Archive for December, 2006

Where next?

Monday, December 25th, 2006

Well lots has been going on recently and I’ll be making a big post about it soon.

I’ve been having lots of thoughts about what to do in 2007.  It’s an exciting time right now because Oz is done and is out there and so is Holiday Bonus, and I’m not working on any projects at the moment (except for “me”, the biggest project of all ;-) ).  So I’m able to relax and let inspiration come to me and also think about my options.  I’m weighing up how I can a) immediately  make money to pay my bills, b) do the fun creative things that I *really* want to do and c) become very rich quickly.  More on all this soon…

The Holiday Bonus musician emailed me recently asking what next and I replied and he said “How much work is it to make a new match-3 game, now that most or all of the vital components are ready?” and he also said “While you could just output a new match-3 for the cash (‘only’ need to insert gfx/music), meanwhile you could make a new engine instead. By the way, what about those Simcity-clones or <insert>-Tycoon? Are these a casual buyer’s choice?”, and I wrote him this reply:

Oz took well over 200 hours (of my time only) to convert into Holiday Bonus (there wasn’t really much new code, most of the time was directing the artist and plugging in the new art). Oh also it cost > £1000 too (and future ones will cost more), plus lots of extra time to market.  So any new Match-3 will take maybe 1 month full-time minimum (assuming that my skills have increased now).  However, to stand out I need to some new elements, which I listed in my last email (to the musician).  If I made a 5th match-3 I believe I could make it my best one yet and also a market leader – should I do it?

Meanwhile, converting the Blitz Max Game Framework to Mac is an unknown quantity, it should be possible but I know nothing about Macs and will need to do a lot of research – perhaps it will be easy.  Once it’s done though, it’s can be reused for many games.  There are less competitors in the Mac market (by a long way) so a good game will do well – and I believe that I can supply that game.

As for sim games, well the Diner Dash-type games are big (not really Sim games as such, but the nearest thing in the casual market).  In March I made a plan for a game called Flower Shop but never got time to do it due to developing the game framework and my other games (Oz/HB etc) - this is my own fault though.  Now take a look at this game, which is the no. 2 game on BFG!  I hate missing the boat – but my boat will come again, and perhaps it will be bigger…

Right now another match-3 is easier as the engine is there and I can improve it each time thus making the game more saleable (it won’t gain me much respect amongst forum programmers, but who cares if I’m the one making money and contacts).  As for a new engine, I imagine that I’ll have to make a first game that will be OK and then my second game with that engine will be the really good one (I’m pretty up to date with particles effects and smooth programming now, although there is still more that I could do looking at some current top notch games).  A new engine needs lots of new code/thought and testing even if it’s copying a tried and tested formula.  Of course a brand new idea needs *even more* thought and testing….risky but with potential huge payouts.  To be honest I need secure income first, then maybe I’ll aim for that – however, I’m not sure that’s how millionaires think…

My Christmas Competitors

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Hiya,

It seems that the fighting is fierce on the frontline of Christmas/Holiday-themed match-3s!

Check these out:

www.bigfishgames.com/downloads/jewelmatchwinterwo/index.html

www.bigfishgames.com/downloads/holidaygift/index.html

and compare to mine:

www.greyaliengames.com/holidaybonus.php

Winter Wonderland uses outdoor snowy scenes that seem to involve houses - there’s only 4 backgrounds though. It has a nice snowing effect going on and lovely classical guitar music.  The game has a hammer with 3 levels of power up, snowballs (animated like mine) and a bomb.  It has weird horrible looking graphics for the chains on the locked pieces.  Also you have to remove ice tiles like mine, and it even has double thickness tiles (with snow on), like mine!  Pretty similar in some details, but overall it has a different vibe.

Holiday Gift has indoor Christmas decorations for backgrounds, a gingerbread man that looks like a voodoo doll, and some very dodgy music in my opinion.  You have to remove gold tiles.  This game is hardly any different from previous incarnations.  However it was released before mine, so I hope that people didn’t get their “fill” of Christmas games before mine came out!

Of the two I’d say Winter Wonderland is better by quite a bit.

Last Christmas the makers of Holiday Gift made Best Gift which was pretty much the only other match-3 Christmas game I was competing against, if I recall correctly. There also weren’t that many other Holiday games but there’s quite a few this year all competing for the same customers.  We’ll have to see how well my game get’s on in comparison.  Also on Big Fish Games and Reflexive I actually have both Xmas AND Holiday Bonus out at the same time, which gives me a bit more coverage.  Hopefully fans of one will consider the other.

How I sourced the art and music for my games

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Someone just emailed me and asked me how I sourced the art and music for my games, and I sent back a rambling reply that I thought might be useful to others - so I’ve posted it here for all to see :-)

For the first game, Xmas Bonus, I bought in some cheap art from IStockPhoto.com and did some of the shapes in Corel Draw, and did the menu text myself too.  Indiepath gave me some free music and I found some more by browsing the net (proper royalty free for commercial use stuff).  Everything I use is above-board, no pilfering.  However, I wouldn’t recommend this piecemeal approach as it’s a) time consuming b) doesn’t really give a consistent/pro feel to the game.  It is cheap though.
 
For Easter Bonus I think I posted on the Blitz Basic forum to find out what artists were interested and Quicksilva ended up doing the job (great job too, just not the style that portals really want I found out afterwards) – I paid him for the job.  I also got more istockphoto art (title screen + menus), and more net music + coolly Cynus offered to help and he made a few nice tracks that we worked on together with Skype (well he did most of the work, I just interfered).
 
For Oz I was a contract programmer and the producer supplied all the art and music (but not sound, which was a pain, so I had to be the sound engineer on top of the 500+ hours of programming).
 
Finally for Holiday Bonus, I posted on the Blitz forums again about needing 3D rendered or hand-drawn backgrounds and 3D shapes for the game and got a few responses.  Most were overpriced and didn’t have a lot of examples to back themselves up.  However, in the end IPete2 (and a friend of his) did the job brilliantly for a good price.  Music was by CS_TBL for a very reasonable price + a royalty + a secret “deal” regarding future games, and has turned out nicely.  So basically I have paid out, and have to recoup a good sum before I’m in profit. It’s a risk, and at the moment I am broke, but you’ve got to speculate to accumulate as the saying goes…It’s also why negative comments (non-constructive) aren’t helpful as my family’s finances are on the line here and I got 2 kids, house, car etc so I don’t need some stupid flaming about something that I’ve worked my nuts off for (/rant over)
 
Since Xmas Bonus I actually get approached by people on the forums who want to work with me, which is nice.  I guess this is because, as someone once called me, I’m a “finisher”.  If you’ve got finished games behind you and you say you need artists/mucisians etc on Blitz and list your games, you should get lots of responses.  I was going to post on Indiegamer (and search the Art Portfolios thread and post in Help Wanted) if I didn’t get anywhere on Blitz, but I never needed to.  I’m not really an expert at finding these resources at all, I’ve just needed them and the Universe has provided.  Helps to have friends on the forums too + I have lots of people who have bought my BlitzMax Game Framework.
 
Oh and to put things in perspective, the graphics took >50% of the time for Holiday Bonus (>100 man hours - I log everything), that was talking to the artist (via Skype/email) and then coding the graphics in (mind you the match-3 engine was already in existence). If you think your game is finished, well you are still going to have to “plug in” (makes it sound so easy) the graphics/anims and particle effects and so on and this will take quite a while unless you’ve got animated placeholders particles etc. ;-)
 
Right, anyway, hope that this ramble is of some use and that you are successful in your quest – and good luck with your next game!

New material follows

Thought I’d post this from a forum where a discussion about this thread ensues. I wrote:

I think it’s going to get harder and harder for people to make competitive casual games unfortunately. Basically 3 years ago Xmas Bonus would have look RAD, but last year it just look OK, and this year it definitely looks dated.

So what if you don’t have much art skill or much money? All you can do is make a game that looks like Xmas Bonus OR try to convince someone good to do the art for royalties (not easy). And if it looks like Xmas Bonus, unless it’s radical, got something really new, it won’t sell very well (still may not sell even if it is radical!), and then you’ll be put off making another one and have no money to reinvest. But at least you’ll have another “practice” game under your belt to hopefully attract more royalty-based team members…

It’s like a few years ago Indie games were more one man band things, like the old 8-bit days. But now they’ve gone all sophisticated (well in the graphics/sound/polish department) and require small teams to make so it’s harder to compete. I don’t want to put people off, but I see it going more that way as the customers and portals now demand polish – it’s just a hard fact. So maybe it’s best to either a) code games for fun (that’s what I started doing originally, hmm) or b) actually get some investment from somewhere and do it properly. Or I guess c) build up with mini-games and get people at low cost or on royalties, but this could take a while… or wait there’s d) join an existing team based on your merits or get headhunted/hired (but again this requires some kind of track record). So it all comes down to FINISHING something even if it’s not great. And then doing it again, but better and so on…