08 Apr 14
Nandrew

QCF Design Vidblog, Episode 2

Uhhh, better late than never, perhaps? A few weeks ago we produced another discussion video for the QCF Design YouTube channel, this time discussing the trials and tribulations involved in resolution and interface design over the various iterations of Desktop Dungeons. Then we failed to repost it here.

This episode features a deeper and more substantial discussion than Ep1, as well as a slight increase in quality and overall user comfort. Plus extra minutes. Give it a lesson and let us know what you wanna see improved for Ep3!

07 Mar 14
Nandrew

QCF Design Vidblog, Episode 1

Hey everyone!

Trying something new this week. Instead of doing a text writeup about the topic of the day, members of the QCF Design crew sat down to share their feelings about Free To Play. It was deep, it was meaningful and it was enough to move a stone golem to tears.

We slapped the results into a real-life motion picture, which we now present to you as our tentative scout into the world of video blogging. Enjoy and leave feedback forever.

28 Feb 14
Nandrew

Female Representation in Desktop Dungeons

femalehumans03

The broader debate of women in videogames needs no introduction, regardless of one’s stance on the matter. Everyone with an Internet connection and at least some investment in videogame culture has heard stories of the industry’s gender bias (which we’ll go ahead and assert is very readily apparent).

Now, Desktop Dungeons itself isn’t some haven of progressive social ideas and forward thinking. We didn’t start the game with an overarching agenda in that area – but during the course of development, we were heavily informed by the dialogues, rants and documentaries around the topic of female portrayal and how some games screw that up so badly. More…

21 Feb 14
Nandrew

Coders: 5 Things Your Indie Artist Would Like You To Know About Graphics

In this post, we’re dedicating some time to the flipside of last week’s writeup for illustrators wanting to break into game art. For reasons explained last time, this isn’t just gonna be a straight reversal of the previous advice – a few core asymmetries exist between the work that artists and programmers do, and it’s not about the creative vs logical approach or however else the issue gets generalised. It’s about high-constraint versus low-constraint environments, and the reality that artists are often forced to adapt to a coder’s constraints rather than the other way around.

More importantly, unlike larger studios (where formalised roles of designers and project managers become more clear and compartmentalised), indie projects tend to be dominated by a programmer, simply because there’s no other way for that project to exist short of an artist engaging with some cross-discipline learning. Either way, an artist-driven project would have its own set of problems separate from the ones described here and it’s not the sort of environment that we have enough experience to comment on.

So, let’s assume you’re a coder-boss-type person on a project where you’re telling somebody who’s way better than you at visual design to draw things in exactly the way you want them to. Here’s a few ways to make the artists you work with a lot less miserable about that: More…

12 Feb 14
Nandrew

Illustrators: Four Things Your Indie Coder Wants You To Know About Game Art

Over the years, I’ve learned a bit about the diversity of the drawy-artstuffs field. I speak from the outside, of course – the closest I’ve come to being an artist myself is a one year communication design course (read: layout and colour theory) and the occasional desperate move with game prototypes where I simply couldn’t find anybody to draw things for me.

However, while I cannot tell anybody how to “do” art, I am sympathetic to some of the difficulties that visual creatives have when they’re forced to operate in the weird and wondrous framework of a programmer’s code base. None more so than classically-trained artists, who usually operate in environments which have loose constraints (or none at all) in areas that happen to be of absolutely vital importance to the average programmer.

Sometimes a situation emerges where talented artists in the wrong category hop onto an indie project: the devs are hoping for a particular style, perhaps, or the project exists in a territory where game development is still getting its legs and the required specialists are rare. Or maybe some friends just wanna work together on something regardless of the hurdles.

This can be pretty cool in the long run – particularly if said illustrator is excited and enthused about learning a new form – but there’s a few growing pains that need to be worked past. In my experience, practically all classic artists will need to learn the following: More…

07 Feb 14
Nandrew

“Stoic” prototype video

At QCF Design, we’re actively trying to promote a jam culture at the office to produce more prototypes and experimental work.

As it so happens, we’re also trying our hand at making more videos and sharing some of our experiments with a broader audience. Behold one recent side project, tentatively called Stoic:

For those who can’t see the video for any magical computer reason, Stoic was built with the aim of simplifying ideas present in Frozen Synapse and Toribash to string together epic, flowing action sequences with wild swingy swords and enough blood to fill the arteries of a dozen over-the-top anime villains.

By merging turn-based, predictable combat with real-time playback, players have the opportunity to create impressive, organic-ish fights with tough enemies, weapon momentum and lots of cinematic eye candy.

18 Dec 13
Nandrew

Undiscovered Territory

One of the simultaneously gratifying and frightening things about the design of Desktop Dungeons is its tendency to keep surprising us after three-plus years of development, polish and community feedback.

Despite being open to a crowd of pre-order enthusiasts for a good few years (many of whom played the game relentlessly from the moment they were able), new strategies, exploits and synergies are still uncovered and shared on a regular – sometimes weekly – basis.

Parts of this come from micro-adjustments in the system, of course. Sometimes a slight nerf or enhancement can shut old doors and open new ones. At other times, new learnings come from an incredibly deep analysis of the system, based on the combinations of several unobvious factors.

Occasionally, and more spectacularly, discoveries are made based on ideas that have technically been laid bare for ages. These plans, when put into action, seem so remarkably obvious and useful that it becomes hard to think of a time when they weren’t a part of the community’s collective consciousness.

It’s flattering from a designer’s point of view, yet also intimidating. Given that a united and experienced community still manages to surprise itself, it’s not unreasonable that testing and balancing such an open system is, at times, an almost impossible task for the small handful of people whose job it is to entertain and challenge everyone else.

This has the result of making many supposedly “obvious” design changes surprisingly difficult to implement, particularly when it’s about bolstering a supposedly weak item, effect or combination. Not only are the potential ripple effects enormous, but we have to strongly consider whether all the power options of a particular game element have actually been considered. Several times in the past, we’ve added buffs that were later discovered to be unnecessary. Or we’ve made a microscopic adjustment to a previously weak item that had a massive, unforeseen effect with the one item, combo or tactic we overlooked.

The core QCF squad are all Desktop Dungeons veterans. We need to keep our skills at least as sharp as the best potential players out there. We need to play – and understand – Acid Casters, Punchomancers, Health Monsters and all the other community-driven builds out there. We have to confidently go through runs like Vicious Gaan-Telet and Portal Perilous, because failure to do so means that an entire family of problems raised by forum members is beyond our ability to address. Playing the game takes up a surprising chunk of our time, even in post-release, yet we still learn so many new things and find ourselves “catching up” every time we browse strategy threads in the community — even with insider knowledge of the game maths, stat checking and experience on our side.

It’s almost certain that, deep within the shadows of the Undiscovered Realms of Gameplay, there’s much more knowledge awaiting all of us. Some secrets are known internally by QCF, discovered by accident or placed deliberately, waiting for the player community to find and use them. Others have probably been discovered by isolated gamers, who exploit their benefits while the dev squad and greater community remain oblivious. And some may still lie in wait, discovered by no one, yet so nearly within our collective grasp.

An unassuming item today could be the key to tomorrow’s killer strat. A hitherto-unused boon may have a special synergy with certain rare finds. And through it all, we’ll continue doing our job: ensuring that we are masters of a game that has proven time and again that true mastery will always be impossible.

It’s one of the most rewarding Sisyphean tasks we can think of.

SisBlog

21 Nov 13
Nandrew

Post-Release: Some Quick Thoughts

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
dislekcia

Trailers and puzzles

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.

trailer_lights

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.

trailer_eggs

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
Aequitas

Sequencing

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.


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