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December 31, 2013 / marvinhawkins

Last Update of 2013

Hi Again.

I took a break from this project because of classes. During my break, I’ve been getting back into the swing of things. Lately I’ve been working on the enemy placement. Instead of placing things with a trigger that the player has to get close to, I’m trying to work things out via a timer. So far it seems a lot smoother. I’ve been told that I need to vary the enemy encounters. In the first level, there were only 2 types of enemies. In most games, I notice that they throw 3 enemy types to you at a time. In some of my favorite games, they also introduce at least 6 enemies per level. In 2014 I need to come up with some new enemy types because I only have 6 in the whole game. I originally thought that it was better to introduce enemies slowly. This proved to be a bit boring. The good news is I have a ton of design ideas sketched out. The bad news, now I need to model and code the new baddies.

Latest Demo here: 
I also decided I need to step up my marketing efforts. I’ve finally figured out how to do those snazzy animated GIFs that everyone keeps posting. I’m hoping that showing more pictures will help catch people’s eye. Here’s my first attempt. Huzzah it appears to be working!

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August 26, 2013 / marvinhawkins

Sky Hawks Update

I want to start doing simpler project updates. My cadence is still a bit too infrequent. Development is an unpredictable beast at times. Tomorrow I start graduate school. I’m both excited and nervous. I haven’t been to school in 4 years. Ironically, I vowed not to go back. I thought, I have enough school. It was a rough trip the first time, why the hell would I do that again? I am going back to school for what I wanted to do in the first place. Three years from now, I’ll be able to program apps, websites, AND games. I’m hoping that this makes me more marketable. Either way, the time I have to work on my own games will be greatly reduced. I still plan on working/finishing Sky Hawks(At times I want to stop however)

 

Anyway, here’s what’s new in the game. I started working on a rail yard type stage, and a second urban environment. Making levels is a lot more tedious than I thought. Right now I’m focusing on content layout/creation. I need to redo the enemy encounters. I was able to get tanks and turrets in. Right now they’re stationary, but I plan on creating mobile formations of the tanks on later levels.  I like the direction of the game. It’s fun seeing other people play it. Admittedly there’s still a bit of work left to do.  Until next time!

 

Level 2 Turret-8-25 a Level 2 Turret-8-25 Snow Level 8-25 2 Snow Level 8-25

 

 

August 22, 2013 / marvinhawkins

Marketing Postmortem of Steam Golf

Last year, I helped release the ipad title Steam Golf.(Available on the App Store!)   Stop me if you heard this, the game is a Victorian era, Steam punk themed, physics based mini golf puzzler. Haven’t heard of it? Well that’s probably my fault. While I was immensely proud to ship the game with a group of veteran developers, I feel like I failed in the marketing department. To be frank, Apple, Andorid, and any other open platform is a meat grinder. Even if you aren’t asking for a direct sale, the internet can be a lonely place for an unestablished independent developer. See Steam Greenlight for an example of discoverability issues. Below are some things that I’d do better if I was launching the game again.

Would have kept a Dev Log. In November of 2012, I asked a fellow game developer for advice on how to get press attention. He told me that I should keep a log of the development effort of the game. Though it was too late for Steam Golf a game development journal is a great way to promote your game while getting feedback. I wish I knew that, one of the chief complaint that I got from playtesters that the game’s difficulty ramped up too fast. Putting out videos, images, and game demos would have allowed us to get that feedback faster.

I also feel like I sought in person feedback too late in the process. I didn’t start asking individuals to play the game until a few week’s before the game was set to release. It was gut wrenching to watch people struggle to understand how to play the game. What I noticed is, they understood how to play the game until about level 3. At that point, the players got confused because the goal wasn’t on screen. In my opinion this was too soon of a difficulty ramp. If I had players test the game while I was still designing levels, I would have had more time to make them better.

I also would have also recorded a short game play trailer. We did have a few gameplay videos on YouTube. The only problem was that they were 10 minute playthroughs of full courses. This is a lot to ask of busy players, especially if they haven’t heard of you. While the game play was a bit unique, no one has the patience to sit through a long video. Videos need to be 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds at most. I did contact press during the launch of the game. I included a long, press release, and a link to the demo code of the game. No one contacted me back(Which is fair for a developer they never heard of). In hindsight, a one minute, polished video would have helped sell the game more than text or images could.

As a bonus. I believe that our game would have done better if it was available on other platforms. Our engine was designed to output to iPad. Steam Golf’s levels were too big to be fun on iPhones. Being on one device, in my opinion limited our market severely. When I showed the game, players would ask when it would come to the Android platform. I don’t believe that every game needs to be on every platform. I do think that our game would have fared better if it was avaialble to a larger audience. The app stores are brutal, its best to give your app as much of a chance as possible.

Results

So how did we do? The game was released in January of 2013.  To date, we have sold 170 copies. While this is a disappointing number, I can point to several things that I would do much differently with regards to marketing. I am immensely proud of helping a group of veterans ship a game. Personally, it feels good to say that I have a product on the App store. In talking to the programmers, they pulled off a fun, bug free game with multiplayer. This is no small feat. But having a great game is only step one. For my future projects, I will talk about them as early and as often as possible. Everyone is a publisher now. Game development is truly democratized. To stand out, you need to get as many eyes on your games as possible. I do believe that you can sustain a career in this new age. Hopefully my future progress will find an audience. What I’ve learned with Steam Golf, is Marketing is everything!

August 14, 2013 / marvinhawkins

Latest Build of Sky Hawks

This build has been a long time coming. Thanks to Unity Playmaker, I was finally able to realize a multiphase boss fight. I will do a gameplay video on the fight. Playmaker really helped speed development, and allowed me to get some deeper behaviors for the fight.  I had a bit of a learning curve in making this encounter. Coding this FELT like a boss fight in itself. Surprisingly, typing ‘How to Make a Boss Fight’ in Unity doesn’t yield a lot of results. I plan to do a long, ‘Tutorial-ish’ post on how I accomplished this.

crab boss 6

Right now you can play it for yourself below. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

 Play Demo

August 13, 2013 / marvinhawkins

My Experience At the First Annual Science Game Jam

This is a repost from the IGDA Chicago Blog. You can find other great stories on the Chicago game development scene here.

Last month, I attended the Science Game Jam at the Field Museum. The event brought together game developers with scientists from the Museum’s Biosync department. The  research topics included: migratory behaviors of animals, the evolution of birds, and how ecosystem adapt to change.  The goal was to create educational games based on their research. The event brought in 28 developers from across the Chicagoland region. The experience ranged from hobbyists, to independents, and everything in between. Like the name suggests, the theme involved communicating scientific theories through fun game mechanics. Over the next 72 hours the teams set out to accomplish this mission. What follows is my first hand account and my takeaways from the event.

Team hard at work on their game build

Team hard at work on their game build

Everything is a System

Both game development and science experiments use systems. Scientists use these systems to test theories. Game developers use systems to create intriguing game experiences. On the first night of the event, 8 scientists got a chance to pitch their research. The game jam participants were then able to ask questions to gain further insight into that scientist’s field of study.

The Selection Process

Before selecting a scientist, the game developers formed teams. The team selection process is part auction, part speed dating event. Some developers came with teams, opting to pair with friends. Others campaigned to find team members that filled needs. The beauty of a game jam, is that every skill is valuable. Artists sought to find programmers; while programmers looked for sound and visual artists to breathe life into their code. Once teams were set, each team discussed which scientist’s research best appealed to them. Teams brainstormed on what would make a fun game, and how they can communicate the scientists’ message.

Design Meeting

Fatigue sets in with mere hours to go

For Science!

After settling on a game concept, the teams started developing quickly. During the second day, a representative from the Chicagoquest charter school showed up to meet with the teams. The school specializes in using game systems to teach children in grades 6-12. Meeting with the professional allowed the jammers to test the educational integrity of their game. The scientists also checked in with their teams to provide guidance as the teams honed their game mechanics.

Bumpy Roads Ahead

A game jam is great because it allows people to quickly come together and test ideas. They also highlight the same challenges that exist in longer development cycles. The only difference is, the problems appear faster. Most game jammers came in with their own set of tools. No matter much expertise they had, games break. Code has bugs; an artist runs into an issue with their art package. This is when the original concept of the game started to change.I experienced this on my own project. Advisers loved our concept, but we struggled with the technology. These roadblocks didn’t allow us to execute the concept as well as we would have liked. All teams faced similar challenges, and found creative solutions to their problems. This is when those fun ideas turned into fun games.

Selection Sunday

Teams scrambled to finish their games, as the hours of Sunday afternoon quickly ticked away. At 5pm, the teams presented the fruits of the weekend’s labor to a panel of judges. This panel was made up of game developers, teachers, and scientists. The criteria for judging was based on the creativity of the game, and how it tied into the scientist’s work. The judges selected two winners, and the audience got to select a third. Despite working nearly the entire weekend there was still a buzz of energy in the room. Some vowed to expand on their projects post jam. Both scientists and developers walked away with new knowledge.

Final Takeaways

A game jam is a bit like a marathon. During the event it is common to hit a wall. This wall can come from a difficult problem with the game or just pure fatigue. Here are a few takeaways from my participation in the event.

Don’t Fight Technology:It is best to choose tools that you are familiar with. Game tools have steep learning curves, and a 48 hour game jam is not the best time to experiment. I chose to use Unity3d, which I was more familiar with. Despite this familiarity, it instantly made everything more difficult to implement. In hindsight, using a 2D tool like GameMaker would have allowed my team to get to a playable product faster.

Get something on screen fast: The game is not a game until it can be tested. The good game concept is just a theory until you can play it. Once the game demo is on screen, you can see whether your ideas are actually fun to play. Changes will inevitably need to be made. Playtesting is what makes a good game idea into a fun product. It is much better to have a game to show during the presentation, instead of having to talk about the concept.

The team discusses the latest version of their game

The team discusses the latest version of their game

Eat Healthy: Pizza and beer are typical game jam fair. A greasy food coma makes the already difficult task of creating a game that much harder. Audrey Aronowsky and Rob Lockhart did an excellent job of providing healthy eating choices during the jam. Chips and Soda were offset by energy bars and tea. This kept the hackers from succumbing to a sugar crash.

Rest: During game jam weekends, there is a temptation to not sleep for the length of the jam. This is a bad idea. At a certain point the brain slows, and work is done in diminishing returns. On Saturday night, the game jam location was closed. This encouraged participants to get some much needed rest.

It would be nice to see more developers paired with people who are outside of games. I was personally impressed with the creative products that came out of the jam. Many of them looked more fun than the ‘edu-tainment’ games I grew up with. This game jam would not have been possible without Co organizers Audrey Aronowsky and Robert Lockhart. Special thanks also goes to the Chicago Field Museum BioSync department.
For more information visit the Field Museum Biosync department Website:http://fieldmuseum.org/explore/department/biosync/

Audrey Aronowsky
http://fieldmuseum.org/users/audrey-aronowsky

Field Museum:
http://fieldmuseum.org

Follow Robert Lockhart on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/bobbylox

August 7, 2013 / marvinhawkins

7dayRTS Mission Failed A Postmortem

This is a postmortem on my experience with the 7 Day RTS mini competition. It was fun while it lasted, but real life (and another game jam) got in the way. I did experience great progress on my game: “Aircraft Command”. In fact, I experienced way more progress on this pass of the game than the original 2009 attempt.  I credit my fast start with using a pre existing code base, and a scoping appropriately.

The initial concept was solid, a reverse Tower Defense. The player must escort bombers to a target using their resources (fighters and helicopters) to take out the computer’s turrets. With this concept in hand, I was ready to give this game a shot.

7dayrts-day-3-1-550x412

 

What Went Right:

Used existing code base: My main project is a shooter named Sky Hawks. Although the game is an action game, I was able to use a lot of the code for collisions, projectile instantiation and etc.  A friend of mine had already had given me models from a previous project. This was a big help as it gave the game a nice look right away.

 

Scoped Appropriately: This is a bit debatable. Had I scoped really well I would have finished. I got the main game win/loss condition going by day 3. Unfortunately because of my week’s schedule, I only had about three days to work on the game. I am happy that I had something on screen. It’s imperative to get something going as fast as possible, Playmaker and using old code helped me get to the first playable fast. The only problem was, once I attended my second game jam, I lost the momentum that I had on this project. Suddenly the task list seemed way too much. Game Jams are fun but they are draining.  In the future, I’ll make sure to get a playable demo on day one. Everything afterward should be polish.

7dayrts-day-3-2-300x225

 

What Went Wrong:

Spent a bit too much time chasing rabbits: I was trying to get Unity Playmaker to work for my game. One of the original goals was to use Playmaker’s visual code to simplify development. Like any new tool, the time saving is only achieved after getting over the learning curve. A short development cycle is not the time to learn new tools. Luckily, if a feature didn’t work, I reverted back to doing it through code.

2 Gamez Jams!!: (That’s a 2 Chainz reference. )I attempted to do two game jams in one week. Initially, I was going to skip the 7 Day RTS, but it is one of my favorite genres. I have wanted to make one forever. The only issue was, I had another game jam planned at the Field Museum here in Chicago. On top of that, I was taking engagement photos with my lovely Fiancee . Three  of the original 7 days were gone. I tried to get a head start on Sunday. This helped a bit, but in the future I will have a one game jam at a time policy. (no matter how tantalizing)

What now? 

I really like the original concept for this game. In the future i plan on pursuing this project using something like Game Maker. This isn’t the last you’ve seen of Aircraft Command. I think that this game has the potential to be really fun. Working on the 7 Day RTS project rekindled my energy in my main game. I learned that I need to get the game in a shoawable state as fast as possible. It’s not a game until someone can play it. I also learned to keep the game in a scope that allows you to finish. These things sound fundamental, but a game jam situation managifies that. I’m off to play more of the games. Jam on Jammers.

August 7, 2013 / marvinhawkins

August Update

August is off to a bang! I spent time adding more visual effects to the Sky Hawks. I added more graphical 2D visual cues. When the player destroys an enemy, a score will pop out of the enemy (Think Borderlands). I took a deeper look at the Unity particle system. The bomb effect now looks as fearsome as it is destructive. The pictures do not do all of the new visuals justice. The bomb effect now causes the screen to shake. The first boss encounter is a giant mechanized crab. The new level takes place in the sea. I spent time rigging the boss in Maya, and doing a few simple animations. During the fight, the boss will use an attacking or hurt animation, depending on the scenario.

Let me know what you think in the comments

bomb effect 2

The crab boss is sporting a shiny new toon shader. I am still experimenting with the look of the game, but the Cel shading makes it a bit more interesting visually.  The player must take out the boss in segments before attacking the body core. Unity 3d’s Playmaker plugin has helped expand the functionality of this particular encounter. It is similar things like Game Maker. As an ‘Okay’ coder, it is important to find tools that help me speed up the process. It took a month to get over the learning curve, but I plan on using this to script more behaviors in the future. The boss now attacks in multiple phases.

boom bomb projectile

Next up, a new demo, and an update to the Kongregate release of the game.Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Be sure to visit my blog for more updates: Marvinhawkins.wordpress.com
For random Rants on games, development, or sports follow me on Twitter:  Twitter.com/Marvinhawkins

boss fight 1 boss fight 2 crab boss 3 crab boss 4 crab boss 5 crab boss 6 crab boss 7 crab boss 8 score pop ups