Game Development Nirvana, new stuff in Trajectory Zone (with a couple o’ screenshots), banging my head against the ground… er… terrain (complete with plea for help), view from an Indie office, and top 5 myths of game sales, all in this multi-media experience of a .plan!

Last week was Game Development Nirvanna. I’m not going back to reality, and you can’t make me! 🙂 Last week I had no contracting work to do, and almost zero customer calls. That means I made squat for money this week. On the flip side, I made an incredible dent in Trajectory Zone. I had a list of stuff I was going to do after this beta was released, and said screw it, and attacked the list. With two exceptions (one being the starting a game UI, the other being some terrain deformation issues) I hit the entire list in a week. Along with some extra cleanup stuff that I didn’t have on the list, and some time for experementation.
One of the new things in there: Bots. Totally changes testing the game – I don’t have to set on multiple machines to test most things now. Just hop in and spawn a few bots. I’ve also added some new settings to multi-player, one of ’em being MinimumPlayers – set it to, say, 5, and 5 bots spawn until a player gets in there. When a bot dies, it checks the number of client connectsion and number of bots – if it’s more than the minimum players, then it doesn’t bother respawning. They fight against the player, and they fight amongst each other. They aren’t great shots (I know how to make them great shots, but, am a bit leery of making them too good at the game.)
AlienInvasion mode in the game (now gone – but look for it to rear it’s ugly head again in the near future) made use of bots too – and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they took up so much more horsepower than the bots I’m using in multi-player.
Bots also us random name generation (which works sometimes, and sometimes comes out with really funky results like “Stupid Baby Dumb”), and make testing so much more fun 🙂 Here’s me duking it out with 12 bots (and fragged fairly often.)
Ah, the chaos is wonderful 🙂 Bot’s don’t play by the rules – I haven’t made them aware of ammo boxes, so they get infinite ammo at the moment, and just fire whatever they decide to fire (though they don’t get access to most of the multi-warhead ammo like MIRV’s – having 2 of them spamming the other players with unlimited MIRV’s made me change thier weapon selections a bit 😉
But in this last week… wow I had fun! This is what I had been wanting to achieve – the ability to sit at home and do nothing but write games. Not loosing that first 8 hours of the day to someone else’s work makes a huge difference in how much you accomplish in the day. Of course, there’s still that little issue that I haven’t gotten any money doing that!
One of the other things I did was get the dedicated server up and running – because TZ supports multiple game modes, I needed to add some stuff to make it work. That’s when I discovered a new insanity:
See this thread
On a client, terrain deformation works fine. On a non-dedicated server, terrain deformation works fine. On a dedicated server, terrain deformation does NOTHING at all. Anyone got some clues for me on that? 
But, I’m not letting that hold things up – I’m just going to have to use the non-dedicated server version for this beta, and when I get the problem figured out, I’ll switch over to the dedicated server. In other words – beta this week. Probably tomarrow. Woohoo!
After seeing this thread, I just had to put this down in writing: Top Five Game Sales Myths
1) If other games can sell nearly a million copies, any game can sell nearly a million copies. Wrong. It’s rare that games sell that much. I mean, REALLY rare. And just because a game sold a million copies does not in any way mean that the game sold a million copies at $50 a pop either. 
2) Indie groups can sell as many copies as the biggest games out there Only somewhat wrong. An indie group could sell a million copies of a game… if it were the right game. And if they threw millions of dollars in advertising behind it. If they already had a loyal fanbase. And there was a lot of luck involved. (And this also depends on your definition of Indie ta’ boot.) It’s best to just think this is wrong, and move on – you’ll be better off without thinking of numbers that high. Think in a realistic range. If you sell 1K copies online, you are doing good. Sell 50K copies in retail, and you are doing great.
3) Selling nearly a million copies means that each person that contributes gets… It’s easy to involve some seriously faulty logic here. First, you need to read up on what the profit level for each box sold is (and that changes from title to title based on variables such as MSRP, amount of marketing that went into it, etc.) Now, there’s the issue of how much the publisher is going to give you of each of those sales. A $50 game box does not mean each person involved gets a nice percentage of each sale. There’s a lot of factors you need to know about before you can even begin to tell people what they will get back from a project. And even then, it’s only estimation – what the publisher gives you after your team has completed the game may vary wildly from what you planned on.
4) Sales figures for the ‘Big Boys’ also applies to Indies. This sort of thinking will get you in trouble every time. First, you have to consider how your game will be distributed – do you have the connections to get the game into the retail market? Is the game good enough for retail? What publisher picked it up? If no one picks up the game, then you are stuck with the various self-publishing options (online sales or trying to produce your own boxed version and get it in stores. Good luck with that 😉 or online publishing options like GarageGames. That changes things considerably – you have a much higher profit level, but, much lower sales. Your marketing budget is different, your overhead is different, etc. What you read in NPD is rarely applicable to the Indie distribution channels. (But that’s not an absolute).
5) Game buyers are stupid and buy anything – just look at game (x). If you think consumers are stupid, I recommend that you get out of game development now. They are the people who purchase your product. They look at the product package (or online screenshots) and look at the pictures – sure, they’ve been trained that pretty pictures often means a good game. But pretty pictures also indicates to them that someone put some time and energy into it. It looks cool, so it’s probably going to be a cool game, right? Yes, it’s a bit of a faulty premise. But it’s how things work. It does not mean that consumers are stupid. In fact, that should be some hints as to how you might want to improve and market your game in some situations (note the words “some situations” there. Not all consumers work this way, or have this expectation for all game types.) Have some respect for these people – they are going to be the ones that make you money. If you have no respect for them – why do you expect they will have any respect for your product?
(Note: This little rant isn’t JUST because of that thread, I’ve seen similar things repeated more than once. Eventually I’m going to flesh this out with some hard numbers in some areas, and post it as a resource. Then when someone starts popping off with similar comments, I’ll just pass them the URL. 🙂 If you’ve got any comments you’d like to see added to that, gimmie 🙂
One last thing: Quite some time back, Phil (I think it was) started a thread getting people to show off their Indie offices. I kept meaning to do that, and two weeks ago I re-optimized my workspace. Last night, I finally took a pic, and was going to post it to that thread – and can’t find it now. So what the heck, I’ll throw it in my .plan file here.
Starting at the left – 32″ monitor (not TV – actual monitor) with a Linux box (running MythTV) that acts as my PVR, TV, MP3 Player, and linux game box. Beside it, the Powerbook 867, and beside that, my regular development box. Pretty blah stuff.
Harold “LabRat” Brown   (Apr 12, 2004 at 16:19)
MythTV Rules ;p
Jorgen Ewelonn   (Apr 12, 2004 at 16:42)
Hey Davis, I love your (lengthy) .plans, it gives me that natural extra-coffe-break, keep’em coming…… 🙂
(BTW. I love you screens from TZ!!)
(BTW2. wtf, the last of your two links, says I don’t have access to that thread … is it super-duper-top-secret ??)
Edited on Apr 12, 2004 16:46
Frogger   (Apr 12, 2004 at 17:16)
Your game looks like so much so much fun. I can’t wait to ooo and aww over it when it is sold.
Trent Reimer   (Apr 12, 2004 at 17:38)
Looks like a good game! I agree with imposing artificial limits for bots. Let’s face it, it would be simple to make a perfect bot that makes it impossible to win if you wanted – but you need to have that imperfection factor in there to keep the game fun. In my project I’m toying with the idea of tracking how well the bots are doing compared to the human players and roughly adjusting their efficiency to suit but we’ll have to see how much cycles that eats up.
Looking forward to the demo.
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr   (Apr 12, 2004 at 17:38)  
Jorgen: I think the second link’s thread got deleted – I don’t see it in the listing anymore. Was a fairly stupid thread to start with, and just went WAY downhill quickly. Rare that GG removes a thread, but this might be one o’ those times it was a good thing. I’ve got a pretty long memory about stuff like that though 😉
Harold: Indeed. Easy setup (I used KnoppMyth) except for my friggin’ ancient TV card (doesn’t even have MPEG support, so it processor intensive with MythTV), and pretty configurable. Though I did replace the default DVD player (mplayer) with Xvid instead, so I could have menus. And even that’s a pretty trivial thing.
Unluckly, as of three hours ago, it looks like the MythTV machine is dead for a while. The powersupply konked out, and seems to have taken the HD with it. Damn. My entire MAME, SNES, and NES rom collections (complete 🙂 were on that drive, along with all the episodes of Kingom Hospital! (Must remember to make backups in the future)
Thanks for the complements, guys 🙂 Oh, something I was going to mention about the screenshots I’ve posted so far – there is no bumpmapping enabled on them. Eric just put detail textures on there – looks great without having the bumpmaps on there 🙂 (That says a lot about his artwork 😉
John Vanderbeck   (Apr 12, 2004 at 18:48)
Nice .plan as always Davis. I aspire to write such nice .plans someday 😀
TZ looks like it is coming along good. I am sooooo waiting to play it. Need another beta tester? :p
I really hope TZ holds true to its Scorched Earth roots. I can remember when I was younger sitting there playing scorched earth for hours on end.
Jay Barnson   (Apr 12, 2004 at 21:27)
Davis – I had a similar problem once upon a time with Void War. Seems that all those nasty newtonian physics thingies in space is NO challenge to AI. Actually, its less than a challenge, as it could predict with 98% accuracy exactly where to shoot to hit the player dead-on in a moving space battle.
Cool that I could do it. Lousy for gameplay though. Trying to make the AI miss convincingly is something of an interesting challenge.
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr   (Apr 12, 2004 at 21:27)  
Trent: Yeah, particularly with this gamestyle. There’s no need for movement, etc – so, it makes writing a ‘perfect’ bot pretty trivial. Writing bots with personality and limitations is a little more interesting – I’ve already setup a system where the bots load in ‘personalities’ but haven’t written anything but the first one so far. The cool part is that anyone can add new personalities for thier own server (or to share with the TZ community when it exists) and just drop the personality file in the directory (just like the gametypes and tweaks – there’s 4 gametypes so far, and like 8 tweaks that can be loaded. Instead of hacking the original game scripts directly and loading packages, you just drop the file in the gametype or tweaks directory, and it’s available the next time the server starts. Ok, I’m babbling now.)
John: Hey, I have the patent on “Long Ass Semi-Coherent Indie Related Plans Exceeding 8k”, so be careful there 🙂
Sure – head over to MidnightRyder.Com, and sign up for an account, and I’ll upgrade ya’ to beta tester status when B3 is released this week. It’s always great to get feedback from fellow game designers! Of course, this means I’ll need ta’ beta yours when it’s ready 😉
As for TZ sticking to SE roots – it does and doesn’t. For instance, there’s no turn-based, purchase driven mode for the game. (But, I may release one about 4 months after the game is released, just to keep things fresh.) Some things are boiled down to simple elements, some things are just plain different. For as close as you can get to a 3D Scorched Earth, play Scorched 3D. I was horribly disappointed with it when I played 🙁 (I had high expectations, and was thinkin’ “Great – just what I needed, a free Open Source version of the game I’m writing released before mine.” And then I played it. Bleh.)
Matt Fairfax   (Apr 13, 2004 at 07:01)
Can always play Zoinks! 😉
I had planned to port my own SE ripoff to TGE but it looks like Davis beat me to it…and I only had 3 years =P
I’m glad someone finally did a SE-ish game on TGE…I have long thought it was a perfect engine for it =)
John Vanderbeck   (Apr 13, 2004 at 08:07)
Done, and I have no problems giving you access to Mayhem 2090 when the time comes. In fact i’m glad I have to now 🙂 Input from people like you will be extremely important to me.
Of course if things go as planned, then anyone at IGC will be able to play some form of Mayhem 2090.. oops did I just say that? Shhhh

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