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Yeah, still no forums, but virtual reality!09:38 AM -- Mon August 15, 2016

Haven't even started. It's been Player Appreciation Week in Growtopia which not only means the usual update launch, but actually significant time every day managing daily releases of the new stuff, and watching for all the potential blow-ups they cause (we did well this time, no major bugs!). On top of that, I am rushing big-time on certain future updates that are majorly complex and need to get done and tested. So I'm not really in a place where I can spend time on the site (surprise, surprise). It is yet another thing dragging on my mind constantly though, if that's any consolation.

In other news, I got the HTC Vive VR system about a month ago! VR gaming is ... hard to describe. It really is something new. I mean, on the one hand it's exactly what you think: you play a game, but the "screen" is all around you. But how that actually works out in practice is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Witness Solorien play Fruit Ninja VR:

Now, when I say it's so new and strange, I'm actually speaking specifically of the HTC Vive. I got one of the Oculus Rift development kits way back when and tried it out for about half an hour, and it was... okay. This is a whole different story. This is what's called "room scale" VR. That means you've got a lot more going for you than just a 360 degree view. There are sensors on the walls (you have to drill and install them! Or put them up on tripods), which track the position of the helmet and controllers, so you really are in a full 3D space. It's not a very big space, mind you (4m x 3m is about the biggest I could get going, and that's not too much smaller than what they claim is the biggest their sensors support), but it gives you enough room to sidestep, crouch, step around things and more. There's a system that shows you a holodeck-style grid when you get too close to the edge of your space, so you don't walk into any walls.

It's really amazing to actually be in that virtual space. It's completely convincing, whatever it may happen to be showing you. You are there. At least as long as you don't run into any glitchiness - sometimes the view will start to jitter, or much much worse, you can end up 'shifted' vertically so you can no longer touch the floor, or you're a little under it. That can make some games unplayable. But glitches have been rare. For the most part, it's just this immersive world.

As you can imagine, with such a small space, your game options are actually pretty limited though. There have been a variety of attempts to get around this limitation with varying success. First, I should note that almost every VR game you can get at this point isn't much of a game. They're all either "My First Unity Project", or if they are professional quality works, they're tiny little tech demos rather than full-blown games. So there's not that much going on, it's really just the experience that's so impressive, not the games themselves.

So with that said, some games get around the space limitations by offering a teleport ability - you can hold a button to aim a target somewhere in the world, and then you teleport to the spot you chose. This works pretty well, actually, but it's not really great for fast-paced action, and it doesn't make sense in most games. It also has a strange effect of almost making you feel like you can't walk - having two different methods of moving around, one of which is confined to a small space, makes your brain just stick to the teleporting one, even for tiny distances (If I could teleport in real life, I probably wouldn't walk much either!). It also requires a sort of arbitrarily amazing technology in the in-game world: "Oh, my character can teleport? Okay". One game, Unseen Diplomacy, has a whole different take that feels incredible (but requires a huge amount of space - more than I could fit in the room you see in the video. I had to put my sensors up in tripods in a bigger room to try it): you explore tiny little rooms, much smaller than your whole VR space, then go through a door into the next room. Then from there, into the next, to the next, to the next. You can explore an infinitely large complex with this system. How? Simple: each room's exit is 90 degrees turned from the last room's. You end up just walking in a circle around your VR space! But what was so great about this was that it really felt like I was traveling through a real world, even though topologically the new rooms were actually in places that previous rooms were earlier. Unseen Diplomacy is fun, but like most VR games, it's about 5 minutes long in total.

There are a million other things I could say about my VR experience, but here's the gist: VR games are in their absolute infancy. You're basically playing Pong (in fact, you can - there are at least 2 pong games I know of for the Vive). But the sensation of doing that in a virtual space is just amazing, not to mention way healthier than sitting at a desk. At this point, it's amazing enough to make it worth your time, if not your $800 (OUCH), but I do hope developers start producing more robust games. It can certainly be done, and I'd love to do it myself one day. Right now people are just beginning to figure out the basics, but as they get their footing, I think we'll see a whole new world of gaming. Not one that replaces traditional gaming, but an alternative that becomes popular in its own right.
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Whither yon forums?01:14 PM -- Tue July 19, 2016

Yeah, you may have noticed our forums have disappeared. It's a complicated story involving outdated technology, and the easiest solution was to put it out of its misery for now. I've had a new website basically finished for at least a year now, but no time to put it up and verify it all works and all that. I've had plans about that, but boy, when Growtopia is an endless stream of minor crises and a huge update every month, and then you have to also live life, which can be a tricky process on its own (I even had to vacuum today! Imagine!), it's hard to dig into something as complex as a database-driven website.

I guess this dead forum is the incentive I need to get to work on that... or at least I hope it is. No data is lost or anything, I'll just install a current version of VBulletin on the new site and migrate the data. Hamumu is heading into the mysterious future! Sometime in the mysterious future.
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Hamumu Revumu: The Warcraft Movie!02:36 PM -- Tue June 14, 2016

As a long long time Warcraft player (Warcraft 1 all the way through, Warcraft 2 probably twice through, Wacraft 3 and expansions at least twice through, and WoW for something like 8 years straight), I had been eagerly anticipating the Warcraft movie for quite some time and checking out all the little hints and teasers as they came up.

When it was near to release (or I think had already been released in China and other markets), reviews started to come in, calling it dull, confusing, and just plain bad. That was about what I had assumed would happen, but there was a surprise in store for me when I went to go see it yesterday!

It was good! I highly recommend it as a movie. I don't care if you are a Warcraft fan or not, I feel like that has virtually nothing to do with the experience. There are a few fun little references for WoW players in there*, but on the whole, Warcraft knowledge is really not a factor. There are a ton of names in the movie I recognized immediately, like Gul'dan, Lothar, and Khadgar, but that didn't really mean much other than that I knew how to spell the names I was hearing. I guess I did have a little bonus fun with things like seeing Stormwind in movie form, but there was nothing that you had to know the game to "get". My wife saw the movie with me and found it equally engaging without knowing anything about it. In fact, she went into it very reluctantly, thinking the idea of a movie from that stupid game I had always been playing sounded absolutely terrible. But she may have even enjoyed it more than I did.

It's not a deep movie, and it doesn't have shocking twists and amazing moments. It's not a cinematic masterpiece. It's just a fun, solid adventure. One of the things I liked best is that it's funny throughout, in a really good and subtle way. I haven't seen Lord of The Rings in many many years, but I feel pretty confident this movie was a lot more enjoyable than any of those were. I really don't understand where the reviews came from, especially calling it dull or slow. It's nothing but action.

I will say the one thing that really pulled me out of the movie every time was a surprise: the CGI orcs were great. Totally convincing (although the fights between them and real actors were pretty weak overall, I thought). All the other CGI was equally great. But for some insane reason, whenever the heroes would go for a journey through the woods, they'd walk through these hilariously bad sets instead of a real forest. Like a dirt floor with a bunch of plants just jammed into the ground every foot or two. I could not understand why they did that. You'd see this amazing CGI landscape behind them, but at their feet was approximately what you see in the average aquarium.

So all in all: it's not groundbreaking cinema (except maybe in terms of facial animation). It's not high art. But it is definitely fun all around. I saw the new X-Men movie 2 days earlier, and I can confidently say Warcraft is a far superior version of almost the exact same thing (a group of superheroes preventing the end of the world... never seen that in a movie before!). Now, it definitely wasn't better than Deadpool, though. If there aren't sequels to Warcraft, I will be deeply disappointed. I'm happy to catch every new one as soon as it comes out, just like the Marvel movies. I can't wait to watch The Lich King movie!

* Some references: a guy gets sheeped at one point, there's a murloc in the corner of one scene that goes "mrglrglrrglrl", and at the very end of the movie, a fishing bobber! Odd thing to be a fun reference, yet it was somehow. Plus all the places they go and most of the characters are straight out of the game.
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More Hamumu Revumus04:14 PM -- Wed May 18, 2016

Lemme just blast through a few games I've played in the last 6 months so that I have them reviewed and can stop trying to remember details (note: I already don't remember details or what exactly I liked and disliked, so deal with that!).

Mad Max
At first I loved this game. It felt like it was gonna be so awesome, and hearkened back to ye olde days of Autoduel on the Apple II (and also Interstate '76, more recently, which I loved the soundtrack to and lost). You younguns won't know about Autoduel, but it was great. You'd kill badguys to get money to upgrade your car and stick guns and flamethrowers out of every side in a top-down murderfest. Delightful.

Mad Max is the same concept, but in keeping with your usual AAA story-adventure-movie game, the RPG upgrades aren't very meaningful since you eventually get them all. The only question is which order you get them in. But it is fun to improve your car and decide how it functions. There's a lot I enjoyed, especially going into the bandit camps and conquering them, one by one. That's always satisfying.

What brings it down from greatness is a few things. The car physics are too real (though not very real at all, I admit) - it's just not that fun to drive, because the car feels heavy and hard to maneuver, and half the time you're skidding out of control. It gets better as you get upgrades (unless you upgrade your armor, which adds weight!), but even at the best it can be, it still isn't the responsive fun arcadey driving I would want to have. That completely put me off of the races you can enter in the game - they were horribly unfun, since the only joy in a race is the driving, which is not enjoyable here. I felt like a game focused around a car should have a fun car experience! I loved firing my harpoons at other cars, but not so much steering.

Also, the fighting suffers similarly - it just isn't as arcadey as it could be. It's the exact same fighting system as Batman Arkham games, only slower (you can't instantly switch from one move to another), which again brings that feeling of slogging through mud rather than dancing around free as a bird.

So all in all, it was close to greatness. I really tried to have a lot of fun (and I did keep playing all the way to the end), but it was just lacking that visceral control joy that you want from a game.

DmC: Devil May Cry
To clarify since it's poorly named, this is the reboot of Devil May Cry, where he's younger and has black hair. It's awesome. It definitely has joyful control funtimes. It suffers downsides in a lot of the same ways as other DmC games I've played - the upgrades are practically meaningless, doing the move you want is difficult and confusing, and the levels are pure railroading from one point to the next. But the actual murderin' is always fun, and I'm always a fun of games that focus on juggling hapless enemies with continuous attacks. Not my favorite game ever, but very enjoyable.

Saint's Row: Gat Out Of Hell
The BEST Saint's Row game ever. This is practically an expansion to Saint's Row IV, and thus is very short, but that's part of the charm. You're not dragging out an endless search for little powerups all over the place, or finding 400 unfun side-games to finish, or grinding out points for all your abilities. It's all completely focused - you get your upgrades, you kill everybody and blow up everything, and you rush to the finish in 4-8 hours. This game is the only one I can remember in the past 10 years where I stuck with it after winning to try to rack up every achievement just because I enjoyed what I was doing in the game. I am 2 achievements short: one for playing co-op, which I won't do, and the other for playing 20 hours. I have 19 hours played, but just leaving it on another hour seems dumb.

It's all about getting insane powers and annihilating everything with them. One of the weapons is the Ark of the Covenant. Another is a recliner with machine guns and missile launchers built in. The best gun is just a machine gun that shoots diamonds and makes everybody you kill explode into money you can collect. Plus you have wings, and one of the most fun flight systems in any game I can remember. It just feels good to run around and fight in this game. Two thumbs up.

Tomb Raider
Not the old one, the new one (not the newest one, but the first in the new series. Clear?). This is a really good game. It's fun to go around and collect all the secret things, and shooting guys with arrows is fun. Stealth is fun. But it suffers from AAA problems like Mad Max does, though not all the same ones: it has that same sort of "we want the animation to look good, so who cares how the gameplay feels" aspect, where you can't act at certain times just because it would mess up the animation (bad idea, developers: let me mess up the animation in order to have fun and feel in control!). It also has the usual problem of playing for 3 seconds and then sitting through a cutscene, again and again. The worst is when your character does things in cutscenes that you could've done in gameplay, like fighting someone or climbing a wall. Why am I watching something I could be playing? And it has the same thing as Mad Max, where the upgrades are meaningless since you eventually get them all - you only choose the order. Let me design a character! Play a role, perhaps even.

All in all, this is actually a really good game, way better than I had expected it to be before playing (I never liked Tomb Raider games in the old days). I would definitely recommend it.

Batman: Arkham Knight
If there is one series, besides Borderlands, that is my absolute addiction, it is the Arkham games. Okay, Diablo too. And Ratchet & Clank. Anyway, Arkham Knight is a clear-cut finale to the Arkham series, and it is a good one. At first, I didn't think so - unlike the previous games, this one really makes you work to get into it and understand how to play. I'm a veteran with probably a hundred or more hours between the previous games in the series and I was still mostly lost for the first couple of hours of this game. It does a terrible job of bringing you into things and teaching you and pointing you toward your objectives. Even by the time I finished the game, I never got used to the awful system they have for selecting which 'mission' you want to be working on.

So, once I did get used to how to play this game, it is what you'd expect: awesomesauce. Batman games are amazing. To be fair, this is probably the worst one, but that still makes it an awesome game. There is a fair amount of really annoying "car platforming" to be done, but the tank battles you do with your car are actually quite fun, for exactly the reason that Mad Max's fun is compromised: they don't care about realism at all, and your car can switch from normal driving mode into this pure arcade tank mode where you can strafe like you're playing Quake. It's instantly responsive, and really fun to control. It's not very "Batman", but I enjoyed it, which is more than I can say for most games when they switch from their normal gameplay to any sort of alternate mode.

There's also a bunch of great "detective work" to do (never enough - I really want a game like this that focuses in on crime investigation instead of fighting and shooting. The time manipulation you do to solve crimes is very cool), a megaton of hidden things to find (I found them all, because you're never done with Batman while the Riddler remains at large), and a lot of fun traditional Batman brawling with all the gadgets. I love the stealth parts as always. The story is also always good in these games, far more so than almost any other video game. That darn Joker, what a rascal! Anyway, it's a truly great Batman game, provided you can figure out how to play it. So that's it. A bunch of big games I played recently and thought you should know about.
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How To Get Insanely Rich Making Videogames09:28 AM -- Tue March 22, 2016

I got an email the other day, not so different from many questions I have been asked over the years. It comes from an aspiring indie, and the details are always different, but the core question is the same: how can I make money making video games? So I started writing an answer, and it got wordy as I tend to do, so here it is for public consumption:

How To Get Insanely Rich Making Videogames*

I only ever worked for a game company for about 9 months at the end of my college years (I would've continued, but they folded!). After that, I had savings to keep me living (very very very very cheaply) for a year or two, so I decided to get in there and crank out a game. I ended up having it published by eGames, and this got me the money to keep going for a while more, while I built up my own website of games that I sold direct to consumers, and still do. I was all-in on indie game development, no side job.

But this is not a story for today. It was before 2000, and the market was unbelievably different. What I did will never work today. In those days, there were people making very good six-figure livings just selling games direct from their website, which is no longer a remote possibility. Everything is done through app stores now and only the top few games on each app store make any real money. It is a nearly impossible market to survive. I was very lucky to be in at the time I was. It just worked out, and even then I was on the absolute brink of bankruptcy right before Growtopia, as the market changed around me. I had calculated my budget and literally would have to decide which of my utility bills to pay if something didn't change within the next 3 months (Growtopia launched before that 3rd month!). I rode a few other waves along the way, making Flash games for sponsorship, and then later flash games for a specific company for pay. Those waves petered out very quickly, and if it weren't for the great luck of striking gold with Growtopia, I would've been done as an indie, forced into a job bagging groceries or flipping burgers.

It is all doom and gloom, sadly - there is no realistic chance to succeed as an indie today. It happens, sure, like it happened with Growtopia or Flappy Bird, but these are the 1 in a million smash hits, and you can't operate your life on the basis that you'll be 1 in a million. You need to plan to be within the middle of the bell curve, and have contingencies for the low end of it. And in the present day, the middle of the indie bell curve is probably around $1000/yr. Statistic completely made up by The Hamumu Institute For Not Learning. It's not a liveable salary, for sure. So what can you do to make it in an industry where the norm is total failure, and the glut of quality games is only growing?

Nothing, really. There isn't a way to survive it except to be one of the smash hits. If the average is not liveable, then you can't live with the average. Which doesn't mean you can't do it, it means you have to do it on the side while something else is sustaining you. Then when you find that smash hit, you can quit your day job and be happy, but until then, it's just hard hard work.

I've never been willing to do that, because I know, from working at a game company, that my energy is completely sapped by a day job and there's nothing left to work on my own project. I know it from Growtopia too - I'd love to be doing other things, like entering 48-hour contests, but my brain is all-in on Growtopia. There's no creative juice left to make something else. I am just a TV and video-game zombie once the work is done. So I have been blessed with unbelievable luck, and coming from a privileged background, to be able to get away with being truly indie the whole time, and just scrape by until I hit the big time with Growtopia.

Brief aside: If you don't like my completely made-up statistics, here's a handy bit of info from Gamasutra: "Fifty-seven percent of indie game developers (including both solo indies and members of indie teams across all pay ranges) made under $500 in game sales." so I was doubling the reality! That article is interesting reading: 6 Key Points From The 2014 Indie Salary Report.

Anyway, while I definitely counsel that you need to have a day job, that it's just not possible to make it otherwise, I do have a strategy to offer: the only way to get one of those smash hits is a huge dose of luck. But luck isn't magic - it consists of being in the right place at the right time with the right game. So my formula for success is very simple: just keep making - and FINISHING and RELEASING - games. The benefits are many:
  1. Each game you release is one more chance at happening to be in the right place at the right time. If a smash hit is one in a million, then once you release 2 games, you're down to 1 in 500,000. And besides, hits are relative - I would've been ecstatic with two orders of magnitude less income than I got with Growtopia. That broadens the range of 'success' by a whole lot. If you have a "hit" that makes you $50,000, that is certainly enough to keep you going for at least a year (or two or three, depending on your location and lifestyle). Just to be clear, $50,000 is not easy. It's still deep into the very skinny nose of the bell curve, and getting worse all the time as the market gets more and more flooded.

  2. Each game you release, you get better at the art of making games. You will do better every time. Not every game will do better - some will flop completely (Mia's Happy Day), while some will catch fire (Robot Wants Kitty). But every time your skills will improve so the quality level will rise, and you'll be inching up that bell curve. You start at the bottom, you know, not the middle.

  3. Each game you release, you get better at knowing what works. Which means your "random" shots at the right time and right place get a lot less random. We made Growtopia knowing that a multiplayer game based on sandbox creativity and social interaction would do well. We did not know how well!

  4. Each game you release is one more game by you, so one more chance to catch a customer who might be interested in your others. Each one boosts up the others. Or it does if you retain ownership of your work and people can see your name and logo on the game! Selling out to a publisher isn't always ideal.

  5. Each game you release is an income stream. Many streams forge a mighty river. In theory. The streams do dry up over time, so you need to keep adding new ones, but I still make money (pennies) from games I made in 1998-2000. That's a long long stream, and with enough games, it adds up to pizza money. That's better than ramen money, anyway.

  6. Each game you release is the phrase I used to start the descriptions of each of these numbers. I wrote this one as a joke but I do want to add a real point: I said "release", not make. A game you don't polish to completion, and release to the public in a way that will actually reach a decent crowd (which today means an app store), might as well have never been made. Releasing is all that counts. Everybody's got the Greatest Game Ever half-made, it's the person who finishes and releases the Mediocrest Game Ever that makes money. And all those benefits I enumerated above, you don't get those without releasing your game. You don't even get notably better at making games until you release games. Because finishing is the hard part, and it's where all the lessons come in. Well, except for the really painful lessons you get after release, when people start to say what they think of your work!
So you are pretty well guaranteed not to get rich quick making games, and you're nearly guaranteed not to get rich in the long term either, but there's a chance. Most importantly, if you keep at it - which means keeping it funded with an alternate job - there's a very good chance that it can become a nice side business. In a decade or two of constant effort.

Just as a final note to help you picture the path to success, Growtopia was (based on quickly scanning my website) my 67th released game, released in exactly the 20th year since my first released game (SPISPOPD!). That's a whole lot of games and a whole lot of years, and I consider myself far beyond lucky that I was able to keep myself afloat for all that time before I finally had that success. Don't rely on luck though - get a real job, you bum.

* You won't.
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