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.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A Theory On Monetisation

The first thing to note about this is that it contains both the word 'A' and 'Theory'. That means it's just one theory and, as such, may be wildly off base. YMMV.

Monetisation is still seen as a dirty word in game design. I myself am not fond of it. But that's only because it has dragged along so many negative connotations with it. Primarily, these manifest themselves as the phrase “How do we get people to give us money?” which, for the majority, simply translates into “How do we trick people into giving us money?”

I put it to you that, if you start with that premise, you're doing it wrong - subjectively. Note that this comes from a purely moral and ethical high-ground rather than something that makes economic sense – all of the evidence would suggest that if you're doing it 'wrong' you stand to make so much more money than doing it 'right'. Then again, the fact that we all need to feed our families and stuff would suggest that maybe your definition of 'right' is the correct one after all.

The way I see it is that there are two main problems.

Does this need a caption or are we good?
The first is that people are dicks.

People will begrudge having to pay anything for their entertainment and, wherever possible, try getting it for free. Obviously, there are exceptions to this but I think this holds true for the vast majority. It's why F2P exists – I put it to you that, were people not dicks – tight-fisted dicks no less – then the standard retail model would still work perfectly and we wouldn't have to have invented F2P.

Secondly, people are dicks.

Not those first people, but the people in charge of the apps themselves. The ones coming up with ever more devious and lucrative ways to scam money out of Joe Public. The ones for whom making games is merely a device for producing money rather than something they love doing. The ones for whom enough money is never enough money.


I think this is what it's all about.

Developers and Publishers don't trust Joe Public. They have seen how JP would rather burn a box of puppies than cough up 99c for an app. They can't be trusted to pay fair value for this entertainment that costs a lot more than they think to produce. So alternate methods of reimbursement must be sought to keep the Developers and Publishers in business. But it's okay – I, as a developer, have come up with a new, completely insidious method of getting paid. Now, what are your bank account details?

No gas? That's a shame.
Joe Public don't trust the Developers and Publishers. They have seen how D&P make loads of money from coming up with ever more devious methods of extracting money then brag about it down the pub. They are annoyed by energy systems, worried by seemingly random difficulty spikes and requests to bug our friends. But don't worry – I, as a gamer, will never fall for these tricks. In fact, I will go out of my way to not spend any money on you because you don't deserve it you filthy tricksters. Now, where's that next set of bonus levels?

Each of these things feeds back into the other – a desperate arms race, if you will.

Of course, those assertions can be wrong. Very wrong.

Did your game not make any money? There are many reasons why this is the case. It might not be that people didn't want to pay your asking price or buy any of your IAPs. It might just be that, with the marketplace as crowded as it is, they just don't even know you exist. It might even be that – and this might be hard to hear – your game just isn't very good.

It's at times like these I'd really like to be able to give JP a little credit. I'd like to think they can recognise a cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers, lazy implementation of a formulaic experience designed solely as a revenue stream and simply not fall for it.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd like to see new things – not just re-hashed versions of something I've already played. It's true that sometimes all this means is to take that existing thing and raise it's production values through the roof, but even that is getting a bit stale.

Alongside the word 'trust' I'd like to offer up the word 'fair' as well. It's pretty obvious to me, but games should always be fair. They can be difficult, sure, but they should always be fair. The player should never feel cheated. They should enter into each and every play session with the feeling that their destiny is in their own hands and they're not about to arbitrarily suffer at the hands of unseen forces. Only by repeatedly presenting things in this fair way do I believe developers will be able to allay any suspicions and convince players to offer up fair payment for their services*. Quid pro quo and all that.

Public Opinion

Frustratingly, it's very hard to gauge public opinion. It's very easy to find a lot of folks on online forums who decry the very nature of IAPs and clamour for a return to the 'good old days' where they could just pay a fixed amount up front and never be bugged for money again. Likewise in app reviews – they're either asking for premium or a flat payment to disable ads or the energy mechanic.

The problem is that this support for premium simply doesn't manifest itself in the sales numbers themselves. As soon as you stick a premium price tag on an app, your downloads will suffer enormously, yet the only people who seem to champion the F2P approach are Developers & Publishers who have already reaped the benefits of said approach. Given that these people are by no means in the majority, I'm finding it hard to see where this discrepancy is. I wonder if it's partly due to the stigma that's still attached to F2P in general? If you voice support for it, you're seen as money grabbing or not a 'true' gamer perhaps? Possibly even that you're less potent as a lover...

Either way, what it boils down to is that tricksy F2P is the dominant approach whilst Premium is dead in the water.
Nothing uncanny about this valley.

Uncanny Valley and Outliers

But, like all sweeping generalisations, that's wrong.

Just as there are, in fact, free games that don't using gouging wait timers or intrusive ad models out, there are also tales of breakout hits that have worked and made money using the premium model. Games like 10000000, Monument Valley and The Room series spring immediately to mind. These are games with a premium price tag** that were successful. As such they intrigued people enough to get featured and talked about for long enough so that they would rise above the detritus in the stores.

This is where I'd like to propose another theory. One that I am calling the Uncanny Valley of Premium Pricing. Actually that's too much of a mouthful.

From now on, it shall be known as the Uncanny Value. Boom.

Bear with me here and remember that I don't actually have any stats to back this up – I refer the honourable reader to the 'Theory' bit at the top of the article.

I shall assume that you are already familiar with the Uncanny Valley from which my theory takes its name. Well, what happens if we apply a similar principle to premium prices, albeit one rooted to the other end of the scale?

Firstly, we shall assume that your game looks really cool and reviews well because, you know what? - you made a good one. Yes, that's one hell of an assumption but those are the things that should be all under your control and it gives us a decent baseline to work from. We shall also assume that people can discover your app***, which is even more outrageous...

Next, the challenge is to get people to download it. Other than the stuff just mentioned - previews, screenshots, reviews, word of mouth, favourable theme / genre, etc. - this relies a lot on the price point.

At a price point of zero dollars, people don't tend to be put off. Sure, there are some – the vocal minority from earlier – who rail against anything F2P and refuse to download things that contain IAPs regardless of how they're implemented, but the keyword there is 'minority'. After all, what have they got to lose? That's right – nothing!

At any other price point, people have to ask themselves whether or not they will be getting value for money. This is, understandably, a very key decision.

Whilst steadfastly not backing any of this up with stats – 'theory' remember? - I put it to you that the most common price point is the lowest one – normally around the dollar mark. This is largely thanks to the race-to-the-bottom mentality of being cheaper than the competition to attract more customers. Then there are a few titles at the $1 - $2 mark, a few around $3 - $5 and fewer still braving it into double figures.

But here's what I'm thinking.

That $1 - $2 range represents the Uncanny Value. There's so much dross out there that anything in that price range stands a very good chance of being dross itself. At some point though, that perception changes. Where, exactly, I'm not sure – my theory-filled gut is saying somewhere around $4 - $5. If the developers are prepared to value their work higher than that, doesn't it stand to reason that it's of higher quality? Might it not, at least, look like they have some degree of faith or pride in it?

Sure, it would be a bold move to stick out a premium title with what amounts to a price tag 5 times greater than your competitors but given all of the problems you're faced with already, isn't it worth a shot? The optimistic approach is that you only have to sell 1/5th of the units to make the same money, which, with discoverability being as it is, might not be such a bad idea after all.

Are you ever going to hit #1 on the Top Grossing chart using this approach? No. Don't be silly. That shit is locked down for years to come by powers beyond your comprehension.

Might you make enough to feed your family and continue the kick-arse profession that is making games? Who knows? Maybe?

I certainly hope so.

* Sadly, the real world is unlikely to agree with me. After all, people are dicks.
** And, crucially, premium production values or premium gameplay.
*** Think Steve Ballmer but replace the word 'developers' with 'marketing' – for the love of God, nobody make that video...

Monday, 18 May 2015

Elite: Dangerous Part 4

In which Commander Bulk Paint spends a lot of time tinkering with controls and throws down a lot of text.

A Measure Of Control

I elected to not bring my gamepad into work. For starters, Bulk Paint: Entrepreneur isn't going to be getting into scrapes any time soon and any time on the work machine is just going to be spent lugging cargo around.
Actually, quite a bit of time is spent getting the keyboard and mouse setup just so. By default, the mouse simulates the joystick, controlling pitch and roll and the keyboard does, well, everything else. The initial keyboard uses WASD for throttle and lateral thrust, QE for yaw and RF for vertical thrust. It didn't take long for that to feel uncomfortable.
Starting with the thrusters, I felt that the yaw layout was wrong – especially for landing. Swapping yaw and lateral thrust seemed to fix that – made things a bit more FPS-y.
Now for the mouse. By default it felt a bit twitchy. I decided to try something a little more akin to Freelancer – mouse controls pitch and yaw. Moved yaw, again, putting lateral thrust back on AD and roll on QE. Again, it feels a bit more FPS-y and, even though I haven't played one of these on mouse and keyboard for a long time, it's like an old, comfortable pair of slippers.
That seems to work quite well – with a couple of caveats.
Firstly, the lack of centering. If you move a joystick, it will naturally attempt to return to the middle position. Only prolonged pressure will keep it in the position you require. When you move the mouse, it stays moved. It does not come back to the middle. FPS use the deltaXY – how far the mouse has moved that turn - to determine pitch and yaw. Elite Dangerous uses mouseXY – the actual mouse position. What this means in real terms is that to make a prolonged turn, an FPS will have you constantly moving and reseting the mouse to keep the deltaXY going whereas Elite Dangerous only needs you to move it once and it'll keep going for you. Sounds good on the surface – for starters, FPS games very rarely need you to continue rotating in a single direction for an extended period of time* so having it stop when you stop moving the mouse is cool. That sort of input just won't fly here though. Funnily enough, it's not the fact that no input will stop the ship from moving, as you often need prolonged yaw and pitch as you're flying around. Instead the problem arises when you have to stop tumbling. Instead of just letting go of the joystick, you have to manually find the neutral position. Once again, the lack of haptics** bites you in the arse.
Also, I can't seem to decide whether or not I want the mouse Y inverted or not. Normally, I'm all “Inverted mouse is king!” - push forward to nose down, just like a joystick. That changes when I have a mouse cursor on the screen, in which case pushing forward should make the cursor move up. Elite Dangerous has a mouse cursor, so I should not invert the Y... except it only occupies the centre of the screen and even fades out when you're not really moving it. This means that I find myself constantly flicking between thinking I need inverted Y and I don't depending on whether or not I can see the cursor. Writing this on the train, I can't honestly tell you how I left it.
I understand how this makes it seem like I'm ragging on the control scheme but, to its eternal credit, the game does a bang-up job of presenting you with all of the options you need to make it work. You can tell it to centre the mouse over time, giving you that an analogue for the deltaXY controls of an FPS – but then you run into the can't-constantly-turn problem. You could dial the sensitivity right down and introduce a large deadzone, making it easier to locate the neutral spot and reducing the twitch factor – but you're still going to have a small issue of knowing what mouse position results in the steering input you'd like as all mouse positions feel the same. It's all stuff you could get used to, if you want.
But I want a joystick.

Home Is Where The Joypad Is

This is where your lateral controls are really needed
Hello gamepad! I know you're not my HOTAS but you're still far more suited to this than mouse and keyboard.
I think I might have a solution for my yaw-based shenanigans though. Pitch and roll only on left stick – like a normal joystick. Then vertical thrust and yaw on the right. Throttle is on RB and LB and, in flight, there is no lateral thrust. I don't think I'll need it. This system works out very well in open space.
Of course, I could have gone full FPS – put pitch and yaw on the right stick – maybe putting vertical thrust and roll on the left, but this will do for now.
Except for docking.
I miss my lateral control when docking. Okay, maybe not the docking part, but certainly the final landing bit, which seems to be where I do the most damage.
Thankfully, ol' Elite Dangerous has thought of this. There's a section in the control options that allow you to override things whilst in Landing Mode – ie: you have deployed your landing gear. This means that I can swap lateral thrust back in for yaw on the right stick and re-enable the roll into yaw at low input on the left. As I will only ever be in this mode inside a station or on final approach to an outpost, the fact that I have to modulate my left stick to introduce yaw at the expense of roll is okay.
It works like a charm and soon I'm zinging in and out of stations like it was second nature. Perhaps it's time to put it to the test and embark on a mission or two?

A Deal's A Deal

Let's stick with the cargo stuff for the time being. Some guy wants me to take 4 units of scrap somewhere. Simple enough. The stuff gets loaded and I make use of my new-found control comfort to blast out of the station at speed, even hitting the boost as I'm in the mail slot. I can only imagine outside observers marvelling at the aesthetic of this ship as it describes a glorious arc towards jump alignment straight out of the gate.
The mission is a doddle. Stuff delivered. Money paid. Let's grab another.
Slightly different deal.. This guy wants Fruit and Veg. I'm to go and find some and bring it back. I look on the Commodities page to see where this station normally imports from – Eravate. That's only a jump away. A cinch. I sign up and hit the Black once more.
Eravate doesn't have any Fruit and Veg for sale. At all. I check a couple of stations***. Nothing. Hmm. I hit up the galaxy map. What I'm looking for is an Agricultural system. Find one, but it's several jumps away. Never mind – multi-jump routes in this are nowhere near as tedious as Eve Online. I top up the fuel tanks and away I go.
Three or four jumps later and I begin to worry. My fuel is running low and I haven't jumped through a system with a station in for a while. I elect to stop at the next services.
But the next services aren't in the next system. Or the one after that. I have precisely one jump's worth of fuel remaining.
I drop into the next system and immediately hit up the navigation. Yes! A station! My tanks are merely fume containment devices. I cruise towards the station for a splash and dash...
And I'm being interdicted.
Really? Now? You do this to me now?
Cheeky little AI pilot even has the gall to DM me in supercruise. Even though I'm pounding the escape vector like there's no tomorrow, he's got me. We drop into real space. Fangs out! It's only a Sidewinder – which would explain how he was able to keep up with my moves - and with these new controls he doesn't stand a chance.
Actually, with these new controls and those gimballed Multicannons I fitted earlier, he doesn't stand a chance. In fact, I tear down his shields and am ripping through his hull when he decides to bug out. He boosts away, spinning up his FSD. When he jumps, he's down to 4% hull. So close!
So glad docking remains tricky
Back into supercruise and I make it to the station. Some spot repairs and a whole lot of fuel later and we're good to go.
I check the bulletin board. See if there's anything on offer that I can do on the way to the agricultural system. As luck would have it, someone wants some Scrap taken to a system right next to the one I'm going to. Why not? Doesn't make sense to be flying around with an empty cargo hold. Load it up mate – I'll drop it off on the way.
A couple of jumps out and I'm lining myself up when I spot a Signal Source. Maybe I'm still flushed with confidence after that last encounter or maybe it's the feeling that I didn't quite finish the job, but I decide to check it out and maybe go looking for trouble.
There's a guy here who wants to make a counter offer. Don't deliver the Scrap to where it's supposed to go. He'll pay good money if I take it to a station in this system instead. Hmm. Is Commander Bulk Paint the kind of guy who would go back on a deal?
Actually, after what happened the last time I stuck to my (literal) guns, yes. In the name of science, I decide to see what happens if I follow this arc instead. I find the station and hand over the goods. Job done. Money in the bank. Some bars move around to indicate the shifting political balance of power in this region. I have played a part in something. What, I'm not entirely sure, but I've done it.
Now, back to the task at hand – the search for Fruit and Veg. Nothing in this system, so I need to keep on moving.

Straight To The Source

I jump again and again I'm presented with an interesting Signal Source. Why not? That last one was pretty lucrative.
Sure enough, this one is similar. Some guy says it would be better if I didn't deliver that Fruit and Veg. Instead, why don't I just go back to Eravate and speak to his people. You know what? I haven't actually found any Fruit and / or Veg, so this does appeal to me...
I accept his offer. He laughs and departs. Not sinister at all.
I begin the journey back to Eravate. There's part of me that feels bad for going back on not one but two deals, but I feel I'll be able to turn it all around later in the game when I've got something other than this entirely disposable ship. Suddenly, everything lights up – I'm being interdicted again. I do a better job of evasion this time but still to no avail. I find myself dropped back into real space and staring at a Cobra MKIII intent on doing me harm. I boost to close the distance before he can get his hardpoints deployed and brought to bear whilst cracking open my own. After that, it's a simple matter to stay out of his firing solution whilst the multicannons do their work. It takes several full clips to down his shields. His chatter is filled with bravado, but it already feels futile. More bursts pepper his hull but the damage isn't enough to seal the deal. His shields come back on and he manages to get himself lined up for a burst. My shields hold – just. Wait: were those missiles? Not sure I should let them hit.
It continues like this for a while. A dance. A ballet. One protagonist, flitting and nimble. Unpredictable. Chaotic. Lancing and probing with stabbing arcs of tracer fire. The other, burly, stoic and with one hell of a right hook****.
Something has to give. Luckily for me, it's his hull. The Cobra erupts in flame and debris. My bank account erupts with a 20k bounty. 20K! That's more money than I've ever had in this game.
I make it back to Erevate with no further troubles and still buzzing from that encounter. It finally feels like I've made it. This is what Elite is all about. I get a report detailing the political ramifications of my actions – one faction's influence has increased at the expense of another. The factions themselves mean little to me – right now, but I'm sure that's something that will improve over time as I have a better idea of where my allegiance lies.

It's All In My Head

Something is bugging me though. Where those interdictions random acts of attempted piracy or a direct response to something I had done? There's part of me that thinks the underlying system is just reacting to me reneging on my contracts by sending out disgruntled allies to teach me a lesson. It may just be random chance, of course, but the narrative in my head has me being chased down by my former patron for stabbing him in the back which is far more satisfying. Post hoc ergo propter hoc*****, maybe, but more satisfying nevertheless.
It's like the difference between reading a book and watching a film. In a film, it's presented to you as-is. In a book, your mind fills in the blanks and, if you're lucky, will do a far better job than any film can.

* Apart from Magic Carpet.
** Physical feedback – the 'neutral' part of the desk feels just the same as everywhere else on the desk.
*** I have yet to work out whether or not commodity availability is on a per station or per system basis.
**** Pretty proud of that paragraph. I should write it down somewhere for the future...
***** Glib Latin phrases as well. I spoil you people sometimes.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Elite: Dangerous Part 3

In which Commander Bulk Paint: Hired Gun is still confused by mission terminology and woefully unprepared for his chosen line of work.


Get the troublesome* play with Willow stuff out of the way so I can have a good crack at this space thing. Taking stock – I'm in an Outpost in my starting system. LHS 3447 or something. I wonder where Lave is? Open the galaxy map and search. Found it! And Diso, Leesti and Reidquat. These names mean nothing to you? You're dead to me. Sadly, they are all very far away.
Some folks in this outpost want me to off some other folks in a neighbouring system. Something about a Warzone. Sounds kinda fun. Accept the mission. In fact, accept two missions, both wanting the same thing – go to Kini and destroy n ships in a Warzone. Two birds and all that.
Jump to Kini and start looking for this zone thing. There's a lot of looking. Kini doesn't appear to have that much in it – binary star (which is cool), single planet and an orbital Outpost. No Warzones. Keep my eyes peeled for Signal Sources whilst mooching back and forth between the stars.
Dinner arrives just as I find one. Perhaps I should dock and eat. The Outpost is nearby so I lock it in and approach. Stupid thing is very full and it won't let me land. Dinner is getting cold.
Finally land and wolf dinner like I have some pressing business to attend to or something. Notice that the station has a big, floating pirate symbol hovering over it. Does this mean it's got a Black Market? Man, if only I hadn't dumped all that Biowaste...
Head back out in search of Signal Sources. Feels a little like I'm back playing EQ and camping spawns. Find one and drop in.
There's a Hauler and he messages me. Same thing as the other mission guy – he knows who I'm working for and has a better offer. Wants me to go kill other people instead. Mission brief updated accordingly with both parameters. I decide that, as I've already accepted the job, I shall see it through to the original specification. Feel like that's the honourable thing to do.
Deploy hardpoints. Let's do this!

Combat Baby

Yeah, you'd better run!
My first burst strikes him from above. I immediately accrue a 400 credit fine for my aggressive action. His shields flash and weather the storm as he lights the burners and tears off. I dutifully drop in behind him, pulse lasers bracketing him nicely as he jinks and rolls. Finding it pretty tricky to get a bead on him actually. I can see his thrusters working overtime as he constantly throws his ship sideways whenever he arcs upwards. My lack of independent yaw control is holding me back.
Remember to divert power to weapons and unleash burst after burst. Finally drop his shields. He throws it into another evasive manoeuvre and drops out of view. I spin to re-locate him and find him just as he's lining up an attack run. Decide that head-to-head is probably not the best plan when your ship appears to be made of paper maché and execute a nose-down boost to give me a bit of a traverse thing going. Some of his shots find their mark and my shields get worryingly low, worryingly fast. But I survive it and even manage to get back on his tail. Drop his shields again and start chipping away at his hull.
There are several things at play here that are making it very tricky to do any sort of prolonged damage to him. Firstly**, my tools. I don't think the gamepad has the fidelity I need. Although that might also be down to the aforementioned yaw thing. Secondly, it's been an awful long time since I've played anything like this. Certainly something that didn't have some kind of auto-aim component.
Eventually, I wear the slippery bastard down and his ship begins to explode. Boom! Suddenly I have a 6000 credit bounty on my head for murder. Oops.
I check the mission brief to see if anything's updated. Nope. Still asking for the same number of people to be killed. Clearly I'm not doing this right? Maybe this first guy is merely the other side of the coin and the Warzone is one of those pick-a-side-when-you-get-there deals, with me failing to get there just yet.
Undeterred, I press on, painfully aware that I now have a big bullseye on my back.
Another signal source finds the guy for the second mission. Probably worth a different approach. I listen to his offer then respectfully jump away. Still no signs of a Warzone but come across a Strong Signal Source instead. Perhaps this is it?
Drop in and a wing of pirates can't believe their luck. It's an ambush! I light the 'burners and start throwing all kinds of shapes whilst cycling through the hostiles on my targeting computer. Really not sure that they're anything other than random pirates and nothing to do with the mission at hand.
Of course, it's all moo anyway as they shred both my shields and hull in short order. There goes another Freagle.

Square Minus One

Back at the station, I check out the invoice from the insurance company. They've replaced my Freagle and outfitted it with the basic stuff that I had equipped for just a couple of grand. That's not a problem. The problem is that they appear to have paid off my fines which amounted to 9600 credits! Money which I did not have.
So it would seem that they've saddled me with a loan. From now until the loan is paid off, 10% of anything I earn will service the debt. Son of a …
I decide that the life of a hired gun is not for me. Not yet. I need a bigger ship, better guns and a proper joystick. For now I think I'll bin off the Eagle and use the money to pay off the loan and kit out my Sidewinder a bit. First, I have to get to my Sidewinder.
It turns out that it's back where the Eagle started, which sadly is Dalton Gateway - a station about a 15 minute flight from the system's star...
The Sidewinder's kit is all loaned stuff. It's rubbish. When I was toying with the upgrade screen on the Eagle, I noticed that the main thing seems to be power draw so I elect to make an updated power plant my first order of business. I then get a bit sidetracked by looking at liveries. I was considering dropping a couple of quid on a Blue Sonoran or Orange Mojave skin but it turns out I have the Mercenary one for pre-ordering the game. It's no Chris Foss, but it takes the edge off the sheer noobness of the ship.
With that in situ, I start looking at guns.
Yeah, I know – the hired gun thing – but I'm still going to need to be able to defend myself. This station doesn't have any affordable Lasers but it does do a line in Multicannons. To top it off, they're gimballed*** which could help solve the yaw problem. I spooge the rest of my money on a pair of those bad boys.
Well, not all of it – some money is kept aside for valuable cargo. My plan is to get shot of this system due to the travel time between jumping in and reaching this station. I browse the commodities, looking for affordable things that will maximise my paltry cargo hold of 4 units and take me away from this godforsaken backwater.
I load up with textiles. Textiles. Be still my beating heart. But it's honest work I guess. The commodities screen tells me where these things get exported too – a handful of systems. I pick Eravate and off we go.
Cleve Hub – cool name, tidy profit. Small, but tidy. So much easier that all that laser stuff.

Perhaps it's time for Commander Bulk Paint: Entrepreneur to take centre stage?


* Not actually troublesome. You should see her when she has a bath. It's lots of fun. Also, she will give you a kiss if you ask her. It's adorable.
** Most significantly, obviously.
*** Kinda like a halfway house between fixed and turreted. Or, in Kerbal Space Program terms, bolted on or taped to.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Elite: Dangerous Part 2

In which I talk more about the adventures of Bulk Paint: Space Adventurer. Or, more correctly, Space Waiting-For-A-File-To-Download Person. I got home and set the whole thing running whilst I could then indulge in bathtime and bonus cuddles with Little Miss Up Way Past Her Bedtime.
“Nice fat pipe”, I thought. “Should be done in no time and I can hit the Black as soon as I've put her to bed.”
Sadly, I think everyone with a Mac had the same idea. I think it's because a Mac release of something is so rare that everyone flocks to it, just so they can tell their grandchildren that they were there. Either way, 0.4MB/s was plainly ridiculous.


10 o'clock came and went and with it, my opportunity for 8 hours of sleep before the morning commute. Ah well. At least I'd be able to play it tomor... wait! Did that bar just fill up? Is it fully downloaded? Perhaps I can get in one mission before bed? Leanne asks when she should tell me to turn in for the night. I say I've got this*.

A Measure Of Control

First things first – let's crack out the gamepad. In the absence of any HOTAS, the trusty 360 pad is being called into action. Takes a bit of time to get everything set up but eventually I'm airborne and... yawing a bit. Switching to a different input mode sorts it out.
Now to go and find that Eagle that I got for pre-ordering the game in the first place. Oh look! It's in the same system. Should be easy enough. Launch. Jump. Dock. Head for the pad. Forget how the throttle works. Ding off the control tower. Lose my shields. Back up and try it again. Land.
Consider trading the Eagle in for a quick 40k but decide against it. Jump into the cockpit and look for missions that want me to blow stuff up. Find some guy looking for someone to take down 2 Traders. Seems legit. Accept and launch. Still a little sketchy getting through the mail slot, but a bit smoother than mouse + keyboard. Lock in the target system and off we go. Jumping!

Target Lost

Arrive in system and... now what? Where are these guys? Let's head to... I don't know... pick a planet at random. After the, now traditional, flyby and loop back, I'm in orbit. Traders are nowhere to be seen. Jump again and find another spot. Let's try an asteroid belt.
Nope – nothing. Just some AIs, mining themselves into an early grave. I've heard about Signal Sources or some such – maybe I try to find one of those? From what I've seen, these things are all over the place, so how come I can't find one?
Wait! There's one. Slingshot around like I planned it then drop in on that poor, unsuspecting... Cobra! Ooh – this should be fun.
Deploy hardpoints and open fire! Yeah! Take that you Trader scum! Feel the wrath of whoever it is I'm working for! Pew! Pew! Pew! Oh, you lost your shields? Poor you! Taste my poorly configured** Pulse Lasers!
Ouch. Okay, good shot sir... and again. Hey, what happened to my shields? Okay, some evasive flying and let's try to stay clear of his front arc. A dodge here, a deft roll there. Give my shields a chance to regene... ouch! Sparks? Fire? This isn't going as well as I'd hoped. Redirect power to shields! Get them back online! Hey – what's the key for redirecting power to shields? Perhaps this is something I should have looked up before I launched?
This is NOT my Freagle. Mine is lower res :(
My Eagle is no more. Twisted wreckage in a cloud of hubris.
Insurance pays out though – only costs me a couple of k in the end. Of course, it's early doors and that couple of k accounts for a third of my total cash. Still, lesson learned. Now it's in to the fitting screen to sort out those lasers. It's easy to get them nicely lined up – two underslung hardpoints at the front of the ship should do it. I can even give the thing a lick of paint as it appears I have a red livery I can use. Wonder where that came from? Never mind – on it goes. The Red Eagle is ready to fly again! Ooh, skull decals. Maybe I'll leave them a bit until I've done something that warrants a fearsome skull. Perhaps I should get another laser and stick it on that top hardpoint? Triple Pulse Lasers, baby! Except... I can't afford it. I would have been able to afford it if I didn't just have to shell out on Eagle Insurance. Dammit!
Next step – hit up the Options screen and find out how to direct power. D-Pad you say? Why didn't I think of that?
Let's find that Trader chap and give him what for. What for, it turns out, is nothing – the mission vanishes when you blow up. Not to worry – I'll pick up another one. Except it doesn't look like anyone is after someone to go somewhere and blow something up. Perhaps I should turn in for the night?
Welp! 00:20 – I should definitely turn in for the night. Or invent a time machine. Or something that gives me a full nights sleep in only 10 minutes.


Drag myself out of bed. Time for a mission before I leave the house.
No! That's stupid. Pack up your stuff and get in to work. You might be able to get a mission in before everyone else arrives. Remember to bring the joypad. This means leaving something behind. Sandwiches perhaps? No - the laptop's power cable is boldly sacrificed – I think I'm going to sleep on the train in anyway rather than get more stuff done on Space Krieg.


Standing outside the office. First to arrive. This means I don't have a keyfob and can't get in...


At my desk. Let's crack out the gamepad and get it all set up. You ever tried getting a 360 gamepad to work on a Mac? Downloaded the Tattiebogle driver but it doesn't recognise the fact that the pad's plugged in. Google Fu reveals that I need to open up Terminal and sacrifice a chicken***. Chicken sacrificed. Mac rebooted. Gamepad recognised. Let's get into space!
Spend pretty much the same amount of time re-configuring the controls. This means that I should probably stop flapping and get on with some actual work.


That's enough work for the time being. How about shooting some Space Bastards? Off, into the void as no-one wants to give me a mission. Find a weak signal source and drop in to find some floating wreckage. There's a couple of cannisters of Biowaste too. Remember how to open up the cargo scoop and snaffle them up, only dinging one of them off my hull like a ping-pong ball in the process. It's like free money!
Hmm. Why does that say “Illicit Cargo”? This might be trickier than I'd hoped. Need to find a black market and probably avoid the big stations – I'm not confident enough with docking yet to try the Silent Running approach. Stick to the Outposts instead where I'm less likely to get scanned. Jump!
Drop out of supercruise and line up. Request docking permission. Denied!
Wait! They know I'm carrying dodgy crap? Oh well – let's try the next one. Thankfully, there appear to be a whole load of them in this system. Jump! Drop! Request docking permission.
Denied again. Oh, come on! Wait a second... ah. I'm further out than 7.5km. Get closer and try again. Permission granted! Dock.
Mark Stacey - you want it.
No black market. Can't offload the merch. Launch and try the next station. And the next. And the next. This is getting tedious. It also dawns on my that I may well have gone back to a couple of outposts that I've already visited. Perhaps I should just dump the cargo and do something else. Besides, lunchtime is over.
Consider buying a skin for my Eagle and Sidewinder since they're only £2 and it seems like I'm going to be spending a lot of time in them. Half-heartedly attempt to persuade Stace to join me by showing him pictures of the ships decked out in Urban Camo and shamelessly reminiscing about that big diamond convoy we did from New Tokyo in Freelancer one time...


Pick up a courier mission. Tiny paycheck but doesn't seem to require any cargo space or for me to have to fight anyone. I just want a quick one before I head home. Find the target system, drop in and head for the target Outpost. Request docking permission.
Denied. Oh FFS. What now? Check distance. Close enough. Check rating with the station's faction. Neutral. Perhaps it's full? Keep requesting permission. Yes! Finally. Pad 3 for me...
Except someone's still on Pad 3. Poxy Sidewinder. Get off my pad you eejit! Don't you realise my docking request expires soon? Contemplate blasting him out of the sky. But I'm in a no-fire zone. Consider backing off and shooting him from outside the zone. Dismiss this as far too risky. Finally, he shifts his stupid noob ship out of my way and I'm down.
Now I realise that it's 17:49 and the chances of making it from Tottenham Court Road to Victoria**** in time for the 8:16 are slim. But I don't fancy hanging around for the next one, so I snarf everything up and peg it...
Make it by the skin of my teeth, Sit down. Start writing this.


* I do not have this.
** One above the other. Looks weird when you fire.
*** Type some stuff in that looks entirely unintelligible. Macs are silly.

**** With no Central Line, so a walk to Oxford Circus instead. More 'jog' actually. I have no shame.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Elite: Dangerous Part 1

When I was at school, one computer game took over the playground like no other - Elite. Each day, we would proudly share our exploits of the night before. Tales of lucrative cargo runs, brutal fights, ship upgrades and even trips into Witch Space would be traded like currency. Heated discussions would take place over the merits of the various computers you could play it on - largely BBC Micro vs Spectrum*.

I can remember the shop assistant at Esdevium Games asking me what I thought my ultimate game would be. I replied "Elite but multiplayer". He said that was impossible.

Of course, this was all a long time ago. A very long time ago.

Fast forward to today. Okay, you can fast forward to a few months ago, but I only have a Mac, which means I've had to wait until today. Years and years of waiting, of pretenders to the throne, of false dawns, pleasant distractions and, most recently, an unhealthy obsession with Let's Play videos on YouTube have finally brought me to this place.

Actually hands-on with Elite:Dangerous.


I should be leaving the house, but I'm hitting up the website to see if it's available for download yet. It is not. I am sad. I leave the house and head to work. I contemplate bringing a wired gamepad to the office, but that might mean leaving my sandwiches at home.


It is still not available, but a tweet suggests that it'll be up in an hour or so, once the server downtime has been completed. I download the wallpaper pack that came with my purchase and set up my desktop to change every half an hour. It is my intention to install it on my work machine as it's an identical spec to my home machine**.


It's available! Well, that's what the tweet said, but I can't find a download link anywhere. I nip to the forums to find most people in the same boat. I tweet @EliteDangerous to see what the deal is.
No reply, but someone on the forums has managed to find a link to the installer.
Despite my scepticism of the link validity, I install the installer. It sits there, filling in a small blue bar.


It's ready! It's ready!
I fire it up.
Hmm. I thought I'd bought a version that gave me the option of an Eagle as a starting ship? Maybe not. Not to worry - it's not as if I'm going to be giving combat a go just yet. Tutorial? Pah!
Start Game.
Ew - it looks a bit blocky.
A quick tinker with the graphics setting and I've upped the resolution to 1920 x 1080 with everything else dropped from High to Medium. Looks crisper. Now, let's take this baby out for a spin...


Yeah, I'm still on the landing pad. Not entirely sure how to navigate the menus... ah, WASD and space. Launching!
Woah, these mouse controls are going to take a bit of getting used to - I so should have brought my gamepad in. Also, back to the config menu to turn ON inverted Y. A little better, but I can see the sensitivity may have to be tweaked later. It's a little disconcerting, knowing that messing around in the menus doesn't pause the game and I'm drifting through space. I'm kinda relying on the fact that there should be a whole bunch of new noobs today doing exactly the same thing.
Right, let's go somewhere and see what it's all about. Console, navigation... um... navigation? No, not the system map. Or the galaxy one. Ah, wait, there we go - Q and R to step through tabs. Okay - asteroid belt - that sounds fun. Target locked and Frame Shift...
...not engaged. Ah - hardpoints. I think I pressed the fire button and they deployed. How do I get them to, er... undeploy?
The U key, of course. Frame shift ti... oh. Landing gear. L perhaps? Yes! Ooh - I'm going much faster now - good to know. Frame shift time! Jumping!
Now I'm hammering through space at Ludicrous Speed, heading for the asteroid belt and adventure. It's really chugging a bit now - a combination of the massive sun in front of me and the scanner being rather filled with a load of contacts. I weather the storm and drop into the belt. Much calmer. Not as asteroid-y as I was thinking it was going to be, but still.
Contact in the distance. I line up and give it the beans. He's shooting an asteroid - must be a miner. He's spinning erratically - must be a player. Target him... yup, CMDR IForgotHisName. Harmless and Clean. Probably a HOMO***
He's chipped off a few chunks of Palladium - perhaps I can scoop that lot up? Back to the key config to find out how to open the Cargo Scoop - Home key... I have no Home key. Arsebiscuits. In to the right console and doing it the hard way... opened. Hey, why does it say Refinery Required? Ah well, perhaps I shouldn't nick this guy's stuff after all. In fact, let's find somewhere else to go.
I think a new system. There's one that has a name and isn't just a series of letters and numbers. Goodbye CMDR WhoeverYouAre - happy mining. Jumping!
In system and facing a big sun. Pull back on the stick so I'm not just going to ram the thing. Then find a station - a proper one, with docking and everything. There we go.
7 seconds seems to be significant. If you modulate your throttle, you seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time 7 seconds away from wherever it is you actually want to go. Bollocks to that - let's give it som... woah - too far. Never mind, I'll swing back around like it was all planned.
Dropping out of frame shift drive and there's the station. That's more like it. Now for the postal slot. Memories of the original come flooding back as I line everything up. Having a bit of issue with roll being on the mouse and getting mixed up between yaw and thrust left / right which causes some problems. Still, docking request has been accepted and I'm through. Landing Pad 36... there it is - below and left. A deft roll. Some vertical thrust and we're nicely lined up...
Except we're not. We're too far left. And back. Throttle up and a bit of lateral thrust... nope - that's yaw... lateral thrust and... brakes! Brakes! For God's sake man, slow down. Not that much! Now we're too far back again. Throttle up - slowly. Lateral thrust. Correct the roll drift. Aaaaannd... oh, shit. Landing Gear. Right - everything's lined up - vertical thrust and bring us in... bosh!
Bring up the station interface and... holy crap, it runs like a dog. Perhaps it doesn't like the interior and a full screen overdraw? Back out and select the hangar instead. That's a bit better, but let's try dropping it to 1280 x 720. Now, missions.
Hmm, a bounty hunting one - shoot four guys by the looks of it. I don't fancy combat without some kind of joystick - I'll come back to that one. 900 credits for four units of Hydrogen fuel at a nearby station? Could be doable. Check the market - 85 credits a pop? Okay, trading it is. Load up, accept the mission and let's get out of here.
Ready to launch. Vertical thrust to clear the pad and tower and retract the landing gear in one fluid mo... bounce off the other side of the bay, albeit with landing gear retracted. Note to self: don't hold down the thruster buttons for prolonged periods of time. Line up with the green side of the slot and throttle up. Realise we're heading for the wall. Throttle back down and line everything up again. Painfully aware that there's a timer ticking down for me to get out of this place. Throttle up. Hold breath. Clear!
Right, where's that station? Target locked, frame shift coming online. Jumping!
It's by the sun. And look at all of those trails. It's okay, I've seen enough Let's Plays to know that they're all ships in frame shift mode. It's like commander soup. I hope they all ignore me on this vital and incredibly lucrative cargo run. The sun's getting quite big in the window now. Never mind - I'm nearly there.
Oops! No, I'm not. It's on the other side of the sun. Perhaps I should go around?
Small detour, but everything's okay now. Lined up with the target and not a celestial body in sight. 7 seconds. 7 seconds. 7 seconds. Safe disengage. Drop back to real space.
The lining up process is a lot easier this time. I get through the mailbox almost on my first attempt. Landing Pad 06 is right there and I glide in like a pro. A pro who occasionally still messes up yaw and lateral thrust, but a pro nevertheless. Landed!
Into the hangar and off to the bulletin board. Mission complete! Riches beyond measure! Lunchtime done.


Wouldn't it be a good idea to write this stuff up somewhere? Might make an interesting read for someone... And the boss has just cracked open a bottle of wine.


Considering heading home and trying it on a joypad or, at the very least, a keyboard with a Home key. Also considering calling up Leanne and getting her to install the installer and start downloading everything so it's ready for me when I get there.

I can't see that going down too well.


*Spectrum was superior - it had Missions. You can take your swift loading times and station interiors and stick them up your arse.
** Mid 2011, 27" iMac, 8GB RAM, 512MB video card (512MB lower than the min spec would suggest)
*** Honourable Order of Macintosh Owners.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Space Krieg

It's probably about time to explain a little more about what Space Krieg is and how it all works.

Building on from the Krieg Jam we had a couple of weeks ago, the game is now in a (whisper it) playable state. Leastways, people are able to join games, choose ships, fly those ships and shoot the other players' ships until they blow up. It's got a way to go before it's the eSport we want it to be, but it's still pretty damn good fun, even at this embryonic stage.

But how does it work? And why should you be interested in this over some other space game or MOBA?

Game Structure

Space Krieg is a little different from regular space dogfighting games in two key areas.

Firstly, it's 2-D. Well, okay, it's 3-D but all of the action takes place on a plane in 3-D space, so essentially, it's a 2-D game. 

Secondly, it's turn-based.

Common Questions

The ghost ship shows where you'll end up next turn
These two points easily generate the vast majority of questions about the game. You see, if you say "Space Dogfighter" to someone, they immediately form a picture in their mind. It normally looks a bit like X-Wing, Conflict: Freespace, Wing Commander or, these days, Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen. With that in mind, the questions tend to be "Why isn't it 3-D?" and "Why isn't it real-time?"

Constraining the action in this way makes it a lot easier for people to pick up and means things like a 3rd person camera become a doddle. It also means that players have a decent view of the battle, allowing them to make informed tactical decisions. These tactical decisions are at the very heart of Space Krieg - it's not a dogfighter, it's a tactical dogfighter.

Technically, it's turn-based with a short time limit, making it some kind of hybrid*. Players get a paltry 5 seconds to input their commands for the turn before everyone sees the results played out over the corresponding 2 seconds.

I'll Hit The Brakes, He'll Fly Right By

This system gives us an advantage or two over a 'regular' Space Dogfighter or MOBA.

For starters, whilst everyone wants to be be Maverick or Iceman, the reality is that the vast majority of them are closer to Goose or even Wash Out. That is to say, you're not a fighter pilot. Not even close. You may know what a joystick is or how it moves the various control surfaces to affect flight. You may even think you know what a Barrel Roll** is or perhaps a Split S, but all of that plays second fiddle to you being able to actually pull it off. Let alone under pressure, in a split second.

So we remove that time pressure and physical muscle requirement.

Instead of providing the game with the required joystick / throttle / rudder input, we've simplified the whole thing meaning that anyone can pull off these cool moves. Furthermore, by relaxing the time constraints - even if that's only 5 seconds, we give you time to consider what the best course of action would actually be. In short, this means that, when you look back at the moves you were able to make, you will feel like a regular Starbuck or Apollo***.

So much of the entertainment comes from watching the replay of the action. It's then that the awesomeness of the moves become more apparent - a well-timed jink to get right on someone's tail, a countermeasure dropped that forces a tracking missile to lash past mere inches from your engines, a risky jump to hyperdrive at 37% charge moments before the enemy torpedoes fly through where you just were and slam into the shooter's teammate.

It's worth noting that, as part of way the existing network model works, the replay system is already up and running.

Another interesting benefit from a system such as this is that we suddenly become input independent. That means that you won't get an advantage from using one particular input method over another. Seriously - you can play this game just as well on a joypad or touchscreen as you can with mouse and keyboard.

It could be the first truly cross-platform MOBA****.

On a technical note, it also means that our networking code can actually handle some serious lag without affecting gameplay at all. Because of the turn system, you don't need to be pinging messages to the network however many times per second - just a little blip every 7 seconds should do the trick. Again, this should make the game more accessible as you won't need a kick-arse rig or phat pipe to be able to play. I wonder if it'll be playable on a tablet on 3G?

It's Fun But Is That Enough?

Space Krieg is one of those games that has quite the cult following. Anyone who has played the original will go a bit misty eyed when you mention the name. Even with what we have so far, I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to do a bit better than how people remember it.

But it's no longer enough to make a really fun game.

That, my friends, is only the beginning. On top of that, you need to be thinking about stuff like who you're aiming this stuff at and how you intend to get them to pay you for making it. Yes, it's Monetisation again.

My initial thoughts on this centred around the League Of Legends model. You know - that one that gamers in the industry bring up as F2P done right whilst the money grabbers bemoan its inefficient utilisation of its user base. In short LoL makes a shed load of money, but it could make so much more. The only reason it makes a shed load of money is because it has a user base measured in the hundreds of millions.

For us to adopt such a model - Free, fully-featured download, only pay for character unlocks, boosts and skins - we would have to reach as many users as they have for it to work. That's something that's just not going to happen. For starters, it's a harder to sell spaceships***** than it is to sell characters. Also, their characters hit up about every genre known to man, meaning that there's something for everyone, whereas our spaceships are only ever sci-fi. That's pretty niche right there.

So we'd have to look at some kind of paywall instead and get a higher percentage of our smaller audience giving us money for the privilege.

Premium is one way of going. But, as this is going to be something that we want to maintain and update, isn't going to pay the bills over a protracted length of time. We can buff that up with paid-for extra content - more ships and skins - but the initial price point will have to be kept as low as possible to make it easier for people to pick it up on spec.

Once again, Shareware emerges as one of the favourites. We let people download and try the game for free but at some point there will be a paywall that blocks off certain features of the full game.

The question then becomes "What features?"

To Gimp Or Not To Gimp

There is an incredible balancing act to getting the paywall right. Give away too little in the free version and people may not be hooked enough to upgrade. Give away too much and they may have seen all they need to see.

This problem is only exacerbated when you have multiplayer and people with the free version are able to face off against those with the full one.  If the free one feels too handicapped, accusations of "Pay to win" will abound - not something you ever want to hear associated with an eSport.

Other people have had this problem before. Introversion's Defcon, for example. That didn't let free players host their own games or even allow more than a certain number of them into an existing one. Ultimately, we're not going to have people hosting their own games - all manner of matchmaking wizardry will lurk behind the "Play" button - but it still fragments the playerbase. A Bad Thing.

Restricted ships perhaps? Again, regardless of how we frame it, there will always be a perception that these initial craft are for beginners and are somehow inferior to the others. As well as the aforementioned "Pay to win", it may also annoy full version players who happen to be "stuck" on a team with these freeloaders.

Of course, I may be overthinking this. There's a neat little mech game on iOS called Walking War Robots which has a simple twin currency model with certain mechs only being available for premium currency. That seems to work and you never feel like you're at too much of a disadvantage when you come up against these guys. WWR may also inform part of our game structure with players able to bring in a number of ships****** equal to however many (purchasable) hangar slots they have.

Perhaps it has to be somewhere between the two. Have a free rotation system whereby ships are available to try but can be made permanently available through purchase then also allow players to buy up bundles of ships in a Starter Pack of some description. Maybe don't even dictate the ships that form the bundle. Give players the choice of which, say 5, ships they'd like in their bundle - a kind of Pick 'n' Mix approach if you will.

Perhaps we just have a levelling up process with a cap for those on the free version. Certain ships will only be available at certain level thresholds. Or we could limit the player's ability to customise their craft until they pay up. Or... or...

It would seem that there are plenty of options here and, aside from a couple of conversations in the car, we haven't really talked about this aspect of the game that much.

But we should. We really need to get this bit right.

* I like to call it Real-Turn, but that's just me.
** Hint - it's not actually what Slippy asks you to do - people always leave out the vertical component.
*** Provided you have the tactical acumen to make the right decision in the first place.
**** Assuming, of course, the console manufacturers agree to play nice which, less face it, seems pretty unlikely.
***** Unless you're Chris Roberts, but no-one really knows how he's managed to pull that off.
****** One at a time, of course.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Krieg Jam

This weekend is Krieg Jam. "What's Krieg Jam?" I hear you ask? Well, it's a sorta game jam thing where a bunch of us will be making a playable prototype of Space Krieg.

For those of you not in the know, Space Krieg was an awesome MOBA* made by the late, great Richard Reed. It was brilliant, as anyone who was around the offices of Lost Toys, Mucky Foot or Big Blue Box at the time will surely attest. Sadly, we lost Richard to cancer before he had a chance to finish the game.

So that's what we're doing.

Right now, the aim is to make a playable prototype that follows the basic gameplay that Rich set out in the original. This is very important as trying to just explain what the game was and why it was cool is actually pretty tricky.

You start by explaining that it's a space dogfighting game viewed in 3rd person that is constrained to a 2D plane. Then people ask you why it isn't fully 3D.

Then maybe you explain that it's sorta turn-based, and people ask you why it isn't real time.

No, it's much better to sit someone down with a copy and say "Play this" and then they'll realise how awesome it is (and why it's important for it to be not fully 3D and not real time).

Show always beats tell.

The Crew

To this end, we have assembled a crack team of developers and holed them up in our living room.

We have a pair of infuriatingly young yet very clever coders in Alex Parker and Oli Carson who will be in charge of all the technical stuff. We already have the network code up and running, which is a great start.

Then we have industry veteran Mike Man providing us with art from his homebase in Ireland**.

Leanne is taking on key project management and UI tasks as well as being chief Baby Wrangler - a job whose importance cannot be overstated.

And I shall be doing my thing. This will mainly consist of starting sentences with "In the original game..." but may also end up getting my hands dirty with the code or art side of things as well as trying to keep you guys updated on this blog.

Wish us luck!

The Basics 15:30

Krieg Central. Plus some bunting from Willow's birthday.
Not much to see, but the wall is starting to get covered in post it notes again. This can only be a good thing.

The coder types have decided upon the best way of organising stuff like the network model and how the events are going to work. This makes me very comfortable, as that's some scary architecture things right there.

Although I have just heard the words "Quick and dirty" from Alex. Which fills me with fear...

And now we have a front end scene with a spinning spaceship and nebula skybox, both downloaded from the Unity Asset Store for free.

I love the Unity Asset Store...

The Best Laid Plans 16:58

Oli and Alex have thrashed out the architecture stuff in proper coder-debate fashion. It was like watching rutting stags as the various merits of two different approaches were considered.

Mike has dropped out of Google Hangouts to go into Maya - which I can only assume means that cool spaceships are imminent.

Willow has woken up from her nap, which means that productivity for Leanne and myself has taken a bit of a nosedive***.

Concerning Noises 19:04

Pretty soon after deciding how we were going to do the events and stuff, a flaw was discovered in the thing we were going to use for our serialisation. This meant that we've had to roll our own. Which we've now done. It's never a good sign when you hear programmers complaining about some system or other locking up...

Then Oli had a problem with his source control. But we've fixed that, so we're back on track.

We've got a grid and a starfield and stuff. Pretty soon, the network and event stuff is going to talk to the moving ship about stuff and then we're really going to be cooking with gas.

There were less concerning noises when the coders managed to connect to each other's game and see some debug text in the top left hand corner. Apparently, this is a good thing.

Willow has almost finished her dinner, which means it'll be bath time and then bed, so I might be able to get back to work. Leanne is in the kitchen, roasting a chicken.

It smells nice.

Dinner Done 21:55

It tasted nice too.

The code monkeys also made some very excited noises when they managed to get the ships moving around on multiple machines using the Space Krieg input method.

Mike's ship design is undergoing the mind-numbing process of UVing and currently looks like a colourful fruit bowl.

Willow is in bed. Note - not actually sleeping. Instead she is chatting to her toys.

I'm making explosions and have been put in charge of the in game camera.

Redesigns and refactors 00:18

The code geniuses have taken it upon themselves to re-write huge swathes of code to try and work around Unity things. It sounds like they're coming up with a whole new engine. None of this scares me at all****.

The prospective UI has already undergone a re-design. Part of the initial work was bearing in mind that we would like to do a tablet version in the future. BUT! This is game jam - not the future. So out it went.

New UI is looking a bit cleaner. New UI design, however, was done on a web-based shared whiteboard that just ended up covered in cocks...

Damn you BST! 02:13

We just lost an hour. Perhaps this wasn't the best weekend to do a game jam?

Calling It 03:24

Code monkeys need sleep. Willow will be up in a few hours.

Tomorrow, we jam some more!

The Bomber that magically appeared this morning

I'm Alive! 10:14

The Code monkeys are still asleep though. But I've managed to get some nifty missile effects in.

Also, the art fairy visited in the middle of the night and left us a lovely Bomber to play with.

I'm not entirely sure how well we're doing. The network stuff has taken a while but it all feels like it's about to come together nicely. That is, if the system works. But I have every faith that our dedicated monkeys have got it all in hand.

I need to sort out the damage model and implement the HUD that Leanne's done.

Perhaps I should rouse the monkeys? Then hopefully we'll be able to have a game soon.

Damage 13:32

Finally worked out how the new damage model should work. There's some stuff in place to blow components up and have damaged ships smoking - now we just need Oli to hook it all up to the game code so that it affects the way the ship flies. We've got a skunkworks scene where I can just tinker with things and the test ship in there seems to take damage nicely.

The new damage model will also cope with smaller increments of damage, meaning that bullets and other smaller projectiles are back on the cards and we're not relying solely on missiles.

Willow has gone down for her nap and Leanne's about to rock up with a Full English. I'm not sure I could ever do another game jam where our team didn't include a cook.

Alex has got the old stretchy arrow tech in. That means that the player will have something to see when they alter their rudder and throttle and be able to position their ship accordingly. Of course, if the ship happens to take vital damage along the way, they might not end up where they wanted - but that's what you get for taking damage.

I think we're all pretty eager to get the first playable going. It's a bit frustrating that it hasn't happened already, but that's what you get when you try to write a multiplayer LAN game from scratch and it's better to make sure everything works.

Danger Zone 15:34

We've done the Air Punch playlist on Spotify. Now we're on to the Highway To The Danger Zone one. I can think of nothing better to jam to.

Mike sent me some concept art of what he wanted the engine effects to look like, so I've been adding a nifty little afterburner thing to the Bomber. Then I fixed a bug in the damage model and properly hooked up the camera - or, more correctly, ensured that the camera didn't fall over when it's target gets destroyed. Think I might implement the tumble-then-blow-up thing next...

Mike is now working on a new Fighter to go along with the Bomber we already have. It also sounds like he's dying from a terminal case of coughing. I think Ireland might be filled with the Black Lung. Also, it may have been a mistake telling him that we were kinda thinking about letting some of the ships transform into mechs...

Parker is putting Leanne's UI work into the main game and making all the little buttons bounce when they're pressed. There has been a small amount of swearing at Unity's animation stuff, but otherwise it looks like it's going okay.

Leanne is adding the damage readout to the HUD and bemoaning the fact that adverts ruin so many awesome songs these days.

Oli is trying to fix undetermined things so that we can play.

Willow is still asleep.

Head's Up 17:29

It should look something like this
We have finally got Leanne on to source control. This involved more than a few choice words to be said about the quality of the software involved and the odd exasperated gasp from her poor laptop as it struggles with running Unity, Spotify, Skype, Photoshop and Sourcetree all at the same time.

Leanne needs a new laptop.

But it also means she is able to furnish us with things like HUD mockups so you can see the sort of thing we're aiming for.

I've done the tumble-then-blow-up thing and that looks pretty cool. That doesn't seem like much for the last couple of hours, but there is a crucial piece of information that I missed out:

Willow is awake.

She's also in a happy, giggly mood, which means either Leanne or myself is playing with her.

The code monkeys have been... doing code things. They seem confident that, in five minutes time, we'll be able to set a game***** up and have everyone join in.

Drawing To A Close 23:00

Well, this jam is nearly over. One of our code monkeys has to go home very soon and we still haven't really played the game.

We've managed to create and join sessions and fly spaceships around using the standard Space Krieg controls and turn structure though. Even from this tiny snapshot, the people who haven't played it before seem to think that there's definitely something there as they swoop majestically onto each others tail shouting "pew pew!".

Now we're in some kind of crazy state where people are just throwing code and objects into the build in one last hurrah.

Mike's sent us a bunch of new ships. Oli's got missiles (kinda) working. Alex has broken the UI.

But now we've all just pulled the latest build from source control and are definitely going to try and play.

Chaos Reigns 23:26

And that was a 5(!) player game of Space Krieg.

It wasn't without issues, but it was great fun - even in this supremely rough and ready form. I'm calling it a victory for Team Orange (Parker and myself) over Team Teal (Leanne, Oli and Mike) but most of that is down to Oli contriving to be a total meatshield and 'scooping up' all of his team's missiles that were bound for us.

We've run out of time for this jam.

It's a shame we're not further along than we are but at the same time, what we've accomplished in a little under two days is pretty cool. It has been enough to convince those on the team that hadn't played Space Krieg before that it is a really cool game and definitely worth continuing with.

My thanks to our diligent code monkeys and to chief baby-wrangler for making all of this possible.

This week I might be starting a new job, which is going to come with a bitch of a commute, so I don't know how much time I'll have to tinker with Krieg. But I can certainly see us throwing down another weekend soon.

Possibly even roping in a couple more of the old hands.

Now that'll be fun.

* Proper MOBA - not a DOTA thing. See previous post if you're confused.
** Thanks to the wonder of Google Hangouts. Now, if only I could stop doodling on his face...
*** Although she seems to be enjoying Kiki's Delivery Service.
**** But we have had some wine, so maybe that's a factor.
***** A fly your ship around and precious little else game. It still counts.