My new game – Keeper’s Diary, is underway in Unity. Feeling good about this project!keeper1

Back to the drawing board. Project: KEEPER’S DIARY is in progress.

Snatcher and Resi sitting in a tree,
First came love,
Then came marriage,
Then came Resi with a baby carriage…

The idea for Super Zombie Bowl came back in 2010 when I was unemployed. I’d been out of work for about 6 months and my confidence was taking a bashing. I decided to try and expand my skill set by making a simple game. Back then, games like Canabalt, Monster Dash and Doodle Jump were all the rage and so I wanted to make an endless style game. It’s hard to think it’s taken 5 years to get such a small game out – it’s like my own personal Duke Nukem Forever! It was quite a journey – but I’m glad it’s finally done. Hopefully, if you are reading this – you’ve played the game and enjoyed it! Let’s go back to the start…

Back in 2010…

The prototype…
I’m not a programmer – so I needed a tool that was high-level and accessible – so opted to use Flash to make the prototype. Using this great tutorial, I took that basic gameplay and changed the orientation and added in a pseudo 3D effect to the pitch to give a sense of depth. Which sounds impressive but was actually just one line of code! I had to build on the tutorial of course – and encountered many bugs and challenges in doing so – but I was just happy to be doing something productive with my time rather than handing out CVs and watching This Morning. Flash has a great community – so help and advice was never too far away.

SZB circa 2010

SZB circa 2010

Making it pretty

Once the prototype was done I approached an artist who I knew from a game studio I used to work at. That studio had closed down and he was unemployed too – so I think the work was a welcome stopgap between employment. The original art style was completely different from the finished product – originally the game had a more serious tone – but ultimately the artist came to the conclusion that this didn’t play to his strengths as an artist/animator. This was quite an important moment in the development of the game – in fact, it was the most important decision made during the developement of this entire game – and full credit to him for following his gut. His artwork truly makes this game shine.

Jessie - before and after

Jessie – before and after

Be sure to check out some of the other artwork posts on this blog.

Programming – by someone who knows what they’re doing…

By the time the artwork was done by mid-2011 I was back in full time employment. The idea of learning to code properly for a release on Android or iOS was completely unrealistic in my opinion – so I decided to enlist the help of a programmer. The first person to work on the game – a very gifted programmer who I respect immensely – didn’t quite work out. A lot of time was spent creating an engine and then communication just died. At that point I pretty much gave up on getting this project done. That was back in early 2013.

It wasn’t until November 2014 that I decided to have one last go and reached out again to a few former work colleagues to see if anyone was interested in coding the game. The simple answer was ‘no’ – but I was pointed in the direction of another exceptional programmer and former colleague who said ‘yes’! Only 6 weeks after the first email the game was done apart from bugs, polish and localisation – running on both iOS and Android devices. Result! After another few weeks of final touches and getting all the localised text in (Arabic being the trickiest) we are done and ready for submission to both Apple and Google.

Running on Android and iOS

Running on Android and iOS

How much did it cost?

Super Zombie Bowl came in at just under £6K. Which was and still is a lot of money – but I’m fortunate enough that everyone who worked on this title did it at a very low rate – let’s just call it ‘mates rates’. Without them this project would have remained on the shelf so I am eternally grateful for their hard work and patience. They deserve much more than what they got. All the money came from my own personal savings. Here are a breakdown of the costs – represented by my favourite kind of chart – a pie chart:

Where the money went

Where the money went

Some of those areas can be broken down further…

– Programmer: £2150
– Google Play Registration: £18.21
– iOS Developer Program: £60.00
– Unity Plugin – £70.36
Art: £2100
Music & SFX:
– Musician: payment was a copy of Diablo 3 – £34.85
– Stock SFX: £69.18 (Audio Micro)
Localisation: £1474.34

Total: £5976.94 (approx. $8,988.42)

Costs also include overseas transaction fees. Stuff you, Lloyds Bank!

What did I learn from this?

1. Trust others. Good job I kept a diary back in 2010 as I wouldn’t have remembered this otherwise. “I find myself indecisive at times. Then panic sets in – do I even know what I want? Will the artist think I’m flaky? Will they get pissed off if I ask for one thing now and another later?” That’s a rhetorical question – but the answer is ‘yes, they will’. The best thing the artist did was taking over and following his gut – when he did that the concept artwork poured out in no time.

2. Repeat the Agile mantra. Change happens; change is good. quick and dirty beats laboured perfection on the road to finding what works. Only when you are happy should time be spent polishing.

3. Establish style and palette. Based on what happened on this project – pick one character and complete them to get the overall style which all others will be based on, and choose the palette for the project. If you look at SZB in broad strokes it’s really just two colours – green and purple.

4. Try to be objective and not micromanage. Ties in with point one. Don’t sweat the small stuff – it’s an expression you’ve heard before but really it means being able to distinguish between quality and personal preference. Have a commitment to quality – but don’t run everything through a preference ‘filter’. The result should be less panic, less u-turns, less re-work; just let people get on with it.

5. Put your money where your mouth is. Of course, Kickstarter was around back in 2010 – but I really didn’t feel comfortable taking other peoples’ money on what was quite a risky project; it did take 5 years to complete and it was my first project after all. £6K is quite a chunk of money – but it was important to give people something for working on my game. I don’t expect SZB to make much money (if any) from UnityAd – but if it did, I will of course be sharing with with everyone involved.

That’s it. I’m sure that one day, in the not too distant future, you will be able to watch sports on TV where people die in the name of entertainment. Until that day comes you’ll always have Super Zombie Bowl! Thanks for reading!

See you next game…

Everything you ever needed to know about this series is written here!
And here is my humble opinion…
808 has a convincing dystopian feel with its bleak portrayal of the futuristic urban monstrocities*. Lowlifes, hermit hackers, perverts, mercenaries, betrayal, cyborgs, illegal trade in human body parts and the general underlying notion that life is cheap are presented in abundance.One of the things I enjoyed most in this anime is the relationship between Sengoku and Varsus (a robot assistant). It’s important as it characterises how technology will become the subject of abuse and have to suffer the worst of human emotions. The small R2-D2-esque robot is cursed and berated constantly by Sengoku, and while we don’t expect it to do anything other than continue running its program, it’s interesting to see how much Sengoku uses Varsus as an outlet for his anger.
Criminals becoming police officers and earning time off their sentences with each completed case is an interesting concept – and yet deep down we know these men can never be free because the powers that be won’t allow it. We feel sympathetic to them yet know they must have commited horrible deeds in the past. They are true anti-heroes.
Another noteworthy aspect of this anime is the UK soundtrack – which perfectly captures a range of moods from high-octane action to sombre pieces that reflect the decline of humanity.

The downsides are that there are only three episodes – which is a shame as the characters, premise and setting have potential to go further. The hardline cyberpunk feel in the first episode is somewhat diminished by the second episode that introduces a cyborg with psychic powers. And diluted again in the final episode which focuses on vampires in space. There’s no real sense of closure either; as we don’t know what becomes of these unlikely heroes.

Despite these flaws the series is definitely worth a watch for any fan of cyberpunk. All episodes are viewable on YouTube.

*monstrous cities

808_body_parts abuse death_collar

With Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (AKA – the sequel no one asked for) having been recently announced and coming in 2015, I’ve taken a look back at the last game in the main franchise. Is it really as bad as I remember it?

Let’s find out…

Quite likely the most boring start to a game ever – it’s a ‘carrying’ simulation. Although it’s actually an apt metaphor for what these enforced co-op games are – a lumbering mass of dead weight.

It’s very easy to die at the start of this game. I died within 10 minutes because I have no idea how to work the QTEs – in fact, the entire part of the game up until the title screen is like something from Warioware. I’m not sure what’s going on, it’s not cohesive and the game is constantly changing how I interact with it.

Let’s take a look at Leon’s campaign. I dislike the QTEs that accompany every zombie attack – and the campus environment is quite uninspired.That sentiment is shared with the design too – walk past a dozen zombies slumped on the ground that you can’t interact with; but the instant you push the button at the end of the hall they all come to life. It’s predictable and mundane.

I can’t see any other mechanics in the first 1.5 hours other than walk into a room, see ‘dead’ people, and watch as they come to life the moment you interact with a key object. That mechanic is used too much – it should have been left behind in the 90s. The first locked door you come to and you have to find a key – but there is no exploration or puzzle solving – the key is marked on the HUD – it’s an entire 10 yards away. Try not to get lost!

Graphically I can’t understand what is going on, perhaps my memory is failing – but I’m sure that RE5 looked better. The buildings and props look very angular, and the textures seem very low resolution. I recently played RE4 and RE6 is actually closer to that than RE5 – which is just insane. Perhaps Capcom wanted to emphasise Leon’s campaign by making the game look just like RE4 when players last saw him?
Perhaps this why the game prompted me at the start to lower the brightness to the point of not being able to see anything. “Adjust the brightness until the logo is barely visible – that way you can’t see where we cut corners!”. I wouldn’t be surprised if it asked me to turn the monitor off and play the game based on sounds alone.
If you look at previous RE games – unique enemies were always introduced fairly gradually – there was some build up. Hunters, Lickers, Nemisis, gargantuans etc. Here there is a distinct lack of pacing. The game plays like an endless linear roller coaster and throws everything at you in a blur. Prepare to be surprised by zombies that spit at you (like in dead space), a zombie that screams at you, and a zombie that resembles a Boomer from L4D – only Capcom thought they’d disguise the source of inspiration of this enemy by making him twice the size. No one will ever suspect!

The other underwhelming thing about this game are the characters – you’ll meet a few on your journey but they are superficial and two-dimensional. And they’ll be dead before you can enjoy shooting them yourself.

Where are my trinkets?! This became a staple of RE4 and RE5 – it was fun to go around hunting for these collectibles and selling them on. Completely missing in RE6.

Things get a little more compelling in the catacombs. After some super fun crank turning you jump onto a series of pillars that start collapsing – at which point the camera pans out. This is a nice change from the default behind-the-shoulder view. Could we not have this throughout the game? Having said that – I’m instantly thrown off by an exploding zombie; Capcom insists I can’t enjoy myself in RE6.

By this stage I’m playing in the hope that this game will become more than what I’ve seen thus far. The mutant fish/shark attack at the end of the chapter wasn’t fully enjoyable but semi-respectable. It had nothing of the tension or interactivity that say, the lake in RE4 had, or the underwater lab in RE1. More could have been done. Reducing a confrontation to a series of button presses is not gameplay.

I’m not a fan of the 2 player co-op direction the series has taken. there are times when playing the game that you will be waiting around for the AI character to do something. Why not make a single player experience with the option to have two players? I don’t like the way an AI won’t pick up stuff in the way you would expect them to. It’s easy to miss extra loot unless you backtrack along the route the AI took on those occasions when you get split up.

Shortly after this I gave up on the game.

RE6 is the first RE I’ve never played to completion. Which is very disappointing for a man that owns a Hunk action figure.

My hopes were high for this game, but I suppose the warnings were there from the beginning when Capcom revealed the game’s notorious ‘6’ logo. I am now of the opinion that this was Capcom’s way of telling us this game was going to “suck giraffe dick.” Well at least it does one thing well.


Good because..
On the surface Jetpack Joyride is a very simple game with the visual quality you would come to expect from HalfBrick. Underneath the accessible single-touch compulsive one-more-go gameplay however, is a wealth of missions, vehicles, utilities, gadgets and customisation options for both character and jetpack. The constant stream of missions provide a great source of motivation to continue playing. Three missions are active at any one time – and when a mission is completed it is replaced with another. Each mission has a number of stars associated with it, and those stars feed into a ranking/levelling system. Fulfill the stars required and you level up, bringing with it a coins bonus that are then used to purchase utilities, gadgets and customisation options. Missions, coins, and levels piggyback each other very well – creating a never ending domino effect. The vehicles effectively give players an extra life as once the player gets hit they can continue on as normal – but it never feels like this was tacked on; each vehicle feels unique and if nothing else will always provide entertainment value and leave you with a big smile on your face.

Bad because…
If I have one criticism it’s that coin accumulation is very slow – which makes purchasing coins from the App Store the only alternative to spending a large number of hours playing the game. Obviously this technique enables the developer to make money – but there will come a point where each player has to make a choice – buy coins or lose interest and stop playing. I feel this choice could have been delayed and made a little less black and white by giving more coins to the player during gameplay; not enough to remove the need purchase additional coins, but just enough to make the utilities and customisation options seem more attainable and within a shorter time frame.

Improve because…
Coin collection is something primal within a player, most likely because we are obsessed with money – it’s satisfying to fly through a field of floating coins; so why not have coins everywhere, all the time? Failing that – a bonus game accessed via the slot machine would be a good addition; thirty seconds of pure coin collection and no obstacles. Another welcome addition (for me at least) would be to have a zombie killing spree round – where hordes of zombie scientists shuffle along the floor while Barry mows them down with his jetpack – resulting in coins or completing a mission objective.

I would say that Jetpack Joyride is an essential game to the App Store – just the kind of game that makes the iPhone a genuine rival for any traditional handheld game console, and challenges the perception some people have that mobile gaming is somehow inferior to traditional console gaming because of it’s size/cost.

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Phil Harrison is a visionary – someone whom I greatly admire. That admiration was taken to a new level last week when Phil, not content with just existing in the real world, invaded my dream. His latest vision? That in three years the PlayStation Vita would have an add-on that would cure baldness. Simply plug it in, run then app and rub the OLED screen over your head. Rejoice; hair growth!

If only he hadn’t left Sony…

Choosing a location in which to set a game is important – just like a game premise, the location is something that either grabs your attention or doesn’t. The second thing to consider is period, for instance – present day NYC – or more specifically Manhattan Island – (for me) is a lot less interesting than the NYC of the ’80s – a time during which crime was at an all-time high. I’d have to say that NYC circa 198X is my favourite place/period – and that general place and time (whether used directly or inspired by) appeared in many games from the late 80s and early 90s – mostly games about people beating the shit out of each other.

The best example is Final Fight – Metro City is a great representation of Manhattan Island of the 1980s.  It captures everything from the slums, subways, gangs and graffiti. I’d definitely like to see this place and time revisited in more games.

“You’re only as good as your last [whatever]” – we’ve all heard this in some shape or form; but I’m going to suggest something slightly different: “You’re only as good as your next [whatever]”. Looking at it this way helps you to realise that once a project is complete you shouldn’t be looking back at it – you should put it to one side and then start looking toward what you are going to do next. Yes, it’s good to celebrate success – but that success will only carry you so far, survival and prosperity are found in the things you have yet to do, and not in the things you have done. It also helps if you create something that doesn’t live up to expectations – you can learn from that and make the next project better.