Sunday, October 12, 2014

Moved to the main site.

Hey guys,

Now that I have Drupal working and a better idea of how to use it, I've built a Developer's Blog section on the site.  As such, I'll no longer be posting blogs here.  I'll continue to link my Dev blogs to our Facebook page which automatically also posts to our Twitter so you can still keep in touch that way.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Post Sac Anime

Hey guys,

I mentioned that I think we’re the first game developer to ever have a booth at Sac Anime.  Now that it’s all over and I've caught up on sleep, I understand why.

The number one thing, something that never would have occurred to me to prepare for--the overwhelming majority of people had no idea what was going on.  Maybe a thousand people walked by and looked at our booth.  Many of them said, “Granny Wars?!  That’s hilarious,” and kept walking.  But many also said, “looks like some guys sitting around playing games,” and never bothered to ask us who we were, what we were going there, or what was going on.  I heard, “I haven’t seen this game yet,” as if we could have been playing Marvel vs Capcom in the middle of the vendor’s hall and people would have been more accepting of that.  One guy even didn't believe me that Granny Wars was a real game so I had to show him I really was controlling Rose with the controller.  One guy was even irritated that we didn't have his favorite game nor willing to let him sit and play whatever (other people's) games he wanted to.

While most seemed interested once we actually told them what was going on, I’d say we missed a good 95% of people that didn't stick around to talk to us because they were just so confused by what we were doing or too shy to ask.  I thought it was obvious we were game developers showing off our games in development, as we've done before at other (game related) conventions, but I genuinely believe absolutely no one got that this is what’s going on.  I think people generally assumed our booth was some kind of rest area provided by Sac Anime and we were annoying people that sat on our sofa and chairs into playing games when they just wanted to rest.

I was really not expecting such confusion.  But yeah, I think this is an easy fix.  Next time, we’ll have signs posted or make a new banner that states we’re a Sacramento video game developer.  Having flyers that are more accessible without people having to talk to us, would also be useful.  I'd considered having one TV that just showed off our games like a looping trailer.  Maybe we need to do that and mix it in with information that explains what's going on.

The main goal was to make mistakes and learn from them.  Mission accomplished.  But going forward, we needed to have a better outlined idea of what we were trying to accomplish--Facebook Likes, feedback on our games, Beta testing sign ups, talent recruitment, industry connections, etc.

We got a little bit of all of the above, but again, we could have done a lot more to better attract what we were looking for.

All that aside, we had a lot of other issues.  The programmer for Granny Wars made it clear weeks before Sac Anime that he would need a lot of time to get the hit boxes working for each animation and would need time to test it.  He got neither.  Many of the final animations came in at the last minute by the artists, and the lack of time to test things before ended up meaning a really bad bug where the character from the previous game was not getting destroyed for the next.  So if you played 13 rounds, there would be 13 copies of the character moving around.  The hit boxes were mostly working, but a bug caused the game to crash due to one of the hit boxes having a problem and so the programmer disabled them all.  That meant that the game had to be reset for each round to avoid duplication problems, and that without hit boxes, you couldn't damage each other.  If you can't damage each other in a fighting game, the game isn't playable.

Raygun Rocketship was much more stable.  It was also the hardest build ever, and very, very few people were able to beat level 1.  I did it once.  Kaila and Quinlan, who are otherwise fairly antisocial and therefore volunteered to demo the game the whole time to avoid talking to people, beat it about a dozen times each, but even with all that practice, they died a lot.  For the “tutorial planet” this is way too hard.  This resulted in passer byers watching players die over and over in the same spot and not seeing the other 80% of the game.

I guess the only other negative thing was the lack of press.  We got some interest from a game news site and a game blogger, both who were shocked to find a game developer at Sac Anime.  I made a couple other good connections.  But had this been a game convention, we’d have gotten a ton more press since they would have been ready for us.

So that’s the negative.  I think one of the most positive things is seeing the crew actively talking to people and being excited about telling them about the games we’re working on.  I’m also glad they got to hear an unending stream of people telling them how hysterical Granny Wars looked and how people can’t wait to play it.  When you’re working without funding, it’s hard to keep plugging away at something without getting encouragement from potential fans.  So I’m hoping this really helps to motivate the team.  It also gave me an excuse to finally buy shirts for everyone.

We’ll have to decide what to do from here.  Two other Convention organizers contacted us and asked us if we’d be interested in going to their convention.  I have to decide if this is the wisest use of funds.  I think that Facebook ads would have likely been far, far more cost efficient if we were only looking for more fans.  Then again, some tweaks in our booth presentation could make the difference.  So it’s something we’ll have to talk about.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Concert Day

Hey guys,

This post isn't going to have much to do with game development, so feel free to skip this one.  Yesterday was the Stairway to Stardom concert.  Stairway to Stardom is basically a battle of the bands, but that’s more a gimmick.  The real deal is that kids get to experience what it would be like to be a rockstar for a day.  They get to play three songs they wrote over the summer on a big stage in front of a thousand people in a concert that’s video taped and played on Sacramento Cable Access and emceed by Charlie Thomas( morning deejay at 96.9 The Eagle ).  After they play, they’re interviewed by Staci Anderson (probably best known as the lady that reads the California Power Lotto numbers on tv), and after the interview, they go to a table to sign autographs for their fans(which is mostly their family members, but still cool).  There’s also a surprise guest to talk to the kids each year before they play.  The “surprise guest” is usually Frank Hannon of Tesla.  This year it was someone from Y&T--old 1980’s hair metal band form Sacramento.  Look up “Summertime Girls” on youtube.  The drummer of Papa Roach was the speaker a couple years ago.  The drummer from Smash Mouth has stopped by.  The bass player of the Eagles spoke a few years back.  Years and years ago, Randy Jackson of American Idol was a judge--long before he was famous.  Keep in mind, these are people coming out to talk to kids for the sole purpose of encouraging young people to play music.  It’s not a photo-op for them.  They’re not pimping their latest album.  They’re there for the sole purpose of giving back.  It’s a really great program.  And every year I think, “I’m way too busy… but I’ll just do Stairway one more year,” and I’m always glad I did.

In total, 16 bands played.  They use a common backline (all bands use the same amps and drums) so time between bands is about a minute and they only play 3 songs, so 16 bands go by pretty quickly.

I’d mentioned that I was stressing out about the drummer in one of the bands I mentored this year.  I did end up going to his house nearly every day while he practiced.  I started taking my tablet so I could get some work done while he played to a metronome.  He needs formal lessons and someone to get on him about practicing.

I also spent a lot of time talking to him.  His dad isn't in the picture anymore and his mom works constantly just trying to put food on the table.  I got the impression that she loves him very much and it probably breaks her heart she has to spend so much time away from him.  He’s a good kid.  He just doesn't have any adult role models in his life to teach him how to work for what he wants to achieve.  It reminded me of how you can be frustrated with someone, then you understand where they’re coming from, and it changes the situation.

My hope is that even though I only spent 8 weeks with him and his band, I was able to impress upon him what it means to work for what you want.  At the final concert, he ended up playing amazing(even if what he played was fairly simple) and the other parents from the band were blown away.

They didn't place in the top 3 (as they say, it’s a 13 way tie for 4th place) and the other members of the band made mistakes, but I was happy with how they played considering.

The other band I mentored this year took 1st place.  What an amazing group of kids--so talented and down to Earth.  I let the bass player use my bass because… well because my bass is awesome.  Even though I’m not still playing in bands, it was cool to see my bass up there on the same stage that Nirvana once played on(and in the same theater where Kurt Cobain famously left behind his foot prints in green paint back stage).

This marked my 19th year as a band coach in the program.  I was told they were planning to give me a Life Time Achievement award, but decided at the last minute to wait for next year for my 20th year.  I was shocked by that.  Coaches don’t get awards.  The whole program is all about the kids--not us.  But to be fair, no one else has coached even half as long as I have.  I still feel weird about getting an award for it, but it’s nice to be recognized.  So now I have to act surprised next year.

They also told me that after my 20th year as an instructor, they are thinking about grooming me to run the program.  Wow, I don’t know about that.

Stairway always takes up a lot of my time during the summers.  And I’m worried about how that would affect Stigma Games.  We’ll see.

I've also been working a lot on the Raygun Rocketship story lines.  Holy crap, this is a lot of work.  But once I’m happy with Planet 1 - Helios, and have the right tone for it worked out, the rest will go faster.  I hope to have an update on that soon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Late July Post

Hey guys,

This is always a super busy time of the year.  In addition to ramping things up for Sac Anime, I also teach the Stairway to Stardom program.  I got a temporary office job that lasted a couple weeks that I recently finished, wrecked my car and got it fixed, and violently threw up from eating a sandwich that didn't agree with me (when I throw up like that, all the blood vessels in my face burst) so I got to go to a house party a few hours later looking like a hardcore meth addict.

I still don’t get why my face does that.  My skin is fairly clear, but yeah, it looked like thousands of little hickies all over my face.  It was kind of embarrassing, but the party was for someone on the team who turned 40, and even though I was feeling terrible and stressed out about my car in the shop without me knowing what exactly was wrong or what it would cost, I wanted to let her know I appreciate her.  I think it’s important to do that stuff, even if it means riding a bike through the Sacramento summer heat after throwing up and looking like a meth head to a group of people that you don’t know.  It was a fun party though.  Really nice people.

Stairway is stressing me out more than normal.  If you've never heard of Stairway to Stardom put on by Skip’s Music, it’s a music program where kids audition, are put into bands, given 8 weeks to write 3 original songs, and perform in front of about 1,000 people at the final concert.  The last several years, this concert has been at the Crest Theater.

What’s stressing me out is the drummer of one of the bands I coach isn't practicing, doesn't know the songs, plays sloppy and out of time, and messes up all the transitions.  His band members are openly hostile to him because of it and amazingly frustrated.  He doesn't seem to understand what the big deal is.  With less than 2 weeks before the final concert, I decided to go to his house every day for 3 hours a day and babysit him while I make sure he practices.  I blew off another temp office job because of this.  I have way too much going on to be using my time for this, but I take pride in my ability to shape a group of young, inexperienced musicians and turn them into a professional sounding band.

When I was about 13 or so and started laying brick with my grandpa 50 hours a week each summer, I walked into a record store and bought Kill ‘Em All--Metallica’s first record.  I listened to Pulling Teeth (Anesthesia).  The song starts with the engineer saying, “Bass solo, take 1.”  I didn't really know what a bass was, but much to the disappointment of my parents, I took the money I saved up from laying brick over the summers and weekends and bought a bass, an amp, and bass lessons instead of using that money to buy a car.  My grandpa said, “Well, let’s see this guitar that you wasted your money on.”  My dad told me it was just a phase and that I’ll wish I still had the money so I’d be able to buy my own car when I turned 16.  But it wasn't a phase nor did having to walk everywhere seem to bother me.  Band practice was always at my house.

I practiced 8 hours a day, and eventually dropped out of high school because it took up too much of my practice time.  I went on to be a professionally musician until I gave it up at age 33 or so, went through a serious bought of depression for a few years, and decided to switch to being a game developer. I really never went anywhere with music despite being so driven--mostly because I could never find band mates as serious as I was.  But in either case, I guess I just don’t understand where this drummer is coming from.  I mean, not even practice at all?  He wants to be a drummer.  His mom was telling me how she’s always trying to get him to practice.  I guess I just don’t get people who want what they don’t want to work for.

My car… so I ran over two huge speed humps that I didn't see and didn't slow down for.  They were on the on ramp of an overpass--pretty much the last place I’d expect them.  What is the possible, conceivable point on having speed humps on something that looked just like a freeway on ramp that’s elevated so you can drive over railroad tracks?  I mean, there’s no pedestrians around it.  I still pissed about it.  I hit them driving home from a temp job.  I got paid half the money from that job than what it cost to repair my car… that I never would have wrecked my car had it not been for that job.  I bent the frame of my car, so yeah, it was pretty bad.

Moving on to game stuff.  Most gamers I talk to have never heard of the Ouya.  Go online where it’s mentioned and you’ll find a mix of love and hate for it.  I mean, it’s like an Xbox but a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the power.  For $99 bucks, what do you expect?

As a company, they've made PR missteps and has owned up to the fact that they’re not perfect and are still trying to figure things out.  Personally, I can respect that.  I don’t mind mistakes as long as I understand where a company is coming from.

I wrote them about 6 months ago to talk about Raygun Rocketship.  We have game play footage which we haven’t made public--it’s on a privately listed youtube channel.  They had good things to say.  So recently, I told them about Granny Wars, and that would be releasing that for the Ouya too and showing both off at Sac Anime.  They offered to send us an Ouya device to help us develop our games faster.  I had already bought one a year ago, but having a second one is really useful.  They also told me they thought Granny Wars sounded hysterical.

I know that Ouya sometimes funds companies that make games for them.  So this is a very possible funding option for us.  But otherwise, I’m hoping that we’ll get great Sac Anime footage of people playing the game, get tons of signups on the site, and be in a good position for a Kickstarter campaign.

We don’t have a lot to show with Raygun Rocketship in terms of how far the game has come visually.  We've had fairly unreliable artists, and that’s been frustrating.  This is especially frustrating when we’re trying to get a cohesive look and we never know when someone’s going to bail.  But it’s allowed us to focus on story lines and added game mechanic features.  The fact that the game changes story lines and difficulty based on player performance / skill, it’s going to be a very time consuming thing to test and balance.

I’m hoping our luck with artists for Raygun has changed.  We picked up an amazingly talented 3d modeler, and we have a really good illustrator.  We have a college art professor that might also be joining the team.  Plus one of the other artists on the team has been helping out with concepts.  I think we’re a couple months away from showing off a very different looking game.

About Sac Anime, I might have solved some of our set up dilemma.  A friend of my dad’s owns a computer store and is willing to let us borrow two of his huge flat screens in exchange for us putting up a “flat screens provided by…” sign.

I have more to talk about, but a ton to do tomorrow and I’m running behind on sleep.  Talk to you all later.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July post

Ok, so June passed by without a blog post by me.  I had someone hit me up on Skype to ask me about it.  Hey Nate.  Yeah, yeah, I've just been really busy.  Let’s run down some of what’s going on:

Granny Wars
It’s taking longer than I hoped.  Hand drawing every frame and holding the work to a high quality level has caused the progress to slow considerably.  It’s still moving though, but instead of showing off two characters at Sac Anime, we’ll only have one ready to go.  Showcasing a fighting game with just one character fighting the same character with a different color shirt?  Yeah, not ideal.  But there isn't much I can do about that.  I’m hoping that we’ll be able to recruit more talent, though good 2d animators have been tough so far.  I've turned down several now that weren't quite where we needed them to be, but I’m hopeful we’ll eventually find the right people.

Monster Balls
I don’t think we've officially announced this game yet, despite the fact we've had a playable version of it for over a year now.  I've hinted at our casual puzzle game that’s like Candy Crush Saga--this is the one.

The Granny wars team would like a break after Sac Anime, so it’s likely I’ll have them move to Monster Balls to finish up art work there, then go back.  Hopefully by the time they’re done with a break, we’ll be able to start letting people play test Monster Balls, and I’ll have more of the animation team I need to make good progress on Granny Wars

Raygun Rocketship
There’s been a lot of work on Raygun in terms of getting concepts for the main and secondary characters.  I've done a basic outline of some of the story lines and am pretty happy to see things coming together.

I read an article about games with the most alternative endings.  It said that Star Ocean is the current winner with 100 endings.  I don’t want to state an exact number, but the plan so far with Raygun is to completely shatter that number.  Alternative endings will all come down to how the player performs on each planet.  Do well, and good things happen.  Instead of picking options like “Rescue the Scientist?” or “Stay and Guard the base?” the player will be given the chance to either succeed at tasks that pop up during the mission or fail them.  The story line will reflect these changes based on that.  The game also gets more difficult the better you play.  This will need tons of testing, but otherwise, the game should be challenging for all skill levels.

Story can be presented well in a game so that even people that hate story won’t be annoyed by it.  No long cutscenes.  No long, annoying dialogue that interrupts game play, forcing you to hit the “OMG, I don’t care about this crap, I just want to play the damn game!” button as fast as you can until the dialogue boxes go away.  But rather story can be presented in a non obtrusive way when done correctly.  The key, in my opinion, is not to hit the player over the head with it early.  Ease it in.

Sac Anime
I’m thinking I’m just going to buy two flat screen tvs off Craigslist then sell them on Craigslist after Sac Anime is over.  Maybe I’ll break even doing that.  Aside from that, I had 2,000 flyers made for the event and have hit up nearly every Gamestop and comic book shop in the greater Sacramento area.  I’m guessing that’s about 25 places I hit last weekend to drop off some flyers to.

About 4 of them told me they’d have to ask their managers first.  Every time I talked to an actual manager, they always told me yes, saying basically, “Sure, we totally want to help support the local game dev scene.”  I talked to a lot of Gamestop employees that aspired to work in the game industry.  So it’s been a really positive experience visiting Gamestops so far.

Only 1 comic book shop gave me the “Let me check with our manager first.”  Otherwise, they were all really supportive as well.  I used to buy D&D books at comic book shops in town during the late 1980’s / early 90’s when I used to play.  We’d either play at a pizza place or someone’s house.  But now just about every comic book shop has tables--some over a dozen of them--where people can come in, free of charge, and play whatever.  The Great Escape on Howe near Hurley, has a huge warehouse of tables where people play Magic, Warhammer(figurines and everything), general board games, and other pencil and paper RPGs.  Go there on a weekend, and it’s absolutely packed.  It’s amazing how big the gamer community has grown.  

The Website
Holy crap, there’s still tons of work yet to do.  I thought I had the WYSIWUG editor working for non Admins.  That way users with Moderator status would be able to create a news story, upload pictures to the server, arrange them how they want: placement, word wrap style, size, etc, and be able to publish the story to the site.  I went to show the business team how to do it, and of course, I didn't test out how to do it before the meeting.  I've used similar WYSIWUG tools to add story content for Loki’s Planet.  I know how to use them.  I had it installed and could see I was able to bring it up.  I thought that was good enough to show to the team.  Everything with it works except you can’t upload pictures.  Just about nothing with Drupal works the way you think it would.

I was able to do the /chmod command to make the upload folder Writeable, but after that, I have to do something with configuring the Apache server to work on the same port the module is calling, or something crazy like that.  Any server engineer reading this is probably thinking, “Really?  That’s so easy to set up.  That would take me two minutes.  I set up client side content editor tools all the time.”  It’s probably easy.  Just in all the many years I've worked on websites, it’s just so easy to upload files and call them server side that I've never bothered to learn it any other way.  Building tools so I (and Moderators with login access) can add content client side is really foreign to me.

Sac Arcade
Everything was fine.  I was quoted a rental fee that was amazing, but as it turns out, it was too amazing.  As it turns out, the cost for power and internet will end up costing more than I spend on rent in a year.  Not that I’m accusing the venue of not being upfront.  It’s not like that.  It’s just that, I feel like this was an unexpected charge that I didn't see coming.  Somehow, I’d just assumed that power and internet would come with the room rentals.  But yeah, even if we sell out the event, this clobbers my projected profit margin--money I’m hoping to save up so we can expand to the Convention Center in a couple more years.  This is why you plan events at least a year in advance--to try and deal with problems like this.  I’m not entirely sure what to do.  I might be able to have someone else provide internet for a cheaper price or, if need be, we might have to change venues.

That aside, I still have a crap load of work to do with the site for Sac Arcade.  In addition to announcing all the details for the event, I was thinking about using the site as a hub for all gaming activity in the Sacramento area.

It’s pretty late (yeah, I’m still up at 4am), and I have a dentist appointment in 4 hours, so I need some sleep.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Late May Post

Hey everyone,

I finally got the Game News section of the website working.  I can now start recruiting Community Managers / Social Media peeps to write news articles through the site and have them show up without me having to do a thing.  Once I got that working, adding an events list in the sidebar wasn't that much harder.  Drupal's been time consuming to learn, but I’m finally getting a handle on it.  There's still some parts of the site that bypass Drupal like the Jobs page, but I'm going to be fixing that soon.

Speaking of events, have I mentioned we have a booth at Sac Anime?  Two actually, side by side.  My goal is to turn our 10’ by 20’ booth space into a family room, though I've come across an unexpected snag.  Seems like furniture rental places won’t let you move furniture once it’s delivered, and they’ll only deliver to a residence--certainly not the Sacramento Convention Center.  I don’t want to outright buy two couches for Sac Anime.  I don’t have any room to put them at my place before / after the event.  What I might do is end up buying a bunch of cheap bean bags then stuffing them in my bedroom closet for next year.  But hopefully I can still pull off Plan A.

Speaking of conventions, Sac Arcade is coming along well.  I can’t make any announcements until I have more things confirmed.  But basically, people that run game related things for Sac Anime, I've recruited to do the same for Sac Arcade.  This isn't confirmed, but it’s likely I’ll also be bringing in a huge group that organizes events for PAX.  PAX, btw, huge game convention that draws 80,000 gamers in Seattle once a year--this year, all their tickets sold out in less than 5 minutes.  Sac Arcade might not be amazing the first year, but I see no reason why we can’t eventually rival PAX.

Duplicating PAX in Sacramento isn't going to be easy though.  It sounds like there’s a lot of money to be made, but that’s not really the case.  When you figure labor costs for security (you can’t rely on volunteers for everything--especially the safety of people that can sue you or expensive equipment that can be so easily stolen or broken), food and shirts for those that do volunteer, venue costs, insurance, and marketing, whatever profit I could have made for the amount of work I’m putting in, I could just have gotten a conventional job and made more money for less time.  That, and all the proceeds will get sunk right into making the next event bigger.  I think we’re going to sell out the Sheraton long before the event starts, and will likely be expanding into the Convention Center by 2016.  I've already gotten quotes from the Convention Center, and it’s really do-able.

What else?  I had a company contact us about making a game for them.  I’m on the fence about this.  Being able to finally meet a payroll would be fantastic. But as soon as we’re done with the game, we’re out of money again.  Then we go back to working on Stigma Games stuff right back where we started from: without any money to pay people and a huge chunk of time taken away.  I know some studios only exist to make games for other developers and own nothing.  That feels like it would defeat the purpose of working in the game industry.

Ok, this was a nice break, but time to get back to work.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Start of a Game Convention

Hey guys,

I have a little bit of time, so I thought I’d make another post.  I’m not generally a fan of birthdays anymore, but the last thing I want to have to do is decide where to go out for dinner with the family.  So my sister and my parents worked out some British Pub to go to called Sterling Bridges.  I’m used to Mexican, Chinese, Italian, and classic American food here.  But British food?  The items on the menu were totally foreign to me.

But I wanted to make the most of it.  I ordered my first Guinness, which wasn't terrible, and, what looked like the worst idea on the menu--an Irish pizza with cabbage, carrots, turkey, and potatoes.  Um, yeah, on a pizza.  I was a little surprised that it really wasn't too bad.  It tasted a little bit more like a spring roll.  Otherwise, a pretty uneventful birthday.

Ok, on to way more interesting stuff.  I mentioned in my last post how disappointed I was in the Indie Arcade thing.  I talked to Gabriel about what we could do to make things much, much better.  I don’t want to get into the details here, but let’s just say I want to do a big event, he wants to keep things small, and so we've parted ways on that.  That means, for this event I’m planning, I’m calling all the shots and he’s not involved.

The Sheraton people are really excited about this convention I’m starting.  We've set a date a little over a year from now, though I’m still keeping things open in case we need to move it up or down a week or so.  Basically, just because it’s currently set on Memorial Day Weekend 2015, that doesn't mean it’s set in stone.  There’s good and bad about this date.  The biggest of the bad is that it’s in competition with Fanamie, which, I still think there are a whole lot of gamers that love games but don’t care about anime.  So despite this being a huge even a few hours drive away, I don’t think this will hurt our pull too much.  And second, it’s a little too close to E3.  Generally speaking, if a big company is showing off their game at E3, they don’t want to spill the beans early at a small convention a couple weeks earlier.  This is the worst of two worlds--the game gets way less press and journalists don’t want to cover old news two weeks later.  This could be a more excellent convention for Indies who can’t afford E3, but still want press on their game around that time frame.

The good news is that it’s fairly far apart from other, related events in town.  Aside from the Jazz Festival in Old Town Sacramento, not much is going on Memorial weekend.  I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of gamers into Dixieland Jazz anyways.  Sacramento gets a lot of traffic from lobbyists and political types, being the capitol of California and where the state legislature meets.  The law makers leaving town to go home for the holiday weekend really empties out downtown in general.  That means a lot less traffic.  Also, there are some streets that offer free parking in an effort to get people to come spend their holiday weekend downtown.  So this might be a great window.

Before I settled on the Sheraton, I went to 4 different hotels to get bids.  In each one, the sales people gave me a tour of the facility.  Each were very familiar with Sac Anime and saw a game convention as something they didn't want to pass up.  It was pretty fun to have sales people treat me like I was important and to try and convince me to go with them.  One lady even promised to beat whatever the Sheraton quoted me by 25%.

There are a few reasons why I will likely settle with the Sheraton, but the biggest is their vast experience with Sac Anime and how aggressively their sales people have worked to bring me in.  We've so far had brain storming meetings where their staff have shared tips on organization and marketing.  The good news here is that the more successful this event is, the more money they make.  So they’ll do what they can to try and make this happen.  And the experience, as I mentioned, plus their networks with potential sponsors and local businesses… you can’t put a price on that.  Being right next to the Convention Center where I’d love to see this expand to one year, that’s a compelling reason as well.

Now, I used to be a concert promoter years ago.  I used to be the booker at a pretty big night club in town as well.  I know something about this, but music and bands are a lot different from game conventions.  The best thing I can do right now is find alliances and partnerships with people in the gamer community that know a lot more about organizing conventions than I do.  I’m going to try and get those alliances in place now by the end of May.  Once that’s in place, we’ll spend the next month laying out the organization: chain of command, staff requirements, physical equipment needed, and other budgeting concerns.  Then starting in July, I’ll be contacting press and potential sponsors.  I've already heard from people interested in sponsoring, so that’s a good sign.  Although we’ll start some level of marketing in July, we won’t likely start physical marketing distribution such as flyers and posters until January (five and a half months before the event).

I have no illusions that I’ll do a lot of dumb things and screw up a lot in organizing this.  Being my first time organizing such an event, of course I’ll have a ton of misconceptions.  Planning early and aggressively with people that have been involved in big conventions--like Sac Anime, Fanime, and the Nor Cal Fighting Championships, will be really helpful so we can knock out potential problems early.  There are many things you can have in a game convention.  I know what I’m trying to make happen, but I don’t want to say anything yet that I’m still working on.  I can probably say for sure that there will be booths for game developers to rent out and show off their games to fans.  There will likely be a fighting game tournament on some level--hopefully a big level.  There will likely be a table top game room.  There’s at least one other big thing I’m trying to get, but it will be tough to get.

Speakers, voice over actors, panel discussions, live performances--these are really common in conventions.  That’s all a possibility, but that might be a difficult thing to organize the first year.  Plus, there may or may not be room for it.  Keep in mind, if I dedicate an entire room to a theater layout, I pretty much have to either fill the whole rest of the convention with speakers and performers in that room for the duration, or it becomes wasted space.

What could happen, is such events could be planned for after parties at local clubs in the area within walking distance.  Get in free with your game convention badge at Bob’s Bar and Grill and listen to Joe the Game Developer talk about the making of Popular Classic Game III.  That could work.

Really tired.  Need sleep.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April Post

Anyone else watch the Blood Moon last night?  I’d never seen one before.  I think I probably watched it for an hour or so.  Basically, the moon kept getting darker until it looked just like a huge beach ball a couple hundred feet, frozen in the middle of the sky with only the pale lights form the strip mall across the street to light it.  I kept thinking that it looked more gray with a slight brownish tone.  Then it started getting lighter again and more and more red in color.  Odd and surreal to look at.

That aside, so Indie Arcade happened.  There were a lot more people there than I anticipated.  Which was good.  There were a lot of things that I wasn't really happy with.  For one, I built a booth from black curtains and pvc pipes.  And despite the fact that I had a whole booth to construct, they weren't letting developers in early to set up.  Everyone got in the same time, meaning I got to haul armfuls of pvc pipe through the crowd.  As we were setting up, another developer set up on our table.  We were like, “Um, hello?  McFly?”  But they just ignored us.  So we got to be further back on the side, with another developer in front of us, blocking us.  We were also ready to put our games Raygun Rocketship and Granny Wars on the arcade machines.  Um, where were they?  I asked Gabe and he told me that he decided that morning not to bring them.  Yeah, that would have been nice to have some warning on.  So one of the programmers brought his computer.  I don’t know why he did, but it gave us something to show off one of the games on--Raygun.  All the tables were gone other than some tiny two foot wide wire patio table that I think someone grabbed from outside.  Since you can’t really play Raygun without a controller, we had someone on the team go out to Gamestop and buy one.  Three hours later, we were finally able to show off the game, but most the crowd was gone by then.

We did get some feedback from people that stopped by and played it.  That was cool.  We get “This totally reminds me of the Roadrunner cartoon,” comment about every time we show off the game, followed by suggestions to put the Roadrunner characters in the game.

Towards the end of the day, I had several people I didn't know, that wanted to talk to me.  There are no pics of me on our website (at least not right now), so I asked this one guy how he knew I was the owner of Stigma Games.  He said he’d done research on us and felt like I just had an aura of leadership.  Quite a few other people wanted to talk to me--one guy bought me a beer in exchange for being able to pick my brain.  Two others offered to buy me dinner for the same reason.  It’s pretty flattering that people think I’m important enough for that kind of attention, though another guy I don’t know who meets me at a bar and wants to take me out to dinner makes me a little uncomfortable.  I was a little close to saying, “Sure, but I have to warn you.  I don’t put out on a first date,” just to see what he’d say, but decided to pass.  I mean, I was flattered he asked so I didn't want to make it potentially more awkward, even if it sort of took me by surprise at first.  If anyone has questions about the game industry at all, I’m happy to help with what little experience I have.

But yeah, an aura of leadership?  Man, that so wasn't me two and a half years ago before Stigma Games started.  It’s a position I had to morph into.  I've always been able to make people laugh and perform in front of a crowd, but I guess I just get more and more confident.  That comes from failing and getting back up.  The more things you survive, the less things scare you.

Let’s see, what else?  The next day, I bought enough food, soda, and beer for about 40 people for the first Stigma Games Company BBQ.  You know, I’d never bought beer in a store before that day?  About 10 people actually showed, but it’s always good to have too much food than too little.  I’m going to be eating hamburgers, hotdogs, and jalapeno poppers for the next couple months though.  About half the group left, so by 5pm, we started playing drinking games.  Renee mentioned that she was really competitive.  We played about 6 games, and she won every one of them.  Like, every single one.  When I pointed it out, she was all, “Did I?” all innocently.  Anyways, it was a fun weekend.

Monday, March 17, 2014

March Post

Hey guys,

There will come a day when we’ll make an announcement about a game we've been working on and the crowd will go wild.  Until that time, there’s no real reason to keep our projects a secret.  As such, we let it slip on Facebook that we’re working on a fighting game called “Granny Wars” with, you guessed it, all grandma characters.

We first started work on the project almost a year ago.  We've gone back and forth about making it 3d, but ultimately opted for the hand drawn, 2d style.  3d certainly would have gone much faster, but I feel hand drawn was the right decision.  We've already faced the pain of that decision.  After about 6 months of full production, it was clear that the direction we were going down wasn't working out.

I know I've mentioned before that it’s a very common thing for young studios to make the mistake of thinking, “We’re too small to try a lot of different methods, so we have to get it right the first time.”  I didn't really understand how flawed that logic was until we were deep in production down the wrong path.  You can’t get it right the first time.  You’re going to screw up and you absolutely cannot be afraid to throw out work, no matter how small a studio you are.   So, we bit the bullet, and threw out a whole lot of work.

I transferred an artist from our casual game project to Granny Wars and she did a re-imagining of the characters, all with a consistent look.  I was very happy with what she came up with.  She asked to be made the Art Director for the project, and I felt that would be a good decision.  As such, she’s organized the artists in a way I would never have been able to.  The team got shook up a little, but, by the end of last year, was finally a solid unit and of high morale.  Since then, we've been in solid production again since the beginning of the year.  I hope to have some really basic game play footage to show off in a month or so.  I hope y’all like watching the sausage being made, because we’re going to try out showing off the game while it’s really, really rough.  You can see the process starting as we’re testing the waters through our social media channels.  Thanks to everyone that’s been sharing our posts and inviting their friends to Like us on FB.  We were at 90+ Likes last week, and we’re almost at 150 now.  A +50% jump in one week isn't too bad.

So I've mentioned Indie Arcade.  Link:  It’s not going to be at the Sheraton.  The original sponsor pulled out and a replacement wasn't found.  As such, the location will be at a nightclub formerly called “Bows and Arrows” and recently renamed the “Witch Room.”  That’s a pretty confusing name for a club.  Imagine the following:

Dude 1: Hey, what’s the name of the club we’re going out tonight?

Dude 2: Witch Room.

Dude 1: The one we’re going out to.

Anyways, I’ll admit, I’m pretty disappointed that we’re going from the 5,000 person capacity Sheraton to the 100 person, +49 for the back patio, capacity Witch Room--and that the cover is still a whopping $15 bucks at the door.  We had a gathering of game developers at Capsity a month ago and it had about two dozen people with no cover.  Same event with no cover draws 24 people.  What will we draw with a $15 dollar cover?  At this point, I don’t care.  I see it as a dress rehearsal.  Being a game developer means going to conventions and showing off your game to people in person.  We’d better get used to doing this.

I recently got another job.  Now I do Stigma Games(on Sundays and evenings), work as an artist / designer for my father’s architectural company(on Saturdays), and, in addition, started a 9-5 office job.  That’s basically three jobs, but it means I can start pumping some much needed funds into Stigma.  That includes having the funds to do marketing, rent booths at conventions, and put together other type events.

What else am I up to?  I’m still teaching myself Drupal.  It’s actually really easy if you understand basic object oriented concepts and know css and php.  What makes it hard to learn is that there are thousands of different modules and, as a beginner, you have no idea which modules do what and which ones you need.  I’ve found that Views is a must have.  Basically the deal is you create object types to organize your data, fill those data types with content, then use Views to display that content.  You can write templates in php to override parts of modules if you need to.  Most modules will let you change their look through your css page as well.  So again, not really that hard.  It’s just time consuming to go through learning it all.

When will I have the site up?  I dunno.  A couple weeks maybe.  I’m really happy with how it’s coming along.  It likely won’t look terribly different, though it will be set up in a way that there will be a ton more content to sort through as I’ll be adding a news section.  I know these blogs I write are pretty long, and not always interesting to read through for most people.  But the news pieces will be short and better focused on what Stigma followers will care about--our games.

I have to get ready for work in 7 hours, so should say I’m going to get some sleep, but will likely do more Drupal tutorials instead.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February Post

Hey guys,

Tons to talk about.  We are showing off Raygun Rocketship this Wednesday at Capsity for “Feedback Night.”  Other than my ill-fated AppNation trip, this will be the first time anyone outside of Stigma Games (and my relatives) have seen it.

The last “Feedback Night” at the offices of Capsity drew about 25 people(though Stigma Games didn't show off anything that night), so that’s a fair amount of people that will see it and give us an idea of what they think.

Speaking of that, I’ll officially announce beta testing positions soon.  I know a lot of people ask us about that.  Ryan, the programmer for Raygun Rocketship has told me he needs help tracking down bugs.

The other thing to talk about coming up is the Indie Arcade.  It’s weird for me to talk about because it’s hard getting a sense on how it will all pan out.  It’s all going down on April 12th.  Yes, I know I should be telling everyone how amazing it’s going to be.  How no one should miss it.  I hope it turns out awesome, but my expectations are pretty low.  It’s the first event of its kind, so who knows how that will go.  I’m hoping at least 100 people show--besides other game devs in the area that I already know.

So a few weeks ago marks the first time in Stigma Games’ history that I ever fired people from the team.  The people in question are really nice people, and I really, really hated doing it, though it was the right decision.  The problem was they need a lot of guidance.  Cool.  But we’re just not in a position to be able to sit down and teach people how to do stuff unless they’re self motivated.  Plus, as we near getting close to releasing some games, I have to realistically think about who I would hire and who is a benefit.

I think I've mentioned before that attrition can be a good thing.  You lose the less dedicated people, up your recruiting standards, and hopefully continue to increase the talent level of the team.  It doesn't always work out that nicely.  Sometimes talented people get impatient.  Sometimes you just can’t fill the positions you need with the right people.  Sometimes people just don’t work out, but you don’t have anywhere else to put them.  Sometimes, you don’t realize someone can’t do a task until months have passed by and they either didn't tell you because they thought they could handle it and couldn't, or they realized they didn't want to do it and didn't want to admit it.  And sometimes they don’t do anything because they think they had to wait for something else, and obviously don’t care enough to push the issue on their own.  These are the people that make me say, “I really need to get better at recruiting.”  Our recruiting methods genuinely are getting a lot tougher now, which is good.  Now we just need to get more people applying.

When I started Stigma Games, I still had this romantic idea that I would take a chance on the people that other companies turned down.  Give me your tempest tossed, and I would teach them to long for the sea.  Butchered mixed metaphors aside, this isn't reality.  People are often talented because they want to be.  People are often untalented because they don’t really care.  Everyone wants to work at a game studio, but not everyone is driven to.  Telling the difference between the two, as a recruiter, is pretty hard--especially in Sacramento where there isn't exactly a pool of experienced, available people.  Otherwise, I’d just say, “Must have 2+ years industry experience” like every other studio on the planet does.  I mean, there’s a reason why studios are willing to spend astronomical amounts of money on rent in LA and the bay area--that’s where the talent is.  There’s a reason why there are so few studios in this town.

You've probably heard talk about how important company culture is.  Working without an office, this isn't always easy to shape, but I do what I can at our meetings, through Skype, and on the forums.  When it’s a group of guys and one makes a sexist joke, I frown my disapproval and it doesn't happen again.  When artists fight, and they do, I try and listen to both sides and validate how they feel even if the issue isn't resolvable.  When people make poor suggestions, I try and facilitate a healthy, supportive environment where we can offer ideas without feeling embarrassed or intimidated.  That doesn't mean I’m able to accomplish this 100% of the time.  And sometimes, I’m the unintended cause of the drama--like when I mention one of our games is a better candidate for Kickstarter due to its genre, and those working on the other games think I’m saying the game they’re working on isn't as good or as likely to ever go anywhere and so their morale plummets--something they told me almost a year after I said it and two of them had quit.

A company should be a mix of the experienced and non.  Our artists are talented, but lack professional experience which can make issues of insecurity pop out.  This is a problem when artists are still trying to prove themselves to each other and things can sometimes, even slightly, turn to bringing each other down.  This happened a lot in the early days, but I've only recently noticed this happen again, and I wonder if it has to do with the artists being afraid they might be next on the firing list.  I hope not.  I made it really clear that wasn't the case and that no one else would be getting fired.

Otherwise, things are better now that I finally have some artists that can take lead positions.  I’m really glad I haven’t had to deal with any, “How come she’s in charge?” issues.  But every now and then a passive aggressive remark like, “I thought we were doing it this way, but whatever,” slips by and I’m not able to make attitude adjustments.  I can’t wait until we have a studio and a revenue stream to hire everyone.  Then we can hangout outside of work, do some movie night bonding, etc.  That would solve so many of our problems right there.

I've said in the past I was glad we didn't have funding because we’d blow through a lot of money, still making mistakes.  I feel as though we’re finally at the point where we’re made all the reasonable mistakes.  Now it’s time for us to make the transition to being a fully funded studio.  We’re just lacking the revenue.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

4th Studio for 5th Planet

I just recently started listening to the internet radio Pandora.  I’m a big fan of Tool, Deftones, and Korn but not when listening to those same bands over and over on the “Industrial” station.  Come on, guys.  Is there a “This song is nice and all, but doesn't fit the genre you think it does” and I just don’t see it?

So last night I went to an event at 5th Planet to see their new studio.  There were about a hundred people there with tons of food and a keg(which I later found out was full of root beer--and it was good).  The CEO came by, saw me checking out the scene and asked me how Stigma Games was doing.  We talked production methods for a while.  I still can’t believe what a nice guy he is.

I’d say about a third of the people there were people I knew, but I was so engrossed in checking out the studio, I didn't even want to talk to people yet.  That place is massive.  There was an 8-10 foot tall dragon in the reception area.  Past that, you walk into the studio and it’s maybe 10k square feet with dozens of work stations.  No cubicles.  Everyone can see everyone else.  The kitchen was about the size of a Starbucks.  The break room was about the size of a tennis court.  No, bigger.  There was another large empty area where I was told later that they race go-carts in.  There were also half a dozen “chill out” rooms with couches and tvs in them.  The game room was straight out of a mega corporation meeting room only with tons of popular board games, consoles, a giant projector screen, and nerf darts and guns all over the place.  Even the office buildings were loaded with gamer related stuff.  In one business office I saw a replica of Frost Mourne, a sword from one of the Final Fantasy games, and the Portal gun.  I just thought, “This looks like Disney Land.”  I looked around again and thought, “If anyone is wondering what I’m trying to do with Stigma Games, this here, is it.”

After that, I did a fair amount of socializing.  There were people from KlickNation there.  One of their artists that got laid off used to be in a writer’s group with me and I talked to her about seeing if she’d like to join my current group.  I met another woman from KlickNation (which EA has since renamed “Capitol Games”) and she saw the “Stigma Games” title on my shirt and told me how cute it was to see young, unheard of studios in the area trying to make it.  Nice, huh?  All that really does is push me to want to build up Stigma Games more.  And once we’re a big studio and I meet someone trying to get their game studio off the ground, instead of being condescending to them, I’ll encourage them.  I believe the best revenge is to do on to others what should have been done to you.

I made another post recently, so this might be strange so close to that one.  But I wanted to talk about the various stages Stigma and I have gone through.  I remember when I first started this, anytime someone would answer a Craigslist add, I’d meet with them and tell them how awesome Dawnshine was going to be and why they should want to join.  No need to send me a resume.  If you were a gamer and knew anything about code or art, I’d talk to you.  Eventually, it turned into, “Well, do you have a portfolio?” first.  And then I started giving tests.  And now it’s gotten to the point where people need to demonstrate to me that they have a proven history of doing the role they’re applying for and the drive to push it further.  I've now seen the life cycle of the “I've never tried to make a game before, but I’m a big time gamer and I just want to be part of this” type applicant who ends up taking up space and slowing the morale of the team.  I have to stop seeing them as people that just want a chance that they haven’t otherwise worked for and see them instead as anchors that make it more difficult to reach our goals.  From now on, I’m only recruiting people that have the same drive I do.  We’re starting to attract applicants like that now.

It’s time to raise the bar.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Starting 2014

Hey everyone.  A lot has been going on.  We've had some crew shake ups over the Holidays.  It happened last year as well.  People on the team take some time off and reflect if they really want to be part of what we’re doing or not.  It’s a hard thing being in a start up.  No money coming in and still a lot more work to do... it’s certainly not for everyone.

I feel as though the team has gotten just a little too big to manage, so I've decided to downsize the team just a little.  That means, I won’t be seeking replacements for those we lost.  There are still a couple positions we still need to fill and I’ll continue to look for the right candidates for those.  Otherwise, I think we're going to shrink down to a 15-20 person team size, at least for now.

So let’s get to some progress:

Not a lot of Raygun Rocketship news.  I’m hoping we can finalize concepts for the remaining, unfinished levels in the game.  We had to switch lead artists on the team, which I’m hoping doesn't slow us down too much.  I've been working more on story lines.  The marketing team has been talking about putting together a Kickstarter campaign for it.  I've been on the fence with that for a while.  Other KS campaigns for games in the same SHMUP genre are pretty dismal (nearly all successfully funded are less than $10 grand), certainly not enough money to make it worth it for paying the team of 6-7 people who've put nearly a year into it so far, but possibly enough to fund a decent marketing campaign.  We’ll see.  I know there are a few members on the team that are in financial trouble, but are so committed to this that they’re pushing forward.  It really sucks that there’s not much I can do about that right now.  A big KS funding round would be amazingly helpful.

Very little news on our casual game other than we have a basic story arc done.  Now we just need to storyboard it out in combination with the levels.  We only have a programmer and a story designer working on it right now, both of which are hard pressed for free time to devote to it.  But I’m thinking we’ll probably announce it soon.

I think I mentioned our parody fighting game hit a snag a couple months ago and we decided to start over.  We didn't get a whole lot done over the break on that in terms of asset competition, but we’re on a good path now.  I think I mentioned I screwed up and added too many artists to the project and turned it into a cluster mess.  I've re-assigned artists and one artist left the team entirely.  Now we’re settled with everyone having a specific job they need to take care of.  One of our artists has stepped up to be the Art Director on the project and I’m really happy with how she’s doing so far.  This game will be entirely hand drawn.  We've thought about going 3d since the very beginning.  Recently, I even considered modeling, rigging, and animating 3d characters then rendering them to 2d sprites, so it would technically still be a 2d game.  That would make things faster.  But a hand drawn game should look better and, hopefully, generate the buzz we really need.  I don’t want to quickly put out a game no one will care about, so it might be the better decision to take the long way.

Lastly, the Dawnshine table top project has been through a lot.  I was taking a backseat role, letting the rest of the team do the designs while I just worked on lore, theme, and flavoring.  I wasn't really happy with how the design was going, so when the design team fell apart and people left the team over the Christmas break, I knew it was time for me to step in, throw out everything that had been done so far, and start over.

I've decided to take the game in a deck building direction as the mechanic for an empire building game--thus merging two genres.  Though I have the finished idea in my head, it will be important to play test and keep researching other similar games to see if there’s more elegant ways of doing things or if my brilliant ideas have been done to death in other games.

Aside from that, there’s a few cool things on the horizon that I hope to be able to post more about soon.