Monday, August 26, 2013

Late Summer 2013 Development Update

You know, I stated to write this update twice in the past 6 weeks already. I'm just going to do it. Inspired by my fellow developer's efforts to put up their own blog posts, or at least talking on the matter.

...I'm still here, Headcase is still moving along. 2013 has been an extremely productive year in many respects, and working very hard to get Blast Rover ready for delivery. Coding and design has been done for ages now and asset creation is probably 80-85% there if not more.  It's a big game with probably way too much detail put into it, but I'd prefer that than the other way around. I'm really aiming to wrap it up in the next month, but there's still much to do. Steady as she goes. Testers will be necessary, hint hint.

The sleeping monster that is Trapdoor was also awoken recently, I had designs to finish it up over a short period but it was like opening a can of worms (this is what happens when a project goes untouched for well over a year!) Still it was good to revisit it and put some more thought into it's design and execution. I've decided to attack it with fervor following the completion of the other project; it gets hard to focus on many things at once! Releasing both games before the year's end is my goal. Following that I'd like to turn my attention back to our run-n-gun shooter which has been frozen in carbonite for what seems like decades now, at least...

I've had a day job for some months now, which I've discussed in this blog before. It's been interesting and very educational; I've worked in many situations the past several years, and this one seems like it's the best and most promising in I don't know how long.  I've learned quite a bit about designing & implementing with Unity3D and it's been quite refreshing; Augmented Reality is something that is still very much in it's infancy, but it is fascinating to be a part of all of that. I cannot wait to see what 2014 will bring!

New consoles are on the horizon, in fact within a couple of months this new dawn will be upon us. More than ever it feels very lackluster, I honestly can say I don't have any interest in seeing any of the immediate fallout of the system launches of either the PS4 or the X1.  I am thirsty for some innovation and I suppose I have just got quite far away from being a traditional gamer in the modern sense. Meanwhile, mobile and casual gaming still intrigue me greatly. I have a head full of plans that I'd love to experiment with; in due time!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mid Spring Development Update

Hey folks, I just wanted to put out a little update since things have been quite on The Official Front (TM) for some time now. First and foremost, work has been continuing in earnest on our new game "Blast Rover" - I was hoping to get it wrapped by E3 (one month away); this looks to be impossible, but I don't mind as the project is in very good shape. I'm planning to release a couple of screens at some point soon - my impetus has been to push this game really, really heavy graphically, I feel there is no way to get an indie game out there nowadays without having a strong production quality to the artwork. As such, it's been taking a very long time to create all the art assets, but the payoff will be huge. I just gawk and gape at what I am creating, it looks really slick and I am proud of it (oh, just let me have my moment)

Gameplay-wise, the experience is really tight and lends itself so well to the touchscreen. I think I prefer playing it on-screen than with a keyboard (haven't tried controller yet but I do believe we've got the hookups in place by now). Pat has done an exceptional job with his design work on the game and I feel like we have a very fun, addicting (yeah, I said the A-word) game which will keep people glues to their devices.

One thing which I spend an inordinate time agonizing over is the pricing model. This is were it all gets really sticky. At this point I feel that we just have to give the game away for free, and expect that we can make some money with IAP. Like many I am profoundly anti-IAP but the indie market is so ridiculously crowded right now that I feel there's no way we'll make enough $ on this thing to justify it's development (been going since last October or so!) if we go for straight sales. We could flop hugely with IAP of course, but I do think we have a decent scheme worked out which will be generous enough to provide the average player with plenty of free-experience, without forcing them to feel crappy and "that they have to pay to get an enjoyable game."  The caveat being that of you DO pay up in some way or other, you will get a very different experience with this game. It sounds funky but I have seen it done well in the past. The only way it could really fail is if we simply don't get a strong volume of downloads, and that's why I am working so damn hard to make sure the artwork is compelling!

* * *

GunHead has been out of my mind for some time now (it's halted development while we concentrate on Blast Rover) but I still intend to pick it up later this year. Occasionally I load up the prototype on my phone and tool around with the simple 1 level I'd built for the game. There's a good 50% of work left to do on this thing (at LEAST) but even the little prototype is just fun for what it is. I feel like it's got some horrible issues (the control is slick but not very intuitive in it's current incarnation) but even as-is I just wish there was more actual game in there to play. It just feels good and satisfies the desires I had for such a game when I went out to begin creating it. We'll see how things go in the meantime, but rest assured, it will get released at some point!

* * *

I've been busy as hell during the days, I've been doing design work at daqri for the past couple of weeks (and a couple more are ahead of me). We're cranking on a bunch of things and it's a bit exhilarating.  Working in Downtown LA is really nice!  We are right across the way from all those huge financial towers, it's pretty fascinating to be in the middle of all of that. I wish it didn't smell so uriney however.  As for daqri, augmented reality is certainly an interesting premise and I do feel that they are going to be making some interesting waves with this stuff as the tech progresses.  I have definitely had a couple of thoughts influenced by the culture over there, and making some AR experiences could be compelling. At any rate, my gig should end just before E3 and then it's off to look for more work. The never-ending hustle continues.


On a more personal note, there's definitely been a lot of huge changes in my life as of late. I'm recently single, and it's been a long time since I've been in this position (almost a decade!) Considering that the majority of my 20s and 30s were spent in (longer-term) relationships, it's definitely an adjustment period for me in many ways. As I am staring down the barrel at 39, the last thing I wanna do right now is go back out and "do it all again..." The thought of it is just very exhausting, and honestly it's such a huge fight right now with keeping my career on track, continuing with my independent development, never mind trying not to be crushed by all of the financial issues which we all know and love. It just doesn't seem that there's room for anything else in my life, but we will see. At this point I never have a clue what the hell will be going on in any capacity of my life 6 months down the road..  In spite of my tone, I am happy to have several positive things going on. Like I said, it's very tough financially but I don't regret the fact that I've done a ton of work getting my name/projects out there and with so much passion and excitement for the things that are currently being done. Rather a tough time managing it all, than to be middle-aged, hating my job, disinterested in my career, just consuming the factory-formula drivel that passes for entertainment in the modern age (no offense to those of you dedicated fanboys who just can't get enough of sequel this and predictable that, but I just have no interest in so much of it anymore!)  If things aren't new, different, and exciting, then it's up to those of us with the creative spark and powerful tools to make them, ourselves...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Post-PAX 2013

Yeah so, it is late March and I am still stuck in Boston for one more day. My workstation is 3000 miles away and in order to remain productive that means I will post in my nearly mothballed blog for a change.

 I arrived in Boston a few days ago for PAX (also Passover is tonight, it's my yearly visit to the family.. why doesn't this stuff happen in the summer?) Spoiled by the eternal sunshine and warmth of the beautiful west coast, I anticipated freezing temperatures and miserable precipitation, although it looks like I've been fortunate to avoid both so far which really seems like a miracle. Just gotta hold out for one more day!

 PAX was a great time. To be honest I've never really been a fan of any such event I have attended for various reasons, I am there usually to promote or make connections or what have you. This show was notable in that I met with my current programmer for the 1st time (in person) after nearly a year of collaborating on a few projects; that's always unusual but it went off well and it was good to hang out in reality for a change! We'd come off of a long stretch of seriously crunching hardcore on our current project, I feel like we are both extremely proud of the state it is in and it feels great to see that the finish long is within sight. It's a painful thing to dwell on how long it's been since last Headcase Games has released a new project (I really don't wanna think on it!) so this is long overdue; there's a fair amount of work to get through yet, but the game looks great, it's very fun to play, and very importantly our production pipeline is very well-situated which is no small feat. It is still difficult to say when to project for a release owing to various reasons, but I'd like to think we can be approaching a candidate inside of 1 month's time so long as we can continue on with this rhythm; on the contrary, I can honestly count on two hands how many times I've said similar things in this very journal about X amount of productions, so I will officially hold my tongue regarding the matter, any further.

 However, the call for beta testers has been put out and though we've got a decent pool, I'd like a few more and if you can really dedicate to trying to beat the bejeezus out of our game, please don't hesitate to contact me. We're close to a releasable Android beta, and I don't think an iOS version is more than a few weeks out potentially? As for the game, it's called "Blast Rover" and I currently describe it as "Moon Patrol meets Super Meat Boy, with a dash of Blaster Master tossed in.."

 Other projects! Let's mention them while we are at it.. well, I joined the "'I got drunk and lost my iPhone' Club" several months ago, and with that my ability to play any iOS games was kaput. This was secretly a good thing, as it forced me to quit my years-long Drop7 hardcore addiction cold turkey; and thankful for that as I was still playing it for hours each day, and haven't reinstalled it on anything since. I miss that game but I hope to high heaven that I never lay eyes or fingers on it again. This also means that I haven't touched any of my WIP iOS projects in such a manner either (specifically Trapdoor and GunHead) although both also exist in other forms on other platforms: the GunHead build, although stalled for many months, was still in a good place and a constant reminder of what I wanted to push forward with. Fast forward to now, my Trapdoor programmer had recently hooked me up with a 3GS and I've finally JB'd it and got my old .IPAs running again. So it is a nice refresher to pick up with the old WIP and get my head back to where things were at. Although that game had a long way to go, there was a lot of nice work done and the build felt really good to play with. It's a nice jostling reminder that this is still waiting for me to continue on with, someday. Meanwhile, Pat and I are mindful of what's been going on between Kickstarter and the larger "retro-revival scene" and it feels very appropriate to launch a KS to pickup development with GunHead once Blast Rover wraps. I've mentioned it before, we have a strong amount of material already to assemble a decent video promo for the project. I'm tired of talking about it and just really want to move on with it, although the downtime has allowed our tech to progress considerably so it's been far from a wasted opportunity.

 Immediately following BR I'd also like to attempt a quick production and release for the 180 "sequel," or side-story, whatever you want to call it. I look at it not so much as a money-making proposition, but rejiggering of the assets and attaching some new gameplay rules to deliver a fresh experience. If we can output it in a manner similar to iFist on Android (very low-impact) than it will be a worthwhile venture, and I suspect some of the thousands of current 180 players will at least appreciate the effort.

 Trapdoor is kind of my shame at this point, the game is very fun and it's sad that the game has just stayed put in stasis for so long. I feel awful that the programmers who've given me the time of day to bring it to such a state have seen me just leave it lingering in the wind for so long; the brutal truth is that life has just been kicking my ass and there's been no room to pick it up. I was planning to make some decent progress with the game in time for PAX, but obviously it's not happened. And I still would rather let it sit unfinished for however long it's gonna take, as opposed to packing it up and pooping it out in a half-baked state. E3 is the next blip on the radar so I guess I will say that's my next date to be hopeful for some progress; now that my iOS device is back in action that should spur on some development on my end as well, but..

 ...the brutal truth (as mentioned above) is that I am pretty miserably destitute and my main focus right now is on finding some kinda steady income. I was fortunate to be employed with a good gig for the last quarter, but my income and output are pretty 1:1 so it's fairly impossible to work professionally, save up, and then fall back with an eye on using downtime to catch up on too many of these side-projects. I am working as diligently as possible to turn my indie business profitable enough to spark it into such a state that I can do more than merely tread water with it, but until I release something that can actually make money, or get a legit Kickstarter campaign finished and funded (no small task for sure!), then my professional life is just a constant ping-pong of DO A BUNCH OF PAID WORK and TRY TO SQUEEZE IN SOME INDIE STUFF IN THE MEANTIME. I wanna stress that this is how it goes "when one pursues the independent game developer life" however, and I know what I have signed up for; likewise just trying to make a living following one's passion. The verdict, as far as I am concerned, even with all the heartache and stress and soul-crushing neurosis, aggravation and general tsuris brought on by such decisions is that it is all worth it. I have worked too long and too hard, but also I really stand by the quality of what I've worked on, and the people I've been involved with, across the board. If it all ends tomorrow and nothing further gets done, well that is a shame but at least I've been trying and can look at the body of work we've produced (complete or otherwise) and feel satisfied that some excellent, passionately-produced effort has been put out, across the board.

 And don't worry, I am not going anywhere. It may be a protracted period, but Headcase Games will always trickle out, so long as I am still here :) Thanks for reading, and thank YOU for playing!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"a peek into the punk rock style of indie game development..."

Heyyyyyy, it's Sunday Night! What if I actually updated this blog once again more regularly than semi-quarterly? Would that blow people's actual minds? This, coming from an increasingly-inappropriate blog title "retrogame of the day," which has not been particularly retrogame-centric for years, and certainly not a daily affair for almost at least as long. Still - there was a time in my life (a few, even) where I had reasons to be quite a bit verbose. The allure of typing in a journal has long-since been gone to me, but I feel that there are certain things going on in my life which would benefit from the therapy of transcription. Benefit me, anyway. The other side of it is, this blog still gets hundreds of hits per day. I am not sure why, really, although I can begin to guess a couple of reasons I suppose. Supposing the majority of those aren't just robots or whatever - perhaps it would do me well to put some content back in here a little more frequently. I'd also like to shift the purpose/focus of this blog as well (again). So here goes nuthin'.

2 weeks into 2013 and it's off with a bang; I've been incredibly busy in all respects. As noted recently, efforts are being continued to "get indie games made" and while they are not at so hectic of a pace, I am still happy with the progress, and the rhythm.  My big concession in the past year is that I've been struggling to find steadier gigs, which has slowly been getting easier (although of course that eats very much into my personal development time). Also not trivial is that my personal life has been undergoing some pretty significant upending, which has been difficult, but also necessary. Between everything it's been difficult to sit down and find the time to power through the raw asset creation and design work that I've needed to get through, but it's still moving, so I've found much solace in that.  When I used to work at Neversoft many years ago, the head honcho over there was fond of likening his management style to that of running a rock band (pun unintended, this was years before they took up Guitar hero development). Therefore, for independent game development, I feel it is very appropriate to compare it to running a (prototypical) punk rock band, or a garage band - you have no money, you're hungry as hell, you are oozing angst out of your fingernails, nobody in the industry cares about you because you are an infinitesimally insignificant speck, yet you are driven to get your voice heard and all you can do is use all of that to power your engine and put your art (or product) out there.

My current daytime gig is a good one, it's a funny story (aren't they all) and I am lined up to be there for a couple more months, which is good news. I've been commuting for about a month, which is always interesting in LA, and now I feel justified in fixing my car. The damned thing has been sitting parked in disrepair in my back lot for not less than 2 YEARS. That's a long time in this town to be without a car, but I won't lie; it's been nice, in some ways, having to find other ways to get around without being just another car-centric commuter in this auto-overbloated town. Anyway, I plan to get this thing up and running in the next week and change (needs a new transmission, this will be the 3rd one!) Hopefully sitting in the back there, the engine hasn't just rotted completely with the few remaining drops of gas which have been sitting in there all this time. I dunno anything about cars :/

It is cold in LA! Not unbelievably, but way more so than I am used to. I am a hardy New Englander, but it's true I've got soft in the 13 years since trekking out this way. I do believe I've actually caught myself a nice little cold for the first time in I dunno how many years, I must have gone through an entire box of kleenex today. Also this morning, I accidentally thrust the very top of my head into a very sharp, heavy corner of a mirror glass shortly after waking up. Yes it has been an excellent day.

Video Games: It is funny, or sad, but really I play almost no games these days, too much other stuff to do. This is a lie; I play games EVERY day, I have a Game Boy Micro and it's a permanent fixture in my jacket pocket. It's got a flash cartridge installed with a ton of old NES and GameBoy roms. It makes the 1.5 hour bus commute wayyyyy more stomachable!  I have been working my way through Super Mario Bros 3 for the first time since playing/beating it upon it's original release.. argh what was that, like 26 years ago or something? Playing on the Micro is far from ideal, control-wise, but it really brings me back and reminds me just how perfect the design of this game was handled. Such a great job, I would say it might be the peak of 2D character action/platformer design. Definitely the best 2D Mario, at least. Also I put in a healthy amount of time with OG GameBoy Tetris. The original (-ish) and still the BEST. Tetris has been rebuilt in billions of incarnations since then, but never have I enjoyed it even close to the way it performs in this version. I am addicted all over again.

Otherwise, I get the most playtime with my 3DS more than anything else these days. It's nice to just kick back on the couch next to the heater and while an hour away or so. I feel kinda like a soccer mom, or a grandma, or something.. but I downloaded the demo for Art of Balance - Touch after hearing it mentioned in a thread on NeoGAF. It looked like the boring-est game ever, but 3 minutes into the demo and I was hooked, I bought it instantly and have poured hours into this game already. Even my no-gamer girlfriend is addicted to this -

I also picked up a few other titles recently, nothing that I am too entranced with, I will play a bit more and report back as is necessary. As casual a gamer as I am these days, I am really digging the 3DS and looking forward to getting my hands on some more great games this year. Space Harrier I am looking at you!

That's all for now. Late and I'd like to try and get at least a little work done before calling it a night. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Headcase in 2013

Tap tap tap  - is this thing on? Gads, I hate it when people write that crap in their blog, to signify that they are unsure if anyone out there is listening 'cause their mic is broke. I suppose it is not entirely inappropriate however.

It's week 1 of January 2013 (sorry, Manuary) and as it's been some months since I've updated, I figured I was due. And so, a brief look back, and forward as well - what the heck is going on over here?

2012 was an interesting year for me (aren't they all?) Very nearly made it an entire year without a release, although we did manage to squeeze a port of iFist out on Android at very nearly the last second. Yes, that game is ancient, but a release is a release so I will e thankful for what I've got! Going into 2012, both Trapdoor and GunHead were coming along quite nicely. A ton of work has gone on during the course of the year (particularly in the case of the latter) and that game's focus shifted dramatically from mobile to PC-centric (although I'd still very much like to release on mobile as well, but at this point I am noncommital).  The game got to a healthy point in development before being shelved, temporarily, for good reasons which I am not unhappy about. Although it's coming to a phase where it may well be too late to release it on ay platform, I still believe we can get it out in time before all the heavy-hitting competition launches this coming year (there's a lot of retro-themed run-n-guns coming soon!)

Trapdoor, sadly, doesn't have as heroic of a story, it's been "nearly done"since it's inception but for lots of reasons it's kind of limped along in development, to put it kindly. It's a shame - the game still feels quite fun to play, and I do see some potential for a very solid and unique release of this game.  My biggest issue has been lack of time to devote to it, to give it the TLC it deserves. I really don't wanna release another "difficult to market" product, especially one which is so friendly to pick up and play and appropriate for the mobile format, and have it just go thud.  I have been thinking a fair bit about what I need to do to put a bow on this thing. I have some good ideas.. ultimately, what matters is that the game is fun and the people attached to it are good folks, so I am not worried about wrapping it up. Release this quarter is not unimaginable.

Hop Cop was another game in development, something I'd still love to pick up but it's going to be a lot of work. 2012 saw a very unusual/unorthodox path for development of this game. Still a good idea, but if you ever hear me mention it again it should be surprising at this point.

Blast Rover started development late in 2012, and it's the closest we are to releasing anything at this point. The game is simply very fun to play (again, well-suited for the touchscreen) and I am working hard to make it look the part as well. My usual excuse "I'm too busy to devote the time to it" so it's late-phase development is dragging as well, but it's getting there. I know this game will be a tough sell on Android in some ways, but really I am excited to see it ported, potentially, to iOS, I think we could get some healthy downloads for a title like this.

That's all that is going on, title-wise, really. As usual I have some other things brewing in the background, but as my plate is more than full I just try to keep focus (such as it is) on what's already at the fore and chalk everything else up for "down the road." 2012 was a huge shift in my own focus and path, and I really (necessarily) had to re-aim from indie development back toward just paying bills and scrapping for work to keep the lights on. It's been really difficult, and it's cost me a lot in all of the ways you'd expect. At this point, I am honestly working toward getting myself properly fixated back in the larger industry as a production grunt of whatever caliber, I cannot afford to continue on hand-to-mouth "at my advanced age" for reasons economical, mental, and physical (my tooth huuuuurts!)  I'd like to think that if that happens, I won't have to deep-six my plans to continue operating as an indie - I'll do whatever I have to.

Hopefully this is not too somber of a tone, as always I am optimistic and happy with how things have gone. I've worked on some great projects with some really good people, and I am proud of what we accomplished. There's plenty of things in motion which can only keep me excited - and that drives me to continue on, happily.