Dancing ? not so much...

Nordic game conference 2015

It was that time of year: Nordic game conference again sang her yearly sirens call, and from all over the north, and indeed from all over the world, game developers answered the call and descended on Malmö, on Slagthuset for three days of socialising, talks, parties, business, panels and networking. Last year, I was at Nordic game conference on my own dime, and had a blast of a time. I was there without an agenda. I had nothing to sell, no meetings lined up, no objectives to fulfil, and that meant I spent the entire conference just socialising.

 This year, I was at Nordic game conference representing the science at home project, where I work part time as a producer. I had also had a talk accepted in the nordic fast track. I had my pockets full of business card sized promotional cards for the science at home project, as well as for my own game, “the meek”.  I had released my pre-alpha trailer the day before NGC started, so this year, I had a lot of objectives to fulfil. And again this year, being at Nordic game was an absolute pleasure.

Slagthuset in Malmö looked as usual
Slagthuset in Malmö looked as usual

SESSIONS AND TALKS

I went to see the opening keynote by Rebecka Coutaz, the studio manager of Ubisoft Annecy, but that particular presentation was a serious disappointment: Ms Coutaz spent most of her presentation flipping through trailer after trailer for Ubisoft games. While these WERE admittedly very cool trailers (Ubisoft knows their shit for sure), the presentation which SHOULD have been about “Cross studio collaboration as a key to success”, became instead “Why Ubisoft is really cool”. When she did touch the subject of cross studios collaboration, the takeaways were honestly pretty collaboration 101 -ish stuff, like “be transparent and build trust” … er…. yeah ?. It’s a bit sad really, cause I think there are some interesting lessons for micro companies, like for instance my own, in collaborating across studios on shared titles.

Anyway. disappointing presentation.

After Ms. Coutaz´presentation, the Nordic game funding money were distributed. five game each received 200.000 DKK (about 30.000$). This was done relatively unceremoniously, which in some ways is a bit of a shame: I like to celebrate things like that, and I think that when you do pull people on stage, some amount of pomp and circumstance would be nice.

The recipients were Minimo from Denmark, Pukk from Sweden, Mussikids Music Box of mussiland  from Finland, Look at my drawing from Denmark and Fe from Sweden.

I spent some time just messing around on the conference floor, checking out the many booths, and shaking hands with a lot of old friends and acquaintances from different companies and places. I reconnected with the guys from Unity of course, and with a couple of the guys from Mixamo. It was nice to be able to show them my trailer, which they politely said they liked.

The pre-alpha trailer for the meek running at Mixamos booth
The pre-alpha trailer for the meek running at Mixamos booth

I swung by the new board game initiative, and was pleasantly surprised to see my good friend Lauge Luchaus game Bloom featured as one of the boardgames in there. Another cool thing was, that this years winner of Fastavals board game competition, Hivemind, was also one of the six featured nordic board games. I hope the boardic game sensation is a thing that has come to stay.

I went back to see the “founders of the industry” panel in the Unreal theatre, and was honestly a little disappointed: I mean, I certainly respect the panellists: they were four of the true founders of the nordic game industry… or maybe more like the swedish games industry, but honestly, the panel wasn’t really all that interesting, beyond a few chuckles at at few “we’re grumpy old men, dissing the youngster upstarts, except not really, cause we don’t really mean it hah hah” jokes. So. that was kinda disappointing.

The next couple of talks however picked the quality up tremendeosly: Nicholas Fortugno, as usual, was brilliant, energetic and inspiring with his talk about “Impact games” (which apparently is the new term for “serious games”). Nick talked about the ways he and others design games for change, games that have a goal of changing the way the player of the game see the world, act, or in some other way impact the player. Nick pointed at Basketball as the best impact game ever; the game that should have won the nobel prize.

Wonderful talk.

Nick explaining how basketball should have won the Nobel prize
Nick explaining how basketball should have won the Nobel prize

After Nicks talk, Nicole Lazzaro of XEOdesign opened her keynote with a call for “Free hugs”, for the audience to hug the person next to them. We did, and Nicole had us and our complete attention for the next 45 minutes. She told about the four keys to fun, super inspiring talk, and definitely something I need to read up on more. Her way of designing towards specific types and layers of fun intuitively feels exactly right for me: I recognised many of the ways I have come to design games myself: Starting with the core second to second gameplay activity: the part she called “bubble wrap fun”. then, a game loop around that, and a layer of social fun.  Nicoles talk confirmed me in that this is a good way to design, but it di so much more: it showed me WHY this is a good way to design, and even touched on the specific different hormones released in our brains as a response to those specific forms of fun. I am going to read up on her website a LOT: I feel like I have only touched the surface here.

4 keys to fun
4 keys to fun

On the evening of day 1, the indie night took place. This is basically a big party, where the indie games of the nordic indie sensation selection are showcased, while people mill around and talk. A DJ hopeless tries to get people to dance by playing way to loud music, but mostly people don’t dance, because awkward geek, and hey … there are games to play !.

Dancing ? not so much...
Dancing ? not so much…

My highlight of the evening was (apart from talking to a bazillion super interesting people) to play Zero-G. I also played “Awkward Ellie” which is a VR game in which you play the part of an elephant in a tea party. You control the trunk of Ellie with motion sensor of some sort, duct taped to the oculus headset. Of course, Ellie the elephant is not particularly good at delicately drinking tea with her trunk. Despite a few laughs, awkward Ellie seems a bit “me too” after Octo dad and surgeon simulator that both explored the concept of horrible controls for fun effect, and honestly did it better than awkward Ellie.

Iawkwardly drink tea with my trunk
I awkwardly drink tea with my trunk

I didn’t have a chance to play the winning game, “Interplanetary” although it seemed like an interesting concept. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they had won, because it didn’t strike me as a concept that would do well in that particular setting: as a single player game, pretty hardcore tactical, pretty hard to play, in a loud, party-like atmosphere, with a lot of drunk people playing. I mean, this is the kind of environment that something like Goat simulator should do well…. I digress….

Another game that caught my eye at the indie night, was “the gentleman”. I didn’t actually play it, but I loved the idea and aestethics of the game: You play as a dapper gentleman dancing his way down a street in the style of old-school Fred Astaire musicals. “The gentleman” struck me as a game with so much positive, happy vibe, with a style and feel all of its own, and a positive happy message. I really liked that, and I hope they make a ton of money.

I responsibly went back to my hotel without getting *too* drunk, but still, the next morning it was something of a challenge to get up. I quaffed copious amounts of coffee and fruit juice, and made my way to Chris Avellones keynote: Rolling the dice on Fallout Van Buren. Chris explained how he was a pen and paper roleplaying games geek when he was a kid. His talk explored expanded on and explained how he had expressed the core design of Fallout Van Buren in the form of a pen and paper roleplaying game campaign. Van Buren was the codename for a, sadly cancelled, fallout title he was working on.

The talk was good, and it is clear why Chris Avellone is one of this industrys absolute best designers, and why the Fallout series of games is so damn awesome. From the point of view of an old Fastaval veteran, such as my self though, it was interesting to see how Chris’ RPG experience is so deeply steeped in the dice rolling, playing-to-win US tradition of roleplaying games: A tradition where it is very much about the rules, the dice, the monsters and the loot, and less about the characters, their feeling, their internal drama and their relationships. And yet, fallout is a game world full of so much ambience, mood and soul. Sadly, Chris’ advice was probably useless for most other applications. He himself said as much, and added that it had taken a very, very long time to for the design to come to fruition. but there is some general lesson in there maybe: maybe a games design can be playfully created in other ways ? maybe you can gamify the design process of making a game ? pretty meta huh ? 🙂

From Chris Avellones talk, I went directly to Salone Sehgals talk about “Flirtual reality”: A game about social challenges and interactions. I am always interested in games that explore the structure of games that is prevalent in fastaval style pen and paper role-play, or nordic-style LARP games. “Flirtual reality” seems to me to maybe have a little of that DNA in it, although I wasn’t really convinced about how cool it is to play a virtual dating game. Unsurprising, Salone could reveal that “Flirtual reality” appeals much more to women than to men, in average they experienced 75% female players. one very interesting aspect that was mostly just mentioned by the speaker, and not really expanded on, was that the game apparently measured the players activities in game to classify the player in the Briggs Myers personality model, and then throw challenges appropriate to the players personality trait at the player: That was a very inspiring and intriguing idea, that I would love to hear more about.

 From that talk, I rushed to the nordic fast track, partly because I wanted to hear Natascha Roesli talk about “Shiftlings”: I’ve only ever talked to Natascha online on Facebook, but would have liked to meet her. Unfortunately, Natashca was not there, for whatever reason. Luckily, we were treated to a rapid fire version of a talk about Machineer, by Henrike Lohde of Lohika games. Henrike presented of course Machineers, but also talked about games that teach in general. She gave a nice talk about dragon box, claiming that it “stealth teaches” math, algebra specifically. I have heard personally a lot of people say that Dragonbox is in fact a successful learning game, and a few people saying that it is in fact not successful. I suppose I need to read up on it myself at some stage. Intuitively, I lean towards Dragonbox being a pretty damn good teaching game.

Henrike explaining about teaching games, and her own brilliant machineers game
Henrike explaining about teaching games, and her own brilliant machineers game

Shortly after, it was my turn to take the stage. I had a modestly sized audience. The people that were there were well engaged in the QA session after my talk, and I did get a lot of positive feedback after the talk, so I think it probably actually went OK.

Doing my best to sound smart
Doing my best to sound smart. Thank you Lauge for the photo

I suppose I must have been selling the topic wrong: I mean … I was talking about how we build games that help scientists build a REAL quantum computer ! How cool is that ? Anyway. It was also a pleasure to give the talk, and to announce the quantum game jam satellite that we’re hosting at Science at home in September.

After the talk, I went to the main floor, talking to a couple of the people that had been particularly interested in the topic, and had a great chat with them.

The rest of that day was spent in the main Unreal theatre, first in the company of David Gaider, senior writer for Bioware, talking about creating diverse characters in the bioware games, especially dragon age inquisition. Another very inspiring talk about how Bioware, who is pretty well known for actively encouraging diversity in their games, both in terms of race, gender and sexuality. David was a fountain of excellent quotes, including “If a character is not a straight, white, male, people ask you why”. He also had Nordic games best slide, the famous “But!” slide, which was about how bioware also sometimes fails to do it the right way. Guess which part of a female characters anatomy was featured on the “But!” slide 🙂

David Gayden
David Gaider

After this excellent talk, the always brilliant and amazing Ste Curran took to the stage. His performance was not a talk as such, rather it was a one-man performance art show, in which Set took us through a story and narrative with his usual fantastic timing and pacing. The story was heart rending in his description of talking to “Ghost” on a help chatline, and failing to help him or her. It was hilarious, in the description of the advice given to the (mostly ladies) manning the help line, on how to deal with callers that were “pleasuring themselves”: “I’m sorry, but I cannot talk to you while you are masturbating”: This turns out to be, not only the best quote of Nordic game 2015, but also a piece of advice that was useful in a lot of other interesting situations….

Ste’s talk was easily the best thing of Nordic game 2015, just as it was for Nordic game 2014.

I wanted to hear Tom Happs presentation about his five years working solo on Axiom Verge, because that is of course pretty much the situation I am in myself. Tom had made the mistake of flying with United airlines, and had ended up not getting to Sweden, because United sucks. this is something I can confirm from personal experience. Instead of Tom, the person responsible for bringing Axiom Verge to market talked about how the indie business environment is quite horrible from a business point of view, and what can be done about it. His primary suggestion (which I very much like) was to launch at a reasonable price point, and publicly announce that there will be no discount of the title for at least six months, and that any discounts will be announced at least 1 month ahead of time. The basic idea is to encourage people that want the game quickly, and want to support the developer, to buy, and give them some guarantee that they won’t feel cheated a few days later because the title suddenly goes on discount. This is good advice I think, and certainly a practise I will adopt.

After this longish day, I was getting kinda tired, and went back to the hotel for a brief rest. I missed the nordic game awards show, which I suppose is kinda bad style, but I was just plain too damn tired. Later that night was the Nordic game Gala dinner and party. I had the pleasure of sitting at the “Player of games” table, filled with a lot of the, mostly nordic scene, game devs from the Facebook group “Player of games”. That was a nice place to sit, and one where there was a lot of super interesting people to talk with.

 The party that followed was as these things are: loud, a lot of beer to be drunk, and a lot of people trying to have a conversation. The best part of the party was outside, talking to friends, and on stage singing “Maraoke”: Karaoke with classic 80s songs re-lyricced by Ste Curran to be about computer games instead. “I want it my way” becomes “my game is free to play” etc. I honestly do not remember the lyrics all that well, but it was fun.

Rock start game developer
Rock start game developers

The final day of a conference is always a little sad. especially when the conference is such a personal affair as NGC is. I started out by seeing Elina Arponens talk about their game “Drama game”. I have followed Dramagame since the company was founded: As I mentioned earlier, games that have their core around nordic style LARP or pen and paper role-play traditions holds a special place in my heart since the days of Runestone. I have also played Dramagame a long time ago, and then recently some more. It is a super interesting game, although I have my doubts about the execution of it: The story lines, characters and core mechanics are too cliche for my taste, and the fact that you have to wait for a while for a scenario to start, then play for something like 45 minutes, where the experience is damaged severely if anyone leaves…. these things conspire as sone serious flaws in the game, and yet, I so very, very much want them to succeed.

Elinas talk was, I hope, an eyeopener to the audience.

From her talk, I went to hear Ryan Cash talk about how to properly launch an Indie game, using his gorgeous snowboarding game “Alto’s adventure” as a case story. The talk was very mobile, very App Store focussed, which of course was kind of a letdown. However, the talk was also full of general good advice in marketing.

Last year, one of the indie sensation games was the brilliantly stupid “Goat simulator”. Since then, Goat Simulator has been tremendously successful , selling quite a lot of units. Armin Ibrisagic, the guy hilariously running Goat simulators community management, held a wonderful “I don’t give a shit” talk about how they logically break every rule in the book with their PR and marketing, in perfect harmony with their game which also breaks pretty much all the rules in the book. This was another talk full of awesome quotes, like e.g. “It’s OK to talk shit back to the customers, if you’re funny while you do it”.

 And funny they are….

goat simulators most viral image ever offers "for no reason" as incentive :-)
goat simulators most viral image ever offers “for no reason” as incentive :-)

This was followed by a somewhat tired and disappointing panel about how hard it is to be indie, but also about how rewarding it is, on a personal level. Much of the panel was about publisher or self publish, some relatively obvious advice.. so.. yeah… It annoys me, that I didn’t see “How to get journalists to cover you” instead.

Like last year, the conference was hilariously wrapped up by Thomas Vigild & All stars. This was, as usual, a messy, irreverent affair, but a lot of fun.

TRENDS

WOMEN

Last year, I talked about women in games being a trend. Wonderfully, it seems to be a trend that is continuing: I saw a lot more women all over the conference, and at the talks. One of the better tweets of Nordicgame was by a woman, showing a picture of an all-female panel discussion, where the topic was “managing your career”: So … an all female panel about a topic not about being a woman in games. That is a cool thing. When we get to the point, where an all female panel discussing something is an unremarkable thing, then we will finally be in a good place. I think there’s a long way to go still, but NGC 15 left me hopeful: even if Denmark sucks at attracting women and girls to tech and game development, the rest of scandinavia seems to be doing better.  I also feel that theres a better understanding for feminism, also among the males. But ! There’s a way to go yet. A female friend of mine, working at a AAA studio in Malmö told me “There’s a lot of people playing the game at a lower difficulty setting, and they don’t even know it”. She also told me a depressing story about how she and her team had fought the good fight to get a middle-aged female character into their game, but were ultimately unsuccessful because the (american) focus group had rejected the concept. An exec in the american branch of the company had told her that the character had ultimately failed, “because she wasn’t f***able enough”.

 We have quite a way to go yet before we reach the promised land.

VR

Oculus was not new last year, but this year saw GearVR demoed on the floor, an indie game sensation VR game, and a VR Game jam happening just after the conference at Shayla games. Also, VR had some more buzz this year than I felt it had last year. It is my distinct feeling that VR is just on the verge of breaking a wave in a big way. I think that all that is needed is a good game that really opens this market, and I think this is why Shayla games VR game jam is so supported by Unity. Of course there is a personal connection between Unity tech and Shayla games, but there is also a clear interest from Unity for VR games to break through. I personally will be looking very closely after this trend, and like everyone else, try to think about what kind of games could be made better with VR.

Gear VR looks very promising.
Gear VR looks very promising.

END OF THE INDIE DREAM?

A number of the talks this year was about how horrible the business environment is for indies. A number was also about optimism and opportunity in the indie ecosphere. In some ways, it seems like the indies are waking up to the facts of life: It is harder to sell a game tun it is to make one. Mobile is becoming much, much harder to break into, and maybe even steam is getting more difficult to get noticed on. It is hard, very hard to get journalists to write about your little indie game, and consumers do not care that you are just a few guys with a shoestring budget working weekends and evenings: They will still compare your game with AAA productions with three digit million dollar budgets.

It IS hard, and there is a LOT of competition, but it is also an age where the barrier to entry has never been as small before. Of course one thing causes the other, and the more indies there are, the larger a market there is for tools. this should make the ecosystem of tools and third party services and assets even better: When there are many gold diggers, there are many people selling shovels and picks, and they are probably the most likely to earn money.

Amen to that
Amen to that

As I felt the buzz, the younger the indie dev, the more optimistic. The older indies, the ones that have one hit and a string of misses behind them, are more sceptical. I personally think this is a good time to be stubborn and patient, to stick it out and stay alive until times change for the better.

SOCIAL, TRULY SOCIAL, GAMES

Flirtual reality and Dramagame seem to be doing well with a new genre of games: Games that are about navigating the social interactions between people. This is to me a significant evolution in the genre, allowing us as a medium to explore stories about other things than zombies and guns and explosions. It is also unsurprising to me, that the two talks I heard about these subjects were both held by women, and both made it clear that this is a class of games that appeal massively to women. I still believe that both Flirtual reality and Drama game are only scratching the surface of something really, really interesting, and potentially disruptive. When “Seed” failed commercially almost ten years ago, I said that I hoped investors in the business would draw the right conclusions, not the wrong ones from our failure: I hoped then, and hope still, that people would draw the conclusion that we failed in execution, not in idea and concept. It seems like there’s a new breed of games on the way now that may be on to a better way of executing on those ideas. Since Seed, I’ve had my own dreams and thoughts about how to pull this off in the right way, but I still don’t have the answer. Maybe they do ?

Pre alpha trailer

I’m happy to show the Pre-alpha trailer for “the Meek”.

It is important for me to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and it is a constant cost-benefit analysis to figure out when to show something, and when not to: The sooner i show stuff, the quicker I get feedback, and the quicker I can fix the stuff that needs fixing. On the other hand, the later I show stuff, the better it looks, feels and sounds. It is scary to show ones game to the world, but it is also immensely valuable. So, please enjoy the trailer, and do feel free to comment below !

Oh yeah … almost forgot: remember that they WILL inherit the earth…..

Floater manual

Floater is a simple-to-use script you can add to objects to make them float realistically in water. Floater plays well with Unity’s build in physics system, so objects that use Floater will interact realistically with other physics objects. Best of all, Floater also supports ragdolls, humanoid or any other body topology.  Use Floater to create realistically floating boxes, crates, balls, chests, barrels or any other simple shape. Create ragdolls out of dead enemies, and let them float in the water.

INTERACTIVE DEMO

Create more complex floating objects, like a pontoon bridge. Connect Floater to the pontoon bridge, and let Floater automatically handle the movement of the pontoons as you roll tanks across the bridge.

Tons of applications for any game featuring water and stuff that floats.

Features

  • Fast heuristic computation of sphere’s, boxes or capsules bouyancy
  • Automatic computation of density, for realistic behaviour
  •  Automatically detects correct shape and formula to use for a given object
  • Automatically handles ragdolls.
  • Plays well will Unity physics, allowing for floating objects that realistically interact with other physics objects.

Usage

simple geometric shape: 

Simply drag and drop the FloatingBody script on a non-kinematic rigidbody with a sphere, box or capsule collider attached. Adjust values for Water level, bouyancy and waterdrag as desired, or use the default values to get wood-like behaviour.

Ragdoll:

Drag and drop the FloatingBody script to the root of a ragdoll (for a guide on how to create a ragdoll, see here ).  Set the value isRagdoll to checked, and adjust values for Water level, Bouyancy, limbs bouyancy and /or Head bouyancy as desired, or simply use the default values.

Compund Object:

The FloatingBody component can be used on any ragdoll like object, i.e. a set of rigidbodies connected by joints. If all the objects have either a box, sphere or capsule collider, simply drag and drop the FloatingBody script to the root of the object, and set values as described in ragdoll usage above.

You could for instance build a pontoon bridge of boxes, or a rickety raft of capsules, and simply drag and drop the FloatingBody script to the root.

Floating Body component

inspector

Water level: The height of the water surface in world coordinates.  If you want an object to e.g. fall over the edge of a waterfall, you can change the value of Water Level dynamically.

Bouyancy:  Bouyancy is technically the density of the object / density of the fluid. The value is the fraction of the object that is submerged when the object is at rest. Set this manually to get the precise behaviour you want. If bouyancy is above 1, the object will sink.

Waterdrag: is a tweakable constant describing how much resistance the water creates. The higher the value, the more resistance the water provides.

IsRagdoll: If the script is put on the root of a ragdoll, set this value to true. FloatingBody will then treat the object as a ragdoll, and make sure it floats nicely. If the script is put on another type of object, Floating body will automatically work, and this value should be false.

Auto compute Bouyancy: If you have a rigidbody with a well defined weight already, and you want the object to float or sink as it should, based on real world physics, set this value to true: FloatingBody will then, at Start(), compute and overwrite the Bouyancy value described above. (Bouyancy is = mass of object / (volume * 1000)).

Limbs bouyancy: The limbs of a human body are generally a little less bouyant than the torso. Therefore, the limbs (arms and legs) should sink a little bit, while the torso should not. When isRagdoll is true, limbs bouyancy is used for the bouyancy of all capsule colliders in the ragdoll.

Head bouyancy: The head of a human body is a little less bouyant than the torso. When isRagdoll is true, the head bouyancy value is used for the bouyancy of all sphere colliders on the ragdoll.

 

Unity 5, first impressions

I’m on the Unity 5 beta now. I’ve decided after fiddling with it for a few days,  that the time for jumping over to 5 is now. After these few days of fiddling, here are my first impressions:

The good

Enlighten: In Unity studios, we often joked that there should be a “make nice game” button as a feature i Unity. With Unity 5, it almost seems like that button is there: The new Enlighten GI stuff is simply gorgeous. There are no two ways about it, it just looks significantly better, with the same assets (almost: You need to upgrade materials). Also: The new lighting window seems much more intuitive to use. Also: reflection probes…..

Standard shader: Unity has had the same pack of standard shaders since forever. They did the job, but messing around with shaders always felt like a bit of magic and fingerspitzgefühl. A shader setting on an object would look good only in very specific lighting setup. You would often feel you needed mutually exclusive features from two shaders. The standard shader changes this, with one (well … three … well … I say three .. really more like six…) standard shader(s).  The thing is the “one” standard shader comes in six setups: Standard / Standard (Specular setup) and three variants of those two: Opaque, transparent and cutout.  Mostly, you’ll use the standard shader though, and then use transparency variants as needed. The really nice thing about this, is you mess with the settings of ONE shader, and you get to know that one shader really, really well. Plus, so far it feels totally intuitive to play around with.

Automatic upgrade: “The meek” is a 12 GB project, filled to the brim with all kinds of asset store stuff. I made a backup, then fired up Unity 5 on the new project. It took a while… as in maybe an hour or two, but then the project was ported and I could see it in Unity 5. THEN Unity crashed, and continued crashing  :-). I never found out why, but it seemed the porting went just fine. I decided it was time to clean up the project a bit anyway, so I simply exported the scene I was working on as a package with all dependencies, made that into a new much smaller Unity 4.5 project, then autoported that: This time, it Just Worked ™. It even automatically updated API changes, and updated to enlighten.  A few things broke (Flux from asset store, I’m looking at you !), but the author of that package has openly stated that he was using unsupported Unity APIs.

Mute audio: Its a small thing, but something I have missed in a long time: You can now mute the audio in playmode. very nice.

The bad

Crash: Unity 5 is a little crashy. I’m on Beta 14, and of course it’s Beta, so there are crashes. Which sucks. But if you want the latest stuff, you need to accept the crashes. That suck. Cause they do.

Bug reporter: This has been a problem since Unity 1.6 really, and a problem that hasn’t ever been really solved. I acknowledge that its difficult, but it IS annoying: The bug reporter very much wants you to upload your project and provide a repro case. Remember the crash I told about, with the 12 GB project ? Am I going to spend a day uploading 12 GB project to Unity ? Nope. I want to help, and provide meaningful, useful bug reports, and I understand why this is important, so when I put this down as a “bad thing” I don’t really point my finger at Unity Tech: I can’t see what they should do differently. It’s just …ach. wish there was a good solution for this.

Asset store local cache: Not a new problem, but something I became extra aware of. : I have a primary SSD HD, of about 100 GB, plus a secondary of about 1 TB, standard HD. I have my projects and files and other really heavy stuff on my secondary, because I want my primary for fast stuff. I don’t think this is an exotic or weird setup. I can save my projects where I want, and specify my GI cache location (edit/preference/GI cache, you might want to do this too), but I cannot specify where to put my local asset store packages: This is a problem for me: My SSD capacity is expensive, my standard HD is not. And its a silly thing not to let us decide that save location … come on Unity Tech…

The Ugly

Iterative lightmap calculation: Also known as continuous baking: this is something that is sold pretty hard by Unity on their promotional videos of Unity, and in theory it’s an awesome idea: Set continuous baking on, and Unity bakes lightmaps in the background while you work. In practice, as of b14, it is useless. I have a quadcore PC: I would expect “in the background” to mean that Unity would bake lightmaps on 3 of my cores, leaving the fourth to run Unity, but no: When Unity bakes, it fucking BAKES.  all four CPUs working to full capacity. This has the entirely foreseeable result that the editor is about as responsive as a slug taking a bath in syrop. Which means that I click “continuous baking” of, and just do as I used to do, which is to mess around wih lights until I hope its good, then start baking lightmaps, and go watch a movie while Unity finishes up.
Also, I’m not sure, but it seems like as soon as I add something to the lightmap calculation everything needs to be recalculated. Which means, If I have continuous baking running, every time I make the slightest change, Unity starts over, and the more complex my scene becomes, the worse this problem becomes. So. Continuous baking needs a lot of extra work before it is actually nice.

The first impression:

So far, I’m happy with Unity 5. It’s a beta and has its issues as expected, but all in all , there are so many super, super nice things in the new Unity that I felt it was the right thing to make the switch now. I worry a little about my asset tore purchases, but since I mostly buy art, I’m not too worried. So, from me, it’s a clear thumbs up for Unity 5. Of course… I am a fanboy. 🙂

Zombie brains 101

I love making zombie games, and so do a LOT of other game developers. We love it, because it is really easy to make a zombie behave right: Zombies are stupid, simple creatures, so their basic behavior is easy to create. If the zombie does something really stupid, like walking into the propeller of a helicopter, that is perfectly OK: It’s a zombie. they are supposed to be stupid.

Also… zombies make great enemies: No matter what you do to a zombie, it’s pretty much OK, and fair game.

Now, with the Meek, I’m changing the rules of the “zombie game” just a little bit: Janet, my main character doesn’t like guns. She’s kinda McGyver meets Ripley: She’s scared, yes, but she keeps her cool, and she thinks her way through problems, using her skills as a special effects specialist to build improvised traps.  If you want to keep up-to-date on the game, you can go like the facebook page here, and of course check in here as well…

Let’s look inside the brain of the zombies in “the Meek”:

Enjoy. And as always, remember that they WILL inherit the earth…..

Meet Janet

Hi everyone.

It’s time for my first developer diary video.  I’ve decided to share my thoughts about the creative and technical process that goes into building a game like “The Meek”. I plan to upload a video every two-three weeks, for those of you that might want to follow.

In this one, the first, I’m introducing Janet Patrick, my main character, and the toolset I’m using to build her, and the undead hordes chasing her……

Enjoy !

The Meek

I’m happy to finally be able to show a little bit of what I’m working on now. Since going indie, I have the constant nagging feeling that what I’m building isn’t good enough, isn’t ready to show, needs just a little more polish…..

But, ready or not, here it comes (drumroll please): Proudly presenting : The Meek !

Frontpage

Janet Patrick, a young special effects assistant, wakes up one morning to find most of her hometown Los Angeles overrun by Zombies.   This proves to be the beginning of a very, very bad day.

As Janet, you try to make your way out of the infected city, without getting caught and killed by the zombies. Janet is not at all comfortable with guns, so she must find other ways to deal with those zombies she cannot sneak past. Luckily, Janet is a resourceful girl, who can turn all kinds of things into improvised traps for the Zombies.

Sneak your way past the hordes of Zombies. Lay deadly traps in their path, and explore the city, finding the truth about the outbreak, and maybe also the solution.

Follow the development of the game right here: I plan to be pretty open about how the game is progressing,  whats coming, and how I crack the many, many technical and creative nuts I’ll run into in the development.

You can also check out the games facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/theMeekGame  Like or follow it, and it will be easier for you to follow the development of the game.  I’ll be posting updates here, and on the facebook page about the development of the game.

Thank you for watching, and remember: They shall inherit the earth…….

Last of us, First impressions

Yeah, I know. It’s about goddamn time I played “The last of us”, but I’ve been busy OK ?

First of all, “Last of us” boasts ridiculously pretty graphics. Each and every frame is a cornucopia of crisp detail, high contrast colors, exquisitely composed level design, and all of it in glorious 1080p HD. I am playing the game on a 40′ TV-screen on my very new PS4.

The graphics are pretty awesome.

However, when the initial shock and awe subsides, the graphics are surprisingly marred by weird artefacts that I would, if I didn’t know better, call rookie mistakes: The level artists (well … some of them anyway) are overly fond of reflection cubemaps (or some similar technique, I can’t be sure), and have been sloppy in applying them. There are outdoors daylight scenes, where the ENTIRE ground is reflective like a highly polished mirror. Yes, also patches of dirt, even the floor under lean-tos impossibly reflects the sky.There are other issues like this, and honestly, it surprises me that a title which is so highprofile AAA have these kinds of glitches.

Anyway. despite my rant above, the graphics are very, very awesome.

The level and environment design is incredible as well. I’ll go out on a limb here and risk spoiling by saying out loud that “The last of us” takes place in a post apocalyptic version of USA :-). That world is explained and told to us through exquisite level and environment design.

Nature is taking over

Many of the scenes that take place in the city, both before the apocalypse and way after, boasts very living backgrounds, where you get the feel that a lot of stuff is going on: Survivors chat with each other, some soldiers check some civilians, and finds one suspected of being infected. What follows tells us that justice and due process is long, long gone….Not subtle story telling, but it is very effective.

The game and level design is very linear, but the the level designers have managed to make it feel like a very open world experience. You feel like you can at any time choose whatever direction to move in, although *that* path over there seems like its the most interesting direction to go, and sure enough: That path WILL be the next step of the path. The level designers hook their fingers firmly in your nostrils and pull you through the level, but you actually dont feel railroaded. Excellent nudging.

The gameplay. Well. It’s AAA, so the gameplay is in fact extremely simple. well done of course, but really simple. As Joel, the games white-male, stubbled and troubled protagonist, you sneak past opponents, sneak up on them and take them down, either choking them, blowing their brains out or shivving them. It’s violent, ugly and brutal. I get the feeling that the brutality serves a purpose though: Joel is a man that has lost everything (as narrated in the brilliant opening sequence of the game). One of the things that got lost along the way, was his humanity, and this is well shown through the over-the-top brutality of the gameplay: Joel used to be a good solid salt-of-the-earth type of guy, but now he is a goon. It’s not subtle, but it works.

choking a poor bastard who probably didn’t even deserve it …

Joel can pick up bottles, bricks and probably also other stuff to throw to misdirect and distract enemies. He can craft first aid kits, shivs, molotov cocktails and probably other stuff as well.

The enemies of the game include evil soldiers, mad-max style postapocalyptic survivors and the mysterious, and quite possibly framed-as-terrorists-but-really-they-are-the-good-guys terrorists/freedomfighters the fireflies.

And then there are the infected. I haven’t met too many of them yet, but the ones I HAVE met are genuinely scary, disturbing and horrible.

Especially the clickers……

yeah … It’s not a game I play while my kids are in the room…

The storyline is good so far. As I mentioned, I’m not that far in yet: about an hour of gameplay, ish. Joel is introduced in a great opening scene, that established him as a man that has lost everything, when, 20 years later, we find him again. Here, He is a man that lives by quick brutality and by taking care of himself and people very close to himself first and foremost. Joel and his tough-as-nails companion Tess is tasked with protecting a young girl, Ellie, and bring her to the Capitol building. This involves travelling through the unregulated wilderness part of the city, where the infected roam freely.  Ellie might carry the key to the infection, but more importantly of course, she acts as Joels lifeline back to his own humanity, reminding him what it was like to be what he was, before he lost it all. I’m sure Naughty Dog will heap “the feels” all over the relationship between Ellie and Joel, and I’m looking forward to it.

So. what is my verdict ? Well… to be honest, I don’t have one yet, but overall “The last of us” looks extremely promising, and I can’t wait to play some more.

Nordic Game Conference 2014

I love NGC. It’s beginning to feel like coming home, or maybe visiting some friends I only get to see at various game industry events around the world. Of course, not everyone is at every event, but there’s definitely an overlap. And of course, the beauty is that for every event I attend, a few extra people get added to the circle.

The only thing I hate about these events is that I suck at remembering names. Not faces: I remember faces like a champ. I have that shit down to an art: Let me have a conversation with someone about something interesting, and I will remember the face. I will however also, with just about 95% probability forget the name. So: If you meet me at a conference, and I look a little panicky, the truth probably is, that I remember your face, and is doing my damndest to hide the fact that I can’t remember your name.

Another interesting thing, for me, is that I apparently am a guy people tend to remember, even if they’ve only met me a few times. This means that I actually relatively often get chatted up by people I’ve met at another event, where we’ve had an interesting conversation. And I remember the face, and I know that I should be able to remember the name, and what we talked about the last time around. And I can’t, and I feel like the shallowest asshat on planet earth. Please: Don’t take it personally. I genuinly am interested, I just suck at remembering names.

But I digress. I can do that, cause this is my blog.

This year at NGC was special for me, in that I not only was there on my own dime, as the lone squirrel representative for Ratatosk games. For a number of reasons, I was also at NGC with no real agenda. I had pretty much zero business reason to attend, and absolutely zero plans to buy, sell or promote anything. These two things combined to give me a much more relaxed and pleasant experience at NGC. Interestingly, I also found that somehow, and in some senses, I actually made *more* relevant business work than other years, where maybe I tried a bit too much.

So… Trends: What is going on in the Nordic game scene these days ? Thomas Vigild and the other guys doing the last wrap up session also posed that question, but I dont feel they really answered it, so maybe I should give it a shot.

WOMEN

No. Women are not a new thing in Nordica. We’ve had them for a while, and they’ve rocked for a while. In fact, equality, feminism and equal opportunity has been an agenda for longer in Nordica than in the rest of the world, and we’re doing pretty well. So well in fact, that many men and women in Nordica maybe take it a little bit too granted, and maybe underestimate how many problems still remain. I’ll get back to that… For me, it was great to see many more women than I’ve seen at earlier NGCs. I like that our industry is finally becoming more diverse. Another thing I like, is that when I meet young women in the industry now, they aren’t necessarily PR or marketing any more. They are devs: they are coders, artists, designers, testers, hackers, level designers and that is a great thing.

I met these two:

Nitro games Community manager and Friend

and approached them. I didn’t really think about this before I approached them, but exactly because we were at NGC, I assumed that they were both devs on the game they represented. That they were part of the team. At an American event, like GDC or E3, I’d have assumed they were hired booth talent: that they were two of the booth babes these events have become (in)famous for. In America, I wouldn’t approach them in the same way. I have a pretty good geekdar, an ability to recognise a fellow geek, an it didn’t let me down here either: The blue haired pirate is Ida-Emilia Kaukonen, community manager of Nitro games from Finland. I didn’t catch the other girls name, but she was a friend of Ida’s, and also a gamer geek, along for NGC to help promote a game she loved herself. Pretty much all of Nitro games’ games are about Pirates, which of course explains the customes.

I would LOVE to see more of *this* kind of promotion in Nordica. To me, the differences is subtle, but very, very important: These girls were not hired to be a pretty face and a nice cleavage to draw in guys to hear about the games. They were a dev and a fan cosplaying as characters from the game universes they love.

Friday, I went for the #1ReasonToBe panel discussion, partly because of the experience I had had on the conference of there being more women than in earlier days, partly because I wanted to double check my own assumptions about my own thinking about women in games, equality and sexism. It is a topic that is becoming more and more interesting for me, for a lot of reasons, maybe also because I have two daughters, and I am beginning to think more about what kind of world they are going into, and what sort of world they should be going into.

The panel consisted of these five women, plus Julie Heyde who isn’t on this pic

the women of the fisrt Nordic edition #1reasontobe
the women of the fisrt Nordic edition #1reasontobe panel

each of whom delivered a microtalk about their own personal experience with being a woman in the games industry. Initially the vibe went in the direction of the women saying that they basically felt well treated mostly. That they didn’t feel overtly harassed. That they felt pretty much welcome in the industry. But it also quickly felt like they all had more to say; something hurt. Something was afoot. One presenter, then another teared up a little, or had trouble getting the words out. It became obvious to the audience that there is something very important going on here, even if it is hard to put into words, numbers or precise tendencies.  I think the presenters themselves were probably at least as surprised by their own emotional responses as the audience was, and I think it points to a problem that is emotional at its core: Too many guys, maybe myself included, make too many women feel slighted, insulted, unwelcome, disrespected, objectified or in some other way subtly mistreated. The guys may not realize it, may not want it, may think that they aren’t doing anything wrong. To me, it is important to not feel guilty, because that makes me go on the defensive, and nobody wins out on that. I did NOT get an impression of six women asking for help, or complaining about a big huge issue, but I DID get a serious reminder that there is an issue, and an issue that we should maybe all take a little bit more seriously.

Women are an important trend in gamedev: They love playing games, and they also want to MAKE games. I, for one, welcome this development.

INDIES

Of course, indies aren’t a “new” development, but there has been a veritable explosion in the past couple of years. There are a ton of reasons for this: Unity, and the other engines that follow Unitys lead, like Unreal etc. This tech and more importantly the business model sorrounding it, is a tremendous driver for independent devs, and their ability to deliver much cooler projects, for much much lower budgets. I have half-joked with other veterans (Yeah.. I’m a veteran now 🙂 ) of the Nordic industry, that “back in the day” when we stated out, it was much more difficult to make a game: You had to be able to program and stuff. We’ve joked about how we are getting out competed by people half our age, who can barely program. The thing is, it’s partly true; It IS a lot easier to make a game today. It is possible to get production values that 5-8 years ago would have cost millions to achieve, for a few thousand today. More affordable engine tech is one important driver, but all parts of the eco system are getting democratized these days. Want profesional animations ? Buy a 1500$ year subscription at Mixamo. Want assloads of cool affordable stock 3D graphics ? Asset store. Want stock code for typical tasks ? Asset store. Want profesional, free analytics ? Gameanalytics.com, flurry or any one of the many other options. Want a  distribution deal ? Appstore, Android, google windows store etc.

It’s still hard to make a fun game though. Its still tricky to tell a good story, and it is still impossible to tell if a game is any good, until you play it. But now, where all the other stuff is so much more affordable and quick, it is also possible to try out many more thing much faster, and sort the wheat from the chaff, so maybe even the creative process itself has become easier, by extension. It has become cheaper and faster to iterate, cheaper and faster to fail early.  So, what that means is, that many, many more people are making games. I think the ratio of good games to shit games is still the same, so its still maybe ten percent of the games that are actually any good. The difference is the volume. These days, there are more good games out there than I for one have time to play. One dev I met, talked about her “Pile of shame”: A pile of games she hadn’t had time to play yet.  I know the feeling.

Everything isn’t all roses though: The one thing that has gotten harder since “back then”, is discovery. Discovery has become an absolute, cast-iron bitch. And nobody has a good solution. This problem is of course directly related to the much larger volume of games coming out these days. I get the impression that iOS is the worst market, in terms of discovery, followed closely by Android and the other mobile market places. Steam seems to be a little less horrible, once you’re in, but it seems discovery in the greenlight program is increasingly becoming a problem.  I fear, that ven though Steam right now looks good, it is a window that will close soon. God I hope I’m wrong.

Where was I ? Oh yes. Indies. The big trend as I see it, is that there are more Indies. A LOT more indies than earlier. And therefore, the very best handful of games are simply better than they were before. This became very visible at NGC this year: The six games selected for the Indie game night were really, really good, each and every one of them. The diversity was enormous: From the highly artistic  Future Unfolding, by Spaces Of Play (Sweden) to the unapolegetic local multiplayer retro blast Orbit by 4Bit Games (Norway). From the horror of “Among the sleep” by Krillbite (Norway)  to the slapstick madness bugfest of “Goat simulator” by Coffee Stain Studios (Sweden) . From the retro of Savant – Ascent Savant – Ascent, by D-Pad Studio (Norway) to the innovative  Shiftlings,  by Rock Pocket Games (Norway). Else { Heart.break()}  by Erik Svedäng, Niklas Åkerblad, Tobias Sjögren, Oscar Rydelius (Sweden) and Chronology by osao games (Denmark) both had innovative mechanisms, but I didn’t get to try these.

I voted for Goat sim and Among the sleep to win the Indie Sensation, and personally, I was happy to see Among the sleep take home the award.

IMG_1852
Among the sleep. You play as a toddler in a dark world…..

Other microtrends

I saw quite a lot of ad-networks, app promotion agencies and “get your app out there” companies promoting their products at NGC. To me, most of them look the same. I won’t be the one to say that they work, or that they don’t, but my gut feeling says, that they are right in seeing an obvious need in the market: the need for better discovery and user acquisition. I’m not sure that they solve that need though.

Weird game hybrids seem to be up and coming: Oculus had a nice booth showcasing their HD glasses. A couple of games mixed TCG and app, or App and AR or App and ARG. Maybe the amount of buzz that Cloud chamber has been getting these past months is inspiring people to think out of the box in terms of what a computer game could potentially be ?

TALKS

I went to a lot of talks this year, because I had no agenda, because I love to go to talks and learn something new, and because there were a lot of really awesome talks.

“Nordic dev culture” David Polfeldt.

I saw this presentation at DICE Europe last year, and it was a super inspiring talk for me at that time. David is a great speaker, exploring the question “Why are the nordic developers so good ?” He answers the question with a thouroughly well researched talk, full of anectdotes, tongue in cheek humor, and a lot of truth.

I met David later on the conference floor, and to my delight and surprise he actually recognized me :-). Last time we interacted, we won the DICE go-cart team competition. He promised me a tour of Massive next time I come to Malmö: David, If you’re reading this: I will take you up on it !

“My other car’s a Cobra Mk III” David Braben

Elite is probably the first game I have really, like REALLY geeked out on. I have spent ridiculous amounts of time on that game, and that game is one of the reasons I am in game development today. So, to me it was a huge fanboi moment to sit in the same room as David Braben (!!) as he presented his vision for Elite: Dangerous. I think that that will be another game I am going to spend a lot of time on….

IMG_1842
“Old timer”: I gotta go with “yep” there…

 

“Killing the games Industry” Ste Curran

I saw Ste Currans presentation at the last NGC, and it blew me away. I have said nice things about some of the other presenters, but Ste is something else. When he takes the stage at NGC, it doesn’t feel like a presentation, it feels like a theatre piece, or a poetry recital. There story he told this year, was the story of the murder of his True love and soulmate, the games industry. He captured the audience with his heart gripping tale of finding the dying games industry on the floor of the London flat he shared with her. And he proceeded to name the suspects, and murder weapons, all 100 of them. F2p, FPS,RTS, three letter acronyms, Indies, Big business, casual games (because you cannot say “I love you” casually) and many many others.

IMG_1853
Ste Curran presenting suspect #37 : Indie games are killing the game industry,

You can catch the full presentation here

It isn’t possible to retell the experience, except to say that it was highly emotional, and basically an expertly executed micro theater performance. If for nothing else, I would gladly come to NGC, just for Ste’s performance.

“Creating and Visualising an online world” Matt Mocarski

Matt went through the creative process behind creating the world of Wildstar.

“New Unity GUI system”, Rune Skovby Johansen

Rune worked very briefly for us in Unity Studios, before moving on to Unity Technologies where he more rightly belonged. I like Rune, and I like to catch up with him, and chat about what he’s doing in Unity, when we run into each other on conferences. I wanted to catch his talk, because I wanted to find out whats in store with the new GUI system for Unity. And it looks really, really cool. To me, it looks like the very well polished NGUI system by Tasharen has been integrated smoothly and cleanly into the core of Unity. This is not surprising, since Unity hired Tasharen to help them implement the new GUI system. I imagine that a lot of the experiences from NGUIs users has gone into the new GUI system, and that shows. I’m looking forward to starting to use it, and as far as I can see, the time I invest in getting to know NGUI and getting used to think about GUI in that way now, is time well spent.

“Everyplay” : Oscar Clark

The first time I saw Everyplay, was at NGC. not this one, one of the earlier ones. I remember being blown way immediately, and immediately seeing why this was really, really cool. I’d never seen a presentation by Oscar Clark, but I had heard good stuff about him, so I was looking forward to the preso. Clark didn’t dissapoint, although the presentation did come about a bit as a sales pitch.

“#1ReasonToBe” : Panel, Dejana Dimovska

I’ve already  written a little about this panel above, but I want to single out the brilliant microtalk “Not bad for a human” by Karin Ryding (@CrainFuzzbrain). The minute I saw the title on her first slide, I knew exactly what she was referring to, and why this was cool. The talk of course drew on “Aliens” and the quote Lance Henriksens character Bishop utters to Ripley at the end of the movie. “Not bad for a human”. Not, “Not bad for a skirt”, but “Not bad for a human.  Also, in the same talk, she threw this slide up, and said “So, I was at this meeting with a venture capitalist last year…..”

IMG_1861

I snapped this pic, and tweeted it with her words directly, and Thomas Vigild later nominated that as one of the best tweets of #nordicgame. Had I won, I would have given the prize (a ticket for next NGC) directly to Karin. Her microtalk was probably the one with the worst example of power abuse, disrespect and general douchebaggery the panel presented.

#1reasontobe was to me the most thought provoking panel, and probably the one that will affect me the most going forward, similar to the way my good friend David Mariners talk last year deeply affected me.

“Next gen story design”: Leah Hoyer

Leah Hoyer from Microsoft gave a good talk about using narrative in games, how narrative and gameplay should be closely aligned, and how they should strengthen each other. Nothing particularly groundbreaking but still a good walkthrough of the basics of narrative in games. She had this slide, which to me was a damn good slide:

IMG_1863

“Kickstarter” Cindy Au.

Cindy Au from Kickstarter gave us a nice walkthrough of the kickstarter platform. Good advice about the project video. Summarizing shamelessly she adviced to make it personal, make it about you, your story and of course your project. She advised to get a good solid hook into the first two minutes of the video. She also told us a lot of statistics about kickstarter. To me, the most interesting statistic was, that the succes rate of projects is around 43% (!), and even more interesting, that the rate has stayed pretty much constant. That is interesting, because it counts against the otherwise “conventional wisdom” that there is a kickstarter “fatigue” effect. So. Interesting stuff, all in all.

“Analytics playbook” Allison Bilas

I was a little disappointed with this talk. Allison clearly knows what she’s talking about, and seems extremely knowledgeable about analytics and how to make use of all that wonderful data, but I felt like I got a message that was basically:

1: figure out what question you want answered

2: Figure out what data to gather to answer the question

3: Gather and analyse data

4: Act on conclusion.

Well…. duh.

I’m dissapointed in the talk, because I am damn sure she could have informed us a hell of a lot more, because it was obvious she knew what she was talking about. I would have loved to see a specific, step by step example (fictional, if need be) of the playbook in action. It all became too theoretical, too general.

“NG14 summary”: Thomas Vigild & co.

The closing panel was a somewhat playful and deliberately silly affair, chaired by Thomas Vigild. I would have liked it to be a little more serious, and maybe have drawn a few more interesting conclusions about what is going on in the Nordic scene, maybe tease a little for the next years conference. Anyway, the format was apparently decided to be silly and fun, and that goal was fulfilled nicely.

Closing

NGC 2015 will absolutely and definitely include me, even if I again will have to come on my own dime. I remember expressing some degree of dissappointment to Erik Robertson back at the first Nordic game conference. Back then, I was dissapointed that the language was nordic, that the scope felt restricted to the nordic countries, also in terms of market. I remember Erik saying words to the effect of “Give us time, we WILL be better”. He, and the rest of the organising team for NGC lives up to that promise, and NGC is becoming increasingly important, and at the same time, a super “hyggelig” conference. 

As always, if you liked this, spread the word with the links below, and if you dont want to miss out the next time I write about something, follow me on twitter @krolldk