Release of “Hello, Alien!” – For real this time

So, now the “Open-Beta” has ended, and “Hello, Alien!” is ‘finished’. Or at least, development on it has stopped for now (except for bugfixes of course).

What if you make a game, and nobody shows up?

“Open-Beta” went relatively…. well, let’s not say bad… we’ll just call it underwhelming. The same holds true for the October Challenge. Apparently nobody will show up to a party, if you don’t tell anybody. (Who knew, right?)

At least we can boast 207 views and 38 downloads. (While nearly all of the traffic comes from, the only other site I’ve posted about the game.)

I just understood the importance of marketing. The next step will be to try and get the word out. I’ll have to investigate on some good ways to get some people’s attention. I heard twitter is good at those things…

In other news

We are currently working on a small game started for the MiniLD #55 last weekend. Just testing out some things I usually neglect (trying out some nice shaders) and it seems like it will finally be playable in the browser (rejoice). I just hope we finish in time before LudumDare #31 will start this weekend. Also let’s hope the theme won’t be .


What makes a game fun to watch?

There was a game jam last weekend, ‘Indies VS PewDiePie‘, with the theme ‘Fun to play, fun to watch’. But, isn’t a game that’s fun to play automatically fun to watch?

This was supposed to be a post about why a game that is fun to play is not automatically fun to watch, but the more I wrote, the more I contradicted myself, and it started to make less and less sense. I suddenly came to the conclusion: Yes, everything that makes a game fun to play, also makes it more fun overall: avoiding repetition, having a good story, giving a lot of feedback to player actions (making a game “juicy“) and having great depth. But there are other factors that are important when watching someone play a game.

Silent Let’s Play of Tetris anyone?

What’s really important are the circumstances under which you watch a game. Are you watching a speedrun or flawless run or somebody playing it for the first time? Is there any commentary or is it just the game? Are you watching live and in person or are you watching a video/stream? Why are you watching? For the music? Some gameplay tips? Or do you simply want to have a laugh? All this things determine how the game is perceived.

An example: You are playing Portal 1 at home for the first time with a friend watching, and that friend has already played through the game. He is watching you struggle to do a puzzle, and he is trying to be a smart-ass offer his help, but you are refusing, because you want to find out the solution yourself. This makes it frustrating for both the player and the observer. (Not that anything similar has ever actually happened to me.) But watching a Portal speedrun, is just mind-blowing.

Also playing Guitar Hero with your friends is a lot of fun [citation needed], but when you watch a video of somebody playing a song flawlessly without any commentary, you could just watch your media player for similar effect. But when all you want is listening to the music, then it’s probably fine for you.

There is more?

Still, there are some factors that make some games exceedingly good games for “Let’s play” material.

  • Randomization: How do you ensure that there won’t be much repetition, and every playthrough will be different? Through high amounts of randomization! Rogue-like(-like)s are great when it comes to doing Let’s Plays, as every run will be different, meaning you can be sure to always see something new and unexpected. Other games, on the other hand, achieve the same effect with a neverending flood of player created content.
  • Absurdity: When a game is different, unique or simply absurd in any way. This can be story wise or gameplay wise. When there is something unique or silly, this makes not necesarilly a good game, but gives a lot of potential for funny commentary. This is essentially what PewDiePie got big with.
  • Depth: When there are a lot of options and possibilites available to the player then it’s really interesting to see what pro players do in certain situations. Or seeing how new players get crushed completely.
  • Competition: Watching humans playing against other humans instead of AI adds a whole new meta-layer to everything. People can cheer for the side they like most and fanbases can develop. The players can become even more important then the actual games they are playing. This is true for e-sports as much as for regular sport. This is the reason why there are millions of people watching other people play Football or DotA.

Does every heading have to be a question?

I think, that for #indiesvspewdiepie one of the most absurd games will probably win.

I wanted to participate in that game jam myself, but unfortunately, inspiration had not struck and I also had a lot of other things to do.

Having said all that, great commentary can make even the most boring gameplay video interesting. Even watching someone die for the 1000th time at the same place can become entertaining.


October Challenge Completed (more or less)

We just released our first game, Hello Alien! on the store. It’s totally free and it’s available for Windows, Linux, OS X and Android.


Open Betas are cool

However, as you might have noticed, we “released” it in an open beta mode.

It is functionally complete. Yes.

But some things look weird, the controls are difficult and there are not many levels. There simply wasn’t enough time to polish everything to the level I would have liked. Therefore it will be in an open beta phase during November. This gives us more time to continue improving it and incorporate user feedback. By the end of November it will be released for good, and we will hopefully have something we can be (even more) proud of.


First step done

Now that we have created and published our game, we’re just gonna wait until the money rolls in. No, but seriously, to succesfully complete the October Challenge, we still have to make a dollar. And I personally think that’s already pretty optimistic, but we will see how that goes.


Android and the Google Play Store

First tests on a real device

I finally have an android device for testing our game on android. It took a while until I found these instructions on how to enable USB debugging and get your computer to recognize the phone correctly. However, after that, deploying and debugging on the device worked like a breeze, thanks to LibGDX and IntelliJ.

It works surprisingly well and dragging stuff around has a good feel to it. But developing for such a small screen provides additional challenges. The UI will have to be adapted to make everything easier to see and touch. On the other hand it’s fun to play around with features like the accelerometer.

No PlayStore Developer

Last weekend we tried to officially become Google Play Store Developers, to be able to distribute our game over the Play Store. The biggest hurdle to overcome is paying the 25$ entry fee, before you can call yourself a proper (Google Play Store) Developer. The problem isn’t getting the 25$, but paying them to Google. Especially when you have no credit card…

The payment has to be made with Google Wallet, and they only accept credit cards. We tried it with a pre-paid credit card, called cash4web. They claim to work everywhere where you can pay with mastercard. Unfortunately it doesn’t work. So this dream is stopped for now, until we have a credit card.

Plan B

We will still publish a desktop and an android version of the game. We will probably provide an .apk for download, and people will have to manually download and install it. But we will worry about the details later.

Since the Play Store is ruled out for now as a distribution platform, we will have to search for an alternative. One store front I had on my radar for a while, but never really checked out is is a great marketplace full of independent games and game developers, so I think this will be a great place to start. And most importantly, they have no entry fee.


Beginning of October

It’s been a while now that October has begun. “So, what’s so special about October?”, you might ask. Well, it is the time for the October Challenge, duh! “So, what’s the October Challenge?”, is your instinctive follow-up question.

Hobby VS Profession

Well, October Challenge is about bringing a game to the market (making it publicly available) and earning at least 1$ from it. October Challenge isn’t about making a game, it also isn’t primarily about earning money but instead it’s about becoming a professional. Not all of a sudden, but making the first step. What differentiates a hobby game developer from a professional game developer? One makes (hopefully) enough money to live from it, the other doesn’t.

I now have been a hobby game developer for some time and sometimes I dream of becoming a professional. But on other days I fear becoming a professional. The problem simply is, when you do something as a hobby, you can do it whenever you want as much as you feel like. But as soon as you go (full-time, independent) professional, you HAVE to do it, if you feel like it or not, otherwise you won’t earn any money to be able to pay your food and rent. This simply drains fun from the experience and can put someone under unbelievable pressure.

The benefits of not being a professional

Being a hobby game developer has so many advantages. You can not work on something for a while, if you don’t feel like it. You can create all the things you want, without having to worry about focus groups or marketing strategies. Heck, you can produce shit games and nobody will complain. You can give things away for free and never have to worry about DRM or pirating. It just gives you so much freedom.

The benefits of being a professional

Of course it isn’t all rainbows and lollipops. Doing this as a hobby forces you to have to work on something else to earn money, meaning that you will have less time to work on your games, resulting in less games or lower quality games. Being a professional simply gives you more resources (time and financial), given you manage to do well.

Back to reality

As confucius once (might have) said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The only question is, if something remains fun after you have made it your job. But you can never find it out, if you have never given it a try, therefore becoming a professional is still a desirable goal.

But first, I would have to create something I feel like I can charge other people something for, without feeling like ripping them off. I never felt like charging someone for something I made. I make games mostly for myself for fun and for the learning experience. I hardly consider them absolutely great and I’m happy if someone is checking them out. I also refrain from putting ads in my games, because I also hate them being in games I play.

That’s why I will try to earn my dollar for october through donations. I will put up an improved version of my LD30 entry, ‘Hello, Alien!‘, to download for free on the play store and will set up a donations button for people to support the developers. I like the idea of letting the customers decide what something is worth to them and giving them the power to support what they like.

And maybe, just maybe, I will have earned one dollar by the end of the year.

I will call that a success.


Ludum Dare 30 Aftermath

Ludum Dare 30 ended and the results are in! And we did BETTER THAN EXPECTED, at least better than I expected. Woot! Out of 1045 jam entries, our game Hello, Alien! scored surprisingly well:

Position Category Rating Relative Position (from Top)
#23 Fun(Jam) 4.02 2%
#39 Humor(Jam) 3.82 4%
#47 Overall(Jam) 3.94 4%
#57 Theme(Jam) 3.90 5%
#106 Innovation(Jam) 3.62 10%
#154 Audio(Jam) 3.55 15%
#175 Mood(Jam) 3.51 17%
#295 Graphics(Jam) 3.58 28%

This are the best results of any Ludum Dare I’ve entered yet. Our game seems to be a really fun(ny) experience! Big thanks go to Florian Kager, because he did a great job creating the music/audio for the game. I still can’t believe it, I’m utterly happy that people seem to like what we are doing!

Another reason to celebrate: We published the first revised Post-Compo version, with old bugs fixed, new bugs introduced, three new levels and finally a (hopefully) not sucking way to rotate objects.

Next goal will be bringing ‘Hello, Alien!’ to a mobile device and I really want to add more levels and more ways to manipulate the laser.


Ludum Dare 30 – Hello, Alien! – Post Mortem

This Ludum Dare we created a little puzzle game, which we called ‘Hello, Alien!’ and you can go play it here.

Gameplay of Hello, Alien!

About the game:

The aliens have been living happily in their connected galaxies, until an asteroid storm disconnected their interplanetary connection based on laser satellite technology. Help them to restore their connection, by using mirrors, splitters and bombs.

The good things that happened:

  • LAZORZS! The laser effects turned out to be pretty neat, and it’s really fun just playing around with the lasers. (Thanks to this laser creation guide.)
  • Artstyle: I tried out various artstyles and came to the conclusion, that pixelart is what I suck the least at. So, I’m happy I decided to create pixelart and stuck with it.
  • Teamwork: Although Florian (Sound and Music guy) had a lot of other things going during the weekend, he managed to create some sweet music and sound-effects, so that I could focus on other tasks. We had a pretty fast feedback-loop so that iterations over created assets were quick and painless.
  • Dropping the lose condition: In the first versions of the game, you would lose the level when you grilled those nice aliens and you had to restart the level, undoing all your hard work. But killing the aliens is the most fun part! And it’s a god damn puzzle game, there is no need to ‘lose’ the level. There are states of the level that mean the level is solved, and everything else just means it isn’t solved yet. On the other hand it will certainly make sense to add some sort of element that the laser isn’t allowed to hit, before the level counts as solved. But it shouldn’t need a complete level restart, just some repositioning of the necessary game elements.

The bad things that happened:

  • Unnecessary (Failed) Optimizing: I wasted some hours reworking (“optimizing”) the laser raytracing code just to fail at one small bug. It turned out the first sloppy code was good enough in the end.
  • Last minute level design: I created some levels during the second day, but a lot of the third day was spent refining them as tutorial levels. The last hour before submission was used to quickly create more ‘non’-tutorial levels, and were quite hastily put together.
  • Level Editor Lacking Usability: Also the editor for creating the levels was made during the weekend, and some features were really clunky to use and/or not fully implemented. So creating levels was a really tiresome progress. This further slowed down the ability to create more levels for the game.
  • Did not finish art assets: I did not manage to rework all the graphics for the final version, so the planets and buttons don’t quite fit aesthetically into the rest of the game.

Ludum Dare was certainly a fun experience and gave us the feeling of actually having accomplished something (even if not much).

So, the next thing we will do, is to polish our Ludum Dare entry and add all the features we would have liked to add. For the post-compo version, we would also like to get it on Android, because we figured, it would make a neat mobile game.


Get ready for LUDUM DARE Edition 30

*Hype Intensifies*

Get hyped

Soon Ludum Dare 30 is going to start, and we totally intend to participate. (Even when the theme is going to suck.)

Tools we’ll be using:

Any other projects will be put on hold during this weekend, because Ludum Dare takes top priority.

Taking showers? What is that?
Eating? I’ll live from what I find between my keyboard keys. (most certainly Ramen noodles)
Sleep? Ain’t nobody got time for that! I got to create a game!
-an average Ludum Dare participant

Our goal will be to have fun and to create something that is also fun. Maybe trying out some new things along the way. And maybe, with a little bit of luck, we will even be able to call it a game.


Recording your game: Advise to GIF away

Progress on the game was relatively slow in the last couple of weeks. I hardly managed to get myself to do something for it.

But still, I managed to add at least some content, like new special bombs and a screen transition effect.

Then I wanted to create some GIFs to show off some new content. Simple, right? WRONG!

GIF away your sanity

It turns out creating a GIF in reasonable quality/framerate/file size is near impossible. I tried out several programs, online services and tool-chains, but no solution really works without some drawbacks or workarounds. So, for a short duration I stepped into the hell that is known as video encoding formats, video editing softwares and screen recording softwares. And this is the conclusion I came to. (Besides that my computer is not fast enough to record and play a game at 60 fps)

There are many ways you can go about this issue, but every solution fulfills another requirement:

  • Use a time-lapse program to capture screenshots of your display at an intervall. Edit and modify every single picture and convert it into a GIF or video with some other tool.
    • Good for making timelapses of your work
    • Bad for recording game footage as screenshot intervals unlikely go beyond 1 fps
  • Use a screen recording program to record a video, edit it with a video editing software and later convert your video into a GIF.
    • Good for making actual (gameplay) videos (skipping the ‘convert to GIF’ part)
      • Software recommended for recording: Open Broadcaster Software
      • Software recommended for video editing: None (Please, if you know of any great video editing software that’s free, tell me right away)
    • Nearly ensures horrible quality while maintaining an immense file size. (Wonderful combination, right?)
  • Use a screen capturing program that records directly to a GIF.
    • Good for creating short GIFs of your games gameplay
      • Software recommended: GifCam
    • Still not the best quality (hey, what did you expect, it’s gif) and often only supports recording for short timespans.

(honorable mention for editing GIFs:

Although I found some new and interesting software, I’m sure this won’t be the last time I will have to struggle with this. Next time, I’ll probably just go with WebM and hope that it already replaced GIF…

The part everyone was waiting for

So here are some animated gifs (created with GifCam) showing some new features in action.

Too much power can easily backfire    Oh, what is that?

Tactical Warfare   Let's play 'Catch the dynamite'


Player Motivation in Below Earth

My first plan for Below Earth was, to procedurally generate levels, and generate different set of levels the further you advance. Quite similar to Spelunky‘s level system. But since I didn’t have much content I made a prototype with only one type of random generated levels to test it. But there was no motivation to explore levels or engage enemies, as all levels seemed similar and the only goal was to get a high score. And score doesn’t mean anything, if you don’t have any global or friend leaderboards ready and an interesting mechanic for amassing points like combos or chains. Just making a counter go up is (most of the time) not something you feel motivated to do.

In Spelunky on the other hand, you have a set amount of levels and you can find items and collect gold to buy even more items at the shops. This way exploring the level becomes a viable option. So you have to decide if you want to risk fighting against that enemy to maybe find some item or gold or leave it and try to advance further. But for Below Earth I didn’t want to have shops and lots of items. I wanted to keep the scope small (considering it’s a Ludum Dare entry), so I had to find a way to make it engaging despite it being limited in complexity.

That’s why I switched to a fixed amount of hand-crafted levels. Of course this would also be possible with generated levels, but hand-crafted levels are faster to get good results with. So the new goal for players was to advance to new levels to see what new content and what new situations await at the next level. I also thought keeping the score system was a good idea back then, but in hindsight it only felt slapped onto the rest of the game, as score only played a secondary role. There still were no leaderboards or combo system, so your score was essentially the amounts of enemies you killed. Not interesting.

So either you go the arcade-y point centric system of player motivation all the way, or don’t go it at all. One recent example would be Bastion, as it has a separate story mode and score-attack mode. In story mode, there is absolutely no score system to distract you, it’s just pure story. In score-attack mode it’s all about piling up points, the current score is permanently displayed on the screen, there are combo systems in place and after every level you can compare your performance to the global or friend-wide leaderboards. That’s score done right.

Finding the right way to motivate your player can be pretty tough. For the Below Earth post compo version I’m planning to completely drop the score system and instead rely on advancing levels, boss fights and maybe some items as player motivation. Speedrun leaderboards could be an alternative to the score system.