Ken's Design & Development Notes

Just talking about stuff I've learned…

Archive for July 2012

What is an Indie Game?

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During lunch today, I read an IGM article asking if MineCraft was still an indie game.  Apparently there is some internal angst about whether they should continue to cover this game.  Some people think MineCraft is too big and/or has made too much money to continue to be classed as an indie game.

I think that’s hogwash.

First of all Mojang employs only 16 people.  That’s all!  This is a small company.  In comparison, I work for a company that employs 10,000+.  Your local grocer probably employs more than 16 people!  OK, OK, most XBLIG indies are made by 1, 2 or even a few people, but since MineCraft is now available on multiple platforms, just how many people can they really afford per platform?  Not 16.

Second, they don’t make “too much money.”  How was that ever a qualifier of an indie game?  Is CastleminerZ no longer indie?  What about The Impossible Game?  C’mon, if we’re at all honest, most of us would love to publish a game that sells millions of copies.

Third, IGM took a poll, and so far, 73% of the readers think that MineCraft is still indie.   We’ll see how the poll ends, but for now it’s pretty clear to me that MineCraft is, and always will be, indie.  Yes, a big, successful, money-making indie game, but an indie game nonetheless.

Maybe Mojang will one day no longer be an indie studio, and maybe if MineCraft 2 ever comes into being it won’t be very indie-like, but for now, I’m sure Mojang can continue to be innovative and “independent” of the corporate influences that can stifle agility and innovation in larger companies.

UPDATE: As of 8/4 (Saturday morning) The IGM poll is up to 580 votes, and 76% of the readers think MineCraft is still indie.

Written by kenccone

July 31, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Poor Weather Causes Balloon Race to be Cancelled, but Shape Balloons Still Inflate

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The first of only seven balloons we saw today…

We left the house around 6:30 this morning to go see the Great Texas Balloon Race.  We usually head towards the convention center to watch the pilots scramble, driving to wherever they’re going to launch.  We’ve got a friend who races balloons as well, so we usually find him and chase his balloon.

This year, we thought we’d do something different.  Our three oldest children our in another state with their cousins, and since we had only the three youngest, we decided to tour the special “shape balloons.”

The skies were grey and even on the ground there was significant wind.  The race was cancelled but the shape balloon pilots were allowed to tether their balloons at their discretion.  Apparently, most of them did.  We saw four of them inflated, and arrived at the sites of three others as they were packing up.  (This was still cool because we at least got to collect their cards.)

We helped pack “Lilly Bee”

Katrina (2 yrs.) was quite disturbed by the fire, which was loud and bright against the overcast skies.  So I stayed back with her, while Angie and the boys went up to the balloons and collected cards.

From looking at the aviation weather forecasts, it looks like they still might have a successful balloon glow tonight, but we’re going to wait for tomorrow night.  Winds are predicted to be calmer then.

“Wells Fargo Cent’r Stage” is Huge.
If you haven’t seen it in person, you have no idea…

Written by kenccone

July 27, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Rabbit Trail

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Windows 8 Developer’s Preview

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Although I don’t consider myself an Apple fanboy, we have two iPhones, an iPad, a MacBook, and an iMac in our house.  I know, I know.  …but really, it’s not that I love Apple that much, it’s just that I hate working on PC’s.  …and the Apple solutions just work.  The only reason I had a PC anymore was to develop XBLIG’s.  I do however love the Xbox 360; it’s just cool.

Lately, I bought a Windows Phone.  It’s not that I thought I’d like it, as much as that I wanted a piece of hardware to test out indie apps on the WP store.  An early version of Andy’s Notepad [Saucers] was compiled on my phone.  That was cool too.  So I’ve had some time to get used to the whole Metro look and feel.  You know what?  It actually feels natural.  Like Woz said, “It’s like Steve Jobs was reincarnated and is working at Microsoft now.”  (I chuckle to think what Bill Gates thought when he heard that!)

So anyway, I downloaded the Windows 8 Developers Preview and thought I would install it on a second hard drive to try it out.  I began the install and realized that I didn’t have a choice of where this was going.  It went right on top of my Windows 7 install!  It clearly notified me, and I could have cancelled, but I thought, “What could go wrong?”  *grin*  Yeah, that’s right, more than I expected.

OK, so it was a little foolish installing this right on top of my dev box, but really, I’ve got all my critical stuff backed up.  So, no worries, I bravely forged ahead, and I really was pleasantly surprised!  The system requirements are lower, the drive footprint is smaller, and the interface is really clean.  I like the app store and have tried out a few apps.  Kinda cool.

Of course compiling for WP 7.1 broke, my XNA support is fragged and I had to uninstall Windows Defender, but other than that, no major issues.  (Other than not being able to currently compile a patch update for my XBLIG that is.  Not really a small thing, but hey ho!)  I found someone’s post on how to fix the WP compile, but to date, XNA is still broken.  Did I mention that I HATE working on PC’s?

Oh, oh, and I almost forgot.  All of a sudden, all my apps just stopped working.  That happened tonight, when I was trying to download the Metro WordPress app.  “Something happened and your purchase couldn’t be completed.”  Really?  I wasted fifteen minutes looking for the solution.

Despite all that, even though I know (firsthand) that this is pre-Beta, I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised overall.  Nice job, Microsoft.

[…written on the Metro WordPress app; the standard website is still better…]

Written by kenccone

July 26, 2012 at 4:29 am

Posted in Windows

Imagination and Pine Cones

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The closest pic I had to a pine cone.

Our wives met first, before Justin and I got together.  If I recall correctly, they started spending time together (at “park days”) because their kids and ours knew how to play. 

What kid doesn’t know how to play?  Well, quite a few, actually.  See, our children can sit on the ground, pick up pine cones, pretend that the pine cones are people or knights or dragons,  and have just as much fun as if they were playing something like MineCraft!

We noticed that many other kids would get bored quickly unless they were entertained by someone or something else.  Unfortunately they weren’t practiced at using their own creativity and entertaining themselves.

I like games that allow kids and adults to exercise their imagination, and don’t allow them to just sit back and be entertained. 

So the challenge I give myself is, how can we accomplish this while at the same time presenting an initial gaming experiences that draws people in?  hmm…. 

I haven’t “cracked that” yet…

Written by kenccone

July 25, 2012 at 5:01 am

Posted in Game Development

A Few Lessons Learned…

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Image: Boxart for Andy's Notepad [Saucers]

Boxart for Andy’s Notepad [Saucers]

After several months of part-time development, we finally published our first Xbox Live indie game.  It’s been out for just over three weeks now and I’ve learned as much in the last three weeks as I learned in the previous three months! Here are a few of the most important things I learned.

  1. Just because you like your game doesn’t mean everyone else will.
    Reviews for our game have been mixed, ranging from “A” to boring.  No one said it was A+ and no one said it stank.  It has been really interesting to hear the (very limited) feedback.  There are some really helpful points that have been made, but not many reviewers seem to have seen the game the way we do. Maybe we’ve gotten too close to the game?
  2. Reviewers have a different set of goals than developers. 
    Yes, we both want games reviewed, the difference is that I want my game reviewed, and they want to review many games, preferably the types of games that will get them the most mileage.  (This of course depends on the type of reviewer they are, what kinds of reviews they like to write and what their readers like to see.)
    What this really means is that the developer has to make it as easy as possible to review their game, and that no, most critics don’t have the time, or maybe even the desire to help you improve your game.  You’ll sometimes have to read between the lines of a vaguely negative review or ignore what will seem like an incredibly harsh statement to get to the gem of feedback that is offered. That’s OK; just roll with it and improve.
    For the record, at least one reviewer has been nice enough to provide further feedback. IndieTheory comes to mind here…
  3. Don’t release your product until you love it!
    You know, this is probably the most important lesson of all. I loved the multiplayer game in Andy’s Notepad [Saucers], but had gotten used the weapon imbalance.  I didn’t realize that Justin (my Coneware partner) didn’t love the single player mode until after release.  Last our kids had some suggestions that would have improved the game, but somehow we let those get lost in the pressure to release. (Indie devs get pressure to release? Really? Yes, we do.)

For now, that’s what comes to mind.  I could also talk about lessons from gameplay mechanics to the (in?)effectiveness of our marketing but these are my top three, at least for now.

Written by kenccone

July 24, 2012 at 3:21 am

Invest in Failure

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I’ve heard it said that the only way to become a good writer is to write.   …a lot.


Blogging is still quite Alien to me…

But I’m having a problem with this; everything I’ve written so far sounds stupid.  I did write my first post, but now I’ve just got a bunch of drafts sitting somewhere in a dark digital room behind my blog.  Hmm…This reminds me of something.

Over the last two days I’ve taught four classes to over a hundred people the basics of our management system at work.  I mean it’s just a real basic overview, the first of several installments, but one of the points made was to celebrate failure.  I told them that we spend too much energy punishing people when they fail instead of trying to help them get better.  Part of our system involves Lean, and a main point of Lean as we see it is to uncover problems and solve them.  So we are happy when we see a mistake or a problem; we’ve really learned to see these things as true opportunities for improvement.

People learn heuristically.  In other words, people learn by doing.  So if we are trying to learn something, if we are trying to become good, even great at that something, then we have to start by doing it.  …and we have to expect that the first few attempts are not going to be pretty, but we’ve got to get through the learning curve.

We are going to fail, and we’re going to make mistakes.  This learning is going to cost time, and will probably cost the company real money.  However, I believe that in the long run, the payback, the return on this investment will prove that this is one of the best places to put our money.  …in the development of people.

I don’t know if these people believed me, they don’t know me and they haven’t seen the successes that I’ve seen as we’ve applied our system in other facilities.  As I was talking with them, speaking for all of management, I could tell that they will be waiting to see if we follow through with what I said.  …and we will, I know.  We’ve done it before; we’re a great team.

Similarly in a much, much smaller company, Justin and I are taking our first steps in the Xbox Live arena.  We recently released our first XBLIG; if you’ve read my first post, you already know this.

Is Andy’s Notepad [Saucers] a success or a failure?  Well that depends on how we define success I suppose.  Tomorrow, our game will have been released for two weeks.  Today, we broke the 2000 mark on downloads.  For only 13 days is this good or bad?  I have no idea.  Our Purchase/Trial Ratio is increasing by a fraction of a percent every day.  I’m pretty sure that’s good, but is this good enough?  I don’t know that either, at least not yet.

What I do know is that we did it.  We took the first step and made something good, something we’re both proud of.

We’re still working to determine the next step for Coneware; maybe we’ll work on the next version of Saucers, or maybe we’ll work on something else.  I do know that as we progress, step by step, development by development, we’ll see incremental improvements in our skills, development methods, and ultimately in our games.  So one day Coneware will be a development studio that produces great games.

If you’re still reading, thanks.  I planning to write, and write, and write, and hopefully one day, I’ll actually be a great writer.


Written by kenccone

July 13, 2012 at 5:03 am

For the Love of the Game

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We’ve had a few pretty cool reviews on our first indie game: Andy’s Notepad [Saucers].  Our latest review (by @IndieGamerChick) was notable.  It was both complimentary and critical in the scathingly constructive (or should I say constructively scathing?) style that I’ve only read on her blog.

Damaged "Saucer"

A Truly Horrible AI

Kairi (her “stage name”) first complimented our game on its style.  Then she proceeded to criticize the gameplay, weapon switching, AI, weapon balance, and bullet visibility, of course with the accompanying word pictures often found in her reviews.  I really enjoy reading her reviews.  …of other people’s games.  To be honest though, I couldn’t help but laugh as I read her review of ours.  …and yes, I did enjoy it, I must admit.  I’ve read it several times, and each time couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face.If you’ve read the review, you know she didn’t like our game.  I think she wanted to like it, but it had some flaws in her eyes.  After reading throught the review, I twitter-thanked her for her well-written review and she responded, thanking me “for taking it well.”  I also remember her tweet to the devs of A Pixel Escape complimenting them for their “good grace and class.”

Which brings me to my point.

  • Style
  • Craftsmanship
  • Design
  • Gameplay
  • Mechanics
  • Quality

…all are necessary, but not sufficient.

What is most needed in indie games today is “the love of the game.”

To me “Indie” should be synonymous with “Amateur” in the best sense of the word.  Meaning “lover of,” an amateur (indie game developer) ought to be someone who does this for the love of the game or the love of developing games.  We don’t do it for an ego trip, and we’re not doing it just for money, believe me.  I’ve got a real day-job for that.

Does loving what we do mean we’ll always make the best games? Not necessarily, or at least not at first.  But I do think it means that we’ll enjoy the journey, appreciate those who travel with us, and because of the community feedback, we eventually will make the best games.  Our attitudes show up in our games, and I don’t want anything we produce at Coneware to be truly describable as “joyless.”

So a note to developers: You are not your game.  When someone criticizes your creation, even though you may have poured your soul into it, unless they come out and name you, they are not criticizing you.  Critics are a necessary and helpful part of our creative process and if we can take their sarcasm with a grain of salt (or bucket, as applicable) then maybe we can improve our skills.

In the end we, at Coneware, take what we find helpful, apply it as we need to, and hopefully bottle up some of the fun we had in creating our game, so that you the player can enjoy the game like a bottle of fine wine.  And if our games start out more like the boxed wine variety, then by all means enjoy it, but for the love of all that’s holy, please don’t drink it out of a Dixie Cup!


Written by kenccone

July 11, 2012 at 6:37 am

Posted in Indie Games

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