The Gloaming Trailer [Video]

This is just a neat little animation. It’s actually a trailer for a video. The section beginning around 20 seconds into the trailer makes me imagine creating a little wargame with these personality-filled animations. Maybe something small that would play on a smartphone or something. You’d have your own little tribe that would go through history, conquering other pencil-drawn tribes.

Angry Birds, Crush the Castle, and Inspiration

When I first saw Angry Birds, my first thought was that it copied (or more diplomatically, “was inspired by”) another game I had played called Crush the Castle. I looked up some details, and discovered that Angry Birds was released on December 10, 2009 while Crush the Castle was available in early 2009, at the exact time Angry Birds started their development. I will say this: Angry Birds added a lot more personality to the game. I thought it was interesting that Angry Birds kept the monarchy/military theme for the enemies, with pigs dressed in crowns and helmets. Angry Birds also uses a slingshot rather than a trebuchet.

A comparison:

And here Crush The Castle (jump ahead to 30 seconds):

Link: Crush the Castle

Also, as a side note, the game “Osmos” which is included in the Humble Indie Bundle is also reminiscent of a flash game I played years ago as well. I couldn’t find the old flash game, but it involved controlling a fish to eat smaller fish while avoiding larger ones. Each time you ate a smaller fish, you’d become slightly larger. It was the same basic gameplay as Osmos, though Osmos seems to have added a few more features.

Defcon [Game]

I finally went and tried out Defcon. It was originally released about four years ago. I had seen screenshots of the game before, but never tried out the demo and was curious about how the game played strategically. It was interesting how it’s setup – how your units have different modes, and it takes time to switch between modes. For example, your missile silos can switch between attack mode (where they can launch nukes) and defense mode (where they can shoot down nukes). The switch happens slowly, and the time-delay means making yourself vulnerable and planning ahead. I managed to get 6/7th of the way through the demo before I misunderstood what I was supposed to do, launched all my nukes, but didn’t destroy one of the enemy missile silos that I’m supposed to destroy. This resulted in the tutorial not letting me progress any further, so I had to bail-out of the game. It was disappointing that they didn’t plan for the contingency that players might not do everything right, and get caught in a situation where they can’t progress any further.

Video of Defcon gameplay:

One of the surprising things I noticed on their blog is that they almost shut-down in March. Their latest game wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped and they were out of money. From their blog, Aug 20, 2010:

Internally we knew within about an hour of Darwinia+’s launch that it hadn’t done well enough. It took us about two weeks to really accept that and the awful realisation that we didn’t have enough to continue with the office or the staff. We had a bunch of creditors knocking at the door, but worse than all of that we were absolutely shattered. Darwinia+ had been really drawn out and I’d spent a lot of time selling the future to the team and when the rug was pulled away from my feet I really didn’t want to continue. Critically, neither did Chris. He’d had to spend a lot of time on Darwinia and decided that we had failed to live up to our original mission of making “Original Video Games”. Striking out on his own made most sense given IV’s failure: “We tried it your way, Mark – didn’t work”. So we started shutting things down. We reached out to our creditors and (amazingly) they accepted our payment plans. We closed the office and sold the tables and chairs. We let Gary, Leander and Martin go (another three that can be officially added to Nicholas Lovell’s redundancy tracker). They were amazingly stoical about it and I’m glad to say that they are all doing well. Then we closed the door on Introversion, rewrote our CVs from scratch, and started applying for jobs.

I guess this was rock bottom. We’d been through crises before, but we’d always wanted to solve the problem and find a solution, this time it was a bit like there was nothing left to save.

A couple of weeks rolled by and I found myself unable to accept the end. Chris too wasn’t actually ready to jack it in…

They managed to limp through it, even though they had to let people go from the company. I was pretty surprised to hear about their money problems since they’ve made a number of games I’ve heard of – Darwinia and Defcon being the most notable. Admittedly, I haven’t been very aware of stuff they’ve done in the past few years. Like I’ve said before, it’s feast or famine in the indie game business.

Used Games and Rights

A new article says that a US court has ruled that software publishers can prevent reselling software (i.e. used software). The ruling (if upheard) could allow publishers to kill the used games business. The whole “used games” and “used software” sales market has been opposed by a few companies. Some companies see used sales as undermining new sales, and while I don’t agree with their attempts to eliminate used-sales, I can understand why they would be irritated by the fact that GameStop makes a lot of money from used-game sales. Nearly half of GameStop’s profit comes from used-game sales. Because of their markups, GameStop earns 85% more money on the sale of a used game than a new one. At the same time, the publisher gets paid when a new game is sold, but not a used one.

Autodesk* has also tried for years to shut-down used sales of its software – including blocking eBay sales. The typical method for doing this in the software world is to give users a “licence”. When software is counted as a “licence” rather than a “sale”, it opens up more options for publishers to restrict what a user can do with that software. For example, they can sell the user a non-transferable licence (i.e. no software resales). On the other hand, if software is “sold”, then it falls into the legal structure of the “first sale doctrine” which means users can do things like resell their software. The first sale doctrine was originally setup a hundred years ago, and applied to things like books. Book publishers tried to shut-down used bookstores (for fear that used book sales were undermining new book sales), but courts handed down the “first sale doctrine” that said people can resell them. The main way that software “licences” are being challenged is by arguing that publishers are using “licence” as a legal ploy to restrict what users can do, when, in fact, it’s really a “sale” masquerading under the “licence” term.

I think there’s a certain logic to preventing used-game sales, I just don’t think it’s strong enough logic to convince me that users should not be allowed to resell their software or buy used software. I also think the act of shutting down used-sales creates a degree of dissatisfaction among users, and creates the idea that companies have too much control in their lives what they can do with their software. This unhappiness among users has to be weighed against the monetary benefit of eliminating used sales. While eliminating used sales might increase revenue in the short term, it might create longer-lasting resentment, as well. As we all know, CEOs of companies can be ridiculously short-sighted – either because everything is measured and rewarded on a short-term basis, or because they lack foresight. Based on that, I have very little faith in business leaders making the right long-term choice.

On a more positive note, it’s rumored that Steam will begin allowing users to sell their games back to Steam (at a reduced price, of course). Presumably, their logic is that players who can sell back bad games will be more willing to buy new ones (i.e. there is less risk involved since they can get back some of their money if they don’t like the game). Even if it doesn’t immediately result in more sales, it makes their customers happier which keeps them coming back. Funny how companies seem to be moving in opposite directions. Also, I don’t really expect used-game/software sales to disappear anytime soon. GameStop is bringing in $1 billion per year from used-game sales, so they’ll spend millions to block any disruption of the used-games market.

* Footnote: I have to admit that I’m not really a fan of Autodesk. They have a tendency to buy up their competitors (e.g. Maya and SoftImage), in an apparent attempt to prevent meaningful competition in the 3D Modeling world. This allows them to charge higher prices.

I think I made the wrong game

I saw a story on slashdot recently. The creator of “Minecraft” had his paypal account suspended, and he can’t get his money out of the account. The money was for pre-orders of his game. He started developing the game in May 2009 and released an alpha version of the game the same week. So, how much money in pre-orders does he (claim) to have? 600,000 Euros (roughly $760,000). That’s pretty mind-boggling for one and a half years of work. It’s also a few orders of magnitude more money than I’m earning. (To be honest, my initial reaction to the story was that the number was fake, and it was all a big publicity stunt. After reading a little more about it, though, I think it might be true.)

I’m planning to release financial numbers for my game at some point in the future, but I’ve already suggested that it hasn’t been a financial success. And, it’s not that I need to make a ton of money, like Minecraft, but I at least need to make enough to pay my bills. I guess it’s all feast or famine in the indie game business. I think 99% of us are on the “famine” side of it.

Update, Sept 18: I just got some numbers from the sale that started last month. There was a nice increase in revenue from that, so that’s encouraging!

11 Game Satires + 20 Counterproductive Game Covers

Two interesting links:
20 Counterproductive Video Game Covers
My favorite in the list is Phalanx, a “hyper-speed shoot-out in space” with a banjo player on the front cover:

11 Great Playable Video Game Satires
My favorite spoof is the “cow clicker” Farmville spoof:

Creator Ian Bogost: “You get a cow. You can click on it. In six hours, you can click it again. Clicking earns you clicks. You can buy custom ‘premium’ cows through micropayments (the Cow Clicker currency is called ‘mooney’), and you can buy your way out of the time delay by spending it. You can publish feed stories about clicking your cow, and you can click friends’ cow clicks in their feed stories. Cow Clicker is Facebook games distilled to their essence.”

Empires of Steel Sale!

We are kicking off an Empires of Steel summer sale! Instead of the regular price of $35, you can now purchase the full version of this unique strategy game of global domination for just $20 for a limited time!

If you have any friends you’d like to get into the game, now would be an ideal time.

3D without 3D Glasses [Video]

I kind of wondered how they did 3D without 3D glasses. I knew that a parallax barrier would work, but I figured it would have too small of a sweet-spot to be very good (i.e. shift a little to the left or right and the 3D would fail). I guess it’s big enough, though I haven’t actually tried it in person.

Based on their description, this system wouldn’t work for TV or movies – unless they dramatically increased the number of images handled by the system, creating a whole series of sweet spots.