Thursday, December 29, 2011

Next Game Ideas

I have a number of game fragment ideas floating around in my head, so I thought I’d blort them out here for future reference.

As I mentioned in my GameMarx interview, I had a great conversation with my boy Mark Harvey (CheckMark Games) about a game that involved learning a language.  I had this idea that a player could walk around the world and explore, say, ruins of an aboriginal civilization.  And on those ruins are pictographs, but we don’t know what they mean.  Maybe the player also comes in contact with natives who also use those pictographs (cuniform, hieroglyphics… I don’t know the proper word) in speech bubbles to communicate.  But the player doesn’t know what they mean.  Over the course of the game, the player would make observations and encounter experiences that would reveal the meaning of the foreign language, and then would be able to use the language to complete some quest or task or storyline.

At some point in time, I observed that all these Xbox Indie games (particularly the more amateurish ones, my own included) start off with all manner of splash screens and menu screens and loading screens that often serve no real purpose.  I had the idea of a game that simply starts off with the player in a jail cell or empty room with absolutely no instructions or direction.  The player would figure out how to move around, but still, with no obvious exits, just kind of wander around.  Maybe they wander around enough until they find a loose, squeaky board.  And under that board, they find, oh, some cheese or something.  Then, soon, a mouse comes in from a crack and if you give the mouse the cheese, he drops… something else.  Basically, I like the idea of a game that takes place in a single room, but gets more and more elaborate as time goes on.

I just watched Back to the Future, and I love the idea of doing a time travel game.  Braid, obviously, is the elephant in the room for this genre.  More than time travel, I guess, is I like the idea of the player being able to split off multiple versions of himself and act in parallel.  For example, the player goes and steps on a pressure plate, and a door opens across the room.  If the player leaves the pressure plate, the door closes.  So, the player has to go and press the pressure plate, and then go back in time, spin off a second copy of himself, and then start again.  One copy goes and pushes the pressure plate, and the second copy now can go through the door.  Very much like the flash game called “Cursor10”.  Go search for that and play it.

I was listening to a podcast recently where they were talking about Skryim, and particularly the books in Skyrim, and the collecting of sets of multi-volume books.  They lamented that they couldn’t email items to each other.  I had the idea of creating a game where set-collection was paramount.  Maybe you are exploring an old cave and collecting dinosaur bones, and you are looking to complete a T-rex set.  But you find a rare and valuable stegosaurus bone which is unusable to you, but certainly would be valuable to someone else.  I like the idea of being able to turn that in-game item into a text string, which you could then tweet or email, and someone could enter into their copy of the game to receive that item.

With elections coming up, I think there is a lot of opportunity to do an election game.  Basically a territory-controlling war game, but set in an election theme.  The country is made up of states, and various states have various issues that they are for or against.  You would travel around the country and try to win votes, gather supporters, earn money, and so forth.  I think this could be a lot of fun.

I think there’s a lot of meat on those bones…   Just waiting for the motivation to kick in and go with something.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Fan Email

Another fan email.  I love it! 

We have literally given your new game dozens of hours of play (thanks to your very generous free download) and here's the verdict: We absolutely love the snipers and runners game with the coins (absolutely hilarious) and our second favorite is the red light/green light style race. The torch touching game is good as well as the other variant of snipers/runners. The only game we didn't really care for was the knights vs. ninjas game (I see where you were going with it but my guests just didnt get it). They always wanted to go back to the aformentioned two favorites. Ow well, ya cant win em' all I guess. I guess what I am trying to say is: You keep making them and I will keep buying them. You have quite the knack for making an enjoyable "pick up and play" game experience that anyone of all skill levels can get into and (pardon my French) laugh their respective asses off.

I took HIPS to a friends' holiday party, and we busted it out late in the evening.  I was there until 1am, and left the game there.  Apparently people played until 4:30am!  Some tequila shots may have been involved.

I'm proud of me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hidden in Plain Sight -- Wrapup and Post Mortem

So, I think it’s about time for a post-mortem on “Hidden in Plain Sight”. I don’t actually know how to do a proper post-mortem, so I’m just going to make it up as I go along.

First, how about some press roundup:


This Joystiq piece was done quite a while before the game actually game out. It was published in early December, and I could definitely see the effect it had not only on trial downloads, but also on purchases. That is to say, this was a widely-read article, and it clearly said that the game was multiplayer-only. Therefore, people who tried it went into it knowing that, and were more likely to buy it. My conversion rate in December is over 40%.

Also, this article made my YouTube video hits jump from around 200 to over 3000 in about 48 hours. Pretty cool.

A fun interview, but didn’t generate any visible feedback.

Another interview, kind of late in the game.

“So if you have someone to play with, get this. Hidden in Plain Sight makes for a very fun party game.”

“…if you should actually have three spare controllers and three acquaintances, Hidden in Plain Sight is probably the most fun you could have with that setup.”

“The Best local mp XBLIG game that I wish I was playing months earlier.”

Silver Award… would have “ran away with the gold” except for a game that came out on 11/30. Also, notably, was co-recipient of the silver with Escape Goat and DLC Quest. “It’s just a ton of fun and like nothing I’ve experienced.”

GameMarx also did a video run-through here:

I was also on their podcast here:

Finally, and my favorite, are some comments I’ve gotten as followup to reviews, and on the YouTube comments, etc.

So, let’s see what worked and what didn’t.

The Good:

Having a good, solid code base. I have good, reusable code for making animated characters walk around the screen. With HIPS, that’s 90% of the game right there. The rest was just UI, menus, sounds, and so forth. This was by far my easiest game to make, coding/wise.

I really like the sound effects in the game, and the music is fantastic. I really lucked out with having Jim McKeever let me use some of his music, and I think it adds a huge amount to the game.

At its core, I think the game is a really good idea. It’s actually, genuinely fun. I was able to have it in playtest for a long time (almost as soon as it was playable), and was able to get some good comments based off that. One of the major changes I made was adding statues to Ninja Party. This gave players some other objective to accomplish, and I think added a whole new layer to it. Also, it gives some cover for players to hide behind.

I like the various modes differently. But everyone seems to have their favorites, and there isn’t much consensus about which work and which don’t. So hopefully there is something in there for everyone.

Eryn came through again with some awesome cover art. I don’t know if it helped sales, but at least the box art looks distinctive.

The Bad:

Graphics: I’m getting about as much leverage off Renier Prokeins free sprites as I can get, but at some point, I’m really going to have to figure out how or where to get character art.

Fatal Bug: There is a bug in Death Race that went out to prod undetected. If two players are aiming at the same character, one shoots, then the target character dies and is removed from the “active players” list. When the second player moves his aiming crosshair off the dead player, it will throw an exception. Dumb.

The Ugly:

Diana’s parents were over on the first full day of release, and wanted to see the game. We played a few rounds of Knights vs. Ninjas, and they noticed that their characters were starting in the same location every round. One of my late changes was to limit where the Knights can start, so I had some debug code in there to test this out, and forgot to remove it. Specifically, I’d commented out the code that shuffled up the players, so the players always start in the same location. Erg. So frustrating.

Sales and performance: 

I’m not sure if this is good, bad, or ugly, but it looks like HIPS is going to end its initial run for glory with about 500 sales. During the same time period, that’s about 50% of sales for my previous two games. Give that this is multiplayer only, actually, I don’t think that’s half bad. It has a 3.75 star rating, which matches up exactly with Bad Golf and Venga Islands. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with it, given the good press and feedback.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hidden in Plain Sight -- published and roundup...

I hit the Publish button late on Thursday evening. I'd advertised a Friday release date, but there is a lag between pushing the button and seeing it show up on the Xbox Live servers, and I really wanted to watch it show up.

So, late Thursday night, there it was. Another game, published for the masses to see.

On Friday and Saturday, a few reviews showed up online:

This is one of the most enjoyable and unique multiplayer games to come out of the XBLIG channel. It forces players to mingle with and behave like the NPCs walking around the screen in order to inconspicuously meet some goal. Depending on what mode you’re playing, this goal could be assassinating the other players, collecting coins, or racing to the finish line. My favorite modes are those that split up players into two teams, where one team consists of snipers trying to figure out who’s an NPC and who’s a human. These matches become incredibly tense (and hilarious) as the non-snipers get closer to winning. But because this is restricted to local multiplayer only, part of the challenge is first figuring out who you are without everyone else noticing. Sometimes, five minutes will go by, and I still don’t know where I am! That doesn’t necessarily ruin the game, though. In the right company, every moment—from the initial confusion to the winning move—is a thrill. So if you have someone to play with, get this. Hidden in Plain Sight makes for a very fun party game.

Pros:Amazingly fun multiplayer with tons of replay value - Cute graphics - Fantastic price
Cons:Would love to have more game modes ;)

So far, so good!

I was also a guest on the weekly GameMarx podcast. You can listen to it here if you're so inclined. I'm getting over a cold, so I apologize in advance about the sniffing. Ugh.

I was really prepped and had a lot of stuff I wanted to talk about on the podcast, but sometimes it was hard to get a word in, and the conversation didn't always go in directions I anticipated, but it was a fun experience and I'm honored to have been a part of it.

On Friday evening, my in-laws were over for dinner, and they wanted to see a demo of the game. So I fired it up, and walked them through a couple game modes. What we quickly discovered, though, in Knights vs. Ninjas, was that some debug code was left in the game. This means that players always start in the same location, rather than randomly spread around. Serious bummer. I'm pretty pissed about it, but there's not much I can do now, aside from fix it and send it in for another Review and get it patched. I'm giving myself another day or two to see if anything else pops up. It just sucks to put it so much effort to get everything just right, and then make a last minute change and mess things up. Oh well.

No sales figures yet. I'm really not expecting anything big by any stretch. Seeing the positive reviews and that email have been super rewarding as it is.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fan email...

Hidden in Plain Sight went live on Thursday evening. Check put this email I got this morning. It really makes the whole process worth while.

Mr. Spragg, I just want you to know that my wife and I just so happened to stumble upon your game yesterday in the X-Box indie store, decided to try it out, and couldn't stop playing it all day. In fact, by the end of the night, a group of about 8 of us were gathered around the TV taking turns playing it. Thanks for trying your best to keep local multiplayer alive. I cannot tell you how grateful I am. Probably the most fun I've had with LM since the days of Mario Party. And thanks for giving me a reason to invest in that 4th xbox controller. I'll be downloading your previous game Bad Golf today, and am expecting great things. You brought a lot of people together last night that wouldn't normally play video games at all. It's fantastic. I'll be recommending it to friends. I trust that anyone else that stumbled upon it last night had a similar experience. HIPS is brilliant in it's simplicity. We'll be playing for weeks and months to come. Thank you!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Ready to drop...

Hidden in Plain Sight has passed Peer Review!

I'm setting Friday, November 18th, 2011 as the official release date. I might actually push the button late Thursday night so I can watch it hit the market.

I've set some marketing wheels in motion, so we'll see if that does anything. I still remain skeptical that it will make a difference, but here's hoping.

I tell you what, it's hard to have a game that's all ready to go and not push the Publish Now button, but I really want to see if I can manage to generate some buzz before releasing the game.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Hello IGF friends...

I know, I know... I have no business entering my little game in your contest, but my boy Andy said it might have a chance. So what the heck, it's only $95.

My name is Adam Spragg. I'm a life-long gamer, and have been trying my hand at developing games for quite a while now. It wasn't until I discovered the Xbox Live Indie Game platform that I was actually motivated to complete and publish a game. This latest one is my third (after "Bad Golf" and "Battle for Venga Islands"). When I'm not developing games, I'm a dad, husband, and software developer.

In case you don't already know, Hidden in Plain Sight is a local-multiplayer-only game where players are trying to win by accomplishing goals, but also given the means to eliminate each other from the game. This puts the player in an immediate state of conflict: should I try to touch all the statues to win, or by doing so, does that give me away as a player character?

In all game modes, there are a bunch of NPC characters that mostly just wander around randomly. So, kind of like SpyParty, a big part of the game is trying to blend in and look like a computer controlled character.

It's the first game I've made that I think is ACTUALLY FUN, and the first that my friends (playtesters) genuinely seem to enjoy. So I'm pretty excited to get it out there.

Look for it to be published in late November. Please let me know if you have any questions!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I made a new trailer video...

Also, since the last time I wrote, Ninja Party has been updated sort of significantly.

The real problem with Ninja Party was that it was impossible to determine who the players were. Players could easily just wander around and look exactly like the NPCs. Basically, you just needed to wait until someone got impatient and start taking swings at everyone, and it just turned into a duel.

So I needed to add something that the players would react to, but that the NPCs would ignore.

I added statues. You can win the game if you touch all five statues. This gives the players something to do, and something to guide their behavior, and therefore something to give themselves away.

The addition, I think, is a good one. It allows for multiple levels of strategy. You could just go for the statues straight away, but that would probably be pretty obvious. You could camp a statue, but you'd have to be careful, or you'd look suspicious.

The statues also have the benefit of blocking the view and giving some cover, so you can hide behind them and spring out at people. That's kinda neat.

I uploaded an official version to the IGF, to the tune of $95 or something. It's almost certainly money down the drain, but who knows. Just waiting on the finish cover art from my boy Eryn, and I'll be good to go. (See, I told you waiting on art would have a silver lining! If I wasn't waiting, I wouldn't have improved the Ninja Party gameplay!)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hidden in Plain Sight -- DONE

After a few nights of just playing around and testing and tinkering and tweaking, I'm ready to stand back from the canvas and say that I've painted my last stroke on this masterpiece of a game.

The ONLY thing left is to wait for Eryn to finish up the title/loading screen image for me.  As I've said, I'm not in any hurry to release, and this extra time has given me some opportunity to do some extra polishing and stuff.  So that's all good.

I made a YouTube video introducing the game.  It's a subtle game, so just showing silent gameplay footage wouldn't really sell it, I don't think.  The video ended up being 10 minutes long, but I think it does a decent job explaining each of the game modes, and showing why it's a fun game.  I was hoping to get some playtesters together tonight and record some actual game footage, but plans fell through.  Maybe next weekend.

I emailed out some websites with a link to the video.  I have no idea how to do marketing, and the very idea of it kind of makes my skin crawl, but I also want people to know about my game.  I try to convince myself that I'm just making games for myself, and it's neat if people download it, but of course in my secret heart I want the game to go viral and get thousands and thousands of sales.

Anyhoo, here's the video, if you haven't seen it already:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hidden in Plain Sight progress...

Getting closer!  Am I done?

In the last week or so, I’ve upgraded the menus so that they somewhat match the tiles theme that Eryn introduced in his title artwork.  I also added in the Trial mode stuff (two game modes free with trial, the rest you get with purchase), and a credits screen.  I’m pretty much done, I think.

Eryn emailed me today and said that he has some work and a timeline at his job, so he won’t be able to do more work on the title screen for a little while.  This is kind of a bummer, as I’m eager to get this to market, but also a blessing in disguise.  There absolutely no reason I need to rush anything, and having some extra time for playtesting and tweaking is always a good thing.  So I can put on my QA hat and look for bugs.  I could also try to do some marketing, but I don’t really know how to do that.

I did spam out some emails to gaming sites with a link to a pre-release version of the game.  I think one or two might have downloaded it, but I haven’t heard anything back.

One of the biggest steps I still need to take is put together a good demo video.  And I need the help of friends for that.  So hopefully I can rally a couple people this weekend and record that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Death Race

On my drive home from basketball, I had a revelation about a new game mode.

It’s been something I’d had kicking around in my noggin for a while, but something just kind of crystallized and it reached a tipping point where I thought it would be worth doing.

Here goes:

The mode is called “Death Race”.
A bunch of characters start out lined up along the left side of the screen.
Each player controls a single character.  The rest are NPCs.
At the right side of the screen is a finish line.
Players can move their character to the right by pushing “A” to walk, or “Y” to run.
The NPCs move randomly to the right, starting and stopping randomly, but always moving directly right (think lanes on a racetrack).
NPCs always walk.  They never run.
The first character to reach the finish line wins!

So why not just run from the start?

Each player also controls an aiming cross hair.  Pushing up or down on the Dpad will select the next character in the race.  (You don’t need to aim, you just select the character by their lane, and the aiming is done for you).
Pulling the trigger will kill the selected character (either NPC or player).
Players only get one shot.

So, here’s how I picture it going:

The game starts, and the players and NPCs start inching forward.  Everyone wants to get to the end first, but no one wants to stand out from the crowd and risk getting shot.  However, everyone KNOWS that no one wants to do that, so actually doing that might not be a bad idea.  Someone starts to take too big a lead, and a player shoots them dead.  As people get closer to the finish line, someone makes a break for it by sprinting, but is quickly shot down.  All of a sudden, it’s a mad dash to cross the finish line first, and laughter and pandemonium ensues.

Friday, September 23, 2011


When I released my last game, my old high school friend Aileen contacted me.  She said that her husband is a musician that has been trying to break into the video game business, and to let her know if I make another game.  I’ve met her husband once at our high school reunion, and knew that he did actual music for actual TV shows.  Way out of my league.

Anyways, now that I’m actually getting some work done and getting closer to creating a finished product, I emailed Aileen.  I made no bones about what kind of project this is (amateur), and exactly how much I was willing to pay ($0).  There’s plenty of “good enough” music out there that can be had for free.  And I’m all about “good enough”.  Really, the only reason he’d want to participate is if he wanted to be able to tell someone “I made music for a game that a couple hundred people played.”  A pretty raw deal, for sure.

Aileen forwarded the email to her husband, who we’ll call “Jim” (because that’s his name).  He wrote back and said that composing music was his sole source of income, and he wasn’t able to provide any original music for free.  Totally expected.  He normally does paid work for TV shows and commercials and stuff.  Fine, I fully understand.  No worries.  But then he goes and says “But here’s my WHOLE CATALOG OF 28 HOURS worth of music of all kinds of genres… go ahead and choose whatever you want for your game and use it for free.”



I’ve only had the chance to peruse a bit, but I don’t think I’ll have any problems finding some great stuff.  I’ve already downloaded some likely choices and used them as stand-in music, and it’s great.  It’s amazing how music can really set the mood of a scene.

So, a bit thank you to my new best friend Jim.