Jul 192013
 

Yeah, Mac vs. PC. I’m finally going there!

Don’t worry; this blog post isn’t full of kool-aid-drinking fanboy-isms. I’m going to keep this as introspective as possible, in classic Cap’n style.

My History

I grudgingly switched from the Commodore 64/128 to the DOS-based 286 shortly after the release of the 286. It was a tough transition; after all, the C64 had all my favourite games, and thousands of them. I knew the command line inside and out. I could write games on the C64. Why would I want to transition? Well, the decision was made easy for me:  there was only room for one computer on the family computer desk.

Of course, once I had my own computer desk I immediately setup the ol’ C64 again and invited my friends over to play M.U.L.E. and it was the best thing ever.  It took BBSes and a 300bps USRobotics modem to finally drag me over to the Microsoft landscape, and I’ve been a resident ever since.

So that sets the stage: I’m a PC user, I’m not an early adopter, I reject change and despise new things.  I guess that makes me a standard-issue stubborn human.  I could go on and on about how BBSes are the future and how this “internet” thing won’t catch on, too, but you’ll have to buy me a few pints to hear that whole story.

The worst part about me not changing with the times is that I hate it.  I hate that about myself; I want to be the kind of person that tries new things and stays ahead of the curve.  It’s just that, in practice, I find it too difficult.

I’m really good at rationalizing why I shouldn’t do new things; more on that in a little bit. But first, let’s take an ultra-objective look at the pros and cons of Mac vs. PC:

PC Pros

Games, and my favourite IDE that has made me all of my money, FlashDevelop.

Mac Pros

Things work better.

(I don’t mean that in a dismissive, or cute/curt way.  I mean, everyone I talk to about Macs can name a dozen little things that just make the Mac experience overall better for them.  This can be software, this can be hardware, this can even just be little social and marketing style things that surround the brand. This effect is arguably more powerful than any individual feature a PC can offer.)

But there’s more to it than that!

There is building pressure to switch to Mac over the last few years.  At first I thought it was marketing hype, but I’m wondering if all those little things are actually summing to be a better product.  Many software development houses stock only Macs.  School computer labs are full of Macs.  Any artist I try to hire can only operate Macs (not to support any stereotypes).

Even from my own, code-centric angle:  Developing for iOS and Mac releases is an important part of the development cycle.  Sure, FlashDevelop lets me publish things for iOS from my Windows machine, but I can’t for Unity3D.  There are many tools that proudly proclaim “Compile to everything!” and casually forget to mention “… but only if you own the device.”  Even my latest championed hero, the Haxe compiler, requires a Mac to push things to iOS.

To make PCs even less palatable: Microsoft officially supports (and sells licenses) for Parallels to run Windows 8 on a Mac.  Apple does not offer a similar product for PC; so now Macs are (by Microsoft’s own hand!) more flexible than PCs, if you want to go the emulation route.

I used to believe in the upgrade-ability of the PC too; I used to (and even: recently!) build my own custom gaming desktop rigs, all with hand-picked parts and put them all together myself.  But to be honest with myself, those days are fading quickly.  I simply don’t have time to be playing all those super high-end games anymore, I don’t get off on having the fastest video card on the block, and I have worked nearly exclusively for the last 5 years on custom-ordered laptops with pretty much zero upgrade-ability anyway (because I max them out on purchase).  There’s no value in the upgrade argument anymore.

There’s even social pressure.  Other indie developers I love and respect have suggested I switch.  My partner swears by Apple and the house is full of their gear.  I own iPads and iPods myself.  I’m trying not to be too subjective though, and I try to push these thoughts down, but they’re still there.

So, completely objectively speaking, the only thing holding me back from switching to a Mac is games (which I don’t really play much of anymore), and FlashDevelop (which I could probably emulate pretty easily with Parallels or a Hackintosh setup).

So I’m a convert, right?

Difficulty in Changing

Putting me into a new environment guarantees that, at least for a while, I’ll be psychologically feeling low, powerless, and frustrated.  I won’t be able to figure out the command line. I won’t know what words to use to google “command line” because for some reason Mac users call it “terminal.”  I’ll be angry and you’ll want to unsubscribe from my Twitter feed.

With a new environment will mean a new workflow.  My old IDE (flashdevelop!) that’s been so great to me for all these years will basically become a no-go, and I’ll have to poke around for new things.

Sure, other things will be easier. Haxe and Unity3D will suddenly work.  So maybe it’s all a wash. Maybe it’s time I switched to a new IDE anyway. Right?  Macs will be good for me, won’t they?

Yeah… Let’s switch!! Let’s at least give it a whirl. Let’s buy a Macbook and give it a solid shot for a month. I’ll probably end up liking it!

Not So Fast!

This is where I have to — objectively, scientifically — start writing from a very subjective experience.  I hate Macs.  And not because of the product, necessarily, or the hardware.  But because of the people and culture that surround it.

Once, when I lived in Esquimalt, I walked into a quiet cafe to work (on SteamBirds). I sat down in a cozy corner, settled my coffee on the table, and glanced over to the table next to me.  Another developer, with his laptop out!  I smile and nod, and he smiles back.  I reach into my shoulder bag and pull out my Dell.  The turtleneck wearing [no, seriously] Mac user actually snorts in disgust upon sight of it, and turns his back to me.

Or how about that time where a guest walked into my LevelUp meetup group, spotted a Microsoft OS, and said ”Hah! Look at that, a dying breed! A PC Game developer! Hah hah hah!“. Said in that tone of voice that just screams “What a fucking chump you must be, using a Microsoft product. Idiot!”  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was a PC Developer.

Then there are those die-hard platform loyalist fanboys that take any chance they can get to say “omfg Microsoft” in the same way that someone might blame the hot weather in August on Obama. [To be fair, there are PC loyalists too, I just don't get to hear them because I don't have a Mac]

It pisses me off that my local university, UVIC, was essentially paid off by Apple to make all of their computer labs Mac-only. [Pepsi also paid them off, so maybe I just hate UVIC for being a sell-out]

Remember when Steve Jobs “killed” Flash? In his rants about the beauty of HTML5, he was just referring to Youtube and other service-based websites, which is cool.  But ever since that fateful day, years ago, I’ve had to reiterate over and over and over again that what I do in Flash is not what Steve was talking about, and no, he did not kill it. I’m getting really tired of that conversation.

And then I have to touch on things like how Apple has that big glowing logo on the back of it’s products, and how I like to avoid name-brand shoes because I don’t like being a walking billboard. I don’t want to be proud and feel like I’m a part of my laptop; I just want to get some anonymous work done, thankyouverymuch.

Maybe I hate macs for the same reason I hate makeup:  It feels “fake.” It feels like a manufactured, fake experience. I just want my “real” computer, please.

And that’s starting to cut to the core here, a little bit. This is where things start getting dicey.  Maybe all of this is related; maybe all of this negative reaction to standard consumeristic behaviour is stemming from my lack of will to change.  Maybe it’s my brain making up reasons, using confirmation biases across a spread of ten years of experiences to reinforce what I already think I believe.  I mean, surely I’ve been treated poorly by PC users; I’m just not remembering those experiences because it’s not convenient to the picture  my brain is painting for me.

Then I found this

The most-linked-to-site from my blog has probably been You Are Not So Smart (YANSS), a blog/podcast that focuses on self-delusions and catching yourself in them.  Check out this excerpt written about just this subject, the rejection of mainstream consumerism:

The urge to walk away from all of that [mainstream consumerism] and get lost in the most obscure thing you can find, the most distant and untouched landscape you can visit, the least processed or marketed product you can put in your body, is strong and understandable and healthy, but [...] it is ultimately futile.

This urge leads to those things that have earned the most anti-mainstream adjectives like local, organic, artisan, indie, all natural, underground, sustainable, free trade, slow, holistic, green, and so on. Yet, that ideology, that quest for the authentic, is the very thing that causes the world to seem so unreal and staged.

- You Are Not So Smart, Podcast ep. 5

The entire episode of the YANSS podcast is excellent and you should give it a listen. It gets into what it is to be a hipster, and I think a lot of it applies to me as an “indie” game developer (emphasis mine on the quoted paragraph above), and by a bit of a leap of logic, also explains my aversion to the whole Mac experience.

So will I switch?

I hate Macs for no good, objective reason.  I dislike them even though I’d probably do better with them and be more productive.  I am ultimately only punishing myself by avoiding them.

If it wasn’t for all the pressure to switch, I probably would have switched already. Which is a funny thing to say out loud, but I really do think it’s true.

So, in the end, yes: I will succumb to Macs.  I will buy myself a Macbook or something, sometime in the next year or two, and I will probably look back at my old PCs and laugh. The worst part is? Because I know it’s inevitable, and I know I’m pretty much being forced into this decision, my brain is rebelling against it and making me want to put it off.  I just want a Mac to enter my life casually! I don’t want it forced down my throat! I HAVE FREE WILL!!

But I’ve got a tiny bit of a vindictive streak in me;  I sometimes, ashamedly, like revenge.  Because of all the stuck-up, completely non-representative Mac users that have — in my conveniently selective memory —  made me angry over the last ten years, I’m going to go down fighting.  I’m going to whine and complain and bitch and moan all over my twitter feed every step of the way. I’m going to swear up and down that the experience is horrible and that I never should have bought that Mac.

And then I’ll settle into it.

And then everything will be okay.

Jul 162013
 

In organizing a bunch of game jams, development workshops, and game dev meetup groups, I’ve been approached by people many times asking me how they can get started making video games.  The questions come at an average of once per week, and I try my best to help them out.  The requests are all a little different;

Sometimes people know how to make games, or know how to make game art, but are asking how they can break into the industry.  I made a post on that previously, and breaking into the industry is pretty easy.

Sometimes they are asking about game design, and how to make things fun.  This is a really hard one to answer; sometimes it feels like a magical black box where ideas and stuff goes in, and sometimes something good comes out the other side.  There are fundamentals that can be taught, but really I think the whole key is iteration and just trying things until you find something that works.

Sometimes people are asking for tool or language recommendations for specific circumstances, which I’m happy to offer my thoughts on.

But none of those are the most frequent.  By far, the most common scenario is this:

Hi.  I’m a programmer but have never made games before; I am really excited to get started, but there are so many options out there. What language should I learn?  Where should I get started?  

Of course, it isn’t always phrased so optimistically. Sometimes when I ask people why they don’t make games, I hear:

I tried getting into making games before, but it just takes too long to get up to speed on all the tools.  It’s really complicated to get started.

Sometimes at a game jam, I’ll hear artists lament that they wish they could pick up programming but how the learning curve just seems way too steep; there’s no from-scratch tutorials that assume near-zero knowledge.  I’ll hear programmers wish they could figure out Illustrator (and it’s evil pen-tool) and just shake their head and bury their nose back into the comfort of code.

I’ve wanted to help with this for a long time, and I’ve tried my best in-person, but it’s very time consuming.  I think I can do this better.  I think I can make something that helps people through this tough initial hurdle.

So I’m working on a new website that takes you from zero (a fresh OS install) and presents a series of tutorials that will take you right through to a published game.  It’ll cover multiple IDEs, multiple languages, and multiple OSes.  It’ll help you get started using common artistic tools and audio editors.  It’ll have primers on source version control software.  It’ll be an easy, step-by-step, detailed tutorial site that will let anyone make a game with zero knowledge on how to do so before hand.  As long as you follow the instructions one step at a time, you’ll end up with a finished game!  You know, something simple, like a mouse-avoider or something.

I plan on making each tutorial available in written form, but also re-broadcast each as an audio-only podcast, and also do a screen-captured video version of each too.  That way you can learn the way you prefer to learn;  there are excellent youtube Unity3D tutorials but it annoys me to no end that there’s no good written docs!

Of course, this is a gigantic undertaking.  It may be years before the intended depth of this is fully realized.  I’ll probably start out focusing on what I know intimately (FlashDevelop [Haxe and AS3] on Windows) and branch out from there slowly.  I’ll probably end up taking volunteers once the site is online.

Before I get started though, I need a good name… hmmm…

Jul 112013
 

fatandyLate last year I was at a pretty low point in my life.  I was stressed about the upcoming Monster Loves You! launch, wasn’t doing so well emotionally, and was pushing up to an all-time high in the weight department, which just helped make me feel more upset about myself (lack of willpower to change) and my body.  Even at 6’2″, my weight of 260 pounds was enough for Wii Fit to shout (rather un-delicately) that was I was borderline morbidly obese.  It was a slow build up of weight that I hardly noticed – I was skin-and-bones  in high school, but after discovering beer and the wonders of the sedentary lifestyle…

The photo at the right there probably represents the moment well.  Ignoring the Dover Gomer Pyle [thanks for the correction, mom!] haircut, you can see my attempt at making a cute face has utterly failed and I’m clutching ham-fistedly at my beer, like I’m desperate to drown it all out.  At least I have my classy drinking shirt on.  At the time I was having fun – hanging out with Chevy, Matt, and Justin playing TF2 and making games, but reflecting on this photo later made me realize that if I wasn’t at rock-bottom*, I was getting there fast.

Since then, I’ve resolved to clean up my act.  I tried out different exercise routines, did some dieting (moreso just educating myself on just how bad poutine is). I spent a few months in Mexico taking up new sports and having fun, did PAX+GDC, then I had head back home from a failed Australian vacation.  I didn’t have much time to settle back into Victoria though, because I started smooching a real-life Doctor and moved to Vancouver.

It’s a bit odd, being here in Vancouver.  I spent so much time building the Victoria game development community, and even had a slide-deck about how Vancouver sucks (it keeps stealing Victorians away, and they never visit!).  There are still things I don’t like about the place, but having spent my entire adult life in Victoria it’s easy to find things to pick on unfairly.  All-in-all it looks like Vancouver might be a better fit for me, though.

skinnyandyI’m staying in an awesome place (with an awesome person!) right downtown with fantastic views. I can walk everywhere. I’m surrounded by excellent food and drink and people.  I’m super happy and excited, and part of this happiness comes from my physical health as well. I’ve gotten myself down to 205 pounds,  which is the lightest I’ve been since high school. I’ve had to buy myself a whole new set of clothes (that remind me of being a pilot! See image at left), and now I know how to kite-surf.  It hasn’t been easy, but by gum I tried to at least make it fun for myself.

The only thing holding me back right now from being an all-out changed man is that I’ve been sick for damned near a month!  The MDs can’t figure it out, but all signs point to it being Mono (despite the blood tests being negative).  It was so bad that I couldn’t eat for about 3 weeks (and had to go to the hospital once just to get some fluids intravenously).

I’m recovering now though – back on solid foods (even if I do have to back it up with Ensure), and best of all, I can talk again. And think. Thinking is nice.

I missed thinking.

I’ve been busy here in Vancouver though.  I’m helping to run what might just be the second biggest (in one room) game-jam in the world tomorrow… But that’s a topic for another post.

Jun 202013
 

Twitter was set ablaze this morning as Mike, of Penny-Arcade fame, said some pretty inflammatory things.  He started lashing back at criticism sarcastically and getting defensive, and digging himself deeper in trouble (as he self-admitted in this post to PA’s blog).

Don't read the Comments

It’s a sarcastic pouty face

To be frank, I’m not too surprised at all of this.  Mike has a certain personality that shines through (in his blog posts, PATV, and Twitter) and this kind of drama has happened a few times before.  He apparently has a statue in his office that reads “don’t engage,” much like I have a blue wristband that says “don’t read the comments.”  I wear the wristband for some very good reasons that I’m not too proud of.  Just as Mike ignored his statue, I ignored my wristband.

I spoke up against being a jerk to other people, as I sometimes don’t have the energy to do.

And then came the calls to boycott Penny-Arcade’s fan-oriented game expo, PAX, and I had to take pause.  I have a booth at PAX.  I will be contributing money to the organization, and some of that money trickles up and directly (or indirectly) lends support to Mike and his inflammatory remarks. As was stated to me via twitter, and seems to be the common sentiment out there right now:

“I hate to guilt you on this, but you really [...] have to accept that you’re supporting this guy, or no booth.”

Argh. I don’t want to be that guy that’s seemingly lending support to insensitive words, hate, or anything that makes any marginalized group uncomfortable.  I don’t want people to look at me and say “that guy, he’s one of them.”  Maybe that’s my insecurity talking, but I like to think that I stand for a better future, and therefore can’t be a part of this PAX thing.

On the other hand, PAX is very progressive and … Well, frankly, amazing.  The people organizing PAX, from the paid higher-ups (which doesn’t include Mike, directly!) down to the volunteer legion known as the Enforcers, are all outwardly and openly accepting of all sorts of people, sensitive to issues like these, and have even gone so far as to have a very good anti-harassment policy (and is one of the only conventions to outright ban “booth-babes”).  They respond quickly to complaints at the convention.  They enforce these values, it isn’t just lip-service.

Capture

A family playing MLY at our booth @ PAX Prime.

Beyond just policies, PAX is also inexpensive ($30, vs. GDC’s $2,100) and accessible.  The love exuded by the enforcers is amazing.  The enforcer-donated board-game-library was the direct birth-parent of SteamBirds and the reason I’m even here writing to you now.  The expo-floor enforcers assigned to my Monster Loves You! booths go out of their way to make sure everything runs smoothly for me.  Some of my best memories were made on the expo floor (picture, left).  It’s all roses over there, any angle I can cut it.  And yes, I even have nice memories talking to Mike personally (though I have spoken more in-depth with Jerry and the rest of the PA staff).

I’m proud to say I support PAX, and while nothing is perfect in life, they are one of the few organizations out there striving to make things better.  In contrast, I didn’t buy a GDC ticket this past year and refused to support them.  Likewise, I don’t think I’ll ever want to attend E3.

I don’t think it’s fair to demonize a large, entirely positive organization because one guy associated with their top-brass says stupid things sometimes.  I think, given all the positives and negatives, PAX is one of the few conventions (not the only!) that we should be supporting.

That’s easy for you to say, you cisgendered white privileged male,” I can hear some of you saying. Well, yeah, I’m white. I’ve been pretty privileged in life, I’ll grudgingly accept.  I can’t help that, and maybe I’m wrong to speak up on this issue at all, but I don’t know if I’d go with the cisgendered label.  Without going into too much detail:  You don’t know me!

And you know what? You probably don’t know all the people you’re chummy with in the gaming industry.  Making assumptions on who is what (especially in this age of fluidity in sexuality) is presumptuous at best.

I am particularly sensitive about the more personal aspects of my sexuality, and the implied slurs and insults that go against that in day-to-day life.  The fact that I can escape that and be with my similarly-minded friends at expos such as PAX makes me very happy.  I can trust that if my (or my friends’) comfort is violated at the venue, it’ll be taken care of.  The culture of fear and hatred that is openly spread at places like E3 is actively discouraged and villainized at places like PAX.

We need more places like this.

And if PAX is broken, I’m willing to do what I can to change it for the better, from the inside.

Jun 072013
 

I’m using Adobe AIR SDK to build Monster Loves You! to an .EXE file for our Steam builds, and have been for a while now. Recently I upgraded to v3.7 and started running into an error:

Signing options required to package from descriptor and fileset

Which is ridiculous, because my command-line call includes signing options.  Here’s the excerpt from my batch file (nicely autogenerated from FlashDevelop):

adt -package -target bundle %SIGNING_OPTIONS% “/output/” “application.xml” mly.swf

I figured that maybe something had changed, so I hit up the command line and looked at adt‘s help command.  It mentions, in part:

adt -package SIGNING_OPTIONS? -target bundle SIGNING_OPTIONS?

I noticed that Signing Options are optional in two locations in the comand line. This set alarm bells going off in my head, as I bumped into this problem in the past: ordering of the command line options is sometimes important for no good reason.

Something must have changed in 3.7, as this worked fine previously in 3.6. I made a quick edit, swapping the signing option position:

adt -package %SIGNING_OPTIONS% -target bundle “/output/” “application.xml” mly.swf icons -extdir ext

And now everything works fine again. I hope this helps someone else, too!

(and Adobe should be more on-the-ball with their command line tools!)

Jun 052013
 

It’s about time to start posting my Y-Axis for Monster Loves You!  But first, let’s put this into perspective with a bit of…

Game History

MLY! started as a gleam in my eye back in early 2012.  Ichiro @ Dejobaan Games and I chatted and prototyped for a few months (the original iPad-only prototype was called Alien Baby, hah!)  before we decided to run with it, and officially announced the title.  Dejobaan handled the art, marketing, and writing; my studio (Radial Games) handles all the code and tech-stuff. Design and grander-vision stuff was done by both our teams.

Since Dejobaan and I were both working on different projects at the time, initial development was slow; I estimate we worked full-time for only a few weeks before we showed our first prototype off at PAX Prime in August.  I think this experience was key for two reasons:

  • We took a well-polished 10-minutes-of-gameplay prototype to PAX and exposed it to the public. This gave us invaluable feedback, and a much-needed shot in the arm; at that point confidence about the project was running a little low.
  • We got some good press exposure and made some contacts in the media and industry (e.g.: Valve!) that could help us out later on.
  • This was my first booth;  I gained valuable experience on how to show things well on an expo floor.  My experience putting together a cheap booth spawned one of my more popular blog posts.

It wasn’t all roses though; the prototype we showed at PAX Prime was significantly different from the final released product.  Many press outlets that reported on our game had mentioned the Tamogatchi-esque elements in the early prototype that never made it to release, and we had to deal with the disappointment of some of our longest-term fans.

However, taking the good with the bad, I think it was a net-positive experience, and I don’t think I’d alter my course if I had to do it all over again.

In late November we got confirmation that we’d be on Steam, which I sneakily mentioned in one of my blog posts, but otherwise kept mum at the time. This was a huge deal for me – getting onto Steam is financially great, sure, but it’s moreso a career milestone for me.  Something to be proud of — achievement unlocked!

Tech Stuff

Speaking of Steam, SteamWorks integration gave me a few headaches, but I was ultimately able to overcome them.  MLY! is technically a fairly simple game; in terms of displayed-to-the-user stuff, the game is largely just a pile of tweened animations and not a whole lot else.  The real magic is all invisible behind-the-scenes stuff.

MLY! was so strongly narrative- and art-based that it required very quick turnaround on content assets. That meant cutting re-compiles out of the iteration loop, and it meant the development of a quick-and-simple narrative-engine language.  Dejobaan laid out a bunch of suggestions and requirements they’d need to make the language work for them, and I set out implementing a parser on the code side. The result is what we call “Boa,” and is a very powerful (yet simple, child-readable) scripting language.  I’m really proud of it!  I’ll probably write about it in a future blog post, if there’s any interest.

As a minor victory I claim for myself, Monster Loves You! is the first Haxe game published on Steam.  I used the NME library, and as a result of my tool and IDE choices, the dev environment for MLY! was completely free of charge.

Dejobaan handled all the art and narrative production, and I’m super proud of what they’ve done and how amazing it all turned out.  They are wizards!  But I can’t speak to that experience, so I’ll just point you at their blog for updates and thoughts on that end of development.

Launch

We internally estimated that our nice, non-violent, cute game that requires reading lots and lots of text would not do so well on Steam.  We had beers a few days before launch and guessed in the $30K – $60K range for the year of sales; maybe $100K gross revenue for the year if we were lucky and were promoted a bunch by Valve.  I mean, Steam is the place where indies go to get money, right? But our game really just didn’t seem like a good fit for the platform.  No headshots, no action, no explosions.  It was a big gamble for us.

MLY! launched a few days after that conversation, on March 18th, at a price point of $9.99 on Steam (PC only).  Here’s our launch video:

And here’s my reaction to our first sales figures, on Vine:

In other words, it completely blew away our expectations.

In the first day and a half of sales (launching at Noon on March 18th, running through to midnight on March 20th), we blew through our best expectations: $65,783.

mly1

MLY Launch Sales: $65,783

And in the first week we came just a few dollars shy of our best-case-scenario yearly-sales figures: $99,480.

That’s why I posted the Vine.  Myself, and the whole of the Dejobaan team, was completely jaw-agape at how staggeringly-well sales were going. This was unheard of for us!

Success continued even after launch week, grossing another $50,408 in the post-launch month:

mly2

MLY Sales March 26th to April 26th: $50,408

That’s a daily average of $1,575.  For a poor indie-dev like me, these numbers are kind of dumbfounding.  I remember sitting at the pub, staring into my beer – I would make enough money to pay for that beer in just 5 minutes of sitting there. Faster than I could* drink it.

Let’s zoom out and see the entire sales chart, from launch to current date:

mly3

MLY Launch sales to-date

This gives you an idea of just how important launch-week is: The huge sales spike dwarfs everything else. Notable mentions and fluctuations in the long tail of sales are hardly visible here, but if I trim off the launch we can see it a bit better:

mly4

MLY Sales Apr 26 to Today

Now those peaks look a whole lot steeper! Almost each of those peaks correspond with “let’s play” videos and video-reviews.  Though MLY got a whole lot of support on gaming blogs and press publications, almost all our traffic spikes came from Youtube. Super interesting stuff.  The big peak on the far right of the graph there is the start of the Steam Trading Card beta, which you can read about here.

Of course, some of you readers out there have successful studios with big expenses! Maybe these figures are kind of lackluster.  Let’s put this in perspective for me, as an indie-dev, though:

  • Current lifetime sales of MLY equates to more money than all of my games have made, combined, since 2008.
  • Cash expenses only included two PAX booths (a few thousand each) and another few thousand in travel for a few weeks of working-together-in-person.
  • Everyone working on the game was paid on rev-share (with a couple of weeks of exceptions), and we all worked from our own home-offices.  Expenses were super low.
  • We didn’t do any advertising or paid marketing campaigns.
  • Though it took a year to bring the game to market, we only spent a few months of full-time-work on the game (and were working on other projects at the same time).

So, as of this writing, the game has been out for just over two months, and has grossed a grand total of $177,019. I’ll do another post a little way down the road when I have more data to share.

Of course, I’m not bragging about my personal riches, here: Valve takes their big bite out of that figure, and the remainder gets split up amongst our two teams.  It still is a nice sum to keep me floating, though.

Steam Trading Cards

I already made a blog post on MLYs Steam Trading Cards, after they had been out for only 24 hours.  Not enough time has really passed yet to do a proper analysis, so I’ll save that for a later catch-up post on these figures.

The Future of Monster Loves You!

Of course, this is just the beginning for Monster Loves You!. There is potential for mobile ports, Mac, Linux, direct sales, and bundles.  It’s almost comical how few locations we are selling the game!

Then there’s Steam Sales and holiday packs and other promotions.

That’s not to mention additional content packs, holiday narrative bonuses, extra art assets, and new Steam Trading Card sets. All potential sources of new sales spikes.

And that’s not to mention the idea of sequels!

It really does feel like MLY! is just getting started.

The Future of Radial Games

After MLY! is squared away and sitting pretty (probably another year!), there is now a niche market for narrative-based games awaiting us on Steam.  The Boa engine is flexible and mature enough that spawning new titles and franchises out of this model will be relatively easy; if I had a team of writers and an artists, I could probably support several games per year like this!

Not that I’m sure the market would bear it!  I’m just excited about the opportunities that MLY! has opened up for Radial Games. Finally, there is a viable market for the types of games I want to make.

And I want to start making games for change.  Serious games.  Educational games.  Give back to the community a bit.

I’m very excited about the future.

Except doing my taxes, ugh, that is going to be really painful!

Other Posts

All of my major game projects get a “by the numbers” post, and each becomes some of the most popular posts on my blog.  If you found this interesting, consider checking them out:

*: Comfortably.

Jun 052013
 

I’m going to be doing a “Monster Loves You: By The Numbers” post shortly, but today I wanted to just focus on one thing: Valve’s new Trading Cards initiative on Steam. It’s currently in open beta but will be “launching” soon.

MLY Trading Card

MLY Trading Card as seen in Staem

If you aren’t in-the-know, here’s the short version:

  • Each participating game has some number of trading cards available (MLY has 5)
  • Each owner of the game can earn up to half of those trading cards, randomly (in MLY you can get 3)
  • There’s a random chance that one of the cards you get is a “foil” card (more rare, more valuable)
  • Earning cards is just by time commitment (20-30 minutes per card)*

Why would you do this?

  • Finishing sets of cards grants you forum emoticons, community badges, and user profile backdrops (currently the only way to get custom backdrops and emoticons in the Steam Community).
  • Feeding that “collector’s urge”
  • You can sell the cards in the Steam Marketplace, or trade them for games (foil cards in particular are more valuable)

What follows from this is really interesting. No individual can obtain all the trading cards of a game on their own, which means they must trade to complete a set.  Just about anyone invested in this system (collectors, those that want emoticons, those that want to resell cards, whatever) is thereby motivated to encourage others to play those games.  Steam even goes so far as to tell you which of your friends has the cards you need:

Capture3

People talking about your game isn’t just theory; I’ve seen an uptick in people mentioning the game in social media, on forums, and in Reddit posts. Interesting stuff.

From an implementation point of view, trading cards are relatively simple to setup. Jonathan Elliott, our artist, spent the weekend to do up some art, and we slapped in some hand-crafted text, and that was about it. There are no in-game hooks to produce (as unlocks are handled automatically by play-time) so really it was a no-brainer for us, and easy to do. Cost of implementation is next-to-nothing. We didn’t even have to recompile the game.

Because we jumped on this very early, MLY! was one of the first four non-valve games to implement trading cards, and Valve kindly plastered MLY! all over their announcements.  The posts went up around noon (PST) on June 4th (yesterday!), and here’s our sales graph for that time period:

Capture

 

You can see a definitive spike in sales right at the announcement, and sustained twenty-fold [edit] 4-6-fold(?) increase in sales in the following 24 hour period. Pretty nice! [Apologies for the lack of Y-axis. I want to save that for the By The Numbers post!]

The time sunk to implement the trading cards paid for itself in just a handful of hours, and presumably this will equate to a longer, fatter tail for the game as people encourage their friends to play to obtain cards.

I think the trading card system is really interesting, fun, and brings a lot of value to Steam – from being able to “show off” your personal profile to just plain collecting. I’m an optimist, and I think collecting systems are fun – I like collecting things in TF2 and Pokémon, why not a meta-collection that gives me rewards outside of the game? I’m really happy with the potential here. Pessimistically, I can say that trading cards simply increase profits and that’s a good enough reason there, but I hate the pessimistic me: *slaps self with large trout*

The only thing I’d like to see is tying certain bonus cards to in-game events – like achievements or special case scenarios. You know, for those ultra-rare bragging rights. :3

PS: As the developer I get no special treatment. WTB MLY FOILS, WILL TRADE FULL GAMES FOR INDIVIDUAL CARDS, PLEASE SEND PM

*: In paid-up-front games.  Because there is potential for abuse in F2P games, the gateway is instead controlled by microtransactions, clocking at approximately $6-9 per card. To be clear, that’s $6-9 spent in-game on anything will result in a card unlock. I don’t have any MTX games up on Steam so I’m not entirely clear on the finer details there.

Jun 042013
 

I’ve been complaining about Unity3D a lot lately, on Twitter and here on my blog. It’s all been for good reason!

I’m working on a new extreme-sports game that requires 3D to make it compelling — a first, for me. Think Tony Hawk, except this one is based on my dreams instead of boring old ollies and 180° toe-side cumulonimbus tricks.

I won’t get into too much detail, but after producing my very first Unity3D game I think I’m ready to launch into development.  So far I have a 3D studio-name title screen drawn up (everything takes FOREVER in three-dees!), and I’m partnering up with Kimberly Voll who is not only an actual real-life Doctor, but who also knows what the heck she is doing in Unity and actually has some real basic gameplay already working.

Here’s my contribution so far. More updates to come!

hUtDF[1]

Jun 042013
 

Back in the late 90s, Colin Northway showed me a toy he was working on in Java.  It was titled “Evolutionary Perversions” (EvoPerv) and was my first introduction to the concept of neural networks (beyond just what was in Commander Data’s head).

A Neural Network

A Simple Neural Network

The greyboxed EvoPerv would show a screen filled with little bugs, each with two antennae. There was food sources scattered about the world. The bugs would randomly jitter around, as their antennae were connected to their feet via a randomized neural network.  The simulation would run for a selected period of time, and assign a score to each bug based on how much time they spent near food.

Then it would take the best candidates, “breed them” (copying their brains via merging and mutation), and then start the simulation over again with their “children.”

Repeat thousands of times, and you’ll find complicated neural networks forming – signals going from the antennae would flow through their little bug-brains (Colin’s brain visualization output was amazing!), guiding them to food. Soon you’ll see entire populations of bugs run to the nearest food supply and halt there, chomping away, maxing out their scores. Watching this unfold was astounding to me, and it’s been something that both Colin and I have been trying to turn into a proper game ever since.

On a recent road-trip through the hills of central California, I had long conversations about how the brain works, and how that might be implemented in a digital environment, in a fun way.

When I got back home, I began prototyping, and came up with a pretty slick little system. The game is largely similar to EvoPerv’s 15-year-old roots; an arena filled with robots, evolving and competing. I’ve souped up the brain at a fundamental level (signals propagate in parallel) and added thresholds, delays in transmission (long wires), and added flavours (chemical vs. electrical). The gameplay itself involves the player building a maze to subvert the robot consciousness. I call it SkyNav as a play on “SkyNet” and “Navigation”, as you are trying to prevent SkyNet from taking over the world while still piggybacking on the AI to achieve your own transportation needs.

I think it has promise, but it’s really hard to tame such a complicated system and it’ll likely be next year until I have something to show off.  EvoPerv never went anywhere, nor did my EvoPerv2 re-write. No game in the last 15 years has been released with the evolutionary/system-based mechanic. It’s a really difficult thing to make “fun,” but I think I’m finally ready to take a serious shot at it.

In the meantime, the brain classes (neurons and group containers, signal management, synapses, etc.) are surprisingly simple to code, and I’m thinking about open-sourcing it and making a short series of blog posts on how it works and what I’ve done.  I personally think my “run-synapses-in-parallel-without-mult-ithreading” solution is super interesting.

I’m also thinking about rewriting it in Unity3D (currently in 2D Haxe) and seeing how it performs as a larger simulation there.

But for now, I’ve got to get my evolution code up-to-snuff. Brains are mutating in a bad way!

Jun 032013
 

I think one of the best websites in the world is You Are Not So Smart (YANSS).  They have an excellent series of long-form blog posts (and recently: a podcast) that delve into the intricacies of self-delusion and how the human brain works.

I like to study how the brain works, and I am proud to say that many of my games have been designed with concepts from YANSS embedded in them.  However, the biggest thing I take away from the content over there is what I think I’d call “self-help.” I’ve become happier and more productive, partially in thanks to that wonderful website. I’m sure there’s something you could take away from it too, so check it out.

The most recent post on YANSS is one on Survivorship Bias.  It is an excellent read, but within it there is an awesome section on Luck. I have a very negative reaction to the word Luck.

Any time the Northways talk about their success, they lump it all into the Luck Bucket and downplay their own contributions to their success.  I once drunkenly told Colin that he has talent in game design and he refused the compliment!  Being friends with the Northways means I hear this a lot from them, so it’s easy for me to point them out, but I do see this behaviour in many many other people as well. As soon as someone gets a success: Oh! Luck! Finally!

I think it bugs me because it downplays the hard work and contributions you make to make something successful. Sure, there’s always an element of Luck in everything in life – I don’t discount that. But more important than Luck is having a quality product.  Attributing all your success to Luck is therefore a matter of course and not required to be mentioned; when someone asks what you did right maybe you should tell them about how you did your marketing or great level design instead?

I even went so far as to say “THERE IS NO LUCK!” on a slide during my SteamBirds Post-Mortem presentation.  I’ve been able to quantify my failure reasons, address them, and come up with successes out of that!

But this YANSS article started changing my mind on all of this. It all started with one little quote:

Take off those superstitious goggles for a moment

“Hum,” I thought to myself. “I do see Luck as a sort of superstitious thing…”

It made me step back and consider how I was framing the concept of Luck in the first place. How I usually type “Luck” as a capitalized word, as if it’s a fancy thing, a supernatural (bunk!!) force.

Consider this: the latest psychological research indicates that luck is a long mislabeled phenomenon. It isn’t a force, or grace from the gods, or an enchantment from fairy folk, but the measurable output of a group of predictable behaviors.

Well then. Huh. Interesting.

Randomness, chance, and the noisy chaos of reality may be mostly impossible to predict or tame, but luck is something else. According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, luck – bad or good – is just what you call the results of a human beings consciously interacting with chance, and some people are better at interacting with chance than others. [emphasis mine]

Yes! YES!!

The article goes on to hammer this point home, complete with examples and demonstrations with in-person studies, and is quite a fantastic read. So go read it.

Now my mindset is not that “Luck” is something that happens to you; instead, it is a lower-case-l “luck” that happens to everyone. Some people are better prepared to receive said luck, and often those preparations are seen as talent.

I’ve talked about the 1-in-10 rule in the past – the idea that you have to create 10 games for 1 of them to be a success. This is a reflection of this new thinking about the word “luck.”  If success is going to strike, it’s much more likely to luckily strike on someone that has published a game before. More likely still if they have failed several times previously. More likely still if that someone also has put in an effort to do marketing, networking, and many other factors that could be considered simple “experience.” Add in a dash of things out of your control, and you have the odds of your game being successful.

I started thinking to myself, “Well wait, I’ve only put out three or four games. Why am I so successful/lucky?”  But then it dawned on me: my brain has been actively editing failures out of existence in my head. I actually sat down this morning and listed out all of my games, and posted them here to my blog.  My list has 47 titles (with another dozen not worth mentioning).  Of those I consider 5 a success.  Seems like I’m about on-par with the 1-in-10 rule after all.

I used to say “Make your own luck.”

Now I say “when luck strikes, make sure you’re in a position to grab a hold of it, and have the experience to not let go.”  More wordy, but closer to the truth, I think.