Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Post

Hey guys,

Right now, I’m taking a break from massively overhauling the website.  In fact, this might be the last blog post I make on Blogspot, and will otherwise be moving all previous blogs over the last two years to the new site.  The new site is going to be created through Drupal.  And though I've used Drupal briefly before, it’s a lot to learn.  I’m pretty comfortable with php and MySQL, css, and object oriented principles in general, so I think I’ll pick it up pretty fast, but it’s still going to be a colossal amount of work.  So what’s the point?

Up until now, I've modeled the public image of Stigma Games after a big time game publishing company.  We’re working on multiple titles at once right now.  And though we’re not funded, the idea is when we’re close to releasing, we’ll announce our games, have tons of stuff to show off, send press releases about it to game journalists, get exposure, and hopefully things take off.  But I've been wondering if that’s not the way to go.

I recently read an article about Chris Roberts and how he recently broke the crowd funding World Record.  He’s at $25 million.  Most of that is through PayPal donations.  Now, Chris Roberts is obviously famous.  Just about every PC gamer I know about my age has played the Wing Commander series, so if he asks for money to make a space sim, people will pay attention.  But putting that aside, he said in the article that Notch was his inspiration.

Now, no one really knew who Markus “Notch” Persson was as he was building Minecraft.  But instead of building up content and unleashing it upon the world, he invited people to come in so he could bounce ideas off them and ask them what they wanted to see in the game.  In that regard, gamers became part of the creation.  And because of that, 3 million of them bought Minecraft while it was still in beta for $20 bucks a pop.

Ok, so what does all this mean for Stigma Games?  We have boatloads of content to show off and talk about.  With the new site, we would be able to start showing it off while it’s still unpolished in an effort to get feedback from other gamers outside Stigma Games.  Anyone would be able to log in and post their feedback in certain sections.  We’ll have alpha builds of our games available to be played directly through our website.  I’ll be building a public forum as well once we have enough users signed up.  I hate seeing dead forums.  But otherwise, the point of the site would be to engage people.

I've mentioned what’s good about letting people in, but there’s danger here.  Just ask Richard Garriott how great an idea it was to let people in early for Tabala Rasa.  Or the lottery winner who hit Kickstarter to pitch his MMORPG idea using his 2nd grade reading and writing skills who then insulted the many people that pointed out how terrible his ideas were by telling them how they were just jealous of his money.

Aside from being obnoxious and insulting fans, the more realistic danger for us is to make promises, have to back track or completely abandon things.  We could also have fans that make suggestions that are either unrealistic, bad, or won’t work with our overall theme.  Such fans could feel like we’re not listening to them when we don’t implement those ideas.

Also, we might be long term gamers, but having great ideas for games and knowing how to make them are about as different as knowing how to drive a car and how to build one.  We make mistakes, have to pivot, and change.  I’m not as excited about the idea of letting people in and watch us first hand as we screw up and have to make radical changes.

All that aside, where we’re currently at:  Raygun Rocketship is now playable on the Ouya.  Once the Drupal site is up and running, I might start holding events at various pizza places around town to get random gamers to check it out and give us instant feedback--hopefully convincing them to go to our website and get involved there.  I mean, I could essentially do this every night.  I've already talked to a Round Table in the area about it, and they like the idea.

Our casual game is playable.  I might have mentioned, I don’t remember, that we parted ways with the programmer on that project and threw out all the code he did and started over.  Well, it’s playable (again) and completely in HTML5 like I wanted it done in the first place.  We’re planning on following a Candy Crush Saga model with it--Facebook and Mobile platforms where you solve puzzles as you move along a board.  If you beat a level on your phone, you can pick up where you left off on the Facebook version.  It’s pretty rough right now and just got basic functionality, so still a long ways to go.

Our fighting game hit a big snag.  We have a theme song for it, which is good.  But art wise is not coming together how we’d like.  We made this mistake before--spent way too little time in pre-production, jumped into production, and things fell apart.  This is a really common mistake that new developers make--have a cool sounding idea, jump into making it, realize they’re making a design or art style mistake, but feeling like they’re locked into it since they’re so far into production.  Rather than feeling locked in, we’re starting over and throwing out most of what we have so far--about 6 months of work.  This fighting game has changed radically from a simple and funny fighting game you could play on your phone to a complex game for the console (starting with Ouya).  Why are we mostly walking away from the massive mobile game market to move to the tiny Ouya market?  Maybe I’ll explain why in another post.

As for Dawnshine, we’re close to finalizing some game play mechanics.  The next step is to make a prototype out of index cards and see how the game plays.  It’s good to know that there’s a local community of table top game designers who get together though a Meetup group to test out their prototypes.  We’ll see.  Ok, back to Drupal.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Update

Hey everyone,

We’re coming up on the 2 year anniversary of when I decided to start Stigma Games.  A lot has changed since then.  I started the company in an effort to make an MMORPG.  We've since completely stopped all production on it and moved to other things.  This is why game companies don’t like to talk about what they’re doing until the very end--because things change.  We’re in a unique position in which, since we’re not funded, we can’t make rigid schedules.  Not just because people bail--as I've mentioned, our attrition rate has slowed to the point to where now it’s generally only the new people that we tend to lose--but because I don’t know when something will get done.  I can’t really get on someone’s case about not meeting their deadlines.  People have work or school, or often both.  People aren't always sure how long something will take them to do and often hit unexpected roadblocks and need more input.

Funding will radically change how we’re able to work.  I’ll be so amazingly happy when I’m able to meet a payroll.  My stress levels will also radically increase as I worry about how to keep making enough money to make payroll each month.  But I can handle that.  Anyways, enough of that.  Let’s move on to what we’re doing.

A new web host!  Ok, I’m the only one that seems excited about this.  I’ll be paying about 3 times a month for a virtual private server, but man, the old host was really irritating me.  The MySQL was down a lot, and when it was working, it was slow and about half the time, would time out in the middle of a query.  We use a private forum and wiki to keep all our design documents and discussions.  And it was just miserable to work with.  Also, for some reason, all of a sudden php files stopped working completely.  I was not in the mood to convert everything to html files.  That was the last straw.  The downside, transferring all the data from the old MySQL to the new didn't exactly work as well as I thought it would.  I saved the more important data manually, and it’s taking me a lot of time to manually input everything in the new.  That means all the accounts for the team have to be recreated.  Fun.

I mentioned last post about the Dawnshine Card Game.  We've hit a stumbling block as we've realized a lot of the game mechanics we wanted to use as still under a patent owned by Wizards of the Coast who make Magic: The Gathering.  That patent runs out in about two years.  Do we want to wait that long or come up with something that doesn't violate their patent?  The vote was to do something new and release sooner rather than later.  I've only played Magic once, and it was about 15 years ago.  I barely know the rules.  My version of the Dawnshine Card Game was based more on Battle Systems.  So we might revert back to that somewhat.  We've also talked about a type of Tower Defense and Lane Combat rules.  And furthermore, we've talked about using an actual physical board.  I mean, we've already mapped out the zones for the MMO, so turning that or part of that into a physical board would be easier.

I’m not the main designer on this.  One of our marketing people who is obsessed with card games and the local CCG community and one of our designers who also plays CCGs a lot are both working on designs.  So Wednesday, at our meeting, I’ll see where they’re at and what they've come up with.  I’m really just there to make sure things fit Dawnshine lore and it’s something I think we can market and sell.

I also mentioned making single player Dawnshine games.  I finished a Game Design Document for one.  It’s based on a character that I created long before founding Stigma Games.  The character’s name is Theo, and that will likely be the name of the game “Dawnshine: Theo.”  What I was thinking about doing is moving everyone to it after we finish our other projects.  A few people on the team have told me that they want to get back to Dawnshine.  But I want to do this smarter--meaning getting the design down a lot more solidly before we have artists and programmers take a crack.

I've mentioned Raygun Rocketship.  I’m still thinking about the best way to market this game.  Space combat games generally aren't  things people get excited about unless they’re being made by people named Chris Roberts.  Speaking of which, I have a feeling Star Citizen is going to be absolutely amazing, but anyways.  Now, I think Raygun Rocketship is going to be a really fun and cool game and people will really like it once they play it, but getting people to try it in the first place will take some doing.  So, how to make it really stand out?  I think the way to go is to really work on the characters, make them really interesting, and push that angle.  Out of all our projects, this is the one I’m the least involved in, though I’m really happy with how the team is doing with it.  I've written some dialogue and story, but I told the team it’s totally cool if they want to throw out all that and have me start again.

I've also been working on fleshing out the characters for our fighting game parody.  I’m fine with changing characters based on the team’s input.  Not that it’s a better or worse game than Raygun Rocketship, but I think it will be much easier to market since it’s all about the characters.  Being a parody game, humor is often an easier way to grab people.

Not much to report on our casual game.  I think I've mentioned the bulk of the main artwork is done.  One of our designers is finishing some story line stuff for it, then he’ll be freed up for a while until the programmer catches up.  In the meantime, I’ll probably move him to the Dawnshine: Theo game.  I’ve already moved the artist off the casual game and to the fighting game.

This is something that I've learned.  It’s pointless bringing on a programmer right away.  Which is funny because studios usually bring on writers towards the end of a project to polish turds and create a story out of art work and game mechanics.  I've learned to do the opposite.  Bring in designers and writers first.  Do a lot of pre-production.  Halfway through pre-production, bring in Tools Programmers so that the designers have the tools to be able to implement what they create in the game.  Halfway through pre-production, bring in artists to concept out designs and characters once the artists actually have something to go off of.  Do not leave it to artists to come up with story or character ideas.  By that, I’m not saying not to listen to their, or anyone else’s input, but rather to say that designers should be designing.  All things being equal, no one designs better than a designer.

Oh, not that anyone reads this for the latest on game news, but I wanted to mention what’s going on with Ouya to finish what I said in the last post.  Ouya has lowered the “Free the Games Fund” from $50k to $10k minimum.  This is a much more attainable goal, so I’m happy about this.  This makes Raygun Rocketship a more obtainable goal to enter the contest with.  I also mentioned a sketchy entry where one team raised $171k and got a lot of crap about it.  The game is called Gridiron Thunder by MogoTXT.  Well, they announced that they would not be taking the matching funds from Ouya.  Yeah, that’s a lot of money to turn down just to improve their PR, but I got to hand them for having the guts to do it.  All and all, I have a lot more respect for Ouya for being flexible.  The revenue devs are getting by releasing on Ouya isn’t very good so far, but I still see this as a good first step for us.

I let one of our programmers borrow my Ouya to try and get Raygun Rocketship working on it.  I’m hoping by the meeting this weekend, it will be working.  It’s only one level so far and it still has some bugs.  It needs a lot of balancing.  Once you play it a few times and get the patterns down, it’s not challenging.  So that will need to be adjusted, then play tested, etc.  We still have a long way to go with it.  In general, I’m really happy with how it’s coming along.  I just wish we had a funded studio so the team could focus on it exclusively.

Anyways, I have a lot of work to do today, so I have to get back to that.