Exodus No Longer! Long Live Archive!

It has been a busy week!

Probably the biggest change made this week is our name. Exodus, Escape the Galactic Plane has been rechristened Archive, Memoria Technica.

The reasons for the name change are varied, but most critically was my finding a game on Greenlight called Exodus. . .

I like the new name a lot, as it relates to several elements of the game, and the narrative’s themes. The fact that it is more alphabetical-listing friendly is a plus as well.

On the strictly dev side of things, I have been reworking the title screen and am pretty pleased with how things are going so far. It isn’t quite ready to show off yet, so stay tuned!

The tutorial is also coming along strong, and should be ready for our submission to the After Darkade. I’m really excited for the chance to show the game off in its current form, especially as part of a film festival. (Wish us luck!)

Speaking of wishes, please do check out our Facebook page and Like us if you do!

https://www.facebook.com/ArchiveMemoriaTechnica

Progress, and New Arrivals!

Been a little while since my last update, and a fair amount has happened! Most spectacular was the early arrival of Audrey Cameron! I hope you all join me in congratulating Michael and his Wife Chrissy on their beautiful daughter!

Naturally, with this kind of arrival, development has taken been put on the  back burner for the last little bit. . .

Right now our focus is on building and polishing the tutorial level, and it is coming along well. New tools that I totally didn’t spring on Michael last minute have made it possible, and Mike’s fingers sore. We hope to have a new demo build, complete with tutorial level so it will finally be accessible to everyone without reading the website.

Additionally, we have gotten more sound effects in, and it is getting really awesome to hear it all come to life. Still waiting on some final editing before we start voice recording, but that will also be coming soon! Anyone who has or can believably fake a crisp, musical Indian accent and is interested in doing some voice acting, please get in touch!

We have also gotten in some of the new Enemy animations, and things are looking niftier than ever. The Kamikaze enemies, once called space sperm, are no longer quite so. . . suggestive. Instead they look simply beautiful.

Last but not least, we have also got a facebook page setup for the game finally! Please take a look, and share widely! https://www.facebook.com/ExodusEscapeTheGalacticPlane

PROGRESS!!!

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post, for which I apologize! However, I am returning to the blog with a huge amount to share.

We have a new web build for you to play here: http://hypermetricstudios.com/blog/?page_id=21

Please read the How Do I Play section if you have not played it before, as we do not yet have our tutorial built and the game is difficult to grok completely on the first go. The Demo as it stands does not have much of the story in it, but you can definitely get a good feel for the mechanics and play.

Please leave us comments and feedback, either here or on the demo site!

You will notice some pretty drastic changes if all you have played previously was the build on our site. Most excitingly we are getting our sound into the game! Not everything is in yet, and not every sound is finalized, but it is very exciting!

Another very exciting development was being invited to show the game at the Open Air Festival last week. I wasn’t able to get a post out about it beforehand, but the event went very well. Tom Frencel of LittleGuyGames paid us one of the nicest compliments we’ve gotten so far, without quite meaning to I think: When he saw the demo he asked me what studio we were with.

Apparently we are getting good at faking being professionals!

Right now, development-wise, I am focusing heavily on level building and content creation. I have the plot written, and know what I need to build, so its all about grinding it out! We still have a fair ways to go, and need to add bosses, more interesting scoring systems, and such, but its coming along well!

Progress, and timing, and scope. . .

Yesterday was a pretty good day for Exodus. We had some slight setbacks in terms of figuring out scope and timing, and it looks like we might not be able to hit the September deadline. Good news, however, is that our programmer/co-designer can stay on past that date, just not as intensively.

This is a project that has definitely seen a lot of feature creep, especially with the addition of the narrative campaign. I think that it has been to the game’s benefit, but it has definitely put a strain on development planning, mostly for our programmer and co-designer, Michael Cameron. He has been totally awesome about bringing in reality checks about things, but also going for the stuff that sounds cool and doable. The thing is, he is also the member of the team with the most out-of-project responsibilities, so his time is like gold to us. I am constantly amazed at how much progress he squeezes out of the scant hours he can spend on this game per week.

Realistically, this game is a labour of love first and something commercial second so we are ok with the deadlines stretching and work being slow, but similar to last week’s post I would definitely not suggest building like we have been. The project keeps growing, in interesting and useful directions I think, but each new idea means more work for everyone. Had we mapped out the whole thing at the beginning I think it would have taken half the time to build. Practically every week we come up with something that has to be nixed because our engine would need to be rebuilt from the ground up to incorporate it.

It’s been a great learning experience for me though, since I think that 90% of the feature creep has been my fault. Part of it is that I have the narrative structure in my head really strongly, but never gave everyone else a clear, feature-specific, map of it early on… properly documenting it would have saved us a TON of time and trouble I think. Sigh . . . next project!

In terms of new stuff going in, this week we got some of the new enemy animations on the boil, which is pretty exciting to see, so hopefully I will be able to post a video of them chugging away soon. We also, and most excitingly for me, got the story engine actually up and running! Level building has commenced, and is going strong. Hopefully by next week we will have at least a few of the levels ready for testing, which is super exciting!

Also exciting is the shape of the music we are getting. I have only heard a rough pass, but our new sound guy, Ryan Roth, is doing some amazing work for us. Distorted Sitars, tabla beats, and crazy synth stuff are blending together into something really cool.

For sound what we hope to get going (scope might change) is an adaptive music system, where there are three core songs, based on the intensity of the current fight, and each enemy type has its own instrumental voice and theme, so the music will act as a warning of what is spawning, and an indicator of when you have nixed a given enemy type for that wave.

Overall, the game is pulling together nicely, I just wish that our schedules would allow us a few weeks of fulltime focus on it, but it isn’t to be. Cursed jobs and rent-paying!

Slow day presaging an insane weekend. . .

Today was a slower than usual day for exodus development, due largely to Michael Cameron going MIA to the cottage for the week. Still, I spent some solid time balancing and rebalancing weapons and enemies, and the demo build is looking pretty solid so far.

I am a bit intimidated by what lies ahead however: this weekend I got invited to show the game at Atomic Lollipop. . . and when I said yes I had no idea what I was getting into. The gig is an overnight convention. Sadly I’m going to be late setting up due to work, but even so, it is going to be insane playtesting the game with anime fans overnight till Sunday.

I have no paper materials to give out, and by business cards don’t have the game info on them . . . this is going to be crazy.

Also, the super fun of possibly having to run the build on a laptop with a broken screen is also somewhat stressful. . .  Since we have not been optimized yet, my el-cheapo laptop just doesn’t have the juice to run it smoothly. Sadly I don’t have the money to repair my monolith’s screen, so here is hoping Emile gets me that projector 😉

Wish me luck, and maybe see you there!

Story, Icons, and Some Reflection

First up, it has been an awesome dev day for Exodus! We are now able to add story events, and so the time of actual level building is at hand!

We introduced some new control scheme stuff as well, and the game plays much more organically now. Using AI turrets and the dash are now way more intuitive and ergonomically viable.

Additionally, some new icons for the UI will cut down a lot on the need for too much explicit explanation to new players, we hope. Changing some colour patterns has also made it far more clear where stuff is meant to go.

 

I am super excited for the coming days, where I am going to grind out as many levels as I can with the current architecture, but I have also been thinking a lot about the dev process we have been going through with this game.

It’s interesting, I regret nothing about this project, but one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is never to build a game this way again. Exodus started as a pure tower defence game. Then we morphed into a tower assault concept. That grew into a dual stick escort game, defending a mothership while you had infinite lives. Finally we put all of that in a blender and came up with what we have now, which is a little bit of all three, but I think pretty strong because of all of the Darwinian growth we put it through.

Michael Todd gave me some very strong advice, months and months ago, never to iterate within a project. If the game needed that much changing, it was better, he said, to start a new one from scratch to keep a clear head and palette.

Clearly we listened.

Frankly though, I never seem to work that way. I come up with an initial idea, and in the process of creating it I usually see it change significantly, until it might be a totally different beast than it started as. I wonder if I have learned as much from changing exodus, growing a single project to include and then expel numerous mechanics and ideas, as I would have doing it Michael’s way. Can’t really say until I try it I guess.

One way or another though, the next project is going to have a firm plan, with its mechanics mapped out thoroughly, so that the thing can be built with some measure of efficiency. I am assuming this is a universal revelation everyone has designing their first game, but I am a newb, so I’m gonna revel in the idea that that is a good thing as something new.

😀

Little Changes Make a Big Impact

It has been a good week so far for Exodus. Lots of little tweaks, like new impact particles, destruction effects, and UI expansion. Kinda tricky to screenshot effectively 😦

The long-awaited health purchase is now working in the upgrade screen between waves!

Some new iconography is also getting developed to make the UI more self-explanatory and we are finally, FINALLY starting to develop the framework that will allow for story-mission construction. I am super excited to start really building the levels the game is going to have on release. So far all that has been available are some demo enemy waves we threw together, so this is going to be a massive change!

Sound is still on hold, and I have also been refining and pruning the script. It’s coming along well, but big thanks to Michael Todd for the encouragement to cut it down and reorganize it significantly for better information absorption. Also for general support through this ongoing project!

The Big question I want to ask you is this: how important is it to be able to skip mission briefing text if you are playing the game while it runs? If you have stuff to do with your ship (dodging incoming obstacles in this case) while you listen, does that mean you will be more likely to want to listen to the plot stuff, or would you want the ability to skip the entire sequence, or just the plot text, or none of it?

Thanks!

Developer Blog: Exodus grows and evolves!

It has been a very exciting week for my studio’s first game, Exodus (working title).

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First up, for folks who don’t know, Exodus is a top-down dual-stick shooter with some neat tower defence elements thrown in. You play as the Codex, an artificial sentience inside a nano-manufacturing drone. You have been tasked with carrying the Archive, another AI, to Earth. The story is heavily influenced by the ancient Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, and questions the nature of memory, and authorship, and the importance of either.

The game features the ability to customize your arsenal through 3 different base weapons, each with a branching upgrade tree and a final count of 21 unique weapons in the game. The weapons hover around your ship, in a pretty big build area, allowing for dozens of turrets to be constructed. You can also assign up to 4 of them as AI controlled, allowing you to drop and recall them from anywhere on the map, or have them auto-target the enemy from shipside.

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This week we finally got all of the 21 weapons working as they should, and the new UI is looking great. A challenge we face now is that we need more clarity on our iconography. The weapon upgrade and customization system is a bit complicated, so figuring out the least wordy means of presenting it has been a poser from the get-go. We are closer, I think, but not there yet. (Thanks to Jon Remedios for the awesome feedback at this week’s IGDA!)

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We have been working on different star-systems for the games background, and it has been a lot of fun building various planets and stellar phenomena in Unity, and watching them come to life with a few simple lines of code. Overall I am very happy with how the visuals are evolving, which is good since they are my job 😉

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We are close to the point where we will need some playtesting for weapon balance, so let me know if you are interested!

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Setting the Bar Higher

This is the script from my rant for IDGA Open Mike night.

…………………………………

Shouldn’t We Set the Bar Higher?

As game designers and developers, if we create a game that is fun, entertaining, addictive, viral, lovely to look at, and profitable, then we have succeeded in making a good game. But does the player think about it outside of its own terms? Thinking about the game as a game when you aren’t playing counts, but getting to that point is relatively easy. We have reached the bar, made a buck, and moved on. I think we can do better.

If a game is good, but the players leave its core ideas behind at the console, then however fun it is as artists we’ve failed. There are a huge number of explanations of what makes art good, and no actual authority because at the end of the day money talks and it’s all subjective. But I’m right, so here is my definition anyway: good art is not memorable and beautiful alone.  The best art is the work that makes you think about your life, your choices, and challenges them. Whether it changes you or not, it inspires you to reflect on its message and on your real choices, and that stays with you long after you are done with the piece itself.

The question becomes with all our monopolizing of people’s time, don’t we have a responsibility to make that time worthwhile, not just for the player, but for the world?

I think games should be art, but that’s an easy sell, something more or less every developer can agree on even if the definitions vary. I think games should also be agents of social change, and that’s a lot harder to make work.

Jane McGonagall talks at length about skill and attitude training and the cumulative effect of gaming, which I agree is awesome and has a lot of potential, but I don’t have her patience, and I’m a cynical bastard. I think that the profit motive and the fear of ruining game’s marketability with ham-fisted messages are scaring a lot of people off from trying to use this access to players. Instead of working to make anything better, we are just working to make money. So, we need to find out how to create games that are a vehicle for positive change and also profitable.

How? Well, I have a couple of ideas about that. When done right I think this kind of game won’t be obvious, won’t be didactic, and will be fun, or at least enjoyable. Books like 1984 and A Brave New World are so effective because they don’t beat you over the head with their messages, however intense their content. Instead every element and scene in the books go toward crafting and enhancing those central messages, and have inspired entire fields of social theory and political action. Games can do the same, and because of their more general appeal and broad user base, I think they could be even more effective. To this point though, it hasn’t happened.

Look at Dragon Age. They made an effort by allowing same sex relationships, but they could have gone so much further with the issues they glazed. They could have included tensions around gay marriage, adoption, even overall cultural acceptance, but instead it was practically a throwaway, just another option for the character to enhance replayability and the games user base.

I think the key to making it work in games is story. I’m not talking about more story, or better story, even though I think we could see both. I mean that in order to make the message stick, you need story to carry it, embrace it, and make the message part of the game, rather than a weird add-on. Subtle treatments of theme and mood, intelligent writing, and believable characters are what will make games with intense social messages palatable to players by situating the message in a world that makes it really engaging to approach it.

So story will make them play. All well and good, but what will make them pay?

Well, I think that at least in North America, and perhaps many places besides, there exists a combination of elements that could make this really effective financially: first, people have a lot of disposable income overall, especially in our main demographics for gaming. Second, there is a general social awareness of many issues in the world, so the audience is primed to care about it. And third, people generally don’t do activism, not necessarily because they don’t care, but because they feel powerless to make a difference, and because they don’t like to leave the comforts of their homes and routines.

We need games that train us to make the world better and teach us about its issues, but that is a slow process. We need change now, and if we turn games into ways for people to accomplish something real and immediate the effect will be explosive. Games can offer a way for  people to stay comfortably in their homes, use their time and money to do something that feels real, immediate, and rewarding, and most importantly of all, make the user feel that they have done something important for the real world.

Already, texting charity campaigns like the one for Haiti integrate immediate, impulse based, and simple means for people to make a real difference without any real effort, and it raised thousands of dollars. It is easy to imagine ways that the micro-transaction economy in social games, or pay-for-premium content and subscription fees could be turned to this sort of fundraising. Unlike specific campaigns, games are also able to keep things going with constantly evolving content through patches and updates. Add to that the addictive properties of games and you could produce a significant engine for charity work and other forms of participation-based activism. Things as simple as repeatable daily quests based around some real-world issue, each refresh costing a dollar, half of which goes to a relevant charity, or an MMO that links raid sign-ups to auto-sign users to petitions, and for each boss defeated donates a fixed amount from user subscriptions, could have huge ramifications.

Players will feel good about their expenditures in the game, knowing that not only are they being entertained, they are actually making a real change in the world, and that is an investment in themselves. Giving people a chance to really save the world has got to be addictive, both to the players, and to all of us as designers. And that is where I would like to see the bar set.