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.