Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Crashlands Compendium

WE HAVE A CONFESSION. At one point, not very long ago, Crashlands was suffering from an existential crisis. There was plenty to do, lots of things to build, and a fistful of enemies to punch in the mouth, and yet one looming question began to take over all the other points of design:

WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS GAME!?

Our previous title, Quadropus Rampage, had a similar moment a week before launch when one of our reviewers said that the game was extremely fun but felt pointless. In response we took three days and whipped up Pete, the mad boss god and nemesis of Tack, and developed a series of boss fights from the beginning of the game to a theoretical "end" which we arbitrarily placed 100 levels into the dungeon. Fans and reviewers alike loved it (though they hated Pete, because he's a toolbag) and it made the game objectively better. It gave players a mountain on the horizon to work toward, and eventually blow to smithereens.
YOU SMARMY FISHGODBLOBTHANG YOU COMPLETE ME
We've since dubbed this "THE PETE EFFECT." A game can be mighty fun in its own right, with super tight systems and juicy interactions, but if there isn't a greater goal, most people will break off and leave it before the going really gets good.

The Compendium is the base of the goal-and-narrative mountain of Crashlands, the foundation of the player's reason to be. It is a system through which players can make progress in any given play session, it is an in-game wiki for everything players interact with, and it is the home of Spazbox, your insane robotic companion.

SPaZB0X
The Survivor is part of a group of Interplanetary Scientist-Explorers from the Bureau of Science (BS for short) who are dispatched across the universe to learn about all the sweet stuff it holds. Each S.E. is given a Whizbot - a recording device, thinking machine, and companion all rolled into one. Whizbots use their artificial intelligence to help their S.E.'s gather all the information required by the BS, and to survive in the wilds of any planet by performing rapid analyses on wildlife and flora as well as devising schematics for tools and weaponry, should the need arise.

Feelin' all the feels.
Unfortunately for you, upon crashing your escape pod into this new world your Whizbot glitched out. When it came to it referred to itself as SPaZB0X and, although it can't ignore its prime directives to aid you in any way necessary, it now does so with an extra serving of sass and a questionable level of enjoyment.

Spazbox also serves as the guide for the player, giving brief, expletive-laden tutorials whenever one of the many systems of Crashlands comes online for the first time. This allows us to not rip players out of their adventure with some heavy-handed learnin', and gives us a chance to inject some Butterscotchy humor at regular intervals.

WIKI WIKI WHAAAT
BUT WHAT DOES SAWGRASS EVOLVE INTO!?
The Compendium acts as a massive knowledge store for the Survivor. It's function is similar to that of a Pokedex - its full completion is the underlying goal of the Survivor and of the Bureau of Science. When a player deconstructs an object for the first time, be it a Tartil or a Logtree, the entry on that item will be added to the compendium. Because as we all know too well, the only way to gain a higher understanding of something... is to destroy it.

BUT WAIT! There's more. The Compendium has three depths of knowledge to be gained for each entry, represented by the medals awarded by the Bureau of Science for their acquisition.
"LOOKS LIKE A BUNCH O' BS TO ME."
As players deconstruct more and more of any given object in the compendium, their knowledge about that item will increase, much like a traditional XP bar. Once the player hits a certain level of knowledge about, say, Sunshrooms, their Compendium will DING and they'll move up a medal level!

Way better than killing level 3 boars
PSH WHO CARES ABOUT MEDALS I DON'T
Spazbox does, YOU BRUTE. But for those who require more tangible rewards than just a shiny piece of metal, you're in luck! The more knowledge you extract from any given object in the world, the more recipes Spazbox can come up with using that thing as an ingredient. In other words, With each medal comes more interesting and powerful recipes.

FOR EXAMPLE. When you first interact with Logtrees you can't do anything with them. After you've gotten your lumber-jack on and deconstructed five or so, Spazbox will come up with a smattering of uses for all those materials you've just gathered. Now you can build some sweet armor, a sawmill, and, hey, even a flimsy sword. TIME TO STAB EVERYTHING?! YES.

The sweet thing about the Compendium system is that it turns gathering into its own mini-game with its own set of goals and achievements, while also feeding into the larger purpose of the Survivor. Add into that the rarity of items in the Gold tiers, and players can even begin hoarding trophies in their houses to show off their sciencey accomplishments. Science trophies? YUP.

WHAT NOW?
That's all for this episode of WHAT IS CRASHLANDS!?!?. Stay tuned next week for housing.
  • February 13th - The World and Exploration
  • February 27th -  Crafting
  • March 6th - Closed Alpha
  • March 20th - Creatures and Taming
  • April 11th - The Compendium and Spazbox
  • April 18th  - Housing
  • April 25th - Monetization (OOOOOO FREEMIUM)
  • May 9 - Closed Beta
  • June - Launch - Android
  • End of June - Launch - iOS

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Announcing Flop Rocket! (Android)

YO BSCOTCHES! We finished our THIRD Speedcraft yesterday (an event where we make a game in ~10 hours), and we're happy to bring to the world our latest minigame:


In Flop Rocket, you are a test pilot for an extremely underfunded space program. It's so underfunded, in fact, that the only real estate the team could afford for the LAUNCHPAD happens to be buried in the depths of an infinite, underground cave system.

It now falls on you, test pilot, to carry the weight of the space program on your shoulders as you navigate your rocket through this treacherous cave, collecting funds for your space program, and avoiding the indigenous Spaceducks and Spaceworms.


COMING FRIDAY, APRIL 11 TO GOOGLE PLAY!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Speedcraft #3 Begins!

We've begun streaming for our third speedcrafting, where we make a game in just 10 hours. Stop by the stream, introduce yourself, and tell us what your favorite constellation is. OR SOMETHING!

Watch live video from Bscotch on www.twitch.tv

Go to Twitch to join us in the chat room!

Friday, April 4, 2014

8-Bit Dev Pipe: IT BEGINS!

YO, BSCOTCHES! A while back we announced that we would be creating an indie game developer mentorship program here in St. Louis called the 8-Bit Dev Pipe. The goal of the program is to help local developers find the feedback and motivation they need in order to make something amazing happen. Namely, make some games.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Creatures of Crashlands

Today we're going to talk about the things that go bump in the night. AND SOMETIMES DURING THE DAY.

Creatures make up the bulk of the combat interaction in Crashlands. But if all you could do was stab these wondrous, alien beasts in the face, you'd be missing out on a whole lot of interaction. Namely the one thing we all like doing to wild beasts; turning them into allies.

When designing the creature system we wanted to make the Survivor feel like a true wildman. Each creature provides a unique combat challenge and, once mastered, an equally unique pet. Creatures aren't just fodder for you to destroy as you rampage your way around the world of Crashlands (though you will destroy a great many of them) - they are possible companions and even resource generators.

Each biome has a saucy handful of creatures. Some are vicious, others passive. Some travel in herds, others are solitary. Some fire tar-based mortars at your face, others will simply smash you to death.

There are a great many ways to die in Crashlands.

WHERE DID THAT GRAVESTONE EVEN COME FROM!?

Extreme Burger Defense - Butterscotch Mini #3

We made a tower defense game in <10 hours. It's called EXTREME BURGER DEFENSE. You're a scientist who has crafted the most delicious burger in the universe, which also happens to attract every bear in the universe. Including cyborg bears.

Rub your thumbs together like a cricket in heat and prepare to die!


Get it on google play and watch the archived stream here!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Freeway Mutant: Butterscotch Mini NUMERO DOS!

YOOO BSCOTCHES! We made another Butterscotch Mini on Monday this week, and we call it:
In this spin on the endless running genre, you play as a nude green mutant running along a broken-up freeway in post-apocalyptic Somewhere. As you run, you can acquire all manner of materials to continually upgrade your gun until you're TOTALLY ROCKIN' IT!

Also, the road is littered with active landmines and hideous mutants, and you have a pair of extremely smooth, round cheeks.


It was a fun challenge to slap this thing together in 10 hours (plus another two hours of rebalancing the next morning), and we plan on pumping out another one-day game in the very near future. We're even streamlining our process so we can go bigger and better next time!

Twitchy Streamy
Want to see the recording of the development process? Luckily, we streamed it on Twitch! Check it out here:

We'll also be streaming future development of our Butterscotch Minis on Twitch via our new channel, twitch.tv/bscotch, so make sure to subscribe so you can see our BABIES being birthed!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Crashlands Dev Session 3 - Alpha Notes

For our third installment in the Crashlands dev sessions we'll be going over the results from our first alpha play test. This'll be short and sweet, as we're heading to GDC for our first time and are busy prepping!

We plied a friend of ours with hamburgers and sat with him on a couch in Seth's apartment while he took the game for a spin. A few hours later we emerged with a legal pad filled to the brim with notes and a bevy of questions for the poor soul.

The key takeaway from all of the playtesting was one Seth and I had noted in the back of our minds but hadn't yet moved on. It was a big, ugly problem that we polished around for the past few weeks, rather than tackling directly.

In short, it was the creature system. Taming was found to be a mildly confusing and anticlimactic affair with not nearly enough feedback, and the utility of having a creature as a pet was almost purely negative. As a hilarious example of this, our playtester tamed a baby Wompit and then set him to attack a nearby Wompit. Wompit's have an AoE stomp attack, and as the tamed pet began stomping he also aggro'd a Matriarch Glidopus, which promptly killed the tamed Wompit and then chased down and killed the player.

Clearly, this was not our intention. The creatures needed to be equally powerful supporters in battle, like your best bud in a co-op game. After the play session Seth and I spent the day brainstorming about how to better integrate the creature system and, we think, have arrived at quite the sweet spot.

BUT...

We'll be talking about the creature system as a whole in just two weeks, so we won't get into the nitty gritty just yet.

As a final note, I received my last round of chemotherapy on Wednesday, the 12th. HOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!



Friday, February 28, 2014

Crashlands Dev Session 2 - Crafting

YO, BSCOTCHES! Welcome to the second installment of our Crashlands Dev Sessions, where we discuss in finer detail some of the mechanics and inner workings of our upcoming title, Crashlands. This week's topic: CRAFTING!

Dismantle the Wilds
In Crashlands the Survivor is left alone in an uncomfortably hostile environment. With nothing but undergarments and some high-tech scraps, players have to combine the things they find in order to provide themselves with shelter, weaponry, and the occasional kickball.

Our approach to crafting and gathering differs from the giants of the survival genre in that the world itself is not deconstructed and used to build things. Rather, much like the real world, the things that grow out of the ground or scamper across it are the fuel for survival and, ultimately, mastery. While it begins as a more limiting design choice, approaching the modes of gathering and crafting from this angle lets us continually open up the way the Survivor interacts with the environment and ultimately leads to a very deep level of interaction with the world at large.

Let's do a walk-through example:

You crash your ship and decide that a nearby Sawgrass plant, bushy as it is, is probably within the power of your delicate hands to take apart. You bust it apart and grab a few sticks from the ground nearby. Slapping the parts together grants you a flimsy but sharp saw. A saw that just might let you take down one of those logtrees looming on the horizon.


TIME TO GET YOUR LUMBERJACK ON! After a series of haphazard swings, you are rewarded with a heaping armload of logs. Thinking deeply on the tools you have at hand, you realize that a big shiny sawmill would really help you take things to the next level. A few Sawgrass blades and logs later and you've fashioned a somewhat hideous though completely functional sawmill. A curious Wompit wanders in from behind a bush and you realize with a start that you are very, very exposed.

So you set to work cobbling together some rudimentary wood armor and a blade made from the same plant as your saw. Combat-ready, you tackle the Wompit and wrestle life from its ugly mug. With its last breath it explodes in a shower of ready-usable parts. Sinew, toenails, perhaps even a still-beating heart. Convenient!

Fast forward a few Crashland days later and you've built yourself a home and defended yourself from the night-stalking predators that are always trying to eat you. Plus, you've now got a shiny new suit of tough, Wompit-leather armor.

You suddenly stumble upon a patch of strange, rooted plants whose blooms the Wompits seem unimaginably attracted to. In a fit of inspiration you rustle through your pack and assemble the blooms into a rough collar. A Wompit calf who's been hanging around your abode is the sudden object of your attention as you wrestle him into submission and, rather than exploding him into parts, crown him with the collar. He snuggles up to you immediately, and you suddenly don't feel quite so lonely! You quickly slap together a nest and put him to bed.

In the morning you wake up and find that he's produced milk. AWWW YISS BREAKFAST TIME. Turns out both genders of Wompit are milk-producers... Hmm.

The crafting system functions as a gateway to not just more of the same interaction, but completely novel interactions and even novel uses for those objects the Survivor has already encountered. While most games channel a single gathering activity in increasingly difficult levels (mining dirt, mining copper, mining diamonds, for example), Crashlands offers a slough of gathering interactions that open up at various stages of development in the tech tree.

In the example above we began with basic gathering progression, not unlike that utilized in most survival games today (sawgrass -> logtrees -> etc.). This task is initiated in the same way but requires more specialized tools as it progresses. In a sense, it's the same interaction (tap on thing, get stuff) with different outcomes.

After utilizing basic gathering for the first bout of progression down the tech tree, the player above tames and stables their first pet. Stabled pets create resources over time the Survivor can use. These 'Generators' become more prevalent down the tech tree and take many different forms - from creatures themselves to placeable water pumps and other harvesting items.

Mastering all forms of gathering becomes critical to proceeding down the tech tree and making bigger, cooler things. By providing multiple avenues for the gathering of materials we're able to keep the feel of the game fresh for longer!

Frictionless UI
Look at ALL THAT INFO
If the crafting system is the bedrock of Crashlands, it follows that actually playing with it should be both delightful and easy. After a large number of iterations we've landed on a UI that provides a great deal of feedback to the Survivor while removing a lot of the slowness usually associated with survival-crafting UI's.

The UI is broken into thirds: Inventory on the left, toggleable Crafting list and Equipment setup in the middle, and a dedicated "tooltip" space in the right column for in-depth information display. Items that are yet to be crafted but are discoverable are blacked out in the crafting menu, providing a tantalizing taste of what's left to create. There are also filters for when you want to just find a particular type of craftable quickly.

Combine these with a rapid-sort for your inventory, some sassy Craft All buttons and a lot of logic for handling which view is displayed at any given time and you'll hopefully find yourself zipping along the tech tree with minimal angst about where your crafted items went or how many of x you have in your inventory. We've still got plenty of work to do to make it extremely juicy, but it is fundamentally complete.

Questions?
While that's all we want to divulge for today, the cleverest among you may begin having some questions about other aspects of the World and the Crafting systems that we haven't yet covered. Visit the community subreddit or drop your thoughts in the comments below and we'll do a follow-up next week to share the info you want.

Our next post will be going over the feedback from our upcoming PRE-ALPHA with a few close friends so there won't be much new info about the game for NEARLY A  MONTH, save for that generated by your questions. FIRE AWAY!

P.S. - My last round of chemo is scheduled for Wednesday the 5th of March. HIGH FIVE, TEAM.









Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Roid Rage - A delicious Butterscotch Mini

Roid Rage is the first in a series of Butterscotch Minis, games we make on the side in a few days while crafting Crashlands into the bigness that it is.

Roid Rage is an arcade game where you pilot one of four ships through a constantly shifting asteroid belt in an effort to collect JUICE. We could ramble on and on about it, but you should just take a peek at the Let's Play video below instead.




Thursday, February 13, 2014

The World of Crashlands


WELCOME, BSCOTCHES, to the first installment of our bi-weekly Crashlands update. In these posts, we'll reveal some info about what the game is all about. The topic for this week: THE WORLD.

We want Crashlands to be a place where people can lose themselves. To that end, we've built the world around a series of design goals that have served as touchstones as we've added more systems and content.

1. The world is theoretically infinite.
2. The world is alive.
3. Exploring is full of both novelty and material reward.
4. Everything is interactable.

Infinity... on a Phone
The underlying girder of our entire system is the procedural generation of the world itself. We needed a way to generate a massive world and populate it with a diverse array of wildlife, plants, and environmental oddities. And we needed to do it while leaving the tiniest of memory footprints, such that it would actually run on most up-to-date smart phones.

Our first pass at the start of the project took around 4 minutes to generate a world which took about 7 minutes to walk across. We aren't ones to kid ourselves and knew that if we asked the Free-to-Play market to wait for 4 minutes while we made the world we were going to have a bad time. Seth set out to remedy the situation, and after some immense brain-against-code-slappings, we can now generate an infinite world in an instant. NEATO!

But what's more important is the way that world is structured. The game is a mishmash of sandbox and action-rpg. The RPG elements demand that there be some sort of progression to the game, meaning we need to structure the world around the Survivor's arrival to ensure a quality play experience.

Welcome to the Biomes
The Survivor's crash site is the very center of the world. Radiating out from the crash site the world begins to split itself into separate ring-shaped biomes, each containing its own range of flora and fauna to be mastered. As the player journeys further from their ship, harvesting and slaying all the way, the relative wildness of the world increases and the level of interaction deepens.

This is the world from 1,000 miles up. Note that the colors aren't those that'll be found in game; this is a representation of how the biomes are structured.
At present, we are about 60% of the way through the first biome, the Savannah. As development continues, each biome should take less time for us to create, so don't worry about that! We've yet to decide the number of biomes that need to be complete before launch, but it seems that building out through the jungle (biome 2 in actuality) would provide more than enough gameplay for even the hardcorest of our players, and would provide plenty of room for us to continue updating the game in the months after launch. But we'll play it by ear.

Exploration is my Drug
BUT WHAT USE IS AN INFINITE, EMPTY WORLD?

No use at all, we think.

Exploration in Crashlands should fuel the glorious dopamine release that made early humans venture forth from their caves and begin mastering their environment.

Crashlands features a bevy of creatures, all of which are tamable. Each biome has sub-biomes within it, like the Tar Pits of the Savannah, that have their own unique flora and rare creature types. There are plants that grow only in certain regions, and some that appear sporadically and produce a harvestable component every day of in-game time. So if you come back the next day, you can pick those sweet, sweet blossoms once more.

Further, creatures, plants, and other resources that are destroyed have their own drop systems, so each one has the potential to drop a handful of components and items, ranging from the mundane (seeds, for example) to the rare and extremely useful (precious gemstones).

Now, all of these interaction points would become moot if there wasn't someway to figure out where they were and map the zones the Survivor has already visited. Building a home would become equally moot if there were no way to find it amidst the expanse of the Biomes. Luckily, we've got a robust world mapping system that'll help you along as you explore.

Warping
TELEPORTER NETWORKS! Beams are generated between connected nodes and the player, showing where you can jump
The world of Crashlands can be made slightly smaller by clever use of teleporters and signage. The Survivor's ship serves as the first point in the teleporter network a player can create to fast-travel around the map. The Survivor is also equipped at the outset with a placeable teleporter called the Warp Beacon (seen above as the leftmost point. Teleporters within range (the blue rings) of one another allow for networked fast-travel, meaning the Survivor can jump from node to node in the network and quickly make their way across the ever expanding world.

Signage
Anyone who has played some of the larger open-world games (a la Skyrim) will understand that the markers placed on the map by the developers are infinitely useful in determining a next goal or remembering where something of interest was. But Crashlands isn't about us telling you where to go... It's about discovering things on your own. So rather than produce the points of interest for the player, we've decided to create a sign system that allows the placement of icons on the map itself, and the eventual ability to draw text directly to it. That way, you can label the various places you've discovered and put your mark on this unexplored wilderness.

Did you find that super rare Wompit, Albi? His albino-ness may murder you now but someday you'll be able to tame him. And on that day you'll want to know exactly where he is. SO SLAP A SIGN DOWN to mark him on your map, and you can come back later!

Touch me there...and there and there and there
The basic interaction in Crashlands comes from touch. This game is a huge sandbox that is built for mobile, so rather than interacting via a system of dials and knobs, as most ported sandbox titles have done (TERRARIA WE'RE LOOKING AT YOU), we've built everything around the idea of a single tap.
That was a NEARLY HORRIBLE DECISION
Touching an interactable item will cause the radial-menu to spring forth. This menu is populated with all the interactions you can potentially have with that object - and those interactions are based on what you have equipped, what tools you have in your belt, and what creature you have under your command, among other things.

There will be objects the Survivor comes across that are not yet interactable and some whose interactions are limited due to a lack of tools or some other restriction. It's our goal to make interactable items become more rich as the Survivor crafts novel tools from components found while exploring, such that objects previously used for one purpose may be used once again. For example, Logtrees are primarily used to gather wood. As the Survivor progresses into higher materials a recipe for a Sap Tapper appears, which would allow for the gathering of Sap from Logtrees, a useful ingredient in its own right. Now the Survivor can return to his curated Logtree Farm and setup a second operation to harvest Sap.

The great thing about the interaction system in Crashlands is that it is expandable. Anything Seth or I dream of we can implement. This means that post-launch of the game we can easily expand on the content already available while simultaneously adding additional systems for the Survivor to muck around with.

STAY TUNED!
That's all we want to share FOR NOW. Check back in on February 27th (that's 2 weeks from now), and we'll have some juicy morsels for you to suck on. The topic next time will be: CRAFTING.

Want to join up with other Crashlands fans? Head over to the community subreddit and GET TO IT!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In Defense of Freemium


ALL RIGHT, PEOPLE. I think it's time we had a serious chat about all this fussing over free games with in-app purchases (freemium). Because this is getting seriously out of hand.

There have been front-page posts on Reddit pointing to articles like "How In-App Purchases have Destroyed the Industry" popping up on the regular now, making claims like "We don't have a mobile gaming industry anymore. We have a mobile scamming industry."

The latest big freemium critique came from Eurogamer in their review of the new Dungeon Keeper game launched by EA. Eurogamer gave it 1/10 because of its excessive microtransactions. In essence, Eurogamer's reasoning is that this is a free game, but you don't get to play it in any kind of reasonable way unless you are throwing handfuls of cash at it. But instead of having an aneurysm about the fact that EA wants you, the player, to pay them for the game they made, maybe we should take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Our Path

I'd like to take you on a trip down memory lane. It was January of 2013 (just over a year ago), and we were a fledgling studio without any major titles. We had just struck out on our own, and we had what we thought was a pretty unusual game that a lot of people would find compelling. We called it Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny. And, like many gamers, bloggers, and games industry folks, we had a strong aversion to freemium. We had the idea driven into us that microtransactions were unethical, and we were sold the idea that if you made a damned good game, people would just buy it if you asked them to.

Well, our game was indeed pretty damned good -- it was the highest rated Android game to come out in March, and the second highest rated Android game in the first quarter of 2013. And it was a complete financial failure. Why? Because we used a pay-up-front business model. To date, it has only brought in 30% of its cost of production in revenue. As it turned out, people liked our game, but they were damned sure not going to pay for it up front.

So we changed course and made Quadropus Rampage, our first freemium title. Quadropus has done substantially better than Towelfight. It has somewhere around 2 million players, and is profitable to the point where we're almost sustainable as a two-man studio.

When we made Quadropus, we still weren't comfortable with the idea that freemium was a good thing to do, but we didn't have much choice in the matter. It was go freemium, or go bankrupt. Within our first 6 months as a studio, we learned that as much as people may say they'd prefer to just pay for games up front, it simply isn't true in the aggregate. And you know what? Now that we're another 7 months down the road and have had some serious time to think about all this stuff, we've come to a startling realization. All those people out there who won't pay for a game up front? They're probably right. Because...

Freemium is potentially the most ethical way to conduct business in the games industry.
WHAT.
Before you burst a blood vessel in your forehead, let's consider two fairly common scenarios.

Note: I'm going to keep the discussion between pay-up-front and freemium here, because they tend to be the most at-odds with each other in players' eyes.


The Pay-Up-Front Model

Some new game hits the market, and you're super pumped to try it out. You hop online, drop your $40 on the thing, download it, and get crackin'! So far so good, right? This is the old-school way of selling games, and many gamers and industry professionals think this should be the de-facto business model in gaming. The player gets a full, complete game, the developer gets paid, and BOOM. Everybody wins.

Sometimes.

What about the times you spend cash on a game, only to discover that it wasn't worth the money? Turns out the screenshots and the cinematic trailer didn't really convey what the game was really about, and you walked into it blind. Or maybe the game takes a lot more grinding and time than you had originally been led to believe, or the combat is really choppy, or it has some major bugs that make it unplayable for you. Or perhaps the game description you read was overblown by the developer's marketing team, and it promised much more grandiose things than it could deliver.

When you pay for a game up front, what exactly are you buying? An unknown. You have no earthly idea whether it's going to be fun, or engaging, or even functional. Sure, you can read reviews and watch Youtube videos, but at the end of the day, you don't get to discover whether it's all it's cracked up to be unless you crack open your wallet. And if it turns out that's not the case, what do you do? You just got coaxed into spending money on something that you actually don't like. How often do you ask for a refund when you find yourself in this situation? My guess would be... rarely. It tends to be more trouble than it's worth.

How many games do you have in your Steam library that you've played for less than 20 minutes?

The Freemium Model

All right, now let's take a look at another example. You cruise through the "top new free games" list on your phone and download a few that seem promising. You fire them up, and one of them seems like it might be fun.

Fast forward five hours. You've now sunk your afternoon into this new game, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. You can see yourself putting another 20 hours into this thing, maybe more, and you know that because you've played it. So you pop open the in-game store to see what you can buy, and drop a few bucks on the thing to boost your gameplay along.

Here's another scenario. Maybe you've sunk a few hours into the game, and you run into a wall where you can't progress without spending money. You open the in-app store, and discover that the developer is asking for way more than you're willing to pay for whatever items he's selling. So what? It turns out that the price of the full game experience was higher than what you're willing to pay. So don't pay, and move on. You've made an informed decision not to spend your money, and you came out on top, because you were literally just given several hours of free entertainment at the developer's expense.


Knowns, Unknowns, and Pricing

In the freemium example, the developers have allowed you to play their game, legally and for free, for as long as you like. That allowed you to make a much more objective judgment on whether you really wanted to spend money on the game. And if you spent money, you purchased a known outcome. You already know you like the game, and you've gotten a good feel for the game's mechanics and how everything works. So when you spend your cash within the game on a level pack, or coins, or whatever, you have a pretty dang good idea of what that money is going to bring you. You're entering that in-game store with both eyes wide open.

The same can't be said for buying an entire game up-front. If you knew exactly what you were buying before dropping the cash on a pay-up-front game, how often would you still go through with the purchase? As it turns out, only about half the time. According to analytics firm EEDAR, having a playable demo of your pay-up-front game can cut your sales to less than half. That means around half of people who spend money on pay-up-front games (without free demos) have been tricked into buying something they actually don't like. And we're ragging on freemium as being unethical?

Like all things, freemium has the potential to be utilized poorly. And sure, there are games out there that cross the line and ask for way too much money for what they're offering. But the same thing applies to pay-up-front games. This is not a unique symptom of freemium; it's simply a fact of any free market where sellers get to choose their own prices. Sometimes things are priced poorly. If something is too expensive, don't buy it, and move on.

Manipulation

NOW HOLD ON! What about manipulative tactics like those seen in games where you get a few moves to complete a level, and you can buy additional moves for 99 cents? Or games where you buy packs of random cards? I have to ask, how is that manipulative? If you're buying a pack of moves in Candy Crush (TM?), you know exactly what you're buying. There is no way around it.

Enough with this big-brother nonsense about predatory companies manipulating people. If someone wants to spend $200 on packs of moves in Candy Crush for $0.99 a pop, it is no less valid than your decision to purchase the latest AAA shooter for $60 to play it on your $400 console with your $70 controllers on your $400 big-screen TV.

The general attitude I see is that as a real gamer, you make conscious decisions to spend thousands of dollars on your hobby, but if a casual gamer does the same thing via microtransactions in their mobile games, they're being manipulated. Isn't that a bit condescending?

People can make their own damned decisions when it comes to their money and gaming. Gaming is gaming, and your enjoyment of (and spending on) the games you like is just as valid as mine. It's time we put this debate to bed.

Final Thoughts

I can't disagree with Eurogamer's review score of Dungeon Keeper, because the crux of Eurogamer's complaint, if you strip away all the crap about freemium destroying everything, is that the game is way too expensive. If that's the case, it deserves a low rating. But that can apply to literally any kind of game, not just freemium games. To make the whole review about the freemium business model is absurd. Dungeon Keeper is just overpriced... if you play it a certain way.

Game reviewers tend to play games in a "hardcore" fashion -- in long stretches at at a time. It doesn't matter whether it's a PC game, Xbox game, or mobile game. Game reviewers are hardcore gamers. And this is where the disconnect lies. EA designed Dungeon Keeper to be played for only a few minutes at a time. A few times a day, you boot up the game, dig some holes, check on your stuff, and shut the game down. So of course, if you try to play it for two hours in one sitting, it's going to cost you.

Let's turn the tables here and imagine what it would look like if reviewers played games like Skyrim for 4 minutes at a time, a few times a day. Of course the reviews would be terrible, because that's not how the game is designed to be played. This is no different.

As of right now, Dungeon Keeper one of the top 100 grossing games on Google Play. It's definitely not my kind of game, and I wouldn't spend money on it. In fact, it doesn't look like much fun, because I don't think it's fun to play a game in small bursts. But there are millions of people out there who disagree with me on that. They play it, they like it, and they've voted on it with their wallets.

And that is perfectly fine. Who am I to judge how people spend their money?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Announcing Crashlands, our next major title


When I got my cancer diagnosis in November I was completely blindsided. I went in on a Friday afternoon to get a lumpy piece of my chest checked out and the doc, calm as a hurricane eye, stepped back from the table and crossed his hands.

"You're...how old?"

"I'm 23."

"This is going to... sound strange. I'm nearly certain that this is cancer. You'll need to get it cut out as soon as possible."

I went out to my car and had an earthshattering bawlfest that lasted a brief 4 minutes. Then I called my brother Seth, the programming half of our studio.

We are a two-man team, doing everything from inception to launch on the games we make. In telling him about the diagnosis I admitted I was terrified that this cancer would take our fledgling indie studio and throw it under the ground, as it may throw me. Seth reassured me and became my chauffeur for the next week as we went up to Iowa from St. Louis to do surgery, get the diagnosis complete, and figure out treatment.

It was Stage 4 lymphoma. It was on my spleen, my liver, my pelvis, my entire lymph system. The docs at the time said it might even be in my spinal fluid. A PET scan showed that my insides, rather than consisting of nice fleshy pinkness, were a coating of tumor. Despite how aggressive the cancer was, I was given a 65%-ish cure rate. Chemo was to begin the next week before I decided to up and die from tumor load. 

The two weeks between diagnosis and treatment was a true whirlwind of activity and emotion. It wasn't until after I received my first chemo infusion that my anxiety settled and Seth and I sat down to begin again on our project at the time, Extreme Slothcycling.

As we began to plan a wry feeling started bubbling up from my chest. Something about this was wrong. Hysterically wrong. I interrupted Seth as he was in mid marker-swing across the whiteboard.

"Seth. I don't want Extreme Slothcycling to be the last game I make before I die."

He looked at me for a brief moment and then we both began laughing. Creating yet another action-runner for the mobile marketplace is not something either of us would define as a meaningful deathbed activity.

I wanted to make a game that meant something and that lasted. I wanted to make something big, some place I could go to escape when I was in the hospital or nauseous beyond description. Through the last four rounds of chemo and two hospitalizations Seth and I have worked to turn that desire into a reality, and we're finally ready to announce our next game:


Crashlands blends survival, crafting, creature management, strategic combat, and player expression into an endless world.

My treatments are wrapping up in March - by the time we hit Alpha I should be in remission. We will be releasing more information about the game's systems on the schedule below:
  • February 13th - The World and Exploration
  • February 27th -  Crafting
  • March 6th - Closed Alpha
  • March 20th - Creatures and Taming
  • April 3rd - Housing
  • April 10th - Closed Beta
  • June - Launch - Android

To discuss this post and see some assets from the game, check out the community subreddit


Monday, November 11, 2013

NEWSFEST 2013: Cancer! Towelfight 2! Slothcycling!

This is going to be one hell of a blog post. We’ve got some news on Sam’s health, Towelfight 2, and our upcoming title, Slothcycling. IT’S DENSE, BRO.

CANCER: SAM HAS IT.
Sam chugging chemo drugs into his heart chambers, like a pro.
PEOPLE: Diana (Sam's gf), Sam, Adam (our older brother), and me (Seth).
LET’S JUST PUT IT OUT THERE. Sam (the art-half of Butterscotch) has cancer. He’s only 23 goddamn years old, but apparently that’s legal age to be molested by Stage 4B lymphoma of the Diffuse B-Cell, T-Cell Rich variety. He had been feeling somewhat ill and fatigued over the past few months, and he had begun fevering in the nights. We thought he had just come down with some sort of infection, but the symptoms kept getting worse until a doctor finally diagnosed the real problem. We found out three Fridays ago. Since then, we’ve been visiting with family, traveling around seeing various doctors and getting tests done, and generally preparing to beat the shit out of cancer.

Sam began his chemotherapy on Friday, and he’s slated for 6-ish months of moderately strong chemotherapy doses being pumped DIRECTLY INTO HIS HEART. Also, now we’re both bald.

THE RELATIVELY LESS BAD NEWS.
WELL THIS SOUNDS BAD, RIGHT? Yes. Cancer is never good. But it turns out some cancer is... less bad. In Sam’s case, the prognosis is pretty dang good, with a reasonable chance of curing this thing (> 80%) pretty early. But in the meantime, Sam will be really tired from the treatments, fairly nauseous, sometimes in the hospital for five days at a time, and silky smooth.

TOWELFIGHT 2: NOW FREE TO PLAY.
The above shitty news will definitely slow down our game development, and a lot of our previous plans are now up in the air. HOWEVER, we still want to bring goodie bags full of joy to our loyal people, so we have put some leg work into revamping Towelfight 2 to make it free to play. We’ve got a nice UI overhaul, control improvements, and other bug fixes, plus some in-app purchases to make your journey smoother than Sam’s head.
SMOOOOOOOOTH.
Many of our players have never touched Towelfight 2 because of its 99 cent price tag, and we think that’s a DAMNED SHAME! So hopefully this will encourage some of our Quadropus fans to migrate over and partake in the glory that is shooting animals from your monocled face. We made the Free to Play switch this morning on Google Play and are in the midst of getting it set up for iOS as well.



SLOTHCYCLING: SHRINKAGE.


Because our next six months are going to be plagued with doctor visits, tiredness, and other such shenanigans, we’ll be taking our plans for Slothcycling down a few pegs. It’s still going to be so fun your eyeballs will melt out of your head, explode, grow back, and then soar away like majestic eagles, but we’ll be cutting down its design fairly substantially. It will be more of an endless platformer style game, as opposed to a huge adventure game.

For now, we’re still figuring out exactly how much to slap onto the chopping block, but prepare your eardrums for perforation by more news of the slothcycling variety in the near future.