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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.

I bought and played Bastion the night it came out, having followed Supergiant Games ever since January, when I found a link to a game that – upon first glance – looked similar to an isometric RPG game I was set on creating. But Bastion was its own thing, which I soon found out during the developer videos at Giantbomb.

The reason I was so interested? Sure, the art was amazing – at that point I wasn’t aware the sound was as well – but the narrator. Here was a developer set on doing something new, set on bringing a baby into this world.

I guess with every new sequel to a sequel, I get queasy. There just aren’t that many original designs floating around right now – seems like everyone is dead-set on repackaging the same bullshit we’ve already seen with a different colored ribbon. People have compared Bastion to an old SNES game. I don’t see it. But what I do see is this freshness, and perhaps that’s what people really mean now when they call it an SNES game: an original game. For god’s sake, an original game!

Everyone I told about Bastion during this time wasn’t thrilled. They didn’t see the potential the game had, being caught up with the nth installment of whatever RPG series and reluctant to try an XBLA title. But this isn’t about how I was right and they were wrong. This is about why I, fundamentally, can’t look past Bastion’s ending.

(SPOILER ALERT)

When you get to the end of Bastion, the game freezes and you are offered – in a menu screen – two options, either to try and save Zulf or leave him behind. The reason I am so opposed to this is before the menu pops up, the game design is spot-on. Near perfect. Every part of the game felt enjoyable to me. But this – MENU – pops up, I’m thinking, “What is this? No “good-or-evil” menus popped up in the entire game!” All of a sudden I was shocked.

It may have been Supergiant’s tight development schedule. But I view the menu as a blunder, a smear on the perfect canvas.

Bastion is a game devoted to dynamically engaging the player through gameplay. The narration represents the epitome of this fact: he reacts to you, he talks to you, and you trust him. The entire game leading up to the ending moment was filled with direct engagement. You were told your decisions in the game, on the playing field, had meaning. And I was foolish enough to believe they would follow through on this design theme. I was wrong.

What should have happened? There should have been no pop-up. The player should have been able to either realize there was a choice, and choose, or not realize there was a choice. And that potential: for people to not realize there was a choice, and blindly trudge forward leaving Zulf behind only to later find out they could have saved him – is a moment I wished occurred in Bastion, one that I can’t look past.

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.

Some new gameplay was released today for the highly anticipated zombie game. Above is the new video which shows off some great aspects of the game. Click here as I break down the video and go into detail about things I noticed!

 

     Dead Island is an upcoming open world horror action adventure video game in development by Techland for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. It is centered on the challenge of survival on a zombie-infested island with a major emphasis on melee combat. Dead Island places the player on the tropical paradise of Banoi. You play as a guest of the island, attempting to have a luxurious vacation on the island, but that all changes quickly when an unexpected zombie epidemic occurs — forcing your stay to change from relaxing on the beach to surviving wherever you deem plausible. If you’re interested, continue reading here!

Are you a fan of the Halo series? Are you curious as to what people think about the newest addition? Are you frustrated with Halo Reach and can’t figure out why, or wondering if anybody else is as flustered as you? Are you bored and want to read a well thought out post about a game that sold millions of copies on the Xbox 360? I can tell you that I considered Halo Reach to be a disappointment and it’s not because I had high expectations. If you answered yes to any of the opening questions, or even if you didn’t but you would still like to know why I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the highly anticipated installment, go ahead and read my entire post here.

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