Monthly Archives: April 2014

One of the biggest enemies of indie devs: the “feature creep”!

This shows starting conditions effect in a battle, useful to reproduce time-critical situations

If you look at the definition of “feature creep” on Wikipedia, you’ll read:

Feature creep, creeping featurism or featuritis is the ongoing expansion or addition of new features in a product, such as in computer software. Extra features go beyond the basic function of the product and so can result in over-complication rather than simple design.

Wise words! πŸ˜€ And indeed the screenshot above is very likely the last new feature I’ll add to SOTW. Don’t get me wrong, adding new features is good, and normally can make games better. But also, delay the game. Every new feature needs to be tested, both in functionality, and in balancing. In complex games like RPGs, often what started as a simple/innocent new feature can have repercussions later in the gameplay, screwing up the balance of the game, even HOURS later. So as you can see you need to be very careful πŸ™‚

In the two past RPG I made so far, Planet Stronghold and Loren, had two very different approaches. In the first, I needed to get it done ASAP for money/time reasons, while for the second I could plan things more carefully. I’ve already compared the two games step by step in the past, but what I want to say here is that NOT NECESSARILY the game with more features is the most fun one. Sometimes, simplicity will lead to more accessible and fun games, reaching maybe a different target market, but not necessarily worse/smaller.

During SOTW development so far, I added many new features: item levels, randomized item creation/random loot, autobalancing enemies, isometric map, item rewards for quests, battlefield conditions and starting effects, and more (lost the count lol).

But I also TRIED to add some features, and then canceled/removed them because I realized that would take too much time to implement them correctly (like the skills with various levels of effectiveness) or that the mechanic wouldn’t be very clear to users (like the turn limit during battles).

In summary, even on this aspect of making a RPG (or any other complex game) you need to have a clear vision of what you want to do. A complex, detailed game? or a simple, very accessible game with a few rules? both ways can lead to a good game. What is worse is keep adding new features, without properly testing them, and as result building a worse game in the end.

Happy Easter

First of all want to wish you Happy Easter! πŸ™‚

Second, Always Remember Me is finally released on Steam, after a week of delay! Sorry about that.
Check it out here and spread the word:

Seasons Of the Wolf update

As you know if you follow me in the social networks, my efforts now are all focused on finishing the first season of the RPG Seasons Of The Wolf. I’ve said it already but worth repeating: the first seasons doesn’t mean 1/4 of the game! The first is shorter than the others, even if now I’m adding several sidequests to make it longer. Also will feature only 3 characters, Althea, Shea and Vaelis, so no romance dialogues. But worry not, they’ll come later in the story.

powerratmenDon’t be fooled by their cute appearance, ratmen encounters are tough!

So far coded two sidequests. Some were written with the help of an additional writer, others, shorter ones I’ll write them myself. Of course, will proofread them too πŸ˜‰

At same time I’ve done some last tweaks to the game framework/rules. I can still do a few tweaks until I go on in season two. So that’s why I plan to make an open beta and let people play the first season: if there are some MINOR changes that can be done (not rewrite all the skills for example!) that beta will be good to find them out.

One of the tweaks is the cost of allocating each attribute point

For example, I discovered that the attribute points allocation needed some tweaks. Before was 1 attribute point to increase each attribute. But I shortly realized that this way, if you put ALL of them in Constitution (which raises HP) at the end of the game you would get 750HP which is a “bit too much” πŸ˜€

Same issues happened with other attributes as well, so I used an “old trick”, increasing the cost of each attribute increase based on the level (as explained in the screenshot’s text above).

Going back to work now, because I’m still trying to finish the 1st Season by end of month, even if won’t be easy πŸ˜‰

My first 40 years (10 as indie)

IMGP0938I don’t have any decent recent photo so I’ll just go with this one, a few years ago πŸ™‚

Today I’m 40, and it has been more or less 10 years since I’m doing indie games!

The Past

All began back in 2003, when I discovered the now defunct Dexterity forums. I was working as webdesigner, after the small italian software house where I was working before went bankrupt (they were making story-based games too, but more like point’n’click adventures).

To be honest I had sort of given up working on games, since at the moment the situation was impossible. Italian software houses were all very far away from me and I wasn’t ready to leave everything and move away from home, besides the situation wasn’t really good (in the next few years indeed more companies shut down).

But I thought I could still do them in my spare time, as hobby. Then I discovered about the online distribution, and being indie, and it was like a whole new world opening in front of my eyes! So I started using Blitz3d to make a soccer management game. First advice to new indies: don’t try to do a project too big as your first attempt!

In the end I managed to finish it, but was quite bugged and in general, did poor. After that, I made some smaller games to learn C/C++. A match-3 game called Spin Around, a platform/maze game called Ignazio The Frog πŸ˜€ I still laugh thinking at those games, but they helped me to learn coding and most importantly selling games online.

The “big step” was when later that year I made Universal Boxing Manager and The Goalkeeper. Both sports sims, rather simple, with art made by myself. But at those times the market was MUCH LESS competitive than is nowadays. Those two games gave me hope, even if I was still living with parents πŸ™‚

I made some more games in C like Magic Stones or Supernova 2: Spacewar, before finally moving to python and open source dev. I posted about this already not too long ago.

The Present

In the “recent history”, the past 3-4 years, it was an up and down. I had some decent successes like Spirited Heart, followed by games acclaimed by “critics” like Bionic Heart but that sold poorly (same thing happened to the sequel).

I remember back in September 2010, when I had just released the two lowest-selling games I’ve ever made, both Vera Blanc titles, and the situation was rather critical. I didn’t expect it because the previous year was good, and I didn’t think that revenues could go down so quickly! I had only a few months of savings left before I had to quit and go back in a office work!

That was when I took two important decisions: make also more complex games like RPGs and outsource more people.

The first resulted in Planet Stronghold being frantically coded by myself in 4-5 months, including game design, writing and everything. The second decision lead to releasing games made with the help of other people, in particular in the writing department, but recently also coding.

One of them, Always Remember Me later today will debut on Steam, and I have two more coming shortly next month, for a total of four games. I arrived on Steam a bit late compared to other indies, but hey, at least I’m there now πŸ˜€

I’ve written already post-mortems of my more recent games like Loren, Heileen 3,Β  Rommates so I won’t repeat myself here.

Even if things are going well now, I’m definitely not sitting on my laurels. What happened back in 2010 could still happen. Two or three consecutive flops, and things might look grim again. Of course I am more relaxed now, but I must still work a lot of hours every day. Luckily for me, I love this job πŸ™‚

The Future

Is really hard to say what will happen in the next 10 years! Don’t know if the main gaming platform will be SteamOS or still Windows, or some console/mobile platform. But I honestly hope to be still around, and still make the kind of games I make now.

I love hand-drawn art, and while I can see the benefits of 3D for certain type of games (I always wanted to do a sequel of my boxing game with 3d for example) honestly I think doing a full 3d game is out of my reach, and probably couldn’t even be a good idea for a good return of investmentΒ  since doing 3d games is more expensive/time consuming.

While I have some ideas for other kind of games, like a tower defense game and a dungeon crawler, I think that most of my next games will be similar to the one I made recently: story-based RPG or dating/life sims, with a variety of romances for all tastes.

One thing I want to do differently is: make some gay/lesbian exclusive games. Won’t be soon since I have a big backlog of games to finish first, but once I’m done with them, I plan to do it πŸ™‚

Thanks for reading, and for supporting me during all those years. Even if I went through some rather rough times, I never felt I was actually working for a single day since I went indie, and that is really something ! πŸ™‚

Weeklong sale, all my games 50% off

Next Friday, the 11th, I’ll be 40 years old! When I started making indie games, I never thought I would have been able to do it for so long πŸ™‚

As a thank you, I’m discounting all my games (except Roommates since is still relatively new) by 50% off for the whole week! The offer ends Monday 14th April.

The discount also applies to my games on Android sold in the Amazon store:

And on iOS:

Why not in the Google Play store? simple, because even if we are in 2014, there still ISN’T a way for me to say “discount all my products globally by 50% for a week” with just 1-click, like I did with the Amazon store πŸ™

I thought to manually change all prices, but since I have 50+ in-app products plus the normal full price game, it was a crazy thing. And my time right now is better spent working on the new Steam games and Seasons Of The Wolf πŸ˜‰

I’m sorry but not my fault if Google is still so behind on the BASIC FEATURES that any online appstore should have!!

Anyway, if you missed some of my games now you don’t have any excuses anymore!

The importance of randomness

In the screenshot above, the new random items in all their splendor!

I’ve been recently playing Diablo3 on the PS3. I can hear a voice in my head saying:

“What? You’re playing!? Go back immediately to work on the games!”

But NO! Doing research is important for every business, so I decided to force myself to play it (also an excuse to use the PS3 for something since the recent PS+ games have been a bit disappointing for my tastes).

I played more and… I had the idea to implement random items on my next RPG, Seasons Of The Wolf πŸ™‚

One of the strong points of Diablo has always been the use of the random element. I am not sure if other games before it used it so well. I fairly remember the first game, and how every match was different.

Obviously, since I make story-based games, I cannot rely too much on the randomness, since the plot follow a linear path, some locations must be fixed, the characters too, etc. I cannot also generate random maps or dungeon (at least for now!) so the only random element I could add was in the items/loot.

A test for the looting screen. Of course in the real game you rarely will get so much stuff!

And I must say that it works VERY WELL. Now whenever I kill an enemy during testing I wonder what item I’ll get – is pretty exciting! Of course the drop rate is not high, rather than flooding the inventory with garbage that you’d have to resell it immediately I decided to limit the amount, but increase the average quality.

In general the rare items are, rare, but also depends on the enemy. Boss enemies now will drop obviously higher level loot πŸ˜‰

I decided to go with the following tiers: Rusty, Standard, Fine, Quality, Excellent, Masterwork, Rare and Legendary. Legendary is the only item that is not randomly generated, since I still want to have control over the most powerful items, so I’ll define those manually. They’ll also be unique and have a unique name.

To help the player recognize better the top items, the Fine/Masterwork/Rare/Legendary have a different color and a small letter with the initial of the word near the item icon in the inventory.

Overall, it took me a week of hard work (last weekend I worked 10h/day straight!!) but now that is working I must say that was time well spent! πŸ™‚

I’ve seen the (green)light

In other, but no less important, news, three more of my games were greenlit yesterday! They are Flower Shop: Summer In Fairbrook, Always Remember Me and ofΒ  course Planet Stronghold (was about time!).

I plan to release Always Remember Me next weekend, if all goes well. And the others coming shortly after in next weeks. Stay tuned πŸ™‚