Animation Action

Can you imagine a fun combat game without animations? Neither can we. That’s why we went out last summer and found an awesome animating teammate in David Haramoto. Since joining the team, David has done an outstanding job jumping in and figuring out how to bring Armour on the Wastes to life.

Of course, when things are all said and done David’s animations will permeate just about every part of the game. But, we thought a good place to start would be on some of our weapon damage effects. A reader with an absurdly convenient sense of timing might ask: What are these weapon damage effects? Let’s check them out.

Recently, we updated on Firing Points, which is fun. But, one principle we are striving to follow in AOTW  is – give players more bang for their buck. One fun way to do this is to pair damage effects with the weapons. Why settle for a cannon when you can have a acid cannon? Why settle for a missile when you can have a crippling EMP missile?

Check out the GIFS below to see a couple of our gnarly damage effects in action. More to follow in future posts!

Phalanx Cryo

Phalanx Cryo

Above, the Phalanx has fired off a Cryo round into the Sunean tank. As the ice crystals form, the enemy tank is temporarily frozen.

Then, in the next example, you can see the Falchion rocketing an EMP missile at another unfortunate Sunean. Beyond the crackling EMP lightning you can also see the missile’s kick and smoke trail if you look closely.

Falchion EMP

Falchion EMP

In our third example below you can see the speedy Alita using it’s acid cannon round. Unlike the previous effects, the Acid does not immobilize the enemy. However, as you see the green acidic bubbles forming, the acid is eating away at the enemy tank hull, sapping the enemy’s strength. You might also notice the Alita running away after firing off an acid round. While this may not be necessary when up against just one tank, it’s a useful tactic to keep in mind. Especially with the Alita, which is the fastest tank in the game, it can be useful to hit an enemy with acid and then take cover while the acid does its damage.

Alita Acid Attack

Alita Acid Attack

Thanks for reading – we hope you enjoyed this update. As we come out with more animations, we’ll keep samples up on our new GIFS and Videos page.

 

Firing Points

Here’s a fun dev update: Firing Points now work on most of our tank models! What does this mean? Well, until now for the sake of convenience any armament type fired from any of our tanks would magically  originate from roughly the same point on the tank.

While the prospect of a tank that can fire a laser, cannon, missile, and machine gun out of the same exact spot is amusing and technically fascinating, we want to have a semi-realistic vibe going in Armour on the Wastes. So, we decided to put some time into making distinct firing points on each tank for a given weapon type. It turns out this little detail actually added a lot to the visual presentation of our game as well as to the level of immersion in the game play itself. Some aspects of this feature will still need to be fine tuned as development progresses, but check out a few sample screenshots below to get a sense of how this will look!

Falchion Laser Firing Points

Let’s look first at one of our favorite tanks, the versatile Falchion, in action with dual point lasers firing away against some poor, outgunned Sunean. Note that laser firing points mirror barrel firing points AKA dual barrels mean dual lasers. Nice.

Falchion Machine Gun & Laser

 

Next, we have another shot of the trusty Falchion in action with its lasers. However, if you look closely, here you can also see a stream of machine gun fire emitting from a small point in the middle of the turret. As a backup, auxiliary weapon, machine gun fire does not mirror barrel firing points but rather remains singular.

Falchion Dual Barrel Acid

Of course, we would be remiss to talk about firing points and not hit directly on the bread and butter – dual barrel firing points. Looking to the left, you can see the Falchion (sensing a theme?) firing its double acid cannon shot at another unfortunate Sunean. Success.
Falchion Dual Barrel Acid ExplosionAnd, here’s a continuation of the double barrel action – just for fun. As you can see another Sunean came over to help from the bottom of the map. But, sadly things didn’t work out as he was promptly hit with an EMP missile.

But, lest you think that the Falchion is the only tank for which we actually set up multiple firing points, we included a few shots of a newer tank, the super heavy Potemkin. It has four cannon barrels and four lasers. Because why not?

Potemkin Quad CannonPotemkin Quad Laser

Choose Wisely

 tl;dr – our game requires you to choose your weapon load carefully and utilize it selectively. Also, lasers are cool.

Blogging?! It’s been a while since we’ve done that. Unfortunately, I’ve been spending a good chunk of my time on administrative and legal issues, so the blogging and overall marketing has not received the nurturing love it deserves. But, I finally had a few minutes to put together some updates to share! There is a lot to talk about, but I figured this post should provide some updates on core gameplay elements. So, naturally, it will be about tank weapons – what else is more central to a tank game?*

Future Tank Weapons Theory (the class you wish you took in fake college)

While we’ve had the design principles written down for a while now, Austin has made great progress in the last few months coding this vision into reality. There are a couple things you need to know to understand our goals for the AOTW weapons system:

  • It is designed to make you upgrade your tank strategically between missions – taking into account upgrade delivery lag time.
  • The system forces you to play tactically, balancing between your chosen strategic focus and the realities of the mission at hand.
  • All tanks come equipped with both Primary and Secondary weapons types – the remainder of this post discusses only Primary weapons.

So, without further ado, let’s get to some concrete examples of Primary weapon types. After all, sometimes you may find yourself surrounded and in need of some firepower.

Surrounded

Give Me the Specs

Cannons: Future or not, it is our mostly humble opinion that any tank game worthy of the name has to have a classic cannon weapon.

Outbound Acid Cannon

In AOTW, your cannon is generally strongest against shields.

Acid in Action

But of course, this particular cannon shell also releases acid after hitting it’s target – because we wanted to have a bit of a fun twist. In the screenshot to the left, the enemy tank highlighted in green has been hit by a player’s acid cannon shell. Acid eats away enemy health for a limited time period.

Lasers: While we try to incorporate classic tank elements, this is a science fiction game at heart. So, lasers. And let me tell you – coding the lasers has been a real exercise in self-denial and mental endurance. I know this because our developer Austin mutters about these things (usually consciously).

Laser v. Turret

Lasers are especially strong against enemy tank hulls, and less so against shields. As you can see in depleted yellow bar at top of screen, they also take a lot of heat energy. So, while they can kick ass, you’ve got to be careful not to just button mash or else you’ll find yourself sitting pretty in an overheated tank.

Laser Blast

Missiles: And, third we have missile weapons. Because why not. Missiles provide a great excuse for including more explosions, and also provide a great foundation for weapon variations. After all, who doesn’t love a good EMP target seeking missile?

Outbound Seeking EMP Missile

You are probably aware that missiles are not typically considered instruments of zen-like balance. But, in AOTW missiles take the middle road – equally effective against shields and hulls, but not as effective against either one as are the cannon or the laser.

EMP'd Turret

In the image to the right, you can also see that the enemy turret has been hit with an EMP Seeking Missile, meaning that it is temporarily immobilized. Immobilized enemies are grayed out and unable to return fire.

I’m Ready for an Insightful and Thought Provoking Conclusion

To draw an analogy to one of our greatest inspirations – in a very simple sense our weapons set up is kind of like the inverse of the Halo set up. When fighting the Covenant, you use energy weapons to take down their shields and then move in with the conventional lead based firepower. As I explained above, in AOTW you generally want to lead with the conventional guns and follow with the energy weapons. Nevertheless, we’ve always drawn a lot of inspiration from Halo in designing the AOTW weapon system.

We want players to be able to upgrade a tank that they find fun to play. But, we also want players to have to use multiple weapons and to have to use them at the right time. We want players to scan the horizon for different enemy types and make the quick mental weapon selection calculations. Perhaps the best way to sum up our philosophy is this: We think that our potential audience is smart, and we want to give them something that they can play intelligently while having a great time.


 

*Perhaps the one thing more core to game progress is the status of our fearless leader, Austin’s cat Reginald. He is well.

Steeped in Blood: Perpetrating Violence in Hotline Miami 2

Editor’s Note: The following reflection is by our writer, designer, and project manager @AGunsauley

I started to think I might not be a good person around the hundredth time that I cut a stranger’s stomach open with a chainsaw.

Hey, whoa, relax! I’m referring to my experience playing the newly released Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, not some real-life murder spree. But I can’t fault you, the reader, for being confused. Any serious discussion of Hotline Miami 2’s content immediately calls to mind the disturbing truths of real-life violent crime. Indeed, Dennaton’s latest release unleashes a concentrated attack on the boundary between the player and the systemized violence of video games — an attack that should lead us to question why we continue to create, let alone play, such games — and how we can do so responsibly.


Why Are Games Obsessed With Violence?

Why is it that so many video games today utilize themes of violence in their gameplay mechanics? A large percentage of “AAA” games (funded by large publishers) focus on the defeat and subjugation of others. Most of the time, though not always, the player triumphs in the game by violently establishing his or her superiority over a similarly equipped or more powerful foe.

There is good reason for this style of forceful confrontation receiving such emphasis in modern game design. Setting the player up to fight a direct opponent provides a discernable motivation to perform actions that might otherwise seem repetitive, mechanical or abstract by providing the game an underlying goal. Meanwhile, the shell of artificiality that has the potential to accompany the rising difficulty of the game’s later levels is stripped away by the consistent introduction of stronger foes. Even the narrative of the game itself becomes simpler to design when the game is essentially set up as a giant confrontation — this is especially important for many AAA studios, some of whom who do not consider putting time into the narrative to be a high priority.

By the time a violent video game has concluded, the player of said game has “earned” the sensation of having risen to defeat someone or something, with victory seemingly attained through intangible skill and determination rather than pure mastery of mechanics. Since an ending that is driven by violence usually results in dramatic outcomes, there is also typically a sensation that the conclusion of the game was impactful — the player truly left a mark on the world, and any input into the game was not a waste of real-life time.

So we understand why violent video games are common — they’re a simple trick towards giving a player a sense of immersion and reward as power fantasy, and they make the designer’s job easier as well by allowing him or her to rely on established traditions and plot arcs.


It’s Okay, You’re Still a Good Person

Yet, there is still a level of dissonance here that must be appreciated. At the core of this style of video game design is the assumption that the player must frequently dispose of hundreds of enemies while progressing through the challenges the game throws at him or her. But real-life violence is shocking and horrifying in its brutality, and often, its wanton cruelty. To ask a non-sociopathic human being to commit violence upon innumerable others — and enjoy inflicting that violence — a game designer must find a way to justify to the player the actions they partake in on-screen.

How do you make a character who kills innumerable scores of other living beings remain sympathetic to the player controlling them? Video games have existed long enough for developers to have crafted an infinite web of different justifications for the context of their on-screen violence, some explanations more effective than others.

Many games, like the original Doom or some of the later Command and Conquer games, vilify their enemies to the point where even the lowliest minion seems irredeemably evil, making it seem like the player is doing the world a favor by eliminating them. Other games go so far as to remove any hint of personality from their enemies that might possibly humanize them, even going so far as to hide their faces behind masks — first person shooters like Half-Life 2 and F.E.A.R. are particularly fond of this trope, due to the relative brittleness of the fourth wall between player and character in that genre.

Often these two approaches are combined to create the perfect “crash dummy” — a faceless evil minion with no redeemable traits whose sole purpose is to be gunned down by the player in his or her pursuit of a goal. While these approaches are not always used to dehumanize victims of video game violence, the occasions where they are not used are rare. Usually, but not always, these exceptions to the rule of dehumanization are accompanied by an overriding sense of urgency that forces the player to dispatch lives in the service of a nobler goal, typically set up in a way that frames the player’s failure as a far more catastrophic alternative to taking lives.

These kind of game design tactics exist for a reason. They WORK. It does not take much at all to convince a human being that killing is justified when it is properly framed in the comfortable context of sugar-coated entertainment.

It is because Hotline Miami 2 constantly subverts these design expectations that its virtual orgy of death and destruction is so profoundly upsetting.


“Do You Enjoy Hurting Other People?”

The first way in which Hotline Miami 2 assaults your relationship with it is that it insists on constantly shifting your focus between different characters. Rarely do you find yourself playing the same character for more than one level in a row.

Other reviewers have noted that they felt this consistent switch-off disrupted the narrative and rendered the storyline unintelligible, but I’m of the opinion that such disorientation is largely the point. Each of these characters approaches the violence in the game in radically different ways from all of the rest, and the constant perspective shifting never gives you time to get comfortable with any one viewpoint. By the time you’ve completed one level, you’re off to the next to control someone new, who has an entirely different reason for killing people — and after this has happened to you six or seven times, you no longer feel quite sure why these individuals are even doing exactly what they are doing — let alone if they’re even in the right.

There is a clear result. By forcing on you a haze of many different perspectives, Hotline Miami 2 prevents you from building an internal narrative that would justify the murders you commit on-screen.

Let’s add insult to injury. Once you start getting deep into the game, it becomes readily apparent that roughly half of the cast is in fact only perpetrating violence for the sake of violence.

One set of characters, the Fans, only go on “levels” because they find killing people to be fun. One of the other characters, Manny, turns out to be a serial killer interested solely in gaining attention — and the “actor”, Martin Brown, is a would-be rapist and child murderer whose grip on reality is so loose you can’t even tell if he’s dreaming or actually committing his crimes. Each of these individuals and the fact that they are included as playable characters totally and completely subverts the expected level of designer-player trust that is usually implicit in a violent video game.

Every level you play makes you complicit with the agenda of the characters. You’re there helping the Fans kill people to get their rocks off — helping Manny go on serial murder sprees and Martin Brown abduct women. You in turn, are perpetrating violence, and the game rubs it in by refusing to provide a comfortable justification for your own actions. Even the supposedly safe veneer of the fourth wall is removed very early into the game: specifically, when Martin justifies his brutal fantasies with the piercing line “It’s just a film.” The implication is that he’s participating in entertainment, so his depravities are sanctioned and harmless. But are you okay with justifying your own entertainment with such clinical detachment?

If you can justify committing a virtual rape, and committing virtual murder, with absolutely no other justification available to you other than “It’s just a game” — where does the boundary end? How can you justify it in one setting, and not in another? Why is it okay to hurt people that aren’t real? What does this say about you? About us? About players, and about video games?

When it all finally ends, and the game concludes, the entire cast of surviving characters has been vaporized on a bleak, nihilistic note of nuclear annihilation. This wiping of the slate is the final condemnation of the player. The game ends, and so does the game’s world. There is no further continuation of the adventure. The violence the characters perpetrated, that you perpetrated, means nothing. The only difference between you, and them, is that you still have to find a way to live with yourself when it’s all over.

Dennaton clearly had a statement to make, and I think they’ve made it loud and clear. We need to reconsider how we’re using violence as a theme in video games.


The View From Here

As a developer for a game that is in the same genre as Hotline Miami 2, Armour On The Wastes, I’ve found it especially difficult to grapple with the issue of video game violence in recent weeks. Tellingly, I’ve never even considered the main theme of Armour On The Wastes to revolve around matters of violence in the first place, despite the gameplay focusing on vehicular combat. In fact, I’ve been far more interested in using our game to explore how corporate obligation stacks up against personal interest, and to investigate feelings of isolation and confinement.

But the uncomfortable reality of the situation, as I realized, is that though our game may explore different themes than Hotline Miami 2, it is also still a work that builds its core mechanics on player-inflicted violence. Armour on the Wastes, is at its core still essentially a shooter game that has the potential, if handled improperly to glorify something tragic and unnecessary. And perhaps understandably, this realization leaves me uncomfortable and wondering if perhaps my next project might not take a different approach after all.

Yet I do not foresee that violence in video games is something that will ever fully disappear — and nor perhaps, should it. Games are challenges, and the most interesting of challenges require opponents. We also need games that continue to explore themes of violence in thoughtful ways, to broaden our perspectives as a community and as human beings. But Hotline Miami 2 suggests that we still need to closely examine just how deeply down the rabbit hole we want to go when conflating something that is so foul and devastating with our entertainment.

Elatu

Exciting news! We’ve created an entire planet! Well, a whole planet tile set anyway. Armour on the Wastes has two primary planetary settings. One of these, Elatu, is a desert world in which the player will often find him or herself battling over precious salvage materials. As you may have guessed from some of our art, we are big fans of tanks in the desert in space. Sounds fun right? It’s a totally hospitable environment in which absolutely nothing could go wrong.

We still need to build out and design the levels we have sketched out for Elatu. But, we have the pieces in place now to make it happen. Following is an update on the features of our Elatu tile set, including some screenshot examples and notes on particular terrain features.

 

Elatu_Blog_1

  • Normal desert tile – If you are staring at the ground in the above screenshot, you are staring at our standard desert tile set. It may look simple, but this little monster took a lot of fine tuning from Wu-Gene to make sure that it doesn’t look overly repetitive. This terrain type is our standard terrain and presents no obstacles or movement penalties.
  • Sand dunes tile – The more lightly colored, wavy ground that you see above is a sand dune. Sand dunes serve a couple of purposes. For one, they break things up visually. Second, sand dunes will have a very important tactical role. In particular, sand dunes will impose a movement penalty on tanks. Think quicksand. We aim to make this feature a double edged sword. It should pose a tactical danger to the player. After all, there’s nothing worse than being ambushed while your wheels are spinning in sand. But, it will also allow the player the opportunity to lure enemies into a trap and unleash silly amounts of firepower on them. And in the big picture, this is a design principle that we hope will run throughout the game: If something can be used against you, you can also use it against your enemies.
  • Trees/Foliage – I know, trees don’t grow in deserts. But, we’re based out of Seattle, so we couldn’t in good conscience make a game without something green. Plus, desert planets can have the occasional jungle right? Practically speaking, trees will be treated as obstacles and will be used as another level design feature to encourage careful tactical thinking – nothing like a narrow, tree lined corridor with a blind corner to make you think twice about your health meter. Oh, and in case you were worried that we’ve become too eco-friendly, don’t worry. All foliage will be fully destructible – burn baby, burn.

 

 Elatu Blog 2 Replacment

  • Chasms – You can’t have an inhospitable war torn desert planet without having some horrific chasms scarring the landscape. Chasms will serve many of the same purposes as walls. They will be obstacles that tanks must work around. However, one key difference is that tanks can shoot across chasms, making for some fun times for players that like to hang back and fight at range. Of course, if the player is up against a hover tank, then all bets are off.

 

Elatu_Blog_3

  • Walls – I mean, we had to have walls. After all, capturing an enemy base is not nearly as satisfying if it’s not fortified. Walls will be used in all sorts of configurations. We created many different wall tiles in all shapes and sizes so that we can build bases for days. We also created wall pieces that fit with the war torn desert vibe – kind of a solid, but worn Ancient Egyptian fortification feel. Walls will be treated as indestructible obstacles. While it’s fun to have some destructible terrain types, we also want to provide opportunities for players that prefer a highly maneuverable, finesse approach. Navigating a multi-layered wall base while taking fire from enemy turrets should provide a fun test of these players’ driving skills.
  • Cliffs – Ah yes, cliffs. My favorite. It’s surprisingly hard to come up with cliff tiles that look natural in a top down 2d setting, but we were able to take some inspiration from some of the old Red Alert cliffs. As with the walls we have multiple types of cliff pieces in order to make different geographical configurations. In particular, Wu-Gene did a great job thinking through the cliff “end piece” tiles that are necessary in order to blend the end of a cliff into the normal ground. Without these, all cliffs would have to run on indefinitely across the whole map, which would be quite odd. We’re still fine tuning how cliffs will work in combat. As much as possible, we want to simulate the tactical advantage a tank would have in being on top of a cliff, which means tanks on the bottom of cliffs will likely have a limited ability to shoot up to the top.

By now, we hope you can see yourself battling enemy armour across this rugged landscape. It does beg the question though – why desert? To be honest, it seems to have just arisen naturally as AOTW has developed. I think a big part of it though is that it fits with the gritty vibe that we feel is at the heart of AOTW.

Another valid question might be – will this whole entire game take place on Elatu? Will there be any other sort of environment in which to unleash firepower?

The short answer is, yes. There will be a different environment as well. But, it’s going to be much, much colder.

Refocus, Reduce, Refine.

“You’ve been hired for one last job, just when you thought there was nobody left in the galaxy willing to make you an offer.”

In other words, we’re back! Not that we were gone. But, a lot has changed. And by a lot, I mean almost everything.

Before we get to the part about how much is different, I want to talk for a minute about the things that we’ve accomplished. For one, despite hectic schedules and excessive holiday eating habits, we completed an internal demo level just before the New Year!

It had its fair share of bugs, and perhaps even more worrisome was the fact that it was my first ever attempt at level design. But, it was still our first baby together and it was great to see some tangible fruits of our efforts, like the jungle base attack happening below.

Base Assault

Base Assault

Minesweeper Action

Minesweeper Action

But, despite these first hints of tank awesomeness, we all realized somewhere in our post-holiday food hazes that something was going to have to change. In a refrain that I suspect is familiar to many more experienced game developers (and anyone that has ever finished anything ever), we had to make some cuts. In fact, more than just making cuts, we had to change our whole vision.

The thing is we liked our original plan – it was pretty cool, with a ton of story depth (over 400 pages). But, at the end of the day we had to face the fact that it was just too much for us to complete on our own within a semi-reasonable time frame.

So, we were faced with a choice: A) Quit or B) Don’t Quit.

We’ve come too far not to finish something now, so we all decided, that no matter what, the choice was B. At the end of the day, we want to get a game completed. Given this decision, we decided that it’s better to have a smaller, more focused, more polished game than a buggy, sprawling labyrinth. So, what does this mean on the planning front?

It means that, in a 3 hour Doritos fueled planning session, we made dramatic cuts across the board. We cut the script length by about 85% and also cut the number of planets, factions, unit types, and dev options related to our skill tree.

And this was painful, especially for Austin, given how much time he put into that script. But it also felt good, it felt like we were distilling what we had down to a small core that is super genuine, and actually achievable. The story will be less grandiose, but it will be centered on themes to which we can really speak. Moreover, thanks to some strategic reductions, we will be able to keep or repurpose almost all of the art assets that Wu-Gene has already created.

We even managed to benefit from an accidental space out – somehow, in planning out the next year, we simply forgot about the month of May. So, discovering that May existed at our subsequent meeting was quite a nice surprise – it will be great to have some automatic flex time built into our schedule.

So, it’s been a lot of change, but we’ve refocused our vision, reduced our scope, and will be relentlessly refining everything we do keep. No matter what, the lives of indie developers and mercenary tankers will remain difficult.

Nevertheless, we are excited to keep working towards a really polished, really fun final game. Stay tuned!

Work/Life Balance??

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s always good to remember that there is such a thing as a personal life and it is in fact important. This reminder is especially applicable for our team this year. Why? Because we decided to give ourselves a demo completion deadline that just so happens to coincide with the end of the year. Add in the year end office job deadlines that we face between 9-5, and this combination of deadline and holidays has placed the age old tension of work/life balance in our minds more so than ever before.

Recently, we’ve come across a number of interesting articles on managing indie life, including how to motivate your indie team and how to make games as a family.  Both of these resources were awesome, but as the year comes to a close, we thought it might also be a useful reflective exercise to add our own two cents. So, without further ado – here are some practical thoughts on how to maintain work/life balance as a 20-something, slightly neurotic, mostly hardworking, part-time indie game developer.

It only seems fair to start with the actual developer. Rich is a developer both in his indie game exploits and at the job that actually pays his bills. So, generally he likes to “stay in work mode” and knock out dev tasks for an hour or two, beginning immediately after arriving home from work at 5pm. Of course, we must keep in mind that he is a developer and is therefore prone to bouts of what I like to call “programming berserker rage.” If one of these moods comes over him, all work schedule rules go out the window and he works at exceedingly odd times of the night until he has slain the task at hand or until he loses consciousness.

With Rich in a programming induced blackout, let’s move on to our artist, Wu-Gene. Of course, one must ask, is there really any such thing as work/life balance for an artist? Probably not. But, he makes a valiant attempt at it nonetheless.  Wu-Gene’s typical modus operandi is perhaps the most ritualized out of anyone on the team. First, he wakes up and unfailingly makes his bed. Apparently, a Navy SEAL once said that making your bed no matter what is the key to becoming an overall productive person. This sounds reasonable to me though I’m yet to test the theory. Regardless, it seems to be working for Wu-Gene. After making his bed, he proceeds to the gym, where he lifts weights and destroys any “scrawny artist” stereotypes that you might have in your head. After getting huge, Wu-Gene returns home and listens to epic trailer music (movies or videogames). He then resists the urge to punch a wall in excitement, instead channeling his energy into several hours of artistic creation.

This brings us to Austin – who is our writer, designer, and in many ways our project manager. With years of committed relationship experience under his belt, Austin has perhaps the most nuanced approach to work/life balance on the team. Austin’s guiding philosophy is to alternate days between working on the game and relaxing in the evening. Even on work days, Austin diverges from Rich’s “knock stuff out after work” philosophy, preferring to clear his mind for a couple hours before diving back into his writing. He also generally tries to keep work time as work time and personal time as personal time. According to Austin, he refrains from working when his girlfriend is around “about 80% of the time.” Overall, one of the biggest challenges on this front is that writing a story requires exceptional consistency. Beyond that, writing can also be a very lonely activity, since it generally requires deep focus. So, in Austin’s estimation it is better to work every other day instead of every day, if that leads to long term sustainability and minimal burnout.

And now for myself, Mike the business manager marketing guy. Since I’m a business person, I should be super organized with how I divide up my work, right? To that I say one thing: lol. My work process tends to be more one of semi-controlled chaos. On one hand, I’ve had less work to do, insofar as my marketing tasks are less well defined than many of the other tasks that our team has to get through.  The thing I find stressful about marketing though is that sometimes it can feel like an ever present specter hanging over my head. I suspect that to some extent this is true of any long term project. But, the thing about marketing is, in many cases if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.  Slack on Twitter for a week and your followers start to dip. Slack on reaching out to the press, and you’re one day closer to release date with nothing to show for it. If I succumb to this feeling too much, pressure builds, inertia forms, and nothing happens.

To deal with this stress and prevent it from taking over my life, I’ve started to divide up my marketing work by type. And the key is, I’m only allowing certain types of marketing work to be “ever present.” One example is Twitter. I’ve accepted that Twitter activity basically needs to become an extension of my basic metabolic processes, and I’m okay with this. Fortunately, I can check Twitter in short time chunks throughout the day – on the bus, eating lunch, waiting for a SQL query to run at work, during a boring meeting etc. However, I’m keeping most other things partitioned into pre-defined work times. Blog Post? Work on that on Saturday morning or during lunch. Update the website? Work on that before bed on Wednesday. In terms of work location, I bought a sweet second screen to do work on at my apartment, but I find that I am sadly inefficient there. So instead, I like to do the stereotypical Seattle thing and take my laptop to my favorite Seattle coffee shop.

All in all, this whole Indie thing is a challenge unlike any I’ve experienced before, but I still wouldn’t trade it for anything.

**Disclaimer/Clarification: We probably still have a lot to learn about this whole balance thing. We hope that our thoughts were at least amusing and perhaps even helpful. Let us know what you think!

Show Me Your Demo

Flowing beer. Dimmed lights. Passionate, driven people.

This was the scene as Austin and I worked our way through the room at a recent Seattle indie dev meetup at the headquarters of the indie studio 17-Bit. We had a great time at this event meeting other local indie developers and talking to them about their experiences and struggles. One of the best things though was playing all of the demos that were set up there. We got to try out some really cool stuff from Sportsball to Galak-Z.

All this fun made us realize – we really really need to create a playable demo for AOTW. Going to this event was great, but it would be so awesome to be able to show people our game in the moment and get instant feedback. And the thing about it is, we realized we’ve already got most of the gameplay in place to make this possible. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done to make this demo look good. So, for the last couple weeks we’ve been shifting our production focus on all fronts to focus on completing a quality, playable demo as soon as possible. We debated this approach a little bit because we want to be careful about crippling our long term plan by focusing too much on cosmetic things for a near term demo. However, I think that a demo is so hugely important from a marketing perspective that this is a strategic risk worth taking.

From an artistic and design perspective, we’ve created a specific list of art assets that will be needed for the demo, and our artist has been working through those. Until now, we’ve been using placeholder art from one of Austin’s previous projects. These are fine, but we want all new art for AOTW. This push to get new art assets in place has actually helped us begin to develop a good long term art production process. It has forced Wu-Gene to refine his process for creating 2-d sprites out of 3-d models, and it has forced Austin to re-design a lot of our thinking on unit types in order to make the art creation burden less overwhelming.

On the dev front, Rich is focusing primarily on getting a HUD system in place for our demo. He’s got some really fun ideas in the works for a HUD that immerses the player in the action yet is minimalist in its impact on the player’s field of view. This focus on the HUD does take Rich away from other things. However, the HUD is something that would need to be completed somewhat independently of other processes anyway, so I don’t think this will be too much of a diversion.

From a business perspective, I’ve been focused mostly on talking about the demo and looking important at meetings. However, I do have some really substantial demo work on the horizon for myself. Once all the pieces are in place and Austin has given me a refresher course on our Construct 2 engine, I’ll be doing the design for the demo level. We think that it makes sense to have the marketing guy design the demo level since demo levels are so oriented toward getting the word out and making a good first impression on players.

So, stay tuned for a kick-ass demo. However, you don’t have to wait until then for new content. We’ve also been building out our Media and Universe pages with content from the AOTW universe including character bios, environmental concept art, and of course — tanks!

Thanks for reading.

All the Features

While I enjoy soul searching rants, reflections, and opinion pieces, some changes are afoot on the AOTW website. Unlike when we first started out, we’ve got more and more content every week. We want this blog to become more multi-faceted so that we can share more of this game specific content. So, while we’ll definitely still have more traditional blog posts, we have added several new sections to the site to share more content.

Check out the Universe section for updates on story and the Media section for artistic content and updates. We’ll also be categorizing and archiving future posts either as “content” posts or “opinion” posts. I have a lot of fun with the opinion posts, but ultimately they should be set within the context of the progression of our game. Let us know what you’d like to see on the new pages!

Remote Control

This week has been even crazier than the average week. Too my delight and too my horror, I was unexpectedly given the reigns in managing some of my company’s offshore teams this week. And by offshore, I mean really really offshore – several thousand miles and 11 hours of time difference offshore.  While this has meant that I’ve had less time to work on AOTW this week – it has also been beneficial because it’s forced me to think more about the challenges of working “remotely” as a team. It’s absolutely amazing how easily things can be lost in translation. I mean, I’m good at pretending to be competent, and the offshore team members I work with are competent, yet things can still spiral out of control at the slightest email misstep. Before you know it, one error has been magnified 100x and the company database is engulfed in a Death Star-esque explosion. I needed some serious Ender’s Game motivation to get me through some of the days this week.

On the bright side I think there are actually some semi-useful parallels between my new work experience and some of the challenges we have experienced working together as an indie development team on AOTW. It may sound like a bit of a stretch to say that our AOTW team works remotely. If you want to get technical about it, I only live about 8.4 minutes away from Rich and Austin. Yet, in practice it can often feel like we are working remotely. We all have vastly different schedules, social obligations, and (occasionally) apartment cleaning tasks to which we attend. We only actually see each other in person for a meeting once a week.

Of course all this really means is that communication is super duper important. Sometimes this can be hard for me. We all know that technical people have trust issues when it comes to the business guy in the room. In fact I recently found some words of wisdom on the  matter from one of my favorite management gurus, Dilbert:

dilbert

Fortunately we’re not facing any sketchy re-organizations. We are facing plenty of other challenges though. One thing that I’ve been noticing more of recently is that dependencies and overlap are gradually increasing between our various tasks. Right now this mostly exists when I want to blog about a specific game development – I can only do this once I receive the necessary material from Austin, Rich, and Wu-Gene. For example, it would be pretty weird for me to write a post about the development of our artwork or of a specific dev feature without actually showing or describing the content  in question. My self-serving jokes can only get me so far in these posts. Of course, every team that has ever worked on a project anywhere deals with dependency issues. I think better communication on my part would go a long way towards mitigating some of the stress that can arise from me. More frequent emails and texts between in-person meetings would probably be a good starting point (thank goodness we are at least in the same time zone).

Another challenge that seems self-explanatory but is perhaps even more important is keeping morale up. Not that we are despondent and flipping over tables, but keeping up that sense that you are fighting side by side in the trenches is necessary for long term success. As much as my introverted side stresses about my company’s “open office” seating, it does serve to keep up morale in this sense. After all, it is motivating to see your colleague working hard and developing cool stuff right next to you. Of course, this strategy backfires when you look over and realize that your colleague has been watching cat videos for 45 minutes straight, but I digress.

The point is – when working remotely I think it’s important to do little things to cultivate a sense of camaraderie. Dropbox has been surprisingly helpful with this. We use Dropbox to archive and share most of our AOTW documents and artwork. Those little pop ups that happen whenever someone updates something in a file can be really motivating because it lets you know that someone else is also working on the project while you are sitting there on your computer. To be fair most of these pop ups come from Austin since he has roughly 7.6 million different story documents. Still, sometimes everyone happens to be working at the same time and the notifications are absolutely blowing up – that is a cool feeling. To increase this sense of camaraderie I’m going to encourage everyone to send out more professional, personal interim updates such as – “I just finished shading a new tank sprite, f*ck yeah!!”

Finally, we need something of symbolic value that will signify group cohesiveness when we are meeting. The natural solution here is of course matching sets of company pajamas, but that may have to wait until we have some serious funding. However, what I’m going to do first is to get our company LLC documents framed and up on the wall in Rich and Austin’s place. I know, not the flashiest symbol in the world, but there’s something really cool and scary about realizing that you have formed a legal entity with your friends in order to bring a game into reality. Plus, with those documents on the wall we will always know when it’s business time.

bizcat