Although Kite has been in development for over 2 years now, there haven’t been many opportunities to show it off at an event. This year however, I was invited to show at the Eugene Comicon, or Eucon – where there is an entire island dedicated to Indie games. I eagerly accepted the challenge, and it proved to be well worth the effort!
Sharing a few of the big takeaways and surprises will be the focus of this post; if you haven’t shown your game before it’s an intimidating task and you’ll need all the help you can get. Some of this is very 101, but there should be a tidbit for everyone!
Eucon is a strange place, Eugene being a pretty small town, the con has a real backwoods feel. This was the second year and the floor space was at least double last year’s. In 2015 it was fiercely crowded, but from what I can tell – that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. This year’s expansive space was never really crowded and there honestly weren’t enough vendors to fill the two large rooms, leaving some very dreary corners and areas in the room we were in. My main problem with this was when you’re in a big huge convention room and it’s only 1/2 full of vendors it really takes away from the ‘excitement of abundance’ as I call it. As humans, we want to see full, complete, abundant things. Just like at a grocery store or a good party. You need to build up that frenzy and a crowded, busy atmosphere is ideal.
That being said, nothing to be done about it! You work with what you got and applying the same abundance principal to everything under your control is a great strategy. The more people around your booth, the more people it will attract. The more product out on the table, the more people will buy. The more empty space, the less folks will be interested. You get the idea.
Humans love to consume the best of the best and taking the first item from a complete group is immensely satisfying to us so keep a bunch of all your swag and items out at the same time and replenish them.
Having at least two stations is crucial. We left one machine sitting there, mid-stage, just waiting to be played, and the other would always be reset after someone left to go through the intro loop. One of the two would grab most people’s eyeballs for a bit.
Have an intro loop. You need to mesmerize people every second they look at those screens and a static title or menu won’t do it.
Have a good stereo. Don’t make it an arms race with your neighbors but as politely as possible, pump the bass. You will cut through the din with your SFX and music and I guarantee none of the potential customers will say ‘turn it down’.
Having a mouse/keyboard as opposed to a controller is intimidating. Engaging with people is incredibly easy when you can just hand them a controller. You’ll also have 80% of parents and children able to attempt your game. Which brought me to one of my biggest takeaways!
Holy #%^$ kids want to play my game so bad. And most of their parents want to buy it for them! Somehow this completely escaped me, but that was sort of the point of making Kite! Build the game I would’ve wanted to play in middle school. One thing about these kids is that they have home ‘rules’ limiting their playtime (as opposed to the modern adult realities of being chewed up and ejected into the great spittoon of life). Most of them want to make games for a living (strange considering we’re really light on Biggie and Jordan types) and their parents honestly want to support them.
These factors all combine to literally make the perfect customers and as a solo dev my pitch wrote itself:
“Your kid is really good at Kite.”
“Oh yeah they love games you know, their friends all play ___craft.”
“Nice! ___craft has really opened up a lot of horizons for this generation because it’s so accessible and creative.”
“Yeah, they even mess around with this after-school program and work on making games. How big is your team?”
“Just me. Yup, art, sound – I had the soundtrack composed though. This Canadian guy, he was great.”
We talk about gamedev, learning programming or art or Gamemaker specifically. How I always wanted to do games too but didn’t until recently because it was more accessible. Meanwhile the kid is just locked in, usually blasting the hell out of some plants.
“We like how it’s not really violent or too sexy.”
“Yeah just doing what I can to promote a non-sexualized female protagonist. Stuff like that is the biggest issue with my industry.”
At this point, unless they don’t have a computer, they’re asking to buy or how much the game costs. It also helped that I released the same day as the con so I could call it brand new, etc.
Have a raffle and have swag. We raffled off a free swag box every 2 hours for the entire con. The swag box had all my postcards of game art, a fridge magnet, robot stickers, a sweet envelop and card with the Steam key and the box itself was hand painted in Kite’s traditional colors of cyan, lime and magenta. You bet people are signing up completely free, giving me their emails (squeeze page anyone?). It also gives non-players something to do and lodges your game firmly in their brain.
It was awesome to see people win too! Several hadn’t ever won a single thing and they were just on cloud nine. If they couldn’t redeem it in person a key was emailed to them.
Have posters, big ones. When I ordered from Vistaprint I thought “2.5 x 4 that’s a huge poster” and it is, if you’re at home. The scale of things is completely different at a con and I promise you that it’s nearly impossible to go ‘too big’.
Have fun with your appearance! You’re at a con, everyone is wearing something weird, join the fray! There was one other Indie guy who dressed up and he had a different ridiculous suit from Oppo-Suits each day. Him and I got a lot of attention for dressing up at all.
Have help. No way could I have pulled it all off on my own, the Indie Con team had multiple aides each day helping everyone out, the main director lent me his son’s computer for the second station and I had incredibly good advice giving booth mates. Not to mention my wife Dana and good friends Mike, Shannon, and Hunter all helping out.
New resolution, zoomed view in and implemented a ‘smart smooth camera’ that follows either the player or the cursor depending on both of their locations and does so in a smooth manner (still needs tweaking)
New level! ‘The Outbuilding’ which features prototypes of the Enemey Turret. Turrets can be destroyed, but the base will retract and repair itself; when complete the turret will come back online. Loot drops when you take them out. This level is meant to be a sort of introductory level and in the final you wouldn’t have access to all the powers you do in the Alpha.
Many new small effects and features have been added since the last update including new effects for your ‘R’ power (Moon Beam), new destructable trees, updated lighting and sound effects, new full screen overlays when taking damage or using bullet time and a new flash animation when any entity takes damage.
Stuff not covered in game:
Press ‘Tab’ to check out the upgrade system, use the numpad to spend points or numpadminus to return points. 20 to start for now + 1 per level.
Press ‘C’ to toggle the stats panel which will give you more detailed info about your character.
Go through the goal door to progress through the levels or ‘Pg Up’ / ‘Pg Dwn’ to cycle them.
Press ‘Esc’ Pauses and brings up the keybinds and help screen. GL and happy hunting!
It’s been too long! I know how insatiable my fans are (believe me – flooded with fan letters last week), and it’s high time I throw ‘em a bone, so let’s talk about what’s new.
First and foremost, holy crap I fixed the shitty interpolated terrible visuals. Right now the game runs at 1920×1200 and it’s pixel perfect, soon I’ll get resizing going on so you can play it at a smaller rez, but it will still be pixel perfect no matter what your monitor’s native iis. This was a huge win for me, I had seriously considered drastic measures to fix this and it ended up being some lame setting from the title screen that became default for all the other levels, simply reset the variable upon creation of each level and viola!
Here’s an example of the old vs new perspective:
Now, as soon as that game zoomed out so much, it also became a lot more fun. Yeah it may be a bit too far out right now, but it’s really helped the gameplay after a few accommodations. Here’s the big two changes that I’ve been inundated with requests for:
HUGE range boost to ALL guns
MOVEMENT speed increased all around
So now that we can see around us better, we can actually do this thing called KITING! My god, what a concept! Moving way faster just had to be done because at the old movement speed, when you’re zoomed out so far it feels soooo slow.
Of course the enemies got some juice to make up for it but the biggest change to the enemies is that the drones now use pathfinding and will hunt you down if you break LoS with them. They can see you from very far away and will come into range and start juking and shooting at you. They can have any of the one hand weapons that you have and by far the most formidable is the rail gun. Dodging shots from a pack of rail gun drones while you deal with their shorter ranged shotgun wielding cousins is very close to the gameplay I’ve envisioned since the beginning.
Here’s a little vid of the pathfinding:
There’s been a whole slew of visual updates besides just the resolution, but they’re mostly small details – I can now draw unlimited stuff permanently to the ground or wherever I like so shells and blast stains stay forever, along with the footprints that you make in the grass.
I also dropped the soundtrack for now in favor of a much smaller download which took it from 250ish to 85megs, there’s just an intro loop now.
Early in Kite’s Greenlight Campaign I was approached by an enthusiastic fellow who wanted to start a German retro e-magazine. It seemed like a bit of a long shot, but he wanted an interview and what had I to lose? He was going to be writing it in German, translating the questions to English, I’d answer them and then he would translate them back to German for his magazine. Phew.
The questions that finally landed in my inbox were encouraging and well thought out. He had clearly done his research and felt passionate about indie games like mine. I had to go the extra mile for each answer and things got a bit long and windy, but he assured me it was all good!
Fast forward about a month, low and behold SLACK-O-TASTIC Magazine dropped all over my inbox and sent me into a fit with it’s 90s game mag style and nostalgic features. The work speaks for itself – I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.
Although it’s in German, please leaf through the downloadable PDF and devour every page of this fantastically composed retro mag, featuring old Horror VHS reviews and Ferris Bueller quotes:
So let’s get to the good stuff! Being entirely in German, I’ll be giving you one page of the mag followed by the English version of that page. Much of the text was translated for me by Reddit user drkii1911 who selflessly reached out and offered a hand. Thanks again mate!
Page 25: Forward
The first computer games were developed in the 50s/60s in US universities. In the 70s technology allowed independent (indie) developers to realize their vision inside their garages. Most of the time people worked alone: creative, programming, sound, and publishing was solely in the hands of one person. The pioneers later on earned high sums because people were busting down their doors to get their revolutionary titles. Small teams were formed to build even larger projects. At some point business executives saw the potential cash flow. So some nerd who just started with game dev because of their love of games became a cold business strategist. In the 80s large gaming companies were formed which brought in a high amount of revenue. Nowadays those big companies buy out smaller indie studios. Profit seems to be the motivation of the industry. The exciting and colorful world of computer games finally reached mainstream. Nevertheless some people were still holding up their indie banners. Individuals and small teams didn’t die off completely, they just became fewer in numbers and more underground. In the last couple of years indie gaming has become a phenomenon once more and gained attention from platforms like Steam. Through Steam’s Greenlight function, you can publish your own games. S-O- T-M presents three of those titles and gets insight from their developers. Step into the independent domain.
Page 38: Kite Part 1
“One Woman, against a rebellion of robots”
In a far, distant future there is finally peace again on earth. Now Humanity uses technology to revitalize the planet instead of destroying it; every weapon factory is shut down and scientific progression in this area is strictly forbidden. If not for the secret “Arch City”, a giant city sized complex in which scientists eagerly experiment on utopian weapons. Which element is still missing for a classic “end-of- time” scenario? Right – a robot rebellion. We are in charge of Mags, a sort of female super soldier. Armed to the teeth with ultramodern technology… Well yea how else should it be: to eliminate the robot plague which is threatening the newly forged peace.
Release: End of 2016
Developer/Publisher: Lab Cat Games
“KITE” could perish in the vast amount of PC-Games with its generic story – if it wasn’t for the interesting gameplay which forms this action loaded Sci-Fi dungeon crawler into a real Indie sleeper hit: While we play the game we don’t only have a vast amount of weapons at our fingertips (Railguns, Lightsabers, Rockets- and flamethrower, Revolver, etc.), but there are defensive drones which protect and circle us for protection. This secret technology is also capable of slowing down time – bullet-time anyone? Also the movement brings a breath of fresh air; Mags is capable of performing a quick dash (perfect to dodge things) or throwing on a boost for a longer period. Planting mines, teleport or even heal… all this is possible. Since we can choose between two sets and switch between three self-chosen weapons and customize special abilities as well, Kite offers many individual possibilities to destroy robot butts – especially since armor and body implants are upgradable and can be equipped with different stats.
First Image Top Right: The beta is already making a solid impression.
Second Image Bottom Right: Mag kicks properly into titananuses (translators note: yea it literally says anus).
Page 39: Kite Part 2
There is a lot of action in game; a high tempo and enemy count. An isometric “Contra”. Direct influences were SNES titles like “The Chaos Engine”, “SmashTV” and “Zombies Ate my Neighbours”. Kite is right up there with it’s role models and enhances the genre of shoot ‘em ups with it’s RPG elements, fast paced gameplay and it’s perfect controls.
Graphically = Retrotastic eye candy
Music = Like taken out of an 80’s action movie.
What more do you want? Well yea a Steam release wouldn’t be bad. So please help make this ambitious indie project come to Steam’s broader audience. Give the super soldier a green light: Please vote!
Page 40: Kite Part 3
The Creator of Kite gives the Slack-O-Tastic Magazine a Jumbo Interview
S-O-T-M: Hey, James! In 2014 you quit your management-job to give birth to ‘Lab Cat Games’. Now you’re living your dream and the first game is getting released soon. How hard was it for you to take the first step into independence? What was the final thing that pushed you to follow your dreams?
James Treneman: It seems cliche to say but I’ve wanted to make games since I can remember. In 1st grade, I would ink levels out in tiny notebooks and get whoever I could to ‘play’. Then I would give them a list of actions and start role playing. I’ve always sketched or been creating something. However once I could actually play video games my game making dream slowly faded into the background and I fell in love with all the worlds contained within each new game I discovered.
My grandpa gifted me a computer on my 12th birthday, it was a 486 that ran WIN ‘95. I wish I could say I put it to good use but honestly I was much more into playing games. However it turned me into the ‘computer wiz’ and pulled me away from my SNES long enough to dabble in programming.
Eventually I would go on to college for CS and learn several languages including Java, but I got extremely disenchanted with computer science and foolishly dropped out of college with about three-quarters of a degree. Again, I was far more into playing games than making them, and the Indie pipeline to success wasn’t established in those days. It seemed like you either got a database job or worked at a AAA shop or possibly did something interesting with cyber security. Either way I wasn’t looking forward to any of it! But I was still always creating. In those days I would produce these elaborate videos of my WoW exploits – so basically just slacking off. I really didn’t have much direction until I totally shifted gears – decided that I wanted to do autobody work!
I was hired on as an apprentice helping to restore an old Ford B. I learned a love for doing body work and the art of it; decided to go to school for that and saved up enough to move down to California and enter into this super intensive trade school. Upon graduation I landed a job back in Oregon at a collision shop. I still wasn’t making games, but I was writing a sci-fi novel for fun and it was extremely rewarding, and would come in handy later, like many of my random interests.
Ended up in a management position at a service center that had nothing to do with autobody, computers or anything I gave a shit about. The company itself was so royally fucked up that the mere fact that I was a relatively sane human being (the owner constantly told me I had great ‘energy’) meant that I couldn’t fail. However it was soul crushing work and I basically convinced the guy to lay me off after a year. This turned out to be my master-stroke.
I was at a crossroads. I had been feeling creatively stifled for some time. I’m a hip-hop dancer and I was making videos of that, but I knew I didn’t have a future in it or anything. I had to face the realities of my life: over 25 jobs and I’d never liked any of them for more than a couple years. I’d had a similar history with hobbies. What the shit was I to do?
All I knew was that I needed to fucking create something. I was done just punching the damn clock because I’d tried that, a bunch. I had a unique opportunity thanks to being laid off: there is a social program for unemployed people starting small businesses. This jobs program covered my very basic needs for about 6 months and gave me a time buffer to work with. I just had to decide what I was building.
Gamemaker Studio hit me like a sack of bricks. I learned Java in college and GM:S language is basically a toy version of Java and was easy for me to pick up. Maybe I could create that game I’ve always wanted to play? I dove in deep and hard. Had a prototype that was ‘fun’ in less than a week and that’s when I went all in and committed to gamedev.
Page 41: Kite Part 4
S-O-T-M: While playing ‘Kite’ it seems that a whole team is involved in the creation process. The truth is, that you’re responsible for it – all alone … except the music. Isn’t it a giant load of work to do all this solo? Looks like a full-time job with overtime hours. 😉
James Treneman: It’s a giant mess of work indeed. My perspective has changed in fact! I used to naively say “I don’t think I want any help, because only I can really understand what I’m trying to do.” But after working with Liam on the music I have a lot more confidence in collaboration and I know how powerful it would be to be in a small team with say an artist and programmer. It’s really all about communication and if you have chemistry with someone and can share a vision, you will make a great team I think.
It’s more than a full time job, but it’s the most rewarding one I’ve ever had and I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet! I basically invested everything I had in myself and was able to survive these last two years by liquidating my life savings and that jobs program. I feel that it’s a strong investment because even if Kite isn’t financially successful, it should break me into the indie game world and move my career forward.
S-O-T-M: You have been working at the game for many months. What keeps you motivated all the time?
James Treneman: Satisfaction comes in truckloads whenever I can translate something in my head onto the screen and into the game. It’s some sort of a megalomaniacal desire I’m pretty sure, but creating whole worlds from scratch every day is a bit too much fun for me.
However there is one clear fact: feedback is the best motivator for nearly all creators. Any time I hear any comment (positive or negative) about my work I excitedly look at it with fresh eyes. I also love brainstorming with my friends about how to implement features or ‘find the fun’ as I say.
So much support comes from family and friends! People taking the time to ask about the game or give input is one thing, but that’s not always enough to get you through life’s curve balls. My wife Dana and I have been through a real grinder to get here, and without loving friends and family who believe in us it wouldn’t have happened.
S-O-T-M: Are there any tips you can give to people who also want to become game-developer?
James Treneman: Go do it! Another cliche answer but here’s my take on it: never before has it been so easy to design your own game! GM:S is like a dream come true for me because it’s so easy to break into it and find answers as you go. You’re lucky to be alive right now! Art & Entertainment are becoming the #1 industry of the world and will be the currency of the future. Start now! So tomorrow, when you were going to start, you’ll just be getting better.
Page 42: Kite Part 5
S-O-T-M: Are there special SciFi movies of the 80s / 90s that inspired the story of ‘Kite’? If yes, which ones?
James Treneman: Umm yeah, of course! But to be fair, I’ve probably pulled more from reading. Books like Snowcrash, Diamond Age, Old Man’s War, Ender’s Game, Neuromancer, Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, The Dispossessed and Foundation have all been hugely impactful on my creative life and I can’t recommend any of those enough. I love stuff about nanotech. If we’re talking films the short list probably looks like Star Trek, Alien, Judge Dredd, Tron, Soilent Green, Logan’s Run, Equilibrium, Terminator, Starman, Alien Mind, Weird Science, … I could make it a long list real easy :]
S-O-T-M: I’ve read at Steam that you like to listen to New Retro Wave while working on the game. Can you recommend any fresh NRW-records to our readers?
James Treneman: For me Airglow is the gold standard of synthwave, but it’s a bit more vapor than most. I like low/mid bpm super hard hip-hop style glitchy beats with nebulous spacey synths. Airglow – S.A.M. may go down as my all time favorite song. Com Truise (who does many of Trevor Something’s beats) is a lot like Airglow but has a crazier off-the-wall style that can be hit or miss. Vector Hold has a really fun more traditional synthwave sound but I love it too.
S-O-T-M: Liam Hanley composed the genius music for ‘Kite’ – did you give him concrete examples or directions on what the OST should sound like? Or how do you work together?
James Treneman: Yeah, it was a combination of things but we worked off a lot of reference material that we would swap back and forth. We would try to isolate sounds or beats that I liked from other songs and incorporate them into Kite’s music. We developed a quick and dirty scale that goes from ‘Retro’ to ‘Future’ and talk about new tracks in these terms. ‘Retro’ meant super nostalgic, classically composed 80’s sounding stuff, and ‘future’ meant more modern dub beats and glitchy snares and bass sweeps, etc.
At one point he said “So I want this album to sound like it was recovered by some far future civilization and played back through ancient technology that isn’t quite working.” and I went “Holy fuck, this guy gets it.” It was so much fun working with Liam and he was incredibly driven to make tracks sound the way I wanted. He would cut and edit and tweak without hesitation for hours on end to make me happy. Literally slaved away on this thing for months and I know he’s going to be so proud when it gets the recognition it deserves!
Page 43: Kite Part 6
S-O-T-M: There’s an old version of your game-logo at imgur.com – with the typical 80s-chrome-look (I love that style). The new version differs. How will the final variant look like? No chrome-stuff? ;(
James Treneman: It took a while to lock in on an art style and a lot of the earlier concept stuff is drawn with airbrush tools and gradients and things that I don’t use any more. I’m sticking with the lower rez pixelart style, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do any chrome pieces! You’re the first person to say they liked that one though!
S-O-T-M: The movement in ‘Kite’ is pretty quick. That’s nice. While playing I always imagined how it would feel to jump around. I think that would kick ass. Could you imagine adding that function to thegame?
James Treneman: I could imagine it, and I want to explore multi-level space that involves jumping and climbing, but probably not in Kite. There are going to be a load of movement powers though – like charging, sliding, floating, cloning and maybe shrinking :]
S-O-T-M: Will we meet NPCs in the final game that aren’t scientists?
James Treneman: Yes. A detailed story will unfold in the game and you will meeting other actors in the plot. Scientists themselves will also have the chance to level up through researching and crafting new tech for you.
S-O-T-M: Jens Kolhammar, the creator of ‘A Bastard’s Tale’, speaks in our interview about the fact that his release missed to get attention of big review-sites. This supposedly damaged the success of the game. Are there already strategies to promote ‘Kite’ in a good way?
James Treneman: I’ve started an email campaign to get the word out to YouTubers and streamers and there have been a handful of inquiries from indie review sites that I know will continue. I am constantly updating social media with new game assets and my following is slowly growing! I’m not leaving it to luck but I know that I will need to get a lucky break from a well known streamer or something to go viral, and that a has yet to happen.
S-O-T-M: What do you think about the ongoing hype for Indy-Games? I think it’s exciting, because it takes us back to the origin of videogames. Many indy-games are reliving the spirit of the revolutionary beginnings – ‘Kite’ is a part of this. Humans that creating those worlds … because of sheer love … without any giant financial coverage and only limited possibilities. Do you see this in the same light?
James Treneman: Yeah I think it’s wonderful, but it’s also a time honored tradition. Every corner of entertainment has an indie scene, and it’s because there’s always a group of creative people who can’t handle being limited and shackled by huge budgets and expectations. So I think no matter what happens to the video game market or whatever market, indies will always exist. They pioneer more often, and are more agile and can adapt to changes in the market faster. So not only is it awesome to have full control, but it’s a financially responsible way to create.
S-O-T-M: Can you show us the place where you are creative? Where ‘Kite’ gets created? A fancy photo… to show our readers a look into the secret world of indie-development [I thought this is a cool idea. Send me anything you want! – per e-mail, please].
James Treneman: We’ve got a corner room in the front of our house and my wife and I share it as our office. It’s got all the important stuff – a big ‘ol desk and a little kitten! I like to decorate with my wife’s paintings and post up concept sketches I draw.
S-O-T-M: In your alpha-version … at the tutorial level … the laboratory has triangle and unicorn tiles. Can you tell us what’s going on there? 😛
James Treneman:What a great detail to notice! So within the Arch City complex, where Kite takes place, I imagined there were several factions of researchers and educators, one might call them ‘fraternities’ and each one has it’s own symbol. You noticed the Unis (unicorn) and the Trinities (tri-force) hanging on the wall. You might see them on the walls of the labs and offices in Kite, where they hang to honor those groups for their scientific contributions.
Page 44: Kite Part 7
S-O-T-M: Do you want to communicate a special thing to the folks outta there? Is there something on your mind?
James Treneman: There is so much good to say about game dev, I really encourage everyone to try it! I think it’s a very supportive community and will readily accept newcomers. Online help for almost any obstacle is trivial to find for any decent keyboard warrior and much of the resources are user generated, it’s incredible.
That being said, I want to bring up my biggest complaint about the video game industry as well. It’s an extremely sexist culture dominated by the white male perspective. There is very little support for gender equality among video gamers and women are extremely marginalized, objectified and under-represented in games themselves. Please include strong female characters in your games and don’t be afraid to ignore gender norms! Not everyone has a male hetero-normative point of view. The video game industry needs to welcome more women and minorities and it will be stronger for it.
S-O-T-M: I’m very grateful for this interview. May ‘Kite’ delight many gamers and bring you enough money … so you can build a new bomb! Do you have any ideas for a second project?
James Treneman: I do have ideas for a second! And a third. And a fourth. Yeah I’ve never had a problem with ideas. I keep pocketing them for a more simplified game, maybe one that could even be played on mobile. Some kind of endless runner / shooter that just has a jump and a shoot button but takes you on an epic bullet hell ride. Either that or a throwback to the monster battle genre, but where you’re the puny humans trying to contain the raging giants from destroying your metropolis. I need to get to a game jam and iterate!
The alpha seems already complete enough and full of potential. With the right “luck” it is possible for James to land a real hit. Especially interesting: How does the story unfold? What bosses will we have to fight? How deep are those RPG elements? We can expect a first class pixel firework.
Shoot an email email@example.com and mention that you want to be on the mailing list. That’s all there is to it. You will have access to download the latest build (~70megs) through Google Drive. You can also just grab the installer here. Installs in a jiff and I assure you it’s completely free of anything save bullet storm bliss.
First of all, if you’re even considering signing up let me just extend a personal thanks. Kite wouldn’t be here without all the time playtesters have already sunk into it and from a game design perspective there’s nothing more powerful than receiving first impression feedback. That’s why it’s so important to me that you know how much I appreciate it!
So how does a free copy of Kite on release day sound? If you sign up for the Kite mailing list you’re guaranteed access to alpha/beta testing all the way through development and thefirst 20 people to sign up will receive a free copy of Kite at launch!
What are you getting yourself into?? You’ll be entering a world, maybe not so different from our own, but one where things didn’t quite pan out the same… Here’s the pitch:
The computer revolution went a different route: it took the high road, the one way above our heads. Up through the seventies artificial intelligence moved forward at the speed of smell. Finally in the eighties a new wave of research developed the first learning AI.
Within a given fixed environment this artificial intelligence was able to follow rules like any other but unlike previous AI, once win conditions and goals were programmed into the system, it had the capability to add new rules of it’s own invention. These sprung out of the concept that a scenario could not only be won, but won ‘better’ or, with a higher score.
That technology took off like a space missile and when it came back down it formed the shape of a giant ‘win’ button that mankind decided to press. Through miniaturization, computing power and storage quadruped yearly – that processing power led to advanced bio-engineering technology that literally saved the planet from humanity.
Mother nature cheered as it’s rivers were drained of toxins, it’s forests replenished and it’s most ornery denizens industriousness nipped in the bud. Humanity looked on pensively as the complexity of artificial intelligence grew. We got left at the starting blocks, completely clueless as to the inner workings of the new life giving technology. None the less, on a whole we embraced our new artificial aides.
Mankind being the biggest threat to itself, the AI was meticulously programmed with core logic outlawing any computer assisted weapons research. Over time these algorithms became so advanced and secure that not a single bit had ever been put towards the weaponization of anything.
This didn’t by any means end weapons research, it just meant that the machine wouldn’t be inventing any new weapons of it’s own – that was still up to us- you actually.
Be the headmaster at arms of the world’s most advanced weapons research facility. Fend off swarms of enemies who want your data – whether off your hard drive or straight out of your dome – they will steal everything and use it against you if you get caught half-steppin’!
Play Kite Alpha 0.1.3 today!
Naturally feedback is much needed, but I thought I’d provide a short list of questions I’m very interested in:
What’s your favorite weapon or combination of weapons?
Would you change anything about the controls?
What was the most frustrating part of your experience?
What was the most fun part of playing the game?
Was there anything confusing about the user interface? What would you like to add / change?
Did you find any bugs? What happened or was happening? It may provide a screen with information, copy and paste it to me if you can.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org write in the comments here or on Facebook! Remember it’s alpha! There is no story at this time and only the first 3 levels are intended for you to play. Enjoy!
Goodbye old and busted hello new hotness. The user interface has undergone loads of iteration and the results are fabulous. Kite is a shooter currently burdened with more than your average number of resources to keep track of. There are in fact five resources that need to be readily identified and measured in a lightning fast and seamless fashion.
Is that too much for people? So far yes, it has been. As an example I’ve had one in ten play testers utilize bullet time which uses the blue “Jam” bar. It’s a core mechanic to be used whenever one is required to dodge quickly or aim as accurately as possible. Feedback falls into three categories: a) too hard to keep track of the extra resource, b) not useful enough or c) too hard to hit the shift key while also hitting space for turbo, moving with WASD, etc.
I’ve set out to solve (a) and put some effort into (b) but ultimately one of the main goals with Kite is to have a player feel like their finger dexterity levels up along with their character and overcome (c) on their own. Kite has been designed to test and hone skills common in other popular games (two glaring examples are World of Warcraft and League of Legends). Things like keybinds, weapon switching, cooldown management and character builds are present in the vast majority of modern games . A huge part of Kite’s mechanics are driven by the philosophy that the player should be pushed to become more and more adept at these same skills that tie all of their favorite games together.
Testers saying that (b) hitting shift at the same time as space is too hard actually makes me happy. It confirms my theory that most gamers haven’t really tapped into their key pressing abilities and that gives me the big target I had hoped for. If Kite is accessible without uber micro, but guides the player to success by slowly layering on complexity and forcing the player to master each layer to progress until they do have the skills, players will have been breaking down barriers and overcoming personal bests right up to the finish line. That is as close to cut and dried fun as it gets and finding the fun is what good game design is all about. The cherry on top is that theoretically they will be better at learning and playing a wide variety of other games too.
With that in mind, a designer’s most powerful tool for assisting and guiding players within a complex experience is the user interface. Persistent throughout all content, the UI can make or break a game. At it’s core, a user interface should provide information and tools that assist the player’s ability to learn and get better at whatever skills the game is focused on, while game design should strive to make everything else easy or automatic.
A good example of this would be having enemy respawn timers visible to the player instead of making them try and keep track mentally. Several games have sparked debates over this, but in the end I feel that literally offloading processing power from your brain to the computer in order to focus your ticker on the core game skills is excellent game design. Yes memorizing periods of time is a core skill in many games, but it has to leave room for gameplay.
Kite’s user interface features a minimalist aesthetic, after all the bigger the UI, the smaller the gameplay view becomes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of shit going on. Leaving us at my answer to a) “It’s too hard to keep track of all the resources”:There will be a unique visual presentation for each resource.
As an example the player’s shield strength is now represented by the little lights surrounding the main info panel. Although it’s not an earth shattering invention it really gets the shield concept across because it surrounds your vitals and without any bars or numbers you can easily tell how much is left. Another bonus is that when the shield is full and all the lights are on it really feels ‘complete’. From a design perspective, going this direction really opened new options to explore for the health, jam(bullet time), energy and ammo bars.
Removing the shield bar also confirmed that fewer bars are in fact better. Players were now having a much easier time keeping track of each resource and were in fact using bullet time more! It’s not a perfect solution but it is a start in the right direction. Next on the chopping block is the jam bar which will be represented by a clock like pie chart indicating your jam level. This bar conversion will continue until there is maybe just one or two actual bars left. Hopefully I can pull it off without them all clashing :]
Another reason players are jamming more is because it’s visually more appealing and you now have a ton to burn through. What makes it more appealing you say?! SPARKLES SON! That’s right, a pretty trail of sparkles is left in your wake as you cruise around in bullet time. They even get darker as you consume jam, adding another visual to play off of. That’s the kind of two-in-one payoff a designer strives for with everything.
Next time I’ll get to the improvements I’ve made to your ability cooldown visualizations (the little dials you can see bellow the resource bars) and weapon control scheme.
At some point, programmer art must get replaced with something polished or no one will even want to blow anything up in your game. When the solution to every problem in your game is to blow things up, well, you see where this is going. So with that in mind it seemed time to trade in the old Chargebot and laser drone for something new and shiney.
The Chargebot sprite was literally the 1st animation created for Kite. It was endearingly bad but it did the job. Nine months later the production team has given birth to Chargebot 2.0! It’s a robot!
Shifting to a 4 way isometric view for the majority of unique enemies was a key decision. It cuts down the amount of work by 60% compared to the 8 way. By drawing and animating the North East and South East directions you can cover the entire movement range (after flipping). Yes the bots sort of crab walk around a little bit, they are only perfectly facing the direction they’re moving when it’s in the true NE, NW, SW or SE direction but it works, specially for melee.
In contrast the laser drone update was planned to be rendered as an 8 way. Original programmer art was a single sprite that was rotated according to firing direction. Being that it was simply an oval with a dingy, it was fine as a proof of concept, but looked like something out of Atari’s Pitfall (could do worse).
The update follows and meets the new higher standards and style guidelines that have been set for production art. It could do with a bit more detail but for now it’s looking good and as a bonus has that evil/cute look. Again, the 8 way actually requires 5 unique assets for the N, NE,E,SE,and S directions, the NE, E and SE get flipped while the gun sprite is drawn separately and has it’s own location and depth for each orientation. Also the N and S are easy to produce because you just draw the back of someone instead of the front so it ends up feeling more like 4 uniques. It’s quite an efficient way to render characters considering what you get out of it but it’s still 5 unique angles instead of 2 in the case of the isometric.
As a rule the 8 way representation is favored for ranged characters and the easier 4 way iso style for melee types. Short of rotating the sprite as you would in a pure top down game an 8 way is ideal for making projectiles feel and look right when fired. Otherwise you end up with a blaster pointed in one direction and the shots coming out at an extremely odd angle. With an 8 way rendering the most you’re ever off by would be 22 degrees which is just tolerable for a shooter. Compare to a possible discrepancy of 44 degrees from a 4 way isometric job and the extra work starts to seem worth it. For the melee type characters it’s not as important to look reasonable because there’s not ballistics involved, just short range crushing and slicing which doesn’t give away angles so much.