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Weekly Update: Fantastic Arcade

I didn't work on our game because I was at Fantastic Arcade all week! Instead I'll tell you about awesome things I saw. :) 

Thumper is one of the most (probably the most??) intense gameplay experiences I've ever had. Mechanically, it's a simple rhythm matching game, but you feel the game in your entire body. I recommend playing it like I did - standing as close as possible to the screen.  

PLUG & PLAY - Trailer from Michael Frei on Vimeo.

If you're not already intensely uncomfortable with relationships and intimacy like I am, you can play Plug & Play to see what that's like. It's a short gameplay experience, but it's totally worth it. You can get it here

I had seen Circa Infinity before at Juegos Rancheros, but I think they weren't playing the game's music with it? Anyway, the music makes a huge difference. It's mezmerizing. You can get it here. The developer was saying that he had initially had a friend write a poem as the game's narrative, but later removed it - so you catch little glimpses of the narrative through the structure of the level and character actions. 

Mostly I just really love the atmosphere of Secret Legend. It's so clean and bright, and you just want to hang out in that space. It's still a little early in development, but I'm excited to see where it goes. You can read about the development here

They held a Regular Human Basketball "tournament" - which was mostly just a competition to see who could manage to hobble their way to a basket first. It was great. Also it's free! (why??) 2 vs. 2 was a lot more fun to watch than 1 vs. 1.

Anamorphine is mostly just a gameplay demo to explore a new style of first person story telling, which is really cool so far.

G. P. Lackey showed some of the generators he's made, and then spent most of his time slot making a hilarious random frog generator. I feel like it's also worth pointing out that if you combine these 3 background tracks it's a super soothing and wonderful to work to. 

Forest of Sleep is beautiful although there didn't seem to be any actual gameplay yet. I probably watched it for about 20min anyway.

Issam worked on contract stuff all week. Miles just seems happy that FA is over and I can spend more time petting him again. 


Weekly Update: Temple Friezes

So after my huge blog post last week about narrative, this week I've been starting to work on adding more environmental details to tell some history of the world and this temple!

This week I mostly worked on these 2 friezes in the first big temple room:

The lighting in this room could use some work I think....

Here are some highlights: 

That little guy on the left is a new character I made this week. He's a chevrotain

Issam started working on hooking up the intro this week. 

(This is an old vine.. there's nothing in game to show yet ;) )

This is the face Miles made during a budgeting meeting:

(jk we don't have those......)


Weekly Update: All the Feedback!

We had a playest session on Monday night and got our IndieCade feedback on Weds, so it seemed like a good time to take stock of where we are on the game right now.


The 2 main issues with the game as it currently stands are: 
- General frustrations with controls & camera/poor game feel
- Lack of connection with the character and world
The game feel issues are mostly just waiting on Issam. Haha! Easy for me to say, right? I need to figure out how to give more meaningful feedback on game feel, since it's such a tricky thing. When Issam comes back onto the game full time at the end of October, we'll really invest some time and effort into improving this area. Maybe in the meantime I can try to find examples of good 3rd person character movement and camera controls... Hmm..
The lack of connection with the character and world is my domain, so prepare yourself for a long, rambly post! This has been on my mind ever since we had a group critique with our playtest group a couple of months ago. The look and subject matter of our game immediately raises story questions - you don't know why there isn't color, why you can control color, and there's a cute main character which invites assumptions about personality. We are currently not addressing any of this in the game! 


Starting with the connection to the character, someone asked a question in the group crit which really helped me frame this - basically they asked 'what the chameleon was getting out of this experience,' besides just being a vessel for the player. (Right now I do still primarily think of him this way, which is partly a stylistic choice, which I will talk about below, but also I think contributes to the sort of 'cold' feeling currently happening in the game). Anyway, behind the scenes, Issam and I had decided that this was the chameleon's first time experiencing color. He's seen it before (the sky is blue), but this is the first time he can actually touch it. So the chameleon's primary motivation is curiosity, which I am hoping will align with the player's - how does color work? What does it do? What can I do with it? The player of course, currently has no way of knowing what the chameleon's relationship with color is. 


The first steps we've taken to address this is creating a sort of short cinematic intro (which I had previously been staunchly opposed to for reasons I didn't entirely understand - I think I wanted the gameplay to 100% speak for itself, but now I do see the value in establishing a connection this way). I posted about it a few weeks ago. It's a simple affair: chameleon looks wistfully at untouchable blue sky, sees some commotion, discovers a temple and accidentally falls in. 



The next missing piece is something Issam has been suggesting since the start (which I have been fighting, again, for gameplay purist reasons), which is to briefly take control away from the player the very first time you take color away from an object - to communicate that this is a *new* experience for the chameleon. I've always heard that it's bad to remove control when the character is doing something cool, but I think this is worth trying (especially since you're then going to repeat the same action like, hundreds of times in the game). I do think that these 2, small, player-control-removing >:( sections could potentially add a ton of value to the game in terms of connecting the player and the chameleon. 


The other huuge undertaking that I keep stopping and starting is communicating the history of the environment through visual clues. If you've been reading this blog, you'll see progress on this front peppered throughout the last 2 years, but surprisingly almost none of it has actually made it into the game. I think I've been holding off because part of me feels like these little narrative bits are meant to function as 'rewards' and the hardliner in me feels like solving the puzzles themselves should be enough of a reward - but one of our friends was playing the new section on Monday night and mentioned that after solving 7 out of 8 puzzles, he felt mentally exhausted. Puzzle solving as its own reward can work (Sudoku!), but I think in our game, those narrative bits will be really important in making the game feel like more than just a grueling mental exercise. I don't want our game to feel so cold. :) I have a plan on the sorts of ways I can communicate story, I just need to really work on it.


Anyway, thanks for reading through this long diary entry. ;) Overall, I'm really happy with the feedback we've been getting lately. We have a ton of work left to do, but I feel like I mostly understand what we're missing and what's not working - and I at least have some ideas of things we can try to do to make it better. :)  



Here's a summary of the IndieCade feedback: 
- Puzzles seem simplistic (opening doors, or gates), early experience should show why the mechanic is interesting
- "I really liked that when I took the blue out of the water, it changed the water. That was really neat, same with the vines. The more elements you have like that, the better."
- First 'thinking' puzzle could come sooner?
- Running a little clunky -  capped framerate at 30 seems weird
- Need save function - especially while there are still places you can get stuck
- "It's hard to connect to my character or this place"
- Animation feels repetitive
- "I had a really hard time with the camera. Something about the frame rate or camera sort of hurt my eyes, especially on stairs"
- One player got stuck at the first sentinel (can we make this clearer?)


Issam has been busy with his contract work this week. This is mostly what Miles has been up to lately: 

Weekly Update: Frog Temple & Floor Doors

This week I started working on sorting through existing puzzles and putting them into the Frog Temple. As you can see the structure is pretty dramatically different from the Chameleon Temple. It's supposed to look a lot more organic. It mostly focuses on fire puzzles, so most of the rooms are dark, and the outdoor sections will be at night (I want to make a really starry sky - I hope I can make it look cool!!) 

Right now it looks like this (sorry the picture isn't more exciting!): 

It's not playable yet (in many cases the rooms aren't even connected), but it's cool to see it starting to become a level! :) You can see that some of them rooms are more angular because I hadn't decided that they would be in the Frog Temple when I first designed them. Similar to the Chameleon Temple, I'm trying to give players a choice of which puzzles they want to solve in what order, in case they get stuck - so some sections are 'hub rooms' with puzzles coming off of them.

Issam made some of the changes I was missing for the 2nd half of the Chameleon Temple, so it's now fully playable. There's one puzzle that I need to replace, and I still need to figure out how you get from the Chameleon Temple to the Frog Temple (kind of a big thing to figure out...)

One of the things he added was the new 'floor doors' which serve as mini-goals (you need to get 4 'oranges' to open it):

He also worked on a bug where the chameleon couldn't swim under sentinels: 

There are also just a lot of polish things missing from the Chameleon Temple. We're going to be testing some of the new puzzles with friends on Monday, so I'm sure there will be a lot of feedback from that. 

This is how Miles relaxed over the 3 day weekend:


Weekly Update: 2nd Half of Chameleon Temple Layout

So this week I've been making those puzzles I posted sketches of last week!

The 2nd part of the Chameleon Temple is divided up into 2 sections, which are now roughly laid out with functioning puzzles! (Technically I need 2 more things from Issam before it's 100% working) The important part is that now the whole Chameleon Temple has a shape!:

Here are some shots of the puzzles from the 2nd half (the left section above): 

Lately I've been thinking that I need to do a lot more with having different vertical levels in the outdoor sections (I played Everybody's Gone to the Rapture this week, which has a lot of great examples of that), right now the view when you reach the second section of the level is pretty underwhelming. I'd like it to be a lot cooler. ;) 

Issam found a little time this week to work on the way light interacts with the water. We use deferred rendering for the game, which only works for opaque objects, but the water is transparent so he's had to write custom code to make it work correctly. It looks cool!

Miles has been working to stay in shape this week, which is an essential counter to the sedentary life of game development.


Weekly Update: Ludum Dare & New Puzzles

Ludum Dare was last weekend! Neither Issam nor I actually finished anything, but we both started some projects we want to keep playing with.

The theme was "You are the monster," which made me think of this Miyazaki quote that was going around a while ago:

It gave me a sort of vague idea about a sea monster, and as I started modeling it I got really caught up in it and decided to just work on the model/rigging all weekend. It came out like this:

I don't have any specific plans yet, but I'd like to at least be able to control the character in 3D space and see what it feels like. I'm mostly just curious about trying to convey a mood.

Issam remembered a game idea that we had brainstormed a long time ago and thought it would be fun to prototype it. The basic idea is that you're a vampire that needs to go to the dentist, but has to get there while avoiding the sun. It was Issam's first time making art - he used MagicaVoxel (he didn't make the character though)!

He got the game to a point where the character is controllable and the game can detect when you are being hit by the sun. He also spent some time working on traffic:

As for Color Thief, this week I've been making small changes to the new temple section, and beginning to work on the other side. 

Here's the other side right now:

I spent some time yesterday designing some new puzzles for both of these areas (where previous puzzles didn't quite fit in). We had been testing out puzzles as individual rooms, which worked well to quickly see how mechanics worked, but has been giving me a lot of trouble now that I need to make them fit into an actual level. I don't think this was necessarily the right approach. Here you can see some of my process on one of the puzzles:

On Tuesday night, Issam and I gave a talk at the local Autodesk Users' Group meeting about our Max to Unity pipeline, which you can also read about here! Our Friend Steve took some video for the documentary he's making with us, and he sent us some stills:

Issam talks with his hands.

Miles has been keeping things moving along by checking in on us to make sure we're always working:


Weekly Update: Rough Intro & Puzzle Arranging

For the first half of the week I've been working on a rough intro 'cinematic' for the game. I'd been working on it before RTX, but now it's at a point where we can plug it into the engine and see what needs work. It's not really a full cinematic, just a short animation to give the game a little more context.

This is what it looks like right now - imagine that the sky is blue.

I'm thinking I'll have some birds take off in the distance to trigger the head turn, and at this point you'll gain control of the character and walk him towards the temple. When you get to a certain point, we interrupt with this cinematic (which will definitely get some more polish!!): 

I want to see it in game before I put much more work into it. 

The second half of the week was spent cramming puzzles into the space I designed for them. ;) I had been testing a lot of puzzles on their own to see how the ideas worked, but I want to build out the second half of the chameleon temple, which means changing them around so they fit the space. It was kind of an ugly process, but I'm pretty happy with it right now.

We went from this: 

To this:

Issam had a little bit of time to work on some bugs this week!

Fire emits a light that matches its color, which causes some readability issues, so Issam added some white light to fire to counter this a little:

He also fixed a bug which was preventing us from putting fire on colorless water.

Lastly, he added water effects to shallow water: 

Miles spent some time in his brainstorming bag this week.

Who else is doing Ludum Dare this weekend?!! I will (hopefully) have some games to post on Monday. ;) 


Weekly Update: RTX Recap, Part 2: Playtesting Notes

The best part of showing your game at a conference is you get a TON of awesome feedback just from watching people play the game. It's a great, large-scale playtest. Here are some of the things we noticed, and some of the things we were able to fix this week: 


Design stuff: 

Orange, tan and yellow look really similar! 


The first big door needs to be turned orange - the challenge for the players is to wander around and find orange (discovering how ivy works in the process). Unfortunately, there's also some tan and yellow nearby and a lot of players tried these colors first (which is particularly bad in the case of tan, since they have to go kind of far to get it). Because they'd never seen a door that required two colors before, they were usually confused about how the door worked, as opposed to realizing they had the wrong color. This problem was easily solved by changing the door's fixed color to purple:



People try to climb this tree to get orange (now purple).



In this section the player is supposed to experiment with the ivy and figure out how to climb it - but the banyan trees are pretty climbable, so players would often spend a good 5min trying to climb them instead. I'm ok with players climbing trees, but sometimes they'd get kind of stuck and it was just generally a distraction. I just changed the type of tree: 



You can totally break this room by walking across the invisible collision on this wall art.



You're not supposed to be able to reach the purple door until you learn the concept in the puzzle, but some players found that they could walk on the collision from the wall art. I made it look a little more broken, so now there's nothing to climb across:



People won't try to make blue ivy.



I hadn't really thought of this as a 'puzzle' so much, so I was really surprised how many players got totally stuck here. I want the player to learn that you can use any color on organic objects, and you don't have access to any color besides blue, but players would take a long time trying to figure out how to get green in here (in some cases succeeding - see below). I added these pots as a simple indicator of "hey, you're going to need this color." At first I added some blue to the plants in the pots as well, but I think players might interpret them as being different types of plants, as opposed to really learning the concept. We will see!



Outstanding issues: 


You can get stuck if you take the colors from the big yellow door inside the temple and then fall.



We'd already been planning on making this door opening into a more cinematic moment, so now we're thinking we could just make the doors stay open. 


People are getting lost if they take a long time to solve a puzzle. Maybe there's something visual we can do to show them a room is complete, or that they've been in a room before (cobwebs, mini-map??). We need to think on this one some more.


Art stuff: 


Add spirals to sentinel columns.



The sentinel columns are separate objects than the gate, but they don't have their own 'fixed color' (spiral which shows the color they need to be). I really want to drive home the idea of spirals, so I added some:



Darken the gray chameleon in the sentinel hint.



It's a little hard to see the gray chameleon on the left (which is crucial to the clue), so I darkened him a bit:



You can get green past this sentinel!



This is puzzle breaking, so I broke it up into 2 pieces.



There's no ground under these tiles in room 12



Simple fix!



You can't reach this orange without some awkward geometry clipping.




There's actually a patch of dirt to the left that you can climb on, but players don't see it (since they're facing forward), so I moved the dirt a little so you can see it as soon as you climb up:



Do another pass on what objects are separated.





All of the objects are manually separated by me, so there are inconsistencies - this playtest gave me a good list of some to fix! 


Technical stuff for Issam to fix when he's not working on his contract: 


- Climbing - if camera is not pointing straight at the chameleon, it's easy to fall off of the ivy/ladders

- When you try to jump down from a ledge near ivy, the chameleon automatically grabs the ivy. He should just fall. 

- Jumping out of water is hard/jumping is still a little hard!

- Bug where color somehow ends up on surfaces that are far away from you

- Bug where you get stuck on a blade of grass and can't move ever again...

- Bug where you can get stuck inside of the sentinel if it closes on you (or in some cases you pop up onto the top of it). 

- The broken ladder in room 12 is really hard to jump to

- Add a behind-the-scenes timer to the demo, so we get get some metrics on how long the game is taking?

Other Games that People Suggested We Check out:



Here's Miles suggesting we play some older games for more inspiration!



RTX Recap, Part 1: Cost Breakdown

We did it!! We survived RTX 2015!! It was a totally awesome, exhausting 3 day weekend of showing our game to a wonderful crowd that gave us great feedback on Color Thief!

I thought it might be helpful for other developers to see a quick cost breakdown from this event - especially since this was on the lower-end of what you might expect to pay showing your game at a convention. RTX was an inexpensive option for us because we are local and we got an 'indie price' for the booth - it was our first time paying for a booth of our own, and it was a great place to start.

Here's a quick list of the event specific costs: 

Booth price: $500. We paid for a 5x5 booth, but when we got to the event we were surprised to find out we'd actually been given a 10x10, which was pretty rad. The expo was open from 12-5 on Friday and 9-6 on Saturday & Sunday. 

Booth electricity: $86. Generally at conventions you have to pay an additional cost for electricity.

Because we're located in Austin, we didn't have to rent or buy any equipment for the event. We brought my TV and larger monitor, and our laptops to show the game. Happily, we didn't have to pay anyone to move any of our equipment for us, and we could handle this all on our own (I think this can be different depending on the convention and how much equipment you need to bring.) I also brought some folding chairs from home for us to sit on (2 chairs were provided, but since our demo is on the longer side, we let players sit while playing).

Postcards $110 (500 - 2 types). We bought our postcards from Vistaprint, and chose 2 designs and printed the back in black and white. We ran out of cards by noon on Sunday, so we definitely should have ordered more. We tried to hand them out to anyone that stopped to watch the game - it was a good way to initiate conversation with them about the game (which is hard for me because I'm shy! The postcards made it easier!)

Snacks: $20. We bought a bunch of granola bars, raisins, protein bars and peanut butter crackers to keep under the table since relying on snacks you can buy at the convention center can get crazy expensive (not to mention they mostly have candy bars and chips, which aren't the best fuel when you're on your feet for 9 hours).

Meals: $50 (lunch 2 days + Issam's expensive coffee). On day one we just ate our snacks for lunch, but we found that it was much better for our energy to buy real food at the convention. :) 

Parking: $15 x3. The event was downtown, so we still had to pay for parking, but $15 really isn't too bad, and we were able to find parking really close to the convention center. :)


Reusable stuff: 

Banners: $15 x2 (vertical banners - we only displayed one, but we couldn't choose which design to print, so we tried both), $10 x1 (horizontal banner), $45 vertical banner stand. We bought these all from Vistaprint during a sale, so we saved about 50% on the banners themselves. The quality was good - we are happy with them, and will use them the next time we show the game.

Mood Rings: $130 (800 - we still have 1/2 of them) In addition to our post cards, we thought it would be fun to hand out mood rings to everybody that tried our game. We bought them from DHGate.com.

T-shirts: 2 black, 2 gray, 1 test shirt ($3 each), spray on color (2x $6), Iron-On Transfers (already had them, maybe $15?) +1/2 day of work. At the last second (on Wednesday before the event) I realized that we should probably have some company shirts. They would have been cheaper if we'd ordered them online, but I ended up spending about a half of a day making some. I used dark-color iron-on transfers to make company logo shirts (unfortunately this meant cutting out all of the letters individually), and spray-on color to make 'color-change' shirts.


Labor of love.

Final product.

I may have gotten some green on some of Issam's things (+ the balcony....)

Unfortunately only one of these shirts survived the wash, but they'd be easy enough to make again if we wanted to. The iron-on transfers have held up pretty well (I've had bad luck with those in the past) so we should be able to reuse them. That said I'll probably order some more durable company shirts from Cafepress.

Other supplies (Bowl for rings, string, things to hang horizontal banner): $20. Hanging the horizontal banner was a challenge at first since it wanted to curl up on the sides, but I ran some string from the sides to the metal bars that formed the 'wall' behind our booth and it worked really well.

In total, this event cost us around $1100. Minus about 10min at the start of each day while attendees walked into the expo, we ALWAYS had 2 people playing the game, which was pretty awesome. The demo runs about 20min, so we're estimating that we had about 150 people play the demo. I was really surprised how many people returned to our booth more than once (a few people even played the demo more than one time!), or came back later with friends. We also had a lot of people show up and say that someone had sent them to check it out. :) 

It was a great event for us and we got a ton of great feedback. I'll be making a post later in the week about what we learned, design-wise. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone that tried our game!! 



Weekly Update: RTX

We will be showing Color Thief at RTX today through Sunday! If you're in Austin, come by and see us!