Archive for the ‘Project Previews’ Category

Side Projects

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

So while I’ve been working away on Iron Tides this past year and a bit, I’ve still managed to sneak away with a few spare moments to work on a couple small Flash games. It’s not really something I want to go back to, as it’s undeniably a huge step back from making Unity games for Steam. But sometimes it is a nice change of pace to push out something small and different. I think it can also be a helpful reminder that simple design can still be effective.

A few months ago I took part in a Flash game contest. It challenged devs to develop a game in a single week, incorporating 1 or more out of 3 given themes: time travel, portals and easter. Now I’d never made a game in a week by myself. The closest thing I’d gotten around to was weekend game jams, but those always had a team of at least three. I made Rise of the Castle 2 in about two weeks, but that was a sequel so I had very little design to do and could reuse much of the code. This would be a different beast altogether.

With only 7 days to spare I knew I had to figure out pretty much exactly what I was making by the end of the first day. All the art and UI in the game also had to be finished in a day. That would leave about 5 days for the bulk of the coding, testing, balancing, level design and audio work. I decided to ignore the easter theme, as it was the obvious outlier. For a few moments I considered doing time manipulation mechanics, but then thought it would get far too complicated. Anything physics based was also out the window. And I knew I didn’t have time to do any extensive level design, so I would have to ramp difficulty algorithmically. What I wound up making was a simple split-screen defense shooter. The two sides represented different eras in time, and were connected by a pair of portals. You controlled a spaceship and had to defend two bases, one on each side of the time divide. Every time you passed through the portal it would shut down for a while, so you couldn’t just go through whenever. You could fire bullets through the portal into the other timespace, but naturally these shots were a lot harder to aim.

I also came up with a few different behaviors for the enemy aliens, and some tricks they could use to screw around with the portals. Given the time limit I didn’t manage to implement all of them though, despite skipping sleep here and there during that week. But all in all I think it was a pretty successful little exercise, this tiny little speck of a game that it is.

Unfortunately I didn’t end up winning anything in the contest itself (there were about a hundred entries and only the top 5 got anything), but I did get offered a decent licensing deal afterwards, so not such a bad end result.

I’ve also done a little bit of work on a post-apocalyptic defense game that shares a lot of mechanics with Rise of the Colony. The big changes to the formula are new ways to gather and manage survivors (the rough equivalent of colonists), and a new power system that requires weapons to be connected to a generator. I’m pretty happy with the look of that game and it wouldn’t take more than a couple weeks to finish, but at the moment I can’t spare even that. I do want to finish it at some point though. I can share a few screens from it when I find the time.

If you’re interested, take a look at my itty bitty portal game, Time Splicers:

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– Peace and good splicing

 

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A New Norhaven

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Kickstarter is now right around the corner and every day seems vital. Amazingly enough things actually do seem to be coming together on time. For our new trailer we have some amazing music from John Robert Matz. Among many other things he worked on a beautiful platformer called Fossil Echo which you absolutely should check out. Hands down my favorite from Casual Connect 2016, and I’m generally not even a fan of the genre.

To go along with John’s composition we’ve recorded a rousing sea shanty, sung by the incredibly talented Erikka Griffiths-Keam. There is still some touch up to do, but it should all be a step up from our SEC trailer (which already had some rather excellent audio talent).

On the visual side we’re doing our last round of gameplay captures. And I’ve spent the past two days polishing up a new version of Norhaven, the charming little viking village that will serve as a home for all your raid-hungry warriors. It’s come a very long way indeed from our earlier trailers:

norhaven4_sm2

– Peace and happy villages

 

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Skill Paths

Friday, September 16th, 2016

On top of working on some new campaign art I’ve been tackling some of the many features that have until now only existed in rough conceptual form. One of these is character progression, which has taken several forms during the design of Iron Tides. About six months ago I came up with a card-based system that presented the player with a choice between two fates when they leveled up. Each of these fates granted a different set of new attribute boosts and traits. If you didn’t like either fate you could sacrifice to the gods and redraw another set of two to choose from.

This was a pretty interesting take on progression, but eventually I figured it was a bit too cumbersome, given that characters in Iron Tides are relatively expendable. So I distilled the concept down into a simpler and more familiar form: a procedurally generated skill path. As in the fate system, there is a sequence of upgrades with most of them hidden. But you’re always shown what the next skill on the path is, and by assigning skill points you have more control over how to build a character. If you’re not a huge fan of the currently revealed skills, you can race ahead on the skill path, spending only a single point at each step. Then when you find a skill you really like you can invest into it.

Another interesting outcome of this system is that higher level characters are more defined in their characteristics. A level 1 character only has 2 points to work with, so at most can only have the first three skills revealed. Their potential is still largely unknown, and is up to you to uncover. By comparison a veteran of many raids will have nearly all their skills, and will have diverged a great deal from what’s usually expected of their class.

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– Peace and progress

 

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Art Revamp

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Learning the art style of a new project is an interesting phenomenon. With some of my simpler games it’s been a pretty straightforward process; I just pick my influences, do a couple tests and within a week I know pretty well what the game is going to look like. With Empires of Arkeia and Scrap Metal Heroes things were a bit more involved than that. Still, nothing thus far has compared to the lengthy art iteration I’ve gone through on Iron Tides. Looking back now at our early screenshots I have to question whether I had any idea of what I was doing. To be fair, environment art has always been a weakness of mine, and perhaps I was in too much of a rush to chase the first experiment that sort of worked. Finally working in a full-screen, 3D engine blinded me a bit too. Seeing all those physics interactions and animations happening in 3D space was so novel that I wasn’t aware of the visual design weaknesses that now seem painfully obvious.

But I am learning, and the stuff I’m producing now is pretty damn decent. I’m actually hoping that I don’t have yet another art epiphany a few months from now. We do get a lot better with every iteration, but I just don’t think we could afford another redo of all the art.

There’s been a similar phenomenon happening on the design side, but I’ll write about that later. Suffice it to say we’ve gone through at least five versions of our combat system, and only days ago I came up with yet another set of revisions that in my mind at least improve things a great deal. I’ll have to see how they work out in practice, but I am quite excited.

Some new title screen art to gander at:

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– Peace and perilous voyages

 

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Iron Tides Continues

Friday, August 12th, 2016

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Iron Tides has come a long way from its beginnings. Even just graphically it’s undergone major revisions, and I’m rather proud of the standard we’ve achieved thus far. The core mechanics are finally stabilizing and the game is becoming quite playable. Still a million things to do before we finally launch our Kickstarter at the end of September, but the end is at last within sight.

Game media is tough to reach, but Carina has done a fantastic job of it so far. We don’t yet have the audience we need, but we’re on a pretty good track to get there. We showed off the game at Casual Connect in San Francisco about three weeks ago, which was a great experience. It was our first actual trade show, and it just made everything seem so much more legit. Also met a bunch of other devs from all over the world, and got more of a sense of being part of a greater community. Came away with a big pile of business cards and some very positive feedback. This is by far the biggest game I’ve ever done, but also by far the best. There’s easily a year left before it’s ready for full launch, but it’s going to be awesome when it gets there.

– Peace and good tidings

 

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At Full Speed

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

A lot happened last week and there’s more in store this week. Went to Full Indie and passed around a few art cards. Really want to have a playable version next time; it’s actually a bit tricky to describe the gameplay with no visual aids other than one screenshot on an iPhone.

Everyone who’s seen the concept so far seems to like it, and we’re getting interest from some professionals who might possibly be willing to do a bit of work in exchange for royalties. I’d definitely prefer to be doing this whole business thing with some actual money on hand.

Well, back to work I go; there seems to about 1500 things to do all the time.

Here’s the newest member of the Scourge, the fearsome Warlord:

– Peace and bold hopes

 

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The Scourge is Upon Us

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

– Death to the Scourge!

 

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The Tides Keep Turning

Friday, July 31st, 2015

The past month has been such a whirlwind of productivity. I’m absolutely enthralled with this project; it takes some of the best that I’ve learned from the past, and just pushes everything to the next level. A big part of that is the power of Unity (Flash is so not even in the same ballpark), but that’s certainly not all. Turns out I have learned a thing or two during my years at East Side Games, and now that I have a proper fire under my backside it’s all just coming together. For the first time I can honestly say that I’m producing content at a professional level. And it’s not easy working at that level in three or four different disciplines at the same time. It’s taken me a long time to get here, and naturally I still can’t compete with most specialized professionals. Every artist at ESG could draw and 2D animate me under the table, and every coder there could kick my ass at game logic. But I’m now good enough at all the things, that I can make some really awesome shit as long as I work to my strengths as best I can.

Thankfully my partner Carina has taken over most of the web, promotion and people stuff, so I’ve been able to focus on production. But I should start posting updates here as well on occasion. According to my web stats there are still some people who come by here and read these word-splosions, so I might as well continue to nurture that audience. Once we get the first playable prototype ready we’re going to need all the access to eyeballs that we can muster. We’re hoping to have that ready by the end of August, which is rather ambitious but we do already have some things running. Plus most of the prototype art is ready, so it’s mostly just coding from here on out.

The game website is still rather sparse. We have more stuff than is on there, but we’re still a bit cautious on showcasing some of it until we’re sure it’s fully ironed out. I totally did a pun there, and I’m pretty happy about that. If you want to check it all out, the website is irontides.com

We’re also on twitter at https://twitter.com/IronTides

– Peace and favorable winds

 

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Iron Tides

Friday, June 26th, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, and a whole lot has happened in the interim. First of all, I quit my job at East Side Games last month to focus all my time on indie development. Soon after that I decided to shelve the ambitious gladiator game I had underway and first get my toes wet in the waters of Unity with something smaller. So I decided to start creating quick one month projects and give the FGL route another shot, but this time with a superior engine, speedy development, and a mobile focus. I’ve come a long way since then on my first small title, a QWOP-inspired robot stomping game. Then, just a few weeks ago, I teamed up with a good friend of mine to launch a new title, heavily inspired by my gladiator project. We’re aiming to have a kickstarter campaign up by the end of September. The game is called Iron Tides, a tactical RPG full of vikings and assorted mayhem. It’s all still in its early stages, but we do already have a website up: irontides.com.

Here’s an early shot of a character I’m working on:

– Peace and Good Tides

 

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Attrition and Escalation

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

I’ve made a fair bit of progress on the paper prototype lately, and it’s starting to run pretty nicely. One thing I’ve noticed in playtesting, which now seems really obvious, is that there’s no real way to give champion gladiators aggressive stats under this system. Champions are essentially commander figures, and the objective of each match is to eliminate them. This is much the way Warmachine works, and is perhaps my favorite feature of that game. It’s just really cool to completely change how your army works just by swapping one figure. And Warmachine is capable of having some pretty aggro commanders (or warcasters as they are known in that system). But having lots of battlefield space and complex board states right off the bat makes all the difference. If you start a game with nothing but aggro commanders on the board, they almost inevitably just run into each other and start swinging. And whoever started swinging first will most likely win. Not very exciting.

The way many tactics games and CCGs do this is by having a tough target as the objective, which has either none or very limited offensive ability. In Scrolls and Hero Academy you need to destroy rocks, for some mysterious, rock-hating reasons. In MTG you’re attacking a life total, which is basically the equivalent of a rock. Hearthstone is pretty similar, but adds a touch of offensive ability to the mix in the form of hero abilities and weapons. This system always forces you to choose between either affecting the board state, or working towards winning the game. And it works quite well.

Another possible objective is simply clearing the board of all opposition. This is what Banner Saga and many miniature games do. I believe most classic tactics games also fall into this camp. It all works fine as long as you start with a full board state, and then gradually grind each other down until one side is beaten. But I’ve never been a huge fan of this kind of pacing. It is what I would term attrition-style gameplay. The greatest complexity and most climactic battles happen right at the beginning of a match, and by the end you might each only have a single unit remaining. That seems incredibly backwards and downright anti-climactic.

Another possibility is resource control, which is what happens in Civilization or any RTS. It is a sort of middle ground between escalation and attrition. There’s obviously lots of interesting territory to be explored there, and I wouldn’t entirely discount the possibility of still including some aspect of it. Actually, I did have a heavy element of resource control in a much earlier prototype. The way resources worked is that you would cast a mana glyph on a particular tile, and then it would produce mana for you every turn. Basically the same as playing lands in MTG. But the twist was that your opponent could take them from you, which was kind of interesting but also created a strong steamroller effect. To some extent this effect is present in all resource control games, and it tends to be rather unsatisfying. The steamroller starts at that point where you know you’ve lost, even though you haven’t technically lost yet. The rest of the game isn’t really fun for either side after that. To save time people generally just ‘gg’ when it happens.

In escalation-oriented games the steamroller can happen too, but generally it becomes apparent only moments before actual defeat. Very rarely are you faced with a long, inevitable grind to finish off the match. This is what I’m aiming for, and it’s not an easy thing to do using the commander model. Balance between the champions becomes really critical when you’re starting with otherwise empty board states. And it also seems to be rather important that the champions really suck at directly hurting each other. There can be no room for making the match a one-on-one duel. But on the other hand, there’s also pressure to make the champions awesome. They are champions after all, and it feels odd for them to be weak. But I think there is a sensible balance to be struck here. Champions do need very different stats from other gladiators, but their defensiveness can make sense if they are cast in the right light as leaders and trainers rather than face smashers.

Here is a glimpse at the current state of things:

— Peace and escalated victories

 

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