21 Nov 13
After the thrills, panics and elations of the Desktop Dungeons release on Steam, we’ve had a little time to sit down and think about all the stuff that’s happened. Here’s a few things that we’ve learned from the experience so far:
(1) If you have to release within a week of a major next-gen console, be prepared for a rough ride – and make sure reviewers get their play copies on time. If your game, like DD, is oriented around entirely engulfing a player’s mind, body and soul for several dozen hours before they even get past the first few dungeon tiers, you don’t want to be sliding the keys over to press just a few short days before the world expects them to spend weeks talking about PS4 Launch Title: The Launchening. Due to that humble little company called Sony somehow having more marketing clout than us, we lost a few important site reviews because they couldn’t possibly give us enough attention during the prime news window. More…
24 Oct 13
As Desktop Dungeons nears release, we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about trailers. Indie games tend to be hugely impacted by their trailers – that’s how a lot of potential players first interact with your game. For ages, we had no idea how to convey the ideas behind Desktop Dungeons in video: The game isn’t really packed with action, gameplay tends to be slower and less spectacular and players often sit and think instead of being bombarded with situations they have to deal with right-the-hell-now.
A few weeks ago we started working on our trailer problem in earnest and things are starting to get really interesting. We ended up reaching out to several professional trailer makers, hoping to get a few ideas that would work. In the end, it looks like we’re going to have multiple trailers – two by different people and a third one that we initially weren’t going to pursue, but ended up liking so much that we thought we might just try to film it and see how it turned out.
That happened last weekend. The early cut of that live-action trailer has made the people we’ve tested it on laugh quite a bit, so that’s good. The other trailers serve different purposes – one is designed to get people’s attention and the other is an attempt at showing off gameplay (yes, that’s hard to do, it doesn’t mean we didn’t have ideas that could work). Shooting for a trailer that’s just over a minute long took most of the day, we’re really glad that we have friends in the film and TV industries, otherwise we’d never have made anything this cool happen… Also, effects are pretty fun to make! The eggs above worked wonderfully, although you’ll just have to wait until the trailer is finished to see exactly what we did with them.
29 Aug 13
Anyone who has played the early parts of Desktop Dungeons recently will have noticed the new cadence of the toasts, advisor hands, and building spawn animations. The systems that control these elements were built at different times, and sometimes by different team members, so getting them all to get in line was a real challenge.
The event system that the whole game runs off was actually very helpful in terms of controlling what appears when, with no overlap. I was able to create a handler that listens for all the events in charge of firing off these disparate pieces. It intercepts all the events, and adds them to a queue, waiting for some event to fire notifying the handler that the next event in the queue can be sent out. Some extra code was added to the pieces themselves, to let the handler know when they are ‘done’ and the next piece can be activated.
This all allows the user to move through the messages at their own pace, and it allows us to set the order that we want things appearing in. This is really important for new players, as they’re being asked to absorb all the basic DD systems in just a few short messages.
21 Aug 13
Narrative concerns in Desktop Dungeons have always been a little weird. Its short-session, rotating door of one-shot characters doesn’t lend itself to extended storylines. Its semi-linear nature makes it difficult to have a “main” storyline (we ended up dressing one tale out of several as the “campaign” because we needed a solid backbone for metagame progress). Its random nature means that it’s difficult to ensure that all parts of the story are heard at the right times.
In other words, conventional storytelling is out.
At some point, I became thoroughly gripped by Dark Souls and marvelled at its perfection of “fuzzy storytelling”. The game world was fully equipped with bits and pieces of information about what the hell was going on, and as you discovered more of these pieces you were able to start forming theories about where you were, what you were doing and why the world was so dark and messed up. More…
15 Aug 13
Making things pretty. That’s all it is; which seems so straightforward. In reality, making art for video games can get complicated very quickly. Besides needing your fundamental art skillset of composition, colour, technique and all the rest of the artsy fartsy background, you need a whole additional technical understanding to deal with the pipeline of game making. Even an essentially 2D game like Desktop Dungeons, which I reckon is on the easier end of the game art spectrum as there’s more of a wysiwyg dynamic, takes some hefty technical consideration.
You need to know your tools. Know how your images are being interpreted and reproduced in the game, learn what can and can’t be procedurally reproduced in the chosen pipeline . In my experience there’s often a lot of to and fro to get a file exactly right and building non-destructive source files is critical. At any point in a game’s production a change can be called for that may be buried deep in work you produced months ago; those layers had better not be flattened together and don’t you wish you’d labelled them better now?
Another huge aspect of this production art is the need to prototype quickly, as an artist in a pipeline you need to be able to get an idea down quickly, particularly in those occasional cases when you’re only the stylus-wielding cog for someone else’s vision. Sometimes you need to explore art directions that get scrapped to find the one that works, the quicker you can scout, the better off your work.
The cutting room floor; not a good camp-site.
06 Aug 13
Last week MyGaming contacted me with a couple of questions about the South African games industry, the resulting article has just gone live: SA gaming industry growing despite “isolation”. I think it can be quite interesting seeing how an article gets produced from the raw questions that you get asked, so I’ve posted the email the article was based on below. (Big thanks to Jeremy from MyGaming for being cool with posting the questions he asked, as well as responding to my incessant poking to get Make Games SA linked in the article)
Unrelated to article, from this weekend’s Make Games workshop at UCT.
31 Jul 13
There seems to be a recurring issue with new and old players alike: Dying. For the most part, we don’t want to remove the threat of a gory, unnecessary death from Desktop Dungeons. We think that without it, newcomers’ interactions with the game will devolve into a spiral of ‘test-attacking’ everything until they’re completely out of resources. At this point, the game becomes *very* boring, and the urge to ‘try again’ is lost.
At the same time, we don’t want you to click on an enemy and become a mutilated husk of used-to-be-adventurer! We want you to win! We want you to beat that dungeon by the skin of your teeth and walk out, monster trophy held high! We want you to mouse over that over-muscled goat, and know, without a shadow of doubt, that clicking on it will lead to an incredibly grizzly, highly pixelated death.
Up until now, the only indication of this has been a depleted health bar prediction and the word ‘dead’ in red letters on the enemy panel. Clearly, not everyone is looking at that 5% of the screen at crucial moments, so we’ve taken it one step further: We’ve added a pulsing red border at the edge of the screen that appears as you mouse over an enemy that will kill you. Hopefully, this will make it much more obvious that clicking on that level 8, when you are a measly level 2, will see you splattered all over the dungeon floor. Soon we’ll look at adding a sound at the same time.
25 Jul 13
The graph below is something that I’ve become incredibly familiar with over the last week. That’s not to say that I wasn’t familiar with Unity’s profiler before, anyone with a reasonable eye on performance will use it every once in a while as a game matures, but this past week has been one of those. The reason is visible in the graph. A memory leak. Small, but definitely there:
Did you find it? Here’s a clue: It starts off as the lowest line and ends up not being the lowest one… Yup. That strange burnt ochre that shows how many materials there are currently. The key here is that this is (pretty much) normal gameplay (apart from me spamming a specific game event) and the number of actual game objects stays relatively constant throughout. That big spike in the blue texture memory line? That’s what happens when you cast a fireball. More…
18 Jul 13
We’ve finally made significant headway with the Desktop Dungeons Special Edition content, and one of the most exciting things to work on has been the new bonus class.
The goal of the SE is not to make the game easier to win through extra stat boosts, powerful items and monstrous characters. Instead, we’re trying to extend and enhance the dungeon experience in dangerously experimental – yet interesting – ways.
The bonus character is hamstrung in several considerable ways, but all of them contribute towards radically different playstyles and interesting new decisions as opposed to simply tacking a “plus one difficulty” sign on the dungeon. This means that a purist run through Venture Cave becomes a lot more interesting and meaningful for even the most veteran of dungeoneers.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s being added to the new kid: More…
12 Jul 13
Free to play has been coming under a fair amount of fire recently in the press, so I though I’d talk about it a little here. I’m not against Free to Play, I just think it needs to be handled with care.
Free to play seems to be divided along two axes: Visual vs Pay To Win, and Considered vs Gambling.
Visual is items that you don’t need to progress, but are just there for status. Pay to Win means you gain a real tangible advantage from paying. Somewhere along this axis is Unlock Earlier, where a player can grind to get an item/character/whatever, or just pay and get it right away. I think the safest camp to be in here is Visual, since you’re not giving anyone a way to progress with less skill. Unlock Earlier can be good as well, but if depends on a few factors: Is the grind needed unrealistically high? Does getting the unlock provide a clear advantage? Is the unlock available on some sort of ‘trial’ basis?
As I’m sure you can tell, Unlock Earlier can easy become Pay to Win, and this is a problem. If you’re paying to win, the ‘game’ is not worth your time (or money).
Considered is when you know exactly what you’re getting for your money, and Gambling is when you’re promised a random assortment of things. One of the problems here is that, much like in real life, Gambling can become addictive. The high you feel from your first ‘big win’ is something many people will start chasing (especially if it’s also a Pay to Win situation), sometimes to the detriment of their real lives. There are a few ways to combat this, like a spending cap that, once reached, gives the player ‘all’ the available unlocks … but I doubt you’ll see the big publishers go for this, since it means their income streams dry up faster.
I think you have to walk a fine line as a game dev making a Free to Play title, between getting enough money to keep making your games, versus getting greedy and trying to bleed your customers dry.