Tag Archives: game design

Attending The Local Indie Con

 

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!

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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.

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Don’t be the guy with only one station.

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.

dualstations

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!

teamwork
Most beautiful teamwork I’ve ever seen.

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.

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Starlord just bought Groot his very own Kite Steam key on sale $5.99!

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.

swagboxes
Dana crafted these bad boys out of dollar store goodies and acrylics.

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’.

posterhome
2.5′ x 4′ seems big. It’s not.

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.

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Power Couple

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.

Kite Released November 11th on Steam Early Access with a 40% discount for $5.99

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Alpha 0.2.3

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Alpha 0.2.3 Major Changes
  • 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 numpad minus 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!

Alpha 0.2.1 Released

Alpha 0.2.1 Released

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:

MarchSSAprilSS

 

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.

Pick up the Alpha today and check it out!

You can play Kite Alpha 0.1.3!

Shoot an email to labcatgames@gmail.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 the first 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 labcatgames@gmail.com  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!

User Interface Updates

old busted

New Hotness

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.

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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.

UIupdate4

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.

UIupdate1

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 :]

UIupdate3

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.

12/14/14 December Big Update

I’ve decided to skip the commentary in favor of a longer write up for this update. My hope is that without me yammering over the video viewers might pick up more detail about the game, my voice is rather jarring after all. Also it’s pretty hard for me to avoid rambling on while I’m playing and keeping focused is an issue! So check out the quick play through and read up on the detail when you’re done!

Major updates since last blog:

Completed running animations in the 5 key directions – East, North East, North, South and South East. These are the key directions since they are the only unique sprites you need for an 8 direction object because you flip the NE, E and SE art to do NW, W and SW.

I learned a strong lesson about doing 14 frame animations of 2 legs in 5 directions: going cross eyed is a thing. I basically stared at silly looking leg like blobs of huge pixels for 2 weeks straight to complete them. But you know what? They are some pretty good looking legs. This heroic effort also leveled up my pixel art skill dramatically which was a side effect I had planned on.

Needing a break from art I broke the game in order to completely redo the way you control weapons. Planning on this for some time I had a lot to do. This control update also included the first inklings of an item system by storing all the variables for all the weapons and the different types of ammo in a 2D array that is essentially the global item list.

As for the control changes – the old layout included all of these buttons as combat buttons:

Q, E, R, Z,  Ctrl, Shift, Space, Left Mouse, Right Mouse, Mouse Wheel Up, Mouse Wheel Down, Middle Mouse.

To be fair, these 12 buttons gave you access to a formidable armada but it was tough to jump into and start peeling away at the thing for your average gamer. This is bad game design. I knew it, but for where I was at in development, that layout served it’s purpose.

For reference you had at your fingertips the following weapons and abilities: Tech 9, Energy Sword, Rail Gun, Shotgun, Missile Launcher, Grenade Launcher, Ion Cannon, Blink, Ammo Rush, Toggle Buff, Bullet Time and Turbo Speed.

7 weapons and 5 abilities not including the Dive move which you activate by double tapping a direction key (WASD). The new scheme greatly simplifies the weapons system and removes Ctrl and Z from the buttons list entirely. The abilities are left intact however core gameplay revolves around Turbo Speed (Space) and Bullet Time (Shift) and I am unsure on exactly how but you will probably have only Q and E for active abilities with a toggle on R or something.

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Now, let’s picture the mouse and think about how we can cram as much versatility into the thing as possible without being unwieldy. This is a moving target of course depending on the player, but there are gameplay changes in place to help with this problem.

What I came up with I believe to be somewhat elegant: left mouse button controls your characters left hand and right mouse button controls their right hand.

You can have one alternate weapon in each hand, which you access by flipping mouse wheel up to cycle your left weapon or mouse wheel down for right. That is probably the most difficult part to get used to, but it provides loads of versatility. Finally you can click middle mouse to equip a “big” or two handed weapon. This weapon has a primary attack (left mouse button) and a secondary (right mouse button). Click middle mouse again to cycle back to your dual wield set.

This provides 6 total weapons all accessed through the mouse and activated through left or right clicks. With a number of visual and audio cues it is quite apparent what weapons you are wielding at any given time.

In the video you will notice in the upper right corner the new stat block which details your characters current stats. Below the icons are your weapons, those sprites are all weapon specific and the small colored bars adjacent to them represent their rate of fire and are color coded. The sight lines drawn from your characters weapons to the crosshair are color coded to the weapons as well. You may also notice the new muzzle flashes when firing and those have unique sprites, colors and animation speeds.

The hardest part of course was actually producing the individual weapon sprites. Each weapon needs a sprite for each of the 5 key directions, lucky for me anything is easier to draw than those damn legs so this was actually quite a pleasure! Coding the logic for where each sprite is located based on player position was no walk in the park though.

With the color coded muzzle flash, sight line, fire rate bar and unique menu sprite and weapon sprite, visually we’re getting there. Combine all of these and you have a fairly unique visual feedback signature based on what weapon is in your hand each time you fire.

What about the sound though?? No shooter is complete without the pewpew after all. With that in mind I’ve acquired some decent sound assets that are working great with the new 3d sound system. Sounds all vary based a ‘listener’ reference position which I attach to the player. The environment emits ambient sounds now and even individual projectiles make noise as they fly past you (Doppler effect and all!). Listen for the trickle of water from the streams, sound of the windmill and pulse from the power converters!


That covers most of the big stuff and I need to eat this pizza, but thanks for checking Kite out. Catch you next time!

First game play footage of Kite the game

Well I’ve come a ways people! I’m evolving rapidly on the game systems front while remaining almost completely stagnant with artwork. However game play itself is a delight in my opinion (heavily biased)!

Video includes my rambling and random musings as commentary. Please let me know any ideas questions or comments you might have! Thanks for watching and reading!