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.