Beta Testing

I say it like “beater” but if you say it like “baiter” I guess that’s okay too. Anyway, Generation Ship is now a few weeks into this testing phase and I’ve had some good feedback from those who have so far given me a hand with testing out the game. I’ve been sticking to weekly builds to keep things moving forward and intend to continue this way until I have a release candidate.

Starcoin Minefield, the minigame that may look familiar

Starcoin Minefield, the minigame that may look familiar

The early-game – i.e. the “first time user experience” – has seen the most attention initially as it’s important people can get into the game in the first place. Certain UI elements are hidden at first to hopefully make the game’s first impression less confusing. Beyond this a new mini-game has been added to serve the need for a little something extra to do with a player’s idle time, and a way to speed up economic progress for the impatient. The result is the minesweeper-esque game now accessible from each starcoin mine (any chance for a play on words). Each safe tile cleared will add to a pool of coins that can be collected at any point adding a risk/reward element: do you try for the full clear or get out before hitting a mine and losing the coin pool and the (modest) entry fee?

Now I’m making sure the game elements that only come in later, like children and research objects, work as intended. And getting caught up in endless placement/pathing issues. I don’t want to spend much longer on the game but I’d like to get some more people testing it before submission – if you’re interested do let me know!

Testing and Beyond

The stasis chamber has seen some visual attention recently

The stasis chamber has seen some visual attention recently

It’s August (I expect you noticed) and Generation Ship has by now become a bit of a monster. It’s taught me a lot about what I could do better in terms of developing a game project of this nature and at times pushed me to the edges of self-doubt and frustration. But finally, finally I am into that phase of testing out the game on a few select guinea pigs and tweaking it into something a person who isn’t me will be able to play. There are still bugs, a couple of missing minor features and a lack of visual polish, but we’re getting there. I have every hope that this will be the last month of development on Generation Ship 1.0.

Researchers study a mysterious object in the laboratory

Researchers study a mysterious object in the laboratory

There is an endgame of sorts now: once you have filled your ship up with sufficient people to qualify for a high enough “grade”, you will be able to build a research lab. With this installation your probes will be able to retrieve objects for study, with there being a number to collect. Some of the items will be quite rare so a full collection would be a notable achievement of perseverance.

In the very near future I will be looking to get a build on TestFlight so I can look to open up the game to a few more eyes and fingers for further feedback (and to make sure I’m not spamming the cloud server too furiously).

Generation Ship Update

I started working on Generation Ship right at the beginning of this year – in fact, I think I remember spending some of my New Year’s Eve on initial concept work (I’m so cool). Back in those early months I set June as my ideal goal for finishing the game and getting ready for submission. I think I knew at the time that this was a little on the ambitious side. This is by far the largest project I’ve ever managed myself and the continued sprawl of scripts and assets is occasionally alarming. It looks likely I will need another couple of months to get the game to 1.0, but I fully intend to stick to the more vague release window of “Summer”.


Sending a probe to a nearby object

In the last few weeks I haven’t added too much more in the way of whole new features, rather fleshed out things that were already part of the picture. The navigation system is now functional: this is something of a game-within-the-game where the player can have some interaction with the universe outside the ship. Probes can be deployed to retrieve materials from objects visible on a long range radar – these materials have some value that can then feed into the economy of the ship as currency. To play this radar game the bridge must be staffed, and additionally turning the ship towards a new target requires the engine room to be staffed. For these functional rooms, this is the primary reason to assign colonists to work in them.

The next stage of development is in deepening the content of the game: the sense of progression through the game is not yet there so a couple more rooms will need adding at least. Hopefully next month I will bring an update from a game that is close to completion!

The Dating Game

Work continues on Generation Ship as I enter what I’m considering the alpha stage (but it helps not having to prove that milestone to anyone). For now I wanted to outline something that is a part of this game that people might not expect from first glance. In truth, Generation Ship has more similarities to something like The Sims than your average space-faring adventure; despite the usual implications of this setting. For me, the colony ship environment allows a closed system for the player to deal with that could almost equally be a remote village – but with the benefit of that sweet future technology.


This appears to be a good match according to the early compatibility algorithm

One important system I’ve been developing recently is that of character relationships (specifically as leading to partnerships). The player will be able to arrange a date at a suitable venue between two available colonists. If a good match is chosen then we can see two characters progress through a dating period to becoming partners.

At this point the possibility of introducing ship-born colonists arrives through child birth – the only other way to increase the active population outside of the staggered process of awakening frozen colonists. I do hope to confer some other benefit to colonists in relationships as there should definitely be more to this than child birth (sexual preference is variable for one thing).

Tutorial Tip

1 – place tiles, 2 – build on them. Easy.

So that’s how colonists are introduced to each other, how about how players are introduced to this game… (Seamless link) I’m hoping players of this game won’t mind a little reading as I’ve started adding these tip pop-ups the first time certain systems are encountered. There might need to be just a little more hand-holding at the beginning but I will try to determine that through testing. I hope to get onto beta testing in a matter of weeks as I’m keen to get towards an initial release as soon as I can! More to come soon!

The Basic Rooms in a Generation Ship

It’s been a while since I last talked about this game so let me show a little of what it’s all about. For this post I’ll focus on the basic structure of the ship and what the rooms do.

Laying structural tiles, the foundation of the ship

Laying structural tiles, the foundation of the ship

Expanding your ship is at the core of progressing in this game and will be required to gradually add functionality to your ship and to expand the active population you can sustain. Pre-set rooms are purchased from the shop and placed as you see fit: however, there is currently a requirement for a structural foundation to the vessel. This is probably the least casual player-friendly aspect of the game so far and I welcome feedback (and will be actively seeking it when testing begins). There are structural tiles that must be placed to then “anchor” rooms upon them. These structural tiles can be seen as the conduits of power/oxygen running right through the ship.

As for the rooms themselves, this is the current list of implemented or at least partially-implemented rooms:

  • Sleeping Quarters – The life of a colonist always returns to here once they have exhausted themselves being useful (or just standing around).
  • Stasis Chamber – There are many other colonists on board, but most are not initially part of the active crew. When the player has the facilities to support them, more can be revived here.
  • Bridge – The classic command centre of the ship that is required to enter navigation. Navigation allows the ship to be directed towards nearby points of interest (see image).
  • Engine Room – The counterpart to the bridge, the engine room is required to fuel any ship manoeuvring as desired by navigation.
  • Starcoin Mine – Every society needs a trading currency and so the loosely connected human race of Generation Ship have Starcoins to pay off their interstellar debts. The mine is something of a trading floor for your financially inclined colonists.
The navigation overlay (work in progress)

The navigation overlay (very work in progress)

Most of this is barely at a first pass level but the focus is on getting the game operating like a game as soon as possible. I’ll be moving onto the characters themselves for a few days next, I look forward to giving them a bit more individuality. And I eagerly await giving the visuals some love before too long (surely every dev likes that part).

Till next time!

Introducing “Generation Ship”

Working title, I haven’t thought of a proper one yet.

This, then, is my next project and due to be my second game release since going “full indie”. The plan has more-or-less stayed the same since I started on it at New Year – I feel like a free-to-play title will allow me to get a game to a lot more people than I have been able to with Stargazing; even if the monetisation issue becomes trickier. I actually started on a PC game concept before deciding that the scale of a mobile game, along with the experience I have of the mobile development and release processes, made sticking with mobile the only thing that really made sense right now. I think I’ve finally reached a point where the game is starting to come together, and I will try to get back into the routine of regular updates, screenshots and all that jazz.

This is all very placeholder. The UI atlas is directly copied from Stargazing for now.

This is all very placeholder. The UI atlas is directly copied from Stargazing for now.

This is a completely different beast to Stargazing, sharing only the vague theme of “space”. It is a game I specifically see as working on mobile devices – something to pull out of your pocket or switch on your tablet for a few minutes at a time. The goal is less important than the journey: an experience of cultivating a living micro-society that continues to exist at all times. There’s almost something of the virtual pet in here, mixed with more traditional management elements as seen in PC games. The micro-management requirement will be light, but there will be opportunity to set the environment up as you see fit – connect your ship’s rooms in any number of configurations and assign jobs to the randomly generated characters.

Needless to say, at this stage there is still a fairly intimidating amount of work left to do. I plan to once again do everything myself due to the lack of any sort of budget (though actually I do enjoy getting stuck into every part of the process). As far as scheduling goes, my current hope is to be testing a beta version in May, and then getting to a release as soon after as possible. This is the kind of game that I would like to continue to maintain and add to post-release, hoping there will be enough players to help justify that!

Future updates will generally focus on specific aspects of the game as they start to emerge, so expect those soon!

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!

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’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.


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, and consequently the German site Superlevel wrote a little piece on it too. So that was nice!