12 Games in 12 Months #OneGameAMonth

OneGamePerMonth

It’s mid-December, which means people are remembering their New Year’s resolutions and rushing to accomplish them before 2013 rolls around.

Last year, I managed to release the Stop That Hero! alpha after many months of delay. This year, I similarly managed to get the next update out a few months ago after many months of delay, and it still hasn’t been ported to the Mac. Otherwise, I have a couple of Ludum Dare games under my belt. One of my aspirations is to be a prolific game developer, and this is not a good track record.

Ludum Dare has three main compos during the year (one is this weekend!), but each month in between features a miniLD with custom rules by whoever is hosting. I have been considering making it a goal to participate in each of these miniLDs if only to get 12 games in any given year.

Chris Kaitila, aka McFunkypants, wrote 12 games in 12 months about his experience in the last year attempting to make at least one game a month, so it seems I’m not the only one with such aspirations.

I set out this year to prove to myself that not all game projects need to stretch on for months or years. It was a battle against the featurecreep and code bloat that I’d suffered from for years as an indie gamedev. I’ve started so many more games than I’ve finished in the last 20 years.

From assembly language “hello worlds” to BASIC choose-your-own-adventures without an ending. From to Turbo Pascal Tron lightycles games, to Visual Basic prototypes so woefully buggy and half baked they weren’t even worth backing up. From unpolished (but complete!) C++ openGL shooters with only one level to Adobe Director (shockwave) horse-racers with no finish line. From php sports simulators with broken AI to html4 multiplayer chat worlds with server problems.

Looking in my Projects directory, I see that my unfinished 0h Game Jam about a horse race with no finish line. Hmm.

Now, Kaitila has a broader range of experience with tools and engines than I do. I could probably stand to get outside of my C++/SDL comfort zone, but the risk is taking the time to learn something new versus using what I know to work on games.

But he found that it’s easy to get sucked into a never-ending project, one that quickly stops being fun to develop, and so becomes one that never gets finished. I’m sure we’ve all been there. There’s a lot of discipline involved in game development, which isn’t obvious to anyone who hasn’t done it before.

So what can you do? Reduce scope! But feature creep is always a problem. Set short deadlines! But projects always have a way of taking more time than you planned.

Kaitila’s answer to both: game jams.

Instead of getting involved in a long marathon of game development which might force you to choose between your health/family/friends and your project, you run little sprints. Ludum Dare’s 48 hour compos and miniLDs are perfect. There are also other game jams throughout the year, such as Meaningful Game Play Game Jam and 0h Game Jam held during a missing hour due to Daylight Savings, so there are plenty of options.

Like daily workouts, each game project made me stronger. Faster. Better.

You can do this too. Challenge yourself to make a game a month this next year. Let this be your new year’s resolution. I’m going to do it all again in 2013. One game per month, on average, and a dozen finished products by the end of the year.

I’m issuing a challenge to all my gamedev friends: join me in the epic quest. It CAN be done. You don’t have to be hardcore, insane, or obsessed. Join me in the gameamonth challenge. We can help encourage each other.

If you have a Twitter account, you can sign up for the One Game A Month challenge. It’s like a game for game development. You get XP for each new game you post, and people who sign up before January 1st get 100 early adopter bonus points.

I’m in. Are you?

The Response to the Humble THQ Bundle

What I love about the Humble Indie Bundles is that they are DRM-free, allow me to pay what I want, and the games are available for GNU/Linux, my preferred platform. The people behind it were involved in Wolfire Games, and I reviewed Lugaru years ago for Game Tunnel, so I was familiar with them. Even though the Humble Bundle company is now spun off and has serious investment behind it, it still felt like a great vehicle for publicity, sales, and altruism for indies.

I was surprised to learn about a new Humble Bundle while catching up on my game news. I normally receive emails from the people behind it. I even received emails when they tried branching out into ebooks and Android titles. I never received an email for their latest so-called “humble” bundle, though, and it’s probably because I’m registered as a Linux-based customer.

Humble Bundle Not So Humble

I first read about it in Ben Kuchera’s Penny Arcade Report article “The Humble THQ Bundle loses indie games, adds DRM, and is a step backward for the bundle model”. Kuchera writes about how this new bundle offers nothing that previous bundles were loved for, even pointing out that THQ no longer employs most of the people who made the games in the first place. This year alone there were reports of over 200 layoffs.

But here’s what really bothers me about the article. After lamenting the return to DRM, the removal of platforms, and the lack of indies, and stating “this is a move in the wrong direction. None of the things that make a Humble Bundle great are present. Instead we’re presented with what amounts to a Steam sale”, Kuchera says:

I’m going to be a hypocrite and buy a bundle, just because these are incredible games at a staggeringly low price, but wouldn’t it have been something if they were offered without DRM? Or if they ran on Linux? Or if the space was used to promote games that hadn’t already sold millions of copies? This isn’t a bad deal, but it’s certainly a step away from what made Humble Bundle so unique. If this is the sort of thing we can expect to see in the future, the Humble name could quickly become just another cut-rate digital retailer pushing catalog titles. Humble Bundles should be something special, and worth getting excited about.

The way I read that section: “Outrage! This is horrible! But I’m going to support its success so it has a better chance of happening more often.” Yes, it is hypocritical. Considering how over half a million bundles have been sold in only a couple of days, making it the most successful Humble Bundle yet, it’s clear that there’s a lot of people who don’t mind this Steam sale at all, but why add to their numbers if you don’t like it? Why support the “step backward”?

I’ll also call out Juuso of GameProducer.net for his Us vs Them: The New Humble THQ Bundle Case.

When looking at this offer only, it’s irrelevant whether there has been previous bundles or not. Whether previous bundle had Linux games or not, is totally irrelevant when it comes to evaluating the current offering.

If I’m having a good day today, it’s irrelevant whether I had a good or bad day yesterday. I can be happy about today, even if was shitty day yesterday.

Similarly, I can objectively look at this bundle offering, and determine whether it’s a good or bad.

I’m not quite sure where he is going with this argument. The past is irrelevant to today? There are no consequences you’re experiencing today as a result of actions from yesterday? If a company is known for being one thing does something that seems the exact opposite of what they should, I’m supposed to ignore it and pretend that it’s a brand new company? He continues with the oddness:

Equally well we could turn it around. Imagine that all the previous bundles were AAA, windows-only, DRM games — and you bought none of them.

And then comes a new bundle. If the new bundle offers indie, windows+linux+mac, no DRM games, would you not buy “because previous bundles were windows only”? To me, that makes no sense.

No, it doesn’t make any sense. Let’s take that last argument and really think about it. In reality, if such a bundle came along, I could see people deciding to buy it to support this step in the right direction. The idea that this example is the same thing at all is bizarre.

Now, I’m coming at this from a different perspective. Juuso doesn’t care that Mac and Linux were supported. He doesn’t care about DRM. He doesn’t care that the bundles have been good for indies. The Humble Bundle, to him, was just another option for getting good games at a good price, and so that’s his main criteria for evaluating this latest bundle. To him, everything else is irrelevant, and so sure, he finds the arguments against this bundle irrational.

For me, the Humble Bundle meant something else. It meant supporting independent developers. It meant explicitly not supporting DRM. It meant supporting more Linux-based games. It meant supporting charities and non-profits doing good work (it still bothers me when the EFF is not listed in a given bundle). The Humble Bundle brand made a difference. Up until now, I knew that if they were offering a new bundle, it supported all of these things, and I was happy to support them.

In contrast, I haven’t participated in Indie Royale sales or cliffski’s Show Me the Games because they almost explicitly don’t support Linux players, for one. I don’t have Steam on Linux (yet), and so I’ve only heard about the flurry of sales they always have. It’s great for you if you have a Windows-based system to play on, but irrelevant to my interests.

So let’s evaluate this bundle independently of the previous ones. I’ll use the same “facts” that Juuso used:

I get to pay whatever I want ($1 or more)

Ok, just like in previous bundles.

I get several games from a company who has paid & owns the rights for those games.

Sure, I like supporting the idea of buying the games from a legitimate and legal source. I’m not paying someone selling fake copies on a street corner.

But who is that company? Do I want to support THQ? I think that’s a legitimate question. Later in his article, Juuso asks if it would have made a difference if EA did it. Yes, I think that’s also a legitimate question, considering how many layoffs and reported bad practices there have been in the past.

I can decide the amount that charity will receive
I get to decide the amount that bundle creators receive

Here is a bit of redeeming news. Even if I have to pay a minimum of a dollar to be a hypocrite, I can decide that all of my money goes to charity, or at the very least, that none of it goes to THQ or to the Humble Bundle.

There’s DRM.

Oh, that’s a deal-breaker for me. If I paid for a game, I expect that I won’t have trouble trying to run it, and DRM is nothing but an impediment. Even if I want to try to play Windows games on my Linux-based system through Wine, paying for DRM is paying for me to have a tougher time. I don’t care how good you think the games are. The hassle is not worth it to me, and I don’t support such a draconian practice if I can help it. And I can help it here by not purchasing. I vote with my dollars by not being a hypocrite.

These are Windows-only games

Also a deal-breaker for me. If I have to reboot into Windows to play, I’m not likely to do it these days. I rarely have to use Windows, and I’m not paying for the privilege of encouraging me to do so. If I can’t play on a platform that is convenient for me, it’s a problem. It’s hard enough getting my older games to play on my modern system. I’m not interested in paying for more difficulty with simply getting the game to work.

As a GNU/Linux user, my experience is likely different from a Windows-based user’s, but I hope you can see that these aren’t irrational arguments against the newest bundle. You might think it is irrational for me to expect to play games when I use a Linux-based system, but see, that’s the thing. The Humble Bundle was responsible for many indies making their games available for me. I didn’t care if the latest major first-person shooter involving World War II or space marines wasn’t available for me to play. I did care that games such as Braid, World of Goo, and Gratuitous Space Battles were available. The latter game would NOT run in Wine, and cliffski has made it clear that he didn’t care much about Linux before. Since Humble Indie Bundles required that you supported Windows, Mac, and Linux, I’m grateful that I could finally play his amazing and innovative game.

Since I can’t play THQ’s games without encouraging DRM and a lot of effort, I’m not going to support this latest Humble Bundle. It would be irrational and hypocritical of me to do otherwise.

What’s your take? Do you find this latest bundle to be a good development?

LD24: Evolution Game Post Mortem #LD48

My last few Ludum Dare entries have missed the main compo deadline and had to be submitted to the Jam, but my entry for Ludum Dare #24 was finished in time to get judged along with the other 1,000+ entries. That was a big win for me, since my game development in general has felt quite slow.

The theme for LD24 was Evolution, which always makes it to the final round and has never won as a theme until now. I ended up creating a simplistic side-scrolling shooter. It definitely wasn’t my best entry, but health problems made it difficult to do better in the 48 hours.

What Went Right

  1. Leveraging existing tech

    Since LD#18 (“Enemies as Weapons”), I’ve been slowly building up a game engine for Stop That Hero!, my casual strategy game that lets you summon minions to fight heroes who want to put a stop to your evil empire. As I am using test-driven development to work on that game, I ended up with code that is relatively loosely coupled and cohesive. It was quite simple to gut out the STH! parts and leave behind a way for me to immediately create a menu, game play screen, and ending. Instead of spending the first six or twelve hours trying to get an SDL window to shut down properly, I could concentrate on more important things.

    My engine isn’t super powerful. People using Unity or Flash had a huge advantage since so many components are fully-formed and well-designed. Still, I had code that I was able to use in multiple games, and I knew how to use it. I was able to put together my game fairly rapidly.

  2. Better familiarity with tools

    My art program of choice is GIMP. While I’ve been known to doodle on paper since I was a child, I haven’t been very practiced with pixel art or image manipulation. I don’t know how to do 3D modeling very well, but if I did, I would use Blender.

    Over the years, I’ve learned how to use GIMP to create some decently functional art and ads. Selecting shapes, making use of layers, and knowing how to manipulate color goes a long way. What I create is not production-quality, but it works for an LD48.

    Evolution Game Play

    Sound effects were made using DrPetter’s sfxr. Even though it is really easy to use if you just want to generate random sound effects, knowing how the various parameters can be tweaked helps a lot in getting an effect to sound just right.

  3. Iterating fairly well

    My biggest victory came from iterating, even if I could have approached it more intelligently.

    After working out some ideas on paper, I had a basic design for a shooter.

    Initial Design of Evolution game for LD#24

    I wanted the controls to be simple. I came up with some different ways for how enemies would evolve, as well as ways the player’s tank might evolve.

    I wanted different kinds of enemies that came in different sizes, used different movement patterns, and attacked the player in different ways. I even had an idea for a boss character.

    Design Notes of Evolution game for LD#24

    I also thought of Evolutionary Upgrades, aka Power-ups, for the player. Some impacted the tank’s weaponry, such as a spread gun or homing missiles, while others affected the tank’s size or armor.

    Design Notes of Evolution game for LD#24

    Once I had an idea of the kind of game I wanted, I set to work. My initial list of tasks:

    – get the player’s character in the game
    – make it controllable
    – add obstacles (most likely boulders)
    – make collisions between the player and obstacles deadly
    – add an enemy
    – create a wave of enemies
    – create a way to modify the wave of enemies so each enemy evolves in some way

    First, I got a scrolling background. In hindsight, maybe this part could have been left until later. My next goal was to get a controllable tank on the screen, complete with the ability to fire bullets. Having something controllable that early meant that throughout the development of the rest of the game, I could get a feel for the controls. As the game came together, the tank’s controls were updated a few times. I originally had the tank’s movement a bit slow to accelerate, as switching a tank’s directions is probably really hard, but I found it was more annoying than fun. It felt too sluggish. I made it more responsive in the end, and it was better for it.

    Next, I added boulders, followed up with collision detection between the tank and boulders. Now tanks have to avoid obstacles, making the side-scrolling environment a bit more maze-like. In terms of the theme, however, perhaps these obstacles were not the best thing to add earlier, although I did have plans for enemies to interact with boulders by pushing them toward the player if they collided with them.

    Finally, I added killable enemies. The enemy was pretty basic. It moved in a straight line toward the player, didn’t attack, and moved through boulders.

    I realized that I was not going to get all of the enemy types and upgrades in, so I focused on making sure what I had was as finished as I could make it. I added enemy waves, which added more enemies and made them harder to kill as the player progressed. I added a score so you could see how well you’re doing, and I even had time to make some points visibly pop up when you kill an enemy. That last bit was a small aesthetic change, but I think it polished the game up quite nicely. Great bang for buck.

    Now, there are some things I spent time on that I could probably have left until later. The scrolling background wasn’t really necessary, was it? And the enemies were supposed to be the main focus of the design, so why did I work on boulders first? I definitely could have prioritized much better.

    Still, what’s key here is what I didn’t spend time on. I didn’t spend time making tank upgrades, which is good because I didn’t have a need to upgrade the tank. I didn’t spend time making lots of enemy types, which is good because I didn’t have the time to intelligently figure out how they should be introduced. I didn’t spend time to figure out boulder/entity interaction, which is good because who knows if it would have added anything?

    By getting something playable and iterating, I was in a position to reduce scope to finish the game by deadline. Along the way, I almost always had something playable that I could submit by the deadline.

What Went Wrong

  1. Dealing with Back Pain
  2. Shortly before the theme was announced, I was working to get the next release of my casual strategy game Stop That Hero! out the door. Between that project and my responsibilities as President of the Association of Software Professionals, I was sitting at my desk a lot, and it was taking its toll on me. I could feel some tightness in my hip, and so I decided to try to setup my environment so I was standing more.

    I placed a container under my keyboard, and it was raised to the perfect height to let me stand while I work. Everything was great, until I had to use the mouse for some reason, which was still on the desk. I leaned to the right to reach for it, and I didn’t realize I was going to be mousing like that for long. Standing in such an awkward way, coupled with the tightness I was experiencing from sitting for so long for days on end, I ended up with some very, very annoying back pain.

    The Friday before the compo, I went to a massage therapist since I figured it was just tightness that needed to be massaged away. After the compo, I went to a chiropractor because it clearly wasn’t getting better and in fact felt worse.

    But during the compo, I was taking a lot of breaks. I could sit or stand for a period of time, but when the pain started getting distracting, I’d go lie down on my back for a time before I could start working again.

    I lost a lot of productivity to that pain, and I’m still recovering from whatever happened to cause it.

  3. Being Uncool

    My entry didn’t get a rating. It seems that in the time since my last LD, there was a change that if you don’t have a high enough cool rating, you don’t get a listed rating. As I was a bit busy and couldn’t dedicate the time to reviewing other games post-compo, I didn’t get many reviews done. Reviews translate into coolness. With over 1,000 entries, people aren’t expected to review everyone’s games, but there is an expected minimum you should rate. I rated a few immediately after the competition, but between not being able to play Unity-based games and having other priorities, I didn’t get back to it. My only listed rating is Coolness, and I was ranked #986 with a rating of 22% cool.

    There were quite a few 100% Coolness ratings, and those people are awesome. Or they just have a lot of time. Either way, I’m glad they exist.

  4. Doing a poor job of including the theme

    Evolution is always a contender for the finals of theme selection, and I was caught off-guard when it actually won.

    I could have tried to design something involving random genetic changes in entities and seeing which one adapts better to changing circumstances, but it sounded too obvious and also too open-ended. I wanted to try to keep my entry simple and straight-forward since I wanted to submit an entry to the compo instead of the Jam.

    While I had some design notes that I called “evolution,” such as tweaking variables to create new enemy behaviors and types, it really wasn’t evolving so much as creating variations, the kind of thing you’d see in any shooter and most games in general.

    Perhaps I should have thrown a few more ideas at the wall before settling on this side-scrolling shooter. My wife suggested the idea of an “evolving door” which has the benefit of being pun-tastic, but I couldn’t find a good way to incorporate it into my existing design. Judging by the variety of entries, I could have been a bit more creative.

What I Learned

  1. Iterate like you mean it. This is where Agile software development experience really comes into play. If you can create the simplest bit of value, and then build on it, you’re going to ship. If instead you build up scaffolding code to prepare to provide some unknown, vague value, you’re probably going to get mired in delays.

    In previous competitions, I’ve found that I didn’t introduce basic interactivity until a bunch of other things were ready, and I’ve suffered as a result. By getting something player-controllable right away, I was able to not only get a game around it much more quickly, but I was also able to make small changes to the controls until it felt right.

  2. Having good tools and knowing how to use them is great for productivity. To iterate quickly, you need to be able to produce functionality quickly.

    I used to try to create decent art, but between not having much practice and not being familiar with GIMP, I would spend way too much time on art, and in the end, it still looked really bad. I wasn’t getting the return on investment.

    Now, my art skills are still not production-quality, but they are passable, and I am able to create decent programmer art in minutes when it used to take me hours.

    Also, experience counts in general. I write way better code today than I did just a few years ago, and I do so much faster. I terrify myself when I look back on earlier Ludum Dare compos and read through my code.

  3. I need to take care of myself. Up until the compo, I had been doing yoga and taking regular walks. However, poor posture in front of the computer and sitting for way too many hours at a time in those postures did me in. It’s over a month later, and I’m just now feeling fine enough to start stretching and taking walks again. Maybe I need to seriously investigate the standing desk option and even look into a much better office chair.

Summary

If I could do LD#24 over again, what would I do differently? I’d spend more time upfront trying to create a design better suited for the theme that is also simple enough for me to make. I’d make sure my list of tasks was prioritized so that at all times I was working on implementing something that served the core design. And I’d make sure that I had set aside time after the compo and Jam to rate other games. People worked hard on their entries, and with over a thousand of them submitted, it’s unfortunately easy to get buried. I think the coolness rating does a great job of making things fair, and the name is perfect. I want to be cooler next time.

Being able to get a game submitted is still a great feeling, though. In 48 hours, I created a game where there once wasn’t one. Next time, I should hopefully be healthier and able to focus more on game development, and my next entry should be not only minimally complete, but actually enjoyable to play. I’m still aiming for getting #1 in the Overall category, and while it feels like I’m a long way away from challenging other entrants for that position, I’m definitely way closer than I was when I was participating in LD#11 four years ago.

How did your LD#24 go?

Why Indies Rule: An FTL Purchase Mistake

Years ago, I had a girlfriend who loved The Sims. She had the original game, plus a bunch of expansions. It represented quite a financial investment at a few hundred dollars.

Then she got a Mac when her PC died. Fortunately, The Sims has a Mac port.

Unfortunately, EA didn’t do the Mac port, and she was told that she would have to repurchase the game and the expansions for the Mac if she wanted to be able to play on her new computer.

Suffice it to say, she decided not to go that route.

Another time, I purchased a copy of an Activision game through a used music store. When I got home, I found out that the game needed a key, and apparently my used copy didn’t have a key. Activision’s support said they couldn’t provide another, so I was apparently out of luck. Now, say what you want about whether or not buying the game used was a smart thing to do in the first place, but the point was that I bought a game and couldn’t play it.

Fast-forward to today. I’ve been seeing some great reports about the game FTL, a space-based roguelike by Subset Games. They had a successful Kickstarter campaign, did well in the IGF, and seem to have quite a fan-base. Jay Barnson mentioned FTL in his Innovation Spotlight series, and they’ve gotten quite a bit of press elsewhere, too.

And then on Google+, I’ve seen a few screenshots, and so I decided to get it myself.

I saw that they offer a few ways to purchase the game. You could buy it on the site directly, through Steam, or through GOG.com.

As Steam isn’t available for Linux yet, I opted to buy through GOG, as I have a bit of a library on that site, and I liked the idea that I could download it anytime I wanted.

Unfortunately, as soon as I submitted my purchase, I realized my mistake. While FTL is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, GOG only provides the Windows version.

Nooooooooooooooooo! And I wasn’t the only one who made that mistake, based on this thread on the GOG forums: Request for GOG: Linux+Mac versions as extra

So what could I do?

Well, rather than cancel my purchase, I emailed the developers directly. I explained that I made a mistake and wondered if I would be able to get access to the Linux version. I thought that the worst that could happen is that I’d have to cancel my purchase through GOG and repurchase through the FTL site, but maybe there wouldn’t be a need for such ceremony.

The next morning, I woke up to find an email from one of the developers, who provided a link to get the Linux version.

w00t! Indies rule!

This is the kind of simple yet great service that indies can easily provide.

And so this first FTL death is dedicated to Subset Games:

My First FTL Game Over

Thanks!

Do you have any stories about great service from indie game developers?

Support Deirdra Kiai’s Pamplemousse

While Kickstarter gets a lot of the press, there are other crowd-sourcing platforms that are friendlier to people outside of the United States.

Canadian game developer Deirdra Kiai, creator of The Play and Life Flash By, has a campaign for a fun project on IndieGoGo called Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!”.

Kiai describes the project as a “stop motion musical detective adventure” and has provided a few behind-the-scenes posts describing how she creates the stop motion puppets and music. There’s even an early Pamplemousse demo available.

Here’s the video introducing the project and explaining why you should pledge to support it:

Dominique Pamplemousse Pitch Video from Deirdra Kiai on Vimeo.

Pledging just $5 gets you a copy of the game when it is complete, and there are quite a few perks at different pledge levels, such as getting your name in the credits, a model of your head in the style of the game characters, a puppet from the game, and even a short film of the characters singing and dancing to the song of your choice.

As of this writing, the project is a little over 30% funded with 16 days left to go. Pledge at least $1 to help get this project fully funded.

The Localization of Zelda

Thanks to a Google+ post by Brian Green, I spent part of last night reading through Legends of Localization: The Legend of Zelda.

It’s a fascinating breakdown of the differences between the NES and Famicon Disk System versions of The Legend of Zelda. I had no idea that that the Famicon had a microphone on the second controller or that the audio capabilities of the systems were so different.

I also realized that it has been so long since I have played the game that I’ve forgotten some of the strange text and secrets.

The author has done a few other comparisons, including Earthbound, Super Mario Bros, and Final Fantasy IV, or as those of us who grew up in the US called it, Final Fantasy II.

Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Try to Create a Kickstarter Campaign

Kickstarter

Before Double Fine had their really successful campaign and seemingly everyone thought Kickstarter was suddenly this brilliant way to raise money for indie games, I looked into it.

As development continued on Stop That Hero!, I worried about continuing to fund it with my savings before I actually ran out. I was aware of Kickstarter, since I backed Addicube and most recently Bhaloidam by Corvus Elrod, and I also backed Anthony Salter’s Inaria on 8-bit Funding. All of which were successfully funded, by the way, and I’m proud to have been a part of the reason why.

It seemed to make sense that a relatively unknown indie project could expect to get at least a little bit of funding to help make a game a reality, and I figured a Kickstarter campaign for Stop That Hero! would be an excellent way to experiment with crowdsourced funding.

I figured that I should look up how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, and I found a lot of good information. Unfortunately, what I learned is that running a Kickstarter campaign is a lot of work, and that means dedicating time to it, and that means I’d be dedicating time away from the project I really want to work on.

Having to spend time on backer award, a high quality video trailer explaining the campaign, and finding people to fund the project? If I had dedicated marketing staff, sure, but I don’t. Plus, I clearly underestimated my budget needs for this project as it is, and I would need to ensure I knew how much to ask for so that I didn’t end up being underfunded. I’d also want to ensure that the requested funds were realistic. I’m not going to be getting millions of dollars for my project, and if I asked for that much, it means a high likelihood that the campaign itself will fail and so I’d lose access to the money that actually gets pledged.

Recently, I read an article on The Ugly Side of Kickstarter, and while the title makes it sound like it exposed some seedy underbelly of crowdsourced funding, the reality is that they’ve found what I found: that a Kickstarter campaign requires a lot of work and isn’t some magic money-making machine.

Basically, my takeaway with my own investigation was that Kickstarter campaigns are fantastic if you have the time, the marketing ability or star power, and a really good reason for it. It’s great for backers to feel some ownership in the development process and for developers to get a great marketing outlet and potential customers.

But I definitely wasn’t going to launch a Kickstarter campaign when I didn’t plan for it in the first place. Perhaps for a future project, but not as an afterthought. No one benefits from a half-assed Kickstarter campaign, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to put together a full-assed one in the time I could spare for it.

Have you looked into Kickstarter, 8-bit funding, or similar crowdsourced funding sites to fund your indie game? Have you backed any projects? How was your experience?

Do You Have $9 to Kickstart Bhaloidam?

Corvus Elrod of Semionaut’s Notebook fame is doing something big: he’s pursuing his dream.

Corvus has done more involving story and play than anyone else I know. He has a wealth of knowledge about games, story, play, and community. He’s worked for decades exploring various aspects of “participatory storytelling,” and he talks about the meaning of game mechanics in his Notebook, among other topics. On his old blog, he hosted the Bloggers of the Round Table, which always had fascinating, thoughtful posts on all sorts of topics related to games. Every time I interact with him, I feel privileged because I always come away with a new idea or thought.

So it is with pleasure that I ask you to pledge to fund his current project, Bhaloidam.

What is Bhaloidam? It’s an open and accessible storytelling platform, but Corvus can explain it better than I can in this short video:

I could say it is like a powerful yet intuitive Dungeons and Dragons, but it is much more than a role-playing game system, and I would be doing Corvus a disservice.

Bhaloidam is the expression of my belief in the power of story and play and my belief in the importance of our communities.

If you want to see Bhaloidam in action and get a feel for it yourself, you can schedule an online game play demo.

The Kickstarter project is, at the time of this writing, 60% funded, but there’s only a week left to get the remaining 40%. Do you have $9 to pledge?

Bhaloidam is the culmination of all my creative, philosophical, spiritual, and intellectual, personal, and professional pursuits. It allows me to be an actor, a cartoonist, a computer animator, a writer, a director, a web designer, a storyteller, and while it doesn’t allow me to be an architect, the application of mathematics to creative expression scratches what I imagine is much the same itch.

So, Bhaloidam (both as a storytelling platform and a philosophy) is it for me. I am Bhaloidam. Along the way I’m sure to design more games (In fact, I’ve three in the works), but it’s Bhaloidam that lies at the heart of my career. It’s Bhaloidam that reflects not only who I am, but who I have been and who I want to be.

You can read more at the official Bhaloidam site. With a $9 pledge, you can help make Bhaloidam happen, and you’ll get an electronic copy of the 72-page, full-color, comic-format Bhaloidam handbook. For $9 more, you’ll get a printed copy.

There are also many other options available at different perk levels. For $45, for example, you’ll get the “skein pack”, which includes 1 printed copy of the Bhaloidam handbook, 4 Lifewheels, set of 360 tokens, 4 timing track pawns, and a set of 3 custom dice. You can also choose to give it to a friend as a gift.

So I’d like to ask you to do two things:

  1. Pledge at least $9 to fund Bhaloidam. There are 12 different perk levels, from the basic ebook to the $900 “Storyteller Special.”
  2. Tell at least one other person about Bhaloidam. Send them to the Bhaloidam site, tell them about the Bhaloidam Kickstarter project, and invite them to the online game play demos Corvus is hosting.

Let’s get Bhaloidam completely funded!

Getting Used to Accepting Payments

According to my git repository, yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the start of my first major commerical game project, Stop That Hero!.

I’m not celebrating because it’s not a good milestone to hit. I didn’t know how long it would be to take the Ludum Dare #18 prototype and make it into a full commercial-quality game, but I did not expect it to take a year. In fact, when the 2010 Ludum Dare October Challenge was announced, I thought a month sounded like a good time period. If it took three days to prototype the game, surely four weeks would be plenty of time to polish it up and release it.

Tomorrow is October 1st and the 2011 Ludum Dare October Challenge (even though an announcement went out saying that it started already), and I was hoping to have the game released before then. In fact, I thought I would have something released by today, but there were some AI issues I tackled last week that I’m still working on.

But eventually I am going to release my game, and I realized that I have never accepted payments for a video game before. Until last month, I wasn’t even registered with a payment processor.

So last night, I posted a few pre-order forms on the Stop That Hero! website. If you want to get the game when it is released for Windows, Linux, or Mac, you can reserve your copy of the game now.

In posting the pre-order, I realized I made a big step. I had some nervousness, partly because I’m selling a game that isn’t released yet, and partly because I’m asking for payment. I’ve never done it before.

It’s possible that no one will care, that no one will even click on the links to buy, but that’s not the point. The point was that I decided to ask people to do so in the first place.

You can’t make money without asking for it, and I decided that until the game is released, the worst-case is that no one bothers to pay me for it. But if I don’t ask for pre-orders, then there is a 100% chance that I won’t get paid anyway.

I’ve taken a step to change that certainty into a possibility, and it’s one of those moments that makes you feel good to run your own business. I don’t have to accept circumstances. I can take action to change them.

In this case, my game is taking longer than expected to make, and I could decide that it means delaying the possibility of sales until the game is released, but I could also try something to see how it goes. The worst case is that it has no effect, that no one will reserve their copy of the game, but there’s a potential now for a lot of upside.

And now I’ll get back to work. Eventually any pre-orders have to get fulfilled with a real game, and I’d like that to be before the end of another month.