A Slow Return To Sanity
As many people who followed my .plan files might have guessed, I dropped out of the GG community almost completly after IGC ’05. I’ve been watching people’s .plan files, and on rare occasion commenting on ’em. But other wise, I keep my ICQ turned off, don’t log into IRC, don’t cruse the forums (which says I have 12,222 unread posts at the moment. Eeks.), etc. So what happened?
Gamer Zone. That’s what. For a while I was dividing my attention too many directions, and had to drop a couple of things to make it all work. Gamer Zone is awsome… and it’s been insanity at the same time. I’ve semi-successfully moved from a full time job to owning my own business (Midnight Ryder Technologies, an indie game development company for those who just happened to drop by for the first time on my .plans.) There’s a huge set of differences between owning your own indie game dev business and being part owner of a real-world business. Some things are better, some things are worse.
But things with Gamer Zone are cooling down a bit. No, I don’t mean the gaming center is going under or anything like that. Just the opposite – it’s hit stability now. Every day isn’t a scramble to find ways to get new customers, fix broken things (thought that still happens from time to time – getting a new 3 MB connection from Cox resulted in MUCH breakage of my Internet connection!), handle marketing, pay bills, figure out were to get the money to pay bills sometimes, etc. It’s by no means boring either. It’s an absolute blast. But instead of busting my ass non-stop all day, I now find there’s many hours in the day to do other things like game development again.
I also helped one of my partners build a new school in a small section of Gamer Zone that he rents out from us. It’s an English language lab to teach English to the growing non-English speaking population of the US. Interesting stuff, and very satisfying to stand back and look at something you built and feel that you have an impact on the local culture and community.
So, expect to see me around again. I don’t quite have enought time to pursue my own personal game dev projects at the moment (contracting takes up that time.) But I can at least start updating my .plan files now, and probably start turning on my ICQ again at nights 🙂
As Gamer Zone becomes more and more “in the grove”, I’ll also start shifting my focus away from it, and back to game development. We built Gamer Zone, but the price was damned steep – Midnight Ryder Technologies has suffered because of it, and soon it’s time to go back and fix that problem. I’ve still got a list of games I want to do someday, and after my experiences with Gamer Zone, I’ve got some new tricks up my sleeve and some new plans on how to overcome certain problems.
I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s still cool – if you ever want to find out what people like in games, go start a lan gaming center like Gamer Zone. You’ll find out real quick what the hard-core gamers want in a game. Stick around longer, and you start finding out what the casual gamers want in a game too. That transitions into my next part…
Forget Writing Games For Girls
My wife is finishing her BA in Sociology and Industrial Psychology this semester, and moving on to her Masters in Industrial Psych (and eventually her PhD, with a stop along the way to pick up her business degree.) Needless to say, since she’s a gamer she takes great interest in games from the standpoint of phychology. So both of us watch what people play at Gamer Zone with great interest, looking to crack the code of what the next digital crack pipe will be.
Recently I read Game Developer magazine’s short articles on writing games for women. Of course, I had to think those articles over for a while, as did my wife. I was watching a female customer playing Halo 2 the other day, and realized something. Something very important.
Don’t write games for girls. Just write games. Handle the rest in marketing.
I said that to my wife, and she thought about it a minute and agreed with me. We’ve discovered that a game that’s fun for a guy is just as fun for a girl. The problem is:
1) Games are marketed to guys typically. Big boobs and big explosions are the name of the game in marketing most often. Very few ads are geared towards anyone buy the guys, even though the gals will find it just as fun once they get into it.
2) There’s a steriotype about gamers (which is slowly evaporating, thankfully) of geeky guys with no life, faces like pizzas or fat butts, etc. Needless to say, nothing about the steriotype really appeals to women 😉
3) No one likes to feel inferior. Most gals I see who pick up a joypad or keyboard to play do something on thier own first, until they feel more confident. They may still get thier butt whooped, but that doesn’t mean that much – it’s that inital feeling of inferiority they have to overcome.
BTW: Part 2 & 3 often applys to the guys who are non-gamers too.
Now, in game there are things that will piss women off at times. Then again, it’s impossible to write something without finding a way to offend SOMEONE.
Someday I’ll expand my thoughts about women as a market for games, but, hopefully that turns the light on in at least one persons head to start thinking differently about how to market thier games, or at least spawns some conversation about it.
Ever Give Away $1000? I Have, Twice Now!
One of the greatest marketing tactics is to give away money. It never fails to get people’s attention 🙂 We hosted our first Halo 2 tourney a while back, and gave away $1000 in cash prizes at Gamer Zone. Then a month later we did it again, giving away another $1000. April 17th, we’ll be hosting our 3rd Halo 2 tourney, this time giving away $1500 in cash prizes. There’s three parts to the tourney – a slayer portion (IE, single player), two man teams portion, and a four man teams portion.
It’s interesting to watch the tournaments – I watched the runner up two-man team game last time, and I’ve never seen a match that went so close and was that kick-butt to see happening. (The finals for both tourneys were boring, IMHO, since the skill level between the top team and the next team down wasn’t close enough.)
Right now on Sundays I’m helping out the guy we partnered up with to do a Madden 2005 tournament where he’s giving away $5000, and it looks like sometime in July we’ll be doing yet another Halo 2 tourney where we give away $6000. Now that’s getting serious about games when you start giving away that sort of money 🙂
Have you ever played games on a 420″ screen?
One of the kick-butt things that happened because of getting involved in these tournaments is that the Madden 2005 tournament takes place in Oscar’s Sports Bar here in Wichita. It’s attached to a movie theater (The Warren Old Town, arguably one of the best in the nation), so they put in a movie theater in the sports bar, and threw in a big honkin’ digital projector for it. It’s over two stories tall, and I guestimate the diagonal picture measurement at around 420″. Wow. Beeing geeks, we can’t possibly miss up an opportunity, so we played Madden 2005 on it. I’m bringing a copy of Halo 2 this weekend to play off and on during the Madden tourney, just to say we’ve played it on there :o) Hmm… did Marble Blast ever ship for the X-Box? (I remember rumors of such a beastie – if it does, Hey Jay – can you send me a copy, and I’ll send you a mega impressive picture of it on the biggest screen it will ever be played on? :o) And I get to do this for three more weekends after this! So this isn’t even just a one-time fluke, for a while I get to routinely play games on this screen! 🙂
Next weekend I’ll make a little use of Toruqe on the big screen too – I’m using the Powerbook 17″ (damn I still love this machine!) to power the big screen, and I have a small mini-project I whipped up to do my ladder brackets more easily on the big screen, but I haven’t had the chance to finish it (I’ve only spent 3 hours on it so far, but I’ll work on it while I’m at the tourney 🙂 so the ladders will be powered by Torque and I’ll display ’em off and on using the big screen. Yet another use for Torque 😉 (Note: No, I’m not an Indie licensee. Technically, you can’t use the Indie licensed version of Torque to do something like that. I bought a commercial license for it quite a while back.)
World Domination Through Collaboration Outside of the Indie World
So how in the world am I getting away with giving away so much money? World Domination Through Collaboration, baby! (Ye gods I shouldn’t have watched Goldmember today while working) It’s not just for Indies 🙂 MB Inc. does tournaments and events that are designed to market businesses in the local area with things like the Home Made Bikini Contest. He had been doing the Madden 2005 and NBA Live 2005 tournaments at a local resteraunt, but when he started to do Halo 2 he came and talked to us, and a deal was struck. Technically, we don’t make a dime directly off of the tournaments, but we do get increased consessions sales the day of the tournament. But the big portion of the payoff for us is increased awareness of Gamer Zone. He prints big glossy posters and hand outs, gives out about 5000 copies of the hand outs, put the posters in high-visibility locations like video rental stores in the area, etc.
In return, he gets to use our space, I run the tournaments (though that may or may not be the case in the future – he’s got someone who’s supposed to run the tournaments now), handle the brackets, etc. While his main business is to make money by selling these events to companies, he doesn’t charge us a dime. Collaboration at it’s best.
The only downside, for him, is that if registrations aren’t high enough, then he takes a loss on the tournament. The first of the two Halo 2 tourneys went well, but the second one was only 20 days after the first – too short of a time.
I mentioned not having time for doing my own games – but that’s not to say I’m not doing game development. Right now I’m working on (HA! I can’t tell you 😉 for MVP Online. In a “It’s a small world” type thing, you might have saw Dave Myers mention that he’s doing a contract stint for them too.
The first new thing I had to deal with in taking on this contract was SVN. I’ve used CVS, but never delt with SVN before this, so the guy from MVP and I spent much time going over how to make it work. Of course I have to complicate maters – I’m on a Mac, he’s on a PC using Tortouse SVN. Hrm. Much manual reading later, I’m now “competent” with SVN (by no means an expert) using the command line (I decided to go that direction so that no matter what my next platform is, I know how to use SVN instantly).
My experience with SVN so far is that it’s indeed better than CVS, but, isn’t the end all be all of revision control. It’s got a lot of power, but damn it takes some time to get used to it. But using it is better than not using it. I did have one case were I should have been making commits when I hadn’t – no, this didn’t result in a huge session of doing manual diffs on files or anything. Instead, I completely hashed up my development directory somehow (that contained my latest copy of Boulder Panic! 3, which was something like 3 months untouched already, the code for the project I’m working on now, and a couple of my older projects that were in experemental stages.) That really really really really sucked. A couple o’ weeks work on AI down the drain. On the flip side, it’s always A LOT easier to rebuild something like that than it was to do it the first time (at least for me it is) so what took weeks now takes days since it was fresh in my mind. Commit to your own branch often is my new motto 🙂
One of the things that really feels odd about contract work is that I don’t have to deal with anyone except the project lead. All I gotta focus on is tech issues. I don’t have to talk to the artist, I don’t have to find someone to do the UI, etc. I just have to focus on things like the AI and game play.
A nice thing about this is that Joe at MVP seems to be a hell of a nice guy to work with, and I get to work on a different sort of game than I’ve done before. Of course, with contract work comes these strange little pieces of paper I had to sign and send Joe, like the NDA that prevents me from actually saying what I’m working on 🙂
I do have to count myself lucky – I’ve yet to do contract work with any real jerks yet. I can honestly say I hope to hell my luck continues in that respect.
They shipped Torque 2D – WOOHOOO!!!! This means I’ll be porting Boulder Panic!, Tile Panic!, and Flip Panic! to Torque, and sellin’ ’em on the Mac one of these days. Along with finally attacking one of my pet projects again someday (Jumpman 2049… which kind of brings me full circle with Torque anyway, since Juff Tunnel was the one that said I should try it for Jumpman 2049, and I never actually DID the game in Torque, it got sidelined for other things, and now I’m looking at Torque 2D for it)
But there’s one thing that’s really bugging me about T2D already. The price. Keeping in mind I’m a complete tight-ass these days about money, but it’s going to cost me $80 for a 2D engine when I paid $100 to license Torque initally? (And later, another $300 I think for my commercial license for it.) That seems a bit steep.
On the flip side, looking at who’s involved in it’s development, it’s going to be a SOLID platform. It will rock. And after I’m done with sticker shock, I’ll love it and use the hell out of it. I hope a butt-load of copies of it sell – it would be great to see the folks involve like Melv get a metric buttload of cash off of it – they deserve it!
I’m also hoping it helps to reduce the barrier for entry for some Indies, producing an environment where they don’t have to have a modeler, level editor, etc., and can do more work for themselves (yes, they will still need a 2D artist, and a sound guy probably if the don’t use licensed content.)
Doing Gamer Zone forced a lot of changes on my wife Heather and I. Now we’re finally getting to the point where we are the ones deciding on the life changes. I’m selling my 1999 Mitsubishi Eclispe Spyder convertable and buying an older (late 80’s, early to mid 90’s) Jaguar as soon as I can get the Spyder sold off. I don’t have tons of money (money is still tight some months) but the one I’m looking at isn’t particularly expensive (about $6k – new Jags sell for tons of money here, but older Jags are cheap) The one I’m looking at is an XJ6 Sovergn – yep, a 4 door semi-reasonable car (well, I can’t own a car that doesn’t have some flair to it. No Ford Torus for me, thanks.) Why? Well – my wife and I are finally setting up “the nest” for having little ones. No, there will be no Davis 3.0, the name stops with me. We’re still a ways off from actually trying for kids, but we want to start sometime in the next 6 – 10 months.
Yeah, I know – might be more personal than some people are interested in. But I’m actually mentioning this particular part of life changes because I’m wondering – how will that affect my game development practices? I mean, right now I work when I’m parked behind the counter at Gamer Zone late at night (my “shift” is from 8 PM till 2 AM, or until I have less than 3 customers in the store. Right now that means I’m staying quite often to as late as 7 AM!) and at home when I’m not sleeping. Does your schedule change drastically when kids are involved? I assume so, but it’s hard to say how that works. Any experienced people want to give me an idea what I’m about to get myself into when it comes to work schedule? 🙂
The other life change is that Heather is getting ready to get a loan to do the resteraunt we’ve been wanting to do (originally the funding for it was supposed to come from an outside source, but that changed). Yep, as one project gets closer to completion, the next one revs up. However, I’m not the primary on Lightning Dog – she is. So it’s her turn to take on all the headaches of starting a business (including the fear involved – she’s experiencing that right now.) Before, she was a partner, and spent a lot of time supporting me. Now it’s my turn to be the person in the support role. It’s strange for me to NOT be in a lead role in anything I do, so this is a bit of an odd experience for me.
And we finally have started forcing ourselves to get out and be social with friends again. Thank ye gods for that. It was way too easy to spend all our time at Gamer Zone, and not worry about doing things like going to the movies with friends. It’s a bit of a mistake, IMO, since at the store you’ve always got to be on your guard, friendly (no matter what), etc. With friends, youre allowed to just let your hair down and be yourself. Ya know, if you look back through my .plans, I’m sure you can find where I’ve done the same mistake before! 🙂
Oh, and it appears that some people who are Gamer Zone customers discovered my .plan files. Howdy all! See, Godwin, I finally updated my .plan 😉
Until next .plan… SEE YA!
John Kabus (BobTheCBuilder) (Mar 06, 2005 at 07:45)
Hey Davis, welcome back to the garage, we missed you here! I hope you’re still coming to IGC this year.
I’m glad to here things are going so well!
Thomas “Man of Ice” Lund (Mar 06, 2005 at 10:38)
Great to see you back again!
Kids will change your life in all the ways its possible. Dont plan for anything the first 6 month!
And great .plan – as usual
Ron Yacketta (Mar 06, 2005 at 10:48)
Glad to hear from you again.. thought you upped and moved to bumf$%^, USA… drop me a line some time we have a lot to chat about!
Nicolas Quijano (Mar 06, 2005 at 12:08)
Rock on Davis !! I was wondering and hoping everything was going good for you.
Matt Summers (Mar 06, 2005 at 13:28)
Video games on the big screen are a blast. I have 96″ wide screen home theater in my basement with a super nice HD 1080i projector. With the HD connectors for Xbox, Game cube and PS2 hooked up and ready to rock. Anyone who hasnt seen Xbox or GC in HD is missing out on something awesome.
Not supprisingly one of the best games to play on it is Football. Just something about actually being able to see everything without squinting that makes it 10 times more fun.
96″ is huge 420″ has got to be insane. :o)
Edited on Mar 06, 2005 13:30
Bryan Edds (Mar 06, 2005 at 16:25)
Heya Davis. Nice to hear from you. Bummer our collaboration didn’t quite work out – I took some contracting work, and have scaled back my personal dev efforts to 2D game development.
I was also rather sticker-shocked on the price of T2D, but I figure for $80 – $100, the support could be really great.
Anyways, hopefully we’ll see you around here a little more often. Congrats on the Gamer Zone thing stabilization. Now it’s time to sit back and collect the loot!
Edited on Mar 06, 2005 16:25
Tom Bampton (Mar 07, 2005 at 02:34)
I was wondering where you’d disappeared to 🙂 Great to have you back. As always, I couldnt be bothered to read your *entire* tome (but for a change, did read most of it) and was completely and utterly offended by this statement:
Then again, it’s impossible to write something without finding a way to offend SOMEONE.
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr (Mar 07, 2005 at 04:34)
John: Thanks, it’s good to be back 🙂
Ron: Look for something in the mail here shortly, or just to a pre-emptive strike and email me 😉
Nic: Hopefully things are goin’ well for you too!
Matt: At Gamer Zone we use 60″ HDTV’s for our X-Boxes. HD makes a HUGE difference when playin’ on ’em. (No Game Cubes here – we’ve never pursued licensing them for the center, and not sure if we ever will bother with going through the effort just to get one of ’em.) Unluckly, I didn’t get to play on the Really Big Honkin’ Screen today – Oscars is a sports bar, and the WSU game was on. Somehow that was more important than me playing Halo 2 on there 😉
Brian: Contracting work isn’t a bad thing 🙂
Tom: Bloody smart ass. I mean, good to see you too 🙂
Joseph Villard (Mar 07, 2005 at 11:30) Resource Rating: 5
“A nice thing about this is that Joe at MVP seems to be a hell of a nice guy to work with, and I get to work on a different sort of game than I’ve done before. Of course, with contract work comes these strange little pieces of paper I had to sign and send Joe, like the NDA that prevents me from actually saying what I’m working on :-)”
Aw, geez. Kind words make the job a little easier… 🙂 Oh, I have been meaning to put up a company page for MVP Online, but haven’t gotten a chance. I will get to that soon.
Paul Dana (Mar 07, 2005 at 11:42)
yo man. there is a client for the mac that looks and acts like tortoise SVN. I have it for my mac. I also can use the SVN command line but…why bother?
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr (Mar 07, 2005 at 14:12)
What one do you use, Paul?
Jay Barnson (Mar 07, 2005 at 16:19)
Good to see ya back around, Davis!
Glad to hear things have been going well.
Joseph Villard (Mar 07, 2005 at 19:27) Resource Rating: 5
Paul. You might be referring to svnX, but there is a problem with that one. It only supports anonymous access – so no passwords. That would mean that every repo that Davis wanted to use would have to be open.
Gawdwin (Mar 10, 2005 at 02:16)
Well I’m glad you posted. It went and made me get an account just so I could reply. Hope you don’t mind if I did a little advertising for Gamer Zone while I was in my inventory.
“since at the store you’ve always got to be on your guard, friendly (no matter what), etc. With friends, youre allowed to just let your hair down and be yourself.”
I don’t know about the other customers (cept maybe Neo) but if you haven’t noticed by me just coming in to chat with you guys. I consider the people behind the counter (yes even you) no more than other gamers who love to play. In fact I would have gone to the Pagan’s night out with Steve tuesday had I not had plans with my GF later that night. If you ever want to hang out at a place other than GZ I’m all for it. The last four times I’ve gone out for a social event has either been with just my GF or at GZ with Neo. Oh and the always being friendly part… I work at wal-mart, you never have to put on a fake smile round me or neo cause we know how sore your jaw muscles get while grinding teeth behind a smile 😉
ok. for my first reply this has been a bit to long so I’ll just talk to you later man. See you thursday if your at GZ.