Category Archives: articles
Digitally Downloaded, a local games web site, ran a roundtable feature article today which asked a series of questions of a list of developers from throughout Australia. The list of devs includes myself, Santana Mishra (Witch Beam), Morgan Jaffit (Defiant Development), Nicole Stark (Disparity Games), Paul Turbett (Black Lab Games), Neil Rennison (Tin Man Games), Ross Symons (Big Ant Studios), Nic Watt (Nnooo) and Trent Kusters (Armello).
Questions cover all sorts of things about the Australian games development industry, so if you want to get a great, multi-voiced 50’000ft overview of what it’s like to make games in Australia, this is the article to check out and share. Every one of these developers has great things to say which are important for anyone trying to make it as a games developer here.
I’ve been quite candid in this interview about battling depression and anxiety, which has hit me particularly hard this year. I suppose I’ve just decided that it’s something I want to be more open about now so that I can be some kind of support both for the students that I teach in my part time job at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment and for other developers, family and friends.
With that in mind, I’ve also agreed to be on a panel at PAX Australia called More Than a Game: Playing for Mental Health and Wellbeing. It’ll take place on the Saturday of PAX (31st October) at 3-4pm at the Wombat Theatre. You can find it on the map (right) or you can come say hi at our booth.. Please do come along, feel free to ask me or the vast panel of excellent speakers on the subject any questions you’d like. Alternatively, anyone who’d like to talk can approach me immediately after the panel. I’ll make a point of sticking around and carrying on the conversation with anyone who’s interested in talking.
Be well, everyone, and I look forward to seeing you all at PAX!
Both the founders of Flat Earth have today had pieces published concerning the current and ongoing debate around the dominance of male characters in games. We’ve personally found no reason to assume that our characters ought to be male or that players specifically want a male avatar, and have tried to create our games accordingly. So far, our fans have either not cared in the slightest or have been quite grateful.
So here’s Rohan, writing a guest post for Kotaku discussing how female game characters can provide the context for new gameplay opportunities: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2014/06/the-most-interesting-assassins-creed-has-a-female-protagonist/
And here’s Leigh, writing about the minutia of the decisions regarding the character selection screens in both TownCraft and Metrocide: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/LeighHarris/20140623/219598/Male_normalcy_in_character_selection.php
People talk about the value of players all the time, but usually in the free-to-play world. There are ‘whales’ which spend utterly stupid amounts of money on your game and buy everything there is to buy through in-app purchases, then there are those who will squeeze every last drop of gameplay out of it without ever succumbing to a single transaction. Thus, players are ranked according to their ‘value’ by how much money they bring in.
We ‘value’ our players in a slightly different way.
Our most valuable players are those who play the game at length, get really deep into it and send us emails, comment on our Facebook page or just otherwise let us know what we’re doing right and wrong.
Once someone’s bought TownCraft, they’ll get any and all updates for free. We’re still constantly working on new features, bug fixes, a smoother user interface and of course new content, but we don’t charge for it – we just want to keep making the game better so that, by the time it comes to other platforms, we can be confident that we’re putting our best foot forward.
As such, while we of course appreciate the extra cash that comes from someone who just compulsively buys apps even if they don’t play them, we’re not really seeing much extra value from gamers who picked up our game when it was 99c for the Black Friday sale and then either played it once or didn’t play it at all.
So with that in mind, Rohan’s written a Gama Sutra blog post about pricing, value and the people who play our game.
Check it out here:
Rohan has just written a piece for Medium.com outlining his thoughts on how and why it’s important to be ethical in the multitude of design decision one makes while creating a game.
Indeed, it’s something we’ve tried to pay particular attention to with TownCraft, but Rohan’s exploration of why he realised that the most minute of decisions were at their core ethical choices is very worth the read.
It’s everything from our business model (one payment only) to our treatment of trees and the environment in what is otherwise a quite benign game, one might assume.
Along similar lines, check out an article I wrote last year talking about how every decision we make is political, and the responsibility we have to wield that power with the weight it deserves.
So, TownCraft is out now in Australia for iPad. If you’re one of the people who’s bought it already, or you’re thinking about buying it either now or when it comes out for your platform/region, this blog post is for you.
TownCraft is a game which contains:
- 95 different types of objects you can place in the world
- 210 different resources you can have in your inventory
- 216 different recipes which can be used to create those resources
- 33 different subtly distinct types of biome which are used to create each world
What does this mean? Frankly, it means we need your feedback. After months of play-testing (years if you include early alpha versions) there’s still a slight chance we may have missed something. And while we may have been largely inspired by 1990s-style video games, unlike games of the DOS era, we are not washing our hands of it – it is a continually evolving game, and we’ll support it as long as you guys keep playing it and giving us feedback!
Do you like parts of it, but think that turnips are slightly overpriced? Or grow too fast? Finished a scenario in a specific time and want to brag about it? (Our lead tester’s current record is about 2 and a half hours for the first scenario!) Found a bug (either the crawling on your cabbage plantation kind or the digital kind)? Think we should add a certain feature? Let us know! We’ve created an email account just for you – firstname.lastname@example.org – and we’ll be checking it every day, and we don’t just value your thoughts – we rely on them!
We’ve already submitted an update to the app store with a myriad of small fixes, tweaks and even a few new features to make the tutorial a bit more elegant for first-time players, and you can expect many more after that, including new maps coming very soon.
This is your game now, not just ours. Tell us what you think!
But what about the near future?
Our next steps are game balancing based on feedback, localisation for other languages and regions, iPhone support (Yes, it’ll be a universal app – if you own it on iPad, you’ll already own it on iPhone!), a few new surprises & features – and, of course, working to fix any niggling issues or problems we (and you) have discovered over the last few days.
And the features? Well, here’s a hint: if you’ve managed to plough through the three (huge) scenarios the initial release shipped with, you’re in luck: we’re working right now on challenge scenarios to stump even veterans like our testers!
Games aren’t really ever finished these days, and TownCraft will be no exception. We want to thank you for buying our game (or having an interest in it!) and we promise to keep working on it.
It’s been a while, but I wanted to share with everyone the joyous experience of slowly watching our world come to life.
We’ve been tweaking and fixing many a thing as we approach launch at breakneck speed (we’re thinking around July right now), but the things which have changed the game the most significantly have ended up being the most humble.
All the trees which you can see in each screenshot blow gently in the breeze – a ten minute job to get the functionality going and about another 20-30 minute job to assign the appropriate wind-resistance to various objects – the result is that it’s just mesmerising to stare at the game world for a decent period of time. The leaves, reeds, trees and shrubs gently blow back and forth while our ambient breeze noise picks up and dies periodically in the background. Can’t be happier with the way that’s turned out.
Meanwhile, now that all our peasants are working properly, we’ve recently given them things to say. It’s truly remarkable just how much character is suddenly added to the world when the peasants stop being automatons who you can hire to be farmers, crafters, fishers, miners etc and suddenly have thoughts which relate to the state and size of your town.
So, Leigh posted his thoughts recently on the fact that our game, despite being primarily targeted at iPad, is not really an ‘iPad game’. It is in the sense that was it was built from the ground up for this platform – the interface went through three careful major iterations to make it as elegant, seamless and transparently simple as possible on a touch interface.
But it also *isn’t* in the sense that is is a full, solid premium game. These are my thoughts on that – consider it a friendly rebuttal, if you like, or at the very least an alternate perspective – why I feel he’s right… but why I feel that’s not a problem.
It wasn’t designed for in-app microtransactions, and even the budget/scale of the game is more like a mid-level indie game than a little iPad twitch-fest. This we’ve known from the start – but it wasn’t something that bothered me. Far from it – I considered it an opportunity – and a challenge. To illustrate this, I’ll tell a story.
One of the lingering things which has me somewhat perturbed as we rapidly approach final beta is the notion that our game isn’t the right fit for the platform. This was hammered home to an extent yesterday when discussing the difficulty level of See Through Studios’ game Unstoppabot at the iOS game’s launch drinks.
(Side note: everyone do make a point of checking out one of Sydney’s best indie developers’ latest works. It’s a unique game from designer Nick Kolan and is easy to pick up and play. And it’s free.)
Essentially, their game, which combines the frantic nature of an endless runner and the synapse-firing of a puzzler, has a tempestuous difficulty curve. Appearing distressingly easy at first, the game quickly ramps up. Not in speed, as you’d expect from an endless runner, but in the complexity of the puzzles. Truth be told, they’d be rather simple to get through if the screen weren’t constantly moving, and hence the challenge.
What Nick told me last night was that they found the game markedly too difficult when it came time to playtest. I, myself, am up to level 13. I’m told it’s level 14 where the game gets quite hard.
Creating our in-game economy has been an interesting experience. I’ve finished penning a second draft of it, and it’s still not quite adding up right. The cake is the most valuable item in the game, while a table is more valuable than a finely crafted sword.
What I’ve been doing is creating algorithms for calculating the market value of each item. I’ve started by giving each raw resource (there are approximately 20) a core value so that I can give values to all subsequent parts those resources can create. For example, a wooden log is worth 8, but can be broken into two wooden planks, which are worth 4 apiece.
Then there’s the complexity of the crafting of each item which adds a multiplier. The more complicated the crafting table used to create the item, the larger the multiplier.
The wooden planks would attract a multiplier of 1.5 for being an item you can craft on the most basic table: the woodworking table. If, however, you’ve created an iron stove and cook a soup using ingredients you’ve farmed yourself and had to grow and protect manually, it’ll attract a 5 times multiplier.
There is an uncomfortable similarity between making a movie and making a video game.
Not really in any of the practice (unless you’re doing a heavily CG movie), but the similarity is there.
When you start a film, you’re writing the script and planning how it will be shot. You’re putting stuff in. Same at the beginning of a game. When we were penning our design document, we were dreaming up features, some only vaguely defined, but features and gameplay elements nonetheless.
As the engine begins to take form and you start to be able to, y’know… *play* the game… you start to dream up more ideas. The fortnightly (sort of) meetings or random coffee breaks would often result in a handful of ideas, one or two of which might end up in the melting pot – especially if one of those ideas is very easy to code and could, say, be knocked together in a few minutes while the shine of the idea was still there.
It’s a really great way for a game to evolve organically – not right for every type of game, but one that’s basically a sandbox with some fun toys in it? It’s really worked for us.