Archives for category: Game Development

No, we are not dead. But we are split up.

Now I suppose it is okay to officially say, given the distance from the project, that Kale In Dinoland was never meant to be taken seriously as a game. Nor was it ever a real GameBoy title. Whoops! Surprise! (not really)

The whole of Kale In Dinoland as a project was to overdramatize (and satirize) the indie developer and the pitfalls of retro culture in a larger sense. The extreme, design-limiting, even quality-detrimental commitment to the “authenticity” of our “source material” (GameBoy games) criticized the hollow belief that retro games were all somehow better than games are today. While nostalgia is impossible to get away from, such an unhealthy focus on games such as Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda: aLttP as exemplars of genre in an  era of radically different platforms (touch-devices) and consumers (the social market) is plain unrealistic and downright unoriginal for the game designer.

Of course, Kale In Dinoland wasn’t solely a satirical venture: its other aim was to establish a universe, somewhat subversively, which we (the Rotting Cartridge) could then capitalize on in further game releases, leading to the finale. That plan is still in effect. But how I go about achieving that finale, or whether the finale will ever be achieved, is no longer the constricting noose it once was. Put frankly, I am sick of the retro-ports theme. I want to design a game for iOS — for iOS, not for GameBoy and then pseudo-ported to iOS — that is also interesting to think about, and the complexity of whose UI does not directly conflict with its authenticity, because it seeks no authenticity.

So The Rotting Cartridge (me) is working on a new game. But I don’t know whether the game will come out. Right now I am only toying with the idea, testing the design in my off-time, writing a narrative. Those are the things intrinsically enjoyable to me. IF I do decide to produce the game, over the summer for example, then I would need to get a team together. For that I’m looking at Starmen.net.

We’d like to take this time to respond to the heated debate that followed from our “What’s Wrong with the IGF” post.

First, to anyone that took our blog post personally, please understand that this was not a personal attack.

We wanted to bring to light a fact that some judges don’t play games that they are assigned, and that that may be a problem in the future.

In light of the $95 entrance fee, we believe every developer deserves a fair shot at a nomination.

Judges not playing a game they are assigned to judge, for any number of minutes, is simply not acceptable.

Regardless, we had not intended this as a personal attack against Brandon Boyer or Simon Carless.

We understand that they do their best to make the IGF what it is.

As hard as they work, the system itself is flawed because it makes it easy to overlook games when the IGF was created to do the opposite: notice overlooked games.

However, we do not agree that calling would have solved anything. If we had decided to call, it would have been a word of honor against posting.

Furthermore, we mentioned the email because we are arguing for openness, not private correspondence.

Everyone should know about these issues and not be kept in the dark, so that we can have an honest debate over what could be done.

It is enlightening that some developers have already come out of the woodwork to voice similar complaints.

To that end, we’d like to wish everyone the best. Oh, and we’ll change the blog theme.

- the rotting cartridge

Read the rest of this entry »

UPDATE: We’ve posted a public statement about this post here.

Hello there.

Way back in December we posted an update saying that we would post “about our terrible IGF experience.” Granted, we may have exaggerated a few things back then. (read: a lot of things!) But with the IGF finals at GDC coming up, there is no better time than the present to relate our experience.

First, some backstory: We are an independent developer producing an iPhone game named Kale In Dinoland:

This year the IGF decided to use TestFlight for its iPhone games. We paid the $100 customary to the festival, as over 500 other developers did for their games. Going in, we didn’t expect to get nominated for anything. The game was content-complete but wasn’t done to the level of polish we wanted. Not to mention, there were still bugs. But this isn’t about the overall quality of our build, it’s about giving every game its fair shake.

Let me explain. When the IGF chose TestFlight for iOS distribution, they made a big mistake. We were given a list of all of our judges’ email addresses, revealing their identities. We aren’t going to release those names to respect the judges, but let’s just say we had a heavy-hitter.  For every judge, we could see how much they played; if they even started the game at all. How do we know this?

TestFlight records NSLogs (iPhone version of console logging) and custom “checkpoints,” uploading this data seamlessly for us to see. In addition, when a judge opened the TestFlight invitation email, downloaded and then installed the game on their iDevice, we can see all of that. I believe that the IGF organizers, who are usually lips-sealed on the judging process, did not know about this functionality. We can see exactly when a judge installed the game, when they started playing, how long they played, and how far they got. 

As you can imagine, this was an opportunity for us to see what really goes on behind closed doors at the IGF. How much do games really get played? Does hype count for everything? Is it true that to be a contender in the current IGF, your game has to already be widely known in indie circles? Does this mean that most of the judges won’t end up playing your game in these circumstances regardless of the quality of the title?

Here are the statistics:

Eight (8) judges were assigned to Kale In Dinoland. Of those judges, 1 didn’t install the game or respond to any of our invitations (which we had to send multiple times before judges joined). 3 judges didn’t play the game. Of the remaining 5 judges that played the game, 3 played it very close to the IGF deadline, which was December 5th. One judge, our outlier, played the game for 53.2 minutes. Excluding the outlier, on average each judge – including the 3 that didn’t play it – played the game for almost 5 minutes’ time. Back in that build, Kale’s intro cutscene took about a minute’s time. So we’re talking almost 4 minutes for each judge of actual game time.

Granted, they could have deduced the game was absolutely terrible and didn’t deserve their time. About this time, though, we were also running a beta that was being played by anonymous iOS gamers from the community. These helpful gamers were all interested in the game, having seen it on TouchArcade and IndieGames.com. What is the influence of prior marketing? The average play time for these external beta testers was 34 minutes, accounting for that one minute of cutscene time.

So, a large group of anonymous gamers who were not required to play the game averaged about 30 minutes more play time than the the 7 judges who were required to play the game, 3 of whom did not even play the game. Is 4 minutes enough time for someone to give a fair assessment of a 2-hour-long game? How many more games were given similar treatment? Had we not taken initiative and sent multiple emails urging judges to download the game via TestFlight, how many judges would have ended up playing the game? Here’s the last email I sent out, urging the judges to accept the TF invite:

The build has been up for a while now (I sent emails via TF), but only 1 judge has installed, and 4 other judges still haven’t even signed up for TestFlight.

The sad truth is, the heads of the IGF know about all of this. They made the mistake of using TestFlight and allowing us, the developers, to see backstage. Shortly after posting the update that included negative remarks about the IGF – on this relatively unknown blog – we were mysteriously followed on Twitter by @brandonnn and received an email from none other than Simon Carless.

Hey folks,

It’s just been brought to my attention that you believe that you’ve had some issues with your IGF experience and are preparing to blog about it. My name’s Simon Carless and I head up the GDC events, including the IGF – and I’m CC-ing Brandon Boyer, the IGF chairman here.

Before you go ahead and do that, could we have a phonecall discussing your perception of what happened during judging and your impressions of what didn’t run correctly from your perspective? We _do_ actually care about individual entrants such as yourselves, and it upsets us when people don’t feel like we’re doing a good job. So let’s talk about it directly!

Myself and Brandon are available at a few times on Monday – I’m in U.S. pacific time and he’s on U.S. central time. Do you have time for a call?

Thanks,

Simon Carless

EVP, UBM TechWeb Game Network

We considered calling. At the very least, we decided not to post what we would have, and gave it some second thought. Let’s be honest: It is obvious that Brandon Boyer and friends care about the IGF as the prime outlet for indie games. We don’t doubt that. But this isn’t about handling the situation silently. If we had called and talked about our concerns, the heads of the IGF don’t have to be held accountable for a broken judging system. It’s about transparency, which is something the IGF completely lacks.

So there it is, our story about the IGF. We hope that, as a community, we can change the IGF for the better by exposing flaws in the judging system and holding those in power accountable. But until then, please hold off on marking the IGF as the be-all end-all of indie games. Instead, join protests like the IGF Pirate Kart. And if you’re still not convinced there’s something wrong with the IGF judging system, hear it from a judge herself.

In an effort to appear less secretive and more identifiable, we’ve recorded interviews with each of the members of The Rotting Cartridge, so that the public can put faces to the magic. The first interview focuses (by his request) on J, the founder of TRC and really the creative genius behind the whole thing:

Stay tuned for a final trailer and release date on our first game/port, Kale In Dinoland, coming in February.

The trailer is done! We want to drum up some press before release, and not get caught in the trap that most iPhone games fall into with the release-then-market model.

We will have an official website in a few days. Stay tuned!

We’re still working on Kale in Dinoland! There’s a part of me that doesn’t believe it will ever be complete but… that’s nonsense. Here’s a more recent screenshot of a later area in the game:

Kale in Dinoland Screenshot

Kale’s sprite might still change at this point. Also if you noticed this game is a port of an old GameBoy game called “Kale in Dinoland”, but now that I’m looking at it I should explain that it does not perfectly emulate that experience because that would be boring. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to limit the design. Like some platformers of the day, Kale in Dinoland has doors that lead to single screen sub-levels containing a power-up or item.

Despite efforts to limit resources and pixel precision, there is undoubtedly a difference in screen real estate with the iPhone that heavily influences level design. For instance, a non-scrolling sub-level in the original is more square. In the iPhone version, I have from the top of the d-pad to the bottom of the health bar: in other words, super widescreen. So a lot of the levels focus on diagonal climbing (since looking for an enemy is the most optimal), almost none on downward progression, and the sub-levels reflect this extreme widescreen. I’ve had to cut some of the falling levels from the game.

The second difference, which I’ve tried to correct for the most part, is speed. In the screen above Kale is riding what I call a “Dog,” which can move horizontally pretty quickly. In GameBoy games, the character’s horizontal speed was capped much lower, so the limited level space could be maximized with enemies and obstacles. But I think the speed improvement will be welcomed by those that play it.

The last comparison is the save feature. Saving in the original Kale in Dinoland? Nonexistent. No save feature today? Almost nonexistent. So yes, Kale will have a save feature. But only as much as I believe GameBoy games would have saved — There are 6 areas in Kale in Dinoland, and after you finish one, your character returns to the world map and you are allowed to save. Meaning, manual saving. I’m still not sure (maybe it’ll be automatic?), but it will definitely only be after you beat an area.

In order to progress through Dinoland, you must beat an entire Area before you can save. Don’t worry, they aren’t that long. But they aren’t that short either. This also means individual levels aren’t selectable, because fitting multiple level select screens and a save feature for 50+ levels on top of a 6-area world map is not realistic to the GameBoy’s capacity.

At any rate, don’t take the ‘original GameBoy platformer’ out of proportion – it is heavily influenced by the original game, but I cannot deny that there are differences.

We finished the main five bosses! ^__^ Now there’s just some tweaking and playtesting to do, and then I have to go back to designing levels and enemies for the Arctic, Grassland, Volcano and Mansion worlds.


The jungle levels are completed! Right now I’m just working on adding the background and other details. After this I have to finish the Grassland world levels, start the Arctic world and possibly cut the Volcano world? Then there’s a bunch of playtesting on the Grassland and Jungle worlds to nail down the difficulty.


Since the last post I’ve fixed a lot of the bugs that came with going completely underwater, and now the first 3 levels of the Resort World are complete! I’ve got 3 more levels to go, then the boss, and then on to testing to make sure the difficulty isn’t too high. Also, the graphics will need some more oomph, so once all the levels are pretty much set in stone I’ll go back and add the finishing touches.

Ever wanted to create a game? Ever wanted to be involved in a team that makes games? It seems like fun, doesn’t it?

In my first year at college, I noticed many people in Computer Science (CS) with a lackadaisical understanding that their CS degree would be their window into making video games. From a teenager just coming out of high-school, a career doing what you sit around playing all day anyway seems like a dream job. So students go into the CS program with an understanding that they will come out suddenly aware of how to make games. But this is far from the truth – most CS programs don’t even get into the specifics of game development, and CS – Computer Science - is not even about three-fourths of the development of a game, which also includes art and music, design, and business. In fact, it’s been argued that people can come out with CS degrees that don’t even know how to program! So where the hell do students get the idea that CS equals game development??

Part of it has to do with the substantial lack of good game development courses at universities. But even more of the blame should go on the students themselves, who don’t realize the amount of work involved in making a game.

I’m currently working on a iPhone game, and despite numerous attempts to establish a team, other students end up quitting after they realize game development is not fun and games, but sweat and tears. There is a precedence for this. At the game development club at my university, apparently a year before I came, the club had a team of around twenty people developing a 3D adventure game for the PC. Needless to say, the team was made up of students who, as I’ve previously mentioned, have unrealistic expectations about game development. Their project never got off the ground, and the survivors don’t like to talk about it, disillusioned about game development in general.

Is this really how it has to be? Do innocent CS students just have to experience game development the hard way?

I think the problem here is the general consensus that “video games aren’t a serious medium” somehow spills over into video game development. Say, for a second, we called it “industrial development.” Suddenly seems boring, like a real job, like it requires serious work because “industry” must be serious? Well, the truth is that “video game development” is closer to “industrial development” than most people realize. Long hours, you have to work on things you don’t want to at times you don’t want to, you have a limited amount of creative control (if any at all), and no guarantee that your product will be a success.

So if you’re a student taking CS to get into game development, start now, and start small. Ease yourself into game development making pong and breakout clones: you’ll learn more than you realize. Learn about the hardships of game development firsthand. You’ll save yourself a rude awakening later on.

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