A month in the life of an incredible indie…

This month (well, 5 weeks) has been great example of why I love making games independently!  Its started with jetting off to San Francisco for GDC, took in a trip to the BBC in Manchester, launched a Windows Phone game part way through and ended up being featured on Apple’s iTunes store as an “Incredible Indie Game“!

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Buddha Finger bottom middle, amoung another 19 excellent games – considering how many great games are on the Appstore we’re super chuffed about this :D

I’ve never been to GDC before, and the first thing that strikes me is how HUGE it is! Filling 3 buildings of the Moscone Centre, I’m sure I must’ve returned far fitter than I arrived due to walking several kilometers a day between the venues.  I unfortunately missed out on many of the talks and sessions due to work but every session I did attend I learned something immensely useful.  The cost of GDC (if you don’t wangle your way in on a Speaker’s Pass) is high, but it is a mine of knowlege and oppoturnities to meet up with other developers at all levels.  I was particularly impressed by Warren Spector who after his session continued to chat to and take questions in the corridor outside the conference room for at least an hour after he officially finished.

I was part of the Developer Rant session, a popular part of the conference which gives developers a chance to get passionate about anything in the industry.  I was talking about how damaging the mindset that developers must “eat sleep develop game” and do nothing else is to our creative juices, arguing that working efficiently and taking in expereinces outside of games are necessary to create great games.

You can read my rant here, and the other great rants of Mitu Khandaker on race, Anna Anthropy on diversity, Naomi Clark on games addressing issues, and see Chris Hecker’s wordless rant on marketing BS.

The video of us is also here in the GDC “Vault”, free of charge to watch.  I am the second speaker.

The GDC experience is not only the conference itself but all the networking parties organised around it.  The Wild Rumpus party was particularly noteworthy, managing to pack the joint out despite being possibly the only party of the whole event where you paid for entry and drinks.  Which is testament to how fab Wild Rumpus nights are! This game where you lay down and “sang” into a microphone to control it (with Chipzel playing a banging set in the next room) is a good indicator of the kind of experience to expect!

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Sing to make the shapes change!

I also attended the Unwinnable Game Salon where a bunch of indies showed off their games in a beautiful San Francisco mansion the Unwinnable team had rented.  A great chance to meet developers and journalists, chill out, talk games and not have to shout over super loud music, perfect for the last night of GDC.

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Picture from Unwinnable.

And of course special mention to Jennifer from Nyamyam games who was there showing their extremely beautiful game Tengami – we economised our tiny indie budgets by sharing an even tinier hotel room!

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Nyamyam’s Tengami – gorgeous!

We were supposed to submit the Windows Phone build of Buddha Finger before GDC but life being what it is, I ended up spending a morning sitting in the lobby doing the submission process, frantically preparing screenshots!

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How we deal with landscape only devices on Windows 8

One or two hiccups and an update later, we now have not only the Windows Phone version but also the Windows 8 version is live, and starting to get some good attention.  We couldn’t have done it without the great team at Lemon Moose Games who helped out with the code for the ports, and the support we recieved from Microsoft’s Phone department.  As well as lending us hardware we also had access to a fantastic technical evangelist who helped sort out all our bugs and issues, and marketing support which makes all the difference for small indie developers with practically zero marketing budget.

I can’t say too much to my trip to the BBC in Manchester just yet, but I can say it was an experience.  Media City in Machester is well named, it pretty much is almost an entire city in itself with both the BBC and ITV having huge buildings there.  Spending a day with makeup, audio and wardrobe people buzzing around you really makes you feel like a star for a short while, and although it was super nerve-wracking, its certainly something I’ll remember for a very long time.

I finished up writing an article on Touchscreen design for Pocket Gamer, finding out I’m going to be a Speaker at Develop conference in Brighton, and getting featured in Develop magazine, and all whilst doing some freelance jobs and writing up concepts for some projects in the pipeline.  5 weeks in my life as a traditional console dev would have consisted of 25 days going into an office, seeing the same people and working on the same thing every day.  I am going to read this blog post whenever the downsides of the indie life are particularly frustrating and depressing, and remind myself of all the amazing upsides it contains!

Oh, and I learned how to make QR Codes :)
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Off to GDC!

My bags are packed and I’m off to GDC! Which if you don’t know is the absolutley huge Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  Very excited, this will be my first time ever – in 15 years of working in games I’ve never managed to go before.  I’m extremely chuffed to be part of the Developer Rant session on Friday 29th – check it out here! I’ll be having a good rant along with some exception names – Mitu Khandakar, Margaret Robinson, Anna Anthropy, Naomi Clark, Kellee Santiago, Karen Sideman and organisers Eric Zimmerman and Jason Della Rocca.  My rant will be about how the prevailing mindset that in order to make great games you must have a life devoted entirely to them – working on them, playing them and very little else – is actually pretty destructive, and we should all take the time to do something different every once in a while. Hopefully I’ll manage to not fluff it up too much!

I’ve had the most unbelievably busy few weeks leading up to this sorting out the Buddha Finger ports, which are almost ready!!, herding a bunch of stuff on future projects, preparing my speech – or should I say Rant! – for GDC, writing for Pocket Gamer and having meetings left right and centre.

The one good thing about the long flight ahead is that I can legitimately sit still for a few hours and do very little! Some noble souls are planning to have a “Plane Jam” making games on the way over, and there’s even some very cool prizes! Good luck to everyone with enough energy to take part!

 

 

Hay Day and the Virtual Pigs

A little break from the businessy stuff I’ve been wrestling with for weeks, so I thought I’d write a blog post about something that’s been niggling me for a few days.  I’ve been playing Hay Day lately, doing research on free to play games.  It exposed, at least to me, an interesting intersection of game fiction and ideology.

I’m vegetarian – well, practically vegan – I don’t eat meat, fish, or dairy. I was brought up as a vege by a vege mum, which kind of makes it an ideological thing, rather than a conscious decision – Meat is just not something I eat, like cardboard, or sawdust.

So, Hay Day – a cute social farm simulator much like Farmville.  I grow crops, I farm animals, I make things from the goods I harvest.  I installed chickens, cows and sheep on my farm – fine, this is a farming fantasy right? In my fantasy world I can farm these animals without mistreating them or culling any that aren’t making me a profit.  It’s not realistic but hey, neither is shooting hordes of identikit insurgents in the head or roundhouse kicking a zombie.

But when I got to the pigs, I had a problem. There is no way in anybody’s fantasy land that pigs can be farmed without killing them.  In the game “harvesting” bacon from a pig is pretty much like shearing a sheep, they get too fat and you just trim it off ‘em.  No need to build a cutesy pie little abattoir that bounces around in a jolly fashion and emits little puffs of blood whilst they’re having their throats cut – those pigs can keep re-growing their bacon and living a full and happy life.

This is where the fiction of the game and my own convictions parted company.  I just couldn’t buy into it. But no big drama, I am perfectly at liberty to NOT have pigs on my farm, nothing negative happens – I can cancel any orders for meat products that arrive on my noticeboard, and visitors to the farm requesting meat don’t mind being told “No”, they simply trot away smiling and return a few minutes later with another request.

That is, until the Boat arrives.  Your Hay Day farm very conveniently boarders a river and has a pier where, when you reach a certain level, a river boat will stop with boxes to be filled with specific goods. UNLIKE the notice board or the visitors, you cannot ignore boxes to be filled with meat goods without penalty.  If you do not fill the box and complete the order, you do not gain a ticket, and tickets are needed to gain certain game objects.  Of course, this being free to play, I could always use real money to buy the tickets and NOT fill the boxes, but that seems weak – I wouldn’t be paying to increase my enjoyment of the game, I’d be paying to avoid something I don’t like in the game.  I’ve resorted to putting a “Help Me” sign on boxes for meat products, which means if another player swings by my farm they can fill the boxes for me if they’re feeling generous, and I still don’t feel happy about it.

Which got me wondering WHY I feel so bad about it.  After all, I’m perfectly happy to kill humans in the most graphic ways imaginable.  Even in a game like GTA or Hitman where I can kill innocent victims, I don’t feel a flicker of guilt about it.  I try and AVOID unnecessary innocent slaughter, but hey, sometimes things go pear shaped and its unavoidable, right?  I certainly would not go about killing humans in real life, nor would I ever think it was OK to do that.  Why then, do I feel quite so bad about not-really killing some virtual pigs??

A few years ago I was working on a game, never released, set in medieval times in a town under occupation.  The publisher wanted a “dark” tone to the game.  I included into the design a feature where the occupying soldiers would sometimes be found dragging women along the streets and into their guardhouses.  If the player killed these soldiers they would save the woman and get a bonus.   One of the other designers on the team objected violently to this.  He felt that to put implied rape into the game would be utterly reprehensible, even if the player was saving the women, even if we never used the word “rape”.  I thought he was being squeamish and hypocritical – he had no problems with the player going about actively killing the female characters, only with the fact that they may choose to not save them from being dragged into a guardhouse.

I suppose it comes down to where game fiction meets ideology, and that most of us have limits that no amount of fiction can bridge. If I met a pissed off pig rushing at me in a shooter I’d feel no qualms about gunning it down, because the fiction will revolve about overcoming enemies, and my pleasure is in the skill and challenge of beating them.  Hay Day’s fiction is living the idealised countryside dream, my “perfect  farm”, and pig farming runs just too contrary to that for me, just as my ex-colleague could buy into the fiction of being a bad ass with a long bow killing and threatening people, but couldn’t stomach his dark medieval world with the implication that rape might happen.

Does that teach us anything useful about game design and/or ideology? Probably not, but its got it off my chest anyway :)

Happy 2013!

Hello all! Hoping you’ve all enjoyed a fantastic knees-up over Christmas and New Year.

Lots of positive energy and vibes for the new year from Lady Shotgun! After a lovely break to recharge ourselves Lady Shotgun’s got the ball rolling pretty vigorously in the New Year.

First off, we’re thrilled to be working with Lemon Moose games on porting Buddha Finger to Vita, Android and Windows8 mobile platforms!  Lemon Moose are up in the chilly north of UK in Newcastle and are handling all the code conversion.  My job will be as art monkey again converting all the graphics to the various device dimensions, so I’ll be tucked up with my copy of Illustrator and a huge pot of tea for quite some time.

We’ve also started working on the concept for our second project and will be welcoming some new faces to the team.  Its something inspired by Tomb Raider but nothing like Tomb Raider at all, or like Buddha Finger either, and its all very exciting by doing something fresh and new.  We’re seeking funding to take this project forwards at the moment so lots of form filling in and making ourselves presentable :)  I’m also enjoying getting to grips with free to play design with the help of Oscar Clark’s jolly informative webinars, the very helpful Gamesbrief site and happy to report that fellow Midland’s Indie Adam Russell will be doing some consultation on this.  I’ve done some work on Free to Play on titles for big companies before, but naturally our Free to Play will be done the Lady Shotgun way, making sure that players get the very best possible experience :)

Finally, we’re super chuffed that the lovely Indra Wignall is going to be doing some Community Management for us helping me keep everyone updated on our goings on! What with concepts, ports and finacial forecasts I’m definately glad of the helping hand :)  Oh! And did I mention I’ve been asked to speak (well, rant to be more accurate!) at GDC? A huge honour, and slightly nervous seeing the big names on the same session (look for the Mad as Hell developer rant session!)

So, all bodes extremely well for the Lady, here’s to a great 2013 for all!

 

 

 

Ask Me Anything!

I’ve seen & asked a question here and there on the great Reddit AMA’s done by a few of my fellow independent developers so I’ve decided as the child is taking a nap its time to do one of my own! I need to provide proof I am who I really say I am so I hope this is good enough :)  If you want to know anything about Lady Shotgun, here’s your chance to ask!