September 8, 2012

Hello.. anyone still here?

So yeah, there’s a big debate this week about greenlight’s $100 fee. I thought I’d come on here and type up my fully formed opinion, because I continue to put my foot in it on twitter. I think others are saying far wiser and more interesting things on the subject, but I want to put my own opinion up, then shut up..

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a full time Lead Designer at a social games company by day. This is a full time job, and therefore gives me a wage. I’m by no means loaded, but I do not rely on my indie games for my income. Instead, I spend most of my free time making games like Thomas Was Alone, then selling direct, and via other people’s portals. I do modestly well, I couldn’t survive off it, but it sufficiently funds my projects. I have made more than $100.

The thing that freaks me out here is the class aspect. I could understand criticisms of whether this is a good way to stop spam (I’m on the fence) but the idea that reactions to this problem define my economic politics, standing or class makes zero sense to me. I’ve said as much on twitter, to a resounding chorus of ‘aha, that’s EXACTLY what a rich person would say’. I’ve even had some criticism for using crowdfunding (my only alternative to getting a bank loan to make Thomas what I wanted it to be).

But I don’t get it. And I refuse to let my liberal shame make that the end of it for me. I think this opinion needs to be challenged. My opinion can be summarized with the following statement:

You have the right to choose to put your game on Steam or to not put your game on Steam. If you are in the developed world, you can earn $100 on top of your existing income by taking two days off from indie development and doing a temporary, minimum income job. You shouldn’t though, because shelf stacking sucks. You should instead use an equivalent to steam with no barrier (Desura, Indiecity, Indievania) to sell your game. From that money, reinvest $100 in taking a punt on Steam, if you think it’s worth it. Or don’t. There are plenty of financially successful games which are not on Steam.

I thought this was how selling stuff works.. You make something, you sell something, you use some of the money earned to sell more. I wanted a well composed soundtrack. I wanted professional VO. These things cost money, and I decided to take a personal financial risk against the hope of making money at release (crowdfunding didn’t cover everything, I still had to take on some debt, now paid off through sales).

The last part also seems an issue. People are acting like Steam is the only place to sell games. Tell that to Notch. If you don’t like a service, don’t use it… that’s how I’m single handedly bringing down the meat industry (just you wait and see). Does Steam owe us all exposure? Should they support games they don’t think are financially viable?

If you’ve genuinely got an incredible, potentially lucrative game, but not $100 you are in fact very lucky. You’ve been born in a time where that presents zero blockage. Use crowdfunding. Sell direct. Send it to one of the successful indies who’ve offered their help. There is no shame in needing help. If asking is a problem for you, it’s your pride, not class. I sent begging emails asking for talented folks to help on Thomas, I got discounts on everything by waving the indie flag. People are always happy to help, if they believe in the idea.

Why complain? Why react aggressively to well meaning nerds on twitter? Be a part of the solution.. No one is stopping your awesome game from being out there, financially successful and critically liked. It’s hard. But we chose this. We chose to make games outside of established businesses. Our creation of games against the odds is a badge of honour.

Oh, and feel free to go help me pay for the next game by buying Thomas at thomaswasalone.com

Thanks for reading.

Something on a Sunday #15: Real Shadows

November 27, 2011

So… GameCity went well 🙂

I got a ton of great feedback, got some great press and some fantastically cruel Rock Paper Shotgun comments. Anyway, back to work 🙂

I managed to rush in some pretty good looking shadow generation for GameCity and the announcement trailer. There were a couple of big problems though, namely ugly transparent overlap and boring linear light. I wanted to fix both problems and make it look cool.

The end result is totally dynamic, with a custom light object that can be moved around the scene to get the perfect lighting setup. This can also move around during play using iTween if I want it, and casts nice shadows from the player. Like the old system, it builds planes at runtime. I needed to rebuild the system to allow shadows from a point rather than a direction.

I’m not claiming to have created anything a more seasoned Unity guy could make in half an hour, but it’s perfect for my needs 🙂

Announcement trailer!

October 29, 2011

Back from GameCity. Lots of great feedback, the game seems to have gone down really well.

I also did a ton of interviews. Hopefully some will make their way online next week, if they do I’ll post them here.

In the mean time: The announcement trailer in all its glory! Really excited about this…

Swept away

October 24, 2011


That was illustrative. I’ve not been well. I’ve got a fun rasping cough to remember it by too. SO.

Two cool things to share this time. One, I presented the game at LUUG, the London Unity Usergroup. It’s a great bunch of guys, and a pretty sweet network of Unity geniuses. As you can see from the video, I was nervous to present my silly little game to such a talented room of people, but I didn’t miss the opportunity to get some great advice. Turns out there’s a grid!


The second aforementioned ‘cool thing’: I’m taking the game to GameCity. You can play Thomas from 12:30 – 5:00 this Wednesday, and 11:00 – 5:00 Thursday in the old market square tent. Too ill to put a trailer together for it ahead of time, but the build is looking and playing great. Here are some tantalizing screenshots…

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Something on a Sunday #14: A day early (or weeks late)…

September 17, 2011

It has been, a very busy month.

I’ve been working a lot at the dayjob game, Monstermind (which we just announced – and apparently Joystiq are rather fond of). It’s looking and playing great, but the next few weeks are likely to be busy, with plenty of tweaking and design fiddling to get through.

Thomas development has therefore become about little jobs done whenever the opportunity arises, I’ve been getting through tasks (should be code complete within the month) but keeping this blog updated became a lower priority than I’d have liked. Here’s a very jerky (sorry) poorly coloured (very sorry) little video showcasing some of what I’ve been working on…

Moving platforms – These can be automatic, or triggered by a switch (as shown here). Each platform has a path, time settings and delays. iTween was a big help here

Lighting on/off – Very useful for a scary lighting change I want to use at one point in the game.

Procedural music – As described in the last post. This is done using samples from my awesome collaborator, David Housden. We’re going to be showing off some of his work on the game later. For now, this is just a snippet of some ambience.

Animating item movement / scaling – Anything in the game can now be scaled or moved via switches or trigger boxes

Fake Parallax – The game is rendered via an orthographic camera, so parallax does not occur. It is instead faked, by moving background elements around to create the optical illusion of depth. Pretty textbook stuff.. I claim no originality here 😀

Moving text – In game text is now done via Unity’s 3D text. This allows it to animate and move like all other elements, and roots it in the world. This is essential for some of the cool typographical elements I’ll be adding to the game later.

Intro camera – The game now has a nice sleek start to every level, animated character spawns and camera pans. All rather pretty, and editable enough to be used in lots of different ways in various levels

Pickup – Done, but this may go the way of the wall jump, cute, but possibly unnecessary for the game.

So, lots done… I’ll continue to plod on. Need to make some proper levels and a trailer featuring David’s theme tune…

Something on a Sunday #13: A music system

July 31, 2011

Lots of post-it notes used this week (more on that next time), but for now.. I’ve got a cool new music system in-game and working. No video this week, as the final tracks aren’t quite ready, and I feel absolutely no need to share my shody test loops with you.

Instead, I thought it might be useful to share the method I used. Interested to hear opinions, and happy to give pointers to anyone wanting to create a similar thing in Unity.

gosh. what a lovely row of rectangles

I had a simpler system in mind originally, just playing tracks one after the other. An unfortunate side effect of working with talented people; they are often inclined to tell you when your ideas suck.

The game’s composer asked for a more complex system, and did some beautiful examples showing me why it was in my best interest to suck it up and make something cool. The result is the system above, which is in and working beautifully. It’s amazing how a relatively low number of samples, when put together in a guided random fashion, can produce something very cool.

Something on a Sunday #12: A Conscious World

July 24, 2011

Pretentious title, eh?

Well. This week’s developments have been all about aesthetics, specifically trying to create a cool aesthetic for the world, which maintains the sense of minimalism I’m going for. So. 3 features on display in this video


Finding the right solution for this was a challenge. Unity’s lighting and post processing (at least in the free version) isn’t right for my needs. It doesn’t provide the level of control necessary for a 2D world with so little going on texture wise. It also seemed to tend towards banding on flat planes to an extent which felt wrong. I also want absolute control over my colours, so going with in-game lights seems to add too many variables.

I’ve instead taken an approach of pngs describing different colour shapes which I can layer up to create the effect I want. Here, it’s a very blurry line to give the core, with translucent planes defining the god rays. It works, and keeps style simple. A few cloud particles make it a bit atmospheric, which is nice 😀

Self building geometry

Boo. Youtube seems to have really messed up the start of this video, hiding the fact that everything in the scene has self generated from pixels. You can still catch the end of it on the platform Thomas is running along. Basically, the game takes the wall mesh, it’s dimensions, then makes it invisible. Based on variables set in editor, it then assembles flat planes in order to fill the shape. At the end, it kills the planes and turns the mesh back on. A bit of animation into place completes an effect I’m really happy with. I have control over direction, speed and pixel size/ratio – meaning there’s a lot of cool applications for this.

‘Builder’ enemy

I wanted the world to learn from Thomas, generating its own AI to try and stop him. This particle-effect-on-an-itween-spline is a first attempt, which I really like. It feels mean and jagged, while also seeming more primitive than Thomas, like it’s trying to form a perfect shape, but is too mutated to achieve it. These will chase the player characters around, observe their progress and even pose hazards. They give the world personification at the point it becomes an active enemy to the player.


So, lots done! Here’s a decent sized image of the game as it looks now

From the day we arrive, on the planet, and blinking, step into the suuuuun....


Something on a Sunday #11: Camera Motion

July 17, 2011

This was a fun job 🙂

The original game had a fixed camera for one very simple and very unimaginative reason: I had no time. There is a game design concern, you don’t want levels too big, as individual characters will get left behind, and the player may become confused at relative location.

Camera movement within medium sized levels is however essential to creating the sense of increased scale which I want for this game. With that in mind, I sat down this week and designed a 2d scrolling camera.

Panning – I based this on my experience of scripting panning cameras in flash. Essentially, a target optimum position for the camera is set (in this case, to the active player). The camera then moves 1/100th of of the distance there on each update. The result is a camera pan with a quick start, but a nice smooth ease out. This feels right to me, it feels a lot like a cameraman reacting.. fast adjustment to change in focus, followed by smooth placement at the end. It’s basically the trick firefly pulled in every single space battle shot.

Level extents – Really simple, the camera object has 4 variables, one for each extent (top, bottom, left, right). If the camera target strays out of this imagined box, it is adjusted back in, pre camera move. This maintains the smoothness, while ensuring players don’t see my messy level edges 🙂

And here’s a video of the resulting camera. Looking forward to plugging this into a real level. Have to make one first…

Something on a Sunday #10: The Return!

July 10, 2011

Oh, hello there.

I know, I know. Holidays, parties and a busy day job are the excuses this time. Here’s an extremely apologetic video showing some of the work I’ve been doing since my last update…

Credits – A fun little bit of polish. I think these are looking really sweet. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to add some names to this list 🙂

Multi layer menus – This is nice, I needed a level select screen. I now have one. Howzat.

Pause Menu – Stepping in and altering the flow of time in Unity is shockingly easy. Must resist urge to add bullet time…

Player targets -These won’t come as a shock to players of the original flash game. They are in and nicely set up to automatically scale to their associated character’s size. Needs a bit of graphical flare though.

The next jobs involve saving and loading data… which is apparently a great deal simpler than I’d been assuming. Such a great editor…


Something on a Sunday #9: Nothing on a Sunday

June 19, 2011

Sometimes the most important jobs are the least impressive.

Thomas Was Alone has been in full dev for a couple of months now. I’ve been building the game and learning Unity simultaneously. The obvious outcome: A game which was littered with a tonne of mistakes and errors. Well, this week I took on the least sexy task yet, and rewrote it.

I’ve systematically gone through all the scripts in the game, standardizing and cleaning up the functionality. As such, there are no new visuals and videos, but about half the scripts! 🙂

At the same time, I’ve been making some pretty major changes to the platforming controls, tearing out the old system and replacing it with something more predictable and fluid. The work on this is ongoing, and hopefully I’ll have more to show on that front next week.

So, not a lot to show. One of those boring but important updates. Laying the foundation for something very cool.