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  Running a Biz 03:42 PM -- Fri May 19, 2006  

While we're on the topic of how I do things, here's a post I made on the forum, which I am hereby upgrading to Journal status:

Why aren't my games (mostly) in stores? Because I'm an indie. Here's how I sell games:

ME -> CUSTOMER
(90% of money paid by customer goes in my pocket - the other 10% is the cost of the credit card transaction. So $26.96 on a Supreme sale)

Here's how you get games into a store:

ME -> PUBLISHER -> MANUFACTURER* -> DISTRIBUTOR -> STORE -> CUSTOMER
(money paid by customer goes to store. Store keeps 50%. Distributer keeps 20%(?) of what's left. Manufacturer keeps 10% of what's left. Publisher keeps 95% of what's left. I get the rest. Math: I get 1.8% of the paid price, if I did that right... that'd be $0.54 on a sale of Supreme)

Of course, those numbers are approximate and invented, but they're the general idea. So why does anyone sell in stores? Exposure. When I sell myself, I only get a few sales, because nobody knows I exist. When a store sells something, they put it in a huge national chain that maybe a hundred thousand people a day enter altogether. They'll sell a thousand times more than I will.

In the end, I'd probably make more from the store sales. But it's not worth it. The main issue is that I have to make what a publisher wants, and then tweak it endlessly to meet their desires. That's not independent, and it's not why I'm in business for myself. And it doesn't last. Stuff is in stores for a couple months, then it's in the bargain bin, then it's gone. It's on my website for decades!

*Manufacturer isn't really a part of this chain. What I mean by them is the company that is paid by the publisher to manufacture the physical CD. It's an expense they have, that I selling downloads do not (though of course I do have that expense on the CDs I sell)
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  LD48 Postmortem 10:21 PM -- Tue May 16, 2006  

It's all the rage, so I thought I'd do a quick postmortem of my last LD48 entry, Wee Ninja.

First of all, you should know my time zone, as it's very significant in how I lay out my LD48 process. The theme gets announced at 8pm on a Friday, then I have all day Saturday and until 8pm Sunday to do it. Not really by any particular plan, I always divide up my work according to this (although I believe it used to be 6pm all around, only this latest was 8pm).

Day 1: Thinkin'
Day 1 is very short. I go to bed around 10pm usually, sometimes more like 11 during these contests, so it's just a couple hours. I don't even start up the compiler, there's no point. I spend it thinking. I spend quite a while in bed doing the same. This contest, I had to do a lot of thinking, because I had no idea for the theme, Swarms. In the end, I couldn't come up with anything really innovative, so I just went with the idea of 'cloning' the game I had been playing fairly obsessively, Dynasty Warriors. In that game, you run around hacking huge hordes of soldiers to bits. It's very fun, because you can sweep your sword/spear/whatever across a whole group of guys and they all fall down at once. I wanted to capture that same fun of totally dominating a horde of weaklings.

Because of all the endless chatter in the IRC room before the contest, mostly about the Wii, I quickly made that connection - I would make a game where you were fighting to be the first to get one of the very few Wiis shipped on launch day (inspired by so many past screwed-up console launches). It was not until I was making graphics on Day 2 that I decided you'd be a ninja. With the 'story' in place, I came up with my second major element. I got an image in my head of the player tossing their Wii up in the air (stop snickering), beating a group of guys senseless, then catching it and running on as they lay on the ground around him. That would be my 'cool moment' that the game was built to put you in. I don't think I've ever developed a game around a moment like that, but I've heard of people doing it, and I was picturing it so clearly, that it seemed a good plan.

Day 2: Crankin'
On the second day, I get up at 6ish (which is normal for me, I really don't tend to move stuff around for LD48 - 48 hours is actually much more time than I need, if I know I'm not going to be making a truly complete product, and it would be too draining and ineffective to work more), and immediately pop on the IRC, which is the most important part, and then fire up the compiler and lay down the basics. In an hour, I've got the project all set up and the classic "black screen that you can press ESC to exit". Every one of my entries begins in exactly that way.

The first half or so of this day is spent throwing down the core of everything. I move on from the black screen to a tile map (maps created in paint shop pro as simple bitmaps), then to a guy on that tile map which you can move around. After that, I fiddle with how he moves around for a while until it feels good. Play control is always the #1 priority for me. How it feels to move the guy around is totally fundamental to how the game feels to play. I don't like just having "if you push left, you move 2 pixels left" - there's got to be inertia and weight and friction.

Once that's down, it's a guarantee that I now don't like what I'm looking at, since it's just temp art. I immediately can't stand it anymore, and spend most of the rest of the day creating artwork and getting it into the game.

The last bit of the day is turning that stuff into a real game. Because this game has martial arts stuff, the player control was a little more complicated, since I had to set up the combo you could do and people getting stunned and knocked around, doing animated moves, and all that. But there was that, and making enemies move around, making things collide, and finally putting in getting hurt and hurting things. Oh, and the other stuff about picking up Wees (as they are known in the game), dropping them, getting them knocked out of your hands, and that stuff. So by the end of day two, I have something playable, but not really a game - no goals, just a level that starts up when you start the game, and you play it. It's completely done in terms of gameplay, just nothing around that gameplay - no winning or losing, no levels, etc.

Day 3: Cleanin'
The last day then is for turning that core of game into the full deal. It's a bit of a blur, but I made the different levels, implemented fonts and made those and put them in (I always postpone the fonts a lot...), made winning and losing possible. Then finally towards the end, I get around to actually putting in sound (always the thing I procrastinate on most), and menus. Seeing I had many hours left, I began implementing what I had thought up while laying in bed the night before - special abilities you can unlock. I knew that'd be cool and would make it feel a lot more like a real game instead of just a demo. Those were pretty easy to slap in. I also put in the feature of time slowing down when you throw a Wee, and voila. Game over. I was done about 4 hours early, and definitely ready for a break.

I took a few walks and watched two movies during the course of the 48 hours as well. I always take a lot of breaks and leisurely meals, because I need that to step back and collect myself. I think it's more productive. In the end, we have:

WOOTS!WOOPS!
It was fun to play! I was quite worried about all the issues with making a 'fighting' game, but it panned out and felt solid. The 'cool moment', even in slow motion, was not particularly cool at all in the game. In my head, it was like a scene out of the Matrix. In the game, it was just a flailing of invisible limbs. The slo-mo of the sound was cool, though.
The subject matter worked out well and made for something that people did express amusement at (always good to play up the things they were joking about right before the contest!). I really regret not coming up with any kind of new and innovative idea. That's what I do these for - an opportunity to try out something crazy and unique, and see how it works. It was still fun to make, at least.
After the last couple LD48s, I was worried I just couldn't hack it anymore, so the fact that I released a finished, and I think very polished, game was a good thing. It felt good to know that I can still actually finish things... at all! I definitely didn't capture the feel of Dynasty Warriors in the least. It's fun to knock down the big groups of shoppers, but it just doesn't have the kick that Dynasty Warriors does. One part of this is that there's really nothing interesting to do - you just keep pounding the fire button until they all fall down.
The design of the characters - weebles, pretty much - came out exactly as I wanted, and was pretty amusing to see. In case you didn't know, it's a play on how Nintendo claims that the i's in Wii represent the people playing the system. My people looked exactly like i's. I totally failed on the tile art... there are a bunch of tiles included that are actually my original temp tiles (check out those lovely cash registers!), blown up to double size, since the game originally used half-size tiles. I had tons of time to fix it, I just didn't notice them anymore. I had also wanted to go to '3D' tiles - making the objects stick up so things could be behind them, and for example have the shelves be facing various directions. That, I did remember, but I was just tired of working on the thing!
Putting in unlockables was great. It made the game much better, and made it feel much more polished (I know that boosted my Production scores way up!). I will certainly try to do stuff like that again. I reinvented many wheels (well, not so much reinvented as copied my old work, generally). I've got to get a library set up of the stuff I need to make games! It would also be nice if I upgraded to the latest version of PTK. This game, like several previous gamelets, uses OpenGL, and so a lot of people can't run it. The newer PTK uses OpenGL only on the Mac, allowing you to use either DirectX or OpenGL on the PC. So it would've been much better. I wanted to switch near the end of the contest, but the newer version changes way too much stuff. It would've broken everything. I need to get set up with that!
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 08:51 PM -- Thu May 11, 2006  


Look, it's the first real boss in the game, Klonk! The brown stump is what happens when a tree gets between him and you. There's a lot of shrapnel that flies when he smashes trees, so you need to hide when he does that. Of course, it's also bad if he smashes you. There a couple mini-bosses before Klonk, but they are just recolored regular badguys.

Directly behind Klonk is another new enemy that I don't believe I have shared before. It's a Sock Monkey. They're quite dangerous really.

A lot of progress has been made since last we peeked. Everything is still very early-game stuff. You can level up to level 50 in this game, and the content in so far is good to about level 10. But there's more than there was by far. There are now wondrous chests to find (but you can't open them yet, since beating Klonk is how you get the first of the special keys needed), several hiding spots for the Great Guru, and a few new maps and quests. So, I better go put Klonk where he belongs and finish up the quest involving him. It's about time special keys and chests and doors were implemented!
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  Assorted Flavors 04:46 PM -- Wed May 10, 2006  

* Nature Note: a giant lizard was in our garden, which incidentally we have finally set up and it's looking really good. This lizard was maybe a foot and a half long total, all sand colored with leopard patterns. He was cool. So cool in fact that he didn't move when touched... until I touched his back. That made him rocket across the garden, right into the chickenwire. I wouldn't think that would hurt too much, but thereafter he never moved again. He's still in the same place we moved him after that. It's sad.

* Nature Note: Also, Sol saw a garter snake in the garden too. I missed that!

* Nature Note: A mouse got in our house! We believe it came in the window we had open for the cats to visit their cat run. But we had an adventure chasing it down and catching it. It was the cutest thing ever to live. That's not past tense, mind you - we captured it with my official Bug Catching Gear (a little plastic tub, and the cardboard CD case for Rise Of Nations for a lid) and released it outside after marveling at the cuteness. It was quite a struggle to save it from the more efficient hunters that live in our house. It was squeaking like crazy when two of them had it cornered in the bathroom (that was how we finally nabbed it though, teamwork!).

* Domesticated Nature Note: Our dogs have gotten very very bad. They have developed a technique for jumping over our 6-foot fence (it's a Jackie Chan style ricochet off the corners, quite impressive). They really like to be out in the world chasing rabbits, so this is a big problem. They now live in their kennel at all times unless they are on a leash. Nobody's happy with that at all, so we're looking forward to getting some electric stuff to keep them from jumping there. In the long term, we are also hiring a trainer to help out. That is so very not cheap. There are 3 corners they could do this in, though so far they have only done it at one, so we hope that's the only one they want to use. Stupid dogs!

* Music: To celebrate our tax refund, we ordered a huge pile of used CDs and DVDs from Second Spin (which I am again recommending). That's cool and yay. We have eclectic tastes, and our tastes don't entirely overlap, so we got everything from 80's to emo rock to Ozzy to Sixpence to 60's/70's folky stuff. Only, we got a little more eclectic than we planned. You see, for some reason, Sol's copy of Crosby, Stills and Nash's Greatest Hits was shrinkwrapped together with a CD we didn't order. Like a bundle package, a free bonus. It wasn't on our order, and it was shrinkwrapped on, so I presume that was the intent. So what music did they decide made a great match with Crosby, Stills And Nash? That's easy enough - Method Man, of course! Kind of the same genre and all. I'm sure there's a lot of fan crossover. So I'll be checking that out. I don't think I like it so far. It's not that I don't like rap, but I liked rap when it was rhythmic. These days, the music is nice and thumping, but the words are just a ramble of things that kinda rhyme, with no particular connection to the music. Seems that way to me. But you know us old fogies - what the kids listen to is all just noise! Git offa my lawn!

* Those are all the flavors I have to offer you at this time. Look for a Sneak Peek tomorrow, though. And I have a new schedule as usual, to get me on the ball with these Journal updates, Sneak Peeks, and the two hundred other things that fill my day to overflowing.
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  Wee! 04:55 PM -- Tue May 2, 2006  

Wee Ninja is now available on the Gamelets page. Give it a try! There was a specific "cool moment" that was my goal when I began working on it, although it didn't really pan out at all. It was the idea of throwing the box up in the air, beating up a group of guys, then catching it and continuing running. You can definitely do exactly that in the game - in slow motion, no less! - but it's not 'cool', it's just kinda fun. It didn't fit what I had in mind, but it works as gameplay at least. And overall, the game is pretty fun. It gets pointless fast, but unlocking the Ninja Skillz is entertaining, and then using them is too, for a little while.

I got Guild Wars: Factions, and Morrowind yesterday, so that should be very helpful to my productivity. It is having the intended inspirational effect, though - little ideas pertaining to my game. Every time I play a game, I always automatically think up what my take on that game would be, and suddenly desperately want to make it (incidentally, I've been playing tons of Dynasty Warriors 5 lately - if you've played any Dynasty Warriors, you know exactly where Wee Ninja comes from!). So this idea of stocking up on RPGs while I'm working on one is rather brilliant. It's making a big difference! The Talent system in Loonyland 2 came from looking at a World Of Warcraft website, although I am not sure what inspired the "improves with use" aspect of it (that is in Morrowind, and has been newly added to Guild Wars in the form of titles you can earn, but I encountered both of those after adding this). I think mainly from how the 'craft' skills in World Of Warcraft level with use, so that you don't have to divert your skill points or whatever toward things that aren't directly useful. That was an issue I kept thinking about it, and it works out nicely this way. You're welcome to spend hours and hours mixing potions, but now you don't have to compromise your fighting ability to be good at it.

Okay, so that was mainly just to tell you I got new games, so hooray for me! I also recently got an Aero Ace radio controlled plane. It's really cheap - just a styrofoam plane with two engines, and the controller tells it how much juice to put in each engine (so it steers like a tank!). But it's very cool! Way cheaper than getting into 'real' radio controlled planes, but you can fly it around and have fun. They have a cool gigantic 4-foot wingspan one for a bunch more money, but I read that you need tons of space to fly it, and I'd end up landing it in the neighbor's yard. My biggest problem with my little plane is that it can't tolerate even the tiniest bit of wind (it probably weighs an ounce) - and Anza is like a perpetual hurricane. Even when it seems dead calm around here, the trees are just slightly waving, and that's enough to make the plane almost unflyable. So I recommend this little plane (which, by the way, is nearly indestructible), but only if you live somewhere unwindy. You can fly it indoors too, but the turning radius is so big, you'd have to be in a gymnasium for it to be remotely usable.

So, to all my new games and toys, I say this: WEEEEEE!!!
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  Sneak Peek: Wee Ninja 12:10 AM -- Mon May 1, 2006  


Well, I finished my entry for the latest Ludum Dare 48-hour contest! Witness it. The theme was Swarms, which shows in the screenshot quite clearly. It'll be available on the Gamelets page in a day or two. It's rather silly and a bit lame, but it's got unlockable Mad Ninja Skillz, which makes it fun. I'm tired and my back hurts. See ya!
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  Busy Weekend 03:35 PM -- Fri April 28, 2006  

First, to comment: Man, Nintendo is setting the internet aflame with slackjawed jabberjawing jackanapes via their naming announcement. Now, to clarify, so as not be a part of the crowd, I'm not commenting on the naming announcement. I'm commenting on the commenting on the naming announcement. Very important distinction. I'm no jackanape! But anyway, if you didn't hear, their upcoming console that was codenamed "Revolution" is officially named now. The actual real name is: Wii (pronounced "wee"). I'll leave the jokes in your hands, but suffice to say that since the announcement is a couple days old, they've all been done thousands of times by now. I just have this comment: if I buy the system or any games for it, I will buy them online, because I'm not going into a store to ask for a Wii. Anyway, my comment was just that they nailed this thing dead-on. It's a horrible name, and thus the internet has exploded with talk. If you look at Qatfish, which links to latest entries of tons of game developer blogs, you'll see that most of them are discussing it - multiple times each (most entries that aren't directly discussing it still mention it... kinda like this one right here)! Well played, Nintendo, well played.

Also, Guild Wars: Factions, the expansion to Guild Wars, is available as of yesterday for folks like me who preordered. So I way played that. But it's funny, it became available at midnight Wednesday, and I joked that I'd stay up to play it right away. I didn't do that, but I woke up at about 2am with massive heartburn, and I don't know about you, but when I have heartburn, I can't lay down. I have to sit up. So from 2am until the sun came up, I was indeed playing it! And then some. So that was like a big event that I have been anticipating a long time and got to 'enjoy' (with my stomach feeling that way, it could've been more fun).

Thirdly, tonight begins yet another Ludum Dare 48 Hour Contest! I will see what I can do! These are always fun, though I seem to be less capable each time.

So that's my busy weekend. Don't forget to check out Dungeon Scroll Gold if you haven't. It's the Guild Wars of word games.
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  Dungeon Scroll Gold! 06:27 PM -- Wed April 26, 2006  

Dungeon Scroll Gold is here! It's not a sequel, it's just a major major update to the game. If you are an existing owner of Dungeon Scroll (who bought it from here!), send me an email letting me know an order number or something I can use to look up your order, and I'll get you a link to download the new version. If you're not an owner of it, download the demo and see what you're missing! It's really a huge improvement. The changes are basically:
  • World map to track progress over 25 dungeons, and even an ending now!
  • Online high scores
  • (my favorite) Bosses give Books Of Lore when beaten, which grant you upgrades that last the rest of the game
  • Difficulty has been rebalanced
  • Many new monsters and bosses, including some with unique and horrible abilities
  • Many new magic tiles, like +20 and x3 damage
  • Regular X, Q, and Z tiles get built-in special properties (it's only fair!)
  • The dictionary's been expanded to recognize more words
It's a lot more fun, and feels much more like an RPG. Go play!
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 11:15 PM -- Tue April 25, 2006  


That's a very odd looking thing, isn't it? Almost all I've done since last time is make sound effects. I've been cranking out new sounds quite a bit in my previously mentioned effort to completely finish up the beginning part of the game. I'm doing some kind of weird sounds... I hope they're good. I'll have to get second opinions soon. The sound when you pause the game is a really cool little guitar ditty, only it sounds forlorn and tremendously at odds with the happenin' swing music playing behind it. Even without that music, it's awfully morose for a Loonyland game. But it sounds cool! I'll have to yank it, I'm pretty sure.

The other thing I did, mostly just design so far, is add a major major new system to the game (as if I needed more things to get done - but this is the kind of design and programming that I enjoy). Now, first of all, the skills are going to be cut back to only 50. One or two will be removed entirely, but most of the missing skills are being moved over to the new feature - Talents. Yes, I got the idea when I sadly looked up some World of Warcraft info to see what I had been missing since I got to play that last. The inspiration led me to think of a set of abilities that are very small percentage boosts for the most part, adding to your main skills, sort of to specialize (just like in WoW). But in Loonyland, they work differently. Skills, as you know, are special abilities that you can upgrade with points you earn by gaining levels. Some are triggered directly, others are passive boosts. Talents, on the other hand, upgrade themselves based on certain criteria, and are all passive boosts (basically, they upgrade as you use them).

Aha, but I tricked you! There are a few Talents that aren't passive at all! They are the former Crafting skills. Now that they are Talents instead of Skills, it's kind of nice, because it means you don't need to invest skill points in them - choosing between becoming stronger, or becoming better at making things that make you stronger. They will just improve if you spend time crafting things.

So the other cool thing about Talents pertains to the picture above. All this time you've been wondering who the little egghead is, and now I shall let the cat out of the bag: that is a Talent Guru. There are 30 of them, since there are 30 Talents, scattered all around the land. Just as with Skills, you need to find your Talents by finding the Gurus that can teach them (I know it makes no sense to teach someone a talent, but they're gurus... it's magic - or possibly motivational speeches). Why is that cool? Because it's another 30 things I get to hide around the game world! Finding stuff is fun. Unlike skills, you get Talents simply by finding the Gurus, there are no quests involved. Once you have a talent, you can begin doing whatever it is you need to to level it up, and up it will go.

Also note that the Guru is levitating - see his feet? That's Guru Power.
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 10:07 PM -- Thu April 20, 2006  


Tired of this shot yet?

A slow work day. The axe shop is finally completely done (but could be polished a lot) and some other odds and ends happened. Shortly thereafter, I went back in to play again, to see what was next, and voila - nothing was! There are no more quests I can complete. So that should mean it's time to add the next round of quests and places to go. But wait! It doesn't!

You see, all this time, the game has had no sound effects. Well, there are sounds, but they're all Loonyland sounds, and frankly I'm really tired of every single enemy making Bonehead sounds. There are also many skills that have no special effects, and other rough edges visually and sonically like that. So instead of moving on, what I'm going to do is finish up the small portion of game I have. I'm going to make all the sounds, put in the effects for all the currently attainable skills, get art in for the potions and other items that lack it, and even put in the music.

And that's where you come in if you want. I'm going to get the music from royalty-free music sites. On these sites, you pay around $30 per song to buy a song, and then you have the right to use that song freely in your game. The only downside is that anybody else can buy it too, so your game may not be unique, but I don't care, as long as it sounds good! That's where the music in Ninja Academy came from as well, and you know that was fun music. So here's the deal: I have decided to go with a very swing/big band/bebop/whatever sound for this game, because it's extremely silly, and it's lively and fun. I don't know exactly what I want to use, and you are free to give your input. All these sites allow you to listen to song samples online, so you can check them out. Here are the sites I'm looking at:

Flying Hands
Fresh Music
Shockwave Sound
Sound Rangers
Opuzz

I'm looking for something slow and easy for the town (I was rather enjoying "Watch Her Walk" from the Flying Hands site, in fact, but I haven't checked out much yet), and more energetic actiony stuff for adventuring. Hear anything you like? What says Loonyland to you? The important thing is swing - I don't want generic RPG fantasy noise. I don't know how many different adventure themes I'll have, maybe 3-4? Not sure where the dividing lines should be on those, but I'll figure something out. Too many songs really fattens up the download, so it is to be avoided on that count. Too few songs drives the player insane, so that's another issue.
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