
-Matthew


Replaying Tomb Raider 2 twelve years later - A retrospective

Tomb Raider 2 was my very first PC game.

Well no. That was Redline Racer, but that I got for free with the computer, so it doesn't count.

I played it. I devoured it. I found all the secrets, I mastered the even then ridiculous controls, I fell in love with Lara, and I had loads of fun.

There were some corners, however, which I have never explored. Two places where I never ventured. Was I tired? Eager to move on, only to return to these places later? Afraid? Well yes actually, I was quite scared. I was only 10, it was dark, and Tomb Raider 2 had a tendency to insta-kill you often, which made me jump in my chair. So I skipped those passages.

Yesterday I remembered these plans to return. And Replayed parts of the game. I also had the possibility to see how it played more than a decade later.


Observations:
  • Insta-death features often. Infuriatingly often. Sometimes it's an avalanche that's impossible to predict, other times the level drops a guy with a flamethrower behind you.
  • The game still tends to spawn enemies in places you have been to already, accompanied by a short burst of "danger music". It creates them anywhere, anytime, even in already secure places, and I still jump when that happens.
  • Game-design alternates between brilliant and laughably stupid. Just as I think "yetis can climb stuff, cool" I stumble upon another frustrating issue.
  • There is a back-breaking amount of "borderline cinematic" scenes. Which suck. There are accompanied usually by several insta-deaths, re-loads, and realizations that the game is cheating (like spawning infinite avalanches), until you notice that this isn't a game, it's a movie, and you haven't been handed the script.
  • Voice-acting is german. Well, in the version I have. I still can't get my head around the idea of Lara having a british accent, even though I like those.
  • The graphic scales wonderfully to todays resolutions and widescreens. Only the cutscenes fess up.
  • The controls. Oh my, the controls. To beginners they are still incomprehensible. To gamers with a low rage-quit threshold they are incomprehensible. Funnily enough, it feels like it hasn't been 12 years since I last played. It am able to recall all special and cool maneuvers, and jump around caves without any problems. Seems it payed off to drill the control-scheme into my head.
  • After years of post-Lara conditioning I press space instead of ctrl to execute actions. Ugh. I blame all other games ever.
  • The menu-system is still one of the most beautiful things in existence, combining elegance and satisfaction. Just rifling (ha) through your backpack feels fun.


  • It's still possible to accidentally press quicksave instead of quickload, thus trapping you forever in a possibly inescapable situation. This ruined my first playthrough back in the day.
So, on to exploring. I'll cheat my way through most of it (let's face it, I haven't got 20 hours lying around), only planning to stop to explore.

Further Observations:
  • The venice-level still looks beautiful and plays wonderfully.
  • The water has a certain trasparent charme to it I haven't seen since.
  • The game is awfully blocky, akin to Minecraft.
  • Flares are FUN. Yet I have rarely seen them in non-Tomb-Raider games since.
  • It feels satisfying to light up a flare, and then drop it down a dark chasm or into a deep pool of water.
  • Fights are short, terrifying bursts of adrenaline. Enemies kill you relatively quickly, and I believe the wonky controls are somewhat resposible for your panic.
  • The last level, where Laras mansion (from the tutorial-level) is invaded, is still brilliant. Just the feeling of actually fighting in a formerly secure place makes it special.


Now this is done, let's continue cheating my way through the levels.

After you lose your weapons in level 5 I make it a priority to retrieve my pistols. Even though I have infinite ammo on all other weapons, it just doesn't feel the same way without them. After I arrive in the deep waters near an old shipwreck, I realize I never explored this place either. I swim around, using my 100+ medpacks as breathing-aid. Turns out there is nothing but a huge invisible wall.

I arrive in the mountains. An avalanche rolls towards me, I jump over it. To the left is a small cave. Inside a tiger tries to maul me (making me jump in my chair). Inside the cave is - ammunition.

First checkpoint complete, on to the next one.
Before I can summon the giant reptile/bird-thing in level 14, I climb down the other side into a big chasm, where I press the usual button. The rest of the chasm I haven't explored. It contains - nothing.

So that concludes my exploration of these places I have never been. And although they have been quite empty, I did get the chance to have some nice, warm, nostalgic feeling, and could marvel at the wonders (and atrocities) of the game design.

You should try it. It's quite a good game, this Tomb Raider 2.

Now that I'm done, I remember some places in Tomb Raider 3 that I haven't explored either. Like some of the caves in the Antarctic(of which I was alo afraid). Or all those levels which had a secondary path, thus leaving an entire level-progression unexpored.

Should I go trough Tomb Raider 3 too, in its entirety, to explore these places?

...nah. Maybe in twelve years.

-Matthew

//Addendum:
I did go through Tomb Raider 3 after all! Took me a while longer, so it's in three articles. Part 1 is here, this is part 2, and click here for the thrilling conclusion.