Overwatch-mania continues. The game is starting to take the OHC crowd by storm, so I finally have friends to play with–going too long without that achievement for playing ONE game as part of any group was just getting sad.
Overwatch’s competitive play has been live for a few days now, and most players are familiar with the ups and downs of getting ranked and battling your way to the top. Matches are longer, the endgame rules have changed, and you can occasionally expect to be punished for the poor performance of the strangers on your team if you don’t play in a group. Perhaps the most frustrating difference, though, is the one that can shut down a match before it ever truly begins.
I took to Medium today to share some thoughts on the disappointing nature of the modern internet.
Just a quick note that my segment for Hacker Public Radio went out today!
This week I moved one of my most popular game projects to itch.io! itch has great support for browser games which makes it a perfect new home for Dino Dash: Rex’s Run.
itch.io has launched Refinery, a toolset it promises will allow indie studios to conduct early game releases with the flexibility to set their own terms.
If this sounds like a shot at Steam Early Access, that probably isn’t a coincidence.
“Early access ‘programs’ have long been an issue for developers looking to get feedback and build communities around their in-development games,” itch said in press correspondence. “They have overly competitive environments, sometimes hostile and unwelcoming communities and non-existent sales model flexibility. For games releasing in these ‘programs’ just to get playtesting and grow, it’s a disaster.”
The solution, itch leadership believes, is to give studios the freedom to customize the distribution model of a game’s limited release.
“Whether that comes in the form of an open paid alpha with limited keys or a closed beta playtest with select testers, the toolset allows a developer to customize their program,” said a representative via email. “The toolset allows for limited key quantities, tiered purchases, digital rewards, private playtesting, and community forums embedded right on their customized game pages.”
In addition, itch announced five upcoming indie games that will utilize the Refinery toolset for limited release purposes, including Overland, Manifold Garden, Jenny LeClue, hackmud, and GoNNER. There appears to be no word yet on the nature of those releases, but each should give players and developers a unique look at the capabilities of the Refinery system.
itch.io week began Monday the 9th and wraps up today. The event revealed other features such as support for studios to hold sales, create product bundles, and utilize The Widget, which will allow developers to easily embed itch promotion and purchase information about their games on other sites.
itch also made recent headlines when the official itch.io desktop app appeared on Steam Greenlight on April Fools Day. The listing was not a joke, but a fully functional client, which Steam subsequently blocked.
The blog has been quiet but we’ve been as loud and ridiculous as ever.
Starting this week there’s a new game stream show in town! We’ll play something different each week and talk about gaming news, geek stuff, and anything else that comes up.
Friends will drop in and out but we’re getting started with Matt (OHCMrDay), Jimmy (Jamage95), and me (Mechatodzilla). Just follow us on Twitch and YouTube to keep up with what we’re doing.
Check out the first episode, Halo 5, right here!
After discovering game development in college, Philip Devine wanted to give other content creators a head start on the unique career opportunities available in gaming. He set out to create a club for programmers, musicians, and artists, that grew to about 25 members in its first year. He credits this experience with building the confidence he needed to start his own major development project.
Now a Chicago-based IT professional, Devine is leading his team at Riveted Games through the last stages of development on Falling Stars: War of Empires, a 4X PC strategy game already greenlit on Steam that he expects to release within the next few months.
For those unfamiliar, 4X is a genre of complex strategy games in which players control an empire by eXploring, eXpanding, eXploiting, and eXterminating.
Falling Stars: War of Empires is likely to please a diverse crowd. 4X strategy players beg for games with substance from anyone who will listen. Space games and board game-like experiences requiring diplomacy and intellect rarely have trouble finding an audience. The game also follows on the heels of a movement in the gaming community that recognizes and celebrates a game smart enough to offer new and different experiences to long-term players.
“That feeling when you lay out a really intricate plan and try to carry it out against your friends is something that is totally missing in video games right now,” Devine says. “It just doesn’t exist in a format that is conducive to multiplayer. My goal was to make a challenging multiplayer game that rests on the same intellectual and diplomatic skills as modern board games, and what we have now is way better than I’d ever imagined it would be.”
Based on the concepts Devine demonstrated to me in the most recent build, Falling Stars will give many of these players what they’re looking for.
Development for Falling Stars began in earnest in October of 2012, when Devine started devoting his travel time on Chicago’s public transportation system to working on his game. He says that he developed 90% of the game on his work commute. Though the workspace wasn’t ideal, he says there was an unexpected benefit from working in this setting.
“Kind of a cramped development environment,” Devine says. ” But it got lots of ‘organic marketing’ that way by talking to people who have never seen a game being actively developed.”
This grit has served him well in the years that followed. Falling Stars was almost completely redeveloped on two occasions, his first child was born (now two years old, with a second on the way), and he now manages one full-time developer, two artists, one composer, and conducts business with his new publisher, Lock ‘n Load Publishing. Thanks to the help of industry friends like The Foundry’s Simon Pickles and Hungarian developer Daniel Karsai, Riveted Games now boasts all the benefits of a AAA development workflow without the time constraints that hurt products.
Devine’s refusal to rush Falling Stars and his unending communication with players has led to a positive relationship with the community. The game has been in private beta since December and he says testers have helped make big positive changes and contributions to the game. Devine has also reached players during several promotional campaigns.
“Steam Greenlight went great, given my game and company were relatively unknown, and working in a niche genre,” Devine says. “We laid out a strategy ahead of time and timed a bunch of campaigns all at once. I had a fairly active twitter account that I built up a few hundred followers on, I had a Facebook page with about 100 people, and I posted about the game everywhere people were talking about games in my genre. The ‘kicker’ was I also launched a Kickstarter campaign the same day and put my link at the top. That’s what helped give that huge spike in the beginning. After that, I focused a lot more attention on development and the game was greenlit on its own after about 3 months.”
To other indies working on their first big projects, Devine suggests putting one’s focus on the true finish line. He says the core mechanics and a playable game are far from all you need to plan for.
“You spend all of this time developing the game you want, so why settle just to release it when things get hard?” Devine asks. “I’m a runner, so I think of it like running the first 20 miles of a marathon, and then quitting right when it gets hard. Don’t quit when it gets hard, and the end result will be worth it…Finishing the game is the first 20 miles, and thorough testing cycles are the last 6. Make as many fixes/optimizations/user experience enhancements as you can, break down core mechanics if you have to…you’ll know you’re done when you’re happy with the feedback. It doesn’t have to be perfect, no game is, but you’ll know when the game feels right.”
Mission Massive Migration is a 2D retro action game created by Iber Parodi Siri under his Rombosaur Studios label. It was released to a quietly positive reception on the Google Play store in early January. Though the game is still listed in the 500 – 1,000 Installs range, an average review score of 4.45/5 across a current total of 36 reviews marks a well-received first effort for Rombosaur. Between the game’s retro charm (think of Solar Jetman from the NES days) and Iber’s personal background, I was curious to learn more about the project and find out what’s next for his studio.
Iber lives in the Tolkienesque Bariloche, Argentina where he tests and develops software professionally. His free time is a whirlwind of electronics projects, music and video production, art, blogging, and code. He says the journey began early in life and his passions have naturally led from one to the next.
“I’m a guitar player. I built two electric guitars when I was 15 years old,” Iber says. “I also build my guitar pedals. I’m into hardcore punk, metal, thrash, alt rock, indie rock, and synth stuff…I had multiple bands in the past. My latest was called DAR (“Desafiando a la Realidad” or “Defying Reality”) but I quit because of a lack of time. I wanted to program more and focus a little bit more on college. Programming is a passion for me, as well as music. I guess I like to create things.”
In this area, Iber is greatly accomplished. In casual conversation he was able to point me to a YouTube channel, a blog, and a Bandcamp profile all full of his creative and technical projects. He participates in a variety of online communities and offers up many of these creations simply for the enjoyment of others.
Iber views game development differently. Though he made Mission Massive Migration available for free, he views creating games as a way to earn income and dictate the next direction for his professional career. To get started, he drew inspiration from a small team famous for shaping their destiny through game dev.
“At the time I started creating [Mission Massive Migration] I was playing Doom: BFG Edition, that comes with Doom, Doom 2, Doom 3, and expansions for all the games,” Iber says. “Doom 3 blew my mind away. I had never played it before…I put like 88 hours into this game. I became a little bit obsessed about it, watching YouTube videos about the creators, reading interviews, and finally reading a book called Masters of Doom. That was the final motivation I needed to make it happen.”
With that motivation, Iber described the 10-month development of Mission Massive Migration as straightforward. He had a specific vision for an Android game with a virtual game pad, and a 2D character to make jump and shoot. He got started with placeholder assets from the internet, while learning conventional game design and development strategies.
Iber says the discovery of some public domain graphical assets created by Adam Atomic gave him an opportunity to focus on development while creating a small amount of retro art to supplement the freely available graphics he had found.
“[Adam Atomic’s] assets contained laser doors, batteries, and powered cells,” says Iber. “Basically I built a game around the art assets I found. I drew the final boss and the first scene on Earth. I’d say that sometimes, if the planets are aligned right, I can make decent retro art.”
This strategic decision allowed Iber to complete his first game in 10 months. He published the game officially on January 7th, showing his work proudly to some of his online communities including Reddit and Twitter.
Iber’s sense of accomplishment gave way to feelings of disappointment.
“To be honest, the game didn’t reach the amount of people I would have liked,” Iber admits. “It got almost 400 downloads in the first 2 days due to a post on reddit/r/gamedev, but then it just dropped to two downloads per day on average.”
Not to be deterred, Iber has remained incredibly gracious with critics and maintains a positive outlook about the road ahead.
“This is definitely the beginning of my career in game development,” Iber says. “I went all in on this game. Of course it has flaws, but I’m really happy with it. I’m already learning new technologies to make better games.”
Iber says he’d like to tackle darker material in the future like his heroes of Doom fame. He acknowledges his flaws in art creation and has an interest in teaming up with a dedicated artist for his next project.
As for fellow aspiring game developers, Iber has both technical and philosophical advice to offer. For programmers interested in creating games, he recommends Java with the Flixel-GDX engine for its clear code and helpful documentation as a free introduction to object-oriented, multi-platform development. For aspiring developers with little or no coding experience, he recommends learning Love2D, a LUA programming language engine that’s simple to learn and allows newcomers to achieve small objectives quickly, which helps with the learning curve.
“That was technical,” Iber says. “But the most important advice I can give is, your first game should be a game that you like to play, a game that you are proud of making, a game that you’re motivated to finish. If you don’t finish a game, you’re not a game dev! You learn a lot by finishing a game. There are a lot of details that need to be taken care of. There’s the publishing part, and the criticism part too that you need to learn how to extract the valuable information from.”
Iber’s social media accounts make it clear that he isn’t resting after his work on Mission Massive Migration. He remains active in the game dev community, still encouraging others to keep pushing and discussing new work of his own. His work ethic and his unfailing optimism make him a great bet in the indie scene’s near future.
“It’s just a dream I have that I will try my best to make it come true,” Iber says. “We’ll see what happens on the way.”
The Crew is an open-world arcade racer that met mixed reception from critics and players alike after its late 2014 release. Though the concept of a fully open world United States map and the fast-paced overall busyness of the game was appealing to many players, the controls and physics are frustrating to some and others have complained that the online play is lacking. Where The Crew demands respect, however, is its lovingly crafted major cities.
The game’s story opens in Detroit, where you’ll likely spend a couple of hours getting acclimated and improving your first car while building enough of a reputation to head out into the rest of the world. St. Louis is the very next destination. As a lifelong native of the greater St. Louis area and an actual downtown resident at one time, this was a pleasant surprise. Though the Gateway Arch was thrown into a few games over the years (many also racers), I can’t think of one other game environment even close to this effort to recreate the region. I felt this deserved some attention.
While I recognize this is largely a trick of recreating just the right number of local landmarks–Busch Stadium, the old courthouse, and the Met, among others–the feeling of approaching and exploring St. Louis was actually captured pretty well. The city’s skyline came into view while I approached from the Illinois side, the river can be crossed via the MLK bridge or a highway bearing some resemblance (especially in location) to I-64 West. Once downtown, I immediately found myself using the Arch to navigate when turned around, much the way I do when I’m really lost and wandering downtown.
There were a few things I would have loved to see while they were at it. Kiener Plaza would have been an easy addition and it would have been fun to show it to my wife. We reserved Kiener Plaza for our wedding and it was literally rained out by a hurricane. You read that right. I also didn’t see any sign of Union Station, though there was more than enough railway activity right where it should have been.
I spent some time last night recreating some of these iconic views of the city in-game using the fairly advanced camera mode. The similarities range from humorous to stunning. Please enjoy.