Thursday, September 28, 2017

Feeling Mopey? Get Moppy.

You know how sometimes you're not sure if life is worth living any more and then you clean the kitchen and you feel super proud of yourself and are convinced of your own virility. Kinda like mopping a whale.


The way mopping presently works is that your mop does 1 damage to each pair of footprints that it hits when you do a mop 'swipe'. Now, if your mop is wet, it does like 3 or 5 damage or something to the dirty footprints. These footprints come from players walking around on the back of the whale, by the way. Whenever a footpring is left or when it is mopped up, the whale checks the total number of footprints on its back. If it it's less than 20 or something, it is clean. Greater than 20, mildly dirty and the entire whale sprite gets tinted brown and there is a drag applied to any players walking on the whale's back. If there are more than 40 footprints (now that's a dirty whale!), the whale is considered quite dirty and is tinted an even darker shade of brown and even more drag is applied to players trying to waddle through the muck on deck. So what's depicted above is the lonely red player working all by himself to fly the whale into a nearby rain cloud and giving the whale a bath (and a drink, incidentally). Also, when you get the hose attachment for the whale, which can be used to spray down thirsty dogs, attck fire based enemies, put out fires on burning buildings, it can be also used to manually wet the whale deck, instead of needing to locate a rain cloud or to use drop mops. 

Mopping has been in the game a long time, but I felt like talking about it today. It serves a few design purposes. (A) I think it would be great to hear about how a group of friends struggled with the decision to upgrade their mops or their guns. (B) general upkeep task that requires time, competes for resources (water), and affects general gameplay (the drag as you walk on a dirty whale is not insiginficant, especially when you're carrying the heavy sack of dog food). (C) provides another motivation for finding rain clouds. Now, where I think it could perhaps use some refinement is in the visual communication department.  People don't notice the footprint specks and/or realize you have to mop up the specks specifically, rather than just the whale in general. I think having to target the footprints is important, because forcing the player to move around, get in the way of other players, and also leave more footprints while mopping, makes the activity more nuanced and more interesting as its own little minigame. And also, just mopping the fin over and over doesn't seem like that should count for cleaning the whale (however, it doesn't seeem like 20 footprints left only on the nose should dirty up the whole whale either...oh well). 

Just because you're curious, I'll also let you know that it used to be designed so that only when you walked through a footprint speck did you feel the drag. I basically decided against this, because while I want it to feel bad when you're moving slowly because it's a dirty whale, the stop and go of hitting dirty footprints felt more buggy than an intentional mechanic. Maybe this is because it's generally difficult to see the footprints, especially just one or two, especially when they're underneath your player sprite. With a whale-wide state of drag corresponding to a state of dirtiness as visually communicated by whale color tinting, at least you know what's happening, if you know how mopping and leaving footprints functions in general. Anyway, people think the dirtiness of the whale is indicating damage though. So I don't know. Maybe I'll just adds a bunch of blood splurting out all over the place for when the whale takes damage.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Bro and BFIG, Barnacling and Bullet Splattering

BFIG has come and gone. Kevin and Courtney are up and married. And I remain. In Starbucks. With my empty fruit and yogurt parfait cup.

My step bro, Matt Borchert, ran my booth at BFIG. And! He also has provided some music for the game. Anyway. BFIG seemed cool for the 1.5 hrs I was there, (before I left for Kevin and Courtney's wedding) before any attendees showed up. And I heard it continued being very cool all day. One of the coordinators and leader of the Game Makers Guild, Tim Blank, said that BFIG had perhaps a BFIG record attendance and he hadn't heard one negative statement about it. I put in a lot of effort getting the introductory/demo level working and figuring out the flow of introducing how to ride a flying dog, how to pilot a flying whale, how to heal injured dogs by feeding them them from the food sack, how to heal the whale by feeding it from the fruit tree, how to attach whale attachments, how to mop the whale, how to store gems in the belly of the whale, how to enter the belly of the whale to get your gems back and/or anything the whale has swallowed, how to use keys, how to shop, how to sleep in a bed together...anyway. Some of those things are taught much more clearly than others. But about a million things that used to go wrong don't go wrong. But it's kinda like when you hear about how a hand sanitizer cleans like 99.99% of bacteria and then realize that the remaining bacteria, that .01% accounts for like millions of little entities out there, trying to survive, placing its life before yours...willing to do whatever it takes.

Apparently, people still get stuck in walls. And sometimes you get flooded with oodles of dogs. Harpoons stick into things they shouldn't. Playeres somehow walk off the whale and just trot around in the air, leaving dirty foot prints everywhere, that people don't understand what use it is in mopping them up, and also, a giant black square will appear sometimes. And players don't know what to do with empty sacks of dog food (the answer is to toss them out, which is littering, and before you get upset and start forcing your own own moral predilections onto Flock of Dogs, it's definitely unclear what is or isn't biodegradeable or what kind of sustainability is possible really in this world).

While Flock of Dogs didn't win the curator chosen award for Multiplayer/Connected Gameplay (not surpring, the build I submitted in May was wildly buggy, visually unclear, and had a laughable tutorial), Matt said we did get a lot of attendees votes for game of the show. Flock of Dogs didn't win that either, but that's ok. The winning game (http://nextgenpants.com/refactor/) and many of the competing games have a much more public profile, bigger teams, and are much further along in the development. Actually, many had already been released.  And maybe it's ok to not be a winner? It would be nice to see how many attendee votes other games received or even get an exact number for how many Flock of Dogs received. Matt collected a bunch of emails of people interested in the game, so I guess I'll have to write a newsletter soon.

Anyway, I made some new particle effects leading up to BFIG, which is some of the only new visual polish the game has received in a while, so I'll share that with ya:




See how the bullets splatter? Jawesome. I also made the destructible environment have some particle effects and also split in to smaller pieces  instead of just disappearing. This is in accordance with the principle of 'barnacling' where, in nature, when there's large things, there's usually some medium sized things near it, and some small sized things near those. It still doesn't have a sound effect.


The simle, blended color gradients that generate when I take the base color of either the giant, floating tetrominoes or the players' bullets' colors, then choose 3 other colors that have slight, random variations in their RGB values absolutely thrill me. I'm also now going to try stockpiling gifs and start posting them to  Twitter for #screenshotsaturday in the future.

This is part of my whole plan of, you know, telling people about my game and maybe even letting them play it. I told a few people I'd send them access to a playable version of the game. One guy even said he wanted to play it for his YouTube channel. Craazy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Careening Career

Well, my car and I made it to New York and back. Barely. The following day, my car's transmission died and I had to get a new engine. lol. Then I moved. I am now a nomad.

Anyway, the festival:


No one interviewed me! So I guess I was afraid to contact press, because I'm insecure, I suppose. However, half the reason I went to this thing was for press exposure. So instead of contacting anyone on the press list that was distributed to all exhibitors, I just hoped they'd come by and talk to me. And they didn't. It didn't help that I had the cheapest spot on the top floor in the corner. I wonder if there are parallels to my dating life here.

Admittedly, Saturday night, there was a press/exhibitor 'party' after the convention closed to the public. However, I had been up past 3 am the last two nights working on the game and my stepdad and my 'little brother' (from the Big Bro Little Bro organization) who had come with me and helped me at the convention weren't allowed to go to the event without a special badge, so I just had dinner with them and went to bed. You know, family is more important than career.

Anyway, the response from attendees seemed really good and very similar to the responses I've typically received at live events. It's funny tho that, to me, that the reaction to my game seems about the same, whether or not I fix the bugs. As long as I have the energy to make jokes and be self degrading and as long as there's basic functionality, people enjoy it. So, really, I shouldn't stay up late squashing little bugs, if I know I can just make a joke about it. I've never exhibited any other game than this game, so it's pretty hard to have any kind of reference point for trying to be object (and then there's all the everyday, psychological hurdles of for objectivity lol). It definitely felt good to see people having fun playing my game, especially several families and then the occasional gamer who expressed excitement the moment they realized this game is a Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime-alike. And one of the guys exhibiting at the booth next to me said he loved my game and was very excited to see where it goes and kept coming over and playing. Which, like, it's so simple, but it's such a nice feeling to hear that.

Anyway, there's other details about logistics and the convention experience I guess I could go into that could help others...maybe. But I recently read an article on something that said stop reading articles about how to do something and go and do something. So if you're reading this to figure out whether or not you should exhibit your game at a convention, .... I don't know. I regret not contacting press before going. I don't regret going. I regret my car breaking down a day after.

Right, so. Some news. I quit my day job. I'm going to try to find temporary housing/friends' couches thru the fall in Boston, to stick around Boston Festival of Indie Games (BFIG) on September 23 and also to finish out the BSSL (bssl.com) soccer season and try to help Eagles maintain their spot in the top flight. So I appraised my last house on Friday (it's now Wednesday) and finished up all my reports yesterday. I may receive a report or two back from quality control, and I'm also helping train my replacement, but dudes...I'm pretty stoked.

So now I'm working on the demo for BFIG on September 23rd. This will be a tricky test, because I'll need the game to be able to teach itself, for the most part, since I won't make it to BFIG, because I'm in a wedding. Because friends are more important than career. Also, soccer and dog are more important than career too. Maybe.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rain, Beast, Wind, New York

Hello, I'm still going. Been busy with a bachelor party weekend (sort of), then a cousin's wedding the next weekend, then July 4th the following weekend, so I don't feel terrible about how I chose to spend my time.

So the game had watering holes randomly distributed across the map. Little clumps of watering holes, really. Then there's little water droplets that spawn in the surrounding area that were hints to the locations of these floating oases. The watering holes shrink as the whale drinks up the water. This has been in the game for a while, but I haven't been in love with it. So I spent a bunch of time coding wiggling waves that faded in and out on top of the watering hole, changed color, and adjusted as watering holes shrank. Then I decided to remove watering holes completely in exchange for rain clouds. It kinda felt like I throw out a bunch of work, which hurt, and while I've heard it said you hafta cut your darlings, I'm pretty happy with the new clouds (which reminds of Happy Cloud, a company I briefly worked for where I was paid to play free-to-play softcore porn MMOs):



So my issue with rain clouds is that they simply appear randomly, there's no decision making around how to find them or prioritize finding them, at the moment. Also, I'm not sure how I feel about my current method of consuming them, they lerp from a dark grey to a transparent white, less rain falls out, until no rain falls out. My thoughts on design changes are to make some kind of weather forecasting mechanic, where you pay for a forecast and then it shows up on your map, or maybe a weather vane item that you must stop to use that works as a compass for rain clouds. Also, the rain clouds don't move, because I didn't want them to have too much overhead with physics calculations. I make sure to not spawn them in the jet stream, because it seems weird that it's all windy and the clouds aren't being blown along. I'm thinking I may spawn clouds in the jet stream that do get pushed along it. I do like the look of them. I found a basic cloud outline on the internet, filled it in with white. The final edit was to remove its black outline. I don't have a principled way of decided when I want black outlines and when I don't.

Another big thing I've worked on is removing the end of level bosses and instead including beast lairs. The beast lairs provide optional challenges. If you choose to disturb the lair, then you must fight the beast. This will allow for teams to dynamically select difficulty. The rewards for defeating beasts will be linked to unlocking the more difficult routes on the over world map in the Star Fox 64 style I've been planning on imitating for a while now. I'm thinking each level will have a beast lair, or a hitchhiker, or flying cow cattle drive, or some pollution, that the team can opt to deal with as a means of unlocking different routes and experiences. Here's the lair and a beast:


And I've also decided to remove the mesh renderer from the jet stream and use more particle systems to indicate flowing wind. When I was trying to decide how far the trails for the particles should be, how much noise to add to make 'em wiggle, and how fast, I watched some LotZ: Wind Waker videos, heh:



Finally, I paid the exhibitor's fee for a small booth at Play NYC, put on by the Playcrafting organization. I've done a few of Playcrafting's small local events, but this one has promised 5,000 attendees and a bunch of press, like Kotaku, Polygon, and the New York Times. So press has never seen Flock of Dogs before, so that's scary. I got the cheapest option ($400) on the top floor of the venue, and its the first time Playcrafting has done an event of this scale, so we'll see. Driving down to New York is always fun and I have friends there, so even if I'm mostly overlooked, it'll be an adventure. I love adventures! Flock of Dogs is an adventure! ('adventure partner' is like maybe the 2nd most common thing young women put on their list of things they're looking for in a partner on dating apps after 'video game dev').

-Max


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Submitted to BFIG, Heard Back From Yellow Ostrich!


Spending half an hour to an hour on a blog post every week, when I only spend 10-25 hrs a week on game development, doesn't seem like a great ratio. So I'm not going to feel guilty for not blogging the past several weeks, because I have maintained a solid amount of effort on the game.

I've continued with adding more context sensitive tool tip pop ups for button or key presses. I've just created a Tutor object that just scans the player and whale for game state info to see if things have changed. It's completely modular and I'm very proud of how separable it is! I feel like I'm improving as a games programmer.

The big news I've been sitting on is that Yellow Ostrich got back to me about using WHALE as a trailer song and they said I could do it and didn't ask for any kind of licensing fee. So that's !!!!. I've submitted to Boston Festival of Indie Games with a 3 minute voiceover gameplay video. I won't hear back from July. I would love to win some kind of accolade at the event, my game is entered in the multiplayer/connected gameplay category, but if I'm being judged on the build submitted on May 15th, that's very unlikely. But there's a gamers' choice award, and I'm hoping I'll have a good shot at that because (a) I'm going to make a bunch of friends vote for me and (b) my game does really well at cycling through lots and lots of players on a convention floor, so I'll have a leg up. From what I've read, going to conventions as a game dev isn't about generating a huge of list of possible customers, it's about getting feedback and seeing how people react to your game, showing your game to publishers and press, and making industry connections. Anyway, all the events I've taken my game to so far haven't resulted in any press exposure, maybe some industry connections, and definitely lots of player feedback. But yeah, I don't have like a million Twitter followers or subscriptions to my Flock of Dogs newsletter, which I've only sent out twice anyway.

For the submission build, I needed people to learn how to play the game without me, so that involved making a very needed update to the tutorial, which has basically matched the outline I set out in a previous post. For a while, I wasn't happy working on a tutorial, because it was just annoying, fiddly things like when to turn on and off different abilities, or when and where to pop up text. But then I realized how much I enjoy the first 15 minutes of a good, new game and that counts as such a big part of how I feel about a game and if I like it. Also, I've been crushing a good number of bugs and adding in little smoothing things, like changing the helm controls to the triggers, shrinking overlapping hitboxes, making items much easier to pick up, making the game much less punishing, and so on.

My next focus will be returning to level design/generation and enemy design/placement, as well as environment interactivity and the interactable island structures. I've also received some sample music from a friend that may work out very well for actual game music and effects, but we'll see. Anyway, there's a medium sized expo tomorrow night at Laugh Boston where I'm showing Flock of Dogs, so I want to sharpen up some more things and see what kind of reaction I get there. Anyway, here's a little video of me testing the new item pick up, the pop up tips, the single nest docking, and dropping items on an island:

Friday, April 28, 2017

Hint Pop-ups

Fixed some bugs and added some basic tooltips/button press hint pop-ups:


I can't find the website with the Python script that let me do certain edits on video files in GIMP to create gifs just now, so I used Giphy's thing.

The hints are nice. They go away either after a threshold number of time being displayed or a total threshold of time has passed. I need to structure a tutorial level that would mechanically introduce the game. I sketched out a plan in an email to a colleague, Dave (his game is here devness.itch.io):

  1. players start on an island with dogs lounging on the island, visible on screen. there will be no other thing to interact with except the dogs. players will have to mount and begin to fly in order to progress.
  2. after taking flight, the area is still enclosed or linearly leads to a finite number of enemies, but not a nest. tweaking the number based on number of players active. if a player's dog dies, and they get trapped in their crystal, other dogriders will have to figure out that they can pick up their teammates and ride with 2 players on one dog. if everyone dies, i made the enemies too strong, or the players are just really bad and they can restart the tutorial.
  3. the players discover another island with dog food. and they learn how to heal. maybe they find a hurt dog or there's some event that forces every dog to take damage, if they weren't already damaged.
  4. then the whale appears, asks for help/hell breaks loose and the whale rescues them/i don't know.
  5. the flock then moves out, the dog food is aboard the whale, the hud for the water and the solar power is turned off.
  6. they encounter some finite enemy groups and some loot drops including a key. then there's a gate house the whale must dock at so the key can unlock the gate, to introduce whale parking.
  7. somewhere around here use tooltips to explain how to roll the whale over to access the belly.
  8. after passing thru the gate, then something like the current tutorial would take place. maybe the river is found for the first time and the whale explains it can follow the river to make it back to whale land.
  9. the water system turns on, the hose appears, and the whale tail reigns appears and the hydration system is explained. 
  10. the turret is attached and a press "A" appears over it or something.
  11. at some point later, use another gate to halt progress and introduce the solar panel and energy box. 
  12. NOTE: i'm also considering not introducing the solar panel, harpoons, turret, drill, at all. making those part of a whale upgardes system that are purchased or found as you progress. i've had other ideas for different whale systems and then your build would be dependent on what systems you buy/find each run through. maybe the solar panel system will stay and the solar power can be used to power a variety of different systems you can attach. not sure.

Didn't get as much work done on the game as I'd have liked. Mostly just over the weekend. I had an 8 am appointment about an hour away earlier this week. So I had to be up at 6:30 to walk dog and get ready and go. Then, of course, that afternoon I fell asleep for a few hours. Which meant I was then up until like 3 am. And then the next day, I fell asleep in the afternoon and was again up until like 3 am. I should just embrace it and use that time to code, but I end up just sitting in bed watching Twitch or, as it happened this week, 6 episodes of The West Wing, which I've never seen before and it's alright.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Meeting with Indie Game Collective

The BFIG submission deadline was generously pushed back to April 23. So I haven't submitted yet. I haven't changed my video, and I doubt I will, but I'll provide a slightly updated build. Last Friday, I met with the Indie Game Collective. They're a group of indie devs that share a co-working space in Boston. I emailed Ziba Scott, the programmer/designer for Make Sail, becuase I'd played his game at a Boston indies meetup and I saw that they had had a successful crowd funding campaign.

Anyway, I met with Ziba and a few others and they basically told me to not quit my day job. lol. That sounds worse than it is. They were friendly guys and they showed me around their space and gave me soda. They were encouraging about my game itself and how far I had come as a solo first time dev, but they discouraged me from crowd funding. Given that I am working part time and can nearly cover my expenses and could dip into savings/ask family for money, if I really needed to, they thought I should just stick with my current set up, get out a beta, and aim to release in a year. Possibly consdider fixing up the half-game I made, a soccer roguelike, and do a small release on Itch to get some experience with the process and maybe start a portfolio/build community. It all sounds like wise old council. It was very nice to hear they thought I should release the game, which is still a little hard to imagine. They were generally against crowd funding and here's my summary of their arguments: (a) it takes a lot of time, maybe one to two months, (b) it's a crowded space and video games are not doing very well at the moment there, (c) while my art is like quirky and ok, without better art/animation/effects/music, it doesn't seem like my game is as eye-catching as it would need to be to bring in the big bucks. I think these are all very good points they bring up. My biggest counter argument was what do I have to lose (other than 2 months, lol)? But also, why would it take up so much time? And if it did take up that much time, wouldn't I be doing basically the same kind of promotional stuff for releasing a beta or when I simply release the game? Hm. Kinda a Catch-22 with "hey I need money to get cool art and music for my game" and "well, your art and music isn't that cool, so I won't give you money for your game." I have this vision of delivering this off the cuff, passionate Kickstarted video speech that's basically like, "My game's not polished? To heck with polish! If you want a polished local multiplayer experience, go buy Bomberman on the Switch for $60, it's happens to have 34 year old gameplay. And if my game doesn't have some retro pixel animations that remind you of when you were 10, sorry. If you can't cry yourself to sleep with my non existent, not beautifully orchestrated OST, I'm very sorry. If you want a weird game with a different kind of gameplay that provides a shared journey experience, that's what I'm trying to make. And...I guess...fine, I will also say, there are some beautifully polished games out there that have been huge inspriations for my game. But! It's because of their gameplay. In fact, I'd say the polish in Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime kinda rubs me the wrong way. Overcooked is basically perfect, just no online multiplayer and no level editor. So idk man. If you're rich, you should probably give your money to the poor and if you're poor, well, relationships are really what provides happiness, right? ...but maybe this game can provide a context for community and relationships! wowowow! But seriously, if you're rich, give money to the poor."

Speaking of online multiplayer, the next big thing we discussed was the addition of online multiplayer. Some stated that adding online multiplayer for my game would take 1-2 years of development time as an inexperienced programmer. If you recall (or maybe I didn't post it), the crowd funder guy I met with a month ago really stressed the importance of online multiplayer. So Indie Game Collective guys pointed out that the games I used for inspiration, like Overcooked and Lovers in Dangerous Spacetime, didn't offer online multiplayer.

So let's talk about reasons to do online multiplayer. (a) I have a very spread out group of friends/family in California, Tennessee, Virginia, New York, Idaho, Washington that I would love to play my game with; (b) most of those people would be my testers; (c) this game is annoying to test alone, it's also tough to consistently organize a group of players to come over and test with me; (d) while Overcooked and Lovers don't offer online mp, I probably would have persuaded 4+ friends to buy those games if it had and, in genreal, the potential sales is a million times bigger with online funcionatliy; (e) Flock of Dogs supports up to 8 players, which is even tougher to coordinate locally, needing all the extra controllers; (f) two of the next three games I fantasize about making would require online mp; (g) if I reach a high level of competency with implementing online mp, if I wanted a job, I think that would really open up options for me; (h) Twitch streamers could play with their viewers, this is a big deal.

I don't know guys. It sounds hard/frustrating. But do you know how smart I am? Hahaha. Maybe this is where I derail myself. I have always loved online multiplayer, because strangers on the internet used to be amazing. And because it's like half as cool as having a LAN party, which have been some of the best experiences of my life. I've spent most of my gaming life playing online multiplayer games, like Starcraft and Halo. I think I'm going to try it. Sharpen up a build for BFIG, get a real tutorial in there, then commit 2 months to online functinoality and see if there's light at the end of that tunnel. And maybe, on a lark, I'll just try a Kickstarter one day. Why not? Sometimes, when you haven't suffered rejection in a few months, you get antsy. But I'm not starving yet.

For the game, this week I just fixed some bugs and added some inventory display stuff.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

BFIG Almost Ready to Submit

Ok. I'm back. So I've now made my Boston FIG submission video:



I hope they like it. I don't have to send it until midnight on Saturday, so if something seems glaringly terrible to you, let me know ASAP.

I've also shared access to Flock of Dogs Alpha 0.0.1 to folks who wanted to test it out. Although, if that's you and you didn't get the email, it might have gone to your spam folder. That's happened to some people. Since initially sharing the alpha, I've moved up to a new version, 0.0.3. I fixed a few bugs with frame rate independece stuff affecting some enemies movement speed and the helm, but the harpoon still has issues. I added a simple map accessed on the back of the whale by the m-key or Back button. It just let's you scroll thru the whole level. I added a button to heal the whale. And maybe some other small fixes, I don't remember exactly. Anyway, my priority now is to work on online multiplayer and make small fixes to the alpha as I get feedback from testers. Fleshing out features, like adding more environments (there's only one right now lol), more bosses (there's like 2.5 right now), more enemy types, the upgrade systems, and balance issues will take a lower priority.



Thursday, April 6, 2017

I'm out of town this week vsiting family, so I'm forgiving myself for not getting as much done on the game as I'd like. I had friends over last week and we playtested my game (and a puzzle game my friend is making that you can play a demo of right now). We found several bugs and I've fixed those and also implemented a new version of flying dog reproduction. Here's a screenshot:





Thursday, March 30, 2017

Fly, Dog. Fly!

 photo GAP_ride_alone_zps0pjsshbk.gif
It's dangerous to fly alone!

So I made a .gif using GAP for GIMP and Lightworks and the very easy Windows 10 video capturing through the Xbox button on the Xbox 360 controller! Anyway, I meant to contribute to "Screenshot Saturday" on Twitter for the first time, but I forgot. Also, had a bit of an issue with getting the gif to output in 30 fps rather than 60.

Last week, I met with a business mentor from SCORE at the Venture Cafe to talk about (crowd) funding. He also had an associate with him who has helped secure funding for some VR games. No big revelations in terms of what to do to be successful, but it was a nice weirdness to be taken seriously by successful persons. The VR guy suggested I look into FIG instead of Kickstarter. FIG is like Kickstarter, but people have an option to invest in the game, and also there's like a fund of studios who will invest in the game too, if they even approve to run a crowd funding campaign for your game. I've also been looking at The Indie Fund, which is just like the guys and gals who made World of Goo, Braid, Journey, and other early, successful indie games. This has also led me down a path of watching about 4 hours of Jonathan Blow videos on his new programming language, Jai. That's fun, because he's solving for all these problems that I didn't even know I had! VR guy also said that using the Photon Unity Networking plug-in for online networking is much better than it used to be and highly suggested I pursue that for my game. So that's the plan for that.

I may meet with a local indie developer who got funded through FIG week after next (because next week I'm going to DC to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, before they all move to Cote d'Ivoire for 2 years. My father will also be there).

I have a rough trailer made, using music from Yellow Ostrich. I'm waiting to hear back from them about licensing though, so...we'll see.

In terms of actual game development, I've been working on the whale subsystems. The belly of the whale can now be entered from any player on the back of the whale by holding Y or the r-key. This replaces allowing only the player on the helm being able to enter the belly. I'm also working on a sub-level to the belly where a player can sleep in their sleeping bag. A player needs to sleep to recover their energy. While sleeping, they enter their dream body and can float around and help out the flock. A motivation for this is (a) substitution in team sports (b) not wanting players to get stuck as 'the driver' or 'turret guy' or in any one particular role and (c) napping is a significant part of my life and (d) this will tie into my idea for rest stops/hotel stops where everyone can sleep in a big bed together, Go Dog Go style. Here's a shot of a player sleeping in the belly of the whale and Go, Dog. Go! lol.
Related image

So Saturday night, I've been invited to a young person's 11th birthday party and I'm bringing Flock of Dogs and making him and all his friends play it. Sunday, I'm having adult-like friends over to play test again, and then early next week I plan on sending out access to a build of the game to my close friends and family. No online multiplayer works right now, so don't expect too much fun.

-Max

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Did You Learn About Today?

So this week has been a little different. I've begun using and learning several new applications: Discord, Slack, Audacity, Lightworks, and MailChimp.

So Discord and Slack are chat/voice chat applications that improve on Skype in many ways. They don't take much learning, really. So far as I can tell, Slack is popular among software development and more serious business stuff, while Discord is popular among gamers and online fan communities. A lot of influencers (Twitch streamers and YouTubers) have their own Discord channels. (I also spent a few hours copy/pasting business contact info for influencers so that one day I might send them a copy of my game for them to play and share.) I'm considering one for the Flock of Dogs community. Actually, I've made a Flock Talk Discord server that has like 3 members (if you want to become the 4th member, join here: https://discord.gg/fYZFNTB !). Woohoo. I'm using Slack, because someone just created a Boston Indies Slack server, so I've been chatted a little bit with local indies. 

Audactiy is a sound editing program. I don't have the rights to a certain song about a whale by Yellow Ostrich, but after I have my meeting today (which I guess I'll talk about next week), I plan on emailing the band's licensing dude to see what kind of agreement we can come to. I want to use their song for a trailer. Their song is 3:44 long, but using Audacity, I cut off a lot of the intro, outro, a few verses, and some weird bridges, and got it down to 1:40, because game trailers, as a rule, are supposed to be about 90 seconds long. Then my roommate (see flockofdogs.com/about), who has done this sort of thing professionally, redid my work and made the cuts much more seemless. So thanks, Matt. I'm like way to excited about using the Yellow Ostrich song. My buddy who's in a successful band said I might be expected to pay $1k, which to me is quite a lot. Maybe I can ask them to make payment conditional upon a successful Kickstarter.

Lightworks is for video editing. This ties in with the trailer I'm trying to make, but also needing to submit to Boston Festival of Indie Games (https://www.bostonfig.com/). The submission deadline is April 15, then there's a few rounds of selection. I'm going to be submitting Flock of Dogs and also, two friends and I are working on a tabletop game we're also going to submit. 

MailChimp is for handling contact lists and emailing those lists. Currently, I have three groups. People who have shown active interest in wanting to follow development: they'll get monthly emails. People who want to help my playtest: they'll get sporadic emails and be asked to participate in the Discord server or send me email feedback/videos and report bugs. Then there's other people whose email I have, you know, from being a person with email for like 15 years. I'll probably email those people three times. Once to let them know about the game and invite them to become one of the other types of people and to tell their friends. Once to let them know I've started a Kickstarter and to tell their friends. And once to let them know I've released the game and to tell their friends.

Why am I doing all this and not working on the game? I don't know. I read articles about "if you want to actually be an indie game dev as a career, you better build a community"! So, as much as I'm (a) afraid of rejection and (b) think my game is so far from being done and (c) don't want to annoy people with promotional material........I wanna make games. So I want to build a community. Because community members will then want support my game and they'll share my game with others, which will be good, because my game is going to be worthwhile. It  won't rot your brain, desensitize you to violence, or isolate you and make you lonely. Ah, video games.




Thursday, March 16, 2017

Flock of Dogs Flew in Boston

WE HAD A WHALE OF A TIME at PAX PREGAMERS and at Made in MA hosted by Mass Digi.

This was the email I sent out to local friends:

HEY EVERYBODY,
Been working reaal haaard on my video game. It still doesn't really work all the time lol, but maybe some other people's games are good at PAX PREGAMERS event tomorrow (Thursday)?
Playcrafting's PAX PREGAMERS
Anyway. It's free. Bring all your friends. I'm skipping my men's league soccer playoffs for this shit. Come cheer me up.
There's still the Friday night event ($15):
Mass.Digi's Made in MA Party
In other news, I bought a domain name:
www.FLOCKOFDOGS.com
I bought a banner from Staples and I'm going to mount with a drying rack, curtain rod, and shoelaces:
Inline image 1Inline image 2
I bought business cards from Staples:
Inline image 3Inline image 4
I bought a 42 inch TV off craigslist:
*no image available (it looks like a TV)*
I bought paw print thumbstick covers and a few new controllers:
Inline image 5Inline image 6
Holy guacamolee! I'm getting really good at social media, too. IG, Twitter, FB...need to get on that Snapchat. Missed out on the IPO.
-Max
P.S. I don't have any other events lined so I won't be spamming you with more emails for a while. Sucks to be my friend.


*****************************

So anyway, last Wednesday night, I play tested my game for a few hours with Kevin Anglin and Courtney Castle. We came up with a list of 29 issues/bugs/frustrating things about that game. Many of the bugs reuined the experience for one or all players playing. Here they are:

- player reticles not moving any more wtf?
- pausing and then unpausing with controller blocks all further input lol (pausing with keyboard fine)
- when dead, when player docks, if other player in dock, error and dead player is permadead!
- players can get stuck permanently on fin of whale
- using solar panel in river makes current permanently act on whale, whale no longer functional
- dog wounds misaligned
- using whale horn drill on hut or on others can crash game
- players can both hold sun box and man helm...problem?
- torpedo explosions do friendly fire
- harpoon changes colors when players heal
- dog wounds don't disappear
- aiming sun balls is mapped to wrong thumbstick
- harpoon missing reference when harpooned item is destroyed, breaks player input
- almost impossible to pick up harpoons in the sky
- rubies and gems not spawning properly
- the deck doesn't affect players as it gets dirty
- the deck changes to "clean" color even if dirty when whale rolls from belly to right side up
- whale no longer drinks from watering holes (no way to get more water, gg)
- sometimes trying to man a dock warps you into the helm
- loot hardly ever drops
- confusing to have to dock to drop solar panel
- add a controls menu?
- solar shields don't last long enough
- deck gets dirty too quickly
- too hard to charge only when sunbox is on shelf
- flappy bird enemies are hard to see
- dead players can float very far away from whale, very hard to ever get to play again
- change harpoon throwing to toggle?
- ADD TUTORIAL?? haha

And there were other little issues too. So I stayed up until 4 am then got up at 8:30 am and worked until 4 pm trying to crush those bugs and/or write work arounds. Then my cousin and I left for PAX PREGAMERS. Photos from PAX PREGAMERS (taken by Grayson Whitworth, my step cousin):


Ok, so that was cool. Met the guys making Skorcery and they were cool. Christopher Night came by and played my game! Met lots of other folks. There was no room for by sweet banner tho. Also, my cousin carried my TV like a quarter mile, because apparently, to get into Laugh Boston, you need to go into the Westin next door, go up the elevator, then walk across the hotel lobby. Anyway, the game still broke a lot while demo'ing it at PREGAMERS. I wore my voice out saying things like, "I'VE NEVER MADE A GAME BEFORE HAHA." and "Wow, look at all these bugs, I'm so, so sorry."

But, to be honest, people were quite positive and were very kind about the buggy experience. Many asked me what the next step for the game was going to be. A few people asked me about where the idea came from and asked if drugs had anything to do with it. Well, no. Also, a drunk, kind-hearted, Minnesotoan talked my ear off about how I should make the game VR. We'll see about that.

So got home at 11 pm, Grayson and I ate at Cambridge Common. Went to bed. At 8:30 am, I made Grayson playtest Flock of Dogs with me. We came up with a list of like 24 bugs/issues/frustrating things:

- mopping while manning station causes player to get permanently stuck
- feeding dogs doesn't work? 
- dogs get stuck in walls sometimes !
- dogs fly through walls sometimes !
- players spawn with harpoons
- dirty deck still doesn't drag player
- too hard to grab hose without accidentally docking on the whale
- can't select levels or menu items with controller at all
- some enemy camps spawning in walls but not always??
- hold to warp button takes too long
- second player can man helm while first player in the belly, then first player stuck permanently
- change thumbstick aiming to right stick to match other shooting mechanics
- whale died error 
- *illegible*
- wounds on dogs too small to make out
- fins block undocking dog straight back into dock (at least not stuck in fin?)
- flappy bird enemies are too hard
- whale body not assigned
- add whale boosting
- whale hose can be picked up from opposite side of whale...sometimes?
- stats don't carry over between levels
- flying dog into whale pushes whale faster than it can swim lol
- more meaningful to charge sunbox if only can be done when shelved

So then Grayson went to Paul Revere's house and I ignored my bosses emails and worked on the game. By 4 pm, I had fixed a good amount of the game breaking stuff and put in some more work around. Went to Made in MA event and had a great time. I also had hardly eaten, so I bought some really tasty, pretty expensive duck tacos from the bar in the venue. I forgot my credit card and the bartender came all the way to my conference room to return it to me! I hope she saw how much glory I was basking in. Then a bunch of my friends showed up! Anneli, Courtney, Dan, Kevin, Sam, Sarah, and Ted! The executive director of Mass Digi talked to me a few times, told me I need to start merchandizing, took my photo next to my banner, and later, it was reported to me, showed pictures of my game to a woman (whom I identified as the organizer of the Boston Indies Meetup group). Anyway, most people claimed to really like my game. What else are they going to say to the creator's face though? And my cousin, at my command, made sure to give out very many of my business cards. I regret not collecting people's email addresses though. Here's photos from Made in MA:

Image may contain: 4 people, indoor


So I really want to do more events. PREGAMERS was free for me, because I didn't get into their PAX booth, which would have been $200/day.  The Made in MA event was $75. I don't seem to be receiving tons of emails begging to buy my game, so...that's a bummer, but it was fun. I know that (a) my game shows well on a convention floor. This makes sense because people don't have to wait to play and the game has very accessible drop-in/drop-out co-op gameplay. (b) Everyone likes my business cards. Duh. (c) Some young women like my game! (d) Need to add little flashing icons of buttons to indicate what to press when, because boy oh boy did I have to tell people what buttons to press a lot. However, I'm pretty happy with the general control scheme. Room for improvement, but it's a solid structure. I have kinda unclear expectations. My booth/table had very little down time and I was actually still playing the game with two women when the venue starting turning on lights. I looked around and every other game was packed up and we were the only ones left. Grayson was sitting across the room waiting. He had already packed up the banner, extra controllers, and business cards. Anyway, I was hoping that people would come to my website and sign up for updates, but that hasn't happened. I did get several new Twitter followers, so maybe I need to up my Twitter game. Not too hard.

Anyaway, that's it for my event wrap ups. They made me feel happy about the work I've been doing and were a huge motivator for getting more work done. I hope to go to more events for sure.






Thursday, March 2, 2017

Doing is Redoing

I've started using a time management app, Hours. The effect has been unclear. I've definitely worked a lot this week, put in 36 hrs of Flock of Dogs time, including two hours of what I'm calling "promotional" work. I spent 28 hrs on my day job and 2 hrs on a board game I'm helping design. That's all I'm tracking currently. Now, I'm not super strict about turning on and off the timer, so there's probably a few hours or so of dog walks being counted as programming time, but, you know, I think about the game while walking the dog? Although I don't have any records, this was an abnormally large amount of time spenet this week working in Unity. I think the factors that contributed to this were (a) I have the looming deadline of the Made in MA event, (b) I was sick the previous week and I had done a lot of brainstorming, caught up on work reports for my normal job, and (c) probably felt a mixture of guilt from not working more and a bit of wanting a 'high score' on my new app. Anyway, it felt good to spend a lot of time on the game, but I think about what I all I did and I feel a little disappointed. 36 hours and I finished what? I redid building spawning, I redid the layout of some buildings/designed some new ones, I redid the level loading, I redid monster spawning, redid how the whale "lands" at a building, and I redid the special item system. Those were the big items. I guess when I list it there I feel better, because if I had been adding all that, which would have been approximately the same amount of work, I'd feel great about myself. This is in agreement with most of the general design process I read about. Just keep throwing pasta at the wall. If it doesn't stick, get back to work. If it sticks, cool. Writing is rewriting.

Anyway, a new thing I did add is that when in the river, there is now whale-autopilot. I like this a lot. It's still a little buggy, I think, with some geometry issues with the whale rotating the wrong way, sometimes. Maybe it makes the whale feel more alive? Anyway, narrative-wise, I'm describing this as the whale's instinct for getting home. The whale knows to follow the river, bceause the whale knows that's the way home. When the whale isn't in the river, it doesn't know which way to go. This also makes the decision to go off river more distinct. It also makes 2-player FoD more viable. And it mixes up the pacing with, basically, an on rails shooter experience when you let the whale autopilot in the river. You can manually override the autopilot in the river, of course. That's the only way to get out of the river, but you could also go along the river while piloting as a player.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Flock of Dogs is Made in MA

I've been sick! Apparently, a doctor said, this has been a bad week [for the flu, maybe?]. Anyway, fever's all done, some runny nose/cough issue stuff. Enough about my body! Excited to get back to work! I'm taking Flock of Dogs to an event!

Made In MA at PAX East 2017 Party


Supposed to have 800-1000 attendees. I'm not exactly clear on how close to PAX it is. You have to buy tickets to this event, $15, but I don't think you need to have a PAX badge to get in, which is nice, since those are much pricier and sold out. Come on by!!!!!!!

I had to provide a 50 word description:
Flock of Dogs is a 2D co-op game for 2-8 players. With your brother and sister dogriders, and a flying whale, navigate treacherous, procedurally generated skies. Fight on dogback, man stations aboard the whale, locate oases to rehydrate, absorb solar energy, teach your dogs new tricks, and defeat airborne monstrosities.
And a title:
Flock of Dogs
And a website:
http://flockofdogs.weebly.com/ 
And a table fee:
$75 (Supposed to include 5 free passes tho! Great deal for me.)
And a high-res logo:



Not sure about my logo. It's functional for now. Couldn't decide between male or female rider for a long time. Maybe it would just be better to use the name? Or start promoting the acronym FOD? But I don't have a custom font and I didn't have a lot of time, especially since I was sick.

In terms of work on the game, I was able to do a small amount of work getting the building spawn system to work with the new map and river generating system. That's exciting.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mesh Mosh

I followed a tutorial on the Unity tutorial page to generate caves using cellular automata, the marching squares algorithm, and the flood fill algorithm. This is to make a map structure to encapsulate each level. I can toggle how dense the map fills with walls vs open area, effectively changing it from small chambers and passages to a wide open cavern. Then I  fed in the points along my river, made with B├ęzier curves, into the passage carving functions to carve out the river, effectively making the cavern/cave structure like a canyon the river is passing through. Within each level, the canyon may split and have separate areas for interesting encounters. Here's some screen shots of the process where I turned off all the other special environmental objects, like watering holes, shops, the castle, the bath house, the dam, etc.






If you can't tell, in the bottom left photo, I forgot to turn off a trigger to spawn a bunch of dudes, so a lot of them just appeared inside the walls or wherever. The bottom right is from the same instance of the game, so you can kinda get a sense of scale.

The other big reason I did this was that creating a mesh is way more optimal than having the million game objects for environment that I had before. I've actually turned the river into a mesh as well, because the river was a bunch of smaller objects laid along the curve. One mesh will be much better. The trouble that has caused is needing to calculate the direction of the current based on the location of the flying units and also the visuals need reworking. I didn't absolutely love the overlapping ellipses, but I thought it was minimalistically pretty.

I also changed the blog to Blog of Flock of Dogs and blogofflockofdogs.blogspot.com, because it's funny. And now, when I type into the address bar "flo..." it autocompletes to my website and if I type in "blo..." it will, I imagine soon, autocomplete to this blog.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hurray, I Made a Website

flockofdogs.weebly.com

You probably came from the website to the blog, so that's not surprise for you.

Anyway, a big motivation for creating the website was the possibility of getting to show my game at PAX East. That's a very big deal. There will be tens of thousands of attendees and all the major gaming press. And it wouldn't be acceptable to still be using art stolen from the internet from other games, lol. I really enjoyed drawing all my creatures and creating their digital versions. I definitely improved in using GIMP, which is the biggest, open source competitor with Photoshop. Probably a good skill to have, if I'm to continue in this business.

An big ancillary benefit was the snappy summary written on the home page of the website. It took a fair amount of effort and several friends to help me pack in all the things I wanted to communicate in those two paragraphs. However, now I have a sweet elevator pitch. I had been able to explain my game to you in 5 minutes, but I needed the 5 second version and the 30 second version too. If I do manage to get into PAX, I'll definitely be giving lots of explanations of what my game is and what sets it apart. I'll probably want a lot of other things too, so I'll need to reread some articles on how to prepare for exhibiting your game at a convention.

Meanwhile, as a reward for coming to my blog, here are some secret sprites that I haven't revealed anywhere else yet (well, the tri-legged creature is in the big poster screenshot on the website).



Sunday, February 5, 2017

New Sprites

Ok! So I'm ready to start showing my game to the world. You know, literally. Because I'm no longer using any Pokemon, Angry Birds, Space Invader, or Adventure Time sprites, so like...I could actually try to create promotional material now. I'm super excited to make gifs.

(I had stopped posting, because it seemed better to spend the time on the game, rather than typing out stuff here. The posts here felt pretty redundant to the notes I regularly write/draw and, since I never told anyone about this blog, I wasn't getting any feedback.)

Here's some new players that I drew (and removed some detail, because at the typical game zoom level, the details muddied the image...might need more simplification, pending game testing):



Cool, huh? Unfortunately, my work flow for producing these guys is pretty terrible. Drawing is drawing, then I take photos on my iPhone, then I use GIMP's edge detection, tweak brightness/contrast, increase threshold level, add transparency,  I've watched livestreams and seen tutorials where people have fancier softare or hardware (those Wacam tablets look wonderful), and it looks like magic. Anyway, if I get to the point where I'm committing to making animations, I'll either want to collaborate with an artist or get a tablet/stylus thing. 

I've drawn some creatures, mostly at home, but sometimes during Boston FIG talks. So here's some of them after editing in GIMP along with a big duck drawn by my friend, Sarah May (oh and the big tongue dude in the top right was drawn by Ted Larson):