Author Archives: leigh
In our many wanderings, we were fortunate enough to wander just recently over to the biggest and grand-mac-daddyest gaming expo of them all: E3.
The experience, as an indie developer, is vastly different than the experience as a punter, larger-scale dev or media pundit, with the convention by and large catering to the biggest of the fish, with only the most standout, well-funded and publisher-sponsored indie titles getting enough floor space to attract any notice.
Darlings there were aplenty, however, with The Unfinished Swan and SoundShapes simple blowing us away.
Unfinished Swan is one of those Cindarella stories where a student working on something cool (in this case a completely white game world with no shadows whatsoever where you can only see by lobbing black paint around the place to get some sense of where you are) was noticed by Sony, plucked from his university lifestyle and given a team and a budget to turn his idea into a fully fledged concept piece. Kinda like the experimental albums which can either lead a band astray or have them hailed as artistes, Unfinished Swan commands respect from across the show floor. Decadent, elegant, distinguished – it blares from all angles that Sony believe in sponsoring the arts, and provide a service which connects you to a higher culture than that of its Microsoftian brethren.
I am, of course, being at least somewhat facetious, but while it’s easy to be cynical about what a game like Unfinished Swan does for a brand, it’s also just breathtaking to play, and will likely cop the same universal praise a game from ThatGameCompany (Journey, Flower) would.
SoundShapes is the second game from Jonathan Mac (Queasy Games, the outfit who created Everyday Shooter). Sitting quietly in the corner of the (also Sony) booth, this Vita title is a simple platformer where each of the coins you collect (there are several in each screen and each screen takes a good minute or so to cross) adds a note to the music. This builds to a pitch-perfect climax as you approach the end of each level, with the music in full force and only getting stronger and more vibrant right before the finale.
The kicker in this cute little title is the Superband factor. Music and art styles for each level are brought over from someone of significant repute. Obviously, Mr Mac has his own level, but so does the chap who created Swords and Sworcery, and the illustrious Deadmou5 has done one of the music tracks. Each level (or ‘record’) has its own completely distinct art style and its own music track, and each feels entirely different.
The potential for DLC is obvious, and the level editor (and music editor) is complex enough that it’s got the potential to rival Little Big Planet for user-generated content.
But these titles, modest in scope though they may be relative to the larger pack, are immense properties which must’ve each surpassed the $1 million mark as a cost to bring each to market.
Nothing puts life in perspective more for you as a gamer than E3. The big trumpet their bigness with aplomb, while the smallest of the small must still be one of the lucky few to be featured in the Indiecade booth (conveniently not located in either of the two major halls) if they’re to be featured at all.
Not saying it’s a grim or disheartening experience, just that for a budding developer with a game world in his pocket ready to bust out and shine in hapless victims’ faces at a moment’s notice, it’s essentially about networking rather than demonstrating. Gathering business cards, meeting people who may be able to help your game get noticed and keeping a firm eye and ear out for any opportunities to get a little attention is the order of the day.
And of course, it’s an opportunity to go and hang around the Watch Dogs booth for hours on end. 🙂
So yes, that title was sarcastic.
Flat Earth has been at Game Tech for the last day and a bit, and it’s entirely about one thing – monetizing (I’m intentionally using the American spelling here, I feel it’s an American word) digital enterprise. Now, we’ve had some rather heated internal debates surrounding how to effectively make money on our humble little endeavour, looking at models including people paying us money and getting our game, people playing a bit of our game then paying us money for the full game, people playing our game for free with optional ways to pay for a different experience, and other fun models like these.
We’re still a fair way off deciding how this sort of thing will work in our game, but we’ve got one firm principle we’re sticking to above all else: the business model will be added to our already completed game.
What we mean by this is that we want a game which is fun to play in and of itself, not a game where we intentionally frustrate or stagnate the player’s progress until they pay us money. We have no interest in holding players to ransom and implementing a bottleneck in our game where people want to pay for nefarious reasons.
But one thing is very clear, this conference is all about companies of various shapes and sizes trying to figure out how to make money out of games. Everyone is doing digital, even big franchises are looking at ways to extend their brand to mobile, tablets, Facebook and any other place where their fans can be found.
Us? We’re just making damn sure that whatever way we decide will be our final payment model, it will not be something which breaks or alters the gameplay we consider fun.
The fun comes first, business models ought to be built around an existing and internally fun game. The two ought not be developed in tandem.
Perhaps this should be one of those pledges from the ‘We the developers‘ declaration article? Heh.
The prodigious offspring of Josh Sawyer and Will Wright (I think) has decided to come and join our humble team here at Flat Earth, and is being tasked with making things move!
Joshua Wright, the deliciously talented guy over at www.heliocentric.com.au who has done work for such fine and prestigious companies as Playbit Entertainment and the illustrious Tin Man Games (creators of the Gamebook Adventure series who just recently scored the Final Fantasy license, which is sick).
Josh joins out character artist Justine Colla and our environmental artist Corey Attard, both graduates of AIE, to help bring the world and inhabitants of our first game to life.
Oh yes, there will be harvesting.
Stay tuned… more soon…
So our friends over at Indiebits have just run a feature outlining just how the hell we all got to where we are. Rohan and I discuss in depth the games we loved to play, what we were so interested in that led us to get into gaming in general, and perhaps most importantly, how we got there.
It couldn’t have been more than a week later when I got a call, and with the tone of someone suddenly aware that what “never happens” is actually happening to him, Rohan says “So, that game we were talking about…I think I get to make it”.
For as long as I’ve known Rohan he’s wanted to be a games developer – and he was more surprised than anyone when he and his soon-to-be-creative director-brother, Leigh Harris, found themselves with funding, a distribution partner and a development team bringing their idea to life.
Click here for the full tale over at Indiebits.
Since knowing I was actually going to be creating my own game, I’ve been paying extra special attention to that fine tension between what a developer wants me to experience and what I want to experience. There have been some great games which have led me to want to do the things the dev has planned, and yet others where I feel my desire to do certain things has been belied by a developer’s restrictions, furthering that gap.
In honour of this mode of thinking, I’ve listed a few principles of player experience I wish to adhere to in games where the genre in question calls for it…
If you’ve spent time crafting a gorgeous game world, you’ve given a player reason to explore. Find a way to reward a player who indulges in a little fanciful roaming. After all, you’ve told them it was ok by making the world in the first place. Acknowledge that you took the same journey as they did when designing the game and recognise their desire to check things out. Acknowledge it by making sure there’s something out there to find, even things with no effect on gameplay. They’re worth their weight in gold.
Long-term temporal rewards
Longevity in a game is just as much about replayability as it is about thinking there’s something more to find. After completing every objective and knocking off an amazing high score in Tiny Wings, I still played the game with a fervour and regularity which one could call an obsession. Why? I was wondering if there would be a tenth island (there is).
Feeding newness into a game even dozens of hours in lets people know there’s still more to find, see and enjoy. Finding a new style of gameplay, type of item or little flourish is just like being rewarded for exploration – it reminds you that your relationship with the developers is still progressing in some way. If the game stops changing, the developers have stopped talking and you feel lonely. Keep on interacting with your players. Always.
So now I’ve surveyed, I’ve wandered, I’ve taken in everything I feel I need to about the game world and I’m ready to plant my first seed. I’m building my first line in Railroad Tycoon, my first city in Civilization, my latest weapon in Home Alone, and I want to be rewarded. I need to see growth, I need to understand where that growth came from and how I affected it, I need to maintain that sense of ownership as the thing I’ve created becomes massive and not lose that attachment (I’m looking at you, Spore). Some people knock stuff up in ten seconds for practical reasons, others evenly space out the braziers in Stronghold for aesthetic reasons – either way, that ability to own is important.
When Railroad Tycoon first fires up, you can scroll anywhere you like in the game world, often taking up to 15 minutes before you make your first action which has any impact. You scour the map, looking for that perfect terrain, that subtle gradient and the best-placed sets of industry surrounded by prosperous towns. When you try out that first line, if it fails, you know damn well whose fault it was.
Failure in videogames isn’t something developers should fear – failure, as any halfwit can tell you, is part of learning and growing. If you let a player have a stab at something, muck it up and have to try again before they get it right, they’ll feel ten times better about their accomplishment than if they’d have been guided to the correct answer (or even led to believe that was the case).
Know how to wield your weapons as a developer. A truly great game designer will understand what incentivised a player to action, and will reward the player for following that incentive. It needn’t be in a positive way (consider the incentive to jump and grab a rope in Limbo leading to you being eaten by a bear trap), but a reaction is necessary. If you tell someone they’re chasing a person and that person is escaping in a plane, don’t punish them for running after said person for not having completed an unclear objective with no plot bearing whatsoever (not that I’m citing a specific game, am I Max Payne 3?). If you give people an object which appears markedly different than other objects of a similar nature, don’t be surprised when the player goes out of their way to click on that object to explore its purpose. Recognise the use of such basic incentives as running right in a platformer, exploring in an open world, interacting with one object because your world establishes a rule where objects can be interacted with. Incentives are aesthetic, narrative, intrinsic, functional and much more besides. Aim to acknowledge to any player that they’ve recognised a rule. Otherwise, you’re letting the player know that you don’t understand the rules of your own game, and the relationship between player and developer begins to break down.
So amongst my many typing duties is a fortnightly column for MMGN, a Melbourne-based community web site.
This fortnight, I decided, given the exciting news on the Flat Earth front, to do up an article with the best advice I know how to give to people who are looking to cross the divide between being a fan of games and being a creator of games.
There’s nothing too specific in there about what to expect, but more of a do’s and dont’s guide.
Anyone who fits that bill can check it out here.
- We pledge to make games based on good ideas first, and any other considerations second. (Except possibly selling out. -Rohan)
- We will not release any games that we ourselves do not enjoy playing.
- We want to recapture the spirit of the 90s games we grew up on – the humour, the ownership over the worlds you could create, the satisfaction of accomplishment based on what you found and made (rather than based on achievements dictated by someone else). (Are we going to re-capture the frustration of configuring extended memory managers, too? -Rohan)
- We pledge create games which come out of ideas based on more than just other games, and draw inspiration from all walks of life. (Or rolls of life, if it’s a racing game. -Rohan)
- We promise not to get too preachy when our games involve politics (and they will).
- We promise to take any and all power having an audience (regardless of size) may grant us seriously. (I had a dream once where I had an audience. In it I realised I was naked behind the podium. :-[ -Rohan)
- We believe in free speech (even for Broodmasters).
- We pledge that Rohan will never again dance at the Opera Bar after drinking Gin.
- Leigh pledges never to post video of it on the internet… again.
- We pledge to be derivative of other games only insofar as we blend said derivative elements in new and unique ways.
- If we don’t have a genuinely new idea, we won’t make that game.
- We promise not to corrupt the integrity of our games with nefarious and soul-destroying monetisation practises. (I can’t think of a witty retort to this one. -Rohan)
- We pledge, promise and will never take ourselves too seriously (see above).
We shan’t let you down! (Not a pledge)