Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ten Seconds Alive - A "Failed" Ludum Dare Postmortem

Note: "Failed" is in quotes because, while the game wasn't completed in time for Ludum Dare, it was far from a failure.

Ten Seconds Alive was my attempt at something very different in this Ludum Dare challenge. Typically I go for something that I already had an idea for long ago, and simply wanted to give it a quick little feasibility play test, or else I simply put a little twist on another game *AHEM*CLONE *AHEM*.

The space around your hiding spot. You come out of the hatch and have a few items to collect right away to help your next attempts - the rectangle is a battery and makes your lantern last longer; the glass bottle is for glass that helps the light expand further, and the crystal ball lets you see any single map square you want in your hiding spot. The lightpost is functional from the start, so you don't have to use your lantern in this spot, and the timer doesn't run.

For those of you who don't know, my games are always kid safe. By that I mean they don't have violence, they are easy to pick up and play, they're fun but funny as well and lean toward the cute side of graphics. Ten Seconds Alive is the exact opposite of all of that: you take on the role of a survivor after mysterious creatures attack town. Hiding in an underground bunker, you must choose which fellow survivor to send out to die. You have 10 seconds of light in your lantern, and your goal is to go around fixing lamp posts, recharging power stations and hunting down supplies (like batteries to give you extra light time, glass to make your light circle bigger, etc.) so that the next survivor will have a better chance. Once you find the bigger, lit-up civilization, all of the remaining survivors make it to safety and you win (for now!)

The goal of the game was to truly make you feel stressed over making each survivor count, so that you'd lose as few as possible. Selecting which survivor to die next was meant to be a challenge too - each has their own back story, and most have a strength and/or a weakness. For example, some can move faster, some can ransack houses more quickly, others don't map out newly found screens for your map.

Oh, and hey, you can play the game right here!

What Went Right

1. Planning Ahead

When the final round of voting was started, I'd come up with the idea. I've always loved games where you play the same thing over and over, gaining money to upgrade yourself to get further, and I wanted a unique, dark twist on it... A real reason to want to succeed as quickly as possible. I usually come up with an idea for a theme, but then that theme isn't selected; this time, however, the game fit into 25% of the possible themes, most of which were the top-voted ones from rounds before. There was very  little chance that it wouldn't be selected. And, despite having the general idea, I vowed to not write a single detail down until the challenge began so that I wasn't technically cheating.

2. Preparation

Yes, this is the second "what went right" that doesn't even have to do with the development itself. I spent Friday night after the theme was announced writing out everything about the game: steps for development, things that would need to be done, screen layouts, pseudocoding, you name it! I ended up changing the steps for coding later, sure, but it was awesome to have a good idea of exactly what needed to be done. It's always nice to be able to say "15 steps til it's a game!" "3 steps down, 12 steps til it's a game!"

3. A Unique Idea

To me, the best Ludum Dare games are always the really unique ones... The ones where I'd say "hey, this was an awesome idea, I wish I would have thought of it!" And that's exactly what Ten Seconds Alive was. It was something I never would have done otherwise; heck, it's so far away from a game I ever would have done that I couldn't have even put it on my website because it isn't kid safe! Even though I didn't finish it, I was able to "create" it in a short period of time, so that it didn't take away from my real development time on other, bigger (hopefully profitable) projects.

4. It's Done (Enough)

As I said before, for most game jams, I typically make a short, playable trial of a much bigger idea I've had to see if it could be any fun. The problem with this is that, even if I "finish" in time, the game is incomplete and gets tossed onto the pile of partially finished games that I'll have to complete sometime. With Ten Seconds Alone, even though the game wasn't finished and isn't even fully playable, it reached a stage that's "done enough" to me. I got all of the experience out of it that I could possibly want.

5. Aimed Low Enough for Success

One of the biggest challenges for Ludum Dare, or any game jam, is to come up with an idea quickly that not only fits the theme, but is also doable within such a short time period while still being a challenge and a learning experience. I strongly believe that if I hadn't felt sick, I could have finished the game in time. It certainly wouldn't have looked great, and probably wouldn't have had SFX or music, but it would have been done!

What Went Wrong

1. Sickness

A large part of Sunday, and a decent part of Monday, were taken by sickness. My nausea prevented me from being able to work during those times, and that prevented me from completely finishing in time. Shortly after, unrelated to the jam itself, I ended up with a really bad fever, and I'm just now over it *fingers crossed* as I write this!

2. Atmospheric Games Are Demanding!

To make a game truly atmospheric and dark, it needs to have some good sound effects and art! You can't simply get away with a static single unanimated stick figure for nearly 40 different characters. One of the main goals of the game was to cause emotion, and with my lack of artistic ability, I was unable to accomplish that.

3. The Map Took WAY Too Long

One of the main pieces to the game is the map itself. The player has to be able to reach and obtain new goods, light up paths and keep moving onward. I felt that it would take too long to randomly generate a map, so I wrote one out by hand. It took me a couple hours to sketch it all out - I had to fill in a 15x15 grid with just the right number of each item - and then hours more to code it all into the game. All in all, I think the map alone took about 5 hours of work, and that's not even including writing the code to actually bring up the proper map screens or place the items. That's not really a bad amount of time on a normal project, but when you only have 48 non-sleep hours max, it hurts.

4. Backstory and Characters are Time Consuming!

It's been a long time since I wrote anything fiction other than a few paragraphs here and there for games, and honestly it's one of the things I miss the most... I was into writing and poetry long before actually developing games, and now I was excited to do it again. Maybe too excited... I dove into the story and backstories pretty deep with Ten Seconds Alive. There were 37 survivors that made it into the game, and each survivor is connected to others that become depressed if they die. An example:
CreateSurvivor(30, "Becky Wheeler", 31, "Artist at Dark Blade Games", "Dating Ryan Morrison", 1, null, "Becky is a master of both art and leading others, and she was the one to save the others when the monsters attacked.", 31, 32, 33);
Which coverts in-game to this:

Of course, the game still needed to be proofread, but each survivor has their own page pre-game with (maybe) a strength [Tech Savvy means she can fix light posts], a weakness, a name and age, relationship status, a brief history/likes/etc notes, and up to three people they'll depress when they die [depression causes them to move more slowly]. All of this led to a lot of information being created, and in all reality it was probably much more than necessary, especially in such a short amount of time. It was necessary to go for that "feel guilty about sending them to their death", but took a long time to come up with.

5. Didn't Get Enough Done to Make it Work

It has to be said - one of the failings of the game was simply that not enough of it was completed to even make it fully playable. Players cannot fix lamp posts or enter power plants to fix them, and these incomplete parts make it impossible to get far in the game. In the near future, I'll have to complete those couple things, so that people can at least get a sense of what I was going for :)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Putting a Positive Face Forward

Between Phil Fish quitting Fez 2 (and possibly game development forever!) and the absolutely insane things being said to a developer for simply tweaking the way a gun works in a video game, there's been a lot of focus on what horrible, negative things are being said to people. What isn't being focused on, however, is how nearly every one of us does it (albeit to a much lesser extent).

I will be the first to admit that I'm pretty quick to post some negative things. I may mock a commercial or what someone says in a reality TV show, but until I really gave it some thought I put myself miles above the people who threaten lives. It's easy to forget, after all, that the people that make those commercials are real people too. I sit and talk about how scary it is to pull up the comments section of a game I've posted, yet won't hesitate to attack something done by a bigger company for the same reasons others will gladly insult game developers.

My goal is to become a positive presence, particularly online. I'm not saying I'll never complain about a bug or being sleepy in the morning, and I'll certainly offer constructive criticism or point out things that are wrong and go against what I believe in, but I will avoid picking on anyone else for any reason. After all, "ha ha, that commercial is so stupid" does no good; "I can't believe that commercial tried to sell a car by showing someone failing to kill himself in his car" isn't mean, just sharing something that's important to me. You know, like those kitty pictures or the Michael Scott quotes.

And here's the hard part of the post, folks: the part where I dare you to do the same! Come on, people, let's all use our powers for good!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Get a Free Preorder of Escape From the Afterlife & Enter To Win Free Games for a Year!

To celebrate National Haiku Day, I'm giving away a million preorders of Escape from the Afterlife! I'm pretty sure that's plenty, but if somehow over a million people enter, I promise to add some more ;)

EVERYONE  who enters and does the two required things - posts a haiku in the comments in the bottom and likes The Critterverse on Facebook - will get the preorder of Escape from the Afterlife. One lucky person will also be chosen to get every single game we make for an entire year - a $15 value!

A preorder of any of our games includes not only receiving the game once it's done, but also every single solid version of the game as it's made until it's complete and typically costs $1! You'll also get a download of the game in its current state emailed to you after the giveaway ends. The one year subscription is similar, but for every single game we develop throughout the year. We're doing the One Game a Month challenge, so that means at least 12 small games a year, plus several big ones!

Entries will be accepted between Wednesday, April 17th - Sunday, April 21st.

Have fun! :D

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wait, What? Games CAN Cause Violence Maybe?

First off, let me just start off by saying that this contains NO statistics, NO proof, NO stories of anyone who played Halo and killed a whole bunch of aliens because the game made them... There are plenty of other awesome articles out there written by far better writers that make some excellent points, as well as horrible articles that somehow attempt to explain that anyone who has a video game in their home and committed any sort of crime had video games to blame.

I'm an indie game developer, and like many indie developers, I very rarely have the time or money to actually play games... I'm also much more of a casual gamer, sticking with the Marios, Zeldas and Peggles of the world more often than not. As such, whenever anyone made an argument that kids can become violent from video games, I laughed it off and argued against it. Seriously, isn't it silly? If I play Tetris, will I want to stack blocks? If I play Mario, will I really want to jump on people's heads?

Then we got a few free rental codes for Redbox, which just happened to have the new Tomb Raider. Angel (my fiancee) and I both really wanted to play it, so we got it and LOVED it! It's a spectacular game and I'd suggest anyone mature enough to play it! We played it a second time through and did everything we could.

My point is this, though: You know how once a great movie is over, you feel like a part of the world, or maybe you see things a new way because of the story? It sucks you in and it takes a while, even after it's over, to leave its world. The same is true of games, particularly these "newer games." Lara in Tomb Raider is great at climbing, so when we went outside, I'd imagine climbing rooftops, scaling walls, etc. I wanted to work out and become more fit so that I would have hopes of surviving a crazy adventure like that. But at the same time, because the game allows you to hunt animals for rewards and get extra points for "headshotting" enemies (shooting them in the head for instant-kill), I would see an animal in the real world and my brain would immediately think "I can just imagine shooting that with a bow and arrow!" (Lara's main weapon on the game).

Wait, what? When did that happen? When did successfully shooting enemies in the head turn it into a game in real life of imagining getting someone from far away? Granted, I'm 30 years old and mature enough to not act on this at all. The only thing I've ever "shot" at anything is a camera, and while I think it'd be awesome to learn to shoot a bow or throw axes, I'd certainly never do it in any sort of dangerous way.

So, can video games cause violence? I don't doubt it... This was one single game, and it's nowhere near the most violent at all! The game is rated M (Mature; basically the equivalent of an R rating for video games), and if you have children and didn't already know it, it's VERY important to follow the ratings for video games. If your child is 8, 10, 12, 15, and they play video games, don't just get them whatever is popular, please. Just keep in mind that playing a violent game is like taking part in a violent movie for days instead of just a couple hours.

And, above this, to all of you game developers out there: I appreciate the awesome scenes in the games where you press a couple buttons to jump off of a rooftop and assassinate someone, then flip someone around and use them as a human shield before running up to the shooters and plunge a bayonet into their chest, flip around and knock the other down before finishing them off too. It's really empowering to be able to do all of that! But can you hold back on the blood? Keep away from the extra gory deaths? There are games that I simply refuse to play, even though the story looks awesome, the game looks gorgeous and the play itself looks so fun, just because I'm far too empathetic to kill people in horrible ways, watch blood splatter all over and such.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Experimenting with Promotion using Buffer (

We went grocery shopping today and I joked that since I'd be gone anyway, I should create some bot to spam The Critterverse stuff on Twitter until I got back, and wondered how many Twitter followers I'd lose for it. Like most of my experiments, the joke had to turn into reality!

Using Buffer, I set 9 tweets to post between 2 and 7 every 40 minutes (except for the last two, which were a half an hour apart). Each tweet promoted something that could potentially earn revenue, and it took about 5-10 mins to set them up before we left. This was about 1:15pm, and I had 1,843 followers. Note: I DID tweet quite a bit from my phone while gone, so it's not like my ONLY tweets were the promotional ones.

As of 8pm (an hour after the final tweet), here are the results:

Followers: 1,850 (+7) (I may have lost some, but gained others, but either way I still have roughly the same number!)

Clicks: 32 (out of 77 for the day on The Critterverse thus far!)

Retweets/Favorites: 12/1

Total "Potential": 25.4k (The maximum number of people who could have seen the tweet)

Total Income: $0 (Yeah, I didn't sell anything, but hey, getting retweets and website clicks is really awesome too!)

Buffer statistics on one of the links. You can click on the "Retweets" or "Favorites" to see who did it, too!

For those who aren't familiar with Buffer, IT'S FREE and it basically allows you to set up times to tweet or post on Facebook, and you can set up as many as you want per day. In fact, you can even sync it with Tweriod to let you know what times of day are best for buffering your tweets! You can use it with Facebook and other programs too, but unless you upgrade (I haven't), you can only use it with two profiles - so your Facebook and Twitter, or your Facebook and your Facebook page, or however you want to do it. You can buffer to all of them at once or just one, and you can have it buffer one more than the other (for example, tweeting 10 times a day isn't a big deal, but putting 10 Facebook posts on your game page isn't a great idea).

I'm going to start setting it up every morning now, spreading the tweets out much more of course, and then tweeting like regular... An extra 5-10 mins each morning to get clicks and maybe even revenue is VERY worth it!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Garage Zombie* High Score Contest!

Garage Zombie* beat out 34 other games for Overall and Graphics!
To celebrate Garage Zombie* winning first place in mini-LD 40 for both Overall and Graphics (thanks to Ariel - an amazing artist!), I went back and added a Mochi High Score board to the game and am kicking it off with a contest!

Whoever has the highest score at the end of the contest (11:59pm Eastern time on March 31st) will win 20+ Critterverse games AND every game we make from April 1st, 2013 to April 1st, 2014! This is a purchasable prize that's set at $20 on the website, so it has a $20 value!

As this is entirely download-based, the competition is open to anyone from anywhere in the world, and you're welcome to play it as many times as you'd like (the game is very largely based on luck, so it will most likely take numerous tries to get 1st place and keep it!)

The ONLY RULE is that you MUST use one of the following as your name on the high score board, so that I know who to contact once it's over:

  • Your Twitter Handle (@Whatever)
  • Your Facebook Name ( without the part
  • Your email address (

If you don't, I'll have no way of knowing who won!

And one last thing: if you enjoy the game, please consider preordering it! It's only $1 and you'll get every version of the game as it's made through development, so you can even test it and leave feedback! If you preorder the game and win the contest, I will give you your $1 back! And you get an immediate download of the game if you preorder - one with ads and high score board and one without ads or the high score board (the two are tied together, so I can't make a version with the score board but without ads).

Oh, and if you want to give the game a shot, CLICK HERE TO PLAY GARAGE ZOMBIE*!

Good luck! :) 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Adventures of Rubberkid Brings Out Some Amazing Stories

The Certificate Pledge, made by Ariel Marsh
Ever since I started publicizing The Adventures of Rubberkid, I've found that a LOT of people who learn about it instantly connect to the game. I set out to make the game for kids, but I've heard stories of adults tearing up a bit over it, connecting very strongly to one of the bullied kids or another, or just talking about how much they were bullied, or their kids, or anyone they know. Bullying has even been in the media a lot lately, and I think it's great that it finally seems like people are showing their support against bullying these days.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to write this post was because of something that happened today. When I started my Kickstarter, I did the math on every single level for everything that the rewards earned EXCEPT  the certificate pledges. I don't know why I forgot, but I did... And apparently, five color copies comes to anywhere between $2.50-$5 around here! I checked online at a half a dozen places and they all were 49 cents or more... Except for one UPS store that only charged the 25 cents we were aiming for (another UPS store in the area charged double, so it varies from store to store even!)

We went to pick them up today and the lady there said that she thought they were really neat, and asked what they were for. I told her a little about The Adventures of Rubberkid and how it fights bullying and so on, and she said that she thought it was great! She had done some school work (thesis? studies? I don't remember honestly) and so she was intrigued by it.

As we were getting ready to leave, another guy in the store who was making copies (not sure if he worked there and knew about them or just overheard us) turned and said that he thought what we were doing was great, and that he lost his son two years ago to bullying. Angel said she was sorry to hear it, and he said that he was in Heaven now, and bless us for bringing light to such a horrible problem.

It's times like these when I realize that I'm on the right track and doing the right thing. Every time someone tells me their story or shows any kind of appreciation, I feel that much more successful. Thanks so much everyone!