Lair of the Evildoer in playtest

Quick update to say that Lair of the Evildoer is in playtest over at the AppHub. You need to be a premium member to view the thread or download the game.

I found the previous playtests (under the name “Project Splice”) to be very successful both in terms of feedback and motivation. I feel like I’m on the home stretch for the game now, so hopefully these “beta”-esque playtests will be equally useful.

No video this week, purely because they take a lot of time to produce and that time is currently going towards development. It’s been a while since my last video though, and thus there’s nothing really representative of the current state of the game that I can show anybody. I hope to change that next week with a trailer and an official announcement. Maybe.

Why aren’t you following me on Twitter? That hurts.

Here’s a screenshot for being so well-behaved:

Friday Update

It’s Friday! Update time!

After a brief vacation, work has resumed on the action RPG twin-stick shooter game known only as Project Splice. No alpha playtest or video this week because most of the work has been largely cosmetic. Animations, actual art, particles, oh my!

Cosmetic? That sounds like polishing!

Sort of. I’ve set a target roughly corresponding to one more month of development (give or take several months). The laundry list of remaining work is pretty daunting, but it does appear to be complete and thankfully finite. There will be more playtesting and more balance work in the near future.

Stay tuned next week* for the dramatic reveal of Project Splice’s final title!

I’ve heard that if you tell people to follow you on Twitter, they are more likely to do it. Follow me on Twitter @benkane!

To whet your appetite, here’s a picture of your nemesis:

Follow @benkane you fools!

* – give or take several months

Project Splice Weekly Alpha 4

Another week, another alpha build plus video!

Feedback in the forum has slowed down a bit, but it hasn’t completely stopped so I’m still pleased. I’ll continue to do weekly builds, both to keep it available for people to try as well as keeping me somewhat accountable for making progress.

This coming week will hopefully be focused on art and balancing. The game still can’t realistically be played all the way though. Now that the majority of the planned enemy types are in, I can flesh out the distributions, levels and start tuning difficulty. I also need to drop the Project Splice moniker pretty soon. Exciting!

Here’s this week’s video:

As usual, if you’re an AppHub member and you want to try out the latest build or check out the forum thread, you can find it here.

Did you follow me on Twitter? It’s @benkane . You should do that right now.

I’ll wait.

Project Splice Weekly Alpha 3

Wait, wasn’t the last alpha build on Monday? Yes, yes it was.

I feel Friday is a better time to release these builds though. It gives people a chance to play the latest build on the weekend, which is the time when I feel most playtesters are active (I could be wrong). That means the feedback I get is based on the most recent build, not the week-old build that I’ve already been modifying.

The downside is that I’ll miss being included on George “Why Isn’t He Community Manager” Clingerman’s weekly XNA Notes (or at least it’ll be a week behind). This is a risk I’m willing to take.

On the experiment front, I continue to get more and more feedback in the playtest thread. This is good news, because it means I haven’t overstayed my welcome yet. The feedback is also really, really helpful. A lot of it is also very positive, which is encouraging to say the least.

The other experiment, narrated dev diary videos, has had a bit more mixed results. While I never get a lot of hits/views, my last video and post were well below average. However! I did receive some direct feedback from a few people that they would like to see more. I plan on sticking with this for a little while longer regardless, but it’s nice to hear that others are interested. So! Video!

As usual, if you’re an AppHub member and you want to try out the latest build, you can find it here.

Follow me on Twitter! @benkane

Do it.

Project Splice Weekly Alpha 2

I’m happy to report that my little experiment with XBLIG playtesting has been going well. Well enough that I’ve put together another build for this week that incorporates almost all of the feedback I received, plus some additional new features.

A handful of community members posted some very detailed comments and suggestions about the initial build, all of which were very helpful. My hope is that this enthusiasm can last for a few more builds and that it will endear rather than annoy.

In an unprecedented second experiment, I also made and narrated a video showing off some of the changes that have been made. I really enjoyed the game dev diary series that Stegersaurus Games put out, and while I’m not ready to do daily videos, I figured I would give it a shot. Like it? Hate it? Feel totally indifferent? Let me know, here, on Youtube or by email.

If you’re an AppHub member and you want to try out the latest build, you can find it here.

An Experiment with XBLIG Playtesting

Just yesterday I posted an early gameplay video for my current project. I’m pretty happy with where the game is at, but I’ll be the first to admit that there is still a very long way to go.

Today, I put the game up for XBLIG playtest.

What gives? There’s clearly not a whole lot of content for people to try out. Numerous key pieces, such as story and progression, are completely absent. However I feel that enough of the core gameplay is present and stable that I can begin getting feedback on it. I’ve often heard of playtesting “early and often”, but that was something I ignored for my previous title, Zombie Accountant. For that, playtest was more of an informal check to see if there were any glaring bugs. It was still worthwhile – someone found a showstopper bug, and I added a much-needed last-second instructional diagram.

But I feel playtesting can be much more useful than that. Hence, I’ve submitted my game as early as I’m comfortable doing. Any sooner and I’d be wasting the time of other community members. The plan is to keep a build in playtest from here until release, meaning I’ll need a new build at least once a week. I think weekly is a good target to incorporate significant improvements with each new build.

Will it pay off? Will I use up the goodwill of other playtesters and have nobody willing to play my game by the time I want to release it? Stay tuned!

Oh, and if you’re an App Hub member, feel free to check it out here, under the laughably temporary name of “Project Splice”.

Early gameplay video for upcoming title

Oooh, generic post title! I’m not yet ready to announce the title of my next game, but I figure I can start showing off some of the progress I’ve made. Here’s a quick video:

Bear in mind that most of the assets are placeholders. I’m working on honing the gameplay and progression mechanics first and foremost. More to come!

Not Dead

Work continues sporadically on Yet More Tower Defense, though not for lack of interest. Exams, followed by holiday shopping and events, and the sudden realization of impending doom regarding my honour’s project have all come together to thwart my attempts at getting Yet More Tower Defense ready for playtesting. Realistically, progress is going to be severely hindered by my honours project.

However, I took a few minutes to today to flesh out a simple high score system along with saving and loading. It was a snap to do and I’d been putting it off, but now I’m glad I had some low hanging fruit.

I think it’s hugely important to work on a project every day to keep up the momentum, even if it’s just for half an hour. I let this one slip for almost two weeks – I’m not going to let it fade away. That’s one of the reasons I bought a premium membership early: I’m invested now!

What’s on the Menu

With a few days off before exam preparation really begins, I’ve been able to devote a fair amount of time to Yet More Tower Defense. I spent quite a bit of time working on the menu system but I think given what I’m trying to put in feature-wise, it’s turned out to be a very worthwhile investment. I’ve essentially worked off the Game State Management sample which has proven to be a fairly powerful and extensible concept.

While it always seems like there are dozens of things left to do, my list is finally getting to the point where I can see the end, at least in terms of necessary features. Let’s take a look, if partially for my benefit in combining the many to-do lists scattered around:

  • One more Hud component (showing upcoming wave details)
  • High scores
  • Help screens/instructions*
  • Proper treatment of PlayerIndex
  • Ensure storage best practices are working
  • Full game purchase functionality
  • One more tower type
  • Two more creep types
  • Badges

The “Help screens” item has an asterisk because I think I will tackle this during initial playtesting, rather than before. I’m interested in seeing what people’s initial, unguided intuitions are.

Badges are something I’ve hummed and hawed about because they aren’t at all necessary for the game. I am suspicious of the average consumer’s opinion of unofficial acheivements, as I don’t think they really hold much weight. However, since I’m not making this game with an “effort to marketability” ratio in mind but instead to go through the full process of making a game, I’m going to implement badges. If they add something that consumers consider important, cool. I certainly don’t think they take away from the game.

After that list is finished, I get to start the long process of polishing and balancing. The most important aspect of this is going to be creating/finding some respectable graphics and sound effects. I consider myself somewhat artistically inclined, though in traditional media. I have a few ideas on this front that I’ll look into. I haven’t decided if I’ll throw my game into playtest before it gets final graphics in place. There is a blocking issue of Xbox360 performance, which isn’t quite acceptable at the moment (I develop primarily on PC, where the performance is flawless).

All-text updates are boring! Here’s a screenshot of the new Challenge Select screen:

Select Challenge

Select Challenge

I did find myself playing the game quite a few times over the past few days, despite the fact that the balancing is just placeholder values so the difficulty is all over the map. I consider this a good sign (:

The sound of button-mashing

I mentioned I was going to tackle either gamepad input or sound next, but I ended up just doing both. Now that’s not to say they’re finished, but they are functional. One of the mantras I’m developing by is “Keep it playable”. Since day one, Yet More Tower Defense has been playable in some form or another. Now, it hasn’t always been fun, but it’s alway been working. I’m the only one working on it, so there isn’t any time lost for other team members when the game is broken, but I feel that it’s a worthwhile habit regardless (and it does wonders for motivation).

Nothing too earth-shattering or complicated in my input or sound managers, though there is one thing I’d like to point. Given that Yet More Tower Defense is destined for XBLCG, and thus playable by the general populace, best practices are incredibly important. One of these is having intuitive controls that are consistent with what gamers might reasonably expect. That means that Start should pause, A should proceed through menus, B should take you back, etc. For this reason, I felt it was important to have an input manager that could handle things like:

gamepadInputMap.Add(InputAction.Accept, new Buttons[] { Buttons.A, Buttons.Start });

Two buttons mapping to one function. A quick google for input samples seems to come up with a lot of code that only handles a 1:1 mapping, often with a note saying, “this shouldn’t be a problem”. Instead, I’d prefer to easily remap my controls (without looking for a bunch of multipart conditional checks in an IsMenuCancel function) and have a one-to-many relationship for actions and buttons. I think it’s worth doing, if not for your sake in managing control bindings, then for your users who might expect ‘A’ and ‘Start’ to perform the same function in the menus.

And on that note, I’m getting to the point where Yet More Tower Defense is feature complete. It should be just some more content creation (graphics, sounds), polishing and lots of testing and balancing in the near future. I hope to be able to throw it into preliminary Playtest soon. That also means I’ll be able to playtest and review other games, as I’ll finally buy my Premium membership. Sweet.