Gladius is in open beta!

That’s right kids and old-skoolers, Gladius is now in open beta! This means you can now download it and beat the living shit out of your friends to your heart’s content.

 

Anyone can join the open beta test provided they have an android device and have access to the Aussie Google Play Store.

 

Grab it now from here or just do a search for ‘Gladius’ from your device.

 

Happy slapping!

GDC Europe and Gamescom 2013

I’m really bad at this posting thing, aren’t I? There’s been so much going on that I’ve really wanted to write about, but lately all I can manage is to pump as much into my new game as I can then fall asleep in a heap. Yeah, crunch-time sucks.

 

So as a result I guess this will have to be a multi-part post.

 

GDC Europe 2013 and Gamescom

What a let down this year. First, not many of my friends and people who I’ve met over the years were there. I dunno if it’s because the games industry was hit pretty hard this year by a few high-profile retrenchments, but it seems people weren’t that motivated to go and those who were there seemed a little…down.

 

From my perspective, GDC didn’t have any ‘heroes’ of game development like they’ve had in previous years and many of the talks were the same or similar to last year. We all know that mobile is growing, facebook is declining, and without monetisation you won’t be in business long. Thanks for that. But what else is new?

 

The number of adverlectures is increasing as well, with Google having a whole lecture room this year dedicated to extolling the virtues of their forays into gaming. Read: AdWords is teh awesome and you should totally buy into it!

 

Finally, Gamescom didn’t have anything huge or new to show off, and many ‘newly-announced’ games are sequels or re-hashes (do we really need another Wolfenstein?).

 

I really could have skipped this year and not felt like I missed anything 🙁

 

Gladius is almost here

What’s this Gladius I hear you ask? Well I finally decided on a name for my upcoming mobile combat game. Gladius was actually the working title during the past 6 months of development, but after spending days and days trying to come up with something better and floating it past my friends, I realised that it’s actually a pretty decent name.

 

The game is in the ‘feature freeze’ stage, which means we are not adding any more features to it and only polishing or refining what is currently in place. The artwork is about 80% complete and looking amazing, in my humble opinion. We are preparing for a beta release as soon as possible – I’m targetting before the end of September. And just so that you can see how far we’ve come, here are some before and after shots:

Screenshot1

Way before: First proof of concept arena test, 21 January 2013.

23-Combat
Before: Concept mock-up with my crappy placeholder art, 9th July 2013.

Gladius-Layout-v21-800x480

 

After: Current fully playable version with about 90% of artwork complete, 4th September 2013.

 

P.S., in case you don’t know a Gladius is the name the Romans gave to the short swords all their soldiers carried in combat. It’s where the name gladiator comes from, but considering how overused that word is (and because Russell Crowe is a bogan slob) I thought I’d try something a little different 🙂

Random life-story generator

So I’m working on a random life-story generator for my upcoming medieval combat MMO. Why, I hear you ask? Because it shits me every time you play a game and you’re given a dumb-ass quest like: Salzar pisses you off because he usually stinks of garlic. Kill him.

 

Actually that’s not a bad idea for a quest. But I digress…

 

It’s throwing up some pretty funny life stories (or so I think, anyway). Here are some of the more amusing ones:

 

  • Shaian was born in a fortress. He comes from a line of guild members and his entire bloodline is dead due to being kicked by a mule.

 

I guess it could be possible that your entire ancestry was wiped out by a mule kick. I guess.

 

  • Unaatris was born in a religious institution and raised by chimpanzees.

 

Hehe.

 

  • Yllarath was born out in the wilderness. She is an only child. You once took advantage of her.

 

In the wilderness? Or because she’s an only child? Or both? Or neither? Either way, you’re a bad man.

 

  • Marnys was born on a farm and raised in a gang. She comes from a line of beggars. She has 1 sister and they all were born out of wedlock. You hate her.

 

I’m not sure it’s right to hate this chick because of her social status. The again, she IS pretty low in the pecking order even for the Middle Ages…

 

  • Quotumal was born in a rural hamlet and raised by his uncle Owen and aunt Beru.

 

Sounds familiar.

 

  • Wandatranna was raised by her master as property. You hate her religion.

 

Yeah, not sure I want to condone slavery so much, even if it was kosher back then. Oh yeah, religious bigotry probably ain’t that PC anymore either.

 

  • Yenben. You hate him.

 

Straight to the point. Kill him!

 

  • Ravahana was born in a rural hamlet and raised physically and mentally abused. She comes from a line of career soldiers and mercenaries and his father is unfortunately in prison for life. She has a brother and sister. She has made friends with an ex-gang member.

 

Wow, that’s a pretty hard-luck tale even for the Middle Ages!

 

  • Victathyra is enemies with an ex-enemy of yours.

 

Wouldn’t this make her your friend?

 

  • Indzan was born in a scholarly institution. He has recently found enlightenment. You hate him.

 

I’d hate this hippie too if I knew him in real life.

 

  • Zanroar was born in a major metropolis and raised in an abusive environment. He comes from a line of free labourers and his father is dead, murdered by a random pickpocket. You once foiled his quest and he genuinely annoys you. You hate him with a passion.

 

OK, I know it was depressing back then, but I really gotta make these people’s lives worth living!

 

Garbage in, garbage out as they say?

Good progress on my new Medieval combat game

Wow it’s been a long time between posts. Not because I’ve been lazy, but because I’ve been busy! I posted a while back that my new Medieval combat game was going through the proof of concept stage where we were putting the Crafty game engine through its paces.

 

The good news is that we’ve finally finished all that work and as of this week we have moved into developing the game itself. What have we been doing all this time I hear you ask?

 

The bulk of the work has been testing Crafty’s ability to handle real-time combat. It may sound simple to say ‘when I click on the enemy, my player avatar should move up to the limit of his current weapon’s range and then begin attacking the enemy. Oh and by the way, calculate his attack speed, stamina per attack, hit chance and damage for every successful attack’. Yeah.

 

This ‘trivial’ exercise took us the better part of the last month and a half to test all the possible variables we think we’re going to throw at the game’s combat engine, such as:

 

  • Player health
  • Player stamina
  • Player speed
  • Player defence
  • Weapon hit chance
  • Weapon damage
  • Weapon speed
  • Etc.

The good news is that the Crafty engine is up to the task, and real time combat works nicely on our mobile devices. So what’s left to do? All the fun stuff! We need to:

 

  • Create the game world
  • Write the story
  • Create the enemies
  • Design all the weapons, armour and items
  • Draw all the artwork
  • Make all the sounds
  • Write the NPC dialogue
  • Develop multiplayer
  • Throw it all together and hope that it’s a fun game

I am really hoping to release in August of this year, my goal being to have something to show to people at GDC Europe. I’ll try to post progress screenshots as soon as we have some nice screens to show.

Animals Ahoy hits 5k downloads on Android

It seems that the luck o’ the Irish has blessed me with 5,000 downloads on Android today. That’s total downloads by the way – I wish it was daily downloads! Sure, it’s no Angry Birds, but for an indie game with almost no marketing I think it’s doing OK.

 

Also, it seems my earlier post regarding the spike in Android downloads also holds true this time around: daily downloads on Android are somehow closely linked to total downloads, because yesterday I received more daily downloads than ever before.

 

It could just be a once-off (again), but I’ll report back if the trend continues. In the meantime, I hope this pretty graph brings a smile to your face as it did to mine:

Animals Ahoy 5k downloads

Windows 8 version of Animals Ahoy stuck in approval hell

I mentioned in a previous post that I was in the process of developing Animals Ahoy for Windows 8. I am beginning to think that this was a mistake. Up until now, I’ve been pretty happy with my strategic decisions – most have achieved the targets I set out for myself. But developing for Windows 8 has been nothing but a pain in the ass. Let me outline my list of woes:

 

  1. ‘Can’t register billing method’ bug. This bug plagued me for almost a month late last year and caused a significant artificial delay of even getting the app to Microsoft reviewers. No explanation or ETA was offered by Microsoft about this bug, except that it was affecting a small amount of developers globally. This means we missed the target of getting Animals Ahoy out for the Windows 8 launch, and we even missed the ‘drop dead’ target of Christmas 2012.
  2. Ridiculously strict approval process. There’s a reason the Windows Store has barely cracked 10k apps while Apple and Google have more than 600k each. It may have a little bit to do with developers’ lack of interest (see below point), but of the developers who did take the risk of developing for this platform, the approval process is the main culprit. Animals Ahoy, a game which has been successfully released on iTunes and Google Play has been rejected by Microsoft at every step of the way. I am provided with little explanation as to why, except that the game ‘sometimes crashes’. Guess what? It’s fucking Windows – apps crash all the time, including Microsoft ones. From our testing, Animals Ahoy crashes no more frequently than the Apple/Google versions (which is to say, not much at all). But what really galls me about this is that I’m a genuine developer – not a crapware developer from some skanky outfit out to make whatever piss-poor revenue they can from scam apps and ‘tricked’ ad clicks. The fact that my game has been rejected while hundreds, if not thousands of these crapware apps fill the Windows 8 store points to Microsoft’s hypocrisy and is really pissing me off.
  3. Windows 8 sales not meeting expectations. This is the big one for me. Do you know the only reason a company won’t release sales figures? Because they suck! Windows 8 clearly isn’t being bought by most consumers. Windows 7 is a great OS, and Windows XP before it is still a viable alternative. I’ll pretend to forget Vista ever existed. There is absolutely no good reason to upgrade to Windows 8 on a PC, unless you’ve just bought one and had no choice in the matter. In fact, the only reason I did it was because I was hoping to develop for the platform and because the offer of Windows 8 Pro + Media Centre for AUD$15 before 21 January 2013 was simply too good to pass up. I even balked at the ‘regular’ promo price of AUD$40 – it just wasn’t compelling enough. Think Windows 8 sales are bad now? Just wait until it goes to ‘full price’ in February 2013.

Why did I choose to develop for Windows 8 in the first place? I had 3 main reasons:

 

  1. Incorporation of payment system. I’ve installed payment systems for numerous large companies (gaming and non-gaming alike) such as America Online and Evony. Trust me, it’s a pain in the ass. Anytime a company offers to do it for you, just snap it up – even at 30% commission. Particularly when they offer you more, such as a publishing platform, global market etc.
  2. Another publishing platform. With the might of Microsoft’s marketing muscle behind it, Windows 8 is sure to gain traction. Right? Hello? Anyone there….?
  3. Run it on a real computer. This is a big one for me. My next game in development will be an MMO. While it will be designed for mobiles and tablets, there should be nothing stopping someone from playing it on a real computer. But how? A standalone client means my own payment system (see above – no thanks). A web distributor is too fragmented and potentially exposes the code – say hello to hackers and copyers. Facebook’s API changes too rapidly and besides, I have no use for most of its ‘social’ features. Which left me with the Windows 8 Store…

But here is where I think I made a mistake. I was banking on Microsoft’s marketing muscle and a huge installed base on PCs meaning hundreds of millions of Windows 8 installs this year – something that could rival Apple and Google. Also, I could get in on the ground floor and get my apps ‘discovered’ more easily when you don’t have hundreds of thousands of competitors. But there is no way Microsoft will get anywhere near the combined install base of iPhones, iPads, android phones and android tablets.

 

So how do I get Animals Ahoy and my new game on computers? I think there may be another solution: the Google Chrome store. At last count Google’s browser runs on over 300 million computers – and growing. It also runs on almost any OS. Finally, I’m already a Google developer and it doesn’t take anything extra to develop apps for Google Chrome.

 

We’re going to check it out in the next week or so and see how easy it will be to port Animals Ahoy to Chrome. Fingers crossed, I could be saying goodbye to Microsoft forever…

Animals Ahoy v2.0 released for ios and android!

Animals Ahoy v2.0 has been released for both major smartphone platforms! Here’s what the update includes:

 

  • We’ve added an in-game store! You can now purchase all-new items that make your game oh-so much better.
  • For example, has one of your favourite animals become extinct? No problem! Purchase the Unextinction item and bring it back from beyond!
  • There are 11 new items to play with and more to be added soon.

Note: technically the android version is v2.1. We had to make some changes to the android version due to some issues we didn’t pick up in testing. Here is the extra work we did on v2.1 for android:

 

  • New sounds added to ensure there is audio feedback for all game actions and events.
  • All negative events can now be ‘Countered’ by the relevant shop item.
  • More notifications of events such as item drops.
  • Further optimisation of the audio engine.
  • Numerous graphical tweaks and improvements.

Have fun!

My new Medieval combat game is in development

As I mentioned in the article written about me in the Sydney Morning Herald, I am working on a new medieval combat game. We started work on the proof of concept late last year and have been steadily progressing work on it for the past couple of weeks.

 

For me, the proof of concept stage is critical because we are moving to a new game engine. For Animals Ahoy, we developed the game engine from scratch. I estimate it took at least 50% of the development time just on the engine. The rest (concept, design, assets, game logic, testing, balancing etc.) essentially ‘plugged in’ to the game engine, but to me and to most players out there, these are the parts of the game they can actually ‘see’. For these reasons (development time and cost, availability of engines, no value-add to players) I’ve basically decided to never write a game engine again. I’m here to make great games, not to make great technology. I’ll leave that to the experts and use their work to make my games.

 

I went through a long and painful due diligence exercise examining every single game engine out there to determine which one would be best for this type of game. My requirements were:

 

  1. HTML5 presentation using the Canvas tag and/or DOM
  2. JavaScript code
  3. Well documented
  4. Supports PhoneGap
  5. Can produce games for ios, android and Windows 8
  6. Supports in-app advertising
  7. Supports IndexedDB databases (later dropped as a requirement)
  8. Good support and/or active developer community
  9. Decent number of ‘finished’ games (not just demos)
  10. Value for money

Much to my surprise, there are over 100 JavaScript game engines out there (and counting)! What’s more surprising is that most of them are free. After examining every single engine and contacting the developers of the top 10 on my list, we decided on the engine we are going to use.

 

The engine we have chosen is called Crafty, developed by Louis Stowasser. This (free!) game engine looks like it will save us a crapload of time. Why waste time writing code to handle basic technical aspects like touch events, audio etc. when there are perfectly good engines out there that can do it for you? I just want to spend time writing rules, logic and stories, designing great game screens, generating gorgeous art and sound and adding content to the game and making it as much fun as possible.

 

For the current proof of concept stage we are mainly testing the Crafty game engine to see if it is capable of handling all the game events we think we want to throw at it. We have successfully compiled the proof of concept test on android, ios and win8 and it works flawlessly on all platforms. Here is a screen shot:

Screenshot1

Right now, you can only move the character around the screen, but we are currently testing other aspects such as screen layout/scaling, custom JavaScript code interaction with the engine, character combat, movement and animation.

 

I’ll post again when we have finished testing most of the above functionality, hopefully in a few weeks.

Spike in Android downloads

So I was checking the download stats for Animals Ahoy yesterday and received a pleasant and unexpected surprise: since the 4th of Jan, my daily downloads for android have been significantly increasing. At the moment the curve is exponential, but then again it’s off a pretty low base. At first I was really perplexed: I hadn’t run any ads since Christmas and I hadn’t seen a game review anywhere (that I knew of). And besides, my iTunes daily downloads remained the same.

 

Then I noticed something: Animals Ahoy cracked the 500+ downloads on android around the same date. Now I knew that downloads begat downloads, but not to this extent. It really seems that if your app moves up in the download ‘categories’ as google defines them (e.g. 1-10, 10-100, 100-500, 500-1000 etc.) it makes a big difference to the visibility of your app. It obviously can’t be related to people feeling ‘more confident’ about an app with more downloads, otherwise there would be no material difference between 400 or 500 downloads. But the 500+ barrier must move the app higher in the rankings, or push it up one page or something. Because nothing else can explain these figures.

 

It still leaves me confused about some things though. First, I thought the rankings changed by country and yet I am seeing downloads from all over the world (including countries that previously didn’t rank in the top 3 for my downloads, like France). Second, I don’t know if there is an equivalent in iTunes given that they don’t display total dowloads to users (I am really hoping there is something similar). Finally, I don’t know if this trend will continue, plateau at some figure or start dropping off again. And I don’t know what will happen when I reach 1000+, although in theory I should find out in about a week 🙂

 

One thing’s for sure though: it really is critical to get the download figures up to at least 500 as soon as possible to drive organic downloads. My lesson here is that paying to promote your app through advertising is probably most effective early on, because once you break through the 500+ barrier the amount of organic downloads you can generate can equal or exceed the amount of paid downloads, especially when you only budget a $10 daily advertising amount through AdMob as I did.

 

I really wish more developers would share experiences like this 🙁