Archive for August, 2007

Looking for an on-site artist

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

After seeing what one artist can do in Mount and Blade I realize I wasn’t getting my money’s worth from my existing outsourcing art team. Several times recently at my job I will look at what other artists can do at my contracting job and say “Wow, one artist did all that?”

What really was the last straw was when they sent me this, as a carrier interior

Carrier Mess

It’s just a tremendous ugly mess. And I look at what they did up close and you see this:

Carrier Mess 2

So they spent a huge amount of time modeling control panels right down to the lights, when you actually play the game with the camera about half a kilometer away (as in the first screenshot). I’m about the least competent artist there is but even I understand if you are looking at objects from half a kilometer away maybe you shouldn’t spend time modeling buttons you don’t even see. They’ve been playing the game for 3 months too, so I’m dumbfounded on how this wasn’t obvious.

This has been going on from day 1, which is why it took them 7 months to do essentially half the work they were contracted to do in 4 months. It’s not that they can’t do a good job, it’s that you can’t leave any detail unspecified.

I give up. I’m going to find someone preferably local to salvage the situation.

Contracting + publishing

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

As Galactic Melee is truly out of money I don’t have time to develop it significantly anymore. I’ve gone back to contracting and have taken 2 full-time contracts. Since I’m now used to working 100 hours a week anyway this is actually a reduction in how much I work a week. The contracts both pay fairly but I’m not making that much because the money still goes towards repaying ongoing or past costs on Galactic Melee development.

On the positive side, one of the clients is a large publisher with both the potential funds and the genre interest to pick up Galactic Melee. Upper management has already expressed interest in looking at the game. Of course there’s a huge difference between a manager verbally asking to look at the game, and actually having the company publish it, but working with and knowing upper management on a regular basis gives me a boost over any other random developer. It’s still a long-shot, maybe 1 in 100 chance, but if it works the game would be published on a console as well as the PC.

Dungeon Crawl

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

I was playing Dungeon Crawl and it’s this incredibly fun game with a huge learning curve and bad graphics, yet I was addicted. I’m thinking I should have taken this approach with Galactic Melee. I could have did the game for 1/10th the cost and 1/4 the time.

Invested vs. paid

Monday, August 13th, 2007

A chat with my friend Bill today.


Kevin: By the way, I found a really fun game called Mount and Blade
Also programmed by one dude, with one artist

Bill: nice… free?

Kevin: Sort of pisses me off cause he has about a dozen models, characters, and weapons and my larger more expensive art team takes like a month just for 4 fighters.

Bill: haha… well, that’s the difference between an artist who is invested and one who’s just getting paid

Kevin: You’re so right about the guy who is invested thing
They should make a new word for right just to describe how right you are

Good time for Americans to go contracting

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

The last time I contracted to Europe was about 4 years ago. I forget the exact figure, but the pay was quite poor, partly because at the time the dollar was worth more than the Euro. I think it was .7 to 1 or something (easy to look up if anyone cares to).

With the dollar now so devalued that a penny is worth less than the copper used to make it, the opposite is true. I can make more contracting to overseas companies. The current exchange rate is 1 euro to 1.37 dollars.

This is good timing because I’ve had several contracting offers the last week. Compared to four years ago, I can ask for twice as much money and it’s considered the same thing. Since inflation hasn’t risen correspondingly (yet) I benefit from the lag. It also keeps me busy as I get contracts now where I wouldn’t have before. Maybe I should buy a bunch of gold.

It helps RakNet too since it means RakNet is cheaper.

I see now why China likes to peg its currency lower than its actual value.

Current game design failed, trying a more standard shooter

Monday, August 6th, 2007

It’s clear now that the vast majority of potential customers don’t like inertia based space games. Out of 1000 signups, the highest I ever reached in simultaneous players is 20, and the average has dropped from 6 to 3 over the last week. This kind of game design worked 10 years ago perhaps, but is an utter failure in today’s market. If I had a 50% retention rate, and just didn’t have enough players, then it’s a marketing issue which can be taken care of. But with a .5% retention rate there’s no way I can succeed like this.

Probably the most notable indicator is that even players of this very genre do not stick around. They’re tired of this kind of game, and just need more stuff. I’m confident it’s not my implementation, since my implementation is pretty solid.

I was speaking with a friend about this, who works in marketing, and he told me I basically picked a design and genre that was doomed from the start.

1. Most people don’t like space games
2. Most people don’t like complex controls (anything more than click and drool)

I was pretty depressed about this for a while, but finally thought of a solution that might salvage the day:

Mechs
Mech

I bought this mech from 3drt.com and am going to stick it into the game. The mech will be controlled through the standard movement keys (no interia), aim with the mouse, and I have asked the artists to model the surface of a planet.

I have it in without effects and sort of working. The main problem is oFusion has failed me once again, and cannot export the animations. This is really too bad, since the animations look great. I have a potential solution in the works via a code partnership to get a real exporter, which might solve this problem.

I’ve even started considering partnerships on this game, something I refused to consider before. Now that I have started contracting to keep the money coming in, I have very little time left for the game, and I’m starting to doubt if I can finish everything by myself. Except for my programmer in Portugal, outsourcing and contracting was a complete failure and everything that contracting was supposed to address is now far behind and/or screwed up. I don’t have a working exporter, I don’t have advanced graphics or effects, the art is far behind, and a lot of game design and game programming still needs to be done, I’m not sure the billing host will work out, and the database is missing features. Full-time I might be able to handle this but part-time it’s just really hard. Most of these problems arose due to telecommuting. You’re much less likely to get someone who claims that the work is done, grabs the cash, and runs out the door if you see him day to day.

Billing problems again

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

I got an email from a pissed off “Customer” this morning complaining about getting double charged. Which is funny, because I am not charging yet, nor have plans to in the near future.


Dear XXX:

Our records indicate an overdue balance in the amount of $49.99 USD
remains on your Galactic Melee account. To avoid interruption of
service, you must bring your account current.

If your payment has already been made, please accept our thanks and
disregard this notice.

If you feel the information included in this notice is incorrect or have
questions about your Galactic Melee account, please contact us at .
Thank you for choosing Galactic Melee.

$49.99 is the cost of my lifetime subscription fee.

My billing service provider Aria Systems must charging when I told them not to, sending out payment emails in test mode, and/or charging monthly for the lifetime subscription.

I told the (potential) customer I will personally refund his money if he was charged and the billing provider does not deal with this satisfactorily. I don’t want chargebacks and complaints of theft before I even open for business.

Another problem is that two weeks ago I also found that Aria did not verify email addresses on signup, which I discovered when I tried to contact a few people for some feedback. Admittedly, I never specifically asked for this, but it’s sort of obvious this is a necessary requirement. I don’t know of any online games that don’t verify email addresses, it’s just common sense that this should have been implemented, or at least they could have asked me “Hey, is it important to you that you can communicate with your customers?”

When I emailed asking about this I was ignored. So I followed up a week later and get a reply to the effect of “There is no central repository of all valid email addresses, how can we verify it?” Perhaps, the same way everyone else does, which is to make the user click a link when they get a confirmation email. I never heard back again after that – maybe they are doing it, maybe not. You’d think they have the code for this already, since every online game needs it.

Since I’m a small customer I’m really trying hard not to ask for too much. But still, for a $1500 setup fee and a percentage of my gross revenue is this too much to expect?

Speaking of fees, it’s been bothering me that the credit card processing company takes 10% They don’t call it 10%, but at the end of the day this is the difference between what I charge and what I get.

If I can find a 3rd party billing provider that:

1. Charges less than 10%
2. Can generate a purchase confirmation code that my game can automatically check
3. Can add paid registrations to my database automatically (through a web form ?)
4. Verifies customer information before sending it to me (esp. email address)

I can switch over, do lifetime subscriptions only, and fix both of these problems in one swoop. I think the hardest part will be #3 though. I know there are download services, and services where you get an email for every new customer, but I don’t want to go into the database every time I get a new customer.

Finally got good flow control in RakNet

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

Only took me 5 years but I think I finally have the flow control problem in RakNet beat. It maintains a record of average low ping, and if your ping starts going up, it increases the amount of time between each datagram send. In testing it was as fast or slightly faster than TCP and maintains 0% packetloss.

I am also using Windows WaitForMultipleObjects by default. Previously, this gave very bad performance, adding 30-50 ms ping times. But apparently Windows XP does a better job with this, so my throughout is roughly equal. This should resolve the long standing problem of people bitching about reported 100% CPU utilization.