No, I’m not dead. No, I didn’t give up game development. Yes, I’m doing just fine – GREAT in fact!!! Go grab a cuppa – this one is gonna be a long read, with some boring stuff interemixed with some pretty interesting and possibly insane stuff.
Ok, now you ready to set down and read it all? Cool.
Last time I posted, I was the PR Guy for Gamer Zone. WEELLLL… things have changed a bit. I’m now the final athority on the place. That produces some new… interesting challenges. One of the first things I did was set down and set up a plan to offload work. Yep, I quit being the PR guy in some ways, but I’m still the public face, and I’m still the guy that determines direction for marketing – I just happen to determine the direction for a lot more now.
But I’m also a game developer still – so it was time for a change. I had moved my office down to Gamer Zone during the startup phase (where I worked 7 days a week at the store, 6 hours a day as one of the counter people, and 4 – 6 working on everything else) but now that I was being freed up (I still work behind the counter, 3 days a week) I needed the ability to travel back and forth between the office and the home office. Solution: 17″ Powerbook 1.5 Ghz machine. Yeah, it’s love. 🙂
This thing is unfathomably cool. It looks cool. It runs sweet. And it’s a Mac. I mean, what more could I want, except possibly a G5 or dualcore G4 version of it? 🙂 This also means that I have ***FINALLY*** moved my full time development platform over to Mac. I’m still getting things moved over, but man o’ man am I happy 🙂 I still can’t find ONE minor item that I need – I really really could use Milkshape 3D for Mac. That would be wonderful. I know Blender exists, but damnit – I don’t want to learn something new again.
One of the other things that getting the Powerbook means that I finally have enough time to do things like keep up on email, turn on my ICQ again (well, just as soon as I find something as good as Trillian for the Mac), and finally show back up in the GameInADay channel on IRC. Whooohooo!
The other thing I enjoy – which is probably odd to some people – XCode. I’ve gotten to work with it before (on the 12″ PB that we got for my wife, and for me to test on / program on. Good theory, never worked as planned really) and really enjoyed the heck outta it. Somehow, it feels… more refined than Visual Studio. Of course, being a bit of a freak about being able to work on everything from within one environment (editing wise), I created my own pblangspec and pbfilespec for XCode. They aren’t as well done as I like – syntax highlighting works for the standard keywords, Code Sense works, etc. But I’d also like to somehow see a few other features that XCode supports do thier thing with TorqueScript, and I’d like to be able to get the consoleCommands in there as well (exporting them from the engine to a nice list that processes into the pblangspec file easily) But I only spent 30 minutes working on it: googled for an example of the formats for other languages, then did some editing. Oddly enough, I never found and docs on the pblangspec and pbfilespec formats, what they support, and what cool stuff I could do. If anyone has a link to ’em, drop me a line – I wouldn’t mind expanding it just a bit further. I’ll release the two files later when I feel they work “just right”. Ok, ’nuff ramblin about my new toys 🙂
One of the other things that I took over at Gamer Zone was hunting down and aquiring new licensing (since, IMO, we need to keep up with new stuff when it comes out.) Well, I keep hearing horror stories about the licensing terms for a couple of companies – one of them is Valve. Being interested in licensing Half-life 2, I contacted Valve to find out the price… the crap I’ve heard about thier commerical licensing terms are just that, crap. I’ll be signing on licensing with ’em next week. If you license for 70 stations, it starts to get a little expensive. But if you are licensing for a bunch of machines, you should get a heck of a return out of it (considering how much time people will spend playing stuff like Counter-Strike) I also talked to Blizzard about thier products (and Worlds Of Warcraft, which they have no license set for yet) and again – people were full of it about the price. Blizzard has 1 year and 3 year agreements – when you start running the numbers on the costs, it’s very reasonable. Blizzard I’ll probably look at getting an agreement with here in the next two months or so (hopefully sometime before WoW comes out.
Now that I know all the costs involved in this place (labor, services, supplies, etc.) it’s interesting that anyone bitches about the licensing costs. It’s NOT that bad. You’re making money from someone elses product, so why shouldn’t they get a portion of what you make?
As for the center it’s self – things are going great. I took over the “head honcho” position – I’ve got final say on everything, and am the person who determines our direction, and how best to execute upon it. There were some nearly fatal mistakes made that led to that change in management – I share them here, just so that ya’ know what can go wrong:
1) No clear and solid leadership. The “money guy” was never here, and he was the “leader”. Anyone who’s a leader needs to be on the ball, and watching stuff like money. If you don’t things and slip throught the cracks (for instance – in our case, the electric slipped through the cracks. Considering all our machines run on electricity, that’s a show stopper 🙂
2) No direction. Sure, there was a long term plan, and I had all of our short to mid term plans for marketing handled. But no one was looking at the big picture on how to bridge the gaps between the short term and the long term. You can’t have a long term plan, and no clue how to get to that point (well, I’ll amend that with – you can’t have a long term plan laying around for over a month, and still no clue how to get there.)
3) Trust. It’s impossible to build trust with management if they aren’t there. It’s pretty damned hard. Eventually, it will become an issue for Gamer Zone / Lightning Dog (what’s that last part? Our secret weapon 😉 as we grow outside of the local area, and managers will become farther removed from the core. But if we’re a stable and reasonable core, there isn’t a whole lot of reason for a lack of trust. But in a startup? Trust is needed at all levels. Since the money man wasn’t here, and the employees didn’t deal with him, they had little trust in the situation. When I took over, they had already worked with me, and we had trust in each other. Now everyone at all levels are much happier (the money man is happier too – passing the reigns to someone he could trust to handle who was going to be right there handling it has freed him up to deal with his one core job, while everything else gets distributed out the way it should be.)
4) Clear communications. One problem that occured from time to time was unclear communications between management and the employees. If you need a job done, BE SURE that it’s clearly communicated. We now have a Sunday meeting to discuss issues like communication between us (among other things – like marketing, which is now a deal where I’ve got the team working on pulling the information together, and then we set down and discuss it, then execute on it as a team rather than one guy trying to do it all.)
Obviously, an entire book could (and has many times already) been written on the subject of how to properly manage a company. I just picked the 4 that are the first and foremost obvious problems I had to address in Gamer Zone 🙂
Before I get off of the subject of Gamer Zone (which isn’t the entire subject for this .plan, just a large portion) One of the absolutely kick butt things that I’ve been having to do: Play games. As a developer, I rarely played that many games – but here, I’ve had the opportunity (actually, it’s required) to play a lot more games, either to evaluate thier usefulness at the center (like Doom 3) or to make sure customers have a good experience (on rare occasion, we only have one player in here for thier first time, but no other customers to play multi-player games with) While it’s fun and interesting, it allows me to be up close with a player, and discover what they really like and most importantly WHY that seems to be such a big deal with ’em. Understanding the target audience is always important, of course, if you want to sell games 🙂 This by no means makes me an expert, but getting to see into why certain single player games are more like than others is pretty cool. Seeing first hand how much difference playing across the Internet -vs- locally makes is also pretty cool. (BTW: Want to know what I play the most of right now? Gunbound, hands down.)
From time to time I get asked who I’m working with, professionally. I’ve made references to doing contract work, but never WHO I was working with. We decided not to say the who part of it until a project is almost complete. Guess what – the project is almost complete now, so I can reveal that I’ve been working with a company named Digital Snow.
Ok, now who the heck is Digital Snow, you ask? Umm… well, there’s no good answer for that. They’ve been a Torque licensee for a bit now, and I’ve been working with them on multiple products. The first products they will be pushing out the door are going to be smaller, “easily” handled titles that head for more arcade styled gameplay. Later, they have plans for much larger products, but they want to build upon thier successes as they go. (Good plan!) I can’t tell you want all they are up to over there, but, there’s some interesting stuff in the works for the future.
What I can tell you about is thier first project: Marble Attack. The decision was made not to mention it at all until it’s right at the point of ready to roll. Since I mention it… it’s just about ready to roll 🙂 I’m having a brand new issue with compiling on the Mac (WTF?! I’ve compiled Torque on the Mac before, I have no idea why I now can’t find lcrt1 properly when compiling – *SIGH*), so I’m getting that resolved. There’s a few bugs left, but it getting pretty damned close to ready. Cody over at Digital Snow is setting up the website for it, and as soon as the product is ready to roll, a screenshot or two will be submitted to the Dev Snapshot.
But here’s a quick synopsis of the game: You, playing the role of Captain SAF (Super Amazing Fantasic, BTW) are under attack by the “Marbles”, a spheroid alien species bent on cutting the ol’ Captains life way short the only way they know how – by rollin’ right on over him. You’re thrown into an arena (there’s 10 different arenas, each with 5 different difficulty levels – arenas have to be unlocked, and when you beat a difficulty setting you unlock the next difficulty setting for the level) with just a blaster. Watch for the “marbles” who are carrying powerups (done with some simple particle fx) – shoot ’em, collect the powerups, and hopefully you’ll be able to slow the attackers down for a while with rockets, shotguns, or the Armageddon bomb. (There’s some more powerups too, like shield, invulnerability, and extra players.)
This is a VERY old-school arcade styled game where players are pitted with the ongoing stream of enemies that continue to show up faster and move faster as time goes on. While it’s a 3D game, it keeps a lot of the 2D style simplicity by keeping most stuff on a single plane of action (though, there’s ways to get above it all, litterally, by using the jump pads. You can’t stay there long, and the marbles have no problems with using the Jump pads either!) Developing it has been a lot of fun, to tell you the truth – it was designed to be a short term project, and Cody used a team of people to get the job done (James, a modeler, and Eric Forhan did some of the GUI work and his City Pack appears in the game on one o’ the levels), so it moved very quickly. Look for another .plan file about it sometime soon, along with the dev snapshot.
One of the awsome things about Marble Attack… it was short term. That means I was able to get in there, do the project, and soon I’ll get back out of the project and it ships. I’ve been feeling bad about Trajectory Zone and some of the other projects that I’ve had planned, and the fact that they haven’t gotten done. I’ve done games before, so it’s not like I can’t complete one. But I gotta say, I was starting to feel a little more like a “Game Developer Wannabie” rather than a Game Developer. I guess this also means without a doubt I’ve got something new to show off at IGC ’04, even if it’s something I developed for a different team, not my own.
I’ve mentioned before wanting to change how I do things with Midnight Ryder Technologies – basically, I never seem to quite have enough time to stay on top of all the things that I want to get done, and one of the biggies has always been: how the heck do I write games, and handle marketing at the same time? It can be done – other Indies have done it just fine. But now I’ve got my hands in another pie – that tears it, there’s not enough time to pull it all off at the same time alone, and definitely not in an sort of timely fashion. Well, there’s a solution: most likely in the near future, all or almost all Midnight Ryder Technologies games will go through Digital Snow for thier online publishing & marketing efforts. This takes at least one facet of game development out of my hands. While Digital Snow is new in the game development field, the owners are not new at online marketing – it makes for a pretty good fit.
But you’ll notice that I said specifically Online Marketing. Gamer Zone, if things pan out as planned (and at the moment, even with the startup problems, it honestly looks like it probably will pan out as planned) allows me to do some really really interesting stuff. I mentioned one of them in my previous .plan file – I’m looking for Indie titles to load on the machines at Gamer Zone. This gives the Indies extra exposure, gives us content that is harder to find elsewhere, and personally gives me a bit of a warm fuzzy feeling being able to provide another cool channel to Indies.
It only took about two days after I got involved with Gamer Zone as the PR guy to see some very interesting possibilities. One was to get Indies in there on the machines. The second that I’ll reveal now (oh, there’s more interesting stuff off in the distant future – much of it way distant) is getting Indies on the shelves in Gamer Zone. “Huh?” you ask? Simple – Midnight Ryder Technologies is starting a publishing section that’s geared towards Indie devs wanting to see thier product on real-world shelves in a nice little standard size box. I’ve mentioned this to a couple of people, with the disclaimer of “Thinking about”, “Considering”, or “don’t hold me to this, but…” Gamer Zone, if it does what it’s supposed to will be a perfect outlet. Right now, we’re working on getting game sales in there using some interesting ways to keep our overhead low on inventory – and guess who was setting that up from the beginning? You got it. But I wanted to go further with it – I don’t want to spend all my time competing with EB Games or Game Stop. I want to pick up three niches that are underserved at the moment – Indies, Mac, and Linux games. Sure, there will be Windows versions of everything too – not saying that I’m ignoring it. But in a number of towns, there is almost no where to buy a boxed game for Mac. And Linux? You might have well grown a third head based on the looks people give you if you ask if they sell stuff for Linux.
But how does one go about starting a publishing title like this? It took me quite a while to work out all the details (thus the reason why I’m finally mentioning it for the first time here in my .plan) to produce a realistic way to do it. At the moment, I’m not revealing all the details – this is one o’ those rare occasions where isn’t not a wise idea to show your cards until you play ’em. I can say, however, that it’s going to be a very slow growth project, that ties in with Gamer Zone locations as we build ’em and stock them with games. As GZ grows, Midnight Ryder’s publishing section will grow at the same pace. So when it starts, only 5 locations will be carrying the titles. Then 10 (as we do the next expansion ring), then as the real action starts (the national rollout) the publishing section will be pacing right with it. Provides a nice fit.
But why is Midnight Ryder Technologies starting a publishing section instead of a Gamer Zone branded publishing section? One, I pull in from two profit streams – Gamer Zone it’s self (since I’m an owner), and Midnight Ryder Technologies. Two, at some point it may be possible that these games might show up in a different venue also, but I sort of doubt it – in Gamer Zone, I’ve got an almost exclusive channel that allowed me to turn the profit model on it’s head (I like the 50/50 split model for spliting with game devs, and Gamer Zone will be selling them for a much lower profit margin than you would expect so that when a game sells it provides a much better profit stream for Indies than any of the normal real world publishing options.) Three, part of the deal is being able to allow people the choice of playing the game there at one of our machines (for a price) and deciding if this is something they want to take home.
Someone is bound to ask “Gee, when are you starting this?” Well, the answer is: “When it’s ready.” I need to get the next 5 Gamer Zone / Lightning Dogs open before I’m ready to do it. That’s no small amount of effort, since I’m going to be building the startup team from scratch, like I did with the infrastructure team already, and then DO the next 2 GZ’s myself with the startup team and train the GM on how he needs to be thinking to get them started up, etc., etc., etc. Takes time, and takes money.
Quick Aside: Oddly enough, the later is less of an issue than the former. I’ve already got a number of people interested in starting more GZ/LD combos in thier cities, ranging from areas in Kansas to places a number of states away. I don’t want to see things rushed too fast – everything needs to be solid at all levels before I accept any of the offers out there right now. Things have to grow one step at a time 🙂
I’m sure the next question would be “Who can get in the channel?” Well, it still intended to make money, and it still requires that games meet certain criteria (for instance – Boulder Panic! 2 DX would never make it into the channel, in my mind. It’s too hacky, there’s no Mac or Linux version, and it’s way past it’s prime graphically. On the flip side – it’s fun.) and I just happen to have this really interesting channel at my fingertips that allows me to put a game in front of people and get thier opinions on the subject. If it can pass the Gamer Zone test (IE – people who play it have fun, enjoy the game, think it’s a cool deal, etc.) then it would move on to the next step in the process. (And, as you could guess, the first time I start a game through the process, I’m going to be documenting it in my .plan file, just so people can see what my criteria would be using a set of real world examples.)
Of course – there’s a risk here. Gamer Zone COULD always flop, or never reach it’s final vision, leaving the publishing stuff high and dry. Thus some of the time I spend strategizing the concept – reduce my risk, reduce the risk to the game developer (no exclusive contracts – that way, if something goes wrong, they can still take it elsewhere), and reduce the risk to Gamer Zone it’s self.
Yep, I’m sure at least a few people will think I’m completely insane because of the publishing thing 🙂 But why wouldn’t I try and make as much use as possible of Gamer Zone to foster independant game development while making another profit stream? And here’s an interesting question – if I own my own publishing group, does that mean I’m no longer an Indie? :-/
An obvious choice for publishing in this channel would be my own games too. Why screw with another real world publisher when I can just throw it in my own channel, and probably give the online portion over to Digital Snow? What about those games though? No one has seen a new version of Trajectory Zone in quite a while. Well, for now, put TZ out of your mind until it shows up in a dev snapshot here on GG. I really can’t say much about it anymore at this point – with the contracts going on, and Gamer Zone, it’s pretty obvious I’m not going to be completing it anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s also not at a standstill either – it’s just going to be outside of public view for a while. For that matter – most of the projects that I’ll be working on for the short term will be outside of public view, besides Gamer Zone. Some of these are because of the requirements put on them by others (IE – hey, let’s not tell anyone about this until we’re just about ready to reveal it in a bigger fashion), and some because I can’t decide on where I want to go with it (Boulder Panic! 3, for instance, is a very cool little prototype. After everything I’ve learned about games and player motivation while with Gamer Zone, I’m rethinking how large portions of it work to better fit the model of what’s exciting to the players. Have I ever mentioned that Gamer Zone may be the second best thing that ever happened to me, Game Development wise? IGC ’02 still ranks as #1 at the moment)
Another interesting game related thing is about my wife – she’s very close to finishing her double major in Psychology and Sociology. She’s now at the point where she’s got to start writing research projects on various subjects. Gamer Zone ends up being one of those projects now. This should be interesting – my wife will be writing about the company that I run, in a very very critical fashion. I’ve told her to tell me everything she observes – I don’t hate critisizm, and I want to see the place improve considerably. It’s just really strange how Heather and myself picked pathes that allowed this particular thing to happen, and how much I stand to benefit from it.
Ok, I’m not done raving about my new toy – you see, this incredibly long .plan file was a result of the fact that I can be anywhere, and whip out my Powerbook and work on stuff. So from time to time, I’d pull it out and type a paragraph, and then go back to whatever I was doing (eating, programming, talking on the phone with the money guy, etc.) The powerbook may turn out to be one of my better investments in recent memory. The only thing missing – I need The Journal for the Mac, so I can keep my notes the way I like ’em best.
Based on all of the above – you can see why I haven’t updated my .plan for a while, and why this one ended up being such a monster. Oddly enough, I tried to write a .plan when I was on vacation, just to say I was alive, and for some reason I could never get a .plan to gel. Too many things were just too up in the air at the time, and I think my plan would have ended up being about three lines line – “I’m alive, doing well, thanks for reading my plan, see you later.” 🙂
Hopefully next .plan I’ll have another semi-exciting item to throw in here, along with game pics. Now that everyone is done with their cuppa after reading this massive tome o’ blathering, get back to work guys – games don’t write themselves, ya know! 😉
dakz0rz (Sep 01, 2004 at 04:32)
Very very detailed…
Good luck with it
Tom Bampton (Sep 01, 2004 at 04:42)
My god that was huge. So huge, I cant be bothered to read all of it. I tried, got about 1/4 of the way through, gave up 😉
Hopefully see you on IRC soon, glad you’re still alive 🙂
X-Tatic (Sep 01, 2004 at 04:55) Resource Rating: 5
Took, a while to read but was worth it. Some great plans there, and i wish you luck.
Nicolas Quijano (Sep 01, 2004 at 05:18)
Davis : Proteus should do the trick for IM on the Mac, especially if you register it.
Now, can you find the time to download it ? 😉
Mighty cheers !!!
Ron Yacketta (Sep 01, 2004 at 05:20)
TZ what’s that? wasn’t that one of those flash in the pan games at IGC last year that has sense fadded to black 😉 [JK Davis!!]
David Dougher (Sep 01, 2004 at 05:54)
Glad to hear that your business is starting to fire up.
Have you looked at Ragnarok Online? I understand they are primarily being driven out of Internet cafe’s and they have a company team dedicated to helping you get it in and working (source – this month’s Game Developer magazine) They just officially turned over 25 million subscribers with about 1 million in US. Not bad for a 2D walking anime comic book!
Also, have you run into any issues with curfew hours? I understand that is becoming an issue in some parts of the country (source – also this month’s Game Developer.)
Tom Bampton (Sep 01, 2004 at 06:07)
Nic! So you are alive! We were beginning to think you’d dropped off the same side of the planet as Davis. You both need to get back on IRC soon … it’s too quiet without you 😉
Bryan Edds (Sep 01, 2004 at 12:28)
Hey Davis! I hope to see you on Trillian soon – I’ll be looking out for ya! 🙂
fireVein (Sep 01, 2004 at 13:16)
Definitley some exciting things to look forward to. I think you have some great plans in store and I wish you best of luck with it.
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr (Sep 02, 2004 at 02:02)
Tom: Nic making all the noise in IRC? I thought that was you? 🙂
Nic: Thanks for the pointer. It’s a tossup between Protius and Fire – gonna try Fire for a while, then see what I think of Protius.
Ron: Cold, man, cold! 🙂
David: Ragnaroc – well, problem is, I’ve got no one asking about it. I’ve got people asking about things like Halo 2, Half-Life 2, etc., but no one has asked about this particular one. So, I’d have to do some marketing just to get players for it here locally. On the flip side – it’s an MMO game. Once they get in, they start spending a lot of time. I also looked at thier licensing scheme, and I’m not too keen on it at the moment. I’ve thrown it into the stack of “stuff to explore”, and will come back to re-evaluate it again later.
Haven’t had any curfew issues, but most of our marketing it targeted at the 18 – 35 market, which makes it a non issue. We do have kids who play, and just to minimize possible hookie problems, we moved our hours back to 2 PM to 2 AM, rather than noon, just to discourage the potential problem of kids skipping school.