Another year, another massive Global Game Jam. This year over 36000 people took part world wide. At the IGDA Kuala Lumpur site in Malaysia 150 jammers completed 31 games (plus there were a few more uncompleted games too and a whole other local jam site!). The event has grown hugely in popularity over the years I’ve attended. At the 2013 KL GGJ there were only 5 small teams. For the second year in a row, the random team I joined managed to produce a complete game – the 2-player tile-placement game Hex-a-cute.
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It has been a couple of months since releasing Concealed Intent onto Steam Early Access it is time to assess how things have gone and plan for the future.
While I’m quite happy with Concealed Intent as a game, financially it has been a disappointment. Largely this is my own fault. As a sole developer I must make a choice between developing or marketing. I have overwhelming chosen dev work over the last 2 months. Still the sales have still resulted in a few people playing it and providing feedback. It has highlighted a some bugs and issues, most of which are now fixed. Early Access has also given me a focus – single player skirmishes seem to be more highly desired than online play (lucky because there are not enough players to form a decent online community right now). This is immensely useful information. Previously the game was trying to be a bit of everything in the hope of attracting the attention of a potential purchaser. Now it will be mainly single-player, where skirmish is the main game, but there is a also basic online play so you can challenge your friends.
Under this vision, the way forward to release is clear. Procedural skirmish must be expanded with an AI that can provide some challenge. The single-player campaign can be shortened but needs to more engaging while subtlety teaching the game. Online play is largely done, only bug fixes and performance enhancements remain.
So that is the plan to finish Concealed Intent. Skirmish improvements, then AI improvements, then mission work, then… done? At least in the sense of a proper “release”, yes it will be done. The majority of my time after that point will be spent on developing other games. There will still be a few things to do Linux support, non-Steam online support, other little improvements and of course bug fixes as required.
Right now I’ve nearly finished a first pass at the Skirmish improvements. If it was not for GGJ16 I’d release it this weekend. Instead it will be available early next week (so I’m around if there is a problem). I hope to have a final version with improved AI by mid-Feb. Then I foresee a couple more fortnightly versions iterating on the campaign and improving skirmish & AI as issues/ideas arise. However, that will not be the end. As previously stated, I have to choose between development and marketing. Since I have a couple of months of dev work, I will continue mainly with that for now. However, when the above task list is complete it will be time to switch. Thus the plan is to finish the dev work, wait at least a week to ensure there are no bad bugs, then start a 30 day release countdown where I spend a few hours per day solely on marketing. Then the release, followed by another week of marketing. Then just see.
One thing I don’t expect to see is a flood of sales. I hope to have enough sales to cover my costs and provide enough money for a future game. The feedback received so far is generally positive, but not “indie breakout hit” positive. I will likely struggle for media coverage and sales amongst a horde of other indie games. One advantage I have is that my situation is unchanged, there is not much I could be doing other than creating games. I have another 15 months before reality returns. Thus I can create another game with my hard-won lessons from Concealed Intent. In fact since the main lesson learnt is to make much smaller games, hopefully I can make more than one. Ideal would be a couple of short (3 month dev work) games made with an artist willing to profit-share (to keep upfront costs down). I have collected a few such small ideas and it is time to start creating prototypes to check if they are worth pursuing. By mid-Feb I hope to be spending about 10-20% of my time on this task – a pipeline of work must be established to take over from Concealed Intent as it requires less time (not counting marketing of course!). Otherwise there will be no chance of continuing gamedev as a profession long-term.
The other main lesson is that marketing is hard. Very hard. There are a large number of people out to get keys for “reviews”, but very few can deliver and those asking are almost always the smaller media outlets. The larger ones are probably swamped with review requests. Getting noticed is difficult. During the release-30 countdown I’ll do my best to let people know Concealed Intent exists. Although I’ve also been considering trying to become the media. Sure, I have a couple of rarely viewed blogs (like this one), but viewing some the of key requesters’ outlets made me wonder if I could try that too. Basically an attempt to build a community around games in general, not specifically my games. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t (check back here to find out!). I have a few ideas on how to make things a little different to others, now I just need to check the time requirements. There will probably be one video just to experiment.
Hmm, still so much to do and so many possibilities. But first to GGJ16…
There is the theory of the Moebius, a twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop.
Wise words from Worf.
No, wait. That was last year. I just repeat myself over, and over, …
Actually there is a little difference to last year. Back then my main goal was to complete Concealed Intent to a saleable level. Well, it might only be Steam Early Access, but the game went on sale in November. So now the slightly changed new year’s goals are:
- Make a full-release of Concealed Intent and market it. Then start, complete and release a second game. I’m fairly confident about the first part of this goal. There is only one main feature left on the Concealed Intent todo list. I expect that is a month or two’s work at most. Then it will be time to polish the game and prepare for a release. The second part of the goal is based on the idea that CI is just way too big. I need to create much smaller games and turn them out faster – any other strategy is immensely risky.
- Blog on my personal website at least 2 times a month, but less than 4 times a month. Plus also try to be more active on other media. Last year my blogging was on schedule until a self imposed crunch to complete CI hit around August – finishing with 22 posts for the year. For the coming year, the bounds are widened slightly from 3-4/month to 2-4/month. Since I plan to avoid crunching again, this should be easy!
- Exercise. In August last year I was the strongest I’ve ever been based on the weights I could lift (not bad for a 41 year old). I could also run for 30min without pain – something I’ve never been able to do previously. Then I stopped to make more time for coding. My voracious appetite (based on lots of exercise) continued despite being at a desk all day, so I put on several kilos of weight. When I started running again a few weeks ago, my fitness had greatly regressed and managed only 15 minutes. I haven’t tried going back to the gym yet. This year I hope to recover the previous performance peak, and then surpass it.
Available from iTunes and from its own site, this 5-part series is a free subset of a larger set of history podcasts. Having only listened to the 5 Mongol episodes, I can’t talk to the larger sequence.
At first glance of the name and promotional images, Wrath of the Khans – Hardcore History, seems like it might be a podcast playing up the more sensationalist parts of history. Luckily this is not the case. I imagine the presentation aims to bring in as many listeners as possible to an otherwise serious history series. Written and presented by the professional broadcaster Dan Carlin, these 5 well produced episodes (totaling 8.5 hours) address the history of the early Mongol Empire in the 1200’s. Starting with the later exploits of Genghis Khan and ending with breakup of the empire at the hands of his great-grandchildren.
The podcast starts with a long introduction on how people view history differently depending on how much empathy they feel for the people at the time. In a well reasoned argument Dan suggests that the further we get from events, the more disassociated we become and the easier it is to reassess aspects of historical events without reference to the suffering people experienced at the time. Thus it is hard to talk about the Nazis without reference to their attempts at genocide. However, Romans can be discussed without mentioning the devastation visited upon the people they conquered (possibly genocidal in a few instances). The Mongols seem to fall at the boundary of this change. In the west, the Mongols seem quite distant. Although Dan recounts the story of his Chinese university history lecturer admonishing him for failing to consider the damage done to civilians in creating a Pax Mongolica. Interesting stuff, but perhaps an aside based on the author’s interests rather than something integral to the story of the Mongols. Other than the fact they killed an absolutely amazingly huge number of people. Comparable in numbers to the death toll from World War 2, despite the Mongol Empire forming in a time when the world population was much lower and the methods of killing much more primitive. The Mongols of Genghis Khan come across as quite a ruthless and expansionary people. Dan Carlin suggests they saw all non-steppe people as subhuman. He also points out that civilian atrocities in war had occurred many times before (and since). The Mongols were exceptional only in scale.
The Mongol Empire starts with Genghis Khan uniting the tribes of the eastern steppe for the first time. Previous steppe tribes had often harassed or conquered nearby lands. In the west we talk about Parthians, Scythians, Goths, Huns, Turks and others. In Asia there is a similar list of other nomadic tribes – the Great Wall of China was built to try and keep them out. The Mongols were similar to earlier tribes in that their armies were fast (consisting nearly entirely of light cavalry), could live of the the land, and well-trained (steppe people were taught to ride and fight from childhood). They differed from earlier invasions as their armies were larger (drawing from many tribes), well disciplined (the penalty for minor infractions was death, the penalty for major infractions was death for you and your entire unit), and well led. Genghis Khan is said to have a large network of spies providing intelligence on his enemies. There are also many stories of Mongol armies refusing battle until the battleground better suited them. They were able to adapt their tactics to changing circumstances. The Mongols learned siegecraft, successfully besieging many cities, and it is believed they were the first to bring gunpowder weapons to Europe, after learning of them from the Chinese.
In the 13th century the Mongols probably had the most powerful army in existence, and they used it regularly. In under a century they conquered multiple kingdoms with relative ease to create the largest empire by land area in history. They conquered two of the three Chinese kingdoms at the time (the third was defeated a few years later by Kublai Khan after the breakup of the empire). They subdued the previously expansionary Central Asian and Middle Eastern Sultanates all the way to the Mediterranean. An invasion into Europe reached as far as Hungary. Apparently the Mongols had an 18 year plan to conquer Europe all the way to the Atlantic (they already had spies in place). However just a few years into the plan, the Mongol leader Ogedei Khan (Genghis’ son) died and the army had to return to Mongolia for a new Khan’s election. It is an intriguing counterfactual to consider events if Ogedei lived another decade, so the invasion of Europe could continue. Europe was relatively weak and divided at the time. It is hard to imagine there would have been more resistance than in the east.
While the empire stayed united under a single Khan (Genghis, followed by Ogedei, then Genghis’ grandsons), they suffered no serious military setbacks. The end of the Empire came from internal divisions – the method of succession used by the Mongols seems to have been a great cause of internal friction. Although the transition from Genghis to Ogedei was smooth (as Genghis made his wishes clear in advance), all the others were contentious. Mongols used an elective monarchy – at the death of the previous Khan all the relevant nobles convened to elect a new Khan. I can imagine this worked well at the tribal level when all the possible leaders spent most of their time close together. It doesn’t work so well for a continent spanning empire. Take a look at a map – Hungary to Mongolia is a very long way! After Ogedei, it took 5 years to elect a new Khan, as one of the electors refused to attend, believing that the likely new Khan would order his death. When the expected Khan, Guyuk, finally took command he died soon after, leading to another 3 year span without a Khan. Mongke Khan stabilised the Empire for a while and even expanded a little, but at his death in 1259 the Mongol Empire split into four separate parts. Thus ending this podcast series, but not the end of the Mongols. The descendants of Genghis ruled much of Asia for centuries thereafter.
I could much more to write about this excellent podcast on an interesting part of history (and a largely unknown to me). However, this post is already long enough. Well worth a download and listen.
Wow, nearly 3 months since my last post. That regular blogging yearly goal will definitely not be met. Although the reason for the gap is all the work being put into meeting another of those goals – completing Concealed Intent. Today marks a huge step towards that goal – the ability to purchase Concealed Intent through Steam Early Access. For those not familiar with Early Access, it is for games that are not quite finished, but are playable, and which would benefit from player community feedback. Concealed Intent definitely qualifies.
I hope to soon get back to regular posting here. In the meantime here is an edited post announcing the release on my “work” blog at Jarrah Technology
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