Monday, April 30, 2007

Turtle wax and eastern European hot dogs.

I thought you might enjoy seeing the other instructions.

I had spent a lot of time trying to write a story for the games, something that Joe Lieberman suggests in his great article. I had actually done it before I read his article, but it was validating to see somebody else say it.

Its also a paradox. People like story, a reason for playing, but people also dislike text and will shut down when confronted with it. I think I must be an exception. My eye is drawn to text and I must read it as soon as I see it, much to the fright of anybody with text scrawled on their shirt who then thinks I'm looking at their chest.

So how do you give story to people, and do it without text? Well let them play the game and get the story from the moving images, and pepper it with a little bit of text. If you images are compelling and tell a story on their own, then kudos to you and your design skills.

My story on the other hand got in the way of the directions for the game, so you would see all this text and just get rid of it as soon as possible.


So who is going to read all that just to find out they need the mouse to play, and then to find out HOW to use the mouse to play. Its an eye full, and its awful.

I spent some time making it pretty, friendly, and best of all I loaded it with shiny pictures.

You cant see the scroll bar of course but there are actually 4 steps now, each step is illustrated and in plain obvious letters with few words. A glance at these images is enough to grasp how to play.

Mission accomplished I think.

Now its time to work on the rest of the polish. We are going to add some more fun little things to the games to make them, well, more fun. We added some little BAM animations to the screen when you get a combo move now so that you know you got one, and believe me when I say that this tiny little addition made scoring in the games seem WAY cooler. Its suddenly something I seek, I want a combo because I want to see those jiggly letters float up in the little starburst (you know, like from comic books where it says BAM!) and reward me for my effort.

Next we are adding some little effects to the Win screen so that winning isn't so bland. Winning should be neat, and should look as much.

As for Easter eggs, and shopping list reward systems as mentioned by Joe in his article, we have those in spades.

For those following, we have decided to beta on Monday, its the "drop dead absolute no more delays, I'm serious" deadline. All this talk of polish though has made we want a Polish dog at Costco. Those are the best skunk meat and soda a 1.50 can buy I tell ya.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Some retooling.

So yeah, I think this makes things a lot better as far as "casual game" archetyp goes. Its casual because the people who play it are casual, not because the game is wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

I forget that sometimes I think. That the people who play the games are casual, and not the game itself. Your game can be serious, you just have to remember your audience isnt.

So when I made these enormous storylines for each game's original treatment I wanted to include them for other people to read. I naturally assumed the How To Play would be where those went.

That was possibly the worst place to put them. People say a novel worth of text when they clicked How To Play and just closed the window without looking.

I moved the gist of it in to "big picture" format so that even a cursory glance at the page embeds in your mind what you need to do, and how to do it.

Here is what our game selection screen for Explodinator looked like before (and technicall still looks like this now):

Not much to tell you what to do here, and though the story might be fun to read, you probably wont read it and will just start the game then become annoyed because you dont know how to play.

New screen is much more obvious, and of course this is the rough draft. The graphic design guy will probably want to spend a few hours with this making it look good, etc. But the gist of the game mechanic is here, its only two lines long, and its BIG AND WHITE on a black background, so its hard to miss.

I think this is much better as far as interface goes. If you want the story, well, sorry there just isnt a place to put it. I would love to work out something, maybe a section on the website where I can post all that fluffy flavor text, but for now it really does just obstruct your path to our entire reason for existance: The Games!

I could post some before / after shots of what we did to our chat system too after much Alpha tester input, but alas I have no screen shots of the old client and the new one is already.. well, new.

How is it possibly Friday again?

I notice a slight shimmer as I walk in to my office. That must be the part where I pass through the fold in time and space that somehow catapults me to the end of a week every time I enter. I live in a world of perpetual Friday somehow.

Anywho I read a fascinating book exerpt over at GameCareerGuide last night and it made me suddenly realize the solution to my problem. I had known it partially anyway, in the way that you know fire is hot and you need to do something about reaching in to it. I had an idea. Seeing it talked about, and then illustrated nicely with big pictures really really helped.

Speaking of pictures I need to start including them with my posts dont I.

All 8 of you who read this would probably like to see some. I am going to redo our interface a little bit today, and I'll post before and after shots for ya.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

And then for a long time, nothing happened.

Im not sure what I can post about today. This week I have been working almost entirely on getting a web design program to actually run in Vista.

My solution was to turn off my computer, put it over in a corner, and bring my Windows XP machine in from home. I regret that I am forced to do this, but the cold reality is that if you want to be productive you need to use XP. The software vendors dont seem to care about Vista at all, given the barely functional misery of using Adobe CS3 on it. Its only a week old, you would think it would support Vista... but Dreamweaver was clearly written by the insane.

I pretty much have the website finished, and Im so glad too because its been "Coming soon!" for almost a year. I guess its prespective though. For an ageless being of unfathomable vileness such as Cthulhu, "soon" could be like a thousand years. For a rabbit whose life span is a few years and whose heart beats faster than the drum line for a Vondur song, "soon" is a third of a second.

I do think about this when I make promises in public like: "Coming Soon!" or "Now tastier than ever!" or "Probably wont make you go blind!"

I am using server side includes on my website so that I dont have to copy the same piece of HTML 18 times. I know some people roll their eyes at SSI and other applaud. I could never really figure out why, I think people maybe just need something to fight over. I also made such great use of layers I think some HTML gurus would call it obscene, or glutinous. Wait thats wheat protein, gluttonous is the word I wanted.

For my next trick, a spell checker that can read your mind!

No honestly I just want to finish this website. Writing help and tutorials is kinda fun, but since I cant be funny or entertaining at all in them they do drag on a bit. I think people would actually read directions to things if they were also entertaining though. We have a real problem with people not reading directions on our games and then requesting technical support that its broken because the keys they assumed would control the game, dont. Seems silly doesnt it? There are instructions, but people dont like to read instructions.

There has to be a solution there someplace, one that doesnt involve being rude and demanding they enter a secret word to show they read the instructions or clicking a "I have read the instructions" box.

I'll think of it someday, until then I am, as always, open to suggestions and comments.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Linux, the beligerent OS.

Now might be a good time to point out that we chose to run MySQL for our DBMS. Why? Because its free! When you are starting up and you can barely find two dimes to rub together why would you spend a lot of money on something like MS SQL Server? I tell ya why, because you did a lot of research on which one would work the best for you. You tracked down all those little features that make your database much faster and you ran some tests to see which one performed the best. Or failing the large lab with two machines and two databases to test with you just read the analysis posted on the various websites and made a decision based on that, weighted heavily by the fact that FREE means you can afford to attend that Hat convention in July you had your heart set on. While at it, maybe I should consider not writing so many run-on sentances.

I bike to work because gas is expensive. Im that frugal.

But in choosing to run Linux one gets a lvoely bunch of coconuts filled with creamy problems all their own. At least with Linux I am able to look under the hood and get my hands greasy, so to speak.

[root@skc mnt]# mount
/dev/hda3 on / type ext3 (rw)
proc on /proc type proc (rw)
sysfs on /sys type sysfs (rw)
devpts on /dev/pts type devpts (rw,gid=5,mode=620)
/dev/hda1 on /boot type ext3 (rw)
tmpfs on /dev/shm type tmpfs (rw)
/dev/hdb1 on /home type ext3 (rw)
none on /proc/sys/fs/binfmt_misc type binfmt_misc (rw)
// on /mnt/samba type cifs (rw,mand)

[root@skc mnt]# umount.cifs /mnt/samba/
This utility only unmounts cifs filesystems.

I like that one. So... I mounted a Windows Vista machine, and I cannot unmount it. When I check the mountpoint, nothing is there, because it actually is unmounted. When I look at mount's output, it says it is still mounted.

Interesting eh?

These are the fun types of issues I can file under "Ignore these, they arent really hurting anything." and that migth come back and require me to file them again under "This caused the server to burst in to flames at 3am, and arent you glad the coffee stand is still open at this hour?"

Monday, April 23, 2007

Beast. Defiler. Source of all my pain!

Windows Vista is thwarting my every attempt to be productive. I installed it on my own workstation just so we could test it out with our installer and our game. Vista installed fine, and then promptly, as expected, proceeded to devour all system resources.

This would be acceptable if Windows was all I needed to run, but I would like to get some work done today so I need to install productivity programs and use them.

I have yet to find a web design suite that works in Vista. GoLive CS would lock up constantly, GoLive CS2 doesnt redraw the screen, Dreamweaver 8 just doesnt even start.

Now the reports of install problems on Vista come rolling in regarding our software. It works for some, it breaks for others. The fun part is how diverse the installer errors are. Some people get security errors, some people get crahes, some people get told the program is incompatible.

While other receive a personal letter from Microsoft expressing how sorry they are to have sold you a 200 dollar OS that prevents you from working and requires you to have 80 megs of RAM for anything to run.

I wish that was true...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Off Topic Friday again!?

Is it really Friday or is the calendar just playing some kind of prank on me?

Thats wierd. I guess when you have your eye on a deadline that you thought was several weeks off, Time likes to play that game where it jumps out from around a corner and yells "Boo!" at you and then it laughs at your shock like the uncaring jerk it is. Someday I shall defeat the basic laws of physics and reality, no matter how insane that seems. Then it will be me jumping out at the abstract personification of a natural force and screaming "Bla!" and laughing at it.

I honestly cant say that today's blog entry had a point other than my meandering brain telling my fringers to twitch on the keyboard.

Oh yeah, time flies. That was the theme.

I hope we can go Beta to the public at the end of next week. That should be really great. I could even possibly have the website done by then.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cheater Cheater, bug eater.

We had our first cheater! Yay!! Its actually not a big deal, its a friend of ours.

The conversation around the table Friday night was very pleasant, and made even more fluid by the presence of our good friends Gin, Bourbon, and Captain Morgan. As Drew and I discussed how things were "at work" with our mutual friend Pad, who hosts our domain on his lovely hosting system, Pad got that evil gleam in his eyes.

Its worth telling you that Pad once had that gleam in his eye a long time ago when we played a game called Everquest. It was truly a trend setting game, one that quickly fell off the radar of most self respecting MMO players. During the time we played it though he told me of a cheating program called ShowEQ which I then got heavily addicted to. I recall that look in his eye then too. Maybe it was the challenge, maybe it was just the fun of rampaging across a zone on a PVP server, I don't know really.

Today Pad played one of our puzzle games and got over a hundred thousand points. The highest score to date has been five thousand. It was fairly clear he was cheating, and then of course we had a good long discussion about it.

I mention it on the blog because its something that weighs heavy on the overtaxed minds of game developers. In multiplayer games, where there is clearly a winner, people will cheat. Its right up there in with piracy. How do you stop cheaters and video game pirates and hackers?

The answer is really easy: you don't. You simply cannot. You might as well try to stop that cheese in the fridge from growing mold. Oh yes you can wrap it in a bag, seal it airtight, trim the edges at the first sign of peril, and then eventually find that your cheese is still moldy but sleep well knowing you gave it the devil before you threw in the towel. Devil cheese. I think I just created a new game...

Anywho its not possible to stop them, all you can do is hinder them. Make it so hard to cheat that its just not worth it, and then make your detection of cheaters good enough to spot them when they do it. Detecting is usually much easier than prevention, since prevention is impossible.

As for piracy, I should be so lucky that pirates start distributing my installer on their new fangled file sharing servers. That would save me the bandwidth. haha

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pepperidge Farm Remembers

Remember when you had a marketing plan? Remember when it seemed easy? Its not. Its hard to quantify who you want to play your game.

Banner advertising is nice. Its easy, its practically fire-and-forget. Best of all the banner advertisers want your money, so they are ready to back up their claim with pages of statistics so they are helpfully removing the mystery for me and answering questions in advance like "Who reads your site, how often, and why do I care if they see my banner?

I contacted several gamer websites, webcomics, blogs, etc... they all seem pretty savvy as to who their audience is and that makes me feel safe about tossing five thousand dollars at them for eyes to see my ad.

Once they see the ad, will they click it? If they do Im halfway there, because now I need them to see all they need to see on the first page they visit. Then if I could only get them to buy the thing once they are there...

Im so busy today and its already 5:00pm. I gotta cut the blog short today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mission And Moto

Or is that motto and moto is an abbreviation for Motorola? I do like their phones regardless of which is correct.

Every company needs a mission statement. Even your tiny indie game company needs one. I like to start all my conversations by pointing out that a mission statement in no way has to be loaded with corporate jargon about leveraging synergy on dynamic platforms. Did you know that Pepsi's mission statement was two words? "Beat Coke" is all they had. Compelling isnt it?

Why do you need one though? Well it serves as a compass for your business. Remember that movie Office Space? There is a part where they hang a banner up that says "Is this good for the company?" and they tell everybody to refer to that when making a decision. Your mission statement helps to answer that question whenever you are trying to decide what to do, where to go, and how to do it.

Skill City had a very simple mission statement when we started out, but it required some re-working as I read over it last week and discovered that it had fallen out of date. We had changed some of the direction we wanted to go, and by so doing negated our original mission statement which was a little too narrow in places, and a little too wide in others.

Now our mission statement is this:
Skill City will provide a superior casual games community that will appeal to both new and experienced game players. Skill City is committed to providing an ever expanding interactive world that is rich in content and customization.

Our moto: Casual Games, Serious Rewards (tm)

Yup. I filed a trademark on the motto. Why? Because I would really hate to have somebody else use it, and trademarks are cheap in comparison to the damage that could be done if somebody else started using what I think is just a really great pairing of words that conveys exactly what Skill City is. We are casual games, with rewards that are more than just points or your name on a list.

We also made a list of what makes Skill City different from its competitors, and what is just plain special about us. Using that list we narrowed down to 4 main topics. Those 4 topics, we feel, are the powerful ones that will really set us apart. We also think they are the aspects of our company that will capture the market and make us attractive to anybody who looks. Therefore those 4 elements now become the highlight of all our advertising.

So in summary, a short 2 hour meeting Friday afternoon has formed a guidline for us in a blizzard of options. Having such a thing is a big confidence and morale booster, but also helps you as a business owner when somebody asks the pervasive question: So what do you do?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Somebody has a case of the Mondays

It sucks moving across town. I have made so many trips with my brothers tiny truck in an effort to save money that I am now sore, tired, and I think I heard a crunching sound last time I lifted that heavy table out of the truck bed.

That stuff aside, the business is rolling along. Last Friday's meeting was extremely successful and we managed to get some core concepts of the business listed out so that now when we make any advertising or marketing material we can say exactly what it needs to sell, and how.

I think I'll post that stuff for you to read later.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Off topic Friday!

What a totally insane week it has been. I moved in to a new home, having grown tired of living in a really gross apartment that was the epitome of noise. Well, I shouldn't say the apartment is self was the cause of noise. It was little more than a large building and is incapable of creating sound unless you count the way it creaks in the wind. We have no shortage of wind here in Orange County. Rather the source of the endless cacophony was the teenage girl who lived one floor down. She also has no shortage of wind, especially when she is blowing in to a cell phone at 2am about hair and makeup.

Do not brand me sexist, my walls are paper thin, and I swear upon your most holy book (I have none) that she does indeed squawk for hours about the most inane subjects, hair and makeup are frequent topics of great heated debate with whomever is on the end of her phone call. I wonder if her caller also has a sleep deprived game designer living above them.

Its so lovely outside I think of nothing but going for a long bike ride, and then swimming a mile or so in the pool at the gym. Its near to triathlon time now, so close I can see it coming around the corner at me. Its angry with me for ignoring it this year. The game business has gently tempted me away with its succubus charms.

As I depart today I have to share two things. One is that I think Starbucks has managed to actually shape fat and sugar in to many different configurations, and in so doing they have single handedly lain siege to any resistance I previously had to their "baked goods" counter. Damn them to hell.

Secondly I am really excited about launching the games to a public beta in a week. Maybe a week and a half... the new chat system we put in makes me smile with pleasure whenever I view it. It reminded me that often what we think is going to be easy to use, is counter intuitive. Advancements in technology and interface that thwart basic human instincts and expectations can be filed in the Bad Idea box next to these.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lets reboot.

Im rebooting the blog today.

Skill City news today goes a little something like this: We had a long hard meeting. It came up that our mission statement was like a small neglected housepet. Its cute and all, fun to pet and the way it meows is adorable, but it doesnt really do much does it?

Dont get me wrong. It did. When we first started out the Mission Statement was great, but I think over time in the heat of developing we forgot to update it as much as we updated everything else.

We decided to have a meeting and rewrite that bad boy so that it once again can serve as a shining beacon in the darkness of marketing, advertising, and generally answer the question: What is Skill City, and does this website/image/game/manual/press release reflect that statement?

It should be a fun meeting, I had a great time writing the mission statement for my last gig, but thats mostly because it was followed by 3 nights of heavy drinking in a really posh cabin in the woods. Seriously though writing a mission statement is easy, and its hard. There are whole books on the subject.

How are we doing on our release? Well things are rolling nicely. We might end our Alpha sooner or later than we had planned, mostly I think at this point its hinged on how soon we can have the requesite marketing and client updates done and actually be ready to beta. The beta is public, so if we do it too soon we might make a bad first impression.

Tomorrow we'll really set some dates on those types of things.