Archive for August, 2006

Ready for prime-time

Monday, August 14th, 2006

(Originally posted on August 10, 2006)

I just finished my updates a few days ago.  I finally added a tutorial that goes over all the basic functionality of the game.  It leads the player from building the base to defeating an enemy camp.  I tried to keep the tutorial simple while going over the most important features.  The tutorial should get players into the campaign much more quickly.  The help window provides information on the remaining game features.

I also added a feature that is present in most modern RTS games.  If you double-click on a troop, all of the same type is selected within a 15 block radius.  This is a nice feature as it allows players to quickly move units into the most effective positions.  For instance, players could quickly select all wizards in the area and move them out of range of bunkers.

In addition, I streamlined the interface for leader abilities.  Previously, it was cumbersome to move the leader into range if too far away from the destination of the ability.  You would have to cancel the action, select the leader, move closer, and then select the ability again.  The interface now automatically selects the leader when an ability is used.  If the leader is too far away, the player just needs to right-click closer and try again.  I feel this change really helps a lot as leader actions are performed quite often.

I made numerous other interface tweaks to polish-up the game.  For example, text now scrolls much more smoothly.  I used to scroll on a 1 pixel per text item basis.  This made text fly-by way too fast.  I modified my code to allow scrolling every 6 pixels, which makes it much easier to navigate.  I also improved the look of the drop-down text box by adding a border to it.  The map cursor is more consistent too.

Finally, I fixed several bugs that I found while thoroughly testing the game.  I played a network game the other night and everything ran very smoothly.  I am confident that all the major bugs have been found.  I will create patches for any remaining bugs that are discovered.  I don’t anticipate more feature updates unless there is a big demand for it.  I may consider adding a network lobby in the future, possibly integrating it with future games.  I would really like to get an active community started.  I’m also considering an upgraded hosting plan to allow for better forums.  It really depends on how many games I sell.

With that in mind, I am going to be pushing the publicity now that I feel my game is ready for prime-time.  I will have a press release sent out for the game.  I am adding the demo to game sites.  I also want to seek game reviews.  I will submit my game to the IGF competition too.

I feel really good about Pursuit of Power.  It is a lot of fun.  I hope others enjoy it too :)

Updated game

Monday, August 14th, 2006

(Originally posted on July 22, 2006)

I released the first update a few days ago.  I improved a few areas of the game that should make the experience more enjoyable.  The player setup is more straight-forward now that I added text drop-down boxes.  You no longer have to toggle the computer player or perform an awkward swap.  Just click on the player and select from the available options.  Getting a big game started is now much easier.

I also finally replaced my effects with ones created by Drew.  I ran out of time during development and made my own.  The new effects are much more crisp.  I might add a few new ones to further improve the visual effects.

I made the normal, hard, and very hard computer players a bit easier in this update.  I’m still not sure if the 4th campaign board is too hard.  I wanted to let players see how the game ramps up in difficulty.  I’m not sure if the change from 3rd to 4th board is a bit too steep.  I would like to get some feedback on the difficulty.

In addition, I’m not sure if I am conveying the progression very well.  I designed the campaign boards to change tactics every 1-2 boards instead of relying on upgrades to supply the gameplay.  I’m hoping that players appreciate the fact that I am more interested in giving real gameplay than just using the typical upgrade approach.  When you play my game, you will be presented with different objectives and obstacles.  For instance, the 5th board starts out with squads of assassins approaching.  You must setup your base and troops in anticipation of this assault.  The next board reverses this idea.  I give the player a bunch of assassins and have the computer player send in several groups of troops that must travel through a forest.  The enemy is more powerful than your troops, but the forest gives your assassins the ability to setup an ambush, which is the key to winning the board.  I then switch up tactics for the next board and continue doing so until the final 17th board.

I made a few other tweaks, but the most notable remaining addition was the direct link to purchasing the full version from the demo.  I want to make it easy for potential customers to buy my game.  I don’t nag players like most demos.  I provide the information in the help dialog.  I display some messages when the last campaign board is beaten, but even that is skippable.  The buy button is out of the way too.  Hopefully, people will appreciate the way that I don’t pressure anyone to buy my game.

I am now working on the final major update.  I want to finish my interface improvements, both mechanically and visually.  I would like to add automatic IP address detection for LAN games so you don’t need to supply the IP address.  I also want to add some more skirmish boards.  I may make some gameplay changes as well.  It will depend on how much feedback I receive from people.  I am hoping that I get some more detailed feedback this time.  While it is possible that I could update the game again at a later date, I would really like to wrap up this game.  I have spent a long time working on it.

Once I get the next update completed, I will immediately begin working on my next game.  I started hashing out the ideas last night.  I expect to have the game design finalized around the end of August.  My next game will be a turn-based strategy game with many unique ideas.  I am pretty excited about it.  I will give some more details in a future post.

Getting the word out

Monday, August 14th, 2006

(Originally posted on June 29, 2006)

I decided to start off slow with promoting my game.  In my opinion, it is a good idea to ramp up slowly in case any problems arise.  This is especially important for me since it is my first game.  There are a lot of unknowns.

It turns out this was a good decision.  After a lot of thought, I decided to get an update out that improves the visual appearance of the terrain.  I also fixed a minor editor bug that I found while testing out the terrain changes.  I was able to create this new release and send it out without needing a patch.  I think the improvement will entice many more people into trying the game.  I removed the blockiness by applying a detail texture.  I experimented with probably over 20 different detail textures in Photoshop.  I finally settled on one that provides enough detail without drowning out the actual terrain textures.  I think it is a vast improvement.  Luckily, most people will see this version instead of the older one.  The screenshot often means the difference between a glanced-over game and one that is downloaded.

I think my next move will be to really push for feedback on the game.  I will start with a group of friends that I have known through online gaming for over 4 years.  In addition, I will go back to IndieGamer.com for some more feedback.  Hopefully, I can get more people to try it out now that the appearance has improved.

I might make some tweaks to the difficulty level too.  Currently, the normal computer level has a slight advantage over the human player.  I provide a bit more power generation to offset some disadvantages.  However, the computer player puts up a good fight and may be too hard for the average player.  I can simply change a few defines in the code and scale down the difficulty a bit.  Right now very hard is pretty much not used, because it is just way too mean.  By scaling down the attributes, I can make it more feasible.  It’s just so hard to figure out the proper balance when I know what to expect.  This is another area where I need some feedback.

Speaking of that, off to make some posts …

First game released!

Monday, August 14th, 2006

(Originally posted on June 23, 2006)

I released my first game for sale on June 21st, 2006.  I am very proud of my game.  I think it offers a lot of content and it will only get better.  I have 2 planned major updates that will be available as free patches.

I have been working on improving my web site these past few days.  It is a slow process.  I wish I knew more about web site design.  I think it looks presentable, but I am stuck with certain restrictions due to my lack of knowledge.

On Monday, I am going to begin work on the first update.  It would be nice if I could just sit back and relax, but that won’t sell any games.  I want to improve a few areas of the game that I feel will add a lot more value.  In particular, I want to improve the interface and appearance of the terrain.  I think these will be 2 issues that prevent sales.

I also want to submit my game to the Independent Games Festival this year.  The deadline is September 8th, 2006.  This works out well as that is right around the time when I plan to have my first update ready.  I think the update will be vital to ensure I have a good chance at becoming a finalist in one of the categories.

I was debating on when to put my demo up on other sites and finally decided to just do it now.  I submitted my game to download.com today.  I want to start gaining exposure and that outlet should help a lot.  I have the updates listed so hopefully potential customers will come back if my game is not yet up to their requirements.

I can already see that the selling-process will be an arduous task.  I will need to continue working hard on the game while also making progress on the marketing side.  Well, no one said this would be easy :)

Almost done … finally!

Monday, August 14th, 2006

(Originally posted on June 17, 2006)

It has been an insane 2 weeks.  I have worked very hard to get my game ready for release.  A few nights I put in 30+ hours non-stop — ouch!

I have gotten a lot of useful feedback and tried to address as many issues as possible.  I am happy with the current state of the game.  It looks much nicer and is also more polished.  I tried to look at my game with fresh eyes and improve everything within reason.  For example, I noticed that the ‘ok’ button on my game stats dialog could potentially be covered up by the help dialog if it was left opened an entire game.  It would be very unusual, but still could happen.  I moved it to the same place as my menu button, where it swaps with it when the game stats are displayed.  I even disable the button now for 2 seconds to make sure it isn’t accidentally clicked as the game ends.  I made a lot of similar improvements in other parts of the game too.

Even though I hate missing my deadlines, I think the final result will be significantly better with these changes.  Besides, it doesn’t make sense to spend so much time working on a game to just release it unfinished.  I don’t want to need an update immediately after the initial release.  I have 2 planned major updates and ideally won’t have to create any additional ones.

At this point, I need to finish 1 skirmish board, 1 campaign board and add 1 more piece of scenery to the game.  I also want to run through all the campaign boards and perform last minute tweaks.  It should have a feeling of progressing difficulty as well as variation within tactics.  Oh, it would also be nice to make sure all boards are reasonably beatable too :)
Once I get these final changes completed, I will lock the code and create the release.  I will spend 1 day testing it.  I don’t expect to have any problems, but you never know.  I’m mostly doing it just so I can sleep at night :)  I will upload the final version of the demo and release on the following day.  Finally, I will update the web page with links and new screenshots.  Once I confirm that everything looks good, I will put my demo onto some download sites.

Afterwards, I’m not sure what to really expect.  I am purposely holding back on publicity until the first major update.  I want to improve the appearance of the terrain and interface before I approach any game magazines and review sites.  I am going for a sustained sales approach.  I start out with just some demo sites.  I then update the game and try to get it reviewed.  I make another update before the Christmas season and possibly try to advertise by some means.

I lack marketing experience, so it will be interesting to see how this all works.  I will continuously alter my plan as I learn.  Hopefully, I can achieve my sales goal for the year.

First public release

Monday, August 14th, 2006

(Originally posted on June 04, 2006)

I guess I should start putting descriptive titles up, even though I prefer to be lazy.  As it states, I have made my first public release.  I am looking to get feedback on the test version of my demo.  It is missing some scenery art, but the rest of it is complete.  Hopefully, I won’t have any unexpected issues come up.  I should probably expect it, though.

I only made a few code changes during the past week.  I decided to go with the consensus and force my game to use only 1 processor.  I haven’t seen any timing problems with my dual core machine, but it is probably a good idea to play it safe.  I didn’t notice any performance decrease.

I also decided to handle my victory condition more intelligently.  The game could be left “dangling:” in some situations, where one team had a clear victory.  For instance, if one team has a portal and the other only has some towers, it is really over.  The team with the portal can keep producing troops indefinitely so there isn’t any need to prolong the game.  I handle a draw condition as well.  If both teams only have buildings left (no portals) then it ends in a draw.  There are a few subtle variations, but that is the basic idea.  My main worry was that someone would be playing and wipe out everything except some hidden bunkers.  I don’t want to frustrate the player by requiring the destruction of the bunkers.  The game is over so just end it.

I finished up some loose-ends like the manual and help window.  I think I covered the most important game topics.  I can always revise and add new help in an update.  The web site needed some work too.  I added a bunch of new screenshots a few hours ago.  The game has the new troop animations so I decided to put them on display immediately.  They look better in game, but the screenshots give a reasonable idea.  I am very happy with the animations.  It is cool to see them finally attack.  It definitely livens up the battles.

I suppose I should go make my demo post on the IndieGamer forums before I fall asleep.  Hopefully, I didn’t mess anything up from lack of sleep :)

May 24th, 2006

Monday, August 14th, 2006

I have been lazy with the updates lately, so I’m going to give one now ;)  I am mostly working on the content at this point.  I have 11 of 17 campaign boards completed.  In case you didn’t notice, I decided to reduce the max campaign boards from 21 to 17 for this release.  I want to have some time for adding additional skirmish boards.  I will most likely add some more campaign boards with each major update.

I am happy with the campaign boards that I have created.  They are pretty challenging and I enjoy playing them.  I really have no idea how hard they will be to the average player.  I let people choose some easier difficulty levels if they have trouble with a board.  Hopefully, that will ensure I don’t have any frustrated customers.  I would rather err on too difficult since it is much easier to decrease the challenge than it is to increase it.

The other content is also coming along well.  The music tracks are done.  The license for the demo and retail versions are done.  The demo is ready too.  The artwork is still in progress.  I have seen some more of it and I am very excited to add the final art into the game.

The coding should be done for the release.  I fixed a few more issues that I discovered while working on the content. Most were fairly minor ones.  I did, however, find one major bug that surprised me.  The scenery/terrain compression code I created over a year ago had a bug that occurred in a rare case.  Luckily, I came across this bug when working on one of the recent campaign boards.  It failed to load and I was able to track it down to a piece of code that I have always been a bit suspicious of … I think I was just too busy at the time of creation to thoroughly test it.  Even though I thought I tried enough cases, I simply missed this one.

Regardless, it is fixed and I just hope there aren’t any other major bugs in the code.  Of course, I know that my game will have bugs in the initial version no matter how much I test it.  Complex code will always have bugs in it.  I have a bit more testing left to accomplish and then I will just have to make my peace with it and release the game.  I am confident that my game will live up to expectations.

The next update will occur before the demo release.  I was hoping I could release the demo this Saturday (5/27), but I’m not sure if the artwork will be done in time.  Worst case, it will be ready by next Friday (6/2).  The retail version will be on sale 1 week from the demo release.  I am very excited :)

May 13th, 2006

Monday, August 14th, 2006

It turned out that I had a bit more work left than anticipated.  I found a bunch of minor bugs and tweaks, which I addressed this past week.  I think I finally got all of the issues ironed-out so that the game engine is stable.  I don’t expect to make too many code changes at this point.  I still need to create the demo version and modify the way I store the graphics.  However, those changes should not affect the game engine.

I really need to get some solid testing done now.  I will try to play a network game with maximum clients to stress it a bit.  We have been playing a lot of network games lately, so I don’t anticipate any problems.  The average bit rate for a game will vary.  There are a few factors that increase the bandwidth requirement.  The most important two are number of players in the game and the number of players on a team.  The more players on the team, the more data that gets sent to each client since allies can see each other’s units.  Having allies also means that you see more enemy units too.

I used the network analyzer in Windows to see the bit rate.  A 4 on 4 game has an average bit rate around 20 kbps per client.  This value reflects a lot of action taking place.  I believe most of the units were moving or fighting.  It will be much lower during idle parts of the game.  I think that a 56 kbps modem should be able to handle the worst case bit rates on the client end.  The host will require broadband at some point.  It really depends on the previously mentioned factors.  A 1 on 1 game requires very little bandwidth.  On the other hand, a 4 on 4 game with 7 clients could potentially require an average bit rate around 140 kbps on the server.  A 56 kbps modem just could not keep up with this type of game.  I don’t think this will be a common situation, though.  Hopefully, people that are playing such a large game will expect that the server needs to be broadband.

In addition to testing, I need to get the remaining content finished.  The artwork is coming along nicely, but I think I will end up getting most of the troop art at once.  This means I wont have much of a warning and I think it will take a few hours to get the art into the game.  It will be well worth it, so I don’t mind.  The game should really come to life when the troops have an animated attack.  I will finally be able to tell my melee and casters apart too.  I am definitely looking forward to it.  I just hope I get the art done in time for my demo’s target date.  I am getting anxious to finally release this game.

To be fair, I still have some content of my own to finish.  I only have 3 of 21 campaign boards done.  I could use a few more skirmish boards as well.  At least I have a bunch of the campaign ideas written down.  Also, I can always release a few of the campaign boards with a future release.  I am planning to add some more content with releases, anyway.

The cool thing with the campaign game is that I can do things that aren’t possible within the skirmish game.  For instance, I can put the buildings of the enemy player in better locations.  I can also trigger different AI behaviors that work outside the rules of the skirmish AI.  These two types of AI work together too.  Well, more precisely, they work independently of each other.  So the campaign groups will not be drafted into the skirmish army.  This combination produces a challenging and fun game.  I also throw in a storyline to give a sense of higher goals.  I hope that others also find these campaign boards enjoyable :)
Speaking of that, I really need to get some of my beta testers to play the campaign game.  We have mostly been focusing on the network game.  Now that the code is pretty settled, I will start hounding them to play :)  In fact, I think I will play them again too.  It has been a while since I played the campaign boards and a lot has changed.  Plus, they are fun :)

May 4th, 2006

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Most of my tweaks and bug fixes are done.  I would say that I have around 5 more days of work on my game engine.  This includes making a demo version of my game.  I also still need to package the graphics content and pack the player data more efficiently to reduce the file size for saved boards.  All manageable stuff.

The previous week was full of changes so I’m not going to rehash them.  Instead, I will talk about a new board I made.  I created this 300×300 board that I called “Deathmatch.”  I needed a quicker board after last week’s huge 750×750 one.

I designed the new board to start fast and be action-packed.  It definitely lived up to my expectations.  The battles are pretty fierce.  In fact, the 4 of us could not beat the 4 normal computers a few times.  Since the board is compact, the attacks pack more of a punch than usual.  The troops aren’t as spread-out and therefore deliver decisive damage to bases.  I have the spawn points and starting resources positioned in a way that allows enemies to come at them from all directions.  I also have the contested resources placed at intersections, which make them tough to hold.  There is a definite tradeoff between having a lot of resources and being able to defend them effectively.

We played this board several times and had a lot of fun.  I think if I could get everyone to play a network game with me, I would be able to sell a lot of games.  The single-player skirmish is a lot of fun too, but the computer is pretty selfish and will not teleport over to help like a human teammate.  Maybe sometime in the future I can code that behavior.  For the time being, I have to hope that I provided enough fun outside the network game.  The campaign anchors the game in a sense due to its story progression and goals.  It helps make the game feel more complete.

I think the overall game is right on target for my original design.  It is pretty simple to play — at least by RTS standards.  It has a lot of extra mechanics that can be learned during the game.  There are many unique aspects: line-of-sight, terrain that affects movement, focus on leader with fun abilities, solid engine with lots of features, etc.  I hope that others see the value in my game and are able to enjoy it too.

I would really love to make the sequel.  I have so many ideas for it.  In fact, I basically split the game into 2 parts from the start.  I knew it would just be too much to get into one game within a reasonable amount of time.  This method also allows me to see how the game mechanics work in the first release so that I can improve them in the next.  For now, I will just worry about getting this first one completed and hope I make enough money to pay my bills :)

April 27th, 2006

Monday, August 14th, 2006

One month until release.

I can’t believe the day is almost here.  I have been working on this game for 32 months.  Even though the first year was mostly learning, it is still a long time to spend on one project.  I am very happy with its current state.  I only have about 1.5 weeks of work left on the game engine.  The remaining time will be spent cranking-out board content.  I will also spend some time addressing issues with the demo, which I will have ready on May 14th.

This past week I got my optimizations done.  In fact, I got a heck of a lot done in general.  With the path-finding much more efficient, I was able to slightly lower the computer CPU requirement to 800 MHz.  I am much more confident that the game will run smoothly, regardless of the amount of action going on at a given time.  In addition, I was able to extend the guard range 1 more block to cover the leader’s AE ability.  Previously, the AE could barely hit an enemy without triggering a reaction.  The more efficient code allowed me to increase the range.  While I was at it, I also tweaked the gameplay a bit.

I was able to test out all these changes in Wednesday’s net game.  I finally added a new skirmish board too.  I made a huge board — the maximum size of 750×750.  It turns out that this is really just too big.  That’s ok, though.  I think it is good to have a few large boards to satisfy players that like longer games.

However, most of my skirmish boards are going to be in the mid-range.  In my opinion, this is where my game shines.  The mid-size boards have a quicker pace and allow the computer AI to really bombard everyone’s bases.  This chaos really makes the game fun, because you can teleport around thwarting multiple attacks at once.  In network games, this is even more apparent.  While one ally is helping another out, you might then see his base under attack and teleport over to repel it.

Under some circumstances, my game is almost a shoot’em up.  The leader troop has powerful abilities that can really make a difference in battle.  I mostly enjoy using these abilities to blast enemies and toss the occasional heal on some troops.  My main challenge now is to make sure that these fun game mechanics are evident throughout the game.