Steam is learning…

Since the June 2018 update of Steam there are some updates to counter mis-use of tradingcards and achievements. That is because of a select group of ‘poisonous developers’ (not my words) that use the system for things it is not ment for.

I like it when Steam tries to balance things out. They have special trained algorithms in place that will redirect users to to games they will like. Even in a crowded store.

But now this algorithm has marked my game…

screenshot find the gnome store page achievements issue small.PNG

It obviously is an evil mark because it is a mark of something fishy that’s the algorithm thinks is going on with my game.

But what can I do about this mark? To me it seems as that my game indeed correlates to the games that misuse the system, but there is no real connection at all. (And you could know if you read my posts that there is no intent whatsoever to do those ‘poisinous’ things)

I don’t have the power to change this system, nor do I have the time to improve my game to up the distance to ‘those cheap games’…

So I’ll leave you with this so you all know the background to this mark on my game.
Sometimes it is just better to let it go.

Project 1 – v0.5

Version v0.5 is here, and look at the beautiful gameplay!

I’m sorry if you didn’t expect a video in these otherwise static project updates. But with the upcoming release (3 weeks!) I thought it would be logical to include some actual gameplay with this post.

As you can see the following additions are in here: everything is working again, story gamemode, story all over the place.
So that adds up to a nice game if you think what is already in it: 8 hide-n-seek levels, 2 story levels, 2 gnome types, animations of all sorts, sounds, menu’s, interfaces.

There is a few catch though: story level 3 and 4 are not accessible yet (you can see them but they say ‘under construction’), the hide-n-seek levels that are accompanying level 3 and 4 are also off limits. This is because I’m still working on the last gnome type.
And with that in mind, the hide-n-seek 5 – 8 are currently lacking the teleport gnome type.
This will be solved in the coming weeks, together with the last beta test results.

The gamemodes ‘hide-n-seek’ are currently untouched. The plan was to convert the ‘timed’ to an arcade experience. That is still the plan, only it is after the release when it gets updated.

Last but not least: music is missing. I’m aware of that. Something did not work out as planned so I’m searching for an alternative.

I have changed

“I have changed, and I really like my new self.”

This line could be from a self-help blog or another source of talk-to-the-mouth style information source.
But no, it is really here on this blog on games of GameFeelings.

I will give you an insight in my latest discoveries on how to better manage yourself when doing big projects, and what impact it has on me while delivering Find the Gnome.

Short introduction

For those who did not know it: I’m a guy, 30, married, dad to 2 kids, has a full-time job as a software developer, I like playing computer games in my spare time, I like to renovate my house… and I want to develop computer games.

This game I’m developing,¬†Find the gnome, is my first game. I am using the development of this game to learn how to better develop games.

Reality

Being a married man and dad to 2 is a daytime job on its own. And then there is my ‘real’ job of being a software developer, with all the con’s attached to it: needing to stay relevant, additional meetings outside office hours…

So this ‘game development’ is more of a love work. I need to really like it to be able to get the needed hours into it, but to also get the needed amount of relaxation and the needed sense of achievement out of it.

Reality is that nothing comes for free. And that some things in life are more important to you than other things. And that everything always ends in a trade-off.

Pushing harder

But I didn’t want the trade-off. I want it all, and I wanted to earn it. So I just pushed for it.

I needed more experience? I tried something a lot. I needed new skills? I tried to make it my own. I wanted the game to be good? I tried to get every aspect of the game right. I wanted to get even better? I tried to get a good team of people around me to show me the good and the bad.

It did work out for me. For a while. You can see this in version v0.2 and v0.3. There you see a confident me trying to push for it, making every version increase even better than the previous increase.

Managing yourself

So there I was, working my ass off, and it suddenly stroke me: I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t listening to my body, I wasn’t on the look-out for easy shortcuts to just reduce the amount of work to do.

For not listening to my body, I got myself nearly burned-out. And that shortcut thing was very vague to me: I knew I needed something like that but it sounded like an empty promise to me.

At that moment in time I was also at some other crossroads in life. I was in therapy because of earlier near-burnout issues, I was desperately searching for new goals in my ‘real life’ job, at home my wife was going trough some near-burnout issues herself.

I wasn’t paying attention… the shortcuts were all the time right in front of me:
It’s all about priorities. About letting go. About ‘going with the flow’. ‘Trusting your gut feelings’. ‘Doing things you love to do’. ‘Listening to your heart’. ‘Clearly communicating your needs to others’. ‘Experience takes time’. ‘You need to fail to learn and/or progress’…

The world is full with books, movies, coaches, religions… people. The best they can do is teaching you something of yourself.

That enabled me to start managing myself. And then to take action. And cut in the workload of life and then to find those things that will keep me going.

Back to the subject

So, what has this to do with the game? I promised you all a game!? I should just deliver on that promise, shouldn’t I? With the exact content as described in all blog posts and al comments please… And I need to stop talking about ‘managing yourself’. In the time I took by writing this blog post I could have completed a new gnome model!

Yes that is true. But no that is not the right thing to do. Not at this moment.

Watch this, in version v0.4 you see mee finding out that the game is not the game I wanted it to be. I found out that for me, to love building the game, it needed to be something else. And while iterating on my new idea’s, I also found out that I had enormous scope creep in the project starting from the earliest versions. And right after the v0.4 release I took a break to do some home improvements (yay, new kitchen!) and I realized how much I was demanding from my body.

So I picked a new pace. That’s what’s visible in my last post.

Back to the future

This new pace is one I can sustain for a long time. I will finish Find the Gnome, that’s a feat I really want to accomplish. And then I really like to get on a new idea.

There is one thing left I like to add: I know what I like about building games. Support old ones (20% of my time), build new ones (50% of my time) and spend the remainder on company related things.

“I have changed, and I really like my new self.”

Having fun, and, the timeline

A short blogpost to remind you all that v0.5 is on its way! And that I’m having fun building this game.

The following is already build so that’s in it for sure:

  • In-between levels story
  • Tutorial/intro level with story
  • The said ’15 levels Hide-n-seek’

The next things will be build in the coming week, but it will be a close call:

  • 4 other story levels
  • 2 new gnome types

After the v0.5 update there will be another update before the final release. Due to how Steam works they need it in advance so I have another 2 weeks after v0.5.
I will use those weeks to add:

  • New gnome types in Hide-n-seek
  • Music
  • Medails system
  • Minor fixes

After that last update I will submit a build to Steam for review. They will do some quality control checks on it.

And after the submit, I will continue working on the game until at least the following is in it:

  • I will alter the hide-n-seek mode ‘timed’ to be more arcade
  • Fixing balancing issues on the levels, if they occure
  • More settings
  • Achievements for doing normal and strange collection things

Project 1 – v0.4

The V0.4.0 milestone is there… but is hasn’t been reached! If you know what I mean ūüėČ

We didn’t get anywhere in the V0.4.0 milestone, it is in a state that you can’t submit it for Beta review. If you look at that from an Agile project methodology point of view, this means that something has horribly gone wrong.

Well, it is a lot better than before. There are now 15 levels in it, aside from the story levels. And there is a whole new immersing main menu in it. And story telling and story driven progress. And saveslots. And funny AI. And better animations…
You can see this for yourself in the youtube video on the progress I made in this version.
So I think everything will get right in the next release.

The not-so-bright-side is that the project did go southwards fast due to a few circumstances. Most of which I didn’t have influence on.
So the current approach to get going again is: freeze the scope. And to delay the release date. And: get to a Beta testable state as fast as possible, to get feedback on the (major) changes as fast as possible.

The next official project update is scheduled at 5 June 2018, we will hit version 0.5 by then. It will finish the gamemodes and complete the settings menu.
It is the last update before quality control and the release.

Quality takes time

I thought I would never ever make a blog with the title ‘Delayed’. So instead I put something with ‘quality’ in the name to empathize the positive. But yeah, the idea is the same: delays.

First, the delay: Instead of releasing on the 4th of June I’m going for the 29th of June.

Second, the reason. And I hope you are all with me on this one. If not, speak out!

Beta testing

I have conducted a lot of beta testing, and especially the v0.3 feedback proved to be very usefull. So I started the ‘one fix to fix it once and for all’ and announced v0.4.

But, as you could read between the lines in the recent update on the progress on v0.4, the amount of work to do is huge.

Back then I didn’t go into details of what that feedback was. So I’m going to give you all some details on where this game is currently and what I envision it to be when it releases.

Gamemodes

It it all about the gameplay, isn’t it?

In v0.3 the game is like this: 1 small scene, 1 large scene, and 14 levels that use a segment of one of those scenes. There are 2 gamemodes: in normal you try to find them all, in timed you have to find a portion of these gnomes but they are in random spots this time.

In v0.3 this is the ‘why’ you should play: because of the challenge it is to look for gnomes in dark area’s or in parts of the level you easily overlook. And the reward you get in the end: full completion or a good time.
But the testers did point out a huge issue with this kind of gameplay: why am I doing this and why should I keep playing?

I think that the underlying issue in my game is that difficulty should not have been the foundation under the ‘why’. This game targets children and wants to entertain adults as a by-product.
Currently both gamemodes focus on the difficulty of finding objects in a 3D landscape, and both gamemodes don’t offer much else.

Experience enhancers

And I did know this.
If you look at one of my first posts, I point out that the core experience is situated around finding. It doesn’t state that it should be ‘a hard discovery’ that makes up all the gameplay.
Rather, all of the words I use are situated around the ‘experience’ of finding. So difficulty is not a target in this, at most it should provide the experience. And if it doesn’t, what it clearly does not, another instrument should be used to provide this experience.

So what are the instruments I could think of to implement in v0.4 to make a more interesting experience?

  • Make it like the ‘find wally’ cartoons. There is an established reference for how to do this and people are known for loving it. I do love books with this theme myself and I even have some of them. By the way, it was a beta tester that directed me to this approach.
  • Add a story. With a story the ‘gnome’ idea could be given more context. And gnomes are known to do cool things, so that could improve the game feeling dramatically.
  • More vibrant environment. Stuff that moves, rotates. It should fit really well into the game because it will make it harder to search but at the same time make it a more diverse experience.
  • Make it a phone game. Add sparkles, events, flashes, power-ups… lootboxes?! (I have to admit I didn’t want to think of this whole ‘going mobile’ option, but a tester pointed it out to me. It has a good some really nice underlying mechanics that could be integrated in our desktop game (without lootboxes of course… hehe))

A bit of everything

Well, there is a big problem with all of the previous pointed-out improvements: the cost time. A lot of time. That’s because it is situated more around content production and less around programming, and with me being a senior programmer but a junior designer/writer/modeller… things get out of scope really quickly.

So after a lot of thinking, planning, talking to people and staying true to myself, this is the idea:

  • Story driven progress. The main menu is the 3D map of the Netherlands. Between each level you get back to this map, someone talks to you and points out the progress… you get the idea.
  • Story driven ‘main gameplay’. A few levels ‘find wally’ style where the mechanics gets introduced. In these levels you see a lot of same-looking gnomes but a few of them are strange and you have to pick them out of the crowd.
  • The ‘original’ gamemodes are now transformed to an ‘in-between’ for the story levels. These are now called ‘hide n seek’ and there you just have to find all gnomes.
  • This ‘hide n seek’ mode has 2 game formats available in each level:
    • the first format is called ‘normal’ and consists of childish ‘just find them’.
    • the second format is called ‘time trial’¬† and is the more arcade ‘do fun stuff more mobile like and get a good time’ approach to the same levels. (I try to get as much sparkles, power-ups and stupid things in there as possible with my junior modelling skillset.)

I think this is the maximum I can pull of if I want to stay true to the original scope of the game. (The scope was: learn a lot, do it myself, make a fun game for myself and my son, stay withing the deadline.)

Next

So, do we get a new delay somewhere down the line? Isn’t the new goal even more ambitious?
I don’t hope so.

Where are we at now?
Currently the story driven progress is 50% on modelling, 90% on programming, 50% story writing. The ‘find wally’ style levels and mechanics are on 50% modelling, 25% level design, 90% programming, 0% story writing. The ‘hide n seek’ mode ‘normal’ is on 100% modelling, 95% programming, 100% level design. The ‘hide n seek’ mode ‘time trial’ will get the remaining time… and thus is likely to be skipped to be enhanced after release.

And yeah, I did think of the other open issues: need for music and more diverse sounds, more settings, and a few good screenshots and video’s that show of the game.

Release

I think the release will contain all story and all ‘find wally’ stuff. And the music, sounds and overall finish of the game will be good.

After release I will add more to the ‘time trial’ mode, add more Steam integration (achievements, cloud, etc), and look for ways to add more levels (or a whole new country) to the game, controller support… but this depends on the feedback I receive on the game.

 

Thanks for reading!

Work In Progress, v0.4

The current version that is being worked on, version 0.4, is going strong. This blogpost will give some details about what’s in it.

The focus of v0.4 is adding more story and meaning to the game.
I am very pleased with the results so far, it really adds up:

  • Total revamp of the main menu: It now shows a 3D map of The Netherlands with the locations you can visit (levels) as 3D UI elements.
  • Integrated story: this menu with the 3D map is the in-between for levels. It contains story text sequences and story driven level unlocks.
  • New game types distinction
    • Story mode with a real ‘Where’s Wally’ feeling: try finding that one gnome that’s different from the others. A slow-pace gamemode that uses story text sequences to introduce the game and to add background to it.
    • Hide-n-seek mode: the original ‘catch them’ gameplay but with a more arcade feeling. This mode builds on and reinforces the mechanics introduced in the story.¬†The pace of this mode is much higher than the one in story mode.
  • Different gnomes have now different behaviors. Walking around, talking to each other, reacting to you. These behaviors will give the levels a more vibrant and alive feeling.

There is still lots of work to do get these new mechanics right. But the framework of this update is already standing strong.

A important note is that all these improvements build on the experience of the many testers that have tested this game for me. Thank you all!

The official v0.4 update will arrive on the 25th of April.

Game logo

How to make a game cover art? That was my question for a long time.

I’m not good at drawing. And I thought about the option of setting up a scene in Blender and using that as cover art.
But these options aren’t going to deliver me the ‘bringing the message across’ cover art that I need for my game.

And on top of that I promised myself to not use any money at all for my first release, just to proof to myself that some things are worth the money and others not.

Thanks, to a colleague at Luminis, I got introduced to fiverr.com. On this website you can contact freelancers for various works, for example translations or drawings.
And their pricing is really nice: for that money a European person isn’t going to even look at your idea’s.
But yeah, It made me think about what I think people who work for me / with me have to have in terms of working conditions…

And don’t even speak about the fact that I stated ‘not to pay for anything’… well, it seems to me the world doesn’t work that way. You get what you pay for, and if you pay nothing it will cost you loads of time… or it costs you nothing but will likely return you nothing.

This was the result of a work of Maxtrella and me:
header_capsule.png

I am very pleased with this result!