Dec 17, 2014

Dual(Mondays)Wednesdays: Beta-love

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things. It usually appears on Mondays -- only rarely on Wednesdays.

Well, I've pondered about this a whole lot. This is a bit of a weird topic, but let's have at it. Let's talk about everything regarding properly testing your videogame. It may not be rocket science, in fact, I've checked, it's not, however that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park either.

As a developer, going through the testing phase of your project, you must not hasten to its completion by reducing it into a simple bug squatting pit. It should be the first step to shaping up the community that will surround your videogame.

Clarifying that to your head is vital in order to help you alter the focus from bug-finding to feedback. And specifically asking for constructive and detailed feedback from the beta testing team is one of the ways to go, and as a developer, if you respect yourself, you should make it so. After all, the beta-phase should always be about showing people your game and re-shaping it by going through as much feedback as possible. The lack of such, is and should be devastating for the progress of the game.

While the alpha version is about constructing the game based on self-feedback and testing, beta is about a private smaller group/demographic determining your efforts and helping you reshape them (if you're willing to accept the views of said group), before releasing it to the public. From this wonderful experience, which personally, as a developer, I adore the most out of the entire game-making process, you must learn to accept every opinion and be as open-minded as possible.

Despite the fact that certain points being voiced will not be ones to keep, every other point that you cannot logically or game-wise argue against can be considered as valid and actions towards its suggestions can be taken. In simpler words, it's up to you to bother with and filter every single remark and comment about your creation. Don't be afraid or disheartened, but rather see everything as an opportunity to get better. The mistakes you've made so far have no impact on the end product, for this is the juncture to alter the result, kind of like having a time machine. Don't distance yourself from the testers, they're not a bunch of freeloaders, they're people who are willing to devote their time and energy to playtest your game and send you back a report containing various findings - wonderful things, that you've been accommodated to their presence, managing to ignore them in the same way you ignore the fact that you're breathing.

The testers don't bash your game when they speak of it, but rather, they judge it and criticize and hope, unlike reviewers, that you improve upon their findings. And exactly that, you should do.

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Dec 8, 2014

DualMondays: Point And Click Jam - Aftermath

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

Well, normally this would have been another philosophical rambling about some topic, but today, I felt the need to bother you with the very recent and wonderfully successful Point and Click Jam. Of all the jams I watched closely or participated in this year, this one seemed to out-polish them all. There were absolutely no amateur entries here. It felt like a bunch of veterans were against each other, fighting for the first spot. This may be a correct first impression, however, upon closer inspection, that is not exactly the case. 

The majority of the contestants, hadn't even done an adventure game before (some I believe haven't even made a game!), so why does this not feel as amateur hour (pointing at the Pewdiepie VS Indie Jam)?

Because, there's no way to pull off certain genres with half-arsed efforts, which explains the duration of this game-making competition and any other adventure game competition. Think about it! Even OROW (abbreviation stands for One Room One Week), that is about making an adventure game in one room/screen, lasts a week. For it is quite known and obvious to all developers, that you could make a platform game in a matter of hours, but as a genre, adventure games are focused on the story and atmosphere, and it's rather hard to set up pacing, flow, story arc, character design, interface, puzzles within the span of a day, let alone in a less time than that.

It's a genre that begs for lots of hours of work, but also for quality. Arguably and regardless of the design of your game, polishing it is a vital element. For adventure games in particular, it works on every little part they consist of, making it something you simply have to do with. And here I am two paragraphs in and I'm already transforming back into Plato.

Anyhow - about the Point And Click Jam.

It was organized by the good people down at GameJolt, and the rules were quite simple (and a bit on the annoying side too). In 15 days you had to make an adventure game of the point and click kind, whereas the interface was left open for developers to either make one that had already been famous from games of the era or construct a brand new one. The resolution was forced to 320x200 so that you could get that "1991 feel" and you could work on your story before the jam begun (but just the story!). The ultra annoying bit for me, was the palette restriction. To make things more challenging and closer to the Lucas Arts / Sierra Era we all loved when we were growing up, the rules stated that you had to use a certain palette (a number of colors) to make your entry.

That was of course set to maintain a retro feel, along with the rule that also made clear that you're not allowed to make use of a technology further developed after 1992 or so (contemporary technologies in making the assets of your game had to be used). While this did help create quality entries in a weird masochistic way, I found it rather unappealing. The jam should have at least broadened the restrictions by allowing the use of transparency, if not alpha channels on sprites.

Regardless I consider the jam to be highly succesful, as, through it, wonderful games such as "A Fragment of Her", "Max Greene", "The Exciting Space Adventures of Greg And Linda", "Void And Meddler", "There Ain't No Sunshine", "A Cosmic Song" and others, spawned. I highly suggest checking all the entries, but the ones mentioned are worth an extra bit of attention. Wait, aren't adventure games dead? :P

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Dec 5, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #5.12

Having criminally failed to provide you with a Watchful Indie Watch last week I decided to a) get myself thoroughly spanked and b) make it up to you with this particularly hefty round-up of news from the indie gaming world. 

The Point And Click Jam, the best jam ever for us adventure lovers, is live and happy to provide you with 23 mostly excellent point-and-clickers. Everything is freeware, varied, cutely retro and very, very lovely.

Incredibly promising survival RPG NEO Scavenger has made itself available for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam's Early Access. There's a demo for you here and you will definitely be reminded of the Superhero League of Hoboken.

Gorgeous arcade adventure The Deer God is also available for early accessing at Steam and is looking gorgeous indeed. It's available for Windows, Mac and Linux and you should at least watch its new trailer.

Oh, and brilliant political strategy simulation Neocolonialism has finally made it to Steam. It's turn-based, clever and playable on anything reasonable contemporary with a keyboard and a mouse.

Speaking of geopolitics, Viktor is all about becoming the Emperor of Austria-Hungary while simultaneously remaining a jolly, cartoony and rather wild boar. The adventure is currently being crowdfunded over at Kickstarter. Here's the demo.

There's a trailer that teased me on forthcoming adventure game Unforeseen Incidents and you should watch it. It's teasing. And intriguing.

To overcome the teasing, well, you could always play freeware platformer OverPowered. It was released as part of GameJolt's Indies VS PewDiePie Jam which you should definitely check out too -- there are hundreds of great freebies in there.

Polyology is a smart and freshly released puzzler you can try out with a little help from its demo. You can also grab it here and, possibly, vote for it on Greenlight.

Oooooh, look! It's a wild west cutesy RPG and it's called Boot Hill Heroes! From what little I've played it seems a pretty excellent game and one that's available via Steam for Windows.

And if you are into both the imaginary wild west and retro visuals, you'll also care for Thief Town; yet another Steam release for Windows, Mac and Linux. It's a multi-player, stealth, backstabbing thing.

Medieval-loving, hack-and-slashers, on the other hand, could do worse than help KRUM - Edge of Darkness hit its incredibly humble funding goal on IndieGoGo. Yes, obviously, it's a RPG.

Keeping with the holiday spirit, here's this year's Advent of Indies. It's brilliant and festive as ever and provides you with a hand-picked freebie and a suggestion for a great game each day.

If you loved Mudlarks, which you probably did, Cloak and Dagger Games have released a new freeware adventure for you: A Date In The Park. Expect a mystery, puzzles and lovingly digitized graphics.

Dec 1, 2014

DualMondays: Fan Service

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

"Currently, I have to admit, I'm a bit swamped with work, cause we're planning a wonderful patch for Primordia", is what I wrote a week ago to save myself from writing last week's article. Though this means I just abused this webspace for personal promotion, I promise I'm not going to reference the game on this article again. It's not even what the article is about, it's only but a spark. But, returning back to it, why would anyone bother with something released over 2 years ago? Doesn't that make you wonder? What are the reasonings behind it? Well, the answer is not logical in itself. But let's take things from the top.

In anime and manga any material added or adjusted to please the audience intentionally is clarified as Fan Service. In the weird cultural differences between the Western world and the Japanese, fan service could even mean about having a long shot of a woman's body and/or generally gratuitous nudity. But it's not just about that. Prolonged scenes, extra violence, references to other shows are also deemed as fan service. But what is this term I've been throwing at your face actually about?

It is about servicing the fans, if you will, providing the audience with the premise that was initially hinted at or directly promised, or somewhere in the process deeply desired. For its about giving your fanbase, regardless of size, what they want, to put it bluntly. As it has been said before, it could be fixing an annoying issue, fixing a crash, it could be adding content, adjusting previously existing content, it could be virtually anything. 

What helps clarify it as such, is the fact that you've went out of your own way to provide a version of the product closer to the desires of the fans. A direct nod of appreciation, to show the bondage between you and the audience. Every remake of a game, every remastered version of it, despite being approved for profit reasons is also falling under the rule of servicing the fanbase.

A big example of that, are the Neon Genesis Evangelion (Shin - Seiki Evangerion) movies. Categorized as a fan service because they are created to satisfy the fans desire for a better (perhaps alternative is a better word) ending to the series. It's even stated on last addition to the saga, Evangelion 3.33, You Can (Not) Redo, that the movies have been partly if not entirely for the fan's satisfaction, as they will continue till the fourth movie gets released. The original television series first airing almost two decades ago (October, 1995), ended rather philosophically and abruptly. 

The finale itself, mostly abstract in its nature (containing concept drawings, unfinished sequences, real-life stills and voice-over dialogue), has being heavily criticized by critics and fans alike, who considered even the possibility that the ending was forced from budget cuts. Thus, the creators have embarked on a quest to satisfy the thirst of the fanbase (cult, would be more appropriate) for a proper closure.

Fan service is a weird kind of love, nobody gets it, except the parties involved. Then again we could rule it down to explicit sexual content, but that's not what it's about. It's not logical, it's not even always good for business, it's the opposite of value-per-time-spent, but it's a wonderful thing we do, a silly anniversary to form a wonderful relationship.

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Nov 21, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #21.11

It has to be the weather; it really has to be it, as I frankly cannot find any other explanation for another incredibly intriguing week filled with lovable, hugable indie gaming news. I do of course choose to ignore all those silly holidays rumours. Well, obviously.

Let me start off then by suggesting you at least try the demo of Super Sec Soccer. It's an utterly stylised football thing with a frantic pace and some of the best local multiplayer since Sensible Soccer.

Generally speaking of things of the frantic variety, anyone interested in freeware, mostly great, fresh and at times experimental FPS offerings should definitely check 7DFPS out. It's a game jam and it's packed with 145 games.

Interested in something more procedural? Well, the equally rich Procedural Generation Jam 2014 is also live and packed with many hours of random fun.

Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the original Maniac Mansion team, have promised us one classically fresh new point-and-click adventure with all the verbs we could ask for and are seeking funding via their Kickstarter for Thimbleweed Park.

Gothic Americana will soon be getting its atmospheric, exploration heavy game, Fallow, which has already gotten its very own, very playable demo. Download it here.

Fredrick Raynal, the creator of both Little Big Adventure and Alone in the Dark, is crowdfunding 2Dark. A most intriguing and quite shocking horror thing.

Courier of the Crypts, a rather brilliantly themed puzzle RPG of sorts, is also appealing to the generosity of gamers over at IndieGoGo. Happily, it looks very nice too and promises a ton of deadly traps. I love deadly traps!

Kelvin and the Infamous Machine is yet another promising adventure game and another project to support via Kickstarter. Happily, it looks glorious in its cartoony way and offers a brilliant little demo too.

Oh, yes, and the pretty excellent Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork has launched for Windows and Mac. The game, by Pixeljam and comic book artist James Kochalka, fuses platforming with shmups.

I have only scratched its surface so far, but Lords of Xulima (Windows, mac) is a fantasy RPG that promises over 100 hours of fantasy adventuring and looks great. Loving it so far.

Nov 17, 2014

DualMondays: Did you cry?

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

Talking about TV series with my brother yesterday, the conversation took an interesting turn: "Have you played The Walking Dead video-", he said, but was briefly interrupted by my nod. "This may sound weird to you, but I cried at the end", he exclaimed. This created a wonderful discussion over which videogames have made us feel sentimental in the past. Anyhow, as I started to wonder, I felt a nice warm feeling recalling the games I was connected to in such emotional way.

For a moment I got lost into a philosophical journey. In movies it's somewhat easier to cry and generally share or be overcome by certain sentiments/feelings, because the usual behavior we have while experiencing a story is to attempt to relate to it. But with games that's usually different, mostly because we have full (or at least the illusion of such) control over the protagonist's actions and the protagonist in most cases serves as a vessel of ourselves.

With the creation and the world-wide success of Elite, a significant change to videogames occurred. An alteration to the rule that a score must determine the skill of the player and the player's involvement to the game must resolve around his/her attempts to get the highest score possible. With Elite we were slowly introduced to something far greater. The probability that games could "just" have a decent storyline instead of a score. And as time passed and technology progressed, it happened. The early nineties were mostly dominated by Adventure Games and RPGs, both primarily focused on gripping story arcs and featuring elements such as branches, depth, setting, character development etc.

Even if the adventure game genre itself  lost part of its shine and glory, it helped immensely in paving the way for other genres to evolve; genres that were mostly focusing on excessive button mashing. Action / First Person Shooter franchises such as Max Payne, Metal Gear Solid, System Shock, Half Life, Resident Evil disengaged from the brainless stereotype of exaggerated, rapid frenzy and reckless gameplay to a more delicate, realistic approach. As storyline became an new element in game design, cinematic elements have also been introduced, gradually transforming videogames into a new form of art (even though that could be a stretch) - an art we can interact with our own ways within the limits that are presented to us (visible and not).

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