Meraki

Meraki - Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing. It forms the core of my game design philosophy.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Super Glyph Quest Dev Diary 01

Ah, a Dev Diary, or at least, the beginning of one. Within these posts I shall try to keep you updated with the progress of Super Glyph Quest. That is to say, such is the intention. I fully expect me to run out of time or forget to do it after a while. Still, it's worth a shot, yes?

Spell Parser

I spent a day knocking up a new spell parser to do all of the things that I mentioned in my previous post. The version in the original Glyph Quest was super clunky - especially when it came to combo spells. If you imagine each spell was like a Special Move from a beat-em-up and had a 'recipe' of element types for the player to follow. The parser would simply compare the player's list of selected glyphs to this recipe book and cast the longest version of whichever spells it could match. When it came to Combo spells, this meant that there were actually two versions of each - one for each element involved. Hardly what you'd call elegant. But now I've got a much better way of doing it.

Regular spell casting has changed in so much as you can start with whichever element you like as long as your glyph list includes a consecutive chain of similar glyph types. So both Light, Fire, Fire and Fire, Fire, Light will cast a Fire cantrip. There was a version working which would simply total up the glyphs and pick the dominant one, meaning that you could go Fire, Fire, Light, Fire and actually cast a 3-glyph Fire spell, but we decided against it as it made things a bit too easy.

Similarly, the Combo spell parser has changed a bit. It too allows you to start on whatever element you like so long as it finds an alternating chain of two non-opposing elements that it can call a combo. Again, there was talk of just having it tot up the element types and not give a hoot about glyph ordering - meaning you could cast Fire, Fire, Light, Light or even Fire, Light, Light, Fire - but we decided against it.

The chaining has also been improved by keeping track of both elements used and, so long as the following spell includes one of those elements, allowing your chain to continue. This is going to make our lives a bit easier as we can happily retain all the healing type spells in Light (where they kinda make narrative sense) and not worry about the player not having access to them when chaining other elements. Reversals also use the same logic so you could follow up a Fire-Light combo with Water-anything or Dark-anything and you'd still register a Reversal. Of course, with Reversals being easier, we've had to introduce some kind of restriction to them and that takes the form of a chain penalty. Casting a Reversal cuts your Chain in half*.

Upgrades

League Of Legends masteries
Instead of the old system where you'd increase in level by continued use of a particular element, we're going to adopt a more traditional XP one. I've written a basic Tech Tree system that's going to allow the player to tinker with his stats as he levels up. We're talking about simple things like Elemental attunement, maximum health or resistance to damage and the like. There's a rich vein of stuff here that should give us plenty of depth**.

The system works a bit like WoW or LoL. There are a series of upgrades that players can activate whenever they level up. Some require a single point - like activating Aftertouch or Reversals in the first place - whilst others will allow players to feed in multiple points. The upgrades are tiered and some will even require points to have been spent in specific previous upgrades. Hopefully, this will give us a bit of depth and even promote discussion amongst our community over what constitutes a good 'build'.

Other things will be automatically upgraded based on the player's level. Things like combos, maximum spell length and the size of the glyph board. These are things that we just wouldn't want players to miss out on and nerf themselves, especially in later quests.

Elements

We've added new elements - two of them to be precise. It seemed like a decent thing to do. Of course, coming up with names and effects for them is proving to be somewhat tricky. Likewise, finding two new elements that can be neatly opposed to each other.

Spells

There was talk of moving the base requirements for spells from 2 glyphs to 3. That way people could actually pigeon hole us as a Match-3 game and relate to us a bit better. This would mean that we'd have to up the largest spell size to 6 to retain all of the spells.

What we've actually decided to do is retain the 2 glyph spells but start the player out with the ability to cast 3 glyph spells from the beginning. Oh, and moved the Summons up to require 6 glyphs, meaning we've had to include new spells for 5 glyphs. This means that each element has 4 different levels of spell as well as the Summon. With the 8 elements, that's 40 spells.

Then there's the combinations. The 2 extra elements have moved that number up to 24 giving us a grand total of 64 spells. There was talk of having two different combinations for each pairing, but I don't think we've got the resources for that.

Also, Leanne raised a concern that, with the extra elements, the board would be simply too crowded and players would never reach the required number of glyphs for the more powerful spells. To this end, I've spent the day re-integrating the glyph board with 8 different elements to see what it looks like. It's getting crowded, sure, but we've removed individual Loot glyphs - instead, Loot will be attached to regular glyphs like a bonus.

It's not all plain sailing though - this level of crowding and the ease with which players can increase their chains is something we're going to have to keep a close eye on. The Tech Tree and the player's level of attunement can be used to skew the types of glyphs that get generated at any one time, which should also help. That way, Billy Maxxed Fire Wizard will never be short of fire glyphs, although he might find himself at a loss when he needs to break out an Earth spell for example.

Re-Using Code

Ack. I really don't like doing this - especially when the original was so shonky. In fact, I've never met a coder who wouldn't want to re-write something from scratch rather than re-use something they've already done. Unless they're up against a time constraint, I bet you they'd already thought of a better way of writing it before they even finished the first one.That said, there are certainly a few modules that we'll be able to pull across.

The Spell Parser I've written from scratch but I've pulled the old Glyph Manager from the old version over, mainly for the board generator so we could see one with 8 glyph types. Having the grid appear on the screen made me feel right at home again. The main game loop will be completely re-written from scratch so that everything runs a little cleaner. The effects system may well make it over completely unscathed though.

I picked up NGUI with a view to using it for our UI stuff, but TBH, I can't make head nor tail of it. It looks like it's really good, but there have been so many versions and revisions, I can't find a single relevant tutorial online. Also, the guy's stopped supporting it as Unity have snarfed him up so that he can re-write their own in-house one. Now that I've also sussed out the font scaling issue, I think using the system I wrote before will probably be the safest bet and certainly allow us to get something up and running sooner rather than later.

I'd still love to be able to do sprite fonts though...

* Reversals cut your chain by a prescribed amount that may well be half.
** For example, enabling Reversals by a lower prescribed amount.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Super Glyph Quest

Now with added "Super"
It's time to get back on the horse. Well, okay, it's nearly time to get back on the horse.

We're counting Glyph Quest as a success. In terms of reviews, it's done well. Crucially, the people that play it seem to really enjoy it. Some, it could be argued, play it too much - you know who you are.

Does that mean it's perfect? No. Not even close. With our limited timeframe, there were a few things that just didn't make the cut. We had many more ideas for Glyph Quest and just not enough resource to put them in or do them justice. In my mind, that's the perfect reason to do a sequel - to fix the bits that you didn't quite get right the first time out as well as add as many of the other neat features that you couldn't put in last time. Leanne and I have already had many "Wouldn't it be cool if..." discussions on this over the last month or so.

In truth, part of this was already done during the debacle that was post-launch - things like UI and tutorial improvements - but there are a bunch of gameplay things that we would do a little differently this time around.

Spells

The main gameplay overhaul would revolve around the spell parser. Possibly being a little more lenient on what constitutes a valid spell - so Fire, Light, Light would cast Blast rather than being counted as a non-spell. Also, the ability to chain through combos would be included. That means that you could go from, say, Air to Air + Water then either back to Air or Water or even throw down an Earth or Fire reversal.

Part of the reasoning behind this is to ensure that Challenge Mode doesn't just rely on a player sticking to a Light / Dark chain as that's the only one with the healing. This way, they'll be able to have a lot more choice in their spells and always be able to come back to Light for the healing.

Of course this means that chaining will become easier and it will be possible to rack up quite a large number. A large chain means more damage and could throw the balancing out a bit. Your first move as a designer would then be to try and mitigate it by possibly reducing the amount of damage attached to a particular chain number - but players don't like that so much. They like numbers getting bigger and whenever you 'nerf' a particular attack, this tends to cause problems. Unless, of course you balance it out with something else. In this case, we've still got Reversals. The initial idea for Reversals was that they were going to be some kind of 'dismount' from a chain. You'd build up a chain then 'spend' it on a Reversal for Massive Damage but clearing the chain in the process. It worked quite well, but as the rules for chaining only allowed one element, it was very hard to build it up in the first place. Well, the new parser would fix that straight away. But then you've got the issue of losing (okay, spending) a resource that you've built up. I mean, you get a cool payoff - Massive Damage - but there's a certain kind of player who just don't like to give up hard-earned 'ammo'. So the current thoughts are to halve the player's chain. That way you're not starting from scratch each time but it'll still curb players building up a huge chain.

Also, more Glyph types (and therefore more spells - especially combinations). Possibly even moving the basic spell up to require 3 Glyphs rather than 2, although the jury is out on that one.

Progression

The next major change will probably involve the levelling up process. Previously it was very much an LBD* thing - the more you used a particular element, the more powerful that element became. The main issue with that was to do with the glyphs themselves became available. In the end, they all evened themselves out, meaning that everyone had very similar element levels. Also, I'm not entirely sure how many people actually got the system though, so for SGQ we're thinking of a more traditional XP resource that the player can spend on levelling up. To still ensure a degree of personalisation, we're also thinking about a 'tech tree' arrangement. This will let the players specialise how they want and add another layer of exploration and revealing to the metagame.

For more personalisation, we're talking about loads of cool gear for your character to wear. Things like a Flaming Hat of Flame or a Ring of Nifty Darkness or the like. Items that will let you influence the spells you cast or the damage you take. Thing is, customisation only really comes to the fore when you've got a forum to show it off on.

So we're also thinking of a co-op type arrangement. Perhaps you can bring a friend along on quests with you. That way you'd get to see what kind of setup they were using and they could help balance your specialisations out a bit. We're assured that this sort of thing is pretty simple to set up**.

Story

Now that we're pretty happy with the way the gameplay works, we can also afford to devote a little more time to stuff like story and exposition. It's fair to say that Glyph Quest didn't really have a story at all - I mean the Bad Dragons only ever existed as boss monsters and weren't even named until we put the text on the end game screen. We still don't want to get tied up in a big, linear story experience but there's plenty of room for interesting quest arc narratives. Also, we'd quite like there to be dialogue between the player and both villagers and boss monsters, so some kind of conversation system will have to be made. More JRPG than Mass Effect though.

The current thinking is that the Glyph Quest happened a couple of hundred years ago and magic has all but gone out of the world. The Village is now a bustling city and that's when the Bad Dragons decide to put in another appearance. You must relearn the Old Ways to defeat them, seeking out the various secret Masters and the like, helping all sorts of people along the way.

We've even had offers of help from actual story people, so it may not just be crap that we've come up with. And there may be proper speling and goodest grammar even.

Logistics

So hard to get anything done
Easily the biggest issue with the new game will be the logistics of getting it done. I mean, last time we had one hell of a deadline. This time, not so much. Instead what we have is a tiny child that makes it very hard for us to get things done. Part of this is down to the relentless demands of parenthood - feeding, changing and the like - and part of it is down to just staring at her for being so damn cute***.

Either way, it's going to be a very interesting issue to solve. Whereas before we were both able to spend every waking hour hammering away, this time we're going to have so little time on our hands. I guess it means that we'll just have to be a bit smarter about the way we do things.

Actually, it's made a little easier by the fact that this time around a lot of the questions have been answered. In theory we know what we're doing, both with the production and release side of things as well as the gameplay.

Monetisation

When it comes to money, we're also counting Glyph Quest as a success. Sure, it's no Candy Crush and we can't retire on the proceeds. In fact, we really need to get another game out there pretty soon. I've been tinkering with a little title that we're just going to push out as a Paid App pretty soon, but that's hardly going to pay the bills now, is it?

The way we see it is that we've got three options:

Paid App

The simplest option by far. The vast majority of the problems we encountered at launch were to do with the IAP system. Actually, let me clarify that - the vast majority of the problems we encountered at launch were to do with my lack of understanding of the IAP system and not the system itself, which worked fine thank you very much. But it's true that releasing a Paid App is the easiest thing we could do. The problem with Paid Apps is that it's kinda like the old Retail model - the customer gives you some money in good faith and is rewarded by a product that they may or may not like. These days, the modern App Store customer is highly reticent to take a punt on something that actually requires money. I guess we'd be able to allay some of their fears by the fact that some of them might already have played the original Glyph Quest and enjoyed it so should be more likely to snarf up a sequel but we're not fooling ourselves about the size of our user base.

Freemium

This is the option to choose if we'd like to make a bucketload of money. This is also easily the most controversial and tricky option to go for. Controversial in the amount of bad press it gets and tricky for the amount of resources it would require to actually get it right. See, it's not just a case of throwing in some IAPs and hoping for the best. For an F2P title to actually work, you need a user base. Because you're only relying on <2% of that user base to actually give you any money, it needs to be huge and that's not the sort of thing that just happens overnight. It needs marketing and a really big acquisition push - something that we just can't do.

Shareware

Chances are, this is where we're going to end up again. For the uninitiated, let me break it down like this. Imagine a hybrid of both Paid App and Freemium. We borrow the Free bit from Freemium but lock the game beyond a certain point until you actually pay. This means you get to download the game for free and try it out. If you like it and want to see the rest of it, that's when we gate your progress until you pay. Personally, I think this is the fairest method.

We got the balance of this a little wrong last time. All of the cool features didn't really appear until after you'd got through the paywall, meaning that the trial period wasn't necessarily indicative of what you'd get when you spent your money. In short, we needed to bring things like the combination spells into the game a little earlier. Of course, it's a delicate balancing act as if you give too much away in the free bit, players may well think they've got enough out of the game before paying and simply walk away when you ask them for money.

The other thing we got wrong was our communication. After we got the launch sorted, the version that was out there just boldly asked for your iTunes password - something a lot of people were rather reticent to do. It took a couple of iterations for us to get that bit right and, even then, there were still some people who didn't get it. Another thing we need to look at is the wording on the App description and maybe bump up the "Try before you buy" bit a little. In fact, App descriptions is going to take on a whole new level of importance now the OFT are getting involved.

More IAPs

Loot (phat)
Some of my friends reckon we're missing a trick here though. The one-off payment that we ask for is all well and good but they feel we might be missing out on revenue from people who want to pay more. In short, we should be thinking about more IAPs. But how can we do that without being accused of attempting to rip people off?

Two words - balancing and trust. Firstly, any IAPs we introduce should be balanced in such a way that they are entirely optional. You don't have to purchase them at all - they're entirely opt-in. We won't stop you playing because you didn't buy them (no energy mechanics) and all they'll end up doing is speeding things up a bit (by meaning you can shortcut the accrual of in-game currency) or giving you some aesthetic change. If you're a particularly impatient person, you could drop a load of cash on the game and get enough money to buy whatever you wanted for your character. The stuff you could buy is totally available to everyone else - you're just getting it a bit sooner.

This might seem like we're veering dangerously close to Pay To Win but I don't think that's the case. I think Pay To Win only really matters in a PVP scenario and that's not something we have. Sure, we've got leaderboards but anyone who's really serious about those bad boys will normally wait until they've maxed out their character before paying any attention to them. We wouldn't be introducing premium items or something else that would give you an advantage over a 'free' player. A player will be able to reach max level and buy any of the items you want using just in game currency. All we'd be doing is allowing impatient people to speed up their progress. Personally, why you'd want to shorten your game experience is anyone's guess...

Secondly, the player has to trust that we're not doing underhand things behind the scenes. They have to believe that what they're entering into is a fair transaction and they're not being tricked or manipulated in any way. By restricting our IAP to a simple currency purchase and having it as transparent as possible (prices don't change, we don't gate any progress based on amount of currency earned) we should be okay.

The way I look at it is that I want to be able to recommend this game to my friends and I can't do that in good conscience if it includes underhand trickery to make them part with their cash. I mean, who does that to their friends?

Never Read The Comments

Of course, none of this is going to help with the perceived notion that IAPs are evil or that we're trying to run some kind of scam. Here, for example, are a couple of our user reviews:

"Would be a fun little game if it wasn't such a scam to get you to pay 1.99 to go past a certain point least if you made it possible to pay with earned money in the game I'd keep playing hell even if it was only a dollar I might but it's not 2 dollars good how much more will they charge you later I wonder"
- a classic example of someone who a) is used to paying $0.99 for all of their entertainment these days and b) has clearly been burned with traditional F2P trickery. Sadly, also a bit of an indictment on our communication skills.

"I got to level 5 and deleted it. There's no effing way I'll buy a freaking game app!! >:|"
- and this person clearly expects to be able to play everything for free forever. A dangerous opinion. They're happy to be in the 98% that don't actually have games made for them and let someone else do the paying for everyone.

Everyone's favourite Bad Dragon
Thankfully, the majority of our ratings are positive and it's just a vocal minority who either don't get it or weren't going to like it anyway.

But we're very pleased with what we achieved and are happy to have this game on our CVs. Now we just need to get on with the next one****.

* Learn By Doing - think Oblivion or the Ultima series of games.
** Although that's what he said about IAPs
*** Also, Dark Souls II constantly demands our attention. Praise the Sun!
**** And moving house.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Baby 101

It's fair to say it has been a while since last I put keyboard to screen. This is down to one, really rather obvious factor - baby.

There are many things that people tell you about being a new parent. Most of them revolve around the sleep you won't be having or what it's like to change a dirty nappy. Most of them you find hard to believe - "It can't be all that bad?"

Well, it is and it isn't. Our day revolves around young Willow. At four weeks old, she's still not sleeping through the night. In fact, nighttime appears to be the bit that she's at her most active. She has a series of demands that are made every couple of hours but it follows a pretty simple sequence. I'm hungry, I have wind, I'm sleepy and I need changing.

Hungry


This is one of the simplest things to identify. Simply place your finger anywhere near her mouth and she'll start sucking on it like a leech. Alternatively, hold her to your chest and watch as she flings her head in the direction of your boobs. Even if you don't have boobs.

Leanne is breastfeeding her as we've been told that this is the best thing to do. It means that food time is Leanne time for the most part. We've been topping up with bottles of formula, so I get to do some of that which is great. But Willow really doesn't seem to like it nearly as much - the look of disgust on her face when she tastes it is heartbreaking.

It also gives her more...

Wind


After you feed her, you burp her. Thing is, she doesn't seem to like burping. Which means that she ends up with trapped wind. Which causes her no end of distress until it comes back out.

Which causes us no end of distress. It's a good job she's incredibly cute because she is a total farty stink pig*.

Sleepy


First of the cute photos
Specifically after feasting on mummy's norks for a while, Willow will fall asleep. It's like she gets drunk or something. The eyes go and she curls up in to a little ball or flops in to the shape of a frog perhaps.

This, right here, is our window. Only now can we do other things. Tidying up. Getting on with some work. Laundry**. Unfortunately, we tend to spend this time cuddling her and staring at her. This is a rookie mistake. But something we appear to be unable to stop doing.

At night, we'd do this then try to put her down in her Moses Basket. During the day, she'll happy nap in it. At night time, it's like a shot of coffee. Nothing is guaranteed to wake her up faster than putting her down in her actual bed. She's quite happy to sleep on the bed with us though. It's okay for the time being as she hasn't got to the rolling over stage, which would mean that any bed she had would need something to stop her falling out. We're also almost past the incredible fear we had of potentially rolling over ourselves and squishing her.

In the beginning, we used to take it in turns - one of us would be awake, with the baby lying on top whilst the other slept. It kinda evened things out a bit.

Changing


My dad had always made a big thing about dirty nappies. How they were the bane of his life. How nothing could prepare you for the stench or the mess they would make of anything within a 10 yard radius.

You can therefore understand the trepidation I felt as I moved in to change my first nappy.

It was baby's first as well. For the uninitiated amongst you, I dare you to look up Meconium on a google image search. This stuff is like tar. Stinky tar. It's a real bugger to shift and it lasts for a couple of days.

But here's the trick - you don't mind doing it. Prior to changing the nappy, baby can be grumpy and upset. Afterwards and even during changing, baby is all happy. And you did that. You caused that to happen. You took away the thing that was making her sad.

I would, at this point, like to introduce a couple of caveats. The Mec has gone now and she's not on solid foods yet. As I understand it, solids is the next benchmark for disgusting arse produce. Secondly, I appear to have a super power which is being able to avoid changing poopy nappies. Every time I go to change her, she's just wet. Mummy gets poopmageddon and the crapocalypse, but I just get wet ones.

Wet ones are easy. Hell, Willow hasn't even peed on daddy yet. Willow loves daddy. Long may that continue!

Practical Considerations


Mummy. Multitasking.
I'm not sure we're doing it right and I know I'm tempting fate here but thus far, it all seems a bit... easy.

Maybe 'easy' is the wrong word. 'Simple' might be the word. I've seen parents baulking at the idea of even something like a trip... Outside. It becomes a major production with all kinds of kit and accessories required for the simplest of jaunts. But Willow takes it all in her stride. She loves being in her buggy (or Travel Solution) and can spend hours being pushed around Brighton***. We have the Go Bag still - nappies, wipes, bottle, changing mat and, after Experimental Walk #1 ended in an 'incident', spare clothes - and that appears to be all we need. She need feeding? Either whip out the bottle or pop in to a coffee shop and "unleash the hounds"****. She need changing? There are plenty of places around.

I'm certain that others have a far more traumatic time than this and maybe even that we're just in some kind of post-birth bubble. I also can't imagine what it would be like for Leanne if I wasn't around full time. If I was still employed somewhere, I'd have gone back to work by now, leaving her to deal with everything herself. I'd also have missed out on this incredible time and not even known about it, which would have been very sad.

That said, it's been almost impossible to get any work done. There's still stuff happening on Glyph Quest and the demand for Super Glyph Quest is quite intense. Then there's the Kickstarter project that we want to do. Or maybe a couple of simple pay apps, if we can only find time in the day.

The Switch

Becoming a father has changed me. It seems an obvious thing to say, but it needs to be acknowledged. I now react to the world in a very different way. A much more emotional way. For example, I appear to be followed by a large cloud of dust that will happily fling itself in to my eyes whenever I see things like schmaltzy bits in old Friends episodes or Toy Story. Hell, I almost had to cut my Animex talk short because I'd made the mistake of including a picture of Willow in it.

But from the very moment Leanne lifted her out of the pool***** it all became incredibly clear. It was like a switch went off. I knew exactly what it was that I had to do with my life - ensure that little Willow has everything she needs for a healthy and fun life.

This. This is what it's all about.
How we do that is anyone's guess.

* Information that I intend to store for future use as boyfriend deterrent.
** We were concerned that the noise of the washing machine would wake her up. But no. Nor the band that practices next door. Or the sound of me shooting zombies in The Last Of Us.
*** Ever pushed a cute baby around in a buggy? Chick magnet. Seriously, if you're single and you can find a friend willing to lend you their baby for a couple of hours, you could do a lot worse.
**** I just made that phrase up. I hope it doesn't stick.
***** Maybe the whole birth story is something for a future blog post.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Riding the wave

Even with the launch done and dusted, we've had little to no time to relax. All thoughts of making Glyph Quest a fire-and-forget game have fallen by the wayside as it appears to be quite popular. There's still a very long way to go before we can even think about giving up this life of crime and actually paying the rent, but if the landlord was willing to accept feelings of gameplay satisfaction, we'd be sorted.

The response has been nothing short of amazing. Everyone who has played it seems to like it - even anonymous internet people who, let's face it, don't have the best reputation. Even when the game is a bit rough around the edges or even downright rude about getting you to part with your money, the people have been patient and understanding.

Best. New. Games. It says it right there
A few of my friends have blitzed their way through to the end game and then gone back to try and discover all of the monsters and spells. Looking back, I might have preferred to make the game a bit longer - even just by gating the quests a bit more rather than giving the player so much choice at each level, but on the whole I think it's okay. Leastways, I haven't heard from anyone complaining about the length or price so maybe we pitched it about right.

That doesn't mean to say that we haven't learned a great deal or wouldn't do stuff differently if we had our time again. Knowing, for example, that we had a couple of weeks longer than we thought we might before Sproglet's arrival could have helped with the polish. That and more devices to test on, although that in and of itself is a bit of a logistical challenge.

Becoming a featured app was simply stunning. We had no idea it was going to happen. It has raised an interesting problem where we find ourselves glued to stats pages or charts or review forums, hitting refresh like a deranged woodpecker. This has led to the odd sleepless night where all we want to do is see where we are in the charts or if another user review has come in.

Similarly, being named as Touch Arcade's Game Of The Week was an entirely unexpected turn up. I mean, this is a website that we've actually heard of and it seems like they like the game. That's not to say that the general internets don't have something to say about the whole thing*.

v1.03

I'm not sure how long this ride is going to last, but I'm going to try and make the most of it while I can. This means the crunch isn't over yet - I've got bugs to fix and features to implement.

I've fixed the text problems with iPhone 3 / 3GS as well as on the retina iPads. That is to say I think I've fixed them - there's still no way of knowing. Suffice to say it involves a spot of maths, so what's the worst that could happen?

I'm trying to put a layer in front of the mage license - a pop up that explains what it's about to charge you for when you tap on the booth. Part of it is giving me grief because it requires dabbling in the native code - a scary domain of curious syntax and types. Part of it is giving me grief in my own c#, which is much more believable if still hard to fix**.

I've also implemented Endless Mode - the game's infinite runner mode. You start out fighting level one monsters and they keep increasing in level and difficulty until you eventually die. You will eventually die as there's no visiting the shop and there are no loot items. A skilful player will be able to maximise his damage output and survive longer than most, but it's an attrition thing and even the best player will have to succumb eventually - especially since we've disabled the inventory for this mode.

Endless Mode features a score. In fact the scoring system is simplicity itself. You score points on a one-to-one basis with how much damage you inflict or health you recover. The reason it's so simple is that the complex stuff already happens in the combo / reversal / attunement system, so there's no reason to do it again.

With that in mind, I've also taken a stab at implementing the Game Center leaderboards. It seemed remarkably simple - Unity has a Social class which appears to handle everything I need - but it does raise a bit of a concern. If I just polled it for leaderboard data, and there were thousands of users, what would happen? Would the app just keel over? Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic problem to have, but for now I think I'll just filter it for friends. Besides, those are the leaderboards that people actually care about.

In the end, I think I've managed to sort it out and limit the range. The player has three options - Friends (which I believe is capped at the Game Center end anyway), My Score (which lists a number of scores either side of the player's position in the table) and Top Scores (which will be irrelevant to most people and clearly the target of many hax). If I get a bit more time, I might like to expand out the Friends stuff to display the next one up the list in game like Geometry Wars did. That's always a good little spur for competition***.

I tell you what has become a lot easier though - actually getting a correct build up and in to submission. Once everything is already set up and you know the process, it's really quite simple. Getting to that state is a bit tortuous and I'd be very interested to see if I can do that from scratch on a future project.

Results So Far

Again, one of the advantages of being so small is that we can be quite personal and, in some cases, very reactive. I try to respond to people's queries or any issues that arise on the forums and I think this helps smooth over the obvious cracks in the final game. I believe this personal approach is what is gaining us a small, yet vocal fanbase, eager to step in and put people on the correct path where Glyph Quest is concerned.

Another thing that has become glaringly apparent is the results of a backlash against IAPs. That is to say that people don't trust them and, unless you make it abundantly clear that what you're paying for is a one-time deal after which you're going to stop bugging them, they'll default to not buying. Even then, some people just have a blanket "I don't buy IAPs" rule.

We've had some Jolly Co-operation
As it stands, our conversion rate is running at about 5%, which is high for F2P but I think a bit low for try-before-you-buy. Okay, so the data I'm basing this on is derived from the old days of XBLA, where some titles would pull between 10-20% and it might just be that this is the norm for these days. We could easily have had a better conversion rate with the tweaks we've put in place for v1.03 but the key thing for me is that people are actually playing and enjoying it and not one person who has picked up the full game has come back and said they didn't think it was worth the money.

*They say you should never read the comments.
**Young Parker to the rescue. Again.
***Possible filter it so that it never displays any score from George Foot - it's just not worth it.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Launch 2.0

Well that was a lot better.

Following some sterling emergency surgery from Bangs and Young Parker, we managed to upload the correct version to the App Store. Not only that, but we also got a bit sidetracked by the odd tweak and fix here and there too, so the current version's actually much better than the original launch one was going to be.

Next up was to see what we could do about getting the app expedited through review. I got some contact emails for a couple of Apple guys and sent them a mail explaining how we cocked up with the binary. I was expecting a 'just fill in the form on iTunes Connect' type of response, but they actually got back to me saying that our biggest mistake was not talking to them first.

I started to get all excited as this smelled very much like getting a feature - something that would be ridiculously amazing. But, after a conversation with them, it turns out that it's very unlikely that they'd be interested in that sort of thing. The only* reason they do features is that your game utilises all of the cool stuff on their platform - things like Game Centre or doing funky stuff with the camera / GPS / accelerometers, etc. Our game is too simple and our human interest story, such as it is, just doesn't cut it I guess. Nevertheless, they said they'd show it to some people on the App Team, so you never know. Either way, our application for an expedited review was accepted.

Normal review times seem to be about 4-5 days at present. This expedited review kicked off within 24 hours.

Within 25 hours, we'd failed submission.

Dealing With Rejection

I was a bit shocked by this as the first version sailed through. Of course, the reason the first version sailed through is that it didn't actually have any of the features in it. Stuff like IAPs - which is where this one failed. I hadn't hooked up a thing that would let you restore your previous purchases. That is to say, if you bought the Mage License (our only IAP), then uninstalled the game or tried re-installing it on another device, it would ask you to buy it again. Well, not 'buy' - as you'd already bought it, you could download it again for free. But their new stuff stipulates that there should be this restore functionality.

It was something I'd had a look at before - Young Parker had written up all the native code and it was just a case of hooking it up in the Unity scripts. Thing is, I'd looked at the code he'd written to purchase the Mage License in the first place and I just didn't understand the syntax at all. It was, therefore, scary and I was having all sorts of visions of brick walls and headdesking.

Thankfully, after sending v1.02 to submission, I'd started work on v 1.03. Key features in this version were to be Endless Mode and Leaderboards. Endless Mode is a quest that, as the name suggests, does not end. It's like an Infinirunner version. Points are scored based on the amount of damage you do to a never-ending stream of monsters. Central to this process involves the leaderboard or, to be precise, Game Center's leaderboard system.

First up, I had to create a leaderboard for the app in iTunes Connect. This was simplicity itself**. Next I had to wrestle with the Social class in Unity. This seems to be a nice universal class that hooks in to Game Center or whatever equivalent we're going to use on Android***. Whilst checking out the documentation (which isn't anywhere near as complete as the rest of the Unity stuff), I discovered that same, scary syntax. After a bit of perseverance, I can now proudly announce that I think I understand Callbacks. Ding!

This meant that when the rejection thing came through, I felt a lot more confident about giving the fix a go myself rather than pressing the panic button and summoning the troops again.

Sure enough, it only required one phone call to Alex to figure out why one part of it wasn't working and we were cooking with gas. Build the version. Archive it. Ad-hoc deploy it (largely for my own sanity to ensure that the version I had archived was, indeed, THE RIGHT BLOODY VERSION). Test it. Distribute it.

I'm glossing over some of the finer details here. For example, setting up test accounts and the like. They're easy enough on the iTunes Connect bit, natch, but when you try using them for the first time on device it gets a bit crazy. Not entirely sure why these things require credit card details as they don't actually get charged for anything. Or they shouldn't be - am I missing something?

Once your expedited review has been approved, your new update will automatically be added to the expedite queue. Within about 12 hours we had been approved.

Once Bitten

Time to push the... WAIT! Call me overly paranoid, but we decided we'd test the game out before we ran around and shouted about it. Thankfully it all checked out. By now though, it was getting late. If there's one thing this blog writing has taught me it's that the best time to publish a new story is first thing in the morning**** so that people get it when they do their obligatory social-media thing when they get to the office. We decided to wait and get up early the following morning to push button.

We couldn't really help ourselves though. We pinged out a couple of cheeky texts to a few people to let them know that we were live again. Also, having just checked the stats (something I fear that will take up a disproportionate amount of my time), we had actually been downloaded 14 times by strangers in the US. Exciting! From these acorns and all that...

Fast forward to this morning - January 22nd 2014. We're up early and Leanne makes a tweak or two to the video - like changing 'coming soon' to 'out now!' - then we start the Tweet-fest.



Release Day Buzz

I've often said that the best feeling you can get is when you walk into a game shop, see your game on the shelf and watch someone pick it up and take it to the counter. Better yet is when they tell their friend that they should get it because it's really good.

Release Day was always a big deal. At Bullfrog there was a ritual associated with going to the local store on release day and largely just hanging around, waiting for people to buy the game. It gave us such a buzz. These days, the analogy still stands - you can't show me a dev who has just released a game that doesn't want to sit there hitting 'refresh' on whatever page tells him how his game is doing. Everyone says don't read the comments, but again, you can't help yourself - you have to know.

As I've said before, our marketing push is largely our social media and that's where things get interesting. It's a real balancing act. We want to drum up trade and get the game known about. It could be argued that we need to do this. But these are our friends - the last thing we want to be doing is pissing them off with spam. Chances are, they've already bought the thing anyway. It's a fine line.

I've always felt that the personal touch was key. Again, back in the day, we had Ultima. There were other game stores, but this one was ours. It worked both ways too - they'd always stack our games in a favourable manner. Support your local team - that sort of thing. These days, it's all big business and faceless corporations. This morning has been spent glued to Facebook, answering people's queries about the game and generally immersing myself in it. Watching the 'likes' on the Glyph Quest page is a particular highlight*****.

Feedback

Our first reviews are in on the App Store and they're overwhelmingly positive. The best thing is that I don't recognise any of the names, so it feels like complete strangers doing it. Sadly, some of my friends have found a text bug on the iPhone 3 / 3GS and on retina iPads. Going to have to fix all that for v1.03, but at least I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing with the update process now.

Also, props to Jules Glover for being the first person I know of to complete the game. It looks like we left him wanting more, so hopefully he'll be able to hang on until I finish off the Endless mode / Leaderboards.

July 3rd, 2009. That was the last time I released a game******. Nearly 4 years ago. I have also never released a game where I was so invested in it.

Which is why I'm really enjoying this. We know we're not really going to make any money out of this and, aside from obvious crushing reality, we don't really want to. We just want you to play our game because we genuinely think you'll enjoy playing it and we're very proud of both what we've made and how we've managed to make it. If you want to give us some money, well that's just peachy of course, but we'll settle for you telling all of your friends about how much you enjoy playing it.

*Or presumably you pay them a shit-ton of money.
**To be fair, most things I've used on iTunes Connect seem to be very simple indeed. It's only at our end that it all goes horribly wrong.
***Yes yes, the Android version is coming. Jeez.
****As most of my audience is UK / Scandinavia based, that's morning GMT.
*****Or curse. Must. Make. Number. Bigger.
******Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on DS if anyone's interested.

Monday, 20 January 2014

10 Things I Have Learned Over The Last 6 Months

These past few months have been quite a ride. Life has been throwing us all sorts of curve balls and I'm willing to bet there's plenty more to come. So, I present to you the things that I think I've learned* through this whole process.

1. Making Games Is Still Easy

Well, given adequate tools it is. Unity is still simple enough for just about anyone to pick up and start making something - even with little or no coding experience. As much as some people at Boss Alien hate me for saying it, I'm still not a programmer at all and yet I can hold my own thanks to Unity. In fact, Sproglet permitting, I'm going to be delivering a talk at the Brighton Unity Group this Wednesday on just that subject.

Finishing a game remains one of the hardest things you can do in this industry. Seriously. It's one thing to just bimble along, adding lovely gameplay features, fixing bugs and building content. It's totally another to actually do something with it afterwards.

And as for actually making money...

2. Ambition, Or Lack Thereof, Is Key

Be aware of your resources and limitations. It's all too easy to get carried away and end up mired in some monolithic mess. By all means, have the "Wouldn't it be cool if..." conversations, but be prepared to rein that stuff in. I would argue that it's better to have something simple and polished rather than epic but unfinished. Granted, when you look at my track record, there is compelling evidence to the contrary, but that doesn't mean to say that this isn't something I've learned - I just haven't managed to put it in to practice yet.

In addition, a smaller, simpler game means a smaller, simpler codebase. Easier to maintain. Easier to find and fix bugs. Less likely to collapse under it's own weight.

3. You Don't Have To Cut The Cord Straight Away

That's not a euphemism - you really don't have to cut the cord straight away. I mean, you can just leave baby attached until the cord decides to fall off by itself. I've seen images. They haunt my dreams. Actually, that's not even the half of it. There's a whole ton of stuff you can do with both cord and placenta, if you're so inclined. Picture frames, for example. Umbilical cord picture frames. Or how about turning the placenta into a tablet for you and your partner to swallow? Again, it's not something I'm particularly pleased about, but it's definitely something I've learned over the last 6 months.

4. What A Pregnant Lady Looks Like

To the extent that I'd feel a lot more comfortable taking a punt on giving up my seat on a bus for someone and not getting the fat / pregnant thing wrong, causing offence. I mean, I wouldn't say I'd be 100% confident, but more so than I was 6 months ago.

5. It's Not What You Know - It's Who

My go-to guys, fixing my shoddy code
Okay, so not necessarily something I've learned in the last 6 months, but I've certainly had a lot more practical experience of this being true. Glyph Quest would simply not have been possible if I didn't know some of the people I do. Specifically, there are some things that I just do not know. How, for example, I managed to upload a really quite old version of the game to the App Store. But it's okay - I know a couple of people who probably know how and why that happened and, more importantly, what to do to fix it. IAPS** - that whole system is a complete mystery to me. So I got someone else to write it. Setting up the website - not a clue! Again, a friend has stepped in. There's practical things too - the iPad we're using is borrowed off of Leanne's sister Vicky.

This saying is going to be especially true regarding the marketing as well. Getting the right contacts in the press. Trying to get a spot of coverage. Anything to get Glyph Quest as much in to the public consciousness as possible. Network, network, network.

I can't stress this enough - having a decent support network is absolutely vital. You hope you never have to use them, but it's much better to have them available. By support, I don't just mean with technical things either. Emotional support is vital. People who believe in you. People who are willing to cut you some slack as you work out the kinks. People who are patient and willing to let you try and prove your point.

6. The Submission Process Is... Tricky

As ably illustrated by the stuttering launch of Glyph Quest, the whole App Store Submission thing is tricky. The vast majority of that is down to my own lack of coder knowledge - how Xcode works, for example. The rest is a combination of a myriad of hoops to jump through - of which things like Provisioning Profiles represent the simple end of the spectrum - and some pretty arcane things that you only know about by, well, knowing. We made life more complicated for ourselves by our choice of monetisation as well. Releasing a paid app would have been an order of magnitude simpler and one that may well prove to have been a wiser choice. But we do like our approach - it seems fair somehow.

The real trick is going to be when we come to make whatever game we want to make next. If it has to go through the App Store, will that be something that we can do on our own or will we require supervision at the very least?

Well, thanks to some expert tuition from Bangs and Alex, I now feel a lot more confident*** about that process. Even this time, it wasn't entirely smooth and we had to pull the new binary a couple of times - once to add in the IAP stuff at the iTunes Connect end**** and another because it looks like Xcode crashed during the upload process. Better safe than sorry, eh?

7. How Pregnancy Makes You Impossible To Hire

It shouldn't happen. I believe there are actual laws in place to prevent discrimination based on pregnancy status. Of course, they're entirely un-enforceable. Despite being somewhat invaluable an asset to Remode, Leanne was completely unable to find work when she moved to Brighton. But I suppose if she had found work, we wouldn't have had this great adventure we've been on recently.

There's been a lot of talk recently of women in the industry, what with the whole #OneReasonWhy and #OnReasonToBe debates. I guess this is just another part of that issue and another hurdle to get over.

8. Android

Ensconced in the bubble that was Boss Alien towers, you'd be forgiven for thinking that iOS was the be all and end all of mobile devices. Yet easily the most common question people ask me about Glyph Quest is when it's coming out on Android. Answer - once I figure out how to send the project repository to a friend who's going to do the conversion for us.

9. How Not To Panic

Okay, perhaps a bit of a misnomer this one. There's panic alright. About a great many things. I think the thing I've learned though is that panic helps no-one and there are a couple of people looking to me to be some kind of rock through all of this. So I try to outwardly convey calm. I am a swan on a lake. Things have gone disastrously wrong - from the roof falling off on Christmas Eve to the landlord serving us notice to the botched launch and an imploded wisdom tooth that still hasn't been sorted - but I have to remain solid. Unwavering. A foundation stone that others may use for support. It's trying. Taxing even. I know it's only going to get harder once Sproglet arrives as well. I haven't seen my comfort zone for months. But that's okay - not being in my comfort zone may well be my new comfort zone. I may not know how to fix every problem right now, but I'm confident that I'll work it out eventually.

10. My Place In All Of This

I have one thing to do and one thing only - ensure that Leanne and Sproglet have everything they need.

All other priorities rescinded.

*Okay, some of these I already knew but the last 6 months have really rammed home their importance.

**In App Purchases. The buttons you press when you're a small child to give your parents nightmares.

***Still not actually confident, but more so than before.

****Holy crap, but all of the hoops you have to jump through if you want to use IAPs is just maddening.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Failure to launch

Friday, 17th January, 2014. Glyph Quest's status on iTunes Connect goes from "Waiting for review" to "Ready for sale". I am excited beyond words. We went through submission first time. It's our first game. Hell, it's the first game I've had any meaningful sort of hand in that's actually got released since Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. On DS.

I download it and, while that's going on, start the Tweet machine. Gotta remember the marketing, right?

Our loyal followers start re-tweeting and downloading and all of the things we would want them to do. For that, we thank them enormously.

But then the wheels come off.

It turns out the version that has hit the App Store is not the latest one. It's an old binary. Filled with old code. And old art assets.

Just how this has happened, I'm not entirely sure. It must have been something to do with that 4am XCode debacle. Suffice to say, it's a bit of a disaster.

Now the first impression is blown. The version that's up there is from a couple of weeks back. It doesn't have stuff like the tutorial. Hell, it probably doesn't have all the levels and monsters. May even crash if you get too far in to it*.

I'm hoping that this episode merely adds meat to the overall story and we'll be able to look back and recant this tale of woe with a wistful tear in our eyes. It was always going to be a learning experience, but it's beginning to stress me out now.

I've got a new version ready to go now - one that's even let me fix a couple of niggling issues I noted with the latest build too. Not sure if we have to go through the whole submission process again or, if the app is already up there, an update will get pushed through faster.

Okay, I say I've got a new version ready to go - now I'm having all of those XCode problems again. Given the outcome last time, I think I might wait for backup to arrive tomorrow, just to be on the safe side.

In the meantime, I shall pull the current version from the store**. I am Sad Banshee.
Sad Banshee is sad
*Kinda calls Apple's whole review thing in to question a bit, huh?
**This means that if you were betting on Sproglet arriving first, you're still in with a shout.