Indie Game Development - "Having fun, making fun"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dev Log - Finding the Fun

With online multiplayer up and running, I've returned to the core of the game.  Its always exciting when you get a new game up and running, but after that initial excitment wears off - just how fun is it?  How long do friends and family hold onto the controller before setting it down?  What parts of the game did they really enjoy and what was a turn-off?  Finding the fun is the process of strengthening what feels best about playing a game while eliminating or steamlining everything else.  Its a time to try new ideas and discard them.  For my current game this has touched all the core game play mechanics - targeting, dodging, locomotion and controls.

A major goal of mine is to make the controls simple and intuitive.  My bias is to give players full control of their game characters.  Normally this is a good thing.  However my current game, like Kick'n It is a timing-based challenge.  For a casual game, it is enough that players dodge in time without expecting them to also select the proper dodge from a list of possible moves.  Yet I found myself expecting the player to do both.  Now when a player dodges an incomming object, the computer will automatically select the appropriate animation.

I've also streamlined attacks.  My tendency to give players full control meant that players had to choose a target, pick an attack move and aim.  It was simply too much for a fast-paced casual game.  Now when a player chooses an attack, the computer will automatically select the nearest target and lead the target if its moving.  The altitude of attacks is modified by a player's position, making locomotion a vital part of both attack and defense. 

Simplifying the controls enabled me to speed up the game, and freed player to focus on locomotion, and the timing of attacks and dodges rather than the mechanics of them. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dev Log - Victory!

Online multiplayer is complete!  It actually didn't take much time to implement the gameplay changes.  In order to get a full featured lobby I already had to wrap my mind around multiplayer, rewrite portions of the game to support 8 players, and implement both peer to peer and client server communication.  By the time I started hooking muliplayer communication into the gameplay code I discovered that I had already done most of the work. 

The conventional wisdom among developers is that online multiplayer is extremely difficult.  Perhaps it is.  But if you've already completed a game and learned how to do animation, storage and local multiplayer, you probably won't find it more difficult than other challenges you've already tackled.

In total, it took about 4 weeks to learn how to do online multiplayer and add it to my existing local multiplayer game.  I couldn't have done it without Microsoft's code samples and Shawn's well written blog post explaining when to use client server and peer to peer.  It should now be quite easy to include online multiplayer in my future titles.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dev Log - Multiplayer Lobby

The 8-player Multiplayer Lobby is now up and running.  Up to four local players can join the Lobby from each Xbox.  Players can switch teams and communicate with voice.  Once all players are ready, the game launches with all online players present. 

Now the real fun begins.  The real challenge of multiplayer is determining what information each machine will be responsible for then coordinating the communication between all the different machines.  I've already done a lot of thinking about this while working on the Lobby and I'm excited to dive right into it. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

4 Player Local Multiplayer

I was able to get a basic multiplayer lobby up and running with ease - thanks to Microsoft's code samples.  I quickly discovered however that my user interface, login code and animation storage all still assumed that a match will only contain 1 or 2 players.  So I had to rewrite and redesign those areas, and I now have 4 player local multiplayer up and running.  I also improved the aiming code and added the ability to select targets. 

Next I need to convert the basic multiplayer lobby into one that will support 8 players on two teams.  I would also like to allow more than one player to join an online match from the same xbox.  Then we will see just how tricky implementing an online multiplayer game really is.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

First Playable

I just reached my First Playable milestone for my new – as yet unnamed project.  One of the things I learned while working on Quantum of Solace for Treyarch is the value of rapid prototyping.  The faster you can hit first playable for a design the sooner you can determine if it is fun and the easier it is make changes or discard the idea entirely and try something else. 

On Kick’n It, I took 14 weeks to hit first playable.  I had to teach myself how to animate, do 3D, and handle collision and physics - all just to reach a first playable where I could determine if the game was fun.    This time I was able to build on my experience and code base from Kick’n It! and reach first playable in less than half the time.  I also had to discipline myself to focus only on those systems and bugs that were necessary for my first playable milestone. 

Significant improvements have been made to the animation system, and almost all functionality has been consolidated into the ball and player classes – which will allow me to scale up the number of players.
Initial feedback so far has caused me to speed up the game, discard a dodge mechanic I was partial too, and simplify the controls.  The preferred camera angle appears to be a side view, which was not what I expected. 

My next step will be quite a challenge.  I intend to get 8 player online multiplayer up and working.  Other developers have said that this is very difficult, but a lack of online multiplayer was one of the chief complaints against Kick’n It! and I am determined to conquer it.  Onward to victory!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Great player review

Dude... your game is freakin awesome!

I found it while browsing the Indie Game section on XBox Live and tried the demo on a whim.   My buddy and I ended up playing it for like 4 hours.   We especially liked the Two player modes.   I've actually gotten pretty good at the Fast Tournament mode.  It kinda reminds me of college when i met some of my best friends in the hack circle.

I would love to see a sequel to Kick'n It.   Maybe in the next one there could be combos that trigger a crazy matrix-like super move.   Whatever you create, I'm sure it will be awesome.

Oh yeah... and my Buddy and I both bought the full game after about 20 minutes of the demo.

- Gabriel Garza

[Gabriel contacted me on Facebook to let me know how much fun he and his buddy had playing Kick'n It.  Thanks Gabriel!]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reviews are in!

A big thanks to all the online publications and blogs who published reviews of Kick'n It!

Eight reviews have been published in the two weeks since Kick'n It! was released, as well as over a dozen mentions – including this nice one from Jessica Weimar at Mash Those Buttons.  Reviews have been mixed.  In fact, they are equally split between those that love the game, those that hate it, and those that are somewhat lukewarm about it.

I have to admit that reading my first negative review really hurt.  I’ve been making games for 14 years now, so I’ve received plenty of positive and negative reviews before. This time however it was different. It was personal. Every decision that was made was mine. Every accomplishment and every failure was also mine. So I had to take a few days off and come back to the reviews with a more objective mind in order to really benefit from them.

Reviewers that really liked the idea of a hacky sack game gave the highest scores and those that disliked the idea of a hacky sack game (or avatar games in general) gave the lowest scores. Their feeling about the subject matter of the game seemed to set the tone of the review itself. As a couple reviewers pointed out, there hasn’t been a game about hacky sack in over ten years. That made Kick’n It! either fresh and innovative - or pointless, depending on your point of view.

Xbox Hornet                       8 / 10
SFX-360                             6 / 10
Gamestyle                          3 / 10

The Gaming Inferno           Good
Indies On Pause                 Good
Freakin Indies                     Fair
Indie Gamer Chick              Bad
1 Up or Poison                   Bad

There were several lessons to be learned from these reviews that I am already taking to heart as I scope out the next project. I’ll share them with you when I write a full post mortem for Kick’n It!. Thanks again to all the reviewers. For those of you reading this that have played Kick’n It! I’d love to hear from you. How did you like the game? What improvements would you like to see in a potential sequel?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kick'n It! reaches 12,000 downloads

In the eight days since Kick'n It! launched over 12,000 people from across the world have downloaded the demo and played it. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ratings Rollercoaster

On our launch day I was amazed and elated to discover that Kick'n It! was number 11 on the top rated games list.  But by the end of the day we were number 202!  We then bounced back to number 31, and are now around 45.  What happened?

Well it turns out that there isn't a minimum number of votes needed to appear on the top rated chart.  So when a game has few total votes, a single positive or negative vote can change its position greatly.  In addition, there are a lot of games on the service that are around 4 stars - including Kick'n It!  Games that are a little over 4 stars can be in position 11.  Games that are a little under 4 starts can be position 202.

So every vote truly counts.  If you're reading this and haven't already voted for Kick'n It! - please take a moment to vote 5 stars.  You can vote from your Xbox by selecting Kick'n It! from the Indie Game marketplace or from you computer by following this link.  Thanks!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kick'n It! goes LIVE!!!

After consulting last night with a friend in marketing and reviewing sales numbers from fellow developers I decided to submit Kick'n It! so it would appear on the top of the New Release charts this weekend.

I woke up this morning and there is was.  I'm so excited!

Download your free demo and start Kick'n It!

Don't forget to rate it 5 Stars!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kick'n It! Passes Peer Review

Kick'n It! has passed the peer review process and is ready to launch.  I'm now preparing press releases and completing other PR efforts such as this website to support the planned launch mid-August. 

I must live under a rock, because I just found out about the Summer Uprising for Xbox Live Indie Games.  Its a joint promotion shared by 10 indie developers intended to boost awareness of the quality of titles now available on Xbox Live Indie Marketplace.  So I'll be launching right before those games do.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  On the one hand, those launches will push mine further down the new release charts.  On the other hand that PR effort could bring new attention to the channel days after I launch.  At the moment I intend to keep my mid-August launch date.