Thursday, July 30, 2015

Upgraded to Windows 10 today

That's right, I decided to break character and for the first time ever I've installed a new version of Windows as soon as it became available. Windows 10. Probably because it's free for everyone with a legit copy of Windows 7 and 8.1.

Firstly, I thought it would go a bit more automatic, since I opted in with the icon in the taskbar months ago already. I thought it would at least notify me that it started downloading or something, but no such message.

After reading up on several sites, I saw that the downloading happens pretty much silently in the background - no wonder my internet was slow yesterday.

Looking on my C: drive, I saw 2 hidden folders $Windows.~WS and $Windows.~BT - I saw them growing, so I assumed the download was happening.

I left it until this morning. I started up my PC and waited for something to happen. Nothing happened. I decided bugger that, I'm gonna start this thing manually - I went into the WS folder, and in there was a Windows sub folder, which had a setup file. I doubled clicked it. This dark blue window popped up, and it looks like the installation was under way, or at least the preparation for it.

At one stage it came to a screen where the tool checked if I had any programs installed that is not compatible with 10. It found only one - Daemon Tools. I uninstalled it, and let it continue :)

Now, if you plan on doing the upgrade please remember to backup. I did as well. Just for in case, you know. The installation went on without a hitch, and within an hour or so, I was back in Windows again. What? That simple? This cannot be! First issue I notice, not a big one, was that my second screen wasn't on, and that the resolution for my number 1 screen was not set to the native resolution for it - I immediately knew this was graphics card driver issues.

I headed on over to nVidia's site, and downloaded the latest drivers for my GTX750. This time I selected Windows 10 64bit - was a tad weird not choosing Windows 7 from the list...

I installed the driver after it finished downloading, and my second screen popped on.

I tried some of my programs - they all worked. Photoshop, yes. phpDesigner, yes. Can it really be this simple?

I was even pleasantly surprised to find I have MORE space on my C: drive after Windows 10's installation! About 10gig more!

So, my first day on Windows 10 is almost over. And, it works. So far at least. I'm still sitting here with my mouth slightly open, waiting for something to break, but so far so good. Oh, except for the Music app, it's crap, so I switched back to media player again (every time I minimize it, the music would stop playing haha!)

Oh, and Unity. Unity also works - it had a small licensing issue but it sorted it out automatically with my help.

Let's see how the rest of my Windows 10 journey will go... I'll keep everyone posted!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The daily struggles of being a South African Indie Game Developer

What an interesting week and a half it's been! As you probably know by now, we are from South Africa, and we are part time game developers. Being in a country like South Africa, especially not in the main areas/cities, makes it a pretty challenging thing.

Jayson sits in a small town called Loxton. You know Courage the Cowardly Dog? Courage lives in the middle of nowhere (they even have a newspaper called Nowhere News). Now, Loxton is also in the middle of nowhere. There are about 5 streets in the town, and the local grocery store is so old fashioned that you give them a list of what you want at the counter, and they go fetch it for you! The one really huge obstacle he faces is our lifeline - the internet. Loxton does not have ADSL yet. Haha, I say "yet" as if it's actually going to happen sometime, but who knows... He makes use of extremely expensive 3G internet (expensive as in so little data for so much money!), as well as ADSL shared wirelessly from the neighbouring big town, Beaufort-West, which also has its fair share of problems...

I myself have also been hit with internet woes. In South Africa we have one big tele-communications company Telkom. They have the monopoly because the government has a big stake in it, so why wouldn't they prevent others from joining in the fun! Neotel was supposed to be the competition, but that just didn't happen in a way that made any impact worth mentioning. Anyway, ever since Saturday my internet has been extremely poor or non-existent as well.

And last, but definitely not least, we have Eskom. Another government owned entity. They are supposed to supply us with that one thing that indie developers need even more than internet - electricity. Countrywide demand quickly outgrew supply, and there wasn't anything in place to take that into account. We still have pretty much the same capacity as 20 years ago, but with a few million more power-hungry souls. The result? We have load shedding on an almost daily basis. It's two hours at a time, so not a total train smash - the problem, though, is Telkom is more often than not affected by load shedding as well, meaning even more internet woes.

BUT, we have a passion for what we do, and these minor hurdles are not going to stop us from making cool games!

Remember in one of my earlier posts I talked how you would sort a poker hand? Well, I've been working a small little poker game on the side, and it's actually close to being finished. It's not going to be a full poker game that includes making bets and folding and stuff like that. I have dubbed it Pass-Along-Poker :) The idea is simple - you can have up to 5 players playing against each other on one device (phone or tablet). And you basically just draw poker hands, discard the cards you don't want, and then show off at the end to see who wins. Whoever wins the round scores a point, and whoever loses the round loses a point. This can be played as a interesting drinking game perhaps, or just a way to kill some time when the load shedding hits.

The core game play functionality is in, and I'm now busy making it a bit more pleasing on the eye (attempting rather). Here's the main screen for the game:

That took me about 5 hours to design. Something that would have taken a real designer 20 minutes perhaps?

Anyway, hopefully my internet improves, I'd rather have NO internet, than slow internet.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Delta Quadrant finally on Steam - our first day

Star Chronicles: Delta Quadrant, our first full game, over 2 years in the making, finally launched on Steam yesterday. It was quite a ride!

In the madness that led up to the launch, we completely overlooked a game breaking bug when you start the game (all our save games were on later stages in the game, so we totally missed it!) and got a few guys complaining, as they should, on the Steam page. Luckily we quickly realised our mistake, and could quickly do some damage control, and luckily the players we ticked off changed their mind after we apologized. Sorry again about that guys!

One thing we promise to do from our side, as Indie Devs, is to listen to our fans and feedback. We know all too well how bad it can be to buy a game and something doesn't work, and feedback falling on deaf ears. I personally had such a terrible experience with Mass Effect 2, where the second disc just wouldn't work. It was a common problem as well, and emailing EA didn't yield any results sadly.

Anyway, by last night we had our second patch with fixes loaded already, thanks to some great feedback from our players. So guys, Jayson and I want to give a massive thank you to every single person who has purchased our game so far. You have no idea what this means to us, and it makes what we do infinitely more rewarding!

If you are keen to check out what Delta Quadrant is about, head on over to the Steam Store Page, and if you decide to try it out, we sincerely hope you enjoy it!

Friday, July 3, 2015

How we got Delta Quadrant Greenlit on Steam

Star Chronicles: Delta Quadrant has been in development for over two years. I still cannot believe it's been that long! When the game was finally in a state we were happy with, we tried selling it on a few smaller online stores, but to no avail.

We knew that if we wanted to reach more players, we needed to get the game on Steam. And, as you know, it's not as simple as just loading your game on Steam and start selling it - you need to get the game Greenlit first. That is, ask for the community to have a look at your game, and give a yes/no vote whether they'll play it or not if it were to become available on the platform.

If you're a brand new developer on Steam, it costs $100 to get in. All of this money goes to a charity. It basically prevents the system to get flooded with less serious titles. Luckily, it's a once off fee. once you've paid the $100, you're in permanently.

In South Africa, at the time, $100 was equal to about ZAR1200. Quite a few bucks if it's money you don't have. We scraped the money together, hoping that the game will get Greenlit and recuperate that money eventually, but we definitely thought we're going to be in this for the long haul...

We had NO idea how long it would take, but we went for it. We paid the $100, and got our game ready to go through the Greenlight process. We read all kinds of posts about getting your game through on Greenlight all over the internet - I'm not going to share everything we learned, just the most important ones.

Firstly, have a nice video or two, and a few decent screen shots. This will be the first thing a person sees when he visits your Greenlight page. Also, I see a lot of devs have ads running on their Youtube clips - I personally don't like this. If I can make a suggestion, don't load ads on the clips you're going to use on Greenlight...

Next, you are allowed to format the description quite nicely, and that includes adding pictures. This really spruces up your Greenlight page - so many times I've seen just one paragraph of text explaining the game. This is your second resort to convincing someone to try your game, so make sure you put some effort into this page. Here what ours look like:

See, a decent description mentioning the main game mechanics (you know, stuff your players would actually be interested in!) and include some nice graphics - we did it in the form of headings, and used our in-game assets to spice them up.

Also, be to the point in your writing, and make sure you don't have grammar or spelling errors - get someone to help proof read if you have to!

Getting the process going

After loading our game on Greenlight, the first day was great, we had over 50 yes votes, and thought this is going to be a lot easier than we thought. We couldn't have been more wrong. After the first few days, our votes slowed down to about one or two yes votes per day. If we needed 1500 yes votes (which is not necessarily the amount you need - I guess nobody will ever know haha - we needed about 1300 to get Greenlit, but others have needed more or even less), it'll take years at this rate.

Also, you can see how many votes in total you get - so including how many people said no. This can be a bit disheartening, but don't let it phase you too much (if you can haha!). Remember, there are millions of users on Steam, and it's impossible for every single person to like your game. It's nothing against you personally, it's just not something they'd end up buying if it becomes available. Also, we have a very niche genre for our game - a combination of turn-based, rpg, sci-fi and roguelike made our game a bit harder to target people for. If you have a half decent FPS, you probably won't need to even look at this article hehe.

We tried our best to get more votes in, including joining various Facebook groups (waste of time in my opinion), asking all my Steam friends (all 7 of them haha!), loading the "Help us get on Greenlight" badge on various of our sites (a luxury many devs won't have), but the votes were still only streaming in very slowly...

One thing we did end up doing though, was load our game on IndieDB, The exposure we got from that was great! So much so, that someone from Groupees contacted us about including our game on their next Build a Greenlight Bundle. It's a great way to promote Indie devs who have their games on Greenlight, and to make a few bucks in the process. We were all too happy about this, because it was massive exposure we couldn't have gotten otherwise, and finally a chance to make some money back, even if just a few hundred dollars!

The bundle ran for 2 or 3 weeks (can't remember exactly how long) and the response was massive on our Greenlight page. All of a sudden we had an influx of yes votes, and when the bundle was over with, we got over 1000 more yes votes on our profile! The bundle sold over 4000 copies in the end :)

And, a week or two after that, we got this magical email from Steam congratulating us on getting Greenlit. It took us 46 days.

So, to sum up, here's what we did that I think helped:

1. Have decent videos and screen shots of your game
2. Write a proper description of your game, and include images to spice it up.
3. If you're game is finished already, try to get in on a Bundle - we used Groupees and got excellent service from them.