New Year, New Plan

Hi! Happy New Year! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted about what I’m doing since releasing Stargazing, so this seems like a good time to do it. It is, after all, a new year; and today I just turned 30! That feels so wrong to type out.

So Stargazing has been out and has been selling… some. Download split between App Store and Google Play is currently about 63% in favour of iOS, which is perhaps a little closer that I expected. I will be throwing it onto Samsung Apps soon so that will be interesting to see if anything more comes from there. I always said I didn’t expect much in terms of income from that game; and I’ve been proved more-or-less right on that. I am planning a sale period, probably to commence some time next month.

Enough on the last game, what of the next… Well, the holiday period gave me a nice period to relax and gather my thoughts. Talk to people about what I’ve been up to. The result of this deliberation has been to switch to a different project for my next game. I had been looking at an ambitious PC game that I’ve had on my mind for a long time but I think it makes sense to look at this a bit more sensibly in terms of getting something to market that may help me sustain myself a little longer. If I could pay myself somewhat-properly doing this full-time, that would be amazing. So I think I will be returning to mobile after all. But naturally I feel I need to try a different approach than I took to Stargazing…

Colony ShipI have been negative about the free-to-play or “freemium” model in the past, but I think this is mostly due to the fairly devious means some games choose to push a player to spend money. And energy mechanics, eww. I’ve come around to the idea that for a certain species of casual gaming it can work fine. As such my next project will itself be a free-to-play mobile title supported by IAPs. Of course, I wouldn’t choose to do this if I didn’t feel I had scope to make something that I think could actually be pretty great. So I’ll be taking the idea of a city/colony-building game into space. Build and maintain a spaceship colony and fill it with as many unique individuals as you can. I have a lot of ideas for this and really I can’t wait to make more progress with the prototype. The idea of emergent narratives coming from the inhabitants of your ship is something I really want to explore. As the screenshot suggests, I’m only just starting on this but I hope to get something playable as soon as possible and go from there. Look out for updates soon!

Of Homunculi and Dollarz

Hello again! With Stargazing out there it’s time for… other things! I will start posting about my next major project shortly but in the meantime we had another Ludum Dare to take care of! The theme this time was “You only get one”.

This is the most I’ve ever struggled with a Ludum Dare theme. It sounded okay at first but as I thought into it more and more, I just couldn’t get to an idea that I felt motivated about. I absolutely nearly just gave up on Saturday before I finally came up with something I thought I could work with.

A Day at the Homunculus Races

A Day at the Homunculus Races

The “you only get one” hook in my game is in the sense you are granted one dollar to bet with at the races. From there you can try to amass as much as you are able through shrewd betting. It would have been too simple to make this about any racing that could occur in reality so instead I am transporting the player to some dubious future where a series of homunculi fresh from the labs are being tested in races. If nothing else, I hope the game can raise a chuckle or two as these awkward humanoids sprint across the screen 🙂

Due to my struggles with the theme I didn’t get to any audio but I wouldn’t say it’s essential here – this one is more of an idle browser clicking game.

Play “A Day at the Homunculus Races” here

My compo page at Ludum Dare

Stargazing is Submitted!

Finally I can write this post! Yes, my ambitious schedule aimed at publishing this game as fast as possible proved a little too ambitious, but Stargazing is now with Apple waiting for review. The game is also sitting in Google Play with an aim to launch both versions at the same time. I am planning to sell the game as a paid app for £1.49 or your local equivalent. No ads, no IAPs; I definitely wanted a clean break from that stuff.

StargazingIn an ideal world I would launch by the end of next week but really it just depends on Apple at this point – perhaps the week after is more realistic. In the meantime I will be setting up a proper landing page for the game shortly, and the Flash prototype continues to exist as a taster if you fancy a look at the game’s origin.

The End of October

Happy Halloween! However today is not just Halloween to me, but also the last day in October and thus the end of the Ludum Dare October Challenge! My original ambitions would have had me at least submitting a game to my chosen marketplaces by now, but I have to acknowledge that this was just not quite possible. Instead, my personal October Challenge will extend into November where I hope to get this thing finished in the next week or so. I will submit once I have a little game I can feel is what I wanted it to be, and as yet that is just not quite the case.

Stargazing

Stargazing’s “factual” mode

That being said, the game’s features and content are complete and all that remains is a bit of spit and polish, to make it feel worth that dollar or two I would ask for it. Most recently I have added a sort of “fact” mode that unlocks upon completing the story: here all previous stages become freely accessible and instead of triggering narrative dialogue when a constellation is picked out, instead you will be presented with a couple of little facts about that constellation. This way the game can continue to have value after the story is experienced as a fairly educational little amateur astronomy toy.

The to do list remains reasonably well populated but I am working through it gradually. A lot of what remains is art and UI work. But after nearly two months on this (in total) it’s good to realise the end is very much in sight.

The Final Push

I didn’t write a blog post last week in favour of busying away on Stargazing: now having returned from a long weekend break back to Kendal (my home town) I can take stock of where I’m at. If I’m not very much mistaken, Thursday of next week will be the last day of October, and thus the last day of my October challenge to sell Stargazing. Well… it’s not like this was going to be easy.

Fishing for constellations. Not the final star art.

Fishing for constellations (not final star art)

Coming primarily from the programming side of games, it perhaps isn’t too surprising that what seems to be taking most of my time is everything but that. It’s easy to underestimate the time required to think through the layout of a game, and in this case the narrative. I still very much want to have a submission ready next week, but at the same time I won’t be attempting to throw a broken, unfinished mess onto the App Store.

Lately I’ve worked on the visuals a bit and I do have something of a UI coming through. The “hub” screen where you will select the level to enter needs more art yet. I’m honestly only about halfway through the level data so that remains a big task for this week. And I need to make sure all my textures are square to unbreak the iPhone build’s appearance… I’ve also had a pass at the audio and there is a piece of music in there now.

This week I really need to finish the content so that I might be able to carve out a little testing/fixing time. With thoughts of the next project racing around my head, I just want to get this one out there and see what people think!

The Use of Narrative in Stargazing

There are two sides to what Stargazing is for me: on one hand it is something of an educational toy presenting a genuine layout of stars and constellations to play at identifying; but it has always also carried with it a story. This is something I want to preserve and build on in this extended version.

Stargazing

The first “stage” in Stargazing, introducing the concept and story

The Flash game presented a scene portraying a couple discussing the constellations playfully and I’ve decided to run with this idea but expand it out along a span of time. Now, the player will receive insights into the lives of the two main characters as they live out their lives under the stars. Some stages of the game will present optional outcomes depending on which constellations you may choose at a given moment.

This would be somewhat unfair without giving the player a way of knowing what constellations might be available in this particular part of the sky so I am hoping, if I can fit it in, to include some sort of celestial atlas screen for reference, roughly depicting constellations as they were classically envisaged.

There are only three weeks of work left to complete this challenge and there is undoubtedly a lot still to do here. This week’s focus will be on more content – I have the “stages” planned out there just needs to be a bit of tedious work translating these into the game. I’m absolutely itching to give the game a visual makeover too and hopefully I can get into that quite soon.

A final note of thanks to all the people who’ve played Night Fishing in the last week! My second game to get picked up by FreeIndieGam.es, and consequently the German site Superlevel wrote a little piece on it too. So that was nice!

October Challenge

Good day! Last week I briefly stated what I was up to in terms of working towards the release of a game to market, and now I can be a bit more clear with my plans. After all, tomorrow marks the beginning of October, and so Ludum Dare’s October Challenge!

The October Challenge started a few years ago as a motivation for the Ludum Dare community to take a little game that step further (such as the thousands produced every 4 months in the compo/jam) and sell one copy. That’s it. But getting to that point for the first time gets you through a lot of faffing around that would eventually be required anyway. So it has always been my plan to use this month, and the challenge, to spur me towards a first release. Anyway I should really say something about the game itself, so I hereby welcome back my entry to the 37th mini-Ludum Dare jam of about a year ago: Stargazing!

Stargazing - new and old

Stargazing 2012 in Flash (above) and Stargazing 2013 in Unity

This was one of my little Flash game ideas that actually felt like I’d hit something interesting and different. It’s a very simple concept at heart but that’s ideal for my first project. And I see it as a great fit to touch-screen devices, which will be my market of choice. I intend to attempt submitting to both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store by the end of the month (*gulp*), with the actual release following thereafter.

I’ve moved the old Flash game into Unity, which wasn’t actually that painful a process at all. Everything from the Flash version is in place here (except audio for now). I think a big challenge now is making the game a worthwhile enough experience for someone to throw a bit of loose change at. For certain there needs to be more content (the Flash version can be finished in no time at all). I will be adding more areas of sky, and in fact there is already a second “stage” implemented with a bunch more constellations. I’m happy to say I have moved to data-driven definitions of stars and constellations as opposed to the many hard-coded lines in the original Flash game…

I’ll update my progress here as well as at the Ludum Dare site. Here’s hoping this time next month I have a mobile game in submission!

Refocusing efforts

It’s been two weeks of “indie” work now… and I’ve decided to change up my plan for my first release already! I want a super quick turnaround on this first project and I had thought to bundle a few (probably three) polished up versions of my little jam games into something greater. After spending a bit of time on one of them however, I think I’ll be able to do a much better job spending the same time on just one game. It also would seem to be an easier sell than bringing three detached games together. This way I can spend more time on content and less on relentlessly porting and fixing stuff.

I always intended to be flexible with my plans – don’t want to fall into the trap of stubbornly beating away at something that maybe isn’t the best option any more. So one game it is, not three. That’s about all for now, I’ll have more about the game itself soon!

One Game A Month: September

Woah! I hear cries of astonishment at a “One Game A Month” post actually appearing well within the intended month. Well, yes, my new-found independence allows me the time to perform such feats. As it happens this particular game was mostly developed a while ago for a previous month (the Unity project name is in fact “July”) but I never got around to finishing it (loose definition of finish) until now.

Night Fishing

Night Fishing

This, then, is “Night Fishing”. I’m struggling to properly describe some of the things I make lately but this is more along the lines of the thoughtful, short, barely-a-game pieces. Almost an interactive picture really with a gentle narrative voiced by the only person in the scene. A lot of attention has gone into the aesthetics here and indeed the mechanical “gameplay” is only very slight. I hope it still proves meaningful.

I’d be particularly interested in what people think of this. Could it be expanded and if so how? Feel free to let me know below (or Twitter etc)!

Play “Night Fishing” here