Monthly Archives: July 2010

Point of the situation

It’s almost end of July, and this year so far I released 3 of the 5 planned games for 2010. The Flower Shop and Card Sweethearts were already in production since last year, while Vera Blanc: Full Moon was entirely made this year.

I am quite satisfied for how things are going looking at my planned releases, a lot less about the actual revenues 🙂 But to be honest it’s not something under my control: the crisis and the return of middleman are making the life of indies way much tougher than was just 2-3 years ago…

Unfortunately it means that some things are very likely not going to happen. A 3rd episode of Vera, despite the game has received unanymous praise from all the press, isn’t going to be made, at least this year, and surely not in this format. But let’s proceed with order:

  • this September 2010 the 2nd episode, Vera Blanc: Ghost In The Castle will be released since it only need proofreading and the person doing it assured me would be made in time
  • probably this October/November I should be finished with Planet Stronghold, at least the initial release. I might do add-ons and updates on it depending how it will perform
  • about at the same time (hard to tell really) the Flower Shop spin-off, “Winter In Fairbrook“, should be finished, in time for Christmas (it would be perfect themed game for it)
  • then there’s also Spirited Heart spin-off! That will be HUGE, but at the moment I’m still thinking if to make it as regular downloadable, or as online-only games (more likely the latter)

So if I actually manage to mantain that schedule, I would release 6 games, and not 5 as originary planned. It would be cool 🙂

Then, what next ? What will happen to the character of Vera? Will I keep doing downloadables?

I don’t know. I have lots of ideas in my mind right now: following the rule #4 of my “Five Golden Rules” post, I want to experiment:

  • I’m thinking about doing a 3d game with Unity3d. Which one? Hmm… what about a remake of Universal Boxing Manager with the fights all in 3d? sounds cool eh? 😀
  • I’m also thinking to make a HOG/Adventure game. Yes, you heard me right 😀 Not sure yet if using Vera, or with another setting, but story-driven games interests me, but to make decent money is obvious that VN isn’t the right choice anymore…
  • Make some online games in JS. I have someone porting a game of mine online… but I woud like to make a game from scratch thought to be played online. What kind of game? I would love something steampunk/post-nuclear, playable like Urban Dead. No, not a full 3d MMORPG of course! 🙂
  • I said that lots of times: I was also thinking to make a webcomic based on Vera Blanc, but first I need to raise some money to pay good artists. I don’t want the comic to look bad
  • I would also like to make a sort of sequel to Magic Stones. I have already lot of art ready, but probably that will be used to make another webgame idea I’m working on since some time
  • I have an idea for a dating sim, but for girls. I think the plot is very nice, I have to see if the writer I found is reliable enough to work on that until the end

That’s it! I don’t know yet which of those ideas will turn into concrete games and which ones will just remain ideas… but for now, I’ll finish all the project I started, and then will have to seriously think what to do next.

Five golden rules for new indies

I thought to take all the years of experience as indie, and write down five ESSENTIAL rules/tips to follow if you want to be a fulltime indie, focusing on direct sales:

  1. keep your IP / retain control – seriously, everyone agrees on this. Cliff posted about it a while back on his blog, and I want to reiterate this concept. There are SO many examples of people carelessly giving up their IP (Intellectual Properties) to find out a big company XYZ had made a fortune from what they just sold. So, if you think you have a good IP, think twice before selling it. Or ask for some big money upfront 🙂
    Also: whatever tool you use, be sure that you have FULL CONTROL over it.  Some examples: you can let a portal carry your downloadable game, but be sure that you agree with their terms. If they’re going to sell it at $6.99, you won’t have much success trying to sell it directly at $19.99.
    Another example: someone just published a new platform to build games online easily. Awesome! But does that platform let you publish the games ON YOUR SITE? No? Then, it’s not that great. Remember that promoting YOUR site, building up YOUR mailing list, YOUR fans, will let you survive even through really tough periods (like this year of crisis). See Jeff Vogel posts about getting “1000 true fans”. Also, don’t forget that if you build up your site, you can later resell the domain if has enough traffic / relevance.
  2. marketing – this is a very controversial point. I see to many people wanting to burn thousands dollars investing in a marketing firm or simply Google Adwords. It’s a wrong choice and I tell you why: marketing/advertising works but ONLY in certain situation you’ll get a decent ROI (return of investment).
    Example: a MMO. The nature of MMO, with his increased revenues per user, makes advertising much more viable than trying to promote a single-player-downloadable game.
    I get decent ROI from ads because over the year I built a catalog of SEVERAL games. So people that come to my site from a Spirited Heart banner, might end up buying also Flower Shop and/or Vera Blanc. It is not uncommon to see same person buy 3-4 games at once. Now what would happen instead if I had just ONE game for sale? Probably wouldn’t recover the costs. In the beginning, the best thing you can do is either release several games or partner with some affiliates.
  3. partnership & affiliates – Affiliates can be PURE GOLD: find someone that has a similar user-base (sells similar games to yours) and ask if he is interested in selling your game. Or, look if he is affiliating his games. I regularly promote other people’s games in my newsletter and I get a nice chunk of cash from affilite sales, plus I remind people of my site and sometimes they even end up buying games of mine (it’s really like if they forgot about them, and sendind a newsletter about other games reminded them!).
    Also, build up relationships with fellow indies. Over the years I got to know some people and now I have several business relationships with many of them. I did games together with Phelios, with Hanako, with Sakevisual. We didn’t even need a contract, because everyone had a reputation to keep (of course, be careful about people you just met). We exchange tricks and tips, and we keep updated about the latest news. What you learn through those relationship is often priceless.
    It’s a pity that not many people see the enormous potential in doing partnership and affiliate other developer games, especially niche games!
  4. differentiate / experiment – I started making sports games, then RPG, then simulations, then wargames, and now visual novels, dating sim… unless you have a fixation for one specific genre, and unless that genre gives you good sales (in this case would be pretty stupid to try another!) you should really try to differentiate.
    In my example I’m talking about game genre: another way is to change platforms (iphone, android, flash) or system (microtransaction, social games). I’ve heard so many stories of people that changed completely field and made a fortune…
  5. no epic projects – this is true especially when doing the first games. Doing an awesome 3d space battle should be done ONLY AFTER you built up a good catalog of games and lots of experience in doing indie games. I’m not saying that they should be avoided: only that if you go for the “big hit”, it can work but can also be a “big miss”, so you could end up with a unfinished game (because you’re burned) or run out of funds, or simply have to get back to daily work and then not have time to market it properly, and so on.

Of course, this is based on my personal experience! I hope you found this post informative, and if you did, spread the word about it 🙂

Announcing Vera Blanc: Ghost In The Castle

I’ve already uploaded two teasing videos on youtube (you see one above) and now I’m officially announcing the next episode of Vera Blanc, called Ghost In The Castle, that will be released this fall, probably in September. The game story is being proofreaded/edited, so all is need after that is some testing and reviewing the plot to be sure that there aren’t big mistakes (plot holes and such). As you can see from the video, there’s a new comic artist for this game, Ricardo Mendez from a Brazilian comic studio.

This time, Vera and Brandon are investigating a mysterious ghosts that is haunting a castle in a town in middle of italian countryside.  A local famous businessman, Roberto Anastasi, wants Vera to solve the ghost problem, because he doesn’t want the town filled by tourists. The first day seems to be rather quiet and relaxing, but as soon as the night comes, Vera will have a short encounter with the ghost! A short chase in the woods that ends up in a opening and a man hanged on a tree!

Stay tuned for more details and a more accurate release date for the game.

making of online games, a newbie perspective

If you’re a player, this is going to be a bit tech-boring post, be warned 🙂

I wanted to share what I’ve learnt so far from the release of my first Public Alpha of my game Planet Stronghold. Was a good choice to make it a downloadable? What if was a webgame coded in Flash /JS /Unity ? This is what I think are pro and con of each:

  • the problem of updating: I coded an autoupdater in python. It SHOULD be cross-platform and work everywhere. The first version was a bit bugged and missed some error messages. I don’t have any real statistics but from what I gathered from testers, my guess is that only 10-15% of people couldn’t use it for one reason or another. Still, it’s a good percentage of people!
  • With a webgame, the full asset/code gets updated on SERVER, so there’s no possibility that it fails: that’s a BIG advantage if you’re interested in making a online/MMO game. However be warned, the bandwidth use is going to be HUGE, since most browser have a very small cache of 50mb which means players are probably going to redownload the whole thing everytime.
  • Unless you use JS, you can have pretty much all effect you have with Renpy (with Flash), or a 3d engine (with Unity3d), online. The problem is that python is really one of the best RAD languages, that is most top games like Civilization, The Sims 3 or even Google uses it internally. Damn it, if only there was a working python to SWF compiler…!!! Any coder who’ll make that will be covered by gold, mark my words 🙂

Also, it’s SUPER EASY to make mistakes with online games. A first thing to do is NEVER mix your test server with the live server. For example I uploaded a wrong file last night, and the autoupdater would keep looping, thinking it’s always 1 version below the latest one 😐 Luckily for me Ayu was testing the game and reported the bug, which was only a wrongly uploaded file on server…!!

So for now I’ve learned lession number one. Always do your test in local, and if you really must, have a BACKUP SERVER to do your own tests. Never test anything on the “live” server!!! 😀

Planet Stronghold Public Alpha 1

I’m proud to finally announce the first public Alpha of my next game Planet Stronghold. For those who don’t know what it is, I’m currently also building the official website which will also contain more info about the story and each character, but for now I can tell you what you’ll find in the game:

  • a manga sci-fi roleplaying game – with beautiful art and really varied characters (not all the same good-looking boys/girls you find in manga games)
  • two different heroes to choose (male / female) – The choice will only impact the romance and few situations in the game, but the statistics / skills / gameplay will have no differences
  • battle system – similar to those you find in JRPG titles and a gameplay similar to adventure games
  • romace option – romance was always present in all my recent story-based game and this won’t be an exception, including new homosexual romance option for both the male / female characters! The romance is entirely optional so if you’re not interested in it, you won’t see it at all (you won’t have the chance to stumble in it by accident)
  • relationship system – with any of the 8 charaters beside the main hero. Keep them happy to increase their skills, piss them off and if you push it too much they could even leave your party!
  • autoupdating – I’m experimenting with an autoupdate system that should allow me to release updates on server-side, and players to download only the changed part. No more “redownload the whole game to get latest update” like before! 🙂

Instead what you won’t find on the game:

  • tilemaps – if you’re a RPGMaker fan, sorry to disappoint, but I really preferred to concentrate my time on writing the story and characters interactions than mapmaking. There will be  a generic map to move from a location to the other though
  • puzzles – since I’m building this game system from scratch, for this first game I want to concentrate more on the battles, the skills, the statistics and variety of enemies, than puzzles. However I’ll have an interesting character training system. More on this later.
  • offline play – to play most of the game past the alpha version you’ll need to be online. Partly to protect me from piracy, but also to offer new features like achievements, autoupdates, new missions / maps / weapons / items and so on.

Are you still here? Good because now comes the good part, the download links: (Pc Version) (Mac Version) (Linux Version)

I absolutely love to get feedback on gameplay and/or any bugs you encounter. Especially for the mac and linux platform, since I have already many testers on Pc! The build uses a very new version of Ren’Py game engine so you should be able to play with openGL acceleration enabled (press key F to go fullscreen).

Thanks and I hope you’ll enjoy the first alpha, even if is quite short for now 😀