Archive for March, 2009

Playtest session #1

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Oh what could this image mean? I wonder…

Anyway! Back on track!

Big game developers have a dedicated team of playtesters. Not just for finding bugs, but to make sure their game is fun, and makes sense to players. The developer never knows when their controls are bad, because they knew the controls before they ever picked up a controller. If indies are closed fisted with getting opinions from others, their game won’t play well.

Last Thursday I ran a 2 hour playtest session with the University of Toronto’s Game Design and Development Club, and it was a blast. This was the first time I got to see non-AI players run an 8 player session. It was great to see a group crowd around, passing controllers and having a good laugh blowing each other up. It was a really good feeling to see people having fun with something I had created.

Along with being a motivator, it was also helpful in finding user interface issues in my game. The most frustrating aspect for a new group of people playing the game was weapon purchasing. Players would accidentally hit the button that said they were finished buying, thinking that it was the button that was supposed to purchase ammo, and others purchased ammo, only to realize they didn’t have the funds for something else they wanted more, and couldn’t return what they purchased. I listened intently to comments people made and watched silently when they wrestled with controls to narrow down where the biggest problems were. After only 2 hours I had a list full of important things I needed to do once I got back to work, many of which I probably wouldn’t have realized on my own. Sure there was one big ugly bug from something I programmed in an hour before playtesting and hadn’t finished my own testing, but the embarrassment passed and overall it was a very positive experience that I wish I had done sooner.

I’m looking forward to my next playtest group this weekend.

XBox community games are our ruination

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Microsoft promised that by the end of March XNA Creators club members (the people who publish games to the XBox Community Games service) would find out how much their games are making. The excitement was high. Would Community Games be the next “big thing”, with finance magazines writing about the amazing return that games like Biology Battle and Weapon of Choice made? Would we be the next IPhone? Could I retire in a house coated with platinum?

In short: no

Overall, things ended up worse than expected. GamerBytes has compiled some of the numbers that have been coming in, from games of varying levels of quality. Some of the numbers aren’t horrible, but there’s nothing to write home about, and you’ll be hard pressed to make a living off of these numbers. Especially since some of these titles are in the top of the charts for Community Games.

A few notable developers also have thrown their hat into the ring. Weapon of Choice, one of the first games on the system and possibly the most well-known, reported to under ten thousand sales in the 4 months they have been featured in community games. Likely not enough to deal with the costs of developing as large a game as Weapon of Choice is. Another game, Biology Battle, had its developer sink 100k into the title, and had originally had high hopes based on their own home-grown player tracking system, only to find out their system had bugs, and their actual sales were much lower than what they have originally estimated.

So why did this happen? The XBox isn’t the iPhone. It’s already a gaming platform, and when community games showed up it was already late to the party. There are no game shortages for XBox users. People buy discs still, and XBox Live Arcade titles give a shop where players can also buy cheap games that have more polish to them. In fact, XBox Live Arcade has more features, showcasing the better games. Almost anyone can make Community games, and that means that a lot of games will be garbage. I’ve seen games that are nearly unplayable, and get as much publicity as the best games on the system. What incentive do players have to look for the gems in Community Games, when they can go to the Live Arcade and find the “best” that Live Arcade suggests to them?

For me, and my suggestion to others who still want to break into XBox Community Games? Don’t rely on Microsoft to get the word out about your game. They gave you a platform, but as a big company they are too slow moving to provide all the services you need. Get public relations done if your game is good. Try to attract people to your game, and let them know how to get it, because we can’t expect the Community Games service to sell itself.

It’s been so long… surprise!

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I’m back! And with an exciting announcement! Well, exciting to me at least. I’ll just assume you’re excited as well at this point. If you aren’t excited I don’t want to know. I’m currently working on my first retail indie developed title, to be released for XBox Community Games. I’ve been hard at work in my personal office/the basement and finally want to share the first peek of this monumental event with you all. Isn’t this exciting?

If you don’t know what the game is yet, this will be my shot at an artillery game for XBox community games. Artillery games have always been a very memorable genre for me. Most people I talk to remember the old days of friends meeting up, and crowding around a single keyboard to play games like Scorched Earth or Tank Wars. For some reason I seem to be the only one who played Howitzer. Artillery games were easy to pick up, but allowed players to perfect their aiming and purchasing strategies to give the game depth and individuality. My goal with this game is to give players a new, but faithful, representation of this genre. A game that anyone can pick up, even if they have never played an artillery game before, but also a game that is customizable enough for fans of the old classics.

I’ll have more info in the coming weeks about this game, so stay tuned in the coming days! I hope to get this blog a LOT more active.