Monday, February 8, 2010

Aught Nine: Now Closed

I've imported all my Aught Nine blog posts and am redirecting everything over to my own site:

Pick up my new RSS feed over there!

Farewell, blogger!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The End of Aught Nine

Well, the year has come to a close. I started this blog knowing it would only last a year -- but don't worry! I'll be firing up a proper blog on my own website ( soon. I'll make another post here to announce it, and I'll see about exporting these posts there.

Protonaut is an exercise in open development. I make a blog post just about every time I build a [working] update to the game, involve a lot of people in obtaining feedback, and have a lot of fun doing it! I haven't been updating recently because Protonaut has been on hold (dev ramps up again soon!) and I've been working on a new, top-secret project.

It's just an experiment: Switching from Open development to Secret development will allow me to get some perspective on how the two systems work with each other.

I think a retrospective is in order! When I first started this blog, I made some goals for myself. Here's how they shook out:
  • I will finish moving out of my house in this next week.
    COMPLETE! I am now living with my girl, Aubrey, and have been quite happy.
  • I will sell or give away most of my material goods by February 1st.
    MOSTLY COMPLETE! I have to say that living out of a backpack is quite liberating. When I only really own a backpack, clothes, and a laptop it simplifies life quite a bit. I have a few other odds and ends that I'm still trying to sell or holding on to -- a Wii and a Projector to watch the occasional movie on -- but I'm happy to ditch it all at a moment's notice.
  • I will continue working on my various web contracts to pay for my bills.
    DONE! I've gained new exciting contracts over the last year.
  • I will make an effort to cut expenses.
    COMPLETE! Aubrey has taught me the magic of making my own food (gasp, shock). I've actually got a handsome sum in the bank right now! I'm quite proud.
  • I will finish all of my half-finished projects by April 1st.
    FAILED! I think this one wasn't destined to win through. It only makes sense to finish a project if I actually have plans or interest in them... What I ended up doing was take all my half finished projects, archive them, and promised not to look at them ever again until I'm sure I need them.
  • I will continue brainstorming at least one new application or game per week.
    KINDA. I think what I was aiming for with this goal was to make sure that I was constantly thinking and working on innovation and revision, rather than focusing on and over-developing single (flawed?) applications. I think I successfully avoided this, but in a way I didn't expect: I ended up picking a single mechanic and constantly revising and innovating on it, often changing the premise of my application several times before completion.
  • I will select a Flash Game from my list and create it by November 1st.
    LOL. I definitely succeeded here! When I wrote that goal, I had zero actionscript experience and had only toyed with Flash itself for a few hours. My first game was complete in 30 days (finished May 1st), and I've now made a few more.
  • I will select a travel location and get there by September 1st.
    FAIL! Looks like real life got in the way of this one. Despite selling all my posessions and keeping my budget low, I don't quite have enough money squirreled away to travel somewhere with confidence in my long-term survival. :(
  • I will spend New Years 09->10 in a foreign country.
    FAIL! As a successor to the above goal, it couldn't succeed.
It turns out I was quite a bit more prolific than I thought I would, with flash applications. Here's a bit of a timeline:
  1. In January, I started this Blog with high hopes. I had done no industry research and had no idea what was going on, really; I was aiming for the future blind.
  2. GDC March was the big turning point for me. I met up with the talented Greg Wohlwend, who I would later work with on projects, and got a massive dose of what was possible and how the industry worked in general. I was particularly inspired by Phil Hassey, Petri Purho, and other rapid-prototyping game developers.
  3. Space Squid was my first game, finished May 1st, 2009. I gave myself exactly 30 days to learn Actionscript, Flash, setup a dev environment, and build a game. I ended up going through around 20 core-gameplay revisions in that time, and posted most of them to this blog.

    I still look back at SpaceSquid fondly. There are several really good, fun game mechanic prototypes in it's development cycle. I'm sure I could turn the basic premise into a set of a dozen fun games.

    Sadly, SpaceSquid wasn't picked up by any sponsors or portals (for money). The gameplay lends itself to a quick 2-minute playthrough, with little motivation to move on. I'm happy I only spent 30 days on it, and I look at it like an excellent learning experience.
  4. Protonaut is still in development, but is my first mega-project. It has a lot of high hopes and future plans, but is currently in the last phases of development. Greg Wohlwend approached me to do the art on this one, and he's been an excellent source of collaboration for design philosophy and mechanic tweaking.

    I'm still convinced Protonaut is going to be a successful title, earning me moneys. I really want the product to be juuust perfect though; it's only going to have one day in the spotlight when I decide to start marketing it. A test-run mini-launch later in the year showed that people enjoyed the game and the mechanics, but were ultimately disappointed in the level selection. I'm going to have to get in there and whip up some premium content...
  5. GDC Austin was an absolute blast. Though the venue was a bit lacking compared to the San Francisco version earlier in the year, the people were awesome. A cozy, intimate set of indie devs all hanging out and having fun... Such joy. It was there that I met DanC, who I later started working with.
  6. Military Contracts are fun and very high paying (military flash apps? lol). I have to give huge thanks to Greg Wohlwend for passing on this job and handing it to me; it's funding my next few games. :)
  7. The Wooden Fleet is a game I designed for LudumDare #16, the 48-hour-game-jam. I wanted to try my hand at writing a game in such a small timeframe, from scratch, doing all the assets myself...

    I ended up being pretty lazy about it. I watched a movie or two, I slept normally, and spent the weekend hanging out with my girl. In the odd hours of spare time I had, I ended up making a working game idea, but it is incredibly lacking in polish. Things like you can't move diagonally, your support ships spam out due to a bug, and your movement is way too slow.

    I really enjoyed working on it though and perhaps sometime in the future I'll revisit the project and make it playable.
  8. SteamBirds is my current Pride and Joy, and this should be the first time I've mentioned it to the public. :) This is my super top secret development, being made in association with Daniel Cook (DanC of LostGarden).

    SteamBirds is really close to my heart because the game type, mechanics, theme, genre, content, and story are all things that I truly love. This is a game being written by me, for me -- obviously with modifications to make it more marketable. :)

    It's currently scheduled to launch in January sometime. The first iteration is very near completion... I'm excited :)
There are several little things I left out from the list, and a lot of new projects and collaboration requests going down in the next few months. I daresay this is becoming a full-time gig!

All I need now is some bankrolling success!

In other news: My personal website, offering up my IT services, has resulted in zero business. I want to turn it into a proper site that showcases my work and houses a more permanent blog than this one-off AughtNine gig. I'll post some details once I get something lined up.

I just hate designing web pages, is all. :( Maybe I can pay someone to do it for me...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Protonaut gets Goombas

Protonaut has gotten universal praise on one thing, and one thing only: Shooting.

There isn't much to shoot in the game, and the feature is one almost stripped several times throughout development - but it's hard to scrap the one feature that makes people squeal with delight.

With some recent upgrades to the sound files, shooting is just getting more and more delicious - firing that cannon truly is an enjoyable experience. But I needed something a bit more to shoot at than the occasional Nitrogen atom.

Enter stage right: Goombas. Can you tell Greg has been busy for the last few weeks? :) My art isn't exactly befitting of the game :P

Goombas just walk left and right, and have pretty decent detection for obstacles and pits - and try to avoid them. I'm planning on make a jumper and a flyer of some sort eventually, but I'll see how this plays out in the next few builds. They kill you on touch and don't yet have any sort of projectile capacity.

Enemies might not end up in the final game. This production causes some fairly obvious problems, most obviously: the theme of the game is completely off with them. I'll see how things work out in terms of gameplay and see if I need to rework the whole thing.

It's too bad the Level Editor hasn't gotten more attention. I really feel like the level editor is a standalone work of art, and making things is incredibly easy and seamless - with tons of tools at your disposal. It's almost a direct correlary to my programming work not getting any notice, and the more artistic stuff getting the attention - nobody cares about the backend or the tools! It's like I made the best hammer in the world but I haven't found a carpenter to use it yet.

But such is the path of a programmer, I don't really have the ability to complain about that one. :)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Signposts: New feature on Probation

Protonaut seriously needs a tutorial overhaul, and I've been thinking about how to best accomplish this. I originally envisioned putting "signposts" in the game, with static text on them - then the tutorial would be one big level with a lot of help along the way.

Before I had a chance to put in the signposts, I did a few tests - some people couldn't beat my tutorial level! It was long, too difficult, and not very rewarding. An utter failure!

The signposts never made it in (instead opting for an "introduction" paragraph), and I broke the levels up into 10 easier (and more fulfilling) chunks. After launch, the complaints I get were - retrospectively - obvious: You now only get tutorial text at level launch, before it becomes relevant or obvious as to what it means. You cannot recall the tutorial text except by dying or restarting. A lot of folks took the tutorial text box as a "standard dialogue" and simply closed it.

One thing that really irks me is when players don't read, and close the box that says "PRESS Z TO JUMP - THIS IS CONFIGURABLE IN OPTIONS" then complain that they can't figure out how to jump or that Z is a stupid choice. Of course, I would do the same thing if it wasn't my game, so yes: You, Sir Kettle, are black.

So, here is my proposed solution: an in-game signpost. You can test it here, though the text isn't modifiable at this point (I need Greg to whip me up an interface to do so). I'm really interested to know what you think! Chime in with any thoughts or ideas. Here are some features:
  • The intro-box will remain for two reasons: Need the Click-on-level-load to capture keyboard focus, and it gives level designers a place to put a little backstory up if they so desire it.
  • The signpost text appears on touch only - thereby not "giving away" level elements or cluttering the screen.
  • The signpost trigger box is sizeable any way the level designer wishes. As the text appears from the center of the box, this allows for some creative control on where text appears.
  • The text fades out at a variable length, dependent on the 200WPM average that people read at.
  • Linebreaks work and the resultant text box auto-resizes to fit.
  • The signposts keep track of how often they have been touched, which can be recalled with the %COUNT% variable. This can eventually tie into a badge or victory condition (in the distant future) - allowing for laps counters or other more creative ventures.
  • The signposts respect your keyboard control configuration with the %LEFT%, %JUMP%, %RESET%, etc. variables.
  • The signpost trigger box is not yet art-ed up, art is not final :)
Again, try it out here, and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Protonaut Beta Launch: A Retrospective

It's been nearly a month since launch, and it's time for a retrospective on Protonaut!

First up, I should explain away my absence for the last 30-odd days. I'd like to say I'm busy attending GDC and other business stuffs (which is partially true), but the actual reason has been crushing disappointment.

I really shouldn't be disappointed. My brain is telling me that everything is allright, and I know things will work out in the end - as I believe I do have a viable product here. The problem is, my heart doesn't handle disappointment well, and it's screwing up how my brain is responding. Just today I've managed to bundle up all the emotion and kick it out the door, and I'm finally ready to move forward.

Let's rewind a bit and explore what went wrong.

When I launched Protonaut, I knew I had a serious content problem. It's the classic chicken-and-the-egg scenario; I have a game that heavily relies on user-made-content to generate traffic, and contained very little user-made-content. All of my fancy level promotion and ranking tools are useless until I have mass traffic. I decided to launch an "open beta" of sorts, and get some traffic flowing.

Colin had a tremendous amount of luck with JayIsGames in the past, for his game Fantastic Contraption. The traffic was of the perfect demographic and seemed to fit with what I wanted my userbase to be, so I got a review up on there - then halted all media interaction immediately. I didn't want this to get out; it is still a beta, after all. The big release is yet to come!

And that's the traffic graph that pretty much overlays over the week I was at GDC. What's funny is I actually garnered more traffic than Fantastic Contraption did in it's first week, and I got more traffic from JayIsGames than FC did after the review went online. My entire problem lies in retention.

That there is a delicious pie chart of where people left my game for good, their IP address never to grace my website again. 45% of my visitors were lost completely before even loading a level. I then proceeded to lose around 20% of my traffic at each stop in the tutorial, to the point where less than 1% of total traffic finished the tutorial in it's entirety.

What's interesting, though, is that the average user spent over 10 minutes on the site, and loaded (or retried) levels on average 6 times each. A bit more digging shows me that quite a few people abandoned the tutorial partway through to get them to the user content. That's a lesson learned right there. Another lesson learned is that most of those people were restarting tutorial 1 over and over again - a sign that it's too hard, even in it's simplicity.

Sorry this one is unlabelled, but it is how many times each level was played - and essentially goes in order around the wheel - Tutorial 1, tutorial 2, tutorial 3, tutorial 4, etc...

Half the people that played #1 never got to #2. It could mean tutorial 1 is too hard, but it could also mean that the player has already decided "nope! this game isn't for me." A more engaging first-user-experience could correct this.

I'm a real slut when it comes to charts, graphs, and analytics. The average user only viewed/tried 6 levels, but sent me 15 hits to Analytics for clicking in various places on the screen. But the real blow to my pride was this graph right here - the one that everyone gets excited about, TOTAL CONVERSIONS:

Yes, that's right. I'm seeing a THREE PERCENT CONVERSION RATE! *balloons fall from ceiling, cue dance music*

Well, I did on that one day, anyway. If you average out the conversion rate since launch, it's at a still-respectable 0.4%.

Thing is, my traffic has been so low, that the numbers are heavily skewed. On top of that, I made 5 test purchases during development, and this graph is nothing but smoke and mirrors; I actually have made a grand total of ZERO sales of Protonaut after launch (except the one I paid my girlfriend to make).

Anyway, I'm putting my emotions aside now and gearing up to kick some ass. I'm going to rewrite the entire tutorial system and make the whole experience more engaging for a new user; I really want to ramp up my retention figures.

At least I'm getting "SSSL Unblocking" traffic from google!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Protonaut: LAUNCH!

That's right, after months of hard work Protonaut is finally LIVE!

We've decided to launch the game in a sort-of open-beta format so we can continue improving it and adding features as we get more and more feedback. We have a lot of big updates and features planned in the future and we fully expect Protonaut to become an even better product as time goes on.

I have to give a big heaping helping thankyou to our Alphanauts, the earliest testers of our game and invaluable sources of feedback. Also big thanks to Greg Wohlwend, without whom I probably would have cancelled the project a month in.

I'd love to go on a big rambly launch wrap-up post, but this is just the beginning! (and it's also beerfest weekend here in Victoria, BC).

Don't melt my servers while I'm away at GDC! :D

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Protonaut: Launch Day?

Protonaut is on-schedule for release later today, likely sometime around midnight PST. Still waiting on some music/sound effects, and we have some shuffling of levels to do in the Trials, but otherwise the game is gold.

There will be one final build (before launch), so if you want to do us a favour and do some playtesting.. now's the time to do it!