Saturday, July 30, 2011

Re-Branding Game

Here i am for the first time in my life actually rebranding a game of mine. Will this be a good move or just a waste of time. At least it should not be too big a waste of time, however time will tell. I need to say Time one more time, oops, that was two!

So i am gonna rebrand Cards: en Fuego

And it will become

As you can see, there was no major change. At least not with the Logo. We have done several cosmetic changes within the game itself, but none more noticeable than the title page logo (the above pictures). However another of the big changes is the removal of the ':'. So now the game is Cards on Fire, simple and more clean i think.

So why do this ?

1. We think that a lot of the English speakers did not pay any attention to this game because they do not always realise what the name means. In fact i had several people ask me, even though i took it to be general knowledge what en Fuego meant. so rebranding it in to pure English will hopefully mean a bit more attention, or more instant recognition.
2. The colon had to go. The Dr said it was inadvisable to keep it around. Yep, we put that there as a separator to make the en Fuego stand out more we though. But alas it is an awkward thing to look for on the web. It is also something that several people asked about. Why is that there, it makes it a bit messy etc. We hope a more correct English short sentence will be more instantly attractive to browesrs.
3. We have our next game ready to go and that is called Cards Tip the Scale. This could do with the colon more than the previous one, but in any other language this title did not work very well. Another reason to make the first game conform. Why should they conform i here ya ask. Well simply put, these two FREE to play games will be put togetehr very soon to form a game that people will have to pay for. No more annoying Ads, no more loading two games to play these two. So we needed them to be able to exist together. One spanish title and one English seems like a bad mix to us. So when Cards the Combo turns up, you will know what it is :)
4. Oops, i nearly forgot, this does indeed give the game another try at the new releases list. I am not sure what to tell ya really. Some of you reading this will think that is the only reason i have done this (even if i disagree with you). Some of you will think this is simply a good idea to get 10 games out there, all the same except for the title (i will be removing Cards: en Fuego once this one is ready to go live btw!). I hope this does not start a parade of same games out there, however this will not be one of them.

Da Voodoochief

Friday, July 29, 2011

PSHome UFC space Card odds?

Two weeks ago THQ published the UFC space in Sony Home. We at Mass Media (my day job) were responsible for creating the space for THQ. The place seems really popular, especially as a fix for the minigames has just come out and appears to fix those issues (zeroing points anyone ?).

The most popular area in there appears to be the Card collection game. When we go there we see so many peolpe hanging out or discussing which cards they would like to trade for and with. This is very gratifying for us to see so much activity in something we here created. I hope eveyone is enjoying the space.

Now the question has come up about Rare cards, or which ones are more rare than common etc. I am busy trying to track down our internal information on this and will try to post it up in this Blog as soon as i can.

be cool
Da Voodoochief

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Choosing your Games Name

I have already discuessed this topic a bit, but i wanted to revist it, mainly cos i find it really interesting and it has so many variables. What might be right for one person might be completely wrong for anothers taste etc.

As we all know why it is important to have the right name for your game, i won't be talking too much about that again (yeah right!). As i tend to write this stuff as i think it up (stream of concsiousness), i am sure i will visit everything as usual.

So below i will list several considerations when choosing your games name.
1. Does the name fit in the Amount of characters you are allowed per your platform submission. Personally i hate this one, i have come up with some great names that never fit into the 16 chararcter limitation before. Thankfully now name limits tend to be a lot larger.
2. Does it Describe your game in some aspect. Well if the name describes your gameplay in some fashion, that might be considered good. However there is also the fact that making your game more secretive and annonymous might be the way to go.
3. Does the name have a nice ring to it. Like Raucous Riot Racer.. yeah i made that one up. But people do love that kind of name (so do I shhh!). But smooth names are generally a big win, you do not see many games out there named seomthing Awkward, yet they must exist. Cuddly Slug is an awkward name, you could get away with Fast slug etc, but cuddly? hmm, nah! too much of a stretch. Interestingly a lot of japanese game names translated to English form awkward names.
4. Is the name going to infringe on someone elses property? Alrighty, this is where you Must always do research. It doesn't matter if you think your name is truly off the wall unique, you MUST ALWAYS research to see if it has been used before. You can also take time to make sure nothing too similar if possible is out as well. You really want to be able to make it so anyone searching for your game will be able to find it easily and it's reviews.
5. Is the name going to be able to jump on another games name bandwagon? Here is where naming your game Starrcraft or MiningCraft could help you out. There are a lot of people out there that will download your game not noticing it is not what they thought it was. Also i think there is a real curiosity from players about a game named similar to a huge success. So far all i can say is that does indeed seem to be a positive visibility strategy.
6. How good can the name look? This is one a lot of people do not think about. A good looking logo however is a very good thing to have. So you really want a logo that is the name of the game and done in an art style that complements the game itself. This is harder to do than you would suspect. You also do not want a logo with say the color Green in it (in words) while it is on a blue background, as this is a bad contrast generally and when shrunk for thumbnails etc it wil go badly. So ask your artist what he can do with your name and offer a few variations if possible.

Ok, time for a story...
Anecdote:- A Shooter i thought was an awesome name, it described the game so well in most every way. Yet i made several mistakes.Firstly i thought it was so cool that i never bothered to try and google the name. If i had, i would not have chosen this name, as every article ever written about shooters and now fps games has 'a shooter' in it. ARGH! what a plonker. also the name Shooter is now associated with FPS games and not side scrolling shooter games (like i was brought up on). so technically it was also misnamed. Now although i have coverage of my game on my web site and also i have several reviews of the game. You will not find them as they are buried on page 10 or later in googles search results. I thought of this name because of the success on the iphone of a game named iShooter. I thought i could do that, but in fact i should have named it AShooter or something like that.
Still i am learning, even after all these years.

Good luck out there,
Da Voodoochief

Monday, July 25, 2011

Naming a Game

The name you give to your pride and joy can be really difficult. I have two kids that i helped name a number of years ago and naming your game is a very familiar pain. Thuogh i have to say it is not quite as intense. You see i think it comes from a couple of factors.

1. The name will stay with your child and also your game for the rest of its life. You do not want your child to be ridiculed for their name, but also you do not want people to say bad things about the name of your game.

2. You want the name to help make them a success. This is very true, for your child you want the name to help them be confident and strong or beautiful or at least match the name you gave them with strong feelings for what it could do for them. the same is true for your game. If you name it well enough you know, just Know it will make a huge difference right?

Well i am not going to go into what makes a good name or bad, that is for another day. I will say here that we have been trying to come up with a good name for the next game. It has cales in it and cards and erm.. card matching gameplay. now Cards on Fire was an easy name, as the flames were trying to burn the cards. This one is a bit more tricky and here is a selection of what my partner has suggested.

As you will see, we had a theme going and would love to keep that for reasons that i will explain another day.
Cards: sliding scale
Cards: Musical scale
Cards: Slippery scales
Cards: Musical scale ( play a different tone randomly)
Cards: To scale
Cards: Tip the scale
Cards: Gravity
Cards: Run the scale
Cards: Stack the deck ( awesome name but not for this game)
Cards: Deck the halls ( Christmas version)

Now some of them are plain stupid in my mind, and some are really interesting, but do not describe this game. So what will be it's final name, what will we call the game when it goes live?

Check back later, maybe we will have figured it out by then.

Da Voodoochief

Sunday, July 24, 2011

WP7 Performance issue Pt3 (the End)

I have struggled so much with this juddering slow down. I have ogtten really frustrated with it as i did not appear to be able to solve the issue. In fact i decided to create a brand new game with virtually nothing in it except it would record the ElapsedTime value between updates. Then i print them in the Draw call.

I was shocked or maybe not to see that i still have this variability in the elapsed time. It was very aggravating and i knew at this time i needed more help. I had already scoured the internet lokoing for clues as to what to do. In the end it all came down to something simple, something i would have seen a few years ago i think before i started to slow down cognitively speaking. I had tried to make the IsFixedTimeStep=true to fix my issue. I had not hwoever done the opposite, somehow thinking that it would auto default to false....

So i did what i tend to do in times of desparation and not enough documentation, i Tweeted. I think my tweeps are the best, and once again i got information and help from several of them. One tip and the one that tipped the balance in my favour (sorry!). Was to set the IsFixedTimeStep=false.

This cured my problems. I have no issue going and using a variable time step at all, i am fine with that method of coding. But wow, .. i musta spent over 5 hours lokoing for this juddering only to find i needed to set a variable to false that when set to true creates problems..

I have to thank my fellow tweeters for their time and help
@theBigDaddio @FinalMirage @TimTheCoder

I hope this helps at least one person and makes all my time worth more.

Da Voodoochief

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Performance issue pt2

 Latest.... (Friday Night)

I worked hard trying to figure out the judder and hiccups in this game. I have to say it is rather frustrating as i have not found the cause, yet i commented out virttually everything. Including the sound fx calls etc. In fact i rewrote the sfx calling to all go through a common function so i have more instant and centralized control, so something good anyway.

At this time i suspect a rogue flag i am testing like the IsTrialMode flag that is really a hidden time sink. next up i will grab one of the WP7 samples and try that on my phone to see if that works better. If so i will find out the difference.

Till then i need a break and so i will add some more graphical effects into the game. which is something i enjoy, giving feedback to the player in a nice way.

Da Voodoochief

Friday, July 22, 2011

Performance issue in my WP7 game

Performance issues in my simple WP7 game.
Yes it is true, my simple game has juddering going on. Which i hate. This post is about the way it looks and the frustration of the problem.

To start with i will list what i am doing in the Update, then follow that with the small list of what is in the draw call.

  • Base update
  • Some sprite effects (about 10 or so usually) (i can run thousands with no discernable change in frame rate)
  • The hotspot update code
  • Game code which tests for win/lose conditions
  • Cards control, moves the cards in their inertial direction (14 cards moving total !)
  • Base
  • Background (fuill screen)
  • 16 cards (2d sprites)
  • my scales (3 x 2d sprites)
  • Some text for score and pause etc
and that is it. Not a lot there eh? Yet  i experience some juddering, now my preliminary test (the only one i did while half asleep last night) was to comment out the Admanager update. With that removed my frame rate seemed very stable, but i was half asleep, so maybe it was only half stable haha.

With such a simple game it is quite frustrating to run into these issues. Now maybe i am running into garbage collection issues with the way i am doing something in this code. That is very possible and something i ran into several times on the Xbox development i have done. The effects manager i am using came from the Xbox dev after i optimized it to not produce garbage.

Tonight when i get back to this i will be performaing some more surgery by simply cutting parts out and see what happens. If i cannot trace the problem, then it will be time for some sort of profiling. Something i have no experience on for Xna (yeah, i never needed it for my Xbox shooters, even though Pellmell would gladly put on 10,000 effects etc). As for the extra juddering that happens when i do an Ad.Refresh call (to get a new Ad), i think i might have to come up with a better solution for that, though i have no idea what. The bright spark of hope lies in the fact that one of my mates @KrisWD40 (on twitter) has a great game out and he does not suffer this juddering with his ad manager refreshes (his game is Hypership out of control).

I will report back when i have some news on this, as i am sure other people will run into some similar issues.
Da Voodoochief

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Games Cheats the Player

That title of this article is actually true. My most recent game Cards: en Fuego does in fact cheat in the game. Now i know that cheating games are always looked down upon, and rightly so. Well ok, some games are looked down upon for this. The one i despised the most was Command and Conquer. That allowed the AI to always see what you were doing so it could look more intelligent when it stomped ya. I hated the fact that it could see me when i was trying hard to out flank it etc.

Well let me start by saying that for a computer game to cheat, it should have a very good reason. That reason should include the fact that it is there to improve the overall fun experience for the player as well.

This is what my game does. In fact without the cheating we found the game to be most aggravating, even though everything was in fact above board. Lets get down to some details.

The game has a deck of cards in it, and then randomly from the deck it will pull cards and display them for 3 seconds, to see if you can make a match with the cards you have in your hand. Easy enough to play, but what we found was when left to pure chance the cards you needed to match with (just numbers actually!) could and would take a long time to show. You could end up with a single card in your hand and then be waiting 30 seconds to be able to macth the cards with the random ones. This was unacceptible because it felt like the game was willfully withholding the cards you needed. We all know that appearance is very important, and people (including myself) would not believe that the card they needed would not come up in a timely manner.

So we opted to cheat, in favour of the player of course. So now i have a timer that checks for a recent match by the player. If there has not been one within say 12 seconds, then we choose a match card from the deck and override the truly random one. This works great, we then had to enhance it for later levels as you need the cheat to happen way more often due to level speed etc. This was a huge win and with a bunch of testing and tweaking we found a good balance of cheating at the right times. Therefore making the game feel more honest and most importantly leaving the failing of a level to the players ability. Once we got to the comments that they felt they lost it and were not cheated out of completing the level, we knew we had hit the balance nicely. Now i know it won't be perfect, but it is certainly pretty close.

We are also going to use a similar method to this in our new upcoming card game, as again it feels so wrong when cards to match with do not show up.

Enjoy your crafting,
Da Voodoochief

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cards: En Fuego New Version

The New Version (2.1) has now gone live for WP7 phone land.

I got an email just over a week ago from microsoft mentioning that there was an updated Advertising SDK, and could i use that please. I i went ahead and got it installed. This then of course caused me several update issues as i blogged about before. But i just didn't want to spring an update on the community just for an advertising sdk update. It would seem odd to me if i downloaded an update to a game and yet had no idea what the update did etc.

So i added in a gameplay feature called 'Fire Extinguisher'. This new gameplay feature alhough small is quite helpful at just the right times and should allow any players to increase trhere score marginally, yay!

It went live last night and i managed to grab the updtae on my phone this morning. Now one of the things i was truly worried about with this update was the fact i have to change the save game.Yes.. not something i wanted to do. But i had put in a version number and oh man did that save me ass.

Tip: I recommned in any save file placing  aVersion number in it.

With this version number i was able to connect up the original variables and then add a bunch of new ones that could be used in the future, as as the new ones for controlling the tombstoniong of the fire extinguisher itself.

Tip: it can be good to put some blank space in the save file for future expansion.

Well after i grabbed the new version from the web i booted up the game, hoping that my primitive testing of teh save update would work fie and people would not lose their high scores, something i was very worried about.

Voila! it worked, my wife still has her high score, Phew.. crisis avoided!

Da Voodoochief

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Streamlinded Interface

I love improving stuff. Especially when i dont really like the way something is implemented in the first place.

Link to the game

Now take my Dreamland Chronicles game. It was converted from my Xblig game called Dreamland Chronicles Triva Challenge. The interface on the Xbox required you to pres certain buttons and to help you with that we used buttonhelp to show you the button associated with each action. A Simple process and one that is used most everywhere now.

Then we come to do the conversion to the Windows phone. We take the definition off the buttons and are left with a single grey blob. Then we make it so the player must hit these hot spots to choose answers to questions or input any decision like going to the menu etc. We published the game this way as we did not have a windows phone at the time to test the game on. I was also a novice when it came to experience using the touch screen interface.

Now however i am much much more familiar with input on touch devices. this caused me some consternation when i was playing or trying to answer the trivia questions to be exact. I have to hit the grey circle? WTF? Why?

So now i have removed them all, you can simply touch the answer text you think it is and the interface works as it should... Intuitively.

I know i will not make any news with this change. I am sure this will not bump my downloads which have been none existant since days after the launch. But i just could not take it that my reputation for clean games was on the line with this title being so bad with its interface.

Now i am happy though as the game has just got it's update published.

so if you are one the the 8 people that has bought the game, then please get the better new interfaced version. For free!

Thanks and keep it clean out there,
Da Voodoochief

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Always learning, DLC interface improvements

I am always learning, and in fact i find it exciting to learn stuff. Maybe everyone does... I don't know.

This time i decided that having learn't recently just how to use a touch screen windows phone i should go back and improve the first game i got onto the service. This was written with a certain nievete with regard to interface. So we placed touch boxes (actually grey circles) for people to select say an answer to a question. Having these all lined up with answers by their sides looked great.

Now though, not so much great, as more... Antiquated.

So tonight i have revamped the trivia game and Comic story interface. no longer do those grey circles reside in my game. Now we are the future. Ok, not quite, some of the wording is still a little off, but for now i am very happy just to move forward with this title that i think, if the right people saw it, would like it.

So onward and upward till i do my next game, i am busy on adding more features to my recent game Cards: en Fuego. I don't know if people want it, they seem pretty happy with just playing the game i have done, but i am not getting enough downloads (or visibility). We shall see what reviews bring, i am very excited for those. So next update for En Fuego is the Fire Extinguisher feature, woohoo!

Well take care,
Da Voodoochief

Friday, July 8, 2011

Microsoft Advertising SDK June Update (help)

I had issues updating to this new SDK. I don't know why, but i never looked in the directory it installed for documentation. What an ass i am. Well after finding that and following what it said, i still had issues, only a few new ones. that is because some of the original Documentation is not quite right. so i went looking and found some good stuff.

Here is a great working example of the new SDK.
Advertising SDK for Windows Phone XNA Sample - June 2011

Here is  a link to an excellent set of comments that really helped me before i found the above post.
New Microsoft Advertising SDK June 2011 Update Now Available

Now with those links out of the way. Here are some simple notes to get ya going faster i hope.
1. Remove the 'RotationMode.Manual' argument from the CreateAd method (only mod for that!).
2. Change the  'ErrorEventArgs'  to  'Microsoft.Advertising.AdErrorEventArgs ' (both places).
3. Your AdManager has gone away. If you used visible, then use the 'bannerAd.visible' instead.
4. Change the 'Admanager' declaration to 'AdGameComponent adGameComponent'
5. Change 'Ad bannerAd' to 'DrawableAd bannerAd', as it is now more than it was.
6. Change 'RequestNextAd()' to 'Refresh()'.
7. Now ya gotta declare that component
     AdGameComponent.Initialize(adApplicationId /*"test_client"*/);
     adGameComponent = AdGameComponent.Current;

8. Change your 'AdManager.CreateAd' to 'adGameComponent.CreateAd'

Then you should be ready to go. If you used the "test_client" and also "Image480_80" when setting this all up, you Will be in testmode. Setting test mode is now not nescessary, it is implied.

I hope this helps a few people, good luck and may your Ads make you lots of moolah.

Da Voodoochief

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

X Marketing within Games

I have no hard evidence of my own about whether or not cross marketing within games works. I do read about several other companies who have made some of their games more successful by this method of advertising.

Now the theory is simple enough. If person A likes the game they have randomly picked up and is enjoying playing it. then it stands to reason that they will most likely enough more of your products. Simple and i also think true. this does not just mean companies like Blizzard or Zynga, it can also mean that little ole indie company, like you or me.

Now i have been doing this X marketing as i term it in my games since the beginning, or at least from the time i got my second game out on the Xbox. I have no evidence that this worked for me at all. I might have some good evidence if in fact one of my later titles had done ridiculously well, and then i am sure i would have sen an upturn in downloads for an older game of mine. Still it hasn't happened yet.

AND yet....

I hold out hope and enthusiasm for this method of advertising. Here's why everyone should do it, compared to traditional advertising methods.
Costs very little to setup
No pay out of your pocket expenses
Don't have to negotiate with anyone for expenses
don't have to go looking for good deals on advertising
Have i mentioned it's real cheap?
You can tailor it to be as intrusive or not as you see fit
Advertising graphics do not Have to conform to set areas

Only reaches the people you reach with each product
Designing a good X marketing screen can be annoying or time consuming
Only seen by those people that click on the option or the credits or wherever it is hidden
Can be a bit gauche when put in front of a players face too much

So below is the one i have created for Cards: En Fugeo.
You can tell i had to get this designed, so people could click on the otion to go to marketplace to download it, or just move on from this page. I have been using something like this for a long time, hidden behind the credits button off the main game page.

Now however i have exciting news....

My latest game uses the Admanager. I use the 480x80 ad bar size and it sits at the bottom of my landscape game screen. Well one of my chums at Massmedia ttold me about an idea to use the bar to advertise my own wares. What? i asked, really? WOW... as the realisation dawned on me, i knew this had to come to pass. I could use the same advertising space that the Microsoft one does. Replacing one of their ads every so often with one of my own. Fabulous. No longer hidden anywhere. I love this idea. I know many people reading this have probably already done this same thing. After about an hour of wrangling my ad manager class. I now have it working. 10 seconds for my own ad once every 5 minutes of real ads. What a beautiful solution, thanks Ben.

Good luck with your Cross Marketing campaigns everyone.

Da Voodoochief

Friday, July 1, 2011

Visibility the missing component ?

I have writeen several posts in my time about being invisible. Or put another way, not being able to get my game seen or downloaded by a lot of people.

This is a conundrum that all Indies and Big companies alike face when putting out products. In this day and age people are being bombarded with advertisements for stuff all over the place. It used to be simple 20 years ago, now with all the connectivity, it is not simple. there are many choices of where you can advertise your wares, but that does not make it simple, as anyone only has so many dollars or time to spend on the task of getting your product seen. you do not have the kind of money that is put into advertising AAA titles, so you cannot go the way of THQ or EA etc.

Now if your product does not get seen, then there is a lower chance to make any sales at all, never mind making it big! Though i do believe there is a chance you can reach just the right person. That person in turn puts something out on twitter or on facebook and a bunch of people pick up on that and whammo, suddenly you have gone viral.

What if you manage to get seen, get on Kotaku or Joystiq or something like that. Well most likely if you are an Indie developer, you are getting noticed for something bad. I will not go further on that description hower. Still, bad press IS press, so maybe it is good. It certainly paid handsomely for one group i know. Back to the point, if you got your game seen, then you have a lot more chance to reach the viral stage, or the stage below it which is genuine interest. good luck on getting to this stage.

Visibility can be achieved in many ways, but they all seem very difficult to actually get going. Advertise, whell how do you advertise to people only on the xbox? Most xbox users i reckon don't set foot on review sites etc for indie games at least. So instead you have to hope that word of mouth amongst friends on Xbox Live will pick up your game and try to beat each other. Then, through their networks you may get enough downloads to make the creation of the game financially viable.

But back to what you CAN do.
Reviews, get them. as many as you can. These are to start off with are your best chance to get noticed. One of these reviews could possibly spring your game into the light, and i hope they do. I also love reviews because they cannot be bought. They should be unbiased (though some are very biased :( ). some sites use forms to submit for reviews, although not my favourite way to do it, it is certainly a way to weed out the lazy marketing guys. This is a good thing for you now isn't it, cos you are not lazy! Other sites will just take a press pack (Yes, always do a press pack). A Few others you might know and follow already on twitter, be nice. They are fans, and even if your game stinks, being seen is more imjportant than a good review. Oh so onto...

What if my game sucks according to everyone else. Well this has not stopped coutless thousands of downloads of vibrator apps for Xblig, why should this top your game from making money? In all honesty, good and bad games are a subjective thing. Which means that not everyone will find your game offensive. So roll with the punches and kep promoting your title. get more reviews and they will most likely balance out. If they are all bad, that again, is not so bad. People love to watch a train wreck every now and again. But use the reviews and what they say to motivate you to greater hights on your next game.

never Retreat, and Never surrendor.

Try hard, work hard, visibility may come. While your game is out there, you can never ever disount it's chances.

Da Voodoochief