Meraki - Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing. It forms the core of my game design philosophy.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Living In The Past

Leanne is getting worked up about a Kotaku article. Normally I just let her rant for a bit, but this got me thinking and, in the spirit of lovely Top Ten lists, I present to you my...

Top 10 Playstation Era Games I'd Like To See Remade With Modern Tech.

The astute amongst you will also note that this also ties in with the noble PS1's 20th birthday. It's nice when things work out like that.

  • Can feature on any console platform available during the PS1's time.
  • Doesn't matter if they were already remade - perhaps they could be done even better now.
So, in no particular order...

Carnage Heart, PS1

Build and program robots, then let them fight each other in an arena. Talk about niche... It subsequently found a home on Sony's various handhelds in Japan but never really caught on anywhere else. I'd love to see one with a very comprehensive damage model - robots limping around, still trying to unleash death. Or taking hits to the core and having its program corrupted in a Core War style. Maybe even introducing EMP-style weapons to do just that.

Jumping Flash, PS1

A platformer... in first person. It shouldn't be possible, but it was. It worked because during the descent of each jump, the camera looked down at Flash's feet so you can see where you were going to land. Now imagine that with VR and try not to throw up.

Blast Corps, N64

Boom! Such destruction! Much carnage! So explode! Super contrived story involving a nuclear missile that had to have a path cleared for it which ultimately ended up with the player flattening everything around it. Somehow this is better than letting it explode even though the end result looks pretty much the same. Never mind - give me this in whatever guise the next Frostbite engine takes.

Guardian Heroes, Saturn

Co-op, side-on brawler. Think Final Fight with swords. So many characters to unlock and level up. Graphics were pretty primitive, even by the Saturn's standards, so I'd love to see something nice and crisp - although still 2D and traditionally animated.

Bushido Blade, PS1

A fighting game with genuine peril. No health bars. One mistake; one slip, and you were dead. Duels were a dance - a deadly ballet of poise and patience, culminating in one furious maelstrom of slashes, lunges, parries and thrusts. Nick an artery and it's all over.  It even had a bonkers first-person mode where you could link two consoles together and fight each other that way. Now imagine this with updated characters and an even more comprehensive damage model. Tear clothes. Lose limbs. I want that feeling I had the first time my brother beheaded me in Barbarian.

Wipeout 2097, PS1

I know it's been done - several times. But that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be a new one, right? I mean if Gran Turismo can keep churning the same thing out, year on year, why can't we have something for futuristic hover-racers? Since everyone's getting all het up about the new Star Wars, let's have some Pod Racing or Speeder Bikes. Oh, and no guns - let's make it all about the racing. I'd love to see a proper modern take on Power Drome*.


Can't Count

And that's where I ran out of games. It's not that there aren't enough to chose from - there are plenty that haven't made the list - it's just that the ones that I really enjoyed playing wouldn't really benefit from the latest technology. In fact, many would be actively hampered by it. 

There were plenty of games that we used to play to death in the office. Some examples:

Bomberman, Saturn

4 (or, indeed 10) player carnage. The ultimate party game? Remember what happened when someone thought it would be a good idea to throw some polygons at it?

Micro Machines, PS1

Cheating a little here as by the time the series reached the PS1 it had already fallen foul of an extra D which really didn't help the game at all. Let's be clear - the originals weren't without their problems, but the move to 3D just added more of them.

Any Puzzle Game, PS1, Saturn, SNES

You could include just about any puzzler here - Super Puzzle FighterPuzzle Bobble, Puyo Puyo, Tetris - none of these games would benefit by any fancy tech that wasn't available at the time. Just make the graphics sharper and leave everything else well alone please. Kinda like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix really. While you're at it, give Rainbow Islands a bash as well.

Nostalgic Wave

It's very easy for me to get a bit misty about games-gone-by. Just writing this post made me think about a simpler, happier time. It's also very easy to snap out of it when you find footage of said games and realise just how primitive they seem.

I might try this again but with a broader base to choose from. That would mean I could include things like Ico or Lotus Turbo Esprit. But then, in theory, we've got The Last Guardian and GTAV covering us there.


Games thrive on constraints. When designers are forced to come up with gameplay solutions to cover up technical constraints is when the magic happens. Give them a blank canvas and they tend to get carried away. Or people spend so long focussing on the marvellous technology that they forget to put a game in there at all.

Look at Minecraft. Okay, despite it's pretty simple aesthetic, there is some hard-core tech there, but the point is that it's not a very good game until you start introducing constraints. As soon as you move in to Survival mode, it's the restrictions that make it fun. You can't build this thing until you have the resources. Don't fall off high ledges. You shouldn't go out at night. Sure, things like the Better Than Wolves mod may take it a step too far for some people, but you get the idea.

That's one hell of an engine if it's true.
Now how about Star Citizen? Or even Elite Dangerous. Two titles with substantial budgets that seem to be on the verge of letting the player do anything and everything he wants to in a simulated Entire Galaxy. Star Citizen, in particular, looks like a directionless mess with multiple teams working on completely disjointed feature sets. Then again, with the amount of money at their disposal they might just pull it off. Either that or they'll keep raking it in from the sales of virtual spaceships** and continue to speculatively add features whilst never actually releasing the game so as not to break this vision of ultimate fantasy that everyone has for it.

Of course there are some notable exceptions - GTAV springs immediately to mind with its "let's do anything and everything" approach whilst simulations like Gran Turismo and Forza will always benefit from extra polygons or faster physics calculations - but the general rule is that good gameplay doesn't require technology. Note 'general'. But the key thing that binds all of those titles together is that the underlying gameplay was pretty damn solid before the introduction of the technology.

Or No Man's Sky which looks amazing but is born out of a pretty serious resource restriction*** so has to get around that with some very cunning use of the technology**** they have.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that technology should enable gameplay, not just be an end in and of itself.

* The Amiga one, not the XBox one.
** In many cases, potential virtual spaceships.
*** Small team.
**** Procedural Generation*****.
***** Literally making shit up on the fly.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Talking A Good Game

Update: We have a (slim) chance of making the top 100 games on Indie DB and thereby qualifying for their Game Of The Year award. You can help us get there by clicking this button and voting for us. But only if you actually like the game - wouldn't want to rile any internetrolls with our particular brand of corruption.

Super Glyph Quest

With Super Glyph Quest done, dusted and dead in the water, it's about time I distract myself from our current state of financial meltdown and talk about something fun for a change.

Games Conferences.

When I'm not playing games or making games I can often be found talking about games. Or making games. Next to Willow* it is my favourite subject to talk about.

Sometimes I'm even allowed to talk about games and making games to members of the public at Conferences. Sometimes they even pay me to do so. How cool is that?

So to kick things off, here's an example of one of my talks. It's taken from Konsoll in Bergen, Norway, from 2013.

Looking back on it now, the thing that really strikes me is how much of my own advice we didn't take whilst developing Super - specifically to do with the marketing side of things. In our defence, we just didn't have the time (also, money) to do all of that whilst finishing the game and ensuring that Willow didn't die a horrific, neglected death. But it does serve to prove the point - it doesn't matter how good the game is (and, by all accounts, Super Glyph Quest is pretty damn good), if no-one has heard of it, you're not going to make any money.

You'll also notice how I've spectacularly failed to distract myself from the aforementioned state of financial meltdown. Oh well.


I've been to a fair few of these conferences now and most presentation's follow a pretty similar format. Namely, Powerpoint.

I feel that, in a creative industry such as this, that's a bit of a missed opportunity.

All of this started off at Animex** a few years ago. The first year I attended, I had no presentation at all - just flash cards with my notes on it. It was the first time I'd ever given such a talk and I was kinda finding my feet a bit. Don't get me wrong - there was still plenty of wild gesticulation and ranting - but there was nothing to show.

The second year I made a presentation in XNA. It had text and little cute characters (drawn by the awesome Damo) that would slide in when I needed them to. It also had a neat little sin scroller like the demos of yore in which I could throw in things like 'greets' and even take the time to try and torpedo Zub's talk, which followed immediately afterwards.

After that, I moved over to Unity.

I was tinkering with a dungeon crawler game around the time of the following Animex and I simply re-purposed the engine into my talk. Now, instead of just moving on to the next point, I actually had to drive my character around the environment, pausing only to 'talk' to the other characters who would then put across particular points.

One advantage of that method was that I could also slay them with my sword if I didn't agree with said points.

On stage at the ExPlay festival. Hand Waving is important!
It allows me to present stuff in a more original and, in some cases, interactive way. I reprised the talk for The Gathering in 2012 as well - which is a truly crazy place to be.  That particular event predates my attempts at semi-regular blogging, but probably deserves a post of its own. The short version though is if ever you get the chance to go, I heartily recommend it.

The version shown in the video above has also been re-purposed and the content altered for a number of other occasions. I've used it at ExPlay in Bath for the last couple of years as well as the much more recent Press Fire To Win in Brighton. That also enabled me to try something a bit new - tag-teaming with Leanne to deliver our presentation on how we made Super Glyph Quest.

We had a chance to tart up the presentation and give it another go in a return to Konsoll for this year. A new talk engine was made to take advantage of the fact that I actually had an art resource this time and I was free to wander around the stage and wave my arms whilst Leanne drove. Other than her microphone volume, I think this worked out rather well as you can see here:

Pros and Cons

I think the biggest plus point about this type of presentation is that you stand out a bit***. It's just something a little bit different from everyone else.

Don't get me wrong - I've seen some truly amazing presentations all done in Powerpoint - Scott C's BrĂ¼tal Legend at Animex springs immediately to mind. Also, there are some epic ones that merely use Powerpoint as the backdrop - playing second fiddle**** to Austin Wintory's live musical presentation, for example. There are also alternatives out there. I'm not sure what Vaggelis Livaditis used on his talk about how he learned to be less precious about his own, individual ideas, but it was pretty funky.

But I also wonder what would happen if you took those super creative people and let them make something bespoke? Sadly, more often than not, these super creative people are also incredibly busy - nominally finishing off the actual project they've been invited to talk about - and so would never have the time to put in to a project like this.

In fact, perhaps that's a thing? Given that all Powerpoint really is is a method of displaying text or images, perhaps I should offer my services as a presentation creation dude or package up Dungeon Crawler Presentation on the Unity Asset store and let people tinker with it themselves. Sure, you'd lose the 'bespoke' bit, but it would be interesting to see if something like this took off*****.

But let's say you've made a game and there's some part of it that you could re-purpose for your presentation. A demo level, perhaps, with posters or paintings on the walls. Or maybe a new conversation arc with one of the characters. That'd look pretty cool.

There's an irony in that Valve already do something similar with their embedded director's commentary stuff in Half Life 2 and things. Yet all of their presentations use exactly the same Valve boilerplate Powerpoint format.

Talking The Talk

Actually, all of this pales into insignificance compared to the most important thing - the talk itself.

Having a flashy presentation running on a giant screen behind you is one thing.

Actually delivering a decent presentation is something else entirely.

There are those that have to read from scripts. There are those that eschew scripts in favour of simply reading the information off the slide for you.

But then there are those for whom the slides are merely bullet points. Punctuation. A sideshow for the main event. They glide across the stage with purpose. Their words have meaning. Their passion for their subject matter sweeps you along to such an extent that even though you started off without an interest in their topic, you'll end up a devoted believer in whatever it is they are selling you.

I've said it before but one of the finest examples of this, I think, is Benjamin Zander. His subject is classical music - something I have little to no interest in. But I would happily listen to him talk about it because he does it with such passion and enthusiasm. He doesn't use Powerpoint - merely a keyboard - very much like Austin, in fact.

Being at Austin's talk and watching Benjamin's makes me rather jealous. As a designer, I don't have a 'live' skill. At least, not one that readily translates to an auditorium containing a couple of hundred people. It would be very hard for me to 'perform' my talk as it rather relies on a level of interaction that's just not practical.

Or is it?

I suppose the next step would be to democratise the process a bit. Give the audience a stake in the presentation somehow. Perhaps via a website or downloadable app. Somehow they'd get an avatar right there in my presentation and play it themselves. Altogether. On the big screen. Which way does the Party go? Do they want to enter the Dungeon of Level Design or are them more interested in the Arena of Industry Anecdotes? What is the next topic of conversation? And will they make it to the end of the talk alive or will the final Boss fight overwhelm whoever is left?

Either way, I think people would remember that.

Or it would be chaos.

Total, bloody chaos.

Now, go and download Super Glyph Quest if you haven't already done so.

* Or, well, me.
** As I've mentioned before - easily my most favourite of conferences for a wide variety of reasons.
*** Likewise, indulging in a spot of karaoke for the attendees. If in doubt, don't let me near a microphone (although Rob Dressel does a mean "Don't You Forget About Me")
**** Actually, a keyboard, although I wouldn't put it past him to rock up next year with a fricking lute or something.
***** In the tiniest market sector known to man.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Super Glyph Quest - The Aftermath

In which the game comes out and the rollercoaster starts.


In the interests of me not losing my mind, let's start off on a positive note shall we?

The game has been reviews in a few places and absolutely all of them have been positive. Here are some snippets from the big players:

"Bigger and better than before." - Touch Arcade, 4.5/5 stars.
"Super Glyph Quest really does offer that ‘just one more go’ factor" - 148Apps, 4/5 stars.
"Super Glyph Quest has a foot in both the puzzle and role playing game worlds and delivers on both fronts." - Arcade Sushi, 8/10 sushis.

Annoyingly, this still leaves us one review shy of a Metacritic score. I know Metacritic is irrelevant in the self-publishing / mobile space, but it's still a good metric of how well your game is received. It's another thing you can use when you do eventually start hitting up publishers or investors for funding for other projects. A "this is what we did and how well we did it" thing.

We also had to spend a few days post-launch fielding a whole bunch of "Can Haz Codez?" emails. Some were from people with websites or YouTube channels. Some were just chancers trying for a freebie. We'd do a spot of research on each one and that would decide whether or not we'd send them a code. FYI - the ones who only said "Please send me a promo code" in their emails were the ones who didn't get a code.

Again, the ones that reviewed us seemed to like us a lot*.

Do you speak Polish? If so, check out the AntyApps review where I think we got a 5, which I'm assuming is a good score.

How's your French? iPhonesoft have got you covered and have given us 4.5/5.

But this also means that there are a few that haven't actually reviewed us yet. Perhaps it's worth us pinging them a mail inquiring as to what the point of asking us for codes actually was.

There were plenty more emails too, from marketing people offering their services. By services I mean stuff like we'd give them money (which we don't have) in exchange for favourable reviews and 5 star ratings on the App Store. You know - exactly the kind of stuff that GamerGate is really**, really*** about.

Never Smooth

I know it's a small sample size, but so far we've never managed what could be termed a Smooth Launch.

This time we fell foul of a rule change from Apple. While rushing to make our submission date, we had filled the screenshot portion of our storefront profile with only 2 images per format**** as opposed to the allowed 5. The idea being that we'd fill the rest in while we were in submission and prior to the game's launch.

It turns out that you can't do this anymore.

Now, you're not allowed to swap screenshots unless you submit a whole new binary. Everything else it appears you can change - but not screenshots. One assumes the reason for this is to include the screenshots in the review process so that it's harder for unscrupulous developers to pull something, but this would hurt us.


Top of the league!
Not as much as the fact that we weren't featured though.

All of our confidence around being featured was for nothing as after the Thursday refresh, we were no-where to be found - in the UK store at least. In fact it was the 29th before we turned up on the storefront. Front page, admittedly, but 5 days post launch and only 2 before the next store refresh...

...which promptly removed us again.

Thankfully, that feature was enough to get us in to and on top of the charts. Some very specific charts, but we're definitely counting that.

On the way, we even managed to get in some lighthearted banter with the chaps over at Bossa Studios as we briefly managed to overtake their excellent Surgeon Simulator, which was somehow in the Role Playing Charts.

Of course, before you get all excited and assume that's that and we can now swan off to the nearest Lamborghini dealership, it's really quite depressing just how few copies you actually need to shift to get in to the Paid charts.

Wait For The Drop

With our feature gone, 'hefty' price tag of £1.99 / $2.99 and a number of people baulking at our lack of screenshots, it was no surprise to see us start to slide out of the charts.

The way the App Store works is pretty simple - if you're one of the hundreds of thousands of apps that aren't Featured or in the charts or if you haven't got a huge marketing budget, you are nowhere. You will not sell.

The original Glyph Quest was downloaded over 200,000***** times - all within the first couple of weeks. Once its feature had run out, the tail started and it continues to be downloaded by a handful of people every day. Only a handful, mind - about 20 or 30.

Whilst featured, Super was being downloaded by about 400 people per day. This is hardly stratospheric. With no feature, there was no reason to suspect that this figure would drop to nothing.

So we decided to give it one last hurrah and drop the price.

The Backlash

This is when the wheels kinda fell off.

Some of the people who had already bought our game at the full price were most upset that we'd gone on sale so soon. We were accused of shitting on our fanbase and otherwise pulling a bit of a pre-meditated dick move. 

All over $2 that they feel we cheated them out of.

How about this for an example review on the US App Store:

"It was a decent 4 star game at first, but after a week I'm discounting it to a 1 star game."

(It's worth noting that our rating on the UK App Store is still holding fast at 5 stars)

Then there were people on the forums who got the hump and started demanding an apology.

You can find my response here.

After this, the rest of the forum seemed to rally behind us. Some said that they were going to wait until the price went back up so that they could give us more money. Some offered to buy extra copies for anyone else who wanted them. Some even offered to pay us money directly.

More publicity was to follow as people like Innkeeper Barry Barry Meade from Fireproof and Eli Hodapp started commenting on this. Whether it was the sale itself or the rustling of the Twitterverse because of the backlash we don't know, but we started moving back up the charts again.

Is that going to be enough to enable us to carry on or are we going to have to admit defeat and start brushing up on our CVs?

* This is an assumption based purely on what Google Translate tells us.
** Not really.
*** Really, not really.
**** 5 different formats - iPad, iPhones 3 & 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
***** Of those 200,000 people, only around 5% decided to actually pay us for the privilege.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Super Glyph Quest Dev Diary 10

In which we nearly kill ourselves but somehow manage to hang on through submission.


Much simpler, I'm sure you'll agree.
The Upgrades screen underwent a major re-design. Gone was the weird, swirly, three-arc monstrosity and in came the linear playing card thing. It was a bit of a punt, opting for a re-design this late in the day but the new screen is a lot nicer and easier to understand. It also makes more use of Leanne's neat card graphics.

Challenge Mode and Leaderboards

Game Center support - another scary prospect - wasn't anywhere near as scary as it could have been. Admittedly the implementation we've gone for in this version is very vanilla. You unlock Challenge Mode quite early in the game - after the Dragon Shrine and Great Traveller Mike - and this allows you to try an infinite runner version. Monsters get harder and harder and keep coming whilst you're not allowed to use any inventory items. You score points based on the amount of damage you inflict, so making good use of chains and reversals is key.

I had grand plans for the leaderboard stuff. Friends lists, next highest score target and the like. Real Geometry Wars 2  stuff, but we just didn't have the time. I'll probably come back to it for the next update though. Instead, we just make use of the fact that a single function call is all it takes to overlay Game Center's interface on top of your game.

Results Screen

Results. Like the name says, really.
Another screen that needed a light bit of fettling was the Results Screen. It has bee functional for ages, but it's all too easy to forget that you might need to polish it a bit. That's when it's good to have someone like Leanne there to constantly ask whether or not I'd made those changes to it that I said I would.

Now it does stuff like show you what materials you managed to gain on the quest. Actually, talking about Materials, there's another thing that got a bit tweaked.

The drop rate for Materials was changed so that it's pretty rare in normal gameplay (unless you spec in to the Upgrades that increase the drop rate) but if you go on an Adventure (rather than a Quest), the rate increases a lot. This means that it's a lot easier to grind for materials than before, or you can just mainline the story and side quests to progress as normal. Either way, you'll probably reach the end of the game with an abundance of Monster Bits.

Status Effects

In keeping with our penchant for last-minute changes, some of the Status Effects underwent some light fettling. In addition to the changes in damage model noted last time, we decided to completely re-work Blindness.

Basically, Leanne has never liked the Goblin Shaman with its Sight Steal attack. It's particularly brutal, especially if you don't happen to be paying attention. So now, Blindness only effects some of the glyphs on the board - the amount being decided by the attack strength itself. Couple that in with the fact that you can alleviate a glyph's status by using one of its neighbours and suddenly it's a lot easier to deal with. Therefore, its effects no longer have a time limit. This means that you'll either have to clear the glyph with its neighbours, use Eyedrops or take a punt on what you remember it was before you were blind.

We also added a Toxic effect. It's the same as Burn except it does Dark damage instead of Fire. Things like the Stink Toads will now cover your board in icky, toxic goop rather than just poisoning you outright.

There are more effects too - the ability to raise your attack or lower an opponent's defence, for example. It's all starting to get very Pokemon.


An honest-to-goodness screenshot from
the actual game. Featuring a spider and
some webs.
Remember last time I also mentioned that we wanted to be in submission before I went out to Malaysia on the 26th? Yeah, well, that didn't happen. All it meant was that, upon my return, an even more hideous daily routine was in store.

Previously, our day would look like this:

7-8am - Willow wakes up and needs attention from one of us to ensure she doesn't die or something.
12-2pm - Willow might nap, allowing mummy and daddy to get on with some work. Or eat. Or wash.
3-7pm - Willow is awake again and probably needs food or something.
7-9pm - Mummy and daddy are now allowed to feed themselves. Or do Willow's laundry. You know - whatever works.
9pm - 4am - Super Glyph Quest time.

Well, now the routine had shifted so that the 9pm - 4am slot extended out until maybe 10 or 11am, requiring some serious nap. Also, we really had to stagger the napping as Willow doesn't really respect the nap.

I've been tired before and I've had brutal crunches* before but nothing - nothing - was as utterly exhausting as this. The problem was that it wasn't a case of just slipping a deadline - you have a baby** to look after.

The End

After a couple of weeks of that particular hell, we did finish the game. There was a brief X-Code Archive Validation scare which, if you remember what happened before, was pretty terrifying, but this time around I think we were too tired to care. Of course, if it turns out that I've managed to upload a dodgy version again, I take it all back.

What happened was this: To tie in with the latest version of iOS, Apple had changed the rules on things like splash screens***. Now there have to be ones at the correct resolution for the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 has been the bane of our lives on these projects - all down to its ridiculous aspect ratio compared to the other devices we support. Well, the problem here was that the free version of Unity iOS doesn't allow you to change the splash screen and the version we had didn't support the required resolution.

I went so far as to try changing the splash screens in XCode itself, but clearly I'm not the first person to try that and it didn't fly.

So we had to update our version of the Unity editor. This, I have been told, is generally a bad thing to do in the middle of a project. So on the day of submission, it's probably Ill Advised at best.

Thankfully, it all went without a hitch and the IPA was duly verified.

Scheduling Concerns

What did this all mean for the schedule? Our Original Plan was to release in the first week of October but, as with so many of our Original Plans, this proved to be not what happened. This was obviously a concern for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we'd agreed a date with Apple as to when we would release. Thankfully, they were very considerate and even suggested a later date for us.

This is largely due to the second of our concerns, which is a bit of a biggie - It's really not a good time to be coming out about now.

Last time, we released Glyph Quest in the middle of January. This is a bit of a quiet time in the market, which meant that, in the absence of anything else, it did okay - even gaining Touch Arcade's Game Of The Week award, largely because of this.

This time, we'll be releasing right smack bang in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year. There's Halloween, Thanksgiving and then Christmas to contend with and all of the seasonal apps that are coming out to coincide with that little lot.

To top it all, Apple's recent iOS update means that the world and his wife are hurriedly updating their games to ensure everything still works. As well as flooding the app store with updates, this means that the time it takes to get through the review process has been extended as the backlog is quite immense.

Either way you look at it, this is suboptimal but we have no choice as the money has completely run out.



Now our focus is on the marketing side of things. Relevant websites have been notified of our existence and plans. The social media push has also begun.

This largely consists of bugging our friends that have characters in the game to swap out their normal avatars for these instead. This should hopefully create a spot of intrigue that will tie in nicely with the release and all. It also enables them to play the 'oh hey- I didn't realise you were in the game too' game.

Update: The marketing has a life of it's own now. Our friends have duly changed their avatars and it's causing quite a stir on certain Facebook profiles.

The Button

At the time of writing, I have just pushed the button. The idea is that you do it on the afternoon the day before it's supposed to hit the store - in our case, the day of the refresh****. In iTunesConnect, Super Glyph Quest's status has gone from 'Pending Developer Release' to 'Processing For App Store' to 'Ready For Sale'. It's very exciting indeed.

I guess it means it's out now, although I don't think it'll show up on any search just yet.

Update: Okay, it's out but you have to get a bit creative about how you find it. Of course, all that will change tomorrow when our feature***** kicks in. Also, looking at the forums and such, it appears that people have already 'got a bit creative' and started downloading it. Which is nice. This may work after all...

* The inflatable mattresses under the desks during Gene Wars were a particular lowlight.
** An actual, human, baby.
*** Or 'Launch Images', to give them their full Apple nomenclature. Deffo not splash screens - no sir.
**** Or 'Thursday' as people sometimes like to call it.
***** Assuming, of course, that we do get featured. Otherwise the wheels are about to come off this whole venture.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Super Glyph Quest Dev Diary 09

In which I realise how long it's been since the last update and I remember that we have a logo we can use on this dev diary after all.


First up - check it out! It's all heraldic and stuff. It even has a motto. In Latin. Kinda makes everything a little more legit, no? People are going to ask about the motto. Then we're going to have to explain it. But not right now - we'll let you stew a bit first.


All spells are now in the game!  That is, all regular and combo spells are now in the game. That's 32 regular spells (2,3,4 and 5 glyphs) and 24 combos. 3 of the 8 Summons are also in. Having been back and forth, we've finally decided that 5 Glyph spells are all area of effect and that you only get status effects with Combos.

Actually, speaking of Combos, we ran in to another interesting design dilemma. Thanks to the new, super-duper robust spell parser, you are able to Chain off either element in a Combo spell. For example, casting Sunstrike (Light + Fire) means that you could follow it up with Bless (Light + Air) or maybe Erupt (Fire + Earth) and either would increase your Chain. Likewise, if you were already in a Chain, you could follow Sunstrike with Crowstorm (Dark + Air) or Mudslide (Water + Earth) and you'd get a Reversal.

The issue now is... what happens if you do both? Follow up a Sunstrike with Smoke (Dark + Fire) or Regeneration (Water + Light). Both include a Chain and a Reversal, so what do we do?

There are several options here:

  1. Chain. Increase the user's Chain and ignore the Reversal.
  2. Reversal. Trigger the Reversal and ignore the Chain.
  3. Both. Increase the user's Chain whilst also triggering the Reversal.

We ruled out option 3 pretty early on. It's pretty OP* and would make an irrelevance out of one of the Upgrades later on.

The way the code was written, it followed path 2 by default. It made it trickier than normal to increase your Chain whilst using Combos. On the one hand, it meant that you really earned the larger Chain values. On the other, it wasn't particularly satisfying and somewhat cheapened the value of a well-timed Reversal as they'd happen often but at such a low Chain value.

Ultimately we've decided on Option 1. This means that you can increase your Chain with ease but if you want to pull of a Reversal, you have to think about it a bit more. It's also a bit of a 'banking' mechanic and I do love me a good banking mechanic. I've used it as an example before, but consider the scoring in Bar Billiards. You accrue points by potting balls. At least, the amount of points in your Break increases. To apply the points in your Break to your actual score, you need to finish on a shot that doesn't pot any balls or commit a foul. Sometimes, you can find yourself on a massive Break but unable to actually increase your score - or 'bank' it. The analogy holds true for Super too - the Chain is your score and the Reversal is the payoff. If you're sitting on a large Chain, are you going to be able to Reverse it before you run out of Glyphs to reverse it with? Okay, it's not quite as simple as that because increasing your Chain is a payoff in and of itself, but you get the idea.


All of the quests are in the game! Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. All of the main story quests are in with the exception of the Bad Dragon quests - but that's only because we haven't made the Bad Dragons yet.
The Dwarf. He kicks skulls.
Alongside the main story arc are a number of side quests. Most are just excuses to put friends of ours in the game as characters to meet but there are also a couple of interesting collaborations.

Our good friend, Jim Zub, is a comic book writer of some renown. He's created his own series of fantasy stories called Skullkickers. It's about a pair of mercenaries who tool around the country, kicking... well, skulls and generally causing mayhem, all in the name of a gold-ladened payday. The writing is pretty hilarious and a great match for us as most of it pokes fun at existing fantasy tropes.

When we told him that we were going to make another Glyph Quest he said that we could use his characters in a quest arc if we wanted. We jumped at the chance.

Then we got an email out of the blue from one Hato Moa. You know her as the creator of the wonderful Hatoful Boyfriend. She dropped us a line to tell us how much she enjoyed the original Glyph Quest and to see if we'd be interested in working together sometime in the future. We said that we were working on a sequel right now and suddenly the Hatoful story arc was born and our land suddenly became a bit more... pigeon-y. She even did the artwork for us.

Working on both of these was great fun and hopefully adds an interesting dimension to the game. The biggest challenge is coming up with the quest dialogue and lore in such a way that it respects the original creation.

I've been told that one of the biggest challenges for a writer is to write people in different styles. The problem I have is that I pretty much just write... well, me. What you see is generally exactly what I would say in that situation. Stepping out of that zone and trying to ape another writer's style befitting the relevant character was a very interesting exercise indeed.

Step one is research. Lots of it. As painful and tedious as it was, I had to force myself to read through the entire Skullkickers back catalogue. All of it. In one sitting. Didn't enjoy that at all. Wasn't even remotely entertaining. Not a single chuckle was to be had**.

The Dwarf was pretty simple - channel a belligerent, drunken Scot and you're most of the way there. The Big Guy was also pretty easy too as he mostly lets the Dwarf do the talking. The Hatoful characters are... well, bonkers. Exuberant and bonkers. Great fun to write for though. There's also quite a few resources around on the interwebs about how they should speak - especially Anghel.

Coming up with the dialogue and trying to present it in the character's style is key. Mostly I just used existing phrases that I've seen the characters use before and try to work them in to a coherent conversation. I suppose it's the difference between learning to play a musical instrument and using a sampler. Either way, the best part is when the dialogue is all finalised and approved by the original authors. Kinda gives you a warm glow. We really hope we've done them justice and you never know - we might try and squeeze in a few more arcs for them post launch.


Just one of the many, many monsters,
All of the Monsters are in the game! Except for the aforementioned Bad Dragons that is. A handful are still using the graphics from the old game but Leanne is working her way through those. Either way, that's 110 monsters to discover, which sounds like more than enough for this sort of game. Hell, Pokemon had 151 and a huge team, so we're doing okay for just the two of us.

Actually, I just re-jiggered the way monsters are loaded and ordered to enable us to add more monsters on the fly without ruining the Bestiary layout too much. By that I mean things like the Bad Dragons should always appear at the bottom and Goblins should all be grouped together. It took a bit of fettling to get right as the last thing I wanted to do was start shuffling lists around whenever I added a new creature. This is all good experience really - I'll have a much better idea of how to architect this stuff next time.

Most of the Monsters are pretty adorable. But some... well, some are just nasty.

They're also just a lot more interesting to fight this time. This is largely down to a more comprehensive pass on their resistances. Instead of just being resistant to particular Elements, Monsters can also resist Status Effects. Some translate in to a higher chance of not being affected by the Status Effect whilst others are outright immune to it - you can't make a Skeleton Bleed, for example, or Petrify a Cockatrice***. You'll also find that some can even bring in friends to help them - a trick that never gets old.


Item use has changed a bit since the first game. One of the main criticisms was that they were a bit pointless. At least, as soon as you've unlocked Combo spells, you never really needed the items as you could always heal yourself in combat. This was a real issue for the Asian version which had adopted a F2P model where you could buy currency for items but never really needed to spend any of it.

From a gameplay perspective, this was also lacking. I mean, why have a system in place that gets made pretty redundant early on?

As you'd expect, Super Glyph Quest does it just that little bit better than before. Firstly, there are more items. Most of these are to deal with the various Status Effects the monsters can hit you with. Blind, for example, can now be cured with Eyedrops. Burn can be fixed by applying Salve, and so on. There's still the catch-all Cure and Restore potions but they're rarer and more expensive. This means that there's more of a tactical element to loadout. What sort of monsters do you expect to meet? What kind of attacks do they have? As inventory space is limited (but expandable), you have to make some tough choices. Also, Loot Glyphs only appear if you've selected the Loot perk during your Upgrade sessions, so you can't rely on picking up lots of items during combat.

The other major change is that we no longer end your turn when you use an item. This means that you can use as many items as you like during your turn before finishing everything off with a spell. All of these tweaks make for a much higher item usage across the board - keeping them relevant right up until the end game.

For those of you with your monetisation hats on, this will make the Asian F2P version a lot more... well, functional as an F2P experience. We may even decide to add currency IAPs to the paid version for those of you who simply don't have the time to play the game for currency.

And to those who just baulked at that last paragraph - don't worry! Yes, we're going to be a paid app. No, there's not going to be an energy mechanic and we're never going to stop you playing. The game will also be balanced in such a way that you will never need to buy currency to progress. It's only there for the people who actually want to give us more money than we charged (those people do exist) or the lazy ones with a large disposable income.

Actually, we haven't even decided on a F2P model for Asia yet. There's talk of Japan being premium... It's all going to come down to timing and a gut feeling from people who know this stuff better than we do.

Bloody Harpies

I tell you what that IAP stuff did do though - it meant we needed to rethink the Harpy's Swipe move. It's all very well and good letting someone pay for an item but you'd better not have something else in the game that just removes it randomly. I'm no expert, but I'm guessing that would be Frowned Upon****.

So instead of removing the item from your inventory, the Swipe move disables your inventory for the combat. Your items are safe and sound but you can't get to them. Once you win the fight, you get them back. Actually, it may just be that once a certain number of turns have elapsed, you get them back - I might have to have another look at that code, but you get the idea.

Other Bits

The scrolling mechanic found in the Shop, Crafting, Spellbook and Bestiary has had a bit of a tweak. In has come stuff like momentum and out has gone that annoying bit where it would occasionally select whatever you happened to be over as you released your swipe. It's the little things...
The Grizzle Pig

We also did a complete overhaul of the Materials system - going over each and every monster and ensuring that it dropped relevant mats for Crafting. What with the monster indexing bit, I really hope I don't have to go through each and every monster again.

Some of the status effects didn't scale particularly well at the higher levels so we've tweaked them a bit. Now Poison damages you by a percentage of your current health, Burn damages you by a percentage of your maximum health and Regeneration gives you back a percentage of the health you are currently missing. That should help those effects to retain their relevance in the end game.

We got Testflight up and running and sent builds out to a few friends. They have been diligently***** letting us know when it all breaks and I have been pulling my hair out trying to work out why.

Auntie Saf and Uncle Ed came down to see us for a few days. This was an absolute godsend. Not only did Leanne get fresh meat for her Agricola slaughterhouse, but they took Willow off our hands during the day which meant that we got plenty of quality crunch time in. They even tidied up the kitchen******. You're welcome back any time guys!


Submission is looming large in the window. Plan A involves submitting by the end of this week as I fly to Malaysia on the 26th. It's going to be very tight unless we start pruning things but we don't really want to do that.

At least this time around we shouldn't have nearly as much trouble as we did the first time. I mean, surely we know what we're doing by now, right?

* Overpowered. The standard fallback excuse of online gamers the world over when they get their arse kicked by any given opponent's loadout or character choice.
** Somewhere in this paragraph is a subtle lie. See if you can find it.
*** Actually, at the time of writing, you can't Petrify anything. None of your spells or items have that effect. Maybe that's something we'll throw in for an expansion.
**** Frowned upon more than just the regular amount of frowning that the Harpy tends to generate in the first place.
***** No so diligently any more. It's almost as if they've got actual other things to do or something.
****** It has not remained tidy.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Godus - a review

Throughout its development, there has been a lot of attention lavished on 22 Cans' Godus. For better or worse, the internet just can't get enough of Peter and his machinations. There seems to be an ever eager pack of people following his every move, just waiting for him to slip up so they can pounce on him. I'd go so far as to say that I wouldn't be surprise if Internet Molyneux Bashing turned up at the next Olympics. This is not something I particularly want to be a part of as I owe my career to him.

I've commented on Godus before - well, okay, I've commented on an article on Godus before - but I wanted to hold fire until I'd given the thing a fair crack of the whip. I downloaded it on iOS last night and spent most of the evening messing around with it until now I feel like I've got the gist and can form an opinion.

I'll be honest though - it's not good.

Curiously, it's not good in a way I was entirely not expecting.

When you hit up the App Store, there it is in all it's Editor's Choice glory - as you'd expect, for something that has the Molyneux stamp on it. But you click on it and you're not presented with 22 Cans or Molyneux or anything like that.

It's DeNA.

That was my first worrying sign right there. Okay, it's mobile. Okay, it's F2P. I was expecting this. But I have an issue here - one that will crop up repeatedly over the course of this post. I shall enigmatically refer to it as the 'T' issue.

First Impressions

Build, my minions! Build!
Presentation - excellent. Love the art style. Brilliant audio too. But, seeing as how the guys behind both of those are two of the absolute best I've worked with, no surprises there.

The terrain is stylishly abstract. The stepped hills make a pleasant change from all of those hyper-realistic landscape engines. Oh hey - I'm as big a fan of From Dust's world as the next guy, but it's nice to see someone going a different way. The flat colours serve a purpose to denote both altitude and, subsequently, cost of modification - the sand layers are free, everything else uses resource. The lack of texture makes everything very clean.

I, like most gamers my age, probably bought in to the Godus idea as another of those 'spiritual successor' things that seem to be so popular these days*. This time it's Populous that's getting the reboot treatment and, given that Peter is one of a handful of people I'd say are qualified to give this a bash, I had high hopes. Not least of which because I kinda thought his vision on what makes Populous, was pretty well aligned with mine.

The God Game Genre

I don't think Populous has ever been done 'right' since the first one - for a variety of reasons. I say that having proudly worked on the second which, fun as it was, just wasn't quite there. Close, but it didn't quite capture the magic. Part of that was down to the more advanced technology**, but most of it was down to the inherent problems involved with balancing so many different effects.

For me, a God Game does several things a bit differently to other, similar games - something I've talked about previously. Core to this belief is the 'no direct control' rule. You are a God, not a General. You do not tell an individual person to go and do a thing. They decide to do it themselves. You influence the population. The minute you start micromanaging, you're in an RTS not a God Game.

So, Leashing is an instant black mark in my book. Thankfully, it's so wonderfully broken that it's not really something you ever use. At least, not something you ever use intentionally. More on that later.

Whilst we're on the subject of feeling like a God, Godus falls short there too. What kind of God scrabbles around in the dirt, digging up chests? Seems a bit... menial.

But back to the game.

The idea is sound. Provide flat land for your population to develop and thereby expand. Very Populous - we like that. At the start, it's all fine and dandy too. Plots are marked out and you turf Builders out of your buildings and off they go. Cool. Pretty soon, you'll have a nice little township developing. The way the map is laid out, you'll have a selection of tents then a ring of small huts then a ring of larger ones - provided, of course, you've managed to flatten out enough land.

There's part of me that misses the transient, fragile nature of the dwellings in Populous. They were always tailoring themselves to the surrounding landscape, meaning they were at risk every second from either a vengeful God, hell-bent on destruction or an errant one, over-zealously raising a new plot of land from the ocean and going just a shade too far. In Godus, once a house is built, it seems to stay built. At least it doesn't get destroyed if you modify the surrounding landscape - you have to wait until later to get effects that can blow stuff up. This means that the heart of my developing metropolis consists of ragged tents.

On the other hand, it does give the game a Settlers of the Stone Age, migratory feel to it. You can see where your tribe started and how it developed as a snapshot in time.

Gameplay Features

Each dwelling produces Belief, which is the resource used to do just about everything - landscape modification, Leashing, effects, etc. After the appropriate wait loop, a blob of Belief will appear above each house and you can tap on it to collect it. Or you can tap and hold on the first one, then drag your finger over each and every one of your houses, scooping up the pink stuff and playing out a tune. It's very compelling.

The tech tree annoyingly uses a card-based system. I say annoyingly - it's a fine system. It's just it's also thematically similar to what we've got in Super Glyph Quest... Well, to a point. Both use cards. Godus goes one step further. It's all very well to reach the point at which they give you an upgrade card but then you have to activate it. This entails sticking little resource stickers on it. Stick enough of the correct type of sticker on the card and it turns on, giving you all of its benefits. It's an interesting system, especially when you start picking up stickers with multiple resource types and values. Stickers are acquired by digging up those damn crates or sending your dudes out on a Voyage.

Voyages are like little quest arcs that see you solving a series of puzzle-based levels. It took a bit of getting in to, but these things are quite fun. It's like the Challenge levels in Populous II or, well, From Dust in micro. There's also a nice risk element there where you choose how many of your people to chance on each island. More people increases the chance of you getting the minimum number required to the target but any you lose won't be available for subsequent islands on this Voyage.

Another way of getting precious Stickers is to bite the bullet and spooge a bit of premium currency on the gacha and buy a Sticker Pack. In the name of science, I gave that a go. Half of my currency later and I've got a handful of bonus Stickers which is just enough to... not actually activate any of the cards I have. I've said before that I don't mind gachas at all. I like card packs or monster eggs or things like that. But it feels like the balancing on this is a bit out of whack. That felt like an awful lot of currency for not very much in return. 'T' issue takes another hit.

Sprogging*** people and watching them go about their business is fun enough and, despite the 'car park construction simulator' aspect of reducing the lovely terrain to a flat eyesore, makes for a cool-looking town. Especially when you get to the Settlements part where you can schmoosh together a bunch of buildings to form a single building that holds all of the same people but with a smaller footprint. These things look very cool indeed and open up farming for wheat...

So much Belief to collect.
...which is where the game grinds to a halt. New buildings now require wheat to build and wheat is very much attached to a wait loop. 6 hours or so. It's not as if this is just for new and exciting, higher tech buildings or anything. It's everything. Those tents you started with. The little huts. Everything. The rules have changed. It's like having the rug pulled out from under your feet****. Now you're thinking "What else are they going to change? Is all that stuff I've learned a complete waste of time?". 'T' issue.


You can instruct your people to go places by Leashing. Effectively you drag a path to where you want them to go, instantly making this an RTS and not a God Game. Leashing costs Belief. Lots of Belief, so it's not really something you want to play with, which, I guess, moves us back in to God Game territory?

Then there's the landscape modification itself. I was always a bit concerned about the smearing thing as I've yet to see that done well, but a touchscreen should be a wonderfully tactile way of doing it and probably represents the best chance of pulling it off. Also, the stepped landscape should really play in to this - giving you precise boundaries and avoiding the vagaries of analogue slopes.

But it doesn't.

The controls are so incredibly fuzzy it's ridiculously tricky to get the game to do what you want it to. At the very least, 1 in 10 swipes will lead to something unintentional happening. Given that these miss-swipes can easily drain your vital Belief, this borders on the criminal. It's the 'T' issue - and it's happening in the interface itself! There's almost zero feedback to inform you that whatever you're doing is draining this Belief too***** meaning you can find yourself entirely hamstrung.

This is the last thing I was expecting. I was really expecting to enjoy the minute-to-minute stuff whenever the F2P trappings would let me. Instead, I found myself in the curious position of finding the F2P stuff pretty inoffensive - even the gacha, as I think that's just the perils of early adopting a system that may well yet to be fine tuned. Well, up until the wheat thing at least, but that was a good few hours in to the game.


The final element of the game comes back to the F2P styling of it. That is, this is supposed to feel like my tribe. My kingdom. My towns. I dictate where they go and how they look. But it doesn't feel like that at all. I know that I'm only given stuff when the game says I should be and everyone else gets it at the same time. All of our empires end up looking the same and I don't actually have any authorship over the game at all. It doesn't really matter what I do. I can't get 'good' at the game. To do so would move me outside the various formulae and spreadsheets that are carefully managed to funnel me through the 'experience'. They rely on me doing the same thing as everyone else at the same time as everyone else. It's so constrained.

Sure, there's some wriggle room - especially when you have more cards than the Stickers required to activate them - but it's nothing like a game like Civ, for example, where two people can have two very different games and approaches.

The 'T' Issue

It's Trust.

I don't Trust DeNA (or almost any F2P publisher) to produce a decent, original game and not just be in it for the money. Yes, it's a business, but it's also a craft. I've yet to see a single design decision based on increasing revenue actually improve the gameplay and I know that DeNA's view on making a game better simply equates to making more money. I want to give you money, but I want a decent game in return.

I don't Trust the game's rules. When something so fundamental as the rules for building your settlements can change in an instant, you really don't know where you stand. What's next? Buildings explode if you don't collect their Belief? Every second Tuesday, all of your people whose name begins with 'F' spontaneously combust? Who knows!

I don't Trust myself. I've got an idea in my head about what it is I want to do on the micro level. I want to flatten this bit of land so that guy can build a nice house. Brilliant plan. So all I need to do is drag that bit of land over there and we're good. So that requires a swipe. Like... no. Not like that. That's squished a tree. No, not like that either. That's moved a guy across the map and wiped out half of my resources. Nope, that's raised the land instead and formed an impassable barrier. I need to flatten that out again. Oh, but it keeps springing back because... ah yes. I've used up all my Belief in doing all of these incorrect things. I don't like not being able to trust my fingers to do the job at hand, even though it really doesn't feel like it's their fault at all. It really is like a lottery, and that's not what you want from an interface at all******.


Godus is a very frustrating experience.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in there but they all seem to fight against each other and it's like their interactions have not been properly thought out. The interface seems to actively fight against you and the paywall comes down with such a resounding thud that it actively changes the way the game plays.

I hear the PC version is a completely different beast but the iOS one is sketchy at best. Maybe I'll give that a try as I really want it to be a good game.

* Largely involving old Bullfrog IP, I've noticed.
** The ability to have more than one person on a landscape tile, for example.
*** An old, in-house term for turfing people out of houses. In Populous you had to engineer less land for the house, shrinking the house so that it was too full and had to boot out a person. In Populous II this was streamlined in to just clicking on the house itself.
**** Or removing the Creature...
***** The virtual stuff - the actual stuff you can feel leaving you in waves.
****** Unless your interface is for a lottery.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Super Glyph Quest Dev Diary 08

In which we re-visit early ideas, meet up with some old friends and generally get excited about the future.

The Story

Who needs wallpaper?
We've finally sorted the story out. Well, okay, the main story arc has been finalised - we're still adding side quests and fleshing other bits out. Having the whole thing mapped out really helps though. In theory, we could set up the entire game now - the only thing missing are the actual quests themselves as the vast majority are place-holder things in which the player kills a test rat.

I've never been a big fan of speccing everything out beforehand. I like a spot of emergence or evolution to the production process. That said, we needed the main bit of narrative to be sorted out before we could make a move on the rest of it.


Speaking of evolution, remember that upgrade system that I talked about before? We've binned it off.

Not upgrades themselves, but the way we had it laid out. Thing is, there were an awful lot of upgrades you had access to at any one time and the screen looked incredibly daunting - especially for mobile and the kind of entitled gamer you get these days. Hell, just the idea of having to write a tutorial for it was enough to put us off the idea.

I still like the upgrade thing and it's never easy to get rid of something that you've already implemented, but these things have to be done. There's a phrase that gets used to describe it - 'killing your own babies'. Horrific, eh? But it's a vital skill for any designer. By all means, fight your corner and push for the vision, but you shouldn't be afraid to admit that it might be wrong and there would be a better way of doing it. There's a time and a place for it, which is ideally towards the beginning of the project, but there's no way we could ship this with that in place.

After some more judicious Post It notes, Leanne and I have come up with a slightly different system. Okay, the system itself remains largely untouched, but the player's interface to it will be changed dramatically.

Instead of having access to the entire tech tree, the player will instead be presented with three random 'cards' each representing a different upgrade whenever he levels up. The cards will be face up and the player can pick one to upgrade. This means that the player is only ever picking from 3 manageable options rather than scrolling around and choosing from anything up to about 15 different things at any one time.

Sure, you lose a bit of fidelity and player authorship, but it also encourages replaying whilst keeping everything flowing a little better. Think of it like the Arena mode in Hearthstone where you build your deck on the fly.

Once we'd come up with that as the basic idea, we spent a bit longer thrashing out the details and trying to pick holes in the design. This seems to involve moving Post It notes around.

To give you an idea of how long these posts tend to hang around before I publish them, I've finished updating the upgrade system. The cards work out very well and they all have a tarot vibe which fits very nicely with the art style. The upgrade screen is a lot cleaner. There's still some stuff to do on the icons themselves - showing you how many times one of them has been upgraded, for example, and maybe a tweak or two to the colours.

We're both a little concerned that it means your character build is in the lap of the random number gods, but that's only because we've peeked behind the curtain and know how it works and what other upgrades are possible at any given point in time. I guess the way to think about it is like a game of Agricola - sometimes Family Growth appears at the start of Stage 2 and other times it appears at the end, which can have a huge effect on the tactics but doesn't make it any less fun.

Spell progress

As with the last game, I have a spreadsheet that shows my progress on each spell in the game. Over the course of the project, I gradually colour it in as the effects are completed.

It is rather depressingly lacking much colour right now.

This somewhat daunting task is obviously made a little more concerning by the fact that it's just so much bigger than last time. In the first game there were 18 regular spells, 6 summons and 12 combos - 38 in total. This time around we have 2 extra elements and another level of regular spells. This makes for 32 regular spells, 8 summons and 24 combos - 64 in total.

The vast majority of the spells are functionally in the game. That is to say they do what it is they're supposed to do but with a generic placeholder effect. Actually, just the effect from the Ignite (Fire, 2 glyph spell). As I finish off each feature, I can devote more time to the effects and fill in the rest of the spreadsheet, but it still looks like an awful lot of work.

Now I'm just bouncing back and forth over whether or not to enable area of effect with basic spells or to save that as a feature of combos. I think we're going to end up going with 5 glyph basic spells providing an area attack.

Early game

One of the criticisms of the original was that it took too long to really get going and you had to be the other side of the paywall to really appreciate it - a paywall that people didn't really understand.

Hopefully we've already addressed these points by:

  • More front loading. You start the game with both 2 and 3 glyph spells. Matching 2 was just never really fun enough. 4 spells follow pretty soon and you should be slinging combos around the point where we would have had the paywall last time.
  • Premium. We feel the shareware model is still the best and fairest play but the extra work in entails coupled with a lack of support for the language means that premium is just simpler. I guess you can imagine that Glyph Quest remains as the 'Lite' version and you can upgrade to Super Glyph Quest if you like that particular taster.
There was talk of pulling a Metroid or Need For Speed where we give you a taster of phenomenal power early on then contriving to reset you back to basics. The problem with that is that a full board of glyphs and access to combos straight off the bat would rather overwhelm quite a few people. Or they'd have to sit through the mother of all tutorials and that's just not fun at all.

The narrative should help out though. The characters all point you in the direction of the next thing you should be tapping on in the meta game before we let you explore the map yourself. It also allows us to introduce features bit by bit - talking to people, fighting monsters, the upgrade system, exploring, shopping, crafting, etc.

Develop and charity

Also on the time table was the Develop conference - where devs from all over the world descend on Brighton for a week of talks, drinks and fish and chips. I've been to Develop many a time but, as yet, have never attended a single talk. Instead, I use it as an opportunity to catch up with old friends that I haven't seen for a very long time.

This year was also an excuse to introduce Willow to a whole bunch of people - primarily Shin from Chorus Worldwide so he can see just what's at stake with this whole venture. She handled the noise of the expo very well indeed. Also, for future reference, the giant bean-bags at the Unreal stand made for excellent breast-feeding stations.
Simon did not last long. Nor did his trousers stay dry.

Another of the features of Develop week is the charity poker event run by Mark Ward and hosted by the G Casino for GamesAid. Last year, I went out just before the final table. This year I did much better and finished in the heads up against Jon Hare. The resulting goodie bag contained all manner of nice things - most of which were duly traded to the local CEX to cover the buy-in. But, since one of the prizes was a copy of Rocksmith, it looks like I'm going to have to fork out for an electric guitar, much to my brother's amusement.

To wrap it all up, Simon Barrett of Four Door Lemon hosts his birthday party at the end of the week. Each year he takes donations for Special Effect - an incredible charity that enables disabled people to play games using some pretty innovative solutions. This year, Leanne and I stayed off the sauce and just chatted to people.

I think there's a rule somewhere that states whenever 3 or more ex-Bullfroggers get together, they must sit down and talk at length about The Good Old Days. For anyone else within earshot, this must be an incredibly boring experience. In fact, one of the things to come out of Develop this year was the feeling that we really must organise a proper reunion soon. Time to hit up Les and see if The Parrot is available...

All in all, we came out of Develop week absolutely buzzing. We're* very stoked about the next project yet terrified of the work yet to do on this one and the current state of our bank balance.

*I'm very stoked about the next project. I'm still working on Leanne.