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slayemin's Journal

June: Spellbound, Steam & HTC

Posted by , 27 June 2016 - - - - - - · 785 views

Lots of exciting news for this month!


HTC Meeting:
Last week I walked down to the HTC office for North America and tried to get a meeting with their VR people so that I could give them a demo of my game. On Monday, I had that meeting and it went very well.


Before going to the meeting, I sat down and had some coffee with my girlfriend and we talked about some possibilities. She is also a marketer (one of the best! <3) and has the staff and resources to promote major products, primarily through "direct response" and events. She has an international team of people who can put on live demonstrations in large retailers such as Costco, Sears, Sams Club, Walmart, etc. has the connections, and has a solid track record. Virtual Reality is new and exciting, and she's tried it out (of course!) and wants to send her sales teams around the world and sell it. Currently, I'm guessing there are about 50,000 HTC Vive units out in the wild and they are selling very well. What this means for me is that there are 50,000 potential customers who would be capable of playing my game when it's ready. In order for me to increase my sales, I need to increase the size of my market. I sincerely believe that if you give people a live demo of the HTC Vive VR headset and they play my game, they will want to buy both the hardware and my content. The amount of effort to pitch the product will be much lower because the products pretty much sell themselves. Combine that with masterful salesmen, and you're probably looking at easily moving 100,000 units. There are a few things I might worry about: Would HTC's sourcing be able to keep up with the demand? Could they build 100k VR headsets? From the consumer standpoint, does the average consumer have a computer capable of playing high quality VR content? Grandma's computer just isn't going to cut it, so the sales teams will have to make sure that customers have the necessary hardware to run the VR device as its meant to be run. That creates an interesting partnership opportunity with computer manufacturers as well -- we could create a complete package where consumers purchase a high end computer, VR HMD, and a content bundle which includes my game and a few other select VR games. There's a huge opportunity to bring VR to the masses and I want to be one of the people who helps make that happen. Anyways, I'm probably getting ahead of myself. The key thing to note is that as just a programmer / VR content producer, I play a small but important piece in the puzzle of the whole picture and I need to make sure that what I'm building is perfectly in alignment with the rest of the pieces. I can't let myself have tunnel vision on just code and design problems, I need to make sure that what I'm creating is aligned with the visions and objectives of all my potential partners, that it's something consumers love and want, and everyone who works with me, wins and succeeds.


Anyways, I met with the senior producer at HTC and showed him my VR game this morning. He loved it. I had this terrible bug which caused the AI in the packaged build to not move, although it works perfectly in my preview builds. I was in the office until 3am trying to fix it, but couldn't get it fixed in time. Despite that, I showed HTC my VR game. The locomotion system I came up with is unique and they said that they had never seen anything like it before and were surprised by how well it worked and were surprised by the lack of motion sickness. The spell casting system felt perfect as well and they loved it. This is really encouraging. A lot of indies bring them stuff which isn't very good and the quality bar is too low to get excited about. I hope I'm the exception. I still have a lot of work to do on my game to get it to be perfect, but I'm totally on the right track despite the bugs and need for polish. They said that their biggest markets are going to be Taiwan and China, which isn't surprising since HTC is a Taiwanese company, so what that means for me is that I absolutely need to make sure that my game is localized for those markets. One interesting localization bit about China is that their authorities don't want to see red blood... so what do you do? Make it green instead!


I fixed the path finding bug for my creature AI in the packaged build. It took almost two days because it costs about 30 minutes to package and test. After I got that taken care of, I pretty much had a decently playable build of Spellbound. It's time to put this thing up on Steam and start getting people to play it and give me feedback! So, that's what I've been doing the rest of this week. I have *never* launched a game before. I have never done anything on the backend side of steam. So, there was a lot of "uhm... am I doing this right?". The good news is that I got my first build up! I downloaded it, played it, and it works! I can't stress how big of a milestone this is for me and this project -- what this means is that people around the world will soon be able to play my game, give me feedback, and I can push out updates. I have finally created a closed iteration loop on product development and customer feedback. Check this out!!




Before I can officially launch, I'm going to have to create a polished game play video which demonstrates what it's like to play this game in VR. That's going to be a bit tough. I'm going to try to create a "mixed reality" video with green screens. One interesting challenge is that the player is represented by a full body avatar within the game, so when I composite the game into the video, how will that work with the avatar? Would it be interesting if the player wore an entirely green outfit so that it gets masked out and all you see is their skin? Then it would look like the player is actually wearing the wizard clothing... but would that be a problem for "representational purposes" for actual game play? I'm not sure.


Anyways, there is going to be a TON of work remaining to do in regards to bug fixing, polish, voice acting, and publicity, marketing, etc. I certainly won't be able to rest on any laurels for at least nine more months, or however long it takes me to finish building the rest of the content while this game is in early access. It'll be a relief to start getting some income though. I've been struggling financially. I still owe my former artist something like $8,000. I owe my office space $1,600; My webhost is about to shut down my websites for lack of payment. The "Employee Security Department" in my state is charging me something like $500 for unemployment insurance and fines. I need to be able to pay my share for food and rent. I have zero dollars in the bank, and probably about fifty cents in change in my pockets. If not for the financial support of my girlfriend, I would have had to go to the bank and try to get a loan, or lay off my artist a few months early. This has been healthy for me though. 100% of my focus has been "shut up and ship!" and "don't release garbage!". I really hope that I can at least sell enough copies of my game to pay all of my current debts and have enough to get by on a monthly basis. If I can become financially self-sustained, it means I can continue producing VR content. If I can't, then the reality is that I'm going to have to give it up and do my best to go get a job elsewhere, which would be a crushing disappointment. I'm literally a hungry entrepreneur and starving artist, and I'm finding there's nothing glorious about it... I have an optimistic feeling though that the lack of money will only be a temporary problem and a very good teaching moment for me. My new mantra is "gotta survive before you can thrive!"


Anyways, I have set a public release date for July 8th, 2016 for the Early Access release of Spellbound. I'm afraid that date is going to be very slippery due to the lack of a good game play video. Before I can release, it also has to pass a validation check from Valve. But if I do launch on the 8th, it's going to be worth celebrating. I won't get any income or revenue for at least two months after launching though, so I'll have to continue to scrape by for a while. When and if I actually launch publicly, I'll make a special post about it here.


note: Gamedev.net is being a bit finicky tonight.

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Spellbound Game Play Video

Posted by , 22 June 2016 - - - - - - · 1,002 views

I created a 10 minute game play video of Spellbound this afternoon and thought I'd share with everyone. This is played in a room scale environment on the HTC Vive and features a locomotion system I invented. Have a look :)


Spellbound: May Update

Posted by , 03 June 2016 - - - - - - · 536 views

I think for this month, I'm going to do something different and spend less time chatting about backend details and more time showing off some of my work in progress screen shots. Enjoy!


Sunset. It probably won't make the final cut, but I like the colors and tone this creates.
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Water Puzzle: Players have a room with a chasm of water which needs to be crossed. At the far end is a wraith lobbing death at you.
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Night in the dark forest: This is the first thing you see in the prelude.
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Boss Arena: This is the prelude boss monster arena. He's the protector for the book at the center.
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Boss Arena 2: This is the same boss monster arena, viewed from a different angle.
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All of this is a 'work in progress' and doesn't represent the final product. I still have to add in decorative bits and give these environments more of a 'lived in' look. They look too sanitary right now.


I'll launch this on steam early access soon. I'll make an announcement here when I do.

April Update

Posted by , 07 May 2016 - - - - - - · 862 views
lean, game dev, business and 1 more...

I'm feeling depressed. This is what happens when you run out of money and your project still demands more from you. This is a hard entry to write because there is so much struggle right now.


Last month I ran out of money. I had less than $1,000 in my bank account, and my monthly costs to stay in business are around $8,000. The expenses are as follows:
$4,000 - artist wages (+/- 100 depending on the days in month)
$800 - office rent ($400 / desk)
$2,500 - my living expenses (which are my wages paid to self)
$300 - misc bills


In order to pay the bills, I've been relying on my girlfriend to help with the finances. We've been getting income from watching dogs in my apartment. This... has been really annoying and rough. At one point, we had twelve dogs in there. We've been watching dogs for around 10 months in her old apartment, but in order to save money, we moved in together, so the dogs now stay in my apartment. Each dog brings in about $45 per day, so with 12 dogs, we were making about $540 / day before taxes. Let me tell you something about dogs... they bark. They shit. They have to be taken out to go poop and pee every few hours, or they will relieve themselves inside... which happens a lot anyways. They're hairy mongrel beasts which shed everywhere. They get into everything, especially garbage. They damage walls and claw at doors. They chew things up and shred furniture. If they're puppies, they have super high energy. The absolute WORST dogs to watch are black labs which are 1-3 years old. The barking and whining not only keeps me awake at 4am, but it also bothers the neighbors. Just a few days ago, I got a 10 day notice on my door from the apartment manager saying that we're not allowed to have dogs anymore or run a business from there, and if we continue to do so, we'll get evicted. Great.


My girlfriend also operates a bed and breakfast ranch an hour outside of Seattle. We've been renting out 60 acres near a river for almost a year. We began in August 2015, which was kind of bad timing in terms of seasons. So, my girlfriend wanted to staff the ranch with inn keepers to take care of the daily operations of it and she would do the management of it. Her friend from Portland was getting evicted and needed help, so we offered them a place to stay for free and a job with a revenue share agreement. I was completely against the idea because I didn't like her friend and her family. This was a family with two children who were about as skeezy as you get. They were a pair of Portland hippie tweakers / druggies. So, they moved all of their junk from Portland to the ranch house an hour east of Seattle, nestled in the cascade mountain range. We started running three separate operations simultaneously. First, was the bed and breakfast. We have 5 different bedrooms which are fully furnished in a large, beautiful ranch style house. Second, we host dogs as a part of the dog sitting side business. The dogs can run around in the fenced in area and play all day. Third, my girlfriend is passionate about horses and operates a horse rescue and trail riding business. I'm against this because of the financial burden, but it doesn't seem to matter. As I predicted, the inn keepers were terrible. They did nothing but complain and bicker and were a nightmare to deal with. A few months in, we discovered that they were doing meth and there were several incidences of domestic violence and knife stand offs. I immediately came in and fired them on the spot, but... you can't just throw a family out on the spot. This was in early November, so winter was setting in. They begged for a second chance, and Christmas was right around the corner, so I relented and gave them a probationary period. We had no staff and needed to have someone running the place. They both complained that they were broke and over worked, and despite the house being a dream property, they said it was no place to raise a family. Their biggest gripe was the amount of work they were both putting in to care for dogs and take care of guests, saying they were putting in 14 hour days, 7 days per week. Based on other accounts from temp workers, they were actually spending 12 hours per day fighting and arguing with each other, and maybe two hours working. It would literally take two hours to argue about who would take out the trash, which is a two minute job. Everyone looked to me to be the stoic, respected leader to arbitrate these petty squabbles, but I wanted as little to do with this as possible. I just don't have the time or the interest to get involved, I've got a game to build. Yet, I had to step in and be the force to be reckoned with. Immediately after Christmas, there were more incidents and reports of meth and pills being used, so I finally stepped in and fired them and meant it this time. A day later, I had a moving truck ready for them, paid them $4,000 for their time (after much arguing), and sent them back to Portland. They can go back to working for Walmart, collecting welfare, and living off of food stamps. As a consequence of working at our ranch, we received many bad reviews which hurt the business. At the same time, we found a young girl to replace these two nut jobs. I interviewed her and immediately liked her and pretty much hired her on the spot. The bar was set super low: Do you do meth? do you argue all day? do you hate working? no, no, and no? great! you're hired! really though, she was presentable to customers, looked capable and willing, and was eager to get started. She was living with her mother but the mothers landlord said she couldn't stay there, so we invited her to live at the ranch. She has been a dream employee. We both love her. Me and my girlfriend want to take care of her like she's family.


However, the neighbors of the ranch have complained because they have nothing else to do. They are perpetual complainers who find fault with anything and anyone. They run a diary farm with something like a hundred cattle. From what we can tell, the source of the ire is from the wife. She makes life miserable for her husband and adult son, and they take it out on everyone else. Regardless, they put in a complaint with the county and said that our horses are starving, miserable, and uncared for. And the dog business is "illegal". More annoyance. My girlfriend went and spoke with animal control, who came and inspected the ranch. Seeing as how we were running a horse rescue, saving abused and neglected horses from being sent to a slaughterhouse and being turned into dog food, we would take in horses which were severely neglected and unhealthy. The worst horse was this eighteen year old white horse with a liver problem. You could literally count every one of his ribs when he came in. We've since nursed him back to health and he's made a full recovery. We have seven horses which are being taken care of and used for trail rides (to pay for their care taking). The dog business was a different story. We discovered that the county is full of red tape and bureaucrats. If the dogs even set foot on the porch, we have to submit a "certificate of occupancy" and that requires the fire Marshall to certify the building. And for some technicality, they weren't going to do this. So, we looked into building dog houses. But, that too requires a separate permit and each shelter needs to be certified by the fire marshall, and would need sprinkler systems and fire alarms... in dog houses... located in a yard... At the same time, we discovered that the zoning for the property was an agricultural zoning, so running a commercial enterprise was not in compliance with the zoning laws. And you can't just easily rezone something. If a county rezones an area, it is legally obligated to provide zone specific services for that zone, such as paved roads, plumbing, sewage, etc. which costs the county a lot of money. So, if you want to watch a few dogs on a ranch, the county doesn't want to let you do that because they would have to pave a road. How does any of this make any sense?! Dogs don't care if a road is paved! They just want to run in the grass and play all day!


On top of that, the land is in a flood zone. In the winter time, the river floods and two thirds of the sixty acres is under water. The land is also a designated wetlands. And our landlord for the ranch runs an asphalt and paving company and stores his equipment in a barn. There are a lot of legal and permit based problems, and what he's doing is probably illegal, so he absolutely doesn't want any county officials nosing around his property, lest he gets discovered. So, he hates that we have horses and dogs on in an agriculturally zoned property. Last week, he decided that he doesn't want to renew our lease, which expires in August. Probably due to the recent attention by county officials. So, that means we have four months to find another suitable ranch. We have to find a place to store seven horses and a fenced in enclosure for dogs, and find enough space for nice trail rides and a house nice enough to host guests from around the world. In four months. It's nuts. It's a huge source of new stress. How are we going to find a good home for these horses, with everything we need? Here's a lesson I learned from this: Do NOT rent land from someone and try to operate a business off of it. Your business operations are dependent on you having a place to operate your business from. If you're renting with a one year lease, you're at the mercy of your landlord. If you invest any money, time or effort into developing your business, it can legally be ripped away from you by simply not renewing the lease. And, if your landlord is a two faced liar, you have no legal recourse. ANY promises made should be written down, signed and dated. Don't do ANYTHING without a written agreement which can be used in court. A paper trail is your best friend. I can't stress enough how important it is to identify potential risks and look at the mitigation steps and their feasibility. It's much better to perform a risk analysis before making any sort of commitment because it is much easier to turn back and say "no thanks".


A few weeks ago, I went on a trail ride with one of the horses. We went out into the woods and along the river. The whole time, I could tell that the horse just wanted to stretch its legs out and run. We got to a large field, and I gave the horse a light kick. That was all the 'go ahead' it needed and I could feel the surge of pure joy as it just bolted at a full run. Normally when you sit in a saddle, you're sitting nice and comfortable. When the horse is running as fast as it was, you are bouncing out of the saddle with each gallop. I had to stand in the stirrups and lean forward in order to not fall off. I'm generally a pretty reserved and stoic person, but I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. I've only ridden a horse about six times in my life and never been on top of a beast running at 35mph, so it was one of the most exhilarating and scary experiences I've done lately. I still want to do it again.


I was talking about the horse trail rides with my girlfriend. We realize that riding horses is kinda fun, but we need a bigger "draw" to make it compelling for people. The first iteration of our idea was to not offer "horse" rides, but to offer "unicorn" rides. Anyone can say they road a horse, but who can say they rode a unicorn? That's something interesting to talk about, right? I thought about it for a bit longer and thought it was a bit gimmicky. Then I had an epiphany. I'm a virtual reality game developer. I create experiences. Why not combine virtual reality with horse riding? What if we could develop an augmented reality horse riding experience? You sit on the back of a horse, go on a trail ride through the forest, and you're wearing AR goggles. When you look at your horse, you see a unicorn. When you look around the forest, you see mythical forest creatures such as fairies, elves, dryads, and nymphs. Some of them may come and interact with you as you ride through the forest. When you look at the foliage, you can identify the plant and read about it and learn about nature. If we do it right, it can be the most magical experience in the world. It would be something that people from around the world would want to come and try, and it would be an experience of a life time. I'm super inspired by this idea, but realistically, I can't make this happen any time soon so I have to keep it on the back burner. I need to finish my current VR game and build up my team and talent before we tackle anything bigger and harder. If we got investment or sponsorship, we could make this happen faster, but that's unlikely.


Last weekend, my girlfriend and I went to Astoria, Oregon to work a booth at the crab and wine festival. We've been going to fairs and selling these hair combs with beads. This was probably my tenth fair. I can say that manning a booth and selling this product has been a huge, huge learning experience for me and reinforced the importance of sales. I was working as the "closer", which means I take everyone's money and try to upsell them on a better offer. "You're getting two hair clips for $20? For another ten dollars, you could get two more! Would you like to do that?" I suck at upselling, but I have no problem taking and counting money from people. My girlfriend is the sales opener, and can sell product to about 80% of people who stop by. My conversion rate is about 5%. Yes, I really suck at sales. I'd love to be better at it. I learned that to be a good sales person, you are pretty much acting for people. You put on a persona, you entertain, you woo, you draw people in, you get them interested, you show them your product and tell them how amazing it is, all while being as truthful as you can, you make them want it, then you take their money and give it to them. This is what you do in sales. I realized it doesn't matter whether you're selling hair clips, bottle openers, or video games, selling is a universal skill which works the same for every product but requires a knack for understanding people. I'm a programmer, and traditionally, programmers and sales people don't get along (which is stupid!). But damn, what if you got the sales people and programmers to have a super cozy relationship to build exactly what people need and want? How can I use the principles of sales to maximize the selling potential of my games? If my girlfriend can sell product to 80% of the people she exposes it to, how can I get the same sales rates and how do I maximize the exposure of my pitch? Is there a systematic way to do this on a massive scale? Is the "social media" angle right, or are there better channels?


Overall though, we didn't do very well. While we sold around $1,500 in hair clips, our profits were eaten up by the costs. $675 for a booth fee. $300 for lodging. $150 for food. $80 for gas. $300 for product costs. We barely broke even, despite selling so much. Was it worth it? Could I have been more productive if I spent the weekend working on my game instead? I'm not sure. But, that does get me thinking a bit about fairs, festivals, and events in general. Translate this to the game industry and think about PAX, E3 and CES or any other game related expo. Running a booth costs money. Lots of money. Somehow, you have to get your money back, or else you lose money. And, if you keep losing money without making it back... well, good luck staying in business. That means you need to think very carefully about where and why you are setting up a booth and what you're trying to get out of it. Are you trying to do marketing and create brand awareness? Are you trying to get press coverage? Get player feedback on a game prototype? Woo possible investors? Make a name for yourself in the industry? Whatever it is, at the end of the day it has to translate into increasing your bank account. When the sales don't happen immediately after a pitch, it's hard to measure the effectiveness of your effort. I suspect that 95% of the time, people will completely forget about your product the moment they walk away. Yay, 5% sales rate, just like with me and the hair clips. A battle is won in the planning phase, so if this is a risk I anticipate, then I need to plan for it and account for it. Remember the ranch fiasco I wrote about above? If we are going to run a booth at a gaming expo, we want to at least break even with the costs of operating the booth by coming up with a plan to do so and somehow measure the effectiveness of it. Plan, plan, plan, then plan some more. While battles are all chaotic and plans quickly fall apart, it's better to enter into battle with a plan than no plan at all. At least you know what your strategic objectives are and you can loosely achieve them and recognize the moments of opportunity and seize them.


This summer, I plan to show our game at PAX Prime. Probably at the indie mega booth, with whatever money I can scrape together with my girlfriend by selling hair clips. The sales experiences I've had with hair clips helps to think about how I want to sell my own product during PAX. The question is, how do you get people to come and see your booth, get excited about your product, and buy it? Obviously, the longer the time period between sales pitch and purchase, the lower the chances are of getting a purchase. I'd rather do "buy it right now!" vs. "hey, go home and remember to buy it tonight or next week". How do you do that with digital purchases? How does that work with VR? What if your product isn't available for purchase? I have no idea.


Anyways, finances are going to be very tough for a while. I can't have dogs in my apartment (which is a relief), our ranch lease is not being renewed in three months, my game isn't ready for sale yet. From the comments other people left in my last post, I think I'm going to reconsider doing early access for our game and will aim to have an early access version of the game online. It's the beginning of May. I think I can have a pretty playable version of the game available for purchase by the end of May. If I put my game up by May 30th, I can get paid by the end of July, which is two months later. If I wait until June 1st, I get paid at the end of August instead. Jesus, is this okay?! What if game sales absolutely suck? What if I only sell 100 copies? What if nobody wants to be an investor? What if no bank wants to give me a business loan? What if nothing works out? Fuck... I have to believe in myself, that's all I got. If I don't believe in myself, nobody else will either. I have to work hard. I have to make this work. Nobody else is going to do this. If I give up... well, then my fate is sealed and nobody cares about the "coulda-shoulda-woulda" types of people. If I give up, there is no future, no great company or great product. I can't rob the future of my contributions to it by giving up today.


My artist is planning on quitting now that he's not getting paid. That's a disappointment to me. I don't know if that's good or bad. He hasn't been coming to work for almost a week now. I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. We're a two person team. I've been a bad boss because I'm not acting like a boss. Early on, I decided to take the "Valve" approach to management where I don't manage at all and just trust that people work hard and diligently. I've learned that it doesn't work very well with everyone. My artist likes to chat and hang out with other freelancers in the office for an hour or so every day. I don't like this. The fact that I rarely come down on him for it is proof that I'm a bad boss. I just want to say, "why the fuck aren't you working right now? I'm not paying you to shoot the shit with people." It needs to be said, but if I say that, then I'm a mean boss, but I suppose I have to be a mean boss or else people will take advantage of me. God damn, I just want to write code and make games with people, not babysit them. Anyways, my artist is actively looking for work elsewhere now. The downside to losing him is that I lose out on the investment of time and nurturing of his talent over two years. But, is that an assumption I'm making to justify in retaining him as an employee? It seems that an artist is somewhat of a fungible asset, where I can replace an artist with another, so long as they're decent and maintain the art style/direction. I was looking on the unreal asset store and it has really filled out lately. There are LOTS of high quality art assets I can purchase. I had my artist create and animate a skeleton for me. That took him about two weeks. If I pay him $24/hour and he worked 80 hours to create a skeleton, then I paid 80 * 24 = $1,920 for the skeleton model. I found a skeleton as a part of a fantasy character package online for $39.99. Wow, I paid so much more for a skeleton than I should have!! So, I've wasted a lot of money I didn't have to waste. To be fair to myself though, the art asset wasn't available on the asset store when I asked him to model it, and the requirements I had are a bit unique. But anyways, the point is that in the practical sense, even if I purchase a $100 asset package and can only use one or two assets from it, That is equivalent to four artist hours, which would be a minimum of what it takes to produce those same assets anyways, so spending $100 is much cheaper than having an employee. My girlfriend tells me that I should contract out any unique art requirements as well, so... yeah, I'm dumb and a bad boss. If my artist does quit however, my production costs sink from $6,000 per month to about $400/month, and that is equal to selling 20 hair clips, which can be done in about an hour at a decent fair. That would mean that operating my business would become very sustainable because my operating costs are so low. However, I would still have to spend money on things like voice actors, contracted talent, and miscellaneous expenses such as booth fees and asset purchases. When I explained this to my girlfriend, she said "Now you're thinking lean!".


So, I have to reconcile with the fact that in all likelihood, my artist is going to quit. That's going to suck and will be a bit of a blow to the project and my morale, but I have to bounce back and keep going. Nothing but a good attitude and positive thinking can help with this. I tend to seek the silver lining in everything and look for the opportunities in even the worst situations. It makes things a lot more palatable and, rather than wallowing in woe about past mistakes, I can look forward to the exciting opportunities which lie ahead and keep charging forward. So, my artist quits. Bummer. What's the positive side of this? My costs drop to nearly nothing. Even though I lose out on his developed skill set, I also have to recognize that *I* am the most irreplaceable person on this project. The project can go on without him, but not without me, and I'm not abandoning the project. Ever. So long as I'm working on this project and working hard on it every day, it will eventually get done. I am the one who moves this project forward. If it eventually starts to become profitable, I can hire more people to join my team and together we can make this game even better for our customers. I've always thought that it was really important to develop the skillset and talent of the team, but recognizing that the talent of an artist is somewhat fungible is important. When it comes to VR, the talent which is much harder to replace and more worthy of development & investment is the designer & programmers talent. Going forward, if I had to hire a new employee / partner, I'd bring on someone with strong programming skills with a keen sense for design. We can just shop out the art requirements to the market place or contractors. When the art requirements start becoming too unique and we're contracting too much out, it might be worth looking at hiring a full time artist.


One last thought -- While I was eating dinner in Astoria, I had an epiphany on the future of what I want for my company. This is influenced by my experiences with running the ranch as well as running my game company. The critical question to think about is how you look at and see the people who are working for you. I see people who are making sacrifices to help build our dream. To build something which we want to do for the rest of our lives, to do something which we enjoy. It's as much their dream as it is ours, right? I think of every employee as a person under my personal care, who I have to do my best to take care of as I would a family member. In a way, a company should be like a second family. Losing your job should feel horrible, like getting a divorce, if your company is doing business right. And firing someone should not be taken lightly, with all things considered. These days, I think companies expect loyalty out of their employees, but companies are not willing to show loyalty to their employees. As a result, employees are happy to hop from job to job and companies are happy to churn and burn through hundreds of employees per month. Nobody wins. If you think of a company as an institution of stability and providing for its members, then how can you have stability without a stable membership? You build stable, long lasting companies by treating employees right and creating an environment which they would want to spend 20-30 years at as an employee. You don't look towards profits as the end goal, you look at creating a flourishing company as the end goal and the profits are a means to that end. Profit would just be a natural side effect of running a business institution properly. I think... investors are going to have a problem with this view, especially if they're looking for short term profits. But hey, those are the types of investors you don't want to have as investors anyways. No, in this modern era of companies and employees, a proper company should bend over backwards to show loyalty to their employees in order to distinguish itself from the chaff of other horrible companies. A worthy company should be able to say to a new employee, "Welcome to our family, we will take care of you and we expect that you will be a great new addition to our prestigious membership.". I recently spoke with a recruiter for Amazon, and she said that Amazon spends TONS of time, effort and money to bring on new employees (about $40,000 per hire). Yet, the average employee retention rate is about 12 months. That blows my mind. Why do you spend so much time and effort finding the perfect fit for your hard to fill position, and then treat the staff like garbage so that they quit in less than a year?


Anyways, my artist is quitting and I will do everything in my limited power to make sure that he's well taken care of and lands on his feet at a new and rewarding job. It's okay, I'll survive and this game will get done. Some day, I'll look back on this, smile and think, "wow, what a defining moment that was."

A fellow game developer died

Posted by , 02 May 2016 - - - - - - · 769 views

I'm close friends with the fellow game dev team upstairs on the 14th floor. Every time either of our teams has something to celebrate, we invite each other. We share in each others happinesses and struggles. We have a good camaraderie.


Today, I learned that Doug passed away.
He was so young. He was about my age.
He was the smileyest guy on their team.
He went to have heart surgery last Monday and died on Friday from complications.
How fucked up is that? That you could be talking to someone one day, and they're dead and gone the next? Forever! I know the reaper comes for all of us, but it's a lot harder when it is so unexpected and sudden.
How do you deal with that? On one hand, you've got the grief. That's the hardest. Then you've got the team members who are also grieving. Then you've got the game project. To say, "The show must go on!" is what must eventually happen. To do that, you've got to do a transition of responsibilities. Shit. They were a four man team, now they're down to three. He was their coding heavy weight. The guy who could do it all. You can't just farm that out evenly to the rest of the team. They're also pretty much broke, so you can't hire replacements. How do you pick up the pieces and make the show go on? How weird will it be to look at his source code and see his comments? In a way, it's a part of him. And eventually as the code evolves, you're going to have to delete some of those comments? In a way, we all have threads of evidence which suggested we existed. One by one, those threads are erased over time. But you owe it to Doug to see the project through to the end.
Well, Doug worked on this game for the last few years. He wanted to "make something fun". He got to see the beta launch of the game he worked so hard on. He did what he dreamed of doing -- and when it comes to life and dreams, that's kind of rare... Things like this make us think, "what if I'm next?" and hopefully compel us examine our own life closely.


I know I'll be drinking a coffee in Doug's memory today. Damn, I wish I never had to write something like this.

March 2016: Funding ran out

Posted by , 08 April 2016 - - - - - - · 1,941 views

Well, I've officially run out of money. (long pause for reflection)


This seems to be a common struggle and problem with indie game developers, and I'm not any different... Do I blame myself? Who else and what else is there to blame other than myself? Of course it's my fault.


I had about $500,000 at my high point. Today, I have no more than $1,200. What happened? Well, about five years ago (has it been that long?!) I went to Afghanistan as a military contractor working for the US Army as a senior software developer at the headquarters. I was initially paid $61,000 per year to work for General Dynamics as a junior field technician, but my project manager knew I was a developer so he sent me out to fill a much needed gap. I worked for GD in Afghanistan for about six months. One of my co workers worked for another contracting company called "Trace Systems". He was paid very well and his manager worked in the building and came by every week to check up on him and make sure he was well taken care of. My manager on the other hand, had no idea who I was or what I was doing. I never, ever heard from him. My initial contract was going to be six months and I had no intention of staying there, but the officers liked my work and saw my value, so they wanted to keep me on staff if possible. I told them I'd stay on for a year if I can get paid better. So, they made it happen. I quit General Dynamics and switched to Trace Systems, who paid me $240,000 per year to work in Afghanistan. For that kind of money, I can do that for another year. Afghanistan sucks. The mountains are brown, the air is dirty, the ground is brown, there are very few trees, it's just brown dirt and rocks everywhere you look. And the sky is filled with brown smog. I lived in a plywood shack with a quarter inch of wood between myself and the elements. We got shot at by rockets and mortars. The closest one landed no more than 200 feet away from me one night. You're never safe. My day to day life was pretty much, eat, sleep, work. I worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day. I oversaw three unit rotations. Winters were freezing, summers were roasting hot.


Towards the end of my 18 months, I was very burned out. I was tired of it all and became pretty useless. Even though my contract said I had to work 12 hours a day, I effectively only got about 2 hours of work done at best because I was so spent. It depressed me. I honestly wanted to keep working hard and pushing myself to fulfill my contractual obligations, but I felt like I was at the end of a marathon and I was trying to sprint for another mile. Nothing but a long break would fix that. It was time to go home. The whole time though, I was taking all of the money I earned and I put it into an investment account. I invested ALL of my money into Tesla Motors when they were at $55 / share. A few weeks later, they jumped to $92/share and I had made a couple hundred thousand dollars for doing nothing. I thought to myself, "Why do I work so hard to make a few thousand dollars a month when I can invest and make a couple hundred thousand?". Well, it turns out that I just got lucky with that particular stock pick. I invested all of my money into a solar power company and saw myself losing and gaining tens of thousands of dollars. It became an obsession to track the stock ticker symbols and read the news about these companies to try to figure out why the stock price went up or down.


My intention was to leave Afghanistan with $200,000 in the bank which I could use to fund my game development company. Instead, I left with about $350,000. That was a stroke of luck. I continued investing when I got home, and gradually raised my capital up to $550,000 at the highest point. I believed that, based off of the money my stocks were earning, I could afford to hire an artist to work for me. I was generous with his pay because I could afford to be. The plan was going to be to continue growing my financial portfolio and use a portion of the proceeds to pay my artist. Some days, I'd make a couple thousand dollars and think to myself, "Well, I just raised the money to pay his wages for a month." Ideally, that would have been great if it worked that way forever. However, all it takes is for one or two bad stock picks to demolish your savings. That happened. I invested in Fannie Mae, thinking they'd bottomed out at around $3.50/share. They went all the way up to $6/share and then crashed to around $2/share. I lost over a hundred thousand dollars in one day. Damn. But I can make that back, right?


The expenses of running a business with zero income will eventually drain all of your money. Every month, I had to spend about $8,000 to keep things running. My artists monthly wages were in the range of $4,000 per month. My office rent is $800 per month. My own apartment rent is about $2,000 per month. Then I've got bills, food, insurance, and a few other costs. I also spent money on computer hardware and computer software. I wanted to do everything right and legally, so I paid for all the software we use. Zero piracy. Everything is licensed. Zero risk of lawsuits in that regard. So, my stock portfolio would go up and down over the years, but it trended downward more often than it trended upward. I realize now that my investment strategy was very shitty and I should have invested in an index fund. On top of that, my investment portfolio had to give up $8,000 per month in order to keep my business afloat. Some days, I would see a months worth of savings evaporate. Those were bad days and I experienced a spike of adrenaline as my anxiety rose. Doubts became more frequent. What if I can't make it? My business focus was to keep my burn rate as low as possible and make my money last as long as possible. I saw my business as another investment vehicle. Unlike with stocks, where the value goes up or down at random, I myself can directly control the value of my business. That, combined with my belief in myself and my abilities as a developer, make it a pretty good investment, right? Maybe.


At about the $175,000 mark, I started looking for other investors who would be interested in sponsoring our game company. That turned out to be a huge waste of time and money because nobody was interested in investing. Nobody gives a shit about us or what we're doing. Investing in a game company is like playing roulette. No wallets opened up. I would spend several days creating and refining a pitch, practicing it, and looking at our financials. Most of it is just speculative bullshit, as with any other start up company trying to raise funds. Why would anyone believe in us? Or in me? It's not enough that I believe in it or have put all of my own money into it. Generally, nobody touches game companies. I kind of gave up on investors. But that's okay, right? I don't know, maybe I'm just an idiot. Maybe I should have spent 80% of my effort trying to court stingy investors instead of trying to build our product? One thing I have kind of learned though is that investors don't want to hear the cold hard truth. I have a really hard time lying or sugar coating things. I think everyone has a right to know the truth, whatever it is, so that they can react the best way they can.


Anyways, I initially worked on a real time strategy game where you controlled a wizard who could cast spells on a battle field. Think of Total War meets Magic the Gathering. I think the concept is great, and with a lot of work, it could be really fun. I had planned to build the game in XNA using my own game engine. A month after I returned from Afghanistan, I began working on my own game engine. I poured about 12 months of effort into it. It was HARD. But I got a rough 3D engine working with moving troops, AI, spells, and a decent user interface system. My software engineer instincts were throwing up red flags all over the place though. The biggest one was saying, "You're a victim of the 'not invented here' syndrome." and "You can never ship with this." and "Want a new feature? That's gonna cost a month of engine development time! That's $8,000. Is it worth it if you can't ship it?". Yes folks, I spent 12 months on this. I'll be the first to officially say that I'm an idiot and I should have realized my mistake a lot faster. Eventually, I was convinced by the following argument: You are ONE man. No matter how talented you are as a programmer, you will NEVER create an engine which is anywhere near the quality of the existing engines. They've got engineering teams with dozens, if not hundreds of talented engineers putting in effort to build the underlying infrastructure for making games. Stop reinventing the wheel unnecessarily and use an engine. Any engine is better than your own -- it makes sense from a business perspective. Divorce your baby and do the right thing. So I did. I picked up Unreal Engine 4. At the time, using it costed $20/month. That is SO cheap compared to spending $8,000 / month in operations costs creating my shitty XNA engine, which should never be shipped. At this point, I had about $275,000 in the bank, so not all was lost.


A little over a year ago, Virtual Reality started becoming a thing. I went to a UE4 meetup and I tried out an Oculus DK2 for the first time. I played an early version of "Technolust", where you just walk around a spaceship room with an android who is constantly looking at you. I did this in the back of a noisy bar, but once I put on the headphones and head set, I almost forgot I was still in a bar. My critical side looked at the experience and art assets. Undoubtedly, it was pretty well done. But I thought I could do WAY better, if I tried. I decided to think about it long and hard before diving in. I don't necessarily want to just abandon a project I'd been working on and spending money on for over a year simply because something new and shiny comes out. I wasn't keen on repeating my mistake with the game engines again. I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but Facebook bought out Oculus for $2 billion. The hardware was workable. A big company just made a big bet on it. The hardware and experience was transformational. It changes things. I decided that I would just buy an Oculus DK2 for myself and try it out and see for myself whether it's worth developing anything for. I mean, it only costs $450. Compared to my monthly expenses of $8,000, that's a drop in the bucket, so why not? I figured that if VR is going to be done right, it also needs to use hands. I had learned about the Leap Motion device when I was in Afghanistan. I put in a request to get the early developer kit version sent out to me out there, but that was totally ignored. I was a nobody (still am). But, VR done properly needs hands, so I bought a leap motion to go with my VR headset. I'd figure out how to make it work, no matter what it takes. If I can build my own fucking engine from scratch, surely I can figure out how to make hands work. In comparison, it should be trivial.


So, the DK2 came in March 2015. I hooked it up. I tried out some demos over the week. They were all mostly "meh...not impressed". Someone posted online that they spent a weekend making a VR game using leap motion, where you can throw fireballs at barrels, and it was the most fun they ever had.. That intrigued me. I couldn't find it anywhere online. I figured that I'd spend a weekend and build my own. No problem, right? And hey, throwing fireballs at barrels is kinda interesting, but also would get boring kinda fast. What if... there was something that moved towards you slowly and you had to destroy it with the fireball before it got to you? It would create a bit more tension and keep things interesting, right? And what creature behaves like this? A zombie! So I bought a zombie asset from the UE4 online asset store and created my fireball throwing game in a weekend. It was pretty cool! I showed it to my artist, and he was disappointed that I didn't include him in it. I wanted to ship it, but it was rough. I decided that I could afford to spend a week polishing the game and then shipping it, and I could include my artist to make it look pretty. But... the game needed more work. More than a weeks worth of work. Maybe two weeks? Maybe three at most? We could afford to waste a few weeks on a fun side project, right? And if we released it, we'd kinda be more important. Well, that was the initial plan anyways. Enter, feature creep!


We were looking at a month. Then it turned to three months. The game progressively got better and better. We borrowed a lot of assets from our other game. We went to a VR meetup group here in Seattle put on my "Chronos VR", and gave our first public demo. The game play worked, but it was still shitty. It needed more work. But seeing the player responses to a working VR game which I hatched out of my own imagination was super encouraging. People fucking loved it. But I could do better. So, we put in another three months worth of work into the game. Then PAX came to Seattle. I really wanted to have a booth at PAX to show our indie game to people, but alas, I missed the deadline to submit a build in May (I was in Las Vegas with my girlfriend visiting her family). But hey, we're like... three blocks away from the PAX convention center, and right across the street from Benaroya hall, so why not put a bunch of sandwich boards on the sidewalks to advertise our game to PAX players walking by? VR was becoming HOT, and people were willing to stand in line for hours to try it out, so I imagined we'd have a line out the door too. Well, that was a very wrong assumption to make. I had built three sandwich boards out of plywood and created a bunch of laminated posters to glue onto the wood. The total cost was $300 for three signs, and quotes from professional sign builders were double that. I also pulled in my girlfriend to help with the logistics and marketing of all this. She is really good at sales. She can sell ice to an eskimo. She stood out on the street and pulled people to come up to our office. When she was working, she'd bring in about 10-15 people at a time. When she stopped, we'd get about 1-2 per hour. Obviously, the sandwich boards failed to do their job. Nobody gives a shit about what is written on a sandwich board. They just ignore it and walk right by. Interesting. Over the course of the weekend, we had 150 people try out our latest build of the game. It was still kind of shitty by my standards, but the response was great and showed me a lot of problem areas I needed to focus on and improve. Watching people play your game is the best user feedback you can get. I wrote a bunch of stuff down and spent another few months refining and improving the game. Money is getting more tight. We were getting below $100,000 in savings now. It's time to either shit or get off the pot. Ship this damned game or fail.


As you know, we're still not ready to ship and we're broke.


A few months ago, we ran a steam greenlight campaign for our game. We were greenlit in ten days. While a big part of that is due to the novelty of being a VR game, the rest of the appeal was from the game concept itself and our high production values. We accelerated through the ranks and hit #31. We were on track to hit rank 15. That was a very encouraging indicator of our chances in the market, once we released. Still, no funding. Valve was kind enough to finally send us an HTC Vive Pre for free. The moment it came, I hooked it up and started developing support for it. Room scale support is an entirely new can of worms to develop for. There are problems I faced in design and concept I've never had to deal with before. Like, measuring the height of the player suddenly becomes game play relevant. Figuring out how to prevent players from physically walking through obstacles in VR was tough, but I got it. Then there's the whole locomotion problem. If your world is large and expansive, but the play space is the size of a living room, how do players move around in a large open world by walking around in their living room? Without teleporting! I solved that too. If I can write a game engine from scratch, solving these problems shouldn't be any harder. Still, nobody cares. The proof is in the pudding. You can talk about this stuff till you're blue in the face, but what really, really matters is shipping a product. Show, don't tell.


Adding room scale support and solving these really tough problems has caused us to take a few steps back in order to take a step forward. Why support the Vive? Why not just launch for the Oculus and add Vive support later? I wonder that myself, but really... the answer is simple: because hurling fireballs from behind your back in a room scale environment is fucking cool. And if the VR market is going to be 50% Vive and 50% Rift, then we would want to support both. Why turn away potential sales? Well, that has also costed me about a month ($8,000). The game doesn't work yet. Now I have no money. Damn.


This week I had to have a hard conversation with my artist. I told him I'm broke and it would be hard for me to pay him going forward, but that I'd make every effort to pay him for his work. How? My dear gracious girlfriend is going to be helping with the finances. She is bending over backwards to raise money to fund our development by going to fairs around the pacific northwest and selling hair products. We're also watching a half dozen dogs in my apartment every day (piss, shit, barking, everywhere... ugh). And we co-operate a ranch bed and breakfast which barely breaks even. We also moved in together to cut costs by sharing them. She tells me she's not going to let me give up on my dream simply because I ran out of money. That's a fixable problem, right?


Currently, as it stands now, the game still needs about 3-5 months of development work. Maybe more? It's impossible to accurately predict these things. We have to finish this thing and ship it. If we sell it for $25 per unit, we need to sell 61,150 units to break even. That seems like an impossible number to reach. We've recently come up with a long term plan for the game as well. I decided that our "game" is more of a story telling platform and that there would be many different stories being told on it. Each story is released as a series of three chapters, and we release one chapter at a time. The proceeds from sales would fund the production of the next chapter. And each series is sold separately. $25 for first game, maybe $15 per additional story? or maybe a bundle deal? Each of the stories would be very different, but seen from the vantage point of a different character. And they would be intertwined. VR is beyond just a head set, beyond just adding hands and input, beyond just telling a single story, it is a way to experience first hand, the amazing stories and lives of interesting characters. This is part of our vision for the future of VR -- we just have to shut up and finish building it. Right now, nothing is more important than shipping a quality product I'd be proud to put my name to. We'll get there.


I had a bit of mentorship from another CEO a while back. He told me that I should expect to "waste" 50% of my funds. It's not avoidable and it doesn't mean I'm a bad manager of money, it happens to everyone starting a company. You waste money going down dead ends in order to find out that they're dead ends. I didn't really believe him, though looking back now I admit that he was right. We spent a lot of time and money finding our way to the final product we're going to ship. In that process, I built a game engine from scratch. Mistake. I invested money I now realize I couldn't afford to lose. Mistake? I started building a game, which we then abandoned. Failure. Now we're finally building the product which we believe will work. There will be more mistakes and failures in the future. But that's okay. These are all a part of the required process to move forward.


Anyways, just because I ran out of money doesn't mean the adventure is over yet. The show must go on! Once we ship and start making sales, I'm going to be very wary about growing. You don't want to outgrow your earnings, no matter how financially safe you think you feel. I need to learn how to make our business financially self sustaining. We have to survive before we can thrive.


I know its a long shot, but if you know any rich saudi prince who wants to invest or sponsor us, let me know.

On Software Patents

Posted by , 18 March 2016 - - - - - - · 827 views
Patents, business

I feel that I may have invented/discovered something novel which nobody else has discovered/invented yet. It pertains to VR and the field is fresh. I believe that it's pretty significant and I want to share it with the world. However, I am really worried about patents. The worst thing that could happen is someone sees what I came up with, discovers it is unpatented, submits and receives a patent for my invention, and then blocks everyone else from using it, including myself. They would have an exclusive right to this invention for a minimum of 20 years. Then the patent trolls would sue anyone who replicates the invention. It would do nothing but stifle innovation.

Innovation is like stacking blocks. Someone has to place the first block, then the next person stands on the placed block and places their block one increment higher, and it repeats infinitely. I step on the shoulders of engineers who came before me to raise the ceiling of progress. Those who come after me will stand on my shoulders and push the boundaries even higher. A litigious patent troll would effectively stop the pace of progress for 20+ years.


So, my thought is this: I need to start looking at my IP for unique and original patents, and then patent them. The reason to patent is not to exclude anyone from using my invention, but to safeguard the invention from being excluded from the world by litigious patent trolls. After I have secured the patent, I would be more than happy to share the implementation details with the rest of the world and give full blanket license to make use of it for any purpose whatsoever. I would probably have to make sure there is a grandfather clause so that if my company gets bought out, people don't lose their right to use and access the owned patent from the purchasing company.

Anyways, the next step is to probably start talking to a patent lawyer to look at the merit of what I've come up with and start pushing paperwork.

Many huge announcements!

Posted by , 22 February 2016 - - - - - - · 959 views

Great news, everyone! Our game has been successfully greenlit! Thank you to everyone who voted and helped make this happen for us. Valve reached out to us by email and said that they're also going to send us a free HTC Vive Pre. Wow. Wow, wow wow. Our friends Ryan and Vic went to the VR Vision Summit earlier this month and got two Vives. Yesterday they decided to donate their old one to us, and I've been spending the afternoon trying to get it up and running. After we got the good news, we invited our fellow devs from upstairs to come down and celebrate with us with cupcakes and champagne!


I suppose that since I'm making announcements right now, we also had a really big development last week. Nothing has been finalized, but we're going to have a partnership with Leap Motion. They love our game and want to try it out asap, and they're looking to put together an indie game bundle which has high quality titles featuring their hardware -- and they want to put our game into that bundle! Again, nothing has been finalized on either side, but this is also a big deal for us. Once we sign contracts for partnership and make things formal, I'll make a much more formal announcement and send out a press release.


This is a moment for us to celebrate, but there's going to be a lot of hard work coming in the next month. There's going to be a lot of late nights in the office to get this done on time and to a high degree of quality and polish. People are going to expect this game to be great, so we can't let anyone down!


Greenlight Stats:
Our greenlight campaign began about a week ago on Friday afternoon and was in greenlight status for about 10 days. Within those ten days, we had 6,352 unique visitors to our greenlight page, 2,712 "yes" votes (59%), 1,594 "no" votes (35%), and were ranked #31 out of 2,150 games in greenlight. Our game also received 109 comments, (about 5 were mine). A huge majority of the comments were positive, but there were also some negative ones, and some with constructive criticism. Overall, we did very well! A huge majority of the credit goes to the hard work Dan, Peter, Cody and Ruben put in. I'm very happy with our outcome, but am still wary about our future prospects. What's really going to matter is our sales figures after release, which will be dependent on our marketing efforts, discoverability, and quality & replayability of our game. The plan is to use any money we get to pay our bills, grow our staff (very slowly), and let us continue making great VR games.


Screwing with software pirates?
I also had an interesting idea in the shower this morning in regards to piracy. I know there are some people who are going to pirate our game. That's inevitable. Some other game devs have actually released builds to the pirate community which seem playable but have a severe draw back which you only discover later in the game. Game Dev Tycoon had an interesting approach, where the games the player releases don't make any money because people pirate your game instead. I love the irony. I was thinking that along those same lines, we'd have a "pirate build", where we put a black eye patch over the characters head and black out one of the eye lenses in the VR headset. On top of that, we'd play "pirate music" and a chorus of "arrrr matey!" and "shiver me timbers!" every time the player does something, and we'd introduce some game breaking bugs (you're not throwing fireballs, you're throwing rum barrels!). If a player complains about this in the forums, we'd just point them to the store purchase page and tell them to buy the actual game. Then, we just release a bunch of bullshit broken variations of the game on the pirate channels to saturate search results, so when people do a search for our game on bittorrent, they don't know if they're downloading a legit version or a bullshit version, and we just keep saturating the pirate channels with our bullshit so that pirates don't know which versions to trust.


Posted by , 20 February 2016 - - - - - - · 828 views

Sorry for the shitpost, but I'm super SUPER excited. I could barely sleep last night. I've made a REALLY awesome discovery in VR which... kind of changes everything. I don't quite know how to describe it, but I know its effects already. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm obsessed. I'm excited. I know what it's going to be, and it I can't wait. If VR is a drug, I think, I've effectively doubled the potency of my formula. If I'm a generally reserved personality and I'm this excited, I can only imagine how other people will react.


"Well, okay! what is it?!?" you ask.


It's this fricken bird! He is like... your companion, your magical familiar. He sits on your shoulders, similar to a pirate captains parrot. You're new to this VR world, but he's here to guide you through the world. But, he's also an intelligent being and has his own little birdy desires. He does more than just sit on your shoulder like a static character would, he'll actually fly next to something of interest and tell you about it. But that's not all, and here's the coolest part... you can extend your left arm out and he'll fly and perch on your forearm, and then you can use your right hand to magically conjur some bird seeds and feed him, or you can use your hand to pet him and he'll make little birdy warbling sounds of happiness. Since this is also VR, he can make direct eye contact with you when you look at him or if he's talking to you. I know this doesn't sound very interesting or compelling when you're experiencing it by reading about it on a dev blog, but trust me. It's magical unlike anything else I've ever experienced in my life long gaming habit. Magical is the best word to describe it. VR itself is 'pretty cool' when you try it. Using your hands to throw fireballs is also a bit more than just 'pretty cool'. But to use your hands to play with an intelligent, virtual creature who reacts to what you do... WOW!!! I had Dan, my artist, try it out. When I told him my idea a few weeks back, he wasn't very keen on it. But now, he's so sold that he wants to make our game about crow caretaking. EEEEEK! This is going to be the coolest thing in the world! I think if we nail this, we will lead the industry -- no shit!


Attached Image


These are BOTH of my hands and I'm doing this in VR. How did I take a screenshot?! I had to create a timer which takes screen shots every five seconds.


This particular crow is very tame, but the wild crows in the game will behave a lot more like crows. They'll sit in trees and caw at you, and if you get too close, you'll frighten them away and they'll fly to another nearby perch and caw angrily at you. If you kill a zombie though, the crows will fly from their perches and come feast on the corpse. Nom! Nom! Nom! Also, if one of your spells enters their 'fright' zone, they'll get scared off and fly away. So, the end effect is you walking through a forest and birds flying out of the trees as you approach them.


This bird incorporates good sound effects, hand gesture response, good visuals for VR, pretty good AI, acknowledges player presence, and has good animations. He's still a work in progress though... you can tell the foot IK's haven't been done yet ;)

Spellbound is up for voting on Steam Greenlight

Posted by , 12 February 2016 - - - - - - · 943 views

Double post day!!!


I rushed ahead of myself and just published Spellbound on steam greenlight. Yikes. I wanted to do a 2 minute game play trailer video, but I suddenly decided that the 8 minute reactions video is sufficient. The first 30 seconds of the video are sufficient to generate curiosity, the middle portion of the video shows the game play and the excitement, and the last part of the video is genuinely compelling testimony from the people who played the game. My better sense of judgement says that people have a 2 minute attention span so I should aim for an equivalent video length, but this gameplay and reaction video was just too good to pass up.


I'm feeling both nervous and excited at the same time. The game isn't 100% complete. There are some bugs, and you can see them if you look for them in the video (they've been fixed). But, my calculations indicate that if it takes me two months to get greenlit (assuming I succeed), and my release date needs to be in two months, then I absolutely have to start my green light campaign as soon as possible. There is no more waiting longer to grease the wheels.


I'll let you guys know how everything goes. But for the time being, fingers crossed!

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