There’s an old saying that you never really finish a poem, you just give up on it.
At the risk of getting ahead of myself, sometime this month we expect to submit G Prime to Microsoft and call it “done.” – I’m practically giddy.
When we started our first game, G: Into The Rain, we had no idea what we were doing and the “how hard could it be” attitude came crashing into the complex reality of video game development like a raw egg meeting the cast iron skillet. When we finally launched several months later it was bittersweet. On the one hand I was happy with what we’d done but many, many compromises had to be made along the way and there was a part of me that was sad at all the things that we couldn’t do or had to be left out.
Posted 1 month, 2 weeks ago at 10:53 am. Add a comment
Long Patrol Character Concept
So we’ve got some good news and some bad news regarding Redwall. And when that’s all done I’ll be asking for your help.
First: the good news…which is really very good. If you were watching closely a few months ago you would have seen the pitch page we put up that revealed we were seeking $1.2m in funding for The Warrior Reborn. The timing of that page going live was deliberate for two reasons. First, we were just starting IDF in San Francisco and for the first time we were going to show one of our “final-ish” character designs in the public – Neebrock the Badger. Up to that point it had all been concept art and sketches but this was the real deal. We were a little anxious to see how people responded but we anticipated positive response and we got it. So riding that wave just a little to our pitch page was an easy link. But the second thing was much more tangible. When I left IDF and the City by the Bay I flew to beautiful, downtown Chattanooga, TN which happens to be the home base for The Maclellan Foundation.
We pitched, we ate phenomenal fried chicken, and then we waited…until last week.
I am extremely proud and excited to announce that The Maclellan Foundation, one of the most well known names in the world of philanthropy, has decided to honor us with their friendship and material support…and this is a huge break for us.
Posted 5 months, 1 week ago at 5:49 pm. 11 comments
This post was actually something from my personal blog back at the end of 2011 but I found myself going back over it and it seemed germane for today, so we’re reposting it.
Proverbs 21:31 says “The horses are prepared for battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”
Coming home from work today caps off a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice and stress – and a “couldn’t be better” entry to a much needed week and a half of rest, family and recharging.
A week ago today we finally released the game that we’ve been working on for about nine months. It’s probably fair to say that four of those months were pretty light duty as we planned and tweaked and were at least partly distracted by other things but from July to December we were hard at it. And while the game was first imagined as something small and light and shallow it took on a life of its own. It morphed and deepened and grew a soul. Suddenly, a game we thought was a tiny time waster was recognized as something else. I remember the day we all sat down and started a prayer time and we all started looking at each other thinking – this isn’t what we thought. This is a Soma Game and a prequel to GRoG.
From there the metaphors, the details, even the delays started to look different in the light that God was actively engaged in the design process and now we were off making a game about spiritual warfare and destiny and guardian angels. It was awfully exciting. But it was also taking FOREVER. We were way over budget and a July launch got pushed to September, then to Thanksgiving and finally to Dec 15. To be true, by that time we were all freaking out more than a little. I’d love to say that we all had “peace beyond understanding” but we didn’t. We all knew this was taking way too long and costing way too much money and the stress was building. But we also knew that we needed to get it right – it had to be solid. And the truth is, the bug list seemed to grow every day instead of shrink. Features were still being added even after we were supposed to have code lock and the project just refused to be finished. Now on the bright side it was truly getting better and better. Not only were bugs getting fixed but all the finer details were being polished. Lightning bugs in the backyard, Photon pushing monsters and Lamplighter healing the friends near her, these and more were all last minute adds that made huge differences. We also kept experiencing that joy of serendipity. The Bonchows, giant versions of the enemies, started as a joke from a typo and become a built in feature on accident. The game was taking on a shape that we only barely glimpsed at the beginning and the time stress was counterbalanced by a real sense of discovery and excitement. Wind Up Robots was going to be a cool and well polished game.
Posted 4 weeks ago at 2:08 pm. Add a comment
Today, after two years of work and hustle, we took our first draw down on the funding we’ve been putting together for the Redwall video game – it’s a big milestone for us – and while I’ve known this was coming for a couple of months now, actually seeing the reality of it makes it all real in a way I wasn’t entirely prepared for.
Personal journey aside, seeing a video game get funded is not a particularly noteworthy event – but maybe there is a more interesting aspect here. For most of our first year of fundraising I was pitching the game on its business merits. All the typical stuff of budgets and forecasts and all of that. While we had a solid presentation, and some limited interest, we weren’t really getting traction. (Lots of reasons for that, but I’ll save it for another post) Then in the middle of last year we changed tactics and starting pitching Soma Games’ mission, instead of a single product, and that’s when things started to change. Redwall, in that context, was a means to a different end – the goal of culture making. (See: http://andy-crouch.com/#section-Culture-Making)
Our biggest supporter in our totally for-profit enterprise is a foundation widely known for its non-profit support. Almost all of our investors have come with the distinct sense that what is really motivating their support is something bigger than a business opportunity…selah.
Posted 1 month, 3 weeks ago at 11:05 am. Add a comment
As the recent news about our progress on funding makes the circuit and…some other news (ahem) looms nearer and nearer, we are understandably being asked questions about the game’s scope, mechanics and genre. We’ve been deliberately coy on specifics and the biggest reason has been to minimize the misery for the fans if things never gelled. Now that we’re feeling more confident in the way things have shaped up it seems fair to start sharing our thoughts on the game itself.
One of the strongest themes I’ve heard from fans of Redwall is easiest to describe this way:
We want to live there.
Posted 4 months ago at 1:25 pm. 7 comments
Or Our Attempts at Innovation in Magic & Magnums
In a recent post I described the long and winding road that got us to the launch of Magic & Magnums and how its weird development path allowed us some atypical freedoms than if we were concerned with things like…oh, say…making money.
The biggest effect on gameplay came from our work with RealSense and the effort to really reimagine a spatial game interface. But all of that has been covered elsewhere so I won’t do it again here. (But yes, there will be a RealSense version whenever that hardware hits the streets…hopefully that’s RealSoon.) I want this blog to be about the money stuff.
Monetization and the Curse of Free2Play
We’re in no way out in front of this conversation. Many folks, including some friends, have written on their decision to forsake the Free To Play model. But It’s worth saying that I don’t hate F2P. There are F2P games that I quite enjoy. But despite liking them and investing time in them, I realize that it’s vanishingly rare that I convert to a paying customer. Now of course I don’t feel guilty about it…much. After all, it’s the developers choice to offer the fruit of their hard labor for free – right? So it’s not exactly like I’m stealing or taking advantage of them…am I?
And that’s where it all falls apart for me. Continue Reading…
Posted 7 months, 3 weeks ago at 5:51 pm. Add a comment
(This white paper is also published in Intel Developer Zone here)
If the goal of virtual input devices like those that can be created with Intel® RealSense™ technology merged with an appropriate Natural User Interface (NUI), is to be competitive with, or a replacement for, established physical inputs like mouse and keyboard, they must address the matter of text input. Where current-gen NUI technology has done a reasonable job of competing with the mouse, a visual and spatially contextualized input method, it has fallen notably short of competing with the keyboard.
The primary problem facing a virtual keyboard replacement is speed of input, and speed is necessarily related to accuracy. However, as sensor accuracy continues to improve, we can see other challenges arise that may prove more difficult to address.
In this paper I start with the assumption that sensor accuracy does, or soon will, allow the detection of small hand movements of a degree similar to that of keystrokes. Then I examine the opportunities, challenges, and some possible solutions for virtualized textual input without the need for a physical peripheral beyond the camera sensor.
A Few Ground Rules For This Discussion
For the sake of this paper, I’ll be discussing the potential replacement of a western style keyboard. The specific configuration, QWERTY or otherwise, is irrelevant to the main point. With that in mind, keyboards can be considered in an hierarchy of complexity, from a numeric 10-key, through extended computer keyboards that include letters, numbers, punctuation, and various macro and function keys.
As noted above, factors most likely to make or break any proposed replacement to the keyboard are speed, followed by accuracy. Sources disagree on the average typing speed of a modern tech employee, and Words Per Minute (WPM) may be an improper measure of keyboarding skills for code writing, but it will serve as a useful comparative metric. I will assume that 40WPM is a reasonable speed, and methods that cannot realistically reach that goal given an experienced user should be discarded.
I will also be focused on using the Latin alphabet; however, other alphabetic languages are similar in application. What is not considered here, though well worth exploring, is the virtualization of logographic input. It’s conceivable that gestural encoding of conceptual content would be faster and superior to gestures that encode phonemes and may even represent a linguistic evolutionary advance from logographic systems like Kanji. That said, a very likely use case for this kind of technology is writing computer code, in which case letter-by-letter input is an overarching consideration. Continue Reading…
Posted 7 months, 4 weeks ago at 11:26 am. Add a comment
This week we wrapped up V 1.0 of a new game and soon, Lord willing, Code-Monkeys will launch Magic & Magnums. (Dec 5 update: we locked up beta late last night and submitted to iOS. Now we’ll get various other builds wrapped up and submitted in the following days…just in time for Christmas..yippee!) It’s a goofy, spoofy, arcade game that is also an evolution of our game Santa’s Giftship (on iOS and Kindle) from 2011. And, as a sad matter of fact, this is the first real game release we’ve had since Suitor Shooter (iOS) in 2012…yikes!
But we have a good excuse…we really do…and it’s all connected.
Oh SG1 Gunship, where art thou?
Shortly after Suitor Shooter was in the store we got a call from a friend who was working on a project that sounded pretty fantastic. He had inked a deal to make a few games based on the Stargate SG1 TV show and he needed a quick and simple game that could be set in the Stargate world and be ready for ComicCon…in 3 weeks. It was meant to be a wham-bam quick project for marketing purposes, not a thoughtful, deep exploration of game design principles. Given the parameters we thought an SG1 version of Suitor Shooter could be put together quickly and off we went on a 3-week sprint without any expectation of it going any farther. ComicCon went off as planned but our friend wasn’t able to put the rest of the details together in that short time and wound up staying out of it – and so did our game. That was the first of a long chain of ‘almost launch’ events for what was then being called Stargate Gunship…a game that would, in the end, never come to be.
Posted 8 months, 1 week ago at 11:58 pm. 1 comment
IDF 2014 was not the first time we’ve been honored to have a tech demo on the floor. And as we’ve been to the rodeo we’ve learned a thing or two about floor demos. First among those things: Keep It Simple Sherlock. So with that lesson in mind we created Cloak&Badger – a very simple game mechanic that splurged on the eye candy (a wonderfully animated badger guard) and did exactly one thing: it used the recently updated RealSense (Beta) SDK and its emotion sensing API. The entire game worked as you made faces at the camera…that’s it…and it was a blast!
Cueing the player to what emotion drove the RPG-Style dialog tree in a particular direction was straight-forward and folks had tons of fun trying on the various emotive states that the API supports. (Includes: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Contempt, and Surprise plus the more general “sentiments” that are Positive, Neutral, and Negative.) By the rules of our KISS constraint it was an unqualified success and we had tons of smiles, laughs and genuine fun all week
And then it went sideways.
Posted 10 months ago at 9:53 am. 2 comments
Soma Games wrote our first line of game code at the tail end of 2008, just as the iPhone was really blowing up and as it happened, we were in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t on purpose, it was partly opportunistic, but it worked out. We rode that mobile wave for years and were part of the Indie Game Renaissance it helped generate. (See: Polygon, GDC, Wired)
One Rig to Rule Them All…
What made mobile so attractive was, of course, the low barrier to entry but that was only what got us interested. What kept us interested was the demonstrated market for indie games. Hardware constraints initially leveled the playing field so big studios had a much less pronounced quality and scope advantage over small shops so nimble little shops like Soma Games could compete and still land a feature from Apple or get covered by Kotaku.
Now it’s 2014 and as far as I can tell, the mobile space is no longer interesting for indies. I’m not the only one either. (See: Gamasutra, and this…for a start.) In fact, just about everybody I got to know as other indie mobile developers in the last several years is coming to the same conclusion. Mobile is over, let’s do PC games.
Posted 10 months ago at 9:13 am. Add a comment