Pitch: Stay Out of the Sun!

Working on a game idea!

You play as a vampire that needs to get through everyday life while avoiding the sun. In this particular instance, you have a tooth ache and need to see the dentist in time for his appointment!

The game is top-down (or high angle isometric), and you need to navigate the streets staying only in shadows.

There are currently 2 ideas for gameplay:

  • Puzzle-style where you figure out the 1 or 2 correct paths to your destination (many levels); 
  • Endless runner where map elements spawn in randomly. 

  • Health gauge: Drops rapidly when you are in the sun, fills up very gradually when you stay in the shade
  • Pause button
  • Directional controls

For the sake of process, these are some of the visuals I came up with while trying to work out details! It's surprisingly complicated to pull the camera out enough to see everything, but still have a large enough character to see. 

Initial pass at a level layout: 

Trying to figure it out in 3D: 


RPI Presentation Videos

I'm giving a presentation to the RPI Game Club tonight. My talk is essentially a giant brain dump of things that I've learned working in games. I'll be talking about how I got into the industry (somewhat accidentally, but then not), some nuts and bolts stuff about what I do (rigging, skinning, animation process), what it's like to work with a designer to get a character in game (what sort of specs they give you, concept of animation passes), some general company culture and process stuff (scrum, source control, etc), and some advice for things they can be doing while they're in school to help their chances at breaking into the industry (reading things, critical thinking, doing game jams, etc). It's going to be at least an HOUR long. I hope they don't get bored. :)

Just in case my videos are too big to copy over to their computer, I've put them all up on youtube - so I figured I could also post them here, in case anyone was interested. Special thanks to youtube for being so easy!! 

Giant post - go!

Here's a series of videos showing what it's like to rig, skin and animate a character in Biped:
Setting up a Biped rig: (Max)

Skinning a Character (Max):

Quick Walk Cycle Animation (Max:)

Walk Cycle:

And finally, here are videos of the games my friends and I have been making outside of work:


Mermaid Updates

Slow going.... but getting somewhere? ;)

AltDevConf: Effective PR, Marketing & Community Management

Effective PR, Marketing & Community Management in the Indie Games Space
by Erik Johnson

Why This Stuff Matters to Indie Devs
  • Exposure: People need to have heard of your game in order to buy it
  • Reputation: (with press, peers, customers)
  • Longevity: People are ready to support you in big ways, if you can get their support, it can help you stay in the industry
Establishing a Community
  • Build a connection with openness, respect and accountability
    • Ocean Marketing debacle - this guy was a jerk to his customers, and he and his company got destroyed on the internet: don't treat your customers like dirt
    • Control yourself. 
      • If you think you're going to respond poorly, cool off. Don't take things personally, which can be hard if you've poured yourself into a game
      • Learn to drop bad habit defense mechanisms
      • Don't respond to trolls
    • If you respond correctly, you can establish a connection
    • Use trackers like Google Alerts. Keep your eyes open for comments about your company/game
    • Long term consistency will result in community members being evangelists for  your company - word of mouth (organic marketing)
  • Create & Maintain Community Landings
    • Website, blog, forums promote discussion between players & between yourself and players
    • Be active, give your community new information
    • Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Reddit, Google+, IndieDB, N4G
    • Decide which ones make sense for your game
  • Give Members Reasons to Stay
    • Open development - share information about process, how game is coming along
    • Public alphas/betas
    • Wolfire Games (http://www.wolfire.com/) as example: 1-2 updates a week, always video logs. Gives community something to get excited about
    • Get a feel for your community. What are they into? Be creative, interact with them
      • Contests, game nights, book clubs. 
      • Seems tangential, but strengthens community. They want to hang out with each other
      • Are they testers? Modders? Content creators? Give them options to their tastes
Seeking out Mention & Coverage
    • Online publications are a good place to start, but you can also look to print media, podcasts, local media
    • Reach out to industry peers know - it's a friendly industry, people will want to help you out if you're making something cool
    • Research where to locate a potential audience. What publications cover your audience? Who will be the most open to talking about your game?
  • Dealing Specifically with the Press
    • Be unassuming - They probably don't know who you are and what your game is about. They are helping you by covering your game, be grateful
    • Be frank - avoid PR speak. Journalists get a lot of that -  being forthright will make it easier for them to talk to you
    • Be generous - Tell them you are available any time for interviews. Give exclusive screenshots, provide download keys that they can give away to their readers.
  • Organic Marketing
    • Open development - blogs, forums, alphas, wikis for extensive details. Give them lots of landings to browse.
    • Crowd sourcing concepts can be really effective
      • Players can point to something and say "I suggested that, and was credited" - they will tell their friends
      • Be mindful of how you process feedback
    • Word of mouth (best thing ever) 
      • Minecraft is a great example - Youtube played a HUGE part in Minecraft's success
Drawing up & Building an Effective Marketing Plan
    • Malleable marketing throughout the process. Need to be able to tweak plans
    • Trial & Error - experiment. Usually most of the things you're going to try aren't very high risk, so you have room to find what will work best for your game
    • Know what's appealing about your game
      • Might be something you didn't expect
      • Critical that you understand in order to effectively market it
      • *Note on trailers: Get to the meat as soon as possible. Don't start trailers with long-winded intros
    • Trust your instincts!
  • Take Risks, Get Creative
    • No risk, no reward
      • Humble Bundle (when it started) is a good example of a risk that paid off (pay what you want). Right now it's leveled off, but keep your eyes open for opportunities like this in the future - you don't know what's going to catch on.
    • Experiment with pricing - bundles, sales, promotions
      • Ideal to tie it into game content (but be careful, because it can backfire)
        • SuperCrateBox - tracks collective number of crates for all users - content is unlocked for all users when milestones are reached
      • Loyalty discounts
  • Know When to Shut Up
    • When have they had enough?
      • Know when you've reached the saturation point - try to stop before that
    • Press members don't want daily updates - maybe fans do. Keep your audience in mind
    • Let players discover some things for themselves. If they find it, they'll want to pass it on. 
Major Items to Consider
    • Price point
      • How does your game compare to everyone else's? 
      • If you participate in sales/promotions, will you be able to make enough money?
      • Be honest with yourself about the content you've created and time you've spent
    • Platforms
      • PC/Mac has a lot of options.
      • Some rules about contacting distributors:
        • Need to make good first impression
        • Don't do it until you're ready, you might only get one chance
Other Routes for Exposure
    • Exhibiting - conventions, festivals
      • Risk/reward. It's expensive, but can really pay off. You get a 1 to 1 interaction with your players - collect a ton of knowledge about what's working and isn't, what's confusing, etc. if you have a keen eye
      • Good idea to do when your game is already out - so they can see it at the convention, and then immediately buy it (instead of forgetting about it)
    • Kickstarter 
      • Also sites like  http://www.indiegogo.com/ &  http://8bitfunding.com/
      • Kickstarter is all or nothing, so be realistic about how much you're asking for. Figure out how much money you need, and how much you really think you're going to get for your idea. If you don't think you can make that much, don't do it. 
      • Can get a ton of attention if you have an idea that is really creative
Overarching Themes
    • Be accountable, be upfront, don't be a dick
      • It goes a long way if people know you're not bullshitting them
    • Staying involved with the community gives you more opportunity to stick around as a presence in the industry
    • Be willing to take risks
    • Know when to adjust, or even be quiet.

Q: Is there any fallout from launching a Kickstarter campaign and failing to meet your goal? 
A: With Kickstarter, it's all about your concept. Be honest with yourself - will the concept and idea sell? Something to think about - if you don't hit it big, it's like a mini marketing bubble for those 30 or so days, which can be very stressful. In general, don't enter the arena unless you're very confident. Also, there can be fallout if your game/app really wasn't in a state to be shown yet.  

Q: How do you go about setting a Kickstarter target?
A: Research! Look at how projects succeed or fail. Figure out how much you need, and if you don't think you can get it, don't go on there. 

Q: Should you avoid PR speak altogether, or are there some circumstances where it's ok?
A: Avoid it altogether. For everyone. It doesn't belong in the indie game space. You know when you're talking to someone that is actually knowledgable about a game, and customers respect that. If you're getting interviewed, you should be able to answer questions. If you have someone outside of development is that is doing your community management, get them as involved as possible in what you're doing, so that they are knowledgeable as possible.  


AltDevConf: Intro to Producing for Mobile

*02/12/12: Updated with notes from today's repeat of the session.

Intro to Producing for Mobile: How to "Go Indie," Actually Ship an App, and Not Die
by Evangeline Marzec

What's the Point?

  • Make money. You are a company, not just a game/app. In order to keep making new apps, you need to have a sustainable business. You are now an entrepreneur. 
  • You will go through 100 good ideas before you find a great idea (so it's a good idea to be sustainable while you are working towards that great idea). 
  • Define success
  • Define failure
  • You will need a Plan B. Also C through F. 
    • Two strategies. 
      • Sink all of your time and money into one big idea (high risk)
      • Make a lot of smaller, lower risk apps
    • Think about how much risk you are able to take on
What Do You Have?

  • Make your constraints work for you
    • Work to your team's strengths. If you have a great writer and a great artist, don't make a finance management app - make an interactive children's book.
  • Work within your effective capacity. 
    • Don't expand your capacity to fit your idea - constrain your ideas to fit within your capacity
      • Once you're profitable, you can start growing your company to tackle bigger ideas
    • If you have 4 months of money left in the bank, you need to ship something in 1-2 weeks. It takes time to start seeing money from an app (app approval takes time, getting money out from it takes time)
    • Plan for 30 hours a week of time for each person working at your company. Realize that unexpected things come up. 
    • Effective capacity is different than maximum capacity! Your goal should not be to constantly work at maximum capacity, you will not work well. 
    • You can do less than you think you can. 
Pick a Product

  • Great ideas only.
  • Toolset will define your product. 
    • Example: Started out using Unity, but it constrains you to working on 3D games only - which are more expensive. Ended up switching to Titanium. 
  • Assume everything will take 2X as long and cost 2X more than you think it will
  • Money is a finite resource
  • You can work a maximum of 50 hours a week before you start making mistakes
  • Assume that someone else has had the same idea for an app as you. Search the app store for similar products. 
    • If you find something similar to what you're planning and it's good but not making money, come up with a different idea. 
  • iOS is the best market - users spend more money. Kindle users come in 2nd, Android users spend a lot less. 
  • Concentrate on one platform at a time. If you are successful in one market, then you can port it to another - but don't waste time porting it until you have proven its success. 
  • Kindle is a very different demographic than Android and iOS. 
What Do You Need?

  • Money
    • It's about $2k to make a phone app, and $7k to make a tablet app
    • Consider hardware costs
    • Consider opportunity costs (the amount your team members could have been making if they hadn't quit their day jobs to work with you). You need to consider this number to decide if something is actually profitable. 
  • Tools
    • Get off the shelf tools wherever possible
    • Don't make tools unless you are planning on selling them
    • Get things for free where you can!
      • There is a lot of free analytics software
    • Look for new tools every 6 months or so. Look for low prices, and tools that have good support
  • People
    • You need someone that knows how to code
    • Outsourcing isn't cheap or easy - you will spend a lot of time managing outsourcers
      • $20-30/hr for a good experienced outsourcer - better if you can find someone near you that maybe has less experience, but is willing & able to learn
    • If your business has breaks built into it (2-3 months off between products) consider using contractors. Be careful about labor laws
    • If someone is critical, put them on payroll
    • Get a bookkeeper. It's a bad idea to do this yourself unless you have experience with it. Budget $200/mo for this
    • Consider getting a good talent agent - a single point of contact you can turn to if you need temporary support (an audio engineer or marketing person). 
    • Pay people immediately - not at the end of the pay period. It will help keep them on your side when things inevitably go wrong.
    • It's helpful to have a lawyer, but don't spend more than $500 on one. 
      • Unless you are licensing IP, in which case you need a good lawyer

  • Use agile. Or some sort of structured production methodology. It will help  you stay on top of things, stay on track, and prevent feature creep. 
    • Pivotal Tracker is a good free tool
  • Keep on top of what everyone is doing
    • *Note: Sound effects: http://www.soundsnap.com/ ($249/yr for unlimited sound downloads)
    • Usually takes 15min per person per day to keep on top of things
  • If you can afford to hire someone for marketing, do it - if not, make it everyone's job!
    • Market your company 1st, and your app 2nd. Your message can get lost if each press release is highlighting a completely different name. 
  • Keep records
    • Data backups! Dropbox, external harddrives, DVDs
    • Security? As an indie startup, you don't need to worry about this as much as you should worry about keeping data backups. 
When Success Happens 
  • Assume it's short term. Usually apps have about a 2 week spike, and then drop off shortly
  • In this case, the first app was the best selling. It made about $1k in the first month, then $200-$300 each month after for the 2 years after. It took $15,000 to make, so it will take until 2015 to be profitable. The next 2 apps they made barely made any money at all in their first months. Cannot assume that all apps will bring in the same amount of money.  
  • Use caution when going to friends and family for monetary support, because they instantly become business partners who will expect to have a say in your business. Choose them wisely. 
When Shit Happens
  • It's important to set up failure conditions in advance
  • On a project level, have a set amount of time and money you don't want to exceed. If you start going over one or the other, you have failed. It doesn't matter if you've already put in 60% of your money, you need to pull the plug.
  • Reconsider your business strategy every 6 month or so
  • Come up with win/lose conditions for company success. 
    • "Out of money" is a bad lose condition. Don't quit when you're under, quit before that.
    • Examples of lose conditions
      • When your balance is at a certain amount of money
      • If you haven't met your success criteria in 3 years
    • "Quitting" can mean different things. It could mean completely stopping, or turning app making into a hobby. In this case, one person works outside of the company full time to help support it.
If Nothing Else:
  • Pay yourself. Give yourself enough to live on - but also to afford small luxuries. (e.g., not buying socks for 3 months, but being allowed to buy whatever groceries you want). It's important to be able to keep your stress level down.  
  • Invest wisely. Go through 100 good ideas first, throw them out. It takes time to make a knockoff as well as an original idea, so make sure what you're making is worth it. 
  • Get a mentor. Someone that can help you with the business side of it, but also just to help provide a sense of perspective. 
  • Do what you're good at. "You can't out Amazon Amazon." Use your unique perspective to your advantage. 

Q: Doesn't pursuing a "small bets" model (small safe projects as opposed to one big gamble) go contrary to what most game developers are trying to do? 
A: It depends on your purpose in being a developer. Small bets are more sustainable. Know that 1-3% of apps are "hits," which generally means that you make enough off of them to stay in business. 

Q: Elaborate on the $2k as a minimum cost it takes to ship an app. 
A: It takes between 3 days to 2 weeks to make an app - which is time that you are not getting paid. Lots of small costs, ($70 Washington state business license, $99/yr Apple developers fee, etc). Consider the cost of hardware, even if you already own it (so factor in the cost of you iPhone, even if you already owned it, would have bought it anyway). 

Q: How do you juggle 1.5 jobs?
A: No social life! It's helpful to choose a day job that you don't hate (doesn't drain you, and you can keep using some of your brainpower thinking about your company). Gatekeep your time. Learn how to delegate tasks (for example, if there isn't time to approve the storyboards, just trust your teammates.)

Q: How do you start marketing on a small budget?
A: Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, Press releases. Can use talent agencies to help with writing press releases. In this case, found it helpful to meet with agency for one hour a week. Make updates to your blog/Twitter/etc PART of your job, and make sure that everyone is a part of it. Twitter wasn't as helpful, since there wasn't time to Tweet 10x a day. Do what you're good at. If you're an artist, post art. If you're great at writing, write press releases and blog posts. Press releases should come out when an app is released, updated, or featured. 

Q: How do you test to see which ideas are worth pursuing?
A: User testing. Find your audience, and get the app to them for feedback. (In this case, went to local libraries, got librarians' input, got it into the hands of 4 year olds, etc.) One suggestion is http://www.usertesting.com/ - About $85 to have 5 people look at your app and give feedback. Useful for people outside of Seattle or Silicon Valley in places where it's harder to have user testing. 

Q: What do you think about using equity stakes as a means of paying employees?
A: You're going to have a really hard time finding an experienced developer that will work for equity stakes! It's a valuable way to get people working for you to feel  involved, and potentially get better work from them. Use if for culture and retention, but do not use it as a means of payment. When you offer it, acknowledge the fact that it is currently worthless, but that it is intended as a way of making them feel involved.

Q: Are there times when it's better to release apps?
A: Have seen bumps in sales around November & August - but also increased competition. Also think about if your app is seasonal or not. The Jabberwocky app did very well around Halloween, and the soccer app did very well around the World Cup.

Q: How do you get money when you're starting out on your own?
A: Kickstarter can be very good. Having a day job is helpful, or doing stuff on the side to make money. In general, start with the cheapest, simplest app first and prove that you can execute. Then people will have confidence in your ability to follow through, and will be willing to invest in you.

Q: What would you suggest for a beginner who is looking for team members?
A: Prove that you can do the work - show that you can follow through on something. You will probably need to have a specialization (art, programming, etc), so make impressive things in your area of expertise. This will impress people into wanting to work with you, and they will also want to impress you too.

Q: Is it a good idea to target a specific audience? For example, "color" vs. "colour"?
A: Piccolo saw success by targeting other markets than the US. Most indie devs target the US, so doing this is a way to set yourself apart from them. If the European market sees that you are targeting them, they are more likely to buy your app.

Q: Is it possible to get success through press releases when your app has been out for a few weeks?
A: If you're making a press release after your game is already out, it's not really enough to say "we released this app." You need to be creative and tell a story with it, that will catch a journalist's eye. Make their job easy for them - if you can show that there is a story there, they will be more inclined to print it. 


More book

Slowwwwly doing things. :) Trying to make the 1st page of each section more interesting. Still not set on a style.


iBook Style Exploration

Playing with the idea more. :) 


iBook Exploration: Mermaid

I keep telling myself I need to just stop thinking and start drawing this thing.. but I went ahead and played with another potential style anyway. :)