Regency Solitaire is out now!

January 2nd, 2015

We are proud to announce the release our of latest game, Regency Solitaire!

Regency Solitaire is a sumptuous solitaire card game set in romantic Regency England, featuring 180 unique levels set over 20 chapters. With over 30 exciting gameplay upgrades you can makeover heroine Bella’s ballroom and costume. Normal and hard gameplay modes ensure hours of fun for players of all levels.

Developed in South West England by husband-and-wife team Jake Birkett and Helen Carmichael, Regency Solitaire includes a specially-composed classical music score. Heroine Bella tours historic locations – from stately homes and lavish gardens to the fashionable towns of London, Brighton and Bath – in a bid to restore her family fortunes.

“Our aim was to create a beautiful game with historically-accurate costumes, locations and characters,” said Helen Carmichael, Writer/Researcher at Grey Alien Games. “The gameplay is fun and addictive, and we think fans of both solitaire and costume drama will enjoy it.”

You can find out more about the game here: http://www.regencysolitaire.com

Features:
- Smooth, satisfying solitaire gameplay.
- Makeover Bella’s ballroom and costume.
- Sumptuous art and romantic storyline.
- 180 unique levels spread over 20 chapters.
- Purchase 31 exciting gameplay upgrades.
- Normal and Hard modes.
- Specially-composed, classical music.
- Can set backgrounds as Desktop Wallpaper (PC only.)
- This game is DRM-free!

Price: £6.99 / €7.99 / $9.99

Regency Solitaire is a product of the GamesLab South West programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, supported by the Government’s Regional Growth Fund and led by Creative England.

2014 Review and 2015 Goals

December 31st, 2014

OK it’s time to review how I got on with my 2014 goals and set new ones for 2015. Here’s last year’s post for reference.

Summary

In summary I failed pretty badly with most of my work and personal goals. However, I didn’t set many goals on purpose so that I could have more focus and what I actually did was *super-focus* on finishing two games: Regency Solitaire, and Titan Attacks mobile.

I did finish both of those games and they turned out great, but it meant that other goals fell to the wayside. Both games will launch in early 2015 and I aim to follow up quickly with two more games, so 2015 should be a bumper year!

2014 Work Goals:

1) Ship Titan Attacks mobile in the 1st Quarter. (PARTIAL SUCCESS: I did finish it in 2014, it just hasn’t shipped yet, for “reasons”, but should be out in early 2015. So I’ll award myself half a point. This was a tricky port because it is a complex game that needs to well on Android devices with low memory and slow processors. I learned a ton of stuff and have ended up with a great new game framework in Monkey-X which I hope to make use of in the near future.)

2) Ship Regency Solitaire in mid-summer. This is a new casual game that I’m working on with my wife. (PARTIAL SUCCESS: I did finish it and shipped a beta version of it on my site at the start of December. However, it officially launches on Jan 2nd 2015, so I’ll award myself half a point. It’s probably the best game I’ve made to date – we’re really proud of it.)

3) Optional Goal: Ship another casual game before the end of the year. (TOTAL FAIL: Both of the other games took longer than I expected, which is to be expected :-) So, yeah, the nearest we got to this was thinking up some cool ideas and game names. This was an optional goal so I won’t include it in my success rate below.)

4) Add some more levels to Techno Zombies. This was my December #onegameamonth game that I actually started in January. (FAILED: Nope, just didn’t have time due to working on the other games. Shame, as I’d still like to do this.)

5) Take part in at least one game jam. I love game jams and want to try out my improved Monkey X framework on another minigame. (FAILED: Disappointed I didn’t do this but I guess I made tons of minigames in 2013 when I “won” #onegameamonth, so I can still bask in that.)

6) Stretch Goal: Show over £125,000 ($200,000) gross income/revenue on my company’s books including grant money. Based on 2013 this should be achievable if everything goes to plan. (FAILED: Jan to Nov revenue is $64K and I think that when I receive the distributor royalty reports for Dec it could go over $70K, but that has still fallen *way* short of my target. The reason is pretty simple, I didn’t ship Regency Solitaire in 2014! If I had shipped it in the summer as originally planned then perhaps I could have hit this goal. Spooky Bonus has made $128,000 since its launch in 2013, so this wasn’t an unrealistic goal.)

Success rate = 1/4 = 25% (Note that part-successes are counted as 0.5 and I have ignored the optional and stretch goals) Well this is a really sucky success rate, my worst in years, or maybe ever! But I don’t mind too much because I did actually finish two really great games this year, it’s just that they haven’t come out yet!

2014 Personal Goals
1) Make at least 6 new pieces of digital art. (PART SUCCESS: I made some crappy digital art, some good digital art, and a bunch of mockup art for Regency Solitaire. In total I did way more than 6 things and got lots better at Photoshop, but really I wanted to paint 6 new things from scratch, so I’ll award myself half a point.)

2) Do another gig either on acoustic or electric guitar. (FAILED: This should have been an easy task as I did a few gigs last year and was playing a lot of guitar. But this year I hardly played guitar as I was focusing all my time on finishing the games I was making. However, one of the rewards I’ve been holding off buying for myself (until I finished my game projects) is a fancy new guitar – so 2015 should be a good year for playing guitar!)

3) Make at least 3 pieces of electronica. (FAILED: Nope, didn’t make any. No time, yada yada. I did the sound engineering (sound effects and overseeing the music) for Regency Solitaire and that turned out well, so that was good.)

4) Go on a family holiday in the UK or Europe. (SUCCESS: We went camping on Dartmoor for a few days, that was it. Not exactly an epic family holiday, although it was nice. We also had quite a few day trips to places, which were good and cheap and not too distracting from my work. The main problem this year was that I felt constantly under pressure to make progress on projects and that resulted in me prioritising work above going on holiday, much to my wife’s disappointment. I really hope I can fix this in 2015.)

5) Play at least 20 indie games from my backlog. (FAILED: Nope, don’t think I touched a single game in my backlog although I did buy and play some great *new* indie games such as Crypt of the Necrodancer and Guacamelee. I probably even *grew* my game backlog by buying some more bundles, sigh. My only comfort is that I know I’m not alone in this situation.)

6) Reduce my weight from 69Kg to 65Kg by end of June and don’t put it back on at Christmas. (PART SUCCESS: I got to about 66.5Kg by September and kept it off until the last few days when it has crept up a bit due to Christmas excess, so I’ll award myself half a point).

Success rate = 2/6 = 33% (Note that part-successes are counted as 0.5). Not great. I failed at my musical and gaming goals but did OK in my art, health and family goals – but could have done better in them all.

Bonus Points

But did I do anything else cool this year worthy of note? Well…

- I hit a milestone of 250,000 units sold since I went indie. That’s quite a lot and proves I must be doing something right :-)

- I paid my wife and I a proper salary all year long, which is a first. We haven’t really had any financial worries all year. I hope this continues into 2015 with the success of my forthcoming games.

- I stayed focused on my two main projects and didn’t get distracted with gamejams or new projects.

- I made a good German retail deal for Spooky Bonus and they send me some boxed copies, which was cool.

- I didn’t do anything mobile-related (except for finishing Titan Attacks mobile, which was already in progress.) Back in 2013 I decided that mobile was a fools-errand and I should just focus on PC, which is why there’s no mobile version of Spooky Bonus. This meant I was able to focus on making Spooky Bonus and Regency Solitaire great instead of getting distracted with low-value mobile ports of my games.

- I went to Steam Dev Days in Seattle and stopped off in Vancouver before and afterwards, which was nice.

- I had a really great year of Aikido. A former student of mine who was teaching in Weymouth came back to Bridport club and now teaches on Wednesday. This means I get an extra day of training per week. Also we’ve got some new members and the club finances are doing well. Furthermore, I went on several great courses this year including one in Cambridge called Pushing for Peace and one in Kendal with Sensei Maruyama – both of which were a bit mindblowing to be honest. A great and very enjoyable year for self-growth in Aikido.

- We got a wood burning stove fitted to the living room. In February the bad storms caused water ingress into our living room and whilst we were getting it fixed (expensive and noisy), we decided to get a wood burner as a treat. Well actually I wanted to get a cheap gas fire but my wife persuaded me. She really wanted a Skyrim-style firepit, but obviously that’s not quite practical. It’s been lovely to light a fire this winter and play Dragon Age: Inquisition in a cosy living room.

Mistakes

So am I now infallible or did I make a few boo boos? Well..

- I said the same thing last year but I shouldn’t have taken on board the Titan Attacks mobile port. Same reasons as last year. Even though I’ve learned a lot and it was good fun at times (it’s a cool game), it was a really big time sink and distraction from my casual games which are a proven source of revenue. I hope that when it comes out in 2015 I can get some half decent money from it to make the time spent a bit more worthwhile. We’ll see…

- I definitely slacked off at different points during this year. This was partly due to the fact that I was financially secure for a while due to Spooky Bonus doing really well and also due to the grant I got to help make Regency Solitaire. The slacking off was nice though; I had some lovely days off and walks with my wife etc. but it meant that my projects got delayed and I felt more pressure at other times and didn’t achieve as many of my personal goals as I’d have liked.

- I was working on two games at once and was beholden to third parties. Sometimes when I knew I should be working on one of my two projects I just kind of went into a dejected mood and ended up doing neither! I’m going to try to avoid that in the future and just focus on one thing at a time. Regarding the third-parties: I promised Puppy Games that I’d get Titan Attacks mobile done, and didn’t want to let them down, and I also was required to have regular progress meetings with Gameslab, who part-funded Regency Solitaire. Now for some people this would probably motivate them to get stuff done, and it kind of did for me at certain times (I did a few mega crunches to hit some deadlines), but at other times it just made me feel bad (for weird internal reasons) and I was unproductive as a result. I really need to remember this in the future and try to only be beholden to myself, like I was when I made Spooky Bonus, my most successful game to date.

- Regency Solitaire took too long to make. There are several reasons for this, one being that I had to program an entire special solitaire engine with bells and whistles from scratch, and predictably it took longer than expected. Another is that because we wanted the game to be historically accurate we spent a LOT of time doing research and directing the artists and musicians. Also I spent a lot of time obsessing over small details (which is a habit of mine anyway). Plus I had to coach my wife on the whole process of making a game from start to finish. So for our next game we want to give the artists and musician more freedom by picking a theme that can be a bit more flexible in terms of historical accuracy. My wife will also be faster at her tasks and I’ll try not to spend so long “noodling” over tiny little things that no one will notice anyway!

- I got some weird health complaints for a couple of months in the late summer. I was getting headaches like *every* day for weeks on end and also my lower right eyelid starting twitching a lot (and then my left eyelid joined in) which made it hard to look at small stuff on my screen. I also got some really bad neck and shoulder pain and had to go to see various people to help sort it out. This went on for ages and really affected my work. I think the eye thing was due to reintroducing caffeine via tea and coke, and the shoulder issue was caused by overwork with a bad posture. It also seems likely that the headaches were tension headaches related to my shoulder problem and maybe stress and maybe the caffeine too. Basically I probably caused myself a bunch of health problems. I tried to fix them by altering my diet to cut out FODMAPs, by getting a new ergonomic keyboard, and by boosting the font size on my screen and moving it closer, all of which seemed to help – though of course, the problems may have just gone away on their own! It’s hard to say.

- I didn’t host very many Full Indie UK events, which is disappointing. Not only was I focusing on finishing my games but after GDC in March I decided to go to less networking/social events and just focus on making games instead. This was because in some ways I became jaded with certain aspects of the indie scene, and I also realised that networking with indies doesn’t help sell my casual games at all, fun as it is. Hopefully I can find the time to run, or delegate, some Full Indie UK events in 2015.

2015 Work Goals

The problem with my 2015 goals is that around April I’ll make a big decision about whether I carry on making casual games (aiming for 3+ a year) or try to get some funding to make an indie game suitable for Steam (and direct sales OF COURSE!) In fact I might even make that decision in Jan once I find out how well Regency Solitaire is selling. This is reflected in my split goal 5 below.

Regardless, I’m keeping the goals simple and focused. They basically involve shipping games that do well.

1) Ship second solitaire game before the summer (first one is due out in Jan 2015)
2) Make $200,000 net revenue from my solitaire games.
3) Successfully get the new cultural tax credit for Regency Solitaire + the new game (so I’ll get back 25% of salaries paid from April 2014-Mar 2015) = £15,000 (~$23K)
4) Do a game jam.

Either:
5a) Ship another casual game, either match-3 or solitaire, in late summer/autumn. Got tons of ideas, it’s just a case of getting them out the door.
OR
5b) Mostly complete (75% minimum) a new indie game (9-12 months dev time).

Stretch goals:
6) if 5a) then ship another casual game in time for Christmas, possibly Holiday Bonus 2.
7) Do another game jam.

2015 Personal Goals

1) Go on a non-UK family holiday for at least a week. If I don’t do this my wife will probably kill me.
2) Buy a new guitar that I’ve been hankering after, get back into practicing, and do a blues gig.
3) Do something cool for my 40th birthday.
4) Get at least one of my students through their 2nd Dan Aikido grading. This is, of course, quite a lot dependent on them.

How did you get on in 2014? I hope you have a great 2015!

A new game set in Regency England

October 13th, 2014

For the last year Grey Alien Games has been working on an exciting new casual game project.

The full details will be revealed soon…but for now we can tell you that the new game is set in Regency England (think Jane Austen costume drama). It features authentic costumes and locations, some of which are based on real places that you can still visit in England today. Here is our leading lady, Bella (click to enlarge):

For this game, my wife Helen has joined the team to contribute to design, and has also been responsible for historical and story research.

The game is really coming together for launch and we think it looks fantastic. Stay tuned for more updates over the weeks ahead, and tell us what your favourite costume dramas are in the comments.

The project is a product of the GamesLab South West programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, supported by the Government’s Regional Growth Fund and led by Creative England.