Monday, July 23, 2018

You Leave Me No Choice But to Smoke You Out

Now, adding fire as an environmental hazard is nothing new in video games. But howabout smoke that gets your whale smokey so you have to use your mop more? Pretty dope.

Everyone knows whales love to roll around in fluffy smoke stacks. Now that I say that, I realize that I programmed a whale roll ability a long time ago, but didn't do that in this gif below. Oh well.

You can't tell from the gif, but when dogs fly into the flames, they take damage. And yes, I do realize that the flames and the mud and the smoke currently do not affect the enemies, but that's on my to do list. As well as a adding whale and dog medicine for smoke induced asthma. And maybe like the fire can be used when the flock goes camping and someone wants to make hot dogs or whatever.

Also, piles of dirt. Piles of dirt that splash mud on your whale so that you can use your mops more!

There's no limits on how dirty a whale can get.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Getting Ready For LA Game Night: Level 3

So at the LA indie Meetup, I met a guy who has just started hostong indie game devs night at a bar in Hollywood. And now, Flock of Dogs will be there yipeee!

It's free, it's a bar that's themed after the Star Wars cantina, which is kinda cool, but it's so hard to love something so broken. By which I mean, Star Wars. The bar is cool. There'll be like 3-4 indie games being showcased and then several of the booths at the bar will have old school games set up, like Goldeneye, Mario Kart, Smash Bros. Beware. Parking isn't easy!

Anyway, in anticipation of this, I've gone back to smoothing the opening of Flock of Dogs. When I describe the changes, they sound very minor, but this whole 'teach without telling' approach that I value so much has been challenging to implement and I'm only getting there by bits and pieces. For instance, last night, night before last, I demo'd the game with 4 non-video game players and 1 grown up ex-video game player.

(They also found a new bug that like any of you reading this never did! Which is that if you place an item at the top of the ladder inside the treehouse on the 1st floor of the treehouse, in just the right spot, when you get off that ladder you can be forced out of the treehouse and then you can walk around in the sky! It's funny how excited that makes people and it makes me wonder if it's just like...better to leave that kind of thing in. It was a recoverable situation, all that sky-walker had to do was walk next to the ladder, or sky walk up to the nests and get on a dog.)

They struggled and solved many things, like many groups of players have and that was rewarding, such as "Oh! I can get water from the cloud!" and "Can the whale fly? Oh my god" and with my new mop and hose delivery animation in conjunction with the new environmental hazard: the dirt pile, they figured out the purpose of mopping! Anyway, they struggled a lot with getting out of the treehouse beds and up and down the ladders. It's strange how with more experienced players, I've seen these same struggles, but because they figure out it quickly, I haven't considered changing certain design stuff, but really, I shouldn't ignore what a player's intuitive understanding of how the ladder should work in the treehouse, regardless of how quickly they figure out how it actually does work. For instance, when players are trying to climb up to the dog nests, it seems weird you can walk up the nearly vertical branches of the left and right of the treehouse but not up the trunk on the 2nd floor. So I extended the 2nd floor ladder by a bit and now you can go straight up to the top dog nest. You can see the slight difference below, but I think this will be a significant anti-frustration change for some players.

Also, there's not really much of a purpose in ever getting back into the beds at the start of the game, except for the simple thrill of it (which I do enjoy), but they cause a lot of frustration and confusion when people keep accidentally going back to bed. And most new players are just trying very hard to just do 'the right thing' and not test the limits of the game's rules. So I just simply made the beds' hit boxes waay smaller. I also removed the instruction to 'Press X to Grab' which gets in the way in those first few seconds because then players start grabbing their blankets prematurely. And while I could just disallow all this 'unwated behavior', I would never do that. Discovery and world interactivity are super important to me. It's just a question of matching intentionality to player input, which is hard. Also, I made the tree carvings different colors and the camera now starts zoomed waay in, until at least one player has made it out of the treehouse, then it zooms back. This will help players (a) read those instruction tree carvings and (b) it creates a island reveal moment, which is cool. These design decisions seem clearly like good to me ones and they've been sitting in front of eyeballs for 6 months. Anyway, feels good to make improvements, even if they're slow in the coming. And the results will be tested July 29th at Scum & Villainy!

And I've made other changes too!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Californian Independents

I have now attended meetups of both the Indie Dev Club (the LA indies) and OC Indie Developers. The LA meetup was at a bar and had a lot of people showing up for the first time. Probably more audio devs than game devs. Around 30ish people showed up and I was able to demo my game along with a few other games on a crowded wood table on a back patio with no power outlet. A little awkward.

I met several people and made some connetions and missed some connections. First, there was Evan from Ohio who'd just moved to LA to work for a tech startup after spending 5 years as a solo indie dev and having no success. He said he wanted to warn people to not go full time. Whoops. He and I did get along tho, just chatting about the games we liked and didn't like. He made an arena shooter where you play as a laser crab like thing and that can climb walls and lunge at people.

His laptop ran out of power before mine and then he decided to leave, so I didn't get to play it. By the time my laptop got low on power, the one table in the back patio that was near an outlet was available to I moved to that one.

So, you think it's infuriating to watch well intentioned lovely people struggle to play your game? Well, watching a mildly interested drunk Australian who frequently receives text messages was the worst. We may end up being friends, because he was a chill dude and I saw him at another LA game relate event, so if he reads this, oh well. But man.

Also, two men in collared shirts and ties approached me and turned out to be a principal and a teacher at a local elementary. They saw my game and people playing it and wanted to know what was happening. I explained we were part of a meetup. They were interested in having me/us come to their school and teach kids programming for games. They were also very drunk. I directed them to out meetup coordinator and gave them my number. I don't think anything's come of it. You know, I'm like that super hot girl at the bar who gave her number to a guy who's just too scared to call back because I'm just so super hot.

So while the LA indies was like at a cool bar, but outdoor on a back patio with no outlets, the Orange County meetup was at a tech office space with excellent graphically designed logos in a business park in Irvine. All nerdy dudes and no women, with a formal structure of each game being demo'ed one at a time. And free pizza. It effectively had something that I've been wanting the Boston indies to do: a focus group experience. While the other games were single player, I was able to have 8 guys playtest my game for 15 minutes and then the whole group listened to me explain abotu the game and then I posed a few questions and got some helpful feedback.

Specifically, I told them my struggle with playeres identifying themselves at the start of the game.  Some players very quickly leave the treehouse and then deciding on whether or not to zoom the screen out or follow them is tricky and so I had been thinking about adding a player select screen. Somebody proposed using just the treehouse as a starting level and everyone can still wake up there and then once every player has gone down the ladder, it transitions. This was a pretty elegant solution, I thought. Better than my half bakead idea of using the cloudy background and players 'waking up' in the clouds and then when everyone's ready, it drops away.

I have sorta implemented this, but not exactly. What I've currently done is to make the island the treehouse is on much smaller and to immediately zoom out to the normal viewing distsance as soon as one player leaves the tree, instead of waiting for the whold group. This way, no matter where you walk on the island, and no matter if other players are still in the treehouse, everyone's on the screen together. The issue remains though that if someone climbs up to the dog nests and takes flight, then the camera has to choose whom to keep on screen. I'm considering starting with the nests empty and the players have to work together to summon their dogs. As in, if 5 people are awake (read: 5 people are playing), then all 5 have to climb down from the treehouse and simultaneous light a magic fire that will summon the dogs. Or something. This means that no one will be able to get off screen until everyone has figured out what color they are, which buttons are A and B, and how walk around.

Anyway. I'm going back and forth working on that and network code. I'm excited about these indie groups. Especially 2 of them! I get to go to 2 meetups a month, which is good, because it gives me deadlines that aren't too stressful, but still motivating, and they also have cool people into gaming, which is nice.