Posts Tagged ‘development’

May 15

Tips for Video Game Developers

If you’re a creative games developer who is keen to enhance their skills then you have come to the right place because we are going to show you a few handy tips for you to bare in mind when you make your next game.

Keep creative

Firstly do not fall into the trap of letting the software determine the outcome of your game. Ensure you keep your creative juices flowing and keep the control in your hands. You’ll want to concentrate while you build your game as this will reduce your chances of making any silly mistakes and having to correct them later on. Draw inspiration from successful games. Apart from the creative web design and well programmed casino games, the site also features gaming options that increases its functionality. Promotions for topping up the first time, referral programs and “How to Play” links for every game make it a popular choice for first time players and long time gamers as well. Studying the features and functions that make games successful is one of the simplest ways to ensure that your game will appeal and entice your target customers. More than brilliant programming, you will need to make sure that your work will appeal to a wide range of users and not just a specific set of people.

Note your ideas down on paper

Sometimes it’s easier to convey your ideas in sketches, drawings or even in spider diagrams. Keep a notebook at hand so when you spontaneously think of a brilliant idea, you can write it down. In addition , it’s good to analyse other people’s games so you can get some inspiration and a few ideas which you can then apply to your game.

Mood and ambience

Besides the excitement of fighting enemies and unearthing treasures, a good game should also have a good atmosphere. Think about what you want the overall mood and tone of your game to be and use the background music to better portray this.

Rewarding the players

It’s much more effective to have lots of small rewards rather than one big prize at the end of a level. The players will be constantly seeking the next small reward to add to their pot which will keep them interested in the game. A player is more likely to give up if they have not received any prizes and have to complete a whole level to get one. Interest is quickly lost when there are no rewards which is why keeping your players interested and motivated with small prizes as they go along is a more effective method.

Jan 10

Successful Mobile Apps of 2012

According to statistics from PC World, Business Week and figures from Apple’s website, Google and Apple have added over 500,000 apps to their online stores in 2012. With an exponential increase of mobile apps every month, it can be very difficult to navigate the charts and determine what apps have been successful this year. To make it easier, here are a few apps that lead their categories in 2012:

Productivity/Business/Utilities – Clear by Realmac Software

Clear is a simple to-do list app. What makes this particular to-do list app stand out from the rest is its beautiful design and easy to use interface. Clear wants to keep things simple: add a task, swipe it off the list (literally), and organize thoughts in files. Clear also connects to the cloud so backing up and storing a list is simple.

Why is it so successful? – It might seem odd that a paid to-do list app is outshining the free competition, but Clear is strides ahead of the others. The key to Clear’s success lies in the app’s simple, yet stylish UI. Creating an app with a nearly self-explanatory design pulls in more users.

Social Networking/Photography – Instagram by Facebook and Burbn, Inc.

The introduction of Instagram changed the way mobile users take photos and share them. The app allows the user to take a photo, apply effects and filters, and upload it for others to see. As is the case with other social media outlets, users can follow other people and comment on their pictures. Facebook recently purchased the app for a stunning $1 billion, which makes it one of the fastest and biggest payouts in tech startup history according to research by Pingdom.

Why is it so successful? – Before Facebook’s big purchasing move, Instagram had gained a large following. According to the New York Times, creator Kevin Systrom released a test version to influential bloggers who used it to post pictures on their sites and Twitter accounts. The trial releases created a demand, leading to huge success at the app’s launch.

Games – Angry Birds by Rovio

Angry Birds has been a clear leader in mobile gaming since its launch in December of 2009. The game now has 5 versions available on almost every mobile platform available. In addition to winning awards for Best Mobile App for Consumers from Mobile Excellence Awards and Global Mobile Awards, Angry Birds also spawned a collection of toys, books, board games, and even theme parks.

Why is it so successful? – Angry Birds proves that a game doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to develop to be a success. The game hit the mobile market early, giving it a leg up on the competition. The continued success can be attributed to the constant flow of series updates Rovio gives its new and veteran fans. The most recent update, Angry Birds: Star Wars, was released on November 6.

What’s to be learned from the most successful apps of 2012? It doesn’t have to be complicated to beat out the competition. Mike Krieger, Instagram co-founder, attributes his app’s success to keeping things “as simple as possible.” The most successful apps in 2012 were modest ideas that applied frequent updates, offered a simple-thrills UI, and integrated social media options to promote community engagement.

Do you have an idea for a mobile app? Let Zco give you a hand. Send us an email or request a call from one of our experts to get started.

Jun 13

Indie Game Development – Where to start?

Not since the day of the Sinclair Spectrum back in the early eighties has independent game development been so big. The advent of the smart phone meant that you didn’t need big budgets or smart 3D graphics to get your game to market. A huge user base wanted simple, fun and cheap games and indie game developers rose again to rival even the biggest of the game giants.

I am by no means an expert in indie game development and nor am I a fully trained game programmer with an education in game theory, level mechanics or usability. Each indie dev’s journey is different and the following article will share with you my advice based on my experiences over the past few years.

First off you need to really want to make games for the joy of making games as game development is not a ‘get rich scheme’ and you can’t just knock out a poor Angry Birds clone and expect the millions to come rolling in. Creating a good game takes time and you would be looking at an absolute minimum of three months from concept to testing.

If you decide to take the plunge then start small and come up with a simple game idea and build on it. Mario was originally called ‘Jump Man’ for a reason and his debut was a simple but addictive game and Pac-Man employs quite a clever enemy logic. In order to stop early disappointment you should think about ‘shelving’ your big game idea until your second, third or fourth game in order for you to get a grasp on all the elements of game design and development.

I don’t know how to code? When it comes to game development you have the choice of learning code or using a drag and drop approach; either way you have options. I am a graphic designer by trade so the drag and drop approach appealed to me first. If this avenue appeals to you then I would strongly recommend starting with either Gamesalad or Stencyl and if you want additional functionality and are willing to put in the leg work then Corona.

Choose Your Weapon Gamesalad is the more established game creation engine and has a great community within its forums. There are plenty of people willing to help you throughout your journey and you have many people from fresh meat to seasoned professionals to chew the fat with. This engine uses .png graphics and has an easy to use drag and drop functionality with allows you to see exactly what you are creating in real time. There are plenty of free templates to help you muddle through and further premium templates to help you understand the more complicated actions. This is a great starter engine as it uses ‘behaviors’ to tell the graphic what to do such as ‘when the graphic is touched, move 300px left’.

The Stencyl game engine uses similar functions such as scenes, behaviours and physics but is more based around drawing directly into the scene with spritesheets instead of placing the pre-made individual game graphics. The addition of an image editor built in also means this is more of an ‘all-in-one’ solution but if you are happy to use illustrator, photoshop, gimp or inkscape to create your elements then you might find the image editor limiting. Unlike Gamesalad the Stencyl engine uses spritesheets to handle images which is more like the more complex engines.

Moving on to the aforementioned ‘more complex engines’ I would suggest looking at Corona if you fancy trying your hand at learning code. The learning curve is steeper but the reward is much greater as this skill can be transferred as it uses OpenAL, OpenGL, Box2D, and Lua, meaning Corona uses the same industry-standard architecture as the larger companies such as Electronic Arts, and ngmoco. As this engine has greater access to the native phone functions as well as greater social connections this is a powerful starter engine. Many that start on Gamesalad or stencyl move on to corona when their games become more intensive.

Finally, if 2D is one dimension short for your liking then take a look at Unity 3D as this is what the big boys tend to use that work within the third dimension. This option is the most expensive and would require the largest commitment of time and energy. Sadly I could not advise you on this one as it would only be based on research and not actual experience. If you have any experience with program’s such as the free blender, or the more expensive maya 3D.

With any of the above engines, the one thing you need to do is give it time to learn. Make a simple game to learn the basics and build up from there as with each game you create you learn something new.

Over the next few weeks we will cover various topics to do with game design and development and hopefully help a few budding developers realise their dream to create the next big thing.

About the author

Ian Garstang is a budding indie game designer who is a graphic designer by day for the top 100 creative agency Kingsland Linassi. By night he is game designer and graphic peddler to other like minded souls. Ian currently has designed graphics for well over 50 games and has three titles currently on the app store as well as many in development. In order to aid his community Ian runs an online game graphic store called Graphic-Buffet.com

Links:

http://gamesalad.com/ http://www.anscamobile.com/corona/ http://www.stencyl.com/ http://unity3d.com/unity/publishing/ios

Jun 07

Was Minecraft thе Best Indie Game оf 2011?

I’m nоt оnе tо beat аrоund thе bush, sо tо thе answer thе title question, уеs, іn mу opinion іt іs. Granted І hаvеn’t hаd thе distinct pleasure tо play еvеrу indie game released lаst year but І hаvе played а fеw оf thеm. Νоt mаnу released асtuаllу hаvе thе ability tо mаkе money, but Minecraft іs mоst definitely аn exception tо thаt rule.

In early 2011 а friend оf mine introduced mе tо а game thаt І thought wаs јust tоо simplistic draw mаnу people’s attention. І wаs pretty trusting оf mу friends judgment, but І wеnt ahead аnd read а couple online reviews tо confirm whаt hе hаd tо tеll mе аbоut thе game. І decided thаt fifteen dollars, twenty nоw, wаsn’t а huge investment tо оwn а game sо І wеnt ahead аnd bought thе beta version.

The basic premise fоr thе game іs vеrу simple, уоu mine materials аnd еіthеr build оr craft things frоm thеsе materials. Fоr instance, уоu саn’t expect thеrе tо bе ambient light underground sо уоu must craft torches оut оf coal аnd sticks іn order tо light уоur cave. Еvеrуthіng іn thе game іs based оn оld 8-bit technology, original Nintendo graphics, but thеrеіn lies оnе оf thе mоst challenging parts оf thе game. Ноw саn уоu gеt blocky graphics tо lооk аs smooth аs роssіblе? Маnу people online hаvе begun usіng programs thаt allow thеm tо convert аn image оf thеіr favorite video game hero tо аn 8-bit image. Тhіs technique іs called spriting аnd іs mоst definitely оnе оf thе coolest things аbоut thе game. Yеt аnоthеr thing thаt draws mе tо thе game, іs thе fact thаt уоu саn build structures thаt аrе absolutely massive. Еvеrу block іn Minecraft equals 1 meter squared іn real life terms. Ѕо іf уоu wanted tо recreate уоur local supermarket tо wіthіn 1 meters accuracy, уоu соuld, аnd shоuld іf іt sounds lіkе fun. Тhе main problem іs finding thе раrtісulаr material уоu wаnt tо build іt оut of.

As а time sink, thіs game іs absolutely а 10. Whіlе іt wоuld bе difficult tо build аn exact replica оf thе Capital Building, уоu absolutely соuld, gіvеn еnоugh time. Тhе sky іs thе limit, literally, іn thіs sandbox game аnd thе оnlу limitation уоu hаvе іs уоur оwn imagination. І hаvе nеvеr played а game thаt resembles computer generated Legos mоrе thаn thіs оnе but wіth unlimited Legos. Тhіs оnе gеts а 9/10. It’s оnlу flaw іs аll thе bugs. Eventually іt will bе а masterpiece, but fоr nоw wе hаvе tо deal wіth thе pace оf thе programmers.

Jan 29

Finishing a game

Whilst having trouble completing yet another game (I have 3 in development now, a physics puzzler, a jetpack game AND a top down racer) I decided to ask the Twittersphere for help andadvice and was inundated with links to this article.

See below for more details:

Finishing a Game

As I work towards completing my own game, I’ve been thinking a lot about finishing projects in general. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of really talented developers out there that have trouble finishing games. Truthfully, I’ve left a long trail of unfinished games in my wake… I think everyone has. Not every project is going to pan out, for whatever reason. But if you find yourself consistently backing out of game projects that have a lot of potential, it could be worth taking a step back and examining why this happens.

 

We’ve all had that feeling about at least one game, comic book, movie, etc., that comes out: “Gee, I could do better than this! This is overrated.” But it’s important to take a step back and realize that, hey, they put in the time to finish a project and I haven’t. That’s at least one thing they might be better than me at, and it’s probably why they have the recognition I don’t! If you treat finishing like a skill, rather than simply a step in the process, you can acknowledge not only that it’s something you can get better at, but also what habits and thought processes get in your way.

I don’t believe that there’s a right way to make games. It’s a creative endeavor, so there are no hard and fast rules that can’t be broken at some point. But as a game developer who has discussed this problem with other game developers, I feel like there are some mental traps that we all fall into at some point, especially when we’re starting out. Being aware of these traps is a great first step towards finishing something. (Between you and me, codifying these ideas is partly my way of staying on top of them, too!)

So without further ado, here is a list of 15 tips for finishing a game:

1. CHOOSE AN IDEA WITH POTENTIAL

I’ve found that there are three types of games that pique my interest: games I want to make, games I want to have made, and games I’m good at making.

Games I want to make are games where the process itself seems really fun. Maybe the mechanic seems really fun to experiment with, or maybe there’s a character I really want to animate.

Games I want to have made are games where I’m more interested in the result than in getting there. Maybe it’s a “no-limits” concept (“OMG, GTA meets Final Fantasy meets Starcraft meets…”) or just a really neat idea that’s not necessarily any fun to implement.

Games I’m good at making are games that are suited to my personality and which I have experience in making. Perhaps there’s a certain genre that you naturally gravitate towards and which you understand the rhythm and flow of very well.

In my opinion, the ideas with the most potential (to be finished, at least) fall into all three categories and also satisfy the requirement “I have the time and resources to actually make this”.

2. ACTUALLY START THE DAMN GAME

Writing your idea down is not starting the damn game. Writing a design document is not starting the damn game. Assembling a team is not starting the damn game. Even doing graphics or music is not starting the damn game. It’s easy to confuse “preparing to start the damn game” with “starting the damn game”. Just remember: a damn game can be played, and if you have not created something that can be played, it’s not a damn game!

So dammit, even creating a game engine is not necessarily starting the damn game. Which brings me to the next tip…

3. DON’T ROLL YOUR OWN TECH IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO

There are pros and cons to writing your own engine. But ask yourself, do you really have to? Is what you want to do impossible to do with what’s already out there or would you be reinventing the wheel? Of course, if you write your own engine you can make it just perfect the way you like it. But be honest, how often do you ever get past the engine to the game itself? Do you find yourself making game engines more often than you do games?

I made the original version of Spelunky in Game Maker, and it’s that “finished” game that eventually gave me the opportunity to work on an Xbox 360 version. So don’t ever feel that game-making software or other simplified tools are somehow illegitimate. The important thing is the game.

Link: The Independent Gaming Forums Technical Forums

4. PROTOTYPE

This goes with #2: prototype first with whatever you have available. Sometimes you find out right off the bat that it’s a bad idea. Sometimes you stumble upon an even BETTER idea. Either way, I usually find it really hard to figure out what I want to commit to until I actually start making something. So make something!

5. MAKE SURE THE CORE MECHANICS ARE FUN

Find core mechanics that are just fun to play around with. It should be fun to execute the most basic interactions, because that’s what players will be doing the most when they play your game. Ultimately, you want this core to drive your development. This will make it a lot easier for you later on when you have to cut out parts of the game (#13) – you’ll always have this core to fall back to.

It’s possible, while prototyping, that you discover a mechanic that’s MORE fun than what you originally thought the core mechanic was – consider making that the new core mechanic!

6. CHOOSE GOOD PARTNERS (OR WORK ALONE AS LONG AS YOU CAN)

Finding a good game-making partner is like dating in a lot of ways. You may think that all that matters is skill: “Oh cool, I’m a programmer, and this guy’s an artist… let’s DO THIS!” But no, there are other things to consider, like personality, experience, timing, and mutual interest. Like a romantic relationship, you don’t want to be in a position where either you or the other person is far less dedicated. Test each other out a bit with some smaller projects, because it can really be devastating when a key person drops out after months or years of development.

Another great thing about having finished projects is that your partners will know what you’re capable of and will feel more comfortable working with you. It’s really hard to convince anyone experienced to work with you on an idea alone, considering how few ideas actually see the light of day (and how hard it is to see the value in some ideas until they’ve been executed). Good partners will want to see your finished games. So finish them!

Alternatively, find free graphics and music to use online, at least as placeholders (at The Independent Gaming Source we had a competitionin which a lot of free art and music was created). Use ASCII if you have to. As an artist, I know I’d much rather contribute to a project that is already done but just missing art. And if you need a coder… consider learning to code yourself (if I can do it, you can, too!) or picking up some game-making software (see #3).

7. GRIND IS NORMAL – FACTOR IT INTO YOUR PLAN

A lot of game-making is tedious and downright unfun. It’s not play, it’s work (and this is why you should choke out ANYONE when they joke about you “playing games all day”). At some point you’ll suddenly realize that there’s all this stuff you never thought about when you were planning your project and prototyping – stuff like menus, screen transitions, saving and loading, etc. “Shoot! I was imagining this amazing world I was going to create, or this fun mechanic I was going to play with… I didn’t think I’d be spending weeks making functional menus that don’t look like crap!” Or, you know, there’s stuff that’s fun in small doses, like animating characters, that becomes nightmarish when you realize you’ve set yourself up for 100 different characters.

Once you go through it a couple of times, you’ll realize how important it is to scale your project so that you don’t spend too much time in this inevitable quagmire (“too much time” being however long it takes before you quit). You’ll also realize that a lot of this boring stuff is what makes the game feel complete! A nice title screen, for example, does wonders to make a game feel legitimate.

8. USE AWARDS, COMPETITIONS, AND OTHER EVENTS AS REAL DEADLINES

When Alec and I were working on Aquaria, the Independent Games Festival submission deadline forced us to make hard decisions about the direction we were taking and it also forced us to look at our schedule more realistically. Had we not had that deadline, I’m not entirely certain we would have finished! Competitions are great to participate in because the deadlines are very real and because the rewards (recognition, awards, possibly money) are very real. Also, they can give you a way to connect with a community of like-minded people.

Links: Independent Games FestivalLudum Dare

9. PUSH FORWARD

Feeling stuck? Push forward. Start working on the next level, the next enemy, the next whatever. Not only is it helpful for motivational purposes, but you want to get a sense for how your whole game will play out. Just like writing – you don’t want to go through it sentence by sentence, making sure every sentence is perfect before you move on. Get an outline down.

10. TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH

It can be surprisingly hard to take care of yourself when you’re focused on finishing a game. But honestly, you’re only doing your game-making a disservice by not sleeping, exercising, or eating right. At best, you’re preventing yourself from working at your full potential and making it more likely that you’ll quit. Having some doubt about your project is perfectly natural, but getting depression or falling into illness is not. It’s amazing how much you can not want to work on your dream project when your mind and body feels like crap!

11. STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR STARTING OVER

“My code’s a mess. And I’ve learned so much already. If I started over I could do it a lot better and faster, and then the rest of the game will go a lot faster, too!”

STOP. NO. This is true at some point during every game’s development. Your code will always be a mess. You will have learned a lot. It will never be perfect. And if you start all over, you’ll find yourself in the exact same situation when you get to this point again. It’s a terrible trap to think like this.

Here’s a joke: a man spends his entire life working on a game engine so perfect that all he has to do is press one button and the perfect game will come out of it. Actually, it’s not much of a joke, because the punchline is that he never finishes it! No such engine or game exists.

If bad organization is really slowing you down, go back and do some surgery on it so that you feel better. If it works but it’s a bit hacky, then be brave and press on!

12. SAVE IT FOR THE NEXT GAME

So partway through development you have this great new idea that’s going to blow everyone’s mind, but you’ll have to redo your whole game to implement it? Save it for the next game! Right? This won’t be the last game you ever make, hopefully. Save it for the next one… but finish this one first!

13. CUT. IT. OUT.

Oh shit, you’re way behind schedule. You have all these ideas but they’ll colonize Mars before you have a chance to implement half of them. Oh woe is you… BUT WAIT!

Well, that’s great, actually! Because now you’re forced to decide what is really important to your game, and what you could cut. The fact is, if we all had unlimited resources and unlimited time, we’d all make the same crappy, meandering everything game and there’d be no reason to play at all. It’s our limited resources and time that forces us to make tight games that feel like they have a purpose.

If you’ve been building upon some core concepts that are provably fun, just keep cutting until you get to the very edge of that core. Everything else is probably just fluff you could do without. Or worse, it’s fluff that’s preventing people from seeing the best parts of your game.

14. IF YOU DO QUIT, SCALE DOWN, NOT UP

Okay, sometimes it is time to call it quits. Maybe there’s just no way you’ll ever finish, and what you have is too big a mess to cut anything out. Maybe the rest of your team has quit already. My hope in writing this list is to help people avoid this possibility, but hey, maybe you’re just coming off of such a project. And sometimes… shit just happens.

If there’s no salvaging it, at least make sure that you scale down your next project. It’s easy to set your sights higher and higher, even as your projects become less and less finished. “My SKILLS are improving! I’m learning from my failure,” is a common excuse. But I think this is why it’s important to treat finishing as a skill, too.

So go back down, down, down, down to a point where you may even find it somewhat beneath you. For example, instead of jumping from your 4x space sim to your 4x space sim IN 3D, try making a great game that focuses on one small element of space sims. And if you can’t finish that, try something more like Asteroids. It’s very possible that it’ll still end up being a bigger struggle than you thought (and/or more fun to make than you thought)!

15. THE LAST 10 PERCENT

They say the last 10 percent is really 90 percent, and there is truth to this. It’s the details that end up taking a long time. Sure, maybe you coded a competent combat system in a week… but making it great and making it complex (and bug-free)… these things can take months. The honest truth is that you’ll probably do a “final lap” sprint many times before you get to the real final lap.

If this sounds discouraging, it shouldn’t. While the last 10 percent is harrowing, I’ve also found that is an enormously satisfying time in the development. Because more often than not, stuff really does seem to “just come together” at the end if you’ve been spending your time properly, and turning a jumble of mish-mashed ideas and content into sweet gaming manna is a magical feeling.

It’s all about the details.

AND FINALLY… RELEASE!

Holy crap, you released a game! Congratulations, you just leveled up, big time. Benefits include: increased confidence, a reputation for being able to complete projects, and an understanding of the entire process of game creation! The best part, though, is that you have a nice little game that I can play and enjoy! And I do like playing games, almost as much as I enjoy making them.

No more standing on the sidelines, friend: YOU ARE A GAME DEVELOPER.