I got hate mail!

This was the first mail I found in the support box of Orangepixel this morning:

Besides EA, you guys are literally the worst game developers ever, your games are unfair beyond imaginable, leaving some levels to be almost or certainly impossible to beat, not only that, but every game you make is literally just a repeat of a game you’ve made before, for example, star dash and jump, the only difference between the games is the art style, its as if all you did was take star dash and retexture it and call it “jumpy”. You guys are a pathetic example of a game developer.

And it made me smile! Mainly because I think this is one of the first of it’s kind in all those 10 years of creating games. I’ve been extremely proud to create games for such a loyal fan-base and having so few complaints and even support emails.  Sure I get to occasional bug report or “hey I got some cool ideas to make this game even better” email.  But this type of email is very very rare.

I was tempted to reply to the kid, but I don’t think that would make a lot of difference. He might even be partly right!

I don’t agree with the games being “unfair” and “certainly impossible” cause I know my games are actually fair just extremely challenging sometimes and I always play every level until I’ve proven to myself it’s do able. I know that some levels in Stardash require a lot of work, and that’s excluding the extra tasks of collecting everything and completing it within the time limits, but they are do-able !

However! I do agree, partly, that all games are a repeat of what I made earlier. Every time I work on a game I bump into some new “trick”. It can be a gameplay trick, it can be an idea on how to visually show something or even how to handle in-game tutorials.  I take those new tricks and put them into the new games I create.

I usually start thinking about the new game mid-process of the current game. Often triggered by a cool little feature or moment in the current game which makes me think “hmm, I could turn that into a game”.

Each one of my games is evolved from previous games, so in that sense all games share a lot of common things.  However, comparing Jumpy to Stardash is like comparing Mario to Sonic: they both run and jump, but they are fundamentally different.

I would actually encourage other developers to do the same. It allows you to re-use a lot of code and quickly hit the ground running on a new game. In the end all my games share many common things but they are all different. Even the sequels are improvements over the original (Meganoid2 was much better build and paced than Meganoid1)

I think I’ll just leave his email un-answered.. I got a feeling he is used to that

 

Why not just release now?

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Groundskeeper2 is done! and will be, if all goes to plan, released on April 9th!

I got some questions from people asking my why I’m not releasing Groundskeeper2 yet, so I’ve put on my business-cap and hope to give a satisfying explanation!

So the Android version of Groundskeeper2 was completed last week, and the ChromeOS version is also ready to be played. I still had ports to do and iron out small things, like the Ouya and Gamestick builds (also running on Android) still need 1 or 2 days of work, and I had the iOS version that need porting.

Today the porting work on the iOS version of Groundskeeper2 was completed and the app is submitted to Apple. This usually takes about 7 days to pass and be accepted and then it will be ready to release.

All this time, the Android users are also waiting, and I can see how that could be frustrating from an end-user point of view, but this is where the all-mighty business cap comes in.

For you guys, Groundskeeper2, is just the next and new game from Orangepixel. You (hopefully) buy it, play it, enjoy it, and hopefully you’ll keep enjoying it for a few more weeks maybe even months (like with my previous games). That’s great and I honestly hope all you guys have a blast with the game cause that’s why I still create games: entertainment.

For me, however, the moment I release the game signals the end of about 4 – 5 months of full-time work. So altho games are supposed to be fun, and every indie developer says “it’s not about the money” ..it kinda IS about the money. I need to earn money with this game cause it’s also my job, simple as that.

In the mobile market there are like at least 100 games released each week, and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. A great way to actually stand out is get a lot of mentions on websites, twitter, facebook and forums.

To accomplish that “chatter” in the fullest potential, I aim to release the game on every platform I can at once. Meaning that not just the iPhone/iPad websites and gamers will talk about the game, but also the Android gamers, forums and sites, and also the people playing on PC’s.  The more people talk about the game on the day I release, the more chance that people who have never heard of my game will also suddenly start thinking “hmm, maybe I should check this out” and there it is, on the platform of their choice.

Besides having all the ports ready to go, I also need to invest time and money into marketing. Currently my trailer-specialist Denis Harris is hard at work on creating one of his masterpiece game trailers, and I will have to start sending out promo-codes, create a some press-release blabla and images, and start contacting websites and influential people.

So yes, Groundskeeper2 is done and coming!  I plan to release on April 9th, only a few weeks after my original March-release target, but trust me, I have a lot of stuff to do before I can breath and sleep without being nervous about how my new child enters the world ;)

The porting has begun

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Groundskeeper2 is finally nearing that final stretch!  Originally planned for a release in February/March, it slipped back a bit to end of March, and it probably will actually release in the first half of April!   But… it’s done!

Right now my work is just porting the original Android base version to the various platforms. The first port I completed is the Chrome(OS) version, this runs in HTML5 so could also be used for a host of other platforms in the future like FirefoxOS, or possibly Wii-U .. who knows !

There are still some bugs to iron out of the ChromeOS port, but it honestly plays awesome on a Chromebook with a controller attached.  Obviously since it just requires Chrome to run, you can also install this version on Windows, Mac, Linux, etc and it will be available from the Chrome webstore.

Next port is the iOS version which is a bit more work and also requires the approval process of Apple (which will at least take 6-7 days). This is also the main reason that the game won’t see a release in March cause even IF it get’s approved the first time it would be around March 31st and I also want/need some time to prepare marketing and possibly handing out promocodes to members of the press.

While the iOS version is submitted I’ll quickly get the game up and running on Ouya and Gamestick and test on some hardware like the NVidia Shield, etc.

And finally I’ll probably go for another desktop release running in Java like I did with Heroes of Loot. So that will require a day or so porting the Android(Java) version over to Desktop Java.

So still some weeks of work left, but the base game is done! Now the actual exciting things start, marketing remains a nerve-wrecking part of my job. Partly because it means I will have to show my latest creation to the public, and partly because if I fail on marketing this game it means I probably have a hard time earning back the money I used while working on the game 4-5 months.   I’ll keep saying it: creativity creates great games, but marketing makes you money.

Luckily I’m personally really loving this game, it might not be for everyone, but I think this game’s core is the most perfectly balanced gameplay-core I’ve created so far.  And I will take a lot of the stuff I learned creating this to the next game  (right now top of my list is a Gunslugs2, but that might change any day)

So stay tuned, the game is done, it’s coming, but my business-cap says that I need to get my porting and marketing ready before I release it ;)

 

No more Bullets – updates

Been posting various updates to the game over the last few days. The game is really turning into something playable and “complete”.

Today’s update is called the “Pentagram” update and comes with a nice little solution to both the monsters and restoring your health… so you figure out how it works yourselves!
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Since the first version I have moved the graphics further away from their Heroes of Loot roots, and added various new stuff to the mix.  The game is very dark and a bit bloody compared to any of my other games, but it’s a nice change of pace for me :)

Go check it out and see how many days you can survive:

Play it here

 

 

No more Bullets

icon512x512 I decided to take a short break from Groundskeeper2, which should give me a fresh perspective as I enter the final wrapping up of that game.

As it happened this week sees the Procedural Death Jam, which is a great jam cause most of my games fall into that category.

I was already toying around with something so I decided to put some time into that this week and see what rolls out, Groundskeeper originally started as a jam game, so who knows!

I’m doing this game in HTML5 because I find it extremely fun to work in, and it’s very fast to do prototyping or game-jam sessions.  I also cheated a bit as I grabbed some of the basis of Heroes of Loot (yes, I have that running in HTML5) and I changed things up a bit.

The game is called “No more Bullets” ..and yes, that’s exactly what it means. You run around a “maze” and you have no more bullets.. but monsters are everywhere. Avoid them, rush by them, lure them, do anything you can to avoid contact with them, and reach the exit.

What’s even cooler, you can play this game right now! I plan to work some more on it during this week, so drop any idea’s you have either in the comments or tweet them with #nomorebullets and I’ll see if I can incorporate them.

Now go have some fun and play the game in your browser with either the keyboard or a hooked up Bluetooth controller:

Play No more Bullets

 

 

 

 

Finding balance

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So the end is in sight on this “little” game. I still plan to release it in March, but with all the porting and app-store approval processes and final wrapping up it will be a close call!

The game will come with a sort of story-mode, and I’ve been doing a lot of play-throughs of the game from start to finish the last few weeks. Basically the game unlocks itself as you play and become a better player. So you have only one weapon and one world to play in, but as you progress you quickly open up new worlds, new weapons, power-ups, but also new enemies and challenges.

I like to think this is a fun way to reward players that stick with the game even after a first glance or gameplay session, and it’s also a great joke to pull on “game journalists” who don’t really take the time to review games but rather just write about them and move to the next one.

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The game will give you a lot when you first start it, but it really starts to shine the more time you put into it. This is a bit risky since there might be many players who just quit the game after finding defeat in the first few rounds, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take for the full result that the game has turned into.

This, however, does mean a lot of balancing is required to make the game open up at a nice pace. I don’t want great gamers to run through the Story mode in just 5 or 6 play sessions, but I also don’t want the Story mode to be impossible for the more average gamers.

For example, after my last few sessions I had to tweak the unlocking of three weapons (delaying two of them, and moving one of them to a bit earlier in the game). I had to make a few of the enemies shoot more damaging bullets, because they are basically looking cool but harmless.  And of course after these, individually, small changes.. I have to retest the complete game because it does change the amount of damage you can do or can receive while trying to reach the ending.

That’s basically what I’ve been doing for days now, with one of the upsides that I still enjoy diving into the game, so the gameplay is enjoyable enough to last a long time.. even after you complete the Story mode ;)

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Meanwhile Gavin is working on the music, with the first track done (and it’s very catchy!) and I’m looking into some voice-acting for the animations, which is a new thing for me to work with, but if it all works out I might not go back and have to add it to all my games from now on! :)

 

 

Showing the world

Every game project comes at that point where, as developer, you have to show it to the world..  since I basically changed a lot of stuff in this game it’s like showing a new game since the last prototype video’s.  So let’s do this quickly, watch, enjoy, then continue reading:

The biggest change I made is probably the removal of the scrolling-background, and returning the game back to it’s original state: an arena shooter.  Which was what the original Groundskeeper really was.

I made this decision because GK2 was starting to look a LOT like a Gunslugs on steroids, and also was not bringing anything special to the table.  Moving the gameplay area back to this smaller arena slowly gave me back the focus this project needed. A lot of the pieces fell back into place, and the gameplay really works as it is now.

The game starts very, very, basic and opens up as you learn the ropes. It’s something I learned from Heroes of Loot, and it worked fairly good in that one.  I think I improved that skill on this game tho, it’s much more fluent growth that the game does when you play, and a more balanced end game when you reach the harder regions of the game.

The video shows a game which has about 70% of the guns/powerups unlocked, and missing a few levels.

Right now I haven’t managed to unlock everything myself yet, which is probably a good reason to add some extra power-ups and thingies to make that a bigger possibility, but I also noticed that playing this game with any hardware controller gives you a huge advantage, so that’s even more balancing I need to do right there!

Besides the gameplay, the graphics have gotten a little overhaul. Gone is the wobbly-floor (I’m keeping that code for future games) as I believe this more 3D-ish look at the game area fits the arena feel more then a 2D platform floor.. even tho the wobbly-effect looked awesome!   I also gave the graphics clear black outlining, because there’s so much going on on screen this makes it easier to identify objects.

So still a lot of work to do on the game, and most of that won’t be really visible as it’s a lot of balancing and extremely small detailed changes to improve the “game feel”.

 

Gunslugs PSVita !

Gunslugs Group 1

 

Exciting weeks!  I never expected to be this active with Gunslugs again, a year after the original release, but here we are.. Gunslugs is about to hit the PS Vita and will be the first Orangepixel game to land on a Sony console.

Write it down: 18th/19th february 2014 !  (us/eu psn store)

The game wasn’t ported to the PSVita by me tho, I get that question a lot, it was done by the guys at Abstraction Games, who also did the Hotline Miami port and a few other great games.

I managed to get in contact with them thanks to the help of Sony Vita evangelist Shāhid Ahmad by simply sending him a twitter message with a link to Gunslugs and requesting help getting it to run on Vita.

In theory I could have done the port myself, I am now even a licensed Sony developer, but I choose not to because I already do a lot of managing on different versions of the game myself (ios,android,ouya,html5,gamestick,various region specific tablets, etc) and it would mean having to take out one or two months to learn the Vita system and then at least a few game releases before it’s all streamlined and perfect.

Last year I set as “challenge” to get my games on big-boy consoles (not counting Ouya and Gamestick as big-boys yet) so my only goal was to see a game of mine run on either a Sony or Nintendo console (sorry, I’m not a big fan of the xbox).  Partnering up with Abstraction games is really a win-win for both parties, and we have plans to do a few more games and a few more consoles ;)

So my challenge is completed! next week you’ll be able to play an Orangepixel game on your Sony handheld, and it plays brilliant. It’s probably the best way to play Gunslugs with the hardware buttons, and a small handheld screen in your hands.  Even the music sounds better in the Vita version, so make sure to keep that on while playing.

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Gunslugs is also being featured on the Ouya frontpage, and if you prefer a two-player coop mode, then the Ouya version is still the best for that, it’s easy to just dive in with two players and have a blast.

I have a few other things planned for Gunslugs later this year, including one or two other platforms it will hit..  and the worst thing? I have some ideas for a Gunslugs2  but no time to work on it yet!!

okay, back to work on Groundskeeper2.. !

Heroes of Loot post mortem, sorta

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So people have been asking for a Heroes of Loot post-mortem, but I honestly haven’t felt right on writing one up for various reasons. So I finally decided to just put those reasons in an article and see if that would be interesting enough.

It’s not dead

The first reason for me not having written a post-mortem yet, is that the game isn’t dead! I think a post-mortem is written once the game has run it’s course.

From a developer point of view it has, I don’t plan on adding a lot of new stuff to the game cause I pretty much added all I want. The games I create don’t have in-app purchases, it’s not a service created to keep players interested and spending money, the game is mostly “as is”. I release the game with everything I had in mind, then I usually do some various bug-fixing updates, and often add one or two new features or things to the game based on user feedback.  But that’s it.  I have to many ideas and crazy things I wanna try to keep working on, I move on to new stuff, and so for me as a developer the game is “dead”.

However, business wise, the game is still very much alive. Many people are still playing it, about 40-50 new players are buying the game daily, and together with the guys at Abstraction games, the Vita version is now on it’s way, and a few other appearances and platforms are in the pipeline.

So from a business perspective the game is still very much alive.

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A guilty feeling

The second, and much harder, reason is that I had a slightly guilty and shameful feeling talking about the game. 2013 has become a bit of a weird year for me with both Gunslugs (February 2013) and Heroes of Loot (September 2013) doing great on all markets released (so far: ios,android, ouya,gamestick and pc/mac for HoL).  All this while I was living, and working, in the middle of a renovation for more than 8 months in total. Honestly, the weirdest year ever; just imagine working on your game while guys with hammers and drills walk around every room in your house, drywalling rooms, painting rooms, etc.

So, where Gunslugs broke all records for a single Orangepixel game-release (early 2013), Heroes of Loot broke all Gunslugs’ records at the end of 2013.  So being a solo-developer, doing his own graphics, sound effects, and marketing efforts, you suddenly find yourself in a position where money is coming in from all directions. In a time where most people have a lot of financial problems, it honestly made me feel dirty at times. Knowing people without jobs living in the neighborhood, people having a hard time paying for the basics.. it gives a weird and guilty feeling to earn more in a day then they do in a month..

Wrong signal

Which brings me to the third and important reason that kept me from writing this: sending the wrong signal.  Seems like there’s not a day gone by without some developer somewhere writing an article with tips on how to “be successful like them” in today’s game-development market..

Let me put everything back in perspective by telling you: Orangepixel celebrates it’s 10th anniversary this year. I’ve been doing mobile games since late 2004, on J2ME devices, Android and iOS devices. I learned a lot in those years, I made about a hundred games (if not more) and I work extremely hard and many hours a week.  There is simply no science to making successful games, you can ask the guy from Flappy Bird if you don’t believe me ;)

So never read articles like this when you are about to release your first, or even second or third, game. It’s not comparable to my situation. I’ve worked on building a fan base and great contact with various press people over the ten years of doing this. I’m doing all this 24/7 or full-time if you prefer. And only have to outsource my Music work (thanks to Gavin Harrison) and some high-res artwork (thanks to Scott Tykoski)

You can count the instant success stories on one hand, compared to a hundred games a day being released on various platforms.  So even though there are great tips in all of those articles, don’t build your hopes on them thinking your first few games will come even close to making a lot of money and turn you into a full-time “indie” dev.. that’s not how it works.

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The post mortem part

So finally, let’s talk about the actual post-mortem stuff!

Strangely I only had one “bad” point regarding the making of Heroes of Loot. Which was the time it took to get the game done. I wasn’t planning on making it an 8-9 month labor of love, but a lot of that was covered in my pre-release article: “Clash of creativity and business“.  In the end, Heroes of Loot was the game I was hoping to create, which is the most important thing.

There are various things I could have done differently, but that’s also the reason I’m writing down a lot of ideas for the sci-fi follow up to Heroes of Loot ;)

Just give me some damn stats

Even though I warned about this a few chapters above, I know most people just want to hear some “awesome” stats to think about while they create their first or second game.. so here we go:

Heroes of Loot, released on Android, iPhone/iPad, Ouya, Gamestick, Windows/Mac/Linux all on the same day.

Mobile versions costs about €2.00,  desktop version costs $5.00.

No F2P/IAP shizzles, just pay once, play anytime you want

Received front-page exposure on Google Play (Japan), iTunes, and the Ouya store. Managed to stay in the “hot new paid” list on Google Play for 3 or 4 weeks, and in the iOS “top paid” list for a week.

Won various “Game of the week” and “Game of the month” awards, sadly was nowhere to be seen in any of the end of 2013 lists..

Average 4.5 out of 5 star rating across the platforms.

Combined, paid, downloads (so far) about 50.000, with the lion share being on iOS (32k) followed by Google Play (12k).  Note that Google Play also has a free (with advertising) version available with a download figure of 108.000 generating ad-revenue.

Both Ouya and Desktop versions combined make up for the other ~3-4k paid downloads.

Words behind the stats

I think Google Play could have done better if the game had gotten a global front-page feature, but sadly this never happened and it was only front-page in the Japanese Play store. However it’s always important to keep in mind that the free-ad version on Google Play increases the revenue made on Android, bringing it much closer to what is made on iOS as you might think.

Ouya is a very young platform with very few players (compared to all other platforms), cursed by many developers for it’s silly “escape the sandbox” system where games stay in a sandbox category until enough players like or play it to lift it out of there and into other categories.  However, seeing as you need very little work to turn an Android game into an Ouya game, I think it’s simply stupid to not release your game onto it if it makes sense to play it with a controller.

Desktop is a new area for me. And Heroes of Loot was the second Desktop released game for me, but the first where I actually did some serious work on trying to get people to notice it.  I believe my games are a great fit for Desktop gaming, so I hope to improve both my games and marketing on that platform with new releases.

The long tail: As mentioned early in the article, Heroes of Loot is still in it’s “long tail” of sales. This tail seems to be more interesting on Android than on iOS, of course you can find various reasons to explain that, but it’s still an interesting thing to note.

The end

And there you have it, the post-mortem to Heroes of Loot.  All I can add now is that if you still haven’t checked it out, please do (www.heroesofloot.com!) It’s easy to get into, it offers a lot of challenge, and so far it has been one of my best games..  so far.. ;)

Month of stuff

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Woohoo! It’s February and lots of cool stuff is happening!

I’ve been working very hard on Groundskeeper2, and I actually managed to change the gameplay drastically a couple of times.  The problem I was having with the game was that it started to look a LOT like a new Gunslugs game. Which isn’t a bad thing but I rather save that for an actual Gunslugs follow up that I hope to make in the future.

So I was having a fun action game that, in 2012, I would have probably released as-is.. but right now I just didn’t feel like it was good enough or the game I originally set out to create.

I ended up stripping a lot of the gameplay stuff and taking the game back to it’s roots: Groundskeeper 1, which is actually an arena-shooter and not a run’n'gun platformer. These major tweaks did fix various problems I had with the game, and put it all back on track to become one awesome arena-shooter.

To keep some form of progression into it, you get to unlock a large collection of weapons, worlds, find some bonus worlds and more. So right now I just have to create a shitload of content and actually do a lot of testing to make sure everything is unlockable and playable.

Also the official site is online now, so go check it out with some awesome art from Scott Tykoski:  www.groundskeepergame.com

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Which brings us to the second awesome thing for February: Gunslugs Vita is launching!  In a freak accident it actually launched very briefly last week due to someone pushing a “publish now” button a few weeks early.  It caused chaos and madness, which sure fits the game!  It’s pulled again for now, and will be back at the end of February, and it’s well worth the wait, and cheap! ;)

I plan to release Gunslugs on a few other platforms after this, so stay tuned for some info on that once the Vita version is live and running!